I stopped Blue Boy just on the other side of the bridge. I had hoped Pa wasn’t home so I could avoid the confrontation for just a little bit longer. I could already see the look on his face as he read the contents of the note and sent me to my room. I gave Blue Boy a pat. “Well boy, I did it again!” I declared with a deep sigh. “I really did it!”
Blue Boy neighed in response. Pa looked up from where he was chopping wood. I saw him shade his eyes and look toward me. “Thanks a lot, Blue Boy! I thought you were my friend!” I sighed as I started forward.
Pa put the axe down and walked over toward me. His arms were folded firmly in front of him and his head cocked to one side. “Since it’s one o’clock in the afternoon and you have a guilty look on your face, I’m going to assume there’s been trouble at school,” Pa stated.
I lowered my head as I sat on the horse. Somehow, I felt safer up on the horse. “Yes sir,” I answered quietly.
Pa stepped forward and grabbed my arm. “Well, come on down and take your medicine like a man, boy!” He “helped” me from my horse then grabbed Blue Boy’s reins and pulled him to the fence. After tying him, he walked over to me.
I pulled the note from my pocket, but still didn’t give it to him. Boy! Boy oh boy! If only I hadn’t done what I did…
It was lunch time. I had finished eating my lunch. I was standing away from the schoolhouse playing with my slingshot – the sling shot I had been told numerous times by Pa and Mr. Griswald not to take to school. But, of course, like any 12 year old boy, I had a tendency of disobeying. While I was shooting at some branches on a tree, Jeff Connors called me over to where he was standing – closer to the schoolhouse.
“What?” I asked.
“Let’s have a contest!” He pointed up in the tree. “See that branch with the bird’s nest up there on it?” I nodded. “Let’s see who can knock the bird’s nest off first.”
“There may be eggs in that nest!” I declared. “Besides, that’s stupid!” I rolled my eyes.
“Stupid, huh?” Jeff laughed at me. “Mark McCain’s just chicken!”
“Chicken, huh?” I picked up a stone. “Alright, you’re on!” I stuck the stone in the slingshot, and aimed toward the nest. Then I pulled the rubber band way back.
“Mark!” I turned to see who was calling me. Suddenly, the stone left the sling shot and I heard glass shatter.
I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I saw Billy and Jeff quickly running away. I was still standing there with the sling shot in my hand, turned toward the broken window. “Mark McCain!” I suddenly heard from behind me. I closed my eyes in regret again. That was the voice of a very angry Mr. Griswald. “Get inside now!”
I sighed and shook my head as I slowly started inside. The kids had stopped their playing to stare at me. Some had solemn look on their faces. Others couldn’t keep from grinning. They just knew I was going to get a whipping. I could already feel the sting as that switch landed on my backside. I walked inside and stopped at the back of the room. Mr. Griswald was sitting at his desk writing. “Come up here, Mark McCain.”
The room was empty, but I heard whispering in the back as the children made their way to the door to listen. I swallowed as I slowly made my way to the front of the room. Then I stood right in front of his desk. Mr. Griswald continued writing. I knew better then to speak as I stood there.
Finally, Mr. Griswald put down his pen, next to the ink well, and stood up. He folded the paper and put it in an envelope. “Go home, Mark McCain.”
I turned and looked around the room as if the answer to my question was there. But there was no one else in the room. “Uh…sir, I..”
“Go home, Mr. McCain.” Mr. Griswald stood up and went to the closet for the broom.
“Sir, I can clean…” I started.
But he quickly walked over to me. “If I must, I will switch you.”
“No sir,” I answered. “I mean…yes sir…” I shook my head. “I mean…goodbye.” Then I hurried out the door.
Billy Davis hurried up to me. “Some friend you are!” I declared.
“Mark, did he lick you?” Billy asked.
“No.” I untied Blue Boy’s reins from the hitching post and turned to glare at Jeff. “He did much worse than that.”
“What’s that?” Jeff asked.
“He’s sending me home with a note so Pa can do the whipping.” Then I jumped on my horse and slowly rode out of the schoolyard.
Pa reached for the note, but I pulled it out of his grasp. “Pa, I can explain. I-“
“Give me the note, Mark.” Pa held his hand out to me. The hint of anger in his voice told me I was really in deep water this time!
I handed him the note. Pa opened the flap of the envelope and started to pull it out. The whole process was too painful to watch. “I’ll go start on my-“ I started.
Pa pressed a heavy hand against my chest, to stop my forward momentum. “You will stay right there,” he declared sternly.
“Uh…yes sir.” I tried not to watch his face as he opened the paper and started reading. But I glanced up to see anger cross his face. As he finished reading the note, he crumpled it in his hand as he tried to control his voice. When he finally spoke, it was very soft and laced with anger. “Go to your room, Mark.”
“Pa, I-“ I started.
“I said go to your room!” His voice suddenly rose and he flashed a look of anger at me. I hurried inside.
After I closed the door, I flung myself down on my bed and sighed. I knew Pa needed time to think on my rightful punishment. Oh, how could I have been so stupid! I should have known disobeying would only get me in trouble!
Each minute that passed was pure agony for me. The longer I had to wait for Pa, the more trouble I knew I was in. I finally stood up and started pacing the floor. I looked out the window several times but never saw a sign of Pa. Finally, I heard the back door open. I hurried and laid back down on my bed and waited.
The door creaked open. A shadow filled the room. Pa stood just inside the door with his arms crossed tightly across his chest and his legs spread apart. He reminded me of a gunfighter on the street of North Fork at sundown. “Mark.”
I lifted my eyes toward Pa. “Come here.” The tone of voice he used scared me. I stood and slowly made my way to stand in front of him. He held out his hand. “Let me have it, son.”
“Have what?” I asked innocently.
Pa was quiet for a moment. Then when he spoke, it was through clinched teeth. “The sling shot.”
I took the sling shot from my pocket and handed it to him. “I can use the rubber band.” He took the rubber band off the sling shot. Then he tossed the wood onto the bureau. “How many times have I told you not to take this to school, boy?” I shrugged my shoulders. “Well?”
I licked my lips. “Hundreds I guess.”
“Look at me!” Pa’s voice boomed.
I slowly lifted my head. “Why did you take it to school with you?”
“I…I don’t know,” I answered helplessly.
“You don’t know why you took it to school? Or you don’t want to tell me why?”
I lowered my head. “I…I’m sorry, Pa.”
“You haven’t even began to be sorry, Mark!” Pa heaved a sigh. “I have half a mind to bend you over my knee and give you a licking you’ll never forget!” Pa declared as he grabbed my arm. “In fact, I haven’t decided not to do that yet.”
He stared at me silently for a few moments. Then he let go and started pacing the floor. “I can’t believe you would pull a stunt like this! What were you thinking, aiming toward the schoolhouse anyhow?” I heard the question, but figured he wasn’t expecting an answer so I stayed quiet. “Well?” Pa demanded as he turned and glared at me.
“I wasn’t, Pa! And it wasn’t all my fault! I-“
“It wasn’t all your fault???? Who had the sling shot?” Pa’s voice accused.
“And who aimed it?”
“Me, but I aimed it toward a tree, Pa! Jeff dared me and Billy-“
“No!” Pa pointed a finger at me. “Don’t you blame anybody else! Mark McCain made the decision to take the sling shot to school. Mark McCain aimed the sling shot. Mark McCain broke the window. Nobody else.”
I lowered my head in shame. “Yes sir.”
“And Mark McCain will be doing extra chores and uh…other things…until the window is replaced and paid for out of his own pocket.”
“That long?” I groaned. Pa glared at me again. I cleared my throat. “Yes sir.”
“But right now, we’re going back into town. You’re going to apologize to Mr. Griswald and then-“
I gasped as I stared at Pa. “Oh no, Pa! I can’t!”
“You can!” Pa stated in a very stern voice. “And you will.” Pa kept a firm hold of my arm as he dragged me into the kitchen.
All the way into town, Pa continued his griping and yelling. I was certainly sorry that I had ever taken that stupid sling shot to school! I told Pa as much, and he told me I would be mighty sorry by the time this was all over. He warned me that I was pretty close to that woodshed. “In fact, right now I’d say you are standing in the door!” he warned.
When we got to the school, school was just letting out. I sat on Blue Boy and watched the kids race out of the yard. “Come along, son,” Pa ordered.
I dismounted my horse and walked beside Pa as we climbed the steps and walked inside. Mr. Griswald was erasing the board. “Mark will do that for you.” Mr. Griswald turned. I looked up at Pa. “Well?”
I swallowed. “I…I’m sorry about the window.” I took the eraser from him and went back to erasing the board. I turned and watched as Pa and Mr. Griswald talked in the back of the room. They were examining the damage and talking quietly.
Pa looked up at me. “Wash the board, Mark,” he ordered. I obeyed him.
After the erasers were dusted and the wet rag was drying on the basin, I turned toward Pa and Mr. Griswald. Pa shook Mr. Griswald’s hand. “Mark will be here right after school tomorrow to do the cleaning. Thank you.”
I looked from Pa to Mr. Griswald, then back at Pa. Nothing was said to me. Pa put a stiff hand on my shoulder. “Come along, son.”
A word wasn’t spoken as we mounted our horses and started riding towards town. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I knew I was in more trouble then I’d seen in quite some time! Pa led me toward the general store. I stayed on my mount as he got off. He started inside, then quickly turned. “Well, come on, Mark!”
I slowly slid off my horse and walked with Pa into the General Store. “Well, hello Luc-“ Milly started. But when she saw our faces, her voice died. “Is something wrong?”
“I need to get a pane of glass for the school,” Pa stated with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
Milly looked from Pa to me, and then back at Pa. “Did something happen?” she asked.
“Never mind, Milly. Do you have any?”
Milly turned and grabbed the catalog. “Lucas, all I have is the plain clear glass. That glass in the school is painted – we’ll have to order it special.” Pa started thumbing through the catalog. “What happened, Mark?”
“Do you know how much it…” Pa’s voice died. I heard a groan and he studied the price. “Oh no!”
“I’m sorry, Lucas. That came very dear. I heard that when the school was built years ago, someone left money for the special glass. It’ll have to come all the way from Kansas City.”
Pa looked at me then pointed at the price. I gasped when I saw how much it was. “Well, can’t we just put some clear glass in the window?” I asked.
“You replace what you broke, Mark!” Pa answered harshly. He sighed then. “Milly, is there some way you can put this on my account? My boy will be paying for it.”
“Mark, what happened?” Milly asked.
I didn’t answer. I just lowered my head. “Well, aren’t you going to answer her, boy?” Pa asked.
“I…I took a slingshot to school and accidently hit a window. Pa’s…awful sore with me.” I sighed. “Ten dollars!” I turned to Pa. “Do you know how long it will take for me to-“
“You should have thought of that when you took the slingshot to school, Mark!” Pa yelled.
“Lucas!” Milly scolded him.
Pa turned and looked at her. Then he sighed. “I’m…sorry, Milly. I didn’t mean to raise my voice in front of you. How long will it take for the glass to get here?”
“About six weeks,” Milly answered. Pa shot his head up. “I’m sorry, Lucas.”
He turned and looked at me. “Well son, I guess we can add on another two dollars to your bill.” He turned to Milly. “Let’s see the glass.”
“Grab a piece of candy, Mark. We’ll be right back,” Milly called as she and Pa started for the back.
“No, son. Go wait for me by the horses!” Pa said sternly.
I walked out the door. “Ten dollars…Of all the windows in North Fork, I had to break one worth ten dollars!”
Pa made me carry the glass while he carried the rest of the supplies he would need to replace the window. As we walked down the street, I asked, “You said I’ll clean the school after school tomorrow?”
“You’re suspended, son. You can return Monday. You will be cleaning the school every weekend at twenty-five cents a week. You’ll have plenty to do around the ranch as well.” We continued walking. “That means, of course, that you’ll be confined to the ranch for quite some time.”
I shook my head as we walked toward the school. Then I stopped. “Pa, what about Billy’s birthday party tomorrow?”
“What about it, Mark?” Pa asked.
“But Pa, I’ve been looking forward to this party for a long time! I-“
“Mark!” Pa warned.
Again I sighed. “Yes sir.” I started walking again. “I guess I sure messed up this time!”
I watched as Pa put the new pane of glass in the window. It took some doing. He had to use special tools to cut it down to size and use special stuff to seal it, but he finally got it in. It looked a little funny with clear glass in the middle of painted glass, but I didn’t think now was anytime to laugh.
When we were done at the school, we started back through town. Milly stepped out onto the porch and said goodbye. “I said goodbye, Mark,” Milly said as she placed a hand under my chin and lifted my head. “Don’t look so glum, Mark. Believe it or not, I did the same sort of things when I was a child.”
“Milly,” Pa warned her.
Milly smiled into my eyes, trying to cheer me up. I just allowed my breath to come out slowly as I thought on the money I owed.
“Mark, you look like you lost your best friend,” Milly stated as she looked to me.
“I did Miss Milly. I surely did,” I replied.
The next day, I was sat down at the table and given lots of schoolwork to do. Pa ordered me not to move until he permitted me to. That afternoon when my studies were done, he sent me to the wood pile. Then he ordered me to go directly to the school, clean it, then get straight home. I obeyed him.
Of course, I had to wash the dishes after supper. Then Pa sent me to bed. I thought it was awful horrible for me to go to bed at 7:00 on a Friday night. But again, I dared not mention this to Pa. He was still awful sore with me!
Then when I came in from milking the cow Saturday morning, I saw Pa sitting at the table making a list of chores for me to do. I looked over his shoulder and groaned when I saw the following items on the list:
Sweep and mop all floors
Stack the wood
Clean the outhouse
Clean the chicken coop
Clean the fireplace
mend the hog pen fence
Check for strays
Do these in this order!
If these are done before I get home, do pages 52-60 in your math book.
“You going somewhere, Pa?” I asked.
Pa nodded as he picked up his rifle and began loading it. “I have to help Micah transport a prisoner today. I’ll be back by supper. You are not to leave this ranch – understand?”
I watched Pa leave then started on my chores.
“Hey Mark!” As I picked up my first load of wood, I heard someone hollering for me. I turned to see Billy, Jeff, and several of the other boys hurrying toward me. “You coming to the party or what?”
I sighed as I picked up another stack of wood. “Can’t,” I simply answered.
“But Mark! You’ve been talking about coming to my party all week!” Billy declared.
“Yeah?” I turned and glared at them. “Well, talk to Jeff! He’s partly to blame for my not going!”
“Me?” Jeff argued. “How can I be to blame?”
“Remember the slingshot incident? Didn’t you notice that I wasn’t at school yesterday?” I put my hands on my hips and glared at Jeff.
“You got in THAT much trouble over a little broken window?” Jeff asked then. “Don’t blame me! I’m not the one who told you to break the window!
“I was aiming at the bird’s nest!” I yelled as I started toward him. “I’ve a good mind to wallop you, Jeffery Connors!”
Jeff’s eyes narrowed as he placed his own hands on his hips. “Don’t call me Jeffery!”
“Alright! Alright!” Billy came to stand between us. “Let’s call a truce! Hey Mark, maybe if we talk to your Pa and explain…” Billy started.
I shook my head. “It’s no use. You know my Pa. He doesn’t care what happened. In the end, I made the decisions and I live with them. Pa was so sore!” I shook my head. “He yelled at me for a long, long time! He’s making me pay for the damages myself. Do you know how much replacing that window is gonna cost?” Everyone was quiet. “Well, do ya?
“A couple bucks?” Jeff asked.
“Ten whole dollars! Pa’s having to send off for the painted glass to put back in the window! Then he paid two dollars to get temporary regular glass in there.” I shook my head. “I came close to the woodshed. Pa said I was standing in the doorway.” I pulled out my list. “Now I have to do all these things on the list today, and then I have to clean the schoolhouse every weekend. Pa said I’m grounded and have to do lots more chores until all the damages are paid for. Then he’ll add a little more work on for good measure.”
“Gee Mark, you shouldn’t have brought your slingshot to school!” Jeff declared. “You know it’s against the rules and all and-“
I planted my hands on my hips again. “I’ve a good mind to-“
“Where is your Pa, Mark?” Peter asked then.
“He had to help Micah deliver a prisoner. He’ll be back at supper.”
“Well then…” Billy ran to the shed and grabbed a bat Pa had made for us. “Let’s play ball for a little.”
“No!” I shook my head. “I’m grounded! Pa would get sore just knowing you are here!”
“I have to get these chores done!” I argued. “This is only the third on the list!”
“Just for an hour, Mark! Honest! That’ll give you plenty of time to clean after.” I shook my head but then looked at all the faces staring at me. Then, Billy got me with a low blow. “You promised you’d come to my birthday party and now you aren’t! This is sort of a way of making up for breaking that promise.”
“I didn’t break it! Pa overrode…” I stopped and picked up the pile of wood I had been transporting to the shed. “Pa will skin me for sure if he caught us!”
“You said he’s out of town, Mark. He’d never know,” Jeff pointed out.
I turned from the shed and rubbed the back of my neck. “I wouldn’t be so sure. Pa seems to know everything!” I slowly closed my eyes in defeat.
“Alright, you win. But if Pa comes back and catches me, I’ll beat you all up in a fair fight! Agreed?” The boys just looked at each other. “Agreed?”
They nodded. “Agreed.”
The game was on. We chose teams and set out the bases. Then the game was on. I must admit that it was a whole lot of fun, even though I did have this strange, heavy feeling deep in the pit of my gut. Somehow, I felt like going and drinking some of that caster oil Pa made me drink sometimes when I had a tummy ache. But I just shook my head and told myself to keep playing.
The hour was almost up. We agreed to do two more rounds and then stop. I was pitching the ball and Jeff was up to bat. I aimed and then threw the ball. It sailed right over Jeff’s head, across the yard, and through the bedroom window of the house.
My heart sank and I closed my eyes in immediate regret. “Wow!” Billy breathed in surprise. “That was some throw, Mark! You got a good arm!”
But I didn’t care about how good of a throw it was! We raced across the yard and stood in front of the bedroom window. It was shattered. The baseball laid at my feet among broken glass. More than one pane of glass was broken. I closed my eyes as I slowly bent over and picked up the ball. I lifted my head and stared at Jeff.
Jeff immediately started backing up. “Oh gee, Mark…” He held up his hands and started waving them back and forth. “I best get home for lunch. If I’m late, my Ma’ll whip me! See ya!”
One by one, the boys turned and hurried away from the ranch. Soon, only Billy and I remained. We looked at each other. “Well?” I asked.
“Well what, Mark?” Billy asked.
“Ain’t you leaving too so you don’t have to suffer my Pa’s wrath?”
“You’re Pa’s not going to be here for several hours, Mark!” Billy reminded me. “We can fix this.”
I turned and looked at the window. It made every bone in my body hurt to look at it – for good cause! Pa was going to break something when he saw this window. I slowly shook my head. “We can’t fix this, Billy.”
“Why, sure we can Mark! They have glass at the hardware store! We’ll just go in and-“
“Billy, I don’t know how to…I…” I sighed. “Let’s face it. I’m pig slop.”
“No!” Billy argued. “Mark, if your Pa comes home and finds this window broken, he’s gonna lick ya for sure, right?”
I groaned. “If I’m lucky,” I answered.
“We can fix this. Then I’ll help ya with your chores. Your Pa won’t have to know! I’ll help ya, Mark!” Billy said. “We’ll just go to town and-“
“Billy, Pa told me I couldn’t leave the ranch!” I said then.
“But THIS is an emergency, Mark!” Billy argued.
I was weakening…again! I guess I was so far deep that I couldn’t swim out – so what’s one more possible mistake going to matter?
Though Pa bought the first glass at the General store, I wasn’t about to go there – not with Milly there. She knew Pa was out of town, and there was NO way I’d ever be able to pull off any sort of falsehood or excuse. It’s not that I was planning on lying, mind you, but going to Milly’s would be disastrous.
“Well, hello, Mark!” Miss Myrtle greeted me as I walked into the hardware store an hour later. “What can I do for you today?”
“Pa needs some more glass, Miss Myrtle.” Billy nudged me as Myrtle left. “I wasn’t lying!” I explained quickly. “Pa DOES need it, doesn’t he? He just…doesn’t know it yet.
We just looked at each other. Myrtle brought out a box. “How many panes, Mark?”
“Oh…uh…” I looked at Billy. “We’ll take two, Myrtle.”
Myrtle carefully set out two panes and wrapped them in paper. Then she wrote something out. “Are you going to sign for it or pay in cash?”
I gasped. “Sign?” I looked at Billy who shrugged. Well, maybe by the time Pa got the bill, he wouldn’t think on when he bought this. Maybe by then I’d come up with a good way of telling him the truth. Maybe… “Sure, Myrtle.” I signed the receipt and we hurried out.
I still had my doubts about pulling this off. As we drove the wagon home, Billy and I discussed how we were going to carry out the task. The first part was easy – I cleaned up the broken glass on the outside while Billy worked on it from the inside. Then we were able to clear the remainder of the glass out of the two panes that were broken.
I had watched Pa work on the schoolhouse the other day. Billy and I quietly worked at measuring the window to see how big of a piece of glass we would need. We cut it to size (I, of course, cut my finger in the process). Then we discussed how to actually fit it into the window. “I think Pa put some of this glue stuff inside the frame,” I commented.
“How much?” Billy asked.
“I don’t know…” I shrugged. “But I reckon that we just put enough to fill it…” I poured the stuff in as I spoke. “There. I think that oughta do it.” I picked up the piece of glass and gently worked it into the frame. I gasped at what happened next.
“Mark, that stuff is pouring out all over the window!” Billy shouted.
“I know…I know!” I shook my head as I started to let go. But the pane didn’t stay. “We’ll have to hold it until it dries…..
“What now?” Billy asked as we stared at the window.
I shook my head. “I don’t know.” I closed my eyes and stared at the window. That glue stuff was running down the window. All four panes were now ruined with dried stuff on them. One of the panes was sticking out.
I slowly turned from the window and sat down on the porch. “That’s it. I tried to make it better, and all I’ve done was make it worse. Not only did I ruin two new panes of glass, but I managed to ruin the other two and…” I jumped as I heard glass shatter to the ground. I closed my eyes and groaned. “I’m dead…I’m dead…”
Billy sat down beside me. “I’m sorry, Mark.”
“It’s not your fault. You were only trying to help.”
“I’ll stay until your Pa comes home, Mark. I’ll help you-“ Billy started.
I held up my hand to stop him. “No, Billy. It’s best you aren’t here when Pa gets here. There’s no telling how he’ll behave! I think it’s best you go home now.”
“What about your chores, Mark?” Billy just had to remind me! I just let out a loud groan, but stayed silent.
“Don’t you have a birthday party to get ready for?” I looked up toward the sky. “It’s nearly 3:00. You best hustle.” Billy stood up, but he wasn’t sure about leaving me alone. I think he feared for my life – to be honest, so did I!
Billy finally nodded. I stood and watched him ride off. Then I went back to stacking the firewood. I figured doing chores would keep me out of any more trouble.
After the wood was stacked, I did a good cleaning of the outhouse and chicken house. Then I saddled up Blue Boy and went out to check for stray cattle. I was glad to see that I did have some strays to round up. I wasn’t too anxious to get back to the ranch – especially if Pa was back.
But I knew I couldn’t hide forever – Pa would expect me to face my troubles like a man. I thought about running away, but I’d tried that before. I had managed to stay gone for only a few hours. I knew I had no choice – I had to go home.
I rode for home as slowly as I could, but Blue Boy was anxious to get home and be fed. I slowed when I saw Razor hitched up out front. I paused on the hill just above our house and looked down on the ranch. My heart began beating faster and my palms became sweaty. I slowly rode into the yard. Pa was standing outside, staring at the bedroom window. I dismounted Blue Boy, tied him to the fence rail, and slowly made my way over to Pa.
I stood in front of him with my head low. When Pa spoke, his voice was very controlled. “Would you…know anything about this?” Pa asked in a quiet voice.
“Ye…Yes sir,” I answered just as quietly.
Pa nodded. We stood there quietly. “This is your doing?” Pa finally asked.
“Ye-Yes sir,” I answered again.
I suddenly blurted out the whole sordid story. At times it came out slowly, while other times it came out in rapid spurts followed by long silences. When my story was done and every detail was out in the open, I grew quiet. Pa was quiet too. Too quiet.
When he spoke, it was like sudden thunder on a sunny day. His voice boomed through the quiet of the evening. “You mean to tell me that you went to town after I told you not to? And you charged the glass on my account without my permission? You played baseball and broke the window then tried to cover it up?” I hung my head. “Do you realize how much more damage you’ve caused, Mark?” I didn’t answer. “Well, do you?”
“No sir,” I answered. I could feel hot tears forming in the back of my eyes.
“I’m going to have to replace the entire window! Do you know how much that will cost? Well, do you?”
“No sir,” I answered again.
“Mark, I-“ He stopped then. He just stopped talking and walked away from me a bit. I saw him lean his hand against the post on the porch and breathe heavily.
“You gonna lick me, Pa?” I asked then.
Pa turned. “Mark…I don’t know. Right now…I just don’t know.” He looked up at the sky. “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do, son. I think you should go to the barn and wait for me.”
“Yes sir.” I started toward the barn. “What about the chores, Pa?”
“Go to the barn!” Pa ordered.
I turned and slowly walked toward the barn. I knew it was bad – so bad he couldn’t even send me to my room. Instead, the barn was going to be my place to wait.
On my way, I took the horses. I figured that if I was going to be in there, I might as well make myself useful. After unsaddling the horses and getting them something to eat, I sat down and thought back on all the things I had done today. I found myself wishing I could take the last several hours back. I drew my knees up to my chest and rested my head on my knees as I waited for Pa.
It was some time later when I heard the barn door creak open. I didn’t move from my position. Pa sat down beside me. “Mark,” he said softly.
I lifted my head and looked at him. In his eyes, I saw so much disappointment and hurt. I bit my lip as I gathered my thoughts. “Pa, I…I don’t know how exactly…how I got myself in such a mess but…”
“Mark,” Pa shook his head at me. “How could a 12 year old boy do so many things wrong in such a short amount of time?”
“Well…” I sighed. “I ain’t making light of it, Pa, but apparently it ain’t too hard.”
Pa nodded. “Apparently not.” Then he raised his eyebrows at me.
“I should have sent the boys away as soon as they got here.” I turned my head and stared straight ahead of me. “I don’t know why I gave in exactly.
One minute I was telling ‘em how much trouble I was in for my crimes on Thursday and…and I was explaining why I couldn’t go to the party. Then they offered to explain to you why I got in so much trouble.” I turned and looked at Pa. “But I made sure to tell them, Pa, that talking to you won’t do ‘em no good…When I do something, wrong, you expect me to take the consequences.”
“It seems that at some time today you forgot that, son.”
“Yes sir.” I nodded in regret. “Though I’m still not sure how I forgot that…” I sighed. “Then Billy gave me the guilts, saying I’d promised to come to his party and didn’t – so the least I could do was…” I stopped.
“The least you could do for him was to disobey your father.” It was a statement I wasn’t expecting.
I jerked my head around and stared at him. “No sir!”
“Yes sir,” Pa argued. “You allowed your so-called friends into talking you into going against me.” His eyebrows lifted again as he allowed me to process this. “If they really wanted to be your friends, they would have encouraged you to do the right thing. And…uh…playing baseball while on restrictions wasn’t the right thing.”
Pa just looked at me silently as I allowed regret to sit in. He gently put an arm around my shoulders. “And then, of course, when you disobey, there’s always consequences. The ball hit the window and you knew there was no walking away. So, like many guilty people do, you perform another crime to cover up that one. Soon you find yourself drowning in crime.”
“How about you, Pa?” I asked then.
“I’ve done the same thing, son. My father punished me severely – like I intend to do to you. That’s the way we learn.” I groaned. “You didn’t expect me to allow you to go unpunished, did you?”
“No sir!” I declared. “I feel lucky to be walking away with my life!” I groaned as I covered my face with my hands. “I’m awful sorry I did any of this.”
“So am I, son. Because now I can’t trust you. And uh…your actions today have greatly increased the debt you owe.” I didn’t say anything. “Son, you are a boy. Of course you are going to do things wrong! What made you EVER want to try and cover up that wrong? Have I ever beaten you or treated you unfairly before?”
“No.” I sighed. “I’ve been thinking that maybe you’re gonna whip me, which is okay cause I know I deserve whatever you do. But Pa I just…I just can’t stand you looking at me like you are.”
“How’s that?” Pa asked gently.
I turned and looked him in the eye. “Like I’ve hurt you and your disappointed in me.”
“I am, son. I’m disappointed because you didn’t come to me and say, ‘Pa, I’ve made a mistake and I’m sorry.’ Instead, you deceived me by trying to cover it up. You didn’t trust me enough to fess up to me. That’s what hurts me the most.” I started crying at his words. “And now is not the time for that either,” Pa said sternly. “You made these decisions, you live with them. I’ll have no pity for you.”
I listened as Pa cleared his throat. “Is there anything else you want to add before I punish you?” I opened my mouth to talk. “Besides that your awful sorry?”
“Only that if I could take it back, I would.”
“Okay.” Pa stood up. “Stand up, Mark.” I did as he said. “Now…because you chose to disobey me and played baseball with your friends instead of your chores, I’ll add on two additional weeks to your punishment which will start after you finish paying for all the damages you’ve accrued. And since you can’t seem to do the right thing without me, you will not be allowed to stay at the ranch by yourself for some time. You want to act like a child, I’ll treat you like a child.” Pa paused. “Is that clear?”
“Yes Pa,” I answered as I hung my head.
“Look at me and answer!” Pa yelled.
I lifted my head up. “Yes sir.”
“For breaking the window, you will clean out the entire window. Then we’ll ride into town tomorrow and after church we will see if Myrtle or Mr. Nelson will allow us to get the supplies you’ll need to fix it. Then, since you are obviously so eager to learn the trade, I’ll teach you how to replace the window, and you WILL replace it – even if it takes you a week!”
“You will not be getting an allowance for quite some time, son. Every day, when you are finished with your regular chores, I will give you hard work to do so you can begin paying me. Until then, when you aren’t working you will sit either at the table doing your studies – or in your room…thinking. This is your punishment for the next several weeks. On Sunday afternoons…” Pa sighed. “Well, your mother wouldn’t be pleased if I forced you to hard labor on Sunday, so instead, I’ll do what she WOULD approve of. On Sunday afternoons, you’ll sit in the hayloft with the Good Book. You will spend several Sunday afternoons reading, then writing an essay on the importance on children obeying their parents. Because you’ll have five Sundays to do this, I expect this essay to be quiet lengthy and quite detailed on the importance. You are to also include the importance of a father punishing the child.”
I didn’t say anything. “I want you to know, Mark, that I am very disappointed in you.”
I hung my head in shame. Pa sat down again and pulled me down beside him. “Son, if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care if you did wrong. I’ve seen people who don’t discipline their children – and I see how they turned out. If I don’t punish you when you’re young, I’m not doing right by you. God gave me an order to do just that in the Bible. Perhaps when you’re reflecting on your Bible one Sunday, you’ll come on that passage.” I turned and looked at Pa. I didn’t see hurt in his eyes this time. This time all I saw was love.
“Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. What say you get started on your bath while I go inside and fix something to eat so that after you finish the dishes, you can go to bed.”
“I take it that dishes and early bedtime are two other items on my list of punishment?”
The next day, the new routine was started. Directly after church, I wasn’t allowed to stay at the hotel and eat. Milly raised her eyebrows at Pa when he told me he’d see me at home. “Lucas!” she argued. “The boy has to eat.”
“Milly, he’s being punished!” Pa gave her a look that told her to butt out, but you know Milly!
She folded her arms and shot a look right back at Pa. “Can I speak to you, Lucas?” Pa looked at me. “Now?”
I turned and looked at Micah, not sure rather I should do my Pa’s bidding and leave, or wait until they returned. I decided I’d wait. Pa and Milly walked back into the church and I saw Milly close the door behind her. Micah and I could hear their voices, but couldn’t make out what exactly they were saying. When Pa came back out, he ran his hand through his hair before he put his hat on and then he cleared his throat. “You’ll eat with us. But, you won’t stay for desert, you hear?”
I heard him loud and clear! I wasn’t sure how much Milly knew about the things I’d done the last few days, and I wondered what she would think about Pa’s harsh punishment. At this point though, Pa had calmed down so I didn’t push it.
We talked and laughed while we ate. As soon as the last bite was in my mouth, Pa gave me a look. I knew what it meant – it was time for me to go home. “Mark…uh…” Milly flashed Pa a look. “I could use somebody in the store next week. I’ll pay you fifty since an hour if you’ll clean my storeroom and help me with inventory a couple days.”
I smiled. That made me happy. “Milly,” Pa sighed. I lost my smile, worried Pa wasn’t going to let me do the work.
“Now Lucas, I promise you I’m not going soft!” Milly declared. “I honestly DO need someone to help me in the store.”
Pa and Milly did this silent eye thing for a few moments. Pa finally turned to me. “Alright. Monday and Tuesday, Mark can help you. BUT…” Pa turned and pointed a finger at Milly. “No candy or other sweets. And I think twenty-five cents is plenty for a 12 year old boy, Milly. Whatever you were going to pay him, will go towards the amount on MY account for the broken window panes.”
Milly and I looked at each other. She flashed me a quick smile and I flashed one back at her. It was a thank you. Pa cleared his throat then. “Mark?”
“Uh…yes sir!” I excused myself and left.
When I got home, I knew what I was supposed to do. I went inside and got my books and my Bible, then I went out to the barn and got in the hayloft to begin my work. Pa did tell me this morning that my hayloft time could be spent on my homework as well. So for the next several hours, I spent quiet time in my Bible, working on my essay, and doing my homework.
It was a couple hours later when Pa came home. He climbed up the steps of the ladder and peered up at me. “I’ll call you at supper, son. I’m going to go check the cattle. You stay here, you hear?”
“Yes sir.” It was about 6:00 that evening when Pa finally walked out into the yard and called me for supper. He gave me a few chores to do after supper, then it was straight to bed.
The next day, Pa reminded me to be home for supper. I only had two days to help Milly, so I had to make them good. At lunch, I hurried over to get started. I figured with an hour break for lunch, I could spend the time working. I assured Milly that I ate my sandwich on the way over to her store. She gave me 45 minutes of work. She was strictly professional to! We didn’t talk while I was working, and she made sure I stayed on task. She saw that I got back to school on time. Then after school I returned to finish what I started earlier in the day. On Tuesday afternoon, after I finished my tasks, she took out her ledger and opened it up. “Well now, Mark,” she smiled. “You now only owe $19.00.”
I groaned. “I only remember Pa paying $10 for the painted glass and $2 for the broken pane!” I declared.
“Oh.” Milly looked at the ledger. “Yes. The painted glass is $10.00. But then your father bought four panes of glass for $2 each, and a pane for the school for $2.00. That brings the current account to $20.00.” She closed the ledger and gave me a sympathetic look. “Mark, I understand about the school, I mean…you are a boy after all…but I don’t understand what you did on Saturday.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “That makes three of us!” I sighed. “I owe $4.00 as the Hardware store too. I also owe Mr. Swenson $1 because he had to make a new frame for the window…I’ve never been in such debt in my whole life.”
“Well…go home, Mark and…” She raised her eyebrows. “Try to be good.” I turned to leave. “Oh Mark,” she stopped me. I turned and looked at her. “I’ll talk to your father about letting you help me out some more next week. I COULD really use the help and it would go toward the debt you both owe me.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Milly.”
The week flew by. When I wasn’t at home doing homework, I was doing chores for Pa. And as Pa mentioned, after the dishes were done, it was straight to bed for me. I counted the days until my punishment would come to an end. I watched everyday as Pa recorded on the piece of paper the amount I had earned through chores.
Then I got a real big break! On Friday, Mr. Hardiman stopped by Pa’s ranch and reported that he needed a boy to help him in his apple orchard on Saturday. He would pay me fifty cents an hour if I helped him pick his apples all weekend. I watched as he and Pa talked. I couldn’t hear what was going on because Pa had sent me to do some chores while they talked. Finally, they shook hands and Mr. Hardiman drove off in his wagon.
I dropped my rake and rushed over to Pa. “Well?” I asked.
Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “You’ll earn twenty-five cents an hour, son. You’ll work four hours on Saturday. That’ll earn you a dollar.”
“What about Sunday?” I asked hopefully.
Pa shook his head and folded his arms. “I’m sorry, son. Sunday’s is the Lord’s day. You’ll spend your afternoon in the hayloft.”
I was so excited Saturday morning. I know I was supposed to be seeing work as punishment, but going to work for Mr. Hardiman all morning was really fun! He always told such funny stories while we worked. I reckon that’s why Pa agreed to only a quarter an hour. I started eating my breakfast too fast. Pa flashed me several looks. “Say Pa, maybe I can find other jobs to do this afternoon for folks and earn money that much faster. What do you think? Huh?”
“You do have jobs to do this afternoon, son. This afternoon you’ll do your regular chores!”
“Oh!” I started to take a drink of milk, then slowly put it down. “Say Pa…I don’t suppose I could get paid for that?”
“You do, son. It’s called your allowance.”
I was afraid of that. I went to the paper on Pa’s desk and picked it up. “$1.50 for the week.” I started thinking on that. “Let’s see…I paid the General store $1.00 for work I did at Milly’s. I’ll earn another dollar today. You’re paying me $1.50…I earned fifty cents for cleaning the school…That comes to…$5.00.”
Pa stood up and walked over to me. “Correction, son. $5.25. You forgot your allowance.”
I shook my head. “$.25 used to sound like a lot more!” I groaned as I bent over Pa’s desk. “This is going to take forever.”
Suddenly, I felt a hard swat on my backside. I bolted upright and shot my hand to my backside in surprise. “Stop complaining, Mark. I didn’t get you into this mess. Now, go finish your chores then get over to Mr. Hardiman’s!” Pa demanded.
I did as Pa said – these days, there was absolutely no argument from me.
Later that afternoon, Pa came to me as I finished my dirty job of cleaning up after the horses in the yard. “I saw Milly in town today,” Pa said as he led me toward the house. “She has convinced me that your working for her to pay off some of the debt is necessary.” Pa folded his arms. “Now son, I’m not too sure it’s a good idea, but I’m going to allow this.” Pa shook a finger at me. “But remember, I expect you to work hard!”
“So, I’ll work tomorrow afternoon at Milly’s?” I asked excitedly. Pa raised his eyebrow at me. “It was worth a try,” I shrugged.
“After school for two hours,” Pa answered. “You’ll be able to earn $2.00 for four days.” Pa shook a finger at me. “No more lunch breaks!”
“Oh, but Pa!” I started.
“Son?” Pa’s voice raised a bit.
“Yes sir.” I hurried inside to wash up for supper.
Three weeks later, I poured water over my head and sighed. Never do I EVER remember working so hard in my life! I looked at the pile of rocks that sat on the side of the field and shook my head. I’d been working for two whole days on this rock pile! But I suppose it was well worth it – it earned me two dollars for two days!
I sat on the pile of rocks and wiped my forehead as I watched Pa riding out to meet me. He got off his horse and walked over to look at the rock pile. “Well…” Pa folded his arms in front of me. “Seems you are sitting down on the job.”
“What?” I squeaked out. “Pa, I’ve been working all day long piling up these rocks! I-“
Pa held up a hand and chuckled. “I’m laughing, son.” He sat down beside me. “Well, I’ll say that if you earn one more dollar, you can then start your two weeks punishment for me.”
“Two weeks-“ I sighed. “Oh yeah. Now I have to work for free.”
“No,” Pa shrugged. “Not for free. You’ll get satisfaction of knowing that you are learning a lesson about deceiving me and covering up the deception with more deception.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Right now I really didn’t care. I was just too tired.”
“Well son,” Pa stood up. “Let’s deliver those 25 head over to Mr. Harris. He’s going to give me $7.50 a head.”
I gasped then. “Hey, how much of that money is mine?”
“None,” Pa answered. “You’re my uh…working partner. Remember?”
“Oh…” I answered. “Yeah.”
I was tired before we started out! We had to drive these head down the road to Mr. Harris. Then Pa sent me home to fix supper. I tell you, that bed sure did look good tonight! After spending the afternoon on that rock pile and then the evening driving cattle, supper didn’t even sound good. I sighed as I walked inside and looked around, I walked to Pa’s chair just to sit down for a moment.
“Mark? Son?” Pa was calling my name.
I opened my eyes and looked into the smiling eyes of my father. “Hello there,” Pa smiled.
“Oh…Pa…I…” I stretched. “I guess I feel asleep.”
Pa nodded. “Yes you did. You even slept through my fixing supper.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Pa. I-“ I stood up.
“Wash up, son. Then we’ll eat. We have to go into town in the morning and get the money at the Cattleman Buyer’s Association.”
Mr. Harris was already there when we arrived in town the next day. I stood silently and watched as Pa and Mr. Harris negotiated the price. I was amazed as I listened! Pa charged $10 a head and didn’t budge! Boy, he sure was something. I wish I had tried that technique on Pa!
Pa was pretty proud of himself for making $250.00. "Mr. Harris only wanted to pay you seven dollars and fifty cents for each head of those cattle Pa. You charged him ten dollars."
"Well Harris drives a hard bargain son. I just had to out trade him,” I explained to him.
"Yeah, but trading is like trading one thing for another, isn't it? Money count makes it different?"
“Look at it this way, son. Money’s just a convenient way of keeping score. You don't have to feed it...it can't break a leg...and it can't get sick and it fits in your pocket." Pa stuffed the money in his pocket. “Now, in the store you take a…well, let’s say you take a penny in one hand; and you take a piece of hard-rock candy in the other and you weigh them – one against the other. Then you decide which one you’d rather have.”
I thought on that for a minute. “Yeah, but doesn’t that depend on how big the piece of hard rock candy is?”
“That’s right! That’s what I’ve been-“ Pa stopped when he saw my smile. He shook his head.
Suddenly, we heard a familiar voice. Pa and I both saw him, but we couldn’t believe our eyes! Speed Sullivan and his boy, Swifty were back in town. Now, if you remember, they tried to sell my Pa a lightning rod, and tried to cheat him out of a gold mine a few months ago. “Well I’ll…” Pa started. “Come on, son. Let’s get a closer look.”
It didn’t take me long to realize that the Sullivan’s were still up to their same ol’ tricks. He was trying to sell lightning rods. Pa and I couldn’t help but smile at each other! Pa kept his arm around me as we listened to Mr. Sullivan’s introducing a new item. I actually wanted to listen to this, but Pa suddenly interrupted him.
As I sat there with Pa, I suddenly started feeling like we were back to good friends again. Pa kept his arm around me and touching my shoulder like he used to. When he wasn’t doing that, he was putting his hand on my shoulder as we laughed together and exchanged those all-too familiar father/son looks. I couldn’t help but to smile as I thought to myself how good it felt to have this closeness back. It had been a while since we’d been this way!
I listened quietly as Mr. Sullivan introduced a new item to Pa. It was called a “plague amulet.” He said it kept the plague away. Hey, sounded good for me! He tried to give me one for free, but Pa wanted nothing to do with it. But he did take Mr. Sullivan’s offer to buy him lunch. But before they left, Mr. Sullivan offered to pay me a quarter an hour to help Swifty take orders. “A quarter an hour?” I looked at Pa. “What do you say, Pa?”
“Well, you take that quarter an hour in one hand and weigh it against sitting our here for nothing in the other.” That’s all I needed to hear! I would do ANYTHING to get the rest of my bill paid off!
Swifty sure didn’t sound too excited about my being there! He even asked me if I could read!!!
I couldn’t believe how many people there were that wanted to buy this stuff! You know what the worst part was though? These things actually SOLD!
I listened as Swifty talked to the people about the items they were selling. He was selling the tonic stuff and lightning rods like there was no tomorrow!
Those amulets were selling too. I couldn’t believe this! He was sure a smooth talker.
When things slowed down a bit, I shook my head at Swifty. “What’s the matter, kid?” he asked.
“First off, I wish you’d stop calling me kid! I’m nearly 13 years old!”
“You’re a kid, son. I’m a couple years older then you, but I’m much more mature then you. Kid, I’ve lived!”
“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “I sure wish I had that smooth talking like you! I’m in the middle of a big punishment that may have been shortened considerably if I had your way of talking.”
“What’d you do? Stay up past your bedtime?“
I glared at him. “Now, look you!”
“Take it easy, kid…take it easy!” Swifty started to close up shop. “Sorry, folks, that’s all for the day!”
“For your information, I threw a rock through a window at school and busted it. That got me expelled for a day. Then I threw a baseball through our bedroom window. Then I tried to fix it myself and got in more trouble!”
“Well, well, well…” Swifty declared as he folded his arms and smiled at me. “You do got guts, kid! If you’d had me around, I would have helped you make up some elaborate story for your Pa. You wouldn’t have gotten a day’s worth of-“
“Mark!” I closed my eyes and groaned when I heard Pa’s voice. I felt his hand go around the back of my neck. “Well, I see you are here bragging about your bad deeds. Perhaps we should talk about that tonight.”
“Oh…I don’t think that’s necessary, Pa. I-“ See, I really DID wish I had Swifty’s smooth talking ways! It would sure keep me out of trouble!
“No, I think we’ll talk about it.”
“Oh, but Pa! I was just-“ I started.
“I know what you were just!” Pa shook his head at me and laid a hand on my shoulder. “Now, I want you boys to go have lunch at the hotel and wait until I come to get you.”
“Where’s Pop?” Swifty asked as he looked around.
“Well…it seems he found a little trouble,” Pa answered.
“My pop in trouble? Well, that’s impossible! There’s nothing Pop can’t get out of!”
“What about the Watson boys?” I seem to recall Swifty’s Pop didn’t do too good in getting out of that one I thought to myself.
“Oh, well…there was that one time.”
“And what about all those lightning rods he never delivered?” Pa asked then.
“Well…my Pop’s a smooth talker. He was able to-“
“Boys,” Pa sighed. “Go on over to the hotel and eat. I don’t think your father could ever do what they said. He’s in jail right now.”
“In jail? Again? Why that man promised if we got out of town we’d…” Swifty suddenly stopped talking.
I started laughing. I immediately stopped when I felt a hard tap on my shoulder. “What about the money, Pop?” Pa raised his eyebrow at me. I cleared my throat. “Er…Pa?”
“Oh, uh…I don’t think a smooth talker like you needs money from me. I think you can find the money to buy your own lunch. You just earned 25 cents, right?”
“Oh yeah, but that was for…” Pa raised his eyebrow and I cleared my throat. “Yes sir.”
We watched Pa walk towards Micah’s. “Yeah kid…You sure did show him!” I felt like punching Swifty in the nose!
“Oh…” I turned to make sure no one could hear me. “Shut up!” I rolled my eyes and started for the hotel.
We walked inside the hotel. “Get me the best table you have!” Swifty ordered rudely to Mr. Halstead. Mr. Halstead just stared at Swifty. “What’s the’ matter? You want a tip?”
“Uh…we just pick a table, Swifty. This ain’t no fancy town where they seat you.”
“Oh. Well, Pa and me don’t normally eat in places where we don’t get proper serving,” Swifty declared.
“No…you con people into waiting on you hand and foot,” I muttered under my breath.
“What was that?”
“Oh…uh…nothing.” I walked into the dining room. “Here. This table is good. Sit down.”
“What kind of restaurant is this? I feel like I’m on a picnic with this paper checkered tablecloth! Where’s the real-“
I smiled nervously at the people around me. “Would you just sit?” I put my hand on his shoulder and pushed him down. He picked up a menu. “Are you always this rude?”
“I know how to be polite, kid. I could teach you a thing or two.”
“Yeah…” I shook my head. “Somehow, I doubt my father would approve of anything you have to teach me.”
Swifty glared at me. The waitress started over for our table. Swifty said I could order anything I wanted up to a quarter. Gee, he was all heart – especially since he owed me a quarter!
“Say, good looking, are there anymore at home like you?” She just stared at him. I could not believe he just did that! I could not believe I was sitting here in his company!
We ordered the stew.
After she snapped up the menus and walked away, I scolded Swifty for talking that way. “Ah, it kept them happy!” Swifty answered.
I decided to ask Swifty about the money he was supposed to get for helping out. “Oh sure, kid. Sure,” Swifty answered. “Got change for a dollar?”
“Uh…no. Not on me,” I answered. If I had change for a dollar, I’d be that much closer to being done with paying off what I owe the Hardware Store. Swifty said we’d settle later.
Just then, it occurred to me that maybe…just maybe…I could outsmart Swifty by playing at his own game! “Wait! I know where I can get some change!” I pulled out my change purse – only, there wasn’t any change in it… “Bet you’ll never guess what I got in here,” I said excitedly. I pulled out a rattle snake rattler and handed it to Swifty. “You know, you can tell the age just by counting the buttons.” Then I pulled out the fangs.
Swifty studied them. “How’d you get ‘em?” he asked.
“Well…” my eyes grew big as I started telling his story with great emotion. “Well, when you find a rattler, you just grab him by the tail and pull real hard. Then when he turns around, to..to bite ya, you just grab him by the cheeks…one in each hand and then you…yank!”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Swifty asked calmly.
“You gotta be awfully quick,” I answered. Then I looked at Swifty and waited for his answer. He said he’d give me a quarter for the fangs. “No, these things sell for a quarter a piece. I’d throw in the rattler. You know, back East, they’d sell for $3 a lot.”
“Deal!” Swifty declared as he handed me a dollar. It was hard to keep a straight face. I had just earned the dollar I needed to pay off the Hardware store! As soon as I did that, I was home free!
Pa had walked in, in time to see the transaction. “Hey, that’s a lot of money exchanging hands here,” he commented as he picked up the dollar. I assured him we were just making a business deal. Pa set the money down. “Well, you learn quick boy.”
I wanted Pa to stay and eat with us, but he told me they still had a few things to straighten out. “Mr. McCain, is Pop on the hook that bad?” Swifty asked. “I better go with you. Pop’s usually out of trouble in a half an hour. What’s the matter this time?” Pa told him it was a case of mistaken identity. “Oh,” Swifty laughed. “The classic defense – mistaken identity. Speed always uses that one.”
Pa told us to wait in the lobby. He’d be back in an hour. Swifty offered to show me some card tricks. I liked card tricks. When he found that out, he decided it would be better not to show him. Boy, he sure was difficult!
After we ate, we headed for the lobby and sat down, but that was boring. I kept looking out the window, but Pa never returned. Just then, Jeff Connors came in. “Hey Mark, who’s your friend?”
“Swifty Sullivan!” Swifty declared as he began shuffling his cards.
“Say, you play card games?” Jeff asked.
“Oh…” Swifty laughed. “Well…I do, but the games I play you couldn’t play!”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m going down to the Hardware Store to give them my dollar. I’ll be back.” I hurried down and handed over my last dollar. I sure was happy when Mr. Nelson wrote it down in the book and declared that I was now paid in full!
When I got outside, I saw the boys up the street. I hurried up to them. “Where you going?” I asked.
“Down to the school yard to play ball! Wanta come?” Billy asked.
I folded my arms and looked Swifty up and down. “Don’t look to me like Swifty’s dressed proper to be playing ball!”
“Are you kidding me, Kid?” Swifty asked. “Why, I’ve managed to wrestle boys twice my size and never get a scratch on me!” He looked around. “I’d say you could be whipped in under a minute. Why, all I need is smooth talking and lots of-“
I rolled my eyes at him again. “Oh yeah? Well, why don’t you put your money where your mouth is! If I can whip you, you give me the fifty more cents you owe me! If you whip me, well…I’ll…I’ll…”
“You’ll sweet-talk your Pa into letting my Pop and me sleep on your mattresses again.”
“It’s a deal!”
“Okay!” The boys cheered as we all ran to the schoolyard. I took off my jacket and gave it to Billy to hold. Swifty took off his jacket as well. He carefully folded it and sat it on some grass under the tree. Then he put up his fists.
“Mark, your Pa ain’t gonna like this!” Billy warned me.
“My Pa knows that Swifty’s been trying to get a good beatin’ ever since they showed up at our ranch a few months ago!” I put my fists up and we started going around as we prepared to fight.
“I’m warning, you Mark! You’re Pa’s gonna skin you for sure!” Billy declared.
“Billy, do me a favor and…” Swifty took a swing at me. I ducked my head. Swifty bolted forward and landed in the dirt. “Ha!” I laughed victoriously.
Swifty stood up and faced me again. “Listen, kid! You are gonna be sorry you ever started this. You know, I think-“
Suddenly, he came at me again. This time, his fist landed on my cheek. That made me really mad and I bolted toward him, head butting him in the stomach. I knocked him to the ground and fell on top of him. “Get off me, you…you…” Swifty started.
I lifted my fist to give him a good punch. “Mark McCain!” I heard the shout above the crowd’s cheers.
My fist still raised, I turned and stared into the angry eyes of Milly. She came forward and grabbed me by the ear, lifting me to my feet. “You just come with me right now!” she demanded.
I groaned as she pulled on my ear. The kids laughed. “When I saw you boys coming this way, I just knew I better check to see what sort of mischief you were up to! I’ve a good mind to give you a whipping myself!” She held firmly to my ear as she led me back to town. She never stopped talking. “You just wait until I get you in the store, Mark McCain! I’m gonna give you something you’ll never forget!”
I groaned as she led me up the steps and into the store. She finally let go of my ear as we headed for the back of the store. “Now, you sit right there and don’t you move!” She left the room. I looked around and groaned as I rubbed my hurting ear. She returned and slapped a pad of paper in front of me. “Now, you write me an essay on how we should treat our guests!”
“He’s not a guest, Miss Milly! He’s a…” My voice died as her eyes narrowed and she pressed her lips firmly together. I looked down at the paper and sighed. “Talking about a bad day…I seem to be having a bad month!”
“I will be checking that essay for proper spelling and punctuation as well!” Milly declared. She started for the store, but suddenly turned and shook a finger at me. “And I expect it to be neat!”
I shook my head as she walked out. “Of all the women in the world, Pa has to court, an ex schoolteacher!” I moaned.
“What was that, young man?” Milly asked as she stuck her head back around the corner.
“Nothing!” I sighed. “Absolutely nothing!”
“Good. Because if I hear one more snide remark from you, I’ll get the soap! Would you like a sample of that?”
I sighed as I picked up my pencil. “No ma’am! Pa’s already give me plenty of that!”
I hadn’t been writing long when I heard Milly’s voice. “Well, hi Lucas!”
“Milly, is that prodigal son of mine here?” Pa asked in an annoyed voice.
“Yes he is, Lucas. He’s in the back writing an essay on how to properly treat guests when they enter North Fork!” Milly’s tone dared Pa to defy her decision for punishment.
“Oh.” I could swear I heard a smile in his voice! “What did he do now?”
“Do you want to know where your son was?” Milly asked. “He was down in the schoolyard fighting with the boy who was peddling out on the street.”
“Swifty?” Pa’s voice squeaked. “They were…fighting?”
I could invision Milly planting her hands on her hips. “Now, Lucas McCain, there is nothing amusing about this! Did you hear what I said? He was FIGHTING with a guest!”
“Uh…” Pa cleared his throat. “Yes, honey. But he was…I mean, Swifty…That is…” Pa sighed. “I think your punishment is just.” Pa’s voice raised for my benefit, I think. “Especially since I gave him strict orders to WAIT for me in the LOBBY of the HOTEL!”
I sighed and shook my head as I continued writing. Milly and Pa started talking in quieter voices. Finally, I heard Milly ask, “So, where have you been all afternoon?”
“Oh, I was trying to straighten out a mess with Speed Sullivan. It seems a woman’s boyfriend assaulted her. She lied and said it was Speed who was there right after it happened.”
“Why did she lie?” Milly asked.
“I think she was afraid her father would get mad. She thought it would be easier to blame a stranger just passing through then to blame her boyfriend AND maybe she felt a little guilty.” Pa sighed. “I reckon that everyone lies for different reasons. I discovered today that even I lie.”
My ears perked up at that point. I lifted my head so I could hear better. “Oh?” Milly asked.
“I told someone they had a nice hat the other day when I hated it.” I suppose Milly gave Pa a mean look. “Oh now, it wasn’t you, Milly! Anyway, one of the men I talked to today even lied to avoid punishment. The man’s son told him he didn’t leave the gate open so he wouldn’t get in trouble.” There was silence for a minute. “I certainly hope Speed learned something out of all this. You see, the son may think he avoided punishment, but I’ve got the feeling his punishment will be ten times worse now that he confessed.”
“What do you suppose it will be?” Milly asked.
“Well, I’m sure his Pa will horsewhip him. I personally think he’ll learn better by doing lots of work, but to each man his own.
I sat my pencil down and sighed. I knew that conversation was for my benefit. “Well, I need to get headed home.”
“You go on along, Lucas. I’ll send Mark home as soon as he finishes his essay.”
“Milly, I…” Pa started. I suppose Milly gave Pa one of her really mean looks because I heard Pa say, “Yes ma’am” Then I heard a sort of rustling sound. I wondered if Pa had given Milly a kiss or something. I’d caught him doing that one night when he thought I wasn’t looking.
Thinking on this made me chuckle. “What’s so funny, young man?” Milly suddenly appeared in the door with her arms crossed.
“Oh, uh…nothing…ma’am,” I answered with a smirk on my face.
Two hours later, my essay was done to Milly’s satisfaction and I started for home.
When I got home, Pa was at his desk working on the ledger. “How was school today, son?” Pa asked with a smirk on his face.
“Very funny!” I declared as I went into the kitchen and looked in the pan on the stove. “Stew?” I groaned.
“Yep,” Pa answered.
I gasped. “Oh Pa! I forgot to tell you! I paid the last dollar I owe at the Hardware Store today. I’m now paid in full and can get back to my normal life!”
“Not so fast, young man!” Pa came to sit on the table and crossed his arms as he looked at me. “It seems that you have a little more learning to do. About the conversation from earlier…”
“Oh now Pa! I didn’t mean anything by it!” I declared.
“You…uh…told Swifty that you wished you had his smooth talk so you could have talked your way out of punishment.”
“Oh…you…heard that?” I asked.
“Mm hm.” Pa nodded his head.
“Well…” I licked my lips. “Pa, after giving this a great deal of thought, I now understand that trying to smooth talk my way out of the punishment would have done nothing to benefit myself. In the end, it would have hurt me more! And furthermore…”
Pa held up a finger to hush me. “And furthermore…I do believe my boy’s trying to smooth talk me now!”
“Oh, no Pa!” I shook my head. “If there’s one thing I have learned, though, not everyone can be smooth talked! I know Miss Milly can’t!”
Pa raised an eyebrow. “Oh? You uh…tried to smooth talk her?”
“No,” I answered with a shrug. “But you sure did try!”
“Oh.” Pa stood and turned away from me as he started setting the table. “Uh…go wash up, son. Tomorrow you can finish up your punishment. Then you can return to your normal activities.”
I couldn’t help smiling as I went to wash up. I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face. Maybe I did manage to do a little smooth talking after all! Because I’d just gotten two weeks of restrictions lifted from something I said.
And I can’t help but to wonder if maybe Milly had something to do with that.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Clarence Bibs Story
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch