The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories HTML version

A Lonely Ride
As I stepped into the Slumgullion stage I saw that it was a dark night, a lonely road, and
that I was the only passenger. Let me assure the reader that I have no ulterior design in
making this assertion. A long course of light reading has forewarned me what every
experienced intelligence must confidently look for from such a statement. The storyteller
who willfully tempts Fate by such obvious beginnings; who is to the expectant reader in
danger of being robbed or half-murdered, or frightened by an escaped lunatic, or
introduced to his ladylove for the first time, deserves to be detected. I am relieved to say
that none of these things occurred to me. The road from Wingdam to Slumgullion knew
no other banditti than the regularly licensed hotelkeepers; lunatics had not yet reached
such depth of imbecility as to ride of their own free will in California stages; and my
Laura, amiable and long-suffering as she always is, could not, I fear, have borne up
against these depressing circumstances long enough to have made the slightest
impression on me.
I stood with my shawl and carpetbag in hand, gazing doubtingly on the vehicle. Even in
the darkness the red dust of Wingdam was visible on its roof and sides, and the red slime
of Slumgullion clung tenaciously to its wheels. I opened the door; the stage creaked
easily, and in the gloomy abyss the swaying straps beckoned me, like ghostly hands, to
come in now and have my sufferings out at once.
I must not omit to mention the occurrence of a circumstance which struck me as
appalling and mysterious. A lounger on the steps of the hotel, who I had reason to
suppose was not in any way connected with the stage company, gravely descended, and
walking toward the conveyance, tried the handle of the door, opened it, expectorated in
the carriage, and returned to the hotel with a serious demeanor. Hardly had he resumed
his position when another individual, equally disinterested, impassively walked down the
steps, proceeded to the back of the stage, lifted it, expectorated carefully on the axle, and
returned slowly and pensively to the hotel. A third spectator wearily disengaged himself
from one of the Ionic columns of the portico and walked to the box, remained for a
moment in serious and expectorative contemplation of the boot, and then returned to his
column. There was something so weird in this baptism that I grew quite nervous.
Perhaps I was out of spirits. A number of infinitesimal annoyances, winding up with the
resolute persistency of the clerk at the stage office to enter my name misspelt on the
waybill, had not predisposed me to cheerfulness. The inmates of the Eureka House, from
a social viewpoint, were not attractive. There was the prevailing opinion--so common to
many honest people--that a serious style of deportment and conduct toward a stranger
indicates high gentility and elevated station. Obeying this principle, all hilarity ceased on
my entrance to supper, and general remark merged into the safer and uncompromising
chronicle of several bad cases of diphtheria, then epidemic at Wingdam. When I left the
dining-room, with an odd feeling that I had been supping exclusively on mustard and tea
leaves, I stopped a moment at the parlor door. A piano, harmoniously related to the