Fred’s expensive cigars, the way he shot, and the way he rode when taken out for a race impressed a few of the young officers. Though his cocksure attitude provoked the more experienced commissioned men and the privates who were the victims of his superior words and actions, he had a small coterie of loyal followers within a few hours.
Buck sat with his parents under the Markhams’ porch pretending not to notice the foolish men of the fort following Fred toward the house and their chatter about the little horse race Fred had just won.
“Say, Buckie, come here, will you?” Fred called at a safe distance.
Buck waved him off, but Margaret said, “Oh, Buck, be nice to Fred and see what he wants.”
Buck grumbled, but rose to his feet, dizzy in the heat. He walked out, hands in pockets, and Margaret called after him, “Stand up straight and stop slouching!”
The soldiers laughed. Fred shoved one of them.
“What do you want?” Buck asked.
“That’s no way to be with your brother! Listen, if you’re not too busy with Bible study maybe you’ll come with us tonight—to town—we’ll have a good frolic and no one need know. I understand that you want Father and Mama to think that you’ve reformed.”
The men exchanged amused grins.
“It’s nothing to do with reputation, Fred. You know I’m not much of a drinker …”
“Oh, go on! Have ginger beer for all I care. Just come.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“What are you afraid of? Your newfound piety not holding up in town? How do you expect to test yourself if you stay in a cocoon? I knew this religion bunk was just that—bunk. Jesus Christ himself ate and drank with tax collectors and other low lives. But I guess your faith is weak.”
Buck shifted his weight. He hated the way his brother spoke to him, but he’d always been a part of Fred.
“Fine, I don’t mean to make light of your religion. I’m happy if it makes you happy—really I am. It’s just—well—I miss our good times.”
The other men laughed. Fred turned on them. “Shut up, you ass-licks, if you still want to come out on my tab.”
“Well, I’ll come just this once,” Buck said glancing toward the missionary tents.
“That’s it, boy! Enjoy life a little. There’s no harm in it. Just come for a small drink and I’ll hire a Mexican to drive you back. They tell me it’s hardly dangerous if you move fast enough—and you’re not scared. Are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
Fred chuckled. “I guess God will be your fortress. I’m serious—why do you look at me like that?”
Buck’s gut churned, but he ignored it. Maybe he could use this opportunity to share the gospel.
After taps when the last pink of the sky faded, and the air cooled just a trifle Fred came bustling into his brother’s tent, clean-shaven and hair slicked. “Buckie, the chap I hired out will be long gone if we don’t meet him now.”
“Fred, I …”
“I won’t hear of you staying in. I realize you’re a little shy with your face and all, but I’ll take care that no one so much as looks at you.” He flashed his tiny Derringer and glanced in the little mirror, happy with himself.
Buck, rolling his eyes, pulled his blouse over his head, and grabbed his jacket. They skulked through the shadows. Buck heard Thankful’s lovely singing voice, the deep, sad Irish voice of Fahy, and his mother playing the violin:
Of all the comrades that ere I had, they’re sorry for my going away,
And of all the sweethearts that ere I had, they wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise while you should not,
I will gently rise and I’ll softly call, “Goodnight and joy be with you all!”
Buck longed to join them for a quiet night, but Fred pushed him along in excitement.
A teamster with a wagon snoozed just outside near a sentry.
“Fred, where are the others?” Buck asked.
“Oh, I was bored with them after an hour, though I managed to bargain a few bottles for us to take on our drive. Looks like it’s just the two of us then.”
“Oh.” Buck’s heart sank. “There’s really nothing to do in town … just a disgusting brothel and a saloon full of …”
Fred grinned and took a long slug of cheap whiskey before leaping into the wagon and pulling Buck in beside him. Buck prayed that the night be cut short as he half listened to the driver and Fred exchange ridiculous sexual conquests.
“Fred, how is Miss Turner?” Buck asked.
“Oh, Rosie’s fine, I guess. But it’s nice to have a break from the inane conversations—if you can even call them conversations. She’s still pretty as a picture though, and her family’s got all the right military and government connections, which I intend to take full advantage of. Stick with me, Buckie, and see if I can’t get you something.”
Fred would probably be president one day. Suddenly Buck’s big ideas about missionary work seemed not only feeble but also impossible. What had Buck ever finished without depending on Fred? How would he ever catch up to Seth Kenyon? Even Kenyon wasn’t famous anyway.
Buck took a slug of the whiskey, but it so offended his senses he could not drink it and spit it over the wagon side. His military training and the enthusiasm he had always had for it seemed so far away before Fred had come out to visit, but now the idea that Fred always outshone him bothered him as it always had.
Buck’s excitement over the Bible in this moment was a vapor in the wind. The future oppressed him.