I sighed again as I put the eggs on the table. Pa carried over the bread. “So you see, Pa…I’ve got myself a problem!”
Pa shook his head as he sat the coffee on the table and sat down. “Now Mark, you’re 14 years old. You are too young to be worrying about such foolishness!”
“I’m 14 years old, Pa! That’s plenty old enough!”
Pa laughed. He ACTUALLY laughed at me! “You’re not even shaving yet!”
That reminded me of something. I ran a finger under my nose. “About that, Pa…”
“NO!” Pa practically shouted. “Absolutely not!” Pa sighed as he took a sip of coffee and spooned some of the eggs on his plate. “Once you start shaving, you can never stop. Just…don’t get in a hurry! Besides,” Pa teased as he ran a hand down my cheek. “It’s still as smooth as a baby’s bottom!”
“Now Pa…” I pointed at him.
Pa laughed. “Eat your breakfast, Santa Claus!”
“Now Pa, how old were you when you and Ma…” I started.
“It was after the war when we started courting, son. We grew up together, but…”
“Okay. How old were you when you had your first…” I sighed. “I mean when you…” I looked down my plate as heat crept up my face. “I mean…”
Pa chuckled again. “When uh…I kissed my first girl?” I nodded. Pa looked at me as if he were trying to size me up for a noose. Then he got this strange look on his face. “Uh…um…Son, I think it’s time for you to go to school, ain’t it?”
“Well now…” I pulled out my watch. “According to my watch, I have 15 minutes yet.”
“Oh…” Pa shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“Plenty of time for you to answer my question.”
Pa looked up at me. “Uh s…son, did you uh…remember to feed the cow?”
“How about slop the hogs?”
Pa turned and looked at the wood box. “You best get that wood box filled before school, son.”
I put my chin in my hand and leaned in toward Pa. “It’s half full! It’s the middle of summer. We only use it to cook in the stove, and that’s plenty to…”
“Oh no…” Pa shook his head nervously. “N-now, you know what I always say…Never put off for tomorrow…”
“Oh!” I stood and put my dishes in the sink. Then I slowly walked over to stand by Pa. I placed my hands on the table and leaned in really close to him. “I think I got ya. This is a conversation you wish to put off until tomorrow. So uh…I’ll fill that wood box.” I walked toward the door. “Oh, by the way.” I turned from the door and looked at Pa. “No need to tell me when you uh…shared your first kiss with a girl. I’d say it was right around my age.”
“Mark, the wood box!” Pa ordered.
I laughed as I hurried out to do his bidding.
The truth was, Lucille Bennet had been dropping some interesting hints lately that led me to believe she wanted to be alone with me…you know – to take a walk in the evening when the moon was high in the sky, or to sit out by the lake and talk. Once when we were alone outside the school, we were sitting on the same bench together. She leaned in on me and looked up at me. If I had moved just a little, our lips would have…well, anyhow, it was a little too close for comfort! But natural curiosity was beginning to get the best of me.
That day, Lorie had saved me from certain humiliation though. She’d suddenly popped out of nowhere and asked me to ride home with her. I had rolled my eyes and told her she was perfectly capable of getting herself home. But then Lorie had put those stubborn little hands of hers on her hips and stuck her nose up in the air. Lucille had stood up and told me I shouldn’t keep the lady waiting.
When I had gotten home that afternoon, I was practically spitting nails! I fumed as I banged around the kitchen getting ready to mop the floor. Pa had watched me then told me he knew I didn’t like doing the chore, but he expected me to do it with sacrificial happiness. I assured him I wasn’t fuming over the floor. I was fuming over that snippy, dumb ol’ Lorie. She was really beginning to get in my crawl! Pa reminded me about how important it was to be her friend.
Then this morning he told me I was too young to have such problems. Well, young or not, I had them!
So then this morning as I was minding my own business thinking on all this stuff, who did I happen to run into as I rode to school? None other but Lorie! Boy, this just wasn’t my week! She talked all the way about me coming to her house and helping her break some mean ol’ stallion colt she’d gotten from her Pa. I didn’t really want to do it, but then you know what my good ol’ Pa would say – we have to be neighborly. I told her I’d have to check with Pa, but not to expect too much. After all, we were awfully busy.
In fact, maybe…just maybe…we were so busy that I’d forget all about it!
Well, she took care of that problem too. You see…well now, hang on, let me tell you what happened AT school that day. When we got there, it appeared to others that Lorie and I rode in together. Lorie hurried inside as Freddie and Jeff walked up to me with a big grin on their faces. Those were the type of grins that had a way of being punched off right quick, and I’d do it except I was trying to prove to Pa how grown up I was. Punching someone over a girl wouldn’t prove my point. So I simply told them to watch their step or I’d give them something to smile about.
Okay, so then Lucille arrived. She smiled at me. But then my life got REALLY complicated when a new girl showed up. She was 14 year old, red headed and really pretty. The moment she was introduced to me, she began flashing her pretty whites and flipping her hair back. Boy, this was nearly too much for a guy to handle!
All morning, I felt her eyes on me. I also felt Lucille’s eyes on me, but when I turned to look at her, she had her arms folded and was giving me a hard stare. I gulped as I tried to listen to Mr. Griswald give us the history lesson. I sure was glad I was back to half days! I just couldn’t stand this for the whole entire day!
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Jeff with a note in his hand. I quickly took it and hid it in my lap as I opened it. What was there really made my face turn red! “Mark McCain!” Mr. Griswald suddenly called to me.
My head popped up. He stepped off the platform and slowly walked over to me. I slid the note into my pocket. “Yes sir?”
He held out his hand. “I would like to see what is so much more interesting then my instruction.”
“Oh…it’s not mine, sir. I…I…” I turned and glared at Molly, the new girl. Then I looked at Lucille. You want to talk about embarrassment! Mr. Griswald continued holding out his hand. He moved his fingers, motioning for me to hand it over. I closed my eyes with a sigh and handed him the note. He opened it and read it. Then he looked up toward Molly. “I think you should see me after the class is dismissed for lunch. You and I need to discuss this.”
I was relieved he hadn’t read it out loud, but I was afraid my afternoon wasn’t going to go much better. After he dismissed us for lunch, I heard my name called. I turned to see Molly flashing her pretty whites at me again. “Mark, would you like to join me for lunch?”
“No ma’am!” I declared a bit rudely. She gave me a hard stare. “I mean…I..I’m sorry, but I only stay half-days now.”
“Oh!” She replied. “Well then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Mark McCain?” I turned with a sigh and walked back up to the front of the room. Mr. Griswald smoothed the note out on the desk and cleared his throat.
“It…it was given to me, sir!” I explained.
“Mm hm…” He nodded his head. “There has been distraction in my classroom all morning, Mark. And I wasn’t sure who the instigator of that distraction was. Now I know.”
“Who?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer.
“You.” I opened my mouth to protest, but he shook his head. He opened his tablet and began writing. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had to send a note home to your father but…well, I’m afraid that’s what it’s come down to.”
“But sir!” I gasped.
“I cannot take distractions like this, Mark. Nobody learns anything when it occurs.” He put his pen back in the ink well and scribbled his name across the bottom of the note. After blowing on it a few times, he carefully folded it and handed it to me. “I hope this matter is resolved in time for school tomorrow morning. If it isn’t, further action will need to be taken.”
“Mr. Griswald, I didn’t-“ I started again.
“That will be all, Mr. McCain.” The firm look on his face told me that was indeed all! I nodded then turned and walked out.
Then when I walked outside, Freddie came hurried up to me. “Did he lick ya? Did he?”
“Of course not!” I rolled my eyes. “If he had licked me, he wouldn’t have waited until everyone was at lunch.” I walked to my horse. “Besides, I’m fourteen years old!”
“So, he licked me the other day,” Freddie reminded me.
I nodded with my foot in the stirrup. “I know. But YOU dipped Betsy’s hair in the glue and then tied the pigtails in a not!”
“Well, she deserved it!” Freddie declared.
“It was a little childish. Aren’t you fourteen also?” I asked as I raised my eyebrows at me.
Freddie folded his arms and grinned. “You know, my father asked me that before he licked me the other night for getting licked by the teacher the other night. I told him he should know the answer to that. That won me another lick.”
I shook my head as I mounted my horse. “You know Freddie, sometimes I think you LIKE trouble!” I started to ride out of the yard.
“Mark McCain!” I suddenly heard from behind me. I groaned as I stopped Blue Boy. “I want a word with you!”
Lucille came up to stand beside Blue Boy. I looked down at her. “Now Lucille, none of this was my fault! I swear, I-“
“I don’t want to hear it! I was going to make my apple pie for the church social next Sunday, but now I’m going to make my peach pie instead!”
I groaned. “I HATE peaches, Lucille!”
“I know!” She shook a finger at me. “Let that be a lesson!”
“Women!” I groaned as I hurried out of the yard.
When I got home, there was a note on the table. Pa was in town running some errands. He left a list of my afternoon duties along side a sandwich and some milk. Also on the note, it said, “I hope you have a good excuse for being late today.”
This just was NOT my day!
I was actually happy to have so many chores to do. It helped me keep my mind off of my growing problem. I hitched up the wagon and rode the fence line for breaks in the fence. Just in case, I tied Blue Boy to the back, never know when you might need to chase a stray down. I found several, breaks in the fence that is. At one point, I noticed it was big enough for cattle to get through. I decided to take a look around the neighboring ranch. “Oh no!” I groaned. I kicked Blue Boy’s flank and raced to chase the three cows for home. “Get on home! Come on now!” I called.
Pa joined me out on the range. He raced up to me. “What happened here, son?”
“I don’t know. Looks sort of like some animal or something done it though.” Pa helped me chase the cow’s back inside. He got down and studied the fence. “I’ll have to get some more wire to fix this. Let’s get these cattle to another section.”
So, for the next couple of hours, we were busy chasing the cattle out of the North Pasture. By the time, we got back to get the team and wagon and then we got back to the ranch, I was pretty tired! I splashed water on my face as Pa hurried inside to start supper. As I walked inside to sit down a spell, I groaned as I took off my boot. “Oh, my fanny hurts!” I declared. “If it’s all the same to you, Pa, I’d rather not go chasing cattle to kingdom come every day like that!”
Pa chucked as he sliced the bread. “So, why were you so late from school, Mark?”
I groaned even louder as I was reminded of my problem. “On second thought, maybe chasing cattle isn’t such a bad idea. You reckon maybe I can have an early release from school?”
I stood up and sat two plates on the table under the window. “What happened?” Pa asked again.
“Pa, please…can this wait until…after supper?” I begged.
Pa studied me. “Alright, son. I uh…don’t suppose you had a chance to work on your lessons this afternoon?”
“When would I have been able to do that?” I answered with a question. Pa laughed. “Of course, this ranching life is a lot easier to deal with then…some other things in life!”
We sat down to eat. The words in Pa’s blessing were odd. After it was over, I said, “Sounds like you had yourself a day too.”
“Well uh…” Pa looked down at his food. I could tell he was hesitating on giving me some sort of news. “Actually son, I have some interesting news for you.”
“Interesting…news?” I questioned as I looked up at him.
“Yeah. It seems that a good friend of ours is getting married. She told me today.”
I gasped. “Not Miss Milly!”
“Milly?” Pa’s head popped up. He sighed a sigh of relief. “No, son. Not Milly.”
“Good. I couldn’t stand the thought of…” I started.
“WHAT?” I exclaimed suddenly and practically choked on my bite of food.
“I met him today. It came to quite a surprise to me as well,” Pa stated.
“Yeah, I guess so! Pa, she’s been leading you on!” I recalled Pa and her spending an evening together recently. And she had saved all her dances for him at the last barn raising dance we held.
“No son, she wasn’t leading me on.” Pa cleared his throat. “He just arrived in North Fork today. Apparently she hadn’t seen him since before she left Ireland.”
“And they’re getting married already?” I asked.
“Yep. It seems her father arranged the whole thing before his death. They were pledged to each other. And now…well, they’re getting married.”
Pa explained. “Well son, people seek things differently in different parts of the world. Now in Ireland, they have a lot of old fashioned customs like a father being able to give his daughter away in marriage without consulting her first.”
“What?!” The mere thought shocked me!
“I guess it’s a man’s world there,” Pa explained.
I thought on that and quickly decided that I sure didn’t want to marry someone who didn’t want to marry me! “Well, there’s more to Lou’s decision than that, son.” Pa explained that Dennis O’Flarrety did a lot for Lou and her family, so it was like paying off a debt.
“Marrying somebody because you owe them.” That didn’t sit too well with me! “Is that why Ma got married?” I had to know.
“Of course not, son. We were in love. We wanted to be together. And we were for as long as God let us.”
“Well, with Lou and Mr. O'Flarrety, it’s more of a business deal then a marriage isn’t it?” I asked then.
Pa told me it was still two people getting married. “Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying rather it’s right or wrong. I’m just saying it’s the custom of her country. Does that satisfy you?”
“Sure, if it satisfies you,” I answered. Because I knew that though Pa was trying to act all calm about this, the news upset him very much. And if I knew my Pa, he wouldn’t allow this to happen lying down!
Pa stood up after he finished eating and walked over for a cigar. “Now, you get these dishes done so you can start on your homework, huh?”
“Yes sir.” I did the dishes. Then I walked over to my books and sat down to start my homework. I saw the note. I looked toward the door and saw that Pa was still sitting on the steps smoking his cigar. I suppose now was the best time to approach Pa on the matter. Slowly, I stood up and walked toward the door. “Can I talk to you a minute?”
Pa turned and looked at me. His eyes focused on the piece of paper I held in my hand. Somehow, Pa’s always know when you’re holding not-so-good news. “Sure son.” Pa moved over on the step and patted the step next to him. “Come have a seat.”
I sat down and looked at the folded note. I had no idea what words were in the contents of the note. I couldn’t bring myself to read it. “Uh Pa…have you ever had problems with…with girls?”
“Every day of my life, son,” Pa answered. He raised an eyebrow at me. “Is that what’s in the note?”
I looked up at him. “Well…I want to tell you something before I give you this note, Pa.” I tried to think on how to put my words. I couldn’t find an subtle way. Finally, I shook my head. “Women!”
“Oh? This does sound serious.” Pa slowly took the note from my hand. “You’re a little young to be so frustrated with them, huh?”
“Well, first off, Pa…a new girl started at school today. It just so happens that she is 14 years old and really pretty. Her name is Molly. She started flashing this really pretty smile at me and flipping her hair and…” I looked up at Pa’s raised eyebrows. “Well, you know how women are!”
“Mm hm,” Pa nodded. “And what I know about women would scare the pants off of you!”
“Yeah.” I sighed. “Well, anyhow…Lucille got mad because Molly was giving me these looks. So during class all morning, it was Molly staring at me, Lucille glaring at me and…I don’t even want to know what Lorrie was doing!” Pa slowly opened the note and started reading. “Pa, it wasn’t my fault! I didn’t ask Molly to write that stupid note and pass it to me!”
Pa folded the note up and toyed with it in his hand. “Well son…exactly what did the note say?”
“I’d rather not say, Pa!” I declared. “I have three women chasing me and I don’t like it! Now Lucille’s all mad at me. She told me she wasn’t bringing her apple pie to the church social now. Instead she was bringing…” I screwed up my face. “Peach pie.”
Pa chuckled. That made me mad. “Well, it ain’t funny, Pa! You know how much I hate peach pie! And you know that to get back into Lucille’s good graces, I’m gonna have to eat a piece of it! I’d rather have a good dose of that caster oil you have to force down my throat then a piece of peach pie!”
“Oh?” Pa smiled. “I remember having to hold you down and force it down your throat. Is…Lucille going to do that Sunday afternoon? If she is, I would like a front row seat for the event!”
I sent Pa an annoyed look. “I don’t think this is funny in the least!”
“You’re right, son.” He handed me the note. “Now…about the note…”
“What can I do about it, Pa? I didn’t start it!” I shook my head. “There’s plenty of other boys – why don’t they go swarming around them instead?”
Pa chuckled. “Because they don’t have the McCain charm.” Pa threw his cigar on the ground and turned to me. “Now son, at fourteen, you’re way too young to be worrying about such things.”
“Pa, I didn’t ASK them to act this way! They all like me…I don’t know why.”
“Well…Maybe because you’re a nice kid.” I turned and looked at Pa. Pa sighed. “You are, you know.”
“Nice?” I asked. “Or a kid?”
“Well…” Pa put a hand on my shoulder as he looked me sternly in the eye. “Both, son. You are still a kid. You are beginning to have these feelings towards the opposite sex. You need to learn and grow to understand them. The girls, son…they are going through the same thing you are. At a certain age, our bodies change and-“
“Oh Pa, I’ve heard all this already!” I groaned.
Pa raised his eyebrows at me. “Then you’re going to hear it again.” He shifted on the step to get a more direct look at me. “Now…God’s timing is perfect, son. He knew how hard it would be to you to learn these new feelings. That’s why he starts you changing when He does. It’ll take some years for you to learn what certain feelings mean – rather it’s because a girl’s pretty, or if you really DO enjoy spending time with her.
I lowered my head. "I tried asking you questions this morning and you wouldn’t answer them. You didn’t take me seriously. Now look at the trouble I’m in! And Mr. Griswald is blaming me? Honest Pa, I didn’t do a thing.”
Pa sighed. “Unfortunately, son, you DID do something. You didn’t stop it.”
“Stop it? How?”
“By asking it to stop.” Pa just gave me one of those firm looks. “Right now, Mark, you have more important things to think on. You asked me this morning about…” Pa cleared his throat. “About kissing. I must admit that you caught me off guard. I’m not quite ready to discuss such matters with my 14 year old. Yes son, maybe I did experiment with the idea at your age, but it was wrong. A kiss in itself can hold so many emotions in it – emotions that neither you…nor any of those girls are ready to handle. So I’ll give you some man-to-man advice – don’t even think about it. If I had a daughter, I would want to know that the young man my daughter’s spending time with is giving her the respect she deserves. At your age, kissing opens you up to dangerous territory – things that should only be shared before a husband and a wife. Do I need to explain more?”
I’d heard that talk before too. “No sir.”
Pa held up the note. “Now…I’ll take care of this…”
“Oh Pa, I wish you-“ I started.
“Calm down, Mark! I’m not gonna stand up in class and lecture anyone. I’ll be discrete. It’s a father’s duty.” Pa put the note in his pocket. “Mr. Griswald was right in giving me this note, son. He knows what pitfalls are out there waiting for young men and women not yet ready to experience them.” Pa stood up and looked out over the land. “But, you’ll have to put a stop to this before I do.”
“What do you mean?” I asked as I stood up beside him.
Pa turned and leaned against the post. He folded his arms. “I mean that if this behavior continues, you will be punished. I think it would be very wise for you to talk to the ladies together and tell them where you stand. That you want their friendship and nothing else. If this behavior continues, not only will you be forbade from spending ANY time with ANY of them, but Their fathers will get a visit from me. And that would be quite embarrassing…for all parties concerned.” Pa raised his eyebrows. “Do you understand me?”
I understood him loud and clear. Either I take care of this right away, or he’d do it for me. “This isn’t my fault,” I mumbled. I still wasn’t quite sure why this was MY problem.
“No…it’s not your fault, son. But sometimes problems fall in our laps and we have to deal with them. Just letting this go on is causing it to be your fault – as much as theirs. I believe that Mr. Griswald was trying to save the girls’ a lot of embarrassment by asking us to deal with this problem.” I didn’t say anything. “You go on and get started on your homework. I have to go into town.”
“Pa, I-“ Pa turned and looked at me We just looked at each other for a moment.
“Don’t worry, son. You just get started on your lessons. Then get yourself to bed.”
I nodded. “Is….is it okay if I’m a little late getting home tomorrow? I…have a problem I have to deal with at lunch.” Pa nodded. That was the end of it.
To say that Pa’s late-night trip into town didn’t worry me would be a lie. The truth was, I was very worried about Pa being in town, because I knew he was “doing his part” in taking care of my situation. But I also knew that if I was still up when Pa got home, there would be another “situation” for him to deal with. So I made sure I was sound asleep when he got home.
That night, I dreamed of Lou getting married. She looked radiant in her wedding gown. At the end of the ceremony, the Reverend pronounced the couple Man and Wife, and then turned to the congregation to introduce Mr. and Mrs… I couldn’t believe it, but it wasn’t Lou that the reverend was introducing, but Lucille and the groom, it was ME! But then, my dream change and it wasn’t Lucille, it was Molly. I started mumbling in my sleep, "No, No, I can't. I'm Pa's partner, I can't be married! I’m not old enough." Then in my dream, the bride changed to Lorrie and I saw her close her eyes and pucker her lips. I bolted up right in bed, fully awake screaming, "NO!"
Guess Pa couldn’t help but hear my cry as he entered the bedroom and quickly stepped to my bed, wondering what could be wrong. It had been a long time since I’d had a nightmare.
"Son, what's wrong?" He asked as I was breathing heavily and looking around the room.
"Pa? It wasn't real?" I asked.
"What wasn't real?" Lucas asks.
"My dream. It was all just a dream? Man, it was all just a dream." I declared as I breathed a heavy sigh of relief and swept my hands through my hair.
“Care to talk about it, Mark?”
“Women,” was all I said as I laid back down and fell to sleep.
The next morning, I wasn’t too excited to go to school – knowing I had a situation to deal with. Pa just looked at me and told me it was all part of becoming an adult. So, I got on my horse and started into town.
Again, Lorrie approached me as I rode. “Hi, Mark! Did you-“
I sighed. “Listen, can you meet me by the big Oak at lunch? I need to talk to you.” I didn’t want a lot of questions asked, so I didn’t tell her she wasn’t the only one who would be out there.
Mr. Griswald cleared his throat. “Before we begin class this morning, I feel I simply must make some things clear.” He began walking down the aisle. His hands were folded behind him and he kept his eyes averted from any one pupil. “I’m sure most of you are aware of the…er…activities that went on in this classroom yesterday morning. Those who were involved know exactly what I am talking about.” He walked back up to the front of the classroom, turned, and faced us. “Now, I don’t care who started it, and I don’t care who finishes it, but I don’t want to see any more of that foolish behavior in my classroom. If I do, ALL parties involved will be disciplined and their parents will be contacted by me personally.” He looked at each student in the eye. “Do I make myself clear?”
Heads nodded. “Alright. Shall we get started with our lessons?”
Though I can’t prove it, I have a sneaking suspicion that my father was behind that little speech…
The closer it got to lunch time, the more nervous I became. Why my Pa was making me handle this situation in such an extreme way may just be something I’d never understand! I hesitated after Mr. Griswald announced the end of morning instruction. Slowly, I made my way to the big oak where three girls were arguing among themselves. Finally, Lorrie turned around and folded her arms. “Mark McCain, what is this all about?”
I held up my hands. “Yeah, Mark! What are THEY doing here?” Lucille asked as she crossed her arms. The others started murmuring.
I decided to jump right in with the speech I had rehearsed over and over since Pa “suggested” I talk to them (and we all know it wasn’t just a suggestion).
"Now look, girls...you are all getting me in a lot of trouble at school and at home. We are all young adults, but as my father pointed out to me firmly last night, we are still children and we shouldn't be making fools of ourselves like this. By acting this way, all you are doing is causing me trouble, and you may get yourselves in trouble. Because if you don't start acting like my friends instead of some lovesick puppies, my father will forbid me from talking to any of you so I can concentrate on my studies and my work. My father doesn't enjoy getting notes about my behavior sent home from school, and I don't enjoy getting in trouble at school and at home because of your female notions. If this continues, I guarantee you that my Pa won’t hesitate embarrassing me…or you by going to your fathers and telling them exactly what was going on.”
“Well!” Lorrie declared as she raised her chin in the air.
“Of all the nerve!” Lucille hissed out in her angry tone of voice.
“And…” I finished up as I started to leave. “Those words aren’t mine. They came straight from the horses'…er…Pa’s mouth! And let me tell you, after living with the man for 14 years, you can guarantee that he doesn’t say anything unless he intends to carry it out. So please…leave me be so we don’t all find ourselves strung up in some tree somewhere!”
Before anything more embarrassing could come out of my mouth, I turned and hurried off.. I rode into town and found Pa hurrying out of the hotel. He sure did look mad! “Hi, Pa.”
“Hello yourself,” he mumbled out as he walked toward the livery. Then he stopped and turned around. “I take it your problem has been resolved?”
“Yes sir!” I answered assuredly. If I wasn’t sure, I would have turned around and ran! Pa looked to be in a pretty bad mood.
“Good.” Pa turned to go, but then turned back to me. “Listen, I brought Razor in to get shod and Nils doesn’t have the time right now, but I have to get home to the ranch, so I need to borrow Blue Boy.” Pa threw me a couple coins. “Get yourself something to eat, then go to the General Store and pick up the supplies I already ordered I’ll leave the wagon with you.” Before I could say another word, Pa turned and walked away. I shook my head. Woo boy, was he riled about something! This time, though, I didn’t think it was me. At least, I hoped it wasn’t me.
I hurried into the hotel, and stopped in my tracks when I saw Lou and another man having what appeared to be an intimate moment. I threw a hand to my mouth. “Oh, excuse me!” I declared.
“No, Mark!” She hurried over and grabbed me by the arm. “This is Dennis O'Flarrety. Dennis, this is my good friend, Mark McCain.”
“Oh certainly!” He shook my hand. “The son of your other good McCain friend, no doubt!” The way he said it, I assumed he didn’t like my father too much. “I…hope you are more pleasant than the senior McCain.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but Lou stopped me. “Uh…Mark, where’s your father?”
“Oh, he had to get home. Seemed to me he was in a hurry to get out of town for some reason.” Lou lowered her head and acted as if she was ashamed by my words.
Mr. O’Flarrety was quite pleased at my words though. “If the chap knows what’s good for him, home is the best place for him!”
“What’s that mean?” I suddenly asked.
“Uh…never mind, Mark. You best go on inside and eat.” I nodded to Lou then went inside.
Micah waved from his table. I hurried over and sat down next to him. “Where’s your father, son?” Micah asked as he took another bite of some sort of stew.
“Oh…he’s gone home. I’m to stay in town and drive the wagon home later.” I turned back toward the door. “Micah, what’s up with him?”
Micah looked over my shoulder, not sure of who I was talking about. Then he nodded. “Oh…O’Flarrety?” Micah took another bite of his stew. “Didn’t your father tell you?”
“He told me he came to marry Lou, but he doesn’t seem like a very nice guy.”
“He’s now.” Micah shook his head. “He’s been stirring up quite a bit of trouble! He’s milking Lou for everything she has! He gets the most expensive Irish spirits he can at Sweeny’s or here at the hotel. He’s using Lou’s money to gamble with. Last night he ran up quite a tab and lost all his money in a poker game…or should I say all Lou’s money. He’s bought some expensive items at the General Store, bought some really nice horse and saddle stock from a nearby rancher…”
Micah’s words were making me angry. “Why don’t you do something about it?”
Micah leaned forward. The waiter came by just then and I ordered my food. After he left, I turned back to Micah. “What exactly would you like me to do, Mark?”
“Your job, Micah!” I declared harshly. Micah frowned at me. I sighed. “I’m…sorry.”
“He’s breaking no law, Mark.”
“He’s taking Lou’s money! He-“ I started.
“Then Lou will have to file a complaint. As of yet, she hasn’t.” Micah shook his head. “I sure wish your father was here. He’d put a stop to it!”
I leaned back in my chair. “The way he was acting earlier, I suspect he already knows.” I banged my fist on the table. “But why won’t he do anything about it?!”
Just then, Rose Valentine hurried up to the table along with another one of the town women. “Micah, I just heard that Irish fellow ordering that waiter to fix him the most expensive steaks! He’s going to feed all those men at the saloon! And he’s charging it to Lou Mallory!”
“So?” Micah shrugged.
“So?” I gasped. “Micah, you’ve GOT to do something about it!” Micah frowned at me, but stood up and walked out the door.
“I’ve never seen the likes of that before!” Mrs. Valentine declared as she folded her arms. “That man is bleeding her dry! Before long, there won’t be none left!”
“You know what he intends to do, of course,” the other lady said. “As soon as he marries her, he takes all her money as his own, ships her back to Ireland, and makes sure a lock stays on her door! She’ll get nothing!” She gasped. “Why, just imagine their children – turn out just like their father – greedy and controlling…”
I stood up, forgetting all about my lunch. “Oh no he won’t!”
I started to leave the restaurant, but Nils hurried in just then. “Where’s Micah?”
“Trying to stop Mr. O’Flarrety from buying expensive meals for all the men at the saloon!” I answered.
“Well, not that O’Flarrety man is over at my place – he wants to buy a brand new, expensive buggy…and he’s telling me to charge it to Lou!”
I clinched my fists to my side! “Nils, is Razor shod yet?” I asked.
“I have one more shoe, Mark,” Nils answered.
“Nils, I’ve GOT to get home and talk to Pa! Can you get it done? I’ve got to get to the General Store and start loading the supplies!” I hurried out the door.
After loading the wagon, I hurried over to the livery and paced the barn floor as I waited for Nils to get done. “That darn Mr. O’Flarrety…Why, he don’t deserve a nice lady like Lou.” I stopped in front of Nils and gestured angrily. “What I want to know is…why isn’t Pa stopping this? He’s supposed to be sorta sweet on Lou, ain’t he?” Nils stopped shaping the shoe and shook his head at me.
I crossed my arms and started pacing the floor again. “Using her money to buy his whisky and gamble…EWWWWW that makes me mad!” I stopped in front of Nils. “If Pa knows he’s doing this, why doesn’t he just punch him in the nose?” Again, Nils just shook his head.
I started pacing the floor again. “That Dennis O’Flarrety, why I’ve a good mind to-“ I stopped everything as I turned. The subject of my anger was standing just inside the door.
“You have a good mind to what, young McCain?” Mr. O’Flarrety asked. “What’s that American saying? Like father, like son?” He came in to stand in front of me. He didn’t take his eyes off of me as he asked, “Should you not be running on home to your precious father?”
I crossed my arms and glared at him. “When my chores in town are finished, I’ll be moving along. But not until that time!”
“And exactly when will that be?” Mr. O’Flarrety asked.
“He’ll leave as soon as I get this shoe on the horse,” Nils answered. He gave me a stern look that told me I would indeed leave at that time.
“What about that buggy?” Mr. O’Flarrety asked Nils as Nils bent over to shoe Razor.
“I’ll need Miss Mallory’s consent,” Nils answered.
“Miss Mallory’s money is my concern – not hers,” Mr. O’Flarrety declared.
“Did you make it?” I asked, pushing myself off the post I’d been leaning on. I kept my arms folded as I walked toward him. “Have you worked in the hotel long hours every day? Have you worked in the potato fields from sunup to sundown until your hands were raw? Did you?-“
“Mark!” Nils stopped me. He threw the hammer down. “You can go now.” I turned and looked at Mr. O’Flarrety again. “Now, Mark,” Nils ordered.
I did as he told me to. And by the time I drove the buckboard onto our ranch, I was still pretty fumed. Pa came out the door. “Go on inside and get started on your homework. I’ll unload everything, Mark. It’s getting close to supper.”
“Pa, I want to talk to you!” I declared angrily as I crossed my arms.
Pa paused in picking up one of the sacks of flour and turned to me. “Not in that tone of voice, you don’t!”
I took a deep breath. “I…I’m sorry, but I’m pretty riled about something.”
Pa started taking stuff out of the wagon again. “What has you so riled, son?”
“Two words,” I answered as I stood right in front of Pa. “Dennis O’Flarrety!”
Pa stopped and stared at me. “Oh.” Pa turned back toward the wagon. “O’Flarrety’s none of your concern, Mark. Now go on in and do your homework.”
“It is my concern when he’s…hurting a good friend of mine!” I declared defiantly. Pa turned and placed his hands on his hips. He glared at me through slits in his eyes. I hurried inside and started on my homework.
But this wasn’t over! It wasn’t over!
During supper, we were both quiet. Pa was riled. I was riled…I tried to smooth things over a bit with him. “Pa…when you went in town last night, did you…by any chance go and talk to Mr. Griswald?”
I watched a grin play at the corners of Pa’s mouth. “Why do you ask, son?”
“Because when we got to school this morning, Mr. Griswald had a talk with the class. I think we all got the point.”
“I hope so.” Pa poured another cup of coffee.
I sighed. “Uh…Pa?” Pa looked up at me. “Uh…about Miss Lou…do you know what the town is saying?”
“I don’t listen to gossip, Mark!” Pa declared.
“It’s not gossip, Pa! Even-“
“I should have known better to leave you in town. You had to listen to old women gossiping about anything they can!”
“It wasn’t-“ Pa lifted his head and again glared at me. “But Pa-“
Pa sighed. “Yes son, O’Flarrety isn’t one of my favorite visitors either, but we have to tolerate him. Now, finish your supper so you can get the dishes washed!”
I did. Then after supper was done, I laid down on the rug in front of the fire with one of my advanced learning books. I tried to concentrate on reading it, but I just couldn’t! Pa sat in his chair reading his Bible, just as cool as a cat. I didn’t understand how he could be so calm when there was something very wrong going on in town.
Then I got to thinking about all the grief Pa had given me last night. He lectured me on the fact that even the problem may not have been mine, it became mine suddenly. He told me I’d have to deal with it since nobody else would. Well, I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures! So before I could lose my nerve for fear of suffering Pa’s wrath, I spoke up. “Well, it wasn’t old women talking. It was Nils and Mr. Sweeny.”
“Would you forget about it and pay attention to your studies, son?” Pa advised. From the tone of his voice, I knew that would be best for my hope.
“Pa, Lou is our friend. How come we’re not doing anything? And I mean doing – not talking!”
“Well, because I was told it was none of my business, Mark,” Pa answered. Now to me, that sounded like the chicken way out! Since when did Pa listen to a woman’s common sense???
I couldn’t resist! I told Pa O’Flarrety was bleeding Miss Lou dry! I didn’t like the way she was being treated – and that included how Pa was treating her! Just last night, Pa had given me some advice – advice that I was FORCED to take. Well tonight, Pa was going to get some of the same that he dished out to me. “Well, if it was me and I was a doing friend instead of a talking friend, I’d saddle up and go do something about it!”
Boy, I really did it! Pa looked up at me as I quickly looked down at my book. Cautiously, I lifted my eyes back to him. He just sat there allowing my words to sink in. Then he closed his Bible, stood up, and picked up his hat. Before he walked out the door, he said, “Thanks for some good, fatherly advice.”
I nodded and smiled. I must admit that I was pretty proud of myself!
I waited impatiently to see what the outcome was. Unfortunately, my bedtime came and I knew I better get to bed before Pa got home. As I fell asleep, I still wondered.
The next morning, I found Pa in the kitchen yawning over a cup of coffee. “Well?” I asked as I dipped a bowl of oatmeal.
“Well?” Pa repeated.
I saw a sore on his lip. “Pa, what happened?” I asked.
“I took your advice and became a doing friend,” Pa answered with a grin. “O’Flarrety’s leaving on the afternoon stage.”
“And Miss Lou?” I asked.
“Oh boy!” I declared with a jubilant smile. “What time did you get home last night?”
Pa paused his coffee cup at his lips. “Uh…” He sat it down. “It was pretty late.”
“It took you that long to resolve the issue?” I asked.
“Never mind, son,” Pa answered.
“Were you with Miss Lou the whole time?” I asked then.
“Never mind, Mark,” Pa said more firmly that time.
I decided to drop the subject.
Oh yeah…and about all those girls – Well, the new girl decided I was way too intense to even mess with. She started hanging on Freddy’s every word. Lucille told me I needed time to decide exactly what I wanted to do, so she no longer hung around the likes of me.
And Lorrie? Well, she still met me to ride to school every morning. At school, she still hinted for me to carry her books and still gave me those looks in class. I told Pa right away and he smiled, stating it was just fine with him. I asked him why. “Well son, as long as she’s hung up on you, I know that you both are pretty safe from getting into any trouble!” Pa declared.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Death Never Rides Alone
around The McCain Ranch