List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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accomplishment is, for between the Tennessee line and Asheville,
North Carolina, there is scarcely a mile of trotting-ground.

We soon turned southward and descended into the Holston River Valley.
Beyond lay the Tennessee hills and conspicuous White-Top Mountain
(5530 feet), which has a good deal of local celebrity (standing where
the States of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina corner), and
had been pointed out to us at Abingdon.  We had been urged,
personally and by letter, to ascend this mountain, without fail.
People recommend mountains to their friends as they do patent
medicines.  As we leisurely jogged along we discussed this, and
endeavored to arrive at some rule of conduct for the journey.  The
Professor expressed at once a feeling about mountain-climbing that
amounted to hostility,--he would go nowhere that he could not ride.
Climbing was the most unsatisfactory use to which a mountain could be
put.  As to White-Top, it was a small mountain, and not worth
ascending.  The Friend of Humanity, who believes in mountain-climbing
as a theory, and for other people, and knows the value of being able
to say, without detection, that he has ascended any high mountain
about which he is questioned,--since this question is the first one
asked about an exploration in a new country,--saw that he should have
to use a good deal of diplomacy to get the Professor over any
considerable elevation on the trip.  And he had to confess also that
a view from a mountain is never so satisfactory as a view of a
mountain, from a moderate height.  The Professor, however, did not
argue the matter on any such reasonable ground, but took his stand on
his right as a man not to ascend a mountain.  With this appeal to
first principles,--a position that could not be confuted on account
of its vagueness (although it might probably be demonstrated that in
society man has no such right), there was no way of agreement except
by a compromise.  It was accordingly agreed that no mountain under
six thousand feet is worth ascending; that disposed of White-Top.  It
was further agreed that any mountain that is over six thousand feet
high is too high to ascend on foot.

With this amicable adjustment we forded the Holston, crossing it
twice within a few miles.  This upper branch of the Tennessee is a
noble stream, broad, with a rocky bed and a swift current.  Fording
it is ticklish business except at comparatively low water, and as it
is subject to sudden rises, there must be times when it seriously
interrupts travel.  This whole region, full of swift streams, is
without a bridge, and, as a consequence, getting over rivers and
brooks and the dangers of ferries occupy a prominent place in the
thoughts of the inhabitants.  The life necessarily had the "frontier"
quality all through, for there can be little solid advance in
civilization in the uncertainties of a bridgeless condition.  An
open, pleasant valley, the Holston, but cultivation is more and more
negligent and houses are few and poorer as we advance.

We had left behind the hotels of "perfect satisfaction," and expected
to live on the country, trusting to the infrequent but remunerated
hospitality of the widely scattered inhabitants.  We were to dine at
Ramsey's.  Ramsey's had been recommended to us as a royal place of
entertainment the best in all that region; and as the sun grew hot in
the sandy valley, and the weariness of noon fell upon us, we
magnified Ramsey's in our imagination,--the nobility of its
situation, its cuisine, its inviting restfulness,--and half decided
to pass the night there in the true abandon of plantation life.  Long
before we reached it, the Holston River which we followed had become
the Laurel, a most lovely, rocky, winding stream, which we forded
continually, for the valley became too narrow much of the way to
accommodate a road and a river.  Eagerly as we were looking out for
it, we passed the great Ramsey's without knowing it, for it was the
first of a little settlement of two houses and a saw-mill and barn.
It was a neat log house of two lower rooms and a summer kitchen,
quite the best of the class that we saw, and the pleasant mistress of
it made us welcome.  Across the road and close, to the Laurel was the
spring-house, the invariable adjunct to every well-to-do house in the
region, and on the stony margin of the stream was set up the big
caldron for the family washing; and here, paddling in the shallow
stream, while dinner was preparing, we established an intimacy with
the children and exchanged philosophical observations on life with
the old negress who was dabbling the clothes.  What impressed this
woman was the inequality in life.  She jumped to the unwarranted
conclusion that the Professor and the Friend were very rich, and
spoke with asperity of the difficulty she experienced in getting
shoes and tobacco.  It was useless to point out to her that her
alfresco life was singularly blessed and free from care, and the
happy lot of any one who could loiter all day by this laughing
stream, undisturbed by debt or ambition.  Everybody about the place
was barefooted, except the mistress, including the comely daughter of
eighteen, who served our dinner in the kitchen.  The dinner was
abundant, and though it seemed to us incongruous at the time, we were
not twelve hours older when we looked back upon it with longing.  On
the table were hot biscuit, ham, pork, and green beans, apple-sauce,
blackberry preserves, cucumbers, coffee, plenty of milk, honey, and
apple and blackberry pie.  Here we had our first experience, and I
may say new sensation, of "honey on pie." It has a cloying sound as
it is written, but the handmaiden recommended it with enthusiasm, and
we evidently fell in her esteem, as persons from an uncultivated
society, when we declared our inexperience of "honey on pie."  "Where
be you from?"  It turned out to be very good, and we have tried to
introduce it in families since our return, with indifferent success.
There did not seem to be in this family much curiosity about the
world at large, nor much stir of social life.  The gayety of madame
appeared to consist in an occasional visit to paw and maw and
grandmaw, up the river a few miles, where she was raised.

Refreshed by the honey and fodder at Ramsey's, the pilgrims went
gayly along the musical Laurel, in the slanting rays of the afternoon
sun, which played upon the rapids and illumined all the woody way.
Inspired by the misapprehension of the colored philosopher and the
dainties of the dinner, the Professor soliloquized:

    "So am I as the rich, whose blessed key
     Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
     The which he will not every hour survey,
     For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
     Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
     Since seldom coming, in the long year set,
     Like stones of wealth they thinly placed are,
     Or captain jewels in the carcanet."

Five miles beyond Ramsey's the Tennessee line was crossed.  The
Laurel became more rocky, swift, full of rapids, and the valley
narrowed down to the riverway, with standing room, however, for
stately trees along the banks.  The oaks, both black and white, were,
as they had been all day, gigantic in size and splendid in foliage.
There is a certain dignity in riding in such stately company, and the
travelers clattered along over the stony road under the impression of
possible high adventure in a new world of such freshness.  Nor was
beauty wanting.  The rhododendrons had, perhaps, a week ago reached
their climax, and now began to strew the water and the ground with
their brilliant petals, dashing all the way with color; but they were
still matchlessly beautiful.  Great banks of pink and white covered
the steep hillsides; the bending stems, ten to twenty feet high, hung
their rich clusters over the river; avenues of glory opened away in
the glade of the stream; and at every turn of the winding way vistas
glowing with the hues of romance wrenched exclamations of delight and
wonder from the Shakespearean sonneteer and his humble Friend.  In
the deep recesses of the forest suddenly flamed to the view, like the
splashes of splendor on the somber canvas of an old Venetian, these
wonders of color,--the glowing summer-heart of the woods.

It was difficult to say, meantime, whether the road was laid out in
the river, or the river in the road.  In the few miles to Egger's
(this was the destination of our great expectations for the night)
the stream was crossed twenty-seven times,--or perhaps it would be
more proper to say that the road was crossed twenty-seven times.
Where the road did not run in the river, its bed was washed out and
as stony as the bed of the stream.  This is a general and accurate
description of all the roads in this region, which wind along and in
the streams, through narrow valleys, shut in by low and steep hills.
The country is full of springs and streams, and between Abingdon and
Egger's is only one (small) bridge.  In a region with scarcely any
level land or intervale, farmers are at a disadvantage.  All along
the road we saw nothing but mean shanties, generally of logs, with
now and then a decent one-story frame, and the people looked
miserably poor.

As we picked our way along up the Laurel, obliged for the most part
to ride single-file, or as the Professor expressed it,

    "Let me confess that we two must be twain,
     Although our undivided loves are one,"

we gathered information about Egger's from the infrequent hovels on
the road, which inflamed our imaginations.  Egger was the thriving
man of the region, and lived in style in a big brick house.  We began
to feel a doubt that Egger would take us in, and so much did his
brick magnificence impress us that we regretted we had not brought
apparel fit for the society we were about to enter.

It was half-past six, and we were tired and hungry, when the domain
of Egger towered in sight,--a gaunt, two-story structure of raw
brick, unfinished, standing in a narrow intervale.  We rode up to the
gate, and asked a man who sat in the front-door porch if this was

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