Fiction: Hooked Up

Buck followed, having nowhere else to go. He glanced around at the filth and total confusion of the tiny place divided by a soiled and torn old quilt. The walls moved with bugs in the flickering candlelight.

Fred grabbed at Ginny, who wore a threadbare wrapper. She had a wonderfully white and soft-looking body, Buck noticed as Fred unwrapped her, but old evidence of smallpox marred her face, making her ugly. As soon as Buck thought it he remembered his own disfigurement in shame.

“Where’s the money? Money comes first, child,” Ginny demanded even as Fred shoved his hand between her legs.

Unusual drawings sat piled upon a small footstool and Buck went to them. They were shaky and crass but familiar.

“I’ll give you an extra fifty cents if you put it in your mouth, girl,” Fred bargained while unbuttoning his trousers. “But wait, what’s that mark at your mouth? You’re not diseased or anything, are you?”

“I had the pox as a girl …”

Buck looked up from the pictures and for a moment caught Ginny’s eyes. “Fred, she must be just Thankful’s age.”

The girl stopped what she was doing and glanced back at Buck. “Thankful?”

“Yes, our sister.”

“Who the hell cares?” Fred asked. “Go back to work.” He grabbed Ginny by the hair and jerked her head. “I’m paying, he isn’t. Listen to me if you don’t want any trouble.”

“Fred!” Buck shouted, but his voice hardly carried.

Buck watched as a tear rolled down the girl’s cheek. How desperate she must be to do this for fifty cents! “Miss Ginny, even now, right this very minute, there’s someone who wants better for you,” Buck said.

“Shut up, Buck!” Fred shouted as something stirred behind the other side of the quilt.

Buck peeked around it. “Willy!”

The quilt hid the worst of the room’s mess. Empty bottles and crumpled papers littered the floor.

“William, it’s me, Buck Crenshaw.”

“I know who you are,” William mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “Why are you here?”

“Fred is—well, he’s with the girl.”

“My wife?” William asked, detached.

“I-I don’t know. I mean, I hope not. Not the girl on the other side?”

“Yes, so what? I wanted to do right by her … and she cares for me. Ginny doesn’t judge.”

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Featured Image: The Awakening of Conscience by William Holman Hunt

Fiction: Battle-tested

“No,” Graham said. “Buck can and should stand on his own. He’s struggling lately. It’s why he needs the crutch of religion, but it’ll pass when he’s stronger.”

“Father! How dare you pretend to know me when all you’ve ever done is overlook me! Don’t make excuses for me. Don’t belittle my faith. God doesn’t disappoint like everyone else does—especially you!”

“Where was God when you got shot?” Fred asked. “Does God get you nice things like Father does?”

“I don’t need nice things.”

“Oh—then why don’t you hand over that watch Father gave you?” Fred coveted it.

“I sold it!” Buck said, his eyes flashing at Fred. “I sold it to buy food for the poor Indians.”

“That’s what the government is for!” Margaret cried.

“You thought so little of me, son, that you sold my brother’s memory?” Graham asked, his voice shaking.

So the inscription, the hope filled inscription engraved into that watch had been meant for his father’s brother—not Buck. “I didn’t think the watch was all that special. I thought I’d help people in need—something you never did for me!”

“I thought you wanted to be friends with Father?” Fred laughed. “I guess this Christianity thing is only skin deep. Too bad—I was getting inspired.”

Buck grabbed for Fred, but Fred punched him first, landing a shot in the face—on the sore side. The pain sent Buck reeling. He dropped to the ground. The family stood still. A few soldiers, passing by, joined them. “What’s happened to Buck?” one of them asked.

In a second they had him on his feet, blood sneaking between the fingers Buck held to his face.

“Let me see,” Graham said.

“No. Get away from me. I can’t stand any of you. You ruin everything that’s good.”

Margaret said to the soldiers, “He is suffering under some type of nervous complaint.”

“Hmm. Well, Buck was all himself yesterday,” one of the soldiers said. “A real good example to the other young men. He’s started a Bible study and all. What would lead him to fisticuffs, I don’t know.”

The other, noting Fred’s strong resemblance to Thankful, said, “Family is what led him.” He stared at Fred. “When someone goes and clobbers a feller of our own, it doesn’t sit well with us. Buck may be a bit queer, but we’ve grown to like ‘im. You had better keep that in mind, sir.”

Fred stood, furious but silent.

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Fiction: Honest Appraisals

A soldier poked his head in to the coach to greet the Crenshaw family when they came to a stop. He scanned the group of strangers. Opening the door, the soldier held out his hand to Buck’s sister Meg. “Allow me to help you, miss.”

Despite her best efforts to appear unmoved, she giggled, blushed, and took the soldier’s hand. “Thank you, sir,” she said, hopping down as lightly as she could but still managing to bump up against the soldier.

The soldier laughed and Meg went red.

“Will you be staying long enough to attend one of our dances, miss?” the soldier asked. “A pretty girl like yourself would be happily employed all evening. Do you like to dance?”

Meg pursed her lips but replied, “I love to dance.”

“Bully. You might reserve a dance for me. I’m Lieutenant Wilder. Royal Wilder.” He called to Buck. “You never told me you had two lovely sisters, Crenshaw!”

The rest of the family descended into the withering heat of mid-afternoon, shielding their eyes.

“Lieutenant Wilder,” Buck said, “this is my father, Doctor Graham Crenshaw, and my mother, Margaret Crenshaw, and this is Fred. You’ve met Meg.”

“Just Meg?” Lieutenant Wilder asked. He was a heavy man with clear blue eyes and dark hair.

“You may call me that if you like,” Meg replied with wide doe-eyes as she fanned herself.

Margaret took her by the arm. “My daughter is rather forward, sir. You may call her Miss Crenshaw. She’s not a sodbuster’s daughter.”

The man kept smiling. “Whatever you say ma’am. I suppose your daughter gets her looks from you.”

“You soldiers don’t charm me in the least, sir,” Margaret said. “Meg’s not meant for frontier living.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Wilder said but turned and winked at Meg.

“Sir, I’m to take my family to Captain Markham’s,” Buck said.

“Yes. Certainly. And it’s been a pleasure meeting you all,” the lieutenant said, touching his cap.

Meg waved. Margaret caught it and slapped her hand. “Young lady, you are not to make eyes with every bold soldier you see. Besides, you should realize that Mr. Wilder was obviously not serious. I saw the way he laughed at your clumsiness—that’s why he mentioned dancing—as a joke on you, dear. I tell you all the time that there’s a great deal of difference between plump and downright fat, and you have long since crossed that line—just like your father. Do you think I’d ever be brave enough to dance with him?”

“I’d never ask you,” Graham grumbled.

The soft flesh beneath Meg’s chin trembled.

“Sis, the lieutenant’s fat too,” Buck said. “Wilder’s in no position to judge.”

“Oh, Buck, you’re a caution!” Fred laughed. “Is this the new man? All full of helpful honesty.”

“Meg, I didn’t mean it the way it sounded,” Buck said.

“Buck, shut up your glab! Don’t try and do me any favors,” Meg said. “I may be fat, but you’re ugly.”

Buck kept quiet, but thought to himself, “I will forgive her because I must.”

“Were these buildings erected by soldiers?” Margaret asked. “They certainly are shabby. Thankful would have one believe she lived in a paradise. God deliver us from this sand!”

“Mama, that’s a ridiculous prayer!” Buck said.

“Well, maybe you can teach us how to do it properly, if you’re so smart,” Fred said. “What did those soldiers call you? Apostle? Give us a break if you would. I see nothing but the same old Buck insulting his mother and sister. It’s no wonder you have no luck with the ladies.”

Buck lunged forward, but then said, “No. I won’t do this. I won’t fight you.” For a moment Buck had shown restraint. He thanked God.

“Good thinking. You’ve never beaten me yet at anything. You need me, so stop being a fool.”

“I don’t need anyone—but God,” Buck said not sure if he meant it.

Fred, Margaret and Meg laughed uproariously. Graham looked disturbed. “You seem tired, son,” he said, but Buck knew he meant “unhinged” by the tone of his voice.

“Look what happens when you’re left alone,” Fred said. “You take up with niggers, get beaten and shot. Now you go over into a religious rapture …”

“I’m afraid that Fred is right, dear,” Margaret added. “You need guidance—someone to stabilize your mind. You’re a danger to yourself, and that’s a fact.”

“No,” Graham said. “Buck can and should stand on his own. He’s struggling lately. It’s why he needs the crutch of religion, but it’ll pass when he’s stronger.”

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Featured Image: Portrait of an Italian Lady by Mary Cassatt (Gilcrease Museum)

Fiction: Family Shots

“Merciful heavens, Graham, look at Buck’s face. It’s worse than ever!” Margaret cried.

“Mother, you look well,” Buck said and kissed her cheek.

“You look terrible.”

“Well, I was shot.”

“What?” Fred cried in disbelief. “Who shot you?”

“An Apache.”

“Damn, you were in a shoot-out with Indians?” Fred asked in jealous awe. “You lucky son of a …”

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Buck said.

“Tell that to the girls back home,” Margaret said.

“Mother, there’s more to life than girls,” Buck replied, failing to hide his disappointment.

“And what’s more important, Buck, than girls?” Meg asked, fanning her round face.

Buck coughed. “Well … God, I think.”

The Crenshaws laughed. Graham stopped first. “Seriously, we’re tired and in no mood for jokes. Let’s go to the coach now.”

They moved off, but Buck stood still. Graham turned and stared.

“Father, I hoped you might be pleased,” Buck said.

“Pleased?” Graham mopped his face.

“Yes, when I got shot I met a missionary who told me all about—well, Jesus and such. It’s meant a lot to me.”

“That’s nice, Buckie,” Margaret said. “I suppose a little religion is a good thing. Though you act like we never sent you to Sunday school. Is it my fault you always skipped out?”

“Mother, I didn’t say …” Buck began, but no one listened. They hopped into the waiting coach, complaining of the heat and dirt.

Fred lingered taking Buck aside. “So you forgive me my sins? What’s all this religion rot? I don’t understand the angle you’re playing. I’ve already got you off the hook over Streeter. And that big show for Father was appalling.”

“It was no show, Fred.”

“Oh, I see, you don’t want me stealing your thunder. I’ll play along then. This should be entertaining.”

Buck took a deep breath. His new found faith was nothing on Thankful’s surprises. Maybe they’d overlook the changes in her as much as they had overlooked his.

The family jostled and complained over seating as the coach set out. Graham adjusted his weight and said, “Buck, tell us how you were shot.”

Margaret sighed and dabbed her eyes. “A son of mine shot over a no-good Indian. The savages should be sent from this earth—every last one of them.”

“That’s what the army aims to do, thank God,” Fred said. “Survival of the fittest. I like Darwin.”

“No, Fred, you’re wrong on that count. The army—the men I’ve met here—they just want to keep peace. That Geronimo just makes trouble for the rest of his people. They don’t even like him.”

“What? Who told you that? The savages’ll tell you anything—but you’re still so naive,” Fred said, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it, after all I’ve tried to teach you about people. Don’t bring your sympathetic attitudes back to the academy or it’ll be another hard year for us.”

“If the Indians are so great then why did they shoot you?” Meg asked, her eyes darting out the window at the hidden perils.

“It was my own fault. I was drunk and went after William,” Buck said.

“Weldon?” Fred leaned in, full of interest.

“We were drunk on Father’s spirits—with Lieutenant Fahy too—and things went sour and I was shot, but it was no one’s fault. And as I’ve said, it brought me to … the Lord—God—I mean,” Buck explained. “There was a court-martial proceeding, but everyone felt sorry for Fahy so … well, a note will be sent to school concerning my part in it all.”

“Why sorry for Fahy?” Graham asked.

“Well, I’m not supposed to tell, but I feel I should warn you that Fahy was shot too.”

“In the face?” Margaret asked.

“No! Not in the face, Mama! Gosh, you’re so shallow. Thankful will need your support,” Buck said.

“It’s not Christian to judge Mama,” Fred quipped.

“What’s happened to Lieutenant Fahy?” Graham asked. “A court-martial decision based on sympathy?”

“Thankful wants to tell you about it. I only wanted to prepare you. Thankful is a good girl. Everyone loves her at Fort Grant and they’ve all been very supportive over everything.”

“Everything? What else is there to tell us?” asked Graham.

Margaret waved her fan. “All I can say is I’ll be rightly annoyed to have come across the country if there’s no wedding.”

“Thankful’s convinced Fahy to go forward with it,” Buck said.

“Thankful had to convince him?” Graham asked. “Buck, I hope you weren’t trying to soften me up back there before telling me of a terrible disaster you and your sister have created.”

“No, Father. I’m genuinely happy to see you,” Buck said.

“I don’t like the sound of this Fahy one bit,” Margaret said. “Thankful has brought this all on herself.”

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FEATURED IMAGE: The Old Stagecoach of the Plains by Frederic Remington

 

Fiction: The Wedding Party

On the train west, Margaret Crenshaw insulted the coachmen and train conductors while fretting over the linens and china purchased and packed with great care for Thankful’s wedding.

Fred in his booming arrogance educated his family about Indian tribes and the sinister Chinese—betraying his ignorance of both. Meg stared out the window, chin in hand, glum over a missed trip to Europe with friends. Graham fighting a mix of dread and sadness, begged Margaret and Fred to be quiet.

Thankful had always pleased Graham. Even after she stole his money, Graham assumed she’d come home married to William—not the best match, but one he could accept. Now Thankful was lost to a poor Irish soldier. At one time Graham suggested he might keep Thankful to himself as a nurse or even a doctor in his practice, but Margaret blocked the idea of careers for her girls. Often now the old doctor took to daydreams and fabulous fantasies only to wake up more depressed than ever. And sometimes still, he wished he might love his wife and resolved to try harder.

The waving grasses of the plains and now the bright desert sky held no appeal. Graham loved the soft forests, the friendly mountains—just the right size for average people to climb—and the temperate weather of New Jersey and his little part in it. He dreaded seeing Buck, whom he hadn’t spoken with since Christmas. There had been no news of his son since the telegram he sent to his mother from Willcox upon his arrival over a month ago.

“Well, there’s no point in worrying, I suppose,” he said out loud to no one in particular.

“It’s too late now to fuss, Graham. We’re here to marry our daughter to a Catholic,” Margaret complained, fanning herself. “I knew it was trouble to raise her so unprejudiced. You’ve done Thankful a great disservice. My Meg would never do something so scandalous.”

Graham turned back to staring out the window. Plain Meg would be lucky to marry anyone. Fred smirked until Margaret slapped him.

“Well, damn, Father,” Fred said. “We must be nearly there by now. These trains are never run on time—lazy foreigners and trash.”

“Dear, what’s the hurry?” Margaret asked. “All we have to look forward to is a dusty old camp with bugs and heat.”

“How about seeing your children?” Graham pointed out, wiping his brow.

“Don’t lecture me about valuing the children, Graham. How much time did you ever spend with them?”

“When did you ever let me? You conspired to have them hate me!”

Meg stood and pushed past Fred. “If I hear one more word from either of you I’ll scream!”

“Next station Willcox, Arizona!” the conductor called.

The Crenshaws stretched their necks to get a first glimpse of the town.

“It’s godawful!” Fred remarked, but his eyes were eager.

Margaret and Meg peered with their mouths ajar, taking in the rough and forlorn buildings and the array of unusual people as the train pulled into the station. In their elegant eastern attire, Margaret and Meg stood paralyzed with revulsion.

“Girls, let’s go,” Graham ordered, nudging his wife.

Fred trotted down the aisle. Graham’s heart raced and sweat poured from him as he stepped on to the platform, craning his neck in search of Buck and Thankful. He saw two soldiers on leave leaning against a dilapidated adobe storehouse near the tracks. “Fellows, we’re looking for my son,” Graham began. “You may know him.”

The disinterested soldiers sneered, but Graham stood, mopping sweat from his brow and waiting. One with a cigar hanging from the corner of his mouth relented. “Has this son of yours got a name?”

“Yes, of course. Buck Crenshaw—he’s a cadet.”

“Oh, you mean The Apostle?”

“Pardon?” Graham laughed at the notion.

The one nodded. “Yep, your son is just over there yonder.” He pointed behind the station.

Graham for a moment didn’t recognize him. Buck’s hair hung longer as he talked in an uncharacteristically relaxed manner to a ragged stranger instead of greeting his family at the train. Graham waited in curiosity. Fred paid someone to load up their things on a coach before joining his family as they appraised the situation. Taking the lead, Fred strode forward with the rest of the family at his heels.

Buck quoted, “‘The Lord is just in all His ways and holy in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear Him, He hears their cry and saves them. The Lord keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked he will destroy.’”

“What on earth?” Graham whispered.

“It’s a psalm, Father—145.” Fred smiled. “What’s Buck up to now?”

“I know it’s a psalm,” Graham said, and Buck whirled around at the sound of his father.

“Father!” he cried, his voice still weak. The sick man moved away into a shadowy alley. Buck embraced his stiff father. “Father, I want to ask you for forgiveness. I’ve been a terrible son. I’ve had a lot of time to think and …” He wept. “I’ve been a fool. I want to do things right this time. I love you.”

What sort of game was Buck playing? Graham hesitated, searching his son’s eyes for guile or something other than what seemed earnestness. “Buck …”

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” Buck began.

“No, son, it’s me.” Graham burst into unexpected tears. “I’ve treated you badly all these years and never should have been away so much.”

Fred, Margaret, and Meg looked on in horror.

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Fiction: Faith

The doctor led Thankful and Buck through the short, cool hallway to the adjacent room reserved for hopeless cases. There lay the lieutenant asleep.

“He’s not dead, is he?” Buck asked from the doorway, craning his neck to see.

“No, Buck,” the doctor replied and turned to Thankful. “You may want to say your last goodbyes—just in case.” The doctor left them alone.

Buck squeezed Thankful’s hand. “We must try to have faith.”

Thankful glanced his way. He brought her to the top of the bed and spotted a chair around the other side to sit in himself.

“He looks perfectly well, doesn’t he, Buck?” Thankful asked and ran her fingers along his face. “What shall we do?”

“I guess we could pray or something,” Buck suggested, his color rising.

Thankful looked up at him in surprise. He shrugged in embarrassment.

“You lead us. I’d feel, well, idiotic,” Buck said.

Thankful took his extended hands. “Buck Crenshaw, you begin to worry me,” she said, regarding him with skepticism.

They bowed their heads. Buck concentrated hard to keep his head from spinning.

Thankful began, “Dear Lord …”

“Jaysus! God almighty! What’s all this?” Fahy suddenly shouted.

The Crenshaws jumped and Thankful screamed. “Oh, dear! We thought you were sleeping! Oh, lieutenant, this is awful!” Thankful cried. “Don’t you dare go and die on me! I’m going to have your little baby. I was saving it as a surprise, my sweetheart!”

For a second, Fahy forgot himself and a flush of excitement coursed the lines of his weather-beaten face until the reality of his situation came back. “But, Thankful, you wanted lots of children …”

“No, dear, that was you. You’re all I need. We’ll be all right. How are you feeling?”

“I don’t feel a damned thing,” he said. “I’m fucked in a cocked hat.”

Thankful kissed his forehead. “I wish you would mind your language, Mr. Fahy. You’ll always be a hero to me—the hero who saved my brother!”

Buck spoke. “Well, Fahy was drunk when he did it, and really, we were fine.”

“Buck Crenshaw!” Thankful cried.

“What is he doing here? Haven’t you done enough damage?” Fahy shouted.

“Only as much as you’ve done yourself!”

“Buck, now’s not the time!” Thankful sobbed. “Poor Mr. Fahy—Willy and Buck have been immature and reckless. Please don’t judge them harshly. We must focus on getting you well.” Thankful took his hand in hers and kissed it.

“Thankful, where’s your ring?” Fahy asked.

“Oh, it’s not important.”

“Of course it is!”

“Where is it, sis?” Buck pressed.

“Lieutenant, the ring you gave me … well, it was stolen. Of course no one believes that you had anything to do with it. When the men from the 24th Infantry came into camp, an officer from Fort Sill recognized the ring as the very one taken from his wife only last year.”

Buck whispered, “Fahy, you scoundrel, you said it was all the way from Ireland!”

“Yes, yes! It was! That’s what I was told—when I bought it!” Fahy said. “Thankful, please, believe me.”

“Buck, you’re behaving shamefully! Of course I believe you, lieutenant. I don’t give a fig about expensive things.”

Fahy glared at Buck. “You bastard.”

“Seems the army knows about the fixed scales and such,” Buck said. “I’m sure nothing will come of it though.” He stalked off. His first venture out of bed brought him into struggle and strife.

Thankful turned to Fahy. “Oh, I had so hoped that Buck had changed. I’m sorry I ever let him come visit you. I suppose I thought he might be inspired by you—a real and true officer.”

“You’ve thought too much of me, lovey. And now look—I’m useless. They say I’ll never walk!” Fahy cried.

“Never?” Thankful gasped, but regained her composure. “My sweet, we’ll make do somehow. My father will help. We’ll go back home.”

“No! How can I meet your family this way? And you with child and starting to show! They’ll figure what we’ve done and they’ll blame me.”

“Buck knows, and he’s still speaking to me—after the initial shock …”

“You told Buck? When?”

“Before …”

“Does anyone else know?”

“Well, William—”

Bill Weldon knew before me?”

“Miss Peckham, I think, told him.”

Miss Peckham knew? For Christ’s sake! When were you going to tell me?”

“You were distracted by Miss Peckham and then your trip. I wanted it to be special—so I waited.”

“Well, now it’s goddamned special, isn’t it? I can’t support you or a child! Why did this have to happen to me? Why do I always get the short end of the stick?”

“Oh lieutenant, but I love you.”

“You don’t love me! You never have. If you could, you’d escape but for the baby.”

“Pierce Fahy, don’t dare say it! Don’t lie!” Thankful began sobbing.

“I have nothing to offer you now.”

“But surely the army will take care of you.”

“A lieutenant’s pay at half is nothing … and the scales—those bloody scales!”

“Scales? You make no sense,” Thankful said.

“Those damned savages had it in for me from the start! Now they accuse me of fixing the scales—it’s that missionary Kenyon’s doing. I know it!”

“Mr. Kenyon?”

“He’s dodgy, Thankful. Kenyon’s turned everyone against me. Sure, he’s admitted to all sorts of perversions and crimes. But he puts people like your William under his spell. I only tried to help Bill out the other night—to get him from under Kenyon, but in the end they were all against me.”

“Please, quiet down. You must stay peaceful. No one wants to hurt you—you’re just upset—rightly so. We must believe in miracles.” She wiped his brow “You’ll be healed.”

“And how many other spontaneous healings have you been witness to?” Fahy asked tenderly and wept.

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Featured Image: Edward Burne-Jones – The Beguiling of Merlin

Fiction: Freedom

“Thankful is a uniform chaser,” William said.

“Now, you should take that back. Thankful’s a romantic and a good girl, and I’ll help her all I can.”

“So I guess you’ll be taking my spot on Mr. Kenyon’s team.”

“Me?” Buck chuckled. “My cartography skills are only fair to middling. Nothing on the wonderful maps you’re able to make. No, I’m going back to school and try to do better. I want to be a good officer if that’s what God wants.”

William moaned. “Oh, I get it. Is Mr. Kenyon going to give you a reference or something?”

“No. I’m grateful to Seth, but after all he hardly knows me.”

“I know your heart, son,” Kenyon said. “You’ll do splendidly, and if you ever do need a friend or reference you have it. You have a greater supporter than this old sinner, though.”

“Oh! I can’t stand another word!” William said. “How can Buck be forgiven and changed and all this crap in three days, and I’ve been with you, Mr. Kenyon, for weeks and weeks and I feel nothing new? God—if there is one—hasn’t made any effort with me. No tap on the shoulder. Buck is and always has been too weak to stand on his own, and now there’s no Fred or any other Crenshaw to hide behind so instead he’ll ask some invisible god to make his decisions. It’s a weakness.”

Buck glared at him with his one good eye. William chuckled at this glimpse of the old Buck, but then Buck said, “Seth pointed out we’re all weak and we all search for the magic thing within us or in the world to give us strength. Even the Indians do that. I used to think that if only I was the best cadet, had the shiniest rifle, then … but there’s no magic in men. Nothing will make me strong on my own. We laugh at the talismans of the Indians—they delude themselves. I was no better. I guess we all have to choose something or some way to live. Ask yourself, Willy, what’s more ludicrous—losing yourself in God or in drink?”

“At least I can experience the effects of whiskey—there’s no trick there—I don’t have to convince myself. It’s clear as day.”

“And what good does it do?” Kenyon asked.

“What? Why does it have to do good? I never said I was on a mission for good. What about fun and doing as you please? Like the Indians used to? I can see why they don’t want what we want for them.”

“So you want to be like the Indians? Blown by the wind, dependent on the government, or out murdering and plundering as they’ve done for generations? Do you want to make slaves of women and beat them to death with shovels like that young Apache did last week?” Kenyon asked.

“Hey, white men have done the same—even improving on some of their savagery,” William said.

“And what makes the Indians attractive to you then?”

“Why should men have to follow rules? Everyone should do what makes them feel good—as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. The Apaches get up and decide to drink or decide to do nothing but have a laugh, or they raid now and again. Didn’t Jesus say something about sharing your stuff anyway and waiting around like a lily or something?”

“There’s something in the Bible about stealing, Willy,” Buck said with a smile.

Why did Buck keep smiling? William wanted to clobber him. “Anyway, people talk about freedom, and that’s all I want.”

Kenyon shook his head. “This freedom you talk about—if the Apache had kept their agreements with the Mexicans or any other tribe in the West, then they’d have some allies. Truth is, their idea of freedom does hurt innocent people.” Kenyon folded a towel as he spoke. “We all know the army can’t defeat the Apaches without help. They’re not equipped. But the Apaches turn on their own as scouts, and they’re free to do it, I suppose. Your freedom has landed you and Buck in the hospital. Your fun caused you to lose Thankful’s money, and you’ve lost work and pay and friendship in enjoying your desires. Would your mother be proud? I’m not.”

“I don’t give a damn if you’re proud or not,” William said.

“Then why have you worked night and day doing splendid art for me?” Kenyon asked. “Why did you so eagerly seek my approval each evening? Why did you stay off drink for a month?”

“I broke my promise to you, and I’m sorry about that …”

“Willy, how many times did your father say the same thing to you?” Buck asked.

Just then the doctor came into the room, kicking a scorpion out of the way. “You scared us, Willy—nearly stopped breathing all together. You’re lucky to be alive. I’ll send word to your parents.”

“No, please don’t.”

“How is Lieutenant Fahy, doctor?” Kenyon asked.

“Not good, I’m afraid. The lieutenant will never walk if he lives. He’s conscious though.”

Buck and William exchanged horrified looks.

“What’s happened to Fahy?” Buck asked.

“Seems the bit of merriment you boys had got the lieutenant shot,” said the veteran doctor.

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Fiction: Stuck

Fahy caught Buck’s unfriendly look. “What’s the matter? Has something happened to Thankful?”

“She’s fine under the circumstances,” Buck said in his strongest voice.

“I know she’s upset over my being here—but it’s the army.”

Buck said nothing more. He’d been sworn to secrecy by Thankful.

“The cadet brought us a whole case of fine spirits for later,” Joyce said.

“Oh, bully for you, cadet. You’re just what we needed. The stuff out here is either too strong or too soft. How long will you stay? Were you injured on the way out as well or is that an Arabian inspired headdress from the academy? You look like a damned Apache scout,” Fahy joked. “Listen, let me finish up here with these old biddies and after we’ll have a nice celebration. Joyce, will you do us a favor and find him a tent and all? Have him bed down with us officers as a treat.” He slapped Buck’s back and walked back to the complaining women.

Buck stared after him with a sneer. Joyce read his mind.

“Buck, Fahy’s a great fellow once you get to know him, but he’s very unhappy at this post. He’ll show you a good time off duty.”

“Hmm,” Buck replied, rolling his eyes at the sight of William with his supplies, limping off toward the agency building. Joyce nudged Buck in the same direction. Buck considered apologizing to William for past wrongs, but they had been so long ago and far away. Maybe they could just be friendly acquaintances while Buck visited, but when he rounded the ugly adobe building he saw a familiar scene that hardened his heart.

An older gentleman praised William’s drawings. Wherever William went, people took him under their wings. Thankful had even asked Buck to see how William was and it annoyed him. William was fine. Lieutenant Joyce led Buck along the sandy pathway to meet the missionary and his artist.

“Greetings!” Kenyon called to them.

“Mr. Kenyon, this is Cadet Buck Crenshaw all the way from West Point for a visit.”

“That’s quite a journey,” Kenyon said with a grin and real interest. “Crenshaw, hmm, oh you’re Miss Crenshaw’s brother. She spoke of you over a supper at Fort Grant. How’s your head?”

Buck smiled for the first time in months. William didn’t watch his step and stumbled back when trying to make way for Buck to shake Kenyon’s hand. The missionary grabbed his shoulder to right him.

Buck’s smile disappeared when he formally, very formally extended his hand to William. “How are you, William?”

“I’m fine,” William replied, pulling a cigar from his pocket and lighting it.

“Well, I hope we can leave the past behind us,” Buck said stiffly and grudgingly.

“No, I don’t think so,” William replied, blowing smoke.

“Well, that’s no way to be, boys,” Kenyon commented. “I promised to watch Mr. Weldon’s back so I hope you’ll be kind, cadet.”

William went red.

Buck laughed. “Always someone watches Willy’s back. I guess it’s a way of getting attention.”

“Go to hell, Buck, and stop the blasted whispering!” William said.

Buck shielded his eyes from the late sun. “Listen, William, I don’t want to start things off badly.”

“Fine, neither do I.” William offered him a cigar, but Buck refused it. “So you’ve seen Thankful then? How is she?”

Buck’s countenance changed again. “Sorry, I don’t want to talk about that. I was angry with her.”

“Me too.”

Buck saw that William knew of Thankful’s condition. “My mother isn’t happy about any of it.”

“Your mother knows?”

“I mean about the wedding,” Buck said.

Joyce said not a word.

William glanced at Kenyon. “Well, Lieutenant Fahy isn’t so bad. And what’s happened to your face, Buck? Did you fall off the train or something?”

“No, they slit my neck when I couldn’t breathe and well, it’s a long story,” Buck said. “My father thinks maybe I have a condition—nothing heals right. I might not be officer material after all. Depends . . .”

“Shit, Buck.” William sympathized with him for a moment. “They won’t keep you out for a few cuts will they?”

“It’s my voice,” Buck said, pointing to his throat.

“Oh.” William scooped up his art supplies.

They stood at loose ends until Fahy strode up with his hat tipped to the back of his head, looking more relaxed and jovial with the women behind him. “For God’s sake, where’s the funeral?” he asked, bumming a cigarette from Joyce. “Save any souls today, Kenyon? The Apaches are a hard bunch, aren’t they?”

“I do what I can and leave the rest to God,” Kenyon said.

Fahy waved his finger. “Sorry Kenyon, but that’s a lazy attitude to take.”

“Mr. Fahy, I’ve been meaning to ask you if it might be possible to retest the scales—the older women begin to complain about their sugar. . .” Kenyon said. “I was told, also, that the condemned uniforms were to be given to the destitute—not sold.”

“So now you’re an expert on military orders, sir?” Fahy asked, folding his arms. “I’m trying to teach them economy. These people are the most improvident I’ve ever met. They feast on ten days rations in two or three and then beg off the others. If we give the blouses and things for free they don’t value them. They must learn a lesson—like the rest of us—save some for tomorrow.”

“You must have learned that lesson well, Lieutenant Fahy, to have the funds for Thankful’s ring,” Buck said.

William took a long satisfied drag of his cigar.

“I learn all of my lessons well, cadet,” Fahy said, messing Buck’s hair with an impatient laugh. “No one gets so roughed up at the academy unless they deserve it. Maybe you have more to learn yourself. So tonight we’ll have a social in honor of our visitor—soon to be my brother-in-law and I suppose you holy Joes can come along if it’s not past your bedtime. I am glad to meet one of the clan, Buck and I don’t mean to give you a hard time. I’m just aggravated at my luck—that Britton Davis is a favorite and gets all the notice. He’s off after Geronimo and I’m stuck here.”

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Fiction: Letting the Cat out of the Bag

 

William, Lieutenant Fahy and the missionaries head for the San Carlos Indian Reservation but are surprised by a cat.

“Hey there, Bill. Are you holding up all right?” Fahy asked every so often as he trotted by on his sturdy mount.

William had long since stopped answering. Determined not to fall out before the skeptical missionaries in the heat, William needed every bit of strength and concentration. Out of the army and into this pointless endeavor. What had he been thinking? Kenyon on the move was hardly friendly—all business and chat with the sneering religious men William already hated.

As much as his body ached, William dreaded stopping as the sun rose overhead. What would he do for small talk? What if his sketches didn’t please Kenyon? Finally the old yet surprisingly fit missionaries called a halt for noon dinner.

“So Bill, how’s the leg?” Fahy asked again after tying his horse to the rickety old army ambulance carrying supplies.

“My leg is FINE!” William said. “It’s my head that aches listening to you!”

“Suffering the after effects of the bottle you traded for at the sutler’s this morning?” Fahy asked, patting the rump of his horse.

The missionaries turned to Kenyon who waved off their concerns. “Mr. Weldon knows our agreement and will stick to it.”

The men eyed William suspiciously.

“Oh, will you lighten up, Bill,” Fahy moaned. “I’ve got a surprise for you all.” He went to the back of one of the wagons and helped Miss Peckham climb out.

She grinned. “Boys, you shouldn’t stare—it’s rude.”

“Why, Miss Peckham! And in men’s duds! Kenyon, did you know about this too?” asked a missionary.

“No! I’d never have a girl along!”

“Dear Mr. Kenyon, I’m a full-grown woman!”

“A mature lady would not put in jeopardy the work of men!” Kenyon said. “Fahy, why on earth have you done this?”

“Oh, what’s the bloody harm in it? Miss Peckham wants to study Indians and we’re going the same way. What sort of gentleman would I be if I let her set out on her own?”

“I won’t be a speck of a nuisance, I promise,” Miss Peckham said, pulling a cowhand hat over her eyes. “I have my own gun and can take care of myself.”

“Then why on earth come with us?” Kenyon asked.

“Connections, of course. If I come with military and missions men—not to mention a friend of Captain Bourke’s—who would dare deny me at San Carlos?”

“Well now, everyone, don’t be such humbugs,” Fahy said. “I’ll take her back with me once you’ve settled in. After all, the Indians might enjoy someone like Miss Peckham—she may be of use to us.”

“Does Thankful know?” William asked.

“No, and why should she?” Fahy replied. “She’s the type to squeal—I was saving her from any discomfort . . .”

“Yes, I think she’d be uncomfortable,” William said.

“Weldon, mind your own damned business—go get drunk or something.”

“Men, stop bickering. I’ve a headache already,” Miss Peckham said. “And Bill, not to worry. I’m along for business, not pleasure. As handsome as the lieutenant is I have no interest in him in that way.”

“Well, I guess we can all rest easy and have something to eat,” said Kenyon, throwing the tin plates and utensils on an old army blanket.

The missionaries passed around canned meat and said grace with heads bowed as Peckham and Fahy exchanged amused glances.

William’s blood boiled. “What’s so damned funny?” he asked.

Kenyon and his missionaries glared at the three young people.

“Oh, Bill, give us a rest. My apologies, Kenyon, but I’m not one for grace— I’monly here as escort,” Fahy said.

“Mr. Weldon, dear, it’s sweet to see you so changed and defending your employer, but it’s childish to create a scene. Have you been sneaking spirits?” Miss Peckham asked.

“No. But you shouldn’t look down on everyone.”

“Bill, you’re such a simple man. It warms my heart. For your sake I will try to do better,” Fahy said.

William stood too quickly and almost fell over the picnic blanket. Peckham and Fahy tittered as he walked off.

“What people laugh at a cripple?” Kenyon asked, climbing to his feet. “I’ve lost my appetite.”

“People in these parts are so thin-skinned! I suppose it was cruel to laugh, but I couldn’t help it. Nerves maybe it was—and the heat. My brain is fried,” Miss Peckham complained.

“Now, don’t go losing that mind of yours. It’s your most attractive feature,” Fahy said. “And Bill deserves any embarrassment he gets. I’ve never met such a hopeless case as him—revolting!”

“I agree—and do you really find my intelligence attractive, sir?” Miss Peckham asked, with a wink.

The missionaries ate lunch, feigning disinterest.

“Hmm. Of course I do,” Fahy said backing away a little.

“So many men are intimidated by my ideas.”

“Well, Americans are so puritanical—not like us Europeans,” Fahy said.

“You’re Irish.” Miss Peckham poked him with her finger.

“You’re sharp as nails, miss,” Fahy laughed. “Anyway, I pride myself on being open-minded.”

“I’m glad not all men are afraid to accept women as equals.”

Fahy drank long from his mug. “We should get moving.”

“Oh dear, so soon? Riding in the ambulance is dreadfully oppressive.” She ran her hand over Fahy’s. “Is there any way I could convince you to allow me to ride just a little while on your fine horse?”

Fahy slipped his hand out from under hers, gathered his things and got to his feet. “Now, that’s out of the question, I’m afraid. No one rides Iollan but me.”

Miss Peckham followed after him. “Won’t you give me a ride yourself? Sir?”

Fahy laughed. “Miss Peckham . . .”

“You may call me Gertie.” She grinned and once more ran her fingers over his hand. “How can I convince you? I really want a ride awfully much and you’re so good at it. Only let me feel it once—to sit with you.”

Fahy took her hand. “Miss . . . Gertie . . . I’m engaged to Thankful . . . I . . .”

“Of course. But no one has to know.” Her one free hand felt under his army blouse.

“So you don’t mean the horse then . . . do you?”

Miss Peckham laughed. “I imagined you were clever! I’ve seen how you look at me.”

He blushed. “No, I really haven’t . . . I . . .”

Miss Peckham kissed him before he could finish.

“Jeasus, you sure are different.” He pulled away flustered and rubbing his forehead. “I didn’t think you were much interested in men and marriage.”

“I’m not interested in marriage—but I enjoy the way a man’s body works as much as the next girl.”

“Thankful doesn’t seem to,” Fahy blurted out, regretting it at once.

“I’d rather not know about. . .”

“Oh, oh, yes, of course . . . how silly of me.” Fahy glanced around.

“We could be very discrete,” Miss Peckham whispered.

“Miss Peckham, I don’t know what to say. It’s not that the offer doesn’t interest me—greatly—but I’m in love with Thankful and . . .”

“I didn’t realize you were such a foolish romantic. But I could show you what women enjoy.” She dragged him behind the wagon.

“Fahy! Lieutenant Fahy! We should be off,” Kenyon called.

“Shit. Listen miss. I’m sorry  . . .” He kissed Peckham’s forehead and dashed around the ambulance to the men waiting.

“Where is she?” Kenyon asked.

“Suppose she’s waiting in the ambulance,” Fahy said, red-faced and ill-humored. “Kenyon, I’m sorry to have let her come. It was foolish of me.”

“Mr. Fahy, I’m sure you thought you were doing what’s best. The girl’s a helpless wreck.”

“How so?”

Kenyon laughed. “I can smell bullshit a mile away and Miss Peckham is full of it.”

“You just don’t like her,” Fahy said, adjusting his horse’s stirrups.

“A woman all on her own,” Kenyon replied. “She can’t be trusted.”

“What about Thankful?”

“Please tell me you see a difference. Your Thankful knows her place. She would never do anything improper.”

***Featured image: The Kiss, Edvard Munch

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