Fiction: Gaming

“I want to make money and visit with real whores. As the teamster said, life’s short.” Fred gulped his last drink and down the road they went.

Quiet, almost sweet, music played somewhere within the gaming hall.

“I’ll wait out here, Fred.”

“Oh, no you won’t! Don’t be such a prig. Play one hand,” Fred urged him.

Buck had just a small amount of money saved from pawning his things and planned on buying Thankful a household trinket for her wedding, but if she was moving home there would be no point, he reasoned. Buck didn’t mind cards but hesitated.

“Say, Buck, you might win some money for the poor. Look, whatever you win tonight, I’ll match it and we’ll do a good deed with it,” Fred suggested. He pushed Buck along and sauntered in with a big smile.

“Oh, damn, the apostle is here with a friend,” someone said through the smoky haze.

“He won’t be doing any talking, men. I can assure you of that. Now let us in on a hand and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

The men laughed at Fred’s bravado and made room when he flashed his money. Buck, more tentatively, placed his small savings on the table.

Fred whispered, “Here’s to the poor.” After a few lucky hands, Fred proceeded to lose everything they had, all but four dollars. “Oh, well. It’s only money,” he announced, throwing his cards on the table. “I have more at home anyhow!”

Buck stalked out. Fred soon followed. “Sakes alive, what a night! Those men are damned good card players. I’ll have to bone up this last year at school or I’ll be laughed out of the army!”

“Now what’ll we do, Fred? I’m tired.”

“A fellow in there says there’s a place down the road we could spend the night cheap,” Fred said.

“With four dollars?”

“Yep. Follow me, Apostle.” Fred whistled.

Buck cursed under his breath but followed with hands shoved deep into his empty pockets.

They came upon a ruin of an adobe building with a sooty candle-lit window at the side and a falling-down, rotted door at the front. “What’s this place?” Buck’s stomach churned.

“It’s cozy in a way,” Fred said flashing a charming smile before knocking.

The door opened a crack with a loud creak and the sound of a smoker’s cough behind it. “What you want?”

“Mr. Beadle sent me this way. You open?” Fred asked.

“You got money?”

“‘Course.”

“It’s a dollar a poke—extra for anything else,” the woman said.

Buck pulled Fred back. “You can’t be serious, Fred. A dollar’s cheap even for here—this is disgusting. We can’t do this!”

“Cheap is good—it’s why I came out here tonight. I’m getting some western refreshment like it or not. You jinxed us at cards—at least give me this thrill.” Fred shoved Buck out of the way. “Let us in then, ma’am!”

The door opened, almost falling on them. The woman pushed it back in place. “My name’s Miss Ginny, sir. Come in.” Her doe eyes went to Buck lingering in the shadows. “Are you comin’ or ain’t you?”

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Fiction: Provoking Talk

“Be on alert now, boys,” cautioned the teamster. “This is where the bandits cut my friend down not two weeks ago.”

“Be on alert,” Buck remembered. “Be on alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong.”  He took a deep breath. He must try to have faith. The huge, dark sky terrified him. If there was no God then what did he have? He couldn’t go back to his old life. Maybe everything was just luck and happenstance or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe everything came down to behavior, or it didn’t.

Buck’s life felt different since accepting Jesus—but how could he be sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking? Maybe the stories were fake. Maybe there were no real men named Paul, John, or Peter … but Paul—how could he write so passionately, so compellingly about a fake savior? And all of those centuries after, filled with lives changed and artwork created and, yes, the very hope and peace that came to Buck, a nobody, traveling in the gloomy Arizona desert. Without God, he’d fall into despair. All else seemed shallow and worthless compared to the promises he was just now reading about and beginning to understand. Forgetting himself, he whispered, “I am so thankful, God, that you made them all write it down.”

“What are you saying, Buck?” Fred asked.

“Do you believe in God at all?”

“What? Well, sure, I guess. Whatever you say,” Fred said, the whites of his eyes narrowing as if to prevent an annoying light from entering.

“The things we did together in the past … we’re forgiven.”

“Great. Now what’s the name of the infamous watering hole in town?”

“The Buckskin. We should go back and spend time with the family,” Buck suggested.

“Are you joking? I rode all the way out here with them fools. I need a damned break and a good lay.”

“Oh, Fred, come on. You said I’d be home early.”

“My God, it’s like you’re an old lady. Listen, I do want to hear about your God thing. I admit I don’t understand it. I don’t mean to be aggressive with you, but it’s been a long journey and the last few months of school were very hard on me, having to get everyone sorted out so you could have a chance at success in life. One night out will make all the difference. I need to make some changes too, and maybe, just maybe you’re the one to help.” Fred took a sip of whiskey. “It just occurred to me that this whole conversion thing … well it could be that God is working through you to get to me!”

“I don’t think so.” Buck grit his teeth. What if the one and only purpose for Buck’s conversion was to influence Fred? God was his sanctuary. Buck worried that Fred, if converted, would be a better Christian than he was.

“Buck, are you all right?”

“I’m just thinking.”

“Oh, hell, you do too much of that. Let life play out a little on its own. You’d be surprised at how much fun it can be.”

The teamster laughed. “Yer brother’s right there. Life only gets worse as you get old like me. I got three marriages to awful jezebels behind me—very unaccepting women, schemers in their thinkin’—so I came west and I had me some very nice times.”

“See, Buck, listen to the old saw.”

The man snapped his reins. “Yep. Well, I can’t get it up no more.”

Buck glanced at Fred with a smug smile.

george elbert burr“Yep, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was dead tomorra. I piss blood. Have done for a while now. Old age ain’t no picnic, so live it up while you can.”

“How old are you?” Buck asked.

“Thirty-eight.”

Buck took a deep breath. “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”

Fred punched Buck’s arm hard.

The man chuckled. “‘Course. Many times, but it ain’t done nothin’ fer me. I’m fine on my own.”

Buck cleared his throat. “Well, you need to make peace if you’re going to die.”

“Look, kid, I don’t know if I’m dyin.’ I was just makin’ talk. I ain’t wantin’ any preachin’.”

“It’s just that God will forgive your adulterous ways if you believe!” Buck said.

Fred punched him again.

Buck shoved him back, explaining, “But in Ezekiel it says if I don’t speak out to the wicked they’ll die for their sin, and I’ll be held accountable for their blood.”

“I don’t have to take this no more. Get out of my wagon! The both of you!” the teamster cursed them.

“But, sir!” Fred begged.

“No, get out with your ugly friend,” the teamster ranted. “You promised me no trouble!”

“Jesus isn’t trouble at all,” Buck said, but Fred dragged him from the wagon.

The teamster dashed off toward town, leaving the two in the dark.

“God damn it, Buck. You’re plumb loco! Now we’re in the goddamned middle of nowhere!”

“You shouldn’t keep using God’s name in vain …” Buck said.

“What? You’re crazy!” Fred went to slap Buck’s face, but Buck blocked him and took hold of his arm.

“I will never allow you to touch me again,” Buck said.

“Oh, what will you do about it?” Fred asked pulling his arm from Buck with a confident sneer.

“I’ll stop being your brother. I don’t need you anymore. I don’t need you!” Buck followed the moonlit trail to town. It was too late to turn back. A friend at the stables might let Buck sleep there.

Fred trotted beside him. “Come on, don’t be so hard. Of course we’ll always be brothers. And I guess you did us a favor. The teamster didn’t take his fare so there’s more money for us.”

Buck marched on.

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Fiction: Honest Appraisals

A soldier poked his head in to the coach to greet the Crenshaw family when they came to a stop. He scanned the group of strangers. Opening the door, the soldier held out his hand to Buck’s sister Meg. “Allow me to help you, miss.”

Despite her best efforts to appear unmoved, she giggled, blushed, and took the soldier’s hand. “Thank you, sir,” she said, hopping down as lightly as she could but still managing to bump up against the soldier.

The soldier laughed and Meg went red.

“Will you be staying long enough to attend one of our dances, miss?” the soldier asked. “A pretty girl like yourself would be happily employed all evening. Do you like to dance?”

Meg pursed her lips but replied, “I love to dance.”

“Bully. You might reserve a dance for me. I’m Lieutenant Wilder. Royal Wilder.” He called to Buck. “You never told me you had two lovely sisters, Crenshaw!”

The rest of the family descended into the withering heat of mid-afternoon, shielding their eyes.

“Lieutenant Wilder,” Buck said, “this is my father, Doctor Graham Crenshaw, and my mother, Margaret Crenshaw, and this is Fred. You’ve met Meg.”

“Just Meg?” Lieutenant Wilder asked. He was a heavy man with clear blue eyes and dark hair.

“You may call me that if you like,” Meg replied with wide doe-eyes as she fanned herself.

Margaret took her by the arm. “My daughter is rather forward, sir. You may call her Miss Crenshaw. She’s not a sodbuster’s daughter.”

The man kept smiling. “Whatever you say ma’am. I suppose your daughter gets her looks from you.”

“You soldiers don’t charm me in the least, sir,” Margaret said. “Meg’s not meant for frontier living.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Wilder said but turned and winked at Meg.

“Sir, I’m to take my family to Captain Markham’s,” Buck said.

“Yes. Certainly. And it’s been a pleasure meeting you all,” the lieutenant said, touching his cap.

Meg waved. Margaret caught it and slapped her hand. “Young lady, you are not to make eyes with every bold soldier you see. Besides, you should realize that Mr. Wilder was obviously not serious. I saw the way he laughed at your clumsiness—that’s why he mentioned dancing—as a joke on you, dear. I tell you all the time that there’s a great deal of difference between plump and downright fat, and you have long since crossed that line—just like your father. Do you think I’d ever be brave enough to dance with him?”

“I’d never ask you,” Graham grumbled.

The soft flesh beneath Meg’s chin trembled.

“Sis, the lieutenant’s fat too,” Buck said. “Wilder’s in no position to judge.”

“Oh, Buck, you’re a caution!” Fred laughed. “Is this the new man? All full of helpful honesty.”

“Meg, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded,” Buck said.

“Buck, shut up your glab! Don’t try and do me any favors,” Meg said. “I may be fat, but you’re ugly.”

Buck kept quiet, but thought to himself, “I will forgive her because I must.”

“Were these buildings erected by soldiers?” Margaret asked. “They certainly are shabby. Thankful would have one believe she lived in a paradise. God deliver us from this sand!”

“Mama, that’s a ridiculous prayer!” Buck said.

“Well, maybe you can teach us how to do it properly, if you’re so smart,” Fred said. “What did those soldiers call you? Apostle? Give us a break if you would. I see nothing but the same old Buck insulting his mother and sister. It’s no wonder you have no luck with the ladies.”

Buck lunged forward, but then said, “No. I won’t do this. I won’t fight you.” For a moment Buck had shown restraint. He thanked God.

“Good thinking. You’ve never beaten me yet at anything. You need me, so stop being a fool.”

“I don’t need anyone—but God,” Buck said not sure if he meant it.

Fred, Margaret and Meg laughed uproariously. Graham looked disturbed. “You seem tired, son,” he said, but Buck knew he meant “unhinged” by the tone of his voice.

“Look what happens when you’re left alone,” Fred said. “You take up with niggers, get beaten and shot. Now you go over into a religious rapture …”

“I’m afraid that Fred is right, dear,” Margaret added. “You need guidance—someone to stabilize your mind. You’re a danger to yourself, and that’s a fact.”

“No,” Graham said. “Buck can and should stand on his own. He’s struggling lately. It’s why he needs the crutch of religion, but it’ll pass when he’s stronger.”

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Featured Image: Portrait of an Italian Lady by Mary Cassatt (Gilcrease Museum)

Fiction: Family Shots

“Merciful heavens, Graham, look at Buck’s face. It’s worse than ever!” Margaret cried.

“Mother, you look well,” Buck said and kissed her cheek.

“You look terrible.”

“Well, I was shot.”

“What?” Fred cried in disbelief. “Who shot you?”

“An Apache.”

“Damn, you were in a shoot-out with Indians?” Fred asked in jealous awe. “You lucky son of a …”

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Buck said.

“Tell that to the girls back home,” Margaret said.

“Mother, there’s more to life than girls,” Buck replied, failing to hide his disappointment.

“And what’s more important, Buck, than girls?” Meg asked, fanning her round face.

Buck coughed. “Well … God, I think.”

The Crenshaws laughed. Graham stopped first. “Seriously, we’re tired and in no mood for jokes. Let’s go to the coach now.”

They moved off, but Buck stood still. Graham turned and stared.

“Father, I hoped you might be pleased,” Buck said.

“Pleased?” Graham mopped his face.

“Yes, when I got shot I met a missionary who told me all about—well, Jesus and such. It’s meant a lot to me.”

“That’s nice, Buckie,” Margaret said. “I suppose a little religion is a good thing. Though you act like we never sent you to Sunday school. Is it my fault you always skipped out?”

“Mother, I didn’t say …” Buck began, but no one listened. They hopped into the waiting coach, complaining of the heat and dirt.

Fred lingered taking Buck aside. “So you forgive me my sins? What’s all this religion rot? I don’t understand the angle you’re playing. I’ve already got you off the hook over Streeter. And that big show for Father was appalling.”

“It was no show, Fred.”

“Oh, I see, you don’t want me stealing your thunder. I’ll play along then. This should be entertaining.”

Buck took a deep breath. His new found faith was nothing on Thankful’s surprises. Maybe they’d overlook the changes in her as much as they had overlooked his.

The family jostled and complained over seating as the coach set out. Graham adjusted his weight and said, “Buck, tell us how you were shot.”

Margaret sighed and dabbed her eyes. “A son of mine shot over a no-good Indian. The savages should be sent from this earth—every last one of them.”

“That’s what the army aims to do, thank God,” Fred said. “Survival of the fittest. I like Darwin.”

“No, Fred, you’re wrong on that count. The army—the men I’ve met here—they just want to keep peace. That Geronimo just makes trouble for the rest of his people. They don’t even like him.”

“What? Who told you that? The savages’ll tell you anything—but you’re still so naive,” Fred said, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it, after all I’ve tried to teach you about people. Don’t bring your sympathetic attitudes back to the academy or it’ll be another hard year for us.”

“If the Indians are so great then why did they shoot you?” Meg asked, her eyes darting out the window at the hidden perils.

“It was my own fault. I was drunk and went after William,” Buck said.

“Weldon?” Fred leaned in, full of interest.

“We were drunk on Father’s spirits—with Lieutenant Fahy too—and things went sour and I was shot, but it was no one’s fault. And as I’ve said, it brought me to … the Lord—God—I mean,” Buck explained. “There was a court-martial proceeding, but everyone felt sorry for Fahy so … well, a note will be sent to school concerning my part in it all.”

“Why sorry for Fahy?” Graham asked.

“Well, I’m not supposed to tell, but I feel I should warn you that Fahy was shot too.”

“In the face?” Margaret asked.

“No! Not in the face, Mama! Gosh, you’re so shallow. Thankful will need your support,” Buck said.

“It’s not Christian to judge Mama,” Fred quipped.

“What’s happened to Lieutenant Fahy?” Graham asked. “A court-martial decision based on sympathy?”

“Thankful wants to tell you about it. I only wanted to prepare you. Thankful is a good girl. Everyone loves her at Fort Grant and they’ve all been very supportive over everything.”

“Everything? What else is there to tell us?” asked Graham.

Margaret waved her fan. “All I can say is I’ll be rightly annoyed to have come across the country if there’s no wedding.”

“Thankful’s convinced Fahy to go forward with it,” Buck said.

“Thankful had to convince him?” Graham asked. “Buck, I hope you weren’t trying to soften me up back there before telling me of a terrible disaster you and your sister have created.”

“No, Father. I’m genuinely happy to see you,” Buck said.

“I don’t like the sound of this Fahy one bit,” Margaret said. “Thankful has brought this all on herself.”

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FEATURED IMAGE: The Old Stagecoach of the Plains by Frederic Remington

 

Fiction: Tangled

“Seems the bit of merriment you boys had got the lieutenant shot,” said the veteran doctor.

Buck swung his legs to the side of the bed. “I have to see him.”

“No, I’m afraid not, son. Fahy won’t want to see you. He’s upset and angry, poor devil. Says you both stole horses and deserted him—even set him up somehow.”

“We didn’t steal anything! It was Fahy himself who put us atop those damned horses!” said Buck.

“But you left the camp and put everyone in danger,” the doctor said.

“But we were drunk,” said William. “Even the lieutenant was fuddled. Why would we set him up?”

“Well, of course when you’re recovered you’ll have your chance to give your side of the story, boys.”

“Are we under arrest?” Buck asked.

Buck laid back on his pillow and the doctor unwrapped his head. The old West Point wound still looked worse than the new injury, and it concerned him. “The Apaches turned in the fool who shot Fahy, so that’s done. It’ll be kept quiet. No one wants any civilians taking revenge. Fahy’s in trouble with creditors. He’s very popular at Fort Grant, but one of his men here blurted out something about fixing the rationing scales.”

Buck glanced William’s way.

“Do you boys know anything about it?” the doctor asked.

Neither of them said a word.

A commotion outside the door distracted them. The door flew open and Thankful ran to Buck’s bedside. “Oh, Buckie! I came as fast as I could!”

Buck pulled her close. “Thankful, I’m so sorry for you!”

She smoothed Buck’s hair from his inflamed temple. “You’re such a silly pet! Buck, will you ever stay out of trouble? But you’re all right now, aren’t you? At least you’re still alive. The telegram was so vague. Won’t you reconsider the army?”

“No, of course not. But—well—you know about the lieutenant?”

Kenyon made signs that she didn’t, but too late.

Thankful pouted. “Lieutenant Fahy hasn’t written in weeks and I‘m sore at him.”

Kenyon came to her now and took her hand.

“What’s happened to him?” Thankful asked.

“Dear girl,” Kenyon began but turned to the doctor to finish. The missionary hated bad news.

“Miss Crenshaw, the lieutenant has been very severely injured.”

“How? But he told me it was safe here for him!”

“I’m afraid Lieutenant Fahy was shot by a young Apache—very intoxicated and foolish.”

“No. But they’re friendlies—that’s what I was told.” Thankful’s voice quaked.

“Fahy followed us up into the mountains after the party he gave in Buck’s honor—and got caught out,” William explained.

“I knew it!” Thankful cried. “I knew you were involved in this! Your stupid behavior has gotten poor Buck hurt and my future husband—I hate you! You’re selfish and reckless and so stupid!”

“Thankful, stop it!” Buck said. “It’s not his fault. I chased after Willy and so did Fahy. We were all reckless and drunk.”

“Everyone has to chase after you and follow you and rescue you, William! It’s disgusting that I ever loved you!” Thankful slapped her hands to her mouth, having said more than she wanted to, and cried bitterly.

William hobbled over against Buck’s silent protests. “Thankful … I wish I’d known it sooner—I love you too.”

Thankful stared up at him. “I said I once loved you, but you’re hopeless now.”

“I can change if only you’ll have me.”

Thankful laughed. “Don’t ever dare ask me to be responsible for your behavior. Who are you? A man should be responsible for himself. Just leave me and my family alone. What sort of man considers himself when another is suffering because of him? I would never desert Lieutenant Fahy!”

William’s blood boiled. “He’s no great shakes.”

Thankful jumped up and slapped him hard. A fly buzzed at the window, and men a long way off laughed at a joke. Thankful turned to the doctor. “Please take me to him.”

“Of course, Miss Crenshaw. ”

The doctor’s face scared Thankful then, and she turned to Buck. “Won’t you come with me?”

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Featured Image: “Portrait de Femme au Chapeau Noir” by Gustave Jean Jacquet

Fiction: Drawing From Memory

William sat beneath a cottonwood in the searing heat trying to ignore the hordes of flies and eye gnats commuting from breeze to hot breeze. Kenyon gave him the well-kept sable brushes and the vivid oil tubes left by their fallen leader. William flipped through Ignatius’ leather bound sketchbook with sinking heart. Crow warriors, Sioux women and children stood stiffly on the pages with orderly lists of Indian sayings and Bible references written out in a regular, precise script. William considered keeping the book to emulate it, but it was impossible to be so perfect. He tossed the book aside.

The hum of light female conversation from the little yards on officers’ row and the gruffer voices of men on police and stable duty floated over the parade ground. The buzz of the telegraph wires sang William a lullaby. There was nothing as regular and homey as a western army post.

A small dog, well-fed and friendly, trotted up to share the shade. William scratched it behind the ears before sketching the quaint maternal scenes in the yards. He hadn’t put pencil to paper in a long while and was rusty, but this world on paper was his. The characters kept a safe and idealized distance.

Two dirty children raced up, wanting pictures. William complied and sent them off as Mrs. Markham strode toward him in her heavy-footed way.

“Bill, sorry to trouble you. I’ve got some oranges—all the way from California.” She handed him the fruit.

“Thank you, Mrs. Markham.” William waited for the real reason she stood over him.

“Bill, I know you’re busy.”

William laughed, peeling his orange. “I look busy?”

Mrs. Markham glanced back toward her quarters. “Would you mind doing a nice sketch of the children? Lydia–is awful weak—she’s day to day and the captain’s pet. We’d like a nice picture—just in case.” Her eyes held the worry so like his mother’s years ago when his sister Eliza was sick. “We’ve tried having them sit for a camera, but you know how antsy young ones get and your drawings—the ones Thankful showed the captain really pleased him.”

William got to his feet—realizing that he should have done that already “Mrs. Markham, I’m out of practice—but I’ll do my best. Anything to help you.” He gathered the supplies and followed Mrs. Markham into the house. Thankful pretended not to see him and soon disappeared. The children were gathered, cleaned up and sent out back where Mrs. Markham had cultivated a sparse desert garden along the side fence.

None of the children cooperated but for the weak one so William set to work on her. Lydia folded her petite hands and smiled. Her eyes were framed in circles of dark sickness, but her voice was like music. William had no trouble exchanging the reality of a sick little girl before a wilted garden into a composition of vitality and splendor. The girl recited nursery rhymes while William sang to her in his father’s awful voice the salty songs passed among military families:

It’s all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog

It’s all gone for beer and tobacco

Well I spent all me tin on the lassies drinking gin

And across the western ocean I must wander.

The music for supper came from outside the adjutant’s office.

Mrs. Markham, in a thick sweat from the stove in desert heat, rushed out back then. “Oh dear, Bill, I forgot all about you! Supper for those missionaries and the rest of you kept me in a great flurry.”

William looked as though he had just wakened from a trance. “I didn’t notice the time, ma’am.” He handed her his work with a wary smile. “I’m afraid that I’m not much interest to children. I couldn’t make any of them stay, except for Lydia here.”

Mrs. Markham looked over William’s work for a minute and cried. “Bill, the captain—he’ll be astonished. It’s lovely.”

“I’m sorry I have no time to do the others.”

“Never mind. This is more than enough. Thank you.”

“It was nothing, ma’am.”

“Oh, you don’t know!” Mrs. Markham gave him a warm embrace. “I will pray for you, Billy. You’re good deep down.”

“I guess,” William replied. His new shirt itched at the collar.

Mrs. Markham placed the drawing on a high shelf in the kitchen and pushed William into the parlor where Miss Peckham read and Thankful mended socks.

“Girls, our first guest is here. See to it that Bill is given something to drink.”

Neither of the girls were in a hurry to offer William anything. William pulled the flask from his bag and took a long gulp—a deserved one.

As William lowered the flask from his lips the missionaries entered the front vestibule with Captain Markham and Lieutenant Fahy in happy conversation.

“Ah, there you are, Mr. Weldon,” said Kenyon.

William put away the liquor.

Mrs. Markham passed around drinks. William asked for water, but felt put upon and angry. They talked about the San Carlos Agency and the Indians and Geronimo, but William didn’t care a fig. He considered different ways of slipping out to get drink.

It was then the thought came to William–the alcohol was in charge. It was a fleeting, yet terrifying realization he wanted to escape—by getting drunk. Absorbed in his thoughts, the sound of his name brought William back.

“Captain, dear, I must show you what our Mr. Weldon has done.”

The captain looked as though he expected something less than admirable but waited patiently for his wife to return with the sketch. He glanced at William and then at the drawing. “But . . . you never saw her when she was well, son. How did you capture Lydia as she used to be?”

“I imagined her, sir, and it was easy since Lydia’s such a good little pixie,” William explained. All eyes moved from the drawing to him. “May I have a drink?” he asked Mrs. Markham, but saw Kenyon and Thankful. “Of more water, I mean, ma’am.”

Captain Markham put his arm over William’s shoulder, with an emotional sigh. “You Weldons sure have a way of surprising folks.”

“What do you mean, sir?” William asked.

“I never knew Lieutenant Weldon, William’s father, well,” the captain said to the others. “Met him only once, in fact. A good soldier from what I was told, but a secret saint according to a friend of mine who is no longer with us. Seems Lieutenant Weldon gave my friend all his savings so my friend could live out his final days in California in comfort with his family—all had consumption. The poor sergeant and his family were sent small sums of money till they died.”

This was the family that gave Eliza the disease. William remembered and his heart grew hard. His father was a fool. “I guess that was a waste of money in the end,” he said.

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