It all started on Monday afternoon. School had just let out and I was riding my horse through town. I thought I’d stop by the store on my way home and spend the penny I had saved from last week’s allowance. So, I started to walk towards the store when suddenly Jeff came racing up to me. “Why does your Pa think he’s so much better then everyone else?” Jeff sneered in my face.
I had seen him looking at me funny all day, but I didn’t understand why he was suddenly being so much more hateful then usual. “I’ve got things to do!” I rolled my eyes and turned away.
“Ha! You think you’re better then me, don’t ya?” Jeff asked as he grabbed my arm.
“No I don’t!” I shouted back at him. “You best just leave me alone!”
“You’re no better then me, McCain! I’m gonna show you your not!” Jeff gave me a hard push.
I clinched my fists to my side, but wasn’t about to give in just yet. My Pa was hanging around town somewhere, and I sure didn’t want him catching me in a fight! “Come on, McCain! Are you chicken?” He pushed me again. “Or are ya just yeller?”
I suddenly whirled around and socked him. “Leave me alone!” I shouted.
But then he shoved me so hard that he pushed me to the ground. Before I knew it, we were punching and kicking each other. I was getting more and more angry with each passing second. There were suddenly a bunch of kids gathered around us, shouting. Jeff and I continued rolling around on the ground when suddenly, I heard that angry, familiar voice. “Mark!” Pa grabbed me by the arm while Micah grabbed Jeff.
“You just stay clear of me, ya hear me?” Jeff pointed a finger at me.
“What are you talking about? I didn’t even-“ I started, but Pa cleared his throat in warning and tightened his hold on my arm. I clamped my mouth shut as I just narrowed my eyes at Jeff.
“Alright, boys. Who started it?” Micah demanded to know.
Jeff and I continued staring at each other. “He just thinks he’s better then the rest of us. Just cause he’s Lucas McCain’s kid!”
“I do not!” I suddenly shouted. I turned and looked at Pa who still held a stern warning on his face. “He came up and started pushing me, Pa! He called me yeller!”
“Then he punched me!” Jeff shouted.
Micah led Jeff towards his the barber shop where he and his pa worked and lived. Then Pa let go of my arm and folded his arms. Then he raised an eyebrow and looked at me. “Pa, he just-“ I started, pointing toward the barber shop.
But Pa narrowed his eyes at me. I lowered my head. “You best get home and start on your chores, boy!” Pa demanded. “I’ll be along in a few minutes.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. I knew Pa didn’t like my fighting. But I also knew that he knew there were times a boy had to fight. Now was not the right time to convince him of that, and I didn’t care if I ever laid eyes on that Jeff Barrows again!
Everything was pretty calm until Wednesday. After school, I again went through town. Pa had asked me to stop in and check the mail. When I was walking back toward my horse, Jeff walked out of the barber shop shouting, “McCain!”
I froze in my footsteps and flinched. Pa had ordered me to leave him alone, and I had been able to stay clear of him yesterday. But today…well, that was a different story! I started walking again, pretending that I didn’t hear him.
“I said stop, McCain!” Jeff yelled again.
I did, and I slowly turned around. “What?” I asked impatiently.
“Are you a goody-goody like your Pa? You think you’re too good to fight the likes of me? Huh? Your Pa sits mighty high on that horse of his, don’t he? He makes my Pa look like a nothin’!”
I closed my eyes and again clinched my fists. “You stop that!” I demanded.
“Ya know, I bet your Pa thinks he’s better then even the town Marshal!” Jeff sneered in my face.
My fists clinched tighter. “I said stop that, ya hear?”
“Ya ain’t no better then me! Or do ya think your as high and mighty as your Pa does?” Jeff suddenly gave me a hard shove. “You’re Pa’s just a stuck up little sod buster!”
That was it! I grabbed him by the ankle and pulled him down on the dirt. We began fighting again. At one point, he reached up and ripped my shirt real good. The kids all gathered around to watch us fight.
But this time, Micah came up and grabbed us both by the arms. “You don’t take much pride in the name of McCain! I oughta lock you both up for breaking the peace!” He said. “Second time this week!”
I stared at Jeff again. “He keeps saying things about Pa!” I answered.
“If you don’t get home and do your chores, your Pa’s gonna be saying things too!” I knew that was true. I figured Pa would already have things to say.
As I rode Blue Boy home slowly, I tried to think of a good way approaching the subject. I slowly rode into the yard, taking a big swallow as I saw Pa walk out of the barn. I slowly got off my horse and took my time tying him up. Keeping my head bowed, I avoided looking at Pa for as long as possible. But looking down at the ground, I soon saw Pa’s feet standing in front of me, and I saw his arms folded in front of him. I slowly raised my head up and looked into his annoyed eyes.
“Don’t tell me you were fighting with Jeff!” Pa exclaimed.
“Y-Yes sir,” I answered nervously. Pa opened his mouth to yell at me, but I held up a hand. “Pa, if you don’t mind…can I please explain?”
I didn’t like fighting with Jeff anymore then Pa liked me fighting with Jeff. I guess the look on my face said a lot because Pa suddenly lightened up his look and reached out to examine my shirt. “Well,” Pa said with a sigh. “Come on inside, boy, and take off your shirt. I’ll see if I can sew it up.”
I obeyed him. I stood quietly as Pa sat down in his chair, a look of frustration on his face. He began sewing on my shirt, but I could tell he was still very much annoyed. I began pacing the floor, trying to figure out the best way to approach this. “Well?” Pa said, meaning I needed to say something right quick.
“Pa, it wasn’t my fault! I didn’t start it!” I said, sitting down next to him. I wanted to know myself why he wanted to fight me so bad.
Pa didn’t stop sewing, and the anger was still in his voice. “I’ve always heard it takes two to make a fight,” he responded.
“Well, you said never to look for trouble and never to run away from trouble!” I reminded him. I myself was getting angry at the whole situation! “Isn’t that what you told me?”
Pa gave me that look that told me I wasn’t going to get off that easy. He told me he wasn’t telling me any different now, but that my shirts didn’t grow on fence posts. I saw his concern, but I couldn’t do anything about it now.
“I’m sorry!” I suddenly stated, not knowing what else to say. Pa suddenly lightened up. I guess he finally realized what things were like when he was my age and that he had ripped up some shirts too. I smiled, relieved that he was no longer angry with me. I never could stand his being angry and disappointed in me.
Though Pa wasn’t mad, he couldn’t help warning me to stay clear of Jeff. I got up frustrated, trying to make him understand. “But it’s him! He won’t stay clear of me! He keeps getting more like that all the time!” Pa asked me like what. “Pure mean and hateful, always crowding me to fight! What makes him like that?”
The whole thing just made me angry! I didn’t want to fight him. I didn’t much like being punched, and I didn’t like getting in trouble for fighting when I got home, but I didn’t know what I could do about it. “Don’t you know?” Pa suddenly asked.
I knew Pa thought I should know. “You mean cause we won’t let his Pa cut my hair?” I asked. But Pa laughed, stating that he’d be fighting half the boys in town if that were the case. “But he don’t! I’m the only one!” I didn’t like much being the center of his anger either! “He keeps on telling me how I’m not better then he is.”
“Well, your not,” Pa pointed out.
I knew that. Pa always made sure I understood that. But his saying that didn’t help my worries any. “Well, I don’t say it, he says it!” I yelled in frustration. Just thinking about this situation made me so angry! “Like he’s…jealous or something.”
“Well, maybe he is,” Pa answered me lightly.
That got me to thinking. I knew we weren’t any better off then he was with money and such, but I did know that I had a more loving father. My Pa – he always put me first and didn’t sit around drinking alcohol. We were close – sometimes more like friends then father and son. But I knew Jeff didn’t have a Pa he could go and talk to when he needed it. I suddenly felt so very sorry for him. I asked him why his Pa was the way he was.
“Well son, the way it’s been said to me…everybody in this life looks for something, and everybody looks in a different place.”
I knew what he meant. I always had felt sorry for Mr. Barrows. “Mr. Barrows, he just looks in a bottle, huh?”
Pa nodded, not saying anything. I knew I had chores to do. I walked toward the door then stopped. With my hand on the wall, I turned and said softly, “Pa, I honestly didn’t want to fight him.”
Pa nodded and stood up. He walked over and put a hand on my shoulder then he smiled at me. “Let’s go work on the chores together.”
We were both much happier at supper as we sat and chatted casually. The meal was pleasant, one I had fixed. And even Pa didn’t turn up his nose at my cooking for once. But then I worked on my homework as Pa washed the dishes. I finally closed my book, very happy to have that last math problem done. Pa threw the towel down and scooted a chair out form the table. Then he got the stool and sat it on top of the chair. “Oh, Pa!” I groaned, knowing what was coming next.
“Come on, Mark. Hop up here,” Pa pointed to the stool.
“Pa, I’ve had a bad day. Can this wait until-“ I started.
Pa raised his eyebrows and pointed to the chair. I climbed up as Pa started draping the cloth around me. “I don’t see why I need it. It’s only been three weeks since the last!” I always hated Pa’s haircuts. He always pulled my hair too much, and when I complained he told me it wouldn’t hurt if I stayed still.
“Well, I wish our corn grew as quick,” Pa answered me.
“Well, I sure wish I could get a store-bought haircut sometime!” I said back to him. I didn’t think a store-bought haircut would hurt as much, but Pa always was practical, trying to find ways to save his money.
“Well, if you can pay for it, your welcome. Have you ever thought about planting some extra beans to sell?” I had thought about it, but I just never got around to it. I knew that excuse didn’t set well with Pa.
There was suddenly a knock at the door. It was Mr. Barrows. I know that my Pa told you all about their conversation, so I’m not going to tell you all about it again. But as I sat there listening to Mr. Barrows asking my Pa to walk away from his challenge, I must say that I sat quietly and nervously as I listened to Pa’s answer. I knew that not in a million years would Pa ever allow an act like that to happen. It would be too embarrassing to him!
After Mr. Barrows left, I told Pa I knew he’d do the right thing. Then I readied myself for the dreadful haircut. But Pa sat down, deep in thought. “What about my haircut?” I suddenly reminded him.
“Tomorrow,” Pa answered, deep in thought.
“I’ve got school tomorrow!” I reminded him. I had already got myself ready for it tonight. I’d rather get it over with…That’s when Pa gave a shocking announcement. He was going to keep me out of school tomorrow. Now, I can’t count the number of times that I had tried my hardest to find an excuse to stay out of school. Then tonight, one just falls practically in my lap! He told me I could go into town with him tomorrow. “Town?”
“Well, you want a store-bought haircut, don’t you?” Pa asked.
I was a little concerned as I just sat there silently and stared at Pa. I could tell he was really concerned about me. Pa suddenly stood and took the cloth off from around my neck. Then he lifted me from the stool as if I was a little boy. After he sat me on the floor, he just stood and stared at me as if my life had been in mortal danger. “Pa, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Pa answered with a slight shake of his head. “You go to bed now.”
I started toward the bedroom but then turned around. “Pa?” Pa turned his head and looked at me. “Why are you keeping me home tomorrow?”
Pa started to shake his head, but then he sighed as he laid a hand on my shoulder. “I just want to see what’s going on in town before I send you there, son. And I don’t like Jeff forcing you into these fights.” Then he patted my shoulder. “Now get to bed, huh?”
I nodded, deciding I probably shouldn’t say anymore about it. The next day, Pa gave me some extra chores to do since I was home anyway. Then he had me do the next lessons in my schoolbooks. After that, we rode into town.
I didn’t pay much attention to the conversation Pa was having with Micah. I know there were two men sitting outside the barber shop, and I know Pa and Micah both seemed really concerned about them. As Pa and I started for the barber shop, Mr. Barrows came out with a gun strapped on. I stared, not quite believing that he was actually going to try pulling off the act he had asked Pa to pull off last night.
I held my breath as I waited to see what Pa would do. I knew he wouldn’t allow Mr. Barrows to get away with this. I didn’t want to see him die, yet I didn’t want to see Pa back down from a fight. But that’s just what he did. As those three men, Mr. Barrows, and Jeff all stood on that porch, my father motioned for me to get in the wagon. I stared at him, not quite believing this was happening.
I just knew that his backing away had something to do with those three men. We were both quiet all the way home. When we got home, I did my chores while Pa started supper. I was pretty quiet throughout supper as I thought about what had happened in town. I didn’t much like people making my Pa out to be a coward. Nor did I much care for people scaring my Pa.
When it was time to go to bed, I obediently got ready for bed and crawled under the covers. But I couldn’t go to sleep. I tossed and turned for a few minutes, then I sat up in bed and just stared into the darkness. Was my Pa really afraid of those three men? Was he really going to let someone talk to him like that and get away with it? The whole situation worried me.
Suddenly, the door opened and Pa stepped inside. “I thought I heard you stirring in here. He came in and sat down on the bed.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk about what was bothering me. I felt ashamed for even thinking such thoughts. So I simply told Pa it was warm. But Pa knew something was bothering me. “It’s hard to sleep sometimes when it’s warm. Hard to talk sometimes too.”
I heard the sternness in his voice and knew that he was telling me in his own polite, fatherly way to start talking. I suddenly let out a frustrated sigh. “I’ve been thinking,” I stated suddenly.
“A little light might help. You can’t always see things clearly in the dark.” I knew why he wanted the light on. Because he knew I had a lot of my mind, and if I had to look into his eyes, I would confess all. Besides that, he would be able to tell by looking into my eyes when he got down to the heart of the matter – exactly what was bothering me.
"What do you reckon folks will think about...well, about you backing away from Mr. Barrows?" I suddenly asked. His answer was just as I had expected. He said that his friends would understand, and no one else mattered. I knew what he was saying, and I was trying to understand, but-
He looked straight into my eyes and saw the truth there – that I didn’t understand. “Sometimes it’s harder to back away, son.”
I reckon that at my age, I didn’t take much time to think about what the consequences would have been if he hadn’t back away. I knew Pa was a better hand with the gun then Mr. Barrows. Besides, it wasn’t Mr. Barrows I was thinking of, and Pa was looking at me like he knew there was more. “It wasn’t because of the other three men?” I suddenly blurted out.
That’s when Pa finally realized what I was so worried about. I just wanted to hear him say it…to know…"You been lying awake over that?"
“Well, I was wondering. The way it looked, you-" I started, but I couldn’t finish the statement.
Pa assured me it wasn’t because of the others. He promised me he would find out what they had to do with this. I suddenly felt relief. Looking into his eyes, I could tell that he wasn’t afraid. I knew in my heart that he didn’t back off because he was afraid of them, but my head had doubts, and I needed Pa to reassure me.
Pa then tucked the covers around me. I didn’t tell him this, but his tucking the covers around me made me suddenly feel safe…secure…somehow. I tenderly said goodnight to Pa, and turned over to go to sleep. But the truth was that I still couldn’t sleep. I was worried about those men that were in town, and I wondered if Jeff would again try to beat me up. I was almost asleep when Pa came in later. He tucked the covers around me and smoothed back my hair before going to bed.
The next morning, I was rushing around as usual. After I finished drinking my milk, Pa went to the barn. I had already brought my books out and was just finishing up getting ready when I heard Pa calling me to get going. I hurried out the door. “You can tell Miss Adams I kept you out yesterday,” Pa assured me. I knew she would be asking.
I knew Pa had been concerned about Jeff picking another fight with me. So I decided to try getting out of school today, thinking that if ever I had a chance, today would be the best shot at it. As I climbed up, I casually mentioned that maybe I should stay out another day. That would give Jeff more of a chance to cool off. But Pa didn’t think that was necessary. I reminded Pa that I had a new shirt on, but that didn’t seem to phase him either. “And no fighting, you hear? You walk away if you have to!”
I didn’t much like the walking away, but I didn’t much want to face Pa tonight if I didn’t walk away, so I answered, “Yes sir. I’ll come straight home after school.”
Pa told me to go into town. Remembering Pa’s experience from the last time he was in town, I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea, but he stated he had some things to do. Then I left.
All day I worried about Jeff. All day he kept turning and looking at me. And it happened. After school, Jeff didn’t eve try to anger me. He simply came up and pushed me down on the ground. Then he started punching me over and over. I threw a few punches myself, but he definitely got the best of me! I laid there in the dirt for a minute, trying to regain my senses. Jeff and the others slowly walked off, leaving me alone to get up.
I walked – no ran – over to Micah’s office. When I went inside, Pa and Micah both stared at me disapprovingly. I was mad, and wasn’t in the mood for any lectures. So after I took one more look at each of their disappointed faces, I simply cried, "Well, I'm sorry! I tried to walk away, but sometimes it just don't work!"
Pa stood and came over to me. He looked at my jaw. “Looks like you took quite a beating,” He commented with a frown.
I lowered my head, waiting for his disappointing words, but they never came. “Did he force you again?”
I looked up at him and nodded. “Pa, he didn’t even say anything to me – just pushed me down and started punching me.”
“I’ve got to put a stop to this! I don’t like seeing you treated this way.” Pa took the wet cloth from Micah and began washing my face. “You may have a couple bruises, son. I’ll put something on your face when we get home.”
I smiled at him. “Thanks for believing in me, Pa.”
Pa looked down at my shirt. “And I’ll try sewing up your brand new shirt!” He declared. Then he looked toward the door. “Mark, I’m going out there now. I want you to stay here, son. I don’t want you out there.”
I nodded. Pa patted my shoulder and smiled at me. “Pa, I…” I looked into his eyes. “I hope no one out there has to die.”
Pa smiled. Then he walked outside. I sat down and waited, knowing that even standing inside the window to watch would have gotten me a disapproving look from Pa. I sat and listened for the gunshots that were sure to follow. They did. I heard several, then silence. Slowly, I opened the door and looked outside. Pa was bent over Mr. Barrows. I rushed out, but pa told me to run and get the doctor.
Mr. Barrows was going to be okay. And so was Jeff. Somehow, I knew that Jeff would still be mean, but he wasn’t going to try fighting me anymore. On the way home, Pa told me about how Sam Barrows saved his life. “So, is Mr. Barrows a hero, Pa?” I asked.
Pa smiled. “Yes, son. He is. He’s my hero.”
“He’s mine too,” I answered. Pa looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Well, I mean he saved my Pa’s life – and that makes him the best hero in the whole world!”
*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
The Mind Reader
around The McCain Ranch