I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I finished unloading my second wagon load of hay for the day. Pa walked out of the house carrying a canteen full of water. “I think that’s enough for today, son. We’ll work together on getting the final load tomorrow. Then we can work on rounding up the cattle tomorrow.”
I sat down and again wiped the sweat from my forehead. I’d been up since sunlight this morning chopping hay and stacking it. I had been out of school for harvest break for a whole week already, and I don’t remember ever working so hard in my life!
I let out a loud sigh as I plopped down on the porch. Pa sat down beside me and watched me cool off. He shook his head at me and grinned. I saw him do it from the corner of my eyes. “What?” I asked.
“You seem more mature now,” Pa answered.
“I am!” I grinned then. “A whole week more mature then last time you said that.”
“Oh, ha ha ha!” Pa shook his head at me. “Who pulled your string today?”
“Pa, you know…I’m too tired to even think on what that means.” I sighed as I closed my eyes. “I think…that I’ll go to bed early tonight!”
“You put in a right fine day, boy! I’m mighty proud of you.” Pa shook his head. “Mighty proud, son.”
“Well,” I licked my lips. “Tomorrow I’ll clean the coop, fix that loose board on the shed, mend the pig pen, paint the outhouse, and finish stacking the hay.”
“Wait a minute!” Pa held up a hand. “Back up there – paint the outhouse?”
I lifted my head and looked straight into his eyes. “Well…yeah! Paint the outhouse!” I shook my head. “If we have to have an unsightly thing like that in our backyard, we might as well make it pretty!”
Pa turned and raised his eyebrow at me. “An outhouse? Pretty?” I opened my mouth to say something, but Pa shook his head. “Never mind, son. May I ask…What color you are planning on painting the outhouse?”
“Why, purple of course!” I answered.
“Purple?” Pa gave me a disgusted look.
“Pink?” I asked, cocking my head to one side.
“Pink?” Pa asked then.
I sighed and shook my head. “Listen Pa, Milly has purple paint or pink paint she’s getting rid of for free. Those are your two choices.”
Pa groaned. “Ohhhhhhh Mark…I told Milly when she bought that paint that it was a mistake. I didn’t like the colors and finally told her she’d have to give it away. I’ll be darned if she’s giving it away to me!”
“She ain’t!” I pointed out. “She’s giving it to me!”
“Well, what color should I paint it then?”
Pa turned and looked at the house. “How about the same color as our house?”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s already the same color as our house – brown!”
Pa stood. “Exactly.” He walked into the house. “Come on boy, let’s get cleaned up so we can get to town for supper.”
I suddenly got excited. “We’re going to town for supper?”
Pa stopped just inside the door. “That is…unless you aim to fix supper.”
“Oh, no sir!”
We both laughed as we splashed each other with water at the sink. Then after putting on fresh shirts, we walked out together, jumped on our horses, and took off for town. Looking over the range, I could hardly believe how much smaller it seemed now then when we first bought it. Pa said it was because I was getting bigger, and I reckon I was though I didn’t really notice it.
I loved riding beside my Pa. Blue Boy and Razor had ridden together so many times that they knew how to stay perfectly side-by-side in step with each other so that my Pa and I could talk together as we traveled side-by-side. On the way to town, I informed Pa about all the history I seemed to learn now that I was actually paying more attention. Pa couldn’t help but smile at that. “It’s amazing how much you learn once you begin listening, son.”
“There’s just so many amazing men who gave so much so that I could have what I have today. So many men – and even women – lost their lives so that we could be free. I’m not only talking about free to live as we please in our country, but I mean free from squatters and the like as well! Women died in Indian raids and house burnings from men who tried to take what they wanted in the untamed West. Things are a lot calmer now then they were twenty or…well, even ten years ago.”
“Well, we still have those problems, son. Micah just had to chase some squatters off, if you remember. I suspect when you’re a man with your own family, you’ll still be having some fights, but things are better for you then when I was a boy. My folks died long before they should have because of all the battles they had to fight. Believe it or not, the battles I’ve fought over the years aren’t nearly as painful as those they fought. Yet, you’ll probably fight even less. Yes son, our rugged country is becoming civilized.”
I continued thinking. “Well, folks like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have done amazing things. But so did folks like Wyatt Earp and-“ I stopped as I looked at Pa and grinned.
Pa laughed as we pulled our horses up alongside the General Store. We walked inside and walked to the back where Milly was working. Pa smiled at her and gave her arm a squeeze as I started looking at the stuff on the table. A pocket watch caught my eyes. “Milly, how much is this?” I asked.
Milly smiled. “Oh, that’s $5.00, Mark.” My hand had reached out to touch it, but it snapped back when I heard the price.
“It’s not a snake, son,” Pa stated.
“Maybe not, but it sure is pricey!”
Milly laughed as she picked it up and opened it. She started showing me all the fancy stuff about it. Every couple of words, she’d look up at my Pa and smile. I shook my head. “I sure would like to have it!” I declared.
Pa scratched his nose. “Well son, if you have five dollars, you’re welcome to it.”
I sat it back down and shook my head. “I sure would like it!”
Pa laughed. “Well, there’s lots of things in here I would like to have myself, son. But I have to keep clothes on you and feed you. That’s my job!” I laughed. Pa turned to Milly. “While we’re here, can I look at some shirts for this boy?”
I should have known there was another reason we came into town! I groaned. “Pa, new shirts are so uncomfortable! Seems that as soon as I get one broken in right proper, you’re buying me a new one!”
Pa lifted my arm and pointed to the hole in my sleeve. “Is THAT what you call breaking in a shirt?” Pa shook his head and grinned at me really big. “I’m going down to the livery, son. You stay here and get three new shirts – these!” Pa pointed to the less pricey ones.
“Yes sir,” I answered with a sigh.
Pa stopped at the door and turned. “Oh Milly, would you join Mark and me for supper?”
I don’t know why Pa even asked. He knew she would never turn down a meal with him! I groaned as Milly made me try the shirts on and pin them up for fitting. She poked me a few times and declared she’d plant a firm hand on my backside if I didn’t stop wiggling. This was all old news – the same thing happened every time I had to try on clothes with Miss Milly. I wondered if Pa had the same problem when she tried shirts on him…But then I suspect Pa did his own shirt-fitting…
After supper, I sat back and thanked Pa for letting us eat in town. As usual, the apple pie was very good! Pa shook his head and smiled at me. Then I saw his hand move close to Milly’s on the table. “Son…um, would you go get the horses?”
I grinned as I sat and looked at Milly, then Pa. “Will that be long enough?” I asked.
Milly blushed and Pa shot me a stern look. “Oh, right Pa!” I said as I hurried out the door.
I added this last part of the story for good measure – because I find the looks Pa gives me funny sometimes. But I mainly wanted to tell you about the watch I saw in Milly’s store that day so you’d understand why I suddenly beamed with excitement the very next day when I found out I was going to get to work for Mr. Temple.
Now I admit that I was a bit…startled…when I first saw this man. But when you’re out looking for a lost calf, you don’t expect to see a stranger calling out to you on your own land, nor do you expect to see such a horrible scar taking up half the side of his face like that one was! I’ll admit that when my eyes first touched his face, my stomach churned. I couldn’t speak – the sight of that scar made my face suddenly hurt. And I’ll admit that I was just a bit scared of the man.
I was a bit relieved when I got back to Pa and he had that calf because I certainly didn’t want to go back and risk running into that man again. I didn’t waste any time in telling, Pa, though that I had seen the man and that he had a scar on his face. Pa could tell by looking at me that I had been afraid of something I didn’t understand, and I suspect he was a tad bit disappointed in me for running away from it.
But with my Pa there, I felt safer, though just looking at the scar made me feel a little sick to my stomach. I’d have to ask Pa about that scar later. Even Mr. Temple was able to figure out that the scar is what scared me off and not the calling out. I tried to tell him it wasn’t, but after seeing Pa’s disappointed face, I knew that I wasn’t to try to make excuses for my rude actions.
Things suddenly changed when Mr. Temple asked me if I wanted a job. He had a field to clear of stumps and needed my help. I suddenly got really excited and reminded Pa of the stopwatch I had seen in Milly’s store just the day before. Mr. Temple said he’d pay me 50 cents a day too! Pa reminded me that I had chores to do at home. I knew that.
I think he was thinking on the incident that had happened just a month or so before. I had behaved irresponsibly, trying to grow up faster then I should. And after the punishment Pa gave me, I must admit that I learned a valuable lesson and was ready to work like a thirteen year old boy instead of trying to prove to everyone I was something that I wasn’t.
Pa did finally give me permission, and I was certainly happy to once again be able to try to carry myself like a man. I wouldn’t let Pa down this time, nor give him any cause for concern! That much – I was sure of!
When we got back to the ranch, I asked Pa if he wanted me to fix supper for a change. He knew the only thing I knew how to fix was beef stew, but he did agree – even though I knew he didn’t like my stew that much. Pa was always the better cook – not me! God didn’t make me to do the cooking, but I reckoned I was again trying to take on more responsibility.
After we said the blessing, I started eating. My mind wondered to Mr. Temple. “Pa?” Pa looked up at me. “I’ve been wondering about Mr. Temple.”
“What about him, son?” Pa asked as he took a bit of his beef stew.
“Well…” I moved the food around on my plate, not much liking the taste of it. I had forgotten to put seasoning in it again. “That scar on his face.”
Pa sat down his scar and leaned forward. “Mark?” I heard the sternness in his voice so I looked up. “Son, that scar is nothing but a mark on his skin. It’s no different then the birthmark you have on your arm or the wrinkles Micah has on his face. I don’t want you to treat it any different.”
“I understand,” I stated. But I still wondered about it. “But that scar didn’t come natural like my birthmark or Micah’s wrinkles. That scar came as a result of something.”
Pa took a sip of his coffee and pushed the food around on his plate as he silently thought on this. “Pa?”
Pa sighed. “You’re right, son. That scar did come from something in his past – something horrible and tragic. I have my ideas about it, but they aren’t for me to say aloud. If he wants to tell you, he will. But you aren’t to ask about it, nor are you to treat him differently because of it.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that!” I declared.
“You already did.” Pa cocked his head to one side as he looked me straight in the eye. “Didn’t you?”
I sighed as I looked down at my stew. “Yes sir, I suppose I did.” I took another bite of my food. “And I’m sorry.”
“I’m not the one you should be saying that to. Am I?”
Pa had a way of making me feel guilty about stuff. He never had to mention what I did wrong directly, nor did he have to tell me what to do. He knew that at the age of thirteen, I had a pretty good understanding about what was right and wrong. That’s why when I went over to Mr. Temple’s house the next day, the first thing I did was apologize.
“It’s okay,” he said as he turned away from me. I was hoping he’d give me some sort of explanation, but he didn’t. He just told me it was time to get to work.
And Pa wasn’t kidding when he said this work would be harder then working at the stable! We worked hard all day. Mr. Temple kept telling me that my Pa was raising me good and I was already a hard worker at the age of thirteen. It made me proud and work just that much harder! Then we got onto a really big stump in his front yard. We worked and worked – it was a doozey! But together, we finally got it pulled.
As I watched him take a drink of water, I stared at the scar again. He caught me and I again apologized for staring. He said it was okay, but it wasn’t okay with me. I knew I was being rude.
Then some trouble came. Two men named Arnie and Jess Grady rode onto Mr. Temple’s land. The started hassling Mr. Temple. Mr. Temple tried to send me up to his house, but I wouldn’t hear of it! I wanted to stay. I figured with me there, they’d be less likely to do something bad, because they knew my Pa – and they knew just how mean my Pa could be! He could be pretty darn mean when someone messed with me.
But I shouldn’t have worried. Those bad boys were just a couple of chickens! Mr. Temple grabbed that shotgun and smashed it. Then he ordered them off his land and warned them to never come back again! Boy oh boy, but he sure did tell them a thing or two! When Pa rode up, I wanted to tell him all about it, but Mr. Temple stopped.
We got to stay for supper that night. When I heard we were having fried chicken, I certainly was happy! I wasn’t a bit surprised when Pa offered to fry the chicken either. I asked him once where he learned to cook so well, and he told me it was just years of practice. There was only one other person who could fry chicken better then my Pa – that was Miss Milly. But don’t tell my Pa that…
I didn’t do much talking at supper. It wasn’t just because I was tired – it was just because I was hungry! Pa shook his head at me as I sighed at the announcement that the chicken was all gone. “You know,” he said to Mr. Temple. “If your gonna work my boy this hard, I reckon he should just stay over here for supper. I don’t think I’d be able to afford feeding an appetite like that!”
“Oh Pa!” I rolled my eyes. “What’s for dessert?”
Mr. Temple laughed. “Mark!” Pa exclaimed in horror.
I apologized, but Mr. Temple said it was alright. He remembered looking forward to deserts when he was a growing boy too. He apologized for not having any desert. Pa promised him that next time he’d fix an apple pie for supper. “Just wait ‘till you taste my Pa’s apple pie!” I suddenly exclaimed. “He makes THE BEST apple pie in the world!”
“I’m afraid my son exaggerates a bit!” Pa laughed as he stood and ruffled my hair. “Come on boy, let’s get the dished picked up.”
After we got the table cleaned off, Mr. Temple announced that he and I would play a game while Pa washed dishes. I had no problem with that seeing as how I hated washing dishes! But then Mr. Temple announced the looser would have to relive Pa. I reckoned I wouldn’t have to wash dishes after all!
Mr. Temple sent me to the closet to get the checker board. While I was in there, I saw a calvery uniform. I asked him about it when I came back with the game. He didn’t act to thrilled about being there. My Pa was always excited to tell me his old war stories. He fought in the Civil War, you know. I always figured it would be exciting to wear a uniform and fighting for our country. Suddenly, Pa reminded me not to ask so many questions.
Mr. Temple told Pa it was okay – it was the way I learned. He told me he didn’t like the army – he had joined at the age of fifteen, and it seemed like a long time ago. He didn’t like fighting just to stay alive. He told me about the battle he fought in – then fighting the Cheyenne after the war. I know Pa told me not to, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked them if that was when he hurt himself. He only nodded.
It was so sad listening to him talk – it wasn’t just what he said but it was his voice. His voice was so full of regret and broken dreams. He did tell me that he had been hurt with fire – that’s how he received the scar on his face. He said he could still feel it at times – the burning…I wanted to cry just thinking about it.
We played our game, but my heart just wasn’t into it. I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Temple and everything he had endured. He beat me at the game. I walked into the kitchen and took the dish towel from Pa’s hand. “I reckon it’s your turn,” I mumbled as I took began finishing up the dishes.
I listened to them laugh and joke with each other. I didn’t understand how Pa could let what Mr. Temple told him just roll off so easily. I found the whole thing tragic. After the dishes were done, I quietly walked outside. I needed the fresh air and the quietness the darkness brought so I could think.
I sat out there for a good hour before the front door started to open. The thinking didn’t help me any. “Goodnight, Will!” Pa called cheerfully. “I’ll send Mark over in the morning!”
“Night, Mark!” Mr. Temple called. I turned and waved at him before mounting my horse.
Pa didn’t say much on the way home. But he kept turning in his saddle and looking at me. When we got home, I dismounted Blue Boy, then reached for Razor’s reins. I mumbled to Pa that I’d bed them down. But Pa suddenly put his hand on my shoulder. “Talk to me, son.”
I shook my head. “Pa, I feel so sick! You knew what happened, didn’t you?”
Pa nodded. “I suspected it, son.”
“It must have hurt.” The more I thought on it, the more I hurt for him. “I mean…to have fire scorched on your skin like that. I cannot…cannot eve imagine.” I shuddered.
Pa put his arm around my shoulders and led me into the barn. After lighting a lantern, he sat me down on a crate. Then he sat down across from me. “Listen, Mark. The Civil War was a…it was a terrible, ugly place to be. Every soldier that fought in that war was damaged and scarred in horrific ways. Many of the scars can’t be seen – they’re on the inside.”
I looked up at Pa. “Not you, Pa.”
Pa sighed as he nodded. “Yes, me, son. There are many things that happened in the war that I cannot talk about. Some I told your Ma about – but many I couldn’t. They are secrets – scars – that are buried deep within me. Some men were lucky to have been killed in the war. For some, living was worse then death. I was one of the lucky one’s. I had a lot of strength, son – not just physical strength, but strength inside me to help me endure and…and understand – to separate war from my life.” Pa sighed as he tightened his hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Temple suffered brutal treatment like the rest of us – and his suffering can be seen by everyone. Now, I won’t say I know it all, and perhaps I never will. But I do know that he needs our understanding and respect – not our sympathy.”
I sat and listened to everything Pa had to say. The reality was deeper then I’d ever understand. It was one thing to learn about it in school, but to live it was different. “Mark, I pray every night that you never…ever…have to understand it the way you want to. Because to understand it means to live through it. No father should ever have to watch his child go through that. I lost my folks while I was at war. They were there when I left, and gone when I got home. That alone was a deep scar. Your mother helped me through that – one of the toughest times of my life!”
I smiled then. “I understand, Pa.” Pa hugged me and I lingered in his embrace longer then I had to. I closed my eyes and smiled as I thanked God that Pa did survive the harshest parts of the war.
Pa patted my back as we broke the embrace. “Why don’t you go on inside and get ready for bed, son?”
I nodded. I was pretty tired!
For the next week, I worked for Mr. Temple. Pa said that when school started back up, I could only work half-days on Saturdays. Right now, I was only allowed to work during the week. Pa said he got me on weekends. But I did work hard! I didn’t only work hard, but I enjoyed getting to know Mr. Temple better. He didn’t really talk about his past, but he had so much knowledge about farming and ranching and such. One day as I talked to him about an irrigation idea I had, Mr. Temple stopped and stared at me. “What?” I suddenly asked.
He shook his head. “Mark, I’ve met a lot of boys your age and not many of them have the knowledge and enthusiasm you possess at such a young age. I can tell your Pa teaches you well. Some day, you’ll make a good rancher just like your father.”
I smiled at that. That evening when I went home, I had a warm feeling all over me. I told Pa about what Mr. Temple said. “I’ll have to thank him when I see him nest,” Pa stated with a prideful smile.
That evening, I had a lot of chores to catch up on, so Pa and I didn’t get much of a chance to talk. When I came inside, I feel asleep fully dressed. Later, I felt Pa shaking me gently. I opened my eyes and groaned. “Get undressed, son,” Pa whispered as he pulled back my covers. I threw my clothes off and allowed them to land where they did. I vaguely heard Pa pick them up, mumbling under his breath. The last think I remembered, Pa was tucking the covers up around me.
Suddenly, I heard a loud knock at the door. I groaned as Pa busted inside shouting a good-morning. Boy, but he was awfully perky. Come to find out, though, it was past time for me to be doing my chores.
I forced myself to sit up on the side of the bed. Then I promised Pa I’d get started on my chores. But Pa sat on my bed. He told me that he had seen Miss Milly yesterday (no surprise there) and had paid her the money for my watch. “But I want you to know that I did it for a reason,” he stated as he looked into my eyes proudly. “Mark, I’m not only proud of you for the way you’ve carried yourself like a man ever since you went to work for Mr. Temple. I’m proud of you for something else. You’ve learned not to dislike a man just because he’s unfortunately scarred and looks kinda unsightly.”
“I know what you mean, Pa,” I answered. My heart swelled. I loved hearing Pa tell me he was proud of me! It made me feel good all over! What a swell way to start the day!
I hurried and got dressed. When I cam out of the bedroom, I walked over to go out to the barn. “No, no,” Pa said as he sat the maple syrup on the table. “There’s no time for that now, son. Sit down and eat.”
Pa put the pancakes on my plate and poured the maple syrup on top. “What are your plans for the day, son?”
“Well,” I yawned. “I think we’re cutting hay today. We have a pretty full day. Since I have to go back to school next week, there’s not many days left for me to work. That is…unless…you change your mind about my only working Saturdays?”
Pa smiled and shook his head as he poured coffee in his cup. “Not a chance,” he answered as a knock sounded on the door. “Keep eating,” Pa told me as he went to open the door.
I did keep eating like Pa told me to, but I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation. There was a Lieutenant there looking for Mr. Temple. Pa gave him directions, then he asked Pa what kind of person he was. Suddenly, he asked, “Is his real name Will Temple?”
My head popped up at that question. I suddenly turned, no longer interested in eating my pancakes. That’s when the lieutenant announced that the army was looking for Mr. Temple. He called him by another name and stated he’d been trailing him for three months.
I stood and came toward Pa. I was suddenly very interested in what this man had to say. Pa asked him what the army wanted with the man they were looking for. “He’s a deserter.”
I suddenly spoke up. Mr. Temple was my friend and I had to defend him! “We..we…well, he couldn’t be talking about Mr. Temple!” I declared. “He wouldn’t desert.” My voice was calm at this point.
But Pa didn’t even acknowledge I said anything. The two men continued the conversation as if I wasn’t eve there! “Do you know why he deserted?” Pa asked.
The Lieutenant stated that the Fourth Calvary had lost a whole troop at Willow Creek. This man named Trader was the man that told the Cheyenne where the camp was hidden. The Cheyenne had captured him. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Shock entered me – I didn’t know how to deal with it. “I don’t believe it was him!” I shouted.
“Mark!” Pa warned me calmly.
The Lieutenant went on. He said this Mr. Temple had a scar on his face that was done with fire. The Lieutenant said it was the Cheyenne’s way of branding him as a coward.
“I don’t care what you say,” I stated. “He’s now a coward…and he’s not a deserter!” I cried. I was shaking – I was so upset. I was so confused.
“Mark, do not talk like that!” Pa suddenly ordered. He held warning in his voice and I knew I was to obey him, but I couldn’t…I just couldn’t…
Before the Lieutenant left, he gave me the watch. I didn’t even care. I hardly even realized I had it in my hand. I stepped out onto the porch with a heavy heart. This couldn’t be true! This just couldn’t be true. I felt so deceived and so confused.
“There’s times when every man wants to be alone, Mark,” Pa stated. “Is this one of those times?” I barely heard him, but nodded. I may have even managed a ‘Yes Sir’. Pa placed a hand on my shoulder then went inside, closing the door.
Tears filled my eyes – they weren’t tears I’d cried so many times from my boyhood. These were hot, angry tears of being deceived. I couldn’t understand this. I sat down on the porch and tried to make sense of this.
I don’t know how long I’d sat in there when I vaguely heard the door open and close and felt Pa sit down beside me. He never said anything, but just sat there in silence. I finally wiped the tears from my cheeks and sniffed. “Is it true?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s true, Mark,” Pa answered in a broken voice.
“Did you know?”
Pa sighed. “I suspected something like that,” he stated.
I suddenly looked up at him. His face held regret and hurt. “You angry?”
“No,” Pa answered as he put an arm around my shoulder. “I’m hurting because your hurting.”
“I…I can’t…I just can’t believe it,” I said as tears filled my throat. I suddenly shot my head up at him. “Why didn’t you tell me what you thought?”
Pa took his arm away from my shoulders and folded them in front of him. He looked down at the ground as he sighed. “Because…it wasn’t my place, son.”
“You knew I could be hurt and…and you didn’t do anything to stop it?”
“That’s part of being a man, son. I can’t protect you from everything. You didn’t fight in the war, but you can still get scars from those who did.” There was silence again as I thought on this.
I finally turned to him. “I can’t believe it, Pa! I just can’t-“ I stood up then and ran toward the barn.
“Where you going, son?” Pa asked.
I turned. “I have to talk to him. I want to know if it’s true.” I went to the barn.
As I saddled my horse, Pa silently walked inside and leaned against the wall. “Do you want to go alone?”
“No sir,” I answered honestly. Then I stopped my task and turned toward him. “But I have to. Like you said, there’s some things a man has to face alone.”
Pa nodded. “I understand, son.” He pushed himself off the wall and walked over to him. I paused in my task again, suddenly overcome by emotion. Pa planted his hands on my shoulders from behind and firmly turned me around. “I’ll let you go over there alone, but I’ll come over there in about fifteen minutes. How’s that?”
In spite of all the anger and confusion, I managed to smile my thanks to Pa. I wanted to thank him out loud but couldn’t. So instead, I simply nodded then mounted my horse and rode away.
I rode like the wind to his house, wondering what I was going to say when I got there. I allowed the hot tears to again burn my eyes and scorch my cheeks. When I got to Mr. Temple’s house, I angrily banged on the door. When he told me to come in, I did so. “What’s your name?” I asked without hesitation. “Your real name I mean?”
He only stared at me. I had been blunt, and I’m sure it surprised him. He slowly stood from his chair and walked over to me. He reached out to put a hand on my shoulder, but I moved away. “Answer me!” I demanded angrily.
“I think you know,” Mr. Temple answered.
“So,” I started as I swallowed back the tears that were again forming in my throat. “It’s true,” I whispered.
“How’d you-“ he started.
“How could you?” I cried suddenly. “How could-“ Then I saw the Bible in his hand. “What are you doing with that?” I pointed to the Bible.
Mr. Temple looked down at the Bible. He walked to the table and laid it down. “I…read it a lot,” he said in a low voice. “It’s the only thing that kept me from falling apart.”
“Keeps you from-“ I closed my eyes and turned away from him. I was trying to regain control over my emotions. I turned back toward him. “Keeps you from falling apart? What about those men you killed? Those men you-“
Suddenly, I saw a look of total remorse and hurt cross his face. I turned away from him, unsure of what to say. I was so angry and hurt, but I managed to speak. “I’ve worked with you all this time and you never told me…the truth.”
“The truth,” Mr. Temple said sarcastically with a short laugh. He sat back down in the chair. “Mark, I’d like to tell you about it if you’ll let me.” I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. “I'm not ashamed of this scar and what it stands for, that's not the reason I ran away. I stood up to everything the Cheyenne did to me. When I told.....I don't think I even knew it, not then. You see boy, God…He didn't make us the same way as he did the red man. I guess we're just not as strong inside."
I couldn’t understand, though. I was still filled with confusion. "You didn't have to run away, though. You could have told them how it was.”
"I could have, but every man in my company knew the Cheyenne mark. They would have wondered.....wondered just how much I endured before I told. I knew I couldn't go back. All the old faces gone… Jason, Hardy, Bellows. Men I rode with a long time Mark. They're all gone. It was a one man's weakness, mine!" I suddenly felt a sadness – a scar. I suppose you can call it my first battle scar
“Trader!” I heard. Mr. Temple started for the door. I started to follow him, but he ordered me to stay inside.
There was yelling, but I couldn’t understand what was being said – or maybe I didn’t want to know what was going on. Then I heard Pa’s voice. I ran to the window and peaked outside. Pa was asking the man – must have been one of Mr. Temple’s enemies – to give himself up.
Suddenly, I heard Pa’s rifle. I waited just a few moments after the gunshots before I left the house. I saw Pa. I had so many emotions, and I suddenly needed to feel the comfort of my father’s arms around me. As soon as I felt Pa’s arm around me, I allowed myself to cry. He threw down his gun and bent down. “It’s alright, son,” he whispered to me.
“I’m sorry, Pa. I want to act like a man but-“ I started.
“You are, Mark. You are.” Pa finally broke the embrace and stood up. He firmly put an arm around my shoulders and led me inside the barn. “Where-“ I started.
Pa looked down at me. “He’s riding in to see the Marshal.”
I walked forward. “You don’t have to,” I started.
But Pa suddenly came forward and put a hand on my shoulder. “Son, part of being a man is learning to do the right thing. A coward runs away – a man faces his problem.” Mr. Temple turned and gave me a small smile. “He’s being a man, son.”
“I…” Mr. Temple paused as he finished saddling his horse. “I want to say goodbye here, Mark.”
I looked up at Pa. He smiled and winked at me. I stepped forward. “G-Goodbye, sir,” I said as I held out my hand.
Mr. Temple turned and grabbed my hand. We shook as he stared into my eyes. “I know you are a good…man,” he answered. Then he looked up at Pa. “Just like your father.”
“Don’t worry about the ranch,” Pa said as Mr. Temple got on his horse and started out of the barn. “When you find out what happens at your Court Marshal, let me know what needs to be done. Until then…” Pa looked down and smiled at me. “Mark will take care of your place.”
I walked to the barn door and watched Mr. Temple leave. There was nothing to say as Pa walked up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. I watched his horse go further and further up the trail. “Goodbye, friend,” I whispered.
We locked everything up. When we were walking out of the house, I saw Mr. Temple’s Bible lying on the table. It was opened up to the Twenty-Third Psalm. I picked it up and read. “He maketh me lie down in green pastors. He leadth me beside the sill waters.. He restoreth my soul…”
I closed the Bible and turned to Pa. “Would you take this to him tomorrow?”
Pa took it from me and smiled down at me. “I sure will, son.”
“He said…that’s the only thing that got him through. I expect things will get worse before they get better.”
“I expect so, son.” I looked up at him. I didn’t know it, but I was hoping for something different. “Real life isn’t sugar-coated son. It’s too often bitter.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. Then I got on my horse and rode home.
When I got home, I rode the range and checked the cattle. I was happy to have the diversion to keep me busy for the rest of the day. Pa rode out and told me supper was on the table. As I sat down, I looked down at the plate of food, but I couldn’t eat it.
I had often seen Pa after he had a bad day with hurtful truths revealed sit down by the fire and stare into the flames as if the answers were there. I found myself doing that exact thing tonight. I can’t tell you how long I sat there before I felt Pa sit down behind me. He was leaving me to my thoughts, but his sitting down told me he was there for me if I needed him.
I did. So very badly! I was so glad I had him! “Pa?”
“Yeah son?” Our low voices sounded so loud after the silence.
I couldn’t get the word coward out of my head. I had always thought my whole life that things were black and white. Either someone was something or they weren’t. But the older I got, the more blurred that line became. In some situations, a man would be considered a coward. But where was that line? How much was one expected to endure before giving in and not being called a coward?
I asked Pa – I couldn’t help it – if he was a coward. “No mark, he’s not a coward.” Just hearing it from my wise father made me feel easier about the whole thing.
“I couldn’t think bad of him…no matter what.” I suddenly realized that was the problem. This whole time, I knew the truth – but it didn’t make sense and it wasn’t something I could put into words. I think that’s what was bothering me most of all. I asked Pa if he’d be alright. I really truly wanted him to be alright.
Then it was time for bed. I realized that when I pulled out my new watch. My Pa was there for me in such a special way. He didn’t take over like he used to. He didn’t try to protect me from the hurt. He didn’t go storming over to Mr. Temple’s yelling that he had hurt his son. He didn’t even cover me with hugs and kisses trying to take away the hurt. But he allowed me to hurt. He allowed me to experience the harsh realities of war and friendship. He made me understand things about manhood because he knew I was ready.
He loved me enough to let me go. Yet, he still comforted me when I was ready. I got the hugging I needed so badly still. And I knew that he was there for me every step of the way. I indeed had the best father in the world.
That’s why I bent over and kissed him on the cheek before I went to bed. Because I was truly blessed.
Before I crawled into bed that night, I got on my hands and knees and said my prayers. I prayed for Mr. Temple. And I also thanked God for my loving, wonderful, devoted father who was always there for me.
And that’s where this story ends. Because in truth, this story doesn’t have a happy ending – at least not tonight. Nor does it have a “Happily Ever After.” So with that, the sadness in my heart as I go to sleep, this story ends…for now.
*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
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