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Mark's St. Patty's Day Story
by Ol' Lucas Boy
Lucas and Micah were huddled around the pot belly stove in Micah's office when a couple named Jerry and Meagan and their son came through the door looking half frozen and half exhausted. "Here, warm up around the stove here" said Micah as Lucas guided the family over towards the stove. "We've been robbed" exclaimed the husband. "We were about 5 or 6 miles outside of town and these 3 men ambushed us and took our belongings". The wife added, "why would they do this to us, we didn't have that much to begin with and now we have even less"? The boy, William, about Mark's age, sat quietly near the stove obviously still cold and still a bit shaken. Luke struck up a conversation with the boy while Micah questioned his parents. "I've got a boy about your age" stated Lucas as the boy looked up into Lucas' eyes…….."At least they left you your rig and team", Micah said in an attempt to comfort them. "It's outside of town but I will ride out there and poke around", he added. "Want to come along Lucas Boy". "Sure".
Mark stared out the school house window at the crisp clear cold Northfork day. It was early March, and for growing boys cabin fever was all too real. "Mark, Mark McCain" came the call from the teacher snapping him back from where ever it is a boy's wandering mind may take him. "Yes, ma'am'?, replied Mark. "Do you have your assignment, Mark"? She asked him as the others, snickered quietly at Mark's getting caught day dreaming.. "Oh, yes ma'am" replied Mark passing his paper up the row to the front of the class. Exiting the school house with his pals Mark was stopped by of all things a girl. Annie Wilkins was cute and a year younger than mark but she always stared googly eyed at him in class making him feel a little uncomfortable. "I made this for you Markie", she said handing him a four leaf clover made from green construction paper. "After getting caught by the teacher and still being ready to answer you sure do have the luck of the Irish in you". She tucked the small clover into Mark's coat pocket and ran to catch up with her own friends. "C'mon Markie, lets get going" said one of Mark's friends in a sweet syrupy voice that got hoots and laughs from his other pals and turned Mark's face just a bit red with embarrassment. Riding home with Mark to the fork in the path that separated their ways Billy turned to Mark asking, "watcha gonna do tomorrow Mark"? Mark replied, "probably ride out early and check my traps". Well good luck said Billy as he turned onto the correct tine in the fork that led to his home. Billy then shouted, "bye, bye, Markie" as he galloped his horse down the path laughing loudly. Looking back over his shoulder at the galloping Billy, Mark knew he hadn't heard the last of the "Markie" name yet and sighed as he rode towards home.
The best time for trapping is soon after ice out when animals are more active and less cautious but Mark always set a few traps in stretches near several eddy's in the river that resisted freezing near the shore due to the more active water. Mark figured these to be access points to the river that "critters" would always gravitate to. He was an industrious boy, a quality instilled early in him by his father. He used the extra money from the pelts he gathered for mostly useful items and even saved some in his very own bank account. Of course a certain amount went to satisfy his sweet tooth too!
At supper that night Mark told his dad of his plans for tomorrow. Lucas nodded in approval as he sipped his coffee, "just be careful son, and watch yourself" he said. "I will Paw" replied Mark. Mark then asked his father, "Paw, what's the luck of the Irish mean"? Lucas rolled his eyes and said, "son, with a name like "McCain" you'll probably hear that a lot but it's been my experience that a man makes his own luck through ingenuity and hard work". "Why do you ask"? "Oh, no special reason" replied Mark, not wanting to go into detail about being caught day dreaming in school and the four leaf clover and all.
Sun-up the next morning and Mark was already in the barn preparing his horse for the day's ride. Mark figured to stable his horse at an abandoned barn near the lower river and then walk upstream through the flatlands and meadows before cutting across to the narrow deer path in the thick wooded area that lined the bank of the river. Mark liked the idea of doing the long walking early in the day and gradually working his way back downstream toward his horse. It looked to be another clear cold day in store but Mark was dressed for it. He even had his "special" trapper shoes on. An old timer in town made the trapper shoes for Mark in exchange for Mark doing some odd chores around his house. The old man explained that they were better suited to the paths and easier on the feet given the terrain, than Mark's cowboy style boots. The trapper boots were made from beaver pelts with a doubled hide flat sole and drawstrings at the tops to keep deep snow out. All the sewn seams were treated with bear grease to keep out water and moisture. With two pair of woolen socks Marks feet stayed toasty warm even though it was around 25 degrees out.
Mark approached the abandoned the barn and dismounted, walking his horse into the sheltered barn he tied him into a stall. Closing the door securely Mark set out with an old canvas seed bag over his shoulder for the pelts he hoped would be waiting for him. Mark made his way along through the meadows to the deer path leading down to the river. Traversing the deer path he neared the river. Finding an opening in the wooded bank Mark looked at the still solidly frozen river, the filtered sun mutedly reflecting off of it. One thing that struck Mark rather oddly was the absence of, well, noise. There we no birds twittering, no branches alive with the sounds of wildlife sheltered within it's boughs. Mark made his way back on to the deer path and headed down river to his first trap location. Nearing a bend in the river mark noticed a smaller broken branch with a medium sized river rock directly below it. This was his "marker", he placed it indicating that one of his traps was at waters edge at this location. Many trappers use cloth or rope to mark locations but Mark preferred his own "branch and rock" marker because it looks natural so no one else knows you have a trap and possibly a pelt there. (not all trappers and woodsmen are honest) Mark made his way to the trap and sure enough, it had a very dead raccoon in it. Mark gutted the coon, rinsed the pelt in the small open portion of the river near shore and tucked the pelt into his bag. He then reset the trap and placed a few pieces of the "innards" around it to attract another unsuspecting critter.
Making his way back to path Mark was anticipating what lay ahead at his next marker and trap all the while figuring how the money from this pelt would be used. It's amazing how a successful trapping can make the weather seem warmer than it really is! Mark made his way along the path still taking notice of the almost eerie quiet, his eyes scanning for predators. Rounding a small bend in the path Mark's ears perked up as he thought he heard of all things, a little music cutting through the cold still air. Slowing his walk and hunching over just a bit he spied two men sitting near a small fire laughing and holding a small music box. Liquor bottles littered the ground and a few empty tins of beans dotted the area around the fire. Mark crept just a little closer and rose half erect behind a large tree to get a better look. After craning his neck to get a better look around the tree trunk Mark intuitively decided that these men wouldn't be out there unless they had something to hide from. Mark slowly backed up and taking care not to snap any twigs or otherwise give himself away he started to turn to make a quick, quiet exit. It was at that point that a large hand that smelled of smoke, alcohol and gunpowder covered mark's mouth and wrenched his arm behind his back. Pushing Mark through the underbrush toward the other men and the fire the man announced, "Hey, lookie what I caught"! "Bring him over here", the obvious leader of the three said. "What are you doing out here boy", he hissed at Mark. "Na-na-nothing, replied Mark, "just checking my traps". "Yeah, well shut your trap, and sit over there until I figure out what to do with you". They were a typical threesome of highwaymen, made up of the brains or leader, the second banana, the one who always thinks he knows more than the leader but lacks the guts to challenge him. And the oafish big guy who does the bidding of the other two out of plain simple hero worship, or maybe just stupidity.
As the men sat around the fire Mark watched as they rifled through some old burlap bags pulling such things as clothing, books, food tins, ammo, and such out of them, pausing occasionally to drink more whiskey and argue over the contents of the bags. The second banana pulled a bible out and then snickering, "God fearing people" he shoved it back down into the bag. He then pulled pair of ice skates from one of the bags. Winking at the leader he said to the big man that captured Mark, "I've got a 5 dollar gold piece that says you can't stand up for 1 minute on these". Smirking at the big man he dangled the skates in front of his face to emphasize the challenge. Without thinking the big man said "you're on" and setting down his bottle he strapped the blades onto his boots. At waters edge with the other two men and Mark looking on he stepped onto the frozen river. Swoosh! He immediately fell flat on the seat of his ample pants. Attempting to rise up he again went down and twice more after that. The defeated man crawled to the bank and made his way back to the fire, the other two men laughing hysterically. Mark, suddenly noticed the big man looking at him, tried to quell the smile on own his face. "You laughin' at me boy" ? The big man said finally realizing he now had someone around that HE could pick on. Mark said "no sir" it's just that you weren't doing it right, that's all". Taking another swallow from his bottle the big man said, "suppose you show me then" and tossed the blades at Mark's feet. "Ain't you embarrassed enough without a kid showing you up too" said the leader. "Put em' on boy" the big man said. Mark picked up the skates and strapped them to his boots. Mark approached the waters edge and glided gently onto the ice as the drunken trio looked on. Mark made a few small circles on the ice and widened them out just a bit, no stranger to skating he then passed back and forth a few times then looking to the bank as the other two pointed and laughed at the big man Mark suddenly sprinted downstream. The men on shore scrambled, realizing they had been outsmarted, they tried to give chase but the cover was so thick and the whiskey so effective they couldn't come close to following the sprinting Mark. Before long Mark was well out of sight and still skating fast downriver toward his stabled horse. Panting for breath, Mark exited the ice and quickly unstrapped the skates and trotted to the barn. No worse for wear the horse stood calmly his head dipped and scrounging for bits of hay on the barn floor. Mark came out of the barn and mounted his horse and hurried home.
As the ranch came into sight Mark breathed a sigh of relief and tended his horse before going inside. "How'd the traps do son". Asked Lucas reading from the Bible. Mark proceeded to tell his tale to his dad. Putting it all together Lucas figured those were the three he and Micah had went out looking for. The next day Lucas rose early and rousing Micah out of bed told him of Mark's ordeal and the two set out to the area where Mark had encountered the men. The trail savvy and wisdom of Lucas and Micah were too much for the highwaymen and shortly the men were in town locked up and being identified by the family as they checked on their stolen property. "It's mostly here", said the husband, "except for a few cans of beans it's all here". 'Look darling", he said to his wife, "even the bank draft for our new home is still under the jacket of our Bible", "why even your mother's picture and the shamrock she gave you when we left Ireland are still in your locket!
The family thanked Micah and Lucas, then turning toward her husband she kissed the Bible and said "St. Patrick and the luck of the Irish is surely smiling on us this day. "Luck of the Irish"? started Mark. Lucas interrupted Mark "Son, this is Jerry and Meagan O' Hara and their son William. "C'mon outside with me William" said Mark. Coming back into the office William exclaimed, Dad, Mark even had my skates! Then turning to Mark he said, please, you keep them, I don't think I'll have much use for them in California".
As the family pulled away Lucas asked Mark if he would like to have dinner in town and without waiting for the obvious answer he then asked Micah to join them. Micah said, "I'll meet you over there Luke boy, I've got a few things to finish up here". Passing by the general store on the way to the hotel a voice suddenly spoke, "hello Markie", said Annie, who was with her mother buying sewing notions inside. "Uhhh, hi Annie" stuttered Mark not stopping to talk. "friend of yours" asked Lucas? Awww Paw, she's in school with me, that's how I know her". "Oh okay" said Lucas, "Then let's just go get that dinner"..."Markie" "Awwww geez, Paw, you too?" said Mark, all the while wondering if the Annie's paper four leaf clover in his pocket played a part in his successful escape from the highwaymen!