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The Call of the Cumberlands   By: (1879-1930)

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THE CALL OF THE CUMBERLANDS

BY

CHARLES NEVILLE BUCK

CHAPTER I

Close to the serried backbone of the Cumberland ridge through a sky of mountain clarity, the sun seemed hesitating before its descent to the horizon. The sugar loaf cone that towered above a creek called Misery was pointed and edged with emerald tracery where the loftiest timber thrust up its crest plumes into the sun. On the hillsides it would be light for more than an hour yet, but below, where the waters tossed themselves along in a chorus of tiny cascades, the light was already thickening into a cathedral gloom. Down there the "furriner" would have seen only the rough course of the creek between moss velveted and shaded bowlders of titanic proportions. The native would have recognized the country road in these tortuous twistings. Now there were no travelers, foreign or native, and no sounds from living throats except at intervals the clear "Bob White" of a nesting partridge, and the silver confidence of the red cardinal flitting among the pines. Occasionally, too, a stray whisper of breeze stole along the creek bed and rustled the beeches, or stirred in the broad, fanlike leaves of the "cucumber trees." A great block of sandstone, to whose summit a man standing in his saddle could scarcely reach his fingertips, towered above the stream, with a gnarled scrub oak clinging tenaciously to its apex. Loftily on both sides climbed the mountains cloaked in laurel and timber.

Suddenly the leafage was thrust aside from above by a cautious hand, and a shy, half wild girl appeared in the opening. For an instant she halted, with her brown fingers holding back the brushwood, and raised her face as though listening. Across the slope drifted the call of the partridge, and with perfect imitation she whistled back an answer. It would have seemed appropriate to anyone who had seen her that she should talk bird language to the birds. She was herself as much a wood creature as they, and very young. That she was beautiful was not strange. The women of the mountains have a morning glory bloom until hardship and drudgery have taken toll of their youth and she could not have been more than sixteen.

It was June, and the hills, which would be bleakly forbidding barriers in winter, were now as blithely young as though they had never known the scourging of sleet or the blight of wind. The world was abloom, and the girl, too, was in her early June, and sentiently alive with the strength of its full pulse tide. She was slim and lithely resilient of step. Her listening attitude was as eloquent of pausing elasticity as that of the gray squirrel. Her breathing was soft, though she had come down a steep mountainside, and as fragrant as the breath of the elder bushes that dashed the banks with white sprays of blossom. She brought with her to the greens and grays and browns of the woodland's heart a new note of color, for her calico dress was like the red cornucopias of the trumpet flower, and her eyes were blue like little scraps of sky. Her heavy, brown red hair fell down over her shoulders in loose profusion. The coarse dress was freshly briar torn, and in many places patched; and it hung to the lithe curves of her body in a fashion which told that she wore little else. She had no hat, but the same spirit of childlike whimsey that caused her eyes to dance as she answered the partridge's call had led her to fashion for her own crowning a headgear of laurel leaves and wild roses. As she stood with the toes of one bare foot twisting in the gratefully cool moss, she laughed with the sheer exhilaration of life and youth, and started out on the table top of the huge rock. But there she halted suddenly with a startled exclamation, and drew instinctively back. What she saw might well have astonished her, for it was a thing she had never seen before and of which she had never heard. Now she paused in indecision between going forward toward exploration and retreating from new and unexplained phenomena... Continue reading book >>




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