“And another thing!” Pa said as he shook his finger at me. “I want those eggs gathered tonight!”
Pa had been yelling at me for going on ten minutes now. You see, I had a little incident at school. Jeff Connors had insisted that he knew the President of the United States while I insisted he was full of hot air. I got in a fight. The fight wouldn’t have been so bad except I had on a brand new shirt Pa had just bought me the day before, and when I showed up at home with a shirt that was torn beyond repair, Pa took one look at me and lit into me.
Now, you have to understand Pa’s way to understand why I suddenly was being blamed for everything under the sun. As I got older, Pa did his best to hold his tongue and let me make some of my own decisions, and judge for myself rather they were right or wrong. But after he “spent fifty cents for a torn up shirt,” he wasn’t going to take any more! I knew the minute he started that lecture, I’d be sorry. He said something like this:
“Now boy, do you know the sweat and tears that went into my earning that fifty cents so you’d have something decent to wear to school?” The only thing I’m allowed to say when Pa’s yelling is yes sir – a nod of the head wouldn’t suffice! “That money is going to come out of your hide – every penny of it!” At that point, he turned from pacing the floor and pointed straight at me.
That was the first two minutes of the lecture. The last eight minutes had been covered by things such as milking the cow and getting all the milk inside the pail instead of spilled out; stacking the wood in straight piles instead of having most of it crooked; and remembering to pick up the seeds because it’s my responsibility to plant the fields once the plowing’s done. Oh, and the fact that I brought home a D+ on my Algebra test didn’t help me at all!
I stood straight in front of him, standing tall with square shoulders. Looking him straight in the eye to show him I was going to be man about this conversation, I stated plainly, “Now Pa, I gather the eggs every night!”
“Mark, there wasn’t enough eggs left over to fix that chocolate cake I was planning on fixing tonight!” Pa roared as he jabbed his hand toward the kitchen.
“Well,” I started as I stuffed my hands in my back pockets and glared at him. “I can’t help it if the chickens choose not to lay!”
“Oh.” The way he said it, I’m guessing he was going to shoot down that excuse really fast! “Well,” Pa said as he folded his arms and glared at me. “Mark, did you milk the cow this morning?”
“Of course, sir! It’s my chore!”
Pa nodded. “And did you – by any chance milk the cow yesterday?”
“And did you remember to close the barn door when you were done?” Pa honed his head in closer to mine as I began thinking.
“Mmmmm,” Pa said. He turned and walked away. “Do I need to tell you what happens the next time I find one of YOUR chickens laying eggs in MY barn?”
I cringed. I knew he’d do it too! “Uh…N-no sir. I’ll make sure they stay out…sir.” Pa turned to go to the barn. “Pa? What about my shirt?”
Pa looked at it. “Hm…How much money you have saved up?”
“Only Forty-Five cents,” I answered.
“Forty-five cents?” Pa was surprised. “I give you twenty-five cents allowance a week! What happens to it?” Pa looked behind me then and pulled out a bag from my jacket pocket. He looked inside to see a bunch of sour balls. “Never mind…I think I know.”
Pa reached into his shirt pocket and took out a nickel. “There, son. Now you’ll get twenty cents allowance tomorrow.”
I stared at the nickel. “Oh, but Pa!”
Pa turned from the door. “Would you like me to remove more of that allowance?”
“No sir,” I answered with a sigh. Pa walked outside.
I guess you could see this wasn’t one of my better days as a thirteen year old!
The next morning, I stepped outside. Pa gave me a whole list of chores to do for the day. I was to start with milking the cow since we’d need the milk for breakfast. I stretched, enjoying the nice spring morning. “Mark, you better get to that milking!” Pa suddenly shouted.
That’s right, he was still a little sore from last night. It was going to be one of those days! “I will Pa,” I answered as I smiled and looked around the ranch.
Okay, today probably wasn’t the best of days to say I would do his order and then stand there. Pa suddenly appeared in the doorway as he buttoned his shirt. That was the first clue that I had done something wrong. “Be sure you keep the chickens out of the barn!” Pa reminded me.
“Yes, Pa,” I answered. I knew he was standing there to make sure I’d do just that.
I went inside and told the cow it was a beautiful spring morning. Then I sat down to milk her. But suddenly, pieces of hay from up above began falling. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that one of MY chickens was in PA’s barn and started up the ladder to get her down. I was ALSO trying to figure a way to get her out of there without Pa seeing, less he be sore and take it out on me, again!
But boy, oh boy, did I get a surprise when I saw what was waiting for me up in the hayloft! It sure wasn’t no chicken, I’ll tell ya that!
It was a young woman and a boy! Boy, was I surprised! “Hey, who are you?” I asked.
The woman spoke with a strong accent. “My brother, he is very ill. We…we took shelter here last night. I think he needs a doctor.”
“Oh sure,” I said – as if this kind of thing happens to me every day! “You wait right here – I’ll go get my Pa!” I jumped down the ladder – really excited like and ran toward the house. “Pa! Pa! Hey, Pa!” I yelled.
Pa ran out of the house. He had dishes in hand. “What is it Mark?”
“A…a woman!” I said excitedly.
“A woman?” Pa asked. “What?”
“In the barn! There’s a…a woman in our barn!” I declared. “With a boy – she said the boy’s sick!”
Pa sat the dishes down and hurried toward the barn. I ran beside him, talking and looking at him as we hurried. “Well, I was milking the cow, see and I saw some hay falling from the loft. I thought it was a chicken and went to get it when-“
“Alright, Mark…Alright,” Pa said as he held up a hand to quiet me. He slowly made his way up the ladder. “Well, don’t be scared,” he said with a smile.
“Wh-Who are you?” the woman asked.
“My name is Lucas McCain. You’re on our ranch,” Pa answered.
“This is PA’s barn,” I stressed to them.
“Mark!” Pa warned me. He turned back to them. “What’s wrong with the boy, Miss?”
“Well, I…I don’t know,” she answered. “He’s just sick.” I heard her sigh. “I don’t know much about this Mr…Mr…”
“McCain,” Pa answered. He turned to me. “Mark, hitch up the team and ride for the doc. I’ll take the boy inside.”
I got right on it. “Oh, no need to be any trouble, sir,” the boy said then.
Pa smiled that friendly smile of his. “It’s no trouble. Hand the boy to me.”
As I got the horses to hitch up the team, I grinned as I watched Pa take the boy in his loving arms and help him down the loft.
I drove into town as quickly as I could. “Doc! Doc!” I yelled as I drove into town. “Doc! Doc!” I jumped off the wagon and ran to his office.
Micah hurried up to me. “Mark, what is it?”
“It’s…” I swallowed and tried again. “A woman and her brother showed up at our ranch. Guess they slept there all night or something…anyway, the boy’s sick and Pa sent me to get the doc.”
“Well, he’s in the General Store. Is he bad sick?”
“Oh no,” I answered. “Thanks though!”
I hurried over to the General Store. Doc was in there talking with Miss Milly. “Pa has a sick boy at the ranch, Doc.” Milly gasped. “Oh, I don’t’ think it’s nothing serious, but Pa wants me to bring you out.”
“What’s the problem?” Doc asked.
“I don’t know, don’t seen nothing wrong,” I answered. “He just says he don’t feel good.”
“Alright,” Doc Burrage gathered up his supplies. “Tell your Pa I’ll be out soon. I’ll take my own buggy.”
“Alright.” I turned and looked at the candy. “Peanut Brittle!” I declared. “Why Milly, I haven’t tasted any of that in…”
Milly smiled. “Well, maybe I was thinking of you when I made it.” Milly grabbed a bag. “I tell you what, for you, I’ll give you a bag for five cents.”
“Uh…uh…well…how much is it normal?” I asked.
“Oh…Well, then in that case I reckon I’ll take that offer!” Milly laughed and gave me the bag. I gave her the five cents in my pocket.
Then I jumped in the wagon and rode for home.
When I got home, Pa came out of the house. I jumped down. “Where’s Doc Burrage?” Pa asked anxiously.
“Well, he said he’d drive his own buggy out, Pa. And he said he’d be here in a bit.”
“Oh.” Pa started to turn away. Then he caught the bag in my hand. He scratched under his nose. ‘Uh, Mark?” Pa pointed toward the bag.
“Yeah Pa?” I popped another piece of peanut brittle in my mouth.
“You didn’t…buy that this morning, did you?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah Pa,.” I answered.
“Your-“ I stopped and gasped. Pa held out his hand and I gave him the bag as he said. “I think a little boy might like this when he’s feeling better.”
Funny thing…I didn’t know I was sick! But then, maybe he wasn’t referring to me! I hurried after him.
“Pa…Pa, I-“ I stopped when I saw Pa in the bedroom giving the boy a drink.
Pa turned and glared at me. Then he turned and told the guests the doc would be out in a bit. I walked over to the boy. “Yeah. So, what’s your name? I’m Mark.”
The little boy looked at me, then at his sister. He stayed quiet. “Well, aren’t you going to tell me?”
“Mark-“ Pa turned and gave me a warning look.
“Yes sir,” I answered.
“Uh…Maybe you should go milk the cow?”
“Yes sir.” I went to the door and turned. “Well, can I-“ After the look Pa shot me, I figured I couldn’t.
While I was in the barn, I heard Doc ride up. I hurried out with the milk. It sloshed a bit. I started to follow them inside, but Pa stopped me at the door. “Get the butter churned, Mark.”
“Well, I-“ I started.
“Well, you what?” Pa asked as he raised an eyebrow.
“Nothing,” I answered with a sigh. Seemed I missed out on everything! Pa always told me I was too curious – what was wrong with wondering about stuff?
Doc was in there for quite a while. Finally, the door opened while I was in the mist of churning. I kept to my business, hoping they would talk if they didn’t think I was Eaves dropping.
“Quiet as two little mouses, aren’t they?” Doc Burrage asked Pa. They started toward Doc’s buggy. “Who are they, Lucas?”
“Well, like you said. Jennifer and Charles Morrison. They were going to school back East. Their father died. He left them a ranch out West an’…that’s where they’re headen’.”
Then Doc asked, “Does that sound like the truth to you.” Now that interested me because Doc thought there was more to their story. Sounded sort of like a mystery!
“More or less,” Pa answered. “I figure she’ll get around to it eventually.”
“Hm mm,” Doc Burrage answered. He got in his buggy as he continued talking. “You know Lucas, I was…uh…reading in the papers, over in Denver. There’s one of those foreign princesses from Europe going to school over here – she and her little brother.” Boy, I sure was interested now! “Well, it seems they just…uh…run away a couple ah…weeks ago. Just packed up and left.”
“What’s your point, doc?” Pa asked.
Doc dropped it. I think he could tell Pa didn’t want him talking about it – starting rumors. He said he probably read too much.
But I was very interested! A princess…here? I couldn’t believe it! A PRINCESS…HERE in our house!!! She was in our barn!!! I…I talked to her!
Boy, but I was sure excited! I watched Doc Burrage leave as I started to carry the milk inside. I ran smack into her – the PRINCESS - and dropped the can!
“Well…excuse me, ma’am! I’ll go get a rag!” I declared as I ran into the house. I had spilled milk at the princesses’ feet!
I was so excited about this turn of events that I had trouble finding a rag to wipe up the milk! Then when I hurried out of the house, I almost ran into the…the PRINCESS again!
I hurried up to Pa. Boy, but I was so excited! “Pa, did you ask her?” I asked excitedly.
“Ask her what?” Pa played dumb! Oh, why did he tease me at an exciting time like this?
“Bout…about what the doctor said!” I declared.
“Now Mark, just forget what you heard,” Pa said quietly and sternly.
I didn’t want to forget what I heard! This was exciting stuff! If a princess was staying in my room, I had the right to know!
“But Pa, suppose she is-“ I started.
But Pa’s stern voice interrupted my pleading. “Son, I said forget it NOW! Whatever she is or she isn’t, she’ll tell us herself – no other way.” That was the end of that argument.
Boy, Pa’s just don’t know how to have fun! Here we may have a real live PRINCESS in the house – in my room – in MY BED…yet, Pa said I had to forget it!!!
“Oh Pa-“ I started though. I couldn’t just forget it!
“Hey, we’re gonna set up a couple cots up in the front room,” Pa stated. “They’ll be staying here a while.”
I knew they would, but hearing Pa say it made it more exciting! “Here?” I asked excitedly as I jumped up onto the porch.
“Here,” Pa answered.
“Oh, golly!” I exclaimed as I started wiping up my mess.
The remainder of that day, I was forced into hard labor for that five cent piece of Pa’s I spent. He said that since he hadn’t actually given me my allowance yet, his punishing me for spending it was completely legal. If you ask me though, I’d say that it was just an excuse to get me away from the young woman – the PRINCESS – and her brother. Pa thought I was being annoying! So, Pa sent me out to work with the cattle. He said I had to stay out there until he called me into supper.
That night was Saturday night. Pa announced he and I were going to church tomorrow. I suggested I could stay home with Charles so his sister could go to church. Pa shook his head. “Uh uh, boy! You and I are going to church!” He smiled at Jennifer…er…the PRINCESS…and said, I think Jennifer will want to stay with her brother.
Somehow, even though there was a woman in the house, I still got stuck doing the dishes that night. I went into the bedroom to talk to Charles after finishing. “Where you from?” I asked him.
“What did you do there?” I asked then. I wanted some sort of clues to figure out who he was.
“Same thing other kids do, I expect,” Charles answered as he yawned.
“Well…Like what?” I asked.
“School, playing with the kids, homework and…You know…Kid stuff.”
“Well, how many-“ I started.
“Mark!” Pa’s voice sounded harsh.
I stood up from the bed and turned to look at Pa’s annoyed expression. “Oh…Yes Pa?”
Pa took his index finger and moved it toward him several times, motioning for me to come to where he stood. “What did I tell you?”
“Yes sir, but-“ I started.
Pa grabbed my ear and dragged me out of the bedroom. “There are no buts, boy. Now I was pretty stern with you earlier on not thinking on this…thing you heard. Wasn’t I?”
I sighed. “Yes sir.”
“Alright.” Pa shook his head at me. “Go take your bath.”
I turned and stared at the door. “My bath?”
“Yeah. Your bath.”
“Oh, but Pa!” I started.
Pa snapped his fingers and pointed to the door. “Out in the barn! Now! Go!” He smacked me on the backside just as Jennifer…er…the princess walked through the door.
“Ow!” I shouted, embarrassed. “Pa!”
I heard Pa chuckling as I hurried out to the barn.
Sunday morning, I was up early. Pa sent me out to do the chores while he got breakfast fixed. We hurried through breakfast so Pa and I could get to church on time. I couldn’t wait to get to church to tell all my friends what I saw! I didn’t dare tell my Pa – he’d have my hide if I said a thing to him about my plan!
When we got to church, though, Pa held tightly to my arm and ushered me quickly into the church. “Pa, I want to talk to Jeff.”
“I’m sure you do,” Pa answered with a grin.
“Just for a second, Pa! I have something imp-“ Pa slowly turned his head around to glare at me. “Well…on second thought, maybe it could wait.”
And it did, because Pa pushed me down in the seat and ordered me not to budge. Soon, Micah and Milly joined us on our row of seats. Pa greeted them as usual, but didn’t tell them the exciting news. I started to remind Pa we had visitors at the ranch when Micah asked, “Mark told me you had a sick boy at your ranch yesterday, Lucas.”
“Yes. I still do,” Pa answered. “He has measles. He and his sister will be staying with us until he’s better.”
“Yeah, and you know what else?” I asked.
“Mark!” Pa gave me that evil eye look again.
“Yes sir,” I groaned and sat back in my seat. From the look on Pa’s face, I’d say this was one of those rare occasions Pa would agree with the “children should be seen and not heard” saying.
After church, Pa went to talk to Milly. We weren’t eating at the hotel today, but Pa sent me to pick up something we could take back to the ranch for lunch. Micah walked over with me. “I have something exciting to tell you, Micah!”
“Yes, I heard,” Micah grinned. “Wouldn’t it be something if she turned out to be a real Princess, boy?”
“You bet! Boy…Just imagine…a REAL live PRINCESS sleeping in my bed…”
Micah chuckled as he went into the restaurant.
When we got home, Pa made me sit down at the table and eat my sandwich. When I was done, I got up to go into the bedroom, but Pa pulled me aside. “Son, you’re too full of mustard today. Why don’t you go down to the pond and catch us some supper?”
“Do I hafta?” I asked disappointedly.
“Do you-“ Pa rolled his eyes at me. “I’ve never had to twist your arm before!”
“Well, we’ve never had a-“ Pa held up a hand and shot me another warning look! “Pa, aren’t you just a little.”
Pa grabbed me by the arm and took me outside. “Not another word about it, boy! Now, go on and get to fishing. I want you back to start on your studies by 4:00. That gives you about 3 hours fishing.”
“Alright.” I started back into the house.
Pa put his arm across the door to block my entrance. “Where you going? The pond’s…that way.” He pointed toward the range.
“Well, I need my pocket watch, sir. If I’m gonna be back by four o’clock like you say, I need to-“
“You can tell time by the sun, can’t you?” Pa raised an eyebrow at me.
“Well yeah…I guess so, but-“
“See you later…son.”
I sighed. “Yes sir.”
I did as told and stayed at the pond until 4:00. Then I hurried back. Pa smiled at the big mess of fish I had gotten. Charles was sitting in Pa’s leather chair, sucking on a piece of candy. I walked over to him. “Ever go fishing, Charles?”
“No,” Charles answered.
“Not ever? Why not?” I asked.
“Well…There isn’t much use for fishing back East, Mark.”
My eyes grew big. “You went to a private school, huh?”
Charles looked toward his sister. Pa cleared his throat. “Get to cleaning those fish, boy. I want you to work on your homework.” I looked back towards Charles, then at Pa. I decided to do as told.
That night, after the house was quiet and I was laying down on the cot, I allowed a deep sigh to escape me. “What’s on your mind, Mark?”
“Two days,” I answered. “Pa, two days and we still don’t know if…Well…If she’s a princess!”
I heard an exasperated sigh escape my father. “GOOD NIGHT, Mark,” he answered.
The next morning, Pa woke me up extra early and told me to get started on the chores. When I walked back into the house, Jennifer and Charles were already sitting down at the table. “Will you teach me, Mr. McCain? Will you teach me to milk the cow and wash the dishes and…and…plow?”
“Sure,” Pa answered.
“Hey, you can start with the breakfast dishes! Why, if you want, you can wash the dishes as long as you’re here!”
“Mark-“ Pa interrupted me. “Don’t you think you should get to school?”
“Well now, you know Pa, I’d be happy to just stay right here and help her learn all about-“
“School?” Pa repeated.
“Oh…uh…yeah.” I stood up and grabbed my books. “Bye Pa. By Jennifer. Bye, Charlie.”
“Be good, son!”
When I got to school, I hurried up to Jeff and Billy. “Hey, I have something to tell you boys!” I declared.
“What?” Billy asked.
“We have guests at our house!” I declared with a big, proud smile.
Jeff stood up and folded his arms. He got a big gleam in his eye and looked me up and down. “Yeah? So what?”
“So what? Well I’ll tell you so what! It just so happens that she might be a real-live-“ I started.
“Mark!” Pa suddenly called.
I turned and shook my head. Boy, but he always shows up and ruins my fun! Pa got off his horse and walked up to me. He eyes the boys around me and they quickly scooted off. “You forgot your books.”
I reached out for them. “Oh…I had them in my hand. Must have got…sort of…distracted.”
“Mm Hm.” Pa nodded. Then he folded his arms. “I’ve warned you already, son. I don’t want you opening your mouth about what you heard. Rumors are just that – rumors. And what she is or what she isn’t is none of your business.” Pa pointed a finger at me. “So you best mind your own!” He stared sternly into my eyes.
“You understand me?”
“Yes sir.” I watched him mount up and ride away. The boys started asking me what I was about to say. “Sorry, can’t do it,” I answered. “Pa would have my hide. Sides,” I shrugged, “It’s just a rumor.”
“What is?” Billy asked.
I sighed. Boy, but I wish I could tell them! It was so tempting, but Pa had a way of finding out when I do something wrong. He said it’s a gift. I’d say it’s a curse!
All day long I had to sit on my secret. I went over to the General Store that afternoon and got my new shirt according to Pa’s orders. I had no money left over for candy since Pa was also making me put the rest of my money in the bank. As I handed Milly the money, I said, “So Milly, did you hear about our guests?”
Mmmm,” Milly answered with a nod. “She borrowed some of my clothes. Your father’s going to teach her all about farming.”
“Farming? A…girl like her…farming?” I said to myself.
Milly put a hand on her hip and gave me a cold, hard stare. “A girl like what?” I heard the challenge in her voice.
“Did…Pa tell you anything about her?” I asked.
“Well…” Milly thought. “He told me that she’s from the East and her father just died. “
“That’s it?” I groaned.
She nodded. “I can’t think of anything else.
I couldn’t believe it! Not even Milly was privilege to such information!
I mounted Blue Boy and rode home. When I got there, Pa and Jennifer were headed out to the barn. I started inside to talk to Charles. “Mark!” Pa called.
I froze at the door, but didn’t turn around. “Yes sir?”
“Put your books in the house then come on out here and do your chores.”
I sighed. “Yes sir.”
In the barn, I was supposed to be raking. I raked as I watched Pa teach Jennifer how to milk a cow. I couldn’t help but laugh at how she learned to do it. She mentioned that she always drank milk out of tins and never really thought on where it came from. I stared at her. “Tins?” I asked Pa. Pa laughed.
Later in the house, I watched as Pa taught her how to wash dishes. Imagine…a girl her age not knowing how to wash dishes! Pa put me to work on sweeping the floor.
I didn’t have to do dishes that evening, but Pa announced I’d have to mop the floors the next afternoon. I started to mention that was also something Jennifer needed to learn, but I figured I should probably just leave that one alone…for now!
The next day I went to school again. As I got up to leave the table, Pa followed me outside. “Remember what we talked about yesterday, son.”
I groaned. “Pa, how much longer to I have to keep shut up?” I asked.
Pa gave me a stern look. “For as long as you have air coming in and out of your lungs!”
“That long?” I rolled my eyes. “Pa, have you any idea how hard it is to keep quiet about this?”
“See you after school, son. And remember: mum’s the word!”
When I got home from school that day, Pa was teaching Jennifer how to do laundry. “Great!” I declared. “Now I don’t have to do it!”
“She’s doing her and Charles’s laundry, son,” Pa answered. “You’ll have plenty to do come Saturday.” I went to fetch some more water at Pa’s suggestion.
The next day was Wednesday. I was again reminded sternly to keep quiet about the princess thing. It was getting harder and harder to do that. Pa reminded me sternly, however, that if a word was breathed, I would be severely punished. I kept reminding myself about that all day. When I got home from school that day, Pa told me he was taking Jennifer for a horseback ride so she could learn to ride a horse. I had to stay OUTSIDE and fix the roof on the barn.
They rode the horses alright! In fact, when Jennifer returned, her horse reared and threw her. She was okay though. But in the process of it all, she dropped her Medallion. I was more than happy to give it to her. Maybe this would be my chance to find the truth out!
She just ran inside. I decided then and there that she wasn’t a princess. I must admit that if she wasn’t, it was a big disappointment! Pa walked up to me and put his arm around my shoulders. “You know Pa, I guess the doctor was wrong about her,” I declared.
“Why?” Pa wondered.
“Well, I’ve been watching her and she just doesn’t act like a princess.”
Now, Pa had been going on all week trying to get me to think that way. Well, now that I said it, he changed his tune! “Oh? Well, how should a princess act?”
“Well…royal I guess,” I answered. “You know what I mean! She…she even like washing dishes!” I declared. That wasn’t normal in any sense of the word – much less for a princess!
“Oh, well that is peculiar,” Pa stated. “You know something son. If Jennifer is a princess, then that would make Charles a Prince. Wouldn’t it.” Pa walked away.
“Uh huh.” Then I thought on what he had said. A prince had slept in my bed…ate at my table…had measles in my house…He was younger then me! Why just this morning, Pa had to get onto him for getting out of bed when he was supposed to! Just think – my own Pa had…had disciplined the prince!
My eyes grew wide as I thought on this. “Yeah!”
I walked inside and saw Prince Charles in the bedroom. He was on my bed where he had slept the whole time! Pa had told the princess that he could get up in the afternoons for a while, but now he was back in bed. I sat down and looked at him. “Something wrong?”
“Wrong?” I asked. “Oh…no,” I answered. “Uh…uh…I suppose you’ll have to leave after doc sees you, huh?”
Prince Charles nodded. I swallowed. “Uh…uh…What was your father like?”
“My…father?” Prince Charles asked.
“You said he died?”
Pa walked inside then. “Mark?”
I sighed and stood up. Somehow, he always knew when I was doing wrong! “Yes sir?”
Pa folded his arms and raised an eyebrow at me. “Get to your chores, son.”
I turned and looked at Charles…Prince Charles…Then I looked back at Pa. “Yes sir.”
Almost done with my chores, I hurried back inside. Charles was dressed and sitting at the table. “Chores done, Mark?”
I sat down next to Charles and smiled. “Almost, Pa.” Then I turned to Charles. “So-“
Suddenly, Pa grabbed me by the arm and dragged me outside. “Almost isn’t good enough.” He closed the door behind me and studied me very closely. “Now, I’m not going to tell you again, boy! Stop trying to get the truth from them! They have a right to their own affairs. It’s none of our business.”
I sighed. “Yes, Pa.” I turned to go finish up my chores. “Only, it would make this whole thing more exciting – knowing the truth!”
I wasn’t any closer to the truth now then I had been when they arrived five days ago. I had to get to the truth. That’s why at recess yesterday, I approached Mr. Griswald. He was quite surprised to find me walking up to his desk instead of running outside. “Mark, something you need?”
“Oh…Ye-Yes sir.” I swallowed. “Uh…uh…do you know of any…royalty living in these parts?”
“Royalty?” Mr. Griswald sat down and folded his hands. “Yes. I was talking to Dr. Burrage the other day. He seems to think they may be quite close!”
“Oh yes sir!” I stated with a smile. “Except…I can’t ask ‘em. Pa told me it was none of my business. Pa said their Pa died. If she really is a princess and her Pa died…and there’s no Ma then…” I gasped at the prospect.
Mr. Griswald took off his spectacles. “That would make her queen.”
“Queen…” I smiled.
“It’s good to see you so interested in history, Mark.” Mr. Griswald stood up and walked over to the cabinet. He pulled out a book. “Here’s a book on King Author’s Court. Why don’t you spend some time tonight studying on it. You might find it quite interesting.
I didn’t know about that, but it could help my last attempt at discovering the truth! I hurried outside for recess. I could hardly wait for school to end.
When I rode home, I noticed Pa plowing the fields. This was my perfect opportunity. Pa wouldn’t stop in the middle of plowing to come check up on me, and I’d be alone with the prince for awhile. I quickly grabbed the book I’d been looking at a bit and hurried inside.
When I got in there, Jennifer was looking at Ma’s picture. I was sort of taken aback, but quickly recovered and agreed with her that my mother was beautiful. I wanted to talk to Charles. He’d be easier to get the truth from. I asked if he was awake. She told me he was getting dressed for town – Pa was taking him to the doctor this afternoon. I sure was sad to hear they’d be leaving soon!
As I started talking to Charles, I held up the book on King Author. “It sure must have been swell living in those Palaces and all,” I commented as I studied his expression in the mirror. I just had to get at the truth!
“Yes, I imagine so,” Charles answered. He turned to me and asked me to help fasten his suspenders to his pants. I jumped up to help him. But then I got to thinking…I was dressing…royalty! Me, Mark McCain a…rancher’s son…was dressing royalty!
Charles thanked me. I picked the book back up. “So…do you uh…miss your family?” I asked.
“I guess so. Would you miss yours if he died?”
“Of course.” I guess that was a pretty dumb question at that! “Uh…You were going school back East. Did you always…live there?”
Charles turned around and stared at me. “Don’t you have chores?”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Yeah.” I sat the book on the table and hurried out the door.
Soon Pa came inside while I was sweeping the floors. Pa was all sweaty. “Well, fields ready for you to plant, son. You’ll do that after school tomorrow.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. Pa went to get cleaned up because we were about to go to town.
“Homework done?” Pa asked suddenly as he began tucking his clean jeans into his boots.
“Of course not!” I declared. Pa looked up at me. “Well, I’ve been doing chores since I came home.”
“Oh.” Pa cleared his throat. “What sort of homework do you have? “Oh…a little bit of math and…history.”
“Oh? What are you studying in history these days?” Pa asked.
“We’re studying world history right now, Pa. We’re talking about…China and Japan – Asia.”
“Oh.” Pa stood up and walked over to the table. “Then I’m quite surprised to see a book on King Author here.” Without turning, Pa held the book up over his shoulder. Pa turned then and studied me. I think he could tell I’d been caught again. “I think that belongs in your saddle bag and back to your teacher. Tomorrow.”
We rode into town. The minute we got there, I ran off to see Micah. Micah was in his office working on paperwork while a prisoner ran his cup across the bars begging for water. “Hi Micah.”
Micah stood up and went to close the door to the jail. “That’s better. How are you, son?” Micah asked.
“Oh, I’m fine. Pa brought in Prince Charles to see the doctor.”
“Prince…Charles?” Micah raised an eyebrow. “How do you know that?”
“Just call it a feeling, Micah.”
“Or a boy’s imagination,” Micah quipped.
Micah went to pour himself a cup of coffee. I hurried over to him. “Have you found anything out yet?” Micah turned and raised his eyebrows at me as he slowly sipped his coffee. “About our guests.” Micah shook his head. “Well…I mean you have been investigating their story, right?”
“Why should I, Mark? Holding back information about who you are and why you’re here ain’t against no law that I know of.”
“Yeah Micah, but you’re job is to get to the truth and-“
“And the truth,” Micah said as he wrapped his hand around my neck and led me toward the door. “Is that your father has asked you not to go around talking about this so-called rumor or try to get to the truth yourself. Another truth is that I’m quite busy filling out paperwork on my prisoner. So you just run along, boy.”
“Yeah, but Micah! I-“ Micah closed the door. I shook my head with a sigh.
“Mark!” Pa called. “Come along, son.”
“Can’t I go talk to Milly?” I asked. “I promise I’ll be good.”
“Mm Hm.” Put his arm around my shoulder. “Let’s go. If you behave yourself in the doc’s office, I’ll buy you some candy.”
I blushed as Charles looked at me. “Oh shucks, Pa. I’m not a little kid! I’m thirteen years old!”
“Then start acting it!” Pa said as he tapped my head lightly.
I stood patiently beside Pa as the doc examined Charles. “Perfect health, Lucas. He’s completely over the measles.”
“Hey, that’s threat!” I declared with a smile. “Isn’t that great, Charles?”
“Yeah! That means we can leave soon.” Charles declared.
“Oh.” I didn’t want them to leave. Things had been more exciting around the ranch since they arrived. “Well…You don’t…hafta…leave so soon.”
Pa cleared his throat. “Son, I’m gonna settle up with the doc. You go ahead and go get your candy. Make sure you split the candy evenly.”
“Pa, I said I’m not a kid anymore!” I said again.
“Oh right.” Pa nodded and smiled at me. “I keep forgetting.”
We didn’t get to spend much time at the Store. Pa came in and paid for the candy within just a few moments after we arrived and quickly ushered us out as we started back home.
As we rode home, Charles wanted to know what it was like living here. I excitedly told him all about the life of a rancher. Charles seemed surprised at some things. Before we got home, I asked him if he’d ever seen Indians. “Indians? I don’t think so,” Charles answered.
That did it! He HAD to be royalty! We have ‘em around here!” As we ran inside I started telling Charles all about the Apache Indians I had seen.
Then something happened – the truth came out. Jennifer walked to the door when she heard horses approaching. “They’re here!” Jennifer exclaimed.
“Who’s here?” I asked.
“The men that are after us! They’re out there.” Jennifer ran up to me. “Mark, you’ve got to hide us! There’s a lot you don’t know, but I’m a Princess on the run.
Those men are after me and I have to get away! I can’t go back. Please…help us!”
So, she was a princess! But instead of the truth being fun and exciting, I felt sad for her. I wanted to help her because I hated seeing such a sad, scared look in her face. I looked at Charles. “Come on,” I said. I hurried them to the barn while the backs were turned. “Now, you stay in here and be quiet! I’ll stall my Pa. You guys can make a run for the hills when I signal the coast is clear.”
“Thank you, Mark.”
I hurried back inside the back door. Actually…it was more like sneaking. “Where are they, son?” I suddenly heard Pa ask.
“Gone,” I answered Pa.
“Gone?” Pa asked.
The look in Pa’s eyes told me I had to say something him. “Give ‘em a chance to get away, Pa!” I begged. What difference does it make to you?” Pa patted my shoulder but said nothing.
I hurried out the front door. I wanted to warn them so maybe they could hide or get away or something. Pa held up a hand in silence, ordering me to stay there.
One of the men after Jennifer and Charles came and put his hand on me to restrain me. Too bad everyone was bigger then me – I sure wasn’t much help!
I watched as Pa approached the barn. The door suddenly opened and Prince Charles held a gun on my Pa! Pa told him to give him the gun, but Charles said no. I can’t tell you how many times when I was little – okay, maybe still today – Pa got down to my level, looked me straight in the eye, and got what he wanted. Pa’s eyes were a weapon to the truth – and it worked for Charles as well. He gave Pa the pistol without any fight. Then Pa went into the barn to talk to the princess.
I studied Charles. He looked so sad standing there with those tears in his eyes. Why was Pa making them do something they obviously didn’t want to do? Why was Pa being so cruel? I would have to tell him what I thought of this later when I had a chance. “I’m…sorry, Charles.” I felt I had let him down, after all.
Charles hung his head as one of the men patted him on the shoulder. “Not your fault, Mark. I thank you for trying. I bet we have to go back now.”
The man got down on Charles’s level. “You have to. It’s your duty.” He smiled at Charles.
We sat down and watched the barn door, waiting for Pa and the Princess to come out. When she emerged, I suddenly felt nervous. She wasn’t a princess! She was a…a…Oh, I can’t even thing the word! She was a Queen! Boy, she sure didn’t look the part in Milly’s blue jeans and shirt! Her hair was all messed up from doing chores on the ranch. She wore no crown. I suddenly tried to picture her in a big flowing dress with a beautiful jewel crown on her head! What would she look like?
I removed my hat and stood in honor as she walked out of the barn – suddenly a Queen!
The men explained to her how it would be. I was sad for her because I could tell becoming a Queen was scary for her. I watched and listened as she spoke softly to the men, and then to my Pa. I watched as she took off the medallion around her neck and gave it to Pa. Then she turned and walked to her brother. She bent down next to him and put a hand to his cheek. “We must go back, Charles. I have a duty.” I found myself putting my arm around Charles as we sat back down on the step together. “It will be good, Charles.”
“But our dream of farming…” Charles started.
“It was only that,” Princess…er…Queen Jennifer declared. “A dream. It was a good dream.”
She stood then and held her hand out to her brother. Charles took it and stood. Queen Jennifer put her hand out to me to shake. “Goodbye, Mark. Thank you for your friendship and hospitality.”
“Uh…uh…” I wasn’t sure what to do! She was Queen.
Pa hurried up beside me. “Shake her hand, son.”
I did. I suddenly felt very warm as I shook the Queen’s hand! Queen Jennifer smiled at me one last time then turned back to the men waiting to take her far away. She held her brother’s hand. “We’re ready now.”
Pa put his arm around me as we watched them leave. Soon, all that remained of them was the dust their trail back to North Fork left behind. I shook my head in wonder. “What are you thinking?” Pa asked as he eyed me.
I folded my arms, deep in thought. “I don’t get it! I just don’t get it!”
“Pa, they’re royalty! They have all the money they ever need. They can buy anything – get the best education, best food…they don’t have to work up a sweat to get it yet…they seemed so disappointed that they couldn’t be…well…sod busters!”
Pa lowered his head to hide a grin. He sat down and pulled me down beside him. “Well Mark, money can’t buy everything.”
“But Pa, to be a king or a queen…why that’s every child’s dream!”
Pa sighed. “I’d say that a lot of those in royalty have different dreams. They dream about having a little house out here on the range where they can just sit and enjoy a conversation with those they love.” Pa pointed at the sun as it sank behind the mountain. “A dream where they can sit here on the porch and watch the sun sink as a quietness and beauty spreads across the land. And when the sun goes down, they can just…stop and hear…nothing.”
I thought on what Pa said. Then I smiled. “Yeah,” I said in a satisfied smile. “I reckon we have our own palace right here, huh Pa?”
Pa slapped my shoulder and pulled me a little closer. “We sure do, son.”
Then we watched the sunset and enjoyed the richness that surrounded us long after the sun had sank.
I never told anybody about the Queen that had once graced North Fork with her presence. It would remain a secret forever…
*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
around The McCain Ranch