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    Chapter XVIII

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    At eight in the morning we reached the remnant and ruin of what had been
    the important military station of "Camp Floyd," some forty-five or fifty
    miles from Salt Lake City. At four P.M. we had doubled our distance and
    were ninety or a hundred miles from Salt Lake. And now we entered upon
    one of that species of deserts whose concentrated hideousness shames the
    diffused and diluted horrors of Sahara--an "alkali" desert. For sixty-
    eight miles there was but one break in it. I do not remember that this
    was really a break; indeed it seems to me that it was nothing but a
    watering depot in the midst of the stretch of sixty-eight miles. If my
    memory serves me, there was no well or spring at this place, but the
    water was hauled there by mule and ox teams from the further side of the
    desert. There was a stage station there. It was forty-five miles from
    the beginning of the desert, and twenty-three from the end of it.

    We plowed and dragged and groped along, the whole live-long night, and at
    the end of this uncomfortable twelve hours we finished the forty-five-
    mile part of the desert and got to the stage station where the imported
    water was. The sun was just rising. It was easy enough to cross a
    desert in the night while we were asleep; and it was pleasant to reflect,
    in the morning, that we in actual person had encountered an absolute
    desert and could always speak knowingly of deserts in presence of the
    ignorant thenceforward. And it was pleasant also to reflect that this
    was not an obscure, back country desert, but a very celebrated one, the
    metropolis itself, as you may say. All this was very well and very
    comfortable and satisfactory--but now we were to cross a desert in
    daylight. This was fine--novel--romantic--dramatically adventurous--
    this, indeed, was worth living for, worth traveling for! We would write
    home all about it.

    This enthusiasm, this stern thirst for adventure, wilted under the sultry
    August sun and did not last above one hour. One poor little hour--and
    then we were ashamed that we had "gushed" so. The poetry was all in the
    anticipation--there is none in the reality. Imagine a vast, waveless
    ocean stricken dead and turned to ashes; imagine this solemn waste tufted
    with ash-dusted sage-bushes; imagine the lifeless silence and solitude
    that belong to such a place; imagine a coach, creeping like a bug through
    the midst of this shoreless level, and sending up tumbled volumes of dust
    as if it were a bug that went by steam; imagine this aching monotony of
    toiling and plowing kept up hour after hour, and the shore still as far
    away as ever, apparently; imagine team, driver, coach and passengers so
    deeply coated with ashes that they are all one colorless color; imagine
    ash-drifts roosting above moustaches and eyebrows like snow accumulations
    on boughs and bushes. This is the reality of it.

    The sun beats down with dead, blistering, relentless malignity; the
    perspiration is welling from every pore in man and beast, but scarcely a
    sign of it finds its way to the surface--it is absorbed before it gets
    there; there is not the faintest breath of air stirring; there is not a
    merciful shred of cloud in all the brilliant firmament; there is not a
    living creature visible in any direction whither one searches the blank
    level that stretches its monotonous miles on every hand; there is not a
    sound--not a sigh--not a whisper--not a buzz, or a whir of wings, or
    distant pipe of bird--not even a sob from the lost souls that doubtless
    people that dead air. And so the occasional sneezing of the resting
    mules, and the champing of the bits, grate harshly on the grim stillness,
    not dissipating the spell but accenting it and making one feel more
    lonesome and forsaken than before.

    The mules, under violent swearing, coaxing and whip-cracking, would make
    at stated intervals a "spurt," and drag the coach a hundred or may be two
    hundred yards, stirring up a billowy cloud of dust that rolled back,
    enveloping the vehicle to the wheel-tops or higher, and making it seem
    afloat in a fog. Then a rest followed, with the usual sneezing and bit-
    champing. Then another "spurt" of a hundred yards and another rest at
    the end of it. All day long we kept this up, without water for the mules
    and without ever changing the team. At least we kept it up ten hours,
    which, I take it, is a day, and a pretty honest one, in an alkali desert.
    It was from four in the morning till two in the afternoon. And it was so
    hot! and so close! and our water canteens went dry in the middle of the
    day and we got so thirsty! It was so stupid and tiresome and dull! and
    the tedious hours did lag and drag and limp along with such a cruel
    deliberation! It was so trying to give one's watch a good long
    undisturbed spell and then take it out and find that it had been fooling
    away the time and not trying to get ahead any! The alkali dust cut
    through our lips, it persecuted our eyes, it ate through the delicate
    membranes and made our noses bleed and kept them bleeding--and truly and
    seriously the romance all faded far away and disappeared, and left the
    desert trip nothing but a harsh reality--a thirsty, sweltering, longing,
    hateful reality!

    Two miles and a quarter an hour for ten hours--that was what we
    accomplished. It was hard to bring the comprehension away down to such a
    snail-pace as that, when we had been used to making eight and ten miles
    an hour. When we reached the station on the farther verge of the desert,
    we were glad, for the first time, that the dictionary was along, because
    we never could have found language to tell how glad we were, in any sort
    of dictionary but an unabridged one with pictures in it. But there could
    not have been found in a whole library of dictionaries language
    sufficient to tell how tired those mules were after their twenty-three
    mile pull. To try to give the reader an idea of how thirsty they were,
    would be to "gild refined gold or paint the lily."

    Somehow, now that it is there, the quotation does not seem to fit--but no
    matter, let it stay, anyhow. I think it is a graceful and attractive
    thing, and therefore have tried time and time again to work it in where
    it would fit, but could not succeed. These efforts have kept my mind
    distracted and ill at ease, and made my narrative seem broken and
    disjointed, in places. Under these circumstances it seems to me best to
    leave it in, as above, since this will afford at least a temporary
    respite from the wear and tear of trying to "lead up" to this really apt
    and beautiful quotation.
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