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List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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westward way, with ox-goad pointing to the sky:

   "'He's leaving on the pictured rock
     His fresh tobacco stain.'

"To my mind the incident has Homeric elements.  The Greeks would have
looked at it in a large, legendary way.  Here is Helen, strong and
lithe of limb, ox-eyed, courageous, but woman-hearted and love-
inspiring, contended for by all the braves and daring moonshiners of
Cut Laurel Gap, pursued by the gallants of two States, the prize of a
border warfare of bowie knives and revolvers.  This Helen,
magnanimous as attractive, is the witness of a pistol difficulty on
her behalf, and when wanted by the areopagus, that she may neither
implicate a lover nor punish an enemy (having nothing, this noble
type of her sex against nobody), skips away to Mount Ida, and there,
under the aegis of the flag of her country, in a Licensed Distillery,
stands with one slender foot in Tennessee and the other in North
Carolina"

"Like the figure of the Republic itself, superior to state
sovereignty," interposed the Friend.

"I beg your pardon," said the Professor, urging up Laura Matilda (for
so he called the nervous mare, who fretted herself into a fever in
the stony path), "I was quite able to get the woman out of that
position without the aid of a metaphor.  It is a large and Greek
idea, that of standing in two mighty States, superior to the law,
looking east and looking west, ready to transfer her agile body to
either State on the approach of messengers of the court; and I'll be
hanged if I didn't think that her nonchalant rumination of the weed,
combined with her lofty moral attitude, added something to the
picture."

The Friend said that he was quite willing to join in the extremest
defense of the privileges of beauty,--that he even held in abeyance
judgment on the practice of dipping; but when it came to chewing, gum
was as far as he could go as an allowance for the fair sex.

    "When I consider everything that grows
     Holds in perfection but a little moment..."

The rest of the stanza was lost, for the Professor was splashing
through the stream.  No sooner had we descended than the fording of
streams began again.  The Friend had been obliged to stipulate that
the Professor should go ahead at these crossings, to keep the
impetuous nag of the latter from throwing half the contents of the
stream upon his slower and uncomplaining companion.

What a lovely country, but for the heat of noon and the long
wearisomeness of the way!--not that the distance was great, but miles
and miles more than expected.  How charming the open glades of the
river, how refreshing the great forests of oak and chestnut, and what
a panorama of beauty the banks of rhododendrons, now intermingled
with the lighter pink and white of the laurel!  In this region the
rhododendron is called laurel and the laurel (the sheep-laurel of
New England) is called ivy.

At Worth's, well on in the afternoon, we emerged into a wide, open
farming intervale, a pleasant place of meadows and streams and decent
dwellings.  Worth's is the trading center of the region, has a post
office and a saw-mill and a big country store; and the dwelling of
the proprietor is not unlike a roomy New England country house.
Worth's has been immemorially a stopping-place in a region where
places of accommodation are few.  The proprietor, now an elderly man,
whose reminiscences are long ante bellum, has seen the world grow up
about him, he the honored, just center of it, and a family come up
into the modern notions of life, with a boarding-school education and
glimpses of city life and foreign travel.  I fancy that nothing but
tradition and a remaining Southern hospitality could induce this
private family to suffer the incursions of this wayfaring man.  Our
travelers are not apt to be surprised at anything in American life,
but they did not expect to find a house in this region with two
pianos and a bevy of young ladies, whose clothes were certainly not
made on Cut Laurel Gap, and to read in the books scattered about the
house the evidences of the finishing schools with which our country
is blessed, nor to find here pupils of the Stonewall Jackson
Institute at Abingdon.  With a flush of local pride, the Professor
took up, in the roomy, pleasant chamber set apart for the guests, a
copy of Porter's "Elements of Moral Science."

"Where you see the 'Elements of Moral Science,'" the Friend
generalized, "there'll be plenty of water and towels;" and the sign
did not fail.  The friends intended to read this book in the cool of
the day; but as they sat on the long veranda, the voice of a maiden
reading the latest novel to a sewing group behind the blinds in the
drawing-room; and the antics of a mule and a boy in front of the
store opposite; and the arrival of a spruce young man, who had just
ridden over from somewhere, a matter of ten miles' gallop, to get a
medicinal potion for his sick mother, and lingered chatting with the
young ladies until we began to fear that his mother would recover
before his return; the coming and going of lean women in shackly
wagons to trade at the store; the coming home of the cows, splashing
through the stream, hooking right and left, and lowing for the hand
of the milker,--all these interruptions, together with the generally
drowsy quiet of the approach of evening, interfered with the study of
the Elements.  And when the travelers, after a refreshing rest, went
on their way next morning, considering the Elements and the pianos
and the refinement, to say nothing of the cuisine, which is not
treated of in the text-book referred to, they were content with a
bill double that of brother Egger, in his brick magnificence.

The simple truth is, that the traveler in this region must be content
to feed on natural beauties.  And it is an unfortunate truth in
natural history that the appetite for this sort of diet fails after a
time, if the inner man is not supplied with other sort of food.
There is no landscape in the world that is agreeable after two days
of rusty-bacon and slack biscuit.

"How lovely this would be," exclaimed the Professor, if it had a
background of beefsteak and coffee!

We were riding along the west fork of the Laurel, distinguished
locally as Three Top Creek,--or, rather, we were riding in it,
crossing it thirty-one times within six miles; a charming wood (and
water) road, under the shade of fine trees with the rhododendron
illuminating the way, gleaming in the forest and reflected in the
stream, all the ten miles to Elk Cross Roads, our next destination.
We had heard a great deal about Elk Cross Roads; it was on the map,
it was down in the itinerary furnished by a member of the Coast
Survey.  We looked forward to it as a sweet place of repose from the
noontide heat.  Alas!  Elk Cross Roads is a dirty grocery store,
encumbered with dry-goods boxes, fly-blown goods, flies, loafers.  In
reply to our inquiry we were told that they had nothing to eat, for
us, and not a grain of feed for the horses.  But there was a man a
mile farther on, who was well to do and had stores of food,--old man
Tatern would treat us in bang-up style.  The difficulty of getting
feed for the horses was chronic all through the journey.  The last
corn crop had failed, the new oats and corn had not come in, and the
country was literally barren.  We had noticed all along that the hens
were taking a vacation, and that chickens were not put forward as an
article of diet.

We were unable, when we reached the residence of old man Tatem, to
imagine how the local superstition of his wealth arose.  His house is
of logs, with two rooms, a kitchen and a spare room, with a low loft
accessible by a ladder at the side of the chimney.  The chimney is a
huge construction of stone, separating the two parts of the house; in
fact, the chimney was built first, apparently, and the two rooms were
then built against it.  The proprietor sat in a little railed
veranda.  These Southern verandas give an air to the meanest
dwelling, and they are much used; the family sit here, and here are
the washbasin and pail (which is filled from the neighboring spring-
house), and the row of milk-pans.  The old man Tatern did not welcome
us with enthusiasm; he had no corn,--these were hard times.  He
looked like hard times, grizzled times, dirty times.  It seemed time
out of mind since he had seen comb or razor, and although the lovely
New River, along which we had ridden to his house,--a broad, inviting
stream,--was in sight across the meadow, there was no evidence that
he had ever made acquaintance with its cleansing waters.  As to corn,
the necessities of the case and pay being dwelt on, perhaps he could
find a dozen ears.  A dozen small cars he did find, and we trust that
the horses found them.

We took a family dinner with old man Tatern in the kitchen, where
there was a bed and a stove,--a meal that the host seemed to enjoy,
but which we could not make much of, except the milk; that was good.
A painful meal, on the whole, owing to the presence in the room of a
grown-up daughter with a graveyard cough, without physician or
medicine, or comforts.  Poor girl! just dying of "a misery."

In the spare room were two beds; the walls were decorated with the
gay-colored pictures of patent-medicine advertisements--a favorite
art adornment of the region; and a pile of ancient illustrated papers
with the usual patent-office report, the thoughtful gift of the
member for the district.  The old man takes in the "Blue Ridge
Baptist," a journal which we found largely taken up with the
experiences of its editor on his journeys roundabout in search of
subscribers.  This newspaper was the sole communication of the family
with the world at large, but the old man thought he should stop it,--
he did n't seem to get the worth of his money out of it.  And old man
Tatem was a thrifty and provident man.  On the hearth in this best
room--as ornaments or memento mori were a couple of marble
gravestones, a short headstone and foot-stone, mounted on bases and
ready for use, except the lettering.  These may not have been so

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