Tales of Trail and Town HTML version

A Night On The Divide
With the lulling of the wind towards evening it came on to snow—heavily, in
straight, quickly succeeding flakes, dropping like white lances from the sky. This
was followed by the usual Sierran phenomenon. The deep gorge, which, as the
sun went down, had lapsed into darkness, presently began to reappear; at first
the vanished trail came back as a vividly whitening streak before them; then the
larches and pines that ascended from it like buttresses against the hillsides
glimmered in ghostly distinctness, until at last the two slopes curved out of the
darkness as if hewn in marble. For the sudden storm, which extended scarcely
two miles, had left no trace upon the steep granite face of the high cliffs above;
the snow, slipping silently from them, left them still hidden in the obscurity of
night. In the vanished landscape the gorge alone stood out, set in a chaos of
cloud and storm through which the moonbeams struggled ineffectually.
It was this unexpected sight which burst upon the occupants of a large covered
"station wagon" who had chanced upon the lower end of the gorge. Coming from
a still lower altitude, they had known nothing of the storm, which had momentarily
ceased, but had left a record of its intensity in nearly two feet of snow. For some
moments the horses floundered and struggled on, in what the travelers believed
to be some old forgotten drift or avalanche, until the extent and freshness of the
fall became apparent. To add to their difficulties, the storm recommenced, and
not comprehending its real character and limit, they did not dare to attempt to
return the way they came. To go on, however, was impossible. In this quandary
they looked about them in vain for some other exit from the gorge. The sides of
that gigantic white furrow terminated in darkness. Hemmed in from the world in
all directions, it might have been their tomb.
But although THEY could see nothing beyond their prison walls, they themselves
were perfectly visible from the heights above them. And Jack Tenbrook, quartz
miner, who was sinking a tunnel in the rocky ledge of shelf above the gorge,
stepping out from his cabin at ten o'clock to take a look at the weather before
turning in, could observe quite distinctly the outline of the black wagon, the
floundering horses, and the crouching figures by their side, scarcely larger than
pygmies on the white surface of the snow, six hundred feet below him. Jack had
courage and strength, and the good humor that accompanies them, but he
contented himself for a few moments with lazily observing the travelers'
discomfiture. He had taken in the situation with a glance; he would have helped a
brother miner or mountaineer, although he knew that it could only have been
drink or bravado that brought HIM into the gorge in a snowstorm, but it was very
evident that these were "greenhorns," or eastern tourists, and it served their
stupidity and arrogance right! He remembered also how he, having once helped
an Eastern visitor catch the mustang that had "bucked" him, had been called "my
man," and presented with five dollars; he recalled how he had once spread the
humble resources of his cabin before some straying members of the San
Francisco party who were "opening" the new railroad, and heard the audible
wonder of a lady that a civilized being could live so "coarsely"? With these