If it appeared that we were having a bad morning, it’s because we were. But it didn’t start that morning. It actually started the day before.
You see, my Pa had told me to come straight home from school that morning. He said that he needed my help with the stock. I think I was a little to busy checking my lunch to see what healthy stuff my pa was making me eat to hear him say this. And naturally, there are a lot of thoughts that goes through a boy’s head between the time he gets ready for school and the time he gets out that afternoon. So when Freddie and Skinny asked me if I wanted to go fishing with them, I naturally said yes.
It was close to four o’clock before we even got our bait in the water – we had to run to Freddie’s house just outside of town to dig for them and get the fishing poles. So, when we started fishing, I sort of lost track of time.
Pa had also reminded me the night before to get my chores done since I had a math test the next day. I guess I forgot about that too!
Well, needless to say, I sure was sorry when my pa showed up at the fishing hole. And boy, did he ever look mad! As we sat there fishing on the bank of the brook, I heard a “ahem” from behind me. We all three turned our heads to see who it was. And when I saw who it was, I immediately jumped up and turned around. Pa had his hands on his hips and a real mean-looking expression on his face. It was in that instant that I knew I had really done it this time!
I didn’t say a word to him, because I didn’t really want to hear what he had to say. So I simply stood up, told Skinny and Freddie that they could have my fish because I didn’t think I would be needing them that night, and hurried to my horse. My plan was to go on ahead of my pa and get home before him. Then maybe if he saw how hard I was working, he’d go lighter on my sentence. Not only that, but I rally didn’t want him to yell at me on the way home!
But my plan didn’t work, because Pa raced his horse up beside me and gave me a look as he rode beside me. I looked straight ahead, but could feel his eyes staring. When we were about a half mile down the road, I finally snuck a glance of him. Yep, he was still real mad! Now mind you, I’m a boy who gets into trouble once in a while, but I’m a pretty good kid most of the time. Today, though, I didn’t feel like I was being a really good kid.
I swallowed hard and managed to force the words out of my throat. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
But an apology wasn’t what Pa wanted to hear, at least that’s what I was guessing because when I looked at him, the expression was still on his face, and his angry-looking eyes were staring sternly into mine. “I won’t go fishing again for awhile.”
“You got that right!” Pa declared suddenly.
“And I’ll have extra chores to do for a while,” I guessed.
“You’re right about that as well!” Pa stated.
He continued looking at me. I swallowed. “There’s more?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “You’ll be coming straight home from school for the next week. You will be doing the sweeping and mopping of the floors, the dishes, and the laundry on Saturday.”
I nodded, knowing that Pa was being more then fair with me. At least he wasn’t yelling at me yet. I decided not to say anymore until he ordered me to, so we silently rode home the rest of the way. When we rode into the yard, I immediately went to the barn and unsaddled my horse. I put Blue Boy in the corral so he could run around for awhile, then I immediately went to feed the animals and change the hay in the barn.
It was while I was putting down fresh hay that Pa came to the doorway with his arms folded and stared at me. “You’re angry, aren’t you pa?” I asked, not stopping my chore.
“Not exactly angry, son. I am disappointed. I depended on you to be here today to help me with the cattle. I waited patiently until almost 5:00. Then I got worried. Do you think I enjoy worrying about you?” Pa asked. His voice was beginning to rise as he thought about it.
“No sir,” I answered as I scattered fresh hay into another stall.
“Well?” Pa came over and grabbed the pitchfork from me. He leaned on it as he bent down to look into my eyes.
“I…know you told me to come straight home and do my chores last night,” I stated as I lowered my eyes.
“I told you to come straight home this morning and help me with the cattle as well,” pa stated.
“I…guess I didn’t hear that part!”
Pa looked at me for a minute as I just stood there in front of him. “What am I going to do with you?” He declared. He stared at me for another minute as I stood there uncomfortably. I knew I wasn’t supposed to say anything – that he was giving me time to think about my wrong and to squirm. Finally he gave me a small smile and shook his head. “Got homework?”
I peered at him through half-closed eyes. “Just the math test.”
Pa simply nodded then motioned for me to get to the house and study.
Things were better after that. But as I got ready for bed that night, Pa came in to give me one final talk. He reminded me of the importance of letting him know where I was all the time and obeying his orders. He told me I needed to pay more attention to what he told me. Then he reminded me of just what my punishment was. After all that was said, he pointed straight at me and said, “Get to bed, boy!”
A yes sir was all I could muster at that moment. But as Pa put his hand on the door to leave, I turned around. “Pa?”
Pa turned and looked at me. “I’m truly sorry for what I did today.”
He nodded and gave me a smile, then he left the room.
Apparently some of the tension from the night before was still in the air the next morning. Of course, he was right. I wasn’t very organized. I looked through the whole house for my darn pencil. I knew that if I didn’t find it, my allowance would go toward a new pencil. So I frantically looked around for it. I looked all through the bedroom, thinking that maybe I put it in there, but it wasn’t there.
Pa was shaving as I came out of the bedroom, still looking for that pencil. “You know it’s five minutes after seven, Mark?” Pa asked in that same irritated voice he had used the night before.
I didn’t want to look at him and see the angry look on his face, so I kept looking for the pencil. “I’m leaving right away, pa,” I tried to assure him.
We seem to go through this same conversation often, so I knew what he was going to remind me of next. “I pay $1 a week for your education and expect to receive full value! When you’re late for school, I don’t get that value!”
I continued to frantically look for the pencil, knowing that I was making Pa angrier with each passing moment. Suddenly, Pa had had enough of me. He walked towards me and stopped. Pointing down, he stated, “There’s your pencil on the floor!”
I can’t believe I looked everywhere but down. I came to stand before him and held out my hand, thinking he was picking it up for me, but he didn’t like that assumption and suddenly ordered that I pick it up.
I bent down, careful to keep my back straight. “Thanks, Pa,” I stated as I started walking backwards toward the door. Now, it wasn’t that I was afraid of getting a smack on the bottom, because my pa never did that. But I did know that he was angry enough that I wasn’t going to give him the temptation to do anything like that! As I walked toward the door with my pencil, I promised Pa I wouldn’t forget to do my chores after school.
“Don’t forget your books either, huh?” Pa stated.
In my rush to get away from my unhappy father, I forgot to get them. That meant I had to walk back in there, risking even more trouble. After I grabbed my books though, I decided to show Pa just how well I knew my multiplication tables. So I boldly turned around and stated, “Five times ten is fifty,” then I jumped out the door. Pa followed me over with a stern look on his face.
I tried again. “And five times twenty is a hundred.” I jumped down the porch. Pa again walked towards me, still staring at me. “And five times thirty is-“ I jumped as I was about to say the answer, but I slipped and fell into the dirt.
I turned around to see what my pa would do. “Is 150. Now, will you get to school?” he declared in that voice that told me I better get moving right away. I did.
I wasn’t too excited to get to school, so I rode Blue Boy in slowly as I continued practicing my multiplication tables. As I rode through town, I suddenly heard someone calling my name. Looking up, I noticed Dr. Burrage standing at a window in the hotel. He asked me to run to his office and get a big bottle of pills for him. Of course, I knew that this task was more important then making sure my father got the full value of his dollar for the week, so I was happy to oblige the doc.
After grabbing the bottle of pills and making my way up the stairs, I knocked on the door, expecting Dr. Burrage to answer. Boy was I surprised when a pretty lady answered my knock. It startled me, and for a second I thought maybe I had the wrong room, but I looked passed her and saw Dr. Burrage. The nice lady took the pills from me. I asked Dr. Burrage if there was anything else I could do for him and he reminded me that I should be getting to school.
But suddenly, I saw the nice, pretty lady sit down and start crying. “You’re crying, ma’am!” I stated, suddenly felling sorry for her. For the moment, I had forgotten all about the waiting school and wanted to help her in any way I could.
“Does something have to be wrong for a woman to cry?” she asked me.
I didn’t know the answer to that. Having lived with my pa since I was six, I hadn’t been around crying much, except for my own. And when I cried, Pa was always the one to help me with that. When I saw my pa cry, I always knew there was something really wrong – he didn’t cry very often! I assured her that if there was something wrong, I wanted to help.
I guess I was half expecting her to tell me I was just a kid and to go away, but she didn’t do that. She treated me like a true friend. “I’d be most proud to ask if I should need you,” she assured me.
Dr. Burrage told me to get to school then, so I had to go. But I knew that when school was out, I would come back to see if she needed me for anything. Because of the big math test, Miss Adams was going to let us out early, so I knew I’d have time to swing by there and bring her some flowers on my way home.
I sat in that classroom all day thinking about that crying woman. I couldn’t help myself – anytime I saw anyone crying, I immediately wanted to help them. I guess I have a soft heart like my pa’s, though he would never admit he had one! I liked to see people happy, and when they weren’t I went out of my way to see what I could do to make them happy! Sometimes that got me into trouble, but it always seemed to work out the same.
I sure was happy when Miss Adams announced that school was out for the day! I didn’t think it would ever end. Before I left, I picked a handful of flowers that were growing behind the school, then I headed over to the hotel. I softly knocked on her door, holding my flowers securely in my hand. My ma always loved flowers, and they would always bring a big smile to her face, so I hoped this lady was the same way!
A planted a big, boyish smile on my face as she opened the door, and I held out the flowers. She still looked very sad. “School let out early, I thought I’d come by to see how you…” I started. But my words quickly died in my throat when I saw that she was packing. “…see how you were,” I softly finished. “You leaving?” I asked, concerned.
She didn’t turn around, but continued packing. “I have to go away!” she declared. “After I get a rig at the stable, how far do I have to go to get a stage north?”
Her question concerned me. She was a woman, and she seemed so lonely. I knew she didn’t need to be alone. Pa told me that this was rough country, and a woman traveling alone was dangerous. I was worried and didn’t want to see harm come to her. “About ten miles up to deer crossing. But you can’t go alone, ma’am!” I insisted. I decided I should offer to take her, but I knew my pa wouldn’t approve of that either. He didn’t want me to be alone going there anymore then he would approve of her going alone!
Suddenly, she turned to me. My heart sank as I saw the look of sadness still on her face. “I said I’d be most proud to ask you to help. I need you.” I was happy to hear that. I knew that whatever she needed, I’d be obliging to help. I’m sure my pa would understand that my intentions were respectful – I didn’t want to disobey him, but I wanted to help her. I knew there was nothing I needed to say as I watched her go the the dresser and pick something up. She then walked back over to me with her request. “This watch is my father’s. I want you to take it to the jeweler and get it engraved. The instructions are in that note there. I want you to get it to a man. Mr. Sam Morley. He’s in the room across the hall. I want you give him this letter too. But not until after I’m gone. After I finish packing, I’ll go out the back way to the stable.”
The request didn’t seem like the big sacrifice of assistance that I was expecting. I only stared at her for a minute, hoping there was more. So I quickly asked her if she needed my help in anything else – like helping her get to Deer Crossing. But she told me this was the only thing she wanted. I suddenly saw deep in her eyes just how important it was for me to do as she requested. So I obeyed her request. At the door, I realized I still had the flowers. So I turned and, with a smile, I handed them to her. I did see her face light up a little as she took the flowers.
I hurried over to the jeweler and got the watch engraved. I paid him with the money she had wrapped in the note. Then I started to head back to the hotel to wait for her to leave so I could give this watch to Mr. Morley like she had requested.
I didn’t know Pa was in town. He hadn’t said anything to me about it. But as I held the watch up to my ear to listen to it’s ticking, I suddenly heard my Pa. “Where’d you get that watch, Mark?” He asked sternly.
I stopped dead in my tracks. Not because I was doing anything wrong, but because I had promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone what I was doing until after she was gone. And I knew that the hardest person to keep something from was my pa. I was going to try to stay strong and keep this secret. But when pa asks a question, he makes it hard for me not to answer honestly. “I…” I tried to avoid his look, knowing that if I looked into his eyes, the truth would come out.
But Pa knew his weapon. He knew how to get me to confess without directly ordering me too. “Come here, boy. Come here,” he ordered. He bent down and made me stand right in front of him. Then he looked straight into my eyes and sternly asked, ““What’s wrong?”
Doing this job was very important to me, and I didn’t want to mess it up. But I couldn’t look my pa straight in the eye and not tell the truth. “Well, a lady asked me to keep a secret for her. She trusts me not to tell,” I answered, hoping pa would respect my wishes and allow me to keep the secret.
But that wasn’t to be. Pa continued staring into my eyes as he asked, “Oh. What did she ask to do, Mark? The lady in room 205?” His question surprised me. I didn’t know he knew the lady! It made me kind of happy that maybe both of us were helping the lady out.
I smiled with this new revelation and asked, “Well, how do you know?”
“Nevermind that. It’s important you tell me, Mark.” Pa said as he continued to look straight into my eyes with a stern expression on his face.
I didn’t want to tell him. I felt like I was deceiving our new friendship by telling Pa. But I also knew that if I didn’t tell pa, I’d be deceiving the mutual trust we had. So I decided to tell him, trusting that he would do the right thing. “Well, she plans on leaving town without anyone knowing. Well, after she’s gone she wants me to deliver this watch I got engraved and this letter to Sam Morley.” I was hoping Pa would let me go on my way so I could finish the important task. I could tell he was about to tell me to do something I didn’t want to do. “What I just told you’s a secret, pa!” I insisted.
“All right, Mark. Give it to me. I’ll deliver it for ya,” Pa stated. I felt hurt that my father wasn’t going to let me finish the task that I had set out to do. I wanted to help her more then anything, and now pa was taking that from me. I started to explain this to pa, but he wouldn’t hear any of it. He simply ordered me to go wait for him at the stable. I stared at him as he walked away. I felt so hurt. I slowly grabbed Blue Boy from the hitching post and slowly walked to the stables.
I sat down and thought about what had just happened. It made me so sad that I hadn’t been able to do a task for a lady that had requested me to do something for her. Doing that task would have made me feel like a real man. But my pa took that honor from me, and I didn’t understand it.
I sat down. No one was around, so I simply let out a big sigh, slid down the wall into the hay, and sat down in the hay. It seemed like a long time before Pa finally came to get me. When he did come, I just sat there sadly. I was upset with him, and wanted him to know it.
Pa stood in the doorway to the stable and watched my face. I could feel his eyes on me. “Mark?” he called, but I didn’t even acknowledge him, just stared at the wall. Pa came in and sat down beside me. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs so he could sit in the exact position I was sitting in. “Son, I know you are upset with me. I know it was important to you to carry out this task for her.”
I lowered my head. My voice cracked as I said the words. “She was crying this morning when I brought Dr. Burge the pills, pa. When school let out early, I thought I could cheer her up. She asked me to do this.”
“Mark?” Pa called softly to me. I lifted my head to turn and look at him. “Son, I know how important this was for you to do. But there were things going on that you didn’t know about. If there hadn’t been, I would have never interfered with your important task.” Pa sighed. “Son, sometimes keeping secrets…like the one you were trying to keep…can hurt people more then help them. You understand?”
“Not really,” I answered honestly. I didn’t have enough information about the situation to understand.
Pa stood up then. “Well, the original plan was for her to take the stage back home, which she is doing.” Pa held out his hand to me. I sat there and looked at it, then I lifted my head to look into Pa’s eyes. He held a gentle smile on his face. I took his hand as he lifted me up.
As we walked out of the stable together, Pa put his arm around my shoulders and drew me close to him. He knew I was still a little upset with him, but he wanted me to know that he loved me in his own special way. My heart leapt as his tender actions and I allowed my arm to go around his back as I laid my head on his side. I then looked up again into his smiling eyes, and I smiled back.
We walked to the stage depot and watched Miss Landis get on the stage. I noticed how sad Mr. Morley looked as he closed the door. They made promises to each other that they’d be together again soon. Then after the stage drove away, Mr. Morley went with Micah. I was confused. I asked Pa why Miss Landis had changed her mind about leaving and stayed to leave on the stage. Pa got a strange look on his face, and I could tell he wanted to tell me it was an adult thing that I would understand later. So before he could say it, I asked, “Well, can’t you tell me?”
“Maybe I better, son, so you’ll understand. It’s a long story. A little grown up for you, but I’ll try my best.” He answered as he picked me up. We started to walk back toward our horses as he told me the story.
Pa explained to me that Mr. Morley was a man he had known back in Oklahoma, but he had done some things that were wrong, and pa had lived many years with the impression that he had paid the ultimate price for his crimes – death. He then told me that he wanted Pa to turn him into the law so that he could send the woman he loved, Beth Landis, back home to get the medical care she needed. I was a little confused about how he would give up his entire life for such a woman.
As Pa sat me on my horse, we started out of the stable. “She was crying this morning,” I stated as we slowly rode out of town together.
Pa nodded. He suddenly stopped riding and allowed me to get even with him. “Son,” he started, gently laying a hand on mine. “She’s going to die.”
“What?” My eyes suddenly filled up, but pa started his horse back up. I allowed the tears to come as we rode towards home. After a few minutes, the tears ended. I turned toward Pa, who looked at me with a sorrowful smile. “Why?”
“She’s very sick, son. She’s a lot sicker then she let Sam know. But she didn’t want him to know.”
“But why not?” I was so confused. Did she want to die all alone without the man she loved? Love was so complicated!
“She loved him too much, son. You remember when you got bit by that pony, and you thought you were going to die?”
I nodded, shivering just thinking about it. “Well, you didn’t want to tell me at first. Why?”
“Well, because I didn’t want you to worry,” I said. “I guess I just loved you so much that I wanted to spare you the heartbreak of-“ I stopped and turned in the saddle to look at Pa. Blue Boy grunted at my actions. “Pa, you mean she loved him that much?”
Pa nodded. “And he didn’t want her to know that he was going to jail for her, and would probably never be free again.”
I shook my head as I thought on all this. “Boy, he must have really loved her if he was willing to spend the rest of his life in jail for her!”
We rode in silence. I didn’t speak again until I saw the ranch just in front of us. “It’s so…ironic,” I stated.
“Ironic?” Pa asked. “How do you mean?”
“Well,” I stated as I jumped off Blue Boy and leaned against the fence. “She left, knowing she would never be back, but never told him this. She thought he was expecting to see her again. Then he watched her leave with the promise of seeing her again, knowing he couldn’t keep the promise. If they had just told each other-“ I started.
Pa put a hand on my shoulder then and looked deep into my eyes. “I think they did the right thing. If they had known the truth, the parting would have been a lot harder…on both of them. And they may have made sacrifices instead of leaving it with happy memories.”
I shook my head. “Well, I guess that’s something I’ll understand when I get older, Pa.” I stated.
Pa smiled at me. “Now, you have some uh…housecleaning to do, don’t ya son?”
I nodded, knowing it was time to carry out my own sentence. I started to the house, then stopped and turned around. “You know that mopping the floor is probably the worst chore ever.”
Pa smiled and nodded. “I know. That’s why I give it to you as punishment.”
“Yeah,” I sighed. Then Pa and I smiled once more before I turned and ran into the house.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
One Went to Denver
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Second Witness
around The McCain Ranch