When we arrived home last night, Pa read found a note from Micah and read it out loud.. The note informed us that the town had hired a new preacher while we were gone. We had been in a good mood the whole way back from Santa Fe and this news put my Pa in an even better mood, which I didn’t think was possible. I was in such a good mood that I didn’t even object when Pa told me to go get my bath. I was ready to get all the trail dust and stink off; and a bath sounded mighty fine.
Today was Sunday morning and Pa and I were looking forward to getting to church. I couldn’t get over it, a preacher who would call North Fork their home. It had been a long time since North Fork’s church services were provided by someone other than the circuit riding preacher. And it had been a long time since the circuit riding preacher said he was retiring, leaving us and a number of other towns without the benefit of someone to teach us right and wrong, according to the Bible. Pa was excited. Thinking back, he was as excited to meet the new preacher as he was to meet my teacher, when we first settled in North Fork.
From the time we left Enid, until we settled in North Fork, Pa always made sure I kept up with my studies. And so it was, while North Fork was without the ministries of the circuit riding preacher, Pa kept me up with my studying from the Good Book.
But there’s just something different about learning from someone who’s been trained to teach, whether it be math, spelling, grammar, geography, or the Word of God.
The first person we saw when we rode into town was Micah. We announced proudly about getting good money for our 14 head of cattle that we sold in Santa Fe. I listened as they talked in friendly conversation. Pa asked Micah to sit with us in church – I’m not sure why since he and Milly always sat with us! Of course, Milly was out of town this week and wouldn’t be there.
I suddenly felt an icy chill go through me when Pa suddenly stopped talking in mid-sentence. I watched in horror and disbelief as Pa stared at our new preacher as the man happily greeted the church-goers as they made their way inside.
“You uh…know Preacher Jamison?” Micah asked when he saw the look on Pa’s face.
Pa didn’t answer. I watched in horror as he rushed toward the church, shoving people out of his way as he went. I watched as he hurried right up to the preacher. "Micah...did this man tell you anything about himself?"
"He did. We took into consideration that he was outside the law for a spell. But he served his time in prison and paid his debt to society."
Pa was so angry as he dished out accusations against the preacher. I couldn’t believe this was my father standing here saying these things! "Did he tell you how he rode the Oklahoma border? Burning out settlers...stealing their lands…dishing out misery for so many dollars he could spend in a saloon?"
Mr. Jamison spoke in his defense. "What I did in a wild youth was inexcusable. And all I can do is ask for forgiveness for those I hurt. Whatever may have been done to you...I ask your forgiveness.”
"Forgiveness!” Pa spat out. His voice grew angrier as he spoke. “Did you tell them everything Jamison? How you were hunted like an animal after you grew too old and slow? After you lost your nerve with a gun! How you finally had no place to turn to or rocks to crawl under! Is that the only way you can get a peaceful nights sleep? Hiding behind that collar?!"
"Lucas!" Micah warned.
I watched as Pa grabbed a hold of Jamison by his jacket. I could feel the rage boiling up inside my Pa. "Jamison I swore I'd kill you if I ever-"
“Lucas!" Micah hurried forward and put a restraining hand on Pa’s shoulder. Pa was mad! I mean really mad! Pa stared silently ts Jamison for several moments, then he turned and hurried away from the church. I ran after him, confused and worried. Never in my 14 years on this earth had I seen Pa talk like that – hate like that – especially to a man of the cloth!
Pa angrily opened the door to Micah’s office. I hurried in as the door slammed behind him.
“Pa!” I cried. “What’s wrong? What is it?” I asked as I grasped his arms.
“Nothing, Mark. Nothing.” Pa shook my hands off and began pacing the length of Micah’s floor back and forth in a rapid rate.
“Pa, I-“ I started. I wanted to help him. I wanted to understand this rage that was boiling up inside him.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Mark!” Pa yelled. The room shook from his booming voice. I sucked in my breath and turned from him. Obviously he needed to be alone.
I made my way to the door, giving him just what he needed. Perhaps later he’d be more calm…,more rational to speak. I didn’t think he’d notice my leaving. But as I opened the door, I heard his cold voice behind me. “Where you going?”
“I…” I turned and looked at the snarl on his face. “I’m going to church.”
“No!” Pa shouted.
I licked my lips and stood up as tall as I could. “Pa, I want to go to church!”
“I said no!” Pa shouted. He grabbed me roughly by the arm and pulled me away from the door. He kicked the door closed. “I don’t want you anywhere near that man!”
“Pa, I-“ I wanted to argue – to make him see this was a man of God that he was being so bitter towards.
“No!” Pa’s voice was so loud and frightening. I stepped away from him. “No son of mine’s going to church, with THAT man pretending to be a Preacher.” Pa pointed a finger right in my face. “You stay away from there, boy! That’s an order!”
We stared at each other for several moments. There have been times in my life when I’ve been scared, but never because of my father. “Yes sir,” I forced out as I gave into his demand.
Pa’s eyes stared into mine. “Go sit down, Mark.” His voice was softer and held a hint of regret, but his eyes, they told a different story. I sat down and waited.
I waited…and waited…and waited. Pa’s pacing slowed down and his sighs quieted. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him though. I saw the inner struggle he was having with himself – almost like he had angels and demons fighting within him…Maybe that’s what it was – angels against demons inside, tormenting his soul.
I calmed myself down also during that time of silence. The street was silent – not a body stirred as the service was held inside the church. Pa didn’t sit, but just continued to stand there in deep thought. He walked to the window every once in a while and looked out onto the street. But I don’t think the images in his head were out there. I think what he was seeing is something that happened a long, long time ago.
What follows are my Pa’s memories:
It was like yesterday. I remember that man riding up to our home as my brothers and I worked hard under the scorching heat. We had three barns – one was full of cattle, the other two held our crops that had just been harvested. The fields still had crops in them. That’s what we were doing that day.
I saw him in the distance. He and his men rode up to talk to my Pa. I heard angry voices. Pa hardly ever got angry – but that day…that day was different. I slowly made my way closer because my instincts told me something was wrong – very wrong!
Jamison’s voice was shouting. “I don’t give up, McCain! I NEVER give up. No matter what – I will get your land. If I can’t have it, you won’t have it either. Mark my words!”
Pa’s voice held anger in it. “I…won’t…give up my land to you – or to anyone! This is my family’s home, Jamison! Now get off!” I watched Pa turn away. Then I watched in horror as Jamison hit my father over the head with the butt of his gun.
Pa grabbed his head and fell to the ground. “Pa!” I cried as I hurried forward. “No, Pa!”
Pa lifted his head up painfully and looked at me. “Get out of here, son! Go on back to your mother!”
“No!” I hurried to Pa and bent down beside him. I laid my head against his. “No, I won’t go!” I looked up towards the man towering over my father. He held an evil look on his face. “Leave us alone! Get out of here!” I screamed as hot, angry tears streamed down my face. “Leave us alone or I’ll get my rifle and come after you!”
“Luke!” I heard Pa’s voice warn. But I had a mind of my own – and I would protect my father no matter the cost.
Suddenly, I felt someone grab me from behind. He grabbed me and dragged me away. I began kicking at him from behind. “Leave me alone! Leave my family alone!” I screamed.
“Ow!” The man let go of me as one of my kicks connected with his leg. “This one’s a fighter, Jamison!”
“I mean it!” I screamed. “Leave my Pa alone!”
Pa got to his feet. “Let my boy go!” Pa shouted. “Let him go!”
“Give me your land!” Jamison shouted. “Give it to me now!”
My father looked me straight in the eye. I shook my head, begging him not to give in. Pa raised his head high. “You can hurt my son and I if you want, but I won’t give up my land!”
Suddenly, my other two brothers were there with their rifles in hand. I heard the cock of two rifles, then the gunshots in the air. “Get off our land!” Abraham demanded. I watched him point the rifle right at Jamison. “Now!”
We watched them leave, thinking that was the end of it. But that night as we ate supper, we realized in horror that the worst was yet to come.
The house was still hot, from the heat of the day, so we left the front door open. My brothers, sister and I laughed as we ate around the table enjoying listening to Pa and Ma discuss their day. But suddenly, we heard horses screaming. Pa looked up from the table. “What is it, Pa?” Ma asked.
Pa stood up. “I’m not sure, but something is upsetting the stock.” I stood up from the table, always wanting to give a helping hand. Pa heard me and held up a hand. “Stay there, Luke. Stay right there.” I obeyed him, but had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Pa made his way to the door, grabbing his rifle as he peered outside. Suddenly, he cocked his rifle. “The barn’s on fire!” Pa screamed.
I bolted forward and stared out at the barn. I saw dark figures carrying torches. “Ma, you and the children fetch water!” Pa ran toward the barn as the horses cried out. I turned in time to see Pa fall to the ground as the horses continued screaming. I saw the man on the horse just as plain as day. It was Jamison.
“Pa!” I screamed. “Pa!” I ran toward them as another barn lit on fire. I heard the horses and cows screaming from the barn as the flames began overtaking it. I saw the fire leaping out of the windows of the barn. “The animals!” I hurried forward, but a rider grabbed me and held me tight. “Let go! You’re killing the animals!” I yelled.
Ma ran forward. “Let go of him!” she screamed. She ran to my Pa as he held his head and moaned. He was doubled over in pain. All three barns were a lit with fire.
My brothers hurried into the house for their rifles, but men stopped them at the door. I watched in horror as they lit the house on fire. “NO!” I screamed. My mother was crying over Pa. My brothers were yelling things I couldn’t remember. “NO!”
We were all held captive as the animals screamed. I suddenly saw the fields a ablaze with flames as well. Everywhere we looked, there was fire. I couldn’t do anything – all I could do was stand there and watch my Pa’s dreams burn. All I could do was stare as everything my Pa ever worked for burned.
The animals’ cries died with them soon after. A stench of burning buildings, crops, and animals filled the air. My Pa laid still on the ground as my mother wept over him. My brothers clung to each other as they cried. My sister shook with sobs from her place on the ground.
But I stood frozen in my spot long after the men let go. Jamison stood over my father. “It didn’t have to be this way, McCain,” Jamison spoke quietly. “You didn’t have to lose everything for nothing. This was your choice.” Jamison looked toward his men and nodded toward the road. They mounted up to ride off.
I looked at my family as they wept over the loss. I watched as our barns, house, and fields continued to burn. I saw the destruction. They left us with nothing…absolutely nothing. “Mr. Jamison!” I shouted before he mounted his own horse.
Jamison had one foot in the stirrup and turned to look at me. I slowly walked towards him as the anger on my face deepened. “I’ll kill you for this someday!” He stood and stared at me as a smile played at the corners of his mouth. “Pa said I’m getting real good with my rifle. I’m going to make sure I get darn good! And when I’m ready, I’ll hunt you down…and I’ll KILL you!”
Jamison lowered his foot from the stirrup. He slowly walked over to me and reached out a hand to me. “No you won’t,” Jamison answered in a stern voice. “You’re too much like your old man.”
I stood and watched as he rode off. It was then and only then that I allowed the hot, burning tears to squeeze down my eyes as I watched them ride off down the road. “I’ll kill ya.” I clinched my fists to my sides as I listened to the crackling flames and sobbing of my family. “You just wait, Jamison. I’ll kill ya!”
I saw the torment on Pa’s face now. Never in my life had I seen him fight so hard within himself. I wanted to speak, but I knew when Pa was ready and had gathered his thoughts, he would speak to me.
I heard voices outside and knew church had gotten over. Pa turned from the window and looked at me. Then he spoke. "Mark I'm sorry you had to witness what happened at the church."
His voice sounded much calmer, but I still saw the agony on his face as he fought the battle within himself. "I understand Pa. You had a good reason to talk to Mr. Jamison like that." I spoke softly. I wanted Pa to know I was here for him.
"It must have been nearly twenty five years ago. Jamison rode the Oklahoma border country before there was any law. He'd do anything to force a farmer out. Anything short of killing them...he was too smart for that." I remembered Pa telling me how he watched his Pa’s farm burn. “The house an’ barns, and fields. A lifetime of my Pa's work. When my Pa died he was an unhappy man. The army finally came in and put an end to Jamison's raids.”
"Pa...I'm not taking Mr. Jamison's part but maybe he's really sorry for what he had done!" I could tell my words didn’t set well with Pa, but he needed to hear it.
"Mark it's more then what he's done! It's the hypocrisy..." Pa suddenly stopped when he heard Micah ride up. I listened as he and Micah talked. I couldn’t make out a lot of the words, but I could tell Micah and Pa didn’t agree on the matter. Micah stepped in to say goodbye to me, then left. For some reason, I wished Micah would stay.
I heard Micah ride off, then I waited for Pa to come back inside. He did. He looked towards me and opened his mouth as if he was about to say something to me. Then he shook his head and turned away. I watched as his shoulders sagged. He looked so very weary. I wished I could help him in his struggle, but what he was fighting I didn’t understand. “Pa?” I started softly.
Pa turned and looked at me. I saw it in his eyes. He no longer wanted to discuss this problem with me. This was something he’d have to sort out with God.
Silently, I prayed he could…because in this moment, Pa was going against everything he had taught me.
Pa closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with a hand. “Son, you should eat.” His voice was reserved and very quiet as he spoke.
I studied him. “So should you,” I stated.
Pa reached out and laid a hand on my shoulder. “I will…in time,” Pa said. “Son, please understand me. This is a battle I want to fight…without you.”
As we stepped outside, Pa handed me some money and told me to bring him back a sandwich. I started to go, but then I saw him staring at two strangers who had just ridden in. They were stopped in front of the saloon. Pa said they were the Breen Brothers. Pa said they were trying to be gun hands, but liked to pick on the weak and older folks so they could win the fight. Pa headed over to talk to them.
As I stepped into the cafe’, I saw the boy that had been at the church with the new preacher. He was standing just outside the restaurant looking in. “Ya gonna eat?” I asked as I walked up behind him.
“Sure wish my Pa would eat with me,” Aaron said in a regretful tone. “He wants to stay and help the townfolks, so he said.” He turned and looked at me. “Truth is-“ He stopped when he realized who I was.
But I just smiled at him. “Truth is what?” I asked.
The boy shook his head. “Uh…truth is, he doesn’t want me around just now cause of the mean things being said to him. So he sent me over to eat.”
I smiled and held out my hand. “I’m Mark McCain.”
“I’m Aaron.” Aaron took my hand. “I’m the preacher’s son.”
“And I’m the Rifleman’s son,” I stated with a friendly smile. “I apologize for the way my Pa talked to yours.”
“Don’t,” Aaron answered. He opened his mouth to say more, but then looked down at the floor. “Just don’t.”
“Well, you could sit with me. Keep me company,” I suggested. Aaron looked around. “Our Pa’s aren’t here. I don’t have no score against you.” Aaron still hesitated. “Come on! Our Pa’s don’t have to know!”
We sat down and ordered the roast beef with potatoes. I watched Aaron sadly look down at the table. “What my Pa said really upset you, huh?” Aaron nodded. I swallowed and tried to explain. “Aaron, my Pa’s not normally like that. In fact, I’ve never seen him act hateful toward a man like that.” I knew my words did little to comfort him.
“My Pa…he told me he used to be a bad man. He’s done a plenty to be punished for.” Aaron looked up at me. “And he was punished, Mark. He was!” Aaron looked up into my eyes as he spoke those words.
I nodded. “He had a lot of time to think in jail, huh?”
Aaron nodded. “His being in jail killed my mama. When Mama died, Pa wanted to die too ‘cept…Pa knew I needed him. When he was in jail, Mama and me…we lived nearby and would visit him. But when mama took sick, she quit visitin’. Pa read her Bible a whole lot. He learned more about loving our fellow man then a lot of people on the outside could ever learn. I saw my Pa change a lot while he was there.”
“What happened after your Ma died?” I asked.
Aaron looked up at me. “Pa petitioned for special permission to end his jail sentence early. He wanted to take care of me. The warden and judge there – they were impressed by how my Pa had changed while in there. He had even organized church services in there and delivered sermons that changed many a man. He saved souls and changed hearts. They were so impressed with his behavior that he allowed him out six months earlier than expected.”
Our food came then. We grew silent as we started eating. I sat back in my chair at one point contemplating on what to do. I knew Pa had a grudge against Aaron’s father. I knew from what he told me about his past that he had good cause to hold that grudge, but I didn’t think it was right. Pa had always taught me that a man can change and we should seek forgiveness for his past. But as I grew older, I realized it was easier said than done. I looked at Aaron and realized he was staring straight into my eyes.
I took a drink of my milk then cleared my throat. Pa was being unforgiving, but I had no grudge and would do the right thing. “Listen, my Pa is a wonderful man…”
Aaron opened his mouth to argue, but I held up a hand to silence him. “…but like any man, he’s not perfect. There are things that happened to my Pa…horrible things…when he was a boy…these things affected his folks and his entire childhood and they aren’t easy to forget. But…” I lowered my head to muster up brevity to say what I wanted to say. I lifted my head then and stuck out my chin. “I’ll hold both you and your father in high respect. I’ll come listen to your father preach if Pa will let me, and I’ll be obliged to call your father a friend as well.”
“Your Pa would never let you come. Not with the way he feels,” Aaron mumbled.
I turned my head toward the door. “In time…” I turned back toward Aaron. “Listen, my father is a strong believer. He studies his Bible everyday and talks with God. Right now he’s fighting grudges from his past, but God will bring him around. We just have to be patient.” Aaron shook his head in disbelief as he took his last bite of food. He slowly stood up. “I have an errand at the livery to make.”
I watched silently as Aaron started out. “Aaron?” He stopped and turned around. “Pa doesn’t hate you. You know, it may help matters if you talk to him. I think if anybody could get through to him right now, it would be you.”
“You gonna tell your Pa you will be friends with us?” Aaron asked.
“No.” I shook my head. “I don’t think he should even know we talked. I don’t think he’d mind but…” I shook my head and allowed the rest of my thought to die.
Aaron and I just stared at each other for several moments. Then Aaron nodded. “Then…it’s our secret.”
“For now,” I assured him.
A small smile played at the corners of Aaron’s mouth. “For now.” Aaron shrugged. “’Sides, I’ll be starting school on Monday. I’ll need some friends.” I only smiled and nodded as he turned and walked out.
By the time I left, I had forgotten all about bringing Pa a sandwich. I stuffed the change in my pocket and hurried outside. It has been several minutes as I lingered over my dessert long after Aaron left. When I walked outside, I found my new friend sitting by the livery and crying.
Friend or not, my heart always went out to people when they were hurting. This time was no different. I hurried over to Aaron and sat down beside him. I asked him what was wrong.
“I don’t know why your Pa has to be so mean,” Aaron cried.
His words hurt me. No matter what, I couldn’t see my father in that light. I could tell, though, that he’d just come from talking to my Pa. It mustn’t have gone well. “Well, you got my Pa all wrong. It’s not meanness.” Aaron didn’t know what else he’d call it. “My Pa wouldn’t hurt anyone!” I insisted. “Maybe it’s just because there are some things he can’t forget.”
Aaron wouldn’t buy that though. He said lots of things happened to his Pa and he forgot them. “Well, maybe they’re different things. Some things you forget easier, other things are kinda hard to forget,” I tried to explain.
Anything else I could have told him was lost. Those two outlaws my Pa had talked to were at the church giving the reverend a really hard time! I can’t repeat a lot of what they said, but they were mean. I listened as they told everyone about the horrible things the Reverend had done. But then their tone changed.
“I guess you told them about the time you burned down the land office and then showed up claiming people’s land with a lot of phony deeds.”
Mr. Jamison nodded. “I omitted nothing.”
The other brother started yelling then, so everyone would hear. “I wonder if he told you about how his boys stopped the stage out at Tucson and left two ladies for dead! And then, him and his boys rode away. I wonder if he did that.” There were gasps from the crowd. Mr. Jamison denied the stage hold up.
“Driver said it was you personally who dragged those women out of the stage.”
“That’s a lie!” Mr. Jamison declared.
“Well, I guess he told you folks about the old man his boys hung from a barn rafter!” The ladies started gasping and murmuring.
“I wonder if he told you that the old man was still alive when they set fire to the barn.” Everyone started leaving. They didn’t want to hear anymore.
Mr. Jamison tried to stop them. He tried to assure them he’d never taken a human life, but it was too late – the damage had already been done.
I listened with horror. I could tell by their tone of voice that they were telling lies.
Their accusations upset Aaron. “They told lies!” Aaron cried. “Those men told lies!” I believed him. These men had to be stopped! I ran to tell my Pa
We ran to the Marshal’s office. “Pa! Pa!” I cried as I ran inside. I grabbed Pa’s hand and tried to drag him toward the door. “You’ve got to come! They are mean! They must be stopped!”
Pa kept his feet firmly planted on the floor. “What are you talking about, Mark?”
“Oh, it’s just terrible, Pa!” I cried. “I don’t care what you think of Mr. Jamison, but you must…must…must stop them! They are mean!”
“Alright!” Pa held up[ a hand to silence me. I hushed. “Now…” Pa let out a weary sigh. “Tell me what you are talking about.”
“They’re saying terrible things about my Pa!” Aaron declared.
I jumped in then. “Awful things, Pa! They just kept on talkin’ and telling, and you could tell they were all lies, the way they said ‘em. But…but…everyone seemed to believe it.”
Just then, Mr. Jamison barged in. I watched as Pa turned and glared at him. Here they were – face to face. “Jamison, I’m sorry about the Breens. I’ll run ‘em outa town,” Pa assured him.
“No, let them be,” Mr. Jamison said. “They speak from ignorance. Their words can’t hurt me. Lies never can. But your words – your silence has destroyed me!”
Pa suddenly turned to us. In a very stern and controlled voice, he told Aaron and me to wait outside. I was afraid, but we left.
Aaron and I looked at each other as the door closed behind us. We both sat down on the steps and tried to listen. They were yelling. We could hear the muffled voices as they spoke at each other in anger. “You reckon they’ll get anywhere?” Aaron asked worriedly.
I shook my head. “When I’m arguing with someone like that, Pa tells me to stop because as long as you are arguing and angry, you won’t get anywhere good.” I shrugged my shoulder. “I reckon Pa’s forgotten that.”
The argument got more intense. I looked to see Aaron cringing from the noise. I stood up. “Let’s go over here. They need more privacy.” My heart was pounding as I listened. We walked across the street and sat down on some steps.
A silence lingered between us. Aaron swallowed then spoke. “What about your Ma?”
“What about her?” I asked.
“It’s just your Pa and you?”
I nodded as I looked towards Micah’s office. “She died in the small pox epidemic when we lived back in Oklahoma, I was six. It was hard for us – but we’ve moved on.”
A silence sat between us. “What’s the school like?” Aaron asked then.
“Oh, it’s as good a school as I’ve seen. Got a great teacher…only he’s back East tending to family business right now. I’m hoping he returns soon.”
The door to the Marshal’s office opened and we watched as Mr. Jamison stepped out. He looked so dejected and sad. We watched him mope down the street toward the hotel. Then he disappeared inside. Aaron let out a cry. “Aaron…. as your father is a man of God, I hold you and him in high respect.”
I looked up towards Micah’s office. “I’ll be there to listen to your father preach next Sunday.” I gave him a smile. “My Pa will come around. He’ll be there, soon as well.”
“No he won’t and he won’t let you come either,” Aaron shook his head dejectedly.
“He will!” I promised him.
“No. He’ll forbid it. I know he will!” Aaron cried. “My Pa needs your father’s respect. I know he hurt your Pa – he told me this afternoon. But it’s important for my Pa to have your Pa’s forgiveness.”
I stood up from the steps and walked out into the street. I looked toward the Marshal’s office and bit my lip. Then I turned back to Aaron. “Alright.” I shook my head. “There’s been a few times recently that Pa’s had to lecture me on the subject of forgiveness. Perhaps it’s my turn to lecture him. I’m gonna tell him I’ll be in that church come next Sunday…with or without him!”
The words were easier said without Pa’s presence, though. My heart raced as we slowly made our way across the street. I put my hand on the door knob and paused. Looking at Aaron, I nodded my head as we made our way inside.
“Pa-“ I started, knowing if I didn’t just blurt it out I’d lose my nerve. I could already hear Pa’s yelling at me for being so bold.
But I wasn’t able to get anymore out. Pa held up a hand to silence me. The look on his face was something I didn’t understand. I knew, though, that he had come to a decision. I also knew, from watching him, that this was something hard for him to do.
I watched him stand up and walk to the window, deep in thought.. Looking out onto the street, he said, “Aaron, I’ve been doing a lot of thinkin’ about your father.” Pa turned back toward Aaron. “A coward would never wonder if he’s a coward. Takes a brave man to say he isn’t sure. Brave and honest man.”
“My Pa sure is honest, Mr. McCain. Everything he says, you just know it’s coming from way inside of him.”
Pa laid a hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “Son, I’m going over to talk to your father now. He’s a lot bigger a man than he thinks he is.”
Pa walked outside. That’s when we saw it. Mr. Jamison was wearing a gun. He was heading towards Charley. “There’s only one of them there, Pa!” I exclaimed.
Pa started looking around for Willie. I looked around too. “You boys stay back,”
Pa stepped out onto the street. I continued to look around. Suddenly, I saw a man upon the roof. I warned Pa and he shot the man. Pa turned and fired at the other one. They were dead.
Aaron and I stood on the street in silence and watched Mr. Jamison walk back to the hotel room. Pa followed close behind. We turned and looked at the church. “They’ll never come back now!” Aaron cried.
I looked around at the people standing on the street. They stared at Aaron. Their looks made me feel so uncomfortable, that I couldn’t imagine how Aaron felt. I swallowed and made my way into the church yard, then I jumped up onto an empty wagon and delivered my first sermon.
“Those two men were telling lies. Mr. Jamison never killed no one – not directly. The things my Pa said this morning were true. He shouldn’t have said them – but they were true!” I looked around at everyone standing there. “Jesus said some words in the Bible. My Pa’s said these words to me many times when I’ve needed to hear it.” I looked down at Aaron. Aaron nodded with a small smile on his face.
“You see, there was this woman who did unspeakable things. The things she did were wrong in God’s eyes as well as man’s. Jesus watched as men gathered around her. They were going to stone her.” I fixed my eyes upon several men in the crowd. “Jesus saw the imperfection of men. He knew that no one was innocent. In God’s eye, a sin is a sin. In God’s eye, we are all bad people. That’s why Jesus came on the earth.”
I felt eyes staring at me now. I suddenly felt inadequate…. I bent down and picked up a stone. “So Jesus picked up a stone and said, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’” I looked around at the crowd as I held the stone out for one of them to take. They could no longer look at me. They could no longer face me. “Reverend Jamison and his son came into this town seeking acceptance. He’s already received forgiveness from God – that’s all he really needs. He’s not that man anymore, hasn’t been for a long time. Yet you all stand there and judge him. You judged him without seeking the truth. I’m just boy, yet I knew what those men said were lies. I heard it in their voices.”
I lifted the stone up. “I have sinned. Reverend Jamison has sinned. My father has sinned.” I held out the stone. “Who wants to cast judgment on the reverend…” I looked down at Aaron and smiled. “…and his son?” No one came forward. “I think they need a home. I’m here to work. Will you?” I looked towards the bodies being carried off. “Or do you want to believe what two dead men said, men who paid the ultimate price for their transgressions?”
I stepped from the wagon. A couple stepped out of the crowd and came forward. Then another…and another…I looked down at Aaron and smiled. Aaron grabbed my hand and thanked me. “We’ll have cake now!” Miss Pritchard declared as she hurried back to the food table.
“Let’s go tell our Pa’s!” Aaron declared.
When we ran to the hotel room, we stood in the doorway and saw Pa and Reverend Jamison shaking hands. Aaron and I looked at each other and smiled. Then we went inside. "Pa, everybody's going back to work at the rectory and the ladies got some cake there. There won't be any left if we don't get on over," I announced. I purposely left out the part about my speech.
"Well...let's get over there!" Pa said. I couldn’t help but smile. I saw the forgiveness in Pa’s eyes.
I watched Mr. Jamison put an arm around Aaron. "It looks like we're finally home," he announced.
We ran back to the church, leaving our father’s in the hotel. I smiled as Pa made his way over. Pa came up to me and wiped a big glob of icing off my mouth. Then he stood behind me and planted his hands on my shoulders. I could feel his smile. I looked up and he smiled down at me. “Forgiveness feels good. Don’t it Pa?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “It sure does, son!”
The celebration lasted quite awhile. At one point, Pa wondered why everyone suddenly changed their minds and came back to the church. “Well, I’ll tell you why-“ Mr. Toomey started.
“Uh…they just realized that none of us are perfect,” I interrupted.
I shot Mr. Toomey a warning look. He winked at me and put a firm hand on my shoulder. “That’s right, son. We did realize that.” I knew he was thanking me in his own special way.
Aaron and I laughed as I introduced him to different kids that would be at school come Monday. Aaron and I ran off to play street games with the kids. We laughed and forgot all about supper. Suddenly, from behind me I heard Pa’s voice as he cleared his throat. I turned. “It’s time for supper and then bed, son.” The sun was slowly sinking into the west. We watched as families started to leave.
I rolled my eyes. “Oh Pa, we’re having so much fun! Can’t we-“
Pa’s voice suddenly stopped me. “Mark!”
“You too, boy!” The reverend called to Aaron. “Let’s go.”
“Oh Pa! We’re having so much fun!” Aaron’s whine was better than mine. I’d have to work on mine!
“Aaron!” the reverend said in a stern warning.
We made our way inside. At the bottom of the stairs, Pa held a firm hand on my shoulder as Aaron and his Pa started up. “Mark?” Aaron stopped and turned around. “Were you really going to do it?”
I saw the question in his eyes. I knew he was talking about me standing up to my Pa. I smiled and gave him a nod of the head. “But thank goodness I didn’t have to!” I said. We both laughed at our private joke.
Pa gave me a strange look as we started into the restaurant together. “Do what?” Pa asked as we sat down.
I smiled. “Give you a taste of your own medicine,” I answered. “You see Pa, sometimes a son can teach his Pa a thing or two.”
Pa burst out laughing as he shook his head at me. He allowed the conversation to die. As far as I know, Pa never did find out about how I put the town back on the straight and narrow by using one of his own lectures. And that’s okay!
The Reverend Jamison and Aaron did stay in North Fork for awhile as he preached. But one day, they left North Fork. It wasn’t because people wanted them to leave. It’s because the Reverend received another calling from God - but then that’s a story for another day!
Nope, the stories never end…here in North Fork!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Day the Town Slept
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Jealous Man
around The McCain Ranch