Before I could even dismount, I saw Stevie and Freddie run over to me. I quickly jumped down as they ran up to me. “Mark, what happened to you last night? You were supposed to go fishing!”
I nodded, remembering that I was. “Pa was in town yesterday. He told me I had to come straight home. I told him I was planning on going fishing with you two, but it was a flat-out no!” I moaned as I thought about it. “I hadn’t finished my chores from Wednesday night and Pa was pretty soar when he went to the south pastor and found the hole still in the fence.”
“Well, we went to Valley Lake last night. You’re never gonna believe what happened!” Stevie exclaimed.
“He caught a-“ Freddie started.
“Hey, it was my fish!” Stevie said. “I can tell it my way!”
Miss Adams was calling us inside. “Just tell me!” I declared impatiently as I grabbed my books and started inside.
“I caught a two pound trout!” Stevie declared.
We were inside now. “A two pound-“ I was suddenly excited. “Oh wow! I’ve gotta go fishing tonight! I just gotta!”
I thought on this all morning. Pa had told me he’d be in town for his meeting, so at lunch I hurried into town. His horse was tied outside the saloon. I went up to the doors and looked inside. “Pa!” I called, not daring to step into the forbidden room, though sometimes the curiosity of it all did overwhelm me.
Pa and Micah both stood up and came out. “Pa, can I go fishing after school? Huh, can I please? I want to go fishing really bad! Stevie said-“
Suddenly, Pa held up his hand to silence me. “I want you to come straight home after school, son. You have a woodpile to work on.”
I groaned. “Oh, but-“
“You have one more night of penance for your Wednesday night crime. If you do good tonight, you may be able to go fishing tomorrow.” I saw Micah smile at his comparing my small wrong-doing to a crime, but he didn’t say anything.
I sighed. “Yes sir.” I turned to leave, but then I said, ‘Uh…Pa? You aren’t gonna eat lunch in town today?”
Pa nodded. “In a while.”
“Well, uh…I could stay and eat with ya,” I suggested kindly. “You know, to keep you company and all.”
Pa Patted Micah on the back. “Oh, well Micah’s gonna eat lunch with me and you brought your lunch.”
I suddenly wrinkled my face. “Not exactly, Pa.” Pa turned and looked at me. “Well, I sort of left my lunch on the table and-“
I slowly walked back to school. Freddie and Stevie ran up to me. I shook my head. “Pa says one more day punishment for not mending the fence Wednesday night. He said I can go fishing Saturday.”
When I got home that night, Pa had plenty of work to keep me busy. The woodpile had gotten pretty low, so I was kept busy splitting wood. Pa did the hard work of chopping the really big pieces, but then I had to split it into smaller pieces, fill up the wood bin inside the house, and pile the wood on the woodpile. I must admit that I was pretty ready to go to bed that night! Pa sat in the chair reading a book while I finished washing the dishes. “Well son, next time I give you an order, what are you gonna do?”
“Pa,” I said as I started for the bedroom. “I will never disobey you again! I’ll do every chore when I’m told to do it!”
Pa looked up from the book and smiled. “Don’t make a promise you can’t keep, son. Though I’m sure it’ll be quite a spell before you disobey one of my orders again. Have a good sleep.”
I lay down in bed. Like he did almost every night, Pa walked into the bedroom to tuck me in. He smiled at me, said good-night then shut the door. It sure didn’t take me very long to get to sleep!
But then suddenly, I woke up when I heard a noise. I heard Pa talking, but I heard another voice. He was yelling. I quickly pulled on my slippers and ran outside. “Pa, is that you?” I started.
Pa suddenly kicked a gun out of man’s hand and grabbed him. I hurried off the porch toward him. Pa was suddenly mad at me again. "Mark, I told you not to walk in on a situation blind like that!" Boy, I sure hadn’t stayed out of trouble very long!
"Well I'm sorry but I heard voices, but didn't see anybody…” I suddenly looked at the man. “Why, he’s a soldier!” I declared.
“He’s just a boy,” Pa muttered unhappily.
The soldier suddenly passed out. Pa carried him inside. I picked up his rifle and put it away. “Mark, bring me some water and the medicine box! I need to clean out this wound.” I did as told. “Now, you need to go to bed.”
“Oh, but Pa! Can I please-“ I started.
Pa turned and looked at me. “Alright. Look through this jacket and see if you can find anything in there.”
I did. I found a small Bible. In the front was an inscription. I read it to Pa. “So, his name’s Ben,” Pa stated as he worked on cleaning the soldier’s wound. “He needs a doctor. He’s still carrying the bullet.”
“Why, Pa? Why’d he get shot?” I suddenly wondered.
Pa shook his head. “It could be anything, son. I’m sure his troop will be looking for him soon if they aren’t already.”
When Ben woke up, Pa tried to keep him calm. Ben wanted to know how he knew his name and he read the inscription to him. “To Ben. The Lord is Thy Shepherd. Mother. It’s good advice,” Pa stated. “Too bad you didn’t follow it!” I stared at Pa, not quite believing he was being so rough on the soldier! After all, he didn’t know the story.
But then I didn’t know he had tried to take a horse from Pa at gunpoint either. Suddenly, we heard horses approaching. I ran to the window and looked out. “Troopers, Pa!” I announced.
Ben didn’t want them to find him. He begged Pa to hide him. Pa told me to stay with Ben, then he went outside. I sat down next to Ben. “Don’t worry. My Pa’s a good man! He’ll protect you,” I promised. I smiled at him. “By the way, I’m Mark McCain.
Ben started gasping again. “Hi, Mark!”
Suddenly, the troopers came inside and dragged Ben out of the bed. They carried him outside. I stared at the bed where he had just been lying, suddenly wondered what his story was. Why were they forcing him, a wounded man who needed a doctor, to go back as if nothing was wrong. “Pa? What’ll they do to him?”
“I don’t know, son,” Pa answered. We went inside and Pa shut the door. He began cleaning the mess as I watched. He suddenly turned. “Well, get to bed, boy.”
I walked up to him. “Pa, what did he do?”
Pa sighed. “He stole water.”
Pa turned from the cot where he was cleaning up. “Mark, go to bed.” I hesitated again. I had so many questions to ask. Pa turned and looked at me – it was that look that needed no words.
“G-good-night, Pa!” I suddenly said.
I laid in bed for a long time but couldn’t get to sleep. I got up and went to the window. I looked out over the dark hills and valleys, suddenly wondering what it would be like to be in the Calvary. I suddenly heard the door open. I ran over to my bed and jumped in it, covering myself with the blankets. I heard Pa sigh then shut the door. I decided to stop thinking and go to sleep.
Suddenly, it was morning. I got up and dressed, then I went out into the kitchen. “Mush is on the stove,” Pa announced. “I did your chores this morning, son. You got back to bed pretty late.”
“Oh,” I looked at the pan on the stove. “Pa, I don’t suppose I could uh…skip breakfast-“ I started. But when Pa turned and looked at me, I quickly filled my bowl with the mush and sat down. “I sure could use some sugar on here.”
Pa stood to fill his coffee cup again saying nothing. That was pretty much my answer. I started eating. “Those soldiers certainly were something last night!” I stated as I picked up my milk and started drinking it down.
Pa came back to the table with his coffee. “Mark, stop bolting your food, son!” he suddenly ordered.
I sat down my glass and picked up my spoon. “Oh, I’m sorry. Say, is it okay if I go fishing today?” I asked. I had already asked him yesterday, but I wanted to make double sure it was okay…for sure!
“Sure, where are you gonna go?” Pa asked.
I wiped my mouth on the back of my sleeve. I was actually surprised Pa didn’t chide me for that. He usually did! “Well, I was thinking of going down to the Valley Lake.” Suddenly I remembered what Stevie had told me. I hadn’t told Pa that! I got excited all over again. “Do you know that Stevie said that he caught a fish two pounds down there?” I even held out my hands to show Pa how big that would be.
But he looked at my hands and said, “Two pounds?” I drew my hands closer together. “Oh,” he nodded his approval.
“Well, he said it,” I said. Suddenly, I got to thinking about those soldiers again. Those uniforms they wore were sure something else! And I sure did think it would be fun to go traveling all over the country! “Gee, how old do you have to be to join the army?” I asked as I took another bite of my mush.
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “You want to join the army?” Pa asked.
“There’s nothing wrong with that!” I argued as I took another bite of food.
“No, but you still have to wait a few years, and stop eating so fast, huh?” Pa said.
“Boy those uniforms they wear sure are something!” I commented then.
“Oh, so that’s what you like, huh?” Pa asked.
“Yeah. Well you used to wear one, didn’t ya?” I suddenly asked. My Pa had fought in the Civil War! He was a Lieutenant! Believe me, I loved telling that to all my friends. I sure hope that someday I’ll be a Lieutenant!
“Sure did. I was in the Calvary too.”
“I’ll be!” I cried excitedly. Of course he’d told me that before, but it still excited me a lot! To think of my Pa as one of those men riding on horses!
“Well, right now you just think about going fishing,” Pa stated. “And when you get back-“ suddenly he stopped. “Mark, not so fast with the food son.” I wonder if parents ever get tired of nagging their children? “When you come back from fishing, I want you to clean up that barn you haven’t touched for a week.”
From the look on Pa’s face, that was an order. It was the same look he wore when he told me to repair the tear in the fence the other day. Only this time would be different! I’d definitely clean up the barn that very day! “Oh, I will! Don’t worry!” I took another bite and set the spoon back down in the bowl. “I can go fishing then?” I asked again. Hey, a guy who just got himself out of a mess of trouble has to be sure about these things!
“Well gee, thanks!” I said. I stood up to leave before I ended up getting into too much trouble.
“Mark,” Pa suddenly said in that impatient voice of his. I turned. Some days, just standing up can get you into trouble! “That’s food. Don’t waste it!”
I quickly ate the rest of my mush. Pa got onto me a couple more times for eating too fast. Either I ate too fast, too slow, not enough, or too much! Some days you just can’t win! I finally ate to my Pa’s satisfaction and started to get up and leave. He cleared his throat, though. I hurriedly washed my bowl out, then I was allowed to go fishing.
I whistled as I made my way down to the Valley Lake. Stevie was down there already. I sat down and threw my line into the water. Stevie had already caught two pretty good sized one’s. I fished for hours but didn’t even get a bite! I groaned as Stevie kept pulling them out of the water. I don’t know how many times I pulled my line out of the water just to make sure I still had bait on the hook! Finally, after his tenth fish, I stood up and put my hands on my hips. “What’s the big idea anyhow?” I asked. “I’m sitting right beside you and am getting nothing!”
Stevie shrugged. I finally pulled my line out. “Well, I’m getting hungry and it’s hot out here! I’m going to go into town and see if I can get something to eat.”
I did just that! As I rode into town though, I saw a commotion going on down the street. I jumped off Blue Boy then walked the rest of the way down. There was a whole crowd gathered there. I stayed in the back, hiding behind someone. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be here or not, so I decided not to make myself known.
I watched the Major as he started ordering the firing squad to shoot this soldier who had been declared a deserter. I let out a little gasp. Mr. Toomey turned around from where he was standing and stared at me. “You best get out of here,” he ordered. I didn’t want to go. “Go on, boy!”
I walked down the street and hid behind the building. Suddenly, the Major was upset. No one was heeding his orders. “You’ve all gone mad!” I heard him say.
Now I must admit that this was an adventure for me, so the fact that an execution by firing squad didn’t happen was disappointing in the romantic sense of the word. But my common sense assured me I didn’t really want to see this young soldier executed.
I suddenly stepped out. People were starting to walk away. I hurried up to the small crowd still gathered around talking. “Well, why did they all do that? Didn’t they have to obey him?”
Micah turned around and looked at me. “No, they stood up for what they believed, son.”
Pa turned and saw me then. “Son, how long have you been here?” he asked me sternly. I told him I’d come up while the Major was ordering the firing squad to shoot Ben. “Oh, and what do you think?”
I was honest with him. My honesty did earn me a raised eyebrow and a sincere smile. Pa shook his head at me and asked me how my fishing adventure went.
“It didn’t,” I groaned. “Stevie sat right beside me and caught ten. I didn’t even get a bite. I don’t understand it, Pa!”
Pa laughed as he put his arm around me. “Well son, fishermen have been trying to figure that out for hundreds of years! If you figure it out, you just let me know!” Then he looked down at me. “I don’t suppose you’d want to join me and Micah for lunch in the hotel?”
“Yes sir!” I declared.
“Okay.” Suddenly, Pa stopped and turned to me. He shook a finger at me. “But when you are done, you get back on that horse, ride home, and clean that barn!”
“Yes sir!” I said. Then I stopped. I had an idea. “Uh Pa, after I clean the barn, can I provide supper?”
“Provide supper?” Pa raised an eyebrow.
“Go fishing in the pond.” I smiled at Pa’s raised eyebrows. “Haven’t you had your heart set on fish tonight?” I asked. Pa nodded. “I can catch a whole mess of catfish!”
“Okay, bread-winner. But right now why don’t we go inside and eat?”
“Yes sir!” I ran into the hotel restaurant, leaving Pa and Micah to shake their heads.
*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
A Time for Singing
around The McCain Ranch