Fiction: Go West, Young Man (and Grow Up with the Country)

An old soldier has dreams for his son.

The oncoming evening and the hangover tugging William’s stomach tempered the brief elation he felt after abusing his father. As William lay in bed, he remembered the day back  home, over a year ago now, when his father called on the landing in that hopeful  way he had.

“Willy, how about a walk in town?”

“Papa, not today,” William moaned from bed, knowing he’d give in.

“I want to buy a gift for my little bird, Kate,” his father insisted.

The humidity made William’s collar and shirt stick and a mosquito sucked blood at the exposed part of his ear. His mess of golden hair needed cutting. The sidewalks, slick with late summer showers, led them through mildewed shade past Queen Anne houses and manicured lawns. William’s father preferred not to use his walking stick (just in case he needed his hands—for what William never knew). And so with his one strong hand, John Weldon clung to William, who labored under his own handicaps.

Once William caught the reflection of the two of them in a storefront window and kept this awful picture in his mind all through their subsequent walks. His father always found the slickest paths to stumble and slide over. William never listened to what his father was saying as they passed sympathetic or curious townsfolk.

Today his father fell. The damp air made his leg worse and his butchered arm made it near impossible for him to get up without his son’s help. He laughed at his weakness, much to his son’s consternation as the twins, Meg and Thankful Crenshaw, came into view, followed by their fashionable friends.

Thankful rushed up, dressed in the softest looking cream walking suit. “Oh, my goodness, Mr. Weldon, are you all right?” she giggled.

William noted her sweet and accepting blue eyes. Meg and her friends whispered, probably assuming that his father was drunk since he’d fallen in front of Stagg’s Ale House. Thankful extended her white-gloved hand and Weldon grabbed it. William cringed.

The old soldier failed to get his leg straight and needed the girl’s and William’s help on the mossy, wet planks. Meg moaned. “Do let Willy take care of his old father, sis!”

Thankful turned on her. “You’re so rude. And his name is Mr. Weldon! For shame, Meg!” Thankful took the old soldier’s hand and pulled hard but her glove slipped and she fell back into the wet road.

William pulled the girl steady. “Oh, dash it, Thankful. Why did you jump in to help so fast?”

Thankful laughed and punched his arm. “William Weldon, you’re too serious. You should be more like your nice father who still sits waiting for help.” She went to Weldon and held out both hands. “Come along, Mr. Weldon, we’ll get it right this time, won’t we?”

Weldon grabbed her hands with a chuckle and William helped, too, but less enthusiastically.

“Thank you, young lady,” John Weldon said catching his breath once righted.

Meg grabbed her sister, and the girls hurried off, Meg checking as she went looking for witnesses.

“Well, that was about the most embarrassing way to start the day, Papa,” William complained.

“Oh, William, there are worse things than a little fall,” Weldon said.

“Yes—I’ve experienced them,” William replied.

Weldon flashed him a quick, hurt look. “I know, William. I know. It’s stupid of me to make you come to town. I see how it embarrasses you now with the young ladies.”

William slipped from his father’s hold. “I’m going to take you home. Mother’s got enough of your silly gifts.”

“Does she say that?” Weldon asked.

“Papa, isn’t it enough that we’ve made a scene in front of a tavern? I’m getting a roaring headache. Let’s go home.”

“No! Something’s come in t-t-t-today that I w-want. . .”

William sighed. “Papa, Papa—take a breath. I can read your mind, anyhow. You won’t let us go home till you get what you want.”

Weldon laughed.

They strode into Demarest’s store. “Afternoon, old soldier and young Willy,” Demarest said in a way that grated on William’s nerves so he didn’t reply.

“Do you have my order then?” Weldon asked.

Demarest passed a box over the counter and John pulled a decent sum of money from his pocket.

“These are for you, Willy. Paints and things . . . for your trip. It’s a nice set so I hope you like it.”

Demarest added, “Your father spent quite a lot of time picking out just the right one.”

William touched the smooth wooden box—an artist’s kit. His face tingled with suppressed surprise and gratitude.

John spoke haltingly, but with no stammer. “William, it’s time for you to go. We want you to be happy one day.”

“Papa, I don’t understand,” William whispered. They were sending him off?

“I never should have filled your head with notions about West Point. It was unfair and my dream . . . but you’re different from me, thank God,” Weldon tried to laugh. “You’re more like your mother. You have her talent for art.”

“Art?” William never thought anyone noticed.

“Painting, you know,” Weldon explained. “It got me to thinking that there’s more than one way to join the army—if you’d like to. Your mother’ll worry—she’d keep you here forever . . . but . . . I feel it—you need to be away from me—f-from here.”

“Papa!” William pleaded, glancing at Demarest. “Don’t talk like that!”

The storekeeper disappeared into the back room.

“Papa, I don’t feel that way! Not at all. I won’t leave you. I can’t!”

Weldon took off his cap and smoothed his hair back with a lonesome false laugh. “As much as we’d like it, we can’t keep you forever—we’ve—I mean I’ve given you enough trouble.” He messed William’s hair like he used to. “You’ve turned out brave and good—there’s no need to hide yourself. You remember Captain Bourke, I hope. . .”

“Yes, I think so.”

“He says to send you out for a small visit and see what happens.” John slipped the long box under his arm and rested his other on William’s shoulder. “Good day, Demarest.”

“Good luck, William!” the storekeeper called back.

William helped Weldon out onto the walk. He never did stretch out quite as tall as his father and so he looked up to him. “Papa, I don’t think I’m ready.”

Weldon gave his son a stern look. “By your age I was years in the army.” He handed the box to his son and held tight to William’s other arm. “Come along now. We need to tell your mother you’ve decided to go.”

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

 

5 thoughts on “Fiction: Go West, Young Man (and Grow Up with the Country)

  1. Wow! This turned out to be both revealing and something unexpected. Now I understand a bit of William’s difficult background and I have more sympathy for him and his father. To see William and Thankful when they’re younger shows the potential of a bud before the bloom. Well written, Adrienne,

    Liked by 1 person

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