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“In that case,” said my host, “our best plan will be to ascend to the Upper Valley, and if you can content yourself with hermit’s fare, and a bed of pine boughs, I think you may pass the hours until morning and see the cascades by moonlight.”
“Why here comes the sole inhabitant thereof,” he cried, as an individual with a very uncertain step moved in sight.
“Ho, Radd!” shouted Mr. Naunton, hailing him in the distance, “How are you!”
The man named gyrated toward us taking off his tattered hat with a courtly air. He looked to me like the figure of King Lear. His face had a wild majesty; his long beard, and elf locks streamed on the wind. His costume was that of the Valley, shirt and trousers, with the extra feature of rents and gashes. He was followed by a fine dog of the St. Bernard breed, which kept close to his heels, executing the same evolutions as his master, and maintaining a careful watch upon him, as though he feared that every movement he might be called upon to help him, and that it was necessary to be at hand.
“Madam,” said Mr. Radd with a deferential obeisance, “at your service. What though a stranger in these unexplored wilds, you are as welcome as flowers in spring.”
I thanked him, and Mr. Naunton took up the parole.
“Well, then, I am sure you will do your best to accommodate this lady for the evening, for she wishes to enjoy this glorious scenery to the full. Can you make her a bed of pine boughs?”
“‘Aye, aye, master, that I can’—
‘Strew then, O strew
The bed of rushes;
Here shall she rest
Till morning blushes.’”
Broke out Mr. Radd in a rich baritone voice that woke the echoes.
“Do you think she can manage to climb the rocky steep to your valley?”
“‘As with his wings aslant
Sails the fierce cormorant;
So to my rocky haunt
Bear I the maiden.’”
“Sixteen years a matron,” I laughed.
“You had better not let your wife hear you say that,” cried Mr. Naunton.
Mr. Radd shrugged his shoulders as though warding off an imaginary broomstick; made three zigzag steps forward and three ditto backward, followed by Rollo, and said, plaintively,—
“‘Come where the aspens quiver.’
“Here, Rollo!” he said, addressing the dog, “carry the lady’s satchel: show your gallantry, man!”
Rollo approached deferentially with an expression that said, “I am only too happy to be useful to a lady, but do not wish to intrude myself unnecessarily.” He took the bag gently and walked behind his master.
We followed him above the Wild-cat Cascade and on by the rapids, until we neared the foot of the Great Fall we had seen in the distance, and right at the foot of the Mah-tah, thence up the steep side of jagged rocks and huge boulders where a “fierce cormorant” to bear me up would have been no mean assistance.
Sometimes the poetic Radd would improvise a rustic seat from whence we had a fine view of the roaring cascade. Sometimes he would conduct us into a cave, introducing us with—
“‘Here, in cool grot and mossy cell,
With woodland nymphs and fairies dwell.’”
Thus by degrees we wound up the rocky path, for far away above the topmost cataract of the Nevada is a delicious little valley where the Mercede, once more a pure and peace-loving stream, flows through a green flowery dell.
Soon we were pressing the primeval turf of this Valley which few human feet had ever trod.
“This indeed is a surprise,” I exclaimed, as I cast my eyes around on the magic scene of higher mountains, fresh cataracts, new groves, and again a lovelier phase of the river.
“Yes,” said Radd, “Nature has donned her brightest garb to welcome the Queen of May.”
“Bravo, Radd! Then how do you account for its being June?” said Mr. Naunton.
“June it may be with you down below in your march of civilization, but with us it is still May.”
We now perceived a habitation something like an Indian wigwam, constructed partly of the bark of trees and partly of canvas.
“I will not ask you to share my humble cot, but with these hands will build you a palace of art,” said Radd, and he oscillated from side to side and finally dived into the wigwam.
“He is afraid to take you in suddenly,” whispered my companion, “on account of his wife Nell, who has not the most placable of tempers in the world.”
Presently we heard a shrill voice coming from the hut, exclaiming,—
“I’m downright ’shamed of you, Radd. You know we hain’t no ’commodations for folk as you goes picking up by the highways and by-ways a bidding to the marriage feast when there ain’t none: not unlike as there might be if you was like any other man. We might ’commodate folks as comes as well as other folks down in the Valley. There’s them turkeys I had this here spring as was as fine turkeys as ever was and laid as first-rate eggs. Why, them eggs in cakes was as rich as ever you tasted, and you let them hawks carry them all off just because you wouldn’t shoot ’em, and you would go on with your humbug a calling of them falcons.”
Here Radd made his appearance bearing a three-legged chair, formed from the gnarled bough of a tree, with a sacking bottom.
“I prithee be seated on this rustic bench, and I will twine for thee a bower of eglantine and roses.”
Presently Mrs. Nell made her appearance, her face and arms shining brightly from a fresh scrubbing down. She was an ungainly woman, as I had expected from the tone of her voice, with angular limbs and harsh features; one large tooth protruding seemed anxious to make up for a gap in her mouth, through which she seemed to speak without the trouble of opening it.
“Good day, ma’am,” she said, making an attempt at a bob curtsey; “good day, Mr. Naunton; yer welcome to the top Valley: we hain’t to say much ’commodations as you have below. Some folks has a way of ’cumulatin’ things around, and some has a way of slatterin’ around.”
Here she cast a reproachful look on Radd, the twist in her mouth strongly indicating the twist she seemed inclined to give his neck, round which a blue neckerchief was tied in the form of a halter.
“But you are welcome to all the ’commodations we have.”
Meantime Radd was busy with his hatchet, felling pine boughs to construct the bower, a feat which he accomplished in a surprisingly short time.
“I’d like a drink of water,” said Mr. Naunton to Mrs. Radd.
“Well now, Radd!” exclaimed Mrs. Radd, extending both arms to-ward him with the fists partially closed, “have ye been and brought tip them lone folks and never taken ’em to the spring of as fine water as there is in the country round. Why, you’d bring folks past the gates of Paradise, that’s what you would, and never let them know, if you was a mooning over some of your crack-brained nonsense: the idee of bringing folks past the spring when I left a tin cup there a’purpose, as mebbe there might be folks a coming up, but you never think of nothing.”
“Rollo!” she shrieked, “take the pail and go and get some water, do! and make yourself useful, forever maundering about at your master’s heels, lazing around. I shouldn’t wonder if some day you began to spout pottery!” and with grim chuckle she flung him a pail which he took demurely and walked off.
“That there dorg has more sense nor most Christians,” she remarked approvingly, “but I’m obleeged to keep him up to his work and not let him guess how smart he is.”
Her green eyes twinkled, and the long tooth thrust itself forward an eighth of an inch. “Why,” she continued, “if it warn’t for Rollo I should never know where that crazy fellow had been. He might put hisself, p’raps, over a precipice or down a cascade: the Lord knows what sink he’d tumble into if it warn’t for Rollo: why he’s better nor a nurse-tender to him. For Mr. Naunton knows well that he never goes down to that there Valley below to trade off his skins but what if there’s a drop of whiskey in fifty miles he’ll have it, and if Rollo didn’t bring him home he’d have been lying at the bottom of the Specific Ocean, or somewheres else, this many a year; and if he war, I’m not the woman to cry for him. I’ve not lived around in mountains for a matter of fifteen years not to know how to ’commodate myself to circumstances. I don’t want no lazy men around me anyways, but if it warn’t for Rollo I might mebbe stand waiting around thinking he’d turn up somewheres.”
Here the subject of the eulogium appeared, steadily bearing the bucket of cold spring water.
“There,” she exclaimed, as she wiped a cup on her apron and presented me the cool sparkling water, “there’s a ’commodation you can’t get in the Valley below. Mr. Naunton, you’ve no water to beat that, I guess.”
“Certainly not,” said Mr. Naunton, “it is delicious; the upper Valley excels in springs.”
“Here! Rollo, where are you off to?” as the dog was furtively stealing away to his master.
“I guess this lady’s to be accommodated now she’s here, and mebbe you think I’m to do the whole business myself, but I’m not; so just you grind this coffee, and look likely about it!”
Rollo winked compliance, and mounted upon an old stump and commenced pushing with his two front paws a double handled coffee-mill ingeniously nailed against a tree, and constructed on the principle of a water-wheel. Rollo ground away, nodding his sagacious head all the while, and made me think of the French satirist, “Plus je connais les hommes, plus j’admire les chiens.”
Upon this hint of the division of labor, Mr. Naunton commenced building the fire.
“O, you’re a handy man,” said Mrs. Nell, “but I guess I can ’commodate you all round; I’ll just set you to tend this meat and see it doesn’t burn; I guess I can fix it so it will be broiled in a jiffy,” and she placed a fine venison steak upon a forked stick before the fire thrusting the other end into the earth.
“I guess you smelt my baking in the Valley below; you were right smart to hit on baking day.”
She uncovered a pan of smoking hot biscuits which looking temptingly white to mountain travellers.
Rollo had ground his coffee, and the fragrant fumes were soon wafted to our nostrils. A table was constructed of a plank of pine between two great oak-trees, which formed over our heads a canopy a king might envy. Here Nell spread her stores amid a constant fire of invectives against her two companions and grumbling at the want of “’commodations.”
“I ain’t got no sarce to give ye with your meat; that tomato sarce as your wife sent me is all gone down the mountain. Rollo broke the bottle as he was bringing it up the Wild-cat Falls, so you might have got it back again in your water,” said Mrs. Radd facetiously, again protruding the front tooth.
Rollo hung his head dejectedly, as though overcome by the guilty memory of the bottle of tomato sauce.
“Ho! Radd,” shrieked his loving helpmeet, making a horn of her hand; “that man’s never ready for his meat when his meat is ready for him,” complained Mrs. Nell, as she invited us to draw around her hospitable board. “Rollo! off and fetch him this minnit; don’t let him be dangling about there: I could a’ gathered a bushel o’ berries by this time.”
With these words, Rollo in three hounds was on the opposite side of the smooth flowing river, and in a short time we saw him carefully superintending the passage of a raft, by means of a rope drawn across it, which conveyed Radd, who was carrying an armful of blackberry bushes and two or three young spruces over his shoulders.
“There is ‘Birnam Wood moving on the castle,’” quoted Mr. Naunton; “Radd is going to make you as high a bed as they make for a princess in France.”
“Well, I guess the lady don’t want to sleep on fifteen mattresses,” said Nell, as Radd threw down his load; “you’ll pile her up as high as Mah-tah.”
Radd, casting away his tatterdemalion hat, took a seat, and Rollo, giving himself a shake as a toilet preparation, took another, and looked as demure as though he was saying grace.
Our dinner party was now complete, and we enjoyed it as no royal repast was ever relished. The forked flames of the fire flickered over the foliage and brought out a thousand fantastic forms and colors from the surrounding scenery; but long before our banquet came to an end, the silver moon shone our brightest lamp, and again the soft, weird, mysterious aspect I had admired the evening before was transmuting the rugged rocks into smooth mountains, and the frowning heights to delicately penciled cliffs, against the deep blue sky; as she sailed slowly toward the peak of Clouds’ Rest she seemed to dwell upon it, and two tall pines growing on the very summit were as clearly traced upon her burnished disk as though they had been transplanted there.
“Well, well,” said Mr. Naunton humorously, as he called our attention to this singular phenomenon, “the man who was taken to the moon for gathering sticks on Sunday must surely have planted them, and these trees are the result.”
“I can’t say as I believe about that,” said Nell sharply. “I guess if he were here he would have to gather sticks most every day, and I guess he’d be hard set to know rightly when it was a Sabbath if he’d nothing exacteter nor Radd to wind up the clock; for he lets it run down, and we have to start the week like on Monday or Tuesday, just as may be.”
“Time is made for slaves,” muttered Radd softly.
But Nell had keen ears as well as sharp eyes. “I’m ashamed of you, Radd, talking of slavery, after living a spell of fifteen years with a wife as comes from an abolition State. I make no account on these Maryland folks; they are neither one thing nor t’other, neither fat nor lean,” she said, looking fiercely at Radd, who continued to sip his coffee stoically.
We walked down to the falls in the moonlight; they fell like an avalanche of silver spray glittering like globules of quicksilver, the whole arched by a delicate lunar rainbow.
“A real pluie de perles,” I exclaimed.
“Or Naiad’s tears,” responded Radd, “weeping that Venus has usurped the loves of the golden backed dolphins.”
“Then it is not true of the dolphins, ‘qu’on retourne toujours à ses premières amours?’”
“No,” rejoined Radd; “amour only returns when the amourette is a”—
“Mrs. Brown,” I put in mischievously.
“Ah, that’s too had,” laughed Mr. Naunton, “to spoil the phrase and the compliment; it should have run, ‘When the amourette is a Sylvia,’ for that is your name I believe.”
We turned to retrace our steps, although I could have spent an hour or two in contemplation of this fairy-like spectacle; but I was laboring under some dread that Mrs. Radd, having accomplished the washing up of dishes, in which operation she had declined both Rollo’s and Radd’s assistance, might be getting impatient, and consider that we were “loafing about” the falls, instead of going to bed like decent folk.
We heard her voice long before she was discernible.
“Well, so you’ve come’d at last. I thought mebbe as Radd had persuaded you to sleep there, to hear the roar or see the linear rainbow, or some highfalutin’ notions. I guess you’ll conclude to lie down, ma’am.”
“I should say,” she continued, “that a smart woman like you would conclude to take a stretch in our hut sooner than that ramshackle thing Radd’s been piling up for you; but ’commodate yourself anyway.”
“‘It’s a bower of roses by Bendemeer’s stream,
Where the nightingale sings to you all the night long,’”
“Bendamore, indeed! it’s the crookedest piece of water in these diggings, you bet.”
Here we arrived at the bower: it was a sort of arbor constructed of the arbor vine and hemlock, covered with branches of the pinus ponderosa, which formed a roof like a Gothic cathedral, with pointed corbels, hanging in live tassels.
The bed was made of spruce, with a splendid cinnamon bear-skin for a covering. A miniature mirror—no doubt Radd’s shaving glass, whenever he performed that operation—was suspended in a frame of oak leaves, and a bouquet of wild roses in a vase, made from a curiously shaped pine-knot, chased in delicate arabesque, was placed upon what I was pleased to call my toilet table,—a very handsome buffet made of a clean square-shaped pile of arbor vitae. The whole apartment was trellised by the moonbeams, forming exquisite patterns over all.
This was really the poetry of camping out, and when once Mrs. Radd’s shrill voice was silenced in slumber the romance was complete. I lay watching the stars as they shone across my horizon through the pine boughs; and inhaling the balmy odors from my fragrant bed.
The next morning I awoke with the roseate beams of day slanting gayly through my lattice-work. I saw Nell in the distance cooking another venison-steak for breakfast, and scolding all the time,—at least I concluded she was from the motion of her head and arms.
Poor Radd, as usual, was not ready for his breakfast when it was ready for him; but just at the close appeared with two chipmunk skins, which he had been preparing as a little offering “to the first angel,” he whispered very low, “who has ever alighted in the Valley.” He took the opportunity whilst Nell was throwing a heap of brushwood on the fire, which roared and crackled briskly.
The skins were sewed neatly together, making a bag; the two little heads formed the opening, and the bushy tails made a handsome tassel.
I said I would keep it as a souvenir of the Valley.
“What of the Valley?” echoed Mrs. Radd, who never could keep out of any conversation whether she understood it or not. “I guess you might have found something better to give the lady nor them bits of varmints; there’s the big cinnamon bear-skin,” she called after Radd, as he slunk away, and, as he did not stop, she made two long strides, and seizing him by the sleeve, she hissed into his ear, “Mebbe she’d pay for it; you never brought a cent back for the last you traded off for whiskey.”
Radd gave himself as violent a shake as Rollo when he prepared his toilet for dinner, and walked on unmindful of her.
We soon began our descent of the mountains, again crawling to the very verge of the rocks forming the Nevada Falls, in order to look down over its rolling foam, which tumbled like avalanches of snow, and dispersed into mist as it touched the chaos of rocks below.
We gathered some scarlet humming-bird trumpets, growing on the ledge sweetly innocent of the tremendous torrent rushing within a few inches of their birthplace, that might any moment engulf them.
“Thus,” I said to our friend Radd, who accompanied us so far, under strict injunction from his wife to make “right smart tracks back again,”—“thus do we often loiter over the brink of the greatest catastrophe of our lives, careless of the gulf in which we are about to be precipitated.”
Next: Episode of a Kiss • Contents • Previous: Fall of Mercede