[He returns to his cocktail.]


To civilization!


And when the horizon does resolve, when the curvature of the earth yields that final, tiny incremental degree along its maddeningly slow, spherical striptease, it reveals the most foreboding wall in the world: a chain of mountain chains that runs from the Arctic Circle to the Tierra del Fuego.


In 1494, two years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a pope drew a line through the Western Hemisphere called the Treaty of Tordesillas, effectively dividing the New World in two: half for Spain and half for Portugal. Today, we marvel that the fool couldn't see the meridian he picked scarcely went halfway through Brazil — a country my story will return to ere long.


However, after you cross the plains on horseback or behind a team of oxen, something you most likely will have neither the chance nor the desire to do, as the Transcontinental Railroad was completed just this past year (to the great dismay of buffalo everywhere, to say nothing of the Injuns), you would have felt an awe, a fear, a skeletal hand that reaches down your throat to grab your balls in such as way as to inform you that, yes, you will get over and around and through that wall and that, yes, you will learn that wall is nearly 1,000 miles thick.


[The fiddler makes some mildly shocked and annoyed expression at a breach of decorum and holds it as a sign that it needs to be rectified without stating what it is. Hastings may take his time appraising this expression before he finally reacts.]


Oh, yes, pardon my language, Dear Reader. Or, shall I say Dear Lady Reader.


Hmm. Lady Pie-oh-neeeer!


Does that not somehow strike the ear as incongruous? Or, allow me to rephrase: don’t it sound a bit funny? Well, it ought to because, my dear literate members of the gentle sex, allow me to tell it to you plainly: You will not stay ladies on this trail.


Surely, many a fair, cultured creature alighted from Missouri as a lady of great breeding might from the most handsome carriage, but I promise you she was a grunting, sweaty animal by the time she saw the Pacific Ocean.


Do not act alarmed! This is through no fault of her own nor is it an indictment of the character of her male companions and protectors. I, as leader of the California and Oregon pioneers of 1842, would rather have perished from exhaustion or fallen on my own axe before a lady in my party lifted a delicate finger from her delicate needlepoint.