Don't worry... There's more to come...
Now, on the day after the events of the preceding chapter, we must return to the adventures of David, Gabriel, and the boys: Matt, Mark, Luke, John, and Raphael. We find them marching in a single file line, with David leading and Gabriel bringing up the rear. This pattern had begun the previous day, after it was discovered that some of the boys were having trouble keeping up with the rest, whereupon Gabriel placed himself in the rear to ensure that no one fell by the wayside. There was no speech between any members of the group. David had put a stop to that two days ago, telling the boys “You can walk and return to your homes, or you can waste your breath in idle chatter and possibly not get home.” Conversations had stopped mid-sentence and no one had spoken a word while on their feet since.
Suddenly, David called out “I see a town up ahead. You boys can all ride, can’t you?”
Mark, who thought this had been made clear long ago, burst out with “Can we all ride? Why are you asking us again? Do you think the only thing our father taught us was shooting? As for the others, you would know, being their uncle. Don’t let on that you think we can’t ride! I’ll show you some riding after we steal those horses!”
“We’ll have no more boasting! Silence in the ranks, there!”
And there was silence in the ranks for some time, until they had come to the town. Soon after they had entered this new town, David led the party into a blind alley, where he stopped and finally broke the silence. “You are all going to wait here until I return. I will go to discover whether there are any horses to be had in this town. I may be pursued, but that would surprise me. You are all to hold yourselves ready to fight or flee the moment I give the word. Matt, you know what I mean. If I don’t return within an hour, I’m lying dead in the street and you must go on yourselves. Trust in God.”
As David strode off and disappeared from sight around the corner, Mark stared after him, frustration showing clearly on his face. “Hmph! as if I would do something as stupid as to run out into the street alone! I’m not a boy anymore! Who does he think he is? Not father, that’s for sure.”
Matt, who was accustomed to outbursts such as this one from his brother, replied in an instant. “For your own good, stop kidding yourself, Mark. You know as well as I do that you’re likely to behave in just that manner when left to yourself. Secondly, he knows who he is, and that is the best help we’ve got, since father and captain Mellino have both gotten themselves killed to save us. He is our Godfather, on top of that, so you can be sure that he cares whether you stay alive or not.”
Mark’s response stunned everyone. “Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me about staying alive! Don’t talk to me about how I’d behave! I don’t want anything! From anyone! What I want is my own father, and not anyone elses', to talk to! I can’t talk to anyone else! Let me go!”
Matt again attempted to calm his mercurial brother. “But Mark, you can’t talk to to father any more! You and everyone else knows that! if you’ve got anything on your mind, our Godfather can hear it, if anyone should!”
“No! I’m not ready!” Without warning, Mark cocked his arm and shot it forward, straight into Matt’s face. As Matt fell heavily to the ground, he heard Mark running off, followed by the sound of Gabriel calling “John! Raphael! Tend to Matt! Luke and I will bring Mark back!”
Matt remained silent until he saw the other boys leaning over him. While they were looking him over to discover where he been hurt most, he said “I thought I had learned everything about him... until now... I think I understand him better now because he struck me than I would have had he not done so.”
“What does being laid out in the street by your own brother tell you about him, then?” asked John, reaching into his pocket for his handkerchief and handing to Matt.
“He misses our father far more than I do. I missed him badly in the beginning, and gradually came to understand why it happened as it did. Also, I spent much of my life growing up in my Godfather’s house, where I had a second father during the years that my true father was gone. Mark, on the other hand, was forced to become the man of the house at a young age, and has obviously been clinging to his memories of the years before father left, in the hope that after all this was finished, he could return to those times. But throughout all our travels, from the beginning, he was afraid that he would lose father at some point along the way, but even so, he fell into despair because of it. He is still struggling to grasp the idea that father knew what he was getting into and could have chosen to die as he did. Now our roles are reversed, and I must bring him out of his darkness, just as he brought me out of mine.”
As Matt concluded, John spoke up once more. “You’ve said more than you needed to. My father would tell you to stop talking now and rest. I’ll bring you some water.”
A moment later, Matt sat up, looking out toward the road by which half the party had left the area. When he had been sitting there for five minutes, he caught sight of David returning.
David stopped short when he noticed that his brother and his son were missing, along with Mark. “What happened here? Do we have to scour the town to find the others now? Where have they gone?”
Raphael, who had been silent until this moment, replied “As soon as you left, Mark lost his temper like we’ve never seen it before. “Who does he think he is? He’s not my father! I’m not a boy! I can fend for myself!’ When Matt tried to reason with him, he lost it completely, punched Matt in the face, and ran off. Uncle Gabriel took Luke with him to bring Mark back, by force if necessary.”
“Well then, follow me. We’re sure to meet them on the way. I’ve found provisions and mounts. Portugal is no more than a day’s ride farther, and from there we can find a ship which will take us home.”
Without further speech, David turned and strode away. The boys, who were anxious to discover what had become of Mark, Luke, and Gabriel, quickly hurried after him. They had been walking for the past ten minutes when they met Gabriel and Luke returning, carrying Mark, who was obviously unconscious. Before anyone had a chance to ask, Gabriel explained. “He ran from us, and kept running from us. But he had forgotten that he can’t run as well as he used to. When we caught up, he tried to fight, which is why I brought Luke along. When the right moment came, Luke turned out his lights, and we’ve been carrying him since that time.”
Relief evident in his voice, Matt replied “Well, now that we’re all back together again, we can continue straight on. We’ll have to wait for Mark to wake up, though.”
David, who was suddenly agitated by this statement, said “Wait right here. I will be back soon.” Nobody spoke while David was absent. They were all too busy trying to explain his abrupt departure in their own thoughts. But before any of them had decided what he was doing, David was back, carrying a large bucket of water. He splashed the contents over Mark, who immediately woke with a start and fell out of Gabriel and Luke’s arms.
Sprawled on the ground, Mark looked around at the others awkwardly, a confused expression evident on his face. It soon became apparent that he could not remember what had happened only a few minutes before. “Brrr, that’s cold. Why’d you have to soak me like that, Mr. Mellino? What have I done to deserve it? At least it’s better than where I was. Why am I on the ground, anyhow?”
“Alright,” David answered “Which do you want first? The answers to your questions, or to give us the answer to our question; where have you been?” As he said this, David had shifted position until he was staring straight down into Mark’s face and could be equally sure that Mark was staring straight up at him.
There was a moment of tense silence. It appeared that Mark had not fully understood David’s question. Growing exasperated, David finally exclaimed “Alright! You punched your brother and ran away in a rage, Luke had to knock you out to bring you back, and you fell on the ground when the cold water woke you up. That’s our story. What’s yours?”
“I don’t really remember... I was on our ship... I was upset because I didn’t have anyone to talk to, because for some reason Matt wasn’t there... I couldn’t think of anything else to do with myself... I wanted to be free... So I leapt overboard... I’m not sure I wanted to come back up...”
“Thank God you’re yourself again after that. I’ll let you alone to talk to Matt, but you should be better for this experience.”
Rising from the ground slowly, Mark stood up and walked over to Matt, who was standing slightly behind everyone else. Extending a hand to his brother, Mark admitted “You always know what should be done, Matt. Whether or not I’m better than you are at something, I should always listen to what you have to say. Forgive me for striking you like that.”
Sincerely moved by this admission, which Mark had never made before, Matt replied “I’ve already forgiven you. If you learn to admit your weaknesses, because there’s no doubt you have some too, you’ll be much happier throughout your life. Does that sound good to you?”
“It does.” Turning to David, Mark said “Sir, we’d appreciate it if you and the others were to go on ahead. This is between the two of us.”
David simply nodded and waved his family forward. Once everyone had begun walking, Mark turned to Matt and said “All right, I’m ready. What is there to explain? I’ve had an epiphany, if that’s the right term, and I’m ready to talk.”
“All right then. I want to hear it from you. Why have you always thought it was so important to hide your feelings from everyone?”
“To tell the truth, I’m not sure if I really know myself anymore, because I’ve been that way for years. When we were twelve or thirteen, I don’t remember exactly, father told me he was a spy and that was why he was away so often. He said that when one is a spy, whether one can feign a feeling at a particular time could be the difference between life and death. I was young. I almost forgot that he was a spy, but I still remember the words: feigning one’s feelings can save one’s life. I took those to heart, and retreated within myself, longing to follow father and make fools of Englishmen and Spaniards.”
“You’ve done your part. We separated when we were ten and didn’t understand why at the time. Did father tell you? What were you learning while I was learning how to be a diplomatic God-fearing gentleman and not much else?” Matt asked in reply, laughing a little as he said this.
“Me?” replied Mark “I didn’t learn diplomacy. I learned how to be a God-fearing gentleman who can speak three languages, draw a pistol in a blink of an eye, and put a bullet onto a thimble from twenty yards away, besides learning how to be sure that no one was ever sure was I was thinking!” At this, both boys began to laugh harder than they had in years.
“I was poring over books and learning how to curb impulsive people like you, and didn’t even know I would need to, meanwhile, you were learning how to be unpredictable, impulsive, and dangerous! Do you think father liked the way we turned out?” Matt asked, still laughing.
“I think he did. Remember, he was the one who taught me how to hide my emotions. I could read it in his face. He had told me before that the chances were high that he would die on a mission, but I still persisted in hoping that he would make it through and return to the days before he left. When he died, it broke me. You could tell. By today, I could see that, but I was still too proud to admit it. I was so proud, and so disheartened by the fact that you knew, that I struck you and ran instead of explaining. Later, it was surely after Luke cornered me and knocked me out, I heard other words of father going through my head, the ones I should have remembered. He knew, as you will know when I tell you what he said to me when we were twelve, just before he left for the last time: If you take Matt’s advice, you’ll live long and happily. If you don’t, you’ll die early. I am teaching you these skills so you will be able to save the others when you need to.”
“Really? Ah... Now I remember a time in the same year when he came to visit our Godfather and I. He took me aside and said to me: I left you here so at least one of you would know where you are going and what must be done to get there. Mark can get the two of you through your natural life, but you are the one who can keep both of you on the right path. When you meet Mark again, remember that he has been taught not to let anyone know what he thinks, and he tends to make light of that which should be serious. I raised him that way so that you would learn to assert yourself, and so he would learn to take advice. Remember this too; you are stronger and wiser than you know yourself. I see it in you. It is up to the two of you to heed my words and use them to help each other survive throughout your life.”
As both boys began to appreciate the meaning of their father’s words to each of them, they fell silent, contemplating on the wisdom in their own particular messages. After several minutes, when they had reached the inn yard where the horses stood waiting, Mark turned to Matt and suddenly threw an arm around his shoulders, saying “Never forget. Neither of us can forget. If we forget, we are lost. If we remember, we shall succeed as no man has before!”
“Diplomatic and philosophical now, are we?” Matt asked, grinning from ear to ear.
“No” Mark answered “I just know what’s what better than I used to. You have my eternal gratitude, Luke!”
“Why?” Luke asked from his saddle in the middle of the line.
“For knocking my head on straight, of course!” Mark called back, laughing and running to mount a horse near the front of the line. “Come on Matt! Ride behind me!”