Clear Creek
By Don Ballew
Published by Writer's Showcase Press 
October 2001; 0595168795; 629 pages

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Clear Creek by Don Ballew Chapter 14.

The skies were clear the morning David crossed the Cumberland on a ferry and arrived at Gallatin. He was in luck, the land records at the courthouse showed both men on file. He began to ask for directions and found it wasn’t easy to get answers. David’s conversation with one man was typical.

“How come you need to know about him?” The man asked suspiciously when David mentioned the name, Calvin Spassard.

“I have a message for his family.”

“Give me the message and I’ll deliver it.”

David, still not wanting to broadcast the purpose of his mission until he was on sure footing said, “It’s private. I can’t give it to anybody but them.”

“I’d need to know more before I’d give out stuff on those people.”

“Well, I guess I’ll have to find another way,” David replied.

He went to the cotton gin and was again rebuffed in much the same way. David speculated that Spassard must have been someone bad. Word quickly spread in the hamlet that a shabbily dressed stranger was nosing around, asking about Spassard. The sheriff started looking for David when he heard about it and hailed him as he was leaving the gin. David had considered going to the sheriff when he first arrived but his cautious nature sent him in another direction.

“Yo! Hey you there! Need to talk to you,” the sheriff yelled.

David saw a chunky man, shorter than he, who appeared able to take care of himself. After they were only a few feet apart the sheriff abruptly asked, “How come you’re interested in Calvin Spassard?”

“Is something wrong with the man? Everybody’s mouth gets bent down and they look off when I’ve asked about him. What’s going on?” David growled.

“You mean you don’t know?” The sheriff also maintained his blunt stance.

“What am I supposed to know?” David answered as both men continued their verbal sidestepping.

The sheriff shifted his feet. He and David were leaned against a hitching rail facing the other.

“Spassard and his buddy Jan Wortz suckered a bunch of farmers here into trusting them with their cotton. They hauled two boatloads to New Orleans and nobody has seen hide or hair of them, or the crew. Everybody’s figuring they took the money and went west, maybe to Mexico. Left wives and kids here. Yeah, everybody is wrathy towards those two fellers.”

David decided it was time to trust someone and the sheriff looked like a fair man. “They are all dead.”

“Dead!”

“They were killed by bandits. Bandits are swarming along the turnpikes in that part of the country.”

“How you know this?”

 

“We ran into the folks who did the killing. I searched around and found the receipts for the stuff they sold. We found the gold, a good bit of gold. It weighs enough to come out right close.”

“You got gold! You mean.....”

David cut him off. “I wouldn’t want the world knowing it until we get things sorted out. What I mean is, I won’t stand for a run on things. I need to locate somebody who knows who gets how much.”

“You mean you actually got the whole amount?” The sheriff took stock of the rough talking mountaineer standing before him. Things didn’t add up. The fellow could use some decent clothes but his horse and saddle were first rate. The sheriff also surmised that the man was a little on the cocky side.

“I said I did.”

“You got gold loaded on that mule?”

“Stay away from the mule. He’s bad to kick and bite.”

The sheriff correctly measured David. The man had to be on the up and up if he was bringing the money. He could have kept it. “Calvin’s wider bound to know the whole thing. She reads and writes real good. I just know she’s bound to be the one that kept the books. The wider’s house is up that creek a little over a mile. You can’t miss it. They got a neat place there. You go on and I’ll be there directly. I want to tell about this at the gin and some other places what’s happened. Let them spread it. Lot of people that will be right glad to see you.”

Nina Spassard, her bonnet tied snug to shield her face from the bright sun, had her basket and was going to the store. She prayed she still had credit. Her thoughts, as they often did, dwelled on her husband. Why hadn’t he returned home? Months had passed and now people were saying horrible things about Calvin. Some of it had gotten back to her. Yet she was certain her husband would not go off and leave her and the children as people were saying.

Nina was smart and attractive, educated better than most, with plenty of energy. It was commonplace for her to be alongside her husband working in the fields, even during pregnancies. She now regretted having encouraged Calvin when he talked about going “down river.”

She had left her ten-year-old daughter in charge of the three younger children while she was gone.

“I won’t be gone more than an hour-and-a-half. I need dye and some baking powder,” she told the daughter.

“Can you bring us some gum drops? Pleeaase?” whined Cotton, her seven year old.

“I’ll see. Don’t you go counting on it though.”

“We haven’t had any in a long time.”

“I know that! There’s another verse. It might be a longer time before you get any more.”

She and Calvin had been getting by, which was about all anyone accomplished. They seemed better off than others because he’d built an extra nice log house and he’d always kept things looking clean and neat.

“You will feel better if things look pert,” Calvin had said.

He and Jan came on the idea of building flat boats and freighting goods to New Orleans. “It’s getting right common. You know, it’s a chance to maybe get a little ahead “ he had said to Wortz.

Nina was startled back to the present when she saw a man on a horse coming up her narrow road. The road ended at her house, so what was he doing? His tattered buckskin garments made him look sleazy from a distance. The sight of him frightened her so; she left the road and paused in a thicket near the creek to gather her thoughts.

David followed the sheriff’s directions and found the wagon trail that bordered a beautiful, clear, rushing stream. He’d traveled what he estimated was a half mile and came alongside a deep pool in which he could see the bottom. The fast water made the white gravel lining the streambed glisten in the sunlight.

David paused and looked around. He wanted to don more presentable clothes but another thought entered; the water was so inviting he felt compelled to take a bath. He looked every direction and saw not a living thing. The place was all but surrounded by a thicket.

David undressed and walked onto a flat rock, which extended out into the stream. With a bar of lye soap he lathered and shaved with a pocketknife. After shaving he slipped into the chilly water and again, using the lye soap, he gave himself a thorough bath, even washing his hair. In a very short time he was back on the rock, drying.

Nina watched the man from her hiding place, not sure what to do. He didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry as his horse was walking. Should she accost him and ask where he was going? Who could he be? Was he lost? Was he coming to see her? She was going to have to make some kind of a decision soon! The man stopped. What was he doing? He was looking for something. Although she was less than fifty yards away, she was certain he couldn’t see her. She was well hidden as she squatted down behind the shrubs. He’s undressing. He’s taking off every stitch! Oh my goodness! What a specimen! Under those skins, one would never know.

Nina was mesmerized by what was before her. She had never before seen a man completely undressed, not even her husband. Calvin had bedded her often, but it all happened after both were hidden under the covers. She continued to look while the man rinsed thoroughly and with his strong arms flipped himself out of the water onto the narrow rock. The man again looked in all directions while drying with a tattered towel.

Nina waited, certain she was supposed to be stricken with shame at any moment, but felt no such emotion. Modesty mandated she back out of the dense thicket and get home but her feet were glued to the ground. She felt another tingle of excitement when he dried his private parts and his penis became partly erect. Oh my! What would he do if he knew I was here? She thought it peculiar the man paid the distended penis no mind and continued to remove the moisture from other places. At last, Nina had the wherewithal to ease out of her hiding place and all but ran the half mile to her house. She chastised herself for liking what she saw.

“Mommy, you didn’t stay gone like you said. Did you get the gum drops?”

“No, I didn’t get the gum drops. I saw a man coming and thought it best I return if he was coming to visit us.” Nina was out of breath.

“When’s he coming?”

“He should be here soon,” she said as she dried the perspiration from her arms and face.

She was still flushed when her seven year old son, began to yell, “I see them! I see them! Yonder he comes! He’s riding a horse and leading a mule. Here he comes!” The boy had immediately begun a vigil, watching the road when Nina told them someone was coming.

David had taken his time getting dressed, thinking the sheriff would catch up with him. He dawdled, hoping to be with the sheriff when he came to the house. He finally went on up the path, anxious as to what awaited him. When he got there, he rode directly to the hitching rail a few yards away from the front gate and left his animals. The children, curious and unafraid, were all but underfoot as he dismounted.

The place was neat and the children didn’t look sad eyed and hungry.

“You come a long way, Mister?”

“Don’t get close to the mule. He’s powerful bad to kick and bite,” David answered.

David was dressed in the blue cotton parade trousers he’d worn as a dragoon and a white shirt fitted for him in New Orleans. He felt fresh and neat as he entered the yard, removing his hat when he saw the attractive woman. He had known he would be meeting a widow. Naturally, he tried to imagine what she would be like.

By this time Nina had removed her bonnet. She was tall and with dark hair that was pulled back and made into a foot long braid that hung straight down. Her strong, pretty face featured light blue eyes resting under attractive, soft brown eyebrows. Her eyes appeared to be very alert.

Nina was standing at the door watching David dodge the feet of her little ones. They weren’t scared, and in their curiosity, stayed very close to him. One of the younger children, walked in front of him in order to have his full attention. As she was looking back, she stumbled and fell. David placed his hat back on, squatted, and helped her up.

“You going to be alright?” he asked.

“Where did you get your saddle?” she replied.

“Ju bring any gumdrops?” the seven year old asked. David wished he had.

With the children on each side he arrived at the door and introduced himself, “ I’m David Burnine. I’m from south of here. The sheriff sent me over, said he’d be here in a little while.” David studied the attractive woman before him and wished he carried a better message.

“What can I do for you?” Nina asked, still flustered. She remained planted in the doorway as if it was a line not to be crossed. The man seemed polite enough, as he’d again removed his hat. She glanced at the dark, wet curls glistening in the mid-morning sun. The way he dismounted without being invited and tethered his horse as if he intended to be awhile, told her he was on a meaningful mission. She couldn’t keep from remembering all she had seen a few minutes before. Fully clothed he was as handsome as the man she’d seen taking a bath.

“I guess we’d ought to wait until some more folks are here. The sheriff said there’d be a good many people show up.”

What’s going on! The sheriff! Other people are coming!

“Rachael! Take the kids behind the house to play. I need to talk to this man,” Nina said to her oldest in a most commanding tone.

Rachael was annoyed that she had to leave. She wanted to stay and hear why the man had come. Even so, she obediently did as she was told, whisking the smallest into her arms to hasten their departure.

After the children were out of hearing distance, Nina bluntly asked, “It’s about my husband isn’t it? You know where he is?”

“Well yeah, I sure do, ma’am.”

“He’s dead isn’t he?”

“I wasn’t aiming to tell you until the other people showed up.”

“I’ve known he was dead for a long time. He’d have come back home. He ‘is’ dead isn’t he?”

“Well, yeah. He’s dead all right. I’m sure of it.”

The woman bit her lips. She’d been holding back for months, knowing all along her husband could not return. Something terrible had to have happened to him and she knew it. Tears formed and she was crying but no sound came. After what seemed to be too long a time, she sucked in and began to wail pitifully. The children, alarmed at the sounds of their distressed mother, came running.

Rachael saw David step forward when Nina collapsed. His arms went quickly around her as her knees sagged. He knew she was loosing consciousness when she helplessly reached for the doorjamb. With his right arm he held her against him. In the same motion he reached under her knees with the other arm and picked her up.

“That bed alright?” David asked, nodding toward the bed he could see in the room.

“Yes! What did you do to her?”

“She just fainted. She’ll be all right in no time. Get a wet rag and lay it on her forehead,” David said.

By the time the girl had returned Nina was blinking her eyes. She was remembering what was happening when she fainted. Her skin color returned to normal in moments. She recalled wanting to vomit as things blurred. She was glad she hadn’t done that. She recalled noticing the man’s eyes looked woeful and tired.

“What happened, Mommy?”

“I just fainted, but I’m alright now.” She was holding Rachael’s hand.

“How come you were crying?”

“This man just told me your father is dead.”

“That’s why he’s been gone so long?” Rachael asked. By now the rest of the children were gathered around the bed.

“I knew something was wrong when he didn’t come home,” Nina said.

None of the children or the mother were shedding tears. The younger children, of course, were too young to comprehend what it all meant. Rachael and her mother seemed to have been forewarned that the man of the house was gone forever.

“Oh Mom. What’re we going to do with Daddy gone?” Rachael asked, now close to tears.

“We will just have to manage. I don’t know. It’ll be all right. You’ll see.” Tears filled Nina’s eyes once more and she sobbed quietly. She couldn’t see any way for things to be all right.

David left the heart-breaking scene and walked into the yard. Tears were also spoiling his vision. It wasn’t long until two of the children followed him and then a third.

“That horse purty smart?”

“Yeah, he’s about the best. He’s a brave one, too. In the war he carried me straight and true, even when bullets was whistling all around us. Yeah, he’s a right good horse.” David figured that for the moment, Ol’ Roan was as good a subject as any.

The children remained interested in the tall stranger. They were full of questions about the mule and the horse and whether David liked gumdrops. David answered them all and waited. Still no sheriff.

Finally, Rachael came for David. “Mom’s feeling good enough to talk to you now. You kids stay right here while the man goes in to talk to Momma.”

“Don’t get close to that mule. He’s bad to kick,” David yelled at Rachael’s siblings.

He found the woman propped in bed, looking fit.

“You sure you’re ready to talk?”

“Oh yes. I’ll be fine. I think I’ll stay where I am for awhile.”

“Ma’am, the sheriff seemed to think you would have records, you know, so you could tell who money was supposed to be paid to.”

“Well, yes. I have all that. I know how much each man shipped. It’s just that there’s no money. People think my husband took the money and left with it. Word has come back to me, some of the things that have been said. You know, the gossip.”

“I have money with me. Haven’t counted the exact amount. I’ve been down river, and I know how things are done there. I have receipts showing what they sold things for. With what I’m carrying there is a good chance you’ll be able to pay close to what people are owed.” He handed her the pieces of paper, which had led him to her.

“You mean there’s this much? What kind of money is it? Is it backed by a decent bank? Will the script be acceptable here?”

“Won’t be any trouble with that, mam. I brought gold.”

“You brought gold! My god! You brought Calvin’s gold all the way back to Gallatin?” Nina was weeping again.

David, looking for something to do, pulled a chair nearer to the bed and sat down while he waited for the woman to get control of her emotions. The weeping subsided after she gave her nose a healthy blow. Still rubbing her eyes and after a few exasperated sighs, she said, “You’re a stranger and you hauled Calvin’s and Jan’s gold all the way from way down yonder. You could have stolen it and we’d never have known.... and yet you didn’t. I guess I’m just dumbfounded, you know, I just don’t understand....you. The country is full of people bent on trying to rob, steal or swindle. Seems like every time I go into Gallatin, no bigger than it is, there’s rough-looking men hanging around. They just look like they’re up to some kind of meanness. Yet you’ve hauled that which belonged to someone else all that way.”

“A man’s not supposed to take things which aren’t his, ma’am.” David enjoyed the moment. His convoluted effort to bring to these people what was theirs, made him feel good.

“I know, but there aren’t many who won’t take advantage. You’re a godsend!”

“Could I take that weight off the mule and bring it in the house? If you feel like it, we could count it while we’re waiting on the sheriff.”

“Oh yes, I’m sure the mule would be pleased.” Nina had a scant smile as a mixture of conflicting thoughts rummaged their way through her mind.

The tall outsider had brought tragic information but strangely, the money he carried would soften the blow. She thought it ironic the yellow metal discs would make such a difference.

She had anguished time and again when trying to deduce why Calvin had not returned. Now she knew. The wishes, hopes, or even better, the anticipation, were gone. Not knowing what was ahead, sadness was always close at hand, waiting to enter her life when she was most vulnerable.

Maybe the tired looking man standing before her had been sent by God. Lately she had questioned if there was such a thing. Had God foretold to this man what she most needed in the absence of her husband? What he carried would reestablish her and Calvin’s honesty, a major concern of hers. As of late, she dreaded going to town for fear of meeting some of the people who had trusted Calvin with their goods.

David, Nina, and young Rachael counted nearly twelve hundred ounces of precious metal. It was valued at ten dollars an ounce, so they had a fortune on the table before them.

“The way I handled my trips, I took ten percent. Out of the rest, I paid the crew half-a- dollar a day, which amounted to about thirty dollars apiece. I was always able to sell the boats without having to tear them down. My boats were sturdy. The Wortz fellow, his ticket was for a little less. Was his boat smaller?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Let’s say your man sold his boat for three-hundred and the other feller two-hundred-and-fifty. It’s adding up pretty good. According to the papers I brought, everything is tallying out real close. Way it looks you’d get seven-twelfths and the Wortz folks five-twelfths. Your part will be right close to a thousand dollars.”

“Some of the cotton was ours,” Nina quickly added.

“Course, you knew you had that coming too.”

Nina couldn’t keep from admiring the unaffected man sitting across the table from her. His quaint, mountaineer dialect, suggested that he was uneducated. Schooling or not, he’d effortlessly gone through the figures on two boatloads of merchandise. He understood numbers and certainly knew the freighting business. At the onset, his restrained manner had placed her at ease. She could tell he was being deliberately careful in his way of speaking to her. He seemed to know she would be suspicious and restive.

Nina reproached herself. The man was being proper and yet her mind kept drifting back to the creek bank. She could still vividly see him standing on the flat rock, bare as when he was born. She was supposed to feel ashamed but didn’t. Anyway, no one would ever know, she mused.

Was she normal to keep undressing this handsome figure of a man? She scolded herself for her lack of control. She had just learned her husband was dead, and to have such thoughts. It was hard for her to concentrate.

After David had figured where the gold was supposed to go he had relaxed for a while. It was pleasant to sit across the table from the pretty woman and her daughter.

With a rush it came to him that everything was not in place. Other people now knew he had a great deal of gold and exactly where he was. With suddenness he returned to his vigilant stance as he harshly interrupted her thoughts. “Ma’am. Something isn’t right.” His tone had abruptly changed. He spat out the tension filled words and his eyes were hard and alert.

“Oh? What is it?” Nina, already fearful the happenings weren’t real, was frightened by his brusque mood. Was he going to take the gold away? Had everything been a cruel ruse?

“The sheriff. Is he on the up and up?”

“Far as I know. Yes. He’s considered a fine man.”

“He said he would follow me to your place. He’s not here. Said he’d be along directly. We know that doesn’t mean right now but I don’t feel like it should to be this long.”

“I would say he should be here,” Nina said.

“I’d feel better if I was a heedful. I want to unsaddle my stock. Can I put them in your barn out of the way? I’ll get out of sight, where I can watch things.” David’s words seemed less harsh.

Nina was riding an emotional elevator. She had been so low, even fainting. Then she was up, sailing along. All at once, she felt dizzy. Earlier, her suspicions had been cast aside, feeling ever so safe with this, "David." Maybe he was an ex-soldier, or at any rate, someone who looked capable of taking care of himself. So safe, in fact, she had given no thought of danger from another quarter. Now he had awakened her senses. With a fortune before them, they could be at risk. His harsh, demanding tone had frightened her. Then, just as quickly, he allayed those thoughts, sending her spirits upward again. Somehow, it was all right to be afraid of something else, but she did not want to be scared of this man.

Anxious to be in agreement with him, she said, “You might be right. Rachael, put the gold back in the bags and I’ll get dinner ready. Soon as you’re through in the barn come in and check on us. I can give you an idea when to come and eat.”

David returned to the house carrying a rifle and he also had two pistols hooked to his belt.

“Our trap’s been catching a lot of catfish lately. The kids gripe but we still eat it. Our pork smells so old; I know if it was left alone it could walk. I’ll mix the fried catfish in with wilted lettuce and you’ll like it. It’s a good summertime dish.” Nina wanted to impress the tall stranger as she gave him her best smile. “Be a half-hour, though.”

He gave no indication he had seen her smile and yet she was certain he had. His eyes remained as cold as last winter’s snow. “I think I’ll mosey past the barn and circle back and wait in that thicket across the road. Do you have a gun here?”

“We have an old musket. I don’t keep it loaded.”

“I’ll load it if you can shoot it.”

“I have to lay the barrel over something but I can aim and shoot. I sure can,” Nina answered. Boy! He’s a hard case she said inwardly.

David loaded the gun and left. The seven-year-old son was going to follow him.

“You get back with your folks! You have no business with me.”

The boy watched until David was out of sight.

David questioned his distrusting behavior. Was he being overly cautious? He had taken solace in no one knowing he had such a large sum with him. Now the sheriff and maybe others knew. Was he being too wary? He was well hidden but had a good view of a sizable portion of the road and the house.

He stayed where he was until the meal was ready and returned to the house. The woman was correct. The meal was quite good.

“Relax and eat a good meal. The dog will bark.”

David cut her off in mid-sentence. “Dogs can get their heads blown off. If he smelled a bitch in heat a mile away, you wouldn’t see him for two days. Good dog is worth a lot but there’s limits,” he muttered authoritatively. He was downing the food quickly and washing it down with sassafras tea. “This is right good. I never ate fish made up in a salad before. I’ll have to tell them about this back home.”

The perceptive Nina stood and watched the man gulp down his food with a total absence of table manners. She tried to imagine what or where back home was. Had he given her a compliment? It was now a fact. She had no husband. The news of her husband’s death had been a shock, but she didn’t have the same feeling as if he had just died. The premonition or notion had been there for some time. It would be no strain for her to get remarried with the men outnumbering the women as they did. There would be gentlemen callers as soon as word was out. Some would be appalling. Was this man married? It would be interesting to put a polish on him. Take away the crude talk. He was obviously smart enough to be taught anything. So far she’d found no signs of him having a sense of humor, something she liked to see in another person. Then she gave him credit, noting there had been little opportunity for such things.

“Thank you for the meal, maym. Don’t recollect tasting better.”

“Oh, you’re just hungry.”

“I’ll be across the road, keeping an eye out. Wish there was a breeze. Might blow some of the bugs away.”

David kept his vigil and watched the shadows lengthen. The dog began to bark and he saw men coming. At first it was only the sheriff and another man. Not far behind them came two more. Finally, all the men whom had shipped with Spassard and Wortz arrived.

“Oh, there you are. Never recognized you at first. I thought I’d be here a little quicker. Some of the men were scattered out a right smart,” the sheriff said to David.

Nina Spassard had spent the afternoon proportioning out how much each shipper was owed. As the men arrived the business was conducted so each man understood how Nina arrived at his amount. Most of them brought food to give to her. “Since your man is gone, here’s a little somethin’,” they would say. Sacks of corn, beans, and oats were stacked against the house. Parcels of ham and bacon were hung in the smoke house.

No one spoke of why the gifts were brought. Most of the men to whom Nina dispersed money had said harsh things about Calvin Spassard at one time or another. He hadn’t returned and they’d felt cheated. Now that it was known he was dead, all were embarrassed at the thoughts held and words repeated. Most of them felt it necessary to give a token in apology. “Maybe a little bushel for the widow,” they said to themselves.

“I brung a little sack o’ corn, throwed it on the pile. Hope you won’t feel put on. Might need it in the winter.” Each man made it known to Nina when they had thrown something on the pile.

Nina smiled as she handed them their gold and said, “Oh, well, thank you. I’m sure I’ll need it later.”

After they were paid, the men feeling satisfied, waited around in the yard, visiting among themselves, while the business with others was transacted. Stories had circulated which told them they had been swindled; a galling experience. Now they had learned otherwise. Calvin was bringing the money back and had been killed. They were flabbergasted with the medium of exchange. Most had never had their hands on gold. The banks at the time issued script that served as the currency for a community. Often such items of commerce became worthless, leaving the seller holding the proverbial, “empty bag.” The men put the yellow metal in their pokes and shoved it deep into their pocket but could not keep it there long. They had to finger, or as several did, bite on the precious disks, making a small indentation.

David, seeing trouble was not in the offing, put his weapons away except for one pistol tied to his belt. Most of the time he stood in the shade of a large oak near the house, stoically watching the proceedings.

He was a curiosity to the men who came. Each one asked himself if he would have been as honest. He had disposed of the outlaws, whatever that meant. Everyone wanted to ask how many and how he disposed of them, but did not. The sheriff had told the little he knew.

“He’s not long on words. I had to talk sideways awhile to worm out of him what he came here for. He’s bigger and taller but he’s cut like Old Andy. He hasn’t said, but I’d bet a penny he’s followed the General. Just his manner and all, and the way he’s put together, I shore wouldn’t want to buck him in a fight.” The sheriff had whispered this meager bit of information from time to time when he described David.

Everything was settled. The sheriff would see that the Wortz woman received the money coming to her. Before the afternoon was gone the men had downed their tea and began to drift away, each coming to David and expressing gratitude in their own fashion.

David had never harbored any notions as to keeping the money for himself. It was simple. If he could find where it belonged, he wanted to be rid of it. That did not keep him from relishing the kind words that came his way.

“‘Preciate what you done for me and mine. What we got will go a long way.” Or, “I’m right beholden. People like you, hard to come by.” Another man said, “I heard you’d floated down. You could do worse than build a boat or two here, have them ready come spring.”

The smooth talking sheriff was the last to leave. He was pleased with himself. “You get a chance, come by and see me before you leave. I’m going straight to the other wider. It’s a fine thing you did. Most of those men took a chance, trying to grow cotton here. They’re all small, just getting by. Not a one owned a slave.”

The kind words dallied in David’s mind as he and the children watched the last horse and rider disappear.

Nina was emptying and rinsing the water bucket. She had used it to heat the sassafras and water. Over thirty men had used the common dipper and emptied the bucket. “Our drinking water will taste like tea a few days, but I didn’t have anything that was big enough.”

Nina didn’t know what to do with David. She wanted to ask him to spend the night after all he had done. The man’s “presence,” had bolstered her confidence during the day. It was a feeling, a need, she had never known. She had always been sure of herself. Now she felt the need to lean on this unknown. Would she seem too forward? He could spread his pallet in the dogtrot or the barn.

David was relieved and as the tension left him, he felt tired. He wanted to leave his stock in the barn and bed down close by. True, he had done his good deed, but didn’t want to seem nervy and ask if he could stay all night.

David’s large hand felt warm and gentle when he shook hands with Nina, as he was getting ready to leave.

“Well ma’am. Reckon I’ll be saddling up. You handled everything right pert like. Once the shippers came, you were all business. You never had time to take on.” David was smiling, showing his beautiful teeth.

Nina wanted to wilt before him. God, you’re handsome. Stand there and smile at me forever.

“Why don’t you stay all night?” said the seven-year-old lover of gumdrops. He was tugging on one of David’s fingers. The three youngsters were again all but clustered under his feet.

“Well, hadn’t thought about that,” he lied.

“You can sleep with us,” the boy said.

“Why don’t you spend the night?” Nina Spassard was to the point “I’m sure it’s been a long day for you and there are plenty of places here for you to sleep.”

“Yeah. You can sleep with us,” repeated Cotton.

“You don’t mind?”

“Well of course not! We’d feel honored,” Nina replied.

“Be right easy for me to put down here for the night.”

“You make yourself comfortable and Rachael and I will fix supper.”

David sat on the floor of the dogtrot and leaned against the wall. He was conversing with the children who continued to find him fascinating. He was there only a short time before he was sound asleep. The sounds of his deep snoring filled the trot.

When it came time to eat, Nina decided not to wake him. She pushed him over, straightened his legs, and left him.

“The man’s exhausted.”

It was dark and everyone was asleep except Nina when David awoke and remembered where he was.

Nina was listening for him to stir when the snoring stopped.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. It’s not like me to let go like that.” David said as he rubbed his face and eyes in the near darkness. Nina was standing in the door of her room that opened into the trot, blocking most of the light.

“You had every right. I’m sure you’ve been under a strain. I still have a plate for you. Sit at the table by the light and I’ll bring it in,” she said. The table was in Nina’s bedroom. It was on the other side of the dogtrot from the kitchen and the children.

The meal consisted of beans cooked with onions, corn bread, and buttermilk.

Nina sat directly across from David with her elbows on the table. While he munched on the food she found little things to fix on him. His hair had a crease where his hat stopped. She would like to comb the place. There was a button gone and also a stain on his shirt, which she hadn’t noticed before.

They talked. He learned her family had settled near Nashville in the late seventeen hundreds. Nina’s dad had supported his family by farming and teaching school. “It was close for us sometimes when the crops failed. Even with money you couldn’t buy anything to eat,” she said.

After a pause she continued, “Calvin and I have managed alright until this. We’d have been married twelve years this fall. Doesn’t seem that long.

“I’ve watched you most of the day, trying to guess what you’re about. You know. What you do, your family, that sort of thing. You were busy worrying about this money you brought and didn’t give out much.”

He had relaxed and between bites, David found himself telling Nina more about himself than he usually did to strangers. He was not one to impart details of his life to those he didn’t know.

“Mostly I’ve been trying to get by. Trying to maybe have a little something extra, before I took up with a woman. Or maybe I never was stirred up enough over a woman. Most men won’t wait. You see them all over the place. Living in little bitty, one room houses with a dirt floor and with a mess of starving kids.

“I need to settle on something. The last two years have been a little too full of excitement.”

After learning David was single, Nina wanted to uncover more about him. She even questioned if there was something the matter with him, still single, with his looks. To her surprise she found he talked easily about most things except his love life. Did he have one? He left out the gory parts when he told her about the army. No, he hadn’t been to school much. Yes, he came from a large family and he never finished describing all of them.

“You learned to cipher?”

“Well, yeah. We had to learn to cipher. Pa wouldn’t let us hang around the mill if we couldn’t count stuff. He taught us some and so did Mom and sometimes there was a school. I tried real hard there.”

“If you don’t build boats and take them down the river...then what?”

“I’ve been asking that. I could file some place, you know, where land is opening up. Reckon I could hunt a widow with a farm. That’d be easier,” David smiled as he teased Nina. “What’s going happen to you?” he asked.

“I’ll try to make this creek bottom pay. Me and that little ten year old. She can already drive a team. My husband and I put out a lot of sweat and I want to hang onto it if we can. Thanks to you, my chances are good. I taught two years and liked it. But that’s hard. People will agree to pay for their kid’s schooling. When they don’t it’s tough to send the kid home. My second year I made everyone pay in advance.”

David couldn’t help liking the woman. She was attractive, witty, and smiled easily. He even had thoughts he knew were highly improper. They were alone and the feather bed looked inviting.

Nina watched David devour a goodly portion of her leftover beans and corn bread, both of which he found praiseworthy.

“Don’t recollect having beans this good before. This is sure a lot better than the pork and corn cakes I been living off of. I’ve been thinking on inventing better traveling food. The pork we get this time a year, I swear, a lot of it is spoiled. I cook hell out of it. Until it’s black nearly, but the stuff still smells rotten.”

Nina liked the compliment even if he had said the same thing about the noon meal. Her mind brought the nude David into focus again. This time he was so very near, sitting just across the table. Embarrassed at the close-up, she felt herself become flushed, hoping in the poor light he wouldn’t see the difference. Why does he have to look that good! What will I do if he decides? Oh gosh! Think about something else!

He had eaten slowly, finally pushing his chair away from the table. He stood, yawning, extending his arms upward so his knuckles brushed the ceiling.

“Scuze me,” he said, covering his mouth. “I thing I’ll go and unroll my bed in the barn. Going to be hard for me to go back to sleep after napping like I did.”

As he moved toward the door, she was gliding alongside and in a gentle gesture, touched his arm. He paused and turned, facing her very close. His large, strong hands as if by magic, were around her narrow waist, pressing gently against her back. Her lips felt feverish and trembling, as he touched them with his. Then his hands slid downward covering her buttocks as he drew her against him. Through all the clothes, she could feel his hard member, jamming against her stomach.

David finally broke free, “I’m sorry ma’am. I don’t have that right. I’m being impolite. I’m sorry. I got carried away.”

“There’s nothing to forgive. Please! Stay here...., with me,” she whispered to him, her voice thick and quavering.

The candle was put out and tight fitting garments were removed.

Nina became light as a feather, floating, proclaiming her ecstasy. Each time, as she appeared to be settling close to earth, a gust of air would send her soaring again, exploring places she’d never been. Her euphoria continued for hours, days, and then weeks as she was filled and re-filled and filled again. The magnificent covering remained, no matter how she drifted. Then it exploded. The feather was not a feather anymore, only tiny filaments aimless now, snuggling down into all the corners of the earth.

David forgot the rest of the world existed for a few minutes. He shared her pleasure as she stifled a scream. At the appropriate time he rolled to the side staying in her, gently kissing her nose, eyes, and lips. They held their embrace while their senses returned.

“That was so good. I didn’t intend to let go like that. I knew if you touched me I might not be able to control myself. You must think I’m awful brazen,” she whispered.

He was still holding her tightly against him. “ Am I ever proud you did, I was about to die,” he said, as he kissed her again on the nose. “It never came to me that this would happen, you know, between us. I thought about it a little and knew it was forbidden. I’d put you off limits. Didn’t keep me from admiring your manner. Kept saying to myself, there’s a fine one. Course, your right good looking. That makes a man get to studying about things he hadn’t ought to think about.”

“You really think I’m pretty?”

“Oh God, yeah. People have already told you that, many a time.”

“Oh, but I like hearing it from you.” She kissed him hard on he lips, her tongue sneaking between them, touching his teeth. She felt him become hard again.

They were less frantic at first but soon lost themselves in their nirvana. Someone was sucking Nina’s nipples as she rushed through paradise. Oh yes! Yes! They deserved just that very thing! She came again, a pounding, rhythmic, sensation, which went on and on. He was with her! Then she lapsed into an ecstatic coma.

When she awoke they were again facing each other on their sides, bathed in perspiration.

Who was this miracle man? This knight? Nina asked. Did God or the Devil send him? He knew, or behaved as if he knew, exactly what she needed. He brought money. He brought money when she was in desperate need. He acted as one, who, ahead of time, understood her financial straight. She had seen him nude, which tantalized her beyond measure when she happened to slip back to it. Did God or the Devil know how lonely she had been?

That afternoon as she had concentrated on the business of paying those she owed, David was always within view. He was under the shade tree, or near the tea bucket, or explaining something to one of her children. The man was always where she could see him. And he looked so imposing in his tight breeches, the worn dragoon hat, and handsome shirt. She caught herself thinking of him as her protector and guardian. Nothing would go wrong with him close by.

After all that, as if it was part of a grand design, the man had made love to her. Had he ever! She had liked it with Calvin and they did it often, but this man was different. He seemed to know just what to do. How many women had he been with? Hundreds? Thousands. He was so very precise in his timing. It was as if he could read her mind. He knew exactly what she needed.

She scolded herself for questioning the scenario as she did.

David dozed for a short time and was out of Nina when he awoke. He had never been with a woman who possessed such energy.

Sensing she was awake, he found a breast and kissed it, ever so gently. She stiffened.

Nina was tired and parts of her felt abused when she roused both of them the next morning.

“We have to get up. The kids will be griping at me for having you sleep with me instead of them. If Rachael found you here I have an idea she might know what went on.”

“Oh gosh!” He paused. “I hardly slept any.” As he rubbed his eyes and face, he said, “I’m sore. I have never before done what we did.”

And Mister David, I don’t believe you for a minute.

“Wish I had some ham. I know. I’ll try some of that they brought yesterday. I’ll fix us ham and eggs. We’ll have ham and eggs and corn cakes and sorghum molasses “ Nina said as she rubbed a wrinkle out of her dress.

“Anything you fix will be a lot better than what I have in my saddle bags,” then he remembered telling her the same thing last night.

Nina was melancholy as she sat on the bed beside him and ran her hand over the hair on his chest. She said, “I feel like I owe you the best. You’ll just never understand how you’ve helped me. You know, the terrible fix I was in.”

“Ma’am, you don’t owe me anything. Don’t feel that way. I took advantage of you last night. I’m embarrassed about that. I know you felt obligated.” By now he was out of bed and pulling on his trousers.

“Yes it was pretty horrible alright. I remember you grabbing my hair and ripping every stitch of clothing away and then you stabbed me, I can’t count the times, with that thing between your legs. Too bad no one saw it, you’d be in jail by now,” she mocked. Her eyes were awash with a fresh twinkle. I just had my best night ever and you need not apologize Mr. David, whoever you are. “For your information, I don’t feel taken advantage of.”

“That’s good to know. I’ve been worrying. Hardly slept, thinking about it,” he said, with a grin.

“I can tell,” she said, her lips were turned down as a she displayed a mischievous smirk.

By this time he was out of bed and standing with his shirt on but not buttoned when she had put her arms around him under the shirt, nestling her face against his chest. The soft hair felt good. “I don’t see how I can take much more ravaging. It’s been so awful.” She had her arms drawn tightly around him and again could feel the bulge of his erect penis pressing against her.

He gently kissed her on top of the head and reached to unbutton her dress.

“There isn’t time for that. The kids will be here any minute. You’ll have to do without for awhile,” she snapped

“I’ll bet you’re right,” he said, as they disengaged.

“You don’t have to be so easy to dismiss.” She was radiant, as she leaned back away from him.

“Well, it’s not exactly like I’ve been doing without. I was about to yell calf rope.”

“Bet you wouldn’t. Bet you never yelled calf rope in your life, about that anyway.” She was bent, looking into a mirror, fussing with her hair.

“I wouldn’t know. Having never been treated so.” David didn’t feel the need to discuss some of the women he had met while he was stationed at New Orleans.

You‘re a liar, Mr. David.

“Tell you what I’m going do while you fire up the stove and fix breakfast. I’m going start moving that grain that’s piled up in front of the house to a corncrib. I worried all last night, afraid it was going to get rained on. Never slept a wink, thinking about it.” He had slipped on his boots and was sitting on the edge of the bed. He leaned against the headboard, watching her doodle with her hair.

“You just missed all kinds of sleep. You’ll end up being a slow poke all day.” Nina couldn’t believe how she had let go. Her husband’s death now seemed to have happened eons ago. She was supposed to be in mourning and instead, was having the time of her life. Her attempts at assuming the joyless mode associated with the death of her husband were not successful. There were moments when she thought about Calvin and she was saddened, but never for long.

This other man, this David, had blocked out all her sad moments, and for the present, she appeared to be rejoicing. How would she bear her burdens after he was gone? She had known him less than a day and felt free to converse with him in any manner she chose, something she had never felt liberated enough to do with Calvin.

The lilt of her voice, teasing him, was pleasant to David. He was amazed at what had happened between him and Nina in the space of less than twenty-four hours. Their conduct, if known, would be termed scandalous by those who measured such things. He was not concerned as to what was thought of his deportment but he wanted the woman’s stature to remain as it was.

Each acted as if they wanted to remain in the bedroom forever, enjoying the other as they continued to caress and touch. Finally, good sense prevailed before things got out of hand. They tore themselves apart and began the chores they planned.

“Don’t try to use the wheelbarrow that’s in the barn. The wheel is too flat on one side”

It was light enough in the crib for David to find pegs on which to hang the sacks of grain. Before he was through, Cotton, the seven-year-old son was helping. The boy could barely lift one bag but he wanted to prove himself. He was hugging a bag of beans in front of him and often fell, with the contents cushioning him.

“Boy you’re stout, carrying that big old sack by yourself,” David bragged on him.

“Didja get cold sleeping in the dog trot.”

“Well, yeah. A little.”

“Last time I saw you, you’d slobbered. It’d run out onto the floor. You snored loud. My dad snored loud sometimes. I don’t remember seeing him slobber. Mom told us you were tired was the reason you slobbered. My dad is not coming home. He left and he’s not coming home. I hate he won’t be coming back.” After the last load, Cotton had David by the finger as they were walking back to the house, smelling the delicious aroma of breakfast being cooked.

“I don’t ever remember eating this good a breakfast,” David said to Nina.

“Come on. You’ve said that about every meal. Didn’t your mother cook for you?”

“Well, yeah, sometimes. And I wouldn’t dare tell her such a thing, but this is as good as hers.”

David dawdled after breakfast, visiting with the children while sitting slumped against the wall of the dogtrot. As Nina and Rachael were finishing with the breakfast dishes he went in to see her.

“Ma’am, I reckon I’ll be heading out. I got a good two days ride, getting over past Nashville.”

Nina shot him an unhappy glance and went on drying dishes, ignoring him and making much of what she was doing.

David went over what he had said during the morning, trying to think of something that might have offended the woman and could not. He shifted his weight, questioning the reason for Nina’s sudden, sulky demeanor. Not finding any he said, “I’ll be in the barn saddling up.”

He stalked out, not understanding her abrupt turn.

“Wait! I’ll go with you,” Nina said before he was out of the dogtrot.

His back was turned and he didn’t see her wiping moisture from her eyes.

She caught him part way out of the yard and said, “Are you sure you need to leave?”

“Well, I thought since I’d done what I come for, I allowed I ought to be getting on.”

“What if I invited you to stay? You did more than what you came to do.” She paused. They were entering the barn hallway. “I wish you would stay, and I’m not just being polite, I mean it.”

He had left home anxious to see Cleo. Now his mind was filled with uncertainties. Last night he’d expected to put his bedroll down on the hard floor of the corncrib and instead, was given the feather bed.

Her last words turned him toward her. She looked scared. The color was gone from around her eyes and her lips were trembling.

“I think I need you to stay here awhile longer. Can you? I mean, do you understand?” she said, pensively. The compelling woman he had known the night before and until a few moments ago, was now distraught, the spirit gone from her.

“You sure you want that?”

“Yes.”

“You made me think I’d done something, you know, wrong. Is something the matter?” David was astonished at the change in her.

“Yes. Yesterday I was at my lowest and lonelier than I’ve ever been, and you came. You told me what I am. I’m a widow. What you said hurt but I was relieved. Can you imagine? I was glad to learn my husband was dead. At least I knew! I’ll be known as Widow Spassard. Now at least I know what I am.

“I went along day after day, not knowing if I was a widow or what. The not knowing is what’s so awful. It’s just there, morning, noon, and the last thing before I went to bed. In any case, I was destitute, wondering. It looked as if I was bound to lose the farm. Could I feed my children? Then I thought about the poor farm at Nashville. Once people get there it’s hard to get out.

“Then you came. It’s all but bewildering to me that you found this place. All you went through, like a fish swimming upriver to spawn. I still don’t see how, but you got here. You scared the nip out of me the first time I saw you. I was so scared I hid in some bushes close to where you took a bath.”

Color came back into Nina’s eyes and cheeks as she talked; her words were stronger and more animated.

“That’s right, David, or whoever you are. I stood there and watched you bathe. Naked as a newborn, you were. I’m still amazed I stayed and watched, knowing how improper it was.” Nina was smiling as she described the scene. “You were a sight, the likes of which I had never seen. And something held me, wouldn’t let me leave.”

“But you were here when I got here. All prim and proper, standing in the house. I remember.” David was leaning against the wall of the narrow hallway, smiling. “You must have run home.”

“Well, no, but I hurried. I knew you had to be coming to my house.”

Nina paused, searching for words. “Yesterday, with all that happened, and I don’t think I even knew it at the time, you were my strength. There was something. I could glance at where you were and find comfort. Most of the time your attention appeared elsewhere. That didn’t matter. I felt with you on hand, everything was going to be all right. And it was.”

“I thought you handled the business mighty good. Don’t see how I helped much.”

“Well you did. And I’m asking you to be with me awhile longer.” Nina was again solemn. “Please.”

David remembered the vibrant woman from the night before and the saucy female who woke him this morning. Now, he saw a trembling, fear struck being, pleading for help.

“Well, I don’t see a reason not to.” David said, not sure what he’d done to impact Nina the way she had described. “Nobody knows where I am, so it won’t matter that much.”

She hugged him and whispered, “Oh my God. Thank you. You’ll just never know.” She was sobbing, letting the tears run onto his shirt.

David held her close and lifted his head to search for children, thinking they perhaps shouldn’t see such a gesture.

In a short time the tears were gone and Nina was her old vigorous self. She and David went to the stream and emptied the fish trap, finding two large carp and a catfish.

“Those big buggers will be good, baked with onions,” Nina said.

David spent the rest of the day working much the same as he would if he were home. He cleaned out stalls and chopped weeds out of fence corners. He and Cotton walked the rail fence and repaired places that were sagging.

Once it was determined he was staying for “awhile,” he and Nina stopped clinging to each other. She listened to the children recite and did her domestic chores while he looked around for heavy things that needed to be done. During the afternoon he hooked up the team and hauled in two wagonloads of wood. At dusk he went to the stream alone and bathed. The children had been put to bed when he returned.

He and Nina spent another night of bliss together.

“You don’t seem to worry about getting with child?” David said as they were nuzzling each other the next morning. “Are you able to have babies?”

“What does it look like?”

“Well some women get to where they can’t.”

“Well, yes, I’ve worried. Every woman does. If she’s not already with child when she’s bedded a man, she wonders if a seed has been planted inside her. Yes, I worry.”

“Men don’t take on about that too much. That’s the way men are,” David said.

“With you, everything has been different. I thought about it when we did it, but it didn’t matter. You know, it was just, so what. I’ve never behaved as I have with you. At times I feel wanton.”

“Wanton?”

“Like a whore or a loose woman. I’ve never been like that. I’ve been most prudent all of my life.” Then she smiled and said, “At least I was until you came. I couldn’t be in love, whatever that is, I hardly know you. Do you faze all women like you have me?”

“I wouldn’t know. None of them ever said.” David lied.

“I’ll bet,” she taunted. He didn’t see her mocking expression.

David stayed two more days with the Spassards.

The second morning she was steadier but still rambled. “Can you stay one more day? One more day and I’ll be back on an even keel. I won’t die if you leave now, but having you around for just a little longer would be a comfort. I know you want to see your brother. Yesterday, I don’t know what I would have done without you. I don’t think men know such feelings. One more day would be a help to me.”

The next morning Nina seemed ready to handle whatever was dealt her.

David was saddled, standing by his horse when she said goodbye. “I’m wishing you’d stay here with me and I know it’s not possible. Everything has happened too quickly. I want to thank you for all you’ve done. I guess I went a little crazy. And you helped me over it.”

“It wasn’t a one way deal. I needed the rest and my stock has not spoken, but they did too. Where else can I get catfish and wilted lettuce?”

“You silly! Is that all you remember?”

“Maybe not all.” He was smiling.

“You can come back you know. There’ll be men coming to court, now that the word’s out. You’d be allowed to get in line with the rest.” You handsome devil I would put you first in line.

David rode away, wanting to stay. The woman had gotten to him. He could do worse, he told himself. Four fine kids and a place already started. His insecurities asked if she would have him. He thought he’d have a leg up if he came courting.

He found the sheriff in his office.

“Well, howdy. I figured you’d already taken out,” the sheriff greeted him warmly.

“I would’ve but my old pony was favoring a hind foot. The kids and the woman hollered at me to stay put. There was a good bit needed doing around there. I did some of it, you know, and rested a day or two.” David told himself it wasn’t all lies.

“That’s a spunky one, that woman. She’s going make do,” the sheriff said. He paused a moment and continued, “I took the stuff over to the Wortz woman right after I left you. She hardly understood. She was about done in anyhow, waiting there all this time, wondering what happened with her man.

“Even when I left, she hadn’t changed any. I went by a neighbor and told them they ought to look in on her. I don’t think the woman even understood I had brought her a goodly sum of money. Enough to get her by for a while.

“You did these people a world of good. A man is not supposed to think in such a way. It’ll do me good come election time. Me being kind of in on it.”

“You were a big help. I’d have gotten it done but you made it a lot easier,” David smiled. He now felt at ease with the sheriff.

“How’d you do what you did? I mean, get the money and all? You said you’d disposed of the bandits,” the sheriff asked bluntly.

David told him. He explained how he traveled on the turnpikes.

“You killed the whole bunch?”

“No. I let one go. He never had much to do with it. The rest of them got what they deserved. I don’t hold with robbing and killing on the turnpikes.”

“I rode back to New Orleans to see if I could locate where the Spassard fellow and the other men came from. Never found out anything until I went to the military post where I’d soldiered. A man there had heard the name, told me where they might be from. That’s all I had to go on until I got here.”

“I’m amazed you went to that much trouble, getting that stuff up here. Most of the folks I deal with are a little on the shady side. When I run across a man, one that goes out of his way to do right, I’m not used to it.”

“My brother was shot when we first mixed it up with the outlaws, so we’d have been held up anyway.”

“You were in the army then? Must have followed the general, General Jackson?”

“Well, yeah. But I rode with General Coffee.”

“You was in the big battle down there at New Orleans then?”

“Yeah. If those Britishers had stayed, the way they were fighting, we’d have killed the whole bunch.”

“You the first person I’ve met that was actually in the fighting. Way I hear it; Ol’ Andy is the most popular man in the country. We just might get us a president from Tennessee. You know Ol’ Andy, do you?”

“Well yeah. We’ve met. He’d remember me if it was brought up. He promoted me to being an officer after one of our fights with the Creeks. Yeah, I think he might remember. You think he will be president?” David had been away from any news so he was surprised to hear such rumors about Jackson.

“People are saying it.” The sheriff half-smiled and raised his eyebrows as if to say, ‘you can believe it if you want to.’

“I had you pegged right good,” the sheriff said. Pleased he could guess a man so close. “I had you figured, I shore did. Tell me your last name again.”

“Burnine”

“How’s it spelled?”

David spelled the name.

“We had a killing over west of Nashville by that name. It was a woman. One of those crazy kind of murders that doesn’t make any sense. I got the name here. Yeah, here it is. Woman named Charlotte Burnine.”

Charlotte! David was rocked by the news.

“You must know the woman. Sit down there. I got some squeezin’s.” The sheriff returned quickly with a jug. “Here, have a little nip of this.”

David took a swallow of the fiery bourbon and wretched but the whiskey stayed down. He took another swallow and his color returned.

The belts of whiskey brought tears to David’s eyes, which magnified his cheerless expression.

The sheriff stood close by while the David regained his balance. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention I had whiskey. Those temperance people don’t have a lick of sense. They don’t know a drink or two is handy sometimes.”

David sat and stared as if he didn’t hear the man.

“I take it this woman is kin?” the sheriff asked.

“It’s Bart’s wife. He’s my brother.”

The sheriff studied the circular he held and said, “Yeah, that’d be right. Says here, her husband’s name was Bartholomew. Sorry I had to give you such news.”

“Who the hell would do such a thing!” David’s voice was cold and vicious. His face had turned into a sulking grimace as he continued, “I’d like to get the son-of-a-bitch that would do a thing like that.”

David wanted to talk. He told the sheriff how Bart and Charlotte had met and how his father had been killed.

“You’ve had a go at quite a number of outlaws, then?”

“Well, yeah. I sure don’t have any use for people like that. Way I feel, if one of them did that to Charlotte. Goddamn! Shit. Why would anyone do such a thing to her? Makes me want to hunt down and dispose of ever’ last one of the sons-a-bitches.”

David’s hard demeanor reaffirmed the sheriff’s appraisal of him. “The law over there doesn’t have a clue as to who did it. They even wondered if it might have been a mistake. You know what I mean? Whoever did it went to the wrong house.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“It’s been a couple of months now,” the sheriff answered.

Mist was falling as David left Gallatin, heading southwest, toward Nashville.

“You Goddamn mule, you have one more fit and I swear, I’m going to blow out your fucking brains,” David mumbled to his pack animal. Of course the mule didn’t understand, but fortunately for him, he behaved as if he did.

Copyright 2002 Don Ballew
Reprinted with permission.
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Synopsis

Clear Creek is for those who enjoy good quality historical fiction. It is haunting, cynical, romantic, bawdy, violent, gentle, and at times, even comical. It looks at a segment of our nation's history from the 1790s to the 1840s, a period often neglected in school. As such it features two fictional families who are long time neighbors in the Appalachian Mountains and are close. This was unusual since one family is white and the other Cherokee. As time passed the two groups became a force united against those who came to harm the Cherokees. The plebeian Cherokee clan and the poor, barely surviving, mountaineer family were deadly when necessary. Character development in this is so well done, The Moon Clan (Cherokee), and Burnines (Caucasian), will linger in the reader’s mind long after the book has been put down.

The story brings to life the often mentioned but seldom explored chapter in American history known as The Trail of Tears. In the early settling of our continent, the Indians were ticketed for extermination. As the white population expanded, many tribes tragically disappeared. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, someone thought of a more humane way to dispose of the Red Man. They set aside a tract of land west of Arkansas, which is now Oklahoma. This was where the Indians could be relocated. Such a bold stroke would get them out of the way.

The Moon clan never understood why they had to move. Nor did they understand why the white people, as a rule, did not like them. Though the Indians tried to imitate the whites in dress, religion, and sometimes outdid them in education, they were still looked upon as a subspecies by many white people.

The Caucasian family, the Burnines, had little except their pride. Jasper, the father, stressed honesty to his brood and often admonished how they could be sold into bondage for what they owed. They saw the Indians as equals. Yet they had to hold their tempers and watch as their best friends, The Moons, were driven away by soldiers. Even before the final moment arrived, the tribe was in a decimated state. Abuse had come to them from every quarter.

Three characters emerge but a strong willed Indian named The Moon, best holds the reader. He is a huge, powerful man, and may have been the greatest Cherokee warrior of all time. As a fourteen-year-old he joined a small group of Cherokees who tried to prevent white people from settling on Cherokee land. They didn't know they were too small a force. Before he was twenty summers old he was already a legend due to his aptitude for combat.

The novel begins as The Moon is recovering from near fatal wounds. With no other alternative, he takes what is left of his family and returns to the home of his parents. Since his family had to be fed, he was compelled to take up farming. As it turns out, he doesn't mind. He would have been content to live out his life in such a way. This was not to be.

Life became exceedingly hard for the Cherokees when the state of Georgia, and later Tennessee and North Carolina, passed laws that took away the legal rights of the Cherokees. This left them vulnerable to all the fiendish schemes known to man. Women were beaten and raped. Their houses were burned and goods taken. The Indian was powerless to openly do anything about it.

When hoodlums came calling on The Moon's family, he put up with their meanness for a while. The leaders of the tribe, trying to get along with the whites, advised him to do so. The Moon finally had his fill of being polite and turned on the tormentors. Decades had passed but he was still the deadly killer of old.

The Moon's beautiful daughter, Anna Lea or Yellow Tail (her Cherokee name) was a dominant character. When she was fifteen she was kidnapped, taken far from her home and brutally raped. Her mother and infant brother lost their lives during this time. A good man came into her life and helped her past the tragedy. As time goes on, Anna Lea is reminded the brutality could happen again.

David Burnine, one of the millwright's sons, is another dominant character in Clear Creek. He went for years not knowing what his life work was to be. Riverboat pilot, soldier (war of 1812), and finally he became a farmer. His side trips spice the novel.

He loved Anna Lea from childhood but had to keep such feelings to himself since someone else had married her. David was slightly younger than she and didn't know all that had happened to Anna Lea when she was kidnapped. By the time he heard the story, another man had entered Anna's life. This tore his heart. He learned early the agony of wanting someone in vain. David's yearning for Anna is a part of the drama. He has affairs and finally a wife and family but the longing for Anna never ceased.

In his late teens, David thought of a way to improve the economy of the area. He freighted Indian grown cotton and other goods by flat boat down river to New Orleans. The trip downstream was frightening but the return was worse. To get back home they had to traverse the outlaw infested Natchez Trace.

This isn't just a story about Indians. It is about the settling of a brash new nation, the United States of America.

The geography and dates in the book are correct. The non-fictional characters (Andrew Jackson, Chief John Ross, The Ridge family, and others), are pictured as historians have described them.

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Author

Don Ballew spent his early years in Cookson, Oklahoma, which is south of Tahlequah in Cherokee County. His father and grandmother had Cherokee roll numbers. For grade school he attended a one room, one teacher school and then bused to Tahlequah for high school. He earned his undergrad degree at Northeastern, also at Tahlequah and then graduated from the University of Missouri with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. Although he votes in the Cherokee elections, he does not pass as Native American. His previous writings include articles in small trade magazines and the local newspaper.

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