“Pa, I’m done cleaning the barn! Can I go explore now?” I asked, running up to Pa as he began chopping the wood.
Pa looked at me squarely in the eye for a minute. I could tell he was checking if I had any hidden agenda to my mission. But I guess I passed, because he finally told me I could go! There for a minute, I thought I was going to be stuck at the wood pile! But I had been asking for three days straight, and he finally let me go.
“I want you back in two hours, and don’t leave our property, you hear me, boy?” Pa shook his finger at me.
Okay, I’ll admit that I could be a bit…er…mischievous at times! But after hearing some of the stories my Pa told me about his boyhood, I figured I was doing pretty good! That didn’t stop him from punishing me, though, when I did something wrong! I just said “Yes sir” and raced off down the lane. I would have ridden a horse, but I couldn’t because Pa had them all out grazing and didn’t want me riding them today.
I explored the land for quite awhile. I was excited to find a cave at one place on the land, but I knew not to go in there until Pa told me it was okay. As I ran across the land, I could feel the wind in my hair, and I was so happy! Never in my young life had I had so much land we could call our own to run across, and I was so happy for my Pa. I suddenly stopped as I saw that I was standing on a cliff. The world was so magnificent! We had tall mountains and then deep canyons that dropped hundreds of feet…
I felt I was standing a bit too close to the edge, so I turned to go. But suddenly my foot got caught on some brush and I slipped. I tried to grab onto something – anything – to keep myself from falling over the side.
I quit breathing as I suddenly found myself going over the side. My hands began grasping at anything to keep me from falling. But I slid down the side some ways before I was finally able to take hold of something. I was terrified! How was I going to get myself out of this mess! My Pa always said I was too curious in my explorations and he was right. I closed my yes. “Oh Pa, I need you in a really bad way!”
He was too far away, and he wouldn’t come looking for me until I was way overdue, because sometimes I lost track of time. “Help!” I began screaming. “Somebody please help me!” That’s all I could do. “Oh God, please send somebody to help me!” I prayed. Then I began screaming for help again.
I had been yelling for several minutes it seemed before I suddenly saw a man poke his head over the side. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but he did tell me that he was going to help me. He left, though. I was so scared. My hands were weakening and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay hanging on very much longer.
“Hurry!” I screamed. But it took him a long time to come back. I heard the sounds of horses as they went further down the road. Were the leaving me here? He said he’d be back. “Please help me!” I screamed. I was crying. I didn’t want to die. Most of all, I didn’t want to leave my Pa with another heartache. “Please help!”
Suddenly, the man was there. He said he was going to throw a rope down to me and for me not to do anything. I was too scared. I couldn’t have grabbed that rope even if I wanted to, and I think he knew that. He hurried down to me and helped me grab hold of the rope. There was another man at the top who was pulling me up while this man was pushing me up as I tried to climb. I was finally safely lying on the ground, and I silently vowed to never go near the edge of that cliff again!
As I was making this promise to myself, though, I suddenly heard the man scream. I laid exhausted in the grass. The man beside me, Hank, shouted to the man that helped me, Will. Will shouted that he had broken his leg. I watched as he was dragged back up the side of the cliff. He was in a lot of pain. I ran up to him. “Thanks, Mr….”
“Will…” he gasped out. “Just call me Will!”
I swallowed and stuck out my hand to him. “Thanks, Will, for saving my life! I’m…really grateful!”
“My brother needs a doctor,” Hank said a bit gruffly to me.
I nodded. “Yes sir. You’re on my Pa’s land. We live just a ways back there. He’d be happy to help you.”
Hank helped Will onto his horse. I pushed to help get him over the saddle with all my might. Then Hank climbed onto his horse and told me I could ride with him as he pulled me up behind him. “Mister, I really am grateful for you saving my life!” I said to Hank as we started toward the ranch.
“Forget it,” he stated roughly.
As we rode into the yard, I saw Pa coming toward us with his rifle. I’m sure he thought it strange that I was riding with a stranger, and we could get into trouble if I didn’t do some explaining. So Hank lowered me off the horse and I ran up to Pa, relieved to see him again. Cause you know, there for a while, I didn’t think I’d ever see him again! I explained to him that I slipped and fell and that these two men pulled me out. “Boy, I could have been a goner!” I suddenly exclaimed.
Pa was relieved I was okay, and he carried Will into the house. Hank didn’t want a doctor. I think they were outlaws. That was sure exciting! Outlaws right here on our own ranch! Pa had to make a splint for Will’s leg and it was my job to hold it while he set Will’s leg. I actually didn’t want to be in there, but Pa told me that Will was hurt on account of my mischief, so I would stay in there and help.
When he popped Will’s leg into place, it looked like it hurt real bad. In fact, I flinched because it kinda turned my stomach to see him do it. I was awful sorry this happened on account of me, and I tried to think of a way to make up for what Pa called my “bad eyesight.”
I was really excited when Pa said Will could stay with us until his leg was better. But Will was being real hateful about it. I wanted to stay and try to talk to Will – to make him happier, but Pa stated we had chores to do and we left. I asked Pa what was wrong with Will. He stated that he doubted that Will even knew, but that he couldn’t be as bad as he made out. I asked him why he said that. “Well if he was, he wouldn’t have stopped to help you,” he stated.
In that instance, I saw the relief in my Pa’s eyes. He only allowed me to see it for a moment, but I saw it. And I was awful sorry I had gotten everyone in such a mess! But it’s like Pa always tells me. We make mistakes to learn from them – and I was certainly learning from this one!
In spite of his acting mean, I liked Will. I guess I could see right through that meanness and see that he had a really nice heart. I still remember the day he tried to hold that gun on us when the Martinsville Marshall came to see us. I saw him pull that gun on us. It scared me. I couldn’t believe Will would do that! My Pa didn’t much appreciate people using guns the wrong way. I looked at him to see what he would do, but Pa just showed Will who was boss! I sure do love my Pa!
It seemed like the longer Will stayed with us, the nicer he got. I remember Will taking care of his horse one day. It was a chestnut and he was so beautiful! I really wanted to ride his horse, but I was afraid to ask him. But I sure did keep hinting that I wanted to ride it. Will finally asked me if I wanted to ride his horse, and I was really, really happy when he told me I could! Will tried to tell me it was only because he needed the exercise, but I knew better. Pa and me, we could see inside people – in their hearts. And I knew he was my friend.
If Pa had let me, I would of just hung out with Will all the live-long day and asked him about his adventures, but Pa told me I had to do my work. I would ask Will questions while we ate our meals. At first, he didn’t want to answer them, but he finally started talking, though he was really rough about it. Usually, Pa had to chase me out the door to get my stated on my day.
I even asked him if I could ride his horse to town one day, but before I got the answer all the way out, Pa firmly stated, “No.” That was the end of that question!
Will was an excellent checker player too! One night after supper, I asked Pa to play checkers with me. He said he had to work on the books. Then Will said he’d play checkers with me. I was so happy at first. But as we started playing, I realized that he was actually going to beat me hands down! He knew all sorts of tricks that he said his brother had taught him.
One night when we were playing checkers, I realized it was about time for his gang to come get him. I didn’t really want him to go, but I knew he was probably ready to go back. I figured things seemed really dull around here compared to riding all over with the gang. I supposed I’ve always had a sense of adventure, and thought it would be fun to ride around the country like that.
I was surprised at Will’s response. He had seemed so much calmer lately, but suddenly, he was in a bad mood. “Fun…Well, it seemed like a lot of different things to me in the past couple of years, but it never seemed like fun. What’s fun about being chased all the time? Never being in one place long enough to get to know anybody, never knowing where your next meals coming from, never being able to trust anybody, never being trusted. Like right now, we’re sitting here playing checkers, and all this time I’m having to keep my eye on that door. That’s not fun. That’s not fun at all.”
Then he got angry and messed up the checker game. I was upset that he talked to me like that, and I tried to understand it. Pa just sat silently as if he didn’t hear anything. The he quietly turned around in the chair and told me I needed to get ready for bed. I didn’t say anything, but just sat there. That’s when he stood up and came over to stand behind me. He laid a hand on each of my shoulders. “Mark,” he said softly. “He doesn’t hate you, son. In fact he cares about you. He’s just jealous.”
“Jealous?” I didn’t really understand why.
“He’s had it rough, Mark. He would rather have the nice quiet life you are living here on the ranch then be on the run from the law all the time.”
I didn’t say anything. Pa squeezed my shoulder, then started back towards the desk where he had been working. “Have a good sleep, son.”
I knew he wanted me to think on this and to realize just how lucky I was. As I got ready for bed that night, I did think about it. Will was jealous of me? I had a loving father who was teaching me good, solid values to live by but Will had nothing like that. His role modal was an outlaw wanted for robbing a bank. His brother had driven him into this, and now Will wanted out.
I walked out to my Pa. I came to stand right beside him at the desk. He didn’t even look up, but said softly, “All ready for bed?”
I stood and stared at his face. “Pa,” I said softly.
That’s when Pa knew I had something important to say. He put down his pen and turned to me. He gently laid an arm around my shoulders. “What is it, Mark?”
“I know what you were trying to tell me. I don’t want Will to go back with them. Can’t he stay here?”
Pa raised his eyes toward the ceiling as he tried to find the right words for me. “I don’t want him to go back either. But I don’t think staying with us is the answer either, son. I want him to become independent, and he can’t do that as long as he’s here. The first step is for him to turn himself in to the Marshall.”
I lowered my head. I didn’t want him to go to jail! But Pa suddenly put a finger under my chin and lifted it, forcing me to look into his eyes. “In order to be free, you must face your past, son.”
I sighed. “I know, Pa,” I stated.
He patted my shoulder as he continued looking into my eyes. “You best get to bed now, son. Have a good sleep.”
I nodded as he bent down to hug me. I gave him a kiss on the cheek before walking towards the bedroom. I stopped at the door and turned around. “I sure am lucky, Pa.” I stated. Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “I have you.” We shared one last smile before I disappeared into the bedroom, blew out the lantern, and lay down.
I was almost asleep when I heard Pa come into the bedroom. He came over to my bed like he did every night and tucked the covers around me tighter. Then he bent down a placed a kiss on my forehead.
A few days passed. One day I was busy doing chores when I saw Will making something. He was making a boa, and he told me it was for me! I was so happy. Will told me to hurry with my chores, and he’d let me know when it was done. I did work on my chores. I was carrying the bucket into the house to fill up when I decided to ask Will if he was done. I suddenly noticed that he was distracted by something. The roughness had returned.
“Yea. I’m all done,” he suddenly shouted at me. Then he threw the bow at me. “Here, take it!”
I stood frozen in my spot. I couldn’t believe he was yelling at me. What did I do? As I tried to figure this out, he suddenly shouted, “Well go on! Pick it up!”
I knew I was about to cry. He was yelling at me and I felt like I had done something to make him mad. Suddenly, I started running toward the house. I wanted to get away from him – to figure out what I did wrong.
But Will ran after me and grabbed me roughly by the arm. He got down on his knees and begged me for forgiveness. I didn’t know what to do! I wasn’t used to grown men asking me to forgive them like this.
My Pa suddenly told me to get inside. I stood in my spot staring at them both as I tried to figure out what was going on. “Go on, son,” my Pa stated sternly. I had no choice. I went inside.
Pa came inside a little later. I was getting ready to mop the floors. Pa stood there, leaning against the doorway, watching me in silence. I licked my lips before turning and looking at him. But I said nothing. I turned back to the bucket of water and just stared into it. Suddenly, I trusted my voice to speak. “They’ll be coming for him soon.”
Pa nodded but said nothing. “I don’t want him to go with them.” Again, he nodded. Finally I turned around and looked at him.
Pa came into the room and placed a hand on my shoulder. Then he smoothed out my hair and smiled. “He’s not going with them.”
“How do you know?”
Pa just smiled at me, then he walked back outside.
The next day, we were working out by the barn. We were leaning up against the fence when I saw riders coming. Will stated it was them. “Are you going with them?” I asked anxiously.
Pa and I just looked at him. “I don’t know.” Pa knew the answer already. I could tell.
“Get inside, Mark.” Pa suddenly stated. I wanted to be a part of this! I didn’t want there to be any gunfight. Why couldn’t he just walk away.
“Why, pa?” I questioned. This was something I was never supposed to do – not until later. But I really wanted to stay outside with him and Will.
“Do as your pa says!” Will suddenly said. I knew he wouldn’t be going then. I started for the house, but turned to see what was going on. Pa was going for his rifle. As I stood in the doorway, he turned and looked at me. I quickly shut the door.
I heard gunshots. I don’t recall how many, but I do recall it was all over quickly. When I came out, Will was leaning over his brother who laid dead in our yard. He was crying.
Pa came up behind me and placed hands on my shoulders. He quickly lifted my hat off my head as we stood in silence for Will’s dead brother. “Why, Pa?” I asked quietly.
Will turned around and stared at me. Tears laid on his cheeks. Pa tapped me on the shoulder, which told me to be quiet, but Will shook his head. “It’s okay, Lucas.” Will came to kneel in front of me. “He had gone too far. He didn’t feel like he had any way out.” Then Will looked up at my Pa. “I have a way out, and this was it. Mark, we had no choice. I only fired as a last resort.”
I nodded in understanding. “Are you going to the marshal?
Will looked at my Pa again and smiled. “I’m going to the marshal,” he answered.
That afternoon, I said goodbye to Will. As I watched him ride off, I waved at him wondering if I’d ever see him again. I looked up at Pa and smiled knowing I was very lucky indeed!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.