The missionaries took over the fire. William hung in the shadows, but Buck came to him with a new bottle, unplugged it, and shared it out.
William offered Buck a cigar.
“No,” Buck said. “Oh, what the hell.” He took it and lit up, staring into the fire.
“I guess I’ve lost my job now,” William said and drank.
“You don’t really want to work for a missionary, do you?” Buck asked. “It’s embarrassing. Seems Thankful is very receptive to that sort of thing. She’s fond of Kenyon. You aren’t doing this to impress her, I hope.”
“Hell, no!” William said, shaking his head before emptying his mug.
“Maybe Thankful hopes Kenyon will adopt her once the folks find out about her baby,” Buck joked miserably.
“You won’t tell on her, will you?”
“My parents have a right to know! Of course I’ll tell them. She’ll need their help. I don’t trust that Fahy and I’ll see to it he pays.”
“What can you do to him?” William asked.
“I don’t know yet, but I’m not a coward who lets others get the best of me,” Buck said with bluster in his voice.
“I guess you think I am,” William said. “You can go to hell.”
“No, I wasn’t talking about you. I mean, you did always have a whole troupe of people coddling you—including my father—but, well, sometimes you were impressive. How you kept getting up and trying again. You never gave up. I liked that. You and your father—I was—it was nice how much your father cared.”
Fahy and the other soldiers sang, and Buck and William stumbled over to them and joined in while the morose missionaries chewed the tough meat.
Here’s success to whiskey
Drink it down, drink it down,
Here’s success to whiskey,
Drink it down, drink it down.
Here’s success to whiskey
For it makes the spirits frisky,
Drink it down, drink it down, drink it down!
The missionaries took up the challenge:
From this world’s alluring snares,
From its perils and its cares,
From its vanity and strife,
Jesus beckons us to life.
From the vanities of youth—
The younger group moaned and called out in protest with a song to top them:
Where is me bed, me noggin’ noggin’ bed?
It’s all gone for beer and tobacco
Well I lent it to a whore and now the sheets are tore
And the springs are looking out for better weather.
Well, it’s all for me grog, me jolly, jolly grog,
It’s all for me beer and tobacco
I spent all me loot in a house of ill-repute
And I think I’ll go back there tomorrow!
Kenyon’s friends had enough and took their lanterns with them to bed, but Kenyon stayed seated. William felt sorry and uneasy. The soldiers considered their battle won until Kenyon, on his own, sang clear, but soft.
The drunkard as he steals away
To scenes of dissipation,
No anguish warns, no tears delay;
He fears not the temptation.
I wish I could but reach his mind,
And set him once a thinking;
I’m sure he’d be a father kind,
And leave off all his drinking.
He drinks away his goods and store,
That years were spent in making;
Yet day by day he craves for more,
All warning still forsaking.
“All right, old man. Enough preaching for the night,” said Fahy. “We’ll take our chances with the drink. You Americans take the fun out of everything and these young boys don’t appreciate it. Do you boys?”
“He can sing what he likes. It’s a free country,” said Buck, but no one listened to him.
William stumbled up to Kenyon and slurred, “You sing these songs to make me feel bad, but I don’t! All you do is try to prove how great you are and you’re not. What good are you doing? These Indians hate you. You just sit around talking about Jesus—what sort of work is that? It’s worthless—everybody says so.” William staggered, too close to the fire. “So God exists, so what! How does that help? All your preaching about what Jesus wants or Jesus did—it hasn’t stopped Fahy and his men from stealing even as General Crook and Lieutenant Davis and the rest try to do what’s right!
“You tell me to leave off drinking—why? Why do you give a damn? I’m like a son you never had? I’m not! And how come you have no family? No one was good enough, I bet. And Jesus, he drank wine didn’t he—but you have to deny me? How has Jesus made your life so good? You feel higher than me but all you have is some old clothes and sour friends. You think because you gave me paints you’ve done something big. Hey, I’m like Christ—I have nothing—no family, no friends or anything. Maybe you should worship me instead of looking down on me!”
Buck tried to pull William back, but Kenyon came up and punched William to the ground. “How dare you—you rotten little ass! Say all you like about me, but leave God out of it! You dare compare yourself to God? You’re more lost than I thought and I won’t stand for it! You think I look down on you? Who has laughed at you for the last hours? Not me. I was worse than you—maybe I had more call to be too. So you don’t have a girl and you’re huffed at your parents—poor you! What have you ever done?”
“What have you?” William asked.
“I killed my father—how’s that for starters.
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