by Edwin B. Child - Illustrations by the Author
Scribener's Magazine - May 1905*
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"Goin' to shoot in there. Got about twenty or thirty holes we've got to fire." It was a tall, gaunt Yankee overseer in a mountain marble quarry, and I was asking what the unusual look of things meant. I had hung around this and other quarries for days at a time, and this day was different. The noisy clank of cutters and drills was stilled, and a number of machines had been loaded on cars where the skewy track came elbowing out of the quarry pit, giving somewhat the look of a May moving.
"You ain't goin' to touch 'em all, air ye, Ed?" queried the Blacksmith, who, like all native Yankee quarrymen, always called the foreman familiarly by his first name, abbreviated. "Got eighteen filled, and I can touch nine. If the other feller's as good as I be, we'll get 'em."
"Ed" looked at him dryly. "Once I touched twenty-two and a 'cotton' alone." A grim twinkle came into a corner of his near eye, and he spit with precision at a chunk of marble. "The fust one was pretty nigh burnt when I touched the last, and I wa'n't a hell of a ways out of the quarry when they began to pop." And he stalked away around a pile of refuse marble-"refuge," Sim Jenkins called it-to another part of the quarry.
So I learned that they were about to blast away a layer of stone that covered a lower pocket of marble in a part of the pit hidden by the buttressed entrance. Before I got in sight of the men who were tamping in the charges there came a sudden sharp explosion, followed by somewhat involved diaconal oaths that belong to Vermonters, and back around the turn came the overseer, running with ashy face, followed by other men, fearful of a premature explosion. Luckily no harm was done, though it had been a close call for young Abe Slocum, lately graduated from water-boy to helper. The scare made "Ed" reminiscent.
"No, nobody ever got hurt blastin' in my time. Once when we was getting' out a slice up there jest below where you see that derrick"-and he pointed to where a flying buttress of marble seemed to bolster up the mountain at one side of the entrance, a striking piece of natural architecture left by the accident of cutting away the marble each side-"you know we had a way of strippin' back the cotton an inch or so, an' then shakin' out the black paowder. We had about a dozen holes to bust up there, and jest as I had touched two or three, I heard a kind of 'siss' behind me, an' I sez, 'Gosh, boys, she's in the paowder!' We had to git up about ten or a dozen feet of ladder to git out of that hole, and we didn't stop long. We'd jest got over the edge when the place was pretty well filled with pieces of rock. You can bet I give that feller a combin' thet stripped that cotton. He said they was just goin' down in to find us. They'd heared the blow and didn't see us in the smoke. I told him he'd better git his mind on strippin' his cotton ruther'n goin' down in holes pickin' up pieces of humans. Then we went back and fired the other nine.
In a short time everything was ready. The men were gathered in groups well out of danger, a great shoulder of the mountain protruding itself between us and the charges. The foreman and his helper, Bill Crandall, had gone in with red-hot irons that the blacksmith had been keeping ready, and had come out again on a run, he having touched his nine and one more; for Bill had made but eight. It was a bit thrilling, the explosions following each other irregularly tearing, wrenching, rending the ledges, filling the pit with booming, echoing thunder and flying rock, some pieces going sky-high and landing far up the mountains in the woods. Dense clouds of smoke and dust followed, against which were silhouetted the foreman's lank figure as he stood with his stocky helper, keeping count, well in advance of the men. As he counted he noted by "That was a good poke" or "Somethin' lifted them" the blasts that were doing what was wanted. "Yes, I kin tell pretty much whether they're liftin' the rock right or jest shootin' off for show. And I caount 'cause it's jest as well to know if all the holes has blowed." he continued. "I wouldn't want to set down where one was hangin' fire, and it's pretty hard to tell, when two or three go off together, jest how many they be."
"No, 'taint dynamite. We use black paowder: it breaks the rock up better. Dynamite is so sort of sudden: it's apt to crumble everything up into dust in a little hole, and then it's so powerful it strains the hull mountain. It might run a crack right through a good vein or marble, and besides in this quarry we have to look out for the roof of our tunnel."
This quarry of which "Ed" Hooker was overseer is perched high up on the side of a steep mountain, and reached by a rough road that zigzags its way laboriously through side-hill pastures and sugar-maple woods, past a dingy line of quarrymen's houses, adhering with apparent uncertainty to the steep slope, their front-yard flower-gardens nearly bumping the eaves, and the pig-pens and chicken-yards almost hanging from the cellar walls; then the road curves itself up to where the quarry rears its white cliffs. The open cut is a pit only in part. The marble mountain has been sliced down until, in the rear, the white walls have become precipices from which drop threadlike cables from tall derricks, whose power is steam, or the steady circling of a big gray horse, seeming as unconcerned as a goal or a burro, as he pulls his sweep to the edge of the cliff. Through the pit from the entrance wanders a track, vastly uncertain as to its curves and willful as to its abrupt changes of grade, carrying single-truck cars on which the blocks are loaded by the far-above derricks and run out to their big plunge down the mountain-side.
Here again our gray is harnessed to a sweep, first to shift the blocks from the small car to the cable, and then to start that car forward to the verge of the incline, where its weight begins to tug at the cable drums with their four great brakes, and the counter-balancing car that is bringing up its load of coal and other supplies. A full mile this incline plunges straight down to the railroad in the valley.
"You can ride if you want to," said Hooker; "I won't charge you no fare, and I won't insure your life. If she should fetch loose she'll go hell bent for 'lection. There won't nothin' stop her this side of Jericho. She never broke but once, and that was after she'd been runin' seventeen year. It's near seventeen more now, and I shouldn't wonder if somethin' was about due."
In striking contrast to the open cut are the tunnels, where the same veins of marble are reached by burrowing into the heart of things in wide shadowy caves whose narrower entrances are deep-set eye-sockets in the face of the white cliff. Their wide vaulted roofs are supported by piers and walls of marble, left as the quarrymen drill their way in. They are huge and handsome, but seem too infrequent for safety when one sees the enormous span of the cave roof and considers the weight of mountain overhead.
"There's lots of places in this here tunnel where I wouldn't work, not for tew dollars a day," said the Blacksmith; and he pointed significantly to some large slabs forming a part of the tunnel floor and to the reversed imprint of their shapes overhead. "Bill Jenkins was considerable flatted out a couple of years ago when a ton or tew fell on him-right over there where that broken cog lays. We was comin' out together, I was just a leetle ahead, 'n' he was talkin' 'about the loose scale, an' he chucked his drill up at it. 'Twas jest enough to start it, an' gosh-fer-a-mighty, but if I wa'n't close! It fanned my hair and ears, an 'de' yer know his heart came out jest like a piece of notepaper. Well, I went off and didn't come to till after they'd got him out. After that they fixed things up some. They knocked off all the loose scale and was pretty keerful for a while; but that don't last long nowheres." By which I saw that the Blacksmith was something of a philosopher.
On rainy and lowery days the work is trying in the tunnels. The steam and smoke thicken and hang heavy, so that the men can with difficulty see each other at arm's reach. It seems uncanny to stand by the half hour within ten feet of a gang of men, your ear assailed by clatter and din of cutters and drills, the hissing of steam, the scraping of shovel and clang of iron bars on stone-hearing the voices of busy contented men, or their united grunts as they heave together, prying at some stubborn stone, but seeing nothing. Look toward the entrance, and the fog lessens a bit; shadowy forms come suddenly out of the gloom walking on fog; a silhoutte of horses, both exactly the same fog color, though one is black and one white in the open. The top of a crane with no base shapes itself out of the smudge, swings a block of fog-colored marble toward some fog-colored men, who guide it to a fog-colored car, on which the foggy horses drag it out into daylight.
With a shift of weather the sun gets the better of the clouds outside, and almost at once the tick smoke and steam are gone. Everything becomes strong, definite, and bold. Powerful lines of natural rock cleavage run riot overhead. In a shadowy corner a torch that was helpless against the fog glows on the men who are mending or adjusting some tools with its aid, and a block of marble that the derrick has lifted from its long sleep of thousands of years comes pearly white from its bed. Close by, outside, is the big dump, its side tumbling down the mountain like rip-rapping on a great river-bank, its top of a fine wide level which grows larger with each season's added waste. Here in the summer, overlooking a splendid sweep of the valley that divides the green mountains from the Taconic Range, the men from the tunnels, where not even active work prevents the damp chill from penetrating to the bones, come to sun themselves while they eat their dinner. They are not unconscious of the beauty of the place-"Sightly" they call it. "Ain't it slick and neat?" said the Blacksmith.
Nearly all of the men at this quarry are Yankees, men whose skill and intelligence are varied and who do not need overmuch bossing; who can, and often do, turn from quarrying to farming or house-building or plumbing or running a river-boat on the Hudson, or even managing a hotel for the unwary summer boarder. Among the young and husky quarrymen old Nathan Weeks looked misplaced. His close-cropped chin-whisker was white, his shoulders narrow, and his movements slow. It seemed that a restful sunny front porch would be a more fitting place for him than a quarry-pit.
"He does move tarnation slow," said the Blacksmith, "but he's the best man in the quarry yet. He don't need no talkin' to nuther. He's alwuz thar an' knows what he's up to, and he can do more'n the best man next, whatever it is. There ain't a man in the caounty can chop as many trees in a day as he can, and every stump he leaves is as slick and smooth as if he'd planed it. It don't make no difference how fast the rest of 'em start, he's alwuz the fust to the top of the maountain, and he never stops to breathe himself before he puts his axe in. I remember seein' him once pullin' a big stone for the underpinnin' of his barn. He'd yoked up a big pair, weighin' a ton apiece, to the stone, with 'about fifty foot of chain, and the oxen daown in a mess of brush in a gully, and he'd swing his gad and throw them oxen inter the yoke and stop 'em when she'd slid jest an inch and a quarter. Another quarter would 'a' ripped the whole inside stuffin' out of everything. By gum, you couldn't put a leaf between the stone and the sill he'd drawed to! And he's jest as good anywhere in the quarry. He looks sort of peaked and old, but he's awful tough. Did you ever go to one of his meetin's! you'd oughter have. His father was an old Methody exhorter, an' he kinder inherited it. He used to have meetin's in the school-house over in Spanktown Holler, regular. But it got so't folks would go to laff jest hearin' him pray and he give it up. Gosh, but Silas Way ketched it once! The old man got up and he sez: 'They's some folks thet don't know any more abaout missions than Brother Silas over thar.' Then Silas he quit goin'."
The Blacksmith threw down the last of the bunch of drills he had been sharpening, settled down on a bench near the door, filled his pipe, and went on. "'Way up in the end of the Holler, near where them big pot-holes is that you've heared about, Uncle Nate's father used to have a quarry where he an' Nate used to git out a few small blocks the best they could in winter. They didn't have no sech tools as we have nowadays, but they'd manage to split 'em up and smooth 'em down with old pieces of grin'stone and sech like, and bimeby they'd git a bunch of pretty likely lookin' headstones. Sometimes the old man would set to work and fix up one or two off extra. He'd cut a bunch of leaves with the stems stickin' right out so't you could see 'em jest as plain-or a harp with strings to it. I tell you they was awful slick and neat. Then he'd load 'em up in his wagon and go peddlin'. Sometimes when folks was real healthy he'd git a good ways off, clear to Ohio, 'fore he'd get sold out.
"Well, one day they found a new vein of marble in the quarry. You know they didn't have no way of corein' the way we do now, an' 'twa'n't easy to tell what was under you. Anyhow, he'd found enough to make him think he was fixed. He wouldn't have to git rich, he could jest sit down an' be rich. So when he got home that night he sez to his wife, 'Miss Weeks,' sez he, 'yer needn't to wear caliker no more. Yer can wear bombazine fer every day naow.' Well, the next mornin' he went back to the quarry an' he found that there'd been a 'slide' and his quarry an' his tools were under about twenty thousand tons of mountain.
The other old man of the quarry was "Be Num." He was bent and grizzled, and his manner of working indicated that he was kept on the job more for what he had been than for any present efficiency. But there was a slight twist in the ends of his moustache that did not belong to Vermont. "Yes, he's French," said the Blacksmith; "a 'Kanuck'. His real name is Alphonse le Grande, but we all call him 'Be Num' for short. That's French for good man!"
Deeper in the mountain, reached by an unlighted passage dubious to find one's way through, or by a farther outside opening, partly covered by indiscriminate masses of rock that have from time to time tumbled from the overhanging cliff, is an older tunnel, long since unworked. An irregular squat column of singular charm of color and shape supports the entrance. The interior is richly tinted by time and smoke and water. A shadowy pool fills the back of the cave, reflecting dimly its strange forms and mysterious beauty, the dimness and the mystery deepening until all disappears in veiled shadow that has no boundaries. Figures look unreal like the figures on the low-lighted stage of a great opera. It seems like a dream-setting for some scene from Wagner. A few notes of a Wagner motif from a child's treble voice float in high half-echoing vibrations, until they join the mystic shadow. And a bass voice in an answering theme seems to come from and belong to the place. The figures move into the gloom and are still, and, in the silence, comes a beautifully liquid note with its whispered echo as unseen water drips, drips, into the pool whose surface shows no sign.
A line of men formed a long pulsating diagonal across the composition as they heaved rhythmically at the end of a rope stretching over the yawning pit. The first man's foot was braced against the lower right-hand corner of my sketch-book, and the last man's straining shoulder smudged against the base of a derrick at the upper left; behind them the open quarry on the edge of which they were working. That was the way it looked as an arrangement. They were replacing a steel guy-rope that the night before had whipped itself loose under the strain of a too heavy load, and savagely lashed the marble within a foot of Cy Cole, the gang foreman, who was now bossing the repair of it, and who was at the moment hanging by a derrick hook half-way down the side of the sheer wall, rigging a block and tackle.
It was at one of the quarries that lie in the open valley, shining with dazzling white in the full glare of the sun, its great pits dropping into dizzying depths, cool, luminous, and clean, where men, looking like flies in a sugar-bucket, slop around in snow-white mud. Far down, black machines, puffing inky smoke from their rust-red stacks, clank heavily to and fro, chiseling deep grooves. Higher up, small battalions of cutters, spurting their criss-crossing jets of white steam, move across tables of rock to the very verge of the lower pits, but never going over. One always expects them to, seeing often no stops at the end of their projecting tracks.
Steam is everywhere, twisting its hot way through endless many-elbowed pipes that creep along ledges, drop into pits, climb dizzy walls, and wander about the quarry in drunken zigzags. It spurts itself out of every loose joint or leaky valve, watching its chances to puff at some unsuspecting bystander with a smother of dirty warm water, and then suddenly with explosive coughs it slams the drills into their grooves. It sputters in spasmodic gasps where the three-legged drills are worrying their way with bull-dog tenacity into the sides of the unsplit blocks, and urges the big pumps with wheezy groan to keep down the incoming water in the lowest levels. It puffs itself out in cloudlets that jump and climb, chased by blue shadows up the cream-white dazzle of sunlit marble walls. It plays little picture games, smothering a figure from view, but leaving his shadow silhouetted beyond. It gathers, on days of heavy cloud and misty rain, from all the machines in a dramatic sweep of white against the angry gray-blue sky and mountain. It screams out of shrill signal whistles; it roars its way out of safety-valves; it hauls endless steel cables on a dozen derricks and coils them snugly around the big drums in the engine-house; it does a hundred busy things in a hundred busy ways, now with saucy impudence, now with vigorous, forceful emphasis, now with mighty resistless power.
Around the pit, stayed by a clumsy lace-work of guy-ropes, are perched the huge derricks, rearing their powerful arms against the big blue and white and green of sky and cloud and mountain. Its boundaries are piled walls of alabaster, sliced through by railroad tracks, on which snorting locomotives push empty cars up heavy grades for loading, or carefully take them down again with their shining burden.
Such a quarry is in striking contrast to "Ed" Hooker's. It seems more modern, though perhaps it is not. It may be the sensations one gets from creeping in near the heart of a mother mountain, where might be whispered secrets treasured through the ages, giving an element of unreality that disappears here where all is in open day. Differences in ways of working may be due only to differences of conditions; some ways of working will not do where land slopes at an apparent angle of forty-five degrees. One sees modern harvesting-machines-the kind invented in the big flat West-used in the valley farms, but they will not work on "Uncle Nate's" side-hill meadows, where to ride an ordinary mowing-machine is dare-devil boys' work.
Here the men are of all sorts-Yankees, French, Italian, Irish, Poles-some having their homes in the near-by farms and villages, where they and their fathers have farmed and quarried and lived the lives of good citizens for generations; others living in bunches in bare, raw, two-roomed boarding-houses, where all the sleeping is done in one room, and the cooking and eating in the other. They all seem to work together in harmony. Indeed, they display wonderful unanimity in dropping sledge or lever, shovel or chain, to start up the long ladders, like ants in unbroken line, when the noon whistle blows.
"Folks always say that these fellows do a lot of loafing," said the foreman, "and some of 'em do seem to stand round a good deal; but quarrying is hard work, and they all earn their day's pay 'fore night comes."
Much of the work is heavy and tiring, but by ten minutes after twelve dinner-pails are out of sight and a lively game of baseball is in progress, played with all the zest of school-boys relieved from several hours over books and whose blood needs stirring.
Back to their work they go at one, and it is a merry crew-full of jibes and horse-play, with now and then a dry Yankee joke slipped in where it will do the most good. There seems always time for a friendly interchange of snowballs, made of marble dust and waters, that move with a degree of emphasis that makes clever dodging prudent. Back to the cutters that begin working their way to and fro, channeling their vertical grooves to the appointed depth. Back to the drills that bore their horizontal holes ready for the splitting. And the splitting of a hundred-and-twenty-ton block of marble is worth watching.
The wedges carefully greased, are inserted between their half-rounds in the drill holes, which for a horizontal split are neither close together nor very deep, as that is the natural plane of cleavage. Two men with sledges go down the line, giving each wedge a blow, not too hard. It seems at first a play at working, so deliberately is it done, with an unexplained wait between their turn and the pair following. After two or three rounds there is a longer wait while the foreman and one or two others examine carefully for a sign of a crack. Two more go down the line with steady swing, and in go the wedges a fraction of an inch farther. Now in places the crack begins to show, the rock has begun to lift. Then the foreman himself takes the sledge, and with beautiful precision places his blows, knowing just how much each wedge needs. For the crack must connect from hole to hole, through the entire twenty-feet of the split. Carefully he examines the crack, and after a longer wait certain few wedges are chosen for an extra blow or two.
A bit too much haste, and the marble may split in a sharp diagonal, and what was to have been part of a cornice on a Fifth Avenue palace is ruined and goes to the dump. At last the crack is complete; and now a six-foot Milanese and a swarthy, stocky Yankee-for so the types sometimes run-smash the wedges in and the crack widens. Now the foreman marks certain wedges to be driven home, freeing the rest. For a bit the quiet deliberation has disappeared. With bulging eyes, out-thrust neck, open mouth, each gasping blow is given with all the power a man has, until soon the long block is clear and ready to be again split into smaller blocks. For the vertical splitting the holes are drilled much closer and deeper, but the split being comparatively short, it is soon done and a block is free. Now to get the derrick chain with its four-inch links around the block. A steel bar, weighing two, three, or even five hundred pounds, needing a whole gang of men to handle it, is thrust into a crack; a long plank is placed, one end on the ground, the other end on the free end of the pry. Up on this climb the men in a slanting row, and, hugging each other around neck and shoulder, dangle up and down, thereby prying up the marble. Wooden blocks are thrust into the widening crack, and again and again the bar is raised, reset, and forced down by the teetering crew, until a four-inch iron ball can be rolled under the centre of the block. On this the marble mass can roll a bit to the side as the men mount the lever, and at last there is room for the big chain to be carried around the end of the block. The steam derrick does the rest, and soon the chain is adjusted around the centre. Every loose scale is knocked off and thrown down, for it is not pleasant to have loose bits drop off at the wrong moment.
"Where's she going?" asked the signal-man. "Right on to the car; you can't better it," is the foreman's answer, and he looks with pride at the big cube. But as the chain tightens, he halts it, and signs to a group of men with busy cutters on a rock-table across the quarry. They shut off steam, and stop their machines' noisy row to hear his word, "Stand from under." The block weighs thirty tons, and is nearly up to the safety limit for this derrick. Up the block goes above the quarry, above the trees, above the line of mountain, and, shining white against the sky, begins to circle over the pit, where men peer up from safe corners, and over the rock table with its deserted machines. It clears the top of the high wall of refuse blocks bounding the side of the pit, and then, poising a moment, drops gently to a car behind, next the power-house. There it is loaded to start on its journey cityward, to be chiseled and shaped for the cornice, perhaps, of the New York City Library, or to look twenty-three stories down on busy Broadway from a sky-scraper. Its luck, however, may be to tumble off the flat car at a curve of the track, to the disgust of a farmer who objects to having a dozen or more hills of corn ruined, and objects more to the necessity of breaking up what is now only a useless boulder.
We were talking together by the edge of one of the deep pits, the overseer and I (he was not called by his first name in this quarry; that doesn't do from "Guineys" and "Polaks"), looking down to where a gang of laborers, were adjusting a derrick chain around a big block, when he suddenly raised his hand in a simple but striking gesture that for the moment had no meaning to me; but the hoisting-engine, out of sight behind a pile of blocks, stopped as if he had had his hand on the lever. The signal man was far on the other side of the quarry, looking down, the boy who repeated his signals to the engine-house was watching him, but somewhere an eye was on the overseer, and he had seen something unready that the men nearest had not discovered.
This way in which, amid the everlasting clatter and din of the cutters and drills, where a shout would be lost, the ponderous derricks with their huge chains are controlled, blocks are turned, raised, shifted, sixty feet or two inches, all by a slight motion or turn of the hand, is one of the most striking and impressive things in the quarries.
The marble genius is a clean and wholesome sort of spirit. He leaves no disfiguring trail. Squalor, desolation and devastation, dirt and disease, discomfort and hardship, such as follow in the wake of many enterprises of men, are barred by him. His finger-prints are white, and everywhere you find them. He draws a white line down each side of a village green-marble walks for the villagers. He gives white underpinning to the houses and barns. White posts form exclamation points at the ends of fences. Cows chew their cuds behind stone walls of white marble. The Mill Brook comes tumbling into the village over a rich arrangement of natural marble steps; bridges cross it supported on piers of marble. Occasionally marble buildings are seen-barns, workshops, and less often houses, mostly old timers. The natural beauty of the stone does not always seem to satisfy. I remember an old one-story marble house that is carefully whitewashed each year. But perhaps many of us try to paint the lily more often than we think.
Clean and wholesome are the lives and work of the men. I know of no disease that comes to the quarrymen from their work. I know no finer air to breathe than comes to them on these mountain slopes. Like Uncle Nate, they grow old and are "awful tough." And I have never seen men more jolly and evidently happy at their work each day at the moment when the night whistle blows and they start for home on foot, or in shackly rigs behind good mares, or on wheels, up the valley road, in a mad, clattery race to the post-office and their daily paper, the setting sun making dusty glories around their bent shoulders and their baggy, overalled, pedaling legs.
The abandoned quarries are prodigal in the pictures in the key of white, wonderfully varied. Near the base of "Mother Merrick" is an impressive one. Sweeping walls and steps of marble, once white, but with rich stainings of time and weather, surround wide-circling pools of water, lying tranquil and inviting, like the bath of some prehistoric king of giants. This in the foreground. Across the valley, shining white behind clumps of trees in the pastures, are the dumps of other quarries. High above on the opposite mountain glowing white and lavender blobs of color show the outcropping of other veins, and over the tops of the mountains bits of cumuli push their nubby tops, repeating the varying notes of white in an aerial chord.
Some lie small and overgrown in deep woods, far from sign of road, some in the open upland, where the only paths are made by cows tracing their devious ways through the "pesky prairie weed." One is a dry, rambling excavation, gray and even blackish in color, another a deep plunging pit, brilliant and luminous, filled with water of a still vibrant dark blue, rarely reffuled by the wind, reflecting the varicolored walls like a Claude Loraine glass, while in places the moss has massed itself in a fixed waterfall down the sheer side of the opalescent marble.
Up the mountain, on the western face of Owl's Head, are two shallow tunnel quarries whose supporting piers are large, severe, and formal, like something Egyptian. Time and weather seem here to have bleached and whitened, for nowhere is a stain or spot. Walls, roof, and floor are the whitest white, and the pools of colorless water reflect the white as white again.
Still higher, on the southern turn of Green Peak, are more quarries-the "Blue Ledge," "Deef Joe," and "New Opening," the highest of all. "Deef Joe" is on the edge of a precipice-a vast, quiet, open pit, with a majestic entrance where on a cautious approach one may be greeted by the shrill whistle of a scared woodchuck or the angry scream of a red-tailed hawk. On a dead tree by the entrance I one day saw an eagle perched, while clouds were floating below us, screening the valley. It was here that a young mountain farmer-the very type, in thin-lipped, honest-eyed face and quiet, lithe movement, and even in the old long-barreled muzzle-loader he carried, of the famous Green Mountain boys of early days-told me a strange tale, a tale of a kind of peril not to be imagined among these rock-ribbed mountains.
He was after trout one day last summer, "way off up in on the maountain," and had fished down a stream a mile or so, when he came to a place where the brook skirted close to an old dump, the scattered blocks fringing one bank. He was moving quietly along over the blocks, with his eye on his line and on a deep pool, where the piled white stone made the water swirl and circle, when his foot slipped, and to catch his balance, he jumped free from the marble to a swampy looking place just behind-wet feet being better than a barked shin. When he landed he went deeper than he had expected, and when he tried to get out he could get no foothold. For a few moments he struggled with no thought of danger, until he realized that he was thigh-deep and helpless. Then it became evident enough what had happened and where he was. The old quarry pit had been filled up by the overflow of the brook, which for years had carried in leaves and sand and dirt, forming a soft, oozy substance, partly overgrown by grass and sedges-looking as harmless as any of the frequent swampy, springy spots that bound on these mountains, but as treacherous as any storied quicksand. He did not know how deep the hole under him might be; it did not seem to matter much. Six feet would settle things as effectually as sixty, and meanwhile he was going steadily deeper. No house nor man was within miles, perhaps no one within sound of gun had he had one. Besides time was getting short.
He began to prod about him with the butt of his fishing-rod, which he still had in his hand, to see if anything solid were near. In a few moments he struck something hard, and pushing the mud and leaves away a bit, he found it was the end of an old plank, but far out of reach, and he more than waist-deep. He reversed his rod, managed to give his line a turn around the end of the blank, and then began gently, cautiously, to pull. Would it budge? Would this soft, deadly ooze be soft enough to let the plank move? He was pulling every ounce he dared, and it yielded. It came an inch, and if the line held--! An old nail or the edge of the plank might cut it, and he was up to his armpits now. Slowly he gained on it. Gently he nursed it along. A bit freer it moved at last, when it came out of its mud bed, and finally it was within reach of his hand. but his shoulders were almost under, and the real battle was yet to come. For more than a half-hour he struggled, and bit by bit he found his way out of the slimy clutch of the smiling green hole. He said he did not remember the last of it clearly. He remembered tumbling on the firm earth, but he did not know how long he lay there unconscious. He judged by the sun it must have been an hour. Then he crawled to the brook, got in to let the mud wash off, and after a half-hour in the sun to dry, started home. "No, I didn't say nothing' 'bout it to home; I didn't want mother'n the girls to worry."
On a rock at the top of the clifflike entrance to "Deef Joe," close under the dead birch-tree, where I like to think my eagle perches when I am away, I can look over a vast sweep of mountain range, clothed in wonderful varied verdure from the first tingeing of the early spring, through the long weeks of green summer, and I reflect how slight a scratching of this verdant coat brings us to the underlying white.
Ed Hooker's blacksmith started the thought one day when I asked him how far a vein of marble ran. "Clean acrost the valley," he said. "There ain't no end to it. These maountains is all marble." And so it seems. This dotting of white villages, the outcropping white ledges in pastures and woods, the splotches of white where man has uncovered the crystalline stone, the fields bounded often by marble stone walls, make one think that the green coating is only a veneer, that the real mountains are as if the glaciers that covered the region thousands of years ago had in some way stayed, warmed and enduring a white fairyland, cloaked shyly from the undiscerning by its shifting yearly coat, waiting for some poet to people it and give a new story to the children of the world, a story of the Marble Mountains.
Scribener's Magazine, Vol. XXXVII, No. 5, Charles Scribener's Sons, May, 1905 pgs. 515-529.