When, in the latter part of March, Major Abaza returned to Yakutsk to complete the organisation and equipment of our Yakut labourers, and I to Gizhiga to await once more the arrival of vessels from America, the future of the Russian-American Telegraph Company looked much brighter. We had explored and located the whole route of the line, from the Amur River to Bering Sea; we had half a dozen working-parties in the field, and expected to reinforce them soon with six or eight hundred hardy native labourers from Yakutsk; we had cut and prepared fifteen or twenty thousand telegraph poles, and were bringing six hundred Siberian ponies from Yakutsk to distribute them; we had all the wire and insulators for the Asiatic Division on the ground, as well as an abundant supply of tools and provisions; and we felt more than hopeful that we should be able to put our part of the overland line to St. Petersburg in working order before the beginning of 1870. So confident, indeed, were some of our men, that, in the pole-cutting camps, they were singing in chorus every night, to the air of a well known war-song.

  "In eighteen hundred and sixty-eight 
  Hurrah! Hurrah! 
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-eight 
  Hurrah! Hurrah! 
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, 
  The cable will be in a miserable state, 
  And we'll all feel gay 
  When they use it to fish for whales.

  "In eighteen hundred and sixty-nine 
  Hurrah! Hurrah! 
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-nine 
  Hurrah! Hurrah! 
  In eighteen hundred and sixty-nine 
  We're going to finish this overland line; 
  And we'll all feel gay 
  When it brings us good news from home."

But it was fated that our next news from home should not be brought by the overland line, and should not be of such a nature as to make any of us "feel gay."

On the evening of May 31, 1867, as I sat trying to draw a topographical map in the little one-story log house which served as the headquarters of the Asiatic Division, I was interrupted by the sudden and hasty entrance of my friend and comrade Mr. Lewis, who rushed into the room crying excitedly: "O Mr. Kennan! Did you hear the cannon?" I had not heard it, but I understood instantly the significance of the inquiry. A cannon-shot meant that there was a ship in sight from the beacon-tower at the mouth of the river. We were accustomed, every spring, to get our earliest news from the civilised world through American whaling vessels, which resort at that season of the year to the Okhotsk Sea. About the middle of May, therefore, we generally sent a couple of Cossacks to the harbour at the mouth of the river, with instructions to keep a sharp lookout from the log beacon-tower on the bluff, and fire three cannon-shots the moment they should see a whaler or other vessel cruising in the Gulf.

In less than ten minutes, the news that there was a vessel in sight from the beacon-tower had reached every house in the village, and a little group of Cossacks gathered at the landing-place, where a boat was being prepared to take Lewis, Robinson, and me to the sea-coast. Half an hour later we were gliding swiftly down the river in one of the light skiffs known in that part of Siberia as "lodkas." We had a faint hope that the ship which had been signalled would prove to be one of our own vessels; but even if she should turn out to be a whaler, she would at least bring us late news from the outside world, and we felt a burning curiosity to know what had been the result of the second attempt to lay the Atlantic cable. Had our competitors beaten us, or was there still a fighting chance that we might beat them?

We reached the mouth of the river late in the evening, and were met at the landing by one of the Cossacks from the beacon-tower.

"What ship is it?" I inquired.

"We don't know," he replied. "We saw dark smoke, like the smoke of a steamer, off Matuga Island just before we fired the cannon, but in a little while it blew away and we have seen nothing since."

"If it's a whaler trying out oil," said Robinson, "we'll find her there in the morning."

Leaving the Cossack to take our baggage out of the lodka, we all climbed up to the beacon-tower, with the hope that, as it was still fairly light, we might be able to see with a glass the vessel that had made the smoke; but from the high black cliffs of Matuga Island on one side of the Gulf, to the steep slope of Cape Catherine on the other, there was nothing to break the horizon line except here and there a field of drifting ice. Returning to the Cossack barrack, we spread our bearskins and blankets down on the rough plank floor and went disconsolate to bed.

Early the next morning, I was awakened by one of the Cossacks with the welcome news that there was a large square-rigged vessel in the offing, five or six miles beyond Matuga Island. I climbed hastily up the bluff, and had no difficulty in making out with a glass the masts and sails of a good-sized bark, evidently a whaler, which, although hull down, was apparently cruising back and forth with a light southerly breeze across the Gulf.

We ate breakfast hastily, put on our fur kukhlankas and caps, and started in a whale-boat under oars for the ship, which was distant about fifteen miles. Although the wind was light and the sea comparatively smooth, it was a hard, tedious pull; and we did not get alongside until after ten o'clock. Pacing the quarter-deck, as we climbed on board was a good-looking, ruddy-faced, gray-haired man whom I took to be the captain. He evidently thought, from our outer fur dress, that we were only a party of natives come off to trade; and he paid no attention whatever to us until I walked aft and said: "Are you the captain of this bark?"

At the first word of English, he stopped as if transfixed, stared at me for a moment in silence, and then exclaimed in a tone of profound astonishment: "Well! I'll be dod-gasted! Has the universal Yankee got up here?"

"Yes, Captain," I replied, "he is not only here, but he has been here for two years or more. What bark is this?"

"The Sea Breeze, of New Bedford, Massachusetts," he replied, "and I am Captain Hamilton. But what are you doing up in this God-forsaken country? Have you been shipwrecked?"

"No," I said, "we're up here trying to build a telegraph line."

"A telegraph line!" he shouted. "Well, if that ain't the craziest thing I ever heard of! Who's going to telegraph from here?"

I explained to him that we were trying to establish telegraphic communication between America and Europe by way of Alaska, Bering Strait, and Siberia, and asked him if he had never heard of the Russian-American Telegraph Company.

"Never," he replied. "I didn't know there was such a company; but I've been out two years on a cruise, and I haven't kept up very well with the news."

"How about the Atlantic cable?" I inquired. "Do you know anything about that?"

"Oh, yes," he replied cheerfully, as if he were giving me the best news in the world, "the cable is laid all right."

"Does it work?" I asked, with a sinking heart.

"Works like a snatch-tackle," he responded heartily. "The 'Frisco papers are publishing every morning the London news of the day before. I've got a lot of 'em on board that I'll give you. Perhaps you'll find something in them about your Company."

I think the captain must have noticed, from the sudden change in the expression of our faces, that his news about the Atlantic cable was a staggering blow to us, for he immediately dropped the subject and suggested the expediency of going below.

We all went down into the cosy, well-furnished cabin, where refreshments were set before us by the steward, and where we talked for an hour about the news of the world, from whaling in the South Pacific to dog-driving in Arctic Asia, and from Weston's walk across the North American continent to Karakozef's attempt to assassinate the Tsar. But it was, on our side at least, a perfunctory conversation. The news of the complete success of the Atlantic cable was as unexpected as it was disheartening, and it filled our minds to the exclusion of everything else. The world would have no use for an overland telegraph-line through Alaska and Siberia if it already possessed a working cable between London and New York.

We left the hospitable cabin of the Sea Breeze about noon, and prepared to return to Gizhiga. Captain Hamilton, with warm-hearted generosity, not only gave us all the newspapers and magazines he had on board, but literally filled our boat with potatoes, pumpkins, bananas, oranges, and yams, which he had brought up from the Sandwich Islands. I think he saw that we were feeling somewhat disheartened, and wanted to cheer us up in the only way he could - by giving us some of the luxuries of civilised life. We had not seen a potato, nor tasted any other fresh vegetable or fruit, in nearly two years.

We left the ship reluctantly, at last, giving three cheers and a "tiger" for Captain Hamilton and the Sea Breeze, as we went over the side.

When we had pulled three or four miles away from the bark, Lewis suggested that instead of returning at once to the mouth of the river we should go ashore at the nearest point on the coast, and look over the newspapers while the Cossacks made a fire and roasted some potatoes. This seemed to us all a good plan, and half an hour later we were sitting around a fire of driftwood on the beach, each of us with a newspaper in one hand and a banana or an orange in the other, and all feeding mind and body simultaneously. The papers were of various dates from September, 1866, to March, 1867, and were so mixed up that it was impossible to follow the course of events chronologically or consecutively. We were not long, however, in ascertaining not only that the new Atlantic cable had been successfully laid, but that the broken and abandoned cable of 1865 had been picked up in mid-ocean, repaired, and put in perfect working order. I think this discouraged us more than anything else. If cables could be found in the middle of the Atlantic, picked up in ten or twelve thousand feet of water, and repaired on the deck of a steamer, the ultimate success of submarine telegraphy was assured, and we might as well pack up our trunks and go home. But there was worse news to come. A few minutes later, Lewis, who was reading an old copy of the San Francisco Bulletin, struck his knee violently with his clenched fist and exclaimed;

"Boys! The jig is up! Listen to this!

  "'Special Dispatch to the Bulletin

  "'New York, October 15.

  "'In consequence of the success of the Atlantic 
  cable, all work on the Russian-American telegraph 
  line has been stopped and the enterprise has been 

"Well!" said Robinson, after a moment of thoughtful silence, "that seems to settle it. The cable has knocked us out."

Late in the afternoon, we pulled back, with heavy hearts, to the beacon-tower at the mouth of the river, and on the following day returned to Gizhiga, to await the arrival of a vessel from San Francisco with an official notification of the abandonment of the enterprise.