Today started out like any other day. Pa made me get up and go to school. I don’t think I have to mention that I don’t like school – it was made clear in nearly every episode. And though I always tried to find an excuse to get out of going, the excuse that I would later find in this story wasn’t what I was looking for.
After breakfast, pa went out to saddle the horses, because he had some errands to do in town that morning. “We’ll ride in together,” Pa announced to me.
It always excited me to ride in to town with pa, but I actually enjoyed riding to school by myself because I didn’t get there so fast. Sometimes, I get the feeling he rode in with me on certain days he suspected I was in less of a mood to get to school – at least, it seemed to be the way it worked out!
Sure enough, my pace wasn’t fast enough for him when we started out so he smacked the back of my horse to get him moving faster. At a couple points, I slowed down a bit too much, and pa would simply get behind my horse and tell me and him to get moving. As we rode into the schoolyard, I already saw some other kids playing. I jumped off and ran over to my best friend, Freddy. “Mark!” Pa hollered as he watched me run.
I turned. “Get home right after school. I’m chopping wood this afternoon and want you to stack it.”
“Oh, but I was gonna go fishing!” I complained.
“Not today, Mark,” Pa stated. “Don’t forget that it takes two of us to run a ranch.” He pointed at me. “Don’t be late, boy!”
“Yes sir,” I answered as I watched him leave.
I did exactly as my pa told me and came home right after school. But as I rode into the yard, I could instantly tell something was just not right. The ranch held some eeriness to it – like something terrible had just happened there. It was nothing I could explain, but it put a really bad feeling into my heart.
I rode Blue Boy up to the house and started to climb off, but I turned toward the woodpile. That’s when I knew something wasn’t right. My pa never let the rifle leave his sight for one thing, and it was propped up against the wall where he had been chopping wood. As far as the wood, it didn’t look like he had been able to chop that much. Fear began to settle in my heart. I walked up to the barn and touched his rifle as if merely touching it would give me some clue as to where he was.
Suddenly, I saw something in the dirt – something that sent chills racing through me as if a cold blizzard wind had just whipped up onto the prairie. “Pa?” I called softly after I touched the dirt with my gloved hand. Sure enough, it was just as I had suspected – blood. And my gut told me it was his blood.
“Pa?” Suddenly, I raced to the house. But the image that met my eyes when I got to the doorway made me freeze in my tracks for just a second. There before me was my father, who could hardly stand. He had blood running down his face and through his shirt – he’d been shot more than once. Suddenly everything in my very being held sudden fear.
But I knew now was not the time to panic. “Pa, your all shot up!” I shouted, fear laying heavily on my voice. “Who did it?”
Pa was so weak he could hardly stand! My father who was always as strong as an ox was now having trouble staying on his feet. “I don’t know, son,” my pa struggled to answer. “I was out chopping the wood and- OHHHHH!!!” Suddenly, he was overcome by weakness and could no longer stand.
I don’t know where I got the strength, but I suddenly grabbed a hold of my pa to steady him. Then I got a chair and helped him sit down. I didn’t know what was going on, but I did know I had to get him into town – and fast. He was losing a lot of blood, and I was the only one that could help him. “The doc should see this. Can you make it to town?” I asked as I rested my hand on his cheek to comfort him.
“I’ll try son,” he answered in pain. “Get the buckboard.”
For a ten year old, hitching the team wasn’t an easy task, but I knew time was of the essence. So I quickly grabbed the team horses and harnessed them in record time. I got a pillow for pa so he would have a comfortable spot to lay his head. Then I went inside and put my arms around him. “Come on, pa. Stand up!” I ordered.
He had trouble. He was weak and fading fast. Suddenly, I laid my hand on his cheek again, which forced his eyes to open. Looking straight into his, I stated, “You have to do this, Pa! You have to stand up. I can’t do it alone!” I shouted these words in desperation.
Pa nodded and slowly stood. He leaned heavily on me, and it hurt. But I had to get him to the buckboard. As he walked, his steps became a little easier. Getting to the wagon, he almost fell as I had to get him across the rail in the back. I quickly repositioned myself and lifted him above it. He fell down with a heavy plop, and I could physically feel the pain the rough fall had caused by his groaning. But I had to ignore it. I had to stay strong and get my pa to town.
I carefully pulled him up so he was laying securely in the buckboard and his head was on the pillow. I hurried to climb up onto the seat, but Pa stopped me with his final order. “Get my rifle, Mark,” he said weakly.
I couldn’t believe that even as he laid there bleeding to death, he was thinking about his rifle. The rifle was his security, but I was taking care of him now. “Your rifle?” I asked in surprise. “You won’t be using it with that arm!” I protested.
But regardless of how weak or close to death he was, he was still my father. “Do as I say, son.” Even though he weakly said these words, there was sternness in his voice. “Yes, pa,” I answered, knowing it was more important to appease him and get him to town. So I ran and grabbed his rifle. Then I jumped on the seat and raced into town.
Part of me wanted to burst out crying. I was so terrified and didn’t know rather my pa was going to live and die. But I knew that I had to stay strong, at least until I was able to get pa the help he needed. There would be time for me to cry later.
I ran the horses as fast as I could. I was preoccupied with getting him into town that I didn’t even notice how quiet the town was. As I raced into town, I quickly stopped the horses in front of the Marshal’s office. Relief flooded me – just the mere fact that I now had another friend to help me – I was no longer all alone. “Pa’s been shot!” I shouted as I leapt off the buckboard. I asked the marshal where doc was, then I raced into the hotel, screaming for Doctor Burrrage.
I followed close behind as Micah helped my pa up the stairs. I didn’t want to let him out of my sight for a second – not until I knew he was okay. As he climbed the stairs, pa told me to get his rifle. Dr. Burrage tried to argue with him, but pa again used sternness and ordered me to obey him.
It was when I was reaching for the rifle that I realized just how empty and quiet the town was. Never in all the months I’d lived there did I ever see the town so lifeless. I slowly made my way back into the hotel and started up the stairs, stopping to ask the marshal why the town was so quiet. He didn’t tell me, but pretended he hadn’t noticed. But I knew better.
I hurried back up the stairs and into the room where doc was caring for my pa. I stood at the end f the bed and watched as the doc began removing the bullet from my pa’s shoulder. Pa, suddenly realizing I was there, told me to leave. I refused. “I don’t want you to see this!” Pa suddenly shouted.
Doc Burrage turned to me. “I need you to go to my office and get bandages and some supplies I’ll need. “ He wrote down what he needed and told me where to find it. “I need you to do this, Mark.”
I nodded and raced out. Time was of the essence, I knew. It was important that I stay strong just a little longer. I got the supplies and hurried back. Doc took them, then told me to wait in the hall. “No,” I stated. “I need to be with him.” I stood beside the bed and held pa’s hand the whole time doc worked. I helped hold him up as he bandaged my pa’s wound.
Finally, he laid pa back on the bed and wiped the wound on his head. He was going to be okay. My heart leapt. Doc Burrage ordered my pa to stay in that bed until sometime tomorrow. “Can I take him home then, doc?” I asked. I wanted my pa at home where I could take care of him. He promised I could if he didn’t get a fever.
It wasn’t until the doc left that I suddenly felt a relief. He was going to be okay. He was really going to be okay! Never did I realize just how precious my father’s life was until this happened. I looked at Pa in relief. “I guess you’re gonna be alright, huh pa?” I said out loud – more to convince myself then him.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Pa answered in a whisper. He was so tired that he could hardly talk.
I knew he needed rest. I pulled the blanket over him. “Well then you sleep like the doc said,” I told him as I tucked him in. Then I looked down at my pa and remembered all the times my pa had been where I was standing looking down at me. I remembered all those kisses on the forehead he gave me when I was going to sleep. I suddenly had to kiss him goodnight, to let him know I was here and that I loved him. Softly, so as not to wake him, I bent down and kissed his forehead.
Pa was asleep. I walked over to the window and looked out. Suddenly, I was all alone. I allowed my eyes to fill up with tears. Then I slid down onto the floor, drew my knees up to my chest, and laid my head on my knees and cried. The tears ran down my cheeks as I allowed my body to shake with sobs. I had been so terrified – first that my pa was dead, then that he was dying, and then that he might not get better. Then I was relieved that he was going to be okay. Now, I was crying through all those emotions, allowing the release so I could once again be strong to help my pa.
I sat in the chair and watched him sleep. There was a soft knock on the door and I slowly stood up to answer it. Mr. Halstead was there. “The Marshal said for you to come down and eat,” he said.
I turned and looked at pa, who was still sound asleep. I shook my head. “The Marshal said that he’s in charge of you, and you are to obey his orders.” I turned and looked at my pa again. I couldn’t leave him. Mr. Halstead gently put an arm around my shoulders. “He’ll be okay for a while. Come on.”
I sat quietly and alone in the dining room as I ate. Though it was usually full of people happily chatting as they enjoyed the hotel food, today it was empty. I was surprised Micah hadn’t joined me in eating, so he’d make sure I got enough nourishment. I played with my food, pushing it back and forth. Mr. Halstead came into the dining room. “The marshal also stated that you can’t go back up until you finish your plate,” he stated.
I nodded, knowing that Micah knew what my pa’s wishes would be. So I ate the food. At first I refused dessert, but when he told me it was chocolate cake, I smiled and said I’d have a piece.
After Mr. Halstead was satisfied I had had enough nourishment, he allowed me to go back upstairs. There, I found my pa still asleep. I sat back in the chair and watched until darkness settled. Then, exhausted from the stressful afternoon, I drifted off to sleep.
But I was suddenly awakened by the sound of gunshots. I jumped from the chair and saw my pa’s bed empty. Fear gripped me. I knew I shouldn’t have fallen asleep! I raced down the stairs as quickly as I could and raced out the door! Pa was kneeling on the ground as Micah tried to help him up. “Pa!” I shouted. I ran and threw my arms around him. Then I looked into his eyes. Pa’s eyes were clearer and there was relief. For some reason, I knew that his healing was finally beginning. I hugged him again. He held me tightly, not saying a word.
Mr. Halstead gently pulled me away. “Let Micah get him back upstairs, son.”
I followed close behind. Pa laid down in the bed once again, and once again I tucked the blankets around him. “Mark, get out of your day clothes and lay down here to sleep.” I shook my head, stating the chair was fine. Pa suddenly reached out and grabbed my hand. “It’s all over now, son. Get in bed.”
“I don’t want to hurt you, pa?” I stated.
Pa gave me a weak smile. “You won’t hurt me. You’re my son.”
I nodded and undressed. Then I got in under the covers. Even in his weakened and painful position, he put his good arm around me and held me close. I smiled as I heard his steady breathing and knew that he had needed me close beside him for an easy rest. I fell asleep in the comfort of his arms.
The next morning, I heard pa’s groaning. I woke up. His arm was still tightly around me. “You okay?” I asked. “You need some pills?”
Pa slowly sat up in bed. He didn’t want to take the pills because he’d sleep. He wanted to get up, but I insisted he lay still. Doc knocked on the door to check on my pa. After examining him, he suggested that pa take some more of the pills to make the pain easier, but pa shook his head. “I just want to go home!” he insisted.
He sent me down to get him some coffee and breakfast. I carried the tray back up the stairs. Doc met me on the stairs. “How is he doc? The truth.”
Doc Burrage laughed. “The truth is that your father is as tough as nails, Mark. He’ll sleep this morning. Then you take him home this afternoon.”
He stayed awake long enough to eat his breakfast. Somehow Dr. Burrage had convince him to take some medicine. Pa said the doc wanted him to sleep a few more hours more than anything else. “You go get the buckboard ready,” Pa mumbled as he fell asleep. “After lunch, we’ll go home.”
While I waited, Micah told me to walk over to the school and let Miss Adams know I wouldn’t be there for a few days. “At least the rest of the week, son.” Micah said. “You should be back by Monday.”
I groaned. “If I tell her that, she’ll give me stuff to work on. I’ll be too busy to-“ I started.
Micah grinned and pointed for me to go on my way. True to my word, Miss Adams did give me stuff to work on, and Micah knew she would. I knew that Micah knew too much about my father’s wishes for how I was raised!
We did go home after lunch. On the ride home, I suddenly asked the question. “Who did it, pa?”
“A man named Dan Maury. He came back to kill Micah. You see, he’s the one who crippled him. When I came into town yesterday morning, I ordered him to ride out of town. He must have found out where we lived – followed me, maybe – and shot me so I wouldn’t be in his way when he tried to kill Micah.”
I sat quietly on the buckboard as we drove for home. “He could have killed you last night,” I said quietly.
Pa suddenly put a hand on my leg. “He didn’t, Mark.”
“No,” I said softly. But I knew pa could have very well died. “But you took a big risk.”
“My best friend was in trouble, son. I had to.” I rode in silence, not quit understanding. Then he did something he did often. He quoted from the Bible. “Greater is no love then this. That a man lay down his life for his friend.”
I nodded as we silently rode the rest of the way home. When we got there, I helped pa off the buckboard and into the house. I wanted him to go to bed, but pa insisted he sit in his chair. Then I went out to chop the wood my pa had started. It was an exhausting job, but I wanted to show pa I could take good care of him and the ranch so he would rest. After getting some chopped and stacked, I went inside to check on him.
Pa was sitting in his chair, but he held a cup of coffee in his hands. I put my hands on my hips. Pa grinned. “Thanks for chopping the wood, son,” Pa said. I just stood and stared at him, trying out the look he gave me on him. His grin just grew bigger. “All right, Mark. You made your point. I’m not helpless you know.”
“I know. I’ll go fix supper.”
Suddenly, pa lifted up in his chair. “Oh uh…” I could tell he was thinking of a way to say his words. “Just warm up the soup Hattie sent home tonight, son.”
“You don’t like my cookin’?” I asked again.
Pa rolled his eyes. “How many days were you ordered to take care of me?” I told him Micah said I’d probably go back to school on Monday. “And this is only Wednesday?”
Pa and I looked at each other and laughed. “Thanks, son. For everything.”
I nodded as I went to warm his food up. Pa didn’t want me doing a lot of the harder ranching and farming work. Micah came over the next few days to help me with some of the chores, and he arranged for one of the ranch hands from a neighboring ranch to care for the stock. I was disappointed, but pa said he didn’t want me to take on too much responsibility. By Sunday, pa was feeling well enough to ride in the saddle, and we rode together to check on the stock.
All week, pa made sure I kept up on my studies that I was missing at school. That’s what I did in the afternoons and evenings. I didn’t like it, and thought there were chores that needed done, but Pa simply stated his orders would be followed. He even insisted on quizzing me and checking my work.
When Monday morning came, Pa was in the kitchen fixing breakfast. I asked him how he was feeling, and he told me the doctor was taking off his bandages. “He’ll probably put some back on, but maybe I’ll be able to move around again! I thought that I needed to stay out of school and ride him in, but Pa said he’d be fine.
As I got ready to go, I turned to where pa was drinking coffee at the table. “Pa?”
Pa looked up and raised an eyebrow. I grabbed the lunch pa had fixed for me. “Would you ride in with me this morning? The horses are ready.”
Pa looked into my eyes. He could see that I needed this – to know that he could make it to town. I hadn’t left his side much at all since the incident happened, and he knew that I’d feel better leaving him if he proved himself. So he stood and put his cup in the sink. “Sure, son. Come on.”
I smiled as I waited for him to get settled in the saddle. Then we turned the horses. He smiled at me with a wink as we rode our horses off the ranch. Once again, we were riding side by side.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Wrong Man
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
One Went to Denver
around The McCain Ranch