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    Chapter IV

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    Chapter 6
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    As the sun went down and the evening chill came on, we made preparation
    for bed. We stirred up the hard leather letter-sacks, and the knotty
    canvas bags of printed matter (knotty and uneven because of projecting
    ends and corners of magazines, boxes and books). We stirred them up and
    redisposed them in such a way as to make our bed as level as possible.
    And we did improve it, too, though after all our work it had an upheaved
    and billowy look about it, like a little piece of a stormy sea. Next we
    hunted up our boots from odd nooks among the mail-bags where they had
    settled, and put them on. Then we got down our coats, vests, pantaloons
    and heavy woolen shirts, from the arm-loops where they had been swinging
    all day, and clothed ourselves in them--for, there being no ladies either
    at the stations or in the coach, and the weather being hot, we had looked
    to our comfort by stripping to our underclothing, at nine o'clock in the
    morning. All things being now ready, we stowed the uneasy Dictionary
    where it would lie as quiet as possible, and placed the water-canteens
    and pistols where we could find them in the dark. Then we smoked a final
    pipe, and swapped a final yarn; after which, we put the pipes, tobacco
    and bag of coin in snug holes and caves among the mail-bags, and then
    fastened down the coach curtains all around, and made the place as "dark
    as the inside of a cow," as the conductor phrased it in his picturesque
    way. It was certainly as dark as any place could be--nothing was even
    dimly visible in it. And finally, we rolled ourselves up like silk-
    worms, each person in his own blanket, and sank peacefully to sleep.

    Whenever the stage stopped to change horses, we would wake up, and try to
    recollect where we were--and succeed--and in a minute or two the stage
    would be off again, and we likewise. We began to get into country, now,
    threaded here and there with little streams. These had high, steep banks
    on each side, and every time we flew down one bank and scrambled up the
    other, our party inside got mixed somewhat. First we would all be down
    in a pile at the forward end of the stage, nearly in a sitting posture,
    and in a second we would shoot to the other end, and stand on our heads.
    And we would sprawl and kick, too, and ward off ends and corners of mail-
    bags that came lumbering over us and about us; and as the dust rose from
    the tumult, we would all sneeze in chorus, and the majority of us would
    grumble, and probably say some hasty thing, like: "Take your elbow out of
    my ribs!--can't you quit crowding?"

    Every time we avalanched from one end of the stage to the other, the
    Unabridged Dictionary would come too; and every time it came it damaged
    somebody. One trip it "barked" the Secretary's elbow; the next trip it
    hurt me in the stomach, and the third it tilted Bemis's nose up till he
    could look down his nostrils--he said. The pistols and coin soon settled
    to the bottom, but the pipes, pipe-stems, tobacco and canteens clattered
    and floundered after the Dictionary every time it made an assault on us,
    and aided and abetted the book by spilling tobacco in our eyes, and water
    down our backs.

    Still, all things considered, it was a very comfortable night. It wore
    gradually away, and when at last a cold gray light was visible through
    the puckers and chinks in the curtains, we yawned and stretched with
    satisfaction, shed our cocoons, and felt that we had slept as much as was
    necessary. By and by, as the sun rose up and warmed the world, we pulled
    off our clothes and got ready for breakfast. We were just pleasantly in
    time, for five minutes afterward the driver sent the weird music of his
    bugle winding over the grassy solitudes, and presently we detected a low
    hut or two in the distance. Then the rattling of the coach, the clatter
    of our six horses' hoofs, and the driver's crisp commands, awoke to a
    louder and stronger emphasis, and we went sweeping down on the station at
    our smartest speed. It was fascinating--that old overland stagecoaching.

    We jumped out in undress uniform. The driver tossed his gathered reins
    out on the ground, gaped and stretched complacently, drew off his heavy
    buckskin gloves with great deliberation and insufferable dignity--taking
    not the slightest notice of a dozen solicitous inquires after his health,
    and humbly facetious and flattering accostings, and obsequious tenders of
    service, from five or six hairy and half-civilized station-keepers and
    hostlers who were nimbly unhitching our steeds and bringing the fresh
    team out of the stables--for in the eyes of the stage-driver of that day,
    station-keepers and hostlers were a sort of good enough low creatures,
    useful in their place, and helping to make up a world, but not the kind
    of beings which a person of distinction could afford to concern himself
    with; while, on the contrary, in the eyes of the station-keeper and the
    hostler, the stage-driver was a hero--a great and shining dignitary, the
    world's favorite son, the envy of the people, the observed of the
    nations. When they spoke to him they received his insolent silence
    meekly, and as being the natural and proper conduct of so great a man;
    when he opened his lips they all hung on his words with admiration (he
    never honored a particular individual with a remark, but addressed it
    with a broad generality to the horses, the stables, the surrounding
    country and the human underlings); when he discharged a facetious
    insulting personality at a hostler, that hostler was happy for the day;
    when he uttered his one jest--old as the hills, coarse, profane, witless,
    and inflicted on the same audience, in the same language, every time his
    coach drove up there--the varlets roared, and slapped their thighs, and
    swore it was the best thing they'd ever heard in all their lives. And
    how they would fly around when he wanted a basin of water, a gourd of the
    same, or a light for his pipe!--but they would instantly insult a
    passenger if he so far forgot himself as to crave a favor at their hands.
    They could do that sort of insolence as well as the driver they copied it
    from--for, let it be borne in mind, the overland driver had but little
    less contempt for his passengers than he had for his hostlers.

    The hostlers and station-keepers treated the really powerful conductor of
    the coach merely with the best of what was their idea of civility, but
    the driver was the only being they bowed down to and worshipped. How
    admiringly they would gaze up at him in his high seat as he gloved
    himself with lingering deliberation, while some happy hostler held the
    bunch of reins aloft, and waited patiently for him to take it! And how
    they would bombard him with glorifying ejaculations as he cracked his
    long whip and went careering away.

    The station buildings were long, low huts, made of sundried, mud-colored
    bricks, laid up without mortar (adobes, the Spaniards call these bricks,
    and Americans shorten it to 'dobies). The roofs, which had no slant to
    them worth speaking of, were thatched and then sodded or covered with a
    thick layer of earth, and from this sprung a pretty rank growth of weeds
    and grass. It was the first time we had ever seen a man's front yard on
    top of his house. The building consisted of barns, stable-room for
    twelve or fifteen horses, and a hut for an eating-room for passengers.
    This latter had bunks in it for the station-keeper and a hostler or two.
    You could rest your elbow on its eaves, and you had to bend in order to
    get in at the door. In place of a window there was a square hole about
    large enough for a man to crawl through, but this had no glass in it.
    There was no flooring, but the ground was packed hard. There was no
    stove, but the fire-place served all needful purposes. There were no
    shelves, no cupboards, no closets. In a corner stood an open sack of
    flour, and nestling against its base were a couple of black and venerable
    tin coffee-pots, a tin teapot, a little bag of salt, and a side of bacon.

    By the door of the station-keeper's den, outside, was a tin wash-basin,
    on the ground. Near it was a pail of water and a piece of yellow bar
    soap, and from the eaves hung a hoary blue woolen shirt, significantly--
    but this latter was the station-keeper's private towel, and only two
    persons in all the party might venture to use it--the stage-driver and
    the conductor. The latter would not, from a sense of decency; the former
    would not, because did not choose to encourage the advances of a station-
    keeper. We had towels--in the valise; they might as well have been in
    Sodom and Gomorrah. We (and the conductor) used our handkerchiefs, and
    the driver his pantaloons and sleeves. By the door, inside, was fastened
    a small old-fashioned looking-glass frame, with two little fragments of
    the original mirror lodged down in one corner of it. This arrangement
    afforded a pleasant double-barreled portrait of you when you looked into
    it, with one half of your head set up a couple of inches above the other
    half. From the glass frame hung the half of a comb by a string--but if I
    had to describe that patriarch or die, I believe I would order some
    sample coffins.

    It had come down from Esau and Samson, and had been accumulating hair
    ever since--along with certain impurities. In one corner of the room
    stood three or four rifles and muskets, together with horns and pouches
    of ammunition. The station-men wore pantaloons of coarse, country-woven
    stuff, and into the seat and the inside of the legs were sewed ample
    additions of buckskin, to do duty in place of leggings, when the man rode
    horseback--so the pants were half dull blue and half yellow, and
    unspeakably picturesque. The pants were stuffed into the tops of high
    boots, the heels whereof were armed with great Spanish spurs, whose
    little iron clogs and chains jingled with every step. The man wore a
    huge beard and mustachios, an old slouch hat, a blue woolen shirt, no
    suspenders, no vest, no coat--in a leathern sheath in his belt, a great
    long "navy" revolver (slung on right side, hammer to the front), and
    projecting from his boot a horn-handled bowie-knife. The furniture of
    the hut was neither gorgeous nor much in the way. The rocking-chairs and
    sofas were not present, and never had been, but they were represented by
    two three-legged stools, a pine-board bench four feet long, and two empty
    candle-boxes. The table was a greasy board on stilts, and the table-
    cloth and napkins had not come--and they were not looking for them,
    either. A battered tin platter, a knife and fork, and a tin pint cup,
    were at each man's place, and the driver had a queens-ware saucer that
    had seen better days. Of course this duke sat at the head of the table.
    There was one isolated piece of table furniture that bore about it a
    touching air of grandeur in misfortune. This was the caster. It was
    German silver, and crippled and rusty, but it was so preposterously out
    of place there that it was suggestive of a tattered exiled king among
    barbarians, and the majesty of its native position compelled respect even
    in its degradation.

    There was only one cruet left, and that was a stopperless, fly-specked,
    broken-necked thing, with two inches of vinegar in it, and a dozen
    preserved flies with their heels up and looking sorry they had invested
    there.

    The station-keeper upended a disk of last week's bread, of the shape and
    size of an old-time cheese, and carved some slabs from it which were as
    good as Nicholson pavement, and tenderer.

    He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the experienced old
    hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned army bacon which the
    United States would not feed to its soldiers in the forts, and the stage
    company had bought it cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and
    employees. We may have found this condemned army bacon further out on
    the plains than the section I am locating it in, but we found it--there
    is no gainsaying that.

    Then he poured for us a beverage which he called "Slum gullion," and it
    is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it. It really
    pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old
    bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler.

    He had no sugar and no milk--not even a spoon to stir the ingredients
    with.

    We could not eat the bread or the meat, nor drink the "slumgullion." And
    when I looked at that melancholy vinegar-cruet, I thought of the anecdote
    (a very, very old one, even at that day) of the traveler who sat down to
    a table which had nothing on it but a mackerel and a pot of mustard. He
    asked the landlord if this was all. The landlord said:

    "All! Why, thunder and lightning, I should think there was mackerel
    enough there for six."

    "But I don't like mackerel."

    "Oh--then help yourself to the mustard."

    In other days I had considered it a good, a very good, anecdote, but
    there was a dismal plausibility about it, here, that took all the humor
    out of it.

    Our breakfast was before us, but our teeth were idle.

    I tasted and smelt, and said I would take coffee, I believed. The
    station-boss stopped dead still, and glared at me speechless. At last,
    when he came to, he turned away and said, as one who communes with
    himself upon a matter too vast to grasp:

    "Coffee! Well, if that don't go clean ahead of me, I'm d---d!"

    We could not eat, and there was no conversation among the hostlers and
    herdsmen--we all sat at the same board. At least there was no
    conversation further than a single hurried request, now and then, from
    one employee to another. It was always in the same form, and always
    gruffly friendly. Its western freshness and novelty startled me, at
    first, and interested me; but it presently grew monotonous, and lost its
    charm. It was:

    "Pass the bread, you son of a skunk!" No, I forget--skunk was not the
    word; it seems to me it was still stronger than that; I know it was, in
    fact, but it is gone from my memory, apparently. However, it is no
    matter--probably it was too strong for print, anyway. It is the landmark
    in my memory which tells me where I first encountered the vigorous new
    vernacular of the occidental plains and mountains.

    We gave up the breakfast, and paid our dollar apiece and went back to our
    mail-bag bed in the coach, and found comfort in our pipes. Right here we
    suffered the first diminution of our princely state. We left our six
    fine horses and took six mules in their place. But they were wild
    Mexican fellows, and a man had to stand at the head of each of them and
    hold him fast while the driver gloved and got himself ready. And when at
    last he grasped the reins and gave the word, the men sprung suddenly away
    from the mules' heads and the coach shot from the station as if it had
    issued from a cannon. How the frantic animals did scamper! It was a
    fierce and furious gallop--and the gait never altered for a moment till
    we reeled off ten or twelve miles and swept up to the next collection of
    little station-huts and stables.

    So we flew along all day. At 2 P.M. the belt of timber that fringes the
    North Platte and marks its windings through the vast level floor of the
    Plains came in sight. At 4 P.M. we crossed a branch of the river, and
    at 5 P.M. we crossed the Platte itself, and landed at Fort Kearney,
    fifty-six hours out from St. Joe--THREE HUNDRED MILES!

    Now that was stage-coaching on the great overland, ten or twelve years
    ago, when perhaps not more than ten men in America, all told, expected to
    live to see a railroad follow that route to the Pacific. But the
    railroad is there, now, and it pictures a thousand odd comparisons and
    contrasts in my mind to read the following sketch, in the New York Times,
    of a recent trip over almost the very ground I have been describing. I
    can scarcely comprehend the new state of things:

    "ACROSS THE CONTINENT.

    "At 4.20 P.M., Sunday, we rolled out of the station at Omaha, and
    started westward on our long jaunt. A couple of hours out, dinner
    was announced--an "event" to those of us who had yet to experience
    what it is to eat in one of Pullman's hotels on wheels; so, stepping
    into the car next forward of our sleeping palace, we found ourselves
    in the dining-car. It was a revelation to us, that first dinner on
    Sunday. And though we continued to dine for four days, and had as
    many breakfasts and suppers, our whole party never ceased to admire
    the perfection of the arrangements, and the marvelous results
    achieved. Upon tables covered with snowy linen, and garnished with
    services of solid silver, Ethiop waiters, flitting about in spotless
    white, placed as by magic a repast at which Delmonico himself could
    have had no occasion to blush; and, indeed, in some respects it
    would be hard for that distinguished chef to match our menu; for, in
    addition to all that ordinarily makes up a first-chop dinner, had we
    not our antelope steak (the gormand who has not experienced this--
    bah! what does he know of the feast of fat things?) our delicious
    mountain-brook trout, and choice fruits and berries, and (sauce
    piquant and unpurchasable!) our sweet-scented, appetite-compelling
    air of the prairies?

    "You may depend upon it, we all did justice to the good things, and
    as we washed them down with bumpers of sparkling Krug, whilst we
    sped along at the rate of thirty miles an hour, agreed it was the
    fastest living we had ever experienced. (We beat that, however, two
    days afterward when we made twenty-seven miles in twenty-seven
    minutes, while our Champagne glasses filled to the brim spilled not
    a drop!) After dinner we repaired to our drawing-room car, and, as
    it was Sabbath eve, intoned some of the grand old hymns--"Praise God
    from whom," etc.; "Shining Shore," "Coronation," etc.--the voices of
    the men singers and of the women singers blending sweetly in the
    evening air, while our train, with its great, glaring Polyphemus
    eye, lighting up long vistas of prairie, rushed into the night and
    the Wild. Then to bed in luxurious couches, where we slept the
    sleep of the just and only awoke the next morning (Monday) at eight
    o'clock, to find ourselves at the crossing of the North Platte,
    three hundred miles from Omaha--fifteen hours and forty minutes
    out."
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