I wanted to call this episode “The Painting Incident” but Pa wouldn’t let me. You’ve heard all that my Pa dealt with those days that Micah was gone, but you haven’t heard about my story…yet!
It actually started before my Pa’s story began, and ended after his story did. You see, I was at home one day working on my chores when Micah came up. Pa was out on the range working with the cattle, and had been for the last three days. Our herd was surely growing, and they were taking more of his time – especially right now with them being scattered everywhere! For the last three days, he was getting ready to leave while I was getting ready for school. He came home long after I did, just in time to sit down to a meal prepared by me.
This morning I hadn’t hurried fast enough. He was dog tired. I could see the tiredness in his eyes. He snapped at me to get a move on, and I did without another word. I knew he wouldn’t leave to go work with the cattle until I was on my way to school. I came out to my horse, the horse Pa had to saddle for me that particular morning. “You should have waited for me to do it,” I stated when I saw Blue Boy all ready for me.
Pa handed me the reins. “You would’ve been late for school, son.”
“So? It wouldn’t have mattered to me, much, Pa.” I saw how tired he was. “That’s not as important as you getting your rest.”
“Well, it is to me – more important, son.” I nodded, knowing he saw my education as one of the most important things right now.
“Well, just the same…I wish you’d let me miss a few days so’s I can help you. What between tending to the regular work, watching the crops, and working with the cattle-“ I stated worriedly.
“You better get to school, son. I don’t want you to be late.” With that spoken, he had slapped my horse and sent us on our way.
That’s why Micah was such a blessing. I told him Pa was out on the range again. I shook my head as I told him just how tired Pa was from working so hard. “Well, I may just have an answer for you, Mark.” Micah put his arm around me and led me inside. “I’ll fix some of my famous bachelor stew for supper, sonny. You got any chopped pork?”
I told him I could go out to the smokehouse and get him some pork. I loved his bachelor stew! It was something he had made up all on his own with chopped pork, potatoes, corn, carrots, and some herbs he called his “secret herbs.” After I got the pork for him, I announced that I’d peel the vegetables. “You see, Mark, after supper I have to leave for a few days.”
I smiled as I turned to look at Micah. “And you’ll need a deputy?” Micah nodded. “You’re gonna ask my Pa?” Micah turned his head toward me and grinned. “So, we’ll have to stay in town for a few days!”
“It’ll be good for both of you.”
“Oh, but there’s so much work to be done, Micah. Pa’s been working with the cattle now for three days. He said it would take several days for him to get them all gathered up. I offered to help him after school, but he has a long list of chores for me to get done here along with my homework. He’s just so tired at the end of the day!”
“Well, it just so happens that I’m doing a big favor for Oat Jackford. In return, he’s gonna have a couple of his hands work on gathering up the rest of your father’s stock.” Micah continued working on his stew.
“Mr. Jackford?” I was surprised. It was a rare occasion that he did a favor for anyone – especially my Pa, who he still calls a squatter from time to time. “What kind of favor?”
“Oh, some men had rustled some of his cattle. A couple of them were killed and a couple others are being held in Willow Springs. I’m going there to talk with the Marshal and see about getting them back here on charges of rustling. Jackford wants them hung.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed as I smiled. Micah cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows. “I mean…” I swallowed. “Well, you know....”
The door opened then. I hurried over to the table and sat down. But I hadn’t had time to open my book before Pa walked in. “Micah!” he greeted him as he gave me the evil eye. I opened my book and began reading my history. “What are you doing here?”
I turned in my chair. “He’s going out of town, Pa. And he wants you to-“
“Mark, let me tell him!” Micah said sternly.
Pa pointed straight at me. “Go on to your room, boy, and work on that history until supper.” That wasn’t fair! I always missed out on the good stuff!
I stayed in the room reading my history for a good hour. The aroma of Micah’s stew was filling the house. Pa finally came in and jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, letting me know it was time to eat. I started out the door, but his words stopped me. “Don’t forget to wash up, boy!”
I hurried and washed up. Then I sat down at the table. Pa quickly blessed the food then we started eating. Everything was quiet. I knew Pa was too tired to talk, and Micah was trying to give Pa the silence he needed, but I couldn’t stand the not knowing. “Well?” I asked.
Pa stopped buttering his bread and looked up at me. “Well what?”
I leaned forward anxiously. “Did Micah tell you what he needed?”
Pa nodded as he took a bite of his bread. “He did.”
“And?” I asked, leaning forward. I was practically sitting in his lap at this point. “Are you gonna do it?”
Pa pointed to my plate. “Hurry and eat, boy. I want to get into town before it gets too dark.”
“Oh boy!” I declared. “Yes sir!”
Pa told me Micah would sleep here, then leave at first light in the morning. Pa and I, on the other hand, would spend the night in town. Micah said there were some cowboys acting kind of crazy in the evenings, and he didn’t like the town going unmarshaled, even for one night. “Well don’t you worry none, Micah. As soon as they see my Pa, they’ll calm down!”
Pa laughed. Micah grinned and looked at my Pa. “That they will, boy.”
Pa packed the things we would need and headed for his horse. I said goodbye to Micah and followed him. As I got up on my horse, he looked at me. “Where’s your school books?” I groaned, but went back and got them. Then as soon as we got into town I saw Freddie out with some of the other kids from school.
“Hey Mark!” Freddie ran over to me. “You staying in town?” I told him Micah would be gone for a few days. “We’re playing tag down there. You wanta join us.”
“Sure!” I declared, but Pa had a firm hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him and he shook his head at me.
“Mark has a test to study for,” Pa answered. I wonder how Pa was able to keep so up on my studies when he worked so hard! How did he know I had a test? Then Pa pointed at the boys. “First of all boys, I believe you all have the same test to study for tomorrow. And second of all, this is no playground. I don’t want you all out here on the street after dark, so get yourselves home!”
Boy, Pa had been in town marshalling for only two minutes at the most, and he was already bossing my friends! They slowly walked away. Pa gave me a push toward the hotel and told me I needed to get my studies done.
I knew Pa was tired, but when he came up to the room and laid down next to me on the bed, I was a bit surprised! He was asleep in two minutes flat! I just sat there and finished my studies, then I took his boots off and covered him up.
The next morning, I woke up to a grumbling in my stomach. The sun was already shining through the windows, yet my Pa was still fast asleep. “Boy, some Marshal you are today!” I mumbled under my breath. Then I got up and got dressed for school. “Pa?” I called. But he didn’t even stir. I came over and shook him gently. “Pa?”
Pa sat up, shook his head and stared at me. “Are you doing your homework?”
“I did it – last night!” I declared.
“Last-“ Pa rubbed his eyes, and only then did he realize that it was morning. “Oh, I guess I was tired.”
I buttoned my shirt and grabbed my books and hat. “I’ll go eat breakfast, Pa. If there’s any bodies on the street I’ll come get ya!” Then I ran out the door before the flying pillow hit me in the head.
I ran downstairs and sat down at one of the tables in the dining room. “Morning, Mark,” Mable smiled as she gave me a glass of milk. “What are you doing here so early?”
I took a drink of my milk and thanked her. “Oh, we’re staying in town for a few days while Pa’s marshaling. Can I have some scrambled eggs and bacon this morning?” She nodded.
I was just finishing up when Pa came into the room. He had just sat down when Mable came to take his order. “Just coffee,” Pa mumbled, still half-asleep. “I’ll tell you want I want to eat after the coffee hits me. He watched me pop the last bite of food in my mouth. “It’s time for you to be getting to school, isn’t it?”
I stood and grabbed my books. “Yes sir.”
I won’t tell you about school. It was all pretty normal. But when I got done that day, I threw my books on the bed at the hotel and ran outside to play. I didn’t know where Pa was. The boys and I first hurried to the General Store for candy. I asked Miss Milly for a bag of sour balls and she obliged. “Um…I don’t exactly have the nickel on me right now. Could you charge it?”
Milly nodded, but folded her arms. “I’ll make sure to give your Pa the bill personally this month. That way he can do his yelling at me instead of you.” She ruffled my hair, then I took off to play.
“Hey, let’s go to the clubhouse!” Freddie suddenly said. I didn’t know there was a club house! Freddie said there were a lot of things I didn’t know since I lived outside of town. The club house just happened to be inside an old cave. Freddie lit the candle since it was dark in there, then he said, “Okay! This meeting will come to order!”
I asked them if I could join, but Freddie said I was an outsider – by that he meant I lived outside the town of North Fork, so I wasn’t allowed to be a member. They would be happy to let me be a temporary member, though, just as long as I stayed in town. “Well, what do you do?” I asked.
Freddie and Billy looked at each other and smiled. “Lots of things, Mark. We do lots of spyin’,” Billy said.
“We walk around and listen to people talking. Then we watch people. That way, if we hear them talking about killing somebody or breaking the law, we can run them in!”
I suddenly narrowed my eyes at Jeff. “Run them in? You’re just a kid. How you gonna run ‘em in?”
“It’s simple!” Jeff said. “We tell the Marshal what we heard then he arrests them. We get credit for it.”
I was wondering something. “How many men have you…uh…run in?”
“Well…” the boys are looked at each other. “None, actually.” I shook my head. “But we’ve followed several suspicious characters! Why, just last week we followed that gambling man Smith to the widow Snider’s house. Do you know he was in there for two whole hours? And when he came out-“
“Uh-“ I stopped them suddenly, not wanting to hear the details. “You sat outside her house for two hours?” They nodded proudly. “Sounds like lots of gossip to me!” I folded my arms and stood up. “Listen, why don’t we just…uh…go play kickball at the school?”
“Mark!” I suddenly heard Pa calling outside. I hurried out of the cave. Pa hurried over to me and grabbed my arm. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere, boy!”
“I’m sorry, Pa.” I looked around. “C-Can we go play ball?”
“No. You, young man, are going to march back into town, eat your supper, and then bring over a tray from the hotel to the Marshal’s office. Have you done your homework?”
I hung my head. “Then no, you cannot play ball after supper. You’ll go back to the hotel and work on your homework. Is that clear?”
That night after I finished my homework, Pa made me go straight to bed. We talked for a few minutes about the artist that was in town…you know, the one that was in my Pa’s story? Well, then I got to thinking how nice it was not to do chores and such after school. I didn’t have to cook supper or wash dishes…heck, I didn’t have to do one single chore today! It made me kina glad that Micah was out of town for a few days.
But then Pa announced that I’d have to go to the ranch and do chores the next morning. I thought on that for a minute, but then I smiled at my Pa. I figured I’d gotten off pretty good for what I had done that afternoon!
The next morning as we sat at the table eating breakfast, I asked Pa if I could play with the boys after school. He shook his head as he took another bite of eggs. Then he waved his fork around as he spoke to me. “You have to go to the ranch and feed the cattle. I told Jackford you’d do that this afternoon. I don’t want you getting it in your head that you don’t have to do chores. When you get back, you can play after supper, seeing as how it’s Friday night.”
I thought that was quite fair. I hurried into town at lunch and found Pa at Micah’s office. Pa was standing in the doorway watching something. I came in and stared at what Mr. Crowley, the artist, was doing. He was painting all over Micah’s walls! Pa scooted me out the door and sent me over to the restaurant for lunch. I started to leave, but then turned. I cocked my head to one side and crossed my arms. “Hey Pa?”
“Hm?” Pa asked, turning around.
“You doing that to keep him out of trouble?”
“What? Painting the walls? No son, I’m just trying to help him. He thinks he’s lost his touch with painting.”
I shook my head as I looked toward the Marshal’s office again. “He sure is doing some job! What do you suppose Micah will say when he comes back?”
Pa lost his smile only for a second. “Well, I just hope you are in school when he gets back, son.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well,” Pa started as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know that the words he has to say to me should be said in the presence of children!” I laughed. Pa smacked me on the back side and told me to get moving.
I lingered too long on my meal. Before I left, I grabbed my Pa a sandwich and a glass of milk and hurried it over to him. But when I got to the school, Mr. Griswald informed me I was fifteen minutes late. I apologized, but he informed me I’d remain after class for one hour. “But sir,” I argued bravely. “Pa says I’m to go out to our ranch and-“
“Sit down, Mr. McCain.” Though he wasn’t as mean as he had been when he first came, he was still awfully strict! He didn’t stand you in the corner or even make you write more. He gave you extra homework and made you start on it right after class. And though he hadn’t used the switch anymore, he would go over and touch it once in a while when one of us got out of line. Just seeing him do that was enough to put me back on the straight and narrow!
I did stay my one hour after class. Then I took off for the ranch. I ran my horse as fast as I could, knowing Pa would be really sore if I wasn’t back by supper as he had ordered this morning. But when I got out onto the range, I found that we had some trouble. There was a steer acting really crazy! I hurried toward him, but he was really wild. “Locoweed!” I declared. I jumped back onto my horse and raced into town.
“Pa, Pa!” I yelled. Pa came hurrying out of the office. “Pa, one of the steers got into some locoweed!” Pa jumped on his horse and raced out of town close behind me. I took him to the place where the steer was and pointed. For the next hour we worked on rounding that steer up and getting him into the corral. It was hard and Pa’s work was doubled in that he was protecting me, trying to keep me from getting hurt.
By the time we had mellowed the steer out and gotten him calmed down, it was too late for us to go back into town. Pa went inside and sat down in his chair with a loud groan. “Mark, see if you can peel some vegetables. I’ll make steaks and potatoes tonight.”
As we ate, Pa told me all about the artist we had visiting in town. I still laughed as I thought about the office. Pa smiled. “Oh, it’s much better now!” he declared.
I didn’t think it was quite fair that I was having to do the dishes on my vacation! Pa reminded me that he was in town on a marshalling job. “Can’t we go back into town?” I groaned with my head in my hands later.
“Why?” He asked. “This is your home, you know?”
“You said I could play with the other boys after supper tonight!” I groaned.
“Well, you can play with them about anytime.”
“Yeah, but it’s not the same!” Pa raised an eyebrow at me. I took my head out of my hands and sat up straight. “Well, I mean while we’re in town this week, I can pretend I’m one of the town boys.” Pa shook his head at me.
I had to go to bed the same time I always did – another reason I wished I was back at the hotel. As Pa came in to check on me, I asked, “Are you sure it’s okay to leave Mr. Crowley in town alone all night?”
Pa blew out the lantern and told me it was just fine. North Fork could survive one evening without the Marshal. “I’m going to go check on that steer. Maybe he’s calm enough to eat now.” Pa paused at the open door. “You go to sleep!”
The next morning, Pa got me up early and told me to go do the morning chores. I picked up the pail to go milk the cow. “If we were in town, I wouldn’t be doing this,” I muttered under my breath. “I’d be going fishing right about now!”
“What was that?”
“Uh…nothing, Pa!” I assured him as I hurried out the door. After my chores were done, I sat down at the table for breakfast. But when I looked down at the table as Pa sat my breakfast before me, I lost my smile. “Mush!” I declared.
Pa sat his coffee cup down and pointed at it. “Eat it!”
“After having eggs and bacon every morning this-“ I heard Pa clear his throat. “I mean, this is great!” I began eating it. “Say Pa? Is it alright with you if I go fishing with the boys? They were going to the Valley Lake today and I can still run and catch up with them!”
“I have some chores I want you to do around here this morning, son. But you are welcome to go fishing this afternoon. After lunch at the café.”
All morning I worked on that list of chores Pa had left me. He said he had gotten a telegram from Micah yesterday, and Micah should be home later today. So it looked like we were done sleeping at the hotel. I didn’t wish anything bad to happen to Micah, but I did sort of hope he’d be delayed…in a good way…just for another day or two!
I sighed as I threw the last piece of wood on the woodpile. My chores were finally done! Then I headed into town to meet Pa for lunch. But as I rode into town, I saw two men driving a body off in a wagon. Pa had his arms folded and was watching it go. “Who’s that?” I asked.
I whirled my head around and stared at Pa. “Mr. Travis?” I was surprised. I never knew him to be a trouble maker. “Who killed him?”
“I had to shoot him. He murdered last night.”
“See?” I declared. “I told you we should have come back into town last night!” Pa turned and gave me the evil eye again. “Well, I did tell ya, Pa.”
Pa shook his head. “My being in town wouldn’t have stopped that murder. I suspect it had already been committed. And in a way, it might have been good that I wasn’t here.” I asked Pa why. “Well, I think that murder would have gone unsolved, had they not gotten Mr. Crowley drunk and blamed him for the murder.” Pa told me about how he had bluffed Mr. Travis and his friend into thinking Mr. Crowley had drawn their picture instead of his.
“You know, Pa. You are just about the smartest Marshal in the whole world!” I declared.
Mr. Crowley showed me the picture he had drawn. Pa said he had done that whole picture in a jiffy. I wanted to keep it, and Mr. Crowley said I could. When he walked away to go working on drawing Hannah Shaw’s picture, I turned and watched. Then I asked Pa if he could draw her picture now.
"Well Mark. There's an old saying a man does a better job if he likes his work is true, he'll paint a real good picture,” Pa answered.
I then looked at Miss. Shaw. I smiled. “Ohhhhh!” He was right! She was pretty to look at. Just when I was starting to realize how pretty she was, Pa turned my head around and headed me toward the café.
“Pa?” I asked suddenly. “What makes a man…or a boy…think a woman’s pretty? Why does one woman look pretty and one doesn’t?” Pa smiled down at me but kept walking.
“And why is it that when I see a pretty girl that I get a strange butterfly feeling inside?” Pa didn’t say anything. “Well, Pa? Aren’t you gonna tell me Pa?”
Pa suddenly stopped and turned to me. “Mark, this is a conversation every father has to have with his son, but I’ve had a pretty rough day and don’t feel like getting into this conversation. Okay?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. That meant it was something adults talked about, and he wasn’t ready to talk to me about it! There were lots of those!
After we ate, I went fishing with the boys. They were doing really good and I soon had enough for supper. I hurried back in town with my string of fish ready to show Pa. But just then, I saw Micah ride into town. I snuck around the front of the office. I hid as I watched him walk inside, then ran up to the building so I could hear. “What the devil!” I suddenly heard Micah. What followed was a whole line of words that would get my mouth washed out with soup.
“Now Micah, you just calm down!” I heard Pa saying as I stood outside the door. I covered my mouth with my hand to keep from laughing. “I had a perfectly good reason for-“ Pa started.
“A good reason?” Micah said. Then he said some more things that I can’t repeat. “Why Lucas Boy, if you want trouble, you got it!” He finally said in a rather loud voice. “You see if I ever entrust you to watch my office! All I did is tell you to watch the office! That’s all! I never told you to make a….what is this, anyhow?”
“Well, you see Micah, this drunken artist showed up on the stage a couple days ago and…” Pa’s voice drifted off.
I was laughing into my head. I could just picture the look on Micah’s face! “And what?”
“Well, it’s sort of a long, involved story, Micah. But the important thing is that I helped a man get back on the straight and narrow.”
“OH?” Micah stated. From the tone in his voice, I’d say my Pa was in deep trouble. “Well, since you worked so hard at getting him back onto the straight and narrow…” Micah’s voice suddenly grew very, very loud! “You can help me by getting this office back to normal!”
“Well Micah, I just thought your walls needed a little…color,” Pa argued. But he was loosing and he knew it – I could hear the defeat in his voice.
“I was perfectly happy with plain ol’ white walls, and white walls is what I’m gonna have!”
“Now Micah,” Pa said in an irritated voice. “White? Do you know how many times I’ll have to paint these walls to –“
“I don’t give a-“ I can’t repeat what he said there either…but he said he didn’t care if it took a hundred, he wanted his walls restored. There was a short pause. “NOW!”
I figure Pa probably put his hands up in defeat at that point. “Alright, Micah! Alright!” Pa’s voice got louder. He sounded as if he got closer to the door. “When do you want to do it?”
“When do I-“ Micah started. “Ohhhhhhhhhhh….no, Lucas boy. There is no me here…You did this all on your own – you fix it!”
I held my hand over my mouth, but I couldn’t keep the laughter from coming out. I suddenly found myself sitting in a chair outside his office, roaring with laughter! Pa and Micah came out to find me there. Pa folded his arms and looked annoyed at me. Micah came over to me and grabbed the fish. “I’ll take these fish to your house. Me and Mark will have ourselves a fine fish supper tonight!”
“Micah!” Pa argued as Micah put his arm around my shoulders and started walking me toward the horses. “Where am I going to get the money for the paint?”
Micah looked at me then back at Pa. He shrugged. “You were smart enough to come up with this d-“ he cleared his throat. “This hair-brained idea. Maybe you can get the money from the same place!”
Then Micah and I got on our horses and rode out of town. I must admit that I should have felt sorry for Pa, but I thought seeing Pa the one getting yelled at and punished for a change was funny! Three days later, Pa announced the office was restored. I started to say something, but Pa held up a hand and told me we were never to mention this incident ever again. If it ever came out, he’d wash my mouth out with soap – even if I was forty years old!
Well, let’s get out the soap!
*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
around The McCain Ranch