I hurried into town and ran into the hotel. “Pa! Pa!” I called. I ran into the dining room to see Pa and Miss Lou sitting at a table. Pa lifted his hand from hers and sat back in his chair. I stood in the doorway and grinned, wondering if I had interrupted some sort of “moment” between them. “Well, don’t stand there grinning like man who got away with the loot! Out with it!” Lou exclaimed in her Irish brogue.
“Oh…right!” I hurried up to the table. “Pa, we’re going to be out for an entire month! An entire month, Pa!” I declared excitedly.
“Mark, sit down and lower your voice!” Pa ordered as he grabbed the hat off my head. “I don’t reckon I’ll ever turn you into a gentleman!”
“Oh…” I sat down. “Can you believe it, Pa? No school for a whole month! A whole month off…” I smiled.
“Oh, don’t you worry, son. There’s work a plenty for you just waiting at the ranch. You’ll be plenty busy!”
“Why are you off a month?” Lou asked.
“Mr. Griswald has to go on a trip and instead of the school board hiring someone for a month, we’re just getting off!” I shook my head and laughed to myself. “Sure will be nice not to have to listen to Mr. Griswald’s boring lectures or do that stupid math or…” I watched as a newspaper at a nearby table lowered. Mr. Griswald was behind that paper and the look he was shooting me was not good! Pa, seeing the look on my face, turned around to see what had me laughing so.
Pa slowly turned back and looked at me as a slow grin spread across his face. “Well…” Pa declared as he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. “Peers to me my boy’s gone and done it again!”
I slowly lowered my head to my hands and laughed. “Ah, I knew he was there, Pa.”
Mr. Griswald slowly stood up and walked over to our table. He took off his spectacles and put them in his pocket. “Mr. McCain, I’ll trust that Mark will uh…keep up with his studies during this month.”
Pa nodded as he grinned at me. “You can count on it, Stephen.”
Mr. Griswald nodded. “And uh…you’ll make sure he has his essay written and ready to turn in when he gets back?”
“You bet I will,” Pa answered as his smile deepened.
I leaned back in my chair and narrowed my eyes. I looked at Pa then at Mr. Griswald. “What…essay?” I asked.
“The one I just assigned, Mark.” Mr. Griswald looked at Pa. “I believe it’s titled ‘The best lesson I learned on my vacation.’” Mr. Griswald looked at Pa. “Isn’t that right, Lucas?”
Pa nodded. “That’s right.” He looked at Lou who had a hand to her face and was giggling. Pa turned back to me. “And uh…didn’t you say it was about five pages long?”
“I’d say that’s about right, Lucas.” Mr. Griswald patted my back. “Class dismissed.”
I turned and stared at him as he walked out the door. I turned back and looked at the smirk on Pa’s face. “I’d rather have the kick in the shin!” I declared. “Pa honest, I knew he was there! I was only joking,” as my voice turned sullen.
At that, Pa and Lou cracked up laughing. “I’m suddenly not hungry.” As they laughed, I hurried out of the restaurant and rode for home.
When Pa got home, he joined me out on the range where I was desperately working on pulling out a cow that had slipped and fallen down into a ravine. Pa jumped off Razor and hurried over to me when he saw my struggle. “What happened, son,” Pa asked.
“I don’t know! She was crying when I got out here and I tied this rope around her, but she won’t budge!” I declared.
Pa scooted his hat back on his head and slid down into the ravine. He shoved the cow from the back as I pulled on the rope. Beads of sweat appeared on my face as I gasped, desperately trying to get the stubborn cow out. Finally, she let out a great big cry and slowly started up the steep slope. It took a solid hour to get her back up onto the level ground of our pasture. “I think we should fence that off, son,” Pa exclaimed as he sat plopped down on the grass.
I plopped down beside him. “The next time she slips down there, I’ll just get myself a butcher knife and eat her where she stands! A cow that stubborn can surely have some good steaks or roasts on her!”
Pa laughed. Then he grew quiet as he sat up. “We haven’t talked about it in awhile, son.” Pa turned and looked at me from where I still laid on the ground. “How are things?”
I slowly sat up and drew my knees up to my chest. “They’re fine, Pa.”
“Son?” Pa gently called my name. I looked up at him. “How are you dealing with everything?”
“Well…” I nodded. “Things seemed to have calmed down some, Pa. No more big trials since that cougar attack and…the other things…well, I admit that sometimes I get to thinking on them, and once in a while I still have a bad dream but I think I’m doing okay. Just didn’t figure to get myself into so much trouble today. Honest Pa, I saw Mr. Griswald sitting there when I entered the restaurant. Besides, I’ve been doing real well in school. Why would I say something like that now, if I weren’t joking. Now two years ago, it would have been different.”
Pa gave a little laugh and looked out over the land. “Maybe next time, you’ll think before you speak.” Pa pushed his hat back and changed the subject. “So much has happened to you…to us these last six months, son. We’ve been so busy that…” Pa turned to me. “How would you like to go to Santa Fe with me?”
I turned and smiled. “Honest, Pa? Honest?”
“We have about 20 head ready for market. You and I could get them there together, couldn’t we?” I nodded with a smile. My heart swelled as I looked into my Pa’s eyes and thought about the prospective adventure we were just about to go on together. “It’ll be good to get you away for a few days, son.” Pa stood and held out his hand to me. I took it and stood up. “Perhaps getting you away from the ranch will finally settle your heart…and your mind. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be able to work on your essay when we stop of an evening or while we’re in Santa Fe.”
Pa and I worked hard over the next few days trying to get work caught up, in advance, on the ranch. He talked to Billy Lehigh about working our ranch while we were gone, and he nodded, stating he had a ranch hand of his own now and would have no trouble working both ranches.
Then we had supper at the hotel with Lou that final evening. We would be leaving the next morning. Pa went to talk to Micah while I said goodnight to Lou. “Oh, by the way Mark, I’ll be at the ranch around 7 in the morning to get my eggs.” She smiled and waved at me as she went into the hotel and closed the door.
I just assumed she knew, though Pa never mentioned it at supper.***
The next morning, I was in the bedroom finishing up the packing while Pa worked on the dishes. “Mark, hurry up! We’ve got to get on the trail!” Pa called to me.
“Yes sir!” I buckled the carpet bag and started out of the room. “Oh, Pa by the way…Miss Lou’s…” I started as I saw Pa carry the pail of water toward the door.
I didn’t have time to finish. I heard a loud squeal coming from the door. “Lucas McCain!” Lou’s angry voice shouted.
“Oh Lou, I’m sorry! I didn’t expect…”
I hurried to the door. The sight that met my eyes made me burst out into a fit of laughter. I hit my hands on my thighs and doubled over as I laughed so hard. “Ye stop that this minute, Mark McCain!” Lou ordered. “Lucas, look at me! Just look at me!” Lou sputtered.
“Oh, I am!” Pa declared as he shook his head. “I am!”
I couldn’t stop laughing. The sight was just so funny! Pa had evidently finished with his washing and had taken the dirty, soapy water to dump outside. In his hurry, he hadn’t paid it much mind and just threw the water outside the door, hitting Lou all down her front. Her clothes stuck to her and her hair had dirty, sudsy water all through it. “Now see here, Cowboy!” Lou’s shrill voice pierced the air. “You get that smirk off your face or I’ll…I’ll…”
“Lou, I’m…I’m sorry!” Pa declared as he began backing up into the house. Lou stood on the porch with her hands on her hips. I’d never seen her face so red before! This whole time, I was still laughing.
“Will ye stop the laughing?” Lou hollered. “Is this the kind of treatment I get for bein’ neighborly and wanting to transact business with your son?”
Pat turned to me and glared. I allowed the laughter to die in my throat. “Well, don’t just stand there, boy! Go get some towels!” Pa ordered as his voice cracked. I could tell he was trying to keep himself under control. I hurried into the other room and got some towels from the closet. Lou was soaked through and through and was wringing out her skirt as she continued yelling, spitting mad.
“I offereto come over to collect the eggs myself, and when I get here I’m greeted with a bucket full of filthy water! Why, Lucas McCain, I’ve a good mind to…”
Pa, who was still only half dressed himself, took the towel from me and began patting her down. Lou grabbed the towel and shouted, “I can do it myself!”
I stood grinning as Lou continued wringing water from her skirt on our front porch. She began taking her hair down so she could give it a thorough drying. I looked at Pa whose eyes grew wide at her long hair as it fell down onto her shoulders. A slow, easy grin spread across his face. “Well…” Pa said as he put a hand to his chin. “This is something I haven’t seen before.”
Lou suddenly looked up at Pa’s soft-spoken words. Some of the anger on her face disappeared as she blushed, realizing Pa was staring at her. Lou, as if she was noticing Pa for the first time, looked Pa up and down. I watched with a grin on my face as Lou stared at my Pa’s bare chest and my Pa stared at Lou’s red hair flowing freely down her shoulders. Suddenly, some more of the fire died from her face. Pa’s eyebrows popped up as he subconsciously lifted a hand to move a wayward hair from her face.
I had to do something…and fast!
“Ahem,” I suddenly cleared my throat. “I don’t think we need the towels anymore. I think it’ll be hot enough to dry the Valley Lake in here soon!”
Pa’s hand froze before it reached the hair, but he didn’t move. Lou’s eyes continued to soften and her blush deepened as she slowly lifted her eyes to look into Pa’s. Pa’s face smiled, but in a stern voice he spoke. “Go get the horses ready, son.” I made no movement. I was enjoying the entertainment. “Didn’t you hear me?” Pa’s voice was a little more stern, but his eyes continued tracing Lou’s figure.
“Yeah…I guess it is a good thing we’re leaving for a few days…especially when…” I started.
Lou sucked in her breath. The trance was broken and fire started returning to her face and eyes.
Pa suddenly turned and glared at me. Lou planted her hands on her hips and stared at me. “What do you mean leaving for a few days?”
Pa closed his eyes as he heard the sharpness in Lou’s voice. “You can go now, son,” Pa declared. His voice held a hint of impatience.
“Oh!” I shot a hand to my mouth, but I was only half-serious. “I thought she knew…after all, she is here to…”
Lou didn’t give me a chance to finish my statement. With a click of her tongue, she spoke to Pa. “What about the dance tomorrow night, Lucas McCain?” Lou suddenly asked.
Pa suddenly turned back to face Lou. He acted like a kitten who had just got caught in the doghouse. “Well, I…” I watched as Pa swallowed hard.
“You told me you’d take me three weeks ago! I bought a new dress and everything!” Lou moved toward him.
Pa held his hands up in defeat and started backing up. “Well, I…” he started again.
“You said that already, Lucas McCain!”
“Boy oh boy!” I declared from the door as a smirk appeared on my face. I just couldn’t help myself! Pa and Lou were great entertainment! I would have paid a bunch for this performance.
At that point, both Pa and Lou turned toward me. “GO!” they both shouted at the same time.
They pointed towards the door and I jumped and bolted outside as the door slammed behind me.
I could hear Lou’s high pitched Irish brogue all the way to the barn. After I got the horses saddled, I waited for Pa to say his good-bye’s to the very angry Miss Lou Mallory. “You will be back for the Anderson’s barn dance, won’t ye now?” Lou was asking as Pa held her arm and led her to the chicken roosts.
“Well, I’m not sure, Lou,” Pa answered. “You see, we have to sell our cattle there and then Mark and I wanted to have a couple days to just…”
Pa looked up to see me standing there. For some reason, he suddenly didn’t want me around! “Son, why don’t you head on out to the cattle. I’ll be there shortly. I’ll just show Lou the roosts and give her the instructions.”
“Are you sure you know how, Pa?” I asked then. “After all, I…”
“After all,” Pa retorted. “I’ve raised more chickens then you know! You aren’t the only one with this bird-brained chicken idea…” Pa turned and looked at Lou. “No pun intended…”
I rolled my eyes, then turned and rode out to the cattle. Pa soon joined me and we got on our way.
It took us four days to drive the cattle to Santa Fe in the hot, boiling sun. In the evenings, Pa had me sing to the cattle while he slept for awhile. He said he always like listening to me sing and figured the cows would appreciate it too. By the time we got into Santa Fe, we were looking pretty bad. Pa was in bad need of a shave and both of us needed a bath really bad. As we drove the cattle to the association barn just outside of town, we got several strange looks from people who acted like we were some sort of railroad bums or something.
Pa groaned as he scooted out of the saddle and held his back. “I think a trip to the doctor…ohh!!!” Pa groaned as he walked toward the office slowly. “…is in order!”
We walked into the office where two men stood talking. One of the men turned. “Oh, hello Mark! Lucas!” Mr. Elliot greeted us. “How’s North Fork?”
“Great!” Pa answered. “How’s Santa Fe?”
“Well…to tell you the truth, Lucas, I can’t wait to get back to North Fork. Santa Fe is just too big!” Mr. Elliot was sitting in for the main officer that worked here. “You bring in some cattle?” Pa nodded. Mr. Elliot waved a hand in front of his face. “Boy howdy! You two sure could use a bath!”
“That’s our next stop!” Pa declared.
“After supper!” I announced.
“BEFORE supper!” Pa said as he raised his eyebrows at me.
“Oh, but Pa! I’m STARVING!” I started. Then I sighed. “Yes sir.”
“Tell you what, Mark.” Pa reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. “Go get us a hotel room then draw your bath. I’ll be there after I settle things with B. J.”
“Alright.” I started down the street of Santa Fe. It wasn’t until recently that I was allowed to stroll down these streets without Pa by my side. I smiled as I nodded at the men staring at me. I felt really good to be grown up enough to walk through the streets of this wild town alone. I made my way into the hotel with the carpet bag in one hand and my saddle bags and bed roll in the other.
The man behind the desk wrinkled his nose. “May I…help you?”
“Yes. I…” I started.
“Mark! Mark McCain!” I heard a familiar voice behind me. “Oh my! You need a bath!”
“Mr. Buckhart!” I shook his hand. “You still the Deputy Marshal here?”
“I’m still here,” Mr. Buckhart said. “And call me Sam. My, but you get bigger every time I see you!”
“I reckon I’m growing!” I laughed. “Pa says I’m growing too fast!”
“That you are!”
“Papa!” I suddenly heard from the door.
I gasped as a young lady walked inside. “That’s not Tess!” I declared as I put my hands on my hips. “It can’t be!”
I’d known Tess since I was ten years old. Sam had told me about her and how he’d found her, orphaned and alone. She lived at the Boarding House where he lived and was taken care of by the woman who ran it. As time went by, Tess and Sam’s relationship grew into something more than friends. Anytime he came to visit North Fork, he would talk about her. Pa said he was surprised to see a little girl like Tess capture a man like Sam’s heart. I only smiled, reminding him that a tiny, helpless baby had captured the heart of “The Rifleman.”
Sam laughed as he held out his arm to his adopted daughter. “You’re not the only one who’s been getting bigger, Mark!”
“Why…she’s a young lady!” I declared. “How old are you now?”
“I’m thirteen!” Tess declared. “Papa, you will invite Mark to the dance tonight, won’t you?”
My ears perked up. “Dance? What dance?” I asked.
“We’re having a town dance down at the town hall tonight.” Sam saw the hesitation in my eyes. “I don’t allow spirits because it’s a family dance.”
“Well gee, I’d love to go, but…” I stopped.
“Now Papa!” Tess declared as she put her hands on her hips. “You’re going to insist Mark and his father come to the house and meet Maggie!”
“Oh yeah! I’ve not met your wife yet!“ I smiled. “Congrats to you both.”
“Maggie would never forgive me if I left you here. We live in the old Wilson house just outside of town. There’s room a plenty for you and your father to stay. And we have free baths and free food!”
“I don’t care about the bath,” I answered as I rubbed my stomach. “But I DO care about the food!”
Sam laughed. “Well, I’ve a feeling you’ll have to have a bath before you’ll be allowed to sit at the table and eat in my house. You see, my wife is very orderly! She keeps me in line.” Sam turned back to Tess. “Honey, go on home and tell Maggie we have guests. Get a warm bath drawn up for our guests and tell her there’s a growing boy coming who’s half starved.”
Tess smiled at me then turned and hurried out. I smiled. “She sure has changed since the first time I met her, Sam.”
“Yes.” Sam nodded. “She was a spit-fire when I found her after her parents were killed. She’s still a handful and it took quite some doing to turn her into a young lady.” Sam folded his arms as we headed out of the hotel. “Maggie’s done wonders with her.”
We stopped as Pa slowly came into the hotel. Pa’s painful expression turned into joy as he hurried forward and took Sam’s hand in his. “Sam, why it’s great to see you!”
“Pa, Sam’s invited us to stay at his house. ” I cried excitedly.
Pa put an arm across my shoulder to warn me to pipe down. “It’s good to see you so excited, son….” He squeezed me to him. “We’ve been having a rough year, Sam. Pa smiled down at me. “I reckon we both need this trip. But uh…you don’t need to put us up. I…”
“Lucas, we’ve been friends for a long time. We’ve been places together that not many of my friends have been.” He looked at me and smiled as he ran a hand down my hair. I knew he was talking about the dark time in our life when he and Pa searched for me. Because of that, Sam’s always had a special place in my heart. “I insist. Maggie would never forgive me if…well, if I let you stay in the hotel. She knows I hold you high in respect.”
“Alright.” Pa pointed toward the doctor’s office down the street. “I need to see the doc about…”
“Your back?” Sam asked. “I tell you what, I have a secret Indian potion that will cure that problem. I’ll rub it on your back when we get home…after your bath.”
By the time we got to the Buckhart’s house, Tess had the bath water ready. Maggie insisted Pa take his bath first so that Sam could care for his back while I washed up. I couldn’t help smiling at Maggie. She was a perfect match for Sam. Like Sam, she was an Apache who had taken on a white man’s name and adapted to his way of life. She wore a long black braid down her back and had the most beautiful brown skin. When she laughed, her eyes crinkled. I slowly moved my eyes down to her middle where she rested her hand.
“Our little one will be here in three months,” she smiled.
“Mark!” Tess hurried in. “Have you asked your father yet? Have you? Oh, you just have to come!” Tess declared.
I smiled at her excitement. Her black hair was braided and hung down her back. “Maggie said I’ll have to take a bath before the dance, so we’ll be eating early tonight. I have no one to escort me. Papa was going to take me, but…”
I grinned as she blushed. “I’ll ask your Pa. If he says I can, I’ll be honored to escort you.”
Tess beamed with happiness at my answer. I hurried out to the barn. Pa was just getting out of the tub. “Sam…er…” I lowered my head with a grin. I…actually feel I should call you Mr. Buckhart for this.” I cleared my throat. “Tess would like me to escort her to the dance tonight.”
Pa had moved away from us to get dressed in his clean clothes. My voice was low. I felt sort of silly saying it in front of my Pa. I’d have to talk to him about it later. Sam smiled. “There aren’t many boys at her age I’d allow to escort her the dance, Mark. I’m pretty particular to the company she keeps.” He nodded. “Alright. You can escort her.”
I smiled as he stretched his hand out to shake mine. “Lucas…” Sam hurried over to him and put an arm around his back. “Let’s get you in the house. I think you could use a good rub down.”
I got to work on the task at hand. After my bath was done and I was freshly clean, I hurried into the house. I heard Pa groaning from the bedroom and after knocking, I entered the room. “Will he be in shape by tonight?” I asked.
“Tonight?” Pa mumbled as Sam continued massaging Pa’s back. “What’s tonight?”
“Lucas, we’re having a town dance tonight. I invited Mark, but forgot to tell you about it.” Sam shook his head. “I just don’t think your father will be moving much tonight, Mark. His back needs a lot of work.”
“Is…that something you learned as an Apache?” I asked.
“No!” Sam laughed. “I learned this when I was in Harvard. One of my friends was a boxer and hurt his back often. A doctor showed me how to do this.” He held up a bottle. “But this…this is Apache.”
“It’s something alright!” Pa declared. “Burns me through and through!”
“Good!” Sam declared. “We’re almost done, Mark. Tell Maggie to put the food on the table.”
We ate as we caught up on the news. Pa told Sam a little about our year, but so much of it was still private and painful. Sam shook his head and declared the little he had been told was enough to make HIM depressed.
Maggie started washing the dishes while Tess went to get dressed for the dance. I wondered if I’d be underdressed, but was told that everyone would be dressed in their every day clothes, though they’d have spurs attached. Sam left the room, but soon reappeared with a pair of spurs. “Alright!” I exclaimed.
It wasn’t long until Tess came out of her bedroom. My eyes grew big as I looked at her. She had a beautiful pink calico dress on with a bow tied in the back. Her braided hair had been pinned up in a bun with daisies laced through and around. She smelled like a rose. I smiled as I looked her up and down. “You are beautiful!” I declared.
I suddenly put my hand to my mouth as I realized I had said that out loud. Pa chuckled and raised an eyebrow at me. I reckon he thought that was a little payback for the hard time I’d given him lately over Miss Lou. “You two go ahead with Maggie. I’ll stay and keep Lucas company,” Sam announced.
“Oh no!” Pa argued. “You should be with your wife, Sam.”
“Oh, nonsense!” Maggie brushed Pa’s argument off. “I will be helping at the food table most of the night. I won’t miss him a bit!”
“Thanks a lot!” Sam declared as Maggie turned and kissed him. I laughed. “Lucas, I’ll take them down there. I’ll be right back.”
I held out my arm for Tess. She blushed a bit, but took it. “Shall we?”
“Mark!” I turned to look at Pa. “Be good and mind your manners, son.”
“Oh Pa!” I rolled my eyes as we walked out the door.
When we got close to the town hall, I could hear music. Guitars, fiddles, and pianos echoed through the empty streets. I could already hear hollering coming from inside.
I jumped from the wagon, then helped Tess over the wheel. She took my arm with a little more confidence this time and we slowly walked inside. “Tess!” Sam called from behind us. He slowly walked up to her and took her hands. “You be a good young lady, you hear?”
“Oh Papa!” Tess laughed. We watched Sam leave, then turned and went inside.
“You ever take a girl to a dance before?” Tess asked above the noise as we went inside.
“I’m only 14!” I declared. “I’m barely at the age of liking girls.”
“Yeah…Papa only let me come with you tonight because he knows you’re a gentleman. He’s pretty protective of me.” I smiled as we walked further into the room.
“Would you like to dance?” I asked her then.
“Maybe later. I want something to drink right now.” I nodded and led her to a chair. “I’ll get it.” I hurried toward the punch and soon returned with two cups. We sat down and smiled as we watched everyone dancing. There were older people, young couples, and even young children out on the floor. I often wondered what my first dance escorting a girl would be like. I smiled as I thought on it. Then I looked at Tess. I was glad I could break the ice of my first “date” with the step-daughter of a good friend.
Finally, Tess leaned over to me. “I think I want that dance now!” she hollered.
“It’s a square dance!” I declared.
“I know,” she smiled mischievously at me as we stood up to join in the fun. I enjoyed it more than I figured I would as I danced with several ladies in the square. We stayed in three times, and by the end of the third dance, I had to sit down. Tess sat down beside me. “You’ve never square danced before?”
“Not Santa Fe style!” I answered with a laugh. “In North Fork, square dancing is a bit more mild…You certainly get your exercise in a Santa Fe dance.”
“Can we dance again, Mark?” Tess asked. I started to protest, but stopped when I saw her smile die. I looked up to see a boy there. Tess folded her arms and turned her head from him. “Go away, Bruce!” she shouted.
“I want to dance!” Bruce declared.
“I said go away!” Tess shouted again.
Bruce reached out and grabbed her arm. I stood up. “Bruce, I believe the lady asked you to leave.”
“Who are you?” Bruce sneered at me.
“McCain,” I answered through clinched teeth. “Mark McCain, and she’s with me tonight”
“Not anymore!” Bruce shouted above the music and tried to pull Tess to the dance floor.
“Tess, who is this ape?” I asked.
“He’s a boy I go to school with!” Tess shirked off Bruce’s hand and folded her arms. “Papa has ordered him to stay away from me because he’s a mean, nasty boy!”
“Then you better stay away!” I declared. “Her father is a deputy U.S. Marshal, and he can be pretty mean when he’s riled!”
Bruce laughed. Those around us stopped dancing. “I said she’s dancing with me!”
“No she’s not!” I declared as I clinched my fists to my side.
“Yes she is!” Bruce shouted as he got in the fighting stance.
“Mark, no!” Tess cried. “He’s bigger than you! He’s fifteen!”
“Fifteen?” I asked as I stepped toward him. “Tess is only thirteen!”
“Mark! I’m almost fourteen!” Tess argued.
Maggie was there then. She protectively grabbed Tess and held her close to her. “Bruce, go away!”
Bruce lunged toward me. I tried to punch him in the eye. Suddenly, he punched me and I fell face-first with my chin striking the ground. I felt my teeth cut into my lip. I felt my lip swelling and held a hand to my eye where he had punched me. Bruce turned to leave. I grabbed his ankle and tripped him. I pinned him to the ground and grabbed him by the collar. “Now, you leave her alone!” I ordered.
Bruce lifted his hand to punch me. I landed a hard punch right on his cheek. His lip started bleeding as he jumped up and ran out. I touched my eye as it throbbed. I could feel blood oozing from my lip as well. I stood and turned to Tess. “You okay?” I asked.
She smiled. “Nobody’s ever defended my honor before!”
“Well…” I grinned at her. “I’m honored to be the first.” Maggie reached out to look at my battle wounds, but I shook my head. “No ma’am. This dance is about to end, and I want it to end on a happy note.” I turned back to Tess as I wiped my lip with a kerchief, and held out my arm. “May I have this dance?”
I saw tears in her eyes as she took my arm and I led her out to the dance floor. We spent the rest of the evening dancing together. I was so tired, but I felt all the tension from the past several months slowly slip away as the music played and I kept my arms loosely around her. There was something magical about this dancing. It felt as if all my hurts and fears were so far away. I could almost feel them floating out of me and up into the rafters, disappearing through the cracks never to be seen again. I smiled into Tess’s eyes happy for this evening.
It was eleven o’clock when Sam arrived back with the buckboard. Tess was still dancing. A tear slid down her cheek and I wondered why she was crying, but Pa told me that sometimes women cry for no reason at all – that’s just how they were. Sometimes we didn’t need to ask why because they didn’t even know. I wondered if this was one of those times.
When Sam looked at me, he reached out and touched the blood on my lip. “What happened to you?” he asked.
“Nothing!” I declared.
“Oh Papa, he was wonderful! He-“
“Tess!” I stopped her. “Uh…it’s getting late. Let’s get home.” I shook my head at her, but she merely nodded.
When we got home, Sam informed me that Pa was already in the bedroom he and I would sleep in that night. “We’ll talk tomorrow,” he warned me. I looked at Tess and again shook my head. She again nodded, then looked at Sam.
Sam and Maggie moved away as I sat down at the table with Tess. “You need to get to bed, Tess,” Sam said sternly.
“Oh Papa, just five minutes!” she begged.
“Five. No more!” I smiled as Sam moved toward his own bedroom with Maggie.
“Thank you for tonight, Mark. It was so special.” She lowered her head. “Five years ago when I lost my folks, I felt so…lost…so helpless. Then this man came and rescued me. Deep inside, I felt like a princess being rescued, but I was so rough. My Pa had always allowed me to act like a boy. Then when Sam took me to the boarding house to live…well…I was afraid. I’ve been afraid so many times. There’s been times when I would watch Sam ride out of here thinking he’d never come back. I can’t describe it really…but sometimes…I wonder if I’d ever see him again.” She lowered her head. “That’s silly.”
“No it’s not.” I smiled. “I feel that way when I know my Pais helping Micah by being a deputy. Knowing that some outlaw could kill him for just wearing a badge.”
She lifted her head and smiled at me. “Then a couple years ago, I broke down. I told him that I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I lived in the boarding house, and he’d come and make sure I had everything I needed…he lived in the boarding house and would make sure I stayed disciplined and educated, but I didn’t feel like I had anybody.” She sighed. “I got really scared, Mark. I started crying, and Sam was there. He just came in, picked me up in his arms, and held me. Then after I stopped crying he wiped my tears and said, “Tess, don’t you know I love you?”
I tried to imagine Sam Buckhart being that way. I just couldn’t. I smiled, happy he could be that way with her. “You know something, Mark? That hopelessness I felt that day…it was all for the good because I poured out my soul to Sam. He just lifted my face, smiled at me, wiped one remaining tear from my cheek and said, “You do have a home…with me.”
“That’s when he adopted you?”
Tess nodded. “That was a whole other trial. No one understood why an Apache deputy marshal would want to adopt a girl. There was a fight, but he loved me and was willing to give up everything to keep us together.” Tess smiled. “Then he met Maggie. Maggie agreed to marry him. Then they bought this house and she became like my mother. She’s wonderful, but Papa…he’s special.” Tess smiled as another tear slipped from her eye. “I’ll never forget that night…that first night when we were together as a family…I said, “I love you, Papa.”
“I bet that made him happy!” I declared.
“Mark, that’s one of the only times I EVER saw Sam cry. I watched one lonely tear slide down his cheek and drop into my hand. He just stared at me for a long time, then he finally said, “I’ve loved you since the day I found you.”
I smiled. “You cried a tear tonight at the dance. Pa told me not to pry, but…”
“You defended me tonight, Mark.” Tess sniffed. “I haven’t had much love…not like this…but tonight I just felt so comfortable – so loved…You are a wonderful friend.”
I heard the door to Sam’s bedroom open. He stepped out and crossed his arms. “Tess.” That’s all he said.
Tess smiled and stood up. “Yes Papa.”
I watched as the bedroom doors closed as I shook my head. I felt more peaceful in that moment than I felt in months.
I slowly stood from the table and made my way outside. I sat down on the long porch steps and breathed in the nice Santa Fe air. It was cooler tonight than it had been the past several nights. I listened to the night animals as peace settled on me. I heard the door open behind me. I turned to see Pa leaning in the doorway. “You need to get to bed, son. It’s past midnight.”
“I know.” I turned back to look over the night.
Pa shuffled behind me. I heard him groan as he started to sit. I jumped up “Oh no, Pa! I’ll-“ I started.
Pa held up his hand. “I’m not an old man yet, son.” But he groaned as he sat down on the step. “I’m just a little…” his words died as he stared at me. He lifted a hand and touched my chin, turning my head one direction than the other. “What happened to you, son?” I heard the concern in his voice.
“Nothing, Pa!” I declared as I turned my head away. “Really…It’s nothing.”
“Son?” Pa warned.
I sighed. “Just ran into a little trouble at the dance tonight, Pa. I took care of it.”
“Now Mark, you know how I feel about fighting! It doesn’t solve-“ Pa started.
“I was defending her honor, Pa.” I turned to look at Pa. “I had no choice.”
“He’s right.” We turned to see Maggie standing in the doorway. She was dressed for bed, but held a box out to us. “This is for your eye, Mark.” She turned to Pa. “Mr. McCain, don’t get onto him. He did right. I told my husband and he agrees.”
I smiled as she walked back inside and closed the door. Pa opened the box and found some balm. “Here, let me put this on your eye, son.”
I moved my head away from him. “It’s okay, Pa! Don’t fuss!” I smiled. “Besides…this is kinda special…” I touched my eye and flinched. “This is my first battle wound involving a woman.”
“Mm mm,” Pa said with a shake of his head. “Your forgetting uh…Sally?”
I groaned. “Oh Pa! You HAD to bring her up!”
Pa laughed. “You deserve it after all the hounding you’ve been doing with me lately. Teasing me about Lou and my bare chest and Lou’s fattening me up! What I do to you is NOTHING compared to what you do to me!”
“Yeah…” Then I smiled. “But I reckon one good thing came out of this for you.” Pa raised his eyes. “Well…you didn’t go to the dance because of your back, so when Lou asks, you can be honest about it…so you should be thankful your back went into spasms tonight!”
“What are you saying, son?”
“I’m saying, Pa, that you now have a very good chance of getting back into Lou’s good graces!” I stood and hurried back into the house before Pa could swat me. And I made it…almost…Boy, for an old man, pa sure is fast!
“Mark! Mark!” I groaned as I rolled over to my other side. I waved my hand in the air hoping that buzzing sound in my head would go away. “Mark!” There is was again! Why won’t it go away? I put the pillow over my head. “Mark McCain!” I heard as the pillow was forcibly removed from my head and the blankets stripped from over my body.
I sat up and squinted. “What?”
“I said breakfast is ready! Come on, get up son!”
“What time is it?” I groaned.
“It’s 7:00, son! Time you were getting up!”
I groaned as I laid back on the bed. I reached for the covers. “I’ll skip breakfast this morning, Pa,” I mumbled as I rolled back over.
Suddenly, I felt water splatter in my face. I gasped as I sat up. “Holy…” I started as I wiped at my face. “What the…”
“Now, get up!” Pa demanded. I groaned, but got his message loud and clear. After I washed up and dressed, we opened the door and made our way into the kitchen.
Pa said the blessing and we started eating. “Pancakes?” I asked. “Don’t you cook Indian food?” Suddenly, I felt a boot hit my shin. “Ouch!” I couldn’t help but holler as I rubbed my shin. I looked up at Pa who raised his eyebrows at me. That was a clear message to be quiet.
Sam laughed. “We eat some, but we like American food as well, Mark. We keep some of our traditions alive.” Sam passed the syrup to me and I thanked him. “For instance, my wife and I still worship the Apache way. Tess here…” Sam motioned to her. “She goes to the white man’s church on Sunday. We go with her as well. We like to worship the White man’s way, but we also believe in worshiping the Apache way.”
I looked toward Tess. “Do you…worship the Apache way?”
“I’ve gone and watched, but I can’t worship that way,” Tess answered. “I’m not Apache.”
“Maybe not by blood, but your parents are Apache.”
“It’s not the same,” Tess answered. “To worship their God their way, one must be Apache. I’m very much American. Sam doesn’t force me to think the Apache way. The white man welcomes Apache’s in their church so they come.”
“And the medicines…for instance, what you did to Pa’s…” I stopped as I swallowed the bite in my mouth. Then I turned to Pa. “Pa…your back!”
Pa laughed. “What Sam did last night really worked, son. I woke up this morning feeling like a new man!”
“Well, you don’t look like a new man!” I declared with a smile. Then I turned back to Sam. “Could you tell us how to make it? Pa could use that for his back.”
“I could tell you how to make it, Mark…or I could send some with you, but the potion is only part of it. You must have the strength and the know how like I did last night. I don’t think you have that.”
“Well, we’ll just have to come back to Santa Fe next time Pa’s back starts bothering him!” I declared. Everyone laughed.
After breakfast, Pa suggested I help out by washing the dishes. Maggie protested, stating it was woman’s work. Pa held up a hand and insisted that it would be my way of paying her back for her hospitality. Nobody noticed that I…Mark McCain, didn’t get to voice an opinion. I waited for someone to ask, then when Pa raised his eyebrows I understood that as a boy, I don’t get to voice my opinion!
Pa spent the day with Sam at the Marshal’s office. They were good friends and I enjoyed watching them walk together. Tess introduced me to some of her friends, but none of them were as special as Tess was. That evening, Pa announced that we would be leaving for home the following morning. “Oh, but it’s Sunday!” Tess declared.
Pa nodded, forgetting that it was indeed Sunday. “After church then.” He turned to look at me. “Mark has chickens to tend to.”
Going to church the next day was nice. There was more than one church in Santa Fe, and I smiled as Tess led us down the street to the Santa Fe Community Church. We walked in the door and were greeted by a deacon who handed us a piece of paper. He announced that it was like an agenda that told us what to expect.
The preacher talked about trials we face. He mentioned that sometimes in our lives, it seems we meet up with trial after trial after trial. Sometimes it seemed like they would never end – but then we get to peaceful times in our journey. I smiled up at Pa as he looked at me and smiled. He placed his hand on top of mine and squeezed it. We were both happy to be in that peace right now. But I couldn’t help but wonder when the next trial would come. According to the preacher, the next one WOULD come. In fact, he said we all leave this world in trial. I reckon he’s right – death is our final trial.
We said goodbye and shook hands. It was time for us to head back to North Fork. As Pa and I rode out of Santa Fe, my heart swelled knowing peace was over us. I hoped the peace would stay there for a long time. I felt happier now than I felt for a long time. I suddenly stopped Blue Boy. Pa stopped and pulled his horse up beside mine. “What’s on your mind, son?”
“You feel it too, Pa?” I asked as I smiled at him.
“Peace. It’s an incredible peace.” Pa nodded. “These last two days have been great, Pa. Looking back on all the trials I’ve faced…from that trial way down by the Mexican border…then in Old Mexico…then the rifle and the railroad…Charlie and…just everything. There’s been so much heartache…so may trials. But these last two days have been peaceful.”
Pa smiled as he put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s just like the preacher said, son…more trials will come.”
“Yeah.” I smiled. “But somehow, Pa…I’m ready for them. Thanks for giving us this vacation.”
Pa nodded. “To be honest with you, son, that’s why we came. Because I thought a change would do you good. It did.”
“Yeah.” I reached up and touched my eye. “Except dog gonnet, Pa! I didn’t get a black eye after all!”
“Oh?” Pa raised an eyebrow. “That’s a good thing.”
“No! Now I can’t show off my battle scars!” I declared. Pa laughed and slapped Blue Boy’s rump. Then we took off towards home.
It was the second day of our travels. I had slept peaceful ever since leaving Santa Fe, which made Pa happy. He said I hadn’t stirred all night. That did his heart proud knowing that I had finally been able to find rest for my demons that had plagued me for so long now. Before setting for home that morning, Pa said a prayer. He asked God to guide us as we entered our next trial. He could feel one looming close by, but I had confidence that we would overcome it.
We hadn’t traveled far when Pa stopped his horse. “Mark, ride on over there into those trees, son,” Pa ordered in a low voice.
“Why, Pa?” I asked.
“Just do it!” Pa ordered as he took his gun from it’s boot. I knew now was no time to ask questions. After I got in the trees, I noticed the rider who had stopped and stared at Pa.
“Well…Lucas McCain!” I heard the man’s sneer. He laughed. “Fancy meetin’ you here! Who’s that you have with ya?”
“Alright, Larson…” Pa cocked his rifle. “What are you doing here?”
The man named Larson just laughed. “Jest passing through, Lucas. Jest passing through!”
“You are never just passing through! You’re up to no good! I can feel it in my bones!” Pa declared.
Larson just laughed again. “Alright, move out!” Pa ordered. Larson just stared at him. “Move out right now! You better get out of the territory! You know you’re a wanted man here!”
“Ya think I’m guilty of murder?” Larson asked.
“I think you’re guilty of a lot more!” Pa answered. “Now, get out!”
Larson laughed. “Alright…alright…I’m going!” Larson turned his horse and galloped away.
I hurried over toward Pa. “If he’s wanted why did you let him get away?” I asked.
“I couldn’t fight him with you here, son.”
“Pa, you’ve done it before!” I insisted. “You could have-“
Pa turned and lifted his eyes to mine. “Alright, son…You know that feeling I get, that instinct?” I nodded. “Well, let’s just say I had a bad feeling. I felt…fearful.” I understood what he was saying. “Come on, let’s get home!”
We stopped to eat lunch a couple hours later. We only had three more hours before we hit the town of North Fork. I can’t say that I wasn’t happy! I was ready to sleep in my own bed tonight and dream of the wonderful time I had in Santa Fe!
We were just outside of North Fork when we rounded a corner and came upon the strangest sight I’d ever laid eyes on! An old man was drinking something from a bottle as he sat on top a great big rock. On the rock was painted “Help!” “What in the…” Pa started. Then we rode forward.
"What are you doing up there?" Pa asked the man.
"I am imbibing from this bottle of balm," theman declared. Pa and I could hear in his voice that he was drunk.
"Are you in trouble?"
"A negligent amount," the old man answered.
"Well waitin' out here for help in the middle of nowhere, you could sit there the rest of your life," Pa warned him.
The man’s name was Winslow, and he said he figured someone would pass by the rock, otherwise it wouldn't be there. “The next mule I have will drink only water.” Then he explained that his drunken mule had died of delirium tremers. Pa and I sat there laughing at him. He was a comical fellow. He said he towed his wagon three miles and then the wheel broke. I asked him what he did then. “I selected a large branch and I beat that wagon within an inch of its life.” Pa joked that that made sense!
Pa wondered what he was going to do now. "Finish this bottle of balm. And then I may select a larger branch and continue to beat that wagon, or I may get some smaller branches and make some new spokes." He then grabbed a ladder he had placed on the rock. Now we knew how he got there and how he was getting down. Pa, realizing in his drunken state he couldn’t position the ladder right, jumped off his horse and ran over to stop the ladder as he started falling After he got down, he fell, almost knocking me over.
Pa introduced us. “Winslow Quince is my name, sign painting is my game,” was his introduction.
Pa went to take a look at his wagon. As he stooped down to examine the wheel, he noticed railroad rails in the back of his wagon. Pa informed him that all the weight had broken his wheel. He told us he’d found them lying around. “Well, those are railroad tracks. You better give them back to the railroad,” Pa warned him.
Quince wondered what Pa was going to do about his wagon. Pa winked at me as he spoke. “Well first I’m gonna get me a great big tree branch.” Quince told me it wouldn’t work. “It’ll work my way.”
As Pa worked as putting a tree branch to the wheel, he looked up at me. “You best unsaddle Blue Boy, son.”
I looked toward Blue Boy. “Pa, no!” I protested. Pa’s head bolted around and he narrowed his eyes at me. “Pa, he’s a saddle horse, not a wagon horse! Why, it’ll break his spirit!”
“He’s a horse, son. We have no choice,” Pa declared. “It’s the only way to get this wagon back to town!”
“Oh, but Pa! Blue Boy doesn’t-“ I started.
“Mark!” Pa shouted. I looked at him for a moment, then stuffed my hands in my back pockets and stomped off angrily. As I took the saddle off of Blue Boy, I reached in my pocket and gave him a sugar cube. “Now listen,” I spoke softly to my friend. “Neither one of us likes what’s about to happen, but Pa’s orders are Pa’s orders. He’s gonna make you pull that there wagon over there. If you cooperate with me, when we get back to town I’ll give you a couple more sugar cubes.” I turned to make sure Pa wasn’t looking then gave him another cube. “I know you won’t like having a harness on your back like this, but…well, Pa says we’re to be neighborly…and I suppose that includes stupid people like this man…”
“Mark!” Pa called.
I pulled the lead rope as I started toward the wagon. “Now, you just remember to be good and I’ll make sure you get a treat. I don’t like this any more than you but…
“Mark!” Pa took Blue Boy and hooked him up. “Now, let’s get going.”
I drove the wagon for Mr. Quince as he talked about his “balm,” which to me was just whisky. He also showed me a rifle of his that had a hair trigger. It went off and Blue Boy got spooked. I had to lift hard on the bit in his mouth to calm him down. Then when Mr. Quice sent me in the back for another bottle, I found a hand gun back there…More on that later!
As soon as we got to the Livery, I unharnessed my horse and patted him. “It’s all over!” I assured him. “They’ll be no more wagon-pulling for you! I promise! I snuck Blue Boy two more sugar cubes while Pa and Mr. Quince spoke. Finally, we said goodbye.
“Here, son,” Pa said as he handed me a pair of spurs. They looked a lot like the one’s Sam Buckhart had loaned me in Santa Fe. “Mr. Quince wanted you to have these.”
I put them in my saddle bag, stating I’d save them for the next dance we had in town.While Pa stayed to talk with Quince, I fed Blue Boy the two sugar cubes I had promised. Then we headed inI led him down to Micah’s office. Micah told us they’d had some excitement around while we were gone. He handed Pa a Wanted poster. Then I took it from him and read it myself:
For Information leading to the arrest of the murder of
Neither Pa nor me had ever heard of any of them.
Micah said it was more important on where they were. Richard Tucker was a wealthy rancher about a hundred miles from here - he was bushwhacked. His watch and money was stolen. There also was a woman killed about fifteen miles closer. They robbed her of a ladies locket watch. “Murdering a woman just to rob her!” It sickened me just thinking about it!
Micah went on. “Shebson was mending fences on foot. He was unarmed; he didn't have two dimes to rub together. They shot him in the back just for his boots, the only thing he had on him worth any value.” It sounded like the murderer was working his way towards North Fork, Pa thought. “He’s closer than that,” Micah explained. “Curtis and Barnes were working on the railroad gang laying track. They were unarmed. They were paid off in newly minted coins and were on their way to North Fork to let off a little steam. “
Pa knew where they were working on the railroad – only 15 miles outside of town. “I don’t suppose you met any strangers along the trail? The killer was known to travel right along the route.”
“Well, we ran into a stranger. I can guarantee you he didn’t kill anything more than a bottle,” Pa assured him. Suddenly Pa recalled seeing Matt Larsen when we hit Santa Fe.
Micah didn't know Larsen was back in the territory. “I’ll have to send a wire out on him. Say, if he’s a killer and turns up around here, I don’t think I can hold the people back long enough for a trial – that’s all they’ve been talking about lately.” Then he asked about the stranger.
“A peddler named Quince,” Pa answered. “Like I said, he’s no threat to anybody.”
But I wasn’t so sure…I listened quietly as Pa and Micah talked about this and I started thinking on Mr. Quince. He had railroad steel in the back of his wagon. Pa had given me a pair of spurs courtesy of Mr. Quince. I had also seen a handgun in the back of his wagon.
Micah invited Pa over for a beer. He sent me to water the horses. Why is it I had to work while he went for a beer?
I watched Mr. Quince walking down the street. I looked down at the spurs Pa had given me as I obediently sat by the horses. I couldn’t help thinking. We had found Mr. Quince on the trail just outside town. That was the trail that ran close the railroad. It was also the trail all those people had been murdered on. I spun one of the spurs around, not even noticing Pa sitting down beside me.
“Something on your mind?” Pa asked as he studied me. Somehow, he always knew…
“Not exactly,” I answered. But Pa continued to look at me. He knew there really was something on my mind. I knew he would make me answer one way or the other, so I confessed even though I was doubtful he would agree with me.
“Pa, those railroad ties in Mr. Quince’s wagon…he must have been pretty close to the railroad.”
“The railroad runs pretty close to the trail,” Pa answered matter-of-factly as he kept his eyes trained on me.
“And these spurs…Micah was saying that the fence mender didn’t have anything but a pair of boots. He must have been wearing spurs.”
“Everybody on the range wears spurs, Mark,” Pa’s voice was stern.
I told Pa about the gun in the wagon that I saw when I was getting a bottle of balm for Mr. Quince. Pa only looked at me then said, "Mark, do you think Mr. Winslow is a killer?"
"He could be, he was there!" I exclaimed.
"Well, so were we.”
“Well, yeah…he had a reason, Pa!” I declared. Pa needed an explanation. “Well, there was all that money!”
“Well, you’re a pretty close man with a dollar yourself.” Again, Pa gave me a stern look. But I couldn’t help wondering why he didn’t tell us about that extra gun. “Maybe he heard about the killings. Maybe he was thinking the same things about us as that you’re thinking about him.”
Now that idea was just crazy! "Ahh…do we look like a couple of bushwhackers?"
“Bushwhackers don’t often look like bushwhackers, Mark. Now come on…a few railroad tracks, spurs, a gun…They’re all circumstantial, nothing really positive. And if there’s no positive evidence, you gotta look at the accused and you gotta say to yourself is he’s the kind of man who would do this. Now, you look at Mr. Quince that way and forget the other. What do you really think about him?”
"Like you said Pa...he doesn't look much like a bushwhacker." I answered, not wanting to come straight out and tell Pa I believed he WAS guilty.
"You mean that’s one more piece of evidence against him," Pa asked
"I'm just repeating your words.”
Pa studied me. He looked across the street. “Stay here, son. I’m going to talk to Lou.”
“Oh, can’t I come?” I asked.
“Uh…no!” Pa declared. “You just stay here and uh…watch the horses.”
I watched Pa cross the street and sighed. I sort of felt like I was being punished for getting Pa in all the hot water with Lou! I’m not the one who threw the bucket full of water on her! So why did I suddenly feel like that little boy who was being put in the ‘naughty chair?’” I reached up and stroked Blue Boy. “You know…parents just don’t seem to play fair!”
I was just about to go looking for Pa when he came out of the hotel. He had a firm hold of Lou’s hand and was dragging her across the street. “You let go of me, Cowboy!” she was demanding.
I hurried up to them. I guess he hadn’t succeeded in “making up” with her. “I told you we’re going over to talk to Micah!” Pa insisted.
“Gee, Pa…” I crossed my arm and cocked my head to one side. “I mean…I know you want to get Lou in back in your good graces, but locking her up won’t do that!”
Pa stopped at the door. He held his head up high and then slowly turned to look at me. “Mark,” Pa sighed. “It just so happens Mr. Quince gave Lou this here locket watch…” Pa pointed toward the top of her shirt. “And this here pocket watch.”
My eyes grew wide. “Pa! That means…”
Pa nodded. “It’s not looking good for Mr. Quince.”
Lou shook her arm out of Pa’s grasp. “Lucas McCain, you stop and tell me what this is all about!” she demanded with a warning in her voice.
Pa sighed. “Lou, the locket watch and pocket watch Quince gave you may have been stolen!”
“Stolen?” Lou asked.
“Yes! Stolen! Now, will you come peaceable into the Marshal’s office with me, or am I gonna have to pick you up and carry you.
I grinned, hoping she’s choose the second. Lou held her head up and brushed herself off. “Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place, Cowboy?”
I couldn’t help being a little disappointed as I followed them inside. But at the door, Pa turned to me. “Sorry, son. We don’t need too many people in here.”
“Yeah but…” I started.
“You go on down to the bank.” Pa took his wallet from his pocket. “Deposit our cattle money.”
“But Pa, I…” The door suddenly closed in my face. “Yes, Pa.” I sighed, shook my head, and walked down the street toward the bank.
After depositing the money, I walked out of the bank. I tell you, I certainly don’t like being kept out of all the excitement! I picked up a stick and started drawing in the dirt as I walked back toward Micah’s office. Suddenly, my eyes grew big as I saw an old man making his way down the street with a…
I dropped the stick and hurried down the street. “Hey mister!” I called. “Mister!” The old man turned and looked at me. “Who’s that?”
“Matt Larson,” the man answered.
I gasped. “THE Matt Larson?”
“You got a Marshal here, boy?”
“You wait right here!” I hurried up the steps. “
I ran into Micah’s and saw the expression on Pa’s face as he turned around. Believe you, me, he weren’t none too pleased to see me inside. “You aren’t gonna believe what’s outside!”
“What’s this all about, boy?” Micah asked in an agitated voice.
“You just wait!” I demanded. “Just wait!”
Micah stopped in front of the horse with the dead body on it. “Take a look, Micah!”
Micah lifted the blanket just enough to take a look. He lifted the head and studied it. “It’s Matt Larson!” Micah declared. He turned and looked at the old man. “You kill him?”
“I did!” the old man replied. “I surely did!”
I started to follow them inside, but Micah held up his hand. Once again, I was ordered to stay outside.
I sat down in a chair outside. I could hear yelling and arguing, but I couldn’t hear what was going on. I watched the old man and Mr. Quince leave together. I watched as they walked down the street toward the saloon. Pa finally walked out. “Well?” I asked.
“Pa!” I gasped. “Was Mr. Larson the killer?”
Pa smiled. “He sure was, son.”
“What about Mr. Quince?” I asked then.
“Well…what about him, Mark?”
“What was he doing with all that stuff? Pa come on! Don’t keep me in suspense!”
Pa shook his head as he leaned against the post outside. “The truth is son…I don’t know the truth. We do know Larson was the bushwhacker. We don’t know who really killed him and why. Both those men are going to get part of the award.”
“But Pa! Mr. Quince had the stolen items! He was…”
“We’ll let Micah sort all that out, son.” Pa looked down toward the hotel. “You hungry?”
“Starving!” I answered.
“Of course you are, son. Let’s go take Lou to lunch.”
We walked into the hotel. I greeted Lou. “How was Santa Fe?” she asked me. “Did you have fun?”
Pa led us into a table and we sat down. “Yes. I took my mind off of everything. The dance was…”
Pa suddenly cleared his throat. I looked up to see him putting a hand to his mouth from behind the menu. “Oh…I mean…it was nice to see our old friends.”
“What dance?” Lou asked as she put her hands on her hips and sat straight up as she glared over Pa’s menu.
Pa slowly lowered his menu. The look on his face told me I was in BIG trouble…so was he and he knew it! “Delivering cattle, huh?” Lou raised her eyebrows at Pa. “Oh yes, I see now.”
“But Lou, we were delivering cattle!” Pa declared.
“What about the dance?” Lou asked then.
Pa looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I looked at Pa with a grin on my face. “You always did say I talk too much, Pa.”
“Talk,” Pa said in a very stern warning voice.
I swallowed the water in my mouth. “Ye…Yes sir.” I turned to Lou. “The truth is, Miss Lou uh…”
Now, I must admit that right here, it was oh so tempting to tell her Pa had a grand ol’ time! But I had it set in my mind to see my 15th birthday, and I was afraid it would take me a little longer to get there if I made up a story…even for a little while! I pushed the temptation down as I cleared my throat.
I rolled my eyes. “The truth is, Miss Lou, that Pa’s back went out the minute we arrived in Santa Fe and he was in no condition to go to the dance.”
“Oh?’ Lou raised an eyebrow over her coffee cup. “Did you…know about the dance?”
“NO!” Pa exclaimed a little too quickly. I smiled as Lou gave him a doubtful look. “Buckhart told me about it when we got into Santa Fe. That is the gosh, awful truth, Lou!”
Now, I admit that a bit of orneriness was wailing up inside me. I knew I’d be punished for this, but sometimes it’s worth it! “His back was really bad, Miss Lou. He had to have a deep, deep rub down all up and down his back.”
“Somebody rubbed your back?” Lou’s voice raised as she sat down her coffee cup and leaned in to look at Pa.
“For a long time!” I declared.
Pa suddenly turned toward me and narrowed his eyes. His lips pressed together and he husked himself up like…really big! Then he pointed a finger at me. “You are in big trouble!”
I put a hand to my mouth. “For a long time?????” Lou suddenly squealed out.
I picked up my menu and put it in front of my face as I broke out in helpless laugher. “Yeah.” I chuckled as Pa stood and grabbed me by the ear. “Ouch! Did I forget to mention it was Sam Buckhart who rubbed his back with some special Indian potion?”
In spite of Pa holding firmly to my ear, I still managed to laugh even harder. Lou suddenly stood up. “Mark McCain!” she declared as she grabbed my other ear.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” I cried.
Lou turned around to look at one of her employees. “Don’t worry about clearing that table tonight, Sam.” She turned and looked at me. “Mark McCain just volunteered to clean the tables AND wash the dishes!”
Lou suddenly let go of my ear. A second later, Pa let go of the other. “Isn’t that right, Lucas?”
Pa folded his arms and nodded. “That’s right. Then he’ll go home and write that five page essay for Mr. Griswold!” Pa declared. “So, he won’t be staying in town for supper tonight!”
“Oh gee!” I declared as I lifted my hands in mock astonishment. “I was only joking!” I laughed nervously. “Didn’t you…find it funny?”
“NO!” they both said in unison.
“GO!” Lou pointed toward the kitchen. For the next several hours, that’s where you could find me.
As I started toward the kitchen, I heard Pa say, “What about a nice picnic lunch down by the Valley Lake, Lou?”
I turned in time to see Lou smile at Pa. “That sounds wonderful!”
Well, I reckon in all my orneriness, I did manage to get Pa back into her good graces. But in the meantime, I was in both Pa’s and Lou’s bad graces!
Sometime later, I was wiping the last of the dishes clean. I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I finished up my last job. Pa and Lou came into the kitchen. “Well, I’d say you put in a good day’s work, Mark. Now, sit down here and eat a sandwich.”
I ate in silence as Pa watched me. “Did you uh…learn a lesson in this?”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “You better watch what you call Lou in front of me. Your treading on thin ice!” With that, I jumped up and ran out of the kitchen as fast as I could.
I didn’t look back as I heard, “What do you call me in front of Mark?”
Ya know…Revenge can be so sweet…but in my case…I’m not so sure!***
The Best Lesson I Learned on My Vacation
By Mark McCain
When I was “asked” to write this essay, I wasn’t sure what it would entail. To say that I’ve learned a lesson would be an understatement, I suppose. I reckon that I’ve learned the really hard way, a hard lesson: Sometimes it’s better to listen and not talk. Or children should be seen and not heard.
Before my vacation even really started, I sat in a restaurant and joked about something, knowing that the subject of my joke would hear me. But somehow that backfired and I found myself being assigned extra work for my spoken words that, though they were supposed to be all in good fun and humor, the subject did not think they were.
And you would think that me, being a smart 14 year old, would have learned my lesson right there. But I later learned that even those who love you and are very close to you don’t like being the subject of your jokes. I suppose that I always viewed a relationship with the opposite sex as interesting. At the age of 14, I have a multitude of feelings that go through me, and they are confusing and hard to understand.
You see, one thing I didn’t realize was that I was having fun at the expense of two human beings. My jokes may have seemed like nothing to me, but when two people so different are learning to understand each other and form a relationship of sorts, the last thing they need is a dim-witted, teenager playing practical jokes and trumping on their already confused feelings for each other. And that’s just what I did.
After one such practical joke, I found myself being punished by both parties. I didn’t much enjoy the punishment. , Well, I decided I could still get ‘even’ with them. I figured playing another one would be worth the punishment, if that was the ‘best’ they could come up with. But it took several hours and much discomfort for one person to set things right again. I wasn’t aware of the pain I caused until my father came home and informed me that the other party was now refusing to speak to him – and he was very upset about it.
If I thought I was going to have any fun, I was badly mistaken, because for the next three weeks, I saw nothing but work, work, and more work. Not only did my father use some strong soap in my mouth – something, by the way, that I hadn’t received in several years – but I was yelled at, lectured to, and forced to spend every minute I wasn’t working in my room; with the exception of going to church. And it was church that gave me my final lesson.
As I walked into church that first Sunday after pulling the prank, I realized just how deeply I had hurt two people I loved. They sat on opposites sides of the room from each other. She refused to speak to him. She refused to look at him. Probably the most painful, though, is seeing the look in her eye as she looked at me. That’s when an old saying my mother taught me so long ago came into my head.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Those were empty words, because the truth is that words hurt much deeper, and leave scars that are so much harder to heal. I still remember that afternoon as I was forced to go to the person’s home. With my hat in hand, I had to humbly apologize. Then painfully, she told me that what I did would slowly heal, in time.
As I sit here in my room writing this essay, I hear the two subjects of my hurtful pranks sitting at the kitchen table of my house trying to pick up the pieces my words have caused while I put the finishing touches on this before reading it to them.
The only thing I can say is that I’m deeply sorry for those I have hurt. I have been severely punished, and will continue to be in the future. This is something that won’t soon go away. The memory and lesson learned will stick with me for a long time.
So if someone asks me what I learned on my summer vacation, it’s that unlike the old saying we are taught as young children, words do hurt. If you can’t think of something nice to say, then don’t say anything. Jokes are okay, but before making them you need to make sure they are jokes people will accept. We must be sensitive to relationships around us – especially those we don’t understand – and remember that though they may seem silly to us, they are very personal to those who are in them.
As I stopped reading, I slowly laid my paper down and looked up at Pa and Lou. Lou had tears in her eyes as she stared into her cup. “Well son, that’s a mighty fine essay,” Pa nodded.
“Did you mean those words?” Lou asked as Pa put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it.
I nodded. “Yes ma’am, I did.”
“Did your father really…uh…wash your mouth out with soap?”
I cringed at the memory. “He sure did!” I declared. “I didn’t enjoy it either.”
Lou nodded. “Well…I reckon I should carry out the same punishment on your father. After all, what he said should not have been said.”
“Lou, we’ve been all through that!” Pa declared. “How many more times are you going to ask me to apologize for that?”
“How many times did you say it?” Lou asked with raised eyebrows.
I didn’t feel like laughing this time. Pa sighed. “I’m…sorry…”
Lou nodded. “I know you are, Lucas.” She sighed as she looked into her cup. Suddenly, a smile played at her lips. Pa raised his eyebrows at her. “Well…” Lou declared as she chuckled. “I guess in a way, what you say is true…my father used to tell me I have the temper of a…a…”
Suddenly, Lou began laughing even harder. I looked to Pa, unsure of rather to laugh or not. Pa shrugged. “…a…a…” Lou tried again. She waved her hand at Pa, motioning for him to say it.
At the sound of the word, we all three burst out into helpless laughter, suddenly realizing that we were beginning to heal the wound my words had caused.
As I turned and walked back to my room, Pa stood and put his arm around Lou’s shoulders. He grabbed his hat and said, “Take a walk with me?”
“I’d love to!” As the front door of our house closed behind them, I closed the door to my room and walked to the window. I smiled as I saw them walking arm-in-arm. I wasn’t sure where their relationship was headed, but I knew they were once again happy. I saw Pa say something in her ear, then Lou laid her head on Pa’s shoulder. I smiled as I sat on my bed, happy to have witnessed their blissful reunion.
I can’t say that I would never tease them again, but I knew I had learned one more lesson in my manhood. I would forever carry this piece of wisdom inside me and hopefully…I would keep a tight leash on my tongue.
*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
Incident at Line Shack Six
around The McCain Ranch