Abbildungen der Seite

elling larder contained, beside many duplicates of such a lunch as this, apple-butter, put up by the Shakers; preserved green corn and tomatoes; jars of assorted pickles, tamarinds, and cans of beef, prepared by a process which left nothing but salt and heating necessary for the creation of a capital ragout. Before these stores were exhausted we had repeated occasion to thank them for three meals a day, several days in succession. Indeed, wherever we stopped long enough to do, or get any cooking done, on our behalf, we always varied our else carnivorous meal by something succulent from the Shakers' tins. By this time the whole party were greatly distressed from loss of sleep. A more sad-eyed, out-all-nightish set I never saw anywhere. But all of them except myself were just far enough gone in fatigue to take cat-naps against their strap or in their corners. My head was swollen with fever, but I could not succumb. After half an hour's vain attempt at sleeping in a heap, I left my room to the others who were in a condition to prefer it to the company of the best of friends, and once more sought the stage-box, where it was blowing a gale of wind that made fever and hats alike difficult to hold on to. Our driver was a terrible fellow, with all the fingers missing from one hand,- the most profane man and the greatest braggart I ever saw. He alternately drank from a black bottle and praised his own driving, until the reins dropped out of his remaining fingers, and he himself would have gone headlong from the box, had I not grasped his collar. We had just crossed a high bridge without parapets over one of the numerous streams in this region, called Big or Little “Sandy;” the leaders stopped, and began facing the pole, and we were in imminent danger of being tipped over or backed down the steep bank. I jumped down upon the pole, and caught the reins just in time to save us; our Denver friend leaped out with his pistol drawn, and induced the driver to descend a little quicker than liquor and gravity combined would have brought him; after which, with a word of explanation directed around the side to our friends within, we left the fellow who had nearly murdered us, cursing his tortuous way along the road, and drove to the next station ourselves. In mentioning this occurrence, I should say, as an act of justice to the company and its drivers, that it was a very exceptional case to see a drunken man on an Overland box. The only repetition of it in our whole journey occurred in the Rocky Mountains, just beyond Fort Bridger, and then without any accident. It is due to the drivers as a class to say that they usually astonished me by an abstemiousness, under circumstances of great solitude, monotony, and temptation, which would have done credit to any man of business in an Eastern city. Many of them, on principle, or from a sense of their responsibility, would not drink at all. Between Big Sandy and Comstock's we got our first experience of a thunder-storm on the Plains. At sunset the clouds were piled into an ebon staircase, draped with gold, mounting from the western horizon to the zenith; and as the daylight declined, the massive steps became tessellated every now and then with lightning working across them silently in strange patterns. The weather had been very warm all day, and we thought likely that this exhibition would prove nothing more than the heat-lightning of our Eastern summer evenings. But about nine o'clock we were undeceived. The sky “meant business.” The agency that wrought those delicate traceries of golden sprig and anastomosing vein-work began to have a voice. At the foot of the great stair came a rumbling and a groan, as if the giants were beginning to climb. It grew louder, and here and there step parted from step, then the structure lifted at the base and descended at the top, making a series of black blocks and boulders, hanging downward from the same level of sky with lurid interstices between them, through which the upward depths looked awful. Never in my life did I see cloud distances graded with such delicacy. One could almost measure them by miles from the inky surface, hanging with torn fringes of leaden vapor just above our head, up through the tremendous chasms flecked along their wall, with dying gold and purple color, with wonderful light and shadows, and marked by innumerable changes of contour, to the clear but angry sky that paved the farthest depth of the abysses. I rode on the box for an hour looking into these glorious rifts with fascinated eyes. Then between their walls began a hurrying interplay of lightning, and the great artillery combat of the heavens commenced in earnest. At first the adjoining masses had their duels to themselves, battery fighting battery, pair and pair. Half an hour more, and the forces had perceptibly massed,—their fire coming in broader sheet, their thunder bellowing louder. An hour, and the fight of the giants became a general engagement. The whole hemisphere was a blinding mass of yellow flame at once, and the reports were each one instantaneous shock, which burst the air like the explosion of a mine. Then the wind rose to a hurricane; and before the dust could be set whirling by it, there followed such a flood of rain as I never saw anywhere, on sea or land. Sitting on the box still, for I had much rather be soaked than desert such a spectacle, I found my breath taken away for the first minute, as if I had been under a waterfall. It was not drops, nor jets, nor a sheet; it was a mass of coherent water falling down bodily. Five minutes from the time it began to wet us, the horses were running fetlock-deep, with the road still hard under their hoofs, for the soil had not yet had time to dissolve into mud. Torrents were flowing down every incline; where the plain basined, the water stood in broad sheets revealed by the flashes, like new ponds suddenly added to the scenery. Still the storm did not spend itself in wind and water. The lightning got broader, and its flashes quicker in succession; the thunder surpassed everything I have heard, or read, or dreamed of Between explosions we were so stunned that we could scarcely speak to or hear each other, and the shocks themselves made us fear for the permanent loss of our hearing. One moment we were in utter darkness, our horses kept in the road only by the sense of feeling; the next, and the vast expanse of rain-trampled grass lay in one embrace of topaz fire, with the colossal piles of clefted cloud out of which the deluge was coming,-earth and heaven illumined with a brightness surpassing the most cloudless noon. Suddenly there appeared before us a portent, of which I had read accounts in scientific annals, but which I had never seen before and never expect to see again. There was a temporary lull in the conflict above us. Into the blackness there rose out of the ground, apparently from a high divide, not a mile beyond our leaders, a column of lightning sized and shaped like the trunk of a tall pine. Straight and

« ZurückWeiter »