“Mark, don’t you know you have to leave in twenty minutes?” Pa walked into the bedroom. “Oh,” he groaned.
I turned and raised my hands out. “I think this shirt is a bit small for me, Pa.”
Pa nodded. “Take it off. I’ll see if one of the Connor boys can wear it.”
I took it off and grabbed another shirt. I put it on, but the sleeves were too short. “Did I grow overnight?” I asked.
“No,” Pa answered. “You forgot to do the laundry Saturday!”
I shrugged. “Well, we had so many other things to do that-“ I started.
Pa shook his head. “I don’t recall putting swimming on your list of chores for Saturday.”
“Well yeah, but it was a little warm and-“ I started again.
“Oh, and how about the kickball game at the school Saturday afternoon?”
“Oh,” I shrugged. “I’d say that was for exercise. You know I need exercise.”
“Mm Hm,” Pa answered as he shook his head. He continued digging through the closet. “Here,” he said. “It may be a little big but it’ll do.”
I hurried through my breakfast. As I drank the rest of my milk, Pa stood at the door with my books. “Meet me at Micah’s right after school, son.”
I hurried Blue Boy along. I decided to go through town this morning. I had a five cent piece that was simply burning a hole in my pocket! “Hi, Milly!” I called.
Milly looked up from her ledger. She had her chin in her hand, but quickly lifted herself up straight and put her hand on her hips. “You have exactly five minutes to get to school, young man!” She wagged a finger at me.
“Well, I-I know, but I thought I’d get some candy.”
“So you can get in trouble with Mr. Griswald?” She asked. “You know he doesn’t allow candy in the classroom since that candy incident.”
I groaned. “I didn’t start that!” I pointed out.
“No, but you took an active part in it. Remember how angry Lucas was?” Millie asked.
“Yes ma’am,” I answered. I could feel the hurt in my ear now as I remembered the way Pa walked into the school and saw me throw a juju bean across the room at Billy. Mr. Griswald had never shown up to class that day and we began arguing on what to do. Boy oh boy did the room get quiet when Pa walked in!
It wasn’t long after Mr. Griswald arrived in North Fork. He was sick that day and Pa had just come into town. Mr. Griswald sent word to the Marshal and Pa said he’d walk over and let us know school was canceled for the day. Pa walked in the door just as I threw that piece of candy. I was laughing at the time, but then I realized the room was silent. I turned to see my red-faced Pa standing at the back of the room with his arms crossed.
When he had our full attention, he put his hands on his hips and started toward me. “Just what the devil is going on here?” He looked at me but spoke to everyone in the room.
Now, you know how scary my Pa can look when he’s mad. No one in the room answered his question – not even me. Pa stopped before he got to me and turned. “Someone better answer me right fast!”
I suddenly found my voice. “Jeff Connors started it!” Pa whirled around and started toward me. His face looked even redder then before. I began backing away. “I mean…Kevin…he said something to make Jeff mad – you know how brothers are. So Jeff just threw a piece of candy at him but it hit…um…Suzy…” I stopped. I wasn’t doing myself any favors.
“Oh?” Pa asked in this Your-in-big-trouble voice. “And how did Mark McCain get involved in this?”
“Well, Billy hit me hard with a sour ball, Pa. So I-“ I stopped and hung my head.
Pa nodded his head slowly. “How old are you?”
“Twelve,” I answered.
He nodded again. “I was just checking. Thought maybe you were younger then I remembered.” Pa grabbed me by the ear and pulled me to my desk. “Sit down.”
I cringed. I hated his ear-pulling thing! He didn’t do it very often, but when he did it sure did hurt! “All of you!” Pa demanded.
It was only a matter of seconds before everyone was sitting in their seats. Pa walked to stand in front of the class. “Now,” Pa said as he grabbed Mr. Griswald’s switch and smacked it on the desk. “I was coming to tell you that Mr. Griswald is sick today so there would be no school. But today you will have a new teacher – me!”
I looked around at the other kids. Boy oh boy, but this could get really embarrassing for me! “But what about the ranch – your chores? You got an awful lot of work to do.”
“Yes, I do,” Pa answered. “But don’t you worry, son. After school and on weekends, you’ll have plenty of time to help me get caught up.”
I slid down in my seat as eyes stared at me. That meant that I was grounded…indefinitely!
Pa began walking in front of the room. His arms remained crossed as he stared out at us. “Now,” Pa started as he continued walking back and forth. “I want you all to know just how disap-“ Pa stopped and looked down at the floor. He lifted his boot and pulled a smashed jelly bean off the bottom of his boot. He groaned. “-disappointed in all of you. You are all old enough to know better. Attending school takes a certain level of-“ Pa stopped again. He stepped on a paper that had fallen off my desk. It was my homework from last night and it had smashed juju beans all over it. I opened one of my school books and slid further down in my desk, hiding behind my book. “-maturity.”
Pa took my homework to the front and dropped it in the trashcan. “Now, I want every one of you to gather up the remaining candy you have left and come dump it in this trashcan.”
No one moved. We looked at each other. Many of us had gone by the general store that very morning to buy our weekly supply of candy. Pa picked up the switch. “Now!” He smacked it on the desk again. We all stood, grabbed our candy, and got in line. “I used some of my allowance on that candy!” Jeff groaned.
Pa nodded. “Well, perhaps you’ll think on that next time.”
Billy stood next to me as we made our way up front. “Your Pa wouldn’t really use that switch on us…would he?”
“Of course not!” I declared. “Pa doesn’t whip me. He’s just trying to scare us.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Pa stated as he glared at me.
I took the candy from my pocket. “Nickels sure are scare to come by for a boy like me!” I mumbled.
“And they will be even harder to come by for the next few weeks,” Pa stated as he held the trash can out to me.
We all got rid of our candy and hurried back to our seats. I was quickly becoming really thankful Pa wasn’t our teacher! “Now,” Pa said as he put his hands on his hips. He then began a very long speech about how what we had done could be seen as destruction of property. He knew most of our folks and knew they would greatly disapprove of how we behaved today. After his long lecture, Pa ordered everyone to get out their writing tablets and write a note to the parents explaining what they had done.
Oh boy, I was never going to hear the end of that one! Pa walked around and watched everyone writing. “And I want to see them. You will bring them back signed tomorrow.” Pa stopped by my desk. “That includes you, young man!”
I started to open my mouth to tell Pa I didn’t understand why since he obviously knew, but I figured now wasn’t the best time to argue with him. “Yes sir,” I answered as I looked around at the group of kids.
While we were busy writing our long two-page notes, Pa left. But he warned that not a peep was to come out of this room. We obeyed him. He returned some time later with buckets of soap and water, brooms and scrub brushes.
For the remainder of the day, we had to scrub the school inside and out until it shined. I won’t even tell you what happened when I got home! I’ll just say that I got double the lecture the other kids got!
I looked at Milly now. “I’m older now, Milly,” I stated. “I’m far too mature for that!”
“That was only six months ago, Mark.” She walked around the counter. “Now, you just get yourself to that school!” She waved her hands at me. “Go on! Shoosh!”
I hurried out the door and mounted my horse. But suddenly I saw Micah walking someone into the jail. I hurried over. Walking inside, I stood and waited. “Who’s that?” I asked after Micah closed the door.
Micah turned around from hanging the keys back on the wall. “You should be in school!”
“I know, Micah. But who do you have in jail?”
Micah turned and looked towards the cell. Then he turned back around. “Oh, it’s nobody!” he answered
“It’s somebody!” I declared. “I saw him!”
“Mark,” Micah started toward me. “School!”
I hurried to school. All morning I thought on who could be in that jail. He sure looked familiar from what I saw, but I just couldn’t remember where I’d seen him before.
That afternoon, I hurried into town. Pa was at Micah’s and they were talking. They turned and looked at me as I came in and sat down. “How was school, son?”
“Alright,” I answered.
Pa stood. “Alright.” He patted Micah on the back. “Don’t you worry, Micah. We’ll be just fine.”
“Worry about what?” I asked as we walked toward the horses.
“There were a couple confederates here today, son,” Pa explained. “One was a Major and one a Corporal. They…uh…didn’t much care for me. Micah’s afraid they might cause trouble.”
“You think they will, Pa?”
“Oh, no. They’re okay.”
As we started for home, I asked, “What about the one Micah has in jail?”
“The one what?” Pa asked.
“The man Micah arrested this morning. What about him? You reckon he’s trouble?” I asked.
“Oh,” Pa grinned. “That man. Yes, Micah told me that you stopped by his office at about…oh…8 o’clock.” We rode silently for a few seconds. “By the way, doesn’t school start at 8 o’clock?”
“Yeah, around there,” I brushed it off. “Now, about this prisoner Micah has. Which outlaw was he again?”
Pa laughed. “Let’s hurry and get home, son. You have homework and I want you to help me with the fence.”
I didn’t have time to bring that subject up again until I was about ready to go to bed. I sat on the porch and thought on who the prisoner could be locked up in Micah’s jail. Pa stepped out and lit a cigar. “Time for bed, son.”
“In a little, Pa,” I answered.
Pa reached down and grabbed my by the arm. “Now, Mark.”
“Yes sir.” I started inside, but stopped at the door. “Pa?” Pa had sat down on the steps. He turned to look up at me. “I think that prisoner was on a wanted poster. You reckon Micah knows that?”
Pa smiled. “Goodnight Mark!”
I didn’t understand why Pa wouldn’t tell me who the prisoner was. I wanted to know really bad! In fact, curiosity kept me awake really late that night. The next morning, Pa had to threaten splashing cold water on me if I didn’t get out of bed. I hurried and dressed then sat down at the table. “Hurry and eat your eggs so you won’t be late for school.” Pa grabbed his work shirt and put it on. “I gotta go chop wood.”
“100.00!” I declared.
“What’s that?” Pa asked.
“100.00!” I turned and smiled at Pa. “That prisoner Micah has is worth a thousand dollars.”
Pa walked over to where I was sitting. “Mark, your fishing, but the fish aren’t biting! You get my meaning?”
I think I understood. “You mean that if I keep fishing, I might catch something like…say a tree branch or a rock?” Pa nodded. “I get your meaning.”
Pa smiled at me and walked out the door. I reckon the prisoner was some kind of top secret thing. Micah and Pa sure didn’t trust me to keep a secret!
I finished eating and put my dishes in the sink. Pa was chopping away. “Mark! Come on, son!” Pa called. “And bring me a kerchief, will ya?”
I obeyed. I ran out the door and told him that I’d help him finish the chopping if he waited until I got home. But he firmly announced I was to go to Miss Milly’s after school – she had some shirts she wanted to take in for me. Pa said they’d fit me in about six months. “Oh Pa!” I groaned.
I was already running late, but I decided to go through town anyhow. I slowed at the Marshal’s office, but Micah stepped out the door and folded his arms. I waved and went on to school. The kids were talking about a man in Micah’s jail. Everyone wondered who it was. As soon as they saw me, several of the boys hurried up to me. “Mark, who is he?”
“I don’t know,” I answered with a shrug.
“Oh, come on now! Your Pa and the Marshal are best friends. Micah’s practically your grandfather! Come on, Mark…you can tell us!”
“I don’t know!” I answered. I looked around at the kids. They didn’t believe me. “Honest I don’t!” I sighed. “I tried and tried to get Pa to tell me. Pa finally warned me I’d get in trouble if I didn’t stop asking, so I stopped.”
Mr. Griswald announced it was time for school to start. Billy sat in behind me. “Mark,” he whispered. “I’ll give you this bag of candy if you tell me.”
He shoved the bag in my hand. “No, I can’t!” I started. I tried to hand it back to him.
“Mark McCain, stand up!” I gasped as I stared at the bag of candy. Then I stood. “What do you have in your hand?”
I turned and looked at Billy. He begged me not to snitch on him. I shook my head at Billy. After my last punishment from Mr. Griswald and Pa for covering for him, I wasn’t about to go through all that again! “It’s not mine. It’s Billy’s!” I stated.
Mr. Griswald walked toward us. “Is that true, Mr. Davis?”
Billy swallowed what was in his mouth, but didn’t answer. “I see,” Mr. Griswald stated. “Then Mark, why do you have it?”
“Well, Billy gave it to me. He told me he’d give it to me if I told him who the prisoner was!” I explained.
I heard the kids mumbling. Mr. Griswald turned and looked at the other kids. “Silence!” He ordered. “I don’t know what this is all about, but I think you should both stay for one hour after school.”
I turned and glared at Billy. “Bur Mr. Griswald, I didn’t-“ I started.
“That’s all, Mark. Take your seat.”
Mr. Griswald put me to work on the wood pile. It took the entire hour to chop the wood. I hurried over to Milly’s when I was done. Milly turned and crossed her arms when I came in. “Well,” she said as she started towards me. “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”
“I-I’m sorry,” I said. “Mr. Griswald kept me after.”
“That Mr. Griswald! I swear, I didn’t even do nothing this time and I still got in trouble! That snotty Billy Davis…Why, you wait till I get my hands on him! I’m sure gonna teach him a lesson!”
“Mark McCain!” Milly scolded me. “Fighting will not help you. Just take your punishment and go on!”
“Well, but I didn’t do anything!” I insisted. “I was just sitting there and Billy tried to give me his candy if I told him who the prisoner was!”
Milly took me by the arm and led me to the back. She turned me around and put the shirt to my back. “Well, I don’t know what your father’s thinking, but it’s his money I guess!” She told me to put the shirt on.
“Milly, do…you know who the prisoner is?” I suddenly asked.
Milly rolled my sleeve up and began sticking a pin in it. “What prisoner?” She asked through a mouthful of pins.
“The one in Micah’s office!” I declared. I turned. She stuck me with a pin. “Ouch!”
Milly grabbed the pins out of her mouth. “Mark McCain, will you stay still?” She demanded in a firm voice. She stuck the pins back in her mouth and went back to work. “The way you wiggle, it’s a wonder your father gets you to bed at night.”
“Well, I reckon he doesn’t deem that as an easy task,” I mumbled. Milly grabbed my arm and held it straight out. “Now, about that prisoner. Which outlaw is he?”
Milly didn’t answer but kept working. “Isn’t he the man on the Wanted Poster?”
“I don’t know what prisoner you’re talking about,” Milly declared.
“Of course not,” I mumbled.
Milly pulled the shirt off of me, then put another on me. I groaned. “Ain’t they all the same?”
“Aren’t,” Milly corrected me. She pulled my arm through the sleeve. “No they aren’t. I have to fit all three of them on you.”
Milly went to work on the third shirt soon after. I heard Micah’s voice behind me. “It’s 5:30, Milly. Want me to lock the doors?”
Milly nodded. I turned around with a gasp. I suddenly felt another pin poke me. “Ouch!” I jumped. “That hurt!”
Milly annoyingly took the pins out of her mouth. “Mark!”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m sorry!” She went back to work. “Micah, you still got that outlaw?”
“What outlaw?” Micah asked as he lowered the shades.
“The one in your jail. You know, the one from the Wanted Poster.”
Micah chuckled. “Don’t know anything about an outlaw on the Wanted Poster being in my jail, boy.” He turned to look at me. “The man I arrested yesterday left with the Yuma Deputy on the afternoon stage.”
“Who was it?” I asked.
Micah cleared his throat. “Well, I reckon you can know now. He turned from the door and gave Milly a wink. “His name was Dabs Martin. He’s-“
“The bounty hunter?” I asked. “Dabs was here and you didn’t let me see him?”
Micah nodded. “That’s right.”
I gasped and hurried toward him. Another pin suddenly pierced my skin. “Mark!” Milly yelled impatiently.
But I ignored her. “Why Micah, I heard he was in the Yuma prison!”
“He killed a man a few months back near here. Since then, there’s been talk that he should be lynched. I thought it was a good idea to make sure no one knew he was here.”
Micah nodded. “Even you.”
Milly grabbed me and turned me back around. “Now Mark, the next time you move, you’re gonna get a firm smack on your back side!” From the tone of her voice, I was guessing that she wasn’t joking.
“Dabs Martin!” I groaned. “Why Milly, he was a bounty hunter and killed some thirty wanted men during his time! He finally shot an innocent man in the back by mistake. That sent him to jail.”
“Mm Hm,” Milly answered absent mindedly.
“He said he was really sorry for doing it. He just got a bit careless. Pa never did like him much. Said even a bounty on a Wanted Man isn’t cause for killing a man outright. He should bring him in for a fair trial like anyone else. You think Pa’s right?”
“Mm Hm,” Milly answered.
“Yeah, I guess he is.”
Milly took the third shirt off. “It’s getting dark, Mark. I think you should hurry on home. I bet your father’s worried about you.”
I nodded and hurried down the road toward home. I was sure Pa would skin me alive when I got home. He was probably worried sick about me. In fact, I’m sort of surprised I didn’t meet him on the trail.
When I got to the ranch, everything was quiet. I ran into the house. "Pa, I'm home. Sorry I'm late but Mr. Griswald-" I stopped dead in my tracks. The door was standing wide open, but there were no lights on. I walked inside and looked around. The house was in shambles! Someone had been here and tore up everything! I suddenly knew something was wrong…very wrong!
I ran out the door and jumped on Blue Boy. Then I raced him back into town as fast as I could! Someone had broken into our house and taken Pa! My heart was pumping as I raced to town. “Please let him be alright! Please let him be alright!” I kept praying as I kicked Blueboy’s flank even harder. “Oh God, don’t let them…whoever it is…hurt my Pa! Please let him be alright!”
I stopped in front of Micah’s office and jumped off! “Micah!” I screamed as I ran inside to find him. Micah was sitting at his desk reading the newspaper. “Micah, somebody’s got Pa!” I screamed.
Micah stood and hurried over to me. He put a hand on each of my shoulders. “What?”
“Somebody came out to the ranch today and ransacked the house! It’s in shambles and Pa’s missing!” I was gasping for breath now. Micah reached for his rifle. “Get yourself a drink of water, son.”
I obeyed. “Why don’t you go wait at Milly’s. I’ll find-“
“Oh no!” I declared. “Micah, I’ll be thirteen years old soon. That’s old enough for me to be out there looking! You make me go to Milly’s, and I’ll sneak out and go looking for him myself!” I folded my arms and held my head up high. “I can either go with you or by myself.”
Micah shook his head. “Like father, like son.” He patted my shoulder. “Come on, boy!”
We rode back to the house. My heart sank when there were still no lights on. It made me sick to see the place in shambles. Micah lit a lantern and looked around the house. “Dishes still in the sink.”
I walked over. “Those are the breakfast dishes from this morning, Micah.” I hurried outside. “He didn’t get the wood stacked. They must’ve taken him this morning!” I walked around the yard. “Micah, who took him?”
“I don’t know, boy.” Micah held his lantern down. “Looks like your father’s footsteps here.”
I bent down and studied them. “Looks like his alright. But they aren’t his normal stride. Looks almost like he’s having to walk faster then normal like he’s-“
Micah and I looked at each other. “A prisoner. See how close together they are. And they stay that close together all the way. I’d say he was chained and was probably being forced to go off that way.” Micah shone the lantern up a ways. “Come on, boy.”
We followed the well-marked trail a few miles. But suddenly it was gone as they went through water. I hurried across the creek but didn’t see any footsteps on the other side. Micah shone his light around. “Well, we can’t see anything tonight, boy. Might as well make camp and rest until the sun comes up.”
“No!” I declared. “I want to keep going!”
Micah put a hand on my arm and pushed me down on a rock. He built a fire, then came to sit beside me. “Now, listen to me, Mark. If you want to start acting like a man, you need to start thinking like one – and that means knowing when to go and when to stop. All you’d do is wear yourself out. We can’t see anything. We’ll be more help to your father in the morning if we just stay here for the night and try to pick up his trail tomorrow.”
I was too worried to sleep. I dozed off a couple times, but never quite made it to sleep. The minute it was light enough, Micah and I started on our way again. We went back to the creek and walked down the bank a ways. “Micah!” I shouted. “Right here!”
Micah nodded. “Good job, boy! You picked up his path!” We hurried along.
After a couple more miles, I stopped and shook my head. “They’re leaving a good path for us to follow. Seems like they’re careless.”
Micah suddenly gasped. “Or crazy!” Micah turned and stared at me. “Of course! Those two men from Tuesday! They feel that your Pa put them in that prison camp.”
“The two-“ I started. Then I voice died off. “Micah, from what Pa told me, they’re loco!” I declared. “Let’s hurry!”
Suddenly, a shot rang out. Micah and I stopped dead in our tracks and stared at each other. “Stay here, boy,” Micah declared.
“I want to come!”
Micah turned and gave me a stern look. “I said stay here! You don’t have a gun!”
That was a good point. I stayed back and waited. It seemed like I stood there forever before I heard someone coming. I turned and stared. “Pa!” I cried. I ran up to him and threw my arms around his waste. “Oh Pa!” I broke the embrace and stared at his face. He’d been beaten. His shirt was beyond repair and he looked completely exhausted! I touched Pa’s cheek. “What did they do to you?”
Pa shook his head. “Nevermind, son. Just get me home!”
Pa took Micah’s horse and we started for home. Micah was going to stay behind and clean up the damage. On the way home, Pa told me a creepy story about how those two men tried to lock him up into a cage! He was able to escape, killing both of them.
I jumped off Blue Boy. “I’ll get you a warm bath ready, Pa. You go lay down.”
Pa nodded. I hurried and boiled pan after pan of water until I had enough for a bath. I went to the chair and woke Pa up. Then I helped him to the tub. He scrubbed himself for a long time. I felt he was trying to scrub off more then dirt. He didn’t tell me a lot of details, but I figured he’d just soon forget then dredge them all up again.
I went to fix him a big breakfast. Pa came from the bedroom feeling really clean. “I have breakfast all fixed for ya, Pa.”
Pa sat down and began eating. “Even your food sounds good right now, son!” Pa declared. I was exhausted, but I had to take care of Pa. Pa told me I should get to bed.
It was Friday morning and I wanted to do some chores. Micah came in just then and dropped the soldiers’ saddle bags on the table. I noticed the Confederate flag. I didn’t much like seeing it at all, but those two soldiers were cowards – what with taking my Pa like they did! They didn’t deserve to have such a sacred piece of cloth!
Pa explained it to me. "You can't rightly blame them son. Donnerton Prison was responsible for that. This flag stands for the bravery of all the men who fought and died under it. The men who fought against it. Only to prove in the end that victor and loser were one and the same-free men in a free country." Pa smiled and went back to eating.
Micah picked up the bags. “Well, I best get back to town.” Micah stopped at the door and turned. “You two should get some sleep. I’m sure Billy would be glad to do some work for a few days, what with a new mouth to feed.”
“No, we can do the chores,” I answered.
But Pa shook his head. “You’re going to bed, Mark,” Pa announced sternly. He stood up and threw his napkin on the table. “We both are.” Pa nodded to Micah. “Tell him we’d appreciate the help.”
Pa grabbed my arm and led me to the bedroom. I undressed and got under the covers. “Eleven o’clock in the morning, and we’re going to bed!”
“Gladly!” Pa declared as he laid down on his bed. “Gladly.”
There was no way I was going to go to sleep! Who could sleep with the sun shining like that?”
“Mark, wake up son!” I opened my eyes. Pa stood over me. “Supper’s ready.”
“Supper?” I asked sitting up. “What time is it?”
“About four,” Pa answered. As we started eating, Pa asked, “Why is it that it took you so long to figure out I was gone?”
The fork stopped at my mouth and I groaned as I told him my story of the prisoner. Pa didn’t say anything after I finished, but just sat there eating silently. He cleared his throat. “I hate to bring this up, but I remember and incident that happened about six months ago, and the school board made a rule that no candy was allowed in the classroom.”
“I know,” I stated. “Pa, I didn’t bring the candy in – Billy did.”
Pa nodded. “You didn’t have any candy because Milly wouldn’t sell you any.” My head popped up. “Oh, a father knows, Mark. A father knows…everything!”
I laughed. “It’s alright, Pa. I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Pa and I looked at each other for a few moments. Then Pa patted my head and smiled. “So am I, son. So am I!”
*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
Dark Day a North Fork
around The McCain Ranch