The cool adobe walls reminded William of Old Camp Grant as he awoke on yet another bright day.
“Finally awake, Willy?” Buck whispered from the next cot.
William lifted his throbbing head and turned to him, his body aching. “Buck? What happened?”
“My father’s Scotch landed us into a mess. I’ll have some story when I go back east—shot by an Apache and all.”
William moaned, remembering bits and pieces of the trouble. “I thought you were dead.”
Buck laughed. “Seems we were both near dead, but Fahy’s men found us in a heap with the horse tumbled down the hill and brought us back. I was only knocked out and grazed—see, right here.”
“Buck, I remember … you saved my life.”
“You’ve been unconscious for three days. That Apache liquor almost did you in—so the doctor says.”
“I remember you on that horse … all alone to come get me,” William said. “You’ve got courage.”
Buck sat up and William got a good look at him. The bullet had more than just grazed Buck’s cheek. His red eye was ringed in black.
“Your friend Kenyon’s been here with you every minute, but a few—praying over you and everything.” Buck coughed. “I’m sorry about bringing all that Scotch now. I didn’t know that you had any trouble with it.”
“Your family never told you how I lost Thankful’s money?” William asked.
“I hardly talk to my family,” Buck said, brightening with a grin as Kenyon entered the room. “William is back among the living.”
“I see that and thank God for it, Buck,” Kenyon said, handing him a small Bible.
“Thank you, Seth—very much,” Buck said, eagerly flipping the pages.
“What’s happened?” William asked. How was Buck on such familiar terms with Kenyon? He remembered what he’d said to the missionary and slid back down into bed.
“Well …” Buck explained, “I’ve been saved.”
“Buck has accepted Jesus as his savior, William,” Kenyon said, bringing a water pitcher to William’s bedside and pouring him a drink.
“No. Now that’s impossible,” William said, with a laugh. “Buck is playing you for a fool.”
“No, it was you who played me for a fool, I’m afraid. We had an arrangement, and you didn’t keep up your end.” Kenyon adjusted Buck’s pillow.
“So that’s it then? You said you’d never give up on …” William began.
“I haven’t given up on you. I’m true to my word, but you’re not, and although I care for you—like you even—should I override my colleagues’ fair concerns? They were impressed with you, but now … well, you understand.”
“And now Buck Crenshaw is the winner?” William complained.
“Winner?” Kenyon asked with a chuckle. “He was ready for a change.”
William glared at Buck and sat up intending to leave bed, but his body rebelled. Someone had taken his shirt from him, and as William sat trying to gather strength, he noticed his stark, emaciated reflection in the mirror across the small room. It momentarily scared him.
Buck whispered something. “… and Willy, I don’t deserve your forgiveness for the cruel pranks—they were worse than pranks, weren’t they? It was so easy to hate you … everyone fussed over you—even my very own father. You never deserved what we did, and I’ve been hating myself for years, but I never had the guts to stop it. I nearly killed a cadet—a black boy I actually liked. I was afraid to stand up. Someday you may forgive me—I hope so—but I will always suffer at the thought of how low I’m capable of being.”
“I’m glad you suffer—if you really do—” William scoffed, “but this is just another way to show me up by taking my friend away with a stupid conversion story. Next you’ll say it was the shot to the head and falling from the horse that did it for you.”
Buck looked at Kenyon. “Well, indirectly.”
“Land sakes, what bunk!” William slipped his mangled foot back beneath the blankets.
“The thing is, if I hadn’t been shot I wouldn’t have spent the last few days watching Kenyon care for you. I mean, you were rotten to Seth, and he forgives you. You were rude and drunk and disrespectful and …”
“Sakes alive, I get the picture!”
“Yes, well it was good for me in a way because if you didn’t get Seth so angry he wouldn’t have told us his sordid story,” Buck said in excitement.
“I’m glad I was of service to you,” William said. “I’m used to that—once I was the butt of your jokes and now I’m the path leading to your reform. This is like a bad dream.”
William wondered at Buck’s animated and informal manner. Maybe the shot to his head had done more damage than they realized.
“I kind of feel light now,” Buck continued. “It sounds crazy, but I had so much to hide and regret before. I never thought how hard things were for you, Willy, even counting money and such.”
“Okay, okay, let’s not go into that!” William said.
“Do you know how many fellows I helped beat the shit out of? Or how many animals I tortured and killed and didn’t even want to? I was my brother’s slave—no, I was a slave to my loneliness. I’d do anything only to keep him. But on the horse the other night, I was a little drunk and all—not as bad as you. You had alcohol poisoning! But when I went and got you it was a good thing.”
“So now you’re a hero—a saint even,” William grumbled.
“No, no, not at all. I’m the lowest of the low, but in that moment I was a little bit better than myself.”
“Drink gave you courage. So what?” William looked to Kenyon to see if he was listening.
Buck continued. “So anyway, I remember when we were thrown from the horse, and I don’t know what made me say it at all, but I remember asking for God—probably because I thought I was dying. And I even prayed for you!” Buck laughed. Buck never laughed.
William rolled his eyes. “Thanks for the prayers,” he said. He’d catch Buck out somehow. “So now you’re squeaky clean.”
“No, no. Seth convinced me I’m forgiven. I figure if God could forgive Seth for deviancy then maybe he could forgive me too. But I’ll never forget all I’ve done. Like practicing for that little spelling bee at your house, and your mother made us special treats and was so happy to see us. And your father, he took longer to warm up to us, but then he was over the moon and giving us little bits of change and all. Fred laughed at it, but I was worse because I felt something and ignored it. When you spelled a word correctly—you looked to me and I lied to you again and again. You trusted me.” Buck stopped a minute, struggling with emotion.
Seth patted Buck on the back.
William turned away, seething.
“And then I saw him, your father, Willy, right after the bee in your sister’s memorial garden outside the church, and he was crying. Someone was trying to say something to him, but he kept saying how it was his fault—but it was mine. I’ve done things to make grown men cry and laughed about it.”
“And now suddenly you’re a new man,” William said, staring at the ceiling.
Buck laughed again. “I’ve been hospitalized three times this year. Someone was trying to get my attention, and I thank God I listened for once.”
“So God hospitalized you for your own good,” William said with a snide laugh.
“No, for the world’s good. I’ve done enough bad—look how you still suffer.”
“I’m so sick of people pointing up my problems. I was doing all right until your sister came along.”
“I always thought my sister was foolishly bent on marrying you—I guess I was wrong.”
“Thankful is a uniform chaser,” William said.
“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.”