Mark of the Drumcliff
Evansham wasn’t much in 1795, a rutted, muddy street, and a few plank buildings thrown together to hold a primitive commerce. In years to come, this town would take the name of a famous jurist, who yet lived. In his life, he wouldn’t cross the mountains of Virginia to see this place that would someday latch its lights to his name. Had he seen this pitiful excuse of a settlement, this man, accustomed to the halls of power, would have been embarrassed by the association.
Just behind these few poor businesses that preyed upon the Wilderness Road travelers with exorbitant prices, fine homes were under construction. Growing mineral wealth dominated commerce in these mountains. The few benefited greatly.
Two thirteen-year old girls stepped a circuitous path through the hardened, late February mud and standing pools of ice-encrusted, dirty water. This pair weren’t daughters of the smallholders, who had come to the hills for the free land, there for the taking, or sometimes more for the little hidden valleys where a man might follow his own ways, hidden from the eyes of the wide world to the east. The very richness of the fabrics in their dresses set them apart.
Heather Graham, a girl of the Graham blond, stopped hard, pulling at Edison Montross, her taller dark haired walking partner. Edison Montross, the Miss Montross, oldest of the Montross sisters, marred her perfect complexion with a frown and resisted the turn.
“There he is,” Heather said. “I would know him anywhere.”
Miss Montross, freed of her companion’s arm, reversed her direction with an elaborate show of grace as she lifted her skirts against contact with the street detritus. Once turned, she examined the street.
Heather attempted to block as much of Edison’s view of the street and the street’s view of Edison as possible by attempting an embrace. When Edison pushed her away, Heather whispered, “Don’t stare.”
“Why in the world not? You can’t mean that boy.”
“He’s Argyll Drumcliff.”
“Except he isn’t, and so bloody what if he were? I’ve seen the man and the old man both. They’re both sordid and low. How could you imagine I’d care?”
“Because,” Heather whispered, “The one who is coming this way is neither. It’s the grandson.”
“The dirty whelp. What of it?”
“Oh, Edison, how unkind of you. You don’t even know him. I think he’s handsome.”
“You forget yourself, my friend. Do I have to remind you what his father is?”
The story was that Edison Montross’s father died from the action of Argyll Drumcliff, this boy’s father of the same name. Heather never bothered to remember the details. She’d hear them again. People still talked of that night even after eight years. Montrosses on one side, Drumcliffs on the other. Heather’s father died. If anyone knew who fired the shot that killed Edison’s father, the information never became public.
“Was it ever really proven that his father killed your father?”
“In my mind there can be no doubt.”
Heather knew better than point out that it was dark, lots of people on both sides discharged weapons, and nobody could possibly know who fired the shot that killed Edison’s father.
“Even if it were true, what right have you to blame the boy?”
“But, Edison, you must learn to forgive.”
“That’s easy for you, who have nothing to forgive, to say. Furthermore, how do you even know? Are you even sure that’s him?”
“Almost,” Miss Montross mimicked, “before you were utterly sure. Either it is or it isn’t.”
“Well, I can’t just walk up to him on the street and ask can I? The last time I saw him the affair was rather formal, and he did look different.”
“Well,” she mocked Heather’s hesitation, “I certainly can — ”
“You wouldn’t dare.” Heather managed her words over an indelicate strangling sound.
“Don’t interrupt me. I’m not finished. I want to know where you saw him, and why you think you would know him on the street.”
Heather’s light skin darkened. She looked down and away.
“Answer me.” Sharp nails powered by strong hands bit in Heather’s wrists. “At Drumcliff House at a party — I didn’t want to go.”
“Sure you didn’t.”
This would always be one of the things between the girls. Social opportunities in this emerging society were infrequent. When a family had an invitation, they accepted unless a pressing reason existed to decline. The Montross-Drumcliff difficulties didn’t weigh with the Grahams to the extent they refused invitations from either family. If they tried to exhibit the grace not flaunt their dual association everyone knew.
“But you still can’t walk up to him in the street,” Heather said.
“Watch me.” Miss Montross turned her back on the Miss Graham and walked straight toward the boy her companion must mean because he was the only person remaining on the street other than a few aging and work-hardened smallholders, sitting on low benches longing against the bare plank boards of the store fronts to take advantage of the late February sun. Before she reached him, she pivoted off the street into Richardson’s store.
Out of sorts a bit that she couldn’t complain to being subjected to a confrontation between Edison Montross and Argyll Drumcliff, Heather turned back up the street the way they had come with as much speed as she could and maintain dignity. It didn’t look right for her to be alone in public. She was glad her companion only intended a moment of discomfort for her, and that she had never really considered speaking to the boy Heather definitely did know as Argyll Drumcliff. Even Edison would never approach a Drumcliff on the street.
“Jackson,” Miss Montross called to her cousin. She could find him inside of Richardson’s store this time of the morning anytime he was in town. Mr. Richardson would bristle and go sullen if anyone suggested he ran a drinking establishment as part of his business, but he kept a room off to the side where men of good family might buy a drink, a service never intended to pass as common knowledge. Her family preferred Edison be sheltered from knowledge of what took place in this room, or of its existence, and discouraged her curiosity in things a girl should either never know or at the minimum pretend innocence. A heavy pewter cup rested on the table in front of Jackson, who sat alone in this late morning hour. Edison only glanced at the cup before boring her eyes back into his flaccid, wide face, already reddened by drink. If Mr. Richardson and Jackson wanted to cling to the fiction that the cheap pewter hid the presence of the raw Bourbon permeating her cousin’s breath and his clothing, she could allow them the illusion, as it had no relationship to her purpose.
“Yeah, Edison, what is it? I’m busy.” Twenty-one year old Jackson Montross didn’t like his younger cousin very much. Smart with books she had no business knowing about, she didn’t mind making him feel small. The way he looked at it, there were two kinds of women in this old world: those you could stomach taking to bed, and those you couldn’t. Edison, he definitely could stomach, but she was his first cousin, family, and all that. His grandfather discouraged first cousins from being close. Too many first cousins, too close, explained too much of what was wrong with the people in these closed-in hills. Jackson couldn’t without making himself look small in the eyes of his friends, even speculate about what Edison might be like, or in honor listen to their speculations. A few drinks in him, and first cousin or no, it wouldn’t make so much of a damn, except his grandfather had told him straight what would happen if he ever touched her. He tried to speak to the insult, but before he put the first word out the old man stung him hard with the flat of his hand across the cheek.
The words that followed hurt worse. “The day you think you’re bold enough to pretend you’re a man when I correct you will be your last day on God’s earth.”
Ever so often as a regular practice, his grandfather pulled him aside and talked to him like he was dirt under a dog. He repeated this one often. “I understand you exactly. It’s important to you, though maybe not to me, that if you hope to have a future you will put some significant effort into understanding me.” There wasn’t enough raw whiskey in the world to make him forget the feeling the old man could see into his soul. He trusted himself and had confidence in his ability to handle his liquor, but he avoided Edison when he was drinking.
“Did you know,” Edison asked, “that Argyll Drumcliff is just down the street?”
“What of it? I seen both of them before.” Instead of looking at Edison, Jackson looked into his cup, as if the answer to everything that ever mattered could be found at the bottom of that cup. He couldn’t let Edison know he was glad of the information. It didn’t matter whether it was Argyll come back from the Kentuck or the Ohio or the old man. If either happened to be roaming the street, it was a good time to stay in this dark hole and nurse his drink. He wasn’t a bit ashamed of how tough he was or wasn’t, but he wasn’t stupid. Some men you just naturally learned to step around. He was young yet. He’d have his time. Age and the natural percolation of sin in his dried up carcass should take care of old Argyll without any interference from him. The younger Argyll had more enemies and drew more natural animosity than any other man he knew in these mountains. He was marked. His time would come soon enough if his bones weren’t already whitening somewhere out near the Missip or in the Ohio country.
“No, Jackson, I don’t mean either of them. I mean the grandson.”
This information perked him up. Sooner or later, he was going to have to do something to gain his grandfather’s and the community’s respect. His grandfather liked too much repeating the story of the mistake he had made in making his mother name him Jackson. His grandfather wanted the name Jackson for a son in the family in an attempt to seal the respect and friendship of Tom Jackson, a prominent land and mine owner in the southeastern part of the county. The way his grandfather put it, had he named one of the several mountains he owned Jackson Mountain, Tom Jackson should have understood the compliment. To give a shithole like him the name wasn’t necessarily the particular compliment intended. Regardless of how he welcomed the possibility of finding the youngest Argyll Drumcliff alone on the street, Jackson never forgot his natural caution. To give himself time to think, or even better to leave Edison to lay out the possibilities with more shrewdness than he ever could, while allowing himself the freedom to ignore her, he asked, “Well, again, what of it?”
“You know what the Drumcliffs are. Don’t you have any intention of facing him?”
“Him — sure but certain as I do a dozen others will pop out of the woodwork.”
“Jackson, there aren’t a dozen others.”
“You’ve seen this for yourself, cousin?”
“It’s too public, Edison. Leave it alone.”
“What if I could get him behind the store?”
“Do it.” Jackson said. “I’ll be watching from the windows to see if you really can start him this way.”
“Give me five minutes.”
Jackson watched her go. She might be thirteen and strictly innocent, but she could sway that body and understood exactly what it was for, and what it could do to an old boy. He never doubted she could be good to her word in this.
Argyll Drumcliff didn’t want to credit what he saw coming down the street — the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Four years ago he had done the tour of Williamsburg, Charlottesville, and Richmond with his family. In none of those places had he seen a girl like this, and he had looked. His uncle Sumpter rode him hard for looking saying, “You’ve no business looking at them. You’re an evil, vile, little shit of a thing with no call to be thinking of yourself next to a decent girl.”
He answered, “Ain’t that the definition of a good enough man, one who knows his place, accepts it, takes to it even?”
“A fair enough way of putting it.”
“Then you’re dead right about what I am. I don’t too much give a damn about place, except maybe to make mine more immediately comfortable.”
“Shit, boy, you’re just eleven. I could crush the life out of you with either hand, and I’d damn sure be doing the world a favor if I did.”
“I know you could, but you don’t give that much of a damn about the world. You’d rather just sit back, watch what I do to it, and its good people and laugh.”
“Damn straight. You know me too well, boy, for your own good.” Sumpter had fought with Morgan, faced Ferguson at King’s Mountain. The over mountain riflemen loved Ferguson. When the King James Bible said to love thy enemies, they took it to mean to love them the way they loved Ferguson, a dangerous and brilliant enemy. Major Sir Patrick Ferguson, a Scotsman in the King’s service, officer, gentleman, inventor of the first practicable breach loading rifle, a man who once had George Washington in his sights and refused the shot, a man destined to great things, involved in Tarleton’s reprisals only because he acted under orders, a man who might have changed the course of an empire, except they caught him out, when he committed the error of following up an apparent advantage in a skirmish when the American riflemen faded back in the heavy growth after their initial ambush.
Ferguson’s tactics bespoke classical training, mirroring Caesar, and every military scholar since in his contempt for militia, native levies, and the like. The American riflemen loved him for his boldness in taking the war into their great forest.
Sumpter pissed into his dead, open mouth. His uncle didn’t give a shit about the cause. To Sumpter the cry “liberty” only meant the people were ready for a change in the faces of who skimmed the cream off the public monies, a desire to turn the world upside down in the hopes of a chance to dip their own hands in the public till. He said up front he stayed with Morgan only in the expectation of free and plentiful and fresh rifle targets.
Colonel Morgan answered, “The day I can’t provide you with victims deserving of what you are you best go back over the mountain where you belong, and leave this country to the decent people. Otherwise, I’ll gladly see you hang.”
Morgan laughed with his uncle that day, and in reminisce of that moment Argyll never lived, he and Sumpter laughed again. The veterans of the war with George III were Argyll’s favorite childhood companions.
Even in the great houses of the coastal cities, he had seen nothing in the treasured oil portraitures of young women from the best families caught in their prime, and collected from the past hundred years, who compared to the sight of this girl stepping down the street. She had thick, long dark hair, the perfect complexion, but more than any one feature, she had a carriage, a knowingness, a confidence, an aura. Plenty of words came to throw at the girl’s feet to honor the emotion she welled up in him, but none of those words could speak to qualities he understood as beyond his experience or place. She wore elegant clothes with casual aplomb, as if the very mud of this street held away in awe, and wouldn’t dare to stain her.
She stopped in front of him, close. She looked at him from near eye level, which tore at him. He lacked the experience to realize heels under ballooning skirts elevated her height. Her “Hello” commanded a confidence that sent his own plummeting.
He took a quick glance over his shoulder, assuming this lovely creature spoke to someone unseen behind him.
“I was speaking to you, Argyll Drumcliff.” Her assurance played with him.
“You know my name?” He asked, embarrassed, and confused.
“I might surprise you with just what I know, Argyll.”
This familiarity of the first name crushed what little composure he had remaining. He desperately wished for an excuse to prove his strength. He wanted with all his being for her to know him as a man, especially when he wasn’t.
“How do you know my name? I didn’t know I was famous.”
Her trilling laugh washed over him like the cut of multiple razors, so sharp he wouldn’t know their damage until much later when in the night he played over these words from her that he memorized.
“You aren’t. You’ve done nothing. You’re known for your antecedents, your family only.”
“What about you then? Who are you? What’s your name?”
He floated away on that delightful, light laugh of hers, turned wicked.
“Decent girls are discouraged from approaching men in the street. I’m not ready to offer my name.”
He almost countered by asking how much she charged, but he wasn’t ready to see her disappear from his life. He didn’t mistake her for a prostitute. He knew exactly what she was, or thought he did. He just didn’t know her name.
“Then we should be off the street.”
“My sentiments exactly, but I can’t be seen leaving with you. Watch where I go. Wait three minutes by that expensive pocket watch whose gold chain hangs out of your dirty trousers before you follow.”
“As you say.” Something of the Drumcliff heritage warned him. It didn’t matter. He would follow her anywhere.
Argyll watched the trailing end of her wide dress float around the corner and into an alley. The L-shaped alley dead-ended behind Richardson’s store. He pictured a narrow debris-filled corridor with too many backroom doors and windows, ending at a locked warehouse door, ground that saw infrequent use, likely empty this time of the morning, not a place where young girls promenading in the street would take a turn, an ideal place for a quick out of sight transaction, an ideal place for an ambush. The three minutes she demanded before he followed hung heavy until he noted a light floral scent new to him clinging to his clothes and hair. He marked the scent. If he encountered it again, even in an empty room, or in the dark, he would know it. Scent too faint to penetrate his conscious awareness warned him of the unseen, warned him of what was to come. The intricate patterns set on the white backdrop of her dress framed by the rich dark blue of her heavy wool traveling cloak reminded him of the patterns in the wallpaper in his family’s dining room for want of a more experienced way of describing women’s fashions. Why couldn’t he reminder the device in the patterns of her clothes? The failure bothered him. He did remember dark burning eyes that defied a direct look. Her eyes were dark, not blue, not brown, a word for the color escaped him. Her gown marked her as the daughter of one of four or five families in this part of the western Virginias. He followed no streetwalker luring him into an alley, but this one could prove more dangerous. Streetwalkers only wanted a man’s money and usually offered a fleeting moment of pleasure in exchange, so he had been told. These thoughts shamed him, but to consider the worst possibilities was a part of who he was.
The girl had overwhelmed him. He couldn’t refuse the alley, but he was still Argyll Drumcliff of Roaring Mountain Falls. He looked to his weapons. Under his coat, he carried the heavy fourteen-inch leather-handled blade, and a smaller black knife under his belt in the middle of his back, the sgian dudh. If he had his way, he would carry his grandfather’s little .31 caliber flintlock pocket pistol whenever he stepped into town, but his grandfather refused to offer it to him. Old Argyll said the day he first picked it up out of the old man’s collection for a close examination, “Boy, I don’t hold with children going around forever shooting people. I was twice the age you are now before I shot my first man. I’ll never get you to stop dragging that old rifle around, trusting it out of proportion to what it is, but for God’s sake, leave off the little pistol. It ruins a boy’s morals to shoot people.” Spitting that many words out at once caused the old man to fall into a rasping cackle ugly enough to cause the little ones to hide. He couldn’t breathe and anyone who saw him expected him to stroke out. He pounded his chest a few times and gasped a little air. When he regained his breathe he said, “Stick ’em instead. It’s safer. Hell, until you gain some experience, you’ll delude yourself that the little gun is enough. If you have to whip somebody three times your size because you stirred up his blood by putting that little ball up his lard gut, you’re going to have to be right damn creative to see your way this side of hell for such an asinine stunt.”
Argyll would have carried his rifle to town, except to manage it, and whatever he found to buy was awkward, not that he was naïve enough to rely upon the rifle for close work in a narrow little alley with a sudden twist. He couldn’t swing it in tight quarters, and if he tried to use it as a club, the wrist of the stock would snap off in his hands without doing much damage, except to the rifle. If he ruined a custom made rifle for every man he killed, he would never accumulate anything.
He turned the corner behind the store to meet an empty alley. She had probably stepped into one of the side doors to watch from one of the windows with her girlfriends to see him embarrass himself. Without the immediate expectation of high action, he couldn’t control the blood rushing to his face. The small chance she waited compelled him forward. When he stepped around the corner into the blind box at the back of the store, he saw her, but he saw too that she stood by Jackson Montross.
Jackson showed too much happiness in his apparent open smile. With Jackson happiness meant somebody, whether they knew it or not, was going to pay.
“Mr. Drumcliff, Sir, allow me to offer the introduction my young cousin declined in the open street.” With a florid wave of his meaty hand, Jackson continued, “Mr. Drumcliff, may I present the Miss Montross, oldest of the Montross sisters of Fincastle County. And Edison, this is Argyll Drumcliff, ridge runner, river rat, preyer upon the weak, despoiler of the innocent. If it is as it appears and you recognized him by sight and reputation, you have before lacked only the formal introduction.”
His broad smile demonstrated possession of front teeth, which Argyll regarded as both insult and opportunity, an insult he still possessed them, and an opportunity to smash them down his throat.
“Bugger yourself, Jackson,” Edison said.
“I see,” Argyll answered without backing up.
“You see nothing or you would have already run,” Edison told him.
“And why not?” Edison countered.
“I’m Argyll Drumcliff.”
“Even when it’s run or die?” She asked.
“Running might do little good.”
It was as if these two forgot the situation, forgot it was kill or be killed, or perhaps chose to suspend that awareness in these few precious seconds. Their curiosity of the other being more than their concern for what was about to transpire. Something is pure about that moment just before a thing that happens that can never be taken back and changes everything.
Argyll continued, “Word has reached even out here how Jackson distinguished himself at William & Mary as a sprinter in his year there.”
“Against bastard Orangemen,” Edison said, “You might want to try your own luck.”
“You’re right,” Jackson said. “It would have done you little good had I chose to run your contemptible ass down. And you might consider addressing me and not the girl.”
“I can’t. The fat boy standing beside you is nothing, Miss Montross, a statement I can’t quite bring myself to make of you. I wonder, though, how fast he really is now. The best of the running he did at William & Mary was three years of drinking ago and might have been spurred more by upper classmen who wanted his sweet, fresh butt than anything recorded on the athletic fields. More than likely, he’s as good a runner now, as he was a scholar then. Even your Montross money couldn’t keep George Wythe himself from expelling Jackson for plagiarism, drunkenness, and to use his special appellation, ‘a walking, breathing violation of the honor code and everything a true gentleman should stand for and represent.’”
“You’re just like the rest of your kind,” Jackson answered. “You can’t decide whether you’d rather live, or give that one more last insult.”
Argyll considered this new thought. To learn a truth from the mouth of a man who was both a fool and an enemy surprised him. His opinion of himself was always capable of downward adjustment.
Edison said, “Look at him. He’s really considering which he’d rather do.”
“I did consider it, Miss Montross, and sometimes, the one more insult is worth it.”
“What I want,” Jackson said, “is far simpler, a fair fight with a known enemy. I ask for no more.”
“Fair?” Argyll answered. “You’re forty pounds heavier, six years older, and you’re known to have killed two men. If you wanted fair, you wouldn’t need to hide in an alley to find it.”
“Do I detect fear?” Jackson asked.
“Come closer and find out.” The under palm beckoning gesture with the fingers of his left hand infuriated Edison, and the quiet soothing, pleased tone in Argyll’s voice chilled her. She wished she could fight him herself.
The strongest memory in Edison’s young life was the sight of her father brought in dead eight years ago. From that moment she cultivated a hardness she fought to conceal because this hardness stood at odds with the simpering femininity her station required. If she had a firearm in her hands and the skill to use it, she would kill Argyll herself. To use a man, even a pitiful excuse of one like Jackson to do her will almost satisfied. She had already learned from her grandfather that a young man amounted to only another pawn on the chessboard. Let Argyll’s family know what she knew. Argyll’s death would be justice in a way killing his father even if he still lived and could be found never would. If fairness meant anything, her own father would still be alive to love her.
Jackson’s kind fed on fear and shriveled in its absence, and he looked for a way out. He said, “You might think about whether you want to press me, boy.”
Edison felt the unease in Jackson too, and she turned to him in heat. “Too much talk, fool. Act.”
“Look to your position. It is you who is backed against the wall and can’t escape,” Argyll reminded him. Edison’s rage deepened. She wanted to see Argyll’s fear, feel it, savor it. It shouldn’t happen this way.
Jackson didn’t laugh when he saw Argyll’s blade. Likely, he thought he would pound the boy with his fists and that would be the end of it. He tried to sound more laconic than he could quite carry when he said, “Have it your way, boy,” as he produced an equal blade.
The grating unpleasant laugh she heard from Argyll was like nothing in nature Edison knew and not something she expected to emit deep from the throat of a boy, who by right should be terrified. Being young, Edison had yet to realize that every sound in nature was not majestic or pleasant. Nature had its ugly sordid side; it produced aberrations, among them, the Drumcliff laugh. It was known, or perhaps only a thing of legend, no one claimed to have heard it and lived. She understood that she had just heard something shameful, and the outcome of this encounter she created lacked doubt.
She latched onto Jackson’s arm. She had to pull him away even if it meant humiliating him and herself in front of her enemy.
“Wait,” she yelled at Jackson. Argyll was too close and she was too late.
Jackson shoved her away hard.
“I might not really kill him,” Jackson said. “Maybe I’ll just mark him good.”
“No,” she screamed, “if you fight, you have to kill him. You have to fight with everything in you. It’s your only chance.” As Edison said those words, she knew. It didn’t make sense that she knew. Jackson faced certain death because of her clumsy maneuvering. That she barely knew Jackson and didn’t much like what she knew made no difference. She had set this into motion until it had a life of its own she couldn’t stop or contain.
Jackson stepped forward into the morning sun, bravely perhaps, stupidly absolutely, but he stepped forward sweeping his blade toward Argyll’s face. His blade caught air. Argyll slipped Jackson’s sweeping blade with the nonchalance of one born to the moment and killed him with a thrust to the throat. Argyll slid the blade from the soft tissue of her cousin’s throat, and stepped back with such unbelievable quickness and balance that if it weren’t for the evidence of the blood pooling on the outside of her cousin’s neck, she could have doubted what she saw. Jackson stood erect, blade poised as if he might strike again, the expression on his face without awareness of the deep hit he had taken. His expression collapsed inward, darkened, went slack. He tottered, and fell face forward into the frozen mud with an audible lifeless thump.
Alone then with a Drumcliff before her and his darkened blade in front of her face, Argyll said, “You wanted this.”
“I did.” Edison answered, chin up, prepared to die. She didn’t want to die, but crying or begging a Drumcliff would do nothing but erase her last moment of dignity. She meant to meet her God with a snarl on her lips.
Argyll stepped forward. Edison looked straight into the depths of his deep brown eyes and saw emptiness devoid of mercy or human feeling. If she were meant to die this bleak morning under this weak winter sun, she would be damned if she would die crying or cringing.
With a quick turn of the blade, faster than Edison could follow, Argyll thrust his blade toward her throat, caught her under the chin with its unsharpened back, and forced her chin upwards. In her heels she might have been almost as tall as this slender boy, but she felt strength in his body out of proportion to weight and age.
“You do understand,” he said his voice taking an unpleasant grate that shouldn’t come from a boy, “if I were to let you live, I would regret it.”
She didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Were she to try, her voice would tremble. That the fear outweighed the hatred shamed her. The regret she would not live to right this wrong, or those which had come before, outweighed everything. Nothing she could have done would have induced Jackson to kill this boy. Jackson would have humiliated him had he the ability or enough advantage but no more. Argyll could have turned around and walked off. He wouldn’t have had to run, especially after it had become a thing of blades. Jackson wouldn’t have followed. It wasn’t in him. Edison wondered if Argyll understood this. She wasn’t sure he didn’t.
With his free hand, Argyll twisted her long hair behind her head hard until he forced the audible gasp to prove her pain. Her little blue hat dropped into the dirt. With downward pressure on her twisted hair and the blade at her chin, he forced her to her knees, staining her dress and traveling cloak in the hard mud. Maybe worse than killing her, he was going to rape her. She could scream, and that would certainly bring a man from the street or out of one of the stores, but she was already responsible for the death of one man. To scream would give another life to the Drumcliff evil, better to endure. He stepped behind her, never relieving the painful pressure on her hair. Touching the tip of the blade through her traveling cloak to the fabric of her dress, he slashed, leaving her slender right shoulder bare.
“I going to live to regret this, Edison Montross, but I’m not going to kill you this morning, but I do mean to leave my mark. Something for you to remember when we meet again.”
He left her like that, dress torn, kneeling in partially frozen mud that bloodied her knees. Just before he made the corner where he would step out of sight, he turned. “I wish it could have been different between us. You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, or I ever expect to see, but given what you are, and given what I am, this is the way it has to be.”
Afterwards she had no memory of the blade touching her. It made only the tiniest scar on her back below her right shoulder and brought hardly any blood to the surface of her skin. She never spoke of this mark, less than two-inches long, and neither her mother, her sisters, nor any of her girlfriends ever noticed it. Years later, she had to position herself just right in front of the mirror and look over her shoulder to see it. She learned to look for scars on the other girls, and most had worse scars from riding accidents, falling into blackberry patches, or rubbing against loose splintery wood in an old barn somewhere. It never went away, and the sight of it shamed and enraged her.