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From one of the strongest voices in frontier fiction, THE BORDER MEN is a bold novel of revolution, adventure, and the spirit of the American pioneers. Cameron Judd tells the compelling story of proud men and women whose passion for liberty led them to fight for their freedom and tame the wilderness. Survival is at its most precarious, as Joshua Colter must defend the land he adopted in his youth, Tennessee. As a captain of the newly formed militia known as the Patriot Rangers, he leads the colonists in their ...
From one of the strongest voices in frontier fiction, THE BORDER MEN is a bold novel of revolution, adventure, and the spirit of the American pioneers. Cameron Judd tells the compelling story of proud men and women whose passion for liberty led them to fight for their freedom and tame the wilderness. Survival is at its most precarious, as Joshua Colter must defend the land he adopted in his youth, Tennessee. As a captain of the newly formed militia known as the Patriot Rangers, he leads the colonists in their struggles not just against the soldiers of the British Crown attempting to quiet their rebellion, but the fierce anger of the Cherokee and Chickamauga Indians as well, as they protect their territory.
The old frontiersman paused and leaned, panting, against a beech, his blood-mottled right hand clutching his wounded left side. Brown autumn-dry leaves, which would cling to the tree until spring, tickled his face in the night wind. More blood oozed between his fingers and dripped to the sodden thatch beneath his moccasins. Alphus Colter closed his eyes a few moments, praying for strength. He opened them again, saw ahead the dark wall of the stockade that bore his name, and was relieved.
Not much farther now. If he could only keep from fainting for a few minutes more, he could make it to his brother's cabin and live. If he passed out, he doubted he could rise again. He would bleed to death on the wet earth, and the Tory raider Elisha Brecht would have claimed one more victim.
"Keep moving," Alphus said aloud to himself. "Keep moving, by Joseph."
He took a breath, winced at the pain of his stab wound, and advanced, using his long rifle as a crutch. Emerging from the edge of the forest, he moved slowly to the empty stockade. He leaned against it as he rounded the front and passed the big double gate. Now he could see the new cabin of Thomas Colter, standing where the more substantial log house of his own late son Gabriel had been until the Cherokees burned it two years ago. Thomas's shutters were closed, but a sliver of faint light shone between them. The light meant hope. Heartened, Alphus advanced a little faster.
At this moment Alphus was immensely grateful that his bachelor brother had come from North Carolina to resettle at Colter's Station. He had been in the settlement a mere five months, but already his presence had brightened the gloom that had often enshrouded Alphus since Gabriel's violent death. Now, if God was willing and Alphus's legs were strong, Thomas would save his older brother's life.
The distance to the cabin seemed triple what it really was. With every step, Alphus felt his feet growing heavier and his head growing lighter. Flashes of light began swirling across his vision, and he had to lean hard on the rifle to keep from falling. The butt piece of the long weapon mashed deeply into the damp earth, causing Alphus to leave behind a peculiar trail of sign: shortly spaced moccasin tracks interspersed with the oval depressions of the rifle butt along with great spots of fresh blood every foot or so.
At the end, Alphus began to believe he would not make it. Thomas's cabin was only yards away and stubbornly refused to draw any closer. His vision swam and his legs grew weaker.
Only one thought kept him from falling, and that was that he was unwilling to die at the hands of Elisha Brecht. There were many men Alphus Colter would find no dishonor in being killed by. Brecht was not one of them. It wasn't solely because Brecht was the most hated and merciless Tory plaguing the American patriot frontiersmen. It was far more personal than that for Alphus Colter. The Colters and Brechts had been at odds long before either family crossed the mountains to this frontier, and Alphus had vowed years ago that no Brecht would ever lay him low.
"Thomas!" he shouted feebly as he forced one more step out of his weary body. "Thomas!"
No sign indicated he had been heard. Tears began streaming down Alphus Colter's face, not drawn by fear or grief, but by exertion. "Thomas!" he shouted again. "Help me, Thomas!"
He advanced another ten steps before white light rose from the back of his eyes and obliterated his vision. He fell but had the paradoxical sensation of rising at the same time. The ground slammed against him like the palm of a great slapping hand.
"Thomas ..." This time he could not shout, only murmur. The light in his vision began to fade, and in moments was black.
"It was Brecht—you're sure?"
"That's what Alphus was raving," said Thomas Colter. His face was still flushed from the exertion of his ride to Joshua and Darcy Colter's new home on Great Limestone Creek about a mile from where it spilled into the Nolichucky. "Please, Joshua—we must hurry!"
Sina Colter, the lean, weathered wife of Alphus, stepped forward and gripped Thomas's arm. As irony would have it, she had been visiting Joshua's cabin this evening, helping tend to Joshua's little son William while Darcy lay ill with a fever. "I'm coming too," Sina said.
"No, Sina," Joshua said firmly. "Stay here, and come in the morning. Too many people will slow us ... and Brecht may yet be about."
"I'll not stay behind when Alphus needs me!"
"You will!" Joshua shouted. Sina wilted back, looking tired, frightened, and as old as Alphus, though she was many years younger than her husband. Joshua regretted his loss of temper. "I'm sorry. It's what I think best."
She did not argue further. She withdrew to the fireside and sat down on a three-legged stool, wrapping her thin arms around her middle and gazing into the fire. Zachariah, Sina's nine-year-old son by her previous marriage to the late Levi Hampton, went to her and put his arm across her shoulder, manfully trying to be calm and brave but looking scared. The child had been born in the waning days of Sina's childbearing years, and was her greatest comfort as the shadows of her declining years loomed.
The pale-faced Darcy, clad in a long homespun nightgown, went to her husband and kissed his bearded cheek. Her face was hot against him. "Be careful, dear heart," she said. "Beware of Brecht."
"I will, Darcy."
The front door opened and Cooper Haverly entered. He was damp. The rain had resumed, a foggy drizzle. Despite their differing surnames, Cooper and Joshua were brothers by birth. Cooper had been born eighteen years before to their mutual mother, Hester Byrum, who had died bringing him into the world within the walls of a doomed English fort named Loudoun, and had been named Samuel by Joshua himself. He had been raised through unusual circumstances by a would-be frontier empire builder, Peter Haverly. It was Peter Haverly who had begun calling his adoptive son Cooper, a nickname that had stuck harder than the boy's Christian name of Samuel.
Cooper's path had diverged from Joshua's for many years, only to rejoin it here in this transmountain frontier. Difficulties and differences they had known in their day. Now time had healed old hurts, and they were again the brothers nature had intended them to be.
"The horses are ready, Joshua," Cooper said. "What do you want me to do now?"
"I fear you'll have no sleep tonight, Cooper. Callum McSwain came by today, heading down to get whiskey at Dudley Grubbins and Jim Birdwell's place. He likely put up there for the night. Go fetch him and the others if they're not drunk, then roust out all the other rangers you can who can get to Thomas's cabin by sunrise. Maybe we can pick up Brecht's spoor in the morning and have him done for once and for all."
Cooper turned to leave; Joshua grasped his shoulder. "Be careful—I don't want you mistaken for a Tory raider and shot."
"I'll take care." And then he was gone. Moments later the sound of his horse's hoofbeats receded.
"Let's be off, Thomas," said Joshua.
They rode in silence, swiftly following a trail that the horses knew well. Joshua was in turmoil as he prayed for the welfare of his wounded foster father. As bitter anger at the despised Elisha Brecht flared in him, he deliberately tried to quell it, for Joshua Colter knew that uncontrolled rage made a man careless—and where Brecht was involved, carelessness couldn't be afforded.
He had sensed that something was wrong the moment Thomas Colter pounded on his door. The white-haired merchant had rushed into the cabin when the door opened, almost spilling Joshua over in the process. "It's Alphus," he had said. "Cut and near drained of blood—I heard his voice and found him in the yard. Come quick! Come quick and help him!"
Joshua urged more speed from his horse. A damp maple branch reaching down over the trail slapped his face in the darkness and swept off his broad-brimmed hat. He ignored it, leaving the hat behind and bending lower in his homemade saddle.
Alphus mustn't die, he can't die, not like this. He's the only real father I've known. God above, don't let him die on me now.
Joshua's thoughts raced back across the years. He remembered his first sight of Alphus Colter back in a long hunters' little station camp cabin in 1760, when this country was unsettled wilderness. Joshua had been only a decade old at the time and had taken refuge in Alphus's station camp cabin after a remarkable solitary journey across the wilderness, fresh from captivity among the Overhill Cherokees. That seemed so long ago, yet the memory of Alphus as he had been in those days remained starkly clear.
Now Alphus was much older, just two years shy of seventy. It was a remarkable span of years in a trying land where a man was considered old at fifty-five. Alphus had already outlived most men born at his time. In all the years Joshua had known him, Alphus had seemed younger than his years. Yet of late there was no denying he was not the man he had been. Age had gripped him and now was beginning that viselike squeeze that never loosens. Joshua feared that his father might be too old to survive the knifing Elisha Brecht had inflicted.
When at last the panting horses reached Colter's Station on Sinking Creek, Joshua dismounted before coming to a full stop. He raced to the door of Thomas's cabin and pushed it open, only to find himself staring down the muzzle of Alphus's rifle.
"By Joseph, son, I might have shot you!" Alphus declared. He grinned a grin that was as weak as his voice. The long rifle trembled down and fell to the dirt floor, and Alphus lay back, closing his eyes. He was on Thomas's straw-tick bed, his head propped on a stack of rolled-up blankets. Joshua went to his side.
"How do you feel, Alphus?"
"How do you think? I'm weak as rainwater."
Joshua smiled, encouraged to detect a flicker of lingering feistiness in the wounded old man. It told him that his foster father would live. The thought brought such overwhelming relief that, to Joshua's surprise, he began to cry. He leaned forward and put his arms around Alphus's shoulders, burying his face against his neck.
"By Joseph, boy, you're worse than a blubbery old woman," Alphus murmured.
"I was afraid I'd lost you," Joshua said, growing ashamed, as he always did at those rare times he cried. Tears were for women and children.
"I'll not die until I get the chance to try my own blade on Brecht and see how he likes it," Alphus said, his voice even weaker.
"How did it happen?"
"I was hunting ... they came upon me before I knew they were there ... shot at me. I shot back and put a ball in the leg of one of Brecht's redskins ... I ran and Brecht followed me ... we scuffled right proper, I'll tell you. He stuck me, but I kicked his pins from under him and rolled over a little bluff. I was able to run from there before they could get down to me. I hid myself until they got wearied of looking, and went on."
"Well, we'll find them, God's truth. Cooper's fetching the men. You rest now—no need to talk."
Alphus's eyes had already closed, and a burst of panic rocked Joshua for a moment until he saw the old man was merely asleep. He examined Alphus's bandage, placed on him earlier by Thomas Colter, then turned. "How much blood did he lose?"
"He had hardly a drop left in him to shed. You see it all down him there," Thomas replied.
"Aye ... well, thank God he's living. If he rests he'll make it through. I can tell it."
"Praise be. At the beginning I feared we'd lose him."
Joshua went to the fire and added wood, heightening the blaze and knocking off the chill that had begun to creep through the chinked walls of the log house. He left the house and fetched his rifle, which he had dropped to the ground while dismounting. Such carelessness was not typical of him. Desperation to see Alphus had caused it.
Crouching on his haunches in the light of the fire, he began examining the weapon. It was a new rifle, just one of several new things in the life of Joshua Colter. Some months earlier his former home on Gone to God Creek had been destroyed by Brecht's Tory raiders, a mix of renegade whites and Chickamaugas who had begun plaguing the settlements early in 1778. In that fight Joshua's favorite old rifle had been damaged beyond repair. This new one was made in its place by his old friend Callum McSwain, a Scottish blacksmith, gun maker, and farrier.
McSwain had suffered much personal loss of late. In March his homestead had been burned by Brecht's raiders. Shortly after, his wife had fallen ill and died so quickly that her disease was never ascertained. Such things were common on the frontier, far away from medical care and physician's books of medicine. Callum McSwain had since moved north of Colter's Station, building a new cabin and forge, where he worked hard when he wasn't drinking too much whiskey in an attempt to wash away his grief.
It was a great plague to Joshua to see McSwain turn to drink like he had. The habit didn't flatter the man, any more than his recent tendency to loiter about Thomas Colter's store, staring at every woman who passed. Grief and loneliness were changing Callum McSwain, and Joshua wondered how much of the old friend he had known would be left when the changing was done.
Joshua examined the fine Deckard lock of the rifle; it glittered prettily in the firelight. Many a buck this rifle had already brought down, along with one Tory and two Chickamaugas. Though the Overmountain country was more populated now than before, it was as much as ever a land of the gun. The war against Britain still raged full-force, and though the frontiersmen were separated from its seaboard activity by the great mountain ranges, the tendrils of warfare still stretched across to touch them.
But border warfare was different. It was not, for the most part, a battle against redcoated regulars, but a fight between white men and red, and between American patriots and the abundant loyalists who also lived on the frontier. Many of the latter had come to escape the persecutions facing them east of the mountains, to find, ironically, that their growing numbers only served to bring right back to them the same trouble and harassment that they had fled.
Joshua, at twenty-eight years, was firmly on the side of the American rebellion. The Colter clan, which in the minds of most included Cooper Haverly, was known as one of the staunchest Whig families in the region.
Not that Toryism hadn't touched their lives. Cooper's adoptive father Peter Haverly, founder of what was now Colter's Station, had been so firm a loyalist that he had proven willing to betray his own people back in '76, when the British-backed Overhill Cherokees had unsuccessfully tried to drive out the Overmountain rebels. And there were many others of Joshua's acquaintance whose political leanings were ambiguous at best, such as Solomon Brecht, brother of Elisha.
Cooper had only come around fully to the patriot side within the past year, the influence of Peter Haverly taking time to fade. And Gabriel Colter, Joshua's late foster brother and Alphus's only natural son, had also been a secret loyalist right up to the last days of his life.
Joshua took a small rag from the pouch of his hunting shirt and gently shined the beautiful walnut stock of his rifle. He loved this weapon like no other he had ever possessed; cleaning and polishing it like this was an almost-nightly ritual.
Long after midnight Joshua lit up a pipeful of tobacco and smoked in silence. Thomas had gone to sleep on a bearskin in the far corner, near the bed occupied by Alphus, and the two aging brothers were engaged in a snoring match that made Joshua grin around the clay stem of his pipe. When the tobacco burned out, he knocked out the bowl on the hearth, leaned back against the wall, and fell into the controlled light sleep he had mastered as a long hunter. In that state his mind could yet hear and evaluate sounds that didn't even fully register in his consciousness; he could differentiate the nonthreatening skitter of a mouse across the cabin floor from more significant sounds, such as approaching hoofbeats or the sounds of voices.
Excerpted from The Border Men by Cameron Judd. Copyright © 1992 Cameron Judd. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted May 22, 2012
Posted January 16, 2010
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