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Part 1-

Dan stepped off the train and took a deep breath, . . . and almost choked. The air was filled with the stench of fish that was so strong that the women walking down the street held their lacy, white, handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses. He glanced over at one of the other passengers who he had become friends with, ~ Mark Hansen.

Mark made a face, "What is that smell?"

"Fish." Dan muttered. "Come on, lets go find a hotel."

"Okay. Tomorrow we'll go find my brother at the mine."

"You want me to go?" Dan looked surprised.

Mark looked startled, "I just, . . . I'm sorry Dan, I just thought that you would want to . . I'm sorry-"

"Mark," Dan interrupted, "I would love to go out to the mine."

"Really?"

"Really." Dan smiled. "I didn't think you wanted me to."

"Well I do. I want you to meet my brother Francis." Mark smiled back. "Now lets go find that hotel."

They walked down the street towards some large buildings.

"Dan, look." Mark stopped suddenly and pointed.

Dan looked in the direction he was pointing and stopped short. He took a couple of steps, then paused and for the second time in his life, a dream had come true as he gazed out at the Pacific Ocean.

It was unbelievable. The ocean glimmered as the sun created small specks of white along it's shore and out into the distance. It seemed to go on forever. There were small, almost gentle, waves lightly rolling towards the beach, which was miraculous by itself. It was filled with millions of tiny grains of light brown sand, with the occasional piece of seaweed or shell that had been thrown up by the waves.

There were a few people playing in the water, and some walking barefoot along it's edge. A group of boys were laughing as they built a sand castle, only to watch it get swept away by a wave of water. Dan smiled as they howled in protest, then hurried to make another before the next wave.

Mark cleared his throat, forcing Dan back to reality. Seeing the boys brought back memories of Plumfield.

"It's amazing, isn't it?"

Dan nodded in agreement, not trusting his voice at that moment. They continued down the street and soon found a hotel with some-what reasonable prices.

After unpacking, and resting for a little while, they went out to a small restaurant for dinner. The restaurant served fish, and had a great view of the ocean. After dinner they went back to the hotel, and fell into bed.

*****

   Dear Mrs. Jo,

     I never would have believed that I would miss Plumfield so much in such a short period of time. I have arrived safely in California, and have already been amazed at what I've seen.

     While on the train I literally bumped into a man named Mark Hansen, and we became friends. We are about the same age. He's taking me to meet his brother here in California, who works at a gold mine that just opened. It should be interesting to see.

     I hope this letter finds all well, and I can't wait to hear the news of Plumfield. I am enclosing an address so that you can write back. Sorry it's -

A knock at the door startled him, and Dan accidentally dripped ink on the page. Groaning, he quickly called out, "Who is it?"

"It's Mark! Come on, lets go. I want to see my brother!" Came the reply.

"Just a minute." Dan yelled and hurriedly finished the letter.

Sorry it's so short.

      Love,
      Dan

After sealing it in an envelope, Dan grabbed his hat and went to the door. He smiled at Mark who looked as if he could barely contain his excitement.

"Lets go, lets go, lets go!"

Dan laughed. "Lets go."

As they walked up the street towards the mountains, Dan asked, "How long has it been since you last saw your brother?"

"He left two years ago to come here, promising that he would send for me when he had enough money to take care of me. I've missed him a lot, so have my cousins."

"Your cousins?" Dan asked.

"Yeah, we've lived with them since . . . . well, since my parents died."

Dan looked at him sympathetically. "How did it happen?" After a long silence, he quickly attempted to retract what he had said. "If you don't want to talk about it -"

‘No, it's okay." Mark gave a small smile. "I was just reliving it, I guess . . . My parents worked in a warehouse, and one day it accidentally set on fire. My mom was trapped inside, so my dad rushed in to save her. Neither made it out."

"I'm sorry." Dan murmured.

Mark has a faraway look in his eyes. "For a long time I was afraid of fire, and for the first couple of weeks after it happened, I refused to let Francis out of my sight. He was really good about it though, and was really patient with me. I think he needed me as much as I needed him."

"That's understandable."

Mark snapped out of his trance and looked at Dan and smiled. "It was a long time ago, but not a day goes by that I don't think of them."

Dan smiled, "You've turned out good."

"Thank you." Mark looked down at his directions, then pointed which way to go and they continued walking. "What about your family?"

"Uh," Dan tried to think of a way to explain it. "I was found on a street corner by a police officer. No one knows for sure what happened to my parents."

Mark glanced at him, but didn't say anything.

"But, my friend was found by a gentleman who sponsored him, and sent him to a school called Plumfield. I followed, and they sponsored me as well. Mrs. Jo and Nick became my parents, like every other kid in the school. Nan was really grateful for Mrs. Jo when she lost her mom."

"She? They let women attend the school?"

"Mrs. Jo believes that women have the right to learn as much as men do."

"Interesting." Mark said, thoughtfully.

They walked in silence for a while then reached the mining camp. The whole place was dirty, and the men spoke in a way that would make any dignified person turn and run.

Dan and Mark both flinched at the easy use of swear words that sprung up around them. Dan knew Jo would disapprove. As they walked through the camp Mark scanned the faces of the men, searching for his brother.

Finally he spotted him. "Francis!"

A man looked up, and saw them. "Mark?" He started running towards the two boys. "Mark! It is you!"

The two brother's hugged tightly. "I've missed you, Francis."

"I've missed you, too, Mark. But, I go by Frank now. It's a little less embarrassing." Frank smiled.

"Oh," Mark's wide smile faded a little. "Uh, . . . Frank, . ." the name didn't seem to fit his brother. "Frank, this is Dan. We met on the train coming here."

Dan had been wondering what Mark was thinking, but he smiled brightly and shook Frank's hand. "Pleased to meet you."

"And you." Frank replied stiffly, and Dan wondered at his sudden change of attitude. "Guess what, Mark!"

"What?"

"I convinced my boss to give you a job. We'll be working together!"

Mark looked at the dirty camp and inwardly groaned. Outwardly he tried to look thrilled. "Great!"

Frank smiled at him, then appeared gruff again as he turned to Dan. "I could probably get you one as well."

"Oh, no, that's not -"

"That would be great!" Mark interrupted, not wanting to be alone in a new place without a friend.

"Wait a minute!" Dan looked uneasy, "I appreciate the offer, but I didn't come here to get a job."

Frank seemed to brighten at that comment which left Dan wondering if Frank had thought he was trying to take advantage of Mark's friendship.

"It's no problem, Dan." Frank was all politeness. "Besides, it'll be good for Mark to have a friend around."

"Please, Dan?" Mark begged.

Dan took a deep breath and hoped he was doing the right thing. "Okay, I'll stay. But only because of you, Mark. I don't really know anybody else and it would be nice to stay with a friend."

Mark grinned.

"Come on," Frank motioned for them to follow. "I'll take you to my boss."

They were following behind him, when Frank stumbled over an unseen rock. A swear word flowed from his mouth with ease. He looked back at Dan and Mark and grinned at their round eyes and shocked expressions.

"Don't worry. You'll get used to it." Frank said, almost smugly.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Dan muttered.

Mark elbowed him in the ribs, then looked at his brother with a saintly expression. He was back with his brother, and had a new friend! Life was going pretty okay. They could ignore the language.


Part 2 -

"Welcome aboard!" Mr. Jensen boomed to the amusement of the three boys in the room. "Frank can show you to your tent."

"Thanks, boss." Mark said politely. "Call me Sam. Everyone else does." Sam smiled.

"Thank you, Sam." Dan leaned over and shook his hand.

Two men walked out of a back office wearing black suits. One of the men left the room, and the other walked over to them.

"These are the new boys, Mr. Blake." Sam nodded towards Mark and Dan. At Dan's raised eyebrow, he laughingly added, "Mr. Blake is my boss."

Dan nodded towards him, but was ignored.

Mr. Blake turned to Sam, ignoring the two new boys. "Is there anyone else inquiring about the partnership?"

"He didn't want it?" Sam gasped in surprise.

"He didn't want to take the risk." Mr. Blake muttered. "The list?"

"No one else was even asking." Sam replied.

Mr. Blake growled, "If we don't find someone by the start of next week, we'll have to close it down." He added for the benefit of the boys, "Everyone will be out of a job."

He stomped back to his office and slammed the door behind him.

Sam turned back to the boys, and in a strangled voice said, "Frank, take the boys to their tent."

"Yes, sir." Frank quickly ushered them out the door.

As soon as they were outside, Dan looked questioningly at Frank. "What was that all about?"

"Mr. Blake needs a partner to keep the mine open. He needs about a hundred dollars, in order to get some more of the equipment we need. Basically, no one is willing to take the risk of giving Mr. Blake without proof that there is gold in the mine." Frank chuckled wryly. "The thing is, we won't know, until after we get the supplies."

Dan looked at Mark who was strangely silent. "You'll lose your jobs without the money?"

Frank nodded. "Yeah. Look, over there is the dinner hall, the only time we go there is for dinner. Everything else is up to us. If you get hurt, the medical tent is over there." He pointed. "It costs, but the price is pretty good. Your tent is right here. We get up at six in the morning, but bed time is up to us."

Mark laughed, "No mommy to tuck us in?"

"No woman dares to come up here." Frank said, a little too seriously.

"Where are you sleeping?" Mark asked.

"Three tents down. I've gotta go . . . do some stuff. I'll see you at dinner."

He hurried off before either of them had a chance to say anything. Dan looked at Mark and shrugged.

"When are we going to get our stuff?" Dan asked.

"I don't want to hike down to town and back today. How about tomorrow evening after work?"

"Okay."

*****

Dan hesitated at the door, then knocked quickly.

It swung open, revealing a stern Mr. Blake. "The dinner hall is over there." He said gruffly.

"I hear you're looking for a partner with a hundred dollars." Dan said evenly.

"So?"

"I'm the man you're looking for."

Mr. Blake raised his eyebrows and motioned for Dan to enter the office. 20 minutes late, Dan signed some papers and handed over the money Laurie had given him at his graduation.

"It was a pleasure doing business with you, Dan."

"I get 15% of the profits, and you promised not to tell anyone it's me. The pleasure is mine."

Mr. Blake followed him to the door. "That was the smartest thing you could have done with your money, Dan."

Dan walked into the darkness as he thought, ‘Or the stupidest.'

*****

"Where were you? I looked for you after dinner." Mark whispered in the darkness as Dan entered their tent.

"I went for a walk," he replied. It wasn't the complete truth, but he did go for a walk after he had finished talking to Mr. Blake.

"Oh."

"Besides, I thought that you could use the time to catch up with your brother." Dan found a match and lit the lamp so that he could get ready for bed.

Mark was already in bed. "I would have liked to talk to my brother, but he went to town. Apparently they go every Friday."

"Really? Why?"

"To get drunk and make fools of themselves." Mark chuckled humorlessly.

"Your brother?"

"Yeah. That was one thing he didn't write home about. Another was the fact that this mine might close."

"I wouldn't worry about that."

"Why not?"

Dan crawled into bed and blew out the lamp. "Things always look better in the morning."

*****

The next day they were roused at 6 a.m.

"Don't we get the day off?" Mark grumbled.

"Only on Sunday's." Dan grinned.

They got up and went out to the rest of the crew. Most of the men looked exhausted and were holding their heads as the effects of the previous night wore off.

Dan and Mark went off with a couple of other guys who were new, to learn what to do.

*****

   Dear Bess,

     You won't believe what has happened to me since I left for California. I met a man named Mark Hansen on the train, and when we finally got to C.A., we got jobs working at a Gold Mine.

Dan conveniently forgot to mention that he was now part owner of the mine.

     I worked all day yesterday, and today I am so sore that I can hardly move.

     A group of us went to church today, and the community seems nice enough. It's a little town, smaller than Concord. The ocean is beautiful out here, and Mark and I took a long walk by the shore after church. I could sit for hours and just watch the waves.

     Have you decided where you're going? I can't wait to hear from you!

    Love,
    Dan

*****

The days began to fly by, and Dan's muscles began to get used to the work. He and Mark spent a lot of time together, and when the majority of the men went to drink, they would go down to the ocean. Frank seemed glad that his brother was there, bud didn't hang around much.

"Hey, you two." Frank entered their tent.

"Hey, Frank." Dan looked up from his letter from Bess long enough to smile, then resumed reading.

"Hi, Fran - Frank." Mark smiled sheepishly.

Frank ignored it. "You two want to come down with me and the guys to get a drink?"

Mark suddenly stopped smiling. "No thanks."

"Dan?"

Dan looked up again. "Uh, . . no, thank you."

"Why won't you join in the fun?" Frank asked them both.

"Fun?" It was as if Mark snapped, and Dan watched in concern. "That fun , as you call it, is what killed our parents!"

Dan's eyebrows went up in surprise, and Frank glanced at him warily.

"This isn't the time, Mark."

"It never is!" Mark was furious, and hurting. "Even after it happened, you never wanted to talk about it. I cried my eyes out, and you just told me that it would be okay, and not to worry. I never once saw you cry!"

"Enough!" Frank yelled as he stomped out of the tent, then down the street to get a drink and forget about it again.

Mark collapsed on his bed, sobbing.

Dan knelt next to him. "It's okay Mark. Cry, and get it out of your system."

He cried for a couple more minutes, before relaxing. Dan handed him a handkerchief, and he took it, gratefully.

"You want to talk about it?" Dan asked softly.

"I remember the day it happened. I cam home from school all excited because I had gotten an A on one of my reports. As I entered the house, I found a strange man talking to Francis." Mark's eyes had that faraway look that Dan had seen before. "He was a Sheriff, and he told me that a drunk man had gone to the warehouse where my parents worked, and stumbled around knocking over some lamps. The whole place caught on fire, and a beam fell from the rook, blocking my mother inside. My father couldn't bear the thought of her dying and ran in to save her. The Sheriff said that it was an accident."

Mark started crying again. "Watching Francis, I learned that real men don't cry. Only babies cry. Until no, I haven't cried since the day I learned that."

"It's okay to cry." Dan said.

Then they cried together.


Part 3 -

After that night, Dan and Mark seemed to spend even more time together, and Francis was never around. Mark was glad to finally talk about some of the things that had been bugging him. Dan was equally glad to be able to talk about his parents and get rid of some more of his anger concerning being deserted.

They found themselves talking late into the night, even though they were exhausted from working all day long.

One rainy morning, Dan and Mark were fixing some broken machinery, and Dan was regretting him impulsive decision to become a partner of the mine. They looked up when they heard yelling in the mine.

Giving each other worried looks, they ran up the hill to find a small crowd gathering. Mr. Blake pushed his way to the center of the group, demanding to know what was going on.

The crowd hushed as one of the men triumphantly thrust his hand to the sky. "I found gold!"

Dan looked shocked as the men started cheering.

Mr. Blake threw his head back and laughed, then gave everyone the rest of the day off to celebrate. He motioned for Dan to follow him, then disappeared into his office.

Dan and Mark gave each other and excited hug, then Dan turned to follow his ‘partner'.

*****

"Sir?"

"I said, that if you want to sell your part of the mine, I'll understand." Mr Blake smiled.

"Why would I want to sell?" Dan asked.

"You could probably make a thousand dollars off it." Mr. Blake answered thoughtfully.

"That much?"

"Maybe more."

Dan took a deep breath, then sat back in his chair. "I'll have to think about it."

*****

The next couple days rolled by quickly as the gold kept rolling in. Dan had to go down to the bank almost everyday because he was afraid to keep that much money lying around. But he began to get an uneasy feeling about the mine, and started investigating his option to sell.

"If you'll just sign right there." Dan pointed towards the bottom of the page.

The man quickly signed, then sat back and laughed. "I never thought I'd own a mine."

"You only own part of the mine, Mr. Hodson." Mr. Blake reminded him.

He grinned. "All the same."

"Well," Dan hoped he wouldn't regret his decision to sell. "I guess I'll return to my tent."

"You're still going to work?" Mr. Hodson asked.

"For a while, anyway."

"Oh. You're one of those men, who never have enough money, ain't ya?"

"Not exactly." Dan smiled, but offered no further explanation.

*****

The next day, Mark and Dan took a day off and went into town. Dan hesitated outside the bank, feeling for the money he had made from selling.

"I need to go check something."

"In the bank?" Mark asked questioningly.

"I'll be back in a second." Dan hurriedly went inside.

"Hello, Dan. Another deposit?"

"Yeah." Dan smiled at the clerk. "This is probably the last one for a while though."

He handed over his money, and after counting it, he received a receipt back.

"How much do I have in my account now?"

"Five thousand, two hundred dollars."

Dan almost choked. "That much?"

"That's what it says."

He muttered a quick "thank you", then left the bank in a daze.

"You ready to go find some food?" Mark asked.

Dan shook his head to clear it. "Yeah, where do you want to go?"

"How about that restaurant that we went to our first night here?"

"All-you-can-eat fish." Dan grinned. "It sounds great."

*****

That night, they decided to take a walk on the moonlit beach.

"Dan, have you ever had a dream?"

Dan was surprised at the question, but nodded. "Yeah, one of my dreams was to come to California."

Mark smiled.

"Why?"

"You'd probably think it's silly," Mark hesitated.

"What, your dreams?"

"Yeah."

"I promise I won't." Dan smiled.

"I want to have a family."

Dan looked at him to see if he was serious. "Really?"

"Yeah. I can think of nothing better that the thought of little Hansen's running around my house, with a charming, lovely wife waiting for me to come home from work everyday." Mark smiled, seriously.

"Wow." Dan wasn't sure what to say.

"Silly, right?" Mark chuckled at himself, embarrassed to have admitted it.

"No, I -" Dan thought for a minute. "I think it's great!"

"Really?" Mark asked hesitantly.

"Yeah, you just gotta find a girl."

"The right girl." Mark laughed.

"Yeah."

*****

For some reason, that conversation stuck with Dan through the next day's work. He had fulfilled his dream of coming to California, now what did he want from life?

"Hey, Dan?" Frank interrupted his thoughts.

Dan looked up. "Yeah?"

"Have you seen my brother around?"

"Sam sent him to town to get a few things. He left a couple hours ago. Why?"

"I need to borrow a few dollars."

"To get a drink?" Dan asked, almost angrily.

"It is Friday." Frank grinned. "You wouldn't be able to spare a few dollars, would you?"

"Not to support your bad habits."

"I didn't think so." Frank turned to leave.

"Hey, Frank?"

"Yeah?"

"What do you want from life?"

"Fun. Frank grinned and started walking away. "Money would be nice, too."

Dan sighed and shook his head. He already had money, and he did have fun with Mark, now what?

A minute later, Mark walked in to help him. "Hi."

"Hi. Did you see Frank?" Dan asked.

"Yes." Mark replied quietly.

"Did you give it to him?"

"That doesn't concern you, Dan."

"It does when it hurts my friend!"

"Yes, I gave it to him." Mark muttered.

"Why?"

"To get him to leave me alone!" Mark yelled.

"You think that's going to help? He's just going to keep coming back for more!" Dan yelled back.

"Who says I'm going to be around to give it to him?"

"You're leaving?"

"I was thinking about it."

"Good." Dan smiled, and Mark looked at him strangely.

"Why?"

"‘Cause I was thinking about it too."

Mark smiled, "Really?"

"I came here to explore. Not to work at a mine. I only did that for you."

"Oh." Mark was silent for a minute. "Lets go talk to Mr. Blake. Maybe he'll let us leave the day after tomorrow."

"Why the day after tomorrow?"

"It's our one year mark. One year from the day we first arrived."

"I didn't think it had been that long."

Mark laughed. "Neither had I, till I looked at the calender and saw it with my own eyes."

Dan laughed as they headed out of the mine. "Lets go talk to Mr. Blake."


Part 4 -

The next day was the last day that Dan and Mark would work at the mine. All day long all they could do was smile at the prospect of their leaving.

But the day wasn't over yet. Mark still hadn't told his brother that he was leaving. He wasn't looking forward to that.

Dan was working a few feet behind Mark, planning where they would go the next day. A second later, he heard a loud crash echoing through the mine followed by a loud curse.

"What happened, Mikey?" Dan listened to the yelling.

"A beam just fell on my leg."

Some of the men started laughing. "Did ya knock it over?"

"No! It just fell."

Frank stepped forward, and laughing pushed the beam off his leg, and in the process knocked another one over.

"Watch it!" One man yelled and jumped to the side to avoid getting hit.

They all laughed, as Dan watched in annoyance.

"Sor-ry." Frank drawled.

Dan started working again when he heard a soft rumble. A second late it happened again. As he realized what was going to happen, he began to panic.

"Everybody out!"

They stopped talking and looked at him strangely.

"What did you day, Dan?" Mark asked, setting down his tools.

"There's going to be a cave-in. Get out!"

The men started mocking him and pointing while laughing and talking loudly. "Be quiet and listen!" Dan shouted.

They all fell silent for a minute, then when they heard the rumbling, started yelling as they ran for the door.

Dan looked back to see Mark following him, then ran for the entrance. As he reached the door and passed it, he took a deep breath and sighed in relief.

"Dan! Dan, have you see my brother?" Frank asked running over to him.

"Yeah, he's right behind -" Dan fell silent when he realized Mark hadn't followed him out. He looked at the mountain in horror as it groaned and creaked, then began to pray.

*****

Mark was following Dan out of the mine when he heard someone calling for help. He couldn't leave anyone behind, so he turned and ran the other direction.

"Mikey!"

"Mark!" Mikey yelled. "I can't walk, you've gotta help me."

"Okay. Hang on, I'm coming!" Mark ran to him, then helped him up and started dragging him out of the cave.

"We're not going to make it!" Mikey yelled.

Mark looked up then wished he hadn't when he saw the walls crumbling around him.

*****

"Dan, where is Mark? " Frank yelled.

"He's still in the mine!" Dan said hoarsely, finding it hard to breathe.

Frank stared in shock, then began running towards the entrance, only to be forced back by the dust and falling rocks of the cave-in.

Dan collapsed to the ground not being able to stand. He bowed his head, unable to watch the scene before him. He had betrayed his friend by not helping him. All he had done was watch.

*****

The memorial for Mark and Mikey was held the next day.

Dan stood at one end, fighting to keep his eyes clear of tears. Frank stood at the other end, his jaw rigid, unable to look at anyone.

Mr. Blake came, and apologized to Frank and Mikey's family for not realizing the mine needed more support. His voice cracked, and after a minute he sat down, unable to continue.

Mr. Hodson didn't even bother to show up. He was too busy going over his finances and asking his lawyers if he could sue. Either that, or reopen the mine.

After the memorial was over, Dan gathered his stuff, then slowly walked around town, not thinking very clearly.

He watched as the other men, including Frank, drank to forget what had happened. Suddenly the pain was unbearable, and he entered the tavern.

"Beer?" The barman asked.

"Yeah." Dan paid for it, then sat watching his drink. A memory of Ben coming to Plumfield drunk, made him hesitate. When he saw Mark tearfully recalling the death of his parents, Dan knew he couldn't do it.

He sighed, and slowly walked away without taking a sip of the harsh brown liquid. He went down to the beach, and cried as he watched the waves come crashing in.

It was then that Dan remembered the day. It had been one-year since he and Mark had gotten off the train, and now Mark was . . .

Dan threw a stick at the water. It wasn't fair! Mark was the one with the dreams, who knew what he wanted out of life. He was the one who should have lived.

They were supposed to leave today.

*****

Frank drank until the bartender wouldn't give him anymore, and he was still angry. Dan knew that Mark was in the mine, but all he had done was run for his life. Frank had known since the day Dan arrived that he had been using Mark.

What Dan had gained, Frank wasn't sure. His head was pounding too hard to think about it.

He went back to camp and grabbed his gun. Stuffing it in his pocket, he stumbled off to find the man who destroyed Mark's life.

*****

Dan watched as the sun went down and the day faded into night. He had no idea how long he had sat there, staring at nothing, but he didn't care.

Mr. Blake had stopped to talk and comfort him a couple of hours before, but it didn't help much. He blamed himself for not going back for Mark, and no one could take that guilt away.

"You killed my brother."

Dan jumped and turned to see Frank with a gun pointed straight at him.

"Frank-"

"You killed my brother." Frank repeated in a low voice. "Now it's your turn."

Dan gasped as a wave of fear passed through him. "Frank, I know you're hurting, but -"

Frank stepped forward and cocked the gun. "You don't know what I'm feeling!"

As he took another step, Dan suddenly flew forward, knocking him off his feet and throwing the gun out of reach.

Frank gasped in surprise as Dan rolled off him, and grabbed the weapon. Then he grinned, and said, "You wouldn't."

Dan took a deep breath.

Frank chuckled, "No. You wouldn't. You couldn't."

He pulled a knife out of his boot and lunged at Dan.

Dan's finger slipped, and the gun went off.

He never heard the girl scream.


Part 5 -

"I sentence you to one year in prison, and a one hundred dollar fine."

Dan flinched as the judge's gavel pounded against his desk. The officer took him by the arm and led him to the door.

It wasn't until the door to his cell slammed shut that the reality started to sink in. He leaned against the wall covering his head with his hands protectively.

The days seemed to inch by, and the schedule was becoming increasingly boring. Most of the time he was alone, with nothing to do but pace, sit, sleep, or think.

One day, the guard walked in, and slid a small white piece of paper under the door. Dan stopped pacing to inspect it, and found that it was a letter from Nat.

None of the Plumfield family knew of Dan's plight, and the letter was happy and informative. It ended,

     I hope that all is going well for you, and that you're having lots of adventures. Why haven't you written to me?

       Love,
       Nat Blake

He sat staring at the letter, thinking. Had he been so caught up with his new life in California that he had neglected his friends?

He walked to the door and yelled for the guard.

"Did you need something?"

"Can I write letters while I'm in here?"

"I suppose so." He muttered.

"Do you think I could run down to the store for some paper and stamps?" He joked.

The guard didn't even smile. "I'll find you some."

An hour later the same guard returned with a package that he handed to Dan.

He opened it and found paper, a pencil, enveloped, and stamps. He smiled gratefully and started writing.

   Dear Nat,

     You won't believe what has happened to me . . .

An hour later, he sealed the letter, and debated writing another. But then he decided to only write one a week. It would give him something to look forward to.

He called the guard who took his letter and promised to send it.

*****

The next week was hard. The days seemed to drag, and there was nothing to do. Dan longed for the freedom of Plumfield.

"If I ever get out of here, I'm never coming back." He muttered angrily to the wall.

"That's what they all say." A man walked by accompanied by a guard. He smiled and Dan was repulsed by the looks of his teeth.

"Come on, Ernie, lets go." The guard pushed him forward.

Ernie yelled back to Dan. "You get used to it after the eleventh time!"

Dan shuddered at the thought. He would not be back!

Dan became very depressed. This was not what he was supposed to be doing. He wanted to be out exploring, not sitting in some dusty jail. His best friend was lying at the bottom of a pile of rocks, and he could just imagine the disappointment that Mrs. Jo would feel when she read his letter.

He stuffed his hands in the back pockets of his pants and felt a folded piece of paper. Pulling it out, he saw that it was the letter that Jo had given him. Opening it, he read:

   Dear Dan,

     So you have finally gotten around to reading this letter. It's probably been over a year by now, and you may have even forgotten or lost it. I hope you read it.

     Nick and I love you very much, and we will always be there for you. There are many people who care about you. Never give up!

     Remember that time when Plumfield was quarantined because of the measles? You kept fighting, and working hard. You did it because you care about us. I never really thanked you for that. Thank you for being there for me! You saved my life, and the school.

       Remember always that I love you.
       Jo

Dan took a deep breath and sat on his cot. "Thank you, Mrs. Jo."

The End!



"The hardest part of the last two years, was not being able to go back to Plumfield . . . even when I wanted to."


Author's Notes:

* I knew from the beginning that there would be a cave-in, and that Dan's friend Mark wouldn't make it out alive, but after writing the first three parts, I didn't want to go through with it.

* These stories roughly follow the ideas of Louisa May Alcott that she never wrote about, but that she had hinted about. I have always wondered what happened at the end of Jo's Boys, and the end of the T.V. Series "Little Men", so I decided to write it. If you read the book, you know that there was no Mark, or Francis Hansen, and Dan was actually in jail for two years, not one. Dan didn't kill the man because of the mine cave-in, but a man did die, and later there was a cave-in where Dan saved twenty men.

             I hope you enjoyed the story.

             ~Rachel


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