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    Chapter XXXIV

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    Chapter 38
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    The mountains are very high and steep about Carson, Eagle and Washoe
    Valleys--very high and very steep, and so when the snow gets to melting
    off fast in the Spring and the warm surface-earth begins to moisten and
    soften, the disastrous land-slides commence. The reader cannot know what
    a land-slide is, unless he has lived in that country and seen the whole
    side of a mountain taken off some fine morning and deposited down in the
    valley, leaving a vast, treeless, unsightly scar upon the mountain's
    front to keep the circumstance fresh in his memory all the years that he
    may go on living within seventy miles of that place.

    General Buncombe was shipped out to Nevada in the invoice of Territorial
    officers, to be United States Attorney. He considered himself a lawyer
    of parts, and he very much wanted an opportunity to manifest it--partly
    for the pure gratification of it and partly because his salary was
    Territorially meagre (which is a strong expression). Now the older
    citizens of a new territory look down upon the rest of the world with a
    calm, benevolent compassion, as long as it keeps out of the way--when it
    gets in the way they snub it. Sometimes this latter takes the shape of a
    practical joke.

    One morning Dick Hyde rode furiously up to General Buncombe's door in
    Carson city and rushed into his presence without stopping to tie his
    horse. He seemed much excited. He told the General that he wanted him
    to conduct a suit for him and would pay him five hundred dollars if he
    achieved a victory. And then, with violent gestures and a world of
    profanity, he poured out his grief. He said it was pretty well known
    that for some years he had been farming (or ranching as the more
    customary term is) in Washoe District, and making a successful thing of
    it, and furthermore it was known that his ranch was situated just in the
    edge of the valley, and that Tom Morgan owned a ranch immediately above
    it on the mountain side.

    And now the trouble was, that one of those hated and dreaded land-slides
    had come and slid Morgan's ranch, fences, cabins, cattle, barns and
    everything down on top of his ranch and exactly covered up every single
    vestige of his property, to a depth of about thirty-eight feet. Morgan
    was in possession and refused to vacate the premises--said he was
    occupying his own cabin and not interfering with anybody else's--and said
    the cabin was standing on the same dirt and same ranch it had always
    stood on, and he would like to see anybody make him vacate.

    "And when I reminded him," said Hyde, weeping, "that it was on top of my
    ranch and that he was trespassing, he had the infernal meanness to ask me
    why didn't I stay on my ranch and hold possession when I see him
    a-coming! Why didn't I stay on it, the blathering lunatic--by George,
    when I heard that racket and looked up that hill it was just like the
    whole world was a-ripping and a-tearing down that mountain side--
    splinters, and cord-wood, thunder and lightning, hail and snow, odds and
    ends of hay stacks, and awful clouds of dust!--trees going end over end
    in the air, rocks as big as a house jumping 'bout a thousand feet high
    and busting into ten million pieces, cattle turned inside out and
    a-coming head on with their tails hanging out between their teeth!--and
    in the midst of all that wrack and destruction sot that cussed Morgan on
    his gate-post, a-wondering why I didn't stay and hold possession! Laws
    bless me, I just took one glimpse, General, and lit out'n the county in
    three jumps exactly.

    "But what grinds me is that that Morgan hangs on there and won't move
    off'n that ranch--says it's his'n and he's going to keep it--likes it
    better'n he did when it was higher up the hill. Mad! Well, I've been so
    mad for two days I couldn't find my way to town--been wandering around in
    the brush in a starving condition--got anything here to drink, General?
    But I'm here now, and I'm a-going to law. You hear me!"

    Never in all the world, perhaps, were a man's feelings so outraged as
    were the General's. He said he had never heard of such high-handed
    conduct in all his life as this Morgan's. And he said there was no use
    in going to law--Morgan had no shadow of right to remain where he was--
    nobody in the wide world would uphold him in it, and no lawyer would take
    his case and no judge listen to it. Hyde said that right there was where
    he was mistaken--everybody in town sustained Morgan; Hal Brayton, a very
    smart lawyer, had taken his case; the courts being in vacation, it was to
    be tried before a referee, and ex-Governor Roop had already been
    appointed to that office and would open his court in a large public hall
    near the hotel at two that afternoon.

    The General was amazed. He said he had suspected before that the people
    of that Territory were fools, and now he knew it. But he said rest easy,
    rest easy and collect the witnesses, for the victory was just as certain
    as if the conflict were already over. Hyde wiped away his tears and

    At two in the afternoon referee Roop's Court opened and Roop appeared
    throned among his sheriffs, the witnesses, and spectators, and wearing
    upon his face a solemnity so awe-inspiring that some of his fellow-
    conspirators had misgivings that maybe he had not comprehended, after
    all, that this was merely a joke. An unearthly stillness prevailed, for
    at the slightest noise the judge uttered sternly the command:

    "Order in the Court!"

    And the sheriffs promptly echoed it. Presently the General elbowed his
    way through the crowd of spectators, with his arms full of law-books, and
    on his ears fell an order from the judge which was the first respectful
    recognition of his high official dignity that had ever saluted them, and
    it trickled pleasantly through his whole system:

    "Way for the United States Attorney!"

    The witnesses were called--legislators, high government officers,
    ranchmen, miners, Indians, Chinamen, negroes. Three fourths of them were
    called by the defendant Morgan, but no matter, their testimony invariably
    went in favor of the plaintiff Hyde. Each new witness only added new
    testimony to the absurdity of a man's claiming to own another man's
    property because his farm had slid down on top of it. Then the Morgan
    lawyers made their speeches, and seemed to make singularly weak ones--
    they did really nothing to help the Morgan cause. And now the General,
    with exultation in his face, got up and made an impassioned effort; he
    pounded the table, he banged the law-books, he shouted, and roared, and
    howled, he quoted from everything and everybody, poetry, sarcasm,
    statistics, history, pathos, bathos, blasphemy, and wound up with a grand
    war-whoop for free speech, freedom of the press, free schools, the
    Glorious Bird of America and the principles of eternal justice!

    When the General sat down, he did it with the conviction that if there
    was anything in good strong testimony, a great speech and believing and
    admiring countenances all around, Mr. Morgan's case was killed. Ex-
    Governor Roop leant his head upon his hand for some minutes, thinking,
    and the still audience waited for his decision. Then he got up and stood
    erect, with bended head, and thought again. Then he walked the floor
    with long, deliberate strides, his chin in his hand, and still the
    audience waited. At last he returned to his throne, seated himself, and
    began impressively:

    "Gentlemen, I feel the great responsibility that rests upon me this day.
    This is no ordinary case. On the contrary it is plain that it is the
    most solemn and awful that ever man was called upon to decide.
    Gentlemen, I have listened attentively to the evidence, and have
    perceived that the weight of it, the overwhelming weight of it, is in
    favor of the plaintiff Hyde. I have listened also to the remarks of
    counsel, with high interest--and especially will I commend the masterly
    and irrefutable logic of the distinguished gentleman who represents the
    plaintiff. But gentlemen, let us beware how we allow mere human
    testimony, human ingenuity in argument and human ideas of equity, to
    influence us at a moment so solemn as this. Gentlemen, it ill becomes
    us, worms as we are, to meddle with the decrees of Heaven. It is plain
    to me that Heaven, in its inscrutable wisdom, has seen fit to move this
    defendant's ranch for a purpose. We are but creatures, and we must
    submit. If Heaven has chosen to favor the defendant Morgan in this
    marked and wonderful manner; and if Heaven, dissatisfied with the
    position of the Morgan ranch upon the mountain side, has chosen to remove
    it to a position more eligible and more advantageous for its owner, it
    ill becomes us, insects as we are, to question the legality of the act or
    inquire into the reasons that prompted it. No--Heaven created the
    ranches and it is Heaven's prerogative to rearrange them, to experiment
    with them around at its pleasure. It is for us to submit, without

    "I warn you that this thing which has happened is a thing with which the
    sacrilegious hands and brains and tongues of men must not meddle.
    Gentlemen, it is the verdict of this court that the plaintiff, Richard
    Hyde, has been deprived of his ranch by the visitation of God! And from
    this decision there is no appeal."

    Buncombe seized his cargo of law-books and plunged out of the court-room
    frantic with indignation. He pronounced Roop to be a miraculous fool, an
    inspired idiot. In all good faith he returned at night and remonstrated
    with Roop upon his extravagant decision, and implored him to walk the
    floor and think for half an hour, and see if he could not figure out some
    sort of modification of the verdict. Roop yielded at last and got up to
    walk. He walked two hours and a half, and at last his face lit up
    happily and he told Buncombe it had occurred to him that the ranch
    underneath the new Morgan ranch still belonged to Hyde, that his title to
    the ground was just as good as it had ever been, and therefore he was of
    opinion that Hyde had a right to dig it out from under there and--

    The General never waited to hear the end of it. He was always an
    impatient and irascible man, that way. At the end of two months the fact
    that he had been played upon with a joke had managed to bore itself, like
    another Hoosac Tunnel, through the solid adamant of his understanding.
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    Chapter 38
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