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2 > Page 2 of Call of the Cumberlands / by Charles Neville Buck.

2 THE CALL OF THE CUMBERLANDS 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 whis- tled 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 moun- tains 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 atti- tude 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