« ZurückWeiter »
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 chariges of contour, to the cjear 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, pur 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
awift, but with a more measurely motion than that of the higher discharges, it shot up, shedding its glare for many rods around, and making a sharply cut band of fire against the black background of the clouds, until it struck the nearest mass of vapor. Then, with the most tremendous flash and peal of the whole storm, its blazing capital broke into splinters, and went shivering across the area, right over our heads. If it were only possible to paint such things! But on canvas they would seem even more theatrical than they do in these inadequate words. In all the wrath of nature, — mad hurricanes and thunder-storms, on sea or land, — there never visited me anything to compare in awful splendor, and the impression of ungoverned power, with this upward lightning-stroke on the Nebraska Plains. .
Out of the deluge, the flame, and the roar, we suddenly saw a corral and log-house, at our right-hand; a small stream, swollen to a torrent, under tall cottonwoods, upon our left. The former were " Comstock's;" the latter was the Little Blue. Drenched to the skin, but happy with the memory of the greatest night in my life, I jumped down, and passed one of the boxlanterns inside to be lighted, for the first time, by my comparatively dry companions. This effected, we opened the curtains sufficiently to let them escape; with the assistance of the driver, got out of the boat all such dunnage as we intended to stop with us; and by the time everything was disgorged but our guns, succeeded in awakening the occupants of the rauche to a sense of our needs. Comstock came to the door with a lantern of his own, and as soon as we pronounced the words "Hunger" and "buffalo hunt," welcomed us Avith a cordiality as cheering as dry