It was a wonderful three days! Fishing up and the mountains was always fun! When I woke up that last morning, I declared that I could do this forever! Pa laughed at me as he put his boots on. “I know you can, boy, but we still have a ranch to run!” I groaned at the announcement. Pa turned and looked at me as he lifted an eyebrow. “AND, son, you have school waiting for you!” Pa ran a comb through his hair. “Did you get your studying done last night?”
I sighed. “Most of it.”
“Oh?” Pa folded his arms. “What does ‘Most of it’ mean? If you remember right, you assured Mr. Griswald that…” Pa stopped.
“I know, Pa! I know. It’ll get done. I’ll be ready for that test on government first thing Monday morning…er…afternoon!” I declared with a firm nod.
“Good boy!” Pa picked up his rifle. “I’m going to go see if I can shoot a deer to take back, son. While I’m gone, why don’t you go on down to the river. I’ll be down there soon.”
“Hey!” I protested. “Why do you get to hunt while I…” I stopped when I saw the look on Pa’s face. “Oh, alright!”
We fished until mid-afternoon. Then Pa announced we absolutely had to pack up and move out. I noticed Pa packing up anxiously. “You anxious to get back?” I asked. Pa looked at me. “You think that maybe Miss Lou will be waiting for you the minute we ride into town?”
Pa paused and drew a finger at me. “Oh…now, see here, boy…” he started.
I held up a hand. “Okay, Pa! Okay…I’m going!”
Soon we were in the saddle. As we rode down the mountain we noticed how hot it was getting. I’d forgotten how hot it could get off the mountain. The heat made me want to turn around and go right back up there, but Pa was stern on our getting home. As we traveled, however, he realized the fish were going to spoil before we made it home. As Pa looked around for a place to camp, we saw Micah.
Micah was surprised to see us! We told him we were just getting back from our fishing trip. Pa was even anxious to show him the trout. Oh, but of course he didn’t tell Micah how many I’d caught…that would spoil his ego. Looked like I was going to have to do some ego spoiling myself!
As soon as I got finished telling Micah we caught a whole mess of speckled trout, we heard another voice. "Well now...that's better than eatin' beans out of a can. Got enough of them trout for me boy?" I was surprised to see a man sitting there. He talked from under his hat.
Pa looked at Micah. It was obvious he wanted an explanation. "Scully Potter...I'm taking him back to North Fork to stand trial before the circuit judge. He shot and killed Ted Bennett, the sheriff of Marietta a couple of days ago," Micah explained
“Ted Bennett?” Pa glared at Mr. Potter. “Why?”
“No reason,” Micah answered. “He just hates lawmen and everybody connected with them.”
He spoke from underneath his hat again. “I tell you, boy…I like my fish fried!” He explained just how he liked them. Wow…you should have seen the look on Pa’s face when he looked at me! He certainly didn’t like this worthless outlaw talking to me that way. If Pa had been close to Mr. Potter, he probably would have punched him out, cold!
I don’t reckon Micah liked it much either. He turned to Mr. Potter and told him to stop talking that way. “A man headed to the gallows don’t get any special treatment!”
Okay, here’s where this man gets REALLY creepy…He slowly took his hat off his face and said, “You ain’t hung me yet…lawman!” Then he gave this really creepy laugh…I tell you, if my Pa hadn’t been right there, I would have been scared…handcuffed or not!
I could tell that Pa was really uncomfortable with this man. I watched his face as this man started laughing that evil laugh. Pa raised an eyebrow as his frown deepened. “Mark, I think we’ll share these trout with Micah.”
Micah put a hand on Pa’s arm. “Oh no, Lucas Boy! You go on ahead. I don’t want this boy around here.” He pointed to me.
Pa turned and looked at me. “Well Micah, Mark’s my responsibility. I’ll take care of him. Besides, I have all these trout and…”
“Now, if you’re going to tell me some line about not wanting to waste good fish, you can save it Lucas. I know why you want to stay here and eat, and I’m telling you I can handle it!”
“Okay.” Pa dismounted Razor. I followed his lead, suppressing a grin. “Mark, go tie those horses to the tree by Micah’s.”
I could tell Micah wasn’t in total agreement with Pa’s plan to stay until he could get a feel for this man. If he didn’t trust this man, he’d insist on riding with Micah back to North Fork…possibly sending me on ahead to keep me protected. If he did trust the man, he’d thank Micah for sharing the meal, get in the saddle, and ride. That’s how my Pa was – always protecting those he cared for.
Pa handed me the fish as I walked back to the campfire. “You clean them, I’ll cook them, son.” I left the camp to do as Pa said. When I returned, he had everything ready. Soon the air was filled with the aroma of frying fish. The prisoner laughed every now and then. Again, he addressed me, asking me how many of those fine fish I’d caught myself.
I started to answer, but Pa suddenly turned to me. “Go fetch some water, son.” The tone of voice he used left no room for argument. As I walked away, I heard his angry voice. “Now, you listen to me POTTER!” I turned in time to see Pa walking over to him with a finger pointed at him. “You will not address that boy! The next time you speak to him I’ll…”
“Lucas!” Micah warned.
I hurried away to get the water. When I got back, Pa was still busy frying the fish. He took a plate and put a piece of fish on it. “Here, Micah…Feed your prisoner.”
As we ate, Micah commented on how good the fish tasted. “Tell me something, Mark…How many of these were yours?”
I smiled as Pa started coughing. “Well…to tell you the truth…”
“It was a team effort, Micah,” Pa answered. He raised his eyebrows at me. “Right son?”
“Oh yeah!” I declared. “It WAS a team effort alright! I was just a bigger player than Pa was.” I grinned as Pa lowered his coffee cup and glared at me. “Of course…Pa went hunting while I fished some too.”
“Mark!” Pa practically shouted.
“Oh, he went hunting, did he?” Micah shook his head. “I didn’t notice any game on that saddle there.”
“That’s because he didn’t find any.” I smiled again. I enjoyed this banter.
Pa pointed a finger at me. “You just remember that, boy. When you have to get back to the ranch and cook supper for a week, you just remember the fun you’re having now!” Pa winked at me and shook his head.
Pa grew serious as he looked over at Mr. Potter every now and then. I knew he was studying him real close, trying to decide if the man could be trusted alone with Micah. When he was done eating, he asked for more. Micah said he had beans, to which Mr. Potter didn’t want any.
I reckon that Pa thought it was safe to leave Mr. Potter in Micah’s hands because he announced that as soon as we got the dishes cleaned up we could ride on a half hour or so.
But as I started over to Mr. Potter, Micah stopped me. He warned me not to get too close. But as Micah bent over to get his dishes, Mr. Potter hit Micah in the arm. “Pa!” I cried out.
In one swift move, Pa grabbed his rifle, cocked it, and held it on Mr. Potter. He started forward angrily. Lucky for Mr. Potter, Pa wasn’t in the killing mood. "How do you figure that will do you any good?" Pa asked Mr. Potter as he helped Micah up and away from the prisoner.
"I don't like lawmen...I don't like nothing about 'em!" Mr. Potter yelled.
Pa took a look at Micah's arm. He said it looked like a bad sprain. Micah told us everything would be alright. “Lucas look, why don’t you and Mark go on? You shouldn’t have stopped here in the first place. It’s not good for the boy.”
Pa told Micah he wouldn't be able to use his arm for a couple of day. He jerked his arm away from Pa. "I have to use it!" Again he told us to move on. Pa told Micah to go for his gun. He couldn't even draw his gun. Mr. Potter laughed.
Pa told me to get out the bedrolls and to get some more water from the stream so Micah could soak his arm. I knew the coolness of the water would help reduce any swelling. “I’ll stand watch,” Pa stated as he looked at Mr. Potter. Micah told Pa to listen to him. I’m guessing he was a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. “I won’t listen and don’t you argue!” Pa ordered.
And as you know, when Pa gives an order, it’s best to obey. I’ve learned that from experience, and so has Micah!
Mr. Potter laughed evilly as Pa started tending to Micah’s arm. “Now you look after him good, Mr. Lucas.” Mr. Potter continued to laugh evilly.
I could hear him as I took off the bedrolls from the horses. Pa grew tired of the laugh and stood up with his rifle. He cocked it and rushed over to Mr. Potter. “Now you hear me and hear me good!” Pa yelled. “I want your laughing to stop! I’ve warned you once about your mouth already. You just sit down there and keep your mouth shut!”
“If I don’t you gonna shoot me?” Mr. Potter asked. “Now how about if you do that? Then maybe I’ll come back from the other side and kill you…kill all of you!”
“No you won’t! Because when I shoot you, you’re gonna go straight to-“
“PA!” I cried. Pa turned and looked at me.
“Get to your bedroll, Mark.”
“Pa…” I started.
Pa turned his head. “Son, I don’t like you being here, and I plan to send you on your way at first light. But right now I want you to go to sleep.”
I didn’t like the sound in Pa’s voice. I looked at him for another moment. “Yes, Pa.” I turned and went to sit on my bed roll.
Pa sighed as he stood up and walked over to me. He sat down beside me, but kept a keen eye on the prisoner. “Mark…you are getting older. You are turning into a nice, young man but…I still want to keep you protected from all this. When someone acts like this, my fatherly instincts kick in. It’s not something I can control. It’s not something I can explain. I’m sorry I lost my temper like that, but I know his laughter and behavior bothers you. I’ve watched other men laugh at you like that when I didn’t have control to stop them. Well, this time I do. I want to keep you from this, but I don’t feel comfortable sending you on tonight. So please…do this my way?”
I nodded. Pa smiled at me. “Goodnight, Pa.”
He patted my back. “Goodnight, son.”
When I woke up the next morning, it took me a minute to figure out where I was. The sun was already out and Micah was sitting right over near Pa. I sat up. Micah and I greeted each other. “Well, looks like everybody got a good night’s sleep!” Mr. Potter declared. “You figure to make North Fork today, Marshal?”
"I do...tonight you'll be sleeping behind bars," Micah stated. Mr. Potter laughed and then asked me if I was going to fix breakfast. He was hungry. I walked over to Micah and told him that we had some cornmeal. Pa made good flapjacks. “Let your father sleep, son. He’s been up half the night!” Micah said he'd stoke up the fire and I could brew up some coffee. I just looked at Mr. Potter as I talked to Micah.
“How’s your hand?” I asked Micah. Of course Micah said it was better than it probably really was…
Mr. Potter told me to be sure and make the coffee strong and black. "Hey Marshal...too bad you didn't get a hard night's sleep like the boy's Pa there...he ain't moved an inch since he laid down.”
I turned and looked toward where Pa was sleeping. I couldn’t help but shake my head. I knew that if Pa was up making coffee…and the sun was high in the sky like it was…that I would be getting a swift nudge with his foot about now. “He sure must be tired!” I declared.
I quietly worked on breakfast while Micah busied himself with other chores. He was anxious to move out, and I suspected that as soon as Pa was awake we’d be heading out. I, of course, would be riding ahead of the others. I was quite surprised when Micah told me to give Mr. Potter his breakfast while he went to fill the canteen. I couldn’t quite believe he was allowing me near the prisoner while he went out of sight of the camp. I suppose, though, that Micah figured Pa would wake up at the first yell from me.
But I still suspect that if Pa woke up and found me hovering over this prisoner, he’d have a few choice words to say…to all three of us! I just hoped Pa stayed asleep. I gave him his breakfast then started to leave, but he stopped me as he spoke to me. “Hey boy,” Mr. Potter said as he started eating his breakfast. “Yeah…this sure does beat it – how you cooked that fish last night and now these here flaps…just the way I like ‘em! Hey, I tell you what. Next time I hit the trail, I’m looking for you. You and me, we make a team! Why anybody that cook’s like this-“ I must admit I wasn’t comfortable being near him. Pa was right, his laugh did scare me. Not only that, but I knew Pa would be riled if he found me talking to him. I quickly told him I needed to go wake up my Pa.
I walked over to Pa and bent down beside him. "Pa...Pa...you better wake up, breakfast is ready.” Pa didn’t even stir! “Pa come on...its morning!" I called cheerfully. Still, Pa didn’t move. "Ah Pa come on..." I took his hat off his face.
The sight that met my eyes was terrifying! He was wide awake, staring at me. He didn’t move a single muscle! His face was broken out in sweat. “Pa?” I called worriedly. He just stared at me. He didn’t move. I knew something was terribly wrong! "Pa...Pa...what's wrong?" Pa rolled his eyes toward his bedroll. "Pa...Pa...say something!" I begged. He again just stared at me.
“Pa-“ I reached out to grab him and shake him, but I suddenly heard it…that terrifying sound!
It was a rattlesnake somewhere in his bedroll!
Fear clinched me as I realized the danger my father was in. I shook my head as I silently looked back into Pa’s eyes. I saw the fear in his own eyes. He was terrified! I slowly stood up and backed away from Pa and the snake. I didn’t want my sudden movements to cause the snake to strike. He was already shaking his warning at me to stay away.
Slowly and cautiously, I continued to back away. I turned to go find Micah. “What’s the matter, boy? Can’t he get up?” Mr. Potter called. I didn’t say anything as I continued to walk away. Fear clinched me! I was panicked. I thanked God Micah was here, because if we were alone as planned, I would have NO idea what to do!
I walked up to Micah. I could hardly speak the words. “Micah…it’s Pa…There…There’s a rattler in his bedroll!” I gasped out. My voice was laced with fear as I looked at Micah, praying he’d know what to do. “He can’t move!”
“Hey, what’s all the whispering for? Is he sick or something?” Mr. Potter called.
“Keep your voice down!” Micah ordered.
“You…you sure it’s a rattler?” Micah tried to keep the fear from his own voice, but I heard him loud and clear. He was afraid also.
“I heard it!”
As Micah hurried over to check on Pa, I hurried over to Mr. Potter who was yelling again. I prayed he would be sensitive to my pleading. I bent down right next to him, forgetting he was dangerous. “Please…there’s a snake in my Pa’s bedroll…a rattler. So just don’t make any noise. Huh?” My voice was full of fear. I felt like I was breaking out into a sweat myself.
Mr. Potter thought this was truly funny. He started laughing as he hollered out to Micah. "Hey how about that! Hey lawman...your gonna have your hands full...cause that snake don't like where's he at!" Mr. Potter got to his feet and yelled some more. "Ain't' that right Mr. rattlesnake?"
As he yelled, Micah slowly walked over to him. He still had the canteen in his hand he’d gone to fill up. He used it to slap Mr. Potter in the head. After knocking him out cold, Micah unlocked his handcuffs. “Give me a hand, Mark. If he comes to, why, we’ll have him far enough away from here that he can make all the noise he wants without bothering anybody – especially that snake!”
Again, I’m sure if Pa could talk he’d be throwing another fit about me being so near this heartless criminal. But right now, Micah needed me. A man has to do what a man has to do! We dragged Mr. Potter out of camp and handcuffed him to a tree.
I walked back into the camp. I hurried over to Pa and bent down next to him. “Don’t worry, Pa…we’ll think of something!” I whispered. “You just hang in there, Pa…You hear me?” Pa gave me a slight nod as his eyes pleaded with mine. I hated seeing the fear in his eyes. “Just…just hang on, Pa! Don’t move…We’ll…we’ll think of something!”
I hurried over to Micah. He was sitting at the feet of Pa. “Micah, he’s sweating so bad! You think we could drip some water in his mouth?”
“No, son. The slightest move could cause that snake to strike!”
“He won’t have to move, Micah! I can get a cloth and just…”
“He’s laying flat, son. If he gets too much he could choke. That snake would strike.” Micah turned and looked at me. “Just let me think!” He cursed under his breath.
I turned and looked at Pa. Pa’s eyes stared into mine. “Just stay calm,” they said. “Just take this one step at a time, son. I know you can do it. I know you can save me!”
I nodded and sat down next to Micah. I saw Micah thinking desperately, but he didn’t have any answers.
I grabbed Pa’s rifle and held it firmly in my hands. I grabbed the barrel of the gun as I sat and watched Pa suffering. I felt so lost! Pa was laying just five feet away from me! He probably had an answer to this perplexing problem, yet here we sat unable to come up with an answer! How can I not help him? He’s right here…right in front of me, but I might as well be half-way across the United States for all the help I’m being!
"You...you think we could shoot him," I wondered. Pa was usually able to save his own life with his rifle. Why couldn’t I do the same?
"No...we couldn't do that. It would have to be in the head...we can't even tell where he is," Micah answered sensibly.
“Well, we gotta do something!” I declared. “You…You suppose I could grab him?” I wondered then. “I’ll get my saddle gloves and what…with that blanket…”
But Micah stopped that idea. He knew Pa wouldn’t approve of that either. I looked at Pa. I could see the answer in his eyes. Micah was right. He wouldn’t approve! But I saw more than that in his face. I saw fear…F E A R…in my FATHER’S eyes! I hated seeing that. But I also saw a cry for help. Things were looking bad and he knew it.
“How long can he stay like that?” I became upset. “Who knows what that snake might do!” I cried. Micah patted my arm, insisting for me to take it easy. He didn’t understand! This was my FATHER!
Suddenly, the prisoner called out to Micah. Micah hurried over so he’d stop yelling. I sat there and stared at Pa. He looked in my eyes again. “I love you,” his eyes said. “I don’t know if we’re going to get out of this, but I love you!”
“I love you too, Pa…” I swallowed as I stared at him desperately. “Please just hold on, Pa. We’ll get out of this and we’ll go home together. You have to go see Miss Lou when you get back, remember?”
Pa closed his eyes. He knew I was trying to stay positive. I also knew it was killing him to let me see him this way…full of fear…
Micah suddenly hurried back over to us. He looked as if he had an idea. Micah asked me to go cut a shoot of the bamboo. “Be careful, don’t break it.”
I was confused! I was, of course, always asking questions about stuff. Pa said there was a time to ask questions and a time to stay shut up, but he didn’t reckon I’d learned it yet. “How’s that gonna help Pa?” I asked.
“Go on! Do as I say, boy!” Micah ordered.
It wasn’t long before I saw what his idea was. He was going to try and smoke the snake out. He silently explained to Pa what he was going to do. Pa nodded his approval, then Micah got started. He lit a cigar and burned a hole in Pa’s bedroll. Then he stuck the bamboo up to the hole and blew smoke through it. I watched silently and waited…watched…and waited…
I held tight to Pa’s rifle, waiting for the opportunity to shoot the snake. But the snake never moved.
Pa started coughing. The mere sound and movement of Pa’s coughing riled the snake so Micah had to stop.
Things were looking bleaker and bleaker by the second. I was getting more and more desperate!
It was getting very hot out here! We were all sweating. If we were hot, I could only imagine how hot Pa was!
Suddenly, Mr. Potter started yelling for Micah again. He was talking about making some sort of deal. I held tight to Pa’s rifle as I walked up to listen to Mr. Potter talk to Micah. He reminded us that the sun was hot and Pa was about to bake in that bedroll. Micah got mad and started to leave.
“I can save him!” Potter declared.
“What’s he mean, Micah?” I suddenly asked.
“Just talk,” Micah answered.
I walked up to Mr. Potter and bent down. “What do you mean you can save my Pa?”
Mr. Potter smiled at me. “Oh, did I say that?” he asked. I shook my head in disgust and started to get up and leave, but then Mr. Potter stopped me. “Wait a minute! Yeah, I reckon I did say that. I also said that he’s gotta make a deal!”
"No deals," Micah answered.
"Micah...please!" I was anxious. I knew time was short. If we had to make a deal in order to save Pa’s life, then we’d do it! I was in charge of my Pa right now and nobody was going to stop me! I looked at Mr. Potter "Go on."
"Like I told him...you gotta know how to handle a rattler. Now me...I know. Fact is...that would be easy because he's under a blanket." Micah thought it to be too dangerous. Mr. Potter said he figured the rattler would have a hard time biting through the blanket. “I figure my chance would be pretty good.”
“I’m not talking about your chances!” Micah declared. “It’s him I’m thinking about.”
"You got any other choices?” Micah knew he didn’t. Mr. Potter told Micah if he took off the handcuffs he'd be willing to give it a try.
“You mean set you free?”
“No, I didn’t say that!” Mr. Potter answered. “Once it’s over, why you can put ‘em back on me!” He explained his reason. “For awhile, I thought you’d put a bullet in me. That would be quick….easy. That’s why I’ve been riling ya.” Micah told him to get the the point. “I think maybe I can help you save that man’s life…you’d put a word in for me to the circuit judge. Maybe he’d go easy. That’s the deal.”
Micah thought on that. "You might get off with life. That's all." He said.
"That's good enough.”
Mark turned and looked at me. "Please Micah," I begged.
Micah hesitated, but he agreed with a nod. He knew we had no other choice. Micah threw Mr. Potter the keys, reminding him that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if he tried anything.
I watched as Mr. Potter stood and started over toward Pa. I kept away from him, but kept Pa’s rifle up. He bent down in front of Pa. The rattle snake sounded out.
Mr. Potter was having fun with this. He acted like this whole thing was a great big joke! The whole thing was just irritating the living daylights out of me!
"Hey Mr. Lucas...everything's gonna be alright now. I'm gonna help you get out from under there. Cause I'm gonna get that snake." Mr. Potter then turned to Micah. "And then I'm gonna back up and you better start shootin'! Cause that snakes gonna be mad. Alright?" Micah nodded; he was ready.
Mr. Potter’s actions were making me nervous. He walked closer to the bedroll and stopped down again. He was laughing and joking, but I didn’t see the humor in it. He told Pa this wasn’t going to hurt a bit. “Now, you be sure that when I get my hand in there between you and that reptile, that you roll away. Alright?”
Boy, but Pa was nervous! Mr. Potter felt around the blanket for the snake. The snake started rattling. He was getting irritated. Mr. Potter smiled at Pa and assured him that he’d get him. Suddenly, Mr. Potter turned and looked at Micah. “Suppose uh…I was to say to you right now unload that gun and throw it away? And the same thing to the boy. And if you don’t…”
That angered Micah. “You’d be a dead man!”
“You made a deal!” I answered hatefully.
“That’s right.” Mr. Potter laughed. “I did.” Again, he smiled at us and laughed.
Micah motioned for me to get in position with the rifle. Mr. Potter sure was taking his time in doing this! He was still joking about it. We were all anxious.
Suddenly, Mr. Potter grabbed the blanket with the snake and threw it at Micah as he yelled out. Then he ran and took Pa’s rifle from me. Micah turned and shot him. Mr. Potter fell to the ground dead. Micah then turned and filled the snake with lead.
Pa was alive! He was alive! He was soaked with sweat and breathing desperately. I bent down next to my Pa. “Pa? Pa, you alright?” I asked desperately. Pa stared at the dead snake laying on the ground. I turned and stared at the snake. He tried to speak but couldn’t. “Pa? Pa, I’ll get you a drink of water!”
I hurried across the way and got the canteen. I rushed back over and opened it. Holding it to his lips, I said, “Here, take a drink.” Pa grabbed the canteen to drink. “Take it easy!” I ordered. “Easy…” Pa closed his eyes and laid back down. He looked up at me, still unable to speak. “The snake…he didn’t get you did he?” Pa shook his head. He put a hand on my shoulder then stood up and walked away.
I hurried after him. I watched him hurry to the creek and jump in, fully clothed. He dunked under the water and back up several times. Finally he turned to me. “I never want to be that close to the devil again! Not as long as I live!”
Micah laughed from behind me as he put a hand on my shoulder. I shook my head. “Oh Pa!”
I just sat on the bank and watched Pa splash in the water as he cooled off. Micah had left, but soon returned with some dry clothes for Pa. “Found these in your saddlebag, Lucas.”
I stood and silently walked away. Slowly, I made my way up to the camp. Then I grabbed the shovel from one of the horses and walked to a clearing. I shoved the shovel into the ground and pulled up a shovel full of dirt. Then another and another. Pa slowly walked over to me. “What are you doing?”
“I’m burying that poor excuse for a man,” I answered as I stuffed the shovel back into the dirt. “I’m going to burn that snake! I’m burning him until there’s nothing left!”
Pa stepped up to me and put a hand on my arm. “Stop it, Mark.” I kept shoveling. “I said stop it! Stop it right now!”
I turned and stared at him. Then I threw the shovel down as hard as I could. “He laughed, Pa! He laughed at you! I wished him dead…I wished it was him in that bedroll instead of you!”
Tears filled my eyes. I dropped to my knees and let my tears fall. I had been so terrified…so very terrified! My Pa was going to be okay, but I had held so much fear in my heart that things wouldn’t turn out this way.
Suddenly, I felt arms go around me. “Let it out, Mark! Let it all out.” I leaned back into Pa’s chest as he held me and allowed me to cry.
Finally, I turned and wrapped my arms around his neck. “Oh Pa, I was so scared…so terribly scared!”
“So was I,” Pa stated. “So was I…”
I lifted my head and looked into Pa’s eyes. “I saw it in your eyes. I hated seeing that!” I buried my face in my hands. “I…I didn’t know what to do, Pa. It frustrated me so much…I knew you held the answer and I kept thinking I should be able to understand what you’re telling me…but I…I couldn’t.”
“I didn’t have the answer, Mark.”
“You did!” I declared. “I know you did! If it were me in that bedroll and you out there, you would have wasted no time! You would have…”
“No, son!” Pa grabbed my head and held it still. “You don’t understand! Mark, I had no idea how you were going to get me out of that situation. But you did it, son! You…and Micah…you SAVED me! Son, I thank God it wasn’t you that snake coiled up with. I don’t know what I would have done!” Pa stared into my eyes. “Don’t you see, Mark? Can’t you see that you helped me go on? You didn’t give up! You held on and encouraged me! That’s all you could do!”
I searched his face and knew he was being honest with me. I allowed him to pull me into another embrace. Micah bent down next to us. “You did good, son.” He laid a hand on my cheek. Then Pa turned to Micah. “Didn’t he?”
“I couldn’t ask for a finer grandson!” Micah declared.
“Now, while I work on digging that hole, how about you fix me some of those flapjacks, huh?” Pa stood up. “Do you know how hungry those were making me, boy?”
“I’ll dig the hole, Pa.”
“No.” Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “This is my hole to dig, son.” He turned and looked at the dead snake. “You can burn that.”
“Oh Pa, I heard some mountain men cook that up in a stew and it sticks to your ribs like…” I smiled, relieved the ordeal was over.
Pa groaned. “Son, it almost DID stick to my ribs! If it’s all the same to you, I hope I NEVER see another rattler for the rest of my life!”
After Pa got the hole dug, he and Micah carried Mr. Potter’s body and dumped it into the hole. They buried him. I walked over and took my hat off over the grave. “As evil as he was,” Pa started. “It doesn’t sit with me to leave without saying some words.” I listened silently as Pa said some words. Then we turned and walked away. After eating and cleaning up the camp, we packed our horses, ready to leave. Pa was looking better as he helped Micah mount his horse.
“Lucas...do you think we can make it fifteen more miles to the next waterhole before dark?" Micah asked.
"Well if you don't mind...I'd just as soon make it all the way to North Fork. I don't relish sleeping in a bed roll again. Not for a while anyway,” Pa answered.
"I'll go along with that Lucas," said Micah.
SO WOULD I!!!
It was after dark when we rode into town. We stopped outside the Marshal’s office as Pa helped Micah down. “Let’s get you to doc’s and have him look at that arm,” Pa suggested.
“My arm’s fine, Lucas!” Micah declared.
“Micah…” Pa started with a warning in his voice. I knew what happened when I didn’t heed that warning, but I must admit that I was QUITE interested in what would happen to Micah if he didn’t heed that warning. In fact, I was so interested that I actually GROANED when Micah obediently turned toward Doc’s office.
“What’s wrong, son?” Pa asked as he turned back to me.
I shot a hand to my mouth and shrugged. “Oh…uh…nothing, Pa.”
“Mm hm…” Pa answered as he rolled his eyes. “You go on over to the hotel and get us a room. I’m going to see to Micah then I’ll be up there.”
I slowly walked into the hotel. I could smell an aroma coming from the dining room. Lou’s chocolate cake was so inviting. “Well, there ye are!” Lou declared as she came up behind me. I turned to see her place her hands on her hips. “Ye were supposed to be back a long time ago!”
“Oh…well…” I smiled as I took my hat off. “You know us…we ALWAYS run into some sort of trouble.”
“Don’t tell me a pretty damsel in distress!” Lou declared sarcastically.
“Well…Not exactly, Lou. Though Pa was sure in distress!” I looked toward the dining room. “You still serving?”
“Well, are ye hungry, Mark?” Lou asked as she looked me up and down. Suddenly, she shook her head. “Why, ye look half-starved!”
“Pa didn’t feed me all day!” I declared. “He was too busy playing with damsels in his bedroll!”
I smiled as I turned and walked into the dining room. Lou slowly followed me in. “Damsels…”
She sat down a menu. “…in his bedroll?”
I hid my smiling face behind my menu. “I’ll have a steak real rare, Miss Lou.”
But Lou had already turned on her heels. She saw Pa entering the lobby. “Lucas McCain, I wish to speak to you! What’s this about starving your son all day, then having damsels in your bedroll?”
“I have no idea, Lou.” Pa walked into the dining rooml. I smiled as Pa looked at me with raised eyebrows. “But if this information came from a 14 year old kid, I wouldn’t believe it!” He snatched the menu from my hand. “He’ll have the beef stew tonight, Lou. He’s got a bed waiting for him right quick.”
“AFTER the chocolate cake!” I insisted.
“Oh no…” Pa folded his arms. “I think you said you wanted apple pie tonight…didn’t you, son?”
I swallowed as I turned and looked at Lou. “Yeah…I reckon I’ll have the apple pie…” As Lou left the room I turned to Pa. “I take it this is a form of punishment?”
Pa nodded. Then he stood up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, son, I need to go back and talk to the uh…cook.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah…” I groaned. “And while he’s in there cooking something up, I’ll be in bed dreaming about snakes in bedrolls!”
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
'End of the Hunt'
Mark's Memories — Table of Contents
'Hostages to Fortune'
around The McCain Ranch