I had heard Pa talk about him every now and then, but I never really met him. He was usually seen in the saloon, a place I wasn’t allowed to go, or in jail. Though I was allowed to go into the office to see Micah, Micah and Pa made it very clear that the cell area was off limits to me. So, I only saw him once or twice, and when I did he looked really sad.
So you can imagine my surprise when I rode home from school and found a strange man outside chopping wood. I slowly walked up to him and stood off at a distance. “Hello,” I suddenly said.
Mr. Trumble held the ax in mid-air and turned to look at me. “Well, hello there, Mark.”
I smiled, happy that he remembered my name. I slung my books over my shoulder and leaned up against the house. “You working here?” I asked.
Mr. Trumble nodded. “You’re Pa…got me out of jail and…” He was suddenly embarrassed as he admitted where he had been.
“Oh,” I stated as I sucked on the sourball. “Pa’s told me that you get in trouble for drinkin’ sometimes.”
Mr. Trumble suddenly looked down at the wood and took another swing at it. I sat my books down and started picking the chopped wood up. “Mark!” I suddenly heard.
Pa came up and put a hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Trumble will be working here for awhile. He’ll be sleeping in the barn.” I nodded. “Put the wood down and go do your chores, son.”
“But I just thought I’d-“ I suddenly stopped, knowing that Pa’s raised eyebrow was a friendly reminder that I wasn’t to talk back.
“The wood is Henry’s job, son. You have your own chores.” I figured he was there for tough love. I flashed Mr. Trumble a sympathetic look, then started to go do my chores. “Mark,” Pa called.
He held up my books I had put down on the ground. “Books don’t go on the ground, son.”
“Yes sir,” I answered hurriedly as I went to do my chores.
When they were done, I announced the fact to Pa, hoping that I would be able to go fishing or something, but Pa said he was starting supper, and I was to do my homework while he was doing that. I obediently sat down at the table and started working. The kitchen table was my homework place. Pa thought he had to keep an eye on me when I was doing my homework. He had this strange idea that I didn’t focus as well elsewhere.
When we sat down for supper, I could tell Henry (as he asked me to call him) was really hungry. I started to hand him the plate of pork, but I suddenly saw Pa’s slight shake of the head. I had forgotten the blessing! As we joined hands, Henry shifted uncomfortably, not used to talking to God. I smiled at him and said, “I used to feel the same way. But Pa told me that talkin’ to God is like talking to your friend. Just say what’s on your mind.”
Pa motioned for me to say the blessing, then we started eating. As was the routine, Pa and I told each other about our day. He told me that he was involved in a saloon shooting in town that afternoon, but when I asked who and what happened, he only shook his head. That meant it was none of my business. Sometimes, Pa thought I got a little too excited about all the outlaw stuff and such. I sometimes complained, telling Pa that by the time I grew up, he’d have the whole territory cleaned up and there’d be no one left for me to fight. But Pa would simply smile and say, “I hope so.”
Okay. That’s enough beating around the bush. It’s time to tell you about a very hard time I had. Just thinking about it now, years later, still gives me the shivers. When Henry was done eating, Pa took him out to the barn to wash down some bridles and such. He always told me that a best way to keep a man’s mind off his troubles was by working him.
As Pa got ready to go out the door, I told him I’d clean up the supper dishes. “Fine, son,” he stated. We both knew I wasn’t offering. If I hadn’t cleaned up the dishes after Pa did all the cooking, I would have had to wash extra dishes. That’s why I volunteered to do it.
But when I was almost done and was cleaning up one of the last plates, I suddenly heard gunshots coming from the barn. The gunshots startled me so much that I dropped a plate. Then I ran out onto the porch, calling Pa’s name. When he didn’t answer, fear gripped me. He should have come running to me, telling me he was okay – that a rifle had just misfired or some other strange explanation.
But this time he didn’t come. I looked around the yard, but saw no movement. Everything was quiet…too quiet. So I ran to the barn and looked around. Pa and Henry were supposed to be there. Then my heart stopped.
“Pa!” I suddenly cried. Fear gripped my very being. I felt like I was dying myself. “Pa!” I cried again as my knees suddenly gave way. “Pa!” Then I fell down into the dirt and buried my head in the dirt and cried.
He was dead. My Pa was dead. Someone had killed…murdered…my father! I felt total hopelessness and loss. I felt-
“Mark!” I heard that familiar voice. Suddenly, familiar, strong arms lifted me out of the dirt. “Are you alright son?” Pa asked. I couldn’t believe it! Pa was right there in front of me! “Are you alright?” Pa asked me again.
I can’t even describe what I felt. I felt total shock, quickly followed by confusion. I turned my head to look at the bloodied body lying inside the barn. The body I thought was Pa. Pa suddenly turned and looked. I was shaking with fear and shock. I was confused. Suddenly, Pa picked me up, not wanting me to see anymore of this scene. He stood up and carried me quickly inside.
I clung to my Pa. I clung to him and cried as I shook. Pa went in and closed the door. He sat down in a chair as his own legs were about to give out. I bawled into his shirt as huge tears wet the front of his shirt. Pa sat there holding me on his lap and rocked me back and forth. “There, there,” he tired to console me as if I was suddenly a small child again. “It’s okay.” He smoothed my hair and let me cry.
But my eyes were soon empty and I just sat quietly in his arms. Pa kissed the top of my head and put his hand under my chin. He lifted my head up to look into his eyes. I saw a sad smile on his face and knew he was trying to be strong for me. I continued sniffing, but no longer needed to cry. My heartbeat had finally returned to normal and I was no longer shaking. “I…I’m sorry,” I swallowed hard.
Pa shook his head and smiled into my eyes. “Looks like you tried washing your face with dirt,” he tried to tease me, but there was sadness in his voice. “Can you wash up now?”
I continued sitting on his lap and looking into his eyes. I knew that we needed to get Henry to town. Pa seemed to read my thoughts though. “The important thing is for you to be okay,” he said. “I’m so sorry you had to see that.” He suddenly hugged me. “Oh Mark, I wish I could have been there so you didn’t have to think such horrible thoughts!”
He broke the embrace then and I stood up on wobbly legs. I slowly walked over to the wash basin and began splashing water on my face. Pa came to sit beside me. No words were needed as I washed the tears and dirt off my face. But he finally handed me a towel. “You feel better?” Pa knew I still needed his contact. I still needed to know that he was okay. So he gently put a hand on my shoulder. The feel of his strong hand did help calm me as I spoke.
“I thought it was you,” I finally spoke about the incident directly.
“I know,” Pa stated as I once again allowed the thoughts to race through my mind. He told me in the most casual voice he could muster that he was behind the barn washing down some bridle bits.
The realization suddenly hit me. My Pa was alive, but someone was dead – Henry! It hit me like a ton of bricks. “Why would anyone want to kill Henry? He never did anything to nobody!” I stated as the stress from earlier suddenly returned.
I didn’t want to hear the next words my Pa spoke. His words were chilling, like a blizzard wind that creeps up onto the prairie and blows up under your shirt. “I don’t think it was Henry they were after.” I knew what that meant, and I didn’t like that someone was trying to kill my pa.
I was still upset, and I think Pa knew that. But he had important things to do. He told me he’d go hitch up the team. I sat still at the table as I thought about what had happened earlier. Pa finally walked in and I jumped, terrified. Pa came up to me. “It’s just me, son.” He put a hand on each of my shoulders and squeezed to calm me.
“Wagon’s all ready?” I asked. Pa nodded. “Did you get-“ I swallowed, not able to ask the question.
“He’s covered with a blanket son,” Pa assured me.
I looked toward the door and swallowed. “Can I…I mean, I can’t…” I didn’t want to stay here. But I didn’t want to flat out admit that I was scared.
“I wouldn’t leave you hear with a madman on the loose, son. I want you with me.” He patted my back then put his arm securely around my shoulders. He had bent down next to me, but we stood up together, and Pa helped me to the door, as my legs were still wobbly.
I stared at the back of the wagon. His feet were sticking out, and I suddenly saw his bloody body again lying on the barn floor. Pa turned my head away. “Just don’t look, son,” he ordered firmly.
I was quiet on the way. Too quiet. Pa finally cleared his throat as he raced towards town. “Mark, dwelling on it’s not gonna help.”
“It should’ve been you!” I couldn’t get that thought out of my head. “You should have-“
“Mark,” Pa slowed a bit and turned to look at me. He raised an eyebrow at me. Then he cleared his throat. “I’m going to leave you in town while we go look for whoever did this.”
I suddenly shook my head. “I can’t tell you not to worry,” Pa said. “But I will ask you to think on this like a man. What should I do, son?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “I know, but I-“
Pa nodded as we turned into town. He understood that I didn’t want to be away from him after what happened. But I understood, and I would try to be strong.
It was the men from earlier – the men that Pa had fought in the saloon that afternoon. I know he told you all about it, so I won’t go into detail. But when I heard that Micah was hurt really bad, my heart stopped again. He was like a grandpa to me and I didn’t want anything to hurt him.
When we walked into the doc’s office, I was relieved to see that he was okay. I stood in silence as Pa and Micah talked. They knew who had done it, and they were going to go after them. I was to stay with the doc.
“Stay with the doc, son.” Those were the last words I heard my Pa say. I looked at Doc Burrage as my Pa walked out the door. “How bad are they?” I asked.
Doc Burrage tried to smile at me, but he couldn’t. “Well, I haven’t met them, son. But from what I gather, they are pretty bad characters.”
“Pa could get-“ I started.
The street was pretty quiet after all that had happened there. We heard two horses gallop away, and I knew it was Pa and Micah running out. Sweeny walked in then. “Mark, why don’t you come get a sarsaparilla and a piece of pie with me at the hotel?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to.”
“Come on, Mark.” Sweeny smiled at me. “No one will be coming into the saloon tonight anyhow. I locked her up for the night.”
It was a long night. I told Sweeny about seeing Henry in the barn and thinking it was my Pa. “Your Pa is tough, son. He has God looking out for him.”
I smiled. “You know Sweeny, you aren’t as tough a bartender as you make out to be! Down under that whisky serving smile of yours, you have a heart of gold.”
He walked me back to Doc Burrage’s after awhile. I wanted to walk up and down the street, listening for sound of hoof beats. But Doc Burrage told me I had to stay inside, that my pa wouldn’t want me wondering around when we had no idea where the killers were.
Suddenly, after what seemed like a long time, we heard hoof beats approaching. We opened the door to Doc’s office and looked outside. It was my Pa and Micah returning, and they weren’t alone! “You got them!” I exclaimed as I ran to Pa. He was dunking the strangers into the watering trough. I got Pa’s rifle out of the boot. I sure was ready to go home!
Pa put the second man in the trough. I asked Pa if we could go home. I had had enough excitement for one day, and I wanted to go home and go to bed, knowing everything was okay. We climbed up onto the buckboard and started running out of town. “Everything’s okay now?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “Everything’s okay, son.” He put his arm around me and pulled me to his side. I snuggled in the crook of his arm and closed my eyes.
“You sure there’s no one out there to kill you now?” I asked.
“I’m sure, son. Everything’s okay.” I looked up at Pa and he looked down. In the darkness, I couldn’t make out much, but I knew he was smiling. I could feel it. Then I fell asleep.
I woke up when Pa lifted me from the wagon seat and climbed down himself. I was so exhausted, that even though I wasn’t fully asleep and knew what was going on, I couldn’t move – even open my eyes! Pa carried me into the bedroom and carefully undressed me. Then he put me under the covers and tucked me in. I felt him kiss my forehead and I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. I could feel Pa just standing over me, staring down at me. “Thank you God for your protection,” I heard Pa whisper.
I grinned deeper as I drifted off to sleep.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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