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    Chapter XXXIII

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    I do not know how long I was in a state of forgetfulness, but it seemed
    an age. A vague consciousness grew upon me by degrees, and then came a
    gathering anguish of pain in my limbs and through all my body. I
    shuddered. The thought flitted through my brain, "this is death--this is
    the hereafter."

    Then came a white upheaval at my side, and a voice said, with bitterness:

    "Will some gentleman be so good as to kick me behind?"

    It was Ballou--at least it was a towzled snow image in a sitting posture,
    with Ballou's voice.

    I rose up, and there in the gray dawn, not fifteen steps from us, were
    the frame buildings of a stage station, and under a shed stood our still
    saddled and bridled horses!

    An arched snow-drift broke up, now, and Ollendorff emerged from it, and
    the three of us sat and stared at the houses without speaking a word.
    We really had nothing to say. We were like the profane man who could not
    "do the subject justice," the whole situation was so painfully ridiculous
    and humiliating that words were tame and we did not know where to
    commence anyhow.

    The joy in our hearts at our deliverance was poisoned; well-nigh
    dissipated, indeed. We presently began to grow pettish by degrees, and
    sullen; and then, angry at each other, angry at ourselves, angry at
    everything in general, we moodily dusted the snow from our clothing and
    in unsociable single file plowed our way to the horses, unsaddled them,
    and sought shelter in the station.

    I have scarcely exaggerated a detail of this curious and absurd
    adventure. It occurred almost exactly as I have stated it. We actually
    went into camp in a snow-drift in a desert, at midnight in a storm,
    forlorn and hopeless, within fifteen steps of a comfortable inn.

    For two hours we sat apart in the station and ruminated in disgust.
    The mystery was gone, now, and it was plain enough why the horses had
    deserted us. Without a doubt they were under that shed a quarter of a
    minute after they had left us, and they must have overheard and enjoyed
    all our confessions and lamentations.

    After breakfast we felt better, and the zest of life soon came back.
    The world looked bright again, and existence was as dear to us as ever.
    Presently an uneasiness came over me--grew upon me--assailed me without
    ceasing. Alas, my regeneration was not complete--I wanted to smoke!
    I resisted with all my strength, but the flesh was weak. I wandered away
    alone and wrestled with myself an hour. I recalled my promises of reform
    and preached to myself persuasively, upbraidingly, exhaustively. But it
    was all vain, I shortly found myself sneaking among the snow-drifts
    hunting for my pipe. I discovered it after a considerable search, and
    crept away to hide myself and enjoy it. I remained behind the barn a
    good while, asking myself how I would feel if my braver, stronger, truer
    comrades should catch me in my degradation. At last I lit the pipe, and
    no human being can feel meaner and baser than I did then. I was ashamed
    of being in my own pitiful company. Still dreading discovery, I felt
    that perhaps the further side of the barn would be somewhat safer, and so
    I turned the corner. As I turned the one corner, smoking, Ollendorff
    turned the other with his bottle to his lips, and between us sat
    unconscious Ballou deep in a game of "solitaire" with the old greasy

    Absurdity could go no farther. We shook hands and agreed to say no more
    about "reform" and "examples to the rising generation."

    The station we were at was at the verge of the Twenty-six-Mile Desert.
    If we had approached it half an hour earlier the night before, we must
    have heard men shouting there and firing pistols; for they were expecting
    some sheep drovers and their flocks and knew that they would infallibly
    get lost and wander out of reach of help unless guided by sounds.

    While we remained at the station, three of the drovers arrived, nearly
    exhausted with their wanderings, but two others of their party were never
    heard of afterward.

    We reached Carson in due time, and took a rest. This rest, together with
    preparations for the journey to Esmeralda, kept us there a week, and the
    delay gave us the opportunity to be present at the trial of the great
    land-slide case of Hyde vs. Morgan--an episode which is famous in Nevada
    to this day. After a word or two of necessary explanation, I will set
    down the history of this singular affair just as it transpired.
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