50 Books Before I Die (or in the next 5 years)

classic book club

I’ve gone against type and joined a club! The Classic Book Club!

I’m so excited to begin my FIVE YEAR JOURNEY reading through and blogging about 50 classic books! My goal is to read and post about a book each month.

The list below is in no particular order (though while compiling the list I’ve nearly finished War and Peace and can’t wait to write my first response post).

I’ve set my starting date as August 1, 2017 and my end date as September 1, 2022 (I think I actually have 51 books on the list and may want to sneak in a few extras).

Any last minute suggestions? I’d love to hear them!

Classics Club Book List

War and Peace Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy

Tom Jones Henry Fielding

Clarissa Samuel Richardson

The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas

Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë

Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray

The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

A Passage to India EM Forster

A Light in August (or The Hamlet) William Faulkner

The Pursuit of Love Nancy Mitford

The Woman in White Wilkie Collins

Three Men in a Boat Jerome Jerome

Candide Voltaire

Cecilia Fanny Burney

The Life and Opinions Tristam Shandy, Laurence Sterne

The Vicar of Wakefield Oliver Goldsmith

The Nun Diderot

The Prairie James Fennimore cooper

Blithedale Romance Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy

Black Beauty Anna Sewall

The Perpetual Curate Margaret Oliphant

Lilith George Macdonald

Washington Square Henry James

Silas Marner George Eliot

The Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Ambrose Beirce

Love Stendhal

The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Moll Flanders Daniel Defoe

Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro

The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli

The Sailor who fell from Grace with the Sea  Yukio Mishima

 The Misanthrope Moliere

 Writings on Nature John Muir

Animal Farm George Orwell

Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak

The Story of an African Farm Olive Schreiner

The Red and the Black Stendhal

The General CS Forester

The Divine Comedy Dante Alighieri

Lord of the Flies William Golding

Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon

Kim Rudyard Kipling

Flowers of Evil Charles Baudelaire

Night Elie Wiesel

Moonstone Wilkie Collins

Miss Ravenel’s Conversion from Secession to Loyalty John W. De Forest

elizabeth
My reading companion Elizabeth

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Who Else Hates Genre Labels?

The White Cockade by Edward Martin
The White Cockade by Edward Martin

LITERARY FICTION FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE LITERARY FICTION

“There is a stereotype of literary fiction shared by both science fiction readers and non-science fiction readers: that academically-sanctioned, “serious” contemporary fiction is all about dull middle-class people having affairs, and that the writers of this fiction do such things as use a couple hundred pages to describe events that could quite easily be described in a paragraph.”

WHY THE HATE FOR ROMANCE?

An interesting thread on romance in fantasy writing:

“But for people who want verisimilitude and detailed characterizations, romance is going to be there. Real people deal with romance in their actual lives. It’s a huge part of being human.

Romance doesn’t mean the book is plot-less or spends all its time dealing with vampire-werewolf three-ways. Badly written romance means the book is plot-less or spends all its time dealing with vampire-werewolf three-ways.” unconundrum

THE EMPTINESS OF LITERARY FICTION

“The stereotype is not just about elevating certain works of fiction, but overdetermining their value.”

13 STRUGGLES OF BEING A ROMANTIC WHO HATES ROMANCE (this one doesn’t have much to do with books. Just a fun read.

“(And yes, you cried deeply at The Notebook, and hated yourself for every minute of it.)”

 

WHAT FICTION DO YOU HATE? or LOVE?

Fiction: It’s Better to be Loved

Falk-MinnieAshley

Working as house help isn’t quite as fun as Thankful hoped . . .

“Sometimes I wish I could chop it all off in this heat!” Thankful complained as she again tried to control her curls within the kerchief she wore while cleaning.

“Oh, you mustn’t do that,” Mrs. Markham said, sipping her tea.  “Every woman here would kill for such a gift of hair. Now, there, dear, you’ve missed a spot. With more scrubbing, that stain will come off.”

Thankful put her energy into the food-splattered wall, but it was futile work with so many sloppy children racing in and out. The scrubbing didn’t bother her as much as Mrs. Markham’s constant hovering. Wasn’t there some useful thing the lady of the house could be doing? Mrs. Markham’s young daughter Lydia, a sickly girl whose days were numbered, languished for lack of attention, but Mrs. Markham chose to ignore and avoid her daughter. Instead she picked on Thankful’s work.

“Well, I’m certainly glad you came to me before marrying,” Mrs. Markham continued. “You must be prepared for anything if you decide to marry an officer. I remember when my young lieutenant husband dragged me across the prairie. We had not a penny to our name—not even an extra pot. We couldn’t even keep a girl—not that I would have allowed it back then. Young officers have roving eyes.”

“Not Mr. Fahy,” Thankful said.

“Did I mention Mr. Fahy?” Mrs. Markham asked with a grin. “I’m sure he would be very pleased to know how you defend him.”

“You won’t tell!”

“My dear child, Lieutenant Fahy is already quite enamored with you,” Mrs. Markham replied, pointing to a missed spot on the wall. “There is no need for me to further sell you to him.”

“I won’t be bought!” Thankful stated, splashing sudsy water.

“Maybe it’s time you stopped taking his gifts,” Mrs. Markham advised.

Thankful blushed. “I’m not sure how to stop him. I’ve asked politely, but he ignores my feelings on the matter.”

Mrs. Markham looked worried. “Mr. Fahy always means well, but Thankful, remember, there is much to this army life that is profitable, but in money it is not. You must do your best not to take advantage of a man’s generosity.”

Thankful did not appreciate her mistress’s words but held her tongue. She would speak to Mr. Fahy tonight about his unnecessary gifts. Mrs. Markham went out back to garden and soon a knock came at the door. Fahy walked in and helped Thankful to her feet. He wore his white horse grooming jacket, and Thankful laughed. “Look at the state of us this morning! As pretty as a picture.”

“I like the smell of horse,” Fahy laughed and kissed Thankful’s wet hand. He pulled a small bouquet of wilting desert flowers from his pocket. “I thought I should bring them before they completely die, but it looks as if maybe I’m too late.”

Thankful pretended to be fascinated by the little blooms. “Oh, Mr. Fahy, this was ever more thoughtful than any of those real gifts. I hope you’ll always be practical like this and not waste money on me at all.”

“Why? Don’t you like my gifts?”

“You shouldn’t spend all of your money,” Thankful said, dusting hay off Fahy’s shoulder. “Mrs. Markham says . . .”

“Don’t listen to her. I love the old girl, but she never keeps out of my business—especially now—but I’ve beaten her this time.” He pulled a clean handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Thankful.

“My, this is very practical indeed.” she said, trying to appear enthused.

“You silly girl, open it up.”

Something sparkled and fell to the floor. Thankful retrieved it and looked at it dubiously. “Oh, a ring.”

“I was hoping you might like it and marry me,” Fahy said, twisting his mustache between his nervous fingers.

“Mr. Fahy, I’m shocked beyond disbelief!” Thankful replied, blushing between looks at the ring and the man before her.

“So you’re not happy with the idea?” Fahy asked, his brow furrowed.

“I hadn’t thought of it—yet.” She hugged him, but he pulled away.

“Oh. Well, I can return the ring then,” Fahy said.

“No! You’re offended, and I don’t understand why. I like you very much, sir, but we’ve known each other only a very few weeks. How do you know I’ll please you?”

“When I know something, I know it! I don’t waste my days in restless deliberation. I’m a soldier. Tomorrow may be my last!”

“Merciful heavens, don’t dare say such things!” It aggravated Thankful somehow. “Are you ill?”

“No, but any day there could be an Indian breakout, and I may be called upon to serve—I assume I will. I want to prove myself, of course. The West Pointers like to think low of us men risen from the ranks . . . but I’m off track. I want you now for my own. I want to know you’ll wait for me if I’m called and mourn me if I’m lost.”

“I won’t mourn for you! I mean, I don’t want to think of you dying, sir.”

“So you do care?” Fahy asked with an irresistible grin.

“Land sakes, yes! It’s only I’m all mixed up and afraid of marriage.” The idea of marriage, in a general way, was pleasant but actually settling into it was quite a different matter. How long had her parents courted before making a terrible mistake? Thankful had known Willy forever . . . but never mind him.

“We suit each other, don’t you think? I know you’ll be a good mother and wife,” Fahy said.

“I’m afraid I know too much about children and not a thing about men—I mean wifely duties. My mother is an odd bird. I don’t want to be like her—though I . . . I do care for her.”

“Do you feel any tenderness towards me like I feel for you?” Fahy asked. He straightened his jacket.

Fahy was charming. Thankful could see that. Any girl back east might be jealous of her. “Yes. I think so. You’re so much fun and very kind to me,” she said.

“Just think of it, Miss Crenshaw, we can travel the world and throw big parties for generals and diplomats once my career is started, and you will dazzle the entire army. You are tremendously lovely and deserve better than scrubbing the floor.”

“That sounds wonderful, Mr. Fahy. I’d love to have big parties and read poetry and play the violin and talk about important things like art and politics, but my parents would be—surprised. I expected something different when I came out here.”

Fahy’s face clouded. “Yes, Bill Weldon. But you must realize that he’s lost.”

“You’re right. I know you are, but I feel sorry for him.”

“And your compassion is one of the very endearing qualities I admire. Miss Thankful Crenshaw, I well and truly love you, and I don’t know how I’d take losing you. From the moment I saw you I wanted you for my wife.”

“You love me, Mr. Fahy?” No one had ever said those words to her; not even her parents. No one. Thankful knew she was cared for, she was liked, she was a good girl, but was she loved? “You really love me?”

“Of course! I’d be a damned fool not to!” Fahy laughed and plunked his hands on her shoulders. “So what do you say? Won’t you take a chance with me?”

“I will, Mr. Fahy!” Thankful cried. “Promise to keep loving me, and I will try to please you!”

“You do please me, my sweet darling!” Fahy slipped the ring on Thankful’s finger.

“It’s sweet, sir, very sweet. Oh, I . . . like it . . . very much!” she gushed, but felt a knot in her stomach. “I’m frightened, Mr. Fahy.”

Fahy pat her face. “I’ll take care of everything. Not to worry!” He pulled her close and kissed her with passion.

PREVIOUS EPISODE FROM 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.”

 

Fiction: The Watch

William travels to Camp Grant to return Thankful’s watch (pawned to a worker at the stables by Haviland).

the watch“He’s intoxicated, the thief, and should be left to wander the desert,” Baker, the preacher’s son said when William arrived at Fort Grant that night.

“I’m not drunk—now let me see Thankful.”

The other sentry with Baker laughed. “She won’t be pleased to see you. No one will.”

“Shit-ass, just let me in,” William said with a slur.

The men relented, William being protected property of Captain Bourke’s.

William heard the tinkling of laughter and music at the end of the wind swept parade grounds. What day was it? Saturday? An officers’ dance was on. He limped towards the music, remembering his timid attempt at dance with his mother in the kitchen. His grandmother’s laughter had put a stop to it. “He’s no Simon, is all I have to say!”

No one could ever be like his Uncle Simon. William remembered him as always so at ease and generous—nothing like his father. He sighed, edging closer to the chapel dance hall and shivering in his light jacket. A visiting party of officers and their wives amplified the merriment and noise. A small window offered him a secret glimpse.

old-camp-grant-280Along the larger windows at the far end stood the regular company men and the laundresses envying the lace and cut of the gowns worn by the officers’ wives. Flags and bunting hung everywhere bursting with national colors. William studied the unfinished paintings of swords and chivalrous sayings on the rough walls. No one had attempted completing William’s work. The music from a few members of the regimental band made something ache inside of William.Why couldn’t he ever remember those times in the army with Mother and Papa—and Eliza? He missed things, but couldn’t figure what.

The notes of a waltz came up, and the honor of leading the dance went to a young officer and his new friend. The captain’s wife had been ingenious in getting up, with a few minor alterations, a dress suitable for Thankful, mix and match always the way at the frontier posts where clothes must last. Though more old-fashioned than Thankful usually wore, the lavender bodice and black full skirt set her streets ahead of the other ladies.

William heard a few of the bachelor officers arguing over promised dances, and he wanted to pummel them. Thankful’s laughter annoyed him, too, as she swung along with Fahy, her dark curls bobbing and shining in the candlelight.

Would the musicians ever stop? William cringed when things grew quiet and Thankful pinned her fan beside the corps badge on Fahy’s jacket. Why couldn’t she just stab him? But everything about the Crenshaws went smooth as silk.

William finished the rough whiskey in his bottle and made his way around to the front where a makeshift punch and refreshment table stood with favors and unusual edibles made with army rations and lit by polished lanterns. William grabbed a snack and waited for his chance to speak with Thankful. He upset a small platter with the carbine dangling off his shoulder. The noise caught Mrs. Markham’s attention. She handed her punch to a young pet officer and hustled over to the uninvited guest.

“Mr. Weldon, how are you here tonight? You know how much I care for you—and the captain, too. We’re both still upset you moved away, but this dance is for officers only, I’m afraid.”

William spotted some civilians, but what did it matter if she lied? “Mrs. Markham, I’m here to return something to Miss Crenshaw.”

“So you did take the money then?” Mrs. Markham asked. “I don’t know how it’s all gone so wrong for you. Well, Thankful was certain it was only some sort of mistake. And I suppose it was—to leave money in town the way she did, she’s very foolish, but so darn lovable—practically family already. You know how the army is, William.”

William squirmed.

Mrs. Markham gave him a hard look after spotting the old boots he wore. “Where are the boots the captain and his men got for you?”

“Lost.”

“You exasperate me, young man, truly, you do. But you realize even our lost sheep are welcomed back into the fold if only they’d come,” Mrs. Markham said with marked emphasis.

“Mrs. Markham, I like town,” William replied. “I only came to see Thankful.”

“My, she’s the belle of the barracks, isn’t she?” the captain’s wife said, admiring Thankful.

“She’s lovely,” William said as he caught sight of her, flying by on Fahy’s arm.

“Are you very distant cousins, Mr. Weldon?” Mrs. Markham asked with a confused look.

“No, just up the hill.”

The captain’s wife guided William out of the light. “Sweetie, your cousin is a fine young lady, who I’m sure doesn’t want her chance for a little society to be ruined and cut short by her pickled cousin. Now be fair. I know that it’s far too late for you to go back to your suite in town, but you can’t hang about here looking all dour. I’ll have you set up for bed tonight and you may speak to Miss Thankful first thing.”

Fahy and Thankful dashed up to the table in high spirits and took drinks.

“Those darned buttons and medals and such are pretty to look at and certainly keep my attention, but they scratch awfully much in a dance,” Thankful giggled, rubbing her cheek.

“If you weren’t so energetic in your steps, Miss Crenshaw, maybe a fellow would have a chance to mind his buttons,” Fahy laughed, his dark eyes full of merriment.

“Well, Mr. Fahy, I learned to dance from my father and he’s gracefuller than most,” Thankful said with her nose in the air.

William hated when she spoke childishly for attention.

“I guess your father had less buttons to get in the way,” Fahy quipped.

“Oh, Father has his big belly to watch out for. . .” Thankful burst into tears.

“Miss Crenshaw, did I offend you in some way?”

“Oh, it’s just you’re such a gentleman—like my father and you’ve all been so kind—what with taking up a collection for me—almost thirty dollars even! I’m so horrible and partly homesick—but I’ve made some very special . . . friends here, I think. I’m so mixed up!” A familiar figure stepped out of the shadows. “Willy?!”

Mrs. Markham could not hold him back.

He tucked his shirt as he walked up. “Thankful, I’ve retrieved something of yours.”

“Oh, William! I knew you couldn’t have taken the money. You wouldn’t! It’s not in you!” Thankful cried, deserting Fahy.

“No, Thankful . . . it’s not the money.”

“Well, whatever is it then?” Thankful asked with pained expression.

“It’s this; your watch.” He handed it over.

Fahy came up behind Thankful, protectively. “What has he done?”

Thankful flipped the elegant watch in her hand. “He’s given me my watch back,” she replied, expressionless.

“What’s the matter, Weldon? You couldn’t pawn it?” Fahy asked.

“Mr. Fahy, I think it’s best if you stay out of family business,” Mrs. Markham warned.

Thankful wiped her teary eyes. “I’m so ashamed of myself! I’m no better than poor William who has some excuse! He’s no cousin of mine—just a friend from home, and we lied to you. I put William up to it so I wouldn’t have to stay in that awful town! And I never should have taken the money from my father without permission! I’m a terrible girl who has brought shame to my family. I hope you can see it in your hearts to forgive me!”

Mrs. Markham took Thankful’s hand. “Oh, child, sometimes we learn from failure—I hope you will. Of course, I forgive you.”

“I just feel a little offended, Miss Crenshaw,” Fahy added. “That you would think that the men of the army would ever allow you to stay in town!”

“I realize that now and feel so mortified and foolish to leave my money—and now I will have to leave before I can regain your trust and friendship, Mr. Fahy.”

“You already have my friendship, Miss Crenshaw, and maybe it is you who must learn to trust others who will like you even more for being honest.”

“I will remember it as a lesson learned, Mr. Fahy,” Thankful said, flashing her long wet lashes up at him.

The color rose on Fahy’s face, and he took her hand in his and kissed it.

William froze. The way they gazed at each other was like his mother and father once did. It was like looking at his own lost dream.

Thankful turned to William, her voice icy. “Thank you for the watch back, but . . . well, it’s broken and all. Maybe you should pawn it.”

“Thankful, I just know that I would never take your money—I know it,” William said.

“Then where is it, Willy?” Thankful demanded.

“I think that maybe my friends . . .”

“Your friends? Who are these friends?” Thankful pulled William aside. “Are they the other drunks from town? I’m ashamed to know you. You’ve turned into what your friends are and your father would be very upset.”

“My father? What do you know about him, Thankful?”

“All I know is that he’s a sweet old man, and he’d be as heartbroken as I am seeing you like this!”

“Who do you think you are? After two days you’re sparking with the officers! Lieutenant Fahy even! Getting their hopes up only to go off and take up with someone else. I thought maybe you were better than the other Crenshaws, but you play tricks with people like nothing!” William said.  Unsteady on his feet, he took a step back.

Fahy and Mrs. Markham inched closer again.

“I’ve never played a single trick on you!” Thankful cried. “Why are you so cruel?”

“Because all of you Crenshaws are a pack of liars and cheats!”

Thankful threw the watch at him, “You are so eaten up with hate and jealousy. There’s no helping it! I don’t want a friend like you when there are men like Mr. Fahy. I’ll be a true and loyal friend to him—in letters even—if he’ll allow it.” Thankful turned to the lieutenant.

Fahy lingered in her adoration a moment.  He turned to William then. “Bill, you need to go to bed. I’ll set something up in my quarters,” he proposed with a magnanimous smile sent Thankful’s way.

William was in no shape to decline his offer.

PREVIOUS EPISODE FROM 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: Glass Houses

The holiday visit unravels after Fred Crenshaw throws Captain Simon McCullough’s West Point scrapbook into the fire.

“That Weldon was just lording it over you that you might not graduate from the academy,” Fred said as he watched the flames eat away at the cloth edges of the old West Point scrapbook. “There’s too much clutter here anyway. I did them a favor.”

Fred shoved Buck out of the family library into the narrow and dimly lit hallway. Margaret called from the dining room. “Come boys, supper—I mean–pies are ready.”

Buck shuffled in with his head down and Fred’s fist at his back. They sat and Margaret passed them plates. Buck felt his head.

Lucy sat opposite him. “Buck’s bleeding!”

Graham upset the china to be at Buck’s side.

Buck shoved him back. “Father, I’m fine. Stop humiliating me with this act of concern. Everyone leave me be.”

“Buck, please . . .” Graham said, moving back to his seat.

“Father, Fred said that you paid money to get me in at West Point—is it true?”

Graham went red. “No, I’ve always contributed funds to our congressmen and senators.”

“Did you think I couldn’t get appointed on my own?” Blood dripped over Buck’s eyebrow and down his cheek.

“No, it’s not that. It’s only that you wanted it so badly and then Fred went first. That year you spent at home, I sort of came to like you a bit. I wanted you happy.”

“Buck, dear,” Margaret said, “you see now I was the honest one here. I told you that you weren’t right for that awful school and look at you now. Oh, it breaks my heart! How can I bear it? Tell me!”

Sarah spoke. “Why don’t we sing some carols?”

Everyone went back to eating pie, but Sarah sang:

The holly bears a berry

As red as any blood

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

To do poor sinners good

Oh the rising of the sun . . .

“Here, here, old Sarah!” Fred interrupted her delicate voice and a look of sorrow and forgetfulness appeared on her face.

Buck kicked Fred and did his best to sing in his raspy voice:

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir.

Weldon and the others joined in now:

The holly bears a prickle

As sharp as any thorn;

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ

On Christmas Day in the morn.

“That was lovely, Sarah. Thank you,” Graham said.

“That was my Scott’s favorite carol. Leave it to him to like the one song about thorns and gall,” Sarah laughed and then cried. “Willy should be here not out west. It will all end in tears—I just know it. That boy hasn’t the least sense to be off on his own. Oh, the best ones are gone and here we sit. Let’s sing one for my dead son Simon.”

“Blast it! This is damned morbid,” Fred complained. “Father, I’ll ready the horses.”

“Wait a minute, son. We haven’t even opened the wine.”

“You’d have to be drunk to get through this train wreck of a Christmas,” Fred replied.

“Fred, that’s enough.”

“Father, is that all you know how to say? Well, what about you? I think that’s enough pie for you. And I think we’ve all had enough of your work and writing and women.”

Graham’s head collapsed into his hands in despair.

Weldon slammed his fists against the table. “Now you’ve gone too far, Fred! I don’t care what your father may or may not have done, but he is still your father and you’re lucky to have him. I’ve watched you torture him for years, embarrass him and you dare judge him? Even that damned spelling bee and how you humiliated William and your father.”

“God, you still go on about that bee. So what if we taught Willy the wrong spellings? It was just a lark. We were kids for Christ’s sake. Don’t live in the past, Mr. Weldon. I’ve heard that yours wasn’t so great.”

“Fred!” Thankful grabbed him by the arm and spoke in a low tone. “You’re embarrassing us!”

“What could be more embarrassing than spending Christmas with a morphine-eater, a crazy old bat and a syphilitic child—not to mention one of the women our father had affection for. Why must we make this yearly journey into the pits of hell? Mama hates it, too. Only Father and Thankful enjoy it here—that’s because they’re fools and in love. Someone has to have the guts to finally end this charade of friendship!”

“Guts? You mean heartless disregard for human feelings!” Katherine cried.

Lucy asked, “What’s syphilitic?”

Graham stood. “Fred, leave this house at once!”

“That’s fine. I only came as a favor to Mama—she says it can be so dull here.”

Margaret went white.

“Buck, come on. Let’s go,” Fred said.

“No.” Buck replied, staring at his plate.

“Right, Buck. I know where you stand now. Mr. Weldon, I didn’t want to tell you, but Buck threw that West Point thing into the fire—said it was rubbish. I tried to stop him and maybe it’s his head. He hasn’t been right for months—like Willy, I guess. Probably why Buck almost killed that cadet.”

“Simon’s memory book?” Katherine cried. “John, how could you let them near it?”

“I don’t know. I just thought . . .” Weldon shoved his chair out and ran to retrieve what was left of the family’s precious book.

“Buck Crenshaw, you’re worse than your brother because you’re devious and vicious out of sight. You even fooled me in there,” Graham lamented.

“But I didn’t throw the book—I liked it very much. I wouldn’t . . .”

“Damn you, Buck, will you ever own up to anything?” Fred asked.

“I believe Buck,” Lucy said.

“You stupid, little tart! Stay out of it! What do you know?” Fred asked.

“Leave Lucy alone!” cried Buck.

“I want both of you out of my sight!” Graham shouted nearly turning over the table in his rush to drag them to the door. Fred smirked at him and walked just out of reach into the night, dusting his jacket. “Get up, Buck! NOW!” Graham ordered.

Buck stood up shakily. Nathan cried. Thankful’s eyes were full of judgment. Margaret waved her fist as if to throttle him.

Graham said, “Buck, give me the watch back.”

“What?”

“The watch. I know you have it with you. I saw you rudely check the time earlier. Now give it over. It’s a special thing to me. I thought you’d appreciate it, but it’s too good for you.”

“The watch? The WATCH? You can have it! It’s always amused me that you have so little time for us—always too busy to know us, but you give us watches! I thought that maybe you liked me more than just a little bit. Here’s your damned watch!” Buck threw it on the table and ran out after pushing a few chairs out of his way. The front door slammed, and the room went silent.

Weldon carried in the charred book and handed it to Katherine. “Lucky the fire was so small.”

“Katherine, I am so terribly, terribly ashamed of my boys tonight,” the doctor said.

“What does it matter, Graham?” Katherine replied, pulling a half- burned letter from the book. “I’m sorry, but your apologies are empty to me right now. I think it’s time you all went home.”

“Oh, Katie, don’t end Christmas this way,” Margaret pleaded.

“Margaret, if you want the truth, I’m tired of your company as much as you’re tired of mine. Take all of your children and your horrible manners and leave our boring home.” Katherine stood.

“Katie, please.”

“Margaret, leave before I scream,” Katherine warned, her raised voice so unusual and unsettling.

Graham turned to John. “Weldon, I. . .” but there was nothing to say. And so they left, Margaret driving one sled and Graham the other.

Katherine, after sending Sarah to bed and Weldon into the parlor to read with Lucy, stacked plates in the dining room. There on the table lay Buck’s watch. She read the inscription and slipped the timepiece into her pocket before going to the porch for air. In the distance sleigh bells rang and a lonesome evening church bell sounded the time. Underneath Simon’s snow-covered willow someone coughed. Katherine grabbed one of her husband’s tattered coats and slipped on a pair of boots. Buck jumped when she spoke his name.

“Put this on,” Katherine said.

Buck had been crying and holding his throat in the piercing air.

Katherine sat beside him on the stone bench Simon had bought for Sarah years ago. “Buck, why do you hate my family?”

Buck shook his head and wiped his eyes. “I didn’t throw that book into the fire.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“You have no reason. I’ve been a cruel bastard to Willy.”

“Yes, and I don’t understand it. You have everything; William has so very little.”

“Mrs. Weldon, I didn’t throw the book,” Buck said again.

“Buck, your father left this here by accident. It’s a beautiful inscription,” Katherine said, pressing it into Buck’s hand.

“He must have meant it for someone else.” Buck took the watch and threw it. It crashed through a pane of glass in Sarah’s conservatory. “For God’s sake! What have I done now?” He put his face in his hands.

Katherine laughed. “This is some Jonah day for us all. Come with me to the glass house.”

“No. I better go now. I’ll pay to have it repaired.”

Katherine took his cold hand and pulled him to the hothouse. “We’ll find that watch. One day you’ll be glad to have it.” She turned on a little lantern.

“So many flowers,” Buck said.

“Yes, the hard thing is some get neglected and get all out of shape and undisciplined,” she said in the soft confidential way the Weldons had.

Buck hated his weakness for wanting to swim in the sound of it.

“Look, here’s the watch,” Katherine said. “Your father sees something in you. Trust him.”

“I try, but I don’t think I can.”

“There’s not much Lucy and I agree on—she’s so like her father Simon with her opinions–and maybe you’re just fooling me, but I’d like to believe that you told the truth about the book,” Katherine said and tucked the watch in Buck’s shirt pocket. She made to embrace him, but Buck turned to go.

“I’ll bring you the money for the glass tomorrow, Mrs. Weldon.” He stepped into the icy night and waved goodbye.

Katherine waved back and then turned her attention to the flowers.

**Featured image: Young Lady With Flowers, Jane Maria Bowkett

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his 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.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE

PART SIXTEEN HERE

PART SEVENTEEN HERE

PART EIGHTEEN HERE

PART NINETEEN HERE

FICTION: Burning Memories

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

Paintings, conversation and memories stoke the flames of jealousy and resentment.

The parlor seemed closer than ever as the men entered. The fire roared and everything smelled of the kitchen disaster. Katherine laughed with Nathan and Thankful as the three popped corn and watched a kettle boil. Margaret and Meg complained in whispered tones about their bent hoops and smudged overskirts before turning their attention to a newly hung portrait of Katherine.

“My word, Katie,” Margaret said in amazement, “you didn’t tell me you had commissioned a painting to be done. I wouldn’t think you’d like to spend that much money on yourself. Graham—Graham, come take a look at this. I’d like one for our family. Who’s the artist?”

Weldon, with a mix of pride and embarrassment, said, “Willy did it—on memory.”

“You’re not serious!” Margaret cried. “I knew Willy sketched now and again—but this! You should have sent him…

View original post 1,265 more words

FICTION: Burning Memories

Paintings, conversation and memories stoke the flames of jealousy and resentment.

The parlor seemed closer than ever as the men entered. The fire roared and everything smelled of the kitchen disaster. Katherine laughed with Nathan and Thankful as the three popped corn and watched a kettle boil. Margaret and Meg complained in whispered tones about their bent hoops and smudged overskirts before turning their attention to a newly hung portrait of Katherine.

“My word, Katie,” Margaret said in amazement, “you didn’t tell me you had commissioned a painting to be done. I wouldn’t think you’d like to spend that much money on yourself. Graham—Graham, come take a look at this. I’d like one for our family. Who’s the artist?”

Weldon, with a mix of pride and embarrassment, said, “Willy did it—on memory.”

“You’re not serious!” Margaret cried. “I knew Willy sketched now and again—but this! You should have sent him to art school!”

“Margaret, please stop,” Graham complained. “Weldon’s sent him west for a different sort of education, and he seems to be thriving.”

“Willy was so disappointed not getting into West Point,” Katherine said, glancing at the two cadets at the door. “But Captain Bourke invited him out to Arizona with the troops.”

“Bourke always had a soft spot for Katherine and the children,” Weldon added.

“Seems everybody did, right Father?” Fred commented under his breath.

“I guess Willy’s fine,” Weldon continued.  “We hear from him only rarely, I’m afraid, but then it’s some distance and there’s bound to be distractions.”

“What sort of distractions?” Thankful asked, blushing.

Katherine glanced over with a knowing smile.

“Garrison life can be dull at times,” Weldon said, “but with the Apaches still on the loose there very well could be some action.”

“But Willy’s no soldier,” Thankful worried.

“You’re right, but we often had sketch artists come along from the newspapers. William is the responsible quiet sort military men don’t mind having along,” John said with an air of pride.

Fred with folded arms leaned against Buck. “That ass suck William is going to kill Indians before we ever get the chance!”

Margaret didn’t want to hear a thing about a successful William Weldon. “Well, there’s no room in here for a man of your size, Graham,” Margaret said. “Take the boys to the library. I won’t give up my seat now that I’ve cleared a space for baby and me. Now isn’t this just a special holiday? Could we be any closer?”

“Land sakes, Mama’s complaining will make me mad. Weldon—that is, Mr. Weldon, may I smoke in the library?” Fred asked, already halfway across the hall with cigar in his mouth.

“W-well . . . Sarah likes that room kept just so,” Weldon said. He lingered until Katherine motioned him to go.

Fred lit up, making himself at home. He hung his thumb in his embroidered vest, surveying the room filled with old mementos, small medical sculptures and books. “Old man McCullough never once let us in here. What was the fuss about, I wonder?”

Buck skirted the room, his fingers running along the finely crafted bookcases until he came upon a scrapbook labeled in a sloppy masculine hand “West Point Memories.” He touched it and Weldon saw.

“Oh, Buck, you might enjoy that,” Weldon said, feeling sorry for Buck. “It was Simon’s—Mrs. Weldon’s brother.”

“May I look at it?” Buck asked.

“Yes, of course.” Weldon took the museum piece off the shelf, as if letting Buck in on a great and happy secret. “Buck, let’s find you a nice comfortable spot and some good light. There’s a blanket in here somewhere,” Weldon continued and limped for the tattered throw hanging over a well-worn Scotch-plaid chair.

Buck’s face flushed at the gracious attention. He sat where Weldon put him.

Graham watched with jealous eye. “Buck, we really should have made you comfortable at home.”

“This place stinks,” Fred said. “Must be a leak somewhere. I’d get that fixed if I were you, Weldon, or these medical books and other treasure will all go to ruin.”

Weldon turned from him to Graham. “Crenshaw, get rid of that awful cigarette. I’ve something nice to share with you.” Weldon found in a cluttered drawer two fine cigars.

“Thanks old fellow, you have a way of cheering me up,” Graham said, taking a cigar and glancing Buck’s way again.

Weldon lit his cigar. “Buck, you all right over there?”

Buck nodded and whispered. “Seems the captain had an awful good time at West Point.”

“Simon had a good time everywhere,” Weldon replied with a note of sadness.

“Sounds like my kind of bloke,” Fred said.

“No, I doubt it,” Weldon said. “Simon had a heart of gold; spent most of his time thinking of others.”

“I guess you’re accusing me of something Mr. Weldon.”

“No, it’s just that Simon never went in much for intimidation and trickery.”

“Weldon, that’s enough,” Graham warned.

“You’re right, Crenshaw,” Weldon said. “It is Christmas after all.”

Buck turned the pages in the memory book with care. “Captain McCullough was very impressive looking when he was young,” he said.

“What are you, a Nancy boy now?” Fred asked. “First it was coloreds and now this.”

Buck jumped up and went for Fred’s throat. “You bastard! You’re a piece of shit!”

Graham and Weldon dragged them apart and Margaret called from across the hallway. “Come now, boys. No rough housing—the dining room is fine so come eat now.”

“Get yourselves in order and don’t give me yet another reason to be ashamed,” Graham ordered and walked out.

Weldon hesitated, but then followed Graham.

“Look at you, Buck. Any reason for your ass sucking Mr. Weldon?”

“What?”

Fred grabbed the memory book from the chair Buck had deserted. “Suddenly you take an interest in a dead and buried relative of theirs? Then you compliment Weldon over selling his horses? Whose side are you on? Seems it’s always the wrong one and I’m sick of bailing you out.”

“Then don’t. I wouldn’t be up on charges if it wasn’t for your help.”

“You wanted Streeter gone, and he’s gone, you little coward. You sicken me—and Father and Mama, too.”

“Shut your mouth, Fred.”

Fred grabbed him by the collar. “I warn you, if you tell anyone what happened that night . . .”

Buck shoved him. “What! What will you do?”

“I’ll kill you,” Fred stated.

Buck laughed.

“You will not destroy my good name over Streeter, Buck.”

Buck laughed again. “Good name?”

“Buck, you have always acted morally superior, but why? When have you ever gone against me? You know as well as I do that on your own you’re nothing. You will and have always been just my brother. That and Father’s bribes got you in at the Point.”

“Enough of your damned lies!”

“Sure, your grades were good, but truth be known, they didn’t like your personality—or lack of it. You’re colorless, a bore even. Every friend you had I engineered for you. If only I hadn’t left you to your own devices last summer . . .”

Buck stood shaking.

“What’s this?” Fred asked. “You’re crying! STOP NOW.” Fred waited a moment and then slapped him hard. “Get a hold of yourself.”

Buck ripped the West Point book from Fred’s hand, but Fred tugged it back and flung it into the fire.

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his 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.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE

PART SIXTEEN HERE

PART SEVENTEEN HERE

PART EIGHTEEN HERE

FICTION: The Holidays Are Awkward

Margaret Crenshaw and her obnoxious son Fred do their best to keep things uncomfortable when they visit with old friends. For Buck, still in shock over his brutal treatment of a West Point cadet, the visit goes from bad to worse.

To the great relief of Graham’s mother and Margaret, Graham gathered up his children and left for home the next morning. They were expected for the traditional holiday dinner at the Weldon home. The Crenshaws in their enormous garnet sleds pulled up the drive at Tenafly Road to be met by a few chairs–badly burnt and smoldering–and a sooty John Weldon limping up to greet them.

“Holy Jerusalem, Weldon! What’s happened? Is everyone all right?” Graham asked, climbing down from his seat.

“A fire. S-Sarah s-set the place in flames,” John laughed in his defeated way.

“Graham, dear. . .” Margaret said with her hand held out, waiting to be helped from the sled.

Graham took Margaret’s hand and set her beside him.

“Mr. Weldon, it seems hardly the time for laughter. When will you get some hired help to mind Sarah? Oh, I know Katherine wouldn’t like to spend your small income, but truly,” Margaret said, “Sarah will have you all dead and buried by summer. What a shame she’s so gone off in the head.”

“It wasn’t really—well, it was an honest mistake,” John replied.

“Mr. Weldon, I’m sure that Sarah’s as honest as an acorn when her mind is working, but please,” Margaret huffed.

Nathaniel, the Crenshaw ten-year-old, jumped down to survey the damage.

“Nathan,” Margaret scolded, “get back in your seat this instant. We’re leaving.”

“Oh balls! But Mama . . .”

“No, for goodness sake!” Margaret cried. “Graham do you hear his language? And what will we eat here with the kitchen charred to bits?” Margaret asked Nathan, but her son hardly listened.

Lucy, the Weldon’s adopted niece, wearing thick spectacles and a grin, waved and called to Nathan. “We’ve got gallons of cider and pies like you’ve never seen.” She grabbed the boy and ran to the porch.

Fred stayed perched at the helm of the second sleigh. “Well, if this ain’t rotten luck, Weldon.”

“Mr. Weldon to you, young man,” Graham said. “Is there anything we can do?”

“Fraid not,” Weldon replied, wiping his hands on his trousers.

Margaret huffed again as Katherine strode up with a smudge on her nose. “Come along, Graham. I’m sure the Weldons are in no mood for company now. It’s grum here, right, Katie?”

Katherine looked to John.

“Well, my wife would feel more cheerful if you stayed. Why let a little kitchen fire ruin supper?”

“Supper usually includes cooked foods, dishes, that sort of thing,” Margaret said. “Besides my children suffer in the smoke.”

“Since when, Margaret?” Graham asked and turned to John and Katherine. “We’ve brought nice wine from my mother, and Lucy says your pies are in eating shape. You know that’s why I came. Of course we’ll stay. The boys will help get things in order for you.”

Fred moaned. “But Father, I’m on holiday and we’ve been from Hell to breakfast this morning.”

“And our poor, poor Buck is an invalid this year. Do you still keep Willy’s wheelie-chair thing around?” Margaret asked.

Buck slammed his hand against the side of the sleigh to make his mother stop—uselessly.

Katherine stepped over to him. “Buck looks very unwell.”

“Oh, don’t worry—those cuts will heal and he’ll be as good looking as his brother again. I know he’s gruesome,” Margaret said. “It wouldn’t be right to send him home on his own though.”

Katherine went red. “Of course you wouldn’t, Margaret! I wasn’t speaking of his wounds, only that the poor thing looks green. I don’t discriminate based on looks.”

“Obviously not—look what you married, Katie, and there’s no hope of improvement there, ha-ha,” Margaret quipped.

Thankful, with the youngest child in her arms, jumped from the sleigh.

“Watch the child! Watch the child!” Margaret screamed.

Thankful laughed, handed the happy baby to Margaret and gave Katherine a hug. “Any word from Willy yet, ma’am?”

“Yes, my son sent us lovely gifts.”

Lucy joined them. “Oh, but Willy forgot all about Uncle John.”

“But Lucy, there must have been a mistake,” Thankful said, turning to Katherine.

Katherine said nothing as Weldon walked over and kissed her.

Thankful pulled her bag from the sleigh. “Oh, dash, I almost forgot. I’ve something for Mr. Weldon. It’s from England—a book of flowers, garden things and such. I thought you might like it, sir.”

John glanced at Katherine with a charmed grin. “Miss Thankful, that was thoughtful.”

“Why are you giving Grandmother Martha’s book away when you just got it, Thankful? How rude. She’d be hurt,” Margaret said.

“Grandmother was getting rid of it. . .” Thankful replied, pushing it into Weldon’s hands.

“It’s the thought, Thankful,” Weldon said. “Here you go. I won’t take it, but it’s the thought. I appreciate it.”

Meg, Thankful’s twin yawned and stood beside her mother. Finally Buck made his way to the ground, pulling his hat lower.

“Well, I do hope we can be kept warm. The baby is just over being sick,” Margaret said. “Katherine, I’m so happy that all of you are safe, though. We love you very much.”

Katherine collected herself. “The parlor is fine. I haven’t the heart to look for damage in the dining room—we had it nicely done up.”

The men took the horses to the barn.

“My gosh, I remember this place when old man McCullough used to keep it fine with the best horses in the county—aside from ours. Look at that poor wretch you have now,” Fred said. “Whatever happened to your last Morgan?”

“As you know already, Fred, I sold the horse for my son’s trip west and I’d do it again. Seems Willy’s doing really well with his paints and all.”

“So he’s painting fences out west?” Fred asked.

“F-for m-magazines,” Weldon replied.

“That’s nice about the horse,” Buck whispered.

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

“It’s nice that Mr. Weldon did that for his son.”

They stared at him.

Buck took up a grooming brush and ran it a few times over the horse, but soon tired and sat on a hay bale, close to napping.

Weldon said to Graham, “I’m surprised you let him out.”

“Oh, Buck was adamant. Wanted to come. I don’t know why, but well, I’m inclined to give him what he wants after coming so close to losing him. He’s still in for some big trouble yet at school.”

Weldon was just putting out the final lantern when Lucy arrived.

“Uncle John,” she whispered as she came up beside him with big eyes.

Weldon gave the willowy girl his undivided and adoring attention.

Lucy pulled a tiny kitten from her coat.

Weldon laughed.

“Please, uncle, please let me keep it. It’s forlorn.”

“Lulu, but how many orphans can we keep?” Weldon caught himself and kissed Lucy’s pale forehead. “Go on, then, but what will you name it?”

“Willy,” she replied. “He’s handsome like Willy.”

Fred guffawed. Lucy walked out whistling but not before showing Doctor Crenshaw her new little pet.

Fred laughed and whispered to his father, “She’ll be something to look at in a few years, won’t she?”

Graham glared at Fred. “Wake your brother. Come along now.”

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his 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.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE

PART SIXTEEN HERE

PART SEVENTEEN HERE

FICTION: A Haunted Holiday

After abducting Cadet Streeter and leaving him for dead in the cold woods at West Point, Buck and Fred Crenshaw go home to celebrate Christmas.

Buck sat by the frosty upstairs  window at Grandmother Martha’s house in dread. The gash over his eye pulsed red and swollen. He fingered the soft scarf wrapped around the stitched-up mess of an incision on his neck, shivering as the snow changed to a mix of rain and sleet.

Tired horses slid the bright sleds carrying his frozen parents and siblings up the drive of the estate in Peetzburg, a small farming town a few miles away from his family home in Englewood. Buck listened, wrapped in a rough wool blanket, as his parents trudged up the path bickering. Graham’s voice rose and fell one last time before knocking at the door of his boyhood home.

“Doctor Crenshaw! So good to see you!” Betty, Martha Crenshaw’s housemaid, gushed.

“Betty, how very nice to see you.” Graham held out his hand.

Betty, pushing his hand away, gave the doctor a hug. “Oh, it’s been a lifetime—since the deaths of your brothers– that we’ve celebrated Christmas together!” she said, laughing and crying.

Seward Crenshaw, Graham’s stepfather, had freed his family’s slaves long ago, but they’d stayed on as hired help.

Betty pulled the doctor. “Come in out of the weather. What a nice surprise for us with poor Buck and Fred already here.”

Margaret ignored Betty and pushed past. Thankful lowered her head and followed her mother.

“Where are my two big boys? I want to see them!” Margaret called in her booming voice.

The door to the wood-paneled sitting room with its large, stone fireplace opened and the hall reflected the blaze from the flames in the hearth. Martha Crenshaw dressed, as usual, in a slate gray gown with her hair braided in a severe bun. She stepped out of Margaret’s way with an imperious glance toward her son Graham as he hung his wet things in the entrance way.

“Merry Christmas,” Graham mumbled to himself. “Same shit as ever.”

Margaret, with her massive skirts, sent loose things tumbling as she brushed against delicate tables in her race to find her two wronged sons. “Oh, dear boys, come to Mama and let me touch you to know you’re real and not a dream!”

Buck, who’d come down the back staircase stood thin and pale. The Crenshaw children carried themselves with dignity, and beauty ran in the blood. Buck’s present condition was an affront to how the family saw itself.

Margaret and Thankful embraced Buck with quick stiffness.

“Oh, my darling, Fred!” Margaret sobbed turning to the more robust of the twins.

Fred threw his cigar into the fire with a rakish grin and strode up to his mother, shoving Buck aside. He kissed Margaret. “Mama, you look like an angel.”

Martha’s eyes betrayed her lack of patience for Fred’s fawning. Graham shook his head in annoyed silence.

“I want to announce here and now to my loving family that neither Buck nor I had any role to play in the horrible trouble that has come upon the Negro cadet,” Fred said. “We are made scapegoats for the newspapers. It’s a disgrace how we’ve been treated, and I intend to fight all charges!”

“Of course you’ll fight any injustice heaped upon you, Freddie. And that’s what makes Mama proud.” Margaret pulled both of her boys close. “Aren’t we proud of our sons, Graham?”

“I’ll reserve judgment until I hear the full account. You say it will all come out in the papers?” Graham asked.

“Is that all you care about?” Margaret cried. “The papers? Look at poor Buck! His wound is an awful mess all because of some darkie. As a doctor you should be appalled at the sight of him—I am!”

“Maybe Buck looks so unwell because his conscience pricks him,” Graham replied.

“Just like you to believe the worst about us and on Christmas, too,” Fred said, tossing his head.

“Fred is right, Graham. Be fair,” Margaret urged.

Buck said nothing, but edged nearer to Thankful.

She pouted, but after one look into Buck’s violet eyes Thankful relented. “Were you cruel to that cadet?” she whispered.

“No more than to any other,” Buck croaked, his voice still recovering. “It’s just he’s a stupid nig–”

“What did you say?” Graham asked, turning around with his head cocked in anger.

Buck went paler still.

“Are you some ignorant piece of trash to bring that language home to your sister?” Graham ranted.

“I’m sorry, Father, but that’s what they call him,” Buck replied.

“Fred, is this true?”

“A spade’s a spade,” Fred said with a smirk.

“You think you’re very clever, Fred, but someday you’ll get yours,” Graham warned.

“How dare you wish ill fortune on our son!” Margaret cried, pulling Fred closer to smooth a stray curl at his temple.

“I don’t wish it. I dread it, but it will surely come,” Graham replied.

“At West Point, Father, there’s no room for sentimentality towards the colored race,” Fred said, with his usual smugness. “If they’re to make it, they must prove themselves equal and so far, in my opinion, they haven’t.”

“And why, Fred, is it your mission to interfere and set obstacles? Don’t you have studies?” Graham asked.

“Father, you must remember—even with all of your outside interests—that I rank second in my year.”

“Well, why not first?” Graham asked.

“Don’t be a humbug. First, second, it’s all the same really,” Fred said as he helped his mother to a seat near the fire.

“Yes, and we are off the subject. I’m disgusted by the brief report I’ve read about the two of you. I was under the impression that West Point was training you to be gentlemen,” Graham said. He grabbed a crystal decanter filled with scotch and poured a large tumbler.

“Yes. We’re taught to be white,” Fred said.

“Excuse me?” Graham held his drink mid-air.

“It’s cant, Father, slang,” Buck said. “To be a gentleman . . .”

“Graham, the military is turning our good boys into I don’t know what!” Margaret complained, smoothing her skirt.

“All of my sons served in the military,” Grandmother Martha said, “and if nothing else, they were gentlemen and humanitarians. They fought for equality even though the rest of Jersey were against it during the war!”

“Oh, come now, Grammy. Even the Massachusetts boys want nothing to do with the colored cadets—and their families were abolitionists of the worst sort!” Fred said.

“I was an abolitionist!” Martha reminded her grandson.

“And why do you still keep Betty? And why do we have Lucretia?” Fred asked.

“Lucretia and Betty are paid handsomely for their services and are free to leave and seek work elsewhere,” Graham replied.

“Handsomely? I know what they make—at least Lucretia—less than a private in the army and with no chance of promotion,” Fred said with a sneer.

“We pay above the going rate!” Graham said. “And I won’t allow you to compare Betty or Lucretia to slaves—are privates in the army slaves?”

“In the end, Father, I’d rather not turn the holidays into a trial. We’ll win our case in the new year if it comes to that. Not a single witness would dare come forward against me.”

“What are you saying?” Graham asked.

“I just mean to say that . . . that no one would dare present false testimony. Cadets pride themselves on honesty. As an upperclassman, I have done what’s best for the institution and Cadet Streeter,” Fred said. “He should have gone home long before getting drunk and almost killing himself walking the Palisades alone at night.”

“Must we only talk about ugly things when it’s Christmas? Let’s not ruin things for Martha. She must have plans of her own and looks worn out. Are you tired, dear?” Margaret asked.

“No, I’m not tired, Margaret. It’s more that I am disgusted by my grandchildren and their clear lack of remorse.”

“Everyone at the Point is against us because we’re not rich,” Fred contended.

“See, Graham, I told you they need more money!” Margaret scolded.

“Stop this nonsense—we give them all the money they’re permitted to have in their accounts!” Graham replied. “I don’t know why you boys came here and got your grandmother involved.”

“Fred figured you’d never come here for us since you’re huffed at Grammy,” Buck said.

Fred shot him a menacing look.

“I’d be happy enough if you all stayed away,” Martha said. “I hate to be reminded of my failures, but I suppose I have to put you all up for the night.”

“Oh, no-no-no, WE are leaving at once,” Margaret said.

“Don’t be a fool, Margaret. I’m not driving in this weather at night,” Graham said.

Fred rolled his eyes. “You’d never do as a soldier, Father.”

“Fred, you ignorant, obnoxious fool,” his grandmother said. “As smart as you think you are you should know that your mother will come down with an obscure ailment if she sits in the weather too long. Your father is using good judgment for a change.” Martha sent the grown children to bed upstairs in the rooms that once belonged to her sons.

“Land sakes, this room is a tundra!” Thankful whispered.

“Befitting the old ice witch, herself,” Buck grumbled with a weak laugh and cough.

Fred snored, peaceful as a kitten on the little cot next to the bed Buck lay upon. Thankful jumped from her cot and got in beside Buck for warmth. “Shove over, Buck and shh! Grammy will hear us laughing and give us the lash!”

Thankful teased him the way she used to, but Buck was grim. “Thankful, this time I really think I’m done in with Fred. I feel sort of bad about it.”

“Well, that’s new—you feeling bad,” Thankful laughed. “But not to worry—Fred never catches it.”

“That’s what I’m thinking about. Fred’s on a mission and now I’m tangled in it and I don’t think it’s good.”

Thankful giggled. “You look eight years old in that cap. Does it hurt? Your head I mean?”

“No. Well, yes it does. But don’t tell. It’s embarrassing. I wish I were eight again. I could just do things different.”

Thankful pat his shoulder dreamily. “The past is done. Good night.”

Buck sighed. “Thanks for those words of wisdom.” He closed his eyes, knowing he would not sleep. He hadn’t for months. Buck slid from bed and pulled out the chair tucked beneath his father’s childhood desk covered with rocks and bones. He shivered before the window and stared out at the frozen countryside.

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his 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.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE

PART SIXTEEN HERE

**Featured Image: Giuseppe De Nittis – Winter Landscape [c.1880] Flickr.com

FICTION: Two Roads Diverge In The Snowy Woods

The road less traveled isn’t always a good one.

Buck’s parents stayed at the Hotel Thayer during his recovery. After a week Margaret had the look of a child kept in at recess.

“Graham, won’t he ever speak up again?” Margaret whispered. “He had such a manly voice like my brothers.”

Graham shook his head. “Buck, you’re up and alive much faster than anyone would have dreamed. For that we must be thankful.”

But Buck hadn’t a mind for gratitude. He returned to class with great fanfare. Sympathy poured out on him now that hadn’t dared express itself in summer. Buck shook it off like a rooster cleaning its feathers. Drill and artillery kept his attention, but not much else.

Fred, making use of the many plebes eager to bone popularity with upperclassmen, ordered them to find and deface anything of Streeter’s. They tripped him in line and spilled his food, but Streeter remained solid and nothing satisfied Fred quite enough. Streeter’s grades held slightly above average, and he conducted himself with a calm assuredness.

Exams now loomed right before the holidays. Fred, making a surprise visit to Buck’s room, found his brother, blouse untucked and face unshaven, staring at a piece of string on his desk.

“Buck, old fellow, have you finished your studies?”

Buck shifted in his seat. He opened his mouth, but Fred must strain to hear. “I was about to . . .” Buck crumpled a piece of stationary and threw it towards the wastebasket, missing.

“This room is a cesspool, Buck.”

“So?”

Fred sighed. “Get dressed.”

Buck made no effort to move.

“Buck, there’s something I need you to do tonight. We should have done it long ago.”

Buck tried to speak, but hacked up phlegm and spit into a teacup.

Fred shook his head at the cup. “An officer has to be able to shout out orders, Buckie. Damn, this is a sorry state of affairs altogether. Get up now.”

Fred wrapped Buck’s neck with a scarf retrieved from the pile of clothes on his bed and flopped the soft hat Thankful had sent on Buck’s head.

Buck pulled on his coat and followed Fred to Streeter’s room.

“All you have to do is pretend, yet again, that you forgive him, Buck.”

“No!” Buck squeaked.

“Oh, don’t worry. Streeter will believe you. After all you’ve got a track record for such stupidity,” Fred said and slapped Buck’s shoulder.

Buck shoved his hands in his pockets.

“So, you’ll get him to come into the dark, and I’ll take it from there. This prank will surely make Streeter think twice about staying at the academy.”

“Will you be satisfied then?” Buck whispered.

“We will be more than satisfied,” Fred replied. “Now go make friends again and do it fast. I have plans for later.”

“Study?”

“Ha-ha. I’ve finished my studies days ago. I have my priorities straight, Buck Crenshaw—now go!”

Fred met with two plebes at the end of the hall and walked out into the night. Buck turned back to the closed door and knocked.

“Buck!” Streeter let him in. Through the window a carpet of shine covered the stone structures of the academy as snow fell.

“Streeter, I. . .”

“Buck, you know, I’ve only stayed on here in hopes that you would forgive me. I figured that if you could hold up maybe I would try as well.”

Buck considered escaping back to his room, but knew that he must stop being so drawn in by people. Buck was still trying to convince himself of this as they came out into the wintry landscape. Fred and his friends jumped Streeter, pulling a pillowcase over his head.

“Buck!” Streeter cried, but Fred said, “Remember how he abandoned you!”

They dragged Streeter along the steep little paths where the young ladies picked flowers in summer. Buck followed a few paces behind. So far nothing too terrible happened and Buck felt a small thrill seeing Streeter roughed up and frightened. He almost enjoyed being a part of something with his brother again.

After a long march, they came to a very secret place. No one spoke. One of the cadets, a pudgy and pathetic plebe, who couldn’t hold fast to even one friend, produced a rope and knife. They pulled Streeter’s boots off, throwing them into the soggy underbrush. Tying his ankles together, they nicked him with the knife when cutting the rope a few times.

“Fred,” Buck wheezed.

“Shut up, Buck!” Fred yelled as he yanked rope around Streeter’s wrists. He pulled out his own knife and again cut Streeter.

“Stop it!” Buck whispered and pulled Fred by the shoulder.

Fred shoved Buck back. The plebes dragged Streeter and kicked him a few times. Fred laughed. “Come now, Buck, be a man for once in your life! You’re so damned soft—like Father and Uncle Oliver, too! You’ll never get a girl now the way you look and think about your career—what he’s done to it! Be a man!”

Buck ran up and kicked Streeter’s body with everything he had in him, just once. He heard a rib crack, but Streeter didn’t cry out. Fred and the others laughed.

“Fred, this is wrong,” Buck said.

“You’re a caution, Buckie, after just breaking his bones!”

The plebes pulled Streeter up, only to knock him down again and the pillowcase slipped off exposing Streeter’s terrified expression.

“He won’t be making exams in the morning, I figure. Come on fellows. Let’s go for drinks at Benny Haven’s. Leave him. We’ll have him fetched after our tests,” Fred said.

“But it’s too cold,” Buck said.

“Stop being a mother hen. Streeter wants to be in the army so bad, let him see what it’s like in Dakota.” Fred walked off.

Buck followed, quietly protesting, but he glanced back as the two plebes rolled Streeter over the Palisades.

“Oh, God!” Buck ran to the ledge.

Streeter’s body lay precariously on a narrow bit of rock five yards below.

“He’s dead!” Fred exclaimed. “What the hell did you go and do that for, boys?”

Buck caught a satisfaction in Fred’s tone that shocked him. “We’re murderers!” Buck cried.

Fred slapped him hard. “No. It was an accident. He slipped. That’s all.” Fred scurried down the slick ridge to Streeter, untied him and threw the ropes as far off into the night as he could.

“But Fred, the boots and the cuts! And I was the last to be seen with him!”

“Speak up, you fool. I’m tired of this act! We’ll say that you and Streeter were drunk.”

“Drunk? Everyone will know it’s a lie!”

Fred shook Buck. “I can’t hear you when you whisper. Everyone will be happy—don’t you see that?”

“Fred, I don’t see it.”

“Then you are no cadet. It’s too late to change anything. We’ll say that Streeter must have lost his way in the woods.”

Streeter moaned. The plebes ran.

“God damn those idiots!” Fred complained. “Well, maybe we should send him over the edge and put him out of his misery.”

“We have to save him! This is too much!” Buck choked out.

Voices called from the woods.

“It’s the guard!” Fred threw his knife over the cliff and ran with Buck following.

It was long after midnight when Buck came back to his room. Carter was awake. By the light of a candle Buck pulled his boots off and wiped the mud and snow from them. His coat, scarf and hat, he kept on, but still he quaked in the cold.

“Buck,” Carter whispered, “is everything all right? Shall I make us tea?”

Buck threw his boots beneath his bed and climbed under the blankets. Carter slipped his feet into his old reveilles and came to sit beside Buck.

“Friend, where were you tonight?”
Buck’s insides roiled. “I was drinking.” His teeth chattered.

“Come now, how am I to believe it—with exams in a few hours,” Carter laughed.

“I was drinking—with Streeter—but he’s lost somehow—I don’t know how—or where,” Buck’s lips turned blue with terror. “The guard came, I guess. Well, we heard something or someone. Then I came home.”

His old friend surveyed him. “You’d never leave another cadet behind. Wait a minute; I see it clearly now. Bully for you—finally you’ve gotten Streeter back! So the guards will find him drunk, you say? Perfect! Well done, Buck. It took a while, but finally you got it right. I won’t say a word. Oh, so he’ll probably miss exams, too! Ha! This is just perfect.”

Buck turned to the wall.

“Oh, yes, you’re quite right, Buck; we must get our rest for tomorrow,” Carter said and walked to his side of the room. He turned back. “Buck, are you . . . feeling unwell? You’re not sick or anything?”

Buck waved him off in the half light.

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his 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.”

PART ONE HERE

PART TWO HERE

PART THREE HERE

PART FOUR HERE

PART FIVE HERE

PART SIX HERE

PART SEVEN HERE

PART EIGHT HERE

PART NINE HERE

PART TEN HERE

PART ELEVEN HERE

PART TWELVE HERE

PART THIRTEEN HERE

PART FOURTEEN HERE

PART FIFTEEN HERE