Karen Hampton comes to Washington, DC, from New York City to celebrate the end of the Civil War. For weeks she dances, dines, and drinks, until all the parties and receptions have blurred together. By the end of the season, she has accomplished what every debutante is after: betrothal to an up-and-coming politician. But Karen is not satisfied with her prize. She intends to marry for love, and there is but one man in Washington who can move her heart.
She first meets him under the dome of the Capitol, and then sees him again while bathing on the banks of the river. He is Vance Paxton, an upstart Texas representative whose copper skin and frontier clothes mark him as more than a creature of the Beltway. His love will carry her away from Washington to one of the last great battles of the American West, where Karen Hampton will learn what it means to live.
About the Author
Frank Schaefer was reared in upstate New York but has lived in Texas for many years. He was a hospital corpsman in the navy and served in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica. He holds a master of fine arts degree in theater from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Schaefer has written plays, film scripts, commercials, and some twenty novels. He lives in Austin, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
The Paxton Saga
By Kerry Newcomb, Frank Schaefer
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 Shana Carrol
All rights reserved.
The young woman in the mirror struggled with one obstinate, delicate strawberry curl. She twisted it about, pressed it against her creamy white temple. The curl held for a moment and then defiantly sprang askew. The girl in the mirror pouted, stamped one small foot in protest and resumed the struggle.
"Baby, now I jes don' know what to do with you. Your momma and papa are waitin' for you at de table, and your papa is one man who don' like to be kept waitin'. You lookin' jes fine, Baby. Now hurry along."
Karen Hampton whirled from the mirror, her emerald green eyes flashing all the more brilliantly as her temper rose. "I am twenty years old, and not a baby. I will not be hurried and I will not look fine until I look as I please. That will be all, Retta."
Retta shook her head in amusement. "Honey, you sure have your daddy's temper. Oo ... weee ... you sure do. But he's more 'sperienced at it than you, an' if I was you I'd hurry along, fine or no." The black woman opened the door to Karen's bedroom and held it, waiting. Karen's outbursts perturbed her not at all.
Karen twisted back to the mirror, grabbed a slim pair of scissors from the dressing table and clipped the traitorous curl from her head. Then in a swirl of taffeta and petticoats, she strode through the door, not deigning to glance once at Retta's bemused face.
She traversed the hallway and descended the grand, curving staircase with petulant grace, one hand lightly touching the dark luster of the maple railing, the other peevishly snapping open and closed an ornate fan. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and paused before turning to the dining room. Her mother and father were in the midst of some dreadful conversation and their voices, rising heatedly, carried through the thick, closed double doors. Karen knew the subject well, for she had suffered for the last three days as her parents hammered at each other in a furious clash of wills and personalities. The sole purpose of the countless words—oh, destiny, Karen thought sarcastically—was to determine whether the three would stay in Washington for the Secretary of State's formal ball or absent themselves from the city to travel to New York for business reasons. The ball was a prestigious affair, a near requirement for those of the inner circle, and Iantha, Karen's mother, was indignantly and adamantly in favor of attending. The trip to New York, because it involved foreign trade concerns unknown to Iantha but highly critical to her inclusion in the inner circle she valued so highly, was as equally espoused by Barrett, Karen's father.
The decision to be made was awesome, one for which Karen felt little or no concern. Two years ago as a girl of eighteen she had been entranced at the prospect of attending the many social functions continually held in the nation's capital. The war had ended in a Union victory and the Republican exuberance manifested itself in gala after gala, party after party, each grander than the next and all overshadowing the boring New York scene, to which she had become so accustomed. Now they all seemed to run together. The ubiquitous and corpulent, power hungry politicians sickened her. The similarly inane chatter of the capital wives drove her to distraction. The identically handsome and debonair youthful rakes, nodding sagely to each other, eyes ever roving over the low cut gowns, infuriated her. The same silly and tittering girls, their one concern the capture of a suitable male, embarrassed her completely.
More galling still, Karen had once been the most proficient of the lot, and in the process, garnered the favors of Alfred Randol Whitaker II, the most sought after, up and coming junior representative in Washington. Everyone knew he was destined for a wonderful future. He had money, influence and raffish good looks to accompany undeniable and winning charm. For all his sophistication and urbanity, though, he had turned to putty under the assault of green eyes and golden hair. Karen had captured him completely. But now they were finally betrothed, the game had soured. Karen was acutely aware that the arrangement was an empty one, based on mere coquetry and flirtation, the result of boredom and crushing ennui. Her father, delighted at the prospects of a wedding, had bestowed his unconditional blessing on the match. In his entirely pragmatic view, such a fortuitous union would join two families to the distinct advantage of both. And while she could surely cast off Alfred Randol with the same casual arrogance with which she had won him, she bore no illusions about her father's reaction, nor about how miserable both he and her mother would make her life if she so disappointed them. Sighing, she snapped the fan closed in a weary gesture of resignation, and steeling herself against the unpleasantness of the scene she was about to join, opened the doors and entered the dining room.
Barrett Hampton rose to his full, magnificent height and as the door opened, delivered the parting shot. "Your perception of the world is distorted. I assure you, Madam, power is based on wealth and its proper management, not upon the ostentatious display of finery and incessant, empty flattery." He turned, dazzled by his own virtuosity, and moved to the door to escort his daughter to the table. "Good evening, Karen, I'm glad you ..."
"Karen, darling, how lovely you look," Iantha interrupted, a dissimulating smile frozen on her face. "I'm so glad we bought that dress. Doesn't she look simply wonderful, Barrett?"
Iantha's interruptive ploy notwithstanding, Barrett had to agree. "My daughter is a beautiful woman," he said gallantly.
"You flatter me, sir," Karen answered, curtseying deeply in mock deference.
"Not at all." Worldly wise, he still found himself discomforted when his daughter, displaying more skin than he thought necessary, swept into a room. He couldn't help but notice the cut of her gown. The icy blue fabric accentuated the outline of her breasts and revealed to all their perfection. Damn, but he hated the thought of rapacious eyes feasting on her! In spite of himself, Barrett Hampton flushed darkly, his scarlet cheeks the more vivid in contrast to his white puffy sideburns and the starched glaring white of shirt and tie tucked under his jowls.
"Oh, Daddy," Karen laughed, rising and taking his arm. "You simply must learn not to blush. You look simply too, too silly when you do so."
"Young lady, you are inordinately tardy. You have kept your mother and me waiting. In addition, you have sorely grieved the kitchen help who have been trying, unsuccessfully I'm sure, to keep our dinner warm and palatable. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Karen sat demurely in her chair at the middle of the long table, allowing her father to seat her properly. "You should have started without me."
Barrett, speechless despite himself, glared at the back of his daughter's head and retreated to the end of the table opposite Iantha. Iantha came to his rescue. "Don't be common, Karen, dear. If you wish to be treated as a lady, you must behave as one. A lady does not keep people waiting like so many servants, especially her parents. Which you know full well." She sighed deeply, the signal for the next speech, one given at least once a week. "Sometimes I wish we had sent you to England for your education, rather than that ... that place in New York."
"That place is Vassar, Mother, and it is very highly thought of."
"I could care less about the name. And I could care less what others think. It is an American institution."
"As American as money can buy. I can't imagine why anyone should deprecate it. Dorothy Edwards is attending Vassar, and certainly, Ambassador Edwards wouldn't allow the apple of his eye to go anywhere he considers inferior. Even he, stodgy as he is, recognizes quality when he sees it." Karen had hit a sore spot. Anglophile that her mother was, Ambassador Edwards was the ultimate in Washington society and could do no wrong. It was at this point in the weekly discussion that Karen always prevailed and her mother knew it.
Fuming, Iantha reached for the crystal dinner bell and changed the subject. "Your father is talking again of a trip to New York next month." The bell punctuated the sentence clearly and concisely. "We shall luckily have the evening to ourselves, and since I have not been able to convince him we should stay here for Ambassador Edwards' ball, I trust you will attempt to do so."
Ross, the butler, appeared from the kitchen. Karen was saved for the moment.
"We are ready to start, Ross. You may bring the wine."
"Very good, Madam." Ross turned to the side table and with one fluid, graceful movement extracted the bottle from the ice bucket, twirled and wiped it dry. Karen watched her mother out of the corner of one eye. The older woman sat primly, haughtily. Ross was the one servant in the house of whom she approved. He was English, of course, and for that Karen hated him.
"Will Miss Hampton have some wine?"
Karen nodded a touch too curtly, startled by the sudden appearance of the cadaverous butler at her side. Such surprises were another reason for her hate. The man never made a sound when he moved, appearing and disappearing seemingly from nowhere. Earlier he had stalked her dreams, and even now, years later, a perfect memory of the nightmares haunted her occasionally. Hiding a brief shudder she tensed imperceptibly as Ross leaned over her shoulder to fill the crystal goblet with colorless, sparkling liquid.
"This is a very light Rhine, Barrett. One glass won't hurt you, will it? You really ought to try some." Iantha kept the mockery well-concealed, her voice purring in a bright masquerade of solicitude.
Barrett Hampton paused only the briefest of a second and decided not to play the game. A slight smile flickered across his face, drawing his lips tight in an even white line. "You may serve dinner, Ross. Now that my daughter has deigned to sit with us, I suppose we might as well see how cold the lamb has grown." The well-bred butler seemed not to react as he silently disappeared into the kitchen.
Karen sighed. The evening was definitely, irrevocably off to a bad start. She would be forced to take sides again, no matter how noncommittal she tried to be. And once committed, flaring tempers and harsh, unkind words would intensify the loathing for her parents, the two people in the world she should most love. She was determined not to live a life of bickering, open argument and divisiveness. She would not be a captive to a marriage of convenience, as her parents were, but rather a slave to love and passion, a happy, passionate, giving wife of a loving, understanding husband. Such dreams were interrupted by the arrival of the lamb and, once again, the cat-footed Ross.
If there were only some distraction, even a dull party to which she might take herself. This would be one of the few evenings, though, that the Hamptons would not be entertaining. Nor was anyone entertaining them. They would pass the evening together at home, pleasantly, delicately and elegantly carving each other into ribbons recognizable only to themselves, then taking themselves off to bed to count points won and points lost, and dreaming of brilliant ripostes and deft parries, intricate conceits and eloquent replies, drift off to a troubled, conniving sleep. Karen wished otherwise. She had hoped to draw her father into a levelheaded, calm, serene discussion concerning her growing disenchantment with the idea of becoming Mrs. Alfred Randol Whitaker II, but all hope for such a conversation was lost, at least for this night.
To make matters worse, the lamb, although daintily prepared, was overdone.
Vance Paxton avoided the mirror. He felt terrible enough without going out of his way to look at what he knew he'd see. Bleary blue eyes against a sea of crimson. Pouched eyelids. Puffy lower lip and right cheek. The very picture of debauchery. "Christ," he said to the floor, "you'd think I'd know better."
The water pitcher was before him and he reached for it, his hand knocking the empty bottle in front of it from the bureau onto the chair. He caught it before it rolled off and smashed to the floor, then steadied himself against the bureau. Rather than look at the mirror, so close to him now, he stared into the vast emptiness of the bottle. The heady, stale bourbon aroma swelled into his face and he gagged and dropped the bottle anyway. It didn't break.
He made his way across the bedroom and sat heavily on the bed. "Reckon I gave Texas a bad name last night," he groaned, the groan fading into a low chuckle as he looked down at his bruised knuckles.
There were two of them, two large-boned young dandies who swaggered into Robin's Tavern as if they owned the place. Robin's was the one nightspot Vance had discovered where he could get away from it all and escape the continual political conversations springing from every corner of Washington. Unaware of a brewing storm, he was drinking heavily and immersed in self-pity, trying to forget the fact he might be stuck in this damned city for another month before he would be free to pack his bags, get on a boat and return to the spacious freedom of Texas and his beloved ranch.
The two dandies, already half drunk, posed in front of the fireplace. Casting about for some excitement, one remarked about Vance's less than proper dress, mimicked his Texas drawl and called him Rebel trash. But it wasn't until they began to make insinuations about his forebears that he lost his temper.
He had sprung from sturdy stock. Pirates, pioneers and trail blazers. Determined folk who fought the British at Kings Mountain and won again at New Orleans, saving the newly-born nation its pride at the close of the War of 1812. The first Paxtons had emigrated to the Mexican Territory of Texas in 1834. A Paxton had died with Travis, Bowie and Crockett on the sun and blood-drenched walls of the beleaguered Alamo. Vance's own father had charged to glory with Sam Houston at San Jacinto and lived to carve a hundred square miles of raw wilderness into one of the largest ranches in the new state. And Vance, like his resolute and freedom-minded forefathers, had taken a stand in the War between the States and captained a troop of Texas Volunteers at the battles of Galveston and Sabine Pass.
The Paxton pride ran deep indeed. The Washingtonian ne'er-do-well had barely begun his own version of Vance's cherished lineage when he found himself lying on his back, spitting up teeth and wondering how the rustic could possibly have struck him from twelve feet away. When his eyes cleared, he saw how. The Texan toward over him, his eyes tight, his face white with rage.
His partner made a better showing, having studied fisticuffs at Harvard. He danced about the room, bloodying Vance's face with an assortment of left and right jabs until Vance tired of the game. A steel-like hand grabbed one fist in the middle of a jab, held and spun the brawler about on tip-toe. The dandy, squalling in protest, felt himself picked up by the seat of his pants and the back of his jacket and ignominiously hurled through the window to the horror of the other gentlemen and ladies present.
Vance laughed aloud, his voice hollow in the quiet bedroom, then cursed as the gesture sent stinging currents of pain through his cheeks and into his head. Good God, nothing was that funny.
A soft knock sounded on the door to his room. He groaned and pushed himself from the bed, issuing a weak "Just a minute' as he shakily crossed the room. He leaned against the wall for a moment, forcing himself to breathe deeply in an attempt to clear the fog from his head. Slowly, he opened the door. The light from the hall was blinding and he winced, jerking back from it and closing the door abruptly, leaving but a crack through which he could talk but not see.
He could smell the perfume. And recognize it from the night before. One of the spectators had come to call. Who was she? Ah, yes. Leighton's wife, the one he'd turned down, with too much whiskey as an excuse. But not bad for a hangover, he thought. Just what the doctor ordered. Shielding his eyes, he let her in and closed the door quickly behind her.
Excerpted from Paxton Pride by Kerry Newcomb, Frank Schaefer. Copyright © 1976 Shana Carrol. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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