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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




AFTER leaving the Sink, we traveled along the Humboldt
river a little way. People accustomed to the monster
mile-wide Mississippi, grow accustomed to associating the
term “river” with a high degree of watery grandeur.
Consequently, such people feel rather disappointed when they
stand on the shores of the Humboldt or the Carson and find
that a “river” in Nevada is a sickly rivulet which is just
the counterpart of the Erie canal in all respects save that
the canal is twice as long and four times as deep. One of
the pleasantest and most invigorating exercises one can contrive
is to run and jump across the Humboldt river till he is
overheated, and then drink it dry.

On the fifteenth day we completed our march of two
hundred miles and entered Unionville, Humboldt county, in
the midst of a driving snow-storm. Unionville consisted
of eleven cabins and a liberty-pole. Six of the cabins were
strung along one side of a deep canyon, and the other five
faced them. The rest of the landscape was made up of bleak
mountain walls that rose so high into the sky from both
sides of the canyon that the village was left, as it were, far
down in the bottom of a crevice. It was always daylight on
the mountain tops a long time before the darkness lifted and
revealed Unionville.

We built a small, rude cabin in the side of the crevice and
roofed it with canvas, leaving a corner open to serve as a
chimney, through which the cattle used to tumble occasionally,


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at night, and mash our furniture and interrupt our sleep. It
was very cold weather and fuel was scarce. Indians brought
brush and bushes several miles on their backs; and when we
could catch a laden Indian it was well—and when we could
not (which was the rule, not the exception), we shivered and
bore it.

I confess, without shame, that I expected to find masses
of silver lying all about the ground. I expected to see it
glittering in the sun on the mountain summits. I said
nothing about this, for some instinct told me that I
might possibly have an exaggerated idea about it, and so
if I betrayed my thought I might bring derision upon
myself. Yet I was as perfectly satisfied in my own mind
as I could be of anything, that I was going to gather up, in
a day or two, or at furthest a week or two, silver enough
to make me satisfactorily wealthy—and so my fancy was
already busy with plans for spending this money. The first
opportunity that offered, I sauntered carelessly away from the
cabin, keeping an eye on the other boys, and stopping and
contemplating the sky when they seemed to be observing me;
but as soon as the coast was manifestly clear, I fled away as
guiltily as a thief might have done and never halted till I was
far beyond sight and call. Then I began my search with
a feverish excitement that was brimful of expectation—almost
of certainty. I crawled about the ground, seizing and examining
bits of stone, blowing the dust from them or rubbing
them on my clothes, and then peering at them with anxious
hope. Presently I found a bright fragment and my heart
bounded! I hid behind a boulder and polished it and serutinized
it with a nervous eagerness and a delight that was more
pronounced than absolute certainty itself could have afforded.
The more I examined the fragment the more I was convinced
that I had found the door to fortune. I marked the spot and
carried away my specimen. Up and down the rugged mountain
side I searched, with always increasing interest and
always augmenting gratitude that I had come to Humboldt
and come in time. Of all the experiences of my life, this


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 205. In-line image of a man next to a boulder inspecting an item in his hand.]
secret search among the hidden treasures of silver-land was
the nearest to unmarred ecstasy. It was a delirious revel.
By and by, in the bed of a shallow rivulet, I found a deposit
of shining
yellow scales, and
my breath almost
forsook me! A
gold mine, and
in my simplicity
I had been content
with vulgar
silver! I was so
excited that I
half believed my
overwrought imagination
was deceiving
me. Then
a fear came upon
me that people
might be observing
me and would
guess my secret.
Moved by this thought, I made a circuit of the place, and
ascended a knoll to reconnoiter. Solitude. No creature was
near. Then I returned to my mine, fortifying myself against
possible disappointment, but my fears were groundless—the
shining scales were still there. I set about scooping them out,
and for an hour I toiled down the windings of the stream
and robbed its bed. But at last the descending sun warned
me to give up the quest, and I turned homeward laden with
wealth. As I walked along I could not help smiling at the
thought of my being so excited over my fragment of silver
when a nobler metal was almost under my nose. In this little
time the former had so fallen in my estimation that once or
twice I was on the point of throwing it away.

The boys were as hungry as usual, but I could eat nothing.
Neither could I talk. I was full of dreams and far away.


Page 206
Their conversation interrupted the flow of my fancy somewhat,
and annoyed me a little, too. I despised the sordid and
commonplace things they talked about. But as they proceeded,
it began to amuse me. It grew to be rare fun to hear them
planning their poor little economies and sighing over possible
privations and distresses when a gold mine, all our own, lay
within sight of the cabin and I could point it out at any
moment. Smothered hilarity began to oppress me, presently.
It was hard to resist the impulse to burst out with exultation
and reveal everything; but I did resist. I said within myself
that I would filter the great news through my lips calmly and
be serene as a summer morning while I watched its effect in
their faces. I said:

“Where have you all been?”


“What did you find?”


“Nothing? What do you think of the country?”

“Can't tell, yet,” said Mr. Ballou, who was an old gold
miner, and had likewise had considerable experience among
the silver mines.

“Well, haven't you formed any sort of opinion?”

“Yes, a sort of a one. It's fair enough here, may be, but
overrated. Seven thousand dollar ledges are scarce, though.
That Sheba may be rich enough, but we don't own it; and
besides, the rock is so full of base metals that all the science
in the world can't work it. We'll not starve, here, but we'll
not get rich, I'm afraid.”

“So you think the prospect is pretty poor?”

“No name for it!”

“Well, we'd better go back, hadn't we?”

“Oh, not yet—of course not. We'll try it a riffle, first.”

“Suppose, now—this is merely a supposition, you know—
suppose you could find a ledge that would yield, say, a
hundred and fifty dollars a ton—would that satisfy you?”

“Try us once!” from the whole party.

“Or suppose—merely a supposition, of course—suppose


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 207. In-line image of four men sitting around a table talking. In the center of the table is a candlestick.]
you were to find a ledge that would yield two thousand
dollars a ton—would that satisfy you?”

“Here—what do you mean? What are you coming at?
Is there some mystery behind all this?”

“Never mind. I am not saying anything. You know
perfectly well there are no rich mines here—of course you do.
Because you have been around and examined for yourselves.
Anybody would know that, that had been around. But
just for the sake of argument, suppose—in a kind of general
way—suppose some person were to tell you that two-thousand-dollar
ledges were simply contemptible—contemptible, understand—and
that right yonder in sight of this very cabin there
were piles of pure gold and pure silver—oceans of it—enough
to make you all rich in twenty-four hours! Come!”

“I should say he was as crazy as a loon!” said old Ballou,
but wild with excitement, nevertheless.

“Gentlemen,” said I, “I don't say anything—I haven't


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been around, you know, and of course don't know anything—
but all I ask of you is to cast your eye on that, for instance,
and tell me what you think of it!” and I tossed my treasure
before them.

There was an eager scramble for it, and a closing of heads
together over it under the candle-light. Then old Ballou

“Think of it? I think it is nothing but a lot of granite
rubbish and nasty glittering mica that isn't worth ten cents
an acre!”

So vanished my dream. So melted my wealth away. So
toppled my airy castle to the earth and left me stricken and

Moralizing, I observed, then, that “all that glitters is not

Mr. Ballou said I could go further than that, and lay it
up among my treasures of knowledge, that nothing that glitters
is gold. So I learned then, once for all, that gold in its
native state is but dull, unornamental stuff, and that only lowborn
metals excite the admiration of the ignorant with an
ostentatious glitter. However, like the rest of the world, I
still go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of
mica. Commonplace human nature cannot rise above that.