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CHAPTER II.

The first thing we did on that glad evening that landed us at St. Joseph was to hunt up the stage-office, and pay a hundred and fifty dollars apiece for tickets per overland coach to Carson City, Nevada. The next morning, bright and early, we took a hasty breakfast, and hurried to the starting-place.

Then an inconvenience presented itself which we had not properly appreciated before, namely, that one cannot make a heavy traveling trunk stand for twenty-five pounds of baggage-- because it weighs a good deal more.

But that was all we could take-- twenty-five pounds each.

So we had to snatch our trunks open, and make a selection in a good deal of a hurry.

We put our lawful twenty-five pounds apiece all in one valise, and shipped the trunks back to St. Louis again.

It was a sad parting, for now we had no swallow-tail coats and white kid gloves to wear at Pawnee receptions in the Rocky Mountains, and no stove-pipe hats nor patent-leather boots, nor anything else necessary to make life calm and peaceful.

We were reduced to a war-footing.

Each of us put on a rough, heavy suit of clothing, woolen army shirt and "stogy" boots included; and into the valise we crowded a few white shirts, some under-clothing and such things.

My brother, the Secretary, took along about four pounds of United States statutes and six pounds of Unabridged Dictionary; for we did not know--poor innocents--that such things could be bought in San Francisco on one day and received in Carson City the next.

I was armed to the teeth with a pitiful little Smith & Wesson's seven-shooter, which carried a ball like a homoeopathic pill, and it took the whole seven to make a dose for an adult.

But I thought it was grand.

It appeared to me to be a dangerous weapon.

It only had one fault--you could not hit anything with it.

One of our "conductors" practiced awhile on a cow with it, and as long as she stood still and behaved herself she was safe; but as soon as she went to moving about, and he got to shooting at other things, she came to grief.

The Secretary had a small-sized Colt's revolver strapped around him for protection against the Indians, and to guard against accidents he carried it uncapped.

Mr. George Bemis was dismally formidable.

George Bemis was our fellow-traveler. We had never seen him before.

He wore in his belt an old original "Allen" revolver, such as irreverent people called a "pepper-box." Simply drawing the trigger back, cocked and fired the pistol.

As the trigger came back, the hammer would begin to rise and the barrel to turn over, and presently down would drop the hammer, and away would speed the ball. To aim along the turning barrel and hit the thing aimed at was a feat which was probably never done with an "Allen" in the world.

But George's was a reliable weapon, nevertheless, because, as one of the stage-drivers afterward said, "If she didn't get what she went after, she would fetch something else." And so she did.

She went after a deuce of spades nailed against a tree, once, and fetched a mule standing about thirty yards to the left of it.

Bemis did not want the mule; but the owner came out with a double-barreled shotgun and persuaded him to buy it, anyhow.

It was a cheerful weapon--the "Allen." Sometimes all its six barrels would go off at once, and then there was no safe place in all the region round about, but behind it. We took two or three blankets for protection against frosty weather in the mountains.

In the matter of luxuries we were modest--we took none along but some pipes and five pounds of smoking tobacco.

We had two large canteens to carry water in, between stations on the Plains, and we also took with us a little shot-bag of silver coin for daily expenses in the way of breakfasts and dinners. By eight o'clock everything was ready, and we were on the other side of the river.

We jumped into the stage, the driver cracked his whip, and we bowled away and left "the States" behind us.

It was a superb summer morning, and all the landscape was brilliant with sunshine.

There was a freshness and breeziness, too, and an exhilarating sense of emancipation from all sorts of cares and responsibilities, that almost made us feel that the years we had spent in the close, hot city, toiling and slaving, had been wasted and thrown away.

We were spinning along through Kansas, and in the course of an hour and a half we were fairly abroad on the great Plains.

Just here the land was rolling--a grand sweep of regular elevations and depressions as far as the eye could reach--like the stately heave and swell of the ocean's bosom after a storm.

And everywhere were cornfields, accenting with squares of deeper green, this limitless expanse of grassy land.

But presently this sea upon dry ground was to lose its "rolling" character and stretch away for seven hundred miles as level as a floor! Our coach was a great swinging and swaying stage, of the most sumptuous description--an imposing cradle on wheels.

It was drawn by six handsome horses, and by the side of the driver sat the "conductor," the legitimate captain of the craft; for it was his business to take charge and care of the mails, baggage, express matter, and passengers.

We three were the only passengers, this trip.

We sat on the back seat, inside.

About all the rest of the coach was full of mail bags--for we had three days' delayed mails with us.

Almost touching our knees, a perpendicular wall of mail matter rose up to the roof.

There was a great pile of it strapped on top of the stage, and both the fore and hind boots were full. We had twenty-seven hundred pounds of it aboard, the driver said--"a little for Brigham, and Carson, and 'Frisco, but the heft of it for the Injuns, which is powerful troublesome 'thout they get plenty of truck to read." But as he just then got up a fearful convulsion of his countenance which was suggestive of a wink being swallowed by an earthquake, we guessed that his remark was intended to be facetious, and to mean that we would unload the most of our mail matter somewhere on the Plains and leave it to the Indians, or whosoever wanted it. We changed horses every ten miles, all day long, and fairly flew over the hard, level road.

We jumped out and stretched our legs every time the coach stopped, and so the night found us still vivacious and unfatigued. After supper a woman got in, who lived about fifty miles further on, and we three had to take turns at sitting outside with the driver and conductor.

Apparently she was not a talkative woman.

She would sit there in the gathering twilight and fasten her steadfast eyes on a mosquito rooting into her arm, and slowly she would raise her other hand till she had got his range, and then she would launch a slap at him that would have jolted a cow; and after that she would sit and contemplate the corpse with tranquil satisfaction--for she never missed her mosquito; she was a dead shot at short range.

She never removed a carcase, but left them there for bait.

I sat by this grim Sphynx and watched her kill thirty or forty mosquitoes--watched her, and waited for her to say something, but she never did.

So I finally opened the conversation myself.

I said: "The mosquitoes are pretty bad, about here, madam." "You bet!" "What did I understand you to say, madam?" "You BET!" Then she cheered up, and faced around and said: "Danged if I didn't begin to think you fellers was deef and dumb.

I did, b'gosh.

Here I've sot, and sot, and sot, a-bust'n muskeeters and wonderin' what was ailin' ye.

Fust I thot you was deef and dumb, then I thot you was sick or crazy, or suthin', and then by and by I begin to reckon you was a passel of sickly fools that couldn't think of nothing to say.

Wher'd ye come from?" The Sphynx was a Sphynx no more!

The fountains of her great deep were broken up, and she rained the nine parts of speech forty days and forty nights, metaphorically speaking, and buried us under a desolating deluge of trivial gossip that left not a crag or pinnacle of rejoinder projecting above the tossing waste of dislocated grammar and decomposed pronunciation! How we suffered, suffered, suffered!

She went on, hour after hour, till I was sorry I ever opened the mosquito question and gave her a start. She never did stop again until she got to her journey's end toward daylight; and then she stirred us up as she was leaving the stage (for we were nodding, by that time), and said: "Now you git out at Cottonwood, you fellers, and lay over a couple o' days, and I'll be along some time to-night, and if I can do ye any good by edgin' in a word now and then, I'm right thar.

Folks'll tell you't I've always ben kind o' offish and partic'lar for a gal that's raised in the woods, and I am, with the rag-tag and bob-tail, and a gal has to be, if she wants to be anything, but when people comes along which is my equals, I reckon I'm a pretty sociable heifer after all." We resolved not to "lay by at Cottonwood."

到达圣约瑟夫——只准携带二十五磅行李——告别了羔皮手套和外套——武装到 牙齿——“亚伦牌”手枪——快活的武器——听人劝告,买下骡子——我们离开了“合 众国”——“我们的马车”——送达印第安人的邮件——眨眼和地震之间——现代的斯 芬克斯,以及她如何使我们开心——豁达的女人

到达圣约瑟夫的那个愉快的夜晚,我们的第一件事就是寻找驿站,每人掏出一百五 十美元买了由陆路去内华达卡森城的马车票。

次日清晨,天气晴朗,我们匆匆吃了早饭,急忙赶到出发地点。但是,出现了一件 麻烦事,事先没有弄明白,每人携带了一只装足二十五磅行李的旅行木箱,我们大大地 超重了。但每人能带二十五磅衣物,这就是我们可以随身携带的一切。于是,我们只得 一把打开箱子,手忙脚乱地作了一番选择,挑出那法定的二十五磅行李装进一只旅行包, 把箱子又送回圣路易。对这只箱子使我们真是难分难舍,因为这样,在落矶山区的波尼 人招待宴会上,我们就再也没有燕尾服可穿,白羔皮手套可戴,没有大礼帽,也没有漆 皮靴,没有任何能使生活安适的必需品了。我们给弄成了打仗的步兵,每人穿一套粗陋 的服装,包括一件军用羊毛衫和一双“大头靴”。在旅行包里,我们还塞进一些白衬衣、 内衣等诸如此类的东西。我哥哥,秘书先生,随身带了五磅美国法令,一本六磅重的大 字典,因为我们不知道——可怜的无知——这样的东西头天在旧金山邮购,第二天就可 以送到卡森城。我带着一把史密斯—维森公司制造的可怜的七发小手枪。这样,我就武 装到了牙齿。它的枪弹就象顺势疗法药片,七颗药片一齐打出去也刚够一个成人受用的。 但我仍然认为它威力强大,简直是支致命的武器。它只有一个毛病:连屁也打不中。有 个“押车”用这只枪对着一头母牛试了试,只要母牛安安静静、规规矩矩地站着,不会 伤着半根毫毛;但是母牛一动,押车只得瞄准另外的东西开火,母牛感到很愦憾。我的 秘书哥哥身上挎了一把小号科尔特左轮手枪,用来抵御印第安人的袭击,为了防止意外, 他还拉开了枪栓。乔治·白米士胆小得可怜,他是我们的旅伴,以前我们从来没看见过 他。他腰间佩着一把地道的“亚伦”牌左轮手枪,没有教养的人叫它“胡椒瓶”。只要 拉开板机,手指一勾,就开火了。拉起板机,击铁便翘起,弹轮一转动,击铁立刻敲下, 弹丸就打了出去。顺着枪筒瞄过去,就能打中目标,恐怕世界上没有哪一把亚伦枪创造 过这样的记录。但无论怎么说,乔治这把倒是件信得过的武器。用一个马车夫后来说的 话可以作证:“它即使打不中它要打的东西,总可以打中点别的什么。”此话的确不假。 有一次,他用这把枪对准钉在树上的黑桃二开火,却击中了站在左左边三十码开外的一 头骡子。白米士并不想要那头骡子,但那畜牲的主人扛了把双筒猎枪跑出来,“劝”他 无论如何也得把那头骡子买下来。“亚伦”真是件开心的武器!有时,它那六发子弹一 齐乱飞,遇到那种情况,四面八方就没有块安全的地方,除非躲在它后面。

我们带了两三条毯子抵御山区的严寒。至于奢侈品,我们倒还有节制——不过几只 烟斗,五磅烟叶,两只大铁皮桶用来装水,在大平原的驿站之间好用,身边还有一小子 弹袋银币,作为每天的早晚饭钱。

到了八点钟,万事齐备,人也到了对岸。我们跳进马车,车夫叭叭地挥动鞭儿,马 车急驰向前,把“合从国”丢在后面。这是个景色壮丽的夏日早晨,四周的景物都沐浴 在阳光中,一片辉煌。微风习习,凉爽宜人。一种解脱了名种麻烦和责任的喜悦油然而 生,使我们觉得,仿佛在那些拥挤、喧嚣的城市中当牛作马的年月已经被置之脑后,抛 到了九霄云外。我们飞快地穿过堪萨斯,一个半小时以后,就来到了辽阔的大平原上。 在这里,大地伸展开去——极目远眺,地势起落有致,十分壮观——就象暴风雨过后, 大海的胸膛那庄重的起伏。到处都是玉米地,一望无际的大草原上,呈现出一方方的浓 绿色。突然海洋遇到干旱的地面,不再起伏波动。大地伸展开去,七百英里,平坦如一 整块地板!。

我们的马车是一个摇来晃去的大箱子——如果加以堂皇的描述——是个装有轮子的 摇篮。六匹高头骏马拉着车子,车夫旁边并肩坐着“押车”,他是这船儿的名正言顺的 船长,他的份内之事就是负责那些邮件、行李,应付特殊事件和照顾旅客。这一趟只有 我们三名乘客,坐在车箱内的后座上。其它的一切地盘都塞满了邮包——因为我们捎上 了拖延三天的邮件。它们是一道巍然矗立直达顶篷的墙,差点抵住了我们的膝盖。车顶 上还捆着一大堆,前后行李箱都塞得满满的。车上共载有二千八百磅。车夫说,“一些 要运到布里格姆、卡森和旧金山,但大部分是带给印第安人的,他们弄这么多废物来看, 真伤脑筋。”但就在这个时候,他脸上突然现出一种恐怖的表情,好象一瞬间,他会给 地震吞了进去似的。我们猜想,他讲话是要显得俏皮,意思是说大部分的邮件将要卸在 大平原上,留给印第安人或别的什么人。

每走十英里,我们换一次马匹。整天,马车在坚硬平坦的道路上几乎象飞一样平稳 奔驰。一停下来,我们就跳下车去,舒展一下筋骨。所以,夜晚降临,我们仍然精力充 沛,毫无倦意。

晚饭后,上来个女人,她的家就在前面五十英里的地方。我们三个人不得不轮流到 车箱外面去,坐在车夫和押车旁边。显然,她是个不健谈的女人。在越来越浓的暮色中, 她用眼睛全神贯注地盯着叮在她手臂上的一只蚊子,把另一只手慢慢抬起,在射程范围 达到蚊子的时候,突然发起攻击,这猛然的一击简直可以打死一头牛。然后,她又坐下 来,带着安祥的满足,研究蚊子的尸体——她百发百中,在短射程范围内,总是扣死。 她把那些尸体全留在手上,作为诱饵。我坐在这个残忍的斯芬克斯旁边,看着她击杀了 三四十只蚊子——看着她,等她说点什么,但她什么也没说。于是我自己提起话头,说 道:

“这里的蚊子真可恶,夫人。”

“你可以打赌!”

“夫人,你的意思是……?”

“的确!”

于是她兴奋起来,转过身子说道:

“如果开头俺没把你们这些家伙当成聋子哑巴,让鬼把俺捉去。真的,见鬼。俺在 这里坐呀坐呀,打这些蚊子,简直不知道你们犯了什么病。开头俺捉摸你们是聋子哑巴, 后来俺猜你们不是犯了什么毛病就是傻瓜什么的。过后,俺开始捉摸你们是一群讨厌的 白痴,找不到什么做的。你们打哪儿来?”

这个斯芬克斯不再是个斯芬克斯!她那深渊里的泉水冲破了闸门汹涌而出。打个比 方,九大词类就象倾盆大雨,接连四十天又四十夜,向我们劈头盖脸地泼来,把我们埋 葬在一大片唠唠叨叨的荒凉的洪水底下。那乱七八糟的语法和尖声怪气的语音的废墟掩 埋了一切反驳的岩石与山峰!

多么,多么,多么地受罪哟!她滔滔不绝,一个钟点又一个钟点,后来我真后悔提 起蚊子那个话题,让她开了头。直到天将黎明她该下车的时候,一直没有闭上过嘴。要 下车了,她把我们搅醒(那时我们正在打盹),说道:

“现在下车去卡吞伍德瞧瞧,小伙子们,呆上一两天,俺今天晚上可以陪你们逛逛, 要是俺能时不时插句嘴,对你们有好处,那俺就满意了。乡亲们会对你们说,俺一贯对 人不亲热,特别是对穷乡旮旯的妞儿,对这种乌七八糟的人,俺就是这么个人,一个乡 下妞儿,若要还自以为了不起,就该这么对待她,可是,遇到和俺一般的人,俺认为, 俺毕竟是个极好相处的女人。”

我们下决心,绝不“在卡吞伍德下车。”