Mr. Griswald cleared his throat. He had been strangely quiet all morning. Freddie and I looked at each other as he folded his hands behind his back and stepped forward. “Class, I have an announcement to make.”
We all turned our heads toward Mr. Griswald. He cleared his throat again. “My…” He cleared his throat.It almost sounded like his voice was breaking. “Due to a family emergency, I will have to be gone for awhile.” Mr. Griswald looked out among us. Then he turned away. “I’ll have to go back east to attend to my sister’s affairs. She…” His voice died. We all looked at each other, unsure on what to do. “She died suddenly in her sleep.”
Mr. Griswald sighed as he lifted his head toward the ceiling. Finally, he turned back to face us. “You will have a new teacher until my return. Mrs. Pritchard will begin on Monday.”
“You will be back?” Billy asked as he stood up.
Mr. Griswald paused as he gathered his books up. “I hope so.”
“We’re pray for you!” Lucille declared from the back of the room.
Mr. Griswald smiled. “I appreciate that.”
“Mr. Griswald?” I stood up. He turned around to face me. “How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know, Mark.” We locked eyes for a few moments. I saw the sorrow in those eyes. I could tell he didn’t want to leave but he had no choice. “I don’t know.”
I watched him walk out the door. “Wow,” I breathed.
“Yeah. Wow…” Billy said as he came to stand beside me. “I remember the day he came and demanded we all wear shoes to school. You remember Mark?”
“Do I?” I suddenly rubbed my backside. “I still remember the terrible whippin’ with the switch he gave me.” I turned to Billy and held up a fist. “By the way, I never did pay you back for that!” I tried to joke, but I saw the sad look in Billy’s eyes.
“I called him Persimmon. Remember?” Billy asked.
“Yeah.” I smiled as I remembered that. “He sure did mature!”
“I don’t think it was he who matured, boys!” I jumped as I turned around. Pa was standing there with his arms crossed. “I’ve a feeling it was some little boys who grew up.”
“What are you-“ I started to ask.
Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “Oh, I knew Mr. Griswald was leaving at noon, so I thought I’d come and cheer everyone up by treating you to lunch at the hotel.”
“All of us? You mean the whole class?” I asked cheerfully.
“Uh…no…” Pa scratched his nose. “I mean you three boys.”
“The Three Musketeers!” I pointed out.
“The three something!” Pa declared. “Come on.”
We started eating. Freddie laid down his fork to make an announcement. “Oh Mark, did you hear about the county fair coming to Little Bute?”
I was drinking my milk just then. I gasped, choking on my milk. Milk spat out of my mouth and my nose. “Excuse me!” I said as I wiped my face. “Did you say the county fair?”
Freddie nodded. “This weekend. My Pa said we could go up on Saturday. Billy, you going?”
Billy nodded. “We’re going on Saturday too. Pa said we’ll be leaving on Friday night. He’s been saving up to take us since last year. Mark?”
“Oh, of course I’m going! I-“ Suddenly, I heard Pa’s throat clear. “I mean…I…” I turned to Pa. “Can we go, Pa?”
Pa sighed. “Now Mark, we have a lot of ranching work to do. You are off the rest of the week, so I thought I’d get some work done – like clearing out all the rocks and working on the brush and-“
“Oh Pa, it’s only once in a year that-“ I started. Pa raised his eyebrows. “Please?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Pa answered.
Now anyone who has kids knows that that meant yes as far as I was concerned. “Honest?” I leaned toward Pa. “Really honest?”
Pa had gone back to his lunch, but he suddenly looked up at me, raising one of his eyebrows. “Now son, I-“
“Okay, I’ll drop it for now, But if we could go, I’d let you hold my allowance until I pay back every cent we’ll need. I promise, I’ll do everything you say and all my chores too, without you having to remind me what needs done.”
Pa laughed. “Gee, I wish I could believe that, but it just so happens I know you!” Pa’s face turned serious. “Now, uh…drop it.” The sternness in his voice told me I better.
“Yes sir!” I said a bit too loudly. “See Pa, I told you I’d do everything you said!”
After lunch, Pa and I rode for home. I worked double…no, triple hard on my chores. I tended to my garden, cleaned the barn, cleaned the chicken coop, and even swept and mopped the floors, even though it was only Wednesday! At supper, I offered to cook, but Pa held up a hand and told me he’d take care of that.
Thursday morning found me washing the breakfast dishes then getting straight to my studies. That’s what I was doing when Pa found me that day. He didn’t say a word, but shook his head in disbelief. Later, when he found me still studying, he propped himself up in the doorframe and shook his head. “Is there anything a boy wouldn’t do to get his way about something?”
I smiled into my book as Pa turned and walked out the door. I couldn’t miss the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face. He was beginning to crack!
Then on Friday morning, Pa found me studying again as he went for a second cup of coffee. He sat down and took a sip, then I heard the coffee cup hit the saucer with a bit more force then necessary. “Alright, alright!” Pa declared. “I give up. We’ll go to the county fair!”
I threw down my pencil and jumped up. “Honest, Pa?” Pa nodded. I stood up and started to run out the door. “That’s great!”
“Wait a minute, son. Where are you going?” Pa asked.
I slowly turned around. “Where?” Pa nodded. “Oh, I think Blue Boy needs a good workout.”
“Wait a minute, boy!” Pa stopped me. I slowly turned around. “We’ll be leaving mid-afternoon and making camp somewhere.”
“Yes sir!” I shouted.
“What about your studies, son?” Pa asked.
I looked at my books. “Pa, I’ve been studying for two days straight, trying to get you to give in. I don’t reckon I need to study again for a week!” Then I raced out the door before he could stop me.
I sure was excited to be out on the trail toward High Butte! Already, I could smell the food they were cooking at the fair, hear the excitement as we played the games, and smell the scents of animals mixed with popcorn and candied apples. I talked excitedly about meeting up with Billy and Freddie the next day so we could all hang out together and play the games together. “Boy, it sure is cool out here tonight!”
Pa turned and looked at me. He shook his head as we stopped on the trail. “What” I asked with a shrug.
Pa laughed. “Nothing.” He looked up ahead. “Oh. I think I see Micah’s camp. I’ve a message for him!” We started our horses forward. “Maybe he’ll let you borrow his fire to warm your hands. You know, I told you before we left not to forget your saddle gloves. I-“
I tuned him out. I never did like listening to Pa’s nagging! When we rode up to Micah’s camp, he had his hand on his gun. I reckon he wasn’t taking any chances. But he sure was relieved to see us. You see, he was transporting a prisoner up to Indian Bend…Santa Fe now, according to Pa’s message.
I was sure happy to see the fire. I didn’t even say hi to Micah, but went directly to the fire. Micah and Pa engaged in small park. The curiosity got the better of me and I started looking around. What I saw made me catch my breath. “Mr. Renolds!” I declared excitedly.
Wow, seeing him brought back memories. I suddenly remember getting bit by that rattle snake soon after Pa and I settled here. We were out camping near Indian Bend when I got lost in the woods. I didn’t know it at the time, but Mr. Renolds had just killed a man and woman and was hiding out in the woods when he found me. He risked everything for me. He knew he’d be arrested, but he saved my life. For that, I’d always be grateful.
I had heard a few days after I recovered from that terrible ordeal that he had managed to escape. Pa told me a few nights ago that Micah had found and arrested a wanted man. I had no idea it was THIS wanted man. I wondered why Pa hadn’t told me. He must have known.
Mr. Renolds looked at me now as if I were a stranger. I couldn’t believe he didn’t remember me! I would never forget him – not after his saving my life! I reminded him of the incident. “Well, for gosh sakes! How you been, son?”
He stretched out his hand to shake mine. That’s when I saw the handcuffs. I knew he was a prisoner, but it hadn’t registered until just now. My heart sank. “Micah, what are they going to do to him in Santa Fe?” I asked. Part of me wanted to know, but the other part…well, it didn’t.
I regretted my question after I asked it. Mr. Renolds himself gave me that answer right off. “I’m to be hanged, boy.”
Those words sent a cold chill through me. The words echoed in my head long after they were said. He was going to die for his crime – even after risking his life to save me. He saved me knowing he’d be arrested, yet they showed him no mercy. “Hanged?” I tried to grasp that single word, but I couldn’t.
Everything within me shouted out that this was wrong…very, very wrong! I jumped up and ran over to Micah. “But Micah, he saved my life!” Micah said nothing. He just looked really uncomfortable as I stared at him. I ran to my Pa next. “Pa?” I begged. Surely one of them would do something!
Pa didn’t answer my question. “Come on, son, we better be going.” I didn’t want to leave. I was struggling to come to terms with what Mr. Renolds just said. Pa put an arm around my back. “Come on,” he said in a stern voice as he pushed me away from the camp.
But Micah talked Pa into making camp here with him. He told me to get the bedding down while he cooked supper. Supper was the last thing I wanted to do. My stomach felt so sick all of a sudden. I informed Pa I wouldn’t be eating.
I got the bedding ready. Pa tried to make small talk, but I couldn’t listen to him. I was half-way done with my chore when I just sat down and stared at Mr. Renolds. I shook my head in disbelief. Pa came over and sat down beside me as he ate a small supper. “Sure you don’t want anything to eat, son? It’s a long time until breakfast.”
“Quite sure,” I answered. I lowered my head, then lifted it back up and looked at Pa. “You knew he was the man Micah arrested.”
Pa nodded with a sigh. “Yes. I knew.”
“You didn’t tell me. You knew we were coming here and I would see him yet-“
Pa interrupted me with another sigh. “Son, you were ten years old and I was sort of hoping you’d forgotten what Renolds looked like. I knew when Micah arrested him that he was going back to be hanged. I didn’t want to drag up all those feelings and emotions again. I guess I was hoping that…well, that you wouldn’t recognize him.”
“That wasn’t fair, Pa. I had a right to know!” I raised my voice as I spoke.
“Now Mark, I know you’re upset, but I did what I thought was right!” Pa’s voice held a hint of annoyance. I looked up at him with my sad eyes. “Son, a father tries to protect his children from things. I guess I was praying that we wouldn’t have to go down this road again.”
“What a month!” I mumbled with a shake of my head. “Tip Corey, Earl Bantry, and now Mr. Renolds.”
Pa stood and walked back to the fire as I finished my chore. While I was finishing up, Pa walked back over and readied his bed for sleeping. He figured we’d both sleep good tonight. I wasn’t so sure I would – knowing the man who saved my life was riding to his death. “Doesn’t seem fair,” I mumbled. Then a little louder, I said, “It just don’t seem fair, Pa. Him dying and getting’ nothing in return for helping me!”
Pa stood. “Some things, you just got no answers for.”
I know he was trying to make me sort this out in my own way, but I couldn’t – there was just no sense to it. I had seen so much violence this past month. I watched a man die to avenge his father’s death. In the end, he died for me so I could keep my own father. Then I hatefully told Pa to let another man die – my Pa’s evil twin, so to speak – die because he was so torn apart and angry at the way he’d been treated. I wanted him to die because of how he treated us. Now…now I was staring into the eyes of another man who was about to die. This man – he was about to die because of what I assume was a jealous rage late one night while he was drunk – at least that’s the word I got.
And even though my senses told me he deserved to hang for what he did, my heart told me something different. I was a ten year old little boy lost in the woods when he found me. I was scared being separated from my Pa and having no idea how to get back to him. Then he watched helplessly as a rattle snake bit me. He cut my bite and sucked the poison right into his own mouth, knowing it could kill him. He took me back to town fast so that I could be treated by the doctor. He knew he was going to be arrested, tried, and hanged…yet, for some reason, he thought my life was more important to his.
How could a man like him be so evil that a judge deemed him to be hung by the neck until dead? It just couldn’t happen! It just couldn’t! And I can’t believe Pa was so passive about this. After all, this man had saved the life of his only son. I’ve seen how passionate Pa was about my life – and I was surprised he didn’t offer to fight for this unjust thing that was happening.
I stood and walked over to Mr. Renolds. "Hey boy, you've grown some since I saw ya' last." Mr. Renolds stood up and looked me over.
“I guess I got a little bigger,” I stated. “I’ve…heard about you now and then.”
“Oh? I don’t have to ask if it was anything good.”
"I'm sorry to hear about this here predicament that you’re in.” I tried to stay mature about this.
"Like they say, 'make a bed,' it's the one you’re sure gonna lie in.”
I didn’t know what else to say. I thought what was happening here was unjust. He ought to get some sort of relief since he saved my life. It just didn’t seem right!
As I lay on my bed later that night, I studied the stars in the sky. It seemed to be so peaceful out here, yet inside me was a battle – the same one I’d been fighting for the last month. It seemed like this battle kept raging one person after another. I began to wonder if somehow I could end it here. Was there something…anything…I could do to make this raging battle inside me end?
I hated this new loss of innocence I had been experiencing lately. Just the other day, I commented on it and Pa told me he sympathized with me, but that it was all part of becoming a man. He said, at times, becoming a man was hard and painful. He was right.
I wrestled with my thoughts for a long time. I couldn’t get to sleep because I was thinking on it too hard. Pa noticed and spoke to me. “Mark, I told you before that there is nothing anybody can do about Mr. Renolds.” Pa suggested I think on something pleasant like the county fair tomorrow. Even that didn’t appease me. "You know son, pretty soon…maybe in the next year or two you'll kinda see things a little differently. Maybe it'll be for the better and maybe it won't. But every boy comes to an age or time when he knows certain things have to be the way they are. It's a good world, Mark, you'll see that. You’ll see plenty of sunshine, but you'll also see some dark clouds comin' your way. It's just the way the world is. Happy times, good times, but always some sad times."
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t care what Pa said, I didn’t like what I was feeling…Everything within me told me that hanging Renolds was wrong. “Good night, son.”
I laid still. I knew that if I kept tossing and turning, Pa would begin lecturing me again. I wasn’t in the mood to hear any more of what he had to say because I knew that he and Micah both were wrong to not fight this. The man had saved my life! He deserved some sort of consideration for that!
The camp had grown quiet. Everyone was asleep – everyone but me. Suddenly, a cougar cried out. Pa and Micah jumped up to go check on the horses. I stood, watching in the direction of the horses.
But out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mr. Renolds. He had somehow managed to get his handcuffs off and was just about to slip away. Naturally, I turned to call out to Pa and Micah, but I hesitated. My moment of hesitation gave Mr. Renolds time to say it. “Wait!”
I turned and looked at him. “All I want is a couple of minutes.” That was my second mistake – thinking on it. I allowed him to talk to me. “You’d a died that day if I had thought of my own skin instead of yours. Two or three minutes for saving your life, that’s not too much to ask.”
He was right. His words were echoing my thoughts. I stood still and thought on that. Could this be how I could help him. I hadn’t been able to change the last two tragedies in my life, but this one…this one…I had the opportunity to do something – to fight for what was right. He deserved life for giving me mine. If he hadn’t been there, I would have died.
“You were in a bad way that day. Real bad.” I knew I was torn on what I should do by that point. Should I let him walk away? Should I stay quiet? He turned to walk off. “If you would’ve died, that’d be the end, but I stuck my neck out of ya. Thanks.”
I watched him walk away. I stayed quiet and watched him leave. But then I slowly sat down on my bedroll. I knew how Pa and Micah felt about the matter, and I knew it was only a matter of moments before I found myself in a whole heap of trouble. I sat perfectly still on my bed and braced myself for the worst yelling at I’d ever received.
My heart began beating faster when I heard Pa and Micah come back. I couldn’t look at either of them. Micah ran to the other side of the camp, upset that Mr. Renolds had escaped. I felt Pa’s eyes on me. Somehow I realized that he instantly knew the truth. But he was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. “Mark, did you see what happened here?” I didn’t answer. “Did you see Renolds find the key?”
I continued staring straight ahead. I swallowed the lump in my throat as I answered. “I wasn’t lookin’ at him.”
Pa’s voice was more strained…more controlling. I knew he was still holding out hope for a logical reason I was silent. “You must have seen him leave. There must have been time to call out or…run to us.” I couldn’t speak. I felt my eyes fill up with tears, but I stared straight ahead. I didn’t want to see the look in my father’s eyes right now. I didn’t want to see his eyes grow disappointed.
He exploded at my silence. “Mark, answer my question! Could you have called out or run to us?” His words were angry. He knew the answer and expected me to give it to him straight. I stared straight ahead and gave him a slight nod.
Things got worse. Pa rushed over to me and knelt down. His face was only inches from mine. I continued staring straight ahead as he yelled even louder. “Are you saying you deliberately kept quiet? You deliberately let Renolds escape?”
I hated the sound of anger in Pa’s voice. I knew I was in a heap of trouble – and his yelling was only the first of it. But I had to try to explain why I did it. “Pa, I couldn’t call out! I just couldn’t! He saved my life!” I stated these words as I looked him right in the eye. The look in his eyes suddenly made me regret I ever turned my head toward him. Never had I seen such anger in my father’s eyes. But it wasn’t just anger I saw – it was disappointment.
“Mark, Renolds was a prisoner…an outlaw! You had no right to let him get away, not when you could have stopped him by calling out to Micah or to me!”
Micah spoke up then. His voice was calm and forgiving. He knew Pa was too angry. He knew how much Pa’s yelling was hurting me. “It’s not his fault, Lucas. He feels he owes Renolds a debt and it’s got him a little mixed up.”
But Pa was angry. He wouldn’t listen to Micah. “There’s no mixing up right or wrong, Micah!” He turned back to me. I couldn’t look at him as he spoke. “You get our things together.”
Pa turned from me as he and Micah discussed where Renolds could have gone. I hated hearing my Pa’s words. I hated the feelings this was causing. I was so hurt and so bothered by my Pa’s actions. Why couldn’t he be like Micah and understand my position? “I’m sorry, Pa.”
Pa didn’t even acknowledge my apology. “One thing’s for sure…we’re not going to the county fair this year!” My heart sank. I had been looking forward to going – now I’d messed that up. But I knew that was still only a small part of my punishment. I’d get much more when we got home. “I’m taking you over to Abe Merar’s. You’re gonna stay there. I’m coming back to help Micah track down your friend!”
The way Pa said that, he was treating me like a criminal – an accomplice. I sat there feeling so low. I didn’t know what to say. “I said move!” Pa yelled.
I jumped up and started gathering up the stuff. Pa didn’t say another word to me. Even when it was time to go, Pa hopped on his horse and glared down at me. I slowly mounted mine as we started out of camp. “Pa, I can find it on my own,” I stated.
“You act like a ten year old, I’ll treat you like one,” Pa stated gruffly. “You stay right beside me the whole way, boy.”
We rode in silence. “I’m sorry, Pa,” I said again.
“Save it, Mark. I know you aren’t.”
“I am, Pa!” I stated.
“I don’t want to hear it, Mark!” Pa yelled. “Until you understand what you did was very, very wrong, you are not sorry!” I closed my mouth as tears again sprang to my eyes. “Well, do you understand?” I stayed silent. “I didn’t think so! Don’t you worry, boy. When I get you home, you and I are going to have a long talk, and you can expect a severe punishment for what you did, boy!”
He had yelled so loud that the words remained long after he finished speaking. I stayed quiet the rest of the way to the Mr. Merar’s ranch. When we got there, Pa gruffly stated that he had to leave me here for Mr. Merar to watch while he went after a prisoner who escaped. The last part of that announcement was said in a very bitter voice as he looked at me. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
From the look on his face, I could tell saying those words again didn’t help me any. He returned my apology with an icy stare. There was no goodbye, no loving departure, or anything. There was only silence. That hurt me worse than the yelling.
I started to tell Mr. Merar why I was in so much trouble. But suddenly, I found myself face-to-face with my troubles. Mr. Renolds was standing just outside the barn. In his hand was a rifle. We couldn’t fight him as he led us into the house.
He was taking a horse, pistol, food, water, and other things from Mr. Merar. Mr. Merar didn’t want to give him the stuff he wanted. Said Mr. Renolds could take what he wanted, but he wasn’t gonna help him.
Renolds turned and said to me, “Hey, I hope your father didn’t take it out of your hide. “
“My Pa’s never hit me,” I answered back.
Renolds laughed. “I’m glad you didn’t have to do any woodshed yelping over me.”
Mr. Merar started for the door and saw the long rifle Mr. Renolds set down by the door. He went for it, but Mr. Renolds saw him. He shot Mr. Merar. I couldn’t believe it. I ran to tend to Mr. Merar’s wound.
Then my world really spun out of control, I found out that Mr. Renolds was planning to take me with him. He asked me to fill the canteens, again.
I can’t tell you what I was feeling at that point. I was numb…confused. My Pa said there was no mixing up right and wrong. Well, I guess he had forgotten what it was like being 13 years old. Everything was mixed up. Pa was allowing me to experience things for the first time – things he had sheltered me from in the past. He was no longer allowing me to see the imaginary side of things – but he made sure I saw it in its reality. One thing I was learning was that life wasn’t as black and white as you think it is when you’re a kid.
So if I were to tell you I was glad I allowed Mr. Renolds to escape, I’d be lying. But if I were to tell you I was sorry I allowed him to escape, I’d be lying as well. The truth is, I was confused…so very confused. I could understand him fighting for his life – I probably would too if it were me. But I didn’t like his holding a gun on innocent folks and shooting them – that part was wrong.
I knew he belonged in jail for murder, but I still didn’t think he deserved to die. I had to face the fact that Micah and Pa had to capture him. Maybe that’s why I did what I did – as I walked to the water trough to fill the canteens with water, I spied the kerosene. I filled the canteens with kerosene in substitute of water. This was a painful decision for me. I don’t know exactly why I did it, for I was pretty sure he wouldn’t hurt me since he’d spared my life three years ago. I don’t know that I did it because I wanted to see justice come to him. I felt he deserved a break for what he had done for me. He’d risked so much to save me. But then again, he’d killed two people and know he’d shot Mr. Merar.
Perhaps I did it to win my Pa’s favor back, or perhaps I did it because he hardened my heart against him just a bit when he shot at Mr. Merar. Like I said, I was all mixed up inside like Micah said. I only wished Pa would understand that.
We started riding toward the Mexican border. The day was cool, but the sun gave us thirst. It wasn’t long before Mr. Renolds stopped to take a drink of his ‘water’. I braced myself for his reaction. I watched as he took a drink. He spat it out and cried, “Kerosene!” He rushed over to me and grabbed the canteen from my saddle. He smelled it. “Kerosene!”
He threw the canteen back at me. "You figured on slowing us down, didn't you boy? Well you did! In fact you slowed yourself down to a stop." He reached for his gun. I flinched and backed away, bracing for what would come next, had I thought wrong that he wouldn’t harm me because he’d saved my life once before.
He stopped. Then he laughed. “That took guts, boy.” He acted like he was proud of me.
Instead of going to the Mexican border, he decided to go to go to an old ghost town. It was the closest place where we would get water.
As we rode into town, I got another one of those feelings. Mr. Renolds told me to step down from Blue Boy. He asked if I’d ever been in a ghost town before. I told him once before, up north.
As we entered the saloon, he walked to a table and lit a candle. Then he started walking about the room, pulled a rope down from the wall. I wasn’t paying too much attention to what it was he was saying until I heard him say something about Pa.
“Yep. Your father isn’t too far behind us. No sense tangling with him unless I have to. So we’ll part company here.”
He planned on tying me up so I couldn’t cut short his time by riding Blue Boy back to my Pa. He grabbed for a chair off a table, and I tried to run, but he grabbed me by the arm. I started kicking and squirming to try to get away. I stopped when Renolds threatened to tap a gun butt over my head.
He sat me in the chair and then tied my hands together and then my feet. As soon as he left to fill the canteens, I started struggling. There was no way I was going to just sit there and let him escape! I didn’t like being tied up. I got to my feet and hopped over to the table where Mr. Renolds had left the lit candle and tried to position myself to burn the ropes on my hands.
As I reached backwards, I lost my balance, the unsteady table tipped over and I fell to the floor. When the candle hit the floor, a fire broke out. Seems Mr. Renolds poured the kerosene from the canteens on the floor of the old saloon before he headed out to fill them with water.
My feet and hands were tied! I couldn’t get out. Fear gripped me. For the first time today, I felt like my life was in mortal danger. There was no way I could escape from the fire with my hands and feet still tied. “Mr. Renolds!” I cried as loud as I could as the fire quickly spread around me. “Mr. Renolds!” I cried again. I screamed his name several times. The smoke was beginning to overcome me. I was coughing hard. I was becoming light headed from the lack of oxygen. It was only a matter of moments before the flames would get me.
Suddenly, through the smoke Mr. Renolds called out “Don’t worry, I’ll find ya.”. He picked me up and carried me out into the street and set me down. I was coughing something awful.
I was coughing so hard that I didn’t hear Pa and Micah ride up. Then my Pa was there. He kneeled behind me, worry etched in his voice asking if I was alright. “I think so,” I answered as I coughed some more.
Then I saw that Mr. Renolds was being held at gunpoint by Micah. In that instance, I realized that he wasn’t evil – he was good. He could have killed Mr. Merar, but he only wounded him. He could have left me in that burning building to die – to save his own skin. But the truth was, he was a kind man who allowed a drunken rage to get the better of him one night. And in that moment of drunkenness, he had fired his gun – an instant act that he regretted and would live with for the rest of his life.
These are the thoughts that raced through me as I turned and saw him with his hands held over his head. "Pa he saved my life again. Micah can't take him in now Pa, he can't!" I cried. I couldn’t stand the thought of him being hanged. Didn’t he prove his loyalty by saving my life again? Didn’t that account for anything?
Pa was still very angry with me. His voice suddenly turned from concern to red-hot scolding. "Mark this wouldn't have happened if you hadn't interfered, now let’s not start all over again boy!"
Pa helped me up. Usually, he would have allowed me to rest and take it easy, but today, he threw me a bucket and demanded we start putting the fire out. We worked for a while doing just that. I stood on the porch watching Pa put out the last flames. Then Pa walked over to Micah and Mr. Renolds. His voice was filled with apprehension as he spoke. "Renolds, the way I figure it you got a fair trial and a fair sentence. Frankly I don't think you deserve a break because I don't think you'll ever change. But uh...well, you tell him Micah."
Micah’s words were like music to my ears. I smiled as he spoke. "Lucas and I have been talkin' it over. We're all goin' up to Santa Fe together to see the governor. Maybe he’ll think you've got a favor comin' and swap your hangin' for a prison sentence.”
I was relieved. And so was Mr. Renolds. I sure felt better. Somehow, all the trouble I had gone through – and would go through in the very near future – was worth it. “Feel better, do ya?” Pa’s voice was back to scolding. “Well you just remember when we get home we've got a few things to talk about!"
We got on our horses and rode. Pa’s face smiled. I smiled. We rode for awhile. “When did you and Micah have time to talk about helping Mr. Renolds?” I asked suddenly.
Pa cleared his throat. “Last night by the fire.”
My head whirled around. Our horses suddenly stopped dead in their tracks as I suddenly felt the air leave my lungs. “Wh…Wh…what?” I managed to ask.
“Last night before you helped Mr. Renolds escape.”
Boy, I suddenly felt sick. I didn’t say another word as we rode to Santa Fe.
It was dark when we arrived in Santa Fe. Pa sent me straight up to the hotel room where I was to sit and think until it was time for supper. After supper, he sent me straight to bed. He could tell I didn’t like it much, but I obeyed him with no more arguments. We didn’t do much talking that day.
The next morning, Pa woke me for breakfast. Micah joined us and announced the judge would hear our case that morning, even though it was a Sunday. “That’s a bit sac-religious, isn’t it?” Pa asked.
Micah shrugged. “It’s either that or wait until he has time later in the week.” I could tell Pa wasn’t top thrilled about the idea, he wanted to get back home.
My silent treatment continued as we finished up breakfast and walked down the street to the courthouse. I walked beside Pa. I could feel the tension still between us and wondered just how long it would be before the tension left us and I was able to feel his gentle touch again.
As we walked into the courtroom, I looked around. There were a lot of people there who wanted Renolds to be hanged. I looked at my Pa, who squeezed my shoulder. I thought on how it had just been a few days ago that I had helped Renolds escape. When we got home, I know Pa would have a good long talk with me and I’d be severely punished. I knew I deserved this punishment of many chores and a good tongue lashing, for my crime. But I knew that Renolds didn’t deserve to die for his crime – not after what he had done for me.
I watched the judge as he sat down behind the table. I listened as the judge called my name. Pa squeezed my shoulder and gave me a nod. I walked slowly forward and sorta smiled. Clearing my throat, I delivered his speech. I told the judge about how I had gotten lost in the woods 3 ½ years ago and gotten bitten by a snake. Told the judge that Renolds had saved my life, and put his own freedom aside to get me to a doctor instead of leaving me out there to die. Without my Pa knowing where I was.
I told the judge that I was guilty in helping Renolds escape, and made sure the judge understood that my father would deliver a just punishment for my crime. Then I said, “Sir, I beg you not to allow this man to be hanged. He saved my life twice, knowing that he would get caught. He was wrong to kill those two people, and I believe he is truly sorry for it. I ask you to please let him live in jail for the rest of his days, but please don’t kill him! Deep down, he is a nice man.”
Pa stood up then and spoke. “He saved my son’s life when he was ten, sir.” Lucas stated. “I’m not saying that he doesn’t deserve to be hanged for what he did, before then. I’m saying that he saved a child’s life – and my son thinks that he deserves life for that. After my son helped him escape, Renolds kidnapped him. When a fire broke out, he ran into that burning building and rescued him. Your honor, I can’t believe that this man is as bad as his crime makes him out to be. He made a terrible mistake and should never again be allowed to be free. Please take his heroics into consideration. Thank you.”
The judge nodded and slammed his gavel. “I will remove my order to hang this man for his crimes. Instead, Renolds, you will be sent to Yuma Prison, where you will spend the remainder of your days. You will never be allowed to be free again, and you will work hard the rest of your days, but you will be alive. This is my final judgment.”
I smiled at Pa. He nodded, but didn’t smile back. All three of us, Micah, Pa and me, walked out of the courthouse, satisfied with the judgment.
By the time we returned home from Santa Fe, it was getting dark. I sat on my horse without moving.
“You go on to your room, boy. I’ll be there when I’m done in the barn.” Pa’s voice was again gruff.
“Yes sir.” My voice was a little more than a whisper. I walked slowly toward the house. Now I realized my thoughts of helping him were right, but the way I went about it was wrong…very wrong…If only I had allowed myself to listen to Pa – if only…I knew that I’d get a licking for sure tonight – Pa would make sure I never, ever did something this stupid again as long as I lived!
I sat on my bed in the darkness and waited. Guilt began eating at my stomach as I thought on the fact that I had royally messed up. I heard the front door open and close. In the silent darkness, Pa’s boots echoed as they walked across the floor. I heard him lay his hand on the doorknob. I closed my eyes knowing the “talk” would come in a matter of moments.
I really messed up! The doorknob started to move – then it stopped. I heard Pa’s retreating boots walk across the floor. I got up and went over to the door. Ever so quietly, I opened it and peaked out. Pa lit a lantern and sat down in his leather chair. He picked up the Bible and began reading.
I was hungry. I wondered if I should fix something to eat while he did his thinking on how to go about punishing me. I opened the door a little more. Pa lifted his head. “I thought I told you to go to your room.”
“Yes , sir.” I swallowed. “I…was just wondering if… you wanted me to fix you something for supper.”
“No Mark,” Pa spoke. “You need to do some thinking and so do I. Shut the door.”
I sat back down on my bed and waited. That was something about Pa. Anytime I really messed up and was going to get a severe punishing, he took a lot of time thinking on it – and consulting God. Sometimes I wondered if consulting God was such a good idea. But as I got older, I learned that Pa did that for a reason – he didn’t want to make a bad choice when it came to punishing me.
I was suddenly very tired. I laid down on my bed and soon fell asleep.
I heard the rooster crowing in the morning and realized I had fallen asleep sometime while I was thinking. I also realized that Pa didn’t come to bed that night. The door slowly opened and Pa asked for me to come to the front room. He returned to sit down in his chair. I started to sit down next to him when he said, “No son. The accused will stand to receive his sentencing.”
I stood in front of ‘my judge’ and bowed my head. I knew my life was going to be different from here on after. A lot different.
“Mark, never before have I lost my temper with you like I did. I’ve always tried to show you understanding, but this time, you went against everything and I mean EVERYTHING, that Micah and I have ever tried to teach you.”
“I’m…” I started to say.
“No, son. Words won’t do, this time. You’re supposed to be growing up. You’ve been taking on more responsibilities here at the ranch, but yet I’ve still given you time to be a boy. That ends today, until I feel otherwise. You will rise earlier than usual and you will do all your chores, before school. Immediately after school, you will head to Micah’s. Each day, you will work for Micah, cleaning the jail, mopping the floor, washing windows, wiping down the jail cell bars, whatever it is Micah wants you to do. You will work! Once Micah is satisfied with your work, you will come immediately home. Each day, I’ll leave a note on the table letting you know where I am. For the rest of the afternoon, you will work for me. And it’s not going to be easy work. There are a lot of fence posts that need to be replaced before winter sets in. On Saturdays, once you are done with your morning chores, we will ride out together to continue to work. When we are done out on the range, we’ll return home. While I’m fixing supper, then and only then will you have time to work on your assignments.”
“On Sundays, after church services, you will study up on the law; the consequences of being an accessory, after the fact, in crimes. I spoke with a U.S. Marshal who was visiting the Governor while we were in Santa Fe. This week he will be shipping down to you books for your reading. You will write reports on what you’ve studied in these law books. I’ll not be the one to grade your reports, they will be sent directly to the Governor’s Office for his review. He very well could have charged you for your actions in allowing Mr. Renolds to escape, but he agreed with the Marshal that this might be a better way of punishing you.”
“Yes sir.” The punishment was swift and hard. It was probably the worst punishment I ever received.
“Sit down here, Mark.” Pa pointed beside him. “Son, you lost something when you allowed Renolds to escape. I’ve put a lot of trust in you. I’ve been treating you like a man these past few months but now…Do you know what you did wrong?”
“I let Renolds escape,” I answered. I didn’t like the disappoint look in Pa’s eyes. “I…I thought I was…doing the right thing.”
“Why, son? Why would allowing a convicted murderer to escape be the right thing?” I shrugged. “Mark, do you know that he shot an innocent man and woman in the BACK just outside their home? Do you know the loss the families of that couple felt? Renolds did that. HE KILLED TWO INNOCENT PEOPLE, Mark! Do you understand that?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
Pa put a hand under my chin and lifted it so I looked into his eyes. “Son, I love you so very much. And it’s because of that love that I punish you. What you did is so very, very wrong…so incredibly STUPID that I have to punish you severely! Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” I answered again. “Pa. I…I…” I stopped and hung my head. “I won’t say I’m sorry. I’ll save it until my punishment is over, because you’re right, I probably don’t understand completely why what I did wrong. I’m not trying to make excuses, Pa, but…There’s been so much happening lately. First Tip Corey’s ride into North Fork, then Earl Bantry’s almost killing you. I couldn’t do anything for those two, because of their pasts. But when Mr. Renolds tried to escape, I got all confused and had been trying to figure out a way to make something better and I thought I saw a good opportunity to do that. I thought I could save him, Pa.”
“You did, son.” Pa raised his eyebrows at me. “You did. You stood up in court and pleaded for his life. The judge listened and granted our request. That was within the law. What you did out on the trail, that was outside the law.”
I was beginning to understand. “Pa?” Pa looked at me as his eyebrows lifted. “You actually told the U.S. Marshal I helped him escape?” Pa nodded. “Weren’t you afraid that…that they’d arrest me on charges?”
“You’re thirteen ½ years old, son. They wouldn’t put a boy that young in jail. They’d send you to a home for boys.”
“Okay. Weren’t you afraid they’d do that?” I asked. “That they’d take me away from you?”
Pa sighed. “Micah and I did a lot of talking that night we rode into Santa Fe. Remember when I sent you straight up to your room?” I nodded. “Micah and I talked. He said he thought I should do what I felt was right. What I felt was right was for you to receive your just punishment – that’s the best way to learn, son. I told the Marshal. He did want to charge you at first, but he and Micah are good friends. Micah convinced him that you are a good kid and just got your rights and wrongs mixed up. That’s when we came up with this punishment.”
“A lickin’ would’ve been much easier,” I declared.
“Oh believe me, I thought about that – a lot. In fact, I almost decided to make you do some ‘woodshed yelping’ before we talked to the Marshal. But then I felt his punishment would be much more effective. And this one gives you a lot more time to think on what you did.”
“Woodshed yelping? Never heard you call it that before.” I stated.
Pa’s replied, “That’s what Abe told us Mr. Renolds said to you before he took you.” You know, I think I actually saw a hint of a smile on Pa’s face.
“If you already had decided on my punishment before we left Santa Fe, why didn’t you tell me last night?” I asked.
“Because I only knew what part of your punishment would be. I wanted to talk with God and ask for his forgiveness for being so angry with you. I wanted God to calm my heart before I decided on the rest of your sentence.”
“How long will I have to do this?”
“Until you’ve learned your lesson,” Pa answered. I started to ask him how long that would be. He held up his hand. “I don’t know, Mark. The Governor’s office will let me know the result of your essays. They’ll tell me if you thoroughly understand what you did wrong. At that time, we’ll discuss your release from punishment.”
I sighed. Pa stood up and went to the door. “Now, while I fix breakfast, how about if you get out there and get started on your work? Remember, son, you have to prove to me you’re ready to be a man. Until then, you’ll be treated like a child.”
“Are you still angry with me, Pa?” I asked as I stood in the doorway.
Pa looked down at me. Our eyes met. “No son, I’m not angry. I’m just very…disappointed.”
I hung my head and went to start on my chores, knowing it would be a long time before I received Pa’s trust 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
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