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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter IX

Roughing It

Chapter IX



We passed Fort Laramie in the night, and on the seventh morning out we
found ourselves in the Black Hills, with Laramie Peak at our elbow
(apparently) looming vast and solitary--a deep, dark, rich indigo blue in
hue, so portentously did the old colossus frown under his beetling brows
of storm-cloud. He was thirty or forty miles away, in reality, but he
only seemed removed a little beyond the low ridge at our right. We
breakfasted at Horse-Shoe Station, six hundred and seventy-six miles out
from St. Joseph. We had now reached a hostile Indian country, and during
the afternoon we passed Laparelle Station, and enjoyed great discomfort
all the time we were in the neighborhood, being aware that many of the
trees we dashed by at arm's length concealed a lurking Indian or two.
During the preceding night an ambushed savage had sent a bullet through
the pony-rider's jacket, but he had ridden on, just the same, because
pony-riders were not allowed to stop and inquire into such things except
when killed. As long as they had life enough left in them they had to
stick to the horse and ride, even if the Indians had been waiting for
them a week, and were entirely out of patience. About two hours and a
half before we arrived at Laparelle Station, the keeper in charge of it
had fired four times at an Indian, but he said with an injured air that
the Indian had "skipped around so's to spile everything--and ammunition's
blamed skurse, too." The most natural inference conveyed by his manner of
speaking was, that in "skipping around," the Indian had taken an unfair
advantage.

The coach we were in had a neat hole through its front--a reminiscence of
its last trip through this region. The bullet that made it wounded the
driver slightly, but he did not mind it much. He said the place to keep
a man "huffy" was down on the Southern Overland, among the Apaches,
before the company moved the stage line up on the northern route. He
said the Apaches used to annoy him all the time down there, and that he
came as near as anything to starving to death in the midst of abundance,
because they kept him so leaky with bullet holes that he "couldn't hold
his vittles."

This person's statement were not generally believed.

We shut the blinds down very tightly that first night in the hostile
Indian country, and lay on our arms. We slept on them some, but most of
the time we only lay on them. We did not talk much, but kept quiet and
listened. It was an inky-black night, and occasionally rainy. We were
among woods and rocks, hills and gorges--so shut in, in fact, that when
we peeped through a chink in a curtain, we could discern nothing. The
driver and conductor on top were still, too, or only spoke at long
intervals, in low tones, as is the way of men in the midst of invisible
dangers. We listened to rain-drops pattering on the roof; and the
grinding of the wheels through the muddy gravel; and the low wailing of
the wind; and all the time we had that absurd sense upon us, inseparable
from travel at night in a close-curtained vehicle, the sense of remaining
perfectly still in one place, notwithstanding the jolting and swaying of
the vehicle, the trampling of the horses, and the grinding of the wheels.
We listened a long time, with intent faculties and bated breath; every
time one of us would relax, and draw a long sigh of relief and start to
say something, a comrade would be sure to utter a sudden "Hark!" and
instantly the experimenter was rigid and listening again. So the
tiresome minutes and decades of minutes dragged away, until at last our
tense forms filmed over with a dulled consciousness, and we slept, if one
might call such a condition by so strong a name--for it was a sleep set
with a hair-trigger. It was a sleep seething and teeming with a weird
and distressful confusion of shreds and fag-ends of dreams--a sleep that
was a chaos. Presently, dreams and sleep and the sullen hush of the
night were startled by a ringing report, and cloven by such a long, wild,
agonizing shriek! Then we heard--ten steps from the stage--

"Help! help! help!" [It was our driver's voice.]

"Kill him! Kill him like a dog!"

"I'm being murdered! Will no man lend me a pistol?"

"Look out! head him off! head him off!"

[Two pistol shots; a confusion of voices and the trampling of many feet,
as if a crowd were closing and surging together around some object;
several heavy, dull blows, as with a club; a voice that said appealingly,
"Don't, gentlemen, please don't--I'm a dead man!" Then a fainter groan,
and another blow, and away sped the stage into the darkness, and left the
grisly mystery behind us.]

What a startle it was! Eight seconds would amply cover the time it
occupied--maybe even five would do it. We only had time to plunge at a
curtain and unbuckle and unbutton part of it in an awkward and hindering
flurry, when our whip cracked sharply overhead, and we went rumbling and
thundering away, down a mountain "grade."

We fed on that mystery the rest of the night--what was left of it, for it
was waning fast. It had to remain a present mystery, for all we could
get from the conductor in answer to our hails was something that sounded,
through the clatter of the wheels, like "Tell you in the morning!"

So we lit our pipes and opened the corner of a curtain for a chimney, and
lay there in the dark, listening to each other's story of how he first
felt and how many thousand Indians he first thought had hurled themselves
upon us, and what his remembrance of the subsequent sounds was, and the
order of their occurrence. And we theorized, too, but there was never a
theory that would account for our driver's voice being out there, nor yet
account for his Indian murderers talking such good English, if they were
Indians.

So we chatted and smoked the rest of the night comfortably away, our
boding anxiety being somehow marvelously dissipated by the real presence
of something to be anxious about.

We never did get much satisfaction about that dark occurrence. All that
we could make out of the odds and ends of the information we gathered in
the morning, was that the disturbance occurred at a station; that we
changed drivers there, and that the driver that got off there had been
talking roughly about some of the outlaws that infested the region ("for
there wasn't a man around there but had a price on his head and didn't
dare show himself in the settlements," the conductor said); he had talked
roughly about these characters, and ought to have "drove up there with
his pistol cocked and ready on the seat alongside of him, and begun
business himself, because any softy would know they would be laying for
him."

That was all we could gather, and we could see that neither the conductor
nor the new driver were much concerned about the matter. They plainly
had little respect for a man who would deliver offensive opinions of
people and then be so simple as to come into their presence unprepared to
"back his judgment," as they pleasantly phrased the killing of any
fellow-being who did not like said opinions. And likewise they plainly
had a contempt for the man's poor discretion in venturing to rouse the
wrath of such utterly reckless wild beasts as those outlaws--and the
conductor added:

"I tell you it's as much as Slade himself want to do!"

This remark created an entire revolution in my curiosity. I cared
nothing now about the Indians, and even lost interest in the murdered
driver. There was such magic in that name, SLADE! Day or night, now, I
stood always ready to drop any subject in hand, to listen to something
new about Slade and his ghastly exploits. Even before we got to Overland
City, we had begun to hear about Slade and his "division" (for he was a
"division-agent") on the Overland; and from the hour we had left Overland
City we had heard drivers and conductors talk about only three things--
"Californy," the Nevada silver mines, and this desperado Slade. And a
deal the most of the talk was about Slade. We had gradually come to have
a realizing sense of the fact that Slade was a man whose heart and hands
and soul were steeped in the blood of offenders against his dignity; a
man who awfully avenged all injuries, affront, insults or slights, of
whatever kind--on the spot if he could, years afterward if lack of
earlier opportunity compelled it; a man whose hate tortured him day and
night till vengeance appeased it--and not an ordinary vengeance either,
but his enemy's absolute death--nothing less; a man whose face would
light up with a terrible joy when he surprised a foe and had him at a
disadvantage. A high and efficient servant of the Overland, an outlaw
among outlaws and yet their relentless scourge, Slade was at once the
most bloody, the most dangerous and the most valuable citizen that
inhabited the savage fastnesses of the mountains.

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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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