Early one morning I went out to saddle Blue Boy for school while Pa finished putting breakfast on the table. When I walked into the barn, I didn’t see Blue Boy at first. But then I saw him. He was laying down in his stall. Immediately, I knew there was something seriously wrong. I slowly walked over. “Blue Boy?”
I slowly kneeled down beside me favorite horse and patted him. His breathing was labored, and I could tell he wasn’t well. “Pa!” I yelled, frozen to my spot. “Pa! Come quick!”
Amazingly, I yelled loud enough to send Pa racing out to the barn. “What is it, son?” he asked, his rifle ready for action.
My eyes held fear in them as I turned to look at Blue Boy. Pa silently kneeled down beside me and looked at me. “He’s sick, son.”
“What do we do?” I asked softly.
Pa put an arm around my shoulders and looked into my eyes. “Nothing for now, son. We give it some time. If he’s not better by the time you get out of school, we’ll go see the doc.”
“Wait all day?” I asked. “But what if that’s too long?”
Pa put his hand to the back of my head and smiled. “Mark, don’t worry. I’ll stay close by and keep my eye on him.”
“Can I stay home and care for him?” I needed to be with my friend, to know he would be okay.
“There’s nothing for you to do, son. We’re going to just give him some time. Besides, if you stayed around here, you would do nothing but worry. Right?”
I nodded. “Why don’t you go in the house? I’ll get the blackie saddled for you while you eat.”
I was afraid for Blue Boy. I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes. The horse was a special gift to me from my dying uncle after my last horse, Duster, died, and I couldn’t stand the thought of loosing Blue Boy too! I stopped at the door and turned. Pa was still kneeling down beside Blue Boy, looking him over for symptoms. He turned when he realized I was still there. “Don’t worry, son. Worry won’t do him any good. Go eat.”
After breakfast, I slowly picked up my books and walked out of the house. The blackie Pa had saddled for me was waiting outside, but I walked passed her and into the barn. I bent down once more and patted Blue Boy softly. “Mark?” Pa called from the door.
I slowly turned and saw Pa leaning against the door frame. “You best go so you aren’t late.” Pa reached in his pocket and pulled out a quarter. “Here. Grab a sandwich at lunch from the café.”
I turned back to Blue Boy. “Go on, son.” I nodded as I walked out of the barn and got on my horse.
To say that it was hard to concentrate on my studies would be putting it lightly! The day was long. I didn’t even think lunch time would ever come. When it did, I slowly walked into town and into the café. I needed the walking to think a while. As I sat down, Micah came over and sat with me. “Why the long face, Mark?” he asked.
I looked up at him as he ordered a sandwich. “Blue Boy’s sick. I-I’m scared, Micah. I wanted to stay home and care for him but Pa told me I’d be better off to go to school.”
“You know why?” Micah asked as he pointed at my sandwich, suggesting I take a bite. “He knew that if you stayed home, you’d just stand over that horse and fret and worry about it. It hurts your pa to see you worry.”
I nodded. We sat there quietly for several minutes as we ate our sandwiches. “I just wish I knew what was wrong with him.”
“I’m sure your Pa’s staying on top of the situation, Mark.” Micah finished his sandwich. “Want some pie? My treat.”
I nodded and he ordered two pieces of apple pie. As we sat there and ate, I said, “Maybe I should just go home instead of going back to school.”
“Mark, I know how special that horse is to you. Your Pa told me all about how your Uncle Chuck gave him to you in his dying breath. But one thing you need to remember is that he’s a horse. I remember how you reacted when Duster died. I don’t want to see you or your father go through that again.”
“I won’t. But I still don’t want to loose him.” I stared at my empty saucer.
“You best get back to school, boy,” Micah patted me on the back.
“Yes sir,” I stood and started to slowly walk out. Micah came up beside me and put an arm around my shoulders. He said nothing, but squeezed them in encouragement and walked me out of town.
I stared out the window all afternoon, wishing I knew how Blue Boy was. Finally, Miss Adams dismissed us and I raced home as fast as I could. The blackie was being run to hard, and Pa would holler at me for sure if he knew, but I had to see how my horse was doing.
When I rode into the yard, I saw Pa hitching up the team. “Going somewhere?” I asked.
Pa came up to me and lifted me off the horse. “She’s sweating bad, Mark. Did you run her hard? You got here pretty fast.”
“Yes sir. How is he?”
“He’s no better, son. We’re gonna ride in for the doc. Put your books in the house.”
I did, then I started to go out to the barn, but Pa stopped me. “Let’s go, son.”
All the way into town I fretted and asked Pa if he tried certain things to make him better. Pa smiled, playing along with me. He knew I was just worried and wanting to make sure my colt got everything he needed. We pulled up in front of the doc’s. I couldn’t help but to add one more suggestion. “Maybe we should give Blue Boy some sulfur and molasses, Pa.”
Pa still thought the doc would know better about what to do. I tried to wait patiently while Pa knocked on the door, but I couldn’t help but to worry some more. Until Blue Boy was better, my worries wouldn’t stop, and Pa must have known that. I could tell he was worried too, and that’s what worried me so much. “The doc sure must know his business, taking care of people and horses both,” I stated. My confidence wasn’t too great. Pa told me to stop fretting.
We went over to the marshal’s to see if Micah knew where the doc was. When we walked in, we engaged in a conversation that, for the moment, took our minds off the horse. I was surely surprised to see the doctor in the marshal’s office examining a patient, or come to find out, confirming that the person had died. I listened quietly to the conversation. The dead man had been bushwhacked outside of town while on his way to Silver City to speak in a trial as a witness. Apparently, the trial was for Slade Barrows.
My ears immediately perked up then. I was always interested in a story about a gun slinger! He killed a man near Silver City about a month ago, and the dead man had seen the killing happen. I remembered Pa going to Silver City about a month ago. I had to stay the night with Miss Hattie. Suddenly, excitement boiled within in as I realized my very own Pa had seen Slade Barrows in Silver City with the man he killed and the dead man! My Pa was going to be the new witness as Slade’s trial. Boy, was this exciting!
As we started to leave, I went out ahead of Pa and told the doc about Blue Boy. The doc went to get his bag. While I waited, Freddie came up to see why I was in town. “We came to town to get the doc. But now my Pa’s going to be a witness,” I bragged proudly. “He’s going to go to Silver city. What he knows is gonna hang Slade Barrows!” I declared. Things like this always excited me, and this time was no different.
I must have impressed Freddie because he told Pa that was something! After he left, Pa got on to me for bragging. I didn’t really understand why, he was going to see that Slade Barrows got strung up. Pa reprimanded me then, “Hold on now, I don’t know that I’m going to do anything of the kind. I saw something and it’s my job to get up in court and say so. I’ve always told you to tell the truth. That’s all I’m gonna do.”
I was still awful proud that my Pa was going to be the one to get Slade Barrows what he deserved!
I had to ride in the back of the wagon all the way home. My mind now had mixed emotions. I was still very worried about my horse, but at the same time I was excited about Pa’s going to be a witness at Slade Barrow’s trial!
When we got into the barn, I heard Blue Boy’s labored breathing. He had gotten worse. I hurried over to him and sat down in the hay, patting him lightly. Doc Burrage worked on examining him. I could tell by looking at the doc that Blue Boy wasn’t doing very well. “What are you going to do for him, Doc?” I asked.
“Mark, I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do. We just have to let nature run it’s course.”
I looked up at him. “Is he very sick?” I asked. Dr. Burrage only nodded. I looked down at Blue Boy in sympathy as I gently began petting him.
“The main thing, Mark, is to keep him warm. Try to keep him from kicking the blanket off,” Dr. Burrage told me.
I watched him and Pa talk for awhile. Then the doc walked out of the barn. Pa came over and bent down next to me. I couldn’t look at him, but simply continued to pet him. “I’m sorry, Mark.” I said nothing. “It’s not good.” Pa touched my chin and I looked up at him. “You need to be ready just in case he doesn’t pull through.”
I nodded, not really listening. I wanted the news to be better, but it wasn’t. I just sat there and continued to pet him, praying silently that God would spare my colt from death. Pa looked at me for another moment. “I have to take the doc back into town. You get started on your chores, then work on your homework.”
I just sat there, continuing to pet him. “Come on, boy.” Pa grabbed my arm and pulled me away from Blue Boy. “He’ll be fine by himself. Your being here won’t help either of you. Get to your chores, boy.”
I turned and watched Pa close the barn door. A tear came to my eye as I stared at the barn. “I’ll do the chores in the barn when I get back from town, son.” Pa stated. “I’ll let you go check on your friend later tonight.”
I knew what Pa was doing. He didn’t want me dwelling on Blue Boy, and he was teaching me that when running a ranch, we had to put our feelings for an animal aside and concentrate on the rest of the work. But for the life of me, I didn’t understand how to do it. The whole time I was working on my chores, I looked at the barn and slowly shook my head.
I was in the house working on my homework when Pa came home. But I wasn’t getting much done. Pa started on supper while I worked, but I couldn’t concentrate. Finally, I threw my pencil down on the table. “OH!” I suddenly shouted in frustration.
Pa turned from peeling the potatoes and came over to the table. “Son, dwelling on it won’t make the situation any better. You pray on it, ask God to help the horse, then think on something else.”
“I know, Pa!” I stated.
Pa lifted me from the chair. “Why don’t you come over and peel the potatoes while I get the meat ready for cooking.”
That night before I went to bed, I went out to check on Blue Boy. He was no better, but no worse. I felt bad for him, wishing I could take away some of his pain. I sat down next to him and gave him a loving pat. “I wish I could make you better, my boy,” I stated softly.
“Mark, come on!” Pa called from the house. I walked to the door, then turned around and looked at my horse one last time. “Just hang in there, boy!” I pleaded with him. “You can do it.”
The next morning, I was almost ready for school when I went out to check on Blue Boy again. He was still very sick, and seemed to be getting worse. I was really scared. Pa came out and handed me my books and lunch. “You best get off to school, Mark,” he said gently. Pa put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. “I’ll keep a close eye on him today, son. I promise.”
I nodded. Then I mounted my horse and rode off to school. I tried really hard to put the problem out of my head. All morning, Freddie and some of the other kids kept looking at me funny. I didn’t know what was going on, but I just ignored them. I was in no mood to get into some discussion on the latest gossip that was going around the school.
At lunch, I went outside to have lunch with my best friend, Freddie. When I saw that Pa had once again packed a tomato in my lunch, I talked Freddie into giving me an egg for my tomato. But I soon lost my appetite when Freddie started talking about my Pa being a witness. He acted like my Pa was the one being tried instead of being a witness. That’s when I found out a hard truth. Freddie stated that my father was never going to get to Silver city.
Now, I had known that Pa was warned about the dangers of his going – that he could be bushwhacked before he got there, but I had a lot of confidence in my Pa. With confidence, I stated, “Nobody’s gonna bushwhack my pa!”
Freddie started telling me that my pa was no better then anyone else. That upset me. I knew my pa was better then any other person on this earth! He was the best! “Well, I know my Pa! And if he says he’ll get there, he’ll get there!” I stated.
“He’ll get there in a pine box! That’s how he’ll get there!” Freddie shouted at me. That made me angry. I wasn’t going to allow anybody to talk about my Pa that way. I threw my food down and jumped up, demanding that he take back what he said. When he didn’t, I fought him.
We rolled around in the dirt for awhile. Miss Adams finally came out and broke up our fight. “I want you to take back what you said!” I demanded as she held me away from Freddie.”
“I won’t!” Freddie shot back. “It’s the truth and we all know it! If your Pa tries to go to Silver City, he’ll be shot!”
Suddenly, I froze and turned to look at the other children. They all stood there, staring at me with sympathetic looks on their faces. That’s when I knew that all the children were being told by their parents that my Pa would die. Miss Adams saw that I had calmed down and let go of me. I continued looking into the eyes of all my classmates. Then I turned and ran to my horse. Miss Adams called me and told me to come back into the building, but I raced out of the yard and toward home as fast as I could.
As I rode away, tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t get the look of sympathy the other kids had in their eyes out of my head. Tears started running down my face as I thought on that. First my horse may die, and now my Pa! It was too much for me to handle.
Pa wasn’t home when I got there, so I jumped off the blackie and ran into the barn. I quietly sat down beside Blue Boy and silently thought about the situation. Blue Boy’s breathing was becoming worse, and he seemed to be chilling even more, even with the heavy blanket on him. Then I got to thinking about my Pa. If someone bushwhacked the first witness, how did I know the same thing wasn’t going to happen to my pa? Fear gripped my heart as I thought of my pa being shot down.
I couldn’t take the thoughts that were tormenting me anymore. I sat by Blue Boy and listened to his laboring breaths. Then I began shaking with sobs and crying out loud. Suddenly, I heard my pa walk into the barn. He didn’t come to me, but stood at the end of the stall and looked down at me. I turned my head to him. “He’s no better, Pa.” I stated.
“He might not get better, son,” Pa reminded me gently. “You may just have to face up to it.”
I knew he was right. But that wasn’t what was really bothering me. “I don’t want you to go to Silver City.” I was really hoping I could talk him out of it.
But Pa simply stated, “I know you don’t.”
“Freddy’s pa says you won’t get there!” I stated fearfully.
Suddenly, Pa bent down to look into my eyes. “And I say I will, Mark.” He sat there for a second after that, so I could really study the look in his eyes. I felt a little more confident as we made our way to the well.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked.
Pa started wiping the dirt from my face. “Miss Adams was worried. She came into town to tell me what happened. Freddie told her what the fight was about. It was wrong of him to say the things he said.”
I sat there and stared into my Pa’s face as he gently and lovingly washed the dirt from my face. “Pa?”
Pa stopped and looked into my eyes. “I love you so much,” I suddenly stated.
Pa smiled back at me. “I love you too, son.” Then he laid his hands softly on my cheeks. “We all have trials, son. That’s what life is all about. We’ll get through these like we have all the others.”
I nodded. Smiling into his eyes, I said, “I know we will.”
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t still worried. In fact, I was very worried, and nothing seemed to help. I sat at the table and watched Pa clean his rifle, trying to concentrate on my studies, but not succeeding very well. Pa finally came in and shut the door. “It’s time for bed, son,” he announced.
I nodded my head and stood up. As I got ready for bed I couldn’t help looking towards the door. Finally, the door opened and Pa came in. “Come on, boy. Get under the covers.”
I obeyed him and allowed him to pull the covers up around me. “Pa?” I called as he started to leave. Pa turned around and walked back to the bed. “Will you please sit with me for a bit?” I needed him nearby tonight.
Pa opened his mouth to protest, but then he suddenly locked eyes with me. He smiled and nodded his head as he sat down on the side of my bed and blew out the lantern. “You want to hear a story?”
I nodded as I snuggled down under the covers. Pa’s hand rested on my back as he moved it up and down in a rubbing motion just like when I was little. “Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a little boy named Mark. Mark had a unicorn named Magic, and the name fit him, because he was magic! He could jump over rainbows and leap over….”
Pa’s soothing voice became fainter and fainter as I drifted off to sleep. But I didn’t stay asleep very long. I woke up sometime in the middle of the night and suddenly felt totally alone. The feeling was so real – so believable! I tossed and turned for a bit, but suddenly felt fear grip my heart.
Slowly, I got out of bed and walked over to where my Pa was sleeping. I stood at his bed and looked down at him, wishing it could be like that forever. Part of me wanted to wake him, but I knew he needed his sleep. I quietly walked out of the room and into the kitchen, hoping a glass of milk would calm my thinking down and help me sleep.
But the thoughts continued to walk through my mind. As I stood by the table, I saw nothing but darkness and loneliness. The fears from earlier began to grip me and overwhelm me. I looked around for something to give me hope - for something to give me confidence. But there was nothing – nothing but emptiness.
I opened the door and stared out into the darkness. Even the land was eerie, empty, and lonely. Is this how it could be? Could I be left here in this dark, lonely world all by myself?
But suddenly, out of the darkness, hope came. I don’t know what made him wake up, but I’m certainly glad he did. Because suddenly I wasn’t alone. My pa was there for me in my dark hour like he had been here so many times before. I turned my head, knowing he was walking up behind me. He didn’t touch me, but stood right behind me and stated, “The world looks awfully big and lonely at night, doesn’t it son?”
He gently laid a hand on my shoulder. My heart leapt knowing that I wasn’t alone. He put his other hand on my other shoulder. I knew that Pa knew exactly what I was thinking. And when I thought I was totally alone in the world, he was there for me.
I turned and looked into his eyes. It was in that instant – that moment that our eyes met – that I knew the truth. He wouldn’t leave me. No matter how much darkness came around me, no matter what trials came my way, Pa and I would be there together fighting them. I knew in that instant that we would be okay.
He smiled at me. I smiled at him. Our love was so deep, so strong, that nothing – not even death – could separate us. He turned me around to go back into the house and put his arm securely around me. I put mine around him and closed the door as we walked back to the bedroom. Pa laid me down and tucked the covers around me. He bent down and gently kissed my forehead as my eyes closed in a peaceful sleep.
The next morning, Pa gently woke me up. I quickly dressed and ran to check on Blue Boy. Walking in, I saw a man I didn’t know standing over my horse, who was standing! I ran over to them and looked at Blue Boy! “He’s better! He’s going to live!” I suddenly shouted.
The stranger softly brushed Blue Boy’s hair. “He’s going to be fine. This is a fine horse you have here, son.”
I turned to look at him, grateful. “Name’s Mark. Mark McCain,” I introduced myself.
“My name’s Brad. I was traveling through and needed to stop for the night, so I slept in your barn. I hope you don’t mind.”
I shook my head and smiled. “No. What did you do to him?”
“Ah, I’ve always worked around animals. Horses are wonderful things. I have all kinds of secret formulas to help with different ailments – things that even a vet may not have knowledge of. You see, I grew up on a big horse ranch, so my folks taught me a lot of special secrets.”
I shook my head. “I’m grateful…so grateful, mister! You see, this horse is awful special to me. He’s my special friend.”
Brad smiled and patted my back. “No problem, kido. Glad I could help.” Then he turned. “Well, I best go get washed up.”
I stood beside Blue Boy and smiled. Everything was going to be okay now! My horse was fully recovered! I couldn’t believe it. As I sat there and patted my horse, I watched him eat. Suddenly, I heard Pa calling. I called back, telling him I was in the barn. The moment he walked in I showed him that Blue Boy was eating.
Pa seemed concerned about Brad’s being there. I didn’t understand why. He had helped my horse and just needed a place to stay. Brad was a wonderful man in my eyes because he made my horse better. I told Pa that Brad was my friend. Suddenly Pa stated, “You act in haste, son, you repent in leisure.”
“What’s that mean?” I suddenly asked.
“Pa looked at me. “It means it’s best to make friends slowly, son.”
I knew Pa didn’t like strangers coming around without going to him first, but I knew Brad had to be a good honest man. After all, he took care of my horse.
We ate breakfast together. Brad seemed impressed with our ranch and commented that it was pretty big for Pa to take care all by himself. I proudly listened as Pa stated, “Alone? There’s two of us.” I couldn’t keep the grin off my face, knowing that Pa saw me as a partner in the ranch.
Brad suddenly stated that he was on his way to Silver City. I thought that was pretty cool that he happened by when my Pa was going there too. I boasted, telling Brad that my Pa was going to be a witness in town. Pa wasn’t too happy with me saying that, but I didn’t see any harm in it!
I asked Brad to come help me see if Blue Boy would eat. Pa reminded me I had to leave for school soon. I knew that, but wanted to spend some time with my horse before I had to leave. As we walked out to the barn, Brad commented that I loved my pa a lot. I told him I did. As we were walking into the barn, I saw Micah ride up, and I told Brad he was probably checking to see when Pa was leaving for Silver City.
We took care of Blue Boy for awhile. I was certainly glad Blue Boy was feeling better! As I walked out of the barn, I saw Brad and Pa looking at each other. I thought Pa had a strange look on his face, and he sternly told me to go get my lunch. I did so. When I walked out of the house, Pa told me to get to school. I asked Brad if he would stay and tend to Blue Boy. Pa answered for him. “Of course he will. He’s our friend, isn’t he?”
Pa helped me mount up onto my blackie and I rode off. But as I got just a little ways down the path, I got to thinking about things. Pa had stated that Brad was our friend when earlier, he told me to make friends slowly. The look on Pa’s face didn’t seem right either. Suddenly, I somehow knew that things weren’t right. So I quickly raced back to the ranch. They weren’t outside anymore. “Brad,” I called out.
I heard struggling in the barn. As I went in, I saw Pa and Brad fighting. That’s when I knew that Brad wasn’t the good man that I thought he was. I looked down and saw Brad’s gun. I picked it up so Brad wouldn’t be able to get it. And if the opportunity arose, I could give the gun to Pa. I watched fearfully as they continued to struggle. But finally, my Pa gave Brad a hard punch that knocked him out cold.
Pa came over to me, breathless, and took the gun from me. “What brought you back, Mark?”
I told Pa that I got to thinking about his saying to make friends slowly, then he said Brad was our friend. He was glad I had thought about it and come back. I knew I had once again saved my Pa’s life. As the reality sat in about exactly who Brad was, it scared me just a bit. I couldn’t believe Brad could be so good with animals, and so mean to people. Pa stated that that was a sign I was growing up. “The older you get, the more questions don’t have answers.”
I wanted to stay home that day, but Pa quickly wrote me a note and sent me on my way. I groaned that I wouldn’t get to help pa bring Brad into town, but Pa sent me on my way. When I got home that day, he had my bag packed and stated that we would be leaving first thing in the morning.
Sure enough, first thing in the morning, Pa and I rode into town together. I had to go to school in a bit, but was able to stay and see Pa off. Micah and I had already talked, and he agreed that if I was good for him and Hattie today, he’d take me fishing the next day. I sure was happy about that!
Saying goodbye was always hard. It would have been even harder if the killer of the first witness hadn’t been caught. So the goodbye we said today turned out to be a lot easier. I jumped into Pa’s arms and gave him a hug. He kissed my cheek softly then looked into my eyes with a smile. “I’ll be back in a couple days.”
“I know you will, Pa!” I stated confidently as we continued to look into each other’s eyes.
“And don’t forget to wash behind your ears, huh?” It should never surprise me what my father’s last orders would be. I smiled at him and promised him I would.
Micah put his arm around me as we watched Pa ride out of town. “Well, you best get to school.”
I turned and looked at Micah. Then I opened my mouth to say something about maybe I should go see to the ranch. But Micah held up a hand. “And don’t be trying to pull one over on me! Your pa’s already given me strict orders not to let you pull any of your fast ones on me!”
I smiled at him as I rode off to school.
Oh yeah, you want to know how our fishing trip turned out? Well, I caught a good mess, and since Micah and I had a bet that whoever caught the least had to clean the fish, I got to sit back and watch him do the dirty job. But I started feeling sorry for him and joined in.
That was yet another moment to pack away into my memory. Micah and I sat side by side cleaning the fish. At one moment, we both looked up at each other and smiled. It had been a wonderful day!
Oh, and about that man that Pa was helping convict? Pa made everyone happy with his testimony, and the man was condemned to be hanged within the week! I’m mighty proud of my Pa!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Boarding House
around The McCain Ranch