Welcome to my sneak preview from the third draft of “The Great Central Fair.” Let me set the scene for you.
It is June of 1864. Sgt. Patrick McCoy is on leave, having orders to report for duty in a week at Mower General Hospital (Philadelphia), where he will begin service as a steward.
When Patrick arrives at Greybeal House, the new home for Maggie, Eli, and the rest of family and friends from the old boarding house, Frankie wants to spend some time alone with her beau. However, she has not been allowed that luxury.
Later that evening, Frankie finds Pat sitting outside on the veranda at the front of the house. She joins him, and they have a conversation about marriage and where life might be taking them next. We start at the tail end of that conversation, just before Eli enters. Their big mistake is that Frankie is sitting on Patrick’s lap.
Now, Eli, Frankie’s stepfather, has always treated Patrick with a degree of suspicion, mainly because he tends to be hyper protective of his stepdaughter. Here Eli finally waves a white flag, but only because Patrick decides to set him straight.
“Hey, Pat…” Frankie said.
“Listen to us. We’re planning a life together.”
He snuggled her. “So, we are.”
“Sorry to intrude,” an all-too-familiar voice said.
Startled, the young people looked up.
At the sight of her stepfather, Frankie squeaked and leaped to her feet. “Papa! We… uh… we… we were just…”
“I can see what you were ‘just’.” His eyes rested accusingly on Patrick. “What have you to say for yourself, young man?”
Patrick frowned. “Nothing. It’s all completely innocent.”
“Really? Doesn’t look that way to me.” Eli turned to Frankie. “Go inside, please, Frances. I need to have a word with this fella.”
“Papa, please don’t – ”
“Frances, I asked you to go inside.”
Frankie heaved an irritated sigh and, straightening her spine, marched past Eli and into the house.
Once they were alone, Eli pegged his way across the porch and stopped in front of Patrick.
Pat said, “You don’t need to treat her that way, Eli. She’s not a child anymore.”
“And how do you mean, ‘not a child anymore’?”
“I mean, she’s eighteen years old. She went through the battle at Gettysburg. She served in two field hospitals. She worked in an insane asylum and lived through a riot!”
Eli pursed his lips in thought. “And that’s what you mean by ‘not a child’?”
“For God’s sake, Eli, she only was sitting on my lap!”
“And we both know what also is on your lap, don’t we?”
Casting his eyes heavenward, Patrick gestured for a little help from a higher authority. Then, with a sigh, he indicated the rocking chair beside his. “Take a seat, Eli.”
Eli sank onto the chair, put his cane on the floor, and waited.
Patrick took a big breath. “You need to understand something: I respect Frankie. No, I don’t merely respect her, I love her, and I never would do anything to hurt her. Do you remember when I was wounded last year, and she ran away to bring me home from Mower?”
Eli nodded. “I was mad with worry.”
“Well, you would have been even madder if you had known the whole story.”
“Tell me. Let’s see how mad I get.”
“Fine. On the way home, the train had a layover, so we found an inn. The landlady thought we were married and gave us one room and one bed.”
Eyes wide, Eli sputtered, “Why, you miserable little son of a – ”
Patrick cut him off. “Nothing happened, Eli!”
The middle-aged man’s expression went from anger to confusion. “Nothing? Really?”
“Yes. Nothing happened. It’s not that I wouldn’t have liked it, but I know what could have gone wrong. So, we slept in our clothes, side by side. I didn’t lay a hand on her. Honest.”
“Huh…” That was followed by a long silence.
Finally, Eli said, with a repentant smile, “Well, young fella, it seems I’ve misjudged your character.”
“I know what’s right and wrong, regardless of what you may think.”
“And I understand the temptations you face.” Eli sat back in his chair, adding, “When I was courting Mrs. Smith, we had a moment when… well, let’s just say it would have been easy to forget ourselves. I didn’t want her feeling guilty or having to explain anything to anyone, so I put a halt to the activity. My meaning is this: I’m glad you exercised restraint because it’s easy to get carried away, especially when you’ve had experience with women.”
Patrick said. “That’s wrong, Eli. Actually, it’s easier not to get carried away when you haven’t had any experience at all.”
There was dead silence for a moment.
“What?” Leaning toward him, Eli whispered, “What do you mean? Are you – are you saying – ?”
“I am. I’m a virgin. Like Frankie.”
Mouth agape, Eli searched for an appropriate response and settled for a chuckle. “Damn! And I here I thought – ”
“Well, you thought wrong. You even didn’t bother to get your facts straight, did you?”
“Damn!” Eli laughed again. “That’s just bell-fired bad journalism on my part, isn’t it? Shame on me! Please accept my apology, Patrick.” He held his hand out.
Smiling, Patrick shook with him. “Apology accepted, Eli.”
“I’ll ease up on you from now on. It was nothing personal. I just wanted to make sure Frankie – ”
“You love her like a father, don’t you?” the young an interrupted.
“Yeah.” Eli admitted and sat back in his chair. “Yeah, I do.”
“Know what I think?”
“I think you’re not as tough as you act.”
“You do, eh? Well, don’t let it get around.”
“It’s our secret.”
Eli glanced at Patrick. “Say… listen… no one’s in the kitchen at this hour.”
“So, I happen to know where the whiskey bottle is hidden.” Eli grinned naughtily at him. “Care for a sip or two?”
“Won’t Maggie or Emily notice when they go to use it for a cake or medicine or something?”
“Of course, they will. They always do. The men sneak sips, the women notice the liquor level is getting low, but they never say anything unless they think it’s going down too fast.” Eli grabbed his can and launched himself onto his feet. “Come on, son.”
“Son? Say, does that mean...?”
“Hell, no! Don’t want to give you a swelled head, do I?”
Amused, Patrick followed portly man inside.
Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek! I will put up another one or two over the next few weeks.