Fiction: Letting the Cat out of the Bag

 

William, Lieutenant Fahy and the missionaries head for the San Carlos Indian Reservation but are surprised by a cat.

“Hey there, Bill. Are you holding up all right?” Fahy asked every so often as he trotted by on his sturdy mount.

William had long since stopped answering. Determined not to fall out before the skeptical missionaries in the heat, William needed every bit of strength and concentration. Out of the army and into this pointless endeavor. What had he been thinking? Kenyon on the move was hardly friendly—all business and chat with the sneering religious men William already hated.

As much as his body ached, William dreaded stopping as the sun rose overhead. What would he do for small talk? What if his sketches didn’t please Kenyon? Finally the old yet surprisingly fit missionaries called a halt for noon dinner.

“So Bill, how’s the leg?” Fahy asked again after tying his horse to the rickety old army ambulance carrying supplies.

“My leg is FINE!” William said. “It’s my head that aches listening to you!”

“Suffering the after effects of the bottle you traded for at the sutler’s this morning?” Fahy asked, patting the rump of his horse.

The missionaries turned to Kenyon who waved off their concerns. “Mr. Weldon knows our agreement and will stick to it.”

The men eyed William suspiciously.

“Oh, will you lighten up, Bill,” Fahy moaned. “I’ve got a surprise for you all.” He went to the back of one of the wagons and helped Miss Peckham climb out.

She grinned. “Boys, you shouldn’t stare—it’s rude.”

“Why, Miss Peckham! And in men’s duds! Kenyon, did you know about this too?” asked a missionary.

“No! I’d never have a girl along!”

“Dear Mr. Kenyon, I’m a full-grown woman!”

“A mature lady would not put in jeopardy the work of men!” Kenyon said. “Fahy, why on earth have you done this?”

“Oh, what’s the bloody harm in it? Miss Peckham wants to study Indians and we’re going the same way. What sort of gentleman would I be if I let her set out on her own?”

“I won’t be a speck of a nuisance, I promise,” Miss Peckham said, pulling a cowhand hat over her eyes. “I have my own gun and can take care of myself.”

“Then why on earth come with us?” Kenyon asked.

“Connections, of course. If I come with military and missions men—not to mention a friend of Captain Bourke’s—who would dare deny me at San Carlos?”

“Well now, everyone, don’t be such humbugs,” Fahy said. “I’ll take her back with me once you’ve settled in. After all, the Indians might enjoy someone like Miss Peckham—she may be of use to us.”

“Does Thankful know?” William asked.

“No, and why should she?” Fahy replied. “She’s the type to squeal—I was saving her from any discomfort . . .”

“Yes, I think she’d be uncomfortable,” William said.

“Weldon, mind your own damned business—go get drunk or something.”

“Men, stop bickering. I’ve a headache already,” Miss Peckham said. “And Bill, not to worry. I’m along for business, not pleasure. As handsome as the lieutenant is I have no interest in him in that way.”

“Well, I guess we can all rest easy and have something to eat,” said Kenyon, throwing the tin plates and utensils on an old army blanket.

The missionaries passed around canned meat and said grace with heads bowed as Peckham and Fahy exchanged amused glances.

William’s blood boiled. “What’s so damned funny?” he asked.

Kenyon and his missionaries glared at the three young people.

“Oh, Bill, give us a rest. My apologies, Kenyon, but I’m not one for grace— I’monly here as escort,” Fahy said.

“Mr. Weldon, dear, it’s sweet to see you so changed and defending your employer, but it’s childish to create a scene. Have you been sneaking spirits?” Miss Peckham asked.

“No. But you shouldn’t look down on everyone.”

“Bill, you’re such a simple man. It warms my heart. For your sake I will try to do better,” Fahy said.

William stood too quickly and almost fell over the picnic blanket. Peckham and Fahy tittered as he walked off.

“What people laugh at a cripple?” Kenyon asked, climbing to his feet. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

“People in these parts are so thin-skinned! I suppose it was cruel to laugh, but I couldn’t help it. Nerves maybe it was—and the heat. My brain is fried,” Miss Peckham complained.

“Now, don’t go losing that mind of yours. It’s your most attractive feature,” Fahy said. “And Bill deserves any embarrassment he gets. I’ve never met such a hopeless case as him—revolting!”

“I agree—and do you really find my intelligence attractive, sir?” Miss Peckham asked, with a wink.

The missionaries ate lunch, feigning disinterest.

“Hmm. Of course I do,” Fahy said backing away a little.

“So many men are intimidated by my ideas.”

“Well, Americans are so puritanical—not like us Europeans,” Fahy said.

“You’re Irish.” Miss Peckham poked him with her finger.

“You’re sharp as nails, miss,” Fahy laughed. “Anyway, I pride myself on being open-minded.”

“I’m glad not all men are afraid to accept women as equals.”

Fahy drank long from his mug. “We should get moving.”

“Oh dear, so soon? Riding in the ambulance is dreadfully oppressive.” She ran her hand over Fahy’s. “Is there any way I could convince you to allow me to ride just a little while on your fine horse?”

Fahy slipped his hand out from under hers, gathered his things and got to his feet. “Now, that’s out of the question, I’m afraid. No one rides Iollan but me.”

Miss Peckham followed after him. “Won’t you give me a ride yourself? Sir?”

Fahy laughed. “Miss Peckham . . .”

“You may call me Gertie.” She grinned and once more ran her fingers over his hand. “How can I convince you? I really want a ride awfully much and you’re so good at it. Only let me feel it once—to sit with you.”

Fahy took her hand. “Miss . . . Gertie . . . I’m engaged to Thankful . . . I . . .”

“Of course. But no one has to know.” Her one free hand felt under his army blouse.

“So you don’t mean the horse then . . . do you?”

Miss Peckham laughed. “I imagined you were clever! I’ve seen how you look at me.”

He blushed. “No, I really haven’t . . . I . . .”

Miss Peckham kissed him before he could finish.

“Jeasus, you sure are different.” He pulled away flustered and rubbing his forehead. “I didn’t think you were much interested in men and marriage.”

“I’m not interested in marriage—but I enjoy the way a man’s body works as much as the next girl.”

“Thankful doesn’t seem to,” Fahy blurted out, regretting it at once.

“I’d rather not know about. . .”

“Oh, oh, yes, of course . . . how silly of me.” Fahy glanced around.

“We could be very discrete,” Miss Peckham whispered.

“Miss Peckham, I don’t know what to say. It’s not that the offer doesn’t interest me—greatly—but I’m in love with Thankful and . . .”

“I didn’t realize you were such a foolish romantic. But I could show you what women enjoy.” She dragged him behind the wagon.

“Fahy! Lieutenant Fahy! We should be off,” Kenyon called.

“Shit. Listen miss. I’m sorry  . . .” He kissed Peckham’s forehead and dashed around the ambulance to the men waiting.

“Where is she?” Kenyon asked.

“Suppose she’s waiting in the ambulance,” Fahy said, red-faced and ill-humored. “Kenyon, I’m sorry to have let her come. It was foolish of me.”

“Mr. Fahy, I’m sure you thought you were doing what’s best. The girl’s a helpless wreck.”

“How so?”

Kenyon laughed. “I can smell bullshit a mile away and Miss Peckham is full of it.”

“You just don’t like her,” Fahy said, adjusting his horse’s stirrups.

“A woman all on her own,” Kenyon replied. “She can’t be trusted.”

“What about Thankful?”

“Please tell me you see a difference. Your Thankful knows her place. She would never do anything improper.”

***Featured image: The Kiss, Edvard Munch

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Who’s playing who? I think the only honest one is William.

    Like

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