― 1 ―
Becca Rains swept from the ballroom and slipped into the darkened library just in time. The barest outlines of shelves bordered the marble mantle, which gleamed briefly as she closed the door. The smell of cognac and pipe smoke mixed with the mustiness of old tomes that were read far too seldom. She ran to a corner near the fireplace and brought her hand to her chest to calm her labored breathing. The thick fabric of her dress rustled as she moved, and she tried to hold very still. She heard the door opening, and there were her mother and Mrs. Elizabeth Fizgibbons in full sail. She stood as still as a tree in winter as her mother’s voice penetrated the dim shadows with its shrill, excited droll.
“Drat, that girl! I was sure she came in here. I don’t know what I’ll do, for her father’s determined to get her married this season. He’s told me he won’t expend the funds for another. She’s past her twentieth birthdate. It’s beyond frustrating that the girl won’t settle down to a life of ease and provide heirs for the family. I’d thought tonight when I introduced her to Captain Lankford, she’d see the benefits of marriage to such a handsome, wealthy man.”
“Yes, Maggie, I know just the feeling, for my Druscilla was the same. It took her younger sister, Prudence, coming out the next year that pushed her over the brink, for I’m sure she would’ve postponed the matter if she hadn’t known that we wouldn’t tolerate two debutantes lingering longer in an unwed state. If a girl isn’t married before she’s twenty, society looks at her with disfavor. The expense of new frocks and shoes is daunting for two girls at a time. It’s not to be borne.”
Becca could sense a strong, large presence behind her, and she froze. She missed the remainder of her mother’s conversation as a hard, male arm grasped her around the shoulders and a hand clapped itself over her mouth. The skin was warm and moist, and very, very male. She heard the women leave the room and tried to turn into the arms of her captor, but he held her tight.
“Don’t scream, and I’ll release my hand from your mouth.”
She could feel his breath brush against the hair on her neck as he whispered in her ear, and she shivered. The smell of tobacco and hair tonic on the man tweaked her nose. In the dimness, her eyes could barely make out the objects in the room. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could just decipher the portrait of a soldier on a horse over the fireplace, and the floor globe she’d once twirled on an earlier visit, dreaming of places she might one day visit.
She nodded her head, uncertain whether she’d been rescued, or if she was about to be taken advantage of.
Slowly, his hand dropped from her face, and he released her. She turned, stepped back and al-most tripped over her skirts. He was very tall, and she could see that he didn’t have a beard. He was in the dress uniform of a Cavalry officer. She pressed her hand against his breast and pushed hard, but he didn’t separate from her. He laughed softly.
“What are you about, Sir? You frightened me. Didn’t you see my mother was searching for me? I easily might have called out and compromised myself with a man in a dark room. I’m sure she would have instantly fallen to the opinion that we were having a lover’s tryst. And, then you would have made the situation worse.”
“Aye, it is so, Miss Rains. I didn’t think of the consequences of my actions. I thought only to silence you in case you had the unhappy thought of screaming as you felt my presence.”
He withdrew from the dark corner and went toward the lamp near a window and lit it, illuminating Becca’s pale blue dress and her graceful frame. Her dark hair shimmered, matching her chocolate brown eyes. Her curls were tied on top of her head with a blue ribbon, with two twisted ringlets hanging in front of her right ear. Her cheeks were on fire with embarrassment and shock.
“Oh, don’t do that. They’ll see the light and come in, and find us here. Wait, how do you know my name?” Becca looked more closely at the soldier. She saw the twinkle in his eyes as he came closer to her. “Oh, my. Oh, Jerusalem. You’re Captain Lankford, the very man I’ve been running from all evening. I must leave the room at once.”
She took a step forward, but he drew her into his arms and kissed her sharply on the lips. She shrank from the attack, and then yielded as she felt a thrill of pleasure race through her. His arms were strong and powerful. He released her and stepped back, a question in his eyes. Did he expect her to scream? She wouldn’t, not for a man such as this, no matter what he did. She opened her eyes wide, intensely aware that her breath was racing.
“Please, Sir, I must go in case someone discovers us here.” Once more, she turned to leave, but he grasped her arm and stopped her.
“But, I want to be found with you. It’s such a stimulating sensation to be caught with a young damsel in my arms. I’ve grown bored with the tameness of society life of late.” His eyes sparkled mischievously in the lamplight, and his lips teased with a smile.
“Are you crazy? You’d have to marry me, or be forced to fight a duel for your honor.” Becca brought herself out of the fog his kiss had passed over her mind. “Why would you want to be caught with me?” She was more curious than frightened at the idea. Besides, in the light, she found his features more than pleasant.
“Were you not hiding from me? You’ve admit-ted as much. Don’t you desire to marry me? I’m of the opinion you had set your cap for me and were quite eager for the marriage night to begin. Your mother just confirmed that she and your father approve of the match. Come, stay with me and enjoy the blending of our bodies together.”
As he spoke, Captain Lankford guided Becca toward a red brocade sofa near the fireplace. The arms were low, and gleaming wood bordered the back, with curved legs jutting from tassels along the front. The seat sloped gently, perfect for a lovers’ tryst. He pushed gently, and she collapsed in a heap of skirts onto the surface. He fell on top of her and started kissing her mouth as his hand crept toward the hem of her frock.
Becca was in a quandary. She wanted the kisses to go on, but she knew she must stop him before it was too late. She squirmed and fought, but he was too strong. The roughness of his palm stroked the inside of her thigh, and a warmth rose inside her. She raised her arms to his head and ran her fingers through the softness of his hair. Her lips tingled as he drew back and looked into her eyes.
Unexpectedly, the moment was shattered, and he was up and moving away from her. He turned and straightened his clothing, tugging at his sleeves and adjusting his collar. He stared at the wall for a moment, his cheeks flushed with red, and his eyes shining. She jumped up and pulled her skirts down, adjusted the lace of her bodice, and ran her hand over her hair to smooth it. She was almost overwhelmed with the thoughts of what had happened. She was surprised to hear him sigh with regret. She’d expected a laugh of triumph.
“My God, what have I done?” He pulled a kerchief from his inside pocket and patted his forehead, then nervously attempted to slip it back inside, couldn’t seem to find the pocket, and held it wadded in his hand. He looked at her, his face twisted with remorse. “Please, forgive me, Miss Rains. I’ll speak to your father as soon as possible.” He left the room, opening the door quietly, looking through in a quick glance, before disappearing, even before Becca could respond.
Oh, Jerusalem, she thought. I’m compromised, and he thinks he must marry me. Angrily, she stepped to a small looking glass near the door and viewed her hair. One of her curls was out of place. She lifted it, reattached a barrette, and was satisfied. She pinched her cheeks to bring up her full color and elevated her chin, thinking, I refuse to marry a man so impulsive. I’ll tell father that he doesn’t suit me. I’ll say that I cannot abide the harshness of a soldier’s life. She knew that was a lie as she returned her glance to the looking glass. She looked alright. Only her cheeks were a little pink—and not from her having pinched them—and her eyes were too bright and threatened to weep. With her dress rustling, she slowly and thoughtfully blew out the lamp and walked to the door. She felt the knob, imagining she could feel the hand that had so rudely accosted her still pressed to it, and her heart pounding, she bolted from the room.
Once on the other side of the door, she stopped and braced herself. Nothing had changed. The tall coffered ceiling with its hammered tin inserts, the damask wallpaper running floor to ceiling, even the grand chandeliers with their flickering tapers were as she’d left them. The stairway winding up the far wall, and the vast stained glass panels on the landing still gleamed with the cheery mood of the festivities. The orchestra was playing a waltz melody, and the dancers were moving around the room as they had been before she’d left the ballroom. She searched for her father, hoping beyond hope he would rescue her from this awful situation, but didn’t find him. She turned and there was her mother, coming across the room leading a man in a Cavalry uniform. Becca turned away, as she tried to calm her racing heart and hoped her cheeks weren’t as flushed as they felt. It was Captain Lankford, here to greet her as if nothing had happened. She should have never pinched them. Never. She had only made matters worse.
“There you are, Rebecca, I’ve looked for you everywhere. But, it’s of no importance, for I’ve come to introduce Captain William Lankford to you. He’s expressed a desire to dance with you.” Her mother took her elbow and turned her to face the captain.
Her mother seemed so eager and excited that Becca didn’t have the heart to disappoint her. It would be a scene, otherwise; and with all her friends and her parents’ acquaintances watching, there was nothing to be done. She allowed herself to be led onto the dance floor, where she again felt the sensation of this man’s strong arms about her. She took a deep whiff of the familiar tobacco and hair tonic.
“I’m sorry, Miss Rains. I was trying to find your father, but was approached by your mother instead. What could I say but that I would be pleased to make your acquaintance?” He paused and glanced at her. He seemed concerned, and her heart skipped a beat. “Have you recovered from your ordeal? I must apologize again for my uncouth and rude behavior. It was unforgivable. I was angry and slightly drunk, I believe, to think that such an opportunity had come my way to punish you for taunting me. It’s not often that I’m told that a young lady of your upbringing is eager for my caresses, and then she runs from the sight of me. It was most confusing.” Lankford took her arms, and they joined in the familiar steps.
As he held her, Becca responded with equal transparency and a bit of bite. “It’s most confusing, as you say, Captain. When my mother approached me with her plans for our marriage, I panicked. I had no thoughts of spending my days as a soldier’s widow before I’ve experienced life.” She let the words drip with sarcasm, and the cap-tain looked sharply at her.
“A widow? You see yourself as a widow before we’re married? Haven’t you considered the glamor and the honor of the army life? I’ve seen girls swoon from the sight of my men on horseback, riding in review across the parade grounds. They don’t think of becoming widows.” He twirled her to the sound of music amid the steps of the other dancers. They were separated for a time, and when they came together again, he leaned close and spoke quite sharply. “I was told by an interested party that you are quite fast and loose with your charms. Is this not so, then? Have you not been with a man before tonight?” He stopped and looked at her hard as if daring her to answer, even as the music continued, and the dancers around them progressed in their steps. He was jostled from behind by another dancer, forcing him to continue the dance. They moved with the music, following the formal steps of the dance in silence.
Becca’s thoughts were in turmoil, and if she weren’t in a crowd of people who would see her and think her mad or worse, she might allow herself to cry. Who could have said such a cruel thing about her, and why? Yet, he had his hand on her arm, and their feet continued to move as if no words had been said. They switched partners, and Becca smiled at the new faces, going through the motions as if in a dream, catching sight of the candles flickering on the walls, with the sounds of taffeta and hard-soled shoes driving her own. Then, he was back, his words in her ears.
“I think we should have this discussion at a more appropriate time. Tomorrow, perhaps. I’ll call on your father, and if he permits me, I’ll speak with you about our marriage vows.” The music stopped, and Becca’s heart pounded. A voice, somewhere, tittered with laughter, but it wasn’t hers. A man replied, “That was the most enjoyable dance.” Yet, from Captain Lankford, there was only silence. He walked her stiffly to her mother’s side, without allowing her to answer his accusations. His grip on her arm was firm, and she dared not make a sound. He released her, bowed low, and with a series of quick steps, his boots tapping briskly on the parquet, he left the room.
“Daughter, I saw how Mr. Lankford leaned in to you. What did he say? I think I could claim love there, if for the sake of the dance, if nothing other. How do you like him?” Maggie Rains placed her cheek next to her daughter’s and gave her a peck of a kiss. She was flushed with her excitement, and her words continued. “He’s so handsome, I must say. You must have made quite an impact for him to run away so quickly.”
“We spoke briefly, Mama. Nothing more.” Becca fanned her heated face and tried to calm her mother’s excitement. “I think I will try my footwork with another man.” If she accepted a few more dance partners, she might throw suspicion away from her. She smiled at an officer in his full regalia, and he stepped in her direction. She offered her hand and was swept onto the floor. Soon she was laughing in pretend gaiety, and later, when the music ended, she fled, appalled at her false bravado, only to find herself surrounded by her mother’s elderly friends.
She laughed at the ladies’ jokes, and as soon as she could make her way through the crowd, she found her parents, said a gracious farewell to her hostess, and exited the grand house in the quiet of the early morning hours. She rode in silence in the closed carriage, with her shawl tightly wrapped around her shoulders, while her parents discussed the pursuits of the night. The repetitive sound of the horses’ hooves was a background drumbeat keeping her heart in motion, as she worried over the events of the following morning. She hoped beyond hope the evening would be forgotten, and Captain Lankford would never darken her parents’ door. She barely registered that her father had won a big pot of money playing whist and felt quite pleased with the turn of events. Her mother seemed distracted and didn’t come to her room to discuss Gladys Kitchum’s ball.
Becca tossed and turned through the rest of the night and couldn’t rest. She moved to the window several times and looked out at the moonlit scene before her. She wished she could ride a horse or take a long walk in the park and escape her thoughts. Or, remove her clothing and swim in the river behind their house; anything, to take her mind from the remembrance of her time in the library with Captain Lankford. She felt again the sensations of being underneath him on the sofa, his hand on her thigh and his tongue as he thrust it into her mouth. She felt warm, then cold, as she realized she had come alive in his arms. Was this the way her mother felt when she slept beside her husband? She supposed it was, else no children would be born into the world. Suddenly, she sat up in bed, her decision made; and drawing the linens once again over her, she snuggled in the warmth of the mattress and giggled under her bedcovers.
― 2 ―
Becca rose early, but couldn’t eat. Her mother had slept late as usual. As soon as she heard her father’s voice in the hallway, she thought of going to him with an explanation of her actions in advance of Captain Lankford’s possible arrival, but what could she say?
She waited and gazed at the clock until she heard the servant answer the chime of the doorbell and knew that Captain Lankford had arrived. Her heart beat loudly in her chest, and she changed her shawl for the fourth time in nervous anticipation, a pink one to a blue, then to a cream-colored one, and back to the pink. Would he come to her, or would her father toss him out in anger and disgust? She sat with her hands clasped in her lap for what seemed an hour, before she heard the soft tap at her door, announcing the arrival of the servant with the summons to her father’s side.
She walked calmly and gracefully down the stairs, barely noticing the grand, arched window at the landing, covered by her mother’s specially-ordered lace curtains which bathed her in a dappled light. The handrail was deepest walnut, shined to a glossy sheen. An emerald runner was bound to the steps with brass rods fastened on each end, and patterned silk wallpaper in a peacock motif whispered behind family portraits in elaborate gold frames. She knocked on the carved library door and was bid to enter by her father’s deep voice. She took a deep breath and walked into the room. Bookshelves circled the space, none reaching higher than her waist, with her father’s hunting trophies clambering for attention above. Windows on either side of the ornate mantle were darkened by half-closed shutters. Candles burned angrily on lampstands throughout the room. Sylvester Rains sat behind his desk, his countenance disturbed; his hair mussed as though he’d raked his fingers through it many times. He frowned at her and glanced away.
She turned her eyes toward the captain, but couldn’t look him in the eyes. He stood straight and tall in his uniform, his gold buttons and braids making him appear quite distinguished. He held his hat in his hand, properly deferential in her father’s presence, and his attention on him. The room was so quiet, the tick of the big clock in the hallway was as church bells in her ears. She shut the door softly behind her.
“Yes, Papa. You wanted to see me?” She took a few steps and thought suddenly how old her father seemed today, not at all as he had last night, bragging over his win at cards.
“Come in, Daughter, and sit down.” He leaned back in his chair for a moment, as if considering the situation.
As she slipped carefully into the chair near Captain Lankford, her father said, “Captain, if you please.”
The captain filled the chair next to Becca as her father rose and started pacing the room. He looked for a time out the window, but Becca was certain he wasn’t seeing the busy activity outside. She felt uncomfortable, with the captain now calmly sitting in the chair beside her, awaiting his fate. She wondered what he’d said to her father; and she shifted her weight. The action seemed to bring her father out of his thoughts; and he turned and looked at first one then the other. He thrust his fingers through his hair and moved to the desk and sat heavily in his chair. He sighed.
“Daughter, Captain Lankford has admitted that he has used you in an improper manner, and that you didn’t object. Is that true?” He tapped his fingers on his desktop, the sound as of a ticking clock that counted down the seconds, whether to something good or bad was unclear.
His eyes pierced her soul, and she couldn’t deny that she’d felt pleasure during their time on the sofa. She glanced quickly at the captain, but he sat stiff and straight and didn’t move. She decided the time had come to put her plan in motion. Whatever had gone on between the men in their discussions couldn’t be helped, but she would have her way in this.
“Yes, Papa, it’s quite true. I enjoyed the captain’s attentions well. I should like to experience it again, many times. I admit that I was shameless in his arms and don’t regret it.”
As though a gunshot had gone off in the room, the captain jerked and rose to his feet. Likewise, Rains rose so abruptly that his chair almost toppled onto the floor. He righted it with his hand and stared at his wayward daughter.
“Rebecca, are you saying this to disturb me, or to save the captain from guilt? I cannot believe that you would willingly accept the advances of a stranger, and at a public ball, besides, where anyone might have seen you. Please, tell me it isn’t so.” Rains caught her eyes and held them, but she didn’t turn away from his wrath.
“I’m telling the truth, Father. Captain Lankford is a most charming man, and I couldn’t resist his kisses.” She smiled at the soldier, but he remained steadfastly silent during the interrogation.
“That’s enough. I’m ashamed of you, Daughter, that you would admit such wanton behavior. You must be married at once, for God knows, there may already be a child on the way, and we mustn’t allow society to feed on your disgrace. I’ll send a note to the minister, with your permission, Sir, and set a date for the marriage immediately. I sorrow for your mother. It’s beyond doubt that this will cause talk, but at least we may be able to save your mother from the worst of those who gossip. We must move quickly, in the hopes that perhaps people will believe our haste is because of your military obligation.” He turned to the desk, searching for paper and a pen.
The captain cleared his throat. “I should like to talk to Miss Rains, if I may, sir, for I must have her personal thoughts about our future life together.”
“What is this?” Sylvester Rains turned from his desk with a frown. He erupted in a tirade, revealing his true irritation with the matter at hand. “You dare to ask for time alone with my daughter after such a disgusting display of behavior betraying the uniform you wear? No, I won’t allow it. Prepare yourself, Captain, for my wrath and my disgust. You have dishonored your name and your country. I leave it to you to settle the matter with the authorities over you, but as for me and my family, we will provide the means for you to assume your rightful place as my daughter’s husband, but that is as far as we will go. Please leave my home immediately. I’ll send a note to your quarters when I’ve organized the plans for the ceremony.” He stood behind the desk as though to use it to protect himself from doing bodily harm to his enemy.
Becca watched in wonder as the captain meekly wished them both a good day and left, his shoulders held rigid and his head high. She began to regret her dishonesty, for she should’ve known that her father would treat him harshly. They hadn’t gone to the point of no return, and the captain had stopped his assault when he realized the magnitude of the scene. She thought him a magnificent sight, and began to chastise her father as soon as he left the house.
“Papa, you have no call to treat the captain in such a manner.” She’d only meant to get a small measure of revenge for the captain thinking her a loose woman. She must be plain and tell her father the entire truth without delay. “I was a willing participant in last night’s escapade, and he has come to you as any decent, honorable man would do to ask for your pardon and permission for the marriage. You’ve assumed the matter went further than it did. We had only a few moments of time and didn’t engage in anything beyond a few kisses and caresses.” She twisted her hands and appealed to his mercy.
“That’s beside the issue. What’s done is done, and cannot be undone. You’ve played your childish games one time too often. It shan’t happen again, not under my roof. I shudder to think what would have happened if your mother had seen you in the room. What if her friends had come in while you were engaged in such an activity? It doesn’t matter. The captain has disgraced himself and you. You’ve belittled yourself and your name. Leave me. I won’t speak of this again. As soon as can be, prepare yourself for a life of marriage and childbirth. Once you are wed, you’re no longer welcome in this house.”
He again seemed to be looking for paper and a pen. He didn’t look up again, as Becca tried to undo the mangled damage to her reputation. She’d never intended something so dramatic.
“But, Father—” He turned his back, and she knew he wouldn’t listen to her. She ran up the stairs and knocked on her mother’s door.
“Yes, dear, who is it?”
“Becca, Mama. Are you presentable?” She kept one hand on the knob and another on the doorframe, with barely a sliver of space to speak through.
“Sweetheart, come in. Good morning, and how is your day going?”
Becca opened the door to find her mother was still in bed, eating a slice of bread from a tray. She waved in greeting to her daughter, motioning to her to come closer, and she lifted her chin for a kiss. Becca pushed her despair aside long enough to give the expected kiss, then her anguish came pouring forth.
“Mama, it’s all come undone. Papa says I must marry Captain Lankford, and the man has gone to inform his superiors of his approaching marriage. We haven’t time to spare. I must have my hair done, and a dress prepared, for Papa won’t wait.” She dropped to sit on her mother’s bed, grasping her mother’s hand and pressing it to her cheek. She didn’t know whether to cry or not to. She’d wanted this, certainly, but not in this manner; and her father had been so very angry. What would she do?
“What? You’re to marry Captain Lankford after all? Oh, this is good news. What’s this about a dress? Of course, child, we shall have the seamstress prepare your wedding clothes.” Maggie kissed her daughter’s hand, threw her coverlet and bedding aside, and rose from the bed to ring for her maid.
“We don’t have time for the seamstress, Mama. We’re to be married immediately, Papa says; as soon as the preacher can come and the license bought. Oh, I’ve made a muddle of it all; I only meant to tease him a little; but Papa’s turned his back on me.” Becca stood at the window, looking out over the lawn, with the large, spreading trees shading the lush grass. The sun fell against her skin, warm and comforting. She would miss this. She’d never thought so, but now that the prospect was upon her, and with her father’s angry words, she might never see it again. It was a rock in her stomach, and she didn’t think it could be borne.
“Immediately? But, we must have time to prepare. What’s going on that you must be married so quickly?” Maggie stopped speaking as the maid came in to take the tray away. She looked longingly at the food, but let it be carried from the room without protest. As soon as the maid had left, she cautiously opened the door to make sure no one could overhear their conversation. “My word, child, my hair. I must prepare for the day. No doubt we shall be very busy. My robe, hand it to me.”
Becca lifted the heavy wool robe from the back of a chair and held it to her mother. Maggie pulled it over her shoulders, and now dressed, she sat at the dressing table to brush her hair. She lifted one brush to find it full of hair, muttered something, picked up another, and began to pull it through her hair.
“Mama, do you remember last night when you and Elizabeth Fitzgibbons came into the library?” Becca took the brush and began to brush her mother’s hair for her. Her mother nodded her head and gazed at her daughter through the looking glass.
“Yes, dear, but no one was inside.” She smiled as if in apology for not having more information.
“Mama, the captain and I were in the shadows of the room, near the fireplace. His arms were around me holding me tightly.”
“Becca!” As though a spring had popped from the cushion of her stool, Margaret Rains twisted to face her daughter, knocking the brush from her hand. She gaped at Becca in shock.
“We made love on the sofa near the fireplace after you left.” She might as well say it. Her father already believed it. It sounded worse than horrible spoken aloud. “Father’s decided that we must be married immediately to quail the gossips. He fears the news will get out that we behaved wantonly during the ball. The captain and he have had a talk in the library, and he sent Captain Lankford away in disgrace. Please, forgive me for telling you before you finished your repast, but I could wait no longer. Papa will no doubt be here in a few moments to explain the plans he’s made for the future.”
“Becca, I do declare!” Her mother had no other words and simply stared at her in surprise as her eyes turned red and tears began to roll down her face.
Becca backed slowly from the room and quietly closed the door, her thoughts in turmoil and leaping haphazardly from one disastrous thought to another. She hadn’t considered the consequences of her foolish actions. She should’ve waited until her father explained to her mother in private. She shouldn’t have admitted her guilt. She should’ve denied the attentions of the Cavalry officer, and helped him through the ordeal. Instead, she’d made it worse, and now he would pay for her sins.
She felt no inclination to blame him for his attempted conquest. It infuriated her that someone had suggested she was easy and wanton, but if he’d heard such news, he would have been equally surprised to have her refuse him. Then, making matters worse, she’d participated in her own disgrace by suggesting the deed had been consummated.
The thing that puzzled her most was this: What motive would her friends have for telling the cap-tain such horrendous things about her? Oh, Jeru-salem. She was in a situation over which she no longer had control. She covered her face and ran up the stairs, blinded by her tears.
“He’ll never forgive me,” she told the painted portrait of her grandparents on the wall, but the smiling couple didn’t answer her.
― 3 ―
The marriage was arranged quietly and quickly, and before the new bride-to-be’s boxes and trunks were completely packed and on their way to the captain’s barracks at the army post, the society gossips were spreading the news abroad that Rebecca Rains was with child. It was impossible, of course, for he hadn’t been with her be-yond the disastrous few moments in the library on the night of Gladys Kitchum’s ball. The more she tried to deny the charges, the worse the gossip progressed, and finally Becca became silent and no longer tried to save her reputation.
There were only a few hasty flowers set up in the parlor, a few roses from the hothouse and several chrysanthemums from the cook’s pot in the kitchen window. A fire crackled in the fireplace, and the room seemed cheery enough, except for the expressions on the faces of those participating. The minister wore a white robe with red vestments, and a small cap on his head. His face was solemn and grave as he pronounced the wedding vows. The only persons attending the couple were Becca’s parents and Lankford’s commanding officer, Colonel James Truitt. Lankford and his officer were in their formal military outfits, with revolvers and sabers on their belts, and their hats jauntily removed, but still dashing with their feathered crowns. Their black boots shined in the gleam of the fire. Once the deed was done—entirely too quickly for Maggie’s taste—coffee and small iced cakes were served. After only a short time of awkward congratulations and strained conversation, the participants left; and the house on Brinker Street settled into the long and uncomfortable silence of a lonely winter afternoon.
William and Becca’s quarters at the post were mean, rude rooms by the standard of Becca’s upbringing. With low ceilings, roughly plastered walls, painted wood floors, and no curtains or shutters on the windows, it seemed little better than a barn. One small room held a cotton mattress on an iron frame, but there was barely room to get from one side to the other without crawling across the bed. The living space was little better, with a desk consuming much of the floor, and only a little sitting area off to the side. The larger portion of Becca’s hastily packed luggage was placed in a storage room on the post, and she brought out only those things that would make their small rooms presentable. One positive note proved to be the small fireplace, which at first seemed laughable to Becca, but was quite sufficient to heat the room to a fair temperature, only lacking on the coldest of mornings.
Their first night together was a mixture of despair and passion, the levels of which Becca had truly not expected. Even so, when it was done, she still had the rough wooden floors at her feet, a bed that was little better than a castoff, and no one to iron her clothes or mend her loose hems. In the morning, the captain was up before light, and by a single candle began to dress.
“William,” Becca queried sleepily, “it’s the morning after our marriage. Must you leave so early?”
“I have my duties at the post,” he answered in a brusque manner. “You have yours, now. I have a patrol I’m assigned to, and we leave today. Don’t expect me to return for several weeks.” He pulled on his coat, blew out the candle, and was gone, without a word of goodbye or a kiss of affection.
Once Becca’s tears were dried, she rose, pulled out her most durable clothes, spent a great deal of time clumsily building a fire in the fireplace, and began to scrub the rooms. The weeks until William returned were lonely, and she often despaired that she had brought this on herself; but with some practice, she learned to cook simple meals and ate alone when not required to attend the formal officers’ gatherings. She settled into her quiet life with as much good grace as possible, and soon met the other officers’ wives and entertained in her limited way. Relationships were strained between the couple, as they each felt guilt over their coming together in such a haphazard way.
For many weeks, Becca pondered the events of the ball and its aftermath and finally decided to leave it behind her and fulfill her duties as an Army wife with the best effort she could. When they had been married for about three months, orders came that the regiment was moving west to another post. She was advised that she couldn’t take her possessions with her; only what was necessary for their daily needs. Sadly, she sent a note for her father to store the items in his attic, and he sent a wagon and driver to take them away.
Summer found them at Fort Leavenworth. The post was large, with long, multistoried barracks faced with long porches. Green, branching trees dotted the landscape, although the broad, cleared expanses were as likely to be muddy pits as covered in grass. A prison was under construction, be-ing built of stone and brick, with high-pitched roofs and towers at each corner. Their married quarters were improved over their original honeymoon suite, with three full rooms, and an indoor latrine for their private use. Three fireplaces kept them warm as toast, although one was retrofitted with a metal cook stove, making cooking a pleasure. Running water came from an overhead cistern, and Becca discovered a tin bathing tub that she shared with two other couples. She had funds to hire a maid two days a week, for cleaning and doing of the laundry, and the young married couple had many opportunities for making friendships and a pleasant social life.
Even so, time passed slowly for the couple as they tried to make the best of the situation. The captain remained aloof from Becca when not called upon to engage her in friendly conversation. He spent many hours at the officers’ club, doing what, she couldn’t say.