John William De Forest
Part 5 out of 7
"Don't seem to need much help. The river doos the paddlin'; wish it
didn't. No 'casion to send anybody aloft. I'll take a seat in the stern
'n' mind the hellum. Guess that's all they is to be done."
"You dum paddywhack," he presently reopened, "what d'ye break yer paddle
"I didn't break it," yapped Sweeny indignantly. "It broke itself."
"Well, what d'ye say y' could paddle for, when y' couldn't?"
"I can paddle. I paddled as long as I had anythin' but a sthick."
"Oh, you dum landlubber!" smirked Glover. "What if I should order ye to
"I wouldn't go," asseverated Sweeny. "I'll moind no man who isn't me
suparior officer. I've moindin' enough to do in the arrmy. I wouldn't go,
onless the liftinint towld me. Thin I'd go."
"Guess y' wouldn't now."
"Yis I wud."
"But they an't no mast."
"I mane if there was one."
This kind of babble Glover kept up for some minutes, with the sole object
of amusing and cheering Thurstane, whose extreme depression surprised and
alarmed him. He knew that the situation was bad, and that it would take
lots of pluck to bring them through it.
"Capm, where d'ye think we're bound?" he presently inquired. "Whereabouts
doos this river come out?"
"It runs into the Colorado of the West, and that runs into the head of the
Gulf of California."
"Californy! Reckon I'll git to the diggins quicker 'n I expected. Goin' at
this rate, we'll make about a hundred 'n' twenty knots a day. What's the
distance to Californy?"
"By the bends of the river it can't be less than twelve hundred miles to
"Whew!" went Glover. "Ten days' sailin'. Wal, smooth water all the way?"
"The San Juan has never been navigated. So far as I know, we are the first
persons who ever launched a boat on it."
"Whew! Why, it's like discoverin' Ameriky. Wal, what d'ye guess about the
water? Any chance 'f its bein' smooth clear through?"
"The descent to the gulf must be two or three thousand feet, perhaps more.
We can hardly fail to find rapids. I shouldn't be astonished by a
Glover gave a long whistle and fell into grave meditation. His conclusion
was: "Can't navigate nights, that's a fact. Have to come to anchor. That
makes twenty days on't. Wal, Capm, fust thing is to fish up a bit 'f
driftwood 'n' whittle out 'nother paddle. Want a boat-pole, too, like
thunder. We're awful short 'f spars for a long voyage."
His lively mind had hardly dismissed this subject before he remarked: "Dum
cur'ous that towline breaking. I overhauled every foot on't. I'd a bet my
bottom fo'pence on its drawin' ten ton. Haul in the slack end 'n' let's
hev a peek at it."
The tip of the lariat, which was still attached to the boat, being handed
to him, he examined it minutely, closed his eyes, whistled, and
"What?" asked Thurstane.
"Sawed," repeated Glover. "That leather was haggled in tew with a jagged
knife or a sharp flint or suthin 'f that sort. Done a purpose, 's sure 's
I'm a sinner."
Thurstane took the lariat, inspected the breakage carefully, and scowled
with helpless rage.
"That infernal Texan!" he muttered.
"Sho!" said Glover. "That feller? Anythin' agin ye? Wal, Capm, then all
I've got to say is, you come off easy. That feller 'd cut a sleepin' man's
throat. I sh'd say thank God for the riddance. Tell ye I've watched that
cuss. Been blastedly afeard 'f him. Hev so, by George! The further I git
from him the safer I feel."
"Not a nice man to leave _there_" muttered Thurstane, whose anxiety was
precisely not for himself, but for Clara. The young fellow could not be
got to talk much; he was a good deal upset by his calamity. The parting
from Clara was an awful blow; the thought of her dangers made him feel as
if he could jump overboard; and, lurking deep in his soul, there was an
ugly fear that Coronado might now win her. He was furious moreover at
having been tricked, and meditated bedlamite plans of vengeance. For a
time he stared more at the mangled lariat than at the amazing scenery
through which he was gliding.
And yet that scenery, although only a prelude, only an overture to the
transcendent oratorios of landscape which were to follow, was in itself a
horribly sublime creation. Not twenty minutes after the snapping of the
towline the boat had entered one of those stupendous canons which form the
distinguishing characteristic of the great American table-land, and make
it a region unlike any other in the world.
Remember that the canon is a groove chiselled out of rock by a river.
Although a groove, it is never straight for long distances. The river at
its birth was necessarily guided by the hollows of the primal plateau;
moreover, it was tempted to labor along the softest surfaces. Thus the
canon is a sinuous gully, cut down from the hollows of rocky valleys, and
following their courses of descent from mountain-chain toward ocean.
In these channels the waters have chafed, ground, abraded, eroded for
centuries which man cannot number. Like the Afreets of the Arabian Nights,
they have been mighty slaves, subject to a far mightier master. That
potent magician whose lair is in the centre of the earth, and whom men
have vaguely styled the attraction of gravitation, has summoned them
incessantly toward himself. In their struggle to render him obedience,
they have accomplished results which make all the works of man
insignificant by comparison.
To begin with, vast lakes, which once swept westward from the bases of the
Rocky Mountains, were emptied into the Pacific. Next the draining currents
transformed into rivers, cut their way through the soil which formerly
covered the table-lands and commenced their attrition upon the underlying
continent of sandstone. It was a grinding which never ceased; every pebble
and every bowlder which lay in the way was pressed into the endless labor;
mountains were used up in channelling mountains.
The central magician was insatiable and pitiless; he demanded not only the
waters, but whatever they could bring; he hungered after the earth and all
that covered it. His obedient Afreets toiled on, denuding the plateaux of
their soil, washing it away from every slope and peak, pouring it year by
year into the canons, and whirling it on to the ocean. The rivers, the
brooklets, the springs, and the rains all joined in this eternal robbery.
Little by little an eighth of a continent was stripped of its loam, its
forests, its grasses, its flowers, its vegetation of every species. What
had been a land of fertility became an arid and rocky desert.
Then the minor Afreets perished of the results of their own obedience.
There being no soil, the fountains disappeared; there being no
evaporation, the rains diminished. Deprived of sustenance, nearly all the
shorter streams dried up, and the channels which they had hewn became arid
gullies. Only those rivers continued to exist which drew their waters from
the snowy slopes of the Rocky Mountains or from the spurs and ranges which
intersect the plateaux. The ages may come when these also will cease to
flow, and throughout all this portion of the continent the central
magician will call for his Afreets in vain.
For some time we must attend much to the scenery of the desert thus
created. It has become one of the individuals of our story, and interferes
with the fate of the merely human personages. Thurstane could not long
ignore its magnificent, oppressive, and potent presence. Forgetting
somewhat his anxieties about the loved one whom he had left behind, he
looked about him with some such amazement as if he had been translated
from earth into regions of supernature.
The canon through which he was flying was a groove cut in solid sandstone,
less than two hundred feet wide, with precipitous walls of fifteen hundred
feet, from the summit of which the rock sloped away into buttes and peaks
a thousand feet higher. On every side the horizon was half a mile above
his head. He was in a chasm, twenty-five hundred feet below the average
surface of the earth, the floor of which was a swift river.
He seemed to himself to be traversing the abodes of the Genii. Although he
had only heard of "Vathek," he thought of the Hall of Eblis. It was such
an abyss as no artist has ever hinted, excepting Dore in his picturings of
Dante's "Inferno." Could Dante himself have looked into it, he would have
peopled it with the most hopeless of his lost spirits. The shadow, the
aridity, the barrenness, the solemnity, the pitilessness, the horrid
cruelty of the scene, were more than might be received into the soul. It
was something which could not be imagined, and which when seen could not
be fully remembered. To gaze on it was like beholding the mysterious,
wicked countenance of the father of all evil. It was a landscape which was
The precipices were not bare and plain faces of rock, destitute of minor
finish and of color. They had their horrible decorations; they showed the
ingenuity and the artistic force of the Afreets who had fashioned them;
they were wrought and tinted with a demoniac splendor suited to their
magnitude. It seemed as if some goblin Michel Angelo had here done his
carving and frescoing at the command of the lords of hell. Layers of
brown, gray, and orange sandstone, alternated from base to summit; and
these tints were laid on with a breadth of effect which was prodigious: a
hundred feet in height and miles in length at a stroke of the brush.
The architectural and sculptural results were equally monstrous. There
were lateral shelves twenty feet in width, and thousands of yards in
length. There were towers, pilasters, and formless caryatides, a quarter
of a mile in height. Great bulks projected, capped by gigantic mitres or
diadems, and flanked by cavernous indentations. In consequence of the
varying solidity of the stone, the river had wrought the precipices into a
series of innumerable monuments, more or less enormous, commemorative of
combats. There had been interminable strife here between the demons of
earth and the demons of water, and each side had set up its trophies. It
was the Vatican and the Catacombs of the Genii; it was the museum and the
mausoleum of the forces of nature.
At various points tributary gorges, the graves of fluvial gods who had
perished long ago, opened into the main canon. In passing these the
voyagers had momentary glimpses of sublimities and horrors which seemed
like the handiwork of that "anarch old," who wrought before the shaping of
the universe. One of these sarcophagi was a narrow cleft, not more than
eighty feet broad, cut from surface to base of a bed of sandstone
one-third of a mile in depth. It was inhabited by an eternal gloom which
was like the shadow of the blackness of darkness. The stillness, the
absence of all life whether animal or vegetable, the dungeon-like
closeness of the monstrous walls, were beyond language.
Another gorge was a ruin. The rock here being of various degrees of
density, the waters had essayed a thousand channels. All the softer veins
had been scooped out and washed away, leaving the harder blocks and masses
piled in a colossal grotesque confusion. Along the sloping sides of the
gap stood bowlders, pillars, needles, and strange shapes of stone, peering
over each other's heads into the gulf below. It was as if an army of
misshapen monsters and giants had been petrified with horror, while
staring at some inconceivable desolation and ruin. There was no hope for
this concrete despair; no imaginable voice could utter for it a word of
consolation; the gazer, like Dante amid the tormented, could only "look
and pass on."
At one point two lateral canons opened side by side upon the San Juan. The
partition was a stupendous pile of rock fifteen hundred feet in altitude,
but so narrow that it seemed to the voyagers below like the single
standing wall of some ruined edifice. Although the space on its summit was
broad enough for a cathedral, it did not appear to them that it would
afford footing to a man, while the enclosing fissures looked narrow enough
to be crossed at a bound. On either side of this isolated bar of sandstone
a plumb-line might have been dropped straight to the level of the river.
The two chasms were tombs of shadow, where nothing ever stirred but winds.
The solitude of this continuous panorama of precipices was remarkable. It
was a region without man, or beast, or bird, or insect. The endless rocks,
not only denuded, but eroded and scraped by the action of bygone waters,
could furnish no support for animal life. A beast of prey, or even a
mountain goat, would have starved here. Could a condor of the Andes have
visited it, he would have spread his wings at once to leave it.
Yet horrible as the scene was, it was so sublime that it fascinated. For
hours, gazing at lofty masses, vast outlines, prodigious assemblages of
rocky imagery, endless strokes of natural frescoing, the three adventurers
either exchanged rare words of astonishment, or lay in reveries which
transported them beyond earth. What Thurstane felt he could only express
by recalling random lines of the "Paradise Lost." It seemed to him as if
they might at any moment emerge upon the lake of burning marl, and float
into the shadow of the walls of Pandemonium. He would not have felt
himself carried much beyond his present circumstances, had he suddenly
High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth of Ormus and of Ind.
He was roused from his dreams by the quick, dry, grasshopper-like voice of
Phineas Glover, asking, "What's that?"
A deep whisper came up the chasm. They could hardly distinguish it when
they stretched their hearing to the utmost. It seemed to steal with
difficulty against the rushing flood, and then to be swept down again. It
sighed threateningly for a moment, and instantaneously became silence. One
might liken it to a ghost trying to advance through some castle hall, only
to be borne backward by the fitful night-breeze, or by some mysterious
ban. Was the desert inhabited, and by disembodied demons?
After a further flight of half a mile, this variable sigh changed to a
continuous murmur. There was now before the voyagers a straight course of
nearly two miles, at the end of which lay hid the unseen power which gave
forth this solemn menace. The river, perfectly clear of rocks, was a sheet
of liquid porphyry, an arrow of dark-red water slightly flecked with foam.
The walls of the canon, scarcely fifty yards apart and more stupendous
than ever, rose in precipices without a landing-place or a foothold. So
far as eye could pierce into the twilight of the sublime chasm, there was
not a spot where the boat could be arrested in its flight, or where a
swimmer could find a shelf of safety.
"It is a rapid," said Thurstane. "You did well, Captain Glover, to get
"Lord bless ye!" returned the skipper impatiently, "it's lucky I was
whittlin' while you was thinkin'. If we on'y had a boat-hook!"
From moment to moment the murmur came nearer and grew louder. It was
smothered and then redoubled by the reverberations of the canon, so that
sometimes it seemed the tigerish snarl of a rapid, and sometimes the
leonine roar of a cataract. A bend of the chasm at last brought the
voyagers in sight of the monster, which was frothing and howling to devour
them. It was a terrific spectacle. It was like Apollyon "straddling quite
across the way," to intercept Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of
Death. From one dizzy rampart to the other, and as far down the echoing
cavern as eye could reach, the river was white with an arrowy rapid
storming though a labyrinth of rocks.
Sweeny, evidently praying, moved his lips in silence. Glover's face had
the keen, anxious, watchful look of the sailor affronting shipwreck; and
Thurstane's the set, enduring rigidity of the soldier who is tried to his
utmost by cannonade.
The three adventurers were entering the gorge of an impassable rapid.
Here had once been the barrier of a cataract; the waters had ground
through it, tumbled it down, and gnawed it to tatters; the scattered
bowlders which showed through the foam were the remnants of the Cyclopean
There appeared to be no escape from death. Any one of those stones would
rend the canvas boat from end to end, or double it into a wet rug; and if
a swimmer should perchance reach the bank, he would drown there, looking
up at precipices; or, if he should find a footing, it would only be to
"There is our chance," said Thurstane, pointing to a bowlder as large as a
house which stood under the northern wall of the canon, about a quarter of
a mile above the first yeast of the rapid.
He and Glover each took a paddle. They had but one object: it was to get
under the lee of the bowlder, and so stop their descent; after that they
would see what more could be done. Danger and safety were alike swift
here; it was a hurry as of battle or tempest Almost before they began to
hope for success, they were circling in the narrow eddy, very nearly a
whirlpool, which wheeled just below the isolated rock. Even here the
utmost caution was necessary, for while the Buchanan was as light as a
bubble, it was also as fragile.
Sounding the muddy water with their paddles, they slowly glided into the
angle between the bowlder and the precipice, and jammed the fragment of
the towline in a crevice. For the first time in six hours, and in a run of
thirty miles, they were at rest. Wiping the sweat of labor and anxiety
from their brows, they looked about them, at first in silence, querying
"I wish I was on an iceberg," said Glover in his despair.
"An' I wish I was in Oirland," added Sweeny. "But if the divil himself was
to want to desart here, he couldn't."
Thurstane believed that he had seen Clara for the last time, even should
she escape her own perils. Through his field-glass he surveyed the whole
gloomy scene with microscopic attention, searching for an exit out of this
monstrous man-trap, and searching in vain. It was as impossible to descend
the rapid as it was to scale the walls of the canon. He had just heard
Sweeny say, "I wish I was bein' murthered by thim naygurs," and had smiled
at the utterance of desperation with a grim sympathy, when a faint hope
dawned upon him.
Not more than a yard above the water was a ledge or shelf in the face of
the precipice. The layer of sandstone immediately over this shelf was
evidently softer than the general mass; and in other days (centuries ago),
when it had formed one level with the bed of the river, it had been deeply
eroded. This erosion had been carried along the canon on an even line of
altitude as far as the softer layer extended. Thurstane could trace it
with his glass for what seemed to him a mile, and there was of course a
possibility that it reached below the foot of the rapid. The groove was
everywhere about twenty feet high, while its breadth varied from a yard or
so to nearly a rod.
Here, then, was a road by which they might perhaps turn the obstacle. The
only difficulty was that while the bed of the river descended rapidly, the
shelf kept on at the same elevation, so that eventually the travellers
would come to a jumping-off place. How high would it be? Could they get
down it so as to regain the stream and resume their navigation? Well, they
must try it; there was no other road. With one eloquent wave of his hand
Thurstane pointed out this slender chance of escape to his comrades.
"Hurray!" shouted Glover, after a long stare, in which the emotions
succeeded each other like colors in a dolphin.
"Can we make the jump at the other end?" asked the lieutenant.
"Reckon so," chirruped Glover. "Look a here."
He exhibited a pile of unpleasant-looking matter which proved to be a mass
of strips of fresh hide.
"Hoss skin," he explained. "Peeled off a mustang. Borrowed it from that
Texan cuss. Thought likely we might want to splice our towline. 'Bout ten
fathom, I reckon; 'n' there's the lariat, two fathom more. All we've got
to de is to pack up, stick our backs under, 'n' travel."
It was three o'clock in the afternoon when they commenced their
preparations for making this extraordinary portage. Sunk as they were
twenty-five hundred feet in the bowels of the earth, the sun had already
set for them; but they were still favored with a sort of twilight
radiance, and they could count upon it for a couple of hours longer.
Carefully the guns, paddles, and stores were landed on the marvellous
causeway; and then, with still greater caution, the boat was lifted to the
same support and taken to pieces. The whole mass of material, some two
hundred pounds in weight, was divided into three portions. Each shouldered
his pack, and the strange journey commenced.
"Sweeny, don't you fall off," said Glover. "We can't spare them sticks."
"If I fall off, ye may shute me where I stand," returned Sweeny. "I know
better'n to get drowned and starved to death in wan. I can take care av
meself. I've sailed this a way many a time in th' ould counthry."
The road was a smooth and easy one, barring a few cumbering bowlders. To
the left and below was the river, roaring, hissing, and foaming through
its _chevaux-de-frise_ of rocks. In front the canon stretched on and on
until its walls grew dim with shadow and distance. Above were overhanging
precipices and a blue streak of sunlit sky.
It was quite dusk with the wanderers before they reached a point where the
San Juan once more flowed with an undisturbed current.
"We can't launch by this light," said Thurstane. "We will sleep here."
"It'll be a longish night," commented Glover. "But don't see's we can
shorten it by growlin'. When fellahs travel in the bowels 'f th' earth,
they've got to follow the customs 'f th' country. Puts me in mind of Jonah
in the whale's belly. Putty short tacks, Capm. Nine hours a day won't git
us along; any too fast. But can't help it. Night travellin' ain't suited
to our boat. Suthin' like a bladder football: one pin-prick 'd cowallapse
it. Wal, so we'll settle. Lucky we wanted our blankets to set on. 'Pears
to me this rock's a leetle harder'n a common deck plank. Unroll the boat,
Capm? Wal, guess we'd better. Needs dryin'a speck. Too much soakin' an't
good for canvas. Better dry it out, 'n' fold it up, 'n' sleep on't. This
passageway that we're in, sh'd say at might git up a smart draught. What
d'ye say to this spot for campin'? Twenty foot breadth of beam here. Kind
of a stateroom, or bridal chamber. No need of fallin' out. Ever walk in
yer sleep, Sweeny? Better cut it right square off to-night. Five fathom
down to the river, sh'd say. Splash ye awfully, Sweeny."
Thus did Captain Glover prattle in his cheerful way while the party made
its preparations for the night.
They were like ants lodged in some transverse crack of a lofty wall. They
were in a deep cut of the shelf, with fifteen hundred or two thousand feet
of sandstone above, and the porphyry-colored river thirty feet below. The
narrow strip of sky far above their heads was darkening rapidly with the
approach of night, and with an accumulation of clouds. All of a sudden
there was a descent of muddy water, charged with particles of red earth
and powdered sandstone, pouring by them down the overhanging precipice.
"Liftinant!" exclaimed Sweeny, "thim naygurs up there is washin' their
dirty hides an' pourin' the suds down on us."
"It's the rain, Sweeny. There's a shower on the plateau above."
"The rain, is it? Thin all nate people in that counthry must stand in
great nade of ombrellys."
The scene was more marvellous than ever. Not a drop of rain fell in the
river; the immense facade opposite them was as dry as a skull; yet here
was this muddy cataract. It fell for half an hour, scarcely so much as
spattering them in their recess, but plunging over them into the torrent
beneath. By the time it ceased they had eaten their supper of hard bread
and harder beef, and lighted their pipes to allay their thirst. There was
a laying of plans to regain the river to-morrow, a grave calculation as to
how long their provisions would last, and in general much talk about their
"Not a shine of a lookout for gittin' back to the Casa?" queried Captain
Glover. "Knowed it," he added, when the lieutenant sadly shook his head.
"Fool for talkin' 'bout it. How 'bout reachin' the trail to the Moqui
"I have been thinking of it all day," said Thurstane. "We must give it up.
Every one of the branch canons on the other bank trends wrong. We couldn't
cross them; we should have to follow them; it's an impassable hell of a
country. We might by bare chance reach the Moqui pueblos; but the
probability is that we should die in the desert of thirst. We shall have
to run the river. Perhaps we shall have to run the Colorado too. If so, we
had better keep on to Diamond creek, and from there push by land to Cactus
Pass. Cactus Pass is on the trail, and we may meet emigrants there. I
don't know what better to suggest."
"Dessay it's a tiptop idee," assented Glover cheeringly. "Anyhow, if we
take on down the river, it seems like follyin' the guidings of
In spite of their strange situation and doubtful prospects, the three
adventurers slept early and soundly. When they awoke it was daybreak, and
after chewing the hardest, dryest, and rawest of breakfasts, they began
their preparations to reach the river. To effect this, it was necessary to
find a cleft in the ledge where they could fasten a cord securely, and
below it a footing at the water's edge where they could put their boat
together and launch it. It would not do to go far down the canon, for the
bed of the stream descended while the shelf retained its level, and the
distance between them was already sufficiently alarming. After an anxious
search they discovered a bowlder lying in the river beneath the shelf,
with a flat surface perfectly suited to their purpose. There, too, was a
cleft, but a miserably small one.
"We can't jam a cord in that," said Glover; "nor the handle of a paddle
"It'll howld me bagonet," suggested Sweeny.
"It can be made to hold it," decided Thurstane. "We must drill away till
it does hold it."
An hour's labor enabled them to insert the bayonet to the handle and wedge
it with spikes split off from the precious wood of the paddles. When it
seemed firm enough to support a strong lateral pressure, Glover knotted on
to it, in his deft sailor fashion, a strip of the horse hide, and added
others to that until he had a cord of some forty feet. After testing every
inch and every knot, he said: "Who starts first?"
"I will try it," answered Thurstane.
"Lightest first, I reckon," observed Glover.
Sweeny looked at the precipice, skipped about the shelf uneasily, made a
struggle with his fears, and asked, "Will ye let me down aisy?"
"Jest 's easy 's rollin' off a log."
"That's aisy enough. It's the lightin' that's har-rd. If it comes to
rowlin' down, I'll let ye have the first rowl. I've no moind to git ahead
of me betthers."
"Try it, my lad," said Thurstane. "The real danger comes with the last
man. He will have to trust to the bayonet alone."
"An' what'll I do whirl I get down there?"
"Take the traps off the cord as we send them down, and pile them on the
"I'm off," said Sweeny, after one more look into the chasm. While the
others held the cord to keep the strain from coming on the bayonet, he
gripped it with both hands, edged stern foremost over the precipice, and
slipped rapidly to the bowlder, whence he sent up a hoot of exultation.
The cord was drawn back; the boat was made up in two bundles, which were
lowered in succession; then the provisions, paddles, arms, etc. Now came
the question whether Thurstane or Glover should remain last on the ledge.
"Lightest last," said the lean skipper. "Stands to reason."
"It's my duty to take the hot end of the poker," replied the officer.
"Loser goes first," said Glover, producing a copper. "Heads or tails?"
"Heads," guessed Thurstane.
"It's a tail. Catch hold, Capm. Slow 'n' easy till you get over."
The cord holding firm, Thurstane reached the bowlder, and was presently
joined by Glover.
"Liftinant, I want me bagonet," cried Sweeny. "Will I go up afther it?"
"How the dickens 'd you git down again?" asked Glover. "Guess you'll have
to leave your bayonet where it sticks. But, Capm, we want that line. Can't
you shute it away, clost by th' edge?"
The third shot was a lucky one, and brought down the precious cord. Then
came the work of putting the boat into shape, launching it, getting in the
stores, and lastly the voyagers.
"Tight's a drum yit," observed Glover, surveying the coracle admiringly.
"Fust time I ever sailed _on_ canvas. Great notion. Don't draw more'n
three inches. Might sail acrost country with it. Capm, it's the only boat
ever invented that could git down this blasted river."
Glover and Sweeny, two of the most talkative creatures on earth, chattered
much to each other. Thurstane sometimes listened to them, sometimes lost
himself in reveries about Clara, sometimes surveyed the scenery of the
The abyss was always the same, yet with colossal variety: here and there
yawnings of veined precipices, followed by cavernous closings of the awful
sides; breakings in of subsidiary canons, some narrow clefts, and others
gaping shattered mouths; the walls now presenting long lines of rampart,
and now a succession of peaks. But still, although they had now traversed
the chasm for seventy or eighty miles, they found no close and no
declension to its solemn grandeur.
At last came another menace, a murmur deeper and hoarser than that of the
rapid, steadily swelling as they advanced until it was a continuous
thunder. This time there could be no doubt that they were entering upon a
scene of yet undecided battle between the eternal assault of the river and
the immemorial resistance of the mountains.
The quickening speed of the waters, and the ceaseless bellow of their
charging trumpets as they tore into some yet unseen abyss, announced one
of those struggles of nature in which man must be a spectator or a victim.
As Thurstane approached the cataract of the San Juan he thought of the
rapids above Niagara, and of the men who had been whirled down them,
foreseeing their fate and struggling against it, but unable to escape it.
"We must keep near one wall or the other," he said. "The middle of the
river is sure death."
Paddling toward the northern bank, simply because it had saved them in
their former peril, they floated like a leaf in the shadows of the
precipices, watching for some footway by which to turn the lair of the
The scenery here did not consist exclusively of two lofty ramparts
fronting each other. Before the river had established its present channel
it had tried the strength of the plateau in various directions, slashing
the upper strata into a succession of canons, which were now lofty and
arid gullies, divided from each other by every conceivable form of rocky
ruin. Rotundas, amphitheatres, castellated walls, cathedrals of
unparalleled immensity, facades of palaces huge enough to be the abodes of
the principalities and powers of the air, far-stretching semblances of
cities tottering to destruction, all fashions of domes, towers, minarets,
spires, and obelisks, with a population of misshapen demons and monsters,
looked down from sublime heights upon the voyagers. At every turn in the
river the panorama changed, and they beheld new marvels of this Titanic
architecture. There was no end to the gigantic and grotesque variety of
the commingling outlines. The vastness, the loneliness, the stillness, the
twilight sombreness, were awful. And through all reverberated incessantly
the defiant clarion of the cataract.
The day was drawing to that early death which it has always had and must
always have in these abysses. Knowing how suddenly darkness would fall,
and not daring to attempt the unknown without light, the travellers looked
for a mooring spot. There was a grim abutment at least eighteen hundred
feet high; at its base two rocks, which had tumbled ages ago from the
summit, formed a rude breakwater; and on this barrier had collected a bed
of coarse pebbles, strewn with driftwood. Here they stopped their flight,
unloaded the boat and beached it. The drift-wood furnished them a softer
bed than usual, and materials for a fire.
Night supervened with the suddenness of a death which has been looked for,
but which is at last a surprise. Shadow after shadow crept down the walls
of the chasm, blurred its projections, darkened its faces, and crowded its
recesses. The line of sky, seen through the jagged and sinuous opening
above, changed slowly to gloom and then to blackness. There was no light
in this rocky intestine of the earth except the red flicker of the
camp-fire. It fought feebly with the powers of darkness; it sent tremulous
despairing flashes athwart the swift ebony river; it reached out with
momentary gleams to the nearer facades of precipice; it reeled, drooped,
and shuddered as if in hopeless horror. Probably, since the world began,
no other fire lighted by man had struggled against the gloom of this
tremendous amphitheatre. The darknesses were astonished at it, but they
were also uncomprehending and hostile. They refused to be dissipated, and
they were victorious.
After two hours a change came upon the scene. The moon rose, filled the
upper air with its radiance, and bathed in silver the slopes of the
mountains. The narrow belt of visible sky resembled a milky way. The light
continued to descend and work miracles. Isolated turrets, domes, and
pinnacles came out in gleaming relief against the dark-blue background of
the heavens. The opposite crest of the canon shone with a broad
illumination. All the uncouth demons and monsters of the rocks awoke,
glaring and blinking, to menace the voyagers in the depths below. The
contrast between this supereminent brilliancy and the sullen obscurity of
the subterranean river made the latter seem more than ever like Styx or
The travellers were awakened in the morning by the trumpetings of the
cataract. They embarked and dropped down the stream, hugging the northern
rampart and watching anxiously. Presently there was a clear sweep of a
mile; the clamor now came straight up to them with redoubled vehemence; a
ghost of spray arose and waved threateningly, as if forbidding further
passage. It was the roar and smoke of an artillery which had thundered for
ages, and would thunder for ages to come. It was a voice and signal which
summoned reinforcements of waters, and in obedience to which the waters
The boat had shudders. Every spasm jerked it onward a little faster. It
flew with a tremulous speed which was terrible. Thurstane, a good soldier,
able to obey as well as to direct, knowing that if Glover could not steer
wisely no one could, sat, paddle in hand, awaiting orders. Sweeny
fidgeted, looked from one to another, looked at the mist ahead, cringed,
wanted to speak, and said nothing. Glover, working hard with his paddle,
and just barely keeping the coracle bows on, peered and grinned as if he
were facing a hurricane. There was no time to have a care for sunken
bowlders, reaching up to rend the thin bottom. The one giant danger of the
cataract was enough to fill the mind and bar out every minor terror. Its
deafening threats demanded the whole of the imagination. Compared with the
probability of plunging down an unknown depth into a boiling hell of
waters, all other peril seemed too trifling to attract notice. Such a fate
is an enhancement of the horrors of death.
"Liftinant, let's go over with a whoop," called Sweeny. "It's much
"Keep quiet, my lad," replied the officer. "We must hear orders."
"All right, Liftinant," said Sweeny, relieved by having spoken.
At this moment Glover shouted cheerfully, "We ain't dead yit There's a
"I see it," nodded Thurstane.
"Where there's a ledge there's an eddy," screamed Glover, raising his
voice to pierce the hiss of the rapid and the roar of the cascade.
Below them, jutting out from the precipitous northern bank, was a low bar
of rock over which the river did not sweep. It was the remnant of a once
lofty barrier; the waters had, as it were, gnawed it to the bone, but they
had not destroyed it. In two minutes the voyagers were beside it, paddling
with all their strength against the eddy which whirled along its edge
toward the cataract, and tossing over the short, spiteful ripples raised
by the sudden turn of the current. With a "Hooroo!" Sweeny tumbled ashore,
lariat in hand, and struck his army shoes into the crevices of the
shattered sandstone. In five minutes more the boat was unloaded and lifted
upon the ledge.
The travellers did not go to look at the cataract; their immediate and
urgent need was to get by it. Making up their bundles as usual, they
commenced a struggle with the intricacies and obstacles of the portage.
The eroded, disintegrated plateau descended to the river in a huge
confusion of ruin, and they had to pick their way for miles through a
labyrinth of cliffs, needles, towers, and bowlders. Reaching the river
once more, they found themselves upon a little plain of moderately fertile
earth, the first plain and the first earth which they had seen since
entering the canon. The cataract was invisible; a rock cathedral several
hundred feet high hid it; they could scarcely discern its lofty ghost of
Two miles away, in the middle of the plain, appeared a ruin of adobe
walls, guttered and fissured by the weather. It was undoubtedly a monument
of that partially civilized race, Aztec, Toltec, or Moqui, which centuries
ago dotted the American desert with cities, and passed away without
leaving other record. With his field-glass Thurstane discovered what he
judged to be another similar structure crowning a distant butte. They had
no time to visit these remains, and they resumed their voyage.
After skirting the plain for several miles, they reentered the canon,
drifted two hours or more between its solemn walls, and then came out upon
a wide sweep of open country. The great canon of the San Juan had been
traversed nearly from end to end in safety. When the adventurers realized
their triumph they rose to their feet and gave nine hurrahs.
"It's loike a rich man comin' through the oye av a needle," observed
"Only this haint much the air 'f the New Jerusalem," returned Glover,
glancing at the arid waste of buttes and ranges in the distance.
"We oughter look up some huntin'," he continued. "Locker'll begin to show
bottom b'fore long. Sweeny, wouldn't you like to kill suthin?"
"I'd like to kill a pig," said Sweeny.
"Wal, guess we'll probably come acrost one. They's a kind of pigs in these
deestricks putty nigh's long 's this boat."
"There ain't," returned Sweeny.
"Call 'em grizzlies when they call 'em at all," pursued the sly Glover.
"They may call 'em what they plaze if they won't call 'em as long as this
Fortune so managed things, by way of carrying out Glover's joke, that a
huge grizzly just then snowed himself on the bank, some two hundred yards
below the boat.
After easily slaughtering one bear, the travellers had a far more
interesting season with another, who was allured to the scene by the smell
of jerking meat, and who gave them a very lively half hour of it, it being
hard to say which was the most hunted, the bruin or the humans.
"Look a' that now!" groaned Sweeny, when the victory had been secured.
"The baste has chawed up me gun barrl loike it was a plug o' tobacky."
"Throw it away," ordered Thurstane, after inspecting the twisted and
Tenderly and tearfully Sweeny laid aside the first gun that he had ever
carried, went again and again to look at its mangled form as if it were a
dead relative, and in the end raised a little mausoleum of cobble-stones
"If there was any whiskey, I'd give um a wake," he sighed. "I'm a pratty
soldier now, without a gun to me back."
"I'll let ye carry mine when we come to foot it," suggested Glover.
"Yis, an' ye may carry me part av the boat," retorted Sweeny.
The bear meat was tough and musky, but it could be eaten, must be eaten,
ind was eaten. During the time required for jerking a quantity of it,
Glover made a boat out of the two hides, scraping them with a hunting
knife, sewing them with a sailor's needle and strands of the
sounding-line, and stretching them on a frame of green saplings, the
result being a craft six feet long by nearly four broad, and about the
shape of a half walnut-shell. The long hair was left on, as a protection
against the rocks of the river, and the seams were filled and plastered
with bear's grease.
"It's a mighty bad-smellin' thing," remarked Sweeny. "An who's goin' to
back it over the portages?"
"Robinson Crusoe!" exclaimed Glover. "I never thought of that. Wal, let's
see. Oh, we kin tow her astarn in plain sailin', 'n' when we come to a
cataract we can put Sweeny in an' let her slide."
"No ye can't," said Sweeny. "It's big enough, an' yet it won't howld um,
no more'n a tayspoon'll howld a flay."
"Wal, we kin let her slide without a crew, 'n' pick her up arterwards,"
We must hasten over the minor events of this remarkable journey. The
travellers, towing the bearskin boat behind the Buchanan, passed the mouth
of Canon Bonito, and soon afterward beheld the San Juan swallowed up in
the Grand River, a far larger stream which rises in the Rocky Mountains
east of Utah. They swept by the horrible country of the Utes and Payoches,
without holding intercourse with its squalid and savage inhabitants. Here
and there, at the foot of some monstrous precipice, in a profound recess
surrounded by a frenzy of rocks, they saw hamlets of a few miserable
wigwams, with patches of starveling corn and beans. Sharp wild cries, like
the calls of malicious brownies, or the shrieks of condemned spirits, were
sent after them, without obtaining response.
"They bees only naygurs," observed Sweeny. "Niver moind their blaggard
After the confluence with the Grand River came solitude. The land had been
swept and garnished: swept by the waters and garnished with horrors; a
land of canons, plateaux, and ranges, all arid; a land of desolation and
the shadow of death. There was nothing on which man or beast could support
life; nature's power of renovation was for the time suspended, and seemed
extinct. It was a desert which nothing could restore to fruitfulness
except the slow mysterious forces of a geologic revolution.
Beyond the Sierra de Lanterna the Grand River was joined by the Green
River, streaming down through gullied plateaux from the deserts of Utah
and the mountains which tower between Oregon and Nebraska. Henceforward,
still locked in Titanic defiles or flanked by Cyclopean _debris_, they
were on the Colorado of the West.
Thurstane meditated as to what course he should follow. Should he strike
southward by land for the Bernalillo trail, risking a march through a
wide, rocky, lifeless, and perhaps waterless wilderness? Or should he
attempt to descend a river even more terrible to navigate than the San
Juan? It seemed to him that the hardships and dangers of either plan were
about the same.
But the Colorado route would be the swiftest; the Colorado would take him
quickest to Clara. For he trusted that she had long before this got back
to the Moqui country and resumed her journey across the continent. He
could not really fear that any deadly harm would befall her. He had the
firmness of a soldier and the faith of a lover.
At last, silently and solemnly, through a portal thousands of feet in
height, the voyagers glided into the perilous mystery of the Great Canon
of the Colorado, the most sublime and terrible waterway of this planet.
Thurstane had strange emotions as he swept into the "caverns measureless
to man" of the Great Canon of the Colorado.
It seemed like a push of destiny rather than a step of volition. An angel
or a demon impelled him into the unknown; a supernatural portal had opened
to give him passage; then it had closed behind him forever.
The canon, with all its two hundred and forty miles of marvels and perils,
presented itself to his imagination as a unity. The first step within it
placed him under an enchantment from which there was no escape until the
whole circuit of the spell should be completed. He was like Orlando in the
magic garden, when the gate vanished immediately upon his entrance,
leaving him no choice but to press on from trial to trial. He was no more
free to pause or turn back than Grecian ghosts sailing down Acheron toward
the throne of Radamanthus.
Direct statement, and even the higher speech of simile, fail to describe
the Great Canon and the emotion which it produces. Were its fronting
precipices organs, with their mountainous columns and pilasters for
organ-pipes, they might produce a _de profundis_ worthy of the scene and
of its sentiments, its inspiration. This is not bombast; so far from
exaggerating it does not even attain to the subject; no words can so much
as outline the effects of eighty leagues of mountain sculptured by a great
Let us venture one comparison. Imagine a groove a foot broad and twenty
feet deep, with a runnel of water trickling at the bottom of it and a
fleck of dust floating down the rivulet. Now increase the dimensions until
the groove is two hundred and fifty feet in breadth by five thousand feet
in depth, and the speck a boat with three voyagers. You have the Great
Canon of the Colorado and Thurstane and his comrades seeking its issue.
"Do you call this a counthry?" asked Sweeny, after an awe-stricken
silence. "I'm thinkin' we're gittin' outside av the worrld like."
"An' I'm thinkin' we're gittin' too fur inside on't," muttered Glover.
"Look's 's though we might slip clean under afore long. Most low-spirited
hole I ever rolled into. 'Minds me 'f that last ditch people talk of dyin'
in. Must say I'd rather be in the trough 'f the sea."
"An' what kind av a trough is that?" inquired Sweeny, inquisitive even in
"It's the trough where they feed the niggers out to the sharks."
"Faix, an' I'd loike to see it at feedin' time," answered Sweeny with a
Nature as it is is one image; nature as it appears is a thousand; or
rather it is infinite. Every soul is a mirror, reflecting what faces it;
but the reflections differ as do the souls that give them. To the three
men who now gazed on the Great Canon it was far from being the same
Sweeny surveyed it as an old Greek or Roman might, with simple distaste
and horror. Glover, ignorant and limited as he was, received far more of
its inspiration. Even while "chirking up" his companions with trivial talk
and jests he was in his secret soul thinking of Bunyan's Dark Valley and
Milton's Hell, the two sublimest landscapes that had ever been presented
to his imagination. Thurstane, gifted with much of the sympathy of the
great Teutonic race for nature, was far more profoundly affected. The
overshadowing altitudes and majesties of the chasm moved him as might
oratorios or other solemn music. Frequently he forgot hardships, dangers,
isolation, the hard luck of the past, the ugly prospects of the future in
reveries which were a succession of such emotions as wonder, worship, and
No doubt the scenery had the more power over him because, by gazing at it
day after day while his heart was full of Clara, he got into a way of
animating it with her. Far away as she was, and divided from him perhaps
forever, she haunted the canon, transformed it and gave it grace. He could
see her face everywhere; he could see it even without shutting his eyes;
it made the arrogant and malignant cliffs seraphic. By the way, the
vividness of his memory with regard to that fair, sweet, girlish
countenance was wonderful, only that such a memory, the memory of the
heart, is common. There was not one of her expressions which was not his
property. Each and all, he could call them-up at will, making them pass
before him in heavenly procession, surrounding himself with angels. It was
the power of the ring which is given to the slaves of love.
He had some vagaries (the vagaries of those who are subjugated by a strong
and permanent emotion) which approached insanity. For instance, he
selected a gigantic column of sandstone as bearing some resemblance to
Clara, and so identified it with her that presently he could see her face
crowning it, though concealed by the similitude of a rocky veil. This
image took such possession of him that he watched it with fascination, and
when a monstrous cliff slid between it and him he felt as if here were a
new parting; as if he were once more bidding her a speechless, hopeless
During the greater part of this voyage he was a very uninteresting
companion. He sat quiet and silent; sometimes he slightly moved his lips;
he was whispering a name. Glover and Sweeny, who had only known him for a
month, and supposed that he had always been what they saw him, considered
him an eccentric.
"Naterally not quite himself," judged the skipper. "Some folks is born
knocked on the head."
"May be officers is always that a way," was one of Sweeny's suggestions.
"It must be mighty dull bein' an officer."
We must not forget the Great Canon. The voyagers were amid magnitudes and
sublimities of nature which oppressed as if they were powers and
principalities of supernature. They were borne through an architecture of
aqueous and plutonic agencies whose smallest fantasies would be belittled
by comparisons with coliseums, labyrinths, cathedrals, pyramids, and
For example, they circled a bend of which the extreme delicate angle was a
jutting pilaster five hundred feet broad and a mile high, its head
towering in a sharp tiara far above the brow of the plateau, and its sides
curved into extravagances of dizzy horror. It seemed as if it might be a
pillar of confinement and punishment for some Afreet who had defied
Heaven. On either side of this monster fissures a thousand feet deep
wrinkled the forehead of the precipice. Armies might have been buried in
their abysses; yet they scarcely deformed the line of the summits. They
ran back for many miles; they had once been the channels of streams which
helped to drain the plateau; yet they were merely superficial cracks in
the huge mass of sandstone and limestone; they were scarcely noticeable
features of the Titanic landscape. From this bend forward the beauty of
the canon was sublime, horrible, satanic. Constantly varying, its
transformations were like those of the chief among demons, in that they
were always indescribably magnificent and always indescribably terrible.
Now it was a straight, clean chasm between even hedges of cliff which left
open only a narrow line of the beauty and mercy of the heavens. Again,
where it was entered by minor canons, it became a breach through crowded
pandemoniums of ruined architectures and forsaken, frowning imageries.
Then it led between enormous pilasters, columns, and caryatides, mitred
with conical peaks which had once been ranges of mountains. Juttings and
elevations, which would have been monstrous in other landscapes, were here
but minor decorations.
Something like half of the strata with which earth is sheathed has been
cut through by the Colorado, beginning at the top of the groove with
hundreds of feet of limestone, and closing at the bottom with a thousand
feet of granite. Here, too, as in many other wonder-spots of the American
desert, nature's sculpture is rivalled by her painting. Bluish-gray
limestone, containing corals; mottled limestone, charged with slates,
flint, and chalcedony; red, brown, and blue limestone, mixed with red,
green, and yellow shales; sandstone of all tints, white, brown, ochry,
dark red, speckled and foliated; coarse silicious sandstone, and red
quartzose sandstone beautifully veined with purple; layers of
conglomerate, of many colored shales, argillaceous iron, and black oxide
manganese; massive black and white granite, traversed by streaks of quartz
and of red sienite; coarse red felspathic granite, mixed with large plates
of silver mica; such is the masonry and such the frescoing.
Through this marvellous museum our three spectators wandered in hourly
peril of death. The Afreets of the waters and the Afreets of the rocks,
guarding the gateway which they had jointly builded, waged incessant
warfare with the intruders. Although the current ran five miles an hour,
it was a lucky day when the boat made forty miles. Every evening the
travellers must find a beach or shelf where they could haul up for the
night. Darkness covered destruction, and light exposed dangers. The
bubble-like nature of the boat afforded at once a possibility of easy
advance and of instantaneous foundering. Every hour that it floated was a
miracle, and so they grimly and patiently understood it.
A few days in the canon changed the countenances of these men. They looked
like veterans of many battles. There was no bravado in their faces. The
expression which lived there was a resigned, suffering, stubborn courage.
It was the "silent berserker rage" which Carlyle praises. It was the
speechless endurance which you see in portraits of the Great Frederick,
Wellington, and Grant.
They relieved each other. The bow was guard duty; the steering was light
duty; the midships off duty. It must be understood that, the great danger
being sunken rocks, one man always crouched in the bow, with a paddle
plunged below the surface, feeling for ambushes of the stony bushwhackers.
Occasionally all three had to labor, jumping into shallows, lifting the
boat over beds of pebbles, perhaps lightening it of arms and provisions,
perhaps carrying all ashore to seek a portage.
"It's the best canew 'n' the wust canew I ever see for sech a voyage,"
observed Glover. "Navigatin' in it puts me in mind 'f angels settin' on a
cloud. The cloud can go anywhere; but what if ye should slump through?"
"Och! ye're a heretic, 'n' don't belave angels can fly," put in Sweeny.
"Can't ye talk without takin' out yer paddle?" called Glover. "Mind yer
Glover was at the helm just then, while Sweeny was at the bow. Thurstane,
sitting cross-legged on the light wooden flooring of the boat, was
entering topographical observations in his journal. Hearing the skipper's
warning, he looked up sharply; but both the call and the glance came too
late to prevent a catastrophe. Just in that instant the boat caught
against some obstacle, turned slowly around before the push of the
current, swung loose with a jerk and floated on, the water bubbling
through the flooring. A hole had been torn in the canvas, and the
cockle-shell was foundering.
"Sound!" shouted Thurstane to Sweeny; then, turning to Glover, "Haul up
The tub-boat of bearskin was dragged alongside, and Thurstane instantly
threw the provisions and arms into it.
"Three foot," squealed Sweeny.
"Jump overboard," ordered the lieutenant.
By the time they were on their feet in the water the Buchanan was half
full, and the swift current was pulling at it like a giant, while the
Grizzly, floating deep, was almost equally unmanageable. The situation had
in one minute changed from tranquil voyaging to deadly peril. Sweeny,
unable to swim, and staggering in the rapid, made a plunge at the bearskin
boat, probably with an idea of getting into it. But Thurstane, all himself
from the first, shouted in that brazen voice of military command which is
so secure of obedience, "Steady, man! Don't climb in. Cut the lariat close
up to the Buchanan, and then hold on to the Grizzly."
Restored to his self-possession, Sweeny laboriously wound the straining
lariat around his left arm and sawed it in two with his jagged
pocket-knife. Then came a doubtful fight between him and the Colorado for
the possession of the heavy and clumsy tub.
Meantime Thurstane and Glover, the former at the bow and the latter at the
stern of the Buchanan, were engaged in a similar tussle, just barely
holding on and no more.
"We can't stand this," said the officer. "We must empty her."
"Jest so," panted Glover. "You're up stream. Can you raise your eend? We
mustn't capsize her; we might lose the flooring."
Thurstane stooped slowly and cautiously until he had got his shoulder
under the bow.
"Easy!" called Glover. "Awful easy! Don't break her back. Don't upset
Gently, deliberately, with the utmost care, Thurstane straightened himself
until he had lifted the bow of the boat clear of the current.
"Now I'll hoist," said the skipper. "You turn her slowly--jest the least
mite. Don't capsize her."
It was a Herculean struggle. There was still a ponderous weight of water
in the boat. The slight frame sagged and the flexible siding bulged.
Glover with difficulty kept his feet, and he could only lift the stern
"You can't do it," decided Thurstane. "Don't wear yourself out trying it.
Hold steady where you are, while I let down."
When the boat was restored to its level it floated higher than before, for
some of the water had drained out.
"Now lift slowly," directed Thurstane. "Slow and sure. She'll clear little
A quiet, steady lift, lasting perhaps two or three minutes, brought the
floor of the boat to the surface of the current.
"It's wearing," said the lieutenant, cheering his worried fellow-laborer
with a smile. "Stand steady for a minute and try to rest. You, Sweeny,
move in toward the bank. Hold on to your boat like the devil. If the water
deepens, sing out."
Sweeny, gripping his lariat desperately, commenced a staggering march over
the cobble-stone bottom, his anxious nose pointed toward a beach of
bowlders beneath the southern precipice.
"Now then," said Thurstane to Glover, "we must get her on our heads and
follow Sweeny. Are you ready? Up with her!"
A long, reeling hoist set the Buchanan on the heads of the two men, one
standing under the bow and one under the stern, their arms extended and
their hands clutching the sides. The beach was forty yards away; the
current was swift and as opaque as chocolate; they could not see what
depths might gape before them; but they must do the distance without
falling, or perish.
"Left foot first," shouted the officer. "Forward--march!"
When the adventurers commenced their tottering march toward the shore of
the Colorado, Sweeny, dragging the clumsy bearskin boat, was a few yards
in advance of Thurstane and Glover, bearing the canvas boat.
Every one of the three had as much as he could handle. The Grizzly, pulled
at by the furious current, bobbed up and down and hither and thither,
nearly capsizing Sweeny at every other step. The Buchanan, weighing one
hundred and fifty pounds when dry, and now somewhat heavier because of its
thorough wetting, made a heavy load for two men who were hip deep in swift
"Slow and sure," repeated Thurstane. "It's a five minutes job. Keep your
courage and your feet for five minutes. Then we'll live a hundred years."
"Liftinant, is this soldierin'?" squealed Sweeny.
"Yes, my man, this is soldiering."
"Thin I'll do me dooty if I pull me arrms off."
But there was not much talking. Pretty nearly all their breath was needed
for the fight with the river. Glover, a slender and narrow-shouldered
creature, was particularly distressed; and his only remark during the
pilgrimage shoreward was, "I'd like to change hosses."
Sweeny, leading the way, got up to his waist once and yelled, "I'll
Then he backed a little, took a new direction, found shallower water, and
tottled onward to victory. The moment he reached the shore he gave a
shrill hoot of exultation, went at his bearskin craft with both hands,
dragged it clean out of the water, and gave it a couple of furious kicks.
"Take that!" he yelped. "Ye're wickeder nor both yer fathers. But I've
bate ye. Oh, ye blathering jerkin', bogglin' baste, ye!"
Then he splashed into the river, joined his hard-pressed comrades, got his
head under the centre of the Buchanan, and lifted sturdily. In another
minute the precious burden was safe on a large flat rock, and the three
men were stretched out panting beside it. Glover was used up; he was
trembling from head to foot with fatigue; he had reached shore just in
time to fall on it instead of into the river.
"Ye'd make a purty soldier," scoffed Sweeny, a habitual chaffer, like most
"It was the histin' that busted me," gasped the skipper. "I can't handle a
ton o' water."
"Godamighty made ye already busted, I'm a thinkin'," retorted Sweeny.
As soon as Glover could rise he examined the Buchanan. There was a ragged
rent in the bottom four inches long, and the canvas in other places had
been badly rubbed. The voyagers looked at the hole, looked at the horrible
chasm which locked them in, and thought with a sudden despair of the great
environment of desert.
The situation could hardly be more gloomy. Having voyaged for five days in
the Great Canon, they were entangled in the very centre of the folds of
that monstrous anaconda. Their footing was a lap of level not more than
thirty yards in length by ten in breadth, strewn with pebbles and
bowlders, and showing not one spire of vegetation. Above them rose a
precipice, the summit of which they could not see, but which was
undoubtedly a mile in height. Had there been armies or cities over their
heads, they could not have discovered it by either eye or ear.
At their feet was the Colorado, a broad rush of liquid porphyry, swift and
pitiless. By its color and its air of stoical cruelty it put one in mind
of the red race of America, from whose desert mountains it came and
through whose wildernesses it hurried. On the other side of this grim
current rose precipices five thousand feet high, stretching to right and
left as far as the eye could pierce. Certainly never before did
shipwrecked men gaze upon such imprisoning immensity and inhospitable
Directly opposite them was horrible magnificence. The face of the fronting
rampart was gashed a mile deep by the gorge of a subsidiary canon. The
fissure was not a clean one, with even sides. The strata had been torn,
ground, and tattered by the river, which had first raged over them and
then through them. It was a Petra of ruins, painted with all stony colors,
and sculptured into a million outlines. On one of the boldest abutments of
the ravine perched an enchanted castle with towers and spires hundreds of
feet in height. Opposite, but further up the gap, rose a rounded
mountain-head of solid sandstone and limestone. Still higher and more
retired, towering as if to look into the distant canon of the Colorado,
ran the enormous terrace of one of the loftier plateaus, its broad, bald
forehead wrinkled with furrows that had once held cataracts. But language
has no charm which can master these sublimities and horrors. It stammers;
it repeats the same words over and over; it can only _begin_ to tell the
"Looks like we was in our grave," sighed Glover.
"Liftinant," jerked out Sweeny, "I'm thinkin' we're dead. We ain't livin',
Liftinant. We've been buried. We've no business trying to _walk_."
Thurstane had the same sense of profound depression; but he called up his
courage and sought to cheer his comrades.
"We must do our best to come to life," he said. "Mr. Glover, can nothing
be done with the boat?"
"Can't fix it," replied the skipper, fingering the ragged hole. "Nothin'
to patch it with."
"There are the bearskins," suggested Thurstane.
Glover slapped his thigh, got up, danced a double-shuffle, and sat down
again to consider his job. After a full minute Sweeny caught the idea also
and set up a haw-haw of exultant laughter, which brought back echoes from
the other side of the canon, as if a thousand Paddies were holding revel
"Oh! yees may laugh," retorted Sweeny, "but yees can't laugh us out av
"I'll sheath the whole bottom with bearskin," said Glover. "Then we can
let her grind. It'll be an all day's chore, Capm--perhaps two days."
They passed thirty-six hours in this miserable bivouac. Glover worked
during every moment of daylight. No one else could do anything. A green
hand might break a needle, and a needle broken was a step toward death.
From dawn to dusk he planned, cut, punctured, and sewed with the patience
of an old sailor, until he had covered the rent with a patch of bearskin
which fitted as if it had grown there. Finally the whole bottom was
doubled with hide, the long, coarse fur still on it, and the grain running
from stem to stern so as to aid in sliding over the sand and pebbles of
While Glover worked the others slept, lounged, cooked, waited. There was
no food, by the way, but the hard, leathery, tasteless jerked meat of the
grizzly bears, which had begun to pall upon them so they could hardly
swallow it. Eating was merely a duty, and a disagreeable one.
When Glover announced that the boat was ready for launching, Sweeny
uttered a yelp of joy, like a dog who sees a prospect of hunting.
"Ah, you paddywhack!" growled the skipper. "All this work for you. Punch
another hole, 'n' I'll take yer own hide to patch it."
"I'll give ye lave," returned Sweeny. "Wan bare skin 's good as another.
Only I might want me own back agin for dress-parade."
Once more on the Colorado. Although the boat floated deeper than before,
navigation in it was undoubtedly safer, so that they made bolder ventures
and swifter progress. Such portages, however, as they were still obliged
to traverse, were very severe, inasmuch as the Buchanan was now much above
its original weight. Several times they had to carry one half of their
materials for a mile or more, through a labyrinth of rocks, and then
trudge back to get the other half.
Meantime their power of endurance was diminishing. The frequent wettings,
the shivering nights, the great changes of temperature, the stale and
wretched food, the constant anxiety, were sapping their health and
strength. On the tenth day of their wanderings in the Great Canon Glover
began to complain of rheumatism.
"These cussed draughts!" he groaned. "It's jest like travellin' in a
"Wid the divil himself at the bellys," added Sweeny. "Faix, an' I wish
he'd blow us clane out intirely. I'm gittin' tired o' this same, I am. I
didn't lisht to sarve undher ground."
"Patience, Sweeny," smiled Thurstane. "We must be nearly through the
"An' where will we come out, Liftinant? Is it in Ameriky? Bedad, we ought
to be close to the Chaynees by this time. Liftinant, what sort o' paple
lives up atop of us, annyway?"
"I don't suppose anybody lives up there," replied the officer, raising his
eyes to the dizzy precipices above. "This whole region is said to be a
"Be gorry, an' it 'll stay a desert till the ind o' the worrld afore I'll
poppylate it. It wasn't made for Sweenys. I haven't seen sile enough in
tin days to raise wan pataty. As for livin' on dried grizzly, I'd like
betther for the grizzlies to live on me. Liftinant, I niver see sich harrd
atin'. It tires the top av me head off to chew it."
About noon of the twelfth day in the Great Canon this perilous and sublime
navigation came to a close. The walls of the chasm suddenly spread out
into a considerable opening, which absolutely seemed level ground to the
voyagers, although it was encumbered with mounds or buttes of granite and
sandstone. This opening was produced by the entrance into the main channel
of a subsidiary one, coming from the south. At first they did not observe
further particulars, for they were in extreme danger of shipwreck, the
river being studded with rocks and running like a mill-race. But on
reaching the quieter water below the rapid, they saw that the branch canon
contained a rivulet, and that where the two streams united there was a
triangular basin, offering a safe harbor.
"Paddle!" shouted Thurstane, pointing to the creek. "Don't let her go by.
This is our place."
A desperate struggle dragged the boat out of the rushing Colorado into the
tranquillity of the basin. Everything was landed; the boat itself was
hoisted on to the rocks; the voyage was over.
"Think ye know yer way, Capm?" queried Glover, squinting doubtfully up the
arid recesses of the smaller canon.
"Of course I may be mistaken. But even if it is not Diamond Creek, it will
take us in our direction. We have made westing enough to have the Cactus
Pass very nearly south of us."
As there was still a chance of returning to the river, the boat was taken
to pieces, rolled up, and hidden under a pile of stones and driftwood. The
small remnant of jerked meat was divided into three portions. Glover, on
account of his inferior muscle and his rheumatism, was relieved of his
gun, which was given to Sweeny. Canteens were filled, blankets slung,
ammunition belts buckled, and the march commenced.
Arrived at a rocky knoll which looked up both waterways, the three men
halted to take a last glance at the Great Canon, the scene of a pilgrimage
that had been a poem, though a terrible one. The Colorado here was not
more than fifty yards wide, and only a few hundred yards of its course
were visible either way, for the confluence was at the apex of a bend. The
dark, sullen, hopeless, cruel current rushed out of one mountain-built
mystery into another. The walls of the abyss rose straight from the water
into dizzy abutments, conical peaks, and rounded masses, beyond and above
which gleamed the distant sunlit walls of a higher terrace of the plateau.
"Come along wid ye," said Sweeny to Glover, "It's enough to give ye the
rheumatiz in the oyes to luk at the nasty black hole. I'm thinkin' it's
the divil's own place, wid the fires out."
The Diamond Creek Canon, although far inferior to its giant neighbor, was
nevertheless a wonderful excavation, striking audaciously into sombre
mountain recesses, sublime with precipices, peaks, and grotesque masses.
The footing was of the ruggedest, a _debris_ of confused and eroded rocks,
the pathway of an extinct river. One thing was beautiful: the creek was a
perfect contrast to the turbid Colorado; its waters were as clear and
bright as crystal. Sweeny halted over and over to look at it, his mouth
open and eyes twinkling like a pleased dog.
"An' there's nothing nagurish about that, now," he chuckled. "A pataty ud
laugh to be biled in it."
After slowly ascending for a quarter of a mile, they turned a bend and
came upon a scene which seemed to them like a garden. They were in a broad
opening, made by the confluence of two canons. Into this gigantic rocky
nest had been dropped an oasis of turf and of thickets of green willows.
Through the centre of the verdure the Diamond Creek flowed dimpling over a
pebbly bed, or shot in sparkles between barring bowlders, or plunged over
shelves in toy cascades. The travellers had seen nothing so hospitable in
nature since leaving the country of the Moquis weeks before.
Sweeny screamed like a delighted child. "Oh! an' that's just like ould
Oirland. Oh, luk at the turrf! D'ye iver see the loikes o'that, now? The
blessed turrf! Here ye be, right in the divil's own garden. Liftinant, if
ye'll let me build a fort here, I'll garrison it. I'll stay here me whole
term of sarvice."
"Halt," said Thurstane. "We'll eat, refill canteens, and inspect arms. If
this is Diamond Canon, and I think there is no doubt of it, we may expect
to find Indians soon."
"I'll fight 'em," declared Sweeny. "An' if they've got anythin' betther
nor dried grizzly, I'll have it."
"Wait for orders," cautioned Thurstane. "No firing without orders."
After cleaning their guns and chewing their tough and stale rations, they
resumed their march, leaving the rivulet and following the canon, which
led toward the southwest. As they were now regaining the level of the
plateau, their advance was a constant and difficult ascent, sometimes
struggling through labyrinths of detached rocks, and sometimes climbing
steep shelves which had once been the leaping-places of cataracts. The
sides of the chasm were two thousand feet high, and it was entered by
branch ravines of equal grandeur.
The sun had set for them, although he was still high above the horizon of
upper earth, when Thurstane halted and whispered, "Wigwams!"
Perched among the rocks, some under projecting strata and others in
shadowy niches between huge buttresses, they discovered at first three or
four, then a dozen, and finally twenty wretched cabins. They scarcely saw
before they were seen; a hideous old squaw dropped a bundle of fuel and
ran off screeching; in a moment the whole den was in an uproar. Startling
yells burst from lofty nooks in the mountain flanks, and scarecrow figures
dodged from ambush to ambush of the sombre gully. It was as if they had
invaded the haunts of the brownies.
The Hualpais, a species of Digger Indians, dwarfish, miserable, and
degraded, living mostly on roots, lizards, and the like, were nevertheless
conscious of scalps to save. In five minutes from the discovery of the
strangers they had formed a straggling line of battle, squatting along a
ledge which crossed the canon. There were not twenty warriors, and they
were no doubt wretchedly armed, but their position was formidable.
Sweeny, looking like an angry rat, his nose twitching and eyes sparkling
with rage, offered to storm the rampart alone, shouting, "Oh, the nasty,
lousy nagurs! Let 'em get out of our way."
"Guess we'd better talk to the cusses," observed Glover. "Tain't the
handiest place I ever see for fightin'; an' I don't keer 'bout havin' my
ears 'n' nose bored any more at present."
"Stay where you are," said Thurstane. "I'll go forward and parley with
Thurstane had no great difficulty in making a sort of
let-me-alone-and-I'll-let-you-alone treaty with the embattled Hualpais.
After some minutes of dumb show they came down from their stronghold and
dispersed to their dwellings. They seemed to be utterly without curiosity;
the warriors put aside their bows and lay down to sleep; the old squaw
hurried off to pick up her bundle of fuel; even the papooses were silent
and stupid. It was a race lower than the Hottentots or the Australians.
Short, meagre, badly built, excessively ugly, they were nearly naked, and
their slight clothing was rags of skins. Thurstane tried to buy food of
them, but either they had none to spare or his buttons seemed to them of
no value. Nor could he induce any one to accompany him as a guide.
"Do ye think Godamighty made thim paple?" inquired Sweeny.
"Reckon so," replied Glover.
"I don't belave it," said Sweeny. "He'd be in more rispactable bizniss.
It's me opinyin the divil made um for a joke on the rest av us. An' it's
me opinyin he made this whole counthry for the same rayson."
"The priest'll tell ye God made all men, Sweeny."
"They ain't min at all. Thim crachurs ain't min. They're nagurs, an' a
mighty poor kind at that. I hate um. I wish they was all dead. I've kilt
some av um, an' I'm goin' to kill slathers more, God willin'. I belave
it's part av the bizniss av white min to finish off the nagurs."
Profound and potent sentiment of race antipathy! The contempt and hatred
of white men for yellow, red, brown, and black men has worked all over
earth, is working yet, and will work for ages. It is a motive of that
tremendous tragedy which Spencer has entitled "the survival of the
fittest," and Darwin, "natural selection."
The party continued to ascend the canon. At short intervals branch canons
exhibited arid and precipitous gorges, more and more gloomy with twilight.
It was impossible to choose between one and another. The travellers could
never see three hundred yards in advance. To right and left they were
hemmed in by walls fifteen hundred feet in height. Only one thing was
certain: these altitudes were gradually diminishing; and hence they knew
that they were mounting the plateau. At last, four hours after leaving
Diamond Creek, wearied to the marrow with incessant toil, they halted by a
little spring, stretched themselves on a scrap of starveling grass, and
chewed their meagre, musty supper.
The scenery here was unearthly. Barring the bit of turf and a few willows
which had got lost in the desert, there was not a tint of verdure. To
right and left rose two huge and steep slopes of eroded and ragged rocks,
tortured into every conceivable form of jag, spire, pinnacle, and imagery.
In general the figures were grotesque; it seemed as if the misshapen gods
of India and of China and of barbarous lands had gathered there; as if
this were a place of banishment and punishment for the fallen idols of all
idolatries. Above this coliseum of monstrosities rose a long line of
sharp, jagged needles, like a vast _chevaux-de-frise_, forbidding escape.
Still higher, lighted even yet by the setting sun, towered five cones of
vast proportions. Then came cliffs capped by shatters of tableland, and
then the long, even, gleaming ledge of the final plateau.
Locked in this bedlam of crazed strata, unable to see or guess a way out
of it, the wanderers fell asleep. There was no setting of guards; they
trusted to the desert as a sentinel.
At daylight the blind and wearisome climbing recommenced. Occasionally
they found patches of thin turf and clumps of dwarf cedars struggling with
the rocky waste. These bits of greenery were not the harbingers of a new
empire of vegetation, but the remnants of one whose glory had vanished
ages ago, swept away by a vandalism of waters. Gradually the canon
dwindled to a ravine, narrow, sinuous, walled in by stony steeps or
slopes, and interlocking continually with other similar chasms. A creek,
which followed the chasm, appeared and disappeared at intervals of a mile
or so, as if horrified at the face of nature and anxious to hide from it
in subterranean recesses.
The travellers stumbled on until the ravine became a gully and the gully a
fissure. They stepped out of it; they were on the rolling surface of the
tableland; they were half a mile above the Colorado.
Here they halted, gave three cheers, and then looked back upon the
northern desert as men look who have escaped an enemy. A gigantic panorama
of the country which they had traversed was unrolled to their vision. In
the foreground stretched declining tablelands, intersected by numberless
ravines, and beyond these a lofty line of bluffs marked the edge of the
Great Canon of the Colorado. Through one wide gap in these heights came a
vision of endless plateaux, their terraces towering one above another
until they were thousands of feet in the air, the horizontal azure bands
extending hundreds of miles northward, until the deep blue faded into a
lighter blue, and that into the sapphire of the heavens.
"It looks a darned sight finer than it is," observed Glover.
"Bedad, ye may say that," added Sweeny. "It's a big hippycrit av a
counthry. Ye'd think, to luk at it, ye could ate it wid a spoon."
Now came a rolling region, covered with blue grass and dotted with groves
of cedars, the earth generally hard and smooth and the marching easy.
Striking southward, they reached a point where the plateau culminated in a
low ridge, and saw before them a long gentle slope of ten miles, then a
system of rounded hills, and then mountains.
"Halt here," said Thurstane. "We must study our topography and fix on our
line of march."
"You'll hev to figger it," replied Glover. "I don't know nothin' in this
part o' the world."
"Ye ain't called on to know," put in Sweeny. "The liftinant'll tell ye."
"I think," hesitated Thurstane, "that we are about fifty miles north of
Cactus Pass, where we want to strike the trail."
"And I'm putty nigh played out," groaned Glover.
"Och! _you_ howld up yer crazy head," exhorted Sweeny. "It'll do ye iver
so much good."
"It's easy talkin'," sighed the jaded and rheumatic skipper.
"It's as aisy talkin' right as talkin' wrong," retorted Sweeny. "Ye've no
call to grunt the curritch out av yer betthers. Wait till the liftinant
Thurstane was studying the landscape. Which of those ranges was the
Cerbat, which the Aztec, and which the Pinaleva? He knew that, after
leaving Cactus Pass, the overland trail turns southward and runs toward
the mouth of the Gila, crossing the Colorado hundreds of miles away. To
the west of the pass, therefore, he must not strike, under peril of
starving amid untracked plains and ranges. On the whole, it seemed
probable that the snow-capped line of summits directly ahead of him was
the Cerbat range, and that he must follow it southward along the base of
its eastern slope.
"We will move on," he said. "Mr. Glover, we must reach those broken hills
before night in order to find water. Can you do it?"
"Reckon I kin jest about do it, 's the feller said when he walked to his
own hangin'," returned the suffering skipper.
The failing man marched so slowly and needed so many halts that they were
five hours in reaching the hills. It was now nightfall; they found a
bright little spring in a grassy ravine; and after a meagre supper, they
tried to stifle their hunger with sleep. Thurstane and Sweeny took turns
in watching, for smoke of fires had been seen on the mountains, and, poor
as they were, they could not afford to be robbed. In the morning Glover
seemed refreshed, and started out with some vigor.
"Och! ye'll go round the worrld," said Sweeny, encouragingly. "Bones can
march furder than fat anny day. Yer as tough as me rations. Dried grizzly
is nothin' to ye."
After threading hills for hours they came out upon a wide, rolling basin
prettily diversified by low spurs of the encircling mountains and bluish
green with the long grasses known as _pin_ and _grama_. A few deer and
antelopes, bounding across the rockier places, were an aggravation to
starving men who could not follow them.
"Why don't we catch some o' thim flyin' crachurs?" demanded Sweeny.
"We hain't got no salt to put on their tails," explained Glover, grinning
more with pain than with his joke.
"I'd ate 'em widout salt," said Sweeny. "If the tails was feathers, I'd
"We must camp early, and try our luck at hunting," observed Thurstane.
"I go for campin' airly," groaned the limping and tottering Glover.
"Och! yees ud like to shlape an shnore an' grunt and rowl over an' shnore
agin the whole blissid time," snapped Sweeny, always angered by a word of
discouragement. "Yees ought to have a dozen o' thim nagurs wid their long
poles to make a fither bed for yees an' tuck up the blankets an' spat the
pilly. Why didn't ye shlape all ye wanted to whin yees was in the boat?"
"Quietly, Sweeny," remonstrated Thurstane. "Mr. Glover marches with great
"I've no objiction to his marchin' wid great pain or annyway Godamighty
lets him, if he won't grunt about it."
"But you must be civil, my man."
"I ax yer pardon, Liftinant. I don't mane no harrum by blatherin'. It's a
way we have in th' ould counthry. Mebbe it's no good in th' arrmy."
"Let him yawp, Capm," interposed Glover. "It's a way they hev, as he says.
Never see two Paddies together but what they got to fightin' or pokin' fun
at each other. Me an' Sweeny won't quarrel. I take his clickatyclack for
what it's worth by the cart-load. 'Twon't hurt me. Dunno but what it's
good for me."
"Bedad, it's betther for ye nor yer own gruntin'," added the irrepressible
By two in the afternoon they had made perhaps fifteen miles, and reached
the foot of the mountain which they proposed to skirt. As Glover was now
fagged out, Thurstane decided to halt for the night and try deer-stalking.
A muddy water-hole, surrounded by thickets of willows, indicated their
camping ground. The sick man was _cached_ in the dense foliage; his
canteen was filled for him and placed by his side; there could be no other
"If the nagurs kill ye, I'll revenge ye," was Sweeny's parting
encouragement. "I'll git ye back yer scallup, if I have to cut it out of
Late in the evening the two hunters returned empty. Sweeny, in spite of
his hunger and fatigue, boiled over with stories of the hairbreadth
escapes of the "antyloops" that he had fired at. Thurstane also had seen
game, but not near enough for a shot.
"I didn't look for such bad luck," said the weary and half-starved young
fellow, soberly. "No supper for any of us. We must save our last ration to
make to-morrow's march on."
"It's a poor way of atin' two males in wan," remarked Sweeny. "I niver
thought I'd come to wish I had me haversack full o' dried bear."
The next day was a terrible one. Already half famished, their only food
for the twenty-four hours was about four ounces apiece of bear meat,
tough, ill-scented, and innutritious. Glover was so weak with hunger and
his ailments that he had to be supported most of the way by his two
comrades. His temper, and Sweeny's also, gave out, and they snarled at
each other in good earnest, as men are apt to do under protracted
hardships. Thurstane stalked on in silence, sustained by his youth and
health, and not less by his sense of responsibility. These men were here
through his doing; he must support them and save them if possible; if not,
he must show them how to die bravely; for it had come to be a problem of
life and death. They could not expect to travel two days longer without
food. The time was approaching when they would fall down with faintness,
not to rise again in this world.
In the morning their only provision was one small bit of meat which
Thurstane had saved from his ration of the day before. This he handed to
Glover, saying with a firm eye and a cheerful smile, "My dear fellow, here
is your breakfast."
The starving invalid looked at it wistfully, and stammered, with a voice
full of tears, "I can't eat when the rest of ye don't."
Sweeny, who had stared at the morsel with hungry eyes, now broke out, "I
tell ye, ate it. The liftinant wants ye to."
"Divide it fair," answered Glover, who could hardly restrain himself from
"I won't touch a bit av it," declared Sweeny. "It's the liftinant's own
"We won't divide it," said Thurstane. "I'll put it in your pocket, Glover.
When you can't take another step without it, you must go at it."
"Bedad, if ye don't, we'll lave yees," added Sweeny, digging his fists
into his empty stomach to relieve its gnawing.
Very slowly, the well men sustaining the sick one, they marched over
rolling hills until about noon, accomplishing perhaps ten miles. They were
now on a slope looking southward; above them the wind sighed through a
large grove of cedars; a little below was a copious spring of clear, sweet
water. There they halted, drinking and filling their canteens, but not
eating. The square inch of bear meat was still in Glover's pocket, but he
could not be got to taste it unless the others would share.
"Capm, I feel's though Heaven'd strike me if I should eat your victuals,"
he whispered, his voice having failed him. "I feel a sort o' superstitious
'bout it. I want to die with a clear conscience."
But when they rose his strength gave out entirely, and he dropped down
"Now ate yer mate," said Sweeny, in a passion of pity and anxiety. "Ate
yer mate an' stand up to yer marchin'."
Glover, however, could not eat, for the fever of hunger had at last
produced nausea, and he pushed away the unsavory morsel when it was put to
"Go ahead," he whispered. "No use all dyin'. Go ahead." And then he
"I think the trail can't be more than fifteen miles off," said Thurstane,
when he had found that his comrade still breathed. "One of us must push on
to it and the other stay with Glover. Sweeny, I can track the country
best. You must stay."
For the first time in this long and suffering and perilous journey
Sweeny's courage failed him, and he looked as if he would like to shirk
"My lad, it is necessary," continued the officer. "We can't leave this man
so. You have your gun. You can try to hunt. When he comes to, you must get
him along, following the course you see me take. If I find help, I'll save
you. If not, I'll come back and die with you."
Sitting down by the side of the insensible Glover, Sweeny covered his face
with two grimy hands which trembled a little. It was not till his officer
had got some thirty feet away that he raised his head and looked after
him. Then he called, in his usual quick, sharp, chattering way,
"Liftinant, is this soldierin'?"
"Yes, my lad," replied Thurstane with a sad, weary smile, thinking
meantime of hardships past, "this is soldiering."
"Thin I'll do me dooty if I rot jest here," declared the simple hero.
Thurstane came back, grasped Sweeny's hand in silence, turned away to hide
his shaken face, and commenced his anxious journey.
There were both terrible and beautiful thoughts in his soul as he pushed
on into the desert. Would he find the trail? Would he encounter the rare
chance of traders or emigrants? Would there be food and rest for him and
rescue for his comrades? Would he meet Clara? This last idea gave him
great courage; he struggled to keep it constantly in his mind; he needed
to lean upon it.
By the time that he had marched ten miles he found that he was weaker than
he had supposed. Weeks of wretched food and three days of almost complete
starvation had taken the strength pretty much out of his stalwart frame.
His breath was short; he stumbled over the slightest obstacles;
occasionally he could not see clear. From time to time it struck him that
he had been dreaming or else that his mind was beginning to wander. Things
that he remembered and things that he hoped for seemed strangely present.
He spoke to people who were hundreds of miles away; and, for the most
part, he spoke to them pettishly or with downright anger; for in the main
he felt more like a wretched, baited animal than a human being.
It was only when he called Clara to mind that this evil spirit was
exorcised, and he ceased for a moment to resemble a hungry, jaded wolf.
Then he would be for a while all sweetness, because he was for the while
perfectly happy. In the next instant, by some hateful and irresistible
magic, happiness and sweetness would be gone, and he could not even
remember them nor remember _her_.
Meantime he struggled to command himself and pay attention to his route.
He must do this, because his starving comrades lay behind him, and he must
know how to lead men back to their rescue. Well, here he was; there were
hills to the left; there was a mountain to the right; he would stop and
fix it all in his memory.
He sat down beside a rock, leaned his back against it to steady his dizzy
head, had a sensation of struggling with something invincible, and was
Leaving Thurstane in the desert, we return to Clara in the desert. It will
be remembered that she stood on the roof of the Casa Grande when her lover
was swept oarless down the San Juan.
She was watching him; of course she was watching him; at the moment of the
catastrophe she saw him; she felt sure also that he was looking at her.
The boat began to fly down the current; then the two oarsmen fell to
paddling violently; what did it mean? Far from guessing that the towline
had snapped, she was not aware that there was one.
On went the boat; presently it whirled around helplessly; it was nearing
the rocks of the rapid; there was evidently danger. Running to the edge of
the roof, Clara saw a Mexican cattle-driver standing on the wall of the
enclosure, and called to him, "What is the matter?"
"The lariats have broken," he replied. "They are drifting."
Clara uttered a little gasp of a shriek, and then did not seem to breathe
again for a minute. She saw Thurstane led away in captivity by the savage
torrent; she saw him rise up in the boat and wave her a farewell; she
could not lift her hand to respond; she could only stand and stare. She
had a look, and there was within her a sensation, as if her soul were
starting out of her eyes. The whole calamity revealed itself to her at
once and without mercy. There was no saving him and no going after him; he
was being taken out of her sight; he was disappearing; he was gone. She
leaned forward, trying to look around the bend of the river, and was
balked by a monstrous, cruel advance of precipices. Then, when she
realized that he had vanished, there was a long scream ending in
When she came to herself everybody was talking of the calamity. Coronado,
Aunt Maria, and others overflowed with babblings of regret, astonishment,
explanations, and consolation. The lariats had broken. How could it have
happened! How dreadful! etc.
"But he will land," cried Clara, looking eagerly from face to face.
"Oh, certainly," said Coronado. "Landings can be made. There are none
visible, but doubtless they exist."
"And then he will march back here?" she demanded.
"Not easily. I am afraid, my dear cousin, not very easily. There would be
canons to turn, and long ones. Probably he would strike for the Moqui
"Across the desert? No water!"
Coronado shrugged his shoulders as if to say that he could not help it.
"If we go back to-morrow," she began again, "do you think we shall
"I think it very probable," lied Coronado.
"And if we don't overtake them, will they join us at the Moqui pueblos?"
"Yes, yes. I have little doubt of it."
"When do you think we ought to start?"
"Won't that be too early?"
"Day after to-morrow then."
"Won't that be too late?"
Coronado nearly boiled over with rage. This girl was going to demand
impossibilities of him, and impossibilities that he would not perform if
he could. He must be here and he must be there; he must be quick enough
and not a minute too quick; and all to save his rival from the pit which
he had just dug for him. Turning his back on Clara, he paced the roof of
the Casa in an excitement which he could not conceal, muttering, "I will
do the best I can--the best I can."
Presently the remembrance that he had at least gained one great triumph
enabled him to recover his self-possession and his foxy cunning.
"My dear cousin," he said gently, "you must not suppose that I am not
greatly afflicted by this accident. I appreciate the high merit of
Lieutenant Thurstane, and I grieve sincerely at his misfortune. What can I
do? I will do the best I can for all. Trusting to your good sense, I will
do whatever you say. But if you want my advice, here it is. We ought for
our own sakes to leave here to-morrow; but for his sake we will wait a
day. In that time he may rejoin us, or he may regain the Moqui trail. So
we will set out, if you have no objection, on the morning of day after
to-morrow, and push for the pueblos. When we do start, we must march, as
you know, at our best speed."
"Thank you, Coronado," said Clara. "It is the best you can do."
There were not five minutes during that day and the next that the girl did
not look across the plain to the gorge of the dry canon, in the hope that
she might see Thurstane approaching. At other times she gazed eagerly down
the San Juan, although she knew that he could not stem the current. Her
love and her sorrow were ready to believe in miracles. How is it possible,
she often thought, that such a brief sweep of water should carry him so
utterly away? In spite of her fear of vexing Coronado, she questioned him
over and over as to the course of the stream and the nature of its banks,
only to find that he knew next to nothing.
"It will be hard for him to return to us," the man finally suggested, with
an air of being driven unwillingly to admit it. "He may have to go on a
long way down the river."
The truth is that, not knowing whether the lost men could return easily or
not, he was anxious to get away from their neighborhood.
Before the second day of this suspense was over, Aunt Maria had begun to
make herself obnoxious. She hinted that Thurstane knew what he was about;
that the river was his easiest road to his station; that, in short, he had
deserted. Clara flamed up indignantly and replied, "I know him better."
"Why, what has he got to do with us?" reasoned Aunt Maria. "He doesn't
belong to our party."
"He has his men here. He wouldn't leave his soldiers."
"His men! They can take care of themselves. If they can't, I should like
to know what they are good for. I think it highly probable he went off of
his own choice."
"I think it highly probable you know nothing about it," snapped Clara.
"You are incapable of judging him."
The girl was not just now herself. Her whole soul was concentrated in
justifying, loving, and saving Thurstane; and her manner, instead of being
serenely and almost lazily gentle, was unpleasantly excited. It was as if
some charming alluvial valley should suddenly give forth the steam and
lava of a volcano.
Finding no sympathy in Aunt Maria, and having little confidence in the
good-will of Coronado, she looked about her for help. There was Sergeant
Meyer; he had been Thurstane's right-hand man; moreover, he looked
trustworthy. She seized the first opportunity to beckon him up to her
eerie on the roof of the Casa.
"Sergeant, I must speak with you privately," she said at once, with the
frankness of necessity.
The sergeant, a well-bred soldier, respectful to ladies, and especially to
ladies who were the friends of officers, raised his forefinger to his cap
and stood at attention.
"How came Lieutenant Thurstane to go down the river?" she asked.
"It was the lariat proke," replied Meyer, in a whispering, flute-like
voice which he had when addressing his superiors.
"Did it break, or was it cut?"
The sergeant raised his small, narrow, and rather piggish gray eyes to
hers with a momentary expression of anxiety.
"I must pe gareful what I zay," he answered, sinking his voice still
lower. "We must poth pe gareful. I examined the lariat. I fear it was
sawed. But we must not zay this."
"Who sawed it?" demanded Clara with a gasp.
"It was no one in the poat," replied Meyer diplomatically.
"Was it that man--that hunter--Smith?"
Another furtive glance between the sandy eyelashes expressed an uneasy
astonishment; the sergeant evidently had a secret on his mind which he
must not run any risk of disclosing.
"I do not zee how it was Schmidt" he fluted almost inaudibly. "He was
watching the peasts at their basture."
"Then who did saw it?"
"I do not know. I do not feel sure that it was sawed."
Perceiving that, either from ignorance or caution, he would not say more
on this point, Clara changed the subject and asked, "Can Lieutenant
Thurstane go down the river safely?"
"I would like noting petter than to make the exbedition myself," replied
Meyer, once more diplomatic.
Now came a silence, the soldier waiting respectfully, the girl not knowing
how much she might dare to say. Not that she doubted Meyer; on the
contrary, she had a perfect confidence in him; how could she fail to trust
one who had been trusted by Thurstane?
"Sergeant," she at last whispered, "we must find him."
"Yes, miss," touching his cap as if he were taking an oath by it.
"And you," she hesitated, "must protect _me_."
"Yes, miss," and the sergeant repeated his gesture of solemn affirmation.
"Perhaps I will say more some time."
He saluted again, and seeing that she had nothing to add, retired quietly.
For two nights there was little sleep for Clara. She passed them in
pondering Thurstane's chances, or in listening for his returning
footsteps. Yet when the train set out for the Moqui pueblos, she seemed as
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