The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains

Mary Newton Stanard

The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains
By Charles Egbert Craddock
Boston and New York
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press Cambridge
ALWAYS enwrapped in the illusory mists, always touching the evasive clouds, the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains are like some barren ideal, that has bartered for the vague isolations of a higher atmosphere the material values of the warm world below. Upon those mighty and majestic domes no tree strikes root, no hearth is alight; humanity is an alien thing, and utility set at naught. Below, dense forests cover the massive, precipitous slopes of the range, and in the midst of the wilderness a clearing shows, here and there, and the roof of a humble log cabin; in the valley, far, far lower still, a red spark at dusk may suggest a home, nestling in the cove. Grain grows apace in these scanty clearings, for the soil in certain favored spots is mellow; and the weeds grow, too, and in a wet season the ploughs are fain to be active. They are of the bull-tongue variety, and are sometimes drawn by oxen. As often as otherwise they are followed by women.
In the gracious June mornings, when winds are astir and wings are awhirl in the wide spaces of the sunlit air, the work seemed no hardship to Dorinda Cayce, - least of all one day when another plough ran parallel to the furrows of her own, and a loud, drawling, intermittent conversation became practicable. She paused often, and looked idly about her: sometimes at the distant mountains, blue and misty, against the indefinite horizon; sometimes down at the cool, dense shadows of the wooded valley, so far below the precipice, to which the steep clearing shelved; sometimes at the little log cabin on the slope above, sheltered by a beetling crag and shadowed by the pines; sometimes still higher at the great "bald" of the mountain, and its mingled phantasmagoria of shifting clouds and flickering sheen and glimmering peak.
"He 'lowed ter me," she said, suddenly, "ez he hev been gin ter view strange sights a many a time in them fogs, an' sech."
The eyes lifted to the shivering vapors might never have reflected aught but a tropical sunshine, so warm, so bright, so languorously calm were they. She turned them presently upon a young man, who was ploughing with a horse close by, and who also came to a meditative halt in the turn-row. He too was of intermittent conversational tendencies, and between them it might be marveled that so many furrows were already run. He wore a wide-brimmed brown wool hat, set far back upon his head; a mass of straight yellow hair hung down to the collar of his brown jeans coat. His brown eyes were slow and contemplative. The corn was knee-high, and hid the great boots drawn over his trousers. As he moved there sounded the unexpected jingle of spurs. He looked, with the stolid, lack-lustre expression of the mountaineer, at the girl, who continued, as she leaned lightly on the plough- handles: -
"I 'lowed ter him ez mebbe he hed drempt them visions. I knows I hev thunk some toler'ble cur'ous thoughts myself, ef I war tired an' sleepin' hard. But he said he reckoned I hed drempt no sech dreams ez his'n. I can't holp sorrowin' fur him some. He 'lowed ez Satan hev hunted him like a pa'tridge on the mounting."
The young man's eyes dropped with sudden significance upon his plough-handles. A pair of pistols in their leather cases swung incongruously there. They gave a caustic suggestion of human adversaries as fierce as the moral pursuit of the Principle of Evil, and the girl's face fell. In absence of mind she recommended her work.
"Waal," she gently drawled, as the old ox languidly started down the row, "'pears like ter me ez it ain't goin' ter be no differ, nohow; it won't hender ye none."
Her face was grave, but there was a smile in her eyes, which had the lustre and depth of a sapphire, and a lambent glow like the heart of a blue flame. They were fringed by long, black lashes, and her hair was black, also. Her pink calico sun-bonnet, flaring toward the front, showed it lying in moist tendrils on her brow, and cast an unwonted roseate tint upon the clear, healthful pallor of her complexion. She wore a dark blue homespun dress, and, despite her coarse garb and uncouth occupation and the gaunt old ox, there was something impressive in her simple beauty, her youth, and her elastic vigor. As she drove the ploughshare into the mould she might have seemed the type of a young civilization, - so fine a thing in itself, so roughly accoutred.
When she came down the slope again, facing him, the pink curtain of her bonnet
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