The five days fixed by Sakalar for preparing for the journey were wholly devoted to the necessary arrangements. There was much to be done, and much to be talked of. They had to travel a long way before they reached even the real starting-point of their adventurous voyage. Sakalar, duly to impress Ivan with the dangers and perils of the search, narrated once more in minute detail all his former sufferings. But nothing daunted the young trader. He was one of those men, who, under more favorable circumstances, would have been a Cook, a Parry, or a Franklin, periling everything to make farther discovery in the science of geography.
The five horses of Ivan were exchanged for others more inured to the kind of journey they were about to undertake. There was one for each of the adventurers and four to carry the luggage, consisting chiefly of articles with which to pay for the hire of dogs and sledges. All were well armed, while the dress of all was the same—Kolina adopting for the time the habits and appearance of the man. Over their usual clothes they put a jacket of foxes’ skins and a fur-breast cover; the legs being covered by hare-skin wrappers. Over these were stockings of soft reindeer leather, and high strong boots of the same material. The knees were protected by knee-caps of fur, and then, above all, was a coat with loose sleeves and hood of double deerskin. This was not all. After the chin, nose, ears, and mouth had been guarded by appropriate pieces, forming together a mask, they had received the additional weight of a pointed fur cap. Our three travelers when they took their departure looked precisely like three animated bundles of old clothes.
All were well armed with gun, pistol, hatchet, and hunting-knife, while the girdle further supported a pipe and tobacco-pouch. They had not explained whither they were going, but the whole village knew that they must be about to undertake some perilous journey, and accordingly turned out to cheer them as they went, while several ardent admirers of Kolina were loud in their murmurs at her accompanying the expedition. But the wanderers soon left the plain of Mioure behind them, and entered on the delectable roads leading to the Frozen Sea. Half-frozen marshes and quagmires met them at every step; but Sakalar rode first, and the others followed one by one, and the experienced old hunter, by advancing steadily without hurry, avoided these dangers. They soon reached a vast plain three hundred miles across, utterly deserted by the human race; a desert composed half of barren rock and half of swampy quagmire, soft above, but at a foot deep solid and perpetual ice. Fortunately, it was now frozen hard, and the surface was fit to bear the horses. But for this the party must have halted and waited for a severe frost. The rivers were not frozen when large in volume, and the Aldana had to be crossed in the usual flat-bottomed boat kept for travelers. At night they halted, and with a bush and some deer-skins made a tent. Kolina cooked the supper, and the men searched for some fields of stunted half-frozen grass to let the horses graze. This was the last place where even this kind of food would be found, and for some days their steeds would have to live on a stinted portion of hay.