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List Of Contents | Contents of In the Wilderness, by Charles Dudley Warner
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after year, I see them going by, watched by the red fox and the
comfortably clad sable, and grinned at by the black cat,--the
innocent, the vicious, the timid and the savage, the shy and the
bold, the chattering slanderer and the screaming prowler, the
industrious and the peaceful, the tree-top critic and the crawling
biter,--just as it is elsewhere.  It makes me blush for my species
when I think of it.  This charming society is nearly extinct now: of
the larger animals there only remain the bear, who minds his own
business more thoroughly than any person I know, and the deer, who
would like to be friendly with men, but whose winning face and gentle
ways are no protection from the savageness of man, and who is treated
with the same unpitying destruction as the snarling catamount.  I
have read in history that the amiable natives of Hispaniola fared no
better at the hands of the brutal Spaniards than the fierce and
warlike Caribs.  As society is at present constituted in Christian
countries, I would rather for my own security be a cougar than a

There is not much of romantic interest in the Adirondacks.  Out of
the books of daring travelers, nothing.  I do not know that the Keene
Valley has any history.  The mountains always stood here, and the Au
Sable, flowing now in shallows and now in rippling reaches over the
sands and pebbles, has for ages filled the air with continuous and
soothing sounds.  Before the Vermonters broke into it some three-
quarters of a century ago, and made meadows of its bottoms and sugar-
camps of its fringing woods, I suppose the red Indian lived here in
his usual discomfort, and was as restless as his successors, the
summer boarders.  But the streams were full of trout then, and the
moose and the elk left their broad tracks on the sands of the river.
But of the Indian there is no trace.  There is a mound in the valley,
much like a Tel in the country of Bashan beyond the Jordan, that may
have been built by some pre-historic race, and may contain treasure
and the seated figure of a preserved chieftain on his slow way to
Paradise.  What the gentle and accomplished race of the Mound-
Builders should want in this savage region where the frost kills the
early potatoes and stunts the scanty oats, I do not know.  I have
seen no trace of them, except this Tel, and one other slight relic,
which came to light last summer, and is not enough to found the
history of a race upon.

Some workingmen, getting stone from the hillside on one of the little
plateaus, for a house-cellar, discovered, partly embedded, a piece of
pottery unique in this region.  With the unerring instinct of workmen
in regard to antiquities, they thrust a crowbar through it, and broke
the bowl into several pieces.  The joint fragments, however, give us
the form of the dish.  It is a bowl about nine inches high and eight
inches across, made of red clay, baked but not glazed.  The bottom is
round, the top flares into four comers, and the rim is rudely but
rather artistically ornamented with criss-cross scratches made when
the clay was soft.  The vessel is made of clay not found about here,
and it is one that the Indians formerly living here could not form.
Was it brought here by roving Indians who may have made an expedition
to the Ohio; was it passed from tribe to tribe; or did it belong to a
race that occupied the country before the Indian, and who have left
traces of their civilized skill in pottery scattered all over the
continent ?

If I could establish the fact that this jar was made by a prehistoric
race, we should then have four generations in this lovely valley:-the
amiable Pre-Historic people (whose gentle descendants were probably
killed by the Spaniards in the West Indies); the Red Indians; the
Keene Flaters (from Vermont); and the Summer Boarders, to say nothing
of the various races of animals who have been unable to live here
since the advent of the Summer Boarders, the valley being not
productive enough to sustain both.  This last incursion has been more
destructive to the noble serenity of the forest than all the

But we are wandering from Hunter's Pass.  The western walls of it are
formed by the precipices of Nipple Top, not so striking nor so bare
as the great slides of Dix which glisten in the sun like silver, but
rough and repelling, and consequently alluring.  I have a great
desire to scale them.  I have always had an unreasonable wish to
explore the rough summit of this crabbed hill, which is too broken
and jagged for pleasure and not high enough for glory.  This desire
was stimulated by a legend related by our guide that night in the Mud
Pond cabin.  The guide had never been through the pass before;
although he was familiar with the region, and had ascended Nipple Top
in the winter in pursuit of the sable.  The story he told doesn't
amount to much, none of the guides' stories do, faithfully reported,
and I should not have believed it if I had not had a good deal of
leisure on my hands at the time, and been of a willing mind, and I
may say in rather of a starved condition as to any romance in this

The guide said then--and he mentioned it casually, in reply to our
inquiries about ascending the mountain--that there was a cave high up
among the precipices on the southeast side of Nipple Top.  He
scarcely volunteered the information, and with seeming reluctance
gave us any particulars about it.  I always admire this art by which
the accomplished story-teller lets his listener drag the reluctant
tale of the marvelous from him, and makes you in a manner responsible
for its improbability.  If this is well managed, the listener is
always eager to believe a great deal more than the romancer seems
willing to tell, and always resents the assumed reservations and
doubts of the latter.

There were strange reports about this cave when the old guide was a
boy, and even then its very existence had become legendary.  Nobody
knew exactly where it was, but there was no doubt that it had been
inhabited.  Hunters in the forests south of Dix had seen a light late
at night twinkling through the trees high up the mountain, and now
and then a ruddy glare as from the flaring-up of a furnace.  Settlers
were few in the wilderness then, and all the inhabitants were well
known.  If the cave was inhabited, it must be by strangers, and by
men who had some secret purpose in seeking this seclusion and eluding
observation.  If suspicious characters were seen about Port Henry, or
if any such landed from the steamers on the shore of Lake Champlain,
it was impossible to identify them with these invaders who were never
seen.  Their not being seen did not, however, prevent the growth of
the belief in their existence.  Little indications and rumors, each
trivial in itself, became a mass of testimony that could not be
disposed of because of its very indefiniteness, but which appealed
strongly to man's noblest faculty, his imagination, or credulity.

The cave existed; and it was inhabited by men who came and went on
mysterious errands, and transacted their business by night.  What
this band of adventurers or desperadoes lived on, how they conveyed
their food through the trackless woods to their high eyrie, and what
could induce men to seek such a retreat, were questions discussed,
but never settled.  They might be banditti; but there was nothing to
plunder in these savage wilds, and, in fact, robberies and raids
either in the settlements of the hills or the distant lake shore were
unknown.  In another age, these might have been hermits, holy men who
had retired from the world to feed the vanity of their godliness in a
spot where they were subject neither to interruption nor comparison;
they would have had a shrine in the cave, and an image of the Blessed
Virgin, with a lamp always burning before it and sending out its
mellow light over the savage waste.  A more probable notion was that
they were romantic Frenchmen who had grow weary of vice and
refinement together,--possibly princes, expectants of the throne,
Bourbon remainders, named Williams or otherwise, unhatched eggs, so
to speak, of kings, who had withdrawn out of observation to wait for
the next turn-over in Paris.  Frenchmen do such things.  If they were
not Frenchmen, they might be honest-thieves or criminals, escaped
from justice or from the friendly state-prison of New York.  This
last supposition was, however, more violent than the others, or seems
so to us in this day of grace.  For what well-brought-up New York
criminal would be so insane as to run away from his political friends
the keepers, from the easily had companionship of his pals outside,
and from the society of his criminal lawyer, and, in short, to put
himself into the depths of a wilderness out of which escape, when
escape was desired, is a good deal more difficult than it is out of
the swarming jails of the Empire State?  Besides, how foolish for a
man, if he were a really hardened and professional criminal, having
established connections and a regular business, to run away from the
governor's pardon, which might have difficulty in finding him in the
craggy bosom of Nipple Top!

This gang of men--there is some doubt whether they were accompanied
by women--gave little evidence in their appearance of being escaped
criminals or expectant kings.  Their movements were mysterious but
not necessarily violent.  If their occupation could have been
discovered, that would have furnished a clew to their true character.
But about this the strangers were as close as mice.  If anything
could betray them, it was the steady light from the cavern, and its
occasional ruddy flashing.  This gave rise to the opinion, which was
strengthened by a good many indications equally conclusive, that the
cave was the resort of a gang of coiners and counterfeiters.  Here
they had their furnace, smelting-pots, and dies; here they
manufactured those spurious quarters and halves that their
confidants, who were pardoned, were circulating, and which a few
honest men were "nailing to the counter."

This prosaic explanation of a romantic situation satisfies all the

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