LESSON 1 A perilous adventure
Three or four lads are standing in the channel below the great Natural Bridge of Virginia. They see hundreds of names carved in the limestone buttresses, and resolve to add theirs to the number. This done, one of them is seized with the mad ambition of carving his name higher than the highest there! His companions try to dissuade him from attempting so dangerous a feat, but in vain. He is a wild, reckless youth; and afraid now to yield, lest he should be thought a coward, he carves his way up and up the limestone rock, till he can hear the voices, but not the words of his terror-stricken playmates.
One of them runs off to the village, and tells the boy's father of his perilous situation. Others go for help in other directions; and ere long there are hundreds of people standing in the rocky channel below, and hundreds on the bridge above, all holding their breath, and awaiting the fearful catastrophe. The poor boy can just distinguish the tones of his father, who is shouting with all the energy of despair,—"William! William! don't look down! Your mother, and Henry, and Harriet are all here praying for you! Don't look down! Keep your eyes towards the top!"
The boy does not look down. His eye is fixed towards heaven, and his young heart on Him who reigns there. He grasps again his knife. He cuts another niche, and another foot is added to the hundreds that remove him from the reach of human help from below.
The sun is half way down in the west. Men are leaning over the outer edge of the bridge with ropes in their hands. But fifty more niches must be cut before the longest rope can reach the boy! Two minutes more, and all will be over. That blade is worn to the last half inch. The boy's head reels. His last hope is dying in his heart, his life must hang upon the next niche he cuts. That niche will be his last.
At the last cut he makes, his knife—his faithful knife—drops from his little nerveless hand, and ringing down the precipice, falls at his mother's feet! An involuntary groan of despair runs through the crowd below, and all is still as the grave. At the height of nearly three hundred feet, the devoted boy lifts his hopeless heart and closing eyes to commend his soul to God.
Hark!—a shout falls on his ears from above! A man who is lying with half his length over the bridge, has caught a glimpse of the boy's head and shoulders. Quick as thought the noosed rope is within reach of the sinking youth. No one breathes. With a faint, convulsive effort, the swooning boy drops his arm into the noose.
Not a lip moves while he is dangling over that fearful abyss; but when a sturdy arm reaches down and draws up the lad, and holds him up before the tearful, breathless multitude—such shouting and such leaping and weeping for joy never greeted a human being so recovered from the jaws of death.
What did the boys see on the limestone rocks? What did they resolve to do? What did one of them propose? Who came to witness his dangerous position? In what did his chance of safety lie? How was he at last saved?