You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer
Closer than a Brother — Episode 98
As hard as that two months was for me to be away from my Pa, there was one positive thing that came from all of it. Even though Pa left me in Millie’s care, it wasn’t just her caring for me – it was Micah too. I can’t tell you how many nights he sat over at the store with me talking softly to me with his arm around my shoulders, telling me everything was going to be okay. Nor can I tell you how many times Micah came to stand outside his office door to make sure I was walking down the street to school at the moment I was supposed to.
There were many days when I’d go directly to the store after school, and Millie would silently shake her head, letting me know there was no news on my Pa. It was those times that Micah’s company meant the most to me. He would always know when I was really down because I’d show up at his office with peanut brittle – Micah’s favorite candy. Then he’d say, “Well now, sit down there boy and tell me what your thinking.”
Micah would dropt his pencil or paper – whatever he was working on at the moment. Then he would fold his hands on top of the desk and look at me. I’d sit there looking all sad and sorry and all, and Micah would give me a grin and say, “Well now. What story should I tell you today?” Then he’d start in telling me a story about capturing some outlaw.
Now, sometimes Micah’s descriptions would get a little…colorful. I’d raise my eyebrows but say nothing. Then we he was done, Micah would stand up, pat me on the back, and say “I know your father doesn’t mind my telling a story or two once in a while, but you don’t need to tell him about the way I told them.”
That would always make me smile. It was like a little secret – just between the two of us. And I never told Pa about it. You know why? Because when I was ten, I remember Micah telling me a colorful story. Only that time Pa found out and let Micah know what he thought about the language he used. So in the end, I decided to keep quite on it. It was Micah’s way, and I reckon I enjoyed his stories!
When I would get really low, Micah would sit down and try to talk to me. He would cry with me and hug me just like my Pa used to. He told me that I’m like a grandson to him. I remember one day when I was really missing my Pa. I was sitting on the bank of our pond back at the ranch. By the way, whenever I was gone too long, Millie would worry and ask Micah to find me. And Micah always knew where to look! This time, he showed up with fishing poles. “Thought we’d catch some fish and cook ‘em right here on the bank,” Micah stated as he handed me the pole.
I remembered all the times Pa and me would sit side-by-side fishing on the bank, and I would shed a few tears over that memory. But that day…that day Micah almost made me feel alive again! The fish were biting and I was catching a fine mess of them. Only an hour after we started fishing did Micah declare, “Well now, I think we have ourselves a fine supper!”
He built the campfire on the bank of the pond as the fish jumped from the water. He told me a funny story about his fishing in his pond as a boy and how he dropped his pole in the water with a big fish on it. “Well sir,” he said as I already had tears of laughter running down my cheeks. “I jumped in after that durn pole, I did! But that fish was just a swimming this way and that. I kept ducking under the water here and there and everywhere trying to get my dab blame hands on that dang fish! My Pa came down about that time and really let me have it! He didn’t like us in the pond – said it’d scare the fish so much that they wouldn’t bite again for a whole month.” Micah lowered his voice as if his Pa was right there. “But I didn’t believe him – I figured there was another reason.”
“Did you get it?” I asked.
“No, the fish got away with my pole! Never did see the durn thing again.”
But I shook my head laughing. “No, no, Micah. I mean a whippin’? Did ya get a whippin’?”
“Not that time!” Micah looked down at me. “You don’t know how lucky you are boy. I bet you never get whippings.”
“Well, when I was really little I’d get a smack on the back side or something’, but Pa didn’t have to do that too often cause I could remember that for a long time afterward!” I shook my head. “I think it hurt my feelings more then me, but it worked!” Micah gave me the plate with fried catfish on it. I shook my head. “Sometimes, though, I think a whipping would be better then the punishments Pa gives me! Sometimes I complain about the punishment, and Pa says if I’m gonna do something wrong, he’s gonna punish me enough so I won’t soon forget it was wrong.”
I suddenly hung my head. I took a bite of my fish as the sun began setting on the bank of our pond – the pond I had helped my Pa dig out – the pond he had sweated for many, many weeks to dig out. “I was silent the remainder of the time. While Micah cleaned up, I sat watching the sun set.
Micah came to sit beside me. He put an arm around my shoulders. “Thinking about him?”
I nodded. “You reckon he’s watching this same sun set?”
Micah looked down at me. “Mark, I wish I could take away that hurt that’s built up inside you. You know you’re a grandson to me.”
I looked up at him. “I know, grandpa.” Then I leaned my head against him as we watched the sun sink behind the mountain.
When my Pa did come back, I didn’t ever want to leave his side. But I told Pa about the bond Micah and I had created in his absence. Pa was glad and didn’t ask me too many questions. He was glad Micah and I had our very own relationship – parts that didn’t include him. Pa said that was important for a young man to have – relationships apart from his folks.
Going to school for the first time was really hard. It was about a week after Pa got back after we got everything in order at the ranch. It was Sunday evening. Pa and me were sitting on our porch watching the sun set. I was fixing the synch on my saddle while Pa smoked a cigar. Pa kept eyeing me all night as if he wanted to talk to me, but didn’t know how to start it.
I knew it was time when he turned from where he was sitting on the step and said, “Mark, come sit down here by your father.” He patted the step next to him.
I sat down next to him and he immediately put an arm around my shoulder. “I want to thank you for all the hard work you’ve done the last week and a half. Looks like we got this ranch back in pretty good shape.”
I turned and looked at him. “Uh…yeah,” I said. I suddenly knew what he was about to announce. “But there’s still plenty more work for us to do!”
“I’m afraid It’ll have to wait until after school tomorrow,” Pa raised his eyebrows at me. I could tell by the stern look that he knew I was thinking up a rebuttal to going to school. “Save your breath, Mark. It won’t work.”
“Well, I-“ I stopped. It would be the first time Pa and I had been apart since his return. It would be hard to say goodbye in the morning.
Pa sighed and put a hand behind my neck. “Mark, I know how you feel, but you can’t hang around with your old man for ever! That’s not the way God intended it.”
I knew that. So the next morning, Pa saddled my horse and made sure I got on my way in time. As I sat on my horse, Pa stood down from me talking to me. “You’re gonna miss me too huh?” I could see it in his eyes. “I’ll come right home after school.”
“Oh, no,” Pa answered. “I’ll be coming in to pick some things up at the feed store. You meet me at Micah’s.” Pa patted my horse. I started to ride away. “And invite him over for supper!”
We hadn’t been in town since Pa’s return – except for that first night. We’d been busy getting our ranch back up and running.
I actually missed Micah, so right after school that day, I hurried to his office. I was so excited about seeing him. Maybe he’d even tell me one of his outlaw stories while we waited for Pa to arrive! Maybe we could do a fishing adventure like we had done that one day on the bank of the McCain pond.
But what I walked in to wasn’t what I expected at all. Micah was like a different person. He was angry at me. At first, I thought he was having a bad day and I brushed it off and teased me. First he didn’t like me calling him by his first name. Then he got mad about me trying to see what he was drawing. Finally, he told me I was sure of myself like my Pa. He was mad!
When I finally realized he was serious and just how upset he was, I was hurt. I tried to figure out what I could have possibly done. The last time I saw him, he had said we needed to plan our next fishing trip together. But now he acted like I had done something really wrong!
As Micah was leaving to go take care of a problem at the saloon, Pa walked in. Micah was really rude to my Pa too. He called him McCain. I still thought I’d done something wrong because it was me he started yelling at. So when my Pa asked me about it, I pretended like I didn’t know anything. I told Pa he was just going to take care of something at the saloon. Pa told me to wait at the wagon for him.
I grabbed my horse and tied him to the back of the wagon. I stood at the end of the street and watched Micah storm out of the saloon, go into his office, and slam the door as hard as he could. Concern filled me – what in the world…I wondered.
I watched Pa cross the street to Micah’s office. I started to go to him, but he looked really upset and he-
I gasped! I saw the sun shine on a brass straw on his chest. Why was he wearing the star? I hurried to the General Store. “Millie,” I called. She was helping a customer in the back and put a finger to her lips. I waited until she was done. “Do you know what’s wrong with Micah?”
Millie turned and looked toward the door as if Micah was about to come in. “No,” she shook her head. “Is something wrong?”
“Well, he…he yelled at me while ago, Millie. I’m not talking about when I’m being a nusience. I’m talking about for no reason - hateful yelling! I’m afraid that…” I swallowed and turned toward the door. “Maybe I did something wrong!”
Millie hurried toward me. “Oh Mark, I can’t imagine-“ She sighed. “Mark, I just got a large shipment of canned goods in. Mind helping me with ‘em?”
Pa finally came in. He looked worried. But when he saw me, he grew angry. “Where have you been, boy?” He yelled. “I told you to wait at the wagon!”
I just stood there staring at him. “I-I’m sorry, Pa. I-“
Pa opened his mouth to yell some more, but Millie stepped forward. She protectively pushed me beside her and put her arm around me. “Now Lucas, Mark was upset and I told him to wait in here.”
“Upset?” Pa asked. “Why? What happened?”
“Well, I-“ I looked at Millie.
Millie walked towards Pa and put a hand on his arm to calm him. It worked. Pa looked down at her as his eyes began to calm. “Micah yelled at the boy, Lucas. It upset him. Mark thinks maybe he did something wrong.”
Pa cocked his head to one side. “Yelled at Mark?”
I stepped forward then. “I-I was afraid to tell you, pa. I-I thought I did something to-“ I stopped.
Pa sighed and put a hand to his forehead. “I’m sorry, son. I shouldn’t have yelled.” He put a calming hand on my shoulder. “Listen Mark, it’s not you Micah’s mad at. It’s me. I don’t know what’s going on, but he elected me Marshal, so I have to stay in town.”
“You mean, we’ll stay at the hotel tonight?” I asked.
Pa looked at Millie and sighed. “Not exactly, Mark.” He patted my shoulder. “There’s someone I want you to meet.” He led me outside. By the wagon stood a black man. He was all smiles as he stepped forward. “This is Thad, Mark. Thad, my son.”
I nodded at him then turned back to Pa. “He’s going to stay at the ranch and help me out while I’m trying to sort through things. You’ll go back to the ranch with him.”
“I want to stay with you,” I argued.
Pa closed his eyes and sighed. “Mark, now is not the time to argue with me. Now, go home and do your homework. Then I want you to work on the chores. Show Thad around the ranch and show him his responsibilities.”
I turned and looked at Thad. He seemed nice enough, but- “Do I have to?”
Pa nodded. “That’s the way I want it, Mark.” I nodded. Pa patted me on the back. “Go on, son.”
I climbed up onto the wagon and started down the road with Thad. I turned and looked at Pa. He smiled and waved at me. “You’re just going home, Mark.” Thad stated.
“Yes sir,” I answered. “But you don’t understand.” I spent the rest of the time telling him about the recent trials Pa and I had encountered.
Thad was no different then my Pa. He figured out really fast that my bedtime was 9 o’clock sharp and made sure I was under the covers by that time. He also figured out really fast that I had to leave for school by 7:00 sharp in order to get to school on time.
I rode into town that morning and stopped by the Marshal’s office. Pa was sitting in the chair drinking coffee and looking at the newspaper. He raised his eyebrows when I walked in. “You’re supposed to be in school!”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “But I just came by to check on you.”
“You…uh…think I need checked on?” Pa teased me.
I looked around. “Any word on Micah?”
Pa shook his head. “Haven’t seen him, son.” Pa sighed into his cup. “I haven’t even heard where he is. For all I know, he’s left town.”
He sent me off to school. All day I was worried. Mr. Griswald rolled his eyes at me. “Mr. McCain, I get your attention for one day! What seems to be the problem now?”
“It’s Micah,” I answered. “The town Marshal. He-“
“You men the town drunk!” Jeff said with a laugh.
I turned around and glared at him. “He ain’t a drunk! He’s just upset! I know he’s got a good reason!”
“Alright, both you boys stop this behavior immediately!” Mr. Griswald ordered. “Jeff, you will stay after school. And Mark, one more outburst from you and you’ll join him!”
“I can’t!” I stated. “I have to meet Thad at the feed store right after school!”
I walked to the feed store, Billy beside me. Billy asked me when Micah left. I told him yesterday afternoon. “I saw him heading across town to Mrs. Rington’s place.”
We were at the feed store now. “When?”
“Oh, last night. Some of us boys were on our way to the school to play kickball. We saw him walk past – didn’t even say hello!”
I hurried to Thad and told him what Billy told me. A man standing outside the feed store nodded his head. “He took an attic room there, Mark.”
We jumped in the wagon and hurried to the Marshal’s office. Thad started to tell Pa, but I had the information first! Pa told Thad to watch the office. I wanted to go with him. “No, you stay with Thad, son.”
I went outside the door and watched Pa hurry towards Micah’s new living quarters. Thad came up behind me. “Worried, sonny?” I nodded. “Well, Micah will be okay.”
I went back inside and began pacing the floor. “Might as well get started on your homework,” Thad suggested.
I shook my head. He sat down and motioned for me to sit. “Education is important. There are so many people who never learned to read and write…figure numbers…learn about how our fine country was formed. Those are important things to know. Don’t ever take your education for granted.”
I saw the regretful look in Thad’s eyes. “You didn’t go to school?”
“No, boy,” Thad answered. “I was a slave. Slaves didn’t go to school.”
“I’m sorry.” I sighed. “Did you have a good…master?” I hated saying the word.
Thad smiled. “I didn’t. He sold me wife and children into slavery. If I didn’t get all the ranching work done everyday, he’d take a strap to me. The work I was given was…well…it was hard – usually too much for one man to do by himself.”
I saw a lonesomeness in his eyes. “You lost your family?” He nodded. “You know where they are?”
He lowered his head. “Well, working for your Pa for a few days will give me enough money to head further East. I’ve been told they settled in Missouri. I’ve been looking ever since I left my master.”
“Well, at least you – and they – are free,” I stated.
“No, son. We ain’t free. As long as white man sees us black people as lower then them, we ain’t free.” Thad smiled. “But I hope to get my family back soon. Then we can live someplace together.”
Just then, the door opened. Pa didn’t say a word, but started gathering stuff up. “Pa?” I asked. He was no longer wearing the badge. “Micah still the Marshal?”
“Yep,” Pa answered.
“Where is he?”
“He’s still in his room. I gave him the badge back. It’s his choice on what he’ll do with it.” Pa grabbed his saddle bag and rifle.
“Where you going?” I asked as I hurried toward him.
“I have to go out of town tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Where?” I asked suddenly. I didn’t like his going out of town.
“I just have to do something…something for Micah.”
“What?” I was suddenly very anxious. I didn’t like his secrets.
“It doesn’t matter, son. It-“ Pa suddenly looked up from his rifle. He sighed, realizing what I was feeling. He ran a hand through his hair. “I…I’m sorry, Mark. I’ll tell you. I’m going to go find a man – a man that can help Micah get better.” Pa looked off into the distance. “Or kill him…” He mumbled. I didn’t understand. “I’ll be back tomorrow, okay son?”
I nodded, feeling better now that he gave me a little information. “Pa?” Pa turned from the door. “Can…can I see him?”
Pa turned and smiled at me. He walked up and put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, son.” He looked at Thad. “I don’t want you to see Micah in the state he’s in right now. I…I’m sure he wouldn’t either.”
He was drunk. Pa didn’t’ like me seeing Micah when he was that way. I knew it bothered Pa when Micah turned to the bottle to deal with his problems. “Yes sir,” I nodded.
But I couldn’t help the next day after school riding by to see where Micah lived. Micah was sitting out on the steps. He still looked worried. I stopped Blue Boy by the steps and looked at him. “Hello, boy,” Micah greeted me.
“Hello,” I called back. I just sat on my horse.
Micah stood and made his way down the stairs. “How’s school?”
“Fine,” I answered, looking down. I felt that something was between us – something that kept us from talking like before.
“Your Pa?” Micah asked.
“Well, take care of yourself.” He just stood there, staring at me. There was no longer anger in his eyes. But his face was full of regret. I wasn’t sure what to say to make that regret to go away.
Micah turned to go back up the stairs. “Micah?” Micah turned and looked at me. “Um…Could we…” I started to ask him if we could go fishing sometime. Something stopped me though. I suddenly didn’t feel comfortable asking him that. “I mean…could we visit some time?”
“We’ll see, boy,” Micah answered.
He started back up the stairs. I felt hurt by his rejection, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I headed into town. There was someone else in the Marshal’s office. He said Micah asked him to be deputy. My Pa was at the ranch. When I got home, Pa sat in the chair reading his Bible. I turned and saw Thad fixing supper. “I’m…I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Just do your chores, son,” Pa mumbled from the Bible.
I walked over to Pa. “Pa, I don’t like this.”
Pa suddenly looked up “Like what?”
“What’s going on with Micah.” I shrugged. “I mean…I don’t know what’s going on with Micah.” Pa silently patted the arm of his chair and I sat down beside him. He put an arm around my shoulders and looked at me. “Pa, I reckon I owe you an apology.”
“Why?” Pa asked, cocking his head to one side.
“Well, I…I disobeyed you this afternoon.” Pa kept looking at me, waiting for me to go on. “I…I rode by Micah’s after school.”
Pa sighed. “I wish you hadn’t.”
“I know,” I answered. “Pa, he’s so…different.”
“He’s jut fighting a demon, son.” Pa patted my shoulder. “We all have demons to fight, son. What he’s wrestling with right now is rough. He’s questioning everything he is right now. That man I went to talk to last night – he’s gonna help.”
“Help?” I asked.
“Mark, I can’t tell you everything. It’s personal. But right now, what Micah’s fighting…well, to be saved from it could be a matter of life or death.”
“Death?” I gasped.
“Go do your chores, Mark.” Pa opened his Bible and started reading again.
It was a normal thing for Pa to read his Bible, but it was usually at night – and it was usually not so intense. I could tell he was fighting his own demons, but I didn’t know what…or why.
After supper I did the dishes. I started to go outside, but Pa mumbled for me to get ready for bed. “Pa, it’s only 8:00!” I argued. Pa lifted his head from the Bible and gave me a hard stare. “Yes sir.” I didn’t understand at the moment why I had to get ready for bed this early.
I came out after getting ready. “Everything all right, Pa?” I asked. Pa nodded, not looking up from his Bible. “Go outside for a minute, son. Then I want you in bed.”
I didn’t understand what was going on, but I obeyed him. I said goodnight and headed off for bed. But as I laid there in the dark, I suddenly heard Micah’s voice. He sounded upset. He was begging Pa to help him and Pa said no. Then Micah turned and left. “I couldn’t help overhearing, Pa,” I stated. I asked him what was wrong. Suddenly I realized that the matter of life and death had come. I started to run out the door after Micah, but Thad grabbed my arm.
He started telling me that Micah was better of dead and buried with the way he was feeling right now. I couldn’t stand it! What was he talking about? I stared outside and saw Pa standing still. I was worried. There was something terrible going on – one of those private moments between Micah and my Pa that I wasn’t allowed to share. Thad let go of me and I walked toward the door. But I heard my Pa’s words on something he told me once. “There are times in a man’s life when he has to be alone, Mark.”
I turned and walked to the bedroom, firmly closing the door behind me. I sat on the side of the bed for a long time wondering and worrying. Pa finally walked in and sat down on his bed. He looked down at the floor and rubbed his hands together. He spoke softly. “I had to do some-something, Mark. It was something hard…something you may not understand but I want to tell you anyway, because I want you to be prepared.
“I don’t much like to divulge Micah’s hidden secrets to you. I feel it’s not my place to tell but…well…in this case, I think you should know.” Pa sighed as he looked up at me. “We all have fears. Do you believe that, Mark?” I nodded. “Well, Micah’s fear is one he’s carried around with him for many, many years – more years then you’ve been alive. He fears a man – a man with glasses. This man is a cheap gunslinger and he’s nearby. Micah found out about it and he’s afraid.”
“I don’t know, son. The mind is a strange thing, Mark. It makes us feel things that…well, that we can’t always explain. Anyways, Micah’s facing this man is the only thing that can save him. So yesterday, I…well, I went and told this man where he could find Micah.”
I gasped. “No!” I couldn’t believe it. “You mean that – that you set him up for the…for the kill?”
Pa stood and paced the floor. He ran a hand through his hair as his eyes filled up with tears. “That’s how I feel, but son-“ Pa ran over to me and bent down in front of me. He grasped my hand between both of his. “Son, this was the only way that Micah’s faith in himself could be restore! Don’t you understand that?”
“So they are going to…to face each other tomorrow? With guns, I mean?” I couldn’t believe this! I was suddenly fearful for Micah.
Pa nodded. “He could loose, but I’ll be there waiting and if that man kills Micah…well…”
“But Pa! Why don’t you help?” I asked. “You’re Micah’s best friend! He counts on you!”
“Well, that’s the problem, son. He’s become dependant on me. Somehow he thinks that…well, that he’s nothing without me – that he’s a coward.”
“Pa, Micah’s told me amazing stories! He’s no coward.”
“No, he’s not.” Pa looked into my eyes. “You see why I did what I did?”
“Well, not really, Pa. But I trust your judgment,” I answered honestly.
I had trouble getting to sleep that night.
The next morning, I came into the kitchen. Pa was cleaning his rifle. “Your mush is on the table,” Pa stated. “Hurry and eat so you can get to school.”
I turned from the stove. “I’d rather not go, Pa.”
Pa sighed. “Mark, must we go through this school thing every day?”
“Well, I-I just think I should stay here…well, you know I’m worried about Micah.”
“I’ll come up there at lunch and tell you what happened.” Pa stood up and sat down his rifle. He dipped my mush for me. “I promise. Now eat.”
I slowly rode my horse to school. I rode through town and stopped in front of the saloon. Is that where it would happen? In this saloon? Or on this street? I was worried for Micah. I didn’t want anything to happen to him. “Mark!” I turned and saw Micah leave his office. “Get to school, boy,” he growled.
“Micah, I-“ I started.
“Now!” He ordered.
Tears sprang to my eyes. I couldn’t stand seeing him like this! I kicked Blue Boy’s sides and hurried off to school.
But all morning I couldn’t concentrate. I was afraid for Micah. Recess came at ten o’clock. I sat outside, half tempting to rush off to town. But Pa had ordered me to stay at the school no matter what happened. I tried concentrating on my spelling test, but it was hard. I couldn’t remember anything I learned.
As I read my lesson for the morning, I kept looking up at Mr. Griswald, hoping he would announce it was noon. That hour of reading was the longest hour of my life! He finally looked at his watch and announced it was time for lunch.
I hurried outside. I saw nothing at first, but then I heard my name. I turned and saw Micah walk out from the side of the building. He had a smile on his face. “Where’s Pa?” I asked.
“He’s in town with Millie,” he answered. He came up to me and bent down in front of me. “How’d you like to have lunch with me? I…think we have some things to talk about.”
I stared at him – into his face. There was no longer anything between us. “Your…Pa told me he told you.”
I nodded. “Then…you’re okay?” I asked as tears sprang to my eyes.
Micah smiled. “Thanks to your Pa, I’m okay.”
I couldn’t help myself. I threw my arms around Micah’s neck and hugged him. Micah laughed. “Well now, what’s this?”
“I’m glad to have my grandpa back,” I answered.
Micah patted my back as he put his arm around me. “Let’s go have lunch, boy!” We hadn’t walked too far before Micah looked down at me. “Got lots of chores Saturday?”
“Not that I’m aware of, Micah,” I answered.
“You managed to stay out of trouble this week?” I nodded, looking up at him. “Well, then suppose you and me take ourselves a fishing trip?”
“Well, what about Pa?” We were almost to the restaurant now. Pa and Millie were standing outside the store. Pa had a big grin on his face and was talking softly to Millie. His arm was around her. Micah and I watched for a minute, then I pointed and opened my mouth to say something. “Uh…never mind, I think Pa will find plenty to do on Saturday!”
Micah laughed as we walked into the dining room to eat.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Lost Treasure of Canyon Town
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Wyoming Story 2
around The McCain Ranch