A Boy's Foolish Adventure
by Edward Eggleston
The Natural Bridge has long been thought one of the great curiosities
of our country. It is in Virginia, and the county in which it is
situated is called Rockbridge County.
The traveler is riding in a stage on a wild road in the mountains. The
road grows narrow. Soon it is a mere lane, with high board fences and
small trees on each side. But the traveler sees nothing to show him
that he is on the wonderful Natural Bridge.
The Natural Bridge.
The bridge that he is driving over is about forty feet thick, and of
solid rock. If he should go to the other side of the board fence, he
could look down into a ravine more than two hundred feet deep.
When the traveler goes down into the ravine, he looks up at the
beautiful curve of this great bridge of rock. The bridge is nearly one
hundred and seventy-five feet above his head.
Many years ago, when the writer of this book was a boy, he stood in the
dark chasm underneath this bridge and looked up at the great bridge of
rock above. He took a stone, as all other visitors do, and tried to
throw it so as to hit the arch of the bridge above. But the stone
stopped before it got halfway up, and fell back, resounding on the
rocks below. Then he was told the old story, that nobody had ever
thrown to the arch except George Washington, who had thrown a silver
dollar clear to the center of the bridge.
There were names scribbled all over the rocks. People are always trying
to write their own names in such strange places as this. Above all the
other names were two rows of mere scratches. If they had ever been
names, they were too much dimmed to be read by a person standing on the
rocks below. The lower of these two high names, the people said, was
the name of Washington. It was said that when he was a young man, he
climbed higher than any one else to scratch his name on the rock. And
the name above his, they said, was the name of a young man who had had
a strange adventure in trying to write his name above that of the
father of his country.
The story of this young man's climbing up the rocks used to appear in
the old schoolbooks. It was told with so many romantic additions, that
it was hard to believe.
The writer afterwards learned that the main fact of the story was true,
and, that the hero of the story was still living in Virginia.
This foolhardy boy, whose name was Pepper, climbed up the rock to write
his name above the rest. Pepper climbed up by holding to little broken
places in the rocks till he had got above the names of all the other
climbers. He ventured to climb till he had passed the marks which
people say are part of Washington's name. Here Pepper held fast with
one hand, while he scratched his name in the rock.
His companions were far below him. He could not get down again. The
rock face was too smooth. He could not stoop to put his hands down into
the cracks where his feet were. If he had tried to, he would have lost
his hold, and been dashed to pieces on the rocks below.
There was nothing to do now but to climb out from under the bridge, and
so up the face of the rock to the top of the gorge. He must do this or
Painfully clinging to the rock with his toes and his fingers, he worked
his way up. Sometimes a crevice in the rock helped him. Sometimes he
had to dig a place with his knife in order to get a hold. It seemed
that each step would be his last.
The few people living in the neighborhood heard of his situation, and
gathered below and above to look at him. They watched him with
breathless anxiety. His friends expected to see him dashed to pieces at
As the time wore on, he worked his way up. He also got farther out from
under the bridge. He held on like a cat. He hooked his fingers into
every crack he could find. He dug holes with his dull knife. When he
could find a little bush in the rocks, he thought himself lucky.
Men let down ropes to him, but the ropes did not reach him. They tied
one rope to another so as to reach farther down, but he was too far
under the bridge. The people hardly dared to speak or to breathe.
At last he began to get out at the side of the bridge where he could be
seen from above. His strength was almost gone. His knife was too much
worn to be of any use. He could not cling to the rock much longer.
A rope with a noose in it was swung close to him. He let go his grip on
the rock, and threw his arms and body into the noose. In a moment he
swung clear of the rock, and dangled in the air. The rope drew tight
about his body and held him. Young Pepper knew no more. He was drawn up
over the rocks to the summit quite unconscious.
Years afterward he became a man of distinction in his State. But when
any of his friends asked Colonel Pepper about his climbing out from
under the Natural Bridge, he would say, "Yes; I did that when I was a
foolish boy, but I don't like to think about it."