Fahy caught Buck’s unfriendly look. “What’s the matter? Has something happened to Thankful?”
“She’s fine under the circumstances,” Buck said in his strongest voice.
“I know she’s upset over my being here—but it’s the army.”
Buck said nothing more. He’d been sworn to secrecy by Thankful.
“The cadet brought us a whole case of fine spirits for later,” Joyce said.
“Oh, bully for you, cadet. You’re just what we needed. The stuff out here is either too strong or too soft. How long will you stay? Were you injured on the way out as well or is that an Arabian inspired headdress from the academy? You look like a damned Apache scout,” Fahy joked. “Listen, let me finish up here with these old biddies and after we’ll have a nice celebration. Joyce, will you do us a favor and find him a tent and all? Have him bed down with us officers as a treat.” He slapped Buck’s back and walked back to the complaining women.
Buck stared after him with a sneer. Joyce read his mind.
“Buck, Fahy’s a great fellow once you get to know him, but he’s very unhappy at this post. He’ll show you a good time off duty.”
“Hmm,” Buck replied, rolling his eyes at the sight of William with his supplies, limping off toward the agency building. Joyce nudged Buck in the same direction. Buck considered apologizing to William for past wrongs, but they had been so long ago and far away. Maybe they could just be friendly acquaintances while Buck visited, but when he rounded the ugly adobe building he saw a familiar scene that hardened his heart.
An older gentleman praised William’s drawings. Wherever William went, people took him under their wings. Thankful had even asked Buck to see how William was and it annoyed him. William was fine. Lieutenant Joyce led Buck along the sandy pathway to meet the missionary and his artist.
“Greetings!” Kenyon called to them.
“Mr. Kenyon, this is Cadet Buck Crenshaw all the way from West Point for a visit.”
“That’s quite a journey,” Kenyon said with a grin and real interest. “Crenshaw, hmm, oh you’re Miss Crenshaw’s brother. She spoke of you over a supper at Fort Grant. How’s your head?”
Buck smiled for the first time in months. William didn’t watch his step and stumbled back when trying to make way for Buck to shake Kenyon’s hand. The missionary grabbed his shoulder to right him.
Buck’s smile disappeared when he formally, very formally extended his hand to William. “How are you, William?”
“I’m fine,” William replied, pulling a cigar from his pocket and lighting it.
“Well, I hope we can leave the past behind us,” Buck said stiffly and grudgingly.
“No, I don’t think so,” William replied, blowing smoke.
“Well, that’s no way to be, boys,” Kenyon commented. “I promised to watch Mr. Weldon’s back so I hope you’ll be kind, cadet.”
William went red.
Buck laughed. “Always someone watches Willy’s back. I guess it’s a way of getting attention.”
“Go to hell, Buck, and stop the blasted whispering!” William said.
Buck shielded his eyes from the late sun. “Listen, William, I don’t want to start things off badly.”
“Fine, neither do I.” William offered him a cigar, but Buck refused it. “So you’ve seen Thankful then? How is she?”
Buck’s countenance changed again. “Sorry, I don’t want to talk about that. I was angry with her.”
Buck saw that William knew of Thankful’s condition. “My mother isn’t happy about any of it.”
“Your mother knows?”
“I mean about the wedding,” Buck said.
Joyce said not a word.
William glanced at Kenyon. “Well, Lieutenant Fahy isn’t so bad. And what’s happened to your face, Buck? Did you fall off the train or something?”
“No, they slit my neck when I couldn’t breathe and well, it’s a long story,” Buck said. “My father thinks maybe I have a condition—nothing heals right. I might not be officer material after all. Depends . . .”
“Shit, Buck.” William sympathized with him for a moment. “They won’t keep you out for a few cuts will they?”
“It’s my voice,” Buck said, pointing to his throat.
“Oh.” William scooped up his art supplies.
They stood at loose ends until Fahy strode up with his hat tipped to the back of his head, looking more relaxed and jovial with the women behind him. “For God’s sake, where’s the funeral?” he asked, bumming a cigarette from Joyce. “Save any souls today, Kenyon? The Apaches are a hard bunch, aren’t they?”
“I do what I can and leave the rest to God,” Kenyon said.
Fahy waved his finger. “Sorry Kenyon, but that’s a lazy attitude to take.”
“Mr. Fahy, I’ve been meaning to ask you if it might be possible to retest the scales—the older women begin to complain about their sugar. . .” Kenyon said. “I was told, also, that the condemned uniforms were to be given to the destitute—not sold.”
“So now you’re an expert on military orders, sir?” Fahy asked, folding his arms. “I’m trying to teach them economy. These people are the most improvident I’ve ever met. They feast on ten days rations in two or three and then beg off the others. If we give the blouses and things for free they don’t value them. They must learn a lesson—like the rest of us—save some for tomorrow.”
“You must have learned that lesson well, Lieutenant Fahy, to have the funds for Thankful’s ring,” Buck said.
William took a long satisfied drag of his cigar.
“I learn all of my lessons well, cadet,” Fahy said, messing Buck’s hair with an impatient laugh. “No one gets so roughed up at the academy unless they deserve it. Maybe you have more to learn yourself. So tonight we’ll have a social in honor of our visitor—soon to be my brother-in-law and I suppose you holy Joes can come along if it’s not past your bedtime. I am glad to meet one of the clan, Buck and I don’t mean to give you a hard time. I’m just aggravated at my luck—that Britton Davis is a favorite and gets all the notice. He’s off after Geronimo and I’m stuck here.”