Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online


Rocinante
An Aerial Adventure
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2011



Chapter 28

Autumn was coming, even to northern Florida. The nights were chilly enough to make them cuddle together in the doubled sleeping bag for warmth, although they hadnít yet had to break out the long underwear or start a fire in the wood stove for warmth. Waking up each morning to the sight of the morning fog lying low on the river, and the softness of the light that filtered through the pine trees, made any discomfort that might have been involved worth the effort, however.

It was always chilly when they got up, and they both always hustled to get dressed. Though the afternoons were still sometimes warm enough to take a quick swim to clean up, it was never an appealing idea in the morning, although both of them could see how it might have been in warmer weather. Using the wood stove to warm their morning coffee seemed like too much work, but they still had their pack stoves that had served them faithfully all summer, and one was enough for the cup of coffee it took them to get their eyes open.

They had quickly fallen into a routine. Since it was still often warm in the afternoon, especially on the days that Mark and Mr. Thibodaux and Brother Erasmus had poles to set or lines to string, they had gotten used to getting up in the half-light of dawn, and not wasting any time as they got around.

After a few days, they had taken to getting up soon enough to walk to the Thibodauxsí for an early breakfast there. While Jackie would never be the cook that either of the Thibodauxs were, she could handle pancakes and sausages and eggs, and Mr. Thibodaux initiated her into biscuits and pan gravy and grits. At least the Thibodauxs had a gas stove, although they still had a wood stove in the kitchen, and Jackie could handle that. The big breakfasts were welcome, and it soon became a family affair. On the days that Brother Erasmus worked with them Ė and that wasnít every day Ė heíd usually drop by in time for a cup of coffee before they got to work.

Bessie Thibodaux couldnít eat much; it seemed as if most food caused her gallbladder to act up. Most mornings, she stayed in bed, always trying to be cheerful, although usually in pain, and she limited her breakfasts usually to a cup of coffee, and maybe a piece of toast or two. She was looking forward to getting her surgery over with, so she could get back to a normal life.

After the men piled into the pickup truck and set off to work at whatever it was they might have been doing, Jackie did the dishes, picked up the house, and of course answered the phone. There always seemed to be a rush of calls between eight and ten in the morning, mostly from women, and Jackie guessed it was for the housewives to gossip after theyíd gotten their men off to work.

As she worked, Jackie tried to be cheerful and helpful to Mrs. Thibodaux, who was recovering from one bout in the hospital and getting ready for the next. They quickly got away from "Mrs. Thibodaux" and "Miss Jackie" and became "Bessie" and "Jackie" to each other, just as Mark and Mr. Thibodaux had fallen to using first names.

The men usually came back to the house for lunch, which Jackie made for them, but they tended to get right back to work and then knock off fairly early in the afternoon. Occasionally, Jackie and Mark would have dinner with the Thibodauxs, and once in a while with the Greens, or the Spragues, and they even had dinner with the Cowgills once, but they were more likely to go back to the Billie Jean for their supper, which wouldnít be anything special, after breakfasts and lunches that were bigger than they had become used to.

The evenings were long and lazy. Often, Jackie would get out her fishing pole and make a few casts from the deck of the houseboat, more to have something to do than not. Once Mark got familiar with the technical manuals, he would often use the evening time for drawing.

After a few days, Bessie Thibodaux went off to the hospital in Tallahassee. Paul Thibodaux spent most of his days up there with her; Mark and Jackie would go down to the house to see him off, and Mark spent the day setting up the switching system. It was an old rotator relay system that had been salvaged from some place around Southern Bell, he discovered; not exactly an up-to-date piece of equipment, but one that would do the job that was asked of it, and Mark imagined that the price had to have been right. It took a little figuring out how to set up, and there were some parts of the equipment that didnít work quite right, so Mark spent much of his days with test equipment and the manual open in front of him, as he struggled to make sense of the system.

Jackie soon learned that Mark wasnít very good company when he had a telephone technical problem in front of him needing resolution, and waiting for something to happen at the switchboard occasionally got boring. There wasnít much she could do to help him out, and just staring at the switchboard left something to be desired.

One day, she found some paint in a back room, and decided to repaint the "Twillingate Telephone" sign that stood in front of the house. It was a little tattered, and the lettering had been amateurish; besides, it would eat up some time. She took down the sign and spread it out on a small table near the switchboard. By the time that Paul made it back from Tallahassee, the sign was completed and back in place. "Looks good," he said to compliment her. "It was you that did the sign down at Brother Erasmusí church, wasnít it?"

"Just something to pass the time," Jackie explained.

She forgot about it, until a couple of days later, when she got a phone call from Mrs. Sattler, who ran the general store. "Mr. Thibodaux said you did the sign for him, and that one for Brother Erasmus," she explained. "I was wonderiní if youíd be williní to do one for me."

"Sure," Jackie said. "It gives me something to do."

From that point on, there was usually a sign taking shape on the porch of the Twillingate Telephone Company while Jackie was keeping an ear out for the switchboard. It turned out that there were a lot of signs that needed making in the area, and Jackieís work was better than what had been available. At first, she would have been willing to do the work for cost, just to have something to do, but Mr. Thibodaux told her that she deserved something for her time. Jackie found herself charging more than she thought the work was worth, but people were still happy to pay it.

"Looks like youíre getting a business going," Mark commented. "I wonder how youíd do painting signs in Spearfish Lake."

"Itís something to think about," Jackie said. "As far as I know, thereís no one in town who does signs and does a good job at it. There used to be a guy down in Albany River who did a lot of the signs around town, but I think he died. I think people have to go to Camden now."

"You might be able to make a nice little business of it, then," Mark commented. "It seems to me itíd beat being a part-time waitress."

"I can get away with brushwork and boards around here," Jackie told him. "But these plastic signs are something else again. I donít know anything about them."

"You can learn," Mark told her. "Thereís got to be someplace you can pick up that sort of thing. Maybe in Camden or somewhere."

Jackie nodded. It was something that sheíd never considered before. "I donít know that we could make a living at it," she said, "But Iím sure there would be some extra income there. If we go back to Spearfish Lake to live, itís something that I ought to think about."

Painting signs took some of the boredom out of the day, but after a while, sitting on the Billie Jeanís deck and fishing and watching birds in the evening began to pall Ė even quicker for Mark than it did for Jackie. "I think Iíll call home and have Dad send me my acrylic box and some canvases," he said. "Maybe I could work on some of the drawings Iíve done and turn them into paintings."

"You really should do that one of Roger and Kathy," Jackie said. "Sheís about due to have her baby any day now, so it might be kind of nice for her to have."

Mark smiled. "Maybe I ought to do that one of you and Kathy. You know, the nude one."

"I donít think so," Jackie said. "Maybe someday, but you might have trouble explaining it to Brother Erasmus if he should happen to look over your shoulder."

"You might be right at that," Mark agreed.

It still left Jackie with the prospect of boring evenings. She thought about it for a minute, then asked, "How about if we get the mirror blanks shipped to us, and you show me how to work at hogging out the mirror?"

"Thatís a lot of work, and itís going to be dull," Mark told her. "I mean, itís got to be done, and if you want to do it, thereís no reason why you canít."

A few days later, Jackie got a call from the Twillingate Post Office that there were a couple of large boxes from Spearfish Lake. By then, Mark had scrounged up an empty 55-gallon drum from somewhere, and he set it up on the bank of the river next to the shantyboat. "This is going to be a big job," he told Jackie. "Itís going to take maybe twenty hours, maybe thirty. All we have to do is to take something like an eighth of an inch of glass out of the center of the disk, but we have to do it slowly and carefully and precisely."

It proved that an hour or two at a time was about all that Jackie wanted to work on the mirror, and it was hard to tell if she was making progress. Still, for the hour or two that she ground away at the disk nightly, spreading grinding compound, working one disk over the other for a few minutes, then washing the used grit off with water from the river, and starting over again, was pleasant work until her hands got tired. Then, sheíd put the glass blanks back into the storage box, put it under the bed, and sometimes grab her fishing pole and throw a lure out into the stream, while Mark worked at the easel he had set up on the deck.

It took Mark a couple of tries to get his hands used to brushwork again before the painting of Roger and Kathy on the beach at Titusville took shape. Mark took a little artistís liberty in painting the two; the Saturn launch gantry was closer in the background, close enough so that you could make out what it was. In deference to the knowledge of where this painting would be placed, Mark made Kathyís bikini a little less radical than it had been in real life.

The painting took shape over several evenings, layer on layer. Jackie was happy to just sit, fishing pole in hand, and look over Markís shoulder as it progressed. "I think youíre capturing them very well," she said at one point.

"Itíll do, I guess," Mark said. "Iím not real happy with it, but itíll do for a practice job. I may just finish this one and start over on it again."

"Donít be so picky," Jackie told him. "I think itís a good job. Maybe when you get it done, you should put it aside and try something else."

"You could be right," Mark agreed.

A couple of days later, Mark couldnít think of anything else he wanted to add to the painting, so he hung it on one of the walls of the Billie Jean to cure, while he went on to something else Ė a painting of the Billie Jean itself, with Jackie sitting on the deck, fishing pole in hand. The swamp it was sitting in was quite clearly the river, but somehow it was a mystical, foggy bayou at the same time.

One day, Brother Erasmus happened by as Mark was painting. "I see you ainít the only one of you two that can handle a brush," he said as he stood and watched Mark work.

"I play at it," Mark said defensively. "Itís just something I do for the fun of it."

They talked for a while, half an hour or so, before Brother Erasmus was on his way. By the time he was gone, Mark was tiring of the eveningís work.

"You ought to do a painting for him," Jackie suggested. "Maybe of the church. Iím sure heíd like one, but I donít think heíd ask."

"Yeah, youíre right," Mark said as he set to cleaning brushes. "We owe him a lot."

But the painting that Mark started next wasnít of the church, but of a sailplane in the air over Waverly Ė not a sleek, high-performance piece of fiberglass, but a tattered fabric 2-33, sharing the sky with a bald eagle.

"Those were some good days we had out there," Jackie commented.

"Yeah," Mark said. "All in all, we havenít got much to complain about the way this trip has gone. Weíve had some bad times, but I think that the good has outweighed the bad."

The days passed swiftly. Mr. Thibodaux and Mark decided to work six days a week when they could, but in practice they usually didnít work too hard on Saturday, leaving the afternoons for painting and working on the mirror. It was what they could do on Sundays afternoons, too; every Sunday, they went to church, just to be part of the community. One week, they would go to Brother Erasmusí church in the morning, to enjoy the preaching and singing, and in the evenings, they would go to Reverend Spragueís church for the evening service. On the next week, they did it the other way around. As a result, they spent a lot of time in church, and got to know many more people around the community fairly well.

Mark was working on the sailplane picture one evening when Samuel, the hermit-like old boatman who had helped them move the Billie Jean dropped by, bringing them a bass he had caught. Quite to their surprise, he hardly turned out to be the same fellow at all. "I likes to talk to folks," he told them. "I just donít take to workiní close with íem is all." He sat in his old rowboat, piled high with nets, hand lines, oyster poles, a tin-can anchor filled with cement, knives and rusty buckets, and it seemed appropriate for him. "I knows somethiní about this coast, ícause it take more than one lifetime to know everythiní about it, the birds and the Guff and the fish and the animals. I done got so some of íem and I understand each other pretty good. You know seagulls talk if you give íem a chance. You ought to hear íem begginí when I haul in my nets. Some days I got a trail of íem followiní in the sky behind my boat."

It was more than they had ever heard him speak at one time before. "Is Twillingate your home?" Jackie asked.

"I got a little shack here where I stays in sometimes," Samuel admitted. "These old bones ainít as young as they once were, and when we gets a big freeze, I gots to have a stove to stay warm, aní I didnít usta have to have that. But thatís where I stays, sometimes. Home is sort of out there, the salt marshes and Sand Creek and Lost Creek, Big Piney Island, Snake Hammock, this here River, and like that. I can pretty well go where I wants to go, aní you got to keep goiní to places ícause they changes so much in the seasons and freezes and droughts and storms. As long as the Lord keeps fish in the Guff, I can makes out fine."

They talked with Samuel some more, and he did most of the talking. He talked about how he talked to God and to the birds while he was out by himself in his old skiff, and how he wanted to take the memory of all that was good on the earth along with his soul when he went to heaven. "I just be wantiní a chance to know the world before I got to leave it, is all," he told them

After a while, old Samuel had about talked himself out, so he said goodbye, started up his old Evinrude and headed toward the sea. Mark and Jackie just stood there watching as he puttered away. "We think weíve traveled a lot," Mark said. "Iíll bet he has never been more than forty miles from where we are, and Iíll bet heís seen more than weíll ever hope to see."

"Itís all a matter of how you look at it," Jackie told Mark. "You get right down to it, we havenít been a lot different the past few months."

"Old Hank Thoreau would have understood him," Mark said. "Remember, ĎI have traveled extensively in Concordí?"

Jackie nodded. "Thatís what I said," Jackie agreed. "Itís all how you look at it. If you look at it his way, this is a pretty good place to live, and Iím not so sure heís not right."

"I wouldnít care to live like that," Mark thought aloud. "Much as I like this place, I donít think it would make much of a place for us to make a home."

"I donít know. I think Iíd like it. I could see making a life out of living on this shantyboat."

"If we could afford to do it without working, then maybe that would be a possibility," Mark argued. "But, I donít think weíd like trying to live by fishing mullet or slashing teppentine."

"Well, no," Jackie said. "I didnít mean it like that."

"This is a fine place to live for a while," Mark told her. "I really like staying on this shantyboat. But I think I couldnít just sit back on my ass and do nothing. Iíve found that I have to be busy at something, or I go nuts."

"I know," Jackie agreed. "It was hard for me last winter, when all I had to do was to take care of Johnnie, it got pretty bad, there. It was a lot better when I got the job at Rickís, even though it only lasted for a while."

"Iíll tell you what," Mark said, shaking his head, "Weíve got a month, maybe six weeks, before weíll have the phone system up and running. While this is a nice town, and itís got good friends and good people, Iím not even sure I want to sit on my butt here until spring, with nothing in particular to do."

"You had something else in mind?"

"Not really. Itís just that while we have friends here, theyíre friends because weíre workers, not just sitting on our butts. If we werenít doing anything, then weíd be thought of as Yankees, and nobody would give us the time of day."

"Youíre right, I guess," she said. "Itís just that when the time comes to leave this place, Iím going to hate to leave. Weíve made so many friends here."

"We have friends elsewhere. Whatís more, we even have friends at home, and Iíll tell you, more and more, I get the feeling that when weíre done here, itíll be time to go home."

"I even feel like that now and then," Jackie replied. "The only thing is, if Iím going to sit on my butt all winter, Iíd rather do it here where itís at least a little warm, rather than up in Spearfish Lake where itíll be frozen."

"There is that," Mark replied. "On the other hand, if we go back to Spearfish Lake, I donít think weíll lack for things to do for the four months or so before I go to work for Mr. Corman."

"Such as?"

"Such as, suppose we buy a house that needs some fixing up. Itíd be a perfect time to do it."

"We havenít got the money to buy a house."

"Oh, we could get it," he replied, smiling. "I could take out a VA loan, knowing that Iím going to be going to work for Mr. Corman. Thereís other ways, too.

"Itís something to think about," Jackie said, looking at the fish that Samuel had left for them. "Howíd you like a late fish dinner? Thereís no way this is going to keep, with no icebox."

Mark admitted they didnít have much choice in the matter. He volunteered to clean and fillet the fish, while Jackie set up both of the camp stoves to fry it, and sliced a few potatoes to go along with it.

There turned out to be quite a bit of fish there, and Mark and Jackie were wondering how they were going to be able to eat it all when Brother Erasmus showed up. "You like a little snack of some nice, fresh-fried bass?" Jackie asked.

"I ainít going to turn it down," the preacher said. "I take it you must have caught something."

While she was cooking, Jackie explained what had happened. In a few minutes, the three of them sat down on the deck of the shantyboat for their late fish dinner. "I canít help but wonder about Samuel," Mark said. "I mean, he seems like a nice old man, and all that, but he sure seems a little strange."

"Thatís right," Brother Erasmus said. "Some days, he donít hardly say nothiní, and other days, heís the friendliest man you could believe, and you donít never know what heís goiní to be like from one day to the next. I guess probably heís a little touched, but folks írouní here have kind of gotten used to it, and so nobody minds."

"He sure seems to know every tree and fish around here," Mark commented. "I suppose after a lifetime of learning about them, heís got a right to."

"The Lordís hand is upon that man," Brother Erasmus said. "Maybe more than most. I ainít sayiní that anyone else would be happy liviní like he does, but itís the way the Lord has him liviní so I guess itís all right for him. He can go out in that little boat of his and talk to the Lord, and sometimes the Lord talks back, and I think he can hear Him a little better than the rest of us."

"I donít know," Jackie said. "I guess I just wish I could hear Him a little better."

"The Lord is talkiní to you," the preacher said. "Heís a-talkiní to you all the time, but you got to be listeniní for what He says. The Lord, He works in mysterious ways, and we canít always know what Heís telliní us, or why Heís doiní it. He was a-talkiní to you through Samuel, tonight."

"But what was He saying?" Jackie asked.

"Donít rightly know," Brother Erasmus told her. "He would have been a-talkiní to you, not to me. I could have been standiní right next to you, and Heíd have been talkiní to me, too, but He might not have been telliní me the same thing He was telliní you. Ask, and you shall receive, it says in the book. But, you gotta have faith, and know that the Lord does things His way."

Jackie shook her head and said, "It doesnít make a lot of sense to me, but to have Samuel drop by out of nowhere and give us a fish ought to tell me that thereís something more there than meets the eye."

"See?" Brother Erasmus smiled. "You learniní something, already."

*   *   *

The work on the phone system picked up once Bessie Thibodaux was back from the hospital and Paul was around more. The surgery was fairly successful, and although she was very tender and couldnít do much, at least she wasnít in constant pain, which was a big improvement for everyone involved. Day by day, she was able to do a little more for herself, and Jackieís need to nurse her grew less and less. By the middle of November, she was able to sit at the switchboard for an hour or so at a time, perhaps a couple of times a day, and there was getting to be progressively less for Jackie to do at the Thibodauxsí. If it hadnít been for the increasing amount of sign painting, it could have been boring, indeed.

In only a few more days, Thanksgiving was rolling around. "You kids are coming to the house to have Thanksgiving with us," Mr. Thibodaux told them. "íCourse, thatís ícause youíre gonna have to do a lot of the cookiní. If we half let Bessie, sheíd kill herself in the kitchen, so all of us are gonna have to work at keepiní her takiní it easy."

"Iíve never really cooked a Thanksgiving dinner," Jackie told him.

"Well, itís something you really oughta learn, and there ainít no time like the present to learn it," he replied.

The thought of Thanksgiving and the holidays to follow made Jackie feel a little uneasy. She had never spent a holiday season away from her home and family. She figured that it would have been a little easier for Mark, since he had spent three of them away, in Vietnam and Germany. The fact that they were going to be having a dinner with friends as good as the Thibodauxs just didnít quite seem to compensate.

Still, it was good to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends. It was a lot of work for Jackie; mostly she and Paul Thibodaux made Thanksgiving dinner, with a little help from Bessie and Mark. It was quite a dinner; turkey, of course, but with a lot of side dishes. By the time the afternoon was over, they needed the walk back to the shantyboat, just to help work off some of the overeating.

Mark got out the easel and thought about working on a painting, but he just couldnít raise the enthusiasm to start. Perhaps he was a bit homesick, too, Jackie thought.

"What would you think if we flew home for the holidays?" Jackie asked. "Itíd be a day or a day and a half each way, assuming we caught the weather right, and we could stay there a couple of days. I donít think Mr. Thibodaux would mind."

"I donít think itís going to matter," Mark told her. "By the holidays, we ought to have the system pretty well wrapped up and running. Thereíll be some work taking the parts of the old system apart that heís not going to use, but thereís no rush on that. Mostly, they could sit there and rot."

"You mean, weíre going to be done here by Christmas?"

"Yeah, maybe a week or so earlier," Mark said. "Iíd kind of figured that we could stay here until after Christmas, and then go somewhere else. Maybe home. Thereís no reason we couldnít be home for Christmas, but I thought you were the one who didnít want to go home until we were done traveling."

"Well, yeah," she said. "But now Iím not so sure about that."

"Actually, if we go to the trouble of flying up north, maybe we should just figure on staying there, at least for a while, looking for a house, and maybe I can find a job to hold us until spring."

Jackie thought about it for a minute. There was the old question again, whether to go back to Spearfish Lake to stay, or not. It was no easier to come to grips with it now than it had been every time they had talked about it before. "I just thought weíd stay for a few days and then come back to Florida, or maybe even head out west, say southern California, or something," she said, trying to put off the decision a while longer.

"Well, we could do that," Mark said. "But thereís other things we could do with that time. Like I said, if we were to buy a house that needs some fixing up, I could get a good start on it between now and April or May."

"You know," Jackie mused, "Itís a little unreal for us to be talking about buying a house and fixing it up."

"Well, yeah," Mark said, "But itís probably the logical thing to do, and after I go to work for Mr. Corman, we wonít have time like that available again."

"I know," Jackie said. "On the other hand, I keep thinking about a little house out in the woods, someplace where we could be away from people a little. Do you think we could have something like that?"

Mark nodded "Itíd be the sort of place Iíd want to look for," he said. "Maybe not back in the woods, though. Iíd want to be in some place thatís open enough that I could build an observatory out there. Some place where we could get in out of the wind in the winter when weíre using the telescope. It can get awful bitter out in the open with a telescope when the wind is blowing."

"We could do that," Jackie said. "That would be nice. Iíd kind of like to have a big garage or shop area, so youíd have a place to work on things, like the new telescope, and maybe I could use it if I can get a sign painting business going."

"Youíve been thinking about that?"

"I have," she said. "You might have a good idea there. I donít think we could make a living out of it, but I could be wrong. Still, it would provide some extra income, and that would allow us to do some of the things we want to do, like go traveling when we get the chance."

"Maybe if we really found the right spot, some abandoned farm, say," Mark said, still dreaming, "We could have room enough for our own airstrip. Itíd sure be nice to just be able to go out in back, roll Rocinante out of the hangar, and go flying."

"Could we have a sailplane?" Jackie asked.

"I suppose we could if we wanted to," Mark said. "Spearfish Lake really isnít glider country, but there are openings here and there if you got low and had to land, so weíd really have to learn to be careful about that. The one real hang-up is that Rocinante doesnít have enough guts to tow one, even a real light one, even at that low an altitude."

"That could be a problem," Jackie said, reluctant to give up that particular dream. "I donít really want to have to give up Rocinante."

"I donít either," Mark said. "But, there are a couple of options. If we found the right field, and it would have to be a long one, we could probably work out a way to do auto tows, or maybe a winch tow from the ground. Plus, there are conversions available. Maybe when the time comes to give Rocinanteís engine a major, and itíll need one sometime in the next few years, maybe we could hang a bigger engine in the nose. As far as that goes, the Stinson probably has got enough guts to do the job. Itís not a problem that canít be solved, and weíve got a few years to work on it. We just arenít going to be able to afford a sailplane on top of Rocinante, right away, anyway."

Jackie shrugged. "Well, itís something to think about, I guess," she said. "Do you have anything else you want in a house?"

"A fireplace would be nice," Mark said. "Itíd be nice to sit down in front of a fire on a cold winterís night, just to make the time pass in the evening, just to cuddle up and get a little romantic."

"That would be nice," she said.

"The thing is," he said, "I donít want to have to screw around with wood heat. As much wood as we would have to cut, that could really get to be a pain in the ass."

"You know Mr. Toivo, out in Amboy Township? Kirsten and I used to pal around with his daughter," Jackie said. "Theyíve got wood heat, and I seem to remember that you roast on one side and freeze your butt on the other. Iím with you. I like central heating. Do you think we can find a place like that?"

"I wouldnít be surprised," Mark said. "Iíve kind of got an abandoned farm in mind, maybe four or five miles out of town. The house is fieldstone, so it ought to be in pretty good shape, but Iíve got no idea what the interior of the place must be like. I donít know if it could be bought, or how much it would cost, but it would be the first place that Iíd want to take a look at."

"If we had a farm, could we have a horse or two?" Jackie asked. "When I was a little girl, I always wanted a horse, but it was always out of the question, since we didnít have a place to keep it."

"Donít see why not," Mark said. "I donít know what weíd use a horse for, except maybe to ride, now and then, but I wouldnít mind having one."

The dream was taking more shape in Jackieís mind. She could see a brightly lighted kitchen, a comfortable living room, a warm bedroom with a large bed. "It is kind of a dream, isnít it?" she reflected to Mark.

"Itís not the sort of thing that we could put together right away," he said. "But thereís no reason we canít have all of that, and more, over the course of a few years, if we go back to Spearfish Lake. Thatís not one of those things we can automatically plan on doing anywhere else."

"I agree," she said. "Weíd have to go back to Spearfish Lake if we want to do all that. Itís just that Iím still not too crazy about the idea of going back to Spearfish Lake."

"Thatís one of the reasons for wanting a place out in the country," Mark said. "It wouldnít be like living in town, with all that means. We wouldnít have to spend any more time in town than we wanted to."

"Yeah, but still," Jackie protested. "Weíd still have to spend time there, and put up with all the gossip."

Mark shook his head. "I donít think that matters. We agreed long ago that if we went back to Spearfish Lake, weíd have to be married, and thatíll end a lot of the gossip. A lot of the stuff about your mother will die out in time, and the rest of it, we can afford to ignore. Like I told you once, to hell with the little minds. I think you worry about that too much."

Jackie looked out at the dark, still waters of the river for a moment. "There is the other thing to worry about, too," she said finally.

"Your mother?"

"Yeah."

"Weíve been over that until itís almost boring," Mark said. "As I have said before, itís a risk, sure. But itís more a risk for me than you, because I get a choice in the matter. I donít think itís that big a risk."

"I still donít think itís fair," Jackie said.

"Let me tell you something Iíve never told you before," Mark told her. "You remember the day I walked across the causeway for water, back in Titusville?"

"Yeah," Jackie said. "That seems so long ago. Weíve come a long way since then."

"We have," Mark said. "I thought about this whole thing of you and your mother and us a lot on that hike. You know what struck me the hardest?"

Jackie shook her head, and Mark continued. "It struck me that while I have no idea what went wrong with your mother, it had to have something to do with the fact that there must have been some kind of stress she wasnít able to handle. I mean, I donít know what that stress must have been, but it seems to me that there ought to have been something. You think Iím on the right track?"

"You might have something there," Jackie said.

"I think I do," Mark told her. "Well, anyway, what I figured out was that the two of us, traveling together on the trip like this, ought to put a fair amount of stress on you. I just kind of figured that I could just sit back and see how you handled it, and then make a decision from there."

"I never realized that you thought of it like that," Jackie said, a little coldly. "What did you decide?"

"Isnít it obvious?" Mark asked. "We wouldnít be sitting here talking about getting married if I had decided any other way."

"Is that what weíre talking about?" Jackie said.

"Of course it is," Mark told her. "What else did you think we were talking about?"

Jackie was silent for a long time. A blue heron came gliding in over the trees and splashed down near the shore. Finally, Jackie got up, went over, sat down next to Mark, and put her arms around him and kissed him Ė a long, deep French kiss that went on and on. "Well, all right," she said. "I think you believe in me more than I believe in myself, but I canít ask for much more than that. Letís go ahead and get married."

"How about going back to Spearfish Lake?" he asked.

"I think so," she told him. "But, letís go home for the holidays before we make up our minds for sure."

"Letís get married while weíre there," he suggested. "Itíll drag the stay out for a few days, but at least we can do it with our families around."

"We can do that," Jackie said. "I donít want a big wedding. Just a few friends. Maybe not even in a church."

"I figured youíd want a church wedding, anyway," Mark observed.

"Well, yeah," Jackie said, "But, thereís no church in Spearfish Lake that Iíd really like to get married in."

"Me either," Mark said. "I mean, itís kind of beside the point, since we want to get married in Spearfish Lake, but the only church Iíd really want to get married in is right up there on the top of the hill."

"You mean, by Brother Erasmus?" she asked.

"Thatís just what I mean," he said. "Can you think of anyone better?"

*   *   *

November 27, 1971

Twillingate, Florida

Dear Dad and Sarah,

Itís a little early to tell for sure yet, but it looks as if Mark and I will be home for the holidays. The work on the phone system is going pretty good, and it looks like weíre can be free for a few days.

The weather here has been getting colder. We actually had frost a few days ago! You donít think of that happening here, but it does. Mr. Thibodaux said that two or three years ago, they actually had a couple of inches of snow! It was gone the next day, but that was really pretty strange for around here, he said. A lot of the leaves have turned color now, and some of the trees have lost their leaves, but it doesnít seem like fall.

I told you about this houseboat that weíre living on. Itís kind of nice. Weíve been swimming on the warm afternoons, right off the deck, and itís been fun, although the water is getting a little too cold to stay in very long. I guess winter even comes to Twillingate.

Iím really looking forward to being home for the holidays. If weíre not home then, we should be shortly after, since it will depend a lot on how the work on the phone system goes. Iím really looking forward to Mark and I sitting down and talking to you and telling you about everything thatís happened since last spring. Itís kind of strange to look back and think about everything, since so much has happened, and I know there have been things that weíve never talked about on the phone, or told you about in my letters. Itíll be good to be home again.

Love,

Jackie

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