Millie smiled at Pa as she looked up from her plate. “I’m sorry, Lucas, but I’m going out of town!” She shook her head sympathetically. “I must go to Santa Fe and pick out the new yard goods I want to order for this spring. I told you about that last week.
“Pa!” I suddenly stated. I’d been trying to put my two cents worth in this conversation since it started.
“Yes,” Pa sighed. “I remember now.”
“Well, surely Micah can keep him. If he has official work to do for awhile, I’m sure he could stay over at a friends’ house for a few hours.” Milly laid a gentle hand on Pa’s and smiled at him.
I rolled my eyes as Pa gave her one of those deep smiles of his. I didn’t like to see all the mushy stuff! It was just too weird! “Pa!”
But again I was ignored. “I thought about Micah already. He has Billy Mason filling in for him as deputy while he goes to a conference in Santa Fe.”
“Pa!” I suddenly cried giving his arm a rough shove.
Pa and Millie suddenly turned to me. Millie raised a disapproving eyebrow at me and gave me one of her looks that told me I was behaving inappropriately. And Pa…well, he was giving me one of his own famous looks. I suddenly swallowed. “Excuse me,” I said. “But I have a solution to what you think is a problem.” They just kept looking sternly at me. “I am twelve years old, Pa. I don’t need a baby sitter! I’m old enough to-“
Pa and Millie looked at each other. “Well, I’m sorry Lucas but you are simply going to have to take him with you.”
“I know, but he’s already missed several days this year what with branding and planting and all. Besides that, the letter says I may be getting into some trouble and you know how…” Pa continued as if I hadn’t even said anything.
I sighed and put my chin in my hands as I rolled my eyes. I hadn’t even paid no mind to what else was being said but suddenly, I heard Pa’s gruff voice. “Mark, is there a problem?”
I suddenly sat up, realizing my elbow was on the table and my eye-rolling was deemed inappropriate. “I told you that-“
“It’s out of the question, son.” Pa stated.
“But why? I know lots of boys my age who-“
But again, I wasn’t allowed to finish my thought. “Mark, if you are done, go wait out at the wagon. I’ll be there as soon as Millie and I are done eating.”
“Well, what about dessert?” I asked.
“Sorry, son. You blew it.” I nodded, figuring as much. As I walked outside I took off my tie and threw it in the back of the wagon. Freddie was running up the road. “Mark, you ready for that test tomorrow?”
“I don’t reckon I’ll be in school tomorrow,” I groaned as I leaned against the wagon.
“Well, usually you are hopping up and down with glee. Why are you so upset about that?” Freddie cocked his head to one side.
I sighed. “Well lately Pa’s been telling me how grown up I’m getting to be, but he won’t let me prove it! I can’t have a rifle. I can’t go off by myself without telling him exactly where I’ll be and be given a time to be home! And now I have to have a babysitter if he’s to go out of town!”
“Oh, that IS bad! Why can’t you stay with Millie or Micah?” Freddie suggested. I told him they’d be out of town. He shrugged. “Well, why don’t you come stay with me?”
I shrugged. “Pa wants that Millie and Micah take care of me when he’s out of town. He said they knew him well enough to know what’s right and wrong in his mind. Don’t they understand that I’m twelve years old? I’m not a baby anymore and-“
“Mark!” I suddenly heard Pa call from behind me. I turned and looked at him. “Let’s go, son.”
I climbed up in the wagon seat and we started for home. Everything was quiet and I could tell Pa was a bit miffed at me. I quickly turned and looked at him. “Pa, you told me I was getting older – more like a young man every day.”
“You are getting older, Mark,” Pa answered as he kept the reins tight for a slow, easy ride home.
“Then what’s the problem?” I asked.
“The problem, Mark, is that you are not old enough to stay by yourself while I may be gone for a few weeks dealing with this situation.” Pa had told me about a town in Dobie Wells that had been hit with a bad case of Hoof and Mouth. The cattle demand there was high. We were on our way to sell some of our cattle. He said it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. With the money we had left, we could come back here and buy even more cattle then we were selling. But it was dangerous, Pa said. The demand was high and the cattle thieving was pretty tremendous. Some sellers had already been killed.
“But Pa, other boys-“ I started.
Pa suddenly turned to me. “Look Mark, I cannot control what other boys’ folks allow. As for me, I’m telling you are not old enough to stay alone.”
“Then why can’t I stay with Freddie or-“ I started. Pa turned and gave me a warning look. I knew the conversation was over. “Yes sir.”
We left the next morning. Pa asked me why I didn’t want to come with him on this trip. I told him that I had been looking forward to an adventure all on my own. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew that with his being gone for two or three weeks there was bound to be an adventure. Pa shook his head telling me he’d never figure me out. I missed him if he went away overnight, and here I was wanting to be away from him for three weeks.
We rode stagecoach East to Texas. Jason, one of our hands Pa had hired to take care of the cattle drive, was already at the station waiting for us. “The cattle are out of town,” he announced. “We have men guarding them day and night. They’ll be sold tomorrow.”
The next day, Pa ordered me to stay inside the hotel room. I wasn’t even allowed to leave the room. He had heard talk in the saloon last night about some men planning an attack at the cattle auction today. He said the feeling on the street below wasn’t that great either. “Sounds like I would have been better off on my own in North Fork,” I grumbled. Staying inside working on my lessons wasn’t exactly my idea of fun.
Pa looked up from where he was buckling his belt. “Alright, that’s enough, boy!” Pa ordered.
I turned away from him with a sigh. “Yes sir.” Pa started for the door. “But Pa, you will be careful? I mean, I don’t want you to get shot or-“
Pa smiled and laid a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll be fine, son. I promise I’ll be back in time for us to eat dinner tonight.” Pa went to the door and picked up his rifle. “I asked the restaurant to bring you up a tray of food at noon. They’ll knock three times, pause, then knock twice. That’s their code.”
‘Yes sir.” I went to look out the window.”
“And make sure you do your lessons, son.” I nodded. Pa started to walk out the door, but he suddenly walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. “I don’t want you staring out this window all day worrying about me, son.” He lowered the blinds. “I’m sorry, but if I had any other way, I wouldn’t have brought you.”
“Yeah,” I answered.
Pa turned me around and held a tight hand on both of my shoulders. “Mark, ever since your mother died you have been…extra special to me. You are all of your mother I have left. So if I hold on to you a little too tight or try to keep you a little boy for as long as I can, please remember that it’s only because…well, because I love you.”
I looked into Pa’s eyes and smiled. “I understand, Pa.”
Pa headed for the door. He opened it, then turned once more. “I’ll try to do better. Okay?”
I laughed then. He pointed to my books then went out the door. I hurried over to the window and watched Pa cross the street to the Cattleman’s Association office. Before he walked inside, he turned and looked up at me and pointed. I quickly moved away from the window and went to my books.
I studied all morning knowing Pa would question me on how much work I had done. But after lunch I had grown board. So I sat down with my notepad by the window and sketched different things. I heard the door knob wiggle. I turned and looked. I jumped up and ran to Pa as he came in. He looked like he’d had a rough day. I threw my arms around his neck and gave him a tight hug.
Pa hugged me back with a chuckle. “Well, what’s this about you wanting to grow up?”
I tried to break the embrace, but Pa hugged me tighter with a laugh. “We’ll leave tomorrow. The cattle are all sold, son.”
That evening we had a nice big dinner in the hotel restaurant. Pa quizzed me on what I had learned in my lessons that day and he frowned when I admitted I had quit my studies at noon. But then he smile, stating he was glad for the time I had studied. Pa said he had made a bank draft with the money. He didn’t want to carry that much money back to North Fork with us.
The next morning we got ready to go. When we got to the stage depot there was a nice little old lady sitting quietly looking at a big book. I stared at her as Pa went to buy the tickets for the stage. She suddenly looked up and smiled. “Hello there,” she smiled. “My name is Bertie Hoakam. What’s your name?”
I turned to look at Pa and swallowed. I took my hat off and sat down. “Name’s Mark McCain, ma’am. That there’s my Pa over there buying the tickets.”
Pa walked over to us. “How old are you, Mark?”
“Well, I’m twelve, ma’am,” I answered.
“Twelve, well you aren’t a boy! You are a young man.” She smiled. “You know, there was an outlaw named Billy the Kid who had already shot his first man at your age and-“ I leaned forward to hear more, but she stopped when Pa suddenly sucked in his breath.
I turned to look at Pa who had his arms folded and was staring at Miss Bertie, as she later asked me to call her. Pa shook his head. “We don’t know that he was twelve. There’s a lot of different stories – hard to tell which is true!”
“Well, just the same, you are a young man and-“ She didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence. The driver announced we were pulling out for North Fork.
After we got on board, Miss Bertie told me I could sit with her. Pa was already the enemy since he didn’t enjoy an older lady telling outlaw stories to me. He told me later that it wasn’t appropriate for a proper lady like Miss Bertie to tell such stories. He said he didn’t like my head being filled with such nonsense. Micah could tell me the stories all the live long day, though, and Pa didn’t say a word. So I knew it was because she was a lady.
We hadn’t been traveling very long before she pulled out her big book she had been looking at earlier. “What is this?” I asked. She smiled and handed it to me as she put an arm around my shoulders. I opened it up. “Wanted Posters!” I declared excitedly.
Pa had leaned his head down to nap, but his head suddenly popped up and he stared at Miss Bertie. He pushed his hat on the back of his head and asked, “Now what the devil-“ he started. But then he waved his hand toward us. “On second thought never mind. I don’t want to know.”
I started looking through her book. “Wow!” I declared as I read each poster. I told her she must have every wanted poster out there!
”I don’t have wild Jack Malone’s. His posters are pretty difficult to find.” I could tell she wanted that poster. I hadn’t ever heard of him. Pa wasn’t too happy about it, but she told me all about that outlaw. “The reward on him was nearly $10,000.00.”
I saw Pa open an eye and look at us. I figured he would be telling me to hush in a minute so I hurried to get as much information from her before it happened. “Why he must be a dead eye like Billy the Kid!” I declared.
“Well, he was so fast that people claim that he couldn’t even see him draw. His guns were like Billy’s, but they were a matched set with pearl handles.”
Pa didn’t even open his eyes, but stated they were just as deadly as the regular kind. Again, he made sure to point out that being an outlaw was a sin against God and man – not a glamorous occupation!
“Well, Jack was lonely, Mr. McCain, but there was good in him.” At that, Pa sat straight up and waited for the opportunity to stop her. I knew that this was the end of the conversation. The last thing she told me was “Did you know that he gave a proper burial to all of the people that he killed? Carved the wooden headboards himself.”
Pa quickly changed the subject. I guess he figured I’d had enough of that bad influence talking for one day!
I wanted Miss Bertie to stay in North Fork. I wanted to show the kids this Wanted Poster book. Boy, would they ever be surprised! It would certainly stop all Jeff’s bragging about the bullet he declared he had from the Domino Kid’s gun! But Pa told me to stop “deviling” her.
When we got to North Fork, we said goodbye to Miss Bertie and started for the livery stable to get our horses. But I was suddenly overjoyed when Miss Bertie announced she would stay in North Fork for a while! We had dinner that night, and as you know we met a real live outlaw! Miss Bertie knew exactly who he was and the crimes he had committed!
That’s when we found out why she was really here – she was planning on bounty hunting. I’d have to talk to Pa about that one later! I kept staring at her during dinner. Pa finally told me to keep my mind on my eating so we could get home before my bedtime. I had to go to school the next day! Boy, he didn’t waste any time!
“Miss Bertie, you really hunting Duke Jennings?” I asked.
She started to answer, but Pa jumped in before she could get the words out. “Never mind, Mark.”
“Yes sir.” I did the rest of my eating in silence.
Pa walked Miss Bertie up the stairs to her room while I went to get the horses ready for travel. It was dark outside and Pa said I had to take a bath when we got home cause of all the trail dust we picked up on the stagecoach. I groaned but knew Pa’s orders would be followed – or else!
We were half way home before I felt brave enough to broach the subject that was on my mind. “Pa?” Pa turned to look at me through the darkness as we rode side by side. “You think Miss Bertie is really going to hunt Duke Jennings?”
“I think she wants to alright, son,” Pa answered. “But I don’t think she has much of a chance.”
“You think she has a gun? She planning on dueling him?” I suddenly declared as my eyes widened at the prospect.
Suddenly I gasped, remembering the Wanted poster book. “Pa, I forgot to borrow that book! I was gonna take it to school with me. She said I could.”
“Forget it, Mark.” We pulled into the yard. Pa grabbed my horse’s reins and told me to jump down. “I’ll tend to the horses. You get yourself in that house and take your bath!”
I did. By the time Pa came inside, I was drying off and slipping into my nightshirt. “Pa, you knew Duke Jennings, huh?” Pa gave me a swift smack on the backside and pushed me toward the bedroom. “Was he a friend of yours?”
“No,” Pa answered as he pulled the covers back on my bed.
I sat down on the bed. “You think Miss Bertie is going to talk to him tomorrow? Maybe tell him she’s doing a citizen arrest and take him back to where he’s wanted?”
Pa bent over and lifted my legs onto the bed. He pulled the covers up to my waste. “Will you lay down and get to sleep?” I laid down and Pa finished tucking me in.
I suddenly realized he had put me to bed like he used to when I was little. Pa headed for the door when I sat straight up in bed. “Pa!” Pa turned and glared at me. “I’m not a kid! Why’d you do that?”
Pa smiled. “It’s one of a father’s pleasures. Besides that, you weren’t doing it on your own! Now get to sleep!”
But I couldn’t sleep. All those thoughts were barreling through my head! I wondered about Miss Bertie and how she was going to get him back to Oklahoma. She couldn’t use a gun…I turned over and tried to go to sleep again but I couldn’t. I tossed and turned until Pa quietly came into the room. The house was dark and I knew he was turning in for the night.
Pa undressed and laid down to get to sleep himself. I could tell in the darkness that he had just finished up his own bath. There was a clean smell about him. Pa laid down and sighed. I waited a minute but could wait no longer. “Pa?”
The moonlight shone through the window and I saw Pa turn his head toward me. “Why aren’t you asleep, Mark?”
“Pa, how is she going to get him back to Oklahoma?”
Pa bent up on his elbow and looked straight at me. I couldn’t see his eyes too well, but I could see them well enough to know I was about to get it. (Though I never challenged him to see what “it” was). “Good night, Mark!”
I turned over and had no trouble getting to sleep after that.
I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you a bit to hear that the next morning, Pa’s third warning for me to get out of bed came with a threat. I immediately jumped out of bed, not wanting to go to bed early all weekend. I hurried with my chores and sat down at the table. Pa reminded me that I only had five minutes to get out the door. “No sir,” I answered. Pa looked up at me and raised an eyebrow. I guzzled down my milk, but stopped when he cleared his throat. “I have to leave early if I’m planning on stopping by the hotel and asking Miss Bertie for that book.”
“You never mind that book!” Pa declared as he pointed straight at me. “I don’t want you taking something like that to school.”
“But Pa, it’s current events!” I jumped up and grabbed my books Pa had readied for me.
“Yes,” Pa answered. “Funny how you never seemed interested in current events before.” He took a sip of his coffee. “Mark!”
I turned from the door I was racing out of. Pa again pointed at me. “Don’t go through town this morning. You take the road around it.”
“Yes sir.” But Pa didn’t say anything about me staying out of town when I got out of school. So I mosied my way into town to buy some candy at the General Store.
As I was paying for it, Miss Bertie walked in. She smiled at me. “Can I help you, miss?” Millie asked.
I gulped down the piece of candy in my mouth. “Oh, Miss Millie this is Miss Bertie. She’s a bounty hunter.”
Millie stared at me. “She’s a…what?” She suddenly put her hand on her hip and shook a finger at me. “Now see here, Mark McCain! I don’t want to ever hear you talk like that again!”
“But I-“ I started.
Miss Bertie put an arm around me and laughed. “Oh now, Miss Millie, Mark didn’t mean any harm attal! He’s right…sort of. I’m here after an outlaw, but I’m not a bounty hunter.”
Millie simply stared at her. “Um…” Millie looked down at her ledger trying to compose herself. “Mark, if there’s nothing else you better run along home now.” She nodded her head toward the door. I knew that wasn’t a request so I nodded toward Miss Bertie and ran out the door.
I saw Pa’s horse across the street and hurried over there. Micah sat in his office but Pa was no where around. I greeted Micah warmly then sat down across from him. “Where’s Pa?”
“He’s down at the livery stable. I thought you were going home after school.” I cocked my head and looked at him. “Well, that’s what your father said anyhow.”
“Oh. Well, I came to buy some candy and I saw Pa’s horse here so I thought I’d ride home with him.” I drummed my fingers on the desk. Suddenly, I leaned forward. “Hey Micah, have you met Miss Bertie yet?”
Micah’s head popped up. His forehead wrinkled up. “Have I met her? You could say I have!” he declared.
“You know that she’s bounty hunting?” I asked. “Why, she’s gonna somehow get Duke Jennings back to Oklahoma and collect the reward!”
“Yes, I’ve heard.” Micah stood up and went across the room. “Mark, don’t you have chores at home or something?”
“Yeah.” I went to the door. “Why doesn’t anybody want to talk to me about Miss Bertie’s bounty hunting? I think it’s really neat!”
Micah turned around and walked back toward me. I saw the look of a lecture on his face. “Sit down, boy,” he ordered as he sat back down in his chair.
I swallowed but obeyed him. “Bounty hunting isn’t something I like. I think that if this man needs to be taken back to Oklahoma, I should be the one to do it and not some person out to get the money any way they can. But what Miss Bertie is doing is trying to make him mad enough to do something wrong.” He banged his fist on the desk. “She has no idea what she’s doing!” I lowered my head realizing I had touched a soft spot with Micah. “Miss Bertie is like a fly tormenting a horse, boy.”
“How’s that?” I asked, shifting in my chair.
“That horse is going to switch his tail and-“ Micah bangs his hands together. I jumped at the sound his hands made.
At some point Pa had come in. He stood in the doorway with his arms crossed and a grin on his face. “Mark, I just get the man calmed down and you come in and wile him up all over again!”
The next day Pa told me he had a meeting with the town council, so I was to wait for him at Micah’s. I got out of school and hurried over to the General Store. I couldn’t quite decide what kind of candy I wanted. As you know, when I finally did decide, Miss Bertie came in and bought me both kinds of candy. Pa wouldn’t have approved though, so I’m glad he wasn’t there!
You should have seen the look on my face when Miss Bertie sat a pair of rusty handcuffs down in front of me! She asked Miss Millie for some oil for them then left. I wondered out loud what she wanted with those handcuffs. I figured she was planning on using them on Duke Jennings! I sure did want to see that!
But Miss Millie asked me where Pa was. When I told her, she told me to go over to the meeting and tell Pa about Miss Millie. I grabbed my candy and ran out. Now, Millie’s giving me an order is just like Pa giving me one. And when I’m told to do it, I’m to do it at once. So I hurried into the church where the meeting was being held. Pa was standing in front of the group talking about when the school would have it’s next vacation. I stopped and listened hoping to hear. But Pa looked at me.
“Oh,” I said as I stepped forward. Pa had already told me I wasn’t to come into the meetings – they were for adults only. “I’m sorry, sir, but Miss Millie told me to come get you. It’s important!”
Pa looked around the group and smiled apologetically. “Well?”
“It’s Miss Bertie, Pa. She has a set of rusty old handcuffs and went over to the saloon!” Pa looked at Micah then grabbed his rifle and hurried out. At the door, he turned around. “John, can you take over for me?”
I followed Pa down to the saloon. I was really hoping I could watch Miss Bertie arrest Duke Jennings – that was a sight I couldn’t pass up! But Pa stopped just outside the doors to the saloon and turned around. He put a hand on my shoulder. “No, Mark.”
“Oh, but Pa! Miss Bertie’s in there!” I groaned.
“I know,” he nodded. “You get on your horse and go home. Start on your chores then start on supper. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I hesitated, looking at the door. I really didn’t want to but I had no choice.
Pa got home in time for supper. He sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Well?” I asked.
“Well what?” Pa asked.
“Did she arrest him? Is she taking him back to Oklahoma?” I leaned forward, anxious to know what was going on.
Pa swirled the coffee around in his cup and sighed. “Mark, do you suppose I can have a relaxing, pleasant evening in my own home and not think about Miss Bertie?”
“But Pa, she’s a really nice lady!” I declared.
Pa nodded. “I agree, she is. But right now she has us all a bit worried. Do you know what she’s doing?” I shook my head. “She’s sitting behind Duke Jennings while he’s playing poker and giving away his hand.”
My face suddenly screwed up as I sat down my fork. “But Pa, isn’t that sort of dangerous? I mean, doesn’t she realize how serious of a game poker is? She could start a shoot out in there and she’d be in the line of fire.”
“That’s why Micah and I sit in there when she’s in there, son.” Pa sighed. “Until she leaves town, I won’t be getting much work done here. I told Micah I’d go into town tomorrow afternoon and sit with him in the saloon again.”
I didn’t talk much about her that night. I was suddenly worried. This was no longer a fun game, but a scary worry. I suddenly realized she was sitting in a saloon with men drinking and gambling. She was in more danger then she realized. Pa came in to check on me once and I looked up at him. He bent down next to my bed and put a hand on my cheek. “Trouble sleeping?” he asked gently.
“Pa, why don’t you and Micah order Miss Bertie to stay out of there?” I asked.
Pa shook his head. “Miss Bertie is an adult, son. She’s able to make her own decisions. Besides, there’s no law against a woman being in a saloon.”
“Yes, but-“ I started.
But Pa patted my hand. “You get to sleep, son. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.” I turned over and closed my eyes. Pa stayed at my side until I fell asleep.
The next day, Pa checked Blue Boy’s shoes while I worked on cleaning all the tack. Pa kept bringing more and more outside for me to work on. I knew this was going to be an all day job for sure! How did I get to be so lucky?
As I sat there working, I began thinking about Miss Bertie in that saloon. I didn’t like the idea of her being in that place, causing trouble – the kind of trouble would get her shot. Pa began talking to me, but I didn’t really hear him. He asked me if something was wrong.
I told him I was worried about Miss Bertie. “Marshal Torrance says she’s like a fly tormenting a horse. Horse switches it’s tail and the fly gets hurt.”
“Well, this fly won’t get hurt. She knows the horse too well,” He said she’s driving Mr. Jennings to take a good look at himself. I suddenly realized Pa was fixing to go to town. I wanted to go, but Pa answered, “No, you better stay here and do your chores.”
That answer didn’t surprise me! I was going to be working with this harness stuff all day! When Pa was fixing to leave, I hurried over to him. I grabbed Razor’s reins to keep him from going. “Pa?” Pa looked down at me. “Would you please ask Miss Bertie not to go into the saloon? Make up a law against it or something!”
Pa nodded toward the barn. “Make sure all the tack is clean by the time I get home.” I watched him gallop off towards town.
It all turned out well in the end. Pa came home that afternoon and told me Miss Bertie’s plan worked. She’d get her money for turning in Duke Jennings. He had cracked and pulled a gun. Miss Bertie got on the stage the next day. She even let me keep the wanted poster book.
While I watched her leave, I told Pa that I wished she could have stayed here. "Well to be honest son, I love Miss Bertie too, but she could be kinda hard on the nerves."
I laughed as Pa and I started for home. Then I turned to him. “Now, about my growing up, Pa.-“ I started. Pa sighed as he put his arm around me. “When I’m thirteen, can I stay by myself and not have a babysitter at night?”
“Probably not,” Pa answered.
“When I’m fourteen?” I asked.
Pa laughed and shook his head. “Well, to be honest son, it’s not a matter of you’re growing up at all.”
I stopped and stared at Pa. “It’s not? What is it on account of then?”
“It’s on account of my letting go. That’s a little harder to do.” Pa patted my back. “Let’s go home…child!”
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Six Years and a Day
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch