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ABOUT seven o'clock one blistering hot morning—for it
was now dead summer time—Higbie and I took the
boat and started on a voyage of discovery to the two islands.
We had often longed to do this, but had been deterred by the
fear of storms; for they were frequent, and severe enough to
capsize an ordinary row-boat like ours without great difficulty
—and once capsized, death would ensue in spite of the bravest
swimming, for that venomous water would eat a man's eyes
out like fire, and burn him out inside, too, if he shipped a sea.
It was called twelve miles, straight out to the islands—a long
pull and a warm one—but the morning was so quiet and sunny,
and the lake so smooth and glassy and dead, that we could not
resist the temptation. So we filled two large tin canteens
with water (since we were not acquainted with the locality of
the spring said to exist on the large island), and started.
Higbie's brawny muscles gave the boat good speed, but by the
time we reached our destination we judged that we had pulled
nearer fifteen miles than twelve.

We landed on the big island and went ashore. We tried
the water in the canteens, now, and found that the sun had
spoiled it; it was so brackish that we could not drink it; so
we poured it out and began a search for the spring—for thirst
augments fast as soon as it is apparent that one has no means
at hand of quenching it. The island was a long, moderately
high hill of ashes—nothing but gray ashes and pumice-stone,
in which we sunk to our knees at every step—and all around


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the top was a forbidding wall of scorched and blasted rocks.
When we reached the top and got within the wall, we found
simply a shallow, far-reaching basin, carpeted with ashes, and
here and there a patch of fine sand. In places, picturesque
jets of steam shot up out of crevices, giving evidence that
although this ancient crater had gone out of active business,
there was still some fire left in its furnaces. Close to one of
these jets of steam stood the only tree on the island—a small
pine of most graceful shape and most faultless symmetry; its
color was a brilliant green, for the steam drifted unceasingly
through its branches and kept them always moist. It contrasted
strangely enough, did this vigorous and beautiful outcast,
with its dead and dismal surroundings. It was like a cheerful
spirit in a mourning

We hunted for
the spring everywhere,
the full length of
the island (two or
three miles), and
crossing it twice—
climbing ash-hills
patiently, and then
sliding down the
other side in a
sitting posture,
plowing up smothering
volumes of
gray dust. But we
found nothing but
solitude, ashes and
a heart-breaking
silence. Finally we noticed that the wind had risen, and we
forgot our thirst in a solicitude of greater importance; for,
the lake being quiet, we had not taken pains about securing
the boat. We hurried back to a point overlooking our


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landing place, and then — but mere words cannot describe
our dismay—the boat was gone! The chances were that
there was not another boat on the entire lake. The situation
was not comfortable—in truth, to speak plainly, it was
frightful. We were prisoners on a desolate island, in aggravating
proximity to friends who were for the present helpless
to aid us; and what was still more uncomfortable was
the reflection that we had neither food nor water. But presently
we sighted the boat. It was drifting along, leisurely,
about fifty yards from shore, tossing in a foamy sea. It
drifted, and continued to drift, but at the same safe distance
from land, and we walked along abreast it and waited
for fortune to favor us. At the end of an hour it approached
a jutting cape, and Higbie ran ahead and posted himself
on the utmost verge and prepared for the assault. If we
failed there, there was no hope for us. It was driving gradually
shoreward all the time, now; but whether it was driving
fast enough to make the connection or not was the momentous
question. When it got within thirty steps of Higbie
I was so excited that I fancied I could hear my own heart
beat. When, a little later, it dragged slowly along and
seemed about to go by, only one little yard out of reach, it
seemed as if my heart stood still; and when it was exactly
abreast him and began to widen away, and he still standing
like a watching statue, I knew my heart did stop. But when
he gave a great spring, the next instant, and lit fairly in the
stern, I discharged a war-whoop that woke the solitudes!

But it dulled my enthusiasm, presently, when he told me
he had not been caring whether the boat came within jumping
distance or not, so that it passed within eight or ten yards of
him, for he had made up his mind to shut his eyes and mouth
and swim that trifling distance. Imbecile that I was, I had not
thought of that. It was only a long swim that could be fatal.

The sea was running high and the storm increasing. It
was growing late, too—three or four in the afternoon.
Whether to venture toward the mainland or not, was a question
of some moment. But we were so distressed by thirst


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 273. In-line image of a man jumping up and down in a row boat, while another man looks on as he stands on a boulder.]
that we decided to try it, and so Higbie fell to work and I
took the steering-oar. When we had pulled a mile, laboriously,
we were evidently in serious peril, for the storm had greatly
augmented; the billows ran very high and were capped with
foaming crests, the heavens were hung with black, and the
wind blew with great fury. We would have gone back, now,
but we did not dare to turn the boat around, because as soon
as she got in the trough of the sea she would upset, of course.
Our only hope lay in keeping her head-on to the seas. It was
hard work to do this, she plunged so, and so beat and belabored
the billows with her rising and falling bows. Now and then
one of Higbie's oars would trip on the top of a wave, and the
other one would snatch the boat half around in spite of my
cumbersome steering apparatus. We were drenched by the
sprays constantly, and the boat occasionally shipped water.
By and by, powerful as my comrade was, his great exertions
began to tell on him, and he was anxious that I should change
places with him till he could rest a little. But I told him
this was impossible; for if the steering oar were dropped a


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moment while we changed, the boat would slue around into
the trough of the sea, capsize, and in less than five minutes we
would have a hundred gallons of soap-suds in us and be eaten
up so quickly that we could not even be present at our own

But things cannot last always. Just as the darkness shut
down we came booming into port, head on. Higbie dropped
his oars to hurrah—I dropped mine to help—the sea gave the
boat a twist, and over she went!

The agony that alkali water inflicts on bruises, chafes and
blistered hands, is unspeakable, and nothing but greasing all
over will modify it—but we ate, drank and slept well, that
night, notwithstanding.

In speaking of the peculiarities of Mono Lake, I ought to
have mentioned that at intervals all around its shores stand
picturesque turret-looking masses and clusters of a whitish,
coarse-grained rock that resembles inferior mortar dried hard;
and if one breaks off fragments of this rock he will find
perfectly shaped and thoroughly petrified gulls' eggs deeply
imbedded in the mass. How did they get there? I simply
state the fact—for it is a fact—and leave the geological reader
to crack the nut at his leisure and solve the problem after his
own fashion.

At the end of a week we adjourned to the Sierras on a
fishing excursion, and spent several days in camp under snowy
Castle Peak, and fished successfully for trout in a bright,
miniature lake whose surface was between ten and eleven
thousand feet above the level of the sea; cooling ourselves
during the hot August noons by sitting on snow banks ten feet
deep, under whose sheltering edges fine grass and dainty
flowers flourished luxuriously;
and at night entertaining
ourselves by almost freezing to death. Then we returned to
Mono Lake, and finding that the cement excitement was over
for the present, packed up and went back to Esmeralda. Mr.
Ballou reconnoitred awhile, and not liking the prospect, set
out alone for Humboldt.

About this time occurred a little incident which has always


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 275. In-line image of two men under a lean-to. There is an explosion to the left of the lean-to.]
had a sort of interest to me, from the fact that it came so near
“instigating” my funeral. At a time when an Indian attack
had been expected, the citizens hid their gunpowder where it
would be safe and yet convenient to hand when wanted. A
neighbor of ours hid six cans of rifle powder in the bake-oven
of an old discarded cooking stove which stood on the open
ground near a frame out-house or shed, and from and after
that day never thought of it again. We hired a half-tamed
Indian to do some washing for us, and he took up quarters
under the shed with his tub. The ancient stove reposed within
six feet of him, and before his face. Finally it occurred to
him that hot water would be better than cold, and he went
out and fired up under that forgotten powder magazine and
set on a kettle of water. Then he returned to his tub. I
entered the shed presently and threw down some more clothes,
and was about to speak to him when the stove blew up with a
prodigious crash, and disappeared, leaving not a splinter behind.
Fragments of it fell in the streets full two hundred
yards away. Nearly a third of the shed roof over our heads


Page 276
was destroyed, and one of the stove lids, after cutting a small
stanchion half in two in front of the Indian, whizzed between
us and drove partly through the weather-boarding beyond. I
was as white as a sheet and as weak as a kitten and speechless.
But the Indian betrayed no trepidation, no distress, not even
discomfort. He simply stopped washing, leaned forward and
surveyed the clean, blank ground a moment, and then remarked:

“Mph! Dam stove heap gone!”—and resumed his scrubbing
as placidly as if it were an entirely customary thing for a
stove to do. I will explain, that “heap” is “Injun-English”
for “very much.” The reader will perceive the exhaustive
expressiveness of it in the present instance.