Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Chapter 1

     Angus wore his red coat and leather boots for the hunt. He'd slicked back his fine red hair with a splash of water and tied it in a plain ribbon at the nape of his neck. It was the morning of Colonel Drayton's famous annual fox hunt, a post war tradition of bringing friends from far afield to enjoy the chase of the fox and a hearty breakfast afterwards. It was 1786.  Five years had passed since Angus' run into Virginia carrying escaping prisoners to safety. The colony seemed to have forgotten it all, including  the hardships and the sudden disappearance of their loyalist friends and neighbors. But not Angus.  His head was not for forgetting.  He mounted his horse and trotted down a winding path of thatched leaves onto a narrow dirt road which led to Drayton Manor. Cutting that road to his friend's plantation was one of his first acts after having received a parcel of land from the Colonel as payment for maintaining the night room and other discreet services during the British occupation of Charleston. He paused momentarily before taking the turn and absorbed a glance of Ashley Loche.  There was still much to be done on his plantation. The left wing of the manor house was yet unfinished, and the dock rising across the swampy marsh into the river Ashley needed poles sunk into deep water to tie up supply vessels.

Chapter 2

     When Angus arrived the front yard was cluttered with horsemen and people he had never seen before. He saluted some friends. The glaring November sun caused him to swint his eyes and wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Then he saw Catherine Winship. Five years had passed since he'd made that foolish marriage proposa, and she'd whipped him with her tongue, put him in his place.  He'd supposed that he would never see her again, but here she was crowded among the guests of the hunt. Her thick brown hair was tied in a bun and scarcely visible under her riding cap. The effect allowed her wide piercing eyes to dominate her china-doll skin.  The thoughts of the past annoyed him with the uncomfortable truth of her rejection and the fact that she was entertaining an escort of her own class. The object of her pursuit was John Beavers, an aristocratic middle-aged bachelor of some dwindling wealth who owned a merchant store.  He knew Beavers as a backroom gambler in the Charleston saloons, one whose passion for gaming caused him to play privately with the worst sorts, while snobbing them publicly. Catherine, thinking her snare in tow, maneuvered her horse beside his.
     The Colonel uncaged a pinned fox and watched his fury body leap through the woods and disappear.  The hounds howled. A few minutes passed before he let loose the hounds. Then the Colonel standing on his portico blew the trumpet. They were off!

Chapter 3

     Catherine roding side-saddle struggled to keep pace with John Beavers. The sight of it afforded  a splendid view of her skirts drapped across the saddle and stirrups and a long red scalf blowing from her neck.  But when the fox crossed the road into a hedge of wiry brambles and Beavers' took the jump, she followed. But alas her horse landed in a ditch on the other side, then limped along the ravine of the ditch and stopped.  Beavers charged forward, he did not glance back.
     Angus, whose eyes had observed and followed at a distance reasoned to ignore her, except that the Colonel had loaned her one of his thoroughbred mares for the hunt. Angus recognized the mare  as being a colt of the mare he'd taken into Virginia.  Angus found her in the ditch, unable to free her foot from the stirrup.  He saluted, then saying nothing helped remove the tangled foot and lift her  bulky skirts to the ground.  He removed his leather gloves while the mare hoofed the dirt. Then he slipped his bare hands around her neck and gently took the reins.  "Now, now," he said softly as he knelt to the ground to examine the injured fetlock and dig out some briars out of the hoof.
     "Well?" Catherine demanded.
    "Her fetlock is tender and swollen. It needs a good linement rub  and wrapt tight."
    "You cannot ride her.  I shall walk her back to the stable."
    "What am I supposed to do?" Her voice was taughtly impatient, and angry.
     Angus stood to his feet and choosing to avoid further confrontation, commenced walking the mare across the road.
     "You are going to just leave me here?"
     "Take my mare," he called over his shoulder.
     "But I am in a hurry," she said, "leastwise help me mount!" He did not answer.  She was furious.   "You are no gentleman!"
     "Aye, I am no gentleman of your liking, but ye are a selfish bitch," he murmured under his breath.

Chapter 4

     When Angus reached the stable, the mare was limping badly.  He spent some time in the barn, rubbing the linement into the fetlock before wrapping it over with a tight bandage.   Then he washed his hands and went to the manor house to have conversation with the colonel's wife.  She greeted him enthusiastically, anxious to chat, having been left alone in the house. He'd had little conversation with her during the occupation of Charleston while sleeping in the night room and helping escaping prisoners. Her knowledge of the underground was dangerous and they only exchanged pleasantries.  She did not treat him like a farm boy, but the same as any gentleman  So he liked her..
     "Ma'am", he said, "the Colonel's little roan mare hurt her leg.  There is some swelling, but I applied linement and wrapt it.  She should be the same in a few days."
     "Is that the one which he leant Miss Catherine?"
     "Yes," Angus nodded, following her into the dining hall and observed while she busied herself with a mess of wild brambling roses and berry branches picked fresh that morning. The faded red blooms were the last vestages of blooms  of a lingering mild season. She hummed a tune as she worked. Angus smiled. He loved to see her happy.
     The table was set with a white brocade tablecloth and Mrs. Drayton's silver knives and forks decorated on the handles with ornamental Drayton crest.  Her napkin holders and finger bowls also had the same decoration. At least a hundred people would be filling their plates with eggs, spoon bread and slabs of bacon from this table.  The buffet was stacked with sweetbreads and jellies.  Angus sampled one of the cakes.
     "This is a great occasion for Drayton Manor,  the Colonel having his friends about him," he said.

Chapter 5

     Angus left Mrs. Drayton to her duties to sit on the front porch and watch for the first sight of red hunt coats crossing the road on their cantering horses.  These were those who gave up early, more interested in the social aspects of the hunt.  As more and more riders gathered, the house was flanked on all sides with lathered horses tied to hedges and posts, hoofing the dirt.  A chatty group joined him on the porch.  Eventually he recognized his mare and the erect posture of Catherine as she firmly reined him across the road into the yard. She was alone. Her costume was noticeably dirty, her hair loose from its bun, and the expression on her face was one of utter frustration. Someone assisted her dismount. 
     A strange moaning came from inside the crowd as they divided to allow a single horseman through.  It was John Beavers leading the Colonel's mare.  His body was folded across the saddle.   Angus leapt across the bannister and ran down the front steps, pushing himself through the crowd.  "Let me pass!" He shouted.  He helped Beavers remove the body from the horse and take it inside the house.  "What happened?" Mrs. Drayton asked.
     "He was leading the charge when suddenly he fainted and fell to the ground."
     "Take him upstairs to his bed," she said nervously.
     While Angus and Beavers carried the heavy body up two flights of stairs, she rushed ahead to pull back the covers.  They laid him across the bed.  She sat beside him vigorously rubbing his arms and hands. "Wake up, dearest. "Oh dear God, let him awaken."
    "Did he break any bones?" Angus asked.
    "I would speculate so. When we tried to lift him, he was not conscious,  just laid there like a big bag of clothes."
     Angus stepped over to the bed and put his ear to his chest and listened. When finally he drew himself up again,  he said sadly. "He is gone."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Chapter 6

The funeral lasted an eternity, with friends continuously visiting Drayton Manor to console the widow. They paraded before her as she sat weeping in the drawing room wearing a black veil over her face.

"He is gone," she cried. "I will never be the same again."

The prophetic words rang true in Angus' ears and lingered as a bitter taste in his mouth.  It was true. The man was gone. He would not be there to take his dream forward.  He stood unnoticed in the back of the room, leaning on a wall. It was a gloomy.  Finally the room of friends gathered at the sight of the dug grave.

 As the body was being buried, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky and rain sheated across the yard.  The widow shivered.  November turned cold.  Duncan Campbell drove up in a carriage.

"Get in, son, before your good clothes are soaked," he told Angus.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chapter 7

     "You know, I have been thinking about the marsh land down by the river drawing low tides and figure that now is time to dig it out for those rice paddies," Duncan said breaking the silence.  "Aye, like we planned."
     Angus drew a deep breath and relieved himself of the misery of the last several days of seeing to Mrs. Drayton and the funeral. "Where would you put the flood gate, pa?"
     "While the tide was low, I sunk a post into the marsh near the river's edge. The tide near covered it, so I figure that we could capture about four feet of water.  That is deep enough to keep it  flooded and to discourage weeds."
     "I suppose could borrow some of the Drayton darkies who dug the Colonel's paddies. I am thinking to copy the Colonel's crop designs," Angus said, thinking that in a sense the Colonel would still be iinfluencing his life. Then he murmured under his breath. "He is nay gone to me. . He is 'here'."
     "What? What is that you say?"
     "Nothing, pa, just muttering to meself."