FICTION SERIAL (part ten): Escaping the Forest

Morphine-addicted Civil War veteran John Weldon is asked to explain his scars . . .

“Tell me more about your parents, Mr. Weldon,” Katherine said. “It seems so odd for you to know everything about my family yet I don’t know a stitch about yours.”

Weldon got up and fumbled around for his pipe. He could hear Sarah padding around in the kitchen downstairs. “There’s nothing special to say about them. And I already told you they were dead, so what’s the point?”

“Well, I just wanted to hear more about the young you out on the frontier. It sounds so adventurous and romantic.”

“You really don’t understand much about anything, do you, Kate?”

Katherine’s lively eyes dimmed at the unexpected remark, and she retreated back to bed.

“K-Kate, I didn’t mean it the way it came out,” Weldon said, though he had meant it. “It’s just my parents were different to yours. The last time I prayed it was in hopes my mother would die, and soon after she did.” He shrugged and tried to make light of it. “So that’s all there is to it.”

“Those scars on your wrists and feet–they’re not from the war, are they?” Katherine asked.

“I took a pig from the family living on my father’s land right before Thanksgiving . . . what used to be my father’s land. My mother traded it for drink. I stole the pig, so I deserved it.”

Katherine kissed Weldon’s wrist. “Did you return the pig?”

Weldon scratched his head. “It was the family’s winter meat, all fattened up. I tried my hand at butchering and smoking it in the woods. They knew it was me. I remember the father was not so big, but his rifle was and it convinced me to fess up. It was a real loss.”

“But it belonged to the other family,” Katherine reasoned. “Maybe your mother should have gotten a piglet in spring. They’re not too expensive then.”

“Katherine, my mother never took care of things except to humiliate me. She sold off everything my father ever had. When she found out about the pig–she took my hands to the fire. The pig owners were shocked and vowed to send a lady missionary traveling west for the first time to take me away.

“She came up behind and scared me one day when I was chopping wood. By then my wrists were thick with infection. There were flies everywhere–all over my skin–and she took me down to the stream and scraped the rot off me and promised to take me away. She had this real optimistic look, and I half wanted to go,” Weldon said, remembering how he hung around the missionary’s waist, pleading to go. “But my mother lied and told her I started fires, and that’s how I got burnt so many times.

“She had soft green eyes, that lady did, but she didn’t want me to hurt her real children. I saw her a few years later. I guess God wanted her where she was, and she told me she’d thought of me often and prayed.” Weldon laughed and stuffed his pipe. “’Praise God,’ she said, ‘you seem to have come out all right.’ And I guess I did.” He fingered the hair behind his ear.

“Mr. Weldon, how could anyone want to hurt you?” Katherine asked, kneeling on the bed with its expensive blankets and pillows. “How come you didn’t run away?”

“I know you think I came from nothing, but that land was my father’s!” Weldon said. “He came from England and served with the dragoons. He was something. I know it.” Weldon cursed under his breath. “You think I was a coward, don’t you?”

“You were a child, Mr. Weldon. I don’t know how you managed. It’s heartbreaking.” Katherine made him sit and leaned her head on his shoulder.

It bothered him.

“I never lived outside that gloomy cabin and I thought all boys had it the same . . . the day my mother died was the best day of my life because I had to leave those woods.” Weldon hated Katherine’s sympathy. “I’m glad for everything, really. I l-learned how to take care of m-myself with no one’s help.”

“Well, I’ve made up my mind to do everything I can to take care of you from now on,” Katherine said in her most grown-up way.












***Featured image: Sunset by George Inness 1887 [Art Institute Chicago]

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