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Edward A. Stabler

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2013 Edward A. Stabler. All Rights Reserved.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

SWAINS LOCK is a work of fiction and its characters are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance of these characters to actual persons living or dead is unintended and coincidental.


For Martha, who made this book possible, and for those

who have walked the towpath or put their feet in the river.




Blood Pendant


Chapter 1 – Figure Eights

Chapter 2 – Discovery

Chapter 3 – Whites Ferry

Chapter 4 – Candles

Chapter 5 – Sightseeing

Chapter 6 – Books

Chapter 7 – Newspapers

Chapter 8 – Spanish Ballroom

Chapter 9 – Snowshoeing

Chapter 10 – High-Water Marks

Chapter 11 – White Mules

Chapter 12 – Falling

Chapter 13 – Fever


Chapter 14 – Locking Through

Chapter 15 – Paying for Ten

Chapter 16 – The Big Fish

Chapter 17 – Shadowmen

Chapter 18 – Cordwood

Chapter 19 – Silver and Gold

Chapter 20 – Sunset

Chapter 21 – Unwinding by Starlight

Chapter 22 – Swains Lock

Chapter 23 – Angling

Chapter 24 – Pennyfield Pages

Chapter 25 – Grave Dance

Chapter 26 – Paper Spear


Chapter 27 – Rising

Chapter 28 – The Level Trade

Chapter 29 – Edwards Ferry

Chapter 30 – Emmerts Lockhouse

Chapter 31 – Archives

Chapter 32 – One Red Leaf

Chapter 33 – Reeds

Chapter 34 – Sharpsburg

Chapter 35 – Pas de Deux

Chapter 36 – Joined Sycamores

Chapter 37 – Full Circle

Chapter 38 – Revisiting


Blood Pendant

Tuesday, May 3, 1831

The two men sat on sloping rocks shaded by a Bear Island hackberry tree. Sweat trickled down their backs and foreheads and their reddened hands were streaked with dirt. Five hours of work on a spring morning had raised a thigh-high stone wall that bisected a swampy drainage. The feeder was operating now, watering the C&O Canal down from Seneca, and the sixty-foot depth of Widewater across the towpath was slowly filling. When their half-built wall was finished, it would prevent this grafted vein of the canal from draining out across the island toward the Potomac River.

Glancing through slender trees toward the towpath, the man with curly hair noticed the girl when she was still forty paces away. He caught the other man’s attention with a low whistle. Screened by sunlit trunks, they could watch her approach without being seen. She wore a tan skirt that might have been buckskin and a long-sleeved blouse. Her hands and dark hair swung a gentle rhythm as she glided forward with feline grace. A grin widened on the face of the man with curly hair as he watched the girl.

“She moves like an animal, eh Richard?” He gathered a clot of saliva in his mouth and spat it out tersely between his feet. “Bet she fucks like one too.”

“Just one way to find out,” Richard said, stroking his red-gold mustache. He rocked forward to crouch in the shade on the balls of his feet.

“No sign of poppa today,” the man with curly hair whispered, grinning again.

“Probably sleeping off his whiskey back at the quarry,” Richard whispered back. “It’s lonely out here on the island today, Johnny.”

Johnny pushed himself away from the rock and crouched alongside Richard. The girl was only twenty feet away now and they could hear her singing softly to herself, the tune rising and falling as she passed. Richard stepped quietly to the towpath and Johnny followed. Their eyes met and they loped toward the girl. When she turned toward the crunch of footsteps, Richard’s arm encircled her neck. His hand clamped her mouth as Johnny lifted her legs to his waist. The girl shook her head and tried to scream but her voice and teeth were overpowered by Richard’s calloused hand.

Richard lowered her to horizontal, hand still across her mouth, and the gesture jerked open her top button, displacing the silk cord of a pendant necklace that lay against her dust-colored skin. She writhed and twisted as the men carried her back into the Bear Island woods. Past their half-built stone wall, a fish-shaped pond occupied the lap of the drainage. They carried the girl along a slope of brown grass toward the tail of the pond.

“I think we’re beyond earshot,” Richard said over his shoulder.

“Aye. We ain’t seen no one pass in hours anyway.”

Together the men dropped their arms to the ground. The girl tried to roll onto her stomach, screaming as her mouth came free, but Richard quickly muzzled her with one hand and pinned her arm with the other. He knelt facing Johnny, who pressed her ankles to the earth.

“Well now, Johnny,” he said with a smile. “You seem to have ended up in the favored position. I guess that means you get the first taste.” He looked down at the girl. Her gleaming hair was speckled now with dried grass and her dark eyes oscillated wildly under an emerging skin of tears. “You just relax and enjoy this now honey. Might be the only chance you get with two full-blooded white men.” She bit at the fingers of his hand, but they were tough and thick and he waggled them to avoid her teeth. When he looked up again, Johnny had already dropped his trousers and was yanking down his grimy undershorts, still pinning her thigh with one hand as she frantically tried to twist away. Johnny cradled his craning member and shuffled toward her on his knees.

“Here I come, darlin’,” he said, pawing at her underwear and smiling, “like a big old barge sliding into a tight little lock.” With his hands still pressed to the girl's mouth and elbow, Richard glanced down and saw that her eyes had dried. She was reaching inside the neck of her blouse and pulling something with her free hand.

“Hey, Johnny,” he said, looking up again. “I think she likes the look of your boat. Seems she fixin’ to open the gates for…” Before he could finish he saw a moving shape and a flash of white light, then felt a stabbing pain. His left eye closed reflexively as warmth flowed down his face and trickled onto his lips. Turning back toward the girl, with one eye he saw his own blood raining onto her face and neck. His occluded left eye was buried behind a red, throbbing field.

“God damn it!” he roared. “Fucking half-breed whore!” Johnny jerked back onto his knees in surprise. The girl stopped struggling momentarily and Richard saw a thin smile form on her lips. Her free hand was clenched around a reddish stone shaped like an elm leaf and stained a deeper red with his blood.

In one motion he grabbed a fistful of hair and stood up, yanking her to her feet. He pressed his wrapped fist to her scalp and dipped to sweep her legs off the ground. When she tried to scream, he pulled her hair until the tears resurfaced and her voice trailed off. The pond was a half-dozen paces away and he strode quickly toward it. Johnny had hoisted his suspenders and was shambling to catch up.



2011 - 2015

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