It was Saturday morning, which meant I would not have to go to school today. That alone was cause for excitement. The other reason I was excited was that I was planning on fishing in our pond this morning. So while my pa worked on fixing breakfast, I went out to the barn and got Blue Boy all set to go. I was getting my fishing pole ready when Pa came out to check on me.
“And just what do you think you’re doing, young man?” Pa asked as he folded his arms over his chest.
I turned around; the fishing pole was still in my hands. “I was gonna ask you Pa. At breakfast,” I stated. “I thought maybe just this once, I could do my chores this afternoon. I promise I’ll do them.”
Pa shook his head. “Mark, Mr. Goss, the photographer, is going to be in town today!” Pa reminded me. “I told you last night.”
I groaned. “I thought you said next Saturday.” I looked down at my pole. “Well, I don’t need a picture, Pa. You know I don’t want to do it.”
Pa took the fishing pole from me and gave a firm pat on my backside. “Get in there and eat so we can get you all cleaned up.” I turned around to protest, but Pa just held up a finger.
After the breakfast dishes were washed, Pa filled up a pan of warm, soapy water and told me to take off my shirt. As I was doing so, he came over with the wet rag and began scrubbing my face. I flinched and tried to pull away, but he held my head still as he continued scrubbing. “Pa, don’t wash the skin off!” I complained. I always hated it when he did my washing for me! “I can do it! I’m not a baby,” I insisted as I reached for the rag.
“Mm hm,” Pa responded as he continued scrubbing me. “I’ve seen how you wash. I just want to make sure there’s not a spot of dirt on your face!”
I continued protesting, but knew moving around would make him scrub harder. He was finally done and grabbed the comb and started running it through my hair. This was another thing Pa did that I hated as he wet my hair and got it all slicked down. “Pa, don’t you want the picture to remember what I look like?” Pa nodded as he worked on slicking down the back of my hair. “Well then, you should let me wear my hair like normal and have some dirt on my face and messed up clothes! That’s what I always look like.
I was looking at Pa through the mirror. By the expression on his face, I’d say I wasn’t going to win this battle. I sure was happy when Pa sat down the comb and told me to go put on a clean shirt.
The excitement of it being Saturday was suddenly gone. I didn’t mind going to town with my Pa. But I didn’t like being Sunday-morning squeaky clean. As we mounted our horses, I stated, “Well, at least I won’t have to get clean for church tomorrow since I did my washing today!”
Pa raised an eyebrow at me as we started off towards town. “You’re taking a bath tonight, son. You know, where you put your body in clean soapy water and wash all the dirt off?” I groaned as Pa gave Blue Boy a firm slap to hurry him down the road.
When we got into town, I saw the photographer getting set up. I sat on my horse as I watched him. Pa suddenly came over and lifted me down. “Let’s go, son,” he stated.
We made our way over to where Mr. Goss was standing. “Able!” Pa smiled at him as they pumped their hands up and down in a friendly handshake. “I’m certainly glad you heard where we were and sent word that you were coming.
Able saw me and started talking about how much I’d grown. I heard this every time one of Pa’s old friends comes to visit, so I just politely stood there and let him have his moment. Then he pointed to the spot I was to stand. Not being too interested in having my picture taken, I just went over and stood there. “Take your hat off, Mark!” Pa said as he went to stand by the wagon.
Mr. Goss looked at me and shook his head. Then he walked over to me and started positioning my hands and stuff around in the way he wanted it to look for the picture.
He asked me if I remembered the last time he took my picture. The truth was I vaguely remembered it. It was so long ago. He continued telling me that I had grown some since then. I didn’t know it, but he had taken my parent’s wedding picture too – the picture that Pa kept in his trunk and got out every once in a while to look at. I asked him once why he kept it in there. He told me that it was really special, and some memories were too private to share. He said if she were still alive, they’d have it hanging up, but since she wasn’t, he’d rather have it sacredly tucked away somewhere safe.
I stood there in that pose as directed for what seemed like a long time. I was hoping it would be over soon, but he said something was broken and he’d have to fix it.
I happily put my hat back on and started for the General Store, but Pa suddenly grabbed a hold of me and pulled me back as Mr. Goss rushed toward his wagon. I stared at Mr. Goss as he pulled a gun from his wagon. Of course, my Pa grabbed the gun from him before he could do any real damage, but he was awful mad with the two men he just saw. Apparently, they had inflicted some sort of cruel punishment on him when he was in a prison camp. I stared at him as he stated he was going to kill the Colonel.
I must admit that I really did like Mr. Goss. He was really nice, and I was really impressed that he remembered my mother. I didn’t mind as much having to have my picture taken now that I knew Mr. Goss was really nice.
Pa and me went to the store after leaving Mr. Goss. As soon as we went into the General Store, I went to the candy. Miss Hattie greeted me with a grandmotherly hug like she did a lot, and I started concentrating on the important decision of what to get. Pa handed Hattie our list of supplies. Then he laid a hand on my shoulder. “You get a penny’s worth this morning, son.” Pa stated.
“Oh, but I wanted five different flavors of the sucker sticks!” I protested. Pa held a penny in front of my eyes. I reached in the jar for my favorite sucker stick flavor as Pa handed Miss Hattie the penny.
After we had all our supplies, Pa handed me fifty cents and told me to go get my picture taken. I happily left, knowing Mr. Goss was a nice man. He again positioned me the way he wanted me in the picture and joked with me to make me laugh. It took five seconds, and I breathed out a huge sigh of relief when it was over.
But just as I was relaxing, Mr. Goss was suddenly yelled for me to run for cover. I turned and saw the colonel pointing a gun at Mr. Goss. I dove under the wagon and covered my head with my hands. I couldn’t see anything, but I heard two gunshots. When I looked up, I saw the colonel laying still on the ground.
Then as I was crawling out from under the wagon, my Pa and Micah came up and started asking Mr. Goss a lot of questions. Micah took him off to jail. I didn’t understand this since Mr. Goss was just trying to defend himself. I had seen the colonel with a gun step out and practically call him out!
I came up to Pa and Pa immediately stooped down and asked me if I was okay.
“Yeah, but why are they-“ I started.
But Pa interrupted me before I could ask the question. “Did you see what happened?”
“Well, Mr. Goss said to duck so I dove under the wagon. But why-“ I tried to ask the question again.
But again, my Pa interrupted me with a question. “Did you see any of the shooting?” he asked me desperately.
I tried again. “Well, I saw Colonel Whiteside when he called him Mr. Goss, but what are they do-“
“Now, listen to me, Mark! Did you see the Colonel draw his gun?”
“Well, I told ya. I dove under the wagon!” I stated. It was important that I ask this question. But Pa wasn’t giving me a chance to ask questions. “But why are they taking him-“
But Pa only said “All right, son, never mind. Wait for me by the horses.”
“Well, can’t I go with you?” I begged. I didn’t understand why Mr. Goss was being taken to the jail when he shot the colonel in self defense. But no one apparently wanted to hear that part of my story!
“No, go on!” Pa pointed to the horses. “Go on.” I had no choice but to obey.
I wasn’t too happy with my Pa. He didn’t even let me explain what I thought happened, and I was really worried about Mr. Goss. I sat down outside the General Store and put my chin in my hands, wishing Pa had paid more attention to what I had to say.
When I saw Pa come out of the Marshal’s office, I ran up to him. I was hoping Pa would have some good news for me. But after looking at his face, I knew the news wasn’t good. Pa told me that what happened to him would be up to the jury. I didn’t understand why he was going to even be accused of anything! I asked Pa if there was anything he could do, to which he stated, “I could leave town.”
Pa was quiet on the way home, and I knew him well enough to know I shouldn’t talk to him. When we got home, he told me to go do my chores. It took me all afternoon. After Pa said the blessing over our supper, I started eating. “Pa?”
“Hm?” Pa asked. I could tell he would be only half listening to me. “Well, why is he in jail?”
Pa looked at me with a confused expression on his face. “Because he shot the colonel.”
“In self defense!” I stated.
Pa sat down his fork and looked at me hard. “Son, you were standing right there when he said he was going to kill the colonel. Then he shot him.”
“I know, Pa. But-“
Pa stopped me. “Mark, the war was a terrible thing. People were hurt in horrible ways – ways I don’t even like to talk about. The colonel ran a prison camp, and Able Goss was one of their prisoners. He was treated very badly in there. It’s understandable why he would want to kill the colonel.”
“But he didn’t Pa!” I insisted. “He didn’t!”
Pa wouldn’t listen to me though. “If he told them about the torture, he would get a lighter sentence.”
“But then he’d look guilty!” I cried. “He’s not guilty!”
“All right, Mark. Just eat your supper.” Pa looked at me sternly and I knew I was to say no more about it. I didn’t understand why he didn’t believe me!
Pa took another bite of his food. “You’ll stay out of school Monday. The judge wants you there to tell your side of the story. We’ll talk more on it tomorrow.”
“I sure wish you would believe in him!” I suddenly declared. Pa stared at me. I lowered my head and started eating again, knowing I was to say no more on the subject.
Sunday night while I was getting ready for bed, Pa came in and sat down beside me. “I want to tell you a few things about the trial tomorrow, son,” he said quietly. All day long he had avoided talking about it. When I was telling one of my friends about it at church that morning, Pa suddenly came up and told me to hush about it. All afternoon, Pa worked quietly and expected me to do the same. But now, finally, Pa was ready to talk.
“Now Mark, there will be a lot of people in the courtroom. The judge will have those who witnessed the gunfight come up front and place their hand on the Bible. That’s a sacred thing we do – we’re swearing to tell the truth in front of God.” I nodded, understanding what he was saying. “Son, a Courtroom is a different setting then most other places, so it may be a little scary at first.”
I shook my head. “I want everyone to know the truth.” I stated.
We rode into town together the next morning. Pa led me into the courthouse and we sat on the very front row. Pa was talking quietly about things I could and could not say and do while we were in here. But soon, the judge called the court in session.
Pa was called up to tell his story. I listened as he told the judge that he saw Mr. Goss holding the gun and the colonel dead in front of him. Then I listened to him tell the judge about the torture Mr. Goss got from the colonel in the prison camp. I shook my head at him in disappointment. I couldn’t believe my own father was sitting up there saying Mr. Goss killed the colonel!
As Pa came back to sit down, I couldn’t help being a little angry with him. I needed to talk to him – to set him straight! I softly whispered to him that I had to talk to him. He nodded and we went out into the hall.
Pa told me that the way he saw it, he thought Mr. Goss did commit the murder. That upset me. I couldn’t believe my pa could think that of a man as nice as Mr. Goss. “You’re wrong! You just don’t know!” I shot at him.
“Now listen to me, Mark. The jury will do the final deciding. I know what I heard and saw and you’re not gonna tell me different!” Pa said these words very sternly. He was being stubborn, but I knew in my heart that he was wrong.
“Well, maybe you just didn’t see so good!” I pouted.
Suddenly, Pa assured me we’d do some serious talking that night. “Does that mean you don’t want me telling my side in court?” I suddenly asked. In my heart, I knew the truth. But I felt that Pa was accusing this man falsely. Pa told me I had to tell what I saw.
They called my name to come forward. Pa tried to give me a pat of encouragement, but I still didn’t believe he really wanted me telling the truth. I bravely went up front and swore to tell the truth on the Bible.
As I sat down in the chair, I had it determined in my head that I would convince everyone in that room that Mr. Goss did not kill the colonel. When I was finally allowed to speak, I spoke with as much confidence as I could “Well, I was having my picture taken’ by Mr. Goss when all of a sudden he yelled at me to duck. Then I took one look toward the hotel and saw Colonel Whiteside standing in the middle of the street. Well, his hands were spread out like this.” I even stood up to show how he stood so there was no confusion. He was standing like a man who was about to draw. “And he looked ready to draw. So I got out of the way fast.”
The judge asked me if I saw his draw. I had to be honest. “No sir. But what I wanted to say is that…well, I believe Colonel Whiteside fired at Mr. Goss first cause like I said…I did see him ready to reach for his gun. And then the second that I turned around, I heard the first shot. Well, Mr. Goss couldn’t’ have got his gun out by then!” About a second later, I heard the second shot.
Telling my side of the story in court was a lot harder then I thought it would be! The judge kept pointing things out that I couldn’t deny. The colonel’s gun never left his holster. “But I know that Mr. Goss wouldn’t murder anybody! He’s too nice a man!” I suddenly declared, not knowing how else to convince them.
Everyone started laughing at me. I didn’t much like that. I looked at my Pa who swung his head around. He didn’t like people laughing at me either. The judge dismissed me. I couldn’t stay in here and listen to people falsely accuse Mr. Goss. I had to go outside and see if I could find answers.
I looked around the quiet street and went to the place where the event took place. I decided to play-act what happened to see if any clues came to me. I acted out Mr. Goss’s part – even pretended to stick my head under the camera’s curtain. I acted the colonel’s part, getting in the drawing stance. I acted out my part, as if I was getting my picture taken. But then, I suddenly thought of something. With a new excitement growing inside me I went back to stand in the colonel’s position. Then I turned and looked at the hotel. I acted out a person standing at the window holding a rifle to shoot the colonel in the back.
That’s right! The colonel had been shot in the back! Mr. Goss couldn’t have shot him in the back – I saw the positions the two were in. And someone with a handgun couldn’t have shot the colonel from the hotel room. But a rifle!
Suddenly, I saw my Pa coming out. He started at me and came walking up to me demanding to know what I was doing. I suddenly grabbed his hand and told him to play act. I acted out the scene again. He was me first, then he was the colonel. I stood behind him and acted like I was holding a rifle. Then I pointed up at the window. “You see, Pa?” I suddenly asked in an excited voice. My Pa was still doubtful, but I wasn’t going to give him a chance to argue this time. I grabbed his hand and pulled him back toward the court.
“We need to see my picture, Pa. That’s the first step,” I stated. “So, you need to go in there and ask Mr. Goss for the picture!”
Pa stared at me as we walked into the building. “Yes sir, Sherlock McCain!” Pa mocked with a grin.
But my Pa must have had some faith in what I was saying because he went right in there and interrupted the trial. Pa sent me on along to the wagon while he talked to the marshal for a minute.
I ran as fast as I could to the wagon. My heart was pumping with excitement as I reached the wagon. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for, but I knew that the clue I needed to solve this mystery was in this wagon. Pa came in soon after me and we both worked on looking for the film together. We were having no luck. Suddenly, I realized that he hadn’t taken my film out of the camera yet, so I went to it and looked. “Pa, there’s still one in the camera!” I announced excitedly. I handed it to my Pa and he immediately tried to develop it.
Within a few moments, though, we knew Pa wouldn’t be able to develop it. “I know the answer lies in this film!” I groaned disappointedly.
Pa looked at me and lifted my chin to look into his eyes. “You really believe that strongly that he’s innocent, don’t you?”
I nodded. “I know he is, Pa. In my heart, I know!” Then I mumbled under my breath, “I just wish you had the same faith.”
Suddenly, Pa jumped out of the wagon and lifted me out. He grabbed the film that held my picture, hidden inside. “Let’s go!” he suddenly stated.
“Where?” I asked.
“I got an idea, son.” He started to go, but then he stopped down and put his hands on my sides as he looked into my eyes. “I should have stopped and listened to you, and I didn’t. You deserve a chance to prove our friend is innocent.” Then he patted me on the back with a grin. “Come on.”
I took his hand as we walked down the street and back into the courtroom. My Pa went up to the front and interrupted the proceeding again. “This is the developed negative of that picture. It shows the colonel standing in the street behind my son. It also shows a window in the hotel which is directly in line with the colonel’s back. If you take a close look, you can see a man standing in that window with a rifle. So judge, if you allow Mr. Goss to develop the picture form this negative, I’m sure we’ll all recognize that man.”
I was proud of my Pa! He didn’t have the proof, yet he was sticking his neck out for me because I believed in Mr. Goss! I watched to see what would happen. Suddenly, Jameson, the colonel’s partner, stood up and shot the film right out of my Pa’s hand. He had killed the colonel! My Pa’s plan had worked! I was so proud of my pa, I was beaming. Then I laughed as Pa confessed to Mr. Goss that he never figured out how to develop that film.
We had Mr. Goss over to our house for supper that night. Mr. Goss told me wonderful stories about other pictures he had taken and strange people he had met along the way on his travels. It was all so exciting! Before it got dark, Mr. Goss had me pose again – this time outside by the barn. Pa smoothed down my hair and washed my face again, and again I protested. I was having too much washing lately, and I was really hoping that this time, the picture would take!
Sure enough, before he left that night, he handed my Pa a picture. Pa carried that picture in his wallet on his person everywhere he went. He told me that every night before he went to bed and I wasn’t with him, he would look at that picture.
I watched Mr. Goss leave after supper. Pa wanted him to stay the night, but Mr. Goss just stated that he had to be going on his way. He wanted to sleep at the hotel so he could leave straight from town at first light in the morning.
I sat down at the table and sighed. Pa sat beside me. “You really like Able Goss, don’t you son?”
I nodded. “I’m sure glad he was innocent!” I stated.
Pa sighed. “Well, I think that now it’s time you and I had that serious talk.”
I looked at him. “Oh, but Pa! I was right.”
“This time, son.” Pa stated. He put his arm around my shoulders. “But you could have very well been wrong. Son, we all see things differently. God made us that way. Like today, in court. I had to tell the judge honestly what I saw. Now if you look deep inside yourself and remember the words that I said, you would know every word was the truth just as I swore on that Bible.”
Pa’s face was only inches from mine. His eyes were stern. I looked down and nodded slowly. “Yes sir.” I looked back into his eyes and saw an unasked question there. “I guess I was just mad, Pa.”
Pa lifted his head away from mine a few inches, but kept his arm firmly around my shoulders. “Maybe so. But I don’t think that gave you cause to talk to me the way you did. I’ve taught you to always be respectful to people. And today, you weren’t respectful to me. Why?”
I hated it when Pa made me point out my own faults. “Well, I-“ I looked into his eyes again. Then I hung my head. “I guess I thought you should have seen things my way.”
Pa nodded. “Look at it through my eyes, son.”
I thought about this for a minute. “I guess what you said was true. But Pa, in the end you were wrong!”
“No I wasn’t, son. I would still tell the judge the same story. I did see Mr. Goss with his gun in hand. And I did see him standing over the body. I had heard him threaten to kill the colonel. Everything I said is still true, son.”
I knew what he meant. I also realized that if we hadn’t found that film, Mr. Goss would have been convicted of murder. I told Pa this. Then I added, “It’s not fair!”
“Life is hard, son. All we can do is tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We have to leave some of it up to God to reveal the truth. It all worked out in the end.”
“Does it always?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Pa only looked at me but didn’t answer.
“Now, I couldn’t tell the judge what you saw. You couldn’t tell the judge what I saw. That’s why he wanted us both to speak today.” Pa stated.
I hung my head. “I’m sorry, Pa. I guess it was me that wasn’t seeing so good.”
“Well,” Pa put his hand on my neck and smiled. “It’s hard for adults to understand this, much less a ten year old boy.”
Suddenly, I hugged him. I knew everything was forgiven. “Now, how about cleaning the dishes, then getting ready for bed.” I nodded. No other explanation was needed. I knew my words had hurt Pa today and I was willing to take my punishment…like a man.
I went to do the dishes. Pa started to go outside to finish his chores. “Mark,” Pa said with his hand on the door. “I’m proud of you for standing up for him. And next time, I’ll try to listen to you.” He smiled at me. “It was wrong of me not to let you tell me your side of the story by the wagon that day or at supper that night. Maybe if I had, we would have understood each other better.” Pa smiled at me. I watched him leave as I turned to do the dishes.
Sometimes I wished kids could punish the adults when they got out of line. I shrugged, shook my head, then started on the dishes.
*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 Retired Gun
around The McCain Ranch