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

Short Rope for a Tall Man Episode 103
Mark’s story

I put a hand to my head and let out a great big yawn as Mr. Griswald continued with his lecture of the history of the Middle East. A yawn escaped my mouth and I rolled my eyes. I didn’t know what Mr. Griswald was saying exactly. “Mark McCain, I’m sorry if I’m boring you!”

My head suddenly popped up and I looked around at the other kids. “Oh…no-“ I started. But suddenly the howling wind blew through the school house, blowing a limb through the window. Snow blew inside. “Help me get this closed!”

After the window was secured, Mr. Griswald hurried to look outside. “A storm’s coming up!” he warned as he quickly started packing up his things. “If you live out of town, you must come to the hotel. If you live inside town, please get home quickly!”

We all bundled up and walked outside. Pa was there with the team the minute I walked out. “If you hurry, we can make it before it gets too bad!” Pa assured me. I looked around. Snow was starting to spit, but I knew how much Pa wanted to be home for the animals.

We did make it home. Pa and me worked together unhitching the wagon and getting the horses settled for the night. I worried about Blue Boy who was still in town. Pa had taken him for Nils to keep. He said that being in town, the horse would be safe enough.

For three days the blizzard raged outside. Pa and I had tied a rope from the barn to the house so we’d be able to find our way back and fourth. The weather was really bad! I mean really bad. Pa didn’t let me go outside – not even out back. We had to use the Chamber Pot – as much as I hated to – and Pa would grab hold of the rope to drag himself to the barn. But after the first night, he couldn’t go out there anymore.

On the second day, I came in from the bedroom where I was working on my studies to see Pa sitting by the fireplace deep in thought. I knew what he was thinking. “You’re worried about the animals, ain’t you, Pa?” I asked.

Pa looked up from studying his hands and gave me a weak smile. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“You worried bout Razor the most?”

“He’s a fine horse, son,” Pa answered.

I nodded. “You’ve had him for a long time, Pa.”

“Our team wasn’t doing too well last night. The ride into town to get you-“ Pa started.

“I could have stayed at the hotel, Pa!” I declared.

Pa put an arm around my shoulders and smile. “Yeah, I know you could’ve, son. But I was afraid…being separated from you…I just had to know you were safe.” Pa patted my shoulder. “I guess the thought of being separated from you for that long and not knowing…well, it would have been too much.”

Neither one of us got much sleep that night. The wood in the box was getting really low and the storm seemed to have increased in intensity. Every time there was a slowing down in the wind, Pa would run over to the door and open it up, only to find the wind pick up again. I watched him all night as he paced the floor anxiously and worriedly.

Then on the third day, Pa and I were bundled up really heavy. Pa turned and looked at the last piece of wood in the wood box for a long time. Then he turned and looked at me. I knew he was thinking of what was best for me. I watched him agonize over the decision. Finally, I walked over to the wood box and picked up the last piece of wood. Then I threw it into the fire and watched the fire grow as I stirred it.

Pa stood behind me and planted a hand on each side of my shoulders. “That’s it, son. We need more wood.”

I nodded. “Seems winter’s come awful early this year, Pa. Why, it’s only the beginning of October and look at the weather already.”

Pa squeezed my shoulders. “No, this is just a teaser. It’ll warm back up after this moves through.” Pa walked to the window and peered outside. He couldn’t see a thing. “I should’ve been prepared!”

That afternoon, the wind died down, allowing Pa to make a trip to the barn. I watched him leave. The wind continued to die down as I got soup on the stove. The door suddenly opened and Pa walked in. I turned from setting the stew on the table. “They’re gone,” Pa stated.

We stared at each other for a few moments, then Pa walked toward the bedroom to wash up for supper.

I looked down at the table and closed my eyes. Then I slowly walked over toward the bedroom. “The team horses?”

Pa didn’t look up from the basin. He simply nodded his head. “Don’t know what we’re gonna do without a good team!”

“Well, there’s still Blue Boy and Razor, Pa,” I reminded him.

“I can’t harness either one of them to a wagon, son. It would break their spirit! I just….” Pa sighed. “I just don’t have the heart.”

Pa led me to the table. As soon as he sat down, he blessed the food. I took a bite, but suddenly felt sick to my stomach. “It’s because you rode ‘em into town to get me with it snowing so hard, ain’t it, Pa?”

Pa sighed. “It didn’t help, that’s for sure.”

His words confirmed my suspicions. I suddenly felt horrible. Because of me, Pa had lost two good team horses. We now had no horses to pull our wagon. I silently thought on this as I ate. Pa was deep in thought himself. “Well, we’ll be taking that seed bull in to sell as soon as the snow let’s up.” Pa popped the last bite of food in his mouth and stood. I was done and he picked my plate up to as he started over to the sink. “While we’re there, we’ll see if there are any horses we can afford. Heard a man named Schneider had a lot of horses for sale at the stable there in Cathay, at least that’s what Mr. Lovering told me in his letter.”

I stood up and walked to the door. The wind had died down almost completely now. There were just a few flurries left. I could already see a few stars poking out through the white blanket of clouds. By tomorrow, the clouds would be gone and we’d be living in sunshine. “I’ll go do the chores,” I mumbled.

“Mark,” Pa stopped me. He walked over to the door and laid a hand on my shoulder. “The horses are still in the barn. I can’t bury them right now. I’ll haul them off tomorrow.” Pa kept a hand on my shoulder as I looked out toward the barn. “Is something wrong Mark? You’re tense.”

I lowered my head. “Just sorry for the horses, Pa. They were a good team…real good team.” I paused. Pa didn’t say anything. “Reckon we’ll have to ride our saddle horses to Cathay now.”

“Oh no, we can’t do that, son,” Pa answered. “We got some supplies to get on the way back. We’ll take the wagon. We’ll need the canvas for shelter from the cold.” I knew Pa was thinking about me. He was always thinking about me. He was always so loving and protective – always thinking how he could make me more comfortable. I smiled. I knew he was spoiling me and I’d never be as tough of him, but he reckoned that when I grew up, I wouldn’t need to be as tough as him. I surely hoped he was right! “We’ll borrow a team from Nils. He owes me a favor after all the help I gave him when he was down on his back last month.”

. I looked toward the barn. “Well, I’ll get to those chores now, Pa,” I said in a low, controlled voice.

“How bout you do the dishes?” Pa asked softly. I heard the pleading in his voice. “I’ll tend to your chores in the barn tonight.”

The little boy part of me wanted to agree to that. But I was nearly 13 now. I was old enough to face such things. “No,” I answered as I squared my shoulders and stood taller. I grabbed my hat from the peg and firmly put it on my head. “I’ll handle it.” Pa’s hand tightened on my shoulder. “A man’s got to face these things.”

I walked to the barn and slowly opened the door. There they were – lying dead in their stalls just as Pa had left them two days ago when he came out to feed them last. I went to feed Razor and the pigs. I tired to keep the tears from coming – I wanted to be so strong and brave like Pa – but I couldn’t.

I wiped the tears from my cheek with the back of my hand as I stared at the dead horses. “I’m sorry, fellows. I wish Pa hadn’t a done what he done. This is all my fault.”

When my chores were done, I went back inside. When I entered, I saw Pa sitting in his chair smoking a cigar and reading his Bible. “Night,” I called from my bedroom door.

“Mark?” Pa called. I stopped just outside the bedroom door. “You feeling okay?”

“Just fine. Got a big day tomorrow if I’m going to bury those horses. I’ll work on clearing a path out to the road too.”

“Why will you bury the horses?” Pa asked.

“I have to, Pa.” I turned around. I couldn’t keep the tears from shining in my eyes. “There’s certain things a man’s gotta do. This is something I have to do. It’ll…” I turned away from Pa. “It’ll make me feel better.”

I slowly walked inside and closed the door. I could feel Pa’s eyes staring into me.

The next morning, I got up before Pa and hurried out to do the milking and gather firewood. Then I went to work on breakfast. By the time Pa came out, I had the wood box full and breakfast on the table.

After saying grace, Pa watched me as I began eating. I tried to pretend his eyes weren’t on me, but I finally stopped eating and looked up at him. “Start talking, boy,” Pa ordered.

“’Bout what, Pa?” I asked with a shrug of my shoulder.

“About what’s bothering you.”

“Oh.” I reached for a piece of bread and quickly began spreading butter on it. “Nothing’s bothering me, Pa. Just thinking about all the work we have today.” I took a big bite off the bread. I heard Pa take in a breath. I could tell he was about to talk to me. I quickly asked, “So, we leaving for our trip tomorrow?”

“Trip?” Pa asked.

“You know, to deliver that seed bull.”

“Oh,” Pa sighed. “Yes, I suppose I am. If there’s school, you will stay here.”

I didn’t argue. I knew there was no reason to, but in my heart I prayed there’d be no school. “Reckon you should go into town, Pa. Get the supplies we’ll need for the trip tomorrow. I got a lot of work of my own to do.” I took another bite of eggs.

“Work?” Pa asked. The tone of his voice told me he was trying to figure out what my problem was. I didn’t want to talk about it.

“Yeah. I’m gonna bury those horses after I dig out the snow for you to get on the road. Then I’ll go looking for more firewood to cut – maybe even start building up our woodpile for winter.”

“Stop, Mark,” Pa suddenly said.

“Stop what?”

“That’s too much work for a boy, and you know it.”

“Pa, I’m a man!” I stated loudly. “I can do man things now!”

“You know you can’t go chopping down trees by yourself, son,” Pa said. “You know I don’t allow that.” Pa went back to his breakfast as he said softly, “Besides, the snow’s too deep for you to go trapcing off in the woods by yourself.”

“I have my snow boots,” I started.

“Well, just the same, son, you are twelve years old and-“ Pa started.

I suddenly banged my fork on the table. “I’m almost thirteen years old!”

Pa’s face grew hard. Through clinched teeth, he stated, “And you are old enough to know not to EVER talk to me like that, boy!”

I slowly picked up my fork and began eating again. “Yes sir.”

“Now, tell me what’s bothering you.”

“I’m just anxious is all, Pa.”

“Anxious about what, Mark?” The anger was gone from his voice. It now held concern.

“To replace those horses. I…I want to earn the money to buy some more horses. I figure I owe you that much.”

“Owe me?” Pa questioned. “Owe me how?”

“Nevermind.”

“Mark-“ a bit of that annoyance had returned to his voice as he said my name.

I stood and took his plate to the sink. I started pumping the water. “I don’t want to talk about it right now, Pa.” I stated sternly. “Please!”

Pa stood up and walked over to me. He gently laid a hand on my shoulder. “Alright, son.” He walked to the door and grabbed his rifle. “Don’t bother with digging a path to the road. I’ll do it while you clean up in here. I want you to fetch water and work on the washing today. We’ll get rid of the horses this afternoon.”

I turned and stared at Pa. I wanted to show him that I was a man – that I could do manly things. There was no reason for him to risk his life – and the horses – to come into town and fetch me if it got stormy. There was no reason for him to tell me when to go to bed and when to eat, get dressed, and do my homework. I was a man now, and I could do man things. I could make my own decisions.

But as I turned and stared at Pa, I saw the sternness in his eyes, and I knew arguing would get me no where but into trouble. I lowered my head, feeling shamed. Pa noticed my feelings and came over to me again. He took his hat off and put it in the same hand as his rifle. Then he gently laid a hand on my shoulder. “Mark, look at me.”

I lifted my head and looked into his eyes. “You are becoming a man, son. I’m very proud. But these things you want to do – they’re still too much. In a few years-“

“See you this afternoon, Pa,” I said quickly. I really wasn’t in the mood to hear Pa tell me I wasn’t old enough. He didn’t know what I could do.

I did Pa’s bidding, cleaning the house as well as any woman could do it. I would rather prove my being able to carry myself as a man by doing manly stuff, but Pa had ordered me to do all this woman’s work today, so I did. I had lunch cooking on the stove when Pa came in. I heard the door open and close as I fried the ham steaks in the pan. “What’s for lunch?” Pa asked.

“Ham steaks and green beans,” I answered. “Figured we’d be eating camp food for the next several days, so we might as well eat as many big meals as we can now.”

I heard Pa put his rifle in the holder by the door and sit his hat down on the table by his chair. He walked up behind me and put hand on my shoulders. “There was some damage to the school so there won’t be any for a few days. So you can go with me. Even if there was school…I decided you would go with me. I reckon I’ll need your help with the bull.”

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” I mumbled.

“Maybe,” Pa answered. He washed his hands and sat the table. “I wish you’d tell me what was bothering you.” I silently put the ham steaks on the platter and sat them on the table. “After lunch, Micah and Nils are coming over. They’ll help us bury the horses then Micah’s fixing us steaks.” I sat the rest of the food on the table and sat down. “You see, son, some chores are too big for me to handle by myself.”

I suddenly looked up at him. My lips parted as I realized what he was telling me. I was so busy thinking on ways to prove my manhood to my father that I overlooked something important – being a man sometimes required asking others for help. But at this time, I left it alone. I still wasn’t willing to open up with what I was feeling. “Would you ask the blessing, Mark?”

Pa was just getting the dishes washed up and I was finishing up a math lesson Pa had put me to studying on when Micah and Nils showed up. We worked all afternoon burying the horses. It was a hard job, and I learned more about burying horses then I wanted to. But I stayed silent on how gross it made me feel – it was just another one of those things I had to learn if I was to be a man.

I managed to put my painful thoughts behind me that night as we had a bachelor dinner and talked for a long time after supper was eaten. Micah fixed the steaks while Nils fixed some of his vegetable stuff that he always declares cures what ails ya. I don’t know about that though – it sure didn’t cure me when I had Typhoid! I mentioned that to him, and he just scratched his nose and said, “Well…almost everything that ails ya I guess!”

I didn’t really want to eat it, but Pa did that nudging with his eyes that told me I was to eat everything on my plate rather I liked it or not. I suppose that if I was a man I wouldn’t have to eat it. But then I looked down at Pa’s plate – everything was gone. I reckon part of being a man was eating things offered to you, rather you wanted it or not!

The next morning, I again got up early. I began putting the canvas on the wagon and loading our supplies we would need. Pa shook his head as he watched me work. He reckoned as how I was trying to prove something that didn’t need proving. He never said what he thought that was. I thought it needed proving, though, but I didn’t tell him that.

Pa made me bring my school books too. He reckoned we’d only be gone for a few days, but if a storm stopped us, he wanted me to keep up with my studies. I wouldn’t have to study too much if we were back on schedule.

We were finally able to go. I hopped up onto the seat and grabbed the reins after Pa secured the seed bull behind the wagon. I picked up the reins as we started on our way. Pa and I managed to keep up conversation all the way there. When it was getting dark, I started looking for a good place to camp. The first two spots I picked, Pa shook his head on, giving me reasons why they wouldn’t make good spots. In my heart, I figured they would’ve made fine spots, but I knew Pa didn’t expect any argument, so I continued to stay quiet about being a man. As I hopped down from the wagon on the third spot I chose, I started gathering firewood to start a fire.

Pa studied me later that night as we ate the fish we had caught from the river. “Mark, I think you’re trying too hard to prove your point, son. Don’t rush it.”

“I’m not. You think I’m a kid, Pa,” I stated. “I’m not. I’m a man.”

Pa pushed the fish back and fourth on his plate as he sighed in thought. “I know you think that. I reckon I felt the same way when I was your age. Being a man isn’t something you should rush into, son. There are many boys your age who were forced to become men before they were ready. I bet they’d give anything to have their boyhood back.”

“I’ll show you,” I mumbled.

Pa suddenly sat his empty plate down with a bang. “I’m going for a walk,” he said. “You can clean up here.”

I knew he was mad and maybe hurt, but he didn’t understand me. He didn’t understand what I wanted.

Overnight, my mood had simmered a bit. Pa’s walk had left me alone to do some thinking. I had the bedrolls out and was stroking the fire when he finally came back. I looked up at him as he sat down beside me. “Tell me, Mark,” Pa said as he warmed his hands over the fire. “Because I really want to understand. Why this sudden rush to become a man?”

I stared into the fire. I could still hear the hurt and distance in Pa’s voice. I suddenly wanted the feel of his arm around me – to know that we were okay. “I-I want to take care of myself,” I answered. “I don’t want to…to trouble you. I want you to feel that I can take care of myself when you aren’t around.”

Pa sighed but said nothing. He just stared into the fire silently. I stared into the fire too. Finally, Pa spoke. “Come here, son. Sit down here right beside me.”

I stood and walked only a few steps. Pa put his arm around me and drew me close to him. “Mark, being a man isn’t just being able to do the hard work. It takes two of us to cut down those trees with a two-man saw…or to deliver a stubborn seed bull to sell…or even to keep a ranch running. It ain’t a matter of being a man or not.”

“You said I’m not old enough to go into the woods and chop down trees by myself,” I mumbled.

“I did,” Pa answered. “I didn’t mean it the way it sounded, son.” Pa sighed. “Mark, when I was a boy your age, I saw lots of boys doing man things at the age of thirteen. By the age of fourteen they were on their own. I was just like you – wanting to be a man. I learned to shoot a rifle when I was younger then you, and I went hunting for my family.”

“Well then…” I started.

Pa shook his head. “When I met your mother, I was wild. I did some stupid things, Mark. They aren’t things I’m proud of, and many times I almost took the wrong path in life. But your mother came in with her sweet smile and her loving ways and she changed me. And then you came along.” Pa hugged me to him again and laughed. “I still remember that day I came back from the fields, nervous as a mouse in front of a cat! Your mother had sent me away because I was making her nervous as I waited and waited…” Pa’s voice suddenly died off as he thought on that terrible time.

“There you were just as beautiful as could be.” Pa laughed. “You were the spitting image of your mother! And for the next month, I cared for you while your mother struggled to recover from her ordeal. It was hard and we almost lost her. Then a few years later, when we were so very, very happy the Lord took her from us.”

I suddenly turned to pa and laid a hand on his leg. “You don’t have to talk about it, Pa. I remember.” I remembered the terrible hurt I felt upon her death. I remembered the small pox – Pa’s crying and Ma’s saying good-bye. I remembered it all.

Pa held up a hand to quiet me. “Let me finish, son.” Pa swallowed. “In one of those long talks we had at the end – and there were several – she told me she didn’t want you to grow up before your time. We both agreed that there was no reason to hurry you along. A rancher’s life is rough…hard work. A boy’s only a child for a short time. There’s no reason to hurry you through that.” Pa swallowed as he took his eyes from the fire and suddenly looked into my eyes. He laid a hand on my cheek. “Thirteen...,” Pa whispered. “You’ll be thirteen in just a couple months. It’s been seven years since I made that promise. I just…”

I suddenly understood. He needed me to stay a boy. He needed to feel this closeness and the love we have. I was all he had in the world and he needed me. Pa turned to me. “Mark, let me ask you something. If I hadn’t…if I hadn’t come for you that day, what would you have done?”

“Gone to the hotel,” I answered.

“And not worried for me? If I had ridden into town and you were at the ranch, you wouldn’t have hitched up the team and come after me?”

I suddenly turned and looked toward the fire. “You see, Mark. It’s love that makes me want to keep you a boy for just a few more years. If you had to, you could learn to do all those things together. You could have made this trip on your own and sold the bull. You could have picked those camping spots and learned the hard way why they weren’t the best. But part of a father’s job is to teach you…and part of your job is to…well, to let me teach you.”

I turned from the fire and stared at Pa. Slowly, a smile spread across his face. “There’s another important job I have, Pa.”

“What’s that?” Pa asked. He stared at me as his eyes widened a few times.

“To hug you.” I threw my arms around him and hugged him. We held each other for a few minutes. “Now, about those horses…”

Pa laughed. “Why don’t you get to bed now?” He looked at me sternly, but his eyes were shining.

“When does a boy get past that?” I asked.

“Never!” Pa declared. I stood and he swatted me on the back side. “As long as you live under my roof!”

“That’ll be forever, Pa!” I declared.

“Good-night, son!” I turned and looked at him as I got under my bed roll. He had a hand to his mouth and was shaking his head and smiling at me.

I sure did love my Pa!

The next day we arrived in Cathay. The snow was almost gone here. Pa said they didn’t get as much snow as we got – probably missed the blizzard. I didn’t know about that, but I knew it had gotten colder along the way!

As soon as we got into town, Pa began untying the bull from the back of the wagon. “I’m going to go deliver this bull, son.”

“Should I come with you?” I asked.

Pa shook his head. “You stay here and-“ Suddenly, Pa came over to me and put a hand behind my neck. “You know, I reckon you are big enough now to do this.” He took a few coins from his pocket. “Why don’t you go over there to the hotel and get us a room. Then deliver these papers to the cattleman’s association and bed down our horses at the livery over there.”

I smiled at being given so much responsibility. “Yes sir!” I declared. I hopped back on the wagon. “Then I’ll go check on those horses for sale.”

Pa turned and lifted his head toward me. His eyes narrowed. “Okay, but my asking price is $25. Don’t make any deals without consulting me first!”

“Well Pa, I-“ I started.

Pa raised his eyebrows. “Remember son, the easiest, and most pain-free way to learn is through those who know already. And you never stop learning!”

I smiled. “Alright, Pa.”

I made my way over to the livery to bed down our horses. The man called for fifty cents a day. I cocked my head to one side. “Fifty cents a day?” I asked. “I reckon you think I’m just a kid who don’t know anything!” The man stared at me. “My Pa’s taught me and he’s taught me well! Now, I can’t believe you charge fifty cents a day when most places I’ve been is twenty-five cents.” I suddenly crossed my arms. “Now supposing, that I go tell my Pa, the Rifleman, by the way, that you tried charging his kid fifty cents a day-“

He suddenly held up a hand. “You got me, son. I’ll charge you twenty-five cents.”

I smiled. “And give them some extra food, will ya? It’s been a long trip here and those horses were loaned to us. I want them taken good care of!”

I tipped my hat to him and turned to leave. “Young whipper snapper!” I heard the man mutter under his breath. “Too smart for his britches, he is…”

I smiled to myself as I walked toward the hotel. Walking inside, I walked up to the desk and declared, “I need a room please.”

The man leaned way over the counter as if I was only two feet tall. “Well now, he folded his arms. “What’s a young boy like you doing in a town like this all by himself?”

I signed my name on the register. “My partner and I are delivering a seed bull,” I answered boldly. “We’ll be leaving tomorrow, so we’ll only need it through breakfast in the morning.”

He continued staring at me. “Your…partner?”

“Yes,” I answered as I held out my hand for a key. “We’ve been partners now for almost thirteen years.” The man silently handed me the key. “Thank you,” I nodded. “What’s serving for supper in the restaurant tonight?”

The man stared at me. “Uh…” he answered. “Oh, um…your choice of chicken fried steak or beef stew.”

“Thank you.” I started up the stairs for our room. “Oh, by the way, my partner is my pa.”

The man stared at me for another second. Then a smile slowly spread across his face and he quietly chuckled to himself. I stopped half way up the stairs. “What’s for dessert?”

“Chocolate cake!” the hotel attendant declared.

“Oh boy!” I shouted as I ran up the stairs. I could hear the attendant chuckling all the way up stairs.

I was in the room reading my history when Pa walked in. “Still trying to grow up, huh?” Pa asked.

“Oh no,” I answered. “I just figured my question would go easier on you if I got ahead on my homework without you ordering me to.”

“What question?” Pa asked as he took his coat off and hung it up.

I closed my book and threw it on the bed as I stood. “I checked on those horses, Pa. A hundred dollars is his asking price.”

Pa sucked in his breath and suddenly turned to me. “A hund-“ Pa swallowed. “No!” He answered firmly.

I hurried over to him. “Oh, but Pa, these aren’t ordinary horses! They are fine animals! Why, I checked them over careful like you asked me to and-“

Pa put his hands on his hips. “I don’t care how fine of horses they are, son. All I want are two good, strong animals that will pull my wagon.”

“Oh, they’ll do that alright! Plus that-“

“No Mark.” That was final and I knew it. The warning in his voice told me not to discuss it anymore.

“Yes sir,” I answered as I sat down.

“Get those papers delivered?” Pa asked.

I looked up at him. “Papers?”

“Yeah, the papers you were supposed to deliver to the Cattleman’s Association!” Pa answered, his voice a bit louder this time as he started walking towards me.

I suddenly gasped and jumped up. “On my way, Pa! Right away!” I answered with a gasp. “I’m…I just…had so many other things to…” I backed up to the door where my coat and had were hanging. Pa had a really mean look on his face as he continued toward me. I swallowed hard as I reached for my hat and coat. “On my way now, Pa!” I declared. Then I opened the door and closed it firmly behind me before I raced down the stairs, two at a time.

I reckon I did have a little more to learn yet.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel after breakfast. I thanked the attendant kindly for allowing us to stay in his fine establishment. “Good-bye, Mr. McCain,” he greeted me. “Oh, and Good-bye to you too, Mr. McCain’s partner!”

Pa looked at me, a question in his eyes. I laughed as we started out the hotel. I hadn’t been outside much, but I knew I didn’t like this town. There was just something about it that made me feel uneasy. I was ready to get back home and maybe even to get back to school. But don’t tell my Pa that! He’d be taking me to the nearest doc thinking I had some terrible disease!

Pa said that it was good to go to new places once in awhile – made us appreciate what we had at home. “Well, I’ll sure be glad when we get back to North Fork.” But I suddenly realized that there was some unfinished business here. I had to do this cautiously. After the warnings Pa had given me last night, I surely didn’t want him to yell at me! That would make for a very unpleasant trip back home.

I didn’t even need to say what I was thinking though. “No horses,” Pa answered me quite firmly.

We continued walking down the boardwalk as I tried again to convince Pa that those were good horses! I reminded Pa that we needed them. To be honest, I was still feeling a little responsible about our loosing those two fine horses! He had said himself we could buy a pair. “If we find the right one’s, son!” Pa answered.

Okay, maybe he had put it that way, but we couldn’t just go back empty-handed! We needed those horses! I again reminded Pa that the horses I saw at the stable yesterday were good, and Pa again reminded me that we couldn’t pay his price.

“A hundred dollars?” I asked.

“It’s too much,” he answered firmly. You know my Pa – he can say little but speak a lot of meaning into that! The look on his face told me I shouldn’t argue with him anymore. He told me to go hitch up the horses so we could go home. That was his way of telling me that his word was final! I reckon he was the head of this partnership!

But I had been pretty convincing twice yesterday. I got to thinking that I could be pretty convincing again. “What if Mr. Schneider changes his mind?” I asked.

Pa gave me one of his “That boy” smiles as he answered. He said that if Mr. Schneider came down to Pa’s price, he’d buy them – but Pa didn’t have much faith in my convincing ability.

I reckon I didn’t do too good convincing when it came to my Pa, but my Pa was a hard man to persuade. A lot of people could be aimed to change their mind, though, if you had the rights words! I headed over to do Pa’s bidding. The whole time, I thought on how I should approach Mr. Schneider.

After I got the team all hitched up, I went back to the stable. “I’d like to see those horses you have for sale,” I said in a very strong voice.”

“You wanting to buy them?” he asked.

I decided to be honest. “Well, I don’t rightly have the money. My Pa has it on him at the moment.” I wasn’t about to tell him that Pa wouldn’t let me carry that much money on me until I get a better sense about spending money. Pa tends to think I am a little to impulsive when it comes to spending money. “But I’m here to scout them out.”

I studied the horses, and firmly told Mr. Schneider that Pa wouldn’t pay more then $25 a head for them. I knew that was only half. Mr. Schneider laughed at me. He told me we’d have to pay a lot more for the horses. I just stayed quietly beside him as he walked me out. I was trying to figure out how to best approach him to change his mind.

But then as we stood there, something happened. He said he didn’t like seeing a young boy disappointed. He was willing to sell me those horses at $25 a head. I reckon there were some advantages to being a boy after all! He reached out and shook my hand. That meant they were as good as mine…er…ours!

Mr. Schneider ran back into the stable. I ran in after him. “You mean it?” I asked running beside him as he worked. “You really mean it? We can have them for $25 a head?”

“I mean it!” Mr. Schneider declared as he looked over his shoulder. “Now, you run along and tell your Pa!”

“Oh, I will!” I cried as I started out the door. “I’ll be right back!” I hollered. “Now, don’t you sell them before I get back!”

I raced across the street. Pa was standing out on the sidewalk talking. There were lots of people over there. “Pa! Pa!” I shouted happily as I ran up to him. Pa stepped off the boardwalk to ask me where the wagon was. “Over at the stable!” I shouted. I was too excited! “Come on, I want to show you something!”

I tried pulling him toward the stables, but Pa grabbed a firm hold on my arm and held me tight. “Aren’t you forgetting your manners, boy?” He scolded me.

In my excitement, I had forgotten to say hello to the Lovering’s. I quickly greeted them. I knew Pa was still not too pleased with my rudeness, but I figured what I had to show him would make up for it. Boy, but he was going to be proud! I had done a man’s job today! A real man’s job!

A man came up to us then and tried to get Pa to join what I assumed was a posse. Pa said no, but the man got really rude with my Pa. My Pa don’t care much for rudeness (including mine, as you just witnessed), so he wasn’t to kind to the man on the horse. That man got mad at the way my Pa was talking and suddenly reared his horse. It scared me – I thought that horse was going to run right over me! Pa suddenly grabbed the horse as I stumbled out of the way. “Be careful with that horse, mister!” Pa warned him.

You know by now that nobody messes with me and gets away with it! It wouldn’t take much to rile my Pa up to the point of violence! Now this man knew his secret weapon – me! Pa put a protective arm around me. “What was that surprise you’re telling me about, son?” he suddenly asked.

We started across the street. Pa wasn’t going fast enough! I grabbed his hand and said, “Come on! Hurry!” He stopped by the wagon to check the horses. He commended me on a good job at hitching up the horses. I rolled my eyes at him. “I’ve done that job a plenty!” I declared.

Pa laughed and ruffled my hair. “I know,” he said. “Just giving you a hard time, son!” As if I hadn’t noticed!

Mr. Schneider at the horses all groomed and waiting out by the wagon when I got over there. Pa walked over to them. “I already examined them, Pa. They’re good horses.”

“Oh,” Pa said. “Well, you don’t mind if I just take a look, do you, son?” I smiled. He questioned Mr. Schneider on the reason for lowering the price. I didn’t rightly see what the big deal was! I was a boy and he wanted to please me! He was giving us a break!

Pa looked at the Bill of Sale after examining the horses. He was still leery. “You looked at them yourself, Pa!” I reminded him. He agreed, stating they were fine animals.

Mr. Schneider told my Pa he was leaving this town. These were his last two horses. He wanted to ride along with us to North Fork so he could visit his sister who lived there. Even after all Mr. Schneider said, Pa was still leery. I had to convince him that these were a good buy! “It’s alright, isn’t it Pa? We made a deal! Shook hands!” I tried to convince him.

It worked. He agreed that we’d go through with it. Since it was my deal, Pa pulled the money from his pocket and let me count out fifty dollars. I was nervous as I did it – I’d never made such a big deal before! I’d never been allowed to hold this much money before either! I think Pa was a little nervous about me holding that much money though, because as soon as Mr. Schneider had his fifty dollars, Pa grabbed the money from me and stuffed it back in his pocket.

I can’t tell you how good it made me feel – how grown up it made me feel – to have made my first big deal on buying horses! I was so proud and hoped in my heart that Pa saw me as maybe more of a man today! Maybe now that I had made a man’s decision, Pa would see me as a man – not a boy any longer.

But what would soon happen knocked me off my feet and helped me to understand what Pa was trying to tell me about learning the lessons by watching other adults instead of the hard way, like I was just about to do!

We left in our wagon after picking up the remainder of our supplies at the general store. Some of the things we needed were cheaper in this town then they were in North Fork. Pa told me that but swore me to never reveal that to Milly since it wasn’t really her fault for being an inexperienced merchant. I wouldn’t dare tell Miss Milly – I didn’t want to see no scalping coming to my Pa!

I was happy to be away from that town and headed back to North Fork. Mr. Schneider kept to himself and wasn’t much help to us on the way home. He just sat in the back of the wagon and slept most of the time. As we traveled, I looked back there to see him sleeping again. “Lazy, isn’t he?”

“Mark!” Pa scolded me. “You don’t know what his reasons are.”

“Well, he looks healthy enough to me!” I declared. “He oughta move to North Fork and help Nils in the blacksmith shop or something. As big as he is, he’d probably make a good blacksmith!”

“Alright, Mark. That’s enough,” Pa said in a quiet voice. “If the old man wants to sleep all the way back to North Fork, it’s fine with me!”

When we pulled in to camp that night, Mr. Schneider suddenly woke up. “What’s going on?” He asked as he sat up and stretched.

“Camping for the night,” I answered, matter-of-factly.

“Camping? Why not go all the way?”

Pa and I looked at each other. I started to laugh but Pa raised his eyebrows. “Mark,” Pa warned. Then he called back, “Because the horses need rest and we can’t see well enough to drive all night. We’ll leave first thing in the morning.”

We ate one more campfire meal. I certainly hoped we’d be back home by lunch tomorrow! I didn’t much care for campfire food. I told Pa as much too! “You wouldn’t make a very good mountain man, now would you, son?” Pa asked.

“Well, an occasional hinting trip is okay, but I know I’ll have a good home-cooked meal to come home to. I don’t much cotton to eating this travelin’ food over an open campfire!”

Pa shook his head. “My Ma cooked all her meals over an open fire, son. We didn’t have a stove until I was older.” He sat down his plate. “Reckon I’ve spoiled you some!” Pa stood up. “Well, I’ll go fetch some water. You turn in.”

“Oh no, Pa. I reckon I can go fetch the water for you.”

Pa smiled at me. “I reckon you can. But you’re still a growing boy and need your sleep.” I started to argue with Pa. He held up a hand to stop me. “No amount of arguing or begging’s going to change the fact that you aren’t done growing yet!” He shoved a thumb over his shoulder. “You take the wagon, son. Mr. Schneider and I will sleep by the campfire.”

I looked at the campfire and opened my mouth to argue. Then I just waved a hand toward Pa. “Ah, forget it!” I knew Pa was always putting me first. He still treated me like a kid, and I reckon I was beginning to understand why – especially after our talk the other day. Besides, common sense told me that no man in his right mind would argue with a nice comfortable bed in the back of a wagon!

The next morning, I heard Pa calling my name. He had flapjacks cooking over the open fire and I was suddenly very hungry. I hurried up to him. He handed me the bucket and told me to go fetch some fresh water for my washing since he’d already used two buckets this morning. I told Pa I’d hitch up the team while I was at it.

Mr. Schneider was in a hurry to leave. After breakfast, Pa and I got our ready on and laughed at how anxious Mr. Schneider was. But then we saw some horses. I figured it was part of the posse looking for a horse thief. “I don’t think so,” Pa said as he picked up his rifle. “They took the east road out of town. We’re headed west.” I stood right beside my Pa, suddenly very nervous. Pa had a worry – I knew that because he had his rifle in his hand.

As the men rode up, I figured out that it was the posse. I stayed silent and let Pa handle this. But as I reached down to get some coffee, one of the men rode to the wagon and ordered Mr. Schneider out. Pa swung his wagon. Suddenly, I stared as one of the men hit my Pa on the head. Pa toppled to the ground. “Pa!” I cried, my heart suddenly sick.

Pa needed me and I wasted no time! I ran over to the men and jumped on them. Nobody was going to hit my Pa and get away with that! I had to fight the best I knew how to protect my Pa!

While I was fighting these two men to stay away from my Pa, Mr. Schneider was running, begging the man on the horse not to shoot him. But suddenly, a shot rang out in the air. I ran to Pa and put his head on my lap. “You can get up now,” Charlie Crown ordered. “Horse thief.”

I repeated those last two words in confusion. Why would they call my father a horse thief? I didn’t understand. But I soon would. The whole, ugly, horrifying truth would hit me like a ton of bricks.

Mr. Crown ordered Pa to stand up again. “No!” I cried. “He’s hurt bad! Just let him rest.”

Mr. Crown got off his horse and started over to us. He poked the gun in Pa’s face. “I said get up!”

I stood up and faced this big, evil man. “I said he’s hurt!” I screamed.

“Mark!” Pa slowly stood up. He put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay, son.”

“No it’s not!” I screamed. “It’s not alright! This man just called you a horse thief!” I turned back to Mr. Crown. “Why?” I screamed.

“Because he is! He stole our horses!” Mr. Crown declared.

“He didn’t steal nothing!” I screamed.

Pa suddenly put his arm around me. Very sternly, he said, “Mark, keep quiet!” Mr. Crown walked away as he waited for his Pa to arrive. “Part of being a man, son, is to hold your tongue.”

I swallowed and nodded my head. We stood there silently as Mr. Crown continued staring at us. Suddenly, we heard horses coming. I stood beside Pa as they rode up. Pa Crown got off his horse and made his way to the horses we had just bought. He turned, declaring they were his. I yelled again, declaring that we had paid for those horses! I had made the deal. It had been my step toward manhood.

Pa told me to show them the bill of sale. I took it out of my pocket. It had been my deal, so I had been allowed to hold onto the bill of sale until we got home. Pa Crown declared there was no Bar-C Ranch. We were in trouble and I knew it, but still…I held out hope. Pa Crown ordered us over to the wagon. “What do you think you’re gonna do?” Pa asked.

“Move, boy!” Charlie suddenly gave me a hard shove. Pa grabbed him by the coat and ordered him to never touch me again.

I was scared. I had a feeling I didn’t like that town, and told Pa as much. But now…suddenly…we were in trouble. We were in a lot of trouble and these men we were messing with were not friendly. They were mean.

I asked Pa what was wrong with the horses. I suddenly felt all sick inside. I had been so fast to grow up – so fast to show Pa that I was a man. And now…now these men were accusing us of stealing horses.

As I stood there and listened for a few more moments, it became clear to me. Mr. Schneider was dead because he had stolen horses – the stolen horses I had asked….no…insisted on buying. I had talked him down to our price. I had made the deal and paid for those horses. I had…I had bought stolen horses.

Suddenly, Charlie said Pa was going to hang. That meant they were intending on killing my Pa. “Pa!” I suddenly cried. I wanted to take the last twenty-four hours back. I wished I’d never bought those horses. I suddenly…wanted to apologize for my stupidity.

“It’s alright, son,” Pa said quietly.

They suddenly ordered my Pa up against the wagon. They were placing him under arrest. I wasn’t going to give up yet. I had to find a way out of this for Pa. Suddenly, they brought out some money. I informed them that I paid $25 a head for those horses. The deputy declared that it wasn’t honest. I didn’t understand!

Suddenly, they grabbed my Pa, but Pa started punching. He wasn’t going to go down without a fight. “What are you going to do with him?” I asked one of the men – everything was becoming blurry now…I can’t remember who exactly I asked.

“We’re gonna hang your Pa.”

Fear suddenly gripped my heart. I didn’t have time to think. “No!” I screamed. I lunged at the man. Then I jumped on the back of those who were beating on my Pa. They kept beating him over and over! Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind and held back. I cried as I was forced to stand there and watch these men beat my Pa! I struggled with all my might. “Pa! Pa!” I screamed as I fought to get away.

Finally, I was able to break away and I jumped on the back of one of the men. “Mark, get away, son!” Pa screamed at me. “Get away, son!” He begged.

I had to run and get help! I had to get away and find someone before it was too late! But suddenly, Mr. Crown grabbed me and told me I’d stay here with my Pa. I struggled, trying to get away. I had to find someone…anyone…to help my Pa!

Suddenly, the beating was over. They threw my Pa to the ground. Mr. Crown let me go and I ran over to him. I fell to the ground and fell on top of him. “Oh Pa,” I cried. “I’m sorry, Pa! I’m so sorry!”

Someone suddenly grabbed me and lifted me off. They grabbed my Pa and ordered him to stand up. “Can’t you please just leave him alone?” I cried as tears streamed down my face. My words were ignored. I watched two men drag my Pa to the wagon and tie him to the wagon wheel.

I looked toward Mr. Crown. “Go on to your Pa, boy. You two don’t have much time left together.”

I stared at him. “Can’t you under-“ I started.

“I said go on!” Mr. Crown declared.

I hurried to Pa and threw my arms around him. “Oh Pa,” I cried into his chest. “I…I’m sorry! I…I’m so sorry! This is all my fault! It’s all…”

“Mark,” Pa’s voice sounded solid and brave. I lifted my head and looked into his eyes. “This is not your fault.”

“It is!” I cried. “I’m sorry, Pa! I’m so sorry! I…I wanted to be a man so bad that I…” Suddenly, I could say no more. Pa had said he’d rather me learn from other adults who knew rather then from painful experiences. I was afraid this would be a lesson that would be too painful to endure.

All day, I sat there beside my Pa and listened to them talk. I didn’t understand what they were waiting for. “They’ve been sitting around her arguing for so long that they’ve wasted too much time,” Pa said quietly.

I turned and looked at Pa. “Supper’s on, boy. Come on.” I heard from behind me.

I slowly walked to the camp fire and grabbed a plate. I stood there and waited. Charlie looked up at me. “Only one plate, boy. Don’t need to be wasting our food on a man that’ll be hung.”

I stared at the men. I started to say something when I suddenly heard Pa call, “Mark, get over here, son.” Even in his imprisonment, he wanted me close to him – to feel like he could protect me still.

I stared down at the plate then looked over at Pa. I slowly walked over and sat down next to him. I stabbed my fork into the meat, then lifted it to Pa’s mouth. “Mark,” Pa said quietly as he took the bite I offered to him.

“Yes Pa?” I asked. I was trying to stay strong, but my voice broke as I spoke.

Pa studied me while he ate that bite of food. “Why don’t you get yourself something to eat son?”

I had put my Pa in this horrible situation. I was about to loose the one rock I had in my life, and feeding him was something I had to do. I can’t explain it – but it was almost like I was trying to…make up for what I had done by caring for my Pa. I didn’t need food. I needed my Pa. I stared down at the plate as I lied. “I already ate.”

I gave Pa another bite of food. He studied me silently as my eyes expressed what my lips couldn’t. He understood what I needed. “Thanks, son,” Pa said.

For almost thirteen years, I had looked up to my Pa for guidance and strength. Now was no different. I no longer wanted to be the man because I wasn’t ready. If my Pa died tonight, I would suddenly be forced to be a man Pa didn’t want me to be. Suddenly, I wanted to hear his fatherly voice. “Are we gonna get out of this, Pa?”

He didn’t know. He assured me they wouldn’t hurt me. That was the least on my mind. I didn’t want them to hurt me, but I didn’t want them to hurt my Pa either. I was the one who should be punished! If there was anyone to blame – it was me. “Why do they want to hurt you? We didn’t do anything, did we?”

I asked the question, even though I felt that I had done something wrong. But I had to hear Pa’s words of reassurance. I had to hear…I don’t know…I just had to hear my Pa! “No. No we didn’t, son.”

“Then why? I don’t understand!” I cried. Why did they want to kill my Pa for something he hadn’t done? “Mark, hard things happen to people all the time. We don’t really know why.”

That was the only answer he could give me. My Pa was a man of great wisdom and experience, yet all he could tell me was that hard things happen to people all the time. “It shouldn’t be that way,” I cried.

“Maybe not, son,” Pa answered. “Mark, there’s good and bad in life. A man’s gotta be ready for both.”

There was that word again – MAN. Bad things were part of being a man. I suddenly wondered if soon I would have to be a man and make manly decisions and do manly things. Would these evil men here tonight force me to become a man before Pa wanted me to?

I started to give Pa another bite. Pa shook his head. “I can’t, son.”

I looked down at the plate. “Yeah, I guess I can’t either.” I stood, telling Pa I would take the dishes over to the men. He told me to hurry back.

They were talking about hanging when I got over there – about the chill a hanging caused. The deputy took my plate, and I hurried away.

Pa shivered suddenly. I began tightening his coat around him. Charlie and the deputy came over by us and started talking. They talked about my Pa and Mr. Schneider being horse thieves. They talked about hanging my Pa now. Chills ran all over me. I couldn’t stand what they were saying. I turned and looked at my Pa. I saw the fear in his eyes. Hanging didn’t sit well with him either.

I just sat there silently as I took care of my Pa the best I knew how. Pa stared at me. I stared at him. “Pa, I don’t want to be a man just yet,” I whispered.

Pa shook his head slightly but said nothing. There was nothing to say.

Suddenly, Mr. Crown and Charlie were arguing. Charlie wanted to hang my Pa now. I listened as they continued arguing. Then Mr. Crown walked over to his group of men and told them they’d hang my Pa in the morning. I don’t remember all he said – just that he wanted to hang my Pa.

I had gotten my Pa into this mess, and I reckon it was up to me to get him out. I slowly stood and walked over to Mr. Crown as he spoke on hangings and what they did to you. I thought about what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. They had to know – had to understand that it was me…not Pa…who should be hung. I was the one who did this.

Confidently, I shouted, “Mr. Crown, you can’t hang my Pa.”

Mr. Crown turned to me and told me he had proof – stolen horses and a forged bill of sale. “My Pa never stole anything in his whole life,” I shouted suddenly. “He's a good man, the best man I know. I don't care what you say! I don’t care what you do, but you're wrong and nothing will ever make you right. I bought those horses. Pa gave me the money to pay for them, but I bought ‘em! “

“From Mr. Schneider?” Mr. Crown asked.

I nodded. “He wouldn’t sell them at first…but then he changed his mind and lowered the price.” As I spoke this, I suddenly realized that I should have picked up on that – I hadn’t made him change the price – I hadn’t said anything. My desire to be something I wasn’t ready to be had gotten in my way of good judgment. And now my Pa may hang for my selfish desires. “He wanted to leave town that’s why he was traveling with us to North Fork.” I suddenly understood why he wanted to leave town. “He would have told you if your son hadn’t killed him. Mr. Schneider begged him!”

Mr. Crown suddenly questioned his son on that. But I wasn’t done saying my peace yet. “Whatever you do…whatever you say…I want to be just like my Pa. Just like him, no different. He's the best man I know."

By the time I was finished with my speech, I was crying. I stood there and stared at Mr. Crown. We stared at each other. “You really love your Pa.” I shook my head. “Why? What has he done for you?”

I gasped. “What-“ I didn’t understand that. “Well, he’s taken care of me. He’s raised me up proper – punishes me when I’m bad and praises me when I’m good. He’s taught me what being a man is and he…he…he loves me.” I smiled as I said those words.

Mr. Crown stared at me. Suddenly I heard Charlie shouting my Pan’s name. I gasped as Mr. Crown whipped out his gun and fired. I turned to see Charlie Crown face down on the ground – dead! I couldn’t comprehend everything that had happened. But I knew one thing – Pa was free. I was free.

I ran into Pa’s arms and he clung to me with all his might. He held me close as I cried. I cried and cried, not wanting to let go. “My boy and I had it like that once,” Mr. Crown said softly as he kneeled over his son’s body. “Don’t ever loose it.” I lifted my head to look at Pa, but he had tears in his eyes and suddenly pushed my head back down and squeezed me tight.

We held each other for a long time. “We’re free, Pa. We’re free.”

“Yes, son,” Pa answered through his tears as he took off my hat and kissed my head. “I get to hold on to my boy.” Those were the best words I’d heard in a long time!

We finally broke our embrace. The men were packing up, getting ready to head back. Charlie’s body was tied over his horse. Mr. Crown suddenly turned around and walked over to us. “I…I don’t know what to say.”

We didn’t say anything. Pa and I just looked at each other, then at him. Mr. Crown turned and looked towards his son’s body. “I don’t know where I went wrong. He always wanted to be a man I was proud of. He wanted to be just like me when he grew up. Maybe…maybe I should have held on to him a little longer – let him stay a boy instead of forcing him to grow up too fast.” Mr. Crown turned from us. “Maybe I never should have let go.” His voice was broken. He suddenly turned back to us. “Don’t be in a hurry to grow up, boy. Learn from your Pa. And you two…never stop hugging.”

Mr. Crown started to walk away. Suddenly he stopped again and turned. “Never let go of your boy, Mr. McCain. “ He walked a little further and grabbed the reins of his son’s horse. “My men took care of Schneider’s body. As far as I’m concerned, those horses were sold to you for $50.00. I wish…I wish I could do more.”

Then he walked away. I hugged Pa again. Pa went over to the fire and picked up the pan. It still had some food in it. He silently dipped in on the plate. “Sit down, Mark,” Pa said quietly.

I obeyed him. He walked over to me and sat down beside me. He dipped the fork in the stew and put it up to my mouth. “Now it’s my turn.” I opened my mouth and allowed him to put the food in. I chewed it. “When you were a little boy…I mean a real little boy…I was the only one who could get you to eat. Sometimes your Ma would ring the dinner bell so I could feed you your lunch. She never understood it.” Pa put another bite in my mouth. “But I do…I do…”

That night, Pa built the campfire up. Then we both headed for the wagon to get to sleep. That night, I fell asleep in my father’s strong arms. I felt warm – and safe – in those arms. As we laid there in the silent night, I whispered, “Pa, can I hold off on being a man for a few more years?”

Pa laughed as he fell asleep. “You bet, son. You bet.”

We didn’t sleep much that night. We both wanted to get an early start before those men changed their minds. I saw Pa’s cuts and bruises in the daylight and gasped. I raced to the wagon seat and got the box. Opening it, I found some medicine Pa always kept for my various scrapes and bruises. I doctored them. Pa didn’t argue because he knew I needed to do that.

I hitched up the horses and got the wagon ready. As we started for home, I suddenly grew quiet thinking on the fact that my rush to be a man could have cost Pa his life. Pa turned and looked at me. “It’s over and done with Mark, why so glum?”

I hated to admit what I was thinking, but I had to tell Pa the truth. It was the only way to get past this. “If they would have hung you Pa…..it would have been all my fault!”

I think he knew I’d been thinking that. He put an end to that train of thought. “Now wait a minute son, don’t you ever think that way!” He ordered sternly “If they would have hung me it would have been Charlie Crown’s fault, no one else’s!”

“Charlie Crown, stealing his own Pa’s horse and then turning around and selling them to poor Mr. Schneider, just to get money,” I mumbled. “Guess I didn’t make such a good trade after all. Better leave the business to you!”

“No sir-ree, we’re partners. Every lesson you learn makes you a better partner,” Pa stated. I was sure glad to hear that word again! I sure did want to be his partner. But for now, at least, it was okay by me if he was the senior partner! “Only one thing,” Pa stated.

“What?”

“Just remember the lessons!” I suddenly laughed. Pa’s laughter rang out in the crisp autumn air too.

“It’s all part of being a man. Right Pa?”

“Right, boy!” Pa laughed as we continued for home.

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

The Clarence Bibs Story

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
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