If there’s one thing every man learns, it’s that none of us – no matter how famous – are immune to tragedy. Tragedy comes to the rich and poor alike. It comes to actors, inventors, Presidents, fathers, and even writers. Yes, writers. That’s what my boy learned one day when a writer he idolized came to North Fork.
Mark was busy raking the yard when suddenly the stage pulled into the yard. Now, it’s not every day that the stage stops by the McCain Ranch, so Mark was naturally curious! There was a problem with the wheel – the axel was broken nearly in half and he needed to see what I could do to get him to North Fork. Suddenly, a man stuck his head out of the stage. “How much longer are we gonna continue this lop-sided limping?”
The driver announced they were stopping there to get the “limping” fixed. The driver also called the man Mr. Clemons. Mark immediately perked up. He stared at the stranger – looked as if his eyes were going to pop right out of his head as the realization hit him.
Mr. Clemons wasn’t happy to be going through North Fork. “I bought a ticket to Santa Fe,” he stated coldly.
But Mark stared on. His eyes were wide and his mouth hung open as he stared in wonderment. Mark’s mouth grew wider the more he stared. Mr. Clemons was very unhappy that they would be laid over for a day or two, but it couldn’t be helped. Suddenly, he turned and yelled at the gaping Mark. “Well, what are you waitin’ for, boy? Go get your daddy before we’re too old to continue the journey at all!”
“Yes sir!” Mark answered as he started walking backwards. He could hardly walk or talk. “I mean…Pa will be right here!” Suddenly, he fell flat on his backside. He jumped up. “He’ll be right here, Mr. Twain!” Mark yelled. “Don’t worry, he’ll sure help you!” Then Mark disappeared into the barn.
Suddenly, the driver turned around. “Well…I’ll be a coyote’s uncle! Mark Twain!” Mr. Twain just grumbled and looked away in disgust.
I got to work on fixing the wheel while Mark stared at Mr. Twain. Mr. Twain was really anxious to get to his destination. I informed him I couldn’t repair the damage – I could just do enough to get them into North Fork. I assured Mr. Twain that he’d make his lecture engagement – we had the best blacksmith in these parts. “Some of his machinery came clear from Chicago!” Mark boasted.
“What?” Mr. Twain asked absent-mindedly. “Oh…of course, of course…” Then he walked away. Mark ran after him.
As Mr. Twain walked back and fourth, Mark kept pace with him talking the whole time. He was sure excited! “I always hoped I’d meet ya, Mr. Twain! Pa and me…we’ve read all your books. My name’s Mark too…of course, I know that Mark Twain’s not your real name – it’s a pseudonyms…Someday when I’m a writer, I’m gonna make one up too. Pa says it takes hard work to get to be a writer. It takes lots of studying too. That’s the only part I don’t like…We play the history post game at school. That’s the game that you thought of to help your children learn important dates.” Mark paced right along with him. His talking was non-stop. I couldn’t help but smile at Mark’s basking in the glory of meeting his idol!
“You play that here?” Mr. Twain seemed surprised. I looked up and smiled at my boy. Mark started asking Mr. Twain questions about the games he played. Mr. Twain started to answer his questions, but then suddenly stopped. “I haven’t got time for all these questions, boy! Puzzle it out for yourself!” Then Mr. Twain walked off.
Mark was a bit put out by Mr. Twain’s attitude. Mark turned and walked over to me. I’m sorry for how he was feeling. “I didn’t mean anything…Why…Why did he get so riled up?”
“Mr. Twain’s had a long trip, son. He’s probably tired…and a little edgy,” I guessed.
Apparently I said the wrong thing because Mark’s face suddenly lit up. “Yeah,” Mark said as a smile once again spread across his face. “Yeah, that’s what it is! He’s tired…he’s plum tuckered out…”
When the stagecoach got to town, Mr. Twain wasn’t in a better mood. He didn’t like being here and hoped his stay wouldn’t be long. Mr. Twain walked in and rang the bell. Eddie was in the billiard’s room playing pool with Mr. Russell. He didn’t get to the desk fast enough and Mr. Twain started ringing the bell over and over impatiently. Eddie hurried to the desk and apologized. He gave him the registry to sign.
Russell came in. "You gonna play, or ain’t ya?" Russell asked as he bumped into Mr. Twain.
"Give me a room where I won't be disturbed!" Mr. Twain ordered.
"Yes sir! I think I’ve got just the thing for you Mr..uh… S. Clemens!" Suddenly, Eddie smiled as he realized who the guest was. "Why...why you're Mark Twain!" Eddie exclaimed.
"That book writer?" Russell questioned.
"What's the room number?" Shouted Mr. Twain. "Twenty-four! This is a pleasure, a real pleasure," said Eddie.
Russell grabbed Mr. Twain. "So your the one who wrote about the travel on the Overland stage. I've always had a hankerin' to meet up with you," said Russell. Mr. Twain pulled away from him. "What was it you called that book?"
"The book is called 'Roughing It', a title that should come easy to you!" Shouted Mr. Twain as he walked off.
"Well I was one of those station keepers you described," said Russell.
"Right this way, Mr. Twain," said Eddie.
Russell stopped Twain again. "Horde of savages, that's what you called us. Said we fed the travelers water with dish rags and sand to flavor it."
"Now, you get out of the way Russell," yelled Eddie.
"Your book caused such a stir that the company sent men out to check the out lying stations. Your lies cost me a job!" "The power of the pen is mightier then the sword," said Twain. “How fortunate for travelers that you are no longer an employee of the Overland Company!”
Mr. Twain started up the stairs. “Fortunate?” Russell pushed him.
“Fortunate!” Twain answered.
We had supper at the hotel that night. I could hardly get the boy to eat! I watched as Mark looked toward the stairs. There was no doubt in my mind what…or should I say who…he was looking for. I took a sip of my coffee as I looked at Mark. “Mark, you better keep your mind on your supper,” I warned him sternly as I raised my eyebrows at him.
Mark apologized. “Pa, if Mr. Twain does come down before we leave, can I ask him to go fishing in the morning? He loves to go fishing!”
That boy! "Mark, when you’re as famous as he is I imagine people swarm around wherever you go."
He was anxious and all smiles. "I guess they do," he agreed. My son included!
I tried a more direct approach. "It doesn't give you much of a chance for…well, for just thinking," I said.
Mark understood what I was saying, and let’s say he wasn’t too thrilled with it. "You mean I shouldn't even talk to Mr. Twain?" Mark stuttered.
"Wait until he talks to you, give him some…'thinking room'."
Mark was disappointed, but he knew I was giving an order – not a request. But just then, Mr. Twain did come down the stairs. Mark saw him instantly. “There he is, Pa!” Mark declared. He gasped for breath as he stood slowly to his feet and stared at Mr. Twain. “That’s Mark Twain!” Mark stated quite loudly.
“Mark, sit down!” I ordered quietly, yet sternly. He obeyed because he had to. “Remember uh…thinking room?”
Russell walked over to me and said "Hey McCain, how about a little game?"
"No thanks," I answered with no hesitation.
"I'll spot you ten points out of twenty. Play you for a quarter a point. Now you can't hardly turn that down," said Russell. I told him I don't play for money. "That's the trouble with the folks around here, their all scared to lose.”
“Not scared, just smart,” I stated. I told Mark to hurry up so we could get home.
But Russell wasn’t done yet. "Fifty dollars say's nobody in town can beat me," said Russell.
"I know someone who can, Mr. Twain,” Mark announced. “Playing billiards is his hobby. Why, I know he's beat most everybody in the east," said Mark. Russell looked at me and asked if Mark knew what he was talkin' about.
My answer? "Anything about Mark Twain, Mark McCain knows!”
That was good enough for Russell, he approached Mark Twain. "Hey um, I hear your quite a billiards player. Fifty dollars say you can't beat me. Think you can?"
"I don't think of you at all sir," Twain stated rudely.
"Well here's seventy dollars. My whole roll that says you play billiards like you write - rotten!"
"I won't play with you Mr. Russell. But you may set up the balls. As difficult a three cushion shot you choose. Winner takes all."
Russell couldn't believe his ears. "You mean you’re gonna make any three cushion shot I set up?"
. "Exactly," said Twain.
"Come along Mr. Writer man!”. As Russell walked by us he said, "Mr. 'Roughing It's' gonna give me a present.” We watched them walk into the billiard’s room. Mark didn’t even finish eating. He just sat his utensils down and hurried in to watch. I got up and followed him.
Russell sat up the balls, then offered Mr. Twain a stick, but he wanted to pick out his own cue stick. Then he placed the ball on the table, prepared his play, laid his money on the table then made his play. He hit the ball and it hit all three corners! “Wilickers!” Mark declared…whatever that meant!
Mr. Twain put his cue stick back in it’s place. "Braggin' and brayin's the same thing Mr. Russell. The only difference is the later noise comes from the throat of an animal with much larger ears.” Mr. Twin picked up his money as Russell stewed. “Good evening, sir!”
Russell stood at the table, trying to figure out how Mr. Twain EVER made that shot! "Say, he called me a mule.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Mark started laughing and I immediately put a warning hand on my shoulder. “Mark,’ I warned sternly for him to mind his manners.
“Excuse me!” Mark said as we left.
The next day, my boy and I went fishing at Mark’s favorite fishing hole. Mr. Twain was sitting on the bank feeling very depressed and alone. I told Mark to go on and get our spot while I hobbled the horses. Mark started toward his spot when he saw Mr. Twain. “Good morning,” Mr. Twain said when he saw Mark coming.
“Good morning, Mr. Twain!” Mark declared with a happy smile. Mark looked toward his line in the water and saw a fish on it. “You got a bite, Mr. Twain! Hurry before it gets away!” Mr. Twain told Mark to bring it in and he did with excitement. He even let Mark keep the fish. That made Mark really happy! As Mark started taking the fish off the hook, he began talking to Mr. Twain about his latest book. Being a father, I stayed off watching in the distance, happy to see my boy so excited over something! “Say, Mr. Twain…Some of us kids have been saving our money from our chores and we sent for a subscription to that magazine that’s been printing chapters from your new book.”
“Huckleberry Finn?” Mr. Twain asked.
“Uh huh,” Mark declared. “Sure is excitin’! They print a chapter each month. The only thing is, it’s take a long time for mail to get here from Boston.” Mr. Twain wasn’t too interested in the conversation. Mark said that since he was here, some of the kids were wondering if maybe he could tell them what’s going to happen in the next chapter so they won’t have to wait to find out.
"What's a matter with you boy? Why do you keep botherin' me? Huckleberry Finn is dead!" Mark lost his smile and hurt replaced it. "He's dead! I tell ya' he's dead!" Mr. Twain was yelling at Mark.
His yelling upset Mark, as it would any kid who had just been yelled at by their idol. I watched my son with his spirit crushed run towards home as fast as he could. It upset me to see Mark so disappointed and upset.
I hurriedly walked up to Mr. Twain. I couldn’t help myself! I had to give this man a piece of my mind! "Mr. Twain, you shouldn’t have talked to the boy that way. You’re his idol. A boy's idol shatters easily. You ought to know that, you’ve got a son."
Mr. Twain turned and looked at me. He had such a sad look on his face! He turned from me and stared off into the distance. Then he slowly walked away. I looked after him, then looked down toward the ground. A letter was laying there. I bent over and picked it up.
I read it. The words almost broke my heart.
When I got back to the ranch, I found my son in the barn. He was very upset and crying. I walked up behind him and laid his Mark Twain book down beside him. Then I straightened up. "I found your Tom Sawyer book in the waste bucket."
Mark lifted his head and looked at it. Then he smacked it and it fell to the floor of the barn. "I don't want it anymore!" He yelled.
I bent down next to him and spoke quietly with sad emotion. "Maybe you'll change your mind son when you read this. Mr. Twain left it at the stream. It's from his wife. It explains a lot of things."
But Mark didn’t care. "I don't care about anything that has to do with him!”
"Read it, he has a deep sorrow, Mark."
"Well, just 'cause he's sad doesn't mean he has to treat everyone else like dirt!"
"Once you said you wanted to be like Mark Twain. You're acting exactly like him now,” I told him sternly.
Mark didn’t like my statement. He knew I was accusing him. He hesitatingly asked the question. "How do you mean?"
"Shutting folks out because you've been hurt. The letter says his son Langdon died a few months ago."
“Died?” Mark repeated in a grieved voice.
“Mm hm. The newspapers tried to spare the family that's why we hadn't heard about it out here. Mr. Twain blames himself for the boys death."
"But why?" Mark wondered.
I could answer that question. "He took him riding in an open carriage on a very cold day. The blanket slipped off. Mr. Twain didn't notice because he was thinking about his story he was writing. That night Langdon came down with diphtheria. Mr. Twain never forgave himself, he's been running ever since."
Mark remembered the words Mr. Twain had spoken by the fishing hole. “He said…Huckleberry Finn was dead,” he said softly. I nodded.
“That’s the story he was thinking about in the carriage. He hasn’t written a word since.” Mark didn’t say anything as he thought on what I had told him. His anger was replaced with sympathy for the writer. “I’m gonna return this to Mr. Twain.” I folded the letter and put it in my pocket.
“Pa?” I was still bent down to his level. I looked into his eyes. “Can I go with ya?”
I smiled, happy he wanted to come. “Sure.” I gave him a love pat on the backside. “Come on.”
When we got to the hotel, I asked Eddie if Mr. Twain was in his room. Eddie pointed behind me. Mr. Twain was staring out the window into the street. “He’s been standing there looking out of that window for about fifteen minutes.” I told Mark to stay there so I could talk to Mr. Twain alone.
I handed him the letter and he thanked me. Then he turned back to the window. “Loosing a son is hard, Mr. Twain. I know how I’d feel if I lost-“
He didn’t let me finish. “How could you know? How could you possibly know?” He spoke to me, but never turned to look at me. I started to speak, but he wouldn’t let me. "How could you possibly know how it feels to kill your own son?" I told him he didn't kill his own son. "That's what I did Mr. McCain, I murdered Langdon! Murdered him! For a bare foot urchin and Huckleberry Finn!"
Just then Russell barged in. He wanted a chance to win back what he had lost. I told him to get. Mr. Twain and I were talking. He said he had the same loser's rights as anybody else. Again I told him to get out of here.
Then Mr. Twain turned around. "Just a minute. Nothing you will say can possibly help! The past is unchangeable." He turned from me. “Name your stakes, Mr. Russell.” They started off toward the billiards room.
"I’ll play ya Five points for anything you want!" Russell declared.
"A hundred dollars?”
They laid their money on the table. Mark and I slowly walked in and watched. Russell broke. He played a few plays before it was Mr. Huck’s turn. Mark was nervous. He hoped Mr. Twain would soon show his stuff. Russell was awful cocky! He got three shots down. It was Mr. Twain’s turn.
Mr. Twain chalked up his cue stick, then bent down to study the table and decide what his best shot would be. As he studied the table, he looked up to see Mark excitedly watching him. He knew that Mark was counting on him. He had let his boy down, and he’d let Mark down. He didn’t deserve Mark’s pride.
He purposely missed the shot. Russell was happy and finished the game off without a problem. He was being really cocky!
"A cues a little heavier then the pen, ain't it?” Russell had said before making his last two shots."
Mark knew it Mr. Twain had lost on purpose. He suddenly shouted, “Mr. Twain’s got losers rights too!"
We all looked at Mark. “Alright, kid, I’ll give him a chance to get even!” Russell declared. He looked at Mr. Twain. He saw a pocket watch. Figuring it was solid gold and worth a hundred dollars, he was willing to use it as a wager.
“Oh no, I can’t wager it,” Mr. Twain stated as he started to walk away.
"You know you can't beat me, huh?" Russell stated.
He told Russell it had a sentimental value. "It was a gift to me to celebrate…the birth of my son."
Russell laughed and told him he was afraid of loosing it. “I am not afraid, sir,” Mr. Twain declared. “I am not afraid.”
I spoke up then because I knew differently. "He's right Mr. Twain. You’re afraid. Well, the past took something you loved. Now you refuse to go on living. You can't do that Mr. Twain. You haven’t the right. The future belongs to the world. If your not afraid Mr. Twain why don't you wager your past against your future?" "Just how much was your son worth to you?"
Twain stood there and just looked at me. We stared at each other for several moments. I watched as the realization entered him. He walked over, picked up the cue stick. "Five points, my break!"
We watched as Mr. Twain broke the cues. Then he played….and played…and played…until he cleared the table. Russell didn't even get a shot off. Mark was so excited to watch! Mr. Twain held out his hand and Russell handed him the money. Mark rushed up to Twain and shook his hand. "Gee willikers Mr. Twain, that was wonderful!" My boy declared. His faith had been restored – and so had Mr. Twain’s!
“Now,” a renewed Mark Twain said as he put an arm around Mark’s shoulders and started walking out of the room. “You and your friends don’t understand this history post game.” As they walked out, he turned and looked at me. I saw “Thank you” written all over his face.
The stage was ready to leave. Mark and I saw Mr. Twain off. He promised Mark he’d finish the story of Huckleberry Finn just as fast as he could. Mark was anxious to see how it ended. “So am I,” Mr. Twain declared. He said goodbye. He thanked me for everything. I was glad to help!
“Pa, when I grow up, I’m gonna be a writer just like Mr. Twain!” Mark declared.
“Well now, that’s quite an ambition, son!” Mark declared.
“Yes sir!” I shook my head. That’s my boy!
piddlin' stuff.....Kevin McCarthy played Mark Twain. He also was in another episode—'Suspicion' as Winslow Quince.
He later appeared with Chuck in "Once Upon a Texas Train," he played the Governor.
I think it would be easier to name the things he didn't do. He started acting in 1944 and is still acting today!
He earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in "Death of a Salesman."
He has performed his one-man show "Give Em Hell, Harry" (as Harry S. Truman) for over 20 years, and has played the role in every state but Alaska and South Dakota. In addition, he won an Obie award for playing President Truman in another play, "Harry Outside" in 1975.
Kevin has done many of things but I would say the one I remember him best for is "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Be sure and check out Kevin McCarthy's Official Website
Jack Elam was in five episodes of "The Rifleman"—'Tension' as Gavin Martin—'Duel of Honor' as the arrogant Sim Groder—'Shattered Idol' as Russell the pool shark—'Knight Errant' as Gates—'Shotgun Man' as Gus Smith.
He later was in 'Once upon a Texas Train' with Chuck(1988) and 'Support Your Local Sheriff.'(1971). He was a guest star in "The Untouchables." I love him in the Christmas episode of "Gunsmoke" as Titus Spangler─ 'P.S. Murry Christmas.'
Elam got his first movie job by trading his accounting services for a role. In short time he became one of the most memorable supporting players in Hollywood, thanks not only to his near-demented screen persona but also to an out-of-kilter left eye, sightless from a childhood fight. He appeared with great aplomb in Westerns and gangster films alike, and in later years played to wonderful effect in comedic roles.
Bud Osborne played Loomis. He also appeared in another episode of "The Rifleman"— 'Eight Hours to Die' as the Hangman in Taos. He has a list of credits you wouldn't believe!
John Harmon played Eddie Halstead owner/hotel clerk of the Hotel Madera. John Harmon appeared in 12 episodes as Eddie Halstead. Eddie Halstead was first introduced to "The Rifleman" in 'Duel of 'Honor.' In what other episode did Mark mention he wanted to be a writer?
Mary Jo Tierney as Holly the waitress in the hotel.
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's
Bloopers for this episode & other episodes
Long Gun from Tucson
The Long Goodbye
around The McCain Ranch