We all rode into my yard at the same time. There were ten of us all together. I ran to the barn and got the ball so we could play a game of kickball. Kevin and I started naming the bases, but we couldn’t agree on the bases. “Listen,” I said. “This is my house, and every other time we’ve played, the barn has been second base! Why do you want to change it this time?” I asked Kevin.
Kevin folded his arms and stared at me. “Because, it’s not even between second and third base! I want the corral right there to be second base instead! Then the house will be third!”
Suddenly all the kids started arguing. Some of us wanted the barn as second, others wanted the corral, and yet others fought for something else. Pa suddenly ran out of the barn. He came to stand in the middle of the group and his face alone stopped us all in mid-sentence. “Alright, what’s going on here?” Pa asked angrily.
“Just a little disagreement, sir,” Kevin stated.
“Yes sir,” I answered. “We were just having a friendly discussion on where the bases should be.”
“Oh, I see,” Pa stated. He folded his arms. “What about your chores, Mark?”
“Well, I figured they could wait,” I said hopefully.
Pa looked at me for a minute then grinned. “Alright, son. But you’ll do double the chores tomorrow if they aren’t done tonight. Understood?” I nodded. Pa picked up the ball. “I’ll pick the bases.”
He gathered up four large rocks and sat them out in the field on the other side of the creek. “There. Now, no more fighting!” he ordered.
“Why way out here, Pa? It’s more fun by the house.” But Pa looked toward a window that had been recently replaced. I cringed as I remembered the day a ball flew through that window. I’ll have to tell you about that story sometime. Boy, but that was a doozey! Pa’s still trying to figure out how a ball that was kicked knocked out that window! Frankly, so am I, especially since it was my foot that kicked it!
We played for awhile. My Pa came out of the barn every once in a while and watched us. We dared not argue anymore, because we knew Pa would send all the kids home and me to my room! After about an hour of playing, Pa walked Razor out to where we were. “Alright kids,” Pa smiled. “That’s enough for the day.” The kids nodded and ran to their horses to ride for home. Pa shook his head at me. “You look like you could use a whole bar of soap on that face of yours.”
I knew what that meant! “Mark, I have the Son-of-Gun Stew cooking inside. There’s a few things I need at the store. I’m going in to start picking them up and we can invite Micah out.to eat with us tonight. I want you to meet me at the store then we’ll ride over and get your hair cut.”
I suddenly gasped. “My hair! I guess I forgot to do that!”
Pa nodded. “Yes, you forgot.” I wasn’t sure that I liked that tone in his voice. It almost sounded like I had done it on purpose – maybe he was just thinking on how much I hated haircuts though. “That’s why you are meeting me in town, so I can make sure it happens.” Pa mounted his horse. “You hurry up and get cleaned up, then meet me at the General Store.” Pa looked at me and pointed. “And don’t you dawdle!”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
It wasn’t long before I was on my way. But as I rode, I suddenly saw an old man down in the dirt looking for something. He had lost his glasses. I kindly mentioned to him that it must be awful to need something so bad then loose it. I finally found his glasses. He tried to give me money, but my Pa had taught me over and over to never take money from strangers or friends. I refused the money and hurried off to town.
I ran into the General Store and saw Pa with his arms folded. He gave me a glare. “I’m awful sorry, Pa, but I had to stop and help someone who was in trouble! Honest!”
“Alright,” Pa said. “I’m going to go talk to Micah. You get the mail and meet me over there.”
I did exactly as he said. But before I walked out, I grabbed a pickle and another piece of candy. “Now Mark, you’ve already charged several of those! When are you going to pay it?”
“Soon, Hattie. I’m almost done paying for that broken window, then I’ll start getting an allowance again. I promise I’ll pay you back!” I hurried out and went over to Micah’s.
The man I had helped earlier was in there. I again greeted him warmly and he reminded me that he would pay me back someday for my assisting him. After he left, I handed Pa the letter. Pa opened it and read it out loud. “McCain, I’m cashing you out,” he read.
My eyes grew wide as I heard this. That sounded like a threat if I ever heard one! I didn’t much care for people threatening my Pa! It gave me an uneasy feeling deep inside me and kept me awake at night.
Pa and Micah couldn’t figure out who it was. I tried to think back to the last few days, wondering who could have it in for my Pa. Suddenly, Pa told me to go back to the store and pick up our supplies. “But Pa, the note!” I stated. I couldn’t just brush this off like he was doing. Things like this worried me.
He told me that was a joke. I didn’t much believe him and went back over to the General Store. I slowly walked in and heaved a big sigh. “What do you think, Miss Hattie?” I asked her quietly as I stared at the door. “Have you seen anyone who could…you know…want to kill my Pa?”
“Of course not!” Miss Hattie stated. “Of course not. Why?”
“Well,” I turned and looked toward the door again. “It’s nothing I guess.”
Pa came in and helped me pack the supplies up on the horses. “Come on,” he nodded toward the barber shop.
“Okay, okay Pa. I’ll go. But I’m not a baby. I don’t need you to come too!” I declared.
“Well, I’ll come in to make sure it gets started, how bout?” Pa stated as he pointed toward the barber shop with his thumb.
Pa went on home after Mr. Barrows got started on my hair cut. When I got home, Pa and Micah were sitting at the table sipping coffee. I heard them discussing a second letter as I walked in, but they quickly stopped as I walked inside. “What second letter?” I suddenly asked as I rushed up to the table and laid a worried hand on Pa’s shoulder.
“Nothing, Mark. Don’t worry.”
But I stared at Pa. “What second letter?” I demanded to know.
Pa looked at Micah and sighed. “Son,” Pa started as he put a hand on my back to calm me down. “Someone’s obviously trying to scare me, but that’s all it is.”
“How do you know?” My words came out quickly and heavy with worry.
Pa and Micah looked at each other. “Um…Mark, what about that checker game?”
I looked at Pa. “I thought you said…” I started.
“I know, I know,” Micah stated. “But I change my mind. I’ll play checkers with you while your Pa finishes supper.”
“Okay,” I answered. “And…uh…the looser does the dishes?”
“Mark!” Pa started to scold me.
“No no, Lucas. That’s a fair bet. Okay, boy,” Micah answered.
I grinned. I usually could beat Micah! I got out the checker board and set it up. Then we started playing. But after a few moves, the letters started haunting me. I watched Pa as he worked steadily in the kitchen with supper. I realized at that moment that someone was threatening to take that away from me. Someone was trying to kill this great man who had sacrificed everything for me.
I looked at Micah and gave him a sorrowful smile. Then I stood up and walked over to Pa. “Pa?”
Pa turned from the stove as he heard the fear in my voice. He suddenly put his hands on my shoulders and bent down in front of me. “What is it Mark?”
I lowered my head then looked back up at him. “Pa, I…I don’t understand how you can just stand here and not even care about those letters.”
“What do you want me to do, son? You want me to pace a hole in the floor and ring my hands with worry? You want me to knock on every door in North Fork to ask our friends and neighbors if they want to kill me?” Pa raised his eyebrows at me as he waited for an answer.
“No sir,” I sighed. “It’s just that…” I stopped suddenly. “You think those letters are still a joke?”
“Mark?” Pa looked sternly into my eyes as both of his hands squeezed my shoulders. “I don’t want you to worry about this. Worry doesn’t do us any good.”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
Pa smiled. “Good boy.” He turned around. “After school tomorrow, meet me in town and we’ll eat supper at the hotel. Alright?”
My head popped up. “In town? You’re going to town tomorrow?”
Pa suddenly turned back around to face me. “Of course,” Pa answered. “Any reason why I shouldn’t?”
The look on Pa’s face told me there was only one correct answer to that question. I wanted to beg him to stay home for a few days – at least until whoever was sending him those letters settled down. I wanted to demand that I stay home from school tomorrow. I wanted to turn and ask Micah to stay with him. But I knew none of these choices were an option. “Um, no sir.”
“Come on, boy!” Micah called. “Let’s finish this game before your father throws this board off the table.”
Ten minutes later, Micah was grinning ear to ear. Pa put the last of the food on the table and we began eating after Pa blessed the food. “I don’t know what happened, Pa! I have to wash dishes now.”
Pa and Micah laughed. “Well, what is it I’ve always told you about…uh…betting on a sure thing?”
“Don’t say it, Pa,” I groaned loudly as I ate my food. “I think I’ll get ingestion tonight!”
Pa and Micah laughed as my mispronunciation of the word. They played a “friendly” game of checkers as I washed the dishes.
The next morning, I dawdled as long as I could. But Pa finally firmly patted my backside and told me to get moving toward school. I stood by my horse again thinking on those letters. “Pa,” I turned. “When will you be going into town?”
“Oh, probably this afternoon sometime. Why?” Pa asked as he patted my knee.
“Well, I-“ I stopped.
“You…uh…wanted to know when you could start worrying?” Pa asked sternly.
I nodded. Pa patted me and stepped back. “See you after school, son.”
Come to think of it, I didn’t wait until that afternoon to start worrying. At first recess, I hurried into town to ask Micah if he’d heard from my Pa. Micah had been sitting outside his office when I rode up to ask him. I worriedly looked down the street as if to see Pa’s latest problem just standing there with a rifle in his hand waiting for my Pa. Micah stood up and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Mark, your father can take care of himself.”
“He can’t watch everywhere, Micah. What if someone sneaks up on him? What if he’s bushwhacked? What if-“
Micah held up a hand and frowned at me. “Mark, many men have died because of that “what if.” Many men have lived their whole lives based on those what if’s , only to discover that they never lived their lives. Your father is a strong, brave man. He’ll see this through.”
“Then, you don’t think it’s a joke, do you Micah?” I asked.
Micah shook his head. “You better get back to school, boy,” he said quietly. “You…um…come by at lunch and I’ll treat you to a sandwich at the café.”
I met Micah at the café for lunch and we sat down. I looked toward the door as if to see Pa, but no one came in. “You’re Pa usually doesn’t come in until it’s time for you to get out of school, son.” I nodded and stared down at my sandwich. “Come on, boy. Eat so you can get back to school.”
I nodded and did as he told.
I was really upset that afternoon. I didn’t get to take an afternoon recess because Miss Adams thought I was daydreaming. I had to sit inside and write “I will not daydream in class” for the whole twenty minutes!
So by the time school let out I was really anxious! I hurried into town and tied Blue Boy up outside Micah’s office. But then I heard something. I turned to see Mr. Beaumont and Pa fighting. Pa shot into a fence five bullets – one after the other. Mr. Beaumont used his shotgun and blew a whole in the fence. I watched Pa walk across the street. He turned and saw me. Suddenly he frowned.
I ran up to him and grabbed his arm. “Pa?” I asked running beside him as he continued walking. “Pa? Is he the one? Is he, Pa?”
Pa looked toward Micah and sighed. “Did you get another letter today?”
Pa continued walking into Micah’s office. “Someone took a shot at me a little while ago, Micah.”
“Someone-“ I suddenly gasped. “Pa, that means someone is trying to kill you!”
Pa turned and sighed. “Mark, I have a few errands to run. You go on into Micah’s office and work on your homework, huh?”
“But it’s Friday!” I groaned.
“So?” Pa asked.
“No one does homework on a Friday, Pa! Could I go with you?” I asked hopefully.
Pa turned and gave Micah a look. “No, Mark. Micah will be with me. You sit in here and do your homework.”
“Well, can I go to the General Store and-“ I started.
“Mark,” Pa bend down on the desk and look straight into my eyes. “Miss Hattie and I had a little chat yesterday. You are not to charge anything without my consent again, you got me?”
“Yes sir,” I answered as politely as possible.
And since you have no money, there’s no reason for you to go over to the General Store, is there now?” Pa asked with raised eyebrows.
“Of course not, Pa. I’m gonna sit right here and do my homework until you come back to get me for supper,” I promised.
Pa patted my shoulder and smiled as he walked out.
I did do some of my homework, honest I did. But I began drawing on my notepad. That’s what I was doing when Micah returned. “Your father’s waiting for you at the hotel, boy.” Micah looked at the picture I’d been working on. “Say, that’s a pretty good sketch,” Micah patted my back as I gathered up my books. I raced off to eat.
Pa was really quiet during supper. Mr. Beaumont looked over toward us several times while we ate. I watched cautiously as Mr. Beaumont walked out of the dining room. “Pa? Is there some kind of trouble between you and Mr. Beaumont?” I asked softly. I really needed to know the truth. Has it got something to do with those letters?”
Pa had just lit his cigar as I asked. “Well, I haven’t the slightest idea, Mark,” Pa answered. “If there is trouble, he’s carrying it.”
“I’d kind hoped he’d like North Fork,” I suddenly stated sadly.
“Well, something’s burning him inside. In time, he’ll probably forget all about it.”
I couldn’t believe Mr. Beaumont was the one wanting to kill Pa. He was just a nice old man trying to straighten out his life! I just couldn’t believe it. “I hope so. He’s got no one. He’s all alone, Pa!”
“Well, I’ll tell you something about that, son. I could just be his own fault,” Pa answered honestly. Sometimes it was his honesty that made things even worse. This was one of those times.
I stood up. I had been worrying and fretting about my father for a whole day now, and just couldn’t stand going another day without sleep! I finished my pie and told Pa I’d be right back. “Where are you going?” he suddenly asked suspiciously.
I knew he wouldn’t approve if I told him, so I simply told him I was going outside. He didn’t push me for more, which made me happy.
I went outside and walked up to Mr. Beaumont. I just had to get to the bottom of this!
My presence started him at first, but I had to find out what the trouble was. Pa seemed to be taking an indifferent attitude about this, and I couldn’t stand worrying about him any longer. "Mr. Beaumont. Do you remember what you said when I found your glasses?" I asked.
"Yeah, I think I remember. I said I always pay my debts," said Mr. Beaumont.
“Well, my Pa’s a good man!” I declared.
“Well, there could be other opinions about that,” Beaumont mumbled.
“Seems to me there might be a mistake between you and my Pa. Well, you two could be friends if you’d just allow it!” I stated. I was doing my best to keep my Pa alive.
“Son, there’s only one way to settle a debt!” Beaumont announced.
“Well are you sure my Pa owes you something?” I asked desperately. Mr. Beaumont nodded. “He’s always told me that lots of times it’s better to forgive and forget.” Mr. Beaumont stated that Pa couldn’t teach him his memories.
I begged him to change his mind. “You just don’t understand this, boy. A man don’t change his mind even a little bit! When he’s been through a long affliction, as soon as he forgives and forgets, he dries up and dies like a weed that’s given up on living. Boy, a man can’t just change his mind. I’m sorry.” He told me to run along.
I was sorry too. I had no choice but to tell Pa what I found out. I wanted to make sure my Pa did what he could to protect himself. He was the only father I’d ever have!
I ran back into the dining room. Standing behind Pa’s chair, I told him that Mr. Beaumont was the one whose been sending him those letters. Pa turned to face me. “How do you know that?” he asked.
“He just practically told me,” I confessed, knowing he’d figure out I had gone to talk to him. “He said that you owe him something. What is it? What do you owe him?” I was suddenly very worried.
I told Pa he was sitting out in front of the saloon. “Son, you wait here fore me until I get back, ya hear?” I nodded, knowing that was an order.
"He's got that shotgun Pa,” I warned him.
I sat down as Pa left with his rifle. I wanted so badly to run after him and try to protect him, but I knew I was to stay right here. I looked down at the fork sitting on my Pa’s plate and picked it up. I was so worried, and as I held his fork in my hand I felt some physical connection to him. I stared at the cigar still burning in the tray. As long as it was burning, Pa was okay. But it was when that cigar was cold like everything else that I would start wondering if he’d come back.
But I waited. I pace the floor and waited. Suddenly, the front door to the hotel opened and Pa walked in. I ran and jumped into his arms, kissing him on the cheek. “You’re okay!” I declared as I laid my hands on his cheeks. “You’re okay!”
Pa smiled at me and nodded. “Of course I am, son. Everything’s okay. Beaumont’s in jail.”
“Who was he, Pa?” I asked.
“Someone I helped arrest a long time ago.” I opened my mouth to ask more questions, but Pa held up a hand. “He’s on his way back to Leavenworth now, Mark. Let’s drop it, okay?” I nodded.
Pa slid me down from him and sat back down at the table. “We need to finish the errands. But I want to ask you a question first.”
“Yes sir?” I asked.
“Did you go outside to talk to Mr. Beaumont?” From the sound of Pa’s voice, I knew he knew the truth. My answering was just a formality.
“Yes sir,” I answered honestly. Pa opened his mouth to holler at me, but I jumped in before he could. “P-Pa, I know what you are going to say – that I shouldn’t have done it. But I had to find out the truth. Why, you were taking too long on finding out and besides, I…” I looked squarely into his eyes. “Well, I reckon I care about you too much to stand by and do nothing.”
Pa looked me up and down with his eyes. Then his face broke out in a wide smile. “Let’s go, son.”
Before we left, Pa told me to check if Miss Hattie had the brown sugar in. “And you make sure you pay her for all those peppermints and pickles you charged!” he ordered with one of his stern looks.
I hated to do it, but I told him I’d need a dime. From the look on his face, I might as well been asking him for a million dimes! But he gave me the dime and stated, "Alright. But remember, a man's gotta pay his debts.”
It was funny that Pa said that, since Mr. Beaumont had said the same thing. Later as we rode home, I asked Pa if I’d done right in going to Mr. Beaumont. “Well Mark, I won’t say that I approve – I can’t. But,” Pa suddenly looked at me. “But it makes me proud to have a boy watching out for my hide like you do.”
I smiled as we hurried down the road towards home. I would surely sleep tonight!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Sins of the Father
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch