CHAPTER XXXVIII. CLOSING UP THE BUSINESS - A BARGAIN SALE - TELEGRAPH TEACUPS REDUCED - CHEAP SHOVELS FOR GRAVE DIGGING - WIRE FISH NETS AT A SACRIFICE - OUR NARROWEST ESCAPE - BLOWN OUT TO SEA - SAVED BY THE "Onward"
We reached Okhotsk about the 1st of August, and after seeing the Major off for St. Petersburg, I sailed again in the Onward and spent most of the next month in cruising along the coast, picking up our scattered working-parties, and getting on board such stores and material as happened to be accessible and were worth saving.
Early in September, I returned to Gizhiga and proceeded to close up the business and make preparations for final departure. Our instructions from the Company were to sell all of our stores that were salable and use the proceeds in the payment of our debts. I have no doubt that this seemed to our worthy directors a perfectly feasible scheme, and one likely to bring in a considerable amount of ready money; but, unfortunately, their acquaintance with our environment was very limited, and their plan, from our point of view, was open to several objections. In the first place, although we had at Gizhiga fifteen or twenty thousand dollars' worth of unused material, most of it was of such a nature as to be absolutely unsalable in that country. In the second place, the villages of Okhotsk, Yamsk, and Gizhiga, taken together, did not have more than five hundred inhabitants, and it was doubtful whether the whole five hundred could make up a purse of as many rubles, even to ensure their eternal salvation. Assuming, therefore, that the natives wanted our crowbars, telegraph poles, and pickaxes they had little or no money with which to pay for them. However orders were orders; and as soon as practicable we opened, in front of our principal storehouse, a sort of international bazaar, and proceeded to dispose of our superfluous goods upon the best terms possible. We put the price of telegraph wire down until that luxury was within the reach of the poorest Korak family. We glutted the market with pickaxes and long-handled shovels, which we assured the natives would be useful in burying their dead, and threw in a lot of frozen cucumber pickles and other anti-scorbutics which we warranted to fortify the health of the living. We sold glass insulators by the hundred as patent American teacups, and brackets by the thousand as prepared American kindling-wood. We offered soap and candles as premiums to anybody who would buy our salt pork and dried apples, and taught the natives how to make cooling drinks and hot biscuits, in order to create a demand for our redundant lime-juice and baking-powder. We directed all our energies to the creation of artificial wants in that previously happy and contented community, and flooded the whole adjacent country with articles that were of no more use to the poor natives than ice-boats and mouse-traps would be to the Tuaregs of the Saharan desert. In short, we dispensed the blessings of civilisation with a free hand. But the result was not as satisfactory as our directors doubtless expected it to be. The market at last refused to absorb any more brackets and pickaxes; telegraph wire did not make as good fish-nets and dog-harnesses as some of our salesmen confidently predicted that it would; and lime-juice and water, as a beverage, even when drunk out of pressed-crystal insulators, beautifully tinted with green, did not seem to commend itself to the aboriginal mind. So we finally had to shut up our store. We had gathered in - if I remember rightly - about three hundred rubles ($150.), which, with the money that Major Abaza had left us, amounted to something like five hundred. I did not use this cash, however, in the payment of the Company's debts. I expected to have to return to the United States through Siberia, and I did not propose to put myself in such a position that I should be compelled to defray my travelling expenses by peddling lime-juice, cucumber pickles, telegraph wire, dried apples, glass insulators, and baking-powder along the road. I therefore persuaded the Company's creditors, who, fortunately, were not very numerous, to take tea and sugar in satisfaction of their claims, so that I might save all the cash I had for the overland trip from Okhotsk to St. Petersburg.