Early in the afternoon we reached the Yamsk River and, after wandering about for an hour or two in the timber, came upon one of Lieutenant Arnold’s Yakut working-parties and were conducted to their camp, only a few miles from the settlement. Here we obtained some rye bread and hot tea, warmed our benumbed limbs, and partially cleared the snow out of our clothing. When I saw Mr. Leet undressed I wondered that he had not died. While squatting out on the ground during the storm of the previous night, snow in great quantities had blown in at his neck, had partially melted with the warmth of his body, and had then frozen again in a mass of ice along his whole spine, and in that condition he had lived to be driven twenty versts. Nothing but a strong will and the most intense vitality enabled him to hold out during these last six dismal hours. When we had warmed, rested, and dried ourselves at the camp-fire of the Yakuts, we resumed our journey, and late in the afternoon we drove into the settlement of Yamsk, after thirteen days of harder experience than usually falls to the lot of Siberian travellers, Mr. Leet so soon recovered his strength and spirits that three days afterwards he started for Okhotsk, where the Major wished him to take charge of a gang of Yakut labourers. The last words that I remember to have ever heard him speak were those which he shouted to me in the storm and darkness of that gloomy night on the Malkachan steppe: “What would our mothers say if they could see us now?” The poor fellow was afterwards driven insane by excitements and hardships such as these which I have described, and probably to some extent by this very expedition, and finally committed suicide by shooting himself at one of the lonely Siberian settlements on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea.
I have described somewhat in detail this trip to Yamsk because it illustrates the darkest side of Siberian life and travel. It is not often that one meets with such an experience, or suffers so many hardships in any one journey; but in a country so wild and sparsely populated as Siberia, winter travel is necessarily attended with more or less suffering and privation.
[Illustration: Iron Skin Scraper]
BRIGHT ANTICIPATIONS—A WHALE-SHIP SIGNALLED—THE BARK SEA BREEZE—NEWS FROM THE ATLANTIC CABLE—REPORTED ABANDONMENT OF THE OVERLAND LINE
When, in the latter part of March, Major Abaza returned to Yakutsk to complete the organisation and equipment of our Yakut labourers, and I to Gizhiga to await once more the arrival of vessels from America, the future of the Russian-American Telegraph Company looked much brighter. We had explored and located the whole route of the line, from the Amur River to Bering Sea; we had half a dozen working-parties in the field, and expected to reinforce them soon with six or eight hundred hardy native labourers from Yakutsk; we had