The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

The Score is Even Episode 105
Mark’s story

There’s nothing I like doing more then spending time with my Pa, so when Pa asked me one evening if I’d be interested in riding along with him while he delivered some important papers for Micah down south near Mexico, I just jumped from my chair at the supper table and shouted, “Oh Boy!” Pa rolled his eyes as my chair hit the floor.

It’s so much fun to just ride along beside my Pa as we chat about stuff along the way. I usually do more talking then Pa, but I have a lot to talk about. And those are opportunities I learn so much from my Pa.

Then as we settle into camp each night, I gather the firewood and make the fire while Pa goes out hunting for something to eat. One night he came back with a good mess of fish. I jumped up, declaring I didn’t know Pa could fish. He laughed and reminded me that when he was a boy, he’d go fishing in the lake too – and they even had fishing poles back then! I laughed, telling Pa I no longer thought he was THAT old.

As we were on our last leg of the journey, I asked Pa why we had to deliver the papers in person. Pa said the papers were really important and needed to be delivered quickly and privately. I didn’t ask him what was in the papers, because I reckoned he wouldn’t tell me anyhow.

After delivering the papers, Pa asked me if I’d like to stay at the hotel that night instead of camping out. I shouted “Oh boy!” and practically ran to the hotel. But I wasn’t too excited when I was sitting up in the room looking out the window and Pa walked in to announce the attendant was drawing a bath for me. I let out a big groan. “Oh Pa!”

Pa shook his finger at me. “Now, you’ve been on the trail for two and a half days, boy! A man knows when he stinks, and you stink!”

I stood up. “Well, gee Pa, you don’t smell like a valley of lilies either!”

Pa playfully smacked me on the seat of my pants and said, “I know. That’s why I’ll take a bath after you get yours. I want you to eat right after your bath then go to bed.”

I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could go to bed whenever I wanted! I told Pa as much, but he said it wasn’t all that simple.

The next morning, we ate breakfast down in the dining room with the allowance Micah had given us for delivering the documents. Pa said we best get started back. We slept under the stars that night again. Pa told me a scary story as it was a new moon that night and he wanted to see if I was still scared of the dark.

I was. Pa had to sleep right next to me that night. “So much for becoming a man,” Pa muttered as we started to fall asleep.

“Oh Pa!”

The next morning, we began our travels again. We hadn’t gone very far when we suddenly saw a great big buck. I mean…you should have seen this buck! He was huge! I mentioned to Pa that he should bring him down, but Pa reminded me we were still two days from home. I remembered something Pa had taught me about not killing something you didn’t aim to eat. “And don’t you forget it,” Pa ordered me.

Suddenly, a gunshot was heard from somewhere. I figured someone else was out hunting, but Pa had a good sense about things, and quickly mentioned that they weren’t shooting for sport.

Now, you need to understand my Pa. He is the nicest and most caring person in the whole, entire world! If he even suspects someone is in trouble – good or bad – he’d lay down his life for them. Pa reads his Bible a lot, and that’s one of the verses he quotes a lot – about that being a great mark for a man. He told me once that he’d rather die a hero then live a coward.

That’s why he suddenly wanted to go investigate where that shot had come from. We ended up at a shack and Pa, as usual, told me to stay by the horses while he went to investigate. He was never sure of what he’d run into.

I did get off my horse and watch Pa walk into that shack. But it wasn’t long before I suddenly heard a gunshot come from the shack – the same one my Pa had just entered! “Pa!” I shouted as I rushed inside.

I found Pa lying on the floor, holding his head. My heart leapt into my throat as I bent down beside him and placed his head in my lap. I didn’t start to think there was danger in there. If my Pa was in danger, I wanted to be right there with him.

I looked up at the two men standing in a doorway and begged them to help Pa. They just looked at each other – didn’t even say a word. I looked down at Pa. “You’re bleeding awful bad!”

I gently laid his head down as the men walked out. I stood up and found a rag to wipe Pa’s wound with. I tried wetting it with the pump, but no water came out. I hurried outside the back to the well. It was dry.

Quickly, I ran back inside and lifted his head back onto my lap. “It’s alright, Pa,” I soothed him as I gently wiped at the wound. The bullet had grazed the side of his head pretty badly. Pa pressed a hand to his forehead and groaned. “If they had shot just a hair closer…” Pa groaned again. I hastely dabbed at his wound. “It’s alright, Pa.”

The door opened. I turned and saw the older man walk back in. I turned my attention back to Pa until I realized something horrible.

That man had a gun in his hand! He planned to use it! I turn back to him and see the expression on his face. “No!” I screamed as I jumped up and ran over to him. I wouldn’t allow anyone to kill my Pa! I’d rather die my Pa’s hero then live knowing I stood by and allowed something like this to happen! I clung to the man and fought with everything I had. I tried to kick the gun out of his hand, but I wasn’t big enough. I struggled and fought desperately.

I couldn’t loose! Pa depended on me!

But soon, I knew he was stronger then me. I froze when I heard a gunshot. My heart stopped beating in that instant. ”Pa!” I cried, believing he had been killed.

I would be next.

But I opened my eyes and realized the gun wasn’t pointed toward Pa. The man had the gun pointed to the floor as he shot. He shot again. I was frozen from shock! This man had come in here to shoot us and yet…he was going to let us live.

“It’s alright son. Now, you be quiet,” he said in a hushed tone.

I slowly turned to him. “You…you didn’t-“ I whispered.

“I couldn’t,” he answered. “I just couldn’t do what Jax told me to do.”

I ran to Pa and threw my arms around him. “Thank you!” I whispered. “Thank you for saving my father!” I wept tears of joy into my father’s shirt.

Pa slowly lifted his arms and put them around me. “Shh…” he hushed me. “It’s alright now, son. Everything’s okay.”

The man threw some bandages down at me. “Here.” I turned and looked at him. He was bent down close to us. “Now, you clean that wound out best you can before you put this bandage on.” The man looked at Pa’s head. “It’ll get infected. You need to get him to a doctor fast.”

The man stood and turned to leave. “Mister?” I whispered loudly.

The man turned and looked at me. My eyes filled with tears again as I grabbed hold of Pa’s hands. “Thank you…thank you for saving my Pa.”

“What about your own life?” the stranger asked. He seemed surprised I didn’t mention that.

I turned and looked at Pa. I placed a hand on his cheek. I didn’t take my eyes off of his as I spoke. “Well, without his, my life wouldn’t be too happy right now.” Pa and I smiled at each other. I heard the door open and close. We were alone.

I helped Pa stand up and began carefully wiping the wound. “It’s bad, Pa. It’s real bad. You need a doctor.”

Pa moaned again as I began wiping the cut. My hand was shaking something awful. Pa noticed and suddenly grabbed it. “Everything’s okay now, Mark.”

“Pa, I was so afraid!” I lowered my head. “I was sure that-“ My voice drifted off. I couldn’t put my thoughts into words.

I didn’t have to. “He didn’t kill us. We’re alive…and fine…”

“For now,” I answered worriedly as I began wrapping the bandage around his head. “We’ve got to get you to a doctor.”

Pa was sitting up now. He had come back to his senses. “Mark, just what did happen?”

“I don’t know…exactly,” I answered in a low voice. “There were two men in here when I ran in. Then that one man…he came back to kill you but said he couldn’t.”

I went to look out the window. They were riding away from the shack. I hurried back over to Pa and began tying the bandage at the back of his head. I informed him they had taken our horses and supplies.

I was worried. I had seen that gash on Pa’s head and knew it was bad…really bad! “How are we gonna get you to a doctor?” I asked again. That was the only thing I was concerned about right now. Pa started to stand. I hurried and bent down in front of him to stop him from standing. “You better take it easy, Pa!” I cried. “You’re still bleeding.” The wound was deep and would soon become infected if he didn’t get to a doctor soon!

I wondered if he could stay here while I hurried to fetch a doctor. Pa needed some water. I had already looked for some so I could wash out his wounds. I hated to inform him there was no water. Suddenly I knew – he couldn’t stay here.

Pa looked at me. He knew that too. We would both have to leave. I wanted to kick myself! Why wasn’t I bigger…older…so I could take charge and leave my Pa here? Pa said we could make it to the Merar Ranch. I wasn’t so sure, but I had to trust my Pa.

Suddenly, I began thinking on the old man. I knew he wasn’t the murdering outlaw like that other guy. I knew he was in trouble, but some how I wanted to repay him for what he had done for my Pa and me. He deserved that. “Pa, if somebody asks you to do something wrong and you don’t do it, can you still be blamed for it?”

Pa turned and sat down on the table. As always, he wanted to understand my question before he answered. He placed a hand on my shoulder and studied me. “What are you getting at, son?”

I think he knew – but he still needed me to confirm what I was thinking. “Well, the-the older man…he was supposed to kill us and didn’t. He even helped me fix your head.” Pa told me that his one good deed didn’t excuse all the bad in his past.

I understood Pa’s moralistic statement, but I still wondered on that.

Pa put a hand on me and led me toward the door. But I stopped and turned back to the dead man lying on the floor. Pa said we’d send someone back to bury him. I hated leaving him there like that. It seemed so wrong. But again, I knew I was too little yet to take on such a task – and anyway, I needed to get Pa to a doctor.

I grabbed a hold of Pa’s arm as we started out the door. I knew he was unsteady. “You just lean on me, Pa. I’ll help you,” I said.

Pa heard it in my voice. I never could disguise my feelings too well. I held onto his arm as we walked across the yard and started down the path. “This isn’t your fault, Mark.”

“Maybe not,” I answered with a sigh. “But if I were older…if I were bigger…”

“You would have had a gun and maybe now we’d both be dead, son.” I stopped and looked up at him. I didn’t understand. Pa put a hand on my shoulder and bent down to look straight into my eyes. “Our being unarmed saved our lives, son. Remember that.”

I wasn’t sure what he was telling me at the time. But as I grew older, I began to understand. My being so young and unarmed saved my Pa’s life. They weren’t threatened. They had felt safe.

Pa patted my shoulder. “You walk in front of me, Mark.”

I didn’t want to. I wanted to hold on to him. “I need you,” Pa said with another moan as he grabbed his head. “I need you to check the path in front of me. I can’t move my feet as well and don’t want to trip. It’s an important job.”

I loved my Pa. I wasn’t the little ten year old boy that would fall for a ploy like that anymore. He wanted to keep me busy – to make me think I was doing some important task to help him. Even in his pain, he was thinking on me…as always! Part of me wanted to insist on staying right there beside him so he wouldn’t stumble. But the other part of me – perhaps the adult part of me – wanted to let Pa keep his dignity and walk on his own.

I nodded with a proud smile. “Yes sir,” I answered.

We traveled until it was dark. Pa was getting weaker. I knew we had to find a doctor – and fast!

Suddenly, hope sprang in my heart. Up ahead I saw a campfire. Praise be! I told Pa I saw a campfire. Finally, I could do something to help Pa. I could get him some food and water and we could get him on a horse. I started forward, but Pa stopped me.

Again, I had forgotten one of those teaching from Pa. How many times had he told me not to walk into a situation blind? I should stop and assess the situation. He reminded me now, and I wanted to suddenly kick myself. There’s the little boy in me shining through again!

We started forward quietly. I studied them, trying to see if they looked familiar. Suddenly, my eyes focused on one of the horses. Blue Boy! “Pa, those are the-“ I started.

But Pa suddenly put a finger to his lips to hush me. He motioned for me to stay there while he slowly and quietly made his way down to the camp.

My heart was beating fast at the danger Pa was putting his weakened self in. I watched from the bushes as he crept down there. I watched as Pa grabbed his rifle and pointed it to one of the men. There was yelling from Pa. I breathed heavily as I watched Pa throw a rope to them.

I started down to the camp. “Stay right there, Mark!” Pa yelled sternly. “Don’t you move until I tell you to, you hear?”

I stayed there, watching Pa secure the men’s hands in ropes. Pa ordered them to sit under a tree. He held his rifle on them and shouted to me. “Okay, son. Come on down.”

I hurried down to the camp. His wound was bleeding again. I reached up to touch it, but Pa pulled away from me. “Go fetch some water, son.” I stared at him silently. I needed to stay here with him. “Go on, son. Do as I say,” Pa ordered.

I grabbed a pitcher and hurried down to the water. I filled it and started back. Pa told me to heat the water up for coffee. We would have mush for our supper.

I didn’t complain. It was better then nothing!

I poured a cup of water and hurried over to Pa. I bent down beside him. “I need to clean your wound, Pa.”

“No, I’m alright,” Pa answered.

“No you aren’t, Pa! I have to clean it!”

“I said I’m fine, Mark!” Pa’s voice was harsh and I suddenly stood and backed away. Pa closed his eyes, regretting how he had spoken to me. “Hurry and fix the mush so we can get to sleep.”

Hot tears burned my eyes. I wanted to help him so badly, but Pa was so proud. I stared at him for another second. Pa’s eyes darted back to me. “Now, Mark.”

I had no choice but to obey him.

After I ate, Pa told me to get to sleep. Again, I stood there and stared at him. “Mark, when I give you an order, you follow it!” Pa suddenly snapped at me. “Are you forgetting that today?”

“No sir,” I answered in a calm, steady voice. I slowly walked to Pa and bent down in front of him. Pa had this look in his eye that told me I was to obey his order regardless of how I felt. “Pa, I-“

I lowered my head. Pa’s voice suddenly softened. “What is it, son?”

I swallowed. “I-I’m sorry I’ve been slow to obey today. It’s just that…” Again, my voice drifted off.

“Well, out with it, Mark.”

“Pa, you…Well, I mean I…” Pa gave an impatient sigh. I bravely lifted my head. “Well, you are not well, rather you want to admit it or not. You are getting weaker, Pa, and I can’t just stand by and watch you act as if nothing’s wrong! How can you ask me to go to bed when you obviously need my help?”

Pa stared at me for a long time without saying a word. His eyes suddenly grew stern and he pressed his lips together in a thin line. “Because,” he answered in a very firm voice. “I am your father and want to take care of you. When you become a father you will understand this fact. Until then, I give the orders and you obey. If you are asleep, I don’t have to worry about you. Now-“ Pa put a very firm hand on my shoulder and looked straight into my eyes. “Go…to…bed.”

I didn’t answer, but turned and went to bed.

I didn’t sleep too well that night. I kept waking up to check on Pa. After the way he acted the night before, there was no way I was about to lift my head from the pillow. I simply looked over at the spot he was watching from and saw him sitting there awake.

Sometime in the night, I did manage to fall into a deep sleep. I woke up early the next morning, but didn’t dare stir yet. I knew I should wait until Pa came over and deliberately woke me up. I didn’t want to cause any more trouble.

I knew why Pa spoke to me the way he did. He didn’t like having me in the middle of a dangerous situation – never has handled it very well. But I must admit that I was sure glad I was there. There’s no telling what Pa would have done if he hadn’t had me to consider. Pa wasn’t feeling good, and he knew he was weakening every minute. That combined with his worry for me made his patience and tolerance a bit rattled. That’s why I held no grudge toward him for the way he spoke to me.

I laid still as Pa walked over and shook me. “Wake up, son. Get the coffee on and mix up the flapjacks.”

We had all the supplies we needed for flapjacks. That’s something Pa and I always ate on the trail because it was something easy.

Pa continued to keep a careful eye trained on the outlaws as I took them their breakfast and coffee. I sat beside Pa as we ate in silence. “What are we gonna do now?” I asked Pa.

Pa turned and looked at me. He saw the worry in my eyes. “We’ll keep making our way to that ranch, son.”

“Alright,” I answered. I sat my plate down and turned to Pa. The dried blood around his head told me it was getting worse. It gave me goose bumps just looking at it. I knew it was getting bad. “Pa, when we get there, will you stay put until I get you a doctor?”

Pa darted his head toward me. His eyes softened as he looked into my moist ones. A small smiled played at the corner of his lips. He suddenly laid a hand on my cheek. “How did I get so blessed with a wonderful son?” The smile finally broke out on his face. “When we get there, I’ll wait and relax until you fetch me a doctor. Does that meet with your approval?”

I smiled. “Oh, Pa!”

The men asked for coffee. Pa kept his rifle ready and told me to pour them some more coffee but not to get to close.

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t take Pa’s advice. The old man – the one who saved my Pa…He started telling me about the son he had. The next thing I knew, I was about to loosen the ropes from his hands. “Mark!” I suddenly heard Pa’s warning. “Is there any of that coffee left?” From the tone of his voice, I could tell he was annoyed with me again.

I hurried back over to him and poured the coffee in his cup. He scolded me for not obeying him. I knew I had been wrong. I cared too much – Pa was always telling me that. I never did understand how a person could care too much.

Pa said it was time to break camp. I got the horses packed and ready while Pa sat there and kept his eye on the outlaws.

I worried.

Pa wasn’t strong. He could no longer walk a straight line and his hand had been hot when it touched my cheek earlier. He had a fever. He knew it. I knew it. That wasn’t a good sign.

I gasped when I saw Pa suddenly try to stand. I hurried forward! “Pa, be careful!”

The man named Jax laughed evilly. “Looks like your old man’s gonna die!”

“Stop it!” I screamed. “Stop it!”

“Mark!” Pa put a hand on me again. “Don’t talk to them anymore.” I didn’t answer. Pa suddenly turned his head to me. “You hear me, boy?” I swallowed and nodded my head.

Pa closed his eyes as he tried to steady the throbbing in his head. “Son, I’m only thinking of…of you…This is no place for a boy.” Pa put a hand to his forehead and moaned. “I want you to stay silent when they speak.”

I nodded. Pa turned to the men. “You don’t address my son!” Pa ordered in a loud, harsh voice. “You want to talk, you talk to me. You address my son again and you’ll be talking from your nose!”

I gasped. Pa turned and shot me a warning and I immediately closed my mouth. I brought the horses over to him. “You’ll walk,” he ordered the men. He turned and looked at the horses. “We’ll ride.”

I was glad. I didn’t want to watch my Pa stumble around anymore. He wasn’t well and I could hardly stand to watch him slowly die like this. I had to get him help somehow! Pa ordered the men to stay sitting until he got on his horse. I held Razor’s reins while Pa placed his foot in the stirrup. I could tell it hurt him something awful to mount his horse. A moan escaped his lips, though he tried to keep it from coming. I grabbed a hold on him and shoved him upward as hard as I could.

It took a minute for Pa to get steady on Razor. Razor sensed Pa was hurt and carefully lifted his head to help Pa stead himself. “Thanks, Razor,” I smiled as I patted his head.

We were soon on our way. The men tried to speak, but Pa ordered silence. We traveled all morning that way. When we came to a fork in the road, the men suddenly had the desire to go to North Fork. I sat silently as they argued with my Pa.

I must be honest here. Part of me made me hope Pa would give in to their pleas. Pa was fading fast and I needed to get him to the doctor. I knew, in my heart, that Pa would never give in to their pleas of letting them head for Mexico. He’d shoot them himself before he allowed that. But I had to hope – my Pa came first!

The men mentioned that Pa would soon die. Those words hurt something awful to hear. I’d been fearing Pa was slowly dying all day. Those men had put a voice to my fears, and that sent more worry in my heart. Something had to give…and soon!

It wasn’t long after Pa got those men to moving again before he suddenly groaned. He almost fell out of his saddle. I was riding right beside him and grabbed a hold of him before he fell. “I’m alright,” Pa said in a weak voice.

I shook my head. “No Pa,” I stated. “You aren’t. We’ll stop to rest over there.” I pointed to a clearing just ahead. “I’ll make a fresh pot of coffee and we can rest for a couple hours.” Pa opened his mouth to protest. It broke my heart to see him in such a state. “Just a couple hours, Pa!” I begged him as I held tightly to his hand.

Pa’s eager eyes suddenly softened to agreement as he looked into my worried, tired eyes. He nodded. “Alright, son. We’ll rest.”

Pa pointed his rifle at the men without saying a word. “We don’t feel like it!” Jax declared. “Boy, I think you’re Pa will-“

Suddenly, Pa was off his horse. I thought he was too weak to move, but at their breaking Pa’s specific instructions not to speak to me, he was off that horse and had grabbed Jax around the collar. He held Jax just a few inches from his own face. “I told you not to address the boy!” Pa suddenly shouted. “Didn’t I!” He shook Jax.

I jumped off my horse and started over to Pa. I stopped, knowing I was about to endanger the situation. “Pa, please!” I cried. “Pa, I won’t pay him no mind! Please, let him go!”

Pa turned and looked at me. He closed his eyes as he realized the anger I had just witnessed. With a hard shove, Pa threw him to the ground and ordered, “You two go sit under that tree.” He cocked his rifle. “And don’t disobey my orders again.”

I stared at Pa. He turned and gave me a quick look. I saw the worry and desperation in his face. “Gather the wood for your coffee, Mark.” He grunted that order at me.

I tied the horses to a tree, then began gathering the firewood. I knew why Pa was upset – he had me here and he hated me having to be here in such a dangerous situation. He knew how sick he was getting and that made him even more angry. I wished there was something I could do for him. I allowed the angry, hot tears to flow as I gathered the wood.

I didn’t even look at Pa as I carried the wood back into the clearing and built the fire. I sat the coffee on the fire and sat there, my shoulders slumped, just staring into the fire. When the coffee was ready, I poured Pa a cup. I didn’t hardly even look at him. I took out a piece of jerky from my pocket as I sat back down by the fire and began eating it.

“Mark?” I suddenly heard Pa’s voice. It sounded sorrowful.

I turned and looked at him. “Come here, son.”

I stood and slowly made my way over to my Pa. Pa patted the ground beside him and I sat down. He painfully lifted his arm and put it around me. He drew me close and squeezed me to him. “Mark, I’m worried. That’s why-“ His voice suddenly died.

I laid my head against him and closed my eyes. “I know. It’s me. You are getting sicker.” I spoke softly. I didn’t want the outlaws to hear our conversation. “I’m worried too, Pa.”

Pa rested his chin on top of my head. “I have to protect you son. But right now…” Again, his voice died.

I didn’t know it, but it wasn’t because he stopped talking. It’s because I fell asleep.

The next thing I knew, Pa was shaking me awake. “Wake up, sleepy head.”

I lifted my head from Pa and looked into his face. “I…I’m sorry.” I felt horrible – falling asleep right in the middle of our father-son talk! Pa needed me and I had fallen asleep.

Pa shook his head. “Don’t be. I’m glad one of us is able to sleep. I’ll need your strength.” Pa removed his arm from around my shoulders and began rotating it to get the blood flowing back through. “It made me feel good to have you sleeping next to me like this. It gave me strength.” I looked at him funny, not understanding his statement. Pa laughed. “It’s just-“

I held up a hand as I stood up. “I know…I know…It’s just one of those things I’ll understand when I’m a father.”

Pa chuckled as he accepted my hand I held out to him and stood. He groaned as he again grabbed his head. “Pa?” I started.

Pa patted my shoulder. “I’ll make it, son. I’ll make it.”

I ran and got the horses. Pa cocked his rifle and pointed it to the men. “Alright,” he said as he pointed it to them and put his foot in the stirrup. “Stay right there until I tell you to get up!” Again, Pa painstakingly worked at mounting his horse. Razor again sensed Pa’s condition and did all he could to help. I patted him on the head and smiled. I wished I had a treat for how well he was helping me take care of Pa. I would give him an extra long brushing when we got home – and maybe sneak a couple extra sugar cubes for him!

We were soon on our way again. My hour long nap had given me the strength I needed. Pa was better then before we stopped, but his condition was worsening. I couldn’t help noticing the beads of sweat that broke out on his forehead. At one point, I put my hand to his cheek and sighed. Pa and I just looked at each other and he shook his head. We both knew there was nothing we could do.

Except pray. And silently I prayed all afternoon.

When the sun started sinking behind the trees, Pa pointed to a place for us to make camp. He had been looking for a place with water close by and we finally found it. He sent me to try to find some fish for supper, which I did with little effort.

After supper, I worked at keeping the fire going strong. Pa told me to fetch the bed rolls for the prisoner so we could tuck them in for the night. He tied them and allowed me to cover them up while he walked back to sit down.

I couldn’t believe how bad he was getting. Pa would have never allowed me to go near the prisoners, much less taken his eye off of them. I knew he was fading fast.

I went over and grabbed a blanket to cover Pa up with. He needed sleep so badly. He needed to be at the doctor’s. But he never complained – not once! After I secured the blanket around him, I studied the bruises on his face. They were really bad. I didn’t tell Pa how bad the gunshot wound on his head was – I didn’t think I needed to. Pa knew it was really bad.

I wanted to put another bandage on his head – the gash was so bad! I just stayed kneeled beside him with my hand on his chest, begging him to let me bandage it. It was all I could do – but it was something. Pa told me to turn in and get to sleep.

I knew Pa’s mind was weakening with the rest of him. I’d watched him all day and knew he was no longer thinking clearly. I knew I took him at a disadvantage when I asked him if I could stay up and guard the prisoners while he slept. If Pa was in his right senses, no power on earth would have convinced him to take a chance. But I knew his health was very, very poor. He needed his sleep.

Pa finally permitted me to sit up while he slept. I felt guilty for using his weakened mind in such a way, but I was doing it for his own good. I stepped forward and sat down, telling myself that I could do this.

But I was a twelve year old boy with a father who always made sure I got plenty of sleep. No matter where we were or what we were doing, Pa made sure I got the rest I needed to carry on the next day.

I nodded off. But I didn’t go to sleep – not completely anyhow. I jerked awake and looked toward the prisoners. They were laying there fast asleep. I relaxed.

That was my mistake. I should have stayed on guard – kept a watchful eye on the prisoners. But I was never one to stay awake when I was tired. And soon I was asleep.

The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes. Jax was right there at my Pa. I shouted to Pa and he jerked awake, ready with his rifle.

Pa told me to go to bed.

I can’t tell you how disgusted with myself I felt. I had assured Pa he could depend on me, but the truth was that…he couldn’t. I had failed in my task.

I slowly walked to my bedroll and laid down. Tears burned my eyes as I watched Pa tie them up once more, then walk back to his spot under the tree and sit down. I began weeping. I tried to do so quietly.

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Turning over, Pa’s sympathetic face was looking down at me. “Don’t cry, son. It’s not your fault,” he soothed me.

I suddenly sat up and threw my arms around him. “Oh Pa!” I cried into his chest. “I wanted to do this thing – this one thing for you!” Pa patted my back and held me tight. “You are really sick, I know. I’m so worried.”

Pa gently pushed me away and grabbed my face in both his hands. He stared into my eyes, not saying a word. Then he laid me back down on my bedroll and covered me up really good. He sat down beside me, positioning himself in the direction of the prisoners. “Son, you remember when we were traveling through the desert a little over a year ago and a rattler spooked the horses? You remember?” I nodded. “Do you remember how bad things got?”

“I remember, Pa,” I said.

Pa kept his hand on my back as he laid my head on his lap. “I was hurt then too. You remember?” I nodded. I didn’t think we were going to get out of that alive. I was almost dead by the time I got help. When we arrived back in the desert, I was sure Pa was dead. “I thought I was going to die. I even wrote a letter to Micah.”

“I know,” I nodded as my eyes became droopy. Pa looked down at me and we smiled at each other.

“We’ll be fine, son. We’ll be fine.”

I fell asleep. The next thing I knew, Pa was shaking me awake. It scared me a bit because the last thing I remember he was talking softly to me. “Good morning, son,” Pa gave me a smile.

“Morning, Pa. How you feeling?” I asked as I sat up. He seemed to be feeling a little better. I wondered if he had drifted off in the night. He never would have told me if he had.

“Listen son, I’ve been thinking it might be a good idea for you to ride on by yourself,” Pa stated

“And leave you alone with those two?” My Pa was so weak physically and mentally – I worried wondering what would happen!

“You think I can’t handle them?”

“Well, sure, Pa,” I declared. “If you weren’t hurt and tired and-“

Pa told me to quit worrying. I couldn’t do that But from the look on Pa’s face and the sternness in his eyes, I knew that arguing with him would get me no where, and I couldn’t stand the thought of Pa yelling at me right now.

As I walked to the horses, I suddenly remembered back to the desert we had been talking about last night. He had sent me to bed that night to make sure I got a good night’s sleep. The next morning, he had sent me on my way so I wouldn’t watch him die.

I turned, asking him if I had to go. “That’s the way I want it, son.”

I didn’t want to leave him but I knew he was right – he did need help really bad! I would get back to him with help before it was too late! I knew I would!

I jumped on my horse and raced down the lane as fast as I could. Pa had filled my canteen with water, but I didn’t stop to drink – not until Blue Boy started panting. I knew I had to give him something to drink or he would drop. But as soon as Blue Boy was rested, I jumped right back up there and took off down the trail.

Last time I had been on foot. This time I was on horse. Last time I had been on water rations. This time I wasn’t. I kept telling myself this time was different. It was! I knew it was.

We were almost there! I kicked my boots into Blue Boy’s flank and hurried him along. I had been traveling all day. Blue Boy was tired. The Merar Ranch was just ahead.

I rejoiced when I saw the house. I galloped up to the house then jumped off my horse. “Mark!”

I turned to see the ranch hand from a year ago that had rescued me. “Brent!” I cried.

Brent saw my panicked expression. “Mark, what’s wrong?”

I hurried up to him and clasped his arms with my hands. “It’s my Pa!” I cried. “He’s…he’s hurt…real bad!” I grabbed his hand. “Come on!”

Mr. Merar hurried out of the house. “Mark McCain,!” He looked around anxiously. “Where’s your father?”

“He’s hurt!” I gasped. “He…he was shot! Shot really bad!” I grabbed my horse. “Come on!

Brent grabbed my arm. “Mark, is he in danger? Why didn’t he come with you?”

I swallowed. “There’s…there’s two men!” I explained the story to them as fast as I could. Brent was feeding Blue Boy and giving him a good, long drink of water while I told my story. Brent turned. “Liam!” He called. “Liam, get over here!”

Liam came over to see what he was needed for. “You go with Mark and Mr. Merar. They’ll explain to you on the way. “I’ll go for the doctor. It’ll have to be Dr. Burrage – ours is out of town.”

We took off. I rode Blue Boy as hard as I could, but Mr. Merrar and Liam made me stop every now and then to water the horse. I was impatient. “You don’t understand!” I cried as Liam was watering the horses. “My Pa’s hurt…hurt really bad!” Mr. Merar mounted his horse. “Those men could kill him easily if he passes out!”

“Come on!” Mr. Merar shouted.

We rode like the devil. “Almost there!” I shouted.

Bang!

I froze for just a second. “Pa!” I cried as I started full speed ahead. I rode into camp and jumped off my horse. “Pa!” I cried as I ran over to him. He was still…so still…”No Pa!” I cried as I lifted his head and hugged him. I thought I was too late. I thought he was dead and I cried.

Pa began gasping as he woke up. I settled his head on my lap as I looked down at his face. Pa looked around trying to figure out what was going on. “Glad you got here in time, son,” Pa mumbled.

I grabbed the canteen and gave it to Pa. He thanked me quietly and painfully started drinking. Mr. Merar picked up Pa’s rifle and brought it over to him. He commented that Pa’s rifle was really dirty. Pa said he just got careless.

Then I saw Liam return with one of the prisoners. It was Andy – the one who had saved our lives. I wondered what would happen to him. Pa said that would be up to the law.

I sat there beside Pa as he drank. Mr. Merar patted my shoulder. “Help me make a travoy,” he said.

I looked down at Pa. “Go on, son. I’ll be okay.”

Mr. Merar brought over some medicine and bandages. He started to clean it. “Get started. Find me some wood that will make a good travoy.”

I stood, but stared down at Mr. Merar and Pa. “You don’t want to see this, son. Go on,” Mr. Merar said.

I walked away, but I heard Pa’s groans as Mr. Merar started cleaning his wound. I didn’t hear much of what he said, but I did hear him mention that the doctor would have to clean it out more. I closed my eyes, praying it wasn’t too late.

Mr. Merar and Liam got Pa on the travoy and we started for his ranch. We went slowly. Pa was passed out again and I rode my horse behind to keep my eye on him. Mr. Merar looked back at me every once in a while.

I was falling out of my saddle by the time I got back to the ranch. Brent hurried up and lifted me out of the saddle. “Let’s get you to bed, son.”

“No,” I cried. “I want to be with my Pa!”

Brent and Mr. Merar both grabbed me and pulled me to a bedroom. “Sleep,” they demanded. “You’re Pa will need you to be strong.”

I was no fool. I knew why they hurried me away. I could hear Pa’s cries from the other room. “Time will tell,” I heard a voice mumble. It was Dr. Burrage.

I walked to the door and opened it. Peaking out, I saw Dr. Burrage and Micah standing over Pa. One was holding a light while the other held something in Pa’s mouth to keep him from crying too loudly. “I think we got it,” Dr. Burrage said in a broken voice. He looked around at the others in the room. “Now we have to wait.”

I stood frozen in the doorway of my bedroom as they carried Pa past me to the room down the hall. Micah was following but suddenly stopped when he saw me. “Mark!” He gasped as he came toward me.

“Micah!” I threw my arms around his neck and buried my head in his chest. “Oh Micah!”

Micah pushed me into the bedroom and closed the door. He sat on the bed with me and held me. “That’s it, boy,” he whispered softly as I cried. “Get it all out. I’m here now.”

I had been so scared. It had been so hard to stay strong and believe Pa would be alright. I had managed to keep myself together. Now I could fall apart.

“I’m sorry I’m not being much of a man right now.”

Micha suddenly reached out and grabbed my chin. He turned my face up to his. I saw the tears on his own cheeks. I gasped. “There’s not many men who are as strong as you, son.”

I embraced him again and cried. I was glad I could let it all out.

I fell asleep in Micah’s arms.

The next morning, I woke up to sunlight shining in the window. I could smell food cooking down the hall. The door opened. “Breakfast, Mark,” Brent announced.

I smiled as I stretched. “How’s Pa?”

Brent opened his mouth to say something. Suddenly whatever he was about to say died. “You leave me be, Micah! No Marshal is going to order me to stay in this bed! I just had a flesh wound for pete’s sake!”

I smiled. “That’s my Pa!”

“The doc said you were to-“ Micah started.

“I don’t care what the confounded doc said!” Pa declared angrily. “I make my own decisions!”

I raced out of the room. Pa stood in the doorway of his bedroom. I put a restraining hand on Pa’s arm. “Now Pa, I-“ I started.

Pa shook a finger at me. “Now, don’t you start on me, young man!” Pa declared. “I know how to take care of you!” Pa put a hand to his head as he started down the hall. “I’ll eat breakfast at the table. Then we’ll head for home.”

“Lucas,” Micah tried. Pa waved him away and kept going. “Dag gommet, Lucas!” Micah’s declaration was followed by a few words I can’t repeat unless I want my mouth washed out with soap. I’ll translate it for you. He told Pa he better not think about going home or he would shoot a hole in his britches and force him on his back.

After breakfast, Pa realized how weak he was. We stayed there for a few more days. Pa was finally well enough to travel.

But they were holding Andy’s trial the next day. I insisted on going. When I was given permission to speak, I stood up and walked in front of the crowd. I nervously held my hat in my hands and looked around. “I…I don’t know what this criminal did before, but I will tell you what he did for me and my Pa. You see, his partner…Jax…He was supposed to kill my Pa and me but he didn’t.” I looked around at the crowd who stared at me in silence. “Well…I…I…I …just don’t think it’s fair if he has to hang for saving our lives!” I turned to the judge. “He’s not like his partner, sir. There’s…well, there’s some good in him. I’m just asking for…” I stopped. “Just – please don’t hang him.”

I hurried to sit down. It didn’t take the jury long to make their decision. They found him not guilty for the murder of that man in the cabin, but guilty on lesser crimes.

Want to know what happened next? Well, maybe someday I’ll tell you his story!

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

The Mescalero Curse

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
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