The Telegraph Friday January 22, 1915
This article is titled: Dead Man's Diary.
In the summer of 1913, a Russian exploring expedition found the dead bodies of two white men on a desolate island in the Arctic Ocean. How they came to be there and what fate had befallen them remained a mystery, until a diary found in their hut was examined. This diary showed that they were golds seekers, and they had been Conveyed to the island by a Japanese whale-fisher named Kotzou, who had promised to call for them some months later but failed to keep his word. The author of the diary was named Garkin, and his companion Semenoff. Here are the closing entries of the diary (which is published by the "Wide World Magazine")
THE CAMP OF DEATH.
June 30, 1911. — We have seen a terrible sight, the remembrance of which we can not drive away. Yesterday, was my birthday, and we determined not to work. We took a gun and an ax, and went off exploring. Soon we decided, to distract our thoughts, to make the ascent of the round hill which rises in the center of the island. All at once, beneath our feet, we saw a deep valley at the bottom of this valley some 10 tents stood. We uttered a cry of surprise, and ran down the slope, tearing our clothes and losing our hats. We reached the bottom, our hands and necks scratched and bleeding. We called out, but not a soul came out of the tents. It was very strange. We approached a tent. As soon as we put a hand on the leather it completely decayed, tore like damp paper. We went in, Eight skeletons lay there, large and small, even the skeletons of tiny children. In all the tents we saw the same sight. Altogether we counted 60 skeletons, some entire, others with the bones broken and gnawed. It is clear that the blue foxes or, perhaps Bears, have been here. "Who are the unfortunate people lying there " we wondered. "And how did they perish? Did they die of cold or hunger is it not more likely that they were struck down by some disease, such as smallpox or cholera? Then we fled in terror.
We have not slept all night. We kept thinking that, misfortune and death were hovering around us, and that we could not possibly escape them. They are masters here, and we came here as strangers to fall into their hands. May heaven have pity and save us!
July 5.— Our work is not getting on. We are still working, but we are always thinking of the skeletons lying under those sinister tents in the valley. We must bury them and put a cross over their graves. We will go there on Sunday we have decided to do so, Semenoff and I.
Sunday.— We went back without any burden to the dismal valley. We dug out an immense grave, In which we put all the skeletons. Then we fixed in the earth a large cross on which we traced the inscription, "Here lie the remains of sixty skeletons discovered in deserted tents. Oh God, pardon the sins of these unfortunate people, and receive them into Thy kingdom, where all are equal in Thy sight.'' After we had prayed, we felt calm. "It would be well to die like that," said Semenoff to me, as we came back to the hut. "Later on someone would find our bones, bury them, and trace an epitaph on our cross. Our souls would be at peace then, in the place where there are no sighs or tears."
September 10.— This will be the second winter which we shall pass on Blue Fox Island. Summer is over, and since 1st July have not written anything. I had other cares, for Semenoff was ill. His feet and hands were swollen, and he was spitting blood again. I too, felt very ill, but I had to take care of my comrade so that he should not die for lack of attention, to do all the work, and to preserve some provisions. I caught some fish, which I salted down in two barrels. Up to the present, the cold is endurable. We must wait until he gets stronger to began hunting for sable.
September 21.— We have come back from hunting for sable, Semenoff accompanied me, and we spent three days and two nights in the taiga. We saw reindeer -it a distance. They are cautious animals and do not allow people to come too near them. We had scarcely got into the forest when sable sprang out of the hollow of a tree and climb to the top. I killed it with a shot from my carbine the animal was quite young, and its fur had not grown yet. He found two more sables and killed one, but the other got away. Semenoff startled it by coughing accidentally, in any case, this sort of game is sure to be profitable, and we will go after it again. In all, we have a pan of washed gold, and we know of a place where there is another pocket. We will work, and each of us will bring home some thirty thousand francs. Then we will establish a company of gold-seekers and come back and work again.
October 7.— Why has the Almighty punished us we were living joyless lives, in toil, privations, and sufferings, and now heavy afflictions and severe misery have been sent to us. We went out hunting again and killed six sable and one ermine. Then, as we were returning, we saw from a distance the dreadful catastrophe which had befallen us! The shed belonging to our hut, our boat, a box containing nets, two barrels —one empty, the other full of salted provisions—were all on fire. Already the blaze menaced our dwelling. We were terrified -when we remembered that the hut contained powder and cartridges, our gold and all our clothes. We worked our hardest, and towards evening the fire was extinguished, but it left terrible ruin to be repaired.
October 21.— During two weeks we have been putting our winter quarters in order. The work is rendered singularly difficult by the cold. Our hands have been frozen; the ax and the nails stuck to our fingers, and yet we worked with a fire near us. We have repaired everything, but we have no boat now. What will become of us if Kotzou does not come? All our hope is in him. Christmas.— We are both ill and overcome by despair. Oh, that the spring and Kotzou may come as soon as possible! We are weak and feel deserted. Only one man in the whole world knows where we have strayed to, and no one except him could find us out on our island. At home, in our families, for a long time past, no doubt, they think that we have perished. I ought not to write anymore. There are doubt and unbelief in my words, and despair is offensive to God.
Easter Sunday. Christ is risen! Christ is risen! We say to you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, friends and enemies, forgive us— us who live only In this faint hope, that the man who knows where we are will come to help us. And we hope. We are afraid not to hope, and I notice that we never say, "If Kotzou comes," but always "When Kotzou comes." This year the wind has dispersed the ice early,' and has driven It towards the open sea. The walruses and seals have gone with it, and now everything around us is deserted. Today a flock of swans passed, flying very high in the sky. Suddenly one of these birds, too weak probably to follow its comrades, left the flock, wheeled round, and flew towards the setting sun. For a long time, it circled above Blue Fox Island, screaming plaintively. Then, inclining sideways, it descended and fell beyond a distant bank of sand. "It is our death that has arrived," said Semenoff, and he made the sign of the cross many times. Then he went away, and for a good while he walked up and down alone on the shore. When he came back his face was calm. "Our death has arrived, I cannot forget the tone in which he said the words.
July I8. — July is here and no Kotzou! Now we do not even speak his name. Has he forgotten us, or were his promises false? Perhaps he will come all the same at the end of his period of sailing. We work little; we have no longer will or strength to do so. What is the use of new efforts? Is not our
hour already marked out?
WHERE IS KOTZOU?
August 10.— Ice is beginning to float, about, and the first snows cover the island. Kotzou has not come. We have not cursed him. It is impossible that he should have deceived us— he, our old friend no doubt he is dead, by shipwreck or otherwise, and today we prayed for the repose of his soul. ' In spring, if God allows us to live, we will try to Make a boat, and put up a sail of birch bark, and we will then depart.
September 5.— Our position is terrible. Our net was destroyed by the fire, and we have neither twine nor rope to make another, so we cannot fish. We have just flour enough for one month. What will become of us? All our hope lies in shooting game, we must bring down some reindeer.
September 20.— Vassili Semenoff has gone off to shoot reindeer, and this is the second day he has been away. All night land all day there has been a terrible snowstorm. I hope he will not lose his way.
September 21.— Today I brought Semenoff to the hut he lost his way near our quarters, as the snowstorm had blotted out all traces of the footsteps he had made, and, worn out, he lay down. I was hardly able to restore him to his senses. His legs are completely frozen. In spite of all my efforts I could not bring back the circulation to them.
November.— In vain are still hoping, in vain we struggle. All is useless. We must perish. Semenoff is dying. His legs have been attacked by gangrene, and, is falling to pieces. We have hardly any provisions left. The storm continues to rage! Everything is hidden under a layer of snow two meters deep, it is impossible to go out of the hut. I am putting our last pinch of tea in our little saucepan. Since October we have had no sugar; we drink our tea with salt.
December.— Seinenoff is dying. The bones of his legs are completely bare. I scoured the island indefatigable to-day, but I only found one blue fox, which I killed. Weighted with the animal, had the greatest trouble, in the midst of the snow and the hurricane, in finding my way back. I cooked the blue fox. Although its flesh was disgusting, we devoured it. : Christmas Day passed without our paying attention to it, for we are sinners; we only live to think of ourselves, and in ourselves, there is nothing but despair.
January 13.— Semenoff woke me yesterday, saying to me, "You see over there, near the wall? There are the tents standing, "and under them they conceal death. Do you hear it threatening me first and then you touched his forehead; it was burning. The fever devours him; he is terribly ill.
January 18.— Semenoff is moaning and uttering cries. He is delirious, and no longer understands what I say.
January 21.— .Semenoff is dead. I have buried him deep in the snow, and I placed over him two long pieces of wood I ranged in a cross shape. if I live till summer I will dig him a grave. Now I am quite alone. The snowstorm is unchanged. It has roared for days past, In the night the fakes are driven by the hurricane against the walls, and shutters of the hut. They sound like some living creature trying to get in. It is terrifying.
February .—After having walked all day I ended by killing a blue fox. I do not go far from the hut, for I am afraid of losing my way, as at a little distance I cannot see anything. There seem to be no more blue foxes, I walked for a long time, and I am completely frozen. I rested twice, around me nothing! On the ice I saw something black. I ought, to go there, but feel too weak. I am lying down and cannot stir. I am racked by internal pains; my body and legs are swollen. Blood flows from my gums; there is a buzzing in my ears. It is cold in the hut, I have not lit the fire today, for I am too weak. I have chewed my belt and the skin of my reindeer cloak.
February.— I have eaten today some frozen walrus fat which we had kept for the lamp it is rancid and bitter. I see hoar frost on the inside of the walls. The walls are completely frozen. I have again chewed, the reindeer skin and the lichens growing in the cracks, In the wall of the hut. I am alone here amid the ice, in the midst of wild beasts. Kotzou will not come. My life is over. Thou hast Thou judged best, oh merciful God. Life is no longer necessary to me. I shall go soon; I shall go altogether. Today I can scarcely move. I am terribly weak, blood is flowing from my mouth. My heart palpitates, and there is a buzzing in my ears.
Yesterday I thought that I could no longer get up. And it is true. I can hardly write. I am beginning to die, and no one, no one, will come to bury me. It was covetousness which brought us here, and in our blindness, we did not fear either sufferings or privations. We have seen all our hopes of riches and, happiness betrayed, and God has chastised us for our sins. We should not have been so audacious. But man always wants to go forward, and he does not see the snares spread in his Path. Pardon and pity me, oh, my God Breathing is difficult. Outside the windows the blue foxes yelp, and I can hear something growling, probably a bear. That black thing on the ice some days ago — was it perhaps another Samoyede? Was it perhaps Kotzou, drowned somewhere in the ocean, and carried towards the island by the waves? Kotzou has deceived and destroyed us. May he be accursed even to the seventh generation. I cannot write anymore. I am dying- All is over.