FICTION SERIAL (part nine): The Trouble With In-Laws

Sergeant John Weldon arrives home for an unexpected visit and finds trouble in paradise . . .

Sarah handed Scott a buttered biscuit as they sat for supper one late fall evening. “It’s time the baby was weaned,” she said.

“That’s all fine and good, Sarah,” Scott replied, “but Katie has no talent for cooking. I remember the last time she tried–the lime trifle–I don’t think I need to say another word.”

Sarah smiled. “Yes, it was a mistake to let her make dessert, but Katie was only ten. Of course I’ll take care of the baby’s diet once he’s weaned. Katie’s too weak anyhow,” she said, making a plate for Katherine.

“For God’s sake, Sarah, the girl won’t eat all that!” Scott complained, as Sarah heaped potatoes and gravy. Scott hated when his wife set her mind on slimming him down and grumbled as he finished his meager helping of roast beef.

A knock came at the door and then another and Scott cursed. “Visitors at this hour? I’ll give them a piece of my mind!”

Off Scott went to the front door, but was too late as the visitor raced to the kitchen porch and knocked more urgently. Sarah gasped and ran to the door with a grin. “Mr. Weldon! However did you get here?”

“Upstairs?” Weldon asked breathlessly running past Sarah and into Scott. Without a word Weldon rushed the stairs to Katherine’s room and burst in, the door banging the wall as he entered.

“Mr. Weldon!” Katherine cried, outstretching her arms as Weldon came to embrace her. “How did you know I need you now more than ever? I was so lonesome and your letters are awful—they’re so short! I was scared that you didn’t care any longer . . .” she said, searching his face for hope. “Have you come to fetch me?”

“No, of course not!” Weldon said, pulling back to look at her. “You’re in no condition! I–I just couldn’t wait to see you! But you’re alive and that’s all that matters.” Weldon kissed her again and again. “Don’t cry! I came all this way, and I’m so happy.”

Katherine pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve.Weldon noticed her thin fingers and the tiny veins so close to the surface of her pale face as Katherine wiped her eyes.

“Oh, I have something for you.” He pulled open his overstuffed bag. “Kate, you’ll think I’m odd . . .”

Katherine laughed.

Weldon scratched his head. “I wanted to bring you something nice. At the first shop on my trip things were either too expensive or not right so I bought some candy…and then again at the second stop and . . .” He dumped a mountain of assorted sweets unto the bed. “Kate, I’m too poor and know so little about you or what you’d like—but . . .”

“My dear silly soldier,” Katherine said, pulling him close for a kiss, “you knew all along what I’d like most and so you came home to me. The candy is wonderful, too. I shall hide it and savor one piece each day! Mother says it’s no good for me to eat sugar— but I’ve such a craving for it!”

Weldon sat watching Katherine sift through the sweets for the perfect one. She grinned, held a ribbon candy to the light and ate it as if it were the greatest delicacy in the world.

“I’m being transferred to Arizona–Simon, too, though he told me not to tell your parents he’s gone off on leave to Washington with our lieutenant colonel,” Weldon said, watching for reaction. “All of us are sent to Arizona, so they let me on extended leave . . .”

“ARIZONA?! But how will I ever get there?” Katherine cried. “I’ve heard Arizona territory is the most God-forsaken place to be sent as a soldier. And what about writing? I hardly get a letter now!”

“I’m ashamed of my letters, Katherine. And sometimes–I pretend you don’t really exist–to get through.”

“I don’t exist?” Katherine cried, her lips pale and trembling.

“Oh, no, Kate, it came out different than I meant,” Weldon said, uneasy in the face of her emotions. “I’ll have just about two months here, and we could try to be happy like a real husband and wife.”

The little child in the elaborately carved crib whimpered. John looked to Katherine.

“Mr. Weldon, leave Willy be,” Katherine said. “Mother will come soon for him and clean him up, but go look—he’s gotten awful cute.”

“You leave William cry for your mother?” Weldon asked as he went to meet his child for the first time. Weldon towered over the crib as he lay his hat on the table beside it. “Kate, he’s tiny, isn’t he?”

“Father says it’s my milk! It’s no good and William won’t take to Father’s strange potions. At least you’ve come before my pathetic mothering kills him!” Katherine cried again.

“I won’t break him, will I?” Weldon asked as he undid the child’s blankets. He maneuvered awkwardly, but the child stayed quiet and interested in this new man. After a moment William struggled to get down and Weldon helped him teeter on the carpet.

“My word! What is going on?” Sarah exclaimed upon entering the room. “John Weldon, you’ll break the poor child’s back that way and he’ll be deformed for life!” She slammed down Katherine’s tray on the bed stand with an exasperated groan. “Give Willy over to me before I suffer nervous palpitations!”

Weldon scooped William up defiantly.

“Katherine has no way with babies, Mr. Weldon, and no sense letting you unwrap the child when he’s wet—he’ll catch a chill and die before he has time to recover from his broken spine,” Sarah ranted prying William loose from his father. “Poor little lad, come with me now and we’ll clean you all up and dress you—oh, don’t cry—they didn’t think is all!”

Weldon watched Sarah abscond with William to his nursery. “Kate, what’s going on?”

Katherine pulled on the two long braids she wore. “Oh, Mr. Weldon, I’m so ashamed; it looks like I’m an awful mother after all. I thought maybe I’d finally be good at something, but I’m clumsy and I don’t ever seem to hold the child right at feeding and . . . and one time I let the baby grab hold of a pin. What if he had swallowed it?” She sobbed.

“Kate, I’ve never met such a girl for crying,” Weldon said and sat beside her. “But that’s okay. Your mother, I’m sure, is trying to care for you both the way she thinks best, but you have to stand up to her. William is yours. Shouldn’t he be walking by now?”

Sarah came back. “Well, here we are! Mr. Weldon, it’s time for feeding. You’ll have to wait outside,” Sarah ordered with a cheerful smile. “There’s food in the kitchen and you can have a chat with Mr. McCullough.”

“Mrs. McCullough, pardon me, but I’ll stay here with Katherine and the son I’ve only just met.”

“Mr. Weldon, I care for you and I understand your position,” Sarah explained firmly, “but you must understand that there is nothing I—I mean children hate more than a change in their routine. Now, you might not have noticed that this little boy of yours is far too small and sickly—that’s because our Katie failed to heed her father’s advice during her confinement. She didn’t eat enough, and she was always running the stairs. That’s why the baby came early. Katherine is still weak, and now you’re upsetting Willy’s meal.” Sarah waited. “Go right ahead then and see if they’re ever ready to join you in the West.”

Weldon turned to Katherine hiding her candy beneath her blankets.

“John, it won’t take long,” Katherine assured him.

Weldon didn’t want to make trouble for his wife yet he wasn’t fully convinced by Sarah’s lecture. “All right then,” he began with some hesitation. “I’ll go take a look at Handsome.”

Sarah and Katherine exchanged pained expressions.

“What? What’s happened to our horse, Kate?” Weldon asked.

“Well, nothing really . . . it’s just he’s been loaned out,” Katherine simpered.

“Loaned out? I used the last of my savings!” Weldon said, failing to hide his temper. “Have you sold the buggy, too?”

“I didn’t want to do it!” Katherine cried again throwing up her hands.

“It was for pin money, John,” Sarah explained. “Mr. Adriance has been after the horse awhile, and he offered to keep Handsome exercised and trained to the carriage until Katie was up to driving again. A girl should be allowed a few nice things from the shops.”

“Mr. Weldon,” Katherine cried, “I promise—it was things for the baby I wanted and a Christmas gift for you.”

Sarah pulled Weldon aside. “Katie didn’t want to keep asking her father for funds.”

“Kate! I send you my money—don’t you receive it?” Weldon said, brushing Sarah aside.

“Well, it’s not all that much,” Sarah stated.

“Mother! Stop it!” Katherine cried. “Mr. Weldon, I try to save it for when we make a home together.”

“You silly girl,” Weldon said, “I don’t scrimp and save so you can live like a pauper here. It’s not much I send, but it’s enough to get by isn’t it?”

“I don’t need a thing,” Katherine assured him but said it as if she were somehow betraying her mother. “I just wanted things for the baby and for you.”

“Before I leave I’m getting Handsome back,” Weldon stated. “He belongs to you and you should ride out for air and sun—you and William both. The women out west—the Indians especially—they recover much faster.”

“Katherine is no half breed!” Sarah said. “It’s bad enough little Willy looks too dark. Oh dear, I shouldn’t have said that, Mr. Weldon, but I worry for you all! Some people have strong prejudices.”

Weldon tried to speak, but when nothing coherent came to mind he went for the horse. Upon return he found Scott in the barn. “Mr. McCullough,” Weldon said through clenched teeth.

“Oh, so you’ve brought back Handsome, I see,” Scott said by way of greeting. “I told the girls you wouldn’t approve, but it’s a foolish idea to bring him back. Katie has enough to care for—she’s bedridden for God’s sake.”

“Kate needs to learn to care for herself and the child. Having the horse will cheer her up and get her out for exercise.”

“Whatever you think best, Doctor Weldon, but who’ll pay for the horse’s feed?”

“The horse will. Looks like he’s a good stallion. Kate was unaware of the profit Mr. Adriance stood to gain on new foals in spring. Anyway, Handsome will still help Adriance on market days and be fed on his hay for the rest of the winter. Kate will get a percentage of any money that comes from the foals. Then he’ll be castrated. So that’s all settled, sir. You might have thought to advise your daughter.”

“You’re proof of how well she follows my advice,” Scott quipped, but thinking better of it softened his tone a little. “You do surprise me, Weldon. I never would have expected you to make the trip back to see my daughter. It seems hardly worth it.”

“Seeing for myself that Katherine is well, is worth it to me, sir.”

Scott took Handsome. He led him to a clean stall and filled a bucket of feed ignoring the horse’s excited affection and gruffly pushing Handsome’s nose away.

“Thank you, sir,” Weldon said.

“It’s for the girl, I do it.”

“Me too.”

Scott groaned, but laughed. “Come on, let Sarah feed you—you’re still thin as a rake. The blasted army always takes such good care of its own.”

The Cradle by Berthe Morisot









** Featured Image: In the Garden by Edouard Manet

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