I was worried. Pa was being awfully quiet tonight, and he was hardly touching his supper. He had been this way ever since I delivered that letter to him. He took another sip of his coffee and stared out the window. Finally, I couldn’t take his silence anymore. “Pa?” Pa turned. I saw a look on his face. It was a deep, sad look. “Pa, did I do something-“
“Then what-“ I started. Pa just turned and looked out the window. A sigh escaped him from way down deep inside. “That letter I brought was from Ma’s brother, Scott.” Pa’s shoulders suddenly slumped. Suddenly, I became fearful. “Something didn’t happen to Aunt Amanda or one of the twins, did it?”
“No, no, son. They’re fine.” Pa turned and smiled at me sadly. Then he turned back to the window.
I stood and came over to him. “Pa, would you…” I started. I gently took his hand. “I mean, would you sit down and talk to me about it? Please?”
Pa squeezed my hand and turned to me. He put his free hand on my cheek. “Of course, son.” He went to his big leather chair. I started to sit on the arm of the chair, but suddenly, he pulled me down onto his lap.
“It’s Ma, isn’t it?” I asked then. I could feel her radiating from him so strongly at that moment as he put his arms around me.”
“The last time I saw your aunt and uncle was at Ma’s funeral,” Pa’s voice was broken. “They were married just a few days after we were, then moved away to Nebraska.” Pa smiled. His voice suddenly became so quiet that I had to struggle to hear him. “Amanda is my cousin and she met Scott while your Ma and I were courting. I still remember the look on Ma’s face when Amanda and Scott announced their engagement…her smile was so beautiful…her excitement…” Pa stopped talking. I saw wetness in his eyes.
“Ma was always excited about something, it seems,” I stated suddenly with a smile.
That brought Pa out of his trance. He smiled at me. “Your…Your uncle wants us to come for a visit. It’s their 15th wedding Anniversary.” Pa laid his head back on the chair. “Fifteen years…”
I could tell Pa was remembering the anniversary of his wedding, and how he’d no longer be celebrating it with my Ma. My Pa had some really hard days every year. Three of his hardest were his wedding anniversary, Ma’s birthday, and the day my mother died. We did our best to console each other. “Pa?” Pa looked at me. “Are we gonna go?”
Pa took out the letter and stared at it. He pulled out the two tickets my uncle had sent him. Then he read part of the letter.
“I know how hard this will be for you to see us again after all this time, but I’m asking you to come. We really want to see you and know you and Mark are doing okay. Amanda’s worried sick about you as well. I’ve taken liberty to purchase the tickets for your trip so it will make it harder for you to refuse my invitation. Luke, think about Margaret and what she would want. Remember, I loved my sister too, and I have a lot more memories then you have. Please come.”
Pa folded the letter and stuffed it back into his pocket. He stared at the tickets. “We’ll leave in the morning,” he said in a broken voice again. Then he lifted me from his lap, stood up, and hurried out of the house.
I stared after him, knowing his heart was breaking all over again. I also knew that when he was hurting, leaving him alone was the best way for him. I’d talked to him. Now it was his job to do the rest.
I did the dishes and went to bed. I knew it was early yet, but Pa was still in the barn and probably would be for quite awhile. I laid there in the darkness and thought about that day I had met my aunt and uncle. They had come down from Nebraska to attend the funeral. The twins were seven, and I had too much grief and sadness in my own heart to even pay them any attention.
I turned to the wall and tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t. I always hated seeing my Pa like this. He loved my mother so much. Their love was so deep. Micah told me once that he’s seen a lot of happily married couples, but from talking with my Pa and I, he was sure the love my Pa and Ma shared was much stronger then many of the marriages he’d seen. Micah told me there would be that empty spot inside him he’d carry around for the rest of his life. He told me once that he’d be surprised if my Pa ever remarried – he had too much love for my Ma.
Suddenly, the door opened and Pa stepped in. I turned over and saw him standing in the door way, looking towards me. “Are you awake?” Pa asked quietly in the dark.
“Yes,” I answered.
Pa walked over to my bed and sat down. He lit the lantern. Then he laid a hand on my face and smiled at me. “Son, I’m sorry. It’s just so hard.”
I shook my head. “You don’t have to say anything, Pa. I know.” I laid a hand on his cheek and smiled. Then I sat up in bed and threw my arms around his neck. “It’ll be okay, Pa.”
Pa nodded. “I don’t know why it hit me hard like that. I saw your Uncle Johnny without any trouble.”
“That’s because he came here and it wasn’t on an anniversary of your wedding,” I stated.
Pa chuckled in spite of himself. “When did you get to be so wise?”
“It came from twelve years of listening to you,” I stated.
Pa laid me back down in the bed and tucked the covers snuggly around me like he usually did when he tucked me in. “Good night, son.” He started to stand up to leave, but he turned back to me and bent down. He kissed me on the cheek. We smiled at each other. Then he blew out the lantern and left the room.
I sighed as I turned over and went to sleep. My Pa was gonna be alright after all! I just knew it!
The next morning was a flurry of activity! Pa fixed flapjacks for breakfast and had them ready when I got up. He hurried me through breakfast. While he ate, he wrote down a list of supplies. As I popped the last bit of breakfast in my mouth, he handed me the list. “Take the buckboard into town, son, and pick up these supplies. I’m going to start getting our stuff around here. Then I want you to look up Don Mahoney and see if he could watch the ranch while we are gone. If Jackford starts to give you any trouble, you tell him I’ll talk to him! Mahoney’s a good friend, and I want him to keep the ranch in tip shape.”
I did everything as told. Don told me he’d be over in just a little while to stay. Jackford grumbled about it, but when Pa asked Jackford to hire Don, there was an agreement that if he turned out to be a good ranch hand, Pa would be able to use him whenever he needed to. And he needed him now! You wouldn’t believe the change in Don! He was like a totally different person and dressed the part. Pa said he was the best and most reliable ranch hand in these parts!
By the time I got back to the ranch, Pa had everything ready. We quickly unloaded the wagon. Don came riding in and Pa hurried over him and shook his hand. I heard Pa spouting off orders as they walked into the barn. I continued unloading and soon Don came over to help. “You can stay in the house, Don. Make yourself at home. I just ask you to respect out home and clean up after yourself.
Pa grabbed my arm and hurried me inside. He had fresh clothes laying out for me and quickly filled the basin up with fresh water. “Hurry up and get cleaned up, son. We have to hurry!” I put my clothes on quickly. When I came into the living room, Pa hurried over and started putting a bow tie around my neck.
I suddenly grabbed my shirt and pulled away from him. “Pa, do I have to wear that now? It’s a long ride to Yuma.”
Pa looked at it and smiled. He knew how much I hated dress up stuff! He nodded and said, “As soon as we get there, you have to put it on. The train pulls out at 7 sharp tomorrow night.”
Sure enough, after we put the horse and wagon up at the Yuma livery, Pa pulled out that blasted tie! We had gone to a wash house to get cleaned up, and he even scrubbed behind my ears himself. He examined me thoroughly for any dirt that may still be hiding somewhere. “Pa!” I suddenly complained as I put my hat on.
“Mark!” Pa retorted back as he held my tie out to me. I groaned, but allowed him to put it on me. I suddenly began pulling at it. He shook his head and laughed.
It was time to go and we went to board the train. I proudly told the conductor we were going to see my aunt and uncle. He sure did shock me when he told me we’d be in Kirby by noon tomorrow. “Lucifer himself couldn’t catch it!” the conductor assured me.
I was no longer so sure I wanted to get on this train! I couldn’t even imagine going that fast. “Forty-one miles an hour?” I looked at the train, wondering if it could hold up such a speed. “That’s awful fast!” I was just about to turn to Pa and tell him maybe it would be better to stay home when he gave me a firm push forward. I reckon it was too late to change my mind now!
But then Pa suddenly froze. A man in handcuffs was coming through. It was obvious Pa knew him. I asked him about it. He told me his name was Walt Ryerson. “Fifteen years ago, by mistake, he shot and killed a friend of mine.”
“He thought he was shooting at me,” Pa stated.
We sat down in the train. Our seat was across from a really amazing old man! I’ll tell you about him as time goes by. You’ll also learn more about Ryerson too, but then I figured you knew that already. This old man had a rifle that he called Bessie. Now, my Pa was pretty attached to his rifle, but I don’t think he named it. Least wise, if he did, he didn’t tell me about it!
I nervously looked out the window as we waited to pull out. Pa grinned at me. “Nervous, son?”
“Forty-one mile an hour…you bet I’m nervous! Pa, what keeps it on the track?”
Pa laughed and patted me on the top of my head.
Suddenly, Ryerson started this evil laugh that made me a little nervous. The old man knew who he was. He told me Ryerson was going to be hung next week in Omaha. Then he said we were lucky to be in the same car. Pa didn’t agree with him, and quite frankly, neither did I! After all, he wanted to kill my Pa!
The old man introduced himself as Nathaniel Cameron. He thought Pa had heard of him, but he hadn’t. He said he used to be peace officer himself. Then guess what he said. He used to know Billy the Kid and Cole Younger! I’d certainly heard of them! They were famous outlaws who all us kids at school always talked about! Boy, was this going to be an exciting trip after all!
I know my Pa told you all about this trip already, so I’m not gonna re-tell it. But I am going to tell you some about the trip. Later after we got on the way, Mr. Cameron started telling us all about his adventures. I was surely excited as I listened. I could tell Pa wasn’t too happy with him filling my head with what Pa called “nonsense.” And to be honest, I don’t think Pa really believed a lot of what he said. But I did! I hung on his every word!
Do you know that he shot down two cattle thieves in one shot? He said his shotgun was so powerful the bullet went right through the both of them! Pa rolled his eyes, not believing he was telling the truth. I wanted to tell him that it was true, and I knew it, but I didn’t figure it would do any good.
Suddenly, Mr. Cameron said it was time to go to sleep. My Pa agreed. Mr. Cameron showed me an old blanket that Daniel Boone had given him! I was amazed and wanted to hear more to the story, but Pa meant business when he told me to go to sleep. He nudged me back on the seat. That was his silent way of telling me to go to sleep.
I closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep, but this was all so exciting! I opened my eyes and saw Pa laying there with his eyes closed. Mr. Cameron looked as if he were already asleep. I sat up and peaked out the window to see what was flying by. Of course, I could see nothing. I turned and looked behind me to see what I could see. Suddenly, I felt a hard pinch on my arm. “Go to sleep,” Pa stated through clinched teeth.
I gasped at the pinch, turned around and laid my head back onto the seat. That was Pa’s final warning, and I knew it! I closed my eyes as I groaned “Yes sir!”
I opened my eyes to light shining into the window. My stomach was growling. I certainly hoped Pa had something good in that bag for breakfast! Mr. Cameron smiled at me and handed me another hard-boiled egg. I looked toward my Pa, knowing he’d disapprove, then I began peeling it and eating it. As I ate it, he told me another story about when he caught some bandits.
Pa was awake then. He stood up to talk to the conductor while we looked out the window. Suddenly, Mr. Cameron said, “Uh-oh! It looks like trouble.”
“What?” I asked as I looked out the window. “It’s a storm – a bad one! A real Northeastern!” I told Pa, but he suddenly got excited and said those weren’t storm clouds.
Suddenly the train stopped. Pa left to check it out. I sat there looking out the window for a while longer. Then suddenly, the trip got much, much worse!
Shots were fired. I ducked down and covered my head, so I can’t tell you exactly what happened, but I can tell you that when I opened my eyes and looked up, what met my eyes was terrifying! The Marshal was dead. The outlaw was shot, but got out of his handcuffs and was suddenly given a gun. Another man, his brother, was helping him.
Pa suddenly banged on the door and called my name, but my response was frozen in my throat! I was so terrified that we were all going to be shot. I stared at the dead Marshal lying on the ground.
Suddenly, Ryerson told my Pa to stop yelling! They argued through the door. I could hear my Pa’s fear in his voice, and I wanted to run to him and feel his protective arms around me. But we were separated by a door.
Suddenly, Ryerson shot at the door. Fear gripped my very being! I ran forward, worried for my Pa. “Are you alright, Pa?” I cried. Ryerson’s brother grabbed me and pushed me back.
“I’m alright son,” Pa called. I was so relieved! He told me to do what Ryerson told me to do. His main concern was my safety right now, and I knew that.
Ryerson was mad, but he was also hurt. Several minutes went by as things got more and more tense in the car. I was scared of this man who was threatening to kill someone if the train didn’t start moving soon. I knew my Pa was doing everything he could, especially knowing that I was there. I knew that I was his top concern right now.
Mr. Cameron had talked so much about killing outlaws that I was surprised he didn’t do anything now. I was disappointed. My life was in danger and he just sat there. Why didn’t he tell them who he was? Why didn’t he pick up his gun hiding under the blanket and shoot those bad guys like he used to? Why-
He was getting sicker from the shot in his leg. He suddenly pointed the gun at me, threatening to kill me if we kept talking. I was scared! It frightened me to know he wanted my Pa dead!
Suddenly, another man was shot while he was trying to escape. Pa immediately called out needing to know if I was okay. I assured him I was, but I was getting more scared. The next person to die could be me!
I looked at the blanket where the gun was hiding. I didn’t understand why Mr. Cameron wasn’t doing anything. I was almost desperate enough to try something myself, but I knew I didn’t have a chance! I was only a boy and knew nothing about handling a gun!
Ryerson was getting worse. He suddenly wanted to know about a tourniquet. I told him my Pa knew something about doctoring. That got my Pa in the door. My Pa’s told you the rest of this story, but may I add that I was mighty proud of my Pa? Mighty proud indeed!
When we got moving again, Pa held a gun on Ryerson until we got to our stop. Then he led them off and talked to the Marshal there. As he led Ryerson off, I stayed in the seat and watched. But Pa suddenly turned to me. “Well, come on boy!”
I smiled. Everything had happened so fast that I just couldn’t stand the thought of being away from him. When we got to the Marshal’s office, Pa held the gun on Ryerson and ordered him inside. Then he turned to me when he realized the Marshal had him. He put a hand on my shoulder and smiled really big. “You wait here, son.” I could tell he wanted me with him, but he didn’t want me inside when he talked to the Marshal.
It was a quiet ride into Kearney. When we got there, we made our way down the street. Nebraska was quite different from North Fork! Pa and I stepped out onto the street. We were already two hours late, and though he’d sent a telegraph letting them know we’d be here today, we weren’t sure they ever received it.
“Luke!” I suddenly heard from behind us.
Pa slowly turned and smiled. “Scott! Scotty!” He dropped the suitcases and ran to him, pumping his hand up and down as they shook.
Then they stopped and Scott looked him up and down. “You’re my brother in law!” he declared. Then he embraced my Pa in a tight hug.
I came to stand beside Pa. I looked up at him and saw a tear lying on his cheek. Scott looked down at me then. “This isn’t Mark!”
“Hello,” I greeted him with a tight smile. The memories of our last meeting had suddenly flooded back.
Suddenly, my Aunt Amanda came rushing up. She jumped into my Pa’s arms and he swung her around in a big embrace. “Luke!” He put her down and she moved away from him. “Let me look at you! You are wonderful!” Then she turned her attention to me. She bent down and put her hand under my chin, turning my face one side to another. “Oh, you are just a doll!” she declared.
Now, I must admit that I didn’t rightly take kindly to being called a doll! She stood and got a suddenly serious look on her face. “He looks so much like Margie!”
Pa suddenly turned away, busying himself with the luggage. “We were going to take you to the restaurant for lunch. Are you two hungry?” Uncle Scott suddenly asked.
“Am I hungry?” I suddenly asked. “I didn’t even get breakfast this morning!”
Aunt Amanda suddenly folded her arms. “Lucas McCain, are you telling me that you have forgotten the McCain/Gibbs manners – one of which is not allowing a family member to go hungry?”
Pa suddenly put his arm around me and covered my mouth with his hand. “Um…there were circumstances that kept me from feeding him.”
Pa thought it was safe to take his hand away. “Yes ma’am. My Pa never makes me go hungry. He gives me three square meals a day…unless I’m being punished.”
“Don’t tell me you send the poor boy to bed without supper!” Aunt Amanda declared as she put a protective arm around me.
Pa groaned. “Only once in a while, cousin. And only when he deserves it.” Aunt Amanda started to say something as we started for the restaurant. “My mother did the same thing to me when I was a boy.”
“Where are the twins?” I suddenly asked.
“In school,” Aunt Amanda stated. “They’ll be home when we get there, doing their homework I hope!”
We were just about to step into the restaurant when I heard from behind me, “Mark McCain!”
I turned and ran to jump into his arms. “Uncle Johnny!” I cried as I threw my arms around him. “Oh, Uncle Johnny! What are you doing here?”
Uncle Scott rushed up and embraced my Uncle Johnny while he slid me down to the ground. “Johnny, it’s good to see you again, brother!”
While we were eating, we caught up on everything. Uncle Scott finally asked Pa why we were so late in getting in. Pa looked from Uncle Scott to Uncle Johnny to Aunt Amanda. “Remember Walt Ryerson?”
“Yes!” Aunt Amanda declared as she shuddered.
Uncle Scott took a sip of his water and took another bite of his steak. “He’s being taken to Omaha to be hanged from what I heard.”
Pa nodded. “He is. He and his brother attacked the train. Killed the Marshal.” Pa looked at me. “Put my son in grave danger. He’s lucky to be alive to hang.”
“Luke!” Aunt Amanda suddenly declared.
“I’m sorry, Amanda.” Pa said suddenly. “After what he did to Brett, I…” His voice trailed off as he glanced at me.
Scott nodded. “Yes. He was so drunk that he thought Brett was you. He was a good friend!”
“Why’d he want to kill you, Pa?” I asked suddenly.
Pa looked down at me and ruffled my hair. “He wanted your Ma. When he found out we were getting married, he wanted to kill me. He was angry. Brett’s funeral was two days before our wedding.”
There was suddenly silence as everyone reflected on this. Finally, Aunt Amanda declared, “Alright, for the next two days while you are here, Luke, I want cheerfulness! You buried Margaret – we all did. And we all loved her.”
Uncle Johnny nodded. “I loved my sister dearly, Luke. And I can assure you that Margaret would not want us all just moping around here mourning her death. Like Amanda said, she wasn’t only your wife. She was my sister, Scott’s sister, Mark’s mother, and one of Amanda’s best friend!”
Pa nodded as he looked around. I smiled. There was just something so comfortable about being with family!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
A Time for Singing
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch