Just then two or three big bubbles rose to the surface, and silently exploded. Quick as lightning I dropped on my knees and raised my arms.
“Now may Heaven grant my prayer,” I began with awful solemnity, “and send the great Ranunculus to loose the binding chain of concupiscence, heaving the multitudinous aquacity upon the heads of this wicked and sententious generation, whelming these diametrical scoffers in a supercilious Constantinople!”
I knew the long words would impress their simple souls with a belief that I was actually praying; and I was right, for every man of them pulled his hat off, and stood staring at me with a mixed look of reverence, incredulity, and astonishment—but not for long. For before I could say amen, yours truly, or anything, that entire body of water shot upward five hundred feet into the air, as smooth as a column of crystal, curled over in broad green cataracts, falling outward with a jar and thunder like the explosion of a thousand subterranean cannon, then surging and swirling back to the centre, one steaming, writhing mass of snowy foam!
As I rose to my feet to put my hand in my pocket for a chew of tobacco, I looked complacently about upon my comrades. Stumpy Jack stood paralysed, his head thrown back at an alarming angle, precisely as he had tilted it to watch the ascending column, and his neck somehow out of joint, holding it there. All the others were down upon their marrow-bones, white with terror, praying with extraordinary fervency, each trying his best to master the ridiculous jargon they had heard me use, but employing it with an even greater disregard of sense and fitness than I did. Away over on the next range of hills, toward camp, was something that looked like a giant spider, scrambling up the steep side of the sand-hill, and sliding down a trifle faster than it got up. It was Lame Dave, who had abandoned his equine trust, to come up at the eleventh hour and see the swans. He had seen enough, and was now trying, in his weak way, to get back to camp.
In a few minutes I had got Stumpy’s head back into the position assigned it by Nature, had crowded his eyes in, and was going about with a reassuring smile, helping the pious upon their feet. Not a word was spoken; I took the lead, and we strode solemnly to camp, picking up Lame Dave at the foot of his acclivity, played a little game for Gus Jamison’s horse and “calamities,” then mounted our steeds, departing thence. Three or four days afterward I ventured cautiously upon a covert allusion to peculiar lakes, but the simultaneous clicking of ten revolvers convinced me that I need not trouble myself to pursue the subject.
* * * * *
“I was looking for my horse one morning, up in the San Joaquin Valley,” said old Sandy Fowler, absently stirring the camp fire, “when I saw a big bull grizzly lying in the sunshine, picking his teeth with his claws, and smiling, as if he said, ’You need not mind the horse, old fellow; he’s been found.’ I at once gave a loud whoop, which I thought would be heard by the boys in the camp, and prepared to string the brute.”