I love these beautiful Saturday mornings. I like not having to get up early, do chores and get ready for school. I like not having to sit in a musty old schoolroom all day and listen to boring stuff. I like being able to have time to just relax, maybe look up into the sky while lying on the grass and enjoying the day. But this morning, Pa suggested we ride into town together on our horses. That’s what I love most of all – being with my Pa!
After all the years my father and I lived in North Fork, all I have to do is close my eyes, and I can still see us riding side-by-side off of our ranch. I’m the little ten year old boy again, riding beside my young, strong father as we ride together. Our little ranch house grows smaller as we ride away from it, and Pa and I laugh as we ride.
Today was no different. But today, our ride into town was suddenly interrupted. We came upon a saddled horse with no rider, and Pa had to stop and investigate. I waited on my horse as directed while Pa searched for the missing rider. When I asked Pa what happened, he simply stated, “It looks like somebody lost their horse or it lost them.”
It wasn’t long before Pa called me over to him. I looked and saw a man in bad shape. He was moaning to get him to North Fork. “Should I go back for the rig, Pa?” I asked.
Pa sighed. “We’re more then half way there, son. I don’t want to waste any time. He’s in really bad shape and needs help fast.” He told me to grab his legs. We dragged him over by Pa’s horse. Pa climbed up onto the saddle, and we somehow managed to get the man half way up onto his horse. “Let’s go,” Pa called.
It was slow getting into North Fork, and of course everyone had to come see what was going on. I ran for Micah while they went inside. I rushed into the Marshal’s office, scaring Micah nearly to death. “I-I’m sorry, Micah!” I declared as he gave me a disgusted look. “Pa found a stranger on the road. He’s in bad shape – shot, I think. You must come.”
Micah said he’d be over in a minute and I ran over to the doctor’s office. I hurried in and told Pa Micah was on his way. The man was groaning something awful, and I couldn’t help but be worried for him. I asked Pa if he’d be alright, but he couldn’t answer that for me. Pa asked me to wait for him at Hattie’s, but I wanted to stay with him. I was worried for this man. Something attracted me to him, and I wanted to stay to see if he would make it.
I saw Pa think on this hard and long. I could tell he didn’t really want me to, but he finally gave in, stating that not knowing about dying could make it more scary.
Micah walked in. I watched as he walked up to the person, called him Stoddard, then walked out. His behavior was odd, as he told the doctor to let him die. I had never seen Micah like that before and it worried me something awful. It bothered Pa too. He started to go after him, but the doc needed him for a transfusion.
That was a learning experience for me. I watched in curiosity as Pa unbuttoned his shirt and took his arm out of the sleeve. “What?” I started to ask. But Pa hushed me by shaking his head. I swallowed as I watched the doctor get a tube with needles hooked up to both ends. He stuck a needle into Stoddard’s arm.
Then he wiped a cotton ball on my Pa’s arm. Pa swallowed. “Ready?” Doctor Burrage asked him. Pa nodded as he looked away from me. I stared in horror as the doctor stuck the needle into my own father’s arm. I swallowed hard as I heard Pa suck in his breath. I suddenly felt very sick, but if Pa could handle having the needle in his arm, then I could handle staying here and watching it.
I couldn’t talk. All I could do was stare as Pa’s blood suddenly started moving down the tube. Beads of sweat popped out on Pa’s face, but his face remained calm. I wanted to ask him what was going on. I wanted to ask if it hurt. But all I could do was stare. I watched Mr. Stoddard’s labored breathing as he fought for his life. Then I turned to Pa. I couldn’t keep the worried look of my face, and Pa flashed me a small look of encouragement.
Doctor Burrage suddenly broke the silence, asking me if I wanted to be a doctor. I couldn’t stand the thought of sticking needles in people, but the doc said it was necessary sometimes in order to save someone’s life. I sure was glad that Dr. Burrage decided to tell me what was going on. The contraption he was using was called an enabling tube. It took blood from Pa’s arm and gave it to Mr. Stoddard. I wondered what happened if their blood didn’t mix. The answer was simple: he’d die.
I looked at Pa again, asking him if it hurt. “A little,” he smiled slightly again. “But it’s worth it if it saves his life.”
When it was over, Pa put hisshirt back on. I stood beside the bed and stared at this poor man. I didn’t want him to die. “Micah knows him, huh Pa?” I suddenly asked. Pa nodded, stating it appeared so. “I wonder how.”
Pa looked at me. Then he cleared his throat. “Okay, I think you’ve been in here long enough, son. I want you to wait outside.” I didn’t want to go and he knew it. But he just pointed to the door. I nodded and went out.
He soon came out. I watched him knock on Micah’s office door. The door finally opened and he went inside and shut the door. I waited. I looked towards the doc’s office, wondering how Mr. Stoddard was doing, but I didn’t dare move. I was worried, though, as I listened to the curious people talking around me. Everyone wondered who the stranger was.
Pa finally came out and told me we were leaving. I didn’t want to leave, but he said there was nothing more we could do. I had said a prayer for the stranger, but I was still worried. Suddenly, I stated, “I don’t want him to die, Pa.” My words surprised Pa, and he stated that I hardly knew him. “That don’t matter,” I reminded him.
Again, our trip was interrupted. We had to stop because some men were on the road. They were looking for Mr. Stoddard. I was shocked as I sat on my horse and listened to Pa tell them exactly where he was. After they left, I asked Pa why he told them, and he told me they were a People’s Committee – a group of people that worked like the law. Pa said we had to go back to town. I think he was worried.
I knew there was something wrong with Micah, but Pa didn’t give me any clues as to what it was. I didn’t think I should ask. Pa was worried, upset, and hurt. I knew there was a problem.
When we got back into town, the People’s Committee was badgering the doctor. Pa had to stop them. Then he went inside to talk to the doc. I stood outside on the street and waited for him to come out. Pa started back towards the Marshal’s office. “Pa,” I called.
“Mark,” Pa gave me a nickel. “Go to Hattie’s.”
I looked at him for only a second and knew he was carrying a heavy burden. So I nodded and went to Hattie’s. After I picked out my candy, I wondered around the store for awhile. Then I went back to the docs office. “How is he?” I asked as I sat down next to Mr. Stoddard.
Doc shook his head. “He doesn’t have long, son.”
I sat there and stared. I stared at the sadness in his half-closed eyes. I stared at his still fingers, and felt so sorry there was no one here to hold his hands during his last moments. I grabbed the hand and squeezed. He turned his eyes toward me, and I could tell my touch meant a lot to him. “I-I’m awful sorry, Mister,” I stated.
Suddenly, he began gasping. “Mic-ah!” He muttered. “Mic-ah!”
Doctor Burrage hurried to the bed and looked at him. “Mark, go get Micah. And tell him to hurry!”
I ran to his office as fast as I could. I burst inside. Pa and Micah sat there. Glum looks were on their faces, but I didn’t have time to try and understand it. I told Micah he had to come. Pa said they’d be over in a minute. “But doc said to come now!” I stated. I knew there wasn’t much time!
I walked with Pa back to the doc’s office. Then I watched in confusion as Mr. Stoddard handed Micah $400. The stranger breathed his last breath. Then he died.
I was sad that he had met such a tragic end. “Why did he have to die?” I suddenly muttered.
Pa put a comforting arm around me and told me the earth turned. It was his time to go. He told me that we didn’t know what kind of man he was, and probably never would know, but he kept a promised he made to Micah a long time ago. That’s how we should remember him.
Pa and I mounted our horses and slowly rode for home. I was quiet for a few minutes. I wondered what was wrong with Micah, but I didn’t ask. At supper that night, I wondered again, but I still didn’t ask. Then as I lay down to go to sleep, Pa came in to tuck me in. Then he bent down and kissed me goodnight. “Pa?” I suddenly called.
Pa sat down on the bed. “What, son?” he asked softly.
“What was wrong with Micah today?” Pa looked away, unable to answer. “Well, can’t you tell me?”
Pa shook his head. “It’s between Micah and me, son. He’s my best friend, and he told me things in confidence. If he wants you to know, he’ll tell you.”
“Yes, but,” I started.
“Mark, he met tragedy a long time ago. Sometimes you are suddenly reminded of the tragedy after so many years have gone by, and it’s very hurtful. We’ll have to leave it at that.”
I nodded as Pa once again bent over and kissed me on the cheek. “Good night, son.” He smiled at me.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Stranger at Night
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
A Matter of Faith
around The McCain Ranch