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List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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Indians.  The mica is of excellent quality and easily mined.  It is
got out in large irregular-shaped blocks and transported to the
factories, where it is carefully split by hand, and the laminae, of
as large size as can be obtained, are trimmed with shears and tied up
in packages for market.  The quantity of refuse, broken, and rotten
mica piled up about the factories is immense, and all the roads round
about glisten with its scales.  Garnets are often found imbedded in
the laminae, flattened by the extreme pressure to which the mass was
subjected.  It is fascinating material, this mica, to handle, and we
amused ourselves by experimenting on the thinness to which its scales
could be reduced by splitting.  It was at Bakersville that we saw
specimens of mica that resembled the delicate tracery in the moss-
agate and had the iridescent sheen of the rainbow colors--the most
delicate greens, reds, blues, purples, and gold, changing from one to
the other in the reflected light.  In the texture were the tracings
of fossil forms of ferns and the most exquisite and delicate
vegetable beauty of the coal age.  But the magnet shows this tracery
to be iron.  We were shown also emeralds and "diamonds," picked up in
this region, and there is a mild expectation in all the inhabitants
of great mineral treasure.  A singular product of the region is the
flexible sandstone.  It is a most uncanny stone.  A slip of it a
couple of feet long and an inch in diameter each way bends in the
hand like a half-frozen snake.  This conduct of a substance that we
have been taught to regard as inflexible impairs one's confidence in
the stability of nature and affects him as an earthquake does.

This excitement over mica and other minerals has the usual effect of
starting up business and creating bad blood.  Fortunes have been
made, and lost in riotous living; scores of visionary men have been
disappointed; lawsuits about titles and claims have multiplied, and
quarrels ending in murder have been frequent in the past few years.
The mica and the illicit whisky have worked together to make this
region one of lawlessness and violence.  The travelers were told
stories of the lack of common morality and decency in the region, but
they made no note of them.  And, perhaps fortunately, they were not
there during court week to witness the scenes of license that were
described.  This court week, which draws hither the whole population,
is a sort of Saturnalia.  Perhaps the worst of this is already a
thing of the past; for the outrages a year before had reached such a
pass that by a common movement the sale of whisky was stopped (not
interdicted, but stopped), and not a drop of liquor could be bought
in Bakersville nor within three miles of it.

The jail at Bakersville is a very simple residence.  The main
building is brick, two stories high and about twelve feet square.
The walls are so loosely laid up that it seems as if a colored
prisoner might butt his head through.  Attached to this is a room for
the jailer.  In the lower room is a wooden cage, made of logs bolted
together and filled with spikes, nine feet by ten feet square and
perhaps seven or eight feet high.  Between this cage and the wall is
a space of eighteen inches in width.  It has a narrow door, and an
opening through which the food is passed to the prisoners, and a
conduit leading out of it.  Of course it soon becomes foul, and in
warm weather somewhat warm.  A recent prisoner, who wanted more
ventilation than the State allowed him, found some means, by a loose
plank, I think, to batter a hole in the outer wall opposite the
window in the cage, and this ragged opening, seeming to the jailer a
good sanitary arrangement, remains.  Two murderers occupied this
apartment at the time of our visit.  During the recent session of
court, ten men had been confined in this narrow space, without room
enough for them to lie down together.  The cage in the room above, a
little larger, had for tenant a person who was jailed for some
misunderstanding about an account, and who was probably innocent--
from the jailer's statement.  This box is a wretched residence, month
after month, while awaiting trial.

We learned on inquiry that it is practically impossible to get a jury
to convict of murder in this region, and that these admitted felons
would undoubtedly escape.  We even heard that juries were purchasable
here, and that a man's success in court depended upon the length of
his purse.  This is such an unheard-of thing that we refused to
credit it.  When the Friend attempted to arouse the indignation of
the Professor about the barbarity of this jail, the latter defended
it on the ground that as confinement was the only punishment that
murderers were likely to receive in this region, it was well to make
their detention disagreeable to them.  But the Friend did not like
this wild-beast cage for men, and could only exclaim,

"Oh, murder!  what crimes are done in thy name."

If the comrades wished an adventure, they had a small one, more
interesting to them than to the public, the morning they left
Bakersville to ride to Burnsville, which sets itself up as the
capital of Yancey.  The way for the first three miles lay down a
small creek and in a valley fairly settled, the houses, a store, and
a grist-mill giving evidence of the new enterprise of the region.
When Toe River was reached, there was a choice of routes.  We might
ford the Toe at that point, where the river was wide, but shallow,
and the crossing safe, and climb over the mountain by a rough but
sightly road, or descend the stream by a better road and ford the
river at a place rather dangerous to those unfamiliar with it.  The
danger attracted us, but we promptly chose the hill road on account
of the views, for we were weary of the limited valley prospects.

The Toe River, even here, where it bears westward, is a very
respectable stream in size, and not to be trifled with after a
shower.  It gradually turns northward, and, joining the Nollechucky,
becomes part of the Tennessee system.  We crossed it by a long,
diagonal ford, slipping and sliding about on the round stones, and
began the ascent of a steep hill.  The sun beat down unmercifully,
the way was stony, and the horses did not relish the weary climbing.
The Professor, who led the way, not for the sake of leadership, but
to be the discoverer of laden blackberry bushes, which began to offer
occasional refreshment, discouraged by the inhospitable road and
perhaps oppressed by the moral backwardness of things in general,
cried out:

    "Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,--
     As, to behold desert a beggar born,
     And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
     And purest faith unhappily foresworn,
     And gilded honor shamefully misplaced,
     And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
     And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
     And strength by limping sway disabled,
     And art made tongue-tied by authority,
     And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
     And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
     And captive good attending captain ill:
     Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
     Save that, to die, I leave my love alone."

In the midst of a lively discussion of this pessimistic view of the
inequalities of life, in which desert and capacity are so often put
at disadvantage by birth in beggarly conditions, and brazen
assumption raises the dust from its chariot wheels for modest merit
to plod along in, the Professor swung himself off his horse to attack
a blackberry bush, and the Friend, representing simple truth, and
desirous of getting a wider prospect, urged his horse up the hill.
At the top he encountered a stranger, on a sorrel horse, with whom he
entered into conversation and extracted all the discouragement the
man had as to the road to Burnsville.

Nevertheless, the view opened finely and extensively.  There are few
exhilarations comparable to that of riding or walking along a high
ridge, and the spirits of the traveler rose many degrees above the
point of restful death, for which the Professor was crying when he
encountered the blackberry bushes.  Luckily the Friend soon fell in
with a like temptation, and dismounted.  He discovered something that
spoiled his appetite for berries.  His coat, strapped on behind the
saddle, had worked loose, the pocket was open, and the pocket-book
was gone.  This was serious business.  For while the Professor was
the cashier, and traveled like a Rothschild, with large drafts, the
Friend represented the sub-treasury.  That very morning, in response
to inquiry as to the sinews of travel, the Friend had displayed,
without counting, a roll of bills.  These bills had now disappeared,
and when the Friend turned back to communicate his loss, in the
character of needy nothing not trimm'd in jollity, he had a
sympathetic listener to the tale of woe.

Going back on such a journey is the woefulest experience, but retrace
our steps we must.  Perhaps the pocket-book lay in the road not half
a mile back.  But not in half a mile, or a mile, was it found.
Probably, then, the man on the sorrel horse had picked it up.  But
who was the man on the sorrel horse, and where had he gone?  Probably
the coat worked loose in crossing Toe River and the pocket-book had
gone down-stream.  The number of probabilities was infinite, and each
more plausible than the others as it occurred to us.  We inquired at
every house we had passed on the way, we questioned every one we met.
At length it began to seem improbable that any one would remember if
he had picked up a pocketbook that morning.  This is just the sort of
thing that slips an untrained memory.

At a post office or doctor's shop, or inn for drovers, it might be
either or neither, where several horses were tied to the fence, and
a group of men were tilted back in cane chairs on the veranda, we
unfolded our misfortune and made particular inquiries for a man on a
sorrel horse.  Yes, such a man, David Thomas by name, had just ridden
towards Bakersville.  If he had found the pocket-book, we would

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