Availing ourselves of the road which had been broken by the sledges of the priest, we made more rapid progress toward Anadyrsk than I had anticipated, and on November 22d we camped at the foot of a range of low mountains known as the "Russki Krebet," only thirty versts south of the settlement. With the hope of reaching our destination before the next morning, we had intended to travel all night; but a storm sprang up most inopportunely just before dark and prevented us from getting over the pass. About midnight the wind abated a little, the moon came out occasionally through rifts in the clouds, and, fearing that we should have no better opportunity, we roused up our tired dogs and began the ascent of the mountain. It was a wild, lonely scene. The snow was drifting in dense clouds down the pass, half hiding from sight the bare white peaks on either side, and blotting out all the landscape behind us as we ascended. Now and then the misty moonbeams would struggle faintly through the clouds of flying snow and light up for a moment the great barren slope of the mountain above our heads; then they would be suddenly smothered in dark vapour, the wind would come roaring down the ravine again, and everything would vanish in clouds and darkness. Blinded and panting for breath, we finally gained the summit, and as we stopped for a moment to rest our tired dogs, we were suddenly startled by the sight of a long line of dark objects passing swiftly across the bare mountain-top only a few yards away and plunging down into the ravine out of which we had just come. I caught only a glimpse of them, but they seemed to be dog-sledges, and with a great shout we started in pursuit. Dog-sledges they were, and as we drew nearer I recognised among them the old sealskin covered pavoska which I had left at Anadyrsk the previous winter, and which I knew must be occupied by an American. With heart beating fast from excitement I sprang from my sledge, ran up to the pavoska, and demanded in English, "Who is it?" It was too dark to recognise faces, but I knew well the voice that answered "Bush!" and never was that voice more welcome. For more than three weeks I had not seen a countryman nor spoken a word of English; I was lonely and disheartened by constantly accumulating misfortunes, when suddenly at midnight on a desolate mountain-top, in a storm, I met an old friend and comrade whom I had almost given up as dead. It was a joyful meeting. The natives who had gone to Anadyr Bay in search of Bush and his party had returned in safety, bringing Bush with them, and he was on his way to Gizhiga to carry the news of the famine and get provisions and help. He had been stopped by the storm as we had, and when it abated a little at midnight we had both started from opposite sides to cross the mountain, and had thus met upon the summit.

We went back together to my deserted camp on the south side of the mountain, blew up the embers of my still smouldering fire, spread down our bearskins, and sat there talking until we were as white as polar bears with the drifting snow, and day began to break in the East.

Bush brought more bad news. They had gone down to the mouth of the Anadyr, as the priest had already informed me, in the early part of June, and had waited there for the Company's vessels almost four months. Their provisions had finally given out, and they had been compelled to subsist upon the few fish that they were able to catch from day to day, and go hungry when they could catch none. For salt they scraped the staves of an old pork-barrel which had been left at Macrae's camp the previous winter, and for coffee they drank burned rice water. At last, however, salt and rice both failed, and they were reduced to an unvarying and often scanty diet of boiled fish, without coffee, bread, or salt. Living in the midst of a great moss swamp fifty miles from the nearest tree, dressing in skins for the want of anything else, suffering frequently from hunger, tormented constantly by mosquitoes, from which they had no protection, and looking day after day and week after week for vessels which never came, their situation was certainly miserable. The Company's bark Golden Gate had finally arrived in October, bringing twenty-five men and a small steamer; but winter had already set in, and five days afterwards, before they could finish discharging the vessel's cargo, she was wrecked by ice. Her crew and nearly all her stores were saved, but by this misfortune the number of the party was increased from twenty-five to forty-seven, without any corresponding increase in the quantity of provisions for their subsistence. Fortunately, however, there were bands of Wandering Chukchis within reach, and from them Bush succeeded in buying a considerable number of reindeer, which he caused to be frozen and stored away for future use. After the freezing over of the Anadyr River, Bush was left, as Macrae had been the previous winter, without any means of getting up to the settlement, a distance of 250 miles; but he had foreseen this difficulty, and had left orders at Anadyrsk that if he failed to return in canoes before the river closed, dog-sledges should be sent to his assistance. Notwithstanding the famine the dog-sledges were sent, and Bush, with two men, had returned on them to Anadyrsk. Finding that settlement famine-stricken and deserted, he had started without a moment's delay for Gizhiga, his exhausted and starving dogs dying along the road.

The situation of affairs, then, when I met Bush on the summit of the Russki Krebet, was briefly as follows:

Forty-four men were living at the mouth of the Anadyr River, 250 miles from the nearest settlement, without provisions enough to last them through the winter, and without any means whatever of getting away. The village of Anadyrsk was deserted, and with the exception of a few teams at Penzhina, there were no available dogs in all the Northern District, from the Okhotsk Sea to Bering Strait. Under such circumstances, what could be done? Bush and I discussed the question all night beside our lonely camp-fire under the Russki Krebet, but could come to no decision, and after sleeping three or four hours we started for Anadyrsk. Late in the afternoon we drove into the settlement - but it could be called a settlement no longer. The two upper villages - "Osolkin" and "Pokorukof," which on the previous winter had presented so thriving an appearance, were now left without a single inhabitant, and Markova itself was occupied only by a few starving families whose dogs had all died, and who were therefore unable to get away. No chorus of howls announced our arrival; no people came out to meet us; the windows of the houses were closed with wooden shutters, and half buried in drifts; the snow was unbroken by paths, and the whole village was silent and desolate. It looked as if one-half of the inhabitants had died and the other half had gone to the funeral! We stopped at a small log-house where Bush had established his headquarters, and spent the remainder of the day in talking over our respective experiences.

The unpleasant situation in which we found ourselves placed was due almost entirely to the famine at Anadyrsk. The late arrival and consequent wreck of the Golden Gate was of course a great misfortune; but it would not have been irretrievable had not the famine deprived us of all means of transportation. The inhabitants of Anadyrsk, as well as of all the other Russian settlements in Siberia, are dependent for their very existence upon the fish which enter the rivers every summer to spawn, and are caught by thousands as they make their way up-stream toward the shallow water of the tributary brooks in the interior of the country. As long as these migrations of the fish are regular the natives have no difficulty in providing themselves with an abundance of food; but once in every three or four years, for some unexplained reason, the fish fail to come, and the following winter brings precisely such a famine as the one which I have described at Anadyrsk, only frequently much worse. In 1860 more than a hundred and fifty natives died of starvation in four settlements on the coast of Penzhinsk Gulf, and the peninsula of Kamchatka has been swept by famines again and again since the Russian conquest, until its population has been reduced more than one-half. Were it not for the Wandering Koraks, who come to the relief of the starving people with their immense herds of reindeer, I firmly believe that the settled population of Siberia, including the Russians, Chuances, Yukagirs, and Kamchadals, would become extinct in less than fifty years. The great distance of the settlements one from another, and the absence of any means of intercommunication in summer, make each village entirely dependent upon its own resources, and prevent any mutual support and assistance, until it is too late to be of any avail. The first victims of such famines are always the dogs; and the people being thus deprived of their only means of transportation, cannot get away from the famine-stricken settlement, and after eating their boots, sealskin thongs, and scraps of untanned leather, they finally die of pure starvation. For this, however, their own careless improvidence is primarily responsible. They might catch and dry fish enough in one year to last them three; but instead of doing this, they provide barely food enough to last them through one winter, and take the chances of starvation on the next. No experience, however severe - no suffering, however great, teaches them prudence. A man who has barely escaped starvation one winter, will run precisely the same risk on the next, rather than take a little extra trouble and catch a few more fish. Even when they see that a famine is inevitable, they take no measures to mitigate its severity or to obtain relief, until they find themselves absolutely without a morsel to put in their mouths.

A native of Anadyrsk once happened to tell me, in the course of conversation, that he had only five days' dog-food left. "But," said I, "what do you intend to do at the end of those five days?" - "Bokh yevo znaiet" - God only knows! - was the characteristic response, and the native turned carelessly away as if it were a matter of no consequence whatever. If God only knew, he seemed to think that it made very little difference whether anybody else knew or not. After he had fed his dogs the last dried fish in his storehouse, it would be time enough to look about for more; but until then he did not propose to borrow any unnecessary trouble. This well known recklessness and improvidence of the natives finally led the Russian Government to establish at several of the north-eastern Siberian settlements a peculiar institution which may be called a Fish Savings Bank, or Starvation Insurance Office. It was organised at first by the gradual purchase from the natives of about a hundred thousand dried fish, or yukala, which constituted the capital stock of the bank. Every male inhabitant of the settlement was then obliged by law to pay into this bank annually one-tenth of all the fish he caught, and no excuse was admitted for a failure. The surplus fund thus created was added every year to the capital, so that as long as the fish continued to come regularly, the resources of the bank were constantly accumulating. When, however, the fish for any reason failed and a famine was threatened, every depositor - or, more strictly speaking, tax-payer - was allowed to borrow from the bank enough fish to supply his immediate wants, upon condition of returning the same on the following summer, together with the regular annual payment of ten per cent. It is evident that an institution once thoroughly established upon such a basis, and managed upon such principles, could never fail, but would constantly increase its capital of dried fish until the settlement would be perfectly secure against even the possibility of famine. At Kolyma, a Russian post on the Arctic Ocean, where the experiment was first tried, it proved a complete success. The bank sustained the inhabitants of the village through severe famines during two consecutive winters, and its capital in 1867 amounted to 300,000 dried fish, and was accumulating at the rate of 20,000 a year. Anadyrsk, not being a Russian military post, had no bank of this kind; but had our work been continued another year, we intended to petition the Government for the organisation of such institutions at all the settlements, Russian and native, along the whole route of our line.

In the meantime, however, the famine was irremediable, and on December 1, 1867, poor Bush found himself in a deserted settlement 600 versts from Gizhiga without money, without provisions, and without means of transportation - but with a helpless party of forty-four men, at the mouth of the Anadyr River, dependent upon him for support. Building a telegraph line under such circumstances was out of the question. All that he could hope to do would be to keep his parties supplied with provisions until the arrival of horses and men from Yakutsk should enable him to resume work.

On November 29th, finding that I could be of no further assistance at Anadyrsk, and that I was only helping to eat up more rapidly Bush's scanty supply of provisions, I started with two Penzhina sledges for Gizhiga. As I did not again visit the Northern District, and shall have no further occasion to refer to it, I will relate briefly here the little which I afterward learned by letter with regard to the misfortunes and unhappy experiences of the Company's employes in that region. The sledges that I had ordered from Gizhiga reached Penzhina late in December, with about 3000 pounds of beans, rice, hard-bread, and assorted stores. As soon as possible after their arrival Bush sent half a dozen sledges and a small quantity of provisions to the party at the mouth of the Anadyr River and in February they returned, bringing six men. Determined to accomplish something, however little, Bush sent these six men to a point on the Myan River, about seventy-five versts from Anadyrsk, and set them at work on snow-shoes cutting poles along the route of the line. Later in the winter another expedition was sent to Anadyr Bay, and on the 4th of March it also returned, bringing Lieutenant Macrae and seven more men. This party experienced terrible weather on its way from the mouth of the river to Anadyrsk, and one of its members - a man named Robinson - died in a storm about 150 versts east of the settlement. His body was left unburied in one of the houses which Bush had erected the previous summer and his comrades pushed on. As soon as they reached Anadyrsk they were sent to the Myan, and by the middle of March the two parties together had cut and distributed along the banks of that river about 3000 poles. In April, however, their provisions began again to run short, they were gradually reduced to the verge of starvation, and Bush started a second time for Gizhiga with a few miserable half-starved and exhausted dog-teams, to get more provisions. During his absence the unfortunate parties on the Myan were left to take care of themselves, and after consuming their last morsel of food and eating up three horses which had previously been sent to them from Anadyrsk, they organised themselves into a forlorn hope, and started on snow-shoes for the settlement. It was a terrible walk for half-starving men; and although they reached their destination in safety, they were entirely exhausted, and when they approached the village could hardly go a hundred yards at a time without falling. At Anadyrsk they succeeded in obtaining a small quantity of reindeer-meat, upon which they lived until the return of Lieutenant Bush from Gizhiga with provisions, some time in May. Thus ended the second winter's work in the Northern District. As far as practical results were concerned, it was an almost complete failure; but it developed in our officers and men a courage, a perseverance, and a patient endurance of hardships which deserved, and which under more favourable auspices would have achieved, the most brilliant success. In the month of February, while Mr. Norton and his men were at work on the Myan River, the thermometer indicated more than forty degrees below zero during sixteen days out of twenty-one, sank five times to - 60 deg. and once to - 68 deg., or one hundred degrees below the freezing point of water. Cutting poles on snow-shoes, in a temperature ranging from 40 deg. to 60 deg. below zero is, in itself, no slight trial of men's hardihood; but when to this are added the sufferings of hunger and the peril of utter starvation in a perfect wilderness, it passes human endurance, and the only wonder is that Norton and Macrae could accomplish as much as they did.

Returning from Anadyrsk, I reached Gizhiga on the 15th of December, after a hard and lonely journey of sixteen days. A special courier had just arrived there from Yakutsk, bringing letters and orders from Major Abaza.

He had succeeded, with the sanction and cooperation of the governor of that province, in hiring for a period of three years a force of eight hundred Yakut labourers, at a fixed rate of sixty rubles, or about forty dollars a year for each man. He had also purchased three hundred Yakut horses and pack-saddles, and an immense quantity of material and provisions of various kinds for the equipment and subsistence of horses and workmen. A portion of these men were already on their way to Okhotsk, and the whole force would be sent thither in successive detachments as rapidly as possible, and distributed from there along the whole route of the line. It would be necessary, of course, to put this large force of native labourers under skilled American superintendence; and as we had not foremen enough in all our parties to oversee more than five or six gangs of men, Major Abaza determined to send a courier to Petropavlovsk for the officers who had sailed from San Francisco in the bark Onward, and who he presumed had been landed by that vessel in Kamchatka. He directed me, therefore, to make arrangements for the transportation of these men from Petropavlovsk to Gizhiga; to prepare immediately for the reception of fifty or sixty Yakut labourers; to send six hundred army rations to Yamsk for the subsistence of our American party there, and three thousand pounds of rye flour for a party of Yakuts who would reach there in February. To fill all these requisitions I had at my disposal about fifteen dog-sledges, and even these had gone with provisions to Penzhina for the relief of Lieutenant Bush. With the assistance of the Russian governor I succeeded in getting two Cossacks to go to Petropavlovsk after the Americans who were presumed to have been left there by the Onward, and half a dozen Koraks to carry provisions to Yamsk, while Lieutenant Arnold himself sent sledges for the six hundred rations. I thus retained my own fifteen sledges to supply Lieutenant Sandford and party, who were now cutting poles on the Tilghai River, north of Penzhinsk Gulf. One day late in December, while Dodd and I were out on the river above the settlement training a team of dogs, word was brought to us that an American had arrived from Kamchatka, bringing news from the long-missing bark Onward and the party of men whom she landed at Petropavlovsk. Hurrying back to the village with all possible speed, we found Mr. Lewis, the American in question, seated comfortably in our house drinking tea. This enterprising young man - who, by the way, was a telegraph operator, wholly unaccustomed to rough life - without being able to speak a word of Russian, had traversed alone, in mid-winter, the whole wilderness of Kamchatka from Petropavlovsk to Gizhiga. He had been forty-two days on the road, and had travelled on dog-sledges nearly twelve hundred miles, with no companions except a few natives and a Cossack from Tigil. He seemed disposed to look upon this achievement very modestly, but in some respects it was one of the most remarkable journeys ever made by one of the Company's employes.

The Onward, as we had supposed, being unable to reach Gizhiga, on account of the lateness of the season, had discharged her cargo and landed most of her passengers at Petropavlovsk; and Mr. Lewis had been sent by the chief of the party to report their situation to Major Abaza, and find out what they should do.

After the arrival of Mr. Lewis nothing of special importance occurred until March. Arnold at Yamsk, Sandford on the Tilghai, and Bush at Anadyrsk, were trying, with the few men they had, to accomplish some work; but, owing to deep snow-storms, intensely cold weather, and a general lack everywhere of provisions and dogs, their efforts were mostly fruitless. In January I made an excursion with twelve or fifteen sledges to Sandford's camp on the Tilghai, and attempted to move his party to another point thirty or forty versts nearer Gizhiga; but in a severe storm on the Kuil steppe we were broken up, dispersed, and all lost separately, and after wandering around four or five days in clouds of drifting snow which hid even our dogs from sight, Sandford with a portion of his party returned to the Tilghai, and I with the remainder to Gizhiga.

Late in February the Cossack Kolmagorof arrived from Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, bringing three of the men who had been landed there by the Onward.

In March I received by a special courier from Yakutsk another letter and more orders from Major Abaza. The eight hundred labourers whom he had engaged were being rapidly sent forward to Okhotsk, and more than a hundred and fifty were already at work at that place and at Yamsk. The equipment and transportation of the remainder still required his personal supervision, and it would be impossible, he wrote, for him to return that winter to Gizhiga. He could come however, as far as the settlement of Yamsk, three hundred versts west of Gizhiga, and requested me to meet him at that place within twelve days after the receipt of his letter. I started at once with one American companion named Leet, taking twelve days' dog-food and provisions.

The country between Gizhiga and Yamsk was entirely different in character from anything which I had previously seen in Siberia. There were no such great desolate plains as those between Gizhiga and Anadyrsk and in the northern part of Kamchatka. On the contrary, the whole coast of the Okhotsk Sea, for nearly six hundred miles west of Gizhiga, was one wilderness of rugged, broken, almost impassable mountains, intersected by deep valleys and ravines, and heavily timbered with dense pine and larch forests. The Stanavoi range of mountains, which sweeps up around the Okhotsk Sea from the Chinese frontier, keeps everywhere near the coast line, and sends down between its lateral spurs hundreds of small rivers and streams which run through deep wooded valleys to the sea. The road, or rather the travelled route from Gizhiga to Yamsk, crosses all these streams and lateral spurs at right angles, keeping about midway between the great mountain range and the sea. Most of the dividing ridges between these streams are nothing but high, bare watersheds, which can be easily crossed; but at one point, about a hundred and fifty versts west of Gizhiga, the central range sends out to the seacoast, a great spur of mountains 2500 or 3000 feet in height, which completely blocks up the road. Along the bases of these mountains runs a deep, gloomy valley known as the Viliga, whose upper end pierces the central Stanavoi range and affords an outlet to the winds pent up between the steppes and the sea. In winter when the open water of the Okhotsk Sea is warmer than the frozen plains north of the mountains, the air over the former rises, and a colder atmosphere rushes through the valley of the Viliga to take its place. In summer, while the water of the sea is still chilled with masses of unmelted ice, the great steppes behind the mountains are covered with vegetation and warm with almost perpetual sunshine, and the direction of the wind is consequently reversed. This valley of the Viliga, therefore, may be regarded as a great natural breathing-hole, through which the interior steppes respire once a year. At no other point does the Stanavoi range afford an opening through which the air can pass back and forth between the steppes and the sea, and as a natural consequence this ravine is swept by one almost uninterrupted storm. While the weather everywhere else is calm and still, the wind blows through the Viliga in a perfect hurricane, tearing up great clouds of snow from the mountain sides and carrying them far out to sea. For this reason it is dreaded by all natives who are compelled to pass that way, and is famous throughout north-eastern Siberia as "the stormy gorge of the Viliga!"

On the fifth day after leaving Gizhiga, our small party, increased by a Russian postilion and three or four sledges carrying the annual Kamchatkan mail, drew near the foot of the dreaded Viliga Mountains. Owing to deep snow our progress had not been so rapid as we had anticipated, and we were only able to reach on the fifth night a small yurt built to shelter travellers, near the mouth of a river called the Topolofka, thirty versts from the Viliga. Here we camped, drank tea, and stretched ourselves out on the rough plank floor to sleep, knowing that a hard day's work awaited us on the morrow.