“Mark, you’re late!” Miss Pritchard stated as she placed a hand on her hip.
I froze at the back of the classroom as every eye turned on me. “Uh…Yes ma’am. I’m very sorry.” I hurried in to sit down. “My horse…he had a mind of his own. Honest, ma’am.”
Freddie covered his mouth with his hand and snickered. I narrowed my eyes at him as I sat down. “Well, the wood pile is getting a little low,” Miss Pritchard stated. “I’m sure you won’t mind staying after school today and chopping up some wood.”
I sighed. “No ma’am.” She raised her eyebrow at me. “I mean…yes ma’am…” I sighed. “I’ll stay and chop some wood.” I looked at Freddie. “As if I have a choice?”
My grades were coming back up and Miss Pritchard told me I could go back to my half days next week as long as I did good this week. I certainly was happy about that! I still hoped, though, that Mr. Griswald would soon be back.
It was Friday – another one of those really long days! Chopping a whole pile of firewood after school didn’t exactly make the day any better either. As I was chopping, I saw Pa come to the edge of the schoolyard. He just shook his head, turned around, and went back into town. As soon as my task was done, I headed into town.
“Hi, Micah!” I greeted Micah warmly as I came into his office. Pa looked at me over his coffee cup. I cleared my throat and gave Micah a playful punch on the arm. “So…uh…how goes business? Busting at the seams, I hope!”
“Mark,” Micah looked at me through narrowed eyes. “You know, some days your wit does a lot to encourage me. But today…” Micah shook his head.
“Uh son…” Pa looked at me sternly. “What did you do today?”
“I didn’t do anything!” I assured him. “It’s that horse of mine – he had a mind of his own today! Wanting to go one way while I went another…My hard kicks in the flank didn’t mean anything to him today. He just walked right over to this patch of sweet grass and I couldn’t budge him. Honest Pa! I wish we had some means of transportation that didn’t involve living things with minds of their own!” Pa and Micah looked at each other. “I mean…I love Blue Boy, don’t get me wrong, Pa. But I could save him for special occasions.”
“Well, unless you know a way of making a four-legged critter that will pull a wagon, I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with it, son.”
“No, but…” I hurried over to Pa and sat down in front of him. “But Pa, I heard tell that in the East they are working on an invention. A horseless carriage, they call it!”
“A what?” Pa asked.
“A horseless carriage. Why Pa, just like the train drives by steam, they are coming up with ways to make carriages or…or…or wagons go with oil and gases. Like a…lantern burns with gas, so can a machine be forced to move with gas.” Pa was looking at me like I had lost my mind. I folded my arms and stood up. I went to look out on the street. Shaking my head, I said, “Pa, imagine someday out there on the street…horseless carriages that go where the driver wants them to go. Imagine them going faster than a horse can go. Imagine-“
“Let’s go eat, boy!” Pa interrupted me. I looked at him and saw doubt all over his face.
“Okay Pa, but someday when I’m driving one of those, you’ll have to say I told you so!” I announced as we started out the door.
Pa grabbed my ear as we started across the street to the hotel. “No son, because that idea is the most loco idea you’ve ever come up with yet!”
The next morning I was washing dishes. Pa came back inside from doing the chores. “How are the dishes coming?”
“Well…I’m rethinking what I thought of yesterday,” I answered.
Pa turned and looked at me. He raised an eyebrow as he waited for me to explain. “Oh…I mean, about the horseless carriage.”
“Oh, good!” Pa declared. He poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table.
“Oh, I think that’s still gonna happen, but before that, I want a machine that washes dishes for ya!”
“That figures!” Pa sat down his coffee cup. “Son, on our way into town we’re stopping at the nearby ranch to meet our new neighbors.”
“Oh yeah.” I remembered Micah talking about them at supper last night. “The mister’s real good friend of Micah’s, right Pa?”
“Mmm,” Pa nodded. “Used to be anyway.” I put the last plate on the shelf. “Let’s go!”
We rode over to the house. We saw a woman in the corral mounting a horse. We dismounted and looked over toward her. Suddenly, the horse reared and threw her. Pa ran in to help her while I watched. Suddenly, a man was there yelling at Pa as if he’d done something horribly wrong! I couldn’t believe it. Pa just let it roll off and said we had to be on our way. As we rode away, I asked Pa about it. “Nevermind, son,” Pa answered.
Then when we got into town, Pa told me to meet him at…of all places…the barber shop! Now, I don’t want my hair looking like a girl’s or anything, but I hate getting my hair cut – always did! Hair gets down in your shirt and makes you all itchy inside. Not to mention the fact that I have to sit still while the barber talks about everybody and everything and takes a long time on my hair! “The barber?” I asked in that little-boy whiney voice. Pa nodded firmly. I reminded Pa it had only been a month since my last time.
From the look on his face, he knew I was trying to get out of this. He lifted my hat off my head and studied on my hair for a moment. Then he smacked my hat back down and announced that I could wait another week! I told him I’d meet him back at Micah’s office, then I took off across the street for some well-earned candy!
I bought my candy. I stood in the back of the General Store sucking on my sucker stick as I thought on my latest problem. Milly walked up to me. “A penny for your thoughts,” she announced.
I looked at her and smiled. “Well, I have a problem I’m trying to figure out.”
“Oh?” Milly put a motherly arm around my shoulders. “Anything I can help you with?”
“Well Milly, I need to figure out a way to wash dishes.”
“Wash…dishes?” Milly shook her head. “What’s to figure out, Mark? You fill the pan with hot, soapy water and wash it – then you rinse it – then you dry it and put it away. That’s pretty easy.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Except for one small part. That word “You!” I jabbed a finger into my chest. “Because that means me with a capitol M!” I shook my head. “No, I just have to find a way to take the “me” out of that procedure.”
“Well, you’ll just have to con your father everyday into doing them himself, I suppose,” Milly declared.
“No.” I folded my arms as I thought on it. “No, it would be much easier to make an invention. I took another suck on my sucker stick. “I’ve been trying to con my father out of dishes for seven years now, and that’s gotten me nowhere. Now…” I thought on this. “Now…they use coal and oil for trains. They use oil for mines. They use oil for light…” I thought on this. “Why couldn’t we use some sort of oil…or…or something for washing dishes?”
Milly shook her head at me as I continued thinking on this. The door opened. “Lucas.”
“What?” Pa asked gruffly.
I straightened up at his mean voice, wondering if I’d done something wrong. “Lucas!” Milly scolded him.
Pa’s expression lightened up. “Oh, I’m sorry, Milly. I just had a run in with a man who treats his wife like…like…” Pa’s voice suddenly died off as his eyes rested on me. I knew he didn’t finish that sentence for my benefit. “I hope, Mark, that when you grow up and get married, you will remember that a woman is a precious thing from God. They should always be respected…always!”
I smiled as Pa walked up to Milly and put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her head to his chest. “Lucas McCain!” Milly pushed against his chest. “You are impossible!”
“Even when they treat you like dirt!” Pa declared as he planted a kiss on the top of her head and smiled.
“Oh, and Lucas, ease up on Mark here. I’m afraid you working this boy too hard!” Pa looked from me to Milly. “Well, he’s trying to find a way to do dishes without a human having to do them. You must be spreading him too thin!”
“Oh, I’ll spread him thin alright!” Pa declared as he handed Milly his list of supplies. “Right now, we’re going down to see Nils. I’ll make sure to put him to work on helping with the shoeing while I finally get to the leatherworks!”
We started out the door. “Now Pa, on this dishwashing idea here…You know, I have all human kind in mind when I’m thinking on this!”
Pa shook his head at me. “Oh, I’m sure you do – especially a kind of human called “Mark McCain!” Pa smacked me hard on the backside and sent me walking faster toward the blacksmith.
The next day was Sunday. There was no circuit riding preacher coming through anymore. Pa said it was only a matter of weeks before we had our own preacher. The funds were set aside and some members of the church council were getting together a committee to start looking for a full-time preacher. Pa read the Bible as usual while I sat on the floor at his feet. Afterwards, I was sent to my room to think on the lesson.
As I sat on my bed, I heard tapping at the window. I turned my head to look toward the bedroom door and found it closed. Pa had a rule – when he sent me to meditate on my Bible, I was to stay there until he dismissed me. I hurried to my window to see what was going on.
Freddie was there. I raised the window. “Are you crazy? Pa will skin both of us if he finds you here!” I whispered harshly.
“I won’t stay long,” Freddie assured me. “I just wanted to tell you what I saw in town yesterday.”
I looked toward the bedroom door. It was still closed. “Alright. What is it?”
“That man that lives just up the road…Jake Owens. He made quite a scene in town yesterday with your Pa. I was just leaving Pa’s office down the street when I saw it. Don’t know where you were.”
“Oh, I was probably in the General Store thinking up an invention for washing dishes.”
“A what?” Freddie shook his head. “We have my mother to do that!”
“Yeah? Well, I bet your ma sure would appreciate my invention when I think of it!’ I declared a little louder then I meant to. I looked toward the bedroom door, expecting Pa to come in. It was still closed. I turned back to Freddie. “Anyhow…I’m pretty close to thinking it up on my own. “
“Okay…okay…” Freddie brushed me off. “Mr. Owens threatened your Pa. He said his wife was flirting with your Pa and your Pa was making advances at her.”
I wrinkled my brow. “That’s what he said?”
“Well…that’s what he meant!” Freddie declared. “Anyways, Mr. Owens said that the next time he has to tell your Pa to stay away from his wife, it was gonna be with a gun!”
“A gun?” I repeated worriedly. “You…you mean he’s gonna come gunnin’ for my Pa?”
Freddie nodded. “That’s exactly what I mean! You better watch your step, Mark. That man was mad! Pa said he used to be a U.S. Marshal somewhere and he was really good with a gun.” Freddie looked over his shoulder. “I better go before your Pa sees us talking! I’ll see you later.”
I watched Freddie leave, wondering about the man. I didn’t like people making threats against my Pa. It always bothered me to know someone was out to get him.
That night, I decided to ask Pa about this man. I was just finishing up my dreadful chore of doing the dishes. I turned and looked at Pa. “I heard there’s a…a man…gunning for you, Pa.”
“Oh?” Pa looked up from the newspaper he was reading. He took the cigar from his mouth and blew a big stream of smoke out. “I haven’t heard that.”
I stopped wiping the plate and walked towards him. “I heard a man threatened you to stay away from his wife – that you were…flirting with her…” I averted my eyes.
Pa held the cigar in his hand as he stared at me. He stood up and walked towards me. The look on his face told me I was about to be reprimanded, so I took a step backwards. Pa was there suddenly and put a firm grip on my shoulder. “Mark, I don’t like you hearing things and making them into facts!” Pa’s voice boomed.
“I didn’t, Pa. I…I…I...” I lowered my face as Pa continued holding onto my shoulder. “Pa, I’m just telling you what I was told.”
“I don’t like you hearing such things, son.” Pa narrowed his eyes at me. “Who told you?” I looked down at the floor and shrugged. “Who told you?” Pa repeated the question. This time, his voice held more force.
“It was Freddie,” I answered.
“So, that’s what he was doing out here earlier when you were supposed to be reflecting on the Good Book.” I looked up into Pa’s eyes, a bit surprised I hadn’t pulled a fast one on him after all. “Yes son, I heard you two in there talking. A father sometimes chooses his battles, if you know what I mean.” Pa motioned for me to sit down at the table. “Son, this man who you claim is gunning for me is a very jealous man. Jealousy is a very sick thing that gets in a man’s heart and grows into something so powerful…Mark, if a man really loves his wife..I mean truly…deep down…he’s going to believe in her. If he doesn’t then…well, he’ll always doubt her.”
I nodded. Pa sat back in his chair. “Mark, some men are so jealous that if they even see a man looking at his wife he gets mad. Now, there’s nothing wrong with what I did – talking to her – making her feel welcome. I was not flirting with her, son.”
I remembered back to a woman who came through North Fork a couple years ago. She was pretty and married. I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered her now. Even I, at the age of 11, thought she was very, very pretty. My Pa couldn’t take his eyes off of her. But I didn’t mention it then. He explained it to me – and I reckon it was all innocent enough.
I brought my attention back to the present. “Pa?” Pa looked up at me. “Did he threaten you?”
Pa looked down at the table. I could tell he didn’t want to answer. Then he looked back up at me and looked me right in the eye. “Yes son. He threatened me.”
“If he comes gunning for you, are you-“ I stopped as Pa held up his hand.
“Son, you know I never shoot to kill. But if he comes gunning for me, I’m not going to allow his jealousy to rob you of your father. But let’s not borrow trouble, huh?”
“Yes sir.” I shook my head. “It’s just that…she’s so pretty and seem so nice – from the little time I saw her. But Pa, she seems so…so…”
“Lonely,” Pa answered. I saw the knowing look in Pa’s eyes. “I know what that feels like.”
“Pa, you have me!” I declared. “Isn’t that enough?”
Pa put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s hard to explain, son. A man needs a woman…That’s the way God intended it to be. A woman completes him.”
“Like you and Milly?” I asked.
Pa smiled. “Well, not exactly, son. You see, I…” Pa shook his head and smiled. “Well, that’s something for you to understand AFTER you’re married. Anyways, that’s why she’s so lonely. She doesn’t have that companionship she needs – a husband who makes her feel loved.” Pa rubbed a hand through his hair and sighed. “Well…” he breathed. I wondered why he was holding his breath. “Don’t you have dishes to do?”
Monday morning came way too soon in my opinion! I heard Pa knock on the bedroom door and tell me it was time to get up, but I just groaned and went back to sleep. Then I heard Pa knock a second time and give me a stern warning. Again, I rolled over and went back to sleep. When the third knock came, I forced myself to sit up on the side of the bed. I knew the third knock was the final warning.
I dressed and went into the other room to eat breakfast. I saw Pa cleaning his rifle. “Going somewhere?” I asked.
“Oh, just out to the North line, son. I have some fence mending to do.” I gasped as he stood up and walked out the door. The north line was where the Owens Ranch was.
When Pa came back in, he told me to gather up my books. He went outside. “I don’t feel so hot today, Pa,” I said as I looked for my pencil.
Pa came over and felt my forehead. “You don’t feel warm, son. What’s wrong?”
“Oh…I don’t know. I just don’t feel good.”
Pa nodded. “Well, you just have to go for four hours today. I don’t want you to miss unless you have to. I’m sure you’re fine.” The sick thing never worked with my Pa!
Pa went outside. He soon poked his head inside the door. “Son, you need to get moving!” Then he went back outside.
Pa could tell I wasn’t in any hurry. He reminded me of the consequences if I was late.
“Yeah, she doesn’t miss a chance to getting somebody on that woodpile!” I complained.
“Now, I’d say that’s a practical way of settin’ aside winter firewood!” Pa declared.
“Well, you wouldn’t think it was so practical if…if you were the one choppin’ more than half the pile.”
“Well, I guess that would slam my outlook on it,” Pa declared. I just stood there. I was worried and couldn’t seem to make myself move! “Mark, ever since you got up this mornin’, you seem to have something on your mind.”
I looked at Pa as I answered. “Well, I…I was thinkin’, Pa. Today we are studyin’ about…well, about English Kings, an’…well, I was just figurin’ it was more important for me to help you finish fixin’ those fence posts on the North line.”
But Pa could see right through me. He knew I was worried about that line being close to the Owens Ranch. I said, “Sort of,” which to Pa meant yes. “Well, no sense me tellin’ you not to worry about it. Worries don’t shed too easily, that’s certainly the truth.”
“He sure is an unreasonable man, that’s the truth too!” I declared.
“There’s an old saying, Mark. The things we worry about most never come to pass, so with that in mind why don't you start riding and try and beat that school bell?"
"You mean if I keep on worrying about being late then it won't come to pass and I'll be early?"
"You can try it, but you can also try hustlin’ just to play it doubly safe.” That put a smile on my face. “Now get going," Pa ordered sternly.
But it didn’t take long for worry to set back in. I didn’t like a man threatening to shoot my Pa, and until the matter was resolved I knew I wouldn’t rest easy. All morning I was distracted. I apologized to Miss Pritchard for being that way and explained there was a problem at home. She could tell I was sincere just by looking in my eyes, so she simply smiled and returned to her teaching.
The minute she dismissed us for lunch recess, I ran to my horse and jumped on. I rode like the devil back to the ranch. When I got there, Pa was preparing lunch. “I take it all went well this morning?” I asked.
Pa looked up from spreading jam on a piece of bread. “Well, you made it home in record time, son.”
I ran up to him. “Well? Was there any trouble?”
Pa shook his head. Mrs. Owens was out there, but we just talked for a couple minutes and she went on her way. I’ll have to go back out and work after lunch.”
“Back to the North line?” I asked. Pa nodded. “Oh. Then I’ll be going with you.”
“Oh, no son. I have some chores for you to do.” He tapped a piece of paper on the table. “That should keep you busy until I get back.”
I studied the list and groaned. “Pa, I really want to help you! I-“
“Son, I need these things done as well. I want you to stay here and get these done.” I could see it in his eyes. If there was going to be trouble, he didn’t want me around. I looked down at the list and back up at him. I said nothing as we just looked at each other. “It’s the way I want it, Mark. Please don’t argue.”
Pa sat down at the table and started working on his wire cutters. I turned and looked at the dishes in the sink. The breakfast dishes were still there – caked with dried food. I groaned as I started in on them. I knew that I just HAD to think of a way to get out of washing all these dishes! I wished we could just put all the dishes in a big box and shake it. But how could we do that? I looked out the window as I dried a dish. There I saw it! That’s it!
“Pa, I’ve been thinking.”
"I guess that a good sign your schoolings paying off." Pa smiled. Oh, but that joke was getting old!
"No...I've been thinkin' about a way dishes could wash themselves.” I put my thoughts into words. “Suppose you had a box...I mean a box that didn't leak water and you put the dirty dishes in it."
"Well, I guess that could be arranged.” Pa gave a short laugh.
"Well, the rest would be simple...you'd just tie the soapy water box on the back of a horse and jog him around the house a few times." I stood there looking at Pa and Pa sat there looking at me. The idea definitely sounded better in my head! "Oh...no, I guess it wouldn't be too practical."
"No I don't think so son." I reckon I’d just have to do some more thinking on it.
Just then we heard a rider ride up. Micah came in and asked to speak to Pa alone. I went out to hitch up the wagon for Pa. I was almost done when I saw Micah walk out, mount his horse, and ride off. He didn’t look to happy.
I went back inside. “You and Micah have words, Pa?” I asked.
Pa stood up and grabbed his rifle. “Nevermind, son.”
Pa’s voice held a hint of anger. “Yeah, but Pa, I-“
Pa turned to me. “Did you hear me? I said never mind!” Pa’s loud voice startled me. I stepped back a few steps. Pa closed his eyes in frustration and opened them. They looked softer. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to scare you.” Pa sighed. “Please understand, son. I just…don’t want to talk about it.”
Pa nodded. “Alright. I better get going. I’ll see you when I get back. Make sure you do those chores!”
I left to do the first chore on the list – stack the firewood. But I didn’t work for long before I made a decision. I just couldn’t stand by and work knowing Pa’s life could be in danger. I mounted Blue Boy and rode out to where Pa was working. I was still a ways away when I tied Blue Boy to a tree and snuck in closer to keep an eye on Pa.
But I suddenly heard his rifle fire. I gasped and moved in closer. Then I heard more gunshots. I ran forward and hid behind some tall bushes. Two men laid dead a little further up. I saw Mrs. Owens turn and walk away from Mr. Owens. I could hear Pa’s bitter words.
"You're a fool Owens," Pa said. "This fellow Travis...do you think he just wanted you dead? That could have been easily arranged. Ambush...no witnesses. Are you so blind that you can't see that he just wanted your jealousy? Your sickness to cause your death?” Pa paused, giving him time to think. “You are a fool."
I watched as Mr. Owens walked over to his wife. Pa walked over to the buckboard and began loading it up to go back home. I watched as the Owens hugged. Then he helped her onto her horse and they slowly rode off as they spoke softly to each other. I turned to leave before I was caught. A twig snapped under my foot. I put a hand to my mouth as Pa suddenly turned from his wagon.
“Alright, you can come on out!’ Pa ordered. “Come on!”
I swallowed as I stepped out. Pa saw me and slowly straightened up to his full height and put his hands on his hips. “H-hi, Pa.”
Pa lifted a hand and drew a finger toward himself as he motioned for me to come to him. I stepped forward. Swallowing hard, I spoke. “I…I was worried is all.”
“Get your chores done?” Pa asked. I heard the softness in his voice. His voice was deceiving the stern look on his face.
“N-no sir. I-I’ll go work on them right now…sir.” I turned and started to leave. Pa reached out and grabbed the back of my shirt. I waited for his words.
“I love you too, son.” He gave me a hard smack on the backside. “Now go get those chores done!”
I turned and smiled at him. “Yes sir!”
Pa ruffled my hair as he sat the meat on the table that night. After prayer, we started eating in silence. I could tell what happened earlier still bothered him. “Pa, you reckon they’ll be okay now?” I asked.
Pa shook his head. “I don’t know, son. I know it’s going to take a lot of time and patience.” He took a bite. As he swallowed, he mumbled to himself, “It’s just amazing how far a man’s willing to go for revenge.”
“Who were those two men you killed?” I asked then.
Pa stopped chewing and looked at me. He shifted uncomfortable in his chair. “I’m not exactly sure, son. That’s a private matter between Mr. and Mrs. Owens. As far as I can tell, one of them was a man they knew from where they lived before. He apparently made unwanted advances toward her and grew angry when she didn’t respond.”
“Advances? You mean like…kissing?” I asked.
Pa again shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Uh…well yeah, son. He wanted to uh…yeah. Like kissing.”
I couldn’t keep a small smile from playing at the corners of my mouth. I quickly rubbed it way with my hand. He must have wanted her pretty bad to come all this way. But why…” I allowed the question to die.
Pa put his hand to his chin as he thought about it. “I suppose, son, that he was a man used to getting what he wanted. When he couldn’t have it, he destroyed her in the worst possible way – by destroying her husband.” Pa sighed as he picked up his coffee cup. “Son, a woman is a precious gift from God. God made woman so man wouldn’t be alone. She’s a man’s companion – his help mate. She deserves a man’s respect. I hope you always remember that.”
“Pa, I will always hold a woman high in respect. Like you did Ma.”
Pa smiled as we went back to eating. Later as I washed the dishes, I thought on this some more. "Ma was as pretty as Mrs. Owens wasn't she?"
"Yes she was!" Pa declared.
I couldn’t help but wonder…"Were you ever jealous over Ma like Mr. Owens was?"
"Oh maybe a little while when we were courtin'. But not after we were married." Pa looked at me. "You know son...being jealous...means a…a man doesn't really trust himself. And he doesn't trust his wife to know her own mind when she says she loves him. Your Ma always knew her own mind!"
"Yeah," said Mark with a big smile. I remember Pa telling me stories about that. I changed the subject back to the dishwashing idea. I hadn’t quite given up on it yet! "Say Pa. About that dish washing box idea. I've been thinkin' about it. Suppose we had a little windmill. We could attach a shaft to a rockin' chair and every time the windmill turned the rocker would go back and forth and rock all the dishes clean."
“That's a good idea but how about the days the wind doesn't blow?" Pa asked me. Wasn’t that just like a parent? Pa’s practicality always ruined my great inventions!
"Oh I never thought about that.” I wasn’t defeated yet! “Hey Pa. Tommy Hamilton once let his dog lick his plate clean and his Ma never knew the difference. So what if we had one of those old farm dogs with one of the big old lapin' tongues who's always hungry...why he..." I turned and looked at Pa. He had a disgusted look on his face. I realized in that instant that getting a dog as a dishwasher was out of the question. “I guess that would be a…a unsanitary dishwasher.”
“Yeah,” Pa agreed. I grabbed the plate from Pa and worked on drying it.
Pa bent down and put an arm around my shoulder. “You know son, I have the best dishwasher in the world! And when you grow up and have children of your own, all your dishwashing problems will be solved.” He handed me another dish. “Think about it.”
Oh I did! Believe me, I did!
*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
None So Blind
around The McCain Ranch