About an hour after dark we rode down into a deep lonely valley, which came out, our guide said, upon the sea beach near the mouth of the Samanka River. Here no snow had fallen, but it was raining heavily. I thought it hardly possible that the Major and Dodd could have reached the appointed rendezvous in such a storm; but I directed the men to pitch the tent, while Viushin and I rode on to the mouth of the river to ascertain whether the whale-boat had arrived or not. It was too dark to see anything distinctly, but we found no evidence that human beings had ever been there, and returned disappointed to camp. We were never more glad to get under a tent, eat supper, and crawl into our bearskin sleeping-bags, than after that exhausting day’s work. Our clothes had been either wet or frozen for nearly forty-eight hours, and we had been fourteen hours on foot and in the saddle, without warm food or rest.
[Illustration: Wooden Cup]
CUT OFF BY STORM—STARVATION THREATENED—RACE WITH A RISING TIDE—TWO DAYS WITHOUT FOOD—RETURN TO LESNOI
Early Saturday morning we moved on to the mouth of the valley, pitched our tent in a position to command a view of the approaches to the Samanka River, ballasted its edges with stones to keep the wind from blowing it down, and prepared to wait two days, according to orders, for the whale-boat. The storm still continued, and the heavy sea, which dashed sullenly all day against the black rocks under our tent, convinced me that nothing could be expected from the other party. I only hoped that they had succeeded in getting safely landed somewhere before the storm began. Caught by a gale under the frowning wall of rock which stretched for miles along the coast, the whale-boat, I knew, must either swamp with all on board, or be dashed to pieces against the cliffs. In either case not a soul could escape to tell the story.
That night Viushin astonished and almost disheartened me with the news that we were eating the last of our provisions. There was no more meat, and the hardbread which remained was only a handful of water-soaked crumbs. He and all the Kamchadals, confidently expecting to meet the whale-boat at the Samanka River, had taken only three days’ food. He had said nothing about it until the last moment, hoping that the whale-boat would arrive or something turn up; but it could no longer be concealed. We were three days’ journey from any settlement, and without food. How we were to get back to Lesnoi I did not know, as the mountains were probably impassable now, on account of the snow which had fallen since we crossed, and the weather did not permit us to indulge a hope that the whale-boat would ever come. Much as we dreaded it, there was nothing to be done but to attempt another passage of the mountain range, and that without a moment’s delay. I had been ordered to wait for the whale-boat two days; but circumstances, I thought, justified a disobedience of orders, and I directed the Kamchadals to be ready to start for Lesnoi early the next morning. Then, writing a note to the Major, and enclosing it in a tin can, to be left on the site of our camp, I crawled into my fur bag to sleep and get strength for another struggle with the mountains.