PART II. The Country of the Saints.
1. CHAPTER I. ON THE GREAT ALKALI PLAIN.
IN the central portion of the great North American Continent
there lies an arid and repulsive desert, which for many a
long year served as a barrier against the advance of
civilisation. From the Sierra Nevada to Nebraska, and from
the Yellowstone River in the north to the Colorado upon the
south, is a region of desolation and silence.
Nor is Nature always in one mood throughout this grim district.
It comprises snow-capped and lofty mountains, and dark and
gloomy valleys. There are swift-flowing rivers which dash
through jagged canons; and there are enormous plains, which
in winter are white with snow, and in summer are grey with
the saline alkali dust. They all preserve, however,
the common characteristics of barrenness, inhospitality,
There are no inhabitants of this land of despair. A band of
Pawnees or of Blackfeet may occasionally traverse it in order
to reach other hunting-grounds, but the hardiest of the
braves are glad to lose sight of those awesome plains, and to
find themselves once more upon their prairies. The coyote
skulks among the scrub, the buzzard flaps heavily through the
air, and the clumsy grizzly bear lumbers through the dark
ravines, and picks up such sustenance as it can amongst the
rocks. These are the sole dwellers in the wilderness.
In the whole world there can be no more dreary view than that
from the northern slope of the Sierra Blanco. As far as the
eye can reach stretches the great flat plain-land, all dusted
over with patches of alkali, and intersected by clumps of the
dwarfish chaparral bushes. On the extreme verge of the
horizon lie a long chain of mountain peaks, with their rugged
summits flecked with snow. In this great stretch of country
there is no sign of life, nor of anything appertaining to
life. There is no bird in the steel-blue heaven, no movement
upon the dull, grey earth -- above all, there is absolute
silence. Listen as one may, there is no shadow of a sound in
all that mighty wilderness; nothing but silence -- complete
and heart-subduing silence.