The Call of the Cumberlands (Chapter 1, page 1 of 6)


 
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Chapter 1

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.

 
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