Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Persevere and prosper; or, The Siberian sable-hunter online

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dogs, who now awoke from their repose and
came smelling suspiciously around the new-
comers.

On entering the hut, the scene presented
was a curious one. The whole interior con-
sisted of one room : this was circular, of a
conical form, and about twenty feet across.
Benches were set around, upon which the
wife and one or two other women were sit-
ting. The fire was burning in the centre, and,
there being no chimney, the whole hut was
filled with smoke ; but the inmates did not
seem to mind it. The children were crawl-
ing upon the floor like pigs.

After staying awhile in the hut, it was an*



SABLE-HUNTER, 55

nounced that supper was ready, and the
travellers soon found that it was to be a
feast. The men of the party had been on a
fishing expedition, and, having been absent
a week, had scarcely tasted a bit of food
during that period, and their families at home
had been fasting in the mean time. One of




the huts had been assigned to the cooking
of the meal, and it was to be eaten in the
same place.

When our Sable-hunters came to the hut,
they found about sixty people there, of both
sexes and of ell sizes. Already had the revel



56 THE SIBERIAN

begun ; for the hunger of the parties was
beyond control. The feast itself was a fine
sight. Four large iron caldrons had been
set over the fire, filled with fish of all sorts,
though chiefly cod. They were thrown in
together without dressing heads, tails, en-
trails, fins, and scales ! A huge quantity of
deer's grease and a little salt had been put
in. A brisk fire had then been kindled be-
neath, and the whole mass was fried or rather
boiled. The steam that gushed from the
door of the hut, was almost strong enough
for a supper: it was so rank as to satisfy
Alexis and his two younger companions,
who soon went cut of doors, and mingled
with the people there.

A feast of wolves could not have been
more voracious. Knives, forks, and plates
were not thought of; each one ran into the
hut with a wooden bowl, and, dipping it into
the caldron, brought forth the seething mass ;
and, while it yet seemed boiling hot, they
devoured it with a rapacity absolutely amaz-
ing. The scalding heat seemed not to be the
least hinderance ; there was no ceremonious
blowing and cooling down it went, one



SABLE-HUNTER. 57

dishful after another, as if it were a strife to
see who could devour the most in the short-
est space of time.

In two or three instances the children
upset their bowls, and picking up their food
from the ground, heedless of the dirt attached
to it, ate it up ; no matter if it was trodden
upon, it was all the same. One of the
children was seen by Alexis, flat upon his




stomach, lapping up the broth, from the
earth, that had been spilt. Among this
crowd, the dogs came in for their share;
but they were often obliged to dispute their
claims to the remnants with the greedy
children.

Among all this coarseness, the strangers
were treated with the utmost hospitality, as,



58 THE SIBERIAN

indeed, they had been by all they had met
since their departure from Tobolsk. After
the meal had been finished, a few of the men
treated themselves, apart, to brandy, in which
entertainment our adventurerswere permitted
to join. A scene of drunkenness followed,
after which the men staggered to their several
houses. Linsk and his companions were com-
fortably lodged, having drank but sparingly.

In the morning, the travellers left their
Tungusian friends, and set out on their
journey, offering to pay for their entertain-
ment, which was, however, refused. Indeed,
this had been generally the case, and they
had hardly found any necessity of having
money since the commencement of their
journey. Proceeding upon their way, Linsk,
according to his wont, began to talk, and
the Tungusians were naturally the subject
of his discourse.

" They are very numerous/ 5 said he, u oc-
cupying nearly half of Siberia, and being
confined to the central portions of it. They
are as restless as Tartars, always moving
from place to place, and alternately feasting
and starving. They can go without food as



SABLE-HUNTER. 59

long as a wolf, and, like a wolf, they will
gorge themselves when they get a chance.
They eat food when and where they can get
it. I have seen them eat candles, soap, and
raw pork. I was once at a place where a
reindeer died of disease ; they threw him
whole upon a fire, singed him a little, and
then ate him, leaving nothing but the bones.
A real hungry Tungusian will eat twenty
pounds of meat in a day !"

Alexis would have expressed some doubt
of all this, had not the scene he had witnessed
prepared him to believe it, and had he not
found that Linsk, though not a little in-
clined to superstition, was still a man of
veracity in all that related to his own ob-
servation and experience. He went on with
his description, therefore, without inter-
ruption.

" Yet, greedy as these people are, they
have their good points, as I believe all God's
creatures have. They are honest, frank, and
hospitable. If they love feasting, their wil-
lingness to share the meal with a stranger is
a greater virtue ; and they are not so stupid



60 THE SIBERIAN

as one might expect, from their swallowing
such oceans of lard. I know of no people so
cunning in catching fish and game. In the
winter season, many establish themselves in
the forests along the branches of the Wittim
and Olekminsk regions, lying to the south of
where we now are. A young hunter from
Tobolsk, whom I knew, and who dwelt there
one winter, told me that they were the keen-
est fellows he had ever met with. They will
trace a fox by his foot-prints upon the frozen
snow, and can tell whether it is gray or black
by the shape of his track. They kill their
game with blunt arrows, so as not to injure
the skin.

" The fact is, that the Tunguses are such
good hunters that the wild beasts have found
them out, and have pretty much left their
country. The fine sables are now seldom
found in these regions, even where they used
to be abundant, and those who would hunt
them must go farther north, to the places
where we are going. These people have no
books, and their religion is a strange belief
in stupid gods, whom they worship under



SABLE-HUNTER.



61



the form of little wooden images. They
believe in witchcraft and sorcery ; and there
are a good many cheats among them, who
pretend to practise these forbidden arts."




THE SIBERIAN



CHAPTER Vn.

A DISSERTATION UPON GfolNG ON FOOT
ADVENTURE WITH WOLVES.

HAVING taken leave of their Tungusian
friends, the travellers proceeded on their
journey, hoping, before many days, to reach
Yakootsk, a large town on the Lena, and the
great fur market of eastern Siberia. Here
they intended to stay a few days, and then to
proceed down the Lena in pursuit of game.
Alexis expected also to find a letter there,
from his sister, which was to be sent by the
mail, and which would, of course, travel faster
than our pedestrian party.

Incited, therefore, by several motives, the
adventurers pressed cheerily forward upon
their journey. But it was now October, and
the ground was covered with snow. Every
day, indeed, more or less snow fell, and the
hunters found their progress much impeded
by it. But in travelling, as in almost every-



SABLE-HUNTER. 63

thing else, practice makes perfect. A man
who is well trained to walking, can travel
farther in a month than a horse ; and as the
power of going from place to place, without
being dependent on horses, railroads, or even
money, is a great thing, I advise all young
persons particularly young men to learn
to perform journeys on foot. The best way
to travel over a country is to go as a pedes-
trian : you can then stop and see the peo-
ple along the road, and thus get acquainted
with their manners and customs ; their ways
of living, acting, and thinking.

Some of the pleasantest passages in my
own life, occurred when I was journeying on
foot ; and they are perhaps more delightful in
my recollection, because I had then a good,
sound pair of legs and now, alas ! it is other-
wise. If I had time, I could relate many
little incidents, to show that a traveller on
foot is usually welcomed to the hut, the log-
cabin, or the farm-house, along the road;
and that his stories, his news, or even his
company, are esteemed good pay for his
lodging and his fare.

But I must proceed with my story of the



64 THE SIBERIAN

sable-hunter, or I shall never get through
it. When I began to write, I expected to
despatch it in two or three chapters; but
the journey, as well as old Linsk^s tongue, is
much longer than I expected.

For some time after the party started,
Alexis found his feet sore and his limbs
weary, at night, and more than once, he
felt homesick and discouraged : but he was
a youth of much energy of character, and he
felt the importance of making a great effort
in behalf of his father and sister, upon whose
happiness the whole power of his soul was
now concentrated. Beside these motives to
effort, Linsk took pains to enliven the spirits
of his party, by putting a cheerful face upon
things, and by telling his tales, of which he
seemed as full as a hive is of bees. And
there was this difference between Linsk's
tongue and the little honey-makers that
while they grow torpid as the cold weather
comes on, his organ of speech seemed to move
all the faster for it. A fall of snow was usu-
ally a prelude to a story, and a real storm
seldom failed to bring out something in-
teresting. Alexis remarked that the tale was



SABLE-HUNTER. 65

always lively in proportion as the day was
dark, or the journey tedious ; and Linsk
seemed, indeed, as ready to attack depression
with a joke, as he was to send a bullet after a
bear. I note these things with some parti-
cularity, because I conceive that cheerfulness
is a great virtue, and that it is of infinite im-
portance in those passages of life which seem
to demand of us patient endurance and pro-
tracted effort. Cheerfulness is the best of
all stimulants, and I advise my young friends
to lay in a good stock of it.

As I have said, the weather was now
stormy, and the country through which the
hunters were passing, was to the last degree
dreary and desolate. It was generally level,
or slightly undulating, and nearly destitute
of vegetation. Occasionally, they came to
extensive forests, consisting of low pines and
cedars, and sometimes there was a deep
ravine, where the fir trees grew to a consi-
derable height, and were so matted together as
hardly to admit the light between them.

One gloomy afternoon, as the party were
winding their way through a forest, which
covered a range of broken hills and ridges^



THE SIBERIAN

the younger portion had gone before, leaving
Linsk a little in the rear. Turning an angle
in the road, they lost sight of him, and went
on for several minutes, forgetting that he was
not with them. By and by, they heard a
sharp whistle, and then a rifle-shot, and then
a call, that made the sullen woods reecho, as
if filled with twenty voices. They instantly
looked around, and seeing that Linsk was
not with them, turned back, and ran with
all their might, knowing that something
must have happened, to cause so loud and
urgent a summons.

Turning the angle in the road, and push-
ing on for about a dozen rods, they came
upon a scene which amazed and alarmed
them. There stood old Linsk, battling for
life, in the midst of a pack of wolves. One
of the beasts lay dead at his feet ; but ano-
ther had hold of his leg, and a huge fellow,
nearly as tall as the old hunter himself, was
laying his paws upon him, and threatening
to seize him by the throat.

The coolness of Linsk was admirable. He
waited his opportunity, and then stretching
himself to the full height, he brought down



SABLE-HUNTER. 67

his powerful arm, and striking his dagger
into the side of the wolf, laid him prostrate
in an instant. He then bestowed a kick
upon the rude beast that had hold of his leg,
and hitting him by the side of the head,
made him roll over and over in the snow.
Linsk fell upon him ; but the creature, being




only stunned, got up, and would have run
away, but the old hunter, now more furious
than the wolves themselves, seized him by
the tail, and whirled him round. The animal
seemed amazed and frightened, and set up
such a hideous howl, that all the rest of the
pack took to flight ; and even the beast upon
which Linsk had fastened, slipped through



68 THE SIBERIAN

his fingers and fled for his life. Happening
to take the direction of the young men, now
coming up and near at hand, he came pretty
near Alexis, who levelled his rifle and shot him
through the head.

"Well done!" cried Linsk, clapping his
hands; "well done, Alexis ! you are a true
hunter, after all. I am all out of breath.
Bravo, boys ! It is the first bit of fun I have
had since we set out. St. Nicholas! that
fellow has stuck his forks into my calf, as if
I was a piece of pork : and I suppose he ex-
pected to make a supper of me. The knave
to think of attacking an old fellow, all
alone, while his companions had deserted
him ! The fool to expect that an old hunter
would not give, as well as take ! However,
he has got his last supper ; a bullet in the
stomach is hard of digestion. Poor fellow
there is something I like in a wolf, after all!"

While Linsk was uttering this last ob-
servation, Alexis came up, and although he
was curious to know why his old friend could
have an affection for an animal that had just
threatened his life, and actually thrust his
fangs into his flesh, he did not attempt now



SABLE-HUNTER. 69

to inquire into the subject. The hunter was,
indeed, in too great a state of excitement for
any deliberate conversation. He went on,
with one exclamation after another, de-
scribing, by snatches, the attack of the
wolves, and his own feats in the fray.

After spending some time on the spot, and
taking a view of the several animals that had
been slain, they proceeded on their way.
Linsk was quite enlivened by the adventure,
and, having talked about it for some time,
began to tell of other scenes of the kind, in
which, at various times, he had been engaged.




70 THE SIBERIAN



CHAPTER VIII.

RESPECTABILITY OF BEARS YAKOOTSK
IN SIGHT.

WHILE the travellers proceeded on their
journey, Linsk, now thoroughly excited by
his adventure with the wolves, seemed to
have his imagination filled with the scenes
of former days. In the course of his ob-
servations, he remarked that though he had
great respect for a wolf, he had a. positive
reverence for a bear.

" Indeed I" said Alexis, " how is it pos-
sible to have such a feeling as reverence for
a wild beast, and one so savage as a bear ? I
never heard any good of the creature."

"That may be," said Linsk; "and yet
what I say is all right and proper. If you
never heard any good of a bear, then I can
give you some information. Now there is a
country far off to the east of Siberia, called
Kamtschatka. It is a terribly cold country,



SABLE-HUNTER.



7]



and the snow falls so deep there in winter, as
to cover up the houses. The people are then
obliged to dig holes under the snow from one
house to another, and thus they live, like
burrowing animals, till the warm weather
comes and melts away their covering.




f( Now what would the people do in such a
country, if it were not for the bears ? Of the
warm skins of these creatures they make
their beds, coverlets, caps, gloves, mittens,
and jackets. Of them, they make collars for
their dogs that draw their sledges, and also
the soles of theirshoes when they want to go



72 THE SIBERIAN

upon the ice to spear seals, for the hair pre-
vents slipping. The creature 5 s fat is used
instead of butter, and when melted it is burnt
instead of oil.

"The flesh of the bear is reckoned by
these people as too good to be enjoyed alone ;
so, when any person has caught a bear, he
always makes a feast and invites his neigh-
bours. They say the meat has the flavour of
a pig, the juiciness of whale-blubber, the ten-
derness of the grouse, and the richness of a
seal or a walrus. So they consider it as
embracing the perfections of fish, flesh, and
fowl!

" And this is not all. Of the intestines of
the bear, the Kamtschatdales make masks to
shield the ladies' faces from the eiFects of the
sun ; and as they are rendered transparent,
they are also used for window-panes, instead
of glass. Of the shoulder-blades of this crea-
ture, the people make sickles for cutting their
grass, and of the skins they make muffs to
keep the ladies 5 fingers warm.

" Beside all this, they send the skins to
market, which sell for high prices at St.
Petersburg, for the use of the ladies, and for



73



many other purposes. Such is the value of
this creature when dead ; when alive he is
also of some account. He has a rope put
around his neck, and is taught a great many
curious tricks. It seems to me that he might
learn to read and go to college, as well as half
those that do go there; but of this I cannot




speak with certainty, for I never went my-
self. All I can say is, that a well-taught
bear is about the drollest creature that I ever
saw. He looks so solemn, and yet is so droll !
I cannot but think, sometimes, that there is
a touch of human nature about the beast, for
there is often a keen twinkle in his eye,
which seems to say, ( I know as much as the



74 THE SIBERIAN

best of you : and if I do not speak, it is only
because I scorn to imitate you.

" It is chiefly on account of the amusement
that bears thus afford, that these Kamtscha-
dales catch a good many, and send them alive
by ships to market. They also send live bears
to St. Petersburg, London and Paris, for the
perfumers. These people shut them up, and
.make them very fat, and then kill them for
their grease, which is used by fops and dan-
dies to make their locks grow. 1 suppose
they think that the fat will make the hair
grow on their heads as it does on the back
of the bear. I am told that in the great
cities, now-a-days, a young man is esteemed
in proportion as he resembles a bear in this
respect. Bear's grease has become a ne-
cessary of life to a modern dandy, and so
there is a great demand for the creature that
affords such a treasure.

"Now, master Alexis, I hope you are
satisfied that in saying you never heard any
good of a bear, you only betrayed ignorance
a thing that is no reproach to one so young
as yourself. But, after all I have said, I
have not half done. You must remember



SABLE-HUNTER. 75

that this creature is not like a sheep, or a
reindeer, or a cow, or a horse always depend-
ing upon man for breakfast, dinner, and sup-
per. He is too independent for that ; so he
supports himself, instead of taxing these poor
Kamtschadales for his living. Why, they
have to work half the year to provide food
for their domestic animals the other half;
whereas the bear feeds and clothes himself,
and when they want his skin, or his flesh,
he is all ready for them !"

c < 1 am satisfied," said Alexis, " that the
bear is a most valuable creature to those peo-
ple who live in cold, northern countries ; for
he seems to furnish them with food, dress,
and money; but, after all, they have the
trouble of hunting him."

Trouble !" said Linsk; " why, that is the
best of it all!"

" But is it not dangerous 1" said Alexis.

(e Of course it is," replied the old hunter ;
but danger is necessary to sport. It is to
hunting, like mustard to your meat, or pepper
and vinegar to your cabbage. Banger is the
spice of all adventure ; without this, hunting



76 THE SIBERIAN

would be as insipid as ploughing. There is
danger in hunting the bear; for though he is
peaceable enough when you let him alone, he
is fierce and furious if you interfere with his
business, or come in his way when he is
pinched with hunger.

" I have had some adventures with bears
myself, and I think I know the ways of the
beast as well as anybody. Sometimes he
will trot by, only giving you a surly look or
a saucy growl. But if you chance to fell
upon a she-bear, with a parcel of cubs about
her, you must then look out."

"Did you ever see a bear with cubs ?
father ?" said Nicholas, the elder of Linsk's
sons.

" To be sure I have/ 5 was the answer.

" Well, what I want to know," said the
boy, " is, whether they are such creatures as
people say. I have been told that young cubs
are as rough as a bramble bush, and that they
do not look like living creatures till the old
bear has licked them into shape. Is that
true?"

" No, no it is all nonsense, Nick. Young



SABLE-HUNTER. 77

cubs are the prettiest little things you ever
saw. They are as soft and playful as young
puppies ; and they seem by nature to have a
very gentle spirit. It is as the creature grows
old that he becomes wicked and savage and
I believe it is the same with men as with bears.
Who would think, to see a playful infant in
his cradle or in his mother's arms, when he
loves and takes delight in everything, that he
would grow into such a grumbling, selfish,
savage creature as you too often see amongst
men? Such a change takes place in the
character of a bear-cub.




78 THE SIBERIAN



CHAPTER IX.

ARRIA'AL AT YAKUTSK LETTER FROM

HOME DEPARTURE ADVENTURE.

HAVING collected a considerable quantity
of furs, our travellers proceeded to the town
of Yakutsk. This place is situated on a
nearly level plain, which was now covered
with snow. There were only a few stunted
trees to be seen, and not a dwelling for miles
around the town. The river, of which a
view was afforded, was frozen over, and the
scene bespoke a land of sterility and the
stern season of winter.

Yakutsk contains about 7000 inhabitants,
and is built of wood. The houses are low
and mean, and the people, for the most part,
live in poverty and wretchedness. The cli-
mate is so severe, that, as late as June, the
frost is not out of the ground ; and in Sep-
tember the Lena, which is a large river, is
frozen over. Of course, the fruits yielded by



SABLE-HUNTER. 79

the soil are exceedingly few, and the people
have hard work, during the three brief
months of summer, to lay up a sufficient store
of food, fuel, and clothing, to $j|ve them from
perishing during the long and bitter winter
of nine months.

it was three months since Alexis had
parted from his friends at Tobolsk, and he
was separated from them by a space of almost
two thousand miles. He expected to get
letters from home, brought by the post, and
as soon as he and his party had obtained
lodgings, he went to the office, where they
were to be left. It was with a beating heart
that he entered the place and inquired. So
long a time had elapsed since his departure,
and so vast a distance now lay between him
and his friends, that he experienced a sick-
ening sense of anxiety. What might not
have happened in the interval to his aged
father or his dear sister?

These were the thoughts in his mind, as
the person at the office handed him a letter,
on which he instantly recognized the hand-
writing of Kathinka. He thrust it into his



80



THE SIBERIAN



bosom, and, with a rapid step, sought his
lodgings. Here he broke the seal, and read
as follows :

" Dearest Alexis, It is now two months
since you left us, and it seems a year. I
have counted the very hours since your de-
parture, and could I have foreseen the weari-
ness, anxiety, and longing that your absence
has occasioned, I should never have con-
sented to your enterprise. When I think
that you will be nearly two thousand miles
from Tobolsk when this reaches you, I am
really sick at heart.

" And yet nothing has happened to give us
any particular cause of anxiety. Indeed, our
condition has rather improved. The gover-
nor's lady bought the lace collar which I
wrought, and has since taken other articles,
and she has paid me well for them. The
governor himself has noticed me kindly,
though there is something about him I do
not like. He smiles when he meets me, and
flatters me very much; but still, his dark
brow frightens me. However, I must not



SABLE-HUNTER. 81

offend him, for he is not only kind to me,
but he has called upon our poor father, and
expressed his desire to make his exile as little
painful as possible. I cannot tell what has
so altered his manner towards us, but I hope
it proceeds from kindness of heart.

a Do you remember young Suwarrow, who
used, in former days, to be at our house in
Warsaw ? It is a long time ago, but I re-


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Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichPersevere and prosper; or, The Siberian sable-hunter → online text (page 3 of 7)