Trevor steps into a world of oddities: rude women, random gunfire, and bare feet. He decides it is worth it.

pages 32-33

Thankful for slipping out without being stopped for ridiculous conversation, he marched down the long front porch and passed two women employed by Mercer, but definitely not in his kitchens.

Much to Trevor’s surprise and mortification , one woman raised her gown and displayed a knickers-free show. The other glared at him, while the first laughed at his startled and fearful face. She then turned her lusty display toward the lake.

Yelling out at two fishermen in a small nearby boat, she declared, “See what you’re missing? Seeing what you’re giving up for a dead fish?!” She disgustedly tossed down her skirts and continued, “Well, it’s the last time, fool.” Together, the women marched past Trevor and entered the lodge, one still laughing and the other still in a bit of a snit.

His thankfulness for knowing Catherine sent him swiftly down the steps. The little bits he knew of her told him of her goodness as well as her beauty, which exceeded far and beyond anything he had just witnessed. Elation returned as he followed the sandy road with the grassy center line. During his rapid march, he couldn’t help from forming a comparison between Catherine, Eloise, and Mercer’s women. Good Grief!

The target range could be heard on his left as he admired the breeze dancing on the lake off to his right. He heard the tree limb snap before the gunshot registered his fear, before he dove for the grass, and counted his loud heart beats.

Again? He had been shot at again? No, Mercer’s laugh and those of a few others could be heard through the woods. The target practicing fools had taken too much special lemonade.

This time it was an accident. Right?

He stood slowly, then walked quickly to Catherine. He found her below the high road and down the bluff, sitting on a fallen tree trunk, sinking her delicious bare toes in the lapping shore waves. Would Eloise ever have taken off her shoes? Would she ever go bare footed?

Egad! and Enough! For now.

Trevor Coffman takes us into his private “wouldas, couldas, shouldas”, before exploring his new opportunities and adventures in our Carolina swamps.

Trevor allowed his lake blue eyes to stare back at himself from the small dressing table mirror. Shaving was difficult while grooming for an appointment at sunset. Recalling the gunshot had his straight edge razor jumping, threatening his tender skin.

What had Catherine said? She’d been truly shaken, but had she talked about Cranfield and a pinecone? What on earth! Planning to question her further, he was pleasantly excited to see her again. When was the last time euphoria flowed through his system?

It had been too long. God Knows. He had been too exhausted with the business of responsibilities and family rights. He shook his shoulders to cast off the feeling as his clean, but wrinkled, linen shirt slipped over his head. Mercer had promised laundry service, but evidently ironing was not included in this swamp.

His euphoria followed him around the tiny room. He bent over to yank boots over his clean socks. Cranfield’s sister, Eloise, appeared uninvited in his mind and the positive feelings faded. Trevor rested his elbows on his thighs and lifted his head to stare at nothing. The wall supported a cheaply framed print of the Swiss Alps. He briefly wondered why anyone would decorate a hotel in the swamps with mountain scenes. Trying to cool off the guests? The snow stared back, but he wasn’t cooled nor was he in the alps.

His mind walked into that stuffy, overly furnished, formal parlor, sipping weak tea, trying to compliment the Cranfield family cook for the far-too-sweet cakes, and making inane comments about the weather. Eloise had sat as straight as any slide rule, or ledger page. Together they waited for her mother to complete a conversation that didn’t need remembering. Did Eloise say anything that afternoon? Was she shy? Did she look at him or even move? She had blushed when he entered the room.

Was that an acknowledgement of everlasting love and devotion?

Who mentioned marriage first? It was her mother. Yanking his mind back to the swamp, Trevor groaned outloud.

He abruptly stood and had intended to pace the three or four steps it would take to get to the door, but his unbuckled bootstrap slapped hard against his knee and forced the important question to slap back.

How did he manage to become engaged to that stiff woman?

Trevor violently banged his fist against the wall. Damn! He was broke. He needed Eloise, no, the Cranfield money.

The late afternoon sun slanted a reflected glare off his mirror. He put the Cranfields and their money on the back burner and smiled as the warm bliss returned. Trevor left his room, locked the door and headed out to the front. His objective was the Gray Lace cottage down the sandy road to his left.

Egad! Enough! (until later)

Lord Bryon wrote, “Adversity is the first path to the truth.” Of course, that makes me think of our January 6th nightmare. Hopefully the various commissions will get to the truth, although, I do think it was documented well enough.

I digress.

Lord Bryon’s quote headlines Chapter Three in my Gray Lace novel. Trevor discovers through the adversity of being a target of aggression from his future brother-in-law, that there’s little truth in his marriage engagement. Engagements should be a time to learn the truths of one another.

Enough!

I digress, again.

In Gray Lace, Chapter One, William Jennings Bryan starts us off with “Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice.” Trevor chooses to keep an open mind during his strange adventure.

Chapter Two – “A man must make his opportunity, as oft as he finds it,” Frances Bacon. Catherine usues her opportunities to repay Trevor’s kindness.

Egad!

Enough! (more to come)

Wrapping up chapter two, Catherine convinces Trevor that evil surrounds them both. Yet, the sunsets are still beautiful in their Carolina swamp.

Shaking her head violently, she tried again to convince him of the truth. She needed him to believe the meanness which she had heard. The hunters were loud and out of sight, but likely to reappear, and bring the rest back with them.

“Quickly, get behind that tree and stay terribly still,” Trevor pushed her back into the underbrush and she froze under his choosen barricade, just as a few came into view.

“Ah, there you are, Coffman. We heard the shot. Did you get that bear? Where is it?” An excited George grabbed his arm.

Trevor smiled at George’s eagerness, but addressed all of the hunters. “No, gentlemen, no such luck for me. Although, Cranfield thought there was one. He and a few others followed what they thought were the signs of the bear’s quick retreat down that northerly path over there.”

“Well, then, off we go, gentlemen,” George started the march down the trail. “Keep up, Coffman.”

“I’ll be right with you. Nature calls, I’m afraid.”

One of the older hunters started laughing. “Relish those calls from Mother Nature, son. I wish she would call me more often. Now, shake off that extra bit of British piss and help us find that monster.” As he walked away, he added, “I surely hope Cranfield didn’t wound it. He’ll be a terror to catch, but easier to track.”

Catherine waited for an extra moment after she heard Trevor’s cough as a signal. “Miss Randolph?” She took in more oxygen as she crawled out of her safe haven and stood. A warm whisper startled her exhale. “I’ll see you at sunset?” He softly brushed a few grains of sand from her face and placed a sweet kiss on her cleaner cheek and then he was gone.

She watched him go, and then gently rested her hand on her face and tried to retain the sweetness.

Egad and Enough! (until later)

While returning to the kitchens, Catherine discovers a chance to repay Trevor for saving her. Her weapon of choice… a pinecone.

She hated leaving the Garretts with all the packing and cleanup, but the urge to run overcame her good heart. She crouched low and moved quickly as possible. Jumping out of her skin with every snap of a twig and birdcall, she finally made her way to the bend in the road, half way back to the lake. A sudden flash of sunshine hitting metal had her stopping, kneeling, then nearly eating the sandy soil under the large red-bush tree.

Through the thickness of her surroundings she studied the silhouette of a familiar hunter sitting on a wide tree trunk. His weapon rested against his forest furniture as he stared at a narrow flowing stream. Overhead shadows from the giant wingspan of a turkey buzzard alerted Catherine to turn her head. To her right, across the sandy road, stood a fellow hunter, aiming his gun at Trevor’s back. Catherine grabbed a nearby pinecone and threw it straight up in the air. His weapon jerked upward and fired. The blast had the forest wildlife screeching and screaming. She covered her head and neck with her hands and prayed.

“Oh my God, Coffman, um…did you see that bear?” Catherine imagined the series of strategic thoughts swirling around Edgar Cranfield’s cries, as he jumped over thickets and across the road to reach his intended target. “I nearly hit him. He was enormous. Well…maybe not that big, but at least he was interesting and worth the effort.”

Catherine stayed as still as possible while winching at each lie and attempted cover of fault. She stayed where she had thrown herself and hoped Trevor would sense the duplicity.

“Cranfield?” Trevor’s jumpy sounds came from her left.

“Did you see which way it ran? I can’t believe I missed it,” Cranfield whined.

A few others arrived to investigate the shot they had heard. There were questions for Cranfield and Trevor about the bear’s size, color, and direction. The voices faded down the northerly path and Catherine dared to wiggle her toes. A frightening rustling sound commanded that’s not all she’d better move.

“Peculiar resting place, Miss Randolph,” joked a pleasant whisper.

She saw the offered gloved hand and decided to chance it. He helped her to stand and together they began to brush off the twigs and dirt. He gently removed leaves that had attached themselves to her sleeves. She nervously followed his lead and started on her blouse. Her focus moved to his shy grin. She felt warm in spite of the stiff afternoon breeze. Grabbing his arm for support, she slightly weaved toward him.

“Are you going to faint? Please don’t do that. Do you need some water?” He swiftly surveyed for any company and questioned, “Why are you here, anyway?”

“No, I don’t faint. I won’t. Listen…um, you must realize that man tried to shoot you, don’t you?”

“What? No, Cranfield’s a terrible shot, but he wouldn’t, not intentionally.”

“Yes, he did,” she gave him a speculative grin. “I threw a pinecone to divert his aim.”

“Pinecone? No, he was just excited because he thought he’d finally spotted a bear,” he put his hands on his hips, looked around in thought. “Pinecone, really?”

She decided she could enjoy his blue eyes, lake eyes, even if he did think she was crazy.

Egad! and Enough! Until Later…

Catherine Randolph hides from the resort hunters as well as her own evil-kidnappers from Charleston. Her friends command that she hide under a heavy, hot, tarp and try to breathe.

She hated it, but she went. She hated fleeing like a fugitive, but she valued her life and respected her friends, the Garretts. She hated their order, the necessity of it, and her fear.

The day was unusually beautiful for fall and wasting it under a heavy and smelly canvas wouldn’t be fun. She gave a moment’s thought to running, again, fleeing into the woods and swamps surrounding the lake. Maybe she could find a secluded spot for a swim. It was warm enough, but the voices sent her running to the wagon.

She crawled under the tarp, took a deep clean breath, pulled it back down over her and she listened.

“Mercer, who were they? Who were those dirty ruffians? Were they actually hunting for bear? They sure didn’t look like your typical clientele.”

“Bear? No, not at all. Much to my surprise they were hunting all right, but for a woman.” Mercer’s mean laughter sounded ugly and felt painful. It drowned out the clanging serving dishes and other conversations. “I told them about our hired camp-ladies, but it would cost them double since our numbers are low. They’d some upbringing though, since they thanked me. They did go on to describe that cute little one we found in the kitchen last night.” He turned to the Garretts, “Hey, where’s that pretty little thing you brought with you this season? Did you leave her back at the lake, at the main camp kitchen?”

Catherine froze. She knew the Garretts hated to lie. “Not real sure where’s she gone, Mr. Mercer, sir.”

“That’s fine. We’ll find her or those four we met out on the hunt will beat us to her.” Mercer sneered, “I’d hate to see her when they finish. There’s no fancy private hotel in her future.”

Catherine tasted her salty tears as they landed on her lips. Her time of safety with the Garretts was over. She needed to move on, she needed to run, and she needed a plan to return to Charleston. Her immediate need was some fresh air to breathe.

Mercer turned to Trevor. “Hell, Coffman, you had her last. Would you say she was worth hunting for? Do you want her again?”

The sound of Trevor’s stable British accent calmed her like a fresh lake breeze. “Mr. Mercer, I came for a trophy for my library. I doubt that she’d suffice. Truly sir, I came to hunt for your famous southern black bear.” She imagined him turning his back and suitably ending the discussion. No additional British accents were heard, just dishes, silverware, the liquid flowing into goblets, and Mercer’s continued evilness.

“I don’t know, Coffman, her head would look great in many places.” Catherine physically shuddered at Mercer’s raunchy comment.

She sweated for nearly an hour listening for clues, locations, and appropriate times for escape. Gradually the clues added up and she sensed that the hunters had finished their their lunch and moved off. One of them had the gall to relieve himself on the wagon wheel. She smelled his urine and heard his sigh of pleasure.

Her legs and arms began to cramp just as the Garretts pulled up the tarp and provided crisp and appreciated oxygen. “They’ve gone, but stay down on the far side just in case one of them wanders back.”

Catherine slowly moved her pins-and-needled limbs over the side. “I’ll carefully head back, and I’ll stick to the side of the road.”

Joann gently held her face. “Be oh so very careful, girl.” She pulled her into a motherly hug. “Listen for the men and hide in the bushes if you must. We’ll find you on the way back.”

Egad and Enough! For Now

“Calm down, please, the both of you.” Catherine smoothed her skirt to give her nervousness an outlet. She leaned over Joann and took the reigns from Ross to get the team of mules moving again. Once the mules obeyed and the wooden wagon bumbled over the uneven road, she attempted to explain in an edited version of her previous evening. “I was lucky. Mercer gave me to a rare gentleman, and I left. I didn’t need to say a word.”

Catherine felt the mules’ muscles twitch through the reigns when Ross loudly release a sigh of fear and frustration. “Mercer, Good God! We need to keep you ladies away from him! He’s mean. Really Bad!”

“It’ll be difficult staying away from the camp boss. How will we get paid, get the order numbers?” Joann’s hands bunched the fabric of her apron. “What if he comes into the kitchens again? He often does, you know.”

“I’ll handle all that, the money business. If he does come in, Joann, you say as little as possible, but we really need to keep Miss Mute, here, out of sight.” He took the reigns back and slapped them in anger, giving the mules another scare. “He wanted you, Catherine, for more nastiness than you can imagine. I know what goes on in that lodge. You’ve seen those women when we serve the late afternoon buffet. Have you noticed they never appear for breakfast? They’re too exhausted from their work the night before.” By the time Ross had finished his sermon, his voice had strained back into an anger that had the mules jumpy again.

He directed the team into a clearing and stopped the ladies from their descent from the wagon with a hand signal. “I mean it. I know you’ve seen those those camp b…, I mean women, those hired camp followers. They’re tarts!”

“Ross, you’re frightening us,” Joann put a calming hand on his sleeve.

“Good. Catherine, did he force you to go with one of his guest hunters? Did he?”

She heard the anger, but she recognized the concern. She read the protectiveness and she was grateful. “Yes, sir, but like I said, I was lucky. A real gentleman came forward. I was given his room key and during his dinner I left him a note.” She jumped down from the wagon to the ground and turned to look back and up at her saviors. “I saw him again this morning for just a minute.” She gazed away and mumbled, “He was kind.”

“Kind?” Ross grunted a disbelieving sound, “Maybe he’s slow, stupid, or strange. Miss Catherine, he and the others, they’re like that ugly bunch who had you in town.”

She shuttered at the sharp memory. She felt her stomach muscles clinch in pain from her residual fear. Those attackers had surrounded her with a nastiness. They had descriptively told her how they would enjoy her before returning her to her step-father. They were determined to have their fun before forcing her back to Charleston. They had spelled out in verbal graphics what their individual preferences were and how they would enjoy watching each other’s pleasures in their sport of rape. During all of this, they had not touched her on the outside, but they had damaged her soul.

The Garretts had rescued her in many ways.

She had learned to trust her rescuers and she had retaught herself to breathe, but her insides still hurt. “Yes, of course, you’re right. I’ll stay hidden.” She marched to the back of the wagon and relaxed her fingers enough to pull the poles out for the picnic tent. Together the three of them had the small shelter erected over a luncheon that served sliced meats, cheeses, and fancy muffins. All types of fruited jams were displayed on silver trays. Desserts with lots of coveted chocolate and vanilla wafers were placed at the end of the long table.

The muffled voices of the hunters approached. “Quickly, Catherine, run back to the wagon. Hide under the tarp,” Ross commanded.

Egad!

Catherine Randolph of Charleston has escaped her kidnappers, has hidden in the Carolina swamps, and has become an assistant cook in an hunting resort. The Garretts saved her once and will so again if need be. They warn her against breaking her disguise as a mute simpleton and the dangers of friendliness with the elitist management and guests, for they are all truly hunters.

Page 22

Catherine stopped her preparations, turned to her left and then the right to check the location of the other helpers. She didn’t need witnesses. She sighed and admired her friend, her rescuer, “God, Joann, I love you.”

The older woman laughed and sang, “Me too,” followed by a beautiful rendition of Blessed Assurance. A few of the others returned to investigate the positive sounds. “Oh don’t mind me. Shoo! I’ll tell you when to listen to me.” She raised one hand from the mixing bowl and waved, “Oh, wait. I’ve changed my mind. Now’d be good time. Go finish the breakfast cleanup and then get up to the lodge.”

She gave Catherine her new orders about how much to pack for the hunt. Together they managed to get enough bread, cheese, fruit, and whiskey into several large baskets and they loaded it all into the wagon.

Ross Garrett appeared from behind the tent and helped his wife with the larger baskets. “Well, Beautiful, the sun is finally coming out and is glistening on that lovely lake, but you’ve already outshined them both.” He placed three quick kisses on her smiling mouth and spoke to Catherine. “You’re not looking too shabby yourself, missey.”

Catherine returned the warmth with a quick hug and whispered, “Good morning to you, too, Handsome.”

“Oh, your attitude has sweetened up since we found you, but your eyesight’s gone bad.” He laughed as he checked the harnesses and gear attaching the camp’s two mules to the work wagon and climbed up onto the seat. “Come on, women, we’ve got spoiled gents waiting for your delectable delights.”

“What about the mess I left inside His Meaness?” Catherine pointed back to the central kitchentent.

“I’ve ordered Elza and Freddy to finish. They can do it. You trained them, even without saying a word,” Joann laughed.

The women climbed on board. Joann cuddled her husband’s arm and Catherine sat on her other side, having envious thoughts about love and finding someone she could trust. She twitched an eyelid when a handsome face on a true British gentleman appeared in her mind with a startling force. It surprised her. The vision disappeared when her world returned to the gutted dirt road and the back ends of two mules.

“So, Missy Mute, how did you manage to teach Slow Elza and Lazy Freddy how to bake bread and clean up, since you’re supposedly mute? Not that we mind playing along with your little game.” Ross leaned forward over his wife to grin at Catherine.

“She uses her talented hand signals, dear heart,” Joann answered him for their friend and with a worried expression she turned and asked Catherine, “What happened the other night? How did you manage to get away?” She lovingly patted her leg.

“Get away from what?” Ross kept his eyes on a turn in the road, but his brows folded into worry.

“Well, while you were fishing the other night, two of Mercer’s men barged into the kitchen and forced our Catherine to go with them. They dragged her out and headed to the lodge. I tried to follow, but they pushed me away.” She rubbed his arm to sooth him before he exploded.

“Who had his hands on you?” Ross had stopped the mules and glared at both of the ladies. “He had our girl kidnapped? Good God, woman, when were you going to tell me? Chirstmas?”

Egad! Trevor is smitten and not with his wealthy fiance.

Chapter Two gives Catherine a chance to talk to you, to describe her situation, get a word in, so to speak. She hides in the swamp as a deaf mute kitchen maid in a hunting resort found in the Carolinas of 1908.

Page 21:

The dripping sweat tickled the tender skin between her breasts, but her hands were too busy to rub the sensation away. They were wrapped in worn towels to protect her skin from the heavy scorching metal handles. Catherine heaved His Meanness, as she had named the Garret’s heaviest pot, from the swinging handled spit, pushing it away from the heat of the open wood burning stoves.

“Watch the flames, honey,” Joann Garret took the other side of His Meanness and together they lifted it onto the long wooden table. An early morning rain tapped against the canvas roof above them. “Fetch the floor and salt. We’ve got to hurry. Those gents are leaving early this morning. Ross said they wanted fresh bread at their picnic.”

“Day-old isn’t good enough?” Catherine grunted her redundant question, but not loud enough to be heard above the busyness of the part-time kitchen help scurrying around her.

“Hush, if you want to keep that secret of yours,” admonished Joann. “I love you, child, but you’ve too many burdens. Keeping yourself bottled up just isn’t right for your constitution.”

Catherine leaned over the table and passed the floor and measuring cup. “Constitution? Yesterday you were worried about my soul,” she laughingly whispered.

Joann waved away the offered cups. “Measuring cup? Girl, I’ve no need of that!” She quickly and efficiently dumped in the copious amounts of floor into His Meanness and dashed in the salt. Floor and salt sprinkled on her brown skin like rare Carolina snowflakes. “Now,” as she began to stir, “your constitution is the way your body feels in the morning and your soul is how you feel when you say your evening prayers.”

Enough! more soon, hopefully

Egad!

Warned not to use the gun handed to him by his future brother-in-law, Trevor slowly returned it to the table in the elitist hunting resort, deep in southeastern Carolina swamps of 1908.

Page 18

“What’s wrong? Too heavy? Come on, Coffman, show us your Royal Oxford muscles.” Edgar’s laugh grated his nerve endings.

“Sir, may I try yours?” A younger hunter grabbed it from the table. “Do you mind?” Before he could lift it to his shoulder, it went off and rammed into his stomach. The impact threw him to the ground in pain.

“Good God!”

Friends of the fallen man gathered and gently helped him to his feet. One turned on Edgar and Trevor. “What’s going on, you two? Why’d it jam? Can’t load a gun properly?”

Trevor kept his peace while Edgar made the fool, “I don’t know who loaded it. It was probably one of the stewards. Back off!” With his legs stiff and his elbows locked, he rapidly retreated and left Trevor with the anger. He asked the injured man if he could help him in any way, but he just smiled weakly while his disgruntled friends walked him back to the lodge.

The swamp air felt heavy and stifling. He needed to get away and breathe. He left the small practice range and started down the dirt road that hugged the lake’s shore. The woods were thick with early fall foliage, but there were a few cleared lots and fewer houses. Most of these were small cottages and didn’t appear able to stand up against a good wind, but surprisingly, there was a three-story home facing an incredible lake view. Trevor surmised it was a summer cottage for a rather wealthy family because no one was around, although it certainly wasn’t abandoned.

“It’s called Gray Lace Cottage.”

He turned toward the sound and the beauty who was supposedly mute. he felt his face maneuver into a wide grin. “Thank you and good morning. It seems we’re even.”

“Even?” She slowly walked forward and titled her head in a question, then a soothing grin appeared. “Oh, of course, last night. You’re right.” She faced the road as if to continue the walk with him. “Thank you for that. Thank you very much.” She stopped and faced him again. “Would you have? Well, you know.”

“Taken you?” He had bent down to playfully whisper, but her lovely height had her fitting perfectly. He found he was close to an adorable ear and he surprised himself with his own blush. He never blushed. He straightened and added, “No, I would not…unless you had invited me.”

She had turned her head to laugh, but he caught the pretty vision in time.

“CMR?” he asked.

“Catherine Marie Randolph, but please remember I’m mute, Lord Trevor Coffman, Earl of Warrenwood.”

“How did you discover my name and title?”

“People often say a great deal more around the deaf then they normally might. Listen, I need to get back to the kitchens.” She put her hand on his arm and pleaded, “Please be careful. I saw that friend of yours jam a mud doper in the barrel.” She quickly removed her hand, as if she suddenly realized she had committed a social sin and turned to walk away.

“Wait,” he commanded, but it sounded like a beg. “Um,” gesturing his hand toward the large house, “Why Gray Lace Cottage? Is that the family name?”

“I’m not sure. I like to think they named it after the Spanish moss.”

He did not want her to go. “Meet me here, later, please.”

“I can’t,” she clutched her long skirt in two tight fists. She bit her lower lip, “Tomorrow’s sunset.” She ran around the curve in the road and disappeared.

Enough! This is the end of Chapter One. (hopefully more soon)