How Will You Live in Old Age?

Some people seem to take years to die. In my family members crash and burn. One moment my father was cooking burgers on the grill for my son, the next he was dying of a heart attack. Aside from dying while sleeping, this is the best way to go, though it’s a shock to those left behind.

In novels, the excruciatingly slow death is my favorite. I’ll mention Prince Andrei in WAR AND PEACE as my personal favorite, gut-wrenching death. I cried over him (as some of you may know) for weeks. Yes, weeks. I hardly cried at all over my father because my morbid imagination had prepared me for his passing since worrying about it all through childhood. It was no secret that we loved each other immensely so perhaps that gave me peace. I also decided that I wanted to appear stoic yet stylish like Jackie Kennedy after her husband’s assassination. Funny what your brain and heart do to get you through tragedy.

In my first novel I kill off a couple of characters. One dies in true Victorian fashion, lingering until the right words are said. Another dies suddenly of a heart attack. People exit. It’s part of the human story. Until recently many people lived with disfigurement and death as kissing cousins.

On Sunday my husband made a rare request.

He’s at a crossroads in his career. He’s searching for meaning. His proud and independent-minded parents are struggling to survive a few states away. One with painful blood cancer and the other with multiple issues only made worse by loneliness and depression after years caring for her suffering husband.

My husband wanted to visit the local nursing home nestled in the mountains of Washington County. He asked me to come. My first thought was to tell him talking to sick, old people wasn’t my thing and that I’d planned a day of reading by the fire. But, as I’ve said, my husband rarely makes requests. My daughter joked that we’d be the Will and Kate of Upstate New York. I practiced my royal wave in my Sunday best with a laugh.

Our pastor occasionally visits the home on Sundays. He had invited my husband to come by since we live five minutes from the place.

“It will only take half an hour,” my husband said to reassure us both as we walked down a long hallway with large windows and geraniums blooming on the sills.

One old soul napped in a wheelchair beside the main desk. She wore a faded pink sweatshirt and her hair went in every direction. The place smelled of housecleaning fluids and medicinal things only old people and doctors know about. We followed the booming voice of our pastor. We arrived a few minutes late for the gathering and tip-toed to a couple of chairs behind about twenty people in wheelchairs. Our pastor joked with them, shook hands and led them in singing old Christian hymns. And then he left.

One of the old men, in a hurry to get back to his room, smashed his wheelchair into a younger man who appeared to have had a brain injury. My husband jumped to his feet, took charge of the situation and wheeled the man where he wanted to go. I smiled as I watched my husband in his element (I’m the sort who tends to witness things happening with a detached inability to step in).

Just as my husband returned, and I zipped my coat to go, another man with a fake leg wheeled over to us.

“I need to talk to you. I said to myself if someone doesn’t talk to these two they may never want to come back.”

All thoughts of reading by the fire slipped away. In an instant this bunch of wheelchairs became people. I cast a sheepish look my husband’s way, but he was already engaged in talk about the old man’s life as a dairy farmer. Despite the fact that he was only just recovering from an amputation, Walter wanted us to know that he was still a farmer and that he was planning to walk again soon. I hate awkward silences because I feel the need to fill them which exhausts me. I needn’t have worried. Walter and my usually quiet husband talked tractors and milk prices. I wanted to take Walter home after only a few minutes.

All the while a lady stared at us as if waiting in line to speak with royalty. It was a little unnerving and humbling. After Walter went to get his snack of Lorna Doone Cookies and juice, Nancy waited for us to make the first move. We shook hands.

“I just said to your pastor that if his church wanted to do good he needed to remember us.”

I considered our pastor’s busy schedule. I considered that when writing one of my novels I got rid of a character by sending her to a home for the aged. I couldn’t keep her because she had too much wisdom and spunk and the other characters needed to remain stupid and inexperienced for the story to move forward.

Someone took Nancy to the beauty parlor or had someone come in to give her highlights. Grey hairs mixed with the blond strands but her face appeared young—maybe 50-ish. Her hands shook and her back curved unnaturally.

“You keep animals?” she asked. “My father was a farmer. He got me on a horse when I was three. Once my horse spooked and dove into the Mohawk River with me on back.”

“Were you scared?”

“No,” she said wistfully. “I was never scared when my father was around.” Nancy sensed we were uncomfortable with what seemed a sad remark. “I still intend to ride again someday.”

The characters in my novels lead busy lives. They mention the old folks’ home once in a while but they never go to see how their loved one is doing. My father’s last words to my mother were: “I always loved you best. Tell the kids I loved them all the same.”

I wonder how I’ll feel if I end up in a nursing home. Will I welcome the rest and solitude? Will I fight for coffee or tea with my crappy cookies? My daughter says she’ll keep me in her home and we’ll die together like Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (my daughter has a flair for the dramatic).

On the drive home my husband asked if I’d like to come with him again next weekend. How could I say no?

LINK: SENIOR LIVING 1800-1900

MORBID DEATH CUSTOMS FROM THE VICTORIAN ERA

THE UNSETTLING ART OF DEATH PHOTOGRAPHY

 

An Architect of Happiness: Henry Van Dyke

room“Dr. Van Dyke is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in.” Helen Keller said of him.

There are some long-dead men who follow their kindred spirits. Henry  seems to follow me. I first shared his poem about AMERICA with my ethnically diverse bunch of 5th graders. They loved it so much they memorized every verse.

After moving to Saratoga Springs I came upon another poem he had written for his friends SPENCER and KATRINA TRASK who were grieving the loss of their four children.

Henry pops up everywhere I go:

“As he was beginning his career as a minister, Van Dyke was also launching his career as a writer. In September 1879 he went with his friend the artist W. S. Macy to the Red River Valley wheat farms where he saw the problems with large agricultural systems that were depleting the land and exploiting migrant labor. With Macy he did an illustrated article for Harper’s Monthly Magazine; it was the lead article for the May 1880 issue.”  ALL POETRY.COM

Only the other day did I discover that Henry had written one of my favorite Christmas carols after visiting the Berkshire Mountains:

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Opening to the sun above

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah

All Thy works with joy surround Thee
Earth and heaven reflect Thy rays
Stars and angels sing around Thee
Center of unbroken praise

Field and forest, vale and mountain
Flowery meadow, flashing sea
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee

Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man

Ever singing, march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music leads us onward
In the triumph song of life

Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah
Hallelujah we adore You
Hallelujah

Henry Van Dyke saw God’s beauty, grace and love in nature.  He opposed art for art’s sake because he felt all art should serve man and make him a better, happier person. His life, like his art, did just that. I imagine my students all grown up with snippets of Van Dyke in their heads.

POET, NOVELIST, DIPLOMAT & FRIEND: HENRY VAN DYKE

A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

THE OTHER WISE MAN

Fiction: East Meets West

Lieutenant Fahy cursed to himself. While he baked in the sun weighing sugar at San Carlos, the rest of his battalion prepared for the field against Geronimo. The assignment of handing out weekly rations to the Apache women was a great slap in the face. Fahy considered leaving the army if he didn’t have excitement soon. He read Thankful’s note testily:

Dearest Lieutenant,

My prayers about your safety have been answered with the news that you won’t join the others in the field. I am waiting to tell you something and want you here desperately. But do stay on at the reservation until your unit is out. I don’t understand why the men are so excited. They mustn’t care at all for us women who worry ourselves to death! I know that you will want for me to wish Lieutenant Barnhart all the best luck as he was picked to take your place. He is terrible down spirited about it. Some say he is a coward, but he seems just an overly sensitive fellow.

I have sent someone out to see you. I hope that you will like him as he is dear to me.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

Affectionate regards,

Thankful Crenshaw

Across the way and under a fly tent shaded by branches sat William sketching the Apache women as they squabbled over the weight of this or that. When the military took over handling the annuities, the weights had been fixed fairly, but the Indians, wary of being cheated in the past, kept a close eye. More often than not now it was the Indian women coming in with gathered hay for the army mounts who fixed their bundles with rocks hidden in the middle. The women didn’t trust the new unhappy officer.

Fahy fumed seeing William recording this less than heroic duty as if to purposely annoy him. And there was one of Kenyon’s missionaries handing an old and befuddled Apache a Bible tract in English. It would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so damned stupid. The missionaries had a way of getting involved in everything. They were energetic—he’d give them that.

Fahy figured the old shriveled heathen would use the paper covered with indecipherable words for kindling. And wasn’t it the government who spent money and men on these foolish American evangelists when the funds could be better spent on paying army personnel proper salaries or at least supplying them with more desert-friendly uniforms?

“No stone in bag? No stone in BAG?”

“Pardon?” Fahy asked the young woman before him. “Oh, no, it’s a perfectly fair measure . . .”

The willowy squaw with high cheekbones didn’t understand a word. Fahy admired her, sighing as he surveyed the crowd of women enjoying this waste of a day and wondered how he’d get through it, but luck shined upon him and the visitor Thankful had promised arrived.

Lieutenant Joyce called to Fahy. “Bully for us. A visitor bearing gifts.”

A young man dressed in a partial West Point uniform and a bandage around his head trailed Joyce.

The lieutenant stepped away from the scales to the annoyance of the women.

“Fahy, here’s someone you need to meet,” Joyce said with a grin. “Can you guess who it is? I did on the first go.”

Fahy fumed. While his men were out chasing Apaches, he was expected to entertain boys from the East? Fahy looked the cadet over for signs of the usual West Point arrogance he despised. The cadet on holiday had no mirth–just weird eyes and a pretentious cravat around his neck. “Should I know him?” Fahy asked Joyce, giving the intense young man a challenging stare.

“You are to marry my sister, sir,” Buck whispered.

“What? Why are you whispering?” Fahy demanded.

“Fahy, Thankful’s brother. . .” Joyce said.

“Oh, shit, you’re one of the twins from the Point! I should have seen it a mile away although you look nothing like I imagined.”

“Yes, well I guess you’ve heard of my troubles,” Buck said, touching his head.

Fahy rubbed his chin. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Fahy! You must be joking,” Joyce interfered. “He’s all Thankful ever talks about—worrying after him.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right. Something about a colored cadet roughing you up.”

“No.” Buck replied.

“No need to whisper, cadet. Men respect a strong voice,” Fahy said, slapping Buck’s back too hard.

Joyce cringed. “Seems the young man’s voice is damaged, lieutenant.”

“Oh, he’s sent here to recuperate then. Good. That’s nice for Thankful. She’s wanting company and I expect to be out in the field soon. She’s been a fair bit homesick of late.” Fahy caught Buck’s unfriendly look. “What’s the matter? Has something happened with Thankful?”

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LOVE

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13

Fiction: Miss Peckham Departs

“I thought you wanted to research the Apaches?” Fahy asked.

“Yes, but I may never have that chance. Mr. Saint Kenyon won’t let me come along with you.”

“Why not? Did you ask Captain Markham? He might put in a word.” Fahy seemed disappointed in her and it irked Thankful.

“Maybe Miss Peckham has had enough of the military,” Thankful said.

“Oh no, but all the best officers are taken,” Miss Peckham replied with a grin. “So this is farewell.”

“Good riddance,” Thankful said with grim finality.

“Well, I guess, good luck, miss,” Fahy added, lingering a minute as if he had more to say. “I must be off. Kenyon is over there messing with my wagons.” He kissed Thankful. “I’ll see you before I go.”

Miss Peckham waved as Fahy trotted off and turned to Thankful. “Poor you, Miss Thankful. Looks like your lieutenant is far too ambitious for you. You must learn it sooner rather than later. Once they’re sexually satisfied they don’t have much time for women. Prepare yourself for slavery.”

“Do you ever have a hopeful, decent thing to say, Miss Peckham?”

Miss Peckham laughed. “About men? No.”

“They seem to like you a fair bit,” Thankful noted.

“I know how to stroke their egos—that’s an indispensable talent in a man’s world, isn’t it?” Miss Peckham said in her most self-satisfied way.

Thankful’s mother never once managed to pet her father’s ego. Thankful wasn’t sure how it was done.

“You know what is particularly sad about you, Thankful? You do have intelligence, but it’ll be wasted on the lieutenant. I don’t mean to say that Lieutenant Fahy isn’t clever and very handsome, but he has about as much respect for a woman’s mind as your Saint Paul does.”

“My Saint Paul?”

“I see what you read at your bedside—oh, holy one. What I don’t understand is how you could submit yourself to a man,” Miss Peckham said.

“It’s easy if you respect and admire him,” Thankful said weakly.

“Men aren’t gods,” Miss Peckham said as if letting Thankful in on a secret, “and Saint Paul would have us kept in bondage.”

“Have you really read what you speak of? Men must be prepared to sacrifice themselves for their faith and family—that’s worthy of respect,” Thankful said.

“For your information—I’ve read bits and pieces of the Bible—one must understand the enemy to defeat it.”

“That’s blasphemous!” Thankful said.

“So what?  Why should I believe a book that can’t be proved and was written by men with their own best interests at heart?”

“It’s God and his love at the heart of the Bible . . .”

“Oh, please! Stop it before I vomit! Men are selfish swine. Christ is a fiction. Christians are at best naive and at worst plunderers and murderers, hidden behind masks of righteousness. It’s truly disgusting. I can’t tell you how many times in my childhood people prayed for me and my siblings when what we needed was warm clothes,” Miss Peckham said.

“Not all Christians are hypocrites,” Thankful said.

“You don’t know anything, Miss Thankful! How could you know in your perfect world? And look, just like Mary, you’re with child out of wedlock—though I doubt it was by a miraculous act of God. I’m sure it was just the average everyday lusts of a spoiled girl who has always done as she pleases!”

Thankful cried out. “I was foolish! I only did it to please him!”

“There, there, Thankful. It will all work out. The lieutenant will still marry you, I suppose.”

Thankful looked after the lieutenant, her breath knocked from her. “Of course he will. He loves me.”

“But you love Bill Weldon. How will that work?” Miss Peckham asked.

“You’re an evil woman who wants trouble for me. I don’t know why,” Thankful cried.

“Thankful, I don’t hate you. I just feel so impatient with you and girls like you. How can you not see the hell you’re in? Look at your choices in life—either marry a drunk from home or a self-interested soldier, who will treat you like a princess until you’re ravaged by childbirth and then will easily find another young thing on his travels. I know the type. I know all the types. I’m a keen observer of human nature and it’s far from inspiring. You may bury your head in a magical book for all the good it will do you. But I choose to work for change in the here and now.”

“So you plan to change men?” Thankful asked shakily.

“Yes, in fact I demand it of them. But it’s mothers—like you—who will have the ultimate responsibility. I fully believe that boys need to be brought up differently,” Miss Peckham said.

“I don’t want men to change,” Thankful replied.

“That’s because you’re deluded. It’s women like me who possess clear vision that will light the path to pure freedom for us all. We’ll show you how to be without men—to be seen as equals.”

“Well, I don’t want to be independent of men—not completely,” Thankful said.

“Men are slave masters—all of them—their power has corrupted them. Maybe once they were more like us.”

“God forbid!” Thankful cried.

“You are so beaten down that you hate your own sex!” Miss Peckham checked the time.

“No, I like being a girl. . .”

“A WOMAN! You’re a woman, for heaven’s sake!” Miss Peckham lectured.

“I like being a lady, but I wouldn’t want my husband to be one,” Thankful explained.

“Why not?!”

Thankful laughed. “Why not? Isn’t it clear as day? Without men there would be no civilization. It’s men who conquered the land and protected their families.”

“I can shoot as well as any man!” Miss Peckham responded.

“Maybe so, but not with children hanging off of you.”

“I don’t want children.”

Thankful wrapped her arms around her middle. A wave of nausea came over her. “Luckily civilization doesn’t depend upon you. My mother is domineering and disrespectful to men and that’s worked wonders in her marriage. My father tried to do right by her and she stomped on him until he was made a fool to his children and was hated by them. Finally, he found someone else.”

Miss Peckham clapped her hands. “See, men are mudsill. A woman stands up and a man’s only response is infidelity.”

“There are women who stand up, but there are more women who tear down—tear down each other and men too and even children! They want things their way and they want a power they despise once they have. My mother didn’t grow any happier each time she won her way with my father. I’d submit any day to a man over a woman. A good man wouldn’t dare treat me like most women have,” Thankful said.

“Oh, I’m sure that you have been terribly mistreated at your finishing schools and. . .”

Thankful trembled. She hated upset of any sort. “Look how you treat me, Miss Peckham.  You must realize that I’m scared and all alone. My only friend from home is a changed man from drinking and my fiancé is leaving me. And what have you done, but insult my faith, flirt with Mr. Fahy and abuse William? You have proven my point. I’m very happy you’re leaving.”

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Fiction: A Lonely Journey

William stood near the Markham quarters, hoping again to catch a glimpse of Thankful.

He lit a cigar and took a small sip from his flask. William bathed in nostalgia as the sun came up and the air filled with the sweet sounds of reveille, morning call and stable duty. Screaming children raced out with barking dogs into their yards to watch their fathers on the parade grounds as the flag flapped in the wind in front of headquarters. . There Thankful was with the little girl marching beside her, off to the commissary store.

“Thankful!” William called half limping, half running. The little girl waved. “Hello, Lydia,” he said with a warm grin. The girl grabbed his hand and hung off of it. It challenged William’s balance, and he laughed.

“Lydia, stop it now. Mr. Weldon will fall,” Thankful said, but when she saw that William enjoyed himself, she said no more.

Mrs. Markham called Lydia back to her at the front door and waved to William. He waved back before turning to Thankful. “I’m sorry that Fahy won’t be staying with you. I don’t think he should come along.”

“Of course you’re sorry, Willy. You hate the lieutenant and care only about yourself,” Thankful said.

“You’re right. I don’t like him, but you do, for some reason and . . . and I want you to be happy and well taken care of.”

Thankful played with her apron strings. “I never should have followed you out here—I had big ideas.”

“Go home then, Thankful. There, in your condition and all, you’ll be taken care of properly.”

“My condition?” Thankful’s eyes were big and full of unspoken shame and fear. “What do you accuse me of?”

“Thankful, why didn’t you wait, for pity’s sake?” William said, taking her hand.

“You’re a fine one to talk!” Thankful whispered pulling her hand away. “Why didn’t you wait?”

“What would I have to wait for?” William asked.

“For the right girl.”

“There’s no such thing.” William took a miserable puff of his cigar.

“William, you’re infuriating! Mr. Fahy will soon be my husband and . . .”

“And you should have waited till your wedding night! That’s how I imagined it . . . I mean. . .” William stammered as Fahy walked up.

Thankful crossed her arms and turned away from the lieutenant, her chin set in anger. William counseled her, remembering how hard it was for his mother to watch his father go into the field. “Thankful, don’t let him go without making up.”

“Don’t lecture me, William,” Thankful replied.

“Bill, I don’t need your assistance with my fiancée,” Fahy stated. “That Kenyon is looking for you—self-righteous bastard—hope he’s paying you well. We can fleece those Indians at cards, I hear.”

“Mr. Fahy, you won’t gamble and take advantage of those poor souls!” Thankful said.

“No, of course not, sweetie,” Fahy said with a wink. “I was only joking.” He turned to William. “I guess you’ll fill up on tizwin if you can—though Crook has ordered the tribe to stop making it.”

“Mr. Kenyon is against alcohol—I promised . . .” William started, but Fahy interrupted with a chuckle.

“This I have to see!” Fahy said. “Kenyon won’t have much power over you or the Indians. He’s a kill-joy anyway. I intend to skip off and visit pals of mine who say there’s a vein of coal for the taking at the edge of the reservation.”

“Pierce!”

“Oh, Thankful, it’s just a lark. The Indians don’t need the coal anyhow. I’ll be back in a week’s time probably. Not enough hours to get into any real trouble.” He twisted his mustache and kissed Thankful before pulling a letter from his jacket. “I’ll miss you, my dearest.”

“Good-bye Thankful,” William said his boots kicking up sand as he left them. “Take care.”

Fahy groaned as he watched William go. “Land sakes, what luck to be sent to distinguish myself with such a bunch of misfits!” he complained.

“Lieutenant, you worry me,” Thankful pouted. “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

“This is a peach of an assignment. Don’t worry,” Fahy said, running his big hand over her cheek. “You seem under the weather. Mrs. Markham is working you too hard. I’ll speak with her when I come back.”

“Yes, maybe.” Thankful turned the love letter in her hands. “Won’t you watch over William?”

“Damn it, Thankful. Are you mine or Bill’s? Because I’m not too sure.”

“Pierce Fahy, what could Willy want with me—or me with him?”

“Thankful, that’s not a proper answer.”

“Do you like Miss Peckham?” Thankful asked.

“No—not like you think . . . I . . .” he said, tightening his belt.

“How do you think I think?” Thankful asked.

Fahy laughed. “My sweet lady, you’re trying to catch me out and it won’t happen. I’m devoted to you. Are you to me?” he asked, pulling on one of Thankful’s stray curls.

“I do love you, Mr. Fahy,” she said.

“Won’t you give us a kiss before I go? Don’t be huffed at me—I’m a soldier; this is what I do.”

“My father was always away from us and he regrets it now,” Thankful said.

“I’m not your father and we have no children yet.” Fahy pulled her close. “Oh, Thankful, one day we’ll settle down, but not yet. Won’t you wait?”

“I suppose I must, now.”

“Now?” Fahy’s smile disappeared. “You act as though you’re suddenly not happy here.”

Thankful began to cry.

“Oh, my little pet, don’t cry,” Fahy said and wiped her face. “When I come back we’ll go to a nice dance—like always. Be a good lass. I hate to see you cry! I promise to buy you something fine in Tucson. We’ll make a pleasure trip when I get some leave.”

“How is it you can always be so generous on a lieutenant’s pay? Surely you must deprive yourself. Please don’t.” Thankful sniffled.

“A girl as pretty and nice as you should have fine things. Poverty doesn’t suit you—and reflects poorly on me, I might add. A man shouldn’t marry unless he can afford it,” Fahy explained.

“Can you afford it? I mean—the jewelry and this stunning ring and the other things—well, I feel like a princess, but . . .”

“I want to give you as much as you’re used to,” Fahy said, in a disgruntled tone.

Thankful blushed. The little jewels he gave her were trifling compared to what she had at home. “Mr. Fahy, when you give me your time and attention that’s more than I’m used to and I love it, but I want to feel I am not just an—ornament.” She blushed all the more, realizing how vain it sounded.

Fahy laughed, patting her face. “You’re not just an ornament! You are–you will be my wife and the gorgeous mother of my children someday.”

“And that’s it?”

“What’s wrong with that?” Fahy asked. “You’re never satisfied no matter what I do and now we’re bickering on our last morning together and right before the biggest opportunity of my career so far.”

“You treat Miss Peckham as a friend. . .” Thankful said.

“Yes. She’s like a man in a way. Peckham has lots of stimulating ideas—but she’s not you.”

“So you don’t think I’m stimulating?”

Fahy put his arm around Thankful’s waist. “You are quite stimulating. Why are you making trouble now?”

Thankful gazed up into Fahy’s dark eyes. A wave of loneliness came over her. “Lieutenant, it’s like you don’t know me at all. I want to be friends and go on adventures together.”

“Oh, you and your bloody adventures! I’m under constant pressure to entertain you. Grow up, Thankful. Maybe you can learn something from Miss Peckham. She’s a toad compared to you, but she isn’t constantly demanding something from me!”

“I demand nothing! I had hoped you enjoyed my company. I only wanted to be true friends!” Thankful sobbed and tried to run off, but Fahy grabbed her arm.

“Thankful, please, let’s not do this, sweetheart. I adore you. I didn’t mean to hurt you—it’s just—you are so sensitive lately—so different.”

“Mr. Fahy, I wanted to tell you . . .”

Miss Peckham burst in between them and locked her arms in theirs. “Greetings, lovebirds!”

***FEATURED IMAGE:  Julia Margaret Cameron photo of Mrs. Herbert George Fisher  (Paul Cava Gallery)

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Fiction: Tolerance

“The Apache people will never take to Christianity with all of its ridiculous rules and regulations,” Miss Peckham said.

“And you’re an expert, then?” Thankful asked.

“I’ve seen enough to know that God can’t possibly take notice of us. No god would allow such false hope and suffering,” Miss Peckham replied.

“I agree whole-heartedly, Miss Peckham,” Fahy said. “Good luck to you, Bill.”

“Mr. Fahy, you can’t believe God wills suffering. People choose for themselves,” Thankful said in surprise at Fahy’s cynicism. “I think what you’re doing is noble, William.”

“Of course you would, Thankful,” Fahy remarked.

“You think Indians choose suffering, Thankful? That’s more heartless than I would have given you credit for,” Miss Peckham said.

“No, people make decisions and seek no counsel in God—that’s where we all lose our way.”

“And when have you ever lost your way, Miss Thankful? You always have a perfect map and plenty of funds,” Miss Peckham pointed out.

“I’ve been lucky in many ways, it’s true. When I was young, I had a dream that I witnessed Jesus carry his cross. He turned to me and asked what I would do.”

“Thankful, enough of this talk—don’t embarrass yourself,” Fahy said.

“I think she’s interesting,” William said.

Fahy cocked his head with a haughty laugh. “Since when does anyone put stock in what you think?”

“That was uncalled for, Mr. Fahy.  I’m ashamed of you!” Thankful cried. “Ever since Miss Peckham has come you’ve turned into a complete cynic and a stranger to me!”

“Thankful, I can’t have changed in three days,” Fahy groaned. “I don’t know why you’re being so sensitive.”

“Why did you have to go ride with HER?” Thankful cried.

“You said it was all right!” Fahy replied.

“Well, I didn’t mean it of course!” Thankful sobbed. “And all of this horrible talk about religion and keeping babies from being born is disgusting and beneath you, lieutenant!”

Miss Peckham patted Thankful’s shoulder and spoke in the syrupy way she had.  “Oh, Thankful dear, don’t you worry about God. Everyone, including the Indians have a right to be spiritual in their own way.”

“Worshipping trees and such is not like worshipping God,” Fahy laughed. “I’ve had more fun watching Indians whooping and hollering to their gods than I ever had attending mass. Everyone has a right to do what they like.”

“What about truth?” William inserted timidly.

Thankful had tucked herself under Fahy’s arm but turned to William with curious eyes.

“Christianity has its merits as a civilizing force. That cannot be denied,” Miss Peckham said, “but let’s all be mature—the basic notion of Christ rising from the dead is ridiculous and impossible to prove.”

“So . . . what you’re saying, Miss Peckham, is that an educated person would never believe in the supernatural or miracles or. . .” William’s head hurt, but his heart quickened, too.

“Bill, there are no miracles. Science will one day prove it,” Fahy said.

“I don’t know much, but maybe it’ll be Christ, who comes to prove things,” William responded.

Miss Peckham chuckled. “I bet the Messiah snuck off to France and had a good laugh.”

William scratched his head, but no thoughts came.

Mr. Kenyon had been listening from a distance and entered the fray. “If our Lord had played such a contemptible trick on the apostles then we’re doomed and should throw in the fiddle.”

“Well, his people could have faked the whole thing,” Miss Peckham pointed out.

“You’re welcome to your theories,” Kenyon said, “but the apostles went from timid, cowering fishermen and misfits before the Resurrection to courageous founders of the Church who were willing, one by one to be martyred for their beliefs.”

“That’s a high price to pay for a lark,” William remarked.

“Your livelihood depends on making us believe that,” Miss Peckham scoffed, “but I’d rather worship a tree. At least I can cut it down to make firewood.”

“It’s not just about you!” Thankful cried.

Kenyon laughed. “What an opinionated bunch of friends you have, Mr. Weldon.”

“They’re not my friends, sir,” William said, saving them the trouble.

Thankful took his hand. “Willy, be careful and write your parents. They worry an awful lot.”

“Miss Crenshaw, stop being such a mother hen,” Fahy said, joking to hide his annoyance. He kissed Thankful on the forehead.

Kenyon turned to see William’s reaction, but there was none. “Mr. Weldon, Captain Markham has kindly lent us two soldiers as escort. Do you know Lieutenants Joyce and Fahy?”

“Sir, I am Lieutenant Fahy.”

“Oh, good. Very nice to meet you. Now William will have a peer.”

Fahy sneered at William.

“Do we really need escorts?” William asked. “I’m very good with a gun, sir.”

“My friends want soldiers, William,” Kenyon said.

“Yes, preaching the love of Christ will take a show of force,” Miss Peckham scoffed.

***the Peacemaker by John George Brown

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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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