Chapter 14

 In the course of the three following days, during which the Captain and the two bog-trotters journeyed together, a great deal of ill will showed itself between the understrappers. By the bye, I ask pardon, before I go farther, of the government, for thus confounding the revenue officer with the present waiting man; but I aver, that it is not owing to any disrespect of the government, though it may have that appearance; but is to be resolved simply into the force of habit which I acquired in designating O’Regan in the early part of this narrative, before he was advanced to office; and since that, to the impression made upon my mind occasionally by his conduct, which has not entirely corresponded with the dignity of the commission. When instances occur of this nature, I fall involuntarily into use of the former epithet, which reflection, doubtless, would teach me to discard. This is my apology; and if it should be attributed to any secret grudge, or dislike of public measures, or persons at the head of our affairs, it will be a great injustice. But, as I was saying, in the course of the following days, much bickering took place between the Hibernian and the Scotchman; or as I might otherwise express myself, between the son of St. Andrew and St. Patrick. The Scot thought the Hibernian defective in grace and manners; both because he did not ask a belssing to his food, and because he took the liberty to eat with the Captain, and to converse with him as on equal terms. Indeed it was the only fault he found with the Captain himself, that he did not say grace to meat, and that he admitted the gauger to this enjoyment of equality. He did not enter fully into the necessary policy of observing the forms of respect to officers of government, merely for the sake of the authority, and as a compliment to the laws themselves. Nor was his knowledge of the human mind, and the modes of acting, sufficient to inform him, that the saying grace at victuals is a matter of form, more than of faith; and that for this reason, some christian sects, particularly the people called Quakers, omit it altogether.

The Hibernian would sometimes beat off, to use a nautical phrase, and disarm his adversary by expressions of benevolence, as “Love your shoul,” &c. sometimes he would prepare for battle, and be disposed to defend himself; on which occasions it behoved the Captain to interfere, and break off the contest.

The Captain, at length, weary of this trouble, thought of the expedient of dismissing the revenue officer a day or two ahead, in order that he might be apart from the other bog-trotter. This being done, with exhortation that he would go forward speedily, and open an office in the district, the Captain proposed to remain a day at the public house where he then was, in order to give the revenue officer the advantage of the start I have mentioned. In the mean time, hearing of a cave in the neighbourhood, which was thought to be a great curiosity, he took the opportunity of visiting it. The guide led them to it; I mean the Captain and his waiting man, in about an hour’s walk from the public house. It was on the bank of a small river; the mouth of the cave opening to the bank. A small stream issued from the cave, and fell into the river, with a fall of a few feet over a rock, rendered smooth by the current of the water. Above this, was a shade of spreading beech, with thick foliage, and beneath, towards the strand of the river, was a gradual descent with washed pebbles, and a clear filtrating sand. Hard by the fall of this water, and on the strand of the river, the attention of the Captain was attached by certain rude sculptures, observable on a flat rock; and also by others on a perpendicular one that composed a part of the bank. There was the figure of the terrapin, the bear, the turkey, &c. It was a subject of reflection with the Captain, whether these impressions had been made by the animals themselves, while the rock had been in a plastic state, and before it had hardened from clay into stone; or whether it was the work of the savages, before the Europeans had possession of the country. He lamented that he had not a philosopher at hand, to determine this. On the bank above, and toward the mouth of the cave, were a number of petrifactions to be found; the water that ran here, appearing hence to have a petrifying quality. The Captain considering these, was thinking with himself how good a school this would have been for Teague, had he been admitted a member of the Philosophical Society, as had been proposed at an early period.

The mouth of the cave was of a height and width to receive a man walking upright, and without constraint, on his entrance. After a passage of a few yards, lined with the solid rocks, it opened into an apartment of about eighteen feet cube. The oozing from above formed the stalactites, and would probably in the course of a century or two, fill up this chamber altogether, unless by digging above, the course of the water could be diverted from the roof, and carried off by a conduit on a solid part of the mountain. The floor of the chamber had been raised by the petrification of the water; as appeared from the inequality of surface, formed by the stalactites, and from the testimony of the guide, who remembered the time, not more than fifteen years ago, when the descent to this apartment, was a step of at least a foot from the level of the entrance.

Passing on a few yards more, they descended a step, and came to a second apartment, of a greater extent, and of not less than an hundred feet to the level of the vault. Here was a vast bed of human skeletons petrified, but distinguishable by their forms. No doubt it had been a repository of savage chiefs, whose bodies, converted into stone by the virtue of this water, were preserved more durably than the mummies of Egypt. The dimensions of some of the skeletons bespoke them giants; that of one measured eight feet, wanting an inch. Duncan, said the Captain, I doubt much whether there have been larger giants in Scotland. Aye have there, half as large again, said Duncan; from the stones that are put up in some castles, there must have been men at least eighteen or twenty feet in height. What can have become of this breed? said the Captain. They have fought wi’ ane another, ‘til they are a’ dead said Duncan. This was the easiest way of accounting for the loss.

There was an ascent of a step or two to the next apartment, which was of an oval form, the conjugate diameter of which was about thirty feet, and the transverse twenty-five. There were the bows and arrows, all petrified, that these warriors had used in life. The water descended not in drops, but through the fine pores of the rock in a gentle dew, and with an impression of extreme cold, so as to endanger life, and probably convert the human body into stone in a very short space of time. The guide thought it not adviseable to remain long, and Duncan was anxious to return; the forms of the dead in the chamber behind him leading him to apprehend, that some of their shades might come after them, to enquire the occasion of their visit.

Regaining the entrance of the cave, and emerging into light, I mean the light of day, for they had entered with torches, they left the place, and returned to the tavern.

The day following, they paid another visit to the cave, and observed in the chamber of bows and arrows, a pool of limpid water, into which looking, they discovered arrow heads and hatchets of stone innumerable. They took out, and brought away some of them. These had no doubt been first formed in wood, and then put in this water to petrify, and become fit for use. Thus we easily account for the formation of such implements; whereas the idea of being formed out of a stone, in the first instance, by the dint of human labour, and with no other instruments than stone itself, involves great difficulty. This discovery, the Captain, I presume, lost no time in communicating to the Philosophical Society, as will in due time appear, from a publication of their transactions.

Near the entrance, and on the right, was the passage to what is called the petrified grove. This, on their return ,they entered, and in about thirty steps found themselves in a spacious square, which appeared to have been once the surface of the earth: for here were trees in their natural position, with wasps nests on them, all petrified; and buffaloes standing under, in their proper form, but as hard as adamant. A bleak wind, with a petrifying dew, had arrested them in life, and fixed them to the spot; while the mountain in a series of ages, had grown over them. That which struck the Captain most, was an Indian man reduced to stone, with a bundle of peltry on his back. If the virtuosi of Italy, could have access to this vault, there would be danger of them robbing it of some of these figures, in order to compare with the statues that have been made by hands. When this cave shall have gained due celebrity, there is no question, but that attempts of this nature will be made. I submit, therefore, whether it would not be adviseable for the connoisseurs of America, to apply to the legislature of the state, where the cave is, to prevent such exportation.

The Captain leaving this place, took nothing with him but the skin of a wild cat, which hung upon a stone peg in the side of the grotto, and which he broke off, by giving it a sudden jerk as he turned round. Duncan took a petrified turtle, which he thought resembled a highland bonnet, and said he would scrape it out, and send it for a curiosity to Perth.