Now, I admit I’ve had my bad days in the past, and I admit that I’ve gotten a lot of punishments dished out to me over the years. And it’s also true that I’ve gotten away with a lot that I probably shouldn’t have – partly because my Pa believed in second chances, and partly because perhaps my Pa didn’t find out about every little thing I did. But this time, I think I really got it good. Mind you, I’ve been in more trouble in the past, but it was bad enough!
I remember the day before…actually, the night before…when we were just finishing up supper. Pa wiped his mouth on the napkin and stood up. “I’m going into town, son. You clean up here then get to your homework.” I knew Pa was putting a lot of trust in me. Not only was he trusting me to properly clean up and do my homework, but he was trusting that I would get to bed when I was supposed to. “I won’t be too late,” Pa assured me as he grabbed his hat. “I should be back in time to say good-night. But if I’m not-“ Pa pointed his finger at me. “You know what time you go to bed.”
“Yes sir,” I smiled. He had told me already that he was planning on going into town to play chess with Micah. They had made a “friendly bet” with each other that Micah could beat Pa at Chess, hands down. Pa said a “friendly bet” involved no money, but that the looser had to clean the jail the next Saturday. It was a game my Pa and Micah played often since, as Micah put it, me and Pa seemed to spend as much time in his office as he did. Micah even argued that Pa just might be there more then him since he was always out fighting desperados. I found the whole thing funny, actually!
I did everything Pa asked me to. I even got all my homework done without Pa standing over me to make sure I didn’t dawdle. Somehow, me being the only one at home made me have some sort of responsibility. And as soon as 8:30 came, I was undressed and in bed, but Pa never came.
I started to worry, hoping they hadn’t gotten into some kind of trouble in town, but I knew my Pa was tough and could handle himself. I drifted off to sleep eventually, but suddenly heard a pan clang to the floor. I sat straight up in bed when I heard Pa whisper, “That boy!” I decided to roll over and go back to sleep to avoid Pa’s middle of the night lecture about hanging the dishpan up instead of leaving it on the counter where it would fall.
The next morning, I got up as soon as the sun hit the window. Pa was still asleep as I went to do my morning chores. When I got back inside, he was still asleep. I went to the stove and made his coffee. As it heated, I fixed bacon and eggs. I knew Pa would be too tired to worry with it when he finally got up.
Pa was proud of me. I hadn’t only made his coffee for him, but I had also cooked bacon and eggs for him. I wondered silently why Pa was so late in getting in, but I didn’t ask. Suddenly, Pa made an announcement that caught me completely off guard. “Somebody brought in the Domino Kid.” I couldn’t believe it! But that wasn’t the biggest news of all. The biggest news of all was that Collie Vain shot and killed him. He was considered a pretty meek man. He kept to himself, minded his own business, and would dream of carrying a gun. The only time he ever used a gun was when he was hunting. I never thought he would ever even look wrong at another human being, much less kill a famous outlaw!
Pa told me to hurry and eat so I wouldn’t be late for school. He didn’t have to tell me twice! I was excited to get to school to tell everyone what had happened. Pa said he’d pick me up after school, so that meant I wasn’t riding a horse to school. Pa hitched up the horses and rode me in. I smiled as I jumped off and watched him leave.
I ran into the schoolyard where a group of boys were huddled together. “That Collie is a murderer!” Jeff was stating.
I stared at him as I came up to the group. “What are you talking about? My Pa told me that-“ I started.
There was one girl in the group – the same one that was always there. Susan huffed up her shoulders and declared, “We are not interested in anything your father has to say, Mark McCain.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. As usual she was getting on my nerves. “Now see here, Susan-“ I started.
But Jeff held up his hand and shook his head. “Wait until he hear the truth! I bet your Pa didn’t tell you how he was shot.”
“How?” I didn’t understand what he was getting at.
“In the back,” Jeff answered. “He was shot in the back. Now what kind of person would shoot a famous outlaw in the back?”
I started to ask more about it but Miss Adams was ringing the bell. As I sat down, I turned and asked Jeff, “What do you mean he was shot in the back? Weren’t they in a gunfight?”
Jeff shrugged. “He was probably sleeping and Colley snuck on him and pow!”
Jeff said that last word so fast that I jumped. “That would make Colley a-“ I didn’t finish the sentence, but Jeff just nodded his head.
“Mark McCain,” Miss Adams called. “Can we please start school?” I turned around; thinking on what Jeff had just told me. How could a person, in good conscience, shoot a man in the back and then come in and announce that he wanted to collect the reward? How could he live with himself knowing what he had done?
All morning I thought on this. At morning recess we simply sat around talking about it. “It figures! After all, Colley Vain is too much of a chicken to shoot anyone face-to-face!” Jeff stated.
“Could you imagine Colley Vain in a real-live shootout?” someone else said.
I stayed quiet, simply listening. At that point, I really didn’t know what to think. Pa’s always told me to give people the benefit of the doubt until you could prove something different, but if Collie shot this outlaw in the back, how could he explain it any other way but that he murdered him.
By the time school was out, the kids had talked about this Colley thing several times. We talked about it before school, at morning recess, at lunch time, and then at afternoon recess. Now, as I was gathering up my books and fastening the strap around them, the schoolroom was abuzz with talk. And I am ashamed to admit it now, but by that time, I was right in the thick of it. “Why, Collie’s nothing more then a back shooter!” I declared. “There weren’t nothing fair about that fight!”
Several of us started into town. Quite frankly, I had forgotten that I was to meet Pa at Micah’s after school. But we did see Collie. Steve saw him first, and we all took off running towards him. “Hey back shooter!” Steve yelled. “Where ya' going?” Collie didn’t say anything.
“Was he sleeping when you shot him? Is that it?” Jeff asked.
“Was the fight fair?” I asked. He said nothing.
We headed into town yelling and laughing at him. We told him to get out of town. We didn’t want any back shooters around! Then I saw a shirt sticking out of his bag and reached over and grabbed it. “Get out of town!” I shouted as I waved the shirt in his face.
We were laughing and carrying on. But then I turned. My smile immediately disappeared as I saw Pa standing in front of me. He had an angry look on his face – I mean angry! I knew I was in trouble. Pa had always taught me to treat others the way I’d want to be treated, and I knew I had been wrong. I had gotten caught up in the moment like everyone else.
“Give me that,” he ordered in that angry voice. I handed it to him, a bit embarrassed that I was being yelled at in front of my classmates. “Get in the rig, Mark.”
I walked away without saying a word. I knew there were no words Pa wanted to hear at the moment. After Pa sent the other kids home, he walked over to the wagon. He said something to Micah about finding a pen, then walked inside.
I waited, but Pa didn’t come out. I saw a piece of wood lying in the street. I looked to the office to make sure Pa wasn’t coming, then I jumped off the wagon and picked up the piece of wood, quickly climbing back up before Pa came out.
I got out my pocket knife and began cutting the top layer off over and over. It all landed on the floor of the wagon. It was a long time before Pa finally walked out. I had to say something. I had to know just how much trouble I was really in. "You mad at me Pa?" I asked.
Pa stopped and turned back to me. “No Mark, I'm just disappointed in you. It seemed to me you always stood on your own two feet. You had your own ideas and stuck to 'em. Never saw you trail along with the herd before." If he wasn’t mad at me, it was because he had calmed himself down in Micah’s office.
Pa didn’t understand. I was sticking to my own idea. "But Pa, everybody know he shot him in the back." The facts were there in black and white. The Domino Kid had a hole in his back. What more proof did we need?
"Nobody knows anything except what Colley said."
I couldn’t believe that! "But it's a lie, everybody know that Colley couldn't stand up to anybody as good as the Domino Kid in a fair fight,” I argued with him. Collie was a chicken and everyone knew it.
I could tell Pa was becoming angry again, but he wanted me to stick to my own ideas – and this was my own idea. "Good Mark? An outlaw? A killer?"
"Well, he's better then somebody like Colley!" The moment I said it I wished I could take it back. The look on Pa’s face was…painful! I saw his disappointment turn even bigger, and his eyes held anger. He was so angry he couldn’t even speak much! All he could do was tell me to move over.
We rode in silence. I looked at Pa and saw his jaws clinching. Every once in a while I heard a sigh escape as he tried to calm down. “Pa,” I started.
“Mark!” Pa suddenly shouted. I flinched at the anger he held in his voice. His jaw clinched again. “Clean that mess up, boy. Just throw the shaving out on the road!”
I did that as we rode for home. Then I sat still beside my Pa. “When we get home, do your chores, boy. Nothing else.”
I saw Colley and his girlfriend there when we got to the ranch. I told Pa I’d put the wagon up for him. He never said a word. I knew he was still angry.
I worked on my chores for awhile, but then Pa came up to me. “I’ve got to go to town, Mark. Do your homework.”
“Pa, I-“ I swallowed. Then I turned away.
“Mark,” Pa grabbed my arm and turned me back around. “I’m not going to pretend that I’m not angry with you. I am. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” At least his voice seemed kinder. Some of his anger had melted away. I looked towards Colley but said nothing as I nodded and went inside the house.
I did my homework. When I finished, I decided to start the stove for when Pa got home to fix supper. I looked outside and saw that Colley was still there. I didn’t want to talk to him. I still believed that he had shot that man in the back!
Soon I heard Pa calling me. I walked out on the porch. I told him I was getting some firewood for supper. “Fine. When you’re through, set another place at the table, will ya'?”
Suddenly, I looked at Colley. The mere thought of having to sit at the table and say only nice things after all the mean things I had said to him didn’t appeal to me. I couldn’t sit there and be honest and nice at the same time, not when the facts were plain – that he was a back shooter! “Is he staying?” I asked, suddenly needing to know.
Pa was walking into the house, but suddenly spun around and looked at me sternly. “That’s right,” he answered.
I looked back toward Colley. “Oh,” I answered. Well, he can have my place. I’m not hungry.” I wasn’t going to eat with a killer and pretend like I agreed that he had done the right thing.
Suddenly, Pa was right in my face. That angry look was beginning to return. “Mark, Colley's a guest in our home, you show respect.” Pa ordered. “You hear me, boy?” His voice was suddenly angry again.
“Yes, Pa.” I answered as I continued staring at Colley. I didn’t understand why Pa was being so nice to him – not when he had practically murdered another man – no matter who he was! But Pa was waiting for me to say more – perhaps apologize or tell him I would respect him. But I couldn’t do that. "Well I don't know why you want me to respect somebody like him!” It came out before I could stop myself. And I was sorry I had said it so hatefully.
Pa was so angry he couldn’t hardly talk! I could see him trying to regain his composure. “Go to bed, Mark! Go to bed!”
I walked into the house angrily and went into the bedroom. I sat down on the bed with a heavy sigh. Just then Pa barged into the room. “Mark,” Pa started with a sigh. He paced the room a few times. “I-I thought I told you to go to bed.”
I stood and started undressing. “Your attitude is just simply unacceptable, boy! I can’t…I just can’t believe you would say something like that. Haven’t I always taught you to be respectful of all people no matter what your personal feelings are toward them? Haven’t I?”
I sat quietly on the bed, not knowing rather he wanted an answer or not. I never liked getting yelled at and I suddenly felt ashamed. I felt my eyes swell up with tears, but I fought them back. Pa didn’t like my crying when he was yelling at me. Pa suddenly sat down on his bed. “I want you to know, Mark, that I am very, very disappointed in you.”
I hung my head in shame. Pa stood up and ran a hand through his hair. He sighed. “I don’t like being angry at you, boy. I-“ He suddenly stopped and turned toward the window. I could tell he was trying to regain his composure. “Alright, for the next week you will come straight home from school and-“ He stopped and turned back towards me. His hands were on his hips. “No, I can’t punish you right now. I’m going to leave you to think on it. I’ll give you your punishment tomorrow.” He suddenly walked towards the door. He put his hand on the knob. “Right now I want you to go to bed, Mark. And while you’re lying there, I want you to think on this: there’s been times when I’ve been in an honest shootout and…and ended up shooting someone in the back.”
I gasped, suddenly realizing what he was thinking. He wondered if I’d judge him the same way. Pa walked out the door, firmly closing it behind him. I began undressing as I thought on this. Tears filled my eyes and I allowed them to freely fall down my cheeks as I lay down in bed. Pa’s yelling at me was bad enough – but his disappointment was almost more then I could tolerate.
I laid there for a long time, and I did think on Pa’s words. He had shot people in the back as well, but it wasn’t the same – it just couldn’t be! I stared up at the ceiling as I listened to the laughter coming from the other room. I’m sure Pa was trying to keep Collie calm from his worries about everyone being against him.
Time passed so slowly as I laid in bed and thought. Pa’s last words echoed in my mind. Never could I ever see Pa as a back shooter, and I would sock anyone who would call him one! But it was different…it was! I tried my best to convince myself of that.
Darkness was just settling in the bedroom when I heard the door open. I leaned on my elbow as I saw Pa come in and sit on the edge of my bed. “Son, I…I’m sorry I yelled at you like I did.”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
“Do you need a drink of water?” I shook my head. I didn’t want anything right now. I just wanted to be alone. Pa stood and grabbed a wet cloth from the basin. “You’re face is dirty. You’ve been crying.” He gently wiped my face with the cloth and gave me a sad smile.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“For what?” Pa asked suddenly. I saw the question in his eyes, and I lowered my head. “For crying because you yelled at me,” I answered.
“Is that all?” I hung my head. I knew that was the last thing he wanted me to apologize for. “You aren’t sorry for anything else?” I didn’t answer. Pa stood up from my bed and walked over to the door. He hung his head. Then slowly, he turned around. “Mark,” he sighed. “I want you to know that I love you very much. You are challenging my temper right now, but I love you.” I nodded. Then he walked out.
I soon fell asleep.
The next morning, Pa woke me up and told me to get dressed. “I have breakfast on the table. You will sit with us and eat…silently…unless you’re ready to apologize.”
I sat there silently. I could feel Collie and Pa both looking at me; but frankly, I wasn’t sure what was right or wrong at the moment. After breakfast, Pa went and picked up his Bible then walked into the bedroom and closed the door. Without his saying a word, I knew he expected me to clean up the dishes.
Collie silently put his clothes back into his bag and grabbed his hat. Then he walked out the door. I went outside to get the wood. When I came back inside, Pa asked me where Collie was. I told him he left about fifteen minutes ago. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.
“Well, I was getting the firewood,” I answered shortly.
“You’re not still smarty from last night, are you?” Pa asked.
“Well,” I started. I saw his eyes and really didn’t want to start anything up again. “I know I shouldn’t have said what I did, but well I couldn’t help it!”
Pa only looked at me, but the way he looked at me sent chills up and down my spine. He was still very disappointed in me. “Well maybe you don’t know it, son, but Colley just went out to earn the respect you didn’t give him. Just hope he doesn’t have to pay too high a price for it!”
I threw down the firewood and sat down, frustrated. I wished this whole thing would end so I could have those happy conversations with my Pa again.
I didn’t stick around home for long. I saddled up Blue Boy and started into town towards school. I was just riding into the schoolyard when Pa walked up to me. I jumped from my horse. “I want you to come with me,” he stated.
I walked towards him. Pa put his arm around my shoulders as we continued walking into town. We went to the doctor’s office. I saw Collie there. Pa pointed at him. “He was shot in the back,” he stated as he looked down at me.
I swallowed as I locked eyes with Collie. “Don’t worry. I’m leaving,” Collie stated. I suddenly heard the deep hurt in his voice.
I saw Mr. Bedford standing there. “I was wrong in what I did,” he suddenly stated. I stared at him.
Pa folded his arms. “Now Collie, tell us what happened – the truth.” I knew Pa knew the truth. He wanted me to hear it from Collie. He looked down at me. “And I want no interruptions until he’s finished.”
Collie looked at me. Then he looked at Mr. Bedford. “He was lying down on his bedroll – on his back - when I told him I was bringing him in. He turned as if to get up and I saw him reach for his gun. I – I fired my rifle.”
Pa looked at me with folded arms. “Exactly what I would have done.”
I swallowed, suddenly feeling very low. “I…” I started. I hung my head. “I’m sorry…for everything.” Then I ran out.
I ran behind the doctor’s office and sat down, breathing heavily. Pa came to sit down beside me. He just looked at me and rubbed my back as I tried to calm myself. My heart was beating a mile a minute. “I-I’ve been wrong…so wrong,” I stated.
“Yes you have,” Pa stated.
“I…I’m sorry, Pa.”
“For what?” Pa asked, looking at me hard again.
“For everything. I’m sorry I didn’t believe Collie’s story. I’m sorry I said such hateful things. And I’m sorry I-“ I stopped as I looked into Pa’s eyes. “You want to know something really bad?”
Pa suddenly put a hand on the back of my neck to calm me down. “I didn’t think much of what the kids were saying at first, but then I thought on it all day and listened to everything the kids were saying about…well, about how Collie shot him in the back – and there was never a reason for it. I…” I stopped, shaking my head.
“What should you have done?” Pa asked quietly.
“Walked away…not listened…” I started.
“Oh,” I hung my head in shame.
“And what?” I looked up into Pa’s questioning eyes. He wanted me to say it out loud.
“And stood up for what I believed in the first place,” I answered quietly. “I’m sorry I disappointed you, Pa.” I swallowed. “I’m not…very proud of my self right now. In fact, if you want to know the truth, I’m ashamed of myself.” I could tell Pa’s disappointment in me was quickly disappearing. “And I’m ready for my punishment.”
Pa looked at me for a few seconds as he thought on that. “I’m not going to punish you…anymore. I think your punishment from last night and the sentence you have just given yourself is enough. But, I am going to make you do something.”
I suddenly lifted my head and looked into his eyes. “When you get to school, I expect you to stand up and admit that you were wrong and…apologize for your actions, even if everyone else still believes the gossip.”
I swallowed. I’d rather have a licking then this! But I knew that was the right thing to do. I nodded.
We stood up together. I suddenly threw my arms around Pa and hugged him tight. “Thanks, Pa,” I smiled.
“For what?” Pa asked as we started for the school.
I smiled even bigger. “Just for being you,” I answered.
Pa smiled. “Mind if I walk you back to school…son?”
We laughed then in relief that our quarrel was finally over. Then we walked towards school, arm-in-arm.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Horse Traders
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch