Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2016 by Parker Sheaffer
As they rode back home, Andy sat on Lucas' lap while his new benefactor held him tightly. The boy began to calm down and soon his curiosity overcame his fear. His little head turned left and right, trying to see everything.
Finally he said, "Ain't never rode in no carriage before. Where are we going?"
"To our house, little one, you'll be safe there. I think you will like it."
"It's not one of these big houses, is it?" the boy asked.
"Oh, I suppose it's rather large," said Lucas, as they drew up to their home.
Andy's eyes grew wide when he saw where they were going. "It's so fancy. Do a lot of people live here?"
Clive laughed and said, "No, just us. Well, we have a cook and a maid."
They took Andy in and sat him down in the kitchen. The cook gave them a questioning look.
Lucas grinned and said, "This lad is hungry, Marie. What do we have for a boy who hasn't eaten in days?"
"Best start him off with some hot soup and bread. That won't upset his stomach. Later we can try him on more solid food. Won't do no good if it all comes right back up. Smells like he needs a bath, though."
Marie was a stout young woman with a friendly face, but she could look quite stern when it suited her. It was a look that she had cultivated as she looked after her younger brothers, back home in Ohio. Looking at the sad child sitting at the table, she gave him her warmest smile.
"Food first, then a bath," said Lucas.
With a large bowl of hot soup and a thick slab of fresh, buttered bread in front of him, Andy looked like he didn't know what to do. He started to try and pick up the bowl to drink from it.
"Use the spoon," the cook said, gently.
Little Andy tried, but his hand shook, so Lucas took the spoon and fed him. Alternating bites of soup and bread, he soon finished both. Andy looked longingly at the empty bowl and said, "Thank you. That was wonderful. I guess I'll go now."
"Go where?" Lucas asked. "I think the next place you need to go is to the tub for a bath. Marie, will you have Cora fill the tub in my room? Oh no, I just thought of something, Clive. We don't have anything for Andy to wear. He can't put his dirty clothes back on and nothing we have will fit."
Marie said, "Don't you worry, Sir. I'll step next door to the Miller's house and see if their maid, Daisy, can round up some old things. Their boys are almost grown and I know that Daisy put a lot of their things in trunks in the attic. She will give us something until you can take the lad shopping."
Lucas soon had everyone hustling about. There was just something about this little fellow that appealed to him. For all of the wealth in San Francisco there were an even greater number of impoverished citizens. Most of them had come looking for a better life and instead found disappointment and misery. It was especially bad for children who had no real choices in life and no way to care for themselves when their parents failed, or died.
Lucas found at there was an empty spot in his heart, a place that might have been made for his own wife and children if life had worked out differently for him. That spot needed filling, and Lucas was ready to try being a parent. He didn't want to think about the oddness of his situation, a seeming fourteen-year-old boy who was actually forty-five, trying to be a father to a small child. This boy needed him and he needed the boy, so the world would just have to make way for them.
That evening the three of them sat in the parlor, talking. Andy, dressed in a brand new suit of clothes and smelling infinitely sweeter, perched sleepily on Lucas' lap.
"Clive, I want to keep him. What sort of legal things do we have to go through to adopt him?"
Clive looked at the two of them tenderly and said, "I know you want him. I'll take care of it, but don't you think you should ask him first?"
Lucas laughed and said, "You're right. Andy, would you like to stay here with us and let me be your new Papa?"
Andy looked up at him in wonder and whispered, "Uh-huh."
"Good, then that's settled."
Clive did as he promised and Lucas never asked how he had managed it. Andy was now his little boy, legally and emotionally, and Lucas was happy. So now there were three of them. Andy quickly gained strength and self-confidence. Lucas took it upon himself to teach Andy to read and write while Clive began to teach him how to be a little gentleman. The boy was bright and responded to the men's attentions with an earnest gratitude that soon became love.
Having been touched by Andy's dire poverty, Lucas and Clive became more aware of the other needy people around them, especially the children. Lucas began to look for charitable institutions that helped these little ones and he made sizable donations to orphanages. Back east there were the Orphan Trains that brought children from the squalid inner cities of the East to homes in the mid-west where they would be taken in, and hopefully adopted, by farm families. This was proving to be somewhat successful, but it didn't help the children of the west coast. The period of prosperity that followed the war was itself followed by the depression of 1873 and that had a great effect on the entire country, causing much despair among the citizens of San Francisco who were already poor. Soup kitchens sprang up in many parts of town and Clive and Lucas financed a couple of these directly.
A few months later, Lucas and Andy had finished their lunch and had settled down in the parlor for an afternoon story. Andy sat beside Lucas as he read to him from The Swiss Family Robinson, by Wyss. They had reached the part concerning the discovery of the great salt cavern when Clive came suddenly into the room, looking upset.
"Clive, what's the matter?" said Lucas. "You appear to be rather cast down."
Clive waved a paper at him and said, "Bad news, I'm afraid. Father's coming for a visit. He's bringing Catherine, my sister."
"Well, I'm sure you will be happy to see them, won't you?"
"Of course, it's just that I don't know how I'm going to explain you and Andy. They have no idea about my current home life," Clive said.
"What is it you've told them? You must have mentioned us at some point."
"Honestly, I haven't said much. Just that I had taken in a young ward. They have asked a few questions, but I've managed to avoid any direct answers. I think you're one of the reasons for this visit. What should we tell them? Perhaps that you are my illegitimate son? That, at least, would make them believe that I am interested in women like normal men. Another question is what are we going to tell them about Andy?"
"How about telling them that Andy and I are the brothers of one of your old college classmates who has fallen on hard times? We could say that you are temporarily looking out for us. Andy and I could pass for brothers, if no one looks too closely. Of course, you realize that once they meet me I won't be able to see them again unless it happens within the next few years. After that they will easily see that I have not changed and the questions will begin again. It's the problem I always have. It's been difficult enough to hide from your friends and neighbors all these years, but hiding from your family will be much harder."
"I know what you mean. Well, we'll just have to take what comes. At least we will always have each other."
Clive said those words, but both of them knew that a day would come when Clive would be an old man and Lucas would not, but that would be many years in the future.
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