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

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152
Mark’s story
 

I quietly got out of bed and felt for my watch on the nightstand. I stood and went into the other room. As I opened the door and held it in the moonlight, I could barely make the time out – 3:04 AM. I knew Pa would expect me to go back to bed, but I’d done nothing but toss and turn all night. I went back into the bedroom and quietly dressed. Then I carried my boots and softly shut the door. But as I sat down to put my boots on, the door swung open. “Mark?” Pa called.

I sighed. “I’m right here, Pa,” I called out in the darkness.

Pa yawned as he walked over to me. He stared me up and down in the darkness. “Why are you dressed?” Pa asked.

“Pa, you go back to bed. I’ll just start the chores,” I said quietly, not sure who I was afraid of waking.

Pa’s next words might have provided my answer. “Mark, God Himself is still sleeping at this hour!” He pointed toward the bedroom. “Now, go back to bed.”

“Pa, I’ve done nothing but toss and turn all night!” I groaned. “If I’m gonna be awake, I might as well…”

Pa stopped me. He bent over and grabbed me by the arm. “Then you can do it in bed!” Pa turned me toward the bedroom. “No matter how old you are, you are still a growing boy and need your sleep! We’ve plenty of work to do and-“

“Work?” I suddenly groaned louder. “What do you mean work?”

“What do I mean…” Pa planted his hands on his hips. “Mark, I…” He stopped. I could tell he wasn’t happy. “Nevermind! You get to bed! It’s only 3:00! Not another word out of you until at least 5!”

“But Pa, I…” I started.

“Mark!” Pa’s voice held a sharp tone in it. I popped back down on my bed without even undressing. “Not ANOTHER word!” Pa got back under his own covers.

I sighed as I laid back. I opened my mouth to speak, but I was unsure of the consequences. What I had to say WAS important, but somehow I didn’t think Pa was in the mood to hear anything I had to say. “It’s not every day the railroad comes to town…” I grumbled under my breath.

Have I mentioned that Pa has the ears of an elephant?

“That’s it!” Pa declared suddenly. “Tomorrow morning…this morning…” Pa sighed heavily. “When you get your regular chores done, you get to work on cleaning the chicken coop…ALONE!”

I suddenly sat up in bed and looked over toward Pa. I clamped my mouth shut knowing that he meant business. I didn’t even utter a “yes sir.” With the mood he was in, I’d end up digging a hole all the way to China for saying that!

The clock on Pa’s bedside clicked second after second. I stared up at the ceiling and shook my head as I remembered back to the conversation Pa and Lou had the day before.

*****
“So, the railroad really IS coming here, huh?” Pa asked.

Lou put a hand on her hip and pressed her lips together. “I told ya it would, Cowboy! Lou Mallory may be a lot of things, but she ain’t a liar!” she declared in a heavy accent as she shook her head up and down. “Mr. Willard Prescott is coming in today! He’s in charge of the building and has big plans for North Fork1”

I had just come in from school. “The Prescott?” I asked suddenly. I turned and looked at Pa. “Why…he’s from the East! He lives in uh…Philadelphia or Ch…Chicago…or something like that!” I hurried to Lou. “When’s he gonna get here?”

“On the eleven o’clock stage tomorrow!” Lou declared. “And I think he deserves a hearty welcome!”

“I’ll be there!” I shouted excitedly.

“We have work to do at the ranch!” Pa reminded me.

“Yeah, but…” I started.

“Mark!” Pa warned.

I lifted my hand and pointed toward the street. “Yes, but Pa…It’s not every day that a fine man like…”

“Mark!” Pa’s tone was sharper this time. The room grew quiet. Pa rolled his eyes at the mean look Lou was giving him. “You will not talk back to me. You know better!” He put his hands in his back pockets. “Now…Get on home and start on your homework.”

I had done as told, but last night at supper I brought the matter up again. Pa was just NOT happy about this man coming to North Fork or about the railroad in general. Ever since he heard it was coming, it had left a sour taste in his mouth. I took a bite of my roast beef and potatoes before I spoke my thoughts. “Pa?” Pa looked up, eyebrow raised. “Remember when I was ten and there was a railroad spur with the chance of coming through here?”

“What about it?” Pa asked as he eyed me suspiciously.

I looked down at my plate and collected my thoughts. “Well…” I looked up at him. “You seemed really happy to have the chance…though it didn’t happen. But now you seem at odds.”

“A man walks in like a lamb, son, he usually leaves like a lion.”

I wrinkled up my eyebrows. “Huh?”

“Son, how did we find out about the spur?” Pa asked as he took a sip of his coffee.

“Well…” I shook my head. “I don’t rightly remember. I imagine it was in the papers and all.”

“Mm Hm,” Pa answered. “And uh…how did we find out about it this time?”

“Well…” I shrugged. “I saw some surveyors out in Cottonwood Ravine.”

“Mm hm.” Pa nodded. “There was no announcement and no warning this time. It just sort of came. Anytime a town isn’t told about something…”

“Oh Pa, you’re just old fashioned!” I grumbled.

“What?” Pa’s voice sounded angry suddenly.

I gasped. “No disrespect, Pa. It’s just that…” My voice died.

“Well…” Pa sighed. “Maybe I am old fashioned, but that’s who I am, son.” Pa took another bite of food. As he chewed, he put his hand with the fork to his mouth and narrowed his eyes. “I don’t like the idea of this…Scott man…”

I laughed. Pa looked at me with a look of disapproval. “I…sorry, Pa. His name is Prescott. Willard Prescott. He helped get the trains started out West. Why, I read in a magazine that he’s got a modern home back in Chicago…no…Philadelphia…no…oh, heck I don’t remember! But he has running water inside his house and his house even has these new things…lights that shine brighter than a hundred lanterns in a dark room. Why, when this light is on, a pitch dark room will shine lighter then the day! In fact, you could walk out on the street and actually see everything you need to see when one of these is lit and…”

“Son…” Pa sighed. “I think you’ve been in the sun too long. You’re talking crazy!”

“No! I read all about it in a magazine. It’s called “el…el…electricity!” I gasped. “Why…I heard tell that Willard-“

“MR. PRESCOTT!” Pa declared.

“What?” I was confused.

“To you and me, his name is Mr. Prescott!”

“Why are you getting so riled, Pa?” I asked as I sat down my fork. “From what I hear…”

“You didn’t HEAR anything…You READ it in a magazine. Probably the same magazine that declared Jessie and Frank James, bank robbers and murderers by the way, heroes!”

“Well, they were in a way! I…” I started.

Pa’s head shot up. He stood to his feet. “Oh? Now, you listen to me, boy! No man that takes another man’s life is a hero!” Pa was shouting.

I stood up to my full height. I couldn’t disrespect him by shouting back. But I placed my hands on my hips and stared straight at him. “What is WRONG with you, Pa? Why are you so riled at me?”

Pa suddenly turned from me and went to grab the coffee pot off the stove. He poured coffee in his cup and sat down. “I’m sorry, son…” Pa motioned to my chair. “Sit down. I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I just don’t like all these changes. We’re doing alright with what we have. I’m afraid that…” Pa sighed. “The easier life gets for folks, the more time they have to get into trouble. They’ll start taking them for granted and before long…”

“Pa, the railroad will be great for North Fork! We won’t have to travel by stagecoach to the nearest train…we can practically go anywhere in the country from right here in North Fork. And we can ship our cattle and horses via train. Our packages will get here faster…two or three days instead of two weeks or more! And it’ll mean more jobs for those who lost so much in last year’s drought.”

I watched Pa smile. “You think with a practical mind, son. I like that. This world needs people like you to put old fashioned people in our place. You’re right. The railroad will be good. I’m just…” Pa sighed.

I suddenly had the feeling he was holding something back. I cocked my head to one side and wondered on this. Pa stood up and walked to the door. He grabbed a cigar from the box and opened the door. Pausing, he lifted his head, but didn’t turn around. “Mark…” Pa sighed again. “If you want…you can go in and meet the stage and this…Prescott.” The way he said it, I could tell he was still upset. “…after your morning chores are done.

“Really, Pa?” I cried excitedly like a ten year old. “Really?”

“Really.” Pa’s voice was flat. He closed the door behind him.

As I washed dishes, I couldn’t help but to look out the window. Pa was pacing the front yard as he puffed on his cigar. He was still upset. I wondered if he was upset with me about something. I saw him turn and look out over the land. Then he looked up to the sky and began speaking. I noticed the strain and worry on his face and didn’t understand it.

As I wiped the sink clean, Pa came inside. He grabbed his rifle from its case by the door. “I’m going for a ride, son.”

“At night?” I asked. “Wait and I’ll go with ya!”

“No!” Pa said it a big too quickly. I gasped. Pa’s head spun around as he heard my sharp intake of breath. “You make sure to get in bed by 9 o’clock.” Then he left.

***

The whole conversation had me bothered. That’s another reason why I couldn’t sleep. Pa had lots of rules, but one of his most important rules was not to ever keep anything from each other. But he was. That’s why he was so snappy and moody. I thought on this as I drifted asleep.

The sun was high in the sky by the time I woke up. I jumped out of bed and pulled on my boots. After combing my hair I hurried out to the front room. Oatmeal was on the stove. I grabbed a bowl and ate it. But I never saw a sign of Pa.

I opened the front door and looked around. Pa was over by the corral fixing a broken board. I walked over to him as I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “Pa?”

Pa didn’t turn. He made no indication that I was there, except he said, “Hm?”

“Well…I…I’m sorry I overslept.”

“That’s fine, son.” Pa grunted as he lifted the board in place. “A boy your age needs to oversleep once in a while.”

Pa looked tired and I could see the strain on his face. I watched as he angrily pounded the board back in place. He jammed his thumb and cursed under his breath. Upon hearing his cursing, I knew something was wrong. “Pa, is it me?”

“Is what you?” Pa snapped.

“What’s got you so riled.” Pa didn’t answer. He threw the hammer to the ground and bent over to pick up the bucket of nails. “Is it because of things I said last night? I know that things spoken in haste are often regretted, so if I hurt you…”

“You didn’t,” Pa answered. He nodded toward the barn. “Your chores are waiting.”

I started toward the barn. Suddenly, I turned back toward him. “You’ve been riled ever since I met you at Lou’s after school yesterday, Pa. I know there’s something-“

“There’s nothing!” Pa shouted. He closed his eyes in regret and apologized.

“We don’t keep things from each other, Pa,” I reminded him.

“I’m not…” Pa sighed. He looked toward the house as he rubbed the back of his neck. Then he turned back and looked at me. “You’re right. I think that’s why I’m so riled.” Pa walked up and put his arm around my shoulder. “Come on into the house, son. I have something to show you. If you still want to go meet Prescott, you can.”

We walked inside. Pa went to his desk and pulled out a letter. He handed it to me. “This came in the mail two days ago.” I looked at him as he handed me the letter. “Well…go on and read about your precious Willard Prescott!”

I slowly unfolded the letter. This is what it said:

Mr. McCain,

As spokesman and foreman for the Union Pacific Railroad Company, it is my pleasure to announce that I will be traveling to North Fork to make negations in preparation for the railroad. The railroad is a vital importance to the future of North Fork, New Mexico’s statehood, and the country as a whole. Like any betterment that comes into our lives, it comes with much sacrifice and acceptance of change.
As a team, the railroad and surveyors, among many others, have determined the best path for building the railroad. We are asking the owners of the land on this path to make a small sacrifice in order to better your family’s lives and your country as a whole. And for you, this sacrifice is small. Since part of your land will be used to lay track, we are offering you $9,000.00 for your land – much higher than the price you bought it for. During our research, we determined that you will indeed have a prime choice of ranch land in other locations outside of North Fork.

I look forward to talking business with you and am sure that you will find our offer not only satisfying, but generous. I have every confidence that you will be more than willing to help better society.

Sincerely,


Willard Prescott

I read the letter two…three times. Then I slowly folded it and sat the letter down. “Wow…That’s a lot of money, Pa.”

“Is that all you have to say?” Pa asked.

“I’m sorry.” I looked up at Pa. “What are you going to do?”

Pa banged his fist on the desk. I jumped at the sound. “Who does he think he is? He writes a letter asking me to sell the land we’ve poured our sweat and blood into? We’ve made a life for ourselves here! The man’s a…a snake!”

“Pa…he’s just doing his job. If you don’t want to, just say no.”

“That’s not the point, son. It riles me that he tries to convince me by telling me I’ll better my family! Ha! There’s nothing wrong with my family now!” Pa boomed.

“Well, Pa I-“

“Are you happy here, Mark?” Pa asked. I nodded. “And has it been a burden for you to pour your sweat and blood into this land beside me? To watch me work hard? Has not having the railroad made our lives miserable? Well?”

I cleared my throat. “Yes sir.” Pa turned and glared at me. “I mean…no…no sir.” I put a hand on Pa’s arm, trying to calm him. His blood was boiling. “Pa, what’s got you so riled?”

“I’ll tell you what’s got me so riled!” Pa stared straight at me as he picked up the letter and opened. It “We are asking the owners of the land on this path to make a small sacrifice in order to better your family’s lives…” Pa slammed the letter back down on the table. He walked to the door and walked out of the house. He stood on the porch. “The man wants my land, and he tries to get it by making me feel…feel…like my refusing will harm my family!” He pounded his fist against the post.

Pa was fighting something deep inside him. I didn’t know what it was, so I allowed him to continue his angry words. I knew they weren’t directed at me…perhaps maybe not even at Mr. Prescott…but more at the future…For a man like Pa, change and the future were really scary. He was rooting for statehood and the changes it would make, but progress like the railroad and other things…those got him riled because he fretted what those changes would do to me and his grandchildren.

“What can I say?” I asked. “I want to help you, Pa. What can I say?”

Pa turned and stuffed his hands in his back pockets. His eyes softened a bit. “That you’ll support my decision. I know this land is technically mine…on paper. But someday when you are older, this land will be yours. I want to make the decision I feel will benefit my family. And my decision is NOT to sell the land…at ANY price.”

I looked out over the land and thought on that. “I’ll support you, Pa. Whatever decision you make. I’ll support you.” I couldn’t help thinking about Mr. Prescott and his letter. He was doing his job. For the railroad to come, someone was going to have to make a sacrifice. If no one was willing to help, then progress would never come. “Pa, I understand where you are coming from.” I started to add a but, but decided to keep my thoughts to myself…for now. “Well…I’ll go do my chores now.”

Pa nodded. I think he saw my hesitation in my eyes. “Alright, son.”

I thought some more on the letter as I worked on my chores. Pa made the answer seem so cut and dry, and I couldn’t understand that. Mr. Prescott was willing to pay $9,000.00 for the ranch. I understood the ranch was at a value of $5,0000. I didn’t understand why Pa didn’t even consider it.

After my chores were done, I started to go work on the chicken coop. Pa walked up to me. “Mark?” He laid a hand on my shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“I was about to clean the chicken coop,” I answered.

“Oh.” Pa put his other hand on my other shoulder. “You feel like punishing yourself or something?”

“No, but you told me I had to!” I declared.

“Oh?” Pa put a finger under my chin and nudged it upward. He smiled into my eyes as he looked down at me. “You, my boy…must have been dreaming.”

“Well, I…” I stopped, suddenly realizing that it was good for me to stop while I was ahead. “Yeah…I guess I was at that.” I smiled.

Pa turned me around. He bent down as he looked into my eyes. He rubbed his hands across both my shoulders. “Son…” Pa sighed. “Son, we’re a lot alike…you and I. But we’re different in some ways also. Your mother…she always had her sights on above and always told me that things here on earth weren’t worth fretting over. She welcomed change with an open heart and an open mind. But…” Pa bowed his head and shook it from side to side. “She also realized that I could be set in my ways and…uh…in her words, “Stubborn as a mule” at times. If you don’t agree with me on change and want to see it happen, don’t let it stop you. Maybe I am old fashioned and past my time.”

“No you ain’t, Pa!” I declared. “Why, you still have lots of years to live.”

Pa laughed. “Well, thanks, son. Some days that makes me feel good, but others…” Pa put an arm around me as we started walking toward the house. “I want you to have your own mind, son. I want you to form your own opinions, but I want you to understand both sides of the coin before you come to that decision. I want you to hear arguments out. I…” Pa stopped. “I guess what I’m trying to say is be Mark McCain…in everything you do…not the Mark McCain I want you to be – and not the Mark McCain Mark wants him to be…but the Mark McCain that God wants you to be.”

“I understand, Pa.” We smiled at each other. But I didn’t miss the strain in Pa’s eyes.

Pa patted my shoulder and nodded. “Alright.” He smiled. “Now…if you’re going to meet that stage, you better get going.”

“Yes sir!” I declared. Then I hurried to saddle Blue Boy.

When I got into town, there was a small crowd gathered. I hurried up to Micah at that stage depot. “Is it here yet?” I asked.

“Does it look like it?” Micah piped back.

“Oh…Yeah…I guess that’s a dumb question, huh?” Micah laughed.

I began pacing back and forth waiting for the stage to come. I gasped excitedly as it came down the street. “What? Is there a million dollars with your name on there or something?” Micah asked.

“No. There’s Mr. Willard Prescott!” I answered with a hungry smile.

I watched as the door opened. A man dressed in a fancy suit and tie stepped out. He held a small case in his hand. As he got out, he brushed the dust off himself and looked around. He shook his head. “Micah, introduce me!” I begged.

“I don’t know him, Mark!” Micah retorted.

“Yeah…but you’re the town Marshal!” I argued.

“Oh, hello Marshal.” I swallowed excitedly as he stretched out his hand toward Micah. “My name is Willard Prescott. I’m here to start plans for the railroad.”

“Yes, we’ve been expecting you,” Micah answered as he shook his hand. I saw Lou running across the street. She was all prettied up and by the time she stopped by us, I could smell her smelling like a flower garden. She smiled sweetly as she stood beside Micah. “This is Lou Mallory.”

“Miss Mallory.” Mr. Prescott took his hat off and did a small bow. Then he took her hand. “It’s my pleasure to meet you.”

“Yes,” she smiled. She looked at Micah. “Mr. Prescott and I have been corresponding for some time about the railroad.”

I jabbed my elbow into Micah’s side. He grunted suddenly. Everyone turned and looked at him. “And, here’s someone else who’s anxious to meet you. This is Mark McCain.”

Recognition came over Mr. Prescott’s face. “McCain…McCain…” he mumbled as he shook my hand. “Yes…that name sounds very familiar.”

“You…wrote a letter to my Pa.” I didn’t say anymore. I wasn’t sure he wanted Micah and Lou to know about it.

“Ah, yes!” Mr. Prescott declared. “I will be talking to your father on Monday.”

“Mr. Prescott…Is it true that back east they are inventing carriages that run without horses?” I asked.

“Well…yes, my boy! It’s called an automobile! The rich are beginning to see the benefits of them. In fact, a few years ago, a man over in Europe received a patent to create and sell them. The French are using them already. It’s only a matter of time.”

“An…automobile?” Micah questioned.

“I tell you what, Mark, my boy. You show me where the nearest restaurant is, and I’ll tell you all about it!”

“Yes sir!” I led him to the hotel and waited anxiously as he got a room. We walked into the restaurant together and sat down. “Well now…” Mr. Prescott said after he ordered his food. “What do you want to know?”

“About this…this…automobile…” I started. “How does it run without…without horses to pull it?”

“Well, you know how the train runs with coal?” I nodded. “There are certain oils that will run a car like a horse pulls it.”

“Wow…” I tried to imagine this.

“In fact…” Mr. Prescott said as he lit his cigarette and took a long puff from it. “In fact…a gasoline-powered automobile will go much faster than a horse. It would cut your time in half.”

“I don’t think my Pa’d be too impressed about that,” I declared. “He’s not too keen on all these new inventions.”

“Oh…” Mr. Prescott chuckled as he sat back in his chair. “Most Easterners aren’t too impressed with it either, son. But I tell you…it’ll revolutionize this country! Why, someday, they’ll be streets with automobiles all over! Every family will own one! I suspect that you, my boy…and especially your grandchildren…will be driving one! Why, soon you won’t be watching men having to walk up and down the street cleaning the manure. You may not even see a horse for days! Horses will retire to living on the ranches and riding for pleasure.”

“Gee…That sure is something! I sure would like to drive one of those!” I declared.

Mr. Prescott laughed. “You just keep that in mind.” He smiled at the waiter as he sat our food down in front of us. “Oh, thank you.”

“I was telling Pa about those lights you have in your houses back East.” I shook my head as I put my napkin on my lap. “He wasn’t too impressed with those either.”

“Ah…The light bulb!” Mr. Prescott declared. “Yes, that is quite an extraordinary item we have started using. Thanks, in a large part, to Thomas Edison himself…the light bulb is beginning to spread in the East.” He took a bite of food. After swallowing it, he continued. “At night, the streets of New York City look as bright of the day!” He sipped his coffee. “Mmm…my house is brighter. My wife can see dust that she never knew was there. It’s a wonderful invention.”

“And of course there’s the telephone,” I smiled. “Can you really hook it up in one city and talk to someone hundreds a miles away?”

“Yes! Through switchboards.” Mr. Prescott took another bite of his Irish stew as he smiled on this. “Why, I can pick up my phone in Chicago and talk to someone clear down in New York City!” He sat back in his chair. “Yes sir, my boy…Your grandchildren will grow up in a different world.” He leaned in to me. “Just imagine…lights that light up the entire city…a telephone in every house where you can call New York City all the way from San Francisco, California! And automobiles on every street in this town!”

“You always use these methods?” I heard from behind me.

I quickly stood up from the table. “Pa!”

I turned and looked at Mr. Prescott. A slow easy smile spread across his face. “Pa, this is-“ I started.

“I know who this is, Mark,” Pa sneered. “I asked you a question.”

“Oh.” Mr. Prescott stood. “I don’t think I understood the question, Mr. McCain.”

Pa looked down at my plate. “You have money for that?” He glared at me.

“Well…” I looked toward Mr. Prescott.

“Mr. McCain, won’t you have a seat?” Mr. Prescott continued to smile all friendly-like at Pa. Pa slowly sat down. He laid his rifle across the table and stared hard at Mr. Prescott. “Mark was asking me questions about the East and I obliged him by inviting him for lunch and…”

“Mm hm.” Pa nodded. He reached in his pocket and threw a coin down on the table. “That should cover it, son. Now, you go on home.”

“Pa, I…” I started.

Pa turned. “I said go on home!” he shouted.

I hurried out of the restaurant, but I stayed just outside and listened. “Now, I’ll explain my question to you, Mr. Prescott.” Pa sneered out. “What I mean is…do you always chum up to the kids of those you plan to pay off?”

“Mr. McCain, I resent that remark!” Mr. Prescott declared. “Your son came to me and started asking me questions.”

“Mm hm.” Pa said. “Did you know he was my son?” There was no answer. “Well?” Pa ordered.

“Your Marshal introduced us. I told him I’d be out on Monday to talk to you.”

“Well, I’m here now,” Pa stated.

“I said Monday!” Mr. Prescott argued.

“What’s wrong with now?” There was no answer. “Oh, don’t worry. This won’t take long.” I peaked around the corner to see Pa put a finger right in Mr. Prescott’s face. “I don’t appreciate you trying to get me to sell my land…the land I poured my blood, sweat and tears on…by using lines like “to better my family.” My son is my business, Mr. Prescott – nobody else’s! I don’t care if you want to give me a $4,000 profit. My answer is NO!”

Pa stood and stomped toward the door. I gasped as I realized I was about to be caught eaves-dropping, and with Pa’s current state of mind, I feared for my health. With that in mind, I hurried towards the door. But Pa saw me. “Mark!” Pa hurried over to me. His shoulders were back and his fists clinched to his side. One fist held the rifle. “I thought I told you to get home!”

“I’m sorry, Pa! But he’s right, I DID come to him with the questions. He wasn’t trying to-“

“Oh, believe me, Mark. He WAS trying to!” Pa said loudly. “And that’s no excuse for you to have disobeyed me!” Pa grabbed me by the arm. “I have a good mind to-“

Micah came across the street just then. “Lucas, what…”

Pa turned at the sound of Micah’s voice. He dropped my arm. “Mark, you get on home now. You hear me?” I nodded. “Micah…” Pa started down the street. “I need a beer!”

When I got back to the ranch, I rode out to check the cattle. “Oh no!” I groaned as I saw the downed fence. Cattle were spread out all over the neighboring ranch. “This is going to be work!” I looked around. There was a huge section of the fence down. “I reckon that ol’ bull was trying to get at those pretty cows over there! Don’t know what’s wrong with the McCain cows…” I scooted my hat way back on my head. “Well…let’s get going!” I dug my heels into Blue Boy and bolted forward. “Yaw, yaw!” I called to the littlest cows still grazing just outside the fence. I snapped my rope at them. “Come, get going! Go on!” I called. Two of the cows moved back onto McCain ground, but they mooed, letting me know of their protests. I chased those two cows across the range all the way to the North Pasture. Then I opened the gate and shooed them in.

I raced back to the broken fence and rode over it. I stopped Blue Boy on top of the hill. “Boy, oh boy!” I groaned. “This is going to take a long time!” The cattle were mixed together. “I surely hope our bull didn’t mix with one of Jackford’s cows. He’ll have our head for it!” I roped a calf knowing as soon as he went over the fence, his mother would follow, wailing and a mooing. She did. I dragged the calf all the way to the gate then shooed them in.

We had let the feisty bull in yesterday, hoping he’d impregnate some of the cows. Pa knew that leaving him in with the cattle too long would mean trouble. But I reckon in all the fuss over that letter he’d forgotten.

I worked for the next two hours rounding up cattle. Since they were roped in with Oat Jackford’s herd, separating them wasn’t easy. “Mark!” Pa suddenly called. “What happened?”

“It’s that mean ol’ bull, Pa!” I answered. “We forgot all about him being in here last night!”

“Oh no,” Pa groaned sharply. “Where is he?”

“Haven’t seen him,” I answered.

“McCain!” Oat Jackford’s voice rang out from behind us.

I turned and saw the sour look on Mr. Jackford’s face. “But…I think we’re about to find out!”

Mr. Jackford pulled his horse right along my Pa. “That bull of yours just broke a fence of mine! Some of my cattle are on the Gerney Ranch!”

Pa closed his eyes and shifted in the saddle. “Oh no,” he groaned. “He knocked down our fence. Mark’s been working at rounding them up.”

“Mark?” Mr. Jackford boomed out. “What about you?”

Pa’s face turned read. “I just came in from town, Jackford! You have no cause to talk to me like that! My boy’s my business!”

“This ain’t about your boy!” Jackford boomed back. “This is about my cattle being mixed in with Gerney’s! I want it taken care of…NOW!”

That was the wrong thing to say. I couldn’t help shaking my head. Some people learn about my Pa the hard way! “Now, you see here, Oat.” Pa jabbed a finger into his chest. “I don’t take orders from you! Now, I’m sorry my bull broke down the fence. Ain’t my fault he’s gone angry. I have my cattle spread all across your range. That bull in there is just reacting to the cows in heat, so I suggest you get some of your men to help me before he impregnates some of your cattle!”

“If they do, McCain, I’ll have your head!” Jackford pointed at Pa.

I saw the look on Pa’s face. I saw his fist clinch. If I hadn’t been there, he may have thrown restraint into the wind and punched him. Pa turned and looked at me. “Son, go on and ask Billy Lehigh and some of the others if they’d be willing to help us out. Tell them I’ll pay them.” He said most of this while looking straight at Mr. Jackford.

I did as told. Before long, we had several men working at separating and driving the cattle. Blue Boy was good at cutting and did his job wonderfully. But even as the sun sank behind the mountain, the job wasn’t done. “That bull is still in with MY cattle!” Jackford declared as Pa told me we had to go home for the night.

“What do you want me to do?” Pa asked. “As long as those cows in heat are around, he’s gonna be too mean to round up! I told you he’s mad!”

Jackford nodded. “And impregnating my cows, no doubt!”

“We’ll be back at first light tomorrow. I’ll pay for the damages of your fence. And if calves are born that you doubt are your full-blooded stock, I’ll buy them. McCain’s aren’t too picky on the calves we have. The meat tastes the same to us.” Pa turned Razor around. “Good evening, Mr. Jackford!” He turned and glanced at me. “Come on, son.”

Back at the ranch, Pa and I worked together unsaddling our horses and feeding the animals. I groaned as I slowly walked inside the house. “Pa, I’m bushed!”

“Me too!” Pa groaned. “We best just go to bed. We need to get back out there first thing in the morning.”

“You’re aware that tomorrow’s Sunday?” I reminded him.

“Yes, son.” Pa nodded. “God’s in control of nature. He should have taken the day of the week in account when he allowed nature to run its course.” Pa sank into his chair. “Oh, my aching back!”

I sank down in the other chair. “You want me to rub liniment on it, Pa?” I asked.

“No.” Pa shook his head. “I’ll just sl…”

“Pa?” I turned and looked towards him. He was asleep. “Night, Pa.” I slowly stood and took off his boots and socks. Then I got a blanket and pulled it over him. I turned and blew out the lantern I had just lit. Then I went to bed.

***

“Mark, come on! It’s getting light. Hurry and eat the mush.” Pa said from the doorway. I groaned something. I’m not sure what it was. “Come on, son. Time’s a wasting. This afternoon, we’ll have our time with the Lord.”

I sat up in bed and groaned. Then I plopped back down. Suddenly, two hands grabbed me and yanked me out of the bed. “I said get going!” Pa ordered. He led me to the basin and splashed water on my face.

“Oh, Pa!” I shouted. “Alright, I’m awake! I’m awake!” I quickly put my clothes on then came out and sat down at the table. Pa put the bowl of mush down in front of me. “What ever happened to pancakes on Sunday?”

“Well…” Pa said as he sipped his coffee and stuffed extra rifle shells in his saddlebag. “I’ll make it up to you next Sunday. I’m going to go get the horses ready. You hurry!”

Fifteen minutes later, I was on my horse riding out after Pa to the range. When we got there, Jackford leaned forward in his saddle. “I’ve been waiting since first light, McCain! Where have you been?”

“Well, in case you’ve forgotten, I have a son to take care of!” Pa shouted. “You know, we had no supper last night so I thought it my sworn duty as his father to give him some sort of nourishment before putting him to work!”

Jackford gave a short laugh. “Well, the son of a rancher has to be toughened up!”

Pa’s head shot up then. “Jackford! Let’s get something straight…”

“Pa!” I interjected. Pa turned and looked at me. “We’re all short on tempers. We’re tired and hungry and on edge. Let’s just work on the cattle and not argue about me!” The whole blasted thing was making me uncomfortable!

“Alright, son. Get to work!” We went to work. I cut and roped what I could while Jackford and his boys tried to help chase our cattle back into our field. The work was long, tedious, and tiring. By noon, all the McCain cattle were in the North Pasture. Now it was just the matter of that blasted bull. We went to work in chasing Jackford’s cattle into another section of his ranch so we could isolate the bull. The Gerney’s cattle were also moved.

By mid-afternoon, all we had left was that bull. Now, to many, one bull may not seem that big of a task. But this was one mean, feisty bull! It took us two hours to get that bull into the East section of our pasture. And since the cow’s all around us seemed to be in heat, he was extra mean and didn’t like being isolated. Pa made me stay back because he worried that the bull was too much for me to handle. I argued that I could help, but Pa pointed a finger at me and said, “I told you to stay away!”

I watched from a distance as Pa and Billy Lehigh finally got that bull into the pasture. Pa snapped the gate shut and brushed at the dirt on his jeans. He groaned as he rubbed his back. I watched as he slowly walked over towards me. “What about my fence?” Jackford asked. “These fences need fixed.”

Pa turned and glared at Oat Jackford. Oh boy, here we go again! “In case you forgotten, this is Sunday – the Lord’s Day! I’ve been in the saddle since daybreak working on these cattle and I’m bone tired. My back is aching and I need to get a good rub down. My son hasn’t had anything to eat since breakfast today and is fixing to fall out of the saddle. All the cattle are locked up good and tight. That fence will be fixed…in time!” Pa shouted. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m taking my son and going home. We’re going to spend some time in the Good Book, then Mark’s going to cook us up a right fine supper. Tomorrow, I’ll work on your fence after my chores are done.” Pa handed me Razor’s rein. “Son, I’m gonna walk home.”

“What about my cattle?” Jackford asked.

“I’ve said all I’m gonna say!” Pa shouted. “I said we were going home to spend some time in the Good Book. Maybe you should do the same.”

I stifled a fit of laughter at the look on Jackford’s face. Mr. Jackford turned and raced back home.

When we got home, Pa sat down in his chair with a loud groan. I sat across from him and studied him worriedly. He was almost 40. Perhaps it was time for him to…”Can you hand me the Bible, son?”

“Pa, I think you should let me rub down your back. It’s hurting you something awful I know.”

“No.” Pa leaned back and sighed. “This is more important. It’s gonna be a rough week. This is no time to skip God’s teaching. Afterwards, I’ll let you ride into town and pick up something at the restaurant to eat. See if doc can come out and look at my back. He has a stronger liniment that will help it much better than anything store bought.”

I didn’t voice my concerns, but after our Bible study and prayer was done, I rode into town. On my ride, I did a lot of thinking. Perhaps selling the ranch wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Pa could get a smaller place. Perhaps a place we could add on to once I was full grown and able to work the ranch by myself. His back had been injured so many times by bullets that it ached something awful for him anytime he had to spend a long time in the saddle – especially when he had to lasso and chase cattle.

I wished I had the answers. I knew Pa wanted to hold on to the land, but I didn’t understand. He and Jackford fought a lot over little things. I blamed Jackford more than Pa, but I think both of them were bull-headed when it came to agreeing on anything. The ranch work was too much for a man and a 14 year old boy. I was growing, and in a few years I could handle a lot more of it, but until then…Pa was working himself to death. Perhaps selling and starting over on another piece of land would help ease that burden.

The fact that I wasn’t thinking rationally about all this didn’t occur to me. Later I realized that it was the only option I could see because this was the real thing that was bothering my father.

I rode into town and stopped at the restaurant. Lou gave me an extra nice helping of her Irish stew with plenty of fresh bread and chocolate cake. She said there’d be enough for our lunch tomorrow as well. “Is there something wrong, Mark?” Lou asked as she prepared the food.

“No,” I answered.

“I’d like to help.”

“Pa’s back is giving him fits.” I smiled. “He needs liniment rubbed on it. I’m sure he’d love your help, but he needs the doc’s special touch this time, Lou.”

Lou blushed. “Mark McCain! I oughta wash your mouth out with soap!”

I grinned. “Sorry, Miss Lou. It’s like Pa said, I’m a teenager and think teenage thoughts.”

“Well…” Lou gave me a small smile. “If your father needs anymore…uh…liniment, you let me know and I’ll bring him out some.” I grinned as I looked at her. “Then YOU can rub it on his back when you get home from school!” She gave me a hard swat. “What would your father say?”

“Uh…” I shook my head. “Nothing nice…that’s for sure!”

Then I lost my smile as I thought on things. Lou noticed. “Your father’s back isn’t all that’s hurting him. Is it?” Lou asked.

“I reckon you heard what happened yesterday.”

Lou nodded. “I did. I think the whole town heard.” Lou sat down the spoon and put a hand on my shoulder. “Mark, I understand his position. A man’s legacy is very important to him. The land he works…it becomes part of him – like a family member. He sees something in the land that we don’t see. Many men die before giving up the land. That’s how important it is.”

“It shouldn’t be!” I declared. “Lou, Pa’s back is killing him because of this land! He’s not 40 yet, but his back is aged beyond that. I…”

“Hold on, Mark. It’s not the land that caused his back the pain.”

I nodded. “Yeah. But we had to ride saddle on cattle All Saturday afternoon and today. He’s bone tired. He shouldn’t have to work that hard!”

“You think your father would be happy being a farmer? Farming is just as hard. What do you want him to do? Sit behind a desk and push papers all day? You think he’d be happy?” Lou smiled at me. “My dear ol’ father told me once, Mark, that it’s good for a man to die loving what he’s doing then to live hating it. Ranching is in his blood. You can’t take that away from him. If you do…you might as well kill him.”

I nodded. “I’ll think on that, Miss Lou.” I took the bag of food she handed me. “Thanks for this.”

“Tell your father there’s no charge.”

“I always do. He never listens.” I took the money from my pocket and gave it to her. “Pa would skin me if I didn’t give you the money. You know that.”

Lou nodded. “That’s who he is.” She laid a hand on my cheek. “Don’t take that from him.”

I thought on Lou’s words as I rode home. I was confused.
_________________
Michelle

"Of course, I didn’t ask her about cookin’ and such, cause all women can do that."
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Michelle P.
Margaret McCain
Margaret McCain


Joined: 31 Jan 2009
Posts: 6400


Location: Harrison, AR
PostPosted: Sun Mar 28, 2010 9:33 am Post subject: Reply with quote
***
The next day, as I rode home from school, Mr. Prescott pulled up beside me. “Well, hello, young McCain!” he touched the tip of his hat and smiled.

I slowed to a trot and rode beside him. “Hello, Mr. Prescott! Where you headed?”

“Out to your ranch,” Mr. Prescott answered. “You uh…want to ride along with me? I’ll tell you more about the East.”

“Oh, no sir.” I nodded. “I’ll ride along beside you to the ranch, but I don’t’ reckon my Pa would ‘preciate my being in your buggy.”

“No, I don’t reckon he would at that.”

“I thought you and Pa settled everything yesterday?” I inquired then.

“Well…everyone else was willing to sell. Your…father’s the only obstacle standing in my way. I’m going to talk to him again and see if I can persuade-“

I stopped him. “Mr. Prescott, I can’t say that I understand Pa’s position, but I’ll stand beside him. And I’ll give you fair warning that my Pa’s not one you want to mess with. He knows his mind and sticks to it. Trying to change it will only lead to trouble.”

Mr. Prescott smiled. “Well…I can be awful persuasive.”

“What if Pa won’t sell?” I asked. “What then?”

Mr. Prescott didn’t answer. “Oh…I don’t think it’ll come to that. Your father seems like a sensible man. He seems like an out-standing citizen who won’t stand in the way of progress.”

We entered the yard. Pa was out loading more fence posts and wire in the wagon. He stood straight up when he saw us approaching. He cautiously took a step forward. “Prescott.”

“Met him on the road, Pa. I thought I’d ride home with him.”

Pa didn’t take his eyes off of Mr. Prescott. “Get to your chores, son.”

“Pa, I-“ I started.

Pa turned and looked at me. “Mark,” he warned me. He turned back and looked at Mr. Prescott. “In fact, go ahead and drive the wagon out to Jackford’s broken fence. We’ll start on that one.” I looked from him, then to Mr. Prescott. Pa suddenly turned toward me. “Well?”

I opened my mouth to say something. Then I changed my mind. “Yes Pa.”

“Mr. McCain…” Mr. Prescott started. I turned in time to see Pa raise his hand to silence him. He turned and waved for me to get going. I knew he didn’t want me to hear the words that would be spoken.

It was some time before Pa joined me. I turned and looked at him. Pa unbuttoned his shirt and threw it down on the wagon. He picked up a hammer and stomped over to the fence. I looked up at him. “I don’t want you talking to him again, Mark.” Pa’s words were ugly and angry.

“Pa, he’s been friendly toward me!” I argued.

Pa had started hammering, but he suddenly stopped and turned towards me. “I doubt that man has any friends – except for those he works for…those he pays off.”

“But Pa, he...” I started again.

“Don’t you see what he’s doing, Mark?” Pa lashed out. “He’s trying to turn you against me! He’s trying to convince you to come to his way of thinking.”

“No, Pa!” I argued.

“He told me that you told him you didn’t understand why I was holding out. That you thought I should sell.”

“NO!” I cried. “I didn’t say that, Pa! I didn’t!”

“Did you talk about it?” Pa asked as he glared at me. His voice was loud. I lowered my head. “I want an answer, Mark!”

I sighed. “Yes sir. I told him I didn’t understand.” I lifted my head and saw the disappointment in his face. “But I didn’t tell him I thought you should sell!” I argued. “I didn’t!”

Pa pointed his gloved finger straight at me. “Now you listen, and you listen really good, son.” Pa said in an even voice. “I don’t want you anywhere near that man.” I averted my eyes from him. “Do you understand me, boy?” I nodded. “I mean it! That man’s very dangerous with his words!” Pa’s voice softened. “I know you, Mark. I know how much you listen to people. I’m trying to protect you…protect us. Don’t disobey me.”

“Yes sir.”

“Mark?” I lifted my head. Pa closed his eyes in regret. I could tell he didn’t want to say what would come next. “I think there’s plenty of work for us on the ranch for the next several days. As soon as school is over, you get on home. We’ll work together.”

“Pa, I-“

“It’s final!” Pa ordered. Then his voice lowered a bit. “Now…let’s get to work on this fence.”

There was a strain between us. I was upset with Pa and he knew it. He didn’t trust me around Mr. Prescott. He had ordered me to stay away, and I didn’t really understand why. I didn’t understand what he meant when he said that his words were dangerous. And I resented his grounding me because he didn’t trust me to obey his orders.

The next day, I went to school. I heard whispering on one side of the school yard. As I dismounted Blue Boy, the boys talking broke up. Kenny Wheeler made his way over to me. “Your Pa have something against the railroad?” he asked.

“Leave me alone!” I yelled.

“I asked you a question, McCain! You gonna answer?” Kenny shouted at me.

“I don’t have to answer you or anyone else!” I yelled. “You just get out of here and leave me be!”

“Why won’t your father sell, Mark? My Pa needs that money. You know our crops failed last year. He’s hoping to sell so we can get some land on the other side of North Fork.”

“I’m sorry about your crops,” I said quietly

“I asked you a question, McCain!” Kenny said. “Why won’t your Pa sell?”

“Because he doesn’t want to!” I shouted.

“Well he better!” Kenny stated. “Or-“

“Or what?” I asked. I grabbed him by the front of his shirt. “Or what?”

“He’ll be sorry!” I punched him. He fell to the ground.

Mr. Griswald saw it.

***
I stood in front of Pa just inside Micah’s office. My eyes remained averted as he read the note. “Is it true, Mark?” Pa’s voice was angry. I nodded. “Face me like a man!” Pa’s voice boomed. I lifted my head and looked at him. “Yes sir. It’s true.”

Pa turned and looked at Micah. “Why?”

“I’d rather not say,” I answered.

“I see.” Pa stuffed the note into his pocket and sat on the edge of Micah’s desk. “I think it would go better for you if you DID say.”

“I can’t, sir.” I couldn’t even look at him. I hated defiling him. I hated this whole situation! I wished it would all just go away!

Pa sighed. “Alright, son. You go on home and start making some more fence posts. I’ll be along shortly. When we’re done for the evening, you’ll retire to your room after a sandwich.” I lifted my head and looked him in the eye. I saw the disappointment. I knew he thought I was being immature, but I was still angry with him for other things. It was his actions that had caused me to strike out today. “Your dismissed.”

“Yes sir.” I turned and walked out. I untied Blue Boy from the hitching post and looked up into Pa’s angry, disappointed eyes. Then I slowly turned and mounted Blue Boy. Without another look or another word, I rode out of town towards home.

When Pa got home, he picked up the ax and started helping me with the fence posts. Not a word was said as we worked together side by side. The distance between us was far apart. After another hour, Pa put the last two fence posts in his wagon. “That’s enough.” The words were as sharp as the axe. Without a word, I climbed up onto the wagon seat beside Pa.

We rode in silence. Finally, I broke it in a quiet, reserved voice. “All this anger..is it just because I got in a little fight at school?” I asked.

“The note said Kenny’s nose was bleeding. He had to go to the doctor because it hurt so bad.” Pa’s voice was cold. “Does that sound like a little fight? The note also said he didn’t try to strike you. Is that true?” I nodded. “Mark, you aren’t given to violence.” His voice pleaded with me. “Please tell me what’s wrong.”

“He’s mad at me and said some things he shouldn’t!” I yelled. Pa’s face turned angry. I closed my eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“There’s more.” Pa wasn’t asking. He sat on the wagon and waited for me to speak. “You’re angry at me.”

“Yes sir. I am.”

“Because I’ve restricted you to stay with me?” Pa questioned. I nodded. “Well, if you want me to apologize, you’re going to be disappointed. I’m not sorry.” My head shot up. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Mark. I can see through this man. He’s-“

“You don’t know him, Pa!” I argued.

“Mark! Don’t talk back to me in that tone of voice!” Pa’s angry voice ordered. “Mark, it’s my job to protect you. Words can break a family just like a gun. I know how you are. Deep down, so do you.” Pa sighed. “Sometimes I have to make you do things I don’t like.”

“I don’t agree with you, Pa.”

“On my discipline or on my decision not to sell?” Pa asked. I didn’t answer. “Let’s get to work.”

The cold silence stayed between us. I don’t think our talk did any good, at least not in resolving the anger I felt toward my father. I hated this wedge that had been driven between us and I longed for it to go away.

For the next several days we worked side by side. The silence stayed between us. Each evening I was sent to my room as punishment for keeping silent. Pa didn’t say how long this punishment would last. I didn’t ask. All I knew is things were between us. I didn’t know what to say or do to make them change.

Then on Friday, Kenny came up to me again. He was angry because my father was still holding out. He said some things that made me mad. I clinched my fists and quickly walked away. I wanted to punch him. I listened as Kenny called my father some mean names. “Your Pa better sell out, McCain! If he don’t, you’ll pay…big time!”

I turned and stared at him. My eyes flashed and my blood turned hot. I raised my fist to punch him. Then I stopped. “You ain’t worth it. I’m in enough trouble, but you ain’t worth it!”

I went inside, grabbed my books, and hurried away. I didn’t care at the moment if Pa found out or not. If I stayed there, Kenny would get another busted nose!

I hurried down to the lake. I wasn’t there long when I heard someone behind me. “Well…you got out of school early.”

I turned to see Micah. Micah sat down beside me. “I heard that you ran away from school earlier.” I stayed silent. I had nothing to say. I stared out over the water and watched the calmness. Suddenly, I wished I could be that cold, calm water. “I talked to your father yesterday. He told me about what’s been going on.”

“Oh?” I asked. “What’s been going on, Micah?”

“Oh…I think you know.” Micah paused as he looked at me. I didn’t say anything. “Mark…You know that your father tries to do what’s best for you.”

“He’s treating me like a child!” I cried out.

“You are acting like a child,” Micah answered bluntly.

I turned and stared at him. “It’s true, son. You know your father has infinite wisdom when it comes to judging others. He sees this man…This Prescott…for what he is. I see him for what he is. He’ll stop at nothing short of murder to get your father’s land. Your father is trying to protect you from being sucked in to something many, many are sucked into. He’s trying to keep you from getting hurt. And this is the thanks he gets? Why don’t you smack him in the face? It’ll hurt less!”

“Micah, he told me to stay away from Mr. Prescott. He was just being friendly!” I argued.

“No, Mark, he wasn’t! He’s chumming up to you to get at your father. Now that your father’s against him, he’s trying to turn you against your own father in order to weaken him. It looks like your letting him win.”

“I’m not turning against him!” I argued.

“You aren’t speaking to him!” Micah yelled.

I turned away. Hot tears burned my eyes. He just didn’t understand! “He asked me to stay away from Mr. Prescott, but he doesn’t trust me. He now orders me to stay with him when I’m not in school.”

“And here you are.” Micah said as he swept his hand across the lake. “You aren’t in school, yet you aren’t at home with him.”

I rolled my eyes. “I couldn’t very well go home when I…” I stopped, allowing my words to die. A deep sigh escaped me.

“…are skipping school?” Micah finished for me. He laid a hand on my shoulder. “Your father isn’t treating you like this because he doesn’t trust you, Mark. He’s doing it because he doesn’t trust Prescott. Prescott is a snake. He’d take his own mother’s land if it served his purpose.”

I didn’t know what else to say. I was spent from worrying and thinking on it. “Go home, Mark. Talk to your father. He’s hurting.”

So am I. That’s what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t. I didn’t understand how this wedge got between Pa and me. I didn’t understand why he was being so stubborn about this piece of land.

I turned and looked at Micah. “Alright.” I stood. “What time is it?”

Micah pulled out his watch and opened it. “9:30” Micah nodded. “You want your father to trust you. You should be home within the hour.”

I mounted my horse and rode for home. Tears fell from my eyes as I thought on the different things people had said to me. But there was one thing that kept me from releasing myself and admitting my pride was the problem. It was just a piece of land. It wasn’t worth the fight.

As I rode into the yard, Pa stood from where he was greasing the axles on the wagon. He stared hard at me as I dismounted my horse and walked toward him. “I’m doing this because I want you to trust me.”

Pa wiped his hands on the rag and nodded. “Go on.”

“Kenny Wheeler started in on me again this morning. I’m not ready to tell you what was said, but…the things were mean. I wanted to punch him so bad and I knew that if I stayed at school I would. I went to the lake and Micah came to talk to me. He said some pretty rough things too.”

“How do you mean?” Pa asked.

“He thinks I’m in the wrong.” I averted my eyes from Pa.

Pa folded his arms. “I see.” He cocked his head to one side. “And uh…what does Mark McCain think?”

“I don’t know.” That was my answer.

“I see.” Pa threw the rag down. “I think you should go on to your room and think on things Micah said. Then after lunch you’ll go check the cattle.”

“Yes sir.”

“You’re dismissed.”

I went to my room where I stayed for the rest of the morning. I thought on everything that was said from Lou, from Pa, from Micah…yet I found myself still confused.

The door opened. Pa stood in the doorway and told me lunch was ready. I ate in silence as Pa watched me. “After you check cattle, I have a list of chores for you to do. When you are finished, you may stay in your room for the rest of the evening.”

I stayed quiet. “Did you hear me?”

I lifted my head. “Pa, am I being punished for having my own opinions?” I asked.

“No.”

“Then why am I being punished?” I asked.

Pa closed his eyes. “I’ve taught you always to respect me. You’re keeping important thoughts from me. You are angry because I’m trying to protect you. You are getting in fights and skipping school. Everyone around you is trying to show you the truth, yet you are holding out. I don’t WANT to punish you, son. I guess I just…” Pa sighed. “I just don’t know how to handle you right now.”

I did as I was told.

The next day, Pa and I worked on the fence. We walked all along the fence lines of our property making repairs. As I jumped down to hand Pa his canteen, I saw Mr. Prescott coming. “Pa-“ I pointed.

I watched as Pa walked over and took his rifle from the wagon. His action scared me. I didn’t understand why he needed his gun. Then Pa told me to go on down the line – he’d catch up. I didn’t want to do that and hesitated. “Why?” It’s not like Pa would let him say anything bad to me if he was there.

Pa was getting angry at Mr. Prescott’s insistence and I knew that. “Just check the rest of the fence, son.” I heard the warning in his voice. I slowly turned and walked down the fence line. I fretted. I knew Pa wouldn’t shoot a man just because he was angry, but the fact Pa felt he needed his rifle did worry me…a lot!

I stood and waited anxiously for Pa to join me. He soon did. “What happened?” I asked.

Pa took the canteen from me. “What do you care? He’s your friend, remember?” He gave me the canteen and pointed to the wagon. “Let’s go.”

“Pa, wait!” I hurried up to him. “I do care! I want to understand. If you keep sending me away, how am I going to ever understand what’s really going on?”

“Alright, Mark. Your friend…Mr. Prescott…He tried to give me some money.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To bribe me into selling. Oh, he didn’t say it was a bribe but it WAS a bribe.” Pa found a wire loose and started hammering it. “You know what else?” I shook my head. He turned and looked up at me as he bent down fixing the fence. “He even tried to tell me that all my friends who want to sell would be upset. He doesn’t understand though that there’s two sides to this coin.”

“What?”

“Those on the alternate route will be upset if I do sell.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Alternate route? What alternate route.”

Pa stood up. “The railroad has two routes they can use to build the railroad through North Fork. If the one doesn’t work, they use the other.”

I was confused. “Does everyone on the other route want to sell?” I asked then.

“From my understanding…” Pa grunted as he straightened a post. “They do.”

“Then why is Mr. Prescott working so hard at getting YOU to sell?” I asked.

Pa stood and turned around. He bent down and looked me straight in the eye. “Do you really want to know?” I nodded. “He has a personal investment in this route. You see…he bought some land when he found out the railroad was going to go through here. Since he has such a high position on the railroad, he used his inside information to buy some land cheap then, planned to sell it to the railroad for a profit.”

Pa turned from me. I didn’t like the sound of that. “Like Lou?”

Pa turned and raised an eyebrow at me. “No. Not like Lou, son. Lou got her information from working in the saloon. Prescott got his information from his company. What he’s doing isn’t right.”

“And that’s why he…” I closed my eyes and let my breath out slowly.

Pa stood up. “I see you didn’t know that small detail. Maybe you should get all the facts before you decide to judge me, son.” Pa pointed to the wagon. “Let’s go.”

I thought on that all afternoon. There had been an alternate ruote this whole time. That’s a piece of information Mr. Prescott hadn’t told me. Not only that, but he was trying to make a profit by selling his land to his company. That’s the real reason he wanted to use THIS route. I thought on that all afternoon. That evening as I fixed supper, I thought on it some more. Then after supper as I washed the dishes. The silence and tension between us was still great and somehow someway it had to break away.

I was beginning to realize that I was in the wrong, but I still wasn’t willing to swallow my pride. I thought maybe Mr. Prescott would let the matter drop. All set aside, though, I still couldn’t see what was so important about hanging onto this land.

I watched as Pa once again paced the front yard. Then he sat down on the porch. I wondered what made him love this land so. I wondered about Lou’s words – about the land feeling like a member of the family for some. Then I wondered about my Pa. I wanted it all to end. If Pa’s not selling the land caused so much friction, why should he hold out? I walked to the door and watched Pa stare out over the land. I wanted to speak, but was afraid.

He didn’t even turn to look at me – he just told me I should get to bed. We had a lot of work to do tomorrow on the South Section fence. I had to know. I had to find out what was so important – why Pa fought so hard against everyone…including me. “Pa?”

Pa turned and looked at me.

“About that envelope that Mr. Prescott offered you…How much money was in it?”

He gave me a funny look. “Well, I don’t know, son. I didn’t count it. Why?”

I walked over and sat down next to Pa. I wanted to try to get something patched up. I wanted to cut through this wall that stood between us. “I was just thinking.”

“Thinking what?” Pa asked.

I didn’t look at him as I softly said the words I’d been thinking all week. “Maybe we oughta sell.”

“Did I hear you right?” I heard the surprise in Pa’s voice. I know he knew I’d been thinking it all week. But my saying the words out loud confirmed his suspicious.

“Well, there…There’s an awful lot of land in North Fork just as good as ours and…and besides, you were saying only last month that we could do with a little extra money.”

I heard the disappointment in his voice. "Mark, this is our home!"

"I know but..." I stopped.

"But what?" Pa asked.

“Nothing,” I answered as I looked down at the ground.

“There is something. What is it?”

“Nothing,” I answered again. I suddenly felt ashamed for ever thinking it. I hadn’t wanted to say it that way. I’d wanted to ask him about the importance of fighting so hard.

"Now son, we've got an understanding we always speak out on what we think."

I knew I had no choice. I had to tell him. After all, it was the thoughts I’d been keeping to myself all this time that had been slowly killing our relationship. "I didn't want to come running to you...complaining like a kid. You’re always saying that a man should fight his own battles,"

“What battle are you talking about?” Pa asked as he stared at me.

The whole entire time, I couldn’t look at him. I felt so many emotions from this past week. But I came clean with my problem at school. "Yesterday with Kenny Wheeler...we use to be good friends but...but I wasn't gonna let him get away with saying what he did about ya.”

“What did he say?” Pa asked.

“He kept calling you names ‘cause you wouldn’t sell the land. Probably got it from his father because Mr. Wheeler wants to sell and you’re in his way.”

"Oh. And that's why Mark McCain wants to give in!" Pa declared.

"It's not givin' in Pa...I just don't want people turnin' against ya'!" Those words hurt to say because I knew the truth and the truth hurt.

"We can't help what other people do son. We have to stand up for what we believe in. It's just a matter of principle."

"Principle...sometimes that seems to be nothing more than just a word.” I stopped. I knew that word was something my Pa lived by. “Maybe I shouldn't have said that but-” I stopped again.

"Sure you should have said it Mark, because you're right. Sometimes it is only a word. It has to be something we live and feel, not just something we talk about." I didn’t understand. I longed to understand!

"Mark...when your mother passed away, I took you away from Oklahoma because...well I...I couldn't stand the ranch there anymore. I couldn't stay yet I really couldn't leave...I kind of carried it in my heart. I didn't know it at the time, but...I was looking for a place just like it. Well I found it here in North Fork.” I suddenly looked at him. He spoke with so much feeling as he described what he was looking for. “Same land, same valleys, same hills. This house we built...same house...barn...same barn.”

Pa looked toward the hill. “That hill Mark...that's the way it used to look in the moonlight, kind of a soft blanket of silver on it. The only thing missing is the cross at the crest that marks your mother's resting place. Otherwise it's the same hill."

The way he spoke…The emotions he felt…This was home. This was the place he settled – the place he was able to finally move on after my mother’s death. I was looking at the home my mother knew. I was looking at the house my mother lived in. I was looking at my father’s dreams – everything he had worked for so long for.

I suddenly felt something in my gut deep inside me. I turned and looked at Pa. The wall began crumbling. It was still there, but it was cracked. All it needed was a great big push. Pa looked at me. I looked at him. But nothing more was said on the matter. We both knew I had some thinking to do.

“Well, you better get to bed now, son. Have a good sleep.”

He turned and looked at me. A small smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I stared at him. “I will, Pa.” I had a lot to think about. This wasn’t only our home – it was my mother’s home. And for that, I had to be thankful.

“Goodnight,” Pa said. He looked so relaxed…so happy. And I knew he was making the right decision. I knew any other decision would be wrong.

“Night.” I stood and started for the door. I wanted to apologize for the way I acted. I wanted to crumble the wall, but as I opened my mouth to speak, Pa turned and looked at me. The look on his face was so peaceful – so serene…I couldn’t break that. Not now…not tonight. “Night,” I said again. Then I went to bed.

As I crawled in under the covers I looked up at the ceiling as I propped a hand under my head. I remembered Micah’s words from yesterday. He told me that I was in the wrong – acting like a child – hurting Pa. I blinked back the hot moisture that formed in my eyes.

Then I thought about the conversation Pa and I had earlier today. I knew he was right. I knew I had hurt him. I hadn’t gone to him because things…little things…that Mr. Prescott had said put doubts in my head. I didn’t know he had an investment in the land. Nor did I realize there was an alternate route. Again, Pa was right. I had been wrong this whole time.

I had hurt Pa terribly. My stubbornness and refusal to look at both sides of that coin had put an unnecessary strain on our relationship. I didn’t know what to say.

I turned toward the wall as I heard the door open. I couldn’t face Pa. Not now…I had that one little piece of doubt left…or maybe it was pride. I thought that maybe…just maybe...the facts Pa had told me today were coincidence. Maybe tomorrow we’d hear that Mr. Prescott was going with the alternate route.

I closed my eyes as I heard Pa’s footsteps enter the room. I heard them stop beside my bed. Then I felt Pa draw the covers up over me. I heard Pa sigh. “Help him, Father. Help him.” Then he turned and walked out of the room.

His actions made the pain growing inside me that much worse. He still came in and checked on me every night. I was 14 years old and had no idea he’d done such a thing. He must really love me! I had hurt him so deeply and yet…he was still so tender towards me. I turned back towards the wall and cried myself to sleep.

***

It was another Sunday and we had to work. We had promised Jackford we’d get our fence fixed, and today would have to be the day. Pa said we’d again have our quiet time that afternoon. But when we pulled around to the north section fence, we noticed that the fences were down. The cattle were gone. I couldn’t believe this had happened again! Pa was mad. “What are you gonna do about it, Pa?” I asked.

“Round up those steers for now.” We hurried back to our wagon and rode for home to get our saddle horses.

Pa was quiet. I saw his jaw clinching as we rode in silence. “Pa?” Pa looked at me from over Razor. “You think…I mean…You don’t think that…He couldn’t have! He just…”

Our eyes locked. I again saw the disappointment in Pa’s eyes because I didn’t see the truth. I lowered my head and sighed. “I’m…sorry, Pa.”

I mounted Blue Boy then we rode off. This time, the steers were all on the road. We met Billy Lehigh as he rode our cattle down the road. Billy stayed in back of them while Pa and me stayed in front. We chased them into the fence. “What now, Lucas?” Billy asked.

Pa shook his head. “Let’s get him into the East Pasture.” Pa rode back to Billy. “Can you help Mark get them in there? I have a matter to take care of in town.”

Billy nodded. “Pa!” I started.

Pa turned and looked at me. His eyebrows were raised. “Mark…” He rode back up to me. He bent over and patted my shoulder. He just looked at me and smiled. Then he turned and rode away.

I watched Pa as he started to leave. “Lucas!” Pa turned and looked at Billy. “I think I know the trouble. Take care, will ya? I’d rather tangle with Jackford then with Prescott.”

I suddenly sucked in my breath. Billy’s words were the last straw. My gut clinched even tighter. The pain was terrible!

Pa nodded as he glanced at me. “You too?” I choked out.

Billy turned and looked at me. He said nothing about it. “Come on. Let’s go.”

***

I stood outside the fence and stared at the cattle. I had a sour taste in my mouth as that last piece of pride…or doubt broke away. I looked at the fences we had to mend and knew that those fences were nothing compared to the one between Pa and me. That fence would be harder. I closed my eyes as a tear slid down my cheek. “I’m sorry…” I whispered.

“Come on, Mark. I’ll help you work on the South Section fence until your Pa gets back. I know Jackford wants it up.” Billy stopped and looked out at the cattle where I was staring. “A quarter for your thoughts.”

I turned and stared at him. “A whole quarter?” I asked.

“Price is going up.” Billy smiled. “What are you thinking about?”

“This is Sunday. It’s the day of reckoning, and I guess I need it.” I turned and looked at Billy. “Did you know Mr. Prescott was a snake?”

Billy smiled. “That’s the word your Pa is using?”

“Pa’s right.” I sighed. “I take in things people say. I don’t judge their words. And I don’t get both sides of the issue.”

“Remember that first day you met me?” Billy asked.

I laughed. “Yeah! I remember you roping and dragging my Pa! Boy, I still hound him about that!”

“Yes, well…I met the real Lucas McCain when he pointed his rifle in my face.” Billy shook his head.
“Boy!” He stopped laughing. His left arm remained propped on the gate as he turned sideways and looked at me. “What did you first think of me when you met me?”

“Well…I liked you. I thought you were really nice.”

“Yeah.” Billy nodded. “And what about after I helped rope and drag your Pa.”

“Well…I didn’t like you nearly as much!” I smiled at him.

Billy laughed. “How about when I started building on the house? You and I became pretty close during that time. Remember?”

“Then I liked you a lot!” I declared. “You’re a nice guy – you just needed a little…direction from Pa.”

Billy laughed. “I got that alright, Mark!” He sobered. “Has your first impressions changed much on people? Think back on people you’ve met. Generally, you like them especially if they start talking friendly and all to you…like Prescott did. If you don’t see any bad seed…you assume they are okay. But grown men…we’ve been around and we see people for who they are. You’re 14 years old, Mark. You’re still young and have a lot of lessons to learn. I think many of those lessons will come this year.”

“I hurt my Pa so much. The other day Micah told me I should just slap him because it would hurt him less than what I’m doing. I was resentful and prideful at the time. But I slowly am coming to an understanding about so many things that happened this past week. My Pa told me last night the reason he holds onto the land – why no price is enough to sell it. You know why?”

“Why?” Billy asked.

I smiled. “Because my Pa had the same land he had back in Oklahoma. In his mind, it looks the same. The house he built…”

Billy smiled. “I remember when he built this house. I was here with him every painstaking hour. Everything had to be so perfect – from the layout of the kitchen to the place for the barn – even where we put the outhouse. It all had to be just so. Even the well had to be put in a different place. I asked him why one day and he said, ‘Because this is still my wife’s home. She still lives here and I want it to be the same.’ It was then that I knew there was something very, very special about your Pa.” Billy smiled. “And when I got married, I promised my wife that I would give her that kind of love. And I have.”

I smiled. “Someday I’ll get married and I want to have the same strong, loving marriage my Pa had with my Ma. For him to travel all this way then to find the same thing…For him to be able to picture it so perfectly…I just wish I could tell him how sorry I was and…that I understand now.”

“You just did.” I turned to see Pa standing behind us. I hadn’t even heard him come up. “I took a picture of everything in my mind one day. Your mother was in the kitchen baking her last pie. You were sitting at the table working on your letters – your tongue sticking out of your mouth as you wrote. I was drinking my coffee at the table. Before I went to bed that night, I walked every inch of the ranch. I memorized it in my mind. I didn’t know why, but…a week later, she…”

Billy turned and looked at Pa. “I want to have this closeness with my kids. Seeing you two here…I want to go home and hug my kids to myself. Mr. McCain?” Billy put a hand on Pa’s shoulder. “You two go on home. I think you have a more important fence to mend tonight.” Billy looked toward the South. “I’ll go talk to Oat. I’ll tell him that family is more important than a fence. If he has a problem with it, I’ll punch him. Then you can deal with him with that rifle.” Billy patted my Pa on the shoulder. “I’ve heard tell that all you have to do is stick it in somebody’s face. They get the point.”

Pa and Billy shook hands. I turned back to look over the gate. I heard Billy ride off. I turned to see Pa standing by his horse. He held his hat in his hand. The time had come. This was my day of reckoning.

“How’d it go in town?” I asked as I leaned against the fence.

Pa reached in his pocket and took out a $20 bill. “He gave me some money for the repairs,” Pa answered.

“He gave it to you?”

“Well…” Pa turned the money over in his hand as he looked at it. “I didn’t really give him a choice.”

“Oh.” I pushed myself off the fence and took a step toward him. “So…I guess that he was behind the damage.”

Pa took a step toward me. He nodded but said nothing.

I took my hat off. Somehow, I felt it was appropriate. “Did you hear what Micah told me?”

Pa took another step toward me. “I did.”

“He was right. A slap in the face would have been less painful.” I took another step forward. “Wasn’t he?”

Pa took another step forward as he nodded.

The distance between us was only about 2 paces now. I looked down at the ground and started drawing in the dirt with the toe of my boot. “I have a lot to apologize for, Pa. I…I don’t know what to say…After 14 years, you’d think I’d know better.”

Pa took another step forward. “I’m sorry too, son.”

I lifted my head. He smiled. He reached out and touched my face gently. “I shouldn’t have lost my temper like I did. I was just so…afraid…that you wouldn’t understand.”

I allowed my feet to take the last step forward. I was standing directly in front of him. “Afraid of what?” I asked.

“That you wouldn’t trust my judgment.”

I raised my eyebrows. “About the discipline or…about selling the ranch?” I smiled.

“Both.” Pa answered without hesitation.

I twirled the hat around in my hands. “Well then…” I swallowed hard as I looked him in the eye. “I reckon you don’t owe me an apology. I didn’t trust you. And for that I’m sorry.” I reached out and touched his arm. “Pa, I…I…I know I don’t say it often but…well, I love you.”

Pa’s eyes filled up with tears. “I love you too, son.”

Suddenly, Pa reached out and enfolded me in a big bear hug. “Oh, I love you, Mark!”

I felt tears in my eyes. I felt the wall tumble down as we held each other until our tears built the fence between Pa’s heart and mine.

As his arms tightened around me I began crying out loud. I didn’t deserve the love and forgiveness he was giving me. “Let it out, son…” Pa whispered. “Let it all out.” Suddenly, I heard Pa as he began sobbing. His cheek was next to mine as he held me tight. His arms healed my hurt. I didn’t say anything but just cried. Our tears mixed together as his arms stayed around me securely.

Something still didn’t feel right. I allowed a few more deep sobs to escape as I began shaking. Pa patted my shoulder. He pressed his lips to my temple – I hadn’t felt that from him in so long. Then he put his lips to my ear and softly whispered…”I forgive you.” My shaking slowly subsided. I accepted his forgiveness.

“I love you,” I whispered once more in his ear. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I know.” Pa stated before pressing his arms around me one last time.


When we finally parted – minutes later – I looked into Pa’s eyes and spoke, “Pa, since you explained to me why you didn’t want to sell the ranch, maybe I should tell you why I thought we should.”

He laid a hand on my cheek.

“You already told me it was because of the boy’s getting after you at school.”

“No, that’s why I punched Kenny. Pa, I’ve seen you toil from sun up to sun down. When you think I’m asleep in my bunk, I hear you moaning and groaning as you get ready to lie down for the night. Pa, I thought…” I hung my head before I continued, “I thought it weren’t right for you to be working yourself to an early grave just to provide for me. I wanted your life to be so much easier than it’s been. I mean, you’ve been trying to keep your pain a secret from me and then you didn’t tell me about the alternate route. I know I’m not full grown, and act a little impetuous, but… My wanting to sell out was based on the information that was available to me. Guess once I understood your reasons and finally swallowed my pride, it got easier to accept your decision, about everything.”

“Son, I guess we both learned lessons this week, the hard way. I shouldn’t have kept the information I knew about the railroad a secret from you in the first place. I just didn’t think you needed to know, until after it was too late and the wall had already been built between the two of us.”

“Pa?” I asked softly. “Can I do the Bible reading when we get home?”

“You sure can, son.”

Pa put his arm around my shoulders. I took Blue Boy’s rein in my hand as Pa took Razor’s in his free hand. Then we walked home, softly talking about the pride of our land.

***

Other events happened that led to the exodus of Willard Prescott and he was never seen again. The night I was told Prescott was gone, everything seemed perfect. I just couldn’t stop smiling as I fixed Pa’s favorite supper – beans and cornbread with bacon. When Pa came in from the fields that evening, I served him. Then I offered to wash the dishes, but Pa refused to allow it. This was his job tonight.

I opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch. Tonight, everything looked so different. Tonight, as I looked out over the land, I saw it through my parents’ eyes. I imagined Ma and Pa sitting on the front porch. Pa’s arm was around her as they spoke softly. I was standing in the doorway asking for a glass of water or for Pa to take me out back. I looked out to the barn and remembered how I took Pa’s hand each morning, walking with him to do the morning chores. Ma sometimes stood in the doorway smiling and watching us walk.

I looked out at the grass and remembered laying on the blanket with my Ma as we softly talked about the clouds that floated over us in the sky. Ma would laugh at my vivid imagination. My eyes would grow heavy as I fell asleep.

I looked to the mountain as I remembered My Pa bending down beside me. His arm was around my shoulder as I cried because he just let the bird we’d been caring go. He spoke softly to me, explaining that the bird was now free, building a nest up on the mountain.

Then I looked at the crest where Pa buried Ma that day. I saw Pa on his knees, his hands folded in prayer as he cried. Then he kissed his hand and touched the dirt as I stood back and wept.

How could I have ever wanted to leave this behind? My heart ached just thinking on the storm my selfish thoughts had put Pa and I through.

I smiled as I stood up and went back inside. I walked to the bedroom and looked around. There was only one thing I didn’t understand. “Pa?” I asked suddenly.

Pa turned from the sink as he sat the dishtowel down. “Hm?” He walked up to me and put his hands on my shoulders as I looked into the bedroom.

“Our house…back in Enid…It had two bedrooms.”

Pa nodded. “It did.”

“Then this house isn’t exactly the same.”

“It’s the only thing I changed, son. We both needed to be close to each other. We’d been sleeping close to each other for so long and I’d grown used to it. I’d grown used to waking up in the middle of the night and watching you sleep so I’d know you were still with me. I couldn’t bear to let that end. I could have still built the second room, but this way I’d know that you would always be close to me. You’d never want to break the bond.”

Pa left me as I thought on this. I heard him walk outside and sit on the porch. Slowly, I turned and walked out. I sat down on the step beside my Pa and returned to my vision…that’s what it was – I could REALLY see it.

“What are you thinking about, Mark?”
"I'm not thinking, I'm looking,” I answered.
"Looking at what?" Pa wondered.
“The hill, the valley, the herd, every rock...every blade of grass...and all of it ours."
"Looks good to you, huh?"
"Especially now...before I only saw it with my eyes."
Pa understood. "And now you see it with your heart.”
"Yup...just can't explain it though.”

"Nobody can son, it's a deep warm feeling...a comfort we…we just happen to call home."

Gun Shy

Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story

The Most Amazing Man

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