I was watching when it happened. You cannot even imagine the fear that suddenly gripped me as I watched that blasting powder explode right into my father’s face. Nor can you imagine the fear the gripped my very being as I saw Pa drop to his knees and cry in pain.
I don’t even remember running to him. All I know is I was suddenly there at his side crying. “Let me see!” I tired to pull his hands from his face he had covered. I had to see – to get an idea how bad it was. I didn’t particularly want to see it, but I was the only one who could help him. I was finally able to get his hands away. The image that met my eyes was horrible…just horrible! It made my heart race and my stomach churn. My throat suddenly felt dry and my eyes burned with tears.
Pa threw a hand to his eyes and cried out in pain again. I held him as I thought on what to do. I had to get him into town…somehow, some way! I turned and looked at the wagon. A lot of damage was done but I could drive it. I left Pa on the ground with the assurance that I’d be back then I went to hitch up the team.
After my chore was done I hurried back over to Pa. “Oh, it hurts!” he cried. “It hurts!” He again began moaning.
Tears fell from my eyes but I harshly wiped them away. I couldn’t cry – not now! Pa needed me to be strong! “Come on, Pa!” I cried as I grabbed his hand. But he moaned some more. I suddenly kneeled down in front of him. I licked my lips, then I said, “Now Pa, I’ve got to get you to the doctor. You have to use all your strength to get into this wagon! You have to ride up front.”
I tugged on his arm and he finally managed the stand up. His legs were really shaky. I felt his hands shake as I held them and led him to the wagon. “I can’t lift you up there, Pa. You’re gonna have to climb!” I demanded.
Somehow he heard me. It took several tries, and once Pa fell flat on his back when his foot slipped, but we kept trying. He was finally in the seat.
I raced as fast as I could. Pa was growing weaker and was having trouble sitting up. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but the burns on his face seemed to be affecting his whole being.
It was a long ride into town. Pa was no longer moaning, but was quiet…too quiet…”Pa, wake up!” I called. But he didn’t move. His body went forward and I quickly put a hand on him. He slid to the floor of the buckboard. “Oh Pa, just hang on!” I hurried the horses faster as I kept a firm hand on Pa.
When I finally got into town, I screamed as I raced. I called for Micah and Millie and they both soon emerged from their places of business. They began running behind the wagon as I drove on down the street to Dr. Burrage’s office. “What happened?” Micah asked when we stopped.
“An explosion!” I answered as I bent down next to Pa. “We’re here, Pa.”
Micah lifted Pa’s head and looked at him. “Oh, Dear God!” He cried.
My head sprang up to look at him. I saw Micah quickly wipe his own eye. “I need a couple men to help me!” Micah called. I just stood there and stared as they carried my Pa into the Doc’s office.
Millie stared and watched them carry him in. She folded her hands and turned to me. “What happened?”
“The blasting powder blew up…right in his face! I don’t know what…” My voice drifted off. I needed to be alone for a couple minutes before I went inside.
Millie started toward doc’s office. “Mark, are you coming?”
“In a minute,” I answered. I watched Millie go in and firmly shut the door. Then I ran behind doc’s office, leaned my arm against a tree, and let my tears flow. I cried hard, allowing myself to feel. Pa told me a long time ago that if a person really feels like crying it’s best to get it over and done or that sadness can turn to bitter anger.
A few minutes later, I wiped my eyes and hurried inside. Millie put her arm around me. Pa was practically asleep as he laid on the cot. “What’s wrong with him?”
Millie patted my shoulder. “Mark, don’t fret so. Right now it’s mostly shock.”
We watched silently as Doc Burrage began putting some kind of cream on Pa’s eyes. Then he wrapped the bandage around his eyes to cover them. I was so scared to hear the news. I felt a little relief when Dr. Burrage announced Pa would be okay, but then he started talking, saying how Pa would have been alright if he hadn’t looked straight into the blast.
I didn’t understand! I thought he had said Pa would be okay! I can’t tell you what Doc said because I only half listened. Shock was setting in on me too, I think, and I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t hear straight. “Your Pa is blind.” I heard that.
“Oh my God!” I heard Millie breath as she angrily cried out to God. She grabbed me and put her head down next to me. I didn’t hear anything else – I tuned everyone out as I cried.
“No!” This couldn’t be happening! “Not Pa! Not my Pa!” I broke from Millie’s embrace and ran to Pa who was laying so still. I laid my hand on top of his and buried my head in his middle as he slept. I wept over my Pa.
I heard nothing else. I couldn’t think. Micah came forward and laid his hands on my shoulder, but I didn’t hear much. I heard temporary, but I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. Later, more words did penetrate my brain. I understood that Pa’s condition could be temporary. We’d know in a week.
But I laid there for a long time just holding my Pa. He would need me so terribly bad now! The others left me and Pa in there alone. “God, please, help my Pa!” I swallowed as I cried some more. “I ain’t asking for much, but please don’t let Pa be blind!”
I couldn’t imagine Pa blind. He was so full of pride and so strong! He was my rock! But I told myself that if he was blind, I’d take care of him. I’d make him feel proud of the McCain name!
Millie came back in and put her hands on my shoulders. “Come on, Mark. Let’s get you something to eat.”
“No!” I cried. “No!”
“We need to talk, Mark. Then you can come back.”
I turned and stared at her. “There’s nothing to…to talk about,” I stated. “My Pa’s blind. I reckon I understand that.”
But she shook her head and took my hand. “Doc gave your Pa something to make him sleep. He’ll sleep most of the night. Come on.”
I turned and looked at Pa. I didn’t want to leave him. Micah came in. “I’ll sit with him, boy. He’ll need you tomorrow when we tell him the news.”
“No!” I suddenly cried. I gave Micah a hard stare. “No one tells him anything!” I closed my eyes as more tears sprang to them. In a little more then a whisper, I stated, “I’ll tell him.” Then I hurried out the room.
Millie took me to the restaurant and made me get something to eat. But as I sat there, I couldn’t eat. Millie folded her arms on the table and leaned in to me. “Mark, you’re going to have to be strong for your father. He…He’s going to need you so much.”
“I will,” I answered. “I’ll make sure the ranch stays up and running. I’ll do the chores and cook the meals. I’ll-“
“I don’t mean that kind of strong.” We sat there quietly. Suddenly, Millie’s voice was stern. “Mark?”
I lifted my head to look at her. She tried to hold back her own tears. She laid a hand on mine. “I mean, you can’t do everything for him. This may be temporary, like Doc says. But Mark, you have to let your Pa have his strength and his…his pride.”
“It’ll be hard watching him…stumbling around in the dark by himself.”
“I’m not saying you can’t reach out and give him a hand, but you have to…well, you have to let him be Lucas McCain.”
I understood. I had been thinking on that myself. “How’s he going to take this, Millie?”
“I don’t know,” Millie answered. “Now Mark, please eat. I don’t want to worry about both my men.” At the sound of men, I lifted my head and gave her a weak smile.
She allowed me to go back and check on Pa. Micah made a cot for me right next to him so I could be close. Then he sat back in his chair. He wasn’t going to leave us. He would be here to help.
I must have eventually fallen asleep, because when I woke up the next morning I heard soft groaning. I sat up and noticed Pa trying to pull the bandage from his eyes. I jumped up. “No Pa, you mustn’t!” I warned. “Leave it be.”
“Mark, is that you, son?” Pa groaned.
“Yes sir,” I answered. I looked at Micah. “I’m here, Pa. There was a…an explosion. You remember?”
Pa put a hand to his face and sighed. “The blasting powder. You were…were running out of the house. You were so excited to be helping me, son.”
I sniffed and lowered my head. “Yes, I was.” I forced a smile onto my face. “Um…Pa, are you hungry?”
“What’s wrong, Mark?”
I suddenly gasped. “What do you mean?”
“I can hear it in your voice, son. There’s something you aren’t telling me.” He held his hand up, reaching out for mine.
I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “I…I’ll tell you after you eat.”
“No. Tell me now.”
“Pa, you haven’t eaten since before the accident. You-“ I started.
But even in his weakness, he voice was solid. “Mark,” he warned me.
I turned to Micah. He nodded and motioned that he’d be right outside if I needed him. I squeezed Pa’s hand again. “Pa, you know I love you.”
“Of course you do, son,” Pa answered with a worried smile.
“Well…” I swallowed hard. “The powder blast…It…It blasted straight up into your face and your…your eyes.”
“I’m going to have a big ugly scar?” Pa asked then. “Is that what you have trouble telling me son? I can live with a scar. It’ll go well with my others.”
“N-no sir. Doc said you won’t be scarred. At…at least not on your face.”
Pa lifted himself up into a sitting position. I started to push him back down but he shook me off. He held his head as dizziness set in. “What do you mean not on my face, Mark?”
“Your…Your eyes may be scarred.”
“My-“ Pa tipped his head to one side. “What are you saying Mark? Speak right out.”
“Okay,” I lowered my head to compose myself – even though he couldn’t see, he could still hear my expressions. “You’re blind.”
There was a dark eerie silence as I slowly lifted my head to look at him. There was no expression whatsoever on Pa’s face. I stared at him. Suddenly, Pa’s lips parted slightly and a low gasp escaped his lips. “Blind.” It was a statement, not a question.
I found my voice. “Doc thinks it might only be temporary. We’ll know more when he takes the bandages off in a week.”
Pa lowered himself back down on the bed. I couldn’t read his expression. I wasn’t sure what he was thinking. “Son,” Pa whispered. “I think you oughta go get me that breakfast now.” There was a sudden break in his voice.
“Pa-“ I started.
“Go on, son.”
“Alright,” I answered. I turned to leave the room.
“Mark-“ Pa’s voice stopped me suddenly. I turned back to him. “Take your time.”
I heard the tears in his voice. I hurried out of the room to leave him alone. Micah stood up from where he’d been sitting with doc. “I…” I swallowed. “I told him.” I looked up at Micah. “He…he told me to go get him some breakfast –and” I turned back to look towards where Pa was. “-and to take my time.”
We all knew why. Doc said he’d stay out there just in case Pa needed him. Micah put an arm around my shoulders and led me out of the room. I wanted to cry, but I had to be strong now. My tears were done. “It’s going to be hard for him, boy,” Micah stated as we made our way to the hotel. “He’s going to need ya.”
“Yes sir, I know.”
We went inside and sat down at a table. “I want you to eat first, son. Then I’ll let you take a plate to your Pa.” I nodded, knowing Micah was giving Pa plenty of time to come to terms with the news.
Since the accident, I hadn’t thought on anything else but that. But now I forced myself to think on other things. “The wagon?” I asked. “I forgot to take care of the wagon.”
“Nils came and took it with him. Said he’d have it all fixed up when your Pa’s ready to go home.”
I lowered my head as I pushed the food back and fourth on my plate. “I should go check on the cattle and do the chores at the ranch,” I stated.
Micah shook his head. “Everything’s fine, Mark. Sam Decovan was going to see to the ranch. He sent his boys over to do the chores.”
Everything seemed to be in order. I didn’t know what else I could do. I suddenly threw down my fork and turned my head away from Micah as tears filled my eyes. I put a hand to my face as I began shaking with sobs. Micah jumped from his chair and bent down behind me. He put a hand on my shoulder. “Your father’s gonna be fine, Mark.”
“I wanta believe that, Micah,” I cried.
“Then believe it.” He rubbed my back while I cried. When my heart felt better, I wiped the tears and turned to him. “It’s just so hard to…I mean my Pa – he’s so…” My voice died off as Micah shook his head.
I took a plate over for Pa. The doc started to say he’d help Pa eat but I shook my head. “This is my job,” I insisted quietly. “I’ll care for him. Thank you though, doc.”
I pulled the curtain back and looked into the room. Pa was sitting up in bed with a blank stare on his face. I quietly walked in. “Pa?”
Pa smiled as he turned his head toward me. “Mark, you bring me something? I’m starving.”
“Yes sir, I did.” I walked up to stand beside him. “How ya feeling?” I tried to keep my voice strong but it broke.
Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “I feel fine, son. Doc put more cream on my eyes. Helps with the burning.”
I nodded my approval, but realized Pa couldn’t see the nod. “Great,” I answered hoarsely.
Pa sniffed the air. “What’s for breakfast?” I told him it was eggs and bacon. Pa stood and began walking slowly. “Where’s the table?”
“Straight ahead,” I answered. “But you can just stay in the bed, Pa!”
“No sir,” Pa laughed. “I ain’t eating in bed like a sick old man! I’m eating breakfast at the table!” He sat down. “Just sit it here in front of me, Mark.”
I obeyed him. I handed Pa his fork and he felt his plate. Then he tried to scoop up some eggs but he couldn’t. Tears sprang to my eyes. It broke me to see my Pa so helpless! I wasn’t sure what to do. I turned and looked toward the door where Micah stood. He nodded, motioning for me to help him.
I put my hand on Pa’s. “Let me show you, Pa,” I said. I wanted to feed him myself, but I knew that would hurt him way too much. I held his hand as we worked together at dipping the eggs and getting them to his mouth. Then I handed him the bacon.
Pa sighed as he wiped his mouth. “That was good Mark, thank you. I guess we still make a good team.”
Those last words made me turn away from him. I grabbed the dishes and started to go out the door. But somehow, Pa knew what was going on. “Mark!” Pa’s firm voice stopped me.
I didn’t turn, but lowered my head. “Yes sir?”
He wiggled his fingers. “Come here, son.”
I slowly walked back over to him. He scooted out his chair and pulled me down to sit on his lap. “Listen, Mark. I know this is hard. I know it’s hard to see me like this. But Mark, we will get through this. We’ll learn together.”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
Pa put his hands around my neck. “Don’t shut me out, Mark. And don’t protect me. I want to know what you’re thinking and I want you to know what I’m thinking. It’s the only way to survive.” I agreed with him. “Now,” Pa slid his hands down to reset on my shoulders. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m scared, Pa.”
Pa smiled in spite of everything. “Well now, so am I.” I gasped at his words. “I’ve had my time alone to focus on our problem and we’ll get through it. We’re McCain’s, son. We’ll stay strong no matter what.”
I threw my arms around Pa and hugged him. Pa enveloped me in his arms and told me to cry. I cried in Pa’s arms. I suddenly felt so protected; and I knew everything would be okay. Pa finally pulled me away. “Now.” He swallowed and stood me up beside him. “I want you to go on to school. I know you don’t have your books, but you’ll learn more by sitting there then by staying here with me.”
“Pa, I can’t!” I answered.
“It’s an order, son. I’ll be here when you get back.” I looked at Pa. By the look on his face, I could only imagine what his eyes looked like right now. I knew it was an order to be followed. I also knew why Pa was ordering me to do this. He was aware of how worried I was for him, and he didn’t want me sitting around all day dwelling on the fact.
Because I didn’t want to cause him any more worry, I agreed to go. “Pa told me I have to go to school.”
“I’ll walk you over,” Micah said. “I’ll send someone out to the ranch to get your school books. I’ll tell Mr. Griswald why you don’t have your homework.”
Micah and I left. As I started toward the school, I turned and looked back. “He’ll be fine, Mark. Doc’s with him. Millie will probably come sit with him for awhile later. If you’re at school, he won’t feel so worried about you.”
I stopped and stared at Micah. “Worried about me? Why’d he be worried about me?” I asked.
Micah smiled. “Because he’s your Pa and he cares. That’s enough.”
I walked inside. Mr. Griswald stopped talking when he saw us walk in. He hurried back and Micah explained what had happened. Mr. Griswald put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. “Yes, I heard.” He patted my shoulder. “I’ll be happy to stay after school and help Mark catch up.”
Micah nodded. “That’ll be fine.” He leaned down so his face was at the same level as mine. “Mark, I’ll see you at 6:00 for supper.”
The day was long. Everyone already knew about my Pa, and I felt eyes staring at me all morning. At lunch they all gathered around me and started asking questions. How did it happen? Is he really blind? What’s my Pa going to do now? Does that mean he can’t use his rifle anymore? I kept walking, ignoring the questions.
Didn’t they understand I didn’t want to talk about it? I just couldn’t-
“Leave me alone! Just stop!” I turned and yelled.
A hush fell over the crowd. I sighed and closed my eyes to regain my composure. “Look,” I said when I could trust my voice to speak. “I’m still trying to adjust to this. Please give me some space. We’ll know in a week if he’s permanently blind or not. Just please…pray for Pa.”
I looked around from face to face. All eyes were on me. Some were moist as they felt sorry for me, others were scared for me, and others were curious. I didn’t want to see the sympathy in their eyes. I couldn’t…I couldn’t deal with it! Why couldn’t they just act normal?
I was glad when lunch recess ended. I quietly walked back inside and slid into my desk. We began our reading from our McGuffey’s readers, but I couldn’t concentrate. Mr. Griswald stopped Billy’s reading and called my name. I lifted my head and gave him a blank stare.
Mr. Griswald watched me for a moment, then shook his head. “It’s okay, Mark. We’ll skip you today.”
After school, Mr. Griswald sat down beside me and helped me through my homework. He knew Pa often sat with me and helped me, and I think he was trying to make up for what he couldn’t do at the moment. After my homework was done, Mr. Griswald stood up and walked me outside. “Listen Mark,” he started as he cleared his throat and took his glasses off. “I know how much your Pa helps you with your homework. Until he’s…better, I’ll be honored to help you after school.”
I couldn’t believe how nice he was being. I felt my heart swell inside my chest. I smiled. “I’d like that.”
I hurried to town. Millie had supper all ready and a table set up at the doc’s office so we could all eat together. Pa was doing his best to keep things together, but I had the feeling he and Micah had had a long conversation today. I was glad he had Micah to talk to. Micah would make sure Pa kept his strength up.
I listened to Pa, Micah and Millie talk for awhile. I watched as Pa fumbled with his food. I helped him silently as Millie and Micah flashed a sympathetic look. I tried to ignore them.
Pa allowed me to sleep on the cot in the doctor’s office. He knew I didn’t want to leave him. And he knew so much more. After Micah and Millie left, Pa asked, “Why are you so quiet tonight?”
“Why are you so strong?” I suddenly asked.
“Because I have to be, son. There’s nothing I can do to change this but pray. If I’m going to be blind for the rest of my life, I’ll have to accept this.” Pa grew quiet. “What else is bothering you?”
I sighed. “How can you tell?”
“I can feel it, son.” Pa waited but I said nothing. “Come on, out with it.”
“Pa…” I swallowed. I felt so selfish. “You are so strong – like a rock. No matter what happens…Pa, I can’t stand the-the stares and the – the questions and looks of sympathy that…that…even Millie and Micah are giving you!”
Pa was quiet. I turned and looked at him. “What if it was somebody else, son?” He finally spoke quietly. “What if it was Billy’s Pa…or Micah…or Millie? How would you act?”
I didn’t know what to say. Pa went on. “Would you stare or feel sorry for them? Would you want to ask them a lot of questions?” Pa reached out to touch me. I quickly came closer to him so he could rest his hand on my shoulder. “Mark, what happened to me isn’t exactly a wonderful thing. People have the right to feel sorry for me – they care about me.”
I sighed. “The kids in town…they asked me a lot of questions and I could hardly stand it!”
“You’re scared, son. You’re afraid that I won’t be able to see again.” I stayed silent. I knew he was right. “I’m scared too,” Pa breathed. “I’m terrified.” I just stared at him as he came to terms with what he just admitted. Then he smiled. “Mark, let’s not talk about this anymore, okay? Let’s wait the week out to see what will happen.”
I helped Pa get into bed, then I laid down on the cot. Doc came in to doctor Pa’s eyes after turning the lamp down. Then he turned out the lights and said he’d be back in the morning. The room was dark. I laid there staring up at the ceiling. “Pa?” I suddenly called.
“Can I take care of you?” There was silence. “You know I want to.”
Pa finally spoke. “We’ll see. Okay?”
The next morning, I felt Doc shaking me. I opened my eyes. “Your father said for you to go get breakfast so you won’t be late for school.”
“Ain’t he going home today?” I asked.
Doc smiled at me. “When you get out of school you can take him home. Okay?”
I hurriedly dressed and washed up. Then I started to hurry out the room for my breakfast But I stopped. “Pa, what will you do all day?”
“Micah and Millie will keep me company,” Pa answered.
“Yes sir, but you know I don’t want to leave you.”
“Mark,” Pa started with a sigh. “Make sure you bring me back pancakes.”
You don’t know how hard it was to concentrate! When I got out of school, Ben, Mr. Decovan’s ranch hand, was waiting for me. He had a list of things for us to get at the Feed Store and General Store. Micah went to get the wagon while I got all my stuff in order.
I was nervous. Pa would be my responsibility now. What if I messed up? Pa’s life could be in my hands. I’d have to miss school for a few days so I could take care of Pa. And I’d have to give him some things to do so he wouldn’t feel useless. As I walked over to pick him up, I thought on these things.
Micah joined me and put his arm on my shoulder. “You want me to ride out with you?”
“Well, that’s not necessary,” I answered.
Micah nodded. “I reckon it’s not. No sir, I reckon you and your Pa will do just fine.” Micah stopped me before we went in. “Now Mark, Ben and Sam will be caring for the cattle, so you needn’t worry about that.”
“Micah, I can care for the cattle!” I insisted. “I can handle things!”
Micah firmly held up a hand. “Mark, Lucas is my best friend. He’s been good to a lot of people over the years and people have found an opportunity to pay him back. Let them help. Besides, I want you to take care of your Pa.” Micah patted my shoulder. “It’ll only be temporary.”
That’s what was keeping me going. Pa said we wouldn’t talk about it until we knew for sure what the situation was. We wouldn’t make any permanent plans. “I can’t go to school for awhile. I’ll have to convince Pa of that.” I said as we started walking again. “I mean, I can’t…leave him there by himself.”
“Well, tomorrow’s Saturday, so we have a couple days to figure that out. Your Pa will probably insist you go to school, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I don’t want him left alone.”
I looked up at the break in Micah’s voice. I gently laid a hand on his arm. “He’ll be okay, Micah.”
Micah looked down at me. We stood there staring into each other’s minds. We each knew what the other was thinking, and we didn’t want to say it out loud. Micah finally forced a smile on his face. “Well, you best get him now, boy.”
I picked Pa up and we started to head across the street. Before I could grab him, he walked out. A horse and wagon were coming, and of course he didn’t see them. Micah and I ran out and grabbed him. “Pa! You should have waited!” I scolded him.
He smiled. He was trying so hard to be strong about this. Lord knows what he did when I wasn’t around to see him.
We walked out to the wagon. Millie hurried up to give us some sandwiches and fried chicken. Pa was so tired. He needed to get home and take a nap. Micah could see it to. “You better take your Pa home now, boy.”
I suddenly realized that Pa and Millie needed a moment alone. I stepped back to give them the privacy they needed. Millie kissed Pa. When she stepped back, I could see the pain in her own eyes. We were all hurting.
The one thing I didn’t like out here on the street was all the stares. I wanted to turn and tell everyone to go home! I kept wishing Micah would do that, but he didn’t. I was angry! Pa wasn’t some kind of elephant in a circus! He was a real live human being. Why did they continue to stare?
I suddenly saw Pa slip as he tried to get up on the wagon. I cringed. It was so painful seeing Pa so helpless like this! I just stood and stared at the struggle it took this big, strong man to do the simplest of things.
As I drove out of town, I told myself that it would all be over on Tuesday.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the worst was yet to come!
When we got home, I helped Pa down from the wagon. Pa insisted on walking into the house himself, so I gave him verbal directions on how to get onto the porch and through the door. When I got him inside, I took his arm and led him to the bedroom. “I want you to take a nap, Pa, while I warm up Miss Millie’s fried chicken.”
“Now Mark, that’s not necessary!” Pa started.
I gave him a firm push into the bedroom and led him to the bed. “It is necessary! Doc said you should get plenty of rest!” He sat down on the bed and I pulled his boots off. Then I nudged him until he laid down. “Now, I’ll come wake you when supper’s ready.”
I pulled the covers up over him then turned to leave. At the doorway, I turned to look at him. Tears filled my eyes as I thought on Pa’s sudden need for me to be the adult for awhile.
There was a knock at the door. I hurried so it wouldn’t disturb Pa. Billy Lehigh was standing there. “I’ve come to do the evening chores,” he stated.
I stared at him. “Oh, well that’s not-“
Billy came inside. “Where’s your Pa?”
“I just put him to bed,” I answered. “He’s really tired.”
“Oh,” Billy looked around. “Um…can I talk to you outside?” I looked toward the bedroom, then turned back to Billy and nodded. We walked outside. As we walked side-by-side to the barn, Billy toyed with his hat. “How are you doing, Mark?”
“I’m okay,” I answered.
Billy stopped and put out a hand to stop me. He looked straight into my eyes. “Are you? Really?”
“Of course!” I answered. But then I shrugged. “Not really.” I walked to the fence and slung my elbows over it. “I’m just so afraid that-“ I stopped.
“-that your Pa will be blind forever?” Billy asked. I nodded. “Mark, I’ve known your Pa now for three years. He’s tough as nails. They don’t come any tougher or any better then him.” Billy rested a hand on my shoulder. “Mark, we all want to help you. Your Pa’s done so much for all of us. I remember how rotten I was to your father that day. But then when me and the other boys were working at rebuilding your house that I burnt down, your Pa was so nice to me. He showed me tough love – something I needed. I could never repay him for what he’s given me. He’s given me self-respect, hope, and love. I just want to help him now.”
I nodded. “Alright,” I answered.
“Besides, Mr. Jackford sent me over here. And when Mr. Jackford tells you to do something, well…you better do it!”
“I best get in and start supper. You’ll stay?” I asked.
Billy looked toward the house. “The wife’s got supper cooking at home. She’d skin me alive if I was late again. But thanks.”
I nodded. “How’s that new baby?”
“Well, let me put it this way. The minute I walk in the door, Julie lays the baby in my arms and high tales it outside!”
I went inside and fixed supper. I woke Pa up and helped him to the table. Billy had already left for the night, so it was just Pa and me. I watched tearfully as Pa felt for the chicken in the dark to bring up to his mouth to eat. When he was done, I handed him a napkin. I began gathering up the dishes to wash. When I was half-way through, Pa stood up and headed toward the door. I hurried forward. “Pa, let me help ya!”
“No, Mark. I can do it,” Pa answered as he held his hands out in front and felt the wall until he found the door. It was hard not to do it for him. But I knew I’d be hurting him worse if I did.
Suddenly, I heard him calling for me. “Who’s that, son?” Pa asked as a horse and rider approached our ranch. I told him it was Micah. I greeted Micah before going back inside to finish the dishes. My chore was easier knowing my Pa wasn’t out there alone in the darkness.
When I was done, I hurried out to the porch to join Pa and Micah. I felt I was interrupting something. Micah quickly dismissed himself. As I watched Micah ride away, I suddenly felt like I was being checked up on.
Pa suggested we go back inside and I read a good book to him for awhile. I started inside, but suddenly turned to see Pa fumbling around in the darkness. I grabbed him and helped him inside. I led Pa to his chair. When he was seated, I picked up his Bible and opened it to the passage he had marked. Pa often read the Bible cover to cover. “I’ll read from the Bible tonight, Pa,” I stated.
Pa nodded with a smile. “Great!”
I looked down at the Bible. It was open to John 9. That’s where Pa had stopped reading that last night – before the accident. I glanced though it, but when I realized what it was the story of, I said “Pa, where would you like me to read from?”
“Just start where I left off. I finished up Chapter 8 of John the other night.”
I looked up from the Bible and closed my eyes. “Pa, I-I can’t read it,” I stated.
“Read it, son,” Pa answered softly.
I looked down at the passage again. “Pa, I…I can’t.” I swallowed. “I mean, I can’t.”
Pa reached out and put a hand on my cheek. “You can, son. Read it.”
My voice was soft at first, but as I read, it grew in strength:
“And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing”.
I silently closed the Bible as my eyes filled with tears.. There was a silence – a silence that almost made me sick. Pa spoke, but he spoke softly and with a deep emotion. “Why was it so hard for you, son? He was able to see at the end.”
I lowered my head. “I…It just scares me is all.”
“Well, what if…I mean, what if God decides that He has a purpose for your blindness?”
Pa gave a short laugh. “Then I guess that when Doc takes off my bandages Tuesday that everything will still be dark.” I stood up on shaky knees. “Mark, have faith. Jesus healed the blind man in the Bible tonight. He can heal me too.”
“I don’t have any mud to rub on your eyes,” I mumbled.
“Jesus didn’t have to rub that mud on his eyes, son. He did that to make it easier for those to believe.” Pa reached out and grabbed my arm, pulling me down beside him. “Is your faith so weak that you too must see the mud?”
I remembered another time I’d lost faith. I never thought Pa would come back to me, yet he did. Something suddenly snapped in me and I turned. “You will see on Tuesday, Pa. I know you will. You just gotta have faith and believe!” Pa smiled a relieved smile. “Well, we best get to bed. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
I started to help Pa, but he told me to go on to bed. “Ain’t you coming?”
“In a little bit, son. Don’t worry, I’ll be okay.” Pa motioned for me to go on.
I walked to the door then stopped. Without turning, I said, “You knew what I would be reading in the Bible, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I knew,” Pa answered.
I turned and smiled at him. “Thanks, Pa.” The I hurried back over to him and hugged him. “I can’t wait until Tuesday! Your eyes will be good as new!”
“Sure they will be, son,” Pa answered with a big smile.
I went to bed. I was almost asleep when suddenly I heard a big crash. I jumped out of bed and hurried out of the bedroom. The crash had scared me something awful! My heart pumped as I hurried in. I was expecting to see Pa lying on the floor or something. But when I got to the other room, he was standing over the table with his rifle. “Pa, what are you doing?” I looked down at the table and saw that he had broken a lantern.
I wanted to scold Pa for sure! What was he doing messing with lanterns and rifles in the middle of the night? How many times had he yelled at me for doing such careless things like he had just done? “Pa, if that lantern had been lit-“ I started to chide him.
“Go to bed, son,” he ordered quite forcibly.
But he was in no position to be giving me orders! Why, I couldn’t even leave him alone without him crashing things! Why would Pa have his rifle? He had no business messing with the thing, what with his being blind and all! “No, Pa.” I answered boldly. “You’re the one who should go to bed! What were you doing with this rifle?"
“Go to bed, Mark!” Pa suddenly yelled at me.
His words and tone hurt me something awful. I could tell he was really upset about something. I knew that being blind was hard on him, even though he didn’t let on. But the way he yelled at me really hurt me. I knew he was still my father. “Yes sir,” I answered as I turned to go.
But suddenly, Pa called me back. He grabbed me and felt his way around to sit down. There were so many mixed emotions on his face. I saw a desperateness and fear. “Come here Son." His voice was now gentle. But his face held fear. Something was bothering him. He had listened to what was bothering me, but he didn’t tell me how he felt about all this. "Mark, I didn't mean to speak to you that way. I-” Pa started.
I suddenly wanted to help Pa deal with his own emotions like Pa had helped me. We were partners, after all! I could tell he was very troubled about something. "That's alright Pa...just tell me what's the matter."
“Of course,” Pa answered. “I should tell you what’s the matter.”
“Mark, I’m gonna need your help,” Pa suddenly admitted.
I knew that was hard for him to say. But my heart swelled, knowing that he wanted me to help him with his problem. “You know all you gotta do is ask,” I answered.
I led Pa into the bedroom. He sat down on his bed and took off his boots. After he was ready for bed, he said, “I want you to get in bed.”
“But Pa, you said-“ I started suddenly.
Pa held up a hand. “I’m going to tell you. Just do this my way. Please, son.” There was a desperatness in his voice. I went to my bed and sat down. Pa stood. “Alright, speak to me.”
“I love you, Pa,” I said. Pa turned his head toward my voice and smiled. “Tell me how many paces I need to go. You know, how many footsteps.” Pa took two steps forward.
“You need to go about three footsteps straight ahead,” I answered.
Pa took those ten footsteps. He smiled when he realized he was right by my bed. He reached out and felt me sitting up. “Lay down, son.” Pa lifted the blankets and pulled them up over me. He smiled again. “You see, I’m not completely helpless! I can still take care of my boy!”
“Of course you can, Pa. And I’m glad cause I sure do need ya'!” I answered.
Pa nodded as he sat down on the side of my bed and patted my legs. “Alright, there was this man that I sent to jail a few years back. His name was Solby. He sent me letters from jail letting me know he wanted to kill me, but he never came.”
I lifted my head up on my elbow. “He’s here now,” I stated knowingly. Pa nodded. “That’s why Micah came out tonight? To tell you?” Pa nodded again, but said nothing. “Because you’re blind?”
“He’s pretty low, Mark,” Pa answered.
I suddenly became angry! “What kind of friend is Micah? He knows Solby’s in town, yet he didn’t stay or send anyone out here to guard you? Just what kind of friend is he? He should know you can’t-“ I yelled.
“Mark,” Pa called softly. “Calm down, son. Micah is a very good friend. I asked him not to. It’s a matter of pride.”
“Pride that’ll get you killed!” I answered. “And me.”
I heard a gasp from Pa’s voice. “Yes, son. You’re right.” There was silence for a few moments. “Well, we need to get the chores done first thing tomorrow. Then we need to get to work.”
“You’re gonna help me target practice,” Pa declared.
“Help you ta-“ I started. I suddenly sat straight up in bed. “Pa, you can’t shoot your rifle blind!”
Pa grabbed me by the shoulders and gently pushed me back down in bed. “I have to, son,” Pa answered. “Your life depends on it.”
I suddenly smiled. If there was a blind man who could still be the best show, it was my Pa! There was determination in his voice, so I knew I needn’t worry. “Okay, Pa.”
“Now, you get to sleep, young man!” I laughed as I turned over on my side and settled myself in.
Pa stood. I watched him walk confidently back over to his bed and sit down. It was good to see him able to do such a little thing on his own! “Good night, Pa!”
I woke up to Pa’s shaking me the next morning. “Son, son. Wake up!”
I opened my eyes and sat up. Pa was all dressed, standing over my bed. “What is it?”
“Time to rise and shine, son. Sun’s already awake!”
He was right, the sun was shining. “How’d you know that?”
Pa laughed. “I’ve already been outside! Got some wood to fill up the wood box.” Pa suddenly wagged a finger at me. “Now boy, how many times have I told you to keep that wood box filled? That’s your chore, and I have plenty of chores of my own!”
I laughed. It sure was nice having Pa scold at me again! “I guess I just got a little busy yesterday what with unloading the wagon, feeding the stock, gathering the eggs, and milking the cow. You know how it is.”
“Well, the stove should be warm now.” Pa started toward the living room, feeling his way. “Well, I’m waiting for that coffee, son. I’d fix it myself but I didn’t want you to scold me for making a mess.”
“Thanks for waiting!” I declared as I started dressing. “Bacon and eggs sound good to you?”
“Mmmmm! Does it ever!” Pa declared.
I started working on breakfast. I watched Pa pick up his rifle and begin cleaning it. He did a pretty good job, considering that…well, you know.
After breakfast, Pa said we needed to start on the chores. I told Pa that Billy was tending the cattle. Pa nodded. “Good. I’m glad you have some help, son.” We walked out and I watched him step down from the porch without any trouble. He began walking around the yard. “What can I do?”
I stared at him. I bet he got up after I went to sleep and walked around this yard all night! “Son?”
“I’m here. I’m just-“ I hurried over to Pa. “How’d you get so good at walking around the yard? Why, it’s almost like you can see it.”
“I can,” Pa answered. He put a finger to his head. “In here. It’s like a picture. I reckon that since it was the last thing I saw, it’s stuck in my brain.”
I put Pa to work currying one of the horses while I did the harder chores. By mid-morning we had all the major chores out of the way. Pa told me to get his rifle. I obeyed him and hurried back with his rifle. He began putting bullets in it. “Now,” he spoke sternly. “We are going to work and work at this until I’m ready. That way, when Solby comes, I’ll be ready and can shoot him dead!”
“You can do it, Pa!” I declared.
So for the next several hours Pa and I worked at his learning to shoot all over again. We used many tin cans while he practiced. At first it was hard. But as he continued practicing, his aim quickly improved. I stopped working long enough to go inside and fix stew. Pa worked in the barn with the animals. I knew he was happy now that he was keeping himself busy; and I did my best to find ways to keep him busy.
I hurried out. “I got stew cooking. Should be done in a couple hours! We went back to work. Two hours later, Pa was back to being the best shot! He got to where all I had to do was throw the can and he’d shoot it dead center!
I was sure mighty proud of my Pa!
Suddenly, a horse and rider came. Pa swung his rifle around. “Who’s that?” He asked, ready to threaten whoever was invading our privacy.
Pa’s sudden fear scared me. I quickly grabbed the barrel of his rifle and pushed it away from the target, telling him the rider was Micah. Boy, he had aimed that rifle right at Micah! If he had shot, he would have killed him dead!
In spite of it, I was proud. He’d do fine!
Micah announced that things were getting worse for Solby. It wouldn’t be long before he would make his move. Micah said he’d stay here for awhile. He was worried about Pa as much as I was. I was certainly glad Micah was staying! Not that I didn’t have the utmost confidence in my Pa, but I just felt better knowing Micah would be here to back my Pa up if trouble did arrive.
We left Pa out in the yard to clean up. I no longer felt I had to watch him while he was outside. I knew that he would be able to find his way back into the yard without any trouble.
But as Micah and I were inside eating our soup, we heard shots ring out.
Micah and I looked at each other then ran outside. My heart beat fast when I heard Pa’s terrified voice ring out, “Solby! Solby!” I ran to him as fast as I could. Solby was dead. Pa grabbed me. He was shaking. I’d never seen Pa so terrified!
I was relieved Pa’s fearful incident was over, but I couldn’t smile. I was too upset. I’d never seen my father so terrified before. Feeling his shaking against me scared me something awful. I suddenly began to wonder – what if he would never be able to see again? What should I do? I couldn’t stand to see Pa in fear like this! "Son...do you have anything stronger in the house then soup?" Pa suddenly asked.
I led him into the house and silently began dipping the stew. I sat it down in front of him. “I’ll get you some coffee,” I said quietly.
“What’s wrong?” Pa asked.
I couldn’t, under any circumstances, let Pa know what I was thinking. “It just scared me is all, Pa. I’ll be okay.”
Micah had picked up his cup of stew. He swooshed it around in his cup as he studied me closely. Micah motioned for me to step outside. “Lucas, Mark and I will be right back. You just say there.”
We walked outside. I knew Micah wanted the truth from me. “What is it, Mark?”
“Did you notice how terrified Pa was? I just can’t-“ I started.
Micah nodded. “You’d be terrified to if someone was pointing a gun at you and you couldn’t see it, son.”
“I know,” I stated. “I just…I’ve never seen him so terrified.”
Micah put a hand on my shoulder. “This is all new to him. Tuesday he’ll get his sight back.”
Micah spoke with such confidence that I suddenly looked up at him. “And if he doesn’t?” I closed my eyes and looked away, feeling ashamed to be thinking on it again. “I mean…there is that chance.”
“Then the three of us will figure that out when we have to, Mark. I’ll be here for you and your father.”
I smiled. “I know you will be, Micah. You’re a good friend. Thanks.” Micah nodded and gave me a pat on the shoulder.
We walked back inside. “Everything better?” Pa asked.
Micah and I looked at each other and smiled. “Everything’s better,” I answered.
Micah left to take care of the body. Pa walked out with him as usual while I was left to wash the dishes. I told Pa that a blind person could be taught to wash the dishes if he could be taught to shoot dead center. Pa just smiled and patted my shoulder. “Wouldn’t want to try to learn too much in one day, son,” he teased. “I may try to wash the bullets and shoot the dishes!”
“Yeah, right,” I shook my head as I went to my task.
As I started back inside, I heard Micah grumble as they lifted the body into the back of Pa’s wagon. “Lucas, I just wish you’d cut down on the outlaws you kill. For every one you kill, I have to fill out about ten pages of paperwork!”
I smiled as I heard Pa say, “Well, just see it as job security, Micah.”
That night, Pa sent me to bed. He said we’d go in to church in the morning. He wanted to sit out on the front porch for awhile. I didn’t like leaving him out there by himself, but he said it was perfectly fine. I still got up and checked on him every couple of minutes. I couldn’t sleep knowing Pa was outside. Suppose some other outlaw heard about his sudden blindness and wanted to try him out? When the front door closed, I turned over and went right to sleep. All would be fine with Pa tonight!
The next day, I drove us to church. I told Pa I didn’t think his going into town was a good idea. I didn’t like people staring at him. Pa started to give me the same lecture he’d already given me twice, and I held up a hand to stop him, forgetting he was blind. Then I finally sighed and said, “I know, Pa. I know.”
Pa ruffled my hair and laughed, knowing I always grew tired of the same old lectures.
Sunday night, I went to sit out on the porch after getting the dishes done. Pa came out of the barn and firmly closed it behind. “Got all the stock bedded down, son,” Pa announced as he sat down on the steps beside me.
“How’d you know I was here?” I asked.
Pa put his arm around me. “Smells and sounds, son. I’ve lived with you for 12 years. I know you’re here.”
“Want I should check the barn to make sure-“ I started.
Pa patted my shoulder. “No, no, everything’s secure. I’ve done it so much I could do it with my eyes closed.”
I looked at him as we both broke out in laughter. After our laughter died, Pa patted me on the shoulder again. “Well, you best get to bed. You got school tomorrow.”
I turned to him. I couldn’t believe he actually thought I was actually going to leave him at home all by himself while I went to school! “Nope, I’m not going for two days.”
I heard Pa suck in his breath. “What did you say?” He sounded shocked.
“I said I’m not going back until Wednesday,” I answered firmly.
Pa held a finger up at me. “Now see here, Mark! I may be blind, but I’m still your father and if you think I can’t bend you over my knee and-“
“Settle down, Pa. You just went blind less then a week ago. You cannot sit there and tell me that you can stay here all by yourself all day while I go to school and concentrate on my studies! I just can’t do it.” I stood up. “But I will go to bed.”
I hurried into the house before Pa could stop me. Hurrying to the bedroom, I closed the door and leaned against it. I closed my eyes. I hated talking to Pa that way, but he was being stubborn! I just wouldn’t hear of it!
I soon fell asleep. The next morning I heard Millie calling me to get up and get ready for school. I dressed quickly and hurried out into the kitchen. Millie was in the kitchen making pancakes. I sniffed the air, smelling the sweet aroma of syrup – homemade syrup. “Aren’t you here early?” I asked. “Why aren’t you in town minding the store?”
Millie smiled. “My other helpers are quite capable of minding the store without me for one day, Mark McCain.” She planted her hand on her hip and shook the spatula at me. “Now, you get washed up and ready for school!”
I looked around, suddenly realizing Pa was missing. “Where’s Pa?” I asked.
“He’s out in the barn doing the milking and –“ Millie started.
“The milking? Millie, I need to go help-“
Millie turned from the stove again. “You will sit at the table and have your breakfast so you won’t be late for school.”
I sat down at the table as Millie brought the flapjacks over to the table. Pa walked inside and patted my shoulder as he walked by the table. “Morning, son,” he said.
I stared at him. He had a big grin on his face. I’m sure his eyes were shining too. “Ready for school?”
“Is Millie staying all day?” I asked.
“Micah insisted on it after church Sunday. Remember when you were talking to Billy and the other kids? Micah and Millie were insisting that they come sit with me while you go to school. I was going to let you miss school, but Millie didn’t like that idea. She said you should be in school.”
Boy, did I feel like an idiot! “Well gee, I…guess I owe you an apology, Pa,” I stated. “I reckon my mouth’s gotten me in trouble again!”
“Yes,” Pa said as he picked up his napkin. “I reckon it has.”
That’s all that was said. Millie stayed at the ranch until I got home from school that day. She stayed long enough to fix us a real meal, then she told me to behave myself and get my homework done while Pa walked her out to her buggy I had just hitched up. I walked to the door and watched Pa walk her to the wagon. I shook my head. He acted as if he wasn’t even blind!
Pa suddenly turned to her as they stood by the buggy and brushed his hand affectionately against her cheek. I saw Millie shiver as Pa’s head lowered towards hers. I quickly turned away. I didn’t like to see all the mushy stuff!
The next day, Micah came over. I had to fix breakfast that morning. As I wiped my mouth, I announced, “Well, today’s the day.”
Pa nodded. “Right after school, son. I want you to be there, so Micah will bring me into town and have me there when school let’s out.
I certainly hurried out the door after school that day! I hurried to town and ran to Doc’s office. Pa’s wagon was outside. Millie was pacing the floor impatiently. As soon as I ran in the door, Doc said, “Okay, let’s get started.”
I hurried up to Pa and grabbed his hand. “What d’ya think, Pa?”
Pa squeezed my hand with a nervous smile. “Well son, I think we’ll soon find out.”
“But what do you think?” I asked again.
Millie came up behind me and grabbed me by the shoulder. “Let your Pa alone so Doc Burrage can work!”
I stood nervously and watched as Doc Burrage began unwrapping the bandages from Pa’s eyes. I was glad the moment of truth had arrived. Yet, on the other hand, I was really nervous that the bandages were coming off. If Pa regained his sight back, then we could go back to our normal life. If not, then I suppose we had a big mountain to climb. But I knew Pa and I would climb it hand in hand – together!
I watched nervously. The bandages were off and Pa was opening his eyes. They were still bruised and healing, and I knew they probably still hurt some. He slowly opened his eyes and began looking around. I couldn’t stand the suspense! The longer it took him to announce the truth, the more nervous and upset I became.
Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. “Can you see?” I cried.
Pa’s head turned toward me. His eyes began to focus on me and a smile broke out on his face. “I can see, son!” He announced!
The next thing I knew, I was in Pa’s arms. I hugged him for a long time and we laughed together. We were both crying, thanking God quietly that He had rubbed the mud on my father’s eyes. “Thank God!” I cried.
Pa finally pushed me away and put his hands on my cheeks. He turned my head upwards. “Let me look at you.” He smiled. “Just let me look at you!”
Millie stood behind me, allowing Pa and me to have our moment. Pa wrapped his arm around my shoulder, then held his other arm out to Millie. We all laughed. “Oh Lucas,” Millie whispered softly. “I’m so…so happy for you two!”
I pulled away from Pa in time to see him lay a gentle kiss on her forehead. “We’re fine, Millie. We’re all just fine!”
I stepped back. Micah came forward and Pa clamped an arm around his shoulders and squeezed. I relished in the reunion.
“I think this calls for supper at the hotel tonight!” Pa announced.
We all walked out of Doc’s office arm in arm. We stopped outside the door and looked around at the crowd that had gathered. Cheers let up when they realized Pa could see. Pa was suddenly surrounded by men and women who patted him on the back and hugged him. A couple ladies even planted a kiss on Pa’s cheek. Everyone told him how glad they were that he could see.
Suddenly, the crowd parted and everyone wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders and gathered in a circle. Pa and I stood in the middle as they all began singing:
For He’s a Jolly Good Fella
For He’s a Jolly Good Falla
For he’s a jolly good fella
Which nobody can deny
Which nobody can deny
Which nobody can deny
For he’s a jolly good fella
Which nobody can deny!
Then one final cheer broke out.
After we left the restaurant, I hurried to the wagon. I turned to help Pa, but suddenly laughed as he picked me up and planted me on the seat. He walked to the back of the wagon to make sure Blue Boy was firmly tied to the wagon. Then he got in the seat. I held the reins in my hands, ready to start the horses toward home.
Pa turned in the seat and held his hand out to me. We stared into each others eyes, and a smile broke out on my face. I handed him the reins. “Let’s go home, Pa.”
“Yes sir!” Pa laughed as he hurried the horses along.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The '7' Prisoners
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Lost Treasure of Canyon Town
around The McCain Ranch