I tied Blue Boy to the hitching post outside Micah’s office. I smiled and waved at Pa as he sat comfortably inside talking to Micah. Then I turned and started across the street. I hadn’t had any candy in quite a spell and figured that today would be a good day to get me a little taste with my sweet tooth, and I heard tell that there was a fresh batch of peanut brittle, though I was quite sure it wouldn’t taste as good as Miss Milly’s…
I smiled as I walked inside the store. Two men stood a ways off talking in soft voices. I smiled at the gun belts that sat low on their hips – a sure sign that they were used to protecting themselves. “One bag of peanut brittle, Myrtle,” I said to the woman behind the counter.
“I said I’ll pay $100 for that crop, and not a penny more!” I heard one of the men suddenly exclaim. The smile on my face died as I realized what was about to happen. I watched as the other man slowly backed up. He unfastened the gun on his belt and spread his legs apart. The man spoke again. “Now, you promised me a week ago that I could pay $100, and that’s what I aim to pay!” The man’s name was Mr. Winters. He was always a nice sort of a man, what with ten kids to feed.
“And I said that because of the high demand, the price has just gone up!” Mr. Samuels declared. He too was a nice man. I saw both of their positions.
Mr. Winter’s unfastened his gun and stepped back as well. “I have to feed my kids! Part of that money is for food, don’t you understand?”
The conversation grew more and more heated. I couldn’t take my eyes off the two men as their hands began to move closer and closer to their guns. I jumped up on the counter, grabbed Myrtle and said “Everybody down!” Then I threw Myrtle down to the floor as shots rang out.
I sat frozen on the floor, still shaken from what had just happened. I suddenly heard footsteps running into the General Store. “Mark!” Pa’s voice was desperate, filled with agony. “Mark, where are you?”
I couldn’t stand up. First of all, I didn’t trust my shaking knees. Second of all, I really didn’t want to know what had happened. My stomach felt like it was in a million knots, and my head spun as if someone had grabbed it and began swirling it around like a millstone. “I’m behind the counter, Pa.”
The next words I heard made me jump up and run out to relieve myself of the stomach’s contents. “Mr. Samuels, what happened here?”
I knew then that Mr. Winters was dead. As I heaved, tears popped into my eyes. I couldn’t help myself. How could this have happened? When it was all over, I sat down on the steps by the hotel and put my head in my hands. But it wasn’t long before I heard rushing footsteps behind me. “Mark!” Lou cried. “Mark, what’s wrong?”
“Nothin’, Miss Lou,” I answered simply.
But Miss Lou took one look at the expression on my face. “Mark, you’re as white as a sheep! I want to know what happened!”
I swallowed. “I’m not sure but…I think Mr. Winters just died.” I closed my eyes. The world was spinning and I couldn’t stand it.
“Well, somebody died,” Lou said as she nodded toward the General Store. “Here comes your father.” Pa rushed up to us. “Lucas? Who is it?”
Pa didn’t answer. He sat down beside me. “Son, you’re white as a ghost!” Pa declared. “What’s wrong?”
His question irked me. I didn’t think it even deserved an answer. “I just watched a senseless gunfight, Pa. And now ten children have no father because of what? What did he die for? Tell me that, Pa! What?” My voice was laced with anger but I didn’t care. I WAS angry!
“You know I can’t, Mark,” Pa answered. “Son, it’s-“
I stood up. My fists were clinched at my sides. “Pa, don’t tell me this is just the way things are! This was stupid! You hear me? Stupid! Of all the low down, idiotic, no good things in this world…gun fighting in a general store is…” I allowed my voice to die. I saw Mr. Samuels walk up to us. “You!” I narrowed my eyes. “Why’d you do it?” I bolted toward him and almost made it close enough to pound his chest. “Why?”
But suddenly, Pa grabbed my arms from behind me. “Easy, son,” Pa warned.
I quickly turned, causing his grip to let go of me. “Don’t tell me easy, Pa! Don’t you understand what this man caused?”
“He drew first, Mark. I didn’t want to draw on him!” Mr. Samuels insisted.
“Then why did you start backing up first? You unfastened your gun before him. You were all sure fire ready!” I felt sick again. “You…You…”
“Mark, that’s enough!” Pa ordered suddenly.
I turned and looked at Pa. I narrowed my eyes and slowly shook my head. “I wish it was, Pa.” I picked up my hat that had fallen on the ground. Then I slapped it against my thigh. “I wish it was.” I started to walk away. Pa called out to me, but I just shook my head. “I have some thinking to do, Pa…alone.”
I mounted Blue Boy and rode out of town just as fast as I could. Out on the range I felt a bit better. I allowed Blue Boy to run as fast as he could, feeling the cool wind on my face. It helped cool my boiling blood. As I rode, I wondered why North Fork couldn’t be as free as this range. I rode for a long time. Looking up into the sky, I saw darkness begin to creep over the land. I turned Blue Boy for home.
When I rode into the yard, I saw Pa come to the doorway. Then he quickly turned and went back to whatever he was doing. I walked Blue Boy into the barn and unsaddled him. I took my time brushing him out then gave him extra oats to eat. I patted his still-sweaty coat. “I’m sorry, Blue Boy. But you’re the only one who doesn’t talk back when I have things to say. Thanks for listening.” Then I slipped him a sugar cube and went to the house.
I walked inside and put my hat up on the hook. “Evening, Mark.” Pa sat the food on the table. Then he stood there and waited.
“I know you want an apology, but…” I closed my eyes and sucked in a long breath of air. “You’ll have to keep waiting because I’m not sorry for anything I said.” Pa shot me a disapproving look. I looked down at the table. “It looks good, but I can’t eat. Goodnight, Pa.”
“Mark, wait!” Pa demanded suddenly. I froze in mid-step. He walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”
I turned and glared at me. “The fact that you don’t know…that’s what’s bothering me!” We just stared into each other’s eyes. Pa’s eyes looked confused and maybe a little angry…maybe hurt…I don’t know, but I had nothing more to say. “Good night, Pa.”
Then I turned and walked into the bedroom, giving it a hard slam behind me.
As I laid in bed, I thought, and thinking didn’t help me any.
Ever since the shootout in the General Store, I’ve been thinking on this matter heavily. It has shaken me to its core and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around this thing! I had gone into the General Store – a peaceful place. I’d seen two grown, adult men engaged in a conversation that didn’t seem to have any grudging to it. But then suddenly, it was like…the two men had just snapped! And what did they do? Instead of using their fists like I would have done, or using words like Pa would have done, they went to their guns.
I shivered. Then I began wondering on something else. I wanted to talk to Pa, but there were others I wanted to talk to first. The next morning, I slipped out of bed before Pa got up, scribbled a note for Pa to read, saddled my horse, and rode into town.
The sun was just peaking up over the valley. Colors of red, gold, and orange filled the sky. I paused outside of town and smiled at the beauty of the sunrise. I looked up and down the street. No one was stirring yet. The buildings were all closed up. There had been so many shootouts on this street – but in this moment, they were all forgotten. All there was to greet me was silence…a peaceful, happy silence.
Slowly, I rode into town. I parked my horse outside Micah’s office and slowly walked up to the door. Opening it, I saw Micah already at his desk. He had a Bible out on top of the desk and was smoking his pipe. He looked up. I stared at the scene, almost confused at what I was seeing. “Mark! What’s wrong?” Micah suddenly jumped up from his chair and hurried up to me.
“Uh…nothing,” I answered in a not-too convincing voice. I could tell by the look on Micah’s face that he didn’t believe me. I took off my hat and ran a hand through my hair. “Okay…there is something wrong.”
Micah sat back down in his chair. He closed his Bible. When he looked up at me, he saw my eyes fixed on the Good Book. “Oh,” Micah said as he realized my silent question. “If I can, I try to get up early before anybody’s stirring and come in here to sit down with this Book for a few minutes, son. You see…I never know what the days going to hold and this..” He held up the Bible. “This is a weapon against my own mortal soul. It helps me keep things in perspective.”
“Does it work?” I asked.
Micah tapped his badge. “I’m still proud to wear this after all these years, son, so I reckon it’s done the trick.” Micah leaned forward in his chair and propped his arms on the desk. “Oh, I know I’ve done things wrong…took to the bottle instead of my Bible and such, but we all have our faults.” Micah cleared his throat. “You know, Mark, our minds…are powerful things. The thoughts that plague us at times can drive us to things we later regret.”
I nodded but stayed silent. Micah stood up. “Well…at a time like this, I’d say a good breakfast at the hotel is in order. Come on, son.”
I walked beside him down the street. When we got to the hotel, Micah cleared his throat as we walked inside. “Uh…I guess I should let you know that your father…told me about yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” I played dumb.
Micah nodded. “Yes. He told me about the…explosion after the gunfight.” Micah gave me a small smile as we sat down at the table. He ordered for both of us then turned back to me. “So?”
“The more I think on it, Micah, the more I can’t help but to wonder about…something.”
“What’s that?” Micah asked gently.
“Well…You remember that man named…Jake…Jake Pardee?” Micah nodded. “He went around shooting people – and for what reason? For no other reason than to get some sick thrill out of it. My father almost died…In fact, after all these years, it still bothers me that he was willing to die for such a senseless act.”
“Not so senseless, Mark. If you remember, he had two very good friends of his…and yours…in that store,” Micah reminded me.
“Yeah.” I sighed. “Out on the range one day, there were these men…Oh, I can’t remember their names, but it was Ashford from England…remember him?” Micah nodded. “Two men were shot down that day – and the only purpose was because of a…a calf.” I sighed. “What was more important? The lives of those two men that were lost, or the one little calf?”
“Hm,” Micah mumbled. “Do you….want me to answer that?”
I sighed. “How many of these so called shootouts were senseless? How many of them could have been avoided if nobody wore a gun? What if…what if….” I stopped. Our food was set down beside us and I quietly began eating.
Micah studied me, but remained silent. Suddenly, Mr. Samuels walked in the door. I stood half-way out of my chair on impulse. “Sit down, Mark,” Micah growled.
I looked Mr. Samuels up and down and noticed one thing – he wasn’t wearing his guns. I allowed a small gasp to escape me as his eyes fixed on me. Then he slowly walked over to me. “Mark…” Mr. Samuels spoke softly. “Mark, you and I have always respected each other.” He pulled up a chair and sat down. “Listen, what happened in the General Store yesterday…it was horrible.”
Micah nodded. “Don’t tell us that, Samuels. I heard tell you provoked it. I had to go tell a woman with ten children that she was now a widow. How do you think she felt? Is what you did worth the price it cost?”
“No, Marshal,” Mr. Samuels answered as he toyed with his hat in his hands. “That’s why…that’s why I put down my guns. I won’t wear them any longer.”
“It’s a little too late now,” I mumbled as I pushed the food on my plate back and forth. “You should have taken your guns off before this incident.” I shook my head. “Men who plan to use guns on each other shouldn’t be allowed to…” I suddenly slammed down my fork and looked up at Micah. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Well Micah, you should just not allow them to use guns if they plan on using them on each other!”
Micah cleared his throat. “Uh…you’ve said what you came to say, Samuels. Now…” Micah motioned with his head for him to move on. I knew he wanted to talk to me alone. After Mr. Samuels left, I picked my fork back up. Micah took a sip of his coffee as he thought on the words to say to me. “Mark…I know where your thoughts are going.”
I slowly lifted my head and looked at him. “You do?”
Micah nodded. He sat his coffee cup down. “I think every good man has thought on that. And there was one time a few years ago that some young hot-headed deputy I left in charge got to thinking the same thing. His decision cost a man’s life as well when he refused to obey the law.”
“What law?” I asked then.
“To take off his guns and leave them with the marshal until he was ready to ride out.”
I sighed. “Well, it…” I shook my head. “It makes sense to me, Micah! I mean what if nobody in town wore a gun? When they started making trouble, they’d have fists fights or yelling at each other – not turn to their guns!”
“What about your father?” Micah questioned. “You gonna expect him to give up his gun?”
That question made me stop and think. I knew that was a subject I’d never broach with him, and I’m sure any man with a lick of sense wouldn’t dare try to take his gun from him either. Pa’s told me so many times that he was married to his gun. He didn’t like it, but now it became necessary to…
Micah interrupted my thoughts. “Your way of thinking may come some day, son. Maybe a hundred years from now we won’t see folks walking down this road wearing guns, but for now…We just can’t take their guns away from them.”
“Yeah, but why not, Micah?” I asked. “I mean, it stands to reason that if nobody wore guns, there would be no bloodshed.”
Micah popped the last bite of food in his mouth. Then he sat back in his chair. “This is exactly why I read the Bible every morning, son. I can answer your reasoning with a statement. There will always be bloodshed. No matter if it’s with a bullet or not…remember Cain and Abel?” I nodded. “There were no guns, and yet Abel died.”
“Maybe so…” I mumbled. “But Micah, if Mr. Stevens and Mr. Winters hadn’t had guns strapped on yesterday, there would have been no bloodshed! If they hadn’t worn guns, then that woman would not be a widow raising ten fatherless children on her own!”
“Maybe.” Micah dropped a couple coins on the table as he stood up. He motioned for me to go with him. We stepped out onto the street. He pointed down the road. “You see that road down there son?” I nodded. “You know where that road leads?”
“Out of town,” I answered.
Micah nodded. “You know how many strangers ride in here every day? They come from every walk of life…outlaws, lawmen, ranchers, photographers, newspaper men…every walk of life. Yet, what you’re asking me to do is to search every man, woman, and child that comes into North Fork every day to make sure they aren’t armed.” Micah raised his eyebrows. “Because if they are armed, then it puts every unarmed man, woman, and child in North Fork in mortal danger.”
“Yeah, but the rule is that you don’t draw on somebody unless the other person draws first, Micah!”
“Hm…” Micah put his hand at my elbow and turned me around. We started back toward his office. “You reckon an outlaw on the run is going to care too much about that unwritten rule of the West, son?” I shrugged. “Alright Mark, just for grins, let’s say they do.”
Micah sat down behind his desk and motioned for me to sit down in the chair facing him. “You ever had a hard-to-swallow story, son?”
“Plenty of times, Micah. Seems Pa likes to tell me those sorts of stories the best.”
“Well, here’s another one.” Micah leaned back in his chair. “There was this man once who shot a man on the street when this man tried to kill him. He was agonized over it and decided he’d never wear a gun again, so he unstrapped his guns and put them in a trunk at home.” Micah leaned forward. “An outlaw came into town one day spoiling for a good time. After a few drinks, the outlaw started insulting this man’s wife. The man grew angry and told the outlaw to leave town. The outlaw naturally spread out his legs and put his hands to his side. He was ready to shoot.
“But…the other man had no gun, if you recall. That didn’t stop it though. He went for his gun out of instinct – to protect himself. The woman became a widow that day. And the outlaw…he was hung from a tree an hour later by a hanging posse.”
Micah grew silent as he allowed me to think on that. I sighed. “If only he’d had his guns,” I mumbled. Micah was right about that being hard medicine to swallow. “What’s the solution, Micah?” Micah shook his head and shrugged. “Well, there’s gotta be one, Micah!” I shouted. “I mean, two decent men having a shootout in the General Store and one man dying because of a measly hundred dollars…I don’t understand!”
“Neither do I.” Pa’s voice sounded from behind me. He slowly sat down in the chair beside me and put a hand on my shoulder. He lifted his rifle. “I don’t understand why I can’t ride into town to fetch my boy and apologize for the wrong I committed without bringing this thing with me! I don’t understand, son, why there are so many men who get angry and reach for their gun instead of keeping to the Bible and being slow to anger.”
I stared into Pa’s eyes as he spoke without ceasing. “Son, that shootout in the store yesterday…it wasn’t murder because they both reached for their guns. Mr. Winters had a tendency of reaching for his gun. I’m not excusing the other man for what he did now, but I’m just saying that you can’t blame one without blaming the other. I have to carry this thing, Mark, because I never know when some man is going to rush me because I’m the Rifleman.”
Pa sighed as he looked down at his rifle again. “I could put this in a trunk, but that won’t stop someone from killing me if they really want me to,…and that won’t stop them from getting to me through you so I have to live up to my reputation until I die…”
I started to say something, but Pa shook his head. “Son, I need to ask your forgiveness for the way I brushed off what happened last night. You’re right, son. What you witnessed in that store yesterday was very upsetting and shouldn’t have happened. I should have been more sensitive. Maybe if I had, you would have talked to me last night instead.”
I heard the hurt in Pa’s voice, the hurt I inflicted on him because I couldn’t talk to him last night. Maybe it was because I knew Pa was part of the problem, well, not Pa exactly, but his rifle. I thought I had gotten over the fact the my Pa’s rifle had been used to accidentally kill a friend of mine, but I guess I wasn’t all the way over it. Deep down inside me, I… I understood and accepted Pa’s need to carry his rifle…but it wasn’t like a hand gun. When Pa set it down, it wasn’t right at his hip and easily accessible. I knew that he would never draw first, and he’d prefer to talk his way out of anything, but still…
I understood where Pa and Micah were coming from, but I wasn’t sure if I agreed with them yet. “Still…guns seem to bring all sorts of trouble…”
“They do, son. And that’s why I made you wait so long to start using one. And that’s also why I will ALWAYS discourage you from using a handgun. A rifle should only be used to hunt animals – not men. But at times, you’ll find yourself using it to protect your family.” Pa sighed. “I pray to God, son, that you’ll never have to use your rifle to kill a man.”
Pa stood up. “Now, let’s get home. We have more cattle to round up for branding.” Pa led me to the door.
I turned. “Thanks, Micah. I’ll think hard on what you said.” Micah nodded as he waved to me.
Pa turned to Micah. “Yeah. Thanks, Micah. I’m glad you’re here for Mark.” Then we walked out the door. I started to mount my horse, but I stopped and looked up into Pa’s eyes. He just stood there and stared down into mine. There was no expression on his face. “Mark…” Pa finally said quietly. “I hope you always keep these feelings of hatred for gun fighting in your heart. I hope that every time you see a man go to his gun, you’ll have that same tormented feeling. I hope a killing will always turn your stomach to the point of heaving like it did yesterday.”
I know Pa was hoping I’d be a better man than he thought he was. I merely nodded, got on my horse, and rode home with Pa.
Since branding season was upon us, I was staying out of school to help Pa gather the cattle. I tried to keep my mind on my work, but it was hard. Pa watched me worriedly. When we walked inside that evening, I kept my eye on Pa’s rifle while he set it in its holder at the door. Then he turned and looked at me. I smiled at him and started to turn away. “Still wondering about it?” Pa asked. I nodded. “Sit down at the table, son.”
“No, I best start-“ I started.
“Mark.” Pa’s voice held firmness in it. “Sit down at the table, son.” I obeyed him. He sat down beside me. “Son, I admire you for what you are thinking. It does my heart proud to know that you are in your right head and don’t want to see violence, but son…Guns are a necessity out here. The West is wild and…” Pa sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Son…I wish I could explain it all better. I-“
A knock sounded on the door. “Don’t move, son. We’re not finished yet,” Pa said as he got up to answer the door. It Was Nils. Pa invited him in for a cup of coffee, but Nils said he had to get started. He was just dropping off the branding iron he was fixing for Pa. “Son, will you take that outside?” I nodded.
But when I was on my way back inside, I heard my name mentioned, so I stopped to listen. “I’m sure he’ll be asking to you deputy for him, Lucas. He got the telegram today.”
“Well, it’s impossible, Nils,” Pa declared. “We’re starting our branding on Monday. It’ll take Mark, me, and the two hands I’ve hired. I can’t afford to..”
“Well, maybe not but he’ll ask you just the same,” Nils declared.
Something about this was bothering me. I heard something in Pa’s voice. He sighed. “Nils, the truth is…even if it wasn’t branding season, I couldn’t take the job right now.” I heard Pa walk across the floor. “The truth is…Mark’s going through something right now. It’s something big, and he needs me. He’ll never tell me face-to-face, because he’s trying so hard to be a man, but I can sense it, Nils.” Pa again sighed. “No…Right now, my place is here at home…with my son. We’ll be working with the cattle together for another week. I hope by the time it’s over, his problem will be resolved.”
“What is his problem, Luke?” Nils asked.
“Never mind, Nils. It’s personal – between my boy and me.” I heard a defensive tone in my Pa’s voice. Apparently Nils heard it to, because he stayed silent. “Mark…”
I had found myself so deep in thought that I didn’t hear Pa and Nils step outside. I nodded toward Nils and hurried into the house to start supper. As I worked on cooking some ham and cornbread to put with the pinto beans, Pa walked back in and closed the door. “What have I told you about eavesdropping, son?” Pa asked. His voice was calm, but there was a slight edginess to it.
“I wasn’t eavesdropping, Pa!” I declared. “ I was walking back inside when I heard my name so I…” I stopped. “Sorry, I guess I was eavesdropping, Pa.”
“Son, I don’t want you to take what I said the wrong way. “
I turned from the stove. “Pa, if you need to deputy for Micah, you can.”
“No.” Pa walked up to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “We’re going to get through this son. We’re both going to have a better understanding when it’s over. I know it’s hard to face so many challenges. And I know you need me in your struggle.” Pa raised his eyebrows at me. “Don’t you, son?”
I smiled. “Thanks, Pa.”
I slept better that night now that Pa was helping me fight this latest battle that was going through me. I hoped that soon I would understand why, and be able to determine just how I did feel about it.
The next day, Pa and I rode out onto the South pasture to begin gathering up the cattle there. I rode around them one way while Pa drove them toward the field where we did all the branding at. I loved being in the saddle helping my Pa. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of all those suckers in the classroom. They were sitting there listening to Mr. Griswald telling some boring history tale while I was out here enjoying time well-spent with my Pa!
I heard a calf crying and noticed he was stuck in a thicket. I dismounted Blue Boy and walked over toward him. She was wiggling around, trying to get out. “Now, you just calm down there, ya hear!” I bent down to untangle her when I suddenly heard growling behind me. I paused and slowly turned my head around. It was a wolf. I screamed “Pa” as loud as I could as I saw him jumping toward me. “Pa!”
I thought to run, I hoped to get to the tree by the clearing. As I ran I waited for the attack to happen. I heard Pa’s rifle fire then I felt a shove from behind. I heard the wolf let out a yelp, I smelled its breath as it knocked me to the ground. I hit the ground hard with the wolf landing on top of me. I felt a pain running down my forearm. I heard Pa yelling my name as he came up running behind me. He pulled the wolf off me and helped me sit up. After catching my breath, I slowly stood on shaky knees staring down at the dead wolf in front of me. “Pa…” I said as I took in deep breaths of air. “He just came out of no where.”
“He doesn’t appear rabid,” Pa said. “I’m glad I got to him before he could attack…” Suddenly Pa’s voice died. I looked up at him and he was staring down at my sleeve. His face turned white. Pa suddenly bolted forward and ripped the sleeve from my arm. “Oh, Dear God!” he gasped.
There was no mistaken the fear in his voice. “I’m okay Pa. Its just a scratch. I’m sure it’s fine!”
Pa studied the marks on my arm. “I’m not taking any chances with your life, son.” Pa pulled me toward Blue Boy. “Just in case, I have to burn the carcass right away. You ride like the devil to town and go straight to the doc’s. He’ll judge on rather you’re okay or not.”
“Pa, it’s just a scratch“ I started.
Pa nodded. “I don’t want to chance it, son.” He gave me Blue Boy’s reins. “I’ll be in as soon as I burn this carcass, son. You go ahead!”
I knew that sometimes Pa had a tendency of over-exaggerating things – especially when it came to my life. I did ride fast into town, but it was probably not as fast as Pa would have liked. And when I got to town, I did go straight to Doc’s. Doc looked at the scratch on my arm and shook his head. “I don’t think your father has anything to worry about, Mark. How did the wolf bite you?.”
“That’s just it Doc. He hit me from behind and knocked me down. I tried to tell Pa it was just a scratch. I did it when I landed and skidded on the ground.
“I watched as Doc Burrage got the serum ready. “If there’s nothing to worry about, doc, why are you getting that ready?”
The door opened just then. Pa hurried inside. “Well doc?”
“Nothing to be too concerned about Lucas.” Doc stated.
Pa said quickly. “So, how is he, Doc?”
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, Lucas. The wolf didn’t break the skin.”
“Okay! Then why…” I pointed to the needle.
“Just one shot, son. I’m going to give it as a protective measure. Oh this, it’s just an antibiotic.”
Doc stopped wiping my arm with the swab. “That is…if you approve Lucas?”
“An antibiotic?” Pa declared. “He needs something stronger. I mean that wolf wasn’t showing any signs of rabies, but…”
“Lucas, as I said the wolf didn’t cause this scratch. Mark said it happened when he hit the ground. And if you’ll think back, Mark said he was running away and the wolf knocked Mark from behind, and Mark would have thrown his arms forward to break his fall?”
I saw the look of embarrassment in Pa’s face, but still, Doc was coming towards me with that needle. “Now, you two know I’m not too fond of needles!” I declared.
“I want to irrigate that scrape too, son. I just want to make sure we get all the dirt out,” Doc decided as he went back to the medicine cabinet.
To say the least, I was glad when that treatment was over. My arm was sore, but Pa looked humbled. We went back to our horses. Pa helped me mount up and then started to mount his own. “Lucas?” Micah called from the doorway of his office. He sure did look fancy! “Can I talk to you?”
“Getting ready for your trip? Nils told me last night you were going, Micah,” Pa commented as he walked up to the boardwalk.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Lucas Boy,” Micah nodded.
“Micah, look…” Pa started. Micah frowned at Pa. Pa sighed as he turned to me. “Mark, you start on home. Take it slow and easy since your arm’s sore . I’ll join you in a few.”
“Yes, Pa.” I turned my horse into the street.
“What happened to him?” Micah asked. Pa told him what happened. “Ah yes. But your boy’s not going to let you live this one down. Now look, Lucas…I really need a deputy. I…”
That’s all I heard. Twenty minutes later, Pa was riding up beside me. He shook his head. Then he looked back over his shoulder and shook it again.
“What’s wrong, Pa?” I asked.
“You are not going to believe who just volunteered to be deputy!” Pa declared. I just looked at him. “Nils.”
“So?” I shrugged. “I think Nils would make a good deputy!”
Pa groaned. “Oh, please Mark! Nils is a great blacksmith, but…”
I turned and my saddle and raised my eyebrows at Pa. “Now Lucas, am I gonna have to give you a firm lecture about how you talk…and think…about people?”
Pa cleared his throat. “Lucas?” He shook his head. “Don’t forget I’m still your father, boy!” He sighed. “I guess you’re right.” We rode in silence for a bit. “Besides, Micah has enough sense to-“
“Alright, alright! I’ll just stay clear of North Fork for a few days…I just hope it’s still standing when…” Pa stopped when he realize I was looking at him.
“Pa, the next time I start talking bad about somebody, I’ll remind you of this day.”
We laughed for a bit. Then we rode in silence. Pa cleared his throat as he tapped his rifle boot. “It’s a…uh…good thing I had this handy, huh son?”
I hadn’t thought on that – not until this very moment. Just thinking on the what-if made me nervous. I thought on it for a few moments before I trusted my voice to speak. “If you hadn’t had that rifle handy, Pa, I…”
“Yes. Having the rifle when you need it is a really good thing, isn’t it son?” I knew what he was getting at. “You see son, when you live on the range…”
“It’s not out on the range I’m worried about, Pa, and you know it!” I declared.
Pa nodded. “Son, you remember what happened after your friend, Charlie was killed?” I shifted uncomfortably in the saddle as I slightly nodded my head. “You were blaming the rifle for what happened to Charlie instead of putting the blame in its rightful place. “ He allowed those words to penetrate through my stubborn head. Then he cleared his throat and spoke again. “I never told you this, but when I came into town to get you that night, Lou told me something – something that stuck with me. It was hard for me to swallow.”
I rode silently. I had a feeling I didn’t want to hear this. “What?”
“Well…” Pa chose his words carefully. “She told me that I may have to make a choice…between my rifle…and…you.”
Blue Boy stopped. Razor, not use to taking commands from the younger horse, hesitated. Pa stopped him and backed up. “That’s why the rifle was downstairs instead of up with me.” I lowered my head as I stared down at Blue Boy’s mane. “It was behind the counter because if I had to give it up, I would have…” Pa moved in toward me. “Mark?” I lifted my head. “You know I would have…don’t you?”
“What if I hadn’t brought it with me at all that night, son?” I stayed silent. “What if I had left it at home like you wanted? Would I be alive today? Would Lou? Would…you?”
There. There it was…Now I found myself at a fork in the road. I could either accept the truth or continue to deny the necessity of needing guns. At the moment, I wasn’t ready to do either. I decided I’d rather sit at this fork for a bit. I lightly tapped Blue Boy’s flank and clucked my tongue as I started on down the road. That had been an emotional time. I hadn’t thought on that time much since it happened. I remembered the talks Pa and I had about my blaming the gun instead of the person. I suddenly wondered if I was doing that again.
I didn’t speak about that any more. Pa changed the bandage on my arm before I went to bed that night. Then I fell into a troubled sleep, wondering…wondering if I had once again allowed my brain to be crowded by wrongful thinking…
The next day we were hard at work again. We had just a few more cattle to round up. By the time the last of our cattle was in the branding pen, I was plum tired. We had just started to ride towards home when we heard the noise behind us. Pa and I both turned in the saddle and saw the commotion. One of the younger bulls was starting to cause trouble. He was trying to get ornery with the dominant bull, but the old bull put him back in his place. The younger bull took his frustration out on the gate and managed to bust a few boards. Pa and I hurried back and were able to prevent any of the cattle from escaping and that’s when we noticed that he had also broken the latch.
As Pa and I stepped down from our horses, Pa grabbed his lariat and told me to get mine. He told me to tie my rope over the railing to keep the cattle in. I watched as Pa entered the pen and lassoed that bull, and then lead him out of the pen. Pa turned him loose.
“But he’s gonna stray and then I’ll have to chase him down again tomorrow,” I complained.
“He won’t stray too far. Not with the rest of the herd in here.”
We rode for home. After unsaddling and taking care of the horses, Pa went to get the supplies ready to fix the corral gate in the morning.
I heard Pa mutter under his breath, “I don’t have enough nails or a latch to properly fix that gate. We’ll need to make a trip into town first thing tomorrow morning to get the supplies from the Hardware Store. Guess it’s a good thing I told the men I hired to help that we wouldn’t need them until Monday. We got the entire herd rounded up quicker than I thought we would, son.”
It was afternoon before we finally mounted our horses and rode into town. Pa had wanted all the Saturday chores done, wood chopped, and the household chores done so we wouldn’t have to worry about them when we started branding on Monday. I told him I’d finish up with the outside chores tomorrow after church, but Pa was going to put me to my studies all day tomorrow.
As we rode into town, Pa and I got the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. There was a group of men outside the saloon grumbling. Pa looked around with curious, suspicious eyes. He paused a distance from the crowd as he looked around. “Stay close to me, son,” Pa ordered under his breath. Then we rode up to the crowd.
Ed Bundy squeezed his horse out of the crowd and hurried up to us. “Lucas! I’m glad you’re here.”
Pa looked around as he raised his eyebrows. “What’s going on, Ed? Is there some sort of trouble or something?” Pa asked. “Who’s in charge around here.”
“Nils was left in charge, Lucas! And let me tell you – it’s one of the greatest mistakes Micah ever made!” Ed looked upset and as nervous as a cat in a pen full of dogs! He ran a hand through his hair. “He’s gone and done it this time! He’s gone and done it for sure!”
Pa suddenly looked down at Ed. I saw him lift an eyebrow. Then he looked at the crowd of men. He noticed something, but I wasn’t sure what yet. “Go on, Ed.”
“My wife had her baby yesterday and-“ Ed started.
“Oh!” I interrupted. “Congratulations! It’s about time…what’d she have?”
“A boy,” Ed answered as he turned back to Pa. “Any-“
“When we gonna get to see this baby? Will he be at church tomorrow?” I asked then.
“Uh…I don’t…” Ed ran another hand through his hair.
“Mark, hush!” Pa warned. He turned back to Ed. “Go on,” he said as he flashed me the evil eye.
“Well, I came into town – you know – happy and all. I was just celebrating, Lucas…That’s all, just celebrating. I fired a couple shots up in the sky as I announced the news. You know how it is to have a new baby…You want to…” He suddenly stopped and turned back to me. “Well…I guess it’s been a few years for you.”
Pa nodded. “Some days it feel s like forever. Other days…” Pa turned and raised an eyebrow at me. “Anyway, go on Ed.”
“Well, Nils came barreling out of his office all bent out of shape. He sure was mad and told me to stop. He got all defensive-like when I tried to explain.” Ed shook his head. “Well you know, Micah wouldn’t of approved of my shooting my gun in the air, but I don’t think he would have gotten all bent out of shape.”
Pa nodded. “I know, Ed. I’ll tell you just what Micah would have. Even shooting a gun straight up in the sky in the middle of town, especially around women and children…well, it could have spooked a horse or a bullet could have ricocheted and hit somebody…You just never know.” Pa cleared his throat. “But under the circumstances, I understand.”
“He took my gun, Lucas! Dab blame if he took my gun!” Ed declared in frustration.
Again, Pa looked around at the crowd of men gathered. “Ed, what’s going on around here?”
“This morning when I rode into town – just to get away from the house for awhile…well, you know how it is – new baby and all…well I had to come in and get some more supplies for the baby so I…” Ed shook his head. Nils was standing in the street. As soon as I got off my horse, he hurried up to me and…and…” Ed sighed. “Lucas, he took my gun.”
“He what?” Pa shouted.
“He just plum took my gun, Lucas! I couldn’t believe it!” Ed groaned. “He took every gun of every man in town!”
I turned and looked at Pa. I couldn’t believe Nils was doing what I had thought should be done. “He did it, Pa! He really…”
“Hush, Mark!” Pa said. He turned back to Ed , not quite believing what he was hearing. Ed thought he was just showing off, but now this…
Pa dismounted his horse and I followed suit. I stayed quiet, knowing that’s what was expected of me. I think this was the time for me to listen and not to speak. “Oh, hello Lucas Boy…Mark…nice quiet town we got here,” Nils declared. I heard Nils, but I was watching Pa’s face, and I didn’t like the look on his face as he looked at the sign. He read it. Here’s what it said…
Sideguns, rifles, weapons or firearms
OF ANY KIND
Allowed on the streets of Northfork
Turn them in when you get here
Pick them up when you leave.
Nils Swenson – Deputy Marshal
Now, at this point I think it’s only appropriate to tell you what I was thinking. This is something I wanted to happen just yesterday, and I still couldn’t help but to think it was a good idea. But from the tone in Pa’s voice as he read the sign, I could tell this was a fight I wasn’t ready to take on – especially when Nils was including my Pa and his rifle in his orders. I knew Pa wouldn’t give up his rifle – not even for Micah! I also knew that Pa was working hard at trying to convince me that my way of thinking was wrong. And now this…
So you see, Pa was angry at Nils, but not only because of his idea and his wanting to take Pa’s rifle from him. Pa was upset because everything he had been preaching to me since my train of thought had started was now being challenged, and just when he thought he was breaking through to me, this challenge came up. Now it might have been a good time to tell him that I was leaning more towards his way of thinking more then I was yesterday before the talk back from town, but no…now wasn’t the time. I wasn’t ready to admit that this train of thought wasn’t appropriate. Now, let me tell you what happened next.
Nils gave Pa this nervous little look. It was easy for him to be confident and all with others, but my Pa had this…uh…way about him that would make to President’s knees shake if he stood in front of my Pa when he wasn’t smiling. My Pa could be really mean and threatening without saying a word – it was his face…his eyes and his expression…that put the fear of God in me many times. Today, it was having that effect on Nils, though Nils was trying to cover it up.
“No exceptions,” Nils stated as he motioned toward my Pa’s rifle.
I was glad I was standing away from these two men at this moment, because there was not telling what Pa would start throwing! “Nobody takes this rifle away from me, Nils. You know that.”
“I don’t mean to take the rifle from you, Lucas, but if you’re gonna be in town, I’d like to have you turn it in. Sort of set an example for the others folks.” I heard the nervous little twitch in Nils’ words.
“What’s come over you?” Pa asked calmly. But his voice was controlled.
“Well, as long as I’m wearing this badge, I gotta do what I think is right. People going around carrying guns causes trouble. Take away their guns, no trouble.” As I listened to that, it kinda sent a chill up my spine. He was echoing the same words I had just spoken days before. Pa’s voice was just as controlled with Nils as it had been with me. His opinion toward Nils was just the same. There was only one problem – Nils was an adult, and the “law.” I was beginning to rethink my idea. Maybe…just maybe…
"Have you had any trouble since Micah left?" Pa asked then.
“No…except Ed Bundy shooting holes in the sky,” Nils answered.
Now Pa got really defensive! “Because his wife had a baby?” Yep, his voice was getting irate alright...
“Well, he could have hit somebody!”
“I think that badge your wearing, Nils has got you shooting holes in the sky," Pa declared. “I think you’ve gone plum-“
Nils interrupted Pa. He had guts! I’d give him that. “No use getting excited, Lucas. Micah will be back tomorrow…the next day. Two to one he’ll go along with it…probably wonder why he didn’t think of it himself!” I heard the confidence in Nils’ voice.
“He did think of it, long before you did. But he decided it wouldn’t work here – not yet. Nils, this territory has a lot of growing up to do and until that’s done, we can't take away a man's right to protect himself.” Nils told Pa not to give him any problem and if he intended on staying around town, he would have to hand over his rifle. "Then I won't be around!” Pa declared. He looked at me. “Mark you pick up the stuff at the Hardware and don't be late, it's gonna be dark soon and I want you home before night fall." I knew from the tone in his voice that I’d be in a whole lot of trouble if I was late.
I told Pa not to worry and headed over to the Hardware store across the street. When I started in the door, I paused and looked toward the General Store, momentarily; I remembered what had happened there just a few days ago. Then I turned and looked at Nils as he spoke to some strangers who had just ridden into town. He was taking their guns without any problem. Maybe Pa was wrong…
I looked at Pa as he turned back to his horse. Boy, I’m glad he couldn’t hear my thoughts – that would only lead to more of those looks from Pa about what I had just thought, and I sure didn’t want that. I watched the men walk into the saloon. I looked up and down the street and noticed all the guns gone. If only Nils had done it that one day – Mr. Winters would still be alive today. Maybe…just maybe…
“What can I do for you, Mark?” Mr. Nelson asked.
“I need to look at your latches, Mr. Nelson.” I looked out onto the street again and smiled. Maybe the days of gun fighting on the streets of North Fork were over. Maybe…just maybe…Nils was doing a good thing for North Fork. Maybe…
“Mark? Which one of these do you need?” I studied the latches and picked up the one I needed. Mr. Nelson hurried to go wrap it for me. He also brought out a couple packages that had come in on the stage. “Things your father ordered.”
“What are they?” I asked as I wiggled them at my ear.
“Now Mark, you know I ain’t gonna tell you that! I’m sure if your Pa wanted you to know, he’s tell you.”
I sat down the box and looked at Mr. Nelson. “Well…I…I’m sorry!” I said. “Just didn’t think there was anything so wrong with…”
Mr. Nelson held up his hand. “No, Mark. I’m sorry. It’s just been one of those mornings. There’s so much strain around here since Nils enforced this new law of his. Trouble is just brewing…I’ll tell you that – something is about to explode.”
“Well,” I said with a shake of my head. “If it does, at least guns won’t be involved!”
Mr. Nelson looked up at me. He cocked his head to one side. “Do you really believe that, Mark?” he challenged me. “Because if you do…I’m afraid you are fooling yourself.”
“Well, I…” I cocked my head to one side. “Well…”
“Mark, no solution is that easy. If it were, this problem with shootouts in the streets would have been resolved a long time ago.” I looked at him as I thought on this.
As I was thinking, Mr. Nelson asked me if I could take something over to Nils. He again complained that Nils was so busy collecting weapons, that he didn’t have time to pick up the mail.
He started writing down the things in the book as I picked up all the supplies. “That’ll be three dollars even, Mark.”
It just so happens that Pa had given me some of my wages for the work I had done. I had three dollars in my pocket – and that three dollars was now in the hands of Mr. Nelson. Recovering that three dollars from Pa would take some talking, but I had all the confidence that I could do it. After all, I am the spending partner, and that was just the argument I intended on using with Pa…but like Mr. Nelson said, if things were that easy…
I headed toward Micah’s office to deliver Nils the mail. I knew I had to get started for home, because with the mood my Pa was in, it wouldn’t be a good idea to get him all riled. I didn’t think Pa would do too much, but I didn’t want to give him cause to do ANYTHING! But Nils stopped me. He wanted to show me something.
I saw all the gun belts hanging on the wall. “You see, your Pa’s wrong. People have no objection to giving up their guns, as long as they got someone they can trust to look out for them.”
Someone to trust…Without thinking, I said, "Oh...you mean Micah's back!"
“No son, I mean me.”
“Oh.” I handed him the mail.
Nils could tell I was worried. I was. I was again wondering just what was right and what was wrong. My own thoughts echoed through my mind; yet at the same time, Pa’s and Micah’s did too. The fact that Nils was trying this on his own – without Micah – it did give cause for a person to worry. “What’s the matter, son? Don’t you think I’m doing the right thing either?”
He asked me the question as if he knew my own mind had been plagued with the same thoughts. What was the right answer? “It kinda makes sense that if nobody wore guns, there wouldn’t be any trouble. But still-“ Pa’s words again echoed in the back of my mind.
“That’s right! And that’s what I’m doing – removing the cause of trouble. Guns! All men are brother's, son. That's what the good book says, doesn't it?"
That made me think back to what I had witnessed in the General Store the other day. Nils was right – we were all supposed to be brothers, but guns or not, I know that what happened in the General Store would have been ugly all the same – either with guns, or with fists. “It may be,” I agreed. “But…but people don’t always act like their brothers, Nils.”
If only there was some way to change that…I was beginning to realize what my Pa meant…what Micah meant when they said that…
“But I’m here to protect you, boy. That’s what that badge is saying I’m here to do.”
Those words came from Nils’ mouth. I remembered the apprehension Pa had felt toward Nils the other day. I knew Nils wasn’t the brightest man in the world, but still…The thought of Nils being my protector…Nils – or Pa? Nils – or Micah? I knew now who’s wisdom would be the greatest…and I was beginning to realize…
Just then, I heard a laugh. I looked up and saw them – three men standing in the door. They wanted their guns back. While Nils was busy getting them their guns, I decided to open the package of Wanted Posters that had just come in. Then I stared at the face that stared back at me. It was the face of the man who had just walked into Micah’s office. The man’s name was Pratt and he was a wanted man. I was shocked. Without thinking, I looked up and stared at Pratt. Then I quickly lowered my head back down, but not before Pratt saw me. I quickly folded the package back up.
And Nils had given them back their guns! The words spoken by Micah about strangers echoed in my head as Pratt stared at me. He knew I knew. It wasn’t the citizens of North Fork we had to worry about – it was the strangers…the outlaws who’s guns Micah couldn’t check.
And in a town full of men on a Saturday night, there were no guns…there was no protection.
Pratt continued smiling as he looked towards me. “How ‘bout you, boy? You got your guns checked too?” Nils laughed, thinking these men were outstanding citizens. He still didn’t have a clue about the trouble we were in.
But I did…and I suddenly found myself wishing every man in this town had their guns. I told Pratt no. “How come?” He leaned over and picked up the package. He continued talking as he looked inside.
“Don’t tell me you’re too young to carry a gun.”
I had to get out of here! I had to warn Pa about what was going on. I slowly started around the desk and toward the door. “Why, I was only half your age when I was carrying a gun.” Platt walked towards the door as well.
I bolted for the door, praying I could escape, but I wasn’t fast enough. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Platt and his men were planning on robbing the bank. I was locked up in the jail.
They kept Nils out there with him. I couldn’t tell what was going on out there, but I knew that right about now, Nils was feeling bad for what he’d done. I also knew Pa was about to start worrying. Maybe he’d come. Oh, I’m sure he’d be plenty angry with me, but maybe…just maybe…he’d come looking for me.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the wall. Everything Micah and Pa had been telling me since the accident…and I realized now, that in a strange, round-about way it was an accident…and now I understood what they were telling me. Pa was right. Man had a right to protect himself and now because of peaceful thoughts from Nils, the same thoughts I’d been having, every man in this town could no longer protect himself. They were all in mortal danger.
“If only they had their guns,” I mumbled. “If only…”
Suddenly, the door opened and Nils was shoved into the cell with me. He held his mouth. “What happened?” I asked.
“I tried to warn Sam Benson. I dropped a couple clues that we were in trouble and needed help.”
“You think he picked up on it?” I asked.
Nils shook his head as he sat down. “I don’t know, son. It doesn’t look good…” He punched the wall. “Your father will never forgive me if you get hurt!”
I sighed. “Nils, I…have a confession to make.” Nils looked up at me. “I mean…I know Pa was keeping this quiet on my account cause he didn’t want to embarrass me or…or maybe because he didn’t want people pressuring me into making a decision, but…remember when Mr. Winters was killed in the store the other day?” Nils nodded. “Well…” I lowered my head and closed my eyes as I replayed the scene in my mind. “I was there.”
“You were…” Nils stopped. “You mean you SAW it happen?”
I nodded. I lifted my head up and stared at Nils. “It was a senseless act, Nils! Neither one of those men should have been wearing guns. If they hadn’t, well I…” I sighed as I shook my head. “It was over a hundred dollars. I don’t recollect now who wanted what or why, but I know that Mr. Winters died for a stupid reason. Well, so I got angry and…”
“I had no idea…” Nils declared. “I just had no idea.”
“I know. Pa didn’t tell anybody. Only Micah and…Lou knew I was there. Pa was protecting me, but maybe that was wrong. Maybe if my thoughts had been known…” I allowed my words to drift off into mere thoughts in my mind. “I guess I’m still not completely over the part I paid in the death of my friend – another senseless killing over nothing more than…than to prove something to a friend of mine – something that didn’t even need to be proven.”
“Mark, now that wasn’t your fault! You weren’t holding the gun!” Nils reminded me.
“No,” I sighed heavily. “No, I wasn’t holding it, Nils. But I put the rifle in the boy’s hands that was holding it. It was some sickened pride of mine that made me do it and I didn’t want to admit that I was at fault because it was easier to blame the rifle then myself, but the truth is…the gun is a tool – it’s what’s in our heads…in our minds that plague us – that drives these killings. That’s what they are, Nils. They are killings.” I looked down at the hands that sat in my lap. I stood up and paced the cell. “Pa told me it was my fault, but I wouldn’t listen to him. I was determined that it was the gun, because I wasn’t capable of…of causing the death of a friend of mine! I couldn’t be!” I shook my head as I looked through the bars of the cell. “The truth is, Nils…I mean, the cold, hard truth is that I was guilty. I was guilty as sin.” I turned and looked at Nils. “Pa’s discipline was harsh and swift that day, but it was nothing compared to the punishment and torture I put myself through. The day after I ran away, Pa had a long heart-to-heart talk with me about how our own minds and actions cause the tragedies in the world. It was then…and only then…that I thanked Pa for the punishment he gave me that first day because I knew that even though it was the worst punishment I ever received, it was deserving. And I’ve come to love and respect him for it.”
I turned and looked at Nils. “But through that whole experience, I still didn’t completely learn that the gun itself isn’t to blame. Taking the guns from men isn’t the answer to the problem – the answer is helping them up here…” I tapped a finger to my temple. “That’s why Pa’s kept what’s been happening the last few days from everyone – because he wanted to talk to me himself – to straighten out my way of thinking in his own way. You see, Nils…” I walked over to him and sat down. “The last few days, I’ve been thinking we should get rid of the guns too.”
Suddenly Pa was hollering through the front door. My heart leapt with joy. Surely now we could be saved. Pa had come back looking for me, and I thanked God Pa worried about me so much. The men got Nils out of the cell. Platt ordered Nils to talk to Pa. I listened as Nils told Pa to keep his rifle and not to get drunk so he’d have to throw him in jail. I couldn’t hear Pa’s response, but I knew Pa wouldn’t take those words sitting down. I knew Nils was giving him clear clues as to our whereabouts. I prayed for God’s protection on my Pa, because I knew he’d die to save me.
What happened next was minutes of confusion. First, Pa threw a stone into the cell window to get our attention. Then Nils ordered me on the floor to pretend like I was sick. It all happened so fast – it’s all still a buzz, but the next thing I knew, Nils had one of the outlaw’s guns and was out of the cell. I stayed low as the shooting started.
Soon, Pa was leading the men into the jail and complementing Nils. “You did fine, Nils!” I hurried over to my Pa. I wanted to throw my arms around his neck and give him a kiss, but for a 14 year old boy, that wasn’t gonna happen! Pa put an arm around my shoulder. “Didn’t he son?”
“He sure did!” I declared.
Nils held the gun the men as Pa shoved his rifle toward the two men. “Get in there!” he demanded. Nils locked the cell. Pa turned and looked at me. “Uh...” He threw a dollar to me. “Go order us something to eat, son, and bring it back over here.”
I cocked my head to one side and studied him. “Pa, I’m okay now…If that’s what you’re worried about.” Pa smiled. “I think I’m ready to apologize now.”
“No apology necessary, son. Sometimes it takes a hard lesson like this to get to the truth that we fight so hard.” He turned to Nils and smiled. “I think we’ve all learned something through this.”
“You too Pa?” I asked.
“Yes son. Me too.” Pa went to the man still laying on the ground. “Now, you go to the hotel, son, and get that food.” He looked up at me as he stayed stopped over the injured man on the floor. “I should take it out of your hide for worrying me like you did!”
I narrowed my eyes as I studied him. I saw a grin playing at the corners of his mouth, but I couldn’t help myself. “Oh now, Pa…is it MY fault that I got locked up in jail? Is it?”
Pa smiled. “I’ll have to think on that a while. Did you do EXACTLY what I told you?”
“Well, yes sir! I went to the hardware store, then came over here to bring Nils his mail!” Pa raised an eyebrow. “Well, Mr. Nelson told me to…” I started to explain. Suddenly, Pa started chuckling. “Oh Pa!”
By the time I returned with our supper, Pa had escorted Nils over to Doc’s and told him that we’d watch the marshal’s office until he could return. As we ate our supper, I was quiet as I thought on things. I wondered how long it would be before we would see men walking around without guns. That got me thinking on other things…and others…and others…
By the time Doc Burrage finished patching up Nils, Pa declared it was too late for us to head home and told Nils, that we’d stay in town, just to make sure everything was going to be okay. The following morning, as Pa and I were getting ready to leave, I voiced my thoughts…just to run them by Pa. "You know Pa...I can't help thinking what Nils tried to do was really right," I said. "Someday this town.....this whole territory is gonna be so different that people are gonna just have to change their ways."
"Maybe so son...but it will take a lot of changing to make them give up their guns,” Pa commented.
"Yeah but I think it’ll happen." Then I decided to go on. "You know I…I think that someday this street right here is gonna have buildings that stick up right to the sky. And we'll have machines that take the place of horses.” Now that really got Pa’s attention! “Like the train took the place of the covered wagon,"
Pa looked at me as if I’d just gone loco. "Machines to take the place of horses!!!!!"
I looked at Pa. From the look on his face, I’d say I pushed my verbal thoughts a little too far for Pa’s old-fashioned way of thinking. “Well?”
Pa firmly shook his head no. No way, no how! They made me change his tune. "Nah...I guess not.”
But when we got started on our way, I got to thinking on it some more. “You reckon Pa?” I asked out loud.
“Reckon what?” Pa asked.
“Well…if they’ll ever be a time when man won’t look to their guns for protection, when the law enforcement is stronger and they are called on when there’s danger? When we’ll leave our weapons at home and use to only hunt with? When we can go into town and not see a single gun in the whole entire place…except on the Marshal…When…
“Mark?” Pa turned his head toward me.
“Silence is golden!”
“Oh…” I cleared my throat. “Right, Pa.” We rode along in silence for awhile. “You were right about something, Pa.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Well…everything.” I smiled at him. “And thinks for letting me figure things out for myself. Only, next time I’d like to learn the lesson outside the cell!”
Pa chuckled as he gave my horses behind a hard swat and got him moving faster.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.