For our second Pinkorama of 2023, Rachel brings us… Two Peeps and a Wedding! Or do I mean Two Wars and a Peep?
Rachel writes: “I recreated the scene early on in Two Wars and a Wedding when Betsy runs into Holt and Paul outside of their train, en route to Tampa. Betsy’s purple traveling suit doesn’t fit well and Holt is sporting his controversial mustache!”
It’s 1898 and Betsy Hayes is headed to Tampa to stop her best friend Ava from signing on with Clara Barton and the Red Cross to nurse in the Spanish-American War. There’s just one problem (well, one of many problems): there are so many trains trying to get to Tampa that there’s a giant train jam and they all pile up two miles from Tampa, with the arriving Rough Riders and all other Tampa-bound persons stuck in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
Betsy being Betsy, she isn’t willing to wait around. But when she gets out of the train, determined to walk to Tampa, she finds herself stopped by two Rough Riders, one of whom turns out to be her old Yale prom date, Paul. The other? She finds very, very annoying.
Betsy swung herself out of the compartment and onto the ground. She had failed to take into account that there wasn’t a platform there, so it was a longer way down than she’d expected. She landed hard on her left foot and staggered before righting herself. The ground on the side of the track was dirt and scrub, studded with chunks of coal that bit through the thin soles of her boots.
She wasn’t the only one taking a break from the train. Half the US Army appeared to have had the same idea. She could see them as dark shadows, as the red circles of cigar butts glowing in the darkness. But even if she hadn’t been able to see them, the smell of an army on the move was unmistakable: unwashed bodies and tinned beef; black powder and oiled leather.
Despite the heat, Betsy was suddenly cold through, shivering in her sick-stained, sweat-soaked dress. Her hands felt numb and bloodless; she rubbed them together, dragging in tortured breaths of thick, smoke-clogged air. Florida. She was in Florida. Not Greece. Two miles from Tampa. Just two miles. Two miles to go.
She drew herself up. She’d been traveling for days, from train to ship to train. Enough to make anyone dizzy. She was fine. Fit as a fiddle. She’d walk to Tampa if need be.
Betsy flexed her hands, grabbed her carpetbag, and squinted down the track. By the light of the train lamps, she could vaguely make out semitropical trees and dense scrub, crowding close to the tracks. And ahead, as far as the eye could see, train after train after train, backed up all the way to Tampa.
Well, that was it, then. All she had to do was follow the tracks.
She’d scarcely gone more than a yard before one of the dark shapes peeled away from the shadows, blocking her path. “Ma’am. May I help you back into your compartment? This is no place for a lady.”
Ha. She hadn’t been a lady in years. Possibly ever, if her brother was to be believed.
Betsy straightened, trying to ignore the way her hair straggled down the back of her neck, half out of its pins. “It’s very kind of you, but . . . no. Good night.”
Those particular cut-off consonants had always had great success in squashing the pretensions of university men who believed her to be a sweet little thing. Little, yes. Sweet, no. Unfortunately, this man seemed to be made of tougher stuff.
“Let me help you back in,” he said, and made the mistake of reaching for her elbow. Betsy jerked her arm out of the way. The man stepped back, saying carefully, as to someone delicate and nervous, “Is your chaperone in the compartment?”
Betsy had given up chaperones years ago, along with her illusions. “If you must make yourself useful, I need a cart or wheeled conveyance. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Just something sufficient to take me the two miles to Tampa.”
The man looked at her as if trying to figure out if she was joking. “Ma’am, everyone is trying to get to Tampa.”
“Yes, but there are a great number of you, and just one of me,” said Betsy, quite reasonably, she thought.
Another man ambled up out of the darkness. “Holt, what are you—” He stopped abruptly, leaning practically double to squint at Betsy. “Betsy? Betsy Hayes?”
Betsy’s stomach dropped. She’d know that loping walk anywhere. “Paul? What on earth are you doing here?”
“What do you think I’m doing here? Fighting the Spaniards,” Paul said happily, the same way he might have said, “trouncing Harvard,” as if this were the Yale-Harvard game and not a war, not a hideous excuse for men to exterminate their fellow man and leave them bleeding. “I’m with the First United States Volunteer Cavalry.”
He was bouncing on the balls of his feet with excitement. Betsy would have taken him by shoulders and shaken him if they’d been alone. And if she could reach.
“What made you do an idiot thing like that?”
“Betsy! We’re going to free Cuba!” Paul laughed. He actually laughed, as though it were all a joke, as though they were in the dining room of Delmonico’s and not on a humid train siding somewhere in Florida. “What are you doing down here? Not that I’m not happy to see you, of course, just, it’s not the place for a lady.”
Betsy rubbed a hand inelegantly across her nose. “So I’ve been told.”
“Oh, I forgot to introduce you!” Paul clapped the other man on the back in an excess of hail-fellow-well-met. “Miss Hayes, may I present to you my comrade in arms Private Holt, also of the First United States Volunteer Cavalry. Holt, this is Miss Elizabeth Hayes of Smith College, who once did me the honor of being my guest for Yale prom.”
The other man was slighter than Paul, but what he lacked in bulk, he made up for in sheer disapproval. “You’re a long way from New Haven, Miss Hayes.”
“Really? I’d hardly noticed.”
Paul gave a happy chuckle. “We’ve so many Yale men about you’d think you were at Mory’s. There’s Thede Miller—did you ever meet Thede? He was a year behind me. And Teddy Burke and David Goodrich. . . . We’ve more than our fair share of Harvard men here too, but we’ve decided to count them friends under the circumstances.”
“Given that the same people will be shooting at both of you.” Betsy’s mouth felt very dry. All the chivalry of Yale and Harvard, to be turned to food for buzzards. Did men learn nothing through the generations? They’d died to a man at Thermopylae and called it honor.
Paul ignored her, too buoyed up by his own excitement. “And then we’ve the real cowboys, like Holt here, men who’ve studied at the University of Experience.”
“A degree in cattle rustling, I take it?”
“Don’t be a snob, Bets. You must have heard of Private Holt. Hold ’Em Holt? The man who single-handedly hunted down the ?”
“It wasn’t single-handed,” interjected the object of Paul’s adoration.
“As good as!” In the light of the train lamps, Paul’s eyes shone with hero worship. Paul’s enthusiasms, when they lasted, tended to be all-consuming. In her case, it had involved whole hothouses full of flowers and reams of letters speckled with detailed accounts of his sporting activities, which he had assumed, for some incomprehensible reason, must be of interest to her.
It had suited them both, at the time. Paul had wanted a woman on his arm; Betsy had wanted an invitation to Yale prom, largely to annoy Ava. It had been such fun annoying Ava, and so ridiculously easy. Besides, Ava had enjoyed it too. Nothing made her happier than getting to be all purse-lipped and disapproving. It was how their friendship worked. Betsy did something appalling and Ava clucked at her and they both felt entirely themselves.
Then. Back before it all went wrong. So very, very wrong.
It’s always such a thrill to see the latest book brought to Peep– and I can’t tell you how much I love those sugary Rough Riders and the indomitable, bedraggled Peep that is Betsy by the side of the train in the middle of the night. And Teddy Roosepeep! I mean, Peepy Roosevelt! Thank you so much, Rachel! You captured his expression perfectly. And Betsy’s purple traveling costume!
Let’s have a huge huzzah– or possibly a resounding “that’s bully! just bully!”– for Rachel and “Two Peeps and a Wedding”!
Head back here tomorrow for our third Pinkorama of 2023!
p.s. stay tuned for a special bonus Pinkorama from Rachel later this week!