Today’s guest post was written by Earl Cagle.
There is a place I want to take you, way back in the mountains. An old rocky roadbed follows the contour of a long ridge and climbs gradually into a gap between two mountains.
As we walk slowly up the rise of the ridge, you will find the area peaceful and quiet. The timber is open and you will be able to see for a good piece. Some of the old chestnut logs remain from trees killed by the blight and offer a sad reminder of the greatness they possessed.
I will show you an old house place and all that is left is a tumbled pile of rocks that were once the chimney. It’s hard to believe that people once lived in such a remote place, but they did. They lived and died without experiencing much of what lay beyond their mountains. Those were an independent people whose determination was driven primarily by a will to survive.
When we reach the flat of the gap, you will see a thicket of hemlocks off to one side of the old roadbed. Across from the hemlocks are the remains of a chestnut rail fence, time and decay have reduced it to about twelve inches. In a corner of the fence rails, where they stacked one on the other, grow two maples. In the fall of the year, the leaves are the reddest of any other maples around, and in the spring when maples put out new growth, these two will be the first to bud and the crimson of their color will be as deep as blood.
According to old timers’ tales, there were two teenagers, a boy and a girl; one living on one side of the gap and the other about a half mile down the ridge on the other side. Their families had been at odds for a good many years, feuding and fighting for so long no one knew why or when it all began.
Those two youngsters chanced to meet in the gap one day and talked for a good bit before they found out that they were supposed to be enemies. Upon discovering who the other was, they just backed away and went home. The next day about the same time both of them found reason to climb to the gap between the mountains. When they saw each other, they began laughing. After several meetings, they found themselves seriously interested in each other even though they felt nothing could ever come of it. As time went on, over a period of a few months, they became serious and pledged their love one to the other.
As early summer began to approach and the nights lost their frosty nip, the two young people began to wander to the gap early in the evening. They would sit on the rail fence where the maple saplings grew, talk, and make plans for their future.
The girl’s older brothers took notice of her disappearances, and being concerned about her and somewhat inquisitive, followed her one evening. When they discovered what was going on, they made a secret pact and drew straws as was the traditional way of establishing responsibility. The two brothers that drew the short straws made their plan.
The next evening the two brothers left early, climbed to the gap, and hid in the hemlock thicket. The other brother delayed his sister’s leaving for a while. One of the brothers had slipped out one of his sister’s dresses and put it on in the hemlock thicket. When he saw the boy coming up the ridge, he strolled over to the rail fence and sat down. By now, dusk was settling, but a full moon had risen and the timber cast faint shadows in the moonlight.
When the boy came to the rail fence, the brother in the dress grabbed him and the other brother ran to help him.
The girl, delayed by her brother, pretended to get ready for bed. She slipped out a window wearing her flannel nightgown and a shawl and hurried to the gap as fast as she could.
She found her sweetheart draped across the rail fence at the two maples.
According to the story, no “painter,” as some folks called the big mountain cats, ever screamed as loud as she did.
The next day the boy’s family found his body with a shawl spread over it. The girl was never seen again.
The maples grow tall and proud, brilliant in their flaming crimson. Rumors say, on a moonlit night, if you stand in the hemlock thicket, you may get a glimps of something white in the fence corner by the maples. Some say it’s a flannel nightgown, some say a shawl. Once in a while, even though the big cats have been gone for years, some hunter will report hearing a panther scream.
On the dark nights when there is no moon, if you listen real close, when the wind stops sighing in the treetops, you will definitely hear the quiet sobbing of a young girl.
You can find this piece, along with other writings of Earl’s in “Reflections on Mountain Heritage” published by the Gilmer County Genealogical Society, Inc.
If you’d like to pick up your own copy of “Reflections on Mountain Heritage” you can find it here for a very reasonable price.