It actually started five months ago. I still remember that dreary, rainy Monday when Micah stopped by the house early one morning while I was getting ready to go to school. I remember it well, because I’d just been through a traumatic experience myself. I’d just witnessed a man that looked a whole lot like my father shot down. I had barely gotten over that event.
“Mark, hurry and get your schoolbooks, son!” Pa called as he watched Micah ride up. I didn’t answer as I slowly wiped my breakfast dishes clean. Pa hurried in and came into the kitchen. “Did you hear me?”
“Yeah,” I answered without really looking at him.
Pa crossed his arms and stood up straight and tall as Micah walked in. “Mark, you’ve been in a fog all morning – ever since you got out of that bed. Now, am I gonna have to put a burr in your pants to get you moving this morning?”
I cleared my throat. “Pa, you know that feeling I get sometimes when something terrible’s about to happen?” Pa shook his head and groaned. “I think I oughta stay close to you.”
“Mark, I think you have two minutes to get your books and your lunch and get out that door. In two minutes, I’ll be giving you something to feel terrible about!” Pa was really moody too. We’d been snapping at each other all morning.
“Hi Micah,” I greeted him.
Micah shook his head. “You know Lucasboy,” Micah said as he took a sip of the coffee Pa had just handed to him. “I think that you and Mark got up on the wrong side of the bed!”
I started lacing up my books as Pa and Micah talked. “I didn’t, Micah. It’s that boy o’ mine over there!” Pa crossed his arms as I continued with my task. “Look at him! He’ll be lucky to get out of here by Christmas, the way he’s going!” Pa started over to me. “Well, boy?”
“Lucas-“ Micah put a restraining arm on Pa’s shoulder. I think he was trying to protect me from getting hurt. “I’m riding the stage to Santa Fe. I was wondering if-“
Pa groaned as he closed his eyes. “You want me to sit in for awhile. Is that it?”
“That’s right,” Micah answered. “I’ll be back on Friday with a prisoner we are trying here next week for that woman that was murdered. The Santa Fe Marshal has his hands full and can’t spare any of his deputies to deliver him, so I have to go there!” Micah frowned. I saw him out of the corner of my eyes. “That is unless you want to deliver him-“ Micah stopped.
“What are you waiting for, boy?” Pa suddenly turned to me. I had seen him hold up his hand to Micah.
“Nothing.” I swung my books over my shoulder and turned to leave. Pa followed me to the door. I suddenly turned, not realizing he was right behind me and ran smack into his chest. “Pa-OH!”
Pa grabbed my by the shoulders and pushed me back. “Mark, what is your problem today, boy?”
“I…I…I don’t know, sir. Honest, I don’t!” I looked up into his irate eyes. “Pa, please don’t go to Santa Fe.”
“I think Micah can make that trip. When you are done in school, you come on back here and start on your chores. I’ll have a list on the table. I do want you to head into town when you’re done.” He turned me toward the door and gave me a push. “Now, off you go!” I felt a hard smack on my back side and hollered. Pa stood in the doorway to make sure I got on my way.
That feeling had stayed with me all that morning while Mrs. Pritchard taught. He got onto me several times, reminding me I had to make good marks to continue my morning’s only class. At noon, I disobeyed Pa and hurried into town before going to the ranch. I just HAD to make sure everything was okay.
I hid behind the church. Good think I had good eyes so I could see down the street. I watched Micah get on the stage. No one else was with him. Then I watched Pa shut the door and wave goodbye. I nodded in satisfaction. Forgetting that I was supposed to be hiding, I stepped out from the corner and peered down the street. Pa turned in my direction. I gasped, not sure if he saw me or not.
I didn’t wait to find out as I jumped on my horse and raced for home!
Doing my chores didn’t ease my bad feeling at all! I slowly marked off each extra chore listed on the sheet. I groaned as I came to the very last chore (Pa always puts the list in order of priority, so I don’t have to decide which to do first) – today I had to move the cattle from the North Pasture to the South Pasture. I saddled my cow pony and took off for the tedious task.
It was almost lunch time when I finally got cleaned up and headed into town. When I rode into town, I saw a crowd gathered down by doc’s office. I stopped Blue Boy in his tracks at the edge of town and looked toward the Marshal’s office. All was quiet in there – there was no sign of life. Then I narrowed my eyes and peered down the street. “Pa!” I gasped. I kicked Blue Boy’s flank as hard as I could and raced down the street.
I didn’t even stop to tie Blue Boy up. I squeezed my way through the crowed, ignoring all the “Hey, what’s the big ideas” and other comments that came from my rudeness. When I got up front, Mr. Toomey was there. “What’s going on?” I asked anxiously.
Mr. Toomey put a hand on my shoulder. “There’s been a hold up. Two people dead and the Marshal wounded.”
“My Pa?” I suddenly asked since he was the one holding down the Marshal’s job.
“Oh…no,” Mr. Toomey suddenly realized what I was thinking. “Micah. The noon stage was held up.”
I ran forward and barged my way through the door. I saw Pa bent over the bed where Micah lay groaning. “Micah!” I hurried to his side and put a loving hand against his forehead. “He okay?”
The doctor nodded. “Just took a shot in the shoulder, but he’ll survive.”
“Son, wait outside,” Pa said gently.
“No! I want to stay!” I argued as I took Micah’s hand in mine protectively.
Pa laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Mark?” I heard the finality in Pa’s voice. I looked up in his eyes. “Wait at the marshal’s office. I’ll explain everything.”
“No! I want to stay! Pa, I’m not a kid anymore!” I argued.
“MARK!” I knew I had no choice. I was frustrated that I wasn’t allowed to stay, but made my way to Micah’s office.
I sat for what seemed like forever before Pa finally came in. He stood at the door and looked at me as he sighed. “That feeling I was having this morning wasn’t for you this time, Pa.”
“I know.” Pa took off his hat and threw it in a chair. Then he sat down across from me. “Son…” Pa sighed as he rubbed his eyes tiredly. “I was having that feeling too. That’s why I was so short with you this morning.” Pa pointed a finger at me. “Not that you didn’t deserve it, mind you.” I didn’t smile, but just looked into his eyes questionably. Pa sighed as he sat back in the chair. “Two men in masks jumped the stage today. They…” Pa sighed. “They killed the driver.”
“Who was the driver?” I asked suddenly.
Pa looked up at me. “It was Sam.”
I closed my eyes in frustration. “No! Oh…no…Not Sam!”
“They also killed Larry.”
I put my elbows on my knees and buried my face in my hands. “Oh no!” I cried. “His wife…she just had their third baby!”
“I know.” Pa sighed. “Micah was shot but he’ll live. When he was shot, he landed facedown in the dirt. But he lifted his head up and he saw the man. It’s a gun slinger by the name of Bob Barrett.” I had heard of him – heard he and his brother both were outlaws who couldn’t ever be caught in the act. “Are you gonna arrest him?”
“I’m afraid it’s not that easy, son. I’m sure he and his partner is long gone. They wore masks, so we don’t know who the guy was with him. I’m taking out a bounty on him - $500.00. I just got the wire back from the stage office in Santa Fe giving me the go ahead. It’s a DOA.”
I knew Pa didn’t like doing those. He didn’t like the idea of someone killing a person for $500.00, but the men who were killed were really good friends of ours. Larry lived just outside of North Fork. “Does his wife know yet?”
Pa shook his head. “I’m…about to go tell her now.”
I saw the look in Pa’s eyes. I knew he didn’t want to. “Anything I can do?” I asked.
Pa gave me a weak smile. “Just sit with Micah until I get back. I would tell you to go ahead and eat, but I’ll need both you and Milly there to cheer me up when I get back.”
Pa stood up and grabbed his hat and rifle. I nodded my head as I came to my decision. “Pa?” I quickly stood up.
Pa turned and looked at me. I saw the moisture in his eyes. “I can come with ya.”
Pa laid a hand on my shoulder and pulled me into a half-hug. “Thanks, son. But I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.” I looked down at the ground, knowing how hard this would be for him. Then I lifted my eyes back up to his. “I know you want to be there for me, but Micah…well…he needs you more right now.”
“Does he, Pa?” I asked. I knew he was trying to protect me from watching the horrible scene.
Pa smiled. “Okay, I need you to stay here, son. Please?”
I nodded. “I’ll be at the docs if you need me, Pa.”
Pa nodded as he squeezed my shoulder. “I will.” He patted my shoulder. “When I get back.”
I made my way over to Doc’s office. Doc sat at his desk and placed a finger to his lips. “Pa’s gone to do some Marshalling,” I stated. “He told me to stay with Micah.”
Doc nodded and pointed a finger to the other room. “Wait out here until he wakes,” he said in a hushed voice.
But I wasn’t there very long before the front door burst open. “Docter Burrage, I heard-“ Milly stopped when she saw me. She ran over and sat down beside me. “Mark…Mark, are you okay?”
I nodded. “I’m afraid Sam and Larry are dead though.”
I watched as Milly’s eyes filled up with tears. “No…Oh no!” She hugged me. I put my arms around her to give her some comfort. She moved away from me so she could look into my face. “Your father? Where is he?”
“Oh. He went to tell Mrs. Richards. I wanted to go with me, but…” I stopped.
“I wish he had told me. I could’ve gone with him.” Milly stood up and went to the window. “I can’t imagine what that poor woman is going through, what with three small children.” She turned and put a hand to her mouth. “I should have gone to help…”
“Milly?” Milly looked at me. “My Pa he…he knew it would be difficult to break the news. It would be hard for him…and her. I think he wants to go it alone, if you know what I mean.”
Milly bit her lip as she nodded. “I do.” She sat down and looked towards the closed door that led into the examining room. “How’s Micah?”
“He’ll live,” I answered. “Doc said he’s sleeping. Pa said, he recognized one of the men – Bob Barrett.”
“Oh, what a pitiful man! Well, I’m glad Micah’s able to identify him. That will make his charges finally stick!”
“Pa’s putting a $500 bounty and a DOA order on him.” Milly swung her head around and stared at me. “He and his partner killed two really good friends, and almost killed his best friend. You can’t blame Pa.”
“No.” Milly sighed. “It must be hard…I know how he feels about DOA orders.” Milly looked at the clock. “Listen mark, when your father gets back, bring him on down to my house. I’ll have a good, nourishing supper ready for the both of you.”
Milly left. I’m sure she needed time alone to grieve as well. We heard groaning come from the other room. I hurried in and took Micah’s hand. “Where’s your Pa?” he asked. I looked up at doc who just shook his head.
“He’s out marshalling,” I answered. “He had a few things to do.”
“Anything on Barrett?”
“No.” I shook my head. “Pa’s getting a DOA poster done on him with a $500 award. Hopefully he’ll be found soon.”
Micah looked at doc. “I’m okay. Leave us alone.” Doc nodded and left the room.
Micah groaned as he repositioned himself. I tried to tell him not to move, but he had something to ask. “Mark…Sam and…and Larry…”
I turned my eyes from Micah and lowered my head. “Dag gum!” Micah muttered. “Some Marshal I am!”
“You’re a wonderful Marshal. You’re a great man just like my Pa!” I argued with him.
“Stage is held up and the marshal allows two wonderful, Christian-family men to be shot in cold-blooded murder.”
“Did they give you a choice, Micah?” I asked. Micah looked at me. “Did they?” He shook his head. “Then don’t beat yourself up over it. There was no way of knowing.”
Micah smiled. “So much like your father! Never have I seen a father and son so alike!”
“You hungry?” I asked. “I could go get you some broth.” Micah nodded, knowing I needed to feed him. That was one way I could show him I loved him.
By the time he finished eating, Doc’s front office door opened. Pa came inside looking like he had just lost his best friend. I hurried to him and threw my arms around him. We held each other for a few moments. Pa said nothing as he just stood there in the comfort of my arms. Finally, he pulled away and nodded. “I’ll be okay, son.”
“Milly has supper ready, Pa. She said to come when you’re back.”
Pa nodded. “Alright. I’ll just visit with Micah for a few minutes.” Pa patted my shoulder. “You run on along and see if there’s anything you can do for her. I’ll be along.”
When I got there, Milly asked me to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. By the time I finished those chores, pa was there. An eerie silence was in the room as we ate . Milly finally put her coffee cup down and laid her hand on top of Pa’s. “Lucas?” Her gentle voice said the single word.
Pa cleared his throat. “She was devastated, Milly. Two of the children were screaming while I told her. The other was begging for attention. She has unfinished chores everywhere and very little money. The doc is on his way over to give her something to help her sleep.”
“What about the children?” Milly asked.
“Oh, she has neighbors that will care for the children until she adjusts. She has family in Santa Fe – may decide to move back there.” Pa took a sip of his coffee. I watched as he fought with his emotions. He bit his lip and banged a fist on the table. “It’s just…” Pa’s voice broke.
I watched Milly lay a hand on his shoulder. She silently ran a thumb along his neck as he silently fought his tears. She turned and looked at me, nodding toward the back door. I nodded and stood up to make my way out.
I chopped wood, allowing my own tears to flow. This outlaw had taken so much for a greedy amount of money. It wasn’t fair! I chopped the wood like there was no tomorrow allowing my own anger to chop away with the wood.
As the sun was going down, the door opened and Milly came out. I took another swing at the piece of wood. “Mark?” Milly laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. “You okay?”
“I will be,” I answered. “How’s Pa?”
“He’ll be okay too.” Milly put her arm around my shoulders as I lowered the ax to the ground. “He’s a strong man…just like you.”
I turned and looked into her eyes. “I don’t feel so strong right now, Milly.” Then I allowed her to hold me while I cried.
As I said, all that was five months ago, back in the Spring. Spring was supposed to be all about life and birth – not about death and grieving. Pa said death happens every day. Nothing we do will ever change that, but as we get older we have to learn to accept it as a natural part of life. But there was nothing natural about murder.
Now, it was getting to be Fall and Pa and I were looking forward to the attending the stock show in Willerby. We’d heard that there were some mighty good stud bulls showing, as well as heifers for sale, and we were always looking for ways to improve our herd. Especially since we had just lost so many to hoof and mouth, we were in dire need of some good stock, and Pa had managed to have a good crop year for this very purpose.
We would be gone three weeks. We were on fall break from school, so pa said it was the perfect time. The show was a lot of fun, and as usual, Pa taught me a lot about cattle and how to buy/sale. He even allowed me to buy a couple for my very own. It was getting close to the end now. Pa said we’d leave the next day. Mr. Toomey came up to us as we laughed at the calves suckling from their mothers. “Lucas, can I talk to you?”
I watched as Pa and Mr. Toomey stepped away. I saw a look of agony cross my Pa’s face, then I watched Mr. Toomey gesture with his hands and point north towards North Fork. Pa ran a hand through his hair in frustration as he turned and made his way back toward me. I watched him lean on the fence and go back to watching the calves as if nothing had happened.
But I was no longer watching the calves. I was staring at Pa intently. “Pa?” Pa turned and looked at me. He saw the unasked questions in my expression.
“He was here,” Pa stated. “Right here! If I had only known…”
“Who?” I asked.
“Bob Barrett,” Pa answered. “Barrett was right here – Toomey saw him, but he jumped on his horse and took off North!”
“Do you want to leave now, Pa?” I asked. “You want to go back to North Fork tonight?”
Pa shook his head. “Toomey said he sent a wire to warn Micah. He’ll be fine.”
But I saw the worry in Pa’s face. I knew he was anxious to get back. As usual, he was trying to protect me.
Three weeks sure was a long time! We rode into our ranch early one morning after spending the last last night out under the stars. After tying Blue Boy up outside, I opened the door and smelled the scents of home. Billy Lehigh and his wife had been keeping an eye on the place for the past three weeks. I sure was happy there wasn’t anything that needed done right off.
I went into the bedroom and threw myself on the bed. Pa dropped the satchel on top of me. And I groaned as he fell with a thud. “Sorry, cowboy. There’s lots of work to do.”
“Oh Pa!” I groaned as I set the satchel down beside me. “Just please let me sleep for an hour. Then I’ll start-“
“Hu-uh!” Pa declared. “Get that unpacked! We’ve got to get into town.”
I sat up with another groan. “Pa, I enjoy going into town. Really, I do. But tomorrow will be soon enough. Just give me today!”
Pa placed his hands on his hips. I sat up higher on my bed. “Okay, Pa! Okay!” I held my hands up in defeat. “Looks like this isn’t a democracy after all!”
“Not in my house!” Pa shouted as I hurried out to unload the horses. “My house is a dictatorship! And don’t you forget it!”
After I finished unloading everything, Pa allowed that I could sit and take a breath or two before we started into town. He was anxious to see Micah – and perhaps maybe a bit anxious to see Milly, though he’d never admit it!
But when we rode into town, Pa’s anxiety turned from excitement to dread. We tied our horses up. About that time, a man comes up to us. His name is Ben Judson. Pa greeted him friendly enough, and I didn’t have a problem with him. But my like for him soon turned to dislike as I learned just who he was – the new Marshal of North Fork! He declared that he had defeated Micah in the election. I couldn’t believe it – Micah was no longer Marshal!
Then the man asked my Pa for his rifle. Now anyone who knew my Pa knew indeed that he didn’t like to give his rifle to anybody! It was like his right hand – or in his case, his left hand! Apparently, he’d invoked a new ordinance related to the carrying of firearms while in town.
I watched as Pa tried to explain – in a friendly way, mind you - to Marshal Judson that ordinance was meant to be used when the trail hands would come into town, to keep their celebrating from getting out of hand.
“Your rifle, please?” Marshal Judson said.
Pa said, “The rifle stays with me!”
Then the Marshal accused my Pa of breaking the law.
Pa was angry, but reluctantly handed his rifle to Marshal Judson. I just couldn’t get over the sound of that. It just wasn’t right. Pa told me to come with him. As we walked down the street, Pa put a protective hand on my shoulder. “Stay close to me, son. I don’t want you straying too far.”
“Why, Pa?” I asked.
“I have a bad, bad feeling, son, in my gut. I want you beside me. Understand?” I nodded, knowing this was all hard to understand – for both Pa and myself.
I tried to keep up with Pa’s fast pace, but my shorter legs couldn’t walk as fast. Pa finally put a hand behind my neck and led me. That forced him to slow his pace down a bit. He walked into the livery. “Nils!” he called. “Nils, where are you?”
Nils came out wiping his hands. He was working at the forge. “Nils, what’s this I heard about Micah?” Pa asked in an angry voice. Nils just looked at Pa and wearily shook his head. “Well?”
“Lucas, I’m just sick about it!” Nils declared. “Micah not being Marshal anymore…it’s just not right.” I stood and listened as Nils told us about this man coming into town a couple weeks ago. He talked to everyone and convinced them to vote for him. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Micah lost to a looser like that!
Then we went to find Micah. I was worried for him. As we walked, Pa put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. He slowed his pace down. “Mark,” Pa sighed. “You remember when Micah first came to North Fork?” I nodded my head. It wasn’t long after we arrived here ourselves. Micah was sick and Pa made him better. That seemed like a lifetime ago. “Remember the condition he was in?” I nodded again. “Well son, there are some who are beginning to think that this…constant consumption of alcohol is actually a disease. When Micah gets upset or…”
I laid a hand on Pa’s arm. “I understand, Pa. Micah drinks too much. I’m 14, remember?”
Pa laughed. “I guess I keep forgetting how wise my boy’s getting.” We got to the bottom of the stairs. “I just want you to be prepared.”
I greeted Micah. Pa was right. It looked like he had getting drunk on his mind. I let him know I was sorry for what happened. I could tell he was ashamed of his drinking in front of me. I thought about leaving, but Pa wanted me to stay close. I moved away to give Pa and Micah some privacy. Pa was upset, stating he didn’t like the new Marshal. I wasn’t too happy with him either. Pa walked to the door and looked down on the street. I watched as he called Micah over, then they opened the door and started out.
I rushed forward. Pa stopped on the steps and turned. “You stay here, son.”
“But-“ I started.
“Stay right here, Mark. Understand?” Pa gave me one of those looks that told me I better understand. I nodded and watched them run down the stairs and hurry off to the Marshal’s office. I wish I could have been there to see what was going on, but Pa’s orders were very clear. So I waited. It seemed they were in there for quite awhile. When Pa came out, he and Micah started down the street. Pa stopped and turned toward the stairs where I was sitting. I raced down them and hurried to him.
Pa put a gentle hand on my back. “You go on ahead, Micah. We’ll catch up.” Pa put a hand to his forehead and rubbed it as if he had a headache forming. “Son, we’re on our way to the telegraph office to send the Judge Evans a telegram.” Pa sighed and shifted side-to-side uncomfortably. I could tell he didn’t like what he had to tell me. “Barrett’s in the Marshal’s office.”
“Barrett?” I turned and stared toward his office. “You mean…the man who killed Sam and Larry and left Micah for dead? That Barrett?” Pa nodded. I turned and started toward the office.
Pa grabbed my arm. “Don’t even think about it, Mark.” Pa turned, still holding firmly to my arm. He forced me to walk with him. “The Marshal in there just…he just released Barrett from all the charges.”
“But Pa!” I stopped and planted my feet firmly on the ground. “Micah SAW Barrett do it! You personally took out that DOA poster on him! How could he-“
Pa spoke in a low voice. “He claims it was his twin brother.”
“Oh, please!” I rolled my eyes.
“He had a twin brother, son. He was killed in a gunfight in Santa Fe about a month ago. But Micah knew ‘em both, and he knows it wasn’t his brother.” We stood outside of the telegraph office now. Pa turned me toward him and planted hands on both of my shoulders as he looked me squarely in the eyes. Quietly Pa told me, so that Micah couldn’t hear, “Son, I think this Judson fellow is in on this. I think it’s a ploy. We don’t know who Barrett’s partner is. Could be him.”
I turned and looked toward the Marshal’s office. The reality of what was going on was enough to send chills up and down my spine. “You mean…an outlaw…a KILLER is protecting our town?” I grabbed his hands and tried to remove them from my shoulders. “We’ve got to stop him!” I cried excitedly.
“Mark, hush!” Pa demanded in a quiet yell. I stopped and looked at him once again. “I don’t want Micah to know what I suspect. Now, I want you to stay close to me, but I need you to be strong for Micah’s sake. Son, he needs us. Can you do that? Can you keep your head on straight, your mouth shut, and help me get through this?”
I nodded. We went into the telegraph office and Pa sent the telegram regarding Barrett. Micah sighed. “I’m feeling awful tired, Lucas. I think I’m going home.” We watched him leave. Pa sat down in a chair and sighed. He wasn’t going to leave until he got an answer to his telegram.
I sat down beside him. “You reckon they’ll try to kill Micah?” I asked worriedly.
Pa put his hands to his mouth as he thought on my question. “Oh, I don’t know, Mark. I think if Judson is Barrett’s partner…they’re liable to do anything – even harm you to keep me off balance. That’s why I want you close at all times.”
I saw the struggle. Pa often struggled when things weren’t right in North Fork. Pa took his citizenship very seriously and always went way beyond the call of duty to help any citizen in trouble. I watched him struggle now, knowing it was even more personal. It was his best friend – a man who wasn’t only dear to him, but was like a grandfather to me.
“Anything I can do, Pa?” I asked. “I hate this sitting around, knowing what’s going on.”
Pa nodded. “You can keep Micah company, son.” Pa walked to the door and looked out onto the street. “I can watch the door from here. You go on up there. I’ll be up as soon as I get the answer to the wire.”
I nodded. I knew Pa was worried, not only about Micah and the town being run by outlaws…but also about me. Pa and I had a lot in common. One thing was that we both had gut instincts when something was wrong. I could tell Pa’s gut was hurting him awful bad today – that’s why he had to be so protective of me. I give him a hard time about it, but truth is, his protection made me feel so warm, safe, and…loved.
Micah was drinking again. His words were slurred and didn’t come easy. I tried to give him the comfort he needed, assuring him he was the best North Fork Marshal I ever knew. Micah began talking about past friends – then he fell into a drunken sleep. I took the glass from his hand and sat it down across the room. I hoped that would discourage him from drinking.
It hurt me inside to watch him drink. I can’t explain it, but I longed to give him some sort of cure or medicine…something so he wouldn’t have to take up the bottle anymore. Pa said different men react different ways under pressure. Pa turns to the Bible – a healthy choice. Micah…he turns to the bottle. Pa said all we could do was pray for him and be there for him when he was drinking.
I looked down onto the street. I saw Barrett standing there. But it wasn’t finally seeing Barrett that surprised me – it was seeing the tin star pinned on him. Judson had deputized him! I knew if Micah saw this, he’d have a fit for sure! I had to keep him from seeing it! That’s why when he suddenly stirred, I lied to him and told him he was telling me about Wyatt Earp. I had to keep him busy.
But Micah eventually stood up and walked to the door. He saw Barrett right away. He also saw the star pinned to his shirt and he was mad! Micah shoved me out of the way and started down the stairs. I followed him. “Micah! Micah, wait!” I cried as I grabbed his arm. Micah just shook my hand off and kept climbing down the stairs. “Micah, he’s not worth it!” I cried even harder.
By this point, Micah was down the stairs and was walking towards Barrett just as fast as he could. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure what to do. “What are you doing with that badge on?” Micah practically screamed in a snarling voice as he stomped across the dirt. “Tell me!”
“Micah!” I screamed. “Please stop it!”
Micah rushed up to Barrett who only smiled. “What are you doing with that badge on, Barrett?”
I ran into the Marshal’s office, praying Pa was there. “Pa, Micah’s getting himself into some trouble!” I cried. Pa ran out. I started to follow but Pa held up a hand and told me to stay put.
I turned and saw Mr. Judson (I call him Mr. because no man like him deserves to be called Marshal!) picking up his gun belt and swinging it over his shoulder. He patted my shoulder as he walked by. I clinched my fists, wishing I was big enough to clobber him!
Obediently, I stayed put but I could hear Micah and Pa yelling. I didn’t know quite what was going on. Finally, Pa and Micah walked back towards me. “Micah, I wish you wouldn’t do this!” Pa said angrily.
“My mind’s made up, Lucas!” Micah said. “You can’t talk me out of it, so don’t try!”
“I will keep trying until-“ Pa stopped when he realized I was there. “Mark,” he breathed.
“Well, I’m hungry. Let’s go to the hotel and eat, Lucas boy. What do you say.” Micah shrugged. “This may be my last meal.”
I watched Pa’s face as Micah walked down the street toward the hotel. Pa narrowed his eyes and glared at Micah’s retreating figure. “What did he mean by that Pa?” Pa continued to watch Micah walk down the street. I grabbed Pa’s arm. “Pa, what did he mean?” My voice was more forceful this time.
Pa turned and looked down at me. “He’s having a shootout in the street with Barrett at sundown. That’s what it means.”
I felt my heart jump into my throat. “A shootout?” I couldn’t believe this! “Pa, Micah’s no match for-“
“I know, son. I know.” Pa interrupted my worrisome cry. “I tried to stop the challenge, but Barrett’s smooth. He challenged Micah without challenging him at all.” Pa shook his head. Then he slapped a hand on my shoulder. “Well, let’s go eat!”
“Eat?” I gasped as I stood still. “But Pa, you’ve got to do something! You go tell that Barrett fellow to ride on out of town! Lock him up in the jail! Shoot him – anything!” Pa just watched me silently. “Whatever it takes to get rid of him. Pa, I don’t want to lose Micah!”
Pa never said a word. He squeezed my shoulder and forced me to start walking down the street. I turned around and looked. Barrett was standing just inside the Marshal’s office with a stupid grin on his face. I felt my blood turn hot. I suddenly wanted to slap him silly myself! I stopped and turned around. “Mark?”
“Pa, you can’t let this happen!” I cried. I pointed to Barrett. “You and I both know that he killed Sam and Larry! He’s the reason they are dead. And now you are going to stand by and let him kill-“
“Mark, that’s not fair!” Pa snapped at me. “You know better than that!” Pa sighed and put a hand to his face as he thought on what to say next. “Listen son, I can’t stop this – it would shame Micah. He has to work through this in his own way!”
“Even if it gets him killed?” I asked.
Pa nodded slowly. “Even…if it gets him killed. Remember when Ansel Bain was looking for Micah a last year? It’s a matter of pride. I have to let him do this, if he’s ever to think of himself as a man again.”
I was quiet as we ate that night. I didn’t rightly agree with Pa’s thinking on letting Micah have this gunfight. Pa and Micah managed to keep up a half-decent conversation, but my mind wandered elsewhere. I began remembering all the times Micah and I had spent together. I can’t count how many times we sat on the bank of a lake or pond and fished while he gave me grandfatherly advise. I still remember that first day he walked into our ranch house and shook my hand. I remembered-
“Mark?” I looked up at the sound of my name. “I said what are you thinking about?”
“Oh, just stuff.” I shrugged. I looked at Micah. He frowned at me and waited for me to go on. “Micah, you remember when you first came to North Fork and how you were so…sick?” Micah nodded. “Pa found you laying in the dirt in the middle of town – just outside the saloon. He could have left you there, but he picked you up and helped you. He gave you a job and a place to stay. He even helped you find your way back. You saved my father. You remember that?”
Micah nodded. “Yes Mark, I do.”
“If you hadn’t been there that day…My Pa…he would be dead.” Micah nodded. Pa smiled as he remembered back. I sat straight up in my chair. “If you go out on that street tonight, you will be dead – and for no more a reason than Pa almost died that day. You remember your words to me about Pa that day? As Pa rode into town you told me, ‘He’s a fool.’”
Micah looked at me through narrowed eyes. I swallowed as I finished what I had to say. “Micah, if you go out on that street tonight, you’ll be a fool. That man is a skilled gunslinger with lots of notches on his gun. You are a Marshal – a peace maker, not a fighter.
Micah looked at me for only another moment. Then he reached in his pocket and threw down a coin on the table. He stood up and finished off his coffee. “That oughta cover it,” he stated as he slammed his cup on the table. Then he turned and hurried out.
I looked at Pa who only shook his head. “It was a good try, son. That man is stubborn! But now you know why I said what I said, earlier.”
We stood and walked out of the restaurant. Pa paid Eddie on his way out. “Let’s go to the livery, son.” That’s where we found Micah. We all sat there trying to talk Micah out of doing such a stupid thing. It was pride. I knew it and Pa knew it. Micah blamed his actions on proving himself not a coward. He wanted to find out rather he was a coward or not. That was something he didn’t need to prove – I could tell him he wasn’t a coward! Micah said he wanted to prove he was using his shotgun to live like a lawman and not because he was a coward.
I couldn’t stand this! “Micah, everybody knows that you’re not a coward!” I insisted.
“I don’t know it, Mark,” Micah answered. The agreement was that the gunfight would happen when the first light was lit. Micah lit Nils’ lantern.
He started to walk out. “It takes a lot of man to walk away from a challenge,” Pa stated.
“Have you ever walked away from one, Lucas?” Micah asked. I knew that Pa had walked away from plenty. He didn’t take kindly to men throwing challenges in his face, and many times he refused to oblige them. But Micah’s pride was so thick at the moment that he couldn’t even see that. Pa didn’t even answer him. His question didn’t know an answer.
I watched as Micah walked out of the livery. He started down the street toward Mr. Barrett. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I suddenly felt desperate. "Pa Micah can't beat a gunfighter!"
"I know it son."
"Aren't you going to do something?" I wished he would!
"There’s nothing I can do. If I stood along side of him or interfered I'd only shame him.”
Nils came rushing in then. "Lucas! Both those fellows out there are wearin' guns! Judson and Barrett!" Pa ran out.
I went out to watch the gunfight. I couldn’t stay in there while Micah was trying to get himself killed. I knew Pa wouldn’t approve, but he was too busy to pay me much mind at the moment. He grabbed his rifle and readied it for action. He wanted to make sure this gunfight was fought legally.
My heart beat hard as I watched Micah and Barrett face each other. I prayed silently that Micah would win.
I watched the fight. It happened so fast it was a blur. I don’t really remember who fired first and what. All I remember is that Barrett was dead and Micah was alive.
My mind was in a fog, but I saw the badge pinned on Micah and I felt so very proud. Micah looked over toward me and I ran toward him. We embraced. “Thank God you’re alright!” I cried.
Micah patted the top of my head. “I best get my prisoner to jail,” Micah declared as he moved away from me and lifted Judson roughly by the arm. “Judson, I arrest you on charges of stage hold up and murder. You’ll hang for this!”
I can’t tell you what I was feeling afterwards. I remember Pa putting a hand under my elbow. “Let’s go home,” Pa said. “I need to be home.” In nodded. The truth was, so did I.
Our ride home was quiet. I had a lot to think about. When we got home, Pa told me to get ready for bed while he bedded down the stock. I undressed and got into bed. I couldn’t sleep though. I stood up and walked to the window. Looking out, I thought on the events of today and allowed my tears to fall.
I heard the door open but didn’t turn to look at Pa. I heard his footsteps behind me. Then I felt one hand drop on my right shoulder, and the other on my left shoulder. We were silent. “It’s been a…long day.” Pa finally said.
I nodded, not trusting my voice, but I had to let Pa know, “I’m glad he’s okay.” Pa said nothing. “He is, ain’t he, Pa?”
Pa nodded. “He is, son. He’s okay.”
“Pa? Do you think he’ll be mad at me for what I said earlier? I mean, I was really disrespectful when I called him a fool. Do you think, if we go into town tomorrow, he’ll accept my apology?
“Mark, I think Micah knew exactly what you were trying to do. You were telling him what I wanted to say. Though I did raise you to respect your elders.” Pa raised his eyebrows at me and gave me ‘that’ look.
“Pa, Micah’s drinking, does a man ever really stop, once he’s started?”
“Mark, with friends like us, he’ll put the bottle away. I know it shamed him for you to see him that way, but he let his pride get the better of him. He started feeling sorry for himself. But with things being back to the way they were… We’ll go into town tomorrow and not make mention of his drinking, unless he brings it up. Oh, and you will apologize to Micah for your impertinence, and if he asks if I punished you, well, you can tell him that I tanned your britches.”
The next day, we rode into town. Pa cleared his throat. “You have school Monday, huh?”
“If you say so,” I answered smartly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Pa growled.
“I mean, I’d choose not to go to school if allowed to.”
“You’re not,” Pa answered. “This…uh…doesn’t have anything to do with a certain essay you were supposed to write over the break, does it?”
Without thinking I asked, “What essay?”
“The essay you were to write before Mr. Griswald returns as your teacher on Monday.” I turned and looked at Pa. He had an eyebrow raised as he looked at me.
“Oh.” I sighed. “You knew about that.”
“Mm hm,” Pa answered.
“How…did you know about that?” I asked.
“I uh…saw Miss Pritchard in the store yesterday. She told me she hoped you had your essay done.”
I shook my head. “She’s such a busy body!”
“Mark!” Pa reprimanded me.
“Sorry, Pa.” I sighed. “Truth is, I kind of haven’t started it yet.”
“Oh.” The way he said it, it sounded like I was just about to start it. “Well, it’s Saturday morning. Seems instead of going over to Freddie’s this afternoon, you’ll be spending your time at home working on your essay. When we get to Micah’s, you just get yourself some paper and pencil. You can work on it, while he and I write out the report on what happened yesterday and then walk the town.”
“I don’t even know what to write about, Pa,” I groaned.
“Why not start with the ending paragraph?” Pa asked. “Sometimes writing the last paragraph gives you a goal to shoot for.”
“Or I could just explain to Mr. Griswald that we’ve had so much going on that-“ I started. I heard Pa clear his throat as we walked into Micah’s office “On second thought, maybe I will write the ending paragraph.
Micah went to run errands as I sat down to work. Pa started to go with me, but when he saw me pick up a pile of Wanted Posters to look at, he picked up the newspaper. “On second thought, Micah, I reckon I’ll stay right here and uh…” Pa opened Micah’s drawer and took out some paper and a pencil. He handed them to me with that parental look in his eye. “…keep Mark company.”
By the time Micah got back, I had a pretty good start on my ending paragraph. I was actually pretty proud of myself as I read:
"When people take the right to vote for granted, or when they leave it up to the other fellow to see that they get good government, their gonna get what they deserve! Maybe bad government!"
"Well that sounds fine son except how many times have I told you to say going to and not gonna?" Pa lectured me.
I groaned. I knew Mr. Griswald wouldn’t approve of it either, but I reckon I was just in one of those moods. "Aw but Pa...it means the same thing!”
"Well I guess you’re right. I ain't gonna argue about it,” Pa replied.
I suddenly looked at Pa as I cocked my head to one side. "Ain't?! Pa that's worse then gonna!” Pa looked at Micah and rolled his eyes. Then he picked up my hat and plopped it on my head.
It sure was good to have our office back!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Day of Reckoning
around The McCain Ranch