The Captain rapped on my door. It was pitch dark, and the wind, which had arisen during the night, was sweeping through the open windows, blowing the light curtains about. Also it was very cold.
“All right,” I answered, took my resolution in my hands, and stepped forth.
Ten minutes later, by the light of a single candle, we were manipulating the coffee-and-egg machine, and devouring the tall pile of bread-and-butter sandwiches that had been left for us over night. Then, stepping as softly as we could in our clumping rubber boots, our arms burdened with guns and wraps, we stole into the outer darkness.
It was almost black, but we could dimly make out the treetops whipped about by the wind. Over by the stable we caught the intermittent flashes of many lanterns where the teamsters were feeding their stock. Presently a merry and vigorous rattle—rattle—rattle arose and came nearer. The Invigorator was ready and under way.
We put on all the coats and sweaters, and climbed aboard. The Captain spoke to his horses, and we were off.
That morning I had my first experience of a phenomenon I have never ceased admiring—and wondering at. I refer to the Captain’s driving in the dark.
The night was absolutely black, so that I could hardly make out the horses. In all the world were only two elements, the sky full of stars and the mass of the earth. The value of this latter, as a means of showing us where we were, was nullified by the fact that the skyline consisted, not of recognizable and serviceable landmarks, but of the distant mountains. We went a certain length of time, and bumped over a certain number of things. Then the Captain pulled his team sharp around to the left. Why he did so I could not tell you. We drove an hour over a meandering course.
“Hang tight,” remarked the Captain.
I did so. The front end of the Invigorator immediately fell away from under me, so that if I had not been obeying orders by hanging tight I should most certainly have plunged forward against the horses. We seemed to slide and slither down a steep declivity, then hit water with a splash, and began to flounder forward. The water rose high enough to cover the floor of the Invigorator, causing the Captain to speculate on whether Redmond had packed in the shells properly. Then the bow rose with a mighty jerk and we scrambled out the other side.
“That’s the upper ford on the Slough,” observed the Captain, calmly.
Everywhere else along the Slough, as I subsequently discovered, the banks fell off perpendicular, the water was deep, and the bottom soft. The approach was down no fenced lane, but across the open, with no other landmarks even in daylight than the break of low willows and cottonwoods exactly like a hundred others. Ten minutes later the Captain drew rein.
“Here you are,” said he, cautiously. “You can dump your stuff off right here. I can’t get through the fence with the team; but it’s only a short distance to carry.”