Every child wants his parents to believe him when he tells something. Now I admit that I like to tell a tall tale every once in a while. And I’ll admit that I have a tendency of falling asleep and dreaming, then waking up believing it’s real. That’s a sure thing. But this time, I really sincerely knew I was telling the gospel truth, and I really, truly couldn’t get my father to believe me.
First of all, I’ll tell you about one of the experiences I had in my past that was mentioned here. You see, it was a Saturday morning and I hurried through my chores. It was a beautiful spring day and I had it in my mind to spend the afternoon fishing. I ran into the house where Pa was putting on a roast for supper and proudly announced that I was all done with my chores and would like his permission to go fishing for the afternoon. Pa simply turned around and looked at me. “Son, do you see what I’m doing here? I’m fixing a nice roast for our supper.”
“Well, we could have fish too,” I tried. “Pa, it’s such a nice day and-“
“Mark, follow me.” We walked outside and Pa took me to stand beside the wood pile. “Now, I chopped all this wood two days ago and it’s your job to stack it. Thursday after school you went to Freddie’s house and didn’t come home until after supper, which was fine because I had given you permission to do that. Yesterday you dawdled around doing everything but the one thing you were supposed to do – stack this wood. This afternoon, you are only going to do one thing.” Pa held up one finger. “You are going to pile up all this wood neatly in the wood pile.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow after church! Honest!”
“You’ll do it today, Mark.” Pa suddenly tripped over the broom that I had forgotten to put back in the lean-to. “Today!” He stated, annoyed.
I shook my head as I looked at the big heap of firewood lying around. But there was no use complaining about it. That would just get me into trouble. I spent about an hour on that pile before I started getting pretty tired. Before I knew it, I was on the pile fast asleep.
Pa had gone out to check the cattle. When I was just waking up, I suddenly smelled smoke. Opening my eyes, I saw that the house was on fire. “Pa, Pa!” I screamed as I ran toward the pastor. Pa was just riding in. “Pa, the house is on fire! It’s on fire!”
Pa jumped off his horse and ran toward the house. “Where?”
“Pa it’s every-“ I stopped as I turned around. The fire was gone. I turned and looked at Pa. He put his hands on his hips and gave me an annoyed look. “Well, it was. I-“
I walked over to the log pile. “I was waking up and-“ I started.
“Dreaming. That’s what!” Pa turned and stomped off. I could tell he was quite upset with me.
That incident was never mentioned again…until today…
And then there was the time when I was working on the haystacks. There was a lot of hay to pile up and I had been working on it all morning. I soon fell asleep with the pitchfork right beside me. Suddenly, I saw this man, our hired hand named Mike, coming towards me with the pitchfork. I began screaming and he ran away. I stood up from the hay pile. “Pa, hurry!” I screamed. “Help!”
Pa ran out of the barn to me . He grabbed me by the shoulders. “Pa, he just tried to kill me!” I stood up and grabbed his arms. “With this pitchfork! He was standing over me and then I screamed and he dropped it and ran away!”
Pa picked up the pitchfork. “Mark, are you sure?”
“Yes!” I shouted, still shaking from the experience. “Pa, he was right here when I woke up and he-“
Pa suddenly held up his hand. “When you woke up?” He put his hands on his hips. “Son, were you dreaming?”
“No! He was right here! He tried to kill me, honest!” I insisted.
Pa shook his head. “Who, son?”
“Mike! He was right here!”
Pa sighed. “Mark, you were dreaming!”
“No, Pa! I-“ I stopped as I saw the stern look on Pa’s face.
“Mark, I sent Mike to town over an hour ago. He’s not back yet.”
“Well, I-“ I looked around. “Are you sure?”
Pa nodded. “He took the rig, son.” Pa just shook his head, then turned around and walked off.
He never mentioned that incident again until now.
I suppose that’s why he didn’t believe me this time. But I knew I was telling the truth. As I sat here and argued with him tonight, I couldn’t help but remember the day I met those three surveyors. It was after school one day. I saw them out working, so I thought I’d stop by and see what it was all about.
I smiled at the man as I waved at him. “Hi. I’m Mark McCain.”
“I’m Eliot. It’s nice to meet you, Mark McCain!” I watched as he worked. “What are you doing?” I asked.
I suddenly grew excited. “You mean for the railroad?” I asked.
“Yep.” He kept working. He turned and looked at me. A friendly smile came across his face. “Listen, if you wait about thirty minutes, we’ll be done and I’ll talk with you awhile.”
I sat down and watched them work. There were three of them. Charlie and Lynn were the other two men. I finally heard Eliot tell them to stop for the day. He grabbed a kerchief, then came over to sit by me. “This is beautiful country you have out here, Mark!”
I nodded. “I know. When we rode into New Mexico, my Pa took one look and said he would never live anywhere else. We love it here.”
We talked for quite awhile. It would take books to tell you everything we talked about. Finally, the men began fixing dinner. “Would you like to stay?”
I suddenly looked up at the sky and realized it was close to 5:00. “Oh no!” I gasped. “I was supposed to be home an hour ago at least! Pa will skin me for sure!”
Eliot stood up and walked with me to my horse. “Listen, I’ll ride with you and try to smooth it over with your father.” I told him that wasn’t necessary, but he said he wanted to talk to him anyhow.
We rode to the ranch together. I laughed as he told me more stories about places he had been and things he’d done. As we rode into the yard, I saw my Pa come outside, rifle in hand. I hopped down and ran to him. “Pa, this is Eliot. He’s surveying back a ways for the railroad and-“
“You’re two hours late, Mark. You got out of school at 2:00 today,” Pa said as he looked down at me. “You were supposed to get home and start working on that woodpile you neglected yesterday!’
I swallowed. Eliot got off his horse and came forward. “I’m sorry, Mr. McCain. I shouldn’t have detained him so long. I saw him coming and told him to wait until I was done working. Then we’d talk awhile. I should have asked him to check with you.”
Pa nodded, but he looked sideways at me. “He knows me well enough to know he should have come straight home. Get to work, boy.”
I went over to the woodpile and began stacking the wood Pa had cut the day before. I tried to listen to their conversation. I heard Eliot suddenly ask if they could buy milk off of Pa. I stopped working to listen. “Sure can,” pa answered. “We get more milk than we can use now. I’ll have Mark bring it over to your camp every morning.”
Eliot nodded. I smiled. But then Pa looked at me and I immediately went back to work. “Bye, Mark!” Eliot called. “See you in the morning!”
“Oh,” Pa stopped Eliot. “Mark goes to school Monday through Friday. School starts at 8:00. Make sure he doesn’t dawdle.”
“You can count on it!” Eliot winked at me. I rolled my eyes. There for a minute, I thought maybe I had something going for me!
Pa walked up to me after Eliot left. “Now, about you young man,” he started.
“I’m sorry, Pa. But it was awful exciting. I’ll have all this wood stacked soon. If you want, I’ll fix supper tonight and work in the barn after supper and-“
Pa tosseled my hair. “It’s okay this time, son. But next time…” He shook a finger at me. “Yes sir!”
Eliot was my favorite of the three. He was nice and took time to talk to me and explain to me what surveying was all about. He told me about his travels from Chicago in the East all the way to California in the West. He’d been north and south, east and west. He told me lots of stories – stories about different people he had met and stories about outlaws, gunfights and epidemics. He’d even seen an Indian raid or two!
I took the milk over to them every morning, come rain or shine. Every evening I would pick it up. I would always stay for awhile and talk to Eliot. I enjoyed what he had to say so much, that I made an announcement to Pa in the barn this very morning!
“Pa, I’ve been thinking,” I stated as we continued milking the cow. Then I made the announcement that I wanted to be a surveyor.
“A surveyor, huh?” Pa asked. “Well, that’s a worthy calling.”
But I hardly heard him. I was deep in thought! “Yeah. And when you’re a surveyor, you get to see the whole country. And not only that, but Elliot says that when you’ve just finished a job and you see that train coming along on that railroad track, boy you feel like a part of history!” The mere thought of going all over the country was exciting to me!
I asked Pa if he thought that would be a good job for me. But Pa said, “Only, I had it in my head that when you were grown up, you and me would be partners.” I should have known he’d mention that! After all, that’s what he’d always wanted.
“I thought so too! Only, I have to grow up some day!” Pa had told me numerous time that it was always hard for a parent to watch their child grow up and make their own decisions. But there was a whole world to explore. I thought I was growing up and needed to explore my options.
Had we just had that conversation just this morning? It seems like so long ago. Pa and I have always been so close, and his not believing me now seemed to weigh heavy on my heart. I wanted to try to convince Pa that what I was saying was true. I wasn’t dreaming again like he thought, and I wasn’t letting my imagination run wild.
I had gone over that very morning to find no one there. Then I went into the tent to wait on them. But when I started reading one of the surveying books, I fell asleep. I’m not sure how long I was asleep before I woke up and heard Charlie and Lynn arguing. At the time, I didn’t really think anything about it. And when I came out of the tent, I was still to sleepy to think too much on how they were acting.
Eliot was gone. He hadn’t even said goodbye! Again, at the time I still had fog on the brain so even though I was saddened that he had left, I still didn’t think too much on it.
That is until I left their camp and started for home. Then it changed. I slowed my walk after I got from the surveyor’s camp. They said he had to suddenly go East? Why is it that the other day Eliot told me that his family all lived up North and he was traveling straight out West to a new job when they were done here? I thought back to a conversation Eliot and I had on Thursday.
I believe it was a Thursday…I came over and Eliot wasn’t his own cheerful self.
It was after school, and I had already asked Pa if I could stop by. I found Eliot in his tent sitting on his bed deep in thought. I stood in the doorway. “Eliot?”
He suddenly looked up. “Oh, hi Mark.”
I came in and sat on the edge of his cot. “Something wrong?”
He looked out towards Charlie and Lynn. “I’m not sure,” he answered. “How was school?”
I looked toward Charlie and Lynn. They were standing there, deep in conversation. I saw Lynn point toward the tent every now and then. Charlie shook his head a lot and let Lynn do most of the talking. “Fine,” I answered. “Did you stop working early today?”
Eliot didn’t even hear me. He was deep in thought as he watched Charlie and Lynn talk. I looked towards them again. Then I looked back at Eliot. “Eliot?” He suddenly looked at me again. “Did you stop working early today?”
Eliot nodded. “They had some things to discuss.”
“What sort of things?” I asked.
Eliot suddenly looked at me as if I was annoying him. He seemed worried…upset about something. I decided that staying today wouldn’t be a good idea. “Well, I’ll bring the milk by tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry, Mark. I have a lot on my mind.” I nodded. I started to leave. “Say Mark, do you know if Marshal Torrance is in town?”
I stared at him. “Sure,” I answered. “Pa hasn’t said anything about him not being there.”
“Okay. Thanks Mark.”
“Eliot, is there some kind of trouble?” I asked.
“Oh,” Eliot laughed. “No, no trouble. I just needed to ask him a question. I’ll see you in the morning.”
I suddenly stopped and slid under a tree as I thought on this some more. They had been arguing. I remember them saying something about doing a job on Sunday, but I wasn’t sure what. I chewed on my lip, thinking on what it could all mean.
Elliot was suddenly gone only two days after that chilling conversation. They said he went back East when he should have gone North or West. They were arguing about doing something on Sunday. It just didn’t add up.
I knew I had to talk to Pa. When I got back to the ranch, he was putting water in the wash barrels. “Pa, there’s something wrong!” I shouted as I ran up to him.
I quickly told me everything I had heard, but when I told him I had been asleep, he didn’t believe me. I did my best to convince him while we did the laundry. He promised to go check on it, but when he came back he found out nothing. Then I tried to convince him inside the house that night. He still wouldn’t believe me and, in fact, finally told me not to mention it anymore.
But I knew there was something wrong! I knew Eliot hadn’t left there by his own free will, and I was going to get to the bottom of this! That’s where my story picks up now. As I walked out of the cabin, I thought on everything that had happened. I remembered the startled look I had seen on Charlie and Lynn’s faces. I remembered them talking about doing a job on Sunday. But most of all, I remembered my last conversation with Eliot. This wasn’t right! It just wasn’t, and I knew it!
That’s why I walked to the barn and began saddling my horse. I thought I could simply ride over to their camp without them knowing and sneak up to listen to their conversation. I figured Pa was tired of arguing with me and would leave me be for awhile – at least until I was able to leave. I would deal with his anger later. This was more important.
But it didn’t work out that way – not at all! Pa came out there to check on me. He knew I wasn’t willing to give up that easily. “What are you doing, Mark?” I suddenly heard Pa’s angry voice from behind me.
“I’m saddling my horse,” I answered a bit sarcastically. Pa didn’t like that answer at all! I reckon he thought it was a pretty sarcastic answer…”I’m going for a ride,” I said.
He knew where I was going for a ride. I begged him to let me. I had to find out tonight. But he simply pushed me out of the way and unsaddled my horse. It hurt that he didn’t believe me. Eliot had been my friend, and I knew in my heart there was something wrong here! If Pa had felt these feeling in himself, I knew he would have checked them out, but I was just a kid…what did I know?
Then he brought up the other times I had fallen asleep and thought my dreams were reality. But this was different. My conversation with Eliot had been real. Something was wrong there. He sent me to bed.
He didn’t believe me. I was angry with Pa! I began dwelling on that fact as I sat on my bed. I heard Pa walk back inside and sit down in his chair to read. He was reading a book as if nothing was wrong while these two men were planning something and Eliot could be out there somewhere dead or dying. I’m not sure what exactly made me decided to do it, except that I was so very angry that Pa didn’t believe in me and I wanted to punish him. I thought this was the only way how.
I laid down in bed and pulled the covers up around me. When I heard the door open, I pretended to be asleep. Pa came up and brushed my hair back like he always did. I heard him sigh. It was a sigh that told me he was having a hard time with me. I listened as he got ready for bed. Then I listen to him lay down. I waited for quite awhile before I finally heard his steady breathing.
Then I left. I went to the barn, saddled my horse, and rode out of the yard. I didn’t go far, actually. I went into the pastor and tied Blue Boy to a tree. Then I laid down and went to sleep. You know what I found out? I couldn’t sleep. I kept hearing noises. I heard rustling in the grass once. Then I heard a cat in the distance. Then I swore I heard someone screaming.
But I wasn’t going to go back! The sun came up and I sat there for quite awhile. I thought about Pa back at the ranch. He was probably fixing breakfast right now. What would he think when he discovered I was gone? Would he be angry? Hurt? Worried? Probably all three of those emotions would come into him, all mixed up together. And the one thing I thought about was that I’m the one that caused those things.
I finally found myself in an awkward position. I knew I had to go back. Another sleepless night out here on this prairie was too much for me to handle. But at the moment, I was afraid. How could I face Pa? Did I just go straight up to him and tall him I was sorry, then taking my punishment like a man? Or should I come back pretending nothing happened?
I stood up and untied Blue Boy from the tree. I have to go back – there was no other choice. I wasn’t ready to be out on my own, and I couldn’t punish my Pa like this. I rode Blue Boy slowly back toward the ranch. As I slowly walked into the barn, I saw that Pa’s horse was gone. I took Blue Boy around back and tied him up. That would give me a little bit of time to decide how to face Pa after doing something so horrible.
I took all my things and climbed up into the hayloft. I wasn’t there long before I heard Pa returning. He came inside with his saddle. Had he been out looking for me? Part of me hoped so. It would be kind of disappointing to know that he had just found me gone and went out to do chores. Suddenly, I heard him leave again. I breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn’t found me yet. I needed more time to decide on what to do.
I finally came down, mainly because I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten since supper last night. I fixed a sandwich, but I couldn’t eat it. I was worried. I was worried about where Pa was. Church should be over by now, but he wasn’t back yet. I was worried about those surveyors. Had they pulled off a job today? What did I want them to do? Did I want them to pull off a job today so I could be right? Or was I hoping I was wrong.
For my sake, I hoped I was right, because if I wasn’t everything I did was in vain and Pa would surely punish me.
But I knew…in my heart…that I was right!
I heard Pa returning. I suddenly ran over to the table and sat down. My heart was beating fast as I wondered what Pa would do and say when he saw me. He walked in and saw me sitting at the table. “Well, I’m glad you found something to eat, son.”
Okay, now I must admit that I played this moment over in my head a million times and a million different ways, and this way never entered my head! I was a bit surprised that he didn’t start yelling at me and handing out a punishment. “Where have you been?” I asked.
"Well, I rode into town to pick up the bridle Nels was fixin' for me."
So he hadn’t been out looking for me after all? He hadn’t been doing anything but his regular stuff. “Oh,” I stated.
But then Pa told me something I wanted to hear. "By the way Mark, you were right about those surveyors.”
I suddenly felt excitement flowing inside me again. Hopefully, I asked, “What do you mean?”
"They tried to rob the bank a little bit ago. That's what they were figuring' on doing on Sunday."
I wanted to laugh out loud. I must admit that I was very relieved to hear that. “That’s great!”
“That’s great?” Pa suddenly asked. “That they tried to rob the bank.”
Of course Pa had to chide me for saying something so stupid! But I couldn’t help being happy. “Well, you know what I mean,” I stated.
But I shouldn’t have run away, and I knew it. I couldn’t stand his ignoring the fact that I did it either. I stopped myself from taking a bite of sandwich to say it. I knew I had to. “I’m sorry, Pa.” Pa looked at me. “I know I shouldn’t have run away, but I thought that-“
Pa stopped me from going on. “No need to explain, son.” Was he really going to let it drop that easily? Was this really the end of our trial?
I started to take a bite again. Had he gone looking for me? I wanted to know but I couldn’t ask him. Was that my punishment? To always wonder If he went out looking for me? “Did you miss me?”
“Did I miss you ? Well, let me put it this way. I love you more then anything else in the world!” Pa declared. I smiled and finished off my sandwich.
That afternoon, Pa stood up from his chair. He announced that he had to go check on something and told me to work on cleaning up the barn.
I almost had the barn clean before Pa came back. When he did, he told me he had to talk to me. Then he led me in the house and sat me down beside him on the chair. “Son, I have something to tell you.”
I watched his face closely. I saw a look of concern and regret there. “Charlie and Lynn aren’t just in jail for attempted robbery. They are there for murder – at least one of them is.”
“Murder?” Pa nodded. He looked at me while I allowed his words to settle in my brain. “Eliot?” Pa nodded again.
I hung my head and shook it sadly. “Pa, I knew it. The way he was acting, I could just tell that-“ I stopped. “Did you find him?”
Pa nodded. “He was shot Micah said he probably died instantly, so he didn’t suffer.”
“Did…I tell you he had a wife and little girl? She was three years old. He missed her something awful too.”
“I’m sorry, son.” That’s all he said. Then he stood up and told me we should get back to our chores.
Pa did mention my running away later. He reminded me that running away from a problem was no answer and that he expected I had learned a lesson from it. I told him I had. Then he dropped it and we never talked about it again.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Day of the Hunter
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch