Fiction: A Secret Meeting

 

“Thankful’s been very melancholy lately—homesick, I bet,” Mrs. Markham thought out loud after Thankful excused herself.

William glared at Lieutenant Fahy, who sipped his drink and ran his fingers over a fine crystal vase on the whatnot in the corner.

“I don’t think it helps much that dear Lieutenant Fahy is so eager to leave Thankful behind,” Miss Peckham commented in mock concern. “Women need to learn how to be more independent.”

“Thankful has always known that in my line of work . . .” Fahy began.

“Oh, young man, you don’t understand the fairer sex at all,” Mrs. Markham noted.

“Well, of course I want experience in the field. With all the troubles on now, I fear they’ll be over and still I’ll be on quartermaster duty,” Fahy explained, and the men understood him.

The night ended quietly. William was puffed up over his successful drawing, and the missionaries were excited for the new chapter of their journey. Fahy took leave early to pack his things and to write one of the flowery letters his fiancée loved to receive.

William couldn’t sleep. He wanted to join in with the enlisted men who drank behind the corral and so took a stroll in the shadows near the Markham house, hoping the memory of the day or a glimpse of Thankful might distract him. Instead Miss Peckham. grabbed William’s arm and made him follow her behind the lean-to off the adjacent officer’s quarters.

“Bill, won’t you help me?”

“How?”

“I think my bones are as dry as sand living here. It’s sickly sweet on the surface, but I see through it all! The women are idiotic and the men are perfect martinets. If I don’t get out in the field soon, I’ll die!”

“Then go . . .” William said.

“No, I want to come with you to San Carlos,” Miss Peckham said, tugging William’s shirt. “I bet I can do a wonderful story for the journals back east.”

“Well, I’m not in charge so . . .”

“I think you could convince that Kenyon.”

“No, Miss Peckham. I need to look out for myself.”

“You must realize I’ll be sorry to see you go,” Miss Peckham whispered.

“What?” William laughed.

“I was really angry the other day, but you’re so talented and, well, maybe we could work together on a project.” Miss Peckham leaned in to kiss him.

William pulled back. “Miss Peckham, you must believe I’m as thick as Fahy tells you! You don’t give a damn about me—you said so yourself when I had nothing you needed. I’d never want you either,” William said taking a step away from her.

“Bill Weldon, you may as well know that the apple of your eye—dear sweet little Thankful Crenshaw–is in the family way.”

William turned back so fast he nearly fell. “That’s none of your concern! And why say it with such glee?”

“She always plays so innocent—it sickens me!” Miss Peckham said. “Some Christian she is!”

“You hate Thankful because she has something you lack—a heart,” William replied.

“Oh, that’s such a sentimental notion—stop before I swoon,” Miss Peckham said. “Thankful is foolish and has no control. I’ve been so tempted to let Mrs. Markham in on the little secret—that woman hasn’t a brain in her head—and she’s responsible for a whole pile of children!”

“You had better not tell anyone!” William warned her, shaking her by the arm.

“Please, Bill, don’t play the chivalrous hero. It’s almost too comical. Let go of me now. Sleep on my idea. I want to come along.”

“Mr. Kenyon doesn’t like you. I don’t see how I can sway him,” William said.

The screen door on the Markhams’ porch slammed. “Miss Peckham, are you out there in the yard? I hope you’re not smoking again,” Mrs. Markham called in her motherly voice.

“Oh damn, will she ever leave me be?” Miss Peckham asked and walked off, leaving William to himself.

***Featured Image: Portrait of Alice Regnault by Giovanni Boldini

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