FICTION SERIAL (part five): War Wounds Discovered

After Katherine McCullough’s parents unexpectedly give Sergeant Weldon permission to marry their daughter his addiction resurfaces.

From the kitchen window, Simon watched his sister in the yard pounding the parlor rug. He saw the way her eyes flitted towards any sound that might herald Weldon’s arrival, and the way her shoulders slumped each time at the sight of the empty road. Simon worried. It had been three days since anyone had seen Weldon and the mail had just arrived with a note from Washington. Simon slipped out the front door and headed for the hotel.

“Weldon, are you in there? It’s me, Simon.” He waited a moment before knocking again. “I’m concerned about you.” Simon turned the unlocked knob. “Weldon, what on earth? It smells of death in here!”

“Simon, you’ve come,” Weldon said from the bed. “Lieutenant, don’t let them bury me. I’m shot, sir.”

Civil War letter courtesy albanyhilltowns.com
Civil War letter courtesy albanyhilltowns.com

“You’re sick, Weldon. I’m captain now, remember? A disturbing letter arrived from Washington today. Hazelton says you left the hospital prematurely,” Simon said tossing the letter on the bed.

Weldon’s chest went cold as his hands fumbled over the paper. A Private Hazelton? Weldon read further, but his head ached. His side stabbed him.

“Weldon, why would you put your life in jeopardy to come to Englewood?” Simon asked. “You seemed fine when you first arrived. I don’t understand.”

“I am fine. It’s just my side. It comes and goes, but I didn’t think . . .”

“Didn’t think we’d worry?” Simon asked as he uncharacteristically picked up clothes from the floor. “You’re going to be a part of the family soon. You can’t keep secrets from us, especially not from Katie.”

“You can’t tell her, sir.”

“Why not? There’s no shame in war wounds.”

“No, I need to take care of this myself . . .” Weldon began.

“What are you, a wild animal that goes off to lick its wounds in a thicket somewhere?” Simon interrupted. “Sakes alive, this place is a terrible mess. Your winter quarters were always in perfect order…”

“I’ll be better with some rest.”

“Did you come here to make me feel bad?” Simon asked in sudden anger. “I did everything I could, you know. I found you, remember? And brought you to the surgeon… you would have died…”

“Simon, you killed me,” Weldon said. “I’m not the same anymore…” Now was his chance yet Simon’s eyes were so like Katherine’s. “Don’t tell her. Your sister is my only hope . . . I can’t stop on my own . . .”

“What are you on about?” Simon came over and felt the sergeant’s head. “My God! You’re on fire!”

“I came to see you, Lieutenant McCullough . . .” Weldon began, grabbing Simon by the wrist.

“It’s Captain, remember?” Simon pulled away.

Weldon saw that Simon knew why he’d come, but despite the anger he’d nursed for so long Weldon had no heart to confront his friend now. “I hoped . . . maybe you could help . . .”

“I’m no doctor, Weldon. It was a stupid thing to do.”

“But don’t tell the girl . . .” Weldon begged.

Simon pulled the bedding before Weldon could prevent him and found the source of the sickening odor. The pus had saturated his flannel shirt and the bandage beneath it. Simon mumbled and wiped his face before pulling away the layers to find the wound red and full.

Weldon tried to explain. “I didn’t get the chance to dress it this morning is all.”

“Holy Christ, we need a doctor for this!”

“No! You left me to the doctors before,” Weldon snapped.

“Don’t be a fool, Weldon! There won’t be a wedding if you’re dead and now Katie’s set on it.”

“I can’t marry her with this ache, Simon; you don’t understand…it won’t go no matter how I try to give it up. It keeps coming…”

“If I know Katie she’ll want to care for you, but first we need a doctor,” Simon said. He ran out into the hallway but swayed at the top of the stairs.

“Sir, are you all right?” a man said as he passed.

Simon nodded, his stomach queasy. “Yes, really, I’m fine. Just dizzy for a second.”

He raced down the steps of the hotel and into the lobby. In the lounge Simon spotted a familiar face. “Crenshaw, Doctor Crenshaw is that you?” he asked the army surgeon he’d met at the dance.

Crenshaw stood up and stepped forward to greet him. He had soft full features, a florid face and the look of someone constantly taking mental notes. “Good to see you again, Captain McCullough.”

“What luck to find you staying here . . .”

“Well, I’m not really. I’m meeting an old acquaintance from the city who’s thinking of buying a place here. We worked at the Central Park Hospital after . . .”

Simon brushed aside the doctor’s small talk. “I’m glad you’re here. You see, it’s my friend Weldon. John Weldon. You remember the sergeant from the other night?” Simon said, rushing him to the stairs. “Weldon’s in an awful way. A war wound—it’s inflamed. He’s hidden it and shouldn’t have left the hospital. I’m to blame. He won’t tell my sister and they’re to be married soon if he doesn’t die!”

“I’m afraid I’m no longer practicing,” Crenshaw said, turning back toward the lounge. “I can’t be of any help.”

“But you must come!” Simon raised his voice. “You will not shirk your duty! I won’t allow it!”

Guests murmured and raised eyebrows at the two.

The doctor relented uneasily.

They found Weldon in a fitful sleep. Cautiously the doctor examined the wound and washed it. “These bandages should be changed regularly,” Crenshaw said in annoyance.

“Of course. It’s all very strange,” Simon said. “Weldon’s usually so fastidious about things…”

Crenshaw put pressure on the raised skin, awakening his patient. He took a small knife from his jacket and cut at the abscess letting the pus drain more freely, mopping it up with a shirt from off the floor. Pressing gently until the skin flattened, the doctor cleansed the wound again and sent Simon for clean bandages.

Crenshaw spoke softly. “Have you been medicating yourself, Sergeant Weldon?”

Weldon stared at him.

“Your friend just told me about the letter he received. Before I quit medicine…I worried that some of our long term patients were having trouble giving up the laudanum and morphine they’d grown accustomed to.”

“No. I . . . sometimes . . . take something for the pain in my side—what are you accusing me of?” Weldon asked.

“Nothing, I just wondered how you managed to get around and hide this—this horrible wound. There’s nothing wrong with seeking relief from pain. There’s no need to be secretive. It’s just that if you’re having trouble with it…” the doctor probed.

“I have no trouble but my side and nosy people conspiring against me. It’s because of the likes of you that…” Weldon glanced around. “Who are you anyway and where’s the lieutenant?”

“You mean the captain? Don’t you remember he just left to get some fresh bandages?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Weldon grumbled, frightened at his lapse in memory. Had he given anything away to Simon?

Crenshaw wiped his forehead and fumbled with a pocket watch.

“Antique?” Weldon asked.

“Excuse me?” Crenshaw turned back toward him. The doctor’s straight hair fell over his left eye and he brushed it back. “Oh, the time piece. Just sentimental.”

“I saw a lot of them during the war…bet you had your pick in the field hospitals.”

The doctor’s face reddened. “How dare you insinuate that I would steal from the dead and dying! This watch belonged to my brother who died at Gettysburg. I found him too late.”

“You people are always too late,” Weldon said.

The door opened and Simon slid in.

“Simon?”

“Yes, Weldon, don’t worry. You’ll soon be as good as new.”

The doctor gave Simon a look and pulled him into the hallway. “Your friend needs complete rest. No stimulation whatsoever or he won’t recover. There’s been some sloughing of the tissue and an excessive amount of pus . . .”

“But it’s laudable pus, right?” Simon asked devoid of the boyish conceit Crenshaw had witnessed at the dance. “The good kind of pus, right?”

“No, I’m afraid,” Crenshaw said, with a strange mix of nerves and resentment, “but I did drain it and that may help, I think. If the fever breaks your friend may be out of the woods, but I’m not confident. He has foolishly been far too active and has excited his body too much . . . he needs a hospital…”

“Oh, Weldon won’t go…it’s impossible…But he seemed fine, I don’t understand. . .”

“I would send for your sister . . . just in case.”

“Will he die?” Simon asked.

“Nothing’s certain in life, is it?”

“That’s not very comforting coming from a doctor,” Simon said angrily.

“I told you, I’m no doctor,” Crenshaw replied, “And you shouldn’t have asked me to come.”

Simon sent for Katherine and Sarah came too, huffing and puffing behind her daughter who tore up to Weldon’s room. The doctor had gone. Only Simon remained, with the same grey face he had come home with after the war. “I’m sorry, Katie . . .”

Katherine paid Simmon no attention as she rushed to the edge of the sergeant’s bed. “Mr. Weldon, how could you?” she cried and took his hand in hers. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Sarah came to the bed, too. “Mr. Weldon, we’re going to take you home with us.”

“No, I won’t go,” Weldon said, embarrassed by the female attention.

“You have no choice, young man. What kind of people would we be to let you suffer here on your own? Besides you boys are all babies who wouldn’t know the first thing about taking care of yourselves. We need a healthy groom. The invitations have been sent.” Sarah gave Simon a worried glance.

Katherine embraced Weldon with a tender kiss. She played with the damp curls at his neck. This soldier she hardly knew would take her away from here and she would take care of him. “Don’t you dare leave me, Mr. Weldon. Promise me,” she whispered.

Wounded Danish Soldier 1865 Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann - 1865
Wounded Danish Soldier 1865
Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann – 1865

READ PART ONE HERE

READ PART TWO HERE

READ PART THREE HERE

READ PART FOUR HERE

12 thoughts on “FICTION SERIAL (part five): War Wounds Discovered

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