Fiction: Rough Riding

After getting nowhere with his prostitute friend, William agrees to escort Miss Peckham, the women’s rights crusader, to Fort Grant.

Evening call rang out and the musicians at the bandstand halted their concert as they did each day with a melancholy little tune to send the children, their caretakers and the soldiers to their quarters. After a day’s work in the heat, repairing roofs, training horses and cleaning the grounds the men looked forward to their evening meal, smoking and a game of bluff.

Thankful, pushing Mrs. Markham’s youngest two children in their stroller, made her way up the straight even path along officers’ row in a hurry, excited for the midweek hop tonight. Fahy had the evening off after many nights on the guard. Thankful knew he envied the small detachment of soldiers sent to investigate a government supply depot robbed—most likely by roughs fired from the rail company. It was a waste of the army’s time and resources as the thieves would be long since gone and the settlers never told their whereabouts. Most hated the government’s enforcers as much as they disliked the Indians and horse thieves, but Fahy longed for action.

“Evening, Miss Crenshaw!” a soldier said.

“Evening back, boys,” she replied with a grin to Lieutenants Olney and Davenport, smoking in their front yard.

“Won’t you stay for a small chat, miss? You’ve been neglecting us of late,” Davenport teased.

“She’s got wedding plans more important than old friends, I’m afraid,” Olney added, rambling up to the fence with treats for the children.

“No sweets for them, sir,” Thankful warned. “Mrs. Markham’ll be sore.”

“She shouldn’t have hired you then, Miss Crenshaw.”

“Oh, go on. You’re such a flirt, lieutenant.” Thankful laughed and lingered a second at the gate as Olney handed the toddlers the forbidden candy. Thankful shook her head and glanced up the parade grounds, hoping to catch sight of Fahy.

“Miss Crenshaw, he won’t be back yet—there was a small riot between a few of the privates cleaning the sinks. Fahy was still finishing his reports at the guardhouse—sit with us,” Davenport said.

Thankful giggled. “I never know if you lie or not, but tonight I’m in a big hurry—I’ll see you both at the hop, won’t I?”

“Course you will—though you had better not be so rude to dance only with your fiancé. It’s bad form. Mrs. Markham would have told you that by now, I think.”

Thankful blushed. “I’ve been warned—again and again—and I do have a bully time with you—but, well, Mr. Fahy—there’s no one so darned perfect as him.”

“Well, now you’ve gone and hurt our feelings, Miss Crenshaw,” Davenport laughed. “There’s never enough girls here and you hold out on us—that’s heartless and you know it!”

“I’ve never felt so in demand. I’m afraid you spoil me too much. I promise I’ll be better to you boys tonight,” she said pushing the stroller.

A crazed horse flew in past the guards. Thankful quickened her pace to the safety of the Markham house, but kept her eye on the action. She gasped as William shot his pony over the gate too. Thankful ran onto the parade grounds, leaving the children deserted under a cottonwood.

Fahy, with hands on hips, appeared from the guardhouse at the sound of alarm and watched as the crazed horse Miss Peckham flew in on raced by on the parade.

William dug his spurs into his poor little horse pushing it up on the sleeker, taller animal carrying Miss Peckham. He leaned hard into his stirrup, grabbed his horse’s mane with his left hand and took the bridle of the mad horse, distracting it just enough to slow it slightly.

The new cavalrymen learning the ropes shook their heads in admiration, yet despaired at ever riding like that. William, so clumsy on his feet, fleetly lunged at Miss Peckham’s horse, leaving Sophie in the dust. Miss Peckham clung to the horn of her saddle until William’s weight, at the animal’s neck, pulled it into submission with a sudden jerk which threw Miss Peckham off balance and to the ground. William gave one good hard pull on the reins, and slid off the foaming, wild-eyed horse, as the entire garrison watched.

The sunbaked children of the place cheered and rushed up around William, red faced and angry at having entered the fort in such an undignified way. Miss Peckham, on her feet and unhurt, dusted herself off as Fahy, Davenport and Olney, among others, ran up to her. Thankful hung back after taking hold of William’s horse.

“What’s the meaning of this, Weldon?” Fahy demanded. “You could have been shot. With the Apache back on the loose we’re expecting anything.”

“I didn’t mean for it to happen,” William began out of breath. He glanced at Thankful and wiped the sweat and dust from his face with his sleeve.

“What was your intention then, Bill? You could have killed the children on the parade playing,” Fahy lectured.

Miss Peckham came forward, took Fahy’s hand and shook it. The officer was taken aback. “Sir, I accept some responsibility. Everyone is over-reacting—but I’ve heard that about the army. I admit I was showing off on the road. Mr. Weldon thought I’d lost control and foolishly—though I appreciate the gesture—tried to slow my horse, only to send him faster over the gate. If let alone, I wouldn’t have made such an entrance.”

William’s face burned. Miss Peckham’s horse had endured a hard ride full of mixed signals and vexing shouts. William had tried his best to convince his new acquaintance of the horse’s strained patience, but she assured him she knew how to ride and did not appreciate his superior attitude.

A small, waterless streambed with shiny stone was all the excuse necessary for the horse to bolt. As the notes from the final melody of the army band floated out, the horse doubled and trebled its speed, much to William’s horror.

William understood the danger and disrespect shown to the guards when he ignored their calls and threats, but his mind had been on Miss Peckham’s life. And here she was, in front of the entire garrison and Thankful, showing him up.

“Hey, if that isn’t Misty,” Davenport said as he stepped forward to investigate the now quiet horse. “Yes, there’s the army brand—a bad job of disfiguring it someone’s done.”

“Does this animal belong to you, sir?” Miss Peckham demanded to know.

Davenport laughed.

“Miss, this critter belongs to the captain’s wife. The government says we needn’t post guards over the wives’ horses and see what happens? She was stolen some months back—maybe we should take you to the guardhouse.”

Fahy spoke with authority. “And where did you get this horse? Did Mr. Weldon, here, find it for you?”

“I found it for myself—we women can do those things, you know.”

“I see riding is another matter . . .” Fahy said under his breath.

Thankful came over now with William’s horse. “Here, William. That was a brave thing you did—whether your friend likes to say so or not.”

The entire garrison knew that William wore the feather for Thankful Crenshaw and that Lieutenant Fahy resented this childhood friend of his fiancée’s.

Miss Peckham, crossing her arms, looked around with a slightly veiled sneer and sighed, her eyes landing on Lieutenant Fahy. “I don’t know who you are . . .”

“Fahy, Lieutenant Fahy, miss.”

“Yes, well I’ve come to see my uncle’s friend—a Captain Markham—do you know him?” Miss Peckham asked.

“Of course I know him,” Fahy stated.

The enlisted men gawked at her as she lit a cigarette.

“I’m Miss Gertrude Peckham. I may as well introduce myself as I see manners west of the Mississippi are sadly lacking.”

“Pardon me, Miss Peckham. The excitement of your unusual entrance set things off wrong. This is my fiancée Miss Thankful Crenshaw,” Fahy said.

“Thankful? What a positively interesting name!”

Thankful with raised brows replied coolly, “And yours—I’ll say a prayer that you’ll be married soon.”

Miss Peckham smiled, with an indifferent nod. “I don’t believe in prayers or marriage, Miss Thankful Crenshaw.”

The gliding form of Mrs. Markham, coming to rescue her toddlers from wet diapers and too much sun, distracted Thankful. “Now my fish are fried,” she said, waving meekly to her employer.

Fahy sent Thankful a silent look of reproach over the abandoned babies and the unladylike comments directed at Miss Peckham. Thankful stuck out her tongue, and he softened.

William looked toward the gate—the only break in the pink desert landscape. He jumped on his horse and was about to say a last word when the poor old mare stumbled and collapsed beneath him. The small but pleasant pony had depended upon his kind and good judgment. William missed the hat he’d lost somewhere on the trip out.

Fahy sighed. “Sorry, old fellow. What would you have us do with her?”

William cleared his throat. “I don’t care.”

“How will you get back to town now, Willy?” Thankful asked.

“I’ll walk,” he said. Only a week ago two miners were killed on the road at dark not five miles away. William remembered his gun—left in his room. The day had started out with only the idea of a visit to Ginny.

“Weldon, don’t be a fool. You can’t walk it with that leg of yours,” Fahy said.

Miss Peckham pulled her jacket straight. “Oh, Mr. Weldon, you can take the coach, can’t you? If it’s about the money . . .”

“No, Miss Peckham.” William had forgotten their deal.

“We never did settle on a price, Mr. Weldon—how much do I owe you?”

William squirmed.  “No, I really don’t want any money, miss.”

“I insist. You said you were broke, and I said I’d pay you. A deal is a deal.”

William glanced at Thankful. “No, miss, there was no deal . . .”

“You offered to bring me out for a price—so what will you charge?”

Fahy laughed in disgust. “A new line of work for you, Bill?”

“Not quite, Fahy. It was foolish banter—not meant to be taken seriously,” William lied. He needed the money now more than ever to put toward a new horse.

Miss Peckham took coins from her bag. “Go on now, take your pay. This is as much as the coach would have charged, I suspect.” Everybody noted that she held out less than the going rate. “I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to leave such a showman as you behind,” she teased.

“Willy saved your life, Miss Peckham—for all the garrison to see!” Thankful said. “You’re a terrible rider!”

“Thankful, this is no way to behave,” Fahy lectured. “Bill Weldon is capable of defending himself if need be. The problem is how to send him off. The coach won’t chance a ride out after dark these days.”

Mrs. Markham walked up full of curiosity. “Good day to you. Lieutenant Fahy, off early from guard duty?” While the captain was away she took an active motherly interest in his men.

Fahy touched his hat. “Don’t worry, ma’am, I’m just here about this stolen animal—does he look familiar?”

Mrs. Markham had been more interested in the strange lady than the animal. “My! That’s Misty! Poor thing!” She touched the horse, and it whinnied and nuzzled her.

“He is a very impulsive animal, ma’am,” Miss Peckham noted.

“Really? I’ve never had anything but the quietest rides with him,” Mrs. Markham replied.

“But, Mrs. Markham, you’re an excellent rider,” Thankful said.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

***Image courtesy Columbia.edu

 

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