I don’t reckon I’ve ever mentioned “the rock pile,” but then I don’t relish the thought of thinking on it. You see, ever since we started calling North Fork home, my Pa talked about that darned ol’ rock pile and how much work it would take to clear all those rocks out of there. It was a chore needed done, but Pa never had time to do it, and me well… I just didn’t have the muscles to help out that much when I was younger. So, it’s a task that we sort of, procrastinated about or maybe Pa just….
Guess it would be better if I just explained. There are a few reasons that darned ol’ rock pile had me not wanting to mention it – or even talk about it. One of those reasons is because I recall many, many times when that was the subject of conversation… A one sided conversation… Pa’s, especially if I was making a pest of myself. Why, I remember one Saturday very clearly in my mind, I think I was twelve. My Pa was busy working on the barn and Iwas just in one of those moods. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do… And didn’t feel like doing anything. Pa saw me and told me that now was a good time for me to help out and do some extra chores since I had so much free time. But, you know me, for a twelve year old boy, extra chores sounded too much like a punishment.
Well, I started moping around the ranch even more. I even sat down by the wood pile and heaved a big sigh of boredom. It was about that time that my Pa happened by,again, and saw me sitting there looking all bored. He stopped right in front of me and asked, “What are you doing Mark?”
I sighed again and said, “Nothing.”
Pa nodded. “Mm. That’s what I thought.” Then he pointed straight at the house and ordered me to go inside and work on cleaning the bedroom. I did it though, but not happily. Afterwards, I plopped down on my bed and just laid there staring at the ceiling. I guess I was having a bad day or something…Anyhow, Pa came in and caught me laying there. He folded his arms, cocked his head to one side, and cleared his throat. “Now Mark,” he said it in that voice that always made me cringe. “I know of a field full of rocks that needs clearing. If I catch you moping around here like you have nothing better to do once more, I’ll be sending you out there.”
It was then that I asked Pa in the most pleasant voice that I could if I could go fishing for our supper. Pa nodded and told me it was a right good idea.
There were many times like that – not only when I expressed boredom to my Pa, but when I was talking too much or being not as pleasant to our guests as Pa thought I should…Most recently, though, it was just a day ago. Now, at the age of 14, you’d think that there weren’t too many ways I could still get into trouble, but that’s wrong…very wrong thinking, indeed! You see, I was studying Geography. We were studying the major lakes and rivers of the United States. I had a test on Monday, but had been so busy helping Pa on the ranch that I had neglected to tell Pa I needed to study for it. It was a big one too!
Saturday morning, Pa came in from town. He had to run in and get some chicken feed after I neglected to tell him we were running low on it. That was another mistake I’d made. Pa walked inside and sat down for a cup of coffee. I was just washing the dishes when Pa said, “Saw Mr. Griswald in town, son.”
“Oh?” I asked as I put the plates back on their shelf.
“Yeah.” Pa struck, a match on his boot and lit his cigar. He took a couple puffs off of it as he shook out the match. After throwing it down on the table, he turned in his chair and looked at me. “Says you have a big geography test to study for. “ I turned and looked at him. His eyebrow was raised. “Says you’ve known about it now for over a week. Seems it’s a big one.”
Pa picked up my geography book sitting on the table and turned it over. “I don’t remember you opening it once last week. Is there a reason for it?”
“Well…” I sat the dish towel down, stuck my hands in my back pockets, and slowly walked over to the table. “The…barn’s needed a good cleaning for some time, and I’ve been working on settling the planting ground for the winter and…you did put me in charge of some of the cattle. I…” I swallowed as Pa’s frown deepend. “I guess I…” I allowed the rest of my answer to die.
“…forgot?” Pa finished for me.
“Well…I-“ I swallowed and gave Pa a short nod. “Yes sir. I forgot.”
Pa stood up and walked over to the wood box. He pointed at it with his cigar. “Just like you ‘forgot’ to fill up the wood box last night?” Pa walked over to the bedroom. “And you ‘forgot’ to take your go to meetin’ clothes to Wang Chi’s?” Pa went to look out the back window. “And you ‘forgot’ to clean the chicken coop?” Pa turned around and looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Seems this week you’ve been forgetting about a lot of your regular standing chores.”
I dared not move as he continued his “discussion” with me. Pa took another long puff off his cigar as he thought on what to do with me. “Maybe a boy needs a little discipline every once in a while to get him back on the straight and narrow, I suppose.” Pa then walked to the door and put his hat on. “You get a week’s break after next week. The school’s being painted and the roof repaired. While the school is closed, you will be busy. I think, now’s the time that the rock pile canl be taken care of, finally. It’s been an eyesore and I think you’re grown enough to taken care of the job. I think that will remind you of the importance of not ‘forgetting’ your responsibilities! Think on it this way, each rock can represent one item of forgetfulness from your life.”
“Oh, but Pa, I haven’t been forgetting all my responsibilities! I’ve been busier than ever riding the range, checking the cattle and tending to the farming duties and such…”
“Those are the exciting parts of your job. Laundry and homework are also important. So today, you will sit down there-“ Pa pointed to the table with his cigar. “-and study for your test for two hours. Then you will go out there-“ Pa pointed outside. “-and do the laundry that you neglected all week. Then you will come back in here and study until I tell you what to do next. Remember our agreement Mark, as long as you act like a responsible young man growing up, I’ll treat you like one. When you start forgetting…”
Pa let his words die. I knew what he meant. Another lesson learned. I should have remembered this one.
Without another word, Pa plopped his hat on his head and walked out the door.
I stared at the door as Pa closed it. I closed my eyes and groaned. “The rock pile! There was no greater punishment in this whole entire world then working that rock pile! Now I’d gone and done it! You see, it wasn’t just any rock pile, it was huge!
So, you can’t really blame a guy for taking a little advantage of a situation. The next day was Sunday, and by this point, I was feeling really sorry that I hadn’t been studying all week. I was so tired of sitting at that kitchen table and studying under Pa’s watchful eye! Pa told me to start reciting my studies out loud, and I must say that he wasn’t too impressed with the progress I was making, so he said that I would be spending this afternoon studying…AGAIN!
“Oh….shoot!” I heard Pa say as I was washing up the breakfast dishes. I turned from the sink to look at him. “I was going to go hunting this afternoon, but forgot my shells at Micah’s last night.” Pa had gone into town to have supper with Micah and then play checkers. I stayed home to study. Let me tell you, I wasn’t too happy, but when Pa gives you an order, you don’t argue!
“You mean…after church?” I asked.
“No church today, son. Preacher had to go to High Butte yesterday. There was a funeral he was asked to preside over and he won’t be back until tomorrow. We’ll have our church right here and then go in later this morning for those shells.”
I hurried over to Pa. “We?”
Pa looked down at me and grinned. “We!”
“You mean you’re gonna…” I looked around the house. “You’re gonna let me out of this dungeon?”
Pa laughed as he patted my shoulder. “Sure son. But this afternoon while I’m hunting, you’re studying!” He gave me a hard swat on the back side then hurried out the door.
So when we got into town later, Pa was just about to go into Micah’s office for the shells when Pa suddenly let out a gasp. “Well…I’ll be a…” He stared at the man crossing the street. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. The memory tugged at the back of my mind. “Russell Gannaway!” Pa exclaimed.
Russell hurried up to us and stretched out his hand for Pa to take. “Gannaway…” I mumbled as I still tried to remember.
“You remember, son. He had the neighboring ranch when we moved here,” Pa reminded me.
I looked at Mr. Gannaway. “Oh yeah!” I looked from Pa to Mr. Gannaway. “But I thought…” I suddenly felt Pa’s hand on my back. That was a hint to keep quiet.
“Lucas, I need your help. I want to-“ He stopped as he looked at me. “Lucas, I had time to plan and think. I can see now how wrong I was. A man’s gotta have friends and he’s gotta be respected. That’s why I came back to North Fork. Figured I have to make a man see it before I could start makin’ a life for myself.” Pa warned Mr. Gannaway that it wouldn’t be easy, especially since the money was never recovered. “I can’t return what I never had. You still believe me, don’t you?” Pa told him if he didn’t believe him, he wouldn’t be willing to help him.
Micah came over then and showed Pa the two men going into the saloon. Gannaway suddenly turned to Pa and told him there was a way Pa could help him. “I need a week or two of hard work in the open air so I can…feel myself again. If you have any stumps to pull or rocks to…to clear, I’d appreciate it.” Pa told him our place was in pretty good shape. “Oh, I don’t expect to get paid, you understand, just found and a place to sleep, that’s all.”
Now at this point, I wanted to jump in – okay…maybe I DID jump in. Pa told Mr. Gannaway a out-right lie when he said our place was in pretty good shape.
Pretty good shape? Ha! Then why was Pa planning on putting me in hard slave labor for a week clearing out a rocky field? I had to jump in and save myself when opportunity allowed.
“Uh, Pa? There’s some rocks in the North Field near the road.” As if he didn’t know…
Pa turned and looked at me. “I know that, son.” I heard it in his voice and knew he’d speak to me about that later! Then he turned back to Russell and told him he had the job. Russell thanked him. He said he had to get his horse’s shoe fixed, then he’d be ready to leave with us.
Micah questioned Pa on how well we knew him. “He helped Mark and me get settled when we first came here.” Pa looked at me. “Son, I was uh…hesitating because of you,”
I must admit that I wasn’t surprised, but by thunder I was 14 years old now! “But Pa, he deserves a chance just getting’ out of prison like that.” Then, I just had to add in an, “And besides, you’ve been threatenin’ to clear up that field for two years now!”
Pa shook his head at me. “I never know with you, Mark, whether you’re being charitable or practical.”
I smiled as Pa and Micah walked inside. “Yes!” I felt like I had won a small victory.
Pa poked his head back out the door just then. “Don’t you worry, boy, they’ll still be plenty for you to clear during your week off. Then you can get started on digging stumps. We might just be able to use that piece of land yet.” Then he gave me a victorious smile and went back inside.
The look on Pa’s face told me this fight wasn’t over yet! I could only hope that, maybe, Mr. Gannaway was a really hard worker and would get most of those rocks cleared out BEFORE his week was up!
I saw some of the boys down the street and pushed myself off the post as I started toward them. “Mark, come along, son!” I suddenly heard from inside the office.
I turned and shot a frustrated glance at Micah’s open door. Then I turned back and looked at the kids down the street. I sighed as I thought on what to do. “Mark!” Okay, I knew what I had to do! I went inside Micah’s office.
Pa pointed to a chair. “Pa, some of my friends are up the street. I was wondering if I could…” I didn’t finish the question. Pa’s stern, mean expression said it all. “Yes sir.” I sighed as I sat down. I was on restriction. “Pa, it didn’t hurt any to wait until yesterday to study! I’m learning them all!”
“Oh?” Pa cocked his head to one side. “What rivers connect to the Mississippi?”
“The Missississippi?” I asked as I looked toward Micah. He seemed interested to know the answer to that question as well. “Well…” I looked skyward, hoping He would help me out a little. “Well…”
“Well?” Pa asked.
“Well…There’s the Missouri…and the Ar-Kansas and…”
“The what?” Pa looked at Micah as they laughed.
“Ar-Kansas,” I answered.
Micah and Pa started laughing. “Son, I think it’s pronounced ‘Arkansas’!”
“I know that!” I griped. “But I’ll pronounce it Ar-Kansas since they can’t seem to pronounce their own state right! Arkansas…” I grumbled then. I never did understand why they spelled it that way except to give kids like me a bad mark on a spelling test! “I’ll write it the same, but I have to say it that way so I’ll spell it right. If I don’t, Mr. Griswald will mark it, and I don’t want that!” I sighed as I shook my head. “At this point, I need all the…points…I can get.”
Pa and Micah laughed. Pa stood up. “Well, come along son, let’s get home so we can do our Bible studying. Then you, my young man, are going to study!”
We started out the door. “Will I get a break this afternoon to maybe get in a little fishing?”
“I wouldn’t count on fishing,” Pa answered. “But maybe a chore or two like uh…cleaning the chicken coop?”
“Cleaning the-“ Pa stopped mid-stride as he mounted his horse. “Oh yeah…the chicken coop.”
That afternoon, I spent more time studying then not. I recited my geography lessons to Pa, then went back to studying when he wasn’t happy with my progress. I shook my head at one point declaring, “I don’t know why he packs in so much on one test and expects me to learn in one-“ I looked up at Pa. I stopped myself from saying one weekend.
“Over a week,” Pa answered as he handed my geography book back to me. “You’re getting better. Study a little more, then if you can name all the major rivers of the United States, we’ll call it quits for tonight.”
I was happy to hear that! But there was one thing I still didn’t understand. “I don’t see why we have to know all these rivers and oceans anyhow…Who cares?”
Pa turned from the door and walked back over to the table. He propped up one of his feet in a chair and leaned in to me. “Son, everything you learn-“ Pa started.
I interrupted him with a groan and held up my hand. “Nevermind!” Pa lifted his eyebrow at me and watched me for a moment, then he shook his head and left the house.
The next morning, Pa got me up early and gave me breakfast. Then he pointed to the chair and told me to quickly review my lessons. I told Pa that as soon as this test was over, I was never…ever mentioning another river as long as I lived! Pa laughed at me as he sat down on the counter to listen to me. I seemed to have all my lessons down pretty good, except Pa still frowned at my pronouncing Arkansas as Ar-Kansas, but that was one thing I wouldn’t give in to!
I hurried and strapped up my books. “A rock wall,” Pa mumbled as he stood up and took another sip of coffee.
“Huh?” I turned and looked at him.
“A rock wall.” Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “Son, on your way to school, stop by the North Pasture and tell Russell to just pile up the rocks on edge of the road and make a wall. That’ll be easier than hauling them all off.”
“Oh yeah!” I liked the idea. “That’ll save some time that way and-“ I heard Pa’s throat clear. “Well, you can’t blame me, Pa. I mean…put yourself in my shoes and tell me you wouldn’t be doing the same thing I’m doing!”
“I did! Why do you think I didn’t get stuck doing the tedious task.” Pa sat down his coffee cup and looked at me. “I’ll put myself in your shoes, and I know that if you don’t get out that door-“ Pa pointed toward the front door. “-in two seconds, they’ll be some more punishment to dish out!”
I gasped. “Bye, Pa!”
Oh, did I forget to mention that Pa promised me dinner at the hotel that night if I did good on my test? Unfortunately, the test would take place this afternoon, so I had to stay the whole day long!
I rode out to the North pasture to tell Mr. Gannaway the news. After doing so, I just sat there on my saddle. Okay, maybe it was a little rude of me, but I couldn’t help but smile about the fact that it was him picking up these rocks and not me! Just think – that could be me out there picking up those-
“Look son, if you don’t get movin’, I’ll ask you to help me here!” Mr. Gannaway warned.
Suddenly, school sounded really good to me! “Uh-uh! I guess school work’s easier than this!” I declared. “See you later!”
The day went well until after lunch time. The test took a good 90 minutes to take, and it WAS hard! I suddenly was very glad my Pa made me study all weekend for this thing, and I told myself that I would NEVER wait until the last minute to study again! When Mr. Griswald took my test, I asked him if it were possible for him to grade it today because Pa said we could eat at the hotel for supper. Mr. Griswald shook his head and said there was no way he’d mark them before school let out. He’d start on them tonight.
When I got home, Pa and Mr. Gannaway were sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. Mr. Gannaway had his hand all wrapped up. I stopped at the door and pointed to his hand. “What…” I started.
He held up his hand. “Russell…hurt his hand today, son. I’m afraid he won’t be able to work on the rock pile anymore.”
“He won’t be-“ I stopped and closed my eyes. “Well, I should have known it was too good to be true!” I groaned.
“What…What’s that mean?” Mr. Gannaway suddenly asked.
“Oh.” Pa smiled. “Mark’s punishment for slacking on his responsibilities last week is to work on clearing those rocks next week. He was hopeful.”
“Oh.” Mr. Gannaway laughed nervously. “Sorry about that. It’ll make you strong, though.”
Pa stood up and put his cup in the sink. Then he turned and leaned against the sink. “Well?”
“Well what?” Pa just looked at me. “Oh. There’s no way of knowing how I did but…” I tipped my head to one side, hoping my voice held some assurance. “I think I did okay. I filled in all the blanks anyhow.”
Pa nodded. “Well, I reckon we’ll let you eat at the hotel tonight anyhow.” Pa laughed as he took off my hat and rubbed my head. “Go hurry with your chores, son.”
When my chores were done, we saddled up and rode into town. Me and Pa went to the bank for the money he’d need the next day for his catalog order. A couple times a year, he’d order some supplies from the catalog to get us through the winter and summer months. This time it was winter he was preparing for. He had ordered me a new coat, complaining that I wouldn’t stop growing. He also said he had a special surprise for me, which I’d find out soon enough.
I couldn’t WAIT to see what that special surprise was. It must be one of those ‘You are getting bigger and I’m really sad about it surprises’, because every time Pa mentioned it, he’d get this look on his face as he studied my head. Then he’d just smile and turn away. I couldn’t wait to see what it was!
While we ate dinner, it became obvious to me and Pa that Micah didn’t trust Mr. Gannaway. He kept questioning him about the two strangers that were in town and the missing money as if he had something to hide. Pa didn’t much appreciate Micah’s inquest, but he suddenly stopped arguing about it when Micah mentioned the one word that got Pa every time – “Mark.”
Pa looked at me as Micah explained that if Mr. Gannaway did know where the money was and those two strangers in town were looking for him, then I could be in danger. Pa then started his own inquest. I tried to stay out of it, but listened with a keen ear. Then Pa noticed something and suddenly became suspicious. “It’s nothing but a bruise!” Pa’s voice was suddenly angry as he realized Mr. Gannaway’s hand wasn’t as injured as he’d made it out to be.
Now, my Pa has his own way of getting to the truth. It’s not as gentle as Micah’s, but it works. In fact, at times, I knew it was more effective. I’ve personally experienced his methods, so I assure you they work quiet well, though when he uses them on me, he doesn’t have to go nearly as extreme as he does with outlaws.
"All right Gannaway, now I want answers...about those two men in the Saloon. And why did you strap on a gun this afternoon?"
He was getting nervous. "To protect myself Lucas. They thought that maybe I might have the money hidden. And they...they threatened me."
"Have you hidden the money?" Pa asked.
"Well no...no...I told 'em I didn't have the money."
"It doesn't look like they believed you...they're still in town," said Micah.
“Yeah. Why didn’t they leave? What else did you tell them?” Pa asked
The more they questioned Mr. Gannaway, the more nervous he got. "Did you tell them you had it hidden or maybe someone was keepin' it for you, is that why they're waiting around?" He was getting more and more apprehensive with both Pa and Micah pressuring him.
"Is that it?" Mr. Gannaway didn’t answer. Pa was getting angry as he began realizing the cold, hard truth. Mr. Gannaway’s silence made Pa even madder. He grabbed Mr. Gannaway by his coat and pulled him out of his chair. "Did you put my son in danger with a lie like that?" He didn't answer. He was whimpering. Pa hit him across the face.
That got a response. “I had to, Lucas. You don’t know those men. If I didn’t promise to get it back, they were gonna kill me!” he yelled desperately.
“Where were you supposed to get it from?” Pa asked. Pa’s face was only inches from his, and Pa’s face looked mean. Mr. Gannaway was afraid of Pa now.
“I couldn’t tell ‘em it was hidden. I had to tell ‘em I gave it to somebody else an’…an’…I was gonna get it back from him.”
“Somebody else?” Pa asked. "Who?" He didn’t answer fast enough to suit my Pa. “Who?” Pa yelled as he jerked harder on his coat.
“Me? Why me?”
Mr. Gannaway was gasping from fear of Pa. “Lucas, I can’t face them.alone, but you can. You’re good with a gun!”
Oh boy, Pa sure was angry now! He didn’t like being used – especially when it was wrong! “You figured on me to do your killing for you.”
Mr. Gannaway was getting desperate. “Listen…Listen…Suppose the money is near your place. With those two out of the way…Listen, Lucas, we can find it…You and me!”
"You get out of here before I kill you!" Pa shoved him and he fell to the floor.
I jumped out of my chair and hurried after Pa as he walked to the door. Pa turned toward me. “Don’t you leave this room, Mark,” Pa said in a reserved voice. He looked straight at me and pointed a finger at me. “You hear me, boy?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
Mr. Gannaway was yelling now at those two outlaws. He was blaming Pa for keeping the money for himself. Pa tired to reason with them, but they wouldn’t listen. They fired a shot at Pa. Pa and Micah would have to engage in a gun battle with the men. It looked like Mr. Gannaway did get his wish after all! Pa ordered me and Ruth, our waitress, behind the counter.
I listened as gunfire broke out. I remembered many times before when similar events happened. I even remember being blocked in the hotel after our lunch was interrupted, waiting and hoping Pa would come back inside. At one point, one of the men grabbed us behind the counter. My Pa’s aim was straight on and the Indian fell to the floor. He was dead.
Then there was silence. I knew it was over. I hurried to the door and peered out. Pa turned and looked at me. I saw him kneeling beside Mr. Gannaway on the street. Mr. Gannaway was gasping. Doc Burrage came running from his office with his doctor’s bag. “How many you manage to get this time, Lucas?”
“We got three in all, doc. I hope none of them are dead,” Pa answered in a grim voice. “This was a stupid, worthless shooting! If these men die, it was all for no reason…No reason at all.”
“There is a…reason!” Mr. Gannaway declared as he looked up at my Pa. “$5,000.00 I buried on your ranch.”
I gasped at the realization. There was money buried on our ranch? Pa heard my gasp and swung his head around. The look on his face told me to stay silent. Pa waited while Doc examined Mr. Gannaway. “Well, Doc?”
“He’ll live,” Doc Burrage declared. “He may never walk again, but he’ll live.”
Doc stood up to go check on the other two. “Doc?” I called. Doc turned. I shook my head. “Don’t bother with the one in the hotel, Pa got him right between the eyes. It’s not pretty.” Just thinking on it made my stomach feel queezy. I only took a brief look before turning my head away. I could tell Pa wasn’t too happy with what I had seen it either, but we didn’t speak on it because what was done had to be done.
“Where’s the money buried?” Pa asked Mr. Gannaway. He only laughed. Pa grabbed him by the jacket and Mr. Gannaway shook his head as pain wracked his body.
“Pa, I think it’s buried on the north pasture. That’s why he was so anxious about working there. All those rocks…”
I could tell by the look on his face that it was buried there. “Is that so?” Pa asked.
“You’ll never find it!” Mr. Gannaway answered. “Never!”
Doc came over and announced that the other man was still alive also. “I’ll patch up his leg then he’ll sit in jail to await his trial,”
Pa turned to me and stood up. “Son, go get our horses.” He turned to Micah. “We’ll see you later, Micah. If you need any help, let me know.”
I could tell Pa was upset about something. We rode in silence for quite awhile. “Pa, talk to me,” I finally said.
Pa heaved a heavy sigh and shook his head. “I just usually read people. I can tell when they’re lying or not, and this time, it blind-sided me!”
I didn’t have an answer for him. “Well, now we know where the money is.” I started thinking on that. “He buried that money there four years ago, huh Pa?” Pa nodded. “$5,000.00 right there on our ranch and I never knew of it! Think of it, Pa! We had all that money within our reach and-“
“It’s not our money, son. It’s the bank’s money.” Pa lifted his eyebrows up at me. Even in the dark I could tell that he was telling me not to think on that anymore.
But I couldn’t help it! I may have been the son of Lucas McCain, the Rifleman, but I was still a 14 year old boy with normal dreams and imaginations. I thought of all the times I had ridden to that field and played among the rocks. I remember Freddie and I lifting up rocks, thinking we would find some sort of treasure some Indian or outlaw hid there. Never in a million years, though, did I EVER imagine there was really…
“Buried treasure right on the McCain Ranch,” I said quietly.
“Mark,” Pa’s voice warned me.
“But Pa, just think on it a little! Freddie and I used to look for buried treasure among that ol’ rock pile, and now today I find out we didn’t look hard enough! What if we had found that $5,000.00! What do you think we would have done or…thought or…”
Pa’s horse stopped. Blue Boy stopped at the same moment. Pa turned to me in the saddle. “I hope you would have realized right away that money wasn’t yours and brought it straight to me, son,” Pa answered.
“Oh, you remember how I was at ten, Pa. I-“
Pa shook his head, interrupting the rest of my statement. “Sometimes I wonder if you’re all that much different now, son!” Pa started riding again, with a grin playing across his face. “When we get home, you get washed up then go to bed. We got a ‘treasure’ to find in the morning!”
“Well, but I have school tomorrow.” I shook my head. “Gee, Pa, I sure do hate that you have to do all that work…alone.”
“Oh now, don’t you worry about that, boy!” Pa declared suddenly. “You see, in the morning you’ll ride into town and get your assignments for the rest of the week. I’ll send a note along to let Mr. Griswald know what’s going on. Then you’ll join me in the rock infested field.”
“Oh.” I sighed. “Well, you always say that my schoolwork is mighty important, Pa.”
Pa nodded. “Yes, son. But so is finding the bank’s money.” Pa reached over and slapped Blue Boy hard on the rump. “Now, get going!”
Lift and dig…lift and dig…That seems to be all we did for the rest of that week! Pa had sweat pouring down his face and chest as we worked all day for the next several days. Yeah, I did too. I was given the responsibility of digging when Pa said dig while Pa lifted the heavy rocks onto the cart. We worked hard at building that wall, but at least we did it together as a team!
Once we got all the rocks moved that we could handle on our own, Pa asked Billy Lehigh and Sam Montgomery tohelp us one day. Lift and dig…Lift and dig…There was a huge rock in our way. I shook my head and scratched, knowing we’d have to have the team for this one. The team and Pa pulled while me, Billy, and Sam pushed with all our might. We managed to get it over by the old rock wall. Pa thanked the men for their help then handed me the shovel as he sat down to rest.
“I think you’re getting old, Pa!” I stated.
Pa paused in wiping the sweat from his neck to look at me. “Just because I’m pushing 40 doesn’t mean I’m ready for the rocking chair yet, boy! Now you go dig! Show me how someone as spry as you can work!” Pa pointed. I laughed as I started digging.
I dug for quite awhile, turning to ask Pa if that was deep enough yet. Pa shook his head and told me to keep digging. A few minutes later, I stopped as my shovel hit something soft. I bent down and looked. I let out a loud gasp. Slowly, I walked over to Pa as he piled more rocks on the cart. “Uh…Pa?” Pa turned to me. “You remember how when I was ten and when I got upset, you’d come looking for me and lots of times you’d find me sitting near that rock we just pulled?”
Pa nodded. “I remember, son.”
“And you remember once you found me asleep there and I told you about a dream I had about us being rich?”
Again, Pa nodded. I grabbed his hand and pulled him over to where I’d been digging. “Well, I was sitting right on top of a fortune!” I pointed toward the hole.
“Well, I’ll be a…” Pa bent down and lifted the bags out of the hole. “The money!”
I bent down next to Pa. “Open her up, Pa!” I begged. “Let’s see it!”
Pa looked up at me with a grin. “I’m sure glad I was here when we found it, son! I hate to imagine what two ten year old boys would have done with a bag full of money!”
“Yeah.” I shook my head. “Imagine how much candy that would have bought!”
“Uh…” Pa looked up at me and shook his head. “You and Freddie would have, too!” Pa declared. “Well, let’s finish up these rocks then get this into Micah.”
We rode into town. I looked towards Pa’s saddle bags. Knowing they held $5,000.00 was enough to make a boy like me crazy! I had just wanted a peak at that money, but Pa firmly shook his head and told me not to ask again.
By the time we got into town, we were both exhausted. Pa seemed to be a lot more tired than me, so I hurried up to look inside. Micah wasn’t there. I sat down in a chair.
“Just our luck!” Pa went to sit down next to me outside Micah’s office. “I hope he gets back soon. There’s too much money here to…” Pa propped his tired, aching feet up on the hitching post. “…leave unguarded.” Then he laid his head back on the window sill.
“It was a lot of digging. It was worth it, though, to find that money. And besides, we cleared away all those rocks that were in the field, didn’t we, Pa?”
“Hmmmm….” Pa was asleep.
“Pa, didn’t we?” I looked at Pa as he started snoring. “Well…almost done, anyhow…” I decided to join Pa as I put my hat down over my eyes and went to sleep.
“Mark! Mark!” I felt someone nudging me. “Son…wake up!” I opened my eyes and looked up. Pa grinned down at me. “Micah’s back, son.”
“Oh!” I stood up and followed Pa in the office. “Well, Lucas.” Micah sat down at his desk as we sat down in front of him. “I’ve got some good news.”
“What?” I leaned forward and asked. “We get to keep part of the money?”
Micah chuckled. “No, not quite.”
“Oh.” Couldn’t help to hope!
“You get to keep…all of it!” Micah declared.
Pa and me looked at each other. “What??????????” I thought Micah was pulling my leg.
“Seems there is some sort of time frame the money’s supposed to be found in, and we didn’t make it. As of two days ago, the money was up for grabs. The finder keeps all.”
I stared at the money bags now laying on Micah’s desk. “Five…” I swallowed. “Five thousand dollars?” I opened the bag and grabbed a pile of bills. “Pa, it’s ours!” I declared.
Pa shook his head. “Well, I guess sometimes dreams do come true, Mark!” Pa declared. “What are you going to spend it on?”
“Yeah. You found it didn’t you?” Pa patted my back. “You get to keep all of it.”
“Can I buy some good breeding stock?” Pa nodded. “And then I think we can get that indoor plumbing I’ve been talking about!” Pa and Micah laughed. “Oh, and I’ll put some money in the bank to save for when I want to buy some land and build a house.” I gasped then. “Oh Pa, we could take a trip to the ocean! I always wanted to see the ocean! And then we can maybe buy you some fancy shirts, Pa. You need to dress up for those dances!” Pa laughed.
I hurried to the window and looked out onto the street. I shook my head. “What does a boy do with that much money? I never dared to dream abou it!” I started trying to figure out what I was going to do with all that money. “Our house could use a new coat of paint – maybe paint it white or red or…maybe green. Green would be nice! And we could build a new room so that-“
“Mark!” I heard Pa’s voice, but it seemed far away. “Mark!”
I opened my eyes and looked into Pa’s. “Micah’s here.”
“I know, pa. We were just-“ I stopped as I realized I was sitting in the chair in front of Micah’s office. “Pa, weren’t we just…talking to Micah?”
Pa bent down in front of me. “Micah just rode up, son. We need to give him the money.”
“Oh.” My heart sank. “Then it was just a dream!”
Pa grinned. “Let me guess. You just found yourself with $5,000.00?” I nodded. “Then yes, you were dreaming!” Pa declared.
I sighed as I shook my head. “Well…I reckon it’s for the best. After all, I was having trouble deciding what to do with all that money!”
Pa laughed as he patted my back and we walked into Micah’s office together. Pa handed Micah the money and told him where we found it.
“Well, Lucas.” Micah sat down at his desk as we sat down in front of him. “I’ve got some good news.”
Now, this sounded familiar! “What?” I leaned forward and asked. “We get to keep part of the money?”
Micah chuckled. “No, not quite.”
“Oh.” This was just like the dream! I didn’t dare speak another word as I waited for Micah to go on. Here’s where he says…
“Your catalog order’s in,” Micah announced.
I leaned back in my chair. “Oh!” I said as I put my chin in my hand.
Pa laughed, knowing exactly where my mind had been going. “Why don’t you go on over to the General Store and pick it up, son?” Pa suggested.
As I stood to leave I let out a little moan. Seems my muscles were protesting all my earlier activity in clearing those rocks and digging for the money.
“Getting a little old there son?” Pa questioned.
I just gave him that look that said, ‘thanks, you owed me that one’ and ‘I love you, too” at the same time.
“I’ll join you in a minute,” Pa stated as he laughed.
I did as Pa told me to. I greeted Mr. Wilson, who was currently minding the store. “Well Mark, you here to pick up your order?” he asked.
“Yeah. And I reckon I can afford some hard candy.” Maybe sucking on a piece would make me feel a little better!
Mr. Wilson handed me the boxes. “Pa said he’ll be over in a few to pay for it.” Just as I spoke, Pa walked in and gave Mr. Wilson the money. Then he took some of the packages from me. “How are we gonna get these home?” I asked.
“Very carefully?” Pa answered.
“And when am I gonna get to see the surprise?” I asked then.
“As soon as we get home, son,” Pa answered.
We couldn’t get home fast enough! Pa was dog tired as we walked into the house with the packages. “Pa, if you want to go to bed for awhile, you can. My surprise can wait.”
Pa sat down at the table and shook his head. “No it can’t!” Pa declared. He lifted a box from the pile of packages and pushed it toward me. “Now, open it, son.”
I hurriedly untied the string and allowed the paper to fall away from the box. Then I lifted the lid. What I saw inside was enough to make me bolt from my chair and gasp. I hurried over to Pa and threw my arms around him. “Thank you, Pa! Oh, thank you!”
Pa patted my shoulder. “You getting a little too old to hug your old man, aren’t you, Mark?”
“I’ll never get too old for that, Pa!” I declared. Then I slowly lifted the item from the box. “I’ll keep this forever!”
Pa lifted my hat from my head. “You remember when I bought this one for you?” he asked, as he held it in his hand.
I looked down at my newest prized possession and looked at my old, beat up hat. I nodded. “Just before riding into North Fork. I still remember your words. You said, ‘Son, we’re gonna be living in a new town soon. I think you deserve a new hat!’ I sure was proud of this one!”
“Yes. I hate to see it go. It represents your growing up. But unfortunately, you have grown…up. And your head’s grown. Just hope that’s because of all the education you’re storing in there. It’s time you had a man-sized hat for a man-sized brain!” Pa laughed as he lifted the brand new hat from the box and plopped it on my head. “There. Now that’s more like it.”
I lifted my head to look into Pa’s eyes. I saw the tears. “Must be hard…watching me grow.”
Pa nodded. Then he pushed the hat further down on my head. “But it makes me proud, son, to see my boy in a man’s hat!”
*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
around The McCain Ranch