[Illustration: Head covering used in stalking seals]
YURT ON THE TOPOLOFKA—THE VALLEY OF TEMPESTS—RIVER OF THE LOST—STORM BOUND—ESCAPE BY THE ICE-FOOT—A SLEEPLESS NIGHT—LEET REPORTED DEAD—YAMSK AT LAST
“Kennan! Oh, Kennan! Turn out! It’s day light!” A sleepy grunt and a still more drowsy “Is it?” from the pile of furs lying on the rough plank floor betrayed no very lively interest on the part of the prostrate figure in the fact announced, while the heavy, long-drawn breathing which soon succeeded this momentary interruption proved that more active measures must be taken to recall him from the land of dreams. “I say! Kennan! Wake up! Breakfast has been ready this half-hour.” The magic word “breakfast” appealed to a stronger feeling than drowsiness, and, thrusting my head out from beneath its covering of furs, I took a sleepy, blinking view of the situation, endeavouring in a feeble sort of way to recollect where I was and how I came there. A bright crackling fire of resinous pine boughs was burning on the square log altar in the centre of the hut, radiating a fierce heat to its remotest corner, and causing the perspiration to stand in great beads on its mouldy logs and rough board ceiling. The smoke rose lazily through the square hole in the roof toward the white, solemn-looking stars, which winked soberly at us between the dark overhanging branches of the larches. Mr. Leet, who acted as the Soyer of our campaign, was standing over me with a slice of bacon impaled on a bowie-knife in one hand, and a poker in the other—both of which insignia of office he was brandishing furiously, with the intention of waking me up more effectually. His frantic gesticulations had the desired result. With a vague impression that I had been shipwrecked on the Cannibal Islands and was about to be sacrificed to the tutelary deities, I sprang up and rubbed my eyes until I gathered together my scattered senses. Mr. Leet was in high glee. Our travelling companion, the postilion, had manifested for several days an inclination to shirk work and allow us to do all the road-breaking, while he followed comfortably in our tracks, and by this strategic manoeuvre had incurred Mr. Leet’s most implacable hatred. The latter, therefore, had waked the unfortunate man up before he had been asleep five hours, and had deluded him into the belief that the aurora borealis was the first flush of daylight. He had accordingly started off at midnight and was laboriously breaking a road up the steep mountain side through three feet of soft snow, relying upon Mr. Leet’s promise that we would be along before sunrise. At five o’clock, when I got up, the voices of the postilion’s men could still be heard shouting to their exhausted dogs near the summit of the mountain. We all breakfasted as slowly as possible, in order to give them plenty of time to break a road for us, and did not finally start until after six o’clock.