I pulled another fish out of the brook me and the boys were fishing at. “Boy, they sure are biting today!” I exclaimed.
“Yea,” Freddie said. “But we better get going or our Pa’s are gonna skin us alive!”
I sighed. “After my last fishing trip, there’s no way I want to be late.” I can still remember my Pa’s angry eyes after coming back three hours late! Boy, I didn’t think I’d ever get to go fishing again! And by the time those chores were done, I had blisters! “But hey, if we leave right now, we still have time to stop for a snack!”
We gathered up our fish, mounted our horses, and rode fast toward Mr. Hardiman’s orchard. We didn’t do it often, but every once in a while picking a fresh apple from a tree was just too tempting.
That’s the incident that Mr. Hardiman was referring to today. I was happy to see him at first, and didn’t mind the teasing he and Pa were doing at my expense. But then he said something that suddenly made me sorry he stopped by. “There’s a fella in my orchard the other day. In fact, there was three or four of ‘em. They was…uh…eaten’ apples. That looks like one of ‘em.”
As soon as he mentioned boys in his orchard, I knew Pa would give me that stern look. I looked away, feeling a little sorry that I had suggested we go into the orchard for those apples.
“That so?” Pa suddenly questioned me as he gave me a look that told me I knew better.
“We only took one each, Mr. Hardiman! Honest!” I suddenly said, hoping that would help my case. It wasn’t like we were picking a whole bucket full and stealing them. We were just stopping off for a small snack.
But that didn’t stop Pa from giving me the look that said I had done something wrong, and I knew better. The truth is I probably did know better, but you can’t stop a boy from being hungry! Mr. Hardiman found the entire thing amusing. I reckon he knew he could smooth it over with my Pa before he mentioned it. “Oh Lucas! Apples is good for a boy. Keeps the doctor away.”
But Pa continued with that look. I smiled at Mr. Hardiman, knowing he didn’t mind a bit! His next words confirmed it. “I ain’t gonna miss a couple apples! I got more then I can pick or eat now.”
Yeah! So I was actually doing nature and Mr. Hardiman a favor! That was one less apple he’d have to pick, and it was one less that would have to rot on the tree! But I didn’t dare say that aloud. Somehow, I didn’t think Pa would agree with my sentiment.
In fact, Mr. Hardiman invited us over to the wagon to take a bag of apples off his hands. I loved apples, so I wasn’t going to think twice about taking some from him. I started to get down, but Pa was still busy giving me the look. “Pa?” I said as sweetly as I could.
Finally, Pa looked at me and smiled. “Come on,” he said. I’m sure he shook his head at me too. When we got over to the wagon and started picking them up, Pa said quietly next to my ear, “I believe you have something to say to Mr. Hardiman?”
I turned and looked at the sternness in Pa’s eyes. “Oh, um…I’m sorry that I came into your orchard.”
He laughed and shook it off. I saw the look in Pa’s eyes that told me next time I wouldn’t be so lucky! I thought Mr. Hardiman was nice to give us the apples. “You just make sure you don’t take anything ever again without asking first!” Pa said in that stern voice of his.
“Oh, I won’t!” I stated as I threw my apple in the air. Suddenly, I was amazed to see the apple explode after someone shot it. I stared across the street and saw an old mountain man! I couldn’t believe it! He was a good shot. He told me to throw another one up an he’d shoot it too. I thought it was pretty neat, so I started to. I would have too, if Pa hadn’t suddenly stopped me.
Pa wasn’t too impressed with what he had done. He told him it was pretty dangerous what he had done, but I still thought it was pretty neat. I didn’t know who this man was, but he knew my Pa – had heard about it actually! His name was Cass Callicott, and he was a famous frontiers man. I listened as he challenged my Pa to a shooting match – any target he wanted. Wow, now this was going to be really neat – seeing my Pa beat this famous man!
But I sure was disappointed when my Pa said no. I didn’t understand it – it was just a friendly game after all; and I knew my Pa would win! He was the best shot in the whole world, after all! But again, he said no. Mr. Callicott even called him a coward! Pa simply told me we were leaving and we left.
I didn’t say a word on the way home. I was sort of upset with Pa. I couldn’t think of one good reason why he shouldn’t have taken Mr. Callicott up on that challenge – it was just some innocent fun, after all. When we got home, I reckon I was still sort of disappointed, and Pa knew it. Suddenly, he asked in that tone of voice that told me he already knew the answer to the question, “Something on your mind, son?”
I nodded silently, knowing that if I tried to deny it he would tell me to come out with it anyhow. He suggested we sit down and talk it out. I knew there was no turning that down either. When there was a problem, we talked about it – that was Pa’s rule and there were no exceptions. I sat down. “You aren’t really scared of him, are ya?”
“What do you think?” Pa asked that because he already knew the answer. I didn’t think he was scared of him. I didn’t want to answer that, because then I’d have to tell him why I was upset. But, it just so happens that he knew it already. My Pa was pretty smart! “Mark, you don’t always have to be better then everybody, with a rifle or anything else. As long as a man can do what he has to when it counts. Just having people call you ‘best’ isn’t important.”
Maybe not to my Pa, but for a boy who’s Pa is his hero, it was important. I didn’t say that thought aloud, but I’m sure Pa probably knew what I was thinking. “But it is to Mr. Callicott. Is that why you didn’t want do it?” I asked.
“He might have beat you,” he answered, letting me know that could have destroyed my hope.
“But he might not have,” I stated.
“I wouldn’t have cared if he had,” Pa stated. Then he asked me, “Would you?”
He already knew the answer, but maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me too much. I do think it would have bothered Mr. Callicott though. Then Pa tried explaining why it would have bothered him. “His world’s gone. It’s hard for a man to see everything changing.”
It made me feel sorry for him. He was this big mountain man who was getting old and could no longer do things the way he used to. I tried to imagine us no longer having this ranch to work – to have to move into a town and be storekeeper or something. I knew that would kill my Pa if he ever had to do that.
As it turns out, he was one of Pa’s heroes when he was a boy. I knew Pa wouldn’t want to beat him for sure if he was his hero! But I guess I was hitting to close to home because Pa sent out to do my chores.
But then as I was feeding the chickens, he was suddenly there! Actually, I heard what sounded like a rattle snake. There had been only one other time I had found a rattler in our yard, and that was one time too many! But as I turned around, Mr. Callicott jumped out to greet me. I must admit that I was happy to see him there. Just think, this was someone my Pa dreamed about being when he was a little boy, and he was right here in our own yard!
That rattling sound I heard was indeed a rattle. He had gotten it off a medicine man, and he said that all you had to do was shake it at your enemy and they’d die. Boy, that would sure beat a gun, wouldn’t it? Then he started rattling it and I suddenly stepped back. But then I found out you had to know the right words. He gave it to me and I asked him what the right words were, not that I wanted to use it or anything, but I was just fascinated with things like this! He told me he’d tall me when I could be trusted.
I invited him for supper. I could tell he was hungry, and I felt sorry for him being away from the world he knew and all – I’m sure he didn’t get much to eat what with being a mountain man and all, so I invited him for supper. He picked up one of our chickens and suddenly began pulling the feathers off. I looked at him oddly, because usually we killed it then plucked it. I ran to tell Pa.
Pa was in the barn and I ran to tell him Mr. Callicott was here. “What’s he doing here?” Pa asked as he looked out of the barn door.
“Well, he just came to visit, I reckon, Pa. It’s alright, ain’t it? I invited him for supper.”
Suddenly, Pa turned around and gave me a hard stare. “You did what?” I looked at him without saying a word. “Mark, we both know he came to ask me to have a shootout with him again. He’s not going to give up on that.” He turned and looked outside. “Well, it’s too late now.”
“He wants fried chicken, Pa. You do fix awful good fried chicken!” I gave him a smile. He laughed and shook his head.
“Why don’t you finish your chores and then get some potatoes to peel. I’ll go kill the chicken and then,” Pa turned and pointed to me. “You can clean it.”
“Oh Pa,” I winkled up my nose. I hated cleaning chickens! But he left me no choice.
As we ate supper that night, I listened to story after story as Mr. Callicott ate. I jumped in asking questions every now and then, but Pa stayed silent. I could tell he wasn’t too impressed with most of Mr. Caliccott’s stories. In fact, at one point he said, “Isn’t that Daniel Boone that happened to?”
But finally Pa told him to tell him the real reason he came over. Mr. Calicott suddenly put something down on the plate. “What’s that?” I asked.
“Indian Challenge.” The way Pa said it made it sound like he was going to kill my Pa right there. I listened to the challenge – they would kill as many animals as they could with 20 bullets each and see who came home with the most meat. “Now, I ask you Mark. Ain’t that a fair test for a rifleman?”
“Well, I guess so,” I answered hopefully. My Pa was mad, but I didn’t really understand the problem. We could always use meat after all, and besides, it would show who was the best with a rifle. I knew my Pa could win it! It was the least he could do for an old hero, after all!”
But Pa turned him down again. Cass continued challenging him. He gave Pa the ultimate challenge. “You gonna take that challenge? Or be called a coward?”
I turned and watched my pa, excitement on my face. There’s no way my Pa was a coward! He just had to say yes to the contest now! I watched him, anticipation on my face. “Be called a coward.”
The excitement left me. I stared at him, hardly believing what he had just done. He was willing to be called a coward? Pa suddenly looked at me. I saw the sternness in his eyes. I suddenly stood up and began clearing the table. But then Cass suddenly had to go. While we watched him leave, I said, “You don’t like him. Do you Pa?”
Pa turned and looked at me. “It’s just that when a man has lived like a savage for so long, well, he’s almost salvage. He’s not like ordinary men. He acts differently and he thinks differently.” He said we had to be careful with him – especially when we didn’t know him.
I knew him. He was just an old man who was sad that his world was gone. It was hard for him to exist, and he just needed some hope. Pa could have given him that hope. I went back inside and started clearing off the table. Pa came up to me. I could feel him looking at me, but I didn’t want to look at him. Not right now. Pa leaned against the counter and crossed his arms. “Well,” he said.
“Well,” I said. Then I looked at him. He suddenly stared into my eyes, and I knew he wanted an explanation. “You can always use the meat, Pa! It’s not like you are just killing things and leaving them to die.”
“That’s not the point, Mark. There’s a principle here.” Principle. Pa was always using that word! “Mark.” I looked up from the plate I was scraping into the scrap bucket. “What do you suppose would happen if I beat him?”
I didn’t know. I only shrugged my shoulders. “He’s desperate, son. He wants to get back at the world. Things aren’t as innocent as they seem.”
I didn’t understand what he meant by that. “You could have let him win.”
“You really think that would be right?” Pa pushed himself off the counter and walked to the door. “You clean up in here, son.”
We didn’t see Cass again for a few days. I was still disappointed that Pa had turned him down, and Pa knew it. He never said anything more about it and I didn’t mention Cass’s name anymore. I didn’t exactly want to cause more trouble. But then the day came when I finally realized that my Pa was indeed wiser then I had given him credit for.
As you know from my Pa’s telling of the story, Cass showed up and tricked me into going with him up into the mountains. He told me he wanted to see some bears, and I should have known not to go with him. The fact that Pa wouldn’t approve of my going with him did cross my mind, but I really didn’t see anything wrong with it, so I went.
It wasn’t long before I came to regret it though. I realized a little too late that he hadn’t brought me up here to see the bears. He hadn’t brought me up here to teach me about the woods. He hadn’t even wanted to visit with me. The only reason he brought me was to get my Pa out here. And I found out something else too. They weren’t going to just have a simple shooting match. There was only one thing he wanted to shoot ta.
The realization didn’t make me feel too comfortable. I suddenly realized that I had put myself and my father into a rough situation. And as I looked at this man, I suddenly saw him as someone different. He was suddenly not that hero that everyone can look to. He was a man who had lost his mind – a man who wanted revenge for what was taken from him, and my Pa was that revenge.
I had to get away – to warn Pa not to come. But as I tried, he grabbed me and tied my hands to a rope. Pa’s life was in danger, and there was nothing…absolutely nothing I could do about it! I struggled with all my might trying to get away. And as I struggled, I wondered how Pa would know where to come? Would he somehow figure out Cass had taken me and track us here?
Then I heard a horse. I looked around and saw him. “Look out, Pa! He’s gonna kill ya, Pa!” I screamed. Pa suddenly jumped off his horse and ducked on a hill. I was happy that I had been able to warn him, but sorry that my pride for him had put him in this situation.
Suddenly, Pa shot down the rope and I didn’t even think. I ran to my Pa as fast as I could. Then he pulled me behind him as Cass continued yelling, challenging my Pa to shoot. “It’s either kill me or die.” Cass’s words still echo in my head. Those are the only words he said that afternoon that really stuck out through the years. He was tormented and he wanted to see death come to a man, even if it was him.
He started coming towards Pa, but Pa didn’t shoot. I watched, concerned. How did I want this to end? Did I want to watch my Pa shoot down his hero? Was there any other way for this to end? And suddenly, I realized there was.
It was a bear – an animal from his own world that had taken his life. I was there and saw it happen. His own world had been his final destruction in the end. He wasn’t killed by civilization, or by a man who lived a different life – but he was killed by something he had come up against time and time again in his wilderness. He was killed by something he had been fighting for all this time.
As I sat there while Pa went to check on Cass, I thought about the events that had just occurred. Pa had used his rifle only twice today. He had used it to shoot me down, taking aim and knowing with absolute certainty that he would make his target because my life depended on it. He used it, not to kill his hero, but to be a hero to a man that was once his hero. Some may say that he wasn’t successful, but I say he was. You see, my Pa had every right to kill that man that was charging towards him, intending to kill him. But he didn’t. He couldn’t – at least not when there was a chance to keep from it. So if you want my opinion, my Pa was the best shot, as far as I was concerned.
And he never has to prove it to me again.
That night I sat out on the porch alone. I leaned my head against the post as I looked up at the stars and thought about the events of the past week. Pa came out and sat beside me. “Thinking about Cass?” he asked softly as he put a hand on my shoulder.
I nodded. “He didn’t just want a simple shooting match, did he?”
Pa sighed. “Well, I think in his mind he really truly thought that would satisfy him, but it wouldn’t have. He wanted to get even with the world, son.”
“It’s not our world that killed him, Pa. It was his,” I stated quietly.
Pa said nothing as he thought on this. After a few moments of silence, Pa stood and walked back inside.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
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Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
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