SERIAL FICTION (part seven): The Farewell Caress


Morphine-addicted veteran John Weldon says goodbye to his wife, but not before receiving a gift . . .

“Katie! Mother wants you in the kitchen,” Simon yelled at the foot of the stairs.

Katherine glanced at the clock on the mantle. She had forgotten to wind it, but could tell by the dull light slanting through her window that she had slept the day away. Drowsily Katherine slid out of bed and down the stairs to the kitchen.

Sarah stood at the window. “Now look what your crazy Mr. Weldon has done.”

Katherine didn’t like to look, but timidly peered out the window. Weldon led a mud soaked horse around to the barn. With one shy glance at her opinionated parents Katherine darted out the door.

Sarah shouted after her, “Katie, put shoes on before you catch your death!” but it was no use.

“John, what are you doing?” Katherine asked with a grin as she ran up.

Weldon turned around disappointed. “Well, now you’ve done it, Kate. It was supposed to be a surprise.”

“Oh, John, where did you get him?”

The filthy horse leaned into his new best friend and by the look of things it wasn’t the first time. Weldon’s jacket needed washing. “This is the second part of your wedding gift, but I wanted to clean him up before you saw him . . . anyway he’s a Morgan underneath all of this muck and sweet, too.”

Katherine gave Weldon a hug and a long kiss. He gruffly turned back to leading the horse, fending off the Morgan’s friendly, but powerful nudges. Simon and Sarah watched from the window, and Weldon waved to them before leading the horse into the barn.
Katherine skipped after him.

“What shall we name him?” Katherine asked. “How about Handsome like his owner?”

Weldon smiled. “You name him what you like, Kate. He’s all yours,” he said, hitching the horse up before brushing loose dirt with his hands. Katherine found a curry comb, but Weldon noticed Katherine’s feet. “Get back into the house this minute! You can’t help clean your own gift! Now go, you foolish girl, before you catch cold.”

Back in the house Scott contemplated aloud, while stirring his coffee, “That Weldon should have saved his money. What does Katherine need with her own horse? The sergeant has no sense . . .”

Katherine shivered as she entered. Scott started to repeat his words, but Simon interrupted. “Katie, it seems a sturdy horse. You know we’ve been on the search for days. Weldon was bent on getting you a gentle one for driving. He worries too much about you—I suggested a nice thoroughbred but . . .”

Scott moaned, “Oh yes, a temperamental stallion, I bet. As senseless as Weldon may be, we have worse right here in front of us.”

“What a nice thing to say on my final day . . .” Simon started, but caught the looks on the women’s faces and didn’t finish. “Anyway, a nice old gentleman from the English Neighborhood couldn’t care for his animals any longer and they took a shine to Weldon. He could have had all nine of them for near nothing. But that’s Weldon all over. Horses fall madly in love with him. I guess that explains Katherine’s attraction.”

“Simon, stop it. This son of ours will never grow up,” Sarah scolded.

“Katherine, how do you like him? He’s a beaut, don’t you agree?” Simon asked, attempting to lift her fallen spirits. “Now you won’t be as lonely for Weldon . . .”

John and Simon were leaving tomorrow for a post out West. Katherine would have the baby alone. The horse was not a wedding gift, but a going away present. Simon looked helplessly to Sarah, who shook her head.

Weldon came in, sizing up the situation. “Kate, what’s the matter? Don’t you like him?” he asked.

Katherine sobbed and Scott moaned. “There’s far too much emotion in this house!” he declared and stalked off to his library.

Sarah intervened. “Mr. Weldon, it’s not the horse. She’ll miss you is all. Katherine, enough tears. Is this how you want to send off your husband so he can be all miserable and lonely? Mr. Weldon has done a fine thing for you and this is no repayment. Now go upstairs, get dressed and go out for a while before supper. I’ve made lots of special things for our boys’ last meal . . .” Her voice quivered, too, and she left the room in a hurry.

Simon and Weldon waited in silence. Katherine got up. “Mother is right, I guess. Would you like a walk?”

Weldon nodded. They both dressed for town and as they rounded the corner on to Demarest Avenue it began to snow. A strong gust of wind ripped Katherine’s hat from her head and into the road. John ran to retrieve it and came back grinning and brushing it off. “Kate, you should get yourself a nice warm bonnet . . .”

“I hate bonnets! You know that. I won’t ever wear one. It’s a stupid suggestion,” Katherine said, wiping away a tear.

“I’m sorry, Kate. I didn’t know bonnets were such a sore spot for you. Retrieve your own hats for all I care,” Weldon grumbled.

The snow and the wind picked up, so Katherine had to hold her hat for most of the way into the valley. Her ears pinched in the cold. A bonnet would be warmer.

The first jingle bells sounded down a snowy lane, but Katherine was not feeling festive. “Why did you have to go and join the army any way? And before Christmas?”

“Kate, why ask questions you already know the answers to? I don’t want to leave you, but it’s too late to change things. Why can’t you be happy for our time together right now? I thought you’d be happy with the horse,” Weldon said.

“I’m happy with you and you’ll be gone maybe forever . . .” Katherine cried.

“Forever? Don’t be silly. I promise you . . . I’ll work so hard to make a place for you . . .”

“I just want more time . . .” Katherine said and thought of the little things she would miss about Weldon. Only she knew his skin chaffed under wool where the hairs at his neck met his collar on warm days. Katherine knew he loved the daily papers. Weldon sometimes quoted from the Bible, which impressed Sarah and he liked strong and sweet coffee. Weldon seemed to step through each minute as if he never experienced a normal day in his life before. “I’m sorry, John, for yelling at you. Thank you for getting my hat back.”

Weldon laughed and kissed her while pulling her scarf tighter. Grinning still he reached down into the snow and threw it Katherine’s way.

“You devil you!” Katherine shouted, though her voice muffled in the heavy air. Katherine bent to make a ball of her own and found herself sitting on the sidewalk.

“Kate!” Weldon helped her to her feet.

“I feel dizzy,” she said. They were in the park and John cleared a bench of snow and made her sit.

“We need to get you home. Are you sick?” Weldon asked.

Katherine laughed. “John, you’re to blame.”

“I told you not to come out with no shoes . . .” Weldon said defensively.

“John, I’m in the family way . . . are you happy?”

Weldon shook his hat free of snow and threw it back on, his face grim. “Happy? I’m not sure . . . are you certain?”

Katherine’s stomach turned and her face reddened. “I AM certain of it and I hoped you might be happy!” Katherine stood up and turned to leave him.

Weldon came after her. “It’s just that I didn’t expect . . .”

“What did you imagine might happen if we stayed in that bed all day?”

“But the timing of it . . .” Weldon continued. “It’s bad timing.”

Katherine stopped a moment. “Don’t you want us to have children?”

“I’m not sure, Kate.”

Katherine slapped Weldon’s hand from her arm. “I’m glad to see you go then. Maybe you can decide what you’re sure of when I’m not with you!”

Weldon blinked, trying to gather words. “Katherine! Wait . . .”

She ran ahead up the hill with Weldon plodding behind. Katherine slipped on the icy path, but when Weldon tried to help her she turned on him. “I don’t need your help! Stay away from me!”

044Supper was spoiled because Katherine refused to come down from her room. Sarah served the men their food, looking lost and miserable and nearly breaking to pieces every time Simon spoke a word. Soon enough, he stopped opening his mouth except to take a drink. Scott and Weldon were not to be depended upon for conversation, so it was the wind from the storm rattling the windows that did all the talking.

Weldon excused himself and went to the barn to check on Handsome, staying there much of the night. The storm subsided. He cleaned and reorganized everything much to the amusement of Simon and Scott, who looked from the doorway on the kitchen porch as they smoked. “Weldon’s unusual, Father.”

“Yes, well I hope he remembers to turn the lantern out so there’s no fire in my hay.” Scott grumbled.

Simon shook his head and went to bed.

Weldon pulled the hair at the secret place behind his ear, stunned that everything was coming so easily—a wife, a child, an extended family. He feared Katherine would die in childbirth and he wouldn’t be there. She seemed too small for children and Weldon considered asking her to get rid of it, but he knew she wouldn’t and he couldn’t really bear the thought himself.

Weldon regretted his behavior. He had never created anything from pleasure and didn’t know how to feel about it. Right now Katherine was enough for him. He wouldn’t make a good parent. His parents had taught him nothing, and he feared he had missed key elements, secrets he needed to succeed at it.

What could he offer the universe in gratitude for this new life of his? What could he offer Katherine and the child? A safe orderly life? He clung to the order he found in being a soldier and understood the military, but was not sure where Katherine and a new baby fit in.

Weldon worried he might not have any love for this child. Katherine must think him idiotic. She only wanted him to be happy. She was probably scared, too. Weldon cursed himself for being unreasonable and hurting her and couldn’t wait to leave. He turned out the lantern and closed up the barn. The house was dark, but for a small light in the parlor where he spied Sarah, packing the new stockings she had knitted for her son into his bag. Weldon slipped up the steps, into Katherine’s room and under the covers. “Kate . . .” He knew she was awake, but she didn’t answer him.

In the morning, Simon roused him from bed, eager for the road. “Weldon, what has my sister done to you—turning you into a lazy devil. Get up or I leave without you!”

Weldon turned to wake Katherine, but she’d slipped out already.

“Oh, Katie’s up for hours with your horse. I guess you’re the hero then with her,” Simon said and left for breakfast.

Weldon gathered his things and brought them down into the hallway by the front door next to Simon’s bag. He went to Katherine in the barn.

As Weldon opened the door Katherine whispered to Handsome, petting his sleek fur.
Weldon came over and patted the horse affectionately. “Katherine, how are you feeling this morning?”

“Fine. Why do you care?” she asked.

“Katherine, please. Don’t be angry with me. It’s my last few minutes with you.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I wish you would leave already so I can stop feeling this way!” she cried. “You’ve made me the loneliest and saddest girl in the world . . .”

“Katherine, about the baby I . . .”

“You don’t want it and neither do I . . . I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Don’t concern yourself!” Katherine sobbed. Weldon tried to touch her, but she wouldn’t allow it. “I never imagined you’d be so mean . . .”

“Katherine, I behaved like a fool. I don’t know why it surprised me so much . . . I’m sorry.”

“John Weldon, sometimes apologies are too late. Whenever I think of this child I will remember your first reaction to it. You’ve ruined it!” Katherine cried into the horse’s fur. She wanted to give Weldon a chance to make things right, but her pride stood in the way. “Some men would have reacted quite differently—better . . .”

Weldon looked as if she’d punched him. “Well, maybe you should find a different man to raise the child—how about your father? He can surely turn it into a spoiled, unforgiving wretch like you! Shit!” he said miserably, pushing open the barn door and slamming it hard behind him, causing the horses to jump.

Katherine heard Simon calling to Weldon and Weldon saying something in return. Soon Simon came to the barn. “Land sakes, Katie, you’ve got him madder than a hornet.”

Katherine said nothing, brushing Handsome roughly.

“Come on then, Katie, at least you should pay some attention to me before I go. We’re leaving now.”

Katherine came around with tears on her dirty cheeks and embraced him. “Simon, I’ll miss you so much. I’ll die here without you.”

“Don’t be morbid. You’ll see us soon. I promise. But won’t you say goodbye to Weldon then?” Simon asked.

“No, I couldn’t. I’ll fall apart completely seeing you two go. I just can’t do it,” Katherine said.

“Katie, you’re making a mistake letting him leave this way . . .” Simon waited for her to come to her senses, but she didn’t. “Okay, suit yourself, but you’ll be sorry.”

The coach came to take them away. Katherine heard the horses trotting off. Weldon stared out the window, waiting for Katherine to come running out, but she didn’t and he cursed her and himself. Weldon made up his mind to stay away for good. Finally this ridiculous dream was over and he could get on with his life.

Simon went through his bag, afraid that he had forgotten something. “Hey, what’s this?” he asked with a smile. “Just like my mother to cheer me up.”

Weldon assumed it was the stockings, but Simon pulled out a small wrapped package. He opened it and found a plain bound book with pictures from the wedding. “My God, was I tight that day!” Simon laughed as he flipped through the book. Weldon looked out the window, feigning disinterest.

“Weldon, check your bag. My mother was knitting you something . . .”

Weldon smiled when he saw the thick mittens and scarf. “You have some mother,” he said.
Simon smiled with pride. He shoved the book back into his things and lit his cigar just as Weldon felt in his own bag what he knew now to be a book of pictures of his own.

Simon watched as Englewood went away from him. He missed it already, but was glad to have a destination and a purpose again. Weldon lingered on the pages and pictures of Katherine. It was stupid to have left in anger. He didn’t feel angry anymore. Katherine McCullough was still his wife. These pictures were of their day. It wasn’t a dream or a fading photograph. Weldon ran his thumb over the sober picture of just the two of them, her small hand resting on his shoulder. He turned to Simon. “Captain, you know we’re gonna have a baby . . . Kate and I . . .” he smiled and then laughed.

“You joke!” Simon brightened. “So soon? Well that beats all. A little Weldon! That is splendid news.”

“Yes, it is.”








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