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The Rider by Ruth (oct31challenge) - Not a rock, I'm just Ruth
All Me, no apologies
just_ruth
just_ruth
The Rider by Ruth (oct31challenge)
The Rider
by Ruth
(word count: 2040)

_Whenever the moon and the stars are set
Whenever the wind is high
All night long in the dark and the wet
A man goes riding by
Late in the night when the fires are out
Why does he gallop and gallop about?_

– “Windy Nights” _ A Child’s Garden of Verses_
Robert Louis Stevenson


I used to hear him as I lay in my trundle bed. I would hear my brothers breathing deep in sleep and the faint drumming, drumming of hoof beats outside on the road. I was the youngest; James and David were years older. There had been two stillbirths and my sister Audra between them and I, so I was always trailing behind or left to myself. I was the youngest, so I do not remember the city or the fine house or father’s disgrace that sent us out into the country. Mother never forgot. We were not to play with the other boys who worked on the farm with their parents. We were not to dabble in the stream or dig in the garden or tumble in the hay of the stable. We did anyway and took our punishments for it.

I must have been about seven when I woke up and heard the hoof beats again. It had been a bad day for me. The cousins had come for a visit and I was supposed to entertain cousin Daphne, who was my age. She had fallen into the stream when I was showing her the big turtle. I had been caned by Father and sent to bed without supper. Unable to sleep, this time I went to the window to look out over the road that went past the door of the farm.

It was a man in a long, old-fashioned cloak that flowed around him. He rode a black steed past the house and down the road at a gallop.

I ran into the bed room my brothers shared and I woke James to tell him about the rider. “You’re just dreaming, go back to sleep!” he said crossly.

I did as he said. The next morning, he told our parents about it over breakfast. I saw Mother’s maid and the housekeeper exchange an anxious look.

“What absolute nonsense!”” said Mother. “James,” she turned to our father, “say something to your son!”

“There is no rider,” said Father in the dull voice he had developed since we left the city.

But Mother took steps to stop the "nonsense" as she called it, she switched James and David's bedroom to the smaller room I had been sleeping in and gave me the larger room. The next night, I heard the hoof beats and went into my old bedroom to look out the window once more.
David woke up and boxed my ears. I screamed loudly enough for Mother and Father to hear. Mother was angry and dragging me down the hallway, made me sleep in the back bedroom, with the thick, gloomy draped bed and heavy, ugly hand-hewn furniture that had been in the main rooms of the house when we moved in. Mother had it all moved into the big upstairs room that faced the kitchen garden and the old stables.

There was a portrait in the room over the massive slate fireplace. It was of a young man with long dark hair and a merry smile. He wore a ruffled shirt and a big hat with a feather. He looked interesting and I fell asleep on the settee wondering about him. I dreamed of him striding in hip-high black boots through the woods by the stream with me, asking about the big turtle and agreeing that it was almost as big as a carriage wheel.

I asked who the man in the portrait was the next day.

“He was a bad boy who made up silly stories,” said Mother crossly.

“A Great-grand uncle or something,” said Father. “Called Rupert, I think.”

I was upstairs in the nursery waiting for Mother to come and give me my lessons because I was not old enough to be with James and David and their tutor and Audra’s governess was only for girls. Mother was downstairs worrying about the bills while Father sat and stared out over the landscape. The maids were outside in the hall and I heard them talking.

“The youngest has said he hears the Cavalier ride by,” said one. “Heaven save him!”

Who’s the Cavalier?” asked the other.

“Ah, now, there’s a tale. The laird’s father had an elder brother who was as wild as a wolf. He was always taking risks and dares on horseback. One midsummer night, they say he got out on the moor and rode with the Wild Hunt itself. How else did he get a horse as black as ink, as savage as death and as fast as the wind itself?”

“He rode out one dark and rainy night and never came back. ‘Tis said he rides by every night, trying to find . . .”

“What is this?” Mother thundered. “Get back to your work! Stop talking this nonsense or you will find yourself looking for a new position. Get out!”

She stormed into the room, glaring at me. I did not dare say anything.

“You will never talk about galloping horses or ghosts again!” she ordered.

I did not, but sometimes I would go into the extra room and look up at the picture; I formed a fancy that the man in the portrait was Great-grand uncle or something Rupert, the Cavalier. I liked the idea that he was fierce and brave enough to ride with the Wild Hunt. Some nights I would dream of riding away with him over hill and dale to far off lands.

The years piled up quickly. James and David were sent to university. Audra was sent off to live with Mother’s relatives in hopes of her landing someone of consequence. Father did not so much die as fade away. Mother still fussed and worried about the bills.

The cousins continued to visit and I was still expected to entertain Daphne. She didn’t like the country. I took her to the high moor when we were about fifteen. It was a wild lonely place, where the wind blew with strange noises around the old standing stones that had been placed in a ragged circle. The staff, all local folk, called them “the Huntsmen.”

“What a dreadful place,” Daphne said.

“I like it.” The clouds were starting to gather and to my fancy they seemed to be men on horseback gathering for a hunt.

“I could never live here,” she said.

“Then I shall not ask you to,” I retorted. She went a little white around the lips and turned and marched back down the hill. I went to accompany her but she screeched at me to “go away!”
I returned to the moor.

I heard a whinny from the stone circle. A horse circled restlessly, trailing a rough rope around her neck. She was slim legged, with a graceful head. She was the color of thundercloud and mist. I caught the rope and brought her back to the farm.

Mother was angry with me, but she never said why. Daphne never visited again. We posted notices over the countryside to try to find the owner of the grey mare, but no one came forward.

I named her Diana. She was swift and sure-footed. I rode all around the farm and the area. Everyone knew me. I was happy for the next three years.

On my eighteenth birthday, Mother had a few too many glasses of Madeira and I learned how she worried about me.

“I wish you had more ambition,” she mourned. “You don’t want to go to the city; you don’t want to go to university. . .”

“Can’t I be happy here, Mother?” I asked. “I grew up here and I’m doing well with the management of the farm. The people like me. . .”

“Yes, but there’s no one here who’s suitable for a marriage!” she wailed. “You need someone of proper breeding. I don’t know why you couldn’t get along with Daphne.”

I looked away. How could I tell her that I was . . . different? I looked at the fresh-faced village girls and felt nothing at all. My heart stirred when I saw their brothers coming bronzed and sweaty from the fields. I had read of such things in books: Achilles and Patroclus, Alexander and Hephaestion, King Richard the Lionheart and Blondell . . .

I simply shrugged. “James and David are marrying soon and Audra will have your first grandchild before Christmas, I don’t see why I need to be married right now.”

“I worry about you, dear, “ There was something odd in her voice.

“Mother?”

“You used to hear someone riding by when you were younger,” she traced a pattern on the table with her finger. “The local villagers call it the Cavalier. They think he’s your grandfather’s elder brother; Rupert.” Her mouth pressed to a thin, twisted line, like when she’d accidently squeezed too much lemon into her tea. “Rupert was. . . a deviant. He didn’t find women attractive. It was a scandalous aberration. He rode out one night on one of his liaisons and never came back.” She looked at me, her expression still distasteful. “Your grandfather said he thought Rupert’s horse threw him - or his “lover” killed him in a fit of passion. The country people would have simply buried him without ceremony.”

“Mother, those “country people” as you call them would have certainly told grandfather what happened to his brother. Besides, I have no one to “liaison” with as you say,” I didn’t mean to sound bitter, but she flinched at my tone. “I will meet the right girl when it’s time, Mother.”

“Yes, of course,” she poured herself more wine.

“Mother?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“Yes, dear?”

“Is the portrait in the spare room Rupert?” I asked.

“So your father said,” she frowned, “why?”

I told her of my childish fancy that he sometimes visited my dreams. She became more worried than before and took to hounding me about my rides on the farm and the moor. Fortunately, three months after my birthday, Audra wrote and asked Mother to come and stay with her until her baby was born. I was alone in the house.

I soon heard the hoof beats riding by at night. Four months after her leaving, Mother wrote me to say Audra had given birth to a fine son, didn’t I want to come and see them? She also wrote that Audra’s sister-in-law was about my age. Her fiancé had died in the army and she was a lovely woman.

I had just written a letter to James, who had married again after his first wife died in childbirth and suggested he and his new bride come to the farm and bring the children. He wrote back that it was a fine idea and suggested I might want to visit David at the university. I sat with the letters in my hand. Clearly, no one wanted me to stay where I was.

Did I want to stay where I was? Did I want to stay here, alone and lonely?
The rain had begun and the wind moaned in the old chimney. I stood at the window. I could see him coming; a roil of mist taking form.

I thought of my old dreams. In a moment of madness, I grabbed my cloak and ran into the rain. I heard one of the maids shriek and saw someone light a lamp at the corner of my eye.

“Rupert!” I shouted.

He drew rein, the black horse reared and pawed. “Who are you, lad?”

“I’m Alan - take me with you.”

“Are you sure lad?”

“I’ve dreamed of you since I was small. Yes, yes please!”

He looked down at me and gave that marvelous, mischievous smile from the portrait in the spare room.

“Come then!” he held out his hand. We rode double to the stables where I saddled Diana. She was considered old for a horse, but age seemed to drop from her and she gleamed like mist and silver once more. I saw the stable boys staring at me as I swung into the saddle.

*******

“Mummy, who are they?”

“The one is your great-uncle Rupert and the other is your uncle Alan.”

“What happened to them?”

“No one knows, they rode away in the night and never came back. The villagers think they rode off and joined the Wild Hunt. That’s why you must never, never ride alone and never, never ride at night.”

“I won’t, Mummy,” the little boy stared up at the portraits in the spare room with wide and fascinated eyes.

-fin-

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Comments
thom413 From: thom413 Date: October 31st, 2006 01:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved this - very Gothic and Austenesque. A great Halloween treat!
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: November 1st, 2006 12:35 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! Jane Austin and I have had a love/hate relationship since eighth grade English. Her books are boring, but she films very well.
alena_yuy From: alena_yuy Date: October 31st, 2006 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Like I said before, very nice. I love it.
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: November 1st, 2006 12:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! And thank you for beta'ing it.
alena_yuy From: alena_yuy Date: November 1st, 2006 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
No problem. It's fun reading stuff in its raw form.
windsorblue From: windsorblue Date: October 31st, 2006 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is marvelous - I like the atmosphere and feel of it.
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: November 1st, 2006 12:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.
From: baikautsugi Date: November 1st, 2006 04:17 am (UTC) (Link)
What an interesting read! Thanks for posting it.
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: November 1st, 2006 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're welcome! I'm glad you liked it.
9 comments or Leave a comment