It was not the girl to whom I was pledged and plighted, not she to whom I was bound in honor—that was not the one with the fragrant hair and the eyes of night, and the clear-cut face, and the graciously deep-bosomed figure—that was not the one. It was another, of infinite variety, one more irresistible with each change, that had set on this combat between me and my own self.
I beat my fists upon the earth. All that I could say to myself was that she was sweet, sweet, and wonderful—here in the mystery of this wide, calm, inscrutable desert that lay all about, in a world young and strong and full of the primeval lusts of man.
Before dawn had broken, the clear bugle notes of reveille sounded and set the camp astir. Presently the smokes of the cook fires arose, and in the gray light we could see the horse-guards bringing in the mounts. By the time the sun was faintly tinging the edge of the valley we were drawn up for hot coffee and the plain fare of the prairies. A half hour later the wagon masters called “Roll out! Roll out!” The bugles again sounded for the troopers to take saddle, and we were under way once more.
Thus far we had seen very little game in our westward journeying, a few antelope and occasional wolves, but none of the herds of buffalo which then roamed the Western plains. The monotony of our travel was to be broken now. We had hardly gone five miles beyond the ruined station house—which we passed at a trot, so that none might know what had happened there—when we saw our advance men pull up and raise their hands. We caught it also—the sound of approaching hoofs, and all joined in the cry, “Buffalo! Buffalo!” In an instant every horseman was pressing forward.
The thunderous rolling sound approached, heavy as that of artillery going into action. We saw dust arise from the mouth of a little draw on the left, running down toward the valley, and even as we turned there came rolling from its mouth, with the noise of a tornado and the might of a mountain torrent, a vast, confused, dark mass, which rapidly spilled out across the valley ahead of us. Half hid in the dust of their going, we could see great dark bulks rolling and tossing. Thus it was, and close at hand, that I saw for the first time in my life these huge creatures whose mission seemed to have been to support an uncivilized people, and to make possible the holding by another race of those lands late held as savage harvest grounds.
We were almost at the flanks of the herd before they reached the river bank. We were among them when they paused stupidly, for some reason not wishing to cross the stream. The front ranks rolled back upon those behind, which, crowded from the rear, resisted. The whole front of the mass wrinkled up mightily, dark humps arising in some places two or three deep. Then the entire mass sensed the danger all at once, and with as much unanimity as they had lacked concert in their late confusion, they wheeled front and rear, and rolled off up the valley, still enveloped in a cloud of white, biting dust.