14. July 2011 · Comments Off on Deep in the Heart – Chapter 12 · Categories: General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Old West

(Another excerpt from the work in progress – soon to be finished with the first draft! And I am featured today at the book-blog Royalty Free Fiction … a blog for historical fiction about characters who aren’t kings and queens and that…)

Chapter 12 – Returns

Mr. Burnett’s messenger to Carl in Bexar, sent by one of Captain Coleman’s volunteers, through the good offices of the local alcade returned to Austin the day before Alois Becker was buried in a ground of Margaret’s selecting: just a little way from the stump of the great oak tree, on a patch of level ground. The messenger reported that Sergeant Becker was off on a long patrol with the Ranger Company, around the borders of the Comanche-haunted Llano country, and perhaps even venturing deep into it. He and his men would likely not return for many months. Margaret had rather expected something of the sort. At least this absolved her of any responsibility to ask her brother for advice and consent regarding Alois Becker’s funeral and the disposition of his property – and of any necessity for considering his wishes on the matter. Indeed, Margaret suspected that her brother would have as little or the same care for the burial of their father as he would in the dispatch of a dead cat or dog into the nearest midden-pit – and that if he was not present, then he would not have to make a pretense of feelings that he did not have, or embarrass her by a openly displaying a lack of them.

“I that he may rest near the apple trees,” she had said to Mr. Burnett, and to Mr. Waller and those others who came to pay their respects to a man who, while never being well-liked among his fellow citizens, had something of respect for having been an early settler of the region. “He cared so tenderly for the apple trees – and we may tend his grave easily.” As no one else is likely to, for the love of him, she thought, as she and the boys walked back to the house, on that first afternoon, when she had talked of a grave for Opa on his own property, and they had gone down to inspect that place, a little below the top of the hill upon which the house sat. Mama would have – but Mama’s grave was under an oak tree near Harrisburg, that branched up in four great limbs. The best part of your father – died with your mother, Race had said. All those years since then, the act of living for Alois Becker had been merely existence, a habit, the motion and pretense of living, without the heart of it. And Margaret thought, with a twist of unease in her own breast – was all of her life and the manner of her living it since Race had gone from her, merely a well-established habit? Was she truly alive and loving, caring for her sons and her household, caring for her town and her friends, and not just some peculiar automaton, walking through the days and the necessary tasks out of habit and obligation? That question plagued her, all through the hours and days following Alois Becker’s passing, although she had some moments of savage amusement, upon realizing that she had no need to go into black for her father; she had already been wearing the customary colors of mourning for her husband – as much as these customs could be uphold on the frontier.

I am tired of it, she thought, as she walked back from the grave Alois Becker had been put to rest, and the earth above mounded up. She would have a fine stone carved, of course, and perhaps a little fencing put around the place, to keep the cattle and horses from trampling over where he lay for eternity. I am tired of it. I want to go towards living my life in hope. I want to not be afraid. I want to build the house as I want it to be, to live in it as I think fit to live. Horace walked at her side, Peter at her other with his hand in hers. The boarders and townsfolk who had attended the brief ceremonies followed behind: Mr. Waller, Richard Bullock and his family, Captain Coleman, Angelina Eberly and her family, Mr. Ware, stumping gamely along on his wooden foot.
She and Hetty had laid out the usual spread of cakes, of bread and cold meats for the mourners, on several tables set out on the porch. There were dozens of saddle horses, tied to the rails of the little corral in back, any number of traps and carriages, although most had preferred to walk from their houses nearby. So taken up with the demands of hospitality was she that Margaret had hardly taken notice of the hollow, thudding sound that the clods of earth made against the coffin; they had not the heartrending effect upon her that she had felt, upon burying Mama, in that lonely grave just outside of Harrisburg.

“So, what will ye do, Mrs. Vining? Will you be hiring anyone to work the land, then?” Angelina Eberly tucked into a platter of vegetable pickles, biscuits and sliced ham, in a shady corner of the porch. Shrewd old storm-crow, Margaret thought, with a mix of annoyance tempered with affection. She must be rejoicing at the thought of eating food that she has not cooked herself. Margaret was exhausted – she had been receiving the condolences of all of the mourners for much of the afternoon. Now – much as she had expected – the gathering had turned into rather a convivial one, with friends gathering with like-minded friends, here and there in the parlors or on the porch, enjoying the cool breeze that wafted through the trees, and the distant view of the river, as the afternoon sun slanted through new leaves and turned the water to quicksilver. Hetty had firmly taken upon herself the duties of keeping the various dishes and platters generously filled, commanding Margaret to play the part of the hostess and move among the guests. Margaret had done so, until her feet hurt – so did her hand, from having it so comfortingly pressed – and her face ached from having to keep it in the same demure expression. Now she found it a pleasure to sit in the corner and converse with Mrs. Eberly, whose blunt speech and decided opinions had the merit of being both original and amusing – if now and again more startlingly frank than Margaret thought was acceptable at her table.

“There’s hardly any of it left to make it worth-while, save for a hay-field and another of corn. I expect that I shall hire someone to come and plow it in the spring. My father farmed out of habit, I believe – and only just enough for household needs. We’ll keep the garden, and the milk-cows, of course, but I will probably sell the draft oxen.”
“Aye, and I am not sure that he thought all that much of it himself, any more.” Mrs. Eberly shook her black-bonneted head. “Poor man – he got so worn-looking, these past two or three years. In his prime, he must have been a handsome, well-set up man.”
“He was,” Margaret answered, “and more than that – he was magnificent. When I was a child; I used to think that Papa looked like the illustration of a king or a god, in the old storybooks.”
“It’s a tragedy, getting’ old,” Mrs. Eberly sighed, gustily. “But I tell you what, Miz Vining – it’s a sight better ‘n the alternative.” Margaret left unspoken the first thought that she had – which was that the worst curse of growing old often deprived one of the company and affection of those whom you loved and loved you most dearly. Mrs. Eberly still had children, grandchildren and even step-children living, so Margaret supposed that she had the love of those to keep her warm in the evening of life. But for Papa, that fire had gone out, years ago. Mama and Rudi had gone before him into eternity. If there was any comfort for Margaret in contemplating Papa’s last moments, it lay in the hope that he had been reunited with them at last; which left herself, her sons and Carl on the shores of this present world, to fend for themselves. Margaret found that rather ironic. That was what Papa had done throughout much of his, anyway.
“He loved my mother so very much,” she answered at last, “and my brother Rudi, who fell at Goliad. I fear he was a broken man, after that loss. I believe he would have rejoiced in his heavenly reunion with them – which is why I am not myself left desolate with grief. Papa has gone to be with those which he truly loved. I cannot help but think that he would have seen departing from this life as a blessing and relief.”
“Aye, you’re right, Miz Vining – so it would have been.” Mrs. Eberly took another bite out of the biscuit and ham upon her plate. “Maybe it was for the best. He was difficult, and that we all know well. It was to your credit, to have been so patient with his ways for these years. But still, where does that leave you, Miz. Vining? You cared for him in his declining years – what are you left in his will? Pardon me for speaking so bluntly – but I can not help noticing that it was your efforts which kept his estate on a level plane and a roof over all of your heads. If your father had a comfortable home in his last years, that was entirely of your work and your doing. I would not sit by and see you done out of your rights. What has he left, and what did he leave of it to you? I know that brother of yours, he’s a good lad and a brave Ranger, and he would stand to inherit something, I am sure – but where has he been for you, all these years. I won’t hear that he has inherited the larger portion, for that will not be fair at all . . . an’ pardon me for speaking so blunt an’ speaking out of turn, if you’ll forgive me, Miz Vining – but it’s a man’s world, unless we stick up for ourselves and stick together. I am a woman who would see justice done, right and proper!”

“Thank you, Mrs. Eberly,” Margaret answered, rather touched by Mrs. Eberly’s concern. “You have no need for concern. Papa did not have a will, outlining any share of his property to us . . .”
“Jus’ like a man,” Mrs. Eberly snorted, “Think he’s going to live forever! So, you and your brother share equally. Well, that’s only fair, I suppose . . . less’n he comes back with a new wife, an’ wants his share in the house! What then, I ask you?”
“I have consulted with Mr. Ford,” Margaret answered, sedately. “For he practices law, as well as medicine – and he has advised me. Papa owned several town-lots . . . as well as this house and the property surrounding. There was also a large sum of currency, which Papa had in payment from the State, when he sold all the rest. He never spent it – we found it among his things.”

Margaret and Hetty, and John Ford had gingerly made inventory of those few personal things which Alois Becker had kept, in a small box under his bed in the kitchen. They had made a pitiful showing: a small pocket-watch and a silver pen-knife, and a very old Bible in German with a tattered cover. There was a fat wallet of currency – that payment for the land, which he had received and hardly spent anything of, two deeds for a pair of town-lots, bought at auction under the oak tree on the day that Austin had been established – and which one day might be as valuable as the land upon which the homestead stood. There were also two folded papers, sighed by Erastus Smith, and an officer whose name Margaret could not call to mind, one testifying to the service of Alois Becker as a scout for the Army during the war, and another certifying that he had participated with great distinction in the battle at San Jacinto.
“You should be able to apply for a tract of land, on the basis of his service,” Mr. Ford had remarked upon reading them. Margaret set that thought aside; yes, the widows of the Gonzales men who fell at the Alamo had all been awarded land-tracts, for the faithful service of their husbands. At the very bottom of the box was a small thing of cob-web fine linen, folded small: an elaborately ruffled woman’s house-bonnet of the old-fashioned cut, which Margaret had recognized as being Mama’s; a ghostly scent of the verbena sachet which Mama had favored still clung to it, although it had mostly taken on the musty-paper odor of the paper currency and the property deeds. Margaret had sat back on her heels on the kitchen floor, and thought on how her father had lived as a monk, during those last years of his life. He had his farming tools, the apple trees, two or three ragged shirts and a hunting coat . . . but so little which was personally his, in the way that Race Vining’s books had been his. He was buried in the best of his clothes, and Margaret had burned the rest, as they were so ragged she wouldn’t have given them to a beggar . . . nor did she wish to cut them into strips to braid a rug out of. She did not want Papa to haunt her house, any more than he did already.

“Mr. Ford advised that we split the land into equal portions,” she explained now to Mrs. Eberly. “The town-lots are, or would be equal in value to this house. The sum in notes that my father was paid for his land is easily enough apportioned. And I have kept a good account of the cost of improvements that I made to it. I love my brother very dearly, but if he should choose the house over the town-lots, then his portion of Papa’s estate would be debited for the cost of improvements that I made to it . . . out of my own earnings. Mr. Ford has drawn up and had witnessed the necessary papers,” Margaret added, and Mrs. Eberly set aside her plate, and clapped her hands together,
“Mrs. Vining, you have not wasted your time, in renting to legislators,” she exclaimed, “That is looking after your interests very fairly, indeed. I should not have worried so, that you would be done out of your rights and fair share.”
“Certainly not,” Margaret answered, with serene confidence. “It was very kind of you to take such a concern, Mrs. Eberly. If there is a petticoat government in Austin, then I think you must be the uncrowned queen of it, and your rule is gracious and far-seeing! But I have always been good at looking after my family. I believe that we must either see to ourselves and our families, or leave this place. For myself, I had no choice: My husband was invalid, my father mad, and my brother . . . has long chosen to take his place among the ranks of our defenders – from which he may eventually return . . . or not. I wish that I had not needed to acquire and practice such efficiencies, but there you have it. This is where we live. There exist in this world women who must, or perhaps have been made to feel that their duty and obligation to custom oblige them to sit in the parlor with their hands folded, and expect the men of their kin to make their pathway smooth in all respects. I am not among them.”
“No,” acknowledged Mrs. Eberly, in what seemed to Margaret to be a rather regretful tone of voice. “Would have been nice for us, if it were; no bothers, no worries – everything taken from your shoulders . . . sitting in the parlor all the morning long, taking calls from visitors . . . eh, it would have been restful, wouldn’t it?”
“It would have been boring,” Margaret answered, firmly, and Mrs. Eberly laughed and answered, “Miz Vining, there are some days when I would like boring, would like it very much, indeed.”
“And then you think, of how very pleasing it is, to arrange your affairs and your household, and the tenor of your day in the manner which best pleases you,” Margaret answered, “And I think that I would soon become tired of helpless dependency. It does not do our men any favors, to have a helpless seraglio of one inhabitant, hanging uselessly around their necks, week in and week out.”
“You never struck me as bein’ the helpless type,” Mrs. Eberly answered. “Just as well, then.”
“I prefer, I think – the animating contest of freedom, rather than the tranquility of servitude,” Margaret answered, “As would, I believe, any woman of character and education. There is much to be said for being a widow with control of property.”
“Aye, well,” and Mrs. Eberly sighed. “You are very well right – but still, ‘tis nice to have a man about the place, sometimes. You know, Mr. Ward has been seriously courting Sue Bean – I hear they’re to be married at mid-summer. She’s over the moon in love . . . well, it must be love, then! Poor man, with him lacking an arm, and a leg as well. I hope she keeps him happy, so I do.”
“And away from cannon,” Margaret answered, very dryly. “He cannot afford loosing another limb.”
“Well, two more, but he ought to try and keep hold of that smaller limb that a man has!” Mrs. Eberly chuckled, rather knowingly, “and that bein’ the main bit that keeps a wife happy, after all.”
“I’m sure they will be very happy,” Margaret thought she made a good pretense of having missed the point of Mrs. Eberly’s jest. “Mr. Ward is a very fine and upstanding man – I am certain that he will take care of her, and the children.”
“Still, and all,” Mrs. Eberly mused, “He’s had his bad times, I am sure – and I am equally sure that his experiences must affect him – just as your father’s experiences did him. I am not certain I would want to marry a man who bore the burden of such bad fortune – or to advise any daughter of mine to do so.”
“If she loves him,” Margaret answered, “truly and deeply – then she will not see those pitiably misfortunate scars of the flesh and mind. She will see only his good character, his finer qualities, and make her decision as her heart bids her.”
“Oh, she’s young, yet.” Mrs. Eberly answered, and Margaret thought to herself that she was also young – considered next to Mrs. Eberly. Now Mrs. Eberly’s keen eyes went past Margaret, to a late arrival, a tall and rather slovenly-attired man who had just ridden up to the area before the house. He took off his hat, and sat blinking, as he sat upon his horse, surveying the gathering. He looked familiar to Margaret in some ways, rough, well-whiskered and clad in the cheap and durable clothes of a workman, and then as he ventured tentatively,
“Is this my welcome-home party? I did not expect such.”

“Well, bless my soul, if it isn’t Doctor Williamson!” Mrs. Eberly exclaimed. She added, in a much louder voice, “Say, look well, all ye – it’s Doctor Williamson, come home from Perote!” and at her words, all within earshot paid attention to the gawky scarecrow of a man, clumsily dismounting from what was obviously a hired nag, who held the reins in his hand and looked around as if he wondered what on earth he should do with them . . . indeed, and what happened in far Mexico, and by what miracle had he arrived here, upon this sorry mount? Gratifyingly, he was soon at the center of a circle of men, being warmly congratulated, as everyone exclaimed their relief and questioned him regarding his experiences, slapping his dusty shoulders with approval and enthusiasm of such a hearty sort that it appeared as if he might soon collapse underneath it. Margaret caught the attention of Johnny and Horace, who had been supporting her all this day with all the grave and careful courtesy of his twelve years.
“Go and take the horse from Doctor Williamson, unsaddle the poor beast and let him out into the pasture for a while.”
“The doctor looks very ill, Mama,” Horace answered, “D’you supposed he was tortured in Perote; with horrible instruments, and hung about with chains?”
“No, I do not think he was,” Margaret said, “for he did not write to me, complaining of such. The poor man – all he was tortured by was the loss of liberty! I think he was just tired from the journey, for he must have come such a long way! And Johnny – if he has brought anything with him, take it up to the room. Remember, we have moved his things to the little room upstairs . . .” But before Horace could even move from Margaret’s side, Mr. Burnett’s man, Hurst, had appeared as if by magic, and with efficient courtesy relieved Dr. Williamson of his horse and the small baggage it contained – mainly Dr. Williamson’s sadly battered medical satchel.” Margaret came down from the porch and through the crowd of men, which parted for her like her vision of the Red Sea parting before Moses, until she came to the doctor, still looking as baffled as he usually did in social situations.

“I am so very glad that you are free, and come home to us!” she exclaimed, and captured one of his hands in hers. “You must be exhausted, after your journey – we would have made a welcome twice as warm as this, if we had even known that you were on your way . . . Johnny, take the bag from Hurst,” she added, as her sons gathered around her, looking at Dr. Williamson with awed respect – and on the part of Peter, no little amount of puzzlement. “We have put those things of yours that you left with us, into one of the little rooms, upstairs. Do you remember the way – or do you want one of us to show you? There has been so much that has happened, since you went to San Antonio.”
“I did not think there would be so much of a crowd,” Dr. Williamson answered, peering around, in that baffled manner which suggested that he had misplaced his glasses again. “I . . . I sent a letter to you from Perote, to tell you that we were released . . . I can only think that it must have gone astray. Or that I we traveled so rapidly as to outdistance the post…”
“No matter – we are overjoyed to see you, and welcome you home,” Margaret answered, and Dr. Williamson hesitantly raised her hand to his lips for a brief kiss.
“As much as a home that I have,” he said, simply – and Margaret interpreted his baffled expression. The doctor had never liked small changes within the household, and adjusted to them with reluctance. Now, she wondered if it had been right, in moving his possessions to the upper and more private room, at the top of the house.
“We had not received any letter from you, or indeed any news of the release of the Perote captives,” Margaret said, “But you are all the more welcome – for this is the day that we have buried my father. He died, three days ago – of a cerebral stroke…”
“Is that a medical diagnosis?” Dr. Williamson inquired; his weathered face bright with sudden interest. “I would not have judged so without I had performed a dissection…”
“That was the judgement of Mr. Ford, who was in practice in San Augustine,” Margaret answered hastily. How very awkward, that Dr. Williamson had returned on the same day as Papa’s burial; there had been so much that had happened, over the last two years. Margaret had confided much of her concerns in her letters to him, been frank, humorous, and sometimes needful of reassurance in her letters – and in all, the doctor had responded in much the same nature. And now, they were face to face again, not separated by miles and prison walls. Somehow the written words had wrought a connection that was simply not there, in face to face conversation. In her mind’s eye, she had a picture of him that just did not match his present appearance and presence – and she briefly wondered if he had not created a worshipfully roseate image of her in return. But he was still a trusted friend, a guest under her roof – for she thought of it now as decidedly as hers, rather than her father’s roof – a guest of long-standing, a friend and physician to Race Vining.

“You should rest a little from your long journey,” she advised him, “In the room set aside for you, where we placed all the possessions you left with us. Wash, and change into your own clean clothes – then come downstairs and greet your friends.” She clasped his hand between hers, overtaken by a sudden feeling of affection and concern. He looked so baffled, so lost. “It is a blessing that you are free, and returned to us . . . Peter – my dear little duckling – will you show Dr. Williamson up to the little room? You remember – the doctor who cared for your Papa?” To her vague distress, her youngest son shook his head – no, he did not recall. Doctor Williamson had been a prisoner in Perote for almost half of his life. “He is our very dear friend,” she whispered to her son. “He is very tired, and he has had a very long journey – and I must stay with the guests who have come to honor your Opa. Show him into the little room, opposite yours’ and Miss Hetty’s, at the top of the stairs. All of his things are there; we made it very pleasant for him.”
“Yes, Mama,” Peter answered manfully, and turned to Dr. Williamson. “If you would kindly follow me, sir – I will show you to your quarters.” Margaret concealed a smile. It seemed that Peter had been coached by someone, someone well-accustomed to the ways of courtesy and hospitality – possibly Hurst, for she had often observed her youngest son deep in conversation with Mr. Burnett’s manservant during the last few days.

“I will see you then, among the guests,” Margaret pressed Dr. Williamson’s hand between hers once again – intending that slight embrace to be a comfort and encouragement. He still appeared somewhat lost and baffled, above and beyond his usual way. “You are among friends, now – and most welcome,” she added, impulsively going upon tip-toes and brushing his bearded cheek with her lips. “And I am glad above all to see you safe. Welcome home!”
And with that, Peter led him upstairs, just as Hurst led his poor bony livery-stable horse in the other direction. Margaret turned now to the care of her guests – oh, so many of them there were, lingering on a spring afternoon. She was glad of that, for the evidence it gave of Alois Becker being held in the high respect of his fellows, or at least – affection for her, as his daughter. But then, any reason for a gathering – be it election day, or the celebration of the victory at San Jacinto, or even just a funeral – was embraced eagerly; it had been so when she was a girl in Gonzales. With the keen judgement of a hostess, she had sensed that this particular gathering had been revived, transformed from a wake to a more joyous celebration. She looked into the kitchen, where Hetty was just adding some more wood to the fire. Two pans of biscuits sat on the table, ready for the baking.
“Oh, good,” Margaret said, “I was just thinking of more biscuits – and Dr. Williamson likes them so.”
“Aye, ‘tis a miracle,” Hetty shielded her hand with a thick fold of her apron, and closed the firebox door. “And so unexpected, Marm – we had not even made up the bed, in the little room! I took up a jug of water and some towels, for Peter said the Doctor wished to wash after his journey, but I was distracted an’ all–”
“Oh, dear – I’ll see to it, then, Hetty. It will only take a moment.” Margaret filled her arms with clean sheets and blankets from the cupboard underneath the stair-landing where they kept such things. She made her way up the stairs, thinking that she would only take a few minutes from her guests, and that surely the doctor would have changed into his own clothes and joined the others by now. There was no sound coming from behind the door, which stood half-open, so she went in with the linens . . . but he was there, standing before the opened window, as if arrested by the very sight of the sky outside, an open razor in one hand, and half the bristle scraped from his chin.

“Oh – I thought you had gone downstairs,” Margaret exclaimed in surprise; surprise which turned almost immediately to concern. She dropped the linens and blanket on the shuck mattress of the bed. “Doctor – are you unwell? Is there something the matter?”
“No . . . that is . . .” he looked at the razor in his hand as if wondering how it came to be there. “I was thinking that . . . it was so very strange to look out of an unbarred window. And that this is not a dream, or Perote was but a nightmare. But it was real.”
“It was real,” Margaret answered. Danny Fritchie had said much of the same thing, and she thought that Dr. Williamson appeared to be pitiably lost, as if he had well and permanently lost his glasses. “And it was a horrible place – but you are free, now.”
“Free,” he said the word tentatively, as if he did not quite believe. “Free of one set of chains, but not another.” He had not made a motion to continue shaving, or to change from the rough clothing that he had worn for travel, although he had unbuttoned his collar and cuffs, and draped a towel across his shoulders. Margaret clicked her tongue.
“I cannot imagine what set of chains you mean,” she said, and began spreading out the sheet, fitting it over the mattress.
“No, you would not,” he answered, and Margaret’s heart was wrung. Danny Fritchie had held his baby daughter, and wept as though his heart was about to break, remembering the deaths of his friends on the Salado, and her brother Carl had looked out at the stars and wrapped silence around him, unable to sleep within walls for years, upon his return from Goliad. With his sleeves turned back, she could see the scars of healed sores that encircled his wrists like cruel bracelets. Men held their hurts inside; she hoped desperately that those scars were the very least of his. She smoothed a second sheet over the bed, spread out the blanket and turned the sheet back, all while Dr. Williamson made no further motion to complete his toilette. Something ailed the man – Margaret could not think what it might be, save that he might be uncertain about where his things – those books and extra clothing that he had left behind. She and Hetty and the boys had lugged them all upstairs and arranged them pleasingly in the little room.
“We brushed your good coat, and aired all the other things often,” she said, attempting to encourage him. She had guests downstairs, and she had told Hetty she would only be a moment. “Here – I will set them out for you.” The little room held a chest of narrow drawers, into which she had placed all of his clothing save the coat. The faint scent of verbena rose from the shirt and trousers that she arrayed on the newly-made bed. Margaret loved the odor of verbena – a liking for which she credited to Mama’s fondness for it. There was a black neck-cloth in the topmost drawer, and she laid that out as well. He was still looking into the distance, of the aspect of Austin, seen over the row of apple-trees, which still held some faint white clouds of bloom among the tender new green leaves.
“You have been very good to me,” he said at last. “You wrote to me . . . those letters were welcome. They were . . .”
“You were my husband’s friend,” she answered, firmly. What was the matter with him, she thought – with considerable impatience. She was needed downstairs, and his friends and fellow-citizens, they would be waiting to talk to him, to ask him questions about his experiences in Perote, and for news of those last few held there. “Here are your clothes. I wrote to you because you were our friend – and I thought of you with particular fondness, for tending my husband . . . and you were in such desperate need of a confidant . . .”
“I’d have gone mad, without your letters, and those others from my friends,” the expression on his craggy face was one of desolation, and she recalled again, how her brother could not bear to remain confined within walls. He and Rudi and the others taken after Coleto Creek had spent a week of imprisonment in the Goliad chapel – so crowded that the fit men and boys had slept on their feet, leaning against the walls and each other, for lack of room.

“I’m only happy that my poor scribbles were of comfort to you,” Margaret said. “And I would confess that yours were of comfort to me, as well. Sometimes I have felt very alone, even with Hetty and my friends and the boys as my solace. When I was in distress or in confusion . . . and there were so many times when I was, in these last two years – it relieved my heart no end, to have a confidant, someone whom I could pour out my worries.” Now, she feared that she might have been too frank, for it seemed that Dr. Williamson was struggling with a powerful emotion, which held him speechless. She had already settled the pillow in a clean slip at the head of the bed. Now she came around the foot of the bed, to where Dr. Williamson was still standing, irresolute, between the wash-stand with the scrap of mirror-glass hung up over it, and the window, with the razor in his hand. “You are my dear friend, also. Do not doubt that – but you have those friends and men of Austin downstairs, waiting for you to come down. Here,” she took the straight-razor from his hand, “You are nearly finished – this little bit. Hold still – there.” She capably scraped the last of bristle from his cheek, and taking the end of the towel, wiped off the remaining soap, noting almost in passing that his eyes were grey, and that she needed to reach up a little way, for he was taller than Race had been. “I have put out your clean clothes, Dr. Williamson. Put them on, and come down. Hetty will be taking a batch of fresh biscuits out of the oven. You always liked her biscuits.”
“They were always very fine,” he answered, at last, and Margaret touched her fingers to her lips, and then brushed his cheek with her fingertips. He was a dear man, but so absent-minded, and she supposed that the confusion of his home-coming – for this was about the only home that he had – must have left him as temporarily at a loss as Danny Fritchie had been. Things had changed, in his absence over the last two years, and he was not a man who dealt well with changes.

“There – I have given a distant kiss to you. You are ready to be seen in public, as soon as you put on your clean clothes. Five minutes – that is what I shall tell your friends.”
“Friends?” he sounded rather baffled, uncertain, and Margaret concealed a sigh. What was the matter with him? Honestly, it was as if his experience in Perote had turned all his mind to jelly. And Margaret knew that he had a keen mind, if at times a rather eccentric one.
“Yes – you have friends, waiting to welcome you home. They came for Papa’s burial, but they have remained to welcome you,” she said, in the same kind of encouraging tone that she used to urge her sons, when the were small, rather than terrify them into compliance with her wishes with a show of authority – what Hetty called her ‘Maeve-face’ – the look of an imperious queen, whose wishes were not to be casually ignored. But perhaps she had a bit of the ‘Maeve-face’ on her at that minute, for Dr. Williamson looked at her, really looked at her as if he understood at long last, and answered,
“Then I shall come down. It is the right thing, is it not, Mrs. Vining?”
“Yes, it is,” she said, with secret relief that he was going to put on an appearance of amiability – he was so often disinclined to fall in with the demands of what society commanded – really, this had been so often an embarrassment to her, when her table was crowded with boarders and their conversation, and he had propped a medical text against the cruets and read through-out the meal. “Put on those clothes that I have laid out for you – do you want a manservant to come up and tie your cravat? Mr. Burnett’s man, Hurst – he is an expert. I will send him up, if you require assistance.”
“No . . . I am capable of managing my own cravat,” he answered, and Margaret thought to herself that perhaps she ought to send Hurst, if Dr. Williamson did not appear within ten minutes.
“Then, we shall expect you,” she said – and was fairly sure that she did not say so with her ‘Maeve-face’. “You are a man very well-liked in Austin, and so you should have a good welcome home.”

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