“It’s genuine leather, Mark. Came all the way from Kansas City. Look at all the engravings on the saddle.” I looked closer. There were pictures of horses.
I shook my head. “I sure could use a new saddle. How much is it?” Nels gave me a price. I shook my head. “Well now, I reckon we can afford that, Nels. It’s a deal!”
Just then, Pa walked in. “Deal on what?”
“This saddle, Pa. Isn’t it nice?” I smiled as I ran my hand across the leather. “It’s only $25!”
“It’s how much?” Pa’s voice suddenly got really loud. “No way, Mark!”
“Well, if that’s not to your liking, Luke, I have some cheaper one’s that ride just as good,” Nels said.
“But Pa! I need a new saddle and-“ I started.
Pa stopped and turned back to me. “First of all, son, you never asked me if you could have one and-“
“Pa, ain’t we partners?” Pa nodded. “Well, don’t that mean we have equal share in the responsibilities of the ranch?”
Pa walked towards me and slapped a hand on my shoulder. “Son, I tell you what. You do the work I give you to do and let me do the spending, okay?”
“But that don’t make us equal partners!”
“You don’t do equal work,” Pa reminded me.
“Pa, I need a new saddle!” I argued.
Pa suddenly crossed his arms and cocked his head to one side. “Why?” That one word held so much power. I better come up with an answer fast!
I walked to Blue Boy. “Look at this cinch, Pa! My saddle’s in bad shape.”
Pa walked up behind me. “Mmmm, that is bad!” Pa declared with mock sympathy. He reached out and studied it. “I’m afraid I’ll have to add that to your list of chores this afternoon!” Pa patted my back with a grin on his face. “Mount up so we can get home. Seems you have a long list of chores to do.”
I did as Pa asked, careful not to break my saddle even more then it already was. “Pa, wouldn’t it be easier to buy a new saddle?” I asked hopefully.
“Well son, it may be easier for you because you get out of the work, but it’s not easier for me because I have a dozen places I’d rather put that money then a new saddle for a boy who’s too lazy to fix his own!”
When I got home, Pa announced he was going over to Mrs. Sever’s place. Her husband was away visiting his mother. Pa said his Ma was really sick and was probably not going to recover. He wanted to go check on things and see if there were any chores that needed done. He pointed a finger at me before he left and ordered that I get the butter churned. He said he didn’t much appreciate eating his bread without the butter. And he had just baked two loaves of bread that morning. I could eat some once I got the butter churned, but he didn’t much like doing all that domestic stuff, so I was to make the bread last for as long as I could!
I lugged the churn out onto the porch and got it ready for churning. I had just started my churning when Micah came riding up. He climbed down from his horse and leaned against the post. “Well Mark, looks like you’re hard at work.” I nodded. “Where’s your father? In the house napping?”
I gave Micah a dirty look. “No, but he might as well be! He’s over at the Sever place checking on her. You reckon he’s gonna get some of her delicious cherry pie while he’s over there?”
Micah grinned at me. “Oh Mark, your Pa’s just a neighborly man! What with her husband gone, she needs a man to watch over her place and do the wood chopping and such.”
“Nope,” I declared as I shook my head. “I guarantee you he won’t be doing any wood chopping over there!” Micah raised an eyebrow at me. “Well, I know that cause I was over there yesterday chopping her a big stack of wood!”
Micah put an arm around me. “You feel like you’re always working?” I nodded, expecting a little sympathy from Micah. “Well son, your father gets up every morning and fixes you breakfast. He gets you off to school. Then he goes out and tends to his farm animals before starting his ranching and farming work. Sometimes he has to make special trips into town, which puts his other work on hold. He doesn’t get into bed until late because while you are doing homework, he’s doing some other sort of chores. Then he has to help his son with his homework, make sure he washes behind his ears, has clean clothes to wear to school, and get three solid meals a day so he can grow up big and strong. Only after all those things are done and he get’s you settled in bed for the night – which isn’t an easy chore according to your Pa – does your father finally get the chance to sit down in his chair to read the Good Book or a chapter out of one of his favorite books. Does that sum up your dilemma?’
I sighed. “Yeah. I guess I shouldn’t complain so much, huh?”
Micah patted me on the back. “Well, I’ll get on over to the Sever’s to see your father. Have a good night.”
I went back to churning, realizing that Micah was right. I sure did have it easy! I looked down at the churner. I still didn’t like doing women’s work though! I sat down and began churning. Pa always made me do the churning. He said I made the best better this side of Texas! I’m guessing that was his way of encouraging me to want to churn the butter! As I moved the churner up and down though, I wondered how women did such a hard task – it made your arms ache after a while!
I reckon that’s why I was so glad to see the rider ride up just then. He got off his horse and began commenting on my freshly churned butter. You know that he hadn’t had freshly churned butter in two years? “Well, it’s close to done,” I informed him. “You’d be welcome, mister.” Maybe I said it because I wanted company. Churning butter alone was a lonely sort of job!
“And thankful, my boy,” Jason Gowdy (that was the stranger’s name) stated as he touched the tip of his hat to me.
He wanted to know if the master of the house was home. “Well now, that depends on which one you want,” I answered. If he wanted work, I suppose that would be me. If he needed money, it would be my Pa!
But my statement confused him. “Which one?”
“Pa and me, we’re kinda partners,” I answered.
He asked about my Ma and I told him it was only the two of us. “Something we can do for you?” Now, saying that did make me feel grown up! I was beginning to feel glad Pa had taken that trip!
“No, no…” Mr. Gawdy answered. Then he smiled. “But uh…there’s something I can do for you. I can make you rich.”
I suddenly stopped churning at that and leaned forward excitedly. “Rich?”
“Richer then your wildest dreams!” He told me to keep churning. He walked over to his horse and pulled something from the saddlebag. “Yes, wealth no one can take from ya. Riches that you’ll never loose. Wealth of the Spirit, my boy.” He pulled out a book. “Riches of the mind.” He opened the book.
I felt my excitement suddenly leave. Here I thought he was going to tell my some big idea he had of making money, and all he wanted to do was make my mind richer – Pa did that everyday by sending me to school.. “Books!” I declared. I certainly wasn’t figuring to buy any books!
“Well I wasn’t figuring to sell you any either,” Mr. Gowdy stated. “I was just offering you a chance to share in the greatest adventures since the invention of time.” I rolled my eyes and started churning again. “To stand on courage and walk on the beauties of the earth,” Mr. Gowdy continued. “A great beauty like Helen – Helen of Troy. A face that launched a thousand ships. A beauty that…started a war.”
I was suddenly all ears! Why hadn’t he mentioned wars in the first place? I quit churning, wanting to hear more. “War?” I asked excitedly.
“Oh yeah. Keep churning, boy.” He asked me if Pa was coming back soon. I told him Pa had just gone over to the Sever’s place. “You were saying? About a war?”
Now mind you, he did tell a very interesting story, and I could tell it to you to. But since this story is already written in a book, I’m gonna live by Pa’s example and give you a little piece of advice my Pa gave me: read the book!
In fact, I was so amazed by his telling of the story that I wanted to buy the books. But unfortunately, I had to tell him he’d have to ask my Pa.
“Now wait a minute! Aren’t you a full partner,” he asked.
Figures he’d bring that up. Well, sounding important was nice while it lasted anyways. "Well, I'm more or less the working partner. Pa's the spending partner, you might say.” There was no ‘might’ about it. Pa made that very clear to me earlier! “I figured he’d be back from the Severs place by now.”
He had to leave. He said he had lots of places to visit still. He wanted to know where the Sever’s place was since I told him she love reading books. But I informed him that her spending partner was gone to. Before he left, he gave me some seeds I could plant – they were seeds for flowers! “There’s nothing prettier then flowers by the door,” he stated. He left soon after.
I hurried and put the churned butter in it’s dish and put the churner up. Pa came riding up about that time. He called for me. He probably wanted to make sure I was getting my chores done. “I figured you’d be watching for your spending partner,” he commented to me.
I knew then that he had talked to Mr. Gowdy. “And the books?” I asked him.
He simply folded his arms and said, “I’m sorry, son, but right now the spending partner’s not spending. And it looks to me like the uh working partner isn’t working.”
Now why is it that the spending partner doesn’t have to spend, but I never get to quit working? I told Pa I was putting the churn up. Then Pa walked over to my saddle, asking me if I’d fixed the cinch on it. That’s right! It was on my list of chores for the afternoon! “Not yet.”
“Well, you better get to it, Mark. Someday you’re gonna find yourself flying.” If I wasn’t going to get a new saddle, I reckon I had no choice but to fix the cinch. But first I wanted to plant the seeds. For some reason my having flower seeds seemed to upset Pa. He came and grabbed them from me. When I told him Mr. Gowdy was headed to the Sever’s, Pa got all upset. It made him even more upset when I told him that I told Mr. Growdy Mr. Sever wasn’t there.
“You told him-“ Pa started to yell at me. But he suddenly stopped and gave me some orders in a stern voice. "Mark, now you listen to me, it's important. You ride into town and give this to Micah. You tell him what you just told me and say I'll meet him at the Sever’s place. You got that?”
Pa hurried toward his horse. He seemed very upset about something, but I had no idea what. “Is something wrong, Pa?” I asked.
Pa only half turned. He pointed a finger straight at me and said, “I’m not sure. You hurry!” Then he hurried to his horse.
I ran to the porch and grabbed my saddle. Then I hurried and saddled Blue Boy. Pa was racing out of the yard in seconds. “Mark, ride like the devil, you hear?”
I did just that. I started down the road and rode my horse just as fast as I could. But suddenly the saddle fell off. I fell to the ground hard. I was knocked out cold.
I’m not sure how long I laid there. It mustn’t have been too long because soon Mr. Gowdy was there. I mumbled that I hadn’t had time to fix my saddle when I suddenly realized the man Pa was sending me to warn about was there. I slowly lifted my head from the ground. “Your Pa said what?” I merely stared at him. When I looked in his eye I knew the truth – he wasn’t a nice man. There was something evil about him. I just stared at him. I couldn’t speak! “What did he say, boy? Or is it just between partners?”
I gave a short laugh, trying to brush it off, but he was hovering over me. Somehow I knew that he wouldn’t be afraid to hurt me. “Where are you going?” I still couldn’t speak. I figured he’d hurt me if I tried to tell him the truth. He gave me a wicked little smile. “Now Mark, I asked you a question. Where are you going?”
I finally found my voice. “Into town,” I answered simply.
I couldn’t tell him the truth – I just couldn’t! “No reason. I’m just going into town, that’s all.” I wished I was a better liar, that I could have come up with a better excuse then that.
“Well, it’s awful late and there’s an awful lot of chores to do around the farm,” Mr. Gowdy stated. “You said you didn’t even have time to fix that saddle.” He was talking to me as if I was a three year old. I stayed silent, trying to find a way out of this situation. “Now Mark, I want you to tell me the truth.” He grabbed me by the leg, but he still had a calm, relaxing smile on his face. “Why are you going into town? Because your father asked you to? Because he went somewhere else?” I was so scared! I kept running the situation through my head, trying to figure out what I should do!
If only I had listened to my Pa! If only I would have fixed that cinch, then I wouldn’t be in this mess! I simply stared at him. I knew at any minute he was going to break my leg or…or do something worse! He had pure disregard for human beings, I could see that in his eyes now. Oh, why hadn’t I been more careful while ago? Pa always said I trusted people too much! He was right, and now I was paying the consequences for it.
“Mark, why’d your Pa ride back to the Sever Ranch?” He asked. He was there! Was he there to kill Mrs. Sever? Why would he do that? Why would anybody want to kill a woman? Then I got to thinking – if he would kill a woman, he’d kill me. I was suddenly afraid. He could not find out I was going into town to report him to Micah. He’d know my Pa was onto him – whatever he had done.
I knew my life was in great danger right now, but without thinking I threw my hand to my jacket pocket where the seeds were. I had done it without thinking – that was a mistake! I stopped, realizing what I had just done. It was too late!
He ripped the seeds out of my jacket pocket and looked at them. “So, that’s it. Still it would have to be your word against mine. You’d have to prove that I gave you this. If you couldn’t find it, I mean if it was gone – the whole pouch-“ He stopped. “I left it, it’s back there.”
He was preoccupied. I knew that if I was to make a try at escaping, it was now or never! He turned suddenly and grabbed me by the leg. He was too fast for me. He had me and I knew it. I decided to use the only weapon on him I had left – my Pa. He didn’t’ know who he was messing with. "It won't do any good to hold me back. Pa can track an ant through a cornfield. He'll come looking Mr. Gowdy!"
But even those words proved to have been a mistake. Because he suddenly got this look in his eye that told me that piece of information would help him in his plan. He smiled. “I imagine he will.” Then he lifted me to my feet, picked up my saddle, and walked me over to my horse.
I didn’t look back, but I knew my hat was there in the dirt.
Mr. Gowdy found my horse and began saddling him. “You know boy, you still got quite a bit to learn if you are gonna be your Pa’s partner.” He smiled as he worked on the saddle. “Like don’t leave a job undone, boy. If you are supposed to fix the cinch, you should fix it.” He stopped working and turned back to me with a wicked smile. “You know boy, if you had obeyed your Pa, you would have gotten into town to report me to the Marshal.” He glared at me. Then he drew his face up close to mine and smiled again. “Just who do you think I am?”
“No good!” I answered honestly. “You are no good!”
“Well now,” Mr. Gowdy rested his arm on top of my saddle and smiled even bigger. “Maybe I am, boy. But did your Pa tell you that?” I didn’t say anything. “You think I’m a killer boy?”
I suddenly whipped my head around to look at him. “Did you come to kill Mrs. Sever?”
He shrugged. “It’s just a little habit of mine, boy. I like a beautiful woman.”
“You kill women because you think they are beautiful?” I narrowed my eyes at him, trying to figure this out.
“I kill ‘em,” Mr. Gowdy admitted. A deep smile spread across his face. “When I’m through with them.”
“Through with them? What do you mean?” I suddenly asked.
“Oh now, Mark, you are innocent, aren’t you?” He patted my back. “Now get up there, boy!”
I looked at the saddle. I had to stall him to give my Pa as much time to worry as I could. The longer it took us to get there, the more time Pa had at figuring out I wasn’t coming. Maybe just maybe…”No!” I yelled.
Mr. Gowdy grabbed me by the shirt and twisted. He clinched his teeth, but kept that stupid grin on his face. “Now, I said get up there, boy. You wouldn’t want to disobey me, now would you? You wouldn’t want me to give you a whipping?”
I swallowed but continued staring at him. “Now, get up there.”
I climbed up on my horse. He tied my hands to the saddle. He assured me he wasn’t going to hurt me. He just wanted my Pa to come looking for me so he could get back in that house.
I knew that he would kill Mrs. Sever. I couldn’t let that happen! I tried to get away but he grabbed my horse’s rein. “Don’t you try that again, boy!”
We began slowly moving toward the Sever Ranch. “You gonna kill her like all the others?” I asked him.
He turned his head and grinned at me again. “No, boy. Not just like all the others. There’s no time for that. You’re Pa will have a posse looking for me soon so I’ll have to just kill her and run!”
“Why? Why don’t you just run?” I asked then.
“I need those seeds, boy. It’s my…calling card, you might say.” I stared at him, still not understanding. “So everyone will know that I’ve killed again.”
We climbed up on a hill that overlooked the Sever’s Ranch. Mr. Gowdy tied my hands behind a tree. He tied my feet together and put a kerchief around my mouth so I couldn’t yell. Then he watched.
I could barely see down below. I struggled desperately as I saw my Pa walk outside. He was there and he was getting worried. I knew it was only a matter of moments before he’d come looking for me.
Mr. Gowdy left. I stared with wide eyes as he made his way down to the ranch. He hid himself around the corner of the house, just waiting for my Pa to leave.
And leave he did. I watched as Pa jumped on his horse and went racing off to find me. I wanted to yell out for him to stop, but there was nothing I could do.
Mr. Gowdy stood in the shadows watching Pa leave. He went to the front door and tried it but it was locked. I stared wide-eyed as he tried to find a way to sneak into the house. “Oh, please God! Please help my Pa find me fast!” I prayed silently to myself. “Please protect her! Please God!”
I continued struggling, making as much noise as I could. Suddenly, my Pa was there. He whipped the kerchief off my mouth. “He’s down at the cabin Pa!” I cried desperately. He worked on untying my hands, but I didn’t care! He had to get down there! I gasped for air, trying to tell him to hurry.
“Look Mark, get yourself loose and wait here for me!” I watched as he hurried down the hill toward the cabin. I untied my feet and ran to the edge of the hill, not daring to take a step further. Pa was running toward the house as fast as he could.
Suddenly, I heard a piercing scream come from the cabin. I fell to the ground crying. He was too late! She had been murdered! I heard gunshots then. Tears were streaming down my face. I hadn’t tried hard enough to get away! That had been my Pa’s rifle that had fired, so I knew Mr. Gowdy was dead.
I started down the hill. I saw Mrs. Sever walk out of the house. She was clinching her arms around herself as if she were chilled. Pa followed her outside. He was talking soothingly to her as if she were a child frightened by a dark figure in the shadows. Pa put his hands on her shoulders as she bent over, pressing her hands to her knees.
I hurried forward. I ran into Pa’s arms. He picked me up and held me tight. “We’re okay,” he assured me. “We’re all okay.” He smiled into my eyes as he sat me on the ground.
I saw Mrs. Sever shaking as if it were cold. She was crying. I suddenly turned away from her. “I’m sorry. This is all my fault!” I hurried away, no longer able to speak.
It wasn’t Pa who came running after me though – it was her. She outran me and grabbed my arm. Her hand was shaking something awful, but she turned me around and bent down to look at me. “Why, Mark? Why is this your fault?”
“He-he came to my house!” I swallowed. “He asked me about…about you – He tricked me into telling him that you were young and pretty and your husband was away.” I hung my head. “I’m sorry.”
“I see.” She straightened up. “Mark?” I looked up at her as she held out a shaking hand. She took her other hand and wiped away the tears on her cheeks. “Would you like a piece of cherry pie?”
I laughed as I took her hand. Pa dragged Mr. Gowdy’s body out the door and covered it with a sheet. “Lucas? Would you like a piece of cherry pie?”
I smiled at Pa. “Didn’t he get one earlier?” I asked. They both looked at me. “I mean, isn’t that why you came over here?”
Pa laughed and messed up my hair. “Your father came over here to work, Mark. And he did!”
Pa and I had our cherry pie. He asked Mrs. Sever to come with us into town, but she shook her head. “I want to stay here.” She looked toward the door. “He’s dead now. He’ll never hurt another woman again.”
As we walked toward our horses, I was quiet. Pa put an arm around me and pulled me next to him. “We’ll get the wagon and bring him into town, son.”
“Can I come with you?” I asked.
“Oh yes! After tonight, it’ll be awhile before I leave you behind. I think it took about five years off my life!” Pa turned to me. “What happened to you anyhow?”
“I didn’t fix the cinch,” I stated simply.
Pa stopped and turned to me. He folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. “Now you see why it’s important to be responsible and fix those things which are broken?”
After we were settled in the wagon and headed into town with Mr. Gowdy’s body, I decided to broach the subject. “Pa?” Pa turned to me. “Mr. Gowdy told me he killed women because they were beautiful.” Pa said nothing but looked straight ahead as I spoke. “He said he killed them when he was done with them.” Pa sucked in his breath. I didn’t say anymore but just looked at him.
Pa slowed the wagon down almost to a stop. “Mark, he was hurting women in the most violent way he could. He was taking something from them that only a husband has the right to take from them.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
Pa sighed. “Well, you remember when we had the talk about how babies are created and I told you that it’s a special love a husband and wife have for each other?” I nodded. “And you remember me telling you it’s a physical way a man and wife express their love for one another?” I nodded again.
Pa turned and placed a hand on my shoulder. He looked into my eyes. “That’s what he takes – that physical specialness that only a husband has a right to have.”
“Oh.” I turned back to watch the road ahead. Pa started driving. “I’m not quite sure what that is yet, Pa. You haven’t explained it to me too well.”
“When you get a little older, son, we’ll sit down and I’ll do my best to explain it. In a couple years you’ll have an understanding of what I’m talking about.”
I turned and looked at Mr. Gowdy’s covered body in the back of our wagon. “Pa, why did he do that?”
Pa shrugged. “I’m sure something happened in his life to make him like that. More then likely a woman had hurt him deeply, and that was the only way he knew to strike back to keep the pain from hurting.” Pa looked at me again. “It’s best to let our pain out, son. It’s best that we cry and yell and tell others how we feel. That’s why I would never…ever…reprimand you for crying when you are hurt or upset. Tears are important.”
I turned again and looked at the body. But Pa grabbed my shoulder and turned me back around. He put his arm securely around me and patted my shoulder. Then he removed his arm from around me and hurried the horses toward town.
After we were in bed at the hotel that night, I laid there in the dark thinking on all that had happened today. Pa finally crawled in beside me. He turned and looked at me. “You have any more questions, Mark?”
I sighed. “I have a lot, Pa. But they aren’t any you can answer. Only God knows the answer.”
Pa turned on his side and looked into my eyes. He put an arm securely around me and closed his eyes. “Then sleep, son. Just sleep.”
I closed my eyes, smiling in the comfort of my father’s arms.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Long Trek
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Six Years and a Day
around The McCain Ranch