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Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV Down the River [Charming Waterside Pictures]

Men and women and cattle were at work in the dewy fields by this time.
The people often stepped aboard the raft, as we glided along the grassy
shores, and gossiped with us and with the crew for a hundred yards or
so, then stepped ashore again, refreshed by the ride.

Only the men did this; the women were too busy. The women do all kinds
of work on the continent. They dig, they hoe, they reap, they sow, they
bear monstrous burdens on their backs, they shove similar ones long
distances on wheelbarrows, they drag the cart when there is no dog or
lean cow to drag it--and when there is, they assist the dog or cow. Age
is no matter--the older the woman the stronger she is, apparently.
On the farm a woman's duties are not defined--she does a little of
everything; but in the towns it is different, there she only does
certain things, the men do the rest. For instance, a hotel chambermaid
has nothing to do but make beds and fires in fifty or sixty rooms, bring
towels and candles, and fetch several tons of water up several flights
of stairs, a hundred pounds at a time, in prodigious metal pitchers. She
does not have to work more than eighteen or twenty hours a day, and
she can always get down on her knees and scrub the floors of halls and
closets when she is tired and needs a rest.

As the morning advanced and the weather grew hot, we took off our
outside clothing and sat in a row along the edge of the raft and enjoyed
the scenery, with our sun-umbrellas over our heads and our legs dangling
in the water. Every now and then we plunged in and had a swim. Every
projecting grassy cape had its joyous group of naked children, the boys
to themselves and the girls to themselves, the latter usually in care of
some motherly dame who sat in the shade of a tree with her knitting.
The little boys swam out to us, sometimes, but the little maids stood
knee-deep in the water and stopped their splashing and frolicking to
inspect the raft with their innocent eyes as it drifted by. Once we
turned a corner suddenly and surprised a slender girl of twelve years or
upward, just stepping into the water. She had not time to run, but she
did what answered just as well; she promptly drew a lithe young willow
bough athwart her white body with one hand, and then contemplated us
with a simple and untroubled interest. Thus she stood while we glided
by. She was a pretty creature, and she and her willow bough made a very
pretty picture, and one which could not offend the modesty of the most
fastidious spectator. Her white skin had a low bank of fresh green
willows for background and effective contrast--for she stood against
them--and above and out of them projected the eager faces and white
shoulders of two smaller girls.

Toward noon we heard the inspiring cry:

"Sail ho!"

"Where away?" shouted the captain.

"Three points off the weather bow!"

We ran forward to see the vessel. It proved to be a steamboat--for they
had begun to run a steamer up the Neckar, for the first time in May.
She was a tug, and one of a very peculiar build and aspect. I had often
watched her from the hotel, and wondered how she propelled herself, for
apparently she had no propeller or paddles. She came churning along,
now, making a deal of noise of one kind or another, and aggravating it
every now and then by blowing a hoarse whistle. She had nine keel-boats
hitched on behind and following after her in a long, slender rank. We
met her in a narrow place, between dikes, and there was hardly room for
us both in the cramped passage. As she went grinding and groaning by, we
perceived the secret of her moving impulse. She did not drive herself up
the river with paddles or propeller, she pulled herself by hauling on
a great chain. This chain is laid in the bed of the river and is only
fastened at the two ends. It is seventy miles long. It comes in over the
boat's bow, passes around a drum, and is payed out astern. She pulls
on that chain, and so drags herself up the river or down it. She has
neither bow or stern, strictly speaking, for she has a long-bladed
rudder on each end and she never turns around. She uses both rudders
all the time, and they are powerful enough to enable her to turn to
the right or the left and steer around curves, in spite of the strong
resistance of the chain. I would not have believed that that impossible
thing could be done; but I saw it done, and therefore I know that there
is one impossible thing which CAN be done. What miracle will man attempt
next?

We met many big keel-boats on their way up, using sails, mule power, and
profanity--a tedious and laborious business. A wire rope led from the
foretopmast to the file of mules on the tow-path a hundred yards ahead,
and by dint of much banging and swearing and urging, the detachment of
drivers managed to get a speed of two or three miles an hour out of the
mules against the stiff current. The Neckar has always been used as a
canal, and thus has given employment to a great many men and animals;
but now that this steamboat is able, with a small crew and a bushel or
so of coal, to take nine keel-boats farther up the river in one hour
than thirty men and thirty mules can do it in two, it is believed
that the old-fashioned towing industry is on its death-bed. A second
steamboat began work in the Neckar three months after the first one was
put in service. [Figure 4]

At noon we stepped ashore and bought some bottled beer and got some
chickens cooked, while the raft waited; then we immediately put to sea
again, and had our dinner while the beer was cold and the chickens hot.
There is no pleasanter place for such a meal than a raft that is
gliding down the winding Neckar past green meadows and wooded hills, and
slumbering villages, and craggy heights graced with crumbling towers and
battlements.

In one place we saw a nicely dressed German gentleman without any
spectacles. Before I could come to anchor he had got underway. It was a
great pity. I so wanted to make a sketch of him. The captain comforted
me for my loss, however, by saying that the man was without any doubt a
fraud who had spectacles, but kept them in his pocket in order to make
himself conspicuous.

Below Hassmersheim we passed Hornberg, Goetz von Berlichingen's old
castle. It stands on a bold elevation two hundred feet above the surface
of the river; it has high vine-clad walls enclosing trees, and a peaked
tower about seventy-five feet high. The steep hillside, from the castle
clear down to the water's edge, is terraced, and clothed thick with
grape vines. This is like farming a mansard roof. All the steeps along
that part of the river which furnish the proper exposure, are given
up to the grape. That region is a great producer of Rhine wines. The
Germans are exceedingly fond of Rhine wines; they are put up in tall,
slender bottles, and are considered a pleasant beverage. One tells them
from vinegar by the label.

The Hornberg hill is to be tunneled, and the new railway will pass under
the castle.

THE CAVE OF THE SPECTER

Two miles below Hornberg castle is a cave in a low cliff, which the
captain of the raft said had once been occupied by a beautiful heiress
of Hornberg--the Lady Gertrude--in the old times. It was seven hundred
years ago. She had a number of rich and noble lovers and one poor and
obscure one, Sir Wendel Lobenfeld. With the native chuckleheadedness of
the heroine of romance, she preferred the poor and obscure lover. With
the native sound judgment of the father of a heroine of romance, the von
Berlichingen of that day shut his daughter up in his donjon keep, or his
oubliette, or his culverin, or some such place, and resolved that she
should stay there until she selected a husband from among her rich
and noble lovers. The latter visited her and persecuted her with their
supplications, but without effect, for her heart was true to her poor
despised Crusader, who was fighting in the Holy Land. Finally, she
resolved that she would endure the attentions of the rich lovers no
longer; so one stormy night she escaped and went down the river and hid
herself in the cave on the other side. Her father ransacked the country
for her, but found not a trace of her. As the days went by, and still no
tidings of her came, his conscience began to torture him, and he caused
proclamation to be made that if she were yet living and would return, he
would oppose her no longer, she might marry whom she would. The months
dragged on, all hope forsook the old man, he ceased from his customary
pursuits and pleasures, he devoted himself to pious works, and longed
for the deliverance of death.

Now just at midnight, every night, the lost heiress stood in the mouth
of her cave, arrayed in white robes, and sang a little love ballad which
her Crusader had made for her. She judged that if he came home alive the
superstitious peasants would tell him about the ghost that sang in the
cave, and that as soon as they described the ballad he would know that
none but he and she knew that song, therefore he would suspect that she
was alive, and would come and find her. As time went on, the people of
the region became sorely distressed about the Specter of the Haunted
Cave. It was said that ill luck of one kind or another always overtook
any one who had the misfortune to hear that song. Eventually, every
calamity that happened thereabouts was laid at the door of that music.
Consequently, no boatmen would consent to pass the cave at night; the
peasants shunned the place, even in the daytime.

But the faithful girl sang on, night after night, month after month, and
patiently waited; her reward must come at last. Five years dragged by,
and still, every night at midnight, the plaintive tones floated out over
the silent land, while the distant boatmen and peasants thrust their
fingers into their ears and shuddered out a prayer.

And now came the Crusader home, bronzed and battle-scarred, but bringing
a great and splendid fame to lay at the feet of his bride. The old lord
of Hornberg received him as his son, and wanted him to stay by him
and be the comfort and blessing of his age; but the tale of that young
girl's devotion to him and its pathetic consequences made a changed
man of the knight. He could not enjoy his well-earned rest. He said his
heart was broken, he would give the remnant of his life to high deeds in
the cause of humanity, and so find a worthy death and a blessed reunion
with the brave true heart whose love had more honored him than all his
victories in war.

When the people heard this resolve of his, they came and told him there
was a pitiless dragon in human disguise in the Haunted Cave, a dread
creature which no knight had yet been bold enough to face, and begged
him to rid the land of its desolating presence. He said he would do it.
They told him about the song, and when he asked what song it was, they
said the memory of it was gone, for nobody had been hardy enough to
listen to it for the past four years and more.

Toward midnight the Crusader came floating down the river in a boat,
with his trusty cross-bow in his hands. He drifted silently through the
dim reflections of the crags and trees, with his intent eyes fixed upon
the low cliff which he was approaching. As he drew nearer, he discerned
the black mouth of the cave. Now--is that a white figure? Yes. The
plaintive song begins to well forth and float away over meadow and
river--the cross-bow is slowly raised to position, a steady aim is
taken, the bolt flies straight to the mark--the figure sinks down, still
singing, the knight takes the wool out of his ears, and recognizes the
old ballad--too late! Ah, if he had only not put the wool in his ears!

The Crusader went away to the wars again, and presently fell in battle,
fighting for the Cross. Tradition says that during several centuries the
spirit of the unfortunate girl sang nightly from the cave at midnight,
but the music carried no curse with it; and although many listened for
the mysterious sounds, few were favored, since only those could hear
them who had never failed in a trust. It is believed that the singing
still continues, but it is known that nobody has heard it during the
present century.

Mark Twain