South Georgia, Indian Land Cessions
They were all going to die.
It wasn't precognition that convinced Mary Catherine of that chilling fact. It wasn't even a logical conclusion, though she had reason enough to consider it a strong possibility.
It was the unnerving feeling that she'd been here before, done this before.
She hadn't, of course. She had been as far south many times in the past, but never along this particular trail and certainly not with Horace Brooks.
These lands were relatively new to whites. The Indians had ceded them several years before, but not all of them had been in agreement over the loss of their lands. Renegades, driven south by General Jesup's troops to the reservation in Florida, had been terrorizing the area for the past three years, killing any whites foolhardy enough to linger on their newly claimed land lots and burning all that lay in their path.
At any rate, from the time her father had arranged her marriage more than five years previously, Horace Brooks had not taken her further from the ramshackle cabin he called home than the outskirts of the town of Augusta, and then only rarely.
The strange familiarity, she supposed, was due entirely to the fact that she had, once before, been in a situation uncannily similar. She had been with her father then, a man as physically different from Horace Brooks as night from day, but as characteristically the same as a mirrored image. The storm, the woods, even the death-defying danger of the flooded stream was eerily the same as then. She, her father, and her younger brothers had almost died that day when their wagon foundered in the swollen stream.
She supposed that was why she was so certain they would all die. They had fought death that day and won, all save for her baby sister, whom death had snatched from her arms. This time she knew death would scoop them all up.
Close by lightning flashed. For several heartbeats it shattered the gloom, illuminating the forest walls and the creek before them with its eerie white light. In sick fascination, Mary Catherine stared at the rushing water before them.
The creek could not be forded.
She was certain her husband must know that as well as she did. That thought might have comforted her if not for the fact that Horace Brooks seemed disinclined to behave at all rationally just now.
He had never been a very reasonable man and the journey seemed to have deprived him of what little sense he'd had before their trek south to claim their frontier land lot. The foul weather was only partially to blame for it, however.
Most of it was her fault.
It had been a poorly thought out attempt...to put it mildly. She should have known she couldn't escape him so easily.
Despite the fact that she'd fled as if the devil himself was on her heels, she'd scarcely covered a quarter of a mile when he'd run her to ground.
She had not been surprised when Horace had flown at her in a towering rage and beat her within an inch of her life for trying to escape him. She had known when she decided to flee that he might very well kill her if he caught up with her.
What she hadn't expected was the fetters.
Sometime before she regained her senses sufficiently to distinguish daylight from dark he'd hobbled her ankles with manacles. Those not only insured that she could not run. They insured that she had nowhere to run.
She was almost sorry now that he hadn't killed her when he'd caught her. She was sorry she'd ever allowed herself to hope or believe in freedom. Until she'd believed she held it within her grasp she had at least been able to find some acceptance of her lot in life.