Fiction: Illegitimate

After Kenyon’s missionary friends are openly hostile to William joining their mission to the new Indian reservation at San Carlos, William blanches at the idea of first traveling back to Fort Grant to request a military escort but he has no other options.

calvary officer and womanBy late day the team of missionaries and their hungover artist rolled up at Fort Grant’s entrance. William hung behind the others, but a guard spotted him.

“Sakes alive, it’s Bill Weldon. What’s he doin’ in among holy folk?” one asked another.

William kept his eyes to the ground with crimson cheeks as he walked along Officers’ Row.

“Willy? Willy!” came Thankful’s cry.

William tried his best to ignore the raven-haired beauty who ran after him. Thankful caught the heavily burdened men. “Oh, goodness, William Weldon, what’s happened to you?” Thankful exclaimed, grabbing his arm. “New clothes and all—and your hair! You look adorable!” she laughed.

“Thankful, it’s nothing really, I . . .”

Seth Kenyon and the other men tipped their hats.

“Hello, young lady. We’ve hired on your friend as our artist,” Kenyon said.

Thankful clapped her hands in amusement. “Did you make him cut his hair that way?”

Kenyon laughed.

“No, Thankful, it was Ginny,” William said.

Thankful’s face clouded and her mouth was grim.

“We’re missionaries, miss, to work among the Apaches at San Carlos,” Kenyon said.

Thankful kept her eyes on William. “I don’t understand, Willy—you’re going with them? It’s dangerous there.”

“Yes, I’m going for the money—that’s all—the money.”

Thankful turned to the missionaries. “Oh, I’ve prayed for so long that William would leave town—but the reservation, Mr. Kenyon? Do you think he’s fit for it?”

William winced. And Thankful saw it.

“By the way, gentlemen, my name is Thankful Crenshaw. I stay with Captain Markham’s family. If there’s anything I can do for you . . .”

The missionaries were suddenly all smiles. “Miss Crenshaw, you’re very kind. We’re off to headquarters . . .” Kenyon said. “But if you can keep Mr. Weldon out of trouble for a few minutes, I’d appreciate it,” he teased and slapped William’s back.

William didn’t want to go anywhere near the officers at headquarters but didn’t relish a conversation with Thankful either. The men deserted him.

Thankful laughed.

“I know that I’m ridiculous to you,” William mumbled, rubbing his close-cropped mane.

“Oh, no, William! Not at all. Was it only two days ago that you were drunk at the dance? And now you’re to become a missionary? It’s exciting and wonderful for you—though scary, but I’m glad that awful Miss Peckham had such an effect on you.”

“I’m not going to be a missionary, Thankful and Miss Peckham had no effect on me at all! And why do you have to mention my drinking all the time?” William grumbled.

Thankful sighed and tied her bonnet tighter. “Willy, I’m happy for you. I laughed because now with your hair you look so like you used to in Englewood—but appearances are deceiving, I suppose. You are the man the West has made you,” she said with bite.

“I’m glad I’m not the way I was in Englewood—a burden and a fool.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Willy.”

Two riders and their horses streaked past, circled and came up beside them. Miss Peckham and Fahy dismounted. “My God, Bill, you’ve been scalped!” Fahy laughed too heartily and Miss Peckham joined in. Fahy continued, “I wouldn’t have expected you to show yourself here for a while after what you did to poor Miss Peckham’s things.”

“Be quiet, Lieutenant Fahy,” Thankful scolded. “William has found work with the missionaries.”

“The missionaries? You must be joking,” Miss Peckham responded. “They must be desperate for recruits!”

“They seem nice,” Thankful said.

“Nice until you’re snared in, and they’ve taken over your life!” Miss Peckham replied.

“I won’t be snared,” William explained. “I’m just looking to be paid.”

“There’s the Bill Weldon we know and love,” joked Fahy.

“Well, all I can say is that I’d never want to be involved with religious types,” said Miss Peckham, “selling the ignorant tribes a false bill of goods in the form of ancient bedtime stories. They’re no better than the contractors skimming annuities.”

“The Indians deserve no better. Don’t you agree, Bill? Didn’t your uncle die at the hands of savages?” Fahy asked.

“Yes, I’m no fan of Indians,” William replied.

“The best thing to do is to not allow any more undesirables have children until everything is sorted out,” Miss Peckham said.

“When will the world be sorted out? Humanity is fallen . . .” Thankful began.

“Humanity is capable of much improvement,” Miss Peckham asserted. “I for one don’t plan to wait for divine intervention. We can, through science and understanding, create a wonderful society. No missionary I know of has been able to keep Indians from debauchery and still they multiply—like the Irish.”

“I’m Irish, you remember, Miss Peckham,” Fahy said, twirling his mustache between his fingers.

“You’re hardly the type I’m talking about—you have control. The swarms of illegitimate children back east are very troubling indeed,” Miss Peckham explained.

William caught a desperate look on Thankful’s face. “Thankful, I’m surprised to see you not out riding. Are you unwell?” he asked.

His question cut to the bone. William saw it and felt like a cad, but how could Thankful be so stupid to give herself to Fahy before marriage?

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9 Signs You May Have Mistakenly Joined a Dystopian/Utopian Community

“I had staked no valuable amount of hope or fear; it had enabled me to pass the summer in a novel and agreeable way, [and] afforded me some grotesque specimens of artificial simplicity.” Nathaniel Hawthorne from The Blithedale Romance

MY CLASSICS CLUB Response to The Blithedale Romance

Having sent one of my main characters, BUCK CRENSHAW, to a 19th century perfectionist community based on THE ONEIDA COLONY and having lived on a modern-day farm with utopian pretensions, and having worked on yet another farm with similar pretensions, I was excited to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance—to compare his opinions with my own.

The book is a strange one; seeming to first be about the utopian society and then about the mysterious history of two female characters. Many of the people I’ve met in my utopian circles, who often disdained “conventional society,”  tended to be running from some real or imagined life of mystery and horror.

Unlike my character Buck who arrives at my fictional “Middlemay Farm” as a somewhat prudish and naïve babe in the woods, Hawthorne’s narrator, Miles Coverdale is a poet who manages to keep just enough of his individualism to begin to question the motives of the charismatic leader of the Blithedale community. This leads to the first thing one can expect when joining a society of people who think they know just how to fix the world, and by world I mean other people.

A reform movement usually has a charismatic leader who, while possessing a dynamic sexual energy (felt by one and all), is actually kind of gross, mean-spirited and selfish in his desire to change the world as he sees fit. This man may be, as at Blithedale, a man who is obsessed with prison reform. Miles Coverdale is shunned when he expresses honest concerns about Hollingsworth’s grand schemes of reform:

“They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience … They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them, and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly straight path.”

 

At Middlemay, Richard Rhinedale is obsessed with sexual reform. Buck becomes a useful pawn until he is no longer useful. The socialist farmer I worked for was obsessed with Cuba, wind energy and shocking Hasidic Jews (who paid for farm tours) with his hatred of their religion. He did this in the name of women’s rights but it seemed to me that he was bitter at losing his own faith while attending Yale Divinity School. I was also shunned for questioning a socialist idea.

These strangely charismatic men often attract women who are willing to fund the leaders’ pipe-dream endeavors while also accepting the men’s only slightly veiled contempt for said women. Miles Coverdale is shocked by the mad infatuation and devotion the two lead female characters have for the brooding, self-absorbed Hollingsworth.

Utopian women often subject themselves to “free love” once they are convinced that it will improve their relations in the long run. At Blithedale, the woman perceived to have money is thrown aside when it becomes clear that she has nothing.

In MY NOVEL, Richard’s wife is given the job of training young men to control themselves sexually. This is Richard’s inside joke since he finds his wife so repulsive and assumes the young trainees will control themselves with little coaching. As I mentioned in a post long ago, a friend raised in a Utopian society bitterly remembers his mother’s neglect due to her devotion to “the cause” of socialism in the 1960’s.

Many (if not most) people who dive into this lifestyle really don’t like people they consider “common.” For instance, I’ve heard many an erudite farmer blame regular farmers’ stupidity for the loss of their family farms. The fact that many of these perfectionists often rely on unpaid labor in the form of eco-apprentices or converts to their cause and often aren’t more successful than the regular guys who don’t read Mother Earth and Foreign Affairs, their disdain seems pretty hypocritical.

One farmer I knew insisted on only using horse-power-unless he was in a hurry. His contempt of modern machinery was thrown aside when he butchered a lame old goat with a dull knife in front of a family of Hassidic Jews in the rain and unceremoniously shoveled up the animal with his tractor. Hawthorne brilliantly captures the uncouth but far more able true farmer who trains the city folk at country life.

Manual labor is often “spiritualized,” says Hawthorne, with the actual sweat on someone else’s brow at these colonies. There is something quite lovely about raising your own food, living by the seasons and going to sleep tired, but the work is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. From a distance golden hay bales look beautiful at sunset, but hay up close means work, sweat and worry.  It doesn’t take long for those of us with big ideas to realize that picking and hauling potatoes isn’t the glamorous thing it looked like in the old peasant paintings. Hawthorne quips,

 “I seldom saw the new enthusiasm that did not grow flimsy and flaccid as the proselyte’s moistened shirt-collar, with a quarter-of-an-hour’s active labor, under a July sun.”

Usually when living in utopia people start dressing funny. Many of these reformers think they are quite unconventional yet in most cases they only trade one uniform for another.  Whether it be at the Oneida Colony where dress reform was explored or on your basic farm as at Blithedale. When city folk come for a visit you’re usually pretty shocked at how far off the path you’ve gone in terms of fashion. Zenobia, the beauty at Blithedale, wears a hothouse flower in her hair. In the city it’s a flower of jewels. I suppose it’s true that in real life we buy more fake things. Certain high-end farm gear is always in style on the “better” farms these days (on others the badge of honor is wearing 100% thrift store items—I do both ;)).

Utopians hate the present. Some romanticize the past. Some, at the very beginning of their endeavors, worship the future. In the present, many feel misunderstood, angry at humanity and depressed. I’ve seen this myself far too many times. It’s sad because if these reformers actually stepped out of their dream/nightmare they might possibly see some of the pleasant things in life that make humanity and the world worth saving.

A very odd thing I’ve noted and Hawthorne mentions is that there’s usually a utopian who insists on being called by a name that isn’t their own. I’m still not sure what to make of a young lady I once met who called herself “Fiddlin.” She didn’t play an instrument as far as I know. Zenobia at Blithedale sported a fake name as well (for mysterious reasons).

Utopians are bound by their hatreds:

“Our bond, it seems to me, was not affirmative, but negative. We had individually found one thing or another to quarrel with, in our past life, and were pretty well agreed as to the inexpediency of lumbering along with the old system any farther. As to what should be substituted, there was much less unanimity.”

Hawthorne, like many other people who end up deserting these attempts to change the world one elevated summer at a time, sees the characters he once called friends as tragic and deluded.

Related: UTOPIA & SEX

***Peasant Girl by Jules Breton

Fiction: Is Life a Curse?

Following in the footsteps of a murdered artist, William is thrilled … and a little scared.

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

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

“Oh damn. I’m sorry,” William said. Maybe things would get dangerous. A sickening thrill ran up his spine. He had nothing to lose.

“None of us could bear to replace him for a long time, but none of us are Michelangelo either.”

“Neither am I!” William didn’t want to get their hopes up.

“You’ll be fine. It’s just . . . well, Ignatius . . . he was unbelievable. It was an incredible loss for us and really put my faith to the test. It’s easy to be bitter at times.”

“Yes, life can be a curse,” William said.

“Life is NEVER a curse! Ignatius is in a better place after all.”

William rolled his eyes.

“What?” Kenyon asked.

“It’s kind of childish to believe that, don’t you think? My sister died, and she’s just gone. That’s what I believe now,” William replied.

“Now?”

“No, I mean that’s the way it is,” William said.

“You know, some folks think they feel their loved ones after death.”

“Yeah, I had that as a kid, but it was just me wishing.” William missed Eliza as much as he always had. “If I ever have children, I want a girl.”

“That’s sad.”

“Yes, it’s more than sad,” William replied. “We never talked about her much—my father did a little—the only thing he did right! I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I have to go now. You know where to find me if you still want me. Thanks again and good night and all.”

William raced across the street to The Buckskin and ordered a proper drink. Was he out of his mind? No, he would not go with a bunch of hypocritical, pompous missionaries.

So what if he was comfortable here in this squalor? He ignored the fact that if he didn’t come up with cash soon he’d be thrown from his room. After a few hours, blind drunk and cut off, William stumbled back to his home. His belongings were piled out front. “Shit,” he cursed as he tripped on something and made for the door to find it bolted shut. He pounded and shouted oaths, but no one listened.

And so morning came with William curled on the landing.

“William Weldon, wake up!”

He sat up pale and bleary-eyed, forgetting where he was. “Oh. Mr. Kenyon.”

William had nothing to say. Right now he didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but he made his way down to the little pile of his things.

Kenyon found William’s Bible.

“Oh, that,” William said as he stood up, stretched and scratched his matted hair.  “It was my Uncle Simon’s—he’s gone now. Killed by Indians. You want it? I never look at it.”

“I would never take a family heirloom,” Kenyon said, handing it over. “Someday you may want to pass it down to your daughter. Was your uncle religious?”

“Land sakes, no! He was great!”

The missionary laughed. “William, tell me, do you often sleep under the stars?”

“No, never. I’ve been evicted from my lovely little home.”

“It’s perfect timing then. We need to have you sobered up before you meet the others. Come and eat,” Kenyon said.

“Others?” William looked past the missionary. “You eat a lot, don’t you? I’m not hungry.”

The missionary helped William gather his things, sifting through his new artist’s vermin-infested belongings in disgust. William struggled to stand straight.

“Mr. Kenyon, I guess I really don’t need any of this. Probably it won’t impress your friends to see that you’ve brought a vagabond.”

Kenyon looked relieved. “So you don’t want any of it?”

William pulled a threadbare shirt his mother had made from the pile. “Just this. I should bring at least a change of shirts.” He shoved it into his dirty haversack.

Kenyon cleared his throat.

“I have a few errands, Mr. Weldon.”

“Call me Bill if you want to,” William said with a quick glance before lighting a half smoked cigar.

Kenyon smiled at William’s tentative attempt at familiarity. “Anyway, you’re welcome to use my room to clean up. I’m staying at the brothel house over there.”

William laughed.

“I know, I know!” Kenyon said waving the laughter off. “During the day it’s so quiet and as respectable looking as any other place here. I got confused. Obviously I understood my error when night rolled round. There was a terrible scene with a poor girl disfigured by the pox and a drunkard,” Kenyon said.

“What happened?” William fished through his jacket, feeling for Thankful’s watch in his pocket.

“Nothing much in the end, thank God. I may not be young anymore, but I can stand against a drunk fairly well. I guess I’m hero of the whorehouse now—the perfect time to move on.” Kenyon said.

The missionary handed William the key and some money.

“What’s this for?”

“Consider it an advance, William—maybe you’d consider buying new clothes.” Kenyon tipped his hat and walked off to Matilda’s.

William turned toward the whorehouse not wanting to see Ginny. He cleared his throat and spit before slipping into the hotel and tiptoeing up the creaking stairs, almost turning left on the landing toward Ginny’s room by force of habit.

The key slid into the hole, but the door was jammed. William tried to jiggle it free quietly, but in the morning stillness his noises magnified. He heard Ginny’s door open, and groaned to himself. In the dim light, with her blonde hair hanging over her violet wrapper, Ginny almost looked pretty as she came to him. William felt broken-hearted. Why couldn’t he love her?

Ginny embraced him, running her fingers through his hair before whispering in his ear. “Billy, I’m terrible sorry about all I said.” She pushed him aside and opened Kenyon’s door. “Why are you going in this room?” she asked.

“Mr. Kenyon is a missionary and . . .”

Ginny laughed. “Oh yes, and I’m a nurse.”

“No, really he is and I’ve been hired on to work for him,” William said.

“By Alice?” Ginny asked. All work in this house came through Alice.

“No,” William replied. “No, I’m washing up, and then I’ll go meet his associates.”

“Associates? Where? Down the hall?” she laughed. “Billy, you still don’t know the way of the world yet, do you?”

William scratched his rib with a sigh. “Maybe you’re right. A missionary staying here? I guess I wanted to believe . . .”

Ginny pulled him into the room and kissed him. “Poor Billy, come sit beside me.”

“No, he’ll be back soon.”

She ran her hand over his unshaven face. “Let me take care of you. You need more than a good washing, but a shave and a haircut too.”

“No, Ginny, I don’t deserve your help.”

She went over to Kenyon’s small bag and found a pair of scissors. She turned back to him, her wrapper loose and her one arm still in its sling. As she snipped the long, gold locks, William grabbed her around the waist. Ginny was so soft and familiar, and he was afraid of everything else.

Ginny clipped away months of unclean living. Her robe slipped off, and she straddled him. “See how much I love you?”

William wasn’t sure how any of this was love. After a big night of drinks he always longed for sex, but remembered Ginny’s words about his performance and made no moves on her. He pulled the money from his pocket. “You can have it, Ginny. I owe you.”

Ginny tucked the money into her corset. Just then there was a knock at the door.

“William Weldon, it’s me,” called Kenyon.

When William didn’t respond, Kenyon opened the door to find Ginny moving off William. She greeted Kenyon casually. “Mr. Kenyon, I wanted to thank you again fer getting me out of a pickle the other night.”

“By having intercourse with this young man? I don’t see the connection,” Kenyon responded. “William, I wouldn’t have expected you to take advantage of my generosity.”

“How do I know that you aren’t taking advantage of me?” William asked, his shoulders covered with tufts of hair.

The missionary asked Ginny to leave but with amused eyes. Kenyon picked up a few books and his writing implements, tucking them into a suitcase before latching it shut. He looked William over. “Land sakes, what did you let that girl do to you?” He laughed, shaking his head. “Clean up all that hair before some story gets out that I perform strange rituals.”

“Do you?” William asked.

“Mr. Weldon, in what way could I possibly take advantage of you? As you said yourself, you have nothing.” Kenyon laughed again.

William’s face went red. “It’s just that Ginny—well—she guessed that you were up to no good—after all—this is a brothel.”

“I explained that. I never said I was particularly observant,” Kenyon said. He checked his watch. “The others should be here this morning. I’m going to wait for them outside the church.” He grabbed his bags and walked out.

William continued to pick his hair off the ratty blankets on the bed.

“Mr. Weldon, are you coming or not?”

William jumped up, tripping on the leg of the bed. “Oh, I didn’t think you’d still want me to . . .”

“When I’ve had enough of you, I’ll let you know,” Kenyon joked, but saw that the bone-thin William didn’t like it. “Let’s get you some clothes, son.”

William went white. “I-I lost the money.”

“In forty-five minutes? How?”

William scratched his sunburned, dry scalp and loose hair fell like a spring shower. He looked at his shoes. “Sir, I’m afraid I lied. I gave the money to Ginny.”

“You couldn’t control yourself long enough to forgo fornication for clothes?” Kenyon asked.

“No, it’s not that. I owed her—she’s been my friend and good to me—mostly.”

Kenyon rolled his eyes. “So you saved nothing for yourself.”

William shook his head and chanced a glance at Kenyon.

“William Weldon, you’d make a fine missionary then.” He joked but grew more serious. “Son, I don’t ever abide by liars or thieves. It’s troubling that your first impulse was to lie.”

“I’m not a liar.”

“I don’t believe that you want to be, William, and this is only a friendly, but serious, warning. If I find you in a lie, I will cut you loose right quick. Out in dangerous territory all of us must be able to rely upon each other in word and deed.”

William wanted adventure and could not stay in town any longer, but didn’t for a second believe the missionary could be relied on. He tried to hide his unbelief, but Kenyon saw it and made another mental note. He wondered if William might be tougher than the Indians to win over.

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Fiction: Escape to Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

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

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

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

forget me not promo

Do You Hear Voices?

Is your world real or imagined?

The other day a distant relation sent me a thick packet with a copy of the history of our family reunions dating all the way back to the late 19th century and a ten page history, written in neat hand, of one branch of my family tree going back to the early 1600’s.

How thrilling it was to finally see a picture of my great-great grandfather Lucien as an old man and to read about the exploits of family members who escaped being scalped by Indians during the Revolutionary War and others who sadly died during the Civil War. My great-great-great-great grandmother was such a fine spinner that wealthy women paid top dollar for her work. Some family members drank too much, others were heroes and still others were exploited as children.

I knew a few of the stories through my mother but most of the history was new—yet as I read it I felt like I knew it all already. There was a satisfaction in reading it but not that sense of surprise I would have expected. My aunt told us of an unsettling dream she had about meeting many past generations in heaven. I remember my father and uncle teasing her about it, scoffing at the notion of heaven and not really wanting to discuss death since that branch tended to die young and they were all in that age window of being taken. My aunt died a few days later.

This sense of knowing the past through dead relatives, of knowing them though never having met them, is so similar to knowing the characters I write about. I’ve never been able to change a thing about a character once they appear in my mind. I’m only able to unearth deeper truths about them. It’s as if they’ve been there all along waiting for their stories to be told, not mine. When the story starts to go in a direction that isn’t true, the characters push back and demand I dig more.

Sometimes I worry that this or that thing may be too much for a reader or my characters to bear, but the characters won’t rest until I put them through the wringer. But am I putting them through the wringer or just transcribing their history? Do they live in another dimension? Will I meet them some day in heaven?

It’s odd to have this knowing and the desire to know more. Occasionally there is also a sense of being pat on the back, as if a character is whispering in my ear. Yes, that’s exactly as it was for me. Those are the best moments. And so strange. After I finish publishing this series about the Crenshaw and Weldon families I may fictionalize my family tree, but I find the line between fiction and reality blurring. I feel Buck Crenshaw and my great grandfather begging me to get things right, but what for?

Readers and writers: How real are your characters to you? How real is your past to you?

 

Fiction: Wine With Supper

“Why is it you think women would improve politics?” Thankful asked. “I’d hate for a woman like you to speak for me—nothing personal, of course, Miss Peckham. I’m fond of men. I wouldn’t want them to change.”

“Miss Crenshaw, (you seem such a smart girl), was it God who planned slavery?”

“Well, no, I guess it was men, but . . .”

“Just like it’s men who keep women from the vote. I don’t for a minute expect women to be better voters. Most women are too stupid to realize how enslaved they are and would probably waste their votes on a handsome yet stupid candidate. But if the Negro, only up from complete and utter ignorance, should vote then why not a woman? Many slaves loved their masters—or at least the security they were given. They had a home and food and a place in the order of things—just like women. They all need to see the real way of things. I consider myself an educator. . .” Miss Peckham proclaimed.

“My father never offered my mother security, and she’s devoted just the same,” William said, never missing an opportunity to snipe at his father. There was an embarrassed silence. The trumpeter called for stable duty.

“My goodness, how do you all put up with that infernal racket?” Miss Peckham complained.

“I love it,” Thankful said with her arms folded in front of her.

“Me too,” William said with a small smile at Thankful.

She offered no such response, but said quietly, “It was low of you, William, to speak so unkindly of your father in front of a stranger and old military acquaintances.”

“Bill gets a scolding. How nice,” Miss Peckham laughed.

William fumed. “Miss Crenshaw, you have no right to judge me at all!”

“I’m your friend.”

“Really?” William asked.

“Why, yes! How can you question that?” Thankful replied on the verge of tears. “Why do you want to hurt me?”

Hurt you?” William was taken aback.

Mrs. Markham spoke uneasily, “Of course we’re all friends—Bill, don’t be so silly—we ALL miss you at the post. Now, I’ll set up a nice meal for us, and we’ll get along—as we must—till morning.”

William looked at Thankful with soft eyes before turning his attention to Miss Peckham. He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Markham always has nice meals.”

“It will be an excellent chance at research,” Miss Peckham said.

“You’re not visiting a foreign land,” Mrs. Markham said, with an annoyed laugh. “Our food is of the most ordinary sort.”

“I’ll be the judge of that!” Miss Peckham laughed too.

The matron glanced at the telegraph line as she set off for home, with the small party traipsing behind.

Thankful and William understood how frugal an army wife—even an officer’s wife–must be if she had any ideas for her children’s education, or a trip east for a wardrobe change every few years. What the captain’s wife offered that evening was more than she could afford.

William ate reluctantly, figuring the little ones seated in the kitchen might be going with less, but didn’t turn down the wine. Thankful ate like a bird—an unusual trait for a Crenshaw. Miss Peckham pushed the ordinary and bland food on her plate with her fork, unimpressed.

“Maybe someone might offer to take me to a real live Indian meal,” she said as she moved her plate away.

William whispered, slurring his words, “What were you expecting soldiers to eat—Indian testicles?”

Miss Peckham let out a big guffaw as Thankful and Mrs. Markham cleared the table for coffee and tea. Thankful, standing with a few stacked plates, watched William cling to his glass, pour another and get closer to Miss Peckham.  Mrs. Markham pulled Thankful’s sleeve.

“Some are just bent on their own ruin, poor boy.”

“He’s not poor in the least; just blind,” Thankful said, storming off with the dishes.

Miss Peckham teased and flirted with William. He couldn’t think of a way to quiet her, so he drank and enjoyed it, noting the annoyed glances of Thankful.

“Miss Peckham, you’re probably too worn out to come dancing,” Mrs. Markham said.

“My goodness, of course I’m not tired a lick—your strong army coffee is quite a restorative!”

“I would think that dancing might be against your beliefs since the men lead,” Thankful said with a triumphant grin.

The captain’s wife laughed, too.

Miss Peckham ignored Thankful. “Mr. Weldon, you’ll escort me, won’t you?”

“No, I’m afraid I’m no dancer and unwelcome anyhow,” William replied.

“Bill Weldon, that’s a great fiction you’ve invented,” Mrs. Markham said. “You’ll come as my guest.”

“Well, I’ll come to watch, maybe,” William said, pouring out the last of the wine.

“It’s a shame that dances aren’t held on horseback—then you wouldn’t be so awkward, Mr. Weldon,” Miss Peckham said.

The women did not appreciate it. William excused himself for a smoke on the porch.

“Miss Peckham, you are very insensitive!” Thankful scolded.

“Mr. Weldon is still bitter over the accident that kept him from a place at West Point,” Mrs. Markham added.

Thankful had related many of William’s trials and accomplishments to the garrison. The stories were so enmeshed with her own.

“How is it that Mr. Weldon is so well-known here?” Miss Peckham asked.

“Why Miss Crenshaw and Mr. Weldon are from the same town in New Jersey—their parents are friends, and Bill’s father served in the military years ago under General Crook,” Mrs. Markham said.

“Oh, General Crook, I’ve heard he has kind feelings toward the Indians. Anyway, I’m sure you’re all well-meaning. Bill seems to be a pet to you, but a man should never be overly pampered,” Miss Peckham stated. “My remark was said in jest—Bill is a good horseman.”

“William suffered awful torment and abuse at school, and pain, too. If you had been aware of that . . .” Thankful started.

“I’m aware that he’s crippled physically, but he’s fine company, and I’m sure has many other talents—I didn’t think he needed any coddling.”

There was a new voice on the porch. Thankful ran to the stairs. “Land sakes, Lieutenant Fahy is here, and I’m not ready!”

“Miss Peckham, you may freshen up . . .”

“I need no improvement, Mrs. Markham—besides, I don’t have any of my clothes.”

The captain’s wife sensed a small chink in the young lady’s confident demeanor. “Miss Peckham, you may look through my things, though I know they’re not as modern as you may be used to. We are about the same size.”

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

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

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

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

Fiction: No Such Thing as Progress

The ladies of Fort Grant get their feathers ruffled.

“Duty calls. I’ll come by later for the hop, girls,” Lieutenant Fahy said. “Good luck, Bill. I’ll have my boys dispose of the horse.”

Mrs. Markham eyed Miss Peckham steadily and waited for introduction.

William spoke. “Mrs. Markham, this is Miss Peckham from Philadelphia.”

“Peckham?”

“Yes, my uncle is a great friend of Captain Markham’s so I’m told.”

Mrs. Markham thought but came up blank. “Miss Peckham, I’m sorry to say that Captain Markham is on detached duty.”

“That sounds interesting. Is he off killing Indians?” Miss Peckham asked.

“No, court martial duty.”

“Oh. Well, I was wondering—hoping really that I might stay on a few days. I’m an authoress and I’m studying women—women of the West.”

Mrs. Markham laughed. “And what is there to study? Women are women.”

“So may I stay?”

Mrs. Markham blushed.

William began to strip the dead horse lying nearby of its tack.

“Mr. Weldon, I’m sorry about your pony,” Mrs. Markham said.

“That’s all right, ma’am. I rode her too hard. It’s my own fault.”

Thankful huffed.

Mrs. Markham rubbed William’s back as he stood up. “I have no room for you, Bill, I’m afraid, but we’ll set you up a nice tent for the night out back or maybe you’d like to find space with the infantry . . .”

“No, that’s too much trouble. I can, well, I can just go . . .” William craved a drink.

“You have no choice, young man. You deserve at least a hero’s supper, the way you saved your girl,” Mrs. Markham said.

“Mr. Weldon did not save me, and we’re just acquaintances,” Miss Peckham stated.

Mrs. Markham glanced at Miss Peckham. “Yes, well, I suppose you may stay on, miss. But Bill’s a hero to us. Thankful will share her room. It’s small but she’s done it up so sweet.”

Thankful blanched.

Miss Peckham brightened. “Good! Mr. Weldon, I’ll pay you again tomorrow if you go fetch my trunk and things from town and bring them back by stage—I left them with that Ginny girl—you do think she’s honest don’t you, Mr. Weldon—as you know her much better than I do?”

“Thankful’s room is small for a lot of things, Miss Peckham,” Mrs. Markham said.

Miss Peckham ignored the matron. “It’s no trouble for you, is it, Mr. Weldon?”

“No, I guess not.”

“How much do you want?” Miss Peckham asked, opening her purse again.

“Please, Miss Peckham, I won’t take a cent from you,” William replied, glancing around in humiliation. “There’s no need to negotiate a thing.”

“Ginny tells me you have no problem negotiating with her,” Miss Peckham joked.

William wiped his face. “Ginny is a friend, mostly. . . ”

Miss Peckham chuckled. “That girl is a beast and as dumb as stone.”

“You said earlier looks don’t matter and these two ladies don’t care what I get up to in town,” William said, turning to Mrs. Markham. “I’m not worthy of your company, and I never would have made the trip if I thought we’d be standing here discussing anything that goes on in town.”

“That’s the trouble with men,” Miss Peckham addressed the women as intimates. “They underestimate our tolerance for things. Women don’t faint at the thought of a whore or sex. Women have urges and feelings . . .”

Thankful blushed and took a step away from the others.

“It’s a matter of manners and breeding, Miss Peckham,” Mrs. Markham said, “that we prefer to avoid topics that may put a friend in an uncomfortable spot.”

“Pardon me,” Miss Peckham said. “I hadn’t imagined the army to be so quaint in manner when in action, from what I hear, they employ the most modern techniques of extermination.”

“Miss Peckham, stories in eastern magazines are not always accurate sources of information on the army,” William said.

“My Captain Markham is just now risking his life for the likes of you,” Mrs. Markham said, her voice deepening, “so you may travel around prattling on about a world you don’t understand and feeling superior!”

“Oh, please, ma’am, I meant no offense to you personally,” Miss Peckham said, taking the matron’s hand in her own. “My uncle has spoken quite highly of the captain. I’m sure there are exceptions.”

“Captain Markham is no exception!” Mrs. Markham replied. “Every officer in his regiment is as honorable as he is, and I’m proud of the whole lot of them. They’ve always shown themselves to be as fair-minded and as considerate as possible. There are bad soldiers somewhere, I’m sure, but I’ve never met one yet, and I’ve been with the army since the war.”

“That’s sweet, but does the army pay you?” Miss Peckham asked.

“Is everything about money to you? I gladly go without to spend time with the captain . . .”

“Some women, I know, are impressed by a uniform,” Miss Peckham laughed.

“It’s the man wearing it, Miss Peckham!” Mrs. Markham exclaimed.

“I always wondered. Do military men insist that their wives call them by their titles?” Miss Peckham asked.

“It’s a show of respect, miss,” William said.

“And endearment,” Mrs. Markham added with reddened face.

“Oh, Mrs. Markham, I’m sure you’re satisfied with the captain,” Miss Peckham said, patting the older lady’s arm, “but I for one have never been good at taking orders.”

“Captain Markham doesn’t order me!” Mrs. Markham cried.

“But it’s implied.” Miss Peckham noted. She straightened her pantaloons.

William moaned.

“Miss Peckham, Mrs. Markham is doing a nice thing in letting you stay, but maybe you might find town more to your liking,” William suggested.

“Mrs. Markham, I’m sure you understand my talk is of a political nature and not intended to make judgment on you personally. We’re all creatures of our environment,” Miss Peckham explained.

Thankful turned to her. “There is good reason for women to stay clear of politics. Bringing women’s minds into the gutter, where some men keep theirs already, is not my idea of progress.” She gave William a sharp look.

“And what do you believe is progress, Miss Crenshaw?” Miss Peckham asked.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

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

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

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”