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In The Tules








From: Selected Stories

He had never seen a steamboat in his life. Born and reared in one of the
Western Territories, far from a navigable river, he had only known the
"dugout" or canoe as a means of conveyance across the scant streams
whose fordable waters made even those scarcely a necessity. The long,
narrow, hooded wagon, drawn by swaying oxen, known familiarly as
a "prairie schooner," in which he journeyed across the plains to
California in '53, did not help his conception by that nautical figure.
And when at last he dropped upon the land of promise through one of the
Southern mountain passes he halted all unconsciously upon the low banks
of a great yellow river amidst a tangled brake of strange, reed-like
grasses that were unknown to him. The river, broadening as it debouched
through many channels into a lordly bay, seemed to him the ULTIMA THULE
of his journeyings. Unyoking his oxen on the edge of the luxuriant
meadows which blended with scarcely any line of demarcation into the
great stream itself, he found the prospect "good" according to his
lights and prairial experiences, and, converting his halted wagon into a
temporary cabin, he resolved to rest here and "settle."

There was little difficulty in so doing. The cultivated clearings he had
passed were few and far between; the land would be his by discovery
and occupation; his habits of loneliness and self-reliance made him
independent of neighbors. He took his first meal in his new solitude
under a spreading willow, but so near his natural boundary that the
waters gurgled and oozed in the reeds but a few feet from him. The
sun sank, deepening the gold of the river until it might have been the
stream of Pactolus itself. But Martin Morse had no imagination; he was
not even a gold-seeker; he had simply obeyed the roving instincts of the
frontiersman in coming hither. The land was virgin and unoccupied; it
was his; he was alone. These questions settled, he smoked his pipe with
less concern over his three thousand miles' transference of habitation
than the man of cities who had moved into a next street. When the
sun sank, he rolled himself in his blankets in the wagon bed and went
quietly to sleep.

But he was presently awakened by something which at first he could
not determine to be a noise or an intangible sensation. It was a deep
throbbing throug