Fiction: The Wedding Party

On the train west, Margaret Crenshaw insulted the coachmen and train conductors while fretting over the linens and china purchased and packed with great care for Thankful’s wedding.

Fred in his booming arrogance educated his family about Indian tribes and the sinister Chinese—betraying his ignorance of both. Meg stared out the window, chin in hand, glum over a missed trip to Europe with friends. Graham fighting a mix of dread and sadness, begged Margaret and Fred to be quiet.

Thankful had always pleased Graham. Even after she stole his money, Graham assumed she’d come home married to William—not the best match, but one he could accept. Now Thankful was lost to a poor Irish soldier. At one time Graham suggested he might keep Thankful to himself as a nurse or even a doctor in his practice, but Margaret blocked the idea of careers for her girls. Often now the old doctor took to daydreams and fabulous fantasies only to wake up more depressed than ever. And sometimes still, he wished he might love his wife and resolved to try harder.

The waving grasses of the plains and now the bright desert sky held no appeal. Graham loved the soft forests, the friendly mountains—just the right size for average people to climb—and the temperate weather of New Jersey and his little part in it. He dreaded seeing Buck, whom he hadn’t spoken with since Christmas. There had been no news of his son since the telegram he sent to his mother from Willcox upon his arrival over a month ago.

“Well, there’s no point in worrying, I suppose,” he said out loud to no one in particular.

“It’s too late now to fuss, Graham. We’re here to marry our daughter to a Catholic,” Margaret complained, fanning herself. “I knew it was trouble to raise her so unprejudiced. You’ve done Thankful a great disservice. My Meg would never do something so scandalous.”

Graham turned back to staring out the window. Plain Meg would be lucky to marry anyone. Fred smirked until Margaret slapped him.

“Well, damn, Father,” Fred said. “We must be nearly there by now. These trains are never run on time—lazy foreigners and trash.”

“Dear, what’s the hurry?” Margaret asked. “All we have to look forward to is a dusty old camp with bugs and heat.”

“How about seeing your children?” Graham pointed out, wiping his brow.

“Don’t lecture me about valuing the children, Graham. How much time did you ever spend with them?”

“When did you ever let me? You conspired to have them hate me!”

Meg stood and pushed past Fred. “If I hear one more word from either of you I’ll scream!”

“Next station Willcox, Arizona!” the conductor called.

The Crenshaws stretched their necks to get a first glimpse of the town.

“It’s godawful!” Fred remarked, but his eyes were eager.

Margaret and Meg peered with their mouths ajar, taking in the rough and forlorn buildings and the array of unusual people as the train pulled into the station. In their elegant eastern attire, Margaret and Meg stood paralyzed with revulsion.

“Girls, let’s go,” Graham ordered, nudging his wife.

Fred trotted down the aisle. Graham’s heart raced and sweat poured from him as he stepped on to the platform, craning his neck in search of Buck and Thankful. He saw two soldiers on leave leaning against a dilapidated adobe storehouse near the tracks. “Fellows, we’re looking for my son,” Graham began. “You may know him.”

The disinterested soldiers sneered, but Graham stood, mopping sweat from his brow and waiting. One with a cigar hanging from the corner of his mouth relented. “Has this son of yours got a name?”

“Yes, of course. Buck Crenshaw—he’s a cadet.”

“Oh, you mean The Apostle?”

“Pardon?” Graham laughed at the notion.

The one nodded. “Yep, your son is just over there yonder.” He pointed behind the station.

Graham for a moment didn’t recognize him. Buck’s hair hung longer as he talked in an uncharacteristically relaxed manner to a ragged stranger instead of greeting his family at the train. Graham waited in curiosity. Fred paid someone to load up their things on a coach before joining his family as they appraised the situation. Taking the lead, Fred strode forward with the rest of the family at his heels.

Buck quoted, “‘The Lord is just in all His ways and holy in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear Him, He hears their cry and saves them. The Lord keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked he will destroy.’”

“What on earth?” Graham whispered.

“It’s a psalm, Father—145.” Fred smiled. “What’s Buck up to now?”

“I know it’s a psalm,” Graham said, and Buck whirled around at the sound of his father.

“Father!” he cried, his voice still weak. The sick man moved away into a shadowy alley. Buck embraced his stiff father. “Father, I want to ask you for forgiveness. I’ve been a terrible son. I’ve had a lot of time to think and …” He wept. “I’ve been a fool. I want to do things right this time. I love you.”

What sort of game was Buck playing? Graham hesitated, searching his son’s eyes for guile or something other than what seemed earnestness. “Buck …”

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” Buck began.

“No, son, it’s me.” Graham burst into unexpected tears. “I’ve treated you badly all these years and never should have been away so much.”

Fred, Margaret, and Meg looked on in horror.

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