Novels with Waterfalls and Secret Caves

Illus. from "The Scotch Twins"

Illus. from “The Scotch Twins”


The summer, which I’ve spent with my mother in my childhood home in the Southern Cumberland Mountains (in Tennessee), is rapidly coming to an end. Most of the time I’ve been reading, writing and playing tennis, but occasionally I revisit childhood books and childhood haunts. Sometimes the two of them come together, as when I visit the cave behind a waterfall on the property adjoining my mother’s 17 acres.

That’s because the cave and waterfall remind me of one in The Scotch Twins, written by Lucy Fitch Perkins in 1919. My father grew up with the “Twins” series and passed his love of them on to me. There are 26 in all and my parents own 15 or so of them, including The Cave Twins, The Dutch Twins, The Japanese Twins, and The Twins of the War of 1812. (Thankfully they don’t own The Pickininny Twins.) Because of the waterfall, The Scotch Twins was always my favorite.

Unfortunately, the Sewanee waterfall is nothing like the one in the book. The cave isn’t very deep, nor is it hidden. Nevertheless, when I was a child, I imagined myself as the twins having adventures in it. Here’s the passage where one of them and their new friend Alan discover it:

Alan popped out of sight again behind the fall, and Jean, following closely in his wake, was just in time to catch sight of his legs as he dived into a hole opening into the rocky wall. The cliff from which the water plunged overhung the rocks below in such a way that she could pass behind the veil of water without getting wet at all.

Into this mysterious opening behind the fall Jean followed her leader, and found herself climbing a narrow dry channel through which the stream had once forced its way. It was a hard, rough scramble up a narrow passage worn by the water and through holes almost too small to squeeze through, but at last she saw Alan’s heels just disappearing over the edge of a jutting rock and knew they were coming out into daylight again. An instant later Alan’s head appeared in the opening, his hand reached down to help her up, and with one last effort she came out upon an open ledge and looked about her.

She could not help an exclamation of delight at what she saw. The rock was so high that they could look out over the treetops clear to the slope where the little gray house stood. The waterfall, plunging from a still higher level, made a barrier on one side of them, and on the other side the cliff rose, a sheer wall of rock. Between the wall of water and the wall of rock there was a cave extending into the solid rock for a distance of about twenty feet. There was absolutely no way of reaching this fastness except through the hidden stair, and one might wander for years through the forest and never see it at all.

“Oh,” exclaimed Jean, “it’s wonderful! How Jock will love this place! Don’t you believe this very cave was used by Rob Roy and his men?” and Alan, swelling with pride to think he had found it all himself, said yes, he was sure of it.

It’s interesting that Alan and Jean are themselves imagining themselves in a novel, namely Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy. Thus does the literary imagination make the world a much more exciting and mysterious place.

It’s worth mentioning one other literary cave-behind-a-waterfall that also entered into my play. Can you name it? (I’ve left out the names to make it a challenge.) Here’s the description:

With green scarves the two guards now bound up [their] eyes and drew their hoods down almost to their mouths; then quickly they took each one by the hand and went on their way. All that F___ and S____ knew of this last mile of the road they learned from guessing in the dark. After a little they found that they were on a path descending steeply; soon it grew so narrow that they went in single file, brushing a stony wall on either side; their guards steered them from behind with hands laid firmly on their shoulders. Now and again they came to rough places and were lifted from their feet for a while, and then set down again. Always the noise of the running water was on their right hand, and it grew nearer and louder. At length they were halted. Quickly Mablung and Damrod turned them about, several times, and they lost all sense of direction. They climbed upwards a little: it seemed cold and the noise of the stream had become faint. Then they were picked up and carried down, down many steps, and round a corner. Suddenly they heard the water again, loud now, rushing and splashing. All round them it seemed, and they felt a fine rain on their hands and cheeks. At last they were set on their feet once more. For a moment they stood so, half fearful, blindfold, not knowing where they were; and no one spoke.

Then came the voice of F_____ close behind. `Let them see! ‘ he said. The scarves were removed and their hoods drawn back, and they blinked and gasped.

They stood on a wet floor of polished stone, the doorstep, as it were, of a rough-hewn gate of rock opening dark behind them. But in front a thin veil of water was hung, so near that Frodo could have put an outstretched arm into it. It faced westward. The level shafts of the setting sun behind beat upon it, and the red light was broken into many flickering beams of ever-changing colour. It was as if they stood at the window of some elven-tower, curtained with threaded jewels of silver and gold, and ruby, sapphire and amethyst, all kindled with an unconsuming fire.

Yes, it appears in Tolkien’s The Two Towers.

Looking back, I realize that my appreciation of nature owes a lot to the books that I read. Which puts another slant on Wordsworth advice, in “The Tables Turned,”

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books; 
Or surely you’ll grow double: 
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks; 
Why all this toil and trouble? 

The sun above the mountain’s head, 
A freshening lustre mellow 
Through all the long green fields has spread, 
His first sweet evening yellow. 

Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife: 
Come, hear the woodland linnet, 
How sweet his music! on my life, 
There’s more of wisdom in it. 

How about “both/and” rather than “either/or”?

This entry was posted in Perkins (Lucy Fitch), Tolkien (J.R.R.), Wordsworth (William) and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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