It was one of those lazy Sunday mornings. There was no circuit riding preacher in town this week, so Pa and I just spent the morning resting. That was important to Pa. He told me something once that I would never forget. He said, “Son, six days a week we labor, and a rancher must labor seven. But the least we can do is give God Sunday mornings to give him the respect that he deserves.” So no matter if there was church or not, Pa made sure we spent some time on Sunday mornings reflecting on God’s words and resting.
This morning, I was lying out in the grass looking up at the sky. There were lots of clouds up there that were formed in different shapes. My mother told me once that God designed the clouds, and there were never two clouds that looked exactly alike. I always thought of her when I saw them, because that’s one thing my ma and I used to do when I was little – imagine what the clouds were. I smiled now as I looked up at the clouds.
Pa came out and lay down beside me. I pointed at a cloud. “What do you think, Pa?” I asked.
“Well, that’s just the most perfect bull I’ve ever seen!” He declared.
I turned my head and stared at him. “A bull?” I asked. “Pa, that looks nothing like a bull! It’s obvious that that is pirate.”
“Oh?” Pa teased me. “And how would you know what a pirate looks like?”
“Well,” I laid my head on Pa’s chest as I turned to look in another direction. “Okay, now there’s a bull!”
Pa chuckled lightly. “Oh, no no, son. That’s definitely an elephant!”
Suddenly I sat up in the grass. “Oh Pa, have you ever seen an elephant?”
Pa nodded. “Yes I have, son. In a circus a long time ago.”
I thought on Sunday now as I sat in this dingy old school room. I smiled as I stared out the window. Boy, I wish I could go home and do that with my Pa this afternoon. But you’d never catch Pa laying around on any other day like that – not unless he was deathly sick! “Mark McCain,” Miss Adams suddenly called.
I whipped my head from the window. “Yes ma’am?” I asked.
“What is the main idea of this story?”
“What story?” All the kids laughed. I didn’t realize I was daydreaming that long!
She started to say something, but then looked at her locket watch. “Well never mind Mr. McCain. It’s time for lunch.”
I ate quickly. I wanted to get a ball game started as soon as possible! But then as I ate I noticed several boys taking off for town. Of course you know me, always curious! I jumped on Blue Boy and took off for town. When I got there, Dollar Ten ran up to me and told me there were a couple men tossing coins in the water to catch. If we caught them, we could keep them.
I wouldn’t object to getting a nickel! It would make for a nice bag of candy to eat on my way home from school. I sure caught one alright too! The two nice men came up, wanting to know me better and I answered all their questions. I kind of hoped they were planning on settling in North Fork – they sure were nice!
Then I had to return to school. Miss Adams told me I had to read the story that night and write a page report on what it was about, since I didn’t care to listen to it in class. I was always getting myself into fixes like that!
As soon as school was out, I hurried by the General Store before I went home. I was anxious to buy my candy. I quickly tied my horse to the post outside and hurried into the General Store. Pa was at the counter talking to Miss Hattie. “Pa,” I suddenly stopped dead in my tracks.
Pa walked over to me. “Mark, what are you doing in here today?”
“Well, I-“ I started backing up toward the door. “I thought I’d get me some candy…for the ride home…”
“I thought you said you spent your last penny yesterday. I remember you asking me for a penny for some candy this morning.”
“Yeah. Well,” I pulled out my nickel. “I have a whole nickel now,” I smiled.
“Well now,” Pa came over and took the nickel from me. “Where’d you get it?”
“There’s been lots of boys in here today buying candy with nickels, Luke.” Hattie suddenly said. “It is kind of odd for so many boys to suddenly be able to buy a nickel’s worth of candy in one day.”
Pa turned back to me. “Well, I’ll ask you again, son. Where did you get the nickel?” I hung my head. “Did someone give it to you?” I nodded. “Who?”
I shrugged my shoulder and dared to look up at Pa. He had a mean look on his face. He took me by the arm and led me out of the store. Then he stood directly in front of me and held the nickel in front of my eyes. “Well did you get this, boy?”
“I…I don’t know his name, Pa,” I admitted. “There were two of them.”
“Are you telling me you took money from a complete stranger you’d never met before?” Pa was mad, I could tell. I knew how he felt about me taking another person’s money. He always told me that every penny I have should be earned.
“Well, they were tossing nickels in that water trough down there,” I tried to explain. “If you could catch it, you kept it.”
“And all the children were down there?” Pa asked me.
‘N-no sir. Just the boys,” I answered.
Pa wrinkled his brow as he thought. Then he pocketed my nickel. “Alright son. I’ll keep this coin for now.” I opened my mouth to protest, but he held up a hand. “Mark, two strangers don’t just come into town and start tossing coins to boys for no reason! I’d say they were up to no good.”
“What?” I asked.
Pa shook his head. “I don’t know, son. I hope there’s not any trouble over this.” Pa walked back into the store and grabbed the package from Hattie. “Let’s go home. And you can forget about any candy for awhile.” I reckon that was my punishment!
I figured that after a few days we’d be able to put that whole incident behind us. Pa lectured me on the way home about the importance of not taking money from strangers. I told him I’d heard it all before, but he said that obviously it needed repeating. So I grinned and bared it. It was about a week before I got anymore candy. And I even had to do some extra chores to work off that nickel that I never even saw again!
But then one day when I came home from school something happened that rocked my world. I no longer cared about working to earn something that was no longer mine. I didn’t even care about the candy I wasn’t getting. No, this problem was bigger then anything I had ever known! I came home from school one day to find some men at the ranch. I smiled at two of them, recognizing them as the one’s that threw the nickel to me before. But I soon realized knowing them was no pleasure.
I know my Pa told you all about that man…Mr. Wingate…and how he suddenly started saying I was his son and all. I must admit that it scared me something awful when he suddenly grabbed my arm and rolled my sleeve up. Nobody grabbed my like that – except my Pa! I was suddenly very uncomfortable. Pa tried to stop him from saying anything about my being his son, but he suddenly turned to me and yelled at me that I was his son.
That scared me something awful and I moved away from him, suddenly needing to feel my father’s protection. Pa put his arm around me and stood there, yelling at these men to leave. I was getting more scared by the minute. I was confused. How could I be his son? I’ve remembered my Pa ever since I could remember!
Suddenly, this man passed out cold on the ground. Pa and I ran over to him. I ran in for a cup of water. When he woke up, he continued calling me Robert. Pa looked at me. I had an uneasy feeling in my heart.
Pa helped him inside and put him in the bed. I stood away watching. Pa took my arm and led me out into the living room while we waited for the doctor. I sat down at the table and looked down at my hands. This was my fault! I had brought those men here! If only I had-
Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Pa sat down next to me. “It’ll be alright, son.” He tired to smile, but I saw the concern in his eyes.
I shook my head. “No Pa, this is all my fault. It’s…all….my fault!” I suddenly felt hot tears burning in the back of my eyes.
Pa reached out and grabbed my shoulder. He looked into my eyes and saw my tears. I know he did, because I saw the way he was looking at me. “Mark, this is not-“ he started.
I shook my head. “Oh but it is! Remember last Monday when I took that nickel from strangers?” Pa nodded. I bowed my head and closed my eyes. “It was them,” I whispered.
“What?” Pa asked, not understanding. He lifted my head. “Mark, what are you talking about?”
“Those two men…the detectives…they…” I swallowed. “They’re the ones who were giving away the nickels.”
“Well, you know it was wrong to participate in that,” Pa said.
“I should have stayed at school.” I looked into Pa’s eyes and saw his silent agreement. Then I licked my lips. “There’s more, Pa.”
Pa continued looking into my eyes, waiting for me to tell him more. “Those men…They asked me questions.”
Pa’s expression changed. He jerked his head up higher and stared at me. “What kind of questions?”
“They asked me how old I was, about my Ma and Pa, stuff like that.” I saw the concern in Pa’s eyes. “I…I’m awful sorry, Pa!”
The doctor was there. I stood and waited while the doc examined him. I could feel the tension in my Pa’s hands as he kept them securely on my shoulders. My shoulders were stiff from tension. I wanted to take that day back so badly! I wanted to erase it from history – to be obedient of my father’s rules. But I was learning this one the hard way.
Pa grew angry that this man had to stay here. I didn’t much care for it either, but the doc insisted. After the doc left, Pa just stood there and stared at Mr. Wingate. I saw a look in his eyes. I saw a fear like I’d never seen before. I knew in my heart that I had caused that fear. Pa loved me, there was never any doubt about that even when he was punishing me. But I hated that his love for me put such fear of losing me in his eyes. He tried to hide it from me, but I saw it.
Pa asked me to go get started on peeling vegetables. I nodded. I was angry with myself for what I did. Mr. Wingate continued his staring at me from the chair he was now sitting in as I peeled the vegetables. Pa watched me as I worked as he worked at the stove. Finally, he grabbed my by the arm and led me outside. He stood me against the wall and put a hand on both sides of me. “I want you to listen to me and listen good, boy.” I swallowed. I saw the sternness in Pa’s eyes. “This is in no way your fault. Do you hear me?”
I nodded slightly. “Yes sir, but-“ I started. Pa held up a finger to silence me. But I couldn’t stay quiet. “Pa, if I had stayed at school they wouldn’t have ever known I existed. If I hadn’t participated in the game and obeyed you about the money, I-“
“Mark!” Pa suddenly said sharply. I stopped talking. Pa scooted his hands from the wall of the house and laid them gently on my shoulders. “Mark, it’s always easier to look behind us at what we should have done then ahead at what we’ll do next time. But I’m telling you right now that this is not your fault.”
I nodded, knowing it was making him feel worse knowing I was blaming myself. “Yes sir,” I said. Then we went inside and finished supper.
The entire time we ate, Mr. Wingate stared at me. He ate silently, but he kept looking at me, smiling. I wiggled in my seat uncomfortable. I wanted to get up, but after looking at my Pa I knew I couldn’t. Finally, Mr. Wingate was done eating and he complimented us on our supper. He started talking about his rough life. Pa looked over at me and I knew I was allowed to get up then. I took my plate to the sink. Mr. Wingate was telling Pa about how the accident happened where he lost his family. I came to stand beside Pa as I listened. He was still convinced I was Robert.
Some of his words made me very uncomfortable, and Pa knew that. He tried to stop the conversation, but it never worked. The worse part, though, was that the entire time he talked, Mr. Wingate stared at me. I should have moved away, but I was frozen. I didn’t want to leave my Pa’s side. I needed to feel him close – to know that I wasn’t going to suddenly be snapped from him and taken far away.
But there was something else. I knew what this was doing to my Pa. I knew that he was filled with fear of loosing me. No matter how ridiculous this all sounded, the fear was still there and very real. I was afraid for him – afraid of what he might do if this man persisted. That’s another reason I wanted to stay close.
And yes, I was becoming more fearful as well. I didn’t understand. His words were confusing me – mixing everything up in my head. I no longer could understand what was right. My head was cluttered…confused…tired…scared. All these emotions were mixed up together and I wanted to run away and hide somewhere, but I couldn’t – not without taking my Pa with me.
But then something terrible happened. Pa wanted to prove once and for all that I was his son. He reached in a cabinet for our family Bible. We no longer used it. The day he wrote Ma’s death date in there, He patted the outside of it and put it away. We had looked at each other that day. Pa had tears on his cheeks and I was so numb from the events that I couldn’t even think. Pa patted the Bible and put it away stating it would be mine someday, but he couldn’t bear to look at it. Ma had read from it every night of their married life, and it was time to put it away.
But tonight, he got it back out. He opened it to that page where those precious dates were written. He allowed our personal, sacred, private moments as a family to be seen by this stranger. Pa allowed this stranger to look at my Mother’s beautiful handwriting, and my Pa’s last entry. The ink had smeared from where his teardrop fell while he wrote it. And now, this stranger who wanted to steal from Pa the one thing he couldn’t bare to give away didn’t eve respect it.
It broke my heart! How could a man make such accusations as to say that Pa just wrote it in? Didn’t he see the sacredness…the specialness of the Bible? Couldn’t he tell how hard it was for my Pa to even show that to him? I looked at Pa and saw the pure anger that crossed his face. He started forward and I rushed toward him. “Pa!” I cried as the anger burned in his eyes. I held my hands against him, using my strength to stop him from giving in to his anger. Then I looked into his eyes. “Pa!”
He looked down at me and stopped. I saw the anger slowly leave his eyes as he realized what he was about to do. I relaxed my grasp on him a bit. He told me to go on to bed, but I didn’t want to leave him. I was scared. I was afraid his anger would return and he’d so something he’d regret. I was afraid that sometime in the night I’d be taken by force and Pa wouldn’t be there to protect me. I was afraid. But Pa insisted it would be okay. I hesitated by the door one last time. Then I knew I had to get away.
I closed the door and began unbuttoning my shirt, but my hands would hardly work, they were so shaky. So I laid on my bed and turned my head against the wall as I thought. I thought about that day when Pa and I were laying outside together looking up at the clouds. I closed my eyes, longing for that day to return! I thought about the anger I had seen in my father’s eyes only moments before – never had I seen such a piercing, fierce anger inside those blue eyes.
Suddenly the door opened. I continued staring at the wall, but then I heard Pa down beside my ear. “Mark?” He said it softly. I heard the hopefulness in his voice.
I turned over and looked at him. Everything was so confusing. I had heard most of the conversation in a fog. It was more like a dream that reality. I didn’t know what was real anymore, except for one thing – this man in front of me was the best man I ever knew and I loved him with all my heart. But I still had to ask – to make sure it was real. “I’m not his son, am I?”
He didn’t even hesitate. His voice was sincere…real…and filled with hope and love. “No, your not his son. You’re a part of your mother and me.” That right there made me happy. Some of the fear left me, knowing that that was real!
“I feel sorry for him, but why did he have to pick me for a son?” I asked then. I wanted to understand him. I didn’t want to hate him for what he was doing to us. But Pa couldn’t give me an answer. I didn’t figure he could.
“I think he’s a little sick in the head!” I said it more out of frustration then sincerity. I think Pa knew that.
“No, he’s a little sick in the heart,” Pa stated. “Like I’d be if I lost you and spent years trying to find you. That can be a powerful grief.”
I looked into his eyes. I saw the fear there. I also saw that he was trying to cover it up. The weight on his shoulders was heavy, and causing him more worry would only add to that weight. I would be strong for him. I wouldn’t let him know I could see his fear. I wanted him to know that I would always be here for him.
He stood and started for the door. But I stopped him. “Pa,” Pa turned to look at me. I had to say this. I had to let him know just how I felt. “I love ya.”
Again, there was no hesitation. But I saw his eyes relax. I saw something come over his face and suddenly realized that I had said something he had needed to hear so badly in that moment. “I know you do,” he answered with a smile.
I smiled as I watched him leave. But he stood in the doorway for a moment. When he came back in, his expression was hard, and that fear had returned. “What’s wrong?” I suddenly asked.
Pa sat on his bed and started taking his boots off. “Nothing,” he answered. He stared at the closed door. “Get ready for bed.” I did. Everything was silent for a few moments. Pa grabbed his Bible and began reading while I laid in bed waiting for sleep to come. Suddenly, I heard his voice again. It was low. “Mark?” I turned toward him. “Son, if you…have to get up in the middle of the night wake me, okay?”
“Why?” I suddenly asked.
Pa sighed. “Son, I…I don’t know this man or the others. I don’t want you away from me for a second. So just…wake me. Okay?”
I turned over and went to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, Pa was sitting in a chair looking at me. I sat up. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Pa answered. “Nothing.” He handed me my clothes and I began dressing. “Mark, I don’t want you to go to school today. I want you to stay in town with me.”
“Pa,” I started. But I again saw that deep fear in his eyes. “Yes sir.”
Pa stood and started for the door. “And son, I want you to stay inside Hattie’s store while I’m in town. Don’t leave until I come for you. Stay close to Hattie.”
Never had I seen him so full of fear. He couldn’t hide it and he knew it. As we walked out into the living room, we saw Mr. Wingate there. Pa hurried to the kitchen to start breakfast. I sat down at the table and Mr. Wingate sat down beside me. Pa turned and saw him lay his hand on my back. I flinched at his touch. “Mark,” Pa suddenly called. “Come give me a hand.”
I did so. When we sat down for breakfast, I sat beside Pa – well away from Mr. Wingate. I couldn’t stand to think of him touching me again. I would be happy to see him go home.
Pa didn’t say two words to Mr. Wingate. He held a very stern expression on his face the whole morning. Then when we got into town, Mr. Wingate tried to thank Pa, but Pa only stared at him, never blinking. He just held that firm look on his face. Then he held out a silver dollar to me. He wanted me to have it. I didn’t much care for this man, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to take that dollar. I turned toward Pa and saw that stern expression on his face. I knew his answer and what he expected me to do. I turned and told him no.
But he was insistent, wanting me to have the dollar. He told me it would mean a lot to him. Again I was tempted. I turned to look at Pa, but he never wavered. Nothing would make me change his mind. It was hard for me, but again I turned him down. Then I hurried away. I couldn’t stand to watch the expression of either man anymore.
Pa had given me a nickel for candy. I think he was feeling sorry for me and wanted to spoil me just a bit. But as I stared at the candy, I just couldn’t stand the thought…I looked down at the nickel in my hand. I still believe that is what got us into this mess. I couldn’t use this nickel…not now…I walked away from the candy and watched out the window.
It was a long time. Miss Hattie gave me hot bread and butter and tried to reassure me, but I was nervous. What would happen today? Who would walk in that door for me? I suddenly needed to see my Pa.
I stepped out onto the porch and saw commotion going on down the road. It was the two detectives. Pa walked out of the hotel and suddenly stepped out onto the street with his rifle. He was calling out one of the detectives, Lon Perry. I stared, waiting to see what would happen. Something did. Mr. Perry went to shoot Pa, but Pa shot faster. He fell to the ground.
Pa was angry as he grabbed that other detective by the front and dragged him over to Mr. Wingate. He made him confess that he knew I wasn’t Mr. Wingate’s son. After it was over, I walked up to Pa. I just wanted to go home!
But then Mr. Wingate had a change of heart. He was sorry and I could see it in his eyes. He asked me to forgive him. Was this a trick? Was he being sincere? I turned to Pa. He smiled, nodded and winked. I smiled as I turned back to Mr. Wingate. I forgave him.
We watched him walk back inside. I knew he needed to be alone. To have time to reflect. I just stood there and stared at the closed door. I still had regret in my heart for the part I had played in this. I turned and watch men carry Mr. Perry down the street. I shook my head. I could have prevented that too. I knew that.
Pa put his hands on my shoulder and breathed deeply. “We’ll make sure he gets a proper burial,” he stated. I only nodded but said nothing. Suddenly, I felt Pa’s hands tense up on my shoulders. “What are you thinking Mark?”
I shook my head. But his voice was stern. I could tell it even from behind me. “You’re upset about something. I can tell. What is it?” Pa suddenly put his arm around my shoulders and we started for the café. We sat down at a table and Pa ordered our food. He looked at me. “Well?”
I looked down at the table. “Pa, I know you said it’s not my fault, but if I had obeyed you, I-“
Pa sighed as he looked down at the table to. Then he looked up. “Alright Mark, there is a chance none of this would have happened if you had been obedient. But first of all, you are a 12 year old boy, and you only did what comes natural. Second of all, they may have found you some other way. And third, if it hadn’t been you, it may have been some other boy in some other town. And that one may not have turned out the same. It all worked out. Son, when we make a mistake – a bad mistake like you feel you did – the best thing to do is put it behind you and tell yourself you won’t make the same mistake again.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I guess making mistakes is the way we learn,” I said. “Course, can’t we learn the easy way – just by not making them in the first place? You know, like just learning that I shouldn’t take money from strangers instead of trying to go about it the hard way by figuring out why I shouldn’t do it?”
“Well sure,” Pa answered as our food came. “But uh…I haven’t met a boy yet who chose to take the easy way!”
After we left the café, I suddenly had a hankering for candy. I asked Pa if I could have some. “I thought you just had some!”
“Well, I…I couldn’t.” Pa just stared at me. “Well, I mean when I was there while ago, I was feeling so guilty about the whole thing that I saw the nickel as…well…sort of as blood money.”
Pa shook his head at me and waved me on. When I got to the wagon Mr. Wingate was there. He and Pa were chatting happily. I smiled. It was good to see them getting along. Pa even had a relaxed smile on his face. “Mark, Mr. Wingate’s coming for supper tonight.”
I nodded. Then I saw Dollar Ten across the street. I looked at Mr. Wingate. Suddenly an idea began forming in my mind. I smiled at Pa. Mr. Wingate again climbed up in the wagon. I nodded at Pa and motioned for him to move away so I could talk to him. “Could I invite Dollar Ten over tonight?” I asked.
Pa saw that look in my eye. He always saw that look in my eye! He knew I was up to something. He cocked his head to one side. “Well, out with it,” he ordered.
“Well, I…I just thought that I’d-“ Pa continued looking at me with those raised eyebrows. I suddenly sighed deeply. “Look Pa, Mr. Wingate is lonely and needs a son really bad. Dollar Ten is homeless and you are always talking about how much it bothers you for him to be all on his own with no one to raise him up proper.”
“Mmmm Hmmm,” Pa said. He continued looking at me, but I saw a grin on his face.
“So, well…I…I just thought that maybe-“ Suddenly I stopped. I rolled my eyes. “Oh Pa, you know what I mean! I thought I’d get Dollar Ten to take a bath and put on a suit – get all dressed up. Well, it could work…couldn’t it?”
Pa looked back toward Mr. Wingate who was patiently sitting on the wagon. He scratched his nose. There he goes again, trying to figure me out! He went over to the wagon, said something to Mr. Wingate, then helped him down from the wagon. “This better work! I just told him a fib,” Pa stated. “We don’t have long so we best hurry!”
We hurried over to the hotel and found Dollar Ten washing out chamber pots. “Isn’t there a limit to what you would do?” I asked.
Dollar Ten shrugged. “I’m making a living. And I get a room here at the hotel.”
“Listen son, we are having Mr. Wingate over for dinner tonight. We would really like for you to come.”
Dollar Ten smiled. “Why?”
Pa started to say something, but I beat him to it. “I think Mr. Wingate thinks a lot of you and would love to get to know you better.” I felt Pa’s eyes boring into me, but I didn’t dare look at him.
Dollar Ten smiled again. “Sure.”
“Only, can you get cleaned up and um…put on a suit?” I asked.
I heard Pa suddenly clear his throat. Dollar Ten stared at me. “Well, he’s from St. Louis, you know. And-“
Pa suddenly nudged me. “Do you…have a suit, Dollar Ten?” He nodded. “I was given one a few months ago to wear to church.” Pa raised his eyebrow.
I was probably thinking the same thing. We’d never seen him wear it. “Well, it’s not too comfortable,” he stated.
“Well, could you wear it for us tonight? Just to please us?” Pa asked.
Dollar Ten nodded. “I’ll be there!” We told him 6:00 sharp, then we rode out the door.
Pa shook his head at me as we walked back across the street to the wagon. “Mark, I oughta whip you good. It’s scary to see how…sneaky you can be!”
“Well, we best get home! Got a big meal to fix!” I said as I ran and jumped into the back of the wagon before Pa took me up on his suggestion.
It was a lovely supper! My plan worked like a charm, as you know. Pa and I smiled at each other as Mr. Wingate and Dollar Ten agreed to try out living together. Mr. Wingate said they would leave on the stage in the morning. That meant I had to say goodbye to them tonight. I waved at Dollar Ten as he climbed on his horse. He promised to write me and let me know how things were going. I watched him leave, happy he had finally found someone to love him.
Then we stood at the wagon as Pa prepared to take him back in. I shook Mr. Wingate’s hand and told him to have a safe trip. “Oh, I almost forgot.” He took another silver dollar from his pocket. “Listen, this isn’t for what you did or didn’t do. And it’s not because I think you are poor. I want you to have this as a gift from me to you.”
I started to shake my head, but Pa put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Thank you, Mr. Wingate. I’m sure Mark will make sure he puts it to good use.”
I looked at my Pa. His face held pure joy. I took the dollar and thanked him. Suddenly, his face was filled with joy. We had done the right thing. “I’ll put it in the bank,” I promised. “First thing tomorrow. Thank you, sir.”
“No,” Mr. Wingate smiled. “Thank you for giving me my life back.” With that, he climbed up on the wagon. I watched Pa ride away.
“Your welcome,” I whispered.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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around The McCain Ranch