Morphine-addicted Lieutenant Weldon remembers a friend’s generosity during the war.
It was winter camp. Simon was on the outs with Captain O’Malley for flirting with the captain’s fiancé and for bleeding the captain dry at cards. Simon had also upstaged him in all the real fighting they had done so far and would probably be promoted soon. So Simon fell in with the non-commissioned officers—anyone would have him. He never lacked for invitations. Reluctantly Weldon agreed to let Simon stay in the small, but warm shelter he had built for himself.
“This place sure looks like a crazy beaver’s dam to me, Weldon, but it’s warm. Not very cozy though with that sour look on your face, but at least I’ll have peace when I want it. It’s big enough for a game of Bluff with the fellows. What do you think?” Simon asked with a teasing grin. “All right, no poker, but how about a few shelves? And we should name the place—for fun.”
Weldon looked up from his book. “I’d rather we remained anonymous, lieutenant.”
“Of course you would, but it’s too late for that. Your architectural style has already been noted by the boys.”
Weldon went back to his reading, but stealthily eyed Simon’s larder. Mostly Simon gave things away, but found that his mother’s preserves got him a fair bit of bargaining power so he requested a lot and sold a lot. The profits disappeared in town among friends and acquaintances when they ran the picket and went on a spree, but Weldon also noticed delicate things sent off to one of his girls, he figured.
“No, this is for my sister, Weldon. Do you think I’d be stupid enough to leave some little flower pining for me at home? My family would be under all sorts of pressure to keep me on the straight and narrow. Why put extra strain on the home-folks?”
It annoyed Weldon to be in this man’s company. Simon always had the right thing to say and the luck to do as he pleased and get away with it. But Weldon couldn’t help being curious. “So what’s she like—your sister?”
“Oh, Katie’s sweet as they come, poor thing.” Simon looked at Weldon and decided to say no more. “I’ll be back with some wood for the new sign for our door.”
What had possessed Weldon to do it that first time? It was such a foolish thing. Weldon wasn’t hungry, and he needed no money. He took a jar of strawberry preserves, ate the contents and hid the empty jar. Not quite satisfied Weldon lifted the lid of Simon’s ridiculously childish bank and grabbed a few notes.
Simon hadn’t noticed it the first few times, but then one night Weldon watched as Simon counted and recounted his stash. Simon threw himself on his bunk and whistled a bit. “The men in the officers’ mess say I’m nuts to be sharing a place with you, Weldon, but I tell them it suits me fine—you’ll be an officer soon anyway, I imagine. You know I’m about to make a good trade of the preserves for some excellent contraband tobacco.”
“That’s nice,” Weldon replied, writing in his journal.
“You never do write letters, Weldon.”
“Well, did you have a terrible falling out with your family?”
“They’re dead, lieutenant.”
Simon shifted awkwardly.“All of them?”
“At the same time?” Simon pressed.
“No, my father was crushed felling trees, and my mother died in her own vomit,” Weldon answered.
“By golly, that’s rough.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t know,” Weldon said.
Simon shook his head. “Weldon, you have such a pleasant way about you.”
Weldon laughed despite himself.
Simon sat up and offered Weldon a cigar, and they smoked in contented silence.
“You know, Weldon, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out you’ve been lifting my strawberries.”
Weldon said nothing just stared at the ceiling.
“I’ve been wondering about why you might do it for a while now. You’ve just cleared it up for me. You shouldn’t try to deny it, your mattress is full of those jars my mother uses. I think you’re younger than you say—about my age—and you ran off and joined the cavalry and since your father died you didn’t have much so . . .”
“You win the prize,” Weldon said.
“The thing that makes it interesting is why you steal from me when you know I’d share freely with you,” Simon stated, flicking his ash on the floor.
“So you’ll run me out of camp then, I bet,” Weldon said.
Simon wasn’t finished pondering. “You follow every rule in the book then you steal from a friend.”
“What will you do then?” Weldon asked.
“Weldon, is this a test? Well, I’ll tell you I won’t be getting you kicked out over preserves.”
“I guess I’ve had a good Christian upbringing and enough of my own sins to forgive your strawberry habit. You’re always at the Bible—ever read that old stand by—the Ten Commandments?”
Weldon sat up and grabbed his kepi, pulling on the buttons.
“You almost seem disappointed, Weldon. Did you suddenly want to leave the army?”
“No, it’s not that. I’m ashamed is all and sorry. Truth is I’ve been trying hard to hate you, but I can’t now, can I?”
“Others have told me if they concentrate on my dashing good looks and the luck I have with the girls they can keep up a healthy resentment,” Simon joked. “But listen, I don’t get played the fool more than once, Weldon. Don’t let me find you at my stuff again. Ask and you shall receive. You know you are such a pain in the ass, but for some reason you’re like family—life’s strange that way. But stealing strawberries…some might think you’re touched in the head.”
Weldon smiled. He would never take anything again.
“Here shove this in your pack and come with me for a trade. You owe me,” Simon said.
***Watch for the fully re-edited version of my novel THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD to be released soon! In the meantime enjoy some tasty bits:
PART ONE HERE
PART TWO HERE
PART THREE HERE
PART FOUR HERE
PART FIVE HERE
PART SIX HERE
PART SEVEN HERE
PART EIGHT HERE
PART NINE HERE
PART TEN HERE
PART ELEVEN HERE
PART TWELVE HERE
PART THIRTEEN HERE
PART FOURTEEN HERE
PART FIFTEEN HERE
PART SIXTEEN HERE
PART SEVENTEEN HERE
PART EIGHTEEN HERE
PART NINETEEN HERE
PART TWENTY HERE
(Image courtesy Warfare History Network)