Fiction: Overshadowed

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.

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Fiction: Freedom

“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.

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Fiction: Letting the Cat out of the Bag

 

William, Lieutenant Fahy and the missionaries head for the San Carlos Indian Reservation but are surprised by a cat.

“Hey there, Bill. Are you holding up all right?” Fahy asked every so often as he trotted by on his sturdy mount.

William had long since stopped answering. Determined not to fall out before the skeptical missionaries in the heat, William needed every bit of strength and concentration. Out of the army and into this pointless endeavor. What had he been thinking? Kenyon on the move was hardly friendly—all business and chat with the sneering religious men William already hated.

As much as his body ached, William dreaded stopping as the sun rose overhead. What would he do for small talk? What if his sketches didn’t please Kenyon? Finally the old yet surprisingly fit missionaries called a halt for noon dinner.

“So Bill, how’s the leg?” Fahy asked again after tying his horse to the rickety old army ambulance carrying supplies.

“My leg is FINE!” William said. “It’s my head that aches listening to you!”

“Suffering the after effects of the bottle you traded for at the sutler’s this morning?” Fahy asked, patting the rump of his horse.

The missionaries turned to Kenyon who waved off their concerns. “Mr. Weldon knows our agreement and will stick to it.”

The men eyed William suspiciously.

“Oh, will you lighten up, Bill,” Fahy moaned. “I’ve got a surprise for you all.” He went to the back of one of the wagons and helped Miss Peckham climb out.

She grinned. “Boys, you shouldn’t stare—it’s rude.”

“Why, Miss Peckham! And in men’s duds! Kenyon, did you know about this too?” asked a missionary.

“No! I’d never have a girl along!”

“Dear Mr. Kenyon, I’m a full-grown woman!”

“A mature lady would not put in jeopardy the work of men!” Kenyon said. “Fahy, why on earth have you done this?”

“Oh, what’s the bloody harm in it? Miss Peckham wants to study Indians and we’re going the same way. What sort of gentleman would I be if I let her set out on her own?”

“I won’t be a speck of a nuisance, I promise,” Miss Peckham said, pulling a cowhand hat over her eyes. “I have my own gun and can take care of myself.”

“Then why on earth come with us?” Kenyon asked.

“Connections, of course. If I come with military and missions men—not to mention a friend of Captain Bourke’s—who would dare deny me at San Carlos?”

“Well now, everyone, don’t be such humbugs,” Fahy said. “I’ll take her back with me once you’ve settled in. After all, the Indians might enjoy someone like Miss Peckham—she may be of use to us.”

“Does Thankful know?” William asked.

“No, and why should she?” Fahy replied. “She’s the type to squeal—I was saving her from any discomfort . . .”

“Yes, I think she’d be uncomfortable,” William said.

“Weldon, mind your own damned business—go get drunk or something.”

“Men, stop bickering. I’ve a headache already,” Miss Peckham said. “And Bill, not to worry. I’m along for business, not pleasure. As handsome as the lieutenant is I have no interest in him in that way.”

“Well, I guess we can all rest easy and have something to eat,” said Kenyon, throwing the tin plates and utensils on an old army blanket.

The missionaries passed around canned meat and said grace with heads bowed as Peckham and Fahy exchanged amused glances.

William’s blood boiled. “What’s so damned funny?” he asked.

Kenyon and his missionaries glared at the three young people.

“Oh, Bill, give us a rest. My apologies, Kenyon, but I’m not one for grace— I’monly here as escort,” Fahy said.

“Mr. Weldon, dear, it’s sweet to see you so changed and defending your employer, but it’s childish to create a scene. Have you been sneaking spirits?” Miss Peckham asked.

“No. But you shouldn’t look down on everyone.”

“Bill, you’re such a simple man. It warms my heart. For your sake I will try to do better,” Fahy said.

William stood too quickly and almost fell over the picnic blanket. Peckham and Fahy tittered as he walked off.

“What people laugh at a cripple?” Kenyon asked, climbing to his feet. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

“People in these parts are so thin-skinned! I suppose it was cruel to laugh, but I couldn’t help it. Nerves maybe it was—and the heat. My brain is fried,” Miss Peckham complained.

“Now, don’t go losing that mind of yours. It’s your most attractive feature,” Fahy said. “And Bill deserves any embarrassment he gets. I’ve never met such a hopeless case as him—revolting!”

“I agree—and do you really find my intelligence attractive, sir?” Miss Peckham asked, with a wink.

The missionaries ate lunch, feigning disinterest.

“Hmm. Of course I do,” Fahy said backing away a little.

“So many men are intimidated by my ideas.”

“Well, Americans are so puritanical—not like us Europeans,” Fahy said.

“You’re Irish.” Miss Peckham poked him with her finger.

“You’re sharp as nails, miss,” Fahy laughed. “Anyway, I pride myself on being open-minded.”

“I’m glad not all men are afraid to accept women as equals.”

Fahy drank long from his mug. “We should get moving.”

“Oh dear, so soon? Riding in the ambulance is dreadfully oppressive.” She ran her hand over Fahy’s. “Is there any way I could convince you to allow me to ride just a little while on your fine horse?”

Fahy slipped his hand out from under hers, gathered his things and got to his feet. “Now, that’s out of the question, I’m afraid. No one rides Iollan but me.”

Miss Peckham followed after him. “Won’t you give me a ride yourself? Sir?”

Fahy laughed. “Miss Peckham . . .”

“You may call me Gertie.” She grinned and once more ran her fingers over his hand. “How can I convince you? I really want a ride awfully much and you’re so good at it. Only let me feel it once—to sit with you.”

Fahy took her hand. “Miss . . . Gertie . . . I’m engaged to Thankful . . . I . . .”

“Of course. But no one has to know.” Her one free hand felt under his army blouse.

“So you don’t mean the horse then . . . do you?”

Miss Peckham laughed. “I imagined you were clever! I’ve seen how you look at me.”

He blushed. “No, I really haven’t . . . I . . .”

Miss Peckham kissed him before he could finish.

“Jeasus, you sure are different.” He pulled away flustered and rubbing his forehead. “I didn’t think you were much interested in men and marriage.”

“I’m not interested in marriage—but I enjoy the way a man’s body works as much as the next girl.”

“Thankful doesn’t seem to,” Fahy blurted out, regretting it at once.

“I’d rather not know about. . .”

“Oh, oh, yes, of course . . . how silly of me.” Fahy glanced around.

“We could be very discrete,” Miss Peckham whispered.

“Miss Peckham, I don’t know what to say. It’s not that the offer doesn’t interest me—greatly—but I’m in love with Thankful and . . .”

“I didn’t realize you were such a foolish romantic. But I could show you what women enjoy.” She dragged him behind the wagon.

“Fahy! Lieutenant Fahy! We should be off,” Kenyon called.

“Shit. Listen miss. I’m sorry  . . .” He kissed Peckham’s forehead and dashed around the ambulance to the men waiting.

“Where is she?” Kenyon asked.

“Suppose she’s waiting in the ambulance,” Fahy said, red-faced and ill-humored. “Kenyon, I’m sorry to have let her come. It was foolish of me.”

“Mr. Fahy, I’m sure you thought you were doing what’s best. The girl’s a helpless wreck.”

“How so?”

Kenyon laughed. “I can smell bullshit a mile away and Miss Peckham is full of it.”

“You just don’t like her,” Fahy said, adjusting his horse’s stirrups.

“A woman all on her own,” Kenyon replied. “She can’t be trusted.”

“What about Thankful?”

“Please tell me you see a difference. Your Thankful knows her place. She would never do anything improper.”

***Featured image: The Kiss, Edvard Munch

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Fiction: Grace Before Meals

“Young man, you lost the girl to drink, didn’t you?”

“No,” William replied, folding his arms before him. “You’re wrong. She’s not my girl.”

The missionary raised his hands. “All right, I believe you, but you see, I desperately need a mapmaker—a real artist to capture the flavor of the tribes and the landscape. I need a first class cartographer to illustrate the routes we’ll be exploring. Captain Bourke said you were the one, and I believe him.”

“You don’t even know my work.”

“There you’re wrong.” The missionary laughed and pulled three wrinkled sketches of women from his bag.

William wanted to vomit. His most disgusting work in the hands of a missionary!

“These belong to you, I assume, though you didn’t sign them.”

“Where did you get them?” William asked.

“Father Diaz. He says that a man came full of regret at the way his life turned out and gave over his worldly possessions to the church.”

William scratched his head. “That sort of thing sells here, sir. I was sort of desperate for cash.”

“We’re not in the army, William. No need to call me sir. Technically, these drawings show talent–and misplaced use of it. The captain says you’ve had it hard at times, but he vouches for your character.”

“Really?” William leaned in, hungrily. He’d made such a mess of things in the army.

“So will you come? We can’t pay much, but . . .”

“Come where?” William asked.

“I’m not sure yet, but you’ll be fed,” Kenyon said.

“I don’t know. I have to think . . .”

Kenyon took the last sip of his non-alcoholic drink. “But I’m afraid that when we travel, spirits—in the form of liquor—don’t follow. We need to present our best side in order to convert.”

William sighed. “It’s not for me, sir. My leg . . . I don’t have much time for God, and I won’t convert people.”

Mr. Kenyon laughed again. “I would never ask you to convert people. How could you? You don’t know the Lord. This is purely a practical thing. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s not a wealth of talent here. We have no money to attract established artists, and you seem to be at loose ends—though you’d have a difficult time leaving behind the drink.”

“Do you think I’m that weak?” William asked.

The missionary didn’t answer. He adjusted the sack on his back and walked toward the saloon door.

William stood with his arms crossed. He was weak and pathetic and hungry. “Sir . . .”

“Come along and let’s eat,” Mr. Kenyon said with a generous wave of his arm.

The missionary wiped food from the dirty table at Matilda’s with his bandana. “Crumbs bother me,” Mr. Kenyon said. He ordered for both of them in a Spanish dialect that pleased the older lady who served them.

William said, “I’m not good at language.”

“English or Spanish?” Mr. Kenyon teased.

William was serious. “Neither, I guess. I’m like my father.”

“I’m like my father, too. He was a missionary, and so am I.”

“Well, that’s an impressive thing,” William replied, tapping his fingers on the table.

“I don’t know, but sometimes it’s lonely, hard work. I’m away from family and friends most of the time. Thank you again for joining me.”

“Well, I have nothing better to do,” William replied, but felt he’d been too harsh. “I mean, thank you for inviting me. Can I ask—why do you do it? Probably the Indians will die off and good riddance to them—so what’s the point?”

“I said that my life can be hard at times, but I love it. The Indians won’t die off. They’re strong and interesting in their way. I’m blessed to be alive at a time when there is such potential for the Gospel to change their lives.”

“What if the Indians want things as they are?” William asked.

“Most people like what they know. It’s easier, isn’t it?” Mr. Kenyon replied.

William stretched his neck, waiting for the food. A young Mexican girl with soft eyes brought their plates. William grinned at her, and she giggled before leaving them.

Mr. Kenyon asked, “Shall I say something?” It was more of an announcement than a question.

“Go ahead. If you want to,” William replied, but was aghast when the missionary took his hand for prayer. He glanced around and back to Kenyon, who bent his head with eyes shut.

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

William chuckled and turned to his food. “The only aroma I smell is of burnt beans and chilies.”

“Nourishment is from God.”

William dropped his fork on the plate. “Is that the way religious types talk all the time? Do you ever have normal talk or do you have to bring God into every little thing? It’s damned annoying—and off-putting, I might add. All those quotes from the Bible like you’re so smart and holy. If God didn’t pick such conceited men to preach His words He might get more followers. I think you’re a fake.” He considered leaving, but the food smelled so good. He sat for a few moments trying to come up with something to say. “Listen, I’m sorry about the joke.”

The missionary shrugged and continued eating. “Good stuff,” he said in between bites.

“Yes, it’s good,” William said as the hot food warmed his empty stomach.

Kenyon took a drink and said, “Missionaries are pretty ordinary, William. We talk about normal boring things, of course, but to be honest, I feel in a celebratory mood. A good meal, a new friend and finally a replacement for our last artist. For some, hearing Scripture is like a fork scratching china, but to me it’s poetry. I’m not much of a singer, but good words I can say. I am what I am. How people will judge me is of no consequence.”

With his mouth half full, William said, “I’m not really the person you’re looking for. Thanks for the meal, but . . .”

Kenyon unfolded the pieced together map William had made for Bourke. He passed it to William.

“William, here, you have a great gift. Whatever darkness you have in your heart, you made this. I’ve seen many a map, but none that captures the soul of its maker so beautifully. That map is a work of art. If you can put the world on paper like that, I can put up with your cynicism and less than stellar opinion of humankind—especially the religious types.”

William swallowed. “So you like the map? You think it’s all right?”

Kenyon gave him a sideways glance, wiping his forehead. “We have some supplies—paints and things—you can look at if you’re interested.”

“Um, what happened to the other fellow—the last artist?” William asked.

“He was killed,” the missionary said his eyes welling with tears.

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Fiction: Strong Medicine

Miss Peckham’s mistake was sympathizing with a drunk.

Someone pinched William’s arm. He shielded his eyes from the light of day as Miss Peckham stared down at him.

“Mr. Weldon, I sent you to get my things YESTERDAY. I expected you back YESTERDAY.”

William looked up with scorn. “Why should I care what you expect? You’re not my master.”

“I smell your master on your breath,” Miss Peckham said. “Now where are my things?”

William inched up, scratching his sweaty chest through his damp checked shirt. “In the corner—over there.”

Miss Peckham folded her arms. “Don’t fool with me, Mr. Weldon.”

William saw that the corner was empty. “Damn, I think I left it at The Buckskin.”

“You really are a moron like they say.”

William couldn’t deny it. He grabbed his boots, slipped them on and led her into The Buckskin. “We’re looking for a carpetbag I may have left here.”

The bartender handed it over to him. William considered ordering a drink, but thought better of it.

Miss Peckham took the bag and once outside inspected it. “Everything is wet!” She pulled out the journal of her travels and shoved it under William’s nose. “My work is destroyed! How could you, Bill?” she cried.

“I-I didn’t spill anything!”

“Of course not! Oh, I’m cursed! No matter how many times it happens, I’m still taken in by drunkards and bummers! You’re both. Lieutenant Fahy said as much. But you seemed so harmless!” She burst into tears.

Miss Peckham slumped onto the bench usually occupied by two Mexican alcoholics. “I was orphaned because of the drink. My father and mother both and no matter how I try I still land sitting outside a tavern with my life in tatters. All of my work ruined!” she cried again.

William sat beside her, half expecting to be hit. “I know how you feel, Miss Peckham. Honestly, I do.”

“I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t need it, and I’d rather you left me alone, now that you’ve ruined my life,” she replied and pulled a hankie from her sleeve.

William was tempted to point out that anyone with half a brain would never leave things in the hands of whores and drunks, but didn’t. “No, Miss Peckham—I mean, my father is worse than a drunk—he’s an opium eater and if he hadn’t quit the army he would have been drummed out. I hate him, but then . . . look at me.”

Miss Peckham wiped her tears and glanced at him. She laughed. “By golly, if we aren’t the most pathetic pair.”

William took a deep breath. “I used to think God wanted me for something.”

“God doesn’t exist. Science has won the day, I’m afraid. We’re just tiny parts of a long march to perfection.” She laughed again. “You said yourself that weak ones like us will die out for the good of the species.”

“The species? You are unusual, Miss Peckham, but I’m not able to completely give up on at least the idea of God.”

“Well, maybe with an education you would be,” Miss Peckham said, fanning a wet journal page. “Look, what has God done for you?”

“God expects decent behavior,” William said. “I’m just a rotten drunk. I’ll never forgive my parents. I’m not good enough for . . .”

Miss Peckham closed her wet book. “Who says you’re not good enough? You are what you think you are. That’s what my uncle always said. Listen, I’m sorry for you, but I want to be a great writer, not someone who allows self-pity keep her down. I’ll copy as many of my notes as I can into a new journal—so don’t feel bad. Your mistakes won’t finish me.”

“Well, can we remain friends then?” William asked.

“I can’t—no–I won’t be around your type anymore.” Miss Peckham stood and walked off without even a glance back.

William sat for hours, staring out at the awful little settlement with its wilted cottonwoods and dusty, filthy paths. People moved in slow motion. This was home. He had no parents, no friends, not one person to turn to. He had no work, no money and no inspiration as to how he might get some. He starved but could get no nourishment. Not a single person acknowledged him as all day he sat in the blistering sun until it fell with only the smallest relief. As a child William sat upon his father’s knee following the hummingbirds darting to and fro at sunrise in the desert. How William had admired his father then. Adored him even.

A man came and sat beside him. William held his breath in annoyance and considered rising but had no place to go.

The man spoke. “I’ve been watching you all day.”

William glared at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a statement of fact,” the man responded.

William waited for further explanation, but none came and so they both sat watching men unload flour sacks at the general store.

“This is an interesting little town,” said the man.

William chuckled. “Yes, it’s all very interesting.”

“You’ve been out here for hours—since the girl left you.”

“Hey, are you some kind of spy?”

“No, I was reading beneath the tree over there and fell asleep. When I woke up you were still sitting here.”

William shrugged.

“What’s your trade, son?” the man asked.

William took a good look at the heavy, bearded man and figured he was harmless. “I have no trade to speak of anymore.”

“Why are you here?”

“I ask myself that very same question. My father sent me for an adventure—to learn something, I guess.”

“Well, that’s nice,” the man said, stretching his legs before him as if he might stay a while.

“Not really. I’ve bungled it all. My parents and friends are ashamed of me—as well they should be.”

“That’s too bad.”

William rolled his eyes. “Yes, it is too bad.”

The man wiped his shiny forehead with a faded bandana. “Listen, I’m not one for hot climates. I’m going to get out of the sun. Would you care to join me? For a meal. I’ve no company as my associates went in search of artifacts, and I hate to eat alone.”

“I don’t know what you’re on about, or what you want from me, but I may as well tell you I’m broke—there’s nothing you can take from me.”

“I’m a little out of my element here in the desert and everyone is a bit intimidating. I just thought you looked trustworthy.”

William cussed under his breath. This man had lost his wits.

The man stood up. “Maybe you could point me in the right direction for a decent place to eat.”

“The only place in town is Matilda’s. It’s over there and it’s Mexican.”

“So have you decided you’ll come?”

William shielded his eyes from the last bit of sun. “I don’t even know you. Why would I eat with you?” he asked, his stomach grumbling.

“There’s not much to know. I’m a missionary. My name is Seth Kenyon, and I was told by Captain Bourke that there was a talented mapmaker and artist living here in town. Maybe you know him—a William Weldon?”

PREVIOUS EPISODE

Fiction: Whores Have Dreams Too

William hitched a ride to Willcox on the back of a supply wagon, singing all the way:

 

“It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing;

It was once in the saddle I used to go gay.

First to the dram house and then to the card house,

Got shot in the breast and I’m dying today.”

 

Why had he always fought so hard against dancing? Plain Miss Peckham enlivened a part of William he thought he’d lost. He jumped from the wagon just beyond the outskirts of the sleepy desert town and walked the rest of the way to the hotel and Ginny. William whistled past The Buckskin, not needing a drink to celebrate, and the usual loungers saw that a change had come over him.

A mule brayed in the rode as William walked up the stairs to the brothel and knocked at Ginny’s door.

“Morning, Gin—how’s things?” he asked, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek as he glanced around for Miss Peckham’s belongings. “I’ve come to fetch Miss Peckham’s luggage. What’s wrong?” he asked when Ginny turned away.

“Nothing, Billy. How was yer night? You look refreshed.”

“It was nothing like that, Ginny. Miss Peckham isn’t that way. . .” he replied suddenly uncomfortable. “Ginny, what happened to your arm?”

Ginny pulled her shawl over a makeshift sling. “I fell down the stairs last night.”

William laughed. “Oh, poor Ginny. You should be more careful. Does it hurt much? Would you like me to get you a strong drink?”

“No, I ain’t got any use for strong drinks—you know that,” Ginny answered with an uncharacteristic edge in her voice.

“Yes, you’re right. I should know better. Anyway, I need Miss Peckham’s things. Ginny, it’s been fun and all to spend some time, but . . . I don’t think I’ll be coming here much anymore. I mean, you can still count on me as sort of a friend.”

“Thanks, Bill,” Ginny replied. “But, you ain’t the type to count on—I hoped you might be.”

“When have I ever done you wrong?” William asked, avoiding the hurt on Ginny’s face. He scanned the room for something expensive looking that might be Miss Peckham’s.

“Bill, that Miss Peckham is no good.”

“Oh, Ginny, what do you know?”

“You think cause I ain’t educated that I’m stupid?” she asked.

William scratched his head. “No, I didn’t say—“

“Bill Weldon, you’re impressed with smarts cause you ain’t got none like you used to.” Ginny threw Miss Peckham’s carpetbag at William’s feet. “Look how this woman already has you picking up her scraps like a dog. I never would go and do that to you, Bill. I thought you’d see by now, it’s us that’s meant for each other. I like you as you come. I take care of you, and I thought you might take me as a wife.”

William wanted a drink and knew where Ginny kept it for customers. He took a long slug from one of the bottles and remembered a talk his father had had with him before coming out west. “Now you’ll be all on your own, and the fellows you’ll meet will tell you it’s all right, but if you take a woman . . . s-s-sleep with her . . . it’ll be awful hard to get rid of her. A part of her will linger . . . and bring you down.”

William took another long draw from the bottle.

“Give me the bottle, Bill, and talk to me. No one will understand you like me. I don’t mind if you drink and carry on; I ain’t concerned if people say you’re as dumb as a plank o’ wood. You never hurt me even once when you was drunk. We could get some land. I could work it—I’ve got strength. And you could make those drawings—do the dirty ones and I bet the miners would buy them.”

William stood appalled at the image presented. “Ginny, I can’t hardly care for myself. I don’t want a farm or babies!”

“What about me? Don’t you care for me?” Ginny’s chin quivered, and she took the bottle from William.

“I care, but . . .”

“Oh, you never cared! You used me! You always did, but I—I hoped—I can’t help I ‘m so ugly, but Miss Peckham is hardly better, and she’ll make a fool of you one time soon.”

“For the first time in a long time I feel good and hopeful, and you try to destroy that!” William said. “I don’t always remember things, but I’m not so stupid. Miss Peckham, who is a learned girl, recognizes that about me. You’re like a heavy stone on my chest keeping me down! It’s not my fault you’ve chosen to be a whore. I don’t know how you ever thought I’d marry—or have children with you! You’re crazy! Now, I need Miss Peckham’s things.”

“Fine! Here’s what’s left of them. And one thing, Bill Weldon. If you plan on marryin’ I may as well let you in on something. Now, I never said nothin’ cause I was a true friend and never wanted to make you feel down, but you ain’t no good at things. I mean to say, you’re fairly well repulsive in the act. Maybe it’s your crooked leg or the god-awful faces you make . . . anyway, experience ain’t improved you neither.”

“Shut the hell up!” William shouted. Ginny had gotten him good. His leg was hideous to look at, that much he knew. With Miss Peckham, sex was not the first thing on his mind, but it was an idea that lurked second or third. Maybe she just needed a dance partner and a man to get her things. William picked up the carpetbag, glanced inside and turned toward the door.

Ginny took a sip of the bottle and poured the rest into the bag as William fumbled with the door. She grabbed Miss Peckham’s leather journal from on top of her clothes press and shoved it into the wet corner of the large bag. “Oh, Bill, here—her book.”

William nodded a thank-you and closed the door behind him.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

the watch

Fiction: Adventurous Thoughts

As Thankful hung the last diaper, she heard Fahy’s laughter in the front parlor. Forgetting how she looked, she ran inside, trailing suds and sand behind her. “Thankful, you look a caution!” Fahy said with a grin. He liked the way she looked.

Thankful nodded his way but addressed her enemy. “Miss Peckham, Mr. Weldon was here awaiting your orders, and he was very sore!”

“Do you mean physically? Because we met him on officers’ row and he was cheerful as a bird in summer. Don’t you agree, Mr. Fahy?” Miss Peckham turned to the officer with a smile.

Fahy nodded in agreement then met eyes with his fiancée. “Miss Crenshaw, I was hoping you might be done with your chores so we could take a ride. I nearly have to get back to work, but our horses are warmed up.”

“Warmed up?”

“Yes, I hope you don’t mind that I let Miss Peckham ride Durie.”

“That horse needs firmer discipline and less feed. If he were my horse, he’d receive a sound thrashing,” Miss Peckham bragged.

Fahy gave Thankful an exasperated look. Thankful dug her fingernails into the soft wood of the little dining table. “It’s very pathetic that you must prove your masculinity by mistreating animals, Miss Peckham. Mr. Fahy never should have been such a gentleman to take you out, but you probably strong armed him.”

“I will have you know, Miss Thankful Crenshaw, that I’ve won at many women’s riding events in New York!”

“Isn’t New York famous for its corruption? It’s the only way you could win a horse show–or a beauty contest,” Thankful said.

Fahy stood with his cigar hanging from his mouth. Miss Peckham tossed her gloves and hat on the sofa and ran up the stairs to Thankful’s room. Fahy and Thankful listened to her muffled cries.

“Damn it, Thankful, that was low of you. Peckham’s no great shakes, and she’s a pest, but really—you’re better than to be so—well—so vicious.”

“She abuses my horse and I’m low?” Thankful asked.

“Well, I took the whip from her pretty quick,” Fahy said.

“Thank God for small favors.”

“Mrs. Markham said that you threw a tantrum over an egg . . .”

“Land sakes! Not even an egg gets by people in the army! I just hate Miss Peckham. She told me last night she was only being nice to William for his family’s connections to the military.”

Fahy laughed. “So what? I’m so tired of Bill Weldon. I don’t care a fig, and you shouldn’t either.” He pulled her close. “I love that you care so much about your homefolk and all, but a different man than me might get jealous.”

Thankful looked at his sunburned and freckled face and his impressive sun-bleached mustache. “My sweet lieutenant, you are the most attentive, kind person I’ve ever met. I hope one day we’ll have adventures of our own.”

“Adventures? You amuse me. Sometimes you really act your age.”

Thankful pulled away. “What does that mean?”

“Well, nothing exactly—you’ve got very romantic and naïve ideas. It’s adorable.”

“Miss Peckham has all the adventure she wants and . . .” Thankful began.

Fahy tapped her nose. “And she will most likely spend her life alone.”

“She has such a full life and . . .”

Fahy grinned. “I thought you didn’t much admire Miss Peckham? Anyway, won’t your life be full enough taking care of me?”

“I plan to care for you, but is that all?” Thankful asked, feeling sweat trickle down her spine.

“No, of course not. There’ll be children and we can take trips if you like.” Fahy looked worried. “Won’t I satisfy you?”

“Oh, Mr. Fahy, you already do. But I never have any larks with you. We both work so hard. I want to play a little more than I do now—don’t you?”

“Life is about work, I’m afraid. Childhood is almost over for you, Thankful. There’s no point clinging to it. That just makes the adjustment more painful.”

Thankful sniveled. “But when we are married won’t we still dance and ride?”

“Of course, silly,” he said.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

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“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

Fiction: Dirty Diapers

When was there a time when Thankful did not have to concern herself with diapers? Now as Thankful scrubbed shit far from her family, she wondered why she had traveled a great distance only to immerse her hands in dirty laundry water again. Her tantrum may have ruined a friendship with Mrs. Markham, who had been a kinder mother to her in a few months than Margaret had been in her entire lifetime. Either way—in Englewood or Arizona—she was pushing other folks’ strollers.

“Say! Anyone at home?” William called as he came around the back gate. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting to see you, Thankful.”

Thankful’s dress and her stylish apron hung sodden and dirty. “I live here don’t I? What do you want?”

“Um, well . . . are you all right?” William asked.

“I’m perfectly fine, William. You must be wrecked after the show you put on for the garrison last night,” she said, punching at the diapers in the basin and giving herself an uncomfortable splash in the eye.

“Funny thing; I’m right as rain,” William replied, tipping his hat back and leaning on the gate. “I always sleep well at army posts. My legs are sore, but . . .”

“Well, that serves you right—hopping around foolishly!”

“I can’t hop, Thankful, so I guess you’re wrong on that. As far as being a fool—well—I don’t mind if I was!” William laughed.

“Why are you here, William? I’m too busy for small talk.”

He didn’t seem to mind how angry and upset Thankful was.

“Well, yes, um, is Miss Peckham in?”

“No!” Thankful replied, huffing as she punched the wet diapers in the water. “She’s not in. She’s doing ‘research’ on the army species of man. She’s man enough—she needs no study.”

“Which way did she go? I wanted to know if she needed anything else from town before I head back.”

“Perfume and plenty of it!” Thankful said.

“What? Oh, your idea of a joke, I guess. Anyway, you don’t seem to know much so I’ll be on my way, Thankful.”

“Oh, yes, girls in trousers are much cleverer than the rest of us!” Thankful muttered as William closed the gate behind him, and was gone.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

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Fiction: Escape to Marriage

Working for the captain’s wife is no longer the lark it once was.

Thankful marched back into the Markhams’ finding Miss Peckham, dressed in one of Mrs. Markham’s plain visiting dresses and brushing out the matron’s long, mousy hair.

“Be a dear, Thankful, and do up the egg—fried—while Miss Peckham shows me the latest style.”

Miss Peckham stopped a minute appraising Thankful’s dark curls. “I could show you how they wear their hair in New York these days, Miss Crenshaw.”

“I know how they do hair in New York! I like to wear my hair my way!” Thankful responded storming to the kitchen.

By the time Mrs. Markham joined her, Thankful was in tears again. “Thankful, why are you so upset?”

Thankful shook her head. “I don’t care for Willy any more than a friend, but he’s from home, is all. That’s all it is, but Miss Peckham—I just hate her, and I’m sorry, but I can’t have her in my room. I work for that space, and it’s unfair that I should have to share.”

“Thankful Crenshaw, that is a very unchristian way to be, and I’m surprised.”

“Why should I have to be her slave?” Thankful asked rolling her sleeves.

Mrs. Markham laughed. “Don’t be so naughty. When you’re married, it won’t do to start fires with other women. Some army wives are just as—difficult as Miss Peckham.”

“I didn’t start anything! And I’ve never met anyone in the army as horrid as Miss Peckham!” Thankful said just above a whisper.

“Hold your tongue, Thankful. Miss Peckham’s a guest, and I hate to make mention of it, but your work here includes cooking.”

“Ordinarily I don’t mind that a bit. You know that!”

“You must never mind it when I have a guest,” Mrs. Markham said.

“But she got up late . . .” Thankful tried with no success.

Mrs. Markham folded her arms, but was distracted by Fahy’s knock at the door. Miss Peckham led him into the hallway.

“Morning ladies, I didn’t see Miss Crenshaw out on the grounds. I was wondering if she’s still unwell.”

Mrs. Markham met Fahy in the dining room. “Thankful is fine but busy making breakfast for our guest. I’ll tell her you inquired.”

Miss Peckham smoothed her hair back and grabbed her hat from the table. “Oh, Mr. Fahy, would you to show me around the place?”

“For Miss Peckham’s research . . .” Mrs. Markham added.

“Well, I suppose I could,” Fahy hesitated. “I’m free now for about an hour, if you’d like . . .”

Thankful jumped out from the kitchen. “Miss Peckham, here’s your breakfast!”

Fahy tried to greet Thankful, but the other ladies were in the way.

“Oh, Miss Crenshaw, dear, set it aside for me,” Miss Peckham said. “I’ll be back for it later.”

Thankful walked back into the kitchen and slammed the fine china plate against the counter, chipping it. She glanced behind her, found the chipped fragment and hid it in Miss Peckham’s burnt egg. After covering the plate with a cloth, Thankful untied her kitchen apron and pinned on the prettier one she’d made for walks with the children and hurried into the dining room just as Lieutenant Fahy escorted Miss Peckham out the front door.

“Thankful, dear, I’ve decided that today I’d like a stroll with the children,” Mrs. Markham said. “My nerves are shattered with still no word from the captain. But there’s a small bit of baby’s soiled things that need washing. Miss Peckham mentioned that she was highly sensitive to smells. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, of course not. I love cleaning diapers,” Thankful said.

“Get used to it,” Mrs. Markham said with a smile. “Mr. Fahy wants plenty of children.”

“Well, I guess he’ll have them with someone else. I’ve told him I’d only like one, maybe. I’ve been sent off with my father to rescue babies from breech birth and all. I don’t want any of that!” Thankful declared.

“One baby?” Mrs. Markham laughed. “What’s the point of one? Immigrant families are having upwards of nine or ten.”

“It’s not my job to populate the world!” Thankful complained. “You and my mother are doing a fine job of that.”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Thankful! Next you’ll be like our visitor discussing suffrage for women,” Mrs. Markham said tapping her closed fan once before opening it and using it to shoo the children out the door.

“I’m nothing like her! What has the vote got to do with anything in my life? I only don’t want so many little ones—is that a crime? And I don’t know why Mr. Fahy would discuss his plans with you, not me!”

“Mr. Fahy is a fine man, but he’s a Catholic and they don’t believe in . . .” Mrs. Markham whispered, “and with the Comstock laws . . .”

“My father is a doctor. I know all about how to prevent babies. I don’t want to hear any more about the lieutenant being Catholic! My mother is extremely upset over it–as if she is so damned religious!” Thankful bawled.

“Thankful, when you’re finished with the laundry, wet a rag and go to your room for a rest—you are over excited today.”

“I’m the same as I ever am! Why didn’t you send Miss Peckham to my room when she spoke her mind? I’m not your child to send to bed!” Thankful cried.

“Well, you’re behaving like a spoilt one. I’m appalled. I feel great affection for you, but you’re acting disrespectful,” Mrs. Markham said, pulling her bonnet ties tight.

“As you hinted over the cooking,” Thankful said, “I’m just your hired help. I should have realized it sooner before considering you to be a real friend. I won’t make that assumption again.”

“You’re breaking my heart, young lady. I didn’t realize how you resented your work here! I was doing you a favor!” Mrs. Markham said.

Thankful sobbed. “And I haven’t done you a favor? Watching the children and cooking and cleaning while you lounge drinking nice lemonade! But I never minded. I’ve been very grateful to you until this minute. You’ve humiliated me in front of the lieutenant and Miss Peckham. Why did I have to get her that egg? Toast was fine for the rest of us!”

“To lose your temper over a ridiculous egg confounds reason!” Mrs. Markham said. “I have my own more important troubles. I shouldn’t have to keep you and Miss Peckham from each other’s throats! I do love you dearly, but you are a shallow and insensitive girl at times. Miss Peckham shall be treated as a guest—and that is my final word on it.”

Thankful wiped angry tears from her eyes and turned to the laundry basket. She fed the stove and hauled water to be heated. She scraped and cleaned diapers made messy from the disagreeable diet and water of Arizona in the sandy backyard.

“I cannot wait to be married and able to do what I want for once,” she mumbled, filling the basin in the yard with the hot water.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

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