I know you’ve heard my Pa’s story about the wagon we found out on the flats and the sick couple we found there. And I know my Pa’s told you all about his sending me to town. Well, let me tell you something. When I came back to the house and was informed by my Pa that I was going into town to stay with Hattie for a few days, I must say that I was pretty upset about that fact, to say the least! And I knew that there must have been something seriously wrong if he was sending me away.
Furthermore, I cannot believe my Pa tried to make some excuse about them being in my bed so I didn’t have anyplace to sleep! I can’t count the number of times we’ve had guests stay over and had to give up our beds and sleep in our bedrolls, and I’m sure you noticed that I didn’t waste any time shooting holes in that excuse!
Then when my Pa told me they had Yellow Fever, that hit me kind of hard. I know it didn’t seem to effect me any, but a million thoughts went through my head in a split second when Pa told me they had Yellow Fever and then Doc told me it was catching. The fact that my mother had died during a Small Pox epidemic some five years before made the situation even worse. Only moments before, I had had a conversation about this fear right on this front porch.
“What do you suppose it is? The flu?” I asked worriedly.
“No, Mark. This is worse then the flu,” Pa answered.
“It couldn’t be…” I swallowed. “Small Pox?” The mere thought of that horrid disease coming here sent shivers down my spine. I had lived through that epidemic once and never, ever wanted to see another case of that.
Pa suddenly laid a comforting hand on my shoulder. I was looking out across the range, remembering that horrible time in our lives. Pa stood behind me and with his hand on my shoulder, he lowered his head down close to my ear. “Don’t think on that, son.”
I nodded and swallowed. Pa knew I thought on that time in my life a lot. It was hard for me. It took a long time for me to get over that event that took my mother’s life.
“I suspect they’re travelers, son. It may be a disease, but them being out alone like that, I don’t think it will spread.”
I nodded then let a deep sigh escape me. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
Pa patted my shoulder as I lifted my head all the way up. He was looking down at me, a confident smile on his face. “It’s okay, son. I think I tend to find my mind wondering to that time too often too.”
But now that I knew the disease was just as bad as Small Pox, I worried. I didn’t want to leave Pa, and I think he knew that. He didn’t want me to take a chance in catching it, but he was doing just that. But Pa knew that I knew the truth – someone had to take care of them. Pa had always taught me to put other people before myself, and right now he expected me to believe that.
Doc Burrage and I rode silently back into town. I let a long sigh escape me and he slowed the horses down a bit. “Will he be okay? My Pa I mean?” I asked suddenly.
Doc Burrage smiled at me. “You’re Pa is tough, Mark. He’s as tough as they come.”
“But,” I swallowed. “Pa could…I mean…” I couldn’t put my thoughts into words.
“Yes, your Pa could catch the disease, Mark. There’s always that possibility.” I looked at Doc in surprise. He smiled. “What? Did you want me to lie?”
“Well, I guess it would have made me feel better!” Then we rode for a few minutes in silence before I voiced my next question. “Could…” I swallowed again. “Could there be another epidemic?”
“I don’t think so. They were pretty isolated when your Pa found them. I think that as long as they stay quarantined, we’ll be okay.”
When we got into town, the doc let me off in front of the General Store. It was about noon on Saturday and the town was pretty busy. Hattie saw me walk into the store. “Well Mark, what are you doing here?”
I sighed as I sat my books on the counter and my bag on the floor. Then I put my chin in my hands. “Pa sent me into town to stay with you.”
Hattie suddenly looked very concerned. My Pa usually gave her notice when he would need her to keep me. “Some travelers are at our place. They’re sick.” I looked up at her questioning face. “It’s Yellow Fever.”
Mrs. Porter came in to get some material, so Miss Hattie motioned for me to move away from the counter. While I was waiting for her to finish with the customer, Mr. Cass came in and began questioning me about being in town. I guess I shouldn’t have told him as much as I did. I told him about the folks having Yellow Fever, and he immediately got all excited and worried that my Pa was keeping people like that at our ranch. Miss Hattie tried to calm him down to no avail.
This upset me. I couldn’t believe what was being said! Didn’t they know that I was there and was already worried enough about my Pa! I didn’t need to hear such things! Even Mrs. Porter left, not wanting to be around me. I started to suddenly feel like an outcast. “Miss Hattie, may I go outside and play?” I asked. I suddenly needed out of this building – I needed some fresh air.
“Sure, Mark. But put your stuff in the back room,” she told me.
I went outside and walked across the street towards the Marshal’s office. Then I sat down on the step and put my chin in my hands as I began thinking on all that had happened. I suddenly felt someone sitting down beside me. I looked up into the concerned eyes of Micah. He put his arm around me and squeezed my shoulder. “Wanta tell me about it?”
I shook my head. “No thanks,” I said. But I felt Micah’s eyes on me. I looked toward him and he had that same look on his face that Pa got on his when he was silently insisting I tell all. “I have to stay in town for a few days.”
Micah nodded. “It’s all over town already. Your father’s keeping folks with Yellow Fever at the ranch.”
“A young married couple. They’re awful sick, Pa says.” I shrugged. “Anyway, now he may get it and-“
Micah immediately held up a hand to hush me up. “Mark, you’re father is as tough as they come. There’s not much that can get to him.” I nodded and lowered my head in worry. Micah patted my back and stood up. “Come on, boy!”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To lunch at the hotel. Let’s go.” We ate lunch at the hotel. Then Micah let me sit in his office the rest of the afternoon. I got to hear all kinds of stories. My eyes grew big as Micah told me story after story.
“What happened then?” I asked as I leaned way forward in my chair in excitement.
“Well, son,” Micah leaned forward in his own chair. A huge grin was on his face and his eyes danced as he told me the story. “I stepped out of my office and stood on the street. Those three really big men just stood at the other end of the street. They’re hands were in position, ready to draw on me! I got in my stance and I said, ‘”All right, gentlemen, put down your weapons and surrender!’”
“Yeah? Yeah? What happened?” I swallowed, waiting for the shootout to occur.
Micah grinned and leaned back into his chair. Then he scratched his head. “Well now…I don’t rightly recall…”
“What?” I suddenly yelled out.
Micah laughed. “Oh yes, I remember now! Well Mark, those three men started taking steps apart from each other. I reckon that they didn’t want to take any chances with me. The middle one…I think his name was scorpion…he put his hand on the gun and I shot his hand. He suddenly sat down on the ground and held his hand. He started crying, ‘Don’t shoot me! Oh, pu-leeze, don’t shoot me!’”
I started laughing uncontrollably. After my laughter ceased, I asked about the other two. Micah laughed “Well, they thought the middle one was so pathetic that they started laughing. My deputy and I were able to take their guns and lead them into jail. They were still laughing long after I arrested them.” Micah started laughing as he remembered back.
Suddenly, the door opened and Miss Hattie walked in. “I have supper ready. Mark, you come on along home with me now. After supper, you’ll need to draw your bath.”
“Bath?” I groaned.
“Yes indeed. Tomorrow is Sunday after all!” Hattie shook a finger at me. “And it just so happens that the circuit riding preacher rode in just two hours ago! So they’ll be a service in that building tomorrow!”
“Oh,” I mumbled. Then I remembered. “Oh, but I didn’t bring my Sunday clothes! It would sure be a shame to go into church just in my regular clothes…”
Hattie shook her head. “It just so happens that your father did put your Sunday clothes in that bag for you.” I rolled my eyes. “Come along, Mark! You coming, Marshal?”
I was hoping Micah would join us for supper but he said he had some things to do before turning in himself.
The next morning, I woke up to the smell of eggs and bacon. I hurriedly dressed and went out to sit down at the table. Miss Hattie fed me well. I offered to do the breakfast dishes, but she sent me out to fetch some firewood for the wood box instead. Then she sent me in to get ready for church.
When we arrived at the church, I ran up to my good friend, Freddie. He smile and waved at me and we started talking. “Maybe I can sit with you.” But suddenly, his mother hurried over and grabbed him protectively by the shoulders. She gave me a strange look and walked off with her son.
Micah came to stand beside me. “Don’t mind them, son.” But I did. I looked around and suddenly noticed all the stares I was getting. I couldn’t believe a whole town would turn on my like this. What did I do anyhow? “We’ll sit in the back together, son. Then I’ll treat you and Miss Hattie to a hotel lunch. Then if there’s still peace on the streets of North Fork, maybe you and I can spend some time fishing!”
“Oh boy!” I declared as we started inside.
Just a couple hours later, Micah and I were sitting on the bank of a nearby lake. I let out a sigh as I thought about my Pa and wondering if things were going well for him at the ranch. “Thinking about your Pa?” Micah asked.
We were sitting beside each other. I loved being close to Micah. He was like a grandpa to me. And if I couldn’t fish with my Pa, I’d rather go fishing with Micah more than anyone else in the world! I nodded. “I wonder…”
“He’s fine, son. I saw Doc when I was waiting for you to come back from Hattie’s house. He went to check on them this morning. You’re Pa is tired, but well. And the two folks are both alive and holding their own.”
I nodded as I looked out over the lake. “I know it’s strange, but I miss him when he’s not here.”
“That’s not strange. That’s the way it was with me and my Pa.” Micah looked out over the lake now as he remembered back. “I remember going fishing with my Pa. He would teach me some really good lessons about life. We would sit on the bank for hours just talking about life.”
“Life?” I asked.
“You know…like I still remember the day my Pa told me about friendship. He told me that if I truly wanted to be someone’s friend, you had to be willing to sacrifice everything. But then I remembered another time when we went fishing after I did something wrong at school. Oh…my Pa…he would take me fishing when he wanted to talk to me about something I did wrong.”
I shook my head “Pa sure doesn’t! He grounds me from fishing. And when I’m really bad, he sends me to the barn without saying a word. Then he comes out later and tells me what I did wrong, why it was wrong, and how I’m not going to do it again. Then he’ll punish me somehow.”
Micah laughed. “Well, every father has his own way of handling it, I guess. But one day at school, I decided not to be friends with my best friend anymore because he called me a name. I got pretty ugly with him, calling him every name in the book and even names that got my mouth washed out and earned me a trip to the woodshed. Anyways, one of my brothers told Pa and he took me fishing.” I looked at him and smiled. “Now, I didn’t know there was anything wrong. But as I sat on the bank of that there lake, I heard my father clear his throat. That’s when I knew I was in for it.”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“He said, ‘Son, let me tell you something about friendship. Friendship’s don’t depend on it going your way all the time. Friendship is made up of two human beings who make mistakes everyday. And if friendship was dependent on us getting along all the time, there’d be no such thing.’ Then I looked up at my Pa. You know what I saw?”
I shook my head. I was no longer interested in fishing, but what he had to say about his childhood. “Well Mark, my Pa had certain looks for certain moods.”
I nodded. “So does mine. I can tell how much trouble I’m in just by looking at him.”
Micah laughed. “Well, my Pa had that disappointed look on his face. He didn’t say another word to me. I sat there and just stared at the lake while he fished for about thirty more minutes. Then he cleared his throat again. ‘Well, Mike,’…oh, that’s what my Pa called me. ‘What do you think?’”
I watched Micah’s face lighten up as he thought back to that day. “I told my Pa that I was sorry for saying the things I said that day. He told me that one of my brothers told all, though he never would tell me which one…I simply nodded my head. Then we got up and walked back home. As soon as I got into the yard, I walked straight to the barn and waited for my father to come lick me.”
“And your brothers got away with snitching?” I suddenly looked at my pole and saw that a fish was nibbling on my bait.
“Well,” Micah chuckled. “Not exactly. You see, when I got home, I confronted all three of my brothers and threatened to start punching them all if they didn’t confess. They finally ratted out the one that did the talking and I punched him in the nose.” Micah chuckled. “Taught him to never snitch on me again!”
“You could beat up all your brothers?” I asked.
Micah nodded. “I know it doesn’t look it now, but then I was a big tough fellow! Why there was hardly anyone who would go up against me!”
Too soon, the day came to an end. As we got back into town, I anxiously looked around for my Pa, but he never came. I lowered my head in sadness and headed for Miss Hattie’s house.
The next morning, I started off for school. I took my time as I walked through North Fork, looking around for my Pa’s horse or wagon. But I saw nothing. I let out a big sigh as I shook my head and made my way to the school. Ted ran up to me and we started playing kickball together. Then the bell rang.
I made my way up to the steps. Miss Adams stopped me, though. She allowed the rest of the kids to go inside. Then she licked her lips. “Mark, I’m sorry but you cannot come today.”
Now normally, I would welcome the opportunity to not go to school. But the way she said it made me almost mad. “Why not?” I demanded to know.
She sighed. “I think you know. I don’t want the other children getting sick. You can come back when the…um…situation is dealt with in an appropriate manner.”
“Appropriate?” I asked angrily. “What would that be?”
But Miss Adams said no more. She nodded at me then went inside and closed the door.
Appropriate? I couldn’t help but wonder what everyone considered what the appropriate manner was to care for these sick people. Did they want my Pa to just leave them out in the middle of a field and die a slow, miserable death? Did they want to set their wagon on fire and just rid of them here and now? I thought on this as I started back towards town.
I kicked a can down the street as I walked, trying to relieve some of the frustration of the situation. Then I went inside the General Store. Miss Hattie immediately demanded to know why I wasn’t in school and I told her. She didn’t like that answer at all and immediately started to demand that I go back. Suddenly, she said, “Lucas!”
That one word was music to my ears. I turned around and shouted, “Pa!” Then I ran and leapt into my father’s arms. He grabbed me. I wanted to throw my arms around him and demand him to take me home with him.
“Hi son. How’s everything going?” Pa smiled. He was happy to see me too.
“Fine,” I answered happily. Everything WAS fine now that my Pa was here. Maybe he came to get me.
Pa plopped me down on the counter as he talked to Miss Hattie. Then I asked how the folks were doing. From his answer, I could tell I wasn’t going home with him.. The woman, he said, was doing much better and the man’s fever was fixing to break. I couldn’t wait until they were better! Being away from my Pa was really rough on me!
He had just come to town to get some food. But I couldn’t help to think that he came to see me too. He leaned against the counter as I gave it my best shot anyhow. “Can I come home now?”
I got the answer I expected. He said no in a nice way. Suddenly, he got that stern look on his face. “Hey wait a minutes. Are you playing hooky?” I had to tell him then why I wasn’t in school.
After Miss Hattie gave him the soup and stuff, he started to leave. He simply told me he’d see me later. I knew he was tired and had to get back, so I didn’t hold him back. Micah came in then and told Pa that everyone was getting nervous. As I followed him outside, everyone started yelling at him, angry that he was helping that sick couple. Micah told him he better ride out of town.
But that wasn’t the worst part. As I watched my father ride away, Mrs. Porter rode by looking for the doctor. She said Ted was sick.
I had folks pointing at me and yelling at me. I just stood there silent as Miss Hattie and Micah tried to stand up for me. Miss Hattie put a protective arm around me and led me inside. But the damage had already been done. I walked inside and stood at the counter, trying to keep the tears from coming. Miss Hattie had a customer and had to go help them. On her way, she said, “Come get some candy, Mark.”
Not even candy could make me feel better right now. I walked over to a chair and sat down remembering the words that were said. Fingers pointing at me, folks looking at me with hatred in their eyes. They were treating me like I had the plague. I just stood and looked at my hands.
Suddenly, Micah called my name from the doorway. “Mark?” But I didn’t even look up. I was too ashamed. Too saddened by the way everyone was acting. Micah came to me. He bent down in front of me and took my trembling hands in his. “It’s just fear talking,” he said quietly.
A tear suddenly escaped from my eye and I quickly wiped it away before he saw it. But he did see it. “Don’t worry, son. I’d cry too if they had talked to me that way.”
“It’s not right, Micah!” I declared as I shook my head. “It’s not right for them to treat me like…well, like I have some horrible disease! Folks who just a few days ago came up to me and talked to me won’t even look at me now! If I’m out there, they go to the other side of the street to walk. I feel so…so…”
Micah put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I looked up into his smiling eyes. But no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t make me smile. I wanted my Pa. I wanted to go home and stay at the ranch where it was safe. “They are being fed fear, Mark. It’s hard for them too.”
Suddenly, we heard commotion out on the street. Micah stood and I started to stand too. “No, you stay here,” Micah ordered.
“But-“ I started.
“Stay here, Mark,” he ordered as he went outside.
I could hear shouting. Hattie came over to me and stood beside me. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, or maybe I just didn’t want to know what they were saying. It must have been bad because Micah suddenly turned around and said, “Lock up the store and get Mark in the back. Stay there until I get back.”
We did as told. I worried and fretted the entire time, not quite sure what was going on. Miss Hattie hugged me close to her and told me about her childhood up north. She told me about how she and her brother, Willard, came here to set up the store. Then her brother’s health suddenly got so bad that he had to leave. “I remember him,” I stated. “He was here when we first got here. Then he left kinda sudden one day.”
Miss Hattie nodded. “I know this is rough for you, Mark. But in a few days it will all be over.”
“A few days,” I mumbled. “What if Ted really is sick with Yellow Fever?”
Miss Hattie just smiled at me. She gave me some cookies to munch on while we waited. Sure enough, Micah came back. He knocked on the front door and hollered for Miss Hattie to let him in. She did. Then he came to me and took me by the hand. “There’s some folks who want to talk to you, son.”
I walked forward and saw a big group standing there talking. “We chased him out of town, Mark. The man who was casting these fears on us. Marshal Torrance here, he made us see just how wrong we’ve been.” Mr. Cass smiled at me.
They were all smiling at me. “We’re awful sorry, Mark.”
I was happy. Micah allowed me to stay outside and play all afternoon, and it was just like it had been before all this started. Various folks in town allowed me to watch them work. Before I knew it, it was time to go to the restaurant to have supper with Micah and Hattie. While we were in there, I saw Miss Adams. She came up to the table twisting her hands all around. “Hello, Mark.”
I only stared at her. Micah cleared his throat and I suddenly remembered my manners. “Hello,” I answered as I stood up to greet her.
Her voice was different. It was almost like I was the adult and she was the child. “C-can I sit down?” I nodded as we both sat down at the table. “Mark,” she placed a hand on mine and choked on her words. “I…I’m really sorry for how I treated you earlier. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered.
“You will come back to school tomorrow?” I suddenly looked up at her. She was smiling down at me. The old Miss Adams was back.
I smiled at her. “Yes ma’am!” I shouted. We saw several hands turn and stare at us. She smiled and started to stand but I held tight to her hand. “Miss Adams, would you…” I swallowed as I smiled at her. “Would you mind eating with us?”
She suddenly smiled with tears in her eyes. She knew this was my way of saying I forgave her. It saved both of us some embarrassment. “I’d like that!” she answered.
Miss Hattie didn’t have the trouble getting me to school the next morning that she expected to have. I was up and dressed before she even had my breakfast ready. Then I ran out the door toward school, my books dangling beside me.
The moment I got into the schoolyard, I saw Ted Porter playing as if nothing was ever wrong. I shook my head with a sigh and hurried up to him. “Well, whatever it was, you sure got over it in a hurry!”
Ted rolled his eyes. “How’d you get better so fast?”
“A trip to the barn, that’s how!” He answered. I looked at him strangely. He sighed. “I lied to my folks. I ate green apples yesterday and they made me sick. Pa found out when my sister snitched on me. He took me to the barn and licked me good!”
I laughed. Ted suddenly got angry and came towards me, ready to fight. “Well, you have to admit that it is funny!” I stated.
I was sure glad the bell rang just then and we all went inside. As I climbed the steps, Miss Adams smiled at me. “Welcome back, Mark,” she smiled. I smiled back at her as our eyes locked for just a moment. Then I went inside and sat down. Tomorrow I would fight against going to school, but for today…for this one day, I was enjoying being here!
After school that day, I went outside. As I climbed down the stairs, I suddenly saw him. He was standing under a tree with one foot propped up against it. The moment he saw me, he stepped forward and smiled at me. “Pa!” I shouted and ran towards him. I jumped into his arms and threw my arms around me. “Oh, Pa!” I cried.
“Mark,” Pa smiled. “Oh, how I’ve missed you, son!” He kissed my cheek and just held me tight.”
“Did you just come for more soup?” I asked.
“No,” Pa smiled at me. “This time I came for something a lot more important then soup.” I just looked at him, hoping he was saying what I though he was saying. “I came for you!”
I threw my arms around him again as he walked toward the wagon. I was once again reunited with my father, and I felt blessed. After I got onto the seat, I scooted really close to my Pa as he started the wagon toward home. I had plenty of stories to tell him, and it wasn’t fifteen minutes before he was shaking his head at me.
Suddenly, I stopped talking and said, “Pa, I sure did miss you!”
Pa ruffled the top of my head and laughed. “I missed you too, boy!” Then we both laughed as we rode for home.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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