After school let out, Freddie continued with his story about the store-bought rod and reel that his father had bought him for his birthday. “It has string on it, and you can throw it out way in the middle of the lake or wherever you’re fishing. Then you can get the big fish that live in the middle!”
“Oh boy!” I exclaimed excitedly. “I wish I could get one!”
“Hattie has them in the store. You want me to show you?” Freddie motioned for me to follow him. I grabbed Blue Boy and walked him behind me as we went into town.
Freddie and I bounced into the store and walked up to the counter. I saw the sourballs she had out today and grabbed a nickels worth of them. “How are you today, Mark?” Hattie smiled at me warmly.
“Fine, Hattie. I’m sure glad it’s Friday!” I popped one of the sour balls in my mouth and began sucking on it. “Show me where, Freddie.”
Freddie led me further back into the store. I looked at them. The reels were sure shiny! “How do you use them?”
Freddie picked one up. “You just cast it!” he said as if that was the dumbest question he had ever heard. “The harder you cast, the further it goes.”
“Wow!” I stared at the long rod. I rubbed my hand across the shiny reel. “Wow,” I said again. “How much?”
“Well, the sign says $6.50,” Freddie stated.
I swallowed. “How could I ever talk my Pa into letting me…” My voice died off as I rubbed my hand up and down the rod. “I really want this!”
I popped another sourball in my mouth as I stared at the reel some more. “Have you used it yet?”
“Oh yeah! My Pa takes me fishing lots of times and taught me how to use it. It’s really great! Like I said, the big fishes-“
“Mark!” I turned and saw Pa standing behind me with his arms folded and his head cocked to one side. “Mark, where were you supposed to go after school?
I shrugged my shoulders. “I told you to meet me at the barbershop and I’d buy you a store-bought haircut this month! What are you doing here?”
I held out the rod and reel for Pa to see. “Freddie’s Pa got him one of these. He said you can get it in the middle of the pond where all the big fish are and-“
I didn’t even have to finish. Pa took the reel from me and sat it down. “No,” he answered.
“Oh, but Pa!” I followed him to the front of the store. “Freddie-“
Pa turned around and gave me a very stern look. “Mark, I said no.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“I’ll give you $6.50 worth of why not!” Then Pa smacked me gently on the backside. “Now, get over to Mr. Barrow’s and get that hair cut boy!”
He stayed right on my heels as I walked out the door. “Wait! I have to pay Hattie for my candy.” I hurried back in and handed her my nickel. “Will the price on those ever go down?” I asked softly so Pa couldn’t hear.
But you know my Pa! He could hear a flea belch a mile away! “No, Mark!”
I walked across the street, a bit miffed at Pa. He didn’t even let me explain my case for having one. As we sat and waited for Mr. Barrow’s to get to my hair, I quickly flipped through the magazine sitting in there. “I have the money in the bank.”
“Mark,” Pa warned me in that voice that told me I was getting close to his boiling point.
But I couldn’t stop there. “Why not?” That’s all I wanted to know.
“I already told you, son. I’m not spending that much money for you to have something that your stick pole works just as good on.”
“I can’t get all the way to the middle with a stick pole. Freddie said that’s where the big fish are!” I grumbled.
Pa sighed and grabbed my arm. I turned and looked into his irritated eyes. “Mark, the fish swim all over the lake – not just in the middle. If you dangle a worm in front of them, they will come bite your hook – no matter where you are in the lake. "Now,” Pa stood me up and pushed me toward the barber chair. “I don’t want to hear anything more about it!”
“Yes sir,” I grumbled as I climbed into the chair. “Still, it’s my money…”
“Stop making a pest of yourself!” Pa suddenly exclaimed.
The look in his eye and the warning in his voice let me know I had gone just about as far as I could go. I sat there and let Mr. Barrows cut my hair.
As we were getting ready to leave, Micah hurried up to us and told Pa that Mr. Hamilton was looking for us. We made our way over there. I sure was excited to hear that Mr. Hamilton wanted my Pa to ride shotgun. I could tell Pa wasn’t too happy, but he finally agreed to it since they had $20,000.00 on the stage.
Gee, I thought, That’s an awful lot of money! Why, if we had that much money, I probably could have that rod and reel!
I thought this, but I sure didn’t say it!
After we left the bank, we started for the hotel. “Oh boy, Pa! You ride shotgun! That’s awful exciting. I can’t wait to tell my friends that my pa-“
Pa held up a hand and gave me another one of those looks. I guess I was being a pest again. I sighed. “Sorry, Pa.”
Eddie was expecting us. He had a room all ready for us and asked if we were going to eat first. I sure was hungry! “What’s for dessert?” I asked excitedly.
“Eh, chocolate cake,” Eddie answered as if it was no big deal!
Chocolate cake? Oh boy, I could almost taste it now. “Let’s go eat!” I declared.
I grabbed the menu as soon as I got to the table and started looking at it. I sure was hungry – especially for chocolate cake. Pa grabbed my hat off my head as I sat down. I stared at the menu some more. “Well, what are you going to have?” Pa asked.
“Chocolate cake!” I declared.
I didn’t think I’d get away with it, but I had to try. “No, I mean in front of that.”
I knew Pa would make me eat real food! But I wanted to make sure he knew what I really wanted. “More chocolate cake?”
From the sound of Pa’s voice, I was being a pest again. He ordered me meat, potatoes and lots of vegetables!
I ate faster then Pa liked, and he told me to slow down several times. “Pa, how much is $40,000.00?” I asked. The concept was beyond me!
Pa shrugged as he took a sip of his coffee. “More then we’ll ever see!” he declared.
“$40,000.00…” I thought out loud. “That sure would buy a lot of rod and reels!”
I heard Pa set his cup down just a little too hard. “Mark?” I looked up at him. Boy, did that look scare me! “Not another word about it. You hear?”
“Yes sir.” I knew that the matter was final. Speaking another word about it would mean a certain punishment!
I ate my chocolate cake. Then Pa suggested we go up to the hotel room. It was still early, so I asked him if I could go play with some of the kids that lived in town until it got dark. I sure was happy when he said yes, but I suspect he said yes because I had been a pest and he wanted a little peace and quiet. As I walked out of the restaurant, Pa came to the door. “Mark,” he called.
I turned. “Be back by 8:00, son.” Then I saw him make his way over to Micah’s.
I did get back. But it was 8:10. Freddie had been showing me his new rod and reel and showing me how the casting worked on it. I was so impressed that I lost track of time. As I entered the hotel I looked at Eddie. “Is my Pa up there?” I asked. Eddie nodded.
I slowly made my way up the stairs and made my way inside. As I opened the door, I saw Pa sitting in a chair reading a book he had undoubtedly borrowed from Micah or Eddie. I stood in the doorway and swallowed. “Do you know what time it is?” Pa didn’t even look up from his book.
I swallowed. “Yes sir,” I answered. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Why are you late? Do you have a good reason?” It would have been better for me if he had turned and looked at me instead of staring at that closed book in front of him.
“No sir. I’m sorry,” I answered as I swallowed again.
“Why were you late?”
I closed the door and came to stand in front of Pa. “I-I’m sorry I’ve been such a pest today Pa. I’ll miss you tomorrow.”
Pa looked up then and smiled. “I talked to Hattie and Micah. They’ll both keep an eye on you. You’ll stay at Hattie’s while I’m gone.”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
“I want you to go out to the ranch and work on chores tomorrow. You know what they are. They’ll take you most of the day I expect.”
“Yes sir,” I answered him. Then I swallowed. “Um…Pa, can-“ Pa looked at me and raised his eyebrows as he waited for me to ask. “Well I mean…I thought I’d go fishing tomorrow afternoon?”
“When you are done with the chores, you come on into town. You hear?”
I sighed. “Yes sir. Pa, I’ll miss you.” Then I smiled at him.
Pa laughed and shook his head. “Go on! Get to bed!”
After breakfast the next morning Pa got ready to leave. He reminded me that I was just to worry about the regular chores. I watched as the stage left with him on it. I knew he’d soon be back.
I worked on my chores all morning. Then I went in the house and fixed myself a sandwich to eat. I went back to work in the barn. But I was getting tired. If Pa had been here, he would have made sure I stayed awake through my chores. But I finally gave in to sleep and laid down in the haystack. I was soon asleep.
But I suddenly heard my Pa calling my name. I suddenly sat up. The tone of his voice frightened me a bit. He sounded frightened…angry…something. Pa hurried inside the corral. “Are you alright?” he asked me in that anxious voice.
I thought maybe I was in trouble for falling asleep. And I was confused as to what he was doing here. “Well sure. I just fell asleep and I did most of my chores,” I tried to assure him.
Then he asked me if anyone hurt me. I couldn’t understand this! Who would want to hurt me? I could tell something or someone had Pa all shook up. Pa seemed to need a lot of assurance that I was okay, and I did my best to give him that. I was worried, and I asked him what happened to his riding shotgun. I had seen him leave on the stage. Pa didn’t seem to have time to talk. He told me to get cleaned up then go in to town and go on to Miss Hattie’s. “What about my chores?”
“Forget the chores, son! Go into Hattie’s and wait until I come for you, son!” I heard fear in his voice. I wondered how long he would be gone, and he only stated, “As long as it takes to call a man’s bluff.”
I went inside and washed my face. Pa came in, filling his canteen up with water. “Pa, what’s wrong?” I asked.
Pa shook his head as he grabbed a piece of bread and quickly buttered it. “Hurry up, son. Go get enough clothes to last a couple days.”
I did as he told me. He was outside waiting when I walked out. “Pa, I know my way back to town,” I started.
But Pa jumped on his horse and motioned for me to do the same. He followed me all the way into town. I could tell there was something really wrong, but as much as I tried to coax it out of him, he didn’t want to talk about it. As we rode side by side, I saw his jaw clinching up. I heard his angry breathing. “Pa, did I do something wrong?” I called out in the wind as we galloped into town.
“No, son.” Then we were on the outskirts of town. We stopped before we got into town. “I gotta go on this way,” Pa said as he nodded forward. “I don’t want you to leave town. I want you to make sure Hattie or Micah knows where you are at all times. And if you see anyone suspicious hanging around, I don’t want you to go near them. Tell Micah.”
“Yes sir,” I stated as I stared at his face.
“You hear me, boy?” Pa’s voice held a touch of fear in it.
“Yes, Pa,” I answered. “I promise you that I won’t leave!”
Pa started to ride away. But then he reached out and touched my cheek. He smiled a hard, forced smile. “Thank God your okay, son.”
I stared at him as he turned his horse and rode off toward wherever he had to go. I was confused as I tried to figure out what was going on. I tied my horse to the hitching post and walked toward Micah’s office. Mr. Hamilton was in there as well. “I don’t blame Lucas a bit! He did the right thing, I tell you!” Mr. Hamilton declared.
Both men turned and looked at me. “What did my Pa do?” I asked. Micah stared at a piece of paper in front of him. “Micah?”
Micah looked up at me. “You’re Pa found you alright?”
“I was at the ranch doing chores like I was told to do,” I answered.
Micah and Mr. Hamilton looked at each other. “You mean, you were there alone?”
I walked toward the desk and placed both my hands on the desk. Then I leaned forward. “Alright, Micah. I want to know what’s going on. You are asking me the same questions Pa asked me.”
“He didn’t tell you?” Micah asked.
I shook my head. “He didn’t have time. He just told me to come into town and stay here until he came back.”
“Sit down, boy,” Micah said. Mr. Hamilton said goodbye as I pulled a chair up to the desk and took my hat off. Micah cleared his throat. “Your Pa and the other stagecoach members were stopped at a relay station when an unarmed man came up to the stage and told your father that one of his men were at the ranch holding you hostage until he gave them the money.”
“Did Pa give him the money?” I asked.
Micah raised his eyebrows at me and frowned. “What do you think?” I nodded. I knew he probably would. That’s why he was so worried…so angry… “I guess the man was bluffing. So your father went after him, huh?”
“How do you know about all this?” I asked.
Micah handed me the telegram and I read it. I stared at it. “How could someone be so low as to threaten to kill me…You think he would have?”
“I don’t know, Mark,” Micah said. “But I know that the head man, whom I suspect is Austin Stark, doesn’t carry a gun.”
I sat there and stared at the telegram. Micah patted my hand. “Go take your horse to the livery, son. Then I’ll treat you to supper at the hotel. Run along and tell Hattie I’ll escort you to her house when we’re done.”
“You don’t have to escort me!” I exclaimed. I felt more like a prisoner that way.
“Don’t I?” Micah asked. I knew it’s what my Pa would have wanted.
The next day we all went to church as if nothing was wrong. There was something wrong. My Pa was out there looking for three outlaws! I sat in church and wiggled in my seat the entire hour. Miss Hattie looked at me a few times, and I tried to stay still and respectful, but it sure was hard!
Then Micah treated both Hattie and me to lunch at the hotel. When we had Sunday services, Pa and me always ate at the restaurant! When my chocolate cake came out, I picked up my fork and started to stick it into the cake. But I found myself putting my fork back down and pushing the cake away. “What’s the matter boy?” Micah asked.
“Nothing,” I answered with a sigh. I remembered just two days ago that Pa and I were sitting here eating chocolate cake. I just couldn’t eat it now, not knowing if Pa was okay.
After we left the hotel, Micah told me I could play with Freddie, but I wasn’t to stray off too far. I did as told. Soon, Micah came out to tell me Pa had gotten back and was at the bank.
I sure didn’t waste any time! I took off at a run and ran as fast as I could. Hurrying inside, I saw Pa. I’d had enough of being apart form him and worrying. I suddenly had this desire to go home! “Mount up and we’ll go home, son.” I ran down to the livery stable to get my horse.
Pa was sitting on his mount when I got back. He had already been by Hattie’s and gotten my stuff. We were all set to go, and I was happy! As we started off at a trot, I could suddenly tell Pa was very tired. “Did you get Austin Stark?” I asked.
Pa turned and looked at me. He nodded. “Someone else shot him, but I got the money back.”
“What about the other two?” I asked.
“He killed them while they slept.”
I could tell Pa didn’t want to say anymore. So we rode the rest of the way in silence. “Should I fix you something to eat, Pa?” I asked.
Pa smiled. “Thanks son. No, I reckon I’ll just eat a piece of bread and butter then go to bed. I’m beat!”
I took Pa’s horse and started for the barn. Then I stopped and turned around. “Pa,” I called.
Pa turned around. I looked at him and gave him a big smile. “I’d still really appreciate it if you would rightly consider getting me that rod and reel from Hattie’s store.”
Pa rubbed his finger under his nose as he walked towards me. When he got up to me, he put his hand under my chin and lifted it up to look at me. Then he shook his head. He hugged me close to him. “I am glad you are okay!” He said. “But you are still being a pest!”
We laughed together as I started for the barn. Pa put his arms around my shoulders as we both started for the barn. “You know son, I can sleep later! Right now I think my boy and I need to do these chores together!”
You know…I never DID get that fishing pole!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Letter of the Law
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch