I hurried home from school, so glad it was Friday. I had it in my mind to take the afternoon off and go fishing. Being only 13, I could still get away with that on a fairly regular basis, especially considering the fact that I had been doing better in school this year then previous years. I think it was because I was maturing and beginning to realize that maybe knowledge wasn’t such a terrible thing to have SOMETIMES…though, I won’t go all the way to admit I like school because if I had my choice, I’d still choose staying home with my Pa. The trouble is, I may be getting older and wiser, but Pa still made the decisions for me when it came to school! I imagine he would for several years yet.
I ran to the shed for my fishing pole – just thinking about sitting down on the bank and listening to the cows munching on the grass, the birds singing, and to enjoy this nice day and an evening of no homework, made my heart race. I hurried out of the shed with my pole and almost ran smack into Pa. “Mark!” Pa declared. “You look like you’re on your way to a fire!”
“Oh no sir, but the sooner I get to the pond, the longer I can fish!”
“What about your chores?” Pa asked.
“Oh…” I screwed up my face. “Pa, it’s Friday! Can’t I do ‘em all…after supper?” I cocked my head to one side. “Wood needs chopping,” Pa informed me.
“Yes sir,” I nodded. “I’ll get on it right after supper.”
“You said that Wednesday and Thursday, son,” Pa stated as he took the fishing pole from me.
“Can I help it if doing my homework took longer then expected? Don’t understand why I have to use letters in math anyhow!” I was starting algebra, and I was amazed Pa actually knew how to do it. We had spent the last two nights conquering the subject. There were moments when the two of us got frustrated – me because I didn’t understand, and Pa because he had to go over the same concept again and again. But we made it through without too many battle scars.
“No,” Pa answered. “But now that you’re a young man, son, you need to understand there’s less time for fishing. You know how often I get to go fishing?”
I nodded. “Hardly ever.”
“That’s right,” Pa nodded. “I have plenty of work to keep me busy. If I’m not tending to the cattle or working on the ranch, I’m fathering a young boy. The last two nights, I didn’t get my work done because I had to help you.” I opened my mouth to argue with that remark, but he held up a hand to stop me. “I’m not complaining, son. That’s where my duty lies. But now I have a lot of work to get done and I intend on doing just that.”
“So we aren’t going to town for supper?” I asked. Pa shook his head. “And I’m not going fishing?”
“Mark,” Pa sighed. “Chop the wood!”
I started to go. “Oh Mark, I’m going out onto the range to work with the cattle. I’d have you go with me, but I really need that wood chopped today. You work on it for an hour then go feed the hogs.”
I sighed and shook my head. “Yes sir.”
But Pa had just left when Billy came riding up. I put a piece of wood on the chopping block and gave it a whack. “Hi Mark! Thought we were going fishing today.”
“Can’t,” I answered “Pa said I have to chop this wood. He’s awful sore it’s not done already.”
“Oh.” Billy looked around. “Why don’t he help ya?”
I gave the wood another chop. “Because on my thirteenth birthday, I was awarded with more responsibility and this--” I waved my hand at the wood pile. “This was one of the new responsibilities I was awarded with. Pa says it’s one less thing he has to worry about.”
Billy didn’t stick around long. He turned and left while the getting was good. He had had run-ins with my Pa before when I was visiting instead of working and Pa had this…way…of chasing my visitors off in a hurry. “See you in school.”
I turned to start chopping again when I looked up to see a deer and her baby in the yard. I quietly sat down my ax and smiled. Slowly, I began to make my way toward the pair. If I was really quiet…maybe…just maybe I could-
Suddenly, the deer looked up. She stared me straight in the eye. We stood frozen for a moment as we stared at each other. Then she turned and ran. Her baby chased right behind her. I hurried to follow them wondering where they lived. I didn’t go far before I saw a large buck at the edge of the woods waiting for the mother and fawn. “Wow! That’s some deer!” He was huge!
In fact, if I wasn’t mistaken, I’d almost swear that deer was Old Spike, but then I’ve never seen Old Spike this close to the house before. “You just know Pa’s not here, don’t ya?” I rolled my eyes. “Just you wait,” I shook my finger at the buck. “Someday soon Pa’s gonna let me start using a rifle, and when that happens…you just better be ready for me! I’ll get you!”
I watched the three for awhile, laughing at the beauty of God’s nature. It always amazed me at how innocent animals were. They didn’t have to chop wood or tend to cattle. They just had to fend for themselves, walking through the woods and enjoying the singing of the birds.
Eventually, they walked further into the woods. I thought about following them to watch them longer, but I knew Pa’d skin me if I didn’t get back and do my chores. I was surprised at how far I’d wondered from the house, actually. In fact, I was late getting back. I had chopped exactly two pieces of wood and I hadn’t fed the hogs.
Suddenly, I heard a loud crashing sound. That was followed by the screaming of our sow who had a litter of pigs. They weren’t too little anymore, but they were still her young ‘uns, and I was late feeding them. “Oh no,” I groaned. I ran behind the barn and saw that she had busted through the fence and was running through the yard. “Oh no!”
I ran up to her and gave her a hard slap. “Go on now, you get back in there!” But she ran the opposite direction. “Go on now!” I demanded. She went a ways and stopped, so I went up to her and gave her a hard shove toward the fence. She suddenly sprinted and I landed in the mud – flat on my face! I sat up and wiped mud from my eyes. “Oh you! I’m gonna make bacon out of you!” I screamed at her.
Just then, I saw Pa with a rope. He tied it around her neck. “Mark, stop playing in that mud and get up and help me, boy!” Pa ordered.
I wasn’t exactly playing in the mud, but I didn’t figure now was the time to tell Pa that! “Yes sir,” I answered with a sigh. I stood to my feet and gave the sow a hard shove as Pa pulled. She was a big, mean ol’ cuss, so it took us quite awhile to get her back into the fence. Even then, the fence was all broken down and the pigs were running around. I set to work on gathering them up and putting them back in while Pa went to work on repairing the fence.
There were six of these piglets all together. I found five of them and popped them all into the pen with their mother. “There’s one missing.”
Pa turned and glared at me. “You best get to looking, boy!”
I ran a hand through my hair and groaned. My hand was covered in mud. I think I had more mud on me then the pigs. I ran around looking and looking. Finally, I found him just inside the barn. He began squealing and wiggling so much that I could hardly hold onto him! Suddenly, the sow started squealing and I heard commotion from the back of the barn. “Mark, will you get that darn pig over here before she comes busting through?” Pa yelled.
I ran and shoved the pig in through the fence. He ran over to his mother and she settled down. I stood and looked at Pa as he continued hammering the fence boards back into place. “I’m…sorry, Pa.”
Pa looked up at me. “Get them fed, Mark.”
“Yes sir!” I ran to do his bidding.
After they were fed, I asked Pa if he wanted my help. He turned and looked at me. “Go on down to the creek and get cleaned up. When I get this done, I’ll work on filling the bath barrel for ya.”
I sure was glad to get that mud off of me! I still felt it in my ears though. As Pa sat supper on the table, I wiped my ears with the towel still slung over my shoulders. “Can I help?” I asked.
“Sit down!” Pa ordered in a grumpy voice. I did as he told me to. He sat the pot of beans on the table a little harder then was necessary. I knew there’d be some yelling. Pa sat down and bowed his head. He blessed the food then asked God to give him understanding.
Pa filled my plate then handed it to me. I didn’t even look at him but started eating. “Alright son,” Pa sighed. “I left you here chopping wood. What happened?”
“Well, I guess I…” I sighed. “I’m sorry, Pa. I saw a deer and her fawn and started following them.” Pa stared at me in amazement. “Well, I-I’m sorry, but I got so close to her. Pa, she led me right to Old Spike!”
Pa shook his head. “Son, you can’t get anywhere near that old buck! As soon as he sees me he turns and runs! I’ve been trying to get a shot at him for two years now!”
“Well, he knows you’re the Rifleman, I guess. I don’t scare him. But someday…someday I’m gonna have a rifle and I’m gonna-“ My voice had gotten really excited and I was hammering my fists in the air.
“Mark-“ Pa interrupted me. “The point is that you are thirteen years old. You are not a child anymore. Now,” Pa took a bite of his beans. “You are acting more mature and responsible…most of the time. Then you seem to revert back to your childish ways.”
“I’m…sorry,” I answered honestly. “I guess I messed up.”
Pa looked at me. Then his eyes turned up and one corner of his mouth turned up. He put a hand to his mouth and coughed. I narrowed my eyes as I watched him. Pa looked down into his bowl and another smile played at the corner of his mouth. “Pa, what-“ I started.
Suddenly, Pa snickered and began chuckling. His chuckle turned into a laugh, and that turned into a roar as he slapped his knee and tears sprung to his eyes in laughter. I stood up. “What’s so funny?” I demanded to know.
Pa shook his head and held up his hands as he continued laughing. “I…I…just realized how…sil-silly you looked!” Pa declared again.
I sat back down and put my chin in my hands. “Yeah,” I answered. “I guess I did at that.” Then before I knew it, I was laughing too.
After our laughter subsided, we ate in silence. Pa popped the last bite in his mouth and stood up. “Now, I’m going back to the cattle, son. You wash up here then get started on cleaning the barn – another chore you were supposed to do two days ago.”
“What about the firewood?” I asked.
Pa shook his head. “That’s tomorrow, son. And you’ll have all day.” Pa grabbed his hat and opened the door. Then he turned around. “And believe you me-" He said as he shook his hat at me. “It will be done…tomorrow…or you will have your britches tanned! Do I make myself very clear?”
“Yes sir,” I answered in a strong, gentle voice.
Pa narrowed his eyes and started at me. Another smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Good,” he nodded with a glare.
He left the house, closing the door a bit harder then he needed to. “I was going to go to town with you tomorrow,” I mumbled.
The door opened. “Not anymore!” Then he closed the door just as firmly again.
I stared at the door and shook my head. I swear, he could hear a butterfly whisper five miles away!
I don’t know why, but Pa seemed relieved when my bedtime came. I thought about questioning him on this, but then decided against it. I might not like the answer!
The next morning after breakfast, I went out onto the porch and sat down. I leaned my head against the post and closed my eyes as I listened to the peace and quiet that was settled over the land this early Saturday morning. I smiled as I smelled the air. A cow mooed and a chicken clucked, but it was peaceful.
I started thinking about all the chores Pa had listed for me to do today. He told me I had to get the wood chopped and stacked by supper tonight or he’d tan my britches. He had told me that last night, but I figured he was just angry. Now, knowing my Pa and the way he was, I didn’t think he’d actually whip me, but then he doesn’t usually make promises he doesn’t keep either. Rather he was telling the truth or not, I wasn’t going to find out. He also said something about cleaning the barn and riding out for stray cattle.
But right now, I was too busy just sitting here enjoying the nice fresh air and the peace of the land. “What are you doing, Mark?”
I groaned as Pa’s demanding voice pierced the tranquility of my thoughts. “Thinking,” I answered.
“What about your chores?” Pa asked.
Pa was standing on the porch. As I opened my eyes and lifted them up toward my Pa, I saw the hands on his hips. “Oh,” I shrugged as I leaned my head back against the post. “I’m…thinking about them.”
“Well, they aren’t gonna get done by your thinking, son,” Pa stated as he bent down, grabbed me by the arm and stood me up. “They better be done by the time I get home from town!”
I groaned. “Oh, but Pa, I hate chopping wood!” Pa narrowed his eyes at me. “Alright, alright…yes sir…” I started for the wood pile. “But Pa…You DID give me until supper tonight.”
“Now you have until I get home from town,” Pa declared. “If you have time to sit around and daydream, you have time to get the wood chopped – and stacked – by the time I get home.”
I looked toward the pile of wood. “Sure is a lot of it to chop.”
“Yeah,” Pa stated as he tightened the cinch on his horse. “I’ve been at you for the last four days to get that wood chopped.” Pa looked toward the henhouse. “Oh, son by the way…uh…” He paused, waiting for me to turn and look at him. “You forgot to gather the eggs again last night.”
“Oh.” I sighed. “Pa, I’ve had a busy week.”
“Mm Hm…” Pa shook his head and smiled. “You brought home fish for supper two nights in a row. Then one night, you were an hour late because you stopped by to do a favor for Milly. Then you came home with a sack full of candy that I’m still suspicious about.”
“Well then I suppose that going to town with ya is out of the question?” Pa nodded without saying a word. “I thought so.” Pa had made that pretty clear last night. I had plenty to keep me busy all day!
Pa mounted his horse. “Oh, and Mark, don’t forget to feed the hogs on time! The sow with piglets gets awful when she’s hungry, as you well know! If she busts out of that fence one more time because you got carless and forgot to feed her, I’m going to do some yelling and punishing. You got it?”
He’d made that very clear last night! Then he had made it clear first time this morning. This was the third time he’d made it clear. “Yes sir.” I watched Pa leave. Shaking my head, I went to my wood chopping. I was stacking my latest chopped wood when I heard the sow give out a loud cry. “Oh no!” I cried as I dropped the ax and ran to the back of the barn.
I immediately got the allotment of corn and poured them into the pin. She started eating, but when I went to counting the piglets, I realized one was missing. “Oh no,” I groaned. Even though it wasn’t my fault he got out, I was pretty sure Pa would find some way to blame this on me.
I could hear him squealing, so I started looking all throughout the fence. Finally, I found him. There was a loose board on the shed – a loose board I was supposed to fix last week as well – and he had gotten himself stuck. I tipped my hat back further on my head and hurried to him. “You really had to go the long way around to get yourself in a fix like this!” I declared as I picked him up.
He began squealing in protest. “Now, you be quiet, else your Ma will come busting through that fence! Then we’ll both get our hides pinned to the barn door by Pa!”
I started to take the pig back to his Ma. "Hello Varmint," I heard.
I looked up, still holding onto the pig. There in front of me stood the strangest sight! A strangely dressed man was sitting on a horse. He looked like he just stepped out of one of my school books. The man had on one of those fluffy white shirts, wore a cape, a feather in his hat, and a sword in place of a six-gun. He looked like a…well, like a knight!
I was surprised to see him! "Who...who are you? Where...where are you from?" I stuttered. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to think of this man.
"Out of the sunrise, from the shire 'o the rainbow, the county of the Dragon, from castle Vermillion, I sir am Don Chimera Del Laredo and your obedient servant." As he spoke, he climbed off his horse and bowed to me as if I were a king..
I was still holding the pig. Quickly, I sat him down, but continued staring at the strange man in front of me. "You lost?" I asked? I really wished Pa hadn’t gone to town!
"Nay stripling, now how could we be lost since we are here?"
Uh huh…I would have found myself in lots of trouble with an answer like that! I was still a little confused – the way he talked…I wasn’t sure about everything he was saying. I wanted to send these men on their way – I wasn’t too comfortable with having them here! "Uh...uh...the...The main trails a half a mile over. You shouldn't have any trouble finding it," I announced. I had no idea who these men were, but I knew Pa wouldn’t approve of my talking to these strangers. And in my eyes, this man was a stranger for sure!
Don Chimera Del Laredo laughed at my surprise. "By my road gauge there's a young cock that come through with great personal parallel. Rescue’s a damsel in distress from durance farm, and allows it to flee to the arms of the waiting prince."
Huh? I tried to figure out what the heck he was talking about! The only thing I could think was that he was talking about my saving the pig when I was really saving my own hide! "Superb stripling!" Laredo clapped his hands. "Superb!"
Ah, so it was my rescue of the pig! "All it was, was a pig stuck in a crack in the shed! Wasn't even a girl pig at that,” I stated. Don Chimera Del Laredo was not interested in details.
I wasn’t quite sure what was going on here…okay, I had no idea what was going on! But I did know that I wanted to discourage these strange men from staying any longer. Maybe if I excused myself, they’d get the hint. “Excuse me, I’ve got some wood to cut.”
Now, if I thought I was going to get off that easily, I was badly mistaken! Because just then, Don Chimera Del Laredo drew his sword, "Hold!"
I turned around and found myself staring straight at a sword pointed right at me! Oh boy, now I KNEW I was in trouble! My eyes, I’m sure grew wide as I stared at the sword. "Kneel!” Del Laredo ordered. I just stared straight at the sword. “Kneel I say! Kneel."
I had no choice but to obey. Fearfully and without the ability to speak at the moment, I slowly kneeled. I struggled to find my voice. Though it was very shaky, I spoke. "Y-y-your not gonna cut off my head?" I asked a bit nervously. "Pa wouldn't like that!"
"Silence!" Del Laredo ordered. "I dub thee Sir Mark McCain." He tapped my right shoulder with the sword. "Knight of the realm.” Then he tapped my left shoulder. “Here of the manor. Rise Sir Mark."
Was I dreaming? That’s it! This is a wild dream and I’ll soon wake up to find myself in my very own bed! I hoped it was soon because I sure didn’t like this dream.
Wait a second! He knew my name. Okay, now I was really curious! "How did you know my name? Who…who did you say you were?" Del Laredo repeated his full name.
Nope, I didn’t know him. It was really time for me to get going now! “It’s nice to meet you. “ I again started to walk away. “Now…I better get back to my work!”
“Hold, Sir Mark! Would you refuse hospitality to a Knight Errant in a far land?” Del Laredo asked. I was confused – but then I seemed to have been that way ever since these two men arrived. I just didn’t know what to do! Oh, where was my Pa? "I tell you, Sir Knight, when the Lord Lucas McCain shall hear of this!"
At the mention of my Pa’s name, I turned to him excitedly. “You know my Pa?”
“Do I know your Pa?” Del Laredo repeated. His eyes lit up as he said, “My boy, after all the crusades I’ve shared with your Pa, I know him like a brother!” I was suddenly excited! “Of course, he probably knows me best by my lay name, Don la Gar.”
Ohhhhhh….so that’s who he is! “Gosh, Mr. La Gar…” I started, but he stopped me from going on. He wanted to be known in his “proper” form. I smiled, but I was now pleased to oblige him! “I heard him talk about you quite a bit. Of course, it was a long time ago.”
“Life…is a long time ago,” he stated.
I wondered what brought him here – he put his arm around my shoulders as we started inside. He reported calmly that he was here to kill a man. I suddenly stopped and asked who. He didn’t even want to name the man, but I insisted. If there was going to be some sort of trouble here, I wanted to know exactly who the trouble was against. “His name, sir, is Colonel Black!”
I thought on that name then remembered – he was the other man Pa used to ride with. “Is he here?” la Gar wondered.
“No he isn’t. I’ve never even seen him!” I assured him.
La Gar assured me he’d be there. “And when he comes, feast your eyes on a blaggard! Because he won’t last long!” Then la Gar started hoping we had food – pies and pastries…suckling pig or two…
He folded his arms and smiled. I guess he thought this was some sort of castle or something. “We maybe have some stew!”
I led them inside. I hurried into the kitchen and got a fire started in the kitchen. “How old are thou, Sir Mark?”
I turned and smiled at Mr. La Gar. “Oh, I’m thirteen.”
“Dost thou search the recesses of thou soul for the knowledge that lies within?” Mr. La Gar asked then.
I was confused. “Huh?”
Mr. La Gar smiled. “Do you go to school?”
“Unfortunately,” I answered with a sigh.
“Unfortunately?” Mr. La Gar asked. “Should be fortunate, lad! Why, knowledge escapes into the recesses of thy soul!”
Mr. Gates spoke up then. “He means that you should want to be smart…” Mr. Gates rolled his eyes at me. “Like him.”
Oh. I hurried to the kitchen and put the stew on. I went to set the table as the two men sat down . “Coffee?” I asked.
“A quaint cup of tee with lime would be lovely.”
“Uh…” I shrugged. “Coffee?”
Mr. La Gar looked at Mr. Gates and shrugged. “Coffee is lovely as well,” he answered.
I listened to the two men talk for a while as I served them the stew. I sat down and dipped some for myself. “Your father…” Mr. La Gar waved the fork in the air. “Shall he return to the castle soon, or are you the servant and he the king that sits on his royal throne?”
I stopped the fork midway to my mouth and stared at him with wide eyes. “Uh…sometimes he seems to be the king on the royal throne, but truth is I…didn’t finish my duties the King had assigned me to. So while the King went into the village, his humble servant stayed behind to…er…chop.”
Mr. La Gar stood. “Then I shall take a nap!” I stood as he went to get in my father’s chair. I watched him lie down and cover up with a blanket, shaking my head the whole time. I turned and looked at Mr. Gates who just shook his head.
“How long you been with him?” I asked.
Mr. Gates smiled, “Oh, for several years. He pays me well and I get to travel around and see new places.”
“Has he…always talked that way?” I asked then. I couldn’t even understand half of what he said. “It’s like…reading one of those Shakespeare plays or…or…” I crinkled my face up just thinking on some of the books and stories I was forced to endure.
“For as long as I’ve known him,” Mr. Gates smiled. “It takes a while, but after awhile you begin to understand him.”
Suddenly, the front door opened. Pa took one look at me and Mr. Gates. “What have I told you about letting strangers in here?” Pa demanded to know as he closed the door a little harder then was necessary.
Boy, he was about to pounce me like a lion pounces on an antelope! I had to explain quickly. “Oh, these aren’t strangers, Pa!” I declared. “This is Mr. Gates.” But Pa still didn’t smile. He still looked like he was ready to pounce on me!
Mr. Gates suddenly explained that he was the foreman for Don La Gar. “Don La Gar?” Pa asked with a pleasant-sounding surprise in his voice. He turned and looked at Mr. La Gar asleep in his chair. Pushing his hat way back on his head, he held up a finger. “Watch this.”
I stood and watched as Pa went over and started quietly speaking Spanish, something about Mexican Federales, to his sleeping friend. Suddenly, his friend jumped out of the chair, with his sword drawn and hurried to the door. Oh, my, the look on his face! That’s when he realized what was happening. I watched as he and Pa got reacquainted. Then they started talking about transporting branded cattle. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – from the way they were talking, it sounded like my Pa was a…”Sounds like rustling’ to me!” I suddenly declared.
Pa ordered Mr. La Gar to clear up his good name. I couldn’t help but smile as I listened to the explanation Mr. La Gar gave me about Pa’s part he played in it. “Sir Mark, I would have thee know that thy Pa rode with us under the impression that we bought those cattle. But uh…through an oversight…through a mishap, really…we hadn’t. And when we couldn’t show him a bill of sell, he rode right off and left us.”
“Rode right out and left them, son,” Pa assured me. I smiled, happy to know Pa wasn’t involved – but I wasn’t sure I was getting the whole story. I think this is probably one of those things from my Pa’s past that would remain buried.
I listened to the two old friends talk, but said nothing. This man really amazed me! He was so different. I still felt like I was in a dream or something! But to say I wasn’t enjoying my dream would be the same as lying…and that’s the gospel truth! Mr. La Gar told Pa that he was going to kill their friend, Colonel Black over something that he had done. Then he left to get ready for combat.
Oh, I forgot to tell you what this man did! You see, we had some fresh apples in a bowl – just got them a couple days ago. I watched in amazement as he picked up one of those apples and threw it up in the air. And then, using his sword, he sliced that thing right in half, while it was up in the air! Now, I heard Bill Cody’s Wild West had some wonderful gun tricksters, but I bet even he’d never seen someone who could be this amazing with a sword!
After he left, Pa said we should work at getting the dishes cleaned up. Now granted, I had entertained our guests and fed them while Pa was gone and in all rights, Pa should have done the dishes. But, since I hadn’t finished my wood chopping chores, I expected mentioning that little fact would probably not be a good idea.
As we got started doing the dishes, I got to thinking about Mr. La Gar. I didn’t think I was dreaming anymore because it was a good dream. And in a good dream, I NEVER thought about washing dishes! "Pa...is Mr. Del Laredo for real?"
Pa smiled at me as he scraped off the plate. "Does he look real to you?"
"Yeah, but I don't think things look real to him," I stated. Long had the time gone when men talked such way and behaved like knights and kings!
"Mark everything depends on the way we see it. Most of us have to live in the time we where born to, whether they like it or not. But some folks are rich enough in money and imagination to live in anytime they wanted to. Don just happens to like the 13th Century." Boy, I sure wish I could live in the time I wanted. I’ll tell ya, it would be in the future – not the past!
But I couldn’t help laughing as I thought about Mr. La Gar and his get up – even his actions. They were so primitive! "Don't folks think he's kinda funny?"
"Now don't be fooled Son, he knows exactly what he's doing and he has a real time doing it." I wondered, aloud, if he was going to really fight Black. “Well, not if I can talk him out of it,” Pa answered.
Just then a horse rode up. When I looked outside and saw a man dressed in black, there was really no mistaken who he was. “That’s Colonel Black?” I asked.
“That’s Colonel Black!” Pa declared. I think my Pa was enjoying reliving his past. In some of his actions, I thought he was acting younger than me! Pa had us get behind the door. The next thing I knew, Colonel Black came charging into our house! He didn’t even knock or anything! Now, I found that sort of strange, but Pa was having fun with it so I laughed along with them.
It wasn’t long before Colonel Black and Don La Gar were inside our living room challenging each other to a duel. I couldn’t believe this! This was amazing – we were going to have a duel right here at our house. Mr. La Gar went charging out while Colonel Black asked Pa for a drink.
Pa went to get the drink, but grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. “Listen, Mark,” he said in a quiet voice. “I want you to go out and talk to Mr. La Gar. See if you can figure out what’s going on between these two. I’ll talk to Colonel Black.”
I didn’t want to see anyone die, but I did think a duel would be pretty fun to watch. “You mean…there may not be a duel?” I was teasing, but the look Pa gave me told me it wasn’t a very funny joke. I cleared my throat as Pa narrowed his eyes at me and slowly cocked his head to one side. I lost the smile on my face. “Uh…Yes sir.” Then I quickly left the house.
Sure enough, Mr. La Gar was outside. As I walked out, I stopped to watch him. He was practicing for the duel, swinging his sword back and fourth in a zigzag manner. I was amazed as I slightly shook my head.
Suddenly, Mr. La Gar stopped swinging his sword through the air. “Hark, who goes there?” he asked suddenly. I didn’t say anything at first. “Well, speak up if you wish to keep your head!”
“I-I-it’s me, Mr. La Gar,” I answered as I swallowed. My heart began beating faster. “It’s Mark McCain!”
“Must thou lurk in the shadows of your guests?” I didn’t say anything, but slightly shook my head. “I say, but has the cat gotten your tongue?”
“We-we-we, no sir,” I answered. “M-m-my Pa sent me out here to talk to you.”
“Sir Mark, Step forward and meet your destiny!”
I took a step forward, looking behind me. I was really hoping Pa would come out about right now. “What’s my destiny?” I asked.
“You shall see in due time.”
“Well…Pa wants me to speak with you about what…what you intend to do.”
Mr. La Gar zigzagged his sword through the air as he jumped around as if someone was sword fighting with him. My eyes grew wide as I stared. “I shall duel Colonel Black, and we shall meet our destiny tonight! There’s no doubt what that destiny shall be!”
Mr. La Gar lowered his sword and stared at me. “Colonel Black shall die tonight.”
My eyes grew wide as I sat down. “Die?” I asked then. “But why?”
Mr. La Gar stared at me. He walked up to me then. “I shall tell you why, Sir Mark!” He zigzagged his sword in the air again. “My men wiped out, week after week.” Mr. La Gar swiped his sword through the air as he spoke. “Their fusillades decimating my men at arms and my knights destroyed. Until at the very end, through treachery mind you, my castle, itself, was at stake!” He spoke angrily, the entire time whipping his sword through the air. If things were as bad as he made them sound, I’d say he had every right to be upset!“Sounds like a range war!” I exclaimed.
“Oh no, boy. Much more serious than that,” Mr. La Gar announced as he looked at me seriously. “It was a chess game!” He stabbed the air with his sword.
“A…A what?” I asked.
“What’s the matter, Sir Mark? Ya got cotton in your ears? I said a chess game!”
“You mean…” I jumped down. “You mean you’re gonna kill Colonel Black over a…a game of…of chess?” I could hardly believe this!
I hated to ask this, but I was just way to curious! I slowly sat back down. “Okay. Pray tell, why?”
“Why?” Mr. La Gar asked as he rushed over to me. “Why you ask? I’ll tell you why! Because we’ve played many, many chess games and I, Sir Mark, am assured that I am the better chess player – but who do you think has won the most games? Nay! But then Black began to cheat! And I had to brand him for the rascal that he is! And he struck me! And he threw down the gauntlet.” He turned from me then. “Now, Colonel Black must die.”
This didn’t make any sense to me. “Well, couldn’t you do a lot better over a chess board?” I asked. It seemed awful silly to me for a man to die just over a chess game!”
“It’s hard to win against cheating, young man.”
I shrugged. “Oughta be kinda hard to cheat against…against watchin’.” I stated. “Now, Pa and I-“ I started.
But Mr. La Gar turned and put his arm around my shoulders. He looked me straight in the eye and spoke. “Now Mark, in Armageddon, there must be only one triumph – the classical against the modern.”
“Well… maybe so,” I stated. “But…” I stood up as Mr. La Gar walked away from me. “But sir, wouldn’t you feel bad in killing an innocent man?”
“Innocent?” Mr. La Gar asked. “Colonel Black is a fraud! He must die for what he’s done!” Again, Mr. La Gar swiped his sword through the air.
Just then, the door opened and Pa walked out. “Don, I want to talk to you.” Boy oh boy, from the sound of Pa’s voice, I can only say that I’m glad it wasn’t ME he wanted to talk to. I walked backwards and leaned against the barn as Pa had a talk with Mr. La Gar. I couldn’t even hear what they were saying because they were speaking in low voices. I watched Pa shake his head. Don went to his horse and got the chess game out of his saddle bag. Then he and Colonel Black walked inside.
Pa walked over to me. “They’re going to play a supervised chess game, son. You watch Colonel Black, I’ll watch Don.” I nodded my head. “Mark, we have to watch them every second!” I nodded again. Pa patted my shoulder and we walked inside the house.
Well, I watched for a long time. I didn’t take my eyes off of them for one single second! Their sidekicks served drinks, but I didn’t take my eyes off of them. Then a gunshot sounded. One of the men thought he saw a rattler. After that commotion was over, we went back to playing the game.
But then the two men started arguing! Mr. La Gar insisted that Colonel Black had moved one of his pieces! Pa said he hadn’t seen anything, but I had. The pieces were on the board exactly where Mr. La Gar had seen them. I know – I’d seen it too!
Well, I bet you can guess what happened then! They went outside to have a duel. Pa just stood there and I asked him if he was going to do something. He picked up the offending chess piece and hurried outside.
I couldn’t believe what he did next! He blamed Scoobo and Gates for the problem. Pa claimed that they were the ones moving the chess pieces – and Pa was right! So then we got to watch a chess game between Scoobo and Gates!
In the end, it was decided that they would teach their bosses how to play chess since neither of them really knew how to play! I was so impressed!
When the excitement of the chess game was over, Pa suggested we fix a big supper and celebrate. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and Mr. La Gar declined the invitation. “I’m sorry, Sir Luke McCain, but I must get riding before the sun sets!”
We walked them outside and watched them leave. Pa and I waved at them. I watched them ride away – it was almost like they were riding into the sunset. And then that got me to thinking about how I was stuck in this time period chopping wood and chasing pigs!
"Golly Pa, I'd sure like to do that,” I stated as I started imagining what it would be like. I was day-dreaming, something Pa said I did too much.
"Play chess?" Pa asked.
"No! Pick my own favorite time to live in. Like them."
"Oh...when would you pick?"
I didn’t even have to think on that answer! I had been thinking on it all day! "A hundred years from now.”
“Why then?” Pa asked.
He I couldn’t believe I had to spell it out to him! He should already know the answer to that! “Well just think!” I folded my arms and started imagining. “No wood to cut, they'd grow it in the right size. And chickens lay eggs and bring them right into the house. Then you just save your ice so you have it in the summer time and cows give milk in mason jars and leave it right in the ice house.” The more I thought on it, the more becoming it sounded. “Oh, and Pa, you don't wash the dishes, just eat them for dessert. And no school. Instead you can learn everything in the whole world just by readin' a little book with sixteen pages in it." I couldn’t help but smile at that!
Just then, Pa came toward me. "Now, wait a minute, just where do you learn to read?”
Now, why did he have to go and ruin my dream? He had asked a practical question to an unpractical dream! I hadn’t thought about the reading thing! "Oh, well…there might be a year or two of school.”
Pa nodded. "Mm Hm…Well, while you’re figurin' a way around school, see if you can also figure your way around that wood pile."
I looked at Pa. He raised his eyebrows and looked straight at me. I could see the humor in his eyes, but I also heard the warning in his voice. I didn’t argue. I should consider myself lucky for not getting into trouble – though I would have argued that we had guests, and Pa HAD raised me to be polite and hospitable!
I went to chopping wood while Pa smiled at me and shook his head. I had been chopping for awhile when I remembered that I hadn’t put the piglet back into the pen. “Oh no,” I groaned. Suddenly, I heard the squealing of a piglet followed by a large crash. And I had forgotten to feed the hogs this afternoon in all the excitement.
“Mark!” I heard Pa cry. I hurried toward the barn and saw that the ol’ sow had gotten out. Not only that, but all the piglets were squealing and running all over the yard. But that wasn’t the worst part! You remember how the day before I’d fallen in the mud? Well, today was my father’s turn. I shot a hand to my mouth and tried to keep the bubbling laughter inside me and a serious look on my face, but I couldn’t. Honestly!
My lips began quivering, then my throat filled up. Suddenly, I opened my mouth and laughter poured out. I slapped my knees and pointed at Pa who stood in front of me as he wiped the mud from his eyes. “Mark, did you by any chance…forget to feed the hogs?”
“Well…” I said between fits of laughter. “I…I…I…fed them this morning!” I began laughing some more. “Oh Pa, but you look like you just fell into a pig pen!”
Pa started toward me. I saw the hog off a ways and quickly grabbed the rope from my horse. I sobered up long enough to tie the rope around her neck and pull her back into the pen. Then I quickly began hammering the boards into place. Pa was chasing the piglets. When we got all the piglets back into the pen and the pen secured so she wouldn’t bust out again, I turned to my Pa.
“I did feed them this morning, Pa,” I stated honestly.
Pa nodded. Then he turned to walk away. “Pa? Where you going?”
Pa didn’t even turn, but kept walking. “To the creek…to take a bath.”
I couldn’t help myself! I busted out into fits of laughter again! As I went inside to start supper, I was still laughing.
But when I saw Pa coming back to the house all fresh and clean, I forced myself to swallow the laughter. Pa walked in and grabbed a cup of coffee. I sat the table, but I kept looking sideways at him. “Excuse me,” I said suddenly.
“Where are you going?” Pa asked.
I stopped at the door. “I uh…I have to…go outside.”
I hurried out and closed the door. I only got half-way across the yard when I suddenly burst out into laughter again.
Do you know that I was on hog duty, dishes duty, and wood-chopping duty every day that next week? Pa said I should learn not to find humor in his misfortune. I mentioned the fact that he had laughed at me yesterday, to which he just shook his head.
I reckon things are different when it’s a child laughing at a parent!
*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