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    Chapter XX

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    Chapter 23
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    On the seventeenth day we passed the highest mountain peaks we had yet
    seen, and although the day was very warm the night that followed upon its
    heels was wintry cold and blankets were next to useless.

    On the eighteenth day we encountered the eastward-bound telegraph-
    constructors at Reese River station and sent a message to his Excellency
    Gov. Nye at Carson City (distant one hundred and fifty-six miles).

    On the nineteenth day we crossed the Great American Desert--forty
    memorable miles of bottomless sand, into which the coach wheels sunk from
    six inches to a foot. We worked our passage most of the way across.
    That is to say, we got out and walked. It was a dreary pull and a long
    and thirsty one, for we had no water. From one extremity of this desert
    to the other, the road was white with the bones of oxen and horses.
    It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that we could have walked the
    forty miles and set our feet on a bone at every step! The desert was one
    prodigious graveyard. And the log-chains, wagon tyres, and rotting
    wrecks of vehicles were almost as thick as the bones. I think we saw
    log-chains enough rusting there in the desert, to reach across any State
    in the Union. Do not these relics suggest something of an idea of the
    fearful suffering and privation the early emigrants to California
    endured?

    At the border of the Desert lies Carson Lake, or The "Sink" of the
    Carson, a shallow, melancholy sheet of water some eighty or a hundred
    miles in circumference. Carson River empties into it and is lost--sinks
    mysteriously into the earth and never appears in the light of the sun
    again--for the lake has no outlet whatever.

    There are several rivers in Nevada, and they all have this mysterious
    fate. They end in various lakes or "sinks," and that is the last of
    them. Carson Lake, Humboldt Lake, Walker Lake, Mono Lake, are all great
    sheets of water without any visible outlet. Water is always flowing into
    them; none is ever seen to flow out of them, and yet they remain always
    level full, neither receding nor overflowing. What they do with their
    surplus is only known to the Creator.

    On the western verge of the Desert we halted a moment at Ragtown. It
    consisted of one log house and is not set down on the map.

    This reminds me of a circumstance. Just after we left Julesburg, on the
    Platte, I was sitting with the driver, and he said:

    "I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to
    listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was
    leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an
    engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through
    quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace.
    The coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the
    buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through
    the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to
    go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago.
    But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on
    time'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"

    A day or two after that we picked up a Denver man at the cross roads, and
    he told us a good deal about the country and the Gregory Diggings.
    He seemed a very entertaining person and a man well posted in the affairs
    of Colorado. By and by he remarked:

    "I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to
    listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was
    leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an
    engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through
    quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The
    coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the
    buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through
    the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to
    go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago.
    But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on
    time!'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"

    At Fort Bridger, some days after this, we took on board a cavalry
    sergeant, a very proper and soldierly person indeed. From no other man
    during the whole journey, did we gather such a store of concise and well-
    arranged military information. It was surprising to find in the desolate
    wilds of our country a man so thoroughly acquainted with everything
    useful to know in his line of life, and yet of such inferior rank and
    unpretentious bearing. For as much as three hours we listened to him
    with unabated interest. Finally he got upon the subject of trans-
    continental travel, and presently said:

    "I can tell you a very laughable thing indeed, if you would like to
    listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was
    leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an
    engagement to lecture at Placerville and was very anxious to go through
    quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The
    coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the
    buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through
    the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to
    go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago.
    But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on
    time!'--and you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"

    When we were eight hours out from Salt Lake City a Mormon preacher got in
    with us at a way station--a gentle, soft-spoken, kindly man, and one whom
    any stranger would warm to at first sight. I can never forget the pathos
    that was in his voice as he told, in simple language, the story of his
    people's wanderings and unpitied sufferings. No pulpit eloquence was
    ever so moving and so beautiful as this outcast's picture of the first
    Mormon pilgrimage across the plains, struggling sorrowfully onward to the
    land of its banishment and marking its desolate way with graves and
    watering it with tears. His words so wrought upon us that it was a
    relief to us all when the conversation drifted into a more cheerful
    channel and the natural features of the curious country we were in came
    under treatment. One matter after another was pleasantly discussed, and
    at length the stranger said:

    "I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if you would like to
    listen to it. Horace Greeley went over this road once. When he was
    leaving Carson City he told the driver, Hank Monk, that he had an
    engagement to lecture in Placerville, and was very anxious to go through
    quick. Hank Monk cracked his whip and started off at an awful pace. The
    coach bounced up and down in such a terrific way that it jolted the
    buttons all off of Horace's coat, and finally shot his head clean through
    the roof of the stage, and then he yelled at Hank Monk and begged him to
    go easier--said he warn't in as much of a hurry as he was awhile ago.
    But Hank Monk said, 'Keep your seat, Horace, and I'll get you there on
    time!'--and you bet you bet you he did, too, what was left of him!"

    Ten miles out of Ragtown we found a poor wanderer who had lain down to
    die. He had walked as long as he could, but his limbs had failed him at
    last. Hunger and fatigue had conquered him. It would have been inhuman
    to leave him there. We paid his fare to Carson and lifted him into the
    coach. It was some little time before he showed any very decided signs
    of life; but by dint of chafing him and pouring brandy between his lips
    we finally brought him to a languid consciousness. Then we fed him a
    little, and by and by he seemed to comprehend the situation and a
    grateful light softened his eye. We made his mail-sack bed as
    comfortable as possible, and constructed a pillow for him with our coats.
    He seemed very thankful. Then he looked up in our faces, and said in a
    feeble voice that had a tremble of honest emotion in it:

    "Gentlemen, I know not who you are, but you have saved my life; and
    although I can never be able to repay you for it, I feel that I can at
    least make one hour of your long journey lighter. I take it you are
    strangers to this great thorough fare, but I am entirely familiar with
    it. In this connection I can tell you a most laughable thing indeed, if
    you would like to listen to it. Horace Greeley----"

    I said, impressively:

    "Suffering stranger, proceed at your peril. You see in me the melancholy
    wreck of a once stalwart and magnificent manhood. What has brought me to
    this? That thing which you are about to tell. Gradually but surely,
    that tiresome old anecdote has sapped my strength, undermined my
    constitution, withered my life. Pity my helplessness. Spare me only
    just this once, and tell me about young George Washington and his little
    hatchet for a change."

    We were saved. But not so the invalid. In trying to retain the anecdote
    in his system he strained himself and died in our arms.

    I am aware, now, that I ought not to have asked of the sturdiest citizen
    of all that region, what I asked of that mere shadow of a man; for, after
    seven years' residence on the Pacific coast, I know that no passenger or
    driver on the Overland ever corked that anecdote in, when a stranger was
    by, and survived. Within a period of six years I crossed and recrossed
    the Sierras between Nevada and California thirteen times by stage and
    listened to that deathless incident four hundred and eighty-one or
    eighty-two times. I have the list somewhere. Drivers always told it,
    conductors told it, landlords told it, chance passengers told it, the
    very Chinamen and vagrant Indians recounted it. I have had the same
    driver tell it to me two or three times in the same afternoon. It has
    come to me in all the multitude of tongues that Babel bequeathed to
    earth, and flavored with whiskey, brandy, beer, cologne, sozodont,
    tobacco, garlic, onions, grasshoppers--everything that has a fragrance to
    it through all the long list of things that are gorged or guzzled by the
    sons of men. I never have smelt any anecdote as often as I have smelt
    that one; never have smelt any anecdote that smelt so variegated as that
    one. And you never could learn to know it by its smell, because every
    time you thought you had learned the smell of it, it would turn up with a
    different smell. Bayard Taylor has written about this hoary anecdote,
    Richardson has published it; so have Jones, Smith, Johnson, Ross Browne,
    and every other correspondence-inditing being that ever set his foot upon
    the great overland road anywhere between Julesburg and San Francisco; and
    I have heard that it is in the Talmud. I have seen it in print in nine
    different foreign languages; I have been told that it is employed in the
    inquisition in Rome; and I now learn with regret that it is going to be
    set to music. I do not think that such things are right.

    Stage-coaching on the Overland is no more, and stage drivers are a race
    defunct. I wonder if they bequeathed that bald-headed anecdote to their
    successors, the railroad brakemen and conductors, and if these latter
    still persecute the helpless passenger with it until he concludes, as did
    many a tourist of other days, that the real grandeurs of the Pacific
    coast are not Yo Semite and the Big Trees, but Hank Monk and his
    adventure with Horace Greeley. [And what makes that worn anecdote the
    more aggravating, is, that the adventure it celebrates never occurred.
    If it were a good anecdote, that seeming demerit would be its chiefest
    virtue, for creative power belongs to greatness; but what ought to be
    done to a man who would wantonly contrive so flat a one as this? If I
    were to suggest what ought to be done to him, I should be called
    extravagant--but what does the sixteenth chapter of Daniel say? Aha!]
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    Chapter 23
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