Two or three motherly-looking German attendants gave us instructions. Our costumes consisted of white duck trousers, clean, but still damp from recent washing, a thick leather apron, a short duck blouse, something like those worn by bakers, and a cap. The trousers, being all the same size and same length, came to Bee’s ankles, were knickerbockers for me and tights for Mrs. Jimmie.
European travel hardens one to many of the hitherto essential delicacies of refinement, which, however, the American instantly resumes upon landing upon the New York pier; it being, I think, simply the instinct of “when in Rome do as the Romans do,” which compels us to pretend that we do not object to things which, nevertheless, are never-ending shocks. I have seldom undergone anything more difficult than the walk in broad daylight, across that courtyard to the mouth of the salt mine. We were borne up by the fact that perhaps one hundred other women were similarly attired, and that both men and women looked upon it as a huge joke and nothing more. One rather incomprehensible thing struck us as we left the attiring-room. This was the use of the leather apron. The attendant switched it around in the back and tied it firmly in place, and when we demanded to know the reason, she said, in German, “It is for the swift descent.”
Jimmie was similarly arrayed when he met us at the door, but he seemed to know no more about it than we did. At the mouth of the salt mine we were met by our conductor, who took us along a dark passage, where all the lights furnished were those from the covered candles fastened to our belts, something on the order of the miner’s lamp.
Further and further into the blackness we went, our shoes grinding into the coarse salt mixed with dirt, and the dampness smelling like the spray from the sea. Presently we came to the mouth of something that evidently led down somewhere. Blindly following our guide who sat astride of a pole, Jimmie planted himself beside him, astride of the guide’s back; Mrs. Jimmie, after having absolutely refused, was finally persuaded to place herself behind Jimmie, then came Bee, and last of all myself.
Our German is not fluent, nevertheless we asked many questions of the guide, whose only instructions were to hold on tight. He then asked us if we were ready.
“Ready for what?” we said.
“For the swift descent,” he answered.
“The descent into what?” said Jimmie.
But at that, and as if disdaining our ignorance, we suddenly began to shoot downward with fearful rapidity on nothing at all. All at once the high polish on the leather aprons was explained to me. We were not on any toboggan; we formed one ourselves.
When we arrived they said we had descended three hundred feet. But we women had done nothing but emit piercing shrieks the entire way, and it might have been three hundred feet or three hundred miles, for all we knew. After our fierce refusal to start and our horrible screams during the descent, Jimmie’s disgust was something unspeakable when we instantly said we wished we could do it again. Our guide, however, being matter of fact, and utterly without imagination, was as indifferent to our appreciation as he had been to our screams.