Pa! I had met the man called Xavier a few days ago on the road. He seemed really nice.
But today on my way home from school, I saw a man about to be beaten with a whip. I didn’t like seeing that. My father never even spanked me when I was bad. He always told me there were more effective ways of punishing me – like making me do those things I hated doing, sending me to bed, or listening to a stern, long lecture from him. So when I saw this grown man being beaten, I couldn’t help but stop and wonder about it.
The man named Xaiver rode up to me and told me I was observing a private matter being handled in a very private way. Now, I must say that I couldn’t image this man doing anything that bad to deserve such a punishment. When I asked, I was shocked at the answer. He was being whipped for stealing some wine. I didn’t understand how that could cause such an extreme punishment, but Xaiver didn’t think I needed to understand. As the man started being beaten by that strange, fat little man, Xaiver told me to leave immediately.
I raced home as fast as I could. I thought I needed to tell Pa. “Pa!” I jumped off my horse and raced over to him. “Pa, I just saw a man beating someone with a whip!”
Pa stooped down to my level and looked at me. “Where, son?”
“Just over the rise! You remember that man…Xaiver…I met the other day? Well, he told me it was none of my business – a private matter – and told me to leave.” I was hoping Pa would ride on his horse and go to stop it.
But he stood up. “Do you have any homework, son?” I shook my head. “Okay, let’s get started on your chores. I want you to work on churning the butter as soon as your regular chores are done.”
I just stood and stared at him for a few moments. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t going to do anything about this. A man was being beaten, and he acted like it was no big deal! Pa realized I was standing there and turned around. “Well?” Pa said, pointing toward the barn.
“But Pa,” I started.
“Mark, don’t worry about what you saw. He’s right – it’s none of our business.”
I sighed. “But he was being beaten for stealing some wine, Pa. I-“ I stopped when I saw the look on his face. Then I turned to do my chores.
When I got my chores done, I went to start on the butter. Pa had it all ready for me and was carrying the milk out of the barn. He started pouring it in the churner when the men that I saw earlier came up the road. “It looks like they’re coming our way, son!” Pa stated.
I watched. I didn’t want them to come here. They gave me a bad feeling and really scared me something awful. “I’m telling you, Pa. The way that fat little man-“ I started, but Pa shot me a disapproving look and told me to just churn the butter. He was hoping they would go on by. So was I!
But as Pa started pouring the milk in the churner, the strange, fat man’s carriage rode over the bridge. There was only one place they could be going.
I walked over with Pa as they stopped in front of our house. I didn’t like this man – he seemed so mean! But he really got mean and scared me when he picked up his whip and started beating the horses to show my Pa how they got through the sand pockets. It made me so mad to see him treat animals like that. I saw that he was just about to hit Xavier, but my Pa suddenly grabbed the whip from him and put it back where it belonged on the carriage. Then he told the fat little man to keep the whip in it’s place while he was on our property. I sure was proud of him for doing that!
When the fat little man started to ask my Pa how to get to North Fork, Pa told me to go back and churn the butter. I did, but I wasn’t doing a very good job at it. I was more interested in listening to what this man was saying to my father. Pa told him how to get to town, then they started talking about our ranch. The fat, little man told Pa he wanted to buy our ranch. My ears perked up then. I wanted to hear exactly what my Pa had to say. “It’s not for sale,” he answered.
By this time, I was no longer churning. I was getting a bit scared about what these men would do. The fat little man seemed to be used to getting what he wanted, and I was nervous about him trying to force us off our property. Then he started making fun of my Pa, stating the he was a lot better then my Pa. The truth is, I don’t think there is any man greater then my Pa in the whole world! Then the fat little man told Pa he had manure on his boots and was a Yankee.
I watched to see what Pa would do about that. He could not let them get away with talking to him that way! But my Pa just stood there and allowed it to happen. Then they told my Pa to be in town tomorrow to talk about settling a deal to sell the ranch. Pa said he’d be in town tomorrow to buy supplies. I still waited, but Pa did nothing. He just stood there and watched them drive away.
I asked Pa why he let them talk to him that way. I was sure he would stop them. After all, my Pa deserved respect. Pa simply told me he did have manure on his boots and was a Yankee. Then he asked me if I wanted him to start a gunfight with that many people against us. “Gosh, no Pa!” I declared as I reconsidered my thinking.
Pa told me to go get cleaned up. I think he was really nervous and worried but didn’t want me to see it. I had to go to bed really early that night, and I think it was because he wanted to be left alone to think, and maybe to pray, before going into North Fork.
The next morning, I was ready to leave for school. But Pa had the wagon all hitched up. “Ain’t I going to school today?” I asked, looking around for Blue Boy.
Pa nodded. “But I’m taking you to school.” I just looked at him, wondering why. “I have supplies to pick up this afternoon, so I’ll come by and get you after school.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “But Pa, why-“ I started.
“Listen, son.” Pa stooped down to talk to me. “I think this man is going to be a lot of trouble. I want to be honest with you, and you know that. I’m taking you to school because I don’t know what this man is capable of at this point. That’s all I want to say right now. Okay?”
I nodded, knowing Pa was more worried then he was letting on. But I knew him well enough to know this was one of those “need-to-know” situations. So I got up on the wagon as we rode off to school.
When we were in front of the school, I started to jump out of the wagon. Pa grabbed me by the arm. “Mark,” he started. Then he smiled at me. “At lunch and recess, make sure you stay in the schoolyard. Don’t leave here.” I nodded. I don’t remember ever seeing my Pa so protective of me. It really made me nervous.
All day I watched out the window, not really being able to concentrate. I was worried about those men and my Pa. I could tell they were going to cause problems. Miss Adams had to get onto me several times. At about 1:00, Pa came into the classroom while we were fixing to have our math lesson. “I’m sorry, Miss Adams, but can I have Mark a bit early?”
Miss Adam nodded and told my Pa what my assignment would be. Pa thanked her and helped me gather my books up. “What’s going on?” I asked.
Pa smiled down at me. “Well, I wanted to come into town a bit early. And I didn’t want to leave you in school. I think you know I’m worried.”
I did. I decided to leave it alone. “Hey, can I get some sucker sticks?” I asked Pa.
Pa smiled. “We’ll see, son.”
When we got into town, we went over to the General Store. We hadn’t been in there long before Marshal Torrance came in and announced the fat little man wanted to see my Pa. The Marshal said he put a lot of money in the bank. Pa gave me a nickel then to go buy my sucker sticks. I was getting more worried. By watching the Marshal and Pa talk, it sounded like they were both scared of this man. This made me really nervous. Miss Hattie could tell too as she drew me away from the conversation and showed me all the different flavors there were.
I was excited about all the candy and decided my Pa needed a little distraction too. So I hurried up to him and showed him the five different flavors I got. But Pa was too worried and told me I could tell him about it later.
As we walked out of the store, Pa put a protective hand on my shoulder. This is something he did a lot, but I could feel the tension in his hand. I knew his hand was there because he felt a sudden need to protect me and keep me close to his side. As we walked over to the table where the fat little man and his army sat, he kept that arm around me and his hand seemed to clinch as he started talking to him. I watched as this man insisted that my father sit down and talk.
Pa didn’t want me there, so told me to move the wagon. I knew he wanted me out of earshot and sight of what was going on. I didn’t really want to leave and hesitated a bit after he let go of me, but I obeyed him just the same, because that’s the way he taught me.
I sat in the wagon for a long time, patiently waiting for my Pa to get there. After what seemed like an hour, Pa came over and climbed onto the wagon. “Did you let him know for sure the ranch is not for sale?” I asked.
He surprised me when he said he didn’t. I started to protest. I was sure he’d put that fat, little man in his place! “But I’m telling you it isn’t!” Pa assured me. He said that Mr. Tiffauges just didn’t seem to understand him too well. On the way home, Pa told me they were coming to our ranch tomorrow morning at 10 AM. “But I have school tomorrow!” I declared.
Pa looked down at me and gave me a smile. “That’s right, you do. That’s why I said 10 AM.” I let out a deep, heavy sigh. “Mark, if you didn’t have school tomorrow, I would have sent you into town to stay with Miss Hattie. That’s the way it is!”
That evening, I could feel the tension in the house. Pa and I didn’t do much talking, and even if I had to go out back for a minute, he followed me out there. I had a feeling the fat, little man had threatened to hurt me, but I didn’t say anything. Pa sat with me as I did my homework. Then when it was time to get ready for bed, he followed me into the bedroom. “You’re really scared, aren’t you Pa?” I asked as he handed me my night shirt.
Pa tried to smile, but the smile was tight. “Yes, son. I am,” he admitted. “But we’ll be okay. The marshal will bring some men here in the morning to help me.” Pa smoothed my hair and smiled. “Now, get under the covers!”
He blew out the lantern, then went to the window and checked it. He turned around and smiled at me. “Goodnight, son.”
I watched him slowly walk out the door and close it. Every few minutes, he opened it and came over to the bed. I pretended to be asleep just to make him feel better. Sometime between one of his checks, I did fall asleep and didn’t wake up all night.
The next morning, Pa had breakfast fixed. “Did you sleep at all last night?” I asked.
Pa was sitting at the table drinking his coffee. “Oh, yeah. I slept fine, son.” He said. I sat and watched him for a minute. Pa looked at me and smiled. “You best hurry, boy. I don’t want you to be late for school.”
Pa sent me out to get my horse which was already saddled for me. I rode it out of the barn. Pa came out of the house carrying my schoolbooks. “You’re a little absent-minded this morning,” Pa told me.
I was. I was worried about Pa, and what these men would do to him. I didn’t want to go to school and leave my Pa here by himself. But Pa had already made it clear that I wouldn’t be here, one way or the other. I sighed and took the books from him. “I’d sure like to be here when they come!” I complained.
“Anything to get out of going to school,” Pa started. Then I saw a look of concern cross his face.
I looked behind me. “I thought you said 10 o’clock!” I said. I didn’t like them showing up early. It wasn’t a good sign at all.
“Mark, you go into town the back way and tell Micah to get back out here as soon as he can with the boys. And then you go on to school.” Pa told me.
I looked behind me. I was so worried to leave Pa here by himself. That’s why I hesitated. I was torn between doing what my Pa said, and staying here. But Pa didn’t leave me much choice. “You heard me. Only, don’t get kept after. I want you back here to help me with the stock.” Pa told me.
I still hesitated. I could tell he was trying to stay brave for me, but I knew the situation was scary for us both. I was still torn. “Go on, boy.” Pa stated, making it final.
I knew I had to get help out here fast, so I took off across the range as fast as I could. I rode Blue Boy as hard as I could! “Micah! Micah!” I hollered as I rode down the street.
Micah came running from his office, a couple men following close behind him. “Micah, they came early! They are there right now!” I said as tears suddenly popped into my eyes.
Micah hollered for the others to follow him. “I want to come, Micah! Please!” I said.
Micah checked his shotgun before climbing up onto his horse. “What was your father’s orders?” I looked down at the ground. “Best get to school, boy.”
“But Micah, will you come and tell me-“ I started. He nodded his head, assuring me that someone would come tell me everything was okay.
I went to school and sat at my desk, staring out the window. Miss Adams kept asking me to pay attention. No one knew the thoughts that were racing through my mind. Why was I having to sit here in a dumb classroom when my Pa could be in the middle of a life-and-death situation? It just didn’t seem right. But I continued to sit there, fidgeting.
“It’s time for recess, children.” Miss Adams finally announced.
I stood up and slowly walked out. Looking up, I saw my Pa propped up beside a tree waiting for me to come out. I raced over to him and jumped in his arms. Pa kissed my cheek. I had tears on my cheeks by this time. “I was scared,” I said.
“It’s all over now, son.”
“Was there a gunfight?” I asked.
Pa shook his head and smiled. “Not really. Only a couple died. Micah’s taking care of them now. So you can stop fretting.”
Miss Adams walked up to us then. “Well, I take it whatever was bothering Mark this morning will be better now?”
Pa smiled into my eyes. “We’re just fine, Miss Adams.”
I hugged Pa once more. “I want to go play while I still have time.”
I jumped down and ran off to play. I was happy now that I knew my Pa was okay. “Mark!” Pa called.
I turned around. “Remember, don’t get kept after today and come straight home!”
I nodded. “Love ya', Pa!” Then I ran off to play, happy everything was all better!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Apprentice Sheriff
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch