Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
On Jordan’s Stormy Banks
By George Wood (1799–1870)
 
[Born in Newburyport, Mass., 1799. Died at Saratoga Springs, N. Y., 1870. Modern Pilgrims: Showing the Improvements in Travel, and the Newest Methods of Reaching the Celestial City. 1855.]

THE NEXT day, Mr. Greatheart took Frank along with him to show him the cataract, the deep thunders of which they heard, in the hours of midnight, like the booming of the ocean. It was only six miles off, so near had they come to the very verge of the precipice. Pilgrims in olden times, taking the Bunyan route, reached the Jordan many leagues above, where the river was shallow, and readily crossed; though there it had its holes and hollows, which, if a pilgrim chanced to step into them, caused him great terror. But modern pilgrims, especially those leaving Babylonia, took a lower route, and came out just above the rapids. These were so called from the acceleration of the current. The river widened as it neared the cataract, and its surface was broken into circling eddies, caused by shafts of granite rocks rising out of the bed of the river. These eddies danced around the rocks a while, and then went sweeping on from one to another and another of these groups of granite rocks, till, fretted into foam, they went over the brink into the depths below. Then there arose a great misty cloud of vapor, which hid all objects from the sight; nor did the winds open this curtain to show Frank what was beyond, only that the clouds gathered in blackness and density higher and higher in the heavens, while the play of lightnings from above to beneath was as constant as the flashings from out a summer cloud, and the rolling thunders were heard, at times, rattling and crashing in awful terror above the booming of the cataract.
  1
  Frank stood upon the bank, close beside Mr. Greatheart, whose hand he held firmly clasped, so greatly did he realize the terrors of the scene.  2
  “Come,” said Mr. Greatheart, “let us descend to the water’s edge.”  3
  “O, no, sir!” said Frank; “we are near enough already!”  4
  “I insist!” said Mr. Greatheart: and Frank accompanied him down the bank to the borders of the river.  5
  “There!” said Mr. Greatheart, pointing to a vast cavern, out of which came tracks of a railroad, which ran along the sides of a bank for two hundred yards, and a broad carriage-road, two hundred feet wide, cut out of the solid rock fifty feet high and three hundred feet wide,—“look at that work, sir! That is the grandest achievement of men and devils combined! There you see the termini of the underground railroad, and of all the stage-lines, and private coaches, and expresses, by whomsoever fitted out.” And, while Mr. Greatheart was speaking, a carriage, drawn by two black blood horses, came out in full career. It was an express from Sterling City, driven by Alandresso, who brought out Deacon Gideon Graball. The old deacon had several large bladders tied under his armpits, and the fellow helped him out of the coach. Blind with terror, and gazing wildly around, the deacon saw nothing. His vulgar pride was gone now, and his cheeks were pale at last. Alandresso, as he busied himself adjusting the bladders, gave one glance of recognition to Frank; and, putting his hand upon the deacon’s shoulders, he hurried him into the river. Impelled by his nervous arms, the old gentleman went on tremblingly; but, so soon as the water reached to his armpits, the bladders lifted him off his feet, and swept him away. Frank would have rushed in, at the hazard of his life, to save him; but Mr. Greatheart held him back, saying, “Too late!”  6
  Next came in an old Oxford slow-and-sure coach, bringing a lady of fashion, whom Frank had often met with at Vanity Fair. She was a pietist of the most refined sanctity, and was a particular friend of Lady Dielincœur, at whose house Frank had made her acquaintance. She was a little inclined to coquetry; but, then, she always held a high rank in the Church of Holy Martyrs. She was attended by the Rev. Mr. Lavender and a fashionable physician. They bore the lady to the banks of the river; and, while the physician administered the black drop, the clergyman read prayers. They then inflated a mattress and pillows, made of real gutta-percha, and laid this lady upon them, whom they gently shoved off into the stream as she lay in a sweet sleep, unconscious of danger. She floated out into the eddies, where she was carried round and round, and further and further from the shore, until the force of the current reached her, and urged her over the brink. The gentlemen, her attendants, never so much as gave a thought about her when they had fulfilled their professional duties; but, taking their seats in the coach, hurried back to Vanity Fair.  7
  Mr. Greatheart seemed to read Frank’s thought. “Ah!” said he, “this is purely professional with these men. Their great resource is the black drop. This makes all things go on serenely; and, so they slide their patients peacefully from the shore, they are content.”  8
  Now the whistle of the coming train of the underground railroad-cars was heard, which greatly alarmed Frank, as the reverberating echoes came out of the mouth of the cavern like blasts blown from a trumpet. A locomotive, of vast size, came thundering along, followed by a long line of cars, bearing the names of all the great cities, towns, and oases, along the line. This was the morning train, bringing in those who had taken their departures during the night previous. “Babylonia,” “Bostonia,” “Vanity Fair,” “Sterling,” were seen blazoned, in large letters, on the cars belonging to those cities. The velocity of these cars, when in motion, was said to be unknown; for there was no means of telling how long it took them to reach the banks of the Jordan.  9
  The passengers rushed out in great alarm, terrified, perhaps, by the horrid noises of the tunnel. Their great anxiety was about their life-preservers, mattresses, bladders, corks, or whatever else they relied upon. But there were others, many others, who had made the journey without any preparation whatever. These stood amazed at the precipice, and the swift current they were called upon to stem. Indeed, most of them had hoped to see a bridge at this point; and others had been induced to take the cars under an assurance that they would be delivered, bag and baggage, at the very gates of the Celestial City….  10
  Persons wearing the dress and appearance of professional gentlemen, belonging to the train, busied themselves in helping the passengers, to make rafts of their baggage; others aided those who depended on their life-preservers. These they puffed up, and, when inflated, strapped them on; and, in like manner, they helped off those who had air-mattresses and air-pillows, bladders of all sorts. But the most ingenious contrivance, and one which was relied on confidently by certain fantastical people from Bostonia, was a balloon, known as the Parker air-balloon, a patented article, manufactured at the great india-rubber factory at Roxbury. These were blown up to their extremest tension. At this time two young ladies and a young divine, having first taken the black drop, were put into the balloon. This done, the string was cut, and away it flew, to the great astonishment of Frank. Mr. Greatheart told him when the wind was calm these balloons rose and floated down the stream, and were lost to sight in the clouds; but, if the wind was gusty, they were overturned, and the aeronauts fell from unknown heights into the flood below, and then the balloon, like a bubble of large size, sped away over the falls into the bosom of the cloudy vapor.  11
  The zeal and energy of the attendants of the train were wonderful. Terror-stricken, the passengers were made to go off into the stream, and these men never cared what became of them. As may be believed, few were long struggling for life amid the eddying currents of the river. In consequence, however, of the position of the rocks, something like an eddy ran along the shore, up the stream, at the place where the trains came in. A ledge of rocks, which ran out into the river two hundred yards above, created this curve; and in this eddy these poor wretches at first thought they were getting on safely and surely. But, as in the case of the lady laid on the air-mattress, as soon as the middle eddies took them, they whirled round and round, nearer and nearer the brink of the precipice, till they were seen no more.  12
  There were a few who, when they saw themselves on the brink of the Jordan, instead of looking down the stream, looked upward; and, as they sent up their straining glances, saw, shining above the clouds, the star—the beacon of life and hope—faint, and often obscured by the rising vapor, but still shining through it all.  13
  Such passengers as were not too much absorbed (as the multitude were) in making their rafts and blowing up their life-preservers, listened to the voice of Mr. Greatheart, who, as soon as the cars were being emptied, stood upon a bold rock, and cried to them to cast away all their refuges of lies, and, with hope in God’s mercy, to go up the stream, along the ledge of rocks, and fix their eyes upon the beacon, and swim for life—eternal life! His voice, to Frank’s ears, sounded like a trumpet; but, alas! few there were to hear. Stupefied by the black drop, and hopeful of their life-preservers, or something of the sort, they took to the stream and were swept away.  14
  Those who followed the exhortations of Mr. Greatheart, when they had reached the utmost projection, sprang in, crying, “Lord, save or I perish!” And Frank, as he gazed, thrilled with terror at the sight before him, saw a pencil of rays coming down from out the clouds, upon the faces of these poor wretches, who bravely battled with the stream, now clinging to one rock, and then, as the eddies favored them, again plunging into the river and swimming to the next, their faint cries coming to the shore, all having one theme, one thought: “Lord, save!” It was wonderful how they held out: even the eddies favored them, for they evidently gained upon the distant shore. Mr. Greatheart still sent forth his voice cheering them to hold on, his face full of earnestness and sympathy in their struggle for life. The last that Frank saw of them they held out, and a lifting of the vapor along the edge of the river showed that they were not far from the bank. He rejoiced in the hope that, of the many who came out in the cars, a remnant was saved. But what thoughts were his when he looked down upon that stream, lately peopled with men and women, all of whom were gone over the precipice, to be seen no more forever!  15
  This was a sad day to Frank; he returned wiser, but more fearful. He held his own counsel; for he would not reveal to his wife, even, the terrible sights he had seen. And yet his wonder was that he should wonder; for all the teachings of the Guide-book had told him this would be the end of all who neglected its warnings, and followed not in the path which was so plainly pointed out in its pages.  16
 
 
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