“I thought you wanted to research the Apaches?” Fahy asked.
“Yes, but I may never have that chance. Mr. Saint Kenyon won’t let me come along with you.”
“Why not? Did you ask Captain Markham? He might put in a word.” Fahy seemed disappointed in her and it irked Thankful.
“Maybe Miss Peckham has had enough of the military,” Thankful said.
“Oh no, but all the best officers are taken,” Miss Peckham replied with a grin. “So this is farewell.”
“Good riddance,” Thankful said with grim finality.
“Well, I guess, good luck, miss,” Fahy added, lingering a minute as if he had more to say. “I must be off. Kenyon is over there messing with my wagons.” He kissed Thankful. “I’ll see you before I go.”
Miss Peckham waved as Fahy trotted off and turned to Thankful. “Poor you, Miss Thankful. Looks like your lieutenant is far too ambitious for you. You must learn it sooner rather than later. Once they’re sexually satisfied they don’t have much time for women. Prepare yourself for slavery.”
“Do you ever have a hopeful, decent thing to say, Miss Peckham?”
Miss Peckham laughed. “About men? No.”
“They seem to like you a fair bit,” Thankful noted.
“I know how to stroke their egos—that’s an indispensable talent in a man’s world, isn’t it?” Miss Peckham said in her most self-satisfied way.
Thankful’s mother never once managed to pet her father’s ego. Thankful wasn’t sure how it was done.
“You know what is particularly sad about you, Thankful? You do have intelligence, but it’ll be wasted on the lieutenant. I don’t mean to say that Lieutenant Fahy isn’t clever and very handsome, but he has about as much respect for a woman’s mind as your Saint Paul does.”
“My Saint Paul?”
“I see what you read at your bedside—oh, holy one. What I don’t understand is how you could submit yourself to a man,” Miss Peckham said.
“It’s easy if you respect and admire him,” Thankful said weakly.
“Men aren’t gods,” Miss Peckham said as if letting Thankful in on a secret, “and Saint Paul would have us kept in bondage.”
“Have you really read what you speak of? Men must be prepared to sacrifice themselves for their faith and family—that’s worthy of respect,” Thankful said.
“For your information—I’ve read bits and pieces of the Bible—one must understand the enemy to defeat it.”
“That’s blasphemous!” Thankful said.
“So what? Why should I believe a book that can’t be proved and was written by men with their own best interests at heart?”
“It’s God and his love at the heart of the Bible . . .”
“Oh, please! Stop it before I vomit! Men are selfish swine. Christ is a fiction. Christians are at best naive and at worst plunderers and murderers, hidden behind masks of righteousness. It’s truly disgusting. I can’t tell you how many times in my childhood people prayed for me and my siblings when what we needed was warm clothes,” Miss Peckham said.
“Not all Christians are hypocrites,” Thankful said.
“You don’t know anything, Miss Thankful! How could you know in your perfect world? And look, just like Mary, you’re with child out of wedlock—though I doubt it was by a miraculous act of God. I’m sure it was just the average everyday lusts of a spoiled girl who has always done as she pleases!”
Thankful cried out. “I was foolish! I only did it to please him!”
“There, there, Thankful. It will all work out. The lieutenant will still marry you, I suppose.”
Thankful looked after the lieutenant, her breath knocked from her. “Of course he will. He loves me.”
“But you love Bill Weldon. How will that work?” Miss Peckham asked.
“You’re an evil woman who wants trouble for me. I don’t know why,” Thankful cried.
“Thankful, I don’t hate you. I just feel so impatient with you and girls like you. How can you not see the hell you’re in? Look at your choices in life—either marry a drunk from home or a self-interested soldier, who will treat you like a princess until you’re ravaged by childbirth and then will easily find another young thing on his travels. I know the type. I know all the types. I’m a keen observer of human nature and it’s far from inspiring. You may bury your head in a magical book for all the good it will do you. But I choose to work for change in the here and now.”
“So you plan to change men?” Thankful asked shakily.
“Yes, in fact I demand it of them. But it’s mothers—like you—who will have the ultimate responsibility. I fully believe that boys need to be brought up differently,” Miss Peckham said.
“I don’t want men to change,” Thankful replied.
“That’s because you’re deluded. It’s women like me who possess clear vision that will light the path to pure freedom for us all. We’ll show you how to be without men—to be seen as equals.”
“Well, I don’t want to be independent of men—not completely,” Thankful said.
“Men are slave masters—all of them—their power has corrupted them. Maybe once they were more like us.”
“God forbid!” Thankful cried.
“You are so beaten down that you hate your own sex!” Miss Peckham checked the time.
“No, I like being a girl. . .”
“A WOMAN! You’re a woman, for heaven’s sake!” Miss Peckham lectured.
“I like being a lady, but I wouldn’t want my husband to be one,” Thankful explained.
Thankful laughed. “Why not? Isn’t it clear as day? Without men there would be no civilization. It’s men who conquered the land and protected their families.”
“I can shoot as well as any man!” Miss Peckham responded.
“Maybe so, but not with children hanging off of you.”
“I don’t want children.”
Thankful wrapped her arms around her middle. A wave of nausea came over her. “Luckily civilization doesn’t depend upon you. My mother is domineering and disrespectful to men and that’s worked wonders in her marriage. My father tried to do right by her and she stomped on him until he was made a fool to his children and was hated by them. Finally, he found someone else.”
Miss Peckham clapped her hands. “See, men are mudsill. A woman stands up and a man’s only response is infidelity.”
“There are women who stand up, but there are more women who tear down—tear down each other and men too and even children! They want things their way and they want a power they despise once they have. My mother didn’t grow any happier each time she won her way with my father. I’d submit any day to a man over a woman. A good man wouldn’t dare treat me like most women have,” Thankful said.
“Oh, I’m sure that you have been terribly mistreated at your finishing schools and. . .”
Thankful trembled. She hated upset of any sort. “Look how you treat me, Miss Peckham. You must realize that I’m scared and all alone. My only friend from home is a changed man from drinking and my fiancé is leaving me. And what have you done, but insult my faith, flirt with Mr. Fahy and abuse William? You have proven my point. I’m very happy you’re leaving.”