Fiction: Illegitimate

After Kenyon’s missionary friends are openly hostile to William joining their mission to the new Indian reservation at San Carlos, William blanches at the idea of first traveling back to Fort Grant to request a military escort but he has no other options.

calvary officer and womanBy late day the team of missionaries and their hungover artist rolled up at Fort Grant’s entrance. William hung behind the others, but a guard spotted him.

“Sakes alive, it’s Bill Weldon. What’s he doin’ in among holy folk?” one asked another.

William kept his eyes to the ground with crimson cheeks as he walked along Officers’ Row.

“Willy? Willy!” came Thankful’s cry.

William tried his best to ignore the raven-haired beauty who ran after him. Thankful caught the heavily burdened men. “Oh, goodness, William Weldon, what’s happened to you?” Thankful exclaimed, grabbing his arm. “New clothes and all—and your hair! You look adorable!” she laughed.

“Thankful, it’s nothing really, I . . .”

Seth Kenyon and the other men tipped their hats.

“Hello, young lady. We’ve hired on your friend as our artist,” Kenyon said.

Thankful clapped her hands in amusement. “Did you make him cut his hair that way?”

Kenyon laughed.

“No, Thankful, it was Ginny,” William said.

Thankful’s face clouded and her mouth was grim.

“We’re missionaries, miss, to work among the Apaches at San Carlos,” Kenyon said.

Thankful kept her eyes on William. “I don’t understand, Willy—you’re going with them? It’s dangerous there.”

“Yes, I’m going for the money—that’s all—the money.”

Thankful turned to the missionaries. “Oh, I’ve prayed for so long that William would leave town—but the reservation, Mr. Kenyon? Do you think he’s fit for it?”

William winced. And Thankful saw it.

“By the way, gentlemen, my name is Thankful Crenshaw. I stay with Captain Markham’s family. If there’s anything I can do for you . . .”

The missionaries were suddenly all smiles. “Miss Crenshaw, you’re very kind. We’re off to headquarters . . .” Kenyon said. “But if you can keep Mr. Weldon out of trouble for a few minutes, I’d appreciate it,” he teased and slapped William’s back.

William didn’t want to go anywhere near the officers at headquarters but didn’t relish a conversation with Thankful either. The men deserted him.

Thankful laughed.

“I know that I’m ridiculous to you,” William mumbled, rubbing his close-cropped mane.

“Oh, no, William! Not at all. Was it only two days ago that you were drunk at the dance? And now you’re to become a missionary? It’s exciting and wonderful for you—though scary, but I’m glad that awful Miss Peckham had such an effect on you.”

“I’m not going to be a missionary, Thankful and Miss Peckham had no effect on me at all! And why do you have to mention my drinking all the time?” William grumbled.

Thankful sighed and tied her bonnet tighter. “Willy, I’m happy for you. I laughed because now with your hair you look so like you used to in Englewood—but appearances are deceiving, I suppose. You are the man the West has made you,” she said with bite.

“I’m glad I’m not the way I was in Englewood—a burden and a fool.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Willy.”

Two riders and their horses streaked past, circled and came up beside them. Miss Peckham and Fahy dismounted. “My God, Bill, you’ve been scalped!” Fahy laughed too heartily and Miss Peckham joined in. Fahy continued, “I wouldn’t have expected you to show yourself here for a while after what you did to poor Miss Peckham’s things.”

“Be quiet, Lieutenant Fahy,” Thankful scolded. “William has found work with the missionaries.”

“The missionaries? You must be joking,” Miss Peckham responded. “They must be desperate for recruits!”

“They seem nice,” Thankful said.

“Nice until you’re snared in, and they’ve taken over your life!” Miss Peckham replied.

“I won’t be snared,” William explained. “I’m just looking to be paid.”

“There’s the Bill Weldon we know and love,” joked Fahy.

“Well, all I can say is that I’d never want to be involved with religious types,” said Miss Peckham, “selling the ignorant tribes a false bill of goods in the form of ancient bedtime stories. They’re no better than the contractors skimming annuities.”

“The Indians deserve no better. Don’t you agree, Bill? Didn’t your uncle die at the hands of savages?” Fahy asked.

“Yes, I’m no fan of Indians,” William replied.

“The best thing to do is to not allow any more undesirables have children until everything is sorted out,” Miss Peckham said.

“When will the world be sorted out? Humanity is fallen . . .” Thankful began.

“Humanity is capable of much improvement,” Miss Peckham asserted. “I for one don’t plan to wait for divine intervention. We can, through science and understanding, create a wonderful society. No missionary I know of has been able to keep Indians from debauchery and still they multiply—like the Irish.”

“I’m Irish, you remember, Miss Peckham,” Fahy said, twirling his mustache between his fingers.

“You’re hardly the type I’m talking about—you have control. The swarms of illegitimate children back east are very troubling indeed,” Miss Peckham explained.

William caught a desperate look on Thankful’s face. “Thankful, I’m surprised to see you not out riding. Are you unwell?” he asked.

His question cut to the bone. William saw it and felt like a cad, but how could Thankful be so stupid to give herself to Fahy before marriage?

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