“Mark, wait up!” Billy called. I was hurrying into town to get the Peanut Brittle Miss Millie had promised she’d have ready for sale this afternoon. “Wanta go swimming?”
I did, but I had gotten a message from one of the kids who had gone into town at lunch. His message was, “Your father expects you home at 4:00 sharp. He said if you know what’s good for you, you shouldn’t be late.” I then asked Steve if Pa was mad. He told me that my Pa wasn’t smiling when he gave him the message. I wondered what I could have done wrong this time!
“No Billy, I can’t today.” I turned and looked at the store. “Listen, I have to hurry and get home!” I hurried into the store and rushed up to the counter. “Miss Millie, I need that peanut brittle super fast! Pa wants me home by 4:00!”
“I know,” she said with a sympathetic smile. “He’s not too happy.”
“You know what it is?” I asked. She shook her head. I popped a handful of peanut brittle in my mouth then took off out the door.
I rode home as fast as I could. Pa walked out of the barn with his hammer in his hand. I could tell he’d been hard at work because his bare back was covered in dirt and sweat. “Hi, Pa.”
Pa walked up to me, hands on hips and stared at me. “Did I…forget to do a chore this morning?” Pa shook his head. “Did Mr. Griswald talk to you?”
Pa shook his head again, but then narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to one side. “What about?”
“Well…” I tried to come up with an answer that would satisfy him. “I can just tell I did something wrong and…” I decided silence was my best weapon at the moment.
“Follow me,” Pa said as he waved his hammer in the air. He threw the hammer down as he walked toward the chicken coop. He laid a firm hand on the post and leaned against it. “Well?”
“Oh. The chicken coop.”
Pa nodded. “A fox got two more of our good laying hens last night, Mark. That’s five this week. And this morning I had to chase these chickens from here to kingdom come. It took me two hours to round them all up.” I swallowed, but remained silent. “You were supposed to fix the chicken coop last Saturday!”
“Well, we didn’t get home from town until late, remember?”
“Why wasn’t it finished last Sunady?” Pa asked.
“Well…” I shrugged. “The Circuit riding preacher was here, remember? Then you told me I could go swimming and-“ I stopped, knowing Pa thought I had taken care of it Saturday.
“Mark, this is Wednesday. You’ve had five days to fix this coop!” Pa declared as he crossed his arms. His voice held an edge in it and he wasn’t quite yelling, but he sure was getting close!
Suddenly, I remembered something. I held up a finger. “Nails!” I declared. “We were out of ten penny nails!”
“Nails.” Pa stated with a nod of his head. He shook his head in disbelief. “You didn’t finish the coop because you were out of nails.” Pa pushed himself off the post and walked closer to me. He stood his full height, towering over me. “You’ve been in town every day this week for school, right?”
“Ye-Yes sir,” I answered quietly as I looked down at his feet.
Pa reached and grabbed my bag of Peanut Brittle from my pocket. “And you’ve obviously remembered to satisfy your sweet tooth.”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
“Hm.” Pa crossed his arms as he held the bag. “And yet you ‘forgot’ to buy the nails.”
“Well Mark, you are out of school on Friday if I’m not mistaken?”
“Mark?” I heard the warning in Pa’s voice. “You will do nothing else or go no where on Friday until that chicken coop is repaired and passes my close inspection. Is that clear?”
“Friday! Do you hear me, young man?”
“Hm,” Pa said again as he continued staring at me. “I’ll hold on to this candy for you for the rest of the night. Mark, remember that those chickens supply our eggs and your craving for fried chicken.”
“Yes sir.” Pa waved his hand letting me know I was dismissed to start on my chores. I turned to go, but suddenly stopped and turned around. “Pa?” Pa turned and raised his eyebrows. “I-I’m sorry about the chickens. You can take the cost of replacing them from my allowance…sir.”
Pa narrowed his eyes at me as he studied me. Then his face broke out in a smile and he gave me a swift smack on the back side. “Go on, boy! Do your chores.”
As I walked into the barn I could hear him laughing.
The next morning, I was good as gold. I got up before I was supposed to, got dressed (and even remembered to wash behind my ears), and went out to do my morning chores. Then as Pa went to start on his chores, I went in and started breakfast. Pa came in as I was throwing a pan in the sink. “Morning son,” he said as he walked up behind me in the kitchen. He took a piece of bacon and raised his eyebrows at the burn.
“Well, you always like your bacon crispy,” I stated. He laughed at me and smoothed my hair down.
Then after breakfast, I gathered up my books and started out the door before Pa had to say a word about it. Again, he raised an eyebrow at me. I was just trying to make up for my wrongdoing, and Pa knew it. “Mark?” Pa called. I turned around on the porch and looked at him. “I’ll meet you after school.” I opened my mouth to protest, telling Pa I could handle the nails myself, but he held up a hand. “I have to pick up my Harness today anyhow.
After school, I got on my horse and headed toward town. Pa met me and we rode into town together. He handed me back my candy and I stuffed it in my pocket. I guess my candy restriction was over. I suspect he knew how much I hated going all day without it, but instead of stuffing a big handful in my mouth, I put the bag in my pants pocket. I didn’t want him to think he was right about my candy-starvation today!
Pa sent me to the hardware store for the nails. I informed him I only had a nickel. “Oh, you can put the nails on my account,” Pa announced.
“Oh?” I said. I got to thinking on that peanut brittle Miss Millie had. Perhaps I could hurry over there when I got done at the hardware store. “And what about my nickel?”
But Pa shot down my idea. He told me I wasn’t going to get any more peanut brittle when I still had half a bag left. Then he started to walk off with it. I grabbed it out of his hand and shook my head at him. Sometimes my Pa was just too much! Then I dumped a handful of brittle in my hand and stuffed it into my mouth.
Now, here’s where the story gets really interesting! I went inside the hardware store and had to wait for Miss Myrtle to finish with her customer, so I went to look at the rifles. I was fascinated with them, even though I wasn’t old enough to use them yet. But as I was looking at them, Miss Myrtle’s customer walked over to stand by me. The first thing I saw was a great big knife strapped to his side!
I couldn’t take my eyes off that thing! It looked like he used it like other men use a handgun! I was suddenly curious to know if he was as good with the knife as a gunfighter was with his six-shooter! I stumbled my way through ordering the nails and door latch, but I wasn’t able to take my eyes off his knife. But as she went to fill my order, I began eating my peanut brittle again.
I felt his eyes on me. I turned, but he looked away. When my business with Myrtle was finished, I walked over to the stranger with the knife. I complimented him on the knife, wanting to know more about it, but he didn’t say a single word – not one word!
I offered him some peanut brittle, but he only shook his head no without a word. Now, Pa always told me I wasn’t one to keep quiet, and I reckon he was right. I never could understand what the purpose was in being quiet! And if Pa had been there to hear the next words that came out of my mouth, he would have called my name very sharply and given me a good tongue lashing later! “What’s the matter, can’t you talk?”
He dropped the canteen he was holding and gave me a strange look. I understood in that moment what Pa meant by “silence is golden.” I should have been silent. So I picked up my bags and nails and turned to hurry out before this strange young man did me great bodily harm. But as I started to walk away, I heard…or saw…him come after me. Shocked, I turned to him. He was suddenly motioning me to follow him outside.
Now granted, following him outside was probably not the smartest thing I had done, and if my Pa had been there, he probably wouldn’t have let me do it. But this man had something in his eyes – it was almost desperation for answers. I was curious about this man, and maybe held a little bit of pity for him, though I wasn’t sure what his problem was. I knew he had a problem, though, and it was one he thought I could help with.
He walked outside and motioned for me to stay standing by the side of the hardware store. He went up to a loaded freight wagon and pointed to a knot on a barrel. Then he came to stand beside me, took his knife, and threw it – straight in the middle of that knot! I tell you what, I was so impressed, I was speechless! I ran and got the knife and studied it for a minute, then I hurried back to him.
I introduced myself to him and waited for him to do the same, but he didn’t speak to me. He only knelt down on the ground and looked at me. I was beginning to realize that he couldn’t talk, but I still didn’t understand the problem. When I asked him about it, he showed me a scar on his throat. I had to look away, not wanting to think about the pain he must have felt at the time that had happened.
But as I stood there, I realized he was just like me – trying to communicate. But while I used my mouth, he had to use his hands. It was like we spoke different languages but still understood each other. I understood that he had some personal pain he was trying to deal with. I understood that he suddenly wanted me to write my name in the dirt, and as I did, he watched with great interest.
You know what I discovered? His name was Mark also! I was excited to say the least! I suddenly got an idea that I could teach him to write – that would make his life a little easier if he could write what he needed. He also told me in his own way that he’d teach me to throw a knife.
Pa called to me, but I had to finish making arrangements with my new friend. We decided to meet Saturday morning.
As I walked back over to the horses, Pa suddenly asked me who I was talking to. Then he wanted to know his last name. “I don’t know,” I stated defensively. Folks are always asking more questions then are necessary, but Pa told me that someday I’d understand why.
When we got home, Pa ordered me to get started on my evening chores. When I was done, I came back inside and started telling Pa all about Mark. “He can use that knife as well as you can use that rifle of yours! Why, I bet he could hit his enemy right between their eyes before they cleared leather!” I stated as I followed Pa excitedly around the kitchen as he cooked. “Why Pa, I bet that there ain’t an outlaw in these parts who would go up against him if they knew how-“ I suddenly bumped into Pa and the cup of sugar suddenly crashed to the floor.
Pa sighed. “Mark, would you please go do your homework?” Pa asked in an irritated voice.
“Well, it’s only Thursday and there’s no school-“ My voice drifted off as I watched Pa slowly turn around and narrow his eyes at me. “Uh…Yes sir.” I hurried to the table and started on my homework.
I was so excited that I could hardly get to sleep that night. Pa came in to check on me once and I was trying to flip a pencil like Mark flipped that knife. The door opened as the pencil bounced off the wall. I immediately laid down in my bed as Pa walked across the room and picked up the pencil. He walked back to the door. As he stood in the doorway, he said “Mark, that’s the last warning.”
Needless to say, I went straight to sleep after that! The next morning, as soon as my chores were done I started in on the chicken coop. The chickens were all over the yard again and Pa told me he wanted all the chickens in the repaired coop by lunch time. By the tone in his voice, I’d say that was an order, not a request! I didn’t even think about what happened if I didn’t meet the deadline – I met it! Pa even pitched in to help me gather up all the chickens and put them in the coop. I securely fastened the latch, stood back and folded my arms. “Well, that wasn’t so bad!”
Pa nodded. “I don’t know why you kids piddle around with a job. You make it much harder then it actually is!”
“Can I go swimming now?” I asked excitedly. Pa waved to me and told me to be back by supper.
The next morning, I quickly ate breakfast. Pa told me to slow down a few times, and I did. I finally sat my spoon down and wiped my mouth. “Pa, is it okay if I do my chores in the afternoon?”
Pa studied me through narrow slits, then he nodded. “Alright, Mark.”
I stood to hurry out the door. “Mark!” Pa called. I turned. “Be back by noon and don’t wonder off too far!”
I left and rode to town. Mark was waiting for me right where we agreed to meet. I started to get off my horse but he only shook his head and told me to follow him. We raced out of town and he took me to his camp.
As I got off, he went to heat up his campfire. I watched him make coffee. He asked me if I wanted any, and I shook my head no. “I’m not aloud to anyhow,” I answered. “Do you have parents?”
A deep sadness suddenly crossed his face as he turned away. “I’m sorry.” I bowed my head in sadness for him.
But I suddenly felt a gentle hand on my arm. He made some motions. “Indians killed them?” He nodded. “They must have kidnapped you then.” Again he nodded.
What was said next gave me chills. Here’s what I understood: “I was a little boy when it happened. My Ma was outside doing laundry and my Pa was in the fields. Suddenly, an arrow struck my Ma right in front of me. I suddenly looked away as Ma screamed. My Pa came running into the yard, and I watched them kill him.” He shook his head, indicating he couldn’t tell me how – it was too awful!
“Suddenly, one of the braves grabbed me as I tried to run away. He tossed me over a saddle and tied my hands together, then he slapped the horse and made him run. I passed out while I was riding that horse. When I woke up I was at a camp. There was a woman there cooking something that smelled something awful.”
Mark bowed his head. I saw a tear slide down his cheek. He indicated that they had forced him to eat. He refused to learn their customs until they beat him – almost killed him. “I was so scared, and agreed to do whatever they wanted. But my fear was so great that I could not learn their language. They slapped me, kicked me, knocked me down. The men…they beat me! The women spit on me. Then one day a man spoke to me in English. He told me I had one more day. Then if I still chose to be stubborn, he’d cut my voice out.”
I gasped as tears suddenly filled my eyes. He turned away, overcome by emotion himself But then he suddenly turned back to me and shook his head. I tried to swallow the tears, but they slid out of my eyes and down my cheeks. He couldn’t go on, but he didn’t have to. I knew what happened – they made him mute. “The last sounds were my screams as they carried out their punishment.”
I jumped up then and ran away as I covered my mouth with a hand. I couldn’t stand hearing about it. I didn’t want to think about it. It was too horrible! I allowed the tears to flow freely down my cheeks as I relieved my stomach of what was left from breakfast. Then I slowly walked back to the campfire and sat down. Mark handed me a piece of bread and told me it would help. “I’m sorry,” he said as I sat there silently and reflected on what I had learned.
I shook my head. “Don’t apologize. I’m glad you told me.”
“I’ve never told anyone before,” Mark told me.
I smiled, suddenly feeling very special. “How…how old were you when they did that to you?”
I had been kidnapped by the Indians when I was ten. I suddenly lifted a hand to my throat and closed my eyes as I remembered how close I cam to dying. I told Mark about my experience, and he crossed his fingers and indicated for me to do the same. Then we joined our crossed fingers together. “Yes. Blood brothers,” I said with a smile. “We have a lot in common.”
“After my voice was cut out, I was sent away from the camp. I’ve been on my own ever since.”
“You were only ten!” I exclaimed. He nodded. “Weren’t you scared?”
“Not as scared as if I’d stayed,” he answered. “I was free of them.”
“How’d you survive on your own at such a young age?”
Mark took his knife in his hand and waved it at me. “I stole it from the Indians. I spent weeks…months…trying to learn how to use it. I became bitter and angry. Since I can’t talk, and this cut my voice out, this does the talking for me.”
I gasped. “Mark, have you killed?” He shook his head no, but indicated he had to almost kill. “But you can talk. You don’t need that knife to talk for you. You’re talking to me, maybe not with your voice, but you are still talking to me.”
Mark turned away. He no longer wanted to talk about it. He knew I didn’t approve. I looked up at the sun and realized I had been gone for several hours. “I have to go, Mark. Can I see you tomorrow?” Mark nodded.
I turned to get on my horse, but Mark hurried over and grabbed my arm. I turned and looked at him. “Thank you,” he mouthed. I smiled, but said nothing.
As I hurried home, I allowed my tears to flow. I didn’t want to let my Pa see me crying, but when I got there I told Pa all about it. I knew he’d want to meet him. My Pa always insisted on knowing who my friends are, and since he was a man, I knew he’d be particularly curious. I also knew Pa wanted to help him.
I hurried through my chores then raced back to his camp. I found him sitting by the fire. He stared into the flames. “Mark?”
He whirled around in surprise. I held up my hands to show that I’d come in peace. He closed his eyes in relief. “My Pa wants you should come to our house for supper tonight.” Mark nodded and stood up. We raced back to the house.
As we sat down at the table, Mark stared at the food. He acted like he’d never seen so much food before. I couldn’t help but smile. “Have you ever eaten with a family before?”
Mark shook his head shortly. “Have you ever had fried chicken?” Again he shook his head no. “Well, how abou-“
Suddenly Pa interrupted me. “Mark, silence is golden.”
“Yes sir.” I knew I was asking questions Pa didn’t think I should be asking, so I stayed quiet through the remainder of the meal.
But then Mark grew sad. I think it was because he realized what he had missed growing up. Here I was in a house with great food and a great father. I went to school and learned everything I needed to know, went fishing and swimming with my friends, and even got punished for doing wrong. Mark, on the other hand, had to grow up the hard way. He never had friends to play with or a school to go to. He didn’t have a Pa or a Ma to eat supper with every night.
Well, you know that my Pa suddenly decided it was his chance to help Mark. I watched him as he stood and grabbed his bow that stood in the corner of our fireplace. Pa began telling Mark about learning to camp from the masters – Indians.
I knew how Mark felt about Indians and couldn’t believe my Pa was bringing up this subject. I suddenly shot a look at Mark, knowing this would upset him. He hated the Indians for what they had done to him and his folks.
Mark suddenly jumped up from the table and turned away from my Pa, but Pa wouldn’t leave him alone. He told Mark how sorry he was about the way he was treated. I watched with disbelief as Pa lectured him, telling him insensitively, in my opinion, that Mark couldn’t let his knife speak for him. He told him about a school where he could work for his tuition. Pa was even willing to help him out.
But Mark was very angry and didn’t want to hear what Pa had to say. I watched silently, feeling Pa was pushing him too hard. I knew what Mark’s reaction would be.
He took my Pa’s bow and broke it. My Pa yelled at him. Then Mark ran out.
I went to go after him, but Pa grabbed onto my arm firmly. I was angry. I was angry at Pa for pushing him like that, I was angry at me for having so much, and I was angry at those Indians for what they had done to Mark.
I shook my arm out of Pa’s grip, suddenly yelling at him. “You shouldn’t have talked to him like that!” I sputtered at him, my voice full of anger.
Pa stayed calm, but looked sternly into my eyes. “What should I have said?” He asked. “Thanks for breaking a bow that meant a great deal to me?”
I didn’t mean that, and Pa knew it! I didn’t like the entire conversation Pa had had with him. I had told Pa things in confidence, and he had been too hard on Mark. His tough love had been out of line this time! “I don’t mean that! You just shouldn’t have lost your temper!” I stated angrily.
But Pa stayed calm. His voice, though, spoke volumes. He didn’t approve of the way I was talking to him, and he expected a change in my attitude. “I lost my temper?”
I knew what he was saying. I had lost my temper. Mark had lost his temper. Pa had managed to stay fairly calm through the whole thing.
I was suddenly beside myself. I didn’t know what to do. Pa had bawled him out good, and I told him that. But Pa explained to me that Mark got mad because he just discovered he couldn’t get away with it – not when my Pa was around.
I was upset and worried for Mark. He had a deep hurt and was out there all by himself. He was carrying that hurt around with him and I wasn’t allowed to go after him. Pa told me to do the dishes, but I was upset. Suddenly, Pa called me to him. He put a gentle hand on my shoulders and looked into my eyes. He told me that tomorrow, I could ride out to his camp and talk to him.
I went back to do the dishes. But after I started, I stared into the sink. Mark didn’t even have dishes to wash. I looked at the lanterns lighting the rooms. He didn’t have a room. He didn’t even have a lantern. I turned and looked at the stove, the cooler, and then my schoolbooks stacked on Pa’s desk. Mark didn’t have any of those things.
I suddenly put my sponge down and walked to the door. I saw Pa sitting on the steps of the porch puffing on his cigar. Mark couldn’t even do that. He didn’t even have a porch to sit on.
I sighed. Pa turned around and looked at me. “Mark?”
I suddenly looked at him. I saw concern all over his face. “Come here.”
I walked over to him and sat down beside him. “Thinking about Mark?” Pa asked as he put an arm around my shoulders. I nodded, but stayed silent as I looked around the ranch. “Well?” Pa raised his eyebrows. “You are feeling guilty, because you suddenly realize you have so much while others have so little?”
I nodded. “But it’s not just material things, Pa. It’s love. I have you to get me up every morning, make sure I eat and get my sleep, protect me…” I shook my head as I thought. “You punish me to teach me right from wrong. You teach me responsibility. You hold me when I’m afraid or sad…”
Pa suddenly tightened his arm around me and pulled me close to him. I leaned my head on his shoulder. “Why Pa? Why doesn’t Mark have anything?”
“How long’s he been on his own?” Pa asked.
“He was ten when he left the Indians.”
“I’m sorry, son. But this is all part of your growing up.” I just sat there, listening to my Pa’s breathing and the bugs singing. “I wish I had an answer, son. But I don’t. Nobody does.”
“Why does God…” My voice drifted off.
“Why does God allow these things to happen?” Pa suddenly lifted my head and looked at me. “God gives us free will, son. It’s a gift we want and don’t want at the same time. Unfortunately, we have to live with the consequences that come form other people’s decisions as well as our own. Mark’s parents were murdered because of a free will decision the Indians chose to make. But,” Pa looked sternly into my eyes. “Mark has free will to.”
I nodded, knowing exactly what Pa was saying. If Mark chose to have nothing, it was now his choice. Pa studied me closely for several moments. Then he patted my back. “Well, you better get those dishes done.” I nodded as I stood. “Mark?” I turned and looked at Pa. “Remember what I said about Mark having free will. That should make your night a little better.”
I thought on that after Pa sent me to bed that night. I wanted to convince Mark to make the right decision – not to kill. I wanted him to go to that special school Pa was talking about because I knew how important an education could be. I wanted him to give up that knife before he went too far with it and allowed it to talk too much. I wanted him to have an even break after all the tragedy that had been in his life.
Pa came in to check on me. He found that I was still awake. As usual, he knew what was on my mind and sat down on the side of my bed. I sat up and threw my arms around him, kissing his cheek. I allowed my arms to linger around him as he squeezed me in a tight hug and just held me. “What’s this?” Pa asked quietly.
“I just love you so much, Pa.” Pa finally broke the embrace and pulled me back so he could look in my eyes and smile. “I feel sort of ashamed.”
“Why?” Pa asked in a soft, gentle voice. There was no accusation or disappointment in his eyes at my declaration.
Pa laid me back down on my pillow and tucked the covers around me. But he kept a gentle hand on my shoulder as I spoke. “Sometimes, I think my life is rough because of what happened to Ma – you know, loosing her when I was only six. But that’s it. That’s all the tragedy I’ve suffered. Then you have someone like Mark who had to watch both of his parents be killed by the Indians, and by the way he talked, they weren’t just shot with arrows.” I shuddered.
Pa nodded. “I suspect that’s true. Then he was kidnapped by the Indians. And that’s another thing.” I grew quiet as I thought on that. “Go on, son,” Pa said in a gentle voice.
“Well, when I think about that time when I was kidnapped by the Indians, I still get chills. I’d never been so terrified in my life. But I had hope – in my heart, I knew that you would find me. I knew you were alive, and even if you were too injured, there would be other folks out looking for me. But…” I sighed. “Mark…he had no hope – his parents were dead and there was no one to look for him.” I turned on my side and put and arm under my head as I yawned. “Then to have to suffer such a terrible, terrible ordeal as to have the Indians cut his voice box out.”
Pa smoothed my hair back from my forehead and smiled. “Mark you are so much like your mother – such a sensitive heart, and I love you for it. But don’t be ashamed. Sometimes…it’s hard to understand the why. It’s best if we just look at the present and say what is. That’s what’s important.”
I smiled as I closed my eyes. “Thanks, Pa.”
Then I drifted off to sleep. As I did so, I could hear Pa smile as he smoothed my hair down and stood up. “So much like your Ma.”
After breakfast the next morning, I hurriedly washed the dishes. I was excited to go over and see Mark. But as I started for the door, Pa’s voice stopped me. He was sitting in his chair reading his Bible. “What is today, son?”
“Why, it’s Sunday.” I answered.
“Mm Hm.” Pa looked up at me. “Just because there’s no preaching today doesn’t mean you can run out that door like a heathen. Let’s have our worship time.”
I sat down as Pa turned to the passage for this morning’s reflection. He started to read, but I stopped him. “Pa?”
Pa looked up at me and smiled. “What, Mark?”
“I wonder if Mark knows who God is. I mean, I wonder if anyone’s told him?”
Pa motioned for me to come sit on the edge of his chair. I did so and he put an arm around me. “I think we all have this feeling of God’s existence deep inside us, son.”
“Yes, but you think anyone’s told him how wonderful God is? And about Jesus and what he suffered? And about-“
Pa shook his head as he stared at me. “I just can’t believe how much like your mother you are.”
“I’m a lot like you too, Pa.” I smiled at him.
“You have your mother’s heart, son. She was always concerned about how people were feeling and what she could do to make things better. She always wanted them to know about God and Jesus and spoke of Him often.”
“That’s you too, Pa,” I stated, confused of the difference.
“Yes, but it’s different with you and your mother. You two…it’s like your heart aches for those things.” Pa picked up his Bible to read. But then he looked up at me. “I tell you what, son. You can tell Mark about those things when you see him today. And we’ll see about getting him a Bible to read. Okay?”
I smiled, suddenly satisfied. “Yes sir.” Then I sat back on the floor and listened as Pa read and worshiped from God’s Word.
We spent an hour reflecting that morning. Pa then made me sit quietly at the table for a while and write down some of my thoughts as he continued quietly in his Bible. But as I read my own Bible, I could hardly concentrate. Pa finally looked at me and smiled. “Alright son, I’ll dismiss you from worshiping a little early today.”
I closed my Bible excitedly and shouted “Oh boy!” But then I stopped as Pa cleared his throat, and I closed my eyes, ending my worship respectfully with a prayer. When I was done, I quietly got up and left.
But when I rode into the camp, I heard commotion. Mark was choking the life out of one of our town folks, Mr. MacCowan. I hurried over. “Mark, what happened?” I screamed. I grabbed him, “Mark let him go!” I screamed, but he was so angry that he kept choking. “You’re gonna kill him!”
Mark continued choking him. There was a deep anger on his face. I could tell it wasn’t just Mr. MacCowan he was angry at – it was everything! “Please Mark!” I pushed at him, trying to get him to release his grip. “Let him go!”
Mark suddenly sat up. I saw a fear on his face, still mixed with that anger. “What happened?” But Mark couldn’t answer. He hurried off as I helped Mr. MacCowan sit up.
Mr. MacCowan commented that it was the third time Mark had jumped him. I wanted to know what he had done to Mark. That’s when I found out another horrible truth – he had made fun of Mark for not talking. My heart ached at all the insensitivity Mark was still experiencing. I informed Mr. MacCowan that Mark couldn’t talk. Then I hurried off to find him.
But I couldn’t find him anywhere, no matter where I looked. Hopelessly, I rode back to the ranch where Pa was working. I hurried into the barn. “Pa! Pa! You’ve got to help! You’ve just got to!”
Pa suddenly bent down in front of me and looked into my eyes. “Calm down, son.” I did as I took some deep breaths. “Now, tell me calmly what’s wrong.”
“It’s Mark. Oh Pa, it’s just horrible!” I shook my head as tears filled my eyes.
“Something happened to him?” Pa suddenly grabbed my shoulders and looked sternly into my eyes. “Is he hurt, son?”
“N-no, Pa.” I swallowed and closed my eyes, trying to regain my composure. “He tried to…kill Mr. MacCowan. I guess he’s been taunting him and he came into his camp today to give him a hard time. Mark jumped him and was choking the life out of Mr. MacCowan. I was able to stop him but then he ran off.”
A tear slipped out of my eye and I angrily wiped it away. Pa patted my shoulder. “Okay, we’ll find him, son,” Pa said confidently. “Mount up.”
We quickly rode back to his camp but he was no where in sight. Pa figured Mr. MacCowan had probably done more then talk to Mark, which is what brought on his intense anger. I was worried. As angry as he was, there was no telling what he would do! Pa said he had a lot of hate built up inside him.
We headed into town. That’s when things went from bad to worse. Mr. MacCowan was there, as well as a lot of other people. The crowd was yelling about something. As I listened, it became clear what had happened. Mark had used his knife for evil – he’d held up a stagecoach and stolen five hundred dollars – five hundred dollars so he could go to Denver to that school Pa was telling him about.
Pa went to look for Mark, but I had to stay in town. I sat down outside Micha’s office and put my head in my hands. Miss Millie came into town and saw me sitting there. I told her the whole story as I cried and she held me like a mother holds her child. I suddenly felt safe in her arms – as safe as I feel when Pa holds me. “I-I want to give him a Bible, Miss Millie. I-I want him to learn the right way to live.” I pulled away from her embrace and looked into her eyes. “That’s his problem, he doesn’t know the right way cause nobody’s taught him. But the Bible will teach him.”
Miss Millie smile. “Mark McCain can teach him too. He can’t read yet.”
“Yes, but he’ll learn at that school Pa wants to send him to. He’ll need a Bible then.”
Miss Millie stood then. She reached out her hand to me and I grabbed it and stood up myself. I walked with her to the store. She unlocked the door and walked inside. “Help yourself to some candy, Mark. I think you deserve it after the rough weekend you’ve had.”
I looked at the candy jars, but again sighed. I wondered if Mark ever had candy. Probably not. Miss Millie came back from the back of the store. She wrapped her arms around what she was holding and walked up to me. “What’s wrong/”
“I-I just don’t want any candy. I guess I’m thinking about how much I get while others get so little.”
Miss Millie opened the candy jar, reached her hand inside, and grabbed a sour ball. She held it up in front of my face. “Don’t feel guilty, Mark. God’s given you this life, and you need to enjoy the life he’s given you.”
I suddenly smiled at her. “Pa says I’m sensitive like Ma.”
Millie nodded. “You are a sensitive one, Mark, and I’ve sensed that from the very beginning. Your father thinks you are a very special boy.” Miss Millie smiled at me. “So do I.”
I popped the candy in my mouth as she held out a brand new Bible. “Here, give this to him. Tell him it’s for when he learns to read.”
I took it from her and ran my hand against the new leather. “I-I can’t take this, Millie.” I held it out to her. “This is too much. Bibles are costly and…well, I just can’t!”
Millie held up her hands, refusing to take it back. I continued holding it out to her but she finally pushed it back towards me. “Mark, listen to me. This is as much from you as it is from me. I don’t think a person should go anywhere without a Bible. It’s the only book that tells us how to live right.” I looked down at the book and swallowed, running my hand across the front again. “Well, my Pa would never-“ I started.
Millie shook her head at me. “Listen Mark, if it’ll make you feel better, you can do some chores around here for me until your Pa thinks you’ve earned your keep. How’s that?”
“I think that sounds about right,” Pa said. He walked up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. “Why don’t you go give it to him? He’s out by the horses.” I looked down at the Bible. “I’m proud of you, son, for remembering what I’ve taught you, but Millie’s right. He does need a Bible and I think that sweeping out the store room and helping for an hour after school for two weeks will just about cover it.”
I smiled, suddenly overcome with joy. “Gee, thanks Miss Millie! Thanks Pa!” Then I ran out the door.
Pa followed me out. “He’s okay, but the reason it took us so long was because he had a lot of emotions to get out of his system.”
I turned and looked at Pa. “Emotions?”
Pa nodded. “They aren’t exactly emotions a man likes to talk about, if you get my meaning.” I did. Pa held him while he cried. “He told me he’s sorry for what he had done and he’s ready to go to that school.”
I walked up to Mark as Pa turned and went back into the store. “I-I got something for you.” I looked down at the Bible and smiled. “It’s a Bible. It tells you all about God and teaches you the right way to live.” I held it out to him.
Mark looked down at it. He ran his hand gently across the cover but shook his head. But I held it out to him. “Every man needs a Bible. Pa makes me read mine a lot. We read out of it together every Sunday. I know you don’t know how to read yet, but when you do…well, you’ll appreciate what the Bible has to say. There was a man named Jesus in there near the back. He was treated with lots of cruelty also. It’s my favorite story in the Bible though.” I smiled. “I’m not gonna tell you anymore then that. You’ll have to see for yourself.”
Mark took the Bible and opened it. He motioned that there were a lot of words. I smiled. “Yes, and someday you’ll be able to read every single one of them!” Mark looked at me as if to tell me I was loco. “You will. And you’ll be able to write and add numbers and-“ Mark held up his hand and gave me a small smile. I nodded, knowing it was too much for him to think about.
“Mark!” Pa suddenly called. We both turned our heads to look at Pa. Pa walked up to us. “Um…” Pa scratched his nose. “We need to go inside now. They want to talk to you.”
We went inside. Mark would only have to do probation for what he had done to the stagecoach. Not only that, but Mark was going to get to go to Denver and already had a job lined up for his education. Pa didn’t want to take any of the credit, but I knew it was my Pa’s doing that saved Mark. I was suddenly glad about something, and I would tell Pa soon.
Mark was suddenly overcome with emotion at all the love he felt in the room. He hurried outside. I looked to Pa who indicated I could follow him out. Mark went to his horse and pulled something out of his saddlebag. It was a carving – and he had carved my name on it “Mark”…or was it his name?
I looked to Pa, making sure it was okay that I keep it. Pa gave me a slight nod. Then we watched him ride away. "I sure am glad things worked out for him. Only, do you think he can keep out of trouble?" I asked this as we watched him leave.
"Well now that a certain long legged doggie taught him the meaning of friendship, he oughta get along just fine son." Pa put one hand on my shoulder, then the other one as he stood behind me. I looked up at him and smiled. Then we started walking down the street.
As we started towards home side-by-side on our horses, I made my comment. “I’m sure glad I didn’t fix the chicken coop that Saturday when you told me to.”
“Huh?” Pa suddenly asked as he raised an eyebrow at me.
“Well,” I shrugged casually. “Just think, Pa. If I had fixed it when you told me to, we wouldn’t have needed nails that day, and I would never have met Mark.”
“Oh,” Pa gave me a strange look and shook his head.
I held up a finger to him and began shaking it. “So, remember that before you yell at me next time I don’t follow your orders!”
“What?” Pa asked in a raised voice.
“Um…” I looked up ahead. “I think we should race!” Then I kicked Blue Boy into a gallop as I raced down the road. I soon heard Pa following close behind me as he laughed.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch