A Different Path

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The quiet and loneliness was driving John Sandles to distraction and he couldn’t bear being in the house for any longer. Not that he was in an actual house. He’d been working on the room extension of his house on Sligo Creek nearly where the creek fed into the North River at the foot of the Appalachians to the west. The nearest town to him was Mount Solon, Virginia, a good five miles to the southeast. He didn’t really need the extra room now, which was framed and sheathed in rock up to his chest, the rock being Susan’s choice. The house itself was a two-room log cabin, the rooms being commodious enough—the bedroom with the loft overhead that he’d put stairs up to early in the winter, and the “everything else” room. The extension was to be his office. The loft was for the child and the children afterward until they could build on to the house. He didn’t need the loft now, and it remained unfurnished.

Both Susan and the baby had died in a difficult childbirth late in the winter. John could have gone back East, over the Blue Ridge, back to some semblance of civilization then—back to Williamsburg. It had been Susan’s dream to go West, for him to establish his law practice in the Shenandoah Valley. He supposed that it was because that had been Susan’s dream that he couldn’t leave now—and that he had to finish the room for his law practice. Susan and the baby were buried out there, in the copse of chestnut trees near the creek’s edge. That was probably the real reason he couldn’t leave. He was bound to their graves.

That and what he had left in Williamsburg where he had studied for the law at William and Mary. He had been indiscreet there. He had thought that what happened in the fears and frustrations of battle would be buried there, but that had not quite happened. Perhaps Mount Solon was far enough away for his indiscretions not to catch up with him. Susan had thought it would be. Susan had never given up on him.

He couldn’t stay here longer today in the silence of the cabin, though, and he was tired of lifting rock into place in the frame for his office. It didn’t help that Susan had declared this, the golden days of autumn, as her favorite time of the year in the valley. The trees were changing their color, there was a nip in the air, and the creek had lowered enough that he could hear the babbling of the water over the rocks. Further up the creek, at Thad’s Mill, before the creek split, giving lesser flow to the Sligo, the water was still high enough to work the wheel.

Thinking on that gave John the excuse he was looking for to pull himself away from the cabin and from the graves he could see from the cabin in the stand of trees. There had been so much for Susan to forgive and she had loved it here, saying it was a new path for them. It was penance for him to stay.

But not for the rest of today. No, he had flour to pick up at Thad’s Mill. He had an excuse to pull away from here, if only for a few hours. He went to the shed and saddled up the horse. It was a good three miles to the mill. And the mill was located on the main road out of Mount Solon north and south, along the Appalachians on the western edge of the valley. He had heard talk that there would be a national census taken for the first time in the next year—1790—and census takers were being hired. As a lawyer, one of only a few in the Mount Solon area, he should be able to land that job. He could use the money as he established his law practice. The mill was the social center of the area this side of Mount Solon. He should be able to learn more about the census plans there.

When he rode up to the mill, it too was quiet, which was unusual. In the stand of trees over by the road, there was more activity, as there often was. Two Conestoga wagons, their oxen out of the traces and watering in the creek, were pulled up beside the road, and five men, two women, a few children—who John couldn’t count because they were running all around the wagons—were gathered around a fire, cooking a meal. Just more settlers headed up for the Northwest Territory through the Cumberland Gap, where new settlement was under way farther west than John and Susan had come to settle.

As John came off his horse, one of the men—a young, strapping tow-headed man a good eight years younger than John’s own twenty-six, he reckoned on first glance—stood up from the fire and strode to the edge of the road, giving John a close inspection. John tried not to notice, but his demons stirred. The young man was fair of face, as yet with nothing on his chin to shave. His hair was curly and fit his head as a halo, and his body was well formed. Although John was dark-headed and taller and more solidly built than this young man, he couldn’t help but think back to when he was that young and vulnerable—and about to enter battle and about to suddenly mature in so many ways. John turned and quickly moved into the dimness of the main mill room, calling out “Thadeus,” as he entered the chamber.

A voice—one higher in pitch than Thadeus Wainwright’s—answered him from the wheel room, telling ataşehir vip escort him the owner of the voice would be there shortly—that he was grinding the last of a job.

Thad, John thought, Thadeus’s young son, given the abbreviated name to distinguish the father from the son—as Thadeus’s father, the originator of the mill, had been known as Thad, to maintain the same distinction with a name that had gone down the generations from one oldest son to the next oldest son.

John felt the clutch of being in a trap. He wouldn’t have come if he had thought that Thadeus wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t have come if he had known that the miller’s son, of the same age and aspect as the golden young man over at the Conestoga wagons other than being a redheaded version, would be the only one here.

When Thad came out from the wheel room, he seemed a bit flustered, and it perhaps was just John’s imagination that the young man was hitching up his belt. He smiled when he saw John, though, and blushed a bit, a redheaded young man not being able to control the flushing of his face as one of another aspect could.

“Hello, Mr. Sandles,” he said in a low, soft voice. “Have you come for your sack of flour?”

“Yes, please, if you have ground what I brought in last week yet,” John answered.

“We have it, yes. It’s just over here.” Young Thad backed away to a shelf area off to the side where several sacks of flour were being stored. He kept glancing back at John, though, and John felt he was flushing as well, although his darker coloring wouldn’t show it.

“Is your father around?” he asked, hoping that the older Wainwright was just around the corner somewhere. “I thought to ask him what he knew about the organization of this census to be taken next year.”

“No, sir,” Thad answered, returning to John’s side with a sack of flour. John wondered if it was his imagination that Thad maintained contact between their hands for longer than was required to pass the sack, but he didn’t really want to think about that. He shouldn’t have come, he now realized. He now realized that what had made him so jittery at the cabin wasn’t being lonely for his departed wife—it was more the frustration of another sort of loneliness that he had been saddled with through a spring and a summer. He should have known that was the problem as soon as his eyes had met with the blond settler across the road when he’d ridden up to the mill. But at least the young man who had risen to come look at him would be gone the next day. Chances were good that Thad would be here whenever John came to the mill. Perhaps, he thought, he should take note where the other mills were in the area where he could take his business, such as it was. He was a lawyer, not a farmer, so he only raised the grain he personally needed.

“My father is in Mount Solon today. They are meeting to come up with a delegate to send to Richmond in the coming elections. I would have thought you would be there too.”

“Was that today?” John asked. “I must have lost track of the days.” There was no lie in that. Living alone as he did, John had considerable trouble keeping track of the days. He hadn’t been in church on a Sunday since Susan and the baby had died. He hadn’t forgiven God for that yet. But perhaps he should start going again if only to have some index of how the days fell.

“Well, I guess I will ride on over to Mount Solon then,” John said. “I have to talk to Mr. Haycock about the drawing up of his will anyway. I’ll ask about the census there.”

“Does that mean you plan on staying in the area?—I mean if you are interested in the census being taken next year.” The young man’s voice had a hopefulness in it that he couldn’t hide. “I’d heard you were thinking of going back east.”

“No, I plan to stay on here,” John answered.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Thad said, his eyes and slight smile again giving away more than he probably intended.

John touched his finger to his hat as a farewell salute and turned and left the mill—being afraid that, if he stayed, he’d give away more than he intended to as well. As he was getting on his horse and trying not to look at the blond young man still standing across the road and looking at him, John was surprised to see Seth Cooper, a farmer who lived nearby almost slink out of the door of the mill and do a double take when he saw that John, who had fumbled a bit at getting the flour sack hooked on his saddle, was still in the mill yard.

John tipped his hat to Seth, who, with a guilty look tipped his back, and disappeared around the side of the mill. There were only the two rooms in the millhouse. Seth obviously had been in the wheel room with Thad when John had ridden up. John wondered why Seth hadn’t revealed himself before John left. But, then again, maybe he didn’t wonder at all. The thought didn’t relieve John’s own sense of frustration, though.

* * * *

“You have the roof on but not yet shingled.”

John looked up at the sound of the voice. He had been boiling üsküdar otele gelen escort clothes in a cauldron behind his house, taking a break from carrying rock up from the stream bed to continue building up the wall enclosing his office. He was stripped to the waist. It was an Indian Summer day—too warm to do hard work all bundled up, but the air too crisp to remain bare-chested for long without physical exertion. John had built a working-man’s musculature. Starting a law office in Williamsburg would not have made the physical demands that clearing his own land and physically building his house and law office in the shadow of the Appalachians had. He had a laborer’s physique now—well-defined chest muscles, tapering down to a flat-bellied waist, tanned and with curly black chest hair swirling around his pectorals and descending in a line where it fanned out on his belly—and lower. His breeches were tight and sat low on his hips.

“Aye, I had help framing the roof,” John answered the blond-headed young man standing between him and the in-progress addition project. “But I’ve had to put in the rock walls all myself, and I trust it will be the same with the shingles. Haven’t I seen you before—at Thad’s Mill? Weren’t you with a couple of wagons bound for the Cumberland gap?”

“Yes, that was me, Mr. Sandles, but I was not part of those families, and I had a mind to stop here apiece before going out to the new territories.”

“You know my name.”

“Yes, I asked at the mill. I was told you were a man of learning. My name is Matthew.”

“Well, greetings, Mr. Matthew,” John said, giving the young man a closer look, and feeling the old yearnings gripping him. He was so much like Cal—especially the way the sun caught his unruly golden locks and in his thin build. “Is that what brought you out here to my holdings—because I am a man of learning, as you say?”

“Yes, sir, it is. I don’t want to go into the new territories without skills that will see me right. I thought to learn sums before I went. Thad, at the mill, tells me you are a man of the law—that you are college educated.”

“Yes, I studied law at the College of William and Mary under George Wythe.” John looked at the young man, thinking the name of the great scribe of the Revolution would be recognizable, but there wasn’t such a reaction. “George Wythe, who taught law to the likes of our wartime governor Jefferson.” Still no notable reaction. He sighed. “My name is John to you as you wish to be Matthew to me. Where do you hail from, Matthew?”

“The eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. And I know of Thomas Jefferson well,” Matthew said, almost indignantly. “He hails from close to the hollow where I was raised. Did he learn his sums from this Wythe man?”

“I imagine he learned his sums well before then,” John answered gently. “It is a good and useful thing to acquire such learning, though.”

“You’ve raised the rock on your addition, I see, to the level where it would be better to have help to go from there to the roof, and I have nailed shingles to roofs before.”

“Have you now?” John asked, realizing why it was the young man was here—what had brought him here to tempt John in his frustration. His mind raced on the possibility of hiring this young man on—but with what money? If John could have afforded the help in building this law office, he would have hired someone locally.

“I can help you finish off your room,” Matthew said. “If you will teach me sums in the evening, I will work with you on this addition during the day. Just for a place to sleep—maybe in the shed over there—and a bit to eat.”

John realized the temptation of the offer, but it was true that he had reached a point where help would be valuable. He couldn’t spend all of this time on the construction and have it finished before winter set in. His law practice was building, and that was crucial.

“The shed is no place for you to have to sleep. The nights are turning cold. You’re welcome to sleep in the house and we will work on your sums there as well.”

That evening, in the candlelight, the two men with their heads close together over the sums, John was surprised to find Matthew quick on the understanding. The lawyer also was disturbed, though, to find that putting their head this close together in the dim light of the candle had made him go hard.

Seeing a scar on the back of John’s hand prompted Matthew to ask, “Were you in the war? Is that a war wound?”

“Aye, I reckon that came from a .25 Long Rifle ball fired by a Redcoat at Yorktown,” John answered. “But it was just a graze. A man pulled me down just at the right moment, or it would have been worse.” Cal, he thought, looking at Matthew and remembering. “But, yes, I was in the war. My beginning was the war’s ending, though—at Yorktown—the fall of ’81. Eight years ago. It seems a lifetime. It was after that that I went to the college to learn the law.”

“You joined that late?”

“Aye. I couldn’t join before then. I was just eighteen. Same as çekmeköy rus escort you probably are now.”

“I’m nineteen—or will be in November,” Matthew answered—again that slight tone of indignation. “I wish I’d been old enough to have been in the Revolution.” This said with some force.

“I think you are lucky not to have been,” John said, with a sad sigh. “It was a time that took some of the best of us and scarred and scared the ‘you know what’ out of the rest of us. It did strange things to men—put them on a path they would not have gone on otherwise that was dangerous and fearsome.” He was looking into the more-pretty-than-handsome face of the young Matthew, wanting so much to run his fingers into that unruly mop of golden hair—but knowing that would be going down the wrong path. Again. Indeed, the fright of war brought out a great deal in a man that otherwise could be hidden forever.

* * * *

They had been hacking at the abatis, the bracken stretched along the pit in front of the British Number 10 redoubt at Yorktown, almost on the banks of the York River when Cal, slashing at the branches with his bayonet next to John, gave a cry and pulled John down. All of the young, dark and sultry, newly minted colonial soldier dipped below the bracken except his hand. He felt the sting as the bullet grazed his hand, and he called out in pain.

“Where yer hit?” cried out the blond Cal—younger than John by two months but a more seasoned soldier than he by two years as he had lied about his age at his enlistment. He would do anything to get out of the oppressive apprenticeship at the stables outside Philadelphia. John, the son of a Williamsburg doctor, had been held back from the war by his doting parents until they no longer had a say in the matter.

“Nowhere. It’s just a graze,” John answered through chattering teeth. It was cold in the middle of October 1781, but it was the fear of his first battle—an infantry assault on the Number 10 British redoubt being led by Alexander Hamilton—that had him scared and moving as if under water.

That slight hesitating from getting through the abatis spared them the carnage of being in the first wave over the wall of the redoubt, and the fight was over soon after that, the victory Hamilton’s. The first there were told to hold the redoubt and the rest told to fall back into one of the two parallel trenches the revolutionaries had constructed during the one-month siege. John and Cal found themselves alone in a curve of the farthest trench from the redoubt, huddled together, pumped with adrenaline, but on the edge of the shock of the battle they both had just experienced.

“I thought I’d lost you,” Cal whispered to John, taking the young man’s mouth with his to stifle what the terror in John’s eyes might bring forth from his mouth. John responded with a moan. Cal, always the aggressor, albeit the receiver, rolled over on top of John and moved his hands among the folds of their clothing to unbutton here and there and to free them to affirm life and satisfy the arousal of have survived battle by moving into the act that had been pressed upon Cal in the past by the stable owner he had been apprenticed to and had more lovingly then been taught to a frightened and overwhelmed new recruit, John.

Positioning his buttocks over John’s crotch and continuing to cover the handsome dark man’s face with kisses of assurance, Cal took the first few inches of John inside him. Calmed, thrilled to be alive, and in deep need, John clutched Cal’s hips and aided in the rising and lowering of the blond beauty on his cock.

All along John had rationalized that it was just a reality of the demon nature of warfare and would be fleeting. He was betrothed—indeed had been promised for years—to the daughter of another Williamsburg physician, Susan. It was only because there were only men in the army and the conditions were frightful and put men on the edge that John had been coaxed down the path with Cal. After the war, it would all . . . but it hadn’t all changed. After Yorktown John returned to Williamsburg to begin his studies with George Wythe at the college. But Cal had come to Williamsburg as well, and worked in a saddlery. It hadn’t all changed at all. It had just become furtive until people started to talk. Then, the two married, Susan said she wanted them to move west to start life anew—going down a different path.

But Cal had been so sweet, his channel so satisfying, his kisses even better than Susan’s. John could try to salvage what he could by heading west, but he couldn’t forget Cal—lying under him once the war was past them, John finding confidence and greater mastery, Cal on all fours under him, with John mounted on his hips, penetrating the blond beauty deep, and pounding, pounding, pounding.

John woke up in a sweat, despite the chill in the air. The fire was burning low in the grate. The covers were off him in the bed, and his hand was under the hem of his nightshirt, gripping his engorged cock and squeezing and stroking it, as he done for himself so many nights since Susan had died. The evidence of what he was doing was covered by the material of his long nightshirt, but he was on his back, legs spread and bent, and the movement of the material at his crotch left little doubt that he had been masturbating himself in his sleep—in his dream of being with Cal.

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