Freddie laughed hard as we came close to the McCain Ranch. “You didn’t!” he declared. “I mean…you…you couldn’t have!”
“No! I REALLY did!” I declared as I looked down at the fish we had just caught. “I pushed Pa right into the water!”
Freddie cracked up laughing again. “Boy, oh boy, I sure wish I could have been there to see the look on your father’s face!” We rode over the bridge as Freddie said those words. We laughed some more. “I sure bet he gave you a look!”
“He had a few choice things to say to me too, and none of them were too friendly!” I stopped Blue Boy by the house and got off as we continued chuckling. “Boy, you should have been there, so you could have seen the look on his-“ Freddie suddenly lost his smile. “What’s wrong?” I cocked my head to one side and studied him.
“Well, I think I’m looking at that look right now.” He slowly lifted a finger and pointed behind me.
I turned and just about jumped out of my skin. There stood Pa. He had his feet spread apart, his arms folded with his sleeves rolled up, and a very angry look on his face. “Pa!” I suddenly took a step backward.
“And just where have you been?” Pa asked angrily. His eyes shifted toward Blue Boy. “Nevermind, I think I know. Mark…” Pa started toward me.
“Um…I’ll see you later, Mark. I really have to go now!” I turned in time to see Freddie racing out of the yard. So much for friends being there when you really needed them!
“Pa…Pa, let me explain.”
“Yeah, you can explain!” Pa declared with a nod as he put his hands on his hips. “And start with those!” He jabbed a finger toward the fish before planting his hand back on his hip.
“Well you see…school sorta got out a little early and…”
Oh wait, let me back up a little bit. You see, ever since I arrived home from our…latest adventure, Pa and Mr. Griswald decided that it would be in my best benefit that I attend school all day for awhile – until I got caught up. I wasn’t involved in the discussion. I just came home from tending the stock one day to hear Pa announce the new plan. I had opened my mouth to argue, but that’s about as far as it ever went! You see, when Pa gives an order, it’s followed without argument or you find yourself in some trouble.
And that brings me back to my present predicament. “Well you see…school sort got out a little early and so Freddie and I decided to go do a little fishing on our way home. With all the extra work we both have to do now, we don’t have much time to fish, so we just thought…”
“Just what time does school get out, son?” Pa asked the question. I knew I didn’t need to answer, but I knew I better if I wanted to keep myself out of any more trouble.
“Three O’clock, Pa. Same as always.”
“Mm hm,” Pa mumbled as he narrowed his eyes at me. Then he cocked his head to one side. “And what time did school let out?”
“But Pa, the fish sure were biting awful good! The more we got to thinkin’, the more we thought fish sounded mighty tasty, and it would sure do our folks proud if-“ Those eyebrows of Pa’s suddenly went up. I stopped talking then. “Well…I reckon I should get to my chores first.” I turned around, but knew Pa was still glaring at me. “You reckon I should clean these fish first?”
That was a mistake. “Mark!” Pa hurried forward and shook a finger at me. “You are old enough to know better then to pull stunts like this! Yesterday, I told you and told you to get those strays out of Choctaw Canyon! You were supposed to ‘hurry’ home from school and get that done. Remember they are in there because you ‘forgot’ to mend that fence last Saturday! It seems that you and Freddie decided to challenge your friends to a calf roping contest, which is what sent those strays down in the canyon in the first place.”
“I…I’m s…sorry, Pa. We…” I again began backing up. “Freddie and I…”
Pa nodded. “Yes. Freddie and you.” Pa grabbed my arm and led me over to the chicken coop. “And furthermore, this chicken coop is a pig sty! You are the one that wanted to raise these chickens. If you’re planning on doing that, I expect you to start taking your responsibilities more seriously! “ Pa held tight to my arm and led me behind the house. “Look at these clothes you washed the other day! They’ve been hangin’ so long that the birds have decided it’s a new roost. They’ll have to be washed again.” Pa then dragged me toward the wood shed. “And look at this! Since when do we leave the ax lying by the door to rust and wood strewn out all over the place.”
“I…I’m sorry, Pa!” I swallowed. I knew this was all my fault. “Freddie came over and-“
“Freddie again.” Pa rolled his eyes. “Seems you boys are up to your same ol’ habits!”
I started picking up the wood. “I…I’ll have this stacked by the time you get supper ready.”
“By the time I get supper ready?” Pa’s voice became louder.
“Well…Miss Milly always said you made the best fried fish ever!” I saw that I’d won that victory from the smile on his face. But it quickly disappeared. I cleared my throat. “Uh…I’m really sorry, Pa.”
“And you will be sorry. For the next week.” Pa began ticking off my punishment on his fingers. “Because for the next week, you will only be away from the ranch for school and church. The rest of the time, you will be working on the ranch and tending to your studies. That means no fishing, no roping contests, and no visits to town. And…” Pa shook a finger at me. “You are to stay clear away from Freddie for the next week! You are not even to go through town! Tomorrow, when you get home from school you are to go get those strays out of the canyon. “ He pointed in the general direction. “And you better hope none of them are harmed or missing. Because if they are, that will be taken out of your hide!”
“Ye-yes sir!” I turned to start stacking the wood. Pa started for the house. I turned. “Uh…Pa, what time’s supper? I’m starving!”
Pa shook his head. “6:00. Until then, you work!”
And work I did! When I finished the wood pile, I went inside and started on my homework, only to be told by Pa that when my homework was done, I was to bed down and feed the stock. At school the next day, Freddie informed me that his father was none-to happy to see the mess of fish either. He rubbed his back side as he spoke, so I didn’t have to ask what his punishment was.
“Pa thinks you’re a bad influence,” I announced when Freddie asked me to have lunch with him.
“My Pa says the same about you,” Freddie stated. He took a bit of his tomato. “If you want the truth, I think it’s just kid stuff.”
“You know what I think?” I asked as I threw my finished apple into the weeds. “I think Pa’s been really uptight! I think Pa needs someone.”
“Someone?” Freddie asked. “You mean…like a woman?”
I nodded. “When Milly was around, Pa didn’t get so riled about stuff like this. I mean…he got riled, but somehow Milly was able to keep him fairly calm. I think he misses Miss Milly.”
“Hm…” Freddie shrugged. “If I were you..I’d leave it alone, Mark. You remember how your match making has gone in the past.”
I shrugged then. “Well…I don’t reckon I’ve done too bad! I did get Pa and Miss Milly together.”
“YOU did?” Freddie asked as he raised his eyebrows. “I don’t remember YOU having anything to do with it. I remember you “helping” with that lady that was best friends with your Ma…Uh…uh…”
I rolled my eyes. “Ann Dodd.”
“Yeah. And how about that lady that murdered that guy.”
Again, I sighed. “Nora Sanders.”
“Yeah! I don’t reckon I should even mention that sister of those two big dudes. If you ask me, Mark…I’d say you should leave this alone.”
“Well, if it’ll keep Pa from yelling at me so much…I’ll take my chances!”
Freddie shook his head and sighed. “Oh boy!”
“Now wait! I’ve learned a few things about women since then. Why, I was only 12…I’m 14 now. I think I can do a better job.”
Freddie just shook his head. “Now Mark, our Pa’s say we get in a lot of trouble together. But now I’m trying to keep you out of trouble! Stay out of it. If your Pa wants a woman, he can take care of it himself.”
I folded my arms as I thought on that. With a smile, I said, “I wouldn’t be so sure.”
That afternoon when school dismissed, Charlie came up and asked me to come over to his house for fresh apple pie. My mouth watered at the sound of it – you know how I love fresh baked apple pie – but I shook my head no. “Pa ordered me to come home and tend to those stray cattle right after school!”
“I thought your Pa was coming into town this afternoon,” Freddie reminded me. That’s true – he had told me that this morning before I left.
I jumped on Blue Boy and turned him around. “Uh uh!” I declared. “Don’t even tell me Pa wouldn’t find out, because he would! Somehow, someway, Pa ALWAYS finds out. He told me he’d skin me alive if I didn’t mind him, and I like my skin. See you tomorrow!” With that, I took off for home.
It’s a good thing I did the right thing – Pa WAS home when I got there. I jumped off Blue Boy and ran to where Pa was working on the wagon. “I thought you were gonna be in town!”
“Disappointed?” Pa asked as he looked up at me.
“Uh…no…” I didn’t think now was a good idea to tell Pa about the conversation at school since I had been ordered to stay away from Freddie for awhile. “I’ll get started on those cattle.”
“You know son, I’ve been thinking.” Pa stood up and bent over the wagon seat as he talked to me.
Pa raised an eyebrow. “I want you to work on fixing that fence BEFORE you get the strays out. Check on them and make sure they’re okay. Fix the fence, then you can run them through the gate. It’ll save time – won’t have to chase them out again before the fence is fixed.”
“Oh Pa, do you know how far away that gate is? Why, I’ll have to chase them half way down the canyon to get them through! I’d rather-“ Pa gave me a hard look but stayed silent. I sighed. “Yes sir.” Pa had the supplies loaded in the wagon. “You gonna help me? After all, this is a two person job!”
“Oh no,” Pa answered. “I think it’s time you learned what it’s like to fix a job all by yourself because your “partner” bails out on you.”
“Pa, I said I was sorry!” I groaned.
“I’m sure you are getting a lot sorrier every minute, son. In fact, I bet tomorrow you’ll be even sorrier.” Pa bent over and looked me straight in the eye. “That, my boy, is the whole idea!” Pa pointed over his shoulder, indicating me to get going. I sighed as I climbed up on the buckboard. “Hey, look at it this way – at least I hitched up the team for you.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” I sighed as I shook my head. “I’ve got to find him a woman!” I mumbled to myself.
“Uh…I’ll see you later, Pa!” With that, I left for the fence.
By the time I got there, my stomach was growling. I worked hard under the burning son fixing that fence. It wasn’t as easy by myself. Pa usually held the fencing tight while I did the hammering or vice versa. It was even harder having to pound the posts back into the ground without my working partner! I sweated for a solid two hours. Then I heard a horse approaching. Turning, I saw Pa. I shook my head knowing he’d do more yelling because the job was very slow in coming.
Pa dismounted his horse, slowly walked to the back of the wagon, leaned back against it and crossed his arms. I saw him grinning from the corner of my eye. “Well, you gonna just sand there, or you gonna help me?” I grunted as I tried again to shove the post into the ground.
I turned my head half around to see Pa push himself off the wagon. He slowly bent over and picked up a large hammer. Then he walked over to the fence. “Hold the bottom steady, son.” Then he pounded it in. I sighed as I stood up. I groaned as I straightened my back. “I…suppose now you’re gonna yell at me for not getting the job done.”
“Nope.” Pa motioned for me to go to the next fence post. “Because I knew you couldn’t get the job done. I just wanted to show you how hard I work when you decide to go off fishing or cattle roping with your friends or uh…stopping by the General store for candy. It ain’t easy…is it?”
I sighed. “No sir.” I looked up at him. “I’m…really sorry, Pa.”
Pa patted my shoulder. “You know, son. This time I believe you.”
I smiled. “That means I’m off restrictions then? I’m not grounded and confined to hard labor?”
Pa laughed. “Uh…no! You still have to fulfill your punishment, son. You see, even a convicted murderer who is really, truly sorry for his crime still stretches the rope. A bank robber can be really, truly sorry for stealing the money in the bank but he still spends his years in jail. A gunfighter can be really sorry he drew first but-“
I held up my hand to stop Pa. “Alright, alright! I get the point!” I held the next post as he hammered it. “Pa?” I asked as we worked side by side. “I still wonder how you ever do all this by yourself!”
“It’s hard, son. I usually have to get a ranch hand to help me. There are just some jobs that aren’t easy doing alone.” I felt better as we worked together mending the rest of the fence. The sun was going down by the time we finished the job. As Pa finished up, he sent me down in the canyon to check on the strays. I told Pa there were three cows and two calves. Pa nodded, saying that count was right. “In the morning after breakfast, you’ll come chase them out.”
And that’s just what I did! Pa announced he was heading into town. He said a woman who bought the hotel was interested in Milly’s store and he had to go make the deal final with her. “A woman bought the hotel?” I asked. Pa nodded. “You mean, she’s a single woman there all by herself?” Pa nodded again, but studied me curiously. “Oh…” I shrugged. “Just…wondering.”
I shook my head as I walked to the well for a fresh drink of water. Then I rode out to do Pa’s bidding.
It took a while to arrive at the canyon. I hoped Pa took that into consideration when he said he expected the cattle to be gone by the time he got back from town. When I arrived, I found a cow and her calf grazing nearby. I knew if I roped the calf and dragged him back into the fence, I’d get the Mama to go too. I got my rope out and did a right-fine job at getting the calf. The mama cried as I started leading him out of the canyon.
Suddenly, I heard men talking. I turned in my saddle to see three men further down the canyon a ways. They were discussing something. I quickly took the calf back up the hill to the range and then rode toward the men. I rode up to the men. “Hello there,” I greeted.
“Beat it, kid. We’re too busy!” one of the men exclaimed.
“Can I help ya with something?” I asked.
“No! Beat it!” the man said again. I sat there on my horse watching them survey. I remembered watching surveyors a couple years ago around the same spot. I suddenly wondered if they were doing it for the same reason. The men talked among themselves for awhile as I watched. They didn’t seem to mind my being there as long as I stayed quiet.
“When we get this canyon level, we’ll have a nice, natural grave right into North Fork!” One of the men suddenly declared.
I gasped! I didn’t know the railroad was coming here! Seeing as how they were just off our land, I thought Pa should know about this right away. So I forgot about the cattle I was supposed to be getting out of the canyon and hurried straight to town.
I dug my heels into Blue Boy’s flank so I could get there as fast as I could. When I did arrive, Pa was not in Micah’s office. I heard a lot of noise coming from the saloon. Seemed everyone must have been in there celebrating some sort of victory, so I hurried over. I didn’t dare go inside – strict orders from my father disallowed that, but I stood at the door and waited for him to see me.
Naturally, he wanted to know why I was in town. I quickly gave him the news. It seemed they knew nothing about it and my news was bad. Pa ordered me to wait just outside the saloon. He hurried back inside and asked Micah for maps of the town. As Pa walked out of the office, I looked inside to see those stupid Jackman men drinking. I stared inside to see what was going on. Suddenly from behind me, I heard the familiar, “Come along, son!”
I wondered at what age I would finally be able to make up my own mind about where I was to be instead of tagging along with my father! I followed them inside Micah’s office. Micah pulled out a map and they started looking at it. “Look, a straight line of properties leading into town – all bought by Lou Mallory in the last two days where she now owns the hotel…and Milly’s store!”
I couldn’t help just sitting there in between Pa and Micah and watching Pa’s face. Boy, but he sure got riled quick! This Lou Mallory was the cause behind Pa’s being upset. Apparently, she was buying up all this land and businesses at a good price for the mere purpose of selling them later at a prophet. Sure sounded right smart to me! But Pa was very displeased with this woman. Who was this woman? I wondered. Pa was rather upset that she tricked the whole town like she did.
Then I got to thinking back about another woman that Pa hadn’t liked when she first arrive in North Fork. She had just bought the General Store from Hattie Denton, and she and Pa got into an argument that very first day over his bill. I don’t recall now who won that argument – it seems Miss Milly did though.
And it seems Pa was outsmarted by a woman again. That’s why he was mad. Micah said there was no law that said she had to tell anyone about the railroad. Micah asked me directly to give my opinion. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use Pa’s words against him! “That’s right, Micah! And uh…like Pa always says…Never let on if you’ve got a winning hand!”
You should have seen the look on Pa’s face when he looked at me! Lucky for me, just then an angry mob was coming out onto the street. The leader of the mob were the Jackman’s.
I stood with Pa and Micah in the doorway as this woman came out onto the street. She was right pretty! It didn’t take me long to figure out that she was the subject of my Pa’s latest fit. She didn’t deny knowing about the railroad. In fact, when asked how she knew, she declared, “I’m a woman!” I wanted to laugh at that, but I figured I shouldn’t.
I watched the entire interaction with much interest. I couldn’t help remembering back to Milly and Pa’s first conversation. It seemed that one didn’t go too well as they started yelling at each other. She wanted Pa to pay his bill, Pa wanted her to send off for the right part for the pump. I figured by the looks of this Miss Lou Mallory that she could win an argument or two with my Pa. And I figured she was a right smart business woman.
Nobody deserved being “horn swaddled” more than the stupid Jackman’s!
After the Jackman’s left, Miss Mallory and Pa got into an argument. Miss Mallory argued that the Jackman’s didn’t know what a hard day’s work really was. Pa argued that Miss Mallory did? I smiled when she put one over on Pa! She spoke about working in a potato field from sun up to sun down, then working some more. She sure did surprise Pa! Then Pa told her to get the chip off her shoulder so she could make friends. Miss Lou said she didn’t need friends. Pa said that was good since she didn’t have any!
Woo boy! My lips turned up at that. I sure did try to keep a straight face. Pa turned and walked back into Micah’s office. I walked out onto the street. I just had to meet her! I held out my hand to her. “Hi. I’m Mark McCain.”
Miss Mallory had turned to leave, but turned back to me. She gave me a small smile as she took my hand. “Hello, Mark McCain. Are you sure you should be talking to the enemy?”
“Ah shucks, Miss Mallory! You aren’t the enemy. My Pa will come around soon. I’ll promise you that!”
Miss Mallory smiled. “My friends call me Lou.”
I smiled back. “You just told my Pa you don’t need friends.”
Lou smiled at me. “Well, it’s nice to have them anyway. How about it?”
“Well, sure. I-“
“Mark!” Pa called harshly from the doorway of Micah’s office. I turned. “Get in here, son.”
I guess he figured she could poison my mind with her railroad talk or something. I tipped my hat to her. “It was a pleasure meeting you…Miss Lou. Let me know if you need anything and I’ll be happy to-“
“Now, Mark!” Pa called.
I started backing up toward Micah’s office. “By the way, you accent…where you from?”
“Ireland,” Miss Lou smiled. Suddenly, I felt Pa grab my collar and pull me into Micah’s office.
“Now Lucas, she’s a really nice woman!” I turned and looked at Micah. “I think you should give her half a chance. You two could end up being really good friends!”
“Yeah!” I declared. “REALLY good friends!” Pa raised his eyebrows and sighed as he stared at me. I straightened up. “Well…after all, Pa, she IS really pretty and she’s smart and-“
“Mark,” Pa sighed again. “Don’t you have…chores to do at home?”
“Oh, but Pa I-“
“Or would you rather spend another week learning how sorry one can be?”
“No sir!” I started for the door. “I’m on my way right now!” I stopped. “Oh Pa, you think maybe we could…invite Miss Lou out to the ranch for supper? After all she-“ I was teasing, of course, but I still had to duck as a wet towel just missed hitting me in the face.
When I got back to the canyon, the surveyors had left. I went to work on rounding the cattle up. I got all but one cow inside the gate. Half way down the canyon toward the gate, I lost her. She had no calf I could coax her with. I went back up the canyon and found her grazing on some grass on the other side of a small creek. “Well,” I said as I climbed off my horse and slowly approached her. “It must be true what they say about grass being greener on the other side.” I continued approaching her slowly. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but you’re gonna have to come with me! Again, I slowly worked on approaching her. I leaned forward and stretched out my arm and I was just about to grab her when she let out a loud “moo” and hurried away from me.
I, of course, landed face-down right in the middle of the creek! I lifted my head and shook off the water. That cow was really beginning to get me riled! I quickly stood to my feet and slapped my hat on my leg. “Darn fool cow! You get back here!” I yelled.
“Looks like you could use a little help there, cowboy!” I turned to find Lorie Sandler standing there. I rolled my eyes. She was the last one I wanted to see! She was always trying to be so bossy and getting my attention. Why, any time I tried talking to Lucille, Lorrie would be there!
I climbed back up on my horse, dripping wet and all. “No, I don’t need any help, Lorrie. So you just…turn around and go back home! I’ve no time to talk – got me a cow to catch!”
I grabbed the rope off my saddle. I was going to catch myself a cow one way or the other! “I can help you Mark!”
“You’re a girl!” I declared as I rolled my eyes. “I don’t need any help from a girl!”
Lorrie suddenly planted a hand on her hip and lifted her head. “Now Mark McCain, you see here! Stop calling me a girl!”
“You ARE a girl!” I declared. I readied my rope to lasso the cow. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get this cow back in the fence before Pa gets home!”
But Lorrie didn’t listen. She grabbed the rope off her own horse, kicked the horses flank and said “Haw!”
“Lorrie! You’re gonna get yourself-“ I started, but she was gone! I dug my heels into Blueboy’s flank and took off after her. But Blue Boy suddenly hit an uneven place in the canyon and reared back, throwing me. I landed right on my rump! “Ouch! Lorrie!”
I stood up and hobbled. I must have twisted my ankle as it left the stirrup. I hobbled over to Blue Boy and grabbed his reins. “Now you just calm down!” I ordered him as he started fidgeting again.
As I walked down the canyon a ways, Lorrie appeared with a roped cow in tow. She had a triumphant smile on her face. “Shall I put it in the gate for ya?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah. You do that.” She walked the cow down the canyon and opened the gate. She gave the cow a hard shove. The cow mooed, but obediently went into the gate. Then she turned, noticing my hobbling for the first time. “Oh Mark, you’re hurt!” She came over and put an arm around me. “Here, lean on me and-“
“I don’t need any help from a girl!” I declared. “Just…” I rolled my eyes. I could feel what little dignity I had left flying away as I spoke my next words. “Just give me a shove up on my horse!”
I put my good foot in the stirrup on the off side of the saddle. “Okay, push!” I said. Lorrie helped me get my other leg over Blueboy.
“I best help you back to your ranch, Mark!” Lorrie declared.
“No, that’s really not necessary. I can make it from here,” I assured her.
But my assuring words went on deaf ears. Lorrie shook her head. “No, no, Mark! I’d feel awful if something were to happen to you! Let’s go!”
I shook my head as she took the rein of my horse and started across the range. Now would be a bad time for anybody to show up! Sure enough, when we got into the yard, Pa walked out of the barn. He put his hands on his hips as he looked me up and down. “Well now, what on earth happened to you?”
I just sat there on my horse. I looked at Lorrie and was just about to say goodbye when she so kindly answered Pa’s question. “He fell into the creek while chasing a cow and then his horse reared him. The cow gave him an awful fit. But don’t you worry, Mr. McCain. I got him in that gate for him!” I felt my face warming as Pa looked at me. I really, really wanted her to leave now! “He’s hurt his ankle, Mr. McCain. I’m sure his staying off of it tonight will make it feel good as new tomorrow.” She turned her horse to the road. “Mark, are there any more cows I could chase back in for you?”
“No!” I said a little too quickly and loudly. I swallowed. “I mean…no.”
“Alirght, Mark. If you’re sure,” Lorrie said.
“Quite sure!” I answered. I watched Lorrie turn to leave. Pa cleared his throat. When I looked up at him, he motioned toward Lorrie. I gave him a look that said I really didn’t want to, but he insisted in that quiet way of his. “Uh…thanks for your help, Lorrie.”
“Sure Mark!” I cringed at the smile she gave me.
Pa looked up at me as she rode away. “Well,” he said as he folded his arms. “What do you know?”
I turned in my saddle and glared at Pa. “Don’t say it, Pa! Just don’t say it!”
Pa laughed as he helped me down and into the house. “I reckon she’ll make somebody a fine wife someday!”
“Ha!” I declared as I rubbed my ankle. “She’s a pest!”
“Mark!” Pa scolded me. Pa pulled a bucket from under the sink and pumped some water into it, then carried it over and sat it on the floor in front of me, then told me to remove my boot and sock. I did as Pa said. I gingerly placed my foot into the cold water and cringed. Pa pushed on my knee, “Now, keep your foot in there until I say otherwise.”
Then Pa turned to the kitchen and he started to fix supper.
“Well, she is!” I sat at the table watching Pa fix supper. “One good thing came out of this I reckon.”
“What’s that?” Pa asked from the kitchen.
“I won’t have to wash dishes tonight!” Pa didn’t say anything at that. I licked my lips. “Say Pa…” Pa turned around. “About that Miss Lou Mallory, she seems pretty nice.”
“She’s a hot headed red head!” Pa declared.
“She just speaks her mind is all,” I argued. “Nothin’ wrong with that. She knows what she wants and she goes after it.”
“That’s the truth!” I heard butter sizzle in the skillet. “Sure ain’t starting off on the right foot!”
“I think she has a lot of prospect!” I said as I folded my arms. “Seems to know what she wants and-“
Pa turned and looked at me. I watched as he shook the spatula at me. “Now, don’t you go getting any ideas, boy!” Pa warned me.
“Pa, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But inwardly, I was grinning. Seems things were starting off to a good start for Pa and Miss Lou Mallory!
The next day, I had to go back to school. Mr. Griswald had given us the day before off because of some banking business he had to tend to. I dreaded going to school today, because I just KNEW Lorrie would be there telling everyone, including Lucille, how she had rescued me! I picked at my breakfast, but Pa finally cleared his throat and told me to get a “move on.”
Then when I walked outside to my horse, I took my time at mounting. “What’s wrong with you, son?” Pa finally asked.
I looked down at him from the saddle. “I just know that nosey, bossy Lorrie is gonna tell everyone about how she rescued me!”
“So?” Pa asked.
So? How could Pa sit there and say So????? Didn’t he know how humiliating this was for me? “So? Pa, she’s a GIRL! Boys are supposed to rescue girls – not the other way around.”
“Well, there’s one problem, son.” Pa smacked my leg. “This isn’t one of those dime-store novels or magazine stories. Things don’t always happen the way we want them to. Now, have a good day at school, son.”
Pa was laughing and shaking his head at me as I rode away. Sure enough, when I got to school there was Lorrie telling everyone about rescuing me yesterday! I could already feel my face redden as I walked toward the steps to go inside. “Well, Mark was just having a little bit of trouble roping that cow, you see. I just had to help him! Then he asked me to help him up on his horse.” I could not believe this! “He’ll be okay though. He just sprained his ankle a little. Oh, Mark!”
I froze just inside the door. Slowly, I turned around. Lorrie ran up to me. “I see you’re all recovered from your misadventure yesterday! See everyone, I told you we’d make him as good as new!”
“Uh…Lorre, you better uh…go on inside now and get ready for school.”
Lorrie suddenly folded her arms. “Mark McCain, stop treating me like a little girl! I’m the same age you are!”
I wanted to tell her to start acting her age and start acting like a girl, but I knew Pa wouldn’t approve. I bit my tongue, almost literally, and said, “Right.” Then I turned and hurried inside.
At recess, Freddie came over and sat down next to me. “Well, I don’t know how you’re doing finding your Pa a woman, but you don’t seem to be having any trouble, my good friend!”
“Don’t mention it, Freddie,” I ordered through clinched teeth. “You tease me just one little bit, and so help me, I’ll-“
“Alright, alright!” Freddie held up his hands in defeat. “I won’t mention one word about it!” Freddie took a bite of his apple. “I sure do feel sorry for the poor soul who marries her!”
“Yeah!” I shook my head. “Me too!”
Then at lunch, Freddie and I sat down to eat our sandwiches. Some of the boys raced into town, but I stayed put. I knew Pa’d skin me if I showed up. It wasn’t long before Charlie and Skinny ran up to us though. “You are never gonna guess what happened!”
“What?” I asked.
“Well, the Marshal and Mr. McCain are out looking for her right now! Can’t say that she doesn’t deserve it, what with her swindling everyone and all…”
Freddie and I looked at each other in surprise. “Looking for her?” I asked. “What do you mean they’re looking for her?”
“Miss Mallor,y who bought the hotel and lots of other things. She’s gone missing!”
“Mark, I think you better just go on back to school and don’t worry about this now! Your father-“
“My father may need my help! The Jackman’s you say? I’ll head on out there and see if I can get to the bottom of this!”
“It could be dangerous!” Mr. Hamilton declared.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “The Jackman’s? Dangerous? They couldn’t hit the side of the barn if it was a hundred feet wide and a hundred feet tall! “ I rolled my eyes. I hopped on Blue Boy. “Nobody messes with a friend of McCain and gets away with it!”
“A friend?” Mr. Hamilton stared at me. “Good golly, Mark! I didn’t think your father liked her!”
I turned in my saddle and looked straight at Mr. Hamilton. “Count again, Mr. Hamilton. There are two McCain’s!” Then I took off for the Jackman’s ranch.
I raced out toward the Jackman ranch. Granted, Pa wouldn’t much like me showing up, but Lou would need a friend, and as far as I could tell, I was the only friend she had right now. I was just about to ride into the yard when I suddenly heard a shot fire. “Come on, Blue Boy!” I cried. No telling what kind of trouble Pa was getting into!
I suddenly stopped as I got to the edge of the yard. “You didn’t make such a good deal this time, did you Miss Mallory?” I heard Pa say. Miss Mallory got a really mean look on her face.
I hurried up to the group. “Miss Mallory, you okay?” I asked as I hurried forward.
Miss Mallory brushed at her arms. “Yes Mark, thank you for asking. I’m tired and dirty, but I’m just fine!”
From the corner of my eye, I saw Pa put his hands on his hips, open his mouth in shock, and stare at me, but I tried to ignore that as I gave Miss Mallory my full attention. “Well uh…we should get you back in town! I bet you’re pretty hungry too.” I led her to my horse. “You can ride my horse, ma’am. I’ll just ride with my Pa back into town with you.” For the first time, I turned and looked squarely at Pa. “That’s alright, ain’t it Pa?”
If I wasn’t so concerned about getting in trouble, I would have burst out laughing at Pa’s expression! He still stood there with his hands planted firmly on his hips staring at me with his mouth open. “Huh?” Pa turned and looked at Micah. “Oh, sure son.” He looked at me as if he were trying to figure out what disease I was suffering from.
I was glad Miss Mallory stayed close to us, because I sure didn’t take kindly to talking to Pa until he had time to figure out why I had done, what I had done. I kept a smart hold around Pa’s middle as we rode into town. We stopped in front of Micah’s office. I motioned for Pa to go on in with Miss Mallory. I stayed in the background and listened as Miss Mallory agreed not to press charges against the Jackman clan after all. I groaned. Pa and Miss Mallory both turned toward me. I looked in the direction of Mr. Jackman. Then I swallowed. “I mean…gee, that’s great.” I saw Pa and Miss Mallory look at each other. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they just smiled at each other!
Then we followed them out. Miss Lou thanked Pa for his help. She acted like he was the hardest thing in the world! I just shook my head as she walked away. I turned and looked at Pa. “Can you believe that, Micah?” Pa asked as he motioned toward Lou. “Have you ever seen anything like her?”
I smiled. I hurried across the street to talk to Miss Lou. “Uh…after you get cleaned up and all…well, I know you don’t have the restaurant open yet and all so how bout if you join Pa and me for supper at the Café? They have good stew and some mighty fine steaks there!”
Miss Lou smiled. “Alright, Mark. I don’t mind if I do. “ She waved at me and hurried inside.
I smiled as I stood there and watched her go inside. I saw Freddie walking up to me. His arms were crossed and he was shaking his head. “Boy,” he said.
“What?” I asked innocently.
“SHE’s the one you’re trying to set your Pa up with?”
I turned and looked toward the hotel. “What’s wrong with her?” I asked suddenly.
Freddie simply shook his head. “Boy, oh boy!”
“Mark!” I suddenly heard Pa call from outside Micah’s office. “Let’s get started for home, son. You and I have some things to talk about.”
Now it was time for me to make the announcement to Pa that we weren’t headed home just yet. “Boy…oh…boy!” Freddie declared as he turned and hurried away. As I started across the street, I heard Freddie in the distance declare once again, “Oh…boy!”
Well, I think Pa took it very well…all things considered. Okay, maybe he was a little upset…Well, let’s just say that the worse I got out of it was some angry words, but once Pa calmed down, he was able to come to my way of thinking…I think…
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Quiet Night, Deadly Night
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch