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.

Our business in Gizhiga was finally adjusted and settled; our working-parties were all called in; and we were just about to sail in the bark Onward for Okhotsk, when we were suddenly confronted by the deadliest peril that we had encountered in more than two years of arctic experience. Every explorer who goes into a wild, unknown part of the world to make scientific researches, to find a new route for commerce, or to gratify an innate love of adventure, has, now and then, an escape from a violent death which is so extraordinary that he classifies it under the head of "narrow." The peril that he incurs may be momentary in duration, or it may be prolonged for hours, or even days; but in any case, while it lasts it is imminent and deadly. It is something more than ordinary danger - it is peril in which the chances of death are a hundred and of life only one. Such peril advances, as a rule, with terrifying swiftness and suddenness; and if one be unaccustomed to danger, he is liable to be beaten down and overwhelmed by the quick and unexpected shock of the catastrophe. He has no time to rally his nervous forces, or to think how he will deal with the emergency. The crisis comes like an instantaneous "Vision of Sudden Death," which paralyses all his faculties before he has a chance to exercise them. Swift danger of this kind tests to the utmost a man's inherited or acquired capacity for instinctive and purely automatic action; but as it generally passes before it has been fairly comprehended, it is not so trying, I think, to the nerves and to the character as the danger that is prolonged to the point of full realisation, and that cannot then be averted or lessened by any possible action. It is only when a man has time to understand and appreciate the impending catastrophe, and can do absolutely nothing to avert it, that he fully realises the possibility of death. Action of any kind is tonic, and when a man can fight danger with his muscles or his brain, he is roused and excited by the struggle; but when he can do nothing except wait, watch the suspended sword of Damocles, and wonder how soon the stroke will come, he must have strong nerves long to endure the strain.

Just before we sailed from Gizhiga in the Onward, eight of us had an escape from death in which the peril came with great swiftness and suddenness, and was prolonged almost to the extreme limit of nervous endurance. On account of the lateness of the season and the rocky, precipitous, and extremely dangerous character of the coast in the vicinity of Gizhiga, the captain of the bark had not deemed it prudent to run into the mouth of the Gizhiga River at the point of the long A-shaped gulf, but had anchored on a shoal off the eastern coast, at a distance from the beacon-tower of nearly twenty miles. From our point of view on land, the vessel was entirely out of sight; but I knew where she lay, and did not anticipate any difficulty in getting on board as soon as I should finish my work ashore.

I intended to go off to the ship with the last of Sandford's party on the morning of September 11th, but I was detained unexpectedly by the presentation of a number of native claims and other unforeseen matters of business, and when I had finally settled and closed up everything it was four o'clock in the afternoon. In the high latitude of north-eastern Siberia a September night shuts in early, and I felt some hesitation about setting out at such an hour, in an open boat, for a vessel lying twenty miles at sea; but I knew that the captain of the Onward was very nervous and anxious to get away from that dangerous locality; the wind, which was blowing a fresh breeze off shore, would soon take us down the coast to the vessel's anchorage; and after a moment of indecision I gave the order to start. There were eight men of us, including Sandford, Bowsher, Heck, and four others whose names I cannot now recall.

Our boat was an open sloop-rigged sail-boat, about twenty-five feet in length, which we had bought from a Russian merchant named Phillipeus. I had not before that time paid much attention to her, but so far as I knew she was safe and seaworthy. There was some question, however, as to whether she carried ballast enough for her sail-area, and at the last moment, to make sure of being on the safe side, I had two of Sandford's men roll down and put on board two barrels of sugar from the Company's storehouse. I then bade good-bye to Dodd and Frost, the comrades who had shared with me so many hardships and perils, took a seat in the stern-sheets of the little sloop, and we were off.

It was a dark, gloomy, autumnal evening, and the stiff north-easterly breeze which came to us in freshening gusts over the snow-whitened crest of the Stanavoi range had a keen edge, suggestive of approaching winter. The sea, however, was comparatively smooth, and until we got well out into the gulf the idea of possible danger never so much as suggested itself to me. But as we left the shelter of the high, iron-bound coast the wind seemed to increase in strength, the sea began to rise, and the sullen, darkening sky, as the gloom of night gathered about us, gave warning of heavy weather. It would have been prudent, while it was still light, to heave the sloop to and take a reef, if not a double reef, in the mainsail; but Heck, who was managing the boat, did not seem to think this necessary, and in another hour, when the necessity of reefing had become apparent to everybody, the sea was so high and dangerous that we did not dare to come about for fear of capsizing, or shipping more green water than we could readily dispose of. So we staggered on before the rising gale, trusting to luck, and hoping every moment that we should catch sight of the Onward's lights.

It has always seemed to me that the most dangerous point of sailing in a small open boat in a high combing sea is running dead before the wind. When you are sailing close-hauled, you can luff up into a squall, if necessary, or meet a steep, dangerous sea bow on; but when you are scudding you are almost helpless. You can neither luff, nor spill the wind out of the sail by slackening off the sheet, nor put your boat in a position to take a heavy sea safely. The end of your long boom is liable to trip as you roll and wallow through the waves, and every time you rise on the crest of a big comber your rudder comes out of water, and your bow swings around until there is imminent danger of an accidental jibe.

Heck, who managed our sloop, was a fairly good sailor, but as the wind increased, the darkness thickened, and the sea grew higher and higher, it became evident to me that nothing but unusually good luck would enable us to reach the ship in safety. We were not shipping any water, except now and then a bucketful of foam and spray blown from the crest of a wave; but the boat was yawing in a very dangerous way as she mounted the high, white-capped rollers, and I was afraid that sooner or later she would swing around so far that even with the most skilful steering a jibe would be inevitable.

It was very dark; I had lost sight of the land; and I don't know exactly in what part of the gulf we were when the dreaded catastrophe came. The sloop rose on the back of an exceptionally high, combing sea, hung poised for an instant on its crest, and then, with a wide yaw to starboard which the rudder was powerless to check, swooped down sidewise into the hollow, rolling heavily to port and pointing her boom high up into the gale. When I saw the dark outline of the leech of the mainsail waver for an instant, flap once or twice, and then suddenly collapse, I knew what was coming, and shouting at the top of my voice, "Look out Heck! She'll jibe!" I instinctively threw myself into the bottom of the boat to escape the boom. With a quick, sudden rush, ending in a great crash, the long heavy spar swept across the boat from starboard to port, knocking Bowsher overboard and carrying away the mast. The sloop swung around into the trough of the sea, in a tangle of sails, sheets, halyards, and standing rigging; and the next great comber came plump into her, filling her almost to the gunwales with a white smother of foam. I thought for a moment that she had swamped and was sinking; but as I rose to a crouching posture and rubbed the saltwater out of my eyes, I saw that she was less than half full, and that if we did not ship another sea too soon, prompt and energetic bailing might yet keep her afloat.

"Bail her out, boys! For your lives! With your hats!" I shouted: and began scooping out the water with my fur hood.

Eight men bailing for life, even with hats and caps, can throw a great deal of water out of a boat in a very short time; and within five or ten minutes the first imminent danger of sinking was over. Bowsher, who was a good swimmer and had not been seriously hurt by the boom, climbed back into the boat; we cut away the standing rigging, freed the sloop from the tangle of cordage, and got the water-soaked mainsail on board; and then, tying a corner of this sail to the stump of the mast, we spread it as well as we could, so that it would catch a little wind and give the boat steerage-way. Under the influence of this scrap of canvas the sloop swung slowly around, across the seas; the water ceased to come into her; and wringing out our wet caps and clothing, we began to breathe more freely.

When the first excitement of the crisis had passed and I recovered my self-possession, I tried to estimate, as coolly as possible, our prospects and our chances. The situation seemed to me almost hopeless. We were in a dismasted boat, without oars, without a compass, without a morsel of food or a mouthful of water, and we were being blown out to sea in a heavy north-easterly gale. It was so dark that we could not see the land on either side of the constantly widening gulf; there was no sign of the Onward; and in all probability there was not another vessel in any part of the Okhotsk Sea. The nearest land was eight or ten miles distant; we were drifting farther and farther away from it; and in our disabled and helpless condition there was not the remotest chance of our reaching it. In all probability our sloop would not live through the night in such a gale; and even should she remain afloat until morning, we should then be far out at sea, with nothing to eat or drink, and with no prospect of being picked up. If the wind should hold in the direction in which it was blowing, it would carry us past the Onward at a distance of at least three miles; we had no lantern with which to attract the attention of the ship's watch, even should we happen to drift past her within sight; the captain did not know that we were coming off to the bark that night, and would not think of looking out for us; and so far as I could discover, there was not a ray of hope for us in any direction.

How long we drifted out in black darkness, and in that tumbling, threatening, foam-crested sea, I do not know. It seemed to me many hours. I had a letter in my pocket which I had written the day before to my mother, and which I had intended to send down to San Francisco with the bark. In it I assured her that she need not feel any further anxiety about my safety, because the Russian-American telegraph line had been abandoned. I was to be landed by the Onward at Okhotsk; I was coming home by way of St. Petersburg over a good post-road; and I should not be exposed to any more dangers. As I sat there in the dismasted sloop, shivering with cold and drifting out to sea before a howling arctic gale, I remembered this letter, and wondered what my poor mother would think if she could read its contents and at the same time see in a mental vision the situation of the writer.

So far as I can remember, there was very little talking among the men during these long, dark hours of suspense. None of us, I think, had any hope; it was hard to make one's voice heard above the roaring of the wind; and we all sat or cowered in the bottom of the boat, waiting for an end which could not be very far away. Now and then a heavy sea would break over us, and we would all begin bailing again with our hats; but aside from this there was nothing to be done. It did not seem to me probable that the half-wrecked sloop would live more than three or four hours. The gale was constantly rising, and every few minutes we were lashed with stinging whips of icy spray, as a fierce squall struck the water to windward, scooped off the crests of the waves, and swept them horizontally in dense white clouds across the boat.

It must have been about nine o'clock when somebody in the bow shouted excitedly, "I see a light!"

"Where away?" I cried, half rising from the bottom of the boat in the stern-sheets.

"Three or four points off the port bow," the voice replied.

"Are you sure?" I demanded.

"I'm not quite sure, but I saw the twinkle of something away over on the Matuga Island side. It's gone now," the voice added, after a moment's pause; "but I saw something."

We all looked eagerly and anxiously in the direction indicated; but strain our vision as we might, we could not see the faintest gleam or twinkle in the impenetrable darkness to leeward. If there was a light visible, in that or in any other direction, it could only be the anchor-light of the Onward, because both coasts of the gulf were uninhabited; but it seemed to me probable that the man had been deceived by a sparkle of phosphorescence or the gleam of a white foam-crest.

For fully five minutes no one spoke, but all stared into the thick gloom ahead. Then, suddenly, the same voice cried aloud in a tone of still greater excitement, assurance, and certainty, "There it is again! I knew I saw it! It's a ship's light!"

In another moment I caught sight of it myself - a faint, distant, intermittent twinkle on the horizon nearly dead ahead.

"It's the anchor-light of the Onward!" I shouted in fierce excitement. "Spread the corner of the mainsail a little more if you can, boys, so as to give her better steerage-way. We've got to make that ship! Hold her steady on the light, Heck, even if you have to put her in the trough of the sea. We might as well founder as drift past!"

The men forward caught up the loose edges of the mainsail and extended it as widely as possible to the gale, clinging to the thwarts and the stump of the mast to avoid being jerked overboard by the bellying canvas. Heck brought the sloop's head around so that the light was under our bow, and on we staggered through the dark, storm-lashed turmoil of waters, shipping a sea now and then, but half sailing, half drifting toward the anchored bark. The wind came in such fierce gusts and squalls that one could hardly say from what quarter it was blowing; but, as nearly as I could judge in the thick darkness, it had shifted three or four points to the westward. If such were the case, we had a fair chance of making the ship, which lay nearer the eastern than the western coast of the gulf.

"Don't let her head fall off any, Heck," I cried. "Jam her over to the eastward as much as you can, even if the sea comes into her. We can keep her clear with our hats. If we drift past we're gone!"

As we approached the bark the light grew rapidly brighter: but I did not realise how near we were until the lantern, which was hanging in the ship's fore-rigging, swung for an instant behind the jib-stay, and the vessel's illuminated cordage suddenly came out in delicate tracery against the black sky, less than a hundred yards away.

"There she is!" shouted Sandford. "We're close on her!"

The bark was pitching furiously to her anchors, and as we drifted rapidly down upon her we could hear the hoarse roar of the gale through her rigging, and see a pale gleam of foam as the sea broke in sheets of spray against her bluff bows.

"Shall I try to round to abreast of her?" cried Heck to me, "or shall I go bang down on her?"

"Don't take any chances," I shouted. "Better strike her, and go to pieces alongside, than miss her and drift past. Make ready now to hail her - all together - one, - two, - three! Bark aho-o-y! Stand by to throw us a line!"

But no sound came from the huge black shadow under the pitching lantern save the deep bass roar of the storm through the cordage.

We gave one more fierce, inarticulate cry as the dark outline of the bark rose on a sea high above our heads; and then, with a staggering shock and a great crash, the boat struck the ship's bow.

What happened in the next minute I hardly know. I have a confused recollection of being thrown violently across a thwart in a white smother of foam; of struggling to my feet and clutching frantically at a wet, black wall, and of hearing some one shout in a wild, despairing voice: "Watch ahoy! We're sinking! For God's sake throw us a line!" - but that is all.

The water-logged sloop seesawed up and down past the bark's side, one moment rising on a huge comber until I could almost grasp the rail, and the next sinking into a deep hollow between the surges, far below the line of the copper sheathing. We tore the ends of our finger-nails off against the ship's side in trying to stop the boat's drift, and shouted despairingly again and again for help and a line; but our voices were drowned in the roar of the gale, there was no response, and the next sea carried us under the bark's counter. I made one last clutch at the smooth, wet planks; and then, as we drifted astern past the ship, I abandoned hope.

The sloop was sinking rapidly, - I was already standing up to my knees in water, - and in thirty seconds more we should be out of sight of the bark, in the dark, tumbling sea to leeward, with no more chance of rescue than if we were drowning in mid-Atlantic. Suddenly a dark figure in the boat beside me, - I learned afterward that it was Bowsher, - tore off his coat and waistcoat and made a bold leap into the sea to windward. He knew that it was certain death to drift out of sight of the bark in that sinking sloop, and he hoped to be able to swim alongside until he should be picked up. I myself had not thought of this before, but I saw instantly that it offered a forlorn hope of escape, and I was just poised in the act of following his example when on the quarter-deck of the bark, already twenty feet away, a white ghost-like figure appeared with uplifted arm, and a hoarse voice shouted, "Stand by to catch a line!"

It was the Onward's second mate. He had heard our cries in his state-room as we drifted under the ship's counter, and had instantly sprung from his berth and rushed on deck in his night-shirt.

By the dim light of the binnacle I could just see the coil of rope unwind as it left his hand; but I could not see where it fell; I knew that there would be no time for another throw; and it seemed to me that my heart did not beat again until I heard from the bow of the sloop a cheery shout of "All right! I've got the line! Slack off till I make it fast!"

In thirty seconds more we were safe. The second mate roused the watch, who had apparently taken refuge in the forecastle from the storm; the sloop was hauled up under the bark's stern; a second line was thrown to Bowsher, and one by one we were hoisted, in a sort of improvised breeches-buoy, to the Onward's quarterdeck. As I came aboard, coatless, hatless, and shivering from cold and excitement, the captain stared at me in amazement for a moment, and then exclaimed: "Good God! Mr. Kennan, is that you? What possessed you to come off to the ship such a night as this?"

"Well, Captain," I replied, trying to force a smile, "it didn't blow in this way when we started; and we had an accident - carried our mast away."

"But," he remonstrated, "it has been blowing great guns ever since dark. We've got two anchors down, and we've been dragging them both. I finally had them buoyed, and told the mate that if they dragged again we'd slip the cables and run out to sea. You might not have found us here at all, and then where would you have been?"

"Probably at the bottom of the gulf," I replied. "I haven't expected anything else for the last three hours."

The ill-fated sloop from which we made this narrow escape was so crushed in her collision with the bark that the sea battered her to pieces in the course of the night, and when I went on deck the next morning, a few ribs and shattered planks, floating awash at the end of the line astern, were all of her that remained.