On the following morning at daybreak we continued our journey, and rode until four hours after dark, over a boundless level steppe, without a single guiding landmark to point the way. I was surprised to see how accurately our drivers could determine the points of the compass and shape their course by simply looking at the snow. The heavy north-east winds which prevail in this locality throughout the winter sweep the snow into long wave-like ridges called sastrugi (sas-troo'-gee), which are always perpendicular to the course of the wind, and which almost invariably run in a north-west and south-east direction. They are sometimes hidden for a few days by fresh-fallen snow; but an experienced Korak can always tell by removing the upper layer which way is north, and he travels to his destination by night or day in a nearly straight line.

We reached the third encampment about six o'clock, and upon entering the largest tent were surprised to find it crowded with natives, as if in expectation of some ceremony or entertainment. Inquiry through our interpreter elicited the interesting fact that the ceremony of marriage was about to be performed for, or rather by, two members of the band; and instead of taking up our quarters, as we at first intended, in another less crowded tent, we determined to remain and see in what manner this rite would be solemnised by a wholly uncivilised and barbarous people.

The marriage ceremony of the Koraks is especially remarkable for its entire originality, and for the indifference which it manifests to the sensibilities of the bridegroom. In no other country does there exist such a curious mixture of sense and absurdity as that which is dignified in the social life of the Koraks with the name of marriage; and among no other people, let us charitably hope, is the unfortunate bridegroom subjected to such humiliating indignities. The contemplation of marriage is, or ought to be, a very serious thing to every young man; but to a Korak of average sensibility it must be absolutely appalling. No other proof of bravery need ever be exhibited than a certificate of marriage (if the Koraks have such documents), and the bravery rises into positive heroism when a man marries two or three times. I once knew a Korak in Kamchatka who had four wives, and I felt as much respect for his heroic bravery as if he had charged with the Six Hundred at Balaklava.

The ceremony, I believe, has never been described; and inadequate as a description may be to convey an idea of the reality, it will perhaps enable American lovers to realise what a calamity they escaped when they were born in America and not in Kamchatka. The young Korak's troubles begin when he first falls in love; this, like Achilles' wrath, is "the direful spring of woes unnumbered." If his intentions are serious, he calls upon the damsel's father and makes formal proposals for her hand, ascertains the amount of her dower in reindeer, and learns her estimated value. He is probably told that he must work for his wife two or three years - a rather severe trial of any young man's affection. He then seeks an interview with the young lady herself, and performs the agreeable or disagreeable duty which corresponds in Korak to the civilised custom of "popping the question." We had hoped to get some valuable hints from the Koraks as to the best method which their experience suggested for the successful accomplishment of this delicate task; but we could learn nothing that would be applicable to the more artificial relations of civilised society. If the young man's sentiments are reciprocated, and he obtains a positive promise of marriage, he goes cheerfully to work, like Ferdinand in The Tempest for Miranda's father, and spends two or three years in cutting and drawing wood, watching reindeer, making sledges, and contributing generally to the interests of his prospective father-in-law. At the end of this probationary period comes the grand "experimentum crucis," which is to decide his fate and prove the success or the uselessness of his long labour.

At this interesting crisis we had surprised our Korak friends in the third encampment. The tent which we had entered was an unusually large one, containing twenty-six pologs, arranged in a continuous circle around its inner circumference. The open space in the centre around the fire was crowded with the dusky faces and half-shaven heads of the Korak spectators, whose attention seemed about equally divided between sundry kettles and troughs of manyalla, boiled venison, marrow, frozen tallow, and similar delicacies, and the discussion of some controverted point of marriage etiquette. Owing to my ignorance of the language, I was not able to enter thoroughly into the merits of the disputed question; but it seemed to be ably argued on both sides. Our sudden entrance seemed to create a temporary diversion from the legitimate business of the evening. The tattooed women and shaven-headed men stared in open-mouthed astonishment at the pale-faced guests who had come unbidden to the marriage-feast, having on no wedding garments. Our faces were undeniably dirty, our blue hunting-shirts and buckskin trousers bore the marks of two months' rough travel, in numerous rips, tears, and tatters, which were only partially masked by a thick covering of reindeer hair from our fur kukhlankas. Our general appearance, in fact, suggested a more intimate acquaintance with dirty yurts, mountain thickets, and Siberian storms, than with the civilising influences of soap, water, razors, and needles. We bore the curious scrutiny of the assemblage, however, with the indifference of men who were used to it, and sipped our hot tea while waiting for the ceremony to begin. I looked curiously around to see if I could distinguish the happy candidates for matrimonial honours; but they were evidently concealed in one of the closed pologs. The eating and drinking seemed by this time to be about finished, and an air of expectation and suspense pervaded the entire crowd. Suddenly we were startled by the loud and regular beating of a native barabanor bass drum, which fairly filled the tent with a great volume of sound. At the same instant the tent opened to permit the passage of a tall, stern-looking Korak, with an armful of willow sprouts and alder branches, which he proceeded to distribute in all the pologs of the tent. "What do you suppose that's for?" asked Dodd in an undertone. "I don't know," was the reply; "keep quiet and you'll see." The regular throbs of the drum continued throughout the distribution of the willow sticks and at its close the drummer began to sing a low, musical recitative, which increased gradually in volume and energy until it swelled into a wild, barbarous chant, timed by the regular beats of the heavy drum. A slight commotion followed, the front curtains of all the pologs were thrown up, the women stationed themselves in detachments of two or three at the entrance of each polog, and took up the willow branches which had been provided. In a moment a venerable native, whom we presumed to be the father of one of the parties, emerged from one of the pologs near the door, leading a good-looking young Korak and the dark-faced bride. Upon their appearance the excitement increased to the pitch of frenzy, the music redoubled its rapidity, the men in the centre of the tent joined in the uncouth chant, and uttered at short intervals peculiar shrill cries of wild excitement. At a given signal from the native who had led out the couple, the bride darted suddenly into the first polog, and began a rapid flight around the tent, raising the curtains between the pologs successively, and passing under. The bridegroom instantly followed in hot pursuit; but the women who were stationed in each compartment threw every possible impediment in his way, tripping up his unwary feet, holding down the curtains to prevent his passage, and applying the willow and alder switches unmercifully to a very susceptible part of his body as he stooped to raise them. The air was filled with drum-beats, shouts of encouragement and derision, and the sound of the heavy blows which were administered to the unlucky bridegroom by each successive detachment of women as he ran the gantlet. It became evident at once that despite his most violent efforts he would fail to overtake the flying Atalanta before she completed the circuit of the tent. Even the golden apples of Hesperides would have availed him little against such disheartening odds; but with undismayed perseverance he pressed on, stumbling headlong over the outstretched feet of his female persecutors, and getting constantly entangled in the ample folds of the reindeerskin curtains, which were thrown with the skill of a matador over his head and eyes. In a moment the bride had entered the last closed polog near the door, while the unfortunate bridegroom was still struggling with his accumulating misfortunes about half-way around the tent. I expected to see him relax his efforts and give up the contest when the bride disappeared, and was preparing to protest strongly in his behalf against the unfairness of the trial; but, to my surprise, he still struggled on, and with a final plunge burst through the curtains of the last polog and rejoined his bride. The music suddenly ceased, and the throng began to stream out of the tent. The ceremony was evidently over. Turning to Meranef, who with a delighted grin had watched its progress, we inquired what it all meant. "Were they married?" - "Da's," was the affirmative reply. "But," we objected, "he didn't catch her." - "She waited for him, your honour, in the last polog, and if he caught her there it was enough." - "Suppose he had not caught her there, then what?" - "Then," answered the Cossack, with an expressive shrug of commiseration, "the beidnak [poor fellow] would have had to work two more years." This was pleasant - for the bridegroom! To work two years for a wife, undergo a severe course of willow sprouts at the close of his apprenticeship, and then have no security against a possible breach of promise on the part of the bride. His faith in her constancy must be unlimited. The intention of the whole ceremony was evidently to give the woman an opportunity to marry the man or not, as she chose, since it was obviously impossible for him to catch her under such circumstances, unless she voluntarily waited for him in one of the pologs. The plan showed a more chivalrous regard and deference for the wishes and preferences of the gentler sex than is common in an unreconstructed state of society; but it seemed to me, as an unprejudiced observer, that the same result might have been obtained without so much abuse of the unfortunate bridegroom! Some regard ought to have been paid to his feelings, if he was a man. I could not ascertain the significance of the chastisement which was inflicted by the women upon the bridegroom with the willow switches. Dodd suggested that it might be emblematical of married life - a sort of foreshadowing of future domestic experience; but in view of the masculine Korak character, this hardly seemed to me probable. No woman in her senses would try the experiment a second time upon one of the stern, resolute men who witnessed that ceremony, and who seemed to regard it then as perfectly proper. Circumstances would undoubtedly alter cases.

Mr. A.S. Bickmore, in the American Journal of Science for May, 1868, notices this curious custom of the Koraks, and says that the chastisement is intended to test the young man's "ability to bear up against the ills of life"; but I would respectfully submit that the ills of life do not generally come in that shape, and that switching a man over the back with willow sprouts is a very singular way of preparing him for future misfortunes of any kind.

Whatever may be the motive, it is certainly an infringement upon the generally recognised prerogatives of the sterner sex, and should be discountenanced by all Koraks who favour masculine supremacy. Before they know it, they will have a woman's suffrage association on their hands, and female lecturers will be going about from band to band advocating the substitution of hickory clubs and slung-shots for the harmless willow switches, and protesting against the tyranny which will not permit them to indulge in this interesting diversion at least three times a week. [Footnote: It is now well known that this ceremony is a form of "marriage by capture" which is widely prevalent among barbarous peoples. - G.K. (1909).]

After the conclusion of the ceremony we removed to an adjacent tent, and were surprised, as we came out into the open air, to see three or four Koraks shouting and reeling about in an advanced stage of intoxication - celebrating, I suppose, the happy event which had just transpired. I knew that there was not a drop of alcoholic liquor in all northern Kamchatka, nor, so far as I knew, anything from which it could be made, and it was a mystery to me how they had succeeded in becoming so suddenly, thoroughly, hopelessly, undeniably drunk. Even Ross Browne's beloved Washoe, with its "howling wilderness" saloons, could not have turned out more creditable specimens of intoxicated humanity than those before us. The exciting agent, whatever it might be, was certainly as quick in its operation, and as effective in its results, as any "tanglefoot" or "bottled lightning" known to modern civilisation. Upon inquiry we learned to our astonishment that they had been eating a species of the plant vulgarly known as toadstool. There is a peculiar fungus of this class in Siberia, known to the natives as "muk-a-moor," and as it possesses active intoxicating properties, it is used as a stimulant by nearly all the Siberian tribes. [Footnote: Agaricus muscarius or fly-agaric.] Taken in large quantities it is a violent narcotic poison; but in small doses it produces all the effects of alcoholic liquor. Its habitual use, however, completely shatters the nervous system, and its sale by Russian traders to the natives has consequently been made a penal offence by Russian law. In spite of all prohibitions, the trade is still secretly carried on, and I have seen twenty dollars' worth of furs bought with a single fungus. The Koraks would gather it for themselves, but it requires the shelter of timber for its growth, and is not to be found on the barren steppes over which they wander; so that they are obliged for the most part to buy it, at enormous prices, from the Russian traders. It may sound strangely to American ears, but the invitation which a convivial Korak extends to his passing friend is not, "Come in and have a drink," but, "Won't you come in and take a toadstool?" Not a very alluring proposal perhaps to a civilised toper, but one which has a magical effect upon a dissipated Korak. As the supply of these toadstools is by no means equal to the demand, Korak ingenuity has been greatly exercised in the endeavour to economise the precious stimulant, and make it go as far as possible. Sometimes, in the course of human events, it becomes imperatively necessary that a whole band shall get drunk together, and they have only one toadstool to do it with. For a description of the manner in which this band gets drunk collectively and individually upon one fungus, and keeps drunk for a week, the curious reader is referred to Goldsmith's Citizen of the World, Letter 32. It is but just to say, however, that this horrible practice is almost entirely confined to the settled Koraks of Penzhinsk Gulf - the lowest, most degraded portion of the whole tribe. It may prevail to a limited extent among the wandering natives, but I never heard of more than one such instance outside of the Penzhinsk Gulf settlements.

Our travel for the next few days after leaving the third encampment was fatiguing and monotonous. The unvarying routine of our daily life in smoky Korak tents, and the uniform flatness and barrenness of the country over which we journeyed, became inexpressibly tiresome, and we looked forward in longing anticipation to the Russian settlement of Gizhiga, at the head of Gizhiginsk Gulf, which was the Mecca of our long pilgrimage. To spend more than a week at one time with the Wandering Koraks without becoming lonesome or homesick, requires an almost inexhaustible fertility of mental resource. One is thrown for entertainment entirely upon himself. No daily paper, with its fresh material for thought and discussion, comes to enliven the long blank evenings by the tent fire; no wars or rumours of wars, no coup d'etatof diplomacy, no excitement of political canvass ever agitates the stagnant intellectual atmosphere of Korak existence. Removed to an infinite distance, both physically and intellectually, from all of the interests, ambitions, and excitements which make up our world, the Korak simply exists, like a human oyster, in the quiet waters of his monotonous life. An occasional birth or marriage, the sacrifice of a dog, or, on rare occasions, of a man to the Korak Ahriman, and the infrequent visits of a Russian trader, are the most prominent events in his history, from the cradle to the grave. I found it almost impossible sometimes to realise, as I sat by the fire in a Korak tent, that I was still in the modern world of railroads, telegraphs, and daily newspapers. I seemed to have been carried back by some enchantment through the long cycles of time, and made a dweller in the tents of Shem and Japheth. Not a suggestion was there in all our surroundings of the vaunted enlightenment and civilisation of the nineteenth century, and as we gradually accustomed ourselves to the new and strange conditions of primitive barbarism, our recollections of a civilised life faded into the unreal imagery of a vivid dream.