We rode into town one Saturday morning. We had just picked up a bunch of supplies at the feed store, and were headed for the General Store. I ran in to mail a letter for Pa, and of course to look at the candy. “Hi, Miss Hattie!” I called.
Miss Hattie turned around and smiled. “Well, there’s my favorite rancher!” she declared with a smile. “How are you? I haven’t seen you in a while!”
“I have a letter to mail, Miss Hattie!” I gave her the letter. “We’re fine. Pa’s been busy with the ranch, and I’ve had to go home after school every day to help him. We finally came into town for supplies this morning.” I started looking at the candy, trying to decide what I wanted.
In the excitement of getting to look at the candy, I forgot about the list of supplies in my pocket. “Pa said to give you this list of stuff we need too, Miss Hattie.”
She took the list. “Quite a list today!” she commented.
“Yes ma’am.” I bent down to look at the candy. Suddenly, Pa was there. “Remember what Dr. Burrage said about your teeth, boy!”
“Oh but Pa, I haven’t had any candy in a week! Why, you wouldn’t let me come into town all week long!” I pleaded. “I have a whole nickel here just for candy.”
Pa smiled at me. “A penny for one piece.” I started to complain. “Or nothing for none.”
I took the penny from him and he held out his hand for the nickel. “Oh, but Pa! This is my nickel!” I stated.
Pa waved his fingers, telling me to hand it over. “I’ll save it for you. The penny’s all you need.”
“Don’t you trust me?” I asked.
Pa grinned at me. “I did last time you came in here. I told you to buy a penny’s worth only, and you walked out with a nickel’s worth. I trust you, all right. But not as far as candy’s concerned!”
I remembered that. The truth was that I got that candy on my lunch break from school, not realizing Pa was in town. When he saw me, I had to give him four of my sucker sticks to save for later. “Mark, I have to go talk to someone. When you’re done, wait for me in the wagon.”
I finally decided on a piece of candy and went out to the wagon. Micah was standing by it. “Pa back yet?”
“Nope,” Micah picked up a stone. A suspicious looking grin was on his face. “What’s that for?”
“Well, it seems your pa is jumping to conclusions about a woman he saw earlier. “ I gave him a confused look. “You remember the Bible Story about the woman whom Jesus had to save from being stoned to death?”
I nodded. “Yes. Pa told me the story one day when I was accusing my friend of cheating on a test to make an A. I told Pa I wasn’t ever going to talk to him again. Then Pa reminded me of the time I copied somebody’s homework so I wouldn’t get kept after school. Only I got caught. Pa then told me the story about the woman. “Let he who without sin cast the first stone.”
Micah nodded. “Well, it seems that your father may not be following his own advice.” We watched Pa walking back towards the wagon. After Pa sat down in the wagon, Micah said, “I noticed Miss Julia is still in business.”
Pa said she would continue to be as far as he was concerned. The Micah showed Pa the stone. and threw it down. “Then I guess you won’t be needing this,” he stated.
Pa asked him what it was and Micah told him the first stone. I smiled at that. After Micah left, we started for home. “What are you smiling about?” Pa asked me.
I didn’t know if I should tell him or not, so I simply stated, “Nothing!”
“What did Micah tell you?” Pa asked.
“Only that you weren’t taking your own advice,” I stated. Pa just looked at me and raised an eyebrow.
I got to meet Miss Julia at church the next day. She was real nice. She had a really pretty smiled and invited us for lunch. I was really happy, but Pa said we had lunch waiting for us at home. After she left, I told Pa I wished we could have stayed there and eaten. “You know I put in a ham on before we left this morning, Mark!”
Miss Julia was really nice and really pretty. I could tell Pa liked her too. He made a point to go by and talk to her when we were in town, and I was even allowed to stop by and visit with her on the way home from school.
One morning, Pa was telling me to get ready for school early. He wanted to get to town as soon as he could to start on his errands. As I washed up after breakfast, Pa told me to hurry. I wondered what he needed to talk to Mr. Hamilton about, and he said he was going to do Miss Julia a favor. That’s when I remembered what today was! After school, I was going to go help Miss Julia with her baking…okay, I was going to lick the batter bowl clean.
I hurried over there as soon as school let out after throwing my books into the wagon. She liked to tell me about the customs of her homeland. While I was licking the batter bowl clean, Pa walked in to get me. He made a big announcement about someone coming tonight at 7:30. Apparently, we were part of that something. Miss Julia told us not to be late. I wanted to know what she was excited about. She told me that Mr. Hamilton and his cousin were going to be here tonight. I guess we would eat good tonight.
It sounded exciting until Pa informed me that we had to dress up like church. That never was one of my favorite things to do!
I chatted as we rode home. “I guess I won’t have to do my homework tonight!” I declared.
Pa raised his eyebrow at me and asked me what homework I had. “Well, I have a little math. And I have to read a boring story in my reader, but you can just write a note and explain-“ I started.
Pa stopped the wagon and leaned back to get my books. “Start reading!” he said. I groaned, wishing I had kept my mouth shut!
After we got home, Pa told me to sit down at the table and finish my homework while he did the chores. After that, he heated some water and I knew I would have some serious scrubbing tonight! Sure enough, Pa got out my Sunday clothes and laid them on the table. Then he commanded I strip my regular clothes off. He proceeded to scrub me. “Pa! I can wash myself!” I declared. “I’m ten year s old!”
Pa laughed. “You can, that’s right,” he answered. He handed me the rag and told me to scrub. After I got my clothes on, he tied my tie for me. “Now Mark, Miss Julia is very nervous. You are to be on your best behavior tonight. Don’t do anything to embarrass me or her. Do you hear me?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
Pa shook his finger at me. “I know how much you dislike things like this. Don’t pull any of your tricks tonight!”
“Pa, do you have to hang me with my tie?” I declared. “Why do I have to wear it?”
Pa straightened my tie, then gave me a pat on the bottom. “Did you hear me?”
“Yes sir,” I answered him. “Now can I go play until time to go?”
Pa raised his eyebrows at me as if I were crazy. “Play? In your Sunday clothes after I got you all cleaned up? No sir. Go sit down while I get ready!”
It was finally time to go. Pa rode the wagon into town and grabbed his rifle. After helping me down from the buckboard, I started to run into the boarding house. He grabbed my arm and turned me around. “Remember what I said, Mark!”
“Yes sir,” I said again, probably for the millionth time.
When we walked in, I was introduced to Mr. Hamilton’s cousin. I had met her before, but she never talked to me. I frowned at her as she once again turned her nose up in the air at me and turned away. Pa saw the frown and nudged me.
As we started to eat, Pa started plopping stuff on my plate for me. “I can do it,” I declared. But Pa lifted an eyebrow at me.
Miss Hamilton turned around and gave me a strange look. “Young man, children should be seen and not heard!” She made me really mad, treating me like a dog instead of a boy. If Pa hadn’t been there, I probably would have stuck my tongue right out at her!
I picked up my napkin and gave it a big shake to unfold it, almost tipping over a glass of water. Miss Agnes turned and raised an eyebrow at me. I started to tuck my napkin into my shirt, but she told me that wasn’t the proper way to behave. I looked at my Pa who only nodded. He didn’t want any food on my Sunday clothes, and he thought I was awfully messy with my food. I turned and smiled a victory smile at Miss Hamilton. For that, I got a sharp jab in the ribs from pa. Boy, I couldn’t wait for this dinner to be over!
The adults talked for awhile as we ate. I asked for the salt and Miss Hamilton just turned and raised an eyebrow at me. I opened my mouth to retort, but again Pa nudged me. I let out a heavy sigh, which caused yet another look!
I felt like I was walking on pins and needles through the whole meal , what with Miss Hamilton shooting me those looks that made me feel like she wanted to squash me, and Pa nudging me to be good. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I suppose that’s why I did what I did. We had been sitting for quite awhile, and I had already had to force down some food that I didn’t’ like after Pa gave me a look. But all that food continued to sit on Miss Hamilton’s plate. It wasn’t fair that she was being so rude to Miss Julia while I was bending over backwards to be the proper young man Pa thought I should always be!
I watched Miss Agnes refuse food, something Pa told me was really rude, and I was to never do. So, I finally turned and stated, “You didn’t clean your plate, lady!” I just couldn’t hold in my frustration anymore. I could feel Pa’s eyes boring into the back of my head. But it was too late to turn back now!
Miss Hamilton didn’t like my words in the least. Instead of replying with some mean retort, she simply stated, “After we are better acquainted, you may call me Miss Agnes.” The way she said it made my skin crawl!
“If you had pulled a trick like that out at our ranch, it would be Miss Mud!” I declared. Okay, now I knew that I was going way over the line and was deserving punishment by this point, but she had been rude to me all night, and wasn’t being very polite to Miss Julia by refusing her food. I immediately regretted what I had said when Miss Julia got on to me and Pa again bored his eyes into me. I quickly stood up to make amends. “No harm meant, Miss Agnes Hamilton!” I stated. “Only my Pa says, letting good food go to waste is criminal, what with starvin’ people all over, we got no time to be finicky.” There. Showing Pa that I had indeed listened to his proper table manners teaching had to help me get out of the doghouse!
“All right, I understand. But say no more about it.” She stated. I saw Pa smile and knew I had pulled it off.
I should have stopped there. I knew that if I had, I wouldn’t have gotten into too much trouble. But something inside me snapped once again. Maybe it was the way she said her final words. Or maybe it was just the trying to be good that finally got to me. I don’t know, but I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. “Pa had to take a belt to my britches ‘fore I understood,” I started. My words were already putting a frown on her face, which I guess is what I had sat out to do. But I wasn’t finished yet. “’Course if you was to finish your dinner, I don’t think he’d do anything with you being a female and…kinda old and all!”
Like I said, she made me mad! I just couldn’t take her sticking her nose up at me another second. No sooner were the words out of my mouth when Pa threw down his napkin, stood up, and grabbed me by the ear. I cried out as he lifted me up and led me into the kitchen. It really hurt, which I’m supposing was his intention. No sooner had he gotten me into the kitchen and slammed the door when he let go of my ear, folded his arms across his chest, and said, “All right, start explaining, mister! Now!”
I lowered my head, not wanting to look into his angry eyes. “Look at me!” he demanded.
I raised my head to look into his eyes. “Pa, she made me so mad! Didn’t you see her sticking her nose up at me? She doesn’t like me. And she is very rude!”
But that didn’t appease him any. Pa grabbed me by the arm and led me to a chair, pushing me down into it. Then he sat across from me. “Why did you tell her I whipped you? You know I’ve never spanked you one single time in your life – especially with a belt!”
I shrugged. “Well, I guess because I knew that would make her mad,” I answered quietly.
“I don’t understand you, Mark! You know that your behavior out there is totally inexcusable! Before we leave here tonight, you will apologize to Miss Julia. We’ll discuss your punishment at home!”
“Yes sir,” I hung my head.
“But until we leave, you are not to leave this kitchen! And that includes no dessert!” Pa pointed his finger right at me.
Suddenly, we heard yelling in the next room. “Mark, you stay in here,” Pa stated. “And keep the door shut, you hear?”
I knew Pa was mad and embarrassed. Maybe I shouldn’t have said the things I said, but I was just so angry at the way she acted! I walked up to the door and put my ear against it, curious as to who was yelling at whom. Curiosity finally got the best of me and I quietly opened the door and poked my head out to listen. Pa’s back was turned to me, so I didn’t think he could see me. I heard snippy ol’ Miss Hamilton state that Big Anna was going back into business. I’m not sure if she suddenly saw me standing in the doorway or what, but she suddenly seemed to look straight at me and state, “And I don’t think they would like having their children watch such activities!”
Pa turned his head then and saw me standing in the doorway. He gave me a look, and I knew I had just gotten into more trouble by spying on an adult conversation after Pa specifically told me not to. My eyes grew wide and I immediately closed the door.
I sat in the kitchen for quite awhile. I didn’t think Pa was ever going to come in and get me. But suddenly the door opened, and Pa stood in the doorway. “Come help Miss Julia clear off the table while I get our wagon,” he said. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was still upset with me.
Miss Julia started to protest, stating we needed to get home. Pa held up a hand though. “No no, he needs to help you. Get going, boy!”
I helped her carry all the things into the kitchen. She started wiping them. Pa soon came in the backdoor and announced that we were ready to go. “I’ll be here in the morning,” Pa stated.
After we were on the wagon seat and headed for home, I asked Pa what was going on. “Nothing, Mark,” he answered.
“But Pa!” I started.
Pa let out a weary sigh. “Son, there are some women in town who want to cause trouble and we have to run them out of town tomorrow.”
Suddenly, there was silence in the air as I thought about what I did tonight. “You angry with me, Pa?”
“What do you think?” Pa asked quietly.
“Am I going to be punished?” I asked, half hoping his yelling at me would be punishment enough.
“Yes you are, son. But we’ll talk about that in the morning.”
“In the morning?” I groaned. I always hated having a sentence put off. That was part of the punishment right there. I told Pa as much.
“Well, that’s the idea,” Pa answered. “That. And, I really don’t think you want me to punish you when I’m this angry. Do you?”
I decided to stay quiet the rest of the way home. When I arrived home, Pa sent me straight to bed. It was already past my bedtime.
The next morning as I was eating breakfast, I kept looking up at Pa, but he said nothing. Finally, he set his coffee cup down. The sound of the cup hitting the saucer sounded loud in the silence of the room. “For the next two weeks, you will wash ever dish after every meal. And since you chose to be so rude at Miss Julia’s, I’m going to arrange for you to do some work for her after school for the next two weeks.”
I didn’t say anything, but I didn’t like the punishment he was handing out. “What about weekends?” I asked suddenly.
The minute I said it, I regretted it. Pa narrowed his eyes at me. “You will be staying home for the next two Saturdays with extra chores. On Sundays, you’ll have some extra reading to do in the Good Book.” I went back to eating, not too happy with the sentence just handed down to me. “Mark, I’ve taught you better then what you did last night.”
“Pa, she was very rude! She’s stuck up and snippy and-“ I started.
“Who she is is none of your concern, son. Nor mine. Who you are and what you do is our only concern. I gave you strict orders to be good, and you did just the opposite. And I bet it was on purpose!”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “Sorry.” I said this in a low voice. Then I lifted my head and looked at Pa. “I best go to school.”
Pa nodded. “That’s probably a good idea, son. But first, wash up these dishes. I’ll get the buckboard ready. You’ll be riding in with me.”
The ride there was silent. I think Pa was giving me time to think about what I did. He stopped in front of the school. “Mark, you know I punish you because I love you.”
I nodded and gave him a big smile. “I know, Pa.” I started to get down. “Pa, I promise that next time I’ll try to control my temper.”
Pa smiled at me. “Oh, don’t go into town today, son. I want you to stay here until I come for you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I said so!” Pa answered. I nodded as he drove away.
I waited for quite awhile after school. I got bored, but knew I was to stay there until he came for me. Finally, Micah rode into the yard. “Did Pa get hurt?” I asked as I jumped up and raced over to him.
“A little. He got cut up a bit with a knife. The doc’s cleaning and bandaging the cuts,” Micah answered. “Your father wants you to wait at Julia’s.”
I saw Pa walk in. There was blood in two different places on his shirt. I hurried up to him. “Pa, you’re bleeding!”
Pa smiled at Miss Julia. “Miss Julia and the doc fixed me up, son.”
Pa looked at Miss Julia. “Oh, someone didn’t want to leave town, but I finally convinced him to.” I wanted to ask him more, but from the look on his face I figured it was information I wasn’t going to be given. “Let’s go home, son.”
As we walked out to the wagon, I asked what those women they chased out of town were planning on doing. “Gamble,” Pa answered. He grabbed my arm and helped me up into the wagon. “They wanted to start a gaming town.”
“Seems to me they should stop playing cards and start raising kids,” I declared. I remember Pa telling me that a mother’s place was in the home. Pa smiled at my comment. “That’s what women are for, aren’t they pa?” I asked.
He said it seems to be what they do best. Then I got to thinking about Miss Julia having to run a boarding house. “You reckon Miss Julia can do both?” I asked before we left.
“I reckon,” Pa answered as we started down the road.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Second Witness
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch