Christy Huddleston, the new schoolteacher in Cutter Gap, thought her biggest problem was going to be choosing between the charming country doctor, Neil MacNeill, and the handsome minister, David Grantland. But Christy has more serious matters to deal with when her student Ruby Mae Morrison and the mission's runaway black stallion vanish in a furious storm. As Christy desperately searches for Ruby Mae in the cold, blinding rain, she runs headlong into three angry moonshiners bent on revenge against anyone who might try to stop their illegal activities. Can Christy survive this most terrifying test of her faith and courage?
About the Author
Catherine Marshall, New York Times best-selling author of thirty books, is best known for her novel Christy. Based on the life of her mother, a teacher of mountain children in poverty-stricken Tennessee, Christy captured the hearts of millions and became apopular CBS television series. As her mother reminisced around the kitchen table at Evergreen Farm, Catherine probed for details and insights into the rugged lives of these Appalachian highlanders.A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine's enduring career spanned four decades and six continents, and reached over 30 million readers.
Read an Excerpt
"May I have this dance, Miss Huddleston?"
Christy Huddleston grinned. "I have to warn you, David. I'm not a very good dancer."
"Then we'll make the perfect couple."
Christy joined David Grantland on the wide lawn in front of the mission house where she lived. David, the young mission minister, looked especially charming today. He was wearing his best suit, and his dark hair was slicked back neatly. Christy wore her favorite dress, made of bright yellow linen with crisp white lace down the bodice. In her braided, sun-streaked hair she wore a matching yellow bow.
Today, Saturday, April 6, 1912, everyone in Cutter Gap was wearing their Sunday-best clothes, which for most people here in this community were not much more than rags. Christy's dress was by far the nicest. It was Miss Alice Henderson's birthday, and Christy and David had arranged a party in her honor.
Miss Alice had been a pillar in the community ever since she helped establish the mission school where Christy taught. She cared for the sick and ministered to the needy. And Miss Alice had often been a wise voice in times of trouble. Everyone from this mountain cove knew and respected her. People had even come from as far away as El Pano and Cataleechie, over rugged mountain trails, to attend her birthday party.
It was turning out to be quite a celebration too. On this early April afternoon, the air was warm and sweetly scented. The Great Smoky Mountains in this remote corner of Tennessee had finally begun to cast off the winter gloom. Children danced and twirled to the music of dulcimer and fiddle. The mountain women wore sprigs of flowers in their hair. Even Cutter Gap's gruff Dr. Neil MacNeill wore a daffodil in his lapel.
It was all so different from the fancy afternoon teas Christy used to attend back home in Asheville, North Carolina. She'd left her well-to-do family to come teach in Cutter Gap just four months ago. When she'd first arrived, these mountain people had seemed backward, poor, and uneducated. Sometimes Christy had even found them frightening. But many things had changed — herself included — in those few short months. And now, when she looked around the lawn, she saw past the shabby clothes and the bare feet. Instead, among the crowd she saw some of her students and her friends. And the memories of Asheville seemed a little dull by comparison.
David had just put his arm around Christy's waist when suddenly three large hogs came racing across the lawn, squealing loudly. They were being chased by Creed Allen, an energetic nine-year-old. Two of the hogs, which lived under the school, had bright pink bows tied around their necks. Creed was carrying a third bow.
Christy and David had to jump back to avoid beingtrampled. "'Scuse us, Miz Christy and Preacher," Creed yelled as he ran.
"Looks like Creed is dressing the school pigs for Miss Alice's party," David said.
"I'm certain that Miss Alice will feel honored," Christy said with a laugh. "Now, where were we?"
Again David put his arm around Christy's waist. Awkwardly, Christy placed her hand on David's shoulder. He was taller than she was by several inches, with a lean build and wide-set brown eyes.
"You look quite lovely this afternoon," David said a little nervously. "Like ... like the prettiest flower in these mountains." He looked at the ground and shrugged. "Sorry. Awfully corny, I know. I guess I speak a better sermon than I do a compliment."
"It was a wonderful compliment," Christy said. "Not that I deserve it, mind you."
And the truth was she didn't. She knew that her face was a little too plain, her blue eyes a little too big, for her to ever be considered truly beautiful. Still, she felt almost beautiful, seeing the way David was looking at her with a mixture of hope and nervousness.
On the front porch of the mission house, several of the mountain men played a sprightly tune. Jeb Spencer, the father of several of Christy's students, was strumming his dulcimer, a boxlike stringed instrument with a sweet tone. Duggin Morrison was tapping a pair of spoons on his knee while Tom McHone sawed away on a worn-looking fiddle.
The doors and the windows of the white, three-story mission house were wide open. From the living room came the sounds of the mission's new grand piano, as Wraight Holt, one of Christy's older students, played along.
Before Christy and David could begin dancing, the song came to an end. "All right, then," David said with a rueful laugh, "we'll dance this next tune."
"How come you're not playing your ukelele, David?" Christy asked.
"There's plenty of time for that," David said. "I wanted to dance with you first. And as soon as Tom gets done tuning that fiddle of his ..."
Christy laughed. "You may regret it."
"I could never regret it," David said, suddenly sounding very sincere. Then he laughed again. "Besides, you're the one being brave, risking your feet this way."
"Not so brave," came a male voice from nearby. "After all, she danced with me at the mission open house a while back. I doubt you can be any worse a dancer than I, David."
Christy grinned as Dr. MacNeill strode over. He was a big, ruggedly handsome man. His tousled red hair gave him a boyish look. He had a way of smiling at Christy with his hazel eyes that made her feel like he could read her mind.
"Oh, you weren't so bad," Christy teased. The truth was the doctor had turned out to be a surprisingly good dancer, but there was no point in telling David that. She had noticed there were times when the two men seemed to aggravate each other. Christy wasn't sure if it was because they disagreed on many things, like religion. Or if it was — as some had told her — that they both had a romantic interest in Christy.
"I was going to ask you for this dance," the doctor said to Christy. He cast a wry grin at David. "But I can see I'm too late."
"Maybe the next dance," Christy said, feeling her cheeks heat up. "That is, if I survive this one!"
"Well, we'd better make it soon. I hear talk of a horse race starting soon over in the field," the doctor cautioned.
"Once that gets started, we'll lose our musicians, I wager. They'll all be wanting to watch."
"Sorry, Doc," David said, with a tiny hint of a smug smile. "Better luck next time."
"The lady's got a mind of her own," the doctor warned. "Watch yourself or she'll try to lead!"
The music started up again, a jaunty tune led by Tom McHone's fiddle. David swung Christy around and they started across the yard. It was still a bit muddy, but fresh bright-green grass was making an appearance, cushioning the mostly bare feet of the dancers.
They had only gone a few steps when a hand tapped on David's right shoulder. He stopped and spun around. "Don't tell me you're trying to cut in, Dr. —" he began.
But it wasn't the doctor. Ruby Mae Morrison, a red-haired, freckled thirteen-year-old, was standing behind him. "Miz Christy," she said breathlessly, "you just got to help me!"
"What's wrong, Ruby Mae?" Christy asked, speaking loudly to be heard over the music.
"And can't it wait?" David asked impatiently. "The dance is already half over. And I was finally getting the hang of that step —"
Ruby Mae shook her head regretfully. "Truth to tell, Preacher," she said, "you weren't even close. When the good Lord was passin' out feet, he musta given you two left ones."
"Don't listen to her, David," Christy said. "I still have all the feeling in most of my toes. Now, what is it, Ruby Mae?"
"I was wantin' to ask you private-like first ..." Ruby Mae hesitated.
"Whatever you have to say, you can say to Mr. Grantland too."
Ruby Mae twirled a finger around a long lock of hair. "Actually, it do sort of involve Preacher. It's just that I was a-hopin' you could ... Well, my mama always says you can get a man to take the bitterest medicine if'n you sweeten it first with honey."
David crossed his arms over his chest. "Come on, Ruby Mae. Miss Christy's not going to sweeten me up. I can't be sweetened."
"Oh, is that right?" Christy asked, fluttering her eyelashes at David.
David ignored her. "Out with it," he said to Ruby Mae.
Ruby Mae took a deep breath, then let the words tumble out. "I want to race Prince 'cause I just know I can beat the pants off'n the rest of the men 'cause you know he's plumb faster than the wind when I'm a-ridin' him. But I can't less'n you say so 'cause he belongs to the mission and please, please, please say it's all right, Preacher."
She took another deep breath, smiled wide, and batted her eyes. "So I reckon the answer's yes?"
David shook his head. "Assuming I understood you correctly, I'm afraid the answer's no." He patted her on the shoulder. "Too bad they're not having a talking race. You'd be sure to win, Ruby Mae."
Ruby Mae groaned. "But, Preacher —"
"No buts, Ruby Mae."
"But wouldn't you just burst with pride if'n Prince won? Everybody in Cutter Gap would be a-sayin, 'That preacher owns the finest horse in these here mountains!'?"
"To begin with, I don't own Prince. He belongs to the mission."
"You may as well own him," Ruby Mae said. "Everybody thinks of him as your horse. You're always ridin' Prince here and there when you minister to folks, sittin' proud and lookin' all fine and fancy."
"The answer is still no, Ruby Mae."
"But why?" she persisted, turning her pleading gaze on Christy.
"Are you sure she can't, David?" Christy asked. "After all, Ruby Mae's been riding Prince every day since he was donated to the mission. And she is a wonderful rider."
Ruby Mae tugged on David's arm. "Miz Christy's right," she said.
David gave Christy a skeptical look. "What Miss Christy doesn't realize is that when the mountain people throw a race, the prize is usually a bottle of illegal liquor."
"Moonshine?" Christy cried.
Just then, the music came to a stop and the dancers parted, panting and laughing.
"Now look." David pouted. "We missed our dance."
"Next time," Christy promised. "Now, Ruby Mae, tell me the truth — is David right? Is this a race for moonshine?"
"I don't care none about the prize," Ruby Mae said. "It ain't about that."
"I think maybe David's right, Ruby Mae. Besides, it might be dangerous."
"Ain't dangerous," Ruby Mae said. "Just flat-out racin' in the field over yonder. No jumpin' or turnin', Miz Christy. Easy as pie."
"Still, it's Mr. Grantland's decision. He's the one who takes care of Prince."
"But like you say, Prince is the mission's horse," Ruby Mae argued. "And besides, I'm the one what's been muckin' out his stall and givin' him baths and kissin' him goodnight."
David grinned. "She has a point. I never kiss Prince goodnight."
"And it is true she's been spending a lot of time with Prince," Christy added. She rolled her eyes. "Some might even say too much time, judging from the way she's been shirking some of her chores and schoolwork."
"I promise I'll do better on my chores and homework, Miz Christy," Ruby Mae said. "But you just gotta let me race. For all us gal-women in the Cove."
"What do you mean?" Christy asked.
"I mean none of them smarty-pants men thinks a girl can win."
One of the musicians nearby laughed loudly. Christy looked over to see Duggin Morrison, Ruby Mae's stepfather, spit out a brown stream of tobacco. With his long white beard and wrinkled skin, he looked old enough to be her grandfather. Ruby Mae and her stepfather had been having trouble getting along, so she was staying at the mission house with Christy and David's sister, Miss Ida.
"No gal-woman can beat the Taylors' horse, Lightning," Duggin said. "'Specially no spoiled-rotten, trouble-makin', no-good stepdaughter o' mine."
"Hush up, Daddy," Ruby Mae said. "I can so ride better than any man in Cutter Gap."
"You hear how she sasses me?" Duggin cried. "Talkin' like that to her own step-pa!"
Christy pulled Ruby Mae away from Duggin. There was no point in starting up a family feud right in the middle of Miss Alice's party.
Christy and David led Ruby Mae over to the schoolhouse, which also served as the church on Sundays. Miss Alice was sitting on the porch steps, calmly watching the festivities with her gentle deep-gray gaze. She was wearing a long green dress, and her slightly graying hair was swept up in a bun. Her right arm sat in a sling. She'd sprained her wrist last week when she'd slipped on a muddy incline on her way to help deliver a baby in a remote cabin.
"What do you think about Ruby Mae riding in the race?" Christy asked.
"Well, she's a fine rider, no doubt about that," Miss Alice said. "And Prince has incredible speed. Not like my Goldie," she said fondly. Miss Alice's sturdy palomino was getting on in years.
"Oh, Prince do have speed, Miss Alice, he do," Ruby Mae cried. "One day last week I ran him straight over Big Spoon Creek, and he jumped so high I thought I'd touch heaven —" She glanced over at David, who was frowning. "Oops. Don't get me wrong. It were just a little jump, Preacher, I promise."
Dr. MacNeill joined them. He was eating one of the gingerbread cookies that Fairlight Spencer had brought for the celebration. "I watched you two dancing," said the doctor with a grin. "That was some fancy footwork, David. All ten seconds' worth."
"We were interrupted," David grumbled.
"Probably a good thing," the doctor joked. "How's that wrist of yours, Miss Alice?"
"Still swollen," Miss Alice said. "But I'll be fine soon. Wish it had been my left hand. I can't even write my name. And it makes my nursing duties difficult."
Ruby Mae tugged on David's sleeve. "You heard Miss Alice, Preacher. Can I ride Prince?"
"Not if there's moonshine involved," David said firmly.
"I hate to think there's illegal liquor here at your birthday party," Christy said to Miss Alice.
"Oh, it's here, whether we like it or not," said the doctor. "Moonshine's a part of mountain life."
"I'm afraid the doctor's right," Miss Alice said. "Bird's-Eye Taylor appears to have consumed quite a bit already." She nodded over toward the lattice-covered springhouse where Bird's-Eye was dozing, snoring loudly. His dirty felt hat covered one eye.
Christy shook her head. Bird's-Eye was the father of her most difficult and troublesome student, seventeen-year-old Lundy. Lundy was big and mean, a constant bully with a chip on his shoulder. From what Christy had seen of his father, it was easy to see why Lundy was so difficult.
"So is the answer no?" Ruby Mae pressed again. "Or yes?"
"I can't let you ride in a race for moonshine," David said. "As a matter of fact, I won't let a race like that take place here at all."
"I've already taken care of that," Miss Alice said with a grin. "I put up two of Miss Ida's apple pies as a prize for the winner of the race, instead of liquor. As much as liquor is prized in this Cove, Miss Ida's pies are even more coveted."
David laughed. "My sister does make a fine pie."
"For my part, David, I think you should let Ruby Mae enter the race," Miss Alice said. "She has as good a chance as any of the men."
"And it would teach them a lesson," Christy added. "Sometimes I'm amazed at the way men treat women here in Cutter Gap."
"Miz Christy is right," Ruby Mae said. "These men got no respect for womenfolks."
"I don't know," David said, rubbing his chin.
Just then, Ruby Mae's stepfather sauntered by. He was weaving a little, as if he might have been drinking too. "Don't you bother racin', gal," he yelled. "You ain't got a chance, Ruby Mae."
Christy spun around. "Mr. Morrison, I think you're going to have to eat your words. Ruby Mae on Prince can beat any man."
David rolled his eyes. "I didn't give permission yet," he reminded her.
"But you were going to, weren't you?" Christy asked, giving him a nudge.
David shook his head and sighed. "I can tell when I'm outnumbered. Come on, Ruby Mae. I'll help you get Prince saddled up."CHAPTER 2
Ruby Mae stood next to Prince, stroking his glossy neck. They were waiting by the starting line for all the other riders and their horses. "You and me, boy," she whispered to the beautiful black stallion. "We're a-goin' to show them others."
"Don't count on it." Lundy Taylor strode up on Lightning. The big gray stallion gave a hard nudge on Prince's shoulder.
Ruby Mae rolled her eyes. It figured. Even the Taylors' horse was mean. Meanness just plain ran in the family. Maybe it was because Bird's-Eye, Lundy's pa, was a moonshiner. Of course, Ruby Mae's own step-pa had done his share of moonshinin' too.
"You ain't got a chance, Ruby Mae Morrison," Lundy said with a sneer. "Womenfolk is good for two things: cookin' and jabberin'. Lord knows you know how to talk. I don't know what kind of cook you is, but one way or t'other, you ain't got a chance, you and that preacher-horse."
"Just you wait and see, Lundy," Ruby Mae shot back. She ran her hand through Prince's mane, soft and long as the silk in an ear of corn. "Prince is faster'n a fox on fire. You'll see."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Midnight Rescue"
Copyright © 1995 Marshall-LeSourd, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Gilead Publishing.
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