I love my Pa more then anything else in this world. When he’s in danger, I want to try to help him. I know my Pa thinks I’m just a kid and he feels a need to protect me. I guess I can understand that as I get older too. But where would my Pa be if he didn’t have me. I could think of a dozen examples right off the top of my head when Pa would possibly have died without me. This is one of those times!
You see, Pa and I were going to build a porch on our house. When I say Pa and I, I mean both of us. He had waited until we were on a break from school so I would be there to help him with this project. He told me that there were some jobs that called for a partner, and this is one of them! My pa told me that he couldn’t think of a better partner in the world then me! Of course, I had to agree with him!
So one day we went into town to pick up supplies. I guess that’s where this story starts. Because this story is about a bad man named Haskins and a palomino pony who just happened to come live with us that day. This pony was ridden into town by a man named Flecker. The mean man named Haskins shot him as soon as he got off this pony. I know. I saw it happen!
When my pa realized he was still alive, he picked him up and carried him over his shoulders right into the doctor’s office. Of course I wanted to go with him, being the curious boy that I was, but Pa made me wait in the wagon until he got there.
While waiting, I just happened to see this beautiful palomino, and I realized right off that he belonged to the man that was shot. So I quickly grabbed him and brought him over to the wagon. You see, that way I was in obedience to what my Pa told me to do and that would act in my favor when I broached the question. I sat in the back of the wagon and petted this pony. He was so beautiful!
I was sad to hear that the pony’s owner died. Pa started to leave, but then I stopped him by asking him what about the pony. I’m pretty sure that Pa knew what I was asking, but he stated, “What about him?” Then I had to tell him things that he probably already knew. I told him the pony belonged to the man that had been shot down.
It took some pleading, but I was able to talk my Pa into letting me bring him back to the ranch. He said “for awhile.” But I was hoping it would be longer then that!
Then one day while we were busy working on the porch, that mean man, Haskins, came by to visit my pa. I had gone into the barn to bring the palomino outside to get some sun, so I didn’t see the whole thing. I sure did see enough, though, to know that this man was mean enough to kill my pa! In fact, he must have pulled a gun on my pa while I was in the barn, because when I came out, my pa had his gun and was emptying all the bullets out of it. He threw the gun at him, where he was lying on the ground, and told him to get off our ranch! I had tied the pony up to the corral, and he had his head leaning out of the fence. When Haskins went to untie his horse, the pony nipped him. I was surprised, but at the same time, it was sort of funny. But don’t tell my Pa!
It’s really hard for a kid like me who’s always had a lot of love to understand how someone like that could be so mean. This was another one of those teaching moments that I’ve grown to look back on and grin about. I asked my pa why men like him were so mean. My pa told me that something happened to him that made him mean. But he had a conscience, which tells you what the right thing to do is. So, just because someone is mean to a person doesn’t mean they have the right to be mean to others. Pa didn’t tell me all the details, but from what I gathered, the man killed Flecker because he had something on us.
The next day, I went to the barn to check on the pony. Right off, I knew something wasn’t right because he wouldn’t eat. That worried me, but I didn’t think much about it. But when I went out a little later, he was whinnying and baring his teeth. While Pa was out working on the range, I decided to take him for a ride to see if that would help him, but I couldn’t even get the saddle on.
When Pa came back, he told me to hurry and get freshened up so we could go into town. “Pa, if it’s all the same to you, I reckon I’ll just stay home today!” I said before I walked back out to the barn.
I noticed the strange look on Pa’s face when I said that. After all, I usually love going to town, especially when Pa allows me to buy some candy. But today, I had worries and things that were more important then even candy!
I sat in the back of the wagon again and petted Razor as Pa finished getting ready. Pa came out and told me it wasn’t like me to miss a trip into town. I told him I just wanted to stay home and take care of the pony. Then I told him what was wrong. Before he left, he promised me he would stop by and ask the vet about it.
I did chores while he was gone, but I couldn’t help worrying about the pony! I had only been taking care of him for a couple days, and he was already sick! When I went into the barn to check on him later, I noticed that his breathing was really labored and he was lying down.
But I had other chores to do, and Pa would expect them done when he got home. Once when I carried a bucket back into the barn, I leaned against the fence to the stall and stared at the poor pony. He was getting worse every minute, and I was really afraid he was going to die. I love horses, and I never want to see one die. It breaks my heart. But I didn’t want him to be all alone during this time, so I went into the stall and bent down next to him. Lovingly, I patted him as I tried to figure out what to do.
That’s when it happened. The pony lifted his head, turned it around, and bit my hand. I shot my hand back in shock and immediately started rubbing it. I couldn’t believe he had just bitten me. I stood up, rubbing the bite as I tried to figure this thing out. I knew I needed to go to the house and wash it out real good. But as I started to leave the barn, I once again sadly turned around and just looked at the horse. I was surprised and worried at the same time.
Slowly, I made my way to the house. As I opened the door, I had my head bent down looking at the bite and rubbing it. But then I looked up. Fear filled my eyes as I stared at the man standing in front of me. It was Haskins! I didn’t know what to do. I knew he had pulled a gun on my Pa the other day, and I wouldn’t put it past him to do the same thing to me.
“Nobody answered when I knocked, so I thought I’d look around,” he stated with an evil smile on his face.
I just swallowed, but couldn’t say a word. He told me to sit down. My pa always told me that if I found myself in a situation like this that I should obey the person until someone came to rescue me or I could safely escape. He also always told me that I should keep a level head so I could think straight through the problem. As I sat in that chair, I tried to remember my Pa’s words.
“Where’s your father?” He said they had some important business. I knew that my pa had no business with him. I stayed quiet, partly out of fear and partly because I wanted to protect my father.
But Haskins came up behind me and grabbed me by the shirt. He stood me up in the chair and asked me where Pa was again. I swallowed nervously, but told him he was in town. Then he asked me another question. “Tell me where he keeps his important papers.”
I didn’t like this man in my house, and I didn’t want him going through my father’s personal things! I just wanted him to leave. So bravely, I answered, “No!”
But he looked me straight in the eye and told me he didn’t like that word. I was afraid and knew he’d hurt me if I didn’t tell him the truth, but at the same time I felt that if I told him, I’d be deceiving my Pa. So for that reason, I simply looked over at Pa’s desk. I knew I was still telling him, but by not voicing it out loud I felt a little better about the whole thing.
When he started over to the desk, I took the opportunity to run out of the house and to the barn. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew this man was mean and might try to hurt me. I also knew my Pa’s life could be in grave danger. I was so scared that I ran and hid in the barn. I didn’t even hear Pa ride up. If I had, I would have warned him.
I walked out of the barn and saw that Pa was back. He must be in there with Haskins, I thought. Slowly and quietly, I made my way up onto the porch. The words that met my ears sent chills up my spine! “I’m gonna kill you, McCain!” My heart started beating fast as I heard those words. I had to do something to help my Pa! But I knew there was nothing I could do, so I continued listening. The conversation didn’t get any better.
I heard my Pa announce that there was no reason for Haskins to kill him. That’s when I found out exactly what was wrong with the pony as a new and real fear clinched my very being. “Flecker’s pony nipped you the other day,” my pa reminded him. “That horse has anthrax.”
Fear gripped me at that word. I immediately looked down at my hand and saw the bite. Anthrax…that word echoed in my head. “Anthrax. That’s always fatal. You know that,” I heard Pa say. Fatal? Was he saying that I was going to…die? I leaned against the door because my legs were to wobbly. I listened to my Pa explain what the anthrax would do to me. First chills, then fever, then I would start to burn up. My bran would ache and I would go mad from the pain.
I was afraid. I didn’t want to die, but even more, I didn’t want my Pa to loose me. I knew how much he loved me. He watched my Ma die from sickness, and now he would have to do the same with me. I didn’t know how, but I would protect him from this. No matter what, I would do whatever I could to help him.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. I was.
As I listened, I realized my Pa was going to be led to the barn to show Haskins the pony. He was holding a gun on my Pa, and right now the only thing I could think about was saving him. After they left, I snuck back into the house and made my way to the other door. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do yet, but I had to save my Pa! I noticed his rifle lying on the floor. Somehow I had to get this to him before he was shot.
I raced out the door and made my way to the barn. I heard a gunshot. Fear gripped my heart. I hurried to the door and saw them fighting. Neither had the gun. But as Haskins punched my Pa one last time, Pa landed in front of the barn doors. Suddenly, I shouted, “Pa, the rifle!” Pa turned and caught it as I threw it at him and he shot Haskins just in time.
My heart was beating fast, but I was happy. I had saved my Pa’s life! While Pa checked Haskins, andI looked at the pony. That’s what that shot had been – he had killed my pony. “Poor pony,” I sad sadly. But then I got to thinking about all the endless suffering he had missed by being shot. “I guess he’s luckier to go this way then-“ It hurt to even say the words. “Then from anthrax,” I said softly.
My heart ached for my Pa and what he didn’t know. I had to keep him from finding out until I figured out what to do! I had to stay cheerful and not let my fear of suffering and dying come through. “I’m sorry you had to see this son,” Pa said softly. I could tell he was crying. He had been afraid too. I had to keep more tears from coming to him. “I’m sure glad you showed up with that rifle when you did.”
I couldn’t take this! It hurt too much just to think about it. “I didn’t do nothing,” I suddenly shot out.
“You saved our lives is all,” Pa stated. Pa stood up and walked over to me. “We make a good team, son. We’re gonna last a long time.”
His words put more fear in my heart. How could I ever tell him that we weren’t going to last a long time? I didn’t save my life – I just prolonged it so I would suffer in pain and agony. It scared me just to think about it. Suddenly, I wanted to go inside, to stop thinking about it. I wanted to enjoy the time we had left before the sickness took over and caused so much unhappiness. I wanted-
“Is something troubling you, Mark?” Pa asked me.
I couldn’t even look at him. If I did, I was afraid I would burst out crying. “I’m just tired, I guess,” I stated as he laid his hands on my shoulders. “It’s been a pretty tough day!”
Pa made me sit down. He could tell there was something wrong. He put his hands on my shoulders as we sat down. “There’s nothing to talk about,” I stated, still looking straight ahead. I couldn’t look at him. He’d see the truth in my eyes and I would surely burst out crying!
But I never could lie to him. The fact that I couldn’t’ look him in the eye told him there was something wrong, I’m sure. “Didn’t we always agree to tell each other everything?” Pa laid his hand on my leg as I nodded. “You seem mighty worried about something, Mark.”
I tried again. “Just seeing the pony get killed and Haskins holding a gun on you that worried me.” I still stared straight ahead.
“You never lied to me before. Is there anything else?” My eyes filled up with tears. There was so much fear and worry inside me that I couldn’t take it anymore. I knew I couldn’t hide this from him, but it broke my heart to tell him. I held my hand up to showed him the bite as I suddenly burst into tears.
Pa took my hand. I heard the fear in his voice. “The pony did this?” I nodded my head. “How long ago?”
I told him it was just a while ago. I had overheard him telling Haskins people always died from it. “I didn’t want to worry you!” I cried harder.
Pa drew my hand against his cheek. I would churlish that sweet feeling for the rest of my days! Pa told me Doc Burge had a serum that would cure it, but I couldn’t believe him. I was afraid that he was sparing my feelings, and I wanted to show him I could be brave. “You don’t have to tell me if it ain’t so,” I tried to say bravely, but the truth is I was scared…so scared!
“It’s so, Mark,” my pa promised. Suddenly, all the fears from this afternoon overwhelmed me. I felt relieved at the same time. I couldn’t take it anymore. I burst out crying as I threw my arms around my Pa and allowed all the emotions to pour out. My pa picked me up and carried me out of the barn. He held me so close and so tightly that I could feel his heart beating through his chest. As we walked to where Pa’s horse was, He just stood there and held me while I cried. I clung to him as the tears continued running down my cheeks. I finally felt drained and so tired. “You want to ride in front of me on my horse?” Pa asked softly in my ear. I could only nod my head. “Okay, hold on tight!” Pa got up on his horse as I continued to cling to him. All the way there, I clung to his shoulders and cried silently. Pa continued whispering words of encouragement in my ears.
Half way to town, I finally lifted my head and looked into my father’s eyes. He smiled through his own tears. “We’ll be together for a long time, Mark. Nothing will ever separate us!”
I smiled through my own tears as we rode the rest of the way together. I was more peaceful.
When we got to the doc’s office, I jumped down from the horse. Then I stared at the door as thoughts went through my head. What if he didn’t have anymore serum? What if this was all a joke? What if-
Pa put a gentle hand on my shoulder and opened the door. I swallowed and looked up at him. “It’s okay, Mark,” he assured me.
I sat in the chair as Pa told Doc Burge what happened. I watched nervously as the doc got the shot ready. I shot Pa a look, and he smiled at me.
Doc Burge sat down in front of me and told me that a famous scientist had spent years creating this serum. I flinched when he stuck the needle in my arm. It hurt really bad! “Are you gonna be a doctor when you grow up?” he asked.
I allowed the sharp pain to pass before I answered. “I thought about it,” I stated. But then I remembered how much I loved my Pa and all we had been through together today. “But I’d rather work with my pa. We make a good team!” I saw a smile of pride cross Pa’s face.
Doc Burge tried to get me to tell him it didn’t hurt a bit. All I could say was, “Huh?” That made my Pa laugh. I needed that.
As we walked out of the Doc’s office, Pa asked me if I wanted to eat at the restaurant before going home. I nodded and smiled at him. “Go ahead and get us a table, son. I’ll see if Micah can go out to the ranch and take care of the…uh…mess.”
I looked toward the General Store. “How bout some candy?” I asked with a smile.
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. Then he reached in his pocket and threw me a nickel. “Mark, today I’d give you the moon on a silver platter if you asked for it!” Pa stated. We both laughed again as I ran toward the general store to get my well-deserved candy!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The Sheridan Story
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch