We remained in Yakutsk only four days - just long enough to make the necessary preparations for a continuous sleigh-ride of five thousand one hundred and fourteen miles to the nearest railway in European Russia. The Imperial Russian Post, by which we purposed to travel from Yakutsk to Nizhni Novgorod, was, at that time, the longest and best organised horse-express service in the world. It employed 3000 or 4000 drivers, with twice as many telegas, tarantases and sleighs, and kept in readiness for instant use more than 10,000 horses, distributed among 350 post-stations, along a route that covered a distance as great as that between New York City and the Sandwich Islands. If one had the requisite physical endurance, and could travel night and day without stop, it was possible, with a courier's "podorozhnaya" (po-do-rozh'-na-yah), or road-ticket, to go from Yakutsk to Nizhni Novgorod, a distance of 5114 miles, in twenty-five days, or only eleven days more than the time occupied by a railway train in covering about the same distance. Before the establishment of telegraphic communication between China and Russia, imperial couriers, carrying important despatches from Peking, often made the distance between Irkutsk and St. Petersburg - 3618 miles - in sixteen days, with two hundred and twelve changes of horses and drivers. In order to accomplish this feat they had to eat, drink, and sleep in their sleighs and make an average speed-rate of ten miles an hour for nearly four hundred consecutive hours. We did not expect, of course, to travel with such rapidity as this; but we intended to ride night and day, and hoped to reach St. Petersburg before the end of the year. With the aid and advice of Baron Maidel, a Russian scientist who had just come over the route that we purposed to follow, Price and I bought a large openpavoska or Siberian travelling sleigh, which looked like a huge, burlap-covered baby-carriage on runners; had it brought into the courtyard of our house, and proceeded to fit it up for six weeks' occupancy as a bedchamber and sitting-room. First of all, we repacked our luggage in soft, flat, leather pouches, and stowed it away in the bottom of the deep and capacious vehicle as a foundation for our bed. We then covered these flat pouches with a two-foot layer of fragrant hay, to lessen the shock of jolting on a rough road; spread over the hay a big wolfskin sleeping-sack, about seven feet in length and wide enough to hold our two bodies; covered that with two pairs of blankets; and finally lined the whole back part of the sleigh with large, soft, swan's-down pillows. At the foot of the sleeping-sack, under the driver's seat, we stowed away a bag of dried rye-bread, another bag filled with cakes of frozen soup, two or three pounds of tea, a conical loaf of white sugar, half a dozen dried and smoked salmon, and a padded box containing teapot, tea-cannister, sugar-jar, spoons, knives and forks, and two glass tumblers. Schwartz; and Malchanski bought another pavoska and fitted it up in similar fashion, and on the 19th of November we obtained from the Bureau of Posts two podorozhnayas, or, as Price called them, "ukases," directing every post-station master between Yakutsk and Irkutsk to furnish us, "by order of his Imperial Majesty Alexander Nikolaivitch, Autocrat of All the Russias," etc., etc., six horses and two drivers to carry us on our way.

In every part of the world except Siberia it is customary to start on a long journey in the morning. In Siberia, however, the proper time is late in the evening, when all your friends can conveniently assemble to "provozhat," or, in colloquial English, give you a send-off. Judging from our experience in Yakutsk, the Siberian custom has the support of sound reason, inasmuch as the amount of drinking involved in the riotous ceremony of "provozhanie" unfits a man for any place except bed, and any occupation more strenuous than slumber. A man could never see his friend off in the morning and then go back to his business. He would see double, if not quadruple, and would hardly be able to speak his native language without a foreign accent. When the horses came from the post-station for us, at ten o'clock on the evening of November 20th, we had had one dinner and two or three incidental lunches; had "sampled" every kind of beverage that our host had in the house, from vodka and cherry cordial to "John Collins" and champagne; had sung all the songs we knew, from "John Brown's Body" in English to "Nastoichka travnaya" in Russian; and Schwartz and Malchanski were ready, apparently, to make a night of it, send the horses back to the station, and have another provozhanie the next day. Price and I, however, insisted that the Czar's ukase to the station-masters was good only for that evening; that if we didn't take the horses immediately we should have to pay demurrage; that the curfew bell had rung; that the town gates would close at ten thirty sharp; and that if we didn't get under way at once, we should probably be arrested for riotous disturbance of the peace!

We put on our kukhlankas and fur hoods at last; shook hands once more all around; and finally got out into the street; - Malchanski dragging Schwartz off to his sleigh singing the chorus of a Russian drinking song that ended in "Ras-to-chee'-tel-no! Vos-khe-tee'-tel-no! Oo-dee-vee'-tel-no!" We then drank a farewell stirrup cup, which our bareheaded host brought out to us after we had taken our seats, and were just about to start, when Baron Maidel shouted to me, with an air of serious concern, "Have you got a club - for the drivers and station-masters?"

"No," I replied, "I don't need a club; I can talk to them in the most persuasive Russian you ever heard."

"Akh! Neilza!" ("Impossible") he exclaimed. "It is impossible to go so! You must have a club! Wait a minute!" and he rushed back into the house to get me a bludgeon from his private armory. My driver, meanwhile, who evidently disapproved, on personal grounds, of this suggestion, laid his whip across his horses' backs with a cry of "Noo, rebatta!" ("Now then, boys") and we dashed away from the house, just as the Baron reappeared on the steps brandishing a formidable cudgel and shouting: "Pastoy! Neilza!" ("Stop, it's impossible.") "You can't go without a club!" When we turned a neighbouring corner and lost sight of the house, our host was waving a bottle in one hand and a lighted candle in the other; Baron Maidel was still gesticulating on the steps, shouting: "Neilza! Hold on! Club! For your drivers! It's impossible to go so!" and the little group of "provozhatters" on the sidewalk were laughing, cheering, and shouting "Good-bye! Good luck! With God!"

We dashed away at a gallop through the snow-drifted streets, past earth-banked yurts whose windows of ice were irradiated with a warm glow by the open fires within; past columns of luminous smoke rising from the wide chimneys of Yakut houses; past a red stuccoed church upon whose green, balloon-shaped domes golden stars glittered in the frosty moonlight; past a lonely graveyard on the outskirts of the city; and finally down a gentle decline to the snow-covered river, which had a width of nearly four miles and which stretched away to the westward like a frozen lake surrounded by dark wooded hills. Up this great river - the Lena - we were to travel on the ice for a distance of nearly a thousand miles, following a sinuous, never-ending line of small evergreen trees, which had been cut in the neighbouring forests and set up at short intervals in the snow, to guide the drivers in storms and to mark out a line of safety around air-holes and between areas of thin ice or stretches of open water. I fell asleep, shortly after leaving Yakutsk, but was awakened, two or three hours later, at the first post-station, by the voice of our driver shouting: "Ai! Boys! Out with the horses - lively!" Two of us then had to alight from our sleighs, go into the post-station, show our podorozhnayas to the station-master, and superintend the harnessing of two fresh teams. Getting back into my fur bag, I lay awake for the next three hours, listening to the jangle of a big bell on the wooden arch over the thill-horse's back, and watching, through frosty eyelashes, the dark outlines of the high wooded shores as they seemed to drift swiftly past us to the eastward.

The severest hardship of post travel in eastern Siberia in winter is not the cold, but the breaking up of all one's habits of sleep. In the first stages of our journey, when the nights were clear and the river ice was smooth and safe, we made the distances between stations in from two to three hours; and at the end of every such period we were awakened, and had to get out of our warm fur bags into a temperature that was almost always below zero and sometimes forty or fifty degrees below. When we got back into our vehicles and resumed our journey, we were usually cold, and just as we would get warm enough to go to sleep, we would reach another station and again have to turn out. Sleeping in short snatches, between shivers, to the accompaniment of a jangling dinner-bell and a driver's shouts, and getting out into an arctic temperature every two or three hours, night and day, for a whole week, reduces one to a very fagged and jaded condition. At the end of the first four days, it seemed to me that I should certainly have to stop somewhere for an unbroken night's rest; but man is an animal that gets accustomed to things, and in the course of a week I became so used to the wild cries of the driver and the jangle of the thill-horse's bell that they no longer disturbed me, and I gradually acquired the habit of sleeping, in brief cat-naps, at all hours of the day and night. As we ascended the river, the moon rose later and later and the nights were often so dark that our drivers had great difficulty in following the line of evergreen trees that marked the road. Finally, about five hundred miles from Yakutsk, a particularly reckless or self-confident driver got off the road, went ahead at a venture instead of stopping to look for the evergreen trees, and just after midnight drove us into an air-hole, about a quarter of a mile from shore, where the water was thirty feet deep. Price and I were fast asleep, and were awakened by the crashing of ice, the snorting of the terrified horses, and the rush of water into the sleigh. I cannot remember how we got out of our fur bags and gained the solid ice. I was so bewildered by sleep and so completely taken by surprise that I must have acted upon blind impulse, without any clear consciousness of what I was doing. From subsequent examination of the air-hole and the sleigh, I concluded that we must have jumped from the widely extended outriggers, which were intended to guard against an accidental capsize, which had a span of ten or twelve feet, and which rested on the broken ice around the margin of the hole in such a way as to prevent the sleigh from becoming completely submerged. But be that as it may, we all got out on the solid ice in some way, and the first thing I remember is standing on the edge of the hole, staring at the swimming, snorting horses, the outlines of whose heads and necks I could just make out, and wondering whether this were not a particularly vivid and terrifying nightmare. For an instant, I could not be absolutely sure that I was awake. In a moment, the other sleigh, which was only a short distance behind, loomed up through the darkness and its driver shouted to our man, "What's the matter?"

"Oootonoole!" ("We got drowned") was the reply. "Get out your ropes, quick, while I run to the shore for some driftwood. The horses will freeze and sink in a few minutes. Akh! My God! My God! What a punishment!" and, tearing off his outer fur coat, he started at a run for the shore. I did not know what he expected to do with driftwood, but he seemed to have a clear vital idea of some sort, so Price and I rushed away after him. "We must get a tree, or a small log," he explained breathlessly as we overtook him, "so I can crawl out on it and cut the horses loose. But God knows," he added, "whether they'll hold out till we get back. The water is killing cold." After a few minutes on the snowy beach, we found a long, slender tree-trunk that our driver said would do, and began to drag it across the ice. Our breath, by this time, was coming in short, panting gasps, and when Schwartz, Malchanski, and the other driver, who ran to our assistance, took hold of the heavy log, we were on the verge of physical collapse. When we got back to the air-hole, the horses were still swimming feebly, but they were fast becoming chilled and exhausted, and it seemed doubtful whether we should save them. We pushed the log out over the broken edge of the ice, and five of us held it while our driver, with a knife between his teeth and a rope about his shoulders, crawled out on it, cut loose one of the outside horses and fastened the line around its neck. He then crept back, and we all hauled on the line until we dragged the poor beast out by the head. It was very much exhausted and badly scraped by the sharp edge of the ice, but it had strength enough to scramble to its feet. We then cut loose and hauled out in the same way the outside horse on the other side. This one was nearly dead and made no attempt to get up until it had been cruelly flogged, but it struggled to its feet at last. Cutting loose the thill-horse was more difficult, as its body was completely submerged and it was hard to get at the rawhide fastening that held the collar, the wooden arch, and the thills together, but our plucky driver succeeded at last, and we dragged the half-frozen animal out. Rescue came for him, however, too late. He could not rise to his feet and died, a few moments afterward, from exhaustion and cold. Fastening ropes to the half-submerged sleigh and harnessing to it the horses of the other team, we finally pulled that up on the ice. Leaving it there for the present, we made traverses back and forth across the river until we found the line of evergreen trees, and then started for the nearest post-station - Price and I riding with Malchanski and Schwartz while our driver followed with the two rescued horses. When we reached the post-station, which was about seven miles away, it was between three and four o'clock in the morning; and, after rousing the station-master and sending a driver with a team of fresh horses after the abandoned sleigh, we drank two or three tumblerfuls of hot tea, brought in blankets and pillows from the sleigh of Schwartz and Malchanski, and went to bed on the floor. As a result of this misadventure, our homeward progress was stopped, and we had to stay at the village of Krestofskaya two days, while we repaired damages. Our sleigh, when it came in that morning, was a mass of ice; our fur bag, blankets, pillows, and spare clothing were water-soaked and frozen solid; and the contents of our leather pouches were almost ruined. By distributing our things among half a dozen houses we succeeded in getting them thawed out and dried in time to make another start at the end of the second day; but after that time I did not allow myself to fall asleep at night. We had escaped once, but we might not be so fortunate again, and I decided to watch the line of evergreen bushes myself. When we lost the road in the darkness afterward, as we frequently did, I made the driver stop and searched the river myself on foot until I found it. The danger that I feared was not so much getting drowned as getting wet. In temperatures that were almost continuously below zero, and often twenty or thirty degrees below, a man in water-soaked clothing would freeze to death in a very short time, and there were so many air-holes and areas of thin ice that watchfulness was a matter of vital necessity.

Day after day and night after night we rode swiftly westward, up a river that was always more than a mile in width and often two or three; past straggling villages of unpainted log houses clinging to the steep sides of the mountainous shores; through splendid precipitous gorges, like those above the Iron Gate of the Danube; along stretches of flat pasture land where shaggy, white Yakut ponies were pawing up the snow to get at the withered grass; through good-sized towns like Kirinsk and Vitimsk, where we began to see signs of occidental civilisation; and finally, past a stern-wheel, Ohio-River steamboat, of primitive type, tied up and frozen in near the head of navigation at Verkholensk. "Just look at that steamer!" cried Price, with an unwonted glow of enthusiasm in his boyish face. "Doesn't that look like home?" At Verkholensk we abandoned the Lena, which we had followed up almost to its source, and, leaving the ice for the first time in two weeks, we started across country in a line nearly parallel with the western coast of Lake Baikal. We had been forty-one days on the road from Okhotsk; had covered a distance of about 2300 miles, and were within a day's ride of Irkutsk.

One bright sunshiny morning in early December, from the crest of a high hill on the Verkholensk road, we got our first view of the east-Siberian capital - a long compact mass of wooden houses with painted window-shutters; white-walled buildings with roofs of metallic green; and picturesque Russo-Byzantine churches whose snowy towers were crowned with inverted balloons of gold or covered with domes of ultramarine blue spangled with golden stars. Long lines of loaded sledges from the Mongolian frontier could be seen entering the city from the south; the streets were full of people; flags were flying here and there over the roofs of government buildings; and from the barracks down the river came faintly the music of a regimental band. Our driver stopped his horses, took off his hat, and turning to us, with the air of one who owns what he points out, said, proudly, "Irkutsk!" If he expected us to be impressed - as he evidently did - he was not disappointed; because Irkutsk, at that time and from that point of view, was a very striking and beautiful city. We, moreover, had just come from the desolate moss tundras and wild, lonely forests of arctic Asia and were in a state of mind to be impressed by anything that had architectural beauty, or indicated culture, luxury, and wealth. We had seen nothing that even remotely suggested a city in two years and a half; and we felt almost as if we were Gothic barbarians gazing at Rome. It did not even strike us as particularly funny when our Buriat driver informed us seriously that Irkutsk was so great a place that its houses had to be numbered in order to enable their owners to find them! To us, fresh from Gizhiga, Penzhina, and Okhotsk, a city with numbered houses was really too remarkable and impressive a thing to be treated with levity, and we therefore received the information with proper awe and in silence. We could share the native feeling, even if numbered houses had once been known to us.

Twenty minutes later, we dashed into the city at a gallop, as if we were imperial couriers with war news; rushed at break-neck speed past markets, bazaars, telegraph poles, street lamps, big shops with gilded sign-boards, polished droshkies drawn by high-stepping Orloff horses, officers in uniform, grey-coated policemen with sabres, and pretty women hooded in white Caucasian bashliks; and finally drew up with a flourish in front of a comfortable-looking stuccoed hotel - the first one we had seen in more than twenty-nine months.