“Mrs. Crenshaw, I want to apologize for my acid tongue earlier on,” Mrs. Markham said. “I was worried over Buck, as I’m sure you were, but that was no excuse.”
Margaret surveyed the plump, plain, little woman. “I accept your apology. We Easterners have high standards as far as manners go. I couldn’t possibly hold you to them.”
“I am from the East,” Mrs. Markham said, holding her chin a little higher.
“Oh. From where?”
“Well, that’s not really east is it? It’s practically southern.”
“It is southern—where manners were born!” Mrs. Markham said.
“On the backs of the darkies,” Fred quipped.
Again there was a long silence. Thankful could smell Fahy’s perspiration and urine. She wondered if anyone else noticed.
Mrs. Markham took a deep breath. “Thankful and I have a few ideas for the wedding, Mrs. Crenshaw. I hope you don’t mind I’ve gone ahead and reserved the dance hall.”
“Dance hall? Is my daughter to be married in a saloon? I know the lieutenant is Irish, but this is ridiculous! I’d prefer a Catholic church to that.”
“Mama, the dance hall is just here at the fort—for military celebrations,” Thankful explained. “It’s easily decorated—we thought some desert flowers and special lanterns from a friend of ours in town …”
“Desert flowers? Is that what I smell because, honestly, I’ll be sick if I don’t get air soon,” Margaret said.
Graham figured what the smell was and sympathized with the bitter, young lieutenant. “Margaret, we should walk the grounds and get our things.”
“Our things won’t fit in this tiny house, Graham,” she half whispered.
“Mother, Meg will sleep up with me, and Fred will share a tent with Buck. You and Father will stay in a nice wall tent.”
“A wall tent? Me? I’ve always told you that I’m afraid of tents—they fall down—and there are dragons and bugs creeping and crawling—oh no. I can’t! I won’t!” Margaret cried. “I thought at least after all the other disappointments Thankful might find us a proper roof to sleep under!”
“Mama, the tent is very nicely done up.”
Graham laughed. “It’ll be like old times in the army, Maggie. It’ll be fun.”
“I guess you forget that I was never in the army like the nurse you slept with last summer! Sleeping under canvas will only serve to remind me of how much you’ve hurt me!” Margaret sobbed, mopped her eyes, and stopped. “I will sleep with my girls.”
“But Mama, there’s no space.”
“We’ll make space,” Mrs. Markham said.
“Perfect then,” Margaret replied. “Tonight we can discuss my plans for my daughter’s wedding.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Markham said.
They stood for another moment.
“I’ll go get your things then, Margaret,” Graham said.
Fred and Buck followed him out.
“Well, this is some disaster, Father. I don’t like that Fahy a bit—seems angry.” Fred lit a cigar.
“Of course he’s angry—he can’t walk!”
Fred changed the subject. “So I guess you and Mama aren’t sleeping in the same room anymore.”
“That’s none of your damned business, Fred. Now just take these bags to your mother and leave me be.”
Fred shrugged and did as he was told.
Graham sat heavily upon one of their trunks.
“Father, are you all right?” Buck asked, suffering the same queasiness he had often experienced as a child when he worried about his father’s tenuous health.
Graham took out a cigar and offered one to his son.
“No, it irritates my throat now,” Buck said. “Father, are you sure you’re feeling well?”
Graham looked at him differently now, almost as a friend. “No, son. I’m not all right. When have I ever been? I married a woman I never loved and in avoiding her I neglected the needs of my children.”
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