The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

The Fourflushers
Episode 72
Mark’s story

I had stayed home from school yesterday because my throat ached and I was coughing something awful. The worst part of the whole ordeal was having to stay in bed all day. It was just a little cold, but Pa just wouldn’t listen! He never would when it came to my health. The minute I had sat down at the breakfast table and croaked out “Morning,” he had raised an eyebrow at me. Then he had slowly stood from his chair and walked over to mine. “Open your mouth wide, son,” Pa had ordered gruffly. I did, but then suddenly began coughing.

Pa scratched his nose as he thought about it. “Your throat is a little red,” he stated worriedly. “I think I’ll keep you home from school.” At first I had been really happy, but then Pa pointed toward the bedroom and told me to get back into bed. That’s when I decided I was well enough to go to school. Pa just shook his head and sternly ordered me in bed.

“Pa, it’s just a little sore throat! I’ll be fine tomorrow,” I explained.

Pa nodded. “I know you will, because you will get plenty of rest today,” he stated. He made me stay in bed that whole day. Pa had been planning on going into town, but later decided against it. He just didn’t want to be away from me that much. At once, I mentioned that Pa was going way overboard with this. My friends were always telling me about how their mothers treated them like babies when their Pa would tell them to make them toughen up.

I told Pa as much. He was sitting on the side of my bed when I told him. He only looked at me as he softly laid a hand on my forehead. “Yes, well perhaps they didn’t loose a wife to the fever and promise to always take very good care of you.”

“I know, Pa, but-“ I started.

But Pa held up his hand. “Look son, your Ma had a saying when you got the sniffles. She’d tell me that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That means it’s better to be safe then sorry!”

So this morning as I woke up, I looked over to see my Pa still in bed asleep. I quietly got up and started pulling my pants on. “Commere, son,” Pa mumbled as he slowly sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes.

I walked over to him. He looked in my throat and my eyes. “How are you feeling?” I opened my mouth to speak, but he held up a finger. “The truth, now!” he stated sternly.

“I’m feeling fine, Pa! Honest!”

Pa nodded. “Yeah, okay.” He yawned.

“You didn’t sit up with me last night, did you Pa?” I suddenly asked.

Pa stopped pulling his boot on and looked at me through narrowed eyes. “And what if I did, boy?” he asked sternly.

“Oh Pa!” I let out a big sigh. “I’m a little old for that! Why, I’m twelve years old!” I declared.

Pa nodded. “Well, it’s a father’s prerogative.” He stood up. “Listen son, I believe that you are better, but I don’t want you going to school. I want to keep an eye on you one more day.” I knew Pa always went overboard on this sickness stuff, but I did sort of understand. After all, he had lost my Ma to sickness, so he had to be a little cautious…”We have to ride over to Gabe Fenway’s after breakfast.”

“He gonna race that horse of his again?” I suddenly asked excitedly.

Pa raised his eyebrow at me as he picked up his coffee pot. “Yes. He’s getting him ready for the race tomorrow,” Pa answered with a laugh.

“Oh boy!” I started eating faster.

“Not so fast with the food, Mark,” I suddenly heard, so I slowed down.

When we rode over there, Mrs. Fenway saw us coming and stepped outside. She smiled as she wiped her hands on the apron. “Mark, why aren’t you at school?” she scolded.

I looked at Pa and grinned. “Pa said I didn’t hafta go today!” I declared mischievously.

Mrs. Fenway put her hands on her hips. “Lucas McCain!” she gasped.

Pa held up his hand and laughed. “Now, you know me better then that!” he declared. “I kept him home yesterday because he had a sore throat and was coughing. I wanted to keep a close eye on him today. This afternoon, we’re riding in to get his assignments from Miss. Adams.” I groaned at that. It always seemed like there was a lot more homework when I missed school!

I just shook my head. “He worries about me too much.”

Mrs. Fenway just smiled and put an arm around me. “Well, you are all he has left of your mother. He may hold you a little too tight at times, but just enjoy it. Someday you’ll appreciate it.”

Mr. Fenway came out then on his horse, sapphire. “Pa, can I? Please?” I asked excitedly.

“Can you what?” Pa asked.

“Can I time Mr. Fenway?” Pa laughed as he handed me the watch. Pa and I got back on our horses and when I said go, Mr. Fenway took off racing.

“Twenty-three seconds!” I declared when he got back. I couldn’t believe it! That horse was sure fast! Pa said that if he was a betting man, he’d put money on Mr. Fenway’s horse.

I thought on that as we started for home. “Pa?” I asked as he worked on the sandwiches for an early lunch. Pa turned to me. “You’re pretty sure that Mr. Fenway’s gonna win Saturday, huh?”

Pa nodded. “Yes, pretty sure.”

“Well, why don’t you bet on it?” I asked. It sounded like an easy way to make money.

Pa came over and put his foot up on the chair as he bent down to look at me. “How much do you think I should put down?”

I smiled. “Oh, I don’t know…twenty-five dollars?”

“Mmmm,” Pa said as he sat down beside me. “Mark, how do you think I earned that twenty-five dollars?” I just shrugged. “Well, I may have sold a couple cattle or harvested a field full of wheat for that. Now after all the sweat and tears that I put into that job, you think I should just throw it away?”

“Well,” I shrugged. “You could win fifty dollars or more if you bet it though.”

Pa just shook his head. “No Mark, I’ve worked too hard for that money. Someday when you’re a man working by the sweat of your brow, you’ll know what I mean.”

“Nah,” I declared. “I’m gonna be a stagecoach driver when I grow up!”

“A stagecoach driver, huh?” Pa shook his head, doubting my sincerity.

“Well yeah.” I suddenly smiled as I looked off into the distance of the house. “Why, just think, you get to travel all over and meet new people, delivering them from city to city. And the whole time, I’ll be in charge of keeping the money from those outlaws and –“

Pa sat the milk in front of me. “Mark, you don’t meet the people much. You are sitting up on a high seat freezing in the winter time and burning up in the summer time alone. The reins will eat your hands raw and the horses can stumble at such a high speed. And the robbers kill the stagecoach driver right off.”

I smiled. “I know all that. That’s what makes it exciting! I’m definitely gonna be a stagecoach driver when I grow up!”

“Well, future stage-coach driver, hurry up and eat that sandwich so you can go take a nap!” Pa declared.

A nap! I suddenly turned to Pa who had purposely busied himself in the kitchen. “A nap?” I suddenly argued. “Pa, I’m twelve years old!”

“Yes, I know,” Pa stated as he sat down. “You’re also recovering from a cold.”

“Oh Pa, that was just a little sniffle. Why, most kids wouldn’t have even stayed out of school for that and besides-“ I suddenly looked up at Pa and saw the look on his face. “Pa, I-“ The look grew. I sighed. “Alright, I’ll go lay down. But I won’t take a nap!”

An hour after I laid down, Pa came in and woke me up. I walked outside where he was working at. I just realized I still had the stopwatch in my pocket. Pulling it out, I stared at it and started thinking about Mr. Fenway’s colt. He was awful fast! That got me to thinking about Blue Boy and what he could do. Why, maybe…just maybe…I could-

“What are you daydreaming about Mark?” Pa suddenly interrupted my thoughts.

“Twenty-three seconds,” I stated. I thought that was awful fast! Pa came over to stand behind me. Pa figured he could outrun any horse in that race on Saturday. “How fast you figure Blue Boy could run?” I suddenly asked.

It was an idea I’d been toying with all week. Ever since I heard about the Charity Day Race, I though on it. I had even ran Blue boy when my Pa was away. I wanted to see how fast he could run before I let my Pa in on the secret. But now was the perfect time. I had done everything he had told me to do for the last two days, appeasing the worry he held for my health. I had even taken a nap for him earlier this afternoon. I didn’t figure this request would be too much of a stretch.

I told Pa that I’d like to time him sometime. Pa reminded me I wanted to make a cutting horse out of him. “I do,” I assured him. But I didn’t see any harm in racing him either. But I wasn’t quite ready to ask the question yet. I had to be careful on how I asked – it’s something every boy had learned the hard way, me included! I casually commented that Mr. Fenway was going to sell that colt.

Suddenly, I turned to him. He was in just the right mood. But I didn’t just come out and ask. I was still working on that part. “Say Pa, just for fun, just so I’d know, could we time Blue boy?” I knew that first I had to show Pa just how fast he was, then I could pop the question.

Pa said that we could sometime. I boldly assured him I had a quarter mile measured. Pa suddenly looked down the road and back at me. He got a stern look on his face, but I could tell it wasn’t for real. “You been running that horse?” Bingo! He was onto me!

“But Pa,” I explained as sweetly as a twelve year old boy could. “Blue Boy loves to run more then anything!”

That brought the desired result. Pa grinned at me. He just couldn’t help himself! “Well, he wouldn’t be much of a horse if he didn’t, would he?” Pa took my watch and I ran to get Blue Boy saddled.

As I saddled him, I spoke softly to him. “Now Blue Boy, I really want us to run in that race on Saturday, so you are going to have to make this one good. You see, if Pa doesn’t think you are good enough, he won’t even bother to let us enter. I’ll do my part, boy. You have to do yours!”

Pa came in then to get his horse. “Talking to him, Mark?”

I finished saddling him. “Just explaining what we’re doing, Pa.” I mounted Blue Boy and went out of the barn.

I showed Pa where the quarter mile was, then I got in the position to start the race. Pa yelled “Go” and I kicked the sides of Blue Boy just as hard as I could. He took off like a gunshot! I raced him as hard as I could. We were across that finish line in no time!

Twenty-two seconds! I knew Blue Boy could do better then that. I was about to ask Pa if I could do it again, but he told me we needed to let him rest. As we rode down the road, Pa suddenly said, “Want to ride into town?”

“Sure!” I declared. There sure was something special about going to town with Pa when I should be in school! It made me want to ride past the school and wave at the kids through the window, showing them I was having fun today. But I figured Pa would skin me alive for sure if I did something like that!

I still hadn’t popped the question, but I was getting awfully close to it. I figure my Pa was pretty close to ready to hear it and answer yes. As we rode into town, I looked around excitedly at all the decorations. I was sure excited about that!

Suddenly I saw the horse buyers that were here last year. As casually as I could, I stated, “I don’t care how much they offer me, though. I won’t sell ‘em Blue Boy even if I do win the race.” There, I said it. I didn’t dare look at Pa for fear of him saying no.

He didn’t say no. He didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no. “Just when did we decide you were gonna enter Blue Boy in the race?”

Here was my opportunity. I had to make it good. I looked at him and begged, “Oh Pa, could I? Would you let me? They say anybody can enter the race, right?” I begged.

Pa said he’d think it over then “we’d” decide. I couldn’t help but wonder what that “we” was about. He meant that he would decide – I’d already decided!

As you know, my Pa and a man named Mr. Preston had a short discussion about my entering the race. When he started talking about Mr. Fenway’s horses being nags, I had to jump to his defense, declaring those were some of the best horses I’d ever seen. Mr. Preston asked me if I knew something about horses. “I know a fast horse when I see one,” I declared.

Then Mr. Preston asked me if I was going to enter Blue Boy. I told him he was faster then Mr. Fenway’s colt. I told him I’d like to enter Blue Boy in the race. Then I looked at Pa, “If Pa would let me.”

I could use all the help I could get on this one! Mr. Preston said Pa was probably busting out proud to let me enter. “I haven’t decided yet, Jake,” Pa answered sternly. He got it right that time! He hadn’t decided!

I just stated that I’d sure like to enter Blue Boy. In fact, I stated it a few times, so Pa would know I wanted to really, really bad!

Mr. Preston soon rode away. I asked Pa again…okay, I begged him… and Pa suddenly said, “Son,” he folded his arms and looked down at me. “if you’re gonna race horses, there’s something you oughta learn. Don’t give away all your secrets!”

I suddenly got excited. That sounded something like a yes to me! “Then I can race him?” I asked excitedly.

“Well, if I was about your age, and I had a horse as good as yours, I’d want to,” Pa answered.

“You mean it?” I excitedly cried, not quite believing it yet.

“I mean it!” Pa declared as he lifted my hat off my head and plopped it back down. “Now, let me buy ya a sarsaparilla!”

Pa walked away. “Yahoo!” I yelled. Then I ran and hopped on my Pa’s back.

We headed down to the café where Micah was drinking coffee. I ran up to him at the table. “Micah, Micah!” I cried excitedly as Pa plopped me down on the ground. “You’re never gonna guess! Not ever in a million years!”

Micah suddenly looked at me. “Well, then why don’t you tell me?”

“Pa’s gonna let me race Saturday! He’s gonna let me race Blue Boy!” I shouted as I leaned close to Micah.

“Mark, hush!” Pa scolded me.

I suddenly looked around and saw the other customers in the café staring at me. “Oh, sorry,” I smiled nervously and looked at Pa as he handed me the sarsaparilla.

Pa grabbed my arm with a small annoyed look on his face and pulled me down in a chair. “Take your hat off, boy,” he ordered as he looked at Micah and shook his head.

“Micah, I timed Blue Boy this afternoon out at the ranch. Twenty-two seconds, Micah! Twenty-two!” Micah just smiled and shook his head. “Mr. Fenway’s colt did it in twenty-three seconds! That means that Blue Boy is faster!”

“It means nothing of the sort!” Pa declared.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Micah declared. “Why weren’t you in school today?”

I started to explain, but Pa held up his hand. “Just a little sickness, Micah. Nothing to worry about.” I knew Pa didn’t want me to start in on his overreaction to a short-lived cold.

I drank the rest of my sarsaparilla. “That was good, Pa. Thanks!”

Pa nodded with a grin. “Why don’t you go on outside now, son. I’ll meet you at Hattie’s.”

“Yes sir,” I stated as I started to run out.

But Pa grabbed my arm to stop me. I turned and looked at him. “No candy,” he stated.

“Oh, but Pa!” I whined.

Micah laughed and reached in his pocket for a penny. “No, Micah,” Pa declared. “And don’t you let Hattie talk you into anything! You just remember what Pa said!”

“Yes sir,” I answered before I ran off.

School had just let out and I ran into some of my friends. “Hey Mark, playing hooky?” Freddie asked as he ran up to me.

“No,” I answered. “I was sick yesterday, so Pa kept me out today.” Then I suddenly stood up straight and tall and proudly announced, “Guess what? My Pa’s letting me race Blue Boy Saturday!”

“No way!” Freddie declared.

“Yes he is!” I stated with an annoyed look.

Jeff put his hands on his hips. “You just prove it!”

“All you have to do is show up on Saturday and you’ll see me,” I announced.

“We want proof right now!” Freddie stated as he crossed his arms.

“You do huh?” I looked toward the café, then back at Freddie and Jeff. “Alright, come on!” We went into the café and hurried up to Pa’s table where he and Micah were still talking.

“Pa, they won’t believe me that I get to be in the race Saturday!” I declared.

Pa suddenly turned his head and pointed to me. “You come busting in here and disturb people who are eating like that again, and you won’t be, ya' hear me, boy?”

I stood up straight. “Oh yeah. I…I’m sorry, Pa.”

I turned around and crossed my arms, giving Jeff and Freddie a victorious look. Freed and Jeff looked at each other and walked out. “Pa, alright if I go on home now? I’m gonna race Blue Boy again.”

Pa looked me up and down. “Sure, son.”

I turned to leave when Miss Adams walked in. I sure didn’t want Pa to see her! I was afraid she’d give me homework! “Mark, I saw you run in here and thought I’d come in to see if you are feeling alright.”

Pa turned at the sound of her voice and stood up. He patted me on the back. “He’ll be all ready for school on Monday,” Pa stated.

“Monday? You mean I don’t have to go to school tomorrow?” I smiled. That was great!

“There’s no school tomorrow, son. Micah didn’t want the kids in town with all the horse racers and horse buyers and such in town.”

“Oh,” I answered disappointedly. It was more exciting when I thought the other kids would be in school. “Well, we’ll see you Monday then. Buy, Miss Adams.”

Pa suddenly grabbed the back of my shirt to keep me from running off. “Actually, I was going to stop by your room at the barding house before I went home this evening. Mark is over his ailment and ready to catch up on the work he missed.”

I groaned as Miss Adams sat down with my Pa and Micah at the table and started making a list of things to work on. “I suddenly feel sick again, Pa.”

Micah laughed. Miss Adams tore the paper from her tablet and started to hand it to me, but Pa took it from her and stuffed it in his pocket. “I better hang on to it. Mark seems to have a knack at loosing those…uh…important papers, if you know what I mean.” Pa turned to me then. “Mark, you can go ahead and go home, but-“ He pointed a finger at me again. “Don’t race that horse too much. He’s not used to a lot of racing and could easily get hurt.” Pa took a drink from his coffee cup then turned back to me. “Or is he used to all that racing?”

“Oh, yes sir. See ya, Pa!” I stated as I rushed out. I think Pa would be surprised to know just how much I had been racing him. That’s why he was so good!

I raced him again as soon as I got home. He ran good. I was so proud of him! “Now all you gotta do is get in there and do like you’ve been doing!” I declared to him. “And forget about all those other horses. Just do your best!”

Suddenly, Mr. Preston was there. He wanted to time Blue Boy to see how fast he was. I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. Somehow, I didn’t think my Pa would approve of the whole thing but I finally gave in and did it. He timed me and announced it took 21 seconds this time. “Oh boy!” I suddenly cried.

“You got yourself a mighty fine animal there, Mark. Might fine indeed. I look forward to seeing you in the race on Saturday!” I smiled proudly, glad that he was so impressed with me and Blue Boy. “Well, I best get along. Keep up the fine work, boy!”

I went home to start on my chores. Pa came along shortly after I started stacking the wood he had chopped that morning. He came over and patted my back. “Still feeling good?” he asked with a smile.

“Yes sir,” I declared. I’ve been fine all day.” Pa started to walk toward the house. “Oh Pa, I raced Blue Boy again this afternoon. In fact, Mr. Preston came by and helped me time him. Twenty-one seconds, Pa!”

Pa suddenly frowned as he hurried back over to me. “You did what?”

“Well, you told me I could!”

“Mark, you shouldn’t have let Mr. Preston do that.” I was confused, not understanding the problem. I could tell something was bothering Pa as he slowly walked away.

“Pa!” I called.

Pa turned and waved a hand at me. “Not now, son. Not now.”

As we ate supper that night, Pa was still really quiet as he was deep in thought. “Pa, um…alright if I race Blue Boy in the morning? I know he knows how special this is for me! Why I promised him a nice brushing if he wins that race tomorrow! He’s so excited he can hardly stand it!”

“Mark-“ Pa stopped, realizing his voice was a bit too harsh. He closed his eyes and sighed. “Hurry and finish your supper, son. I want us to spend some time on your lessons tonight.”

“Pa, I was hoping I could do them Sunday instead. I” Pa looked up at me. Worry was written all over his face. “Pa, something is wrong. What is it?”

Pa started to tell me, but then he sighed and shook his head. He banged his fist on the table and stood up. “There’s something I have to tell you about the race, but not tonight, son. I have some thinking to do.” Pa grabbed a cigar from his box and opened the door. “Do the dishes then get started on your math.” Pa pulled the paper from his shirt and handed it to me.

I stared at the closed door. Something was really bothering him, but what I didn’t know. I walked to the window and looked outside. Pa was sitting on the steps of the porch. He took a long puff off his cigar then slowly blew it out as he had his hand against his forehead. It almost looked like he was praying.

He was out there for a long time. When he came back inside, he sat down and worked on the books. I knew better then to talk to him, but I finally stood and brought my math book to him. “Pa,” I said softly.

Pa looked up at me and gave me a small smile. “Pa, can you help me with this?” Pa stared at the math book for a minute. He realized that it wasn’t the math problems I needed help with. He nodded as we walked back to the table together and he sat down beside me to watch me do my homework.

I think it helped a little.

Finally, Pa announced I had done enough work for that night and that I should go to bed. I nodded and slowly made my way into the bedroom. But after I got ready I walked to the window and looked outside. I thought excitedly about Saturday. For the first time, Blue Boy would race, and I knew he would be a hero. I could just hear all the cheering and congratulations already! Saturday would be our day – the day Mark McCain and Blue Boy would make North Fork history.

I was so deep in thought that I didn’t hear Pa come in to check on me. “Mark,” he scolded me. “Why aren’t you asleep?”

“I can’t, Pa! I’m too excited!” I ran over to him and grabbed his hands. “Saturday’s the day, Pa! I’m so excited that I can hardly stand it! Look!” I ran over to the shelf beside my bed to showed him an empty space. “Here’s where I’m going to put the silver bowl – right here by my horse collection! Oh Pa, I can hardly wait! Blue Boy and me are gonna win on Saturday! I know it, I just know it!”

Even though it was mostly dark in the room, I could tell you Pa’s expression because I could feel it. He had a sorrowful look in his eyes. His face was pulled tight in a sad frown, and his eyes were narrowed as he thought about something.

Pa never said a word until I was tucked back into bed. He bent down and gave me a soft kiss on the forehead, then he patted my shoulder. “Don’t get up again, Mark.” He said sternly. But there was a break in his voice. Something was wrong.

It took a long time, but I did finally get to sleep. The next morning I got up and did my morning chores. Then I ate my breakfast. Pa was still quiet as he drank his coffee. I could tell he was really struggling with something. I went to race Blue Boy a few times.

When I got back to the house, Pa was there getting his horse ready for travel. I ran Blue Boy up to him. “Pa, he’s even faster then I thought he was!” I announced suddenly. “I couldn’t get to sleep last night just thinking about him.” I patted Blue Boy as Pa just stood there and stared at me. “Do you really think I’ve got a good chance at winning?”

I guess Pa had come up with no subtle way of breaking it to me, so he simply asked, “Mark, did you know that Jake Preston bet a thousand dollars on you?” Pa still had that same look on his face – the one he had the night before.

But his news impressed me. “No foolin’!” I declared. “That must mean he really thinks I’m gonna win!” I smiled proudly.

But Pa wasn’t smiling. “Son, I don’t like this betting business,” he stated firmly.

I knew there was more coming. “I didn’t know anything about it. It’s alright, isn’t it?”

“I don’t think so,” Pa answered. He told me it had gotten to be a fight between Mr. Preston and Mr. Fenway. I knew they never liked each other very much.

“That’s not the point. I don’t want you getting tangled up in this sort of thing.” I didn’t like the way Pa said it. That’s what’s been bothering him. He must have been trying to find an easy way to say what he was going to say, that is if I didn’t come up with a good defense for me and Blue Boy.

“But Pa, I didn’t do it!” I declared. Why should I be punished for something I hadn’t even done?

“No, I know you didn’t, but you can become a part of it Mark,” Pa tried to explain.

“I can’t help it if somebody wants to bet on me can I?” I just had to make Pa see things my way! I just had to!

Then Pa said something that I couldn’t stand to hear – words that would break my heart. “Mark, maybe you oughta wait till next year to race.” I heard maybe come from his mouth, but I didn’t think he was giving me much of a choice.

I wouldn’t stop fighting this, though. My heart was set on this. He couldn’t take this away from me! It was a greater punishment then I could ever bare! “Pa, you promised me! I’ve been counting on it most more then anything I’ve ever counted on before in my life.”

“I know that,” Pa stated sadly.

But I wasn’t sure he did. “It’s not just me, but I promised Blue Boy,” I stated, giving Blue Boy a pat. The I licked my lips, guessing that sounded silly to an adult. He said he understood. “Then I can race him, alright? Can I?” I asked suddenly. Actually, I was again begging.

But Pa was agonizing over this. “Mark, don’t get your heart set on it, okay?” Then he told me he was going into town. He started to leave, but suddenly stopped. “Don’t forget to do your chores, huh?”

I nodded as I watched Pa ride out. I knew he’d let me race Blue Boy. Pa was fair, and he wasn’t going to punish me for something I didn’t do!

I got all my chores done – and even went beyond what Pa had told me to do. I didn’t just clean the barn like I usually did. I fixed the pegs that were broken and even worked on the latch that was starting to catch again. I raked out the corral that hadn’t been cleaned out in a long time. As I was cleaning there, I found a gun belt that had been buried in a shallow hole. As I picked it up and looked at it, I shrugged my shoulder and threw it down. No telling where that came from!

Then I cleaned the yard. I even dug up some thistles that had started to grow – a job that I usually left for my Pa to do.

I even cleaned inside the house. I swept it out really good and even mopped it without having to be told a half dozen times or having it assigned to me as a punishment. I looked around and smiled. There was no way he’d say no!

I heard Pa ride up that afternoon and ran out to greet him with a smile. But Pa’s face held a deep sorrow. And as he tied his horse to the post, I heard a sigh from deep within him. He laid a hand on my shoulder and silently led me inside. After I sat down at the table, he laid a hand tenderly on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, son,” he shook his head. “As a father, I have to do things I don’t want to do.”

My eyes suddenly filled up with tears and I looked down at the table. “Mark, I would walk a hundred miles through the desert barefooted to keep you from hearing this, but…I’m afraid I can’t.” He laid a hand on top of mine, but I barely felt it. “A father has to teach his child certain morals and principles, son. I’m not asking you to understand, though I wish you’d try. Just know this hurts me as much as it hurts you.”

I suddenly looked at him. My tears grew hot. I grew angry as I stood up. “You promised me!” I shouted. “You promised!”

Pa closed his eyes and drew in a big breath. “Don’t talk to me like that.”

“You’re wrong, Pa!” I stated.

Pa suddenly looked at me. I saw the hurt on his face. “Go to your room,” Pa said quietly.

I stood there and stared at him. He wasn’t being fair. He wasn’t understanding me – why was I being punished for something I had no control over? “Now, Mark!”

I did go. And I threw myself down on my bed and cried. Never in my life had I ever been so disappointed! I couldn’t stand the thought of tomorrow. I suddenly looked at the shelf where my silver bowl should be setting after tomorrow. There would be no silver bowl.

Pa opened the door to my room later. I was quiet. It was dark. I laid there on my bed silently. “Supper, son. Come eat.” I turned to find that he had walked away. I knew I had no choice but to go.

I shifted my food around on my plate, but didn’t eat much. Pa sighed. “Mark, stop playing with your food and eat it, son.”

“Yes sir,” I answered softly. I ate in silence.

“Mark, when you become a father, you’ll understand that being a parent is the hardest job we have. Sometimes we have to make decisions that our children won’t understand. And believe it or not, I agonized over my decision. I prayed and read the Book for a long time last night. This wasn’t a decision I came to lightly.” I stayed quiet as I listened. “I’m trying to protect you from getting involved in a fixed race. I just…care for you so much that I don’t want you hurt.”

I was hurt. I was hurt that Pa had gone back on his word that I could race just because two grown men couldn’t get along!

Pa stood up then and grabbed a cigar. He stood in the doorway looking outside. “You can do the dishes then go to bed. I hope you think long and hard on what I said, son. Remember that it’s no easier for me.”

I did the dishes. By the time they were done, I was calmed down a bit and ready to petition my case one more time. I slowly walked outside. “Pa, I would like to ask you once more to please reconsider your decision.” I said it in a calm enough voice.

Pa looked at me from where he sat on the porch. “No,” he simply stated. “I made a fair decision.”

I stared at him. I could fill the anger boiling up inside me all over again. “Fair?” I asked as I started pacing the porch. “I don’t care what you say, it isn’t fair!”

Pa continued to calmly puff on his cigar. “I know how you feel, Mark,” he stated.

“No you don’t!” I stated. “Well, if you did you wouldn’t tell me I couldn’t race.”

“I’ve already told you son. If you take part in it, you’re gonna get involved in a fixed race.”

It was the same excuse over and over. I was getting tired of hearing it! “Oh, I don’t believe it!” I suddenly shot out. “Well, as long as I race Blue Boy fair and square and do my best to win-“ I started.

But Pa looked at me angrily. “I’ve already told you, Mark. The answer’s no,” he stated firmly, putting an abrupt end to my argument.

I ran into the house and into the bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I threw myself on the bed and cried for the second time that day. I know I was acting immature for my age, but I had been counting on it so much!”

Pa opened the door later. “Mark, you should be in bed.”

I didn’t turn to look at him. “Yes sir,” I said quietly. The door closed and I was alone.

I laid there in the darkness in my room as I thought on my disappointing news. I was still awake later when Pa came in to check on me. I felt him tuck the covers around me and plant a kiss on my cheek. He thought I was asleep. Or did he?

He went to the door and turned back to me. “I want you to know that I love you very much, son.” Then he closed the door.

When I woke up the next morning, I groaned, remembering the night before. I had to get in and see the race – see if it was really as bad as Pa had said. But I knew that after my behavior last night Pa wouldn’t let me go. I opened the door and peaked out into the other room. Pa was no where in sight I quickly came out, shutting the bedroom door behind me. Then I hurried to the barn to saddle up Blue Boy. I looked out of the barn in time to see Pa going toward the house with the eggs he had just gathered. I walked Blue Boy down the road, then rode into town.

The town was already busting with activity when I rode in. Mr. Preston was there, as if he were waiting for me. He was the last person I wanted to see! “Big day, huh Mark?” he asked.

I supposed it was a good day for someone – but not for me. “I guess so,” I answered sadly. He asked me if I was going to win the race. “I’m not gonna enter him,” I stated. “I change my mind.” I was still angry. I didn’t see anything so dangerous going on around here! “Why’d you have to go and spoil everything? You didn’t have to bet all that money on me. That’s why my Pa won’t let me race.”

That’s when he told me that there wasn’t going to be any betting. The whole thing was called off. He said that he and Mr. Fenway acted like a couple of children. I suddenly felt hopeful. Maybe I could run in this race after all! I just knew Pa had blown the whole thing out of proportion. “Well, if there’s not gonna be any bettin’…” I thought hopefully, That was Pa’s main problem – he never hid his feelings on betting. He hated it in any case.

“Then there ain’t no reason for you not to race,” Mr. Preston stated.

But I wasn’t so sure. I had snuck off without telling my Pa. As soon as he discovered me gone, he’d be very angry with me and would come storming into town. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be found alone where there were no witnesses when he caught up with me either! I’ve seen my Pa mad, and he would definitely be mad today. Only a miracle would get me in that race today!

Mr. Preston suggested I go enter Blue Boy in the race. It was tempting since I knew in my heart that that was the only way I’d ever run in this race. No power on earth would make my Pa change his mind now! But I declined his suggestion. I was in enough trouble already. I couldn’t defy my father more by entering into a race he had absolutely forbade me from entering.

As I rode off, I went to find Mr. Fenway. If I couldn’t’ race my horse, at least I could tell Mr. Fenway I was rooting for him! But as I entered the stable, I found him on the ground leaning over a bale of hay. I ran to him asking what happened but he couldn’t talk. I tried to give him a drink of water, but he couldn’t even drink. Something was wrong. I had to get help.

As I ran out of the stable, I saw my Pa and Micah. I shouted for them to come. Pa and Micah bent over Mr. Fenway and started talking about what happened. They were saying something about Mr. Fenway having to forfeit his crop if he didn’t win the race. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I was beginning to realize just how wrong I had been.

Suddenly, Pa turned to me. “Mark, you wanted to be in that race. The bet was on the horse, not the rider. You think you’re up to it, son?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I was suddenly back in the race. “You me me ride Sapphire?” I suddenly exclaimed excitedly.

“That’s what I mean,” Pa answered.

“Sure,” I answered as I untied Sapphire. “I’m sorry about what happened this morning,” I stated in a hurry, hoping it would buy me some insurance later.

But from the tone of Pa’s voice, I assumed I wasn’t off the hook. He sounded pretty upset. “We’ll talk about that later,” he promised. I knew he’d be keeping that promise!

I took Sapphire up and lined her up at the start line. We raced an excellent race! She did great – and she won! Everyone was hooting and hollering, including my Pa. I jumped off the horse, ran to my Pa, and jumped into his arms, hugging him. “I won Pa! I won!”

We ran into the barn and announced it to Mr. Fenway. I smiled proudly as Mr. Fenway reached out his hand to me and shook it. “Does this mean he gets to keep his crop, Pa?”

“Yes.” Pa smiled at me. “Son, I’m really proud of you!”

I smiled as I hugged him again. “Thanks for letting me race, Pa!” Pa raised his eyebrows at me, and I felt I had said something wrong.

We sat in the barn for awhile rejoicing in the victory. Mr. Preston suddenly came to the doorway and stood there. He didn’t say a word. Mr. Fenway and Mr. Preston stared at each other for several moments, then Mr. Preston nodded his head and left.

Suddenly, Hattie was there. “The festivities are starting. You all coming?”

I started forward, suddenly excited about the rest of the day. The race was only one part of the day. For the whole day, we got to play games and stuff ourselves. But as I started out of the barn, Pa grabbed me by the back of my shirt. “Um, Mark won’t be able to stay,” Pa suddenly stated in the firm voice. I turned to look at him and saw the sternness in his eyes.

I hung my head. In a low, calm voice Pa said, “I want you to go home and go straight to your room. Stay there until I get there.”

I just looked at him and nodded. Before I left the stable, I turned to Mr. Fenway. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid it was my bragging that got you into this mess.”

Mr. Fenway rubbed the back of his head. “Don’t worry, Mark. If it hadn’t been you, he would have found some other way to try to hurt me.”

“Go on, son,” Pa said softly.

I nodded and walked out. As I rode home toward the ranch alone, I had a lot of time to think. Pa had been right in trying to protect me. He was a wise old man, and I was still a foolish child. I was ashamed of myself, and I knew my Pa was ashamed of me. When I got home, I noticed the breakfast on the table. He had made a fine breakfast for me – a peace offering of sorts. I walked to the table and picked up the pancakes.

“Ruined,” I stated as I threw them out the back door for the birds. I cleaned the kitchen up then went to sit in my room alone and quietly.

Pa was taking his time in coming home. I’m sure he wanted me to have plenty of time to think. I hadn’t eaten all day, but knew leaving the room would be a mistake and I’d be in even more trouble.

I had been wrong. I knew it. Pa knew it. Somehow, I think Pa knew I knew it now. That’s why he was staying gone for so long.

After hours – I had no idea how many – I heard Pa riding into the ranch. I walked to the window and saw Pa tie his horse to the post and start toward the house. I heard the door open and close. I heard Pa’s footsteps cross the room. Turning, I saw him turning the doorknob. I stood in front of him looking at him.

Pa’s face was full of pride and disappointment. I hung my head. “I’m sorry, Pa. I know I was wrong.”

Pa nodded. “Well, that’s a start.” He motioned to the bed. “Have a seat, son.” He pulled up a chair to sit in front of me as I sat on the bed. “You know why I sent you home today?”

“Of course, sir. As punishment for sneaking off this morning and…” I swallowed. “To think.”

“And did you?” Pa asked as he put his hand on my leg. “Did you think?”

I nodded. “I’ve thought a lot.”

“And?” Pa raised his eyebrows as he stared into my eyes.

I sighed. “I realized how wrong I was, Pa. I rode into town to prove something to you – that you were wrong. I guess I ended up proving that you were right.”

“What else?” Pa asked.

“Well, I…I guess I was part of the problem. I bragged about the horses and had my blinders on when I was talking to Mr. Preston. I guess I did get mixed up in this.” I hung my head.

“Yes you did, son.” Pa sighed.

“Pa, when you came home Thursday evening, you were really upset about something. You were in agony with worry. It was because of me, wasn’t it?” Pa nodded. I suddenly tried to stand up and walk away in shame, but Pa put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me back down on the bed. He forced me to look at him. “You really did know how much this meant to me.”

Pa put both of his hands on mine. “I knew before I even came home that night what I had to do – I had to tell you you couldn’t race. I didn’t want to do it, son, and I struggled with it, but sometimes…well, things just don’t work out the way they should.” Pa sighed. “I prayed to God for the strength to tell you that night. I read the Bible passage about raising your children right. Yet, I still agonized over it. I didn’t want to do it, Mark.”

I knew that now. I simply nodded. “I’m sorry.” I licked my lips. “You gonna punish me?”

Pa looked at me and smiled. “Wasn’t missing the festivities punishment enough?” he asked.

“That wasn’t nearly as bad as sitting in this room waiting for you to come home!” I declared. “And I’m starving!”

“Hm,” Pa said. “I think we can fix that problem right quick.”

“So then that’s it?” I asked.

Pa stood up. “Well, I think a week of a few extra chores around this place will close this chapter of your life, don’t you?” I nodded. Then I threw my arms around Pa. “Thank you, Pa.”

Pa smiled at me. “The important thing is to know that you learned your lesson. He cocked his head to one side and scratched his chin as he thought. “I think you have learned a lesson.”

“Yes!” I answered. “The older you get, the more you learn!”

“That’s it?” Pa asked as he raised an eyebrow. I suddenly worried another lecture was coming on.

I held up a hand in defeat. “Okay, okay Pa! I also learned that we have to accept disappointments sometimes, and that I should talk less.”

Pa shook his head. “My boy,” he stated as he patted me on the back. “I don’t think you’ll ever learn that lesson!”

The next day, Pa and I went over to Mr. Fenway’s house. The doctor hadn’t like the bad bump on Mr. Fenway’s head, so he ordered that Mr. Fenway take it easy for a few days. We rode Sapphire back to our ranch to keep for a few days. Pa assured him he’d get a lot of exercise.

Suddenly, I asked Pa a question. I’d heard some talking about it at church that morning. “Pa, do you think it’s true that I won that race because I’m so much lighter then Mr. Fenway?” I asked. I couldn’t help but wonder if Blue Boy could have won. I may always wonder who would have won that race.

Suddenly, Pa turned and looked over his shoulder. “Why don’t we find out.” We turned our horses around. “You see that bolder down there at the end of the road? That’s the finish line,” Pa announced.

I was excited! I always love racing my Pa. “Great!”

“Ready?” Pa asked.

“Ready!” I announced excitedly.

“Go!” Pa shouted.

We both took off like bullets as we raced our horses down the road. Pa beat me. He smiled at me. “Satisfied?” he asked.

I suppose my horse wasn’t quite ready for the big races just yet. “Yeah, but just wait till next year!” I stated. “Blue Boy will be a little older, and I’ll be a little bigger!”

Pa smiled at me. “Well son, as far as I’m concerned, you’re pretty big right now!” Pa announced.

We smiled and turned to go back home. I looked at my Pa. “But I will be bigger next year!” I announced as I climbed off my horse.”

Pa put his arm around me. “In the britches!” he stated as he gave me a playful pat on the backside and chased me inside.

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

The Jailbird

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