One day Pa announced to me that he had to go out of town to buy a few more head of cattle. At first I was excited because I thought I was going to get to go with him. You know how much I love to go everywhere with my Pa! But he said no. He would be gone for a few days and didn’t want me to get too far behind on my studies, especially since school had just recently started. So, I had to stay in town.
Now, I’m not sure who was actually in charge of me, since I seemed to be spending equal between Micah and Hattie. I slept and ate my meals at Miss Hattie’s, but I liked to hang out with the Marshal and hear his stories about outlaws he had met. My Pa wouldn’t have been too pleased with me asking so many questions and getting so excited over outlaws, and Micah told me as much, but it was exciting to hear about.
And while staying with Hattie and Micah, I thought it would be pretty easy to miss school and skip my homework, but Miss Hattie and Micah both told me sternly the very first time I tried anything that my Pa had left strict orders, and they had to be followed. And they said that they were to let my Pa know if I tried any funny stuff. I knew that I didn’t want to get in trouble first thing when Pa got back, so I decided to do as Pa wanted me to do.
The week flew by! I had to ride out to the ranch after school and feed the cattle, but it didn’t take long. Pa was paying one of the hired hands from a neighboring ranch to care for the place while he was gong, so I had a lot of playing time before Miss Hattie called me in to get ready for bed. And Miss Hattie made me wash behind my ears, my whole face, and my hands and feet every single night. I was just getting no breaks!
We got a telegram one day that said my pa would be here in a couple hours. He had told me that when he got back, he was going to take the cattle straight to the ranch, then take a bath and freshen up. He didn’t like people seeing his sweat and dirt.
Micah was just about to tell another outlaw story when we suddenly heard gunshots coming from the saloon. “Stay here, boy!” Micah demanded. Then he rushed out of the office. I suddenly heard a cry from Micah. I went to the door and looked outside. A man had been trying to escape and ran straight into the Marshal. Micah sat on the ground and held his shotgun on the man. One of the townsmen saw that Micah couldn’t get up, so he led the man into jail and locked him up.
It was about that time that Pa came riding in. I ran out and greeted him with a hug and kiss like I always did. I didn’t realize Micah couldn’t get off the ground. “What’s wrong with Micah? Why’s he sitting on the ground like that?”
“An outlaw knocked him over, Pa,” I explained.
Pa hurried over to Micah and tried to help him stand up. Micah groaned as he sat back down and rubbed his ankle. “I twisted it bad, Lucas boy!”
By this time, a small crowd was gathered. It seemed that everyone in the town was suddenly interested in why the Marshal was sitting in the middle of the street. “You should have seen it, Pa!” I explained as people around us listened. “The marshal was rushing out of his office and that man was walking backwards from the saloon when Micah just ran smack into him and-“
“All right, Mark. That’s enough!” Pa said.
“But Pa, I was just telling-“
Pa was looking at Micah’s ankle, but jerked his head around at me and narrowed his eyes. I immediately stopped talking. “Yes sir,” I said timidly.
“Go get the doc. Then come back and sit in this chair,” he pointed to a chair sitting outside the Marshal’s office. “Until I come get you, ya hear?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. Then I got myself an idea. “Pa?”
Pa was about to help Micah up when he turned to look at me. “Can I wait at Hattie’s?” I thought I could get another piece of candy over there. But after Pa shot me another look, I thought better of it. “I’ll wait here,” I stated.
I did as told. It was quite awhile before Pa came back out. I stood up and asked him how the Marshal was. “It’s not broken, but he won’t be doing any marshalling for a few days,” Pa answered.
I noticed the brass star on his shirt. “Wow!” I exclaimed. “You mean you get to be Marshal for a few days?”
Pa raised his eyebrows at me and shook his head. “Let’s go talk to Nels, son,” he answered.
While Pa was telling Nels about Micah, I looked over and saw people getting off the stage. I had said hello to Mr. Cole earlier, but he ignored me. So I was watching the stage to see just what was going on. Suddenly, I saw a man dressed quite differently getting off the coach. He had on white pants with some sort of stretchy thing that went under his boots. He had on a really frilly shirt and a long black jacket. He looked like someone out of one of my history books about far-way lands. “Pa, look!” I suddenly said.
We watched him get off the coach. Suddenly, a man named Groder started to giving this stranger a hard time. I proudly watched my Pa tell Groder to leave him alone. Groder walked off laughing. “Boy, you told him, Pa!” I stated proudly.
Pa shook his head at me again. “Let’s go have supper,” he stated.
As we walked into the hotel, I saw the whole line of people from the stagecoach getting in line for an overnight room. Pa led me into the restaurant and I sat down. I was so engrossed in the conversation out in the lobby that I forgot to take my hat off. Pa reached over and snapped it off of my head as he told the waiter what to bring us to eat. Soon, I saw Groder come in and start hassling the funny-dressed man.
“Why do they all treat him that way, Pa?” I asked. Pa had always taught me that there were all types of people in this world, and God made them all. But that didn’t help me understand why this man was treated so differently. But I knew pa always tried to explain things to me so I would understand.
“Someone who is strange or different is often treated with cruelty.”
I had figured that part out. “But why?”
“Ignorance mostly. Sometimes when people don’t understand something, they think it’s to be feared or hated. That’s wrong, but it takes a long time to learn differently.”
I still didn’t understand, but I knew enough to know that what they were doing was wrong. I actually wanted to meet him and talk to him. I was sure he had some really great stories to tell me.
I must stop here for a second and tell you that another thing that stood out through all these years about my Pa is our talks. He always made them so special, and he did his best not to get onto me for asking him questions. He told me years later that those were special times for him – times he could teach me how to be a man. All his talks now stay in my head as flashbacks to help me when I’m struggling with some of these issues today. Okay, back to the story now.
We ate our food in silence. As I was eating my cherry pie, I got my chance to meet the stranger. He walked in to ask Pa where our bank was. I sat in silence and listened to the conversation, hoping I would get my chance to talk to him later. I heard my Pa advice the stranger not to go into the saloon since people around here weren’t being too nice to him. But the stranger merely stated they didn’t bother him.
I could see and hear the frustration in my father’s voice. I knew it really irked him when people treated others cruelly. I heard him ask the stranger, Freddie, not to judge us all by the worse ones.
I got my wish to talk to him. Freddie wanted to know what was good. That was an easy question! “Try the cherry pie. It’s great!” I stated.
As we walked out, Freddie said something really sad. He said he had had a son that died. He would be my age if he were still alive. I took a liking to this man instantly. As we started to walk out of the hotel, I stopped and turned to look at him once more. “He’s all right!” I declared. Actually, he was more then all right. He was exciting, and I wanted a chance to talk to him again.
Pa and I went back to the blacksmith’s. Pa was really nervous about Freddie’s staying here when so many people had already been dogging him. But Nels insisted that the coach wouldn’t be ready until morning.
While Pa went over to the saloon, I stayed and watched Nels work on the stagecoach. I enjoyed learning about new things and asked him several questions along the way. I was starting to ask another question when Pa returned with Freddie. “Mark, what have I told you about asking too many questions while someone’s trying to work?” Pa suddenly said as he walked up to me and put a hand on my shoulder.
I was happy when Nels jumped to my defense. “He’s okay. Maybe I’m training up the next North Fork blacksmith.”
I smiled at Nels, and then I looked up at Pa who raised an eyebrow at me. “Let’s go, son.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the hotel. Things didn’t go to well at the saloon.” As we walked into the hotel, Pa told me that Freddie was going to duel Gorman in the morning.
“Wow!” I suddenly said in excitement without thinking.
Pa stopped walking and placed his hands on his hips. I was standing right beside him and lifted my head all the way up. “Sorry, Pa.”
“By the way, Mark,” Freddie said as we started up the stairs to Freddie’s room. “The cherry pie was fantastic!”
I smiled. As we entered the hotel room, I started asking Freddie questions. “Say, could you tell me about where you’re from? Is it really different? Does everyone there dress like you? Do they have ranches there? Do they have schools? Do-“
“Mark,” Pa suddenly interrupted. When I looked at him, he pointed to a chair. I knew I was to sit there.
Freddie laughed as he answered a few of my questions. But I was getting really tired. It was late. My head started nodding off. Freddie came over and tucked his jacket around me. I opened my eyes and looked at him. “Go to sleep, little one,” he said softly.
I looked at Pa who was standing beside me on the other side of the chair. “I want to listen some more,” I mumbled.
“Later, son.” Pa bent and kissed the top of my head. “For now, just sleep.”
I don’t think I woke up all night. I felt Pa lift me from the chair and carry me over to the bed. As he started tucking the covers around me, I opened my eyes. “Ya going now?” I asked Pa as he continued tucking me in.
“That’s right. I want you to go back to sleep.”
I’d never seen a real-live duel before, and I had been hoping to see it since I heard about it last night. “No, I want to come along,” I complained. I tried to sit up, but Pa firmly pushed me back down onto the pillow.
“Now, if I wanted you to be there, I would have said so, son,” Pa stated firmly. “There’s nothing to be gained by your watching! I just hope that when you grow up, they’ll be other ways to handle men like Groder then using guns.” I understood what he was saying, and I was kind of sorry for being so excited about it….I said kind of sorry!”
As Pa and Freddie started to leave, I said, “Good luck, Count. I know you’ll win!”
Freddie smiled at me, but I could tell Pa didn’t approve too much of what I said. Before he closed the door, he ordered me to go back to sleep. I did.
Suddenly, Pa was shaking my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw him bending over me. “Where’s the count?” I asked suddenly.
Pa smiled. “He’s in the dining room. He has to leave in a little while.”
“Did he kill Groder?” I asked excitedly.
Pa sat down on the side of the bed and raised an eyebrow at me. “Mark, there’s nothing exciting about a man’s death, no matter what he does wrong.” He looked straight into my eyes and stayed silent after that.
I finally lowered my head, knowing my thinking had been wrong. “Yes sir. I’m sorry.”
Pa smiled at me then. “In fact, Freddie chased Groder out of town.”
“He did?” I smiled. Then I stood and Pa started running his fingers through my hair to make it look sort of decent for the dining room. “Pa,” I said as he continued grooming me. Pa stopped and looked in my eyes. “I’m glad Groder didn’t die.”
Pa patted me on the shoulder and plopped my hat on my head. “Come on, son. Let’s go eat!”
Later, as I watched the stagecoach drive off, I asked “Pa, if we ever went to Europe, you think we’d look as funny to him as he did to us?”
“What do you think?” Somehow, I knew Pa was going to answer me that way.
I knew the answer already. “I guess we would,” I stated. I tried to imagine what Europe looked like with a bunch of kids dressed like Freddie running around.
“Maybe even funnier,” Pa declared. I’d have to think on that for awhile!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Safe Guard
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Eight Hours to Die
around The McCain Ranch