**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


The Inferno
by [?]

After this day the Tenderfoot went water-crazy. Watering the horses became almost a mania with him. He could not bear to pass even a mud-hole without offering the astonished Tunemah a chance to fill up, even though that animal had drunk freely not twenty rods back. As for himself, he embraced every opportunity; and journeyed draped in many canteens.

After that it was not so bad. The thermometer stood from a hundred to a hundred and five or six, to be sure, but we were getting used to it. Discomfort, ordinary physical discomfort, we came to accept as the normal environment of man. It is astonishing how soon uniformly uncomfortable conditions, by very lack of contrast, do lose their power to color the habit of mind. I imagine merely physical unhappiness is a matter more of contrasts than of actual circumstances. We swallowed dust; we humped our shoulders philosophically under the beating of the sun, we breathed the debris of high winds; we cooked anyhow, ate anything, spent long idle fly-infested hours waiting for the noon to pass; we slept in horse-corrals, in the trail, in the dust, behind stables, in hay, anywhere. There was little water, less wood for the cooking.

It is now all confused, an impression of events with out sequence, a mass of little prominent purposeless things like rock conglomerate. I remember leaning my elbows on a low window-ledge and watching a poker game going on in the room of a dive. The light came from a sickly suspended lamp. It fell on five players,–two miners in their shirt-sleeves, a Mexican, a tough youth with side-tilted derby hat, and a fat gorgeously dressed Chinaman. The men held their cards close to their bodies, and wagered in silence. Slowly and regularly the great drops of sweat gathered on their faces. As regularly they raised the backs of their hands to wipe them away. Only the Chinaman, broad-faced, calm, impassive as Buddha, save for a little crafty smile in one corner of his eye, seemed utterly unaffected by the heat, cool as autumn. His loose sleeve fell back from his forearm when he moved his hand forward, laying his bets. A jade bracelet slipped back and forth as smoothly as on yellow ivory.

Or again, one night when the plain was like a sea of liquid black, and the sky blazed with stars, we rode by a sheep-herder’s camp. The flicker of a fire threw a glow out into the dark. A tall wagon, a group of silhouetted men, three or four squatting dogs, were squarely within the circle of illumination. And outside, in the penumbra of shifting half light, now showing clearly, now fading into darkness, were the sheep, indeterminate in bulk, melting away by mysterious thousands into the mass of night. We passed them. They looked up, squinting their eyes against the dazzle of their fire. The night closed about us again.

Or still another: in the glare of broad noon, after a hot and trying day, a little inn kept by a French couple. And there, in the very middle of the Inferno, was served to us on clean scrubbed tables, a meal such as one gets in rural France, all complete, with the potage, the fish fried in oil, the wonderful ragout, the chicken and salad, the cheese and the black coffee, even the vin ordinaire. I have forgotten the name of the place, its location on the map, the name of its people,–one has little to do with detail in the Inferno,–but that dinner never will I forget, any more than the Tenderfoot will forget his first sight of water the day when the Desert “held us up.”

Once the brown veil lifted to the eastward. We, souls struggling, saw great mountains and the whiteness of eternal snow. That noon we crossed a river, hurrying down through the flat plain, and in its current came the body of a drowned bear-cub, an alien from the high country.