I awoke about midnight with cold feet and shivering limbs. The fire on the wet muddy ground had died away to a few smouldering embers, which threw a red glow over the black, smoky logs, and sent occasional gleams of flickering light into the dark recesses of the yurt. The wind howled mournfully around the hut, and the rain beat with intermittent dashes against the logs and trickled through a hundred crevices upon my already water-soaked blankets. I raised myself upon one elbow and looked around. The hut was deserted, and I was alone. For a moment of half-awakened consciousness I could not imagine where I was, or how I came in such a strange, gloomy situation; but presently the recollection of the previous day's ride came back and I went to the door to see what had become of all our party. I found that the Major and Dodd, with all the Kamchadals, had pitched tents upon the spongy moss outside, and were spending the night there, instead of remaining in the yurt and having their clothes and blankets spoiled by the muddy droppings of its leaky roof. The tents were questionable improvements; but I agreed with them in preferring clean water to mud, and gathering up my bedding I crawled in by the side of Dodd. The wind blew the tent down once during the night, and left us exposed for a few moments to the storm; but it was repitched in defiance of the wind, ballasted with logs torn from the sides of theyurt, and we managed to sleep after a fashion until morning.

We were a melancholy-looking party when we emerged from the tent at daylight. Dodd looked ruefully at his wet blankets, made a comical grimace as he felt of his water-soaked clothes, and then declared that

  "The weather was not what he knew it once - 
  The nights were terribly damp; 
  And he never was free from the rheumatiz 
  Except when he had the cramp!"

In which poetical lament we all heartily sympathised if we did not join.

Our wet, low-spirited horses were saddled at daylight; and as the storm showed signs of a disposition to break away, we started again, immediately after breakfast, for the western edge of the high table-land which here formed the summit of the mountain range. The scenery from this point in clear weather must be magnificent, as it overlooks the Tigil Valley and the Okhotsk Sea on one side, and the Pacific Ocean, the valleys of the Yolofka and the Kamchatka, and the grand peaks of Suveilich and Kluchefskoi on the other. We caught occasional glimpses, through openings in the mist, of the Yolofka River, thousands of feet below, and the smoke-plumed head of the distant volcano, floating in a great sea of bluish clouds; but a new detachment of straggling vapours from the Okhotsk Sea came drifting across the mountain-top, and breaking furiously in our faces, blotted out everything except the mossy ground, over which plodded our tired, dispirited horses.

It did not seem possible that human beings could live, or would care to live, on this desolate plain of moss, 4000 feet above the sea, enveloped half the time in drifting clouds, and swept by frequent storms of rain and snow. But even here the Wandering Koraks herd their hardy reindeer, set up their smoky tent-poles, and bid contemptuous defiance to the elements. Three or four times during the day we passed heaps of reindeer's antlers, and piles of ashes surrounded by large circles of evergreen twigs, which marked the sites of Korak tents; but the band of wild nomads which had left these traces had long before disappeared, and was now perhaps herding its deer on the wind-swept shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Owing to the dense mist in which we were constantly enveloped we could get no clear ideas as to the formation of the mountain range over which we were passing, or the extent and nature of this great plain of moss which lay so high up among extinct volcanic peaks. I only know that just before noon we left the tundra, as this kind of moss steppe is called, and descended gradually into a region of the wildest, rockiest character, where all vegetation disappeared except a few stunted patches of trailing-pine. For at least ten miles the ground was covered everywhere with loose slab-shaped masses of igneous rock, varying in size from five cubic feet to five hundred, and lying one upon another in the greatest disorder. The heavens at some unknown geological period seemed to have showered down huge volcanic paving-stones, until the earth was covered fifty feet deep with their broken fragments. Nearly all of these masses had two smooth flat sides, and resembled irregular slices of some black Plutonian pudding hardened into stone. I was not familiar enough with volcanic phenomena to be able to decide in what manner or by what agency the earth had been thus overwhelmed with loose rocky slabs; but it looked precisely as if great sheets of solidified lava had fallen successively from the sky, and had been shattered, as they struck the earth, into millions of angular slabs. I thought of Scott's description of the place where Bruce and the Lord of the Isles landed after leaving the Castle of Lorn, as the only one I had ever read which gave me an idea of such a scene.

We drank tea at noon on the west side of this rocky wilderness, and before night reached a spot where bushes, grass, and berries again made their appearance. We camped in a storm of wind and rain, and at daybreak on the 21st continued our descent of the western slope of the mountains. Early in the forenoon we were inspirited by the sight of fresh men and horses which had been sent out to meet us from a native village called Sidanka (see-dahn'-kah), and exchanging our tired, lame, and disheartened animals for these fresh recruits, we pushed rapidly on. The weather soon cleared up warm and bright, the trail wound around among the rolling foot-hills through groves of yellow birch and scarlet mountain ash, and as the sun gradually dried our water-soaked clothes, and brought a pleasant glow of returning circulation to our chilled limbs, we forgot the rain and dreary desolation of the mountain-top and recovered our usual buoyancy of spirit.

I have once before, I believe, given the history of a bear hunt in which our party participated while crossing the Kamchatka tundra ; but as that was a mere skirmish, which did not reflect any great credit upon the individuals concerned, I am tempted to relate one more bear adventure which befell us among the foot-hills of the Tigil mountains. It shall be positively the last.

Ye who listen with credulity to the stories of hunters, and pursue with eagerness the traces of bears; who expect that courage will rise with the emergency and that the deficiencies of bravery will be supplied by the tightness of the fix, attend to the history of Rasselas, an inexperienced bear-slayer. About noon, as we were making our way along the edge of a narrow grassy valley, bordered by a dense forest of birch, larch, and pine, one of our drivers suddenly raised the cry of medveid, and pointed eagerly down the valley to a large black bear rambling carelessly through the long grass in search of blueberries, and approaching gradually nearer and nearer to our side of the ravine. He evidently had not yet seen us, and a party to attack him was soon made up of two Kamchadals, the Major, and myself, all armed to the teeth with rifles, axes, revolvers, and knives. Creeping cautiously around through the timber, we succeeded in gaining unobserved a favourable position at the edge of the woods directly in front of his Bruinic majesty, and calmly awaited his approach. Intent upon making a meal of blueberries, and entirely unconscious of his impending fate, he waddled slowly and awkwardly up to within fifty yards. The Karnchadals kneeled down, threw forward their long heavy rifles, fixed their sharp-pronged rests firmly in the ground, crossed themselves devoutly three times, drew a long breath, took a deadly and deliberate aim, shut their eyes, and fired. The silence was broken by a long fizzle, during which the Kamchadals conscientiously kept their eyes shut, and finally a terrific bang announced the catastrophe, followed immediately by two more sharp reports from the rifles of the Major and myself. As the smoke cleared away I looked eagerly to see the brute kicking around in the agonies of death; but what was my amazement to find that instead of kicking around in the agonies of death, as a beast with any sense of propriety would after such a fusillade, the perverse animal was making directly for us at a gallop! Here was a variation introduced that was not down in the programme! We had made no calculations upon a counter-attack, and the ferocity of his appearance, as he came tearing through the bushes, left no room for doubt as to the seriousness of his intentions. I tried to think of some historic precedent which would justify me in climbing a tree; but my mind was in a state of such agitation that I could not avail myself of my extensive historical knowledge. "A man may know the seven portions of the Koran by heart, but when a bear gets after him he will not be able to remember his alphabet!" What we should have done in the last extremity will never be known. A shot from the Major's revolver seemed to alter the bear's original plan of operations, and, swerving suddenly to one side, he crashed through the bushes ten feet from the muzzles of our empty rifles, and disappeared in the forest. A careful examination of the leaves and grass failed to reveal any signs of blood, and we were reluctantly forced to the conclusion that he escaped unscathed.

Hunting a bear with a Russian rifle is a very pleasant and entirely harmless diversion. The animal has plenty of time, after the gun begins to fizzle, to eat a hearty dinner of blueberries, run fifteen miles across a range of mountains into a neighbouring province, and get comfortably asleep in his hole before the deadly explosion takes place!

It would have been unsafe for any one to suggest "bear steaks" to the Major or me at any time during the succeeding week.

We camped for the night under the huge spreading branches of a gnarled birch, a few versts from the scene of our exploit, and early Friday morning were off for Sidanka. When about fifteen versts from the village Dodd suggested a gallop, to try the mettle of our horses and warm our blood. As we were both well mounted, I challenged him to a steeplechase as far as the settlement. Of all the reckless breakneck riding that we ever did in Kamchatka, this was the worst. The horses soon became as excited as their riders, and tore through the bushes and leaped over ravines, logs, rocks, and swamps with a perfect frenzy. Once I was dragged from my saddle by the catching of my rifle against a limb, and several times we both narrowly escaped knocking our brains out against trees. As we approached the town we saw three or four Kamchadals cutting wood a short distance ahead. Dodd gave a terrifying shout like a Sioux war-whoop, put spurs to his horse, and we came upon them like a thunderbolt. At the sight of two swarthy strangers in blue hunting-shirts, top-boots, and red caps, with pistols belted around their waists, and knives dangling at their girdles, charging down upon them like Mamelukes at the battle of the Pyramids, the poor Kamchadals flung away their axes and fled for their lives to the woods. Except when I was dragged off my horse, we never once drew rein until our animals stood panting and foaming in the village. If you wish to draw a flash of excitement from Dodd's eyes, ask him if he remembers the steeplechase to Sidanka.

That night we floated down the Tigil River to Tigil, where we arrived just at dark, having accomplished in sixteen days a journey of eleven hundred and thirty versts.

My recollections of Tigil are somewhat vague and indefinite. I remember that I was impressed with the inordinate quantities of champagne, cherry cordial, white rum, and "vodka" which its Russian inhabitants were capable of drinking, and thought that Tigil was a somewhat less ugly village than the generality of Kamchatkan towns, but nothing more. Next to Petropavlovsk, however, it is the most important settlement in the peninsula, and is the trading centre of the whole western coast. A Russian supply steamer and an American trading vessel touch at the mouth of the Tigil River every summer, and leave large quantities of rye flour, tea, sugar, cloth, copper kettles, tobacco, and strong Russian vodka, for distribution through the peninsula. The Bragans, Vorrebeoffs (vor-re-be-offs'), and two or three other trading firms make it headquarters, and it is the winter rendezvous of many of the northern tribes of Chukchis and Koraks. As we should pass no other trading post until we reached the settlement of Gizhiga (gee'-zhee-gah'), at the head of the Okhotsk Sea, we determined to remain a few days at Tigil to rest and refit.

We were now about to enter upon what we feared would prove the most difficult part of our journey - both on account of the nature of the country and the lateness of the season. Only seven more Kamchadal towns lay between us and the steppes of the Wandering Koraks, and we had not yet been able to think of any plan of crossing these inhospitable wastes before the winter's snows should make them passable on reindeer-sledges. It is difficult for one who has had no experience of northern life to get from a mere verbal description a clear idea of a Siberian moss steppe, or to appreciate fully the nature and extent of the obstacles which it presents to summer travel. It is by no means easy to cross, even in winter, when it is frozen and covered with snow; but in summer it becomes practically impassable. For three or four hundred square miles the eternally frozen ground is covered to a depth of two feet with a dense luxuriant growth of soft, spongy arctic moss, saturated with water, and sprinkled here and there with little hillocks of stunted blueberry bushes and clusters of labrador tea. It never dries up, never becomes hard enough to afford stable footing. Prom June to September it is a great, soft, quaking cushion of wet moss. The foot may sink in it to the knee, but as soon as the pressure is removed it rises again with spongy elasticity, and no trace is left of the step. Walking over it is precisely like walking over an enormous wet sponge. The causes which produce this extraordinary, and apparently abnormal, growth of moss are those which exercise the most powerful influence over the development of vegetation everywhere, - viz., heat, light, and moisture, - and these agencies, in a northern climate, are so combined and intensified during the summer months as to stimulate some kinds of vegetation into almost tropical luxuriance. The earth thaws out in spring to an average depth of perhaps two feet, and below that point there is a thick, impenetrable layer of solid frost. The water produced by the melting of the winter's snows is prevented by this stratum of frozen ground from sinking any farther into the earth, and has no escape except by slow evaporation. It therefore saturates the cushion of moss on the surface, and, aided by the almost perpetual sunlight of June and July, excites it to a rapid and wonderfully luxuriant growth.

It will readily be seen that travel in summer, over a great steppe covered with soft elastic moss, and soaking with water, is a very difficult if not absolutely impracticable undertaking. A horse sinks to his knees in the spongy surface at every step, and soon becomes exhausted by the severe exertion which such walking necessitates. We had had an example of such travel upon the summit of the Yolofka pass, and it was not strange that we should look forward with considerable anxiety to crossing the great moss steppes of the Koraks in the northern part of the peninsula. It would have been wiser, perhaps, for us to wait patiently at Tigil until the establishment of winter travel upon dog-sledges; but the Major feared that the chief engineer of the enterprise might have landed a party of men in the dangerous region around Bering Strait, and he was anxious to get where he could find out something about it as soon as possible. He determined, therefore, to push on at all hazards to the frontier of the Korak steppes, and then cross them on horses, if possible.

A whale-boat was purchased at Tigil, and forwarded with a native crew to Lesnoi, so that in case we failed to get over the Korak steppes we might cross the head of the Okhotsk Sea to Gizhiga by water before the setting in of winter. Provisions, trading-goods, and fur clothes of all sorts were purchased and packed away in skin boxes, and every preparation made which our previous experience could suggest for rough life and bad weather.