Let’s cut right to the chase! A woman came into town one day and claimed that Micah was her long lost husband, except his name wasn’t Micah – it was Norman. Pa, of course, wanted to get to the bottom of this.
This woman had a son – his name was…excuse me for snickering…Habcock! I laughed when I heard the name, and I reckon I still laugh. What a name for a person!
Anyways, so this woman is claiming Micah…er…Norman…left her a long time ago – before their son was even born. Pa said they’d meet on the matter the next day to decide what to do. “Come on, son,” Pa said as they started walking away. I looked toward Habcock. I wanted to ask him some questions on this matter myself for sure! “Son?” Pa turned and raised his eyebrows at me.
I shrugged. “Yes sir.”
We started walking down the street. When we got to the bottom of the stairs where Micah lived, Pa turned to me as if realizing for the first time what day it was. “Don’t you have school to go to?” Pa’s voice was suddenly annoyed at me.
I pointed at him in confusion. “Well, you said…” I sighed and shook my head. “Well Pa, I…” But nothing I could say would make the matter better. When Pa was in this kind of mood, explaining that he told me to stay with him didn’t amount to a hill of beans. “I…I’ll see ya, Pa!”
Pa stopped me before I got too far. “Don’t come back into town after school. Go home and start on your chores.”
“Oh, but Pa…” I started to complain. I was going to miss out on all the excitement this way.
“Son?” Pa’s voice sounded with a warning.
I sighed. “Yes sir.”
Class had already started by the time I got there. Miss Pritchard looked up over her glasses that sat low on her nose and gave me the evil eye. “Ma’am, there was trouble in town! My Pa sent me just as soon as he could,” I insisted. She narrowed her eyes at me until they were tiny slits then turned from me and continued with her lesson.
When I left school at noon, I started riding straight down the path toward home. But before I got too far, I saw Hab walking down the road. “What you doing out there?” I asked him.
“Going for a walk. Mama’s been crying all morning ever since your Marshal lit out. I couldn’t’ stand it!” Hab declared.
“It must make you really sad,” I said. “Do you really think Micah’s your Pa?”
Hab turned and glared at me. “Why not?” he asked. “Why can’t he be my Pa?”
“Uh…” I shook my head. Man, but this boy was sensitive! “Where do you live?”
“No where,” Hab answered. “Mama travels all over the country chasing this no good…” He stomped his foot as I walked beside him, pulling Blue Boy behind me. “And you see how she is with her talk and loud mouth!”
My eyes grew wide. Now, I know my Pa has his thoughts, but I’d never reveal them to a stranger! Hab saw the shocked look in my eyes. “What? You reckon I should like the way she get everyone’s attention? Well I don’t! I hate it!”
“Oh.” We walked in silence for awhile. “You know…” I finally said. “I’ve known the marshal now for almost four years. He don’t seem like the type that would-“
“You calling my Ma a liar?” Hab stopped and turned. His fists were clinched at his side.
“Course not!” I rolled my eyes. “I’m just saying that Micah’s been a law man now for…well…for a long time and it just don’t fit with-“ Hab started crying. “Oh…uh…” I looked up at the sky. “Gee, look at the time! Pa’d skin me alive if I don’t get home! See ya!”
Maybe it was rude of me at that, but I didn’t know what to do in this matter, and Pa always did tell me that if my words keep upsetting, then that was a sure sign I should shut up about the matter. And I DID have to get home!
When I got home, Pa was in the kitchen. He sat lunch on the table. “Wash up, son. We’ve a busy afternoon to do.” Pa snapped his napkin and started eating. He shook his head. “I declare, how’s a man to get any work done on his ranch when he’s trying to clear up foolish notions.”
I took a bite of my stew and shook my head. I let out a laugh escape me as I remembered back to the scene from earlier. “Yep. It’s something alright!” I chuckled as I remembered the look on Pa’s and Micah’s faces when that woman declared Micah was her long lost husband! “I mean, just imagine Micah married to a woman like-“
My voice immediately died when I saw Pa’s stern expression. I cleared my throat and went back to eating. “I Met Habcock out on the road, on my way home. Boy, what a sissy he is! Him being Micah’s son and all, you’d-“
“Mark!” Pa’s voice sounded a little irate. I looked up at him. “Can it!” I knew that was my final warning. I went back to eating without saying another word.
We worked all afternoon on the chores. Pa was dog tired when he got home and groaned as he sat down in his chair. I fixed supper that night and we both went to bed hungry.
Pa was up early the next morning tending to chores before he had to go into town. I walked outside and leaned on the post on the porch looking out over the land. Pa walked up to me. “Best be getting to school, boy!” Pa announced.
“Gee Pa, you have to meet with Micah and that woman at 10:30 today, huh?” Pa nodded without saying a word. That should have given me a clue I should drop it, but you know me…”Well Pa,” I folded my arms. “You know, I think you may need some protection. I think I’ll just come along with ya!”
Pa had a hammer in his hand. He crossed his arms and started up the steps toward me. I held out my hands in surrender. “Okay…Okay…I’ll go. “ I stepped into the doorway, still walking backwards. I didn’t trust what he’d do to me the minute my back was turned to him. I stopped and held up a finger. “But you can trust that I won’t be able to concentrate on my schoolwork, what knowing what you and Micah are facing…”
Pa stepped into the house as his eyes narrowed. He still didn’t say a word. I was standing right by the table. I reached behind me and grabbed my books. Then I turned and walked backwards out the door as Pa continued to hover over me as he “walked” me out the door. “Uh…uh…I’ll see you after school, Pa. You want I should come straight to the ranch?”
Pa shook his head. “No. I want you should meet me in town where I will probably be, as you are well aware of. If the meeting is still in progress, I want YOU to wait over at Milly’s where she will make sure you stay out of trouble.” Pa’s voice raised just a little bit. “But right now…” Pa pointed toward the road. “I want you should turn yourself around, mount that horse, and start riding toward the school!”
“Ye-Yes sir!” I nodded my head in obedience and turned. I didn’t give Pa a chance to plant his hand on my backside. I stumbled down the steps in a flash, jumped on Blue Boy, and quickly rode out of the yard.
I sure was happy when Miss Pritchard dismissed us for lunch. I was also happy it was Friday. I walked Blue Boy to town to allow Pa a little more time to finish up the meeting. I went straight to the General Store first so I could get some candy. “You know if the meetin’s done yet?” I asked as I stuck a sour ball in my mouth. “Pa said I couldn’t go anywhere near there until it’s all wrapped up.”
Milly smiled. “Yes. Your father came by while ago and told me you are getting some enjoyment out of Micah’s, uh, trial.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh Milly! You know as well as I do that there’s no truth in what that woman’s saying! Micah’s no more that Norman whatever than my own father!” I walked out and across the street. Micah was leaving as I walked in. “Hello, son.”
I saw Pa with a handful of what looked to be Wanted Posters. "What are those Pa?"
"Now these are…Now, don't you start teasin' me that you want to tack these up on the bulletin board." There was a parental “that’s my boy” sound in his voice, but his eyes deceived him. He was trying to trick me into doing the job for him.
This was one thing I wouldn’t mind doing! It would give me a chance to see if I recognized any of them. "Are those wanted posters?" I asked with some excitement.
"Oh gosh Pa...why not. Let me hang 'em up please?" Pa handed me the hammer. I smiled at Pa. "And...uh...now you can sit back and catch your forty winks in Micah's arm chair." I went out to start tacking up the posters. No sooner had I hung the first one up when I stared at the face. I DID recognize this one!
"Pa...Pa...come here - hurry!"
I backed up against the board because I was in such shock! I didn’t want anyone but Pa seeing this at the moment! "What did you do? Smash your thumbs?" Pa hurried out. "What is it?"
I stepped away from the board and pointed toward the poster. Pa’s reaction was pretty much the same as mine. It was Micah!
Pa ripped the poster off the board and tucked it into his shirt. “Finish the job, boy. I’m gonna find Micah!”
“Pa, it ain’t Micah! I mean…it can’t be!” I declared. “This is some sort of sick joke!”
Pa turned and looked at me. He paused in the street. “I hope so!”
I shook my head, not believing that was really Micah. I knew it looked like him, but I knew him. There was no way! I looked through the other posters and suddenly gasped at a second familiar face. I was staring into the face of Jack Benet – the town telegrapher. The poster said, “Wanted for train robbery, arson, and fraud. Reward: $1,000.00!”
I took the poster and folded it up. Then I put it in my pocket. I would go investigate this one on my own! I walked out of Micah’s office and started toward the telegrapher’s office. “Mark!” Pa called. I stopped and sighed in frustration. Turning, I saw Pa coming towards me. “Where you off to?”
“I have an errand,” I answered.
“An errand?” Pa gave me a strange look. He looked behind me at the telegrapher’s office. Then he gave me a suspicious look. “Where? Why?”
“Uh…” I cleared my throat. “Did you need me, Pa?”
Pa studied me then scratched under his nose. I held my breath praying he wouldn’t make me answer! Pa always made me look him in the eye when I answered his questions, and I could never fib when I did that! “Yes. I have to go to Stud City to find out who this is.” Pa tucked the poster into his shirt. “Milly’s expecting you, so we need to get home and get you packed.”
“Pa, a few weeks ago, you chose to let go of me some. You remember that?” Naturally Pa shook his head and acted as if he had no idea what I was talking about. “Remember? I just made a fatal mistake and you told me that a father had to let go sometime, and that day was the day? ”Pa nodded. I looked down at the ground. “Well, how about letting go a little more?”
“Oh now Mark,” Pa’s voice held argument in it. “That was different!”
“How?” I challenged him.
“Well, I-“ Pa held out his hand to argue. “Son, you see…that was one incident – I didn’t mean you were going to be treated like an 18 year old man all of a sudden!”
“You said you were letting go. You didn’t punish me and I came out on the other side alright. Right?” I cocked my head to one side and studied him.
“Well maybe so, son but…” Pa voice died. He gave me a sigh.
“I’ve been doing better behavior-wise too…I mean…except for the getting to school late incidents and the talking out of line incidents…oh, and that fishing incident the other day, but that wasn’t entirely my fault!” Pa raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you about that one!” I cleared my throat. “Now Pa, I’ll be 14 year old in only a couple weeks. It’s time you start letting go a little faster!”
Pa studied me. He walked back and forth as he thought on my words. “Oh, and remember when you were playing the town Tin Horn? You were leaving me at home by myself at nights and I was getting to bed alright. I got the chores done and all my homework done…and…Oh…okay, I admit that two of the nights weren’t perfect, but I learned from that, Pa!” I ran up to him. “Pa, I can do this! Please Pa! I’m old…er…mature enough to do this!”
I could tell my working on him was paying off. He was weakening. “You know, it’s the weekend, so I’ll have plenty of time to get the chores done. I’ll work like a dog I will! Why, I’ll have the house and whole ranch so clean when you get home that you’ll wonder what to do with all your time! Honest Pa! Honest!”
Pa looked up. Coming out of the Hardware store was Billy Lehigh. Pa looked at me then rushed over to Billy. “What’s this I hear about no longer working for Jackford?” Pa asked him.
I rushed up behind Pa as they talked. “Got too much work to do on my own ranch now.” Billy put his purchases in his saddle bag. “Yes sir, all on my own now!
What with three kids now, I could use the extra pay, but I’m about ready to sell my first herd and that will help us.”
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to stay at my ranch for the weekend?” Pa asked then.
“Oh Pa!” I groaned.
Pa held up a hand to hush me. I rolled my eyes and planted my hands on my hips as the two men discussed it. “Well, if you’re sure you’ll be gone only a couple days I can.”
“I just mostly need you there at night…You know, to keep your eye on… uh, things.” Pa glanced at me, daring me to say anything. “You can sleep in the barn if you don’t mind. This is sort of a growing up experience for Mark. You don’t even have to do any chores – just make sure things are safe. Mark’s going to be the man of the ranch this weekend.” They shook hands. Billy agreed to be there by sundown tonight.
As we walked away, I groaned. “Pa, I don’t need a babysitter!” I exclaimed.
“This is as close to “alone” as you’re going to get at the age of almost fourteen, boy!” Pa turned to me and gave me a stern look. “I’d take the offer if I were you.”
“I thought it was maturity – not age – that determined if I were ready,” I reminded him with just a hint of annoyance.
Pa pointed at me. “It is, so watch yourself!” Then he turned and walked down to the General Store. Well, just the same I’d have plenty of time to do my own little investigation and determine if the man on the wanted poster was the same as in the telegraph office.
I stood out on the porch and smiled as I looked toward the telegraph office. I pulled the poster from my pocket and looked at the picture. Shaking my head, I read the name: Stanley “Snake” Smith. I shook my head.
Jack Benet was certainly not what I would describe a snake! He was a quiet, timid man who didn’t act like he’d ever picked up a gun in his whole life! I studied the picture as I thought on him some more. He was wanted in Missouri. I’d have to find out if he’d ever been in Missouri – that was my first task.
“Mark!” I heard Pa call. I hurriedly walked into the General Store. “Alone? Lucas, he’s a 13 year old boy!” I heard Milly declare in a protective voice.
“I’m almost 14!” I declared back. My heart started sinking. There was a chance Milly could talk Pa into backing out on this. “Milly, I’m responsible and able to take care of myself!”
“You don’t know how to use a gun!” Pa argued.
I crossed my arms. “Well, that ain’t my doing!” I argued back.
Pa and I looked into each other’s eyes. “Now, let’s not start that again!”
“I didn’t bring it up, Pa,” I said. A smile played at the corners of his mouth. “You made a point – I was just arguing that point.” Pa’s face broke out into a smile.
He shook his head. “Milly, Billy Lehigh is going to be watching the boy.” I cleared my throat. “Er…the young man.” Pa gave me a proud smile. He scratched the back of his head as Milly continued to give him the doubtful look. “Alright, listen Mark, I have a few rules.” I groaned. Pa held up a hand. “Now, do you want to stay at home, or do you prefer Milly’s?
“Home!” I declared. I looked at Milly. “No offense.”
“Lucas-“ Milly started in a worried tone.
“Then you will do exactly as I say. First off, I will leave a list of chores you can do. If it isn’t on the list, don’t do it. You are getting older, but so am I and there are some things I want you to have me there to supervise. Second, you are to be at the ranch BEFORE dark. You may do the chores in the barn. Billy will be there, so you won’t be grounded to the house. Third, you will be in bed no later than 9:00 – that’s your bedtime rather I’m there or not.” Pa sighed. “If you are going to be away from the ranch – which I don’t see any reason for you to be – you will check in with Billy at his ranch and let him know exactly where you are going and when you’ll be back. Do you understand these rules?”
“Yeah,” I answered with a sound of disappointment. I didn’t like the last rule – it would mess up my plans.
“Is…there a problem, Mark?” Pa asked.
“Uh…no…No sir.” I straightened up. “I’ll follow all your rules, Pa. Honest.”
“Oh…and uh…” Pa scratched under his nose. “Make sure you lock the doors when you go in for the night.”
“We never lock the doors!” I declared.
Pa lifted an eyebrow and glared at me. “But, I’ll be happy to lock the doors.”
“Alright. Let’s get going.” Pa lifted the bag of supplies off the counter and started out.
“Mark!” Milly hurried from around the counter. She put her hands on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. Her own eyes held worry. “Please…be careful.”
“I will. I’ll be okay, Milly. Honest! I’m not a little boy anymore.”
“What about me, Milly?” Pa suddenly asked with a grin.
Milly placed her hands on her hips. “What about you?”
“Well, I’m on my way to Stud City to talk to an outlaw. Aren’t you going to tell me to be careful?” Pa gave her a playful-hopeful look.
“Oh yes.” Milly walked up to Pa and planted her hands on her hips. “You be careful up there. I hear there’s lots of ladies who would love to get their hands on you!”
“Thanks a lot!” Pa shook his head and walked out the door.
I followed him out. “Pa, seems Milly is having trouble letting go.”
Pa nodded. “She’s a woman.” I saw a look in his eyes. I could tell he was remembering back. “She reminds me so much of another woman I once knew.” He stepped off the boardwalk and put the supplies on his horse. He was worried for Micah, I could tell. Before he left, he asked, “You sure you don’t mind staying alone for a couple nights?”
I heard the hopefulness in his voice – it was almost like he was hoping I’d change my mind and stay in town. “Of course not,” I answered.
Pa readied himself. I told him to have a good trip. He turned and looked at me. He placed a hand on my cheek. “When did you grow up?”
I smiled at him. “Pa, I’ll be fine! Honest!”
“Watch the fire – don’t let it get out of control. This time of year a fire is easy to start. Make sure you blow out the lantern in the barn when you’re done. I don’t want you on the roof or out in the woods chopping wood without me there.” Pa was writing on a piece of paper as he spoke. “Here’s the chores you can do outside of the regular chores I’ve allowed you to do.” Pa handed me the folded list. I stuffed it in my pocket and folded my arms. Pa put a foot in the stirrup. He turned back to me. “Oh uh…the gate leading into the south pasture doesn’t shut all the way sometimes. You have to pull it tight. It’s important that you don’t mix the two herds together, son. I’m trying to build up the herd again and want to keep them pure.“
“I got it, Pa,” I said with a sigh.
Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll…be back in a couple days. I promise.”
“Okay.” I waited. Pa pulled me into a half-hug. I just laughed. “Pa, I’ll be okay!”
“Of course you will, son.” Pa mounted his horse. He looked down at me. “Oh, and you make sure you do your studies! I don’t want you falling behind this weekend. Oh and-“
I gave him a loud, impatient sigh. “Pa!”
“You can eat at the hotel, son. Just charge it to me. I’ll pay Eddie when I get back.” Pa bent down and lifted my hat. He plopped it back down on my head and tapped the top of it. “Bye, son.”
I watched him go. I couldn’t’ help laughing. “Fathers!” I declared with a shake of my head.
“Mark!” Milly started
“Bye Milly” I said.
Then I hurried off to the telegraph office to see what I could learn.
I walked inside. “Hello, Mr. Benet!” I greeted him warmly. He looked up and gave me a tired smile. “It’s pretty warm out there today, huh?”
“Mmm Hmm,” Mr. Benet answered without looking up from doing paperwork. “Pa said it gets hot like this all over the country side. Course, it is awful hot for this time of year. I remember when we lived in Oklahoma it getting hot. You ever been to Oklahoma?”
“Nope,” Mr. Benet answered. He stood up and walked over to me. “Not Oklahoma.” He seemed pleased that someone was here to talk to him.
“Of course we lived in Wyoming for a short spell before settling here. It didn’t seem to get as warm there. Ever been there?” I asked then.
“Nope,” he answered again as he propped his arms on the counter and looked at me. “Haven’t been much of anywhere.”
“Oh.” I looked around. “You lived in New Mexico your whole life?”
“No, actually I was born in raised in Missouri.” My heart leapt. This could be the man! “I moved from there some ten years ago though. My family was dirt poor. We had to scrape by a living.”
“So…so you took a train from there?” I asked then.
“A train?” His head shot up and his eyes narrowed. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh…oh uh…I just figure a train’s faster.”
Mr. Benet lost some of his desire to talk. “Is there uh…something I can do for you, Mark?”
“No, no.” I looked behind me. “Pa just left town for a couple days and I was on my way home. Thought I’d just drop in and do some jawin’ before headin’ home myself.”
“I see.” He wrote something on a piece of paper. “And what made you ask on where I was from? And the train?” he asked.
I shrugged casually. “Oh nothin’. I was just uh…” I looked around. “Jawin’, like I said.”
“Mm.” Mr. Benet looked toward the door. “Listen Sonny, I’ve lots of work to do, so why don’t you just run on along!”
I left. His voice sounded irritated. I pulled out the poster from my pocket and looked at it. The crimes he was wanted for happened over ten years ago according to the poster. It looked like I found the man and there was a big reward out on him. I headed to the Marshal’s office. Micah was there. “Micah, you ever heard of a man called “Snake” Smith?” I asked.
“Snake?” Micah wrinkled up his brow. “Seems like I heard of an outlaw by that name. He was a pretty rough character. Seems he was wanted for train robbery and such.” Micah went to his filing cabinet and started looking through the drawer. “Uh yes…I got a Wanted Poster on him a few days ago. There’s an expensive bounty on him.” Micah shook his head. “They say he just vanished out of sight overnight. Not much of a chance of ever finding that man. He may be dead by now.”
“What if he weren’t, Micah?” I studied the picture on his poster. “He looks familiar,” I hinted.
“Oh?” Micah frowned. “I don’t know that he does.”
“Mmmmm….” Micah turned and looked at me. “Well, best head back to the ranch. I’ve lots of chores to do. See ya, Micah!”
I hurried to the hotel for a quick bite of supper then mounted Blue Boy and rode for home as I thought on what my next step was. Now, I knew that I had to determine Mr. Benet was indeed the right man before I just took him in and collected the bounty! Things seemed to match up really good. Benet said he had left Missouri some ten years ago – the same time this Snake dude had dropped out of sight. When I mentioned Missouri and the train, he seemed pretty shaken.
When I got home, I worked on chores. The sun was going down. I gave the animals fresh hay, gathered the eggs, and locked up the barn. I looked around as the moon began peaking out in the sky. I heard a horse whinnie as I started into the house. A figure sat on it. I waved as he made his way into the barn. Billy closed the barn door firmly behind him. I walked inside the house, locking the door behind me. I reckon my babysitter had arrived.
The house did look pretty lonesome tonight. It was almost as if everything in the room knew the owner was missing. I started a small fire and sat down in Pa’s leather chair. I could smell him everywhere. I leaned back and picked up his Bible. Opening it, I read some of the notes he’d written in the margins. “I’m slowly getting over the loss.” That’s what one of the notes said. I smiled, knowing Pa had written that after Ma died.
I thumbed through the Bible some more. “I punished him because I loved him.” The ink was smeared as if tears had mixed in with it. I ran my hands over the words, wondering which time he had written that.
I thumbed even further ahead. “Leaving him is the hardest thing I ever did – but it’s for the best. We’ll be together soon.” I ran my finger over those words. He must have taken the Bible with him all the way to Wyoming.
I turned to the back. There was a piece of paper folded there. I lifted it out and opened it. “If something happens to me, I leave my most precious possession, my son Mark, in the loving care of Micah Torrance. Raise the boy right.” Tears filled my eyes as I read those words. I always knew I was the most important thing to him but…I glanced down at the Bible again. An empty page in the very back had been written on. I read the words as I smiled.
Son, the most important thing you will ever do as a man is read the words in this Bible and mediate on them daily. This is your life line. No matter what the problem – no matter what the trouble – you will find your answer here. Any choice you have to make…any parenting help you need…anything that happens – this will help you. As you leave your home today to fight for our country, I give you this Bible – your Christian Sword. As long as you keep this at your side, no harm will come to you. If God chooses to take you, may you rest peacefully in the arms of Jesus.
You will learn, in time, how important God’s Word is – especially when you become a father. Your children will challenge you. They will bring you to your knees sometimes several times a day. When that happens, I know you will find the answers you seek in here. Every page is filled with the answers you need. I used this Bible just this morning as I mourned over the loss of my son’s leaving home. The Bible says a man leaves his family and seeks a wife. With that thought in mind, I leave you with this:
A father’s children is the most important thing. Whatever decision you make, always, ALWAYS, put your child in the heart of that decision.
I felt tears run down my cheeks as I read these words now. I shook my head finally understanding why he spent so much time reading the Bible. The decisions he made were not always easy ones for me…and now I know they weren’t for him either. I cannot remember a time that Pa had to make a choice when he didn’t study the Bible first. Everything he did was based on what his father had written. I came first.
How many times had I asked Pa for a rifle? His answer was always “no.” He always told me I’d understand when I was a father myself. I was now looking through the eyes of a father. My grandfather wrote those words a long time ago. My father lives by those words still today. I knew that Pa had consulted God many times on my growing up – guns, staying alone, and so on. I knew that only now had God given Pa the permission to give me a chance. I wouldn’t disappoint him.
My heart swelled inside my chest as I gently laid Pa’s Bible back on the lamp stand. I stood up and stretched. Looking around, I decided to do some studying and then turn in.
It was only an hour later that I blew out the lamp beside my bed and laid down. I sighed at the silence. It was suddenly so very, very quiet. I didn’t hear Pa stirring around in the other room. I didn’t see a light under the door as Pa got caught up with his paperwork or studied the Bible after I went to bed. All I heard was silence inside our home.
I turned over and tried to go to sleep. Sleep came slowly though. I was almost asleep when I suddenly heard a noise. The front door knob was wiggling. I jumped from bed and ran into the living room. There I stared into the dark room as I heard the knob started to turn back and forth, again. My eyes grew wide. I ran and looked out the window. A horse stood in the yard. It wasn’t Billy’s.
Maybe if I lit a lantern, whoever was trying to come in would realize someone was home. I lit it. As the room flooded with light, I stood frozen and listened. The door knob started wiggling. I ran to look out the window. I shaded my hands around my eyes so I could peer out. I watched a dark figure walk away from the door. I watched him look around. He wasn’t going to leave!
My heart started racing. I looked towards the barn – it was shut tight! What was I going to do? I stared at the dark figure. He slowly walked to his horse and took out his rifle. I heard the sound as it cocked. I watched him slowly move toward the house again.
I desperately looked around the room, hoping and praying I could find some weapon to defend myself with. I saw the poker by the fire and picked it up. I heard footsteps on the back porch and cautiously made my way to the back door.
My heart pounded. It was suddenly quiet – too quiet! The only sound was the beating of my own heart as it raced like a freight train. I closed my eyes and sent up a prayer for God’s protection as I stood quietly behind the door. Nothing happened. I knew he was there – my instincts told me he was standing right on the other side of the door.
I knew he couldn’t get inside without making a lot of noise. Pa always kept the house secure. He’d have to bust the door down or break the window – either would make noise and hopefully send Billy running to my aid.
I waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, I tiptoed up to stand at the door in my stocking feet and put my ear to the door. I could hear him breathing heavily. What was he doing? Why was he just standing there? Suddenly, I heard movement. I gasped and jumped back behind the door.
A shot was fired. It hit the door right where I had been standing just a moment before. I raised the poker above my head as another shot fired. The door busted open and the man ran inside. It was only a shadow, but I took aim and delivered a hard blow across the back. The man let out a yell and fell to the floor. The rifle had fallen from his hand. I picked it up and threw it out the door. Then before he could get up, I pinned him to the floor with my knees.
The man groaned. I jabbed the sharp end of the poker toward his neck. “One move, mister, and I kill ya!” My voice was as sharp as the poker. But inside, I felt like jelly. I was shaking like a leaf! The man groaned and tried to lift up. “I mean it!” I screamed.
Just then, Billy raced in. “Mark!” He froze when he saw me holding the poker at the man’s neck. “What-“ he started.
“Get him off! Get him off!” The voice was familiar. I wrinkled my forehead up trying to figure out who that voice belonged to. I had heard it as a gentle, soft-spoken voice – not a voice like this.
Billy pulled out his gun and cocked it. “Alright Mark, let him up!” I slowly stood, but kept the poker trained on him. The hard glare stayed on my face as I straightened up. “On your feet, mister!” The man started to stand. Billy grabbed him by the shirt and forced him to his feet. “Mark, light the lantern.”
It was then that I realized the lantern I had lit earlier had shattered. I ran to get another and lit it. Horror filled my face when I realized who it was – and I had led him straight to my door!
“Mr. Benet?” Billy asked in a confused voice. “What-“
Mr. Benet turned his head away. He wouldn’t look at us. “Yeah, it’s me!”
Billy pushed him down into a chair. He propped his foot up in the chair beside him. “Why are you here?”
“The kid found out about me!” Mr. Benet answered. “He was gonna turn me in!
“What about you?” Billy asked as he kept the gun trained on Mr. Benet. Mr. Benet didn’t answer. “What?”
“That I’m alive. Somehow, he found out I was from Missouri and that I was in charge of crashing that train in Kansas City.”
“What?” I didn’t know about any train crash! “What are you talking about? What train crash?”
Mr. Benet stared at me. Billy held a mean expression on his face. “Mark, I think you should ride in and get the Marshal.” He nodded toward some rope hanging by the door. “Get that rope so I can tie him up tight. Then I’ll sit here with my gun trained on him until you get back.”
I didn’t feel right about leaving Billy with a man who tried to kill a kid, but I did as he told me to. I hurried and dressed, then rode into town for Micah. When I got there, I found Micah at the jail sleeping. Micah didn’t seem too happy with being awaken in the middle of the night. “It’s Mr. Benet! He’s at the ranch. He tried to kill me!” It all came out in a rush.
Micah jumped up and went for his shotgun. “What? Mark, what are you talking about? Who tried to kill you?” Micah asked
“Mr. Benet, he tried to kill me.” I cleared my throat as I took the wanted poster from my jacket poster.
Micah studied it for a minute. A look of confusion crossed his face. “Why would he kill you over this?”
“That’s him!” I declared. “I asked him about Kansas City and the train earlier. Tonight, he said I knew he tried to blow up a train in Kansas City.”
“The train in-“ Micah reached for a box of shells. “Son, we have trouble! Let’s get going!”
I rode with Micah. When we got into the yard, Billy opened the door. “He’s in here!” he called.
We came inside. Mr. Benet scowled as Micah cut the ropes from him. He put handcuffs on him and led him outside. “Mark, meet Big Bad Brown. That’s his outlaw name. He is responsible for blowing up trains in not only Kansas City, but also in the East. He’s blamed for at least half a dozen explosions that has killed many, many people. A shoot on sight order was released for him.”
“No, Micah! His name is Snake!” I argued.
Micah turned and looked at me. “I suspected the same first time I saw the poster, son. If you read closer, it says there is a scar that runs clean across the forehead – you can’t see it in the picture. The scar looks like a snake.”
I looked at the poster closer. “Oh.” I hadn’t read that part. I felt stupid!
“You did good, Mark! How did you two catch him?” Micah asked then.
“He did it!” Billy pointed to me. “Single handed, armed with a poker!”
“A poker?” Micah asked as he looked toward me. Micah picked up the poker. “Must have hurt!”
“When I walked in, Mark had the sharp end of it pointed right at his throat. He threatened to finish him off if he moved.” Billy shook his head. “This sure is one tough young man we have here!” He patted me on the back.
“Maybe so,” I answered. “But I still have a bit of growing up to do!” Micah and Billy looked at each other. “I gave him a written invitation to come kill me – told him Pa was out of town.” I looked at Big Bad Brown. “Even after I suspected he was an outlaw!”
Mr. Benet looked at Billy. “You didn’t tell me Lehigh would be here!”
“Well, I’m sure glad he was!” I declared as Micah dragged Big Bad Brown out the door.
Billy offered to go with Micah, but Micah said he could handle him alright. I smiled because he had Big Bad Brown handcuffed and tied him in the saddle. I didn’t reckon he’d be going anywhere – except for a hanging!
I sat down at the table trying to calm my beating heart down. Billy started a fire in the stove to warm up some coffee. “I reckon I’m not ready to stay alone after all!”
Billy sat down at the table and watched me for a few moments. “Why not?” he asked.
“Well, you see the trouble I got into tonight!” I shook my head. “If you hadn’t been here-“
But Billy interrupted me. “If I hadn’t been here, you would’ve handled yourself just fine!” Billy insisted. “Throwing the gun out the door was right smart thinking!
Then holding that poker to his head like you did – I guarantee you that a couple more bashed on the head with that thing would have put him to sleep until morning.”
“Yeah, but I had no way of getting help! I was here all alone!” I pointed out. “It was only…what? Midnight or so – that’s an awful long time to hold him pinned down there.”
“How many times has your father been alone and found a way to handle himself? You would’ve done it.” I still felt doubtful. Billy reached out and placed a hand on top of mine. “Mark, when a man’s alone, he’s not alone. You know what I mean?”
I looked at him. “You’re talking about God, aren’t you?”
Billy nodded. “Who do you think helped your father all those times he’s been alone handling a situation? I’m not only talking about God though, son. I’m talking about will-power. We’re a lot stronger than we think!”
I shook my head. “Well, I’m sure glad you were here!” I stood up. “I’m going to bed.” I started for the door. “You…uh…mind sleeping in the house tonight? You can have Pa’s bed.”
Billy nodded. “I’m just going to temporarily fix up some of the holes, so the backdoor will latch, while I drink a cup of coffee to settle my nerves.” I cocked my head to one side as I studied him. “Yes Mark, no matter how tough we look, we’re all a quivering bowl of jelly on the inside!”
I smiled. “Goodnight!”
I groaned as the rooster crowed the next morning. There was so much that had to be done. I spent all morning working on chores. At noon, Billy came in and said we had to go into town and see Micah. When we got to town, Billy took me to the hotel for lunch. At 2:30, we went over to the Marshal’s office. I saw Hab sitting in a chair outside his office working on a chain link. I greeted him. “If you’re looking for Pa, he’s inside waiting,” Hab announced.
I looked up at Billy. “Pa?” I questioned.
Billy shook his head and motioned for me to go inside. I could hear Big Bad Brown yelling in the back. “He’s been like that since I put him in there,” Micah declared.
“I take it you haven’t gotten any sleep?” Billy asked. Micah shook his head. “I have an officer from Kansas City coming to get him. Since that’s where his last crime took place, they’re taking charge of the execution.”
“Execution?” I asked. “He hasn’t been tried yet.”
“He fled before the trial, but he was tried and found guilty. Brown hasn’t denied any of the allegations. When asked, he just laughs. They’re taking him back to Kansas City for the hanging. Until then, I’ll have him locked up.” Micah nodded toward the jail cell. “In there.”
I gave Micah my statement from beginning to end. Micah lectured me on trying to do detective work at my age. I reminded him that a good way to get experience is through making mistakes. After he was done lecturing me, I turned to Billy. “You don’t have to tell Pa about this…do ya?
Billy and Micah looked at each other. . Micah folded his arms. “You’re a minor, son. I have no choice. Your father would hunt me down, if he found out otherwise.”
Billy patted my shoulder. “Your father will be proud, Mark. You captured a desperate criminal single-handedly…without a gun.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I guess I did at that!” Then I looked towards some reward posters sitting on Micah’s desk. “I’m guessing there’s a reward?”
“No,” Micah shook his head. “Mark, surprisingly, a reward was never put out on this bad boy. You see…after the Kansas City explosion, witnesses said that Brown was seen on the train. There was no evidence that he ever got off the train. He was declared dead. I’m sorry.”
I shook my head at that news. “Well, honestly, Micah, I’m just glad to be alive! I was really scared!”
Just then, Milly came running in. I turned from where I was standing. Milly put her protective arms around me. “Micah, what’s going on?” I heard the fear in her voice. “I heard an outlaw was found at the McCain Ranch last night!” She didn’t even let Micah answer. “Mark, you’re okay? Were you hurt?”
Micah stood up. “Stop mother henning him to death, Milly! I’ll have you know he’s a McCain through and through! Why, Mark caught that outlaw single-handed!”
Milly looked down at me. Her eyes held tears. “I was so worried, Mark! I had a feeling something like this was going to happen! Did he hurt you?”
“No, Milly. I didn’t give him a chance! I…” I looked at the others and smiled. “I nailed him with a poker.”
“A…” Milly looked from Billy to Micah, then back at me. “A poker?”
Billy nodded. “It’s true, Miss Scott. Mark was armed with a poker in his hand. Why, he did a better job on him then I could’ve done!”
“I don’t like the idea of Mark having to wake up in the middle of the night to ward off criminals in his own house!” Milly crossed her arms. “Okay, that’s it! You’re staying with me until Lucas gets back!”
“But-“ I started.
Billy laid a hand on my shoulder to silence me. “Mark, why don’t you go on over to the hardware store and get the supplies you’ll need to fix that door.” I stood there and stared from Micah to Billy – and then to Milly. “Go on.”
I did as I was told. When I was leaving the hardware store, I saw Billy comin up the street. Milly was right behind him. I braced myself for a fight. “All set?” Billy asked. I nodded. “Alright. Can you fix the door yourself or do you need my help?” I told him I could get it. “Then I’m getting along home to see my family for a few hours. I’ll be back at dark tonight.” He patted my shoulder before leaving.
“Can we talk?” Milly asked. I nodded and we made our way up the street to the café. She ordered me a sarsaparilla and a piece of pie as we sat down to talk. “Mark, when I first met you and your father…well…there was something…special about both of you.” She looked down at the table to compose her thoughts.
“You know I’m attracted to your father and I know he is to me.” She blushed some while speaking those last words. I merely nodded, forcing myself not to smile.
“There was something about you that very first day. I felt that you needed a woman’s touch – that I could fill some empty space in you – it’s something I saw in your eyes.” Milly raised her eyebrows hoping I’d understand.
“I guess I believe that every boy…no matter how old he gets…needs a woman’s touch – a gentle hand to love him.” She swallowed. “Oh Mark, this is hard for me.” I saw her eyes fill up with tears. “I love you as if you were…well…sometimes it feels like you’re more than a friend. You know what I’m saying?”
I laid a hand on hers and smiled into her eyes. “I do. Because I feel the exact same way about you. Sometimes I wish that you and Pa would get married so I’d have you for a real Ma. You are very special.”
Milly turned away when I mentioned her and Pa getting married. I suddenly felt bad I knew I was breaking into something really private between them. “I’m sorry.” She gave me a weak smile. “And I’m sorry I scared you. It was my fault that man came to our house last night.”
Milly nodded. “I know. Micah told me. It’s hard being a woman, Mark. We want to protect and put you under our wings. I guess I’m having trouble letting go.”
I smiled at that – not because it was funny, but because it made me feel good knowing that Milly cared so much about me. I knew what I had to do in that moment. I would leave my staying alone tonight up to her. I don’t know why, but it felt right. “I’ll do what you say, Miss Milly. If you’d like, I can stay here.”
Milly’s eyes filled with tears. She bit her lip. “I want you to stay in town…but…Micah pointed out that you are growing up and making you stay with me will not allow you to grow. So, you can stay at the ranch.” I nodded my thanks.
I finished off the pie then stood up. “I need to get home – got lots of work waiting.” I picked up my hat and started toward the door. But suddenly, I turned. “Milly?” Milly looked up from her coffee. “I love you too.”
I yawned as I sat down by the fireplace and stroke the fire. I had done so much work that afternoon. Billy came in to inspect the work and declared that it was hard to tell anything had gone wrong. I was proud of my doings. “Maybe your Pa will be home tonight,” Billy said.
I nodded, stating that would be fine with me. “How am I going to tell Pa?” I asked now.
Billy was sitting at the table sipping on a cup of coffee. He looked up at me. “You and your father have one of the closest relationships I’ve ever seen. You tell your father just how it happened, and I think he’ll understand.”
I sighed as I watched the flames grow. “It’s just that…it’s taken a long time to convince Pa I can do this. The first night…”
Billy stood and walked over to me. He put a hand on my shoulder. “The first night, you really proved to everyone that you are a man. You are your father’s son. He’ll be very proud.” Billy patted my shoulder. “Goodnight, Mark.” I watched him walk to the barn, then I got up and locked the door behind him. Then I went to bed.
I woke up the next morning to find Pa sleeping soundly in his bed. I smiled, happy to see that he was okay, but anxiously wondered what had happened in Stud City. Quietly, I went out into the kitchen and fixed the flapjacks and put them in the warmer before I went to start the morning chores.
When I came back in, Pa was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee. I took the flapjacks from the warmer on the stove and placed them on the table. “Hi, Pa,” I greeted him with a smile. Pa smiled at me. “Well?”
“Micah and Norman are two very different men,” Pa announced proudly. “I’m happy to say that the family is now reunited and will be leaving North Fork together.”
“Oh, that’s great!” I declared as I sat the syrup on the table. I sat down. “So you talked to Micah last night?”
Pa nodded. “Only briefly. Seems he was shocked and even looked disappointed that there really was a Norman Ambrose Carraway. Ready for blessing?” Pa closed his eyes and blessed the food.
We ate in silence for awhile. I wondered when the right time would be to tell Pa about my adventure. “Mmmm….These are great!” Pa declared as he took two more flapjacks from the plate. “How did things go here?”
“Micah didn’t tell you?”
Pa took a sip of his coffee. He looked at me as he raised an eyebrow “Tell me what?”
“Well…about Mr. Benet being Big Bad Brown!”
Pa almost choked on the food. He coughed a few times and took a long drink of coffee before he asked, “Mr. Benet? The telegrapher?”
I nodded. “One and the same!”
Pa studied me closely. His eyes narrowed as he turned his head to one side. “You joshing me?”
“No sir, I’m not!” I assured him. “It’s true and uh…I found out!” I proceeded to tell him the story from start to finish. I spoke rapidly so Pa couldn’t interrupt me. His face turned from surprise to concern to to worry. “The only problem was, I thought he was the outlaw “Snake” Smith. It was when I brought Micah home that he told me Mr. Benet was really Big Bad Brown. Guess I should have reviewed all the facts before I acted. But what I’m really thankful for; is that you asked Billy Lehigh to spend the nights. I was so scared afterwards, he helped me calm down. ”I saw Pa’s face turn to relief.
When I finished I waited for the explosion. Pa didn’t say anything, but stood up and walked to the sink. He slowly pumped some water into the sink. His back was to me. “Wow!” Pa said.
I stood up and walked toward him. “Pa?”
Pa turned from the sink. “Well…it looks like you did fine on your own, son!”
“But Pa, it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t told Mr. Benet you were out of town.”
“No.” Pa shook his head. “And if I’d been there I would have stopped you. But instead you learned a tough lesson about your mouth. And I hope you learned a lesson about not going to look for trouble.” Pa walked up to me and looked me straight in the eye. He patted my shoulder. “Son, I’m a little disappointed that you put yourself at such risk. I’m glad everything turned out okay! The fireplace poker you say.” I heard Pa give a little laugh and he tried to cover his mouth and scratch under his nose. “You’ve carried yourself like a man. You told me, instead of letting me find out about it from Micah or Billy. A sign you’re growing up. You didn’t try to hide what happened, even though I did notice the repair work to the back door.”
“Well, it was my mistake, so I thought I should be the one to repair the door.”
“Mark, I’ll rest easier…next time.”
“Next time?” I questioned.
Pa smiled. “Yes son. Next time I have to go out of town, it'll be a little bit easier on me, leaving you here alone…knowing your resourcefulness will help you watch the ranch like a…a man!”
I nodded my agreement as I smiled proudly at Pa. We’d both grown a little this weekend. “Alright.” I smiled at Pa. “But one little request.”
“What’s that?” Pa asked.
“Can we ask Billy to still sleep in the barn, the next time you have to go out of town?” The house was filled with laughter as we both enjoyed my revelation of slowly growing up!
“Oh, and Pa…” I smiled as I thought on what I was about to say. “Next time you see Milly, be prepared to get an earful about my ‘adventure’. She and I talked afterwards and I think she settled down some, but I’m sure she’s still has a lot more to say to you, that she wouldn’t even think of saying in front of me.”
You now those ‘priceless’ looks… I’ll never forget that look on Pa’s face.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Day of Reckoning
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Jealous Man
around The McCain Ranch