I have made up my mind, after these 3 weeks here at the MASH 4077th, to tell Margaret Houlihan that I love her, and let the chips fall where they may. For all my hesitation, for all of Ben Pierce's dancing around her, and for all of Frank Burns' cowardice toward this fine woman, I will know if there is a future to pursue. In her eyes, I can see the love you felt for your wife, even as the years sharpened her features.
But I also can not help but see the pain this place has brought to that beautiful face. When I finally pressed her to stop using our ranks as a shield for her lovely heart, she threw up another, this one quite a bit more legitimate.
I could not trade war stories with her, Connor. I've lost women who I have told too soon. Plus, there is the risk run by lovesick fools like that poor Scalper I relieved of his misery. How many Quickenings have been lost because an angry mob of mortals cried witch at the word of a shaken lover? The number might be staggering. But who keeps such accounts?
Margaret told me of her arrival, and her instant dislike of Pierce, whom she again went on about for 15 minutes. Ben, ever the topper, had spoken on her for hour and a half, then again for 30 minutes. Once again, his loss.
She spoke with great passion about the distance between herself and her nurses. How a woman not truly older than the people she stood over was forced to play busybody Auntie to a group of girls, who, as I have mentioned, were as wild as any men could hope to be. She hoped to find a third path with them, but feared she could not see it.
Before we made love that evening, she told me a grim story that near turned my stomach, for all the wars I have seen.
"There they weren't, Duncan! Six people, having a good time! A wilder time than I usually like, but still all in fun. Then---something happened. They were exposed--somehow-to, I don't know--some biological warfare agent. By morning, their bodies were already...."
I held her, Connor, and let my secret love know that she could tell me anything, even on a subject so painful as this. Her proximity did not go unnoticed by either of us.
"We were ordered never to say their names. They never served here. Those were our orders. But I'm telling you, Duncan."
I had run her gauntlet, Connor, and earned her respect. But she still had one more surprise for me, this one unintentional, though.
"There was my friend, Charlotte Cunningham. We called her Chuckie. There were her friends, Bennie Martin and Julia Winslow. I didn't really get to know them. The doctors were Duke Forrest, a sweet guy who never ran around the way Trapper did, "Ugly" St.John Black, an Australian, and Gerald "SpearChucker" Jones. Jones was a Negro, but when the color you see so much of is red, those kind of things tend not to matter so much. They were all good people. Their families were told they got killed en route to their assignments."
She then told me of the horrible day her first Commanding Officer had been killed. She spoke of how an odd, cold young man with breath that stank from tobacco had warned them all not to ask questions of it. When I heard how the young thug had caressed her cheek, I carressed it in turn, to heal the old wound. We then were together for the night, and I was reminded of one of the reasons I had come to love Margaret Houlihan. She never enters into any venture halfway.
Staring at her sleeping form in the afterglow, I felt a jolt as I was reminded of her first Commanding Officer's name. Poor Henry Blake. Befuddled as always. But a good man. But he chose poorly when it came to some of his ladies.
NEW YORK, OCTOBER, 1908
"Tell me where she is, Macleod!"
"First, man, declare yourself! Second, are you here for me?"
"I am Henry Braymore Blake, of the Braymores who were Glenfinnan's original residents, before the Plague came and our lands were ceded by treaty to Clan Macleod in 888! Now, where is that lying, thieving, rub-up-against you and pick your pocket witch?"
"I don't know where she is, Henry Blake. But what exactly did Amanda do to you? I, by the way, am Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod!"
"I know that! But how did you know I was talking about Amanda?"
Henry realized what his own description had been. Befuddled, and now broke after the 1908 Stock Market Crash, thanks to his investment counselor, he sat down and had a drink with another of Amanda's sometime dupes.
"Maybe I should just go into medicine, Duncan! There's money, and it only takes 20 years to get established! Hell, I spent more time than that in King John's dungeon! You know, it was really him who was the nice guy! Robin of Locksley himself told me Richard Couer De Lion was a big jerk!"
MASH 4077th, 1952
It was a good thing he did not challenge me that day, Connor. Amanda had taken his sword, as well.
Quietly, I kissed my sleeping love, who I did not mean to wake.
"I have Post-Op mop-and-bucket duty at 5, Margaret. I have to go now, so no one will see me depart your tent."
"I don't mind if they see you leave. No, strike that. A head nurse has to be discreet. I'll talk to you tommorrow."
As I finished dressing, I blurted out words I would come to regret.
"And every day thereafter, I hope. I Love You, Margaret Houlihan! Truly and deeply, though we've had no true time together."
A hellish pause awaited me. At the end of it- a hellish answer.
"I don't know if I'm even capable of true love anymore, Duncan."
I should've taken my sword to my own head, Connor. That way, I could've spared my beloved Margaret the harsh look that made her cry, after I was gone out the door for the night. The pressure of the night weighed upon me. How many more obstacles would she throw at me? Did I have spirit enough to fight them all down? The chips had fallen off the table and into the sewer. A loud boom then occurred. I have pieced together some of what happened next.
Apparently, the humid night air presses upon the land mines that are supposed to protect the camp from an enemy advance. They were no protection for me, though. I saw Ben, and Margaret standing over me. A piece of debris had all but taken my heart, though only I could tell that. But all could see that I was mightily wounded. These wounds would heal soon enough, but I was finished at the 4077th. Soon I would die from my heart wound, and be forced to move on when I revived. Or so I thought. I awoke in the Post-Op. Since the war's wounded come as feast or famine, the place was empty but for me-and Ben Pierce.
"Duncan, just what in the hell are you? People, especially shapely Major people, are telling me what a swell doctor I am! But ego or no, I'm just not that good."
The secret was getting around, Connor. But for now, I managed to leave Ben Pierce with naught but his suspicions. Still, his frenetic efforts to save me, when all else had given up hope, would allow me to stay at the 4077th-and have another chance to win Margaret. I would repay this debt somehow.
"Maybe you've made me into Superman, Ben! Should I try and fly off? WHOOOSH!"
"Wise-Guy, huh? First he steals all the nurses, now he's stealing my lines!"
We had a good laugh at all that, Connor. Tomorrow, I would speak with Sidney Freedman, at your behest. For this new night, I talked with Ben of loves lost. He had suffered as I had, when his one true love, a woman named Carlye, had rejected him again of late, for the priority he gave his medical work. Like BJ, he thought to bore me with talk of his family. But I could not hear enough about a man named Daniel Webster Pierce who would welcome him back with open arms, at war's end. Not all sons are so lucky of their fathers. He even suggested a tiny bit of playful revenge I could have, if I were well enough. Begging off Pierce's questions about my healing, for now, I went to exact it.
"Well, hello, Ladies! My, but you're looking radiant tonight!"
"DUNCAN! We're showering! What're you..."
"Ah, here's where I left ma dime! I knew I'd find the bloody thing! Well, I'll be seein' you chassies-er, lassies! Honest mistake, there. Kinda. Well, hate to leave you all-BEHIND!"
Truth be known, Connor, their lovely hands were moving so fast, I could not see very much. But I felt more at ease, for returning the nurses' earlier favor. They did not see it that way, at first, though.
"YOU JERK! The guys do that to us all the time, with that peephole!"
"Yeah! Fair Is Fair!"
"Aye, ladies. Fair Is Fair! I am flattered by yuir attentions. But perhaps if Fair Is Fair....Then wrong remains wrong! Post a guard, if ye must, but let the fellas know ye don't care for it all. Boys'll be boys til the girls kick their sorry arses into shape. Just keep them out of yuir privacy! And - don't mention I was the one that told you that!"
After we all apologized, Connor, I realized again the fact that these were women who knew what they wanted-very few of them had donned towel or robe for my speech. It wasn't these beautiful princesses, I was after, though. It was their Queen, alone in a tower of her own construction.
Bumping into Max Klinger at the mess door, I decided to offer another apology.
"Don't worry, Sarge. I don't even do those things really expectin ta get out anymore! But I have to tell this place NO somehow. I just have to oppose it. Otherwise, I'm not Max Klinger. By the way, do you like this?"
"Aye, Max! That I do. It's not every man can wear a backless with any real style!"
Another apology I attempted, my last of the day, did not go so well.
"You think you're so great! Welllll, JUST YOU WAIT, PAL! He-hee!"
I am honestly beginning to wonder whether Frank Burns really exists or not, Connor. I think he's a changeling.
"Listen up, Dupree! If this Doctor Adams should return, you call me! He is a Commie symp-or worse!"
"Sure thing, Colonel Flagg! God Bless America......What a complete collection o' dog doody he is!"
"Is he gone, Roy?"
"He's gone. Now, look, Adams. Flagg may specialize in what the horse left at the fair, but he's mean as a polecat and dangerous as a weekend citified hunter! Get on out of here, boy! And you don't come back, ya hear? Shame we gotta lose a damned good cutter cause of that Yahoo Flagg, though!"
Thanking his friend for his help, Methos The Immortal did what he did best-survived-in this case, by leaving Korea. But his interest was piqued. How did so learned an organization as the Watchers now include someone like Colonel Flagg?
"One of these days, maybe I'll sign up and find out what the boys from Voyeur up to these days." He said this completely to himself, but the promise would prove to be real enough.