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.

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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 die.

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 any moment.

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."