“Thankful is a uniform chaser,” William said.
“Now, you should take that back. Thankful’s a romantic and a good girl, and I’ll help her all I can.”
“So I guess you’ll be taking my spot on Mr. Kenyon’s team.”
“Me?” Buck chuckled. “My cartography skills are only fair to middling. Nothing on the wonderful maps you’re able to make. No, I’m going back to school and try to do better. I want to be a good officer if that’s what God wants.”
William moaned. “Oh, I get it. Is Mr. Kenyon going to give you a reference or something?”
“No. I’m grateful to Seth, but after all he hardly knows me.”
“I know your heart, son,” Kenyon said. “You’ll do splendidly, and if you ever do need a friend or reference you have it. You have a greater supporter than this old sinner, though.”
“Oh! I can’t stand another word!” William said. “How can Buck be forgiven and changed and all this crap in three days, and I’ve been with you, Mr. Kenyon, for weeks and weeks and I feel nothing new? God—if there is one—hasn’t made any effort with me. No tap on the shoulder. Buck is and always has been too weak to stand on his own, and now there’s no Fred or any other Crenshaw to hide behind so instead he’ll ask some invisible god to make his decisions. It’s a weakness.”
Buck glared at him with his one good eye. William chuckled at this glimpse of the old Buck, but then Buck said, “Seth pointed out we’re all weak and we all search for the magic thing within us or in the world to give us strength. Even the Indians do that. I used to think that if only I was the best cadet, had the shiniest rifle, then … but there’s no magic in men. Nothing will make me strong on my own. We laugh at the talismans of the Indians—they delude themselves. I was no better. I guess we all have to choose something or some way to live. Ask yourself, Willy, what’s more ludicrous—losing yourself in God or in drink?”
“At least I can experience the effects of whiskey—there’s no trick there—I don’t have to convince myself. It’s clear as day.”
“And what good does it do?” Kenyon asked.
“What? Why does it have to do good? I never said I was on a mission for good. What about fun and doing as you please? Like the Indians used to? I can see why they don’t want what we want for them.”
“So you want to be like the Indians? Blown by the wind, dependent on the government, or out murdering and plundering as they’ve done for generations? Do you want to make slaves of women and beat them to death with shovels like that young Apache did last week?” Kenyon asked.
“Hey, white men have done the same—even improving on some of their savagery,” William said.
“And what makes the Indians attractive to you then?”
“Why should men have to follow rules? Everyone should do what makes them feel good—as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. The Apaches get up and decide to drink or decide to do nothing but have a laugh, or they raid now and again. Didn’t Jesus say something about sharing your stuff anyway and waiting around like a lily or something?”
“There’s something in the Bible about stealing, Willy,” Buck said with a smile.
Why did Buck keep smiling? William wanted to clobber him. “Anyway, people talk about freedom, and that’s all I want.”
Kenyon shook his head. “This freedom you talk about—if the Apache had kept their agreements with the Mexicans or any other tribe in the West, then they’d have some allies. Truth is, their idea of freedom does hurt innocent people.” Kenyon folded a towel as he spoke. “We all know the army can’t defeat the Apaches without help. They’re not equipped. But the Apaches turn on their own as scouts, and they’re free to do it, I suppose. Your freedom has landed you and Buck in the hospital. Your fun caused you to lose Thankful’s money, and you’ve lost work and pay and friendship in enjoying your desires. Would your mother be proud? I’m not.”
“I don’t give a damn if you’re proud or not,” William said.
“Then why have you worked night and day doing splendid art for me?” Kenyon asked. “Why did you so eagerly seek my approval each evening? Why did you stay off drink for a month?”
“I broke my promise to you, and I’m sorry about that …”
“Willy, how many times did your father say the same thing to you?” Buck asked.
Just then the doctor came into the room, kicking a scorpion out of the way. “You scared us, Willy—nearly stopped breathing all together. You’re lucky to be alive. I’ll send word to your parents.”
“No, please don’t.”
“How is Lieutenant Fahy, doctor?” Kenyon asked.
“Not good, I’m afraid. The lieutenant will never walk if he lives. He’s conscious though.”
Buck and William exchanged horrified looks.
“What’s happened to Fahy?” Buck asked.
“Seems the bit of merriment you boys had got the lieutenant shot,” said the veteran doctor.
“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.”