“Arimetta” was originally published in Kadath #4 in July of 1981, something that isn’t listed in the ISFDB. It was reprinted once in Sin’s Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances, The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, Volume 4 (Night Shade, 2003). The latter is where I read it. It’s the type of story set in the mountains that Wellman became known for.
This is a fairly short tale, one that’s loosely connected to the John the Balladeer stories. Earl Wood is wandering the mountains and ends up literally singing for his supper in the cabin Big Don Imbry shares with his wife and daughter. John taught Earl how to play the guitar, which makes him immediately welcome.
One of the songs Earl plays is “Wildwood Flower”, which he learned in Arkansas. The song is an actual folksong, not a fictional one. (Here’s Johnny Cash singing it.) Welllman changes the name of one of the flowers mentioned from “aronauts” to “arimetta”. That line has been changed in all the recordings I can find of it online to “the pale and the leader and eyes look like blue”.
“Arimetta”, from what I’ve been able to determine from my Google-Fu, is a woman’s name from that region of the country that’s no longer common and doesn’t appear to ever have been.
Anyway, the Imbry family tell Earl that the song isn’t sung around there or even mentioned. When he inquires why, the response is that everyone who sings it comes to trouble. Out of respect for his hosts, he refrains from singing it, but alone later that night in the barn loft, he hums it as he gets ready for bed. At least he thinks he’s alone until he senses another presence.
Earl is looking to settle in the area, and Big Don doesn’t have a son. What he does have is an attractive daughter of marrying age. He also has a still up in the mountains that produces some of the finest moonshine in the area.
Don takes Earl under his wing and shows him the still. Anytime that Earl is alone at the still, he is joined by a beautiful young woman who says he called her with the song. Her name is Arimetta.
You can see where this is going to lead. A lover’s triangle. I’ll refrain from giving away the ending except to say that it’s violent and sudden. I thought things had been resolved and in the space of about a dozen lines, Wellman completely turned the situation around. Any old folk wisdom about a woman scorned which comes to mind would be appropriate here.
This isn’t one of Wellman’s major short stories, but it has all the trademarks of the works that made his reputation. The mountain people are presented as real folks, not hillbilly caricatures. He has a real fondness for his characters and a respect for the way they choose to live. Wellman uses some terms that might not be familiar to urban readers, but he does so in such a way that you can figure out their meaning from context pretty easily.
I think the approach of using regional beliefs and folklore is a good one. Wellman crafted a significant body of work by doing so. Robert E. Howard was beginning to use the history and people of his native Texas in his work before he died, and produced some of his strongest pieces.
Sin’s Doorway is out of print from the publisher, but a search at ABE reveals copies available for reasonable prices.