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List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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mournful and significant as they looked, nor the evidence of simple,
humble faith; they may have been taken for debt.  But as parlor
ornaments they had a fascination which we could not escape.

It was while we were bathing in the New River, that afternoon, and
meditating on the grim, unrelieved sort of life of our host, that the
Professor said, "judging by the face of the 'Blue Ridge Baptist,' he
will charge us smartly for the few nubbins of corn and the milk."
The face did not deceive us; the charge was one dollar.  At this rate
it would have broken us to have tarried with old man Tatem (perhaps
he is not old, but that is the name he goes by) over night.

It was a hot afternoon, and it needed some courage to mount and climb
the sandy hill leading us away from the corn-crib of Tatem.  But we
entered almost immediately into fine stretches of forest, and rode
under the shade of great oaks.  The way, which began by the New
River, soon led us over the hills to the higher levels of Watauga
County.  So far on our journey we had been hemmed in by low hills,
and without any distant or mountain outlooks.  The excessive heat
seemed out of place at the elevation of over two thousand feet, on
which we were traveling.  Boone, the county seat of Watauga County,
was our destination, and, ever since morning, the guideboards and the
trend of the roads had notified us that everything in this region
tends towards Boone as a center of interest.  The simple ingenuity of
some of the guide-boards impressed us.  If, on coming to a fork, the
traveler was to turn to the right, the sign read,

      To BOONE 10 M.
If he was to go to the left, it read,
      .M 01 ENOOB oT

A short ride of nine miles, on an ascending road, through an open,
unfenced forest region, brought us long before sundown to this
capital.  When we had ridden into its single street, which wanders
over gentle hills, and landed at the most promising of the taverns,
the Friend informed his comrade that Boone was 3250 feet above
Albemarle Sound, and believed by its inhabitants to be the highest
village east of the Rocky Mountains.  The Professor said that it
might be so, but it was a God-forsaken place.  Its inhabitants
numbered perhaps two hundred and fifty, a few of them colored.  It
had a gaunt, shaky court-house and jail, a store or two, and two
taverns.  The two taverns are needed to accommodate the judges and
lawyers and their clients during the session of the court.  The court
is the only excitement and the only amusement.  It is the event from
which other events date.  Everybody in the county knows exactly when
court sits, and when court breaks.  During the session the whole
county is practically in Boone, men, women, and children.  They camp
there, they attend the trials, they take sides; half of them,
perhaps, are witnesses, for the region is litigious, and the
neighborhood quarrels are entered into with spirit.  To be fond of
lawsuits seems a characteristic of an isolated people in new
conditions.  The early settlers of New England were.

Notwithstanding the elevation of Boone, which insured a pure air, the
thermometer that afternoon stood at from 85 to 89 deg.  The flies
enjoyed it.  How they swarmed in this tavern!  They would have
carried off all the food from the dining-room table (for flies do not
mind eating off oilcloth, and are not particular how food is cooked),
but for the machine with hanging flappers that swept the length of
it; and they destroy all possibility of sleep except in the dark.
The mountain regions of North Carolina are free from mosquitoes, but
the fly has settled there, and is the universal scourge.  This
tavern, one end of which was a store, had a veranda in front, and a
back gallery, where there were evidences of female refinement in pots
of plants and flowers.  The landlord himself kept tavern very much as
a hostler would, but we had to make a note in his favor that he had
never heard of a milk punch.  And it might as well be said here, for
it will have to be insisted on later, that the traveler, who has read
about the illicit stills till his imagination dwells upon the
indulgence of his vitiated tastes in the mountains of North Carolina,
is doomed to disappointment.  If he wants to make himself an
exception to the sober people whose cooking will make him long for
the maddening bowl, he must bring his poison with him.  We had found
no bread since we left Virginia; we had seen cornmeal and water,
slack-baked; we had seen potatoes fried in grease, and bacon
incrusted with salt (all thirst-provokers), but nothing to drink
stronger than buttermilk.  And we can say that, so far as our example
is concerned, we left the country as temperate as we found it.  How
can there be mint juleps (to go into details) without ice? and in the
summer there is probably not a pound of ice in all the State north of
Buncombe County.

There is nothing special to be said about Boone.  We were anxious to
reach it, we were glad to leave it; we note as to all these places
that our joy at departing always exceeds that on arriving, which is a
merciful provision of nature for people who must keep moving.  This
country is settled by genuine Americans, who have the aboriginal
primitive traits of the universal Yankee nation.  The front porch in
the morning resembled a carpenter's shop; it was literally covered
with the whittlings of the row of natives who had spent the evening
there in the sedative occupation of whittling.

We took that morning a forest road to Valle Crusis, seven miles,
through noble growths of oaks, chestnuts, hemlocks, rhododendrons,--a
charming wood road, leading to a place that, as usual, did not keep
the promise of its name.  Valle Crusis has a blacksmith shop and a
dirty, flyblown store.  While the Professor consulted the blacksmith
about a loose shoe, the Friend carried his weariness of life without
provisions up to a white house on the hill, and negotiated for boiled
milk.  This house was occupied by flies.  They must have numbered
millions, settled in black swarms, covering tables, beds, walls, the
veranda; the kitchen was simply a hive of them.  The only book in
sight, Whewell's--"Elements of Morality," seemed to attract flies.
Query, Why should this have such a different effect from Porter's?  A
white house,--a pleasant-looking house at a distance,--amiable,
kindly people in it,--why should we have arrived there on its dirty
day?  Alas! if we had been starving, Valle Crusis had nothing to
offer us.

So we rode away, in the blazing heat, no poetry exuding from the
Professor, eight miles to Banner's Elk, crossing a mountain and
passing under Hanging Rock, a conspicuous feature in the landscape,
and the only outcropping of rock we had seen: the face of a ledge,
rounded up into the sky, with a green hood on it.  From the summit we
had the first extensive prospect during our journey.  The road can be
described as awful,--steep, stony, the horses unable to make two
miles an hour on it.  Now and then we encountered a rude log cabin
without barns or outhouses, and a little patch of feeble corn.  The
women who regarded the passers from their cabin doors were frowzy and
looked tired.  What with the heat and the road and this discouraged
appearance of humanity, we reached the residence of Dugger, at
Banner's Elk, to which we had been directed, nearly exhausted.  It is
no use to represent this as a dash across country on impatient
steeds.  It was not so.  The love of truth is stronger than the
desire of display.  And for this reason it is impossible to say that
Mr. Dugger, who is an excellent man, lives in a clean and attractive
house, or that he offers much that the pampered child of civilization
can eat.  But we shall not forget the two eggs, fresh from the hens,
whose temperature must have been above the normal, nor the spring-
house in the glen, where we found a refuge from the flies and the
heat.  The higher we go, the hotter it is.  Banner's Elk boasts an
elevation of thirty-five to thirty-seven hundred feet.

We were not sorry, towards sunset, to descend along the Elk River
towards Cranberry Forge.  The Elk is a lovely stream, and, though not
very clear, has a reputation for trout; but all this region was under
operation of a three-years game law, to give the trout a chance to
multiply, and we had no opportunity to test the value of its
reputation.  Yet a boy whom we encountered had a good string of
quarter-pound trout, which he had taken out with a hook and a feather
rudely tied on it, to resemble a fly.  The road, though not to be
commended, was much better than that of the morning, the forests grew
charming in the cool of the evening, the whippoorwill sang, and as
night fell the wanderers, in want of nearly everything that makes
life desirable, stopped at the Iron Company's hotel, under the
impression that it was the only comfortable hotel in North Carolina.




II

Cranberry Forge is the first wedge of civilization fairly driven into
the northwest mountains of North Carolina.  A narrow-gauge railway,
starting from Johnson City, follows up the narrow gorge of the Doe
River, and pushes into the heart of the iron mines at Cranberry,
where there is a blast furnace; and where a big company store, rows
of tenement houses, heaps of slag and refuse ore, interlacing tracks,
raw embankments, denuded hillsides, and a blackened landscape, are
the signs of a great devastating American enterprise.  The Cranberry
iron is in great esteem, as it has the peculiar quality of the
Swedish iron.  There are remains of old furnaces lower down the
stream, which we passed on our way.  The present "plant" is that of a
Philadelphia company, whose enterprise has infused new life into all
this region, made it accessible, and spoiled some pretty scenery.

When we alighted, weary, at the gate of the pretty hotel, which
crowns a gentle hill and commands a pleasing, evergreen prospect of
many gentle hills, a mile or so below the works, and wholly removed
from all sordid associations, we were at the point of willingness
that the whole country should be devastated by civilization.  In the

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