Following in the footsteps of a murdered artist, William is thrilled … and a little scared.
“Um, what happened to the other fellow—the last artist?” William asked.
“He was killed,” the missionary said his eyes welling with tears.
“Oh damn. I’m sorry,” William said. Maybe things would get dangerous. A sickening thrill ran up his spine. He had nothing to lose.
“None of us could bear to replace him for a long time, but none of us are Michelangelo either.”
“Neither am I!” William didn’t want to get their hopes up.
“You’ll be fine. It’s just . . . well, Ignatius . . . he was unbelievable. It was an incredible loss for us and really put my faith to the test. It’s easy to be bitter at times.”
“Yes, life can be a curse,” William said.
“Life is NEVER a curse! Ignatius is in a better place after all.”
William rolled his eyes.
“What?” Kenyon asked.
“It’s kind of childish to believe that, don’t you think? My sister died, and she’s just gone. That’s what I believe now,” William replied.
“No, I mean that’s the way it is,” William said.
“You know, some folks think they feel their loved ones after death.”
“Yeah, I had that as a kid, but it was just me wishing.” William missed Eliza as much as he always had. “If I ever have children, I want a girl.”
“Yes, it’s more than sad,” William replied. “We never talked about her much—my father did a little—the only thing he did right! I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I have to go now. You know where to find me if you still want me. Thanks again and good night and all.”
William raced across the street to The Buckskin and ordered a proper drink. Was he out of his mind? No, he would not go with a bunch of hypocritical, pompous missionaries.
So what if he was comfortable here in this squalor? He ignored the fact that if he didn’t come up with cash soon he’d be thrown from his room. After a few hours, blind drunk and cut off, William stumbled back to his home. His belongings were piled out front. “Shit,” he cursed as he tripped on something and made for the door to find it bolted shut. He pounded and shouted oaths, but no one listened.
And so morning came with William curled on the landing.
“William Weldon, wake up!”
He sat up pale and bleary-eyed, forgetting where he was. “Oh. Mr. Kenyon.”
William had nothing to say. Right now he didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but he made his way down to the little pile of his things.
Kenyon found William’s Bible.
“Oh, that,” William said as he stood up, stretched and scratched his matted hair. “It was my Uncle Simon’s—he’s gone now. Killed by Indians. You want it? I never look at it.”
“I would never take a family heirloom,” Kenyon said, handing it over. “Someday you may want to pass it down to your daughter. Was your uncle religious?”
“Land sakes, no! He was great!”
The missionary laughed. “William, tell me, do you often sleep under the stars?”
“No, never. I’ve been evicted from my lovely little home.”
“It’s perfect timing then. We need to have you sobered up before you meet the others. Come and eat,” Kenyon said.
“Others?” William looked past the missionary. “You eat a lot, don’t you? I’m not hungry.”
The missionary helped William gather his things, sifting through his new artist’s vermin-infested belongings in disgust. William struggled to stand straight.
“Mr. Kenyon, I guess I really don’t need any of this. Probably it won’t impress your friends to see that you’ve brought a vagabond.”
Kenyon looked relieved. “So you don’t want any of it?”
William pulled a threadbare shirt his mother had made from the pile. “Just this. I should bring at least a change of shirts.” He shoved it into his dirty haversack.
Kenyon cleared his throat.
“I have a few errands, Mr. Weldon.”
“Call me Bill if you want to,” William said with a quick glance before lighting a half smoked cigar.
Kenyon smiled at William’s tentative attempt at familiarity. “Anyway, you’re welcome to use my room to clean up. I’m staying at the brothel house over there.”
“I know, I know!” Kenyon said waving the laughter off. “During the day it’s so quiet and as respectable looking as any other place here. I got confused. Obviously I understood my error when night rolled round. There was a terrible scene with a poor girl disfigured by the pox and a drunkard,” Kenyon said.
“What happened?” William fished through his jacket, feeling for Thankful’s watch in his pocket.
“Nothing much in the end, thank God. I may not be young anymore, but I can stand against a drunk fairly well. I guess I’m hero of the whorehouse now—the perfect time to move on.” Kenyon said.
The missionary handed William the key and some money.
“What’s this for?”
“Consider it an advance, William—maybe you’d consider buying new clothes.” Kenyon tipped his hat and walked off to Matilda’s.
William turned toward the whorehouse not wanting to see Ginny. He cleared his throat and spit before slipping into the hotel and tiptoeing up the creaking stairs, almost turning left on the landing toward Ginny’s room by force of habit.
The key slid into the hole, but the door was jammed. William tried to jiggle it free quietly, but in the morning stillness his noises magnified. He heard Ginny’s door open, and groaned to himself. In the dim light, with her blonde hair hanging over her violet wrapper, Ginny almost looked pretty as she came to him. William felt broken-hearted. Why couldn’t he love her?
Ginny embraced him, running her fingers through his hair before whispering in his ear. “Billy, I’m terrible sorry about all I said.” She pushed him aside and opened Kenyon’s door. “Why are you going in this room?” she asked.
“Mr. Kenyon is a missionary and . . .”
Ginny laughed. “Oh yes, and I’m a nurse.”
“No, really he is and I’ve been hired on to work for him,” William said.
“By Alice?” Ginny asked. All work in this house came through Alice.
“No,” William replied. “No, I’m washing up, and then I’ll go meet his associates.”
“Associates? Where? Down the hall?” she laughed. “Billy, you still don’t know the way of the world yet, do you?”
William scratched his rib with a sigh. “Maybe you’re right. A missionary staying here? I guess I wanted to believe . . .”
Ginny pulled him into the room and kissed him. “Poor Billy, come sit beside me.”
“No, he’ll be back soon.”
She ran her hand over his unshaven face. “Let me take care of you. You need more than a good washing, but a shave and a haircut too.”
“No, Ginny, I don’t deserve your help.”
She went over to Kenyon’s small bag and found a pair of scissors. She turned back to him, her wrapper loose and her one arm still in its sling. As she snipped the long, gold locks, William grabbed her around the waist. Ginny was so soft and familiar, and he was afraid of everything else.
Ginny clipped away months of unclean living. Her robe slipped off, and she straddled him. “See how much I love you?”
William wasn’t sure how any of this was love. After a big night of drinks he always longed for sex, but remembered Ginny’s words about his performance and made no moves on her. He pulled the money from his pocket. “You can have it, Ginny. I owe you.”
Ginny tucked the money into her corset. Just then there was a knock at the door.
“William Weldon, it’s me,” called Kenyon.
When William didn’t respond, Kenyon opened the door to find Ginny moving off William. She greeted Kenyon casually. “Mr. Kenyon, I wanted to thank you again fer getting me out of a pickle the other night.”
“By having intercourse with this young man? I don’t see the connection,” Kenyon responded. “William, I wouldn’t have expected you to take advantage of my generosity.”
“How do I know that you aren’t taking advantage of me?” William asked, his shoulders covered with tufts of hair.
The missionary asked Ginny to leave but with amused eyes. Kenyon picked up a few books and his writing implements, tucking them into a suitcase before latching it shut. He looked William over. “Land sakes, what did you let that girl do to you?” He laughed, shaking his head. “Clean up all that hair before some story gets out that I perform strange rituals.”
“Do you?” William asked.
“Mr. Weldon, in what way could I possibly take advantage of you? As you said yourself, you have nothing.” Kenyon laughed again.
William’s face went red. “It’s just that Ginny—well—she guessed that you were up to no good—after all—this is a brothel.”
“I explained that. I never said I was particularly observant,” Kenyon said. He checked his watch. “The others should be here this morning. I’m going to wait for them outside the church.” He grabbed his bags and walked out.
William continued to pick his hair off the ratty blankets on the bed.
“Mr. Weldon, are you coming or not?”
William jumped up, tripping on the leg of the bed. “Oh, I didn’t think you’d still want me to . . .”
“When I’ve had enough of you, I’ll let you know,” Kenyon joked, but saw that the bone-thin William didn’t like it. “Let’s get you some clothes, son.”
William went white. “I-I lost the money.”
“In forty-five minutes? How?”
William scratched his sunburned, dry scalp and loose hair fell like a spring shower. He looked at his shoes. “Sir, I’m afraid I lied. I gave the money to Ginny.”
“You couldn’t control yourself long enough to forgo fornication for clothes?” Kenyon asked.
“No, it’s not that. I owed her—she’s been my friend and good to me—mostly.”
Kenyon rolled his eyes. “So you saved nothing for yourself.”
William shook his head and chanced a glance at Kenyon.
“William Weldon, you’d make a fine missionary then.” He joked but grew more serious. “Son, I don’t ever abide by liars or thieves. It’s troubling that your first impulse was to lie.”
“I’m not a liar.”
“I don’t believe that you want to be, William, and this is only a friendly, but serious, warning. If I find you in a lie, I will cut you loose right quick. Out in dangerous territory all of us must be able to rely upon each other in word and deed.”
William wanted adventure and could not stay in town any longer, but didn’t for a second believe the missionary could be relied on. He tried to hide his unbelief, but Kenyon saw it and made another mental note. He wondered if William might be tougher than the Indians to win over.
“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”