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.”

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Books I’ve Known and Loved (2)

She looks happy, right?

She looks happy, right?

Just because you’re nice doesn’t mean you’re going to be popular. This is what General Ben Grierson must have said to console himself. A hero of the Civil War, Grierson commanded the Buffalo Soldiers out West against Victorio and his Apache warriors after the war, but do you think that would have gotten him some respect and a few honors? No.

His wife Alice was pretty pissed about it and said so in letters. She said a lot in letters that might make a Victorian pretend to blush. At one point she left poor Ben to spend time in Chicago admitting after he begged her to come back to him that she knew they would have sex again (which she greatly enjoyed), and didn’t want to have any more children (I think they had 7 at that point). She felt contraception was a sin against God, loved her husband, but was afraid with her depressive tendencies that she’d end like her mother did–a used up mental case.

General Ben was such a decent guy and openly affectionate, devoted and supportive when Alice spoke about women’s rights and the stuff she’d read in The Revolution (I must admit, though I’d hate to be judged by my private letters and emails, that I found Alice’s constant complaining a bit annoying–I don’t think Ben deserved that. He just wanted her by his side. Sigh).

Ben was no  slouch in the warrior department, but . . . and this is my opinion–one shared by General Sherman at the time–he was a bit too lenient with the Indians who used his kindness to screw him over (we don’t like to admit that being a doormat you get walked on but it’s true). He had kind words for his black soldiers though most people thought black recruits were less capable of the mental tasks of military life at the time, but again he may have in his easy-going way not pushed them quite hard enough–so says one of my characters in The House on Tenafly Road.

Anyway there’s much to think about–sex, war, mental health, relationships, Indians, military politics in these two companion volumes. You get the historian’s version and then the wife’s version and that’s fun.

Real life people--flaws and all.

Real life people–flaws and all.

Books I’ve Known and Loved

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Okay, don’t be disturbed by the man’s weird stare and ugly hat. While On the Border with Crook is about the Indian fighter General Crook it’s more about the erudite and humorous John Gregory Bourke— the dashing military man and entertaining writer. Invariably the military men of the late 19th century had such enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity and good humor under sometimes very harsh conditions you’d have to admire them–but Bourke and Crook were unique in their sincere respect for the Indian.

I make Bourke have a brief flirtation with Katherine Weldon and Crook command and admire John Weldon as a good soldier in The House on Tenafly Road.

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Books I’ve Known And Loved

Not just a dull, old history of battles.

Not just a dull, old history of battles.

This is one of my all time favorites. Good old John Billings. Don’t you just love a soldier who gives you the inside dirt with some wit and great illustrations? I do. John enlisted in The Army of the Potomac, but don’t let that remind you of the boring history teacher with coffee breath and endless baseball analogies. While reading this book I was thinking, “Wow, I really have a crush on this guy! He’s giving me everything I need to know about the daily ups and downs of soldiering back in the day–the slang, the food, the music and the complete jerks who could spoil a perfectly good campfire. I’m pretty sure I would have married him if I knew him.”  But that’s how I get when people give me stuff and put illustrations (done by another soldier who lived through the Civil War) in their books.

I got lucky though–I found a veteran of my own who will occasionally throw a salty sailor story my way–but for the rest of you there’s Hardtack and Coffee

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Play this first thing in the morning--your family will love you!

Play this first thing in the morning–your family will love you!

How I punish my children.

How I punish my children.

Books I’ve Known And Loved

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My favorite catty man moment when a cavalryman, Benteen is a no-show for a visit:

“I guess he did not care to trouble himself- He is a true Cavalryman & would rather superintend the work of his stallion than attend to the courtesies of life– Nothing lost to anybody–but one feels degraded to think that he is socially on par, with those who voluntarily make of themselves third class livery stable keepers–However if the Nobles & high gentry of England find their highest pleasure in doing the work of a stable boy, I suppose I ought not to growl at our Cavalry. There seems to be something demoralizing in the love of horseflesh. I don’t believe a thoroughly horsey man can be a gentleman or a thorough gentleman a horsey man.”

While  Colonel Richard Irving Dodge wasn’t the looker Grenville Dodge (the transcontinental railroad guy) was his journals are a fun read.  I enjoyed even the slow parts about needing a nap or having bowel troubles because of the bad water sometimes found in the Black Hills on the scientific expedition of 1875. The best parts are when the gentlemanly colonel is trying to keep his temper around all sorts of catty intrigue. Here is a man who quotes Shakespeare and Homer, feels sorry for a captured beaver and has the men set it free and worries about his nerdy son (along on the trip) who’s spent far too much time around women.

He wants to like the grasping and at times incompetent young head of the scientific survey Professor Walter P. Jenney but has a tough time of it. He tells of cowardly journalists along for news of gold (Custer’s earlier findings were being questioned in the East) being duped into believing a hooting owl meant an Indian attack in the morning and useless, lazy miners who weren’t supposed to be on Indian land. His writing style is so modern proving people weren’t all too different back then.

Books I’ve Known And Loved

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I haven’t actually read this one yet, but my husband surprised me with the book and I know I’ll love it since it’s by one of my favorite historians, Oliver Knight, of Life and Manners of the Frontier Army fame (famous to me anyway). A book about the journalists who traveled along with the army throughout the Indian wars has got to be exciting. The military men of my novels show a certain disdain for journalists informed by my reading of military journals and memoirs and I have carried a similar distrust since attending NYU journalism classes years ago. But I hope to have my mind opened. I’m charmed by the old library tag as well.

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Captain Charles King, A Soldiers’ Writer

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If there were a McDreamy writer of the Western Army it would have to have been Charles King. This man lived and breathed all things military. His grandfather happened to live next door to Commanding General Winfield Scott and when, at the age of five, Charles spotted him in civilian clothes he gave the general a good talking to about it. His father brought him to Washington at the start of the Civil War where he became a 16-year-old mounted orderly. Soon enough he won appointment to West Point where he became an outstanding tactician.

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Eventually he went West with the army, but not before winning a horse race on Ladies’ Day at the Metaire Jockey Club in New Orleans under the watchful eyes of his commander Colonel William H. Emory who’d requested the popular King to be his aide. Sitting with the colonel and his wife was a southern belle wearing Yankee colors and after winning the race and the prize of a gold mounted horse whip  King  immediately walked straight into the crowd and placed the prize in  the lap of Adelaide Lavander York. They were married a few months later. She kept the whip and brandished it when admonishing him.

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King while fighting the Apaches suffered a severe bullet wound to the arm that should have led to amputation but King “managed to save it by heroic measures–which included drinking a gallon of whiskey a day.”

What does all of this have to do with writing? When he retired he became one of the most popular writers in America in the 1880’s-1900. Soldiers adored him, would be soldiers dreamed of the adventures he wrote about and women sighed over the gallantry of the officer class of men he’d been a part of and described so authentically.

Some say his books have no literary merit, but I love them. The officer class in the Western military had an admirably high set of standards for themselves. It would be natural to say he idealized these men if it weren’t for the fact that historians and the soldiers of his day attest to the accuracy of his depiction of a brief period of time in the West.

Info courtesy of Life and Manners In The Frontier Army by Oliver Knight