The Desert and The Sown by Mary Hallock Foote
II. Introducing a Son-in-Law
The colonel's papers failed to hold him somehow. He rose and paced the room with his short, stiff-kneed tread. He stopped and stared into the fire; his face began to get red.
"So! Moya's clothes are not good enough. Going to set the people to work, is she? Wants an outfit worthy of her son. And who's to pay for it, by gad? Post-nuptial bills for wedding finery are going to hurt poor little Moya like the deuce. Confound the woman! Dressing my daughter for me, right in my own house. Takes it in her hands as if it were her right, by ----!" The colonel let slip another expletive. "Well," he sighed, half amused at his own violence, "I'll write to Annie. I promised Moya, and it's high time I did."
Annie was the colonel's sister, the wife of an infantry captain, stationed at Fort Sherman. She was a very understanding woman; at least she understood her brother. But she was not solely dependent upon his laggard letters for information concerning his private affairs. The approaching wedding at Bisuka Barracks was the topic of most of the military families in the Department of the Columbia. Moya herself had written some time before, in the self-conscious manner of the newly engaged. Her aunt knew of course that Moya and Christine Bogardus had been room-mates at Miss Howard's, that the girls had fallen in love with each other first, and with visits at holidays and vacations, when the army girl could not go to her father, it was easily seen how the rest had followed. And well for Moya that it had, was Mrs. Creve's indorsement. As a family they were quite sufficiently represented in the army; and if one should ever get an Eastern detail it would be very pleasant to have a young niece charmingly settled in New York.
The colonel drew a match across the top bar of the grate and set it to his pipe. His big nostrils whitened as he took a deep in-breath. He reseated himself and began his duty letter in the tone of a judicious parent; but, warming as he wrote, under the influence of Annie's imagined sympathy, he presently broke forth with his usual arrogant colloquialism.
"She might have had her pick of the junior officers in both branches. And there was a captain of engineers at the Presidio, a widower, but an awfully good fellow. And she has chosen a boy, full of transcendental moonshine, who climbs upon a horse as if it were a stone fence, and has mixed ideas which side of himself to hang a pistol on.
"I have no particular quarrel with the lad, barring his great burly mouthful of a name, Bo--gardus! To call a child Moya and have her fetch up with her soft, Irish vowels against such a name as that! She had a fond idea that it was from Beauregard. But she has had to give that up. It's Dutch--Hudson River Dutch--for something horticultural--a tree, or an orchard, or a brush-pile; and she says it's a good name where it belongs. Pity it couldn't have stayed where it belongs.
"However, you won't find him quite so scrubby as he sounds. He's very proper and clean-shaven, with a good pair of dark, Dutch eyes, which he gets from his mother; and I wish he had got her business ability with them, and her horse sense, if the lady will excuse me. She runs the property and he spends it, as far as she'll let him, on the newest reforms. And there's another hitch!--To belong to the Truly Good at twenty-four! But beggars can't be choosers. He's going to settle something handsome on Moya out of the portion Madame gives him on his marriage. My poor little girl, as you know, will get nothing from me but a few old bits and trinkets and a father's blessing,--the same doesn't go for much in these days. I have been a better dispenser than accumulator, like others of our name.
"I do assure you, Annie, it bores me down to the ground, this humanitarian racket from children with ugly names who have just chipped the shell. This one owns his surprise that we work in the army! That our junior officers teach, and study a bit perforce themselves. His own idea is that every West Pointer, before he gets his commission, should serve a year or two in the ranks, to raise the type of the enlisted man, and chiefly, mark you, to get his point of view, the which he is to bear in mind when he comes to his command. Oh, we've had some pretty arguments! But I suspect the rascal of drawing it mild, at this stage, for the old dragon who guards his Golden Apple. He doesn't want to poke me up. How far he'd go if he were not hampered in his principles by the fact that he is in love, I cannot say. And I'd rather not imagine."
The commandant's house at Bisuka Barracks is the nearest one to the flag-pole as you go up a flight of wooden steps from the parade ground. These steps, and their landings, flanked by the dry grass terrace of the line, are a favorite gathering place for young persons of leisure at the Post. They face the valley and the mountains; they lead past the adjutant's office to the main road to town; they command the daily pageant of garrison duty as performed at such distant, unvisited posts, with only the ladies and the mountains looking on.
Retreat had sounded at half after five, for the autumn days grew short. The colonel's orderly had been dismissed to his quarters. There was no excuse, at this hour, for two young persons lingering in sentimental corners of the steps, beyond a flagrant satisfaction in the shadow thereof which covered them since the lighting of lamps on Officers' Row.
The colonel stood at his study window keeping his pipe alive with slow and dreamy puffs. The moon was just clearing the roof of the men's quarters. His eye caught a shape, or a commingling of shapes, ensconced in an angle of the steps; the which he made out to be his daughter, in her light evening frock with one of his own old army capes over her shoulders, seated in close formation beside the only man at the Post who wore civilian black.
The colonel had the feelings of a man as well as a father. He went back to his letter with a softened look in his face. He had said too much; he always did--to Annie; and now he must hedge a little or she would think there was trouble brewing, and that he was going to be nasty about Moya's choice.