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    Chapter XXI

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    Chapter 24
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    We were approaching the end of our long journey. It was the morning of
    the twentieth day. At noon we would reach Carson City, the capital of
    Nevada Territory. We were not glad, but sorry. It had been a fine
    pleasure trip; we had fed fat on wonders every day; we were now well
    accustomed to stage life, and very fond of it; so the idea of coming to a
    stand-still and settling down to a humdrum existence in a village was not
    agreeable, but on the contrary depressing.

    Visibly our new home was a desert, walled in by barren, snow-clad
    mountains. There was not a tree in sight. There was no vegetation but
    the endless sage-brush and greasewood. All nature was gray with it. We
    were plowing through great deeps of powdery alkali dust that rose in
    thick clouds and floated across the plain like smoke from a burning
    house.

    We were coated with it like millers; so were the coach, the mules, the
    mail-bags, the driver--we and the sage-brush and the other scenery were
    all one monotonous color. Long trains of freight wagons in the distance
    envelope in ascending masses of dust suggested pictures of prairies on
    fire. These teams and their masters were the only life we saw.
    Otherwise we moved in the midst of solitude, silence and desolation.
    Every twenty steps we passed the skeleton of some dead beast of burthen,
    with its dust-coated skin stretched tightly over its empty ribs.
    Frequently a solemn raven sat upon the skull or the hips and contemplated
    the passing coach with meditative serenity.

    By and by Carson City was pointed out to us. It nestled in the edge of a
    great plain and was a sufficient number of miles away to look like an
    assemblage of mere white spots in the shadow of a grim range of mountains
    overlooking it, whose summits seemed lifted clear out of companionship
    and consciousness of earthly things.

    We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a "wooden" town;
    its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or
    five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down
    on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high
    enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were
    scarce in that mighty plain.

    The sidewalk was of boards that were more or less loose and inclined to
    rattle when walked upon. In the middle of the town, opposite the stores,
    was the "plaza" which is native to all towns beyond the Rocky Mountains--
    a large, unfenced, level vacancy, with a liberty pole in it, and very
    useful as a place for public auctions, horse trades, and mass meetings,
    and likewise for teamsters to camp in. Two other sides of the plaza were
    faced by stores, offices and stables.

    The rest of Carson City was pretty scattering.

    We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office and on the
    way up to the Governor's from the hotel--among others, to a Mr. Harris,
    who was on horseback; he began to say something, but interrupted himself
    with the remark:

    "I'll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the witness that
    swore I helped to rob the California coach--a piece of impertinent
    intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man."

    Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with a six-shooter,
    and the stranger began to explain with another. When the pistols were
    emptied, the stranger resumed his work (mending a whip-lash), and Mr.
    Harris rode by with a polite nod, homeward bound, with a bullet through
    one of his lungs, and several in his hips; and from them issued little
    rivulets of blood that coursed down the horse's sides and made the animal
    look quite picturesque. I never saw Harris shoot a man after that but it
    recalled to mind that first day in Carson.

    This was all we saw that day, for it was two o'clock, now, and according
    to custom the daily "Washoe Zephyr" set in; a soaring dust-drift about
    the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the
    capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.

    Still, there were sights to be seen which were not wholly uninteresting
    to new comers; for the vast dust cloud was thickly freckled with things
    strange to the upper air--things living and dead, that flitted hither and
    thither, going and coming, appearing and disappearing among the rolling
    billows of dust--hats, chickens and parasols sailing in the remote
    heavens; blankets, tin signs, sage-brush and shingles a shade lower;
    door-mats and buffalo robes lower still; shovels and coal scuttles on the
    next grade; glass doors, cats and little children on the next; disrupted
    lumber yards, light buggies and wheelbarrows on the next; and down only
    thirty or forty feet above ground was a scurrying storm of emigrating
    roofs and vacant lots.

    It was something to see that much. I could have seen more, if I could
    have kept the dust out of my eyes.

    But seriously a Washoe wind is by no means a trifling matter. It blows
    flimsy houses down, lifts shingle roofs occasionally, rolls up tin ones
    like sheet music, now and then blows a stage coach over and spills the
    passengers; and tradition says the reason there are so many bald people
    there, is, that the wind blows the hair off their heads while they are
    looking skyward after their hats. Carson streets seldom look inactive on
    Summer afternoons, because there are so many citizens skipping around
    their escaping hats, like chambermaids trying to head off a spider.

    The "Washoe Zephyr" (Washoe is a pet nickname for Nevada) is a peculiar
    Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth "whence it cometh." That is to
    say, where it originates. It comes right over the mountains from the
    West, but when one crosses the ridge he does not find any of it on the
    other side! It probably is manufactured on the mountain-top for the
    occasion, and starts from there. It is a pretty regular wind, in the
    summer time. Its office hours are from two in the afternoon till two the
    next morning; and anybody venturing abroad during those twelve hours
    needs to allow for the wind or he will bring up a mile or two to leeward
    of the point he is aiming at. And yet the first complaint a Washoe
    visitor to San Francisco makes, is that the sea winds blow so, there!
    There is a good deal of human nature in that.

    We found the state palace of the Governor of Nevada Territory to consist
    of a white frame one-story house with two small rooms in it and a
    stanchion supported shed in front--for grandeur--it compelled the respect
    of the citizen and inspired the Indians with awe. The newly arrived
    Chief and Associate Justices of the Territory, and other machinery of the
    government, were domiciled with less splendor. They were boarding around
    privately, and had their offices in their bedrooms.

    The Secretary and I took quarters in the "ranch" of a worthy French lady
    by the name of Bridget O'Flannigan, a camp follower of his Excellency the
    Governor. She had known him in his prosperity as commander-in-chief of
    the Metropolitan Police of New York, and she would not desert him in his
    adversity as Governor of Nevada.

    Our room was on the lower floor, facing the plaza, and when we had got
    our bed, a small table, two chairs, the government fire-proof safe, and
    the Unabridged Dictionary into it, there was still room enough left for a
    visitor--may be two, but not without straining the walls. But the walls
    could stand it--at least the partitions could, for they consisted simply
    of one thickness of white "cotton domestic" stretched from corner to
    corner of the room. This was the rule in Carson--any other kind of
    partition was the rare exception. And if you stood in a dark room and
    your neighbors in the next had lights, the shadows on your canvas told
    queer secrets sometimes! Very often these partitions were made of old
    flour sacks basted together; and then the difference between the common
    herd and the aristocracy was, that the common herd had unornamented
    sacks, while the walls of the aristocrat were overpowering with
    rudimental fresco--i.e., red and blue mill brands on the flour sacks.

    Occasionally, also, the better classes embellished their canvas by
    pasting pictures from Harper's Weekly on them. In many cases, too, the
    wealthy and the cultured rose to spittoons and other evidences of a
    sumptuous and luxurious taste. [Washoe people take a joke so hard that I
    must explain that the above description was only the rule; there were
    many honorable exceptions in Carson--plastered ceilings and houses that
    had considerable furniture in them.--M. T.]

    We had a carpet and a genuine queen's-ware washbowl. Consequently we
    were hated without reserve by the other tenants of the O'Flannigan
    "ranch." When we added a painted oilcloth window curtain, we simply took
    our lives into our own hands. To prevent bloodshed I removed up stairs
    and took up quarters with the untitled plebeians in one of the fourteen
    white pine cot-bedsteads that stood in two long ranks in the one sole
    room of which the second story consisted.

    It was a jolly company, the fourteen. They were principally voluntary
    camp-followers of the Governor, who had joined his retinue by their own
    election at New York and San Francisco and came along, feeling that in
    the scuffle for little territorial crumbs and offices they could not make
    their condition more precarious than it was, and might reasonably expect
    to make it better. They were popularly known as the "Irish Brigade,"
    though there were only four or five Irishmen among all the Governor's
    retainers.

    His good-natured Excellency was much annoyed at the gossip his henchmen
    created--especially when there arose a rumor that they were paid
    assassins of his, brought along to quietly reduce the democratic vote
    when desirable!

    Mrs. O'Flannigan was boarding and lodging them at ten dollars a week
    apiece, and they were cheerfully giving their notes for it. They were
    perfectly satisfied, but Bridget presently found that notes that could
    not be discounted were but a feeble constitution for a Carson boarding-
    house. So she began to harry the Governor to find employment for the
    "Brigade." Her importunities and theirs together drove him to a gentle
    desperation at last, and he finally summoned the Brigade to the presence.
    Then, said he:

    "Gentlemen, I have planned a lucrative and useful service for you--a
    service which will provide you with recreation amid noble landscapes, and
    afford you never ceasing opportunities for enriching your minds by
    observation and study. I want you to survey a railroad from Carson City
    westward to a certain point! When the legislature meets I will have the
    necessary bill passed and the remuneration arranged."

    "What, a railroad over the Sierra Nevada Mountains?"

    "Well, then, survey it eastward to a certain point!"

    He converted them into surveyors, chain-bearers and so on, and turned
    them loose in the desert. It was "recreation" with a vengeance!
    Recreation on foot, lugging chains through sand and sage-brush, under a
    sultry sun and among cattle bones, cayotes and tarantulas.

    "Romantic adventure" could go no further. They surveyed very slowly,
    very deliberately, very carefully. They returned every night during the
    first week, dusty, footsore, tired, and hungry, but very jolly. They
    brought in great store of prodigious hairy spiders--tarantulas--and
    imprisoned them in covered tumblers up stairs in the "ranch." After the
    first week, they had to camp on the field, for they were getting well
    eastward. They made a good many inquiries as to the location of that
    indefinite "certain point," but got no information. At last, to a
    peculiarly urgent inquiry of "How far eastward?" Governor Nye
    telegraphed back:

    "To the Atlantic Ocean, blast you!--and then bridge it and go on!"

    This brought back the dusty toilers, who sent in a report and ceased from
    their labors. The Governor was always comfortable about it; he said Mrs.
    O'Flannigan would hold him for the Brigade's board anyhow, and he
    intended to get what entertainment he could out of the boys; he said,
    with his old-time pleasant twinkle, that he meant to survey them into
    Utah and then telegraph Brigham to hang them for trespass!

    The surveyors brought back more tarantulas with them, and so we had quite
    a menagerie arranged along the shelves of the room. Some of these
    spiders could straddle over a common saucer with their hairy, muscular
    legs, and when their feelings were hurt, or their dignity offended, they
    were the wickedest-looking desperadoes the animal world can furnish.
    If their glass prison-houses were touched ever so lightly they were up
    and spoiling for a fight in a minute. Starchy?--proud? Indeed, they
    would take up a straw and pick their teeth like a member of Congress.
    There was as usual a furious "zephyr" blowing the first night of the
    brigade's return, and about midnight the roof of an adjoining stable blew
    off, and a corner of it came crashing through the side of our ranch.
    There was a simultaneous awakening, and a tumultuous muster of the
    brigade in the dark, and a general tumbling and sprawling over each other
    in the narrow aisle between the bedrows. In the midst of the turmoil,
    Bob H---- sprung up out of a sound sleep, and knocked down a shelf with
    his head. Instantly he shouted:

    "Turn out, boys--the tarantulas is loose!"

    No warning ever sounded so dreadful. Nobody tried, any longer, to leave
    the room, lest he might step on a tarantula. Every man groped for a
    trunk or a bed, and jumped on it. Then followed the strangest silence--a
    silence of grisly suspense it was, too--waiting, expectancy, fear. It
    was as dark as pitch, and one had to imagine the spectacle of those
    fourteen scant-clad men roosting gingerly on trunks and beds, for not a
    thing could be seen. Then came occasional little interruptions of the
    silence, and one could recognize a man and tell his locality by his
    voice, or locate any other sound a sufferer made by his gropings or
    changes of position. The occasional voices were not given to much
    speaking--you simply heard a gentle ejaculation of "Ow!" followed by a
    solid thump, and you knew the gentleman had felt a hairy blanket or
    something touch his bare skin and had skipped from a bed to the floor.
    Another silence. Presently you would hear a gasping voice say:

    "Su--su--something's crawling up the back of my neck!"

    Every now and then you could hear a little subdued scramble and a
    sorrowful "O Lord!" and then you knew that somebody was getting away from
    something he took for a tarantula, and not losing any time about it,
    either. Directly a voice in the corner rang out wild and clear:

    "I've got him! I've got him!" [Pause, and probable change of
    circumstances.] "No, he's got me! Oh, ain't they never going to fetch a
    lantern!"

    The lantern came at that moment, in the hands of Mrs. O'Flannigan, whose
    anxiety to know the amount of damage done by the assaulting roof had not
    prevented her waiting a judicious interval, after getting out of bed and
    lighting up, to see if the wind was done, now, up stairs, or had a larger
    contract.

    The landscape presented when the lantern flashed into the room was
    picturesque, and might have been funny to some people, but was not to us.
    Although we were perched so strangely upon boxes, trunks and beds, and so
    strangely attired, too, we were too earnestly distressed and too
    genuinely miserable to see any fun about it, and there was not the
    semblance of a smile anywhere visible. I know I am not capable of
    suffering more than I did during those few minutes of suspense in the
    dark, surrounded by those creeping, bloody-minded tarantulas. I had
    skipped from bed to bed and from box to box in a cold agony, and every
    time I touched anything that was furzy I fancied I felt the fangs. I had
    rather go to war than live that episode over again. Nobody was hurt.
    The man who thought a tarantula had "got him" was mistaken--only a crack
    in a box had caught his finger. Not one of those escaped tarantulas was
    ever seen again. There were ten or twelve of them. We took candles and
    hunted the place high and low for them, but with no success. Did we go
    back to bed then? We did nothing of the kind. Money could not have
    persuaded us to do it. We sat up the rest of the night playing cribbage
    and keeping a sharp lookout for the enemy.
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    Chapter 24
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