Henry Laurent fought in several wars to forget Vena Waldron, but after discovering a friend’s lie, he finally returned home to find her waiting for him.
In 1846 when the war between the United States and Mexico began, a young man from Pike County, Arkansas, named Henry Laurent and a young neighboring lady, Miss Vena Waldron, became engaged. Gradually Henry heard the guns of war and he felt it his duty to his country to enlist in the Army. He kissed his fiancé goodbye and went off to war. When Henry left, Vena vowed that she would never marry if he didn’t return.
Henry Fights in France and Russia
After Mexico City fell, Henry had a curious conversation with a fellow soldier and a neighbor. A neighbor named Ralph Mitchell came to Henry and told him that he had left Pike County after Henry did and that Vena had died a few days before he left.
Henry took the news of Vena’s death to heart. When the troops returned from Mexico in 1848, Henry didn’t come home with them. After he left the Army, he went to Cuba and from Cuba he went to Spain, England, Austria, Prussia, and France. When the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 broke out, he joined the French Army and was seriously wounded at Metz.
After Henry recovered from his wound, the Franco-Prussian war was over and he stayed in France until the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 broke out. Henry went to Russia and joined the Army. While trying to cross the Danube with a detachment of troops, he was shot through the lungs. He was in the hospital for a long time, but he finally recovered.
Ralph Mitchell Calls on Vena Waldron
Ralph Mitchell took a different path when the Mexican War ended. He returned to Pike County and called on Miss Vena Waldron. He told her that Henry, her fiancé, had strayed from the camp one night and a band of scouts killed him. Vena fell to the floor in a faint. When she regained consciousness, she developed a high fever. For months she tossed on her bed, dreading recovery worse than death. After a long illness, she finally regained her strength.
Ralph Mitchell called frequently on Vena during the time she was ill. One night while the bright moonlight shone of Vena’s pale face, Ralph confessed his devotion.“We have known each other from children and we have lived as neighbors,” Ralph told her. “You know me, my father and mother. I love you. Will you be my wife?”
Vena told Ralph that she respected and admired him, but she was engaged to Henry Laurent and always would be engaged to him.
“Then I will tantalize you no more. Laurent is not dead. My love for you caused me to deceive him. I told him that you were dead, and with a yell of despair, he left the army. I did this through love,” Ralph Mitchell confessed.
Vena Continues to Wait for Henry
Vena fell ill for a second time and when she recovered she learned that Ralph Mitchell had married a neighboring girl. The American Civil War came and went. Years passed and Vena laid her parents to rest and went to live with her brother. Other brothers grew up and married.
Vena lived in a small house with vines growing in the yard. She sat among them and dreamed. Summer flowed into winter and winter flowed into spring. The birds sang and the rabbits bounded in the meadows. Old songs and old memories swept Vena’s heart, still young and ardent despite her years.
One evening in October, 1879, Vena sat among the vines in her yard. Her brother had gone to the mill and she sat and dreamed. Then she started. An old man with a long beard and a tottering walk stood in front of the gate. He asked her if Mr. Waldron lived there. She invited him in. He came to the vine covered porch and sank down on a chair. He buried his face in his wrinkled hands.
“Old gentleman, can I do anything for you? You look so weary,” Vena said.
“That voice! Vena, don’t you know me? Henry has returned! "the old man exclaimed.
Vena fainted and the old man gently lifted the form of the old woman from the floor.
Vena’s brother returned. The moon rose and the old lovers walked out into the beautiful, polished peace of the night. They walked along the road, clasping hands. Vena opened a gate and they walked into a fenced in cemetery. They stopped at a grave.
“Bend over, Henry, and see if you can read the inscription,” Vena said.
Henry leaned over. Slowly he straightened up. “It is the grave of Ralph Mitchell.”
According to the newspaper account written in the sentimental nineteenth century style, Henry and Vena held hands across the grave and prayed, “Great God, we forgive the man who destroyed so many years of our happiness.”
A few days later in a little log church not far away, a beaming minister pronounced Henry Laurent and Vena Waldron man and wife.
The nineteenth century newspaper story concludes with another touch of nineteenth century sentimentality, but also with a touch of twenty first century realism: "Their story ends with a timeless truth. 'Nature says their lives will not continue but a few years longer. True sentiment says the few years will be happy ones.'”
Sedalia (Missouri) Weekly Bazoo Tuesday, October 28, 1879
Douglas Meed, The Mexican War 1846-1848, Osprey Publishing, 2002
Geoffey Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871, Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Gregory A. Boyd, Family Maps of Pike County, Arkansas, Norman, Oklahoma: Arphay Publishing, 2006.