List Of Contents | Contents of On Horseback by Charles Dudley Warner
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recover it.  He was an honest man.  It might, however, fall into
hands that would freeze to it.

Upon consultation, it was the general verdict that there were men in
the county who would keep it if they had picked it up.  But the
assembly manifested the liveliest interest in the incident.  One
suggested Toe River.  Another thought it risky to drop a purse on any
road.  But there was a chorus of desire expressed that we should find
it, and in this anxiety was exhibited a decided sensitiveness about
the honor of Mitchell County.  It seemed too bad that a stranger
should go away with the impression that it was not safe to leave
money anywhere in it.  We felt very much obliged for this genuine
sympathy, and we told them that if a pocket-book were lost in this
way on a Connecticut road, there would be felt no neighborhood
responsibility for it, and that nobody would take any interest in the
incident except the man who lost, and the man who found.

By the time the travelers pulled up at a store in Bakersville they
had lost all expectation of recovering the missing article, and were
discussing the investment of more money in an advertisement in the
weekly newspaper of the capital.  The Professor, whose reform
sentiments agreed with those of the newspaper, advised it.  There was
a group of idlers, mica acquaintances of the morning, and
philosophers in front of the store, and the Friend opened the
colloquy by asking if a man named David Thomas had been seen in town.
He was in town, had ridden in within an hour, and his brother, who
was in the group, would go in search of him.  The information was
then given of the loss, and that the rider had met David Thomas just
before it was discovered, on the mountain beyond the Toe.  The news
made a sensation, and by the time David Thomas appeared a crowd of a
hundred had drawn around the horsemen eager for further developments.
Mr. Thomas was the least excited of the group as he took his position
on the sidewalk, conscious of the dignity of the occasion and that he
was about to begin a duel in which both reputation and profit were
concerned.  He recollected meeting the travelers in the morning.

The Friend said, "I discovered that I had lost my purse just after
meeting you; it may have been dropped in Toe River, but I was told
back here that if David Thomas had picked it up, it was as safe as if
it were in the bank."

"What sort of a pocket-book was it?"  asked Mr. Thomas.

"It was of crocodile skin, or what is sold for that, very likely it
is an imitation, and about so large indicating the size."

"What had it in it?"

"Various things.  Some specimens of mica; some bank checks, some

"Anything else?"

"Yes, a photograph.  And, oh, something that I presume is not in
another pocket-book in North Carolina,--in an envelope, a lock of the
hair of George Washington, the Father of his Country."  Sensation
mixed with incredulity.  Washington's hair did seem such an odd part
of an outfit for a journey of this kind.

"How much money was in it?"

"That I cannot say, exactly.  I happen to remember four twenty-dollar
United States notes, and a roll of small bills, perhaps something
over a hundred dollars."

"Is that the pocket-book?"  asked David Thomas, slowly pulling the
loved and lost out of his trousers pocket.

"It is."

"You'd be willing to take your oath on it?"

"I should be delighted to."

"Well, I guess there ain't so much money in it.  You can count it
[handing it over]; there hain't been nothing taken out.  I can't
read, but my friend here counted it over, and he says there ain't as
much as that."

Intense interest in the result of the counting.  One hundred and ten
dollars!  The Friend selected one of the best engraved of the notes,
and appealed to the crowd if they thought that was the square thing
to do.  They did so think, and David Thomas said it was abundant.
And then said the Friend:

"I'm exceedingly grateful to you besides.  Washington's hair is
getting scarce, and I did not want to lose these few hairs, gray as
they are.  You've done the honest thing, Mr. Thomas, as was expected
of you.  You might have kept the whole.  But I reckon if there had
been five hundred dollars in the book and you had kept it, it
wouldn't have done you half as much good as giving it up has done;
and your reputation as an honest man is worth a good deal more than
this pocket-book.  [The Professor was delighted with this sentiment,
because it reminded him of a Sunday-school.]  I shall go away with a
high opinion of the honesty of Mitchell County."

"Oh, he lives in Yancey," cried two or three voices.  At which there
was a great laugh.

"Well, I wondered where he came from."  And the Mitchell County
people laughed again at their own expense, and the levee broke up.
It was exceedingly gratifying, as we spread the news of the recovered
property that afternoon at every house on our way to the Toe, to see
what pleasure it gave.  Every man appeared to feel that the honor of
the region had been on trial--and had stood the test.

The eighteen miles to Burnsville had now to be added to the morning
excursion, but the travelers were in high spirits, feeling the truth
of the adage that it is better to have loved and lost, than never to
have lost at all.  They decided, on reflection, to join company with
the mail-rider, who was going to Burnsville by the shorter route, and
could pilot them over the dangerous ford of the Toe.

The mail-rider was a lean, sallow, sinewy man, mounted on a sorry
sorrel nag, who proved, however, to have blood in her, and to be a
fast walker and full of endurance.  The mail-rider was taciturn, a
natural habit for a man who rides alone the year round, over a lonely
road, and has nothing whatever to think of.  He had been in the war
sixteen months, in Hugh White's regiment,--reckon you've heerd of



"Was he on the Union or Confederate side?"

"Oh, Union."

"Were you in any engagements?"


"Did you have any fighting?"

"Not reg'lar."

"What did you do?"


"What did you do in Hugh White's regiment?"

"Oh, just cavorted round the mountains."

"You lived on the country?"


"Picked up what you could find, corn, bacon, horses?"

"That's about so.  Did n't make much difference which side was round,
the country got cleaned out."

"Plunder seems to have been the object?"


"You got a living out of the farmers?"

"You bet."

Our friend and guide seemed to have been a jayhawker and mountain
marauder--on the right side.  His attachment to the word "which"
prevented any lively flow of conversation, and there seemed to be
only two trains of ideas running in his mind: one was the subject of
horses and saddles, and the other was the danger of the ford we were
coming to, and he exhibited a good deal of ingenuity in endeavoring
to excite our alarm.  He returned to the ford from every other
conversational excursion, and after every silence.

"I do' know's there 's any great danger; not if you know the ford.
Folks is carried away there.  The Toe gits up sudden.  There's been
right smart rain lately.

"If you're afraid, you can git set over in a dugout, and I'll take
your horses across.  Mebbe you're used to fording?  It's a pretty bad
ford for them as don't know it.  But you'll get along if you mind
your eye.  There's some rocks you'll have to look out for.  But
you'll be all right if you follow me."

Not being very successful in raising an interest in the dangers of
his ford, although he could not forego indulging a malicious pleasure
in trying to make the strangers uncomfortable, he finally turned his
attention to a trade.  "This hoss of mine," he said, "is just the
kind of brute-beast you want for this country.  Your hosses is too
heavy.  How'll you swap for that one o' yourn?"  The reiterated
assertion that the horses were not ours, that they were hired, made
little impression on him.  All the way to Burnsville he kept
referring to the subject of a trade.  The instinct of "swap" was
strong in him.  When we met a yoke of steers, he turned round and
bantered the owner for a trade.  Our saddles took his fancy.  They
were of the army pattern, and he allowed that one of them would just
suit him.  He rode a small flat English pad, across which was flung
the United States mail pouch, apparently empty.  He dwelt upon the
fact that his saddle was new and ours were old, and the advantages
that would accrue to us from the exchange.  He did n't care if they
had been through the war, as they had, for he fancied an army saddle.
The Friend answered for himself that the saddle he rode belonged to a
distinguished Union general, and had a bullet in it that was put
there by a careless Confederate in the first battle of Bull Run, and
the owner would not part with it for money.  But the mail-rider said
he did n't mind that.  He would n't mind swapping his new saddle for
my old one and the rubber coat and leggings.  Long before we reached
the ford we thought we would like to swap the guide, even at the,
risk of drowning.  The ford was passed, in due time, with no
inconvenience save that of wet feet, for the stream was breast high
to the horses; but being broad and swift and full of sunken rocks and
slippery stones, and the crossing tortuous, it is not a ford to be
commended.  There is a curious delusion that a rider has in crossing
a swift broad stream.  It is that he is rapidly drifting up-stream,
while in fact the tendency of the horse is to go with the current.

The road in the afternoon was not unpicturesque, owing to the streams
and the ever noble forests, but the prospect was always very limited.
Agriculturally, the country was mostly undeveloped.  The travelers
endeavored to get from the rider an estimate of the price of land.
Not much sold, he said.  "There was one sale of a big piece last
year; the owner enthorited Big Tom Wilson to sell it, but I d'know
what he got for it,"

All the way along, the habitations were small log cabins, with one
room, chinked with mud, and these were far between; and only

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