The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

Meeting at Midnight Episode 74
Mark’s story

I still remember that day after all these years. Even today, when I pick up a collection of Hemans’ poetry, I smile as I remember back to that day. It was a Friday afternoon and no one wanted to be in school that day. It was hard for us to concentrate, and knowing we were starting a section on poetry made that Friday afternoon no better! I groaned along with everyone else. Poetry was for the birds!

Now granted, Pa had taught me Sheridan’s Ride and I liked a few other poems, but anything my teacher would teach me in school wasn’t anything I’d be interested in – or so I thought!

I put my head in my hands and groaned as she opened her book and told us to turn in our books to a certain page. I turned and rolled my eyes at Howie who was sitting beside me. “Mark McCain, I saw that!” Miss Adams declared.

I slowly lifted my head up and sat up straight. “Sorry, Miss Adams,” I said.

“Now class, we’ve been talking about the Battle of the Nile in history. Well, this poem is about that Battle, but more precisely, this poem is about a twelve year old boy on a ship with his father. The boy’s name was Giocante Casabianca. He stayed at his father’s side until his sudden death.”

I suddenly cocked my head to one side as she began reading it.

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.

I smiled as she read it with such passion. I imagined the twelve year old boy, the only survivor, standing there among a ship on fire. He was probably very proud of his father at that moment.

The flames roll'd on...he would not go
Without his father's word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

I scooted to the edge of my seat as she read that next part. My mouth opened as I started breathing excitedly. I stared at her as she read.

But suddenly, she closed her book. “Alright class, I want you to work on memorizing this poem. It’s not required, bur for those who could use the extra points on your report card, I highly advise it. She, of course, looked at me.

It was time to go. I found myself groaning. I had wanted her to read the whole thing today! I hurriedly gathered up my books and raced down the stairs. Grabbing Blue Boy’s reins, I walked to town, book open in hand, reading the remainder of the poem.

My eyes grew wide as I read. I was almost through the second reading when I suddenly bumped into someone. Packages flew all over the place. “Oh,” I suddenly threw my books down. “Oh ma’am, I’m so sorry!” I gasped as I helped her pick her purchases up. “I’m so very, very sorry!”

I stood and handed her the packages. Suddenly, I stared at her. “Miss Rebecca? Rebecca Snipe?” I suddenly smiled. “How are you?”

“Well, Mark McCain!” She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “Well, I do declare, you have grown some!”

I swallowed hard as I stared at her. “You are more beautiful now!” I gasped. “I mean…”

She smiled. “No, you’re just older, Mark. How’s your Pa. Have you found him a nice wife yet?”

My face suddenly reddened at the memory. “Uh…yeah, sorry about that,” I groaned at the memory. Pa sure made me wash dishes alone for a couple nights after that incident! I shrugged. “Speaking of Pa, I best get going! I’m late!” I mounted my horse. “You living here now?”

“No, just visiting those crazy brothers of mine,” she declared.

I tipped my heart to her and took off for home.

When I rode onto the ranch, Pa was busy stacking the wood. I groaned as I got off my horse and ran over to him. “I hurried home as fast as I could, Pa! You’ll never guess who I ran into in town! I jumped up and down excitedly as he stacked the wood.

Pa stopped stacking and put a hand on top of my head with a sigh to stop my bouncing. “Who?”

“Rebekah Snipe,” I answered.

“Oh,” Pa sighed. He started stacking the wood again.

“Oh? Pa, she’s gotten prettier!” I declared.

“You’ve just gotten older,” Pa shot back.

I suddenly wrinkled up my forehead. “That what she said. What does that mean?”

Pa gave a short laugh. “Nothing,” he answered. “Get started on your chores, huh boy?”

When my chores were done, I ran inside and sat down at the table to memorize my poem. I had all weekend, and by golly, I was gonna do it! As I was working on it, Pa walked inside to start supper. He came over to me and felt my forehead. “You okay, son?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I answered suddenly concerned. “Why? Do I look sick?”

Pa folded his arms. “Yes, as a matter of fact you do. You are sitting there doing homework on a Friday afternoon!”

“Oh,” I sat my book down. “I’m memorizing this poem for extra points in English. She said we could if we needed them, and I sure need them!”

“Yes you do,” Pa retorted. “But right now how about working on these vegetables.”

I sat down at the table again after I had the vegetables done. I studied the poem intently until Pa told me to set the table. “Just a minute, Pa!” I said as I studied on the book some more.

Pa suddenly walked up behind me, took the book from my hand, and snapped it shut. “Now,” Pa said in a stern tone of voice.

As we ate supper, I told Pa all about what Miss Adams had taught us about the Battle of the Nile. I thought on this as I took a bite of my meat. “It was part of the French Revolutionary War and it happened in 1798.” I suddenly gasped as I sat down my fork and leaned forward. “That was almost a hundred years ago! Pa, do you know that there was a twelve year old boy on that ship with his father? Everyone else was shot down or captured. But according to this poem, the boy was still alive and was asking his father for instructions on what to do.” I quickly took another bite of my food. Then I stood up and ran over to Pa. “Miss Adams said the little boy and his father died when the ship exploded!” I suddenly looked up toward the ceiling, put my hands on my hips and thought on that. “Gee, I wonder what it was like for that twelve year old boy! I know he died, but,” I folded my arms then. “What a way to go, and he probably never thought folks would be talking about him a hundred year later! I wonder what I could do that people will talk about me a hundred years from now…”

Pa suddenly cleared his throat. I looked at him and he pointed to my chair. I hurried back over and sat down. “I suppose that if you want people to talk to you a hundred years from now, dying in a famous battle like the Battle of the Nile would be a way to do it,” Pa shook his head at me. “But I don’t think I would like folks to talk about my twelve year old boy dying a hero on some ship at sea, so you just keep your feet planted firmly on the ground and eat your supper, huh?”

I laughed. “Yes sir.” I started to take another bit of my food, but then I suddenly thought about something else. “Pa, do you know that about 1,700 brave French men perished that day?”

Pa was sipping from his coffee cup, but suddenly sat it down as he eyed me. “Perished?”

“Well yeah. Oh, that’s a poet’s way of saying died. It sounds much more…romantic, doesn’t it?” I asked.

“Romantic?” Pa shook his head.

“Not love romantic, but you know…exciting romantic!” I declared.

“Oh,” Pa started to nod his head.

“And in the whole French Revolution, about –“

I stopped when Pa let out a heavy, impatient sigh. “Mark, I went to school already, remember? They had history when I went to school too.” Pa took another bite of his food as I started eating, knowing he wanted less talking. “Mark, I’m proud that you are actually retaining this part of history, and surprised you seem to remember it so well. And I’m glad you want to share what you learned with me, but not while you’re eating – especially since you can’t seem to concentrate on your own supper!”

“Yes sir,” I answered.

After I got the dishes washed, Pa worked on drying them while I again turned to my poem to memorize.

“The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone…shone…”

Oh, but this was frustrating! I thought I had it down! “Having trouble memorizing, son?” Pa suddenly asked from behind me.

I didn’t want him to think I couldn’t do it. “Oh no, it just trying to get the gestures with the right words,” I explained. I suddenly looked at my book and thought on the poem itself. “This lady, this Hemans that wrote this, she sure was some writer!” I declared. “I wonder if I should be a writer!” That would certainly make people remember Mark McCain a hundred years from now!

Pa teased me on wanting to be a stage coach driver just a week ago. I knew what he was saying – my mind would change a hundred times between now and then! But I still thought being a writer would be swell.

I wanted to work on memorizing the poem some more, but Pa said I had to go into town with him to pick up my new grade’s schoolbooks. When Pa had ordered them a few months ago, he had shaken his head. For some reason, his face held a little sadness on it as he said, “I can’t believe you’re starting your seventh year in a few months!” I didn’t know why that should make him sad, but he told me I’d understand someday when I was a parent of a boy who was quickly growing up!

When we got to town, Pa saw someone he knew from his army days, so he sent me over to Miss Hattie’s to get my new books. I stood in there for quite some time telling her all about the Battle of the Nile, and she reacted the same as Pa. She’d love to hear all about it, but right now she was busy. I turned to look at the candy but had no money, so I decided to wait until I could ask Pa.

I’ve charged candy in the past, and probably will again sometime, but right now the past was still a little too fresh in my memory and I remembered Pa’s words when he saw the candy charged on his last General Store bill. His reaction had not been very nice. I hadn’t realized I had charged almost a dollars worth over the course of the month and Pa declared I would be paying that off by the sweat of my brow. I sure did. So for now, I figured I’d done enough chores to last me awhile!

But when I went outside, I found my Pa in a fight with his captain from the army, Tom Benton. After Micah hauled Mr. Benton off to jail, I asked Pa what that was all about. Pa didn’t want to tell me. He said something about there were some times I had to trust his judgment to pick the right time and place to tell me. That meant it was none of my business and he didn’t want to tell me the reason. Then Pa sent me home.

I didn’t mind going home, and I hurried home as fast as I could. I had a whole poem to memorize, and I was going to memorize it for sure! I lit the lantern and sat at the table for a long time memorizing it line by line. I even stood up and worked on the right gestures. It was actually sort of nice having the house to myself. I didn’t have to worry about Pa walking in on me and teasing me! I sure was happy when I made it all the way through to the last verse without a hitch!

But as I went through it once more, I started yawning. Suddenly, I realized it must be getting late. I went to look at the only clock we had in the house.

Ten o’clock. I turned to walk away, but then turned back and stared at the clock. I was surprised that Pa wasn’t home yet, but I was sort or glad too! He sure would have done some hollering if he walked in right now and found me still up! I quickly changed into my night shirt and crawled into bed.

But I couldn’t sleep. It was after ten o’clock and my Pa was still not home. That worried me. I got up and went to look out the window. It had to be close to 10:30 now, and he still wasn’t home. I was becoming worried.

I opened the bedroom door and began pacing the floor. I looked at the clock every two minutes.

And shouted but one more aloud,
"My father, must I stay?"
While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud
The wreathing fires made way,

While I paced the floor, I decided to work on my poem. It was all coming together very nicely.

11:00, and still no Pa. I sat down in his chair and wrapped a blanket around myself, staring at the closed door. I was suddenly very tired. I laid my head down on the arm of the chair and let out a big yawn. “The wreathing fires made way,” I mumbled as I fell asleep.

Suddenly, I felt someone lifting me up. I opened my eyes half-way and saw the shadowed face of my Pa. He gave me a tired grin. “What time is it?” I mumbled as he carried me into the bedroom. I laid my head against his chest and closed my eyes.

“It’s almost 2:00,” Pa whispered as he gently laid me down in the bed. “I’m sorry I worried you, son. Everything’s fine now.” I rolled over and groaned tiredly. Pa tucked the covers around me and patted my shoulder. “Good night, son.”

I didn’t even take time to answer him. My eyes closed in sleep.

But suddenly, someone was shaking me. The sun shone in the window and I groaned as I covered my head with the blankets. “It’s past 8:00, son. You need to get up.”

“Pa, can’t we skip church today?” I groaned.

“There’s no church today son,” Pa grinned. “But we’re having our Bible time as usual right here. I’ve got a big mess of pancakes on the table.”

I yawned but didn’t move. “Mark, you can take a nap this afternoon, but right now I want you out doing your morning chores,” he sternly ordered. “I let you sleep in for two hours. Come on.”

I finally forced my way out of bed and tiredly came in to sit at the table. Pa sat the pancakes in front of me and I started eating. I was awake by the time I was done, so I hurried with my morning chores.

I wasn’t allowed to ask Pa about his night until after lunch. He wanted I should reflect on God and what He’s done for us this week until then. While we ate lunch, I asked him again. Pa told me all about his old army captain and what happened last night.

“So, Micah’s pretty mad at you, huh?” I asked Pa when he told me about Micah not being in on the plan.

“He was at first,” Pa answered. “That’s why I was so late getting home. I had to do a whole lot of convincing.”

I laughed as I tried to imagine the look on Micah’s face when Pa was given the keys to let them out. Micah had suddenly known Pa played a part in letting Mr. Benton escape from jail.

“Oh,” I suddenly announced. “I almost have the whole poem memorized, Pa! Will you listen to me?”

Pa wiped his mouth and stood up. “Not now, son. I have to do some things in the barn this afternoon. But I’ll listen to it later!” He started to leave but suddenly heard me yawn. “You go take a nap.”

“Oh, Pa!” I groaned. “I’m a little too big to be taking a nap!”

“Mark?” Pa warned.

“Yes sir,” I groaned. I laid down and was asleep in no time. Pa came in and woke me up about an hour later.

I worked on getting my gestures right that afternoon. Pa came inside at one point and grinned from the doorway with his head cocked to one side. I suddenly turned and stared at him. He was about to say something when we heard a rider coming.

We both went outside. It was Mr. Benton. Pa patted him on the back as he got down from his horse. “All done already?”

Mr. Benton nodded. “Smooth as silk, Lucas.” He walked up to me. “Went off without a hitch!” He looked down at me and smiled. “Tom Benton.” He held out his hand, but I just stared at him. He was something else alright! He was my Pa’s Captain in the army!

Pa suddenly cleared his throat and I grabbed Mr. Benton’s hand and shook it. “It’s a pleasure, sir. Oh, it’s a real pleasure!” I declared with a big smile.

He smiled at me. “I’m just a regular guy, Mark.”

“Oh no sir, you’re not! You do secret spy work!” I declared. “Are you in danger everyday?”

Pa grabbed my shoulder then. “Mark, why don’t you go start on you chores!” He said this through a tight smile, which made me think he thought I was talking too much again.

As I walked away, I heard Pa ask him if he’d stay for supper. “Oh yes,” I ran back to him. “You just gotta! Then Pa will fix steaks and baked potatoes! Oh, he makes the best-“

“Mark,” Pa warned as he pointed toward the barn.

“Yes sir,” I groaned.

As I was bringing in some firewood, I cornered Pa in the kitchen to ask him a question. “Pa, you think maybe I can recite my poem for the both of you after supper? I think I have the whole thing memorized now!”

Pa grinned at me. “We’ll see son,” he promised.

As we ate supper, Pa and Mr. Benton talked about their adventures together in the Army. I listened patiently. When there was finally a lull in the conversation, I asked Pa if I could cut the apple pie. “I’ll cut the apple pie,” Pa stated. “Let me tell you, Tom. I let Mark cut the apple pie one day and he ended up with a third of the pie!”

I rolled my eyes at him, but he wasn’t far from the truth! “Well, there’s three of us,” I said hopefully.

Pa shook his head. I didn’t figure he’d go for that! After we were done eating, I said, “Now Pa?”

Pa turned and looked at me with a grin. “Alright, son.” I was suddenly excited that I was going to get to recite my poem I’d been working on all day!

I went over to the fireplace where I had worked on my gestures that afternoon and started in on the poem after propping my foot up on the hearth.

"The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.
Yet....."

Oh no! I couldn’t remember what came next! I stood there trying to remember that simple part of the verse. But suddenly, Mr. Benton jumped in.

“Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.”

Pa and I stared at him! I was ashamed that I hadn’t remembered it, but amazed that Mr. Benton knew it. I felt like somebody now, having memorized a poem that a famous spy knew! “Well gee, you recite that real well!” I exclaimed. I looked down at my book and groaned. “Guess I better do a little more studying.”

Pa laughed, but Mr. Benton assured me I did a really good job at learning that.

Pa made me go to bed early that night. He said I had school the next day and needed a good rest. “I took a nap this afternoon!” I reminded Pa.

“Yes you did,” Pa stated. “That was to keep you from being cranky tonight. I know how you get when you haven’t had enough sleep!”

I started to go to bed, but turned and looked at Pa. “Say Pa?”

“Huh?” Pa looked up from the book he’d just picked up.

“You didn’t get to bed until after 2. Aren’t you going to bed?”

“In a few minutes, son. I just want to finish this chapter.”

I walked up to him and folded my arms around his boot. “You think Miss Adams will let me recite my poem to the class in the morning?”

“I have no idea, son,” Pa answered as he continued reading the book.

“Will you ride in to school with me in the morning so you can hear me recite it?” I asked then.

“Mark, I have a lot-“ But he suddenly looked up at me and saw the hopefulness in my eyes. “Sure son. But right now, goodnight,” he declared sternly.

I was up early the next morning, much to Pa’s surprise. By the time he had breakfast on the table, I had my chores done and my horse saddled. My books were all bucked up ready to go too. I suddenly felt like I had butterflies in my stomach! I just knew Miss Adams would let me say the poem and I was nervous I would forget my lines!

Pa and I rode into town together as I excitedly gave him another history lesson on the Battle of the Nile. As we got off the horses and started inside, I saw Miss Adams climbing out of the buggy. I immediately ran forward to talk to her.

Suddenly, Pa grabbed me by the shirt collar to keep me from going. “Let her get settled first, son!” he declared.

But she saw us and walked up to us with a smile. “Miss Adams, can I please recite my poem in front of the class this morning?” I asked excitedly.

She looked from me to Pa and suddenly grinned really big. “You mean, you memorized the whole poem?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, as soon as the kids get settled, you can do her!”

I sat nervously in my seat as Pa stood in the back. I turned and looked at him every once in awhile as Miss Adams worked on getting the kids settled. My stomach was starting to feel worse.

Finally, Miss Adams called me to the front. I turned and looked out over all the students. I smiled and cleared my throat. Then I started speaking.

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.

The flames roll'd on...he would not go
Without his father's word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He call'd aloud..."Say, father,say
If yet my task is done!"
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

"Speak, father!" once again he cried
"If I may yet be gone!"
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames roll'd on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death,
In still yet brave despair;

And shouted but one more aloud,
"My father, must I stay?"
While o'er him fast, through sail and shroud
The wreathing fires made way,

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And stream'd above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound...
The boy-oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea.

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part;
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart.

My gestures were perfect! The kids clapped at the end and I bowed like a real gentleman. Pa gave me a thumbs up and I smiled really big. Pa turned to leave. I ran out after him. “Hey Pa, did ya like it? Huh, Pa? Did yat? Did ya?” I asked as I grabbed his hands and jumped up and down.

Pa smiled at me really proudly. “I loved it, Mark! You did an excellent job!”

“I did?” My smile grew wider. “Honest?”

“Honest,” Pa stated as he gave me a firm pat on the backside. “Now, get inside and study hard!”

“Yes sir!”

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

Nora

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story

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