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A Biographical Novel by

Verl Lee Holmes

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Chapter One Hier, je tadore

December 17, 1979 From the window of her room, Vesta watched cars and trucks pass by, their tires clip-clopping on the pocked concrete seams of U.S. Highway 54 beyond the brown lawn that separated her from people going their various ways. The curtains on her window were over-washed, thin and faded, pastel colors and patterns dissolving into dull grey. Sitting in the December sunlight that poured through the glass, she saw tiny specks and particles floating aimlessly in the air. How like gold dust, she thought idly, and returned to her task at hand. She signed the second of two checks that she had made payable to the Langdon Christian Church, and then began a letter to Guilford Railsback, the Church Treasurer, back in Langdon.

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Pennocks Rest Home Kingman, Ks 67068 December 17, 1979 Dear Guilford: Im so far behind in our church givingjust sending something now. My bank balance is safe enough. Im feeling better just recently but very weak today. Three very good meals each day. Christmas season here very showy. But miss seasonal program at church. Im sending $250 for Christian Home and $250 to church stewardship. This does not catch me up with all the time that has passed. It costs me $528 a month here. The bank keeps track. My mind has sometimes been unsteady of latebut most recently these past weeks has been clear. Id rather walk out of doors and twill be warm a few days nowbut downtown is too far to walk. Im sending these checks Please forward. Thank you. Vesta signed the note and put the cap back onto her Sheaffer fountain pen and rummaged for a 15-cent stamp in the top drawer of her night stand which was within arms reach. The roll of stamps lay beneath an old postcard that seemed to Vesta she had never seen before. The postcard bore the romantic, sepia-toned image of a uniformed soldier and a young woman. Their eyes look towards ... the future? Both smile as if in anticipation. Hier, Aujourdhui, Demain! Hier, helas! jai souffert. Aujourdhui, je tadore, Devant le seuil ouvert Dun lendemain daurore! Vesta pondered the picture on the card and wondered what the couple expected of their lives. Were they in love? Was the girl a courtesan? The soldier on leave? The girls hair was bobbed in the fashion of the day, her shoulders barely covered by red ribbon straps. Vesta mused at this scantily clad girl, about her uncertain virtue. She read the back of the postcard again.

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Dear Sis: I recd all your letters. Also Mamas. And they were sure fine. Just keep it up, for it makes a fellow feel great. Will send a letter later as I am busy. Am feeling fine. Give all my best regards. Your Bro, Bill . The card was postmarked in France. 29 SEP 1918 It had been okayed and signed by the company censor, a Lt. Zooman of the Signal Corps. Years before, someone had translated the poem on the front of the card for Vesta. An old paperclip, spotted with rust, held a scrap of lined paper that read as follows: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow! Yesterday, alas! I suffered. Today, I love you, Before the open threshold Of a dawning day! Vesta smiled faintly and drifted away into her memories. Later she put a stamp on the envelope and addressed it to Guilford Railsback, but for some reason perhaps known only to her, she neither sealed nor mailed the letter. Instead, she misplaced it in the top drawer of her nightstand. It remained with the old picture post card that she had kept with her for so many years. The two checks went unprocessed and slept like wellbehaved children in the unsealed envelope until that spring two years later when Uncle Bige found the letter and the post card among her personal effects after she had died and her body was taken away. The checks and the letter to Guilford are in the envelope still. The Langdon Christian Church survived nearly twenty years more without Vestas final contribution.

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Last Day of School, 1906 Billy Holmes opened the cover of the souvenir program and read:

Langdon School
District No. 62

Langdon Township Reno County, Kan.

TERM 1905-1906

Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Stewart,


A. W. Hamilton, Co. Supt. G. R. Chrislip, Director R. G. Dade, Clerk R. E. Duncan, Treas.

The fifty-eight students of the Langdon School were listed on the page opposite in the Souvenirs centerfold. Billy studied the list as Mr. W. J. Stewart droned on about the accomplishments of the year. Finally, Mr. Stewart read the names of the students aloud. As he read each name, the student stood and walked to the front of the room. Billy followed along.
PUPILS Eighth and Ninth Grade Gertrude Miller Margarette Smith Cora Holland Florenee Dodd Seventh Grade Rosa Kelley Jonie Powelson Rose Catte Pearl Blanchett Hugh Smith Edison Breckenridge Fifth Grade Vivian Parish Victor McAtee Vesta Holmes Fourth Grade Alta Dade Jessie Holmes James Kelley Frankie Kelley Harold Breckenridge Hazel Duncan Effie Rice Samuel Berry Howard Miller Harold Catte Fred Smith Orval Holmes Chester Parker Jennie Catte Bessie Holmes Beatrice Criswell Jesse Miller Earl McAtee Delphos Holmes Elmer Ewing Hersal Chrislip Esther Dade Frank Parker

THOSE THAT NEVER SING Verl Holmes, (719) 635-0262 7 Third Grade Irene Parish John Ives Sara Suffecool Frank Dade Forest Collings Second Grade Iva Sherow Tommy Kelley Paul Parish First Grade Annie Davis Willie Grace Nellie Holmes Pearl Davis Elsie Rice Cecil McAtee Roy Parish Chestley Grace Otis Rice Nellie Secrest Ruth Allen Bessie Parish Victor Powell Harold Holmes

Idly, Billy counted to himself. He had five cousins besides his brother, Delphos, and his little sis, Vesta, standing on the dais with Mr. and Mrs. Stewart and Mr. Chrislip. Seven. There were four Kelleys, plus Rosas older sister Theresa and baby sister, Agnes at home, but they didnt count. Together there were more Holmeses and Kelleys in the Langdon School than any other family. Almost twenty percent in all. Billy had gotten his best grades in arithmetic before finishing the eighth grade at the Jordan Springs School, two years before. Yes, twenty percent, not counting his little brother, Fay, and the redheaded baby brother, Kelmet, who was not yet old enough for school and the fact that his mama was expecting again, though no one was supposed to know or speak of it. He smiled. The Holmeses about doubled the Kelleys. And Mama had told him that Catholics like the Kelleys wanted to take over the country. Hmph. Looks like were doing okay for ourselves, he thought. Billy surveyed the group standing at the front of the room. His eyes stopped on Rosa Kelley. Rosa was just thirteen years old. Three years younger than himself. She was as grown as the older girls, but had a tinier waist and delicately formed hands as pale as could be and as soft as silk. Strawberry blonde curls fell onto the starched white

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jumper she wore over the stiff cotton blouse that was caught tight at her slender neck by a cameo pin with a Gibson Girl profile against a shell-pink background. Rosa noticed Billy staring at her and smiled. She winked and her smile showed teeth before she turned to Mr. Stewart, who had just finished calling roll. We will close this mornings program with a poem recited by one of our Seventh Grade girls, Miss Rosa Kelley, he announced. Rosa stepped to the front of the stage without notes. This poem is called Not for School but for Life We Learn, by Professor Edward Brooks. It is printed on the front page of your souvenir program. She showed great poise as she curtsied and began. With books of work or healthful play, Let your first years be passed, That you may give for every day Some good account at last. Hard indeed must a man be made By the toil and traffic of gain and trade, Who loves not the spot where a boy he played. Life is a page of paper white, Whereon each one of us may write His word or two and then comes night. Greatly begin; though thou hast time But for a line, be that sublime; Not failure, but low aim is crime, A pebble in the streamlet scant, Has turned the course of many a river; A dewdrop on the infant plant, May warp the giant oak forever.

Rosa reached the end of the poem, reciting without fault or hesitation. When she had finished, parents and other students politely applauded. In response, she caught the

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sides of her dress and stretched it wide, placing the pointed toe of her right foot, clad in a black button-up high-topped shoe, in front of her left. She lowered her chin and bowed demurely from the waist. And bowed again, smiling sweetly. Billy sighed from the very bottom of his stomach and felt goose flesh race up and down his spine. After the program was completed, Billy Holmes found his way to Rosa Kelley, as a hundred or so people who filled the school milled about. She pretended not to notice as the handsome lad approached. I thought you might like me to bring you a cup of punch, he said, in a brittle baritone filled with confidence that surprised both himself and Rosa. Why, that would be very kind of you, Bill. You did real good saying that poem, he blurted out without thinking. She blushed. Well, Ill be right back with that punch. You stay right here. Sit. Stay. Atta feller, he thought to himself as he made his way to the refreshments. She aint no dang dog to train! he muttered under his breath feeling his neck burn in embarrassment. He managed his way to the punch bowl attended by his mother and Margaret Kelley, Rosas mother. Ill have two, he said to Mrs. Kelley, trying not to notice his mother overseeing the linen-covered serving table, her arms resting on the shelf created by her belly below her bosom, conspicuously disguised by a loose-fitting smock. One at a time, Billy, his mother said. Uhm, well, its okay, Mama. Im getting another one for someone else. Josie looked beyond her son and observed Rosa, halfway across the room, standing obediently, watching this young man attempt to be civil and socialized.

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I see, Josie said, not smiling, a faint tone of disapproval hovering in her voice. Billy accepted the second cup from Mrs. Kelley and turned to leave the table. Then he remembered the plates of cookies beside the punch bowl and reached to take a handful, trying to juggle both cups in his left hand. As he stretched out his right arm, suddenly one cup slipped from his grip causing both cups to slosh their contents. One cup began to fall, but he recovered it with his other hand. Still, he lost most of the contents of both cups to the floor as he hopped backwards, trying to avoid the spill. Now look at you! Josie exclaimed. Margaret reacted quickly with a towel and made her way to the front of the table to clean up the mess. Sorry, Mama. Can we try again? Josie sighed, but obliged Billys request. Her eldest son would soon be a man. Having finished the eighth grade two years before, he had worked for his father and others doing farm labor. He had even managed to save a little money. Still, she was reluctant to let go of him, even though many his age had already settled down. Finally, Billy Holmes made his way back to Rosa, who had waited patiently for her knight errant to return. Secretly, she felt amused at his clumsiness with the punch. He is a handsome boy, she thought. The rectangular muscles of his chest hinted at themselves beneath the muslin shirt he wore and the suspenders that buttoned at the waist of his denim trousers. Rosa loved watching him play baseball with the other boys in Langdon, especially on hot days when they took off their shirts and their backs glistened in the sunlight. She felt herself flush even now at the memory. The room had suddenly grown warmer. Thank you for the punch, Bill; Im sorry for the trouble.

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Oh, it was no trouble, he said, as if nothing untoward had happened. Say, you wouldnt mind me walking with you back home, would you? Why, that would be lovely, Rosa felt the skin on the back of her neck get hot and turn red. Are you playing baseball after dinner? Well, sure, I reckon so. That is, if you would be willing to stay and watch. Id like it if you cheered for me. I certainly will. What position will you be playing today? First base, I think. Maybe short stop. You should have plenty to do then, I would think. I like it that way. He glanced at her and tried without success to stifle a grin that bespoke all the excitement, anticipation and sheer happiness he felt at that moment, and then he turned, regaining his young manly composure, and looked out into the distance at some unseen thing.

Baseball was the rage those days, a new sport for a young nation. Baseball fields could be placed in almost any field or pasture. The accoutrements of the game were few and inexpensive. It brought neighbors together on summer evenings and weekends after shopping in town on a Saturday night. It provided a festive touch for occasions like this, celebrating the end of the school year while the farmers awaited harvest.

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Hard-packed by hob-nailed shoes and swept clean that morning by Mr. & Mrs. Stewart, the dirt school yard enticed the younger children to play hopscotch and tag while groups of older children formed teams to play Red Rover. Not to miss an opportunity to join in the festivities, Bills father, Jonas, and the men folk of the Jordan Springs community elected to play horseshoes. Like his peers, Jonas had what education he could get from a life of living on the prairie. Jonas grew up in Indiana, where he went to school and learned to read and cipher. He had learned more from watching his daddy persevere after losing the farm in Boone County almost twenty years before. Married eighteen years, Jonas had become the head of a family of four sons and a daughter, the apple of his eye. Experience had hardened him; he had learned to keep his emotions to himself and to manage without relying on others apart from the immediate family. You did what you had to do to survive. A wizened, robust man of 39, Jonas enjoyed this day of competition with the other farmers. But like his daddy and his wife, he secretly yearned for something better, a life more reliable than wheat farming. He communicated these ambitions to his children without saying so, when they saw him lose his temper at the random misfortunes of farm life, or when he took a leather strap to the hind end of one of his wayward sons. With their shirt sleeves rolled up and sweat beading on their arms and across their fore heads, the men tossed the smithys wares back and forth until the backs and armpits of their chambray shirts showed the same dark sweat stains that appeared on any other day. But the sound of the horseshoes thudding against the loamy, freshly turned earth or the occasional clang of a ringer lent a festive atmosphere, more like that of a country fair.

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All the activity outside in no way minimized the activity inside the school building, where the women unpacked willow baskets and boxes of food to lay a meal on an improvised table made of scrap lumber that spanned wooden barrels and stretched across one whole side of the undivided room. They covered the rough planks with white sheets that smelled of fresh air, shaking them out above the tables. The sheets billowed aloft over the table surface like the wings of white birds on a rising breeze before settling down onto the boards to be smoothed out by the womens dry and calloused hands. The women shooed flies and set out ranks of pies. Some of the men brought in chairs from buckboards, while others hefted crocks of iced lemonade and the occasional jug of hard cider set on shelves at the back of the room. The elderly sat outside in the little shade afforded to them, the early summer sun already so high in the sky at noon that only a space barely eight feet on the north side of the building avoided its intensity. Sitting there in the shade, thus ensconced, backs straight as rods, dignified by the respect of their sons and daughters, the distinguished elders dispensed advice and disapproval. Along with such grave responsibilities, they were ever vigilant for a bit of passing gossip. Once the food was served, it was not long until it was time for the baseball game. Everyone deferred to the smack of a baseball in a cowhide mitt and the spine-thrilling knock of a hardball against a birch wood bat. Soon as the game was over, Billy Holmes went looking for Rosa Kelley. His sweat-soaked shirt contrasted with the starched white raiment of the girl he had gone sweet on. Their families had arrived earlier that day in buggies and buckboards, drawn by horses, some riding horses. As though responding to an unheard clarion, Billy and Rosa set off on foot, taking the road that led towards town. A prairie pasture separated them

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by a mile or so from the adjacent farms their families worked. The late spring grasses came up to their knees as they walked. Flies and gnats swarmed in the warm, moist air and grasshoppers flew up as high as Rosas breasts. Halfway to their destination, they descended into a valley where the horizons surrounding them reached no more than a few hundred yards in any direction. Four rugged cottonwood trees stretched up from the floor in the center of this natural cathedral. Impulsively, Billy took Rosas hand as they continued to walk. What do you think youre going to do after you finish eighth grade, next year? he asked. I dont quite know. Rosa had a boundless curiosity for life that attracted Billy to her. She was bright and well-spoken. The girls at Jordan Springs all admired her. Her brothers, Jimmie and Frankie and Tommy, were popular, handsome and athletic boys. Rosa had grown up running with them and keeping up most of the time. She was at the same time a tomboy who could wrestle a boy to the ground, and a delicate, feminine girl with eyes that sparkled of mischief. To keep up with her brothers, she had learned to be a trickster at home, sometimes at school. Not despite, but because of her joie de vive, she studied her lessons and advanced swiftly in school. She dreamed of going to high school, but the truth of her circumstances sobered Rosa. She had very few options. There was the possibility of high school. A school had opened in Nickerson, but Nickerson was more than twenty miles away and the Kelley family would have to board her there if she was to attend. She could not be sure if her parents thought educating their daughters was anything but a waste of money. Most girls lived with their parents until they married,

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which usually occurred sooner rather than later. But until they married, girls were one more mouth to feed and the Kelley family already had a spinster coming up. Her older sister, Theresa, had never shown much promise in school. And she was so shy she hadnt had a beau. So at twenty-one, it didnt look like she would ever have any prospects. Both the older girls helped their mother, but a woman expected to be queen of her own castle. Almost no women worked outside the home unless abandoned by a rejecting suitor or, far worse, passed over beyond the marriageable age. Sensing the sudden turn in her mood, Billy attempted to restore her natural good cheer. Cmon, he said, with a mischievous air. And he ran, slowly at first, so that Rosa would have no difficulty keeping up. Still hand in hand, they ran a little and then stopped. With an instinct born out of their hearts longing, they knew which way to turn, and in the center of this green, grass-covered dell, they turned about in circles, hand-inhand, counterbalancing each others weight, faster and faster, until they fell, exhausted and laughing onto the grass in the shade provided by the trees. They lay there, flat on their backs, feet together where they fell, watching the zinc-white clouds overhead in contrast to the bright blue sky. Breathing heavily and occasionally giggling, they said nothing and felt everything. Billy sat up on his elbows. The lace and ruffles of Rosas white bloomers showed beneath the hem of her skirt. He tried to look away, but realizing that she could not tell he was looking, he found the enigmatic sight irresistible. So if whenever theres a dance in town, or an ice-cream social, or something, you think your mama would let me see you to it?

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Rosa sat up and crossed her legs Indian style, pushing her dress down modestly between her legs. She touched the back of her head, checking for dried grass or twigs. I suppose so, she answered. But it would depend on if I would want to have you accompany me, or not. She batted her eyelashes, coyly, smiling at him. Well, theres a social planned for next Saturday night, in town. May I call for you then? Oh, yes! Billy Holmes, you may call for me on Saturday night. She rolled forward onto her knees, perched between his legs. He was still sitting up on his elbows. She planted her hands in the grass on either side of him and stared straight into his eyes, playfully, as if she was about to wrestle one of her brothers. And for a moment she felt uncertain as to the source of a sudden emotion that surged through her body, whether playful or something far more mysterious. Without thinking, Billy reached his face up towards hers and stole a kiss. Rosa gasped at first, recovered, and then stole one back from him. She let her elbows go and fell onto him; they rolled on the grass, like young children at play. Then he heard laughter coming from his own chest, a kind of laughter he had never heard before coming from himself. Suddenly he sat bolt upright. He felt awkward and confused by the feelings rushing through his body. His face flushed. Rosas eyes glittered topaz, a gemstone he could only imagine. He felt himself being drawn into her eyes. His heart thumped in his ribcage. Words caught in his throat. Like suitors from time immemorial, he could not speak. Neither of them spoke. Their eyes met for a long moment. They said nothing, but they looked at each other and wondered what had just happened. And

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why, they both asked themselves, why did it seem like the blood in their veins sang like the locusts in the cottonwood trees overhead? Billy sat back on his heels and gave Rosa his hand. She took it and he stood, helping her up. Oh my, she said, Im afraid I may have mussed my dress. There were grass stains on her backside and at her knees. She was still a girl and accustomed to playing roughhouse with her younger brothers. She had forgotten herself with Bill Holmes. They continued to hold hands as they walked home until the pair of farmhouses where the Kelleys and the Holmeses lived came into view.

So began Billys courtship with Rosa, Rose Mary Kelley. For years he worked regularly on the Kelley farm. He ate nearly as many meals with the Kelleys as he did with his own family. He learned to bow his head and genuflect at the beginning of each meal. Rosas parents, Frank and Margaret, smiled approvingly as the two sat side by side on the Kelleys front porch swing. Margaret brought them iced lemonade, but it just as often went begging, for they were first man and first woman. No one else on earth existed but them. No drink or any other form of sustenance was necessary other than each other. Rosa finished grammar school at the top of her class but did not go to high school that fall. She stayed home with Theresa, who had already started a career of helping their mother around the house. Her brother Jim finished school a year later and became best

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friends with Bill and Rosa. Jim was only a year younger than Rosa, so he could easily escort her to community activities, acting the chaperone. When threshing time came, the Kelleys and the Holmeses shared the same crew. Bill and Jim worked as hard at either place. Bill saved most of what he made, hoping to find a future for himself and Rosa. When the time came, he would ask Rosa to marry him and they would settle somewhere and start a family of their own. They both wanted to have a house full of children. In their youth and naivet, they believed everything possible. One night in the summer of 1909, while sitting on the porch together at the Kelley place, Bill asked, How many children do you want to have when you get married, Rosa? Oh, I dont know. As many as the Good Lord sees fit to give us, I suppose, she replied. Then... Bill started and stopped. She had said us. The word burned his ears. He would have asked her to marry him right then, but there were problems. Lets have a new one every other year, like Uncle Sherman and Aunt Stella, he said. Stella Holmes had just given birth to their eighth child that summer. And their oldest child, Bessie, was only three years younger than Bill, who would be twenty years old in a few more days. But first Bill had to resolve two matters. The first, which weighed much more heavily in Bills mind, was that he did not have a position yet. Helping out on the family farms of the Kelleys and the Holmeses was good for the time being. But it did not hold much of a future. He was old enough to remember the struggles that Uncle Sherman had

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until he landed the letter carriers job in Langdon. Sherman was only a year older when he had married, and Jonas was the same age when he married Josie. Jonas and Josie had barely survived their last year in Arkalon when Bill had been born. Sherman and Stella lived in a sod house when his cousin Jessie arrived. He remembered when his father went with Sherman to Oklahoma to see about the Cherokee run, and their disappointment when they returned empty handed. The second problem seemed much less important to Bill. The Kelleys were Catholic; Bills family was not. Though neither family felt themselves extreme in their devotion to faith, the roots of religious conflict went back many generations and several centuries. Distrust of the opposing religion had become such a tradition, that it prevailed when succeeding generations no longer remembered whether their ancestors came from England, Ireland or Scotland. Once, Bill asked Rosa if she thought that America should be Catholic or Protestant. I dont see why it should be either. The United States was created on the principle of religious freedom, as if she had just answered the teacher at school. Turning the table, she asked Bill what he thought. Truth was he had not thought about it very much. I dont see why it should be either, either, he said. Thus empowered to broach the subject, she asked Bill if he had any thoughts on Immaculate Conception. I dont reckon I have any thoughts on that, he replied, neither word having made it into his vocabulary by the age of twenty. Well, what about the virgin birth? she pressed. Bill recognized the word virgin and blushed.

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I say its not possible, Rosa opined. The Holy Spirit lacks the physical capability to have implanted its seed in the Virgin Mary. But my opinions could have gotten me burned at the stake for heresy in years past, Rosa concluded. Is the Pope the real commander of the armies in Europe? Bill asked. No, of course not. The Pope is the Head of the Church. The Pope is the Vicar of Christ. The what? The Vicar. The Vicar of Christ. Whats that mean? It means the he is the appearance of Christ among us. Bill was lost. He had not attended church services when he was a child. Rosa obviously had. But the Kelleys had not gone to Mass regularly since they got the farm by Langdon. There wasnt a Catholic church within a manageable drive, and so they didnt go. Margaret Kelley prayed the Rosary every day, though, and saw to it that her children learned their prayers. Circuit riders serviced the Christian church in Langdon; men came to town once a month or so and held meetings with the faithful. Though Bills mother had mandated his attendance at those meetings, his participation, like many of the boys he grew up with, was minimal. So Bill followed his fathers lead and focused on trying to find work and get ahead by his hands and the strength of his back. Like his father, Bill decided that religion was more the responsibility of the women in the family. When he tried to imagine how life would look when he was grown up, that only made matters worse. Bill did not know what kind of life God had in mind for him. Langdon did not need another mail carrier. There werent any homesteads left in that part of Kansas.

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Anyway, he had grown up hearing the stories of the two years his parents and grandparents had struggled against the elements in Western Kansas. Even now he could remember lying in bed at night, listening to his father worry out loud about approaching storms as the wheat stood in the field, almost ready for harvest. He remembered seeing his papa cry and curse God at the sight of dead cattle beneath snowdrifts, cows pregnant and dead. To him, the life of a farmer seemed like only one setback after another. He wanted something better for Rosa than his papa and Uncle Sherman had had when they took their brides. Without purpose in his life, nothing made very much sense for Bill. But that did not matter while he sat on the porch swing with Rosa. Somehow, she had become his purpose. For a few minutes at a stretch he could set his doubts and uncertainties aside while the two of them rode the porch swing into a kind of shared bliss. The rest of the time he was too busy working or too tired from working to give it all much thought. These concerns could be tabled, at least temporarily. Rosas family received an inheritance from an uncle in Illinois and Frank and Margaret agreed to take part of the money to help Rosa get an education and perhaps a happy marriage with a good Catholic boy. She would start school in Nickerson in the fall of 1909. So she and Bill would have some time to make plans for the future.

Something else happened in the fall of 1909. Pastor Frank Jalegas came to Langdon.

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Like an unexpected prairie fire, birthed in Biblical rhetoric and brimstone, Pastor Jalegas came to minister to the faithful at the Christian Church in Langdon. He had driven a team and wagon thirty miles each Sunday since spring to preach the Gospel for the goodly sum of $3.00 per trip, which was the average collection from the morning offering. Few members of the church had a buggy to ride in. The common way to go to church was to ride in a wagon, with straight back chairs for seats, these same chairs doubling for seating after arrival at the destination. During the summer of 1909, Pastor Jalegas conducted a week of revival meetings around the Fourth of July, filling every inch of space in the compact church building. Men and boys stood shuffling around the walls; and on the raised platform, lying on comforters surrounding the pulpit, numerous children slept through Pastor Jalegas sermons, which ran on for an hour and a half. The church did not have the resources to buy proper pews. Aside from those few who brought their own chairs, most of the congregation sat on rough-cut 2x10 planks. Jalegas preached against the sins of the day. He cited scripture and verse against Womens Suffrage and decried the evils of Demon Rum. He warned the congregation of the danger of a Papist Revolution in America that would rival the Spanish Inquisition. Josie Holmes loaded all her six children into the wagon and made Billy drive the horses to town. Ferrell was barely two, but she took him in arms to the church each night during the revival. Jonas refused to go. When Pastor Jalegas came to call after finishing the series of meetings, Josie gasped in horror when she heard her husband explain that he was still engaged in plowing a sod patch that proved so frustrating that he could not keep from swearing.

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When the farmwork is caught up, Jonas said, Ill join your dang church. Jonas did not make good on his word for another year. Josie saved the letter they received following his baptism from Preacher Talbert, in Turon, the same minister who had married Sherman and Stella, almost 20 years before. For Josie, however, it was a spiritual homecoming knowing that her Jonas was saved and at last a member, however reluctant, of the fold. Turon, Kansas Oct - 12 - 1910 Mr. Jonas Holmes Dear Friends, Mr. Frank Jalegas called me Sunday morning and told me you had joined the Church and would be baptized that day and that you would like for me to come over. It was just impossible for me to come. My wife had gone to Kansas City on a visit and there was no one here but me and the children and I couldnt leave them. I am glad to know that you have taken the stand that you have. And may you never have cause to look back with regret. God bless you and keep you in that straight and narrow path. That you not only be an example to your family but to the world as well This is the prayer of a true friend W. H. Talbert

By the fall of 1910, even with a toddler and a first-grader in tow, Jonas and Josie noticed that the family home had gotten less crowded. They considered both Bill and their second-born, Delphos, grown and ably working. The older boys slept at home unless they had jobs out of town, but otherwise came and went on their own time. Delphos courted the Cassil girl, Mary Alice, and Bill saw Rosa every chance he got, but

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he was more discreet than Delphos. The Cassils had known Jonas and Josie for years and they were Methodists. Even though the Kelleys were neighbors and friends, they were Catholic. So no one talked about Bills infatuation with Rosa. Josie took it for granted that Bill would find someone new, since Rosa had left for school. Delphos married Mary Alice Cassil in the fall of 1912. Their baby Doris turned Jonas and Josie into grandparents the following year.

Saturday, August 3, 1912 Twenty-five miles away from Nickerson and the girl he loved, Billy sat in the barbers chair in Langdon. He studied the words on the window facing Main Street.

Howd you decide to become a barber, Mr. Duncan? Billy asked. Without slowing the snipping scissors in his hand, Ray Duncan cheerfully responded. A mans hair grows half an inch a month. Needs a shave every day. Seems like theres always work. Fella can earn two bits for a haircut and a shave. Adds up. Works clean and you meet interesting people. Where did you learn your trade? Billy asked while watching tufts of his hair fall to the floor. He was already doing the arithmetic in his head. Why, if a man could stay busy, he could expect to make as much as $2.00 a day. Not bad. Barber school in Oklahoma City. How long did it take? Billys mind was racing. Was this the position he had been looking for? Could he and Rosa bring up a family on a barbers wages? Six weeks study. Six weeks as an apprentice.

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So began Billys career as a barber.

Saturday, August 13, 1913 A little more than a year later, Billy walked back into R.E. Duncans Tonsorial Shop. He had just celebrated his twenty-fourth birthday a few weeks before. It had been seven years since he first felt himself falling in love with Rosa Kelley. How could he ever forget that afternoon in the dell beneath the shade trees after Rosas last day in seventh grade. She had finished her final year in high school and they could finally be married. Now he had prospects, too. He would find a chair and begin making money from his schooling at the barber college in Oklahoma City. From the look on his face, Ray Duncan knew that young Bill Holmes had finally got the world by its tail. Billy proudly handed him a 3x5 card embossed with the Seal of the Kansas State Board of Examination:

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Ray Duncan took Billys card and gave it a good look. Well, Ill be... Duncan exclaimed. You gotter done! Climb up here on the chair, lad, and let me give you a shave and a trim. This ones on the house. There was no one else in the shop, so Billy sat down in the barber chair, propped one foot up on the footrest, and crossed the other ankle on his knee. Mr. Duncan unbuttoned Billys collar and massaged his shoulder muscles briefly. This is just the beginning, Mr. Duncan. Billy said. His confidence was infectious. With an exaggerated flourish, Ray pulled a steaming towel from the stainless steel bin in the wall behind the chair. So it is, Bill, so it is, Ray agreed. He draped the wet towel over Billys face, leaving only the tip of his nose exposed. He waited a few moments. Then he reached for his straight-edged razor and applied it to the leather strop on the side of the chair. Billy couldnt help it, but he felt a little like a princea man of consequenceseated in this nickel-plated, enamel-trimmed throne. He sat up a little straighter against the crimson, button-tufted leather seat and rested against the matching headrest on the back of the chair. He was being attended to by a viceroy or some other court official. After Ray honed the blade, he placed it on the marble counter top and added a little water to a large shaving mug with the letters RDE emblazoned onto it. He put the brush into it and whipped up lather in the mug, brushing it artistically onto Billys smooth face, now florid from the heat of the towels. Im going to get me a job barbering in Hutch. And once I get settled, Im going to marry Rosa Kelley, he said with the supreme confidence of youth.

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Ray accidentally brushed a dollop of shaving cream onto the end of Billys nose when he heard his young colleagues excited rush of words. Gwan to marry the Kelley girl, eh? Ray said, a note of skepticism creeping into his voice. Whats her parents say about that? Whats your folks say about that? Well, actually they dont know. Rosa knows, a course. Well, weve talked about it. Actually, we havent really talked about it just yet, not outright, but, well, we kinda both know. If you know what I mean. I mean, didnt you and Mrs. Duncan know? I mean, before. Well, didnt you? Billy almost pled for mercy. I guess we knew. Ray answered, stifling a smile that nonetheless Billy heard in his voice. Well thats how it is with me and Rosa. I guess her mother and daddy kinda expect it and all. At least by now. Ray skillfully scraped the stubble from Bills face with the straight edge of his razor while his young swain continued, importantly. We been talkin about it since she was still in school. I mean, we know we want to have lots of kids and its just been that since I wasnt settled and all. But now. I dont know if mamas going to go for the idea much. What with the Kelleys being Catholic and all. Your folks wont go against you marrying the Kelley girl, would they? As if he was the only one in the conversation who knew the true answer. No. Mama may have some trouble getting used to the idea, but shes the kind of woman that loves having grandchildren. You should see her with Baby Doris. Were going to give her a lot of grandbabies. Bill referred to the birth of his younger brothers first child. Doris was three months old and the center of attention whenever Delphos

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came around with his nineteen year old bride, Mary Alice, or Allie, as she was fondly called. Ray finished shaving Bill and took out the clippers to trim the short hairs above his collar. Im going to ask Rosa, tonight! He might have heard Ray Duncan sigh out loud, but for the fact that his own heart was racing like a team of runaway horses. He was consumed by love, by an unwavering belief in the possibility of a life with his beloved. The only sigh he might have heard at this moment would have been Rosa Kelleys.

His children called Jonas, Papa. When they spoke of him, they often said things like, Papas going to be angry, or Papa wont like this, or Dont let Papa find out about Like many pioneer men, Jonas had learned to be strong, never to show weakness. So by 1913, his children regarded him as a strong, determined, fearless bear of a man, a tribal elder at age 46 who should not be crossed, but who could be counted on. His sons learned that expressions of affection, or most any other emotion, might be interpreted as a sign of weakness. While it was fine to laugh and show good humor in a group of other men, or to impress the ladies in the group, any kind of sentimentality was to be avoided. Bill had this kind of relationship with his father. Jonas rarely showed emotion, unless he got angry. He showed his love for all his children in the same way. He loved them, but if they did something to anger him, they didnt have to wait very long

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to get a reaction. They learned to understand that silence meant approval. Jonas did not confront unless provoked, and then he could be fearsome in his angry rages. So Bill learned how to charm his father at an early age. Bill had learned to manipulate most situations to his favor; he became used to getting what he wanted. So he mustered his confidence and waited just outside the living room where Jonas sat in his chair reading the Langdon Leader. Papa? Jonas looked up. Bill waited on the other side of the archway that separated the living room from the dining room, holding his straw hat by its brim, looking like he had a question on his mind. Mmph? Jonas answered, looking over the top of the paper, and then folding it sensing a question, a confession or a talk at hand, but saying nothing more. He waited for Bill to make the first move. Its about Rosa. What about Rosa? Were going to get married. Bill tried not to make the statement sound like a request for approval, but Jonas understood it that way never-the-less. That right? Spect your mama will be interested in the news. She know yet? No. See thats the thing. I think Mamas going to be a little bit upset. Spect your right about that, except the little bit part. Shes probably going to take off like a mama bear out to save her young, you being one of them. Well, what do you think? About what? The religion part, or your mama? So far as I care, I dont think that theres much difference in the Catholics and the rest of us. We all pray to the same

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God when were in trouble. Ignore Him most the rest of the time. Jesus died to save us from ourselves, Catholic or not. What we believe doesnt make us wrong most of the time. What they believe dont make them wrong neither. We dont tell our secrets to the preacher in some little booth, but might be better off if we did. Bill was amazed at how much his father understood about the Catholic Church. Rosa had told him about going to confession, but hearing his father talk about it surprised him. But where your mama is concerned, I think its apt to be a problem. How come? Rosa being Catholic and all. Her folks likely will want you to be Catholic too. You thought about that? Not so much. I mean, I dont understand all the Catholic things about being Catholic and all. The Pope and everything. But theyre just good people, Mr. and Mrs. Kelley. Why Jims about my best friend. He dont seem much different from me. And there aint ever been anybody else besides Rosa. I just think, well, when I think of my life, and the future and having children and everything, I just dont think of it being with anyone but Rosa. Isnt that how it was with you and Mama? Isnt that how you feel about her? I reckon so, son, but your mama and me, we didnt have to solve the Protestant revolution over whether to get married or not. Question you better answer is what you believe? You going to be a member of the Catholic Church or the Christian Church? Well, Catholics are Christians. But Christians arent Catholics, Jonas responded.

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Frustrated, Bill chose not to debate. Im not looking to solve no religious questions. I just want to get married and raise a family of my own. Aah. Thats the problem. Your mamas going to want to know what church you and Rosa plan to raise the children in. And so are Frank and Margaret Kelley. And what does Rosa have to say about that? And what do you think about that? Nobody asked Delphos and Allie whether they were going to go to be Methodists when they got married. Its different with Catholics. You think you can talk Mama into approving us getting married? I dont think your mother will like the idea very much. Well, why is it up to her to say? Youre the one doing the asking. Bill pondered this for a moment. Then its more for me to say than for her to say, isnt it? Its for you to decide Bill, but I guess you know that there will be hell to pay either way. Bill sat silent for a while longer. I guess so. He wondered how his papas clarification of the situation could leave him more confused about what to do that he was before. He wanted to make everybody happy. It didnt look like there was going to be a way for anybody to be satisfied with the situation, no matter what he decided to do. So he decided to say nothing to his mother about his decision. That way he could get Rosas answer and make plans. Then when Mama found out she would just have to realize that this was his decision and go along with it. Bill decided that by delaying the confrontation with his mother, he would somehow improve his position in the argument.

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He didnt challenge the reason in this position. He liked the way it felt to take his idea for granted.

So Bill and Rosa had kept their relationship relatively discreet. Bill suspected correctly that his parents, especially his mother, might object if they imagined that his relationship with Rosa had become something more than a friendship or an infatuation. But the Kelleys had opened their home to Bill, welcoming him into their midst almost like a son or a potential son-in-law. So with his new haircut and shave, fresh from Mr. Duncans barbershop, Bill kept a date for supper with the Kelleys. Rosa was the second oldest of six children. She had two younger brothers, besides Jim: Frankie and Tommy. And her baby sister, Agnes. Margaret Kelley arranged the table so that Bill sat between Rosa and the oldest sister, Theresa. Agnes sat on the end, beside her father. The three boys sat on the other side of the table. Jim ignored Frankie and Tommy and talked baseball with his friend as if Rosa was in another room. The younger boys gawked at Bill and their sister on the other side and laughed with their squeaky, changing voices. It was his first meal in the Kelley home since returning from Barber College in Oklahoma City. Bill fidgeted and seemed distracted throughout the meal as if he had something else on his mind. Margaret and Frank sat at opposite ends of the table, exchanging looks with each other when they noticed Bills strange behavior.

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After supper, the young couple politely excused themselves for a stroll through the late summer grounds that surrounded the Kelley home. A gazebo with a bench overlooked the half-acre vegetable garden that by now had gone mostly fallow. The pair sat inside the gazebo and looked out over the farmland beyond. I got something to show you, Bill said, unable to conceal his pride of accomplishment. He withdrew his barber license from his wallet and showed it to Rosa. Oh Bill! This is wonderful. When will you start? Well, first I have to find me a place with an open chair, then I can set up shop, but itll take a while to draw a regular trade. But this is a beginning, isnt it? Sure is. And theres something else, Rosa. She waited with a curious look on her face. I want you to know that when I get things settled, and have a reliable business and all Bill dropped to one knee in front of his beloved and took her hand into his, looking into her face, almost as if he was in pain, anticipating her answer. that I want you to marry me. Hes asking! Rosa thought. Fireworks seemed to burst in her head. She had almost always known that she and Bill would marry someday. At first she couldnt answer him. He had caught her off balance. Thrown an unexpected fastball. Finally she said, Oh, Bill! Of course, Ill marry you! They sprang at each other clumsily and kissed, closed-lipped, but passionately. His voice softened. I just never want to be with anyone but you, Rosa. And youre the only man for me, Bill. Always have been. Always will. I love you.

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And I love you. They kissed again. Rosa relaxed into Bills embrace and she held him close, but their legs and knees stayed modestly anchored to the bench so that all the work was being done above their waists. Frank and Margaret Kelley watched the tableau unfold from the kitchen window inside the house. They took care not to let the young people in the gazebo see them, but Rosa and Bill only had eyes for each other. They would not have noticed a coliseum filled with onlookers. When Bill dropped to his knee, Frank and Margaret understood the gesture. They liked Bill and had expected this moment to arrive for some time. They also knew that this meant some tough decisions would have to be made in the near future. I guess this means were going to have us another member of the family, Frank said to his wife in a quiet voice. It looks that way doesnt it? I like that boy. Hes a good boy. But what will his folks say? I think Jonas is live and let live. Josie? Now theres a feisty one. She may not take to this. You think hell take instruction? Reckon so. Not sure where, nothing around here. Where you want them to get married? St. Teresas if theyll have us. What if they wont stand for that? Frank asked, referring to Bills family. Cross that bridge if we get to it. Hell have to agree to have their babies raised in the church at least.

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Thats where Miss Josie may put her foot down. Rosa will make that decision. Bill will go along with whatever she says. I suppose. Franks concession did not change the doubt in his mind. The Kelleys left the window when they saw Bill and Rosa leaving the gazebo. They didnt ask questions when the couple came back inside the house, but cast knowing glances back and forth to one another. Bill and Rosa did not make any announcements. Bill stayed for a piece of Margarets strawberry-rhubarb pie and said good night. Later in her bed, Rosa went to sleep imagining her wedding and the life that she would have with Bill. She slept soundly all night long, but when she awoke, she felt fearful, as if some bad dream had left her unsettled, though she could not remember having nightmares. She only remembered dreaming about working in a department store far away from home, waiting for her man, feeling some undisclosed fear that many problems waited for the couple that it would be hard for them to be together. She sat on the side of her bed and prayed the Rosary before she came downstairs that morning, awed with the responsibility of being married with a home to run, and babies with all sorts of needful things, as opposed to just being young and in love.

That Friday night the Methodists hosted their annual ice cream social. For the event, men of the church brought in a wagon full of ice blocks that they moved into large tubs and systematically chipped into pieces small enough to fill the hand crank ice cream makers. They set up around the perimeter of the yard, in the shade of the cottonwood

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trees that grew high above the roof of the small white church. All afternoon, the men took turns cranking the canisters in wooden buckets of salted ice. The salt made the ice melt faster and freeze the contents: homemade ice cream recipes that their womenfolk had made up that morning. The ladies remained at home baking pies and cakes to sell with the ice cream later in the evening. When the handles on the ice cream makers became too hard for even the strongest men to crank, they removed the canisters from the icy brine and removed the paddles from the insides. They packed the canisters into tubs of clean ice to await the start of the social. The little children playing in the churchyard stole chunks of ice from the tubs. Sucking on the ice chunks was a treat on a hot August afternoon, but some of the boys thought it more fun to chase the girls and put the ice down their backs. The girls screamed in mock anguish as the cold, melting ice landed inside their blouses at their waists, where it melted slowly, cold and wet, and soaked into their starched, white dresses. The social provided a chaperoned occasion for young people to meet and mix. So Bill and Vesta could not miss the event, nor could Tommy and Rosa. They met there at dusk and bought ice cream for a nickel a bowl. Tommy and Bill had pie for another nickel. Jim Kelley bought two pieces of Italian Crme cake with ice cream and shared them with Gertrude Applegate, who had become smitten by Rosas tall and handsome younger brother. At the end of the event, the youngsters coupled for the drive home. Bill and Rosa had much to talk about after his proposal the week before. Bill drove Blaze and the buckboard to the event. When they left, he gave Rosa his hand up into the wagon. She climbed aboard to sit at the front on a wooden bench with a short back, supported by two

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pairs of springs bolted into the floor boards. Together, Bill and Rosa rocked and bounced easily from this perch on the bumpy country lanes. As Bill turned the horse onto the road that led out of town and back towards the Kelley place, Rosa wanted to talk. Bill, Ive been thinking. Ive been thinking too, about you, every day. And Ive been thinking about you too and about us, and Bill, theres something we need to decide about. Whats that, Sugar? He spoke as if mesmerized by her presence. My mamas going to want to know where we would have our children baptized. Church I reckon, wouldnt you? But which one? Yours or mine? Bill did not immediately answer because he understood the importance of the question. Instinctively, he wanted to change the subject. He knew what his mother would say. He decided to pull off to the side of the road and let Blaze take a break to eat the clover that grew there. The horse stretched his long neck down to the ground and sniffed at the clover. He snorted and a prairie dog ran into its hole in the pasture a few feet away. Cant the kids decide for themselves? Bill wanted to defer this decision making as far into the future as possible. It was their decision, wasnt it? We would need to have a christening soon after theyre born. What for? Why to protect their little souls. What if something awful happened and we lost one? Babies often did not grow to adults or even school age and both Rosa and Bill knew this. Most families had an infant buried in a cemetery somewhere, some had lost

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more than one. But the tradition of the Christian church called for baptism by immersion when the congregant could elect it by decision. Protestants did not fear for the souls of innocent babies and children. Bill understood the differences in the traditions of each faith. He didnt see the point in christening, but he didnt figure it hurt anything, either. They can decide whichever church they want to belong to when they grew up, cant they? Bill knew that his question begged reason and that his children, no less than himself and his brothers and sister, would manifest the home in which they grew up. But a commitment could block the path he wanted to take with Rosa and so he instinctively avoided it. Rosa did not approve Bills alternative, but could not dispute it either. After all, wasnt that what they were doing right now? I suppose so, she answered. Then that solves that. Blaze looked over his shoulder at the couple, swished his tail around from one side of his hind end to the other, swatting flies. I dont know that your mama will go along with that. It may not be that simple for her. Shell go along, Bill assured, but stifled the doubt he felt saying so. No Catholic church stood within an easy drive. Bill knew the Kelleys rarely left home to go to mass or confession except on high holidays, so he decided to dismiss his concerns. He had managed other situations that seemed harder than this and gotten his way. Why should this be any different? You dont think shell mind us raising them in the church? Rosa asked. Bill took her meaning and knew that the Langdon Christian Church was not the church. Youd take instruction? she asked.

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Instruction? Wed need to go to classes with Father Gawain. To learn what? The catechism. What we believe and such. So youd be a better father to our children and understand the liturgy. Hmm. Bill thought about learning Catholicism. He had not learned that much about Protestantism and felt little motivation to learn something more about something else. So he did not really feel the need, but an instinctive curiosity seemed to say, why not? and he sensed that Rosa expected him to concede. So he asked, Youd want me to? I guess it would be expected. Would you mind? Bill did not ask if it would be a requirement. Expected carried enough weight. You know I would do anything to make you happy, Rosa. Just this one little thing? And anything else. He leaned over and kissed her. She kissed him back and for a while they said nothing, but held each other in a series of passionate embraces. The sun dropped below the horizon and filled the sky with purple, blue and pink remnants that reflected off the clouds overhead. Blaze shifted from one foot to another. The clover gone now, he became impatient for the bucket of oats he expected to receive after Bill unhitched him from the wagon. The couple sensed the horses impatience and realized that things between them might get out of hand if they did not make their way home pretty soon. Neither of them longed for questions from their parents, should their returns be too late. Bill picked up the reins and clucked for Blaze to head back onto the lane. An

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owl formed a black silhouette soaring overhead, looking for varmints in the pasture grass beyond the barbed wire fence that bordered each side of the road. Rosa could not get the feelings of anxiety to relax in her stomach. This engagement seemed all too easy, too wonderful to imagine, too good to be true. Bill looked out ahead of the horse, into the darkening skies without apparent concern. He just doesnt understand, Rosa thought, but then she could not decide exactly what he didnt understand, or what else she needed to make him understand. They would talk again and he would finally see. Sooner or later, he would understand.

In 1913 Vesta left to attend county high school in Nickerson. The first Holmes of her generation or any other to go to high school, she was a very bright student who loved to read and wrote beautifully. She had advantages her papa never saw fitting for his sons. She read music and played piano. Josie planned to give the little boys piano lessons over her husbands objections, but they agreed that Vesta should be prepared to be a lady. Josie jealously guarded the kitchen work. Vesta tatted lace doilies for the sofa and chairs in the parlor. At fifteen, Vesta was a strikingly beautiful, if wispy girl. She and Bill had the same fine features and bone structure. But his eyes shone black in the parlor or the noonday sun and his hair glowed dark auburn. Her eyes were blue-gray and her light brown hair was fine and silky. It could not hold curls and combs could not hold it. So as a girl, her mother tied her hair back in braids. Fine loose hairs framed her face and neck.

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She was slight of build, but strong and quick on her feet. Her face was tanned and freckled in the summer, much to Josies chagrin. She wore pants her brothers had outgrown. She could mount a horse bareback. She rode Blaze astraddle, holding onto his mane as they galloped across the pasture, scaring up jackrabbits for the dogs to chase. She Vesta, Age 15 was her papas pet, and for her mama

she was the hope for all the things that Josie would never see nor do. Though Nickerson lay only twenty miles or so to the northeast of Langdon, a daily commute was inconceivable. So Jonas and Josie arranged room and board for Vesta so that she could attend classes. The train connected Nickerson and Hutchinson, Hutchinson and Langdon, so she could easily come home most weekends or on special holidayswhen there was money for the ticket, that is. Vesta loved school and her teachers admired the quality of her work. She made friends easily and found that boyfriends were especially easy to find ... and lose. Easygoing and friendly, she kept many friends of both sexes, but did not at first settle into the arms of a steady fellow.

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January 12, 1914 On this Tuesday morning, after the boys left for school Josie washed the breakfast dishes and cleaned up the kitchen before she sat for a moment to gather her thoughts for what remained of the week. She took a half empty cup of cold coffee and the last two biscuits, spread soft butter from the crockery pot she kept on the kitchen table, then covered it with an old white saucer to keep the flies out. Criss-cross lines of yellowbrown crazing netted the saucer after so many years of use. Using an old pencil with a dull point, she started a list on a piece of tablet paper. Today she would hitch up Old Blaze to the buggy and drive him into town for a bit of shopping. She checked the sugar bowl that she kept on the shelf over the table and used her thumb and forefinger to pick out several dull coins, squeezing them into the palm of her hand, until she seemed satisfied with the amount. Vesta had nearly finished sewing a pretty green dress over Christmas break and had taken the pattern and remaining pieces back to school with her. Only the collar and cuffs had not been sewn in, for lack of floss to complete the embroidered pattern on each, else the project would be completed. Josie had promised Vesta that she would send the floss up first chance after she got to town to pick it up, but her daughter had been back in school now for a week, so now the matter had taken on urgency in Josies mind. After she put combs into her hair to manage the fly-aways, she took a good-sized flour sack that she had converted to a shopping bag with loop handles and a drawstring, and headed out to the barn to find the horse. Thankfully, the boys had hitched Blaze to the wagon and tied him to the hitching post outside the barn. She caught her thumbnail as she unknotted the worn leather reins and winced at the unexpected pain, uttering an oath of her own invention. Piss pee-

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daddle, she cursed and brought her thumb to her mouth, tasting the sweet saltiness of her own blood as she sucked on the wound and caught the pungent smell of the leather straps in her hand. Blaze observed all this without comment and showed no urgency about starting the trek. Josie threw the reins over the horses head and walked around his side to the front of the buggy. She cast her bag onto the seat just above her eye level. Grabbing onto the edge of the buggy, she raised her right foot onto the forged metal step bolted onto the bottom and pulled herself onto the buckboard. Blaze turned to observe her progress and snorted. Josie settled onto the middle of the springboard bench and wrapped the end of the reins around her left hand, keeping her back straight as a rod and her right hand free for steering and control of the animal. Hee-yaw, Blaze, she ordered and the horse stepped out. Twenty minutes later she was off the buckboard and looping the reins over the rail at the side of the general store in Langdon. She made her way up and down the aisles, systematically gathering her goods and had found everything but the floss when a familiar voice distracted her from her efforts to match the sage green cuffs to the available color choices. When she looked up, she saw Rosa Kelley, paying for her purchases at the cashiers stand. Oh, no, Mr. McAtee, I finished school last spring. Ive been working in Hutchinson since last fall. She laughed in a way that showed how happy she was with her life. Josie decided to enter the conversation. My goodness Rose Mary, I didnt expect to see you here this morning. Josie spoke with a smile, but an uncommon formality in her tone, looking over the tops of her spectacles into Rosas bright blue eyes.

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Why good morning, Mrs. Holmes, its so good to see you this morning. Ive been back helping Daddy. Teresa and Mother are both getting over a terrible case of the grippe. Daddys driving me back to Hutchinson after we have dinner. Such a nice girl, that Rosa, Josie thought, Catholic, too bad. I hadnt heard about your mother and sister. Are they doing better now? Oh, yes, much so. But still very weak. The two of them and the house and meals are quite a load for Daddy, even with the boys helping out with the chores. I was asking after you when I saw Bill this weekend. Josies ears perked up. I didnt know Bill had seen you of late. Without thinking, Josie began laying out her purchases for Mr. McAtee to write up. Oh, yes. Hes such a dear. Driving me down last weekend after work on Friday. I dont know what Id do without him. Josie bristled, but maintained her stance. Now she understood why Bill had missed supper last Friday. Do you see him often, dear? Josie asked. Not as often as wed like, but he gets up sometime most weekends, unless Im going to be home. I see. Josie managed to continue smiling, but realized that the puppy love between her son and this Catholic girl had not abated as she imagined it had after she found out that Rosa was off to school. Bill had been away to school in Oklahoma since then and she had heard no talk of Rosa Kelley at home. Wouldnt one of her friends have said something? This new understanding concerned her. Well, it was awfully nice seeing you this morning, Mrs. Holmes. Ive got to get on now, Daddyll be waiting.

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So good to see you too, dear. Josie waited as Mr. McAtee finished adding up her purchases and counted out a few coins to pay. She was down the road and half-way home before she realized that she had not found the floss she had come for. Pisspeedaddle, she thought to herself, Wasnt nothing matched just right anyhow. Josie stewed all afternoon as she stayed busy with household chores, puckering her lips as if to kiss something unseen whenever she thought about her first-born son taking up with the Catholic girl. What her morning meeting with Rosa hadnt done, her imagination had completed by the time Jonas and the boys sat for supper. It worried her such that after supper when the boys were in bed she decided to tell Jonas about her day. Ran into Rosa Kelley at McAtees this morning. Mmm-hmm, Jonas acknowledged, without looking up from the Langdon Leader. Says she and Bill came down from Hutchinson Friday, last. Something about Margaret and Teresa getting over some case of the flu, or something. Mmm? He opened a new page of the newspaper, browsing the news more than he listened to his wife. Sounds like she and Bill are keeping company regular these days. Did you know that? Josie leaned forward in her chair. Cant say as I did. Shes always been a good girl. Did she say how shes doing at school? Shes done with school. Didnt talk about that. Now Daddy, using the pet name she had given her husband, Bills ripe to marry now, whats he keeping company

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with a Catholic girl for? Jonas relaxed his arms, letting the paper crumple into his lap, wondering how much to say about what he knew. Imagine hes more interested in her pretty red hair and those blue eyes than which church she goes to, he replied. But what if they end up Josie stopped, not sure what she feared most. She knew that not all the young people waited until their wedding night. What if they get serious? Imagine it already is serious. We aint ever known Bill to show much interest in anybody else. Youll not stand for this. You think I can stop him? You think I cant? Have you considered what happens if you cant? Have you considered what happens if we dont? Josie Dont Josie me, now. A parents got a right and a privilege to say something about their childrens getting married. Who said anything about them getting married? Jonas wondered how much more she already knew. Im not saying they are, but what if they did? What would become of our grandchildren? You want them murdering us for the Pope? Thats ridiculous.

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You turning a blind is whats ridiculous, her voice had gotten louder and shriller. Just bide your time. Whats meant to be will be. He stopped and folded the paper twice before looking up at his wife, then looked at her for a long moment without speaking. I think its time for bed, Jonas said, dismissing her and her fears and placing the paper on the lamp table beside his chair. He leaned over and blew out the flame, signaling an end to their conversation. Mark my words, Jonas, I intend to do whatever I have to do to put an end to this matter. He stood. She rose from her chair looking up into his face. Youd better be careful or you may get what you wish for. Now thats enough, he said, pulling her towards himself. Lets not have anymore of this talk at bedtime. Later, when the lights were out and Jonas deep rhythmic breathing from the other side of the bed did nothing to calm her nerves or put her to sleep, Josie lay wide-eyed on the mattress worrying about her son and the souls of her unborn grandchildren. When she could not sleep she decided to get up and read scripture from the Bible, hoping to find sleep. Sitting at her secretary she decided to write to Vesta in Nickerson instead, tell her to find her floss up there for her failure to do so in Langdon. They hadnt heard the last from her on the matter, she thought, looking at Bills framed photograph on the top of the secretary. She drew her ink pen and began to write. Not by any means.

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Tommy Smith met Vesta in Latin class. He was an average-looking boy whose family worked a farm situated between the towns of Arlington and Abbyville, some 15 miles northeast of Langdon, and much closer to Nickerson. He lived with his aunt and uncle, who operated the train station in Nickerson. He noticed Vesta on the very first day of classes. Jonas and Josie arranged for Vesta to take a room in the home of a Mrs. Jarrett in Nickerson. Mrs. Jarrett was a short, stout, matronly woman, not much older than Josie. She and Josie had known of each other for some time, owing to their work for the Reno County Christian Womens Society, in which both had served with honor for several years. Mary Jarrett was widowed; her husbands life insurance had made it possible for her to keep their large family home. Since the Jarrett children had married and left the family nest, she let the extra bedrooms to others for an income. Vesta walked to school daily, and on Sunday morning she accompanied Mrs. Jarrett to the Methodist Church, two blocks away. Vesta felt quite grown up, living more or less on her own, even though under the supervision of this kindly older woman who treated her almost as if she were her own daughter. They filled the roles of mother and daughter for each other, but because they were not, they developed a close friendship that would last for many years to come. They became girl friends. Vesta received two or three letters each week from home. The letters were newsy and brief, and usually written to attend to some business, as this one received during her sophomore year. Langdon, Kansas Tues Jan 12, 1914 Dear Vesta Just a few lines in regard to your collar & cuffs. There was not quite enough of floss, am

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sending them and I think you can get Mrs. Jarrett to finish them for you. I dont think she will charge you much and then you will have them. Mrs. Cassil said you would haft to match your sash as near to that trimming as you could. You may haft to wait till you get to Hutch. We tried to match the floss down here and bright green was the nearest we could get. I washed today after I got Winifreds card that she would not be here so am very tired and taking cold-- but will take a capsule of quinine before I go to bed Ferrell and I devoured two big red apples this afternoon. Papa set a 7 lb. fish down for supper. I just skinned enough for supper and he finished the job. It was awfully good. You had better run over for breakfast. Mary Alice is sick-- sore throat and Grip. I guess they were going to bring Doris into Cassils tonight. Charley Railsback came by a while ago, he and Will Cranston have fun helping Brother Sapp. They took his goods to the Depot. Mr. & Mrs. Sapp are at Moodies tonight. They dont leave till Friday. Athertons are back now. I got 4 nice birthday cards, I feel quite old. 45, do you suppose I will ever see 50? We got Fays letter last night. I hope he dont get exposed to the scarlet fever. Letters like this left Vesta feeling lonely, especially in January. So as the fierce Kansas winter gave way to spring, she began to draw closer to others in school. She noticed that Tommy Smith was more attentive to her than to all the other girls in school. He surprised her in the Nickerson City Library one Friday afternoon as she was reading the poetry of Walt Whitman. Its very beautiful, isnt it? He whispered. Vesta jumped. She had not heard him approach and she had been reading Whitmans poetry in secret because it was considered too mature for young eyes. Have you read any of Whitmans poems? she asked.

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I have his Leaves of Grass at home. Vesta caught her breath. She only knew of that book because she had heard the women of the Langdon Christian Womens Society condemn it at a meeting back home. They had insisted that it be taken off the shelf at the Langdon library two years before. She did not know or understand what the fuss was all about, but their condemnation of the book increased its appeal in her eyes. I can bring it for you to see, Tommy ventured. From then on, he and Vesta met often at the library to study. As he walked with her from school to the library and from there to Mrs. Jarretts house, their friendship grew and deepened beyond what either one had anticipated. Tommy and Vesta both wrote poetry. She had read all of the Bronte books over summer vacations before starting high school. She kept a copy of Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlett Letter secreted among her personal clothing, where no prying eyes would think to look. She imagined that she was Pearl, since her family actually descended from someone named Dinsmore. She fantasized that her family had migrated from a New England hamlet, which they had left in shame, to build a new life in the wilderness of the West. She knew none of this was true, except for her Granny Liza being named Dinsmore, but it was so much more interesting than the story of sod houses and covered wagons that the old folks talked about on Sunday afternoons. Vesta invited her friends to sign her autograph book on Valentines Day, 1915. Few could afford the colorful die-cut Valentines Day cards that were just becoming popular. Some of the entries were clever, some not so. Friend Vesta Holmes: In the house of warm affection, In the house of social glee,

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While of others you are thinking, Will you think sometimes of me? Your friend, Carrie L. Carmichael Sugar is sweet and Coffee is black But you are the Sweetest girl I Ever saw Willie Leinweber Cedar is green and So is pine I would give this world if You were mine. T.A.S. She wrote these lines in the centerfold of her little autograph book. Hearts Desire. I send a sign of love, the morning sends A rosy cloud, his mounted messenger And the glad earth in ecstasy attends, Sure now her love himself will Come to her. Loved one, I adore thee! My heart I lay before thee. Take it, --it is thine For thee, my soul is yearning. To thee, my hopes are turning Say wilt thou be mine? I greet thee, dear, I greet thee. The bright spring days are near, With flowerets sweet my love I greet-Saint Valentines Day is here! When wind and storm is past and gone, May a gentle calm succeed. I too soon have a troubled mind Sleep is the friend we need With these few lines you may a question find

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My question is if you find out, Love is trouble without a double. And near the back of the book, where no one but Vesta would ever look, Tommy wrote these prophetic words: When I my love from you must part Shall have a sting in each ones heart I to some foreign land must go Sleep in death as others do All this I have and more to say Night is coming and I must away With meditation read these lines. You will in this a secret find. When on this page your eyes you cast Remember when you saw me last Remember too, I love you well. Remember these sad words, Farewell. Forty years later, alone in her parlor on a gray Sunday afternoon in January, Vesta held her autograph book in her lap and read Tommys poem again. Looking for the green Depression glass sherbets, she had found the book in a box of old keepsakes at the back of the top shelf in the dining room cabinet, lodged behind the good china. Who knew how many years it had been there? Nickerson High School seemed long ago and far away from her in 1955. She wondered how her life might have been different if she had married her high school sweetheart. A postcard with Tommys picture on the front, him in his uniform, set for war, fell out of the back of the autograph book. She studied his face for a long while, smiled at the high topped black boots and trousers that flounced above his knees, lost in her memories. With a dull pencil, she wrote on the blank backside of the picture postcard, Tommy Smith, Vestas friend. An unfamiliar tear slipped from her eye and she placed the postcard back into the autograph book, returning

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it to the memory box where she had kept it for so long, and stood. She walked across her living room and sat on the piano stool, thinking to practice the offertory medley she had planned for next weeks services.

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Chapter Two The Contract

Saturday, February 21, 1914 Bill came bounding up the stairs to Vestas bedroom. Since she was the only girl in the family, and since at sixteen, she had become a young woman, she had been given the nursery for her own room. It was hers even though she was away at school most of the time. Barely eight by ten feet, the room had been occupied for as long as she could remember by babies. Her earliest memories were of Speck lying in the tiny childs bed there. And she could very well remember the fuss Badger put up when he had to move in with Speck so she could have what he had only known as his room. But since Delphos officially left home following his marriage year before last, the boys shared a bedroom with their brother Fay. Now he had started to high school

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too. This meant that her youngest brothers could share the larger bedroom mostly to themselves and Vesta could enjoy the complete privacy of her little cell. She went there to write in her diary and study her schoolwork. And the boys returned to the little room, too, one by one, to tell her their dreams and fears, their animosities and their secrets. She became their confessor, an exalted position she would always retain. Today, Vesta heard the loud clomping of someone taking stairs two at a time and then Bill burst unannounced into her room, fresh off the train from Hutchinson. Look! Look! Shouldnt you at least knock, Billy? Vesta chided him. She couldnt have missed his coming had her room been out in the barn. Bill was twenty-four years old, but looked more boyish than some other young men his age. He was by far the best looking of the Holmes boys, a fact that had not escaped him. At 510 he was shorter than his younger brother Delphos, but as tall as his father, and a lean, flat-bellied stripling with chestnut hair and black eyes, sharp like an eagle. His features were chiseled and perfect. He was a boy that the girls in towns all over the countryside swooned for, even if they knew that he was secretly engaged to a Catholic girl from Langdon. A fiercely competitive athlete, especially in baseball, he threw himself into each game without reservation. He had played baseball for almost as long as he could remember. And he had played on every sandlot in three counties for the last seven summers: Friday and Saturday night games, Sunday afternoon games they were all foils for his passion. Often these games were followed by drinking and women and spittin tobacco, but Bill avoided those binges out of deference to Rosa. He had no

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enemies. Once an older challenger started a fight in the middle of a street in South Hutchinson. Bill whipped him in front of a saloon, and then took the man back inside and bought him a beer. The man, Charlie Hopkins, became his lifelong friend. Apart from Rosa Kelley and his fledgling career as a barber, baseball had become the occupying force in his life. And it was baseball that brought him bouncing into his sisters room on this particular Saturday. Bill handed Vesta an impressive brown, linen paper envelope, unsealed. She opened the envelope and took out a long, important looking document printed on matching paper.

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The contract promised to pay him $70 per month during the championship season (unless released before its termination in accordance with the provisions of this contract), with an option for the 1915 season. He beamed. Im playing ball for Salt City, Sis! Seventy Dollars a Month, Vesta gasped, whispering in awe. Why, Bill, youll be rich! It was true. In only three months he would earn nearly as much as another man might make in an entire year. And on top of his baseball salary, he could continue barbering when he was not playing. That is, unless a major league team took notice and he got an offer to go to Kansas City or possibly St. Louis. Who could know what the future held? Another local boy, Smokey Joe Wood, had just been written up in the Hutchinson paper after signing a contract with the Boston Red Sox that would pay him $7,500 a year! Wait till I tell Rosa! Were finally gonna have enough money to settle down. Vesta saw the twinkle in his eyes, but cautioned. SSHHhh! Mama will hear you. No one had yet dared confront Josie with the news that Bill intended to marry Rosa, though it had become accpeted knowledge to most of the gentry around Langdon. Nevertheless, Josie remained steadfast that no son of hers would ever marry a Papist.

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Oh dont worry about it, Sis, Mama will come around. Vesta gave her brother a look that conveyed her doubts, but she did not pursue an argument. The eldest and their mothers favorite son, he could charm the oil out of a snake. If any of her brothers could get his way with Mama, Vesta thought, it would be Bill. Even the arrival of her first grandchild from Delphos the year before had not dimmed Josies conviction that her Billy would be the most successful of her five sons. But Vesta doubted that even her brother charm could overturn Josies belief that the Catholic Church was the enemy of the righteous and itself an institution as much to be feared as disdained. We need to leave here early tonight, Bill confided to his sister. He and Vesta had planned to attend the box-dinner social at the Jordan Springs School to raise money for supplies needed for the rest of the school year. Box dinners served the community well. Not only would the event raise money for a worthy cause, it provided a socially acceptable means to assist cupid in the mixing of young gentlemen and ladies. All the eligible young people would come, carefully chaperoned during the dance, orchestra music supplied by the local fiddle band. Hearts might be broken there and others would soar with undisguised joy. But among the worst kept secrets in history were the

identities of the young craftswomen, whose talent aspired to catch a potential suitor. It was a night not to be missed. Say, you think Tommy will be there tonight? Well I reckon hed be a fool to miss it. Though he was looking forward to buying Rosas box supper, he had a brotherly chore to accomplish first. If Tommy Smith came, Bill would sneak him a line on which of the box dinners Vesta had

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prepared for her beau. And Bill planned to arrange for Tommy to leave with Vesta so that he could then see Rosa home after the dance. The previous week Vesta went with Tommy to the Valentines Day party at the county high school. They were both freshmen. Vesta looked forward to finishing high school and perhaps even going to college afterwards. Tommy had no such plans. After high school, whether he graduated or not, he would take over the family farm. Vesta couldnt imagine becoming the wife of a farmer, so she filled Tommys head with thoughts of going to college, which his family would probably never allow. Her own parents had ambitions for her and insisted that she complete her education. An independent, educated woman, Josie believed, would attract a more successful husband. Despite her delicate features and wispy blond hair that shone the color of a deers back in morning sun, Vesta never relied on her physical attributes to get ahead. She always excelled in her studies and had perfect attendance certificates from her years at Jordan Springs. She studied her schoolwork and the family Bible every day and
Vesta, Age 16

wrote letters to her uncles, George and John Holmes, whom she had never met as they lived back in Indiana. Tommy was her first sweetheart. They had exchanged notes throughout the school year and talked to each other on many walks home after school. Her parents did

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not allow her to court with boys because they wanted her to go to school and amount to something. But Vesta knew that she was only a year younger than her mother when Josie had married her father.

Bills plans went as scheduled that night at the Jordan Springs party. He found Tommy Smith early in the evening and pointed out Vestas box dinner to him. He suggested that she should have a proper escort home later. Tommy was happy to help out. Rosa had come with her brother Jim. Jim gave Bill the lowdown on Rosas box and promised to find his own way home so that Bill could take Rosa home, the long way. With his good fortune, Bill had bought a Model T Ford. From the time he saw the first advertisement when he was eighteen years old, he could not ever
1908 Model T

remember wanting a thing more. Twenty horse power. Five passengers sailing through the air with the top down at breakneck speeds approaching fifty miles per hour! A paradigm of technology in streamlined beauty. With the top up, its profile spoke of dignity, modern elegance. But most of all, the aura of automobile ownership spoke of freedom. Freedom of comings and goings. Leaving later and arriving sooner. With $300 scrimped and saved from days of work and a small loan from the Langdon State Bank, he had acquired one of the original models. Five

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years old, but the bank Presidents own automobile, which he sold when he saw the 1913 sedan, with an enclosed cab painted light brown, the color of sand. Bills car was Brunswick black, oxidized to a dull charcoal patina, with an intact top. It operated with reasonably good reliability, but Bill had learned to repair almost anything that could go wrong with it.

The Box Dinner I. D. McClellan stood as auctioneer and called the raucous crowd of young people to order beginning the main event of the night by selling the box dinners to the highest bidders. I. D. had a big belly, a hearty laugh and a great stage presence, but he was no auctioneer. He was a local farmer who was not afraid to stand before his neighbors and risk looking silly. No one but his mother and a few close friends and family members knew that I. D. stood for Ian David. Everyone who knew I. D. just called him by his initials, pronouncing his name, Idee, the way some might have talked about good idees, or that drinking liquor at a social event like this would be a bad idee. The idea of the box dinner was to raise money for the Jordan Springs School. Each box or basket came carefully wrapped and decorated with all the makings of dinner for two inside, but with no clue of its origin. Rules prohibited anyone from divulging the identity of the girl whose dinner was up for bids, but following the rules would have cut half the fun. So the young, single men of the group bid on the boxes and the right to eat dinner with its maker. Woe to the squire who failed to get a high bid, for he would eat alone, or perhaps not at all. Pretty and popular girls could count on eating dinner with the highest bidder regardless of the contents of their boxes, and girls with well known talents for cooking and baking could count on their meals getting a good bid too. But the most fun was had at the expense of the young man who knew

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whose basket he would buy and so did everyone else. Rivals ran up the bid so that a fellow who was spoken for by one of the girls in the crowd would pay a dear price to have dinner with his sweetheart. The men engaged in as much craft as possible to throw off the suspicions of the other bidders. Bill Holmes and Tommy Smith were the two foils for the rest of the room at this event. Vestas box dinner came to the podium midway through the auction and Tommy Smith knew from the hint Bill had given him earlier that she had fried chicken and all the trimmings with her mothers biscuits and homemade sand plum jam wrapped in a blue and white checked gingham tablecloth. He had not risked bidding until it was going once. But before I.D. could call going twice, Tommy upped the bid a nickel and the chicken was out of the coop, so to speak. This unleashed two more quick bids from Tommys rivals and the bid stood at half a dollar. The same meal would have cost half as much at the caf in Langdon, but undaunted, Tommy upped the bid to a dollar to throw off the other bidders. His strategy worked and Vesta proudly walked forward to award her dinner to her wily bidder and not too secret boyfriend. The auctions continued and Bill, thinking to throw off the competition, offered early bids on two of the boxes, but dropped out of the bidding before he risked buying someone elses meal. Finally, Rosas box came to the podium, the last box on the docket, so Bill had his work cut out for him. Several of his friends from the community had not won a meal yet, so there would have been competition even if everyone had not known that Bill would be bidding on Rosas box dinner. What they didnt count on was the signed baseball contract in his hip pocket. Bill felt pretty flush this evening, so he let the others run up the bidding until it looked like it was going once, going twice and then Bill offered two dollars for Rosas meal. A gasp went through the

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crowd, and nobody expected another bid, but from the back corner, Jim Kelley offered three. The room grew quiet and Bill craned his neck to see where the bid had come from, offering a confused grin to his bud who offered a casual salute and flashed a toothy grin back at him. Bill offered three-fifty. Jim offered four. Bills face grew red. This did not look like so much fun anymore, but he reached into his pocket and found the five dollar gold piece he carried with him for good luck and flipped it in the air and hollered, Ive got five, but if Jimmie can call heads or tails and get it right, he can win the auction! Jim called, Tails! Bill caught the spinning coin and slapped it on the back of his hand, revealing it to Tommy and Vesta who stood beside him. Tommy called Heads it is! Jim countered, Its not cheap to have supper with my sister, and laughed with everyone in the room. Rosa awarded Bill his prize and everyone began unpacking their meals. Bill had brought two extra bricks for warmth after the box social was over. The revelers lined up bricks on the floor below the warm belly of the coal stove in the middle of the oneroom schoolhouse. When they left, they would take their hot bricks, wrap them in blankets and put them on the floorboards to keep their feet warm on this cold winter night. Bill and Rosa left the party late enough not to arouse the suspicions of the chaperones and yet early enough to have time to themselves and still make it home on time, so as not to arouse the suspicions of Rosas parents. Bill loaded the bricks onto the middle of the floor in the front seat, switched on the magneto and then went up front to crank the engine. It turned over hard and started slowly, then roared to the occasion. The young people were covered from head to foot in winter clothing so they did not notice the twenty-degree weather as much as they noticed each other.

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Halfway to the Kelley place, Bill pulled off to the side of the lane he had been following and killed the engine. The sudden silence awed them both. There is something I have to tell you, Rosa. What is it, Bill? Rosa showed her concern, sensing the importance of an unforeseen announcement. Ive been given a contract to play baseball for the Salt Packers, he said beaming in the moonlight. Oh Bill! Through the layers of clothing and sleeves, corset, and wraps and her coat, she put her arms around his shoulders and gave him a bear hug. Seventy dollars a month, he bragged. Bill, thats a fortune to play baseball. Id a done it for free. But they want to pay me! This is wonderful, Bill. Im going to save it all so we can get a place in Hutch next year. We can get a place . . . or that is, I can get a place and we can, er, I can start to settle down. Rosa demurely looked away, stilled by the enormity of what he was saying. Somewhere off in the distance she heard the plaintive cry of an owl. She knew what Bill meant, but she understood that he couldnt say so until his plans were all in place. Rosa, tell me that youll wait for me. Youll see what I can do. Rosa knew that Bill could have taken his pick of every eligible girl in the county. That he wanted to marry her was a breathtaking dream come true for her. She felt light-headed at the prospect of being Mrs. William Holmes, the eldest son of their best neighbors, family friends. It was a romance she could hardly imagine.

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You know Ill wait for you. They were both quiet for a moment and looked tenderly into one anothers eyes. Then Bill leaned towards her and she towards him. Their lips found each others and they sealed their vow with a delicate kiss. Their gloved and mittened hands reached out and they grasped each other passionately, holding on to each other long after their lips had parted, saying nothing more as minutes passed until they knew it was time for them to complete their ride home.

So Bills courtship with Rosa Kelley continued despite his mothers stern disapproval. They kept company together at all the social events that filled the Langdon community calendar. With everyones knowledge, if not tacit approval, the lovers would arrive separately and leave together. In the spring of 1914, Bill began playing shortstop for the Salt Packers. Rosa and her brother Jim went to almost all the baseball games he played. Rosa went home with Jim or with Bill, depending on when and where the game was played. Vesta was clearly smitten as well with Tommy Smith. During the school year they had no difficulties keeping chaste company in the library, or the occasional soda parlor. During the summer months, when Bill took Vesta to a dance or a covered dish dinner, she would leave for home with Tommy. She was flattered and proud to have a beau and someone to go with like her other girl friends. Most of the girls her age had already started hope chests, or hopeless chests as Vesta called them, for they were looking to a time in the near future when they would settle down with a good, hard-working man and raise children. But Vesta, largely due to her

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parents ambitions for her, looked to the future as a modern woman. She would teach school for a few years and save her money, and eventually settle down with a successful, older man. Perhaps a doctor or lawyer in a city somewhere far away, like Topeka or Wichita or at least, Hutchinson. So went the dreams of her parents, especially her mother. Tommys family had different aspirations. They had worked hard to acquire land in the rich farming belt where they lived. As their only son (and like other members of the Arlington Presbyterian Church), his future was predestined. He would continue his education until it became inconvenient for him to be away from the demands of the wheat farm and cattle operation. Then he would settle into the family business, and take himself a wife who would bear children and manage the domestic affairs of the family. At age 18, he was the first member of his family to earn an eighth grade diploma, a terminal degree of education for most young people in those days. So he was prepared to enter life as an adult. These ambitions did not square with Vestas, nor especially with those of her father. As the only daughter, Vesta was her fathers favorite. He became the man all others would have to measure up against. But for a while, at first, anyway, her affair of the heart with Tommy seemed harmless enough to all concerned, and so no intervention was called for. The children seemed to be happy, and thus the romance continued and grew through the summer of 1914.

The Hutchinson Salt Packers always struggled to make ends meet, and despite a good season in 1914, by fall, they had fallen short on reserves. Bill gave the crowds many a thrill, but he failed to attract the attention of the scouts who had drafted Joe Wood a few years before.

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When it came time to renegotiate contracts, all the boys on the team were disappointed to hear that the owner, J. W. Hoskinson, planned to pull out of Hutchinson. No one received an offer for the 1915 season. And no new impresario stepped forward to take his place for the next season. Undaunted, having saved almost all the money hed received for the 1914 season, Bill moved on. He had heard that the Sherow family wanted out of the Langdon Produce, a seasonal business that sold produce, eggs, and dairy products from local farmers. Bill envisioned a place for his barber chair and imagined that he would finally be established so that he and Rosa could marry. When he told Rosa about his plans, she squealed with delight, kissed his face and hugged his neck. She began making plans, and together they set a date for the following spring, subject to Bill closing on his business arrangements, and of course, to parental approval. Negotiations with Mr. Sherow proved almost immediately successful. He owned the building and only wanted a tenant who would pay rent on time. The produce business had not made much money under Sherows management, but to attract new customers, Bill expected to capitalize on his own short-lived fame as a baseball star in the metropolis of Hutchinson. And opening his own barbershop would bring added foot traffic to the business all year round. Bill took the money he had saved playing ball and moved his well-used, ancient barber chair into the building at the end of 1914. Rosa and Bill brought up the idea of marriage to Frank and Margaret Kelley in January, over a dinner of fried chicken, riced potatoes and white cream gravy with corn canned from last years harvest. Frank had expected this moment for years. He sensed the bond of friendship and romance that had evolved between his daughter and this fine, hard-working young man. But he

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and Margaret had always taken for granted that their grandchildren would be raised in the Catholic Church. They had hoped that Bill would choose to convert. With his plans moving at such a rapid pace, Bill decided the time had come to announce to his parents about his and Rosas plans for marriage. He could not have been more wrong about his mothers reaction. He chose tell them over one of Josies best suppers, roast chicken with new potatoes, boiled and buttered, and of course, her flaky biscuits. The table consisted of Jonas and Josie, Bill, Speck and Badger. Skip rested under the table, waiting for crumbs. The boys were fidgeting in anticipation of a slice of apple pie after Josie finished clearing the dishes. Bill chose the moment just before she started clearing the dishes to share his news. You what?! Josie gasped as if someone had plunged a knife into her heart. We want to be married in May, Mama. Speck and Badger looked at each other uneasily, both wondering if they were going to get pie. In what church? Josie never imagined that anyone from the Kelley family would convert to be a Protestant, but the idea of her son being married in a Catholic Mass was unspeakable. An anathema of the spirit. Jonas looked at his two youngest sons and told them it was time to go check their homework for school the next day, and the boys looked at each other wondering which was worse, no pie, not getting to watch the fight, or having to go check their homework. Skip followed them up the stairs without being called, his ears relaxed, tail hung low. Well, I dont guess weve talked too much about that, Bill answered his mother, But I imagine that wed get married in her church. Dont you usually get married in the brides church? Unless you get married at home? Bill feigned naivet, but he was not disingenuous. Few couples got married in church. Most married in intimate gatherings in the home of the

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bride. But a Catholic wedding would require a mass. And Josie took it for granted that her son was prepared to submit to something she regarded as a heathen ritual. Ill not hear of it, William Green Holmes! using his full name for emphasis. Youll not marry a Catholic if youre a son of mine! But Mama Bill started to tell his mother that he loved Rosa Kelley and that he had always loved her and that he didnt know how he could ever love anyone else. All those words stuck in his throat as his temper rivaled for position with a breaking heart. Talk to her Papa, Bill pleaded. Somehow he had always known that his mother would react this way. He knew he couldnt talk her out of her pronouncement, though he had lived with the denial of both these facts for years now. Jonas remained silent, still choosing his words. Ill not have you convert to the Roman church. And Ill not have my grandchildren taught by nuns. She spat the word out as if it were an obscenity. Mama No Mama, young man. The souls of you and your unborn children demand that I do the right thing here. Ill hear no more talk of this. Bill stared blankly into the space between himself and his mother. He looked at his father, who sat stolidly looking at his plate. Finally, he spoke. In time, son, you will see that your mother is right about this. Bill could not believe what he heard from his father. He felt as if he had somehow left his own body and watched the drama unfold as if on a stage. And I vow that if you defy me on this, Ill pray to my dying day for the souls of the bastard grandchildren you get with that woman. If youre not married in the Christian Church

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and the children baptized and raised in the Sunday School classes there, Ill have no business with either one of you until its so.

Bill left the house in a daze. This could not be happening. Everything had gone so well for him over the last several months. He had not expected this. But he knew better. Mama could not be serious. She was. His life had been almost perfect until now. He had gone to school to become a barber and his business had picked up to the point that it would support him and in time, even a family. Baseball had made him a popular figure in the county seat. Men liked him. Some came in for a shave and a haircut just so Bill could regale them with stories of the games hed played in and the antics of other ballplayers hed gotten to know. And being a member of the Salt Packers had in itself created a financial windfall that enabled him at last to follow his heart. Sure, the team folding in Hutchinson had been a disappointment, but he had money in the bank and there would be other teams if he wanted to play on them. But now, at twenty-five, he just wanted to settle down, start a family and become a respected member of the community, like his own brother, Delphos, his father and Uncle Sherman. Renting the Langdon Produce would have been the first step. He thought it would become a busy mart with people coming and going, seasonal produce in the summer months, eggs and dairy products and even bread year round. And the barber shop. Mr. Duncan could stand the competition, or not. Why maybe he would even put in with him. Build a better mousetrap. He imagined people would sooner come to him anyway. Good old Mr. Duncan had

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never starred in a baseball game, but maybe they could consolidate their trade and have a twochair operation, like in Hutchinson. Why, some shops had three. But he didnt care about that any more. Rosa would have helped him get the Produce up and running. Her course of study in school had emphasized business, and with her personality, she would have just been a great draw for the business. But that was shot now. He felt his anger grow towards his mother. And God. Truth was, he didnt like himself very much right now, either. Eldest son, first born child. He was used to getting his own way. They had no right. He didnt want to talk to anyone. Rosa, the one person he had been able to share his dreams with, who helped him overcome his fears, she was the last person on earth he wanted to see. He was ashamed of himself. He was afraid of his mother, a fierce little woman about half his size. Why would he not stand up to her? Why did it matter what she thought? Was she right about Catholics? Should he follow her directives? What would become of him now? What would he say to Rosa? He left the house and drove south until the road became narrow. He turned off on a lane that led down to the side of Silver Creek and parked there, killing the magneto and staring out over the steering wheel, his right arm straight ahead, hand over the wheel, looking at nothing. The gaunt trees that grew beside the creek poked out of the barren winterscape reaching for a spring that would not come yet for weeks. If ever, Bill thought. He sat there in his car for hours until the last of the days sunlight began to fade, trying to figure out a way around his mothers pronouncement. He decided that Rosa would have to convert and become a protestant. After all, he thought, hadnt Mama more or less said if their children would be baptized and raised in Sunday School classes at the Christian Church in Langdon, it would be okay for them to go ahead? That was it, he thought, get Rosa to go along

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with him on this and everything would work out fine, wouldnt it? That Rosa had taught him almost every good thing he knew about Catholicism did not enter his mind. Only the belief that she would want to be married to him as much as he wanted to be married to her. He quickly became convinced of his ability to shape her decision. Bill looked at his watch. The Kelleys would be finished with dinner by the time he could get to their place. He knew he could make them see it his way. He switched the magneto back on and jumped out to crank the car. It started on the first try and he drove fast and recklessly to the Kelley place, formulating his idea as he went. Should he talk to Rosa or Mr. Kelley first? He had always gotten along with Frank Kelley, a gentle fellow with a strong work ethic and not too many words. True, they had never discussed religion. Their tacit understanding had always allowed them to go their separate ways on that subject. Bill turned off the road, drove the short distance up the Kelley driveway and parked in front of their house. Frank Kelley answered the door. Bill had not really decided who to talk to first, but when Rosas father opened the door, he decided that he would broach the subject with him, manto-man. Evenin Mr. Kelley, youre just the man I wanted to talk to. Evenin, Bill. I wonder, do you think we could we take a little walk? Its about Rosa. The fact that the evening chill had set on escaped Bill. Frank looked at the young man, wondering what was on his mind, before answering. Ill get my coat. You want to step inside? Uhm, no. Thats okay. Ill just wait right here.

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The older man retreated into the house with a bewildered look on his face. Bill remained on the front porch, shifting his weight from one side to the other, looking around as if he had lost something, but mustering his confidence and charm all the while. He looked out across the road opposite the Kelley place and saw a deer in the field. Deer were uncommon on the plains and Bill had only seen one once before. The animals were shy and more apt to bolt when observed, but this doe stood, feet planted, looking as if she understood the pain that the young man felt, her brown eyes bulging from either side of her elongated, thin head, her big ears alert. They stared at each other until Mr. Kelley pushed the screen door open and stepped out onto the porch. This sudden movement caused the deer to bolt and in seconds she disappeared into the copse of trees further back into the field. Now what seems to be the matter, Bill? Frank buttoned his coat in the middle against the night air. Well, its about the wedding, sir. Bill stepped off the porch and Rosas father followed him into the yard. They walked towards the gazebo at the rear of the house, where Bill had knelt to seek Rosas hand in marriage on a summer night that now seemed long ago. I was talking to my mama, and she was asking where it ought to be held, and I was wondering, what you thought about that? I guess we havent made any arrangements yet, least not until we all agree on the date, but I imagine that Rosas mother will want there to be a service at St. Teresas in Hutch. The words pummeled Bills ears. It was not what he wanted to hear. Well, thats just it, he paused, lost for words. Im not sure if Mamas going to want to go along with a Catholic wedding. Shes opposed to you converting? They entered the gazebo and sat facing each other.

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Well, its not that, Bill answered as if by instinct, without thinking about his answer first, then not knowing what to do with his lie. Uhm. I guess it is that, he confessed. We could think of having a blessing without Mass, Frank offered, but what about the children? Wed want to see them christened. He waited. When Bill did not respond, he continued, Its like baptism, but its done when the child is still an infant. Oh, yes, Bill stammered, I know. His thoughts were running wild and he had trouble staying in focus with the man he would have to be his father-in-law. Bill imagined holding a baby over the baptistery at the front of the Christian Church where the preacher immersed new congregants so that their sins could be washed away. He knew instinctively that you might hurt a baby by dunking it into water, but he didnt see the point of sprinkling an infant with holy water. It was foreign to his experience at his mothers church where only adults or children over twelve years could make a decision for baptism and ask God to cleanse their sins. I dont know if my mama would go along with that. Its not just up to your mama, is it son? Well, no, but, it sounds like if we go ahead with what youre saying, she might have a pretty hard time getting used to the idea. You willing to go up against your mother? I dont know how well you know my mother. Shes a fine woman. Shes that. Rosas a fine woman. Shes that.

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Sometimes you have to choose, son. But if you and Mrs. Kelley would let us raise our children at the Christian Church . Its not only for Margaret and me to say, Bill. Have you and Rosa talked this over? Bill felt now that Frank Kelley had not told the whole truth either. He imagined that Mr. and Mrs. Kelley had pretty strong notions about which church their grandchildren should be raised in too. And he pretty well knew what Rosa would say about their choice. He had talked with Rosa about everything, even about going to church together. Or apart. Or, for that matter, not at all. Without a Catholic Church in Langdon, why couldnt they just continue avoiding the decision? Why did they have to make these commitments now? And then he understood. The children. What had his mother just said to him, this very evening? The souls of his unborn children that he would get with Rosa. Theres the problem. Now he understood. We both know we love each other and we know that we want to have children. Lots of them. And what do you believe, Bill? Religion-wise? Bill did not answer right away, but thought about the question, as if his answer meant the difference between what would be and what would not be. Well I believe in God and everything. I just dont know about the idea of a one true church. I havent actually thought about it very much. I pray sometimes, but I never thought to ask God for answers about where to go to church. Mostly its been about fixing things that have gone wrong? I guess. Bill, I cant tell you what to do. It sounds like your mother has an idea that your children ought to be brought up the way she believes. And it doesnt sound like you and Rosa

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have talked much about what the two of you believe. I think before you and I decide anything that you and Rosa ought to have a talk. In another few moments the men rose and walked to the house without saying more. Bill noticed the curtain close on the window facing the gazebo and saw the lights of the lamps inside the house as they glowed through the lace curtains at the windows. He followed Rosas father into the house and found Rosa there, waiting for them, a delighted but curious smile at the sight of her fiance, mixed with a curious eye towards the business they had been conducting out of earshot. Theresa and Margaret Kelley remained in the kitchen, making do with household chores, pretending not to attend to the business at hand. Why dont you and Rosa sit in the parlor? Frank motioned to the sitting room to one side of the front door. Ill bring her mother in to join you in a little while. Rosa looked from face to face of the men facing her. She knitted her brows just ever so much and cocked her head a bit to one side at the serious looks they shared. She took Bills arm and pulled him away from the door and onto the sofa. A doily on the back of the sofa slipped down, catching on the back of Bills corduroy coat as he and Rosa sat. Now whats on your mind tonight, Bill? Oh, just trying to get some things figured out, I guess. What things are those? Bill sighed. Rosa sensed the stress as he exhaled. Sensed that he hadnt yet released very much of it. After what seemed like a long silence, he spoke. Its mama. Rosa frowned and turned her head a bit to the side, as if to hear better. Josie was a sweet little woman. Everyone adored her. Her cooking was renowned in the community and everyone held her sons and daughter in high regard. Rosa sensed something new on the horizon tonight,

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though, and that from Bills appearance, it was serious. Somethings wrong with your mother? Is she sick? Its not that. I dont think she wants us to get married. Rosas eyes widened at Bills sudden candor. Why would she oppose us getting married? She Bill could not find words. She doesnt want you to convert. Rosa answered her own question with certainty. Bill looked up, startled, into Rosas face. How had she guessed? Rosas expression confirmed her response. Somehow she had known what Bill had not suspected, or at least, not acknowledged before. That Josie could not countenance the Kelleys past the howdy neighbor, arms-length relationship that they had always had. Mutual convenience, yes, but a merger of the two families? Two strong brick buildings stood between that happening. Two churches with two very different traditions and approaches towards the same thing: worshipping God. So God could not bless this union, because the parents wouldnt allow it. You agreed to take instruction, Rosa accused, feeling betrayed. You wouldnt have to convert. She waited, as if to test what she had just said. Least not at first. Unless you want to. Maybe never. She ended her response, but sounded dubious. But if we have children Bill started. It had never been if until this moment. Rosa noticed the change in terms. Our children would be raised in the Church. The Catholic Church? Bill asked. Well, of course. Theyd have to be raised in the church to get to heaven. So I wouldnt be going to heaven then with them, unless I converted?

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Rosa did not answer. This was not a question she ever posited in Catechism; its answer self-evident to everyone, she thought. The hopelessness of the situation had started to become clear. She couldnt be sure what had happened between Bill and his mother, but from the look in his eyes, she had a pretty good idea that the sentence was irreversible. Margaret and Frank Kelley entered the room at this uncomfortable moment and looked at the two young people, sensing that their timing had been unfortunate. Margaret tried to put a light touch on their intrusion. Discussing plans? There may not be anything to plan, Mother. Rosa said. Her words dropped on the parlor floor like icicles falling from the eaves in morning sunlight. Margaret and Frank looked at each other, uncertain what needed to be said, cautious of saying something wrong, before either said anything. Would you like to talk to Father Gawain, Bill? Frank asked. I dont know. I dont think it would do any good. Now Bill had found his voice and he talked plainly, as if he had to blurt it out. Look. If we get married and have children and raise them Catholics, my parents wont speak to me nor have anything to do with us. Ever. She told me. Today. Its like she cursed us. Or at least threatened us. But shes serious and shes not going to change her mind. Have you talked to your father? Frank asked. Yes. But hes not going to stop her. Church is mamas idea and he goes along with it and everything, and hes not going to stand her down on this. You cant be sure of that. You should talk some more to him.

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Why? So I can convert and be a Catholic? Let my children be raised by priests and nuns? Bill wanted to recapture those words as soon as he let them escape. There followed a stunned silence, which Margaret Kelley broke after she considered her words in the quiet of her home and in the presence of ones she loved, including the young man who would be her son-inlaw. No one has in mind that anyone but you and Rose Mary should raise your children, Bill. She used her daughters given name, for emphasis. At least not in this house. But it is true that we would expect our grandchildren to be christened in the church, and raised in the church, and on these matters you will find that we will not negotiate, either. Rosa sat in silence. She saw the whole life that she had dreamed of pass by her. Tears welled up in her eyes. Her dreams faded into the night mist that had settled with the fog onto the road outside the Kelley home. Afraid she might burst into tears, she stood and walked out of the room without looking at Bill, who listened as she climbed the stairs in the hallway outside the parlor. Rosa let loose a mournful cry before she closed the door to her bedroom. Theresa came into the parlor with ten-year old Agnes just as Rosa left. She looked confused, as if she had stepped into an unfamiliar room in the wrong house. Bill stood and walked past the sisters, looking up the staircase for a moment before turning towards the front door. He looked into the parlor where Mr. and Mrs. Kelley had also gotten to their feet and looked back at him. Good night, Bill said. The color had drained from his face as if he had just witnessed a public hanging. Im sorry. Tell Rosa his voice faltered, Tell Rosa Im sorry. With that he opened the door and found his way to the car and climbed inside. He sat for a moment before he remembered to turn the magneto and get back out to crank the engine. It started after a couple of pulls, and he went back around the side of the car, climbed inside, engaged the transmission,

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and accelerated slowly as the car made a rumbling exit from the Kelley place. By the time he reached the first mile intersection out of the Kelleys driveway, he braked hard and stopped the car. A cloud of dust fogged the Model T and Bill as he jumped out the door and onto the ground. There he wretched on all fours, like a dog with a bone caught in his throat, hacking up only bile until he fell face first into the dirt and cried out loud to God, for his pain, where no one could hear him.

Frank and Margaret Kelley never discussed their childrens failed plans with Josie and Jonas Holmes. The Kelleys and the Holmeses continued to greet each other with proper, if distant respect when they met in public, but neither asked about the others family, nor their crops or livestock, nor any thing of more or less consequence. Cold arctic winds swept down over the Kansas plains in the months that followed. The young man faced their sting with bitter disappointment. Rosa completed her studies in school, but she did not help Bill open the Langdon Produce. He accomplished that on his own, but with little enthusiasm, and few of his plans for it materialized that summer. He continued to play baseball in the sandlots and it became the only true passion in his life. Billy was gone now. He thought himself grown up. In the baseball stands, his fans recognized Bill Holmes. And most of the people who remained in his life thought him self-assured, confidant. But Bill felt only the anger of a broken heart. He no longer went home by himself, but followed his team members into the saloons after the games, where he learned to drink whiskey, chew tobacco, and smoke hand-rolled

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cigarettes. There he found women who did not care where, or if he went to church. If he went to church, they werent interested to know what the sign on the shingle outside the door said. And he learned that he could have his way with most of them, and they made themselves available for his comfort, if only temporal, and he for theirs.

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Chapter Three Schools Out

Friday, May 19, 1916. The two boys left the Jordan Springs schoolyard running at full gallop. The bigger boys hair, cut in the shape of a bowl, hung to his ears. A legion of brown freckles covered his face, hands and arms. His hair glowed orange in the noonday sun that poured over the rich green farmland. He might have thought of himself as a long-distance runner, had he known about such things, but for now he was just a Kansas farm boy on his way home from school. He belonged to the glistening stream that ran through the pasture that lay ahead, to the spring air currents rising off the vast fields of wheat and the surrounding prairie. Yet he was free as a gamboling calf or as free as an older brother could be with a kid brother tagging along wherever he went, hanging onto his every word.

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Shorter than his older brother, and on the verge of being stocky, the younger boy ran slower, like a jackrabbit on locoweed. He would never develop the athletic abilities that his hero had been born with. His dark brown hair bounced as he followed clumsily behind the taller brother, who turned his head and cried loudly in a pre-adolescent screech: Last one homes a rotten egg! The red-headed boy ran swiftly with the fluid grace of a cat. With his school bag slung carelessly over his shoulder, his arms pumping opposite each stride, as if the wind had materialized in his limbs. Someday he would become a star of track and field. At the end of the previous summer, the boys mother had sewn each of them school bags from muslin flour sacks. Now the bags were frayed and soiled from carrying school supplies with half-eaten apples and a garter snake or two and being dropped haphazardly in puddles and along fence rows. But it didnt matter now that school was out. The contents of those bags wouldnt see the light of day until the beginning of school next fall. The older boy was bright and articulate; his personable nature kept him from ever meeting a stranger. But studies did not fit into the pace of his world. He did poorly in school. Though 11 years old, he had just finished the fourth grade. Teachers had held him back twice. He was a squirmy child, apt to talk out in class and forget to complete assignments. His unruly nature often resulted in after-school detention, where he had to clean the slate boards that ran around three walls of the one-room Jordan Springs School. Speck was not a pretty child. Last year Josie hid the freckles for a family picture with wheat flour that she powdered over his forehead, cheeks and nose, giving him a pallid look that belied his personality. Speck was a handful. In school he teased girls, pulled their hair and terrorized teachers. All this came with a

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good heart. He lacked a mean streak, but getting him to sit still for anything past eating was nearly impossible. The net result was a popular boy who had no enemies. Thus he had charmed his teacher this year. She couldnt help but admire him for his good nature, in spite of the physical handicaps of red hair and big, blotchy freckles. The boys name was Kelmet, but only his mother ever used his given name. Everyone else called him Speck, in honor of the unique complexion of his face. The baby of the family, Badger, had all of Specks charm, without the rough edges. Doted on by his parents, his four older brothers, his sister, his Uncle Sherman and Aunt Stella, and his ten cousins, he had as a result achieved the high state of being thoroughly spoiled. Polite to a fault, he had mastered sweetness and it served him well. The boys jogged across the pasture that separated their home from the school. In all, the distance across the patchwork section of farmland between the school and the farmhouse was a little more than a mile, on the diagonal. Some day these two boys would have four sons who would hear talk of the miles and miles they walked to school every day. Truth is, they often missed school. Education took second place to farm chores, which demanded that they remain home to work with the rest of the family at crops or planting, butchering, or herding animals into shelter when severe weather arose. The little brother could not keep up with Speck. As he fell further and further behind, he finally broke stride and clopped to a slower, heavier pace. Wait up! he called to Speck. Whatsa matter, Badger, ya too tired to run? Speck answered mockingly, in a sing-song voice, running backward now, forming a look of false pity on his face. But he slowed down to a walk to let his kid brother catch up.

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Whats your hurry, anyway? Like his older brother, no one ever called the younger boy by his real name, the name his mama wrote into the family Bible at home, Ferrell Upton. Instead he was tagged Badger, when, as a two-year-old, he developed an unpleasant habit of biting his older brothers and sister when he didnt get his way. After many spankings and slaps, the family broke him of his petulant biting, but the nickname stuck. Biting
Speck and Badger, c. 1916

Badger they called him, so Badger he became. Schools out, dummy Badger. Were free! The thermometer passed 90 degrees an hour before school was dismissed. Humidity made the air heavy. The sun stood out on the azure sky that stretched unblemished from horizon to horizon. The grass this time of the year was deep green, broken by an occasional patchwork that included anthills and fallen trees, gray and rotting in the sun. Jersey cows grazed here and there, stopping to watch and chew their cud as the boys passed by. But neither the grazing cows nor the errant boys had any particular appreciation for the scenic beauty of the pastureland. Well just have to do chores when we get home.

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Not til night. Im taking my kite up on the hill and see if I can catch some good wind. You wanna come? You bet! Badger yelled in his high pitched little boys voice. And the two boys tore off again across the pasture and did not slow until they reached the top of the next hill. Panting, they stopped and gazed down. Below them lay the territory of Walter, evil incarnate, a sullen, gargantuan breeding bull, the uncontested Jersey patriarch of the herd. In his pasture, which he believed to be the known world, Walter was Absolute Monarch. The cowswell, they were his exclusive property. His every whim was law. He suffered only the flies that swarmed around his great wide face and quivering flanks. Battle scarred and supremely confident of his prowess, Walter grazed alone in the draw that stretched out between the boys and the back of their farm home, which lay about a quarter of a mile away. Wait up! Badger whined again as they topped the hill. Be quiet! Speck ordered his younger brother, suddenly slowing to a creeping pace, signaling the order by raising and lowering his arms behind his sides, moving stealthily on his toes, using exaggerated steps. Why would the boys consider crossing Walters pasture that day? Walter would as soon stomp a schoolboy as a prairie dog into garden mulch. With school over and done with for another year, why would they risk death? They had every reason to live. But a gambler looking at their situation would have bet all his chips on the red in this case, the red Jersey bull. Anyone else would have left these woebegone boys to chart their own spiritual destiny . . . without benefit of clergy.

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The bull did not look up, but continued to pull up cheat grass at the foot of the hill. His tail swished rhythmically against his backside, swatting flies and gnats that swarmed around the fan-shaped pattern of green beneath the hinge of his tail. Now howre we gonna get home? Badger whined. This was not the first time the boys encountered Walter as they crossed the open field between home and school. Nor would it be the last. Were gonna stay on top of the hill and fan way out thisaway, Speck answered confidently, taking the lead. And keep quiet too. If Walter spots us and charges, were gonna hafta run like holy hell! You hear what Im saying? Cmon, follow me. The boys walked quietly, making an exaggerated semi circle around to the right of the path they had been on. The wind was in their face as they continued counter clockwise until they were almost up from six oclock to twelve oclock on their former path. Walter had not looked up at them so far. He only grazed and switched his tail until the boys were upwind, then he looked at them and snorted. Invaders! Walter thought, and a load of adrenaline shot though his veins. Walter had ten-inch horns, a broad forehead, and a wet, black nose. He snorted again, looking down into the dirt. He pawed the ground with one of his front hooves and looked up in the direction of the boys, who heard him snort and saw him loping heavily from side to side towards them, staring at them intensely, curiously, as he moved relentlessly in their direction. A hundred yards separated Speck and Badger from the fence and less than that from the animal.

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Walter bellowed to protest the presence of the Invaders. This is MMMY pasture, these are MMMY cows. I MMMUST defeat you in battle to protect them, Walters voice seemed to proclaim. Im gettin out of here! Badger cried and took off running faster than Speck had ever seen him run. Dont run! Speck warned. But it was too late. Walter spotted the movement at the top of the hill and gave chase. Speck took off like a jackrabbit. He caught up to Badger in only a couple of seconds and ran beside him. Whyd you start running, ya lil idget? Cause Im ascared of Walter! Badger panted. Thats why! Lissen, Badger, when you take out a runnin cross the pasture, Speck cried out between breaths, you attract the bull! Then he began to run faster than Badger. The bull was well behind them, but starting to gain. Meadowlarks took flight at the sound of the drumming hooves. Prairie dogs skittered into their dens and a long, black bull snake slithered in behind. Im gonna run out in front, Speck yelled back, and spread open the wires in the fence, he gasped. You can dive through if ya make it. But youd better move! Speck ran out in front of Badger as if he had shifted into a higher gear. Badger glanced over his shoulder and saw that he was only about half way between Walter and the fence ahead. As Speck closed in on the fence, Badger dropped his school bag so he could run faster.

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As he ran, Speck imagined the boys and girls at school coming to their funeral. The girls would be too shy to look into their kid-sized coffins, but the boys would gawk out of curiosity. Theyd want to see how bunged up they were from the bulls horns. With the barbed wire fence just ahead of him, Speck called the dog. Skip! he screamed. The dog came on the run from around the far corner of the house, sensing adventure. Sic him! he cried in a pre-adolescent screech. Like a puppet on invisible wires, Speck easily vaulted the fence, clearing the top wire by a good six inches. Someday he would win a gold medal in the high jump. He rolled over twice as he landed; yet in almost the same movement he was on his feet. He raced back to the fence and reached it an instant after Skip cleared the top wire from the opposite direction to attack the bull. With his high topped leather boot Speck stepped down on the two bottom wires, pushing them into the ground. Then he grabbed the top wire and stretched it upward to form a diamond shaped opening that Badger could get through. Walter put his hooves into the dirt at the sight of the dog and picked up Badgers school bag with his horn, throwing it over his back. The dog poised to attack and barked ferociously at the bull, who was many times his own size. Badger raced for the opening in the fence and dived toward it while the dog held the bull at bay. Watching all this, Specks hand slipped on the wire and a sharp barb caught the side of his right hand, cutting it and drawing blood. Instinctively, Speck pulled his hand back, releasing the wire just as Badger dove through the fence. The barbed wire caught the back of Badgers pants and ripped them open, tearing a gash in the boys backside and drawing a

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red line about three inches long in the topside of his left butt cheek. Badger screamed like a stuck pig as he hit the ground. Whatd you do that for?! Badger cried, looking up at his older brother without regard for the peril he had just escaped. I didnt mean to! Honest! Look at my hand! Mamas gonna whup me when she sees my knickers, Badger said, reaching back to find the hole in his school pants. He drew his hand back, saw blood and wailed, Im bleeding!

Inside the little white farmhouse, the boys mother, Josie, listened to the wall clock in the parlor as it clanged half past twelve. She had spent most of the morning cooking. Last night she had crept into the brooder house, where the young chickens roosted. Under the cover of darkness, she selected a fine young cock, better than three pounds, and grabbed him by the legs. He created a terrible uproar in the brooder house until they left together, his legs caught in her strong, small hands. Hopelessly, the young rooster tried to right himself, struggling and pecking at his captors clutch, but she escorted the condemned cockerel and locked him in a cage for the night. After tossing the dirty dishwater from the breakfast dishes onto the ground in the back yard, Josie, the executioner found the imprisoned bird and pulled it from its cage. Unable to free himself, the bird screeched and flapped its wings, but she silenced him by putting her right hand firmly over his head and beak. Then, suddenly releasing the birds

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legs, she held his head with both hands and twirled his body like a pocket watch on a chain. The birds neck snapped and his head separated from his body. When Josie tossed the birds head to the ground; it retained its still wide-eyed stare and stunned, quizzical expression. Its eyes blinked once as it lay on the ground and then slowly closed. Meanwhile the headless body rushed randomly about, flapping under the clothes line, doing back flips and jumps, before it collapsed limply on the ground, still spurting blood from its severed neck. Finally the open wound slowed to an occasional drip, like a leaking faucet, and the body relaxed in the dust of the front yard. Josie fetched a pot of boiling water from the stove inside the house and brought it outside. Then she retrieved the carcass and, clutching it by the feet, dunked the bird neck first into the boiling water she had poured into a pail. Finally, his feathers were soaked and smelled musty and sour. Since there were no little boys at home to help at the time, she plucked all the feathers from the scalded skin, creating a limp, naked chicken that she held by his two yellow feet as if it was a prop from a vaudeville show. Once inside, she took the bird to the counter in the kitchen where only a few minutes before she had washed the breakfast dishes. She began butchering the bird for the noonday meal. First she took off his yellow-orange feet and set them aside in an old white bowl that she kept at the back of the counter for food waste. Theyd make good soup stock. Then with a knife she kept sharpened with the honing rod that hung from the side of the counter, she sliced open the young roosters tender belly and reached in to pull out its entrails. All the time blood continued to ooze from the splayed open body into the white

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enamel dish pan, chipped in several places from years of use. With her knife she snipped out the birds gullet and windpipe. The viscera were finally separated from the meat. With her bloodstained fingers, she found the birds liver, gizzard and heart, and set them aside for giblets later. Josie was intent on her work. The tip of her tongue covered her upper lip. With the major surgery completed, she put the guts into the old white bowl and walked to the back door and called Skip. She threw the waste to the ground outside the door and the dog carried the entrails, dragging them in the dirt, to the shade of the tree in the back of the house. Later, he would come back hoping for more. Josie returned to the sink and began separating the bird, placing his parts into a bowl of salt water on the counter. The bowl was white stoneware, its glaze crackled with tiny brown lines that resembled a womans hairnet. The bowl had come out West with Granny Liza in the covered wagon from Indiana. Josie had gotten it out of the things Grandpa Holmes had left after he died nearly four years ago, before they closed the house. The water in the bowl turned a filmy red as plumes of blood from the chickens body parts dissolved into the brine. Two legs, two thighs, two wings. Separate the wishbone from the breast. Separate the neck from the back and reserve the neck with the other giblets. The saltwater was pale pink now. One bird would feed four people quite nicely. She hoped the three boys wouldnt fight over the legs. Once she set the chicken aside, Josie lit a lantern and took it to the cellar behind the house. She sat it on the ground beside the heavy double doors that Jonas kept latched from the outside. When she opened the door, the sound of a bull snakes hiss caused her to step back instinctively. Her heart pounded as she threw open the other door, exposing

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the snake to the morning sun. By nature, bull snakes are antisocial rat eaters. As soon as Josie stepped clear of its path, the snake slithered away towards the barn, its shady reverie interrupted. Get on to the barn, ye vile creature! she seethed, still breathing hard. Josie picked up the lantern and held it up in front of her as she stepped down into the dimly lit cellar. She felt a little queasy and light-headed from the scare that the snake had given her. The air felt much cooler than the outside air, damp and moist; the smell of fungus and mold assailed her nostrils. She eyed a few spider webs cautiously and carefully avoided an ominous brown wolf spider nestled in the corner to the right above the entrance to the cellar. The wolf spider was large and covered with fur. He looked deadly, but he was harmless and only ate his fill of other insects unfortunate enough to amble by his silken lair. Once inside the dark, moist room, she looked at her canned goods from the previous year. The shelves were becoming bare, but still plenty of good green beans from last years crop stood ready on the shelf until this years crop ripened. She picked out a quart of beans and one of minced meat for the pie she planned to make for supper. She held the jars tightly to her breast as she made her way up the cellar steps, but felt a little shaky as she set the lantern down, owing to a heart condition that she would deny for the rest of her life. Or try to deny. The jar of minced meat slipped from her grasp and crashed at her feet. The syrupy brown liquid splattered her black leather shoes and oozed into the dirt. Piss Peedaddle! she whispered under her breath, as if to keep anyone nearby from hearing her curse. Therell be no minced meat pie tonight, she vowed. Get

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away, Skip! She warned the dog, who cowered at her command. As soon as she was gone, though, Skip sniffed around the broken glass, gingerly lapping up the broken pie filling that lay on the dirt. The broken glass had to be cleaned up immediately before someone stepped in it, and by the time she had finished, she felt behind schedule towards getting dinner ready. She knew the boys would be home soon. Once back inside, she took a sack of potatoes out from under the sink and placed them into a large metal strainer that fit into the washpan. She poured water over them and set to scrubbing them individually with a worn old scrub brush she saved for this purpose. She sat down for the first time since shed had a biscuit with her morning coffee. As she peeled the potatoes, she started to fret about her oldest son. The baseball team in Hutchinson did not pick up his option in the spring of 1915, but the 1914 season had made it so that he had enough money to open the Langdon Produce store instead. He had set up a barber chair and took customers for shaves and haircuts between ladies shopping for fresh vegetables, eggs and milk. The cross purposes of the domain had not worked well, though he kept the store open and running through the season and even bought a three year retail license that summer. He showed no sense for business. The store had not made a profit and when he closed it for the season after the fall produce was gone, there was no telling if he would open again this year. He had no money on hand. Using a paring knife to peel the skin off the potatoes, and then cut them into sections, Josie prepared the potatoes as if by rote memory. Though she was looking at

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her work, she did not take notice of what she was doing. Her mind was pre-occupied with Bill. At least he had evidently got loose from that Rose Mary Kelley, she thought. She sighed with relief and thanked God that she had saved his soul from that entanglement. But she worried that he had pretty much stopped going to church with the rest of the family on Sunday mornings. She wished there had been a church with a Sunday school for children when he was little. Least the Catholics had that idea right. Get the little ones into church every week from the time theyre babes in arms and theyll never leave the church as adults. Josie worried that Bill refused to go to church. He often stayed out late on Saturday nights and sometimes did not come home at all. When he did come home, his head throbbing from drink, he welcomed the quiet house for sleeping after the rest of the family left for church. She guessed he blamed the church for the reason he and Rosa could not get married. Josie turned a blind eye to the fact that Bills reputation around Langdon had faltered some. Jonas mentioned that on several occasions friends, neighbors, and customers had observed Bill at the produce store, after having had something to drink. His manners had offended the ladies shopping for produce or milk, who sometimes winced at the language they heard coming from the barber chair. Talk was that he had drunk its profits and shut it down when he could no longer pay his bills. There had been occasions at Christian Womens Society meetings when Josie imagined that three or four of the women seemed to stop talking and watch her enter the room. She prayed daily for each of her sons and daughter, but she could not find answers to her prayers for her Billy.

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With the potatoes peeled and quartered, she poured water over them again and transferred them to a cooking pot that held water near to boiling on the top of the black stove that dominated the west side of the kitchen. Bill had kept his barber license up, but had few regular customers. He worked most days at the Royal Barbershop on North Main in Hutchinson, but too often he secretly slipped into the back room for a slug from his hip flask. Some days by midafternoon the other barbers sent him home, allowing that he should not be handling a razor with a paying customer. Josie heard the steady ticking of the clock on the wall in the parlor. Better start the beans, she said under her breath. She primed the kitchen pump and filled a deep pan with water, cooking them slowly with bacon and a little lard for seasoning. She thought, Biscuits left over from breakfast. Fried chicken, potatoes and gravy. The beans. What am I forgetting? The butter! She had intended to turn butter yesterday. There was still time. She had just gotten the cream into the butter churn when she heard the commotion coming from the pasture. What now?! she thought, wiping her hands on her apron.

Badger had gotten up and was limping toward the back door of the farmhouse, still howling mournfully. Speck held his hand and looked dejectedly back at Walter, who now paced back and forth behind the fence, intent on goring the school bag and its contents into oblivion. Skip followed a few steps behind the boys, head held low, bright

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pink tongue hanging out to one side, sensing more danger lay ahead, only partially concealing a self-satisfied smile. Speck and Badger heard the sound of their mamas voice as she came out to investigate the noise she had heard from inside the house. Whats happened to you?! Josie called to her youngest child. Walter started chasing us in the pasture, Badger answered between slooshy sobs, and Speck got me caught up in the fence. How many times have I told you boys not to cut cross that pasture when theres cows out grazing? Josie demanded. Why, Id ought to take a switch to the both of you! Though not much taller than Speck, she looked formidable to the boys, her fists on her hips, a scowl on her lips. It was Specks fault! Kelmet! What do you have to say for yourself? Speck was now in full fury. Badger ruined everything, he said defiantly. We was fine until he took out runnin. Then Walter gave chase. And we outrun him anyway and Badgerd be fine now, if I hadnt of cut myself on the barbed wire trying to help him get through in front of the bull. Didnt matter anyway, Skip was takin care of Walter. This explanation and her sons impertinence at the gravity of the situation failed to gain Josies sympathy. The boys felt the earth move with each step she took towards the willow tree. Observing the deterioration of the scene at hand, Skip took his leave and high-tailed it back to the cool, shady underside of the porch. Josie broke off a sturdy two-foot long twig from the tree, one long enough to form a supple switch. She pulled it between her thumb and index finger, cleaning it of its leaves. The boys froze as she

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marched back towards them, the stumpy black heels of her shoes scarring the hard ground as she approached. She grabbed her red-headed son by the arm first, pushing her fingers into his bicep and swatting the supple tree branch swiftly against the backside of his legs. Now, Kelmet you git that hand of yours washed and see that you put iodine into it and wrap it when youre through! Now, gwan! Git to the house. She brought the switch to bear once more and released the boys arm. He said nothing and showed no response to the stinging on the back of his legs as he strode towards the house, furious. Now Josie turned her attention to the younger boy, whose arm she grabbed while bringing the switch swiftly against the back of his legs. Badger did a puppet dance as he tried to free himself from his mothers clutch, all the while singing, No Mama, no Mama, no, no Mama, no! until he burst into sobs again. You come with me and get out of those pants. Were going to have to clean your behind up with lye soap before we put iodine on it, she said, making it clear that the soap and antiseptic were part of the punishment also. The boys winced at the thought of iodine. The medicine looked like brown-red ink, smelled rotten sour and stung worse than the wound when applied. It would burn for hours. Mama said it was killing germs, but the boys believed it was killing them. She felt her heart pounding against her chest when she returned to the stove while the two young boys cleaned themselves up from their foray with Walter the Bull. She elected to ignore their accusations towards one another, even though she could hear them

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arguing upstairs, over the crackle of grease in the large, cast-iron skillet on the stove that held the remains of the young rooster. What next? Josie thought, as she fried the chicken. The heat from the stove, burning fiercely in the kitchen with the outside temperatures topping ninety degrees, caused her forehead to break out in sweat. Wispy gray and brown hair stuck across the lines of her brow. Sweat soaked the underarms of the long-sleeved white cotton blouse that she wore over layers of undergarments. She wiped her brow with the sleeve of her blouse. Women should never marry, she thought. Marriage is just too hard on a woman. Josie finished frying the chicken and finally asked her first born son, Bill, to come in and eat. Jonas was in Oklahoma following a threshing crew through the wheat harvest back to Kansas. He would be gone for weeks, leaving Bill as the man of the house. When they sat down at the table together, the family instinctively grasped hands around the table and bowed their heads. Josie prayed: Our dear Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this day and for thy bounty which we are about to receive. We praise thee for thy mercies when these boys test their fate and thy patience ... Speck kicked Badger under the table. The younger brother opened his eyes in surprise and glared at his attacker sideways. Speck mouthed the word dummy and stuck out his tongue. We ask thee to bless this food to our nourishment and us to thy service. These things we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

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Amen, Josies sons echoed.

Bill came in for dinner just as Josie finished applying the iodine to Badgers backside. He was tired and dirty from mending fence all morning. Since Jonas was away for the duration with the threshing crew, someplace in Oklahoma by now, he had worked alone all morning. Letters from Jonas, delivered by Uncle Sherman, came seldom these days, indicating that the crew was working from caint see to caint see. Bills brother and sister, Fay and Vesta, would return soon from high school in Nickerson. Delphos had his own family now. So he only expected to find his mother and the two little boys for the midday meal. After dinner, Bill spied an envelope with familiar handwriting on the parlor table where he had come to stretch out on the cool, open pine floor in front of his parents couch. He had not noticed the letter that morning, so it must have been on the table since the day before. Instead of sprawling on the cool floor after eating, as hed intended, he took the envelope out to the front porch and he sat down on the steps. The postmark showed TURON KANS. MAY 12, 1916, 2 PM.

He rolled a cigarette and pulled it through his mouth so that the paper was wet and translucent. After crimping and twisting the ends, he held the cigarette between his lips while he opened the letter.

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Friday morning, Dearest Bill-I would give anything to know just how you are this morning. I'm afraid you are sick. Sure hope you are not & that you had no trouble with the car. Please write to me real soon so I will know how you are. I feel pretty good this morning. Wish you were here. Wonder if I will ever quit wishing that-Hope your cold gets better so you can play ball Saturday, but please don't play if it doesn't, 'cause I'm sure you would be "all in" then. Bill smiled, imagining how he would, indeed, be all in after the game. He lit his cigarette and read on. Hope you can come Sunday if you really want to for you know how much I want you to. I've a pile of ironing to doso guess I better get at itfor I'm not very full of energy some howcant imagine why. Hurry & get well & write & come soon. With a bushel of love, your "C. G." He smiled again, imagining her standing by the ironing board. He remembered her scent, which would be strong if she was doing ironing in the afternoon on a day like this. CG stood for Country Girl a name Bill had off-handedly given to a girl he had started seeing a few weeks before. The girl was Kathryn Holland. He had seen her at games and practices since he had begun playing again with the local boys who went around the sandlot league throughout Reno County. He knew the family. Her father, J.M. Holland, was the Justice of the Peace for Miami township. She was a striking young woman, though not pretty in the same way as Rosa Kelley. Kathryn Holland had thick black hair and heavy eyebrows set against pale white skin. She had a tiny waist and large breasts obscured only partially by the layers of clothing dictated by the style of the day. She was petite like Bills mother, but she could whistle through her teeth. She liked baseball only a little less than she liked baseball

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players. She had a reputation for being easy. When the players got together they whispered about Kitty Holland before laughing aloud at their shared conquest. Bill glanced at the post office date stamp on the letter and wondered how long he had failed to notice it. He thought again about her concerns for his health, smiled and took a long drag off his cigarette. He decided to draft a reply because he wanted to be sure she would wait for him after the game Saturday night. The two of them had left a baseball practice a week ago last Thursday with several others, players and friends. This outing had prompted her letter. They went to the sweet grass pastures south of Langdon where they gathered on a sandbar off the Silver Creek beneath some cottonwood trees there. Someone passed around a bottle of Kentucky bourbon. After several passes, the group became loud and very amused with itself. Bill and Kathryn left the party together, but soon stopped again, near a stand of prairie cedar trees. Bill was drunk. He excused himself to urinate on the far side of the nearest cedar. Kathryn giggled at first and then guffawed when she heard him fart. When he returned to the car, he settled into the deep cushions of the seat rather than returning to the road. He tried to roll a cigarette, but only tore the paper and got tobacco on his lap. Kathryn took the tobacco tin from him and withdrew a new cigarette paper from the packet of folded papers in it. Gingerly she picked at the loose tobacco that Bill had spilled on his lap. Her fingers lingered there and Bill did nothing to discourage her. Smiling coyly, she took more tobacco from the tin and rolled the cigarette neatly. She lit it and inhaled deeply before passing it to Bill. Where did you learn how to do that? Bill asked. He had never seen a woman smoke a cigarette before.

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Rollinem or smokinem? she asked, still holding the smoke in her lungs. She exhaled. From watching Daddy. Myself, I started smoking years ago, Kid. But nobody cept you and Johnny knows. Johnny was Kathryns cousin from Colorado and Bill had never been quite sure whether he liked him or not. Bill took her hand and kissed it. He kissed her arm and was headed for her mouth in spite of the churning in his stomach. He had hoped for a repeat of the amorous encounter they had experienced together the week before, but it was not to be. He felt the color drain from his face as he tried to kiss her. She felt the cool dampness of his face and pulled away. You okay, Kid? she asked. Im fine, Bill said, greenly. He turned from her, beginning to gag, and almost fell out the door, into a pool of his own vomit which he made as he leapt from the car. Kathryn drove Bill back to town. She parked his car next to Johnnys Model T. By then, Bill had passed out. She leaned over, kissed him sweetly on the forehead and left him there. Lucky for her, Johnny had not yet gone home for the night. She rode home with her cousin, thinking of Bill. Somehow when they were together she felt the excitement that comes from a proximity to danger. He had a peculiar aura about him that made her crave him more than she had ever wanted any other man. His body felt hard and muscular to the touch, but in his eyes she saw pain and vulnerability. She rolled a cigarette for herself, took a long drag from it and offered it to Johnny. Hes no good, Kit, Johnny said matter-of-factly as he accepted the cigarette.

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What do you know? she retorted smugly, looking out the side window, into the blackness outside, only partially illuminated by the cars head lamps. I know what I hear. I know what I see, Johnny replied. Kathryn retrieved the cigarette and took another drag. She rested her head on the back of the car seat. Slumping down into the cushion, she blew a smoke ring, almost invisible in the darkness. But you dont know what I see. You dont know what I see in his eyes behind his eyes, she said dreamily, watching the smoke curl from the end of the cigarette. The two rode quietly the rest of the way home. Kathryn casually flipped the cigarette butt out the window after she had finished it. The ashes exploded like miniature fireworks when they hit the ground behind the car. Bill woke up with the sunrise on the following morning. His head throbbed and his body ached from the night before. He got home just before Josie got up. Though she heard his heavy shoes on the staircase when he came in, she did not wake him that morning, nor ask him where he had spent the night when he arose hours later.

Bill put the envelope into the bib pocket of his overalls. He finished his cigarette and it was time to return to work. Dinner had been late, owing to the excitement with the bull and the unrepentant boys. After dinner, Bill and the boys headed out to the field together with Skip. Bill had not finished checking the fences for loose barbed wire. But first Speck wanted to show his brothers how well he could fly his kite.

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The boys had made the kite from a pair of balsa wood sticks that crossed in the middle, like an empty crucifix, and covered it with light grade rice paper, waxed slightly and polished on one side. The boys tied a tail of torn rags to it, tied together without regard for pretty. Speck held a broken dowel rod with light weight white twine encircling it. When they made it to the top of the hill, in the field about a half a mile from the house, Speck let go of the kite and the gentle breeze caught it, lifting it briefly careening into the air, but after a few moments, it fell to earth. Bill stepped forward and took the kite and ran fleetly with it, while Speck held the dowel rod in his hands, watching as the string flew off the rod. Bill ran gracefully away from the boys until he released the kite and it caught the wind. Then the three of them looked to the sky, blocking the sun from their eyes with their hands as the kite continued to loft into the air, flying higher and higher on the winds breath. Bill stepped backwards, watching the kite until he came even with Speck. Here, Bill said, let me take it out a little for you. He held the makeshift reel above his head as he let the string out all the way to the end of the dowel rod. Then he ran in a giant circle, causing the kite to dip and sway in the air overhead. The boys watched, mouths agape, as the kite caught the sunlight, then blocked the sun, then danced around the sun again. They were lost in time for the next little while as they took turns flying the kite, maneuvering it in the wind. Suddenly a young cottontail rabbit started from behind a clump of sage in the field. The dog gave chase and Speck, seeing that it was a baby rabbit, took out after the dog. The rabbit darted left and right. The boy could not turn so quickly, but the dog

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could. Just as the dog snapped at the rabbit, catching its body between his teeth, the boy reached the dog. He grabbed the rabbit by his head and feet and tugged at it from the dogs mouth. No! Speck shrieked at Skip. Let go! The startled dog released the baby rabbit and Speck held the bunny up to his chest. The dog watched intensely, panting heavily, cocking his head to one side and then the other, thinking this some new game to be played with the boy. Saliva dripped from Skips tongue in anticipation of this unexpected afternoon snack. Speck felt the rabbits heart racing faster than he could count as it struggled to break free. He held the rabbit close to his chest and walked back to show Bill and Badger his prize. Lookie here! he screeched. Skip followed the red-headed boy ever optimistic, expectant, prancing, his eyes never leaving the spot on Specks chest where he cuddled the baby rabbit. The boys face was filled with pride. He grinned from ear to ear. I got me a pet rabbit! Speck exulted in a high-pitched tone and voice, while Skip whined, inquisitive, punctuating the summer afternoon with more head gestures right and left, expecting the game to resume at any moment. Bill pulled the kite back in as Speck and Badger made over the terrified rabbit. When the string was wrapped around the dowel rod, he handed the apparatus back to Badger. The kite was as tall as the boy, quite a load for the youngest brother. Finally the boys went back home and Bill returned to work.

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Bill returned to the area of the fence that he had left before dinner. He was replacing fence posts that had rotted out over the winter with new posts cut from green cottonwood and cedar saplings that dotted the pasture. The posts were held in place by the taut wire, wrapped around the green cottonwood saplings with barbed wire that kept his fathers meager cattle herd in the pasture. He used a rope pulley to stretch the wire and release it from the post that needed changing. The job was solitary and monotonous, so most of the time Bill had his thoughts to himself. He still pined for Rosa Kelley almost daily, though it had been more than a year since he had conceded to his mothers wishes. Sometimes he felt like a heel for dropping Rosa instead of standing up to his mother. At other times he suffered in melancholy resignation that it was unfair to Rosa to lead her on anymore when he knew that a relationship with her was impossible. Some days he hated his mother for her dominant role in his predicament, but like a little boy he still craved his mamas approval. This new girl, Kathryn Holland, promised to be an apt diversion for the time being. How long had it been now, a month? A little less. Funny how a fellow cant always put a finger on time. Kathryn had invited Bill to join her for lemonade on the battered comforter she had spread on the grass beneath a stand of trees after the first baseball practice of the season. He remembered that her first kiss had tasted of lemonade. They had seen each other several times each week since then. She wore a pale yellow blouse and matching skirt the first time they met. She arranged the folds of her skirt to show more than a little of her leg. Bill looked at her and noticed the angle of her back as it rose above the wide waistband that emphasized its tiny circumference.

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As Bill idly stretched the pulley to the breaking point, the barbed wire strained. Then he heard the cracking of wood. God damn it! he said, cursing out loud for no one to hear. He quickly released the taut wire between the two fence posts that leaned towards each other now like a pair of drunks staggering out of a bar together. He disdained his afternoon reverie thinking of the girls in his life; it interfered with his work. The muslin fabric of his shirt stuck to the skin on his back. He stopped and slid out of his suspenders, unbuttoning the top buttons of his shirt and pulled it over his head, with the remaining buttons fastened. Adjusting his suspenders back up over his shoulders, he began to work again. Soon his exposed skin glistened red in the afternoon sun, highlighting the definition of the muscles in his back.

While their older brother mended fences, the boys made their way back to the farmhouse. They carried themselves like important men with ominous burdens to bear. Speck cradled the baby rabbit and Badger struggled with the kite wedged precariously under his arm. He dropped the spool of twine as they neared the farmhouse and had to put the kite down to rewind the string after it rolled away from him. Confidently, Speck strode to the chicken coop and released the rabbit into the cage. The two boys stared at the rabbit for a long time, neither of them speaking. The rabbit huddled without moving, as if he believed himself invisible, a tiny ball of fur in the farthest corner. Whatcha gonna name it, Speck?

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Dunno, yet, but first we better get it some food. Whadda rabbits eat? Grassn stuff. Speck spoke with authority. Alfalfa. Garden things. Badgers eyes widened as if he understood. Lets go. Soon they returned from their scavenger hunt, their hands full of garden vegetables that they heisted surreptitiously from Josies garden behind the house. Badger pulled several stalks of alfalfa from the hay field. By the time they had finished, the rabbit had a nest of food that a dozen baby rabbits could not have eaten in a week, even if the plants did not wilt in the hot summer sun. The boys returned to the front of the chicken coop. Can we get him out again? Badger asked. Okay, but you can only pet him. If you hold him too much youre like to squeeze him to death. Speck reached in and retrieved the diminutive rabbit. Its back legs flailed helplessly as if pumping the pedal on a bicycle when he pulled it from the wire cage. He held the rabbit delicately while Badger stroked its tiny head. The rabbit was the color of dried grass with flecks of black and white sprinkled evenly over its fur. The tail was round and softer than the hair on its back. As he studied the animal, it occurred to him that the tail was white as fresh snow, a cotton ball. No wonder its called a cotton-tail rabbit, he offered aloud. Speck cuddled the little animal as it burrowed into the small, hot pocket created by the crook of his arm pressed against his chest. He bowed his neck and barely reached

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the bunny with his lips and kissed it gently on its head. Speck felt pride and love as he had never experienced it before. This was his first real pet animal, he thought to himself. Sure, Skip was his pet too, but the whole family owned Skip. This rabbit was his alone. Im gonna take really good care of you, he said to his rabbit. Im gonna take really good care of you, Charlie. Now the rabbit had a name.

Bill finished mending fences by 3:00 oclock and headed back to the house where he planned to harness one of the horses to pull the wagon filled with fence posts and barbed wire back to the barn. The temperature had climbed above ninety-five degrees and the sun beat down on his shoulders. A little pond fed by a natural spring filled the low spot in the field about half way between where he had finished his work and the farmhouse. The water looked cool and inviting. Lily pads filled one end of the pond, and several water lilies were open, floating on the water. Without much thought, Bill sat down on the dry bank of the pond and took off his heavy work boots. When he finished he stood up, unbuttoned the copper buttons at his waist and fly, and slipped the suspenders off over his shoulders. His pants dropped heavily to the ground and he stepped out of them, barefoot and naked. Already this year the sun had tanned his back and chest from working shirtless outdoors. His skin below the waist glowed alabaster white in the afternoon sun. His arms and face were darker,

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though, except for his white forehead, protected from the sun by the wide brimmed strawhat he wore almost perpetually. He ran to the edge of the water and dove in, belly-flopping and sending water splashing into the air and to the sides of the pond. The waves made the water lilies bob up and down at the other end. Bill came up to the surface immediately and shook his head the way a dog shakes water from its back. He did the backstroke to the far end, then stopped and looked around as if he had lost something. A strong breast stroke got him back to the place where he had splashed into the water. Here the water was cool and soothing. Bill found a cool spot near the spring that fed the pond at one end. The cold water moved independently around him. He reclined and looked up at the sun shining through the green leaves of the tall trees that provided partial shade. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift. He thought of Rosa and then of Kitty. He saw Kitty beckoning to him, as she had when she pulled him into her bedroom the first time, two weeks ago. He imagined Rosa looking on as he made love to Kitty in her parents home. He felt anxious but excited. He remembered Kittys wet kisses and her breathing when he unbuttoned the layers of clothing that came between them. He felt the heat of the sun burning on his exposed skin as he lay there in the silence of the afternoon, naked in the water. He remembered melting into Kittys burning flesh. She was unlike any woman he had ever known. She was unbridled and loose. Being with her was like swinging out on a carousel as it whirled about on its axis. He felt drunk thinking of her. As he closed his eyes and imagined Kitty in the farm pond with him, Bill became aware of his erection and he pleasured himself in the cool water as the

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sun burned against his chest. The water splashed rhythmically between his arm and the side of his body until he stopped, sighing with satisfaction as he went limp, seeming to dissolve into the water. But before long he heard the call of responsibilities and he swam to the opposite end of the pond, back again, and then he stepped out of the water and felt the mud on the bottom of the pond oozing around his feet and between his toes. When he reached the edge of the water he stepped out and walked back to the pile of clothes and shoes that he had left in the short grass that surrounded the pond. He stood on one leg while he pushed the other leg, still wet, into his pants. The dry cloth caught and stuck on the sides of his leg, but as the hot cloth, baked by the sun, absorbed the water, he felt the afternoon heat once again.

Speck hated piano lessons. Most of all, he hated sitting in the parlor on the piano stool for thirty minutes every day. It was hot and he could hardly breathe inside the house. If he tried to rest even for a moment from the never-ending scales and variations on scales in the book of etudes he practiced from, Josie would scold him from the kitchen, Keep playing, Kelmet. Dont stop. Badger tried to stay invisible outside the house when Speck practiced piano, lest his mama remember that he had not started piano lessons yet. Most of the time when Speck practiced, Badger couldnt think of anything fun to do, having come to rely on his older brothers creativity and mischievous nature. He hoped he would never have to

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learn the piano. So Badger had to play alone sometimes. He was very bored this afternoon, while everyone else was busy with more important things to do. Badger thought about walking up into the pasture to see if he could find Bill and watch him fix fence a while. Then he remembered his earlier encounter with Walter and decided to stay close to home. As he walked alone outside, he remembered Charlie Rabbit and decided to go see how he was getting along for the afternoon. When he got to the chicken coop, he could not see the little animal because Charlie had burrowed into the mound of wilting greens that the boys had stuffed into the cage a few hours before. But when Badger opened the door and stirred through the greens, he found the little cottontail crouching, exposed there, his eyes wide with fright. Charlie Rabbit quickly hopped to the far corner of the cage but Badgers hands followed him. Once Badger caught Charlies back leg, he pulled the animal towards the door. Charlie emitted a thin, high pitched, squeal of alarm. As the boy and the bunny neared the door of the cage, Badger shifted his hand quickly around the little rabbits ribcage and as gently as he could, he took him out of the old chicken coop. He held him carefully and stroked the soft fur. But the bunny continued its efforts to break free. Badger could feel the quick staccato beat of the rabbits heart. As Badger returned Charlie to his makeshift nest, one of the old, dry leather hinges broke on the door to the cage, making it impossible for him to secure it. The door hung ajar and Badger feared that the rabbit would get away. Panicked, he looked around for an alternative. In the back corner of the old shed, behind the chicken coop, he spied a rusty milk pail. He darted behind the cage and picked up the bucket and looked it over.

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He could see light through the rusted out seams around the bottom rim of the pail when he held it up. Carefully, Badger retrieved the rabbit once again from his cage and took him and the pail to the base of a sprawling mulberry tree that shaded most of the area where the chickens grazed. He put the rabbit on the ground and covered him up with the bucket and then looked around for a rock large enough to keep the bucket in place until repairs could be made to the chicken coop door. He was headed for the house when he heard Bill coming in from the field.

Just a few miles east in Turon, Kitty Holland picked up the letter she had started two days earlier and read it over again. By my Lonesome, Wed. night. Dearest Boy:It's eight-thirty & still raining, so guess there is no use hoping any longer that I will get to see you tonight. Sure don't see why it can't be nice, just once in a while, when I want it too. I do want to see you awful bad. Wish you were here to give me what I want more than any thing else & you say I can not have that. Wonder if it will always be so? No. Sure not. But if it should-She had waited fruitlessly for a letter from Bill before sending another one. When a letter from Bill finally arrived she decided to finish this one and get it to the post office. She used her best, ivory-colored linen stationary to write on. It had cost her a pretty penny, embossed stationery. But then nothings too good for the Kid, she thought to herself. She wrote with a long black fountain pen, delicately pointed at both ends. A

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shiny gold nib dotted with dark blue ink touched the paper as she put her signature in code at the bottom of the letter. Are you going to have a game Saturday? Sure seems ages since Sunday & Monday morning. You must come over just as soon as you can, for each day seems longer than the one before, when I don't see you. Was awful glad to get your letter today. Am going to bed now hoping that you will be here this time tomorrow evening. With a bushel of love, your "country girl" When she finished signing the letter, she sealed it in a matching envelope and addressed it to Bill in Langdon. The project completed, she bounced down the stairs of her parents home and called to her mother. Im going down to the post office. Ill be back soon. The screened door banged shut behind her before her mother could add anything else to her errand. She walked swiftly in the humidity and warmth of the afternoon. She glanced up at the western sky and suspected that it would rain soon. I must hurry, she thought.

Saturday, May 20, 1916 Bill finished reading the letter and put it back into the envelope. Wish you were here to give me what I want more than any thing else. He felt the pressure below his belly rising in anticipation. He imagined seeing her again that night after the game. He stashed this letter in his chest of drawers, pushing it to the back corner of the top drawer with the others Kitty had sent him. He closed the drawer and picked up his baseball glove and prepared to head out to his car. Then from somewhere outside he heard a terrible fracas. Speck and Badger were in a fight!

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CHAAAARLIE! Bill heard Speck scream. You KIIIILLED him! Whos Charlie? Bill wondered. You KIIIILLED him! Speck screamed again. Bill looked from his window and saw Speck drop something and run at Badger, butting him in the stomach and knocking him to the ground. Badgers legs flailed beneath his bigger brothers weight. Speck hit Badger hard on the side of his face. Badger wailed, Get off! he sobbed, Youre hurting me! He tried to cough but could only wheeze for air. Its your fault! I didnt mean for anything to happen. Bill was out the door before Josie could get into the yard. He ran to the two boys and pulled Speck off in a single movement. He killed Charlie! Speck cried. He was in tears now, too. Bill saw the stiff, lifeless little animal on the ground a few feet away. What happened? Bill demanded. The boys both wailed inconsolably. Then Josie entered the arena. What is going on here? she demanded. The boys continued to cry. Somebody had better start talking or Ill get me another switch! she threatened. Charlies dea-uhd, Speck wept, pointing to the body. Josie turned and saw the little rabbit and understood. But thats not Badgers fault. IS SO! Badger took him out of his cage!

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But Kelmet, that isnt why the bunnys dead. Bunnies cant live in cages. Why, Ive never heard tell of a bunny that ever survived in a cage for more than a day or two. Im so sorry, Speck, Badger said earnestly, drawing breath in gasping sobs. Badger had left the rabbit under the old pail the day before. The shade moved with the sun and when the pail caught the full sun, the bucket became an oven. The rabbit died of heat exhaustion and terror. Not necessarily in that order. The boys had not thought to add water to Charlies menu either. Come on to the house, boys, Josie said. I know where theres some oatmeal cookies and cold milk. Bill said good-bye and left for the baseball game that would be played in Turon that evening. Dirt settled onto their tears as the boys followed their mama to the house. She found a jar of cookies on the shelf above the pantry and took milk out of the ice box and poured a glass for each of them. Where shall we bury Charlies body? Josie asked, little knowing that Skip had already handled the funeral arrangements.

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Chapter Four The Picnic

Monday, May 22, 1916 In Reno County, Kansas it was only now breaking day. An hour or so earlier the molten sun had risen out of the Atlantic Ocean like a ball of red glass. But here on the Holmes farm, the air still carried a bluish tint to it as dawn stretched over the eastern horizon. A light breeze blew across the prairie, swelling the flower sack curtains out from the window in Bill Holmes bedroom, causing them to tremble open. Had he looked out at that moment, he would have caught the ghostlike form of a coyote trotting back to its den on the low ridge that ran behind the house. In the ancient cottonwoods that surrounded the house, mourning doves called back and forth to each other. In the

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distance, the cawing of a crow announced carrion on the dusty rural road leading into town. The prairie was awakening. Bill opened his eyes. He could hear the downstairs wall clock chiming the hour, then the sound of Josie moving about the kitchen stove. He heard her pumping water for the coffee potlistened to the sound of her hatchet splitting logs into kindling, the clink of wood against wood as she dropped it into the cook stove and started the first fire of the day. Soon the odor of fresh side sizzling on the griddle and the heady fragrance of a pot of boiled coffee drifted up the stairs and fell on Bills nose. Itll be buckwheat cakes for sure, he thought and unfolded out of bed. After throwing on his bibs and lacing up his work boots, he stuck his head into the boys room. Hey, you termites! Time to get up. Come on now. Rise n shine! The boys grumbled. Bill was not their daddy, but Daddy would not be home for several more weeks when the threshing crew came to Langdon for the harvest here. In the meantime, Bill was the man of the house, and they knew not to buck his goads. Besides, he was their best friend in too many ways to count. When he entered the kitchen, the aromas that had wafted up the stairs assailed Bills nose. Batter bubbling on the cast iron griddle smelled sweet and sour at once, but the sugar-cured smell of bacon fat in the skillet on the other side of the stove almost overpowered the more delicate smells of the pancakes. Bill glanced at the flapjacks and crispy strips in the platter alongside the stove and eyed his mother, preoccupied at the sink, back turned. Like a hawk descending on helpless prey, he folded the top pancake over three strips of bacon and had a bite in his mouth when Josie turned and caught him

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in his morning larceny. As she stood there, mouth agape, he found her half filled cup of coffee on the table and gulped it, washing down the evidence of his first bite, never breaking eye contact with his mother, who started to sputter as he made for the door. William G. Holmes! You come back here and finish your breakfast proper. Youre not too big for me to tan your hide! Speck and Badger entered the room and exchanged knowing glances at each other. They had heard all this before. Sure, Mama, he said, kissed her on the tip of her nose and squired her around the kitchen as in a dance. Stop! she scolded and tried to pull away from his grasp. But anybody with a lick of sense could see that this irreverent man-child was her favorite. Bill grabbed a couple of cold biscuits left over from last nights supper and flew out the kitchen screen door and then was gone. Josie sighed, pushed a few strands of hair back in place and returned to the table with a light smile on her lips. A second later, however, her face took on the look of undisputed matriarch of the Holmes farm as she directed her attention to her youngest boys. Gwan now. And quit your snickerin. You got loads a chores to do. No sooner had the sun crested over the eastern horizon than the temperature went from the overnight low of 65 degrees to 80. The early morning breezes quickly evaporated the moisture in the air, but provided little relief as the thermometer climbed. Bill headed for the tack room in the barn, where he pulled a bridle off the wall, found an empty bucket, and threw in a scoop of oats from the feed bunk. A yellowed copy of the Hutchinson News Herald lay on the bench. Bills eyes passed over a headline

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and story about Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany honoring his Armys Chief of Staff, Helmuth von Moltke, over the success of something called the Schlieffen Plan. Europe seemed far too distant to be of any concern to Americans, let alone a farm boy in the middle of Kansas. Europes squabbles were her own. None of our damned business, he thought. Eight hundred miles away on another small farm outside the town of Little Falls, Minnesota, a fourteen-year-old boy by the name of Charles Lindbergh ate his oatmeal while he read a book on aviation that his mother had brought home from the General Store in town. In another decade Lucky Lindy would demonstrate once and for all the closeness of the two great continents when he would fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. This morning, Bills major concern was not international politics, but rather how to entice a stubborn old horse to bridle. He did not know that Europes ambassadors had met with their prime ministers behind closed doors to try to find ways to silence the rolling cadence of the drums of war. Bill only wanted to slip onto the back of Blaze and bring the cows in for milking. Bill and Blaze played out this dance every morning. It didnt occur to Bill that he and Blaze represented countless other farm boys and draft animals. Nor could he have guessed that he and millions of other young men like him might soon enough be drawn into the maelstrom of war. For now, he heard only the meadowlarks trilling on the split rail fence surrounding the pasture. Not until this years county fair would he thrill to the barn-storming biplanes piloted by boys not much older than himself. Instinctively he would duck like everyone else in the crowd as the planes roared over the fairgrounds, doing snap rolls, heartstopping stalls and crowd-pleasing barrel rolls. He unlatched the gate and with bucket and

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bridle in hand, headed up the wagon road toward the north pasture to call the horse. He felt alive, vibrant, pleased with himself and the day. He stopped, drew in a lungful of fresh morning air. Not one to dally when faced with farm chores, he nevertheless found himself marveling at the mingled fragrance of clover blossoms and the heady, pungent odor of fresh-cut alfalfa wafting over him from a nearby field. Rattling the bridle against the feed bucket again, he continued up the draw towards Blaze, who gazed down at him with a look of disdain. Blaze scented the rolled oats. Took a few cautious steps towards his tormentor. Bill walked alongside the fence row, following the path the cattle made when they came in for milking. Skip ran alongside and then ahead, stopping to sniff out some interesting scent or to mark a clump of weeds or grass. The air was fresh and clean and sweet, though, and Bill felt elated. The only sounds came from birds singing in the trees down the hill where the water ran off the fields and stood here and there in marshes until they dried up later in the summer. Bill turned off the path and headed downhill. He stopped in the shadow of a cottonwood tree at the bottom, unbuttoned his fly and made water at the trees base, directing his flow between two craggy roots that held the tree in the ground like talons. A rivulet ran a foot or so before soaking into the dry ground, dissipating quickly between the exposed roots. A black bull snake slid into a tall growth of reeds a few yards down further towards the pasture. Fastening his pants, Bill walked on into the draw. It would be a holiday todaya picnic celebrating the last day of school at Jordan Springs. There would be a horseshoe tournament before noon, a covered dish dinner, sack races for the children and, finally, a

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baseball game before returning home for evening chores. The baseball game piqued his interest more than anything else. Skip picked up the scent of a jackrabbit and charged at a growth of buffalo grass maybe twenty yards or so ahead. The rabbit jumped out of the grass and ran for his life. Bill called out, Get im, Skip! and the dog gave chase. Responding to this encouragement, Skip stretched out each lope, jumping over grass and weeds and snares. A shepherd and border collie mix, Skip was a formidable threat to anything that would give chase, as the hare discovered right off the bat. Even with its sudden changes in direction, its patented jukes and feints, it could not shake its pursuer. Skip stuck like glue on the tail of his quarry. The jackrabbit put on more speed, faster than Bill would drive on a good road, but could not best the eager dog. By the time the pair had reached a rise on the opposite side of the draw, Skip ran abreast with the rabbit. He snapped and caught the hare behind its ears, clamping down hard over its shoulders, skidding to a halt. The dog let up some as he shook the rabbit to the right and left; then he threw the jack back over his right shoulder. The rabbit, far from dead, hit the ground and began running drunkenly again in the same movement. The dog turned and kicked up dirt, taking off again and caught the rabbit much more quickly this time. Grabbing the hare by the neck, he shook it again and again, this time breaking the animals neck so that the body hung like one of Josies sock puppets, limply from side to side. Then Skip sat back in the short pasture grass, put his front paws on the rabbits body and tore at its skin with his long canine teeth. Bill knew he would not see Skip again until after the dog had finished his breakfast. While Skip dismembered his prey, legions

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of barn swallows glided over the prairie, snatching insects a few inches off the ground like barnstorming pilots plucking handkerchiefs from a pole thrust into the air. Heading up the draw, Bill rattled the bridle against the side of the bucket of oats. Blaze stood better than a hundred yards away, further up the meadow, pastured at the edge of retirement. Blaze would have preferred to spend the rest of his days grazing and basking in the Kansas sun. Maybe a flake or two of alfalfa. Or if the equine gods felt particularly beneficent, a mare in heat would make a pleasant diversion. Or else he would prefer just to be left in peace. And that meant NO WORK! Course, Bill had a different notion. Drawing ever closer, the man now shook the bucket, arresting Blaze with that intriguing sound usually associated with feeding. When Blaze heard Bills approach, his head turned towards the man and his ears cocked towards the sound. Blaze turned away, trying to look nonchalant, but sensed what his master expected. Then he looked back, intuiting the buckets contents in much the same way that Speck and Badger understood the natural inducement of their mothers oatmeal raisin cookies. Blaze knew what was going on, alright. He hadnt been foaled yesterday. He could hear Bill clattering the bridle against the feed bucket. Foam stained green by the grass he had been croppingdripped from his mouth and fell to the ground at his forelocks. His muscles tensed and Blaze feigned an air of idle interest, but stood ready to put as much distance as possible between him and Bill. But at the last moment, he hesitated. Whats in that bucket? he wondered. Oats from the feed bunk in the corral? Or was it a trick to take advantage of an old horse? He could not decide. By now Bill had drawn so close that the fragrance of rolled oats floated into Blazes

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quivering nostrils. All was lost. The horse swatted its tail back and forth against its rear end and walked, not too fast, towards the man. Tentatively, with studied hesitancy, the two moved closer to each other. A moment later, an agreement was struck. Blaze would get his oats and Bill would slip the bridle over his head. When they met, Bill reached out and stroked the horses withers, his quivering mouth and face. A white streak down the long head stood out against the claret-colored coat that defined the rest of his body, except for white ankle socks above all but his left rear hoof. The horse pulled his head up and away and made for the bucket of oats, but Bill held the bucket back until he could loop the bridle over the horses head and insert the bit into its mouth. With the bridle in place, Bill put the bucket of oats on the ground and Blaze stretched his neck down and ate with undisguised gusto. While Blaze ate, Bill reached in the front pocket of his bib overalls and pulled out a tin of tobacco, flipping the hinged lid open with his thumb. The lid bounced against the back side. He pulled a single leaf of paper from the center of a wrapper, folded the paper lengthwise, filled it with loose tobacco and rolled a cigarette between his thumbs and forefingers and put it whole into the corner of his mouth. He struck a wooden match on the heel of his boot and lit the cigarette. The end caught fire unevenly, glowing orange and yellow. He took a deep drag and exhaled quickly. The smoke rose and caught the light breeze. Holding the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, Bill positioned the reins over the top of Blazes neck and picked up the bucket. With the pail extended at arms length across the horses withers, he jumped belly first onto Blazes back. Blaze shuffled at first, adjusting to the load, then stood still as Bill pulled his right leg up over the horses

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tail end. The two became one as Bill threw himself over the horses broad back. He wrapped his left arm under the horses neck until he completed his mount. Once astride the horse, Bill stroked its neck affectionately and made a kissing sound, hoisted himself into a sitting position and started out in pursuit of the milk cows. Responding to the sound, the horse clopped out slowly, heading further down the pasture to where the cows had congregated. Far above them, a red-tailed hawk drifted like the boys kite, on the strings of early morning air currents rising off the fields and pastures below. Then in everwidening spirals the hawk rose higher in the indigo sky, searching for any snake or rodent that dared to cross the open pasture in the glitter light of early morning. On a nearby rise, a prairie dog barked out a warning as the hawk folded its wings and dropped toward the earth. Skip came over the ridge, now full and satisfied, and easily rounded up the milk cows to herd them back to the barn. At midway, he joined in alongside the horse and they walked slowly behind the cows. The dog stopped along the way to sniff the ground, his pink tongue hanging out one side of his smiling mouth, ringed by pointed, white teeth. Blaze picked up the pace as they neared the corral outside the barn. Speck and Badger sat on the top rung of the corral fence, waiting for their oldest brothers return. The milking went without difficulty this morning; Speck had alfalfa hay ready for the cows behind the stanchions. While Bill milked, Speck shooed flies away from the bucket below the cows udder. Flies covered every vertical surface in the barn and swarmed whenever human or animal approached. Badger knew that one of the barnyard cats had hidden her litter of kittens in the hayloft. Already bored by the milking, he

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decided to climb up into the loft and play with them a while. Then it came to him that theyd be a good foil for some mischief. So while Speck pitch-forked alfalfa into the cows feed bunks, Badger drew up his plan. As Bill sat on a one-legged stool beside the last of the three cows that gave milk in the morning, Badger came poking about with a yellow-striped kitten under his arm. Bill took the cows teat, pointed it at the boy, and squirted a stream of milk at his face. Badger giggled and licked the hot milk as it ran down the side of his nose to his upper lip, wiping the rest on the sleeve of his shirt. Bill squirted the cows milk again, this time hitting the kitten in the face, causing it to claw its way out of Badgers arm and jump to the ground. Badger chased the little animal around the stanchions until at last he caught it. Bill filled a rusty old pie pan with fresh warm milk. A dozen cats of various colors, patterns and sizes appeared and devoured the contents, pushing against each others heads, digging their claws into the dirt. Chores done, the boys and their oldest brother headed up to the house. The smell of lately fried bacon replaced the pungent smell of the corral. Bill carried the milk bucket up to the porch and set it outside the door. He pulled water into the kitchen sink with a few strong thrusts of the handle on the cast iron pump and washed his hands and arms before sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the new issue of Cappers Weekly. The younger boys were filthyor so it seemed to Josies eye. Why, she hadnt even served up breakfast yet, and these ragamuffins looked like theyd hauled in most of the dirt from Reno County.

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Josie turned away from the stove to look at them. Not a bite to eat until you two scamps are cleaned up! she warned. The boys tumbled off their chairs and went straight to the sink and drove the pump handle. Soon a gush of cold spring water from eight feet under ground flowed into a basin that sat in the long, wide porcelain sink built into the counter top that extended across the north wall. Badger had to climb onto the three-legged stool that Josie kept under the sink. Speck pushed his way in around Badger and got a handful of water. Josie glanced at them as they dried their hands and wondered if there was more dirt in the sink or on the towel. She spooned out scrambled eggs from the black skillet that she held with a hot pad wrapped around the handle. She took the plates to the table and handed one to Bill and placed the other two in front of the boys, who were, as always, swinging their legs and kicking each other under the kitchen table. Whatre you two going to do today? Bill asked his brothers. Speck looked at Badger who looked down at his plate. Nothin Speck answered. You playin ball safternoon? Badger asked his big brother. I reckon so. You coming to the game? That was a given. Speck and Badger always showed up at Bills games. Even though he no longer played with the Salt Packers in Hutchinson, Bill never missed a chance to play baseball. Anywhere. Anytime. As ornery as Speck, Bill had all Badgers charm. He knew the young ladies would be there to watch him hit the ball and run. At twenty-six he was among the most eligible bachelors in Langdon. Folks thought it high time he should marry and start

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caring for a family of his own. He worked hard, but shirked responsibility. He projected boyish charm and sultry good looks. But recently his dark eyes seemed a little colder. Bill sometimes slid into a stolen base on his back, with his baseball cleats in the air. He had drawn blood more than once in competitive play and it gave him a feeling of power that he liked. He supposed that Kitty Holland liked it too.

The Jordan Springs School had a festive banner over the door that proclaimed, LAST DAY! Everyone in the community came, whether they had children in school or not. Outside, men young and old had gathered around the horseshoe links. The tournament would last all morning, with semi-finals and finals taking place after lunch. The men stood around the links in groups, players or not. The players took the game very seriously, squinting at their target, holding the horseshoe tongs up, swinging back slowly, letting go and following through with a gracefulness that seemed out of place for men of the prairie. Inside, the women unpacked homemade food from boxes and picnic baskets. The men who served on the school board had already pushed the desks to the front corner of the open room and stacked them one on top of the other. They set up long tables fashioned of sawhorses and planks covered with freshly laundered, starched and sadironed bed sheets. The more prosperous families brought their food in wicker baskets, in earthenware bowls with embroidered muslin towels wrapped around the hot dishes to keep them so. Others brought their food in boxes and crates originally designed for other

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purposes. But there was little difference in the quality of the food. Everything was home grown and home made. Josie unpacked her covered dishes from an old egg crate that Bill had rescued for this purpose from the Produce before he closed it the previous fall. She brought two pans of homemade biscuits, a bowl of freshly churned butter, with preserves made from sand hill plums that grew along the roadsides and in the pastures west of Langdon, and a crock of green beans from last summers canning. She set out dishes of piccalilli relish made from green tomatoes taken before the first frost last fall and sweet pickle chips preserved from the cucumber crop two years before. Finally she unpacked a yellow pound cake baked yesterday and set it at the end of the long table with the other desserts. Speck and Badger rode with their mother from home to the school. They went to the ball field where a game had already begun. Speck went into right field; Badger waited on the bench. They would play with the other boys until the teacher, Miss Elliott, rang the dinner bell. Bill left home after the rest of the family. He drove to the station to pick up his brother and sister, who were coming in on the first passenger train of the day from Hutchinson. Fay had been in high school at Nickerson. Vesta had finished high school and now had completed her first year at the business college in Hutchinson. He put his bat and glove into his old duffel bag with two well-used baseballs and several grimy sweat towels. Then he changed into the comfortable old jersey he had kept from his Salt City days to be ready for the afternoon game.

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The Rock Island Depot in Langdon was not much larger than many of the houses in town. The interior consisted of one large room with an office and a ticket counter across one end that opened onto a shipping and receiving dock. Three rows of uncomfortable wooden benches filed in front of the ticket counter, as if the Depot Master could climb upon a box and deliver a sermon from the front of the room. The interior had a stale and musty smell. It already had begun to
Rock Island Depot, Langdon, KS. 1916

take on the heat of the day. Bill rolled a

cigarette and waited outside on the deck by the tracks where he could pick up a fresh breeze. The train arrived on time and after hugs and handshakes, the three headed out to the school. Vesta kept her long, dark blond hair tied in an upswept knot on the top of her head. She wore white. Her starched cotton blouse had short, pleated sleeves that buttoned above her elbows. She looked fragile, but was all sophistication and poise. The A-line skirt came to the ankles and she wore white pumps with thick sculptured heels and white stockings. Short lashes fringed her gray-blue eyes. She wore no make-up to cover a light sprinkling of freckles dotting the smooth pale skin of her face. Her cheeks held a rosy glow accented by the long narrow scarf of pink silk that kept her hair from blowing in the flivver. At sixteen, Fay was not as handsome as his older brother, but he exuded an air of quiet dignity that held him in good stead. He was a schoolboy at Reno County High

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School in Nickerson. Like Vesta, he had dressed for the occasion. He wore long pants the color of ripe wheat and laced shoes. His pinstripe shirt had no collar. He was thin, all legs and arms, but almost as tall as Bill. You cant play baseball in those clothes, Kid. Fay had never been asked to play with the young men of the community, so he did not take his brothers meaning at first. This tacit invitation, coming from Bill, not only the best athlete the town of Langdon had ever seen, but his own brother, made Fay swell with pride. Ive got some other clothes in my grip, Fay said, matter-of-factly. Well, good. Because I expect you to hold down shortstop this afternoon. Vesta had sat in the back seat without speaking. Then she asked, whos going to be playing baseball? Pert near the regular bunch, I reckon, Bill answered. I think Tommys coming over. Vesta did not answer. The three finished the short ride out to Jordan Springs with little more conversation.

As the trio climbed out of Bills automobile, Miss Elliott, the schoolmarm, completed her first year at the school by ringing the dinner bell. Miss Elliott appeared quite mature, though only twenty, dressed in somber tones considered old-fashioned even by many of the parents. After everyone had gathered around her and had quieted, Miss

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Elliott turned to Vesta. Would you be good enough to accompany us in the Doxology, dear? Vesta had accompanied the school choir, made up of all the students from youngest to oldest, for the Christmas chorale. She smiled demurely and approached the stage at the front of the room, taking a seat at the piano. She noticed Tommy Smith standing near the back of the room with other young men his age. After Vesta played the final bar of the familiar psalter, the entire community joined in singing. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And then, a long, drawn-out and somber, if slightly atonal Ahhh men. After the singing of the Doxology, a general chaos followed while the people sorted through their baskets and boxes for their eating utensils. The oldest women and men of the community went first, followed by parents selecting food for the youngest of the children there. Finally, the men and students got in line while most of the otherwise unoccupied women watched over the tables, clearing empty bowls and plates and putting out more food. Enough food for as many more remained when everyone had filled their plates. When Vesta left the stage after closing the lid on the piano keyboard, locking it and placing the key in the storage compartment of the piano bench, she walked towards Tommy Smith, who stood watching her, as if no one else was around them. Hello, Tommy, Vesta said, avoiding eye contact, looking towards the floor.

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Gday, Vesta, he said, his hands trembling, almost invisibly, as he held the brim of his sand-colored straw hat in front of his chest. She walked past the young man and made her way over to her mother. Tommy followed her only with his eyes. Kitty Holland was already in the school room with her childhood friends, Gertrude Applegate and Jenny Railsback. The girls were there more for the baseball game than for the food, but each had contributed a plate of cookies to the desserts table. Bill asked Kitty to eat dinner with him. Kitty did nothing without creating a noisy whirlwind to get attention, and a stream of words punctuated by silvery peals of laughter followed her as she took his arm. Turning her head from side to side, she smiled broadly at those she recognized, making sure that no one missed who she had in tow, as if to say, look what I got! Neither the Hollands nor Jonas and Josie made an attempt to intervene. Instead, each parent ignored their meal and watched as the pair filled their plates and went outside to eat apart from the other adults and young people. From across the room Rosa Kelley watched as if she observed from the other side of a window, as the three giggling girls and the baseball player left to find a place to eat outside. The skin below Rosas collarbone flushed red as she turned away from the spectacle, finding something that needed to be done to occupy her time. The Hollands did not view Bill Holmes as a good match for their eldest daughter, Kathryn. He was five years older. He had not gone to high school, nor had he flourished in any occupation, though he had already tried several. His accomplishments on the baseball field were dimmed by his behavior off the field. His long-term affection for the Kelley girl and their well-known trysts had done nothing to diminish his reputation as a lothario. Folks regarded him as a man who liked his drink. Nevertheless, women

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swooned over his aggressive athleticism and his dark brown eyes and auburn hair. In a word, he was a dangerous man, a charming bad boy, according to those who knew him. While the Hollands disapproved of Bill reputation, Jonas and Josie thought worse of the Holland girl. Her reputation matched Bills in her ability to march to the beat of a different drummer, ignoring social expectations. She exuded an earthy, aggressive quality that bordered on a bawdy sexuality. Her mouth was full and sensuous; she often spoke with a loud voice, sometimes using profanity, and she laughed like a man. Kittys parents had arranged for her to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle on their ranch near Eads, Colorado. Their nephew, Johnny Holland, had driven out to Turon, where the Hollands lived, to escort Kathryn back to Eads. Kitty had not yet told Bill of her impending departure, though the trip would begin the next day. Her parents meant to stifle this infatuation with Bill Holmes while still in its early stages. When everyone had finished eating, Miss Elliott mounted the stage and stood in front of her desk. The assemblage became quiet. She welcomed everyone in a somewhat shrill voice. There followed a program of awards and recognition in what soon became a hot and stuffy room. Afterwards, the women cleared the tables of food and dishes and the children went outside to play. The younger boys played tag and keep-away. The younger girls played hide-and-seek, dressed paper dolls, or sat in a circle and talked. The baseball players headed out to warm up for their game. The older men returned to finish their horseshoe tournament. A few of the young women, older teenagers for the most part, shirked their responsibilities inside the schoolhouse and crept away to watch the men set up for the game. Kitty Holland led the group. Vesta stayed inside and helped

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her mother put away the leftover food and utensils. Rosa Kelley stayed inside with her mother and the other women. She went about the rote business of cleaning up and remaining invisible as if a servant in a fine house, an unseen presence taken for granted.

The ball players had already placed the bases when Kitty and her girl friends arrived at the top of the hill behind the schoolhouse. Kittys friend Gertrude Applegate Gertie, as she was known among her friendsspread a quilted comforter on top of the grass. Jenny brought a quart jar of lemonade. The three girls sat in a semi-circle talking and giggling among themselves, watching the boys warm up. The boys were young men with hard muscles and flat bellies owing to many hard days of farm work. Several of the players wore only cotton jersey undershirts above their pants. The thin straps emphasized their bulging shoulders and biceps, which glistened with perspiration in the afternoon sun. Kitty whispered something to Jenny and Gertie, prompting them to look towards the field and then they all burst into laughter. Kittys laughter rang out above the others like the brass section of the marching band at the Fourth of July parade. The game did not start until 2:00 oclock, which allowed the players time to digest a heavy meal while their mothers and sisters finished the cleanup. Bill would captain the North team, so named for an imaginary line separating the families who lived north of the school from those to the south. Maurice Dodd captained the South. After the coin toss, North took the field. The first two innings went scoreless. In the third inning, Corky Edmiston got a two base hit for the North, followed by right

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fielder George Schoonover tapping himself onto first base. Rankin and Wedel popped out, and then Bill stepped up to the plate. When he played for the Hutchinson team in 1914, Bills season average had been .337. He waited for his pitch, letting two high balls pass over the plate before he connected with a perfect pitch that sent the ball flying over Tommy Smiths head in center field. Bill ran the bases while Tommy chased the ball, bringing Edmiston and Schoonover home. The score at the bottom of the third: North 3, South 0. The game dragged out for the next three innings. The temperature had risen to the nineties, with little wind and high humidity. The pitchers tired and filled the bases with walks. Pop flies put batters and runners out alike. The girls didnt seem to mind. They continued to watch the game and whisper among themselves, laughing and snorting from time to time when some especially cute player wiggled his rear end at them while digging in to bat at home plate. From time to time, Rosa Kelley could be seen from the steps of the school building, stretching to catch sight of a ball in play, wiping her hands on a limp tea towel that she held in front of herself, like a bouquet of wilted flowers. Then she would return inside the school, appearing preoccupied by some important task as yet undone. Kitty gazed glass-eyed whenever Bill stepped up to the plate. He seemed oblivious to her presence, except when he turned to flash a grin at her as he stepped back from a bad throw and the umpire yelled, Ball! Then in the top of the seventh, Tommy Smith hit the ball over the right fielders head and ran the bases in triumph. Vesta and Rosa watched the game from the front of the school building. As if forgetting themselves, they clapped and called to him as he rounded the field. The score changed to 3-1, with one man out. The next two batters got

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base hits and figured to tie the score. Then Maurice Dodd approached the plate and on the first pitch, drove the ball straight to Fay Holmes at short stop. Without a split seconds hesitation, Fay burned the ball into second base where Bill touched the bag, forcing the runner out. Bill and Fay ran and jumped at each other, giving themselves a bear hug as their team came off the field. Vesta applauded, but Rosa watched the excitement in silence while Jenny, Gertie and Kitty sprang to their feet and screamed with delight. North held South scoreless for the next two innings, and South returned the favor. The game ended just after 4:30 with storm clouds looming ominously on the northwest horizon. The wind had changed to the north, and the temperature dropped quickly as the sun fell below the cloud line. When Bill approached the girls on the comforter, he was hot and smelled like sweat. His shirt was soaked down the front and under the arms. The wet cotton clung to the muscles in his back. Kitty Holland didnt seem to mind. The cooler air would dry him off soon enough. She had plans. The two walked apart from the crowd back down the hill to the schoolhouse. Tell your mama that youll be seeing me home, Bill. I want you to take me for a ride. Both of them knew that Josie would not approve the plan. I need to help do the chores. The cows may be running wild tonight. You can find a story. How old are you, Kid? Bill sensed Kittys urgency and that awareness sent a charge through him like electricity. Nothing combined like baseball and women after a game.

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Then ride to town with Gertie and meet me at the caf when I get there. Tell your folks you plan to spend the night with Gertie, and Ill bring you back there later. Youre my man, Bill Holmes. And youre my country girl. Bill touched her backside inappropriately like she was a team mate, without care whether anyone behind them might have noticed. Then he walked on ahead to catch up with his mother. Looks like we could be headed for a good thunderstorm this evening, Josie said as they headed towards the Model T. Mama! Bill called as he ran up from behind. She stopped and turned. I need to go into town. Can you take Fay and Vesta home? I reckon. What about your chores? Tell Fay Ill give him two bits if hell do them for me tonight. He knew that Fay would be an easy sell after that double play in the seventh. Bill took off running for his car, gave it a crank and backed onto the road in front of the schoolhouse. He shifted into first gear and the car made a familiar hum as he turned it toward Langdon.

Bill stopped at Grieves once he got to town and went to the pharmacists counter at the back of the store. Doc Grieve owned the pharmacy, but Jesse Hughes ran the store for him. Jesse looked up from a Saturday Evening Post, closed the magazine and grunted from the effort of getting up. How was the game today, Billy Boy? Jesse asked, extending his hand.

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Dont believe what you hear about the Souths going to rise again. Bill said, flashing a smile and receiving Jesses hand. How about a pint of heart medicine for a tired ball player tonight? Jesse and Bill had finished eighth grade together and the two had been friends for years. Jesse knew his old chum and asked, Whose heart you plan to medicate tonight, Bill? A gentleman never kisses and tells, Tex. You know better than to ask. Im thinking you aint been kissed yet, chum. So it wouldnt be the same. Then I cant risk spoiling my streak. Wrap that pint up and let me go. Ive got places to go and people to see. Bill slid a coin across the counter, picked up the package and doffed a smart salute to his friend as he turned to go. When he got back outside, he put the package under the seat and headed across the street to the caf. He frowned when he saw Kit and Gertie sitting at one of the tables. He had not intended the evening to be a threesome. Dont worry, Bill, Gertie said. Jim Kelley should be walking through that same door just about any minute. The two girls looked at each other and Bills face colored slightly. Well, you know Im proud to be out with you anytime, Gert. Not when youre figuring to sport your lady friend here. The sound of the spring on the screen door called attention to Jim Kelleys entrance. He was taller than Bill and if anything, better looking. Jim and Bill had not remained such good friends after Bill had jilted Jims sister, Rosa, the year before. Tonight the four would have

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supper in the cafe and say an early goodnight, so that each couple could go their separate way. Conversation came easily for Kit and Gertie. Bill and Jim nodded and answered questions, and kept up a little small talk during the meal. The meal consisted of pan-fried steak, riced potatoes and brown gravy, hot biscuits with fresh butter and honey. After the waitress cleared the plates, the two couples prepared to leave. The ladies left the table for the powder room while the men divvied up the bill. Hows Rosa getting along? Bill asked once the girls were out of ear shot. Oh, shes fine. Shes going to be working in Hutchinson in the ladies clothes department at Pegues-Wright in another week or so. Bill nodded. Their young ladies returned and the four headed towards the door. The wind had quieted outside. It was cooler than it had been earlier in the day, but the air lay still and heavy. The two couples separated on the sidewalk, saying their good-byes. Bill and Kit walked to his car across the street. He opened the door for her and she climbed onto the front seat, sitting in the middle, near the steering wheel. Wed better put up the top, Bill said. Oh no! Not unless it rains. I want to feel the wind blowing through my hair. Take me for a ride out of town, Bill. Drive as fast as you dare! Kitty had already taken the combs out of her thick black hair and she shook her head back and forth to loosen it. The probability of rain was far greater than Kitty had surmised, but Bill obliged and gave the automobile a crank. It started almost at once, causing the passenger compartment to rock and vibrate.

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Bill pulled the car around, put the windshield down, and headed south out of town. He picked up speed until Kits hair blew back like a horses mane caught in the wind at full gallop. They spoke and laughed loudly, though they could barely hear over the dual roars of the wind and the four-cylinder engine. Two miles south of town, Bill slowed and turned off the road, stopping in front of a barbed wire gate in a fencerow. It had grown nearly dark. With the motor idling, Bill stepped out and opened the fence gate. Run her through, he called to Kit. She slid behind the wheel, eased it into first gear and released the handbrake and clutch, gently adding gas to the engine to put the car into motion. The car moved steadily through the fence row into the pasture. Bill had selected his favorite fishing spot, just off Silver Creek. The banks were sandy and the water shallow. He jumped on the running board as Kit guided the automobile down towards the trees that grew along the water. Whoa, he said, as if he were speaking to Blaze. Kit engaged the brake, brought the car to a stop and turned off the magneto, killing the engine. Bill helped her out of the car and onto the running board. She put her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the lips. Bill responded by picking her up and swinging her around. They laughed as he set her down on her feet away from the car. He reached under the seat and handed the package to her. Oh, my! Whatever do we have here? He rummaged around behind the drivers seat and retrieved an old blanket. Throwing it over his shoulder, he took her by the hand and then walked down closer to the river, under the trees. They found a soft spot near a sand bar away from the rivers

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edge. Together they spread the blanket and then sat down. Bill leaned back on one elbow, pulling a tobacco tin out of his pocket. He rolled a cigarette, lit it and handed it to Kit. She took a long drag and offered it back. Keep it for a bit. Bill broke the seal on the whiskey bottle hed bought at Grieves. Once opened, he took a mouthful straight from the bottle. Aagh! He opened his mouth as if it was burning, taking on air and shaking his head, he made a sucking sound. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and passed the bottle to Kit. Thisll keep you warm on a cold night! She took the bottle and he took back the cigarette. He inhaled from the cigarette while Kit drank from the bottle. She matched Bill in her enthusiasm and giggled as she handed the bottle back. Lets go wading! she exclaimed after a few more shots. None too modestly she removed her shoes and stockings. Bill took another drag from the cigarette and offered it to Kit. She accepted and leaned back on her elbow, arched her back and puffed from the burning tobacco. Bill pulled off his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs. He stood up, took another swig from the bottle, finished it and replaced the cap, tossing the bottle to the side of the blanket. The sand was hot and dry where they had set up camp. He moved towards the water, then turned back and offered Kit a hand up. She stood on her toes and kissed him again and ran her right hand up through his dark hair. He returned the kiss and drew her closer to him. They walked arm in arm down to the edge of the water. The river bank was damp and cold, as much clay as sand. It stuck to the sides of their feet until they reached the river, which rushed past them flowing over the tops of their feet. They felt

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the slick, muddy, algae-covered river bottom. Bill took a final drag from the cigarette and flipped it off his thumb. Glowing red embers arched towards the water and made hissing noises as they landed and disappeared into the water. It was close to dark now and there was no moon to brighten their campsite. Bill walked back to the car and returned with a kerosene lantern. He hung the lantern from a low branch of a nearby willow tree. The flame flickered and made shadows dance around them. They returned to the blanket and lay in each others arms. They kissed long and hard. Kit unbuttoned his shirt and stroked the tuft of hair on his chest. She found his nipples and pulled them into her mouth, between her teeth, biting gently. Then she traced the muscles in his neck with her tongue, tasting the salt on his skin, from the collar bone to the sensitive area below and behind his ear. Their tongues met and caressed. Bills hand went up inside her blouse and found her breasts above her corset. He kissed her ear and pulled the lobe between his lips. Without warning a distant clap of thunder startled them. Oh, Bill, what are we going to do, Kid? Bill would have said wed better get on back, but she placed her hand between his legs and found him hard and straining against his pants. About what? he asked. About us, silly. What are we going to do about us? Bill chuckled lecherously and plunged his face into her cleavage. Do we need to do something? Kit fell silent as he came up for air. In the pale light he could see tears welling up in her eyes and he sensed that he had said something wrong.

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She bit her lower lip like a petulant child and dropped her head. Im leaving tomorrow for Eads. Mama and Daddy dont want me seeing you no more. Maybe theyre right. Something always happens when things start going too good. Oh, dont say that. You know I love you. I cant bear the thought of being away from you for a day, not to say for the whole summer. Oh, Bill, take me. God. Take me tonight. Say that youll have me, Kit gushed with too much melodrama in her voice. She fumbled with the buttons on the front of his pants and undid them. Bill reached up under her dress, untied her pantaloons and pulled them down around her ankles. She cried out as he entered her and moaned as they thrust at each other. Neither of them noticed the first drops of rain as their passion grew, but they both tensed as the thunder rolled across the sky, like a bag of softballs falling on an oak floor, longer this time and closer. The thunder continued to rumble farther in the distance. Finally he relaxed in her arms and then rolled over onto his back. Kit hung on and rolled with him and continued to pleasure herself on him while holding him with her arms behind his shoulders. She pulled his shirt open and laid her head on his chest. She continued until her breathing became harder and faster and louder, ending in a long low moan before she rolled over beside him. The thunder clapped again and lightning flashed brighter than the lantern. The heavy rain came suddenly, ending their reverie. They broke camp and ran for the car, leaving the empty whiskey bottle behind. Bill struggled to raise the top of the car, his shirt still open. Kit stood with him and together they pulled up the canvas mechanism, but not before they were both drenched. Bill went around to the front of the

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car. It started quickly. Any more lost time might have meant that their car could become stuck in the pasture. That unfortunate outcome would have required much explaining to people who would not have believed any story the two might have devised.

Kit sat even closer to Bill on the way back into town than she had before. She continued to stroke his chest and belly, running her fingers through the hair she found there, occasionally reaching up to kiss his ear. They pulled in across the street from the Applegate home. Bill killed the engine and they waited for Jim and Gertie to arrive so that the girls could go into the house together. Jim Kelley turned round the corner, casting light from his headlights into the lovers car. Kitty turned to Bill who met her eyes and saw a desperate look in her face. So, say youll come to me out there. Say youll come and be with me. I could come after harvest. You suppose a feller could find reasonable work? Something fit to settle down and raise a family with? Could you settle down with an old carouser like me? Oh, Bill my darling boy. You know we could make it together. Say youll come to me out there. Kit grabbed his neck and squeezed him to her breast. She sprang from the jitney and waived to Gertie and Jim. Look at us! We got soaked! She stood, waif-like, rain-soaked, holding her shoes and stockings in front of her dress. Water drops driddled from her wet hair down

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her forehead and the sides of her cheeks; one drop poised on the end of her nose and caught the dim light of the street. SSSHHH!! Gertie warned. Kit giggled impulsively, the alcohol still coursing through her veins, and ran around the back of Bills car to the drivers side window. She kissed him flirtatiously on the cheek. Come to Colorado, she whispered, her voice full of unstated promise. We can be together there. Ill come, Bill said, feeling all of a sudden short of breath. After harvest. Gertrude grabbed her paramours neck and kissed him lightly on the lips, then clasped hands with Kit and strolled to the front door. The men nodded at one another and Jim raised his eyebrows at Bills disheveled appearance. They returned to their cars to make their separate ways home. Bill drove home frowning in the light rain. When he got there, he rolled a cigarette and smoked it, sitting in his automobile, listening to the sound of the rain outside before going inside to bed. The rain peppered the canvas top of his car as he watched the ember glow at the end of his smoke. He had a long day in front of him tomorrow. He would play first base for a sandlot team in Hutchinson the next afternoon. Hed go out with the boys afterwards. He didnt want to think about Kit or their future tonight. He felt like the game was down two runs in the bottom of the ninth, two away, with the weakest batter on the team at the plate ahead of him.

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Tuesday, May 23, 1916 The roads across the prairie had improved a little in the thirty years since the Holmeses had made their way from Boone County, Indiana to Arkalon in Western Kansas. The countryside consisted of miles and miles of fat, round, treeless hills, sagebrush and wind. In summer, the wind blew most of the time, like the hot air from a blast furnace, extracting moisture from all it touched. Sometimes in the high plains desert, the only water is locked inside the tough green skin of a succulent plant with spiny barbs that harbor the juice inside its limbs. Somehow the wind made the summer weather more tolerable; the heat would otherwise have been unbearable. Enroute to Colorado, Kit and her cousin, Johnny Holland, stayed overnight at the Windsor Hotel, in Garden City, Kansas, the finest hotel of its day between Kansas City and Denver, sometimes called the Waldorf of the Prairie. Kit wrote to Bill on stationery that depicted an engraving of the hotel,
The Windsor Hotel Garden City, Kansas c.1916

an imposing, four-story Victorian structure that commanded the corner of Main and Pine Streets. From its appearance, the Windsor could just as well have stood opposite Central Park, in New York City. The envelope was postmarked:

THOSE THAT NEVER SING Verl Holmes, (719) 635-0262 150 GARDEN CITY, KANS. MAY 24, 1916, 7-AM.

Tuesday Night Dearest Boy Wish I was where I was this time last night or else you were here. Sure am one tired girl. Am lying on the bed leaning on my elbow writing this so I know it wont look great, but Ive just been thinking about you all day & I couldn't eat my supper so just tho't I'd scratch on this paper to you & see if that would help any. Gee, my face is sun burnt 'till I'm sure it will peel off. I put my hat on & Johnny put the top up so I tho't I wouldn't burn, but sure did anyway. It was a dandy day for us though, cloudy & cool most all morning. I sure have wished a lot of times today that you was with me. I didn't get to talk to you half long enough last night. How was the game? Hope you had a good time (but hope you had it all by your self, Ha Ha) You should have been with us today. We took in a lot of towns. We got to Kinsley by noon. We got here then at seven, but Johnny was pretty tired, driving all that way. So we stopped & will go at it again in the morning. The roads were just full of little bumpy places & made it just horrid, but they were better from Kinsley on. It was awful dusty this afternoon. Gee, come on, Kid, my window opens on to the second floor stairway here & there is a big long hall & some fussy little girl just now started "some fussy little rag" on the piano. We would go round & round. Well! I must take this down & then go to bed. Do you suppose I can ever go to sleep without what I didn't even get before I started this morning? Honey I sure do want my good night kisses. But you will have to send them to me. Write to me real soon, I just can't hardly wait 'till I get a letter. With a bushel of love, Your little country girl K.

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Wednesday, May 24, 1916 Johnny Holland rose first to prepare for the final leg of the trip to the eastern plains of Colorado. Kit stayed in bed until he came to get the luggage, then she dressed in a hurry so he could load their bags. Johnny waited for her in the dining room of the Windsor. The two enjoyed a hearty breakfast that included eggs and bacon, pancakes and maple syrup, coffee and iced water. By the time they finished breakfast, the sun was well into the great bowl of Kansas sky above them as they left Garden City. The sun followed them into Colorado as they headed farther west.

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Chapter Five A Pebble in the Streamlet Scant

A pebble in the streamlet scant, Has turned the course of many a river; A dewdrop on the infant plant, May warp the giant oak forever.

The 135-mile trip from Garden City to Eads should have been an easy drive, barely a half-days journey, but the billowing clouds of dust suspended in the hot, dry air made visibility difficult. From time to time Johnny stopped and waited for the blustering wind to die down. Then between Wiley and Lamar the big Studebaker overheated and ground to a halt, leaving its two passengers in a bad fix. Though Johnny kept trying to turn the engine over, it stubbornly resisted all efforts of revival. Finally, he gave up.

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Im afraid were stranded, Kitty. Only hope we have now is to be picked up by another traveler. Kitty put on a brave face, but she felt fearful. The two waited alongside the road in the scorching sun. Only the wind gave them relief from the unrelenting heat. They found a little shadow on the ground beside the car, away from the road. They smelled the soft, hot tar and, vaguely, other cars which had come that way earlier. Dejected, and not a little disappointed, they waited for rescue. And waited. The hours crawled by. Only one truck rumbled past and it did not even slow down. Finally, a good Samaritan came by and gave them a lift to Lamar, where they found a livery and had the car brought into town. A team of grey and white dappled horses towed the car behind a short wagon, with large wheels whose wooden spokes splayed out into bentwood circles shod with iron rims. By the time the horses and wagon followed by the automobile, reached the front of the gasoline station, it was past 5:00 oclock. Unfortunately, the repairs could not be made until morning. Across the street from the railroad station, the two dirty, disheveled travelers found rooms to let and a saloon, where they could drink whiskey straight up without worrying about the disapproving stares of the more temperant town folk. But before they embarked upon a night of drinking, Kathryn insisted they take dinner at a restaurant a few blocks away from the tracks that bisected the town. After a meal of fried chicken, and okra casserole with potatoes and cream gravy, they relaxed at last, lighting cigarettes and leaning back against the polished leather booth while absently watching the braids of smoke slowly rising up toward the ceiling fans. The waitress brought them a cup of coffee and Johnny ordered a ten-cent slice of rhubarb pie. They stayed until closing time and then closed the saloon they had visited earlier.

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North Main Street, Lamar, Colo. 1916

The next day, slightly hung over from their night on the town, they did not rise early enough for breakfast. In fact, they did not even feel like eating lunch, so at 1:00 oclock, when Johnny paid for the car repair, they left town feeling woozy on their empty stomachs.

The Hollands were successful cattle ranchers. The ranch covered more than a thousand acres of high prairie, southwest of Eads. It was all open range and from the high ground a person could see back into Kansas, Claude Holland reckoned. He ran 200 head of Longhorns in the dry country and raised a calf crop of a hundred or so. Each year the hands drove steers to market in Denver. As Johnny and Kit turned off the main road and passed under the arched gate that bore the Hollands cattle brand, they saw the roof of the house in the distance, half a mile away. The house was an imposing two-story wood frame structure with Victorian bric-a-

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brac under the eaves and above the porch, which surrounded the house on three sides. An iron rooster weather vane and lightning rod graced the highest peak of the roofline. Weather had darkened the grey open wood of the siding and shingles, even though the house was less than ten years old. It presented itself as a dark eminence against the sage green prairie and the cerulean skies of Eastern Colorado. A massive barn loomed 100 yards or so behind the house. As the automobile approached, two alert chestnut horses with white socks on their front hooves ran back and forth against the corral fence that surrounded the barnyard. Except for a row of ragged cedars Uncle Claude had planted when they finished the house, there were no trees in sight. Uncle Claude and Aunt Joella came out onto the front porch when they heard the big automobile approach. Uncle Claude waved and Kathryn stood up on the front seat as they drew closer. The wind blew in her face. She beamed enthusiastically and waved back. The ranch dogs, a shepherd and a pair of border collies, pranced and barked around the car as it came to a rumbling stop in front of the house. The men unloaded the luggage while the women went inside. After hugs and kisses, the ladies retreated to the kitchen where Kit immediately felt the radiating heat of the cook stove on her sunburned face. Point me to your privy, Kathryn said, Its been a long trip! Joella showed her the kitchen door and pointed to a little building that sat in the shade of a ragged cedar tree, beyond the wash house, halfway towards the barn.

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When Kathryn returned, the women continued to visit, but retreated to the much cooler parlor. The men came in and announced that they had time to make town and back by dark, so they were leaving. Be back in time for supper Claude said. After the women caught up on the family news, they went upstairs where the Hollands had prepared a bedroom for their niece at the end of a dark hallway, made stuffy by the summer heat outside. Aunt Jo had already filled a pitcher with fresh water and placed it in the basin that rested on the low dresser inside the door. Two graceful wooden moldings shaped like a lyre at the back of the dresser supported the towel bar that had been hung with fresh linen. Aunt Jo left Kit to freshen up, discreetly closing the door as she politely backed out. The room was bright and cheerful, with south-facing windows looking out toward the rolling prairie below. Between the two windows, the Hollands had placed a slim oak writing desk, with an inkwell and a slender ink pen cocked at an angle in an onyx pen stand. Kathryn looked into the mirror and saw a dirty face and the fine dark lines around her neck where road dust had settled. She poured water from the ewer into the basin and washed her face and hands with a starched linen face cloth. The water clouded when she rinsed it out. She dried with another crisp cotton towel before turning to look over the room. She gazed into the mirror above the chest of drawers and shook her head at her soiled blouse. Unbuttoning the sleeves and then the bodice of her blouse, she dropped it on the floor beside the wash stand. A moment later, she undid her long black skirt, stirring up a low cloud of dust when it fell heavily onto the floor. With her foot, she pushed it into a pile beside the discarded blouse. Standing now in her camisole and

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bloomers, she felt the cool air on her bare arms and sighed heavily. She felt relief and longing at once. She walked across the room and sat down at the writing desk. A lined tablet of fine linen paper awaited her pen. She dipped the pen into the ink well and brought it to the tablet. Eads, May 25, 1916 Thu afternoon Dearest Boy We finally got here today. Had to have the car fixed some at Lamar so didn't leave there 'till after one o'clock, got here about four. The old wind is blowing a fright again today. Has been now for two days. Wednesday we drove in a sand storm most of the day, so you know how much we enjoyed that! Gee. I wish you were here. Aunt Jo & I will be alone all day, for Johnny & Uncle Claude have to go to Lamar on some business. They have to go again this Monday so we are going to wait 'till then to go with them. Kathleen may come out. I just feel like I got to see you but don't know how I'm going to do it, just now anyway. But if I stay you just have to come real soon. Honey, do write to me real soon. Bushels of love Kit

Bill folded the letter and placed it back into the embossed linen envelope from which he had taken it moments before. He stared straight ahead, sitting on the edge of the bed in the room he occupied. The only light came from the coal oil lamp placed on the dresser. Its light cast shadows on the walls, bizarre shapes, unknown creatures,

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phantoms from his past Rosa. It had been an exhausting day. Tired and spent, he imagined Kit in his minds eye and remembered their last night together. He searched his feelings for her. She was filled with life. Uninhibited, joyful. But, she was also coarse and earthy. Cursed like a man. Rolled her own cigarettes and drank whiskey straight from the bottle. The sex act with her created passions he had not experienced with anyone else. But he did not share the giddy enthusiasm she expressed for him in her letters. In truth, his lust for Kit did not match his love for Rosa. He tossed the letter onto the bed and bent down to unlace his work boots, removing them along with his damp socks. His feet felt suddenly cool, exposed to the air for the first time since morning. Then he walked to the dresser, unfastening one of the straps of his bib overalls, pulling the other strap over his shoulder before unbuttoning his shirt. The weight of the loose cut, heavy denim overalls caused them to fall to the floor with a metallic thud as the hardware on the straps hit the wood floor. He dropped his shirt into the pile of dirty laundry and looked into the mirror across the room, considering his body for a moment before picking up a tablet of lined paper and a pencil from the top of the dresser. He returned to his bed, picked up Kits letter and pulled back the covers. He propped pillows up against the head of the bed and sat up against them, stretching out his uncovered legs in front of him. He crossed his ankles as he stared at the blank tablet. Then he raised his right knee and steadied the tablet on it with his left hand, pondering what to say to his dark-eyed country girl. Then something he remembered caused him to flash a grin and write, Darling Temptress. Then he stared blankly into space wondering what to say next, but drifted off to sleep without writing more. The pad slipped off the

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bed during the night and remained upside down on the floor, just under the bed, when he left for work the next morning.

Two days later, Bill found more letters in the fancy, hob-nail glass bowl on top of the bureau in the living room. As he left the house, he glanced at the postmarks and knew they must both be from Kit. He tucked them into the pocket on the front of his overalls and decided he would read them later, maybe while taking his lunch. The wheat turned rapidly as the days of summer bore down on the fields. It had gone from a dull, gray-green when the heads had first appeared, to a light sandy brown, emerging from the green, until now it was almost entirely golden. The drying heads made rustling sounds as the wind blew through the fields. He drove the short distance to the Kelley farm, where he would help to reassemble the great threshing machine hired for the harvest now only a few days away. The men would tear down its components and reassemble them, checking for wear and cleaning and oiling the moving parts. At noontime that same day, Rosa said nothing as she arranged food on the outdoor table beneath a spreading mulberry tree. Out the corner of her eye, she watched Bill as he rested before lunch, sitting in the front of his automobile, smoking a cigarette, apparently preoccupied. The deep purple, nearly black mulberries on the limbs overhead were almost ripe. In a few days they would cover the top of the table and the ground below. When everything was ready, Bill joined the family at the table. But when Frank

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Kelley gave the blessing Bill did not genuflect with the others. He bowed his head quietly out of respect and then ate with them, without speaking very much, studiously avoiding eye contact with Rosa. When he finished, he excused himself to have another smoke. He sat alone on the ground in the shadow of his car and after he had rolled his cigarette, he struck a match on the underside of the wheel well to light it. The wind snuffed out the fire and he tried again, more carefully this time, cupping the match with his hands. Then he pulled out Kittys letters from his overall pockets. They were hot and damp from his body heat and sweat. He reached into his side pocket and withdrew a pocket knife faced with abalone shell. He opened the blade and slid it under the sealed flap, cutting the creased top of the envelope smoothly and unconsciously while he watched Rosa busying herself with cleanup activities beneath the boughs of the mulberry tree. When she glanced in his direction he averted his eyes and slipped the contents of the first letter out of its sleeve. Eads, Colo. May 27- 1916 My dearest big "Devil Now if you can call me names I guess I can tooHa Ha! Honest, I never in my life was so awful glad to get anything as your letter just now. I had been going around here all morning feeling so horrid I didn't want any one to even look at me 'cause I wanted to see you or get a letter from you so bad. There sure would have been a funeral out here on the prairie if one of your sweet letters hadn't come today. Did you send your first one to Eads? I never received it. Gee! I wish you were here for today & tomorrow & all the rest of the days. There never would be a day come for me to let you go. We are going over to Wiley to see them & Eads play ball this afternoon. You would enjoy it. I know I would a lot more if you were with me. Eads goes to Lamar a week from tomorrow to play & if I get me a job so I can stay out here,

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you must plan to be here by then. For you know I just want to see you worse every day. Sure hope you went to the dance & had a good time last night & its all right about those "honest to God good friends" of yours, for I want you to have all the good times you can. Just so you don't quite forget your little country girl. But you never will do that, will you? Will write later & tell you about the game. I sure need you though. Write real soon. A bushel of love, K. Bill remembered that he had a ball game coming up on Saturday. He hadnt thought much about baseball since the Hutchinson team lost at Kingman last weekend. He watched Rosa finish packing the picnic meal into boxes as if oblivious to his presence. And yet there was a certain tenseness in her body, like a deer grazing in an open meadow at the edge of a dark wood, inside of which lurked some ill-defined danger. The next game was with Penalosa and the competition would be easier. He would drive down Saturday morning and play Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, before returning to Langdon on Sunday night. Rosa loaded her boxes onto the back of a buckboard wagon and climbed onto the front seat, unknotting the reins before clicking her tongue, signaling the mare to move on. She did not look back at Bill, but her stomach turned uneasily, as if reaching back for him. He thought about the prospects for the weekend, feeling both eager anticipation and a little guilt as he stared blankly at the buggy winding its way out of the wheat field, Rosa at its helm. He would not behave in a way after the game at Penalosa that would make his mother proud. He blew into the second envelope and pulled out its contents. I'm too lonesome to try to write but I know I won't have time in the morning, for they want to start early to Lamar. Oh, say, but if ever I was lonesome for you before, I don't know what you would call the way I feel tonight.

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Wonder what you are doing. Sure would give any thing on earth to have you here in my arms. Bill smiled and chuckled a little at Kits gushing. He held his cigarette between his thumb and index finger and took a deep drag before squeezing out the embers onto the ground where they died harmlessly. Then he flipped the butt of it into the air, nonchalantly blowing smoke into the wind, and continued reading. Say! I guess Jim was sure some ladies man out here. From what the kids say I guess he was. Well! Now please do write real soon. Are you going to Hutch to work? Wish I could be with you this evening but no Just heaps of love anyway K. Send me that picture of you & the jitney if you have it please. Bill wondered where he could find a picture of himself and his car. He returned the letter to its envelope and slipped both envelopes back into his pocket. He rolled and lit another cigarette. It was time to return to work.

On the morning following the game with Penalosa, Bill sat up in the double sized iron frame bed in the Penny Hotel. His head throbbed and his stomach churned. Naked, he looked around the room and tried to remember what he had done with his clothes. He adjusted the sheet to cover himself below the waist. The beds cast iron scroll work made it difficult to get comfortable, even with the extra pillow he had propped behind his back.

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A soft breeze caused the lace curtains to billow slightly at the single window behind the table to his right. He noticed the contents from his pocket and a letter he had left on the bedside table the night before and wondered why he had left these things there. He picked the letter up and bumped the contents of the envelopes to one end so he could tear off the other end of each envelope without damaging the contents. The postmark showed EADS, COLORADO, June 1, 1916.

Tue. morn. Dearest Boy Received your letter & also that first letter you wrote. No need to tell you how glad I was & how much better I felt all day for getting them. I had wanted so much all day to see you & it sure helps when the letters come. I've got your picture up here in front of me on the desk & you can't imagine how lonesome I am for you. I sure don't know what to do. I don't know when I will get a chance to send this to town but will write it & have it ready. I havent got to go to Las Animas yet but Uncle Claude said that he didn't think I would have any trouble getting into one of the stores soon & Mrs. Myers at Lamar said if I'd been here a week sooner she could have gotten me in at two different stores there. She says there are openings every little while & for me to stay & she is sure she will soon have a place for me. She is a clerk in Lamar. I do feel certain I can get something soon but I just want to see you so bad I can hardly stand it to see Johnny leave & me not go when I could be with you so soon. I just know you would like Lamar & they say Las Animas is a dandy place too, so just as soon as I get in town to stay I want you to come. I know you would just die out here on this lonesome place for I sure nearly do. If I had you here I would be perfectly alright but I know you would never like it. So guess I must try and stand it a little longer but listen, please plan to come soon as you get ready to leave there. What was it, you said in your letter, you could say it a lot if you could see me, but couldn't write it-- yes you can, tell me everything.

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Sure wish you were here to go to Lamar Sun. I know Eads will get beat but they would give most anything to win from Lamar once. So think they will do all they can. It's most too hot to sew or do anything else today. Gee, I sure do miss you, in an awful lot of ways. You don't know how much I want you here. Don't see how I can ever wait 'till after harvest to see you. What all do you dotell me all the news. Aunt Jo is going over to her sisters this afternoon & I'm going to be all alone, wish you would come & talk to me. All the girls are married except two, that I knew the first time I was here. Those two are to be married next month. We are giving a shower for one of them next Fri. Many, many thanks for the picture. Well! There is no news so guess I better stop. Now write real soon. With a whole lot of love, Your lonesome country girl K. Bill found a tin of tobacco and opened it. Withdrawing a tissue from inside the can, he rolled his first cigarette of the morning. When he lit his smoke, he put the letter back into its sleeve. He looked up as he heard footsteps in the hallway. Saw the doorknob turn. A red-headed woman of some years opened the door. She was the proprietress of the hotel and a baseball fan. He placed the letter back onto the table by the side of the bed and his cigarette in an ashtray near it. She closed the door discreetly. Whats that youre reading, Sugar? she said in a deep velvety voice. Aw, nothin, just a letter from a school chum. Bill replied, blushing slightly under the heat of the lie. The buxom redhead sat down on the side of the bed facing him. The bedsprings protested the unexpected weight pressing down upon them. She slipped a hand under the

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bed sheet and found what she was looking for within seconds. She smiled, leaned forward and stole home with the player she had tagged the night before.

A hot wind blew in from the south through the second floor windows in the room Kit occupied at the Holland ranch. She had not received a letter from her man in nearly a week. Cousin Johnny returned to Kansas this week, but Kit stayed behind to look for work here, owing to her parents injunction against seeing her beloved ballplayer for the summer. She was bored and impatient and wondered what Bill was doing for so many days that he could not write to her. She sat at the table and stared at the wall before she wrote.

Eads, June 2, 1916 Fri. noon. Dearest Boy Say! Have you quit writing to me or am I not getting my letters? I havent heard from you since Mon. Now if you have written to me, let me know at once & I will have them hold my mail in the office 'till I call for it. About half a dozen different ones get the mail out of our box & I may not have gotten it all. Last night I was so lonesome that I couldn't wait for the mail to come today but Uncle Claude said there was none for me. How is everyone? I sure was one blue girl after Johnny left yesterday. If it had been to do over again I would have gone back too, for I sure want to see you. Please write right away. Uncle Claude is ready to take this, so Bye Bye for now. Let me know about the letters. Bushels of love & kisses, Kit.

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Kit folded her letter into the matching ivory envelope and sealed the flap, running her thumbs along its gold-embossed edges. Then she placed it into her handbag and put the handle of her bag over her wrist, standing up from her writing desk. Kit was annoyed that Bill had not written more often. She had written him almost daily. She walked towards the door, stopping in front of the mirror for a moment to primp her hair, and then decided she didnt like the cameo at her neck. It was too hot for all that fussiness, she thought, so she removed the pin and dropped it into her purse, unfastening the top button of her blouse as she walked out the door and down the stairs carrying a valise she had packed in case she arrived in no condition for a job interview, or should the outing turn into an overnight trip. Bobby and Kathleen Wilmont waited on the porch. The Wilmonts were related to the Hollands through Joellas side of the family and they worked the two adjoining ranches, though their houses stood five miles apart. Kitty greeted her shirt-tail cousins with hugs and kisses on their cheeks. Bobby took her valise and popped it onto the floor behind the drivers seat beside a similar bag that Kathleen had brought. The cars motor ran as the girls walked towards it, arm in arm. Today Kit would interview with a Mr. and Mrs. Higgins for a position at the mercantile store in Las Animas. Bobby would be driving and she worried about being in the sun and dust for the hour it would take to get to town. Kathleen had arranged to meet her friend, Pansy Grimes, in town, so that they could freshen up after the trip. First, though, they would check for any new mail from Bill as they passed through Eads. She imagined that he was as lonely for her as she was for him. And, poor thing, he

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was now surely working sixteen hour days with the threshing crews, as the harvest came on full. Eads was only a short distance from the Wilmont ranch, but the drive was dusty and hot. Kit felt perspiration break out under her arms and feared that the dust might stain the white cotton blouse she had ironed fresh only a few hours before. In spite of her concerns, she maintained a cheerful conversation with Kathleen and Bobby all the way into town. When they arrived in Eads, Bobby pulled the car to a stop in front of the post office and Kit bounded out, eagerly heading for the general delivery window. She handed the postmaster her envelope and asked if he had anything for her. He returned with two envelopes postmarked in Langdon on the Wednesday and Thursday before. Both were addressed to her in Bills handwriting. Her heart raced as she put his letters into her handbag. She would read them once back in the car en route to Las Animas. The drive to Las Animas would take most of the rest of the morning. Once en route she opened the first letter from Bill and read it over and over again. Bobby glanced sideways as Kit read Bills letter. There were only two pages, but she continued to put the top page beneath the bottom page until he guessed she had read them both four times. The weather grew hotter as they pressed on. Was it the heat of the day that caused her face to flush red? Or was it the contents of this letter, Bobby wondered. Bobby drove the open car to a shady spot in front of an impressive home in Las Animas. The girls climbed out and took the picnic basket Mrs. Wilmont had sent with

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them. Pansy Grimes and another young woman stepped out onto the porch. The girls fussed and giggled, greeting each other affectionately while Bobby unloaded the car and stood by awkwardly, hoping to get away quickly. Finally he set down the bags that Kitty and Kathleen had packed and made to leave, agreeing to meet them at this location by mid-afternoon to start the trip back to the ranch. The girls went inside, then upstairs to Pansys room. As they settled in, Kathleen opened the picnic basket to share her food with the others. Kit has two new letters from her man back in Kansas, Kathleen confided. Tell us what he says, Pansy pleaded. Oh no! said Kit. That would be far too private! But look at what he sent me! Kit took a sepia-toned photo from one of the envelopes in her handbag. It was a portrait of Bill taken the year before. His complexion was smooth, like alabaster. His auburn hair glistened and one eyebrow was raised, just a little, provocatively. Raven eyes penetrated almost three-dimensionally.
Bill Holmes, c. 1916

Another photograph showed Bill standing in front of his automobile, one foot resting on the running board, his arm cocked upon the open window. Ooohh!! Pansy Grimes squealed. He looks like a motion picture actor!

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O, Romeo, Romeo, Kathleen gushed, clutching the pleated front of her starched white blouse. Wherefore art thou, my Romeo? Kit rolled her eyes in mock exasperation but blushed, secretly enjoying the attention. The girls passed the photographs back and forth and giggled more as they ate their lunch. Kit withdrew and took a writing tablet and a pencil from her handbag. Pansy pounced on Bills letters and fumbled to withdraw the contents of the envelopes. My Little Country Girl, Pansy read from the first letter. Kit leapt at Pansy but missed the letter by inches. Pansy tossed it to Kathleen who let it drop at her feet. The girls each squealed with delight as Kit dove and recovered both the letters from the floor. She shook her finger at them and scolded them cheerfully before tucking the letters into her blouse. While the girls continued teasing her, she wrote. They looked over her shoulder at her words. My dearest Boy:I never was such a blue girl as I was last night but the train this morning brought me the letter you wrote Wed. & the one you wrote Fri. Don't know why the one didn't come sooner but I'm sure one happy girl this afternoon cause, next to you, your letters are best. Oh! Heavens, three of we girls are in town & are up to Pansy Grimes house & the girls are all telling me what to say to you. & are all talking at once. This afternoon is the first good time I've had, but, Oh Kid, wish you was with me. I have an awful time getting off in a corner alone to cry, when I get too lonesome for you. But I'll try not doing it more than I can help. But listen! Honey, you just got to come see me or I is sure going to croak. Kathleen lurched into the corner of Pansys room, placed the back of her hand against her forehead and sank to the floor in a melodramatic gesture she had seen in the

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Chautauqua tents that featured the pipers and players of the day. She moaned and pretended to sob uncontrollably, quite pleased with her own acting. Ethel says tell you come on out, she is going to get married this month, but she says that don't make any difference & Kathleen & Pansy both say come on, too, but I tell them I don't want you to come 'till I get away from them. Well! I sure know this is the worst bunch of nothing any one ever sent for a letter, but if you were with this bunch you would know why. So I will try & do better next time. Write real soon. Heaps of love & as many Kisses as you would let me have. K. After the to-do with the letter, Kit and Kathleen freshened up and reintroduced themselves to the picnic basket Mrs. Wilmont had sent with them. Kit preened in front of the mirror in Pansy Grimes room and then turned and curtsied to the others. How do I look? Kit asked her friends. Fresh out of the band box, Kathleen replied. Then Im off! Wish me luck! Kit walked confidently the four blocks from the Grimes residence to the Higgins Mercantile Company. She paused a moment outside the door, studying the sign on the store window. Then she opened the screened door and stepped inside. The proprietors stood behind the counter at the far end of the store. The store itself was narrow, long and poorly lighted. Kit frowned slightly as she surveyed the premises. The stuffy room felt warm and smelled of dust and fabric dye. She made her way slowly to the back of the store. May I help you? Mrs. Higgins asked as Kit approached the counter.

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My friend, Miss Pansy Grimes, told me that you recently lost your shop girl here at the store. Im staying at the Wilmont Ranch and would like to work steady here in Las Animas, if possible. Mrs. Higgins did not seem impressed. Im afraid our business hasnt been good enough this year to take anyone else on just now, dear, Mrs. Higgins said, somewhat condescendingly. But please leave your name and perhaps we can reach you later if business picks up after harvest, Mr. HIggins seemed interested in looking Kit over from her waistband up. Certainly, Kit answered. She took paper and pen from the counter and wrote out her name and the Wilmonts address below. As she wrote she glanced up at Mr. Higgins, who continued to study her a little too closely. Kit smiled demurely at him and winked, certain that Mrs. Higgins would not observe the flirtation. She browsed a while and noted that much of the merchandise looked soiled and shopworn. Gradually she worked her way back to the front of the store and turned to wave. Well, then. Bye-bye for now! Kit did not seem dejected as she walked back to Pansys house. Truth was, she did not like the appearance of the Mercantile. But Las Animas was a booming town of brick buildings, mercantiles, cafs and even a vaudeville house that showed moving pictures. She rounded the corner and approached the front steps of Pansys house. Kathleen and Pansy sat on the porch swing, sipping mint tea and swinging slowly in the shade. How did it go? Pansy asked. The store seemed nice enough, Kit lied to save Pansys feelings, But I dont think theyre going to have anything for me to do. Said business isnt that good.

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Then go get some mint tea and sit with us to mollify your sorrow, Kathleen offered. Therell be another day tomorrow. That sounds delicious! Kit replied. She went inside and found the tea pitcher in the kitchen. She made herself a tall glass, sweetened with sugar, and added a leaf of the wild mint Pansy had picked from the back yard. She rejoined the girls on the porch where they gossiped until Bobby Wilmont returned. Owing to the late hour, Pansy invited them to stay for supper and the night.

The next morning, Kit arose early to prepare for the trip back to the Wilmont Ranch. When she came downstairs for breakfast, she found Bobby and the girls sitting around the kitchen table, finishing cinnamon rolls that Mrs. Grimes had prepared just after sunrise, that morning. Before Kit could finish breakfast, a young lad perhaps ten years old knocked at the backdoor of the Grimes residence. Special Delivery for Miss Holland, the boy called out in a sing-song voice. At first Kit thought a letter from Bill might have found its way to Las Animas, but she knew he could not have known yet where she would be staying. Just a minute, she answered, getting up from the table. She found her bag on the buffet chest in the dining room and took out a coin for the boy. Im Kathryn Holland, she said as she approached the screened door at the back of the kitchen. The boy handed her the letter. She gave him a buffalo nickel and he

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looked wide-eyed at the shiny coin before nodding and touching his cap. Then he turned and sped down the sidewalk. Kit did not recognize the handwriting. She opened the envelope. My Dear Miss Holland: A good friend and fellow shop keeper, Mr. Stanley Higgins, told me of your need to secure employment. Having need for a reliable shop girl, you may make application in person today after 9:00 oclock a.m. at my place on Main Street. Evan Vogel Look at this, Pansy, Kit said, extending the letter to her friend. Pansy read the note and nodded her head. I know him. Well I think I should have a look. What do you say, Bobby? We can wait until after 10:00 oclock to leave, cant we? The pair agreed that Kitty would apply at 9:00 oclock sharp. At the appointed hour she confidently entered Vogels Dry Goods. Exactly 20 minutes later she left the store on her way to becoming a shopkeepers assistant. She caught a ride home to pack. Uncle Claude would bring her back so she could start work on Monday morning.

Monday morning came and the sunlight brightened the sky over the Holland Ranch. Kit stretched, looked beyond her window and past the long driveway, walked slowly to the writing table and sat. The weekend had been a disaster, so much so it had taken on comic proportions. For a while she pondered the recent events, collecting her thoughts, but then took pen in hand and began to write, comforted by the scratching of the steel nib against the paper.

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Eads, Colo. Mon. morning My dearest Boy This is all the paper I can find so here goes a scribble on it. We are going to start to Las Animas in a few minutes. Guess today will tell my fate. Sure do hope it works out. Maybe, if I keep busy, it wouldn't seem so long 'till you come. Heavens boy, you can sure be glad you were not with us yesterday. We started to Lamar about ten a.m. & got about ten miles when it commenced to rain but didn't look like much & so we went on & got down in the ditch country. The roads were simply awful. The car just slid all over. We slid off once, & went about half way thru a three wire fence. We stopped when we got to Wiley. For it was just pouring down rain. We phoned from there & they said at Lamar that it was raining too hard to play so we ate dinner & started back. Got about seven miles from Eads & ran out of gas! We were three miles from a horse & so the men had to walk & phone for a garage car to come out. Sure some eventful day. I was never so tired in my life. I was so lonesome for you last night, sitting out there on the prairie waiting for the car to come. And sure do wish you were going with me today too. So please write to me honey boy 'cause every day I just want to see you worse, & your letters are next to you. Write me all the news. Tell Gertie to write to me. Are you out home now? I sure feel uneasy about the way those married ladies there are doing with you kid, wonder why it is they all like you? Ha Ha. I won't be peeved at them just so you don't forget me. Say! Please put these crazy things where no one will ever see them. With lots of love & kisses (which you better not forget to send me) Your lonesome country girl. Kit Finished with the letter, she dressed quickly and bounded down the stairs where she found Aunt Jo in the kitchen. Uncle Claude drove her back to Las Animas. They stopped at the post office in Eads where Kit mailed her letter to Bill before they completed the trip.

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Mr. Vogel offered Kit room and board plus fifty cents a day for her trouble. By Tuesday evening after her second day of work she learned that the work was hot and the hours long, but the sales brisk, with large numbers of shoppers. When she considered all the people she had met in just two days, she speculated that if Vogel didnt keep her on, maybe one of the others would hire her. She walked to the single window in her little room. It was dark, but the view out of the window extended to the carriage house in the rear of the rooms over the Vogel store. The Vogel family had once occupied the space over the store, but prosperity had enabled them to move into a larger, two-story house a few blocks away. Kit pulled the dark green oil cloth blinder down in front of the window and turned, looking at her little habitat. The room was no larger than nine by twelve feet. The ceiling seemed higher than the room was wide in either direction. An iron bedstead dominated one end. Vogel had placed an armoire against the wall to her right. A round oak table clutched the floor with its clawed feet in front of the window; two chairs stood on either side. Mrs. Vogel had set a tall plant stand with a potted fern to the left of the door in an apparent attempt to lend a bit of cheer to the room. Kit regarded the plant tenderly and stroked it with her hand. A pair of coal oil lamps mounted to the wall facing the bed cast flickering shadows throughout the room. An elegant hurricane lantern painted with pink and mauve roses graced the bedside table.

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Kit idly opened the double doors to the armoire and stared into its musty interior. She had brought only enough clothes for the week of work. Her image reflected darkly in the mirror mounted to the inside of the armoire door. She removed the combs from her unruly black hair and unbuttoned her blouse. Bills picture sat on the table adjacent to the armoire. His dark eyes seemed to penetrate the glowing warmth she felt inside. Her fingers found her breast inside her blouse and her nipples hardened against her touch as she transported herself back into his arms. Later Kit lay in bed covered only by the thin cotton voile nightgown she had brought from the ranch for this trip. The room was stuffy from the lack of circulation. She thought of Bills body and what it would be like to be in his arms at that moment. She smiled as she remembered their first meeting, at the end of the season, almost a year ago. Kit and Gertie had gone into the schoolhouse at Jordan Springs after a game to retrieve their picnic baskets. The classroom should have been empty, but they heard a noise behind the curtains on the dais at the front of the room. Startled at first, they waited quietly to see who would appear. Bill was behind that curtain and from his shadows, the girls could tell he was changing clothes. Whos there? Kit called, not certain which ballplayer was behind the drape. Tis I! Bill called out in a mock heroic voice, more than a little drunk. Show yourself! Gertrude demanded. Bill lifted the curtain from the stage floor and stepped to its edge, exposing his bare chest and legs while modestly covering his mid-section with a corner of the curtain. The girls squealed in delight and feigned shock as Bill laughed so hard he nearly fell over backwards taking the curtain with him.

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More! More! the girls squealed in unison. Bill was clearly in his element now, performing for these two. He turned his back to them, still wrapped in the school drapery and bent over, flipping up the hem of the drape to expose his bare backside to them. The girls screamed again and giggled and ran outside. Once in the school yard they laughed and held each other until Kit was sure she would wet her pants.

LAS ANIMAS, JUNE 8, 1916 Thursday noon My dearest Boy I have just nearly died without any letter from you since Sat. then today noon your two came--the one written Mon. morning & the one Tue. noon. And dearest, I can't imagine why you had not heard from me--surely some of my letters were not mailed for I don't think I have missed a day writing to you. I just think of you every hour in the day & I some times wonder if you think me foolish for writing so much to you, but some way it helps to pass the time, since I can't be with you. But I sure hope it will not always be this way. Life surely isn't worth much to me when I'm where I can't be near you. Listen, please don't ever go away without telling me where you are and please do come to me just as soon as you leave there. I don't know what to do. Am afraid I'm not going to be able to get any thing steady here before fall & I just nearly die out at Uncle Claudes place--but I don't want to go back there -- for I know you will not stay there long when you dislike it so much & I don't blame you, for I do too. Bill Holmes and Kathryn Holland were ducks out of water in their home towns. They had burned too many bridges with their individual reputations as tinder. In Langdon, most of Bills peers regarded him as one of the good ol boys, but with the

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older and more established, he had already developed a reputation as a neer-do-well, having failed more or less at everything hed tried. Could he settle down there? Yes. Would it take a long time to win the respect of the townspeople? Yes, and it would require more than a few changes to his lifestyle. Kitty, on the other hand, had a reputation that could only be absolved if she moved to a community where no one knew about her past or, perhaps, if she entered a convent, and stayed there, people would eventually stop whispering behind her parents backs. So the wanderlust of youth found an appropriate home in both of them. Sure a queer old world isn't it? My! I wish you were here. I went home at a little after six last night & I sure wanted you. Never did miss you so muchevery day I think that though. If you were here How is Gertrude? Suppose she & Jim will be together. Remember the time Gertrude & I dared you to do something? We sure felt crazy about that. But you were an old piker, weren't you? You sure was. Our sale is going fine. Mr. Vogel is a pretty good fellow to work for. Well: this is all the paper I've got down here so will have to quit. Write often as you can. With lots of love & I sure want a real kiss. Your girl. K.

Mr. Vogel pulled the blinds down on the front of the store and returned to the cash register to count out the days proceeds. Kit was rearranging the bolts of brightly colored fabrics that were on display near the front of the store. A banging at the front

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door startled them both. She looked out the glass panel of the front door and saw Kathleen looking eager and impatient. Its my cousin Kathleen, Mr. Vogel. Shes here to take me back to the ranch for the evening. Can I let her in until Im finished? Go ahead, Vogel did not look up. Kit pushed open the bolt in the door and pulled it aside for the young woman, who swept in with a train of chatter, filling the shop like a sudden, unexpected breeze. You ready to go, Kid? In just a few more minutes. They returned to the fabric table where Kathleen amused herself by browsing the goods while Kit finished putting away the open bolts. Wait till you find out whos here for the dance tonight! Kathryn teased. Jim Kelley! When did he get here? Hes on his way to Denver but hes going to be at the dance tonight! Kit could not hide her fascination with Jim Kelley. She had gone a few rounds with him before she fell for Bill. He was just as handsome, but in a different way, and dangerous, though Bill took her breath away more than Jimmie ever could. Truth told he had squired his share of ladies back home before settling on Gertrude. Kit went over to Mr. Vogel. Intent upon getting the close out reports done, he did not at first notice her. She cleared her throat. Anything else before I go Mr. Vogel?

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No, but much obliged for all your help this week. He took three silver dollars from the cash drawer and handed them to her. Theres an extra half dollar for your efforts. Wed like to have you back next week. Why, thank you, Mr. Vogel! Kit delighted at her good fortune. She accepted the wages and gratuity and the two girls left, giggling secretively to each other as they passed through the door. The girls walked out of the store and onto the sidewalk in front. It was the first time Kit had been outside since before lunch. The air was oppressive and oddly humid for the High Plains. Ugh, Kathleen said, Theres not a breath of air this afternoon. It must be going to rain. Kit surveyed the scene. The overcast sky and the western horizon hung dark, steely gray with billowing silver clouds as high as the eye could see. As they headed towards Kathleens Model T, Kit asked about the dance the girls planned to attend. Well go home first and change into something to vamp the boys with. The girls laughed broadly and climbed into the automobile. About halfway home, the wind came up out of the southwest and blew through the cars open windows. Dust and sand stung the girls cheeks. Soon sharp raindrops slapped at them as they made their way into the gathering storm. The further the girls drove west towards the ranch the harder the wind blew until they were damp from the rain as the storm intensified. Kit struggled to close the side windows while Kathleen managed the steering. By the time they turned into the driveway, the road was muddy and the rain was nearly blinding. The girls managed to

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get the car parked in the barn as hail the size of Uncle Claudes stout, short thumbs began pelting the roof. Looking out the barn door, Kit gazed up at the sky and the driving rain. The hail grew louder and pounded on the roof of the barn. Finally the girls decided to wait out the storm in a haystack in the corner. The rain and hail continued for half an hour. The wind blew and lightning crackled before deafening claps of thunder roared over the prairie. The girls were frightened and sat wide-eyed in the hay until the storm passed. When the rain finally abated, they rose to look outside. Rivulets of water rushed down the muddy, hail-encrusted soil between the barn and the Wilmont house. The rain was now little more than a gentle mist, but the sky was eerily and prematurely darkened from the boiling cloud cover. I wonder how much rain we got. Oh, Kit, look at the fields!

Sunday 9:30. My own dearest Boy What are you doing about now? Won't be long 'till you will be getting ready to go over to Turon, I guess. Wish you were here. Heavens, kid, but I wished for you last night You know I went out to the Wilmonts last night. I worked my eight hours at the store thru the day It looked like it might rain so we came on back & had just about got to the house, when it commenced to pour down & it just blew & hailed something awful. Mrs. Wilmont said this morning that some of the men after it was over said the hail was large as eggs & it just beat everything in the ground. There are so many trees down & everything was just covered with leaves & huge limbs were broken off this morning. Sure sounded awful loud last night.

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I had thought that maybe Uncle Claude might drive over this afternoon but the roads will be bad now, so suppose he will not. It's awful hot here today-expect it will rain more. Gee, I just wonder what Gertie is doing today. Bet she is awful lonesome toowith Jim gone. She said he couldn't come home only every four or six weeks now. Looks like he could go oftener than that, if he just would, for it's right on the Rock Island road, isn't it? One day a man from the garage at Eads was out to Uncle Claudes working on the car & at noon he was looking at those pictures I have & saw Jim in them he got to talking about him he said Kelley was sure a "ladies" man out here Said he sure made foolishness out of that little widow. He said Jim went with one of the girls all the time he was there. Heavens boy, if my man was as deceitful as he is to Gertrude, & I ever found it out I'd sure be miserable enough to jump in the river. It was O.K. for him to go with the girls but I don't see why he lied to her about it, that way for do you? Well! We won't worry about them, though. I sure wish you were here to spend this long afternoon with me but since you arent I will have to do the best I can without you. Honest, I wish I was home & Old Don or the Jitney was going to bring you over, because it sure seems ages & ages since I last saw you. Now write to me often as you can & send it here 'till I write you not too. With just lots & lots of love & real kisses, Your lonesome girl, Kit. That morning Kit joined the Wilmonts who took the horse and buggy to church, surveying their crop damage along the way. They had much to pray about at church that week. Their crops and the crops of their neighbors had been flattened the night before. There would be little to harvest in Las Animas County that year. And dry land farmers who prayed for rain were reminded that they were indeed sinners, sometimes in the hands of an angry God.

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Kit dropped the letter off at the post office on her way into Vogels to work Monday morning. The atmosphere in the store was like a morgue. She kept busy through the day wondering how much longer she would be able to keep her job. At the end of the day, Mr. Vogel greeted her with the news that there would be no more work for her this season. I dont believe weve sold ten dollars worth since Saturday night. He reached into the till, retrieving her unpaid wages in cash. The extensive crop damage meant that the local economy would stagnate and perhaps fail over the months to come. Kit went back to her boxlike room and sat down on the edge of her bed feeling terribly discouraged. She cried. Fortunately Mr. Wilmont and Kathleen would be in town in the morning and she could catch a ride back to the ranch with them to wait out her options. She gathered her belongings together and set them by the door, then decided to write to Bill so he would know where she would be. Dearest One:They told me today they would not need me any longer at the store. Kathleen will be in tomorrow, so I'm going out with her. It is late now so I must go. Please write me soon, as I had no letter all day today. Send it to Haswell, Colo, in care of Kathleen Wilmont.

The following day Kit wrote more. Wednesday, 3:00 p.m. at Wilmonts Ranch My dearest Boy:--

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Here goes a line or two to tell you that I am O.K. How is my man anyway? I just bet I will have to go a day or two longer before I get a letter from you for I told the Las Animas postmaster to send my mail to Haswell & now we are going down to Eads to stay 'till Mon. morning. Wilmonts have a nice house with wide-open porches & the yard fenced but Lord, man, it's lonesome. Of course they have the car, but it's pretty lonesome for the kids anyway. No young people close at all. And no trees as far as you can see, except a few in peoples yards where they water them. Heavens, I'm going to stop quick, or you never will come out, but honest, it isn't a bit like this over around Lamar & Las Animas. Really it's pretty there, lots of tall shade trees. My! I sure don't know what ever I'm going to do, if I don't get something over there, for if you are going to leave there soon as harvest is over, I don't think I can ever stand it to go back there & think of staying. I just feel like I can't wait much longer to see you 'cause its been a long, long, time since I did. So Kid, you better write 'cause your last letter is 'most wore out. I sure was one lonesome girl when I got them Mon. & they have been read a few times, believe me. Wilmonts don't get their mail out here very often, but if I'm out here next week, I have to get it some way, or this sure won't be any place for me. Wish I could have kept that place in the store at L. A. where I was. It was a dandy place to work. But they let the entire extra help go yesterday evening. Last night I was so lost for something to do, I got your letters & read every one I have ever received from you. Gee, KidWell, I dont know how I felt. I sure does love my man though & would not trade with anyone else in the entire world. Well: guess this is enough of this trash for one time. Don't you think? Now write to me as often as you find time cause Im never so happy as when I see them throw down a letter from you to me.! Heavens, Kid, Burn these up!

The Wilmont Ranch. EADS, COLO. JUNE 17, 1916

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The next day the sun rose glittering red off the eastern horizon. It arose full of promise and hope, riding over the broken land as if surveying the damage the storm had left in its wake. Soon the sun over the Wilmont ranch burned high overhead. No clouds offered to block its intensity and by noon the temperature had passed 100 degrees. The prairie buffalo grass that surrounded the buildings grew brown for lack of moisture, even with the memories of the devastating thunderstorm still fresh in everyones mind. The air in the Wilmont home grew heavy and stale. Upstairs the girls lay on the beds and the fainting couch in Kathleens room. Perspiration covered their foreheads and arms. Their garments became moist and stuck to their skin. Kathleen rose and moved towards the chest of drawers on the opposite side of the room. Come on girl, I have an idea, she said. She removed two thick muslin nightgowns from the bottom drawer of her chest. Here, change into this. Were going to the cattle tank. Kit needed no further encouragement. They stripped out of their skirts and blouses and petticoats down to their bloomers and corsets. Covering themselves with the makeshift bathing garments, they made their way barefooted down the back stairs and out the door into the yard, where they ran towards the windmill, barely in sight, half a mile to the south of the house, dodging sand burr stickers that flourished in the dry sandy soil. The black, flop-eared ranch dog ran ahead of the girls, hoping to scare up a jack rabbit along the way. The cattle moved slowly away as the girls approached their oasis. The rim of the galvanized tank stood almost four feet off the ground, so they looked foolish as they

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climbed into the water. The floor of the tank was green and slippery under their feet, but the water was cool, inviting and refreshing. First Kathleen squeezed her nose with her fingertips, squinted her eyes shut and took a mock breath, dunking her head under water. Kit followed suit and soon they both sprang upwards out of the water, blowing water as they exhaled, laughing out loud. Kathleen moved to the edge of the tank and put her arms up along the rim, allowing her legs to float up towards the surface of the water, her garment floating on the surface like a muslin cloud. Kit stood up and stretched. Her nipples stood out against the wet fabric on her chest. She turned full circle from her vantage point and surveyed they horizon around her. There was scarcely any sign of life but for the dozen or so cows grazing lazily just beyond the water tank. To the north she could see the roof of the house. A hawk soared overhead, looking for field mice to feed her young. Without warning, Kit pulled the nightgown over her head and hung it on the side of the tank. She undid the laces on her corset and slipped it over her shoulders, layering it over the gown. Then she stepped out of her bloomers, exposing her pale white flesh to the afternoon sun. Kit! What on earth are you doing?! Kitty laughed. Youll burn up in this sun! Kathleen warned, her voice a mixture of envy and alarm. Dont be silly. Ill get dressed again before that happens. You should try this. Its heavenly!

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Kathleen floated lazily for a moment, considering Kits challenge, but then she stood up suddenly and stripped while Kit scooped splashes of water from the surface towards her friend. Soon the two naked girls were splashing each other and giggling. Stop! Theres going to be more water outside the tank than in it! Kathleen said. But fresh cold water continued to be drawn up to the surface by the windmill, which screeched and spun slowly above them, turning marginally on its axis as the winds changed. The girls floated on the surface of the tank a while longer and finally rose to dress again. From the top of the hill to the east of the windmill they heard someone whistle and when they turned, they saw Bobby Wilmont coming towards them, a hundred yards or so away. The girls jumped out of the water and crouched behind the tank, feverishly pulling on bloomers and dressing gowns, now covered in mud. As Bobby approached, he called to Kit, Mail call for Kathryn Holland! Kit looked over the top of the tank and saw him waving a white envelope over his head. Oh, that brother of yours! Kit whispered. Gwan home! Kathleen yelled. Yeah, sure. Ill just leave this here letter on the ground in case anyone might want to read it. When the girls looked up again, he was gone. They dressed quickly and Kit dashed over to retrieve her precious letter. Later in the evening, when the temperature cooled, Kit put her pen to paper while looking at Bills picture.

My own dearest Boy

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Your "note" came to me today. Robert went to town & brought the mail out. Sure was glad to get it even if he might have waited until we girls came back up to the house. How is my man any way? Wish you would write me a long letter & tell me all the news about yourself & what all you are doing. Gee, I wished for you a little while ago. Wilmonts have a great big tank they put water in to irrigate with & in the afternoon we girls put on a bathing dress and went in. Sure is fun. I would sure be a happy girl to knew I could spend a day with you once more. You asked about my work. Well: I don't know of any thing yet. I reckon if I don't get something soon, I will just go jump in a lake. Say: tell me, what ever did Jim do? You never did tell me & Gertrude never has written yet. Wish He & G. & you were going to be here for the dance at Haswell tomorrow night. Really, what do you think you will do after harvest? Honest, I just have to see you then. Any way, do you want me to go back or will you come out here some place, if I stay, & see how you like it? Oh! I can hardly wait 'till then & I can really see you. It sure scares me the way they keep talking war. Don't you dare ever go, even if you have to "get married" to keep from going. Now please Honey Boy write to me real soon a nice, long letter With heaps of love & real kisses Your own girl, Kit.

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The Langdon Produce Company, 1915. Bill Holmes stands beneath the U wearing a white straw hat.

Bill looked over the interior of the Langdon Produce Company after he had finished reading Kits latest plea for him to abandon Kansas for Colorado. He found a sepia-toned picture post card taken last season at the stores opening celebration and blew off the dust that had settled on it over the winter and spring months. He studied the faces of the men gathered at the front of the store, remembering the feelings that lingered from those good days. He enjoyed the fellowship of the men he grew up with and they, most of them farmers with wheat fields and cow-calf operations, appreciated the venue to share their excess with the townsfolk as they made a little extra cash for their households. Closed since the end of last season, decisions about the future of the Produce Company would have to be made soon. With the wheat mostly in the bin, he either had to re-open the fledgling farmers market he had ventured out with the year before, or leave it closed and give it back to Mr. Sherow in lieu of rent. Farms were almost completely self-sustaining and required little capital to operate. Most of the work was done by hand or with a team of oxen or draft horses. Farm implements for the wheat fields were small and generally included a seat for the

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farmers use as he coaxed the animals whose lot in life it was to drag the steel inventions of John Deere and the Industrial Revolution across the fruited plains of the great Midwest. Apart from an investment in animals and the most rudimentary equipment, everything else was more or less self-perpetuating. Cows procreated with the willing assistance of the neighbors bull. The female offspring provided milk and another calf crop down the road. The males, more often than not, became steers first and steak later. Chickens and occasionally ducks and geese had similar life expectancies. The Langdon Produce had done little to improve its proprietors financial condition in 1915. The dust on the floor and shelves was all that was left of the little nest egg he brought to the operation from his season with the Salt Packers. And now, though Mr. Sherow had no one else interested in the property, Bill would have to come up with money for rent, find another backer, or give up the dream. Visiting Kit in Colorado was complicated by more than the uncertainty of his emotional attachment to her. He had never said he loved her, but when he was with Rosa, he used that word with steady frequency. Anyway, the decision to reopen the Produce Company would trump any notion of driving to Colorado this summer. But if he let the Produce stay closed, what did he have to lose by making the trip and taking his chances at a sugar beet factory?

Haswell, June 27, 1916 My own dearest Boy:How you was? I havent had the mail since Sat. so I guess there is a letter for me from you over at town & I sure hope some one goes in today so I can mail this & get yours.

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I'm just counting the days 'till you come out here. I don't know what's the matter with me this week but I'm sure homesick to see you. Wish you could be here for the 4th. Do you suppose you could possibly do it? They are going to have a great time at Haswell. Eads & Las Animas & all the other towns near are going to Haswell. There is to be two ball games & a lot of other things doing & a dance that night. Sure wish you could come. Gee! We girls sure get enough sleep - we don't get up 'till about ten & go to bed at about nine. Don't you wish you were out here? I do. Kid I sure love to get your letters. I guess I will be here for a few days yet, so please write me. Your own lonesome, Lots of love & real girl kisses. Burn this Preparations for the Fourth of July were much the same in Langdon and Turon as in Las Animas, Eads and Haswell. Committees of civic leaders reinvented the celebration every year. Their responsibilities became carefully guarded territory. Merchants closed shop for the day. Then every religious and charitable organization in town sat up fundraising activities in the Town Square or City Park for the citizenry to engage in after an all-you-can-eat noontime feed. But first all the bands, various clubs, organizations, businesses and anyone who might want to drive their shiny new automobile down Main Street joined in the festival parade. The fifth of July a year ago was when Bill opened Langdon Produce. But as of the first of July this year, he had neither mopped the dust off the floors and shelves, nor proffered the rent due to Mr. Sherow.

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Sitting apart from the other workers after lunch, surrounded by the wide fields of golden wheat stalks, their tops shaved off, Bill folded the letters and put them back into their envelopes. He had not written in more than a week. It did not feel right, as if he were leading her on, to continue the correspondence when he could not reciprocate the enthusiasm of Kits letters to him. The harvest was all but over now. He was free to move on, but had no inkling of where he wanted to go. Sitting in the shade afforded by his automobile, he finished his lunch break by rolling a cigarette. Struck a blue-tipped match on his thumbnail to light it. Inhaled deeply and looked skyward. The harvesters had been lucky. No rain or hail storms had impeded them from completing their work, but it looked like their luck might change this afternoon. The skies had darkened in the last hour. A giant, anvil-shaped thundercloud loomed ominously in the southwestern sky. The wind picked up. Realizing how quickly the weather could change, he was not surprised when the headman called him back to work. He took another drag from his cigarette and squeezed the embers off the end, being careful to grind the ashes into the dirt beneath his feet. He put the stub into the pocket of his overalls and headed back to work. The good fortune that the threshing crew had enjoyed came to an inglorious end within the hour. The wind came up and the skies darkened until an early afternoon thunderstorm ended their work. Bill returned to his car and drove home in heavy rain and deafening thunder. Having gone less than a mile, a loud rolling boom and a blinding flash caused him to hit the brakes instinctively. An old cottonwood tree just ahead on the left suddenly fell and crashed across the road in front of him. He sat in the cab of his car,

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his heart pounding as he tried to catch his breath. Headlights on, wipers running erratically, he looked helplessly at the massive tree trunk that lay less than twenty yards in front of his car. It was useless to try to turn around. The road was a loblolly of mud. He could only wait out the storm and see what would happen next. In the dim blue light he reached across to the glove box where he found a tablet of paper and a pencil with a dull point. He switched off the engine, rolled a cigarette and tried to think of what he needed to say to his Country Girl in Colorado. Bill realized that Kits ongoing effort to find stable employment in the Arkansas Valley had proved no more successful than his own uncertainty about how to proceed with Langdon Produce. Truth be told, she probably did not very much want to work for wages, wages being what they were in 1916 for a young woman with Kits skills, fifty cents per day. Bill imagined that she more leaned toward the idea of catching herself a man, one who would provide and care for her, a man like she imagined himself to be. Barring that, he guessed she would have been content to continue indulging her schoolgirl fantasies as rotating house guest in the various homes of family and friends in and around Bent County. Bill Holmesthe baseball player, the hale-fellow well met, the rakefulfilled the schoolgirls fantasy in those months during the summer of 1916. But he was neither equipped nor very much interested in providing for her, nor did he care much about anyone but himself. He was handsome, athletic, and induced the feeling of fear to the excitement of adventure, the likes of which Kitty Holland had never encountered. Sadly, he didnt care much about his own future those days and barely managed to provide for

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himself. And Rosa Kelley, the one person apart from himself that he thought he truly did care for, existed primarily in his own imagination.

Langdon, KS. July 3, 1916 When her engagement failed, Rosa did everything she could to put her childhood sweetheart out of her mind, but failed miserably in her attempts. Bill seemed to be everywhere. She could not watch her brothers play baseball because Bill played all the games she attended, either with them or for the opposing team. So she spent the weeks leading up to the date of their marriage in mourning, moping about the house as if nothing could fill the void left by the absence of the planning and preparation for the wedding day that would never happen. She might as well have worn sack cloth and ashes. Worse, the whole community seemed to know her situation and Rosa felt that people treated her differently. Did she just imagine it, or did conversations stop and eyes follow her when she entered the caf? What did people imagine that she had done to ruin her opportunity to marry the most eligible bachelor in town? Did everyone else feel the same way about Catholics as Bill mother? While everyone else had, or seemed to have normal lives, she felt like a specter from another world. Since she had finished high school now, and since now she clearly would not become anyones wife or anyones mother, at least not in the foreseeable future, her parents expected her to find work, help out with the household expenses, and eventually,

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find her own place. In school Rosa had specialized in business, but the only business she had any interest in developing had been the Produce, and without her help, she had watched from a distance as Bill ran that business to ruin. People talked about his drinking and carousing and somehow Rosa thought it her fault, or that people blamed her for what had happened to him. When she heard about an opening at the Langdon State Bank, she applied. The President met with her and to her surprise, Rosa got the job. She worked as a teller and bookkeeper in the front office which put her on display to the entire community. At first she felt embarrassed and imagined that people talked about her behind her back, but as the weeks went by, her personality reemerged. She took pride in her work, determined to show the little town that she was as capable as anyone else. On this particular morning, the day before the holiday, Rosa found herself working the teller cage. The morning was quiet. Almost no traffic on the street and less than that in the bank. She had a perfect view of the main intersection in town. She could see the gas station, the caf and the Post Officeall, from her vantage point. She could watch the cars come and go. Some stopped for gas at the corner station before getting on their way. About an hour after opening, to her surprise and fascination, Bill parked his Ford across the street, went inside the post office, and a few minutes later stepped outside the door holding mail in which he seemed quite interested. He sat down in front of the building and read some letters, glancing up when a big Oldsmobile pulled into the service station across the street.

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Cash count, Miss Kelley, the Cashier ordered from the desk behind the cage. Rosa began counting her drawer, neither thinking about it, nor ceasing to watch the developing drama on the sidewalk across the street. Why thats Nelle Holland, she thought, running back through the one dollar bills a second time for accuracy. Nelle had stopped to talk to Bill, who rose and doffed the white straw hat he wore as if a trademark. The conversation did not last long, but from Nelles stride, as she walked across the street to climb into the back seat of her fathers automobile, Rosa sensed that Nelle had had words with Bill. Words about what, she wondered. Rosa continued counting the coins now, noting the amounts in pencil on scratch paper at the side of her countertop. After months of work, Rosa had had a few offers for dates, and eventually she went out with two or three of the young men in town, but she saw none of them more than once or twice. She suspected that one, Corky Edmiston, a rou who Bill had played ball with, only wanted to find out if she was missing what he suspected she had been getting from Bill. She could not imagine developing a relationship with any of them; she had no interest in becoming anyones girlfriend. Not yet, anyway. She decided to take responsibility for her own happiness or lack thereof and had become quite content just being Rosa in the process, even if that meant to some, Rosa, Who-was-going-to-marryBill Holmes-but-something-happened, Kelley. Across the street, Bill started for his car but met Quentin Sherow, apparently on the way to check his mail as well. The two men spoke for a time and Rosa noticed that Bill shook his head a couple of times and Mr. Sherow nodded, as if in agreement. Bill shrugged. The men shook hands and parted. Bill walked over to the passenger side of

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his car and tossed his mail onto the front seat. He turned and headed straight for the bank. Is he coming here, Rosa wondered, wishing she had someplace to hide. In her short tenure at the bank, Rosa had always been in the back room or at a desk away from the front of the bank when Bill had come in. So far she had never been assigned teller at a time when Bill stopped in, but it looked like there was, sure enough, a first time for everything. Bill did not break his pace as he headed towards the front door of the Langdon State Bank. He grasped the handle and saw Rosa through the beveled, plate-glass. As he pushed the door open, the little brass bell tinkled as it always did. Bill stepped up to Rosas cage. Their eyes met. Mornin Rosa. Bill looked away. Mornin Bill. She continued to stare at him. Damned if Ill let him see me flinch, she thought. Nice day. Looks like its going to be another hot one. Its summer, almost the Fourth of July. What can I help you with, Bill? Rosa managed a nonchalant lilt to her reply. Come in to close my account. Rosas eyes widened a little; even her eyebrows arched a bit. Close your account? Rosa sounded surprised, in a soft-spoken, bankerly way. Yep. Not much in there. No sense in keeping it. Mmm. I see, she said, looking up his account in the file box. She was shocked when she saw the balance, eight dollars and sixty-two cents. What had become of his money? she wondered. She thought he must have had hundreds, maybe more. She had

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heard the rumorsabout his drinking, the women but discounted them because they were rumors, but she had never looked up his account. It would have been unethical for her to do so. But now . She took the money from her cash drawer, including a five dollar gold coin which she looked at for a moment, remembering the one he had carried until that box dinner How long ago was that? Another life? After making a closing entry on Bills file, she counted the money out to him as he watched. What are your plans? she asked, trying her best to make it sound like his answer didnt really matter. Ive come for you, Rosa, she wanted to hear him say; that, and Meet me on the next train out of town to wherever we can get on Eight Dollars and Sixty-two Cents. Dont have any plans, much to speak of. May go see if I can get work in Colorado, but thats all up in the air. Rosa thought he sounded more lost than vague. She had heard that Kitty Holland had moved to live with family somewhere in the Arkansas Valley. Rumors held that she was in a family way and that her parents had gotten her out of Turon to save face. Rosa tried to ignore all the rumors she heard, but she wondered who had fathered her child. Bill? Was he going there to marry her? She refused to pass such gossip on to anyone but her closest friends and confidants, not that she had that many confidants. But she knew what it felt like to bear the brunt of idle gossip. Still she wondered about this development. When would he decide to leave, or not? Could she stop him? Why would she even think of trying? Hows your mother? Rosa asked, her voice brittle it seemed to Bill. Oh shes fine, I guess. Nothing different. Well thats nice, isnt it? Bill took her meaning.

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Better be off then. Have a fun holiday, Bill. I suppose youre playing ball tomorrow. Oh yeah. Hutchinson. Carey Park. You ought to come up. Ill see about that. Rosa said, already knowing the answer. She watched him leave and couldnt help noticing the way his shoulders tapered to his waist and how nicely his pants fit. She felt the rush of hot air on her face as the door opened and closed. She had not noticed how hot it was outside when he came in just a few minutes before.

Kittys Letters to Bill Received on the 3rd of July, 1916 Las Animas June 29, 1916 My own dearest one:I sure am a blue girl. I simply can't get a thing to do in this town. You will have to come out & let me take care of you for something to do I guess. No-- did you say? I wish I was a man 'cause the Sugar Beet Factory is going to get busy now this next month & there is plenty to do then. How are you making itworking the field this awful hot weather? Are you working in the wheat? You mustnt work too hard & get too hot, 'cause I want you to be feeling good so you can hurry to me soon as you are thru there can hardly wait. For I sure want to see you. Say! I think some people are the limit. Jim for one. Heavens, I suppose he was sitting up in his room all by his lonesome while Gertie was with you Kids. Bet her eyes would open up if she really knew what he was doing. Gee, I wish you were going to come in about Sun. & be here for the Fourth. I sure would be one happy girl. Wouldn't it be greatsure hope it won't be many more weeks to wait 'till that will really be true. I guess I will be up at

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Wilmonts 'till after the 4th so send my letters there. Hope you do get to write before Sun. but I know you are busy & awful tired of nights. Well! Dearest one, I must quit. Will write as often as I can get them mailed. Be careful & don't get hurt during harvest. And write to me often as you can. With a world of love & kisses even if you don't like them on paper. Your own K. (Burn these)

Las Animas June 30 1916 My own dearest Boy It just nearly scares me to death about the way that lightning come so near to hitting you. For heavens sake, be careful. While I was at L.A. yesterday I asked about the Sugar Beet Factory. I thot they commenced in July but they said that their real busy time didn't begin 'till Sept. There is work of all different kinds to be done therethey pay all the way from two to five dollars a day. Lots of the fellows from around here go to Las Animas, Lamar & Sugar City to work during that time. But if you didn't want to do that you could find most any thing I think. After picking up the mail at the post office, Bill sat on one of the weathered oak chairs on the sidewalk in front, to read Kittys latest letters from Colorado. Nelle Holland walked around the corner and stopped when she saw him. The lothario Bill Holmes was the reason her sister was in Southeastern Colorado. The stories she heard through the grapevine about the reason for Kittys sudden departure caused her to wince

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for her sisters lost reputation. When she overheard her parents talk about Bill, she blushed. He looked up from his reading and flashed a smile at Kits younger sister. Mornin Miss Nelle. What brings you to Langdon? On our way to Hutch. We just stopped for a few minutes to buy gas across the street. Bill glanced over her head and saw the Hollands Oldsmobile in front of the gas pump. J. M. Holland was visiting with the attendant. I decided to post a couple of letters. I see youve picked up yours. Matter of fact, I have. Just reading the latest news from Las Animas, courtesy of your older sister. We hear from her quite frequently, too. Sounds like she misses home. She misses you, Mr. Holmes. I cant say that youre the best thing that ever happened to her, but she does seem smitten. I never meant to get under her skin. I dont know what your intentions are, but you surely ought to make it square with her, one way or the other. Shes a mighty fine woman. She deserves a mighty fine man, then, dont you think? That she does. Well have a good day, then. It was pleasant speaking with you this morning. Nelle nodded and Bill touched the brim of his hat as she entered the post office. With this he decided to take his leave and headed to his automobile. He watched Nelle return

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to her fathers car. Shortly after, they drove away. He watched the car until it had disappeared down the road. For some time Bill brooded over the brief conversation with Nelle. He somehow felt tainted, less of a good man. He did not like her accusatory voice laced with sarcasm. Was she dressing him down? He decided to write Kit and break off their relationship. He realized that doing so would leave him unattached again. Still, he wished that doing so would open the door back into Rosas arms. But it would not. Like many a young man his age, he was ambivalent; instead of writing anything, he went towards his car, planning to head home. He would celebrate the Fourth of July and play some baseball. Then he would decide whether to mail any more letters to Kitty Holland. Just as he opened his car door, his landlord, Mr. Sherow, approached, doubtless on his way to check the morning mail at the post office as well. Bill knew it was time to commit to the produce store one way or the other. From inside the bank, across the street, an observer saw the two men greet and shake hands. The younger mans demeanor went from amicable to painful as he shook his head several times. A look of some desperation crossed his face. The older man pursed his lips on occasion in a show of concern perhaps, or understanding. Or was it relief? Bill freed himself from the Langdon Produce. Next he had to choose the most viable of his other alternatives. Impulsively, he looked across the street and decided to close his bank account. He wondered who would see working the teller cage and imagined a strawberry blonde sitting in the back of the room, in the shadows cast by harsh sunlight falling through caged windows. He walked across the street and entered the bank.

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Later, when he wrote to Kit, he committed nothing and told her to stop sending letters to Langdon because he expected to leave sometime after the Fourth of July. He did not say that he would try Colorado. Nor did he did not say that he would not. All he knew was that it was time for a change of scene. He decided to take the holiday to consider his alternatives. In the meantime, more letters arrived from Haswell and Eads.

Haswell JULY 3, 1916 My own dearest Boy:I suppose you are out in the field hard at work by now, it's six o'clock here. We got up early 'cause we want to clean the car up & decorate it while it's cool this morning. Kathleen is going to drive it in the parade tomorrow. I just can hardly wait 'till I hear from you to see how near thru you are. You said two weeks & this is the second week, will you really be ready to come after this week? Wonder what you did yesterdayI was so lonesome for you all dayI thought, "Gee, if I was at home, you would be coming over to spend the day." I wonder if you will work tomorrow or if you are to play ball some place. You don't know how I wish you could be hereI sure do. How is Vesta? Is she home this summer? Oh, say, Mr. Wilmont was talking yesterday about the Sugar Beet Factory. He said that a fellow that used to be a traveling man, every fall goes to Sugar City & works at the factory & makes seventy-five a month & what he does is to weigh the sacks of sugar after they are filled. Las Animas, Lamar & Sugar City all have the factories. Say, how did you come to tell Nelle I was home sick? They sure wrote me about it. Well! I must stop or Kathleen will have the car cleaned all by herself.

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Write to me often as you can. With heaps of love & kisses, Your own girl, "K."

The American Beet factory had opened in Rocky Ford, Colorado in 1900. By 1916 competing plants stood along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad line that connected the valley east to Kansas City, north to Denver, southwest to Amarillo and on to California. The abundant water supply formed by the Arkansas River made flood irrigation the means for growing crops of all varieties, but the burgeoning demand for sugar made millionaires of men like Charles Boettcher and Spencer Penrose. Farm boys and Mexican laborers could expect to earn upwards from $2 per day during the height of the season. There were always more jobs than there were men to fill them. Kit continued to write about the possibility of Bill finding work in any one of the sugar plants dotting the area. Bill did not find many other opportunities waiting for him in Reno County. While Bills letter to Kit had not yet found its way to her, her letters continued to arrive.

Haswell JULY 6, 1916 My dearest Boy -How you was? I don't believe I ever am going to hear from you again. The Fourth is over & we sure feel like it today. I expected to go to Eads last night but in the evening it got awfully stormy looking. Wish you were here right now. How much more you got to do yet? Uncle Claude said there was some mail down there for me, but he forgot to bring it up yesterday. Hope it's from my man. Say! Uncle Claude says we will take a trip up to the mountains this summer, soon as he can get away. You must sure be here to go with us. My! I just hate to go back down to Uncle Claudes -- it will be so lonesome.

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The darned old post-mistress in Haswell didn't have the office open a minute all day yesterday. I didn't know they could do that but she sure took the whole day. My! it's so hot--I wish it would rain. Heavens, I bet you will have a fit when you see me-- I'm so tanned. I try to keep out of the sun, but it's so warm you have to be in the wind & it tans so badly. Well! Old sweet-heart I guess I better stop. Wish you were here for me to pick a fuss with. It's only 2:30 & I havent anything to do 'till time to go to bed. Bet I would if you were here. Write real soon & send it to Eads. Just bushels of love & I'm sure getting anxious for those real kisses, "Your own" Better Burn this

Eads July 7, 1916 My own dearest Boy:Oh! I was never such a happy girl as last night when I came out to Uncle Claudes and your letter was here. I was sure a sick girl for you, for it seemed ages since I had heard from you, dearest you don't know how awful happy I am today to really know that I am to get to see you before long. But listen, you almost scare me when you say not to write to you at Langdon after Mon. Honey, listen don't go where I won't know where you are, please write & tell me where you are or better come out here so I can see you & be with you. This is Fri. & you must be nearly thru harvest. I'm sure glad, for I just hate for you to do that--I thot you were going to work in the corn. So Jim is going to stay in Hutch. Well! I wonder if that pleases Gertrude or not? I had thought I would be lonesome when I came back down here, but I don't think I can be, for planning & looking forward to seeing you-- I never am

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going away any more, where I can't see you (unless you run off & I can't find you.) You better not though. Gee, I'm getting so tanned. I will sure look like a Mexican soon. Aunt Jo & I are going in town to clean up the house Uncle Claude has just finished fixing. He moved it in town & fixed it up & Mr. & Mrs. Pyles are going to move in it Mon. I will try & write again tomorrow & dearest, write & tell me, shall I really not send any mail to you after that? I will not, 'till I hear from you so write real soon. Think about me Sunday for I will sure be lonesome for you. Your own girl, with lots of real love and kisses, Kit.

Kit walked across the hard packed gray dirt to the back door of the house and mounted the few steps. Opening the screened door, she stepped onto the porch and wiped her brow with the back of her wrist. The steady wind of the Eastern Colorado prairie found its way even there. The heat sifted through the rusty wire porch screens and mingled with the peopled smells of household trash and kitchen garbage. Theres a letter from Bill Holmes on the dining room table, Joella said. Aunt Jo glanced over her shoulder as Kit went to retrieve it. She did not seem to notice the look of concern on Jos face as she passed. Kit pulled a chair away from the table and sat down. Daintily, she slipped her fingernail under the seal and used her finger as a letter opener.

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It took barely a minute to read Bills letter. The tone of her skin reddened slightly as she read and when she had finished, she stared ahead for another minute, the pupils in her eyes dilating. Her eyes moistened. Then she crushed the letter into the palm of her hand and rose silently, walking to the staircase in the adjoining room. After she climbed the stairs she walked more hurriedly to her bedroom on the front of the house and closed the door behind her. She leaned against the door and sank slowly to the floor, sobbing quietly, muffling her urge to shriek in pain, lest she draw attention from her Aunt Jo. She sat there on the floor, her head between her knees, which she had drawn up into a fetal position. And she cried into her apron and her skirt and her petticoats until she could cry no more. She remained in this position until she had rested and recovered. Finally, she arose, clumsily, pushing herself up with one hand, the other still holding the crushed stationary from Kansas. She walked across the room to her writing desk, where she sat in front of the window looking out over the ranch. She stared out the window for a long time, mesmerized by the waving motion of the prairie grass in the wind. The crumpled letter she placed gently on the corner of the desks surface and picked up a sealed envelope, which she had addressed to Bill earlier that morning. That letter and its contents she tore precisely in half and then, more violently, in half again. She gathered the pieces of stationary and the wadded remains of the letter she had just finished reading, rose, and walked out of the room, down the stairs at the end of the hall, and into the kitchen. Without speaking to Aunt Jo, she lifted the hot plate from the stove in the kitchen and leaned over to check the glowing orange-red embers below the surface.

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Holding her hand over the opening, she dropped the letters onto the coals and watched as the paper caught fire immediately. Then she closed the top. I guess thats that, she said to Aunt Jo, smiling faintly. Jo saw the girls puffy red eyes and the dirt from the mornings work outdoors smudged and smeared. She reached out to Kit, but Kit turned away and moved resolutely back to the stairs and to her room. The door banged shut behind her. She sat down again at the writing desk and drew a new piece of the gilded ivory paper from the desk drawer and lifted her fountain pen. It hovered over the paper for a moment and then, almost fiercely, dropped down to form its first words. My dear boy She paused, uncertain how to continue. She watched as a few white clouds moved as slowly as the minute hand on a pocket watch across the sky. She waited a long time in the quiet of her room before she knew what to say next. Then she continued; the only sounds in her room were those of the pen scratching across the cotton bond stationary, the rhythmic ticking of the mantle clock poised on the chest of drawers across the room, and Kits uneven breathing as she continued to struggle for composure.

In Kansas, three days later, Bill studied the postmark, EADS, COLO. JULY 8, 1916, before slitting the seal with his knife. Kits familiar handwriting greeted him as he unfolded the letter.

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I wrote you a letter this morning but when they brought me your letter at noon & I read it, I burnt the one I had written, but am afraid I should have sent it, as I don't feel as if I would ever be able to write another letter that would be fit for any one to read. All I had thought of the past few days was just that I would see you soon-but now-Wonder what folks have to live for when they don't want too? I sure feel like I would much rather not today. Kathleen & I had it planned what a good time we four would have. But you know what you want to do. You know dearest, how I always will feel & I want you to remember that where ever I am, you are just as welcome. I never wanted anything so much in my life as I want you. But if you don't want to come to Eads, don't do it. I'm not going to stay here any longer than I can help it. For it's just as lonesome for me & if I am not going to get to be with you or even near you-- I might just as well either go home & be lonesome there, or on West & do the best I can. Please write to me if you have time & oh dearest, please let me know where you are. If you stop in Las Animas, & you care any thing about seeing me, let me know & Uncle Claude will take me over there. Dear, what made the differencethe letter you wrote last Sun. was the very dearest letter any one on earth ever got & the one I got today you seemed so blue or something. Is it something I've done, did Mama say something you took differently from what she meant or what? Oh! I wish you were right here so I could talk to you. I dread tomorrow so muchI always miss you so awful of Sundays any way & tomorrow will be even worse. Please write real soon. Always yours, with a world of love, Kit. Bill folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. The pain that flowed out of Kits words oozed off the paper and into Bills heart, enlarging the empty hole already there. He decided to give Eastern Colorado a try. He had nothing to lose.

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Maybe there was a job at one of the sugar beet factories waiting for him. Maybe he would see Pikes Peak. Maybe he would stay but then again, maybe he wouldnt.

Bill arrived in Las Animas on July 18. He had planned to leave Langdon on Monday. He completed his last week of work as a harvest hand on the Bailey farm, near the Jordan Springs School. He picked up a couple of baseball games on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, but by Monday morning he still had not begun to think about the trip, so he spent the day waiting for the wind to blow his clothes dry after washing them at his parents house that morning. He had earned enough money with what he already had to make it in Colorado for two or maybe three months, enough to find out if the High Plains or the Arkansas River Valley held his future. Following the highway into Las Animas in the late afternoon on Wednesday tired, dirty and sweaty from a long hot day on the road from Garden City where he had camped the night before Bill found it remarkable how much Las Animas reminded him of Hutchinson. Built up from the south bank of the Arkansas River, which itself carved a path through Hutchinson and beyond, Bill noted that Las Animas was smaller than Hutch, but guessed that Kit had been right to speculate that he could find steady work in one of the agriculture-related businesses in the area. He had not written to Kit since he had received her last letter and did not know what to expect from her once they met face to face. In fact, he was not certain whether she was still staying at the Wilmont Ranch or whether she had moved back in with the

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Hollands, Aunt Joella and Uncle Claude. Had she moved on, he figured he would look for work and if he found something, fine, otherwise he could just as well keep moving on too. He decided to splurge on a room, owing to the hour, so he could get a good nights sleep and clean up before finding his way out to the Holland place. Kitty had moped around the house helping her aunt with household chores since mailing her last letter to Bill a little more than two weeks earlier. She had joined her uncle on the trips he had made into town and had even asked about work at some of the local stores in Las Animas, but nothing had come from her lackluster efforts. The local economy was in a temporary slump, owing to the widespread loss of crops after the terrible storm last month. Bill decided to try the Holland place first, betting on a hunch and the fact that it was closer to Las Animas. He got directions and drove out to the ranch the next morning. Kitty and Aunt Jo had already gotten a load of laundry ready to hang out and Kitty was in the side yard hanging out linens when she heard the oddly familiar rumble of Bills old car coming down the lane towards the house. She turned and stared, mouth agape, unable to believe her eyes. Could it be that he was actually here? She stood for a long moment, transfixed, before she finished hoisting a large table cloth over the clothes line and began moving slowly at first, hesitating, towards the driveway. As for Bill, he picked out Kittys figure from the end of the drive and gazed upon her as if she were an actress in a silent picture show, the roar of his car forming the soundtrack as she looked over the clothesline out to the road from which he was now turning into the Holland place. As he neared and her features came into focus, Bill remembered her uninhibited laugh and picked out her broad smile as she tossed the sheet

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or table cloth she had been pinning to the line over onto itself and left her station, heading towards the loop that the driveway formed in front of the house. He felt the excitement in his stomach, that curious knot as he pushed his doubts into the back of his consciousness for the time being. When he stopped the car, Kitty was already at his side. He was no more than out the door when she threw her arms around his neck and lifted her face up to his, awaiting his kiss. He obliged in front of God and whatever little creatures and Aunt Joella from the window as witnesses; in broad daylight they embraced for a long time before either of them said so much as hello. Over the next several weeks, Bill and Kitty spent most of their available time together. Uncle Claude admitted to Aunt Joella that he liked the young man, but both felt guilty about their complicity in a situation that effectively foiled Kittys parents plans when they sent her to Eastern Colorado in the first place. Bill behaved respectfully in their presence and Kitty acted demurely until they were out of her relatives earshot, and then they played carelessly, drinking and smoking together without inhibition. Bill had a room in town, though Kitty dared not visit him there. He found occasional day labor that kept body and soul together. Often he worked with Mexican men who could not speak English with the gringos. But he did not find his way into the sugar beet factories, owing to his own impatience, lack of experience and local references. So the future loomed in the unknown space before him. Kitty continued to inhabit her Aunts kitchen on most days, making enquiry at a few shops whenever the opportunity presented itself on trips with Uncle Claude into the neighboring towns.

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Friday, August 31, 1917 August is the hottest and driest month in Eastern Colorado. The ground hardens into something like concrete and the winds turn even the buffalo grass in the wetter lowlands from sage green to a dull, golden tan. The cattle stand idly in groups, occasionally pulling off the tops of what little grass remains, chewing the crisp dry foliage while rolling their eyes that bulge from either side of their broad skulls, watching for hungry predators that might be lurking, ready to intrude. Ranchers have to haul water to cattle tanks when the wells run dry in this weather and often carry shotguns to dispatch the roaming coyotes, but the windmill in the pasture of the Holland Ranch continued to produce cold water from deep underground, pumped by the wind turning the rotor at the top of the obelisk-shaped structure. Windmills had to be stopped and started to avoid the risk of over-extending the ground water supply by pumping the well dry. The pump had to be opened up and primed so that the turning of the rotor would drive the action that brought fresh water to the surface where it would run out into a tank at the side of the structure. The tank held as much water as the rancher deemed appropriate and during the day the cattle and horses visited the tank as they felt the need, with the water in the tank often heating close to air temperature. Claude had cement poured on the bottom of the tank to keep the tank from rusting. The layer of green algae covering the cement did little to dissuade the farm kids from covertly skinny-dipping in the tank on hot summer afternoons. On this particular Friday it was Kits job to check the water level and tend to the switching arm so that the tank would not overfill and waste water. Bill had not found

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steady work yet, and since the pair had made plans for the evening, Bill accepted Aunt Joellas invitation to come out for dinner before the pair high-tailed it for a Friday night barn dance in town. So when he arrived at the Holland Ranch, Kit invited him to come along with her while she checked the windmill. She had other plans in mind as well. Aunt Joella would be in the kitchen preparing dinner. Uncle Claude had gone to town and would be gone until near time to eat. The place was deserted except for the two lovers and a herd of cattle that stood, chewing their cud on the other side of the hill away from the water tank. She remembered her adventures at the Wilmont Ranch earlier in the summer and planned to lure Bill into the tank to cool off, wrapping themselves in the hot dry winds pouring over the prairie. At about twenty-five yards or so from the windmill, Kit skipped backwards in front of her man and flirtatiously dared, Last one ins a rotten egg! She tugged at his hands before flying off in front of him, unbuttoning her blouse and throwing it skyward, where it floated kite-like in the air before billowing down onto a clump of sage. She fussed with the buttons at her waist while Bill stood, at first transfixed, then breaking into a wide grin before pulling his own shirt off over his shoulders and giving chase. The pair was naked and in the tank in seconds, splashing each other and engaging in horseplay when Kit squealed, Stop! Not my hair! What will Aunt Jo think? Bill grabbed her and drew her into his embrace. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead! The gods, ever mirthful and given to that strange predisposition that allows random events to take on great significance, rolled and tumbled across the sky with the greatest happiness as an errant sperm plunged into the middle of a trembling ovum

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waiting in the darkness of Kathryn Hollands womb. Nine months later that initial spark of life would be kindled into a baby girl and that singular event changed forever an everwidening circle of lines.

A few days after the first of September, Bill got a letter from Vesta encouraging him to return to Kansas because she had heard of work at the soda ash plant in Hutchinson. Since he had not yet had any luck finding work, he did not stay in Colorado. He thought about it for a day and then told Kitty he would be leaving for Hutchinson. They agreed that she would return to Kansas within the month and think of picking up where they left off. Bill offered nothing permanent or long term; neither did he deny the possibility of a future together. Kit did not get her period in September. When they learned of her pregnancy, the Hollands intervened and arranged to have their daughter boarded in Kansas City. Bill

did not hear from her again. When he finally wrote to her at the end of September, he sent the letter care of the Hollands in Eads, but there came no response. She worked at a candy factory until the baby, Maxine, was born on May 24th, 1917. Heartbroken, Kit refused to tell her parents the name of the babys father, though Uncle Claude and Aunt Joella must have known. She confided in her sister Nelle, who had suspected the truth from the very beginning. As Kit confessed to her, Nelle could not help but think back to her last conversation with Bill Holmes when they ran into each other at the Langdon Post Office. I cant say youre the best thing that ever happened to

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Kit, but she surely seems smitten. She remembered. Nelle did not tell Kit about that conversation, but instead simply hugged her. Kits tears soaked the yoke of Nelles blouse.

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Chapter Six The Marriage

On May 17, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act which required all men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to register for military service. In light of the ongoing hostilities in Europe and the increasing likelihood that the United States would, soon enough, be drawn into the conflict, the bill authorized President Wilson to temporarily increase the size of its military forces. The first of three registrations affected men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one. The law required them to register on June 5, 1917. In the end, 24 million men, about 23% of the U. S. population at the time, registered for the draft by the date of the final registration, which took place on September 12, 1918. Less than 10% of the registrants, approximately two million men, served in World War I.

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Bill rose at daybreak on that Tuesday morning. He dressed and made coffee before rolling his first cigarette. He wanted to get down to the Courthouse and stand near the front of what he imagined would be a long line. A thousand men might show up at the Courthouse today and he had other, more important things on his mind after running into Nelle Holland at the ball park in Turon last weekend. Her news once and for all altered Bills solitary life. Kit had given birth to a baby girl in Kansas City some two weeks before. Nelle left no doubt as to her meaning in sharing this news with Bill. Nelle believed he had fathered Kits baby. According to Nelle, the family had cut Kit off after they whisked her out of Eastern Colorado and ensconced her in a boarding house in Kansas City, where she had found factory work until the baby came; now she faced dire choices. She could not work and make enough money to support herself and raise a child and, at the same time, provide a home and child care by herself. The baby would have to be placed in an orphanage. J. M. and OPhelia Holland, Kit and Nelles parents, had wanted no part of Bill Holmes in this sad process, so he was not to be contacted. Nelle thought he at least ought to know. So he could do the right thing, Bill imagined. He had expected to hear from Kitty Holland months ago. He had even sent a letter to the Holland place in Las Animas after he settled into Hutchinson the previous fall, but had not given it much thought when she failed to write. So without much further consideration of their fling last summer, he settled into a new routine. Most days he worked at the soda ash plant, but most nights and weekends he kept company with his friends, meeting at local saloons after work or games. He had met a few women along

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the way, and had some good times there, but he regarded his entanglement with Kitty as a near miss, and he felt relieved that nothing more had come of it. Now he had discovered that something more had come of it. He mustered all the enthusiasm he could find for the idea of a life with Kathryn Holland, raising children, working in Hutchinson at whatever good labor he could find. Maybe cutting hair again someday, though he still winced from his first failure as an entrepreneur. But for the most part, he felt nothing more than an obligation to meet his debt where Kit was concerned, and an instinctive curiosity about this baby he had created with a woman he had been involved with for a few months a year before. He remembered her earthy enthusiasm for living and wondered how motherhood would have changed that. But the underlayment of all his thoughts since Nelles disclosure was the question, no, the conclusion: This is how it ends with Rosa. By 7:00 a.m. on that Tuesday morning draft day, somewhere between fifty and a hundred men sat on the Reno County Courthouse steps, waiting for the doors to open at 8:00 oclock. By the time Bill arrived, at 7:15, twice that many more stood or sat on the grass of the Courthouse lawn, in an irregular formation that somewhat resembled a line. When he walked around the corner to the front of the building, Bill spied one of his drinking buddies, Charlie Hopkins, who, at 31 had almost missed the first cut. The two men greeted each other and struck up a conversation, making it easier for Bill to insinuate himself into the queue and to ignore the frowns and dirty looks he received from several of the men behind them in line. The Reno County Draft Board prepared well for the onslaught of registration day. Local Board Number 1358 was one of more than 4,600 such committees set up in every

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city or county across the country with a population of at least 30,000. So the processing of the early birds, of which Bill was a part, went smoothly. By 9:30, Registrant Number 121, William Green Holmes, stood in front of a heavyset woman of uncertain years, seated at a sturdy, but well worn oak table, moved into an open corridor for the occasion, outside the hastily organized Selective Service offices in the Courthouse. He knew her only by name. Grace Myers, the Registrar for Local #1358, enjoyed a Saturday night baseball game. Most of the men that morning recognized her voice from hearing her chuck rhubarb at a poor call from the umpire, or a missed fly ball in right field. Her voice was filled with its characteristic brass this morning. Fill in your personal information on these two pages. She had just opened a clean page in the registration book as Bill approached her table. He studied the form long enough to take its meaning before withdrawing an ink pen from the glass on the table and dipping it into an open bottle of India ink. When he finished, he turned the book around to face Mrs. Myers and pushed it an inch or so in her direction. She read his response deliberately before processing his draft card.

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You be playing ball again this summer? I guess Ill pick up with one of the teams. Then I imagine Ill see you on the field one of these weekends, she said, copying Bills name from his registration card onto a light blue piece of pre-printed card stock. When she finished she slid the card to Bill. You take care yourself, dear. Well be seeing you Next? she cried, as her rubber stamp thumped the table at the bottom of Bills form. She looked past Bill to the next man in line, using the same tone she might have used on an out of town batter playing for the visiting team on a Saturday night. Bill studied his prize for getting up so early.

He tucked the card into his wallet and headed back to his car, smiling with a confident, self-satisfied, faraway look on his face. He had not yet told anyone about his decision where Kathryn Holland was concerned, but as he tucked his billfold into his hip pocket, he thought there would be a pretty good number of single men invited to join the army before Uncle Sam started calling up the married fellows, especially those with a child. He also knew who he needed to tell first. He motored out of the downtown area

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and hit the county roads out of South Hutchinson heading to Langdon, wondering if his mother would have biscuits left over from breakfast when he arrived.

The prairie opened wide, as Bill approached Langdon. He saw the wheat fields, poised at the brink of harvest. In the last half of May, the wheat fields gradually ripen from bright emerald to rich slate-green as buds of grain emerge at the top of their leafy spikes. The wind dries the crop, turning it the color of fresh-cut oak when it is ready for reaping. Those days from the last frost of the winter to the early summer harvest are a biding time, sometimes serene, sometimes embroiled with fierce winds and sudden hail stones that wound and terrorize the land. When the storm brings a tornado, more than wheat fields fall. Bill turned the final corner and brought his car to a stop in front of his parents house. The engine sounded more like a tractor than an automobile. The steering assembly squeaked, out of tune with the brakes, both metal on metal, as he straightened the tires to park parallel with the road. Finally the car came to a halt, backfiring as he turned off the magneto. A pale, gray-blue fog settled in the air behind the vehicle; the smell of petroleum wafted into the passenger compartment. He waited a moment behind the steering wheel before opening the side door. He stepped down to the ground, avoiding the running board. The door made a hard metallic bang as it latched into place. He walked briskly around the front of the car, bypassed the pathway to the formal entrance, and went to the back door of the house.

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He pulled open the rusted-screen door and took the one short step up from the stoop onto the porch at the back of the house. Through the open doorway, he saw his mother in the kitchen. "Mama?" Josie stood at the table with her back to the door. Her tiny frame hunched over the old breadboard on which she mixed lard and flour into biscuit dough. Without turning she looked up and cocked her head to project her good ear towards the door. She smiled and said, "That you, Billy-boy? I didn't know you were coming. What brings you out today?" "I'm going to Kansas City, Mama." "Kansas City? What on earth for, dear? You hear of work there?" she asked, hopefully. "I need to see about Kitty Holland." She pushed the biscuit dough into a ball and tamped it down again with her fingers. She had short, thick nails. The dough pushed underneath them and into her cuticles. As she flattened it out again into a paunchy looking pancake shape, Josie picked up an edge with each hand and dragged it around the breadboard, picking up scraps of flour and loose dough. Then she started over again forming it all back into a ball. Josie's face showed a concern that her voice little masked. "When you figuring to leave?" "Tonight. If it goes steady, I'll be there this time tomorrow." Josie finally turned to look at her son. He stood in the doorway between the screened porch and the compact but well-appointed kitchen, his weight on one leg, arms

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crossed. The afternoon sun behind him transformed his figure into a silhouette. She picked up her time-worn rolling pin, well-greased and shiny from frequent use, and placed it in the center of the dough. With the palms of her hands, she rolled the wooden pin backward and forward, ignoring the handles on either end. "She's had a baby, Mama. I saw Nelle at Turon Saturday." Beneath the weight of the rolling pin and Josie's consistent pressure, the dough flattened out into an irregular round shape a little less than half an inch thick. She reached for an old white coffee cup, its handle gone, its finish crackled and dulled from years of use. Placing it in the center, upside down, she pressed it through the dough with the palm of her right hand. Her jaws protruded at the bottom of her cheeks; her mouth formed a tight straight line as she worked. Vertical lines became visible above her upper lip as her mouth puckered in rhythm with the work she was doing. The skin of her face was supple and smooth and soft. "How is that any of your business, Bill?" Josie asked, already guessing the answer as she placed the first biscuit onto the baking tin. But she needed to take his confession. She moved the cup and pressed out biscuits in a ring around the perimeter of the hole she had just cut. Bill shifted his weight from his right to his left leg, reaching awkwardly to the top of the doorframe, extending his right arm to the corner above his head. His suspenders stretched against his shoulders; the ample white cotton muslin of his shirt moved with him, but stayed in place at the waist of his light wool pants. The sunlight caught his chestnut hair and shined on through to the apron strings that criss-crossed Josie's back.

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Bill did not answer his mothers question directly; he offered no confession. "She's all alone, Mama. They sent her there from Eads. She's been working at a candy factory. But she can't do that no more." With the back of her left hand, Josie pushed away a wisp of hair that fell loose at her forehead. She still held the old coffee cup. The heat from the stove on the west wall by the door where he stood caused perspiration to form on her brow. A smudge of flour, barely visible, caught hold just above her eyebrow. She continued methodically working clockwise around the periphery of the first cut in her biscuit dough, rhythmically stamping out perfectly formed biscuits that lined out on the baking tin in even rank and file. Her lips moved as if to kiss each biscuit she cut into the dough. A slight rush of air pushed its way through the doorway and continued across the room through the window on the opposite wall by the sink. She took a few steps across the floor and grasped the handle of the pump in the sink, pushing it determinedly up and down. When water began to flow, Josie released the handle of the pump and placed both hands under the water, rubbing her fingers together against the sticky dough. Dabbing her hands into her apron, she turned and looked squarely at her son as he stood with his back against the sunlight. "What are your plans, then?" She asked and returned to her position at the breadboard. She gathered up the scraps of biscuit dough anew, and with her hands still wet, pushed the scraps together again, reshaping them into another smaller ball. "I'll see about bringing her back to Hutch with me. She don't want nothing to do with her family, except for Nelle. She's got to have a place for the baby. I've got work. We'll see if we can make a go of it."

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Josie flattened out the new lump of biscuit dough. Some of the dough stuck to the sides of the wooden pin. She reached across to the flour bin, picked up a hand-spread of flour and sprinkled it across the top of the dough before continuing to roll the pin forward and back until it was ready for cutting. "Mama . . ." "What do you mean, Bill, when you say you'll see about making a go of it? Is that how Daddy and I have lived?" "Mama, I owe that baby her birthright." "It's a baby girl, then? Does the baby have a name yet?" Josie picked up the tray of biscuits and took them to the stove, stopping in front of her son to look a long moment into his eyes. "Dorothy Maxine." Bill thought the name still sounded foreign when he heard himself say it aloud. "Is she thriving?" "Guess so." "Where you going to have a place to stay, boy?" "I don't know, Mama. I don't even know if Kit'll have me. We can take rooms with Mrs. Brown until we can do better." Josie exhaled a long sigh. As her jaws flexed beneath her cheeks, her mouth puckered several times, arrhythmically. She opened the oven door with a stained, quilted hot pad that looked old and tired. She slid the tray of biscuits onto the middle rack and closed the door of the oven in a single fluid motion. "Then your daddy and I are to be grandparents again."

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"You already are grandparents again." "Yes, Josie responded. I see." She finished a second pan of biscuits between talking and awkward silences. Then she picked up the breadboard and carried it towards the doorway where Bill stood. He stepped backwards onto the porch as his petite, determined mother strode past. With her left arm extended in front of herself, she pushed open the screened door, against the resistance of a long spring that creaked mournfully under her pressure. Her heels made a wooden clomp as she stepped down onto the stoop where she let the remainder of the crumbly flour fall off the board and onto the grass. Switching her grasp on the board from her right to her left hand, she scraped the board clean using her thumb and three fingers. The board perched against her left leg, her foot raised from tiptoes. Her wellworn shoes added two inches to her demeanor for their stumpy heels. Bill stepped out onto the stoop with his mother and placed a hand on her shoulder. He pulled her toward himself, leaned over and kissed her gently on top of her head, paused a moment and pulled away. Their eyes did not meet, so he did not see the glassy moisture forming in hers. Bill wondered if she was sad at his news, or only angry? Without any more conversation, he walked down the side of the house towards the front and to his car parked there. But she called after him, told him to wait, and he followed her back into the kitchen where she retrieved the fresh biscuits from the oven and set them aside. Then she found an old tea towel, freshly laundered and folded away in a drawer beneath the counter. She shook it out onto the kitchen table. With her hot pad on one hand and a spatula in the other, she dislodged half the tray of biscuits onto it. Before Bill left, she tied the corners together and sent him off with the biscuits and an unopened

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pint of apple butter from last seasons canning. Thus fortified, they said good-bye without talking more about his plans. After he climbed into the drivers seat of his car out front, he found his tobacco tin on the seat and rolled a cigarette. He struck a match on the side of the door, lit the cigarette and took a deep drag and held it, exhaling as if he were a man who had already worked a day. At last he turned over the magneto, and then, cigarette clenched in the corner of his mouth, he stepped back down to crank the engine using the handle at the front of the car.

Kansas City. Wednesday, June 6, 1917 Bill stepped off the train and looked around. The covered platforms held the sounds of hissing steam and the steady whumph-whumph-whumph of locomotive engines, the screeching of metal on metal as engines and freight cars braked and stopped on the other tracks. He followed the flow of people to the cavernous lobby of Union Station. Granite and marble covered the walls and floors. Light poured in from two-story high windows, filtering dust and shadows. He stopped for a moment and looked up into the high ceiling. A sparrow had somehow gotten inside and was now trapped. It chirped and fluttered, trying to find its way out, seeking to escape from its prison. Oblivious to the creatures entrapment, people moved in all directions, alone and in groups. Women with pretentious hats and diminutive waists held the hands of little children and shepherded them across the concourse. Men stood in groups of two or three, wearing straw hats with flat narrow brims and vested suits festooned with watch fobs. They smoked fat nickel

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cigars, and debated the war in Europe. On one side, Negroes in blue denim aprons shined the shoes of important-looking men and peddlers who sat above the fray on a row of high oak chairs. The stale air smelled of people. It was hot after a long day of comings and goings. A poster had been tacked to one wall, commemorating the Memorial Day holiday, just past. Across the way Bill saw a family of five dressed like farmers. The mother wore gingham, the father and teenage boy store-bought overalls; a younger sister wore a starched pinafore and the baby brother, knickers. They huddled together, as if waiting for someone to show them the way out of the cavern. The station clock pointed to five minutes past four oclock. Bill marveled at the mass of humanity, threw his satchel over his shoulder and headed towards the doors that filled the wall on the far end of the atrium.

From the right in his line of vision, he caught sight of a young boy, four or five years old, in short pants laughing and running from a tall, elegant looking woman in a stiff white dress. The boy ran and looked over his shoulder at his mother, teasing her. His red hair and freckles reminded him of Speck; her hair, several shades lighter than her sons, reminded him of someone else hed left back home, Rosa. When the boy turned he could not avert a collision with Bill, but Bill dodged the child like a matador. He

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scooped the boy off his feet as he ran past and swung him into the air turning around to the childs startled delight. The mother caught up with him at the same moment. That was quite a catch! she said, looking amazed. Ive got two little brothers at home not much bigger than this one, Maam. I guess Ive had some practice, He flashed his awshucks grin and set the little boy down in front of his mother. William G. Holmes, at your service! he said, smiling and extending his right hand. The boy looked up at him with a broad, toothy smile and wide, innocent brown eyes and said, earnestly, Can we do that again, mister? Not now, Chester, well miss our train, the woman said, looking sternly at her son. Then noticing Bills outstretched arm, she took his hand and said, The names Annie Gosman. Thank you so much for rescuing me. My pleasure, Maam, Bill effused, flirting. Wherere you headed? We have family expecting us in Ohio tomorrow. Mrs. Gosman replied. Traveling alone? Bill asked, perhaps a bit too inquisitively, but Mrs. Gosman seemed not to mind. Chesters father died last year, she said. Her voice was smooth and ethereal; she spoke without a regional dialect, sounding both well-educated and well-to-do. Im very sorry for your loss, Maam. Please, mama? Chester pleaded, staring at the strange man talking to his mother. Good-naturedly, Bill swooped down from overhead and picked the boy up again, twirling him over his head, not without some peril to passersby in the vicinity, then setting Chester down on the floor.

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Im a nurse, Mrs. Gosman volunteered. My husbands family lives in Canton, but I work at a hospital here, now. Bill reached in his pocket and pulled out a penny candy in a wrapper, sat down on his haunches, and held it out to the boy. Mind your mama, now. Here. Have a good trip. The woman took her son by the hand and smiled demurely at Bill. Bill stood, touched his cap and nodded at the woman before turning towards the exit again. Annie and little Chester Gosman walked away towards the platforms. In his mothers tow, the little boy looked back as Bill disappeared into the sunlight and shadows of the depot atrium. A policeman outside the entrance to the depot directed Bill to a trolley that would take him to the Paseo district where Kit had a room. Bill had a smoke as he waited for the trolley, looking wide-eyed at his surroundings. The afternoon air was heavy and hot. Apart from the trains, the depot was a hubbub of activity. Trolley bells clanged. Noisy automobiles came and went in random patterns, narrowly avoiding collisions in the unregulated streets that converged at the train station. Bill had neither seen nor heard from Kathryn Holland since their last meeting months before, at the Holland ranch in Colorado. He remembered her eyes when he turned to wave good-bye to her as she stood on the verandah of the large Victorian house there. He remembered looking away from her and down the road as he turned his car from the Holland place and headed towards Lamar. His stomach felt nervous now as he waited for the Paseo trolley. He rolled another cigarette and settled onto the wooden slats

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of an ornate cast iron park bench beside the sidewalk in front of the station. Kathryn Holland had no idea that he was in town. The Paseo trolley turned onto the street in front of Union Station. Bill dropped his cigarette on the ground and crushed it with the sole of his shoe. He stood and waited for the passengers to disembark. Then he stepped onto the trolley car and put coins into the canister beside the conductors seat. The streetcar smelled of ozone from the electricity overhead. Bill felt the breeze from the open windows on either side of the car. He took a seat near the front, waiting as the other passengers boarded, and asked the conductor if he knew the address Nelle had given him. 1825 Grove? Eh-yup, the conductor said. Get off the line at 19th Street. West off the Paseo, past Lydia. First street. Up half a block north. The trolley moved out from the station. The station looked out over a wide green mall that ran half a mile south. Trees dotted the landscape and Bill saw sunlight mirrored off a small lake at the far end. Bill gazed at the Paseo, a wide, tree lined boulevard with trolley tracks going in each direction on opposite sides of the street. Noisy automobiles careened carelessly on both sides of the street, threatening occasional pedestrians. The trip seemed long, possibly because it ran uphill. Bill got up after passing 20th Street and waited for the trolley to come to a stop at 19th. Theres a YMCA two blocks farther down, if yer lookin for a place to stay the night, the driver offered. Bill wondered at the drivers intuition, but gave it little thought. He looked westward towards the neighborhood where Kit and baby Maxine

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lived. Tossing his satchel over his back again, he made his way across the Paseo, waiting as automobiles held the right of way through the intersection. The two-block walk took only a few minutes. The houses looked similar in style: smallish, wood-frame, two-story. Some porches had swings, others rocking chairs. A few elderly people sat on the porches and watched Bill turn the corner and walk down the block. At 1825 Grove, Bill found a white house with gingerbread trim and a lattice rose trellis on the covered porch at the front. The house sat above a front yard built up by a cement retaining wall eighteen inches above the pathway that ran the length of the block. Pink roses covered the trellis, which hid a porch swing, large enough for two people. The roses hid the parlor window that looked out over the covered front porch. Two steps up from the pathway, a cement walk led to the porch steps. A handrail made of thick iron pipe ran up the right side of the six steps that led from the ground to the porch. Bill lowered his satchel from his shoulder, took the steps up into the front yard and strode to the porch steps, pausing momentarily before grasping the hand rail to address the climb to the porch. He stopped and rapped on the screened door. It rattled noisily at his hand. Bills knocking returned only silence. He stood looking nervously at the door; felt his neck grow hot and red. Near the handle, soil filled the grooves left by a paintbrush on the molding around the screen door. Too many dirty hands, Bill thought. He heard the sound of footsteps coming from inside. A short, round, middle-aged woman opened the door and looked out curiously. No vacancy, she said, looking around the door. It occurred to Bill that she was a full-size version of a gnome or an elf he saw once, in a book. Her light brown hair,

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streaked with incursions of gray, was pulled back hard against her temples and then caught into a bun in back. Grease stains dotted the upper half of her white, embroidered blouse. The worn black skirt extended to her ankles, and was caught up tight beneath her generous breasts. She stood, wiping her hands vigorously on a mottled white apron as she scrutinized Bill from head to foot. Oh. Uhm, Im not looking for a room. Is Bill hesitated and then his words rushed forward. Is a Miss Kathryn Holland boarding here? And just who might be wanting to know? The matron of the house cocked her head to one side and raised a suspicious eyebrow. Uhm. William Holmes, Maam. Id be much obliged if you ask Miss Kathryn, would she see me? Wait over there. The woman gestured to a row of unmatched chairs and a rocking chair that lined the wall to the right of the doorway. She closed the door and disappeared, though Bill could hear the sound of her heels on the wooden floor as she turned and walked away. He dropped his satchel beside the nearest chair and sat down. He reached for his tin of tobacco, but thought the better of it and folded his hands in his lap. Across the street, an old man in a wicker wheelchair sat on the porch, watching him. Bill nodded, smiled and touched the brim of his cap. The old man looked away, avoiding eye contact. Inside, the landlady, Mrs. Emmaline Truax, knocked on Kits door. Kit answered and Mrs. Truax entered her room. Theres a man on the front porch, who says his name is William Holmes, and hes asking for you. Mrs. Truax said.

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The landlady found Kit sitting up in her bed, breast-feeding an infant, her thick black curls matted and caught in a tie at the back of her neck. Loose hair protruded at the sides of her face. She looked up at Mrs. Truax, who worried at the sight of the dark circles she saw there. Kits face was puffy, her cheeks ruddy. Her room smelled of sour breast milk and wet diapers. Mrs. Truax had already given Kit notice that she would have to find other lodgings. The sound of the babys crying drew complaints from other tenants and displeased Mrs. Truax herself. Only human decency demanded that Kit at least have time to find suitable rooms elsewhere, before Mrs. Truax exercised the eviction notice. Bill Holmes is here? Kit was incredulous. A momentary thrill passed through her body, a shudder she could not repress. Her eyes took in the entire room in one quick movement. I cant have anyone see me here. Not like this! She looked down at the baby nursing at her bosom and back up at Mrs. Truax, pleadingly. Could you ask him to come back for supper? We can always set another place at the table, dear. Mrs. Truax backed out of the room and pulled the door shut as she moved into the hallway. She listened for a moment at the door, shook her head slowly and started back down the hall. The clomping of the landladys heels on hardwood floors announced the her return and the sound of the stretching spring on the screened door followed. Mrs. Truax looked disapprovingly at Bill. Miss Holland is indisposed right now, she said with exaggerated formality. She asks if you can come back at 6:00 oclock? Would you like to take supper with us?

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Cost you twenty-five cents. Well have pork roast and potatoes. No alcoholic drinks-before you get here or while youre here, if you please.

Bill found a severe-looking, three and a half story red brick building in the location where the trolley man had instructed him to go. A smooth white slab set into the brick above the front doors announced:


He entered the building by way of a poorly lighted hallway, but he immediately saw a sign protruding over the top of a doorway to his left, proclaiming, OFFICE. A pleasant looking man with a visor on his forehead lifted his face away from a welter of importantlooking papers that he was examining. He wore thick glasses that distorted his eyes, giving him the appearance of a child in a mans body. Can I help you? he said with an air of self-importance. Room for the night? Bill asked. The desk clerk nodded and turned a registration book towards Bill. Sign in, please, the clerk responded. Cot in the dormitory? Thatll do fine. Bill answered, signing his name on the register, Wm. G. Holmes. Langdon, Kan. Twenty cents, in advance. Breakfast comes out at 6:30 in the dining hall. You can eat until 8:00 oclock in the morning, since itll be Saturday. Go back out here to the

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hallway and head right to the stairs at the end of the building. Two flights up. Top of the stairs. Take any bed that has the mattress folded. Clean sheets and a blanketll be on top of the mattress when you lay it out. Make your own bed tonight, and bring the sheets down here when you leave in the morning. Bill took note of a canvas-sided cart to his right and a sign above it that read Return Sheets HERE. The desk clerk frowned slightly. Bill smiled and gave him a friendly salute, turned and headed for the stairs. Ten single beds with wire mesh, spring platforms and thin batted mattresses spanned the far wall of the dorm room. The stale air smelled of dust and time. A wide corridor down the middle of the room separated the two rows of beds. On the opposite side of the room another eight beds filled the other wall, the number reduced by the entrance from the hallway at the top of the stairs and the entrance to the bathroom near the far end. About half the mattresses were folded double on top of the beds. Two men looked up as Bill entered the room. They appeared to be in their early twenties and were playing cards on a chair set between their beds. Another bed held a man sleeping with his arm over his eyes. Bill could hear him snoring as he entered the room, so he selected an empty bed as far away as possible. He made out the mattress, found the blanket and sheets as promised and set them up at one end like a pillow. He sat on the edge of his bed, removed his hat and shoes and lay down, staring at the ceiling. The card players stopped and glanced at Bill settling in before returning to their game. Bills thoughts turned to Kit and the baby he had not yet seen. He understood that he had reproduced himself in this infant, but felt no connection to the event. He thought

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about his feelings when Fay and Speck and Badger were born. Babies seemed fragile, easy to drop for their squirming and they werent particularly pretty. He thought of women making much ado over newborn infants and toddlers and didnt understand all the fuss. Speck had come along when Bill was fifteen years old. For some time Bill had understood where babies came from. Though his parents never spoke of the biology of reproduction at all, he had seen plenty of farm animals copulating. So at an early age he figured that men and women, mothers and fathers, must have had some similar ritual to get babies. The idea of his parents coupling horrified him at first, compared to his own private amusements while alone in the pasture or the barn. But in more recent years since giving up his engagement to Rosa, he had enjoyed the pleasures of the flesh with a number of women who followed the baseball circuit. So this same business had gotten him a baby now, he thought. He remembered lying with Kit and felt that desire again. He recalled their first night in the rain by the creek. He remembered the way the sunlight felt on his skin while they frolicked in the water tank at the Holland ranch. He dozed and woke with a start. His watch showed 5:45. He sat up, found his cap under the bed, and put on his shoes. He headed for the door, pulled the brim of his white straw hat down onto his forehead, and walked hurriedly back to the house on Grove Street. He arrived with only minutes to spare.

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Mrs. Truax answered the door and showed Bill into the dining room. The table was set for six, but only three people, two men and one woman, were seated as he entered the room. Her attitude towards Bill seemed to have softened somewhat. This is Mr. Holmes, Mrs. Truax announced to her other borders. Mr. Holmes, allow me to introduce . . . But before she could finish, all eyes focused on the entryway into the dining room. Kitty Holland entered the room, holding an infant asleep in her arms. She saw no one but Bill, who stood with Mrs. Truax in the doorway from the parlor. And Bill heard no more introductions as he stared, transfixed by the sight of his child and the woman he intended to marry. His eyes shifted from Kitty Holland to the baby and back again as he removed his cap and spoke with uncertainty. Kit? This is Maxine, Bill. Dorothy Maxine. Maxine, this is your daddy, Bill Holmes. She smiled and looked into his eyes. Bill stepped slowly towards Kit and the baby, continuing to look back and forth between them. No one else in the room spoke. Mrs. Truax and her boarders watched the tableau unfold as though in slow motion. Maxine? Kit held the baby out to Bill and instinctively, he reached out to take his child. Just then baby Maxine squirmed uncomfortably and cried loudly. Kit pulled the child back and moved her onto her shoulder, but could not comfort her. She bounced the baby gently, rhythmically in her arms, patting the baby on her back. The baby stiffened and squeezed her eyes, turning beet red in the face. The boarders shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. Mrs. Truax moved to take the baby from Kit.

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No. Let me. Bill said, stepping in her way. Kit looked up quizzically and held out the baby who now cried even louder and curled her knees up towards her arms inside her blanket and nightgown. Bill took the child and held her out in front of himself so that he could see her face. The baby continued to cry, all wrinkled and red. He drew her to his chest and put his hand behind her head. He made soft cooing sounds, and swayed slowly to the right and to the left, instinctively, as he had seen his parents do when holding his younger brothers. The baby seemed to weigh no more than a balloon, but emitted intense body heat for such a little package. Bill softened and molded the baby into his chest. The emotions he felt, he felt for the first time. This was his flesh, this child. Time stood still. Maxines cries became quieter and her tense little body relaxed. The audience at the dining room table smiled with relief and pleasure at the babys response. Bill looked sheepishly at the room full of strangers and gave them a boyish grin. He looked very young, and proud, like he did the day he hit his first home run. He always did have a way with the girls, Kit said, smiling self-consciously, looking from Bill to the dining table trio and to Mrs. Truax and back to Bill. Well, shall we get dinner on the table? Mrs. Truax asked.

Later, the baby slept in a bassinet that Mrs. Truax had supplied from her attic weeks earlier. Kit and Bill sat on the porch swing in the quiet, warm night air. The delicate fragrance of roses drifted on the air from the nearby trellis. They heard the

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sounds of motor cars in the distance as they made their way up and down the Paseo a few blocks away. Why didnt you write me when you found out you were carrying our baby? Bill asked softly to avoid compromising the privacy they felt in the open air. Kit looked away from Bill and spoke just above a whisper, almost in monotone. There wasnt no future in that. I didnt know what to do. Daddy and Mama found out I was expecting and sent me up here and Ive been working and paying my bills ever sinceuntil Maxine came. She did not look up at Bill, but stared at her hands folded in her lap. She worked the fingers of her left hand between her thumb and index finger of her right, as if to massage them. Her fingernails were short and ungroomed. You shouldve let me know. What would you have done about it, Bill? Kits voice seemed more urgent. You didnt want no wife and you sure didnt want no baby. And even if you did, you didnt have a place for a family. Where would we live? You cant raise a family playin ball. She turned and looked into his dark brown eyes. You wont have no strings tying you down to the ground. Almost twenty-eight years old and you have never let any moss grow in your shadow, not once in your life. Maybe its time. Oh, Bill, she said, shaking her head. I will never love any man the way I loved you. She turned away from him again, feeling her resistance melting. But kid, you are not a good catch in the husband department, she said. Sez who?

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Howre we going to make a life together? Your mama thinks Im a tainted woman and my folks thought you were going to ruin my life before you did. Im working in Hutchinson now. Its not real good work, but its steady. Working in the soda ash plant. I never had a reason to settle down before this. I can be a good husband and I will be a proper father to that baby. Kit said nothing. Her eyes grew moist as she looked back into his face. Marry me Kathryn Holland and I will be your husband as surely as I am the father of your child. Kit continued to stare into Bills eyes but said nothing. She didnt know what to say. She wasnt sure what she felt. Her only emotion was fear. She feared that if she did not say yes she would lose Bill finally and completely. She feared that if she did say yes to his proposal, in winning him, he would end up hating her. Bill had never been faithful to her or to anyone; now his offer of marriage would hamstring him forever. But what else could she do? Where else could she go? She knew that she could not care for Maxine alone. Mrs. Truax had given her notice that she should leave the house on Grove, but she had nowhere else to go. She could not go back to Turon and shame her family. She did not want Maxine to grow up alone and without a father. Even though Kit doubted whether he really loved her, he would not need to know of her secret doubts. She could make him love her if he would let her. The silence in the night air created so much pressure she felt as if she would burst. Oh, yes! she said, sobbing. She buried her face in his chest. Bill wrapped her in his arms. She brought her hands up until she found his shoulders. They held each other while Bills shirt absorbed Kits tears. The strength of his body made her feel safer.

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Safer and stronger. Bill gently stroked her back, which felt soft to his touch. He looked out over her head and through the rose trellis, saw the old man across the street, still sitting in his wicker wheel chair. It was nearly dark and so the old man could not see them through the roses. Bill stared at him and the old man stared blankly ahead, as if he saw nothing at all. Bill and Kit rocked back and forth in each others arms, swaying unevenly on the porch swing. Its chain squeaked dryly on the hooks mounted into the tongue-in-groove wood ceiling that Mrs. Truax had painted robins egg blue that same spring. Their reverie ended with the sound of Maxines crying from inside the boarding house. Kit sat up and pulled away from Bill. Its feeding time. I suppose I should be getting back to the Y before it gets too late. Then Ill see you tomorrow? Tomorrow and tomorrow. Bill quipped and stepped away, toward the porch steps. You wont change your mind? Kit took his right hand in both of hers. About seeing you tomorrow? Bill grinned. Oh, Kid, she said. Bill stepped back towards her and took her chin in his free hand, guiding it towards his own. He stooped a little and kissed her as she looked up at him. Kit felt as if she might hyperventilate. She pulled away as Maxine cried again, more loudly now, but their eyes did not separate. Good night. he said. Kit turned and moved hurriedly to the screen door. It banged loudly behind her. He heard her footsteps down the hallway inside as he

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descended the porch steps. The old man watched him step down as Bill fixed his hat on the top of his head. He flashed a smile at the old man and gave him a quick wave. She said yes! he called across the street. The old man did not acknowledge his greeting, but instead, looked away as he had before. Bill stopped at a saloon on his way back to the YMCA. He ordered a whiskey and stayed at the bar, then drank another. He said nothing, except to the bartender when he ordered his second round. When he finished, he sat his glass down onto the bar. The barkeep looked at him curiously. Bill shook his head to say no and made his way toward the door. Glancing back, he nodded as he raised the first two fingers of his right hand to his brow, flashing an addled grin at the bartender. It was late now and the Paseo was quiet as he walked back to the Y. The YMCA was hot and muggy inside when Bill opened the door. He found the stairs and climbed to the dormitory room upstairs, where it was hotter still, despite several open windows and a row of ceiling fans rotating overhead. It smelled of men sleeping. Bill undressed to his long johns, folded his clothes and put them onto the satchel under his bed then lay on top of the bed and stared at the ceiling for a long time without closing his eyes or feeling near sleep.

After leaving Bill on the front porch, Kit went back to her room where the baby Maxine squealed, wet, cold, and hungry. Kit changed the babys diapers and undid the buttons on the front of her blouse. She wrapped the baby in a fresh blanket and sat down

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in a rocking chair that Mrs. Truax had moved into the room for the benefit of the baby and the rest of the people who lived in the boarding house. Maxine took Kits nipple greedily and Kit rocked slowly up and back in the rocking chair, hardly remembering the baby attached to her breast. She dozed in the chair and woke up to the sound of the baby snoring in her arms. She moved fluidly to the bassinet and lay Maxine down, tucking the blanket gently around her. After listening for the babys slow measured breathing, she undressed, put on a white cotton nightgown and climbed into her own unmade bed. Sleep did not come quickly. She stared at the dim light outside her window. She heard movement upstairs in the room overhead where Mrs. Truax slept, and the rhythmic sound of old springs from Mrs. Truaxs bed. Shes got company, tonight, Kit thought. The pumping sounds from the bed springs became increasingly fervent. Kit hated the noise and thought it would never cease. Then silence replaced the night music. She heard the sound that porcelain makes when pulled along bare wooden floor boards. Then she heard the sound of someone setting the lid of the chamber pot on the floor. Soon the lid was replaced and Kit heard the strain of the springs in Mrs. Truaxs bed as she returned to it. Finally, Kit slept.

Thursday, June 7, 1917 The office of the District Court Judge in Clay County, Missouri, was stark. Tall, wide windows covered by dusty, off-white Venetian blinds filled one wall. The brazen sun showed through the slats and painted jagged stripes on everything it met. Minute

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particles of dust and pollen reflected the light like glitter on a dancers shoes. The windows were streaked and cloudy and difficult to see through. It was nearly the end of a long week, punctuated by doubts and misgivings on either side of a long train ride. Bill felt determined to do the right thing by Kit and Maxine, so he ignored his doubts. Kathryn Holland and William G. Holmes spent most of the morning getting set for their wedding ceremony. There was packing for the trip back to Hutchinson and then they had to get to the Courthouse to obtain a marriage license. Bill paid cash for the license, but then they had to wait for the judge. Mrs. Truax drove the couple to the courthouse and accompanied the bride and served as witness for the couple, if not Matron of Honor. When, at 2:30 p.m., the judge finally appeared. He prevailed upon his clerk to witness for the groom, since Bill had no one from Langdon or Hutchinson there to stand up for him. The ritual was brief and to the point. Mrs. Truax held Maxine, who cooperatively slept for the duration of the ceremony. At 2:43 the judge pronounced the couple husband and wife. Bill kissed his bride chastely on her cheek. His eyes were opened, not too widely, but enough to see that hers were closed. After her first kiss as Mrs. William G. Holmes, she gazed wistfully towards the ceiling at the corner of the room where she noticed an elaborate, dusty spider web above a row of wooden filing cabinets and a glass-fronted book case. Bill pulled his arm gently around her waist, tugging her towards himself as his kiss became an affectionate hug. After the ceremony, Mrs. Truax drove the little family to Union Station. Bill had reserved passage on a train leaving for Emporia at 4:20, so they arrived almost an hour early. They would stay the night in Emporia and take another train to Hutchinson the

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next morning. Bill unloaded Kits things from Mrs. Truaxs automobile and set them on the sidewalk with his satchel. The three stood awkwardly for a moment until Mrs. Truax gave Kit a hug and paused a moment grasping both of Kits arms. God bless you, then, she said. Write us a note and tell us how youre doing when you get settled. Take care of this little mite, she added, smoothing the fine, short hair away from Maxines forehead as Kit held her. A porter came to the sidewalk to load Kits and Bills belongings onto a luggage cart. Mrs. Truax shook Bills hand and took her leave. Bill and Kit and Maxine followed the porter into the station and began their lives together.

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Chapter Seven Noblesse Oblige

Independence Day, 1917

She did not know whether the sound of baby Maxines gurgling brought her to drowsy consciousness or if it was the morning sun warming her eyelids, but as she awoke, Kathryn Holmes, ne Kitty Holland, felt herself wrapped in a blanket of good fortune. She had become Mrs. William G. Holmes, her dreams of a year ago fulfilled by a vow that she and her husband would love and honor each other forever. Warmth emanated from his body in the bed beside her. Like a cat awakening from a nap in the shadow after the sun passes, she stretched from the tip of her toes to the ends of her fingers and smiled. The bed springs sang out of tune, shifting as she sat up on the edge to face Maxine, fully awake and grabbing one foot with both hands while drool glistened

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down the side of her cheek and into the creases of her neck. Wearing nothing more than her gauzy cotton nightgown, Kitty got up and leaned into the crib. She swept Maxine up in a fluid gesture and held her above her head, causing the baby to giggle and squirm enthusiastically, before bringing her close into her embrace. Then she lay back onto the iron bed beside her husband. She forced her engorged breast over the scooped and ruffled neckline of her gown, the pale skin of her breast gleaming bluish-white below the surface. Holding her nipple between her fingers, she nudged it towards the babys lips. Maxine smacked her lips and gazed, wide-eyed, at breakfast. Bill became aware of the morning with the movement of the mattress on the noisy springs and recognized the uselessness of his morning erection when Kitty returned to the bed with the baby noisily slurping at her. The beauty of mother and child was lost to his head, which throbbed from too many drinks the night before. He tossed aside the sheet that covered his nakedness, brought his legs over the opposite side of the bed and sat up, locating yesterdays overalls on the floor beside the bed where he had dropped them the night before. Stepping into them, he hitched a still-fastened strap over his right shoulder, leaving the other, unfastened strap to dangle down his backside. Without speaking he arose and walked barefoot from the bedroom to the kitchen. Kitty watched him leave, otherwise occupied with the baby at her breast. Leftover coffee waited for Bill on the kitchen stove top. On the table he found a cup with a brown stain on the bottom and he filled it with the opaque brew. The coffee was cold, but he took it anyway and stepped onto the stoop where he found the chamber pot, pissed noisily into the bucket, replaced the lid and walked back into the kitchen. He rolled a smoke and sat at the kitchen table. When he finished his cigarette and coffee, he put the cup into the kitchen sink and

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returned to the bedroom where Kitty held Maxine over her shoulder, waiting for a burp to come. Kittys breast was still exposed, the ruffle of her gown beneath it, the aureole and nipple moist and dark. When do you think we need to leave? Kitty asked. Maxine burped and Kitty rose to put her back into the cradle. She turned to Bill, adjusting her gown to cover her breast. Is there any hurry? Ill have to be down by 8 oclock or so to help set up. A group of young men Bill played ball with had volunteered to put together the booths for the Fourth of July Celebration. Bill and Kitty had rooms in a simple rented house a few blocks from the downtown district. He would only need to put on shoes and a shirt to be ready to leave. Then we have plenty of time to get together, dont we, Honey? Kitty purred. She pulled the straps of her nightgown down over her shoulders, but the gown did not fall to the floor until she pulled the neckline over her breasts. Then she stood completely uncovered in front of her husband. She stepped over her gown and moved towards him. Lets not start something we cant finish. What if Maxine wakes up again? Shell entertain herself. Besides, I saw you making a tent bneath the sheet a while ago. Cmon, Kid. Give your girl a present this morning. She stepped closer to her husband and pulled his overall strap off his shoulder. Bill caught it with his arm as it fell, but Kit pushed the bib down his chest and stomach, caressing the trail of hair that fell from his navel, and his overalls slipped to the floor. She stepped onto the puddle of denim and brought her arms up around his back, paying particular attention to the angles the muscles carved into his sides.

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Bill submitted, though he felt nothing much more than pity for this woman whom he had married scarcely a month before to give their child his name. That Kitty loved him was plainly apparent. She believed she could love him enough for both of them, that she could love him into loving her. But in the first month of their marriage, Bills emotional responses to Kitty ranged from benign to hostile. He resented her now for the trap he felt caught up in. The only salvation to this arrangement slept in a cradle beside their marriage bed. The little baby girl captivated Bill, whose dark auburn brown hair and black eyes were clearly his own.

Later, Bill carried Maxine while he and Kitty went down to Main Street to gawk with a throng of onlookers as the Fourth of July parade passed by. Men in shirtsleeves wearing straw hats and suspenders held the arms of women in long dresses and button shoes and extravagant hats wrapped in yards of white tulle. Youngsters played peek-aboo, hiding behind their daddys legs. Some sat atop their fathers shoulders while older brothers in knickers and hose chased girls in pinafores to try to pull their braids. The Reno County High School band marched in the front, playing brassy and loud. A Ford truck followed, festooned with red, white and blue buntings. On the back of the truck bed, in heavy wooden chairs, sat a few old men, veterans of the Civil War. They looked uncomfortable, some in old Union uniforms, white hair and white beards glowing in the late morning sun. Behind them marched veterans of the Spanish American War. Middle-aged men now, they had stories of yellow fever and survival in Teddys Rough

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Riders. They received a scattering of applause from the crowd as they marched by in uneven rank and file, out of step. The Mayor of Hutchinson and his wife rode in the back seat of an open touring car driven by the local Buick dealer. More cars carried the legislative delegation to the Statehouse, each of whom smiled widely and waived at their constituents. Members of the Womens Christian Temperance Union marched in front of the Ku Klux Klan, which marched in front of the delegation of Womens Suffragettes. At the back of the parade, men on horseback cantered their horses that sometimes left round green road apples in their wake. After the parade Kitty walked with Bill to the park. He carried the baby, she a blanket and a picnic lunch in a wicker basket. Booths had been set up around the perimeter of the park. Church women offered bake sales and a cakewalk. Some groups offered musical chairs, from which the winner carried off a crisp fruit pie. Bill did not enter the pie-eating contest in favor of a baseball game that afternoon in which he would play. The crowd was large and amiable. By noontime, the smoke from the barbecue pit where plump pigs had turned on a spit since before dawn gave up a feast for all present. While the hoi polloi shared and ate homemade food, groups of men formed barber shop quartets and took turns singing songs in four-part harmony. Children ran off to play games, mostly tag and stickball. After finishing their meal, Bill left Kitty with Maxine on a bench in the shade of an ancient tree. He wanted to watch a three-legged sack race organized on the grassy pike that ran the length of the park. Teams formed consisting of young men and women in pairs. The women hiked up their skirts to plunge a stockinged leg into a burlap feed sack with the trousered leg of their partners. The whole idea shocked the Baptist women,

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who stood apart but watched, disapprovingly. Standing on the sidelines Bill recognized a familiar voice. Got a partner for the race, yet, Stranger? It was Rosa. They had not seen each other in months. Radiant in white, her ginger hair glistened in the midday sun, piled up in a knot at the top of her head. She held a stylish, if not fully functional parasol that shaded her blue eyes. Bill was tonguetied. Cat got your tongue? Better hurry, or well be late. Cmon! What do we have to lose? Bill fell in behind her, dumbstruck. She walked on her heels to the starting area, expecting him to follow, and he did. They found a good gunny sack and Rosa put her hand on his shoulder as she modestly stepped into it, exposing her silk-stockinged leg in the process. He pulled the sack up the inside of his leg and together they held it up with their outside hands as they wrapped their inside arms around each others waists. Then they took tentative practice steps to learn their rhythm in preparation for the race. What are we doing, Rosa, Im a married man, you know. So I hear. Hows married life treating you? Well, its an adjustment and all. Bill did poorly masking his disappointment at his circumstances. They continued walking, three leggedly, in circles behind the starting area, picking up their pace gradually. What about you, Rosa? Anyone in your life? None but you, Bill Holmes. Never has been none but you. Bill flushed at her candid and inappropriate admission. He wondered what had prompted her to be so

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forward and what people who saw them together might think. But suddenly he did not care if their presence together offended anyone. The moment was too sweet. The announcer called the teams to the starting line. Bill and Rosa hobbled enthusiastically to the front of the crowd. On yer mark, the announcer cried. Get set from a tree about 25 yards ahead. Hearing the hubbub from the race, Kitty craned her neck unsuccessfully to see. She carried Maxine to the sidelines and watched. Caught up in the enthusiasm, she looked for Bill in the crowd first, and then saw him among the participants. To her horror, Kitty recognized Rosa Kelley arm in arm with her husband. She stood silently, mouth agape watching the racers as they passed heading for the finish line. Meanwhile, Bill did his best to stay in pace with Rosa, oblivious to everything but the tiny waist his arm circled and the well-formed leg that shared the gunny-sack with his. Rosas hand clutched her partners side as they strained to gain the lead in the race. They laughed at the foolishness of their struggle and their coordination failed. Rosa geed as Bill hawed and they fell together into the grass. She rolled over him, her petticoats flying immodestly as the pair came to rest on their backs, laughing out loud, their arms still around each others waists. Bill rose and gallantly offered Rosa his hand, which she accepted as their eyes met. For that moment in the summer sun they were completely alone. They might as well have been in the pasture dell ten years before. They said nothing, but their intentions were finally known, each to the other. Kit turned and walked back towards the bench, clutching her baby. Her eyes welled with tears as she gathered their things and began the walk home, one arm wrapped GO! The racers ran to and

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around Maxine, who rode on her hip, the other arm over-burdened with their picnic basket and the blanket.

Rosa had moved to Hutchinson to take employment at Pegues-Wright Dry Goods Store on Main Street. The pay included rooms above the store in which she had set up housekeeping by herself. The Kelleys saw their daughter becoming a spinster if she remained in Langdon. They hoped she would find greater opportunities in the county seat, primary among which, a husband. A good Catholic man. It was dangerous for a single woman to live alone in the city. Not so much physical danger, but greater the danger to her reputation. She could not be too discreet about the ways and circumstances in which she met eligible men. She would have to rely on introductions from new friends she was only just starting to meet. She had not encouraged the opportunities she had with anyone thus far, so gradually the invitations waned. Her commitment to isolation grew and became more evident to those who knew her. And so her first year in Hutchinson had been one of acute loneliness. She could not have more blatantly endorsed the singleness of her life had she entered a convent. Bumping into Bill on the Fourth of July was pure happenstance. But her decision to take matters into her own hands was both impulsive and instinctual. The chemistry of their meeting overwhelmed them both. So when he appeared at the dress shop just before closing two days later on a Friday afternoon, it was not that her corset was drawn so tightly that she could not catch her breath: His sudden and totally unexpected presence in

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her midst became her undoing. At first she pretended not to notice him. She tried desperately to slow her racing heart, to catch her breath. He watched her like a lad with no money, standing outside the candy shop. She bustled about in the shop, where she had been left alone to close for the night. She could not hold out much longer. Well, good evening, Sir. How may I help you this afternoon? Rosa. Bill could find no other words as he gazed at her like a schoolboy. Something for the little lady? She failed to mask a touch of sarcasm in her voice. She doesnt know Im here. I told her I would be out this evening. Did she see us in the park? Yes. That must have been a shock. Im afraid so. They faced each other, standing quietly in an aisle between two display tables arranged with ladies delicate things; neither had words to speak. Finally Bill stepped forward and pulled her against his body, kissing her long and hard. She collapsed into his arms, her skin tingling, face flushed, and returned his kiss, then stiffened, remembering where she was. She freed herself and left him standing in the aisle as she walked briskly to the front of the store and changed the sign from OPEN to CLOSED, pulling the shade and locking the door before returning. Bill distinctly heard the clack of the bolt as it set into place. She caught Bills hand and pulled him urgently into the back of the store where they found stairs to her apartment overhead.

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No sooner had the door closed than the two of them became the embodiment of desire. They wanted each others mouths, and had them. They wanted each others flesh, and their clothes came off. She wanted this man whom she had always loved, the only man she would ever love, to take her long-preserved virginity. And he did. They wanted the bed and they had it. They wanted him to be inside her and he was. And she was inside him as she had always been, buried deep in his imagination. They made love for hours and forgot about supper, hungry as they were only for each other. And that love, so long denied and suppressed, was now finally and completely and unabashedly theirs if only for this one night. Deserted streets awaited Bill when he finally left Rosa well after midnight. He walked the blocks to the little house he shared with his wife and daughter as if he were an invisible night creature. He saw no one on the street. The only sounds came from the heels of his boots, echoing from the sidewalk as if inside a cavern. No cars passed; no dogs barked. Only fireflies twinkled and winked as he found his way home. When he entered through the back door he removed his shoes and left the house darkened. He heard his wifes deep and rhythmic breathing from the bedroom, but he did not join her there. Instead, he lit a cigarette and collapsed in the comfortable, overstuffed living room chair. When he finished his smoke, he let himself drift off to sleep, aching and angry and sad, but buoyant, wondering what he would do now, knowing that somehow he had to put everything right.

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Even after the humiliation of seeing Bill rolling in the grass with Rosa Kelley in front of the whole town, Kitty refused to give up on her marriage. She took up cleaning and cooking with a ferocity that passed understanding. She made sure she was clean and fresh when he came home from work, and she always had a good meal cooked for him. But Bill often either stayed away or went out after meals and came home after she had fallen asleep, usually with Maxine in her arms on the bed. In Hutchinson, the long days of summer drifted in and out. Bill worked at the plant weekdays and occasionally cut hair at one of the local barbershops on Saturdays. He enjoyed the comradery of the men who came there, but barely eked out a decent living. He found ways to surreptitiously be with Rosa a few times a week. Their emotional dependence on each other grew and deepened. At home, Kitty threw herself at him with every opportunity. But he only felt disgust for his wife; he stayed away more often now and drank when he could not be with Rosa. Together, Bill and Rosa felt much more than just a physical attraction. He did not drink before, after, or during their times together. They talked about the children they would have together if he left Kit. She encouraged him to sponsor a baseball league for boys in Hutchinson. He still wanted to find work that would challenge him and make him proud. She encouraged him to go to high school. There were night classes for adults who wanted to improve themselves. And finally they found the satisfaction of physical intimacy that neither had ever known before, despite their differences in experience. Bill dreamed of seeing Rosas strawberry blonde hair and fair complexion first thing in the morning when he woke up. Would it ever be so for them?

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By fall Kitty gave up her illusions of a happy home with her husband. She promised herself to keep up appearances and maintain some semblance of dignity. And so for the next few months she managed. Then she found a friend in the next door neighbor lady, May Brown, an older, single woman wizened by marriage and divorce, who sympathized with Kittys plight. Mrs. Brown came to sit with Kitty on those fall evenings when only darkness came earlier and stayed later. You ought to catch him in what hes up to, Mrs. Brown advised on one such visit at the first part of November. Why, May, whats to catch him at? Kitty feigned innocence. Hes only drinking beer with his friends. I dont want to be a nag. Hell find his way home. Bah! Men! Find his way home, indeed! You mark my words, Honey, hes got a little something on the side, you ask me. Its that shop girl, aint it? Mrs. Browns words stung because Kitty knew that her tactless friend had gotten it right. Tears welled up in Kittys eyes and overflowed. I dont know whats come over him. She was his childhood sweetheart, before I ever knew him. But it was all over between them. His mother swore him not to have nothing more to do with her, ever. Even now theres nothing he can do with her that wouldnt kill his mama, if she knew. But I know theyre carrying on. Oh God, I can feel it. Then catch him and his filthy strumpet and make a clean break of it! And then what? What would I do? with Maxine and all? How could I be a mother to Maxine if I drive off her father? How would I raise her on my own?

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Looks to me like her fathers already done run hisself off, Sweetie. Youre not the first womans ever had to raise the whelp of a wayward man. And whos to say that it will come to that. Dont you want him to wake up and remember what hes got waiting at home? As a result of that conversation, Kitty decided to find out once and for all just what was going on with Bill on his evenings out of the house. So on a cold afternoon, the week before Thanksgiving, with Maxine napping and Mrs. Brown ensconced in the apartment reading an old issue of Ladies Home Journal and listening for the child, she visited Pegues-Wright, where Rosa worked. Bill had advised her before leaving that morning not to wait supper for him that evening, so she had reason to believe that he would be keeping an assignation with his old girl friend that very night. The wind stirred up the dust and sand on the pavement in front of the shop and Kitty struggled to open the heavy door. A jingle announced her entrance when she finally succeeded. Everyone inside looked towards the door as Kitty made her entrance feeling very self-conscious. She browsed the displays at first, coming to rest at a table stocked with ladies handkerchiefs and little beaded purses in tidy stacks. Rosa approached Kitty, one eyebrow raised inquisitively. Something I can help you with? Just looking for the moment. We have a table full of handbags on sale. Rosa gestured towards a display near the back of the store. Ill take a look at them. Hows the baby? Maxine, isnt it?

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Oh, shes a bundle of joy, all right. They change quickly, dont they? Rosa tried to be cordial, but she felt her face flush. Was it guilt or anger? Every day. Say, Kid, is there a changing room in back where I might try this on? Kitty held up a camisole that might have been near her size a year before. Rosa gestured to an opening in the back wall covered with heavy drapes the color of evergreen trees. Then she turned her attention to another customer who carried items she had selected for purchase. Rosa would be engaged for a few minutes with her buyer while Kitty took the camisole to the back room. Stepping into the dim back room, Kitty smelled dust and packing boxes before her eyes adjusted and she observed the layout. A door to the alley anchored the far end of the room; a dirty, double-hung window gaped on one side. Seizing the opportunity she moved like a shadow to the rear of the room and opened the lock on the window, lifting it enough to assure it would not stick. Then she returned to the drapes that separated her from the front of the store, regained her composure and emerged through the curtains into the shop, still breathing heavily with anxiety charged by her covert activities in the back. She had not tried on the garment, but handed it, crumpled, to one of the other shop girls before walking towards the front of the store. Ill be thinking about that little camisole, Rosa, she piped as she reached for the doorknob a few feet from the cash register. And Ill be back to see if theres anything else I want, later. Rosa looked up from her business with her customer and smiled falsely, nodding in Kittys direction.

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The weather deteriorated though the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Kitty had soup with Mrs. Brown and tended to Maxine, getting her ready for bed early and rocking her to sleep before putting her into her little bed and leaving Mrs. Brown in charge. Then she walked the several blocks to hide herself in the alley behind the dress shop. She shivered in the dark, pulling the collar of her black wool coat up around her ears, and waited until well past seven oclock. Her feet felt nearly frozen and her hands like ice. Just as she was about to give up and go home feeling foolish, she heard movement in the alleyway behind the dress shop. She made out her husband, even in the darkness. He knocked on the door, which Rosa soon opened to meet him. Kitty waited another fifteen minutes in the cold before making her move. She approached the sabotaged window like a cat burglar. It did not easily open from the outside, but she prevailed and stepped up onto an abandoned crate that had been left at the back door. Though her entrance was neither graceful nor quiet, no one came to investigate the slight noise she made entering the building. Composing herself once inside, she brushed off her coat and removed her gloves, flattened her hair, and held her cold hands beneath her armpits for a little while, reinforcing her determination. The time had come to find out what was going on in the apartment overhead. As Kitty felt her heart pounding and heard her own breathing as she climbed the stairs that strained quietly, making ghostlike noises beneath her feet. From outside the door of

Rosas apartment, she heard the sounds of lovemaking within. She waited a moment

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longer, fought back tears of rage and mustered her determination, before grasping the unlocked door knob. Finally, with all her strength tied into a knot of guts and bile, she turned the knob and opened the door. Rosas bedroom was only a few steps away, flickering in the light from the coal oil lamps, across a large room that served as kitchen, dining and living rooms. No one gave notice as she walked across the room to stand in the door of the bedroom. Rosa saw her first. She emitted a stifled scream, like a bird caught in the jaws of a predator, though she did not immediately recognize the intruder. Bill rolled off his lover and stared at his wife. Whats this? You crazy bitch! Get out of here! Dont you know I want nothing to do with you? GO! Leave! Bill leapt up from the bed like a wild predator and came at Kitty with all his naked fury. Ill leave, if thats what you want, Kitty said in a quiet voice, her eyes staring blankly at nothing and everything in the room. Bill reached the doorway with his right arm cocked across his chest, ready to slap his wife. Had he not held his swing, he might have knocked her across the floor to the door. But Kitty turned and left indignantly, her head held high masking the shame and humiliation she felt when confronted with the horrible tableau she had just witnessed. When she reached the bottom of the stairs she did not close the window that had served as her entrance, nor the back door as she stepped out into the night. She reeled down the alley and flinched when the wind blew the door shut behind her with a loud, clamorous bang that echoed in the cold air like the report of a rifle.

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In Europe, the winds of war blew across the battlefields in France where the Allies awaited the arrival of American troops. The American Expeditionary Forces committed by the President to the European arena would not deploy en masse for another six months. The Yanks mustered when Congress declared war early in the fall of 1917, but the States were not prepared for war and the buildup would take time. Meanwhile the armies of Europe continued to pummel each other with new technologies of death and destruction. Dogfights between dual-winged aeroplanes had become a new way of conducting warfare. While artists and writers romanticized these airborne duels and their aces, many pilots died horrible deaths when enemy gunners hit these primitive planes and they caught fire, plunging to earth. Fighter planes with machine guns strafed enemy infantry cowering in muddy trenches behind the lines of battle where oversized rats feasted on the rotting remains of dead soldiers left in the grisly death swamps. The nations and kingdoms of Europe had long since lost the will to fight, but could not find the nerve to surrender. In early December the tensions of war had found their way into the rural heartland. The draft board in Reno County had already stepped up its meetings, and searched out the names of eligible young men who could serve in the army they would help recruit. Bill had begun giving military service much thought when, two weeks after Thanksgiving, six months to the day after he married Kitty Holland in Kansas City, he turned onto the street that led to her parents home in Turon. Towering black trees

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loomed at the sides of the streets. Overhead, stripped of their summer foliage, their limbs poked random fingers at the grey December sky. He heard the rattle of dry leaves as he pulled his car to a stop in front of the Hollands two-story white Victorian home, parking under one of those menacing trees whose shade would not be provided until another season. He had come to see about the undoing of his marriage by his own hand. He had no illusions about the probability of saving the marriage. He saw his marriage now only as an arrangement that had given his child her birthright. Still, he felt uncomfortable as he opened the car door and stepped onto the street. He took a final deep drag off his cigarette and flicked the butt into the path in front of him. Exhaling heavily, he mashed the embers of his discarded smoke beneath the sole of his shoe lest its embers ignite the dead grass and leaves that covered the grounds. James Monroe Holland met Bill at the door and eyed him with suspicion before letting him into the house. Once inside, Bill wished he had taken a snort before leaving his car. Kitty stared across the carpet that covered most of the floor, sitting on a brocade sofa with her mother, OPhelia, on the opposite side of the room. She neither made eye contact nor so much as looked up to acknowledge his entry. Maxine was nowhere in sight, possibly taking a nap or perhaps in the care of others lest tempers got out of hand during the meeting. OPhelia glared coldly at Bill as he took off his hat and entered the parlor. She offered no beverage to extend hospitality. No other family members appeared to be at home. J.M. motioned for Bill to sit and he sat, tentatively, without touching the back of the chair, like a tomcat poised and ready to leap if necessary. He held his hat, a charcoal colored fedora, tracing its brim nervously in a circular motion between his two hands.

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J. M. opened, Im not sure what your intentions are here, son. For the benefit of the child, Kathryns mother and I think it would be best if the two of you found some way to work out your differences. Im not sure if that would be possible, Bill said, quietly. Of course you would have to stop seeing that woman and you would certainly have to curb your appetite for drink. It was as if J. M. had not heard Bills initial response. I think we should take this arrangement for what it is, Bill said, looking from face to face around the room. Kitty wept into her mothers shoulder. Mr. Holmes, you know that Kathryns mother and I wanted you to have nothing to do with our daughter from the beginning. Now youve given her a child and you have some responsibilities in all this. I dont want nothing from him, Papa! Kathryn, mind your tongue, her father snapped. No! She fairly screamed at her father, as if Bill was not in the room. Let him go to blazes with his Catholic whore! Ill have no part in it. Bill Holmes no longer exists as far as Im concerned. Kathryn! Her mother looked shocked at her daughters curse. J. M. Holland recognized the futility of any effort that would try to effect a reconciliation of the two. He admitted to himself that he felt relieved. He had followed Bill Holmes progress through life and continued to believe that his daughter could do better, even though it would be difficult with a child in tow.

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Sir, will you then agree to a quiet divorce? A quiet divorce meant that both parties would walk away from the marriage without prejudice. In 1917, a divorce would reflect much more poorly on the woman who let her man slip through her fingers. The unspoken charge would be that she had failed in marriage, since a man could do almost nothing that would cause a marriage to fail. Financially, a wife and child amounted to chattel that could be quietly disposed of without recourse. Mr. & Mrs. Holland would become the primary providers for Maxine, at least for now, until their daughter could seek her way in the world alone, mustering whatever dignity, if any, she could find. I know a lawyer who can make the arrangements, Bill said. What terms are acceptable to you? The women in the room had just become invisible. Neither mother nor daughter offered any terms to the emerging settlement. Clean break. No looking back. Kathryn will allow her mother and me to raise the child. I have no objections to that. A child should be with its mother. Then were agreed. Agreed. I guess if theres nothing more, Ill be on my way. He turned to his wife who stared into her hands, folded in her lap. Kitty? She did not respond. Bill waited awkwardly as if something more needed to be said, but he found no words. J. M. rose and guided him towards the front door. He had been in their home for less than ten minutes and in no more time than that, reached an agreement to terminate his marriage. He placed his hat back onto his head, pulling it down sportingly to one side, and glanced at the mirror in the hallway as he walked to the

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door. Bill extended his right hand to Kittys father who ignored the gesture as he held the door. Once outside with the door closed behind him, he heard Kitty wailing on the inside. Bill sighed and returned to his car. Having agreed in principle to the terms of the arrangement, Bill decided it was time to look to the future.

The future waited for him when he got to the post office on Monday morning. Bill had registered for the draft six months earlier, in June, two days before his marriage took place. He had assumed that his marital status would earn him an easy deferral, in fact he doubted that he would have made the trip to Kansas City under other circumstances. Now, the letter in his hands ordered him to report for induction within two weeks at the Selective Service office in Hutchinson, to enlist or show cause why he should not be drafted. Would their ill-begotten marriage count for anything now? Thoughts of Rosa had kept Bill preoccupied for the intervening weeks since his wife had intruded on their tryst at Rosas apartment. Nothing loves life more than a good story, so of course, word about the love affair had gotten out. Gossip cost Rosa her position at Pegues-Wright, and her rooms above the store. Her circumstances left Frank and Margaret Kelley appalled. Rosa did not want to return to Langdon. They did not offer to take her in. A sympathetic girlfriend from the department store, Della Mae Reese, lent her a spare bedroom and an ear for her troubles. To help with the rent and to keep body and soul together, Bill gave Rosa the five dollar gold piece she had handed him when he closed his account at the Langdon State Bank months before. Alas for

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Rosa, prospective employers showed little interest in her application once they found out about her indiscretion, which her former employer, Mr. O. W. Wright, was not loath to discuss. Communication between the lovers proved difficult. Above all, no one should see them in public. Nor could what remained of Rosas reputation stand the risk that someone might see her entering or leaving his place in Hutchinson. But love could find a way when Rosas roommate had an assignation of her own. And thankfully for Bill and Rosa those occasions came, if barely so, often enough. They pledged their love to each other, no matter how long it took to disentangle themselves from the pickle they found themselves in. Bill would soon enough have a divorce and after an appropriate time they would marry. Though they still had not resolved their religious differences, they had found them easy to ignore since the Fourth of July. Bill had not yet figured out how to sort out that last problem. His mothers convictions had not changed and he doubted that any amount of pleading or cajoling would change them. For Josies part, she would hold her head up, ignoring the whispers among the members of the Christian Womens Society when she appeared. Nor did she discuss the scandal with her son. Jonas had brought the story home with him as his Masonic Lodge brother had shared it, so that he would know whats going on. Josie preferred to ignore what she did not know for certain, rather than deal with whatever her son might offer in the way of explanation. After all, he had become a grown man. Would he be of a mind to take her advice if she offered it? And what if he put himself in the position of outright defying her words of wisdom? No, better to pray and put a good

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face on the matter than confront her son and risk alienating his affections for good and all. Looking at his summons, Bill wondered whether he could receive a deferment with a divorce pending. He would have to tell his parents. Would his wife sign an appeal? Or should he use this opportunity to find a great adventure somewhere on the other side of the civilized world?

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Chapter Eight This Agreement

Tuesday, January 15, 1918 Kit waited until after the noonday meal to walk to the Turon Post Office. Maxine fussed all morning and had not eaten well. OPhelia Holland observed to her James that babies seem to know when their parents are unhappy about things. And she was teething. She had diarrhea. So when Kit put Maxine down for her nap, she was happy to get out for a walk even though it was an overcast, bitterly cold afternoon. The Holland home sat a few blocks from the post office, but then again, nothing in Turon was much more than a few blocks from the post office. Kit bundled into her heavy wool coat and set out against the cold wind, welcoming the clear fresh air as she walked, her breath floating in steaming trails behind her. On days like this the town

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remained quiet except for an occasional car or pickup truck bouncing down the street over the icy, rutted snow pack. Today, nothing made more noise than the sound of Kits footsteps crackling on the crusty snow under foot. In her parents mailbox she found a letter sealed in a heavy, official-looking manila envelope addressed to her. Instead of putting her gloves back on when she started home, she opened the envelope outside the post office and read the brief letter as she walked.




Jan. 14, 1918. Mrs. Kathryn Holmes, Turon, Kansas. c/o J. M. Holland, Dear Madam: Your husband, Bill Holmes, has been in to see me concerning his entering the army. Before he can get in, it will be necessary to have a divorce action started. Kindly see me about this, so that we can get the matter adjusted. You will kindly advise me by return mail when you can see me. Thanking you, I remain, Yours very truly, Herbert Ramsey HR*RZ

Kit folded the letter and returned it to its envelope, pondering its meaning as she walked. So Bill would enter the army after all. She made a face with a mock frown.

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The marriage was as good as over. So much for her dreams. She cursed him under her breath, walking briskly back to her parents home. She took the letter into her bedroom as Maxine continued to sleep, listening only a moment to the babys deep and regular breathing as she opened the top drawer of her dresser. She put Attorney Ramseys letter below the white cotton undergarments stored there in random disarray. She waited until the next day to write a response. After Maxine was up and fed, bathed and played with, when her morning nap time finally came and she had drifted off to sleep, Kit pulled the letter from her drawer on her way out of the bedroom and stuffed it into the pocket of the oversized bathrobe she had worn all morning. Mrs. Holland had already gone to a meeting at the church. Kit put coffee on to brew and read the attorneys letter again, ruminating on its content. When she finally poured herself a cup of coffee, she sat at the kitchen table and thought of her response, of things she would like to say but would not. At last she took her pen in hand and scratched dark brown ink with a steel-tipped pen into an expensive piece of her mothers stationary. Turon, Kansas Jan. 16- 1918 Herbert E. Ramsey Hutchinson, Ks. Dear Sir: Your letter of the 14th received. I had not thought that Mr. Holmes being married would have anything to do with his classification. Is it possible to obtain a divorce on the grounds of incompatibility, within a year of the date of marriage? I have not the money at present to start a divorce action. What about the costs?

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Very respectfully, Mrs. Kathryn Holmes. Turon, Kansas. She watched the ink dry on the fine stationery, staring at her signature as she might have watched a train leaving the station with her best friend on board, not knowing when to expect a return visit. When Kits letter finally found its way to Ramseys desk it remained there, unread, until he noticed it on Saturday. He decided to deal with it rather than allow it to languish over the weekend, so he dictated his response before allowing his secretary to leave for the weekend. The proceedings in the Circuit Court had bogged down and it looked as if the session would go on another week. Ramseys schedule had not permitted him much time to think about the Holmes case and he doubted if he would have much time for it the following week.




Mrs. Kathryn Holmes, Turon, Kansas. Dear Madam:

Jan. 19, 1918.

Yours of the 16th at hand and contents noted. In reply will say that from my understanding of the facts in your case, I believe a divorce could be secured. I can get Holmes to pay the costs, so there would be no cost to you and I believe under the existing circumstances that would probably be the best thing to do.

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I haven't seen Mr. Holmes for several days, but he will likely see me the first time he is in town and if he does not, I will have the Exemption Board see him. Yours very truly, Herbert Ramsey HR*RZ

Kit picked up the mail on Sunday afternoon. The letter came in by train from Hutchinson early that morning and the postmaster always sorted the sack on Sundays and put it up while most of the residents of Turon went to church. Kit read the letter again and again. So paying the cost would be the extent of her husbands responsibility in the divorce, she thought. She wondered what she would have to do to provide for Maxine by herself, with no man to provide for them, and then she remembered her fathers promise; at least he was reliable. All she wanted was to be rid of Bill. She wished he had never taken the train to Kansas City in the first place. If she could obtain a divorce without having to bear the cost, she would meet Ramsey within the week.

Jan. 21 -18 Herbert E. Ramsey Hutchinson, Kans. Dear Sir:Your letter received today. If nothing prevents I will be in to talk with you on Wednesday. Very respectfully Mrs. Kathryn Holmes. Turon, Ks.

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On Tuesday afternoon Bill came to Ramseys office at the Reno County Courthouse in Hutchinson to ask about his pending case for a divorce. Ramseys secretary, Ruth Zink, a plain girl in her early twenties, sat at her desk in the anteroom outside the county attorneys office. Bill felt claustrophobic, despite the twelve-foothigh ceiling in the little waiting room. But he waited patiently, sitting in a sturdy, but uncomfortable oak chair in one corner of the room. He watched Ruth type a letter on her efficient little black Underwood typewriter. The rhythmic cadence of the ticking clock punctuated Ruths swift typing, measuring the distance for her between come in and go home. Bill heard movement inside Ramseys office and soon the attorney opened the door and looked out. Bill, you old reprobate! he greeted his former teammate, collegially ushering him into his office, closing the door behind them. Howve you been? Well, Id say as good as can be, Heck, addressing his old friend by his nickname, perhaps too informally for the occasion. You been out much? Me? Nah. Ball and chain, this job. Especially now, making a veiled reference to the ramp up work for the war. They joked a little more until the attorney motioned his client into a chair in front of his desk. Bill looked up and around the room. Windows framed in dark wood covered most of the wall. The windows extended from the ceiling to about four feet off the floor. Tiny specks of dust glistened in the sunlight from the windows, seeming to absorb the sound from the room. The radiator pipes huddled under the middle window, providing

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more heat than the room required. An uncomfortable silence ensued, forcing Bill to open the real conversation. Have you heard from her? A letter, just last week. Weve exchanged letters and I expect to see her soon. Ramsey took Kits letter from a basket on his desk, read it aloud first, and then his reply. Gee, if all she wants me to do is pay for it, thats fine. Good riddance. We can arrange it, but theres no room on the docket for a divorce decree and besides, theres the waiting period thats state law. The best we can get is a legal separation and she can petition for divorce later. The government will send half your pay to her once youre in the military. We can put something about the financial arrangement into the agreement, but I doubt if the Army will recognize it. You could plead for a final dissolution in April, but who knows where youll be by then? What about my deferment? Not going to happen. She refused to sign. Says you havent lived as man and wife for he cleared his throat, for some time and a few other things that dont bear repeating. Not the least of which is that you arent contributing to her support. The Army would figure shes better off with half your pay in the Army than with none of it as a civilian. Bill frowned at Ramseys candor. He shrugged. So do I just wait for my invitation from Uncle Sam? Could. Might be smarter to enlist. Choice of assignments, that way. Meaning ? You might be able to avoid the infantry. Its pretty messy from what I hear. The front?

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Ramsey nodded. Casualty reports from the other allies are frightening. We dont know for sure what kind of losses the Huns are taking, but theyre pretty substantial too. But, as far as the divorce action is concerned, Kit will need to pursue the action in March, claiming whatever grounds she can find. Until then, shell have a rightful claim on half your pay. We can do whatever we can to convince the War Department otherwise if push comes to shove. If thats the best we can do, so be it. This thing over there isnt going to take the Yanks very long to finish off. Make it clear that we intend to finish the divorce when I return. Too bad we missed this round in Court. It could have been over. A knock came at the door and Ruth entered the room without speaking. She handed an envelope postmarked in Turon the previous day, from Kathryn Holmes. Bill ignored a disapproving glance she cast his way as she left the room. Ramsey unfolded Kits brief letter, studied it, and then read it aloud. Bill smiled when he finished reading. Then the men forged the terms of an arrangement that would cover the faade of the failed marriage and act as a stop-gap until Bills return from the war in Europe. The agreement resulted in the effective termination of their marriage. Since no circuit court judge would be available to hear a divorce action until after Bill's departure for basic training, the agreement would be one of legal separation, until a formal divorce could be granted.

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That night Bill had supper with his parents and his cousins in Langdon at Uncle Sherman and Aunt Stellas. This was a farewell gathering, for the next morning Bill would board a train that would take him to Ft. Leavenworth, where he would be inducted into the U. S. Army. Sherman and Stella enjoyed the comforts of a larger and newer home, in town, owing to his steady work as a mail carrier. They also enjoyed the love of a large family, ten children in all. By 1918 they had already been married for twenty-six years, though Stella was only forty-one years old. Their two oldest children had already married and made them grandparents three years before. Counting in-laws, there were twelve cousins, two grandchildren, Josie and Jonas, Speck and Badger and his aunt and uncle there to send him off. At the end of the evening, he exchanged hugs and handshakes with everyone; his kinfolk followed him until he finally stood facing them, filling the doorway. Unable to leave and knowing he could not stay, tears welled up in his eyes and his voice choked as he tried to say his goodbyes for the last time. Realizing there was nothing more they could do, Sherman and Stella dabbed their eyes with their hankies. And within seconds everyone, the older ones at least, realized the gravity of his departure. They formed a semi-circle at the door, little ones in front, grownups in back, waiting in anticipation of some profound statement of farewell. When he finally spoke, a tear slid down his cheek.

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I feel like I may never see you again, he said, his voice taut with emotion. He turned away, raising his right arm across his face to wipe away the tears that had gotten loose from his eye. I love you all, he said, his voice unnaturally high, cracking with emotion. And he was gone. Bill had plans after supper. He would return to Hutchinson not only to catch the train the next morning. He would spend his last night in Reno County with Rosa, before leaving for his great adventure.

It took more than an hour for Bill to drive from Langdon to the house Rosa shared in Hutchinson, owing to a dense fog that had settled onto the dormant wheat fields and open prairie that separated Uncle Shermans house from the county seat. At half past nine oclock he rapped on her door. Rosa startled when she heard the noise. She had dozed, bare feet and legs beneath her, in an overstuffed chair that sat in front of a lacecurtained window at the side of the front room. The rug felt cold and bristly as she shuffled to the door. Whos there? she said, whispering into the door jamb. Its me, Bill responded. She opened the door, just a crack at first, looking out onto the porch which bore no light except for the streetlamp beyond. She recognized his silhouette and stepped back as she swung the door open, looking up at her lover with the kind of wide-eyed fear that one expects to see in an animal caught in the hunters cross hairs.

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What time is it? she asked. About nine-thirty. He moved to kiss her. She accepted his embrace but turned her head from his kiss. I had dozed off. I thought you might not come, but I hadnt gone to bed. How could I not come? He sought a kiss again. Denied. Oh Bill she wept into his shoulder. He held her to himself. Absorbed her tears in his shoulder. He had not yet removed his heavy woolen coat; the nap scratched against her cheek. She took in his scent, permeated in the material. Say youll come home safe, she sobbed. Im going to be fine. And when this is over he waited, wondering how he could ever bring truth to his words, I swear were going to leave this place. Were going to move someplace where nobody will care whether we even go to church. I dont know where. Maybe California or someplace else out west. I promise, well never be apart again. She sobbed anew, but soon she found his mouth, taking it hungrily with her own. He responded by picking her up, like a child in his arms, kicking the door shut with the heel of his boot and carrying her into her bedroom where they fought at each others clothing as if it represented the barriers that had always come between them. They made love for the rest of the night, interrupted only by interludes of sweet slumber in each others arms. When the morning light came through Rosas bedroom window and Bill opened his eyes, he found his lover gone but heard noises coming from the kitchen. Eyes half opened, he rolled over onto the other side of the bed, thinking to go back to sleep, and caught the flowery scent of her perfume in the pillow there.

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Looking around the room for something to put on, he found nothing but the scattered clothing he had discarded in such a rush after he arrived the night before. He decided not to bother with dressing, not just yet. And so he sat up and waited a moment, gaining his bearings, before walking to the door naked, cautiously leaning out into the dining room, calling, Rosa? In here, my love, Im making your breakfast. Are we alone? Yes, Della Mae wont be back until tonight. With that he grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around his shoulders. He walked out of their bedroom, the chill of the outer rooms making goose flesh on his skin until he felt the warmth of the stove and the kitchen. Rosa wore a pink neglige that she had purchased at cost from Pegues. It moved on her skin with every step she took. It fell into a deep vee at the waist, where she had tied it with a silk cord that fell almost to her knees. Bill eyed her nipples, outlined on the soft satin robe, glimpsed her legs when she walked towards him, barefooted. I love what youre wearing, he said. She felt a shudder in the back of her neck as she molded herself into him, crossing her wrists behind his neck, putting her fingers into his hair. Bill wrapped her in his arms and the soft blanket he wore. He felt the slick softness of her gown against his skin and the heat of her chest against his own. The aroma of bacon, just fried, mixed with the scent of her hair and the lingering traces of her perfume. Youd better hurry now and get dressed or youll miss your train. Bill could not pull himself from her embrace, but she released him and brought her hands around to his chest where she pushed herself away, running her fingers down the line that dropped from his collarbone through his chest onto his stomach, and below. No time for that,

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she giggled, teasing his friend, which had jumped to attention, ready for a morning romp. Bill reached out to kiss her, but she turned, coquettish, away from him and found eggs in a bowl beside the stove, one of which she took and cracked in a single strike against the edge of the counter, opening it with the same hand into the skillet, which crackled in response. After he dressed and returned to the kitchen, Rosa put eggs and bacon onto two plates, with bread and butter and plum jelly on the table. They sat and he picked up his fork, then he noticed her eyes closed for a moment before she genuflected and picked up hers. As an afterthought, Bill self-consciously set down his fork and made the sign of the cross, before starting to eat again. So will you write? she asked. As soon as I have a place for you to write to. Rosa grew silent. The reality of his departure set in. She chewed the first bit of eggs she had tasted as if pondering the depth of meaning in a communion wafer. A tear loosed itself from her eye. Bill took another forkful from his plate, shoveling it into his mouth, and looked up, chewing at first like an animal, then more slowly, at last swallowing, with a quizzical look on his face. Its only going to be for a little while, he assured her. We need this time to cool things off. Kitty will finish the divorce in March. By the time I get back from the war, people will have forgotten about it. We can start off fresh and not have to be ashamed to go out together. Were going to move someplace else where nobodyll know anyhow. Your mother will never speak to us.

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Shell come around. But he did not really believe so. And if she doesnt and were living in California I guess its her loss. Rosa moved her food around on her plate and took a few more bites. Bill finished his breakfast and stood. Rosa cleared the dishes from the table, scraping leftovers into a bowl at the corner of the sink, stacking the dirty dishes for later. She would have plenty of time once she returned from the train station. They bundled up against the cold outside and rode together. Bill started the car, but let Rosa take the wheel since she would keep his Model T until he returned. She needed the practice driving. She had never owned a car before and had just learned in the few weeks since Bills departure had become inevitable. They stood on the platform until the last possible moment, speaking little, reminding each other to write, of perfunctory things related to automobile maintenance; their words came in unrelated sentences, punctuated by intermittent periods of strained silence. At last the conductor cried, BOARD! and Bill grabbed the handles on his suitcase. Then and there before God and everyone, without regard for whoever might watch, he wrapped his free arm around her waist, pulled her to himself and kissed her on the mouth, lingering for a long while until she thought she might faint. And then he turned from her, rather than let her see the tears that had come to his eyes. He walked away with the strength of an athlete in every step and climbed onto the train. She stood, mouth open, and watched him leave, desperation in her eyes, afraid she would never see him again, cursing the world that inured war and separated lovers from each other. Within weeks after Bill left Hutchinson, Rosa gave up her search for work there. She conceded defeat and drove to Langdon, where she moved in with her parents, and by

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spring had her old job back at the Langdon State Bank. A clerk there had gone off to France, creating at least a temporary opening in the back room, away from the prying eyes of the townspeople, who noticed only that Bills nondescript Model T had started showing up daily, parked on the side of the building, not far from the spot that the banks President had parked it when it was new, before he sold it to Bill just a few years before. Kathryn Holland stayed in Turon with her parents for a few more months, but by spring, the tedium of living in Turon became more than she could tolerate. She left the baby Maxine in the care of her mother and father and began a new life in Rawlins, Wyoming to find work.

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Chapter Nine Leon Springs

Ft. Leavenworth Kansas January 25, 1918 Dear Mother and all Just finished my first day of Military work. I have been to mess. Our Quarters are so crowded that we have quite a time getting around. They got orders this evening to send some of the boys away from the signal corpsthat is what I enlisted incant say just what will happen yet I took part of the exam this afternoon I only wish I had had some idea of what is in store here. The boys are all just as green as me, so it makes it comfortable. They come direct from the farms of Vermont, Texas, Illinois and even fellows from Canada and all over. Gee all nationalities are represented. You know Ft. Leavenworth is an old established fort so things are very nice. Our barracks are all steam heated. And they have a nice Y.M.C.A. here, but dont have much time tonight so I will write more later. Love to all,

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Bill January 26, 1918 Craning his neck to look ahead, Bill could see neither the front of the line into the infirmary, nor, looking over his shoulder, its end. The men in front and behind came in all sizes, shapes, and ethnicities, in every manner of dress. They formed an assembly line of men about to be transformed into soldiers. Fighting men. Most expressed their manliness with the braggadocio of the mission they had signed up for. Their loud laughter and boasts filled the hall and bounced back against the tiled walls and the polished oak floors inside the enormous limestone cavern they had entered. But others looked from side to side, afraid that someone might realize how the prospect of going off to war left them terrified. With sweaty palms, and their hearts racing inside their chests, they shuffled together towards the next entryway in the procession. By enlisting, Bill effectively avoided the infantry, enabling him to request assignment to the Signal Corps. Having taken the time to read the reports on the war in Europe, he reasoned that the Signal Corps would be further away from the trenches, if only slightly. He expected his assignment would be safer than those who rushed the front lines. Those doughboys would carry rifles with fixed bayonets into the fog and rain, through mustard gas and barbed wire strewn randomly, between fence posts protruding askance in the deep French mud. These images lingered in his mind, put there by a battered copy of the Kansas City Star, already a day old and folded in on itself when he found it abandoned on the train. His memory of the trip, only two days ago, seemed a part of another lifetime that he could only just remember.

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The men in Bills queue rounded the corner into a dimly lit hallway. Behind a window cut out of the wall to one side, Army staffers checked a wire mesh basket to each man. Moving on to a large room with high ceilings, they received instructions to disrobe and return their belongings to a receiving desk at the other end of the room. The light from outside filtered through frosted glass windows, reinforced with something like chicken wire. He had never seen anything like this in his life. Two columns of benches arranged in rows filled the room. Men in various stages of undress folded their civilian clothes into bundles, stowing their belongings in the baskets. Each basket had a tarnished bronze medallion, numbered, clipped to the wires and a safety pin with a matching number attached. The men kept the pin as a claim check. They ambulated self-consciously, carrying their baskets, pin in hand, towards the door. Some swaggered, others held the baskets modestly in front of themselves, but the noise level was lower in here than it had been in the other rooms and hallways. The reality of their mission set in with the sounds of their bare feet shuffling along the stark, cold floor. After checking their belongings and wondering if they would ever get them back, the men formed new lines heading into a gymnasium where more men, these in white coats over army drab woolen pants and thick-soled boots, carried clip boards and wore stethoscopes for the physical exams. The men proceeded sheepishly through the process as Army doctors poked and prodded and finally inoculated them for the great adventure they anticipated. Some were pulled out of line and sent to makeshift rooms separated by white sheets hung like shower curtains from iron pipe frameworks where medics poked or proded, taking medical histories that either qualified or disqualified these men for

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military service. Most made it through to the other end where they thankfully received and climbed into government issued union suits which fit satisfactorily or not well at all. The Army medical staff believed that the inoculations would protect the men from typhoid fever, a plague during the Spanish American war twenty years before. Medical science had advanced to believe that the mens bodies would develop immunity to the disease if injected with a controlled dose of toxins, and thus make them stronger to enter the rat-infested trenches of France in the coming months. For most of the men, this turned out to be a harmless procedure, but for about one out of ten, their reaction to the vaccination included full blown symptoms of the disease that the doctors sought to avoid. Within twenty-four hours of his shot, Bill returned to the infirmary reporting that he could not sleep because of headache, chills and diarrhea. Medics measured his temperature at 102 degrees and checked him onto a cot in a ward with dozens of other men who looked much the way he felt. He remained there for the next 24 hours, still sleepless, growing weaker by the hour. His arm grew red and swollen around the site of his wound. He would have been frightened of this sudden onset illness, had he the strength to care. Saturday afternoon Dear Mother and all I will drop a line or two before I go to bedam at the Y.M.C.A. now and have to go back to the barracks sure am sickgot my shot in the arm of typhoid germs and it took. So, write me here, Company J. Signal Corps. More boys arrived today. They sure are coming thick and fast from every where. Good bye Maybe I can write tomorrow, but done this so that you could write

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When Bill awoke to Monday morning reveille, his head felt like it had been stuffed with cotton. He moved weakly, made his way to the lavatory and back, dressed slowly in his newly issued olive drab uniform. It fit snugly, consisting of blouson pants that tapered narrowly to his ankles and a shirt jacket that buttoned almost to his chin. No jacket fit him as it should, so he received a size 36R, which looked fine, but felt tight across his back and shoulders. His stiff black leather boots rose nearly to his knees, polished to a dull shine, fresh from the factory. Still feeling woozy, he was among the last to leave the barracks. He made his way slowly with the others to assembly and the mess hall. The crisp wet cold of the morning air slapped Bill in the face as he went outside for the first time since having been confined to quarters two days earlier. Snow fell in large, cottony flakes, some the size of quarters, accumulating on the ground atop what appeared to be four inches from the day before. Someone had already shoveled the broad sidewalks that led to the mess hall. The snowflakes melted into the glistening black moisture that covered the concrete pathways. The men walked informally, without Army discipline this morning, in groups of two or three. Bill kept to himself, not feeling up to the cheerful banter and empty chit-chat he heard from ahead and behind. High overhead an eagle soared against the gray sky and observed the first of the men from the barracks arriving at the mess hall. It gazed out toward the river bottomland punctuated by countless trees that rose up from the alluvial soil which the Missouri River had deposited eons ago, forming a dark and brooding forest around Fort Leavenworth. Catching a rising current of early morning air, the raptor soared high above the serpentine

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line of men who appeared dark burnt umber against the flat white landscape, jammed at the entrance to a large building. There the men waited for the signal that would admit them into the steamy world of cauldrons, clattering steel food trays, the continual storm of boots on the gleaming floors of the enlisted mens mess. Some of the men shifted jauntily from one foot to the other to keep from getting cold, as if warming up for calisthenics. Others blew hot air into their cupped hands to warm their gloveless hands. As Bill approached, he happened to notice a lone officera Lieutenant, he guessed, by the single silver bar of rank mounted on each of his shouldersjovially greeting the men. His wide, toothy smile seemed to stretch from ear to ear. He looked no older than Bill and seemed genuinely interested in meeting the men as he worked his way up the line from the mess hall, apparently a self-appointed greeting committee of one. Seeing him off by himself, the Lieutenant approached Bill, who raised his arm to salute but winced in pain from the vaccinated wound to his shoulder. The pain prevented him from completing the same smart salute that the Lieutenant returned. At ease, Soldier. The Lieutenant offered Bill his hand. Got a reaction from the inoculation I see. Thats right, sir. Ive been in quarters since Saturday morning. This is the first fresh air Ive had since I got here. Wherere you in from? Hutchinson, Kansas, Sir. Hutchinson, eh? I was there when I was younger. Grew up in Abilene. Whats your name? Holmes, Sir. William G. Holmes, Private. Just reporting for duty in the cause.

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Well, good for you, Holmes. What have you signed up for? Bill noticed the name on the Lieutenants uniform and decided he should try to remember it. Eisenhower, it read. What kind of name was that? German, he reckoned. Signal Corps, Lieutenant Eisenhower. Bill used the young officers name with some difficulty and a little caution. Good man, Holmes. I may see you again later this week as we work you men through orientation. Theyve got me here teaching induction classes. If you make the Signal Corps, youll ship out for Camp Morse in Texas by the end of the week. Just got up here a little more than a month ago myself from Morse. San Antones a beautiful place. Youll like it there. With that, Lieutenant Eisenhowers eyes moved to the men behind Bill in line. Smiling and making eye contact with them, he returned their salutes and moved on. Breakfast was ample, doled out by men with short haircuts, white jackets and bib aprons, standing behind steam tables slapping food onto trays, trays onto counters, where the men in line picked them up as they passed. Everything matched the assembly line efficiency that Bill imagined from the Army. I am sending you two bundles from the Y.M.C.A. he wrote on YMCA stationery provided to the men at no cost. Hope you receive them O.K. am in a hurry got a permit from the First Sergeant to come here Will write later as we are Texas bound rather hate to leave here as it is nice, except for the crowded conditions Had a fine dinner today. Best meal yet. Liked it very well My arm is O.K. I can salute but that vaccination sure made me sick.

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I never saw such a conglomerated mess in all of my life as I have here I cant see the idea for another draft havent the clothes. Especially ones to fit mine were O.K. only the jacket is too small. Say, dont go around and tell such stuff, for it might cause trouble. For the balance of the week he attended orientation classes, learned military protocol, took tests, filled out forms, and read regulations. He had assignments to qualify for. The Signal Corps accepted him for training and advised him to prepare himself to leave by the end of the week. Dear Sister Just a line to let you know Im alive and feeling fine. I have gotten over my first shot in the arm (inoculation) and believe me it was a good one. I will not be here much longer they are sending 100 of us to Leon Springs, Texas for training so dont write me here. When I am located I will send you an address. Always address it Wm. G. Holmes as thats best. Say, listen nearly all the boys coming in here have Red Cross equipmenttheir local Red Cross gave them a sweater, helmet, wristlets and a little needle, thread and pin holder. Lest I should forget, I would appreciate an outfit. It would sure come in handy, especially here. You enquire, not in regard to me but in a round about way, seeas the Red Cross in Hutch may or may not be distributing same down there. We had a nice little parade go by today the cavalry out in front also Negro troopers. Well, Vesta, I will ring off and will write you from Texas when I am located enough to write With Love, Your brother Bill

Bill attended classes on Friday morning before the noonday meal in the mess hall with the rest of the men. Then he was under orders to clean out his belongings and get

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ready for the transports to the train station in the town of Leavenworth, Kansas. A hundred men had been selected for Signal Corps. They would leave by train that afternoon. The loud, rhythmic hum of five dark troop transport trucks droned over the noisy clatter of their engines as they came to a stop like factory machines in front of the barracks area, their canvas flaps pulled down on the sides above the flatbeds. Each truck would carry twenty men and their kits from the fort into town. As soon as the trucks parked and killed their engines, the men selected for transport moved towards them while an audience of other soldiers stood around the staging area and watched. Once the men settled on board, the lead truck started its engine and the other drivers followed suit, one at a time pulling away from the dormitories and heading south into town. The transport moved slowly, but the men were not far away from their destination. Soon Bill saw fat, showy trees and grasslands opening down to the riverfront. Within twenty minutes, the transports arrived at the railroad depot. A sergeant holding rank over the recruits ordered them to stay put until he returned. The men shifted impatiently while they waited, and soon enough, the sergeant returned. Once inside the depot, the men lingered in a waiting room, smoking and milling about. Some played poker to fill the time. The sun had just dropped below the western horizon when they finally pulled out of the station and headed south.

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When the sun came up Saturday morning in Wichita, the transport train left the main rail line, directed off onto a spur. The soldiers had gambled in the club cars well into the night long after the conductors had the beds made up for them in the Pullman cars. Looking out into the cold morning light, the men collectively wondered why the train was stopping. The depot in Wichita was on Douglas Avenue just east of the downtown shopping district. As the train pulled in, the men could see the electric lights on the Eaton Hotel sign, less than a block away, just west of the station. They had not been advised of this stop and so when their sergeant, Bills old friend, Charlie Hopkins, from Hutchinson, appeared at the end of the aisle, they craned their necks to hear his explanation. Listen, men! the sergeant bellowed. Were going to be changing engines before proceeding. From what the conductor tells me, the engine weve got has sprung a leak in the boiler and will have to be replaced. Now, none of you will be permitted off the transport while we wait for the change to be made. This will delay our arrival in San Antonio by a few hours, but there is no cause for concern on your part. A collective groan came up from the ranks, but there was little movement and the boys went back to sleep until they heard the clacking of the wheels and felt the shudder and lurch of the train being reconnected to its new engine. All the activity outside made sleeping impossible and gradually the men arose, finding their way half-dressed to the toilets before making themselves presentable in the dining cars for breakfast. Bill ate little en route to Texas. He was still not well. He had an upset stomach and loose bowels, and he felt weak and generally out of sorts. He played a little poker and got to know a few men with whom he would serve, but retired early that night and

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slept late the following morning. His arm grew stiff with swelling and tender to the touch. He said nothing about his ongoing reaction to the typhoid shot while they traveled. What could anyone do? Not wanting to draw attention to his own discomfort, he kept quiet until they reached Camp Samuel F.B. Morse in Leon Springs, Texas.

Except that it was warm for February, Leon Springs reminded Bill of Langdon. It had evolved from its origins as a stagecoach stop at the time of the Mexican-American War to become a quaint little village a few miles outside of San Antonio. Since the Civil War it had had a post office and a few families living there. As the Army convoy passed the stands of live oaks and the flat, verdant green pampas, it completed the twenty-mile trip north from the train depot in San Antonio, finally careening into town. Bill noticed two hotels, a General Mercantile, and a handful of shops within one or two blocks of the center of town. For the first time since leaving his family at Uncle Shermans house, Bill felt homesick. And he felt sick in general;
Speck and Badger, December 1917

the tropical winter weather did nothing

for his general lassitude and intestinal distress, which had plagued him during the two day journey from Leavenworth.

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San Antonio had important missions in the early months of the Great War in 1918. The San Antonio Arsenal handled most of the ammunition supplies that would be used in France in the coming months. But the Army had also opened Kelly Field in 1917 to develop the aviation mission of the Signal Corps. Some 17,000 men trained to become pilots and support crew there. Fort Samuel F. B. Morse was the oldest installation and the largest training base for the Signal Corps. Ten thousand men stationed at Morse awaited deployment to Europe. In all, over 100,000 soldiers had descended upon the environs of San Antonio, rich with its Mexican and Southwestern traditions; but in those days, the number of troops almost equaled its total civilian population. Bill was quickly remanded to quarters once he reported his symptoms to the infirmary. A week passed. Spending his days and nights sprawled out on a small bed, little more than a cot with a thin mattress, he received his first letters from home. His family wanted to know what he would do in the war. What had he done about Kit and the baby Maxine? Insurance and other financial matters? He had plenty of time to write, reading and rereading the letters he had received from home while studying the alphabets of a Signal Corpsman. He wrote first to his mother and family. I have been in Camp and have had only one day of duty so my work has been rather easy as I have been confined to quarters ever since my vaccination took my arm was sure sore, swelled tight to the finger tips the swelling has left from the shoulder to the elbow but my hand is still swelled tight the Dr. says I will have to stay in quarters another day or two gee its getting old! Of course I get out but I would like to be getting some of the drilling there were 100 in our bunch from Leavenworth and we are all in the same company yet all recruits some like it and some dont, but I like it fine. Papa you spoke of doing as told. Ha! Ha! That is the one point you learnnot to kick and do as told dont worry I have knocked on wood. You ask about our duties. Well I tell you, duties are very numerous in the Army and you get a little of it allhot and heavyInfantry drill, calisthenics,

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army rules and regulations, when to salute, the wig wag, (that is with two flags) semaphore, (its with one flag) and Buzzer (its the wireless) and they use the International Morse Code instead of the American Morse Code I have learned nearly all of it. The wig wag and the semaphore have alphabets, which is like learning our ABCs all over again in a different manner. Hello Speck and Badger. I am learning my ABCs in Chinese Ha! Ha! As for Kit and I, we both had very satisfactory meetings at Ramseys office. He drew up an agreement which practically separates us so I have no cause for any worry from there. Dont worry about the papers for Kit Mamayou dont need to send them. You spoke of insurance, Papa you know we are automatically insured for $4500 for 120 days will take care of the insurance though as they take it out of your money I probably will take out $8,000 to $10,000 I dont know yet its according to where we go from here. I am just a little short on money at the present. A few stamps would be appreciated but that will be about all as we have about everything we need. The eats here are pretty good and as for clothes, well, I have olive drab (thats what they issue now in most cases) I have a few more coming yet. I have an overcoat, raincoat, gloves, two shirts, 1 pair of pants (I get another soon) 3 suits of underwear and 3 pair of hose (heavy) and blouses. That and a camping outfit. We had inspection this morning by officers staff but it was indoors only and not very rigid as we were recruits. Will have a picture taken when I have a chance and send you one as I wont get to see you folks not very likely before the war is over. The Y.M.C.A. Bully for them! Tell the people all to give them a hand for they sure do a fine and great work and a persons money is sure reaching many a poor privates heart and hand I mean in a helping way such as reading and writing material and amusements and darn good work all around. Dont worry about my health. I got rid of my cold so dont worry now. I feel fine. If I could only get out and drillDoctor said it would be a couple of days before I could drill he said it might be alright but not to just play softly first so what Doctor says goes over Major and Colonel and all. It has sure been nice hereSunshine every day till today and believe me it is warm just like spring. Winter rains set into South Texas in early February. The weather stayed cold and dreary for almost two weeks. Conditions in the camp became deplorable. The rainfall

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turned the formerly hard packed soil into mud that caked itself on the bottoms of the mens boots and followed them onto the smooth, worn wooden floors of their tents. At Kelly Field, the trainees slept in tents that had earthen floors; the mud gradually encroached on the underside of the canvas. On Valentine's Day, Bill wrote his father that he took out $10,000 insurance-- $8,000 to mama and $2,000 to Baby Maxine and I will pay the premiums here as the government takes it out of your wages it costs me $6.90 a month. I will have my policy sent to you, Papa, so you can keep it for me. Bill felt that no other provisions for Baby Maxine were needed. He had, after all, relinquished that responsibility to her mother and her maternal grandparents. He rarely thought about Kit, except when the government docked his check and sent half of it to her. On the other hand, Rosa went with him almost everywhere. She was never far from his thoughts. Whenever he had a moment to rest, and he had much time to do so in these first few weeks, his mind made the short trip to that bungalow in Hutchinson where they had last made love. Sometimes in his fever, he stared at her, frozen in time, from his window on the train as it left the train station in Hutchinson, she on her toes waving as if she could still make out his image through the streaked glass. Her expression as she waved was etched in his memory. She seemed crestfallen, as if she had already lost her loved one, smiling thinly, trying to put on a good face, offering him encouragement with her eyes. At bedtime each night, he fell asleep with that face in his imagination, her memory in every breath. He was lucky to recover from his reaction to the typhoid inoculation. He described the outcome and symptoms of others in his Company.

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I forgot to tell you about our first causality a boy by the name of Fiedler from California died yesterday at the Base Hospital from something like the typhoid or influenza, being treated from the shot. We have about six more in the hospital. There were sixty went on sick report this morning so they are having quite an investigation-- All Lieutenants, Majors, Colonels and Commanding Officers are in a pow wow and all boys in connection with it think were in for a military court martial. They suffered from diarrhea something awful-- the boys on both sides of me were up all night but it hasnt bothered me at all of late. By Valentines Day, Bill felt strong enough to get out and around. He had enough money to buy a card for Rosa. It was a fancy die-cut card that unfolded to prop up with a little boy dressed in soldiers khaki, holding a bright red heart that said, With Sincere Love. On the back he wrote, I think of you every day and long to be together again, and signed his name, adding a note telling Rosa how to address mail to him. Once recovered, Bill finally got out and started learning the ropes, or that is, the Flags of the Signal Corps; his illness had put him behind the curve with the other men. He continued to study the semaphore and the wigwag and was awed by the armaments he observed in camp. They have all that goes to make actual warfarereal cannons and everything. They use them every dayand trenches, all kinds, and barbed wire entanglements. When Hopkins let word out that Bill was a licensed barber in Kansas, the officers decided to use him to fill a vacancy in the duty roster. It was not what Bill had signed on for, but he appreciated the perquisites of the assignment. He got quarters in the building that housed the barber and tailor shops, away from the snoring legions in the barracks. Besides his privacy, he received forty cents on the dollar for all the haircuts and shaves he gave.

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When the mail came Bill was among the first to receive letters from home and back issues of the Hutchinson News Herald and the Langdon Leader. Along with these pieces of mail, he also received a package from his family, including a new pen and a little bottle of ink. That evening, after settling into the Barber Shop, he tried out his new pen writing to Vesta. I received your letter and say I was sure one glad human for it was the first from anyone in over a week, thought I had been forgotten. Now say don't go to any more trouble sending anything at present I am afraid I will have more than I can pack I have a nice little bedroom away from the noise of the barracks you know in the barracks about 70 to 100 men sleep on cots and its annoying a person cant study nor read or write of course when lights are out its quiet Ha! I am starting to like it finecant express myself exactly but it isnt so badquite a bit of studying but I have my brain going all the timeso am learning my General Orders , the Continental Code for the Buzzers and the Semaphoreall fairly well. And the drillswell I havent got much. My old arm is still in bad from the vaccinationI have it dressed every dayit ate nearly to the bone and is about the size of a half dollar or a dollar so you can see it tookvery little soreness in it now but its tender. Drizzly weather here for the last 3 days but it cleared off at noon today and this evening is as pretty as I ever sawnice and warmdont need a coat have the door and all windows open and enjoying it. Oh yes I am surely much obliged for the stamps, but I am not quite brokehave 15 cents left to buy candy and thats all I need outside of tobacco and I have a good supply of that. I have to tell you that we have been through our gas drills heremade it finehave had gas drills for a week but turned in our masks so are ready on that count. You asked for a picturewell girlie I will as soon as I can, but I havent had time yetI want some good ones when I do so dont you worryI will send themGee I am "sumpin" in full dress for Officer's inspection! Ha! Ha!

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Bill kept hours in the base barber shop when he was not training with his Company. The rains continued. After an eight-mile hike he returned to the infirmary suffering from exhaustion. The reaction to the typhoid virus continued and worsened. When he could work, cutting hair generated pocket money. Once when a Lieutenant came in for a shave, he wrote that he had to get up and give the Lieutenant a haircut and darn, I cut his upper lip just a little Goodbye, Bill Ha. Ha. When the weather finally cleared, Bill could see the marvels of the modern world from his barber shop. In less than fifteen years since the Wright Brothers had made history at a North Carolina beach called Kitty Hawk, the Army had fully embraced the technology for air flight in a military expedition. The science of air warfare advanced significantly in those early years. But Bill reacted like a Kansas farm boy when he first saw aviators overhead. Airplanesthey give us plenty of entertainment when the weathers fair they come over from Kelly Field galorequite a sight to see the air full of them like hawks or geesesometimes in a V shape like geeseyou can see them quite a way through a field glass. Tell Speck and Badger if they were here they would have a fit! Airplanes, and on week days, the artillery fire and soldiers everywhere just like an ant hill. He returned to Quarters on February 21 and stayed there for the rest of the month. The weather outside remained rainy, cloudy and dreary. He developed strep throat infection and the reaction in his arm continued to plague him. He lacked the strength to muster for reveille or retreat at the end of the day, though he was well enough to do some barbering. He shared the space with the Company tailor and enjoyed the banter with the men who came in for haircuts throughout the day.

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My arm is still keeping me in quarters but it is coming along nice now but the Doctor wont let me do a thing, only barber. Yes, I was put in as one of the Company barbers so I may not do so bad after all I will tell you of our shopits an old kitchena small one but it has a little bed room and closet and running water and our chairs consist of four pieces of 1x12 and 3 pairs of hinges, a piece of rope and wirepicture it out, but its war time and the Lieutenant said we couldnt have anything we couldnt take across. On the 6th of March, though he was too exhausted to leave for mail call, he got letters from his baby brothers, Speck and Badger, and Vesta. Thirteen-year-old Speck asked how he was doing in the Army and enclosed a water color painting the size of a postcard that he had done for the school art show, for which he had won an honorable mention. The painting showed a Kansas prairie landscape with a wood frame house backed by tall cottonwood trees. In his letter Speck told Bill that he was planning to finish school in a few more years and become an engineer for the railroad. Badger would be eleven years old in a few weeks and wondered if Bill would send him an Army pin for his birthday. He asked if he remembered the time they all went up on the hill and Bill helped them learn how to fly a kite. Vesta reported the gossip from the Business College in Hutchinson and her lack of interest in driving with any boys. She did not mention Tommy Smiths name in her letter at all. Bill had heard that Tommy had joined the infantry, but he did not know where he had been assigned. She would finish school at the end of the term and looked forward to getting a job in Hutchinson. She asked him to tell her about his typical day in the Army. Bill wrote back on Saturday night after leaving a wrestling match early. You ask of our army life: 6:00 am get up. 6:10 reveille.

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Mess 6:30. Police up and sick call at 7:00 to7:30. 8:30 to about 10:30 its Drill and Visual signals and from 10:30 to 11:30 its buzzer and line signals according to the day before. 12:00 mess. Then according to the day its about the same in the afternoon, only we quit at 4:30 and supper at 4:45 and then retreat at 5:15. Oh Yes, I forgot our double time and "Calisthenics". We sure get enough exercisewe always have a good appetite. InspectionsGosh, more inspections and you sure have to doll up. You know I had such a time with my arm and I havent had a well day hardly till last week and I asked to get out and drill so I went out. The drill and working in the barber shop are just too muchso I gave it up last nightof course not for good but till I get alrightI just don't want to give up. I think we will be on our way in a whilenot very long and I want to stay with my Company. No we havent left yet but expect to, most anytime they will have everything ready. Could go in a day or so. So just write me here and if I ain't here I will get it, for it will follow. Had a Kodak picture taken in my shop suit. Too stubborn to take enough time to rest and get well, or else with an immune system seriously damaged by his typhoid vaccination on January 26, Bill was taken to the Base Hospital the next day because he was finally unable to fulfill even minimal duties in the camp barber shop.

Private Wm. G. Holmes, Company Barber

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Tues Noon March 12 1918 I am in the field Hospitalfor when a man cant do duty he dont get quarters any more, but is sent to the hospital. So I am living high now on a bed that you cant help but sleep inand access to nearly anything you care for of course I cant work in the barbershop but I get fine treatment here. My arm is coming pretty fair but I had lumbago or something. So here I am have been here three days and have hoped each day I could get out as I felt so good but nothe Doctor says that I must stay, so I am resting peacefully. How are the boys? Tell them I would appreciate a few more lines if you please. And I bet they would enjoy sitting out on the porch and watching infantry drills and maneuvers as the hospital is on quite a hill and you can see the whole camp. Yesterday an observation balloon passed over the camp and in the evening an airplane came over from Kelly Field and did everything that was in his power to entertain the boys so as to help to pass the time. I havent a thing here to study so have to confine my self to reading we have a YMCA about 100 yards and a canteen where you can get Hot Cakes and eggs and good old country butter, milk and ice cream so I fare fine of course I have to pay for that but am glad at the chanceits a change and no I aint broke by any means even if I havent had a pay day since I enlisted and wont till I get out of hereI have my barber money and the other can pile up-- use my barber money for dainties Ha! Ha! Bill's pay, a dollar a day plus the money he made from hair cuts was pretty competitive for the times. An Army haircut and shave cost two bits. But half his pay went to Kit despite their separation agreement that disallowed her rights to his Army pay. He had to seek assistance from the Army to have the matter corrected and signed this memo while recuperating from his vaccination.

Co. C, 9th Fld. Bn., Sig. Cps., Camp Samuel F. B. Morse, Leon Springs, Tex., March 13, 1918. From: To: Private William G. Holmes, Co. C, 9th Fld. Bn., Sig. Cps. Bureau of War Risk Insurance, Treasury Dept., Washington, D.C. (Thru Company Commander)

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Application for exemption from compulsory allotment.

1. I, hereby, apply to be exempted from compulsory allotment, under Section 201 of the Act of Congress approved October 6, 1918, to my wife, Mrs. Kathryn Holmes, (in care of J. M. Holland), Turon, Kansas, and, to my child, Maxine Holmes, age 10 months, in the custody of its mother. 2. Was married to Kathryn Holland, June 7, 1917, at Kansas City, Mo., and lived with her from date of marriage to December 19, 1917, residing at Hutchinson, Kansas. 3. I was informed by the Examining Board at Hutchinson, Kansas, that if an agreement be drawn up between my wife and myself that it would serve to exempt me from any compulsory allotments required by the Government. My wife applied for a divorce but being unable to obtain a hearing before the next term of court, she waived all rights of claim for support or maintenance of herself and child. Agreement was made and signed and am enclosing copy herewith. 4. To substantiate the facts on which I base this claim, will give witnesses, Mr. Herbert E. Ramsey, County Attorney, Reno County, Hutchinson, Kansas, and Mr. and Mrs. James M. Holland (my wife's parents) residing at Turon, Kansas. 5. Request enclosed agreement be returned to me after having served its purpose. 1 encl. (Signed) William G. Holmes.

Sworn to, and subscribed before me this 13th day of March, 1918. (Signed) H. W. Hall, Major, Signal Corps, Summary Court.

When he finally got out of the hospital on Friday, March 15, Bill discovered that he and the 100 men with whom he had been training for the Signal Corps had all qualified for a weekend pass to San Antonio. Never one to shirk orders, he got on one of the transport trucks and left the encampment with his new buddies in a convoy of trucks after noon mess. He showed up with Koss Chinn and Sgt. Hopkins in tow. Hopkins, a stout barrel-chested man of thirty-two, had taken Bill on as a project in Fort Leavenworth. He had a hand in it when the decision was made to put Bills barbering license to use in Leon Springs. Hopkins was loud and jovial. Not in the least concerned with rules against fraternization. He felt some responsibility to

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show Bill how to behave on leave not to keep him out of trouble, but to bail him out if the tequila and the Mexican women should have too much of their way with him.

San Antonio, Texas. Bill marveled at the thought of it. Here Davy Crockett fell to the Mexicans at the Alamo. The place felt like a foreign country but for the now familiar uniforms of ever-present military men preparing for the great expedition to end the war in Europe. Palm trees. Adobe buildings. Narrow streets. Brown skinned people with blue-black hair, speaking so rapidly they surely could not understand even themselves in a language foreign to nearly all their visitors. Chinn knew where to find the most ribald of the numerous vaudeville theatres in San Antonio. The comedians told vicious and off-color jokes at which the audience stomped their feet and howled with laughter. Musicians played honky-tonk and ragtime jazz loudly on poorly tuned and battered instruments. The burlesque dancers seemed beautiful viewed through the lenses of beer glasses. Some were overweight, most were mixed-race, Mestisos, a racial blending of Mexicanos and Indios, all dressed immodestly and behaving suggestively on stage, prancing and cavorting to the sensuous beat of the drums, leaving the stage mostly nude, but with some deference to the imaginations of the devil-may-care troops. They entertained a raucous crowd of men seeking a lifetime of entertainment in a three-hour revue. It was Bills first leave since joining the army. It signaled the end of preparation and the beginning of infamy. With his two best buds in the Signal Corps, Koss Chinn and Charlie Hopkins, and a half dozen compatriots from camp, they landed in the tavern district at the center

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of town, found a large round table, and ordered bottles of pulque, a fermented cactus wine Bill had never tasted before. And this led to tequila, which was far more potent, much like white lightning. The men sat around a table in a dimly lighted smoky cantina. Mexican women served bottles of tequila, whiskey, and warm beer. They wore brightly colored peasant skirts and soiled white blouses, pulled low off their shoulders to expose the tops of their ample brown breasts. The room offered everything imaginable and some unimaginable faces from the dark side of humanity. What the devil is that?! Bill bellowed drunkenly. For in all his experience with Demon Rum he had never seen a worm in a bottle of liquor before. Separated from sobriety, their cares, fears, anticipation, excitement and anxiety about the upcoming trip Over There culminated with the discovery of a small pale worm in the bottom of a bottle of Mexican tequila that was being passed between himself, Chinn, and Sgt. Hopkins. Its the worm! You farm boy. Chinn replied, laughing heartily. Finish the bottle! Swallow the worm! Bill had enough to drink that he readily abandoned his repulsion at the idea of swallowing a worm to his craving for a good time. Hed spent weeks in hospital rooms, recovering from the vaccination. And by nature he was, if nothing else, a natural-born entertainer. So he put the long neck of the tequila bottle to his lips and drained it, tipping his head back until the bottle was straight up in the air. The worm, at first defying gravity inside the bottle, finally fell with a plop and disappeared through the bottles neck into Bills own. The others in the party roared with approval.

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Hey, Bill, which of these girls you think youre going to have after closing? Hopkins asked his private first class barber. Ive got my eye on that one over there, nodding towards an ample senorita at the next table. Im thinking of that one, Bill said, staring at a much younger girl with long, thick black hair pulled up into a knot on the top of her head. Wisps of hair fell in curls around her forehead and clung to the moist, glistening skin at the nape of her neck. Perhaps half Bills age, the girl had luminous black eyes set apart over her delicate nose and high cheek bones. She had sensuous, full lips and wore no make up to cloud her soft, perfectly smooth complexion that seemed to glow even in the dim and smoky light of the cantina. The nipples of her delicate and firm breasts protruded beneath the white cotton blusa she wore low around her shoulders. She looked up to see Bill staring at her. She smiled, closed her eyes seductively, opened them again and turned away, exposing her back and shoulder blades. The definition of her spine dropped like an arrow down the center of her back. The girl held Bills attention throughout the evening. Mmm. Mmm. Hopkins shook his head. To be a youngster again. Hey Sarge, Bill said much too loudly to Hopkins, who sat across from him at the table, Whats the difference between a man from the North of Ireland and Kaiser Wilhelm? I give up, son, whats the difference? The Irishmans from Belfast and the Kaisers going to Hell fast! The men around the table hooted with delight. Sergeant Hopkins countered. Hey, Koss, did I tell ya I talked to Billys ex-wife back in Hutchinson before we left? Heck, no, Sarge, whatd she have to say?

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She allowed as how Billyd always done his duty by her and now hes doing his duty by his country. She said, I feel right sorry for them Germans, to think of him going into battle with a rifle in his hand and Its a Long Way to Tipperary on his lips. Poor Germans, indeed, says I. Pitys lost on em. Aint you heard of their cruelties? Perhaps I aint, she says. And maybe you aint heard Billy sing! Sergeant Hopkins cackled in laughter at his own joke and everyone laughed out loud, Bill somewhat less enthusiastically than the others. Koss knew it was his turn. Hey Sarge, he said. Hopkins turned to the private, his face red, eyes watering. I hear the Captain was in the mess hall today raising hell with the cook. He says to Cookie, he says, this soup tastes like dishwater! The men snorted at the thought of the soup back on base. Oh yeah, he says, well you might want to know, it is the dishwater! Their table was as loud and boisterous as any in the room. Jokes about Army life and the Kaiser continued to fill the conversation. The certainty of a brief fight and a quick victory added to the ambience. The girl Bill had his eye on brought another bottle of tequila and set it on the table, standing next to him. As she leaned over their table to clear the empty bottles and full ashtrays, Bill felt the warmth of her body, mixed with the cheap essence of rose perfume. He touched the back of her leg with his hand. She moved her body slightly towards him and looked over her shoulder into his eyes. They smiled at each other simultaneously. When you off work, seorita? A las media noche. Quince minutos. Feefteen meenits, she answered. Vengas conmigo? Si? Si! Bill replied grinning broadly, taking her meaning. He would think about Rosa another night. For now, alcohol and esprit dcorps had liberated his spirit. None of the men

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would go to bed alone tonight, but Bill had claimed the top prize. Sgt. Hopkins shook his head in wonder. Koss nodded approvingly and winked. The pretty little waitress left the table and Bill took another drink. Damn the worm, he thought.

When Bill awoke the next morning his head felt heavy and thick, throbbing with the effects of the tequila. The pretty senorita from the cantina lay beside him, naked, asleep on her stomach, her face pointed to the wall away from his. He could not remember what she looked like the night before, nor how he got to this place. He looked around the room, wondering where he had left his clothes, and finally caught sight of them, strewn on the floor in random clumps, shirt and trousers inside out, as if he had been in a hurry to get undressed. For a while Bill could not or would not move, but eventually he responded to the call of nature and found a chamber pot to piss in, then he fell to his knees and vomited into the chipped, porcelain bowl. He staggered into the kitchen, his hostess still sleeping childlike in her bed, and found a glass that looked clean enough to use. He poured a glass of tepid tap water to rinse out his mouth. He could not get the cobwebs he felt on his tongue to go away. The sound of someone entering the little casa drove him back into the bedroom where he had pulled on his pants and was getting into his shirt when a dark-skinned woman who looked little older than Bill peered into the bedroom. Im just leavin maam er, senora. The woman looked at him quizzically as he walked past her on his way out the door. What am I doing here? Bill asked himself as he found his way through a dangerous and seedy looking neighborhood in the glare of the hot, mid-

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morning sunlight. He thought of Rosa back home, waiting for him and perhaps for the first time since some long-forgotten childhood infraction, Bill felt ashamed of himself. When recounting their adventures that night to his family back in Langdon, Bill cleaned up his report quite a bit. I took my trip to San Antone and had one of the finest times. Oh Gee I wouldnt have passed it up for anythingSpent Sat afternoon, night and Sunday with Koss Chin and what a fine timewe went to all and everything. He is such a nice kidgee I only wish I could meet up with one like him every dayHe said to give you his best regards and believe me I sure will. We went to all the things and places of note and wont try to explain You know the roses are all out and the grass is nice and greenthe palms are so nice and in all, it was sure great, and nice pleasant weather. A year later Koss Chinn chimed in about the outing in San Antonio with Bill, Sgt. Hopkins and their friends in a letter he wrote to Bills mother in February, 1919 that discloses none of the mischief. I saw your boy long after he had adapted himself to Army life and he was a credit to the glorious cause he represented. The training we got was very severe but he never had a complaint and conducted himself both in and out of Camp just as you would have him. I spent two days with him in San Antonio. We went to a show that evening and he spent the night with some other boys from his camp including Hopkins and I after about 11 p.m. We visited all the old historic places but made it a point to be at a good place to eat at meal times. The day was enjoyed very much by all of us especially we old friends. Bill found several letters waiting from his old friends back in Langdon and Hutchinson when he returned to camp. And one showed a return address in delicate penmanship that said simply, R. Kelley; Langdon, Kans. He read her letter twice and had tears in his eyes when he folded it back into its envelope.

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After a long day both out of the hospital and back onto full duty, he had to make another trip to the Judge Advocates office where he composed a letter to Ramsey to enlist his help in getting his pay instated. In regard to the agreement with my wife, Mrs. Kathryn Holmes, I have sent my copy with my appeal to Washington D. C. You see they forced me to make an allotment to her so I referred them to you and in making out the statement I am leaving it to you. If I went too far, when it comes to you, I want you to handle it and let me know what you can do, for I dont much want military court. It is a little different from civil court. It will likely be some time before you hear from them but it will also be some time before I get any money, as they will hold mine till the matter is straight so will pay you for your trouble, for she dont deserve the change

Feeling recovered from the vaccination, Bill finished the month of March in Leon Springs before beginning the trek "Over There." He became increasingly bitter towards Kit. Had she signed his deferment, he would not have been in Texas, getting ready for whatever waited for him on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Didnt he marry her to give their child his name? Hadnt that been the right thing to do? Yet out of bitterness, or perhaps as punishment, she refused to give him his deferment from military service and here he was. In spite of the enthusiasm he often expressed to his parents in letters he wrote to them, he was still only twenty-eight years old with the rest of his life on hold. He had become increasingly morose during private times, missing Rosa, especially for the days on end he had spent in the hospital, alone, surrounded by other sick soldiers. He had plenty of time to brood on his circumstances. What would his life have been like now if he had married her five years ago? How would things have worked out differently? Would he ever see her again? These questions had plagued him as he waited impatiently in the hospital to recover

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from his illness. He could see the other men in the field preparing for battle. He had longed to be with them rather than on his back in a stark white hospital room counting dust motes in the sunlight pouring through the windows in the afternoons. Ramseys reply came a week later.




Dear Sir:-

Jan. 19, 1918.

Yours of the 18th at hand, and contents noted. In reply, will say that you did perfectly all right in referring them to me, and I shall be pleased to give you or them any information that I can on the matter. I know all the circumstances of the matter and am quite sure that I can satisfy them on any questions they may ask. Yours very truly, Herbert Ramsey HR-RZ.

With a week left in March, word finally came to the regiment that they would be shoving off soon. He wrote to his mother. How are you all? How are Badger and Speck? I have their picture in front of mewould like to spend the afternoon with them. I bet Speck and Badger are having a time with those young chickens you will have to eat my fried chicken this spring. Am as fat as I care to be. Weigh 187 lbs. So I am O.K. Dont think we will leave here for some time. Say. I aint worrying!

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Holy Gee!! Just out from dinner to say I sure had enough Roast Pork, brown gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, corn and ice waternot so bad I wont kick it was well cooked I am going to have a full pack gee it is a load and we havent a gun outside a pistol, oh pity the infantry. Will write again when we locate. Well, drop me a line and I will close with love to all Your Son and Bro Bill And he wrote to Rosa. I dont know when nor where but we are preparing to leave here and when I write again it wont be from herebut if you write it will get to me so long as it has the Company and Battalion on it we hear all kind of rumors but I am waiting patiently am ready at a very short noticewe have our full equipment now, everythingonly guns and our heavy wool sox which we will wear over there, and they are in the store all packed. I am sending my Traveling bag As soon as you get it let me know and when you see Vesta, give it to her or send it to her, for I told her I would send it to her-- we cant take it nor nothing but issued stuff. No, I have never heard from Kit since I left and dont expect to when we settle for a spell I will have to get busy as my money will be held up for quite a while Ramsey is my counsel free of charge and he handles it. We had airplanes galore today from 50 feet high to aboutwell, just looked like a wee speck and with a field glass you could barely make them out. Will write again when we locate. I think of you every day and of the life we should have had together. Someday I will come for you, but until then I will be with you in your dreams, every night. Your loving Bill

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Chapter Ten Hoboken

The light of the full moon reflected brightly on the rippling currents of the black river. Bill did not know what time it was. After a late night of cards with some of the other men, in which his luck had proved consistently bad, he had been asleep until minutes earlier. He had stowed his watch and his empty wallet before turning in hours before. When the steady movement and predictable rhythm of the train slowed and then came to a stop he peered out his Pullman car window. Floodlights illuminated heavy equipment and a barge while people who looked the size of flies in the distance milled about as a behemoth platform ship pushed itself into its moorings. He heard the hollow thuds that came from the barge bumping against the landing. Steam engines roared mournfully like the rumbling bowels of a steel factory. A train engine with couplers front and rear belched white clouds of steam and smoke, waiting for the iron harnesses to clasp into place. A shrill whistle filled the night air with an

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ungodly, banshee-like shriek. Two tug boats at the side of the ship farthest away from the dock pushed the rear of the ship upstream. The men in Bills cabin felt their car roll backwards when the rear section of their transport train separated from the cars in front of them. The engine on board the barge inched its way up the pier. They heard the loud clanging of iron against iron down the rail. Then the slow sound of the steel wheels against the steel rails screamed, piercing the night air and the dank humidity of the late spring night. The front section of the train made its way across the entire distance of the barge. The barge itself sank no deeper in the water. After nearly two hours of coupling and uncoupling, the pieces of the train finally crossed the Great River and they resumed their journey. It occurred to Bill that for the first time in his entire life he had crossed the Mississippi River. He thought of his own grandparents crossing the country from the opposite direction, driving a team of oxen, thirty-two years before. How curious that they both had crossed the river on a barge, they in their Conestoga wagon with their animals and Bill in such a manner as to conquer technology. He guessed he knew something of the excitement, fear, and anticipation they must have felt on another spring night, alone and surrounded by strangers, all journeying toward some unknown land. He had just crossed the Mississippi River by boat while on board a train. Over the next two days, they passed through railroad towns in the South and then up the Eastern Seacoast, through Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. In Philadelphia, crowds of children and teenagers lined the tracks watching the troop trains pass. When he thought of it again, Bill jotted a note in the notebook he carried, using the dull stub of a pencil barely long enough to hold in his hand. He wanted a reminder for some future reference. I'll bet Badger and Speck would enjoy the trip along the Pennsylvania Railroad line

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from Philadelphia to Tenafly, to see a thousand kids watching for troop trains asking for nickels and dimes even buttons and emblems off your coat dirty and ragged and happy and just about the slums of the world. The Red Cross ladies greeted the men with donuts and coffee and picture postcards at the depot when they disembarked while the engine was serviced. Missionaries from the Salvation Army handed the soldiers tracts and offered to pray with them for their safety in the months ahead.

Weeks passed and Rosa had no communication from Bill. A 2-cent postcard finally arrived. It bore this imprint at the top of the blank side:

Bill scribbled a brief note below which Rosa read Monday Morn Beloved Rose In dear old Philly and feeling great. Have had a nice trip. It is sure a lovely morn makes me think of homewill reach our destination about 4PM. Will write later. Hope you feel as good as I. Bill He dropped the postcard in the mailbox in front of the Western Union Office when the train stopped in Philadelphia. He had had another bad night at the card tables on the train the night before and he found himself with only a few coins left in his pocket, barely enough to send a wire home, asking for money. With what he had and a loan from his old friend and drinking

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buddy Sgt. Charlie Hopkins, he stepped into the Western Union office and composed a telegram to his father. JH HOLMES WIRE ME TRACKER NUMBER OF MONEY ORDERS AT ONCE AT MY EXPENSE STOP NEVER RECD IT STOP LETTER FOLLOWS WITH EXPLANATION STOP FEELING GOOD STOP WILL GET YOUR ANSWER IF YOU ADDRESS IT RIGHT STOP HAVE NO MONEY HERE STOP WG HOLMES CO C 9TH FIELD BN SIGNAL CORPS CAMP MERRITT NJ Back on the train, Bill wrote a rambling letter to his parents which included an explanation for his abrupt plea for money in the telegram he had sent to Langdon. When the telegram arrived in Langdon, Josie opened the envelope with trembling fingers as the delivery man left the stoop. Then she thanked God it did not confirm her greatest fear. Days later, when his promised letter finally arrived, she squinted at Bills letter, jaw muscles twitching under her velvety soft cheeks. Dear Mother and all Well, I hope the telegram caused you no worry for I just have to have money soon. They have a French instructor here who tells you what is necessary and what you can take. If we are here long enough I want to enjoy everything that comes our way. I havent got enough money to get out of camp and no barber work here, so I sure can use some cash. I am in this work whole-hearted and, say, we havent all the privileges you might think Josie was at once angry and worried at her sons plight. Wiring him money would be a strain, but somehow, not wiring it made her feel unpatriotic, as if for all the sacrifices others had made, this was all that was asked of her. Could she get Bills money out of the Holland woman since the checks were being wrongly sent to her? She would have to ask, no matter how

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uncomfortable she felt with the idea. She would talk to Jonas and they would see about it. That boy! How did he get himself into such a predicament? For the time being, Jonas did not think it advisable to involve J.M. and Mrs. Holland, nor their daughter. With cash on hand, he thought they could manage at least this once without taking savings from the bank. So he wired the money, twenty-five dollars, per his sons instructions. Bill picked it up at the Western Union office at Camp Merritt. Smiling, he returned to his tent and wrote home. The warm wad of bills in his pocket and thoughts of his family made him feel nostalgic. As he wrote, he pictured his mothers face and his fathers broad shoulders and his round, keg-like physique. The air in his tent felt crisp and moist, like the dewy mornings he remembered in Kansas, but the smell of machines and the exhausts and wailing of gasoline engines permeated the clouds that hovered over Camp Merritt, the primary staging grounds for the troop movements overseas. Masking whatever fears he had about the mission he anticipated, and whatever resentment he felt realizing that control of his life belonged to others, he wrote to his family with enthusiasm and conviction about the big job he would soon undertake with his comrades at arms. Wed Morn 4/3 1918 Dear Mother and allWill drop you a few lines while I rest. They just took the boys out for a little exercise and I am doing some barber work have my hair cut short and feel like a convict We began giving hair cuts of Army regulations. It is sure some job. I worked till eleven last eve. Was sure tired. Never stopped for supper at all. This is a lovely camp and Soldiers galore, all kinds too. We have an inspection every half day. The next inspection is the one of the greatest importance to me and that is the Physical I believe I would croak if I didnt get to go over for my own ambition is to go on with the gang and do my part My number is 1,113,423 and I am proud of it. I have never yet been called on anything but this is the final Gee I can hardly wait.

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Say but we sure had a fine trip I sure enjoyed myself we had a grand trip from San Antonio here 5 days and 5 nights crossed the Mississippi River on a large Barge at night. Cars and all, about 10 p.m. Moonlight and it was fine-- got to see the Capitol at Washington D. C. also at night and it was grand Sure had a nice reception in Philly from the Red Cross. Saw one of the prettiest lit up buildings there I ever expect to see Saw the Statue of Liberty and say, so many things I cant mention them all, and if I had of had the money today I would have went to N.Y. City. We didnt have an accident of any kind A few of the boys were sick but the change of climate wasnt so bad. We are so near the ocean You can hear the whistle of the Big boats. Have you rec'd the Insurance Policy I am sending you our emblem to wear and hope you receive it O.K. and let me know if you do I am sending Vesta one too. Will have to cut more hair as the boys are coming. So Bye Bye! Love to all Your Son and Bro Bill And for heavens sake write, and put the right address Army food has long held the reputation for being a dreadful, barely tolerable alternative to starvation, but Bill did not find this to be the case at Camp Merritt, where he wrote rave reviews about the meals to his family. The Holmes family grew much of their own food and, like many farm families generations ago, developed an appreciation, for fresh home made meals and good eating. Josies biscuits went unrivaled throughout the county. Whoopee Doodle! I am so full I can hardly utter a word but am going to tell you what I had for dinner. Look at the postcard which shows our mess hall run by Uncle Sam called Merritt Hall and say its some place a pool hall, the largest I ever saw a dining room cafeteria style the largest I ever saw but the dinner here we go now dont get hungry. Pork chops with gravy mashed potatoes and Lima beans. Just great! Sliced tomatoes, lettuce with a dressing grand indeed a great big piece of Chocolate Cake with preserved peaches that were out of sight and I never cared much for peaches! and apple pie with a slab of ice cream a la mode what ever that is and a glass of sweet milk with bread and butter to go now there was plenty of all and all for 90 cents now say, this is no pipe dream, for I devoured it in jig time and I have had my after meal smoke. Oh yes, I forgot the large Opera house a show every night that is fine so more amusement.

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Yes this war is a great old game and many are playing it and many are fighting it I rather enjoy hearing the kicks and remarks of different outfits it is amusing I am glad I am with the bunch I am they are a real nice outfit of course there are a few mean ones, but the platoon I am assigned to are all jolly fellows no slackers just bully boys into it with a light heart.

Merritt Hall, the Enlisted Mens Club of Camp Merritt, N. J. Supervised by Army Chaplains

Sgt. Hopkins sauntered over to Bills cot just as he finished his letter to his mother on Tuesday after early chow. He boomed. One overnight pass for Private First Class, W. G. Holmes. To be accompanied by Sergeant C. T. Hopkins and selected members of the Company. Transportation at 1200 hours. Bill looked up from his writing. He wasnt a PFC. And he hadnt applied for leave, knowing he would have no money for the City. And from your kindly Uncle Sam, Billy-boy, the proceeds from commissions for barbering the past week, $18.00. Cash money, son, on the barrel head!

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Bill sprang to his feet to give Hopkins a bear hug. Then remembering himself, he clicked his heels in mid-lunge and saluted smartly. Yes, sir! Sgt. Hopkins, sir, he parroted loudly. Yes, Sir! At ease, PFC Holmes. Hopkins spoke with patronizing good humor. He held an oversized manila envelope in one hand, a bulging pay envelope in the other. PFC? PFC, SIR! Hopkins replied, handing Bill the long brown envelope. Bill had received a promotion and a raise in pay. Not that he was getting much pay apart from barbering.

The ferry to Manhattan left at 12:30. Bill and Hopkins made it on board with only minutes to spare. The ferry sailed past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Bill stared, mouth agape, at the monument in the harbor and the skyline beyond the water. From his perspective, the buildings looked like a vast, man-made mountain range with grey clouds of smoke obscuring the view. When they arrived at the docks on the lower west side of Manhattan, the two men caught a trolley uptown operated by an attractive woman who looked to be about thirty. Bill could not resist the urge to flirt. If you dont mind my asking, maam, whats a cultured gal like you operating a trolley car for? For a while, Soldier, she answered with a coquettish tone in her voice. But Im getting off of work at the next stop. What brings you to town? She looked him over. Ruddy

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face. Dark eyes and auburn hair cut short over his ears. She was lonely and he was new in town. She said her name was Caroline. They continued to talk. Hopkins quickly became a third wheel as he often did when out with Bill. The trio headed uptown from the trolley station. You boys should have tickets to the Hippodrome for tonight. If we hurry we should still be able to pick some up. I have a girlfriend at the ticket cage. You by yourself tonight, Charlie? she asked, looking at Hopkins. Just me and Bill, ah, Private Holmes, here. Good! Ya wanta go? We can make it a foursome and take in some spots after. It occurred to Bill that Caroline seemed as outspoken and aggressive as Kitty had been when they first met. She easily convinced her girlfriend to join the party and help create a foursome to celebrate the day. They spent the rest of the day together. In the park opposite City Hall, they stopped for a war bond rally where celebrities encouraged the crowd to invest in the war effort. Later the four of them had dinner at the YMCA cafeteria before going to the Hippodrome. They approached their time together without inhibitions, like people who have only one night to live and no idea what the future holds beyond the already dwindling twenty-four hour
War Bond Rally, New York City, 1918

pass. Like strangers who meet on an

Atlantic cruise, they felt drawn together by some irresistible force.

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They closed a bar on Lexington Avenue and found themselves walking down a wet, dimly lit side street somewhere in midtown Manhattan at 3:00 oclock in the morning. The four walked separately as two couples now. Bill! Hopkins called, Ill see you for breakfast at the YMCA tomorrow morning at 10:00 oclock. Dont be late. I wont be early! The pairs turned away in separate directions. Caroline guided Bill to the door of a brownstone townhouse in Greenwich Village on a fashionable street with wrought iron fences and gates and steps up to the front doors. They stood together and looked into one anothers eyes and listened to the night sounds of the city. Then they sat down on the stoop and talked quietly for a while. Bill felt an unfamiliar sadness that he did not remember from previous experiences with other women. A kind of sentimental yearning. A remembrance of times past. He sensed that another conquest, another notch in his belt, another story to tell the boys in the barracks, was not how he wanted to remember this night. Caroline rose and unlocked the door and turned again to face him. She stepped away and held the door for Bill to come inside. No, he said. I want to remember just what weve had today. I dont want to leave here wondering if someone in New York City will ever care about what becomes of me. Its been a great day. Lets just call it a night. Bill touched her shoulders, lowered his head, and kissed the nape of her neck. She brought her arms back around his back and leaned her softness into his hard chest. The palms of her hands fell below his belt line as he kissed around her neck to the indentation formed by the notch below her throat. Not willing to give up, she turned and took his hand to lead him up the stairs that led from the foyer to her apartment. A single electric light bulb hanging from a cord at the top of the

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stairs illuminated the hallway to her bedroom. Bill marveled at the idea of living in a place like this. He might have followed, but he tugged a little and freed his hand. She let it drop, turning to look at him curiously, unused to having her favors declined. Well, good night then, she sighed, still confused, ambiguously disappointed, as she turned and mounted the stairs leading to her second floor townhouse. Bill followed her to her boudoir only with his eyes, standing on the stoop alone, clutching the program he had carried with him from the Hippodrome, remembering Rosas face, her fair skin and her penetrating blue eyes, and what he would write and tell her about his day.

Back at camp, the men compared notes on their outing in the city. Hopkins barely made the ferry back to Hoboken. Bill remembered the ticket girl who came to the dock with him to see him off. They held hands and embraced before he boarded, and she stood on the pier and waved when the ferry cast off. When Hopkins asked Bill about his night, he gave a noncommittal answer and left the details to Hopkins imagination. Later, back in his tent, Bill waxed on like the first-time tourist he had actually been when he wrote about his sightseeing trip in his letter to Rosa. Beloved Rose I received your letter some few days ago and have been enjoying myself and working some since, so please pardon me wont you only wish you could run over and take a trip to the big city For say, you will never in all your sweet, sweet dreams imagine the ways of the big metropolis not only the ways but the tall, tall buildings and the many other things a person in Hutch would well enjoyWe crossed on a ferry to Manhattantook a subway up to 33 rd St. went to 38th and Broadway and got a room.

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And then for the sights. Now I wont endeavor to mention all, for say its greatwe got ourselves together and located supper at what they called the West Side YMCA and by the way, we got introduced to our women conductors by saying its funny to see women driving busses but they were alrightwe got our tickets for the show at the largest theatre in the worldthe Hippodrome. And say, they knocked the puff all out of me the first shot. Ringling Brothers and the rest have nothing on that place. I thought they would never quit coming and they were all goodI had a program but forgot and left it at the Ythey had elephants, camels, dogs, trains, ships and wheat fields represented that were nearly perfecteverything was but the fieldthen to Grants Tomb, City Hallwent there this morning The tall buildings didnt bother me anyin fact I only gazed up once and that was to be sure I was staring at the Woolworth buildingI went up, yes up! 57 stories! Looked out over the old ocean on which I expect to pass in a few dayssaw a huge liner coming in all "camouflaged" and it was quite a sight Governors Island and the Brooklyn Bridgethe Bell telephone Bldgthe Docks and Ferry's. Tugs, ships of all descriptions and the wee, tiny people below some burg, also some building. Now I wont go into any details, but in the 24 hours I was there I believe I might write 24 hours. But I will wait till I return and maybe I will have something of more interest. I must tell you of our evening at the Hippodrome, the title was "Cheer Up" The first scene threw me into a spasm from which I failed to was grandI thought they had opened the doors of heaven, for actors and actresses poured onto the stage (which is larger than the floor space of Convention Hall in Hutch) until a chorus of 500 that made the place ring, elephants, camels, trains, ships and well just ask me the rest laterI will long remember the occasion. Yes I saw the women doing their bit as conductors firemen also selling Liberty Bonds. Got to see and shake hands with dear little Mary Pickford, (also refused to buy a Liberty Bond from her which called for an explanation) Chas Chaplin and Doug Fairbanks gave short talks in Front of the Liberty Bell in Park Place across from City Hall. They are very patriotic and we all wished them success. Walked across the old Brooklyn Bridge which was completed in 1883 and rode backrode the subways, overhead street cars and everything I could, just to be city likeHumand just had a grand time, I may go back Ha! Ha! No I didnt try to go to the Ball Game. There was so much else to see and an old Ball Game I can see later. Not as many soldiers in New York City as in San Antonio but Sailors are thick especially when you get near Brooklyn Bridge as the Navy Yard is on the Brooklyn side.

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I hope you are making it fine for I am doing real well I just got one small promotion. Ha! Ha! Big me, just a first class private but it means $3 a month more though. Well, I must stop and say good bye. All my love to you Your Bill Payday came and went at Camp Merritt and still Bill did not receive his full allotment. When Kathryn agreed to end her marriage she signed off her rights to his paychecks, a fact the government neither fully nor finally acknowledged. But before his departure for France, Bill made another futile attempt to recover his Army pay by writing to his father. Thurs Eve Apr 11- 1918 Dear Father-: I had no money when I wired in fact I borrowed 65 cents to send the message and had intended you to wire the money for as a rule now an outfit only stays 2 or 3 days but we have been here going on two weeks and are quarantined with diphtheria so rather expect to stay a while longer. I have some money The Company Commander is a nice fellow and he allowed me my barber money. $18 so I have that, only I am in debt to the Govt. 6.90 insurance for March and will owe 6.90 for April plus $2.25 laundry for March and only $15 allotment for April so I wont have any April pay will owe the Govt. 5 cents the 1st of May. That is, if they allow the allotment if not the Govt. has $30 of my money I wont have any laundry bill for April as we have to do our own washing here, but I have a barber bill to turn in for April and it will give me a lift so I wont worry for money, I hope

Jonas flew into a rage when he finished reading Bills budget woes. The idea that his son was making such a sacrifice for the country, yet still had to worry about laundry money! His letters prompted Jonas to visit Ramsey's office in Hutchinson to expedite the matter of his sons pay. Ramsey wrote to Bill after meeting with Jonas.

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Mr. W. G. Holmes, Co. C. 9th Field Bat., Camp Merritt, New Jersey. Friend Holmes:

April 25, 1918.

Your father came in to see me and he told me that the Government had made some sort of an allotment of your pay. I wish you would kindly let me know what it is, so that I can take the matter up and see if I can not do something for you. Thanking you, I remain Yours very truly, HR-RZ.

But by the time Jonas visited County Attorney Ramsey's office in Hutchinson, Bill had already set sail. He did not receive Ramsey's letter in New Jersey. It would be more than a month before he would receive his attorneys letter and write to him again.

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Chapter Eleven Embarkation

Saturday evening, April 20, 1918 A dozen men sat on on their bunks contemplating their plans to depart the next morning for the docks in Hoboken. They all smoked hand-rolled cigarettes or pipes; half of them played cards, gambling the last pay they would receive in America. Bill looked over the situation and took a final drag on his cigarette before dropping it to the bare unfinished wood floor. He crushed the glowing stub into the smooth gray wood, leaving a black charcoal line that looked like an angry eyebrow as he pulled his foot to one side. Reaching into his kit box he withdrew what was left of the sheet of postage stamps his mother had sent to him in Leon Springs. He took out several photographs, a pencil, a leaf of the YMCA stationary and an envelope hed carried across country. Folding the pencil into the paper, and then tucking everything into his pants pocket, he headed towards the heavy canvas

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flaps that made a doorway out of the wood-framed tent he occupied with the other men. After three weeks the men could have recited each others first and last names and where they came from. But he might as well have spoken to the cloud of smoke that filled the cupola above the card table when he said Im going over to the mess hall for a little while. No one looked up to acknowledge him and he was gone. Something about protective anonymity kept a certain distance between them. Stepping onto the narrow path in front of the tent, Bill was swept into the helter-skelter movement of men going in every which way. He headed for the enlisted mens mess, Merritt Hall, to get something to eat and a cup of Army coffee. It took him 15 minutes, dodging other pedestrians, motorcycles, ambulances and troop transport vehicles, all of which had queued up for the caravan into Hoboken slated for the next morning. The dining hall, a sprawling, barn-like building put up suddenly on lodge poles and steel beams, beckoned him as though he were a kid with fifty cents in his pocket. He found the souvenir stand adjacent to the front door. Looking into the glass display case, a small lapel pin caught his eye. It bore a single blue star on a white enamel field, framed in red. He traded three postage stamps for the lapel pin and then found the coffee urn inside the hall. He took a fat slab of apple pie and sat at a table where he could drink his coffee, eat, and think about the grand adventure which lay just over the horizon, beginning in only hours. His last letter from Camp Merritt went out on April 21. He signaled his departure by returning the stamps his mother had sent to him: Members of the American Expeditionary Forces could write home free of charge, if not free of censorship. So while he could not write to tell about his pending departure, he could return the stamps and send a letter laced with suggestion about his upcoming mission. He took up his pencil to write.

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Camp Merritt Sat Eve 4/20 Dear Mother and all-: Am sending you the stamps, as I wont need any for a while. I just want to say hello and Goodbye and send you the balance of the photos for they wont help me any over there and we are booked ready for a quiet little leaveOf course if we do sail it will be two or three days before we are out on the deep I will mail a card and as soon as we are located will send you a letter we dont know where we will locate and if we go over we wont be able to say. I expect this to be my last night in Camp Merritt. I take great pleasure in sending you a little message saying farewell, not for keeps but for a few days and maybe weeks. So now you know we are ready for the worst now it might happen that we won't go across but I will take no chances. No I havent weakened at all. I am ready have everything ready but my pack and I have to have my blankets to sleep under tonight. Can roll my pack in five minutes, so havent a worry. I don't know what to write. I can't think of much just now. Had a very nice supper here at Merritt Hall, so feel fine. I have to go and get my cigarettes. So wont tarry long for we have to be close all the time. Now dont stop writing for they will follow. I will give you all a fond goodbye and best wishes and will write when I can and God bless you. Your Son and Bro. William G.

Bill awoke the next morning before the bugle sounded. He made his way to the latrine, found a bowl and drew water for a shave. Just a short distance away he could already hear the drone of machines as they began the work of departure. Reveille sounded as Bill used the wet towel to wipe his face. The noise level in the area increased as if a tightly wound alarm clock had suddenly gone off. The area soon filled with uniformed and partially uniformed men in

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various states of undress. Bill managed his way back to the tent where he dressed and finished packing his kit. Twenty minutes later, Sergeant Hopkins ordered the men into formation and inspected his troops. They stood down until it was time to move out for the transport trucks that would take them on the short trip into town and then to the docks that overlooked the Hudson River to the New York City skyline beyond. As the morning wore on, the congestion of humanity, coupled with the din of voices and machinery, grew louder and louder, until Bill lost himself in the cacophony of sights and sounds, and he became more an observer than a participant, like the black-and-white terns and seagulls floating overhead, in circles, looking for food on the water below. Finally they reached the docks at Hoboken and marched in formation towards the waiting steamships. Officials restricted almost everyone from the pier except the nearly 50,000 men in uniform who waited for orders to board the troop ships that lay in the docks. The few civilians permitted on the dock included women in Red Cross uniforms who offered the embarking troops coffee and donuts for breakfast and ubiquitous missionaries with their tracts and prayers of spiritual support. Bill observed the scene as a soul disembodied from the masses of humanity that filled his range of vision across the half-mile stretch of pier. A dozen ships billowed coal smoke and steam into the sky and filled a half dozen locks that had once hosted the finest cruise ships to ever sail the Atlantic: the American Line steamers, the Anchor Donaldson Line, Canadian Pacific Steamships, Cunard, White Star, and New Holland. The United States government had already pressed all available ships of most domestic carriers into service, stripping them of all amenities. Several ships of non-allied foreign fleets had also been seized and turned over to the Navy for use.

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Ironically, German shipbuilders had christened Bills troop carrier, the Friedrich der Grosse, in 1896. Built in Stettin, she sailed regularly as a luxurious transport and cargo ship until August 1914, when the outbreak of hostilities caused the crew to hold up in safe American waters. On April 6, 1917, U. S. customs agents boarded 30 ships held in New York harbors, including the Friedrich der Grosse. They held the crews on Ellis Island for the duration of the war, but not until after the foreign sailors had systematically destroyed the interiors of the ships in ways they calculated would take the longest amounts of time to repair. The U.S. Navy commissioned the Friedrich der Grosse in July and changed her name to the USS Huron in September, 1917, when the Navy conscripted the foreign fleet to carry U.S. troops across the Atlantic. On April 22, 1918 the Huron carried Bill and members of the 9th Field Battalion, Company C Signal Corps past the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor out into the Atlantic Ocean, bound for France. No one could have imagined the former luxuries of the Friedrich der Grosse when the men boarded the USS Huron. A CPO clad in a double breasted pea coat, wearing a cap with a short, shiny black bill handed Bill and the others a ticket for passage and a warning not to lose it

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as they crossed the gang plank. The ticket directed where they would sleep and eat, and the rules each man had to observe. The soldiers marched on board in continuous lines. The ships sailors wore dark blue bell bottomed pants, matching caps that Bill imagined looked like college-boy beanies, and blouses with flamboyant scarves tied at their breastbones. They conducted the olive drab infantrymen to their compartments and showed them their assigned bunks according to their respectively numbered tickets. To avoid congestion while embarking, the soldiers had orders to immediately climb into their bunks and remain in their compartments until further notice. Company C had the third deck below. Bill passed through the narrow gray passageways to a claustrophobic interior cabin. Across either end of the cabin, he saw droopy hammocks mounted four high, cocoon-like netted frameworks that ran from floor to ceiling. A bank of eight lockers faced the entry door. It had been a chilly 40 degrees outside when the troops boarded the ship, but the air within the cabins in the belly of the ship felt close and stifling. The men waited impatiently for hours before the ship set sail, playing cards, reading or sleeping, filling the cabins and hallways with the smells of perspiration, stale ashtrays and blue cigarette smoke. Finally at 4:30 that afternoon, they were allowed back on deck to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as they sailed out of port. They watched New York Citys skyline recede into the horizon. Soon, the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the arrhythmic rise and fall of the massive steamship brought dozens of the boys to the rails where they hung their heads in disgrace, gagging and hurling with their first experience of seasickness. The seasoned sailors of the U.S. Navy stationed throughout the ship laughed and poked fun at their wretched passengers.

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Life on board mirrored life at Camp Merritt. Early morning reveille preceded calisthenics on deck. Then lines of soldiers waited to get through mess. The days dragged out, punctuated by meals and lines to get to meals. There was no mail and no way to send mail. One could write, but there was little to tell. The passage would take two weeks. They spent most of the hours on deck looking across the expanse of water hoping not to see the telltale periscope of an enemy submarine. The Abandon Ship drill, or Drowning Drill as the men called it, became the highlight of the day. With U Boats operating in American waters, the importance of the abandon ship drill could not be overestimated, so the Navy crewmen staged the first drill as the ship headed into open waters on Saturday afternoon, protected by faster-moving destroyers. At the sound of the great Klaxon horns, the sailors lowered the lifeboats while the troops strapped on life vests and made their way to pre-assigned positions throughout the ship where they would climb down rope ladders to reach boats or other floats that would be waiting for them. To save lives, the Navy knew that the passengers had to get into their lifeboats as quickly as possible and row away from the sinking ship, lest they be sucked down with it. Such was the routine until Thursday evening, five days out. Just after twilight a sudden impact jarred everyone on board and something that sounded like an explosion made the whole ship shudder. Panic seized the passengers. No one on board knew what had happened. Almost immediately the Klaxon horns sounded alarm. Bills heart pounded as he leapt from his bunk and scrambled to find his life vest. The cabin lights flickered and went dark, leaving the troops who had only drilled once, just two nights ago, to abandon ship in the dark, groping their way to the upper decks by dim emergency lights posted in the corners of hallways. Instead of forward

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motion, the ship rose and fell like a teetering drunk, at the command of the waves and the rhythm of the swells. Everyone knew that this was not a drill. Some men left quarters barefoot. Others frantically tried to put on their boots, not bothering to finish lacing them, but tying them in hurried double knots before careening out the doors of their cabin and pounding down hallways and upstairs to their abandon ship posts. When the men reached their assigned lifeboats they saw the lights and the hulking presence of another ship in their convoy, just feet away from the USS Huron. A mistake in the course changing signals among the three ships traveling in the tightest formation resulted in a ship called Siboney leaving her assigned position when her steering gear failed. Then another vessel, the Aeolus, changed course radically to avoid collision with the Siboney. Aeolus rammed the Huron, leaving a large gaping hole amidships and several other smaller ones. The accident precluded them from continuing towards Europe; they circled about and headed back to port in Hoboken. Bill felt like a man whose death sentence had unexpectedly, at the last moment, been reprieved, but without the certainty that it would not be reinstated. He did not sleep well en route back to Hoboken. His diarrhea returned. The trip back to port took nearly a week and the mood on board was tense. As the ship steamed slowly westward to avoid swamping the lower decks, the drowning drills continued, but less frequently. Bill adapted to sea travel like the Midwest flatlander that he was; he often skipped meals and regularly fed the fish much of what he did eat. By the time they reached port, he had lost ten pounds from stress and all his other physical symptoms. Once in port, the troops were ordered to quarters and Bill decided to write another letter home. Hoboken N. J. Sun Eve, Apr 28

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Dear Mother and all Back to the dear old U.S.A. And say, you will never imagine all of my feelings anyway. We had been out on the open seas 5 days and were rammed about 800 miles out, Thursday night about 9 oclock, by our sister ship the Aeolus. We were on the transport Huron. I am giving this to a friend in the Navy for fear we wont get to go on shore. But if we do I will give you a detailed report of our trip. You may talk of treatment of soldiers but I could and would be hung if I spoke my feelings. Everything was very calm the night of the wreck. I was prepared. We have our boat drills twice a day so there wasnt much confusion but I never care to go thru such again. We have just pulled up to the piers at Hoboken and I am on the third deck below on my bunk in what is known as the hog pen. If I ever live to see civilization. Oh well, I have been real seasick but am still ready to do my bit and have been on top and give old glory three lusty cheers. We expect to go right back, so bye bye. Love to all and say, I am still proud even though I did think my time had come. Bill And then he added this postscript on a separate sheet of paper. Just a line for cautionNow, say, there isnt much said of this accident-- so whatever you do be careful for fear I might get in trouble. Dont repeat till you know it is made public. We are going right back again and hope it is tonight Am still O.K. I hope you get this. I will mail you a card to tell of my arrival over there. Bill

Josie held the letter to her breast when she finished reading it. Tears swept down her cheeks as her emotions overflowed. For the next several days she found occasions to read the letter in a hushed voice only to members of the immediate family. Together they looked at each other fearfully as the awesome nature of the events transpiring on the other side of the world became a reality to them. The Huron arrived back in Hoboken on the night of April 28, and the troops finally transferred to another refurbished German ship, the Kroonland, and departed Hoboken at 8:00

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p.m. the next evening. Not without more breakdowns and frights, the Kroonland sailed into the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast of France. The men disembarked at the Port of Saint Nazaire on May 12. They had a few days of rest at a nearby military encampment before loading onto troop trains bound northeast to the front at Armentieres where they trained in earnest for signal work, the mission they had been sent to accomplish. When military officials stateside confirmed the safe arrival of the troop ships at their port in France, they released four postcards from Bill, one addressed to Mr. J.H. Holmes, another to Mrs. J. H. Holmes addressed to Langdon, Kansas, postmarked Hoboken, N.J. Bill used a 2 CENTS 2 U.S. POSTAL CARD that bore the engraved image of Thomas Jefferson printed in red ink. On the opposite side, this message to his father back home: Arrived-All O. K. W. G. Holmes

The American Red Cross printed Vestas and his mothers cards. They carried the label SOLDIERS MAIL. NO POSTAGE NECESSARY in the upper corners on the front of the card. The one addressed to Miss Vesta Holmes, 608-B East, Hutchinson, Kan., bore a postmark, May 17, 1918. The Red Cross printed the simple statement on both cards: I HAVE ARRIVED SAFELY OVERSEAS, with a dotted line where Bill signed his name. In the lower left hand corner Red Cross gave the boys this simple instruction: This card will be held until safe arrival of the boat on which I sailed. The fourth card went to Rosa Kelley and bore the following inscription on the back side. Till we meet again whether here or way up yonderall my loveWGH

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Chapter Twelve Preparing to Wait

Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parlez-vous! Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parlez-vous! Mademoiselle from Armentieres, She hasn't been fucked for forty years, Hinky-dinky parlez-vous.
World War I Army Marching Song

When Bill and the men on the Kroonland finally arrived on the 7th of April, the Germans had raised the mark barely two months before by using mustard gas against the British forces and the French villages the Brits had sought to protect. The spring weather had stayed hot, misty and sticky, ideal for the use of the dreaded gas. The fighting had worn on for days under the constant

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bombardment of the German artillery. Masses of discouraged and exhausted men huddled on the front lines. Death came and went with impunity, while the moon rose, blood red and menacing, off the battlefields. On the 9th of April, nine German divisions attacked and easily overpowered four small Portuguese brigades into retreat, leaving a single, badly outnumbered British battalion to face the Germans. The Bosche penetrated the British front by the end of the day and would have made their way into Armentieres, but despite heavy losses, the remaining French and British soldiers held the Germans off, even without adequate food and vital supplies. Two weeks later the Germans renewed their offensive, but by then the front was ravaged with craters and deep mud. The Germans lacked the resolve to persevere. They lost nearly 57,000 dead and over 181,000 wounded in the next two great sieges. The Allies posted more than 21,000 deaths initially, and another 250,000 to injuries, but of 330,000 Allied soldiers initially believed missing, 290,000 ultimately proved lost. The Germans won the body count, but their reserves were tapped. And the Yanks were coming. So into this milieu came the American Expeditionary Forces. But by the end of May, when the 11th Infantry of the American Expeditionary Forces arrived at Armentieres, the nearest battlefields had not seen action for over a month. The 11th Infantry did not see much fighting from their arrival in May through the end of July. Bill spent the weeks leading up to his 29th birthday on July 16 engaged in correspondence with his parents and his lawyer about the disposition of his military pay while working as a telephone operator, or Hello Girl, and as a barber at base camp.

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Back in Kansas, Kitty did not pursue her divorce. In spite of her agreement to forgo support, half of Bills allotment of $30 per month went to her and Baby Maxine, in Turon where they lived with the Hollands.

July 19, 1918 Dear Mother and all I will again drop you a few lines for I recd a couple of your letters today and am feeling somewhat better. You spoke of news, yes, anything you write will sure be news and say dont be afraid to send plenty of news of home for since I have been here they have all forgot and as it takes a month to get a letter across. I have written to nearly all. Also I have written many to you folks and a good number to Vesta. I have been careful in my writing trying not to say what I shouldnt. Yes I had a birthday and say, it was a fine one. We were moving. I sure enjoyed it, for it was a change. We got to ride in trucks and to make it seem nice, we had hiked about 20 kilometers the day before in full pack. So it was appreciated very much. We are in a very nice part of the country and have received a nice billet but it is very warm. It kindo reminds me of the old hot Kansas sun. Only need one blanket to sleep out under here. I am still at the same old trade playing hello girl. Like it fine and when I get back to the states I think I shall apply to Bell Telephone for a job. You spoke of being sick or getting sick and using pink pills. Well that is a byword in this army, pills. Oh no, I am well thank you and hope to continue to be. You talk of understanding the French and getting along. I have not had a bit of trouble yet and dont expect to for they are not so bad. Even if they are funny to us, I can talk some and understand a great deal more, so it isnt so bad. I have to go--tell all hello and that I am enjoying myself. Hope you get this. With love to all I am your Son and Bro Bill

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Turon, Kansas. Tuesday, July 23, 1918 Kitty put Maxine down for her morning nap at 10:30 and told her mother she was leaving the house to get some air. She walked the short distance to the post office. The air hung heavy with humidity and it was already dreadfully hot with no break in the weather expected in the foreseeable future. Without rain the humidity would thankfully diminish and the ever-present wind that flew across the Midwest prairie would make the weather barely tolerable. The grass had already gone from spring green to mid-summer brown. But more than the weather had Kitty out of sorts this morning. Life had become tedious. She had endured a heat rash for days. And then, some itches she could not scratch: She did not like being somebodys mother. She did not like being somebodys daughter. She wasnt anybodys wife or girlfriend, and she was a pariah to all the fellows in town because she was officially Kathryn Holmes, Mrs. Bill Holmes. Married woman, married to a soldier at that. Mother. That girl. Turon was purgatory. Behind her back, she knew that the good parents of Turon pinched their childrens arms when they passed her on the street, whispering, Thats what happens when The postal clerk handed her a single letter in a legal sized envelope imprinted with the name of Herbert E. Ramsey, Attorney-at-Law. She remembered the name, but she had not had further dealings with him since the meetings she and Bill had had with him last year. Her stomach tightened as she slid her thumb under the sealed flap. She opened the envelope and withdrew the contents. A terse letter, with no explanations.


July 22, 1918

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Mrs. Wm. G. Holmes Turon, Kansas. Dear Madam: You will kindly call at this office as soon as possible, as I wish to talk with you concerning a letter that I have just received from the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. Thanking you, I remain Yours very truly,


On the following day, Kitty and her parents loaded themselves and Maxine into J.M.s new Oldsmobile and made the trip to Hutchinson to call on Mr. Ramsey at his office. They arrived at the Reno County Courthouse on Wednesday morning, a little after 10:00 oclock. The drive from Turon had taken almost two hours. High in the sky, the sun beat down on them without mercy when they finally made their way up the broad steps to the main entrance on the second floor. Kittys heels clicked in a quick staccato rhythm as she walked across the shiny oak floors leading to Ramseys office. Mrs. Holland carried Maxine, whose eyes were wide with curiosity, as they paused in front of the door labeled:
Herbert E. Ramsey Attorney-at-Law Government Appeals

Kitty pushed the door open and strode in, leaving her father to catch it for her mother. A woman looked up from her desk in the anteroom as the family entered. Kitty remembered her stiff, matronly demeanor her last visit. The placard on her desk announced RUTH ZINK. Kathryn addressed the woman abruptly, displaying Ramseys letter, which she took from her bag.

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I am Kathryn Holmes. I have this letter from Mr. Ramsey asking me to see him about some business concerning, she looked at the letter, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance. Miss Zink looked the group over. Kathryn thought she looked a little too holier than thou. Two other parties sat in the waiting room, leaving too few chairs for the Hollands. I will tell Mr. Ramsey that you are here, but there may be a bit of a wait. Would you like to come back this afternoon? Her voice sounded shrill and had a certain vibrato when she asked questions or paused. Probably a bad soprano in the Methodist choir, Kitty imagined. No, thank you, we will need to return to Turon this afternoon. Well be pleased to wait, she said. Well, then, let me see if we can fit you in this morning. The secretary rose from her desk and slipped discreetly behind the door adjacent to her desk. RZ, Kitty mused, remembering the signature on the letter. Mr. Holland caught a glimpse of Herb Ramsey at his desk. The door closed, but moments later Miss Zink reappeared. If you dont mind waiting Kathryn looked around the room and saw only two open chairs, neither next to the other. She motioned to her mother to sit and took the other chair for herself. Mr. Holland leaned against the wall in front of Miss Zinks desk and crossed his arms above his belly. Only the audible ticking of a large clock on the wall behind Miss Zinks desk disturbed the silence in the anteroom. Tiny particles of dust floated silently in the window light which cast a shadow that moved almost imperceptibly across the floor. After five minutes, the office door opened and someone Kitty had never seen before came out making his good-byes to Ramsey, who motioned for the couple seated along the wall adjacent to enter his office. As they passed through his door, Ramsey acknowledged Kitty with a direct look and nodded his head, and then

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turned to her father and said, Mr. Holland, Good morning. I hope you dont mind waiting too much. At last Mr. Holland sat. Maxine had drifted off to sleep and Mrs. Hollands head occasionally seemed to bump off her chest as she tried to keep from nodding off herself. The

postman entered the office and handed mail to Miss Zink. When the last client entered Ramseys office, they heard the clock chime 10:45. No one else entered the waiting room. Finally, after the clock struck 11:15, the door to Ramseys office opened again and Ramsey invited the Hollands and Kitty into his office. Thank you all for coming in on such short notice, he said as they sat down. I have received several calls from Mr. Jonas Holmes of Langdon and letters addressed to him and to me concerning the standing of your husbands Army pay while he serves in France. Kitty winced at the use of the word husband. At their insistence, I have been in touch with the Department of Treasury because, Mrs. Holmes, we have not succeeded in stopping the allotment, which you have received despite the agreements to the contrary that we drew up in January. Am I correct to understand that you have been receiving half of Bills pay? Yes, sir. I have, but its not very much and Ive saved most of it for Maxine. Very well, then let me share this recent correspondence from Washington. He took a letter from the file on his desk and read it out loud to Kitty and her parents.

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By now Maxine, fully awake and squirming, wanted to be released from her grandmothers arms. Kitty shifted uncomfortably, recognizing that she did not demonstrate maternal capacity, but she was even less comfortable with any idea of doing so. Mrs. Holland rose. Im going to take Maxine down the hall to see if we can find something for her to do. With that she left. Kitty sighed, relieved, and turned back to Mr. Ramsey. What do you want me to do? she asked. Well need to respond with statements that release the government of responsibility for yours and your childs welfare. Are you willing to do so? I dont want nothing that isnt mine, Kathryn said, thinking ruefully of the regular checks she had received, and cashed, from the United States government. As far as Im concerned, Bill Holmes ceased existing last year. Ill sign whatever you want. Her tone was bitter, curt. Her father shifted uneasily, but said nothing. Mr. Holland, Ramsey said, Do you understand what your daughter is saying regarding her husbands Army Pay? I do, sir, Holland replied. Bill Holmes has been nothing but a scalawag where Kathryn is concerned. He married her and gave the child his name, but he has failed in being either a father or a husband to them. We have had no further doings with the family, and the sooner we can get that man out of our hair, the better for all concerned. Then will you sign an affidavit of support for both your daughter and your grandchild? I will, sir. Very well. Then I shall draft statements for you to sign and have them ready for you by, shall we say 2:00 oclock this afternoon.

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That will be fine with us. Ill ask Mrs. Holland to sign something as well. Whatever you require. So they left and returned at 2:00 p.m. as scheduled. There was no one else waiting for Ramsey when they returned. Miss Zink ushered them straight into his office and heard Ramsey open the conversation by inquiring about their lunch, a matter that annoyed his secretary as she left the room. She had worked through hers to have the documents ready for signature. But quickly he turned to matters of the business at hand. Now, Mrs. Holmes. Lets start with you. I have here an affidavit in which you will release all claim to your husbands military pay so that he can receive the entire benefit himself. You will state that your parents are providing for you pursuant to the agreement we worked out and that you signed last January. Here is your affidavit. If you agree, please sign it as indicated towards the bottom of the agreement. Ramsey handed the document typed on his own stationary to Kitty, who looked it over for a moment before signing. Ramsey stepped to the door and asked his secretary to return and witness signatures. Mrs. Holmes, I must ask you to raise your right hand and swear that the statement you are about to sign in the presence of these witnesses is true, accurate and correct, and that you are under no coercion nor compulsion to sign your name. Is that your sworn statement? Yes, sir, it is, Kitty replied. And again, she signed away her rights to Bills military allotment. Ramsey continued to officiate.

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Mr. and Mrs. Holland, you will recall that the Department asks me to confirm that you agree to the continued support of your daughter and your granddaughter. This being the case, then I ask you also to raise your right hands and so swear. J.M. and OPhelia Holland obeyed. I do, they swore together and signed the official document to this effect.
Allotment No. 2, 273, 267 Treasury Department, Bureau of War Risk Insurance, Legal Division, Exemption Section Washington, D. C.


Personally appeared before me, the undersigned authority, J. M. Holland, who being first duly sworn, upon her oath, deposes and says: My name is J. M. Holland; and that I am the father of Kathryn Holmes, the wife of Pvt. William Green Holmes, Co. C. 9th Fld Bn S C. Camp Samuel F. B. Morse, Texas; that at the present time, I am supporting my daughter and her minor child; and that I am perfectly willing and able to do so. Further deponent saith not. ______________________ I am the mother of Kathryn Holmes; and I have read the above and foregoing statement, together with the affidavit which my daughter has made; and I know that all the facts therein are true. ______________________

After Miss Zink notarized the documents, Ramsey stood and wished the family well. When they left the office, he asked his secretary to take a cover memo, which accompanied the two affidavits when the documents went out the next day. She sat in front of his desk; Ramsey dictated.

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To Bureau of War Risk Insurance, et cetera, concerning allotment number so-and-so, for Pvt. Holmes as previously referenced, etc. One: You will kindly enclosed find statements of J. M. Holland and Mrs. J. M. Holland, father and mother of Kathryn Holmes, wife of Pvt. William Green Holmes, Company C, et cetera, also a statement of Kathryn Holmes. Two: You will also kindly enclosed find copy of their agreement, signed on the 23rd day of January, 1918, prior to Holmes enlistment in the Army. I am the one who drew the agreement for them, and so personally know about the same. Three: Mrs. Holmes does not have a divorce case pending at this time for the reason that she did not have grounds for a divorce. Holmes wished to enlist in the army, and did not want to stay here until after his divorce case could be tried. There, Miss Zink. See to it that we get this out before the end of the week. No one ever asked Kitty to return the money she had already received, and she never did.

In France, the Army engaged in constant maneuvers, and Bill moved with it, but the Signal Corps saw little action; instead they used the summer months to train as General Pershing prepared for a massive affront that would not come until September. Germany challenged aggressively across the Aisne and the Vesle Rivers at the end of May, but the Allies held Chateau-Thierry in June. Hard fought battles raged at the village of Vaux and the Belleau Wood, which the U.S. 2nd Division recaptured by the end of the month.

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So Bill marched with the soldiers. Occasionally they rode in military transport trucks, an invention of war in the New Century. The summer was wet and even on the good days the
Marching in France, 1918

air was heavymore humid than

even the hot Kansas plains he had grown up in. Bill felt frustrated that he had come to this war to fight, and yet he saw no fighting. He felt relieved, but then he felt like a coward to feel relief. He wondered what he would do when he finally did see the bombs bursting around him, and if he would live to tell the tale. In one village Bill saw French children wearing white smocks lined up outside their village school to witness the passage of the American Troops. They waved small American flags in their hands as the men passed. Bill smiled and swelled with pride as they cheered him. Then he happened to notice that the flags were made out of paper with colors applied with crayons. In another village he saw a church that at first seemed intact, but then his eyes widened when he realized that the bell tower had been blown off as if by a Kansas tornado. The churchyard lay in ruins, its ancient trees stripped of foliage, the tombstones nearly buried in debris. A pair of ancient wrought iron gates remained, each standing only to hold up the other. In another bombed out village, street urchins sold fancy vases made of shell casings collected from the battlefields. Only foundations filled with rubble remained where rows of houses once stood. Wherever Bill looked, he saw craters in the ground, some filled with water, others still smelling of exploded gun powder.

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The troops made camp for a day or two at each stop and then moved on. At one such encampment Bill saw a French pissoire, for the first time, a novel invention that had never been tried in Kansas. Someone went to the trouble to build a three-sided fence and placed it up against the bushes at the rear of their encampment. A pallet frame with 1x4 pine lumber formed the floor of the unit. One stepped up into the unit, made water and left. The piss was gonna run into the bushes anyway, so why couldnt you just go stand at the edge of the hedge? Bill mused to a buddy. Seems like an awful lot of going to trouble in the middle of a war! The French thought it civilized.
The French pissoire

Mail call was the highlight at every encampment. The troops gathered around the mail clerks tent and waited to hear their names. Those whose names were not called were inevitably
Mail Call

discouraged. Bill and most all the others

often were. They turned when the last name was called out and walked away, shoulders bent, their gait slowed, unlike those who hurried back to their tents in anticipation of reading a letter from home. News from home came in gobs and clumps without any regularity. When Bill received a letter from home, the first chance he got, he answered it,

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as if answering letters somehow guaranteed a response, another letter from home on some future mail call.

July 28, 1918 Dear Mother and all Here goes another few lines as this is a gloomy, rainy old day. And Sunday besides, and no chance to go anywhere. It has rained the last two or three days and everything is most near wet and I have been sick, but think I have at last reached the turning point as I feel much better this morn. Gee I sure dreamed of what I would have for dinner today if I could catch the jitney out for that Sunday feed. I have never yet recd a Hutch paper and if you havent already I wish you would remind them of the fact as they would be of great value over here. I got hold of some Cincinnati papers and even read the ads. It was sure fine. With lots of love and best regards to all I am as ever your son and Bro Bill

Josie read his letter aloud to everyone at the dining room table where the family had gathered for Sunday dinner on August 25. It took nearly a month for mail to cross the Atlantic in either direction; Bills letter had just come in the post the day before. Jonas brought it home special from the post office before he left for the fields; she read it aloud as he listened. She read it again and again throughout the day and kept it in the pocket of her apron in case a chance for an encore presented itself. She worried that Bill had been sick in the rainy French weather and wondered how he was doing by now. Or

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ifshe dared hardly even think ithe had been injured, or God forbid, worse. He never left her mind. Sometimes Vesta noticed her standing at the kitchen sink, her hands motionless in the dishwater, staring out the window as if in a trance. Vesta wondered how many other mothers like her felt themselves paralyzed by wonder and fear. Most Sundays, Vesta came home for church from Hutchinson. This week she sat on one side of the table with Speck and Badger while Delphos and Mary Alice sat on the other side with Baby Doris in a high chair between them. Josie built the drama by waiting until dessert to share the letter, but it was at hand when the time came. She looked at Vesta when she opened Bills letter to read it. In spite of being a pretty girl, Vesta was still single and had no prospects of marriage at 20. But Josie was proud of her career girl and not impatient for her to find a man. Maybe after this war ended, Josie thought, one of the returning veterans would ask her to marry him. A good Christian boy. We must ship Bill some necessaries, Josie began, as she finished the letter and set it on the table beside her plate. Jonas, dont you have some of that old letter carrier stationary that we can send over there? And what about newspapers? Vesta, can you go by the News Herald and pick up a good supply of recent editions? Father and daughter accepted their tasks without questions. Delphos brooded. He secretly resented all the attention his older war hero brother received and sat silently throughout these brother Bill sessions. Mary Alice thought sometimes he had a chip on his shoulder, but kept her tongue about that. Baby Doris gurgled.

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On the other side of the world that day, while his family enjoyed Sunday dinner together, Bill tossed his kit bag into a tent that would be his for the next four days in Archettes, a tiny village set in a broad and lush mountain valley once supported by dairy farms. He heard the men say that they were 60 kilometers from the Rhine River and thus Germany, barely 40 miles! Archettes lay near the headwaters of the Moselle River in France, separated from Germany more by the mountains that lay to the east than the Rhine, which he could only imagine. He thought it would have been a spectacular place, but for the presence of soldiers and drab green trucks and ambulances. The ever-present haze and the occasional smell of cordite from explosives burning in the distance reminded him of what brought them there from another place that had green prairies, tall trees, dairies and morning haze after an overnight rainfall. He plopped onto his cot and pulled out the small booklet he had kept with him since someone among a group of missionaries thrust it and others like it at the boys when they arrived at the docks in Hoboken. Barely 3 by 5 inches with the words A SOLDIERS CATECHISM printed on a khaki brown cloth cover. He opened the back cover and wrote, Left Camp Nice Aug 23 arrived Archettes Aug 25. It was almost time for mess call. He was hungry after a two-day march from the tent city the soldiers dubbed Camp Nice. But he turned to the front cover and replayed the Great Adventure as he read the history of his year: Left Hutchinson Kan Jan. 23260 mi to (arr.) Ft. Leavenworth Kan Jan 24 Left Leavenworth Kan Jan 30 1100 mi to (arrive) Leon Sprgs: Feb.2 Left Leon Sprgs Mar 27 2100 mi arrived Camp Merritt Apr. 2. Left Camp Merritt Apr. 22. 3300 miles sailed Apr 23 landed Apr 28

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sailed Apr 30 Arrived St. Nazaire May 13. Left St. Nazaire May 19. Arrived Armentieres, May 21. Left Armentieres June 2. Arrived June 3 at Barbey SerouxLeft Barbey Seroux June 14 Arrived Anould June 14 Left Anould June 15 Arrived Plainfaing June 15 Left Plainfaing June 18 Arrived Camp Valentin June 18 Left Camp Valentin June 28 Arrived Le Collet June 29 And turning again to the back cover, he read, Left Le Collet June 30 Arrived Camp Nicholas July 1 Left Camp Nicholas July 15 Arrived Le Collet July 15Left Le Collet July 16 Arrived Le Vaivre July 16 Left Le Vaivre July 17 Arrived Camp Nice July 17. Left Camp Nice August 23. Arrived Archettes Aug 25 With every move Bill worried more about the battles he would face. The men spoke about them in little more than whispers, but the battles would inevitably come. A few men had joined the Company with more experience on the battlefield. One man in particular seemed distracted most of the time, as if he had lost his ability to concentrate. Occasionally he jumped for no reason, as if he had heard something unseen. Before Bill folded the Catechism to go to the mess tent, he read the scripture verses again on the last page of the booklet. Always Victorious! Winning or losing, living or dying, what will the Christian soldier receive who remains faithful to Christ? He shall receive the crown of life. Rev. 2:10. Why can a Christian soldier remain cheerful to the end? Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. I Pet. 1:3-5.

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Because this last page faced his hand-written travelogue, Bill had read these verses often in the past weeks. He observed scornfully that neither Peter nor John the Revelator could have, in their wildest imagination, envisioned mustard gas and the trenches of France in 1918. He wondered if the publisher had also printed a German language edition and if any of the Lutherans on the other side of the trenches had read First Peter this evening.

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Chapter Thirteen Marching as to War

Josie ran the weathered newspaper clipping between her thumb and forefingers and felt the dry texture again before rereading the report.

A casualty list issued in Washington on July 20 contains 101 names. Killed in action, 21; died of wounds, 12; Died of disease, 8; severely wounded, 59; Missing, 1. Army: Killed in Action SERGEANT. Ralph Barker, Mount Vernon, Ind. PRIVATES Louis U. Chartier, 255 Massaesic Street Manchester, N.H. Albert E. Dralle, Seward, Kan. William Duffy, Minersville, Pa. Erwin Martinson, Anchor, Ill.

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Bill had clipped the report and wrote a note that he enclosed with the clipping, I am sending you a clipping of this paper edited in Paris with a list of casualties. The one from Seward Kansas, I went to his funeral. He belonged to the bunch from Kansas that I met. He was killed the same time Paul Alexander of Nickerson was wounded. If you think of it, Pete Henry might know him, I didnt however, but he was from near home.

Sitting in the rocking chair in the front room, Josie folded the clipping back into the letter it had come from and rocked fretfully. Al Dralle had gone to school with Fay in Nickerson. Hed even come home once or twice with Fay over weekends. He was a fine young man, Josie remembered. Fay will be so disappointed to hear the news. As she pondered the course of the War in France, she reached down into the sewing bag that she kept beside her favorite chair and found the letter that had come from Bill last week. She wanted to read it again and believe that he was still well. Somewhere in France July 31 18 Dear Mother and all Well just such a lovely evening and have just had a great feed and feeling fine once more. Just sat down for a smoke and picked up my pen and am sitting here looking at my little parlor at the pretty greens and the little stream running along in front, the paved highway for my sidewalk, the red orange sun growing old in the west, a sly airplane now and then purring along and I am just wondering, well yes, and thinking of home and of you all. Oh yes, I do that quite often, but say, this is sure a fine sight and beautiful. The harvest is about over, wild raspberries are ripe and grow all over the hillsides. And gardens! You might call it a garden spot for they utilize every inch of ground it seems, if it isnt shot up too much. Oh I might go on until this would be all cut up by the censor. I will try and get it all to you. So dont kick if it is short for it is better than not, if you get it. I recd a letter from you a few days ago of July 2nd and it was good-- also one from Ramsey. He is doing what he can, I guess.

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Say a little thing happened on the boat coming over which I never have told you. I met a Wm. G. Holmes from Missouri in the Infantry. He heard my name and called and showed me his tag which we all have and it caused a little friendship. So now if you read of a Wm. G. Holmes in the list of casualties, be sure its a Signal Corps man before you put up any crepe. Am still missing that old hot Kansas sun, although it is warmer here than our last two stops. I will ring off and drop you a few lines occasionally. Dont you stop, write good long letters and tell Fay he had better give me a few details of the games. Also Speck and Blubber a record of the young jacks that Skip and themselves have caught. With love and best wishes to all I am as ever Your Son and Bro Bill

July 31, 1918 Camp Nice, Somewhere in France After he finished writing the letter to his family, Bill put down his pen and scooped up a mouthful of wild raspberries. They were so sweet he wanted to send them back to Kansas with his letter. Of all his memories of France, he reckoned that the raspberries and Meurthe et Moselle might always be the sweetest. For compared to the previous encampments the Signal Corps had in France, Meurthe et Moselle felt more like a resort. Here, instead of sleeping rolls and tents, the command billeted the men in the private homes and inns in the little village, most of which were empty except for the soldiers. Many of the full-time residents had evacuated or abandoned their homes to flee south, away from the front. Bills accommodations, an alpine lodge with large crossbeam timbers in the great room, included meals made from fresh food, a clean bed, and access to the rest of the home. He enjoyed the company of his best buddies in the Corps. The lodge had its own wine cellar and the men were

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amazed and gratified to discover it was not yet depleted, though it might be if their unit stayed very much longer. So it happened that this evening Bill sat in a wicker lawn chair at a round table beneath the tallest pine tree he could ever remember seeing. As he put his letter home in the envelope and addressed it, his friend, Rowland, a good ole boy out of Odessa, Texas, pulled up a chair beside him and took out a pouch of tobacco to roll a cigarette. Bill invited himself to have a bowlful of Rowlands tobacco and tamped it into his pipe with his index finger. What are you planning this fine evening, my good man? Rowland asked. Bill drew on his little briar pipe and shook his head. Nothing so far. You? Well, since were free to stroll this alpine wonderland, I thought you might want to visit some of the locals I heard about. A new friend? You dont even speak the language. Whos this? Oh I speak enough to get by. Some phrases are more important than others. For example. Parlez-vous anglais? Encore de la bire, sil vous plais! Quelles belles msanges vous avez! Veux-tu me baiser ce soir? His French had a dreadful southern twang. Lets you and me go have us a cultural experience tonight, Rowland said, giving Bill a nudge as he winked. He slid a small piece of paper that had been carefully torn out of the corner of a piece of French stationery. On it, someone had written in pencil:

Madame Chrtien
9 Rue en Grand Puits Mont sur Meurthe (Meurthe et Moselle)

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Whats this about? Bill asked, grinning, suspecting he would like the answer. Dont you worry about that now, son. Just get off your arse, grab your wallet and come on. The two soldiers set out as dusk fell over the village. They had no difficulty finding the residence, but when they knocked on the door, no one answered immediately. Finally, a peep-hole moved on the door and from inside the boys heard a husky female baritone say, Qui est l? Signal Corps! Mademoiselle, Ouvrez, si vous plais! Bill thought Rowland sounded like a bumpkin, but at this point he had signed on for the run of the show. The door opened a few inches and a Teutonic-looking woman with unnaturally blonde hair looked them over. Her particularly generous cleavage erupted at the top of a slightly threadbare, black floor-length gown (a dressing gown?) caught tightly at the waist with a sinister-looking silk rope. Looking for a leetle party? the woman suggested, rolling the r in party with a very thick French accent. You bet! Rowland answered, pushing the door in too eagerly. Are you Madame Chretien? Entrz, mes amis, the hostess replied, stepping aside to reveal a dimly lit parlor with several overstuffed pieces of furniture. Je mppelle Madame Chrtien. Well, mon nom is Rowland and this heres my friend, Bill. Were looking for someone to spend some time with tonight.

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For just a moment, Bill marveled at his situation. Was he really in a French whorehouse? He could not take the shit-eatin grin off his face. Dumbstruck, he followed Rowland into the parlor and stood awkwardly near his side, still speechless. You will have some wine, yes? Mme. Chrtien offered. That would be mighty nice of you, merci beaucoup! Mme. Chrtien smiled and turned, rolling her eyes. She brought the boys glasses of wine that Bill thought tasted like vinegar. He wondered how long it had been since grapes had been harvested in France and how any wine at all had survived after so many years of war. Mme. Chrtien proved quite adept at explaining the terms of engagement in English for Bill and Rowland. Before their wine glasses were half empty, each had parted with a silver dollar for the evenings entertainment. With that, Mme. Chrtien summoned four young women from a room Bill guessed to be the dining room, though it was separated from them by a heavy velvet drape that Mme. Chrtien held open for them. The women appeared in filmy negligees and brightly colored foundation garments visible beneath. Two of the girls might have been sisters, with thick black hair and heavy eyebrows. Bill wondered if they were gypsies. One of the girls had fine blonde hair but was thin with tiny breasts and dark circles under her eyes. The last girl looked much healthier. She was almost as tall as the men. She had red hair caught up in a twist at the back of her neck. Bill shuddered as he saw Rosas eyes in her face. Her complexion was smooth, like fresh cream with a hint of rose water. Rowland said, How much for these two? indicating the girls Bill supposed might be gypsies.

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Mme. Chrtien said something to the girls, Vous voulez baiser ce mec-l avec le petit queue? The girls giggled and covered their mouths so that Bill and Rowland could not see their teeth. Rowland gave Mme. Chrtien another dollar and stepped forward to claim his prizes. The girls caught his arms on either side and led him to a door and a staircase beyond it. Quel est votre nom? Bill asked the redhead. milie she answered, coyly. Je suis vous le soir? clumsily putting together his request from his phrase book. Oui, milie answered and stepped towards him, reaching for his hand which she took and led him also up the stairs. Mme. Chrtien smiled and tucked the coins inside her brassiere. C'est la vie, she thought. Once upstairs, milie led Bill into a bedroom at the end of a dark hallway. She closed the door behind them and unbuttoned the jacket of his uniform. The room glowed in a flickering amber light, owing to oil lamps on either side. She slid the jacket over his shoulders and it fell with a thud as she kissed his neck and chest. Bill felt movement in his pants as his member engorged. milie unbuckled his belt and opened his woolen trousers. The buckle fell with a metallic thump on the bare wood floor. Naked except for his underwear, he felt awkward with his knee high boots continuing to hold the bottoms of his pants in place; he could not very well move. milie peeled back his union suit until it, too, wrapped around his ankles, further hobbling him.

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Bill imagined he was quite a sight, as he stood there naked from the knees up while the girls mouth covered his body. milie removed her negligee and let it waft to the floor. The undergarment she wore beneath her corset barely covered her breasts. Bill could see that she wore nothing below the waist except silk stockings, rolled to the knee and a pair of old, scuffed shoes with high heels rounded from wear. She guided him backwards towards the bed and laid him down. By now he was fully erect and and he reached out to kiss her. Non, she said, turning away. Instead of allowing Bill to kiss her she undid his boots. She pulled first one and then the other off and then his pants and the union suit he wore below his uniform. This left Bill naked but for his socks, which she ignored as she climbed atop him in bed. Bill smelled her body odor covered by French perfume and the pungent fragrance of her femininity. As he pushed himself further onto the bed, milie straddled his waist and lowered herself onto him. He was instantly lost in her as his consciousness floated away. milie let down her long red hair and used it like a feather duster across his skin, now electric with sensitivity. It had been a long time. He remembered his last night with Rosa after dinner at Uncle Shermans, the night before he boarded the train to Ft. Leavenworth. That cold January night he had shivered in the icy chill of Rosas room in the little house on Washington Street, so many nights ago, so far away. He felt all goose flesh again tonight in the stale darkness of Mme. Chrtiens guest room while milie rhythmically pumped atop him. He wondered if he would ever be with a woman again after this. Or see Rosa. He wanted it to last, but his excitement and pleasure were too great and he felt himself approaching orgasm. milie moaned softly as she rocked atop his body. Bill let

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out a little cry as he came into her and then he suddenly sobbed into her shoulders, crying out of control. This unexpected and unbridled emotion startled milie but she folded his head into her arms and held him, rocking him gently. She kissed him on his ears, his cheek, everywhere but his lips and held him tighter and tighter. His emotions gradually came under control. The two of them rolled over onto their sides together, still one flesh and held onto each other. The room became perfectly quiet now, soft in its warmth, surrounding them. But in the distance Bill heard the explosions of artillery somewhere in the darkness outside their sanctuary. They clung more tightly to one another. Neither spoke. Both seemed to sense the great danger of the world in which they lived. Both seemed to know that these few moments of tenderness might be the last they would ever experience.

When he returned to his quarters, Bill pulled off his boots and draped the pieces of his uniform over the end of the bed where he could put his feet under them. He reached into his kit and found the black and white photograph he had received at mail call a few weeks before. It was a photograph of Rosa Kelley standing in someones back yard, shrubbery immediately behind her and a good-sized elm tree in the background. She wore a light-colored summer dress, caught and gathered below her breasts; long beads of a darker color hung round her neck. Her red hair shone dark in the full sun of

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the picture, cut shorter now than he remembered. She looked straight into the camera and smiled thinly, holding up her left hand, as if waving to him. He stared at her picture for a few minutes and then turned it over and read her note again. June 27, 1918 3:30 P.M. If you get this let me know and I will send another in the next letter. Should you answer and want me to keep still about hearing from you, I certainly will. She left her picture unsigned. Bill did not care who knew that she was writing to him. She could tell the world. He put the picture back into his kit and lay down to try to get some sleep before dawn.

The Signal Corps held up in Meurthe et Moselle for six more days before heading out again. The battle that the men had whispered about for so many weeks would unfold in a small village just a few kilometers away in less than two weeks. It would be the beginning of the end of the Great Adventure: the final destruction in the Great War.

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Chapter Fourteen Forward into Battle

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went, And took the fire with him, and a knife. And as they sojourned both of them together, Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father, Behold the preparations, fire and iron, But where the lamb for this burnt-offering? Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, And builded parapets and trenches there, And stretched for the knife to slay his son. When lo! an angel called him out of heavn, Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, Neither do anything to him. Behold, A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns; Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him. But the old man would not so, but slew his son, -And half the seed of Europe, one by one. Wilfred Owen The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

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By the time twenty-five-year-old Wilfred Owen died from enemy machine gun fire on November 4th, 1918, he was just one of 8.5 million casualties in a war that had raged on for so long that even the winners would be losers, except for the AEF. For the American forces arrived in time for mop up. But their glory would come with a very high price. On September 12, Bill entered the fray with the allies to rout the Germans from France at St. Mihiel. The Germans expected the attack. They planned to smash the American forces at a place called Woevre Plain. Too late, they learned that allied forces had amassed on both the German flanks; the Germans retreat amounted to a shooting gallery for the allied forces, led by the American General Black Jack Pershing, who watched the progress perched on a height at the old Fort Gironville.

St. Mihiel, France. September 12, 1918. 5:03 a.m. The air was foggy and drizzly, foul with smoke and the faint coppery smell of blood. Bill awoke to the grey light and the sounds of movement in the camp, barely 60 kilometers south of the border with Luxembourg. He remembered that he had not slept well during the night, but figured he must have dozed from the stiffness he felt in his muscles and joints. He arose and rolled up his kit before heading to a makeshift latrine. No pissoires here, he thought. The Sergeant barked orders at the men as the troops headed out. Allied artillery had bombed German positions all night. Bill heard the rustling of rucksacks the men carried on their backs, and the sucking sounds made by the heels of their high-topped

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boots as they marched through slippery mud. Few words went between the men who tromped out in uneasy anticipation. Bill felt his stomach churn and moisture formed on his brow and cheeks and nose as he looked out upon the grisly horizon that lay ahead. Within the hour, Bill and the other men in the outfit crawled on their bellies, like crabs, sidling across the cold ground of no-mans-land that surrounded them. When they reached the first trench, panting, they jumped into it, relieved to be alive, and waited for someone to give more orders. They had not yet fired a shot. Distant explosions, occurring at random, punctuated the eerie quiet in the trench. The men spoke in soft voices, rolled cigarettes and smoked them. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the order came down the line to advance. Men scaled the front wall of the trench in waves and made their way on foot, holding their rifles in front of them. The wet earth, thick with mud, held their boots as if it were their mothers, telling the men not to go on, trying unsuccessfully to hold them back.

9:48 a.m. When Bill and the men reached the second line of trenches, the sun showed up only as a diffused brightness unable to pierce the cloud cover or the gray atmosphere created by the black smoke of ominous fires burning helter skelter across their line of sight. No shadows delineated the landscape; Bill saw only flat light on the monochromatic visage of burned-out trees, skeletal buildings, and broken vehicles against the somber firmament overhead and the rich umber of the mud under foot.

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Bill dropped against the front wall of the trench, next to his buddy, the cocky little Texan, Rowland. They both rolled smokes and shared the same match lighting them. Rowland looked at his cigarette and said, Shit, man, if this dont beat all. Bill took a deep drag and asked, Where you think the Kraut bastards have gone this morning? To hell, for all I care. Somebody said they already on the way back to Berlin. That would make it easier. Bill took a swig from his canteen and offered it to his buddy. Remains to be seen. Rowland cocked his head back and took a drink, then handed the canteen back to Bill. Before they could finish their cigarettes, the call came in with orders to advance. The men took deep drags and threw the butts into the slew that ran beneath the palettes on the floor of the trench. Then they strapped their rifles onto their backs and prepared to climb out of the trenches. They fired no shots as they ran towards the next trench, nearly doubled over. Running like hunchbacks would make them smaller targets, if not invisible.

10:27 a.m. Bill heard a whistling sound overhead and then an explosion came suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a hundred yards or so to the right of his line of sight. The sound of soldiers screaming came next, over the clatter of dirt and rocks hitting the earth. The rest of the men hit the ground as if in response and crawled on their bellies with a new sense of reality and fear in their eyes.

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What the fuck was that? Rowland asked when they found the safety of the next trench. The smell of feces assaulted their senses. They looked up and down the line and saw what appeared to be raw sewage filling the ground below the palettes on which they sat and waited. Artillery. Theyve got cannons up ahead. Its what we been hearing all morning, but now theyve found us . Bill sensed something moving at his feet. Oh shit! Goddamn it! Bill recoiled as a rat, the size of a fat farm cat, ran across the boards in front of him. The rat scurried on his way, unperturbed, as if it found nothing uncommon about this morning, neither the men, nor the noise. The rat just wanted food for its belly and expected that someone would be left behind, somewhere down the way. Rowland laughed maliciously, Little fuckers just hungry, thats all. Too bad the Frog ar-till-erary didnt take their fuckin rats back to Gay Paree with them. Then, looking ruefully at the mayhem behind them where the blast had occurred, he said, Maybe they just got lucky over there. Maybe they just shootin random. Come see come saw. Rowlands voice had a manic edge. To Bill the whole trench seemed like a dream, an insane asylum. An asylum from which he could not escape; a dream from which he could not awaken. A flash marked another explosion that closed the trench a hundred yards down the way. More screams through the rumble of falling earth. The rat had run the wrong way.

11:04 a.m. The men in Bills outfit followed orders to advance to the next trench when the shelling abated. Further down the field of battle, Bill watched a dozen men, Germans in

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uniform, emerge from the woods beyond the armys current target, their hands in the air. One of the Germans held a severed branch from a blackened tree with what seemed to be a white undershirt, smudged black and gray. Bill could see their eyes behind the black smudges that camouflaged their identities. They appeared slight of build; their uniforms fit loosely. One of the men shouted, Wir bergeben! another, Freunde! Bill did not understand the words, but took their meaning. They carried their rifles on their backs. From somewhere down the line, Bill heard the report of a rifle, and one of the Germans fell. The rest stopped dead in their tracks. Bill could see the look of terror in their faces. So this is the German army, he thought, as they raised their arms higher, almost in unison. An American commander ordered, Hold your fire! Great idea, Rowland muttered. This could turn out to be a goddamn ambush. But the Americans held their fire, still pointing their rifles, aimed at the German men. Bill heard one of the American officers shout something to the surrendering soldiers in German. All he could make out from the Germans was the word kameraden. . The Kaisers men threw down their guns on the ground in front of them and walked cautiously towards the American troops. Without warning, at the edge of the clearing, a lone gunman opened up fire from a machine gun nest and mowed down a dozen Americans within his range. The remaining American troops dropped to their knees and opened up fire. In a minute, the gunner fell dead, as did the German soldiers who had only hoped to make it home in time for Weihnachten, caught in the crossfire as they attempted to surrender.

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The Americans headed out again, double time, towards the next trench, vainly seeking to dodge incoming shells that whistled in at random.

12:02 p.m. Bills heart raced and his breathing sounded as if he had just completed a hundred yard dash. Since daybreak he had seen more death than he had ever imagined as a farm boy back in Kansas. He followed the rest of his company into the next trench and dove for cover as another cannon shell exploded behind them. He heard the engines of American aeroplanes flying overhead and looked skyward to see the formation. Bill reached for his tobacco tin, and then he realized that the soldier beside him was not Rowland, nor even an American. He recognized the blue uniform of the French army, but Bill did not think this soldier looked much older than Speck, wearing the uniform of the French army. The arms of his coat covered his hands. He was just a kid. What was a kid doing, alone in a trench during a major offensive, somewhere in the north of France? Je ne veux pas mourir! Je ne veux pas mourir! Je ne veux pas mourir! The boy cried, frantic, sobbing, his eyes pleading with Bill. Je ne veux pas mourir! Je ne veux pas mourir! Je ne veux pas mourir! Bill had no idea what the lad wanted to say, but in any language he would have understood that this was a terrified child in a mans uniform, lost in a war, abandoned by his cohorts. The French army had held this territory in the days and weeks before, but their army had retreated, replaced by the American forces. Bill wondered how long this boy had waited here for someone to find him. He should be in school somewhere, not on a battlefield, Bill thought. He folded the boy into his arms and tried to comfort him. The boy quieted, but continued to sob. Bill looked

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into his face and saw in his dark hair and eyes a reflection of himself beyond the tearstreaked dirt that smudged his cheeks. Its okay, fella, Bill said in a comforting voice. Youre going to be okay. The call came down the line to leave the trench and advance further down the field. Bill put his rifle onto his back in preparation for the climb out, but the French boy grabbed at the hem of Bills overcoat and looked up into Bills face. Ne pas partir, the boy said in a desperate voice, Ne pas me laisser ici! Dont worry, Bill said. Someone will be along to get you. Ive got to go now. The boy looked up at Bill with no message of comprehension in his eyes, only a blank, desperate stare. If I had a son, Bill thought, would he look like that? Will I ever have a son? he wondered, not sure if he would even draw breath by tomorrow.

12:29 p.m. The shelling intensified as the men made their way to the next objective. Sunlight seemed to emanate from high in the sky, though obscured by smoke. The air remained cold and damp; it smelled like the inside of a machine shop, oily, stale and foul. Bill checked to make sure he had his gas mask firmly tied to his belt and wondered what the mustard gas would smell like before he died. Instead of another trench, he saw a row of buildings, shattered by bombing, bricks piled in on them. Was that St. Mihiel, Bill wondered. Why all the fuss about a bombed out village? As they approached, he realized that it was not a village, but what was once a farm house, its outbuildings now shattered, its animals dead or run away. As Bill looked ahead to the outpost, he stumbled on something in his path and looked down to see a blackened, dismembered hand

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sticking out of the sleeve of a filthy blue uniform. Bill gagged and stifled his reaction when he realized what he had stepped on, but then ran on with the rest of the men, towards the next outpost of the day. Bill found Rowland sitting under a tree, his back against the trunk, eating from a brick of cheese, like it was a sandwich. Whered that come from? Bill asked. Rowland cut mold off with his pocket knife and chewed a mouthful of cheese. He pointed with his knife to a cellar door adjacent to the base of the bombed out farm house. A couple of men handed out cheeses that the farmer had evidently abandoned, that somehow neither the French nor the German invaders had discovered. Bill turned and walked over to the cellar. He had just reached it when he heard the whistle of an incoming shell. Instinctively, he dove for the ground and felt it shake before clods of dirt and rocks pummeled him and dust settled into the sweat that beaded up on the back of his neck. In the silence that followed he arose and felt the warmth of his own blood streaming down his cheek. He had taken a shard of shrapnel at his cheekbone. Not a significant cut, no purple heart for Bill. He looked around and called out with a grin to Rowland, Im hit! he joked. But only a crater remained where the tree had stood and Bill saw no sign of the little Texan. Rowland? Bill called, not loud enough for Rowland to have heard, but Rowland had disappeared, gone. They got my buddy, Bill said, staring, stunned, as he took a cheese from the soldier standing at the top of stairs to the cave from which he had liberated the cheese. Yeah, well they got mine, too, the soldier growled, without sympathy, leaning around to hand another cheese to the man behind Bill in line. In shock, Bill shuffled over

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to the side of a demolished foundation and sat, watching as the medics searched for body parts in the area where the tree had stood. The enormity of Rowlands sudden disappearance left Bill stunned, but he peeled some of the wax off the cheese , cut out a wedge, and chewed it slowly, watching the cleanup proceed. Looking back towards the crater where the tree once stood, Bill saw that the corpsmen had gathered several good size clumps of olive drab wool, stained black with blood. Thats all thats left of Rowland, Bill thought. He knew nothing about Rowlands family, or where in Texas Odessa was. Did he have a mother or a sister at home, he thought, remembering his own. Or a lover? remembering Rosa. He did not know where to write to express condolences, nor what he would say if he did. Branches of the tree lay scattered at the perimeter of the bombsite. Bill eyed a black army boot, its heel and sole pointed towards him, lying on its side. He watched as a medic made the discovery too, picked it up casually, and tossed it into the mound of Rowland.

1:22 p.m. Most of the advancing infantry carried their rifles slung over their shoulders as they moved out that afternoon, across badly broken ground, past whole villages deserted, reduced to rubble. More Germans emerged from their dugouts with their hands in the air and surrendered en masse. Bill watched the unraveling of the war as it played out before him, ever wary for snipers or random artillery shells. Thinking of Rowland, Bill mused philosophically, I guess if its your time to go, its your time to go. He wondered when it would be his time and imagined that he might do something heroic in the passing

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save someones life, capture a machine gunner. Or just survive, return home and learn to forget that this day had ever happened. The offensive liberated 200 square miles of French territory, captured 257 guns and 15,000 prisoners. American casualties proved light at first, but they found no trenches beyond the bombed out farmstead. As they advanced in the open, they found booby-traps and met retreating German forces, still armed with machine guns. Abandoned ammunition dumps became portals to disaster until the Americans destroyed them in rumbling explosions, throwing boiling clouds of black smoke into the air, visible for miles around.

3:06 p.m. Bill heard the engine roar of aeroplanes again and looked up at the sky, but this time they were not American flyers. The German planes strafed the American soldiers from treetop levels. The infantrymen ran for cover and took aim with their rifles, but their guns proved useless against the aircraft. Bill watched as the bullets created poufs of dust hitting the ground but winced as they created red explosions in the chests of American soldiers. The Yanks returned fire using stump-mounted heavy Maxims abandoned by the German infantry. After a while the planes flew away and did not return. The soldiers gathered their dead and wounded and arranged them like cordwood on the sides of the road, dead on one side, wounded on the other. The wounded lay bleeding with makeshift tourniquets and splints for shattered bones, waiting for clumsy Ford trucks, converted for the purpose, with large white circles painted on the canvas sides and red crosses that served as targets for the enemy aircraft.

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By half-past four, they made camp in the forest and measured their lives against what they had already endured. Somehow a mess truck got through with food to make an evening meal. The men camped in the open and under trees for the night, lying on damp ground. The lucky ones found mossy patches on the north sides of trees and imagined it a mattress. In their dreams they slept in beds thousands of miles away. None of this had really happened. Bill lay on his blanket roll and stared at the sky, but saw no stars. He remembered the kick of his rifle on his shoulder and the look on the face of a blondheaded, blue-eyed German who held his hands high as he fell walking towards the line of American soldiers, asking in German to surrender so that he could go home. The next day they captured more territory as the Germans continued to flee. Abandoned cellars held stores of excellent wines and cognac, but the enemys kitchens revealed that they had subsisted on horse meat and potatoes black with rot.

A week after St. Mihiel, the army posted mail call. Bill received several letters from home, newspapers, and other correspondence. He carried the mail he received to a tree and sat on his helmet to read. Tears formed in his eyes as he read the news from home. When he finished, he took time to write home on YMCA stationary. The postmark on the envelope reads 29SEP1918. The back side of the envelope bears this insignia:



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Sept 19 1918 Dear Mother and all Yes I think I have gotten all your letters and all the rest. We have had a nice bunch of mail. I just read letters and news of all kinds and am hoping you also have been reading the good news of your American boys in the papers. Believe me mother, those dirty Bosche can do two or three things: They can run like the devil, work a machine gun, and holler Kamerad! Outside of that they are rotten. Before going farther get your calendar and just put a great big mark on Sept 12 and proclaim it a holiday. For it will live long in the hearts of anyone who happened to be in hearing distance and for those who happened to be in seeing distance. Well it will never be forgotten. We are out for a rest again. I am feeling good and surely hope you folks are as well. I have letters from so many I dont know when I will ever get caught up. I recd three from Ramsey, two from you, two from Vesta, one from Delphos and many others. So Fay thinks he will enlist in the Navy. Well I havent anything to say only wish I could talk to him for I believe I might help him. It will be hard to start with but once he is used to his work he will make it alright. I wouldnt mind the Navy myself. For one thing is certain, you have a good place to sleep and eat, and in the army you have it just catch as catch can. At present I am setting on my helmet by my Pup tent leaning against an ancient old tree. Something different from the Navy. Mother, I will have to ring off for I am too scattered to write a very sensible letter this morning. So with love to all I will close as ever, your Son and Bro Bill Eight months later, as she rested on the wicker chaise lounge outside the screened porch at the back of the little house in Langdon, Josie folded the letter Bill wrote on September 19. She tried to imagine the Battle of St. Mihiel, for which he had received a Battle Bar for his Service Medal. She put it back into its envelope and retrieved a letter from Bills Sergeant Hopkins. She sat with her feet up on the wicker chaise lounge,

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outside the screened porch at the back of the house. The smell of the lilac bushes in full bloom wrapped around her. It was the last Sunday of May and the rest of the family would arrive soon for the Memorial Day dinner. But Josie was lost in her thoughts. She did not hear or respond to the sounds of the house wrens singing, nor the soft cooing of the mourning dove perched on the highest branches of the crab apple tree. She ignored the sounds Vesta made in the kitchen as she hurried to complete last-minute preparations for the noonday meal. She felt the onion-skin paper of Hopkins letter between her soft, withering fingerstyped neatly with perfect spelling and elocution. Sergeant Hopkins had served with Bill through the last days of the war. His letter had come a few days before; he described a chance encounter with her son that left Josie unable to speak each time she read it. As Memorial Day approached, she had found herself reading Sergeant Hopkins letter again and again, drifting more and more frequently into her solitary reveries. Due to a blockade of traffic his outfit passed mine passing over the top of a hill just outside of Martincourt, I might say that in glancing up this hill road, many sights were seen, shells bursting, mud, rocks flying, horses, wagons, trucks and men disappearing. But such things as that do not stop AMERICAN soldiers who are fighting for a just cause. I heard someone yell Hello Hop and hold his hand high so I could pick him out quickly. It was Bill, my friend Bill, just all smiling from ear to ear. I ran to him and had about a three minutes talk, wished him well and returned to my outfit which followed them over the top. Next meeting was after the drive only for a half a minute, the last time he looked the result of hard fighting, clothes torn from barbed wire entanglements, besmeared from head to foot with mud, lines of fatigue were easily traced in his expression. The radiant sunshine smile broke from behind and beneath his muddy face like the sun rising in the East, and the words exchanged were Ah! Weve met again! It meant more to us than I can write because when one meets his friends after having gone thru a living hell, there are no words to tell that feeling.

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Josie held the letter as if she continued to read it, but she only stared at it. Her eyes did not focus on the words. She felt the sting of tears forming on her eyes and pressure in her nose as she stifled the urge to weep again. She wiped her nose and eyes on the end of her apron and arose. No time for this. Vesta would need help inside. Everyone would arrive soon, she thought.

In less than two weeks following the mop-up at St. Mihiel, the Americans prepared for the final offensive in the Argonne Forest. The allied forces numbered 820,000 in all. The Germans believed that the next great battle would take place either toward Metz or in Alsace, but their intelligencers discovered the movement of troops north from St. Mihiel to Verdun and concluded that the battle would unfold near Metz. So they barricaded the front with wire, steel, and concrete bulwarks. They created four successive defense belts, ten miles deep along the Meuse River. The terrain itself, consisting of many switchbacks and spurs, did not lend itself to battle. Tree covered heights of the Argonne woods dominated the valley below that the American troops would have to occupy. The enemy looked right down the Americans throats. The battle opened on September 26 with a three hour Allied bombardment that began at 5:30 a.m. Bill advanced with the others under the cover of hundreds of Allied planes. The constant drone of the aeroplanes made the scene surreal. Americans had come to the offensive with a numerical superiority of eight to one, but after a week of

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constant fighting, the Germans had reduced the odds to even up. American forces offered too bright a target to be missed. The terrain offered too great an advantage and the Germans fled from no one. The Signal Corps left St. Mihiel and holed up for a few days rest, arriving at Dieulouard on September 19, just one week after the third and final registration for the draft back home, stateside. The boys gorged on cheese and sausage and beer. They watched the local winemakers tromp their grapes barefooted. Finally, they headed to the front at Tronde on the last day of the month before heading into the Wood, as it was called, on October 4. During a lull in the fighting, Bill took the time to write a letter to the folks back home.



Oct 2 1918 Dear Mother and all Have some spare time and will send you a few lines even if I havent recd a letter for a few days and have written since. I expect some mail this evening for we are to be here a few days. I have read a few of your letters this morn and want to say again I think I have recd most of yours and the clippings are fine, I think most every one of yours have had clippings in them and say in regard to the boys who are weak. Dont be too hard on them now. For they will get theirs when the boys return. It is everyones duty to jump in without hesitation and volunteer to carry a rifle. For the boys who have given their lives over here. They all carried the great American spirit and a man at home now who says he cant give up and go is not a man. He is a mere trifle. I have seen our boys laying in shell craters with an arm or leg gone, others laying out with their faces turned heavenward who left important vacancies at homeleft mothers, fathers, wives and children and when a man claims exemption now he is a cave man or in other words a coward.

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Oh no, I am not brave. I have run for a cave. I have fallen in shell holes, flat on the ground, been covered up with dirt and got a couple of pieces of something in my leg and another below my eye. Not bad, but enough that when I come face to face with a man who has stayed at home because he could sneak around it, I will never fear him and think I can give him a very dirty sneer. Enoughfor I expect the censor will cut out half of this. We all feel pretty foxy as Bulgaria has given up. Von Hertling has quit and it might come to pass that one Kaiser might quit soon. But now we are going to keep plugging away to make sure. I will close. So send me all the news you can and I will remember you every day With love to all and best wishes I am your Son and Bro Bill The Signal Corps arrived in the Argonne Forest on October 5 and realized almost immediately the dire straits the allied forces faced. But unknown to the men engaged in the battle for the Argonne, the Germans had lost ground badly on all other fronts. By the date of Bills letter, a message received at the Reichstag warned the Kaiser of imminent defeat. On October 3 in Berlin, Hindenburg speculated that German troops might defend German soil until spring, but insisted that a peace offer be made to the Allies at once. On October 4, the Western Front exploded again, Prince Max von Baden succeeded to Chancellor, and sent this cable to Woodrow Wilson, TO AVOID FURTHER BLOODSHED, THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT REQUESTS THE PRESIDENT TO ARRANGE THE IMMEDIATE CONCLUSION OF AN ARMISTICE ON LAND, BY SEA AND IN THE AIR. Wilson contemplated the surrender for days. The devout Presbyterian intellectual and former President of Princeton University needed time to formulate a decent and orderly response to von Badens plea. For nearly two weeks Wilson refused to notify the Allies of this drastic development in the course of the war. Chancellor von Badens cable

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would have caused the German Army to collapse in its boots. Instead, the war dragged on. On October 8th, German machine gunners ambushed American troops, killing or wounding almost all. But one American corporal, Alvin York, managed to pick off the machine gunners with his rifle from a kneeling position and captured the remaining enemy soldiers. Somehow he managed to round up the German survivors and marched them back to camp. On October 10th, a German U Boat sank a passenger vessel off the Irish Coast. Three hundred civilian passengers lost their lives. The same day, German torpedos sank the mail boat Leinster, killing 520 persons, mostly women and children. Wilson finally acknowledged the Allied victory on October 14th, but the war raged on while the politicians and diplomats debated the terms of its conclusion. The Signal Corps left the Argonne Woods on October 10th and the Army issued each man a coupon which could be used by his family back home to ship a Christmas parcel overseas. Bill had time to write, and he needed to get his coupon to the folks back home. Bills excitement filled his letter to his family as he looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas at home. Somewhere in France October 11, 1918 Dearest Mother and all--: Am sending you a Christmas coupon to put on a package. So now you see I am getting pretty important just sending you an order for a pkg. Ha Ha! But you see a fellow gets only one coupon and I knew you would be disappointed if you didnt get to send one. I am feeling fine and hoping that peace will come soon, but say, I go to sleep every night hearing peace stories in gob lots and when I awake in the morn a new line of proposals are sailing at a very lively clip.

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Oh yes, its a merry life, but believe me the boys are giving those dirty hounds a grand taste of American fighting spirit and ammunition. I have received many letters here of late. Just cant keep up by half, but tell all I will write when I can. I get to write about one to your two it seems. I honestly think you have done your part in writing. I dreamed last night I recd a letter from Fay and did receive two from Vesta. I havent written her for some time and she does so well too. I can only send her one to her three. My buddy who I barbered with in Texas, the company tailor, he got a machine bullet thru his knee our last trip over but not bad. He is at the hospital. I have to go to work so with love and best wishes, I am as ever your son and Bro Bill

The coupon about which Bill had written did arrive, but the deadline for shipping Bills Christmas package had already come and gone when Vesta opened his letter and found the Christmas Package Coupon on the day before Thanksgiving. She returned for the weekend on November 27, having recently taken a new job working in the office at the Stafford Flour Mill Company, a half days drive from Langdon. After reading his letter on Thanksgiving Eve she wrote. At home, November 27, 1918

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Dear Brother Bill, I came home this afternoon to spend Thanksgiving and also the remainder of the week at home. Im very thankful. Mr. Koster let me come on the condition that I take him half a hog or something of the kind when I returned. I solemnly promised. Then, I must tell you what I did about your Christmas box. Your coupon did not reach here until this very morning. Papa and mama had given up receiving it before the end of the month so they procured a box from Mrs. Cole on Monday of this week and sent it to me thinking I could better fill it at Stafford where there was a greater supply of things to select from. It was such a hurried selection as I dont have much time, that I want to send my love to you herein, because the contents of the box do not fully express it. I did not know that they were going to send it or I could have planned something better. You know what a poor place Langdon is to get things you want. Stafford is about the same. Please dont condemn us too harshly. I had to sign an affidavit that I was your nearest blood relative also filled out the address, in order to get their inspection at the Red Cross rooms at Stafford. But they were very obliging, asked no questions, that is, only the necessary ones, and the box was sent out by them this afternoon. I placed the stamps on it that were required to take it to Hoboken. Of course, I have not heard from you direct for a long, long time, and I certainly was glad to get here to read your letters to mama. I am quite anxious to have word, written since the Armistice, but presume that you are in the American occupation army. I mean following up the Germans. We have been trying some winter weather here. But the snow melts almost as quickly as it falls. Everything was beautiful this morning. There was just enough snow on the trees and bushes and houses to be real pretty. And it was just right to snow ball, but I had to be grown up and could not. Also as I was on my way to work this morning, I saw a car pulling three boys on sleds behind a car. They were having fine sport. I would have enjoyed a nice sleigh ride too. I had rather a delightful little drive yesterday just after lunch. But it could have been better. I did not have a hatpin in my hat the top was down and he drove forty and forty-five miles an hour. Two mechanics board where I do. One is married. He and his wife, the other mechanic, George and I, were the party. The flu still rages. That is, I should say it is raging again. Schools, movies, and shows were opened but now they have to close up again with greater restrictions than before. Papa has taken care of a family over west of here, and he was up all night last night himself. He went to sleep quite early tonight. Seems to me like Ive been by myself for an hour now. I knitted some, then decided I would write to you.

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I am hoping that I can tear around tomorrow just as I please. If the day is at all fit, I want to be outside. I shall dress in a suit of Fays and chase rabbits on Blaze, and other equally graceful things. Honestly, there has been no chance for excitement anywhere so I think Ill manufacture some tomorrow. I am going to Hutchinson Friday, the first time since leaving there September 30. I suppose I shall spend some of my hard earned cash. My eyes are inclined to close and my fingers are rather indifferent so had better stop when I can do it well. Your loving sister, Vesta The next morning, before she basted the turkey and put it into the oven, Vesta folded her letter, put it into a stamped envelope and addressed it to Bill. After she sealed the flap, she wrote across the seal, Snowed again last night!

Bill and the Signal Corp only enjoyed a brief respite from fighting after they returned from the Argonne Wood, for on October 11th they returned to the front where they fought in the Meuse Offensive in the face of the almost insurmountable odds that the German defense had placed before them. The timeline he kept in the pocket scripture booklet records that after leaving Battle Line on October 22 they arrived in Martincourt the next day. Bill left the encampment at the Meuse suffering from exhaustion and dysentery. Half the troops required immediate hospitalization for symptoms. Bill might have gone too, but he stayed with the men, figuring a little rest would cure him. He resisted

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attempts to remand him to a base hospital; he decided he had had enough of hospitals in Texas. He did not know that an epidemic, later suspected by some be bubonic plague, carried in the trenches of Northern France as influenza, would become the final insult of the war. He lived in a pup tent under shell fire from the Meuse Offensive until November 4th, when the Signal Corps moved out with one of the Battalions. On November 10, the day before the signing of the Armistice, Bill finally entered the Base Hospital at Allerey, in the Loire Valley, too sick to travel further with the other men.

A few days later a pretty nurse brought Bill his first letter from home, postmarked Emporia, KS. She had fair complexion and ginger hair almost completely covered by her hood and cowl, but Bill lay in a fever, barely able to breath, so he did not recognize her at first, or associate her fair skin and red hair with anyone at home. Bills younger brother, Fay, wrote from school at Emporia College on stationary the color of an Army uniform. His words suggested the ambitions of an articulate young man who had recently declared his intention to join the military.

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Emporia Kansas K.S.N. Barracks S.A.T.C. October 5, 1918. Dear Brother: Bill, did you think I had forgotten you because I never did write? Well I havent not by a long sight. But you see, before I left for school, I always let the responsibility shift upon mother. But now she cannot do it for me so I thought I had better begin. You know they are letting all men between 18 and 20 and above 21, go to school and at the same time join the army provided they are high school graduates. It is called the S.A.T.C. I expect you have read about it if you get the Hutch papers. We get everything furnished and $30 per month, the same as they do in the Army. To be exact, we are in the Army. The only difference is we go to school instead of drilling so much. If we make good we are either sent to an officers Training school or kept in school to become technical experts. If we dont make good, we are shot into some cantonment as a buck private. Believe me, I intend to make good. Oh yes, I am playing on the football team here. We go to K.U. next Saturday. That is, I will if some one doesnt beat me out of my place before then. I got my leg twisted last night in scrimmage and am hobbling Brothers, Fay and Bill, c. 1916 around on one leg today. But it All comes in a lifetime and Im in the Army nor or will be Monday. I get out of two hours of drill every day by playing football, however. So that helps a little. We have a fine company here and fine officers. From what I hear you are stationed 40 feet under the sod as hello girl. Must be afraid a sniper will pick you off. Ha. Ha. Well I think I would rather be there than on top of the ground. Well I have told you about all I know about myself so will close. Oh yes, Albert Dralle that was killed was an old schoolmate of mine and he was a mighty fine fellow too. Write soon if possible.

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Bill folded the letter and smiled weakly. Brother Fay. In college? Football? Bill had not gone to high school. All this had happened while he had been away. What a great kid, he thought. Hello girl? When was that? The army had brought in women to man the phones months ago. Or was it just weeks? Those early weeks in France, his first job in the Signal Corps had him answering the telephone line that had been strung to and from the front. Hello Girl had become a dream from which he had long since awakened. He had not wig-wagged since summer. The nurse stopped by Bills cot as he struggled to insert the letter back into its envelope. Can I help you with that? she said, smiling. Her voice sounded like distant church bells on a warm summer morning. Never thought thered be a day when I would be too weak to put a letter back into the envelope it came out of, he said, between labored breaths. Im Annie. Annie Gosman. Nurse Annie. My names Bill. You dont sound like a local. No, she smiled, Kansas City. Been there? Got married there. But the towns no worse for it. Wheres your family, Bill? Annie was very sweet. Pretty, even. He noticed her teeth, straight and white. Her lips were the color of a seashell he saw once in a display window in New York. New York? When was that? Langdon. Reno County. Heard of it? Been there. Reno County, that is. Hutchinson.

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I played baseball in Hutchinson. Bill managed a collegial grin. A little of his familiar charm managed its way through his fever. She smiled and nodded. So what are you doing here? Bill asked. Oh, I needed to go somewhere. Nobody at home anymore. He detected no accent or regional dialect. The sounds of her words made her seem worldly and sophisticated. Youre too pretty not to be married. I was married. We had a child. First I lost my husband, then I lost our son. I just needed to live somewhere else, where I could put my problems in perspective. Did it work? Some days are better than others. You look familiar to me. Annie imagined that she saw sincerity in Bills eyes, but suspected it was an act. I could hang my wash on that line, she said. No, really. You do. You look familiar too. But its a very distant familiar. A faint smile played on her lips. Was it another life? Maybe so. Say, kid, you think you could rustle up some paper for me to write home to my little mama and my baby brothers? Sure. Annie disappeared and returned in minutes with single piece of paper and an envelope for him to use, but he had fallen asleep. She left them on top of the table beside his bed, touched his forehead pushing his chestnut colored hair away. He felt warm to the touch. Too warm. Later, Bill found the paper and picked it up. He wrote with an unsteady hand.

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Somewhere in France Nov. 16, 18 Dear Mother and all After a months time I will drop you a line or two. I am in a hospital, not wounded, but have been a sick human. My stomach and a little touch of the grippe, but am feeling pretty bright this morn. I dont know when I will leave for the boys stay around for quite a while. Bill stopped writing and gazed for a long time out the window across the way. A few members of the hospital staff made a funeral procession to the cemetery atop the hill which overlooked a river that Bill did not know the name of, but could see in the distance. Even from his bed he recognized Annie among the mourners in the funeral cortege. He continued. I dont suppose I will ever get my Christmas package, just my luck. The Red Cross lady only gave me a sheet of paper and one envelope, so you know I am alive. Your son and Bro. Bill Bill folded the letter but left it on his chest, too exhausted to face putting it into the envelope, sealing it and addressing it. He dozed for a while in the stuffy confines of the ward he occupied with so many other men, each in various stages of distress. Hacking and wheezing was the sound of their lives, between fitful sleeping and night sweats.

After their initial conversations, Nurse Gosman checked in on Bill regularly after she reviewed the case load with the nursing staff each morning. It became a routine. She looked

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forward to the way he watched her when they talked. His eyes followed her as she moved around his bed, even though he peered out at her over dark circles that underscored the severity of his illness. On the day before Thanksgiving, she decided he needed a shave. With nearly 80 men in the ward and only sixteen staff, including the ambulance driver, the doctors (who did little hands on, day-to-day care) and the novices who qualified only to carry bedpans, the demands of the ward left little time to provide much more than minimal personal hygiene for the patients, let alone personal grooming. So when she approached Bill as he slept this morning with a basin of warm water and a razor in the pocket of her apron, she pulled the curtains around his bed to afford them some measure of privacy. It would not be fair to the other patients to see her bathing and shaving Bill when they could see that he was in no worse shape than the others and they could not all expect to be treated in such a manner. When he awoke, Bill had no idea how long he had slept. He saw daylight outside, but he had no sense of the time. A rustling noise beside him caused him to turn instinctively, but motion came slowly and left him feeling dizzy. He looked up and smiled faintly; his eyes sparkled in the morning sunlight that poured through the window behind him. Annie set the basin on the table beside the bed and put her hand on his arm. That was a good nap, P.F.C. Holmes. How are we doing this morning? Would you like to try something to eat? Not now. Bills voice came as little more than a whisper between labored, shallow breaths. What you got in mind this morning Nurse Annie? Pulling the curtains together and all. He tried to make it sound like a suggestive joke.

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How about a little ice? She held a spoon with chipped ice next to his lips. Bill obliged, without moving, other than to accept a half teaspoon of ice into his mouth. He felt the cold ice melt against his gums. I think we should get you cleaned up if youre ever going to get out of here and go home, Bill. How about we play Nurse Shaves the Barber this morning? Smiling broadly, she withdrew her razor from her pocket and flipped open the blade which glinted in the morning light. Whoa, watch where you go with that thing, Bill joked, feebly, feeling his equilibrium restored. Should I be ready to call for help? I think youll be safe. Here, lets get you propped up a bit. She set the razor down beside the water basin and moved to help Bill sit up in bed, propping the pillow behind his back. She reached behind his neck and untied the knot that held his bed shirt together and pulled it down, exposing his arms and chest. Blood stained the front of his shirt from the unpredictable nosebleeds that plagued him and the other patients in the ward. His skin felt warm to her touch. With the toe of her shoe, she pulled open the bottom drawer of the table, confirming that a clean gown would be ready when she needed it. Youre not going to get a chill on me, are you? Seems Im more apt to get a rise in my temperature than anything else, he quipped again, speaking slowly. You have a foul smell about you this morning, Private. She wrinkled her nose. Lets give you a little bath. In truth, the ward smelled worse collectively than any of the patients individually, owing to the results of incontinence among the patients, coupled with inadequate laundry facilities. She withdrew a washcloth and a large bar of soap from the drawer in the table

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and put them both into the basin until the water grew grey and cloudy. Then she wrung out the cloth before applying it first to Bills face and neck and shoulders. She returned it to the water and repeated the process again, this time with more soap and extending her work to his chest and arms and armpits, leaving a bit of lather on his skin. He felt cool to the touch now, but his skin hung loosely on his frame, owing to the incremental weight loss he had experienced over the previous weeks. She rinsed the washcloth and covered the territory again, removing the soapy film from his exposed skin. Then she found a shaving brush in a coffee mug and dipped the brush into the water, working up foam in the mug. She covered Bills sunken cheeks and face with shaving lather and retrieved the razor. As she shaved his neck, he asked, Howd you lose your husband and little boy? Annie flinched at such a direct question, but continued the process as she spoke. My husbands family introduced steam shovels to copper mining out West and he had gone there periodically to teach the miners how to use them. She held his chin up with the thumb of her left hand, cocking his neck back at an angle while her forefinger rested on his nose. With the razor in her right hand, guided by her index finger, she directed it carefully over the stubble on his neck. Bill thought she must have shaved men every day of her life to be this skillful at the process. There was a terrible accident and two of the miners he had been working with died instantly. He was severely injured and languished in a hospital for a few days. Our son, Chester, and I left for Utah as soon as we learned of his predicament, but he died before we arrived. All I could do was bring his body back to Ohio for burial. She rinsed the razor in the basin. When did you learn to be a nurse? Before or after you learned to barber? Bill shot a smile at the pretty nurse in an attempt to lighten the mood.

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I decided long ago that I would never depend on a man for my well-being. My mother had done that and I saw what happened. I had just finished nurses training when I met Charles. I never expected to marry, but when I got to know Charles, and he asked, I never wanted anything else. Her words landed on Bills chest with all their weight. He looked at her and saw Rosas face in her fair complexion and pale red hair. Tears formed in his eyes as longed for Rosa to be beside him at his bed at this moment. Annie continued. When Chester and I got home, I decided to go to work. His family had money and I could have settled into a lifestyle with them, but I needed to become my own person. She wiped the lather off Bills sideburns and trimmed in a neat edge just above his jawline on both sides of his face. So we moved to Kansas City and I took a job in a hospital. Obstetrics. I actually learned how to deliver babies. Bill thought of Maxines birth in Kansas City and of her mother, Kitty, and felt a wave of remorse for all the mistakes he had made with them. What happened to your boy? he asked. The influenza epidemic made a run through the states last spring. One day he was a happy little guy, tearing about with his friends, playing outside. The next day he developed a high fever and couldnt lift his head up off the pillow. It was a terrible thing to watch, him just lying there, staring up at me with such pain and confusion in his eyes. And me, with all my training and still feeling so helpless. Not being able to do anything. She paused for a long moment and said nothing, staring blankly into the air in front of her. The third day he was gone. It was a mercy, I guess, he was so miserable. She looked away from Bills gaze. A tear rolled down her cheek and she wiped it away with the back of her hand leaving a smudge of shaving soap on her nose. When she turned to look at Bill, he mustered his strength to wipe it

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away with his thumb, allowing his hand to linger for just a moment on her cheek before moving to wipe a new tear from her other eye as well. What about you, Bill? Whats your story? Aah, nothing much to tell. I played some baseball back in Hutchinson. Barbered some, worked in the mills. Got me a baby girl back home. Shes he hesitated, remembering Annies loss, thinking. Lets see about a year and a half old now, I reckon. Whats her name? Maxine. And her mothers the love of your life? Her mothers he stopped and coughed deeply. Annie heard the similar sounds of others coughing beyond the drape that had created an artificial room apart from the other patients. He wondered what to say. Things didnt work out with her mother. Im sorry. You seem like a man who would be so easy to fall in love with. Annie blushed at her observation. She was not usually so forward. Oh, Ive been in love a few times, Bill grinned. Then his eyes looked away from Nurse Gosman. He felt his temperature rise again. Well, really only once. With Maxines mother? Bill did not answer at first. Annie felt uncomfortable, as if she was prying. Nah. She loved me, I guess, and we had some good times together. But he stopped again. She was never the one. There was always someone else. A girl I couldnt ever have. Why Private Holmes, I do declare you could have any girl you ever wanted! Annie gushed, trying to find humor in the situation.

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Not this one, Bill said, staring at the top of the curtain in front of his hospital bed. Not in a million years. But I tell you what, Nurse Annie. If I ever get out of this place, Im going to change that. If shell still have me. Later that night, unbeknownst to anyone in Langdon, while Bill slept fitfully in his hospital bed in Allerey, France, more than nine thousand miles away, three young girls came home from school to begin their Thanksgiving holiday. Playing in front of their home, two of Uncle Sherman and Aunt Stellas girls, named Ida and Audrey, held a jump rope. The other one, their sister Clara, kept warm without her coat by skipping to a new chant she taught the others: I had a little bird, Its name was Enza. I opened up the win-dow, And in-flu-enza!

Saturday night, December 7, 1918 Margaret Kelley worked alone in the kitchen after supper while Frank pored over the farm accounts on the dining room table. She felt especially satisfied this evening as she hummed a sweet melody half aloud. It had been a good day, having all, or almost all, of her children at home. When she finished washing the supper dishes, she carried an old cracked bowl from the sink to the door and tossed the accumulated food scraps from it to the cats in the back yard. They argued with each other, hissing and spitting as if they might starve by morning if they missed their fair share. The dogs ignored the fray and slept with full bellies under the porch, owing to the rabbit hunt they had gone on that afternoon. Frankie, the Kelleys middle son, had come home for dinner after work on Friday and stayed. Such a young man he had become! And

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handsome, fair haired with blue eyes, and strapping. He and his baby brother, Tommy, nineteen now (where had the years gone?), had taken their dad and the horses out for a rabbit hunt in the afternoon and rode horseback across the dormant fields, frozen black and green with winter wheat, firing shotguns at cottontails and jack rabbits that scampered for cover in their path. The weather had been icy cold, but clear with little wind. She had heard the reports of their guns echoing across the pastures, interrupting the quietness of the afternoon reverie that she and the girls enjoyed in the mens absence. Black crows, perched in the tops of barren trees, scattered airborne with every shot, though no one aimed at them. They came to land again in other trees and the roof of the barn. It would have been better if Jim, had been with them today. The oldest of the Kelley boys, he was still in France. His letters came almost every week, sometimes more often, and the paper talked as if the boys would start coming back in just a few weeks, maybe by Christmas or else after the first of the year. Margaret dipped the bowl that had held the scraps into the lukewarm dishwater and swirled a limp, gray cloth around the inside and outside of the bowl before dipping the old bowl gingerly into the slightly warmer rinse water. That afternoon the girls, Theresa, Rosa, and Agnes, had stayed inside and played cards while Margaret took a nap after writing letters to relatives back east, in Illinois. Frankie had stayed until after an early supper, but then Frank took him back into Langdon to catch the late train to Hutchinson. Their two youngest, Tommy and Agnes, had gone to their bedrooms to study their assignments for school next week. Theresa slept in an overstuffed chair in the parlor with a volume of Dickens lying open on her chest. Rosa said good night earlier than her younger brother and sister, as usual, retreating to the solitude of her room at home, which she had occupied since returning to Langdon nearly a year ago, after the awful mess she had gotten herself into, living in Hutchinson, working at Pegues-

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Wright. She had finally got back on at the Langdon State Bank, working as a clerk, away from the eyes of the public, after several months of moping about the house and helping on and off again with the housework. Rosa. Margaret thought about her second-born and let escape a long sigh. Twenty-six last month and she should be married, and even have children of her own, but no prospects now. And still pining for Bill Holmes, off in the war, nor fit if he was home, with a baby and a wife in Turon. Margaret dried off the bowl with her apron and set it back in its place at the corner of the sink before withdrawing a fresh towel from the drawer beneath the counter to use drying the other clean dishes in the rack at the side of the sink. When she finished, she left the warmth of the kitchen, turning off the lamps before entering the dining room where she encouraged her husband to come to sleep, leaving Theresa snoring in the corner at the far side of the room. After counting the beads in their rosaries, they pulled up the covers of their bed and settled into each others arms against the encroaching cold of the night with the affection and familiarity that comes from years of becoming used to one another. In her room down the hallway, Rosa slept, dreaming of her beloved Bill, far away. Her dream changed little from night to night. Against the cold night air in the unheated bedroom, she lets the pounds of quilts and comforters envelop her, warmed by her own body heat between her mothers soft cotton sheets. She drifts off, held safe and secure in her lovers arms and by his promises to return for her. She feels his flesh against hers and snuggles into the tuft of hair at the center of his chest, and soon finds his soft, wet lips. She molds herself into the lumpy bedcovers that personify his form, transporting herself back to the last night they had together, so long ago and yet as immediate as if he had never left. After spending herself, she lies in his arms and feels his lips brush the skin behind her ears and his hot breath in her golden hair. Finally they both

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sleep, breathing deeply and rhythmically, until something in the silence causes her to awaken, though only in her dream. Still sleeping, but now dreaming vividly, she wonders what time it is. How long has she slept? When she reaches out to her lover she finds his form silent and as chilled as the room. She tries to awaken him with her kisses, but his skin is tight and cold and hard. A sour, musty smell fills her nostrils. She shakes him but he does not respond. His hair shimmers and bounces unfettered in the moonlight. When she looks at his face, his eyes gape open, but they do not see her. She calls his name, Bill? Quietly at first, as if she knows he is only teasing her. But still he does not answer. Louder now, Bill? She shakes the covers of her bed again, Bill! she howls in fear and desperation. NO! She calls again louder, now sounding like a frantic animal, its leg caught in a trap, waiting to become prey to something fiendish. BILL! Her sobs grow deeper and her voice harsher. Where are you? Bill! And she shakes the bed clothes again as if they contain his human form, but finds nothing there save the acrid smell of the chamber pot below. Margaret Kelley heard her daughters cries from her bedroom where she had just drifted off to sleep a half an hour before. She threw back the covers and hurried out of the bedroom without regard for the winter air that had settled into the house. Frank sat up on one elbow and looked more confused than concerned as he watched her leave in the darkness. Neither of them spoke. Margaret made her way through the dark corridor, barefooted, and opened the door to Rosas room without stopping to knock. Rosas wailing became much louder once inside than when she first heard it, and Margaret went to her daughters bedside where she reached out to her, speaking in low, soothing tones, as if to a baby with colic. But Rosa pushed her away,

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almost knocking her off the side of the bed, and she would not listen to her consolations, nor would she awaken from what seemed to be a trance. Rosa continued to wail, No, no, no, and Bill? Where have you gone? Bill! Come back! No, no, no she repeated herself over and over again, finally allowing herself to be held as she wept violently into her mothers gown until the bodice and shoulder grew wet with tears and spittle. The women held each other for an hour. Frank and the others watched through the door until he shooed his other children back to bed with puzzled looks on their faces. He waited a little while longer and watched his wife and daughter as they found comfort in each others embrace. But finally he became weary of the scene and returned to his room. The shuffling of his feet on the bare floors made a soft sound, like sandpaper, until he climbed into bed and fell back to sleep in a few minutes. But Rosa and Margaret held each other and rocked, until they both fell asleep on the bed and slept until just before dawn without further interruption. When she awoke, Margaret sat up and looked at her daughter for a long time as she slept. Rosa lay in repose, not peacefully, but with a frown on her face and an expression of worry and despair around her eyes. Finally Margaret got up and, as if Rosa was still a little girl, adjusted the covers to keep her warm until she awoke later. Barefooted, she felt the cold wood beneath her feet and held her breath as she tiptoed, missing the squeaky floorboards for once, and closed the door to Rosas room behind her as she left. When she crawled into bed beside her husband, he pulled her to himself without waking as she adjusted the covers up to her chin and lay still beside him, wide-eyed, staring into the air in front of her. She noticed tiny specks of dust floating at random, catching the morning light, and then she fell asleep again in her husbands arms. They would not go to Mass this morning; they would ask for forgiveness at Confession next week.

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The letter Bill wrote on November 16 arrived in Langdon on Thursday, December 12. Jonas brought it home after he completed his mail route. As Josie read his words, feelings of dread filled her up. The next morning she found a piece of Jonas stationary, and before he left on his delivery route, she wrote: Langdon, Kan. Dec. 13, 1918 My Dear boy, We got your letter of Nov. 16th last night, the 12th, nearly a month since it was wrote. We surely hope you still improved and did not try to get out too soon. I know you were a sick boy and hope your care was sufficient to bring you out all right. And I know the hospitals must be crowded You will get your Christmas box all right, I think probably long before you get this letter. I sent the box to Vesta to fill and send you, as I was not so I could get to town. I sent her some of the chocolates you gave me when you left, but she said they wouldnt take chocolates, and she sent some other harder candy. You have the best Christmas wishes from all your friends. They are always asking about you. Although you are so far away from us you are always in thought. Hope there will be many kind messages sent to all the boys over there that cant come home. Quite a few from the camps here are getting to come home. Fay packed his troubles in his old kit bag and come home Tuesday morning the 10th. He was glad to get home, and said he wouldnt take anything for his experience. Fay just came in singing the stars and stripes will wave over Germany. I expect you realize that. Have you heard much about Pres. Wilsons being over there with you all? We search the papers for every bit of news we can get. Sherman and Stella want us all to come in to their place Christmas. Delphos and Allie and children were home Sunday. They were all well. The boys are not going to school on account of the Flu. Not very many schools are open. Papa is ready to go and I must close hoping you receive this soon as possible. With lots of Love, Mother

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The telegram came later in the day, after Jonas had already posted Josies letter. She opened the door to their home and recognized the delivery boy and knew in her stomach what he brought. She closed the door before the messenger had time to turn away. She stood in the living room, her knurled, arthritic hands shaking as she opened the envelope, tears already welling in her eyes before she saw the name, W. G. Holmes on the message and the words We regret to inform you She fell to her knees and wailed, sobbing like an inhuman thing, pounding the floor with her fist.

On Christmas morning Jonas came back from the post office after checking the mail. He was in a state, clutching a letter in his hand, and bounded through the front door of their little house in Langdon, out of breath, panting. Mama, weve got another letter from Bill! Here, read it out loud. The handwriting was not as shaky as the previous letter. Josies heart pounded as she opened the envelope wanting it to mean what it could not. Somewhere in France Nov 25 18 Dearest Mother and all Oh yes, I am still among the living. Am still in the same place. Cant say if I will get out but dont want you to worry. For the Army boys are to start coming back across soon. I expect you had just as well not write to me any more for my outfit is up in Germany and if you wrote me here I would be gone before it could get here. So dont write any more now. I will let you know that I am still kicking.

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Would sure like to eat Christmas dinner with you but that is only a dream. I will have to close with love and best wishes I am as ever your Son and Bro Bill.

Christmas brought no further false hope to the Holmes family in 1918 and the reality of his passing set in gradually over the months that followed. Records reflect that William Holmes took sick from exposure in the Argonne Drive and died at base hospital #26 on Sunday, December 8, 1918. He was buried in a grave so marked as to be easily identified. The site faced the Saone River on a slope at Allerey, Saone et Loire, American Cemetery #84, in France. Before the orderlies put his body into a simple coffin, Annie Gosman brought a basin of warm water into the room where they had prepared his body for burial; she silently and meticulously shaved the whiskers from his sallow and sunken face. The army stated that he died of bronchopneumonia. The Langdon Christian Church held a memorial for Bill during services on December 22. Though no one invited her, and though she had never attended worship services at a Protestant church, Rosa attended services at the Christian Church that morning. She came with her mother and father. She wore a simple black dress that fell to her ankles with dark hose and black pumps. She wore a black hat and a black scarf at her neck that trailed over her shoulder and caught the wind as she moved. The Kelleys sat near the back of the church to one side. Rosa saw Jonas and Josie near the front, sitting together with the two young boys, Speck and Badger, between them. Vesta sat next to her mother and Fay. Delphos and Mary Alice sat next to Jonas with baby

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Doris. Though she did not show it and only her husband knew, Mary Alice was nearly two months pregnant. The preacher took his message of hope from First Peter. From the pulpit he read the words of Peter, the Disciple who wrote, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. At the end of the worship service the Holmes family remained in their seats while the rest of the congregation passed by to extend condolences, wish them well, and offer help. The Kelleys came by near the end of the procession. Frank and Margaret shook hands with Delphos and Mary Alice, and made over little Doris. Rosa looked ahead to Jonas and Josie, as she nodded and smiled at Bills younger brother and his wife and child, and the boys who sat between them. When Rosa stood in front of Josie, the two women looked into each others eyes for a long moment and saw the regret and pain that each felt. Finally Josie spoke, My dear girl, she said, What have we done? And the two women embraced. When they pulled back, still holding each others shoulders, tears in their eyes, Josie asked, What have I done? Rosa found no words to respond, but they hugged again and Josie whispered into Rosas ear, Im so sorry, dear. Im so sorry. As they moved on, Rosa looked past Fay, to Vesta, who held out her arms to Rosa. The two hugged each other as they cried together for their loss.

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The holidays passed with the help of family and friends. Then, on a Sunday morning, January 5, a letter arrived at the Langdon Post Office from France, typed on plain paper with Bills name, Rank, Company and Battalion for purposes of identification.

Office of the Chief Nurse Base Hospital No. 26, Allerey, Saone et Loire, France Dec. 9 , 1918

My dear Mrs. Holmes: Your splendid son William has been in our hospital since November 10 and his pluckiness and courage in fighting a hopeless case of pneumonia has won the love and admiration of all around him. Even though he was so weak he always had a smile for those who were caring for him. He died yesterday at noon and the end was very peaceful. He did not know he was dying and passed very quietly away. We all sympathize so deeply with you now and hope that there will be consolation for you in knowing that your son died for his country in this big war of democracy. We will bury him in our American cemetery, a lovely spot on top of a hill overlooking the Saone river, where many of his countrymen are also buried. Assuring you again of our heartfelt sympathy, I am

Annie Gosman

Josie read Nurse Gosmans letter over again and again. She made handwritten copies for all the family. By the time she formulated a reply, she had memorized every word of Nurse Gosmans eloquent consolation. She practiced her response on old lined tablet paper, written in a careful hand, scribed in brown ink with an old-style pen.

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Annie Gosman My Dear Friend With a heart full of Love I am trying to answer your kind and appreciated letter which we received Sunday morning, Jan. 5th. We had received the Telegram from the War Department in December and thought we would in time hear from some one at the Hospital where he was. Which we thank you allwe had hoped after peace was declared that our boy might get to come home, but he with many others had to make that Supreme Sacrifice. In Hospital or in battle the Gift to our country is the same. Though they be laid to rest in France, loving hearts will follow them in gratitude, and I know kind hands tucked them in gently beneath the flowers to sleep until we all awake together. I would be glad to hear from any of the nurses who might have talked with him. If he had any special desires or if he received any of our letters while at the Hospital. We had two from him from there. The last one came to us on Christmas Day, written November 25. He seems so hopeful of getting out then. I hope I am not asking too much for I know you are all so busy. Surely many mothers appreciate your service, Heres one. I have tried to do all I could at home to help. May you all be strong and of good Courage Your loving Friend, Mrs. J. H. Holmes

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I met my cousin Maxine for the first time several months after her 80th birthday. I contacted her to share the letters her mother Kathryn had sent to Bill and those he had mailed home from France. Maxine lived in a modest two-bedroom home in Rawlins, Wyoming, a bleak oasis surrounded by barren prairies. Her house was newer, but very much like the modest little house in which my grandparents and Aunt Vesta had finished out their lives a thousand miles away. From the magnificence of the Tetons and the volcanic lakes of the Yellowstone high country, most of Wyoming gives way to the inhospitable steppes where deformed trees stand forlorn and apologetic. Rawlins is a town scraped clean by the incessant wind. A small, unassuming community, larger than Langdon, but similar in temperament, it serves the few farmers and ranchers who remain in its environs. Now its primary industry is the State Penitentiary, a looming limestone presence on the northeast side of town. Rawlins is the County

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Seat, the hub of commerce and activity for miles around. It ties into the rest of the country reluctantly through Interstate Highway 80, which runs monotonously through this desolate part of the West, having charted the shortest distance between Omaha and Salt Lake City. Such is Rawlins, a town that could not have survived apart from its highway, isolated by its secret desire to be left alone, the town where Maxines mother, KathrynKitty, or Kit, as was more commonly knowncame finally to rest. Maxine was a tall, robust woman, with a ruddy, wind-burned look to her complexion. But in spite of her years, her skin made her appear far younger. It was smooth and supple as fine suede. I immediately knew that she was my cousin, the only child of my fathers oldest brother. She reminded me of all the other women cousins of my generation; something about her body language and gestures gave her away. My parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins had whispered among themselves that Maxines birth-father was someone else, a married man or some other unknown paramour and that Bill had only married her mother Kitty to give the child a name. But there was no doubt in my mind that she carried the genes of the Holmes clan. Bill and his mother Josie had given her their same dark brown eyes, offered as if by way of an apology for her uncertain beginning. I asked her to tell me about her mother. And the first thing she said was, My mother had a hard life. Surprised by her stark and unequivocal pronouncement, I soon understood the truth of what she said. Maxine told me that Kitty first moved to Wyoming after the war, leaving Maxine in the care of her parents in Turon since she had no means of supporting a baby by herself. In Wyoming she managed a boarding house in what was then called the oil patch during the boom of the era. She supported herself as best she could. Married three more times. Divorced twice and widowed again.

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None of them was any good, Maxine said brusquely in a deep-throated Western twang, Except the one who died. I remember him. He was always good to me. And to my mother. He was killed working in the oil fields. Near the end of her life, Kitty took a lover. A married man. Maxine said he was a prominent business man in the Rawlins community. They might have married except the man was Catholic. So he could not seek a divorce from his wife who preferred being Missus Soand-so to becoming the Ex-Missus So-and-so, even if it meant tolerating the knowledge that her husband kept a woman on the side. Kitty kept a scrapbook during this final chapter in the story of her life. At my request, Maxine dug around for it in the back bedroom and brought it out for me to look through. It was filled with newspaper clippings and pictures of her last lover. She was 63 years old when she died. Lung cancer took her, no doubt brought on by cigarettes and, indirectly perhaps, by the eternal dust of the prairie. Maxine was her only child. When asked what she knew of her father, she said, My mother would never allow Bill Holmes name to be mentioned in her home. All she knew of her father and mother came from the letters I gave her. What little she knew beyond that came from growing up in Langdon and Turon, playing with her cousins when she visited Grandma Holmes house in Langdon. In 1931, when Maxine graduated from eighth grade, her grandparents sent word to Kitty that it was high time for her to assume the responsibilities for the raising of her own child. Kitty brooded about this for several days, and then at last acquiesced. But in truth, what else could she do? A young adolescent girl was speeding across the prairie in a sleek passenger train. When she got off she would smell of cheap five-and-dime face powder and look like a wide-eyed owl standing on the station platform with her cardboard suitcase and leather-tooled purse slung over her shoulder. Her grandparents put her on the westbound train to Denver, where she was picked

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up at the depot by her newly re-enfranchised mother, whose child-raising skills, one must have admitted, left a good deal wanting. But she succeeded nonetheless, as parents have for numberless generations, by dint of trial and error and, most importantly, through her genuine love for her daughter. As for the bus ride from Denver to Rawlins, Maxine remembered few details, but she did recall the thrill just sitting next to her mother and gazing out the window at the countryside slipping by as if in a moving picture show. I went to high school here, in Rawlins, she said as she finished this brief account of her own life. Married a man before the war who became a prison guard afterwards. He died when he was 50 years old from injuries he received from inmates during the prison riot back in 68.

Seattle September 14th, 1924 Mrs. Holmes Langdon Dear Madame A little more than a year ago I very foolishly married the widow of your dead son. It did not take me long to find out my mistake and things have been going from bad to worse until I at last could stand it no longer so brought things to a crisis and we separated. Now I do not know what reputation she bore previous to this but do know that today she is a woman totally lacking in morals and decency. In fact, a wanton of the worst type since our marriage. I have evidence which is to me conclusive that she has been criminally intimate with at least four men. Her last paramour she picked up at an oil camp last May and she has been out there with him since then. A good part of the time alone, that is until the first of July when a girl friend of hers came to visit her and she is also out there. The present man of her choice is a drunken dissipated cur who has a wife and 2 children around Rawlins whom he has deserted. So you see he is a pretty fit mate for her but it would be a crying shame to see a child in such an environment. If it were up to me, I would keep any child out of there if I had to kill the whole rotten bunch to do it.

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I am nearly sure that her mother and sister knew of this before I did and they have and are still aiding and abetting her. They are, as I suppose you are aware, living at Rawlins, Wyo and my wifes last escapade took place at a camp north of Wamsutta about 60 miles from Rawlins. I left there in order to avoid doing something desperate and have washed my hands of the whole affair, but should there be any chance of depriving her of the custody of the child, would be willing to render any assistance whatever. There seems to be a criminal streak in this family as the brother who is now in Rawlins is just out of the Oklahoma Reformatory where he served a 10-month sentence for issuing bad checks. And my wife told me quite boastfully when he was arrested that it was to gratify his lust for lewd women he committed these crimes! And I know that she would stoop to any crime for the same purpose as she has threatened my life on several occasions when I presumed to interfere with her love affairs. Now if you should wish for any reason to communicate with me, write at once. Respectfully W. A. McRae Box 125 Jerome, Idaho Your letters if any will be forwarded to me. After reading McRaes letter again, Josie sat down into the chair at the oak secretary, a piece of furniture she had ordered from the Sears Catalog that summer. She opened the writing table and took her pen to ink on lined stationary stored in one of the drawers. Mr. W. A. McRae Dear Friend, Received your letter through Mr. Ramsey. I am very sorry you are having the same kind of trouble my son didwith this womanthat is just the way she did here and she would not sign his questionnaire so he was called to war & was soon in France & never returnedhe had many warm friends who regretted his step in taking up with her He tried to make matters right, but to no avail. The childs mother has no conscience or she could not do as she does. Her parents have the child with themit breaks my heart what I see & fear of the future of her life. I am glad you are interested in one soulthat dear little child that has the future before herit was said of Jesus, what then shall this child be. That question may be

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written over every cradle in the world and this depends on its parents, later on itself & its associates. And Kitty as we called her, I have prayed many a prayer that her life might be turned to righteousnessOh the sin of this world is a reproach to any nation. I am hoping she will some day look to the loving Father that calls the wanderer home. If not she will be held as one of Satans captives, leading others as she did my boy & yourself. I can only tell you to leave her alone & go on in the world in the right paths. You will have lots of friends looking to Jesus the one who lifts us up if we fall. Your friend, Mrs. J. Holmes

Vesta lived in Langdon most of her life. She became the librarian and the assistant postmistress, working on weekends, putting up letters before church. She got the career and the pension her parents had hoped for her, and in her off hours, she wrote a column for the weekly Langdon Leader in which she reported the mundane events shared by members of the community. For years she played piano every Sunday at the Langdon Christian Church. Among her distinguished accomplishments, she traced the family genealogy back to the Revolutionary War. For forty years no other family member has pierced the veil beyond the patriarchy she discovered then through her dogged research of family records. Never one to throw anything away, she saved every birthday card and Christmas card she ever received, along with newspaper articles about every family member and pasted them into scrapbooks with her favorite poems clipped from magazines. On one of the yellowed scrapbook pages, I first read the poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes, called The Voiceless.

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We count the broken lyres that rest Where the sweet wailing singers slumber, But o'er their silent sister's breast The wild-flowers who will stoop to number? A few can touch the magic string, And noisy Fame is proud to win them:-Alas for those that never sing, But die with all their music in them! Nay, grieve not for the dead alone Whose song has told their hearts sad story. Weep for the voiceless, who have known The cross without the crown of glory! Not where Leucadian breezes sweep Oer Sapphos memory-haunted billow, But where the glistening night-dews weep On nameless sorrows churchyard pillow. O hearts that break and give no sign Save whitening lip and fading tresses, Till Death pours out his longed-for wine Slow-dropped from Miserys crushing presses, -If singing breath or echoing chord To every hidden pang were given, What endless melodies were poured As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven! In her garage she kept stacks of magazines, bundled and tied with twine. And the yoke that held the oxen driven across the prairie by William Perry Holmes and Granny Liza. That too she preserved. She spirited it away from Uncle Shermans sheda block away, under cover of darkness, while Uncle Sherman and Aunt Stella were out of town. She claimed it belonged more to Jonas line than it did Shermans clan. So holding to the legal doctrine which says that possession is nine tenths of the law, she wrapped the purloined yoke in brown butcher paper and used it as a shelf until it was discovered some years later by a cousin who got the story straight from her. The story of the yoke is worth far more than the old termite-riddled yoke. But the yoke remains in the family as a singular icon of the pioneer spirit, representative of the fortitude and brave hearts of those men and women who participated in the settling of the West.

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As further proof of Vestas acquisitiveness, we found in the old chicken cooplong since out of serviceseveral old steamer trunks filled with family memorabilia. One held Uncle Bill's greatcoat from the war and his uniform jacket, size 36R, too small for him at the time, his kit box and straight edge razors, along with an engraved certificate, suitable for framing, signed by then President Woodrow Wilson regretting the fact of his death. And of course, these letters. Would that Aunt Vesta could have known that her penchant for preserving the past would finally manifest itself in this book. In a special way, this is the love-child that she never bore. In the summer of 1915, my grandparents had a family portrait made. It was cloudless and warm that day the kind of day where the women of Langdon would make a pitcher of iced tea or lemonade and sit on the front porch when the chores were done, fanning themselves and gossiping. But Josie had other ideas. After scolding the men into slicking down their hair and picking off countless pieces of real and imagined lint from their clothes, they were all marched out in front of the long-suffering photographer. Then, looking disdainfully at my fathers abundant face full of freckles that had been made ever more prominent by the summer sun, she pivoted and retrieved from the kitchen a bowl full of white flour and a powder puff which she used to lighten his complexion and hide the offensive freckles. After that it took her a few more minutes to get everyone to quiet down, and like the farm wife she most assuredly was, to chase her fractious brood into some semblance of dignity. A moment later the photographer tripped the shutter release. Only my grandfather seems to be smiling for the photographer. The older siblings in the back row posed straight-faced so as not to be moving when the shutter clicked. Standing next to his papa, Badger seems to fail in stifling a smirk. Speck is ashen, his ghostly demeanor belying his true nature. Josie seems determined, satisfied. In the photograph Bills dark hair and eyes accentuate his demeanor. Lean and muscular, slightly brooding, he appears

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much like one of the silent film stars of the period. Aunt Vestas hair was lighter; it hung in wisps and fly-away curls from the tie in the back.

An envelope among the letters that Aunt Vesta saved holds a single lock of hair, a chestnut brown curl tied by a narrow baby-blue satin ribbon. The label reads, PFC Wm. G. Holmes. In 1922 my grandparents had Bills body disinterred in France and shipped back to the United States, thence home, to be buried in Langdon. My grandfather had the coffin opened before he reburied his son. Just to be sure. An army sergeant stood by at parade rest, discretely glancing away as Grandpa Jonas looked down at his boy of fleet foot and ready laugh. He stared down at the body for some time. After a while, he reached out and patted his sons folded hands, then closed the lid.

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Bill must have saved the love letters Kit sent to him during the summer of 1916, given the numbers that survived despite her insistence that he burn them. The following year, 1917, they married. The rest of the letters he wrote to his mother and Vesta and others from the time of his enlistment in the Signal Corps in January of 1918, until his death 11 months later. Vesta saved them all. These lettersalong with family photographs and other memorabilia, and perhaps most important, the oral history I learned from being the late-life child of my parents, growing up surrounded by cousins old enough to be my parents themselveswere the primary sources used to reconstruct the stories of the persons mentioned in this book.

Josie lived with whatever responsibility she felt for Bills death, after causing him to break his engagement to Rosa Kelley. She probably never regretted the fact that he had not married the Catholic, though her determination contributed to decisions Bill made later with baseball and booze, the Holland woman and ultimately, the army and France. One thing led to another. He never extricated himself from his mothers influence. Life is a page of paper white, Whereon each one of us may write His word or two and then comes night. A pebble in the streamlet scant, Has turned the course of many a river; A dewdrop on the infant plant, May warp the giant oak forever.

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With the proceeds from Bills government life insurance, my grandparents bought the gasoline service station at the main intersection in Langdon. My grandfather operated it for nearly 20 years, until he was no longer able to work. He still owned the property when he died. The balance of the life insurance money$2000went to Maxine. As the widow of a veteran, Kathryn Holland Holmes collected a modest monthly stipend for the rest of her life. The couple never divorced. But after his death, contact with the Holmes family was almost entirely cut off. As an adult, Maxine's only connection with the family was through letters she received regularly from Aunt Vesta. Josie died in 1938, a few days shy of her Golden Wedding Anniversary, for which the entire family had planned a celebration. Throughout her later years she kept a diary in which she recorded the daily bustles of living in a small Kansas town, during the Depression and the Dust Bowl years. The little house in Langdon had a screened-in porch which in those years was further secured from the elements with a layer of netted Visqueen plastic. Josie used to relax in a wicker chaise lounge absorbing the warmth on sunny winter afternoons through the plasti-shield windows of the screened in porch. She read the Hutchinson News Herald and the impossibly kind words of Bills friend, Charlie Hopkins, in a letter he wrote to her before Mothers Day in 1919, a portion of which contained these sentiments: I have always said that meeting my friend Bill, here on earth, was likened unto a trip to a cool refreshing spring on a sultry summers day and, my friends, as sure as I am writing this letter I am that confident that Ill have a meeting with my friend Bill again: In that House not made with hands, Eternal in the Heavens, and to this end I shall always labor. In the next few days twill be Mothers Day. God bless those dear loved ones who supported us: all soul and body to win that Great War. Yes, these dear old Mothers are the ones who deserve the praise and all the glory the world affords. They are the ones who taught us boys that right was right, twas worth fighting for and twas worth dying for. I am a poor writer and possibly it might read strange in some places, but I am

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writing this just as I personally at heart feel about it because I have also felt the loss with you, and am extending my heartfelt sympathy. She kept a journal and recorded the events of the day from her vantage point until she died. In the summer, the chaise was moved outside the porch so Josie could enjoy the morning shade in the lee of the house and the afternoon shade scattered by the fruit trees that bordered the flower garden outside the porch. It was there my grandfather found her on Monday morning, June 6, 1938. She had just finished making this entry into her diary: Sun out hot to ripen the wheat. Vesta busy with her news report. I went over to Roses and got some milk and cream. DL left for Bloom. Daddy went down to cut bindweed, but its awfully hot this morn. Sun will surely ripen wheat today. The grasshoppers are worse than ever. Jonas died in 1940. The children scattered throughout the country like moons escaping from their parent planet.

It never occurred to me that Aunt Vesta had the same range of emotions as everyone else until I grew older. Then my cousin told me that she once saw Aunt Vesta throw a dining room

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chair across the room, smashing it against the wall. She was angry that Josie was doing for herself when Vesta was supposed to be taking care of her. Two years before her death, Vesta had a will drawn up naming her two surviving brothers, Kelmet and Ferrell, the sole beneficiaries of her small estate. She wrote to her nephew, Glenn, my brother, after the will had been written, in a panic about its location. Langdon -- 2-21-1979 Dear Glenn: Where is my will? You showed me and left a BLANK form and envelope. There is not a name on it-I surely want the will and Last Testament as signed -- in my lock box at the Turon State Bank which contains other things of value--among them some E Bonds more than thirty years old--also abstract to my little uncouth house. Of course, I know I would not have a will without having had your help. There were so many signatures needed and I said go ahead. I was in pretty deep waters with responsibilities culminating in the stated paper. Seems everybody in town was smiling that I was getting an important paper filled out--Many dont have one, and yet know all about why its needed. Or so they say-- Maybe Im not thinking right some way. But I do have a very approved place for papers and, things. But, please, thank you, I want my will in my bank lockbox, where it will be when my stuff needs to be checked out. I can know where it is and who and what it says. All together. With love and best wishes -Aunt Vesta Im wondering what next will keep me from doing things Ive begun and unfinished. Eventually Vesta could no longer live alone. The family moved her into a nursing home in Kingman, which she despised. But in her own words, she had become forgettery. She could neither remember which medications she had taken from hour to hour, nor walk unassisted. Several years ago the Langdon Christian Church, which had long since closed its doors, was burned to the ground by the Volunteer Fire Department of Arlington, for practice. And the last time I was in Langdon I drove by the old home place, where my grandparents had lived and

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died. Where Aunt Vesta lived until her final move to the Pennock Rest Home. A man I did not know was taking the house apart, board by board, apparently intending to sell off the old lumber for scrap. The walls were transparent between the upright studs while I watched, the roof gone. As I stood by, idly watching the man at his work, dismantling the house that day, the house that had once birthed and then buried members of the Biblically fruitful Holmes clan, I was overtaken by a wave of emotion that flowed through me. I grieved as the roof flew off like the wings of some great bird. By the end of the day, only the floors remained intact. As I turned away it occurred to me that if I listened closely, I could imagine Badger and Speck laughing over some boyish prank. And in my mindwhos to say I didntI distinctly heard their laughter as though from far, far away. Vestas memory failed her such that a year before her death, she started keeping a disjointed diary on scrap paper to help her remember mundane events. The papers were scattered through her dresser drawers; we found them after she was gone. This one cited below, written apparently at bedtime, was never dated. Who did she write it to? And whom did she expect to visit her in the night? These questions can never be answered, perhaps these ramblings only represent a soul struggling against dementia, but maybe, given the proximity to her passing, she courted Death that night. Ive let myself get behind in writing to anyone. But theres not much use trying, for letters wont go out till Monday and there is hopefully a chance you might come-- Im sure Ill be surprised if you come, there is a good cafe on the road east of Main up on the hill beyond the store --IGA, I believe. I ride in others cars so dont pay attention. And you know Ive liked to drive everywhere. Im sleepy suddenly Not remembering who people are and feel embarrassed, terribly. Know faces and not to put a name to it, or them. And all the time hoping I wont have to ask pertinent questions -- or even speak. Knowing the face well but not the name. Now eyes heavy--

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And in my sleep Ive destroyed lists. This is actually the case. Fannie doesnt know and wouldnt believe if I told her. So I do not. I dont want to go to sleep now but will. And I want so much to listen to the night happenings-At any rate, she died in 1981, three days after Specks funeral. These twin events provided the impetus for the last and most attended family reunion the children and grandchildren of Jonas and Josie would ever know. Afterwards, it fell to my family to clean out the old family home and get it ready to sell, since geographically, we were the closest. In a box we found a slip of typing paper, neatly cut to the size of a 3 x 5 index card. On it Vesta had copied an epitaph from some unknown source. Or perhaps, she composed it for herself. Here lie the bones of Vesta Verr. In her life she had no terrors!!! She lived and died an old maid-No hits, no runs, no errors! It is fitting, in a strange way, that the epitaph refers to baseball, one of her brother Bills great passions. Given their closeness, it is possible that in a fit of pluck he had given it to her as a joke. If so, it was hauntingly close to the truth. And we found an old postcard with a picture of a World War I doughboy on the front. On the back in Aunt Vesta's unmistakable handwriting was this simple caption: "Tommy Smith, Vesta's friend." He never returned to work the family farm after serving in the infantry in France.

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Rosa lived with her parents in Langdon for several more years after the end of the Great War. Margaret and Frank Kelley separated sometime before he died in 1920. He is buried at the Eastside Cemetery in Hutchinson. Margaret died three years later and lies apart from the rest of her family in an unmarked grave at the Fairlawn Cemetery. After their fathers death, the girls moved to Hutchinson and lived together until Agnes married a sign painter named Delmer Davis and she moved out to set up housekeeping with her husband. Theresa and Rosa continued on as roommates. Theresa never worked outside the little house they shared. Rosa got her job back at Pegues-Wright, owing to the sympathy of the store manager, O. W. Wright. She worked there until she died. A helpful librarian in Hutchinson gave me directions to the cemetery and a gentlespirited sexton helped me find Rosas grave the summer before I finished writing this book. The sexton handed me a map and a copy of her obituary.
Rose Mary Kelley Rose Mary Kelley, 54, 412 North Walnut, died at 8:55 a.m. Friday in St. Elizabeths Hospital. She had been ill for six years. Miss Kelley was born in Frankfort Kans., Nov. 17, 1892, and moved to Hutchinson in 1923 from Langdon, where she had lived most of her life. She was employed by Pegues-Wright Dry Goods Company. Miss Kelley was a member of St. Teresas Catholic Church. Survivors are two brothers, Tom Kelley, 503 East 15th, and Jim Kelley, 721 East Fourth; and two sisters, Mrs. Agnes Davis, 406 North Main, and Theresa Kelley, of

THOSE THAT NEVER SING Verl Holmes, (719) 635-0262 432 the home. She was preceded in death by her parents and her younger brother, Frank.

She rests in the family plot at Eastside with her father, her brother Jim and sisters Theresa and Agnes and her brother-in-law. At dawn, the shadow cast by the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory covers the Kelley family plot, which lies but a hundred yards or so to the west of its menacing walls. So I walked the cemetery grounds holding the map that the sexton had pressed into my hand, peering around at the time-worn markers. Soon I found the one I was looking for. It was a simple granite slab like so many others around it, but what the nameless stone-cutter had carved on its surface was elegant in its simplicity.

At my feet, not far below the mantle of earth, my uncles one true love lay in death, alone as she had been in life. My grandparents oldest son and their only daughter died alone. Aunt Vesta never married. Marriage was too hard on a woman. Uncle Bill did not marry the woman he loved, though he fathered a child and married her mother. So here ends the Holmes family saga. But in truth, it has not ended at all, for we all of us are joined together in a single, beautiful dance; in it we whirl faster and faster. And, O Alas for those that never sing, But die with all their music in them!

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Additional Material

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THOSE THAT NEVER SING is a work of creative nonfiction, a biographical novel. The author had the good fortune to grow to adulthood on a farm in Kansas surrounded by various and sundry litters of extended families. Later he became the grateful beneficiary of letters that his aunt saved for years in shoeboxes and bureau drawers as described in the work that follows. Some of the names in this work are those of real people who may have had similar, and different experiences from those related in the story. Where some truth ends, other truths begin. Based on the archives and family lore passed on by elders, the author constructed a chronicle that shows how good people make decisions that impact others in sometimes unintentional, unfortunate ways. This is not necessarily a factual narrative about people long dead. The lettersfrom Kitty Holland to Bill Holmes and Bill to his family, along with what little genealogical documentation that could be hadcontain the facts of the story. A good friend and editor put it this way. A novelist ought to be a great detective of personality as well as a mathematician; that is, he ought to plumb the depths of the human heart and soul with a sense of probability. You may be right about the blending of facts with the books perception of reality. In the end it doesnt really matter. Only the story matters, for we are all stories, if we are anything. Similarities to real people and events are coincidental and unintentional other than those supported by actual documentation as seen throughout the story.

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Reno County Kansas, c. 1900

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aftermath & we cling each to our separate specks of dusty chaff gathering them in tightly walls surrounding us like feather forts as if they really meant something in the vast purpose of the universe as if these tiny puffs held back eternal plans as if we really could clutch to swirling clouds anywhere outside the calm eye of the Spirits mighty wind. Elizabeth Perdomo 1997

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Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Hier, je tadore The Contract The Country Girl The Picnic A Pebble in the Streamlet Scant The Marriage Noblesse Oblige This Agreement Leon Springs Hoboken Embarkation Preparing to Wait Marching as to War Forward into Battle Epilogue

15 25 76 103 141 175 241 273 297 313 343 357 367 387 397 439

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As a kid who grew up on a farm in Kansas in the 1950s and 60s, my dad told me many stories about his childhood a generation after his family came to Reno County in a covered wagon, pulled by a team of oxen. He filled some of the stories with romance and adventure. With others he wanted
Kelmet G. Speck Holmes, 1976

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to prove how much better things were in the good old days. Dad died when I was 31 years old. I was the youngest of his three sons. He and his younger brother, FerrellUncle Bige we all called him, short for his childhood nickname, Biting Badgerwere the youngest of six children born at the turn of the century to my grandparents, Josie and Jonas Holmes. Uncle Bige was as charming as my dad but more affectionate. When I was a child and we met at family reunions he inevitably grabbed me, turned me upside down over his head and whiskered me, rubbing a days growth of stubble on his chin against my peach fuzz cheeks. I always squealed with delight and anguish and screamed for him to put me down. Instead he would turn me back right side up and whisker my other cheek while I giggled; my feet and legs kicked helplessly in the air. Dad was 76 years old when he died. His only sister, my Aunt Vesta, and Uncle Bige survived him. Aunt Vesta was 85 years old and very frail. After Dad died, we picked her up at the nursing home to go with us for a private
Uncle Bige and Aunt Vesta, c.1980

viewing. She took pneumonia and went into the hospital that same night. She died in the hospital the same day as Dads funeral. Uncle Bige got lung cancer about a month after Dads and Aunt Vestas funerals. He died a week or two before Christmas, eight months later. Aunt Vesta had been the librarian in the small town of Langdon, Kansas. She was also the assistant postmistress. She played piano for the Christian Church every Sunday

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for thirty-eight years. She archived all the letters and documents quoted more or less verbatim in this book. She traced our family genealogy back to the Revolutionary War, though her sister-in-law, my Aunt Rose, claimed that the Holmes family hadnt arrived in America in time for the Revolutionary War. (Aunt Roses family had. And Aunt Rose claimed membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. A fact of life Aunt Vesta never really cared for.) Langdon rests in the rolling plains of South Central Kansas, a drowsy, nearly forgotten memory of a town bathed in constant humidity and wind, clustered around a grove of old cottonwood trees. In the spring, the trees discharge bolls of fluff that seem lighter than air above the roofs of simple, wood-frame houses built since the settlers first appeared in the 1880s. When the wind dies down, the cotton bolls float to the ground, translucent in the sunlight, and form feathery drifts where buildings come together or anywhere that is sheltered from the wind. In the summer, waves of heat emanate from the pavement on State Highway 61. Winter winds come out of the north, pulling Arctic cold to the naked belly of the states midsection. But snow rarely comes much before Christmas, stretching out the Indian summer, which is Langdon's most pleasant season. The grove of cottonwood trees attracted settlers long before there was a State Highway Department or railroad tracks. Langdon grew out of the crossroads where two country lanes led from prairie edge to prairie edge. At that intersection my grandfather Jonas operated a gas station from Prohibition through the Depression. It sat opposite the post office, the locker plant, and a caf and drug store.

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His father and mother, William Perry and Eliza Ann Holmes, drove oxen to Kansas from Boone County, Indiana in 1885, with three of their five surviving children. The story goes that Wm. P. first saw Eliza Dinsmore through a church window. "Introduce me," he said to a friend, "she's going to be my wife." They married on December 7, 1854. He was one month shy of his 21st birthday. His bride was 19. Their first child, Martha Jane, was born a year later. My great-grandfather served in the Fortieth Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers during the Civil War, and earned a Second Lieutenant's commission in Lebanon, Indiana, on September 1, 1865. He was 50 years old and bankrupt when he yoked a team of oxen to a Conestoga wagon and moved his family to the desolate southwestern prairies of a state that was barely half his age. Everything they owned had been sold at a sheriffs auction weeks before. He fought the government for forty years to receive a disability pension he earned for his war injuries. My great-grandmother smoked tobacco in a corncob pipe and celebrated fifty-seven years of marriage with him before she died. Back in Indiana they left the graves of three baby girls who died between 1865 and 1876. They left their two oldest sons, George and John, and they left their grandchildren. They brought their two teenage boys, Ulysses Sherman, named for the undisputed heroes of the Civil War, and Jones Hardin, "Jonas, my grandfather. With them also came the eldest child, Martha Jane, who was nearly thirty years old. She never married and died at the age of 37, in 1893. The immigrants staked a timber claim for the sum of $14.00, under the 1878 Act to Encourage the Growth of Timber on the Western Prairies. Their claim was far from

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Langdon, in Western Kansas by the Cimarron River, in Seward County near the Arkalon Post Office. Western Kansas remains remarkably unchanged from the pioneer days after the Civil War. Buffalo grass and sagebrush cover the rolling high plains that hide rattlesnakes and other varmints. By the middle of June, dry browns and sage greens replace the rich green grass and wild flowers that grow with the abundant rainfalls of spring. Occasionally in July or August, a wild fire whips out of control, sparked by dry lightning and fueled by perpetual wind. Then as now, you can travel for miles without seeing signs of civilization. The sub-zero wind chills of winter follow summers where high temperatures often pass 100 degrees. The first winter was hard, but in the year that followed, more Hoosiers came to Western Kansas. One of these families, that of Thomas Green Powell, also came to Seward County from Boone County, Indiana. Though the Holmes and Powell families came from the same county in Indiana, they had not known each other there. The Powells settled between Fargo Springs and Springfield in March of 1886, about seven miles from the Arkalon homestead of Will and Eliza Holmes. In the years to come, the families became fast friends and their descendants became my aunts and uncles, cousins, brothers, and my children and me. Two years later, on June 10, 1888, my grandfather, Jonas, married the Powell girl, Josie Ann, in Arkalon. Jonas was 21 and Josie 17. They set up housekeeping then and there and Josie bore a son on July 16, 1889. They named him William Green Holmes in honor of his two grandfathers.

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By 1907 Jonas and Josie had brought five sons into this world, and one girl, Aunt Vesta. She never married, spinning her life alone, like flax on a loom. One hundred and twenty years after their marriage, the descendants of Jonas and Josie numbered six children, thirteen grandchildren and thirty-seven great-grandchildren. Obeying the Biblical injunction, we were fruitful and we multiplied.

Descendants of Jones Hardin Holmes and Josie Ann Powell Holmes

Children 1. A son, William Green Holmes Married Kathryn Holland 2. A son, Delphos Lee Holmes Married Mary Alice Cassil Grandchildren Granddaughter Dorothy Maxine Married James Smith Granddaughter Doris Aileen Married John Buckhannan Grandson Darrell Lee Married Irene Rush Great-grandchildren A daughter

A daughter Three sons Four daughters Three sons

Granddaughter Donna Charlotte Married Rollin Gerboth 3. A daughter, Vesta Verr Holmes 4. A son, Jones Lafayette Holmes Married Rose Luell Compton Granddaughter Faye Genevieve Married Lloyd Plush Granddaughter Wanda Louise Married James Fountain Granddaughter Shirley Ann Married Robert Wildin Grandson William James Married Donna Dixon Grandson Jones Norman Died age 8; leukemia

Two sons

A daughter Two sons Two daughters Two sons A daughter A son Four daughters

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5. A son, Kelmet Glenn Holmes Married Emma Estella Webber

Grandson Glenn Ellis Married Carolyn Marie Grandson Kenneth Ray Married Bonnie Jo Grandson Verl Lee Married Reba Caroline

Two sons A daughter Two sons A daughter Two sons A daughter A son

6. A son, Ferrell Upton Holmes Married Ruth Jane OHara

Grandson Jon Ferrell Married Sharon Elizabeth

But the extreme weather on the sand hills of Southwest Kansas proved too much for these hardy pioneers. Even though they survived the great blizzard of 1886 living in a dugout cave, the prairie ultimately rejected them. They floundered in their efforts to turn the soil and raise the crops that had done so well in the deep loam of the Midwest. My great grandfather had failed again. So after a last, unsuccessful year in 1890, the Holmes and Powell families gave up their claims. Will and Eliza hitched the oxen back into the yoke and moved east to Reno County, where they settled in Langdon. They worked a farm two miles west of Langdon in the Jordan Springs community. For a few years, Jonas and Josie farmed rented land before buying a quarter section of land in Grove Township, three and a quarter miles northwest of Langdon. Aunt Vesta was already in her mid-fifties when I was a child of school age. Josie had died years before I was born, so Vesta was more like Grandma than Aunt. She had every kind of flower that would grow in her back yard and a rock garden collected from her travels to visit our many relatives who had scattered like seeds to places all

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over the United States. She had a grand toy box for her nieces and nephews. On Friday nights, she often came to supper at the simple farmhouse where I grew up. Sometimes we went to her home after church on Sundays, for dinner. I bought comic books for a dime at the old drug store down the street from the little house in Langdon.
Vestas Langdon garden, c.1957

Aunt Vesta became the glue that held our disparate family together. So it followed naturally that her death brought us all together for the first time in many years. And the last time since. After her death in 1981, we escaped the limitless prairies for urban terrains near and far. And we have yet to come together again as completely as on the day when we laid Aunt Vesta to rest. My family home, an old white farmhouse centrally located between the funeral parlor and the cemetery, became the gathering point for the family reunion that took place on the day of Vestas funeral. We had just buried my dad a week before, so it was

Family Gathering after Aunt Vestas funeral, March 1981

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comforting to gather there for condolences and remembrances of Aunt Vestas life, and the family in general. After a full-course, brought-in dinner supplied by neighbors and friends of the family, most of us gathered in the living room with extra chairs that formed an uneven circle the size of the whole room. We talked for hours. The great unsolved mystery of our familys life was why Aunt Vesta had never married. My mother said that she figured no boy was ever good enough for Vesta, least in the eyes of Grandpa Holmes. When I offered Moms explanation to my relatives that afternoon, most had already heard it. It was Aunt Rose, Vestas oldest surviving sister-in-law, by then blind at age 80, her genealogical nemesis, who responded matter-of-factly. Josie always said, Women should never marry. Marriage is just too hard on a woman. I suspect Vesta took it to heart. Josie had every reason to lament a womans inheritance. After her marriage at the age of 17 in 1888 she gave birth thirteen months later in a dugout house on the side of a hill in the middle of summer in Western Kansas. The homestead failed. She gave birth five more times in the next eighteen years and raised six children in Langdon, without electricity or an indoor toilet. Didnt Aunt Vesta have any boyfriends? I asked. A boy named Tommy Smith courted her, Aunt Rose continued. I dont know what Grandpa Holmes didnt like about him. But he didnt like him. I dont want him coming round, hed say. Vesta and Bill used to go out together some nights, Aunt Rose remembered, referring to Vestas oldest brother Bill. But their going out had another purpose. They would meet Tommy and the girl Bill was in love with, a girl by the name of Rosa Kelley. And theyd kick

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up their heels like young calves, then come home like theyd fooled everybody. But their secret gallivanting didnt fool a soul, not for long, anyway. Everybody in town knew that Vesta was sweet on Tommy. Must have broken her heart when Grandpa Holmes forbade her to see him anymore. Aunt Rose looked into the blank space in front of her sightless eyes, gray and cloudy, and seemed to experience Vestas loss as we collectively experienced the loss of Vesta. After that she never seemed to have much interest in the men who called, though for a while there were a few young fellows. But they just circled the house like moths round a lantern of a summer night. But none of them ever set with her. Who was Rosa Kelley? I asked. Hers was a new name to me. I grew up learning in bits and pieces that my Uncle Bill had married a woman to give her child his name. That child, my cousin Maxine, lived in Wyoming and sent Christmas cards to my parents. I had never met her. That was about all I knew of her except that, according to One Holmes Family History, a three-ring binder Aunt Vesta had published on a mimeograph machine at the Langdon Public Library, Maxines mothers name was Kathryn Holland. Kitty or Kit, people used to call her. Aunt Rose folded her hands on her lap and stared off into the dust-covered past. Rosa Kelley grew up on the farm next to Grandpa and Grandma Holmes place, but the Kelleys were Catholic and Grandma Holmes wouldnt hear of any son of hers marrying a Catholic girl. So she put her foot down where the Kelley girl was concerned and Grandpa put his down on Tommy Smith. And that was that, in those days. When John Kennedy ran for President, I remember hearing my dad say that the Catholics had stored up arms to take over the country and install the Pope. I never believed

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him, but I think he was serious, though he never pushed the issue much. So when Uncle Biges only son married a Catholic girl a few years later, Aunt Vesta was shocked and offended that Uncle Bige and Aunt Ruth left for Virginia to attend the wedding. Vesta certainly did not go, but the marriage endured; they raised two beautiful children and to this day, they attend their own churches every week, and sometimes, each others. The ebullient smile and infectious good nature of Bige and Ruths lovely daughter-in-law eventually won over even my skeptical Aunt Vesta and she visited them once before she died.