TWILIGHT APPROACHED AS CLAYTON urged his lathered horse along the countryside. The hooves pounded out an urgent rhythm on the hard earth, a compelling cadence that echoed Clayton's anxiety as he raced along the final stretch toward his home on the outskirts of Charleston. His face was flushed and his blond curly hair flew in all directions, his black riding coat whipping in the wind. He had the newspaper article in his saddlebag.
Damn, I must talk Father into it, he thought.
He had to keep his father from being angry with him, which was the usual state of affairs because of his habit of sneaking off to research the Indian tribes along the east coast. But this time, his new idea of what he needed to do hung in the balance between his father's wrath and getting what he wanted.
His mind raced. If he gets angry again, he'll never let me go find that tribe. And this time, I just can't leave without telling him. I'll probably be gone a long time – many months instead of a week or two.
He set his lips and frowned. I just have to get his permission to go. I just have to. If I convince him I have a future as a writer then…If I tell him about the newspaper article first…No, I'll tell him about the great notes I just got…a story. No, don't have one yet…Yes, the newspaper article…Ugh!
He has to understand that what I want to do is be a writer, not a farmer.
Drat! Don't say farmer. He gets upset when I say the word farmer. A businessman. A plantation owner's son.
He sighed. Double drat!
Over and over, he tried to find the words, but he knew in his heart he was in trouble…as usual.
The fifteen-year-old boy lifted his face to feel the breeze. The evening air was sweet, heavy with the scent of fresh growth, new buds, and the flowering of spring. The sun clung to the west, courted by a white lace of clouds edged with vermilion. Clayton's eyes roamed the familiar green rolling hills, broken now and then by a farm or a patch of woods.
It's the spring that I love the most. Love the spring. South Carolina is beautiful, comfortable and…too comfortable…slow moving…too slow.
He frowned. Boring, really.
As he sped around a bend in the road, he saw them.
"Oh, God," he muttered.
Gus Stevens, the Mayor of Charleston, and his son, Bishop, were traveling toward him in a buggy.
"Good evening, Mr. Stevens," he shouted. "Hello, Bishop. Sorry. Can't stop. Got to rush."
Waving and flashing them with his best social smile, he tried to race past them.
"Hey, young Pinckney! Wait! What's the rush?" The overweight mayor waved his hands over his head, turning in the buggy as Clayton sped past. "Hold up, boy. Wait!"
Damn! Clayton rolled his eyes to the heavens. Reluctantly, he reined in and turned to approach the mayor. He repeatedly dug his heels into the horse's flanks, and at the same time urged it to slow. The mixed signals caused the lathered horse to rear and prance in circles.
Gus was five foot six, but Bishop, his pride and joy, was already six feet at just sixteen. He was a taller version of his father: heavily built; pale, freckled complexion; red, unruly hair; and large features. Their milky skin flushed easily, and their eyes protruded a little.
Gus Stevens' face reddened a few shades, and his blue eyes twinkled with amusement as he readied for a good game on a boring afternoon. His son mimicked him like a shadow, following every move and expression.
Clayton's muscles tensed with a surge of distaste. Smugness.
"Clay, my dear boy! Slow down. Slow down, boy. Just wanted to say hello. Why haven't we seen you for a while? Have you been away? Or sick in bed? I do hope not sick. No, I would have heard about it if you were." He shot a quick look to his son and added with feigned sympathy. "I hope you're not late for dinner again."
"Yes, sir. Afraid so. Got to get home," he said, out of breath and keeping his horse moving in agitated circles. He never liked either of them. Hate? No, hate was too strong. Indifference? Boring? No, it was disgust.
"Well, haven't seen much of your folks lately," Stevens said. "I was just thinking, why don't you tell your father and mother we'd like you all over for dinner next week?" He smiled his wide, greeting-the-public grin.
"Sure, Mr. Stevens. Well, good to see you. That would be nice. I'll tell them. Have a good evening, Bishop."
"Not so fast. Not so fast. How about the good news?"
"Good news? Oh yes, my article in the paper. Yes, great, isn't it?"
He gave Clayton a wily glance.
"I meant the governorship. Good news about your father running for governor."
"Governor?" Clayton immediately regretted his question.
"Where have you been? You don't know? Off with your savages again?" Gus smirked. Then he let out a long sigh. "You're gonna make it pretty rough on your father to get elected, seems to me."
"What are you getting at, Mr. Stevens?"
"Well, I mean with your penchant for…er…well…"
He smiled with a sideways glance to Bishop. "Well, let's just say your liking for all the wrong things is going to make it difficult for your father, wouldn't you say, my boy?"
"Difficult?" Clayton's self-control vanished. "My father will have trouble getting elected because I have friends? Is that what you are saying, sir?"
Clayton was tired of listening to people tell him he should not be interested in the Indians. He suddenly felt he could not tolerate this small-minded man and his ugly son for a minute more. If there was anything he hated, it was narrow-minded people.
"Well, son, I'm sorry to say…Look, don't get me wrong. I'm your father's staunchest supporter. I'll stand by him, no matter what. I'm sure you know that. But you make it kind of difficult for everyone. I'm only looking out for you and your father's best interests, and I have to say, you had better pay attention to what is important. I'd hate to see your father lose. Don't get me wrong, I'm behind him all the way. But…well…let's just say your affiliations are going to cause difficulties for him. You know…with the Indian problem and all."
"Indian problem!" His green eyes flashed with anger. "Generations before me caused it, if there is a problem. I will not support anti-Indian sentiments!" His jaw clenched. "If that is the issue that Father getting elected hangs on, then I don't care if he wins or not."
With that, Clayton lifted his chin and glared at Gus.
Gus again smiled his best toothy grin.
Clayton regretted having lost control because he knew Gus and his son loved every second of it.
"I hate to say it, but if I had a son like you, I'd horse whip some sense into him." He looked over at his pimply-faced son. "Am I right, Bishop?"
"Papa, you know we always see eye-to-eye." The boy smiled at his father, and to Clayton he added, "I heard you've been gone six weeks this time, Clay. I'll bet you're gonna catch real hell. Rumor had it you probably weren't even coming home."
"That's stupid. Why would I not come home?"
"Well, it was just a rumor. Knowing how mad your father is and all. I mean everyone thought maybe you would just stay with your Indians…rather than face him."
He laughed and looked to his father for agreement.
Gus nodded with a look of grave regret. "Everyone was so concerned."
Clayton glared at Bishop. They had never gotten along, even as small children. But he reminded himself that it was no fault of his that he irritated Bishop…or his father. It was just that he had everything they both wanted and knew they could never have.
Things came so easily to him: studies, fencing, pistols, riding, and most of the girls in Charleston had dreams of being Mrs. Clayton Pinckney someday. William Pinckney was not only the richest man in Charleston, but he and his wife, Vivian, had an aristocratic lineage that traced back for hundreds of years in Britain. The Pinckney town mansion was the most extravagant in the city, and their plantation house was the envy of everyone. Clayton had good looks, intelligence, money, and, when he felt like it, charm. He knew he could charm anyone. Except his own father. Bishop knew about this chink in Clayton's armor and sought every opportunity to annoy with it.
And regretfully, Clayton had allowed himself to become very annoyed.
"Well, it was lovely talking to you, but I do have to go. I'll give Father and Mother your invitation. Nice talking to you, but I've got to rush. Goodbye, sir. Bishop."
Clayton started his horse again at a dead run, not looking back.
He could hear the speech now, but his father was wrong. He did appreciate all that he and Grandfather had done…pioneers in the wilderness of the Carolinas and all. But it wasn't a wilderness anymore. I'm a kind of pioneer, too…with words and ideas, not a plow. Why can't he see that? I just have different goals. Different values. Why can't he see that I am a writer? I'm a good one!
His thoughts traced through the reasons he did the things he did, the things that angered his father so. Yes, he had been gone for six weeks. As usual, he had just left a note saying he was visiting his friends and would be back soon, knowing that asking permission would have been futile. That afternoon he had returned, and on his way home, he had stopped by the newspaper office. George Benison, the editor, had printed his article on Chief Tecumseh the week before and told Clayton he would publish his article on the Seminole next week. He was published for the first time. Finally, he was making progress.
Clayton was sure his father had seen it. There must have been a lot of talk about it. "Hey, Pinckney," they would have said. "See your son got an article run in the paper. Interesting material, isn't it? William, that boy has talent!"
Now his father had to admit that he knew what he was doing. Of course, it was just a beginning. No, money, but…Damn meddling devils of foolishness, he thought. Money! Gold, baubles and other gewgaws. Trifles and gimcrack. Foolish rituals of wealth. I am who I am. I will make a difference in this narrow-minded world.
A neighboring estate and a stand of trees would soon give way to a view of the Pinckney mansion. A thrill of excitement rippled in his stomach as he reminded himself of what he wanted so badly to do. He thought, God, the Northwest! Just think of it!
The northwest was a country untouched by anyone except God! No untidy modern man to interfere. He would meet the wild people who followed the buffalo. Just think of the chance of seeing those huge beasts. To hunt them! He had heard they are as big as elephants and covered the prairie for hundreds of miles.
He sighed deeply and prodded the horse to pick up speed.
Young Clayton Pinckney lifted his chin and the unruly mass of his blond curls fluttered as he faced the rushing wind. Home was near, just around a bend in the road. However, he was no longer racing along a familiar road toward mediocrity. No. He was not living with the ordinary sights and sounds of the commonplace; he had hungrily replaced the world of the mundane. He now raced toward an unknown horizon and greatness, up wild mountains, down raging rivers, and across wide-open spaces, where he chased grand clouds across the grasslands. Over the nests of eagles, above the villages of exotic people, and past astonishing creatures he flew. Just ahead, Clayton could see them. Buffalo! They were fierce and dangerous, but they had fear in their eyes as he approached. As he raced toward them on his gelding, they stirred and dust swirled when the brown mass of shaggy beasts broke into a run. As he raced alongside the herd of stampeding buffalo, he felt exultation bubble and burst forth from deep inside him.
"God!" he shouted aloud. "To be there. To see it. To feel it. To write about it. What a story that will be. People will love it! Yes!"
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