When Ben first read his mother’s letter exhorting him to attend church every time he had a chance and to curb in himself the carnal nature of mankind, he felt his ears burn and anger rise in his chest. Ma had no call to give him such advice. He wasn’t a little child sitting at her skirts, owing her his attention and paying heed to her words. He was a man now, a soldier with a man’s responsibilities for killing or being killed. He had precious little opportunity to attend prayer services when his time was spent on the battlefield or building roads over the muck and mud so wagons could bring provisions to the brigade. He was a man. With time on his hands this evening. With temptation in the form of perfumed and painted women calling to him from just beyond the camp.
He was on the point of casting Ma’s letter into the fire and joining the fellows who were brushing the mud off their coats with the prospect of an evening’s pleasure when his eye fell upon a word in Ma’s fine handwriting. Disease.
He scoffed, but with a sense of unease as he recalled her words. Ma was a forthright woman, but she did have a sense of delicacy and had never come right out before and mentioned in such searing detail the dangers of partaking of forbidden fruits.
He reread the portion where her warnings had become particularly pointed. “. . . many cases of syphilis in the Soldier’s Hospital . . . suffering . . . go mad . . . treatment almost worse than the disease.”
Was Ma helping in the hospital, exposed to the results of man’s corruptible nature?
He’d never heard the proper name for French sickness before, but Ma knew it, and had warned him against venturing into a path that might bring such a vile retribution upon him. A thought chased through his mind that curdled the contents of his stomach. Pa had gone to war. Had he—?
“Impossible,” he muttered. Pa would never sin against his wife. He was a man of honor.
Where did that leave him, Ben? Where was his honor if he was contemplating lifting the skirt of a camp follower for a moment of relief?
The feeling of sickness caught him so quickly that he almost lost his supper. He fought the nausea, swallowing over and over. His thoughts swirled in a dizzy array, but one swam to the top of the whirlwind. He’d made up his mind that when he got a chance, he would ask Ella Ruth to be his bride. Did he want to take home an evil sickness to pass to her?
Sweat drenched his brow and ran in rivulets down his cheeks. He took out his handkerchief and mopped at his face. What would Ella Ruth think if he came home to her bearing the burden of worldliness? He could not stomach the thought of tainting her in such a manner. If he sinned in this fashion, he would lose her forever.
The dampness of the handkerchief seemed to freeze his hand. Ma was right. He needed to get his appetites under control. He needed to go to church. He needed to get right with God. Above all, he needed to forestall any barrier between himself and Ella Ruth.
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Click the "My Books" tab at the top of the page for more information about my books and short stories, including the newest story, Happy Halloween. Purchase links are included. The "Special Collections" tab includes information and links to my novella, Faith and the Foreman, and a short story in the Owenverse, Bloodied Leather, which gives a glimpse into the future of the Owen Family. Don't forget to come back next Saturday for another sample of my writing.
Bestselling author Marsha Ward wrote the novella, Faith and the Foreman, in the Timeless Romance Anthology Old West Collection. She is the author of an acclaimed novel series featuring the Owen family. Book 4, Spinster's Folly, won the 2013 USA Best Book Award for Western Fiction, and recently was named Finalist in Western Fiction in the 2014 International Book Awards. A former journalist, Ward has published over 900 articles, columns, poems and short stories. She is the founder of American Night Writers Association, a.k.a. ANWA.