Growing up as a boy in the 1880’s, I remember having lots of imaginations. I guess I was like any other boy back then. I dreamed of buffalo hunting, cowboys and Indians, Trapping, and Wagon trains. But what I remember about this story is the wonderful stories I learned about pirates!
He was the perfect man for it too! He was big, had a deep voice like someone who could fight pirates, and used colorful language at times, though my Pa wasn’t there to hear it. It wasn’t the first time I heard these things, so when he allowed one of those words to slip out, I just breathed a sigh of relief that Pa wasn’t there, because he certainly would have had a few things to say about that! Another thing I remember about this man was that he had huge tattoos on his arms that sort of drew a picture of his life.
When I first met him, I was scared of him, but as it turned out, he was a pretty swell guy. Then he was suddenly an outlaw himself…
You see, it all started one day when I was late getting home from school. I stopped on my way home to help a calf that was stuck in some bushes. Then I tripped over something.
It was hard and big, and somehow, I knew it wasn’t supposed to be there.
As I looked down, I saw that someone had purposely buried whatever it was with some weeds and stuff. I sure was sorry that I looked, because the sight that met my eyes made my blood run cold and made me feel a little sick to my stomach! You see, what was lying there in front of me was a body – a cold, hard body.
I had to just sit there for a minute to regain my composure, because this was a little too much for me to take in. But when my senses finally returned, I jumped on my horse and raced home. As soon as my horse entered the yard, I started yelling – no, screaming – for Pa. But as I entered the yard, I was suddenly grabbed and ordered to stop my yelling.
Naturally I was terrified. It’s not everyday that a complete stranger comes up to you and grabs you telling you to be quiet – especially in your very own barn! But I was only alone with him for a moment, because then my Pa was suddenly there asking what I was yelling about. I was still really shaken up from seeing that body, and though I tried to tell Pa about it calmly, he could see the terror in my eyes.
So Pa finally bent down to my level and touched me to calm me down. He then asked me why I was late. In all the chaos, I had forgotten I was late, and I told Pa that I stayed after school and “helped” Miss Adams. I didn’t really feel like getting into a long conversation about whether that helping was voluntary or not. Looking into Pa’s eyes, I wasn’t sure that he really believed it was voluntary, but there were more important things to discuss.
He looked at this big stranger and asked him if he would stay with me. That’s another thing about my Pa: he was always so in touch with what I thought and felt, and one look in my eyes told him that I definitely did not want to be left alone! But I didn’t exactly want to be left with a strange big man who looked like he could kill a whole town with his bare hands either! “Who is he?” I suddenly asked in a voice that told Pa he could not leave me alone without first explaining this!
Pa gave a short laugh, realizing that I was clueless as to why he was leaving me with a complete stranger. “Oh, this is Artemus Quarles, our cousin through marriage.” That made me feel a little better, but his loud voice still frightened me so soon after seeing a cold, dead body lying on the ground. Pa could tell I still needed a little time to adjust to being left alone with such a big man, so he allowed that we could help him hitch up the team.
But right before he left, Pa told Mr. Quarles to fix supper if he wasn’t back on time and to tell me about how he fought off pirates. Suddenly, this big cuss of a man no longer looked so big and scary. He looked adventurous and interesting! “Pirates!” I exclaimed, no longer fearful of Pa’s leaving.
Pa wasn’t even out of the yard yet when Mr. Quarles started telling me stories. The first thing he told me was about the ship he birthed on. It was called the China Queen. It had gone down off the Coast of Chili in the roaring forty’s – it was two months after he signed off. I was no longer afraid of him, and he could tell!
Then he told me about when he got his tattoos in Queensland five days after they sank some Spanish ships and took thirty prisoners! Some of these prisoners were pirates that were going to make them walk the planks!
As we worked on supper, he told me an amazing story about a day when he was sailing his ship and ten pirates snuck on board. They had jumped off a boat some ways out in the ocean at night and swam to his ship without getting caught! Then they slowly climbed up the side of the ship and climbed on board. Mr. Quarles was sleeping in his quarters when suddenly, he heard screams! He came out with his sword and killed three pirates all in one whack! With a sword!
He said that because he was such a big man even then, the pirates tried to grab him, but he was able to knock them away. He threw three overboard and took four prisoner! He never did know what happened to those three prisoners out in the water. “Maybe the sharks got them!”
“Sharks?” I cried. “Have you seen sharks?”
“Me?” Mr. Quarles asked. “Well boy, there ain’t much I haven’t seen! Yes sirree! I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen killer whales and sharks as big a the ship!”
“Wow, wee!” I shouted. “Did you ever get chased by one?”
“No boy, I didn’t get in the water. But I saw a pirate get eaten by one once. That shark…he just swallowed him whole!”
“Gee, you mean like the whale did to Jonah?” My eyes were as big as saucers as he handed me a plate of bread to put on the table. I swallowed as I sat the bread down. “Mr. Quarles, what does a shark look like?”
He told me that a shark had a great big triangular spike on it’s back, and it’s mouth is huge with lots of sharp, white teeth. They are mostly grey and huge! I had seen a drawing of a shark in one of my books, but I still couldn’t imagine what a shark looked like!
I wanted another story, but Mr. Quarles said we had to eat. While we were eating, I heard the wagon drive up. I hurried to the door as Pa opened it and came inside. I could see from the doorway that Pa had the body on the back of his wagon. Just the thought made my stomach feel queasy. I started staring, but Pa quickly pulled me away from the door and closed it. Then he firmly placed hands on my shoulders and led me back to the table. He didn’t want me dwelling on the situation.
Pa grabbed a bite to eat as he asked me if I had taken anything that could help solve the mystery. I assured Pa I hadn’t taken a thing. That’s when we found out that the man had been killed with a knife. I know Pa gave you all the details about this, so I won’t go there. I’d rather tell you more pirate stories!
Pa quickly ate, then he got up to take the body into town. But as Mr. Quarles and I were just about to start washing the dishes, Pa called Mr. Quarles outside. He found some initials “RM” on the man’s belt that may give a clue as to who he was.
I went in and got ready for bed, even though it wasn’t even close to my bedtime! I wanted to hear another story. As I lay in bed, Mr. Quarles sat in a chair and began telling me a story. I guess the excitement of the afternoon got to me, because I fell asleep in the middle of the story, which led to more problems that night!
The last thing I remember hearing Mr. Quarles say is that this man was in the water diving for pearls when suddenly there were three sharks coming at him in three different directions. As he spun around in the water, he knew there was no escape…
But suddenly, I saw this man with a patch over his eye. He was sailing on a huge ship as he quickly rode these huge waves through the ocean. I was on the floor of the boat scrubbing it. The pirate stood over me and grinned. Then suddenly, I saw a dead man lying in front of me.
I didn’t want to, but something – some unseen force – was making me pull back the cloth. It was my Pa! I began screaming when a man threw me over the side of the ship into the water. I looked up and saw a huge shark headed right to me. The last thing I remembered seeing was “RM” inscribed on the shark’s face!
“Mark! Mark! Wake up, son.” I heard that voice. It was Pa’s, but how could it be? The Shark was moving closer to me. It was opening it’s big mouth and-
“No! No! Go away!” But then I felt firm hands on my shoulders. I opened my eyes and stared. It had been a nightmare, and I was still shaking so bad I couldn’t hardly stand it.
Pa wrapped his arms around me protectively. “You’ve just had a bad dream,” pa stated. He was dressed for bed, so I knew I had waken him up.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. The whole room still seemed spooky! Suddenly, I said, “What’s that?”
“What?” Pa asked as he turned and looked behind him.
I pointed, but there was nothing there. “Pa, there was something there. He had on an eye patch, and the letters RM were on his forehead. He-“
Pa smiled. “Son, you were dreaming. I think between the pirate stories and the body you found, you’ve been badly spooked.” Pa tried to push me back down onto the bed, but I clung to him.
“Okay, scoot over, son.” Pa laid down beside me, pulling me down beside him. He kept his arms firmly around me.
I was afraid of waking up and him being gone. “You won’t leave if I fall asleep?” I asked. I felt totally silly that I was ten years old, yet behaving like a six year old!
“I’ll stay right here. I promise.” I could hear the smile in Pa’s voice.
I sighed. Closing my eyes brought back the horrible images I was trying to forget. I quickly opened my eyes and let out a gasp. I was sure I saw that pirate ghost back on the wall! Pa hugged me a little tighter. “Talk to me, son.”
“I’m sorry, Pa. You must think I’m a baby!”
“Not at all, son.” I heard the concern in his voice. “Even I have nightmares from time to time. But as you get older, you just learn to deal with them better…sometimes. Even adults get as scared as you are right now.”
“Honest?” I stayed silent for a moment. Then I decided to tell him. Talking about it would help. “I was on a big ship with a great big pirate – about as big as Mr. Quarles! He had a patch on his eyes. In one hand he held a sword, and in the other a knife. I was scrubbing the floor when suddenly, I came to a body under a sheet. When I pulled it back it was…” I swallowed. “It was you.”
“Well, I’m right here, son. I’m right here.” I nodded and smiled. I suddenly didn’t need to go on, but I told Pa. “The shark had “RM” on it’s forehead. You know, Pa, it’s like I had all the bad things from the day all wrapped up together.”
Pa mumbled, “Well, that’s how dreams are. They wrap everything up together. Feel better?”
But his voice was like an echo as I suddenly fell asleep.
The next thing I remember, Pa was groaning as he tried to stand up from my bed. I sat up. “You hurt?”
Pa tried to hide the back cramps he had gotten sleeping with me in my little bunk. “I’m sorry, Pa! I fell pretty dumb about it now!”
Pa sat down on his own bunk and began getting dressed. “I’m just getting old, son. My bones and muscles don’t quite work the way the used to.”
But I heard him yawn and knew that he didn’t sleep very well. “Pa,” I stopped him at the door. “Thank you.”
Pa walked over to me and sat down. “Don’t be ashamed, son. Like I said, it happens to us all. Just don’t make it a habit! And maybe Mr. Quarles shouldn’t tell you such colorful stories today. I’ll talk to him about toning them down a little.”
“No, Pa! He doesn’t need to do that!” I exclaimed.
Pa laughed and walked to the door. “When you get dressed, go start on the chores while I get breakfast ready!”
I had forgotten all about Pa’s trip to town. So as we ate breakfast, I asked him if they found out anything. Pa told me that a man was in jail in town, and Micah is pretty sure that he did it. He had the man’s saddle. The same initials were on it.
After breakfast, Pa worked on cleaning his gun. I helped Mr. Quarles finish with the roof as I handed him things while he stood on the ladder. I asked him if he was ever afraid of falling, but he said he never fell off of ladders. I was amazed when he said he learned to hold on in typhoons – that’s a mighty big storm at sea! I tried to picture in my mind what it would be like to be on a ladder during such a mighty storm!
I figured someone fell off sometime. Then Mr. Quarles told me that a man was working on the sails one day when he fell. He had a hook for an arm! Can you imagine having a hook for an arm? As I tried to put that image in my head, I suddenly wondered if it was a good idea to think on that too much after what happened last night! But one day, his hook got rusty and he fell! A hook for a hand and his hand falls off!
We questioned pa about the man in town, asking Pa if he thought the man really did it. Pa never did say what he thought, and by the way he was acting I had a feeling he had some doubts. Mr. Quarles said he couldn’t understand why people would want to kill someone unless someone came at them first. I proudly stated that he killed them then. I knew he talked about using swords, so I was excited to hear what he had used when he had to kill someone in self-defense, but Pa never did like me dwelling on such matters, and he hushed the conversation up really fast!
I sure was surprised to hear that Mr. Quarles didn’t like using a gun. He didn’t think guns should ever be marred. He liked to collect them, but not to use them! He even wanted to buy Pa’s rifle! “Pa would never sell his rifle!” I proudly declared. That rifle was older then me, and it was Pa’s most prized possession! I quickly made my way up the steps to sit beside my Pa, suddenly feeling like I needed to show that I was on his side.
It wasn’t long before Pa got a really funny look on his face. I asked him what was wrong, and he just stated that he had to go find something out. While he was gone, I had to clean up the yard. And I did it, though I didn’t really enjoy it. Mr. Quarles was fixing to leave, and I found one of his tools in the pile of wood I had piled up to throw away. So I went to put it up.
I hadn’t been in his wagon yet. And as soon as I stepped inside, I saw a lot of things that were just too interesting to keep my hands off of! Granted, my Pa was raising me to have good manners, and he would not have approved of me going through Mr. Quarles wagon, but I was a boy who wanted to learn about things. I saw a pair of binoculars and a sword, and of course I had to try them out!
But then I opened the box to stick his tool in when something caught my eye. I was suddenly amazed! I saw a pearl handled gun! I picked it up to hold it, turning it over in my hand as I studied it. Never had I seen such a fancy gun!
But suddenly, Mr. Quarles was there yelling at me! He didn’t much appreciate me going through his things, and I knew I had done wrong. I guess I had gotten a little carried away. Then I told him that my Pa liked fancy firearms and would get a real kick out of seeing such fancy guns!
Then Mr. Quarles told me he wanted me to go with him to see a man about a job. I ran in and get a snack since we were going to miss lunch. While inside, I left Pa a note to tell him where I was. I could never go anywhere without letting Pa know where I was going. Granted, I didn’t always abide by that rule, but this time I did.
I jumped up in the wagon, telling Mr. Quarles that I left Pa a note just in case we weren’t back before he got back, letting him know where I was. Mr. Quarles suddenly stopped the horses and jumped down, stating he had forgotten something in the barn. I waited for a couple minutes, but being a growing boy, I decided I wanted more bread and butter.
When I got to the doorway of the house, I suddenly saw that Mr. Quarles had torn up the note I had written for Pa. This surprised me and I didn’t understand at first. He was suddenly a different person – sort of like the man I had first feared. “If only you had stayed out of my wagon, boy,” he sneered at me really mean-like. I would never get those words out of my head for as long as I lived! I finally found myself in the middle of a nightmare, but this time I was wide awake and Pa wasn’t there to protect me!
I wasn’t exactly sure what this was all about, but it had something to do with the gun I found! I started backing up, suddenly not wanting to be in this nightmare. My heart was beating a mile a minute! Mr. Quarles suddenly reached out and grabbed me roughly by the arm, but I was able to get away from him. My heart beat even faster!
I ran around the table and tried to get out the back door, but in my fearful rush, I had trouble opening it. I finally got it open and ran to try to escape the nightmare. But suddenly my nightmare was standing right in front of me! I froze in my steps, realizing my life was in grave danger. Slowly, I backed up toward the house. He started toward me so I rushed inside and locked it. I held the door knob and cringed in fear as Mr. Quarles tried getting inside.
Suddenly there was silence.
I slowly turned my head around to the front. The door was wide open! I couldn’t be afraid – I had to protect myself! I ran to the door and slammed it shut, shoving a chair under the doorknob. Then I looked out the window.
I wish I hadn’t! I watched Mr. Quarles grab the sword from his wagon and come back. I backed away from the door knowing he would be inside in only mere seconds. Then where would I go? I knew my life was in grave danger, and I wished with all my heart that I could awake from this nightmare!
He was busting in! I ran out the back door. My heart leapt for joy when I suddenly realized my Pa was there. He would once again awake me from this nightmare I was having! Never in my life was I so happy to see him. I ran up to him and told him that Mr. Quarles was trying to hurt me. I said hurt, but I meant kill. I just couldn’t say that word. When I told Pa about the pearl handled gun, everything fell into place.
Somehow, I knew that Mr. Quarles was the reason that stranger I found yesterday was dead. Pa grabbed his rifle and protectively pushed a hand against my chest, letting me know I was to stay right where I was. I watched, now with a new fear. I was no longer afraid for myself, but for my Pa!
But when Mr. Quarles reached for the gun and pointed it at my Pa, we both knew he couldn’t pull the trigger. He was done fighting. Micah grabbed him and pushed him toward the horses. “Let’s go!”
I watched them leave for town together. “Aren’t you going with him?” I asked in a shaky voice.
Pa bent down in front of me. He suddenly began touching me in various places, quickly examining me. “Are you alright, son? Are you hurt anywhere?” Pa asked in a shaky voice.
I nodded. Pa suddenly drew me close to him and gave me a tight hug. “Son, I’m so sorry! I should have never left you with that man.”
“Why, Pa!” I asked.
“I don’t know, son. I don’t know.” Pa pulled me away but continued holding my arms as he looked into my eyes. I was still shaking from the experience. “You sure you’re okay?”
“Pa, I feel like I just had another nightmare! Only this time I was wide awake. I didn’t know what to do. You think he would’ve killed me?”
Pa closed his eyes and shook his head. “Mark, I was wrong to leave you alone with a complete stranger. I’m sorry, son.” He hugged me again.
Suddenly, I pushed him away and put my hands on each of his cheeks. I looked him in the eyes. “I’m alive and okay, Pa! You woke me up from the nightmare.” Then I smiled.
Pa stood up and lifted me up into his arms. “Let’s go, son.”
As we slowly started riding into town, Pa and I relished silently that we still had each other. But suddenly, Pa cleared his throat. “By the way, son, why were you so nice as to stay after school yesterday and help Miss Adams?”
I turned and looked at his smiling face. I think he was trying to changed to a lighter subject – something that wouldn’t give me nightmares.
“Gee, I answered him. So much has happened since then that I don’t even remember!” I knew I wasn’t fooling him. Pa suddenly turned his head toward me and raised his eyebrows. “Okay, okay.” I sighed. “You see, this girl in front of me kept turning around and sticking her tongue out at me, so I dipped one of her pigtails in the ink well on her desk.”
Pa stared at me. “You did what?”
“Uh…oh Pa, we better hurry and get there!” I suddenly stated. “Um…we don’t want to leave Micah alone with a dangerous man like that!” I suddenly raced my horse forward as we rode into town.
After Pa took care of the business in town, I asked Pa if Mr. Quarles really did all those things he said he did. Pa said that I could keep on believing he did! So all the way home, I told Pa wonderful stories about pirates, sharks, and the ocean!
Oh, and thankfully, Pa never did bring up that school incident again! I guess for once I got off the hook!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
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