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 The Night Riders

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Cupid's Crooked Arrow

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Posts : 42
Join date : 2009-10-13
Age : 26
Location : North Carolina

PostSubject: The Night Riders   Thu 15 Oct 2009, 9:09 pm

Author - Cupid's Crooked Arrow


Rating - PG


Disclaimer - I don't own anyone in this story either. This story is based on some historical characters with fictional ones thrown in for good measure.


Notice - Although I put this story in this forum, please take notice that this will go back and forth between the past and the present.


Summary - Civil War reenactors have gathered in the Appalachian Mountains to stage the lesser-known skirmishes of the conflict. Joining them is part-Cherokee mountain man Rattler. He is gifted with the ability to see spirits.....and cursed with the knowledge that the soldiers are conjuring up the restless souls of the actual soldiers who fought and died during the war..................

Back in the 1860s, when the Civil War reached the North Carolina mountains, real-life Zebulon Vance, a self-made man and Confederate governor, fought for the interests of the Appalachia within the hierarchy of the South. At the same time, local residents Keith and Malinda Blalock became Union guerrillas. With a ragtag army of draft dodgers behind them, the Blalocks waged their own war--taking revenge against a regime responsible for ruining the homes and lives of mountain folk.

And in these ancient hills, old hatreds never die...........



Prologue


The boy stood still in the moonlight watching the riders approach. The chill of the night air had shaken the bit of sleep-stupor from him, and he shivered, feeling the wind on his legs and the sensation of his bare feet touching the rough boards of the porch, and knowing that he was not dreaming. He had stumbled outside to make his way to the outhouse, but now something—not a sound, more like a feeling—made him stop a few feet from the door, and for long minutes as he stood there he would forget the push in his bladder that had sent him out into the cold darkness of an October night.

Night riders.

Horses were not an everyday sight in the mountains nowadays, as they had been in his daddy’s time. Now that the Great War had ended in Europe, the world had changed. People talked about aeroplanes and automobiles and store-bought clothes. Every year brought more Model A’s into the county, and those folks that didn’t run an automobile could take the train into Johnson City or Asheville if they needed to go. You sent money to the mail-order catalogue, and the postman would bring you the goods, all parceled up in brown paper, whatever you’d asked for. They called it “the wish book.” But nobody ever wished for the old days, not in these mountains. They all wanted the future to get here double quick.

But tonight was an echo of the old days…there were horsemen at the edge of the woods.

The boy wondered who these riders were, out on the ridge past midnight, far from a road and miles from the next farm. He could make out three of them just this side of the trees beyond the smokehouse, but in the faint light of the crescent moon their features were indistinguishable. They carried no lantern, and they rode in silence. It took the boy three heartbeats longer to register the fact that the horses made no sound either. He heard no rustle of grass, no snapping of twigs beneath their hooves.

One of the riders detached himself from the group by the woods and trotted toward the porch where the boy stood. He was a tall, gaunt man in a long greatcoat and scuffed leather boots, and he had a calculating way of looking through narrowed eyes that froze the boy to the spot like a snake-charmed bird. The rider looked to be in his twenties, with dark hair and black whiskers outlining his chin, as if he were growing a beard by default and not by design. The boy stared at the face, a pale oval in the moonlight, and he forgot to move or cry out.

The man smiled down at him as if he had trouble remembering how. “Evenin’, boy,” he said in a soft mountain drawl. “What’s your name then?”

“Rat—they called me Rattler, mister.” It took him two tries to get the sound to come out of his throat.

The rider grinned. “Rattler, huh? Mean as a snake, are you, boy?”

The boy lifted his chin. Even if he was shivering in his nightshirt, he was on his own porch and he would not cower before a stranger. “I don’t reckon I’m mean,” he said. “But I give salt for salt.”

“Fair enough.” The dark man look amused. “I guess I do the same.” He glanced back at the woods where his companions waited, motionless, shadows in the moonlight. “And you’d be—what? About twelve?”

“About,” said the boy. He would be eleven in January. “Well, snake-boy, what do you say? You want to ride with us?”

The boy shrugged. “Got no horse.”

“Reckon we could rustle you up one.” The smile again, cold as a moonbeam.

The boy hesitated. “You never said who you are, mister.”

“I figured you knew. You’ve got good eyes on you, boy. And you don’t scare easy, do you? So, what do you say? About riding with us, I mean.”

“I—“The boy took a step backward until he stood in the doorway, under the iron horseshoe his granddaddy had nailed up over the front door. “Mister, I reckon my momma would skin me alive if I was to go off at night without telling somebody. And if I was to ask, I reckon the answer’d be no, anyhow.”

“Well, women are mostly like that,” said the rider, smiling again. He looked over his shoulder again at the shadows beyond the smokehouse. “Not all of them are, though. But most. Good evening to you, boy.” With that he turned his horse and trotted back to the edge of the woods.

The boy could hear the oak branches scraping against the tin roof of the house, and he heard the rustle of the wind in the bushes that flanked the porch, but even though he stood stock still and strained to listen, he did not hear the sound of hoofbeats in the dirt. A moment later, the mewing of his mother’s cat startled him, and he turned to see where it was. The cat hissed at him and puffed up its fur until it looked like a dandelion. When he looked out again across the yard the riders were gone.

He told no one about this midnight encounter, and it was years before he realized who he had seen on that October night. He started keeping a mason jar beside his bed so he wouldn’t have to go outside to the privy during the night.



You would have thought that losing the war one time would be enough for them. You certainly would have thought that, wouldn’t you?

As much sorrow and ruin and hatred among neighbors as was brought to these here hills by that sorry war, you would have thought they’d all be glad they missed out on it by being born a hundred years or so after the fact. They ought to be shut of it by now, ready to let the past bury its dead, and get on with the business of making a less terrible future. But no.

They will not turn loose of that war.

Nearly every sunny weekend that God sends will find these hills swarming with summer soldiers and sunshine patriots ready to take up arms and take aim at some other tomfool lunatic on account of his uniform being a different color from theirs. They’re shootin’ blanks this time, of course. I reckon that’s an improvement.

When the weather gets warm, there’s usually a crowd of re-enactors up to something in this neck of the woods. They drive up in their Chevy pickups or their fancy SUVs, stash their cell phones under the driver’s seat, and haul out their bedrolls and pitch their tents to make camp so that they can spend the weekend shooting their Springfield rifles at defenseless trees.

I go out there right often to pass the time with the fellows camping out, if I don’t have anything better to do. I don’t participate in the hostilities, you understand. I just go for the company. I’ve been living out in these woods for many long years now, and every now and again I get a craving to be sociable. I get right much company, you understand, but that’s more work than visiting.

People around here know that I have the Sight, and that I know a thing or two about healing on account of my Cherokee blood, so they come to me right along for poultices and tonics, or advice—with young people it’s love and with older folks it’s money. I even get folks from as far away as Asheville and Knoxville these days. Earth-shoe people, I call ‘em. They want to know if my potions are macrobiotic or holistic or whatever the new buzzword is at the time. I just smile. City people used to look down on the old ways, putting all their faith in the doctoring tribe at the medical center, but lately they’ve begun to wonder what we know that doctors don’t, and they come. One of ‘em told me that living in a shack with no indoor plumbing “added to my rustic charm.” That fellow didn’t need a laxative, but I gave him one anyhow.

Helping people in trouble is my calling, but by and large troubled folk are not good company, so every now and again I go sit a spell with regular folks just for the novelty of society. Most of the time I prefer the deer and the possums who are my neighbors, but a change is as good as a rest, they say, and I give it a try every now and again. When the re-enactors take to the woods come spring, I go and visit them for an evening.

I generally know when they are coming, and as much noise as those jokers make, it would be hard for me not to when they have arrived.

We sit and chew the fat for a spell about the current events of eighteen sixty-something, which they call “getting into character.” I don’t generally say much since I haven’t studied up on the fine print of history like they have, but they’re all too busy showing off to notice. I reckon an audience is just as important as an actor, anyhow.

When dinnertime rolls around, they put my name in the pot, and I accept the invitation to sit supper, because I am one to turn down a free meal as long as it’s offered as hospitality and not for charity. Sometimes I bring along a sack of mushrooms or some field greens and ramps so as not to feel too beholden to them. That always delights them more than the food they spent good money for. They claim my wild plants put them in the spirit that the real soldiers would have eaten. Their own grub isn’t too bad, on account of they can afford to buy more cuts of meat to start with, which is more than I can say, but at least I don’t spend my weekends pretending to be poor and dirty. And I am not fool enough to tell them that if they want the flavor of soldiers’ rations there ought to be maggots in the meat. No, I’m just as happy with Grade-A fresh beef, thank you all the same. Well, the re-enactors like me. They say I am au-then-tic.

“Rattler, it might as well be 1862 for you,” one of the pretend officers told me once. “You live out in the woods in a –uh—“

“Shack,” I said. “I know it’s a shack, boy. But it’s paid for.”

He winced at that. He’s a lawyer. I reckon his house payments would make your nose bleed. “Well, a shack, then,” he said. “You have no electricity or running water anyhow. It’s no stretch at all for you to get into character as a citizen of the nineteenth century. You’re practically there already.”

I just smiled at him to let him know he hadn’t hurt my feelings, but I did not tell him how right he was. And how sometimes for me that war is a lot closer than those play-actors think. They got a glimpse of it once, though. One time they did.



He was the most authentic-looking re-enactor those fools had ever seen. All of them agreed on that. He showed up around dusk on the first day of the encampment for the Battle of Zollicoffer.

In the real war Zollicoffer hadn’t amounted to much. They fought it here in east Tennessee in 1862 and managed to have a Confederate general present, but hardly anybody has ever heard of him. General Zollicoffer, as a matter of fact. See? I told you.

The battle—scholars seldom bother to mention it—hardly rates a sentence in a general account of the Civil War, they tell me, but since there hadn’t been many battles fought in Appalachia, and since this one had been the first real Union victory of the war, the local re-enactors seized upon it as an excuse to stage a sham battle in east Tennessee. They didn’t have many other options, because “the mountainous terrain was not conductive to large-scale warfare,” as one of ‘em told me.

It was, however, conductive to ambushes and guerilla warfare. Nobody had to tell me that. The bad feelings lingered on right up through my childhood, so I knew about that part, all right. In the Civil War the armies of both sides stayed out of the mountains as much as they could, leaving the latter-day re-enactors only a few skirmishes to choose from to display their skills in simulated warfare. Maybe a battle wasn’t really representative of how the war played out in the mountain South, but it was what people expected to see and it’s what re-enactors do. If you reenacted what really happened in the Smoky Mountains during the Civil War, I expect they’d call you a terrorist.

Plenty of folks around these parts perished in the war, but either they got conscripted and marched off to Virginia to do their dying, or else stayed home on small farms and starved in private. Some of them died close to home in an ambush or a shoot-out, but those battles were so personal and parochial that it’s hard to tell if the potentates on either side ever knew or cared what transpired. The local people knew, of course, about the war was an excuse for murder and the feuds that grew out of such goings-on. It took most of a hundred years for folks around here to forget it. Nobody would thank the re-enactors for reopening those old wounds. People want their wars and their history clean and neat, like it is in the movies. So they do little battles—not feuds and ambushes.

Every year as a way to celebrate—and simplify—local history, some of the local war-gamers refought the Battle of Zollicoffer in a well-choreographed and widely publicized weekend event, preceded by an exhibition encampment popular with local school groups. The real battle took place in January 1862, but winter is hardly the time for pageantry. Few spectators and no tourists would be there to observe the ritual, and so, for everyone’s convenience, they selected to reschedule the battle in a more temperate month. Later on in the summer, a couple of the more dedicated and affluent local re-enactors would make the long drive up I-81 through Virginia to join the uniformed hordes at Antietam and Gettysburg, and perhaps even appear as extras in a movie, but this little local set-to was a yearly tradition, the season opener for the sunshine soldiers.

Several thousand troops had participated in the real battle—the Second Minnesota, the Fifteenth Mississippi, and a host of local Tennesseans defending home turf—but the twenty-first century version of the encampment was carried out by fewer than one hundred men, roughly divided between Union and Confederate forces. If the sides were too unbalanced, some re-enactors had to change sides to even things up. Many a soldier kept an extra uniform in the trunk of his car just in case he had to change sides for the weekend. (Now that’s close to an authentic representation of the war in these mountains.) The Union army had won the original battle, which was a good thing these days, since political correctness has replaced witch trials and communist hearings as the preferred way to torment our fellow countrymen.

The opposing forces pitched their tents about a mile from one another along a winding dirt road that alternated between fields and forest. I was visiting on the Confederate side that weekend, mainly because Jeff McCullough was a better cook than his Union counterpart at the other camp. Sometimes Jeff is a Yankee. He says he doesn’t much care which army he’s assigned to, because he had ancestors on both sides, same as I did.

“By reenacting I’m not trying to get even or to change the outcome of that far-off war,” he told me once. “I just want to understand it from the inside out. I think that by sweating in a wool jacket of butternut-gray and firing a muzzle-loader until the barrel burns my hand, I can somehow crawl inside the skin of a long-lost soldier so that his thoughts will somehow become mine.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re a newspaper man by trade, so perhaps you have a longing to experience something instead of always being the observer.”

He thought it over. “Could be,” he said. “Or maybe it’s just that I missed my war—missed any war—and so I’m left with some sort of genetic longing to experience battle to validate my manhood. Combat is our childbirth.”

“This isn’t the same as a real war, Jeff,” I told him. “Not childbirth—just adoption.”

He smiled. “I know that. The enemy is firing blanks at me, and my comrades are not my brothers until death releases us, but only until the end of the weekend, when we will all go home to our central air conditioning and cable television. My battles are scripted. I have Blaine Kerry’s leg blown off a dozen times in mock battle, and I barely hear the spectators’ screams anymore when it happens. I know he lost his leg in a tractor accident as a teenager, and he detaches the prosthesis for dramatic effect in mid-battle. The sight no longer moves me to fear or horror or pity. And yet…And yet…” He shrugged his skinny shoulders. “You probably think it’s silly of us to even try.”

“Not silly,” I said. Dangerous, maybe, I was thinking, but I didn’t say so out loud.



At dusk on Saturday, the troops had settled in for the evening. The sightseers had left for the day, and the boys were relaxing after a blistering afternoon in which they had sweltered in wool uniforms and carried around fifty pounds of equipment in the hot sun. Now they could relax, although most of them elected to stay in character as nineteenth-century soldiers, because that was the whole point of the exercise, wasn’t it? I played along with them, a small price to pay for a good dinner and a couple of home-brewed beers.

At the Confederate tent nearest the dirt road, McCullough had set a kettle of Irish stew on the campfire to simmer, and half a dozen of us were sitting around it. The rest were doing the little chores that soldiers had to do in the field: polishing brass belt buckles, cleaning weapons. If they had been real soldiers they might have been picking lice out of their hair as well, but since I was their guest for supper, I decided to hold my peace about these little inaccuracies of theirs. It’s not like I wanted them to have lice, and I was afraid that if I brought up the subject some over-zealous fools might take me up on the suggestion.

McCullough had his reporter’s notebook out, and he was fooling around with the lead of the feature story he was fixing to write about the event.

None of us ever remembered seeing the stranger approach the campfire, but then we hadn’t been paying any particular attention to the road. No sentries stood guard for the evening, because the spectators had all gone home, and the war was scheduled to begin again until midmorning tomorrow.

“Evenin’, boys,” he said to us. His voice sounded gruff and shy—just right for an east Tennessean, and so was his accent.

Jeff McCullough glanced up at the new soldier a little annoyed, probably wondering if he had come to cadge some of our stew, but the sight of him faded the frown right off his face. This fellow could have walked straight out of a movie, he was so au-then-tic. Short and fish-belly pale, he looked to be in his twenties, as most of the real soldiers would have been, while our present-day re-enactors have infantry men older that the generals were in the real war. Brigadier General Jeb Stuart never reached thirty. Fact. Contemplating that home truth spoiled many a birthday of mine, but as time went on and I outlived Lee, Grant, and Lincoln to boot without too awful much to show for it, I stopped minding so much.

Whoever this runty young fellow was, he was good. His uniform was as dirty and ragged, its material and cut as real as any you’d see in a museum display. It probably was real, they were all thinking. Raving hell-bent collectors can get hold of vintage clothing, and sometimes they’re reckless enough to wear it to reenactments. The wonder of it was that the uniform fit him. That was rare. Mostly you see hats and belt buckles that are real—but a uniform? This fellow couldn’t have been taller than five feet five inches and he was so skinny that it hurt to look at him. His cheekbones stuck out of pale skin and his eyes were sunk in shadows.

“I felt like giving him my dinner, he was so gaunt,” Jeff said later. “I had to admire anybody that perfectly kitted out. I was even thinking the fellow might rate a couple of paragraphs in my feature story.”

“Great outfit!” one of the new recruits called out to the stranger.

He didn’t react, which was absolutely right, because the comment had been an anachronism. (I picked up on that word after the first two dozen or so mistakes I made in conversation, but now I can talk old-fashioned with the best of them.” A real soldier should have been bewildered by such a remark, and this boy played his part to perfection. He looked at the stew pot for a couple of seconds and licked his lips, but then he kind of shook his head, and he said, “Boys, can you tell me where I might find Colonel Walthall’s camp?”

McCullough nodded. “Fifteenth Mississippi.” There were about twenty guys from Johnson City who opted to portray that regiment just for this event. It would make sense that he was with them. They have a fair number of students from the college in their outfit. This was probably one of them vegetarian joggers from East Tennessee State, they were thinking.

Everybody had stopped what they were doing and were staring at the authentic-looking soldier. Nobody went over to him, though, because they were all settled by the fire and dead tired to boot. They just muttered hellos and kept gawking.

Me, I didn’t say one word to him.

“Yeah,” McCullough was saying, “the Fifteenth. You’re on the right track, buddy, but you’ve still got a ways to go. They’re encamped along this road, around the bend, and then about another quarter of a mile. Over by the creek at the edge of the woods. You can’t miss it.”

Jeff stood up and pointed the way down the road, a pale ribbon in the twilight. In another moment he might have offered to show him the way, just for an excuse to talk to him, but the stranger touched his hand to his cap with a nod of thanks and trudged away alone. I wasn’t sorry to see him go.

McCullough settled back on the log next to the stew pot, which cheered me up, because I don’t like the thought of my dinner being burned on account of a newspaperman’s curiosity.

“Damn, that guy was good,” said Wade Jessup. “I can look as dirty as that, but damn if I can look that skinny.”

I didn’t say anything. Just let it go. I thought to myself.

“McCullough, you ought to put that fella’s picture in the newspaper,” somebody else said.

Jeff nodded. “Maybe I will. I’ll hunt him up tomorrow sometime. Now, does anybody want to taste this stew before I dish it up?”

Another couple of minutes went by while we argued about whether or not the potatoes were done enough, and then we saw another figure heading up the road in the opposite direction—toward the parking lot. Even in twilight it was easy enough to recognize Jim Robert’s paunch, and we knew he was on his way to his pickup truck for more beer. There wouldn’t be any catcalls about that, though. Everybody took it easy on old Jim, because we knew he came out here and played war to get away from the real battles at home. He kept his beer and his troubles to himself.

Old Jim gave us a wobbly salute and started to walk on by, when Bill Shull hailed him. “Roberts, get over here, you sorry excuse for a Yankee sergeant!”

Roberts ambled over, took a whiff of our dinner pot and shook his head. “We got macaroni and cheese over the way. It’s not authentic, but it sticks to the ribs.”

“Hey, Jim,” Wade said, “speaking of authentic, when you came up the road there, did you notice whether that guy you passed made it back to the Fifteenth Mississippi?”

“Just now?” Roberts shook his head. “Didn’t see anybody on the road,” he replied.

“It’s not that dark.”

“No. I could see fine. There just wasn’t anybody there, that’s all.”

“You had to have passed this guy,” McCullough said. “He was heading in the direction you just came from. And you had to have noticed him. Best-looking soldier you ever saw—clothes, build, everything. The real McCoy…”

“The real Hatfield, you mean, Jeff. He was Confederate.” That was a good one, and they all had a laugh about it.

Roberts shrugged, wondering if the Rebels were putting him on. “There was nobody on that road, boys. Now I’m going for my beer.”

He trudged on up the road toward his truck, and everybody just sat there and watched him go. Nobody said a word for five minutes after that. I don’t think anybody wanted to be the first to say what they were all thinking. Then they looked over at me, because word has got around that I have the Sight, not that anybody cares to mention it much on social occasions.

“Well?” said Jessup, peering at me in the twilight.

“Well, what?” I said, taking a mouthful of stew and chewing it slow as I could.

“Well, why didn’t Jim Roberts see that soldier on the road, Rattler? You saw him, didn’t you?”

I chewed as long as I could, but they kept on looking at me, so finally I said, “Yeah. I seen him all right. I didn’t speak to him, though.”

“Why not?”

“’Cause I don’t hold with talking to dead people,” I said. After that they got all quiet.

Jeff McCullough didn’t put that incident in the article he wrote, because he figured he’d never live it down if he did. But I always wondered if that poor lost soldier ever found the Fifteenth Mississippi. The real one.

In all the stories our local re-enactors told around the campfire, they never said another word about that lost soldier on the road, and I wasn’t about to bring it up, but I’ve always known that the war’s not over.

I never did tell them what else I see. About the evenings when I stand in the doorway of my cabin, looking out at the woods graying into mist, and out of the shadows in the distance I see them ride by.

They stopped for me one time when I was a young’un, but I was a-skeered to go. I wonder what I would say if they was to ask me now?

The big fellow in the greatcoat comes first with the rifle at his side, followed by one or two of his men—and then—last of all—her. She’s so little her legs barely reach below her horse’s belly, and the pistol on her hip looks too big for her to have lifted, but I know it wasn’t. She wears a thick coat, high leather boots, and breeches just like a man, but there’s no mistaking her—those eyes, the sharp cheekbones, and her little girl hands on the reins. Her dark hair has come loose under a man’s hat. It streams out behind her as she rides, and her pale face glows in the moonlight. For nights on end I’ll stand in the dark yard, just waiting, but they don’t always come. I’ve never worked out the pattern of it. Sometimes they come, but mostly they don’t. And they never take any notice of me watching. I tried hiding a time or two to see if they’d come or if they might stop, but that never seemed to make any difference.

I don’t hold with talking to dead people, but still and all I would give anything to exchange words with her. To see her draw rein and turn around so that I could look into those eyes. I’d ask her where it is they’re riding to, or maybe I’d just wish her well or ask if she’s content with this endless ride or if she wants me to try to help her. I want to say, You lived through the war, hon. It’s over. Don’t you remember?

She never stops, though. She rides on by, looking straight ahead, as if I was the ghost instead of her. And when I try to hail her, the words freeze in my throat so that I can only stand there in the darkness and watch until they disappear into the woods.

I never said anything about the night riders to my re-enactor friends at the encampment. It wasn’t that I was a-feered they wouldn’t believe me. It was more a-scairt that they would. Bad enough that the war is not over for them that fought it without having these toy soldiers out there a-trying to hunt up the real ones.
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mcpheever63

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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Fri 16 Oct 2009, 4:58 pm

This is really good! It's well authored, and very intriguing. I love the feel to this so far. Smile For someone so young, you definitely have a feel for writing. I expect to be reading plenty more from you in the future.
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Cupid's Crooked Arrow

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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Fri 16 Oct 2009, 9:06 pm

mcpheever63 wrote:
This is really good! It's well authored, and very intriguing. I love the feel to this so far. Smile For someone so young, you definitely have a feel for writing. I expect to be reading plenty more from you in the future.


Thank you mcpheever63! I like nice comments, but I also like it when people tell me what I am doing right, or what I am not doing right. I want to grow as a writer. It is something that I enjoy doing. Smile
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A Whisper In The Night

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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sat 17 Oct 2009, 1:02 pm

Tales about the mountain people of Appalachia have always intrigued me. So when I read your summary, needless to say, I was thrilled. Cupid, I see that you are 17, have you been writing long? If this is your first attempt, then it is even more impressive. The way this was structured, the conversations, your descriptions of the surroundings, and mannerisms of the characters involved was superb. You have this ability to draw the reader in, letting them experience the thoughts and emotions of each character. Congratulations on a fine first chapter, and I hope that there will be many more to follow. Very Happy
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Night's Sweet Caress

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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sat 17 Oct 2009, 9:43 pm

Amanda, you already know how proud I am of you. I've encouraged you to follow your dream to write, and this story is a fine example of your talent. You have set up this chapter nicely, and everything flows very well. You have done well with the first chapter, and I expect more great things from you in the future. Very Happy
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Voice In The Darkness
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sat 17 Oct 2009, 10:27 pm

wow I enjoyed reading your debut story, Amanda and learning about your imagination. Keep it up. This reads like a true story brought vividly to life by your descriptions of the physical and emotional aspects of the tale. Well written and enjoyable. I look forward to reading big things from you in the future. band


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Avenging Angel

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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sun 18 Oct 2009, 12:05 pm

This is really good Amanda! You had us captured with the summary, and you didn't disappoint! We love this, and we hope that you will update when you are able to. I love you I love you
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Cupid's Crooked Arrow

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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sun 18 Oct 2009, 2:35 pm

A Whisper In The Night, Robyn, Traci, and Avenging Angel; thank you so much for your comments. As a newbie to this writing thing, I will constantly work to make my stories better, and to take any criticism and use it to be the best I can be. Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Mon 19 Oct 2009, 6:16 pm

Wonderfully authored first chapter Amanda. You have surely peaked my curiosity with it. You have me wanting to find out more about these 'Night Riders' and how they came to be. I also found the parts with the reenactors to be most fascinating. 'Rattler' was pretty darn interesting, too. This looks like a ghost story, but I have a feeling that it might turn out to be very much more. Amanda, i hope that the next chapter is coming soon. cheers Very Happy I love you
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Tue 20 Oct 2009, 7:39 pm

An exceptional opening chapter to what I am sure will be a great story. Amanda, I am very impressed by your writing style. It's clear, concise and easy to read. The characters are three dimensional and well developed. I like Rattler, he's an interesting man. I also am very intrigued by the "Night Riders", do I sense a supernatural theme developing? This is really good, and please, do update as soon as possible. cheers cheers cheers
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Tue 01 Dec 2009, 8:03 pm

I like your story Amanda. Your a very good writer.
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sat 05 Dec 2009, 6:10 pm

Wiccan Muse and Wolf's Lonely Cry; thank you so very much for your gracious comments. I will treasure them always. cool
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sat 05 Dec 2009, 6:11 pm

Lil Penquin(Ashlee), you finally commented. That is so cool! Thank you so much. I am glad that you like my story. cool
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Sat 05 Dec 2009, 6:27 pm

Here is the next chapter to this story, as related to me by my grandfather.


Chapter 1:


Zebulon Vance


What was I supposed to do? Shoot them? I confess that the thought never even occurred to me until later. When I saw her standing there at attention before me with her shirt hitched up to her chin and those little bird’s-egg breasts pointing up at me, it was all I could do to keep from roaring like a muleskinner until tears of laughter wet my cheeks. Now after that, I could hardly have assumed a commanderly pose of rage and ordered the pair of them to their deaths, could I? Why, I would have felt like a fool and a hypocrite to do such a thing. So I sent them along home, him for his skin rash, which I do not doubt was constructed on purpose to get him out of the army, and her for the more permanent infirmity of being a woman.

So I spared their lives. Later the army shot people for less, but those two ran afoul of the bureaucracy early in the war, before desperation had made us cruel, and so they escaped the worst that was to come. By the time the war became a nightmare, I had resigned my command for the greater comfort of public office, but with even more onerous duties to perform, and still more young lives charged on my scrolls. And what became of those two young fools? They went back to the mountains, as far as I know, and probably never amounted to much, but still I never quite forgot them. They weren’t much more than children by the look of them in’62, so small and brave, and since they hailed from the Carolina backcountry as I did, you could bounce rocks off their pride.

The truth is, they reminded me of me, before I got hit with the bug of civilization.

Five years after that incident I’d meet another backcountry soldier who seemed to mirror my younger self, and a path I might have taken in my wilder youth. I could not save him, though, and in my heart of hearts I did not believe him worth saving, but I hope I did my best for him.

Over the years I grew accustomed to the idea of people dying, sometimes on account of my orders or my inadequacies, perhaps, but I did spare those two, for not all the military regulations in the world could persuade me that they deserved to die.

I have come a long way from my birthplace in that log cabin on Reems Creek, the loveliest of all the valleys that I have ever beheld. I suppose my sojourn in the little mountain resort of Warm Springs was the making of me—or the ruination, some folks might say. Anyhow it took me far beyond the shallows of that frontier life I had been born to, and sent me out into the flatlands and onto the flood of political prosperity—and on to a sea of troubles as well.



Picture me in the summer of 1848, standing there before the front desk of the Warm Springs Hotel in the mountains of Madison County, North Carolina—too skinny for my height and frame, too much wrist showing out of my coat sleeves, dark hair slicked back to cover my frayed shirt collar. I must have looked like the raw-boned country boy I was. But even at age fifteen and never once out of the mountains, I was book learned and clever, and I could boast a few champions in my bloodline—I did boast of it! Better than that: I was born with a knack for sizing people up, for knowing what they wanted, and then being that for as long as it served me well. I have a genius for seeming.

I could tell that the stern man behind the desk was not impressed with the gangly youth who stood before him, hat in hand, seeking employment. He frowned up at me as if my very height were a personal affront to him, and I’m sure my rustic country clothes, clean though they were, left no favorable impression either.

“I am Mr. John E. Patton, boy,” he said, after a long silence in which I felt had been measured and found wanting. “I own this hotel. It’s what they call a resort, a summer gathering place for persons of wealth and breeding. Do you follow me, boy?”

“Yes, sir, I do.” My eyes lit up with a spark of hope. I needed this job.

The man’s eyes narrowed. “Where did you say you were from?”

“Madison, sir. My father died a few years back, leaving Mother with next to no money and six of us at home to be fed and clothed, so we sold the farm and moved to Lapland.”

Mr. Patton gave me an appraising stare. “Lapland. I see. And you came from there…to work here?”

Lapland is a village on the drovers road that leads over the mountains to Tennessee to bring cattle for sale to the seaboard cities to the east. At our little place in Lapland we took in lodgers to earn our keep, and I had left off schooling at Washington College in order to go to work. I understood Mr. Patton’s look of surmise. There are things closer to home that a boy of sixteen might have done to earn money for his mother and the younger ones at home. With the drovers’ road running cattle right through Madison County, there were jobs aplenty to be had for a hardy young man. The stockman’s life held many charms for a country youth with its promise of horses to ride, the freedom of the wilderness and the adventures of a life on the trail. The spell of the drovers road was almost as bewitching as the thought of running away to sea, but I could not trade my birthright for the joys of youth. The wild streak in my nature made me long for such an untammeled life, but the Scots practicality from my mother’s side of the family kept me in the traces.

“Warm Springs caters only to the finest members of society,” Mr. Patton was saying. “They come here to the mountains to improve their health by taking the waters from our mineral springs, but they do not want to experience the privations of frontier life while they are about it. We aim to make this a place that could hold its own with the establishments of Charleston or Boston or Philadelphia.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. I had no notion of what charms were held by the inns in those great cities, but I was happy to learn. Indeed I could not imagine any establishment more majestic than the Warm Springs Hotel. It looked like a palace to me. It was a white, wood-framed structure, two stories high, with columns and long, covered porches, and it stood in a wide meadow where the waters of a wide creek flowed into the mighty French Broad River. The front of the hotel faced the river and the mountains beyond, affording its patrons as fine a view as anyone could wish for. They never lacked for guests.

“Now, boy, I want a clerk who is honest and who works cheap, but that’s not all I want. I could have had a dozen fellows in need of employment if my requirements ended with those two attributes.”

I stole a glance around me, taking in the velvet upholstery in the lobby and the white statue of three Greek goddesses sitting on a table near the fireplace, and I realized that what Mr. Patton really craved for his back-country hotel was tone. He had the cleanest water and the purest air in the world. He had a view that painters came to capture, and he had the finest game and produce to grace his dining room. All that he could wish for to make this paradise complete was the air of gentility to substantiate the claim that his hotel was the equal of any in the great eastern cities—and to justify the prices charged on account of it. Well, that suited me right down to the ground. Tone was a thing I aspired to study, for it is the passport to society and the catechism of prosperity.

That’s why I was here. I knew where I was going, and a job like this would better prepare me to get there than some other occupation I could have turned my hand to. It wouldn’t be the carefree existence of a stockman, but I believed I would go farther behind the desk at that hotel than they would go in a lifetime of six-hundred mile cattle drives.

“Have you any ambition, boy?” Mr. Patton was saying.

“Yes, sir,” I said, standing up straighter. Of course I did. What a tomfool thing to ask me. Why else was I here, chafing in a starched collar and new boots, instead of spitting tobacco juice at copperheads on the cattle drive. “I’m not just a—a rustic, sir.”

He raised his eyebrows and looked me up and down with a hint of a smirk, but if he had planned to say something about my looks being deceiving on that score, he thought better of it. Instead he said, “Who did you say your people are?”

I smiled to show that I was not afraid of the question. Had expected it, in fact. In the end it always came down to that with the lace and linen folk: Who are your people? I had a ready answer. “I come from good family, sir.” As good as yours, I’ll warrant, I was thinking, but I had the wit not to say so out loud. “My grandfather was a patriot who fought in the Revolution, name of David Vance, my father’s father. He wintered at Valley Forge with George Washington and fought with him at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. When he was ordered back to North Carolina late in the war, he fought at King’s Mountain with Colonel Sevier. After the war my grandfather Vance served in the state’s General Assembly, and when he was done with that, he retired to farm nigh onto a thousand acres in the mountains near Asheville. Reems Creek. I was born there.

Mr. Patton grunted. “A likely lineage, if you can live up to it, I suppose. What about your father?”

“He had his war as well—the one in 1812, but he fought no battles, and thereafter he lived a quiet life as a farmer. Her has been dead these past five years, leaving me with no prospects except my wits and the will to get on in the world.”

“But you, I take it, have the inclination to be more than a farmer?”

“I do, sir,” I wasn’t prepared to say what exactly I had plans to be, though lawyering appealed to me, even then. It seemed to be the road to every means of power, and I meant to take it.

I hoped he wouldn’t ask me for any more family history. There was a deal more to be said about my kinfolks, but as it was a bit colorful for as sedate a place as the Warm Springs Hotel, I thought best to leave it out. Nothing to be ashamed of, though. We are a feisty lot, my family: My great-aunt Rebecca had been scalped by Indians in her youth, but she managed to survive the attack, and she lived on to a ripe old age with no worse effects than a little bald spot on the crown of her head. We are brave, but we have tempers, as well. My father’s older brother, for whom my own brother Robert was named, was so enraged at having been defeated in an election to Congress, that he challenged the winner, Sam Carson, to a pistol duel. Uncle Robert was killed in that fight, but since Sam Carson had Davy Crockett to coach him in marksmanship, there’s no shame in that, and no wonder, either. That family story did little to govern my temper, but it did counsel prudence, and made me look to resolve my disputes with measures other than dueling.

Mr. Patton looked thoughtful. “I wonder if ambition is a seed that can be planted in a child,” he murmured, “or is it a trait linked to pedigree that must be bred in the bone, like the lineage of a fine blood horse?”

“I don’t know, sir,” I said softly, for I knew that he wasn’t really putting the question to me. I have thought about that question from time to time since then, and it seems to me that much of the substance in our character is determined by the folk we spring from, for I cannot think that my success in life is due entirely to my own credit.

Much was expected of a Vance, I learned at an early age. Although my parents had little money and a mountain farm that wasn’t worth much, they both set a store by learning, and they meant to see that all their children got as much of it as they could hold. From my grandfather Vance our family had inherited a fine library of five hundred volumes and my mother put it to good use, for my mother valued education above all else. When we were small she would gather us around the hearth each evening and read to us from the classics. Sitting in a circle of lamplight, her head bowed over a volume of Roman history, or a book of sermons, or the plays of Shakespeare, she would read us the long sonorous sentences, filled with words that we had never heard from neighbors or folk in the town. We would sound out these words and puzzle them out from their roots in Latin so that we would know them again if we met them on a page. I heard a wealth of such fine words at my mother’s knee. From listening to the tides of oratory that swept over me there, I learned the art of public speaking at an age when humbler boys are learning to shoot or track deer through the forest.

“And you can read and cipher, you say?”

“As well as any,” I said. “Better than some. I have some Latin as well. From Washington College.”

At this Mr. Patton looked more impressed than he ought to have been, for my early education was haphazard at best. In the rural backwoods where we lived, good schooling was not easy to come by. When I was six my brother Robert and I were sent off to school some seven miles from home at Flat Creek. There we boarded with Uncle Miah—Nehemiah Blackstock, that was—and I reckon we learned more discipline than book lore in his tutelage, but I still managed to scrape together a few crumbs of knowledge to build upon later on. It was in 1843 that I was sent over the mountain to Tennessee to Washington College near Jonesborough as one of eighty students. Calling it a college did not make it one. I don’t suppose anybody ever emerged from there with more than a secondary school education, but it was miles ahead of the places I’d seen before. It was there that I found that I had a love for debate and a gift for making speeches, but my training there was cut short when Daddy died and the money ran out.

I had no money for further study, much as I wanted to continue. There was much of life that I could not learn in a frontier cabin, and I reckoned that some of it could be found at that fine hotel on the banks of the French Broad River.

James Patton frowned at me while he thought. At last he said, “Well, you’re young, but you look like you can do a man’s work. See that your hands are clean and your boots shined, boy, and go home and fetch your belongings. You start tomorrow.”

That was the opening of the first door, and perhaps the first time that I had used my wits and charm to impress one of the patricians. I would see to it that it wouldn’t be the last, because I knew there were a good many more doors between our cabin in Lapland and the mansion I was bound for.




I settled in to work at the hotel then, and I put my whole heart and mind into my duties, for I wanted to give satisfaction and to earn my wages, but really I thought myself simply continuing my education with a different kind of studying. Getting paid for it was just gravy on the meat, as far as I was concerned. Right away I learned not to say “horse overs” for hors d’oeuvre, to use to word “limb” instead of “arm” or “leg” for the guests were delicate in their sensibilities. Just about any kind of plain speaking was out of bounds there. I knew that swearing was not to be thought of, but I did think words like “got sick” and “died” ought to pass muster, but no: you had to say indisposed for the one, and passed away for t’other. It beat Latin for sheer perplexing obscurity, but you can learn a foreign language tolerably well by sheer perseverance, and it was a foreign language, and by God I learned it.

Pretty soon I could tell the governesses and the French maids from the highborn ladies by the gowns they wore and their manner of speaking, and a week or so after that, I could tell Charleston from Raleigh, planter’s daughter from judge’s wife, with a glance at their apparel.

I was right to seek employment there. Warm Springs was a wondrous place for a mountain boy to get a look at the world beyond these hills, for in the summer the hotel catered to the gentry from the flatlands to the east. Rich men from Wilmington and Richmond and Charleston sent their families to the mountains for the summer, often coming themselves for as much time as their businesses would permit. In lace and linen the summer people came to the high country to escape the breathless heat of a Southern summer and all the miasmas that went with it. They brought their fine city ways with them, and their magazines and their talk of the world outside, and I took it all in, stored it up like treasures in heaven, for future use.

It was a marvel to me that women who had daughters about my own age could still look like girls themselves, with pretty unlined faces and soft, white hands. I was accustomed to seeing the farm wives of the settlements hereabout—old at thirty, with gap-toothed smiles and sun-browned faces as wrinkled and sere as dried apples. There wasn’t such a difference in the men, I thought, for our mountain people run from lean to gaunt, so the men carry their years with grace and vigor, while many a city merchant I see here looks like a tusk hog in a tailcoat, and he pants for breath after one flight of steps. They are a sorry sight, but I will take my chances on ending up in a similar fashion if attaining prosperity means acquiring such a wife as theirs.

I had not been in the employ of the hotel for very many weeks before I began to be in search of a likely candidate, in fact. One could work for a hundred years at honest labor and never make a fraction of the money one could acquire by uttering the simple phrase “I do.” I said as much one evening to Sam Robertson, a local farm boy who worked in the stables at the hotel. One evening when our duties were over, the two of us walked down to the banks of the French Broad River for a smoke and a little time off from being so damned civilized. Sometimes when it got too hot for comfort, we’d go for a swim in the river. The guests bathed in a special pool filled with water piped in from the mineral spring, but we were “the help,” and we weren’t allowed in the pool. That was for the quality folks who paid to stay here, and truth to tell, we weren’t too keen on the thought of soaking with the guests anyhow. You had to wear too many clothes to use their pool. When we went for a swim in the river, we were careful to do it out of sight of the hotel grounds, though, because I am sure that if they had spotted us, there would have been complaints about our lack of decorum. I think those people sit up nights trying to think up new rules to keep folks from acting naturally.

I stretched out on the bank and gazed up at the stars. “It’s peaceful out here,” I said, taking a deep breath of cold mountain air into my lungs. “Still, I ought to be back at the hotel studying the guest register. Half a dozen newcomers arrived today. I like to know all the guests by name. The middling folk set a store by that, and the really rich ones expect it as their right.”

“So you will oblige them.” Sam laughed. “I swear, Vance, you run yourself harder than anybody I ever saw. You’re like a stray dog with tin cans tied to its tail.”

“Ambition,” I said. “I must have been born with it. It’s a curse, isn’t it? Why I could’a been a stockman or a card sharp if it weren’t for that. That’d be the life, wouldn’t it, Sam?”

“Not for you. You haven’t got the hang of being poor.”
“I ought to have,” I said, trying not to sound bitter about it. “I’ve had a lifetime of practice.”

“That may be, but I don’t reckon it suits you.” Sam was one of eight children who grew up on a steep and rocky mountain farm. Getting a couple of square meals a day of hotel cooking and a bed to himself was his idea of luxury, and he had no higher goal in life. He knew that I was different on that score, and he viewed my eternal discontent as a pitiable affliction in an otherwise boon companion. Sam was generous enough to overlook my failure to be content with my lot, and I in turn did not try to convert him to diligence, for I judged him to be happier in penury and obscurity than I was in my attempts to escape it.

“You don’t like having the quality folks outrank you, do you?” said Sam, sounding amused about it. “It galls you. You never say anything, but it shows. You’re always watching ‘em and studying ‘em, trying to find a way in. You watch them like a fox, Vance. I reckon this hotel is your henhouse.”

That stung. He was so right that I had to be careful to give a soft answer so that he would not know his barb had hit home. “Well, now, ambition is a virtue, I’ve always thought,” I said. “Don’t they preach from the pulpit against idleness and wasting one’s God-given talents?”

“I don’t know,” said Sam. “I always thought that if God had wanted me to be a gentleman, He would’ve made me one.”

“Heaven helps those who help themselves,” I shot back. “Anyhow, we don’t have royalty here in America, so I don’t reckon the hotel guests we see here are aristocrats. Just because their ancestors saved them the trouble of having to rustle up their own money, that doesn’t make this bunch into lords and ladies.”

“Well, they sure act like it does.”

“I know they do. They behave like they all belong to the same club, don’t they? They have their secret rituals and their code words to keep outsiders at bay. That’s how they can tell who belongs and who doesn’t.”

“Sam said, “What kind of code words?”

“Well, I only know some of them, but I’m working on it. They say a thing in French when putting it in English would sound too harsh, or else they throw in a phrase in Latin—like saying tempus fugit, when they mean ‘it’s getting late.’ Or they set a store by whether you put the milk in your teacup before you put in the tea.”

“Huh!” said Sam. “What difference does it make? It’s all going to get mixed together anyhow.”

“I told you, Sam. It’s a code, so they can tell who belongs and who doesn’t.”

“Well, it sounds like foolishness to me. I can’t see any way to make sense of it, or any reason to try.”

“Somebody who is young, and smart, and willing to learn ought to be able to get inside that charmed circle. I hope so, anyhow. I’m studying about it.”

“I think you need to be rich, though,” said Sam. “It can’t be as easy as just learning fine words.”

I laughed at that. Rich went without saying. It was the first necessity. “That’s true enough, Sam,” I said. “It’s a safe bet that my wages as a hotel clerk aren’t going to get me very far in their estimation. No, I see only one way in that will work for me. No, I see only one way in that will work for me. I have to marry a young lady who has money and who does belong to their society. I have the bloodlines for it.” I sat up and looked at him.
“Doesn’t it really bother you any, Sam? Being looked down upon on by the likes of them? Being left out?”

He shrugged. “Makes me no never mind,” he said. “What they think don’t hurt me none. I’m not saying money isn’t a fine thing, but I sure could do without all the rules that come with it. Starched collars, peculiar food, and all that bowing and scraping to people just because they might be useful to you someday. I’d just as soon stay poor as come to that.”

Bowing and scraping didn’t appeal to me, either.” I suppose you could get used to it,” I said.

Sam laughed. “You might, Zebulon, but I wouldn’t. Still, I can see you’re bound and determined to try it anyhow. Have you picked out a likely young lady yet?”

I hesitated. Talking philosophy with Sam was one thing, but telling real secrets was quite another. “Well,” I said. “Perhaps I have had the honor and good fortune of enjoying the favorable notice of a young lady of good family…”

Sam roared. “Lord God, Zebulon!” he gasped between peals of laughter, “when you start talking like a gilt-edged hand-tooled, calf leather volume of Presbyterian sermons, I know you’re up to something. You do have a likely lady in your sights, haven’t you? Now, who is she?”

I smiled and shook my head. “I was only speculating,” I said, which was not quite a lieI had made no declaration. I told myself.

Sam Robertson was no fool—not about horses and not about people. He wasn’t deceived for an instant by my carefully worded denials. “You do have someone picked out,” he said, peering at me as if to read the truth on my face. It was dark on the riverbank, though, and if I blushed, you could not tell it by moonlight. “Now I wonder who could it be?”

I didn’t say a word, but he wasn’t listening anyhow. The Warm Springs resort is a small world, and he thought he had a good chance of working out my secret. “I don’t see how it could have been one of the lady guests. All the likely-looking ones come with mamas in tow, watching over them like she-bears in a cave. And the guests don’t stay more than a couple of weeks, anyhow, which oughtn’t give you time to make much headway into their affections. But if it isn’t one of them…there aren’t many rich young ladies in Warm Springs. Not single ones, anyhow. Well, except for Mr. Patton’s daughter.” He laughed, but I didn’t.

I still held my peace.

“No, it must be somebody who lives hereabouts.” He fell silent for a moment while he mulled this over. “I don’t suppose it is Mr. Patton’s niece Louisa?”

I laughed. “I believe she is playing with dolls yet, Sam. She is at least six years my junior.”

“No. She won’t do. And if it’s a guest, she’d have to know your family connections. She…It’s Miss Garrett!” By the tone of his voice, Sam must have been green to the gills. “Miss Sara Garrett.”

“I did not say so,” I said.

“No, and I don’t hear you denying it, either.” Sam was laughing now. “Her grandfather was the first owner of the hotel, and her people still own a passel of land in these parts. She’d be a catch for you.”

“She is by way of being a relation,” I said carefully. “My brother-in-law, Dr. Neilson, is her first cousin.”

“All to the good then. If her cousin married a Vance then I reckon she can, too. And with all that land and money, she’s bound to be what you’re looking for.”

“Well, looking is about all I can do, Sam. I have o money and no prospects at present, so it will be a while before you hear my name coupled with that of any young lady. But I promise to keep you informed. I’m going back to the hotel now.”

I resolved to be less forthcoming in the future, even with a trusted old friend like Sam. He travels fastest who travels alone, and I did not want my plans or my future derailed by idle gossip. Sam was right about one thing, though: The right wife was the cornerstone of my ambitions. Young as I was then, I knew that although I could be bodily reckless—and indeed I was a gambler, a brawler, and a daredevil on horseback—I must treat my affections as if they were made of glass.
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Mon 07 Dec 2009, 2:16 pm

wow Another very impressive chapter, Manders. The storytelling holds your attention and guides your emotions, allowing you to see the actions through the eyes of each character. Fabulous writing! Please do more. hug great heart
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PostSubject: Re: The Night Riders   Mon 11 Jan 2010, 7:09 pm

Voice In The Darkness wrote:
wow Another very impressive chapter, Manders. The storytelling holds your attention and guides your emotions, allowing you to see the actions through the eyes of each character. Fabulous writing! Please do more. hug great heart


Thank you so much, Traci! I do hope to be continuing on this very soon.
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