The Story of Naomi.By Clarence H. Pearson.
She had lived all her life in a log cabin on the side of one of the Cumberland mountain in eastern Tennessee. To her the little towns in the Sequachee Valley represented the great centres of manufacture and commerce. She had once visited South Pittsburg, which was said to have a population of something over four thousand, and the strange and wonderful things she saw there furnished her with food for many days of reflection. Her daily life was extremely uneventful, She kept house for her father who was her sole surviving relative and her only companion. He was a grave, unostentatious man who pursued his chosen occupation quietly and industriously, but never tried to extend his business beyond certain limits, and never advertised. He was a moonshiner.
One day late in August, a party of campers from Chattanooga came and pitched their tents on the mountainside not far from the little cabin. The company consisted of a married of thirty-five or thereabout, several lively and exceedingly noisy young people, who have nothing in particular to do with this story, and little Dot, the baby, aged four. They disported themselves very much after the manner of campers in general, exploring every nook and cranny of the mountain, and singing, laughing and shouting until they awakened the echoes for miles around.
“Game’ll be powerful sca’ce this fall ef this yer pack o’ yellin’ lunatics don’t shove out soon,” grumbled Naomi’s father one, day, “for I ‘low they’ll skeer every livin’ thing outen the kentry.”
One afternoon, when, everyone thought she was asleep in one of the tents, little Dot started on a tour of discovery. About the first object of interest she found was a long, slender, graceful, golden-brown creature with beautiful, seal-brown markings, and a queer little rattle on the tip of its tail. Its eyes shone like diamonds, and little Dot thought he had never seen anything quite so lovely and attractive in her whole life.
Naomi came upon the child and her new acquaintance at a very opportune moment. The reptile irritated by the too close approach of the little one had struck, fortunately burying its deadly fangs in the folds of the brightly colored dress instead of the white, delicate flesh. Without a moment’s hesitation, the girl caught the squirming reptile by the neck so close to tie terrible, gaping jaws that it could not turn to bite her. It coiled so tightly around her arm as to almost paralyze it, but she held it in a firm grasp, and taking a stone in her left hand, laid the ugly triangular head on a boulder and pounded it to a shapeless mass. Then, contrary to all precedant [sic], she refrained from fainting.
Little Dot’s parents were profuse in their expressions of gratitude, and the rest of the party were so loud in their praises of her courage that at first they made Naomi very uncomfortable. They came to the house frequently and little Dot followed her about like a shadow. It was very easy to learn to love the beautiful little creature whose life she had saved, and to conceive a strong friendship for the parents whose kindly feeling toward their child’s preserver was so manifest.
About this time Naomi’s father met with a serious reverse in business. Two strangers who were ostensibly prospecting for coal discovered the the cave where he kept all the tools and implements of his occupation and carried them away. They also took the owner before the Federal Court to answer to the charge of violating the United States revenue laws. In a few days, for justice is not always leaden-footed, especially when dealing with illicit distillers, word came back that the old man had been sentenced to imprisonment for two years.
And so it happened that Naomi, having nowhere else to go, accompanied her new friends to Chattanooga. Two years amid new scenes and surroundings make a great change in the life of a simple mountain maid. At the end of that time one would hardly have known her; indeed the moonshiner’s daughter scarcely knew herself. At last came the day to which, in spite of herself, she had been looking forward for a long time with a secret dread. With a sinking heart, she read the scrawling, ill-spelled epistle notifying her that her father was once more a free man. She knew that she ought to be glad. She was glad that the long, weary days of her father’s imprisonment were over, but how could she return to the dull, staring monotonous existence which she had known before ? She slept little and wept much that night, for she had decided after a sharp struggle with her inclinations that the path of duty led her to the lone cabin on the mountain. She thought how sadly she should miss little Dot and her parents to whose kindness she owed so much ; and then with a sharp twinge of pain she thought of the handsome, manly, young mechanic who had sought her society so frequently during the past few months.
He had made no spoken declaration of love, but she was very sure that a certain very important question had trembled upon his lips at their last meeting, and that only a chance interruption had prevented its utterance. And she must leave the city the next day without an opportunity to bid him good-bye, for he was away on a visit and would not return for nearly a week.
One bright afternoon six weeks later Naomi was far up on the side of the mountain gathering nuts. Chancing to glance up from her work she saw a man standing on a high knoll a few hundred yards below her father’s cabin. His form looked strangely familiar and she watched him curiously. Presently a clump of bushes near him seemed to emit a little puff of white smoke and simultaneously the man threw up his hands and staggering forward fell to the ground. A second or two later the report of a rifle reached her ear. She turned cold with horror as the awful truth dawned upon her. A murder had been committed and worse still she felt sure that her own father was the assassin. Probably the victim was some prowling revenue officer, and yet the figure had been so like that of some one she had known. A terrible thought arose in her mind a possibility that filled her with sickening fear, and she rushed down the mountain’s steep side like some mad creature. Heeding no obstacle in her wild haste she dashed on, tearing through bushes, leaping over fallen logs, dashing her feet against the sharp stones, until breathless and panting she arrived at the spot where she had last seen the stranger. Merciful God, what a sight met her gaze! There prone on the ground lay her handsome lover with the blood still slowly oozing from a wound in his chest, and the terrible, glassy glare of death in his blue eyes. His features were distorted, his limbs were drawn up, and in his right hand was a flowering shrub which he had clutched and uprooted in his strong death agony. Naomi stood there staring with a strange, dazed look on her face. Could this poor, pitiful, helpless object be the strong, self-reliant man she had known and loved? Yes, it must be—it was, and she did not, could not weep or cry out. It was so odd, she thought, that she should stand looking at him, realizing that he was dead, and yet manifesting no grief. She wondered if she really had a heart. She could feel something beating and throbbing in her bosom, but it seemed like a great lump of ice. For a long time she remained apparently as unmoved by the ghastly spectacle as the rocks around her. Then slowly, very slowly a sense of her great loss came upon her. A numb pain unlike anything she had ever before experienced crept into her bosom and became more and more intense until she could hardly refrain from shrieking aloud in her anguish. She leaned against a small tree, covered her face with her lands to shut out that horrible stare and moaned piteously. Presently she was aroused by a light touch on her shoulder. Looking up she saw her father beside her with a world of pity in his usually cold, grey eyes. The old man had divined the whole sad truth, and the strange emotions which struggled within him flooded the wrinkled, old face with tender feeling.
“Come, little gal,” he whispered softly, “come home.”
“O pap !” she broke forth in a wail of agony, “how could you?—how could you?”
“God help me !” he murmured huskily, “I done ‘lowed ’twas a revenue man.”Granite Monthly.
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