“Boy, I can’t believe how much homework that ol’ persimmon gave us this weekend!” Billy Davis declared as he and I walked down the steps.
“Yeah.” I shook my head. “Can’t believe he’s giving us a test on Monday morning! I stopped at the bottom of the steps and took the candy out of my back pocket. “And after the last grade I made in history, I’d say Pa will expect me to study for it!”
“Mark, we’re going fishing this afternoon!” Billy declared. “It’s Friday!”
“I know, I know…” I answered. “But Pa told me after I brought that test home a couple weeks ago that I’d be studying hard for my next test. If he knew…”
“You don’t HAVE to tell him today, do ya?” Billy asked. I looked up at him and saw the pleading in his eyes. He had been waiting for me to go fishing with him all week.
“Well…I reckon not.” Billy and I ran to Miss Milly’s where we kept our fishing poles. “Hi Miss Milly!” we shouted as we ran through the door. “Just coming to get our fishing poles!” I hurried past, but was suddenly grabbed by the back of my collar. I gasped and froze in my tracks.
“Just where did you learn your manners?” Pa asked.
I turned and looked into Pa’s eyes. Boy, they sure weren’t looking pleasant at me. Pa reached up and snapped my hat off my head and planted it on my chest. I grabbed it and looked down at the floor. “Uh…Uh…s-sorry, Pa!” I turned to Miss Milly. “I’m sorry, Milly.”
Milly smiled about it, but Pa didn’t see the humor in my rudeness. “C-can we go fishing now?”
Pa crossed his arms. “I’m sorry son.”
I turned and looked at Billy, then turned back to Pa. “But why?” I asked.
Pa put his hand around the back of my neck and pushed me toward the door. “We’ll discuss THAT little matter at home!” he answered. Somehow, I thought I was in trouble, and I knew that in due time I’d find out.
“But Pa, I promised Billy!” I declared.
Just then Jeff and Kevin walked through the door laughing and cutting up. I’m sure they were headed for the candy jar, which sounded pretty good to me at the moment too. But after seeing the sour look on Pa’s face, I figured candy would be out of the question as well. I scratched my head trying to figure out what I had done wrong – besides running into Miss Milly’s store like I did.
“Going home to study for the test Mark?” Jeff asked with a big grin on his face. He had obviously heard the conversation after school earlier. I saw the gleam in his eye as he asked the question.
“I’ll get you later, Jeff Connors!” I hollered out.
Pa had crossed his arms and looked at me when Jeff asked the question. Now, he unfolded his arms and put a firm hand on my shoulder. “Alright, that’s enough, Mark!” Pa declared in a some-what firm voice. “Let’s go.”
Pa sighed and shook his head as we walked to our waiting horses. I don’t know how I hadn’t seen his horse when Billy and I raced in earlier. I mounted my horse. As Pa and I turned our horses toward home, I looked toward the General Store and shook my head. “That Jeff Connors…” I mumbled. “He oughta learn to keep his mouth shut!”
“And you oughta learn to act like a 13 year old,” Pa stated as he raised his eyebrows at me and pointed toward the road in front of us.
“Yes sir.” We didn’t say much as we rode for home.
“The next time I see you go barreling into the General Store like that, boy, I’ll hang you from the nearest tree by your toes! Do you understand me, boy?” Pa hollered as he circled me and turned to look me straight in the eye.
I was standing just inside the living room at home where I’d been standing for a couple minutes as Pa yelled at me about what I’d done. The image…and mere thought…of Pa carrying out that threat made me want to chuckle. I knew he’d never do that, and usually he didn’t threaten me like that. But I think I got the point. He’d do something to me alright! That’s why I forced myself not to crack a smile. I tried to keep my face as straight as I can. “Ye…” I couldn’t keep a straight face. I cleared my throat. “Yes sir.”
“Now, about this test…” Pa started.
I rolled my eyes. “Ohhhh…” I groaned. “Just you wait…Come Monday morning, I’ll teach that Jeff Connors a lesson or two about snitching!”
Pa suddenly turned and pointed a finger right in my face. “Oh no you won’t, boy! You obviously knew I wouldn’t approve of your going fishing when you have a test Monday morning. From the way you and Jeff acted, I think I’m safe to guess it’s another history test?”
“Uh…yes sir.” I answered without looking at him. Then I sighed heavily. “Pa, it’s Friday! I don’t HAVE to study for that test ALL weekend!”
“I expect you to put in some quality time on that studying tomorrow AND Sunday.” Pa had walked away a bit. But now he suddenly turned around and crossed his arms. He cocked his head to one side as he spoke the next words. “But tonight, we have another matter to discuss.”
“The wood pile.” Pa walked back towards me.
“The wood…” Now I knew where the problem laid. “Oh…the wood pile.”
Mm Hm,” Pa answered me as he raised an eyebrow. “Seems to me like that was supposed to be done last night.”
“Well Pa, I have a very good explanation for that.”
“Oh, I’ve no doubt you do, son.” Pa moved to the table and sat down. “I better sit down for this one.”
“Well you see, I…” I cleared my throat. Then I hurried forward and bent over the table to look him in the eye. “Now Pa, I went to chop that wood…Honest I did. Why, I picked up the ax and everything!”
Pa crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “And well…I even went to chopping the wood and then I realized something…I meant to tell you last night but I plum forgot. I-“
“Tell me what?” Pa interrupted me suddenly.
“Well…” I cleared my throat. “The ax was dull. It needs sharpened.”
Pa suddenly leaned forward in his chair as an annoyed expression came over his face. “The ax is-“ he spoke in a raised, angry voice. Then he stopped. “Well Mark, I suppose that a bright young chap like yourself and figure out how to resolve that problem. Sharpen it.”
“Now?” I asked. I had figure on getting a snack.
“Right…Now…” Pa spoke the two words with a threatening voice.
“Yes sir.” I hurried out to do his bidding. Pa came out with his rifle and sat down to check it while I did the ax sharpening. I told Pa I didn’t need him to watch me, but he said I obviously did. That was his way of punishing me now days, it seemed. If I messed up and acted like a boy, I was treated like a boy. When I acted like a man, I was treated like a man. I thought on that as I started working on sharpening the stone. Leaving boyhood behind was a mighty hard thing to do, but then I bet if Pa thought back to when he was my age, he would figure out the same thing!
I worked quietly, trying to get the task done since Pa would undoubtedly expect my wood-chopping chore to be done. But then some men came, evidently they had heard Pa test firing his rifle. Pa said they were mountain men, and they were bad news. Micah threw them out of North Fork the night before. I continued working as Pa spoke with them, knowing that’s what Pa expected. You know what they asked? They wanted to trade 10 beaver pelts for my Pa’s rifle! There wasn’t enough beaver pelts…or fox pelts…or even bear pelts to make my Pa do a thing like that! Why, I don’t know of a price that Pa would put on that rifle!
But they didn’t understand Pa too well. One of the men – Ambrose – even tried to take the rifle by force. You see, I had accidently dropped the ax head and Pa bent over to pick it up. I don’t reckon he was too happy with my dropping it in the dirt like that. Well, when he bent over to pick it up for me, the man called Ambrose grabbed my Pa’s rifle from him!
I couldn’t believe he had the nerve. I studied Pa for just a second, knowing what I had to do. You see, Ambrose wasn’t expecting a kid like me to be brave enough to intervene, but I sure did! I grabbed the barrel of that rifle and Pa punched him and ordered him to get on his horse and ride out. I couldn’t believe they were so mean! It also scared and upset me to see someone treat my Pa like that!
I watched them ride off, then turned and looked at Pa. He looked mad and I saw the worry line on his face. “You think they’ll come back?” I asked then.
Pa turned to look at me. His eyes told me he knew I was a little nervous about the whole thing. Pa sighed and put a gentle hand on my back. I don’t know, Mark,” Pa answered. “I think you should stay close to me tonight though.”
“Pa, I-“ I started.
“I said you’re to stay close to me tonight!” Pa yelled. I gasped at the annoyance in his voice and backed away. I didn’t like it when he lost his temper like that. Pa suddenly hurried toward me and grabbed my arm. “Mark…Mark…” Pa bent down and put his hands on my shoulders. “I…I’m sorry, son. It’s just the way Ambrose looked at me…and at you. I didn’t like it. There’s something about that man that…” Pa sighed as he laid a hand on my cheek. “I know you’re growing up, but you’re my son. Mark, please stay close to me tonight. Alright?”
“Yes sir,” I answered. I handed him the ax blade, asking him if it was sharp enough. Pa nodded then told me to go get started on my wood-chopping. I did as he told, but turned to watch him walk inside to start supper. His shoulders were slumped. He’d had a bad afternoon, and I knew I was partly to blame.
I worked up a sweat and an appetite for Pa’s good ham and potatoes. Pa came to the door, wiping his hands on a towel. “Time for supper, son.”
After we started eating, I told Pa that I needed a new belt. “It’s your fault, you know,” I declared. “All that good cooking and all.”
Pa laughed as he patted my shoulder. “Yeah. I bet snitching sugar and all that extra candy Milly sneaks you doesn’t help any either! I reckon I’ll have to make you work a little harder to keep you from getting too fat!”
“Or maybe…” I said as I popped another bite of potatoes in my mouth. “Just maybe…it’s because I’m…” I cocked my head to one side. “Growing up?”
Pa smiled a slow, easy smile and shook his head. I saw the sparkle of pride in his eyes. “Maybe,” Pa answered as he studied me for a moment.
“Hey, any dessert” I asked.
“Well…” Pa leaned back in his chair and studied me. “Milly brought over a chocolate cake earlier today.”
“Milly was here again today? Boy, between you going into town and Milly coming out here, your horses sure are in shape!” Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh…uh…I’ll go cut the cake!”
I tried to go far around the table, but Pa still managed a hard, playful smack on my backside as I went for the dessert.
Then as we sat eating the dessert, Pa reminded me that Grandpa Fogarty was teaching me how to braid. “Why don’t you prove to me that all the time you spent over there was really worth my working alone for awhile?”
“Meaning?” I asked as I popped the last bite of cake in my mouth.
“Meaning,” Pa answered. “That you get to work on braiding that belt.” I stood up to get started. Pa grabbed my arm. “After you do the dishes.”
“Oh Pa, about the dishes, I…” My voice died as Pa narrowed his eyes at me again. “Oh, you needn’t worry one bit about those dishes! They’ll all be washed and sparkling clean!”
I did the dishes, but I must admit that I wasn’t too happy about having to chop wood and do the dishes all in the same day! Then I went out and got started on braiding that belt. Pa came by to look at it a couple times and shook his head. I knew I wasn’t as good as Grandpa was, but I’d get better! I finally got it done and went to show Pa. He looked proud of how well it turned out. “Almost ready to sew on the buckle,” Pa declared.
“Yep.” I thought on it for only a second. Then I got a mighty fine idea! “Think maybe we could use a silver dollar for a buckle? Like those Texas trail hands wear?”
“Well, I don’t know if we have to use something worth a dollar, Mark,” Pa answered in that voice that told me he thought my idea was bad. “Tell you what, you finish up the braiding on it and I’ll get that old saddle I bought from Sam Decovan. It’s got a silver sinch. Maybe even look prettier than a silver dollar!” I thought that was a right-smart idea!
I went back inside to finish up. I was only inside for a minute when I heard a rifle shot. I ran outside to see Pa bent over a man on the dirt and that other man – Ambrose – standing there. I walked over and bent down by the body. Ambrose jumped on his horse and took off for the hills. “He’s dead, son,” Pa stated. His gun had gone off accidently when Ambrose tried to jump him.
“What are we gonna do now, Pa?” I asked.
Pa said we had to tell Micah what happened, then we’d take the man’s horse back to his family. I didn’t like the idea of Pa going up there by himself. “Should I come along with you, Pa?” I asked.
Pa looked at me and hesitated, but he saw the look in my eyes. I think he was also beginning to realize that, although I sometimes acted like it, I really wasn’t that little boy he once had. He allowed that I could go with him since they lived close to the Good Book.
Pa and I worked together at hitching the wagon. When we were almost done, Pa said in a quiet, sad voice, “Mark, go get an old blanket from the barn.” I did as told, then he sent me inside to blow out the lanterns. I knew the real reason he sent me in, though – no matter how old I got, he wanted to protect me from the bad stuff. He didn’t want me to watch him cover the body and carry it into the wagon. There was always something so…final about that.
We rode in silence. The town was pretty wild when we got there. Gunshots had erupted from the saloon, and Pa jumped off the wagon, telling me to go ahead and make my way down the street toward the undertakers.
I stayed there for quite awhile and soon saw Pa coming out of the saloon with a rifle to a man’s back as he led him over to the jail. I shook my head. It was funny how trouble always seemed to follow my Pa everywhere he went. Micah came to view the body. I turned in my seat, knowing Pa wouldn’t want me to watch the process. “Yep, that’s Gorwin alright,” Micah answered. He called for the undertaker to get the body out of the wagon. I watched sadly as he was carried inside. “I sure wish I could go with you in the morning,” Micah answered as he shook his head worriedly. “I have to keep this prisoner for at least 24 hours.”
“Well, Mark and I are going. I expect Ambrose won’t try anything else. Not after tonight.” Pa stated in that confident voice of his.
“I don’t know, Lucas.” Micah shook his head again. “I just…I don’t like that boy. There’s something about him that makes me uneasy.”
“I know.” Pa sighed. “We’ll be fine.”
After we started on our way, I couldn’t help but to think on how Micah had acted. We rode on toward home for awhile. When we were almost home, I spoke up. “Pa?” Pa turned to me as he stopped the horses in front of the barn. “Pa, Micah’s worried.”
Pa smiled that smile that told me he was worried, but wanted me to think there was nothing to worry about. “He’s a good friend, son. Worrying comes natural.”
“Yes sir, but-“ I started. I wanted to question Pa on his decision to go up to the High Country alone. But then our eyes met and I saw the answer to my question there. He was asking me to trust him. I nodded silently.
“I’ll tend the team, son. You go on in and get to bed.” We looked at each other for another moment. Pa grinned at me then.
I nodded my head. “Night, Pa.”
The next morning, Pa woke me up bright and early. He said we had a half day ride up to the high country and wanted to get started. We had a lot of ranching work waiting for us when we got back. If only we had known what was waiting for us when we got there!
The ride up the mountain was quite rough and there wasn’t much time for talking. But after we got on level ground again, I asked Pa the question that had been weighing on my mind. “What will you tell them?”
“The truth,” Pa answered.
“But the truth-“ I started.
Pa cut me off as he stopped the horse and bent in towards me. “Mark, listen to me. No matter what happens in life, we must always tell the truth – the whole truth – and nothing but the truth.”
“Yes sir, but the truth is that your rifle shot that man. What if-“ I started again.
Pa dismounted from his horse and motioned for me to dismount too. He turned me to him and put both hands firmly on my shoulders. “Listen to me, son. As long as you tell the truth, you’ll be okay. That’s a fact. There may be times that you don’t think that’s true – that a lie would be easier to tell then the truth. But no matter, always tell the truth.” I nodded, but that wasn’t good enough. “Promise me.”
I didn’t want to promise him. Suppose that someday his life depended on my telling the truth or a lie. What would I honestly do? Suppose that my truth would condemn him? I searched his eyes and saw him pleading silently with me. I opened my mouth to explain my thoughts, but clamped it shut. I knew this was very important to him. “I promise.”
I climbed back on my horse, hoping that when the time came, I’d be able to live up to my promise.
That chance to prove myself came sooner then I thought it would. When we got up to the people that lived there, they began accusing my father of killing the boy. Ambrose allowed them to believe that Pa was nothing more then a cold-blooded murder. Before I knew what was happening, they were leading us inside for a trial.
I couldn’t believe this was happening! My own father was being accused of killing that boy last night! I knew what had happened – I was there. But when we walked inside, Pa asked me to take off my hat and sit down. “No!” I cried as I grabbed onto him. “I won’t leave you!”
“Sit down,” Pa ordered in a firm, quiet and controlled voice. I did so, but I didn’t much care to.
I watched nervously as Pa stood in the middle of the floor. Many sat down to watch the trial, but I watched as Ambrose slapped his hand on the Bible, swearing to tell the truth. I rested a little easier after watching him swear on the Bible. After all, one can’t lie after swearing on a Bible, can he?
But as he started talking, I realized that one could. Not only did fear begin to weal up inside me, but lack of understanding and confusion…hurt for the disrespect this…this…this thing called man would show – not only to my father, but more importantly, to God…
I listened in disbelief as he accused not only my Pa – but also all the people of North Fork – of hating him because he was a mountain man. I listened as my Pa argued back, explaining that it was untrue – it was this man’s manners that got him thrown out of North Fork.
Then he started talking about coming to our land and asking for a drink of water. I heard him accuse that my Pa told him mountain folks weren’t welcome on his land. Pa stood suddenly, accusing it was a lie. I had my head turned at the moment it happened because I couldn’t stand to look at this man that was lying!
I heard Pa say, “That’s a lie!” Then I heard this noise. I turned in time to see Pa topple to the floor.
“Pa!” I cried, bending down next to him. Then the man conducting the trial ordered the men not to use violence anymore. I helped Pa to his feet and he assured me he was okay. Jeremiah told me to sit back down. I looked toward Pa. I didn’t want to leave his side again – not after what happened. I was so scared for him! Pa motioned me to sit down. I didn’t want to make things harder on him, so I sat.
I was so afraid! What were they going to do? Would they find him guilty and hang him? Would they let him go? Would Pa’s words be believed? I was afraid!
Ambrose started telling his story filled with lies. He said my Pa agreed to the trade, but then took his rifle, turned, and aimed with a smile on his face. He shot Gorwin.
“That’s a lie!” I declared as I stood up. There was no way I was going to sit here and allow this man to accuse my Pa like this! Ambrose kept telling lies. He said it so ugly – making my Pa out to be something worse then a cold-blooded murderer. “Liar!” I screamed. I ran toward my father’s accuser. I was going to beat him with everything I had for saying those things. “Liar!”
But Ambrose reached up to grab me. Pa grabbed me around the neck and held me to him. He wouldn’t let me go. Pa spoke to me in a calm, gentle voice. “Easy son,” he said. “Easy.” How could he be so calm about this? Why wasn’t he fighting harder? I didn’t understand!
I saw the look of warning in Pa’s eyes. He was telling me to stay calm. I didn’t know how to do that – not when he was being accused of such horrible things! But Pa kept me close to him this time. He had his hand on my right shoulder, and the other on my left arm, holding me firmly as he told the story. I wasn’t sure if he was keeping me from going after the mad-man or if he needed to touch me for his own strength. But one thing was for sure – Pa was telling the truth, and nothing but!
He told the plain and simple truth – adding nothing, and taking away nothing. He assured the mountain folks that no one shot Gorwin – it was a simple accident.
Commere, boy,” Jeremiah called suddenly.
I didn’t want to. I wanted to stay here, beside my Pa – to protect him from this mad man. I wanted to take him home where he’d be safe. I looked up at Pa. He hesitated – not wanting to separate from me, but he nodded. His eyes told me to go.
I walked over to Jeremiah. "Now so far it's your Pa's word against the word of one of our own," said Jeremiah. "I don't know your Pa, if a lie would stick in his throat. But I know it taint natural for a man raised among us to lie. So what I'm gonna do boy is take your word for what happened. Maybe we'll be releasin' a man who's guilty. But better one man go free on our miss judgment then one payin' for somethin' he didn't do."
If he was telling the truth, then that would be easy. The truth would set my Pa free. "Like Pa said, he started out of the house when this man jumped him; he was trying to get the rifle. It just went off by itself."
"You saw all that, boy?" Jeremiah asked.
"Well sure I....." I stopped. I hadn’t seen it. I was inside and I knew it. I didn’t know what to say.
“Well boy?” Jeremiah questioned. The conversation from earlier came back to me. I had promised Pa I’d tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But I knew that if I didn’t tell the truth, I’d be convicting my Pa.
I looked toward Pa. I could see it in his eyes – he was sad that I hadn’t seen it, but he expected me to tell the truth. “You promised,” his eyes seemed to say. “You promised to tell the truth.” But how could I tell the truth, knowing what it would mean for my Pa. I was his only witness – the only one man enough to stand up for the truth. But now…in this moment…I was afraid – afraid of what the truth meant. I never knew how hard it could be to tell the truth.
"I didn't exactly see it. I was in the house.” I looked at Pa again. I saw the answer in his eyes. He was afraid of the truth as well. But I kept speaking. “I heard the rifle go off and when I went outside.....Pa was going towards Gorwin's body." Those words were hard for me to speak. They weren’t easy. The truth was that if I heard them from someone else, I would probably find the man guilty.
Jeremiah asked me if I was sure the gun went off. “Well…Yes sir,” I answered. I was numb now. I could barely get my words out. This was killing me…absolutely killing me!
Jeremiah then asked where the rifle was. I had seen that part. "Pa was carrying it! He-" I stopped speaking abruptly. I realized I was speaking condemning words. But I had to tell the truth..no matter what.
Jeremiah immediately turned from me and made his judgment. “In the face of hearing all sides of this story, anyone who thinks this man is not guilty of killing Gorwin Morgan can speak his peace.” The room remained quiet – deathly quiet. I gasped, unable to focus on what was happening. I wanted to cry out – scream…I wanted to grab Pa and run. Jeremiah finally slapped his hand on the table. “So be it,” he declared. He stood from the table and looked at Pa. “The verdict is guilty.”
Pa started to protest, but Jeremiah wasn’t done speaking. I listened in silence as desperation crept across my face. “If I had one more witness to back up Ambrose’s words against you, I’d hang you, Mister! But since I haven’t, I’m gonna sentence you to labor five years in the service of Mrs. Morgan, replacing that service you took from her when you killed her son.”
I couldn’t believe this was happening! My eyes filled with tears and I started crying for my Pa. Fear gripped every inch of my body as I realized what they were about to do!
Pa would be their slave. He would be punished for something he didn’t do!
They started to put the chains on my Pa like he was a wild animal! I started forward to stop it, but Jeremiah grabbed me, said I would stay here and earn my keep.
I couldn’t believe this – it was like a nightmare! I tried to put everything into understanding, but I couldn’t. I had spoken the truth. Pa had said that speaking the truth was the best way. How could my truth, if it were right, put Pa in chains?
They started to lead Pa out, but I cried out to him. “No!” I screamed. “Please – he’s my father!”
Mrs. Morgan came forward then. “Wait!” She turned. “This boy didn’t do anything wrong. Let him go to his Pa. Just for a minute.”
I walked toward him slowly as tears streamed down my face. Pa was in chains. It hurt me to see. I sobbed as I ran to him. “I did this to you! I’m sorry!” I cried as I held him.
Pa couldn’t hug me back and that made things even worse. “You didn’t do this,” Pa whispered in my ear so only I could hear. “You hear me? You didn’t do this. You did nothing wrong.”
I felt Jeremiah pulling me away. “I…I should have lied!” I cried as they pulled Pa out of the house. “I should have lied!”
Sobs racked my body as I watched Pa pulled outside and chained up. I watched Ambrose laugh wickedly at him and order him to get to chopping the wood. I turned and stared at the people inside. “How could you?” I asked. “How could you?”
Mrs. Morgan turned from me. “Go feed the stock, boy. You can put your horses in the barn. “ I stared at her. I could hardly function right now, and she was already putting me to work?
“Get going!” she yelled.
I ran out of the house and went to the horses. I turned and saw Pa. Our eyes met. What were we going to do? His eyes held fear and concern in them. “I’m sorry,” I mouthed again. I had let him down. I quickly turned away and hurried to the barn.
I worked all afternoon. Pa worked at chopping wood for awhile. I was sent out to gather the wood and pile it up. “Mark-“ I stopped as I bent to pick up a piece of wood. “Please don’t accuse yourself. You did the right thing.”
“Hey! Get to work, boy!” Ambrose demanded.
“We’re just talking!” Pa said in an angry voice. “I’m his father and he’s my son. He’s confused and-“
Ambrose laughed as he snapped his fingers and pointed for me to go tend to the chores. “You should have thought about that yesterday.”
I didn’t see Pa again that evening. I sat down for supper but refused to eat. I was sick – physically ill from the guilt and confusion I felt. I felt hopeless. How could I help him? How could I ever-
I sat silently at the table listening to Mrs. Morgan accusing my Pa of these crimes – lecturing to me about how much she had lost and how my Pa had to pay her back for that loss. But my Pa was innocent. I was losing him – it was breaking my heart to see how he was being treated!
I was still numb and didn’t listen to a lot that was being said. I didn’t want to – it just made me angry. My anger would just make things worse for Pa and I had done enough to him. I couldn’t stand to see his suffering like an animal who had gone wild.
I hardly even noticed when Ambrose got up from the table and walked out the door. But I heard a commotion and ran to the door. He was beating my Pa with the whip. I ran out there and jumped on him! I was angry – more angry then I’d been at anybody in a long time! He threw me to the ground. Ambrose raised the whip again to whip both me and Pa.
Mrs. Morgan ran out of the house then and stopped him. I ran to Pa and Pa immediately threw his arms around me in a hug. We listened to Ambrose and Mrs. Morgan argue over what to do as I kept a firm hand on Pa and Pa kept an arm around me. My heart ached. This was like a never-ending nightmare!
Mrs. Morgan gave my Pa a tongue lashing, then told me to say goodnight to him. I stayed silent.
Suddenly, Pa grabbed me and looked into my eyes. He spoke in a desperate voice. "Mark, I want you to try and get out of here if you can." I didn't want to leave without him, though. I told him so. "You can see Micah, bring help back son," Pa explained desperately.
But the mere thought of leaving Pa here alone with this madman put more fear in me then I already had. There was no way I could leave him here alone. I had to protect him somehow. "I can't leave without you, they'd do something to you!" I cried.
Pa grabbed me tighter. "Mark, I want you to do what I tell you!" he demanded quietly.
"Come along boy, it's bedtime," Mrs. Morgan yelled out.
I think Pa saw my answer in my eyes, because he said no more about it. I couldn’t…wouldn’t…leave here without him. I had to protect him. “Go along now, Mark. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Pa said quietly and lovingly. “Be careful.”
I could feel Pa’s eyes on me. I knew he hated sending me back inside. “Do the dishes then get to bed!” Mrs. Morgan ordered. I turned to look at Clare.
“I’ll do them,” Clare said quietly.
“I told Mark to do the dishes. He must earn his keep!” I went to the sink and started pumping the water. My tears mixed with the water in the sink as I once again cried bitterly.
I turned when the last dish was done. Mrs. Morgan threw a blanket to me. “You’ll sleep in the barn with Ambrose.” I stared down at the blanket then toward the door. “Go on now!”
I didn’t want to be out there with him. He was a liar. I slowly walked to the barn. When I got there, Ambrose was laying on his cot smoking a cigar. I looked at him and he smiled. “Best get a good night’s sleep, boy. I’ve plenty of work for you and your Pa tomorrow.”
I turned from him without saying a word and laid down. I cried myself to sleep.
I felt a kick. I grunted as I opened my eyes. “Get up, boy. Cows need milking. After breakfast, you’ll fetch water for Clare so she can do the laundry.”
I looked down at my own clothes. When would we get a chance to put fresh clothes on? I walked out and looked towards Pa. Pausing for only a second, I gave him a weak smile, then went to milk the cow.
Again that morning, I sat silently at the table while the others talked. I really had nothing to say to them. I was angry that they had chained my Pa – they were all guilty.
I had to wash the dishes again. When they were done, Mrs. Morgan sent me down to fetch the water. I looked outside to see Pa chopping wood again. He looked tired. I walked down to the creek and filled the buckets with water.
I prayed. “God, I’m so confused. Pa said that if I tell the truth, everything will work out.” I cried as I looked down into the water. “Well God, I…I told the truth and…and look where it got us. God, I…” I wiped the tears from my cheeks. A cold, hard place hardened in my heart toward Ambrose. I was like my mother in that I saw good in everyone. But at this moment, I couldn’t…I just couldn’t see the good in Ambrose.
“Where are you boy?” I heard. I hurried and filled the buckets then walked back up toward the house. I stopped for just a second as I took in the scene. Ambrose was standing over my Pa like a warden. Pa was exhausted from chopping wood. Ambrose gave me more orders.
I sat the water down, then came back over to pick up the wood Pa had chopped that morning. Ambrose yelled at me some more as I hurried over to the wood. Pa bent down to me. Softly, he spoke. “Mark, do everything you’re told. We’re leaving here at midnight.” Pa explained things to me as he kept his eye on Ambrose. “I have a file. One chain length is cut half-way through.”
Ambrose suddenly turned around and glared at us. “Well what are you doin’, boy?” he asked hatefully. I grabbed two heavy pieces of wood, tucked them under my arms, and started walking toward the wood bin. Ambrose stuck out his foot and tripped me on purpose. “You sure are clumsy, boy,” he stated. He laughed at me. I couldn’t stand it!
Pa couldn’t stand that either. It made him angry. "You touch that boy again and I'll tear your throat out!" He screamed.
For some reason, that made him laugh. “Ho ho ho! That sure makes you riled don't it mister? Well it's just a sample unless you say you killed Gorwin," Ambrose stated.
That made me mad! I had had it with this man degrading my father and now being mean to me! I couldn’t stand it anymore! I picked up a big piece of wood and started to hit him with it – hard! But Ambrose saw what I was about to do. He blocked my action with Pa’s rifle. I realized immediately that my anger had gotten the best of me. Ambrose reached down and grabbed me by the arm. He pulled me to my feet. “Guess we’ll have to start by teachin’ this one some manners!” Ambrose declared.
I started fighting trying to get away. I knew this would mean trouble for my Pa. There’s no way he’d allow this to happen without a fight. I suddenly found myself scared for my Pa.
“Let that boy go,” Pa demanded angrily.
Ambrose just laughed as I struggled to get away. “You just watch, Mister!” Ambrose shouted.
Before I knew it, Pa was out of his chains. “Let that boy go!” He pulled on the chain really hard and it snapped in half. He charged at Ambrose and knocked him to the ground. They struggled. Pa managed to get the chain around his neck.
At this point, I wasn’t sure what to think. The adults were all arguing. Pa insisted he was innocent while Ambrose insisted he wasn’t. Jeremiah then challenged them to torch fighting to determine who the brave one was. My Pa fought hard against Ambrose. There were some points I turned away because I couldn’t stand to see it.
But in the end my Pa won. Ambrose admitted he was lying and Pa threw the torch down and walked away.
There were so many emotions running through me. I still wondered about the truth thing. Yet, I was relieved we’d be okay now. There was just something…something still…unresolved. I quietly hurried up to Pa, unsure of what to say…of what to do. Pa put his arm around me and walked away from the group.
Ambrose was punished severely for what he had done and I was glad – so very glad! My heart hurt. Pa stood away from the group as I just stared without any sort of expression. I didn’t know what to feel – what to say. “It’s over, son.” I looked up at Pa. He was smiling at me.
“I’ll saddle the horses,” I said quietly as I walked toward the barn. I thought our reunion would be sweet – that he’d take me in my arms and tell me everything was okay. I didn’t know what I wanted at this point though.
We said our goodbyes and rode back towards home. I stayed silent the whole way down. I was tired and confused…hungry and…I felt something inside of me that was foreign to me – I didn’t know what it was.
I knew Pa was tired as he allowed me to my silence as we rode home. Maybe if he hadn’t been so tired, he would have seen how troubled I was and we could have talked. Yet, I was so confused. I didn’t know how to ask for help. We got into the yard and Micah was there. Micah hurried toward us as we dismounted. I took Pa’s horse without a word and walked into the barn. After unsaddling and bedding down the horses, I climbed up into the loft to think.
My thinking turned to crying and my emotions took their toll, I fell asleep.
It was some time later that I woke up. I sat up and looked out the window of the hayloft. Pa and Micah were inside the house. Micah’s horse was still standing out front. I looked up at the sun and knew I’d been there for quite awhile.
Pa hadn’t come to me. That confused me even more.
I sat down again and leaned back against the wall as I closed my eyes. I reflected on the last two days, wondering what these feelings were that were running through me. “Mark?” I heard. It was Micah calling. I didn’t answer. I heard Micah climbing the ladder to the hayloft. “Well, you are awake.”
I drew my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. “Yes, I’m awake,” I said quietly.
“You’re Pa’s mighty worried about you, son. He was hoping that you’d talk with him about your feelings on the way home. He finally fell asleep himself inside.” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even look towards Micah, afraid he’d see the truth in my eyes.
“Your father…told me that it was rough for you.” Micah grew quiet then. “You know Mark, we all need someone to tell our troubles too. I know you’re growing up. But even I…I confide in your father all the time.”
“I know.” I was ashamed for the way I felt. I didn’t understand it – any of it.”
“I asked your Pa if I could talk to you first. He’ll get his turn later.”
I looked up at him then. “There’s some things a man keeps to himself, Micah.”
“Not when they hurt other people, sonny.” Micah’s words were accusing. There was no question about that. I jerked my head up at him then. Micah bent down in front of me and looked me straight in the eye. “You’re holding those feelings inside and it’s really hurting your father.”
I sighed then. “On our way up there, Pa told me I had to always tell the truth no matter what.”
Micah nodded. “He told me. He also told me how proud he is for you telling the truth – even though it meant he’d be found guilty.”
“Pa said as long as we tell the truth, everything would be okay.” I stated.
“Is that what he said?” Micah asked. I nodded. “Is it really? Or is that what you heard?”
I thought back to our conversation the day before and let a loud sigh escape me. “I guess not. But Micah, if I had just lied I would have-“
“Could have gotten your father hung, boy.” Micah declared.
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’d never do anything like that!”
Micah sat down and leaned against the wall. “You remember the other day when you came and told me there was a package for me at the General Store? Milly told you to tell me that because she wanted me over there to try on that new, fancy vest she sent for?” I nodded. “Well, I knew you were lying.”
“How?” I asked.
“Oh…” Micah closed his eyes as he leaned his head back against the wall. “You can’t look at a person when you lie. Your voice…it shakes a little and…and you cry.”
“I do not!” I argued.
“Oh, but you do! You are a terrible liar.” Micah smiled at me. “That’s good.” Then he looked at me sternly. “If you had lied and they had seen that you were lying, then they would have really believed your Pa guilty…and hung him.”
I turned from him then as the truth settled into me. I was quiet for awhile. “What else?” Micah asked then.
“What else?” I repeated his question. Micah nodded.
I thought before speaking. Usually it was Pa who could read me like a deck of cards. It was strange having Micah sitting next to me, talking with me.
“I just have this…this feeling deep inside. It’s…” I stopped as I turned and looked at Micah. “It’s like I want to…want to hate the man for what he did – like I hoped that something…” I stopped, unable to finish my sentence. I didn’t have to.
Micah understood. “That’s something you can’t hold inside yourself, boy. It’s called hate and the way to get rid of that is…is through forgiveness.”
“Forgiv-“ I stopped and stood up. I was angry. Micah didn’t know what I had gone through. “I can’t!”
Micah walked up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. “You have to,” he said as he walked me to the ladder.
We climbed down from the ladder. My heart felt so heavy – like there was this great weight. A weight so heavy, it hurt. Micah walked to his horse and climbed on. “When your Pa wakes up, talk to him. You may be surprised on what he has to say.”
I watched Micah leave. Inside the house, I found that Pa had put on a stew to cook while he slept. I walked over and stirred it, sniffing the pleasant aroma. I was so hungry I could hardly contain myself. “Feeling better?”
I whirled around at Pa’s voice. Pa looked refreshed. “I guess so,” I answered, still troubled.
Pa walked over to the cabinet and got bowls down. He sat them on the table then started slicing the bread. “Micah talked to me. I…understand why I had to tell the truth now.”
“And the other?” Pa asked as he sat the bread on the table. I turned from the stove and stared at him. Pa gave me a knowing look.
“How-“ I started.
“I’m your father.” Pa picked up the stew and tasted it. “It’s ready. Let’s eat.”
“Pa, Micah told me what I needed to do, but I can’t. I just can’t. ” I asked as we sat down. “How can I when he lied. Pa, he lied to his people and he lied to GOD!”
Pa smiled. “Mark, unforgiveness and hatred are diseases. They corrupt the mind…the Spirit…everything. You don’t forgive someone – that forgiveness turns into a hate and hate…it can make a person into someone like Ambrose…”
“Then you…forgave him?” I asked as I lowered my eyes.
“Ambrose?” Pa nodded. “I feel sorry for him, son. I wonder what happened that was so terrible to turn him against us. I realized it had to be hate.
Maybe, something happened and he couldn’t forgive and because of that he turned to hate us, not personally, but because we were town folk.” Pa looked down at his stew. “I think there are times we do things that makes God unhappy. I’m not innocent of everything.” Pa sighed. “I’ve done a lot of things I regret. I asked God for forgiveness and he forgave me. Maybe God forgave me before I even asked. So, why shouldn’t I forgive others?”
I suddenly felt that cold place in my heart warming. Pa took my head and bowed his head. He thanked God for protecting us and for…for saving us. Then he prayed for Ambrose. After he said Amen, I lifted my wet eyes toward him. “Well, what did you decide?” Pa asked.
I smiled. “I think I just forgave him, Pa.”
We smiled as we started eating. It was Sunday and I reckon I had gotten my churching in after all!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
A Friend in Need
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Long Gun from Tucson
around The McCain Ranch