The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version

In The Tules
He had never seen a steamboat in his life. Born and reared in one of the Western
Territories, far from a navigable river, he had only known the "dugout" or canoe as a
means of conveyance across the scant streams whose fordable waters made even those
scarcely a necessity. The long, narrow, hooded wagon, drawn by swaying oxen, known
familiarly as a "prairie schooner," in which he journeyed across the plains to California in
'53, did not help his conception by that nautical figure. And when at last he dropped upon
the land of promise through one of the Southern mountain passes he halted all
unconsciously upon the low banks of a great yellow river amidst a tangled brake of
strange, reed-like grasses that were unknown to him. The river, broadening as it
debouched through many channels into a lordly bay, seemed to him the ULTIMA
THULE of his journeyings. Unyoking his oxen on the edge of the luxuriant meadows
which blended with scarcely any line of demarcation into the great stream itself, he found
the prospect "good" according to his lights and prairial experiences, and, converting his
halted wagon into a temporary cabin, he resolved to rest here and "settle."
There was little difficulty in so doing. The cultivated clearings he had passed were few
and far between; the land would be his by discovery and occupation; his habits of
loneliness and self- reliance made him independent of neighbors. He took his first meal in
his new solitude under a spreading willow, but so near his natural boundary that the
waters gurgled and oozed in the reeds but a few feet from him. The sun sank, deepening
the gold of the river until it might have been the stream of Pactolus itself. But Martin
Morse had no imagination; he was not even a gold-seeker; he had simply obeyed the
roving instincts of the frontiersman in coming hither. The land was virgin and
unoccupied; it was his; he was alone. These questions settled, he smoked his pipe with
less concern over his three thousand miles' transference of habitation than the man of
cities who had moved into a next street. When the sun sank, he rolled himself in his
blankets in the wagon bed and went quietly to sleep.
But he was presently awakened by something which at first he could not determine to be
a noise or an intangible sensation. It was a deep throbbing through the silence of the
night--a pulsation that seemed even to be communicated to the rude bed whereon he lay.
As it came nearer it separated itself into a labored, monotonous panting, continuous, but
distinct from an equally monotonous but fainter beating of the waters, as if the whole
track of the river were being coursed and trodden by a multitude of swiftly trampling feet.
A strange feeling took possession of him--half of fear, half of curious expectation. It was
coming nearer. He rose, leaped hurriedly from the wagon, and ran to the bank. The night
was dark; at first he saw nothing before him but the steel-black sky pierced with far-
spaced, irregularly scattered stars. Then there seemed to be approaching him, from the
left, another and more symmetrical constellation--a few red and blue stars high above the
river, with three compact lines of larger planetary lights flashing towards him and
apparently on his own level. It was almost upon him; he involuntarily drew back as the
strange phenomenon swept abreast of where he stood, and resolved itself into a dark yet
airy bulk, whose vagueness, topped by enormous towers, was yet illuminated by those