I’d rather name this episode “The Case of the Missing Cows” myself, but again I was out voted by my Pa.
Now, I know my Pa told you about how Mr. Black got hit by that run away wagon and he had to go looking for his wife. By the way – about that wife…Pa never ever told me Mr. Black was married, and I must say I was quite shocked when he told me. But I suddenly found myself taking on more responsibility, and I certainly didn’t have the time to ask Pa a petty little question like “When did he get married?” Besides, I figured that was another one of those none-of-your-business questions, so I didn’t bother asking cause I didn’t much appreciate that answer!
Now, after Pa gave me my marching orders, I started thinking on who I could get to help. The Toomey’s house was on our way back to the ranch, so I told Pa I would catch up with him – I was going to just stop by. “What for?” Pa had asked me suspiciously.
“Well, I want to ask Freddie to help me with the cattle round up,” I answered.
“I said older boys, Mark!” Pa declared.
I held up a finger in the air. “No Pa, you just said one of the boys.”
“Well, I meant older,” Pa answered as we continued down the road.
I stopped, causing Pa to stop too. “What’s wrong with Freddie?”
“Well,” Pa scratched under his nose. “You two seem to get yourselves in trouble when you are together. You are both good boys…apart, but together…”
“Pa! Freddie’s my best friend – you know that. I promise you, Pa, that we’ll be good. We won’t be any trouble!”
Pa turned and looked back to the Toomey house. “Well…” I sat there quietly on my horse in a begging stance. I was really giving him a cute, innocent smile. Hey, it couldn’t hurt any! Pa finally sighed. “Okay.” I practically leapt off my horse with excitement. “But,” Pa started.
Uh oh…When Pa said the word “but” like that, it usually meant something I would like. He pointed a finger right at me. “I’m going to ask Billy Lehigh to look after you two while you’re driving. He’ll be the boss.”
“Oh Pa!” I groaned. But when Pa raised his eyebrow at me, I quickly nodded and agreed to his terms.
I hurried back to tell Freddie the good news. He said he would be over after lunch. When I got home, Pa started spitting out instructions as he gathered his stuff up. He had informed me I was to stay with Millie before we even left town. I figured I was able to stay by myself, but then he put his hand on my back and said, “Your old enough and smart enough to know I don’t want to worry about you. I won’t if you stay with Millie.” It wasn’t just his voice, but it was the way he held his hand on my shoulder that made me understand that he would tolerate no backtalk on the matter.
I watched Pa ride away. It wasn’t long after that when Freddie came over. “Pa’s stopping by to talk to Billy Lehigh. He thinks Billy needs to keep an eye on us.”
“Isn’t he Jackford’s cowhand?” Freddie asked.
“Not anymore. When he got married, his father in law gave him a sizable herd to start his own ranch. I must say that Jackford didn’t have a problem with him getting married until he found out Billy was leaving.”
Freddie patted his horse. “Well, we don’t need Billy anyhow, Mark! My pony’s the best cow pony this side of Texas!”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “How many round ups have you been on anyhow?” I asked.
“I’ve helped my Pa round up many a time, Mark McCain!” Freddie kicked the sides of his horse. “Let’s go!”
We traveled over to Mr. Black’s Ranch and worked at rounding up his herd. The job was harder then we figured, but we finally got most of them in. There were a few younger cows that refused to follow the herd. Freddie and I worked several hours rounding those up. By the time we were done, it was getting close to sundown. “Um…I have to get into town before sundown or Miss Millie and Micah will skin me alive!” I stated.
Freddie had the last calf roped. He said he could get him in the fence and then would make sure the animals at the ranch were properly fed and watered. I nodded then turned and raced to North Fork. By the time I got there, it was dark. I hurried my horse to the livery stable and started up the street. “Mark!” I heard.
I turned to see Micah walking up to me. He crossed his arms as he stood in front of me. Every time an adult crosses his arms and gives me a look like that, I knew the words weren’t going to be friendly ones. “You were supposed to be back by sundown.”
“Yes sir,” I answered as I started to walk up the street. Micah grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Well, we just got the last calf in and I came straight here! Honest, Micah!”
Micah studied me. “Alright.” He gave me a hard smack on the backside. “Get to the hotel and eat, then Millie wants you home.”
I hurried and did as told. Tomorrow was Sunday, but I announced to Miss Millie that I had too much work waiting at the ranch. “You will go to church tomorrow, Mark.”
“Well, I…” Suddenly, I remembered that I didn’t bring any clean clothes with me. “Well, I left my Sunday clothes at home. I didn’t have any time to pack a bag.”
“You mean those?” Millie pointed to where my Sunday clothes were hanging. I nodded. “Your father figured you wouldn’t take time to pack, so he dropped off your clothes before heading out of town.”
“Oh,” I answered. “I’ll have to…thank him when he gets back.” I sighed. “I suppose he remembered my school books too?”
Millie nodded. “I suppose he did. And he also remembered to tell me you have a test Monday morning, so after church you may go out to the ranch and check on the herd, but then you have to come back and study for that history test.”
I sighed. “Yes ‘em.”
The next day, I scratched through church. Millie raised an eyebrow at me every time I squirmed in my seat. Micah nudged me a few times. I wasn’t about to tell them that I had a minor case of poison ivy.
After church I hurried home to change. I told Millie I’d eat a sandwich at the ranch, and she hesitated, but finally nodded her approval with that. Freddie joined me later after he was finished eating.
But as we went out onto the range, we made a sickening discovery. Five of Pa’s prized cattle were gone! Freddie and I split up and looked over every square inch, but they were no where! I suddenly noticed an open gate and ran over to it. There were hoof prints all around. Freddie rode up to me and I turned. “You left the gate open!” I declared angrily.
“No I didn’t Mark! I closed it!” Freddie insisted.
“You didn’t!” I declared. “Look, it’s open.”
Freddie jumped off his horse and came to stand in front of me. “Don’t you be accusing me, Mark McCain! I closed that gate after putting the calf in! I swear!”
I threw my hand in the direction of the gate. “Well, it’s not closed now, is it?”
Freddie gave me a hard shove. “I’m telling you, Mark McCain, that I closed it!”
Suddenly, Billy was there. He crossed his arms and stood in front of us. “Alright, boys, what’s going on here?”
Freddie and I turned and looked at Billy. “Uh…nothing Billy,” I answered. “We’re just checking on the cattle.”
“What’s the gate doing open?” Billy closed it and secured it. “Did you get all the cattle in last night like your father asked, Mark?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. I stood there hoping Freddie wouldn’t say anything about the missing cattle.
Billy nodded. “Great. Well, are all the cows okay?”
“What cows?” Freddie suddenly asked.
“The cattle – McCain’s and Black’s – Are they all okay? That is…uh…what you came out here for, isn’t it?”
“Oh yeah,” Freddie answered. “The cattle’s fine.” He nudged me. “Aren’t they, Mark?”
“Oh!” I finally found my voice. “Yep, all these cattle are fine.”
Billy looked from me to Freddie and back to me. He nodded his head slowly. “Okay. Just don’t leave the gate open when you leave. The cattle would go out and that’s open range. Your father doesn’t want them out on the range. You hear?”
“Ye-yes sir,” I answered with a firm nod of my head.
Billy got on his horse and rode off. We breathed a sigh of relief. “We’ve got to find those missing cattle!” I stated suddenly. “They have to be out there somewhere.”
Freddie got back on his horse. “Okay, but I didn’t open the gate!”
“Yeah,” I mumbled as I mounted my own horse. “I’ll be sure to tell Pa that when he’s whipping me for loosing five head of prime beef!”
We went out the gate and securely fastened it shut this time. “Where do we start?” Freddie asked.
“Well,” I started as we rode across the range. I’m following the path they seemed to have left.” I pointed down to the grass where cattle had recently been.
But the trail soon ended at another gate. Freddie and I looked at each other. “Mark, that’s Old Man Sampson’s place!” He pointed to the grass. “Looks like some cattle went right in there.”
“Yeah.” I swallowed as I got down from my horse and walked up to the gate. “I bet he rustled them.”
“Mark, Old Man Sampson’s a mean old man, I’ve heard, but he wouldn’t rustle your Pa’s cattle!” Freddie dismounted his own horse and stood in front of the gate looking in.
“Well, why are his cattle inside his fence?” I asked as I started lifting the latch from the gate.
Freddie gasped and grabbed my arm. “You can’t go in there!”
“I have to!” I declared. “My cattle’s in there!”
“We should tell Micah,” Freddie warned.
But I shook my head. “Pa left me in charge of the cattle, Freddie. If he comes back and finds out I let five of his best get rustled, he really won’t leave me in charge!”
“He didn’t leave you in charge. Billy-“ Freddie started.
“Look, Freddie, all we have to do is go into the fence, find the cows, and lead them out. That ol’ man’s probably in his house right now. We need to hurry though because Micah and Millie will skin me if I’m not back to town soon.”
Freddie followed me in. “We don’t even have any weapons!” Freddie declared.
“Sh,” I put a finger to my lips as we slowly began walking across the pastor. We saw some cattle ahead. As quietly as possible, Freddie and I made our way toward them. I hurried up to one and looked – these are ours alright!”
We hid behind the cows as we tried to figure out how to get them out of there without getting shot. The sun was starting to go down so I knew I had to hurry. “We’re not that far from the gate, Freddie. “I’d say you go hold the gate open and I’ll chase them out as fast as possible. Then we’ll have to run like the devil.”
Suddenly, a shot rang out. “Who’s out there?” A gruff voice called.
Freddie and I dove behind a tree as we pressed a hand over our mouths. The cows ran, being scared by the shot. Luckily though, they ran through the gate. “I said who’s out there?” the old man called again.
Freddie and I stared at each other. “What do we do?” I asked.
“We’re going to have let him know we’re here,” Freddie decided.
“Oh boy, oh boy! Now we’ve really gotten ourselves into some trouble!” I stood up and held my hands up. We both started forward. “It’s Mark McCain!” I called.
“McCain?” The Gruff voice grew louder as he came towards us. He held the shotgun on us.
Freddie walked out of the darkness to stand beside me. “And Freddie Toomey.”
Old Man Sampson walked toward us. His shotgun was still pointing at us. He narrowed his eyes as the sunset shone red on him. “What are you doing here?” I stared at his shotgun. “I said what are you doing here?” he yelled.
“Uh…” I swallowed. “Well, we…we came for our cows!”
“What cows?” he asked as he cocked his head to the side.
I pointed to them. “Well, those cows.”
“What are they doing here? How’d they get into my fence?” Old Man Sampson asked.
“Well…I…I figure you know how,” I answered bravely.
“Alright old man, put the gun down!” We heard the cock of a six shooter. I turned to see Billy Lehigh standing there.
Old Man Sampson slowly lowered his gun. “Just in case you’ve forgotten, this is my property and I have the right to-“ he started.
“Yes you have the right to shoot us,” Billy agreed. “But I’ve just come for the boys. Now, if you’ll just let me take them, we’ll be going.”
Ola Man Sampson nodded. “Alright, get out of here!” He yelled in a very loud and very scarey voice.
Billy roughly grabbed each of us by the arm and dragged us toward the gate. “Wati! The cattle!” I cried.
“We’ll get them later!” Billy declared. “Or should I say that I’ll get them later!”
“They’ve been rustled!” I declared. “Old Man Sampson-“
Billy grabbed onto my arm tighter and told me to hush. He ordered us back to the ranch house then sat us both down at the table as he lit a lantern. “Now boys, start explaining!”
Freddie and I looked at each other. “Well, I was missing five of my cattle and went looking for them. I found them on Old Man’s Sampson’s property and went to take them back!”
“Why didn’t you just go through the hole in the fence they went through?” Billy asked as he folded his arms and glared at us.
“Yes!” Billy nodded his head up and down rapidly. “There was a hole in Old Man Sampson’s fence right behind the cows. Or were you too busy playing detective to notice that?”
“Well, I-“ I hung my head. “I didn’t notice.”
Billy began pacing the floor again. He stopped and turned toward us. “Do you realize you both could have been shot?”
“Yes sir,” we both answered together.
“I figured you both had more sense then that.” Billy sighed and opened the door. “Alright, both of you mount up. We’re leaving.”
Freddie paused at the door. “You aren’t gonna tell our folks?”
“Absolutely!” Billy answered. “I cannot keep this from them.”
Billy escorted us down the road. We stopped in front of Freddie’s house and I waited at the edge of the yard while Billy went to talk to Mr. Toomey. I heard Mr. Toomey yell at Freddie and order him to his room. Mr. Toomey came out onto the porch and looked at me. Then he turned and went back inside, slamming the door.
We continued on toward North Fork. “I can get there on my own,” I stated.
“We’re going to stop by and see Micah,” Billy stated. “Micah will come help me get the cows back tomorrow.”
As we rode into town, Millie ran out into the street. “Mark, you were supposed to be back two hours ago!”
She followed us to Micah’s. Micah stood up from his desk and greeted Billy. “I believe Mark here has something to tell you.”
I told Micah everything that had happened. With each passing word, Micah’s disappointing frown grew deeper and deeper. After Billy left, Micah looked at Millie. “I’d…uh…like to have a few words alone with Mark.”
I turned to look at Millie. Her face held a disappointed frown too. I suddenly felt my eyes fill up with tears. My heart sank as I realized I had disappointed everyone. Millie nodded and started for the door. “Meet me at the hotel when you’re done here, Mark, so we can eat.”
I watched Millie walk out. I stared at the closed door. I wanted to be anywhere but here at the moment. “Mark?”
I turned and looked at Micah. He pointed to a chair. “Sit down.”
I slowly sat down as he continued standing in front of me. “I-I’m sorry, Micah.”
“That’s all you have to say?” Micah’s voice bellowed. “Mark, you have more sense then this. Why did you go onto his property? Why didn’t you tell someone…an adult…what was going on?” I couldn’t speak. Micah hardly ever yelled at me. His yelling scared me. “Well?”
I tried to swallow but it felt as if my throat was swollen shut. I gasped suddenly, closed my eyes, and felt hot tears trickle down my cheeks. “I just…just…wanted to show Pa that I was old enough to take care of the ranch on my own.” I bit my lip to stop it’s trembling. “I…I just wanted to show everyone that I was responsible.”
Micah crossed his arms behind his back and began pacing the floor. “Is it responsible to go onto someone’s property without a solid reason? Is it responsible to go in without a way to protect yourself? Billy said there was a hole in the fence where the cattle went through. Is that true? Well, is it boy?”
“Yes sir,” I answered softly. “I’m sorry.”
“Old Man Sampson’s not a cattle rustler, Mark! You should’ve know that! What do you think your father would have done in this case?”
“Well, the path ended at the gate. It looked like they went in through the gate. I guess I just assumed…” My voice drifted off. “I…I’m sorry.”
“Alright,” Micah answered. “You won’t be going to school tomorrow. You will go with me to Old Man Sampson and personally apologize to him for going onto his land. Then you will help him repair the fence. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir,” I answered looking down at the floor.
“Be here at 8am sharp.” I nodded. “You better get to the hotel.”
I walked towards the door, feeling very down and ashamed. I knew I had done so many things wrong today. “Mark!” Micah stopped me. He hurried over and put a hand on my shoulder. I slowly turned around and looked at him. “Just because I’m mad at you…that don’t mean I don’t love you.”
I nodded. “Yes sir. I know that.” I turned back to the door, but I suddenly turned back toward Micah. “Well, Pa said that if he didn’t love me, there’d be no reason to yell at me when I did something wrong.” Micah smiled at me and patted my shoulder.
I walked over to the hotel. Millie and I took a seat at the table and we ordered our food. She didn’t say a word to me about what I had done. While we waited for our food, I told her what I had to do the next day. She nodded, agreeing the punishment fit the crime. “Aren’t you gonna yell at me?”
She shook her head. “Mark, I think you know how I feel. I saw the hurt on your face when you looked at me earlier. I never wanted to be disappointed in you.” She suddenly reached out and brushed my cheek with her hand. “Neither does Micah or your father.”
“He will be,” I stated. We got our food. “By the way, how’s Mr. Black?” Millie told me they had moved Mr. Black to the billiards room so he’d be able to stretch out more comfortably. The doctor said he was just hanging on until his wife arrived.
“Is he gonna die?” I asked. Millie nodded.
Nothing more was said about my crime. But I knew the subject would come up again when my Pa got word of it.
The next day I went to Micah’s office and we slowly rode out to Old Man Sampson’s place with him beside me. My heart beat a mile a minute as Micah pounded on his front door. My eyes grew wide as the door squeaked open. Old Man Sampson looked down at me. A glare spread across his face. “What do you want, pipsqueak?”
I swallowed hard as he stared at me. No sound could escape my throat. Micah nudged me hard and I suddenly found my voice. “I’ve come to tell you how deeply sorry I am for trespassing last night,” I answered. The old man stared at me. Micah nudged me again. “Oh…an uh…I would like to fix the hole in the fence for you.”
The old man only stared at me as he rapped his cane on the floor. “Is that all?”
“Well, I’d also like permission to take my cows back.”
“That young wiper snapper done took ‘em,” Old Man Sampson answered. “He was here an hour ago. You kids now days just don’t have any manners attall! Why, in my day-“
“Uh,” Micah held up his hand. “When would you like Mark to fix your fence.”
The old man stared at me. “You have chores after school?” He bellowed.
“Ye-yes s-sir,” I answered.
“Well, I’ll expect you here next Saturday then.” He slammed the door shut then. I stared at the door.
“What about the supplies?” I asked.
“Well, I think it’s best that you take care of that.” As we rode back into town, Micah looked down at me. “I think things will go much better for you that way. And going the extra mile sometimes helps to mend more then just fences…if you know what I mean.”
I joined Millie and Micah at the hotel for lunch. But as I was leaving, I suddenly saw Pa riding back into town with Mrs. Black. I ran up to Pa, happy to see him. Pa bent over, grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me up behind him. I told Pa I had gotten lonely for him as we started riding down the road. After all I’d been through, it sure was nice to wrap my arms around his waist like I did as I rode double with him down the road.
Pa left me out in the lobby of the hotel while he and Mrs. Black went in to see her husband. When she came out, I knew Mr. Black had died. Pa told me she’d be sad for awhile.
Then something happened. She began laughing and making fun of my Pa saying he did what he did for money. Pa turned and looked at me as if he wished I wasn’t there to hear. Then he said something to her and walked out. I didn’t understand it and Pa said he wanted to leave it like that.
We headed over to the Marshal’s office. My heart began beating something awful as we started inside. “I think I’ll stay out here,” I stated.
But Pa only grabbed my arm and laughed. He had no idea what was about to come. Pa asked Micah how things had gone the last couple of days. “Oh, fine!” Micah declared. Millie came in then and said hello to Pa with a big smile on her face.
“This monkey been good?” Pa asked.
Micah and Millie exchanged a look. I closed my eyes, waiting for the truth to be revealed. Micah cleared his throat. “He’s been as good as a boy his age can be,” Micah answered.
I stared at him, then at Millie. I couldn’t believe it! “Oh,” Micah cleared his throat. I sucked in my breath. This was it – I just knew it! “By the way, Lucas Boy, there’s a hole in Old Man Sampson’s fence. Mark’s offered to fix it next Saturday.” Micah turned to me. “Isn’t that right, Mark?”
Pa turned and raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh?” I nodded. “That surprises me since Mark and I were planning on going fishing up in the mountains next weekend. We were going to camp out and everything.”
I had been so looking forward to that trip too! I merely nodded at Pa. “Well, he uh…really wants it fixed next Saturday, Pa.”
Pa looked at Micah, then Millie, then back at me. He folded his arms and narrowed his eyes. But finally he answered, “Okay.”
Pa suggested we eat over at the hotel before heading home. That sounded good to me. But as we sat there I began to feel really guilty. Micah and Millie had been really nice not to tell Pa what had happened, but I couldn’t keep this truth from him. I ordered my food and we ate in silence. When the waiter came around to get my order for dessert, I shook my head. “No dessert for me,” I answered.
Pa turned and looked at me. “Okay Mark, what’s wrong?”
I stared down at the table. “Uh…there’s something I have to tell you, Pa.”
Pa leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Alright son.”
“Pa,” I started. “You see…well…” Pa’s eyes held questions. “I didn’t…exactly volunteer to fix that fence.” Pa nodded as if he had known that already. “It’s a punishment. Micah made me offer to do it. He also bawled me out for what I did wrong.”
Pa nodded. “I see.”
I proceeded to tell Pa everything I had done wrong. I saw disappointment creep across my Pa’s face too. When I was done with my confession, I sat back, waiting for his words. “And so Micah made you go over and apologize to Mr. Sampson?” I nodded. “And he told you that you would repair the fence.” I nodded again. Pa nodded. “Mm Hm. And you know where the money’s gonna come from to do the repairs, don’t you?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “I guess I won’t be getting an allowance for awhile.”
“Have you learned something from this, Mark?” Pa asked as he threw his money down on the table and stood up.
“Yes sir. I won’t try to act grown up and take care of it myself,” I answered.
“Mark, the grown up thing to do would be to ask for help. And to use your head.”
“I know, Pa.” I sighed. “You gonna punish me too?”
“Nope,” Pa answered. “I think Micah’s punishment’s pretty sound. Let’s go.”
Pa never said another word about that night. The next Saturday I worked at fixing that fence. The Old man stood back and watched me. Pa came to give me a hand later in the afternoon. While we were getting ready to leave, the old man hurried out. In his hand was a patchwork quilt. His voice was gruff, but his eyes deceived him. They were soft and warm. “I need to get this blasted thing out of my house,” he stated. “Takes up too much room.” He shoved it toward me.
I took it from him and thanked him. “Your fence is all done, Mr. Sampson,” I stated.
“It’ll do,” he answered. Then he turned and walked away.
I turned to Pa. “I could have sworn there was a smile on his face when he turned around!”
Pa put an arm around me and grinned. “There was,” he answered.
“Well, what do you make of that?” I asked.
Pa took the quilt from me. “Mark, this isn’t just an old quilt. It’s a patchwork quilt. There’s a lot of love that went into making this. Women spend hours perfecting one of these. Look.” I studied the quilt and suddenly saw the designs in it.
I looked up at Pa. “Well, what do you think of that?”
That quilt still goes on my bed on a cold winter’s night. It helped me to remember what being an adult was really all about.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Face of Yesterday
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Long Trek
around The McCain Ranch