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

Hostages to Fortune Episode 160
Mark’s story

I hurried out of the school when it was dismissed for lunch Friday afternoon. As I untied Blue Boy, I heard my name being called. Lucille hurried over to me. She stopped just in front of me and started playing with her lunch pail. “Oh, hi Mark,” she said as she bashfully tipped her head down and looked up at me through those big, beautiful brown eyes…

I smiled at her. I couldn’t help myself! “Oh…hi Lucille!”

Lucille flung her hair back over her shoulder as she took a big lock of hair and twirled it around her finger. In her southern belle accent, she looked up at me and flashed me a great big smile as she said, “Tried to catch ya yesterday, but you were already gone.”

“Yeah, I…I…had a commitment at home…” I smiled at her as her smile deepened.

“Yer awful busy these days, Mark!” Lucille declared as she continued twisting that lock of hair and smiling.

“Yeah..well…” I smiled as I leaned against the hitching post, crossed my ankles, crossed my arms, cocked my head to one side, and smiled at her. “I have a lot of responsibilities at the ranch.”

That got me my reward. She crinkled her eyes and smiled at me admiringly. “My, my Mark…You are just so busy!”

“Mm hm…” I felt a lump suddenly rise up in my throat as I stared at that smile. “I…I…I certainly am!” I stared at her mouth and began to wonder….

“Mark?”

“Huh?” I blinked my eyes and looked up into Lucille’s brown-eyed beauties again. “Oh…I’m sorry, I was just thinking.”

Lucille smiled as she fluffed out her dress. “Bout what, Mark?”

I straightened up and cleared my throat. I nervously ran a hand against the back of my sweaty neck. “Gee…for so late in the year, it’s awfully hot out here!”

“It ain’t hot, Mark,” Lucille declared as she batted a hand toward me and giggled. “Why ya are just a silly!”

“Well…” I cleared my throat. “I best be getting to the ranch.” I turned to leave.

Suddenly, Lucille reached out and grabbed my arm. “Oh no, Mark! You can’t leave!” Lucille’s voice sounded panicked.

I slowly turned. I can’t even begin to report what her mere touch did to me! My heart started racing and I felt breathless. “I can’t?” my voice suddenly cracked.

“Hm mm,” Lucille said with a shake of her head. Her hand stayed resting on my arm. From the corner of my eye, I saw Freddie glaring at us with his hands on his hips. “I haven’t asked ya yet.”

Oh gosh! Now I was really nervous! “Ask me?” I laughed nervously. “Ask me what?”

Lucille let go of my arm and again started twirling her hair around her finger as she gently swung her body from side-to-side. Her head was tipped to one side and again she smiled really deep into my eyes. “Why…to my party of course!”

“Oh…” Blue Boy whinnied a warning as if to tell me not to get mixed up in this girl stuff again. You’d think I had learned my lesson a few months ago, but it’s like Pa said…I don’t only want to rope her, right now, I was sort of hoping she’d rope me back! I put my hand up to scratch Blue Boy and keep him quiet. I didn’t need any advice from a horse after all! I think I can handle this one on my own! “Uh…what uh…” I swallowed, suddenly unaware of what I was saying. “What’s the occasion?”

Lucille stopped twirling and stopped the short turning from side-to-side. She put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows at me. “Why, Halloween of course!” she declared. “Oh…so I uh…don’t have to uh…”

“No.” She smiled at me through her batted eyelashes. “You don’t have to dress up. You just come as you are.” She looked me up and down.

My face reddened. “Oh…well…Okay.”

“I’d like you to come as my escort.” Lucille smiled.

I shot my hand off of Blue Boy and pointed to her then to myself. “You mean…you and me…” I allowed the rest of the question to drop.

“Uh huh.” Lucille flashed me the biggest smile. “Oh, I know it’s awful forward of me, Mark…but I can’t think of any other boy in school I’d rather go with!”

“Oh…” I swallowed as I turned and looked at Freddie. Boy, but he was riled! “What about Freddie? I thought you two were sweet on each other.”

“Me and Freddie?” Lucille laughed as she touched her chest with her fingertips and rolled her eyes. “Oh…pu-leeze! Why, Freddie is such a boy!” Lucille took my hand in hers. “You are a man.”

My heart started beating again. My mouth was suddenly dry as I felt the softness of her hand. I tried to smile, but was really, really nervous. My eyes widened as I again stared into hers. “Oh…I’m sorry Mark!” Lucille shot her hand away and blushed. “I know I’m being awful forward! Why what I’m doing ain’t lady-like or anything of the sort and my Pa would lick me for sure if he saw me!”

“Oh uh…” I suddenly took my hat off and nodded. “Yes ma’am.” Lucille narrowed her eyes at me and got a questioning look on her face. “Oh…uh…I mean it’s okay, Lucille. I understand.” I didn’t tell her I was actually enjoying her forward advances. “I…I…I’m not sure if my Pa would like the idea of me escorting ya to your own party. I…I…” I swallowed. “What I mean is…”

“Oh, I know, Mark. But if you just show up at my party and spend time with me, nobody will know.” She again smiled at me and batted her eyes.

“Oh, yes ma’am!” I turned to mount my horse as Freddie started over. “I sure will be there tomorrow night!” She told me to be there at six o’clock. “Yes ma’am!” I tipped my hat then raced out of the yard. I knew that if I were to stay a minute longer, Freddie would get me in a fight and I would certainly not be going to Lucille’s party! Nothing was going to keep me away!

I had only gotten to the corner of the schoolyard when Lorrie started toward me. “Mark, I wanta ask you something!”

I stopped. Blue Boy protested but obeyed me after I pulled hard on his rein. He probably was smarter than me when it came to women, but I had to stay in charge! “What?” I snapped.

“Is that any way to speak to a lady, Mark McCain?” Lucille put her hands on her hips.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” I turned and saw Freddie start toward me. “But I hafta go! See ya!” I bolted forward. It’s not that I was scared of Freddie. I can lick him pretty good. But I WAS afraid of facing Lucille if Pa told me I couldn’t come to her party!

Blue Boy whinnied again as we rode toward home. “Oh, what do you know about girls?” Blue Boy whinnied again. “I can’t help it…there’s just something about her. I know, I know…I remember all the trouble I got into last time, but I’m mature now! I think I can handle a woman like Lucille!” Blue Boy sneezed. “Oh, shut up! You’re just a horse!” I dug my heels into his flank and sent him on a gallop towards home.

But as it turned out, Freddie showed up at the ranch that evening. I was stacking the last of the wood I was splitting when he jumped off his horse and hurried over to me. “Oh, hi Freddie.” I said as I picked up another pile of wood.

“What’s the big idea?” Freddie asked.

“What are you talking about?” As if I didn’t already know!

“I’m talking about Lucille Bennet! She’s MY girl!” Freddie declared as he glared at me. I slowly turned and looked at him. Boy, he was mad! His face was red.

“I think you’ve been misinformed, Freddie,” I declared. “You might want to check again.”

Freddie narrowed his eyes and stepped forward. “What are you talking about?”

Suddenly, Pa came into the yard pulling a calf. “What’s going on?”

Freddie turned and looked at Pa. “Your son is a two-timing back stabber!” Freddie declared.

“Oh. Is that all?” Pa jumped from his horse and tied him to the hitching post. “Son, would you take the calf to the corral? She lost her mother out on the range and we’ll have to keep her here for a while.” I looked toward Freddie. “I don’t want any fighting, boys,” Pa declared firmly. We just continued staring at each other. “Go on, son.”

“Mr. McCain, I think…” Freddie started.

“I think you need to go on home and cool down, Freddie.” Freddie didn’t move. Pa put his hands on his hips and took a step toward Freddie. He didn’t have to say another word. Freddie went flying out of the yard on his horse.

I walked back toward the wood pile after settling the calf into the corral and giving him a bottle. Pa came out of the house and leaned against the hitching post. “So…” He crossed his arms. “What’s her name?”

“Huh?”

Pa laughed. “I was your age once, son. I know what a fight over a girl looks like.” I concentrated on straightening the wood in the wood pile. Pa bent his head down next to me and raised his eyebrows. “Is it Lucille?”

“Maybe.” I cleared my throat. I wanted to tell him that he didn’t give me information on his love life, so I don’t have to tell him about mine…but then I stopped because something told me that’s not the way it worked and I wouldn’t be going to Lucille’s party. I HAD to go to her party!

“Now look, son. You are only 14 years old and…”

“I’m almost 15!” I declared suddenly.

“Oh…well…” Pa put a hand on my shoulder and turned me to face him. “You are almost 15 years old and you don’t need to be worrying about females right now. They’ll be a problem enough when you’re older.”

“Like uh…Lou?” I grinned.

“We’re not talking about Lou!” Pa shook his head. “We’re talking about Mark McCain. Now…” Pa crossed his arms. “Talk to me.”

“I have the wood to stack, Pa.”

“It can wait.” Pa cocked his head to one side. “Well?”

“Pa, can we eat early tonight? I sort of have plans.”

“With Lucille?” Pa questioned sternly.

“No sir!” I declared. “We’re both too young for courting! I know you or Mr. Bennet wouldn’t allow that to happen!”

“Then what sort of ‘plans’ do you have, son?”

“Well…” I sighed. “I thought I’d hang out with the boys tonight.”


“Who?” Pa asked with a raised eyebrow as he cocked his head to one side.

“Just Billy and…” I paused.

“…and?”

“Well…” I cleared my throat and coughed into my hand. “Freddie.”

“Who?”

“Freddie,” I said quietly.

“Ah…The Three Musketeers!” Pa declared.

“Who?”

Pa laughed. “Nevermind. So uh…what are you three planning on doing tonight?”

“Just…you know…hang out…”

“Ah yes!” Pa nodded his head. “Tomorrow’s Halloween, which makes tonightoff-limits for Mark McCain to leave the ranch!” Pa declared.

“Oh, but Pa! It’s Mischief Night!” I argued.

“Yes, I know!” Pa stated. He folded his arms. “And it’s called mischief night for a reason. Do you know what they called this night back in Oklahoma when I was a boy, son?” I shook my head. “It was called ‘Devil’s Night’ and believe you me, my brothers and I always had very sore backsides for days after that night every single year!”

“It’s just innocent fun!” I declared.

“Mm hm…” Pa folded his arms and led me to the porch where we sat down. “Son, do you remember last year?” I did, but I didn’t want to admit it. “Seems to me I got a late-night visitor – Micah Torrance came and with him he had Mark McCain by the arm and reported that you and some BOYS were caught throwing eggs at houses.”

I shrugged. “Innocent enough.”

Pa held up his hand. “And when you were twelve, you and some of your school friends went out on October 30…actually, I believe you SNUCK out…and soaped up all the windows in town. Seems to me I got an early morning visit from Micah.”

“Yes sir.” I cringed at the memory of punishment. First the yelling, then the punishment…then the next day we were put on window washing duty…It was a long time before I ever saw a fish and that was just the tip of the iceberg!” I nodded. “But we cleaned it up.”

Pa agreed. “But the stores didn’t open until their windows were all clean if I remember right. And if I remember right, we all lost work because we had to stand behind you with switches in our hands!”

“Oh….yes sir.” I lifted my head now. “But we’re more mature now, Pa! We ain’t gonna soap windows or throw eggs!”

“I know, son.” Pa shook his head. “Because you are going to be inside with me all night.” I opened my mouth to protest, but Pa held up a hand. “And that’s final!”

“Yes sir,” I sighed. Pa wouldn’t have approved with what we had planned anyhow.

“Now…about Lucille Bennet.” Pa put an arm around my shoulder. “Why are you and Freddie fighting over her?”

“Pa, she came up to me! She asked ME to come to her party!” I assured him. “Tomorrow night.”

Pa nodded. “Alright, son. You can go to her party. But…” Pa pointed a finger at me. “You may not be her escort or spend an exceedingly amount of time with her!”

“Oh, but Pa!”

“No, son. I don’t want any fights starting. And I don’t want…other things starting either.”

“Other things? What…other things?” I asked.

Pa looked up from taking his gloves off. He just smiled. “Just…mischievous ‘other’ things.”

“Pa, I’m almost 15 years old!” I argued.

“Yes. I am very aware of the fact. That fact is the reason I have laid down the law.” Pa pointed a finger at me. “And you WILL obey.”

I had my orders. So, that evening, I stayed inside. It was just getting dark outside when I heard the call. I rolled my eyes as Pa lifted an eyebrow. And they thought they’d fool my Pa with such a fake-sounding cow call! “Go tell them you can’t go, Mark.”

I hurried outside and walked up to Billy Davis. “I’m sorry.” I put my hands on my hips. “Pa said no. He said he’s tired of all the mischief played on mischief night. He forbade me to go.”

“Oh, but it’s all innocent fun!” Billy declared.

“Yeah. He brought up the eggs and soaping the windows.” I shook my head. “Pa said he doesn’t want a visit from Micah this year.”

“Oh, but it won’t be any fun without…” Suddenly, Freddie gasped. Apparently the mess with Lucille was on hold until after Halloween.
“Oh Mark! This may be the last year we even have time to think about Mischief Night! Come on, let’s make it good!”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do it.” I shook my head. “I’ve been on restrictions so much lately and I’m almost 15 years old! I want to stay in Pa’s good graces for the time being!”

“Mark!” I heard Pa call from the doorway. “Get back inside.” Pa folded his arms and looked at me. I turned back around to say something to the boys, but Pa spoke first. “And if you boys are planning to participate in Mischief Night, I suggest you think again. I don’t know what excuse you used with your folks, but I’m guessing it won’t be worth the punishment.”

“Oh, yes sir!” Freddie declared. “We were just telling Mark what a bad idea this night was! We decided we were getting too old for such things. Going home…” Freddie turned to Billie. “Aren’t we, Billy?”

“Yep, sure are!”

I walked towards Pa as they walked out of the yard. Pa shook his head. “How can he sit there and lie to me like that? If you ever do that, son, I’ll wash your mouth out with soap – no matter how old you are!” Pa declared as he watched them leave. Then we went back inside.

***

Pa gave me enough chores the next day to keep me busy enough that I didn’t think much on the fact that it was Halloween, nor did I think about the party that was coming up that evening. But as the afternoon wore on, I began to worry and fret about this party. I hadn’t even asked if there would be food. Pa assured me that eating before I went would NOT hurt my appetite any. “After all,” he said with a curt nod. “You are a growing boy who’s eating me out of house and home. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble at the party!”

So Pa and I rode into town together. Lucille lived just outside town, and though I felt I could get there and back on my own, for some reason Pa wanted to ride in with me. As we rode, Pa reminded me that I wasn’t to play escort to Lucille. I didn’t say anything at first, but he finally stopped the horse; and Blue Boy, in obedience to his faithful master, stopped beside Razor. “Did you hear me?”

“I heard you, but…” I shook my head. “I can’t say that I agree with you, Pa.”

“Granted,” Pa agreed with a short nod. “I didn’t ask you to agree with me, just as long as you understand my position.”

Freddie and Billy rode past. “Mark, ya coming?”

“You two go on! We’re talking.” I shook my head in despair at Pa’s words. Now everyone would know I was getting one last minute lecture from my father. But my father never did care who knew about his discipline methods with me. He felt some parents could take a lesson in it, I reckon. Pa turned back to me. “Mark, Lucille is fourteen years old. She’s too young to know what she wants, and as a man, it is your God-given duty to make sure you respect that because you, too, Mark are too young to know.”

I rolled my eyes. Pa narrowed his eyes at me. “I’m sorry, Pa but…” I sighed. “Alright. I’ll keep my distance. I’ll do my best to treat her with the respect she deserves.”

“Hello, Mr. McCain!” I groaned as Lorrie rode up beside us. “Mark, ya coming?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m coming.”

Now granted, I didn’t understand Pa’s rule about escorting and such since he had allowed me to escort Sam Buckhart’s daughter to a dance very recently; but somehow I had the feeling bringing that up would only get me a long-winded explanation and cause me to be late for the party. I also figured Pa had a perfectly good explanation for why that was okay, but this wasn’t; and I’ve a feeling I didn’t want to hear that explanation.

Pa waved to me and rode on into town. I swear, sometimes I felt like a six year old little boy, and tonight was one of them. I rode beside Lorrie, who naturally lit into me for rushing out of the schoolyard so quickly yesterday. “I’m sorry, but I had something come up suddenly!” I argued.

“Well…the next time you do that, I just may sock you good!” Lorrie declared. I rolled my eyes since the threat of being socked was the reason I had left the schoolyard in the first place.

“Women!” I mumbled under my breath.

“What?” Lorrie asked from beside me.

“Oh…um…I was just thinking about something I forgot to pray for last night.”

We pulled into the yard. We tied our horses to the fence by the barn and then made our way toward the Bennet house. Lucille came running from the house and stopped short when she saw Lorrie beside me. She slowly walked up to me. “What’s she doing here?”

I turned and looked at Lorrie. “You mean she wasn’t invited?”

Lucille gave a short laugh. “Why, of course she was invited, Mark. Only…” She looked around. Then she looked at Lorrie. “Uh…could you excuse us, Lorrie? Mark and I have a few things to discuss…in private.”

“Well!” Lorrie declared as she turned and walked inside.

“Mark, I thought we had an understanding,” Lucille started.

I could already feel my hands clamming up as she batted her eyes at me. Oh dear…how do I get myself out of this one? The last thing I needed was to cause these two to fight over me; but I didn’t want to tell Lucille that my father was still trying to run my life in the female department either! “Well…I thought that maybe…” My heart beat as Lucille smiled at me and looked into my eyes. I looked at her mouth again as her lips pressed firmly together. My knees suddenly felt weak and I was trying to remember what we were talking about. “I…I…I…”

“You what, Mark?” Lucille asked in that honey –laced voice of hers.

“Well, I was just thinking that…” I licked my lips and closed my eyes. “Well, I mean…”

Suddenly, Mr. Bennet was there. I’m not sure his presence made me feel any better. “Hello kids.” He folded his arms and looked at me. “Lucille, there are plenty of other schoolmates here. Why don’t you go on into the house now.”

I watched Lucille’s face turn red as she turned and rushed back into the house. Mr. Bennet turned to me and crossed his arms. “My daughter is only 14 years old, young man. Now..” He held up a hand to me. “I know what it’s like to be 14, Mark. I also saw the way you were looking at her. I think it’s best if you keep your distance from my daughter.”

“Yes sir.” I nodded as he turned and walked away. I felt so humiliated! I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole!

When I got inside, I folded my arms and could still feel the heat on my face as I walked up to Freddie and Billy. I sighed heavily as we waited for Mrs. Bennet to cut the cake. Freddie nudged me. “What’s wrong, Mark?” he whispered. I just shook my head. I glanced over toward Lucille and saw the sadness in her eyes as well. I guess she felt humiliated for me.

I passed on the cake. Freddie stared at me through his wide, surprised eyes. “Mark, that was CHOCOLATE cake!” he declared. “Now I know something’s wrong. What is it?”

I turned and looked toward Mr. Bennet. He was laughing with the others as if nothing was wrong. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing,” I grumbled as I left the house and walked outside.

Soon, everyone came out, announcing we would go bobbing for apples. Again, I didn’t want to participate. I watched as Freddie and Billy participated in the game and seemed to enjoy themselves. Again, I turned and looked toward Lucille. She met my eyes then quickly turned away. I could tell she was still embarrassed and ashamed at the way her father had spoken to.

Barn swinging was next. I must admit that I did enjoy doing that, but again I noticed Mr. Bennet keeping a tight rein on Lucille as she played. He kept her clear of me and made sure she was in his sights all night. I felt so terrible – like I was a poisonous scorpion about to bite her. I felt like he was protecting her from me – me…who had been a friend of hers the last five years…and I was suddenly an enemy.

We had just arrived at the bonfire just outside the yard when Freddie and Billy walked up to me. Freddie stood on one side, and Billy on the other. They folded their arms and looked at me. “Okay Mark, what gives?” Freddie demanded to know.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about!” I declared.

“You certainly look like you’re at a funeral – not a party. Mark, you love doing all this stuff. Why are you so glum?” Freddie asked.

“Oh, what do you care,” I asked as I kicked at some dirt on the ground.

“I’m your best friend. I DO care!” Freddie declared as he put a hand on my shoulder. “Now, why aren’t you having fun?”

I sighed. “Well…to be perfectly honest with you, Freddie…I’d be having a lot more fun if I was 12 years old again!”

“Huh?”

“Women!” I rolled my eyes. “And fathers!”

“Your father, Mark?” Billy asked sympathetically.

“For one,” I answered. “And HER Pa!” I moved away from the others. Billy and Freddie followed me. “Lucille and I were just talking – that’s ALL…I mean…just TALKING, and he came up and suggested she go inside! Before she closed the door, he yelled at me and told me he didn’t like the way I was looking at her… He told me to stay away from her. Even my own father…he acted like I was coming here to kidnap her or something…Lucille and I have been friends for years…I just don’t understand…”

Suddenly, I heard giggling. I turned in time to see Lucille standing a short distance away. She flung her hair over her shoulder and flashed me a big smile. I watched as her father walked up and gentlly guided her in the other direction. “Look at that! Just LOOK at it! It’s like I’m a deadly rattler about to strike!”

Freddie was really quiet as he watched the interaction. I could tell he was upset with me, but he held himself in check…for now. “Billy, I think we need to take Mark with us.”

“Yeah!” Billy said. “We’ll take your mind off all this girl stuff…Who needs them anyhow?”

Freddie grabbed my arm and led me toward the horses. “We’re taking you away from all of this! It’s time you had some ‘guy time!’”

“Yeah, Mark!” Billy mounted his horse. “We didn’t do no mischief last night. We wanted to wait until you could do it with us!”

“Mischief?” I shook my hands. “No! Pa told me I couldn’t! He’ll skin me alive if I do!”

Suddenly, we heard girls giggling. I cringed. “You really want to stay here? Or do you want to be a boy just one more time?”

Billy opened his saddle bag and pulled something out. “Here!”

“What’s this?” I asked as I turned what looked to be a mask over in my hand.

“You’ll need it when we go out for more mischief!”

“Freddie, Mischief Night is traditionally held the night BEFORE Halloween! You two are going to get in a lot of trouble!” I declared.

“You are going with us, Mark McCain!” Billy declared.

I shook my head and held up my hands. “Oh no! There is no WAY you are going to talk me into this! Pa’s already made it very, very clear I’m not to do it!”

They both begged and pleaded for me to join them tonight. They just kept on and on until I finally gave in. Now, you may be surprised I would do such a thing, but with my recent “coming of age” experience, I reckon I just wanted to feel like a mischievous boy again and do something that made me forget all about my women trouble. The more I listened to them tell me what fun they had, the more I wanted to join in, and is would definitely make me forget about women!

As we rode away from the house, we decided who’s ranch to go to first. “Hey, how about Oat Jackford’s!” Freddie declared.

I gasped. “We’d be shot where we sit!” I declared. “If you want to go to Jackford’s, you’ll have to do it alone!”

“Hey, how about Abe Merar’s?” Billy declared.

“Yeah!” I shouted. “Then we can do the Toomey’s!”

“Huh?” Freddie stopped.

“You think we’d get into trouble with Jackford’s…imagine the trouble at Toomey’s ranch!” I laughed. “Especially if Mr. Toomey found out Freddie was involved!”

You see, our plan was to go around to neighboring ranches and scare the cattle. We figured it was innocent enough and nobody would mind too much. We went to several ranches and chased the cattle. Some ranchers understood while others weren’t so understanding. One rancher even fired a couple shots up in the air after we chased his cattle.

“Let’s go to the Russell Ranch!” Billy suddenly declared. And off we went!

While we were riding we got to talking about horses and fishing and ALL the trouble the girls at school caused us. We laughed at how they acted when they gathered together under the big tree out in front of the school

When we got to Mr. Russell’s ranch, we had fun whooping and hollering after his cattle. After we upset the cattle and sent them off in opposite directions, Mr. Russell hurried outside, shotgun in hand. Then suddenly he laughed. “Well now, if you ghosts would like to step down and rest a spell, the misses has got a fresh batch of doughnuts in the house. I know you must get awful hungry on Halloween night!”

I took off my mask, disappointed. These masks didn’t fool anyone! I figured we had done enough cow chasing. I could settle for some doughnuts. But Billy didn’t want to stop. “Mr. Merar’s got stock over in the South Pasture! Let’s go over there and have some fun!”

So off we went. We hadn’t gotten very far when I realized my mask was missing. “I dropped it!” I groaned. “Back there!”

“So, it’s dark, Mark! Nobody will know!” Freddie declared. “Just do Mr. Merar’s ranch then we’ll stop!”

We rode to the Merar ranch and spooked the cattle. Suddenly, a rider – one of Mr. Merar’s ranch hands suddenly hurried up to us. “Hey there! What’s going on!”

“Let’s get out of here!”

“Come back here! You little varmints!” the man called.

We all raced off. My heart was beating a mile a minute as I heard shots sounding behind us. When we were back on the road, we stopped and looked behind us. “That was awful close, Mark!” Freddie declared.

“Yeah!” I sighed as my heart stopped pounding. “Awful close!” We heard a wolf howling in the distance. “I better get to Micah’s! Pa will skin me if I’m late!”

We all said our goodbyes and headed out. Pa and Micah were playing checkers – at least they were. I saw the checker board out. But when I walked in, Pa slammed down his cup of coffee and walked toward me at a fast pace. I couldn’t help but take a step backward. “I was about to send out a posse after you.”

“Why?” I asked as I took another step backwards.

“It’s 9:30, son.” He sounded even angrier now. “Where have you been?”

I shrugged casually. “Out with the boys, Pa.”

“What do you mean out with the boys?” Pa asked angrily.

“Pa, we left the party early. I wasn’t having a good time so we just left. We just talked and lost track of time. I’m…sorry.”

“You left without saying goodbye?” Pa asked. I nodded. “Do you know Mr. Benton told me he didn’t know where you were? Do you know how that made me feel? I was worried, Mark! Do you think I like worrying? Well, do you?”

“N-no sir.” I took another step back. Pa’s jaw was clinched which was never a good sign.

“Who were you with, Mark?” Pa demanded to know.

I turned away from him. “Billy and Freddie.”

“Mark.” I turned and looked at him. “What was so important that kept you talking so late?”

I started to turn from him before I answered. “Uh uh.”

“We talked about guy stuff, Pa. You know…horses an’ an’ cows an’ an’ girls…stuff like that…”

“So all this time you were talking to the boys?” I nodded. “Mark…” I heard Pa sigh as I turned and looked out the window.

“You were just talking?” Pa asked again.

I felt guilty as I nodded my head. I stayed silent. I knew I could not out-right lie to him. “We were just…talking…at the party, Pa. Then we decided to uh…go for a ride.”

“A ride? Where?” Pa demanded.

“Nowhere in particular, Pa. We just rode around.”

“In the dark?” I turned around as Pa closed his eyes. “Why was the party not worth staying at, son? I thought you wanted to go to this party.”

“I did, Pa. But now I…” I sighed.
“Oh…I think I’ll go on home.” I turned to leave, but Pa stopped me when he called my name. “Yes, Pa?”

I turned back around and saw Pa’s expression. “I don’t understand adults at all!” I declared, suddenly feeling angry. “You put too many restraints on us. Just recently, the preacher talked about letting your kids learn from their mistakes. Well…how can we if you don’t let us make our own decisions?”

“What happened, Mark?”

“Nothing I wish to discuss, publicly, Pa.” I started to turn. “Can I go home?”

Pa looked at Micah who nodded. “Let’s go, son.”

I was quiet as we rode down the road. The night bugs kept us company in the silence of the night. I didn’t say a word all the way, and neither did Pa. After the horses were bedded down and we were inside, I started for my room to go to bed. “Mark.” Pa stopped me.

“Yes Pa?” I asked with my hand on the doorknob.

“Come to the table and sit down, son.”

I slowly turned. “Pa, I don’t…” I started.

“It wasn’t a suggestion. It was an order.”

I sat down. Pa folded his hands on the table and lifted an eyebrow. “Well?”

I drummed my fingers on the table and stayed silent. I heard Pa sigh then looked up at him. “Pa, I don’t want to discuss this with you!” I declared. “You don’t discuss you and Lou’s relationship with me so…”

“Hold on a minute, son.” Pa held up a hand. “I’m not a fourteen year old boy suddenly wanting to become a man.” I sighed and looked away. “Mark.” I turned back to look at him. “I’ve been married and have had a lot of practice with those of the female persuasion. You haven’t.” I nodded. “Do we need to have the ‘your growing up but aren’t quite there yet’ talk again?”

“No sir.”

“Are you sure?” I said nothing. Pa stood up and went to get his Bible. He sat down at the table and opened it. I watched in silence as he read a passage from the Bible to himself. Then he closed it. Silently, he poured himself a cup of coffee then sat back down at the table. “Mark, these are confusing times for kids your age. You aren’t a boy, yet you aren’t quite a man yet. You have noticed the good things about young women – her beauty and such. Men are naturally curious about women and women about men. God made this attraction beautiful and free, yet when you are first starting out…well…Son, I’m afraid that curiosity may make you young folks want to act and you don’t know all the consequences that wait for you.”

“Pa, this has nothing to do with that and I am only…” I stopped as Pa cleared his throat.

“What happened at the party tonight, son?” Pa asked softly.

“Do I have to tell you?” Pa nodded, but stayed silent. I hung my head. “Mr. Bennet came up to us. We were just talking out front when he came out and told Lucille she had other schoolmates inside. Then he…he…” I shook my head.

“He what, Mark?”

I closed my eyes and sighed. “He told me he was 14 once and remembered what it was like. And then he said that…that…” I shook my head. “He said that he saw how I looked at her. And told me to keep my distance.”

Pa closed his eyes slowly as if with regret. “I was afraid of this, Mark.” I started to stand up and protest anything he was thinking. Pa held up a hand, stopping me dead in my tracks. “Sit down, son.” I slowly sat down, but was ready to protest.

Pa stood up and walked to the door. He opened it up and walked out onto the porch. I saw his shoulders slump and he lowered his head as if praying. Then he turned and leaned against the door jam. “Son, how does it make you feel to be close to Lucille?”

I suddenly felt uncomfortable. I fidgeted in my chair but remained seated. “Pa, I can’t talk about this. I…”

“How, Mark?”

“Well…I guess I feel different. I mean, the way she looks at me and throws her hair back. She makes my heart beat really fast and sends shivers all over my body. I can’t think straight or put a sentence together when she asks me a question…I feel…” My face reddened.

Pa nodded. “I see.” He slowly walked over to me and pulled out a chair. He sat down right in front of me. “Mark, don’t be ashamed of the things you’re feeling. These are natural. Yet it’s these same feelings that attract us to each other. He expects us to learn to control them. Until we’re ready…we must fight those feelings and learn to control them. It’s hard and it’s a learning process.”

“Why does he make it that way?” I asked.

“Son…” Pa ran a hand through his hair. “This is as uncomfortable for me as it is for you. My father didn’t sit down and talk to me like this and I had to learn things the hard way. I don’t want you to do that. That’s why I’m talking about this now.” Pa paused and looked down at his hands. Again, I saw him close his eyes and pray silently. He looked back up at me. “There’s no easy way to say this, son…If you didn’t have the feelings you are feeling when you look at Lucille…If I never had those feelings when I looked at your mother…There would be no Mark. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

I saw the pleading in Pa’s eyes. I sat silently and thought on what he was saying. Then I nodded. “Yes Pa, I do.”

“Until you learn to control those feelings, I’m afraid you are like a boy who…well, who has a rifle…he carries it around with him all the time just in case, but nobody showed him how to use it. Son, this isn’t only a difficult time for you…it’s difficult for the woman also. She goes through so many changes. She too gets these feelings that she doesn’t understand. She develops and matures, and boys notice that. I’m sure you have.”

“I understand, Pa. I wouldn’t do anything to be disrespectful or hurt her, Pa.”

“Tell me something, Mark. Did you at any point today want to kiss her?” I gasped at the bold question Pa asked. I could hardly believe he asked it. I felt ashamed as I lowered my head. I nodded. “You’re not in trouble, son. But I think it’s best you steer clear of her or any other girl you get these feelings for, when you are alone. At your age…it’s best you are with a trusted adult. We can watch over you as you both mature.”

“Pa, I wouldn’t do anything! I…” I started again.

“It’s easy to say, son.” Pa sighed. “But from experience, I can tell you that sometimes that promise you sincerely make to yourself and to others can be easily broken. One thing leads to another really fast. I’ve seen it happen.” Pa put a hand to the back of my neck and looked into my eyes. “Mr. Bennet wasn’t being rude, son. He was protecting his daughter. He was talking to you because you were older and hopefully would understand better. Remember, he was once your age. Maybe, he remembered the talk a girl’s father had with him when he first became interested in a girl. He wasn’t trying to hurt you. He was just trying to protect his daughter – like I would if I had been blessed with a daughter. Do you understand?”

“Sort of.” But I really wasn’t sure I did. Pa lifted his eyebrows. “Can I…ask you a question?”

“Of course, son.”

“Do you…still get these feelings?”

“Of course, son. And yes, I struggle to control them.”

Suddenly, I felt I needed to ask this question. “Have you…kissed Lou?” I asked quietly.

Pa studied me before answering. There he could see that something in me yearned to know the answer. He merely nodded. I figured that was the answer. “I’m a consenting adult, son. I’ve learned from years of practice how to control my feelings. When I feel myself getting out of control, I walk away like any decent man would do. I feel obligated to protect Lou, son. And if I were to allow myself to get out of control with her, I’d be hurting Lou.” Pa sighed. “Son, my relationship with Lou is private. And man to man, I ask you to let us keep it private – not only for my sake, but for Lou’s…out of respect.”

I nodded in understanding but still... “Thanks for explaining… things, Pa. ”

“There’s something more, Mark.” I heard Pa say.

“More?” I couldn’t believe everything Pa had already said. And now he’s telling me there’s something more?

“I think you understand what I’m trying to explain but there’s something more, going on up here.” Pa stated as he tapped my forehead.

“Why is it that both you and Mr. Bennet think that I was going to be disrespectful of Lucille? We were just talking…enjoying each other’s company…and…” I stopped.

“And?” Pa prodded me.

“Well, she was the one who invited me and if you didn’t want me to be with a girl, why didn’t you just say no when I asked if I could go to her party? Instead, you told me I could not escort her. Or why didn’t her Pa tell her she couldn’t invite me? Instead, he told ME to stay away from her. Like it’s all MY fault! I’m not the one batting my eyelashes and twirling my hair around my finger….smiling and talking in that really pretty voice… But no, you both just assumed…”

“No, son…you weren’t the one doing those things. I’m not saying you were leading her on or that this was your fault…but the man has a responsibility – it’s culture, Mark…The man is taught to respect the woman. The things Lucille’s doing…they are done because she has feeling she doesn’t understand herself. I’m sure her father is talking to her about the way she behaved – because those were inappropriate, and they may very well get her into trouble someday.”

I lowered my head. Pa put his hand under my chin and lifted it. He smiled into my eyes. “You’re doing fine, son. The pressure you have is great and you’ll learn to adjust.”

“Yes sir.”

“Son, you need to know and understand, now. Learn restraint and respect. You just need to take it slow. Don’t get in a hurry. Son, I wish my father had done the same with me that I’m doing with you right now. When you become a man, the relationship you have with the opposite sex will be private as well. But I hope when that time comes, son, that you will have learned the same values I have learned – to respect women and keep the sacred things sacred…like a woman’s virginity. No man has a right to take that from her, it’s a gift she gives her husband on their wedding night. I learned about sex from my brothers. They weren’t the best source, but they’re all I had. My folks didn’t feel comfortable talking about it and I think that was a mistake. I don’t want what happened to me to happen to you.”

“Sex?” It stung my tongue to even say that word. I suddenly felt my face growing hot. I swallowed hard. “This talk is all about sex?!” I sat there in shock that Pa thought… I don’t know what Pa thought! “Pa, she just invited me to her Halloween party. There were plenty of other kids around. And I don’t like her THAT much! All I was thinking about was what it would be like to kiss her!”
I wasn’t so sure about the look on Pa’s face.

I was suddenly very ready for this conversation to end! “Pa?” Pa lifted his eyebrows again. “Can I go to bed now?”

As I lay down and pulled my covers up over my shoulders, I thought on what Pa had said. Now, I don’t know if Lucille would be the one, but some day… I wondered what it would be like to get married and have someone I could talk to and… Honestly, I couldn’t believe I was thinking what I was thinking. I wondered what it would be like, when I finally did take me a wife. What would it be like?

***

“May the Peace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ go with you this week. Amen.”

I turned to see Freddie rushing up to me. “Mark, we have to talk…now!”

“Now boys!” Pa warned as Billy and Freddie stood excitedly in front of me. “May I remind you that this is still the house of God?”

“Yes sir!” Freddie declared. “Mark, I need to talk to you! We have something really important to talk about!”

“You mean, you didn’t get it all talked out last night?” Pa asked as he took Lou’s arm.

“Uh…uh…” Freddie turned and looked at me. “No sir! Come on, Mark!”

“Okay.” I slowly walked out of the church.

“Down at the club house, Mark! It’ll be more private there!” Freddie declared.

“The…” I rolled my eyes and planted my feet firmly on the ground. “Now, see here Freddie…We aren’t boys anymore – we haven’t gone to the clubhouse in…”

“Well, we’re certainly going there today!” Freddie declared.

I sighed and untied my tie. I threw it in my saddle bag and started to take off my jacket. “Mark.” There was that warning voice I knew so well! Pa walked up to me. He reached in my saddle bag and took my tie back out. “You have Sunday dinner waiting at the hotel, son.”

“The boys have something they want to talk to me about.”

“You can’t have your tie on when they show it to you?” Pa wrapped the tie around my collar and started tying it again. I groaned. Pa knew how much I hated wearing these things!

“I don’t know how long I’ll be…” I started.

Lou walked up to us then. “Dinner will be on the table in thirty minutes, Mark McCain…and don’t ye be late!”

“Well son…” Pa said as he took Lou by the arm and winked at me. “You have your orders.”

“Yes sir…I mean…Yes, Miss Lou!” I turned and followed the boys to the clubhouse.


When we got to the clubhouse, I folded my arms and stared at Freddie. “Well?”

”Well…” Freddie looked around as if there were ears listening. “You notice all the ranchers that were missing from church this morning?”

“You have a guilty conscience?” I asked.

“Of course not!” Freddie declared.

“The ranchers don’t come to church a lot, Freddie. They are busy rounding up their herds.”

“You reckon we got away with it this time?” Billy asked then. “I still remember last year!”

“Last year?” Freddie looked from Billy to me. “What happened last year?”

I rolled my eyes. “Some of us boys threw eggs at the stores.”

“Oh! Let’s do that tonight!”

“No! Absolutely not!” I declared. “Mischief Night is over…finished…done!” I wiped my hands through the air. “By the way…where is Micah?”

“Oh, Pa said he had something come up early this morning. He rode out South of town.”

“So you’ll come with us tonight, Mark? Won’t ya?” Freddie begged.

“Freddie, I got bawled out by Pa last night. He was hopping mad when he found out I left the party. There is no power on earth that will make me go with you boys tonight! I turned to walk out. Quickly, I turned back. “My advise if or you to not do anything either!”

***

If you think the afternoon was easy, it wasn’t. You see, Pa is a stickler for homework, so he made me stay at home all afternoon and do homework. I had recently started studying geometry, and was getting really frustrated. At one point, I threw down my pencil and let out a loud scream. Pa looked up from the newspaper he was reading and…you guessed it…raised his eyebrow at me. “I’m sorry, but this stupid geometry is going to be the death of me!” I declared.

“Oh now son…I’m sure it’s not that bad!”

“Well then YOU explain it to me!” I declared.

Pa sighed as he hid his face behind the newspaper. “I’m afraid I can’t do that son. Your old man’s not as smart as Mr. Griswald wants you to be.” I heard regret in Pa’s voice.

“I…I’m sorry, Pa. I didn’t mean…” I started.

Pa folded his paper and stood up. He walked over to me and put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Look son…My Pa didn’t even go to school. I learned more than he learned, and that’s what he wanted. In the same way, I’ve sent you to school and worked with you on your studies for year in hopes that you would be able to study advanced subjects someday. Well, I’m getting that wish now. I’m not sorry you’ll be smarter than me.”

“Aww, Pa…I’m NOT going to be smarter than you! Why, you have more wisdom than I could ever have! You got wisdom that can’t be found out of a book in school like uh…” I raised an eyebrow at Pa…”Female stuff.”

Pa laughed. “Now don’t be fooled, son! I could marry more women than Solomon and NEVER know anything about women!”

“Aw…” I held up a finger. “But Solomon was the wisest man in the Old Testament!”

Pa laughed. “God gave him wisdom, son, but not in the female department. If he had…Solomon wouldn’t have married all those women!” My face turned a little red as Pa mentioned Solomon’s wives and I remembered back on our conversation after the party.

***

I didn’t sleep very well that night. I reckon I was still feeling guilty about what I had done. I hoped that eventually I’d forget about it – and I prayed that no cattle were lost in the meantime. The next morning, as I gathered my books up for school, there was a knock at the door. Pa opened it. “Micah.”

I gasped.

“Lucas…can I talk to you outside?”

Pa turned and looked at me. “Son, start clearing the table.” I nodded as I watched the door close. I remembered back to the last two years I’d participated in Mischief Night. I can still remember the yelling and punishment. I can remember Micah knocking on the door to our house then asking to talk to Pa outside. My heart began beating faster as I wondered.

I had just put the dishes in the sink when the door opened. “Mark, outside now!” Pa ordered.

That’s when I knew I was a dead man…

I stuck my hands in my pockets and slowly walked out onto the porch. Micah was sitting in a chair. Pa stood there with his hands on his hips. The look on his face told me all I needed to know. “Mark, I want nothing but straight answers from you, boy!” Pa yelled.

“Ye…yes sir?”

Micah told me there were three boys spooking cattle Saturday night. He claims that you were one of them. Now…I KNOW my son knows better, so all I need you to do is tell Micah you didn’t do it.”

I turned from Pa. Pa walked up behind me. His voice was angry as he said sternly behind me, “I specifically remember telling MY son that he could not participate in Mischief Night Friday. I remember telling MY son that he couldn’t even go out that night to make sure it didn’t happen. Did you go behind my back and do it anyway, Mark?” I stayed silent. “One of the men identified you. He wasn’t able to name the others, but he named you.”

I closed my eyes as I realized I had been caught. “Alright, Mark, were you in on it?”

“Guess I was,” I answered shortly. "Um...I guess I better be gettin' to school.”

"Twenty minutes early?" Pa asked angrily. “Now, if you’ll just turn around and face me.” I obeyed. “You took an active part?”

"Yes sir...I guess I did!" I answered.

Pa didn’t like that answer. "Will you stop guessing and answer me yes or no like a man?"

"Yes sir I was there!"

"Halloween or not...you should know better! You've been brought up on a ranch. You've probably run a hundred pounds of beef off some people's herds, not to mention the fact that you've cost them a whole work day rounding up strays!" Pa was pretty riled! He turned his head toward Micah. “Hold me responsible, Micah.” Then he turned back and gave me a hard stare. “It won’t happen again!”

"Fair enough," Micah answered. "And you know Mark...those ranchers would have been in their rights if they used their guns to protect their cattle."

“I’m sorry, Pa.” I really was sorry, but from the look on Pa’s face I wasn’t nearly as sorry as I was going to be.

“You aren’t nearly as sorry as you’re going to be!” Pa declared. “You lied to me Saturday night, Mark!”

“No! I didn’t!.” I argued. I saw the hurt in Pa’s eyes.

“We’ll discuss that later, Mark. You DID lie. I think you know that.”

I shook my head. “Pa, I never-“

“Get inside, Mark. I’ll be in to talk to you in a minute.”

“Pa, I have to get to school!” I protested.

Pa’s eyes widened even more. “You have a lesson to learn right here at home first, Mark!” Pa’s voice was angry. I merely nodded. I knew I was in for a lot of trouble.

But as I started to go inside, a wagon pulled up. Micah introduced the man as Mr. Bullock. Pa shook his hand. Micah announced that Mr. Bullock had just bought the Decovan place. Hearing that name made my heart sink a bit as I remembered a dark time in my life when Mr. Toomey delivered the news on the death of our good, long-time friend, Sam Decovan.

Pa was excited. He knew the land would be good for running cattle. Mr. Bullock laughed. “Oh, I’m afraid I’m just a city man! No intention, at all, of competing with established ranchers!”

“What is your line of work, Mr. Bullock?” Pa asked.

“Well, while I lived in London, besides being a teacher I ran a bookstore. However, out here I’ll have to rely on a green thumb, putting in strawberries and asparagus and eventually…a dairy herd! It will be rough going. As the Greek Euclid said.....'There is no royal road.'”

That got my attention! I stepped forward into the conversation. “Euclid! Isn’t he the one that invented Geometry?” I asked.

Pa introduced me then. Mr. Bullock shook my head. His son’s name was Percy. That got my attention too! “You…You said his name is…Percy?” I asked in surprise.

“That’s right,” Mr. Bullock answered. “And today is going to be his first experience in an American school.” After a few more words, they went on their way.

I stared after them as they left. I couldn’t quite believe that boy! "Percy!” I joked. “And those pants! Why, he'll be lynched by recess!” I could just see it now! I cleared my throat. “Oh…well, I guess I should get going…”

I turned toward Blue Boy. “Yes inside…now!” Pa ordered.

I nodded and walked back inside. Pa said goodbye to Micah. I stood at the table, my back turned toward the door. Soon, I heard the door close. I slowly turned to see Pa leaning up against it. His arms were crossed and he was glaring at me. “Sit down,” Pa ordered gruffly.

I sat down at the table and lowered my eyes to the floor. Pa sat down across from me. “Mark, what am I going to do with you?”

“I’m sorry, Pa.”

“You said that already!” Pa answered. He drummed his fingers on the table. “I thought I told you that you could NOT participate in Mischief Night.” I didn’t answer. “Isn’t that what I said?” I nodded. “Then why did you do it Mark?”

I lifted my head and looked into Pa’s eyes. “I didn’t participate in Mischief Night, Pa. I was right her at the ranch with you Friday.”

The look on Pa’s face told me that I knew exactly what he was talking about and expected me to accept the consequences.

“I told Freddie and Billy what you said! Freddie pointed out something though…”

Pa sighed. “I know I’m going to regret asking…but what did Freddie point out?”

“Well, we’re getting older, Pa! This may very well be the last year we are able to participate in Mischief Night. Next year I’ll be almost 16 – practically a man…”

“I certainly hope so.” Pa sighed as he stood up. He went to look out the window. I watched him put his hands on his hips. “Mark, I honestly don’t even know where to begin. You’ve done…so many things wrong!”

“Pa, can I say something?” I asked quietly.

Pa turned from the window. Anger flashed in his eyes but he kept it under control. “Go ahead, Mark.”

“Okay…” I sighed. “Pa, I told you about Lucille and her father and how I was treated…”

“And I explained all that to you last night,” Pa reminded me.

“Yes sir. But…I was upset because…Maybe Mr. Bennet was in the right to keep me away from Lucille, though I still don’t completely understand why; but it just didn’t seem fair. He didn’t tell any of the other boys to stay away from her. ! ” Pa opened his mouth to say something. “Please…let me finish! Freddie’s my best friend, Pa. He was just…trying to cheer me up. He could tell I wasn’t having a good time and…”

“So you trespassed on other people’s land? You chased cows across their range and scattered the herds? You come into town and LIED to me about where you were and what you were doing???” Pa’s voice was getting louder and louder as he glared at me.

“I didn’t exactly lie,” I said softly.

“You DID lie!” Pa boomed. “And you stand there and give me some dumb excuse about having a rough time at a party so you go out with ‘the boys’ so you can feel better? And you do it by committing a CRIME???”

“It was just harmless fun.”

“Harmless fun, huh?” Pa’s voice was angry again. “We’ll get back to THAT in a minute!” Pa cleared his throat. “I think I can count on one hand, son, the times that you flat-out lied to me. I can stand you disobeying me – though you will be punished for it. I can stand you coming home past your curfew – that’s typical boy stuff.” Pa took a step forward. His face was only mere inches from mine. “But what I can’t stand is for my son to lie to me!”

“I…didn’t lie to you, Pa. I…told you the truth…”

“Oh Mark…” Pa’s voice was quiet – too quiet. “You can’t believe that. I asked you last night where you were. I don’t remember once you telling me you were chasing cattle, participating in Mischief Night, or trespassing on other people’s property. Not once did those answers come up.”

“I told you I was hanging out with Freddie and Billy, Pa. I was. I told you we were talking. We were. I told you…”

Pa suddenly turned and pointed a finger at me. “I KNOW what you told me! I was there, remember? But you know…and I know that you were lying to me. Don’t you???”

“Yes sir. I’m sorry.” I did know it. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself.

Pa nodded. “As for the ‘harmless fun,’ Micah is giving me the name of every rancher that was affected by your mischief last night. I will also be talking to Billy and Freddie’s fathers and…”

“Pa! NO!” I suddenly shouted.

Pa narrowed his eyes. “WHAT?”

“Please, Pa…They don’t need to know!”

“Yes son, they do…because you and Freddie and Billy are being held responsible for the part you played in chasing the cattle last night. You will pay restitution for your crimes by going to each rancher and doing chores for them. Your punishment will take place on Saturdays.”

“What if the parents don’t go along with it, Pa?”

“They will, son. Not only do I know this because I know the fathers, but I know this because Micah has made this a stipulation of your not being arrested!”

“Arrested???” I rolled my eyes. “For what? Chasing cattle?”

“For trespassing on private property for starters. The ranchers could still press charges for what you did, Mark!” Pa suddenly reached out and grabbed my ear. He gave it an extra hard pull as he brought my face very close to his. In a very low, controlled voice, he asked, “Do you realize you could have been KILLED??? Do you realize those men would have been in their rights to shoot you because you appeared to be rustling and you were on their land???” Pa’s voice grew loud. “Do you realize that instead of you flinching at the pain of my pulling your ear and making you pay for your crime, you could be lying dead in a grave right now??? DO YOU, MARK????”

Pa let go of my ear and I sat down. “As for the lying…” He walked into the kitchen and opened the cupboard. Then he turned and held up a bar of soap. “Perhaps this will teach you the consequences when lies come from your mouth, son. I believe we’ll just have to clean it before sending you to school.”

I closed my eyes and slowly walked into the kitchen. Pa didn’t only wipe it in my mouth, he made me take a bite from it and hold it in my mouth for a long time. Now, if you’ve never tasted lye soap, you have NO clue just how bad it tastes…and the lasting taste that stays in your mouth for DAYS is a constant reminder of what you did to get that in the first place! I was of the opinion that lye soap in the mouth should be reserved for children, but I wasn’t in any position to argue the point with Pa.

After the “dirty” deed was done, Pa sat down and wrote a note to Mr. Griswald. I had something to ask him, but hesitated, knowing I had no right to ask him. I fumbled with my books. “Pa…I am really sorry I lied to you.”

“I told you that you would be.” Pa nodded.

“Uh…there’s something I need to ask you but…I’m afraid to.”

“Afraid?” Pa asked as he laid a hand on my shoulder. “Why?”

“Because I’m in so much trouble. I’m sure I’m on restrictions and all but…” I looked up at Pa. “Well, you see…I’ve always struggled in math and now I’m taking Geometry, and well…I…”

“Spit it out, Mark.”

I nodded, took a deep breath, and spoke. “Some of the kids are getting together after school to study and I really need the practice. I was going to ask you earlier but then Micah showed up and…”

“Yes.”

“…I didn’t think that…” I stopped. “What?”

“Yes, son. You can study after school. But I want to know exactly where you are and how long you will be there.”

“It’ll be dark before I get home, Pa.”

“Alright. But you be home by nine o’clock, son. And you can go…after your chores are done.”

I nodded. “Fair enough.” I turned to leave. Suddenly I turned back and took the note from Pa. “Oh…uh…I was thinking that since I’m going to be out so late and all that…well…it might be a good idea to carry my rifle for protections and-“

“No, Mark.”

“Well…I mean…”

“No.” Pa pointed toward the door. “You better get going.”

I rode quickly into town. It was recess when I got there and I gave Mr. Griswald the note. After reading it he nodded. “I’m glad to see you will be staying full days with us for awhile, Mark. Welcome back!”

“Huh?” Mr. Griswald stared at me. “I mean…What do you mean, sir?”

Mr. Griswald handed me the note.

Mr. Griswald,
Due to the immature behavior of my son, I am requesting he is put on full days at school for the foreseeable future. Mark participated in some mischievous behavior Saturday night and now must earn back the privilege of being treated like a man. Please feel free to punish him for being late today. He had a lesson to lean at home.
Thank you,

Lucas McCain

My eyes grew big as I read the words the note contained. I slowly lifted my head and looked up at Mr. Griswald. “I believe the chalkboards need cleaned after school, Mark.”

“Yes sir.”
”Mark, how do you get yourself in these messes?” Mr. Griswald asked then.

“Sir…” I sighed. “I have a pretty good idea how, but why I continue to allow it to happen is a whole other question!”

I hurried over to Billy and Freddie. They smiled at me, but when they saw my lack of one, they lost theirs. “What’s wrong?”

“We’re doomed!” I announced. “Freddie, I wish you would stop getting me into these messes!”

Freddie stood up and put his hands on his hips. “What Mess did I get you into now?”

“Micah came to visit Pa this morning.”

Billy slowly stood up. “NO!”

“Micah knows it was us?” Freddie asked then.

I shook my head. “He was able to identify one of us…But they figured out pretty fast who the other two were.”

“Spill it!” Billy demanded.

I stuffed my hands in my pocket. “I was the one they identified.

“And how did they figure out it was us?” Freddie demanded to know.

“Well…” I sighed. “I told them!”

“You…” Suddenly, Mr. Griswald rang the bell, indicating the end of recess. I was glad too because…if I hadn’t missed my guess, I’d say I was in a lot of hot water right now!

I could feel the eyes of my two so-called best friends boring into me as Mr. Griswald tried to conduct class that morning. Freddie jabbed me in the ribs a couple times as he sat right beside me. I tried to ignore him.

Then, as if my life wasn’t rough enough, I had another matter to contend with at lunch. I had just sat down on a bench to eat my lunch when Lucille came over and sat down beside me. I had a big peace of sandwich in my mouth and choked. “Oh Mark, you okay?” She started patting my back. I continued coughing.

Suddenly, I felt a hard smack in the middle of my back. The bite I had swallowed came flying from my mouth. “All better, Mark?” Lorrie asked angrily.

I gasped as I realized Lorrie had been the one to hit me on the back. I narrowed my eyes at her. “What’d you hit me for???” I demanded to know.

“I was saving your life!” Lorrie declared. “You were about to choke to death, Mark!”

“Yeah? Well I don’t need any help from you!” I declared as I stood up and put my hands on my hips. “I can choke to death all on my own!”

“Well, THAT’S gratitude!” Lorrie declared. I shook my head as she walked away.

“Mark?”

“WHAT?” I spun around to face Lucille. She had a pout on her face. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Mark…I wanted to apologize to you for my father’s actions the other night. His behavior was un-“

“…Understandable,” I finished for her. Lucille opened her mouth to protest. “Look Lucille…I like you. Really I do. In fact, as Pa pointed out the other day, I may like you too much.”

“Well…” Lucille sighed. “Pa lectured me for a long time after the party the other night. He explained some things I did wrong and…Oh Mark, I’m so sorry! Really…those things weren’t on purpose!”

I nodded. Her lips went in that pout again. I stared at them for a moment. Oh boy! I quickly turned from her. “Uh…Uh…Pa told me I can’t be around you unless a trusted adult is with us. He lectured me for a long time the other night too.”

“I wish my father hadn’t talked to you the way he did, Mark.”

I turned back toward Lucille. Her big brown eyes just shone bright. I took deep breaths. “He just did it be…be…because…”

“Mark!” I heard Percy calling my name.

“Listen, Lucille,” I started as I held a finger up to tell Percy to wait a minute. “I…want to see you…Really I do. Maybe…Maybe you can come to dinner with us next Sunday.” There went that pout again. I must admit it was really cute – of course everything Lucille did seemed to be really cute! “Th…th…that way we’d be sup…sup…super-vised…”

I quickly turned and walked away. Boy, there was just something about that girl! I walked up to Percy. “Bet you’ve never seen a real English house, huh?” He put his hands on his hips.

I rolled my eyes. “As a matter of fact, I HAVE seen a real English house!” I declared. “But if you want me to see yours I’ll have to ask my Pa. I sort of got into some trouble this morning.”

“Trouble McCain? At your age?” Percy laughed. “Boys my age don’t get in trouble…I guess they don’t breed American boys like English ones, aye McCain?”

I rolled my eyes. “Sounds awfully dull if you ask me!”

“You just come to my house after school, McCain!”

“It’s Mark and I have to stay after school and clean the chalkboards. I’ll come over after asking my Pa.”

“Very well, McCain.”

I turned to go back in. Freddie stood there. We were face-to-face. He had an ugly look on his face. His arms were crossed in front of him and his legs were parted. “Alright, Mark…” Freddie started. “No more running!”

I groaned as I held up my hands. “Look, I’ve had myself quite a weekend and I don’t care to continue it today!”

“First you steal my girl…then you snitch on me!” Freddie narrowed his eyes. “I’m gonna punch you!”

I started backing up as I held up my hands. “Now Freddie Toomey, I don’t want to fight you! Like I said, I’ve had quite a week and…”

“Are you gonna fight?”

“Freddie Toomey!” Freddie turned to see his Pa hurrying across the school yard. Mr. Toomey took his hat off and hit it on his thigh as he walked up to Freddie. He grabbed Freddie by the arm. “You have a school session waiting for you at home!”

“This is all your fault, Mark McCain!” Freddie shouted.

Percy hurried up to me. “You should have taken him!” Percy declared. “I thought brave men live in the West!”

“I’m brave – not stupid, Percy…There’s a difference.”

“Oh Mark!” Lucille hurried up to me and smiled. “I saw what you did. Thank you for not fighting him for me. That would have been embarrassing!”

“Lucille, I didn’t…” I started. I took my own hat off and slapped my thigh really hard. “Oh, what’s the use…You’re welcome, Lucille. It was…my pleasure.”

I was rewarded with a beautiful smile. She turned and walked away. I smiled as I watched her walk away. She sure was some lady! “She your girl?” Percy asked.

“Oh, I hope so!” I declared. Suddenly, I gasped. “I mean…of course not…I’m only 14!” Then I turned and quickly ran inside where I was sure I would be safe!

******

“Well…” Pa folded his arms and smiled as he came inside. “How’s the board coming, son?”

“Great…Just…Great…” I muttered through clinched teeth. “Pa, would this be a bad time to complain about my sentence?”

“What do you think?”

I sighed. “I reckon anytime’s a bad time when I’m under a dictator!” Pa cleared his throat. “I mean…Percy wants me to come over to his house. Can I?”

Pa nodded. “I think that would be good, son. You can make him feel welcome that way. You just be home in time to do your chores and eat supper.” Pa turned to leave. “Oh…and uh…almost 15 or not, my boy’s very close to taking a big bite of lye soap.”

“Yes sir.” I sighed. I could still taste the lye soap from this morning. I didn’t much hanker taking another so soon! “Then I suppose I shouldn’t say anything sarcastic about the nice little note you sent to school with me this morning?”

“I wouldn’t advise it.” I turned to see Pa grinning. I sighed and shook my head as Pa left.

“Yeah, that’s kinda what I figured…”

After I finished the board, I mounted Blue Boy and started toward the Percy Ranch. I hadn’t been to that ranch since we helped Mrs. Decovan pack up her stuff and move away. The mere thought of going there sort of made me nervous. It was so sad to go there after what had recently happened.

But my mind was suddenly drawn away from that as I came up on something more important I was going to have to deal with. As I was riding up, I saw Percy being approached but two of the less popular boys in school – Melvin and Jake. I stopped Blue Boy, but stayed in the saddle and watched as Percy walked up to the two boys and introduced himself.

But they weren’t impressed. They started making fun of his name, as I figured they would do. Still though, my suspicions didn’t make it right – and it was my duty as a citizen to make sure Percy got the respect he deserved!

“My name is not funny! The Percy family defended northern England against the Scots for six centuries! Their battle cry was A Percy! A Percy!"

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at that. Boy, he sure did know how to make enemies!

Melvin laughed. “Huh…’A Percy, A Percy,’ he mocked. When Melvin pushed Percy, he fell to the ground.

"I shall slap you for that you fat bully!" Percy declared.
Oh boy, now he’s really done it…I better intervene before the ‘Percy’ gets himself killed!

As I was walking over to the group, Melvin declared, “Well, Happy Fourth of July!” Then he butted his head into Percy and knocked him to the ground. Percy stood up to fight, but that’s where I came in.

“Don’t pick on him, Melvin!” I ordered.

Melvin suddenly turned around. “What are you gonna do about it?”

I took off my hat and threw it to the ground. “Well, I’ll show ya!” I declared.

Now, it’s true I have been avoiding fights all weekend and today; but that was with Freddie. Anytime Freddie and I fought, Pa did some yelling because he always thought it was for no good reason. Freddie and I had already spent a couple days in jail for fighting, and I didn’t really care to do that again! But this was different. I believe…no, I hoped Pa would approve!

As we put our fists up and circled for the fight, Percy yelled, “I am grateful, my friend; but you don’t take over a chap’s fight. It’s not done!”

I gave Percy a shove back. “Now, listen, Melvin…You start to kick or gouge, and so help me I’ll get you…” I started yelling. We started fighting. I wasn’t doing very well..Melvin was a pretty chubby boy, but he was tough! I couldn’t get a handle on him at all!

Suddenly, Percy said, “Step on his toe!” Hey, that wasn’t a very bad idea! I did just that…okay, more like…stomp on his toe…Then I punched him. We both fell to the ground.

As I lay on the ground, Percy came to stand right behind me. “That’s the ticket, McCain…Science!” Percy declared.

I rolled my eyes from the ground. "Will you please stop calling me McCain? My name’s Mark!” I pleaded.

“That is very friendly of you!” Percy declared. “First names! On such short acquaintance, I mean to say.” I just rolled my eyes again. Percy bent over. “Here, let me help you up.”

I took his hand and stood up. He started dusting me off. I back away. “I can…do it myself!”

“Why, thank you, McCain!” Percy said. “That was a…good fight…very entertaining…”

“Mark!” I declared again. “And I didn’t do it for your entertainment! I did it for…” I rolled my eyes. Oh, why DID I do it? I should have let that Melvin teach him a lesson…or vice versa!

I looked around. “You know…You should…get a horse to ride to school – as far away as you live.”

“A horse? You mean me…ride on a saddle?” Percy asked. “Never!”

“Percy, you…” I closed my eyes and bit my tongue. Well…I better stop before I get in trouble. I mounted Blue Boy. “Come on, get up here!”

“What do you mean get up there?” Percy asked. “Up where?”

“Percy, here in two seconds, I’m going to dig my heels into this horse’s flank and leave you in the dust. So either get up here or…”

“Alright, McCain…Don’t bend it into another shape!” Percy put a foot in the stirrup.

“It’s Mark!” I declared again. “And it’s ‘Don’t get all bent out of shape!’”

I didn’t realize I had slacked my reins on Blue Boy. Blue Boy could tell this boy had no idea what he was doing, so he picked that minute to have a little fun with his new rider. He suddenly took a quick step forward. Percy lost his balance and landed hard on the ground. He cried out in surprise and looked up at me from the ground. I know I shouldn’t have in his moment of misery, but I suddenly burst out laughing. “Now…this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!” I declared.

Percy stood up. “Just…keep that horse still!” He demanded.

I held tight to the reins. “Thanks for the entertainment, boy…but uh…I reckon you should mind your manners when you’re around new people…Pa would never let Razor get away with anything like that so I can’t let you do that either!”

I suddenly groaned as Percy grabbed a hold of my middle and said, “Okay, let’s go, McCain!”

“Percy…” I sighed. “Now, this horse has a tendency to misstep – especially when he thinks he can get some unsuspecting stranger off his back. Now…I have the power to control that and I will as long as you promise to call me by my FIRST name…Mark! Is that so hard to remember?”

“Whatever you say, Master Mark…” Percy held out his hand. “Lead on.”

“Yeah.”

We went toward the Bullock Ranch. I kept Blue Boy in line the rest of the way. When we got there, Mr. Bullock was outside. The very first thing he noticed was me…”Hello Mark…Percy…” He looked right at me. “What happened to you?”

Now, Pa always did say first impressions were important, and I wanted to make sure to make a GOOD first impression on Mr. Bullock. I had to think fast! “Uh….I…I got…throwed!” It wasn’t a lie – I HAD gotten thrown!

Now, if I thought I could fool Mr. Bullock with such a story, I was very badly mistaken! “By each other, presumably!”

Percy quickly answered for me. “No! Father, Mark is such a game chicken!”

I glared at Percy. “Chicken?!”

Mr. Bullock laughed. “Translated, that’s game cock – a real fighting bird!” That made me feel a little better, though I’m not sure how that would make Pa feel! “You see Mark, it’s not political fears that divide nations, sometimes it’s a matter of grammar!” Suddenly, Mr. Bullock started coughing uncontrollably. He went into the house to get some brandy for his asthma.

I followed Mr. Bullock and Percy inside. I’m sure I looked a mess, so when I saw the mirror on the other side of the room, I went to see just how bad it was. Boy! I sure was a mess! I wanted to clean myself up a little…but as I looked into the mirror, my eye caught something. My eyes grew wide as I slowly turned and stared. I walked over to them, not quite believing my eyes. “Boy! I…I bet this is the most books in one place, anywhere on the earth!” I declared.

Mr. Bullock told me there were only six hundred volumes. That was all he could bring with him. But when he had his shop he had never stocked less then two thousand titles. I told him that we must seem pretty ignorant to him. He gave a short laugh. “Your father struck me as being very far from ignorant!”

I couldn’t help but to be proud of my Pa! “Well, he doesn’t know geometry, but…he sure knows his Bible!”

“A supreme book! Translated in the greatest period of English literature. In a sense, all the rest of the books are merely…footnotes.”

Then Mr. Bullock told me that I could borrow some of the books if I wanted. I was thrilled. He told me to help myself, but I had no idea where to even start! Percy chose his favorite for me - "The Tale of Two Cities."

“Father, would you read some to us?” Percy asked.

I was excited when Mr. Bullock agreed to read some. We sat down as Mr. Bullock started reading. “’It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the Epoch of belief, it was the Epoch of incredulity. It was the spring of light, it was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us. We were all going direct to heaven and we were all going direct to…the other way.”

He read out of the book for quite awhile. I just sat there mesmerized…I felt as if I was going back in time to when that book was written. Suddenly, though, the reading stopped. I blinked and looked up at him. “Why’d you stop?”

We heard a knock on the door. “That’s why.” Mr. Bullock stood and walked over to the door. “Mr. Bullock.” I heard Pa’s voice. There was a hint of annoyance in it.

My eyes suddenly grew big as I jumped out of the chair. “My chores!” I hurried over to the door. “Pa, I..I’m sorry!”

Pa put his hands on his hips and glared at me. “Let’s go!”

“Mr. McCain, it’s my fault. We got so interested in reading we lost track of time.”

“Supper’s been on the table for a half hour, Mark!” Pa declared as we walked down the steps. He untied my horse and handed me the rein. “I told you to be home in time to do your chores and homework!”

“I…I’m awful sorry, Pa! I…I…” I mounted Blue Boy as we started for home. I knew there were times I should stay quiet, and this was one of those times. When we got home, Pa took Blue Boy’s reins from me. “I’ll unsaddle him, Mark. You get in the house and eat!”

“Yes sir.” I was done eating and working on clearing the table when Pa came in. He put his rifle in the holder as he grabbed a cigar from his case by the door. He lit it as he stood inside the open door. I turned and watched him take a long puff off of it. He looked at his cigar as he spoke. “For now on, you come straight home after school.”

“Pa, I…”

“You will do your chores and homework…and eat supper…before anything else. Is that clear?”

“It’ll be dark by then, Pa,” I declared.

“You’re 14, son. You can go riding in the dark. You just have to be home by 9:30.

“Still, that doesn’t give me much time to…”

“I said is that clear?”

I turned from him. There was something in his voice I didn’t like. “Yes sir.”

“Didn’t you have a geometry test today, son?”

I closed my eyes. Mr. Griswald had given us our tests back just before dismissing for the day. I hadn’t even looked at mine, but merely stuffed it inside my book and went to do my chore. It was now that I remembered it. I turned and looked at my math book sitting on the table. “Yes sir.”

“And?”

“He gave it back to us, but I didn’t look at it.” Pa raised his eyebrows as he walked over to the table. At 14, you’d think I would be able to go to school in peace without Pa breathing down my neck about it. Well, math has always been a sour subject between us; and it hasn’t gotten any better. Pa still had to keep close tabs on my math. I watched as he opened my math book and removed the folded piece of paper. He looked up at me. Our eyes met and stayed locked as he slowly opened the paper.

My heart stopped as he lowered his eyes to the paper. I watched his mouth slowly open as he sighed. He stared at the paper. “Did you…study for this test?”

“As best as I could, Pa,” I answered. “If you remember, I was home all Sunday afternoon and evening.” Pa nodded. “How bad is it?”

Pa took another long puff off his cigar. “D+.”

I closed my eyes. “I’m sorry. I’ll…try to do better.”

I watched as Pa walked out onto the porch. I came to stand in the doorway. “Pa, I know you’d help me if you could.”

“Remember the day, son, when we sat out here on this porch together working on your fractions?”

“Do I?” I groaned. “I didn’t think I was ever going to figure that out! You practically threatened to tie me up if I didn’t sit here and study with you.”

Pa sat down on the porch and leaned his head against the post. “Watching you growing up can be so…painful…” Pa took another puff off his cigar. “I wish…” He closed his eyes, never completing his thought. After a few moments of silence, he lifted his head. “Go do your homework so you can get to bed, Mark.”

I obeyed him and left him to his thoughts.

***

“Billy, I swear I was at home last night! Pa gave me an awful licking and restricted me to chores and my room! I was in my room all evening and will be for the next several nights!”

“Well, if it wasn’t you, then WHO was it?” Billy asked.

“What’s going on?” I asked as I walked up to Billy and Freddie.

“Mark, my Pa’s awful upset! He said there were two riders with masks last night that spooked his cows! When he went out this morning, two of his best cows were missing! He’s going to tell Micah this morning.”

I turned and narrowed my eyes at Freddie. “I didn’t, Mark! Honest!” Freddie declared. “I ain’t a rustler!”

“Hey, Mark!” I turned to see Percy walking up. I waved to Mr. Bullock as he drove away. “I sure hope you didn’t get into too much trouble last night! Father felt awful.”

“He just did some yelling…Told me I couldn’t go out until my chores and homework were done anymore.” I sighed. “And he was awful sore about my geometry test. D+!”

“Father knows a lot about geometry. You should ask him to help you!” Percy declared proudly.

“Oh no, I couldn’t!”

“Fine.” Percy gave me a playful punch on the arm. “I’ll ask him for you!”

The bell rang as we walked inside.

***

I rolled my eyes as I rode toward home. Ahead of me was Percy. I stopped Blue Boy beside him. “You want a ride?” I asked.

“Oh, sure, chap!” He started to put his foot in the stirrup, but stopped. “Will he…”

I turned and grabbed the reins tight. “You behave yourself now, Blue Boy! I won’t give you any sugar tonight if you don’t!” I turned and grabbed Percy’s elbow as he climbed on behind me. Then we started down the road.

“Father is getting me a horse today.”

“He is?”

“He is!” Percy declared loudly.

“To ride?”

“Yes, to ride! What do you cowboys do with them if not to ride?”

“Well…Some are used for plowing, others for pulling a team, others for cutting cattle or…”

“Nevermind!” Percy groaned. “My father is getting me a horse. Will you teach me to ride?”

“Ride?”

“Do you speak English?” Percy asked sarcastically. “Or are you just…” Percy shouted into my ear…”HARD OF HEARING?”

Blue Boy reared, throwing Percy on the ground. I stopped Blue Boy and jumped out of the saddle. I burst out laughing as Percy slowly got to his feet. Percy gave me a dirty look. I put a hand to my mouth to stifle my laughter – especially after seeing the look of annoyance on Percy’s face. “Well…” I folded my arms across my middle. “If you want to learn how to ride a horse…here’s a piece of advice…”DO NOT EVER MAKE SUDDEN LOUD NOISES!!!”

“I figured that out…now!” Percy declared as I again laughed.

We rode quickly to the Bullock’s Ranch. I promised Percy I would try to be back in time to show him how to ride. First, I had to do some chumming up with Pa! When I got home, I did my homework. Then I tended to my chores. We still had a whole hour before supper. “Uh Pa…” Pa turned from the sink where he was peeling vegetables. “Uh…alright if I go out until supper?”

“Out?” Pa turned from the sink. “Out where?”

“Well…” I slowly walked up to Pa. “The Bullock’s are not used to the West, Pa. Percy wants me to teach him to ride so I thought I’d spend an hour before supper.” I lifted my eyebrows. “Please?”

“What about your homework?” Pa asked as he went back to peeling.

“Done.”

“What about your chores?”

“Done.”

“The wood pile’s getting low.”

“Well, I did some chopping this afternoon. I filled up the wood box. AND I even cleaned the chicken coop.” Pa grew quiet. “Well?”

“Alright!”

“Thanks, Pa!” I bolted outside, jumped on Blue Boy, and rode quickly to the neighboring ranch. I found Percy outside trying to mount his horse. The horse knew Percy didn’t know anything about the creatures and was having a lot of fun with him. I shook my head and chuckled as the horse stood still until Percy stuck his foot on the stirrup. The horse began walking around and Percy started yelling.

I hurried forward and jumped off of Blue boy. “Percy!” I climbed between the rails and walked up to the horse. “What do you know about these horses?”

“Well…” Percy sighed. “I know they have four feet, a tail, and are stubborn!”

“Oh, they’re like a six year old kid, Percy. They like to have fun with you is all…You can take the most well-behaved horse and an ignorant rider – the horse knows you are ignorant and won’t allow you to get close to them.”

“You called me ignorant?” Percy crossed his arms. “That’s means stupid!”

“No!” I sighed. “English language in one country is different in another…You see, the word ‘ignorant’ here has different meanings. I mean you are ‘unlearned.’

“Oh…then teach me!” Percy begged.

“Okay, but a few pointers from the ground first. You never come up behind a horse and try to mount him. You walk around and let him see you from the front. You see, the way a horse’s eyes are on their head, they see around themselves and behind themselves quite well. And a lot of predators sneak up from behind for the attack. If you walk from behind him, he’ll spook and you may get kicked.…Second, when mounting, always mount from the right side, meaning the horse’s left side…And third…You must have confidence!”

“Can I get on?” Percy asked.

“Not today. Tomorrow I’ll spend some time helping you get on. We’ll take a short ride out onto the range. Today, I want you to learn how to saddle him and check his hooves. He can get a rock really fast, so it’s a good idea to check him over before starting out for the day.” For the remainder of the hour, we talked on duties of a horse BEFORE ever mounting him.

When I got home, I washed up and got seated just as Pa was putting supper on the table. I smiled joyfully at him. After supper, I cleaned up the kitchen, then turned to look at Pa as he read his Bible in his chair. “Alright if I go now?”

“Don’t you want to play checkers or something?” Pa asked as he looked up at me.

“No sir. I want to go to Mr. Bullock. He’s gonna read some more tonight!”

“What about your math, son?”

I showed him the book in my hand. “Percy said he knows a lot about geometry! I’m going to ask him to help me.” I saw a look cross Pa’s face. “Almost everything I know is from you, Pa…” I stated as I bent down beside him.

Pa smiled. “Go on. But be home by 9:30!”

“Yes sir! Sure will!” I raced out of the hours and went to the Bullock ranch again.

When I got there, they had finished up supper themselves. I walked into the parlor and sat down. Mr. Bullock lit his pipe. “So Mark…you were brought up on a ranch I take it?”

“Yes sir!” I nodded.

“Mm hm…” Mr. Bullock silently puffed on his pipe. “And uh…you know a lot about cattle?”

“Oh, yes sir. I can buy and sell about as well as the next rancher!” That got us into a discussion about buying cattle. I told Mr. Bullock about our experience with various diseases and other disasters on the ranch. He just laughed and declared he would never understand why we put up with such things.

“Father…” Percy suddenly interrupted our talk. “Mark is stupid in…”

“Ignorant,” I said.

“Huh?”

“The proper term is ignorant…not stupid.”

“Oh yes, of course!” Percy cleared his throat. “Mark is uh…ignorant…on matters of math. He’s failing geometry and wondered if you could help him out.”

That started quite a lengthy discussion on geometry. I showed Mr. Bullock my homework, and we went problem by problem as we discussed why my answer wasn’t correct – and what the correct answer to the problem would be. I laughed out loud when the last problem was completed. Boy oh boy, I could hardly wait to show my Pa!

After listening to “A Tale of Two Cities” some more, Mr. Bullock closed the book and announced it was time for me to get on my way.

I got home at 9:30 on the dot. Pa was already getting ready for bed. 9:30 was quite early for him, but he said he was tired.

The next afternoon, I hurried over to the Bullock Ranch after getting my chores and homework done. I helped Percy mount his horse and sit on him. Then I showed him how to hold the rein properly. As we left the corral, I told Percy to pull the rein in the direction he wanted the horse to go. Again, the horse wanted to be the boss. “Don’t let him boss you! You let him get in that habit and you’ll have real problems! You’ve got to show him who’s boss!”

As we walked out onto the range, Percy’s blackie again started acting up. I reached over and took the reins and grabbed them tight. “Now, you straighten up!” I ordered as the horse neighed. I gave Percy back the reins. Sternly, I said, “Don’t let him boss. You make him go right if you want to go right…It’ll take some time, but he’ll figure out who’s boss!”

Percy was just getting the hang of it when I announced I had to get home. Again, Pa was just sitting the food on the table when I walked inside. “How’s the riding lessons going, son?” Pa asked.

“Oh, great!” I declared. “I’ll make him into a cowboy yet!”

“I think it’s a fine thing…you helping Percy like that, son.” Pa said the blessing then we started eating.

Again, we engaged in small talk. When I finished eating, I gathered the dished up to wash while Pa went to smoke his cigar. I was finishing up as he grabbed one of his books from the shelf and started to sit down. I didn’t want a lot of questions, so I just grabbed my hat and turned. “Goodnight, Pa.”

Pa asked me if I was going over to Mr. Bullock’s again. “Yep. Well, I finished all my chores. I didn’t think you would mind if I went over for a little while.”

“This will be three nights in a row!” I declared. “Just what is it you do over there that makes you so anxious to leave your own home?”

“Well, Mr. Bullock asked me to teach Percy how to be a good rider. So part of the evening, we spend a little time on the range.” Pa asked him what then. “We come back and gab a little. Mr. Bullock asks about buying and selling cattle. Then we have something to eat then I come home.”

Pa mentioned that I should be home studying my math, but I informed him I was going to take my math book with me. “You know, Mr. Bullock knows more about geometry than anyone I’ve ever met!” I saw the look on Pa’s face after I said that. I felt bad. “Oh. Of course, you should hear some of the fool questions he’s asked me about handling and feeding cattle. There sure is an awful lot that you know that he…he doesn’t.”

Pa didn’t respond directly to my statement. “Alright,” he gave in. “Be home by 9:30.”
I must admit that I DID feel a little guilty as I left. I was getting older and finding that Pa and I had differences. I was discovering a love for books. The little bit that Mr. Bullock had read to us the last two nights found me hungry for more. My father enjoyed a good book also…I’m not saying we were different in that way…I guess it was the fact that I love to learn about people and their adventures while my father is happy just working on his ranch and protecting those people he loves. I had a sense of adventure in me, another thing Pa said I inherited from my mother.
I was half way there when I suddenly saw my father’s face and that look he had flashed me when I told him Mr. Bullock knew a lot about geometry. It was that look…that one brief look…that almost tore me in two now that I was away and thinking about it. I hadn’t known exactly what that look was…I’d never seen it on his face before – but now that I think about it…

I gasped! Could my Pa be…JEALOUS? Jealous of what? Of Mr. Bullock? Of the time I’m spending with Mr. Bullock?

I could have allowed those thoughts to drive me back home where my Pa wanted me to be, but I dug my heels into Blue Boy’s flank and rode even faster toward the Bullock Ranch. Maybe if I had listened to my heart instead of my head…maybe I would have avoided the battle that was about to come.

***

“Pa?” I called the next afternoon when I got home. I knew he said something about going into town today, so he must still be there. I put my books down and went out to start my chores. I hoped Pa would get back before I had to leave for the Bullock’s. Percy really wanted another riding lesson, but if Pa wasn’t back soon I’d have to start supper.

When my homework was done, I sighed and got the ingredients out to cook stew. I know Pa didn’t much care for my cooking, and I ALWAYS fixed stew when I did the cooking because that was really the only thing I could fix half-way decent.

I remember one time when we were eating. Pa took a bit swallow of his coffee, coughed, then said, “Mark, there are a lot of things you inherited from your mother. You have her gentleness, her soft, lighter skin, and her looks. You have a heart for people in animals like she does and you have a nature to trust people even when you shouldn’t…But one thing you didn’t inherit from her was her talent of cooking! So every night before I go to bed, I fold my hands in prayer and pray God will send you a wife that is a very good cook. If He doesn’t, you’ll be in a heap of discomfort…”

I chuckled as I remembered back on that. Even now, my cooking abilities hadn’t calmed a bit. Pa, on the other hand…He may not be as good a cook as Miss Milly or Miss Lou, but he still had quite a knack for cooking. Why, he could take a set of food items – even in the hard times when things were really bad – and make something delicious from them. From what I’ve heard, he’s always been good at cooking. Of course, my Pa is good at almost everything he does! That’s why I’m glad of all the Pa’s in the world, he was mine!

When the stew was done, Pa still wasn’t back yet. I figured something must have come up in town or something. I ate in silence. It felt kind of lonesome here without Pa…Then I scribbled out a note letting Pa know I was going over to the Bullock’s – I’d be home by 9:30. I dimmed the lantern, but didn’t turn it out so Pa would have some light when he came home. Then I sat the note on the table where he would see it.

I walked to the door and grabbed my hat. Then I turned and grabbed my math book. My eyes settled on the curtain that covered the shelf in the room. I knew Pa had a bottle of whiskey in there. I remembered from the night before that Mr. Bullock was almost out of his whiskey and knew he’d need some more. That bottle had been sitting in there for two years…Pa would never miss it – I’ve only seen him take a sip of it once or twice for a toothache or something. He was more of a beer every now and then guy – he didn’t care for the hard stuff much, and didn’t understand why people took to it like they did.

I knew I should wait and ask Pa’s permission before taking it. I turned and looked toward the door, then I looked back at the bottle. I looked toward the door again, then I turned back to the bottle. I picked it up and took the lid from it. Then I left.

Again, I could have avoided so much trouble if I had followed my instincts and asked Pa before taking it…

***
After bedding down Blue Boy, I walked toward the house. Lights were still on in the front room. I hopped onto the porch and cheerfully opened the door. Pa was sitting at the table reading his Bible. “You still up?” I asked, surprised.

I could tell Pa was trying to control his temper. “Shut the door and come in!”

I obeyed and walked toward the table. “Something wrong?”

“I don’t know, Mark,” he answered. “The whiskey bottle’s gone.”

“I know that,” I stated with a nod.

“Did you take it?” Pa asked too quickly.

“Sure I took it! But it’s been there for two years. I didn’t think you’d care!”

“You didn’t think I’d care?” Pa replied. “What did you do with it?”

“I gave it to Mr…” Suddenly I stopped and stared hard at Pa. I could hardly believe what he was thinking! Did he actually think I… “Well I didn’t drink it!” I replied, defensively. Pa just stared hard at me. “You don’t believe me?” I asked.

“Right now I don’t know what to believe, Mark,” Pa answered angrily. “But for the present, you’ll stay home nights. Understand?” I didn’t understand – not at all, but I could tell now wasn’t a time to argue with him. So I agreed with Pa’s orders. “Go to bed!”

I didn’t say a word as I walked into the bedroom, but I allowed the door to slam hard, letting Pa know of my protest to what he thought I had done.


I laid there in bed for a long time before I heard the door open. I knew I should have told Pa that I realized I had been wrong in taking the bottle without asking first, but the way he asked that question, it sounded as if he was accusing me of drinking it. I closed my eyes, pretending I was asleep. Soon, Pa blew out the light and went to bed. Sleep came very, very slowly that night, but it finally came.

When I woke up the next morning, I found Pa in the kitchen fixing breakfast. “Morning,” I said as I started for the door.

“Mark.” Pa’s voice didn’t sound as angry as it had the night before, but still, my hand froze on the door. I couldn’t turn and look at him. “Telling you, you can’t go out at night, its for your protection, son. Sometimes a father has to…well…I have to tell you to do things that I know you won’t like or understand why..”

I closed my eyes as I heard the anguish in his voice. Slowly, I turned to face Pa. It still pained me to think my father thought that I would actually drink that stuff, but to restrict me for something I didn’t do?

******

I tried hard to focus at school, thankful for the distraction from the events at home last night. Mr. Griswald gave us more lessons in geometry. I actually smiled as I thought on how Mr. Bullock had helped me and I honestly thought I was beginning to understand how to work the problems.

**********

When I arrived home from school I immediately worked on my homework in the hayloft and then started on my chores. Sort of trying to delay the next confrontation I knew would happen once I got inside. Guess this is part of growing up that Pa talked to me about. Me trying out my wings, but him trying to keep me in the nest. I didn’t realize it was going to be so difficult to grow up.

What little conversation we had over supper was strained. I was still upset with Pa and trying to hurt him, like he had hurt me. He tried to make more conversation by offering me more milk.

“Please,” I answered.

As Pa poured my milk, he looked at me and said, “You said you gave the liquor to someone, Mark. It was Mr. Bullock, wasn’t it?”

I told him, yes.

“I thought so,” was all Pa said, but then I heard a deep sigh, maybe a sigh of remorse.

“Pa, he only swallows a little nip once in a while to stop his cough,” I explained.

Then Pa started questioning me again about Mr. Bullock, but this time, his voice didn’t sound accusatorial, but curious. “You told me that Mr. Bullock was asking you about stock values. Mark, how much do you know about the cattle-rustling that’s been going on?”

“Only what I heard,” I answered. Honestly, I hadn’t heard a whole lot. I’d spent so much of the past week at the Bullock’s. The only thing I knew was what I heard Billy and Freddie talking about at school.

I looked to Pa and for some reason, the math in my head kicked into high speed, you know two plus two... “Pa, you don’t think that Mr. Bullock had anything to do with this! Why, he’d have no more to do with it then…then you would!”

He didn’t answer my question, instead, he made anannouncement. “When you finish the dishes, Mark, you can go out if you want to.”

“You mean I don’t have to stay home?” I was excited. I couldn’t wait to show Mr. Bullock my homework to find out if I had done my figuring properly.

"Not if you don't want to...I have some business to take care of in town," Pa told me.

I hurriedly started eating faster. It’s a wonder I didn’t choke on my food, like Pa’s always warning me.

“Mark? You don’t have to go, if you don’t’ want to.”

“I know, but I want to!” I declared as I stuffed the last of my food in my mouth.

Eagerly, I saddled Blue Boy and rode over to the Bullock’s. It was too dark upon my arrival to work with Percy on his equitation, that’s what Percy said they called it over in England. The proper way to ‘sit on a horse’.

Mr. Bullock warmly invited me into their house and inquired how my geometry studies were coming. I pulled my homework assignment from my pocket and showed it to him. “By Job, I think you’ve got it!” I heard him declare. Then he said there would be no more studying tonight, that tonight he would continue to read “A Tale of Two Cities” and a reward for my dedication to my education.

Percy and I sat beside each other on the couch, mesmerized as Mr. Bullock read from the book. The different tones he would use to emphasize what he was reading. It truly brought the book to life in my imagination.

You can only imagine my surprise when the front door suddenly opened. Mr. Bullock was surprised as well. He quickly rose from his seat. “Mr. McCain!”

I just stared at Pa’s face. His face held anger and he looked as if he were about to explode. I knew it was REALLY bad when he pointed a finger straight at me and said, “You! Wait outside for me, Mark!”

Without a word, I stood and hurried out the door. From years of experience, I knew there were times to argue and times to walk away – this was definitely a walking away time and I walked straight out the door. Percy followed closely behind. When the door closed, we stood there. I could hear Pa shouting, but I couldn’t make out exactly what was being said.

Percy grabbed my arm and dragged me away from the door. “Mark, what’s going on? What did my Pa do wrong? He was just reading a classic!”

“I don’t know…” I put my hands on my hips and stared at the closed door. “Pa’s been upset about something all week. I can see it, but I’m not sure what…”

Suddenly, we heard talking. We turned and saw two men over by the barn. “Who are they?” I whispered as we stayed out of sight.

Percy gasped. “Come on!” He busted back into the house. “Pa, those men that you rented our barn to…they’re taking their cattle out!”

Pa turned and looked at us. I watched silently as he slowly turned and looked at Mr. Bullock. “Rented the barn…” he started. I heard something in his voice. Was it regret? Was it…understanding? Was it confusion? He suddenly grew quiet. Micah told Pa they needed to go.

I was confused – unsure of what was going on. But then suddenly, as we stood there and watched Pa and Micah leave, I remembered back to last night. Mr. Bullock had told me what he had done. In all the excitement, I forgot about my apprehension. I too suddenly felt guilty. Perhaps this whole thing could have been avoided. Perhaps…

Shots were fired. I tried to stop Mr. Bullock from going out there, but he insisted on it. One final shot sounded. I knew it was over. We ran out there to find the two men dead and Mr. Bullock okay. “

Micah told Mr. Bullock that was a brave thing he did. "Muy hombre," Pa said.

“Muy hombre?” Percy repeated. “What does that mean?”

“It’s Spanish,” I answered. “It says your Pa is a lot of man.” Percy said that his name was Percy too.

I smiled as we started inside. Pa put his arm around me as we started in. But when we got to the gate, Pa stopped. I turned and looked at his face. I saw regret. I could tell he needed to talk. “You go on in. Pa and I will join you soon,” I announced.

I could tell something was tearing at Pa by the way he held and looked at his rifle. Maybe his eyes held regret. We sat down on the ground as I looked at Pa. “Pa?” I questioned.

Pa smiled out loud. He turned and put a hand on my cheek. “When you were three years old, you told me you wanted to be just like me when you grew up. Oh…I know every boy tells his Pa that, and it made me so proud. At the time there didn’t seem to be anything…” Pa paused as he sighed. “…anything that could stand in your way of fulfilling that promise.” Pa gave me a small smile. “The truth is, son…I can’t always protect you. I’m losing that power…the control…to do so and…”

“No, Pa!” I saw the strain on his face and I suddenly wanted to help him see that I needed him so badly. “You aren’t losing anything! I’m still your boy – always will be.”

Pa smiled at me again. He slowly shook his head. “No, son…You are a man. Your learning to make your own decisions and you…you make your own mistakes. Your learning to live your own life and you learn things I couldn’t even begin to understand.”

“I still need you, Pa!” I couldn’t stand to see such a struggle in his eyes.

“I hope so, because I need you too, Mark.” Pa looked out over the land. “I’m scared, Mark…There’s no other way to put it. I’m so…afraid for the things that are waiting for you.” Pa leaned towards me and looked into my eyes. “You remember our talk a while back about Lucille and stuff?” I nodded. “I told you I’ve made mistakes, son. I told you that there are things I wish I could go back and change. Well..I guess in a way that’s the reason what happened has happened. After what you did on Halloween, I suppose I lost some of my trust in you and…”

“Pa?” I interrupted softly. Pa stopped talking and stared at me. “Pa, what I did on Halloween was wrong, and tomorrow I’ll start making restitution for that. It’s hard to trust me after what I did and I know I deserve the punishments..” I looked toward the barn. “I heard yesterday…” I swallowed. “Yesterday that Mr. Bullock had rented his barn out. I was going to tell you but then I came home and…”

“I know, son…I know…” Pa sighed and leaned his head against the back of the tree. “Mark I must ask your forgiveness for…”

“No, Pa! No!”

“Let me do this. It’s not easy for a man to admit he’s wrong. It’s even harder to ask for forgiveness…” I nodded, knowing this was something he had to do. “I don’t only ask for forgiveness for ever doubting you…deep down, I knew you did nothing wrong but I…other people were…and things can get in your head and…” Pa swallowed hard. “But I also ask your forgiveness for interfering in you doing a good thing here – teaching Percy to ride and Mr. Bullock about ranching and stuff. I should have trusted you when you told me you had done nothing wrong. The truth is…I was confused and a little…” Pa stopped. He couldn’t say the word.

I smiled. “Jealous?” Pa’s eyes shot back up to mine. I saw surprise. Then I saw understanding and remorse. He nodded without saying a word. “Because you couldn’t help me with geometry?”

“Maybe. I think it went deeper than that….”

“Because for once, there’s some man I wanted to spend more time with than you?” Pa nodded. “Oh Pa, I still…and always will think you’re the greatest man in the world! The greatest man that ever lived! Do you know what I told Mr. Bullock the other night?” Pa shook his head as his eyes moistened. “I told him you may not know much about geometry, but you sure knew your Bible. I’d rather have a Pa who knew his Bible like you do than one who was smart in math…or science…or history…because it’s your knowledge of the Bible that’s raised me to be…” I smiled as I lifted my head toward his and looked into his eyes. “…the man I will soon be.” I saw a tear slide from Pa’s eye. “I’m gonna make you proud, Pa.”

“You already have, son.” Pa brushed his fingertips against my cheek. “Oh Mark…I…” I drew my arms around him and hugged him to me. I felt such safety in Pa’s arms. Then we stood up and raced inside.

***

Later that evening, we sat down at Mr. Bullock’s table for coffee. Pa was sure glad he had Mr. Bullock figured wrong. I reckon that was Pa’s way of apologizing. “Perfectly understandable,” Mr. Bullock said. “Any parent would be frightened.”

I stepped forward to defend Pa. “You can say anything you want about my Pa, Mr. Bullock, but he doesn’t frighten.”

“He sure don’t!” Percy declared as he crossed his arms and kept a big smile on his face. It made me feel good to see Pa so happy again, and to see Percy admiring my Pa like I admired his.

“Doesn’t!” Mr. Bullock corrected his son. "Well should we say in this case that your father was frightened about you?” He told me.

"He's right! Mr. Bullock and I know from personal experience some of the snares and pitfalls that lie and wait for our sons. Maybe we've fallen into a few of them ourselves and remember what it cost to crawl out again," Pa explained. Of course after our recent discussion, I knew this already.

"And the deeper the affections...the deeper the fears for you boys," Micah stated.

Mr. Bullock said....."As a writer once put it, ‘Some of the best lessons we ever learn we learn from our mistakes and failures. And…and…” He struggled to remember the rest of the quotation.

Imagine my surprise when Pa finished it for him. “And, ‘The error of the past is the wisdom and success of the future…”

I wasn’t the only one who was surprised. Micah stared at Pa in amazement. "Lucasboy, you never cease to amaze me!” We all started to laugh.

As we sat drinking coffee…er, the adults drank coffee. I had some tea, Mr. Bullock picked up “A Tale of Two Cities” and started to read again. For an hour, we sat and listened to his enchanting voice as he read. Pa and I looked at each other and smiled several times.

When he finally put the book down, I saw the regret of story time ending in Pa’s eyes. I laughed. “I think you have another admirer! Perhaps we’ll have to come over every night…together! Because you know there’s no one I’d rather be with then my Pa!”

“Yeah, me too!” Percy declared as he looked at his own father proudly. “Maybe we can come over and see how this…uh…ranching is done and we can all ride horses together!”

“Me?” Mr. Bullock squeaked. “On a horse? Why you have gone mad, my son!”

“Pa, Mr. Bullock said we could borrow books anytime.” I said this when I saw Pa’s hungry eyes staring at the books. My Pa too had a love for books, but out here books were hard to come by.

“That’s nice.” He walked over and looked at the shelves. I watched as he scanned the titles for a long time. He put a finger to his chin as he looked. Finally, his eyes settled on a book. His eyes smiled, then his mouth turned up into a giant smile. He opened the book and leafed through the pages. “I haven’t seen this book since I was a boy myself.” Pa walked over and handed me the book. “The Three Musketeers.”

I laughed as we said goodnight to our guests.

***

“Mark! Hey, Mark!” I looked up from my math book and glared at Freddie. “Come on, we’re getting on a game of kickball before lunch ends!”

“Shouldn’t you be studying for your math test?” I asked in an annoyed voice.

“What?” Freddie rolled his eyes. “Since when did you care so much about math? Come on!”

I kept my finger in the book but closed it and looked up at Freddie. “Someday you may actually get married and have children. Don’t you want to be able to help them learn math? Besides that, don’t you know geometry will help you build stronger houses and dig deeper wells and…”

“Oh, who cares?” Freddie rolled his eyes.

I smiled as I remembered back to the talk Pa and I had on Friday night. “I care…and so does my Pa!”

When the bell rang, my heart beat hard as I went inside to take my test. I felt nervous as I studied the questions. Once in a while I looked up at Mr. Griswald. Our eyes met and he gave me a confident nod. He had all the assurance in me I needed! I looked back down and thought on the answer. In my mind I pictured Mr. Griswald at the board showing us how to work the problem…I pictured Mr. Griswald at my side as he explained the answer. I pictured Mr. Bullock as he lectured me on the importance of geometry, and I remembered as Pa and I sat on that front porch sweating through my lack of math knowledge all these years.

“Times up,” Mr. Griswald stated as he closed his watch. “Put your pencils down and pass your papers to the left.”

I couldn’t concentrate the rest of the day. After Mr. Griswald dismissed everyone for the day, he called my name. I picked up my books and slowly walked up to the front. “Yes sir?”

“I thought you would like to know the results of your test before you leave. You may rest easier tonight.”

I shrugged. “Or…maybe not.”

Mr. Griswald nodded. “Have a seat while I grade it.” I obeyed and watched as he made some markings on the paper. After what seemed like ten lifetimes, he wrote something on top, put the pen back in its holder, and folded his hands. “Well…I must say this is a surprise, Mark…”

“Yes sir?” My mouth went dry. I had worked so hard.

Then I watched as he pulled another test out. I saw him reviewing and marking notes on the test. Next, he pulled a sheet of paper out and wrote on it. He pulled an envelope from his desk and put both his note and my test inside. As he handed the envelope to me he stated, “I’m not sure how your father is going to feel about this…”

“Yes sir?” I asked as a lump rose in my throat. “I did…the best I could, sir…”

Mr. Griswald stood and lifted my test paper from the desk. He stepped off the platform and walked to stand in front of me. “Stand up, Mark McCain.”

I gulped as I slowly stood to face him. He handed me the paper then smiled. He put a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sure your father will let you know when you get home..”

I looked down at the envelope and dreaded handing it to Pa. I started down the steps, but stopped when I saw Lucille standing there. “Lucille…what?”

She stepped forward. “I’ve been waiting for you, Mark.”

“Oh, I…” I swallowed as she took another step toward me. I heard a throat clear and looked up to see Mr. Bennet standing a short distance away. Lucille stopped. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, I…” Lucille lowered her eyelids shyly. That sure was a change! “I heard about how hard you’d been studying and was anxious to…” She looked up at me. “I heard Mr. Griswald say he was going to grade your paper today.”

Don’t know yet, Mr. Griswald graded my paper and then pulled out another test and graded it. Then he wrote a note to my Pa. Both are in this envelope. I held up the envelope to show Lucille it was addressed to Lucas McCain.

I returned her smile with a half-hearted one of my own. I looked in her eyes. “Thank you for waiting. But, I best get going.”

Lucille turned and smiled at her father. Mr. Bennet stepped forward. “You are a wonderful, young man. I wanted to…apologize…to both of you for the other night…Not because of what I said – but because of the way I did it. I should have never embarrassed you like that. If you wish to uh…come over for supper, young man, you will be welcome.” I nodded. “And I do hope you understand why I…”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Pa and I had a long talk the other night. He spoke to me about things I didn’t really understand myself, but I will respect you…and your daughter.” We smiled.

He nodded as he put an arm around Lucille’s shoulder. “Thank you, young man.”

I watched as they walked away. I couldn’t take my eyes off Lucille. Finally, I remembered the envelope in my hand. I sighed, grabbed Blue Boy’s reins and headed to meet Pa in town. . I saw Pa talking to Lou outside the hotel. As I got closer, I saw Pa raise his eyebrows. “What gives?” Pa asked as I approached with my shoulders slumped and dragging my feet. I raised the envelope and handed it to Pa. I backed up a couple of steps as Pa opened the envelope and watched as he read the note and then he looked the test over. “Son, I just don’t know what to say.”

“Pa, I tried, honest. I’ve been studying real hard with Mr. Bullock and I thought I was finally getting to understand. Guess not, huh.” I tried to explain.

“Mr. Griswald stated here that he couldn’t believe your test score, so, since you were sitting next to Percy, he graded Percy’s test as well.

“Pa! I didn’t cheat, HONEST!”

“I know you didn’t son.”

“Then you believe me?” I pleaded.

Pa held my test paper in front of me. To say my mouth dropped wide open was an understatement! “You scored higher than Percy did.”

“Pa…Pa! I got an A+! I got an A+!”

Pa laughed out loud at my reaction. I had never seen Pa more proud of me!

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

And the Devil Makes Five

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story

The Sixteenth Cousin

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