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WE seemed to be in a road, but that was no proof. We
tested this by walking off in various directions—the
regular snow-mounds and the regular avenues between them
convinced each man that he had found the true road, and that
the others had found only false ones. Plainly the situation
was desperate. We were cold and stiff and the horses were
tired. We decided to build a sage-brush fire and camp out till
morning. This was wise, because if we were wandering from
the right road and the snow-storm continued another day our
case would be the next thing to hopeless if we kept on.

All agreed that a camp fire was what would come nearest
to saving us, now, and so we set about building it. We
could find no matches, and so we tried to make shift with the
pistols. Not a man in the party had ever tried to do such a
thing before, but not a man in the party doubted that it could
be done, and without any trouble—because every man in the
party had read about it in books many a time and had naturally
come to believe it, with trusting simplicity, just as he had
long ago accepted and believed that other common book-fraud
about Indians and lost hunters making a fire by rubbing two
dry sticks together.

We huddled together on our knees in the deep snow,
and the horses put their noses together and bowed their
patient heads over us; and while the feathery flakes eddied
down and turned us into a group of white statuary, we proceeded
with the momentous experiment. We broke twigs


Page 233


[Description: 504EAF. Page 233. In-line image of three men crouching in the snow. One man is shooting another man in the knee.]
from a sage bush and piled them on a little cleared place
in the shelter of our bodies. In the course of ten or fifteen
minutes all was ready, and then, while conversation ceased
and our pulses beat low with anxious suspense, Ollendorff
applied his revolver, pulled the trigger and blew the pile
clear out of the county! It was the flattest failure that ever

This was distressing, but it paled before a greater horror—
the horses were gone! I had been appointed to hold the
bridles, but in my absorbing anxiety over the pistol experiment
I had unconsciously dropped them and the released
animals had walked off in the storm. It was useless to try to
follow them, for their footfalls could make no sound, and one
could pass within two yards of the creatures and never see
them. We gave them up without an effort at recovering
them, and cursed the lying books that said horses would stay


Page 234
by their masters for protection and companionship in a distressful
time like ours.

We were miserable enough, before; we felt still more
forlorn, now. Patiently, but with blighted hope, we broke
more sticks and piled them, and once more the Prussian shot
them into annihilation. Plainly, to light a fire with a pistol
was an art requiring practice and experience, and the middle
of a desert at midnight in a snow-storm was not a good
place or time for the acquiring of the accomplishment. We
gave it up and tried the other. Each man took a couple of
sticks and fell to chafing them together. At the end of half
an hour we were thoroughly chilled, and so were the sticks.
We bitterly execrated the Indians, the hunters and the books
that had betrayed us with the silly device, and wondered dismally
what was next to be done. At this critical moment
Mr. Ballou fished out four matches from the rubbish of an
overlooked pocket. To have found four gold bars would have
seemed poor and cheap good luck compared to this. One
cannot think how
good a match looks
under such circumstances—or

how lovable and
precious, and sacredly
beautiful to
the eye. This time
we gathered sticks
with high hopes;
and when Mr. Ballou
prepared to
light the first
match, there was
an amount of interest
centred upon him that pages of writing could not
describe. The match burned hopefully a moment, and then
went out. It could not have carried more regret with it if it
had been a human life. The next match simply flashed and


Page 235
died. The wind puffed the third one out just as it was on
the imminent verge of success. We gathered together closer
than ever, and developed a solicitude that was rapt and painful,
as Mr. Ballou scratched our last hope on his leg. It lit,
burned blue and sickly, and then budded into a robust flame.
Shading it with his hands, the old gentleman bent gradually
down and every heart went with him—everybody, too, for that
matter—and blood and breath stood still. The flame touched
the sticks at last, took gradual hold upon them—hesitated—
took a stronger hold—hesitated again—held its breath five
heart-breaking seconds, then gave a sort of human gasp and
went out.

Nobody said a word for several minutes. It was a solemn
sort of silence; even the wind put on a stealthy, sinister quiet,
and made no more noise than the falling flakes of snow.
Finally a sad-voiced conversation began, and it was soon
apparent that in each of our hearts lay the conviction that this
was our last night with the living. I had so hoped that I was
the only one who felt so. When the others calmly acknowledged
their conviction, it sounded like the summons itself.
Ollendorff said:

“Brothers, let us die together. And let us go without one
hard feeling towards each other. Let us forget and forgive
bygones. I know that you have felt hard towards me for turning
over the canoe, and for knowing too much and leading you
round and round in the snow—but I meant well; forgive me.
I acknowledge freely that I have had hard feelings against Mr.
Ballou for abusing me and calling me a logarythm, which is a
thing I do not know what, but no doubt a thing considered
disgraceful and unbecoming in America, and it has scarcely
been out of my mind and has hurt me a great deal—but let
it go; I forgive Mr. Ballou with all my heart, and—”

Poor Ollendorff broke down and the tears came. He was
not alone, for I was crying too, and so was Mr. Ballou.
Ollendorff got his voice again and forgave me for things I had
done and said. Then he got out his bottle of whisky and said
that whether he lived or died he would never touch another


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drop. He said he had given up all hope of life, and although
ill-prepared, was ready to submit humbly to his fate; that he
wished he could be spared a little longer, not for any selfish
reason, but to make a thorough reform in his character, and by
devoting himself to helping the poor, nursing the sick, and
pleading with the people to guard themselves against the
evils of intemperance, make his life a beneficent example to
the young, and lay it down at last with the precious reflection
that it had not been lived in vain. He ended by saying that
his reform should begin at this moment, even here in the
presence of death, since no longer time was to be vouchsafed
wherein to prosecute it to men's help and benefit—and with
that he threw away the bottle of whisky.

Mr. Ballou made remarks of similar purport, and began
the reform he could not live to continue, by throwing away
the ancient pack of cards that had solaced our captivity during
the flood and made it bearable. He said he never gambled, but
still was satisfied that the meddling with cards in any way was
immoral and injurious, and no
man could be wholly pure and
blemishless without eschewing
them. “And therefore,”
continued he, “in doing this
act I already feel more in
sympathy with that spiritual
saturnalia necessary to entire
and obsolete reform.” These
rolling syllables touched him
as no intelligible eloquence
could have done, and the old man sobbed with a mournfulness
not unmingled with satisfaction.

My own remarks were of the same tenor as those of
my comrades, and I know that the feelings that prompted
them were heartfelt and sincere. We were all sincere,
and all deeply moved and earnest, for we were in the presence
of death and without hope. I threw away my pipe,
and in doing it felt that at last I was free of a hated vice


Page 237
and one that had ridden me like a tyrant all my days. While
I yet talked, the thought of the good I might have done in
the world and the still greater good I might now do, with
these new incentives and higher and better aims to guide me
if I could only be spared a few years longer, overcame me
and the tears came again. We put our arms about each
other's necks and awaited the warning drowsiness that precedes
death by freezing.

It came stealing over us presently, and then we bade each
other a last farewell. A delicious dreaminess wrought its web
about my yielding senses, while the snow-flakes wove a winding
sheet about my conquered body. Oblivion came. The
battle of life was done.