John Weldon stood in the presence of God after a long absence. The only thing his father had left for him was the Bible, but the Christian principles and faith he had climbed out of childhood with, he spurned after the jostling ambulance unceremoniously dumped him addicted and neglected at the foot of the billowing tent hospital in Washington.
Weldon kept living, much to the annoyance of the doctors. They talked about keeping him comfortable, but where was the comfort in being talked about as if you were a waste of bed space, already dead but still living? That nurse, the one who kept him out of the dying ward, had come too late. Weldon was too comfortable with the new syringe and the powders and the liquids.
All the stories his father had given him, all the faith and the prayers and the temptations avoided had been for nothing. Weldon before this respectable group of faithful Englewood citizens wished for one thing—one small dose to get him through the rough spots of his wedding day. Breathing deeply, he tried to relax but could not rise above his hunger; it bristled along through every nerve. The smiling strangers accentuated how naïve Weldon had once been to place any hope in a great and benevolent higher power.
Sometimes Weldon thought that because he had killed people and at times in the heat of battle almost enjoyed it God had seen fit to punish him. But Weldon did no more harm than the rest of his chums, like Simon, and they got on with their lives all right. Looking at the people sitting uncomfortably on their shiny wooden pews, Weldon hated them. The hard, straight benches pressed against their well-fed bodies were as uncomfortable as their long lives would get. Like Katherine’s father, they had probably discussed and organized for abolition; never once risking their sainthood in battle. In his youth he imagined he could win respect from the likes of these pillars of respectability, but he could not even respect himself now. Scott McCullough suspected what John Weldon knew about himself– he was a liar and a fake.
But Katherine saw something in him that Weldon wanted to believe for himself. He was certain she had come along too late, but . . . he hoped that just this once he was wrong. It would have been more convenient to remain alone, but Katherine’s gaze and her confidence in his strength gave Weldon the will power on some days to avoid the morphine. Katherine hung on his words; his opinions mattered to her. It was a brave thing for him to love her, to think this small, inexperienced girl would accept him. Weldon silently vowed to go through any penance, whatever suffering, if he could be sure of keeping Katherine.
And now Katherine entered the church. The creamy outline of her dress peeked out just behind Margaret dressed in violet. The maid of honor’s smile dazzled, as Margaret made her way up the aisle like she owned it; only briefly allowing the guests a look at the bride. John felt for Katherine; he understood that like him, she did not take pleasure in being noticed. Weldon’s hunger faded as he caught sight of his girl and laughed with Simon when Margaret tripped slightly. Katherine glided as best she could, with no hint of a smile on her serious face. When John and Katherine’s eyes met the congregation knew it; they both relaxed and grinned.
Katherine touched Weldon’s fine dress uniform and whispered, “My father wasn’t a brute, was he?”
Weldon lied, shaking his head. For the brief hour in the diminutive chapel all fear and self-doubt left him.
Reverend Booth addressed the congregation. “On this mild and golden November morning we gather to celebrate the joining together in Holy Matrimony of Katherine Frances McCullough and John William Weldon. We have before us two young people full of hope and health. John, a hero of our recent war against the evils of slavery, will embark today on a life journey with skirmishes all its own. We are certain though that the same Almighty hand that carried you off the battlefield unscathed will give you the courage and guidance to love and protect your wife and family.
“Miss Katherine McCullough, you have been a member of our congregation long before we had a chapel to celebrate in. How fitting to see you, always such a kind girl, marry here in this place before God and the people who have seen you grow into a woman ready for marriage. Your innocence will soon fade and you will have your share of struggles, but it is God’s hope and ours that you will be the strong, supportive and kind helpmate that your husband will need.”
There seemed to be a question in his delivery and Katherine sought to answer it. “I don’t mind about the struggles, Reverend. I will be supportive and kind and . . .”
Weldon reached over with a smile, “Katherine . . .”
The congregation and even Scott smiled and giggled at her unrehearsed speech.
Katherine glanced back mortified.
Simon came to her side and whispered. “Katie, don’t worry; that was nice.” He kissed her lightly and went back to his place as the women sighed at his gallantry.The rest of the ceremony sailed by.
Weldon helped Katherine into their buggy—a smart new runabout painted Union blue with the smallest bit of red trim. Katherine’s parents lingered on the lawn with the guests and seemed so far away from Katherine now. They did not crowd her as they usually did and Katherine wondered would she ever miss their smothering love. She would miss Simon though, when he and Weldon would leave her for the army, but here was Simon now.
“Weldon, is she being kind and supportive enough—after all she did say . . .”
“Simon, leave my girl alone,” Weldon warned him with a grin.
Simon brushed his fingernails against the front of his jacket. “I just feel as best man it’s my duty to see you well taken care of by your helpmate. See you both in a bit!” Simon ran off to help one of the elderly guests into his carriage.
Everybody waved and cheered as Weldon snapped the reigns moving Hope, Scott’s fine Morgan, out into the street.
“Will we take a detour, John?” Katherine suggested.
They rode out towards the cliffs and past the ornate new homes, eating up the hillside. Farther north, along Engle Street, the land spread out before them. The old orchards clung to their few flecks of color still. The autumn had been mild, but in the stray gusts here and there the wind hinted at the change of seasons.
Weldon noticed Katherine eyeing her ring.
“Well, do you like it much?” he asked tentatively.
“I love it. Did you choose it or did my mother?”
“No, I’m afraid I did it myself.”
“Then I love it even more!” Katherine proclaimed as she leaned her head against his shoulder and then on second thought kissed him.
Weldon grinned and squeezed her. He slowed Hope along a quiet stretch of farmland already half bedded down for the winter.
The frosty cobalt sky stretched behind a large and boisterous flock of geese, late journeymen, flying overhead. In the distance, a stooped old farmer walked the lay of his land.
“I’d like that someday,” Weldon said.
“A farm?” Katherine asked, a little surprised.
“Yes, well, something peaceful like that.” He turned to her. “We could have our own things. The two of us. And I’d buy you a horse—a fast one.”
“You don’t have to buy me things, John Weldon. We could live anywhere…” Katherine assured him.
“Katherine, I promise you, as soon as possible I will send for you.”
“Please, let’s not talk about that today. These months have been a dream for me and I fear the sleepless nights when you’re gone,” she said.
Weldon smiled at her theatrical language. “You’ll be missed if we don’t return soon,” he said snapping the reins more reluctantly now, knowing the best part of the day was over.
READ PART ONE HERE
READ PART TWO HERE
READ PART THREE HERE
READ PART FOUR HERE
READ PART FIVE HERE