Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2015 by Parker Sheaffer
Back in Boston, Lucas took his wages to his bank to deposit them and to check on the money already in his account. He was very surprised at how much it had all increased. The bank's investments were doing well so Lucas was benefiting from the boom time, too.
He found another ship a few days later, but to his disappointment there were three crewmembers that had been on the Bonnie Lass when he was the cabin boy. They remembered him, of course, and thought it funny that he was still a little lad so he lied and said that his name was Alexander, the younger brother of Lucas. They seemed to accept his story, but they were suspicious about it. Sailors are a superstitious lot and whispers began to circulate among the crew, so the voyage soon became uncomfortable and Lucas saw that his plans would have to change some. He didn't become close with anyone on that ship, hoping that keeping his distance would keep people from asking awkward questions.
In the days before Penicillin and other modern medicines people were plagued with an array of medical problems, most of them incurable and many of them fatal. One of the most common among sailors was the Pox, or Syphilis, an ugly disease with even uglier treatments. Common diseases also included Influenza, Cholera, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. Lucas however seemed to be immune to all of these. While those around him fell ill with one malady or another, Lucas remained healthy and often found himself called upon to nurse his fellow crew members.
Once or twice he had cut his hand when the ship lurched while helping prepare meals, but the cut always healed by the next day. Lucas was both grateful for his unnatural health and frightened by the source of it. Over the years he had tried to block his memory of the strange demons that had abducted him and had almost convinced himself that it was only a dream. When others fell ill around him and when he walked away unscathed from accidents he was forced to remember the day his life changed.
He was not the only one to see his uncanny fortune and more than once over the next few years he was forced to find another crew to join. It was becoming terribly annoying to him.
During this time Lucas educated himself. He bought and read books wherever he went and picked up a good bit of Spanish and French language from the other sailors. He became knowledgeable about math, science and literature.
By the time he was approaching forty he was growing tired of life aboard the ships. Over the past fifteen years he had seen a great deal of the world. He had visited the seaports of England, France and Spain and had sailed the Spanish Main, along the coast of South America. He had even made a few stops in parts of Africa.
The real turning point for him was the day when he returned to Boston to find a letter waiting for him at his bank. The letter was from an attorney, asking him to call on him at the first possible opportunity. Lucas was worried because he had never had dealings with anyone in the legal profession so he went to the man's office filled with trepidation. The address was nearby and the lawyer's name was Goldfinch. Sitting behind a large mahogany desk that was littered with papers was an elderly man, bald with only a wisp of white hair lying across his freckled scalp. Behind him the room had tall windows and even taller shelves, packed with large books.
After the young clerk showed him in, Mr. Goldfinch smiled and offered Lucas a seat across the desk from him.
"Well, well, young man. So, I've been wondering when you would get home from the sea. I have to say that you are much younger than I expected, but you look exactly as you were described to me. You are wondering, I'm sure, why I asked you here," the man said, in a friendly voice.
"Yes, Sir, I hope that nothing is wrong," Lucas said, displaying his nervousness.
"I'm afraid that I bear tidings of sorrow and gladness. First, can you tell me the first ship that you served on and the name of the captain of that ship?"
"Well, sir, my first berth was on the Bonnie Lass and I was a cabin boy under Captain Johansson."
"Very good, very good. Son, I am sorry to tell you that Captain Johansson has parted this world. He died at sea, some sort of accident, I believe."
Lucas felt his eyes sting with tears and he whispered, "I am very sorry to hear this news, Sir. Very sorry indeed."
"Yes. He was a good man. I had known him for many years. I had the pleasure of serving him in his legal affairs, and that leads me to the happier part of my news. The good captain mentioned you in his will. You will be glad to hear that he has left you a considerable sum of money; ten thousand dollars, in fact."
The man almost laughed at the look on Lucas' face as he received this news. The boy was incredulous and seemed to search for something to say. Finally he whispered, "He left me that much money? But, why?"
"He was terribly fond of you," the man said, with a knowing smile, "and as you know, he had no other close family. Much of his fortune was marked for various charities, but this amount was set aside for you."
"Well, I'm terribly grateful. I'm at a loss for… I mean, I don't know what to say. I've never dreamed of that much money."
"If I may offer you some advice, do not spend it all. Save it, invest it, hold on to it," the lawyer told him.
"Oh, yes Sir. I have no intentions of spending it. I will put it in my bank."
"The bank is a good place, but sometimes life is uncertain and so is the economy, as we have seen in the depression from which we are now emerging. With that much money, you might think about investing in something safe and solid."
"Like what, Sir?"
"Well, I don't normally give financial advice, but I have most of my savings in the new railroad. You know I'm sure that the Pacific Railroad now goes all the way to California. Despite the recent problems with banks and labor, this seems to me to be a solid investment for many, many years."
Lucas could immediately see the possibilities for growth that such a railroad would bring, opening an entire nation for settlement and prosperity. He asked, "Could you help me to invest in this railroad. I'm afraid that I know little about these things and it is so hard to know who to trust, who to ask for help."
"Yes, my boy, I will be glad to assist you," the man said. And he did. Soon, Lucas was financially secure. His recent inheritance added to his other assets and earnings made him a wealthy boy and the money opened up new options for his future. For some time, he had been growing restless and he wanted to try something different.
Many people talked about California and it made Lucas want to see it for himself. San Francisco had a reputation for being a wild place of wealth, glamour and sin. It sounded like a city he could lose himself in.
Sometimes Lucas wondered what things were like back home and whether any of his family was still there. How old were they now? Would they recognize him after all these years?
Before heading west he wanted to see the mountains again, so he went south to Tennessee. By rail, by coach, and then by wagon, he made his way back to the hills and stood again beneath the towering chestnut trees and the cool hemlocks. He felt soothed and restored by the sweet sounds of the crystal streams and the fresh mountain air. It felt wonderful and somehow nourishing to his spirit to stand on soil that was still familiar, even after so many years of absence.
Despite the passage of twenty years, things had not changed much where he had grown up. He cautiously approached the little country church as the service was letting out. It seemed like a good way to get a look at everyone, to see if he still knew them. There were grave markers for his parents and one of his brothers in the cemetery. He recognized several other names there as well.
Looking at the people standing around the door of the church he was disappointed that no one looked familiar. If any of them were his family they had changed so much that he no longer recognized them. More than one of the elder members gave him strange, questioning looks as if trying to remember where they knew him from. It made him sad and he felt the difference between his life and theirs very acutely. Looking at them, he saw what his life could have been like.
Having seen enough, he turned to go until he heard someone whisper, "L-Lucas?" It was an older man whose hair had turned mostly gray, but who still looked healthy and strong.
"Is that really you, Lucas? My God, you haven't changed a bit. How can that be Lucas? How can that be?"
It was Les, his dear friend from so long ago. Lucas struggled for something to say. "I-I really don't know, Les. I really don't. I wish I could tell you, but I just don't know. It's not anything bad though. I mean, I didn't sell my soul or any nonsense like that. I know everyone used to say that I did, but it isn't true. Please believe me. I think it's just a miracle from God, that's all."
"I want to believe you, Lucas, but, good Lord, how is it possible. You surely see how scary it is to see you like this. What have you been up to all these years?" His hands trembled as he reached out to touch Lucas' face.
Lucas smiled kindly and welcomed his old friend's touch. "Let's walk a little bit and I'll tell you, and you can tell me what's been happening around here. If you‘re not too scared to walk with me, that is."
They told each other the stories of their lives and each of them felt a little envious of the other. Les had a wife and children and his father's farm while Lucas had the adventures that they had dreamed of as youths.
By the time they finished talking both men felt a sense of relief that they were still friends despite all that had gone before.
Lucas' parents had passed on, his brothers had moved away and only his sister, Beth, remained in the cabin with her husband and six children. Lucas looked at his old homestead from a distance with no real desire to come closer or any wish to disturb their lives.
In all the time he had been gone he had written only a few letters home and those had been before the war. After that the mail became undependable so he stopped. The few replies he received seemed uncomfortable so he stopped writing and decided to let them all forget him.
Now that he had some money, he pressed five hundred dollars into Les' hand and asked him to share it with Beth and her family. He knew he would never see them again. He would let them be and take his leave.
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