Authors: Veronica Sattler
by Veronica Sattler
Outside Charleston 1770
A chill November wind blew steadily from the north as the tow lone figures on horseback made their way up the mountain trail.
Neither had spoken for some time and the only sounds that broke the stillness of the gray afternoon were those of the hooves of the fine thoroughbred mounts the two rode as they they picked their way carefully over the stony ground.
The riders were not of the same height, though each was tall. Both were young. One, only a boy, had not yet attained his full growth; he would be inordinately tall once he did. The older of the two rode in front, and he too, might do some growing to take him well beyond the six feet he already stood.
Both were dressed in buckskin shirts and breeches, as well as leather moccasins in the Indian fashion. It had been a hunting expedition, for numerous small game carcasses hung from their saddle packs. As they neared the crest of the mountain trail, the younger one spoke.
"Well, big brother, maybe this time Papa will believe us when we tell him Long Arrow's got the best hunting territory all to himself. The game practically begged to be caught!"
The older one turned in his saddle, hastily clamping one hand hard over his hat as a sharp gust of wind threatened to carry it away.
"As long as we dont forget the Indian morality of not taking more than we need, the chief wont have any objections to our using his hunting grounds. Before we left, he told me, you and I are welcome to use them even without Laughing Bear's company from now on. It was quite a gesture of friendship, Jesse."
The younger brother grinned, his white teeth flashing broadly against his well tanned face. "Uh huh. But I dont fancy ever making any hunting trip without Laughing Bear. It wouldnt be the same. I dont think I can remember one where I didnt pick up a little trick or tip on making it easier or better hunting. Garrett?"
"You figure you've learned all there is to be learned from him about Indian ways? I mean, you've got seven years on me!"
Garrett laughed as he reined his horse in. He had reached the final ridge that overlooked the valley that was home and their destination.
"I dont guess I'll ever know everything Laughing Bear knows. Just everything he wants me to know."
He turned again in his saddle. "Damn it, Jesse, if you dont stop poking along, we'll never reach the Big House in time for cook to fix any of those quail for tonight's supper. Remember, Mama said that plucking itself takes almost an hour.
Jesse was almost upon him when he saw Garrett turn to look in the direction of the plantation. He saw the older boy freeze.
"Oh my God!" said Garrett, the words almost lost as they were whipped away from his lips, for the wind was now building furiously from the north as it hailed a coming storm.
"Garrett, what is it?"
Hearing the alarm in his brother's voice, Jesse quickly pulled his mount up alongside the other horse, straining to share Garrett's view.
"It's Riverlea - the house, everything - Oh, God !" Shaking off the sound of his own words, Garrett dug his heels into his horse's sides and began to ride furiously.
Hardly able to absorb the scene he too now saw, Jesse followed suit, pushing his horse to a full gallop down the slope.
Neither spoke during the hard ride to the frightening sight.
Riverlea was the plantation that was home to Marianne and Jeremy Randall and their two sons, and Garrett and Jesse Randall had ridden to that final ridge expecting, as they had when returning on countless previous trips, to see the Big House and all the other outbuildings spread out before them, peaceful and tranquil looking in the fading November light.
Instead, what greeted them now was the smoking rubble of a beloved homestead.
As Garrett reached the still smoldering ruins of what had been one of the stateliest mansions of the Carolinas, he dismounted in silence and began to walk slowly around the still smoking masses of timber, his firearm held firmly in his right hand. It was loaded and ready for use.
It took only minutes to establish there were bodies within the ruins, and when the tall charred frame of James, the longtime family butler, was recognised, Garrettt had to support his brother physically while Jesse retched violently.
When he had finished, the boy looked sorrowfully up at his older brother and fighting to force back the tears, asked , "Garrett, why? Who would do this thing? What did Mama or Papa ever do - Garrett! Mama - Papa - you dont think ..."
Suddenly, he broke away from Garrett's hold and began to run wildly in the direction of the stables, the only structure that has been left partially standing.
Instantly, Garrett ran after him, knowing with some kind of terrible instinct that when Jesse reached and discovered the thing they were both reluctant to speak about - as if by denying it voice, they could prevent its existence - he must be by his young brother's side.
"Jesse, wait! Dont .." he called, but the boy's long, young legs, which had always been swift, were carrying him with even more than his usual speed. They reached the double-doored stable entrance together, each bracing himself for what he might find.
The stable and adjoining barn had comprised the largest buildings at Riverlea, for Jeremy Randall had developed a major horsebreeding operation on the plantation, and it was with some temporary relief they now noted that the doors to the dozens of stalls that lined the walls appeared to have been left ajar, their occupants gone, and so there were no charred carcasses of beloved horses to assault their senses. But Garrett came upon a staggering discovery, almost stumbling over it in the growing darkness. He gave a short, involuntary cry as he recognised what lay at his feet.
"What .. what is it, Garrett?" Jesse's still boyishly tenor voice gave every evidence of being near breaking.
"Dont look, Jess, It's .. it was George Hastings." he said in a low voice as he bent to examine the remains of Riverlea's overseer. Hastings' corpse was only partially burned, and something else caught Garrett's discerning eyes.
His voice sounded cold and dreadful to Jesse as he spoke. "Jesse, somebody wanted to make damned sure nobody lived thorough any of this. Hastings has a knife in his back!"
But Jesse was numbly trying to make his way through the piles of half-burned timbers and debris. With an icy, unnatural calmness, Garrett joined him as they began to dig in an agonizing search for what they both now expected to find, their solemn search further complicated by the advent of the storm that had been brewing since before their return. Huge droplets of water quickly gave way to icy sheets of rain as the two continued their grim search.
They uncovered the bodies of their mother and father over an hour later, having come upon those of several others in the interim, and it was then then true test of Garrett Randall's maturity came about.
Gathering the grief stricken Jesse in his arms, he led him back to where they had left their horses, forcing some strong wine down his throat from an animal skin full of the liquor carried in his saddlebags. Then he forced the boy to mount and ride with him to the home of their closest neighbor and Jeremy's closest friend, John Sinclair.
His father and Sinclair had been friends since childhood. This, as well as his nearness, and not the fact that he was the pastor of their church, led Garrett to his home then. Thoughts of God and religion couldnt have been more remote as the young man, whose green eyes now telegraphed unspeakable coldness and grimness of purpose, led his young brother in the howling storm.
He delivered the numb and shaken Jesse tenderly into the care of Joanna Sinclair, first assuring himself that the boy was secure - both from his grief and from the threat of pneumonia, for they were chilled and soaked to the skin. Only then did he accept the change of clothes and warmed brandy Sinclair offered for his own comfort and agree to tell of what they had found.
"Everyone on the premises ... dead." said Garrett in a tone that sounded to John Sinclair as cold as the bodies the youngster was describing.
"My mother and father were among the last we located - we found them in the rubble of the stables, both with bullets through the heart. They were probably surprised there while tending to some end of the day details concerning those new mares Father purchased - we found the body of William Turnbull, the breedmaster, right next to them." said Garrett, and with the calmest bitterness Sinclair felt he's ever heard.
Sinclair nodded. He had been present frequently on such occasions. He knew Marianne had enjoyed sharing the horse breeding aspect of her husband's activities, and day's end had often found them together at the stables with Turnbull, talking and planning the next day's work with respect to teh horses.
He and Garrett had made the neccessary plans for informing the authorities and arranging burial, to be carried out the next day when the storm was over.
After suggesting they turn in for the night, Sinclair turned toward the young man across from him. "Garrett, I know this tragedy has been an enormous shock to you, but I hope ... that is, I think you must not let it harden you, as I fear you've already allowed it to. Why, boy, I havent seen you shed a single tear."
Garrett raised his green eyes to look directly into Sinclair's eyes, and SInclair gasped at what he saw there. Eyes that he had always known to dance at the mere fact of being alive, now glittered dangerously, making no attempt to hide their naked hatred. These were no longer eyes of a carefree boy of sixteen. They were the hardened eyes of a boy turned man overnight.
"Garrett, I'm not going to try to pretend I can fully comprehend all you must be feeling right now, but I think I have a little understanding of what you must be going through, and as one whose job it has been to witness much human pain and suffering, I'm asking you, boy, not to let this thing devour you. God works in ... "
"God! Speak not to me of God, sir! The deed I discovered this day might better be spoken of in terms of hell, Reverend. And, memory of it wipes all thought of God and prayer from me. I'm sorry, sir, for I know you to be a truly devout man. But save your thoughts of heavenly things for the dead. As for me, I have no need of them!"
And with these words, he rose and walked out of the room and up the stairs to the bedchamber which had been readied for him, missing John Sinclair's softly spoken words to him as he left his company.
"Nay, boy, you are wrong. It is very much you who are in need of my prayers, that you may be spared the pain that comes from being victim of the hardening of your own heart. I will pray for you, Garrett Randall. May God take pity on your poor young, anguished soul."
Near Fredericksburg, Virginia 1790
In the soft morning sunshine of early Virginia summer, Christie paused a moment on the path to the stables and yawned, reaching long slender arms upward. The act much resembled that of a cat stretching lazily in the sun and the smile on her lips gave evidence of the sheer pleasure she took from these movements.
It was early and no one else was up yet, save Mistress Debbs, the large, ruddy-faced Englishwoman who had been employed by the Trevellyans as their cool for as long as Christie could remember.
It was a favorite time of day for Christie. Once she hastily wolfed down a large slice of ham, one or two of Mistress Debbs' flaky biscuits and the mug of hot chocolate she always managed to wheedle out of the old woman, she could have the delicious experience of at least an hour to herself at one of her favorite pastimes ... being with Thunder.
The large, gray stallion who now awaited her in his stall had been a gift from her father on the occasion of her twelfth birthday, but not without some misgivings on his part.
She smiled to herself as she thought of the parent she loved so dearly. Charles Trevellyan was a widower, and had been so for nearly eighteen years, having lost his beloved wife Jennifer, in childbirth with their only chip. A capable, shrewd businessman, he had been a merchant before coming to these shores with the ideas of settling down with his aristocratic young bride. Her family had opposed the marriage, Charles being the self-made son of a common tradesman, hence, in no way suitable as husband for the daughter of an earl. But the young couple had been deeply in love, and when Jennifer's parents refused them permission to marry, the two who had been meeting secretly, had eloped. The marriage was accomplished aboard one of Charles' ships bound for America, with the captain officiating.
This major shift in events had settled Charles on the notion of placing his mercantile interests in the hands of one Barnaby Rutledge, a competent manager who, having been with him from the early days when he was making his fortune, was more a trusted friend than employee. Indeed, as Charles' business dealings prospered, Barnaby managed to amass a complementary fortune of his own, and their present state of affairs was such that neither could tell where Charles' affairs ended and Barnaby's began, so interdependent had the interest of one become upon those of the other.
The desire to settle in the new land having been prompted by the very real need to remain physically out of reach of Jennifer's angry family, Charles had decided to devote his energies to agrarian pursuits and so had purchased a large tract of land in the part of the colonies known as Virginia, building a large mansion in the midst of it, intent upon becoming a planter and breeder of horses. This he had managed to do, and when his beautiful Jennifer became pregnant .. it was only natural that the child, a daughter, became an adored replacement in the aging man's heart for the love he bore his departed wife.
Christianna Marcy Trevellyan, entering the world at a tragic moment in Charles' life, quickly became the object of all his affections. With the poignant joy of one who has loved greatly and lost, he heaped all the overflowing love of a heart nearly broken on his growing child. And it was with this kind of indulgence in mind that the big gray horse had been purchased.
Christie plucked carelessly at some blades of grass as she continued in her reverie. Overhead a bluebird flew before disappearing noiselessly into a nearby thicket, and she breathed in the soft, warm air with a sense of complete well-being.
She had spent the early years of her childhood much in her father's company, for he could not bear to be away from her sunny person for very long, and while he had hoped for a son, it was not very difficult to bestow upon an intelligent, healthy daughter all of the parental education of the age usually afforded a child of the other sex.
So Christie had learned to ride and love horses as easily as she had mastered swimming, reading important literature, carrying on intelligent conversation, pursuits commonly included only in the rearing of sons.
Horses, especially, occupied much of the time and interest of the large, burly man and his energetic young offspring, and many a long Virginia afternoon would find them riding over the countryside on specimens of the finely bred stock Windreach Plantation was known for or down at the stables, supervising the arrival of a new brood mare or overseeing the delivery of a prize foal. Christie tool to riding as easily as she learned to walk, and if it appeared unseemly for a young girl of proper breeding and deportment to be found riding astride, rather than sidesaddle, on her pony, in the cast-off breeches of one of the stable boys, no one but Aunt Celia ever mentioned it.
Aunt Celia was one of Charles' two sisters who had followed him to America shortly after his settling there. Celia had never wed and was dependent upon Charles for her very existence, but the planter tool up this responsibility gladly, for it was to his sister that he looked from time to time when the vagaries of raising a spirited daughter occasionally became too much for a single male parent to handle.
It was Aunt Celia, living in a small cottage built by Charles for her own use on a corner acre of the plantation, who had seen to it that the growing Christie had at least some of the elements of a female education. Never too far away to avail herself for feminine counsel .. often to the young lady's complete disgust ... it was Celia who saw to it that Christie had developed some ladylike manners: Celia who put her foot down about Christie's being tutored in the genteel arts by one Madame Armand; she was the former headmistress of a boarding school for young ladies, finally hired by Charles to come to Windreach thrice weekly from Fredericksburg to educate the lass in languages, needlework, music, painting and the like; and it was Aunt Celia who made sure Christie had something in the way of a feminine wardrobe and who attended church with the father and daughter every Sunday to be sure church was attended at all. Indeed, it was Aunt Celia who had been, Christie knew, the cause of the doubts and misgivings accompanying her father's gift of the stallion.
One day, as Christie had been about to enter the dining room, she had inadvertently overheard a discussion between her father and aunt. Aunt Celia's voice had sounded very disturbed.
"Charles Trevellyan," she had intoned, "what man in his correct mind would allow a young girl only turning twelve to own and ride a stallion?"
Closing her eyes, Christie could almost hear now his very words spoken to Aunt Celia there in the dining room six years ago.
"Celia, you are my dear sister, and I respect your opinions in a great many matters relating to my motherless household, but Christie is my only child, and as such, I have given her the best opportunities I could make of her an independent person, capable of one day handling the responsibilities of an estate she will solely inherit, and a good portion of those responsibilities will involve the handling of fine horseflesh. Why, even when she marries, as one day she surely must, do you think any daughter of mine, having inherited that independence of spirit both I and her poor dead mother possessed, would be content to sit idly by and let her husband run it all for her? Not if she is a Trevellyan, she wont."
"But the danger ..."
"Bah! Danger, my foot! Christie's been riding since she was old enough to sit. Why, most of the men in this county cant sit a horse as well as she! No, my mind is made up. The lass will have the gray."
With this, he had reached for the well-worn tricorn he wore out of doors and, as Christie could see through the crack between the closed double doors, had set it firmly atop his auburn head and turned to march resolutely out, leaving Christie just enough time to scamper out of the way, through the drawing room, to the terrace outside. What Christie had been unable to overhear then were her father's private thoughts as he reached the sun-warmed brick path leading away from the house.
Charles adored his daughter as the one bright light in his otherwise somber, business-oriented world. He had driven himself hard in these years since Jennifer's death, almost as if by throwing himself into a frenzy of hardwork, he could somehow fill up the emptiness residing deep inside his breast.
Ah, if it hadnt been for the child, that sunny faced little minx with laughing eyes so much like her mother's ...and yet, he felt sometimes, as if in moments like this, perhaps it was a mistake to have arranged his life thus, dividing it entirely between his daughter and his work ... never thinking of remarrying. The child was complex ... intelligent, sensitive, willful, independent and, oh a host of other qualities, and what if he hadnt done his best by her by not providing her with a stepmother to see to her girlish need? Was Celia right about these matters? He, himself, wasnt one to fuss over social niceties, but he was a man, and a self-made one at that, and did he have the right to create a daughter in the same image? After all, all he had worked for had been with an ultimate eye to his offspring's future and that future would soon find her assured a place in the finest society ... what if she didnt fit in when she assumed her place there?
"Ah, Jennie," he had thought, " I've never missed or needed you more!"
Christie, now standing up from her seat beside the path, pondered what the day might hold in store for her. Soon, there would be the usual midmorning ride with Charles. Neither of them would miss that! Then, while he either went into town to meet with Barnaby over some accounts, or tended to some business or other about the plantation at home, she would have the less inviting task of undergoing yet another fitting for her gown.
It surprised her, however, to discover the prospect of wearing beautiful clothes no longer seemed as distasteful as it once had. Actually, she had even involved herself in the choosing of this year's birthday gown, prevailing upon Aunt Celia to let her forgo white in favor of a soft, gauzy creation of the palest aqua. This color would accent her turquoise eyes. And she would be wearing her hair up this year. She had, in fact, been experimenting with such grown up coiffures for sometime now. That the ball being held was to be her formal introduction to society mattered little to her; let those vapid daughters of others she had met concern themselves over such matters. Her place was here, at Windreach, where she reveled in the wonderful freedom and the privacy she required to be truly happy.
A mockingbird called nearby, pausing in its flight to alight on the highest branch of a large magnolia tree, and Christie smiled as she took in its gay song. The sounds of early morning filled her with a joyous appreciation of just how sweet life could be for a young woman standing delicately on the threshold of it all that day, and with a light skip to her stride, she resumed her walk towards the stables, fingering the carrot she held for Thunder down in her pockets. The coming ball seemed ages away, and in the meantime, there were minutes to be lived.