The Fourth Marker by L. Gibbons Summary
With a supernatural undercurrent, The Fourth Marker is the story of an elderly man, Gabriel Townsend, whose spirit is being crushed between the metaphoric anvil of his pragmatic views and the falling hammer of his wife's pending death. The story revolves around a family, the Townsends, whose heritage is partly Native American.The United States' Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in the Trail of Tears episode in American history, required all indigenous people, with few exceptions, to leave their tribal lands in the southeast and east, along the eastern seaboard. Some Lenape (Delaware) tribal members on the Delmarva Peninsula as well as other areas in the east, defied the government and remained on their ancestral lands, hiding from authorities in the Great Pocomoke Forest, outlying islands, and swamps on the southern peninsula.A conscious decision to "hide in plain sight" or not, they eventually intermarried and bred with local whites, African-Americans, and mulattoes. Many families whose ties to Delmarva date back a hundred years or more share a heritage with those aboriginal people; however, the prejudice and racial bias of a bygone era caused many to ignore – even deny – their lineage.In the story, while a child on the family farm during the Great Depression, Gabe Townsend rejected legends of his Native American ancestors and ignored miraculous cures of family members. Gabe's half-breed grandfather, Noopah, tried to teach him tribal legends and the old ways, explaining that, after most Indians had been killed or driven from their lands by the Army and settlers, tribal elders returned to their lands in spirit form after their deaths. They dwelled at a sacred hill on the family's land and protected their descendants from early death and white man's diseases.During those years, three family members were cured of life-threatening diseases, but Gabe's mother blindly credited their recoveries to the nascent field of modern medicine. After each recovery, a person of evil character and not of tribal blood disappeared, followed by the mysterious appearance of a wood marker on the sacred tribal hill. Yet, despite those events and Noopah's words, Gabe adhered to his mother's intractable views.Now facing the loss of his wife, he relives his childhood memories, guided by the spirit of his grandfather from beyond – well beyond – the grave. Finally understanding the truth of long ago, he decides to beg the tribal spirits to take his life in exchange for his wife's, aware that a fourth marker would signify his own life – and death.As Gabe's father noted, "some understand only what they see; others see only what they understand." The Fourth Marker highlights this most human of vices against the backdrop of Native American legends with ample helpings of farm life during the Great Depression.