I excitedly threw my books down on the table and read the note.
Mark, I’m out in the lower pastor. When you get home, do your chores and do your homework. No fishing today.
I shook my head as I read the words. Boy, my Pa sure did know me well. I looked down at my books on the table. I had a killer test tomorrow and really wanted to get out of it. I had put off studying for it all week – finding an excuse for it every night. I had planned on going fishing, but now I figured I should hurry along with my chores and get started with my studying for that test.
I went outside and looked at the woodpile. Pa had chopped the wood while I was at school, so now I had some stacking to do. As I was just finishing up my job, I heard a wagon quickly approaching. I looked around nervously but Pa was no where in sight. I guess I was on my own with this stranger.
The man stopped the horses and jumped off the wagon. He raced forward. “You got a doctor in this town?” He grabbed me by the shoulders and gently shook me.
“I…I…Well, yeah.” I swallowed hard as I threw down the wood in my arms. “Dr. Burrage is the doctor – has been for many years.”
“Could you go fetch him for me please?”
I looked toward the wagon. “Is-is something wrong?” I wasn’t sure what to do. Pa didn’t hardly like me talking to strangers like this, much less following their orders. “Should I go get my Pa? He’s in the lower pastor.”
The man took off his hat and rubbed his neck. “I’m sorry, son. I’m just so worried. You see, my wife – she’s in the back of the wagon and very ill. She fell from a wagon a couple days ago and she’s pregnant. I-“
My eyes suddenly grew wide. I was suddenly nervous about a hurt pregnant woman and me being alone with a man as worried and nervous as he was. I began backing up. “Oh, I-I-I’ll go get my Pa!” I hurried to Blue Boy and untied him from the hitching post. “You can bring her in the house and lay her in my bed in the bedroom.” I jumped on my horse. “I’ll go get my Pa then run for the doctor!”
I raced Blue Boy through the gate and down to the lower pastor as fast as I could. I saw Pa in the distance. When he saw me coming, he quickly hurried forward. He held out a hand to Blue Boy to stop him, then came to stand beside me. “What’s wrong, son?”
“Pa!” I took some deep breaths trying to calm myself. “There’s a man…a man up at the house! He-he-he just rode in with his wife. She-she fell a couple days ago and is pregnant. He said that…that…she needs the doc!”
“Alright, I’ll get up there son. You run into North Fork for the doctor. And hurry!”
I raced as hard as I could. When I got into town it was still hustling and bustling with activity. I quickly made my way to doc’s office and ran up the steps to his office. But when I tried to open the door, I realized it was locked. I quickly banged on the door. My heart was pounding a mile a minute. “Dr. Burrage! Dr. Burrage!” I cried. But there was no answer.
I looked around but saw no one who could help me. I ran to Blue Boy and jumped on, praying he was at home. Racing to the outskirts of town, I again jumped off Blue Boy and raced to his front door. I banged on it several times calling his name but he never answered. “Dr. Burrage, Dr. Burrage!” I cried as I pounded on the door. But there was no answer. I ran to the side and looked in the window. “Dr. Burrage, we need you!” I cried desperately.
But then Mr. Hannaberry gave me the bad news. Dr. Burrage was out of town. He promised me to give Dr. Burrage my message the minute he came in on the stage tomorrow. I was worried, though. Pa had told me about how lots of women die in child birth, and with her being sick and all already, well…”You won’t forget?” I asked, still worried about the situation. He assured me he wouldn’t.
I jumped on Blue Boy and raced back home. The minute I got into the yard I jumped off the horse and started to run inside. Pa walked out the door and quickly placed a finger to his lips. “Is she bad?” I asked. Pa nodded. “I’m sorry, Pa but I couldn’t get him. He’s out of town!”
“Pa,” I suddenly grasped him by the forearms. “What are we gonna do? She may die and-“
Pa cupped my face with his hands and steered my eyes into his. “She’s not going to die, son.”
“But Pa, she’s-“ I pointed to the window of the bedroom.
“Mark, I want you to go to the barn and feed the hogs. Try to calm down. Mr. Marston is very worried. We don’t need to add to that worry.” Pa looked at my horse. He patted Blue Boy’s head. “He’s been through quite a race tonight, son. You best bed him down and give him extra feed and water.”
I went out to the barn to do what Pa had told me to do. I knew my most important task was to calm myself down. He was right, I knew. Mr. Marston would need our strength and encouragement now. I patted Blue Boy as I bedded him down, then I went to feed the hogs.
Mr. Marston came out announcing that Pa needed me inside. But while I was finishing up with the corn, he suddenly looked very worried. I knew now was as good a time as any to try calming him down like Pa asked. I gave him assurance that the doctor would indeed be here first thing in the morning. He was so worried. I wished there was something I could do for him, but there wasn’t.
He took over feeding the hogs. He seemed really out of it, and I wasn’t sure that he would do a proper job at feeding the hogs. I walked inside and told Pa it didn’t look like he knew what he was doing. That’s when Pa explained it to me – he had to put him to work at something so he wouldn’t worry so much about his wife.
Pa asked me to go get our neighbor woman to help with the baby.
But suddenly our front door burst open and two men came in. They shoved Mr. Marston inside as well. Pa went for his gun, but the second man held a gun on Pa. I stared at them. I had seen them earlier in town. I know Pa told you all about them, and I’d just soon not go into lots of detail about them, cause they scared me something awful.
I stayed by Pa’s side as they started bossing and kicking in doors and such. Apparently the one man was a doctor and he was pretty upset with Dr. Burrage for saying some things against him in court about him drinking while operating on people. I told Pa I had seen them in town outside Dr. Burrage’s house. That was our first clue that their being there had something to do with Doctor Burrage.
Mr. Marston tried to go into the bedroom to check on his wife. The gunman fired a shot at the door. That scared me something awful and I jumped. Pa reached out and pulled me next to him and kept a protective arm around me. The mean doctor finally let Mr. Marston go into the bedroom. I just stared at the men. “Pa, why-“ I started to whisper.
“Sh,” Pa warned suddenly as the mean doctor turned and stared at me. Pa patted me on the back. “Why don’t you go get a drink of water in the kitchen?” I started to tell Pa that I didn’t need a drink of water, but when I looked into his eyes, I saw that it wasn’t a suggestion.
“Yes sir.” But I was nervous and couldn’t stay still. I quickly began pacing the room hoping Pa would do something soon. I suddenly felt the urge to be next to my Pa, so I thought and thought of a reason to go up to him. Finally, I did – a valid reason. I hurried up to him. "Pa, the irrigation water is gonna overflow on the lower pasture."
But Pa could see right through me. “Scared, son?” I shook my head, not wanting to admit it. But again, Pa could see right through me. My being afraid didn’t bother him. His soft eyes told me it was okay. His eyes told me he would protect me, and that’s what I wanted more then anything right now – for Pa’s protection. I knew that as long as Pa was here with me, I would be okay.
The doctor didn’t like us talking and told us to break it up. I turned and stared at the doctor. Then I turned back and looked at Pa. He motioned for me to move away. I went to sit on the arm of a chair and listen to what was being said. The stuff the doctor talked about made me feel really uncomfortable. I knew Pa didn’t want me hearing such things, but Pa knew there was no where for me to go. If he could have safely sent me away, he would have.
If you want to hear the doctor’s excuses for why he did what he did, just listen to my Pa’s story. I don’t want to talk about it myself. But at some point Mr. Marston came out and said his wife was really bad. Pa jumped up to go get help, but then the gunman pointed a gun right in my Pa’s face and said he’d kill anyone who tried to leave.
I just stood frozen in my spot. I was so scared. I never liked seeing a gun pointed at my Pa. I started forward to help Pa, but he saw me move from the corner of his eye. “Stay right there, son,” he said quietly. He continued staring at the gunman. “Mark, I want you to sit down in that chair.”
I turned and looked at the chair. “No, Pa. I want you with me.” I was scared. I wasn’t just scared because of the man with a gun, though. I was scared because there was a nice lady in the next room who may die – and her baby too – if we didn’t get help soon!
Pa finally realized I needed him. He backed away from the gunman and walked over to me. Mr. Marston went back into the bedroom. Pa grabbed my arm and led me over to the fireplace. “Sit down for a minutes, son.” The gunman didn’t like us talking together. He started to order Pa to move away from me. Pa turned on him as if he were a snake. “Listen you!” Pa suddenly sneered. “I’m his father and right now I’m being a parent and talking to my son. If you have a problem with that then-“
The gunman held up his hands in defeat. “No problem,” he answered as he backed away. “Just don’t try anything funny.”
Pa turned back to me. “Mark,” he started as he laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Look at me.” I lifted my head and looked into his eyes. “Alright now.” Pa put his other hand on my other shoulder and looked deeply into my eyes. “You are going to be okay. That gunman over there is just a wet-nosed kid. He doesn’t want to kill anyone.”
I started to look at him, but Pa turned my head back around. “Don’t look at him, son. It’ll only wile him. Now, I promise you, son, that nothing will happen. But if I tell you to do something I want you to do it.” He raised his eyebrows at me. I only nodded my head. “Okay, it’s getting late. Why don’t you go get in the chair and try to go to sleep.”
“I can’t, Pa,” I argued.
Pa looked at me then stood up. He held his hand out for me to take. I gave him a gentle smile then accepted his hand. We walked over to the chair and Pa sat me down in it. He sat down on the arm. “Close your eyes, son,” he whispered softly. I did as he asked. “Now, did I ever tell you about the time that I was chased by a big ol’ grizzly bear back in the Ozarks?”
I shook my head and smiled. Pa always told me stories when I was little. It was comforting that he was doing the same thing now. “Pa, what are we going to do to help her?” I asked suddenly.
Pa shook his head. “Close your eyes and listen. Now, I was out in the woods one day tracking a big buck when I heard this noise behind me.” Pa talked softly and quietly as he spoke. But the same excitement was in his voice. “I figured that noise was the sound of a buck, so I cocked my rifle and slowly and quietly turned around. You want to know what was standing tall and mean right behind me?”
“A bear!” I exclaimed as I sat straight up in the chair.
“Shhhh,” Pa put a finger to his lips. Then he pushed me back in the chair. “That’s right. A big grizzly bear.” I asked him what he did as my eyes suddenly grew wide. “What did I do? What would any man with half a brain do? I turned around and ran! Yes sir, I sure did! That bear was so close to me that I could feel his hot breath on me! I could too.” Pa pointed to the back of his neck. “Right there. It was so hot, in fact, that it burned the skin plum off it did!” My eyes grew wide again. “Close your eyes, son.”
I did as he told me. “Well, I ran and ran, wishing I could shoot my rifle, but I was shaking so much that I couldn’t even get my fingers around the trigger!”
“You were scared?” I asked in disbelief. “Not you, Pa!”
“I told you, son, that everyone gets scared.” Pa raised his eyebrows at me again. “Close your eyes, son.”
I closed my eyes as he continued. “Well like I was saying, I was shaking so hard that I couldn’t even get my fingers around that trigger to shoot a warning shot! No siree – that bear was mean and grumbling and I just knew that I was going to be his supper! So I started running faster. I ran faster and faster and…”
That’s all I heard. I was sound asleep thanks to the soothing, soft voice of my father!
But suddenly I woke up at the sound of a woman screaming. I looked towards the door and cringed at the sound of her scream. I was scared for her – I didn’t want her to die!
The gunman told my Pa he could go get help. Pa said it was too late. Now I was really scared!
Pa got really angry. When I say he got angry – I mean he got ANGRY! Pa had never been that angry at me before, but I’ll tell you that I have seen his anger, and it’s not a fun thing to be! If you make Pa angry, you are going to pay! I’ve been there once or twice myself, and at the moment I knew there was nothing on this earth that would make me want to disobey a single order Pa ever gave me again – not after seeing how angry he was.
Why, Pa was shoving that man around the room. I tried to stay out of his way, but once or twice I was right in the line of fire…er shoving! Finally, the woman screamed and the doctor came to his senses. He said he would help.
I watched the door as it closed. Pa sat down at the table and put his head in his hands and prayed. I could hear his desperate whispers as he prayed to God to spare the family any heartache. I cautiously walked up to Pa and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. I said nothing but sat down next to him, closed my eyes, and listened to his prayer.
When his prayer was done, Pa laid a hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. I knew I had done right to support him through his hard prayer. He got up and got a cup of coffee. He was so very tired. I looked toward the door again, but no sound was coming out. I went to the door and took down my rope, swinging it around a few times. Normally, Pa would have told me not to swing it in the house, but today Pa was deep in thought.
I held the rope, suddenly feeling guilty for doing something I knew was wrong. I was worried about the woman. It was so quite, and it had been so long. I walked up to Pa. "They’ve sure been in there a long time,” I said, no longer able to take the haunting silence.
"Those things take time son. Same as when you were born. I waited…waited." Pa’s voice held a deep worry and sadness in it. I didn’t quite understand why.
“She'll be alright, won't she Pa?" I had so many doubts about that question myself. But I knew that if Pa assured me she’d be okay that she would be.
But I didn’t get that assurance. Instead, Pa slammed his fist on the table violently. “I don’t know, son! I don’t know!”
His action scared me. I quickly moved away not wanting to be around him. I was already edgy and his anger was something I didn’t see very often. But Pa quickly turned and grabbed me by the arm. "I'm sorry Mark. You see son, when you were born your mother almost - well, she was sick for a long time."
That’s when I recognized that look in Pa’s eyes. How did I miss that? I had seen it so many times before. That wasn’t the look of anger or worry he had for me, but it was the look his eyes always gave when he thought on my mother. I didn’t know much about what had happened when I was born. My ma and pa mentioned a thing or two – enough to know that it was an awful experience and it made me even more special to both of them. But it was also a subject that Pa never wanted to mention. It was his own private memories that would stay there. I doubted I would ever know the truth about that time in my parents’ lives.
“You don’t have to talk about it, Pa,” I suddenly answered. “I understand.”
Pa suddenly looked at me as if he was seeing me for the first time. He laid a gentle hand on my cheek. He couldn’t even smile because the memory was so bitter. “You’re growing up awful fast, Mark.”
The doctor came out. We all turned and stared at the doctor. No one was sure what the outcome was because the doctor held so much emotion on his face. Suddenly we heard a baby crying.
Mr. Marston hurried into the room, and I hurried in quickly after them. His wife was asleep and the baby laid in our clothes basket at the end of the bed. I stared down at the baby. Mr. Marston laughed as he the baby slept quietly, fully satisfied the ordeal was over. “He’s so tiny,” I whispered.
Mr. Marston put an arm around my shoulders. “He is beautiful, Mark.” He rubbed a finger against the baby’s cheek. The baby didn’t even move.
“You reckon he’s okay?” I asked suddenly.
“I reckon he is.” Mr. Marston looked over toward his wife. He turned back to me. “Your father is an amazing man, son. The way he prayed for us and all – why, I feel ashamed at how we just barged in on you, scaring you have to death.” He patted my shoulder. “Your father has raised you well. I hope you know how lucky you are.”
“I do.” I went back to the baby while he sat down next to his wife.
Suddenly, I heard a horse. I hurried to the window. Turning, I announced that the gunman was leaving. Mr. Marston was overjoyed. He kissed his wife. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable being there.
I went out to the barn and found Pa. We talked about how nice it was to have another baby in the house. Pa suddenly yawned. I folded my arms and shook my head. I knew an opportunity when I saw it, and this one was too good to pass up! "You look tired Pa. I think I'm gonna stay home today and help you with the chores."
It worked like a charm. Pa was so tired that he didn’t even argue with me! He left me to milk the cow, stating he had something more important to do.
But no sooner had I finished the milking when I heard a buggy approaching. We told Dr. Burrage he was too late. He was confused and when he found out a baby was born, he told Pa that he hoped Pa had sent for our neighbor lady. Pa informed him there was no time. I jumped into the conversation. “Yeah, you see…this doctor just happened to come by. And then he delivered the baby and left again.”
Doc looked really confused then, so Pa decided to invite him in for breakfast. Pa blessed the food and we began eating. There was a knock at the door. Billy stood there asking if I would ride to school with him. “Oh, I’m not going,” I informed him. “We had a rough night and Pa didn’t get any sleep last night. So I have to stay home and help him.”
Pa started for the door. “What about that test?” I held my hands up and began shaking my head side to side, warning Billy to stay quiet.
“What test?” Pa suddenly asked as he crossed his arms and looked from Billy to me and back to Billy. Billy and I stared at each other. I narrowed my eyes at him, flashing him a “thanks a lot” look. “I said what test, boys?”
I lowered my head and closed my eyes. It wouldn’t take much to anger Pa this morning. I certainly didn’t want the rough treatment he had handed out just a few hours before! “I have a history test today.”
“History huh?” Pa folded his arms. “And did you study?”
“Well, it was so busy last night, Pa. What with all that commotion, how was I supposed to-“ I started.
“Mark, that’s why Mr. Griswald gave us all week to study for it. Don’t you remember how he said things could come up at the last moment, and that wouldn’t be an excuse on test day?” Billy was sure nice to remind me of that.
I flashed Billy another dirty look then slowly turned and looked at my Pa. He stood there with his arms crossed and stared at me. “Did he say that, Mark?”
“Well…” Pa raised his eyebrows, daring me to tell a lie. “Yes sir. He did.”
“I see,” Pa stated. “Well, I think maybe today isn’t a good day for you to stay home after all.” Pa turned and grabbed my books from the table by the door. He handed them to me. “Get yourself to school, boy.”
“What about the test?” I asked. “I didn’t even study!”
“Good luck then, son. But remember that if you make a failing grade at school, you can expect punishment at home later.”
I had no choice. I did go to school, studying the whole way there. I figured that getting in trouble for being late was the lesser of the two evils. If I failed this test, Pa would skin me – and that was the worst of the two! I made a D+ on that test. When I handed Pa the test the next day, he frowned at me. I stood in front of him as he walked back and fourth. He finally turned with his hands still behind his back and informed me I would not be going fishing or swimming for the next two weeks. My afternoons would be spent learning everything I missed on that test.
The next day, we said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Marston. I looked down at the baby sleeping happily in his mother’s arms. “You never told us what you were going to name the baby,” I declared.
The two exchanged a smile. Mrs. Marston brushed my hair back as she answered. “His name is Marcus Luke Marston.”
I just stared at them. Pa said goodbye as they climbed into the wagon. He then came to stand by me and put his arm around me as we watched them ride off. I suddenly gasped. “Pa,” I turned to him. “Did you hear that? They named the baby after us!”
Pa smiled as he continued waving. “Yes they did son.”
I suddenly ran after the wagon. “Thank you! Thank you!” I cried as I ran. The horses stopped as Mr. Marston stuck his head around the canvas. “You are welcome. Thank you, Mark.” Then he clucked the horses and continued on their journey.
I hurried back to Pa. “Boy, that sure is something!” Pa nodded. Then I turned to him. “Say Pa, you never told me what happened with you and that bear!”
“Yes I did,” Pa answered as he wrinkled up his brow.
“No you didn’t! You told me that you were so scared you couldn’t shoot the bear. Then you stopped.”
“I didn’t stop, son!” Pa stated as he pulled my hat down over my eyes. “You fell asleep. I can’t help it if you didn’t hear the end.”
Pa started back into the house. “Oh Pa!” I cried as we walked inside. Pa’s laughter rang out through the whole house.
I wonder if he was joshing me about the bear the whole time?
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Flowers by the Door
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch