The weather was beginning to turn again. I felt a crispiness in the air as I walked out to the barn one morning to do my chores. The day felt strange already. There was something uneasy in the air, and I could remember feeling that way before. More often than not, something worrisome or tragic had followed soon after.
I jumped when I heard the barn door open. Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “Wow there, boy! It’s only me!”
I closed my eyes and turned back around. “I…I’m sorry, Pa. I reckon I’m a bit jumpy today.”
Pa nodded and announced breakfast was ready. He took the milk pail from me and motioned for me to go in and eat. As I sat at the table eating, I still felt an odd feeling – like something wasn’t quite right. I shivered as Pa walked back into the cabin. I looked up at him and saw his eyes closely studying me. He poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. Then he filled his plate with eggs and bacon. “You uh…want to tell me what’s bothering you today, son?”
“Nothing,” I answered as I took another bite of eggs.
But that answer never satisfied my Pa’s concern . “Son?”
I sighed. “You know that feeling I get sometimes – that something’s about to happen?” Pa nodded. “Well…I’ve got it again.”
“Oh.” Pa took another sip of his coffee and went back to eating. I saw the doubt in his eyes.
“Pa, you know that when I get this feeling, it turns out to be right sometimes.”
“More often than not, it’s nothing,” Pa declared.
“No sir. More often then not, it’s something!” Pa raised an eyebrow and just stared at me. “Pa, they’re my feelings…my thoughts…nobody knows them better than me!”
“Alright, son. All you can do is say a prayer and be on your way.” I studied Pa, knowing he didn’t believe me. “You have five minutes, son.”
I got ready for school then walked outside. This morning, Pa followed me out and I didn’t have to wonder why. Pa studied me closely as I walked slowly to my horse. I stuck my foot in the stirrup, then paused. I turned my head around. “Pa, you gonna be home all day?”
Pa walked over to Blue Boy and began patting his neck. “I’ve got things to do in town later. When you’re done with school, I want you straight home. Do your chores and studies. Then I want you to…” I heard a bit of a moan escape Pa’s throat. “I want you to start supper.”
“The way you said it, it sounded like it was painful for you to tell me that.”
“Yeah…” Pa shook his head. “I’m thinking on the pains that will come later tonight.” I rolled my eyes as I jumped on my horse. “I’ll be late because I’m delivering the mare I sold. It’ll be dark before I get here. You keep the door closed and stay in the house. Don’t let anyone in you don’t know.”
I was getting close to fourteen, yet Pa still treated me like I was a little kid. But the older I got, I knew better then to argue with him. So without another word, I turned my horse and rode to school.
The dreadful feeling stayed with me all day. It stayed with me through recess, through all my morning lessons, and even after I left and sat out on a bench with Freddie eating my lunch. I tried to hurry up and eat. I wanted to go check on Pa, without Pa knowing I was checking on him, if that made any sense. So, after finishing my lunch, I waved goodbye to the boys and took off through town.
I saw Micah standing out on the porch looking out over the town. “Micah, you seen Pa today?”
“He just left here, son. Said he had a horse to deliver,” Micah answered.
“Oh. He’ll be gone for quite awhile I expect. I best get home.” I stopped and turned back toward Micah. “Uh…were there any…problems?”
Micah gave me a strange look. “Problems?”
“I just had this bad feeling that…” I stopped.
“Well, some murdered Richard’s brother up in Red Ring a couple days ago. He came in demanding I arrest your father because the man that did it looked just like him.”
“He looked like him?” My heart did begin pounding a little faster then.
“It wasn’t him – no worries, Mark. He had a mustache and a scar across his forehead. Mr. Richards knows it wasn’t your father.”
“What about that man? Is he wanted for murder?” I asked then.
Micah nodded. “Don’t worry, boy. I’m keeping a look out for him. “
“But my father! What if-“ I stopped when Micah held up his hands.
“Now, now, now Mark…Don’t go buying problems! Your father’s fine.”
“Yeah.” I bit my lip, trying to hold back the words in my heart. I was worried for my Pa. He was out there. Some man that looked like my Pa was close by – maybe even heading this way. If he found out that my Pa looked like him, he may even want to start trouble. I just had a bad feeling about this!
I walked out of the barn from feeding the animals. Looking up the road, I sighed and shook my head. I looked up at the sky and saw the moon shining. Pa should be here by now. I remembered his telling me to be inside by dark, so I hurried toward the house.
The stew was cooking on the stove. It didn’t smell too good – of course, my stew never did! I looked on the counter and realized I’d forgotten to put the potatoes in. I started to do so when I heard a horse approaching. I grabbed the plates and sat them on the table. I knew Pa would be dog-tired from his ride and would expect supper on the table when he walked inside.
I heard the door open. “Pa?” I turned as my smile slowly faded from my face. Two men stood in the doorway. One of them was almost the spitting image of my Pa…They looked so much alike that my heart stopped for a minute as I stared into those eyes.
The man stood as tall as my Pa and his body was even the same shape. His face was more scruffy, with a long mustache that hung down almost to the bottom of his chin, and a long, ugly star crawled across his forehead.
The eyes held evil, and his expression was mean. My Pa would never look like that! Then he spoke, and his voice sounded like barbed wire – all scratchy and purely evil. “K.C., check the barn!” his voice barked to the other man – a smaller man – standing beside him.
I watched as he pushed past me and headed for the bedroom. My heart was pounding and I felt myself beginning to shake as if it had suddenly grown very, very cold in the house. “Who are you?” I asked. I couldn’t keep the fear from my voice.
“Nevermind, kid,” Bantry answered as he opened the door to the bedroom and peered inside. This guy made me really nervous. I wanted to escape and go warn Pa not to come. “Stay where you are, boy!” Bantry demanded suddenly. I froze in my spot. He walked up to me and hovered over me. “Where’s McCain?”
I told him Pa wasn’t here. That wasn’t a good enough answer. I told him Pa was delivering a horse. Earl wanted to know if anyone else lived there. I shook his head no. Suddenly, Bantry heard footsteps on the porch. He turned toward it with his rifle. It was K.C.
“When’s he coming back?” Bantry asked me then. He threw down his rifle. I was scared of this man. I wasn’t only afraid of what he would do to me, but I was afraid for what he might do to my Pa. I just stared at the two outlaws and didn’t answer. “When’s he coming back? Don’t make me repeat it.”
"I don't know!" My voice was shaking. I wished there was something…anything I could do!
Bantry smelled the stew cooking. K.C. wanted to leave. I wanted him to leave before my Pa got there. The bad feeling in my gut had just grown much, much worse. I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do about this problem. While I thought on it, I heard K.C. say: “That wouldn’t be smart. That town Marshal knows you now.”
What had they done to Micah? Micah had promised me that very afternoon that he would protect us from this man! They must have shot him or…or…
“That mangy Marshal, forget about him!” I heard Bantry order his partner. “Put the horses in the barn. We don’t want to scare McCain when he comes home, do we?”
My heart leapt again. So, they WERE planning on being here when my Pa got home. What could I do? Oh, what could I do! I had to protect him somehow!
“Earl, what are you thinkin’ of?” K.C. suddenly yelled.
Bantry grabbed his partner. “Now K.C., you’ve been getting’ awful contrary lately and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”
Bantry ordered me to set some more places at the table – we’d be having company. “I don’t think there’s enough,” I answered. I wasn’t about to feed these two food that was meant for my Pa and me! I wasn’t going to give up without a fight!
Bantry grabbed me roughly by the shirt. “Where’s your old man keep his whisky?” His face was so close to mine I could smell his breath. I smelt alcohol. His breath reeked of other things as well. It almost made me sick!
I wouldn’t answer his questions. “Why did you come here?” I asked instead. I was so afraid he was going to kill my Pa!
“Where is it?” Bantry asked again.
I glared at him. I still couldn’t get over the resemblance between my Pa and Bantry. “You sure look like my pa, but that’s about all!” No matter, though, how much he looked like my Pa, that’s where the similarities stopped. He was NOTHING like my Pa. He had no heart!
“Where does he keep the whisky?”
“ If I tell you will you leave?" I asked. Any minute now, my Pa would be back. Was Bantry going to kill him?
Earl mocked me. “If I tell you will you leave?" When I wouldn't tell him he started looking for it himself breaking whatever was in his way. I didn’t want this man destroying our house, so I finally rushed to the cupboard where Pa the whiskey and gave it to Bantry. “That’s better,” Bantry stated. “Now next time I ask you a question, boy, you better answer. You understand?”
They made themselves right at home. I knew I was powerless to stop them. I just had to do as I was told. I had no gun…I was still a boy and I was out of ideas. Besides, Pa would want me to do as they said – to appease them until he got there. But that’s what worried me – his arrival. What would they do? What would Pa do?
Knowing I was in the middle, I knew I would be Pa’s number one priority – I always was.
I had to get them out of here! I just had to!
"There's only enough for Pa and me! Now you better leave before he comes home and finds out what you did! Or you'll really be sorry mister!"
“Well now, if you ain’t the spunkiest, yes sir! Real spunky kid.” Bantry slapped me on the cheek a few times. “But, I don’t like kids. Especially fresh ones. So now, you get that supper on the table or I’ll make you wish you never opened your yap to me.”
I was angry, to say the least. I threw Bantry’s hat in at him, letting him know I was an unwilling party. Bantry and K.C. just laughed as they drank my Pa’s whiskey and waited for him to get home.
Then I heard it – hoofbeats outside the house.. Bantry and K.C. heard it to. But they just sat at the table.
Now was my chance – it was now or never! I watched the men at the table as I slowly edged closer to the door. When I thought I had the chance, I quickly bolted toward the door, but Bantry went and blocked my way. “Pa!” I started to call. Bantry stuffed a hand over my mouth to keep me quiet. He shoved me behind the door.
When Pa opened the door, I’m sure he was surprised to find K.C. sitting at the table. “Who are you?” he asked.
Suddenly, Bantry jumped out from behind the door. He grabbed my Pa’s rifle as he held his own on me. “Well…” Bantry said.
“I’m sorry, Pa,” I declared. I really was sorry!
“It’s alright son. Stay out of the way,” Pa ordered. Regretfully, I knew I had no choice. I stepped out of the way. I was sorry I hadn’t be able to prevent this, to keep this from happening all along.
I felt so disappointed in myself! I had known all day that something terrible was going to happen. I worked for a solid thirty minutes to protect my father once the men arrived…and failed. And now…I knew my father was in grave danger, yet I had to stay out of the way.
From the kitchen, I heard Bantry laughing about how much Pa did look like him. The fact that Pa looked like him was the very reason he had come here. “You’re the man who killed Ab Richards,” Pa accused.
I heard the evilness in his answer. I felt the cabin grow even colder as he spoke in an uncaring attitude about murdering someone in cold blood. He didn’t care. I knew then that my dreadful feeling had indeed been deceiving me – it was much worse then I EVER imagined. In that instant, my heart knew that the chances of us coming out of this alive were very slim because we were dealing with a man who had no heart.
Bantry started playing with my Pa’s gun. He shot it off in the house and nearly hit me in the head as I stood in the kitchen. That’s why he did it – he did it because of me. Anytime I was around, Pa fought for me any way he could. When that bullet fired close to me, Pa went for his rifle. His reward was a hard rifle butt in the gut.
I stood in the kitchen…frozen…watching as this heartless, purely evil man stuck my Pa’s rifle at his throat. I saw pain etched over Pa’s face and my heart cried out. What could I do???
“McCain. Don’t make another mistake, McCain! Don’t!” Bantry ordered as he and Pa stood face-to-face at each other.
I closed my eyes for only a moment and asked God to keep my Pa from doing anything foolish on account of me. I hated his putting his life in danger for me. I wanted to fight with him, but I knew he wouldn’t allow it. All I could do was pray.
“Go sit down! In that chair!” Bantry ordered.
I started to step out of the kitchen – to go to my father. I suddenly needed to feel the touch of his hand – see the love in his eyes…know that he wasn’t disappointed in me…”Stay there!” Pa suddenly ordered.
The harshness in his voice made my heart sink. Oh, if only there was something I could do – some way I could tell Pa that I wasn’t a kid – that I wanted to help…
But the truth was, I was a kid, his kid. The older I got, the more I began to understand the fact that no matter how old I got, Pa would always put me as number one priority and protect me at all cost. Any time we were in danger, he’d put himself in the center of that danger and keep me out as much as possible. I am his kid…and I will always be his kid.
I stared at the two outlaws as they laughed hysterically at my father. I balled my hands into fits and I pressed my lips together. I again stepped out of the kitchen and started toward the outlaws. “Mark!” Pa’s voice shouted in warning. “I said in the kitchen, now!”
He didn’t understand that I had to protect him as much as he had to protect me. He didn’t understand how much it was tearing me up inside to see them treating my Pa this way! He didn’t understand that I knew how much their words and laughter really did bother me. He didn’t understand that I knew – I knew that the chances of my Pa walking away from this were very slim. I couldn’t just stand in the kitchen and watch them take the life of my father.
Bantry went to stand in front of my Pa. He pointed to the floor. “Your boots.”
Pa narrowed his eyes and stared at Bantry. “Your boots! Take ‘em off!”
“No,” Pa answered in a snarling voice.
Bantry started toward the kitchen. “Alright, here!” Pa quickly removed his boots and threw them at Bantry. “Just stay away from my son!”
But Bantry reached out and grabbed my face in his hand. He squeezed my cheeks together. “You like your old man, huh?” He laughed. “You gonna be like me when you grow up…not havin’ an old man to baby ya anymore!”
“I’ll have him as long as I’m alive!” I shouted.
“Mark, keep quiet!” Pa warned.
I ignored him. “If you kill him…” I straightened up to my full size as Bantry squeezed my cheeks together tighter. I winced at the pain. “…You’ll hafta kill me too!”
“Mark!” Pa’s voice was full of fear.
Bantry began laughing. He slapped my face hard. Pa started to stand. “I wouldn’t do it, McCain!” Bantry aimed the rifle at me and Pa lowered himself back down in the chair. Bantry turned to me. “Now, get us some supper!”
I turned and looked at Pa. He nodded for me to do as they said. I went back into the kitchen and filled two plates with stew. I took them over to the table and sat them down. “Now, back into the kitchen.” I stood there staring at them. He cocked his gun. “I said, back into the kitchen!”
I waited until they were done. The minute they were, I was back for the plates. Maybe they would leave without any more trouble.
They laughed at my Pa’s boots. “Uh, McCain, your boots pinch a little, but they’ll do!” Bantry declared.
I stood in the kitchen as Pa and the outlaws talked. I started to leave the kitchen at one point, but Pa just turned and looked at me. I could tell he was getting tired of this. He didn’t like me exposed to men drinking and cussing for one thing. For another, he was fearing for my life. I knew Pa couldn’t put up with much more.
Bantry said he had left the Marshal in the North Fork saloon. I began to wonder what he had done to Micah. I was sort of hoping Micah would get that bad feeling in his gut and come to check in on us. Now, it seemed that Micah knew there was trouble. Something terrible must have happened for him not to show up here.
I only half listened as Bantry and Pa talked. I looked around, desperately hoping I could find something…anything…to help us.
“You won’t take anything from anybody, will you Bantry?” I heard Pa ask.
Bantry stood up. I turned and stared as he yelled at my Pa. Things were heating up now and that scared me. “No I won’t! I’m sick and tired of people pushin’ me! ‘Better move on, we don’t want no troublemakers.’
‘That’s our beef you’re cookin’ there.’ Everybody tellin’ me what to do and what not to do ever since I was a kid.” K.C. started to tell him to sit down. “Well, are you tellin’ me too?” he screamed at K.C. K.C. shook his head.
But Bantry did sit down. I breathed a little easier. “I had two brothers who used to ride me – bigger and older, and me just a kid.” He grabbed his face angrily as he remembered back. “They pushed me and they pulled me. Man, they beat me every livin’ chance they got! ‘Till I growed up to my full size. Then I gave them back everything they gave me! Double!”
Bantry threw over the table. He was going crazy! I became fearful again – I knew he wouldn’t hold in his violence anymore. I knew that-
“So, don’t you start with me, you mangy, miserable sodbuster! I’m sick of you!” He stood and walked over towards Pa. My heart leapt again. I began breathing heavily as I watched. What could I do? I had to do something – couldn’t just stand here and watch this! I looked around as I thought and thought…I started into the living room, but K.C., his guard dog stopped me. I was powerless.
“Sick of hearing your name and how much you look like me. I’m gonna settle you too before I’m finished!”
That was it. He was going to kill my father. I was filled with fear. Pa was still sitting calmly in his chair. Bantry was right in his face. Pa remained calm…too calm…I knew he was trying to keep Bantry away from me. He was going to take it all in hopes I would be unharmed.
Pa spoke as he looked Bantry right in the eye. “What your brothers did to you…still bothers you, doesn’t it?”
“No, no, it don’t bother me none. I killed them both!”
"You killed your own brothers?" Pa asked.
“Yeah, I-“ He suddenly stopped. I closed my eyes, knowing Pa’s words would anger the man even more. It grew even colder in the house as Bantry snarled the next words. I watched the look in his eye change from hate to regret – then to pure rage.
“No. No, I didn’t kill them. You killed ‘em.” He grabbed Pa by the shirt. “You killed my brothers!” he screamed. He punched Pa really hard and practically threw him across the room. “You killed my brothers!” He repeated it over and over and he slapped and punched Pa in the face over and over…and over.
I could tell Pa was in a lot of pain. I tried to run to him, but K.C. again grabbed me and held me tight. “Pa!” I screamed, crying. Bantry was about to kill him! I had to do something – anything even if it meant giving my life! I had to!
But just then, Bantry quit and stood up. He stared into the mirror. “You! You!” Bantry screamed as he touched his chin. Suddenly, he rammed his fist through the mirror, shattering it. He leaned against the mirror, totally spent, the fell to the floor.
I pulled forward really fast and ran to Pa. Bantry sat up and glared at me, but I ignored him and hurried to Pa. “Let me help you up,” I said as I grabbed his arm.
“No. No, you go back into the kitchen, Mark! Stay out of the way!” Pa ordered.
But I got in his face. “Pa, you listen to me! We’re in this together! Together! I want to protect you as much as you want to protect me, so you just stop ordering me. Don’t you see it’s tearing me apart? Can’t you see that?” Hot tears sprang to my eyes. I was angry that I began crying like a boy. But when I looked into Pa’s eyes, they held tears also.
Our eyes locked for only a minute. Pa gave me a slight nod. “Help me up, son.” His voice held release. I knew in that instant we had both just grown up a little more. I hope we hadn’t grown apart. I did as he asked. Then I took a cloth and began wiping his wounds. “Are you alright, Pa?”
Pa told me he was, but I knew he was saying that just to ease my pain – the pain he was finally able to see inside me. Bantry started laughing. He broke the whiskey bottle. Pa and I watched as K.C. complained. Then Pa started talking to K.C. I knew he was talking him into leaving.
I sat right beside my Pa. Even if he had told me to, I wouldn’t have left his side. My hand pressed against his as Pa spoke. I worried, but I felt a little easier now, knowing I’d taken my stand against the inner battle of my father. I was now with him – where I should be. Pa continued to speak softly to K.C., talking him into leaving.
I watched as K.C. suddenly started begging Bantry to go. I waited, beside my Pa, in anticipation. I hoped K.C. would succeed. But he didn’t. Bantry told him to leave, but he would stay there. I watched as K.C. started toward the door. My heart raced. I saw Bantry’s hand slowly move on the rifle. He pointed it at K.C.
I watched as K.C. turned to walk out the door. “K.C.!” Pa yelled. I jumped as I watched Bantry shoot his partner right in the back. He killed him.
What followed was all a blur to me. Pa took that moment to jump at Bantry for the rifle. I sat and stared as they struggled. They rolled around on the floor as they struggled for the rifle, and all I could do was stare. I couldn’t move as they fought.
Then the rifle went off. I waited…and watched…
Bantry groaned as he fell back to the floor…dead, I prayed.
I was relieve he was dead. I knew we would be okay now.
Just then, Micah walked in the door. I stared at Micah. I stared at Pa. Then I turned and cried.
Pa handed Micah his rifle and came to me. He lifted me to my feet and put his arms around me as I cried relief. I felt Pa’s tears as well. “It’s alright now, son. It’s over.” Pa’s soothing voice did little to calm me though.
“Lucas,” Micah’s voice spoke from where he was kneeling. “This man’s still alive!”
Pa broke our embrace and turned to look at Micah. “What?” Pa raced over and kneeled down beside Micah. They looked at each other.
I suddenly felt a rage boil up inside me. I bolted forward. My hands were clinched to my sides. I clinched my teeth together. “Let him die!” I screamed. “Let him die! Let him die!”
Pa and Micah stared at me. They’d never seen me filled with such rage for a human being. There had been times when Pa felt hatred and I felt sorry. But this time was different. This time I had no sorrow for this man. He was evil and crazy. I wanted him dead.
Pa and Micah slowly turned their eyes from me and looked at each other. There was an eerie silence in the room. “I’ll go hitch up the team,” Micah said.
“You taking him to the doc’s?” I demanded. My voice was filled with anger.
Micah turned from the door and looked toward Pa. He didn’t say a word as he hurried out. Hot, angry tears fell down my face as I stared into Pa’s eyes. “I mean it, Pa! Let him die!”
Pa came toward me. He grabbed my shoulders and began shaking me. “We can’t!” Pa cried. Tears fell down his own face. “Don’t you see that we can’t?”
My teeth were still clinched together as I looked over Pa’s shoulder. I saw Bantry move as he groaned. “Yes we can! He killed two men in cold blood! He would have killed you and…and…” I swallowed. “He would have killed ME!” My voice was booming.
Pa said nothing. He just held my shoulders tight and stared into my eyes. I grabbed his hands and gave them a hard shove. Then I stepped toward Bantry. “He doesn’t deserve to live!”
Pa grabbed me from behind. He wrapped his arms tightly around my middle and pinned my arms. “Stop it, Mark! Stop it right now!” Pa ordered.
“No! I want him dead!” I screamed. “I want him-“
“Mark!” Pa’s voice boomed desperately. “He will be punished! By the law and by God, but not by you and not by me.” I struggled harder. “Stop it right now! That’s an order!”
I heard Pa’s voice break. I froze, but I stood tense in his arms. Pa still held tightly to me as he grasped me. “If you let him die, you’ll be a murderer…same as him. We have no right to play God. You know that.” Pa didn’t let go of me yet. He could tell there was still some fight left in me. Instead, he forced me to sit on the floor. He sat and held me in his arms as he spoke softly. “He has a right to a trial in a court of law because he was born a man. He’s been hurt, son. He’s been deeply hurt when he was a child.”
My mind flashed back to Tip Corey laying in the dirt. That was different – he had killed to avenge the innocence of his father’s death. “It’s different…” I mumbled.
Pa’s arms were still firmly around me. I saw Micah standing in the doorway from the corner of my eye. Pa spoke softly. “He was mistreated as a child and never dealt with his anger. This is what his anger became.” I didn’t say anything as I stared down at Bantry. “You said you didn’t understand right from wrong with Mr. Corey. Son, he allowed anger to consume him just like Bantry has done. This is what consuming anger does to you.” He put his mouth close to my cheek. His lips almost touched my cheek. “Do you want that? If you allow this man to die, it will tear you apart like this. Is that what you want?”
I stayed silent as I allowed his words to penetrate my brain. “Do you?” Pa’s voice demanded an answer as he gently shook me.
“No,” I answered as I let go the breath I didn’t know I was holding. “No.”
Pa felt me go limp as the rest of the fight left me. He relaxed his arms and turned me around to face hin. “Good, Mark.” He smiled at me as he looked into my eyes. “That’s good, son.” He hugged me as he pressed his lips to the top of my head. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” We hugged then as Micah came the rest of the way inside.
Pa released me. “We’ll get him in the wagon. You wait here. I’ll call you when we’re ready.”
I just sat there on the floor waiting. Pa walked back inside. “Okay, you can drive the team. I’ll sit in the back and tend to Bantry.”
Micah rode his horse while I drove the team into town. I felt another part of my innocence slip away. I’d never held hate in my heart before. But tonight, I learned what hate was. I was thankful Pa was there to talk me out of hating, but I was scared. I wondered about the next time. What if Pa wasn’t there the next time I started to hate?
*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
Two Ounces of Tin
around The McCain Ranch