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CHAPTER IV.

As the sun went down and the evening chill came on, we made preparation for bed.

We stirred up the hard leather letter-sacks, and the knotty canvas bags of printed matter (knotty and uneven because of projecting ends and corners of magazines, boxes and books).

We stirred them up and redisposed them in such a way as to make our bed as level as possible. And we did improve it, too, though after all our work it had an upheaved and billowy look about it, like a little piece of a stormy sea.

Next we hunted up our boots from odd nooks among the mail-bags where they had settled, and put them on.

Then we got down our coats, vests, pantaloons and heavy woolen shirts, from the arm-loops where they had been swinging all day, and clothed ourselves in them--for, there being no ladies either at the stations or in the coach, and the weather being hot, we had looked to our comfort by stripping to our underclothing, at nine o'clock in the morning.

All things being now ready, we stowed the uneasy Dictionary where it would lie as quiet as possible, and placed the water-canteens and pistols where we could find them in the dark.

Then we smoked a final pipe, and swapped a final yarn; after which, we put the pipes, tobacco and bag of coin in snug holes and caves among the mail-bags, and then fastened down the coach curtains all around, and made the place as "dark as the inside of a cow," as the conductor phrased it in his picturesque way.

It was certainly as dark as any place could be--nothing was even dimly visible in it.

And finally, we rolled ourselves up like silk- worms, each person in his own blanket, and sank peacefully to sleep. Whenever the stage stopped to change horses, we would wake up, and try to recollect where we were--and succeed--and in a minute or two the stage would be off again, and we likewise.

We began to get into country, now, threaded here and there with little streams.

These had high, steep banks on each side, and every time we flew down one bank and scrambled up the other, our party inside got mixed somewhat.

First we would all be down in a pile at the forward end of the stage, nearly in a sitting posture, and in a second we would shoot to the other end, and stand on our heads. And we would sprawl and kick, too, and ward off ends and corners of mail- bags that came lumbering over us and about us; and as the dust rose from the tumult, we would all sneeze in chorus, and the majority of us would grumble, and probably say some hasty thing, like: "Take your elbow out of my ribs!--can't you quit crowding?" Every time we avalanched from one end of the stage to the other, the Unabridged Dictionary would come too; and every time it came it damaged somebody.

One trip it "barked" the Secretary's elbow; the next trip it hurt me in the stomach, and the third it tilted Bemis's nose up till he could look down his nostrils--he said.

The pistols and coin soon settled to the bottom, but the pipes, pipe-stems, tobacco and canteens clattered and floundered after the Dictionary every time it made an assault on us, and aided and abetted the book by spilling tobacco in our eyes, and water down our backs. Still, all things considered, it was a very comfortable night.

It wore gradually away, and when at last a cold gray light was visible through the puckers and chinks in the curtains, we yawned and stretched with satisfaction, shed our cocoons, and felt that we had slept as much as was necessary.

By and by, as the sun rose up and warmed the world, we pulled off our clothes and got ready for breakfast.

We were just pleasantly in time, for five minutes afterward the driver sent the weird music of his bugle winding over the grassy solitudes, and presently we detected a low hut or two in the distance.

Then the rattling of the coach, the clatter of our six horses' hoofs, and the driver's crisp commands, awoke to a louder and stronger emphasis, and we went sweeping down on the station at our smartest speed.

It was fascinating--that old overland stagecoaching. We jumped out in undress uniform.

The driver tossed his gathered reins out on the ground, gaped and stretched complacently, drew off his heavy buckskin gloves with great deliberation and insufferable dignity--taking not the slightest notice of a dozen solicitous inquires after his health, and humbly facetious and flattering accostings, and obsequious tenders of service, from five or six hairy and half-civilized station-keepers and hostlers who were nimbly unhitching our steeds and bringing the fresh team out of the stables--for in the eyes of the stage-driver of that day, station-keepers and hostlers were a sort of good enough low creatures, useful in their place, and helping to make up a world, but not the kind of beings which a person of distinction could afford to concern himself with; while, on the contrary, in the eyes of the station-keeper and the hostler, the stage-driver was a hero--a great and shining dignitary, the world's favorite son, the envy of the people, the observed of the nations.

When they spoke to him they received his insolent silence meekly, and as being the natural and proper conduct of so great a man; when he opened his lips they all hung on his words with admiration (he never honored a particular individual with a remark, but addressed it with a broad generality to the horses, the stables, the surrounding country and the human underlings); when he discharged a facetious insulting personality at a hostler, that hostler was happy for the day; when he uttered his one jest--old as the hills, coarse, profane, witless, and inflicted on the same audience, in the same language, every time his coach drove up there--the varlets roared, and slapped their thighs, and swore it was the best thing they'd ever heard in all their lives.

And how they would fly around when he wanted a basin of water, a gourd of the same, or a light for his pipe!--but they would instantly insult a passenger if he so far forgot himself as to crave a favor at their hands. They could do that sort of insolence as well as the driver they copied it from--for, let it be borne in mind, the overland driver had but little less contempt for his passengers than he had for his hostlers. The hostlers and station-keepers treated the really powerful conductor of the coach merely with the best of what was their idea of civility, but the driver was the only being they bowed down to and worshipped.

How admiringly they would gaze up at him in his high seat as he gloved himself with lingering deliberation, while some happy hostler held the bunch of reins aloft, and waited patiently for him to take it!

And how they would bombard him with glorifying ejaculations as he cracked his long whip and went careering away. The station buildings were long, low huts, made of sundried, mud-colored bricks, laid up without mortar (adobes, the Spaniards call these bricks, and Americans shorten it to 'dobies).

The roofs, which had no slant to them worth speaking of, were thatched and then sodded or covered with a thick layer of earth, and from this sprung a pretty rank growth of weeds and grass.

It was the first time we had ever seen a man's front yard on top of his house.

The building consisted of barns, stable-room for twelve or fifteen horses, and a hut for an eating-room for passengers. This latter had bunks in it for the station-keeper and a hostler or two. You could rest your elbow on its eaves, and you had to bend in order to get in at the door.

In place of a window there was a square hole about large enough for a man to crawl through, but this had no glass in it. There was no flooring, but the ground was packed hard.

There was no stove, but the fire-place served all needful purposes.

There were no shelves, no cupboards, no closets.

In a corner stood an open sack of flour, and nestling against its base were a couple of black and venerable tin coffee-pots, a tin teapot, a little bag of salt, and a side of bacon. By the door of the station-keeper's den, outside, was a tin wash-basin, on the ground.

Near it was a pail of water and a piece of yellow bar soap, and from the eaves hung a hoary blue woolen shirt, significantly-- but this latter was the station-keeper's private towel, and only two persons in all the party might venture to use it--the stage-driver and the conductor.

The latter would not, from a sense of decency; the former would not, because did not choose to encourage the advances of a station- keeper.

We had towels--in the valise; they might as well have been in Sodom and Gomorrah.

We (and the conductor) used our handkerchiefs, and the driver his pantaloons and sleeves.

By the door, inside, was fastened a small old-fashioned looking-glass frame, with two little fragments of the original mirror lodged down in one corner of it.

This arrangement afforded a pleasant double-barreled portrait of you when you looked into it, with one half of your head set up a couple of inches above the other half.

From the glass frame hung the half of a comb by a string--but if I had to describe that patriarch or die, I believe I would order some sample coffins. It had come down from Esau and Samson, and had been accumulating hair ever since--along with certain impurities.

In one corner of the room stood three or four rifles and muskets, together with horns and pouches of ammunition.

The station-men wore pantaloons of coarse, country-woven stuff, and into the seat and the inside of the legs were sewed ample additions of buckskin, to do duty in place of leggings, when the man rode horseback--so the pants were half dull blue and half yellow, and unspeakably picturesque.

The pants were stuffed into the tops of high boots, the heels whereof were armed with great Spanish spurs, whose little iron clogs and chains jingled with every step.

The man wore a huge beard and mustachios, an old slouch hat, a blue woolen shirt, no suspenders, no vest, no coat--in a leathern sheath in his belt, a great long "navy" revolver (slung on right side, hammer to the front), and projecting from his boot a horn-handled bowie-knife.

The furniture of the hut was neither gorgeous nor much in the way.

The rocking-chairs and sofas were not present, and never had been, but they were represented by two three-legged stools, a pine-board bench four feet long, and two empty candle-boxes.

The table was a greasy board on stilts, and the table- cloth and napkins had not come--and they were not looking for them, either.

A battered tin platter, a knife and fork, and a tin pint cup, were at each man's place, and the driver had a queens-ware saucer that had seen better days.

Of course this duke sat at the head of the table. There was one isolated piece of table furniture that bore about it a touching air of grandeur in misfortune.

This was the caster.

It was German silver, and crippled and rusty, but it was so preposterously out of place there that it was suggestive of a tattered exiled king among barbarians, and the majesty of its native position compelled respect even in its degradation. There was only one cruet left, and that was a stopperless, fly-specked, broken-necked thing, with two inches of vinegar in it, and a dozen preserved flies with their heels up and looking sorry they had invested there. The station-keeper upended a disk of last week's bread, of the shape and size of an old-time cheese, and carved some slabs from it which were as good as Nicholson pavement, and tenderer. He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the experienced old hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned army bacon which the United States would not feed to its soldiers in the forts, and the stage company had bought it cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and employees.

We may have found this condemned army bacon further out on the plains than the section I am locating it in, but we found it--there is no gainsaying that. Then he poured for us a beverage which he called "Slum gullion," and it is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it.

It really pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler. He had no sugar and no milk--not even a spoon to stir the ingredients with. We could not eat the bread or the meat, nor drink the "slumgullion." And when I looked at that melancholy vinegar-cruet, I thought of the anecdote (a very, very old one, even at that day) of the traveler who sat down to a table which had nothing on it but a mackerel and a pot of mustard.

He asked the landlord if this was all.

The landlord said: "All!

Why, thunder and lightning, I should think there was mackerel enough there for six." "But I don't like mackerel." "Oh--then help yourself to the mustard." In other days I had considered it a good, a very good, anecdote, but there was a dismal plausibility about it, here, that took all the humor out of it. Our breakfast was before us, but our teeth were idle. I tasted and smelt, and said I would take coffee, I believed.

The station-boss stopped dead still, and glared at me speechless.

At last, when he came to, he turned away and said, as one who communes with himself upon a matter too vast to grasp: "Coffee!

Well, if that don't go clean ahead of me, I'm d---d!" We could not eat, and there was no conversation among the hostlers and herdsmen--we all sat at the same board.

At least there was no conversation further than a single hurried request, now and then, from one employee to another.

It was always in the same form, and always gruffly friendly.

Its western freshness and novelty startled me, at first, and interested me; but it presently grew monotonous, and lost its charm.

It was: "Pass the bread, you son of a skunk!"

No, I forget--skunk was not the word; it seems to me it was still stronger than that; I know it was, in fact, but it is gone from my memory, apparently.

However, it is no matter--probably it was too strong for print, anyway.

It is the landmark in my memory which tells me where I first encountered the vigorous new vernacular of the occidental plains and mountains. We gave up the breakfast, and paid our dollar apiece and went back to our mail-bag bed in the coach, and found comfort in our pipes.

Right here we suffered the first diminution of our princely state.

We left our six fine horses and took six mules in their place.

But they were wild Mexican fellows, and a man had to stand at the head of each of them and hold him fast while the driver gloved and got himself ready.

And when at last he grasped the reins and gave the word, the men sprung suddenly away from the mules' heads and the coach shot from the station as if it had issued from a cannon.

How the frantic animals did scamper!

It was a fierce and furious gallop--and the gait never altered for a moment till we reeled off ten or twelve miles and swept up to the next collection of little station-huts and stables. So we flew along all day.

At 2 P.M.

the belt of timber that fringes the North Platte and marks its windings through the vast level floor of the Plains came in sight.

At 4 P.M.

we crossed a branch of the river, and at 5 P.M.

we crossed the Platte itself, and landed at Fort Kearney, fifty-six hours out from St. Joe--THREE HUNDRED MILES! Now that was stage-coaching on the great overland, ten or twelve years ago, when perhaps not more than ten men in America, all told, expected to live to see a railroad follow that route to the Pacific.

But the railroad is there, now, and it pictures a thousand odd comparisons and contrasts in my mind to read the following sketch, in the New York Times, of a recent trip over almost the very ground I have been describing.

I can scarcely comprehend the new state of things:

"ACROSS THE CONTINENT.

"At 4.20 P.M., Sunday, we rolled out of the station at Omaha, and started westward on our long jaunt.

A couple of hours out, dinner was announced--an "event" to those of us who had yet to experience

what it is to eat in one of Pullman's hotels on wheels; so, stepping into the car next forward of our sleeping palace, we found ourselves in the dining-car.

It was a revelation to us, that first dinner on Sunday.

And though we continued to dine for four days, and had as many breakfasts and suppers, our whole party never ceased to admire the perfection of the arrangements, and the marvelous results achieved.

Upon tables covered with snowy linen, and garnished with services of solid silver, Ethiop waiters, flitting about in spotless white, placed as by magic a repast at which Delmonico himself could have had no occasion to blush; and, indeed, in some respects it would be hard for that distinguished chef to match our menu; for, in addition to all that ordinarily makes up a first-chop dinner, had we not our antelope steak (the gormand who has not experienced this-- bah! what does he know of the feast of fat things?) our delicious mountain-brook trout, and choice fruits and berries, and (sauce piquant and unpurchasable!) our sweet-scented, appetite-compelling air of the prairies?

"You may depend upon it, we all did justice to the good things, and as we washed them down with bumpers of sparkling Krug, whilst we sped along at the rate of thirty miles an hour, agreed it was the fastest living we had ever experienced.

(We beat that, however, two days afterward when we made twenty-seven miles in twenty-seven minutes, while our Champagne glasses filled to the brim spilled not a drop!) After dinner we repaired to our drawing-room car, and, as it was Sabbath eve, intoned some of the grand old hymns--"Praise God from whom," etc.; "Shining Shore," "Coronation," etc.--the voices of the men singers and of the women singers blending sweetly in the evening air, while our train, with its great, glaring Polyphemus eye, lighting up long vistas of prairie, rushed into the night and the Wild.

Then to bed in luxurious couches, where we slept the sleep of the just and only awoke the next morning (Monday) at eight o'clock, to find ourselves at the crossing of the North Platte, three hundred miles from Omaha--fifteen hours and forty minutes out."

铺床——大字典的进攻——驿站上——显贵的车夫大人——奇特的前院——膳食 供应——双像——传家宝——我们杰出的主人——“餐具和调料”——流放犯——饮料 ——丰盛的餐桌——主人大吃一惊——席间的礼仪——野性的墨西哥骡子——驿车和铁 路

夕阳西下,夜寒袭来,我们开始铺床。我们翻起那些硬邦邦的信袋和装着印刷品的 鼓鼓囊囊的帆布包(它们凹凸不平是因为杂志,盒子和书籍的棱角),翻起来又放下去, 使我们的床铺尽可能平坦些。我们还确实使环境有所改善,但它还是那样波浪起伏,如 同一小块暴风雨袭击中的海面。接着,我们把原来放在邮包间那些奇形怪状的窟窿中的 靴子找出来穿上,然后从拉手皮带上取下外衣、背心、裤子和厚厚的毛线衫——它们在 皮带上摇摇摆摆晃荡了整整一天。我们把所有这些一齐套在身上,因为驿站上和马车里 都没有女人,天气又热,早晨九点,我们就脱得只剩下内衣,图个舒服。现在,一切都 弄好了,把那本大字典打发到一个让它安安静静地躺着的地方,水壶和手枪则安置在闭 上眼也摸得到的地方。于是,我们抽了最后一袋烟,交换了最后一次呵欠,然后,把烟 斗,烟叶和钱袋放进邮包间那些小巧的洞里,拉下四周的窗帘,照押车那生动的说法, 把车箱弄得象“母牛肚皮里一样黑”,简直黑咕隆咚,伸手不见五指。最后,我们象蚕 蛹一样,波成一团缩进毯子里,安稳地入睡了。

马车一停下来换马,我们就会醒来,还估计来到了什么地方——每次都猜对了—— 一两分钟以后,马车又载着我们继续前进。这时,我们来到了乡间,不时穿过一条小河。 河岸高耸陡峭,每当马车俯冲下河去,又在对岸往上挣扎时,车内的人都给搅成了一团。 下冲时,我们给堆在前头,身子几乎立起来,上爬时,又立刻把我们弹回后头,两脚朝 天。我们手脚挥舞着,抵挡那些向我们劈头盖脸打来的邮包,骚动骤起,尘土飞扬,大 家都来个喷嚏大合唱,三分之二的人都叽叽咕咕地抱怨,很不耐烦地说上句,“手肘别 抵着我的胁骨呀!”——“别挤好不好?”或其他什么的。

每当我们从一头被扔向另一头时,那本大字典也来趁火打劫,它每一次飞过来,就 有个人要遭殃。它飞过去“咬”破了秘书的手肘,飞过来击中了我的肚皮,再飞回去打 得白米士先生鼻孔朝天,据他自己说,弄得他眼睛看得见鼻子。手枪和钱袋沉了下去, 但烟袋、烟斗、烟丝和水壶却随着字典劈哩叭啦,摇摇摆摆地向我们发起进攻,烟丝撒 进我们眼里,凉水泼到我们脊梁上,给字典助威。

尽管如此,总的说来,那还是个很惬意的夜晚。黑夜慢慢逝去。当透过窗帘的皱折 和缝隙,看见寒冷的鱼肚白色的时候,我们满意地伸伸懒腰,打着哈欠,抖掉了茧壳, 觉得已经睡了个够。不久,旭日东升,阳光温暖着大地,我们扒掉衣服,准备吃早饭。 这个准备活动来得正是时候,五分钟以后,车夫那古怪的号音将回荡在荒凉的草原上, 接着,就会看到远处的一两间低矮的茅屋。于是马车颠动的嘎嘎声,六匹马扬蹄的嗒嗒 声,车夫那清脆的吆喝声,将闹得更欢,闹得更凶。我们以最快的速度向驿站扑去。多 么迷人啊——那往日的横越大陆驿车上的旅行哟!。

我们穿着内衣就跳下车去,车夫将一把缰绳甩在地上,满足地打了个哈欠,伸伸四 肢,脱掉鹿皮手套,尊严高贵得叫人难以忍受——丝毫也不理会那五六个粗俗不堪的、 半开化的驿站看守和马倌们七嘴八舌的请安问好,卑躬屈膝的阿谀奉承和讨好卖乖的周 到服务。他们敏捷地把马卸下,再从马厩里牵出新马换上。那时,在马车夫的眼里,驿 站看守和马倌是呱呱叫的低级动物,很有用,世界上也少不得,但却不是他那种有身份 的人值得一顾的。相反,在后者的心目中,驿车车夫是伟大显赫的英雄豪杰,天之骄子, 人民的骄傲,民族的希望。他们对他讲话时,温驯地接受他的傲慢的沉默,以为这是大 伟人自然而得体的风度,而当他一开口,大家一齐品味他话语(车夫从来不恩赐某人一 句话,但对马厩、马匹、周围的乡村以及下手马倌们却慷慨得要命);如果他肯滑稽地 辱骂哪个马倌一顿,这个马倌就可以幸福一天了。每当马车开到驿站时,如果车夫肯用 这种龌龊的字眼对他的听众开个玩笑——哪怕象山丘一样粗糙,荒唐,自相矛盾——这 些贱人们也会拍着屁股大声欢呼,赌咒发誓说这是他们一辈子听到的最有趣的俏皮话。 每当车夫要一盆水或一瓢水,或是要点个烟,他们就会飞也似地跑去跑来。但倘若哪位 旅客忘乎所以,想沾点光,立即就会受到侮辱,这种侮辱是他们从车夫那里照搬下来的 ——记住,车夫对马倌和旅客是同等蔑视的。

马倌和驿站看守对真正的实权派押车只不过客客气气,而车夫才是他们崇拜得五体 投地的人物。当车夫高高坐在车上,故作慎重地,慢腾腾地戴手套,一个幸运的马倌高 高举起缰绳,耐心地等待他接过手去,他们是多么崇敬地仰视着他哟!当他啪的一声挥 动长鞭,马儿飞驰而去的时候,他们又是怎样用赞叹的欢呼向他轰击哟!。

驿站的房屋就是几间长型的矮屋,用太阳晒干的土坯垒成,土坯间没加泥灰(西班 牙人把这种土坯叫做“阿多比斯”,美国人简称“多比斯”)。屋顶几乎是平的,先铺 上茅草,再抹上草泥或垫上一层厚厚的土,上面长着相当茂密的杂草。我们还是第一次 见到一家人的庭院开辟在房顶上。这种土坯房屋包括车房,可关十二至十五匹马的马厩 和一间供应旅客的饭堂,饭堂里还放有驿站看守和一两个马倌的小床。你的手肘可以放 在屋檐上,进门时得弯腰屈背,提防着脑袋吃苦。窗子是个大方洞,足够爬进一个壮汉, 没有装玻璃。屋内没铺地板,地面却搞得结实硬邦。没有垒火炉,但有个烧火的地方, 这就解决了一切问题。既没有木架,也没有碗柜,也没有壁橱。角落里放着一袋打开的 面粉,挨着面粉袋搁着一对黑黝黝的、已经很用了一些年月的咖啡罐,一把锡茶壶,一 小袋盐和一块熏猪肉。

驿站看守住的那间小屋,门前的地上放有一个铁皮洗脸盆。旁边放着一桶水和一条 黄橙橙的肥皂,屋檐上还吊着一件破旧的蓝色羊毛衫,真有意思——但这东西是驿站看 守的专用毛巾,这个集团中只有两个人有胆子享受——车夫和押车。不过押车不会用, 因为不体面;车夫不愿用,因为他不愿意抬举驿站看守。我们有毛巾,是放在旅行袋里 的;它们也许给放在索多姆和戈摩拉完全一样。我们(还有押车)用自己的手帕,而车 夫则用他的灯笼裤和袖子。紧靠着门,钉着个老式小镜框,它的一个角上还残留着两片 玻璃,你往里一看,镜子里就会出现一个滑稽的双镜头的人像,脑袋的上半和下半相隔 两英寸远。镜框下用绳子吊着半把梳子——但是如果要我选择去死或者去描述这个老掉 牙的家什的话,我相信我肯定宁愿去要一副棺材。它是以扫和参孙传下来的,上面有从 那时起历代积存下来的头发——还有一种不干净的东西。在屋子的一个角落里,靠着三 四支步枪和滑膛枪,还有些火药筒和子弹袋。驿站看守们穿的是手工编织的粗布裤子, 裤子屁股上和大腿内侧还缝上大块的鹿皮,便于跪着干活和骑马——这样,裤子就成了 一半是晦暗的蓝色,一半是黄色,说不出的奇形怪状。裤脚塞进长统靴里,靴跟上装有 大号西班牙马刺、每走一步,上面的小铁坠和铁链就叮当作响。

那车夫长着满脸大胡子,带顶破草帽,穿件蓝色羊毛衫,没有吊裤带,没有穿背心, 也没有穿外衣——腰带上吊着个皮套子,里面装着把长长的“海军左轮”(它原来是挂 在右边的,给甩到了前面)。靴筒里伸出一把角把长猎刀。茅屋里的家俱既不豪华也没 有几样,没看见有安乐椅和沙发,也许从来就没有过,但代替它们的是两个三只脚的凳 子,一根四英尺长的松木长条凳,还有两个空烛台。桌子是一块油腻腻的木板,安在高 跷似的四根木棒上。没有送来餐巾和桌布,看样子他们也不打算去找。每个座位前放一 个尽是缺口的锡镴盘,一副刀叉,车夫面前放着一个见过世面的奶油色碟子,当然是这 位爵爷坐上首。另有一样孤傲的餐具尽管在不幸中也闪现着动人的光辉,那是只白铜调 味盒,歪歪斜斜,锈迹斑斑,但它是那样鹤立鸡群,令人想起被流放到野蛮人中的衣衫 褴褛的国王。它昔日的高贵,甚至在这默默无闻的处境中也拥有压倒一切的尊严。只有 一个酱油瓶,是个没有盖子,蝇屎狼藉,断了脖子的东西,里面装有两英寸高的醋,上 面漂着十多个四脚朝天的苍蝇,似乎在为自己不幸的命运而悔恨。

驿站看守端出一盘上周的面包,其形状和大小就象旧时的奶酪,他切下一些面包片, 象尼可尔松街上铺的路砖一样厚,但没有那样硬。

他为每人切下一片熏肉,但只有那些阅历丰富的老手才敢吃下去,因为这是美国不 愿拿去喂堑壕里的士兵的那种该死的处理熏肉。驿车公司把这种便宜货买来作为乘客和 雇员的粮食。我们有可能在前面的大平原上碰上这种该死的军用熏肉,而不应该是在这 个歇脚的地方,但是,我们的确碰上了,这是无可置疑的。

然后,他给我们倒了一种东西,他把它叫做饮料。但是,他在取这个名字时如果没 有得到灵感,那才不可思议。他确实是把这种东西当成饮料送上来的。不过,里面有太 多的抹布条、泥沙,老肉皮,这蒙骗不了聪明的旅客,他没有糖,也没有牛奶——连一 把用来搅动调料的小匙也没有。

那面包和肉,我们无法下咽,那“饮料”也喝不下去,看着那只令人伤感的醋瓶子, 我想起了一位旅客的故事(就在当时,那也是很久很久以前的事了)。那位旅客坐在桌 旁,桌上除了一条鲭鱼,一瓶芥末,别无它物。他问老板,是不是只有这么多,老板说:

“只有这么多!哎呀,雷打火烧!我觉得这条鲭鱼足够六个人吃呢。”

“不过,我不喜欢吃鲭鱼。”

“哦,那么就请用点芥末吧。”

以前我还以为这是件有趣、很有趣的奇闻轶事,但此时此刻,它居然成为一桩凄凉 的现实、连一丁点幽默味儿也没有了。

早饭就摆在面前,但我们的牙齿都消极怠工。

我尝了一口,闻了一下,说我要咖啡,那驿站看守惊得目瞪口呆,盯着我说不出话 来。他终于回过神来,转过身去,就象一个人在沉思一件茫然不可理解的东西。他喊道:

“咖啡!天哪,如果还剩下一丁点儿,鬼——鬼——”

我们吃不下去,马倌和车夫间又无话可说——我们都围着一张桌子坐。间或,只不 过发出一声简短的请求,总是同样的方式,总是既粗鲁又亲热。开头,这种西部的新鲜 故事和传奇还使我吃惊,觉得有趣,但现在,却变得单调乏味,失去了魅力。谈话是这 样的:

“把面包拿过来,你这黄鼠狼的小嵬子!”不,我忘掉了,大概说的不是黄鼠狼, 似乎比这个词还更有味道些,我明白是这个意思,但到底是什么,我的确记不得了。尽 管如此,这关系不大——大概味道太浓而不能印进书里吧。这是我记忆中的里程碑,它 告诉我是在什么地方第一次听到这种西部平原和山区的热情而新颖的方言的。

我们没有吃早饭,每人付了一美元饭钱就回到了车里的邮包床上,在烟袋里寻找安 慰。在这里,昔日王公般的生活第一次衰落了,我们十分悲痛。卸下那六匹好马,换上 六匹骡子,但它们是些墨西哥野种。车夫戴皮手套作准备时,每头骡子前面站一个人, 紧紧地勒住缰绳。当车夫最后抓住缰绳,吆喝一声,牵骡子的人猛地跳开,马车象炮膛 里打出的炮弹一样从驿站射出去。那发疯的畜牲狂暴地飞奔,劲头一刻不减,一气直奔 十到十二英里,来到下一站的茅屋和马厩前面。

我们就这样整天奔驰。下午两点,那依傍北普拉特河逶迤穿过大平原的森林带映入 眼帘。下午四点,渡过北普拉特河的一条支流,五点,渡过普拉特河,在卡尼堡靠岸。 从圣约出发已有五十六小时——行程三百英里!

这就是十到十二年前的横越大陆的驿东旅行。那时,在全美洲,希望活着见到沿这 条线路修条铁路通向太平洋的人,大概还不到十个。但是,现在有铁路了,我在《纽约 时报》上读到一则游记,写的差不多就是我说的这个地方,心中涌起成千种奇怪的对照。 对这种新奇的事我几乎不能理解:

星期日下午四点,我们开出奥马哈车站,开始了向西部的长途旅行。两小时过后, 宣布开晚餐——对于那些想见识在托普曼车轮旅馆里吃是怎么一回事的旅客来说,这可 真算是件“大事”。于是,从我们的“寝宫”向前走进下一节车箱,就来到了餐车。星 期日的第一次晚餐对于我们来说还是一次新发现。虽然四天以来,我们一直在这里吃饭, 共进早餐和晚餐,乘客们仍然交口称赞那些完善的设备和它们取得的惊人的效果。桌上 铺着雪白的亚麻桌布,摆着纯银餐具,身着洁白制服的黑人侍者来往如梭,象变戏法一 样地摆上菜肴。这样的宴席,就连德尔蒙尼哥本人也不会感到寒碜的,在有些方面,连 这位著名厨师也难以配出这样的美膳,因为,除了通常的头等宴席所具有的各个方面外, 我们还吃了羚羊排(那个好吃鬼还没有尝过这种东西呢,呸!他懂得丰盛宴席是什么?) 可口的山溪鳟鱼,精美的水果和樱桃,以及(开胃的,买也买不到辣酱油!)甜美诱人 的草原空气,不是吗?你可以相信,我们对好东西有公正的评价。当我们用满杯泡沫洋 溢的克鲁格酒把这一切都冲进肚里的时候,与此同时列车以每小时三十英里的速度向前 飞奔,我们承认,这是我们经历过的最快的生活。(两天后,又打破了这个记录,二十 七分钟前进二十七英里,而斟满的香槟酒却没有溢出一滴!)晚餐后,我们来到卧车箱, 因为是安息日前夜,大家哼着庄严而古老的赞美诗——“赞美我主”,还有“闪光的海 岸”,“加冕礼赞”,等等——男女歌手的声音在晚风中甜美地混在一起,同时,火车 上那灿烂的波里菲摩斯巨眼划破草原深处,冲进黑夜和荒野。然后,我们回到豪华的卧 铺,享受那应得的睡眠。第二天(星期一)早上醒来,我们发现火车正在渡北普拉特河, 离奥马哈已经三百英里——才用去十五小时又四十分钟。