Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2016 by Parker Sheaffer
The next morning Lucas awoke to the aroma of ham and eggs frying. Tad had begun cooking their breakfast and it smelled wonderful. After they had eaten and packed up their things they proceeded up the road.
Lucas told Tad about being on the sea and traveling to other lands. Tad was amazed by the stories and in return told Lucas more about the orphanage where he had lived until he was ten. I sounded like a dreary place, but was run by people who tried to do the best that they could for the children.
When they arrived at Lucas' old neighborhood later that day they drove slowly past the old church and some of the homes. Only a few cabins were familiar to him. Although there were some newer houses scattered here and there, most of the original homesteads were looking rather shabby. Men were working their fields and tending their livestock, women and children were working in their yards, hanging clothes and hoeing vegetables. Everyone stopped their activities to watch the strangers ride by in their cart. No one waved or greeted them until Tad pulled up to a small cabin that sat very close to the road.
"This is my Cousin Caleb's place," he said. "I'd like to say howdy, if you don't care."
"Of course, I would like to meet him," Lucas said and smiled.
Caleb was up in the woods behind his cabin and answered when Tad called out to him. He came ambling down to meet them and seemed to be a little unsteady on his feet.
Tad laughed softly and whispered to Lucas, "He's been up to his still, it looks like."
Caleb was several inches shorter than his lanky cousin and was only a bit older. He was wearing old bib overalls with no shirt or shoes. His country face was tanned and rough but his smile was big and genuine. The three men went inside and sat for a chat.
Lucas told him that he used to have relatives around there and asked about the old families he used to know, especially his own family. Caleb told him who had died, who had moved away, who was married with children and grandchildren. His sister had passed on but her two sons were still nearby. One lived in the old cabin and the other had built a new house a few yards away. His old love, Les, was buried in the churchyard, a victim of a logging accident.
Finally Lucas was caught up on the past and felt satisfied. Caleb asked them to stay to supper and spend the night.
"I'll make you up a couple of pallets on the floor. It won't be fancy but it'll be a sight warmer and safer than sleepin' rough out there," he offered.
Lucas shared their supplies with Caleb and Caleb offered his jug to Lucas and Tad. Lucas only sampled a bit but Tad got rather giddy and began to sing, much to Lucas' amusement.
The next morning they headed back. The return trip was much quicker because it was mostly downhill. They had only been back on the road for about an hour when they heard a scream. It sounded like a woman being murdered and Tad stopped the cart to listen. The scream came again, closer this time, and the horse began to snort and prance.
"Git the gun out, Lucas. That there's a panther. He must smell the bacon in your pack. He could be right on us," Tad said excitedly.
Lucas found the pistol and drew it out of the bag. Just ahead of them there was a rustling in the brush and out of the shadows a sleek figure came pouring down the embankment. The big cat stopped directly in their path and snarled at them, then it opened its mouth wide and gave another blood chilling scream. Lucas thought it was a beautiful animal and couldn't bring himself to harm it so he fired into the ground in front of it. The dirt flew up and struck the big cat's face while the woods echoed with the booming explosion of the gun. The panther flew away immediately and disappeared into the woods.
Tad turned to Lucas and said, "You missed."
Lucas laughed and said, "No, I didn't. I hit the ground exactly where I wanted."
"I'm glad. There ain't many of them left and I think they're purty animals. Shame to kill what ain't necessary."
Rather than go right back to the stables, Tad took Lucas to the train station. Lucas gave him a few more dollars and thanked him for his company. While he waited for the train, Lucas took a walk and asked directions to the orphanage that Tad had told him about. It was a half hour away but he was glad he had taken the time to see it. The children's home was in an old, two story house with a falling down picket fence. It was late in the day, almost night, and the children were all inside. Through the open front door he could see that the walls were papered with old newspapers and the curtains were made from odds and ends of fabric. He felt very sorry for the youngsters inside and wished to do something for them, but it would wait until he got back home.
A few months later a letter arrived at the Maryville Home for Children. It was addressed to Mr. Tully and contained a bank draft for five hundred dollars. There were instructions to buy food, clothing and books for the children. The letter said that if the money was properly spent, more would follow. There was mention of a former resident named Tad, who Mr. Tully remembered well.
The kindly man was moved by the unexpected windfall and wept as he shared the news with the awestruck children. That winter was much warmer for all of them and they even got Christmas presents.
Before going back to Boston, Lucas decided to spend some time in Knoxville and some of the other cities that lay to the north. By the time he made it back to his own home he had been gone for most of a year.
The boys were thrilled at his return and he had picked up several gifts for all of his family. Diana was less joyous at seeing him again and Lucas could see that her reaction was probably due to Andrew's talk. He decided to say nothing about it until she brought up the subject and so things slowly got back to normal for them all.
Ed and Fred asked for sailing lessons and Lucas was happy to share his knowledge with them. He rented a small sailboat and took the two boys out several times for short excursions into the harbor. Soon they learned the basics of handling a boat and thought it was great fun, but most of their happiness came from just being with their young uncle.
The family was very happy for a time. Andrew and Diana both received their college degrees and began to look for work. Ed and Fred entered a growing stage and began to 'shoot up like weeds', as they used to say back in the mountains. Eventually they grew taller than Lucas. He began to notice Diana staring oddly at him sometimes, as if she was frightened of him so Lucas decided that it was time to bring up the subject of his age and to try and comfort and reassure her, if possible.
"I suppose you have noticed that I don't go out in public a great deal," he said one afternoon while they were having tea. "It's because I don't want people in the neighborhood to see me too often. It wouldn't be good for them to become too familiar with me. I know that Andrew has told you about my… condition. Don't you think it's time that we spoke of it?"
With a sigh, Diana said, "When he first told me, of course I was skeptical. It was an absurd notion. Now that two more years have passed I can detect no change in your appearance so I may have to concede that there is some truth to it. It defies reason, however, and flies in the face of science. I don't suppose you will tell me how this happened to you?"
"I only wish I knew," Lucas replied. "I can tell you that it has been a blessing in many ways, but it has also created many problems for me. I have to watch the ones I love grow older and often die, while I can do nothing to help them. I have to hide myself from most of the world because people would be frightened of me. Some would even want to use me for one purpose or another and, believe me, some would imprison me and use me for their own ends. While I seem to be resistant to disease and I heal quickly from injuries, I also will never be treated as an adult. I have difficulties managing my own business affairs, I cannot enter into contracts, I cannot even get a table in a nice restaurant without having an adult with me. I will always have to pretend to be someone's son or brother."
Diana looked at him with newfound understanding. "I had not thought of those things. I can see where you would have many difficulties, but how long do you think this will last?" she asked.
"I truly do not know. Sometimes I pray for it to end so that I can become a man, and sometimes I am glad that I have things to occupy me and new things to learn. The world is changing rapidly and I look forward to seeing what new miracles are coming for us, but I wonder how long it will take for me to grow weary of life. It's bound to happen someday. Will I be forced to end my own life in order to stop this? I don't know."
"But dear Diana, let's not dwell on that now. Let's be happy that we are together and that we know love. That's enough for the time being and the future will take care of itself. Meanwhile, I hope you will help me keep my secret from outsiders."
"Of course I will," she assured him. "I wonder if we should tell the boys?"
"I think they will ask about it one day soon. They're both very bright and curious. We can explain things when they ask."
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