List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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Egger's, and if we could be accommodated for the night.  The man,
without moving, allowed that it was Egger's, and that we could
probably stay there.  This person, however, exhibited so much
indifference to our company, he was such a hairy, unkempt man, and
carried on face, hands, and clothes so much more of the soil of the
region than a prudent proprietor would divert from raising corn, that
we set him aside as a poor relation, and asked for Mr. Egger.  But
the man, still without the least hospitable stir, admitted that that
was the name he went by, and at length advised us to "lite" and hitch
our horses, and sit on the porch with him and enjoy the cool of the
evening.  The horses would be put up by and by, and in fact things
generally would come round some time.  This turned out to be the easy
way of the country.  Mr. Egger was far from being inhospitable, but
was in no hurry, and never had been in a hurry.  He was not exactly a
gentleman of the old school.  He was better than that.  He dated from
the time when there were no schools at all, and he lived in that
placid world which is without information and ideas.  Mr. Egger
showed his superiority by a total lack of curiosity about any other

This brick house, magnificent by comparison with other dwellings in
this country, seemed to us, on nearer acquaintance, only a thin,
crude shell of a house, half unfinished, with bare rooms, the
plastering already discolored.  In point of furnishing it had not yet
reached the "God bless our Home" stage in crewel.  In the narrow
meadow, a strip of vivid green south of the house, ran a little
stream, fed by a copious spring, and over it was built the inevitable
spring-house.  A post, driven into the bank by the stream, supported
a tin wash-basin, and here we performed our ablutions.  The traveler
gets to like this freedom and primitive luxury.

The farm of Egger produces corn, wheat, grass, and sheep; it is a
good enough farm, but most of it lies at an angle of thirty-five to
forty degrees.  The ridge back of the house, planted in corn, was as
steep as the roof of his dwelling.  It seemed incredible that it ever
could have been plowed, but the proprietor assured us that it was
plowed with mules, and I judged that the harvesting must be done by
squirrels.  The soil is good enough, if it would stay in place, but
all the hillsides are seamed with gullies.  The discolored state of
the streams was accounted for as soon as we saw this cultivated land.
No sooner is the land cleared of trees and broken up than it begins
to wash.  We saw more of this later, especially in North Carolina,
where we encountered no stream of water that was not muddy, and saw
no cultivated ground that was not washed.  The process of denudation
is going on rapidly wherever the original forests are girdled (a
common way of preparing for crops), or cut away.

As the time passed and there was no sign of supper, the question
became a burning one, and we went to explore the kitchen.  No sign of
it there.  No fire in the stove, nothing cooked in the house, of
course.  Mrs. Egger and her comely young barefooted daughter had
still the milking to attend to, and supper must wait for the other
chores.  It seemed easier to be Mr. Egger, in this state of
existence, and sit on the front porch and meditate on the price of
mules and the prospect of a crop, than to be Mrs. Egger, whose work
was not limited from sun to sun; who had, in fact, a day's work to do
after the men-folks had knocked off; whose chances of neighborhood
gossip were scanty, whose amusements were confined to a religious
meeting once a fortnight.  Good, honest people these, not unduly
puffed up by the brick house, grubbing away year in and year out.
Yes, the young girl said, there was a neighborhood party, now and
then, in the winter.  What a price to pay for mere life!

Long before supper was ready, nearly nine o'clock, we had almost lost
interest in it.  Meantime two other guests had arrived, a couple of
drovers from North Carolina, who brought into the circle--by this
time a wood-fire had been kindled in the sitting-room, which
contained a bed, an almanac, and some old copies of a newspaper--a
rich flavor of cattle, and talk of the price of steers.  As to
politics, although a presidential campaign was raging, there was
scarcely an echo of it here.  This was Johnson County, Tennessee, a
strong Republican county but dog-gone it, says Mr.  Egger, it's no
use to vote; our votes are overborne by the rest of the State.  Yes,
they'd got a Republican member of Congress,--he'd heard his name, but
he'd forgotten it.  The drover said he'd heard it also, but he didn't
take much interest in such things, though he wasn't any Republican.
Parties is pretty much all for office, both agreed.  Even the
Professor, who was traveling in the interest of Reform, couldn't wake
up a discussion out of such a state of mind.

Alas!  the supper, served in a room dimly lighted with a smoky lamp,
on a long table covered with oilcloth, was not of the sort to arouse
the delayed and now gone appetite of a Reformer, and yet it did not
lack variety: cornpone (Indian meal stirred up with water and heated
through), hot biscuit, slack-baked and livid, fried salt-pork
swimming in grease, apple-butter, pickled beets, onions and cucumbers
raw, coffee (so-called), buttermilk, and sweet milk when specially
asked for (the correct taste, however, is for buttermilk), and pie.
This was not the pie of commerce, but the pie of the country,--two
thick slabs of dough, with a squeezing of apple between.  The
profusion of this supper staggered the novices, but the drovers
attacked it as if such cooking were a common occurrence and did
justice to the weary labors of Mrs. Egger.

Egger is well prepared to entertain strangers, having several rooms
and several beds in each room.  Upon consultation with the drovers,
they said they'd just as soon occupy an apartment by themselves, and
we gave up their society for the night.  The beds in our chamber had
each one sheet, and the room otherwise gave evidence of the modern
spirit; for in one corner stood the fashionable aesthetic decoration
of our Queen Anne drawing-rooms,--the spinning-wheel.  Soothed by
this concession to taste, we crowded in between the straw and the
home-made blanket and sheet, and soon ceased to hear the barking of
dogs and the horned encounters of the drovers' herd.

We parted with Mr. Egger after breakfast (which was a close copy of
the supper) with more respect than regret.  His total charge for the
entertainment of two men and two horses--supper, lodging, and
breakfast--was high or low, as the traveler chose to estimate it.  It
was $1.20: that is, thirty cents for each individual, or ten cents
for each meal and lodging.

Our road was a sort of by-way up Gentry Creek and over the Cut Laurel
Gap to Worth's, at Creston Post Office, in North Carolina,--the next
available halting place, said to be fifteen miles distant, and
turning out to be twenty-two, and a rough road.  There is a little
settlement about Egger's, and the first half mile of our way we had
the company of the schoolmistress, a modest, pleasant-spoken girl.
Neither she nor any other people we encountered had any dialect or
local peculiarity of speech.  Indeed, those we encountered that
morning had nothing in manner or accent to distinguish them.  The
novelists had led us to expect something different; and the modest
and pretty young lady with frank and open blue eyes, who wore gloves
and used the common English speech, had never figured in the fiction
of the region.  Cherished illusions vanish often on near approach.
The day gave no peculiarity of speech to note, except the occasional
use of "hit" for "it."

The road over Cut Laurel Gap was very steep and stony, the
thermometer mounted up to 80 deg., and, notwithstanding the beauty of
the way, the ride became tedious before we reached the summit.  On
the summit is the dwelling and distillery of a colonel famous in
these parts.  We stopped at the house for a glass of milk; the
colonel was absent, and while the woman in charge went after it, we
sat on the veranda and conversed with a young lady, tall, gent, well
favored, and communicative, who leaned in the doorway.

"Yes, this house stands on the line.  Where you sit, you are in
Tennessee; I'm in North Carolina."

"Do you live here?"

"Law, no; I'm just staying a little while at the colonel's.  I live
over the mountain here, three miles from Taylorsville.  I thought I'd
be where I could step into North Carolina easy."

"How's that?"

"Well, they wanted me to go before the grand jury and testify about
some pistol-shooting down by our house, some friends of mine got into
a little difficulty,--and I did n't want to.  I never has no
difficulty with nobody, never says nothing about nobody, has nothing
against nobody, and I reckon nobody has nothing against me."

"Did you come alone?"

"Why, of course.  I come across the mountain by a path through the
woods.  That's nothing."

A discreet, pleasant, pretty girl.  This surely must be the Esmeralda
who lives in these mountains, and adorns low life by her virgin
purity and sentiment.  As she talked on, she turned from time to time
to the fireplace behind her, and discharged a dark fluid from her
pretty lips, with accuracy of aim, and with a nonchalance that was
not assumed, but belongs to our free-born American girls.  I cannot
tell why this habit of hers (which is no worse than the sister habit
of "dipping") should take her out of the romantic setting that her
face and figure had placed her in; but somehow we felt inclined to
ride on farther for our heroine.

"And yet," said the Professor, as we left the site of the colonel's
thriving distillery, and by a winding, picturesque road through a
rough farming country descended into the valley,--"and yet, why fling
aside so readily a character and situation so full of romance, on
account of a habit of this mountain Helen, which one of our best
poets has almost made poetical, in the case of the pioneer taking his

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