Heartbreaking and inspiring Civil War saga (Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice).
When morphine-addicted veteran John Weldon falls in love with his best friend’s sister on the eve of Reconstruction and the Indian Wars, life gets complicated. How will Weldon hide his addiction from the family he resents and admires, keep his standing in the army and find the strength to endure life’s tragedies?
John Weldon spends a lifetime journeying across the prairie frontier of America only to find that he already has a home. The House on Tenafly Road is the first book of The Tenafly Road Series about the Weldon and Crenshaw families of Gilded Age New Jersey.
“Good luck, sir,” she whispered, her eyes shiny with tears, before disappearing behind the closed door.
Weldon’s head still throbbed as he licked his rough, parched lips. He took cautious breaths of clean, moist air, stepping out tentatively in one direction and then the other. He’d felt this way once before—that last day in the Wilderness with Simon. No. Simon McCullough had deserted. Weldon pulled at the hair behind his ear. The moon sank away and a tender breeze chilled him as he stood in this spot for hours under an ancient tree like the ones his father had been crushed under in the Western Reserve of his youth. Weldon slid down and into a deep sleep beneath the tree until a gentle hand tapped his shoulder.
“Sergeant Weldon, by golly, it is you!” A ruddy-faced private stood above him.
Weldon pulled himself up on his elbows as the dried pus at his side cracked beneath his shirt. The morning sun hurt his eyes.
“I’m Private Patrick Hazelton, sir. Do you remember me?”
Weldon held his side with one hand and used other to grab the man’s hand. The surprised private helped Weldon to his feet and readjusted his hat.
“Sir, you look a caution. Better head back in.” Hazelton nodded toward the Washington hospital. He took Weldon by the arm, but Weldon stood still.
“Who are you?” Weldon asked.
“A few years back, sir, Lieutenant McCullough convinced you not to report me to my unit for leaving my camp to go looking for girls. You and the lieutenant saved me much grief with my company commander—that incompetent ass. He’s been mustered out since, thank the Lord.”
“Simon McCullough is a bastard,” Weldon said from a faraway surface of himself. “He d-deserted and left me dead.”
“No, sergeant, you and him were best friends,” Hazelton said with hesitation. “I don’t believe a word. McCullough’s a captain now, I hear. After the Grand Parade he took leave but never deserted.”
“The war’s over … sergeant, you need to go back inside. You’re not yourself and you’re shaking.”
“No. I’m lost. They can’t help me, you idiot!”
“Now, sergeant, I don’t blame you for being sore. Times are tough. Washington’s a rough place to wander with money hanging out your trousers. Where will you go?”
Weldon stood with the oak, paralyzed again. “I don’t know.”
Hazelton reached forward and grabbed Weldon’s leather money pouch. “Someone will swipe this if you ain’t careful.”
“It’s mostly empty,” Weldon said, taking it back and opening it to drop in the loose change in his trouser pocket. A green wrinkled sheet of thick card caught his eye, and he pulled it out between his two long fingers. Hand-drawn timorous trees in black ink dressed the card’s message from the only package he had ever received. That first Christmas of the war … Christmas … the most dismal time of year for a soldier without family. He found ways to avoid mail call, but one day someone shouted his name. When the call came again more impatiently he slunk up, with his sunken, dark eyes lowered and his crow-black hair shorn short since the summer of lice. The heavy, battered box had his name on it. His face burned. He cut the top with his knife and reached in to find soft mittens and socks—hand-knit and familiar in a way. They were like McCullough’s, and for a horrible moment he thought there had been an embarrassing mistake. He fumbled to close the box but noticed a tiny, hand-drawn card with funny little trees around the edge. “A friend of Simon’s is a friend of ours! Merry Christmas! Warm Regards—Scott, Sarah and Katherine McCullough.”
Hazelton sidled up and read the card. On the back in the same small script was an address in Englewood, New Jersey, Simon McCullough had talked of endlessly—like someplace in a fairytale—as if the McCullough family expected Weldon to write. He had never done so, but had run his fingers over the little tree drawings many times.
“Sir, you need help, and if it ain’t the hospital you’re going to then I’m going to put you on the train.”
“I don’t know them … I can’t face Simon … I …”
“Any place is better than here, and Simon is your friend.”
Weldon had done everything he could think of to repulse this invasion, this toppling of his defenses, but Simon McCullough charmed him. The whole world loved him—no Simon pretended to love the whole world—he even played with the darkie children.
He remembered squeezing into his first army boots at Carlisle Barracks and then going off to the war with a commander who convinced him to volunteer for a Jersey regiment on a lark. There he met Simon, and for a sparkling few years Weldon pretended at being someone else. But now fevers came on strong. He held the pus-filled flap of skin at his side tighter. How had he been so damned stupid? How had he ever let Simon McCullough in?—that piece of shit. What a terrible, stupid blunder. Weldon would bring it all to him. Just shove it in the lieutenant’s face—all the suffering he caused. Weldon had always expected a life of aching and scratching and he could die doing it, but not before presenting it to the one person who duped him just long enough to give him hope.
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