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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter V

Roughing It

Chapter V


Another night of alternate tranquillity and turmoil. But morning came,
by and by. It was another glad awakening to fresh breezes, vast expanses
of level greensward, bright sunlight, an impressive solitude utterly
without visible human beings or human habitations, and an atmosphere of
such amazing magnifying properties that trees that seemed close at hand
were more than three mile away. We resumed undress uniform, climbed
a-top of the flying coach, dangled our legs over the side, shouted
occasionally at our frantic mules, merely to see them lay their ears back
and scamper faster, tied our hats on to keep our hair from blowing away,
and leveled an outlook over the world-wide carpet about us for things new
and strange to gaze at. Even at this day it thrills me through and
through to think of the life, the gladness and the wild sense of freedom
that used to make the blood dance in my veins on those fine overland
mornings!

Along about an hour after breakfast we saw the first prairie-dog
villages, the first antelope, and the first wolf. If I remember rightly,
this latter was the regular cayote (pronounced ky-o-te) of the farther
deserts. And if it was, he was not a pretty creature or respectable
either, for I got well acquainted with his race afterward, and can speak
with confidence. The cayote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking
skeleton, with a gray wolf-skin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail
that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and
misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly
lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all
over. The cayote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always
hungry.

He is always poor, out of luck and friendless. The meanest creatures
despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is
so spiritless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are
pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he
is so homely!--so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired, and pitiful.
When he sees you he lifts his lip and lets a flash of his teeth out, and
then turns a little out of the course he was pursuing, depresses his head
a bit, and strikes a long, soft-footed trot through the sage-brush,
glancing over his shoulder at you, from time to time, till he is about
out of easy pistol range, and then he stops and takes a deliberate survey
of you; he will trot fifty yards and stop again--another fifty and stop
again; and finally the gray of his gliding body blends with the gray of
the sage-brush, and he disappears. All this is when you make no
demonstration against him; but if you do, he develops a livelier interest
in his journey, and instantly electrifies his heels and puts such a deal
of real estate between himself and your weapon, that by the time you have
raised the hammer you see that you need a minie rifle, and by the time
you have got him in line you need a rifled cannon, and by the time you
have "drawn a bead" on him you see well enough that nothing but an
unusually long-winded streak of lightning could reach him where he is
now. But if you start a swift-footed dog after him, you will enjoy it
ever so much--especially if it is a dog that has a good opinion of
himself, and has been brought up to think he knows something about speed.

The cayote will go swinging gently off on that deceitful trot of his, and
every little while he will smile a fraudful smile over his shoulder that
will fill that dog entirely full of encouragement and worldly ambition,
and make him lay his head still lower to the ground, and stretch his neck
further to the front, and pant more fiercely, and stick his tail out
straighter behind, and move his furious legs with a yet wilder frenzy,
and leave a broader and broader, and higher and denser cloud of desert
sand smoking behind, and marking his long wake across the level plain!
And all this time the dog is only a short twenty feet behind the cayote,
and to save the soul of him he cannot understand why it is that he cannot
get perceptibly closer; and he begins to get aggravated, and it makes him
madder and madder to see how gently the cayote glides along and never
pants or sweats or ceases to smile; and he grows still more and more
incensed to see how shamefully he has been taken in by an entire
stranger, and what an ignoble swindle that long, calm, soft-footed trot
is; and next he notices that he is getting fagged, and that the cayote
actually has to slacken speed a little to keep from running away from
him--and then that town-dog is mad in earnest, and he begins to strain
and weep and swear, and paw the sand higher than ever, and reach for the
cayote with concentrated and desperate energy. This "spurt" finds him
six feet behind the gliding enemy, and two miles from his friends. And
then, in the instant that a wild new hope is lighting up his face, the
cayote turns and smiles blandly upon him once more, and with a something
about it which seems to say: "Well, I shall have to tear myself away from
you, bub--business is business, and it will not do for me to be fooling
along this way all day"--and forthwith there is a rushing sound, and the
sudden splitting of a long crack through the atmosphere, and behold that
dog is solitary and alone in the midst of a vast solitude!

It makes his head swim. He stops, and looks all around; climbs the
nearest sand-mound, and gazes into the distance; shakes his head
reflectively, and then, without a word, he turns and jogs along back to
his train, and takes up a humble position under the hindmost wagon, and
feels unspeakably mean, and looks ashamed, and hangs his tail at half-
mast for a week. And for as much as a year after that, whenever there is
a great hue and cry after a cayote, that dog will merely glance in that
direction without emotion, and apparently observe to himself, "I believe
I do not wish any of the pie."

The cayote lives chiefly in the most desolate and forbidding desert,
along with the lizard, the jackass-rabbit and the raven, and gets an
uncertain and precarious living, and earns it. He seems to subsist
almost wholly on the carcases of oxen, mules and horses that have dropped
out of emigrant trains and died, and upon windfalls of carrion, and
occasional legacies of offal bequeathed to him by white men who have been
opulent enough to have something better to butcher than condemned army
bacon.

He will eat anything in the world that his first cousins, the desert-
frequenting tribes of Indians will, and they will eat anything they can
bite. It is a curious fact that these latter are the only creatures
known to history who will eat nitro-glycerine and ask for more if they
survive.

The cayote of the deserts beyond the Rocky Mountains has a peculiarly
hard time of it, owing to the fact that his relations, the Indians, are
just as apt to be the first to detect a seductive scent on the desert
breeze, and follow the fragrance to the late ox it emanated from, as he
is himself; and when this occurs he has to content himself with sitting
off at a little distance watching those people strip off and dig out
everything edible, and walk off with it. Then he and the waiting ravens
explore the skeleton and polish the bones. It is considered that the
cayote, and the obscene bird, and the Indian of the desert, testify their
blood kinship with each other in that they live together in the waste
places of the earth on terms of perfect confidence and friendship, while
hating all other creature and yearning to assist at their funerals. He
does not mind going a hundred miles to breakfast, and a hundred and fifty
to dinner, because he is sure to have three or four days between meals,
and he can just as well be traveling and looking at the scenery as lying
around doing nothing and adding to the burdens of his parents.

We soon learned to recognize the sharp, vicious bark of the cayote as it
came across the murky plain at night to disturb our dreams among the
mail-sacks; and remembering his forlorn aspect and his hard fortune, made
shift to wish him the blessed novelty of a long day's good luck and a
limitless larder the morrow.


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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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