Billy was whispering in my ear as Miss Adams went over our History tests from yesterday. “Hey Mark, you wanta go fishing after school?”
I turned and looked at him. “Yeah! I’ll run in town to meet my Pa, but I’m sure he’ll let me. I-“
“Mr. McCain?” Miss Adams called out. I slowly turned around in my seat. “Mark,” Miss Adams crossed her arms and walked to me. “With the grade you made, I don’t think you can afford to be talking.”
I looked down at the D+ on my paper and swallowed. Then I looked at Billy and shook my head. Pa would be asking what I made, and when I told him all my fishing plans would go out the window. “Yes ma’am.”
I listened as she continued over the history test. When she was finished, she sat her chalk down and leaned against the front of her desk. “And now class, before I dismiss you I’ll have to tell you some sad news.”
Everyone in the classroom straightened up and leaned forward. Miss Adams’ face held a very sad look, and she suddenly looked as if she were about to cry. Her suddenly wet eyes looked into the eyes of each child in the room. She locked eyes with me and smiled. Even though I was a pest, she still cared very much for me. She had told me once that she saw it as a challenge to teach me, and that made her job that much more exciting.
“I am leaving North Fork.” She said it as simply as that, but there was nothing simple about what she was saying. There were gasps heard all over the room.
“No!” I cried and shook my head. “You can’t leave!”
A tear slipped from Miss Adams’ eye as she bit her lip to keep from crying. “Please, don’t make this harder then it already is.” Miss Adams lowered her head. “I’ve been teaching in this school now for five years, and I’ve grown to love it very much. But I’ve grown to love something else – or should I say someone else too. He is a horse rancher, and he’s leaving for Sacramento next week. He’s asked me to marry him.”
I suddenly wanted to know who this man was so I could go to him and plead for him not to go. There was plenty of land around here. How could he take her away from us like this? Tears filled my own eyes, but I fought them back. “Friday will be your last day of school until a new teacher is hired. The school board is currently looking to fill my position. Class dismissed.”
I stared at Miss Adams as she turned and sat down at her desk. Then I watched as the children slowly exited the room. I thought on what she had just revealed. If the school board was currently looking to fill the position, then…that meant my Pa knew! He knew, but never said a word about it!
I just sat at my desk staring down at my book, well after the other kids left. “Mark!” Miss Adams stood up and came over to me. “Why are you still here? You’re usually one of the first one’s to flee my classroom.”
I swallowed. “I don’t want you to go, Miss Adams,” I stated. Her eyebrows rose as she just silently stared at me. I looked down at my books. “I…I want you to stay here.”
She nodded and patted my hand. “I know you do, Mark; and I don’t want to leave. But-“
I began shaking my head rapidly. “Then don’t!” I ordered. “Stay right here in North Fork. Your husband can ranch right here in North Fork and-“ I started.
But Miss Adams was shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Mark. Being an adult isn’t quite that simple. You have to make tough decisions and do what’s best for you and those you love.” She laid a hand on my cheek as tears slipped out of her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. “And this is what’s best for us. I know you don’t understand, but some day you will.” She sighed. “Even if I stayed, I couldn’t teach anymore.”
“Why not?” I cried.
“Because married women don’t teach. We stay at home and tend the home. That’s where I belong, at my husband’s side.” Miss Adams tried to smile, but didn’t quite succeed.
“Well, you’ve fought for women’s rights! You talk about equal rights for women and-“ I started.
Miss Adams shook her head. “And I believe in that. This town isn’t quite ready for a woman like me, Mark. Oh, it’s no one’s fault really.”
I hung my head. “But I want you to stay-“
“Mark!” Pa called from the back. I turned to see Pa with his hat in his hand. Pa stopped and stared at us. Miss Adams stood and turned from my Pa as she furiously wiped at her eyes. Pa came into the classroom and walked up to me. He stood behind Miss Adams as she still had her back turned. “I’m sorry this was so hard for you, Miss Adams.”
Miss Adams turned around and smiled. Her eyes were now dry and she really did look happy. “I’m getting married, Mr. McCain. I’m in love, and I know we will be really happy.” She turned her attention back to me. “Mark, you will learn as you get older many, many things. One of the things you will learn is that sometimes you have to leave one life you are happy in to embark on a whole new sort of happiness.” She reached out and wiped a tear off my cheek with her thumb. “That’s what I’m doing.”
I stared at her as she turned and sat down at her desk. That’s all that would be said on the matter, and I wouldn’t be able to change her mind about leaving. Pa put his hand gently under my arm and stood me up. “Come on, son.”
I picked up my books and put the strap around them. I flipped the books over my shoulder as I turned and looked at Miss Adams again. I stood and watched her as she worked on the lessons for tomorrow. Pa put his arm around my shoulders and turned me toward the door. “Come on, son,” he said again.
I slowly walked out to my horse. I untied Blue Boy and pulled him along behind me as Pa and I walked back to town silently. Pa was leaving me in my own thoughts for now, I knew. “Let’s go get a piece of pie at the hotel,” Pa said softly.
As we sat down at the table, I allowed a sigh to escape deep inside me. Pa laid a hand on mine. “I’m sorry son.”
“You knew,” I suddenly stated bitterly. “You knew and…and you didn’t tell me!” I was suddenly becoming angry at Pa for keeping this secret from me.
“Mark, don’t allow your voice to go any higher.” He stopped to tell the waiter what we wanted. “I know you are angry with me, and I’m sorry.” I just stared down at the table cloth. I was twelve years old and too old to be acting like a child, but Miss Adams was so special to me for so many reasons, and I felt betrayed. “Mark?” Pa’s voice held sharpness in it so I looked up into his eyes.
“Mark, Miss Adams asked us on the school board not to tell you kids. She wanted to be the one to break the news to you.” Pa put a hand around my neck and smiled. “So don’t be angry with me, son. I was only doing what she wanted.”
“I understand,” I said as I lowered my eyes. “But why do they have to leave? Miss Adams isn’t the type that submits to her husband like a child submits to his folks. She believes marriage is a partnership and that they both are equals and-“
Pa held up his hand. “I think you are talking about something you don’t understand, son. You make men like me sound like barbarians.” Pa thanked the waiter as he set the pie in front of us. “Son, you remember when we settled here…here in North Fork, New Mexico Territory, how I was fulfilling a dream. It wasn’t a dream that could have ever come true in Oklahoma or Wyoming, or Texas…any other place we’ve tried to settle. But it’s a dream that would only come true right here in New Mexico.”
I nodded, remembering Pa talking about the good cattle country of New Mexico. “Well Mark, it’s the same with Miss Adams’ fiancé. I’ve talked to him, and he’s told me of his dream of settling in California. Miss Adams understands his dream also, and it’ll take a strong, courageous woman to settle with him and work the horses with him. I think Miss Adams is ready for that.”
I toyed with my pie, sticking my fork threw it as Pa spoke. It was becoming a big blob on my plate. “Yeah, I guess I understand,” I sighed. “Only, I wish she didn’t have to leave! We’ll never have a finer school teacher as Miss Adams.”
“Mark, don’t play with your pie, son!” The sharpness in Pa’s voice had returned. “And don’t you worry about being out of school for too long. The school board made it’s decision just this afternoon, and we sent a telegram asking him to accept the job.”
“Him?” I suddenly looked up at Pa. “Him?”
Pa nodded. “Him.” He pointed to my plate. “Now, finish your pie so we can get over to Micah’s. He’s got something to talk to me about.” I stuffed the pie in my mouth, but slowed down when I saw Pa’s frown.
As we walked out the hotel door, Pa put his arm around me. “You know son, some days you are almost a young man; and others…well…I know I should be upset when you act immaturely, but it just let’s me feel I can hold on to my boy for a while longer.” He smiled down at me and patted my shoulder. “Let’s go.”
When we walked into Micah’s office, Micah stood up and poured a cup of coffee for Pa. Pa shook his head. “I expected you here earlier, Lucas Boy.”
Pa nodded. “I know, but Miss Adams made her announcement this afternoon, so I had to pacify my son at the hotel.”
“Oh, and you didn’t think I would need the same treatment?” Micah frowned. “I could have used some pie!”
“What’s wrong with you?” Pa asked gruffly as we smiled at each other.
“Mrs. Caruthers died this afternoon.” Micah turned from the window and looked at us.
“Oh, well that’s really no big surprise. She’s been pretty ill now for a couple weeks and doc said she could go anytime.” Pa stated.
“Yes.” Micah took another long drink of his coffee. “Well, I have something to tell you. I suppose you want Mark to stay and hear it too?”
I turned and looked at Pa. “You know I do, Micah.”
Micah nodded. “Alright.” Micah sat his coffee down and came over to where we were standing. “She called me to her bedside while she made her dying request.” I watched Pa as Micah spoke. He raised his eyebrows, which told Micah to get on with it. “She said you would die seven days after she did.”
“What?” Pa suddenly shouted.
“She said-“ Micah started, but Pa held up his hand and shook his head. “I heard you the first time, Micah.” He looked over at me.
Pa sat down in a chair and just stared at Micah. “Pa-“ I started worriedly. I didn’t like anybody saying a thing like that about my Pa. I was suddenly worried.
Pa held up his hand to stop me. “She said I’d die seven days after she did, huh?” Pa repeated Micah’s words.
I stood there silently as Pa tossed this around in his head. Pa reminded us that he was in his rights as a deputy. Micah said he had told her that. “What did she say?” I suddenly wanted to know. I stood beside Micah. Micah was sitting on the desk so we were eye-to-eye. He told me that Mrs. Caruthers wanted the person who killed her husband dead – regardless of the reason.
But that person just happened to be my Pa!
“Well, she must be plum out of her head! She’s gone! How could she do anything?” I asked Micah then. I was trying to understand this as much as Pa was. I seriously needed to know how Mrs. Caruthers could kill my Pa from her grave.
The town lawyer came in then and told Pa he needed a town meeting called for the reading of Mrs. Caruthers’ will. He said that my Pa’s name was mentioned in the Will. I wanted to come – had to come! There was no place I’d rather be. I asked Pa if I could go to that meeting. “Look son, what concerns me concerns you,” he stated as he put his hand on my shoulder.
Now I had two things to think about. Pa sat me down to do my homework while he started to announce the town meeting. He stopped at the door and walked back in. “Oh, what did you make on your test?”
I suddenly looked up from unstrapping my books. “Oh…You might want to save that for later.”
Pa raised his eyebrow at me and gave me a look that told me we would talk about it later for sure. I sighed. Now I had three things to worry about.
Pa came back a couple hours later. He stuck his head in the door and told me we needed to get over to the café to eat before the meeting. He would have skipped supper if it wasn’t for me. My Pa was always thinking about me – no matter what. I know, because every decision he made had me right in the middle of it. He said that’s because I was the most important thing in this whole world.
“Pa, is she really gonna kill you?” I asked as I cut my chicken fried steak.
Pa suddenly sat his coffee down with a clink. “Mark, just eat.”
“But Pa, I-“ I started.
I didn’t say another word. I knew Pa was upset about what he called “nonsense.” I had three things to worry about, but the biggest worry was my Pa.
Then we walked over to the church. Pa kept a secure arm around me as we walked. When we got inside, the church was packed full. Pa made his way to the front. Milly stood up and hurried up to us. “Lucas, is what Micah says true?”
Pa looked down at me then over at Micah. He flashed Micah a dirty look. “No Milly, I’m not gonna die. My son needs me.” He patted my head and smiled down at me. My heart suddenly swelled. I loved hearing Pa say things like that – it made me feel somewhat better.
“But Lucas-“ Milly started. Pa put a hand on her shoulder and smiled into her eyes.
“What am I gonna do with the three of you?” he asked as he rubbed his thumb against her cheek. “Now Mark, you sit down here with Miss Milly and-“
“No, I want to sit with you!” I grabbed his arm.
Pa smiled down at me. He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me toward the chair. Then he pushed me down into it. “I want you to stay right there, son. I’m gonna be up there, and you can keep a close eye on me from there. Okay?” He smiled at me.
I smiled back. Pa knew how much I loved him and how protective I was. “Okay.”
Now, I won’t tell you about what happened in the church. My Pa told you all about it, and I really don’t want to go into that again. But as I sat there listening to the reading of the Will, I became more and more afraid. I looked at my Pa several times during the reading. Then when the attorney stated that she was leaving $100,000.00 to the town to be divided equally among us, I grew excited. I turned to Miss Milly. “Did you hear that?” I asked excitedly.
But she turned to me and shushed me. She didn’t seem too pleased, and neither did Micah or my Pa. I obeyed Miss Milly and turned to back to the front. Pa put a finger to his lips, ordering me to be quiet.
But there was more to the will, and it was those words that put fear in my heart. In order for the town to get this money, my father would have to die within the next seven days. I hardly heard Miss Milly as she stood up to protest. I hardly heard anything being said. Someone was going to go after my Pa! There was a lot of money at stake, and someone would want it! “Oh…no!” I cried as I listened to the panic around me. Someone was gonna kill my Pa!
After the meeting, I still felt in a daze. Pa didn’t think anything would happen, but I wasn’t so sure. Milly gave me the key to the back door of her store and sent me over for candy. The minute I walked outside, Freddie ran up to me. “Mark! Is your Pa really gonna die in the next seven days?”
I turned and stared at my friend. “No!” I shouted. “It’s not true!” Then I narrowed my eyes at him. “How did you find out anyhow?”
“Some of us boys were listening at the door. It sure sounds like someone’s gonna kill your Pa!”
I turned around. “Freddie, how would you feel if I said those things about your Pa?”
“Why, I’d give you a knuckled sandwich!” Freddie declared.
“Well, you are really close to getting one of your own!” I shouted at him.
“But you must be scared!” Freddie stated as he walked beside me. “I mean, after all, your Pa-“
I suddenly turned around and gave him a hard shove. Freddie gave me a hard shove back. “Now, let me be!” I shouted.
But he wasn’t going to let me be. All my worries had built up inside me all afternoon. First the news about Miss Adams leaving, then my Pa…I just couldn’t take it anymore. I punched Freddie right in the nose. “Mark!” Pa suddenly shouted as he hurried up to us. He helped Freddie up and looked at his nose. “You okay boy?”
Freddie nodded as he stared at me. “Well Mark?” Pa just looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
“Pa, he was saying mean things about you!” I stated. “He said someone gonna kill ya!”
“That’s what I heard! I heard that you’re gonna die in-“ I suddenly hurried toward him. Pa grabbed me and held me close to him.
“Freddie, that’s enough!” Mr. Toomey declared as he hurried up to us. “Apologize to him this instant!”
“Sorry,” Freddie mumbled.
I didn’t say anything. Pa grabbed my arm. “Mark?” I looked up at Pa and saw the sternness on his face.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. Pa’s grip tightened on my arm in warning. I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry I punched you.”
“Let’s go home.” As we rode home, we were both silent. I didn’t know what to think, except that I only wanted to go to bed when I got home.
The way was dark – there was no moon tonight. I stayed beside Pa and he kept a hand on Blue Boy’s reins as well as Razors. He didn’t like riding in total darkness like this, but I expect that he wanted to get home so we could talk.
After we pulled into the yard, Pa told me he’d take care of the horses – I was to get ready for bed. I said a quiet yes sir as I made my way to the house. By the time Pa came into the bedroom, I was in bed with the light out. “Mark?” Pa called in the darkness. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to talk tonight. “I know you aren’t asleep, son.” Pa sat down on the side of the bed.
I sat up in bed and wiped at my eyes. I hadn’t realized I was crying until just now. “Pa? Are you gonna-“ I swallowed as I sighed.
Pa lit the lamp. Then he put a hand on my shoulder and looked sternly into my eyes. “Son, I’m gonna be fine.”
“But, she wouldn’t have said it on her death bed if she didn’t mean it. I-“
Pa shook his head at me. “Son, I don’t want you to worry yourself over this. I think you got a sample tonight as to what worry can do to you and-“
I shot my head up. “That was a sample tonight! And if Freddie starts in on me tomorrow, I’ll punch him in the nose again!”
“Mark!” Pa hollered. There was anger in his voice. “Son, you have to rise above that. This isn’t the first time Freddie’s said things like that.”
I nodded. I remembered a couple years ago when my Pa was going to be a witness in a trial. Freddie had repeated his Pa’s words that Pa would be bushwhacked on his way there. “But there was a man who tried to kill ya then.”
Pa lowered his head until his eyes were only mere inches from mine. “But he didn’t.”
I lowered my head, knowing he was right. I needed to have faith. Then I looked back into his eyes and smiled. “Goodnight, Pa.”
“Wow there, boy! Not so fast.” Pa grabbed a hold of my arm to keep me sitting up. “Now, about the fighting, I’ll forget about it this time. But if I hear that you started fighting with Freddie again this week, you will be punished. Now, about that test.”
I groaned as Pa held out his hand. I stood and crossed the room to my pants. I dug the folded test out of my pocket and handed it to him. Pa opened it and I watched as a frown crossed his face. “Mm hm.” He nodded. “Well, I suppose you know that next week you will be continuing your history studies. At the end of next week, I will personally give you another test and the grade better be much different.”
I sighed. Pa’s test would be double hard – they always were! Pa blew out the lantern. “Goodnight, son.”
I got up the next morning. Pa was hitching up the team to the wagon. “We going into town?” I asked him. Pa nodded, reminding me that they were looking at the money at the bank. “Micah will be there then right?” I asked anxiously.
Pa nodded. “Then you won’t be alone?” I asked.
Pa sighed. “Son, I can’t tell you not to worry, but I’m going to ask you not to. Worry does us no good whatsoever.”
I nodded knowing he was right.
Pa dropped me off at school. “When school let’s out, just come over to the bank. I’m sure I’ll still be there.”
I started to walk inside, but the kids were all gathered in a huddle. I hurried up to them. “Mark, we’re planning a surprise party Friday evening here in town. Eddie said he’d close down the restaurant so we can have it in there.’
I smiled. “Oh boy! I can’t wait to tell my Pa.”
“Can he make the ice cream?” Kevin asked.
“Sure! You can count on it!” I smiled. I was suddenly excited as we started making plans for the party.
That day just flew by. The girls giggled and the boys seemed to get into trouble for talking too much. I ended up in the corner a couple times that day. But I gladly went, knowing there were few more chances to ever be punished by Miss Adams.
When school let out, Freddie told me the boys were going swimming. “I can’t,” I stated. “I have to meet my Pa at the bank. They’re checking that money today.”
“You’re really worried about your Pa, aren’t you?” Freddie suddenly asked. I nodded. “I’m sorry about last night. I was acting immature again. Pa gave me a long lecture last night, followed by a whippin’.”
I walked toward town. “Don’t you think you deserved it?”
“I did,” Freddie stated. “I deserved this too.” He pointed to his bruised nose.
I turned and looked at him, smiling a bit. “Yeah, but my Pa was sure sore with me last night. He told me if I ever punched you again that I’d get punished.”
“He don’t like you to fight?” Freddie asked suddenly.
I shrugged. “Well, he said that if someone starts something to fight back, but if I can walk away with dignity, I’m to walk away. He thinks I should have walked away last night.”
Freddie and I suddenly stopped when we saw the crowd outside the bank. “Wow, they must still be in there!” Freddie stated.
“Yeah!” I said as I stared at all the people. “I’ll see you later, Freddie.” I squeezed my way through the crowd until I got up close to the door. Then I waited. I waited quite awhile before the door finally opened.
Pa hurried out and put his arm around me. “Let’s go, son,” Pa said.
But before we took two steps away from the bank, Miss Milly hurried up to Pa. “Lucas, you’re taking this too lightly!” she insisted.
I didn’t like how upset Miss Milly was. She really looked worried! “What’s the matter?” I asked.
Pa patted his hand on my back, but kept his arm firmly around me. “Nothing Mark.”
It wasn’t just Miss Milly that was upset. Micah wanted to lock Pa up in jail where he’d be safe. But Pa thought he’d be safe at the ranch, and he could trust these people. “What about Mark?” Milly asked.
“Well Milly, Mark is my responsibility.” Then he hurried me away.
Pa walked to the wagon, his arm staying firmly around me the whole time. I looked up at him as we walked. “Pa?”
“Not now, son,” Pa answered.
“Pa, I don’t see Micah that worried often, but he’s really worried!” I stated.
“He worried for the same reason that you are,” Pa answered.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Love. You, Milly, and Micah all love me and don’t want to see me threatened; so you worry.” Pa helped me up into the seat. Then he sat down and we started down the road towards home.
I was quiet for a few minutes, but I couldn’t keep quiet long. “Pa, what if-“
Pa let a heavy sigh escape him. “Mark, it’ll all be over in 6 days. Let’s just not talk about it until then.” The sternness in his voice told me he didn’t want to discuss it anymore.
I sat quietly as we rode for home. “Oh, Pa”
“What?” Pa asked in an irritated voice.
“Nothing,” I answered shortly.
Pa suddenly turned his head and looked me up and down. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to be so short with you. “If it’s not about the Caruthers mess, I’ll listen.”
“It’s about Miss Adams.”
“Oh,” Pa groaned.
“No, it’s nothing bad. It’s just…the kids at school are throwing her a surprise party Friday evening. I told them you’d make the ice cream.”
“You did what?” Pa asked suddenly.
“I…told them…I guess I should have checked with you first.”
Pa shook his head. “Like I said yesterday, I know I should be furious at your boy-like actions, but I’m not. I want to hold on to my boy.” Pa suddenly laughed. I think he laughed because he had something to worry about that wasn’t life threatening, and he loved it. “Okay son, I’ll be happy to do that. And, I’m making a gift for the party. All the kids are chipping in.” Pa looked down at me.
“You mean you already knew about the surprise party?”
Pa nodded. “Toomey asked me to make a special gift for them. I’m making a frame, and all the kids are signing it.”
“Oh boy!” I shouted.
That night, I had trouble getting to sleep as I tossed and turned worrying about Pa. Pa came in a couple times. The first time he brought me some warm milk, but it just made me tired and restless. The second time he came in I was standing at the window looking out. Pa gently took my by the arm and led me back over to the bed. “Son, I know you’re worried, but you have school tomorrow. All you can do is pray.”
I did. I prayed until I went to sleep. The next morning, Pa announced I had to leave as he brought my saddled horse around for me to climb on. I told him that maybe I should stay around the ranch, but Pa firmly told me that I should get to school with a firm smack on the backside. It was only Wednesday.
On Thursday, my worries didn’t grow any better. With each passing day, my anxiety seemed to increase. Pa asked me why I was suddenly so nervous, but I only shook my head. He would die seven days after she did, and today was three days after the reading of the will. Each passing day meant Pa’s day of doom was approaching. And each passing day meant we had that less time with Miss Adams.
Thursday at school, I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I smiled as Miss Adams told me I had to stay in at afternoon recess. She came to sit by me. “Mark, I’ve taught you for three years now, and you are one of my favorite students. You know that. I also know that you are having trouble accepting my leaving.”
I lowered my head. “I’m sorry, Miss Adams. I just have so much going on this week. And yes, I’m very saddened you are leaving. First Miss Hattie left, and now you.”
Miss Adams patted my hand and smiled sorrowfully. She said no more about it. I knew this was something I’d have to work through on my own.
That evening, I went straight to my room. Pa was in the barn doing the chores. I told him I had extra homework, which wasn’t really a lie. He allowed that I could sit in my room and work on my homework until supper time. I was actually working on something special, but I couldn’t tell Pa about it. I wanted it to be a surprise to him as much as it would be to Miss Adams.
The next morning, Pa announced he was going into town. It was Friday – day 4. I didn’t like the idea of him going into town alone, but he simply lectured me about the ostrich that tried to hide in the sand so no one would hurt him. I knew my Pa – he was very brave, and nothing would scare him. He promised me he’d be safe.
I smiled as I rode away. Somehow, I believed him. But as I rode toward school, I became worried. I had this feeling…it was a horrible feeling down in my gut…that something was terribly wrong with my Pa. I wanted to turn around, but I remembered Pa’s words – I had to be brave to. I had to go to school.
The children were all moping around school when we got there. Miss Adams seemed preoccupied. The morning passed very slowly. I saw Miss Adams just watching us at times, smiling and frowning at the same time. A couple times, I even saw her wipe a tear from her eye. She lifted her head once and looked straight at me, smiling.
I slowly walked outside at lunch and sat down next to Kevin. “Here comes your Pa,” he announced.
I dropped my sandwich and ran to jump into his arms. “Pa!” I cried. Pa welcomed me with open arms and hugged me close.
Then he pulled me back. “It’s all over, Mark,” he stated as he brushed my hair back. “You don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
“What?” I asked.
Pa groaned as he slid me back to the ground. “You’re getting too heavy to lift anymore, boy!” he declared. “Mrs. Caruthers hired a man to kill me. He showed up at the ranch this morning and we rode into town together. Then he forced me into a gunfight.”
“He’s dead?” I asked. Pa nodded. “But we still have three days. Someone else could.”
Pa shook his head and smiled. “It’s over, son.”
I suddenly cocked my head to one side. “You were worried.” It wasn’t a question. I didn’t need to ask the question – I knew. His face was filled with relief.”
Pa nodded. “Of course I was. But I was also very aware of what was going on around me. I picked up on it right away.”
The bell was ringing. I groaned. “I didn’t even get to eat!” Pa patted my head and waved at me. “We’ll eat early,” he called. “Seems we got some business to take care of tonight!”
The kids all ran out of the school when we were dismissed. Miss Adams seemed a little surprised that we didn’t say goodbye, but I’m pretty sure she knew we were planning something. We ran into town. Pa had the frame ready and we all began signing it. “Hey, Miss Adam’s coming!” someone yelled.
“Take it away!” I suddenly ordered. “Take it to the hotel and sign it there!”
I started to run after them, but Pa grabbed me by the neck and pulled me by the horses they were tied up by the church. He pointed to the stage where something was being carried on. “What’s that?” I asked.
“That money,” Pa answered. “The money that’s caused all these problems is going away.” He smiled at me.
I smiled back. “I’m sure glad to see it go!” He still had his arm around me as we smiled each other and came to join the others. Micah was sending that money away because he determined it was indeed stolen money. Even John Hamilton was glad to see it go.
But I had been thinking all afternoon, and I had something to say before Ma and me closed this chapter forever. "Well, when you got a lot of fiends, I mean like Pa has here in North Fork. Well...there just isn't that much money in the world."
Pa gave me a hard smack on the backside, which sent me down the road. I reckon that was his way of telling me I was getting pretty wise. I smiled at him and ran ahead to Micah. “Mark, are you glad it’s over?”
“Yes! Very glad!” I stated as we walked toward the hotel. “You coming to the party?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Micah declared.
“Anywhere there’s cake, Micah and Mark will be there,” Pa told Milly loud enough for us to hear.
I turned. “Well, I don’t ever see you turning down opportunity for cake either!”
“Oh, you!” Pa suddenly ran toward me and I took off for the hotel, but he was still faster then me and suddenly reached out and grabbed me, playfully smacking me on the back side again. Then he picked me up and carried me into the hotel.
“Got that ice for me, Eddie?” Pa shouted.
Eddie pointed to large buckets by the wall. It would take awhile for the ice cream to be ready!
I ran around helping the kids with decorations. Miss Milly shook her head at us and wrinkled her nose when we didn’t do something the way she thought we should. I guess she was in charge of the decorations!
Pa came in then and told her she sure had a way with making up a party. Miss Milly stated that she had thrown lots of parties when she was younger. Pa just raised an eyebrow at her and said they’d need to talk more on that later. That made Miss Milly giggle. That made me roll my eyes and shrug my shoulders at the others.
Eddie and the other restaurant workers brought out the cakes, cookies, and other refreshments. He also brought a big kettle of soup so we could all eat before the guests arrived.
Everyone was there by 7:30, just like we had planned. “Okay, Pa. Go get Miss Adams!” We all gathered in the back room and waited for Pa to come back with the signal.
Suddenly we heard the door open and footsteps come across the floor. “Well, I could have sworn I left him right here!” Pa shouted.
“Surprise!” We all jumped out and shouted. Miss Adams threw a hand to her chest, startled at the sudden shouting. But suddenly, she threw her hands to her eyes and began crying.
“Now, this is a no crying party!” Pa exclaimed as he handed her a clean kerchief.
“Well, I can cry if I want to, Lucas!” She declared.
We visited and ate for quite awhile. When everyone was full on desserts, the party started winding down. It was 9:30, and it was a very rare occasion when I stayed up this late. So even I was getting tired.
I suddenly stood up and announced, “It’s about time for this party to end. I’m fearing my Pa’s about to announce it’s my bedtime and send me on up to the hotel room. And I don’t want Miss Adams to give me any sentences to write or stick me in a corner, so I better do this before it’s too late.”
I came to stand in front of the crowd that gathered and slowly took a piece of paper from my pocket. Clearing my throat, I said: “Miss Adams has made us write many an essay through the years. We’ve had to write essays on mothers, fathers, and even on why we shouldn’t smoke corn silk.” Some of the kids laughed as they remembered us getting in trouble for the event.
“And though we complained…a lot…I for one will be the first to admit that everything she had me do was for a purpose. Miss Adams took time out of her busy schedule – away from the classroom – to tutor me when Pa was too busy to help. She has given me motherly advice when I needed it. She has taught me in Sunday School about important lessons from the Bible. But most importantly, she has loved us.
“I know I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble with her, but I know she punished me because…” I suddenly stopped. My voice cracked. Pa reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. His touch gave me the strength I needed to go on. “She punished me because she loves me. Miss Adams, this is for you.”
By Mark McCain
She’s more then a person who stands in front of me everyday, spouting off history facts. She’s more then a person who draws figures on the board, asking me to learn what they mean. She’s more then a person demanding complete cooperation less you get the switch or some other horrible punishment. She’s my teacher.
Anytime I was sick, she would lovingly take her personal time to deliver my assignments to me. She would sit at my bedside and talk to me softly, like a mother would do. She wiped the sweat from my forehead, and once she even stayed with me when I had the flu so Pa could do his chores. She’s my teacher.
When I did wrong, she didn’t just punish me. She told me why I had done wrong and how I had hurt her and other people by doing it. She never lost her patients. She never hit me. She never punished me unfairly. She’s my teacher.
But she was more then a teacher. She was like a mother to me, talking to me about difficult times in my life; listening to me when I didn’t understand something Pa did or didn’t do, and explaining it to me in a way only a woman can. She hugged me when I hurt and laughed with me when I laughed. She was my teacher.
But now she’s come to a fork in the road – one that I know she stopped at for a long time as she struggled with the right decision. And just as she’s always taught me to make the right decision, even when it hurts, she did the same. I will smile as she rides away for the last time. I will always hold her in my heart. And I will send her away with a blessing.
She’s not just my teacher – she’s my friend.”
I lifted my eyes from the paper and scanned the crowd. Many were crying. Even some of the older boys were wiping at their eyes. I locked eyes with Miss Adams. She had tears streaming down her face as she came forward and threw her arms around me. “Oh Mark, that was beautiful!”
“It’s yours.” I started to hand it to her.
“No,” she asked for a pen. Eddie brought her one and she wrote at the top “A+.” Then she wrote something else on it, folded it, and pressed it into my hand. She smiled at me. “Well,” she said as she wiped her eyes and turned around to face the group. “I have to get up very early in the morning. My fiancé and I will be leaving at first light. So I have to say goodnight.”
“Just a minute!” Freddie called. He came forward with the frame Pa had made. “Like Mark, I too was one of your problem pupils. But I also know that you punished out of love. Except, I got lots of whippings at home after you got done with me!” There was laughter in the room. “But, well…here’s something to remember us by.” He handed her the frame.
She stared at it, then bent down and hugged Freddie. “What’s more, we will all be here in the morning to say goodbye.” Milly stated. “The children are all having a sleep over here at the hotel.”
“And there will be no tears!” I shouted over the noise.
Pa sent me upstairs shortly after that. Micah came up to make sure all us boys settled down to go to sleep. We whispered excitedly about the party, but Micah stepped into the room and frowned at us. “The next whisper I hear, I’ll be sending your father up!” he announced to the room. We all went to sleep after that.
The next morning, we were up before the sun. We were tired as we ate breakfast downstairs. Then quietly, we all gathered on the street to wave at Miss Adams as they drove past us. We all joined hands when we saw the wagon approaching. “Ready? One…two…three…” As loud as we could, we shouted:
“WE LOVE YOU, MISS ADAMS! GOOD LUCK! BYE!”
Then we all waved as she rode out of sight.
The crowd dispersed, but I walked down the street as I watched the wagon ride out of sight. I looked down at the folded letter in my hand and slowly opened it.
“Remember me with laughter.
Remember me with pride.
I’ll remember you long after,
Your memory I will not hide.”
I lifted my head and stared in the direction the wagon had disappeared. “Bye, Miss Adams,” I whispered as tears suddenly flowed freely down my cheeks.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I lifted my head and saw Pa’s smiling face looking down at me. “Let’s go fishing, son.”
I smiled as we walked toward the horses, tucking the essay into my pocket. Pa and I rode for home, ready to start a fresh, new day.
*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
around The McCain Ranch