His shoulders burned with every heave.
“That 'fer yer lyin' ways!”
“No more cheatin' on me neither, ye witch!”
Stopping, Fergus mopped his brow with the tail of his denim shirt. The sun was just up over the eastern horizon and heat waves were already rising from the wet Kentucky clay.
He looked down with some satisfaction at his work.
Brushing long strands of brown hair from his eyes with the back of his hand, he returned to the task.
“Still, Mandy....” he moaned softly.
Another lift and his arms came down hard. Another chunk of dirt removed.
For the next hour Fergus attended to the task.
The sun was well up in the sky when he wiped his hands. He sank down beside the mound of earth.
“Why, me girl, why?” he whispered. “All I wanted, thought ye wanted too, was a home, a hearth, an' some little ones, an' jus' to grow ole' together.”
Anger welled up again as the last few days danced unrelenting before his eyes.
First, was the revelation. Something his friend Shaughnessy let slip while they were sharing a pint of ale.
Then, the confrontation. Of course, she denied everything. He'd stormed out in a rage.
Walking hillsides under the moonlight, he'd wept. Not for his bride; for his own broken dreams.
Hours later he returned to the house having cried himself out and with a plan firmly in mind.
However, Mandy was gone, as was the roan mare he'd made a present of when he married her.
Deep scars from racing hooves gave him the direction on the road. Slowly under the full moon, he tracked her progress, swinging the hatchet he'd retrieved from the barn.
The silver light on the blue grass rippled in an east wind. The beauty, once loved by him and his lady went unnoticed by his focused mind.
There it was; the earth was flattened and tree limbs lay snapped where the mare had turned off the path. His fury intensifying he followed with determination.
In a small glen, he found them: his lady and her lover.
Seeing him, they leaped to their feet.
“Now Ferg, don' do nothin' faye,” stammered Shaughnessy, moving to protect her.
“Ain' doin' nothin' faye ain' been done me a'ready” returned the husband. “Righ' here!” He clapped his free hand to his chest, as he continued toward them.
The mare startled as he raised the hatchet high in the air.
The woman had run toward her, grabbing the reins as her lover raised his arms to fend off the attack.
The roan raced away, Mandy's wrist caught in the reins.
Out of the corner of bloodshot eyes, the young husband saw his bride being dragged and took off running after them, as Shaughnessy got to his feet and fled for the road and distant parts.
Tree branches slowed the progress of the horse, so Fergus was able to catch up. Hefting the hatchet he brought it down on the trailing leather, cutting it cleanly between mare and maid. The mare, thus freed, continued into the wood.
He dropped to the ground beside his bride's unconscious body.
“My love, I was fer' to kill ye', and this mare may ha' done it fer me.” Turning her gently on her back and bending, he put his ear to her breast: a faint heartbeat.
Lifting her carefully, he started toward the road, retracing his earlier steps, all fury wiped from his consciousness with only the prayer that she might live.
“Lor' fergive me,” he murmured, over and over.
Looking back once, he discerned in the waning moonlight a trail of blood; the life in his arms ebbing slowly away.
“No, Mandy, no,” he crooned, bending his head to kiss her precious cheek.
“One mor' chance, Lor,” he prayed. “Jes one more.”
A branch had caught a bit of the fleeing man's shirt. It hung red before him as a reminder.
His fury came on him and he almost dropped the woman.
“Why, me girl, why? Was I no good fer ye?”
Once more, having reached the road, he laid her on the soft ground at its edge. Checking for a pulse, he found his care of her was ended.
Rising, he picked up a rock and flung it against a tree.
Hours later, sitting by her fresh grave, he murmured, “Now, Mandy, ye've found yer peace...but I...I no.”
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