Dwellers in the Hills (Chapter 7, page 1 of 6)

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Chapter 7

The road running into the south lands crosses the Valley River at two places,--at the foot of Thornberg's Hill and twenty miles farther on at Horton's Ferry. At the first crossing, the river bed is piled with boulders, and the river boils through, running like a millrace, a swift, roaring water without a ford. At Horton's Ferry the river runs smooth and wide and deep, a shining sheet of clear water, making a mighty bend, still ford-less, but placid enough to be crossed by a ferry, running with a heavy current when swollen by the rains, except in the elbow of the bend where it swings into a tremendous eddy.

Over the river, where the road meets it first, is a huge wooden bridge with one span. It is giant work, the stone abutment built out a hundred feet on either side into the bed of the plunging water, neither rail nor wall flanking this stone causeway, but the bare unguarded width of the road-bed leading up into the bridge.

On the lips of the abutment, the builders set two stone blocks, smooth and wide, and cut places in them for the bridge timbers. It was a piece of excellent judgment, since the great stones could not be broken from the abutment, and they were mighty enough to bear the weight of a mountain. The bridge rests on three sills, each a log that, unhewn, must have taken a dozen oxen to drag it. I have often wondered at the magnitude of this labour; how these logs were thrown across the boiling water by any engines known to the early man. It was a work for Pharaoh. On these three giant sleepers the big floor was laid, the walls raised, and the whole roofed, so that it was a covered road over the Valley.

The shingle roof and the boarded sides protected the timber framework from the beating of the elements. Dry, save for the occasional splash of the hissing water far below, the great bones of this bridge hardened and lasted like sills of granite. The shingle roof curled, cracked, and dropped off into the water; the floor broke through, the sides rotted, and were all replaced again and again. But the powerful grandsires who had come down from the Hills to lay a floor over the Valley were not intending to do that work again, and went about their labour like the giants of old times.

Indeed, a legend runs that these sills were not laid by men at all, but by the Dwarfs. As evidence of this folklore tale, it is pointed out that these logs have the mark of a rough turtle burned on their under surface like the turtle cut on the great stones in the mountains. And men differ about what wood they are of, some declaring them to be oak and others sugar, and still others a strange wood of which the stumps only are now found in the Hills. It is true that no mark of axe can be found on them, but this is no great wonder since the bark was evidently removed by burning, an ancient method of preserving the wood from rot.

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