Huck was silent for some time, engaged in a mental struggle. Finally he said:
“Well, I’ll go back to the ider for a month and tackle it and see if I can come to stand it, if you’ll let me b’long to the gang, Tom.”
“All right, Huck, it’s a whiz! Come along, old chap, and I’ll ask the widow to let up on you a little, Huck.”
“Will you, Tom—now will you? That’s good. If she’ll let up on some of the roughest things, I’ll smoke private and cuss private, and crowd through or bust. When you going to start the gang and turn robbers?”
“Oh, right off. We’ll get the boys together and have the initiation tonight, maybe.”
“Have the which?”
“Have the initiation.”
“It’s to swear to stand by one another, and never tell the gang’s secrets, even if you’re chopped all to flinders, and kill anybody and all his family that hurts one of the gang.”
“That’s gay—that’s mighty gay, Tom, I tell you.”
“Well, I bet it is. And all that swearing’s got to be done at midnight, in the lonesomest, awfulest place you can find—a ha’nted house is the best, but they’re all ripped up now.”
“Well, midnight’s good, anyway, Tom.”
“Yes, so it is. And you’ve got to swear on a coffin, and sign it with blood.”
“Now, that’s something LIKE! Why, it’s a million times bullier than pirating. I’ll stick to the cider till I rot, Tom; and if I git to be a reg’lar ripper of a robber, and everybody talking ‘bout it, I reckon she’ll be proud she snaked me in out of the wet.”
SO endeth this chronicle. It being strictly a history of a BOY, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a MAN. When one writes a novel about grown people, he knows exactly where to stop—that is, with a marriage; but when he writes of juveniles, he must stop where he best can.
Most of the characters that perform in this book still live, and are prosperous and happy. Some day it may seem worth while to take up the story of the younger ones again and see what sort of men and women they turned out to be; therefore it will be wisest not to reveal any of that part of their lives at present.
I suddenly sat up as Jeff Connors closed the book. “Wow!” I gasped. “I wish I could be in a gang like that!” I smiled just thinking on it.
“Not me!” Billy declared. “Coffins and haunted houses aren’t for me!
“Oh, but can’t you just imagine? Just a little bit?” I asked my friend, but Billy shook his hand back and forth as hard as he could. I groaned and rolled my eyes. I sighed as I propped my elbows on my knees and set my head in my hands. “I wonder what became of Tom and Huck.”
Jeff handed me the book and I looked through it. “I wish I could get more on them! I’m just dying to know what happened next. I wonder if they did get that club and become robbers…I wonder if one of them told the secret and if-“
“Mark!” I heard my name said quite harshly.
I suddenly stood to my feet and turned around. Pa was standing there with his arms folded and his eyebrows up as he shook his head at me. “What do you think you’re doing, boy?”
“I…I…” I swallowed and held up the book. “We finished Tom Sawyer, Pa!” I ran up to him. “Pa, do you know what Tom and Huck did? Why they-“
Pa held up a hand. “School was out two hours ago, Mark! We were supposed to meet Milly in town for supper at 5 o’clock sharp. It’s now 5:30. I’ve been looking for you for thirty minutes!”
I hung my head. “I…I’m sorry, Pa. I guess I lost track of time.”
“We’ll talk about this later, Mark,” Pa said quite sternly. He took me by the arm as we started walking toward the General Store. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow! Hey, maybe we’ll discover another Mark Twain book we’ve never read. I’ll check Pa’s books tonight and-“
“Come on, son!” Pa said as he grabbed tighter to my arm and hurried me toward town.
When we finally settled down at the table, Pa ordered for all of us. I actually wanted a bigger steak then he ordered, but at this point I reckon I oughta be glad I got any food at all! Pa was awful sore that I was the cause of keeping Milly waiting. I figured I’d be doing extra chores this weekend.
Milly cleared her throat. “So, what kept you gone so long, Mark?”
I looked at Pa who only raised his eyebrows. Yep, I was in trouble! The look on Pa’s face assured me of that fact right proper. “The boys and I finished Tom Sawyer today. Have you ever read Tom Sawyer?”
Milly smiled. “Well as a matter of fact, Mark, I have. And…” She lifted her finger up in the air. “It just so happens that I have something that might interest you. It might even make you the center of attention at school!”
“The cent-“ I looked at Pa who was slightly shaking his head at Milly. Our meal came about that time, and I was expected to eat more then talk so I mindfully stayed silent and waited for everyone else to finish eating.
When we finally left, Milly walked us over to the store. She smiled as she unlocked the front door and we walked inside. Then she went behind the counter and picked up a piece of paper. With a big smile on her face, she handed it to me.
I read it’s contents. The more I read, the bigger the smile on my face got. “Pa, Pa!” I yelled even though he was standing right beside me. “Oh Pa, Mark Twain’s coming out with a new book!”
I practically leapt around the counter and hugged Milly. She was so shocked that she couldn’t say anything. “I gotta go tell the kids this!” I started to run out the door, but a firm hand grabbed me by the neck. I jerked back and turned around. “Pa, I-“
“You have chores waiting for you at home, young man!” Pa stated in a VERY firm voice. He looked down at the paper. “What’s this?”
“Oh,” I said as I excitedly gasped. “He’s…Mark Twain that is…He’s writing a new book – publishing chapters in this magazine! The magazine’s called…uh…Oh well, I don’t care what it’s called, but the book is called “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn!” Pa, we get to find out what happens in Huck Finn’s life next! Can I get it? Can I? Can I? Please?”
Okay, you may not believe this, but I actually started jumping up and down like when I was about seven years old standing in the store and begging my Pa for a piece of candy! Pa stared at me with those great big eyes. Amusement played at the corners of his lips. He raised an eyebrow and shook his head. “Milly,” Pa said as he folded his arms. “How old do you think this boy is?”
Milly put a protective arm around me. “Oh now Lucas, you can’t blame the boy for getting excited! After all, Mark Twain’s his idol!”
“Well?” I asked Pa.
Pa sighed and rubbed the back of his hand. “How much is the subscription a year, Milly?”
I looked down at the flyer. “It’s only $3, Pa! You get 12 magazines for only $3! And it won’t just be for me, but you can-“
Pa held up a hand. “Now hold on, son!” Pa cocked his head to one side. “I can’t speak for the other boys, but if you want that magazine, it’ll have to come out of your allowance!”
“My allow-“ I groaned. “Oh, but Pa! It’s only a quarter a week!”
“I’m sorry son, but money’s too dear. I-“
“Lucas-“ Milly started.
Pa pointed straight at her. “And don’t you go trying to sweet talk me into giving the boy $3!” Pa declared.
I suddenly saw a look of impatience cross Milly’s face. She suddenly put a hand on her hip and started wagging her finger at Pa. “Now see here, Lucas McCain…I wasn’t about to do no such of a thing! What I was going to say is perhaps some of his friends would be willing to go in with him.”
“Pa, can I go tell my friends? Huh? Can I? Can I?” I asked.
Pa shook his head. “Mark, stop acting like a child! You’re thirteen years old, for crying out loud! You can tell your friends on Monday. And I’ll send off for the subscription if you’ll come up with the money for it.”
“I’ll do it!” I declared.
That was on Friday. Sunday morning, I couldn’t wait to get to church and tell my friends! I kept trying to get away on Saturday, but Pa kept finding more work for me to do. I told Pa I didn’t mind helping him, but I had some good news to spread. Today as we rode to church, I kept trying to hurry Blue Boy along faster then Pa wanted me to. He sternly reminded me that it was Sunday and we were to relax on Sunday. I sighed impatiently.
When we got to church, some of the kids were sitting outside. I hurried up to them. “Hey, guess what! Mark Twain’s coming out with a new book!” I declared.
“Come on, son. Let’s get a seat,” Pa called as he started into the church.
“Okay, Pa. I’ll be there in a minute.” I turned back around to talk to Billy and Jeff. Suddenly Jeff’s eyes grew wide and he gasped. In the next instant, I felt a hand grab me by the ear and pull. I moaned as Pa led me inside the church, continuing to keep a firm hold on my ear. Pa didn’t much care for my “in a minute” answers, especially on Sunday when I should be reverent and have a heart ready to worship God.
I sat still in church and listened to the message. I saw one of the boys look at me a few times and raise their eyebrows, but I didn’t dare bat an eyelash at them! I knew that the second I did, Pa would catch me and give me a firm pinch. That was from experience as a young boy. There were things I could get away with doing anywhere else but in church. In church, I was expected to be perfect – lease wise, as perfect as a boy my age and disposition could be!
I didn’t think church would ever end! The minute it did, I hurried outside before Pa could grab me. Several of the boys gathered around me. “Okay McCain,” Jeff said as he crossed his arms. “What book?”
“Well, it’s called “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” I answered as I crossed my arms.
“Huck Finn?” Billy gasped in excitement. “Oh boy! I’ve been wanting to hear about Huck Finn!”
“Well, Miss Milly told me that they’re publishing it in a magazine. Pa said if we can get the money, he’ll send off for it.” I looked around at the group. I smiled as I watched looks of satisfaction cross their faces. “Well?”
“How much?” Jeff asked.
I looked around at the group. “$3.00.”
“Three dol-“ Billy started to moan. “Mark, you know how hard it is to get that much money together!”
“I suggest we do chores for folks. Pa wouldn’t like me to go begging for work for money. If I offer to do something for someone, he says, I should expect nothing in return.”
“Well, there’s six of us. We need to raise fifty cents a piece.” Kevin stated. Then he looked at me. “How much you got, Mark?”
I groaned. “Only a dime. That was my allowance. I normally spend it on candy throughout the week.” Jeff gave me one of his dirty looks. “Well how much you got, Connors?” I suddenly asked.
Jeff pulled the coins from his pocket. “Well, I have twenty-five cents.” We all looked at him in amazement. Jeff looked around. “What?” he asked. “I save my money. Is that a crime?”
“Let’s gather up what we have now,” Billy suggested. We all sat down in the dirt – in our good Sunday clothes, mind you – and counted out our money. Between the six of us, we didn’t even have a dollar.
“Okay, we all have until this Friday to get the money. If you don’t have it by Friday, you’re out of the club!”
I looked at Jeff and narrowed my eyes at him. “What…club?”
“The Mark Twain club, dummy!” Jeff declared.
I sat up on my knees and glared at him. Putting my hand on my hips, I said, “Who you calling dummy-“
“Mark!” Pa called. He came over and lifted me out of the dirt. “What are you doing down there in your Sunday clothes?”
I turned and glared at Jeff before walking away.
I worked hard all week. Pa gave me only a few coins to do extra chores for him. Nils gave me five cents to clean out the stalls one afternoon. Finally, I begged Milly for work – without my Pa’s knowledge, of course – and she was able to find enough work to give me the rest…almost! By Thursday afternoon, I found myself just five cents short of the fifty cents I needed.
The minute school let out, I ran over to Micah’s office. Rushing inside, I ran up to Micah’s desk where he was doing paperwork. “Hey Micah, I need your help!” I yelled in excitement.
Micah dropped his pencil and stood up. “What’s wrong, boy? Trouble at the school?”
“N-no,” I answered. “N-nothing like that. I-“ I stopped. “I need a nickel.”
“You-“ Micah stopped as an annoyed expression came over his face. “You mean to tell me, boy, that you came rushing in here and screaming like a wild banshee to tell me that you need money?”
You have chores for me, Micah?” I asked as he picked up his pencil. “I could clean out the cells. I could sweep and mop your floors. I could-“ I stopped as Micah looked up at me.
“Mark, I’ve got to get these arrest reports finished so I can get them on the stage this afternoon. If I don’t, I’ll be begging for work as well!
“Oh.” I straightened up and stated toward the door. But then I turned. “Micah, you sure you don’t need any help?”
Micah’s head shot up. He reached in his pocket and dug out a nickel. Throwing it to me, he said, “Fetch me some firewood and sweep off the porch. As long as you keep out of my hair! I’ve got to get these done!”
I grinned. “Yes sir!”
So that’s how it came to pass that we sent off for that magazine. We all watched over Pa’s shoulder as he carefully filled out the form and signed it. He slowly dipped his pen into the ink well and paused over the signature line as he turned and looked at each one of us. A teasing grin was on his face. “Perhaps I should inquire as to where this money came from.”
We all groaned and begged him to sign it, which he did. Then I took it and folded it into an envelope. I was happy to see that letter go on it’s way.
For the next three weeks, us kids would run from the school house to the General Store to check on our mail. We’d run in and Milly would shake her head sympathetically. We’d all turn and walk out. One day when we did this, we all sat down with our head in our hands. “It’s never gonna come!” I declared. “They probably lost our mail and all our money!”
Pa came up. “Don’t crowd the steps, boys,” Pa ordered as he jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. We stood up and walked into the street. “Why all the sad faces?”
“Pa, I think they lost our $3!” I declared. “We just lost three hard-earned dollars!”
“Do you know how many post holes I had to dig?” Billy declared as he shook his head.
“And how many barns I had to clean?” Jeff said then.
Kevin looked at his brother. “Well at least you got the barns! I had to do chicken coops. Boy, for birds, they sure do leave a big mess behind!”
“Oh yeah?” Jeff turned to his brother. “Not nearly as much as those cows and horses! Why, you should have-“
“Chicken coops…barns…ha!” I said. I folded my arms. “Do you know how much manure I had to clean up? I earned most of my money walking around the ranch cleaning up manure! That’s disgusting!”
Jeff tipped his head to one side and narrowed his eyes at me. “I thought you got some of that money from Miss Milly!”
I felt Pa’s eyes on me immediately. I slowly unfolded my arms and straightened up. But I didn’t dare turn to look at Pa! “Well, I-“ I started. But then I stopped and swallowed…hard!
“Well, you what?” Pa asked in that voice that told me he had some things to say to me.
I turned my head around just enough to see his face from the corner of my eyes. “Well, I…” I stopped and cringed. “Gee…look at how late it is! I got chores to do!” With that, I turned and ran to my horse like a big chicken, riding like the wind!”
Later when Pa got home, he did have a few choice things to say to me. I explained that I HAD done some chores for her and she paid me, but that didn’t help me at all! Pa only looked at me and crossed his arms. “Mark, you know I want you to help Milly all you can – and I don’t expect you to get money for it. Now it seems that your allowance will go to Milly until she’s paid off.” I didn’t really understand the problem, but Pa said I would someday. Then he told me I’d be cleaning up manure that weekend to earn the money he was paying Milly. I started to protest, stating that Milly was getting my allowance, which I would have gotten anyhow, but I figured I was in enough trouble already!
I’d deal with loud-mouthed Jeff tomorrow!
A week later, we walked into the store. Pa and Milly were standing there. Pa suddenly straightened up from the counter and Milly turned and smiled at us. “Well,” she said as she crossed her arms. “Here they come right on time, Lucas.”
Pa nodded as he smiled. “Yep. They’re like clockwork.” Pa turned and looked at the clock. “3:05 on the dot! Tell me something boys, how is it that you get into town in five minutes these days, but you take so long in getting home?”
We all looked at each other. Kevin spoke for us all. “Well you see, Mr. McCain, all we have waiting for us at home is chores.”
Pa smiled and he nodded at us. Then he looked at me. I cleared my throat. “Well, I reckon I should be getting home to do my chores.” I gave Pa a really big smile. “Because I enjoy coming home from school and doing my chores!”
“Kiss up!” Jeff accused.
“What’s the hurry?” Milly asked. We turned to look at her. She held up a new magazine.
“Oh boy!” We all declared. I started to reach for it.
Kevin bolted forward. “Hey, I’ll take that!” Kevin reached out for it but Milly suddenly held it up in the air.
“Lucas?” Milly asked.
Pa turned and gave us all the evil eye. “What makes you think you get it first, Mark?”
“My Pa signed for it, didn’t he?” I reminded the group.
“Yeah?” Kevin folded his arms. “Well, there’s more Connor money invested then McCain money!”
“Well, I-“ I started. But I stopped the minute I felt Pa’s hand on my shoulder.
“You boys are old enough – and mature enough – to handle this like civilized adults!” Pa’s voice spoke in sharp, firm words. “Now, we’re going to give this magazine to the one boy who didn’t fight like a wild tiger for it – Billy.” Pa gave him the magazine and we all ran off.
We allowed that Billy should get to read first since we were mature enough to recognize the fact that he was the only one he didn’t go loco over seeing the thing. There were six of us boys sitting outside reading the story. It was long enough to keep us from our chores for a good spell and to allow all six of us a turn at reading. It was short enough to allow me time to get home and start on my chores before Pa came home.
For two months in a row, we received the magazine and read the stories. I couldn’t help smiling as I listened to Huck talk about his adventures! I imagined what it would be like to build a raft and set sail out on the wild Mississippi! I was thinking on this once while I was supposed to be raking the yard up. I leaned my head against the barn and smiled as I imagined me and Huck Finn together on that raft, chancing the rapids and meeting strange and interesting people. I just-
“Mark?” Pa called. I lifted my head, a bit annoyed he had interrupted my thoughts. “I said you best get your chores done, boy!”
“It’s Friday!” I declared.
Pa nodded. “And if you remember, you have plans to go fishing early in the morning!”
“Oh…yeah,” I answered as I went back to my chore. Pa shook his head at me – I know he did because I turned and watched him walk back into the barn. He was shaking it mighty hard too.
I was busy raking when I heard the stagecoach coming. Now, since the stagecoach doesn’t normally come this way, I was of course very curious and dropped the rake. I swaggered on over to the driver and greeted him. He had a problem with the wheel and immediately asked me where Pa was. I told him he was in the barn.
Suddenly, a man stuck his head out of the coach and asked, “How much longer are we gonna continue this lop-sided limping?” I could tell right away he wasn’t too happy with his ride.
“It ain’t gonna limp no more, Mr. Clemons,” the driver stated. That was it as far as I was concerned. The minute I heard that noise, I totally turned out of the conversation. My mouth popped open. I knew that Samuel Clemons was Mark Twain’s real name! I stared, aghast at the man sitting in the stage.
It couldn’t be! It just couldn’t be! I did the only thing a thirteen year old boy in my situation could do. I just gawked at him! My mouth hung open and my eyes were wide. I couldn’t believe it…I just couldn’t-
“Well, what are you waiting for boy?” Mark Twain shouted at me. “Go on and get your daddy before we’re too old to continue the journey at all!”
He was talking to me! I couldn’t believe that Mark Twain – THE Mark Twain – was talking to me! “Yes sir!” I said as I started walking backwards. “I mean…Pa will be right here!” I fell back flat on my backside. “He’ll be right here, Mr. Twain! Don’t worry – he’ll sure help you!” I shouted these things as I stood and hurried into the barn.
After I got inside, I stopped and again turned and stared at the door. I couldn’t believe this!
“What’s all the yelling, Mark?” Pa suddenly asked.
I turned. Pa was down in the stall working on repairs. “Pa…Pa…” I swallowed. “Out there…It’s…It’s-“ I couldn’t go on.
Pa narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to one side as he slowly stood up. “It’s what son?”
“No sir.” I swallowed again. “It’s…who.”
“Who?” Pa asked.
I smiled. “That’s right!” I suddenly turned and looked at Pa. “Stagecoach is broke down. Mr. Loomis wants you to fix it.” Pa turned and reached for his tools. I grabbed his arm and stopped him from going out there. “I’ve not told you the best yet, Pa.”
Pa turned and raised an eyebrow at me. “Mark, I don’t have time for games! Just spit it out, boy!”
“Pa…” I stared at him as I smiled and began breathing heavy in excitement.
Pa lifted both his eyebrows and gave me a funny look. “What?”
“He’s on the stage, Pa! Mark Twain, AKA Samuel Clemons!” I suddenly looked at him. He had mire and mud all over his jeans. “You can’t go out like that!”
Pa looked down. “Like what?”
Pa looked down at his jeans and shook his head. “This is a ranch, son. I’m sure Mark Twain understands.” Without another word, Pa turned and hurried out of the barn. I stood stark still watching him leave, then I ran out right behind him.
I immediately stared toward the stagecoach where Mark Twain was climbing out of the coach. Just imagine…Mark Twain standing in my yard! “What seems to be the problem Loomis?”
I was staring so hard, in fact, that I didn’t see Pa stop. Suddenly, I walked right into him. “Oof!” I cried.
“Mark!” Pa cried. I stared toward the other Mark who had turned at the sound of his own name. Then, disgusted, he immediately turned back around.
Pa went to work on the wagon as I watched Mr. Twain begin pacing the yard. I was very excited to have such a famous man here. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends!
“Some of his machinery came clear from Chicago!” I boasted proudly.
“What?” Mr. Twain asked absent-mindedly. “Oh…of course, of course…” Then he walked away. I ran after him. I sure did have a lot to say! I hadn’t been so excited in a long, long time!
As Mr. Twain walked back and forth, I kept pace with him talking the whole time. “I always hoped I’d meet ya, Mr. Twain! Pa and me…we’ve read all your books. My name’s Mark too…of course, I know that Mark Twain’s not your real name – it’s a pseudonyms…Someday when I’m a writer, I’m gonna make one up too. Pa says it takes hard work to get to be a writer. It takes lots of studying too. That’s the only part I don’t like…We play the history post game at school. That’s the game that you thought of to help your children learn important dates.” Mr. Twain continued pacing back and forth – I did my best to keep up with him.
“You play that here?” Mr. Twain seemed surprised. I started asking Mr. Twain questions about the games he played. Mr. Twain started to answer my questions, but then suddenly stopped. “I haven’t got time for all these questions, boy! Puzzle it out for yourself!” Then Mr. Twain walked off. He sounded angry.
I was surprised to hear him speak so sharply to me! I didn’t do anything wrong as far as I could tell! I slowly walked up to Pa. “I didn’t mean anything…Why…Why did he get so riled up?”
“Mr. Twain’s had a long trip, son. He’s probably tired…and a little edgy,” Pa guessed.
Pa’s words made me feel better. “Yeah,” I said as a smile once again spread across his face. “Yeah, that’s what it is! He’s tired…he’s plum tuckered out…”
Pa went back to work on the wagon. I leaned against it and stared at Mr. Twain. “Mark, go finish your chores.”
“Oh, but Pa we have company!” I declared as I smiled toward Mr. Twain.
“Mark?” I heard the warning in Pa’s voice. I turned to see Pa once again sitting up. The look on his face told me I best finish my chores.
But I couldn’t concentrate! As I raked the yard, I found a reason to rake nearer and near to Mr. Twain. “Mark!” I heard Pa’s warning again. I reckon he was too smart for that trick. I turned and saw him nudge his head toward the other side of the yard.
I sighed. “Yes sir.”
I stopped my chores when Mr. Twain got settled back in the coach. I ran up to the stage. “Will you be staying in North Fork, Mr. Twain?” I asked.
“Not a second longer then I have to, boy!” He declared angrily. He must have still been tired from the trip!
I watched regretfully as Mr. Twain’s coach rolled out of the yard and back onto the road. I shook my head and sighed. “Finish your chores, son, so we can get into town.”
“We’re-We’re going into town?” I asked. “Tonight?”
“It is customary for us to eat supper at the hotel in town on Friday night, son,” Pa answered.
I threw down my rake. “Oh boy!”
“Mark!” I turned as I ran to the house. “Finish your chores!”
“Oh…” I went back and picked up the rake. “Right, Pa.”
I didn’t think I would ever get everything done! But we were soon on our way. “I bet Mr. Twain will be in the restaurant, huh, Pa?” I asked. “I hope he likes the cooking at the hotel. Oh Pa, can I tell my friends? Can I, can I?”
Pa rolled his eyes at me. “After you eat, son, if it’s not dark.”
After I tied Blue Boy up to the hitching post, I stepped up onto the porch and looked around. Then I removed my hat and smoothed it down. “H-how do I look, Pa?” I asked.
Pa wrinkled up his face as he looked at me. “Is Lucille inside or something?”
“Lu-“ I rolled my eyes. “No, Pa!” I groaned. “Mark Twain! I don’t want him to think I’m a plain ol’ ordinary rancher with dirt on my face!”
“Oh,” Pa said with a short nod. “You want to pretend you’re something else?”
“Well, I-“ I rolled my eyes. Pa laughed and opened the door, motioning for me to go on inside.
I looked around, hoping to see him. Pa put his hand to the back of my neck. “Come on, boy!” He kept his hand there and led me to the table. The waitress came up and asked us what I wanted to eat. I stared toward the stairs. “Mark? Son?” Pa nudged me.
“Huh? What?” I asked.
“What do you want to eat?”
“To…eat?” I asked.
Pa rolled his eyes. “Liver, you say?”
I suddenly looked at him. “What?” I was hoping he didn’t say what I thought he said!”
“What do you want to eat?” he asked again.
“Oh, roast beef and apple pie,” I answered.
Pa sighed and shook his head. “Bring him potatoes and green beans as well. Milk for him and coffee for me.”
I stared toward the stairs. “Oh, why don’t he come down! He has to eat!” I declared.
“He’s tired, I expect,” Pa stated.
I saw Matthew across the way. “Pa, can I go talk to Matthew?”
Our food soon came, but I hardly paid it any mind. I continued staring at the stairs…watching…waiting…hoping. “Mark, you better keep your mind on your supper.”
I barely heard him, but there was no mistaking the sternness in his voice. I picked up my knife, apologizing for not paying attention. “Pa, if Mr. Twain does come down before we leave, can I ask him to go fishing in the morning? He loves to go fishing!”
Pa didn’t answer my question directly. "Mark, when you’re as famous as he is I imagine people swarm around wherever you go."
I smiled as I continued to watch for him. "I guess they do," I agreed, only half listening to Pa.
"It doesn't give you much of a chance for…well, for just thinking," Pa said.
His tone of voice was clear. I didn’t like his message. "You mean I shouldn't even talk to Mr. Twain?" I stuttered, dumbfounded.
"Wait until he talks to you, give him some…'thinking room'." From the tone in Pa’s voice, I knew that was an order – not a request.
I was disappointed, but knew Pa expected me to obey. Suddenly, Mr. Twain came down the stairs. “There he is, Pa!” I declared. I suddenly felt weak and shaky as he entered the dining room. I stood to my feed. “That’s Mark Twain!” I called out. I knew I was gasping for breaths as I watched him sit down.
“Mark, sit down!” Pa ordered. “Remember uh…thinking room?”
That’s was Pa’s idea – not mine! But usually, Pa’s ideas had a way of becoming my own – it was called the power of persuasion.
Mr. Russell came out then. His favorite game was billiards, and he wanted to challenge Pa to a game. I continued watching Mr. Twain as they talked. Mr. Russell was determined to play someone at billiards. Suddenly, I remembered that that was one of Mark Twain’s hobbies. We’d read some stuff about him in that magazine we had subscribed to. I suggested Mr. Russell play Mr. Twain.
Guess what? Mr. Twain made a bet with Mr. Russell. He bet Mr. Russell $50 that he would make any three corner shot Mr. Russell put up. Now, that, I HAD to see! So I jumped up from the table, forgetting all about supper. I didn’t even care about supper anymore – I wanted to watch Mr. Twain kick Mr. Russell’s-
Pa followed me in and we watched the game. I could not believe my eyes! He hit all three corners – just like he said he would! I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say at the moment. ! “Wilickers!” I exclaimed proudly. This was quite a dream for me!
"Braggin' and brayin's the same thing Mr. Russell. The only difference is the later noise comes from the throat of an animal with much larger ears.” Mr. Twin picked up his money as Mr. Russell stewed. “Good evening, sir!”
I watched Mr. Twain leave the room. Mr. Russell came up to us then. As he left the room, he said, "Say, he called me a mule.”
Of course it was funny. Pa smiled about it. I began laughing. “Mark!” Pa warned suddenly.
For some reason, it was okay for Pa to smile about it, but it wasn’t okay for me? “Oh, excuse me,” I said. If I didn’t, I’d get a good lecture later – something I didn’t relish.
I walked back into the dining room and sat down. But I looked around. “Where’d he go?”
“I don’t know, son,” Pa answered. His voice held annoyance. “But you need to finish your supper so we can get home.”
Micah came in just as we were finishing. He sat down and told Pa he needed to talk to him about something important. “Pa?” Pa looked at me. “Can I…” I let the remainder of the question die.
“Go on, get out of here!” Pa declared. I jumped up to run out. “It’s dark, so don’t leave this street. And don’t go anywhere near the saloon!” I nodded. “Half hour!”
I ran down the street where I found Kevin and Jeff. “You are never gonna guess! Never!” I declared as I ran up to them.
“Guess what?” Kevin asked.
“Who came out to the ranch today!” I declared. The boys just looked at each other but didn’t say a word. I rolled my eyes. “Mark Twain!”
“Mark-“ Kevin rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure Mark.”
“It’s true!” I declared. “It IS true! Come on!” I motioned for them to follow me. We walked down to the hotel. Running inside, I ran up to the counter. “Mr. Halstead, tell ‘em!” I called.
Mr. Halstead turned from putting something in one of the message boxes. “Tell them what?” Mr. Halstead asked.
“About Mr. Twain!” I declared.
“Oh…oh…yes! Mr. Twain.” Mr. Halstead scratched his chin as he thought about it. “Now let’s see, what am I supposed to-“
“Oh, please!” I begged. “Tell them he’s here!”
“Oh-oh-oh…Yes, he’s here. Up in his room. Didn’t even stay long enough to eat.” Eddie turned back to his work.
“See! I told ya!” I declared. “He came out to the ranch today – stage broke down and Pa had to fix it!
Jeff’s eyes grew really big. “You mean you saw Mark Twain?” I nodded. Jeff looked toward the stairs. “Where is he now?” he asked.
I looked toward the stairs. We slowly walked over to them. “Mark Twain,” Kevin whispered.
“Right up there!” Jeff declared.
“Yeah!” I declared with a smile. “Just imagine!”
“Mark!” I turned to see Pa walking out. “What are you three boys up to?”
“Hoping Mr. Twain will come back for supper, Pa.”
“Well, he’ll have to come down without you three. Come on!” Pa declared.
Jeff turned and stared at Pa. “Not me!”
“Yes you!” Pa said. “I’m sure your folks are wanting you home about now. Don’t they?” Pa just cocked his head to one side. They ran out the door.
When we got out there, the boys turned. “If you do see Mark Twain before he leaves, ask him what happened next in the story so we don’t have to wait so long.
All the way home I imagined going fishing with Mr. Twain. Pa yawned as we came inside and ordered me to bed. But I wasn’t quite ready yet. I leaned on the table as Pa filled his cup with coffee. “Just imagine…Mark Twain here in North Fork.” I groaned then. “Pa, I sure wish we could have stayed the night at the hotel!”
“With you gawking at the wall all night, wondering if Mark Twain was on the other side?” Pa asked as he looked up at me. “No thank you!” Pa took a sip of his coffee. “Mark?” I looked up. Pa jabbed a finger over his shoulder and I went to bed.
The next morning, I was up mighty early! I had the worms dug and the fishing poles ready by the time Pa put breakfast on the table. “All set for the big fishing trip?” Pa asked.
“You bet!” I declared. “I love going fishing with you, Pa!”
Pa’s hands froze on the dish of scrambled eggs. He suddenly turned and looked at me as a slow smile spread over his face. “Well,” he said as he put a fist on his hip. “I love fishing with you, son.”
“No one else?” I asked.
“Well,” Pa looked up to the ceiling and thought. “Micah IS a little bit quieter.” I gave him a mock glare. Pa laughed. “Of course you’re my favorite fishing buddy!”
I hurried through breakfast and we started out. I knew the best fishing spot in the area and wanted to show it to Pa. We rode the horses until we got to the lake, then we jumped down and walked side-by-side the rest of the way. It was a perfect day for fishing, and I commented on it as we walked. A thick fog had settled over the water. The sun was still low in the sky. The temperature was not too warm, but not too cold – just cool enough for a jacket. As we walked, I took a big smell of the air and smiled.
“Nice day, isn’t it son?” Pa asked.
“This is probably the best weekend of my whole entire life!” I declared.
Pa suddenly put an arm around my shoulders. “Why?” he asked suspiciously. “Because you met Mark Twain or because you get to go fishing with the best father in the world?”
“Well yeah,” I answered with a grin.
Pa narrowed his eyes at me as we continued walking. When we were close to my fishing hole, Pa sent me on ahead while he hobbled the horses.
Boy, you should have seen my surprise when I hurried ahead and saw Mark Twain himself fishing in MY fishing hole! I felt honored having such a famous man fishing my hole and catching my fish! He said hello to me. “Good morning, Mr. Twain!” I greeted him excitedly. Then I looked toward his line in the water. “You got a bite, Mr. Twain! Hurry before it gets away!” Mr. Twain told me I could pull it in and I obliged me. Wait until I tell all my friends at school that I went fishing with Mr. Twain! I started taking his fish off the hook as I spoke my next words. “Say, Mr. Twain…Some of us kids have been saving our money from our chores and we sent for a subscription to that magazine that’s been printing chapters from your new book.”
“Uh huh,” I nodded excitedly. “Sure is excitin’! They print a chapter each month. The only thing is, it’s take a long time for mail to get here from Boston.” I proceeded to ask him if he could tell me what happened next in the story so we wouldn’t have to wait so long.
I waited in expectation to see what he could say. I figured the worst he could do was say no – I had to wait until everyone else.
I was wrong. Mr. Twain suddenly turned and looked at me. He had an angry look on his face. "What's a matter with you boy? Why do you keep botherin' me? Huckleberry Finn is dead!" As he yelled these words, I felt my heart sink in disappointment and my face redden. Then my eyes began filling up with tears. How could such a wonderful man say such cruel things to me? “He’s dead, I tell ya! He’s dead!” I didn’t wait for anymore hurtful words to come.
I turned and ran. I ran away so Pa wouldn’t see the hurt and pain on my face. I turned so Mr. Twain wouldn’t see my tears. I ran because I suddenly had to be alone to cry and mourn the loss of my idol.
My tears were blinding me and I stumbled and fell a couple times as I ran back to the ranch. I heard myself crying out loud as I realized the image of my idol was shattered. My heart was busting into a million pieces. I ran into the house and threw myself on my bed as I bawled like a little boy who had just been told he couldn’t go to the county fair. I lifted my head and saw my Tom Sawyer book.
I threw it in the waste basket, then ran out to the barn. My loud sobs subsided and I just laid my head in my arms as I tried to come to terms with the fact that my image of Mark Twain as the great writer of the century was now gone.
I suddenly felt Pa behind me. "I found your Tom Sawyer book in the waste bucket." Pa spoke softly with a burden in his voice.
I lifted my head and looked at it. I shoved it off into the floor. “I don’t want it anymore!” I cried.
Pa bent down beside me and spoke emotionally as he pulled something from his pocket. "Maybe you'll change your mind, son, when you read this. Mr. Twain left it at the stream. It's from his wife. It explains a lot of things."
I didn’t care. I was too angry. "I don't care about anything that has to do with him!”
"Read it, he has a deep sorrow, Mark."
"Well, just 'cause he's sad doesn't mean he has to treat everyone else like dirt!" I argued.
Pa’s next words were gentle and kind, but they held a hint of accusation in them. I knew because I knew my Pa. "Once you said you wanted to be like Mark Twain. You're acting exactly like him now.
I knew I probably didn’t want to hear the answer to my question, but I asked it anyhow. "How do you mean?"
"Shutting folks out because you've been hurt. The letter says his son Langdon died a few months ago."
Pa’s words cut through my already aching heart. “Died?” I repeated in a grieved voice.
“Mm hm. The newspapers tried to spare the family that's why we hadn't heard about it out here. Mr. Twain blames himself for the boy’s death."
"But why?" I wondered. I wasn’t paying attention to my heart. If I had been, I would have recognized the anger leaving and being replaced by a great sorrow for my idol, Mark Twain.
I didn’t exactly expect Pa to have the answers "He took him riding in an open carriage on a very cold day. The blanket slipped off. Mr. Twain didn't notice because he was thinking about his story he was writing. That night Langdon came down with diphtheria. Mr. Twain never forgave himself, he's been running ever since."
I remembered the words Mr. Twain had spoken by the fishing hole. “He said…Huckleberry Finn was dead,” I said softly. Pa nodded.
“That’s the story he was thinking about in the carriage. He hasn’t written a word since.” I didn’t say anything as he thought on what Pa had just told me. It was then that I noticed that my anger was replaced with sympathy for the writer. “I’m gonna return this to Mr. Twain.” Pa folded the letter and put it in my pocket.
“Pa?” I looked up at him. I suddenly wanted to…no, needed to be there for my…my friend. “Can I go with ya?”
Pa smiled. I think it smile was part relief that I was no longer angry and hurting to the point of tears, and part from being relieved that I wanted to go with him. “Sure.” Pa gave him a love pat on the backside. “Come on.”
I started wiping the tears from my face as we headed for the horses. Pa turned and put a hand on my shoulder. He took out his kerchief and turned to wipe the tears off my face. I watched him do it so lovingly as he smiled down at me. “No more tears?” Pa asked.
“I promise,” I smiled. “Thank you.”
Pa knew I was thanking him for so much more then wiping my tears away. Instead of chastising me for running off to cry like a baby, he showed me that he understood. Right now, I was part man – part boy. It was an inner struggle that I’d struggle with for the next few years. And as painful as it was for Pa to watch this struggle – and to watch me grow up – he loved me enough to be there to pick up the pieces of my heart each time I did a little more growing.
As we rode into town, I thought on that. I’ve talked to some of the boys at school, and their Pa’s don’t show their love the way mine does. They were expected to be men at my age. Their fathers didn’t always understand the emotions that went along with growing up – being tugged in four different directions as a young teenager tried to figure out if he was more man or more boy. I wanted to grow up to be like my Pa, but yet part of me wanted to stay a little boy.
I knew Pa struggled with the same thing. He wanted me to grow up, yet he wanted me to stay a little boy. I stopped my horse just outside of town.
Razor automatically stopped beside Blue Boy. He somehow had become accustomed to such manners. “What is it?” Pa asked.
“Well, I…” I looked down at Blue Boy.
“Mark?” Pa’s voice held a question in it.
I looked up at him and smiled. “Well, I…I reckon I need to…to thank you again, Pa.” Pa raised his eyebrows at me. I spoke on. “You could just expect me to be this mature young man, but you understand the struggles.” Pa still didn’t understand why I suddenly said this. “Well, my friends…their Pa’s don’t seem to understand that it’s hard for a boy my age too…well, to give up the boyhood and move on to manhood. You’re allowing me to do it slowly. I know that sometimes I resent this. But today…after all that’s happened…well, I want to thank you.”
I saw a tear in Pa’s eye as he smiled at me. He slapped a hand on my shoulder. “Son?” I looked at him. “I want to thank you for allowing me to let you struggle between a boy and a man.” He suddenly pressed a hand to my cheek. “You’re growing up so fast, son. Was it really over thirteen years ago that I held that little bundle in my arms?”
I didn’t like all that mushy stuff! “Let’s go, Pa!”
That’s all that was said. We silently hurried into the hotel. Pa went to talk to Mark Twain alone. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but suddenly Mr. Russell came in and interrupted their talk. He wanted Mr. Twain to give him a chance to win back the money he had lost last night.
I went to watch. My faith in him was restored and I watched excitedly and with participation that he would again show Mr. Russell his stuff.
But he lost. I saw in his eyes that he was losing on purpose. At first, I was angry that he had done such a thing. But then I remembered back to a time my Pa had lost for me – it was to save me from something…something important.
Mr. Twain was saving me from something. I had put him on a pedestal, expecting him to be perfect, inhuman. The truth was that Mr. Twain was a man…just a man like my Pa. He was no better and…no worse.
I suddenly wanted to kick myself for allowing myself to ever do such a thing. I looked to Pa. He had never said a word about the wrong I was committing. Suddenly, I looked at Mr. Twain for what he wanted me to – a man. He was a man with a deep hurt, similar to the one my Pa carried after losing my mother.
I argued with Mr. Russell to give Mr. Twain the chance to win his money back. Pa spoke gently to Mr. Twain, but straight forward. He spoke to Mr. Twain like he would any other man – bluntly. Mr. Russell had just told Mark Twain he was afraid, which Mr. Twain denied.
"He's right Mr. Twain. You’re afraid. Well, the past took something you loved. Now you refuse to go on living. You can't do that Mr. Twain. You haven’t the right. The future belongs to the world. If you’re not afraid Mr. Twain why don't you wager your past against your future?" Just how much was your son worth to you?"
That’s my Pa! Straightforward and honest – no hogwash!
He did play Mr. Russell – five points. Mr. Twain went first. Mr. Russell never got the chance to play a shot. I was mighty proud of my friend!
He put his arm around me and started explain how to play the history post game. “Mr. Twain, could you play a game with us? And maybe tell us about the next chapter?” I asked then.
Before I knew it, I had a bunch of the boys in the school yard. He helped up set up the post game the way it was supposed to me and he played two games with us to make sure we got it right. “Now, there are to be no variations in the game!” Mr. Twain ordered as he shook a finger at us. “You’re to play it exactly as I laid out.” Then Mr. Twain turned to me and smiled. “I think Mark McCain here will be happy to write down the rules to my exact liking and see that they are kept in a safe place for…uh…future generations.”
I looked up and saw Pa standing at the edge of the schoolyard. He watched as he smiled, his eyes crinkling up at the edges. I smiled back at him. He was allowing me to be a boy again. Pa gave me a slight nod, then walked away.
All was well again! We asked Mr. Twain to tell us the next chapter, but he gave a shake of his head. “That, my boy, will have to wait. You can’t know before the rest of the world – it wouldn’t be fair!” We groaned, but knew that was his final answer.
The next morning, Pa and I saw Mr. Twain off right after church. Our preacher had allowed Mr. Twain to recite a few words from Tom Sawyer. I was happy about that, because that would shorten the sermon!
I was happy when school let out. The entire class – girls and boys, young and old – ran over to the General Store. Today was the day the next edition of the magazine would come out. Pa and Milly smiled as the store was suddenly overcome by children. Milly handed me the magazine and I opened it to the story. I read the first paragraph to myself as my eyes grew wide. “Pa!” I declared excited. “Pa!”
Pa came over to stand behind me to see what all the excitement was about. He looked over my shoulder and read aloud. “This chapter is dedicated to my good friends, Lucas and Mark McCain of North Fork, New Mexico Territory who restored my faith. Mark, this chapter’s for you!”
I suddenly felt a warmth creep up my spine and spread out through my whole body. Pa placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. I lifted my head and looked into his proud eyes. “My friends,” I said quietly. “I like the sound of that.”
After one last smile, I started walking toward the door. The kids all settled down on the ground on the side of the General Store as they listened to me read the entire dedicated chapter. We knew now that Mark Twain was more than an idol – he was a friend.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Long Gun from Tucson
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Long Goodbye
around The McCain Ranch