Clara aka CTW
occurs at some point prior to The Sheridan Story (Season
1, Episode 16).
In the ten years
of his life, Mark McCain’s parents had lovingly protected him
from the cruelties of the world to the extent that they could.
He had experienced petty meanness, and he had seen men shoot
down other men. He witnessed the damaging effects of
retribution when Judge Burton came seeking revenge against his
father,1 and saw a harsh example of greed when Oat
Jackford’s men burned down their house.2 Worst of
all, he had experienced the heart wrenching agony of watching
his mother die when he was six years old. Never, though, had he
yet to witness abject cruelty. His father was vigilant about
protecting his child as much as possible from the ugliness of
the world. Even while teaching him life skills and
responsibility, he wanted his son to enjoy his childhood and
hold onto innocence as long as the realities of life would
Mark was a
bright, energetic, optimistic boy with a compassionate heart.
He always gave people the benefit of the doubt, always seeing
the good in those he met. He held firm to the same stereotypes
that most of us hold until life opens our eyes to reality. Mark
believed, for example, that teachers and doctors were
all-knowing. He assumed that all mothers baked cookies and read
to their children, and that all parents loved their children in
the same way his pa loved him. He believed that preachers were
good and holy men who could do no wrong; that they had a special
connection to God that “ordinary” people did not; that their
word was infallible.
When the time
came, all too soon, that Mark encountered pure cruelty,
believing these stereotypes made the experience that much harder
Like most small
towns in the expanding West, North Fork did not have a preacher
that lived in the town. Rather, a circuit-riding preacher came
one Sunday each month. North Fork and surrounding towns were
not large enough to afford to pay a resident preacher, so they
pooled their resources and shared one.
On the Sundays
that the preacher did not come, Mark and his father, Lucas, had
their own prayer and Bible study time at home. Mark enjoyed
this time with his father and secretly hoped that North Fork
would never be able to afford its own preacher; he would not
want to give up this special time with his pa. Still, he did
like the preacher that was usually assigned to North Fork and –
except for the misery of having to wear a tie – didn’t mind
going to church one Sunday each month.
As much as he
enjoyed the activities of Sunday, Mark detested Saturday
nights. Why? Saturday night was bath night! He had always
considered the bath itself an aggravation, but ever since he
grew big enough to carry a bucket of water, what Mark really
despised was the work that had to be done to get ready for the
bath. In his opinion, baths were purely a waste of time!
summer, and early fall, Mark and Lucas bathed in a tub in the
barn. This meant waiting for a pot of water to heat up on the
stove, pouring it into the water bucket, and then waiting for
another pot of water to heat up, and so on, until the bucket was
full. Next, the bucket had to be lugged from the house to the
barn and dumped into the tub. After that, the whole process
started over again … and again and again and again until the tub
was filled. Who had the pleasure of all this waiting and
lugging and filling? Ever since he turned ten, the pleasure
belonged to Mark.
In the winter,
Lucas brought the tub inside so that they could bathe by the
fire. This was a little bit better because Mark didn’t have to
tote the water bucket as far. Still, the process took a long
time. The time he spent waiting for water to heat, filling up
the tub, and then actually taking a bath was time that he could
have spent fishing or playing with a friend or challenging his
pa to a game of checkers. Mark considered it wasted time, and
he made sure to remind his pa of this almost every single
Saturday. The conversation often went something like this:
“Aw, Pa! Do I
have to? Why?”
“But, Pa, it’s
such a waste of good time. Why, there are a million other
things I could be doing. Besides, I’ll just get dirty again.”
“Mark, how long
have you been taking a bath on Saturday nights?”
“My whole entire
“And how long have you
been complaining about it?”
“I reckon ever since I
“And has your
complaining ever once made a difference?”
“Then why continue with
“I reckon I keep
hoping it might make a difference, Pa. And I really don’t like
baths. I guess I just want to let you know.”
“Well, son, I
think you have made it perfectly clear, and I am tired of
hearing about it. You will take a bath on Saturday nights for
as long as I have anything to say about it, so just stop it.”
That would be
the end of it … until the next Saturday. Luke had to admit,
though, that the complaints were less frequent of late. Mark
might start up, but one look from Luke stopped him.
Maybe his little
boy was beginning to grow up a bit. “And maybe,” Lucas thought
to himself, “if I would go ahead and get that shower-bath rigged
up3, the complaining would stop altogether.”
There was no
time for sleeping in on Sunday mornings, whether it was a
preaching Sunday or a stay-at-home Sunday. The stock still had
to be fed and watered, the cow milked, and the eggs collected.
Lucas did not have to work as hard to get Mark up and moving as
he did on weekdays because Mark didn’t mind going to church or
having Bible study with his pa like he minded going to school.
The struggle on preaching Sundays was over wearing a tie.
Father and son managed to survive it and always enjoyed their
wagon ride into town.
Most of the
North Fork congregation did not know if the regular circuit
preacher or someone different would lead them in worship until
he stood before them. That created a little bit of anticipation
on the evenings before preaching Sundays. Sometimes Mark liked
the different preachers, sometimes not. Regardless of who did
the preaching, he loved the hymn singing and, of course, having
lunch at the hotel after the service.
particular Sunday, a brand new preacher had been sent to North
Fork. Generally, new preachers would introduce themselves and
say a pleasant word of greeting to the congregation before
starting the service, but this man didn’t seem to think that was
necessary. There was an exterior door directly behind the
pulpit. This preacher entered the church through that door and
moved with long, measured strides to the pulpit. Once there, he
gripped either side of it with long-fingered hands and scanned
the congregation with cold, hard eyes. He was about six feet
tall and lean. He had a long face, clean-shaven but with
raven-colored bushy eyebrows that were so long they almost
formed one straight line above black steely eyes. His thin
frizzy hair matched his eyebrows in color, and hung almost to
his shoulders. He wore the standard attire for preachers –
black suit with white clerical collar – but, somehow, it seemed
blacker and more foreboding on the body of this stern,
Before the man
even opened his mouth to preach, Mark was intimidated and
unconsciously scooted closer to his father.
“Over and over
again in the New Testament, we read the exhortation to ‘love one
another’. What does it mean to love one another? Are human
beings truly capable of love?” the preacher began, slowly and
“Jesus says to
‘love one another as I have loved you’. What does that mean?
To forgive each other? To die for each other? If so, it is a
His voice grew louder.
“We are too selfish to truly forgive or to die for one
Louder yet, he
continued, “We are wicked,” … louder … “evil,” … now yelling …
“self-centered creatures only out for our own gain with no hope
for salvation!” He paused, then spat out sarcastically, “Let
“You think you
know differently, don’t you? ‘Jesus saves!’ ‘Jesus promises
eternal life!’ Just read the Good Book and follow the
commandments and Jesus’ teachings, and you can have a
love-filled life. That’s what you think, isn’t it?” he
“Well, I am here
to tell you differently. There – is – no – such – thing – as –
genuine – love – on – this – earth!” He roared each word. Mark
pushed as close against Lucas as he could. Lucas, feeling
uneasy himself, draped an arm around Mark to give his boy a
sense of protection against the verbal onslaught.
“You can try all
you want, but it does – not – exist! Man is too evil to love!
Yes, Jesus saves. Yes, He promises eternal life. But we must
suffer in this life. We must expunge our vileness if we hope to
inherit that life. And even if we purge our souls enough to
enter into eternal life, there is – no – love – in – this –
wretched – world!”
moved away from the pulpit and stepped down to stand amid the
congregation. He glared at Mr. Toomey and then at Miss Adams,
North Fork’s blacksmith and schoolteacher. Then he scanned the
congregation as if seeking a specific target. He found it when
his eyes landed on Mark and Lucas.
walked over to their second row pew and gazed at Mark for a
moment. Lucas’ grip tightened around his son.
voice and speaking conversationally, the preacher said to Mark,
“I bet you and your father love each other – or think you do. I
bet he takes real good care of you. Am I right?”
licked his lips, and worked to find his voice. He managed only
a shakily whispered, “Yes, sir.”
“Well, I have
news for you, boy,” the preacher said in a falsely sympathetic
tone. “You don’t love each other. Not really.” The preacher
turned his attention to the entire congregation.
“This is a fine
example, good people of North Fork. This man, as is true for
other parents, is simply doing his job by taking care of his
son. A child is an obligation. Nothing more. Some might say
that fulfilling the obligations of parenthood is a kind of
love. Perhaps it is. After all, a parent could choose not to
feed, cloth, and house its child. Most of you sire children to
use as workers on your farms, do you not? There is no
requirement to treat a child any better than you would a hired
hand or a slave. Tending to its needs with kindness might be a
kind of love.”
Turning back to
Mark, he sneered, “But it isn’t the kind of love you think you
have, boy. And your love for your father isn’t really love,
either. It’s desperation and neediness and fear of being alone
in this big cruel world. You are using your father to get what
you need to survive, and he is using you!”
In one swift and
unexpected motion, the preacher leaned toward Mark, grabbed the
lapels of his jacket, and tried to pull him up off the pew and
out of his father’s grasp. Lucas’ quick reflexes responded to
the assault and he tightened the hold he already had on his son
with one arm and brought the other arm around to wrest him away
from his attacker. The preacher’s strength and leverage,
against Lucas’ seated position in the narrow pew, made it hard
for Lucas to pull Mark free. The preacher leaned into Mark
until the two were almost nose-to-nose, and then snarled, “There
is no such thing as love, boy! You are an obligation and your
father is a means to an end. He doesn’t love you. Grow up and
learn to stand on your own feet!” He was yelling at the top of
his voice, and jerking Mark on every other word.
trying to wrench Mark away but the man’s grip on him was like
that of a vice. “That’s enough!” he hollered. “Let go of my
son! Let him go!”
Seeing that the
preacher was out of control, Mr. Toomey rushed to Lucas’ aid.
Toomey was twice as broad as the preacher and an inch or two
taller. He stood behind the preacher and grabbed his arms to
pull him away from Mark, while Lucas continued to tug from his
position in the pew. John Hamilton stepped into the struggle to
try to pry the preacher’s hands from Mark’s jacket. After a few
minutes of struggle, the three managed to pull Mark free. Lucas
picked up his son and rushed out of the church.
There was a
bench behind the general store. Sometimes, storeowner Hattie
Denton retreated to the spot for a short break in the course of
a hectic day. Luke headed straight for that bench to sit with
Mark and calm down.
He held Mark on
his lap and allowed a few minutes for the two of them to
breathe. Mark was trembling slightly, which he tended to do
when he was upset. Luke held him closer.
son. It’s over now. Everything is alright.”
“Why is he like
“I don’t know,
Mark. What I do know is that the town council is going to make
sure he never comes back to North Fork – or any other town for
Mark sat up to
look at Lucas. “Is anything he said true? I mean about there
being no such thing as real love?”
Nothing he said is true. You’ve read enough of the Bible to
know that. Don’t give another thought to anything he said.”
“There you two
are.” Hattie appeared around the corner.
things under control at the church?” Lucas asked.
excuse for a preacher has been hauled off to the jail, and the
folks are trying to get over the shock and surprise of what
happened. How are you two?”
aren’t we, son?”
Mark didn’t sound so sure.
“You both have
every reason to be shaken, especially you, Mark. I’m sure you
know, though, that there wasn’t a word of truth in anything he
Mark quietly replied.
“It’s just going
to take a little while to put the experience behind us,” Lucas
“Well, I might
have a way to hurry that along. Why don’t the two of you and
Micah join me for lunch at my house? Fried chicken and
chocolate cake are on the menu.”
that Mark perked up at that announcement, and so gladly
As they walked
to Hattie’s, the rest of the townsfolk exited the church.
Mark’s best friend, Freddie, ran to catch up with him. “Hey,
Mark, want to go fishing?”
Any other time,
Mark would have begged to be allowed to go. Today, though, he
didn’t want to be away from Lucas.
“Aw, come on.
“I have things
to do with my pa.”
“It’s ‘cause of
what that dumb preacher said, isn’t it? Mark, just forgot it.
Everyone knows he ain’t right in the head.”
Lucas had walked
ahead with Hattie, but now turned and called to Mark.
I have to go. Maybe we can go fishing next weekend. I’ll see
you at school tomorrow.”
When Mark caught
up to Lucas, he reached for his father’s hand. He didn’t care
if his schoolmates saw and thought him a baby for it. He needed
to be close to his pa and feel the comfort of his touch.
Mark knew that
everyone was right about that preacher, but he couldn’t stop
thinking about the things that the man had said and the look of
rage in his eyes when he tried to tear him from his pa’s arms.
Mark was quiet
throughout lunch and had a hard time paying attention to the
conversation. At least twice, Lucas softly chided him for not
replying when Micah spoke to him. The second time, Micah came
to Mark’s defense.
Lucas. Sunday is a good day for daydreaming. Why, when I was a
boy, that was my favorite thing to do on Sunday afternoons.
Sometimes I’d go fishing and let my mind wander wherever it
wanted to go. Other times I’d sprawl out in an empty field and
just watch the clouds roll by until I fell asleep, sunshine warm
on my face. Nowadays, my idea of a fine Sunday afternoon is a
nice long nap on my soft bed!”
and I’m sorry I wasn’t listening,” Mark replied.
“There’s no need
for apologies, Mark.” Hattie came to his defense, too. “It was
a very unsettling morning. My mind keeps wandering back to it
and I didn’t experience it the way you did. I can’t imagine
what came over that man! It’s not worth any further attention,
though. Try not to let it worry you.”
Mark found it rather nice to have Hattie and Micah supporting
him like this. If he weren’t still upset from the morning’s
events, he might even enjoy the fact that they were overriding
his father’s opinion about Mark’s lapse in social skills!
As Mark and
Lucas started the ride home, Mark remained somber. Luke drove
until they were about a mile out of town. Then he pulled the
wagon as far off the road as he could, brought the horses to a
stop, secured the reins, and turned to face his son.
“Mark, I know
you’re worrying about this morning. Tell me what’s on your
“Well, I know
what you said is right, Pa – about everything he said being
“But …” Lucas
“I can’t help
wondering if maybe some things are true.”
parents having an obligation to take care of their kids. What’s
the difference between doing the right thing and loving someone,
“What does your
heart tell you about you and me, Mark?”
hesitation, Mark replied, “That I love you and you love me,
really and truly. That we’re partners, and that, well … even
though I know you’re in charge … that we’re friends, too. But,
best of all, you’re my pa and I’m your son.”
Lucas gave his
boy a tender smile and tried to hide the immense pride he was
“That’s what my
heart tells me, too, son. Why does anything else matter?”
“I guess it
doesn’t, but I can’t help thinking about how you’re such a good
man. You help anyone that needs it. You always do the right
thing. Why aren’t all the things you do for me about being a
good person and not about love?”
Lucas took his
hat off and ran his hand through his hair. Doggone if Mark
didn’t sound like a philosopher! How could he answer this
“Mark, do you
remember when we let Will Fulton4 stay with us after
he broke his leg while saving your life? And when we helped
Micah5 get back on his feet? And when Judge Burton6
fell off his horse and you comforted him?”
“Well, on all of
those occasions, we were trying to do the right thing by helping
people who needed it at the time. The Bible tells us to care
for our neighbors. That’s what we were doing for Will and
Micah, and what you did for Judge Burton.”
“But Micah is
“He became our
friend, yes. At first, though, he was a stranger in need of
kindness and a little push to get back on the right track.”
like that is a kind of love, Mark. I believe it’s one of the
kinds of love that we read about in the Bible. Putting aside
our personal desires – and sometimes our feelings about another
person – to help in a time of need is a way to show a certain
kind of love to our neighbors.
“Now, would I
have stepped between Will and a gun, and given my life to save
his? No. Would I have helped him if I thought it would put you
in danger? No. But, I most definitely would step between you
and a gun to save your life. I would do absolutely anything for
you, Mark. I will always put you first above everything and
everyone. The kind of love that I have for you is the greatest
and deepest kind of love there is. I could never stop loving
you even if I tried. If you committed the worst possible crime,
I would be heartbroken and probably angry, but I would not stop
loving you. That kind of love goes far beyond trying to be a
up in Lucas’ voice as he spoke to Mark.
Even though he
already knew the truth of these things, hearing his father say
them stirred Mark’s heart anew and caused silent tears to slide
down his face. When Lucas finished speaking, Mark stood and
stepped close to his father, wrapped his arms around Lucas’
shoulders and nestled his head against his father’s neck. Lucas
embraced his child and each held the other close for a moment.
“I love you like
that, too, Pa,” Mark whispered.
“I know you do,
straightened and looked into Lucas’ eyes. “Thank you, Pa.”
“For what, son?”
what I already knew in my heart … and for … everything.”
Lucas gave him a
big smile. “You’re welcome, son.”
Hoping all was
settled, Lucas changed the tone. “Ready to go home now and
forget all about that mean old preacher?”
more thing I can’t stop thinking about, Pa.”
Mark sat back
down on the wagon seat, but stayed close to his father.
“What he said
about me not really loving you – that it’s just about me needing
you and being afraid to be alone in the world.”
Didn’t you already answer that for yourself, son? You said that
you know in your heart that you and I love each other, really
“I do know, Pa,
but … well … I do need you, and I am afraid of something
happening to you, just like he said.”
fearful of losing someone you love is natural. Part of being a
family is depending on each other for certain things – including
love. If, God forbid, someone were to kidnap you and it took me
a while to find you, you would have to depend on that person for
food, water, and shelter. Right?”
“Would that mean
that you love the person?”
“In a family, we
do depend on each other for things such as food and shelter and
getting work done, but families depend on each other for much
more important things. Things like learning how to get along in
the world, having someone to talk through our troubles with and
give us guidance, having someone to love us no matter what.
Yes, he’s right that we need each other, but the kind of need
I’m talking about is the kind that comes out of loving someone
deeply. For us, love comes first. Does that make sense to you,
Thanks, Pa. I think I new all along. I just needed to hear you
say it.” Mark reached over and gave his pa another hug.
“So, are you
ready to forget about that old preacher now and go home to a
lazy Sunday afternoon?”
declared. “Can we spend it fishing, Pa? Please?”
“Sure we can,
Mark was prone
to nightmares, so Lucas was concerned that the events of the
morning might trigger one or two that night. Thankfully,
though, all was well until the next day.
morning, Lucas rode into town with Mark and, after leaving his
son at school, stopped in at Micah’s office to learn what was to
become of the nameless preacher.
“Morning to you,
Lucas. What brings you into town at this time of day?”
“I was curious about
“Oh. Is Mark still
having a hard time with what happened?”
“No, we talked
it out yesterday and everything is fine. I’m wondering if we’re
going to have to deal with that preacher any longer. By the
way, has he told you his name? I’m getting tired of calling him
“No. For some
reason, he refuses to share his name. Coffee?”
Thanks.” Micah handed his friend a cup of steaming black
coffee. Luke perched on the edge of the marshal’s desk while
Micah sorted through a stack of Wanted posters.
“So, are you
keeping him here?”
“Until I can
find out who sent him. It’d be nice to see that North Fork is
the last place to experience his unpleasant behavior.”
“Kind of hard to
do without a name.”
“Yes, but I’m
trying. I wired a description to the church that supplies our
circuit preachers. It’s a starting point.”
“Mind if I talk
“No, but he’s not
“I thought you said you
were keeping him here.”
“Yes, I suppose
I was unclear about that. I’m keeping him in town. I don’t
have cause to keep him locked up. He’s over at the hotel.”
“He thinks he
has a mission to complete in North Fork. Seems the Lord told
him that we are all headed to eternal damnation. He’s
determined to preach again on Sunday in the hope of saving our
Lucas stood up
and demanded, “He what?”
Lucas-boy! He isn’t going to darken the door of the church
again, but I’m playing along in order to keep him here until I
can find someone to escort him to whatever comeuppance his
supervisors bring down on bad behavior such as his.”
“Yeah, well, I hope the
escort arrives before he can do anymore damage.”
“You and the rest of
the town. Don’t worry, Lucas. Mark won’t have to see him
have known that someone like the nameless preacher (NP) could
not be kept silent. Even as he and Lucas were talking, NP had
taken it upon himself to see to the moral instruction of the
children of North Fork.
School had been
in session for about twenty minutes. The students were busy
with various reading assignments while Miss Adams administered
the weekly spelling test to each grade level. Except for the
sound of Miss Adams’ voice calling out spelling words and the
gentle “fwip” of pages turning, the room was quiet. It is
understandable, then, that every person in the room jumped when
the front door crashed open. They all turned to see NP standing
at the back of the room, tall and imposing, swathed in black,
and glaring at them.
Miss Adams was quick to
overcome her surprise. “Can I help you, sir?”
“No, but perhaps I can
help you,” NP politely replied.
“You have a room
full of heathens, ma’am. It is my calling to preach to heathens
and return their souls to God.”
“Thank you, sir,
but perhaps that could wait for another time. We are in the
midst of testing right now.”
roared, causing everyone to cringe. “Wait for salvation?
Testing is more important than banishing Satan? What are you
“Sir, I would be
willing to allow a quiet discussion, but this kind of behavior
with fire, “You will not tell me what to do, woman! I will
preach when and where and how I see fit, and I see Satan working
within these walls. I will banish him if it is the last thing I
children, sir! You are mistaken! Satan is not here!” Miss
Adams had been standing near the youngest students to dictate
their spelling test.
“I will have
silence!” With that bellowed comment, NP struck Miss Adams
across the face. The blow knocked her off her feet and, as she
fell, her head hit the corner of a student’s desk and she landed
unconscious on the floor.
The children now
were terrified of what might come next, Mark McCain included.
He had been afraid of another verbal assault from NP. Now, he
was afraid that something worse might happen to him or one of
his classmates. Someone had to do something to stop this.
Mark was scared
to move. He thought about the older students and wondered if
one of them might be brave enough to act. He doubted it. The
boys tried to act grown up, but underneath the bravado, they
were still frightened little kids. Mark had seen it when they
got into trouble with Miss Adams.
Mark didn’t feel
especially brave himself, but somebody had to do something.
Could he help? How?
The main thing
was to get an adult to the school. Mark considered himself a
fast runner. Maybe he could slip out when NP was looking in the
opposite direction. He had to try!
NP scanned the
room. His eyes stopped on Mark. Mark held his breath. NP
glared at him for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he
continued scanning the room and stopped on the big boys.
“You think you
are something special, don’t you?” NP snarled at the boys.
“Because you are the oldest in the school, you think you are
special and worthy of some sort of distinction. You think you
are grown up and deserving of the privileges afforded adults. I
am here to disabuse you of those notions. You are nothing more
than conduits for the work of the devil!”
It seemed to
Mark that NP was enjoying his tirade too much to notice any
movement behind his back. So, he took a deep breath, and then
slipped out of his seat as quietly as he could and began running
on tiptoe down the aisle and toward the door.
roared NP. Mark froze. The sound of that bellowing voice
vibrated through him and bound him in place.
Before Mark knew
what was happening, NP had grabbed his arm, jerked him around,
seized his shoulders, and lifted him up. NP’s face was an inch
from Mark’s. It was dark and terrible. Mark would not have
been surprised if he had seen steam emitting from the raging
“You! You spawn
of Satan! You dare to move? You dare to defy me? You dare to
claim to love and be loved? You impertinent, superior,
self-important agent of evil! You think you are worthy of
love? You are nothing! Nothing!!” As he spewed the last word,
NP flung Mark against the nearest wall. Mark’s back bore the
brunt of the crash, but the momentum caused his head to jerk
back and hit the wall hard enough to render him unconscious. He
landed in a slump against the wall.
When Mark awoke
an hour or so later, he found himself on the examining table in
Doctor Burrage’s office. Later, he would learn that Freddie had
succeeded in slipping out and getting help. Micah, Lucas, Mr.
Toomey, and Mr. Hamilton had come to the school. After the four
of them subdued NP, Micah and Mr. Toomey took him back to jail.
Mr. Hamilton carried Miss Adams to her buggy and drove her to
the doctor’s office, Lucas following behind on his horse with an
unresponsive Mark in his arms.
“Pa?” Mark called.
“I’m right here,
son,” came the reassuring response. Lucas moved into Mark’s
field of vision and took his hand.
“How are you feeling,
“My head hurts,” he
“I’m sure it
does. You have quite a knot on the back of it. Do you remember
“That preacher got
angry and threw me against the wall.”
his teeth together in an attempt to restrain his anger. “Did
something happen to set him off?”
“I don’t know.
He came to the school and started yelling and hit Miss Adams.”
Mark gasped as he remembered his teacher. “Miss Adams! Pa, is
Mark’s hand and calmed him. “She’s going to be fine, son.
She’s here, too. Doc Burrage is tending to her in another
“Did I hear my
name?” The doctor came into the room and approached the
“Well, look who decided
to wake up! How are you feeling, Mark?”
“My head hurts and I
feel kind of sleepy.”
“Well, that’s to
be expected. In the next day or two, you’ll probably start to
feel the bruises that are on your back, too. The good news,
though, is that you are going to be just fine. Now, let’s check
checked Mark’s vital signs, and followed up with a few questions
to evaluate the extent of his concussion. “Can you tell me how
old you are, Mark?”
“Good. What year is
“How many fingers am I
holding up?” He held up two fingers.
“Good. Do you feel
sick to your stomach, or have any pain other than the headache?”
Lucas, I want to keep him here overnight for observation.
Everything seems to be fine, but his head took a pretty hard
hit. Miss Adams is going to be moved to her house; Hattie
offered to stay with her tonight. You can move Mark into the
back room shortly. Mark, your job is to rest. A little later,
we might see how your stomach feels about some tea and toast.
Right now, sleep.”
As anxious as
Lucas was to have a few words with NP, he could not leave Mark’s
side. His desire for retaliation would have to wait.
Mark seemed on
track for a quick recovery. Doctor Burrage agreed to let him go
home the following afternoon, but with strict orders to take it
easy. He could sit up for a few hours a day, and do an hour of
schoolwork in the morning and again in the afternoon.
Otherwise, he was to stay in bed and rest. Burrage reminded
Lucas of the symptoms of concussion and advised him to be on the
alert for the next few days.
Two days after
Mark returned home, he had an unexpected visit from Miss Adams.
He was tremendously relieved to see for himself that she was
well. He almost gave her a hug before remembering that she was
a schoolteacher; he thought it might be a betrayal of his peers
to show too much affection. When he learned that Miss Adams had
brought along homework, Mark was glad he had resisted the
Luke took a turn
at washing the dishes that evening while Mark worked on the
arithmetic lesson that Miss Adams had brought. Mark was
exceptionally quiet. He had not one word of complaint about
having to do the work. This was highly unusual
because he had no love for arithmetic whatsoever, and
complained about it as loudly and unceasingly as he did about
taking baths. Luke decided his son’s unusual quietness was
because of what he had been through, and because of the physical
discomfort he continued to experience. The headache persisted
and the bruises on his back were causing a fair amount of pain
and making it difficult to sleep.
After a while, the
silence was broken when Mark asked, “Papa?”
snapped his head around to look at his son. Mark had not called
him “papa” since he was five or six years old. Hearing it again
gave Luke a pleasant thrill.
“When’s Mama coming
thrill vanished and was replaced by confusion and the first seed
of fear. Lucas couldn’t seem to catch his breath. What had
Mark just asked? Had he heard correctly?
“How long does it take
a baby to get born, Papa? Will Mama be gone all night?”
Luke was at a
complete loss. What did this mean? What was wrong with his
child? How should he respond? He concentrated on calming
himself down. He couldn’t cause Mark worry or alarm. He had to
find his breath … and his voice.
over to the table and sat down next to Mark, who was absorbed in
his work. When Luke glanced down at the paper, he saw that the
“work” was no longer arithmetic. Mark was concentrating on
drawing a horse – one that looked very much like the horses that
he had drawn when he was five years old.
“Mark? What are you
doing, son?” Luke gently asked.
Mark seemed to
startle. He blinked, studied his paper, and then said, “Oh, I’m
sorry, Pa. I guess I got to daydreaming. I didn’t mean to draw
on my homework paper. I’m sorry.”
son. It can be erased.” Although trembling inside, Luke tried
to be calm and encouraging.
“Mark, what was it you
were asking me?”
“I was asking you
something?” Mark scrunched his forehead as he tried to
“I … I don’t
remember, Pa. I guess I really was lost in a daydream. I
didn’t even know it.”
Mark seemed to
be himself again, but Lucas was not reassured. The questions
Mark had asked, the scribbling on his homework paper, calling
him “papa” … none of those things was typical. Lucas was
“Pa, could you
please help me with these fractions? I just don’t understand
this stuff about common denominators. It’s making me mad!”
Let’s see what you have so far.”
After they had
been working for about ten minutes, Lucas noticed that Mark
appeared drowsy and was rubbing his head.
“Son? Is your headache
“It’s not so bad, Pa.
I just feel awful tired all of a sudden.”
been hunkered over these fractions for quite a while. Why don’t
we call it a night? We can work more in the morning when you’re
“Okay, Pa. Can I go to
Lucas followed Mark into the bedroom. He seemed to be dozing
off even as he undressed. Lucas helped him, pulling his boots
and socks off and his nightshirt over his head when Mark
couldn’t quite figure out how to do it.
Luke laid his
son down on the pillow, pulled his legs up over the side of the
bed, turned him on his side to protect the bruises on his back,
and then pulled the covers snugly up around him. He smoothed
his hair back, and looked on his little boy with concern.
Mark stirred slightly
and, eyes still closed, softly called, “Pa?”
There was no
immediate response. Mark was so still for so long that Luke
thought he had fallen back asleep, but then he took a deep
breath, released a long sigh, and said, “I love you.”
His voice threatening
to break, Luke replied, “I love you, too, son.”
The seed of fear
that was planted a short time ago when Mark called him “papa”
ballooned within him, and Lucas was consumed with worry for his
child. He flew out of the room and to the barn, wanting to be
out of Mark’s hearing when the sobs broke.
He did not
understand the intensity of his fear. He only knew that
something was terribly wrong with his child and he didn’t know
what to do. He could not recall feeling this fearful and
indecisive since his dear Margaret became ill and died so
He paced the
barn, working to regain control and think through the situation
rationally. He wanted to scoop Mark up and take him into town
to Doctor Burrage. Was he overreacting?
McCain. Think it through,” he lectured himself. “Asking when
Margaret is coming home is not normal, but the fatigue could be
due to all that he’s been through plus the pain from his
injuries. On the other hand, it came on pretty quickly and it
was more than just fatigue. He was almost … lethargic. Doc
Burrage said he didn’t think the concussion was serious, but to
be on the lookout for symptoms.”
Luke was not
going to take chances with his son’s life. They were going to
He piled fresh
hay into the wagon to make a soft bed that would cushion Mark
against the worst of a bumpy ride. Next, he hitched up the team
and led them out into the yard. He went in the house and
collected a sheet, pillow, and blanket to complete Mark’s little
Once the wagon
was ready, Lucas went into the bedroom and knelt down by Mark’s
bed. “Mark?” Lucas shook him lightly. “Mark?” There was no
response, so he called louder, “Mark!”
Panic rose again
and he picked up Mark, raced to the wagon, secured him on the
hay pallet, and took off to town as fast as he dared.
McCain,” he told himself out loud. “Calm down. The road is
dark. What good would it do Mark if you run the wagon off the
The drive to
town seemed interminable. Lucas fought panic the entire ride.
He was terrified but knew that he had to calm down for the sake
of his son. He had to be able to think rationally, and he had
to be strong for his boy.
was finishing his monthly supply inventory and looking forward
to going home when Lucas pushed open the door and stood before
him with Mark cradled in his arms.
“He won’t wake
up, Doc! First he got confused, calling me ‘papa’ and asking
when his mother would be home. Then he became sleepy all of a
sudden, so much so that he needed help undressing for bed. I
tried to wake him before coming here, and he didn’t so much as
While Lucas was
talking, the doctor guided him to the examining table and
indicated to Lucas to lay Mark down.
called Mark’s name and gently poked and prodded, trying to get a
response – all to no avail. He checked his eyes for response to
light, and listened to his lungs and heart.
“Were there any
other symptoms, Luke? Did he complain of nausea or worsening
“I asked about
his headache. He said it wasn’t bad. His only complaint was
that he felt tired.”
replied, “The combination of headache, tiredness, and the
confusion you mentioned all point to a concussion. The fact
that he is not responsive suggests that it is severe.
Sometimes, these things are slow to present themselves.”
“Doc, what are you
“I’m telling you
that this looks like a serious head injury, Luke. Because he is
not responding at all, I am concerned that he is in a coma. It
is not hopeless. All we can do, though, is watch and wait.”
Lucas stared in
disbelief at his precious little boy. He felt lost and filled
with dread. “Please, God,” he silently prayed. “Please don’t
take my son from me. Please.”
“Luke, bring him
to the back room. I want to keep an eye on him and this room
will be more comfortable for both of you.”
led Lucas to the back room. There, they settled Mark on a bed
with a brass headboard, down-filled mattress and pillows, soft
clean sheets, and a patchwork quilt made of brightly colored
On one side of
the bed stood a table topped with an oil lamp, a drinking glass,
a basin and pitcher, and a towel. A rocking chair and hassock
had been placed on the other side.
the covers over his son, Lucas sat on the side of the bed. He
gazed at his child, smoothed his hair, traced the outline of his
he said to himself. “If you can, my dear sweet wife, help us.
Four years had
passed since the death of his wife, and Lucas had managed to
overcome the grief and start a new life with his son. Still, he
had not stopped missing her. The feelings of loss and
insecurity intensified when Mark was ill or enduring some other
kind of trial. Luke longed for Margaret’s counsel at such
Doctor Burrage’s voice
“He’s young and
strong, but this could be a long road. Try to stay positive.”
The doctor rested a reassuring hand on Lucas’ shoulder and then
Lucas moved to
the rocking chair and noticed a Bible resting on the hassock.
He picked it up but didn’t open it right away. He held it to
his heart as he called to mind images of Margaret rocking Mark
in the rocking chair that had sat in their kitchen near the
stove. Luke had spent a goodly number of hours in that chair,
too, lulling his infant son to sleep in those first months when
Margaret was recovering from a difficult and near-deadly
childbirth. As Mark grew into toddler-hood, the rocking chair
was an almost guaranteed source of comfort after a temper
tantrum or nightmare. By the time he turned three, Mark could
crawl onto the chair and rock himself. Still, he loved the
rocker best when he was cuddled in his ma or pa’s lap. The
rocker was the best place for a story or a song or a comforting
Lucas had not
realized that he missed “rocking chair time.” He supposed he
got away from the habit during the years that he and Mark were
traveling in search of their new life after Margaret’s death.
The rocking chair had a place in their home now but was largely
ignored. Sometimes it sat by the sideboard, other times on the
porch. Neither Lucas nor Mark ever sat in it. “Do I see it as
some kind of a shrine to Margaret?” Lucas wondered. He made a
promise to himself to put it to use once Mark recovered. Mark
might be too old for story time, but that didn’t mean the rocker
had to remain idle.
returned with a cot, pillow, and blanket. “This will make for
more comfortable sleeping, Luke. And don’t tell me you don’t
need it. As I said, this could be a long road. Sleep when you
can and eat when told in order to keep up your strength.
was the automatic reply. Lucas didn’t seem to really register
it. I will be in and out through the night to check on Mark,
but call me if there is any change. I have a room across the
This time, Lucas
turned and looked at Doctor Burrage and offered a sincere,
“Thank you, Doc.”
“Try to rest,”
the doctor replied and then left.
The night passed
uneventfully. Lucas dozed in the rocking chair, waking every
fifteen minutes or so to look at Mark or touch him or read a
passage from the Bible. When Doctor Burrage made his last check
of the night at about 4:00, he urged Lucas to stretch out on the
cot and get some real sleep.
“I don’t think I can,
give it a try. You are going to need it in order to get through
the coming days.”
“Alright, Doc. I’ll
himself on being a man of his word, so as soon as Doctor Burrage
left the room, he pulled off his boots and lay down on the cot.
“Stretching out,” as the doctor put it, was not an option.
Lucas’ 6´5˝ frame was too long for the cot by a foot. Still, it
was better than the rocking chair. The panic and dread he had
felt earlier had turned to a kind of numbness that helped ease
him into sleep. He stayed that way until sunup.
Mark did not
regain consciousness that day. With each passing hour, Lucas’
fear for his son grew stronger and his fury with NP more
Micah stopped by
from time to time throughout the day. With each visit, Luke
railed on about NP and insisted on seeing him. “How could he do
this to my child, Micah? Why?”
Each time, Micah
urged Lucas to stay away from the jail. It would serve no
purpose to confront the preacher.
“Focus on Mark,
Lucas-boy. The preacher will get his due when Judge Hanavan
gets here. He can’t seem to hear sensible talk, anyway. All he
does is rant about how we’re all going to burn in hell for our
evil ways. He wouldn’t hear you, and that would just make you
“Right now, I
don’t much care if he hears, Micah. I want to give him a piece
of my mind and a good taste of my fist! But you’re right. I
need to stay here with Mark. I just wish I understood why this
was a regular visitor, too. She loved Mark and Lucas as if they
were her own. She brought breakfast, lunch, and supper for
Lucas and stayed to make sure he ate. She listened while he
vented his worries and offered a compassionate, motherly touch
that was a balm to Luke’s aching spirit.
passed much the same as the previous one with the exception that
Lucas slept for several hours. When he awoke about 7:00 the
next morning, he was greeted by his son’s wide-open bright brown
eyes. A surge of joy and thanksgiving swept through his being.
He breathed a prayer of thanks as he took the two steps from the
cot to the bed.
“Good morning, son!”
one word tempered the joy in Lucas’ heart with anxiety. His son
was awake, though, and seemingly alert. For that, he was deeply
“Papa, where are we and
why does my head hurt?”
“Well, son, your
head hurts because you bumped it pretty hard. We are in a
bedroom at Doc Burrage’s office. We’re staying here until your
head’s all better.”
“Who is Doc Burrage?”
Lucas had to think fast. “What was that doctor’s name in Enid?”
He wondered to himself. The name clicked into his memory.
“He is a new
doctor in town,” Luke said aloud to his son. “He is filling in
for Doctor Harte while he is out of town.”
“Since we’re in town,
do you think Ma will come see us?”
prayed, “Help me, dear Lord. Please help me find the right
words. Help me to stay calm.”
the friend she’s helping isn’t here in Enid. She is in Red
Springs.6 I don’t think we will see her until Mrs.
Curry is all better.”
“I sure do miss her,
don’t you, Pa?”
“I sure do,
son. Very much.” Lucas reached over and tenderly stroked his
There was a soft tap on
the door and Doctor Burrage walked in.
“Well, what have
we here? A wide awake child taking up space in my office?” Doc
Burrage liked to
wear a gruff exterior to hide his genuinely good-hearted
nature. He seemed to think it put children and their parents at
ease, too, if he wasn’t overly sympathetic. Ten-year-old Mark
saw right through the facade, but five-year-old Mark wasn’t sure
what to make of it. Lucas noticed his caution and hurried to
soothe him, while at the same time alerting the doctor to Mark’s
state of mind.
“Mark, this is
Doctor Burrage. Doc, I was just telling Mark that you are
helping Doctor Harte by filling in while he is away.”
Picking up on
the cue, Doctor Burrage replied, “I’m glad I could be here. The
conference that he is attending will update him on all the
latest medical findings. He will be a better doctor for it.
Mark, I’m glad to meet you. It’s good to see that you’re
toned down the “gruff act” a little bit, and that eased Mark’s
concern. He thought he just might like this doctor.
“How are you feeling?
Does your head still hurt?”
“How about your
stomach? Do you feel sick?”
Doctor Burrage held up
two fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
The doctor then
checked Mark’s eyes for responsiveness to light and seemed
satisfied with his findings.
I’m going to ask you a few more questions to help me understand
how that bump on your head is doing. Okay?”
“What is your full
“Mark Warren McCain.”
“Who’s this big old
ugly man here?”
rose in a flash. “He is my papa and he’s not ugly and I love
Lucas wanted to
laugh and cry at the same time. He covered his mouth with a
hand and remained silent. He knew he should scold Mark for his
rudeness, but didn’t trust his voice.
“Well, then, you
certainly set me straight!” Doctor Burrage exclaimed.
Mark was worried that
he had made a big mistake and disappointed his father.
“I’m sorry I yelled,
sir, but I don’t like people to say mean things about my papa.”
then started to chide him.
interrupted. “It’s alright, Mark. I shouldn’t have teased you
like that, but it was part of my little test to see how you’re
being the case, Mark was willing to let Burrage off the hook.
“Did I get it right?”
“You sure did!
Okay. I have a couple of more questions. Ready?”
“What is the name of
the town you live in?”
“How old are you,
“I am five and a half
practically a man!” That comment earned the doctor a big smile
from his patient.
“Alright, Mark, let’s
sit you up. Easy now. Nice and slow.”
eased Mark up into a sitting position and repositioned the
pillows against the headboard to give him comfortable support.
“How does that feel?”
“The room is moving.”
“It should stop in a
Lucas sat on the edge
of the bed and held Mark’s hand. That seemed to calm him.
“Better?” the doctor
asked after a moment.
“Yes, sir. It’s
“Good. Are you
“Why don’t I
send over to the hotel for some toast and hot tea, then? We’ll
see how that sits on your stomach. Lucas, bacon and eggs suit
“I don’t need anything,
The doctor gave Lucas a
warning glare. “Bacon and eggs, or oatmeal?”
“Oatmeal’s fine, Doc.
Thank you,” Lucas obediently replied.
was gone, Mark peppered his pa with questions. He was just as
talkative and inquisitive as when he really was five years old,
asking question after question with hardly a breath in between.
It was surreal, yet an almost happy circumstance for Lucas to be
reacquainted with a younger version of his child.
returned with toast and hot tea for Mark, a bowl of steaming
oatmeal sprinkled with brown sugar for Lucas, and a pot of
“I ran into
Hattie,” he said. “She wanted to come by, but I suggested she
wait until this afternoon.”
“Who’s Hattie?” Mark
“She is a nice
lady who would say that little boys should eat their toast and
sip their tea while it’s hot,” Lucas replied.
“Now, Mark, eat
slowly,” Doctor Burrage instructed. “Let your stomach get used
to having food in it again. Luke, I’m going to the hotel for my
own breakfast. I’ll check back in a half hour or so.”
Mark and Lucas ate in
companionable silence for a few minutes. “Papa?” Mark said.
“What is it, son?”
“I don’t feel so good.”
Lucas looked up
and saw that Mark had turned ashen and his skin looked waxy.
Experience told him what that meant. He took the plate of toast
from Mark’s hands and reached for the basin on the bedside
table. He turned Mark over the basin just in time for Mark to
relieve himself of the little bit of food he had eaten.
When Mark was
finished, Lucas carefully laid him back against the headboard.
He reached over to the table for the empty glass, filled it with
water from the pitcher, and told Mark to rinse his mouth. After
Mark had done so, Lucas took the towel from the table, dampened
it, and bathed Mark’s face and neck.
“Yes, sir,” Mark
“Good. Alright, let’s
get you settled.”
Mark slip back down under the covers, mindful of the still-sore
bruises on his back, and repositioned the pillow. He was asleep
Mark slept for
most of the day. Each time he woke up, Doctor Burrage had him
sit up for a few minutes and sip hot tea with honey. He would
wait until tomorrow to try solid food again. Each time, Mark
managed to stay awake for about 20 minutes before nodding off
The next day, he
seemed to be much better. Even the headache had lessened, and
he was able to keep dry toast down. Lucas took heart in this,
even though Mark still thought that he was five years old.
On the fourth
day, Doctor Burrage was ready to send Mark home. He discussed
this privately with Lucas.
“Doc, he still thinks
he’s five years old. What do we do about that?”
“Lucas, it does
happen that concussions cause this kind of confusion. Most
times, the confusion reverses itself as the brain heals, but it
takes time. All you can do is wait it out. Keep following
Mark’s lead. As outlandish as this might sound, try to enjoy
having your five-year-old back. I’m sure there are things you
miss about Mark at that age that your ten-year-old would
Doc, but he’s not five.” Lucas was growing agitated. “What if
this doesn’t reverse itself? And how am I going to explain the
house and the ranch? How long before he starts insisting to see
his mother? How do I handle this, Doc?”
you’ve got to calm down. Didn’t you say that the house is just
like the one in Enid?”
“More or less,
but not exactly. The old house had two bedrooms. He’ll wonder
about that. He’ll notice we’re not in Enid as soon as we walk
out of your office. He’ll know the road to home is different.
There’s no way to hide that from him.”
“Lucas, you are
a quick thinker. Stay calm and you will be able to navigate
your way through this. And if all else fails, change the
subject. A five-year-old’s attention is easily shifted. You’ll
be fine, Luke. I’ll keep visitors away as best I can so that
you don’t have to explain a lot of new faces, but I will
encourage Hattie to visit often. I think she might be a big
help to both of you.”
Luke ran his
hands through his hair. How would he possibly handle this?
Again he silently prayed, “Dear God, please help me!”
for a moment. “There is one other thing that I think I would be
willing to do.”
“What’s that, Doc?”
“When it’s time
for you to head home, I will give Mark a mild sedative. He’ll
be asleep when you take him out of my office and sleep through
the drive home. That way, he won’t be upset by seeing a strange
town, and you won’t have to explain the unfamiliar route to the
Lucas took a
deep breath and released a weighty sigh. “Thanks, Doc. I
really do appreciate any help you can give.”
“Well that’s what you
pay me for,” he growled.
“Now, Luke, keep
Mark’s diet bland for the next few days. Don’t be surprised if
he does little more than sleep. Full recovery from the
concussion is going to take some time. Try to get him up for an
hour or so a few times a day. You’ll be able to judge when he’s
had enough. I’ll stop by every day to look in on him and
determine when his activity can be increased.”
Lucas, Mark slept all the way home and for several hours after
he had been tucked into bed. Luke thought about using the time
to tend to the stock, but was hesitant to leave Mark alone. As
he was debating the matter, a knock came at the door. When Luke
opened it, he found Billy Lehigh on the other side.
“Billy! What brings
“I thought you might
need a hand with the stock for a few days.”
“You know how
fast news travels around North Fork. I happened to be in town
running errands for Mr. Jackford when I heard about Mark’s
injury. Now, if I were a father, I wouldn’t want to be away
from my injured child for a second, let alone long enough to
unharness and bed down a team of horses, and tend to other barn
Billy. I was just trying to decide how to handle that very
dilemma. I am grateful to you.”
“Mr. McCain, the
way I see it, I owe you for life. The way Sam and I treated you
that day7 … well I will always regret it. Besides, I
have a soft spot for Mark. I’ll get to work and be back
mornings and evenings the next few days. You won’t even know
I’m here. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Thank you, Billy.”
Lucas took a
deep breath and offered a quick prayer of thanks. He and Mark
had been talking a little over a week ago about what it means to
show love to neighbors. “I guess I have just been put on the
receiving end of that.” Lucas paused and thought a moment. “It
isn’t only Billy. Hattie, Micah, Doc Burrage, John, Toomey ...
Mark and I are on the receiving end of neighborly love again and
again. It’s time I start paying better attention to that.”
slept, Lucas hid away as many items as he could see that might
cause Mark confusion or trigger a question that Lucas would find
hard to answer. The potential question that caused him the most
apprehension was “What happened to the other bedroom, Papa?” He
could not figure out how to answer that.
chicken broth and kept it warm on the stove, set a loaf of bread
to rise, and baked a batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies. Luke
baked cakes and pies as often as once a week, but he had not
baked cookies even one time in the years since Margaret’s
death. The only reason he could come up with for that choice
was that cookies were too time-consuming. Once the batter was
mixed, you couldn’t just pop it in the oven and be done with
it. No, you had to scoop out each cookie and could bake only 10
or 12 at a time. He’d have to spend all afternoon babysitting
those cookies. He did not have time for that!
Luke was anxious to do anything he could think of to ease the
worries Mark may have when he awoke in a house that had no sign
of his mother’s presence.
“No sign of his
mother’s presence!” Panic started to rise again. “He’s
inquisitive. He’ll notice, he’ll look. Our bedroom is gone,
her clothes are gone, her sewing is gone, her books are gone!
Oh, Margaret! What do I do?”
It was then that a
small voice called from the bedroom, “Papa?”
Luke took a deep
breath, said another prayer for guidance, and slowly walked to
“Hi, son,” Luke greeted
his boy with a smile.
“How are you feeling?”
“Hmmm. ‘Yucky’ is not
good. Does your head still hurt?”
“Are we home, Papa?”
“Yes, we are.”
“How did we get here?
I don’t remember.”
“That’s because you
slept the whole way from the doctor’s office.”
something familiar. He sniffed the air just to be sure. “Did
Mama bake oatmeal-raisin cookies?”
“Not Mama. She is
still in Red Springs.”
“You baked them, Papa?
don’t know how good they will be, but I gave it a try because I
know how much you like them.”
“You baked them for
“Because you love me!”
Mark crowed. “Just the way Mama said!”
“What did Mama say,
“She said, ‘Everything
Papa does, he does with love for us.’”
Luke smiled and cleared
the emotion from his throat. “She’s right, son.”
closed his eyes, and fell back to sleep. Lucas sat and watched
him for a few minutes, and then went back to the stove to finish
When Mark woke two
hours later, he was hungry for cookies.
“Let’s see if
you can manage chicken broth and toast, son. If you can keep
that down, maybe we’ll try a cookie tomorrow.”
“Oh, please, Papa?
I’ll eat it real slow, I promise.”
“I’m sure you
would, but it’s important we follow the doctor’s orders. You
don’t want to get sick to your stomach again, do you?”
“No, sir.” Mark knew
he had been defeated.
“Let’s sit you up.”
Luke eased Mark into a sitting position against the pillows.
“The room is turning
“That’s because of that
bump on your head. It will stop in a minute.”
“I had a funny dream.”
“Oh? What was it
remember most of it, but there was a mean preacher in it. He
had black eyes and long black hair and he yelled a lot. Papa, I
didn’t think preachers were supposed to be mean.”
most are kind, wise men, but once in a while, it’s possible to
find one who isn’t quite so kind.”
“But why, Papa?”
preachers are people just like everyone else. There are lots of
nice people in the world, and some who aren’t so nice.”
“Well, I didn’t like
that preacher in my dream.”
“Aren’t you glad it was
just a dream?”
“Has the room stopped
“Yes, sir. Can I try
the broth now?”
“Yes, you may. Stay
put. It will be ready in a few minutes.”
In spite of his
headache, Luke’s little chatterbox was back in full force.
While he prepared the toast and filled a bowl with warm broth,
Mark called out questions from the bedroom nonstop: what should
he plant in his vegetable garden, why did he have to go to
school when he turned six, when could he start helping Papa milk
the cow again and feed the chickens again, why was it taking
Mama’s friend so long to have her baby, could they sit in the
rocking chair and read stories, and on and on.
chair,” Luke remembered. “Did I keep any of Mark’s little-boy
books?” He would look through the trunk while Mark was napping.
Luke returned to
the bedroom. “Alright, my little chatterbox, let’s see how your
tummy likes this.”
Mark’s tummy seemed to
approve, and he fell asleep almost as soon as he finished
up the dishes, Lucas pulled out the trunk and was pleased to
find two of Mark’s favorite books tucked into his baby blanket.
He started to close the trunk when a thought struck him. “Did
Mark still sleep with his blanket when he was five, or had we
broken him of that habit by then?” Lucas wondered. “No, it was
shortly after he turned six. I remember Margaret and I having
that discussion with him right after Christmas ... and I
remember worrying that he would start asking for it again after
He wondered if
he should pull it out now. Best not to, he decided. If it took
a while for Mark’s mind to return to the present, it wouldn’t do
for his 10-year-old to be dragging around a baby blanket. It
was good to know where to find it, though, if an emergency
around suppertime. Chicken broth and toast stayed down once
again, giving Lucas hope that real recovery was in process this
time. Mark was pleased because it meant he might be allowed to
have a cookie tomorrow.
As Luke knew he
would, Mark remembered his request to sit in the rocking chair
and read stories. Luke had pulled the rocker into the bedroom
while Mark was sleeping. He didn’t want to risk questions that
might come up about the missing second bedroom if he brought
Mark into the main room.
Mark on his lap and tucked the quilt from his bed around him.
“Oh, how I’ve missed this,” he thought.
“Which book shall it
“Peter Parley!” Mark
“Peter Parley it is,”
and Luke began to read.
Very well, I will now tell you of Henry and his
faithful dog. There was once a young man, whose name was Henry;
and he had a dog, whose name was Trusty. Henry was very fond of
rambling in the woods, and climbing over the rocks and hills. …”
Mark was asleep in
ten minutes. Luke put the book aside, and soaked up the feeling
of rocking his little boy in his arms once again. How he missed
this! At age ten, Mark still cuddled up to his father from time
to time, but those occasions were growing less frequent far
faster than Luke had imagined they would. While he wanted his
son to be restored to perfect health, he could not help but
savor this moment.
After a while, Luke
tucked Mark back into bed, had a bite of supper – because Hattie
would have his hide if he didn’t – and then went to bed.
Late in the night, Luke
was awakened by Mark’s cry.
“Let go of me! Let go!
Papa, help me!”
Lucas lifted Mark
into his arms and called to him softly, “Mark, wake up, son.
Wake up, Mark. You’re dreaming.”
Mark finally pulled
himself out of the dream and clung to his father. “Papa,” he
cried. “That mean preacher came back! He wouldn’t let me go!”
“It’s okay, Mark. You’re
safe now. Papa’s here with you.”
“He tried to take me away
from you! He said you don’t love me!”
“But you know that
I do, son. I love you and you love me, and we always will.
Don’t give that silly old dream another thought.”
As Luke rubbed
Mark’s back and murmured soothing words, his boy calmed and fell
back to sleep.
The next morning,
Luke’s little chatterbox was gone. Mark was subdued. He ate
his breakfast, but without interest. The boy that Luke knew
would have been begging for the promised cookie from the moment
he awoke, but this Mark didn’t say a word about it. He asked
for only one thing: to sit in the rocker and watch his pa work.
“Well, now,” Luke
said in as cheerful a voice as he could muster. “I don’t have
any work that needs doing this morning. What if we sit in the
rocking chair together and read more from Peter Parley?”
“Okay, Papa,” Mark replied
And so they did until
sleep came again.
Doctor Burrage came by
while Mark was napping.
“Doc, he was alert
and talkative and begging for cookies yesterday. He had a dream
last night about that abominable preacher and has hardly said
two words today. All the spark has gone out of him.”
“Did he tell you what the
dream was about?”
“Just that the
so-called preacher wouldn’t let him go. Mark dreamed about him
yesterday afternoon, too, but it didn’t seem to affect him the
way last night’s has.”
“What did he say about the
“He described the
man’s appearance and said he was mean and yelled a lot. He
wanted to know how it was possible for a preacher to be so
mean. It was a matter-of-fact conversation.”
“Have you tried to get him
to talk to you about the second dream?”
“Well, not very
hard. Given his condition, I didn’t want to push too much.
Last night, his worry seemed to be that the man told him I don’t
really love him. Doc, what has this monster done to my child …
and why?” Lucas was ready to snap. Doc Burrage could see it.
“Luke, go into town
and talk to the man. Get this out of your system. Get the
answers you need.”
“I can’t leave
Mark, Doc! If he wakes up and I’m not here …”
“I’ll be here, Luke,”
Burrage interrupted. “He knows me. It’ll be alright.”
“What if he has another
“Luke, he’ll be
okay. Go deal with this man before you explode. You need to do
this in order to be one hundred percent available to Mark. Mark
will be okay with me for a little while. Go.”
Lucas thought for a
minute. “Alright, Doc. Thank you.”
Micah was finishing an
arrest report when Lucas walked into his office.
good to see you! Come on in. Mark must be doing better if
“No, he isn’t. Doc is
staying with him while I take care of business here.”
“I need to talk to
him, Micah. He’s destroyed my child. It’s time he heard from
me, and it’s time I hear from him about his ludicrous reasons
for attacking Mark!”
but wait a minute. What do you mean he’s ‘destroyed’ Mark? As
terrible as what he did is, Mark’s injuries will heal.”
“It’s not just the
physical injuries, Micah. My ten-year-old – who still thinks
he’s five – dreamed about a black-eyed, black-haired, ‘mean’
preacher last night. Today, he’s virtually shut down. He’s not
talking, not showing interest in anything. The light has gone
out of his eyes. This poor excuse for a human being is going to
answer for all of it!”
Micah said nothing,
but opened the door that led to the cells and ushered Lucas in.
He closed the door behind Lucas and returned to his desk.
NP was lying on the cot,
staring up at the ceiling. He did not acknowledge Lucas.
Lucas got right to the
point. “Who are you and why did you attack my son?”
Silence was the answer to
wanted to rattle the cell bars and scream his rage, but he knew
that would get him nowhere with this man. He would have to wait
After several minutes,
still staring at the ceiling, NP spoke.
“I am God’s
messenger, sent to rid the world of Satan and lead wayward souls
back to Him.”
“Do you think God would approve of you terrorizing little boys?”
Lucas asked through clenched teeth.
“I am God’s chosen
messenger. He knows me. He would not have sent me if He did
not approve of my methods.”
reason do you have for telling children that there is no such
thing as love in this world?”
“It is the truth.”
“Perhaps in your
experience. Certainly not in mine. Not in the world in which
the people of this town live.”
statement, Lucas was losing his battle to stay calm. His rage
was threatening to spill over and he did not care.
“Who gives you the
authority to destroy a child’s spirit? Who are you to tell my
child he is not loved? Who are you to throw my child against a
wall? Who are you and what do you have against this town and my
child?” Lucas was yelling now, but NP had not moved and showed
no sign of emotion.
“WHO ARE YOU??” Lucas
NP slowly stood and
walked to the bars of the cell. He stared at Lucas for a moment
before speaking, quietly and calmly. “I am Mark McCain.”
“What?” Lucas whispered.
“I am Mark McCain.
I am Mark McCain who thought he was loved, but whose parents
ripped that belief from his young soul when they revealed the
evil in their own hearts. I am Mark McCain who was taught that
the world is full of hate. I am Mark McCain who learned that
the only way to survive is to banish evil. And how does one do
that? By destroying the conduits for evil … the souls of human
beings. Break their spirits. Bring them to their knees. Satan
cannot live in the pain of their loneliness and despair. They
are too broken to work for him. Empty vessels are superior to
vessels filled with evil.
“You ask why I
chose your precious little boy. Because he is a conduit for
evil just like everyone else, only worse. He believes
unquestioningly in love. That makes him too trusting. It makes
him careless and unaware. Satan will sneak into unguarded
vessels faster and with more power than any other. He had to be
NP’s composure was
beginning to erode.
“I’ll tell you
another reason, Mr. Perfect Father. Your precious little boy
has what I once thought I had … what I longed to have, but never
did. No one is going to have love when I cannot. You and your
little boy turn my stomach and make me seethe with rage,” he
snorted. “Your high and mighty attitude. His big innocent eyes
and trusting way. What rot! I will not abide it! If I wasn’t
loved, no one will be!”
Just as Lucas reached out
to grab him, NP stepped out of reach.
“I heard you tell
the marshal that I destroyed your son. In that case, my work is
done. I have shown him the truth!” NP gloated. “There is no
love! I have destroyed him for Satan and saved him for God!
And I have taken from him that which was taken from me. I can
end my mission and misery in peace and meet my Maker with a
clear conscience. Maybe in that world I will find the love
which was denied me in this one.”
Before Lucas knew
what was happening, NP pulled an object from his sleeve and
jammed it into his neck. He collapsed onto the bed, again
staring up at the ceiling. Lucas looked on, appalled at what
“There is no love
in this world, Mr. Perfect Father. Better that your boy learn
that and be stripped of hope now. You will thank me one day,
and so will he.”
NP said this without
emotion as blood flowed from his wound. And then he was gone.
Lucas stared. He
didn’t know what to make of what he had just witnessed. As he
stood there, Micah came in.
“He was insane,
Micah. That’s all I can understand of what I just saw and
heard. Insane and insanely jealous.” Lucas paused. “And he
made me want to hold even tighter to my boy.”
Lucas turned and walked
out, and rode home to his son.
Mark was asleep when Lucas
“Has he been asleep the
whole time?” Lucas asked the doctor.
“He has. Did you get any
answers to your questions?”
“Not really, Doc. All
that’s clear is that the man was mad.”
“It is rare that there is
an explanation for the cruelties in this world.”
“I know, but I wish I
understood this. Maybe I could better help Mark.”
“Luke, I think you
have everything you need to help Mark. You love him and he
knows it and believes in it. Whatever you need will flow from
“I wish I had your
“Trust in yourself and
your son, Luke.”
Burrage stood to
leave. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check on Mark. Let him try a
little oatmeal when he wakes up. See how he handles that. He
can try one of those cookies that I smell, too.”
“Would you like one, Doc?
You can tell me if they’re any good.”
“Sure, I’ll be your test
Luke uncovered the plate
of cookies and brought them to the table. “Help yourself.”
perhaps in a demonstration of trust in his friend’s abilities,
took a big bite and chewed it slowly. “Hmm.” He chewed some
more, wrinkling his brow in concentration.
“Oh, come on, Doc. Is it
edible or not?”
“I give it high marks,
Luke. Can I have another for the road?”
Lucas almost laughed.
“Sure, Doc. Take two or three.”
After the doctor
left, Lucas went into the bedroom, sat in the rocking chair, and
watched his son sleep.
The next thing he knew,
Mark’s voice was drawing him out of his own sleep.
“Can I sit with you?”
When Mark was
situated in his father’s lap and the rocker began its soothing
sway, he asked, “Please help me understand, Papa.”
“Understand what, son?”
“The dream about
that mean preacher. Why do I know him? Why does the dream make
me so sad?”
“You know him, son,
because he came to our town one Sunday and preached. It was a
very upsetting sermon. He said mean things to you and to other
people. He tried to make you believe that there is no such
thing as love. I think that’s why the dream makes you sad.”
“No such thing as love?”
“But that can’t be true.”
Mark sat up, put
his hands on Luke’s shoulders, and looked him in the eyes. “It
can’t be. I see it every day in all the things you do for me.
I love you and you love me. I know it, Pa. It’s real. It’s
the most real thing I know. Whatever that man said, it’s not
true and never will be.”
son. Maybe in the dream you couldn’t remember that. Now that
you have, maybe the sadness will go away.”
“I’m sad for him, though,
Pa. It seems like maybe no one ever loved him.”
“That might be so. You
have a good, caring heart, Mark. I’m proud of you for that.”
“If that’s true, I
can’t take credit for it, Pa. I got it from you and Ma.” Mark
finally smiled. That smile was what Lucas needed to renew his
spirit. He was starting to feel that he had his 10-year-old
“Wait a minute,” he
thought. “He called me ‘pa’.”
“Mark, how old are you,
son?” He asked aloud.
“I’m ten, Pa. You know
smoothed Mark’s hair and looked into his clear, trusting eyes.
“So you are, son. So you are.”
pressed Mark’s head back down to his shoulder, and resumed
rocking his boy until both of them were lulled into a peaceful
1.“Eight Hours to Die” (Season 1,
2. “Home Ranch” (Season 1, Episode 2)
3. “The Sheridan Story” (Season 1,
Episode 16). In this episode, Mark tells Frank Blandon about
the “shower bath” that Lucas built behind the house.
4. “End of a Young Gun” (Season 1, Episode 3)
5. “The Marshal” (Season 1, Episode
6. Red Springs is a fictional town intended to be near Enid,
Oklahoma. I had hoped to use the name of an actual town near
Enid, but learned in the research process that Enid was not
established until 1893. The towns within a seven-mile radius
were established later than that. This points out another
blooper in the television series. The McCains could not have
lived in Enid during the time frame indicated in the series
because it did not exist. Prior to 1893, the land in this
region of Oklahoma was designated as perpetual tribal hunting
grounds for the Cherokee Nation by treaties of 1828 and 1835.
This began to change after the Civil War, but it was still
almost 30 years before white settlers were able to live in the
Because some Cherokee Indians had fought on the side of the
Confederacy, the federal government demanded that a new treaty
be written after the war. The new treaty reduced the original
reservation lands and permitted “friendly tribes” to be moved
into the eastern end of the region.
With the start of cattle drives,
the Cherokee leased the land to cattlemen that wanted to fatten
their cattle on the grasses before taking them to Kansas.
Settlers, wanting to own their own land, viewed this use of the
area as a waste of fertile farmland and pressured the government
to purchase the land from the Cherokee. Congress eventually paid
$8,505,736 (about $1.40 per acre), and announced the opening of
the region to homesteaders. President Grover Cleveland
designated September 16, 1893 as the date of the “run” for
6,000,000 acres. Enid was born a few weeks prior to this.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia
of Oklahoma History and Culture, the only permanent
structure in Enid on the day of the land run was the newly built
7. “Home Ranch” (Season 1, Episode
8. Peter Parley is the pseudonym
of American author Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1793-1860). “Peter
Parley’s Juvenile Tales” apparently was a popular children’s
book in the mid to late 19th century. You can read