“It's not nearly as nice as what I had in Charleston,” the major's wife drawled, and looked about. “Where is that girl with the tea? I swear these stupid Injuns can't be taught much of anything.”
“I could have told you that.” Mrs. Wellsley nodded, quite smug. “Of course, we Texans have been dealing with savages for many, many years. Annihilation seems to be the only answer. You can't civilize them.”
“Isn't that a bit harsh?” Twilight said before she thought, and was immediately sorry because Harvey glared at her. Southern ladies never offered opinions, especially controversial ones.
Mrs. Wellsley blinked. “Well, it's not as if we're dealing with real people.”
“They're almost as primitive as slaves back home,” the major's wife put in. “Don't seem to realize they'd be better off on our side.”
Twilight asked, “We're attempting to get Indians to join the cause?”
“Of course,” the major's wife said. “They may be primitive and uncivilized, but I hear they're deadly warriors.”
The Indian girl brought the tea, and the major's wife poured while the girl passed a plate of sweets before she disappeared into the kitchen.
Twilight was grateful to be able to change the subject. “Such good cookies.”
“Aren't they, though?” The major's wife beamed at Harvey. “Your brother has been so good about getting things that are in short supply out here, like white flour.”
Harvey ducked his balding head modestly. “Well, there are ways if one knows how.”
Twilight thought, and suddenly the cookies didn't taste quite so delicious.
When she looked up, Mrs. Wellsley was looking her over curiously. “I do hope you get a chance to meet my Franklin. We've been so picky about selecting a wife for him.”
“Can't he select his own?” Twilight spoke without thinking.
She saw Harvey shoot her a warning glance, and the old lady frowned with her teacup halfway to her pursed mouth. “Certainly not. Dear Franklin is waiting for his mother's approval.”
“As he should.” The major's wife nodded.
Twilight wanted to say something, then decided it was not her place to create a disagreeable atmosphere. “IâI'll be looking forward to meeting the captain,” she murmured as she sipped her tea, her eyes properly downcast.
The old lady seemed mollified. “And I'm sure he'll be pleased to meet you; a pretty widow whose brave husband has died for the cause.”
“Hear! Hear!” Harvey said. “The captain is a fine young man.”
Now Twilight knew why she'd been invited to come to Indian Territory. It had nothing to do with generosity. Harvey was hoping to marry her into wealth, as he had with Pierre Dumont. Of course, Twilight would acquiesce as she had done beforeâor would she?
The major's wife put down her cup. “You know, Mrs. Dumont, we're afraid some of these Indians are going to go over to the Yankees' side.”
“Too stupid for words,” Mrs. Wellsley snapped. “After all, we've promised to make Indian Territory an Indian state when the South wins.”
“Maybe they don't trust you,” Twilight said without thinking, and Harvey glared at her over his teacup. “IâI mean . . .” She let her voice trail off, uncertain how to retreat gracefully.
“But that's where you come in, my dear,” the major's wife hastened to say.
She nodded. “We're awfully short on medical help out here on the frontier, and we understand you have some trainingâ”
“But I'm not a doctor,” Twilight protested. “I just assisted my father some.”
“That'll be enough maybe to please the savages,” the major's wife said, and smiled, apparently pleased.
“The savages?” Twilight's mouth went suddenly dry.
“Oh, Harvey, you naughty boy, haven't you told her?” The old lady scolded.
Harvey looked sheepish. “Well, you know, she just arrived, and we haven't had time to discuss much.”
Twilight's hand was suddenly shaking so badly, she had to set her cup down. “I'm afraid I don't quite understand.”
“Twilight,” Harvey said, and he almost purred as he said it, “the savages have a lot of sickness in their tribes, and we thought if we could offer them some medical help, they might decide to stay with our side.”
“Minister to savages?” Twilight's mouth dropped in horror. “Oh, my, I really don't think so.”
“But it's for the cause,” the major's wife protested.
The three of them stared at her expectantly.
Twilight looked about, uncertain what to say. They wanted her to provide medical help to the savages merely to bring them to the Confederate side. Twilight felt perspiration break out between her breasts in spite of the cool room. How could a dutiful Southern lady refuse? Abruptly, she wished she were back scrapping for a living on her burned-out plantation. Dealing with savages was more than her worst nightmare, and she was not dreaming!
“IâI don't know quite what to say,” Twilight stammered. “I do believe I'm getting a bad case of the vapors.”
“Then I must take you home, my dear.” Harvey's voice was sympathetic, but his blue eyes glared like frozen ice.
Both older ladies made sympathetic sounds.
Twilight stood up, and Harvey took her arm. “I'm sure once my dear sister has had time to think about it, she'll be happy to help win the savages over for the cause.”
“Of course,” said both older ladies in unison.
Twilight gritted her teeth, wondering if anyone cared what she thought, then remembered she was a dutiful Southern lady. No matter her fear, she'd be obligated. “It was a lovely tea,” she murmured. “I do hope to see you again.”
Mrs. Wellsley said, “Well, I'll be returning to Austin soon, but if you and my Franklin should like each other . . .” Her voice trailed off.
What a dragon of a mother-in-law she would be,
Twilight thought, and headed for the entry, where the silent Indian girl waited with the wraps.
The major's wife and Mrs. Wellsley followed her into the entry.
“I do hope you'll be feeling better later,” said the major's wife.
“My Franklin will be so sorry he missed meeting you,” said the elderly Texan.
“Perhaps later,” Twilight said, and hurried out the door and toward the buggy with Harvey trailing in her wake. He helped her up to the seat, and the ladies waved farewell from the doorway.
On the way home, Harvey drove the buggy at a fast clip, not looking at Twilight. “Honestly, you were quite rude.”
“I didn't mean to be,” Twilight murmured, “but I think you might have been more honest with me, Harvey, about why I was being invited to come out.”
“I thought I was being quite generous,” he said in a strained, self-righteous tone, “offering my protection and room and board to a destitute, widowed relative. Otherwise, I don't know what you would have done.”
I would have had to make some decisions all alone,
Twilight thought. She had never had to be independent before. The thought scared her. “You're right, Harvey, it was thoughtless of me. I merely thought you wanted me to help around the storeâ”
“You can do that, too.” Her apology seemed to have mellowed him. “Have I told you Captain Wellsley is quite handsome?”
“Who?” She'd already forgotten about the officer.
“We just had tea with his mother,” Harvey reminded her as he cracked his whip at the horse. “He's not married.”
She could see why, she thought, remembering his stern mother, but of course she didn't say that. It would upset Harvey. She kept watching the woods as they drove through the late afternoon. She was afraid that big warrior would appear out of nowhere and block their path. “Perhaps if we are going to travel in this area, we ought to ask for an escort of soldiers.”
“I doubt we'd get them,” Harvey said. “The army seems to have a lot on its mind these days. Anyway, I carry a pistol. You're perfectly safe with me if we're attacked.”
She bit her lip and didn't answer. Somehow, she didn't feel secure with Harvey's protection. Not that she thought a patrol of soldiers could protect her if that big warrior decided to lift her scalp. She remembered how he had looked at her, and she shivered. “Yellow Jacket.”
Harvey glanced over at her. “Yes, he's dangerous-looking, isn't he? You know, a yellow jacket is a type of aggressive wasp.”
“I know. I'll wager the name suits him.”
Harvey swore under his breath. “He's been on a tear ever since his brother was shot accidentally by one of the Confederate sentries.”
“What? How awful!” Twilight jerked to look at her stepbrother.
“It was an accident. The savage was out in the night, and the sentry thought he was up to no good.”
“Couldn't he have investigated before he pulled the trigger?” She was appalled at the useless death, even if it was an Indian.
“You don't hesitate when dealing with savages,” Harvey said. “The Indians said he was just hunting game, but who knows what he was really up to? Can't trust Injuns. And now the dead man's daughter has hanged herself. I reckon Yellow Jacket holds both deaths against white people, but it really isn't our fault.”
Twilight had a scared, sinking feeling. “You want me to go out with my small medical bag and minister to these people?”
“I'm sure the major will provide you an escort,” Harvey said. “Maybe Captain Wellsley. Did I tell you he's rich?”
“Yes, you did.” Twilight bit her lip. “IâI really don't want to have to deal with savages, Harvey.”
He glanced sideways at her as he drove. “But you must. We really need to influence the savages to keep them from going over to the Union side.”
“They can't be so stupid as not to see through that ploy.”
“But of course they are.” Harvey sounded annoyed. “Now, do behave yourself, Twilight. You've never been one to be disagreeable.”
She took a deep breath. Southern ladies did as they were told. “IâI'm sorry,” she murmured.
Harvey smiled. “Now, that's more like it. I understand the major will be sending you out to the Creek camp tomorrow.”
She said nothing the rest of the way back to the store, but she had nightmares all night in which the big savage called Yellow Jacket chased her down, ripped her dress off, and had his way with her, his hot mouth on her breasts, his hands stroking her writhing body. She came awake suddenly, gasping for air, her body bathed in perspiration even though the autumn night was cool. She got no sleep the rest of the night, remembering the way the warrior had looked at her when they'd driven past him in the buggy.
The next morning was warmer but still cool and crisp. Twilight put on her black dress and, with trembling hands, checked her medical bag. At nine o'clock, Captain Wellsley entered the trading post, took off his hat, and made a sweeping bow as Harvey introduced him. “I'm very pleased to meet you, Mrs. Dumont.”
Twilight nodded and tried to smile. He was a handsome, yellow-haired young man with watery blue eyes, a weak chin, and a pronounced Texas drawl. “Dumont?” he asked. “Sounds familiar somehow.”
“Perhaps you met my husband, Pierre? I understand you served in Virginia. He was killed in action there.”
“Well, Iâprobably not. IâI extend my heartfelt condolences.” The captain licked his lips and glanced away.
What on earth was wrong with him? Then it occurred to Twilight that Pierre might have done the young man out of money in a game of cards and the captain was too much of a Southern gentleman to say so. He looked uncomfortable, took out a handkerchief and wiped his suddenly perspiring face.
She hurried to fill the awkward silence. “I'm afraid I'm not looking forward to going among the savages.”
His expression betrayed the fact that he wasn't, either. “We'll have a squad of soldiers with us,” he said.
Harvey nodded his approval. “Young Wellsley here is quite ambitious. He intends to end up as a general.”
Franklin Wellsley played with the brim of his hat. “Well, actually, it would please my mother. She has big plans for her only child. I'd be just as happy in Austin.”
Harvey stuck his thumbs in his flowered silk vest. “And Mrs. Wellsley's thinking, after the war, the Indian Territory will be opened to whites. Lots of opportunities for ambitious folks.”
“But I thought this land was promised to Indians as long as rivers flow and grass grows,” Twilight said.
Harvey and the young officer exchanged glances.
Harvey shrugged. “Now, what are a bunch of savages going to do with such good land? Good ranch land is wasted on them, while a white man with a family could put it to use.”
Captain Wellsley colored. “I think so, too,” he drawled, “but of course, I'm not married.”
Harvey grinned. “Just hasn't met the right girl yet.”
The captain nodded. “Mama says thirty is a good age for me to choose a bride.”
Or for Mama to choose one for you,
Twilight thought. She frowned at Harvey. Her stepbrother was surely scheming to get his hands on the wealthy Texan's money. “Harvey, you aren't going out to the Indian camp with us?”
“Uh, I've got a lot to do this morning.” Harvey avoided her gaze. “Inventory and all.”
She'd always thought Harvey a coward, and yet here he had this bad limp from having served with the Alabama Volunteers. Twilight took a deep breath. “Well, Captain, let us be off, then.”
“Ma'am.” He smiled and made a sweeping bow to escort her out the door, then took her arm. “May I carry your medicine bag, ma'am?”
“Of course.” She handed it over, and they went out to the buggy, where he helped her up. A squad of gray-clad cavalry waited patiently behind the buggy. They all gave a polite nod to her as she settled herself into the seat, and the captain got in and snapped the little whip at the bay horse. The whole procession started off at a leisurely clip. Twilight didn't quite know what to say to this callow youth. Why, he looked barely old enough to grow whiskers.
Her curiosity got the better of her. “Captain, are you sure you didn't know my husband?”
There was a long silence except for the jingle of harness and the rhythmic clop-clop of horses' hooves.
“I don't think so,” he answered, and watched the road ahead. She wondered if he was hiding something.
“If you did, you don't need to protect me,” she said softly. “I know Pierre was a rogue, but of course, I didn't know that when I married him.”
Still no answer. The captain cleared his throat, and it sounded loud in the silence. “So what was your husband doing in the army? Everyone knows, as a major slaveholder he'd be exempt from the war.”
“I suppose I should be embarrassed to say this, but Pierre was so cruel to our slaves, they all ran off when the war started, and the plantation fell into major disrepair.”
“Oh. You have no other relatives except Mr. Leland?”
Twilight nodded. “Father was serving as a battlefield surgeon and was killed in action, and I'm afraid Harvey wasn't too good at managing our Alabama plantation.”
“Too bad.” He took a deep breath as if summoning courage. “Mrs. Dumont, you may think it forward of me since you've been widowed less than a year, but your brother was right: You're quite attractive.”
She felt the blood rush to her face. “Why, thank you, Captain, but how did you know how long I'd been widowed?”
He stammered a moment, keeping his pale eyes on the road ahead. “Why, uh, I believe your stepbrother told me.”
The captain was hiding something, but Twilight shrugged it off. Probably the gossipy Harvey had told the young captain what a rogue Pierre had been. Well, it didn't matter now. Too bad Harvey hadn't told her before she married the gambler, but then, maybe Harvey hadn't known.
“Mama was quite pleased to meet you,” the captain drawled, and colored shyly. “Even Mama said you were a perfect Southern lady.”
She was weary of being a perfect Southern lady but unsure how to escape the restraints of convention that seemed to bind her like a whalebone corset. “That was kind of her.” Twilight remembered the iron-willed old harridan. “Your mother's opinion is quite important to you, isn't it?”
“Certainly. Doesn't every Southerner care what his mama thinks?”
Twilight sighed. She had no interest in another marriage after the disastrous one she'd just endured, but evidently Captain Wellsley was playing a big part in Harvey's plans. She decided to change the subject. “Captain, can't the post doctor deal with these Indians?”
“There's just too many of them.” The captain lowered his voice as he glanced behind him at the cavalry. “Besides, ma'am, he, uh, he drinks.”
“Oh, I see.” She suddenly felt sorry for everyone who had to depend on the physician for medical care. “How are the relationships between our forces and the Indians?”
“Depends on which Indians, ma'am. The Choctaws and the Chickasaws are mostly on our side. The other three of the Civilized Tribes are mostly split down the middle: some for the North, some for the South.”
“And your troops are caught in the middle?”
He chewed his lip. “We're a little outnumbered, but we've got more troops arriving every day. We're hoping to bring more of those wavering on the fence over to our side.”
“So that's where I come in?”