Buck sat tucked back in bed, trying to read his small Bible while swatting gnats. William, with the occasional sideways glance at his roommate, smoked cigarette after crummy cigarette, wondering how things had gone so wrong. How had Thankful ever loved him? And how had he not seen it?
Soon the doctor strode in, leading a sobbing Thankful to her brother. Thankful sat at the edge of his bed, wringing her hanky. “Oh, Buck! I’ve already failed the lieutenant! I’ve upset him—I’m so afraid!”
Buck took a quick glance into his Bible, hoping to catch a bit of inspiration, before turning to the doctor.
“Miss Crenshaw collapsed,” the doctor explained. “It’s all so shocking for her—don’t be so hard on yourself, dear. You’ll get used to everything.”
“I don’t want to! I’m not able for it!” Thankful admitted and sobbed some more. “How will I care for Mr. Fahy and a baby? I couldn’t even look at the catheter!”
“Sis, you can do anything. We can do anything …” Buck quickly flipped through his Bible and found what he was looking for. “Here, this is what I read yesterday … um, wait—oh, yes, here it is.” He glanced up at Thankful, sheepishly. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
“Yes, yes, very good, Buck. You were always good at memorizing …” Thankful wiped her eyes.
“Sis, I promise—I’ll be by your side come what may,” Buck said.
“When the lieutenant needed my assurance, I gave him my weakness,” Thankful said. “He thinks I find him repulsive. He told me to leave and was so hurt. I’m a terrible failure. Why did I ever come here? Everything has gone wrong!”
“You came here because you wanted to be away from Mama and Father, but a girl shouldn’t be on her own. Fahy led you astray—you see that don’t you? I know you think you love him.”
“How dare you! I do love him and why shouldn’t I?”
“First off, he’s a thief.”
William turned on his side, straining to hear Buck over Thankful’s sobs. If Buck had one weakness that William understood, it was his reticence, his timidity of voice, but now Buck’s raspy voice was full of emotion and power. William remembered listening to Buck and Fred mechanically recite scripture in church. He’d always been envious and impressed, but Buck’s words now were his own set free.
“Mr. Fahy is struggling to live,” Thankful said. “He’ll never walk, and you bring up petty crimes.”
“Stealing from destitute people and sullying the army’s reputation is hardly petty, and I hope you took no part in it,” Buck said.
“The Apaches. William accused the lieutenant of fixing the scales for the Indian annuities, and he didn’t deny it. He’s charging them for condemned military clothing against orders—Seth says.”
“Seth? For heaven’s sake, who’s Seth?” Thankful asked.
“Mr. Kenyon, to the rest of us,” answered William.
“Pierce said William was under Mr. Kenyon’s spell, but you, Buck? What’s happened to you? Maybe it’s your injuries …”
William laughed with a roll of the eyes. “Nope, Thankful, he’s been saved by Kenyon.”
“Sakes alive, what’s going on?” Thankful asked.
“It’s only that I’ve put my life in God’s hands,” Buck said with an unnerving giddiness. “I don’t understand why it bothers you, Willy.”
“It bothers me because it’s fake and I don’t think you should trick Seth—I mean Mr. Kenyon.”
“Oh, so you’re worried about Seth now, are you?” Buck croaked.
“Boys!” Thankful cried. “Mr. Fahy, my future husband, is more important than Mr. Kenyon. Why would anyone accuse the lieutenant of stealing? He’d never hurt poor people!”
“But what about your ring?” Buck asked.
“It was a mistake—everybody says so. And the small things from the quartermaster’s—well, everyone does things like that.”
“What have you ever stolen?” Buck asked.
“Father’s money!” Thankful cried.
“Hmm, that’s right, I forgot,” Buck said. “Well, we all make mistakes.”
William sniggered at Buck’s attempt at support.
“And the lieutenant too, I guess,” Buck continued. “I shouldn’t be so quick to point out his flaws when I’ve more than enough of my own. Thankful, I know what it’s like to be taken down the wrong road, and I think Fahy is wrong for you.”
“Well, your advice is too late now, isn’t it?” Thankful said, still wringing her handkerchief.
“I only wish you hadn’t let Fahy poke you,” Buck said.
“Miss Peckham was right!” Thankful cried. “There’s no equality between the sexes!”
“Who’s Miss Peckham?” Buck asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Thankful said with an impatient toss of her head, “but you men do as you like!”
“You took no part in your condition, sis?” Buck asked.
“No, I … well, the lieutenant wanted it so badly, and I couldn’t stand to see him angry. Anyway, it’s not as if you couldn’t have the same trouble.”
Buck said, “Our father is a bastard. I don’t want that for my children.”
Thankful laughed. “And please tell me how you’ve prevented that so far.”
Buck’s face went red as he glanced over at William. “I’ve saved myself.”
“What?” Thankful exclaimed in disbelief. “But Fred always said …”
“Fred never was with me spooning. Father once told me it was the worst mistake of his life, marrying Mama because she was pregnant with Fred and me, so I don’t have anything to be ashamed of in that one regard.”
“So you were a lily-white Christian boy underneath it all?” William said.
Buck coughed, keeping his attention on his sister. “I guess I thought it would be nice if it meant something. I hope it meant something special for you, Thankful.”
She began to cry again. “No! I only did it to make him keep me! Just like Mama!”
“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”
Featured Image: Detail from john Collier’s Portrait of Marian Huxley