AND thus they beguiled the time in pleasant chat until some two hours after midday, when they found themselves within sight of the neat little village of Mount Solon. The inn to which they were directed--the only one in the village--was a very modest-looking establishment altogether, and was kept by an old palsied man, who appeared as if he might have known better days. Ascertaining here that the object of their curiosity was only about two miles distant, they left their baggage and an order for supper with the landlord, and drove on.
After jolting over a rocky, uneven road for a short time, they at length had the satisfaction of seeing the black tops of the Chimneys towering above the trees in the distance. At this point our travelers left their vehicle, and proceeded on foot, by a path leading through a barn-yard, to the base of the rocks, about two hundred yards from the main road.
This curious group of natural towers rises at the point of a limestone hill, which juts out like a promontory into an extensive alluvial bottom. There are seven of them, some seventy or eighty feet in height, their bases washed by a small stream, and their whole appearance reminding one of the ruined stronghold of some feudal baron surrounded by its neglected moat. To those whose fancies are more exclusively American, they look like the chimneys of a deserted iron foundry, and, altogether, the picture presented is in a high degree unique and interesting.
From no point can all the towers be seen at one view. The northern one is the tallest, the most completely detached from the hill, and in all respects the most perfect. Its round, regular stratifications, gradually narrowing toward the top, show like successive galleries and cornices, such as are represented in the old pictures of the Tower of Babel. This structure is about eighty feet in height, and thirty in diameter near its base. It is tunneled below by a wide archway, through which is the most convenient approach to the bases of the other towers; and, from one point of view, this huge mass appears supported only upon two pillars.
The southern group, consisting of three towers, united for about half their height, is also perforated by a cavernous passage, narrow at each entrance, but opening to a chamber of some size in the centre. None of the Chimneys are completely detached from the hill; and the view from every quarter is intercepted by a heavy growth of timber, much to the annoyance of the artist.
Although these rocks are highly picturesque, curious, and not wanting in grandeur, our travelers, having lately seen objects of such surpassing interest, expressed their gratification here in moderate terms, and were soon seated under some opportune apple trees, discussing their lunch with a zeal and earnestness which neither custom nor daily repetition had in the smallest degree abated.
Not so Mr. Crayon. He spent his time walking curiously about, examining the towers and caverns at all points. Having made several unsuccessful attempts to ascend the rocks, he at length succeeded in reaching the summit of one of the lowest, which is joined to the hill by a natural wall several feet in thickness, and reaching more than half way to the top of the tower. Thinking this no great feat, and perceiving that the ladies were too much engaged to look at him, he came down and betook himself to his sketch-book. Having taken his position at some distance out in the meadow, to get a better view of the southern group, he was in a short time surrounded by all the dogs on the plantation, bull, ring, and bobtail, who barked and clamored until they were tired, and then trotted off, surprised and disgusted at the imperturbability of the artist.
The sketches being completed, and the curiosity of all parties satisfied, our friends returned to their carriage. It was unanimously agreed that, although they had been much gratified by their visit, yet there was nothing about the Chimneys to excite enthusiasm--in short, they were wanting in the quality of sublimity. Porte went on further to observe that he preferred the homely name of “The Chimneys” to the more elegant appellation of “Cyclopean Towers;” for, although an admirer of the classics in the abstract, and understanding fully the propriety of the name as applied to this style of architecture, yet he had always felt averse to mixing associations drawn from the Old World with American scenery. The most striking characteristic of our scenery, when compared with the European, is its freshness, observable even in the appearance of the rocks, and the charm of the impression is always disturbed by any association with the old mythology. The family of the Cyclops was Sicilian, and was disposed of long before the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492. Let them kick and sprawl till Doomsday under their mountain tomb. We doubt if the introduction of distinguished foreigners is of much advantage in any way to us on this side of the water.
Miss Dora expressed a doubt whether there were ever any such persons as the Cyclops; but Crayon assured her that he had seen the place where they were buried.
Arrived at the barn-yard, they found their horses still engaged in munching some remarkably fine oats, which had been served up in an old pig-trough. Crayon complimented his man on his thoughtful attention, and desired him, to go and pay the farmer for the feed.
The coachman replied that, having a suspicion that the horses might get hungry, he had taken the precaution to bring a supply with them, which he had procured from Mr. Moler’s barn at the Cave Hotel.
Not recollecting any charge for extra oats at that place, a suspicion began to insinuate itself into Mr. Crayon’s mind.
“What? why, here’s a bushel more in the carriage-box! You scoundrel! have you been stealing, and feeding my horses on surreptitious oats?”
“No, indeed, Mass’ Porte, dese ain’t dem kind; dese is de best oats I seen sence I left home.”
And Mice went on to declare that the oats in question fairly belonged to the horses, as they had not eaten their full allowance while stabled at the Cave Hotel, and he had only taken what he thought they ought to have eaten. He moreover added, by way of strengthening his defense, that the horses relished these oats especially, and that Mr. Moler had such a pile of them in his barn that he would not have missed ten bushels, if any one had seen fit to take that quantity. Notwithstanding this clear explanation Crayon would have given his coachman a severe reprimand, but they all got into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, and one should never attempt to moralize without a sober countenance.
Fanny, being the first to recover her gravity sufficiently, reminded Mice of his devout belief in a place of future punishment, expressed while in the cave. This belief he reaffirmed, but felt assured that he “wasn’t gwine to be saunt dere becase he took good care of his hosses.” Porte Crayon then mildly but firmly suggested that, whenever there should be need of a fresh supply of oats, he should be informed, and they should be acquired by purchase in the regular way, as our government formerly acquired territory. Mice acquiesced, of course, promising faithfully to attend to the matter; but looked, at the same time, as if he thought this arrangement involved a very unnecessary and absurd expenditure of money.
Our adventurers were on the road next morning before sunrise, while the fields were yet white with frost.
“This is an improvement, girls. How well you all look this morning! This is the glorious time for traveling. The horses move gayly, and puff clouds of smoke from their nostrils like two steam-engines. Now the sun begins to show his red disk above the hills, and gilds the mountain-tops rising to the westward of us.”
Dora’s eyes sparkled as she suddenly plucked Crayon’s sleeve. “Hist! cousin, there’s a pheasant!”
“Where? quick! point him out!” whispered Crayon, unslinging his yager.
“There! don’t you see? On that old log among the pines.”
Mice had stopped the carriage upon the first intimation of game, and was looking intently into the bushes. “Da he is ! I sees him ! big as a turkey-gobbler. Good Lord, Mass’ Porte, shoot quick: he gwine to fly!”
“Be quiet, you blockhead! I see him now. A fine cock, with his neck stretched and his ruff up.
Bang went the rifle; whir--r, whir--r, whir--r went the pheasants in every direction from among the grape-trees, where a large company of them were breakfasting.
“Fotch him!” shouted Mice, tumbling out of the carriage, and rushing into the bushes. Presently he returned, his face illuminated with a triumphant grin, carrying the bird by the legs. “Bullet tuck him right through the neck; mizzible good brile he’ll make; fat as butter.”
The whole company were now on the alert. “There’s a pheasant! No, it’s a ground squirrel.” “There’s one in the grapetree!” Bang! down he tumbled, whirring and fluttering among the dead leaves. The girls clapped their hands, and were so full of the sport that the carriage could scarcely hold them; and when Porte Crayon missed a shot in his haste, they were quite outrageous upon him. He reinstated himself, however, by shooting two more birds shortly after. “We’ve now come to an open country, and there will be no more pheasants this morning,” remarked Crayon.
The girls were quite vexed, and insisted on going back over the same road. “How blood will show itself, in spite of every thing!” cried the delighted Crayon. “All our family take to hunting as naturally as sparrowhawks.”
The appearance of the Augusta Springs diverted the attention of our travelers from the subject in hand; and as it was a pleasant, rural-looking spot, they determined to tarry for half an hour to see what was to be seen. This place is twelve miles distant from Staunton, and is more frequented by visitors from the neighborhood than by those from a distance, its name abroad being overshadowed by its more celebrated rivals in the counties of Bath and Greenbrier. The water is a sulphur, and is said to possess some value as a remedial agent. The girls here purchased a spotted fawn’s skin from an old lady, for the purpose of making Porte Crayon a bullet-pouch, to be presented as a testimonial of his skill in shooting pheasants.
About two miles from these springs our friends struck the Lewisburg road, which passes the mountain at Jennings’s Gap without a perceptible grade. From this point the country becomes more wild and rugged in its features. Mountains rise on every side, forests of pine and hemlock border the way, and limpid streams pour over rocky beds, murmuring of deer and trout. Human habitations become fewer and farther between, ruder in their character, and frequently ornamented on the outside with trophies of the chase--deers’ horns, raccoon and bear skins, and turkeys’ wings. At this season, too, the road seemed to be deserted by travel. Occasionally, indeed, they met a lonely teamster, who, after exchanging with Mice their characteristic salute, a crack of the whip, passed on his snail-like journey toward Staunton.
The horses made good speed that day although the meridian sun was hot and the road dusty. Cloverdale was reached at length and left behind. It was still far to the Bath Alum, and the sun was rapidly declining. The mountains rose grandly, deep blue, with sharp-drawn outline against the glowing west. Still the tired horses jogged on, fetlock-deep in dust. The pine forests grew taller and gloomier in the fading twilight. No sign of life or civilization yet. Then utter darkness closed her wing over all the land. Night is the time for evil-doers to be abroad. Night is the time when wild birds range for their prey. Night is the season for the busy teeming fancy to conjure up its thousand phantoms. The girls whispered timidly among themselves, and Crayon instinctively examined his arms to feel assured that all was right.
“Drive cautiously, now, Mice: it is useless to hurry; it can get no darker, and we must trust to the instinct of the horses.”
Presently these came to a dead halt of their own accord, nor was a cautious admonition of the voice and whip sufficient to in- duce them to stir. “Dey sees somethin’,” said Mice, who believed firmly that horses could see ghosts and other strange things invisible to mortal eyes. But the animals snorted and gently pawed the ground, thereby intimating to their masters that they were neither frightened nor fatigued, but had stopped from some other motive.
“I think I see something myself,” quoth Porte Crayon; “a tall white thing standing on the left of the road.”
“Lord bless us, master!” cried Mice; “what you think it is?”
“I think it is a sign-post,” replied Porte. “Fanny, feel in my knapsack, under the sketch-book, and rolled up in a silk handkerchief you will find my tin match-box. Hand it to me.”
Crayon got out, and having lighted a wisp of paper, found that he had not been deceived. There was a sign-post standing where the road forked, and by the light of his flickering torch he managed to read the direction to the Bath Alum, one mile distant. The horses, satisfied with this reconnaissance, started off briskly before Crayon had fairly regained his seat, or the coachman had given the warning crack of his whip. “D’ye hear, Mice? these horses must be well rubbed and curried before you go to bed to-night; to-morrow they shall rest.”
Now they see the star of hospitality twinkling in the distance, suggestive of smoking suppers and comfortable beds. These promises were, in the present instance, destined to be fully realized. Soon the cheerful board, spread with biscuit, corn cakes, and hot venison steaks, rejoiced the souls of our benighted travelers, while crackling fires roared in the chimneys of the parlors and bed-rooms. “Ah!” said Porte Crayon, throwing himself upon a springy sofa with a sigh of unspeakable satisfaction, and a dreamy retrospect of numberless corn dodgers, hot, and brown, floating in butter, and of four broad-cut, generous portions of venison steak--“ah me!” As much as I contemn [sic] luxury and despise civilization, with its attendant fopperies and vices, I don’t mind taking a good supper occasionally.”
“Indeed,” said Fanny, “I don’t think you could take many such meals as you made to-night; the sixth time your plate went up for steak, both the waiter and manager got into a titter.”
“My plate went up but four times,” replied Crayon, dogmatically; “and the manager was laughing at my wit, and not my appetite.”
“It went up six times, as I live.”
“Young woman,” said Crayon, with feigned asperity, ” I did observe, but did not intend to comment on your performance at supper. Suffice it to say, if you had been in a region where fashion takes cognizance of what and how much young ladies eat, you would have lost caste forever. Indeed, if those peony-colored cheeks of themselves would not be an insuperable objection to your admission into any refined society.”
“Good gracious !” cried all the girls at once, “you don’t mean to say our cheeks are red?”
“Red!” quoth Crayon, contemptuously; “the word don’t express it. A respectable damask rose would look pale beside them.”
“This comes of traveling in the sun and wind with these foolish bonnets,” cried Fanny, spitefully.
“It comes of exercise, fresh air, and good appetites; for, be sides, you are getting as fat as partridges.”
“It is no such thing,” said Minnie, indignantly. “Porte, you’re a horrid bear! Come, girls, let us retire and leave him.”
“And as freckled as turkey eggs,” continued Crayon.
“It is positively insulting. He has no consideration for our feelings.”
Porte shouted after them as they flounced out of the room, insisting that he had not intended to offend, but had really supposed he was complimenting them.
After enjoying his sofa for a while, it occurred to him to commend his pheasants to the cook, as they might probably be opportune at breakfast. Nor did he omit to assure himself of the well-being of the horses; and, not long after, our hero found himself mentally comparing the merits of a hair mattress with those of the hemlock couch of the Canaan. As no conclusion has ever been reported, it is supposed he fell asleep before finally disposing of the subject.
The drizzling rain which fell during the whole of next day did not prevent our friends from enjoying their comfortable quarters, nor even from making sundry out-door excursions. The improvements at the Bath Alum are certainly superior, in point of taste and elegance, to those at any watering-place in the mountains of Virginia. At a distance of several hundred yards from the hotel, beneath a slatestone cliff fifteen feet in height, are found the Alum Springs, which are nothing more than six little reservoirs so excavated as to catch the drippings from the projecting rock. These reservoirs contain the alum water in different degrees of strength; one of them is a strong chalybeate, and one a mixture of chalybeate and alum. These waters are but recently known as a remedial agent, and have suddenly obtained immense celebrity by their success in curing diseases hitherto reckoned incurable.
Those who are desirous of more accurate and extended information on the subject are commended to Dr. Burke’s excellent work on the Virginia Springs, or, what might be still more to the purpose, visit to the Springs themselves. As for our travelers, having taken large doses of broiled pheasant that morning, they confined their experiments in alum water to a cautious sip from the glass handed by the polite manager, a conical wry face, and a forced compliment to its flavor--faugh!
In the afternoon the rain increased to a continued heavy shower; notwithstanding which, Crayon, accompanied by his valet, went hunting, and it was near dark before they returned, weary, wet, and hungry, with only three or four unlucky squirrels for their pains.
From this place to the Warm Springs, the distance of five miles is accomplished by traversing the Great Warm Spring Mountain, on an easy, well-constructed road. When our friends set out from the Alum the rain had ceased, and fair promises of a clear day were-given. Masses of damp-looking clouds still hung about the tops of the mountains, as if unwilling yet to yield the day to Phoebus, who, for his part, poured his bright rays through at every opening, producing in endless variety those brilliant and startling effects of light and shade so much sought after by the scenic school of English painters. When about half way up the mountain, the girls, who had walked in advance, were seen suddenly to turn and fly with all speed toward the slow-toiling carriage.
“Oh heavens! let us in--let us in quick!”
“What now ? What’s the matter? Have you encountered some untimely snake or frost-bitten lizard?”
To Crayon’s inquiry they vouchsafed no reply, but in breathless haste bundled into the vehicle, and, ere they had fairly disposed themselves in their seats, the question was answered from another quarter. Where the road swept in a bold curve around the base of a cliff, now advanced with slow and stately tread, in all the pomp of bovine majesty, the vanguard of one of those monstrous herds of cattle wending their way from the rich pastures of Monroe and Greenbrier to the eastward. First came a stout negro, with stupid face and loutish step, leading an ox, whose sublime proportions and majestic port might have served as a disguise for Jove himself.
“Large rolls of fat about his shoulders clung,/ And from his neck the double dewlap hung,”
while his horns sprung from his curling forehead in tapering length, a full cloth-yard each one. What horns ! What noble drinking cups they would have made. One of them would hold enough to fuddle a Thracian. The negro remarked Crayon’s admiring glances, and, as he touched his hat, the dull face lighted up with an expression: “Am not I one of the chosen--I, who serve so magnificent a beast? Night and morning I curry him, and walk all day in his presence. He and I are the observed and envied of all.” “`Pears to me,” said Mice, ” dat fool nigger is proud to be a leadin’ of dat big beef.”
Following this leader came a train of thirty or forty others, scarcely inferior in size or appearance; and when the carriage, winding slowly through this formidable-looking company, turned the angle of rock, the road was visible in its windings for a mile or more, alive with cattle and bristling with horns. The horses held on their way through the living mass as steadily as if unaware of their presence, although the mountain resounded far and near with the hoarse bellowing of the beeves, mingled with the oaths and whoops of the drivers. The girls, who at first looked doubtfully upon the array of monstrous horns, and the red, lowering eyes of the savage troop, soon regained their self-possession, and commented coolly on their size and keeping.
The celebrated view from the summit of the Warm Spring Mountain did not strike our travelers very forcibly, probably owing to the clouds which hid the distant mountain-tops rising to the eastward. The view of the Warm Springs and the valley seen directly below them was extremely pretty. This village, which is the county-seat of Bath, owes its existence and name to the famous fountain, and, in fact, consists of nothing more than the group of hotels, cottages, and out-houses about the Springs, and the ordinary county buildings, a court-house, jail, etc. The principal hotel has heretofore had a high reputation for excellence; and the bathing-houses, although somewhat primitive in their construction, furnish a bath at a natural temperature of 98 Fahrenheit, the luxury of which must be experienced to be appreciated.
Our party remained at this place but a few hours, and hurried on to the Hot Springs, five miles distant, where they arrived about five o'clock on Saturday evening, the 22d of October. Although the hotel here was closed for the season, the proprietor gave them a hospitable welcome, and they soon found themselves installed in comfortable quarters.
This place, to the scientific traveler, is one of the most curious and interesting in the mountains. The Hot Springs, about twenty in number, issue from the base of a hill or spur of the Warm Spring Mountain, and range in temperature from 98 to 106, but, owing to the proximity of fountains of cold water at 53, baths of any intermediate temperature may be had. The bathing-houses are numerous and well arranged to suit the purposes of invalids. These waters are chiefly celebrated for their efficacy in rheumatism, dyspepsia, and affections of the liver, although they are resorted to by all classes of invalids. The proprietor is himself an eminent physician, and to the enlightened use of the waters under his direction is probably owing much of their success in the cure of disease.
The hotel and cottages here are pleasantly situated and comfortable, and the table most unexceptionable. Sunday was a delightful day, and our friends passed it pleasantly and quietly, wandering up and down hills, through meadows and forests, drinking in buoyant health with the pure atmosphere, and enjoying the mellow beauties of the autumn landscape. The evening fell in still and solemn grandeur.
“We will have a brilliant starlit night,” quoth Crayon; “the air is soft and balmy. To-morrow I will make two or three fine sketches before we leave here.”
“To-morrow,” said Fanny, “I will produce my colors, and attempt this bit of purple landscape opening to the south.”
“To-morrow,” laughed Minnie May,“I will gather leaves of the maple and hickory, and weave chaplets of crimson and gold to crown our artists withal.”
“And what shall I do to-morrow?” inquired Dora. “I’ll point Porte Crayon’s pencils for him, and hold Fanny’s color-box while she paints, and help Minnie to weave her chaplets.”
To-morrow, ay, to-morrow--oh, simple-hearted schemers! who can reckon what a night may bring forth? In a night the gourd of Jonah grew, and in a night it withered. In a night the host of the Assyrian was blasted. And while your young eyelids are fanned by the soothing wings of sleep, in the darkness and silence of a night, what mighty changes may be wrought upon the face of nature!