"John, I'll give you a couple of two-bit pieces if you'll get me a bite of something," I persist. John's small, black eyes twinkle at the suggestion of two-bit pieces, and his expressive countenance assumes a commerical air as, with a ludicrous change of front, he replies:
"Wha'. You gib me flore bittee, me gib you bitee eatee?"
"That's what I said, John; and please be as lively as possible about it."
"All li; you gib me flore bittee me fly you Melican plan-cae."
"Yes, pancakes will do. Go ahead!"
Visions of pancakes and molasses flit before my hunger-distorted vision as I sit outside until he gets them ready. In ten minutes John calls me in. On a tin plate, that looks as if it has just been rescued from a barrel of soap-grease, reposes a shapeless mass of substance resembling putty-it is the "Melican plan-cae; " and the Celestial triumphantly sets an empty box in front of it for me to sit on and extends his greasy palm for the stipulated price. May the reader never be ravenously hungry and have to choose between a "Melican plan-cae " and nothing. It is simply a chunk of tenacious dough, made of flour and water only, and soaked for a few minutes in warm grease. I call for molasses; he doesn't know what it is. I inquire for syrup, thinking he may recognize my want by that name. He brings a jar of thin Chinese catsup, that tastes something like Limburger cheese smells. I immediately beg of him to take it where its presumably benign influence will fail to reach me. He produces some excellent cold tea, however, by the aid of which I manage to "bolt" a portion of the "plan-cae." One doesn't look for a very elegant spread for fifty cents in the Sage-brush State; but this "Melican plan-cae" is the worst fifty-cent meal I ever heard of.
To-night I stay in Winnemucca, the county seat of Humboldt County, and quite a lively little town of 1,200 inhabitants. "What'll yer have." is the first word on entering the hotel, and "Won't yer take a bottle of whiskey along." is the last word on leaving it next morning. There are Piutes and Piutes camped at Winnemucca, and in the morning I meet a young brave on horseback a short distance out of town and let him try his hand with the bicycle. I wheel him along a few yards and let him dismount; and then I show him how to mount and invite him to try it himself. He gallantly makes the attempt, but springs forward with too much energy, and over he topples, with the bicycle cavorting around on top of him. This satisfies his aboriginal curiosity, and he smiles and shakes his head when I offer to swap the bicycle for his mustang. The road is heavy with sand all along by Winnemucca, and but little riding is to be done. The river runs through green meadows of rich bottom-land hereabouts; but the meadows soon disappear as I travel eastward.
Twenty miles east of Winnemucca the river arid railroad pass through the cañon in a low range of mountains, while my route lies over the summit. It is a steep trundle up the fountains, but from the summit a broad view of the surrounding country is obtained. The Humboldt River is not a beautiful stream, and for the greater part of its length it meanders through alternate stretches of dreary sage-brush plain and low sand-hills, at long intervals passing through a ca¤on in some barren mountain chain. But "distance lends enchantment to the view," and from the summit of the mountain pass even the Humboldt looks beautiful. The sun shines on its waters, giving it a sheen, and for many a mile its glistening surface can be seen - winding its serpentine course through the broad, gray-looking sage and grease-wood plains, while at occasional intervals narrow patches of green, in striking contrast to the surrounding gray, show where the hardy mountain grasses venturously endeavor to invade the domains of the autocratic sagebrush. What is that queer-looking little reptile, half lizard, half frog, that scuttles about among the rocks. It is different from anything I have yet seen. Around the back of its neck and along its sides, and, in a less prominent degree, all over its yellowishgray body, are small, horn-like protuberances that give the little fellow a very peculiar appearance. Ah, I know who he is. I have heard of him, and have seen his picture in books. I am happy to make his acquaintance. He is "Prickey," the famed horned toad of Nevada. On this mountain spur, between the Golconda miningcamp and Iron Point, is the only place I have seen him on the tour. He is a very interesting little creature, more lizard than frog, perfectly harmless; and his little bead-like eyes are bright and fascinating as the eyes of a rattlesnake.
Alkali flats abound, and some splendid riding is to be obtained east of Iron Point. Just before darkness closes down over the surrounding area of plain and mountain I reach Stone-House section-house.
"Yes, I guess we can get you a bite of something; but it will be cold," is the answer vouchsafed in reply to my query about supper. Being more concerned these days about the quantity of provisions I can command than the quality, the prospect of a cold supper arouses no ungrateful emotions. I would rather have a four-pound loaf and a shoulder of mutton for supper now than a smaller quantity of extra choice viands; and I manage to satisfy the cravings of my inner man before leaving the table. But what about a place to sleep. For some inexplicable reason these people refuse to grant me even the shelter of their roof for the night. They are not keeping hotel, they say, which is quite true; they have a right to refuse, even if it is twenty miles to the next place; and they do refuse. "There's the empty Chinese bunk-house over there. You can crawl in there, if you arn't afeerd of ghosts," is the parting remark, as the door closes and leaves me standing, like an outcast, on the dark, barren plain.
A week ago this bunk-house was occupied by a gang of Chinese railroaders, who got to quarrelling among themselves, and the quarrel wound up in quite a tragic poisoning affair, that resulted in the death of two, and nearly killed a third. The Chinese are nothing, if not superstitious, and since this affair no Chinaman would sleep in the bunk-house or work on this section; consequently the building remains empty. The "spooks" of murdered Chinese are everything but agreeable company; nevertheless they are preferable to inhospitable whites, and I walk over to the house and stretch my weary frame in - for aught I know - the same bunk in which, but a few days ago, reposed the ghastly corpses of the poisoned Celestials. Despite the unsavory memories clinging around the place, and my pillowless and blanketless couch, I am soon in the land of dreams. It is scarcely presumable that one would be blessed with rosy-hued visions of pleasure under such conditions, however, and near midnight I awake in a cold shiver. The snowy mountains rear their white heads up in the silent night, grim and ghostly all around, and make the midnight air chilly, even in midsummer. I lie there, trying in vain to doze off again, for it grows perceptibly cooler. At two o'clock I can stand it no longer, and so get up and strike out for Battle Mountain, twenty miles ahead.
The moon has risen; it is two-thirds full, and a more beautiful sight than the one that now greets my exit from the bunk-house it is scarcely possible to conceive. Only those who have been in this inter-mountain country can have any idea of a glorious moonlight night in the clear atmosphere of this dry, elevated region. It is almost as light as day, and one can see to ride quite well wherever the road is ridable. The pale moon seems to fill the whole broad valley with a flood of soft, silvery light; the peaks of many snowy mountains loom up white and spectral; the stilly air is broken by the excited yelping of a pack of coyotes noisily baying the pale-yellow author of all this loveliness, and the wild, unearthly scream of an unknown bird or animal coming from some mysterious, undefinable quarter completes an ideal Western picture, a poem, a dream, that fully compensates for the discomforts of the preceding hour. The inspiration of this beautiful scene awakes the slumbering poesy within, and I am inspired to compose a poem-"Moonlight in the Rockies"-that I expect some day to see the world go into raptures over!
A few miles from the Chinese shanty I pass a party of Indians camped by the side of my road. They are squatting around the smouldering embers of a sage-brush fire, sleeping and dozing. I am riding slowly and carefully along the road that happens to be ridable just here, and am fairly past them before being seen. As I gradually vanish in the moonlit air I wonder what they think it was - that strange-looking object that so silently and mysteriously glided past. It is safe to warrant they think me anything but flesh and blood, as they rouse each other and peer at my shadowy form disappearing in the dim distance.
From Battle Mountain my route leads across a low alkali bottom, through which dozens of small streams are flowing to the Humboldt. Many of them are narrow enough to be jumped, but not with a bicycle on one's shoulder, for under such conditions there is always a disagreeable uncertainty that one may disastrously alight before he gets ready. But I am getting tired of partially undressing to ford streams that are little more than ditches, every little way, and so I hit upon the novel plan of using the machine for a vaulting-pole. Beaching it out into the centre of the stream, I place one hand on the head and the other on the saddle, and vault over, retaining my hold as I alight on the opposite shore. Pulling the bicycle out after me, the thing is done. There is no telling to what uses this two-wheeled "creature" could be put in case of necessity. Certainly the inventor never expected it to be used for a vaulting-pole in leaping across streams. Twenty-five miles east of Battle Mountain the valley of the Humboldt widens into a plain of some size, through which the river meanders with many a horseshoe curve, and maps out the pot-hooks and hangers of our childhood days in mazy profusion. Amid these innumerable curves and counter-curves, clumps of willows and tall blue-joint reeds grow thickly, and afford shelter to thousands of pelicans, that here make their homes far from the disturbing presence of man. All unconscious of impending difficulties, I follow the wagon trail leading through this valley until I find myself standing on the edge of the river, ruefully looking around for some avenue by which I can proceed on my way. I am in the bend of a horseshoe curve, and the only way to get out is to retrace my footsteps for several miles, which disagreeable performance I naturally feel somewhat opposed to doing. Casting about me I discover a couple of old fence-posts that have floated down from the Be-o-wa-we settlement above and lodged against the bank. I determine to try and utilize them in getting the machine across the river, which is not over thirty yards wide at this point. Swimming across with my clothes first, I tie the bicycle to the fence-posts, which barely keep it from sinking, and manage to navigate it successfully across. The village of Be-o-wa-we is full of cowboys, who are preparing for the annual spring round-up. Whites, Indians, and Mexicans compose the motley crowd. They look a wild lot, with their bear-skin chaparejos and semi-civilized trappings, galloping to and fro in and about the village. "I can't spare the time, or I would," is my slightly un-truthful answer to an invitation to stop over for the day and have some fun. Briefly told, this latter, with the cowboy, consists in getting hilariously drunk, and then turning his "pop" loose at anything that happens to strike his whiskey-bedevilled fancy as presenting a fitting target. Now a bicycle, above all things, would intrude itself upon the notice of a cowboy on a "tear" as a peculiar and conspicuous object, especially if it had a man on it; so after taking a "smile" with them for good-fellowship, and showing them the modus operandi of riding the wheel, I consider it wise to push on up the valley.
Three miles from Be-o-wa-we is seen the celebrated "Maiden's Grave," on a low hill or bluff by the road-side; and "thereby hangs a tale." In early days, a party of emigrants were camped near by at Gravelly Ford, waiting for the waters to subside, so that they could cross the liver, when a young woman of the party sickened and died. A rudely carved head- board was set up to mark the spot where she was buried. Years afterward, when the railroad was being built through here, the men discovered this rude head-board all alone on the bleak hill-top, and were moved by worthy sentiment to build a rough stone wall around it to keep off the ghoulish coyotes; and, later on, the superintendent of the division erected a large white cross, which now stands in plain view of the railroad. On one side of the cross is written the simple inscription, "Maiden's Grave;" on the other, her name, "Lucinda Duncan" Leaving the bicycle by the road-side, I climb the steep bluff and examine the spot with some curiosity. There are now twelve other graves beside the original "Maiden's Grave," for the people of Be-o-wa-we and the surrounding country have selected this romantic spot on which to inter the remains of their departed friends. This afternoon I follow the river through Humboldt Cañon in preference to taking a long circuitous route over the mountains. The first noticeable things about this cañon are the peculiar water-marks plainly visible on the walls, high up above where the water could possibly rise while its present channels of escape exist unobstructed. It is thought that the country east of the spur of the Red Range, which stretches clear across the valley at Be-o-wa-we, and through which the Humboldt seems to have cut its way, was formerly a lake, and that the water gradually wore a passage-way for itself through the massive barrier, leaving only the high-water marks on the mountain sides to tell of the mighty change. In this cañon the rocky walls tower like gigantic battlements, grim and gloomy on either side, and the seething, boiling waters of the Humboldt - that for once awakens from its characteristic lethargy, and madly plunges and splutters over a bed of jagged rocks which seem to have been tossed into its channel by some Herculean hand - fill this mighty "rift" in the mountains with a never-ending roar. It has been threatening rain for the last two hours, and now the first peal of thunder I have heard on the whole journey awakens the echoing voices of the cañon and rolls and rumbles along the great jagged fissure like an angry monster muttering his mighty wrath. Peal after peal follow each other in quick succession, the vigorous, newborn echoes of one peal seeming angrily to chase the receding voices of its predecessor from cliff to cliff, and from recess to projection, along its rocky, erratic course up the cañon. Vivid flashes of forked lightning shoot athwart the heavy black cloud that seems to rest on either wall, roofing the cañon with a ceiling of awful grandeur. Sheets of electric flame light up the dark, shadowy recesses of the towering rocks as they play along the ridges and hover on the mountain-tops; while large drops of rain begin to patter down, gradually increasing with the growing fury of their battling allies above, until a heavy, drenching downpour of rain and hail compels me to take shelter under an overhanging rock.
At 4 P.M. I reach Palisade, a railroad village situated in the most romantic spot imaginable, under the shadows of the towering palisades that hover above with a sheltering care, as if their special mission were to protect it from all harm. Evidently these mountains have been rent in twain by an earthquake, and this great gloomy chasm left open, for one can plainly see that the two walls represent two halves of what was once a solid mountain. Curious caves are observed in the face of the cliffs, and one, more conspicuous than the rest, has been christened "Maggie's Bower," in honor of a beautiful Scottish maiden who with her parents once lingered in a neighboring creek-bottom for some time, recruiting their stock. But all is not romance and beauty even in the glorious palisades of the Humboldt; for great, glaring, patent-medicine advertisements are painted on the most conspicuously beautiful spots of the palisades. Business enterprise is of course to be commended and encouraged; but it is really annoying that one cannot let his esthetic soul - that is constantly yearning for the sublime and beautiful - rest in gladsome reflection on some beautiful object without at the same time being reminded of " corns," and " biliousness," and all the multifarious evils that flesh is heir to.
It grows pitchy dark ere I leave the cañon on my way to Carlin. Farther on, the gorge widens, and thick underbrush intervenes between the road and the river. From out the brush I see peering two little round phosphorescent balls, like two miniature moons, turned in my direction. I wonder what kind of an animal it is, as I trundle along through the darkness, revolver in hand, ready to defend myself, should it make an attack. I think it is a mountain-lion, as they seem to be plentiful in this part of Nevada, Late as it is when I reach Carlin, the "boys" must see how a bicycle is ridden, and, as there is no other place suitable, I manage to circle around the pool-table in the hotel bar-room a few times, nearly scalping myself against the bronze chandelier in the operation. I hasten, however, to explain that these proceedings took place immediately after my arrival, lest some worldly wise, over-sagacious person should be led to suspect them to be the riotous undertakings of one who had "smiled with the boys once too often." Little riding is possible all through this section of Nevada, and, in order to complete the forty miles a day that I have rigorously imposed upon myself, I sometimes get up and pull out at daylight. It is scarce more than sunrise when, following the railroad through Five-mile Canon - another rift through one of the many mountain chains that cross this part of Nevada in all directions under the general name of the Humboldt Mountains-I meet with a startling adventure.
Encounter with a Mountain Lion
I am trundling through the cañon alongside the river, when, rounding the sharp curve of a projecting mountain, a tawny mountain lion is perceived trotting leisurely along ahead of me, not over a hundred yards in advance. He hasn't seen me yet; he is perfectly oblivious of the fact that he is in "the presence." A person of ordinary discretion would simply have revealed his presence by a gentlemanly sneeze, or a slight noise of any kind, when the lion would have immediately bolted back into the underbrush. Unable to resist the temptation, I fired at him, and of course missed him, as a person naturally would at a hundred yards with a bull-dog revolver. The bullet must have singed him a little though, for, instead of wildly scooting for the brush, as I anticipated, he turns savagely round and comes bounding rapidly toward me, and at twenty paces crouches for a spring. Laying his cat-like head almost on the ground, his round eyes flashing fire, and his tail angrily waving to and fro, he looks savage and dangerous. Crouching behind the bicycle, I fire at him again. Nine times out of ten a person will overshoot the mark with a revolver under such circumstances, and, being anxious to avoid this, I do the reverse, and fire too low. The ball strikes the ground just in front of his head, and throws the sand and gravel in his face, and perhaps in his wicked round eyes; for he shakes his head, springs up, and makes off into the brush. I shall shed blood of some sort yet before I leave Nevada. There isn't a day that I don't shoot at something or other; and all I ask of any animal is to come within two hundred yards and I will squander a cartridge on him, and I never fail to hit the ground.
At Elko, where I take dinner, I make the acquaintance of an individual, rejoicing in the sobriquet of "Alkali Bill," who has the largest and most comprehensive views of any person I ever met. He has seen a paragraph, something about me riding round the world, and he considerately takes upon himself the task of summing up the few trifling obstacles that I shall encounter on the way round:
"There is only a small rise at Sherman," he rises to explain, "and another still smaller at the Alleghanies; all the balance is downhill to the Atlantic. Of course you'll have to 'boat it' across the Frogpond; then there's Europe - mostly level; so is Asia, except the Himalayas - and you can soon cross them; then you're all 'hunky,' for there's no mountains to speak of in China."
Evidently Alkali Bill is a person who points the finger of scorn at small ideas, and leaves the bothersome details of life to other and smaller-minded folks. In his vast and glorious imagery he sees a centaur-like cycler skimming like a frigate-bird across states and continents, scornfully ignoring sandy deserts and bridgeless streams, halting for nothing but oceans, and only slowing up a little when he runs up against a peak that bobs up its twenty thousand feet of snowy grandeur serenely in his path. What a Ceasar is lost to this benighted world, because in its blindness, it will not search out such men as Alkali and ask them to lead it onward to deeds of inconceivable greatness. Alkali Bill can whittle more chips in an hour than some men could in a week.
Much of the Humboldt Valley, through which my road now runs, is at present flooded from the vast quantities of water that are pouring into it from the Ruby Range of mountains now visible to the southeast, and which have the appearance of being the snowiest of any since leaving the Sierras. Only yesterday I threatened to shed blood before I left Nevada, and sure enough my prophecy is destined to speedy fulfillment. Just east of the Osino Cañon, and where the North Fork of the Humboldt comes down from the north and joins the main stream, is a stretch of swampy ground on which swarms of wild ducks and geese are paddling about. I blaze away at them, and a poor inoffensive gosling is no more!
While writing my notes this evening, in a room adjoining the "bar" at Halleck, near the United States fort of the same name, I overhear a boozy soldier modestly informing his comrades that forty-five miles an hour is no unusual speed to travel with a bicycle.
Gradually I am nearing the source of the Humboldt, and at the town of Wells I bid it farewell for good. Wells is named from a group of curious springs near the town. They are supposed to be extinct volcanoes, now filled with water; and report says that no sounding-line has yet been found long enough to fathom the bottom. Some day when some poor, unsuspecting tenderfoot is peering inquisitively down one of these well-like springs, the volcano may suddenly come into play again and convert the water into steam that will shoot him clear up into the moon. These volcanoes may have been soaking in water for millions of years; but they are not to be trusted on that account; they can be depended upon to fill some citizen full of lively surprise one of these days. Everything here is surprising. You look across the desert and see flowing water and waving trees; but when you get there, with your tongue hanging out and your fate wellnigh sealed, you are surprised to find nothing but sand and rocks. You climb a mountain expecting to find trees and birds' eggs, and you are surprised to find high-water marks and sea-shells. Finally, you look in the looking-glass and are surprised to find that the wind and exposure have transformed your nice blonde complexion to a semi-sable hue that would prevent your own mother from recognizing you.
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