Some may say Noley Stark was a bad man who deserved to spend the rest of his days in jail, or maybe they think he deserved death. Well, that’s alright for them, but Pa and me – we know the truth! Noley was a sweet, gentle man who loved everyone; and was totally devoted to everyone he came into contact with.
That day I ran from him wasn’t because I was scared of him – I thought he was a wonderful, gentle man and I wished I could have talked to him more. But, I knew the bank in town was being robbed. I knew Noley couldn’t help – and wouldn’t because of his devotion to his brother. But I also knew that Noley needed some encouragement, and perhaps a little bit of the McCain tough love!
I ran because I wanted to get help for my Pa. But that wasn’t to be. The last thing I remembered about that afternoon was falling.
I’m not sure how long it was before I woke up. I could hear a voice in the background – no…I heard several, I think. One belonged to Micah, and maybe one to my Pa. The voices were muffled – like they had a hand over their mouths while they talked. Later, I found out that Pa came back from the bank to find me out cold and bleeding. Pa said he didn’t know what to do – he didn’t want to leave me just in case I woke up; but he had to get help. Then suddenly, Micah and Mr. Hamilton had ridden up outside on horses.
Pa said Micah ran in and saw me there. He said Micah rushed over to me and looked like he was about to cry; but then he turned around and told Mr. Hamilton to ride fast for the doctor. Pa said that he and Micah both sat at my side and talked softly to me, hoping I would hear them.
I think I did. I do remember soft, tender voices talking; and at the time all I could think about was that I loved those two voices and had to pull through for them. But I couldn’t open my eyes to see them.
Then I remember my Pa hovering over my bed, smiling down at me. I could see him, but I couldn’t really focus…it didn’t really make since. It was like his lips were moving and words came out – I heard his voice – but the words were all scrambled up or something. I wanted to speak, even if it was just a hi; but my mind was too confused. After trying, I fell asleep feeling very exhausted.
But then I opened my eyes and Hattie was sitting there at my side. She was sleeping in the chair. I was able to lift my hand and touch hers. She suddenly sprang up and grabbed my hand as she laid hers on my forehead and cried. “You awake?”
I suddenly looked around the room, searching for Pa. I formed his name on my lips and rejoiced when I could say it. “Pa?”
Hattie smiled, as if hearing my voice was the most amazing miracle in the whole world! She continued smoothing my hair. “You’re father isn’t here right now, but he’ll be back just as soon as he can get here.”
Had I seen him recently? I couldn’t’ remember. I didn’t know why I was here or what happened…anything…”Where-“ I started, but my head ached something awful. I tried to lift it, but groaned at the pain. “I mean, why isn’t he here?” My Pa was always at my side when I was sick.
Hattie’s hand froze in mid-stroke as she was still brushing my hair back. She had a look of concern in her eyes, and I could tell she was holding something back. But my strength was spent. My head felt like it was splitting open. I went back to sleep.
It was like that all that day. But then I woke up sometime while the sun was going down. My head felt better and the doc was bent over me, suddenly staring into my eyes. “Yes, he’s going to be fine, Hattie. Just fine,” he stated proudly.
I turned my head and saw Hattie still there. I watched her face light up as she once again sat down at my bedside. “A cup of coffee, doctor?”
“No, no,” the doctor answered as he stuck his instruments into his bag. “I’ve got to be on my way.” He softly patted my shoulder. “You’ll be fine in a few days, son.”
I was still trying to figure out what was going on. I shot a hand to my forehead as I tried to think, but a shot suddenly rang through my head. I opened my eyes to see the doc leaving. “Wait a minute.”
The doc turned from the door. I swallowed hard. Good or bad, I needed to know. “My Pa – where is he?” I watched the doc and Hattie look at each other, knowing they were keeping some bad news from me. “Dead or alive, I need to know!” I declared as another pain shot through my head, but this time it was less intense.
“Oh, your father’s alive!” Hattie suddenly declared.
“Well, what happened?” I suddenly asked. “I mean, how did…” My voice drifted off as I tried to think back.
“You don’t remember?” Hattie asked as she suddenly clasped my hand.
“Well, I-“ I thought back. Memories suddenly flooded my mind quickly and powerfully. I ran down the steps at school and jumped on my horse to race home. “Your early,” Pa had stated. His face had held that same smile.
“Yeah, we got out early,” I had jumped off my horse and tied him, then ran over to help my Pa.
I shot another hand to my forehead. “Riders. There were…two – no, three riders.” I suddenly remembered them. “He was nice. He talked to me about his brother – one of the bank robbers.”
There, the memories were back. I opened my eyes and stared at the doc. “I fell and hit my head on a rock trying to escape.” Suddenly, I shot up in bed. The room started spinning something awful and I felt like I was going to vomit, but I had to ask. “Doctor Burrage, where’s my Pa? I have to know!”
Doc Burrage lowered his head as he put his hands on my shoulders to push me back down on the bed. “He’s out rounding up the bank robbers.”
“With Micah?” I asked. I looked from the doc to Hattie. They had grim expressions. “Is he with Micah?”
But they said nothing. Doc stood up and said he had other calls to make. He slowly left the room. I stared after him as I groaned and laid back down on the bed. “You rest now, Mark,” Hattie patted me. “I’ll bring you in some stew in a while. Your Pa should be back by morning.”
I grabbed Hattie’s hand and looked into her concerned face. “Did a posse go after those men?” Hattie nodded. “But my father didn’t go with the posse, did he Hattie?”
“I don’t know, Mark.” Hattie turned and walked out of the room.
I slept off and on that night, and Hattie gave me some medicine to help the throbbing pain that she said should be gone in a couple days. But my heart hurt much worse as I wondered about my Pa. They didn’t need to tell me – I suddenly remember the look on Pa’s face the last time I saw him. He hovered over my bed and desperately asked me which one did it – I remember it plain as day now. “Which one did it, son?” But I couldn’t speak and fell back to sleep. He needed to know that.
And I knew why.
He wanted to go after him – to kill the one who harmed me. He wanted to watch them pay. I saw it in his eyes.
I turned over to my side, threw a hand to my face, and cried. Pa was out there chasing down these men all because of me – because I wasn’t strong enough to speak. “Mark?” I suddenly heard Hattie call. She had come into the room and heard me crying.
She rushed over to the bed and lifted me up. She held me while I sobbed, rocking me back and forth as she cradled my head in her arms. “Don’t cry, Mark. Don’t cry,” she whispered softly.
“It’s my fault! My Pa’s getting in trouble and it’s my fault!” I cried.
Suddenly Hattie took my face in her hands and roughly turned it up to look at me. She had a stern, mean look on her face. “Now you listen to me, Mark McCain! Your father is a wonderful, loving God-fearing man. He may have left here in anger, but God will protect him. He’ll speak to your father before he does too much damage! And as for this being your fault, I know your father would never allow you to think that – and neither would I! Mark, I love you as my own, you know that, but I won’t allow you to talk about you or your father in this manner.”
I stared at her. Then I smiled as I realized how right she was. It was my head – still muddled and confused. She kissed the top of my head and laid me back down on the bed. I pushed myself up in sitting position though. “I’m hungry,” I declared.
The sun was shining high in the sky. It had been about 36 hours since Pa had left and he was still not back. I laid in bed wondering and worrying about my Pa. Suddenly, I heard a horse racing into the yard. I stood up on wobbly feet and walked slowly to the window. I saw Pa tying his horse to the corral. “Pa!” I cried. I hurried out the bedroom door. Hattie tried to stop me, but nothing would stop me now. “Pa!”
I opened the front door and raced out. My head was dizzy and my feet felt like jelly, but I was determined to go to my Pa. “Pa!” I cried as I started toward him. I started to fall, but Pa caught me in his arms and lifted me up.
“Mark! You shouldn’t be out of bed.” Pa scolded me, but his face held a big smile.
I laid my head on his shoulder as my arms were wrapped around his neck. “I had to see you, Pa! Pa-“ I started but groaned as my head once again started hurting.
Pa hurried inside and laid me back in the bed. “Now, you don’t get out of this bed again, Mark!” Pa ordered in a broken voice. I smiled in spite of myself. I never realized how much I loved hearing his scolding before. But now it was gentle music! “You got a very bad bump on the head. You could hurt yourself badly again!”
Hattie stood in the doorway, her hands clasped in front of her. “He’s fine, Luke. But head injury or not, he ran right past me!”
I suddenly looked at Pa. “I had to see you, Pa. I had to know.”
Pa sat down on the side of the bed. “Know what?” He asked softly as he put a hand on my face.”
“That you were okay. Did you catch the bank robbers?”
Pa suddenly took his hand away from me and stood up. He went to the window and looked out. I could tell from looking at his slumped shoulders that he was troubled. “Pa?”
Pa turned around. “Look son, I’m really tired! Let me get some rest then we’ll talk.” Without saying another word, he left the room.
I went back to sleep. When I woke up Pa was sitting in a chair beside my bed reading his Bible. “Pa?” I called softly. “What time is it?”
Pa closed his Bible and leaned forward. He held a grim smile on his face, and I could tell he was extremely troubled. “It’s about three in the afternoon, son. You hungry?” I nodded. Pa smiled again, that same grim smile. He stood up. “I’ll get you some soup.”
I was sitting up in bed when he came back in. My head was starting to hurt again, but I wasn’t going to complain. I wanted to know what had happened to Pa. I slowly began eating my soup as Pa sat beside the bed and stared at me, but I could tell it wasn’t me he was seeing.
When I was done, Pa started to stand up to take my dishes into the other room, but I grabbed his hand and held it. “Tell me, Pa. I need to know what happened.”
Pa stared at my empty soup bowl, the nodded his head. He sat the bowl on the floor then scooted his chair up really close to my bed and took my hand. “You know I love you, son,” he smiled.
I nodded. “Of course.”
“And you understand that I’m human. I’m no better then you are. I mean…Ma’s and Pa’s…They make mistakes too.” Pa’s voice broke near the end. I nodded.
Pa looked down at my hands and squeezed them. Well,” he started. But he had to stop. “Mark, I was so very angry when I came back here and found you hurt, but I was scared that you were badly hurt. When the doc assured me you’d be fine, I’m afraid to say that something inside me snapped. These men came into our home and forced me to leave you here with one of them while I went into town to help them rob the bank.”
Pa suddenly stood up and went to the window. “They made me wait a whole hour after they left the bank before I could come to you.” Pa banged his fist on the wall beside the window as he remembered. “As soon as I could, I jumped on my horse and raced back here just as fast as I could! I prayed you’d be okay, and when you weren’t, something inside me snapped.”
Pa began pacing the bedroom floor as he spoke the next words. “Mark, I allowed vengeance to take over. I went after those men like I was hunting animals; but there was a big difference. I wanted them to suffer like I was suffering. I ridded them of water and horses and forced them to walk across a hot dessert. Only two of them made it back alive. One of them was wounded and is fighting for his life right now.”
I stared at Pa, not quite believing what I was hearing. He grew quiet as he sat back down in the chair and looked at me. “Which-“ My voice broke and I stopped to clear my throat. “Which one died?”
“Cougar,” Pa whispered. I saw his regret-filled eyes.
I must admit that I had trouble believing that it went this far. “What happened?”
“Well, I was pretty far away, but Cougar and Stark got into a fight. Stark killed Cougar, but not before he shot Noley,” Pa answered.
My head suddenly shot up. “Noley? He’s the one that’s shot?”
Pa nodded. “Mark, I shouldn’t have done what I did. You remember how I’ve told you that we need to really think about what we’re doing because we have to live with our choices? Well, I have to live with this one.” Pa sighed as he put his head in his hands.
I watched him as he rubbed his face. “It’s because of me. This is my fault,” I suddenly whispered. I couldn’t allow him to carry the blame alone.
Pa lifted his head. “No, son.” He grabbed my shoulders and shook me lightly. “Don’t ever say that! This is in no way your fault.” Pa sighed as he lowered his head. “I tried to play God. If I had killed those men, it would have been murder, pure and simple.” Pa suddenly banged the bed with his hand in frustration. “But they’ll pay for hurting you, Mark!”
Tears flooded my eyes and I shook my head slowly. “That’s just it, Pa!” I said in my broken voice. “I-I-“ I stopped and threw my face into my hands. Pa reached out and drew me into the shelter of his arms. He hugged me, trying to hush my crying. I finally felt spent and pushed away from him. “Pa, you are human. I understand that and I forgive you for what you did. Now I’ll have to ask your forgiveness.”
Pa put his hands on my cheeks and looked into my eyes. I saw tears shining in his as he searched my face, trying to understand the burden I was carrying. “I tried to run away. This happened because I disobeyed you.”
“What are you talking about, son?” Pa suddenly asked.
“You’ve always taught me that if I’m held hostage or kidnapped to do whatever they say and know that you’ll come back for me. Pa, I knocked Noley down with a feed sack I found in the wagon then ran. I fell and hit my head on a rock. That’s all that happened.”
Pa stared at me as he allowed this reality to sit in. “You mean…They didn’t do this to you?” I shook my head. “This was an accident.” I nodded.
Pa grabbed his Bible from the floor where he had laid it earlier. Then he stood up and walked towards the door. “This is in no way your fault, son.” Pa turned back toward me. “But we both know that what I did was wrong.”
I nodded in agreement. If it were reversed, I would have wanted Pa to give me the same response. “Son, in time…I’ll be okay, but I have to deal with this in my own way.” Pa said quietly. “You rest. I’ll come check on you later.” Pa closed the door behind him. I stared at the closed door knowing that Pa was fighting the demons inside him; but he was reading the Bible and finding a way to forgive himself.
The next day the pain in my head was much better. Pa changed my bandage and announced that my cut was healing nicely. But I wasn’t allowed out of bed. I groaned, but Pa sternly informed me that I had to stay in bed for awhile. Three days after my accident, Pa was still beating himself up over what had happened. But as we ate breakfast together, Pa told me he would go to town for the trials.
I had told Pa all about Noley and how nice he was. Pa didn’t figure they’d do too much to him since he had felt a sense of loyalty toward his brother and didn’t directly participate in the bank robberies. After breakfast, Pa came into the bedroom. He was all dressed up. “I have to go to town, son. I’m leaving you here alone.” Pa came to my bed and bent down directly in front of me. “You stay in this bed.”
“Yes sir,” I stated.
“You need anything before I go?” I shook my head. “Use the chamber pot if you need to, son. I don’t want you going out of this room. And unless it’s a dire emergency I don’t want you out of this bed.” I nodded and watched him leave.
I did sit up on the side of the bed once and still felt pretty dizzy. But as I sat up longer, I began feeling better. I looked around the bedroom looking for something to do. Out of desperation, I grabbed a book and started to read. It was a couple hours before Pa got back. I heard his ride up. In no time he was back in the bedroom.
He had a hand behind his back. “How’s your head?”
“I’m a bit dizzy, but it doesn’t hurt anymore,” I answered honestly.
“I…uh…stopped by the school. The kids hope you’ll be back soon.”
I had forgotten all about school. I suddenly look at Pa with the most regretful face I could muster. “Gee that nice,” I stated. “I sure do hate missing all this school! I sure do hope I can go back soon!”
Pa eyed me. From the look on his face, I’d say he didn’t much believe me. “Mmm Hm,” he stated. “Well, that’s good, son. I figured you’d feel that way. That’s why I talked to your teacher and got all your assignments. So, you’ll have plenty of work that should keep you busy while you are recovering.”
“Oh,” I groaned. “Gee, you…shouldn’t have.”
Pa grinned. “I know,” he answered. “We’ll work on math tonight after your bath.”
“My bath?” I asked. Pa nodded and I heaved a big sigh. “Pa, how long do I have to stay in this bed?”
Pa laughed. “Doc Burrage is coming out sometime tomorrow. He’ll let us know then.” Pa stood up. “But right now I’m going to go start supper. Oh,” he took his hands from behind his back and held a bag of candy out to me. “One piece now. Promise?”
I smiled as I looked in the bag. “Licorice! Gee, thanks Pa!”
I had to eat supper in bed. I figured I could sit at the table alright, but Pa firmly shook his head. He wasn’t taking any chances; and until Doc Burrage came to look at me I was going no where! After supper Pa lugged the bath tub into the bedroom and filled it up with water. Then with one hand under my arm he helped me climb in. He even washed my hair!
I must admit that a bath made me feel even better, and I was no longer dizzy. So as Pa helped me with my math, I was allowed to sit up on the side of the bed. But as Pa opened the book, his happy mood suddenly changed. He began reading the math problem, but I wasn’t listening. I was watching him as he was once again allowing himself to become grieve over his mistake.
It was time for me to have another talk with my Pa. "I'm glad those two robbers are still alive Pa. I don't think that the one that stayed with me was too bad. It wasn't his fault that I hit my head on that rock." I wanted to remind Pa of the facts, and make sure he knew that I knew he had done wrong before I gave him the firm lecture.
“I know son. Now back to this problem." He started to read the math problem again, but he still had that grieved look on his face. I wasn’t going to stand for it anymore.
"Pa, it wasn't your fault that the one called cougar died,” I suddenly said gently.
"I could have taken him prisoner Mark." That was a cold, hold truth my Pa was struggling with. He didn’t tell me, but I’m sure that he asked himself over and over why he hadn’t just taken them prisoner. I knew Pa felt responsible for Cougar’s death, and sadly, I knew it was partly true. But my Pa had given me some wise advice a long time ago. It was now time for me to pass that advise back to him.
“Remember how you’ve always told me that when I make a mistake, a bad mistake, I shouldn't go on grieving about it. I guess you can make a mistake too.” That’s all it was – a bad mistake. I wanted him to understand that.
“I sure did,” Pa stated sadly.
His sadness was breaking my heart.
“Well, then you oughta do like you told me to do. You said that if I admit to myself that I was wrong and tell myself that I won't make the same mistake again, well, then the best thing to do is just put it aside and not think about it anymore.” Pa said nothing as we looked at each other. I wanted him to know I expected an answer from him. “Well?”
“Mark,” Pa stated calmly. “I’ll try.” I smiled. I knew he would and in time it would be better.
We worked on my math for quite awhile. But then I groaned and started complaining of a headache. Okay, maybe I was taking my recent head injury for granted just a bit, but I could’ve gotten a headache if we didn’t stop. Pa closed the book and stood up. “I’ll give you some work to do on it tomorrow, son.” He put the book down beside my bed and started to stand up straight.
But I grabbed his hand. “Pa?”
Pa was close to my face. He looked into my eyes. “No matter what others think or what…what you think of yourself, I still think you’re the best man in the whole world.”
Pa’s lips parted in pride and he started to say something but stopped. Then a smile spread across his face. He kissed my forehead before he lifted up. “Son, you don’t know how good you just made me feel. Those words are what I’ve needed to hear.” He tucked the covers around me and patted me once more. I turned over and went right to sleep with a big smile on my face.
Doc Burrage came over the next day. Actually, when I woke up that morning I jumped out of bed and started to get dressed. But Pa came into the room and folded his arms at me I had one pants leg in when I saw him standing there. I looked up at him. He said nothing, but shook his head and pointed back toward the bed. “Oh, but Pa-“ I started. Pa walked towards me with a warning look on his face. “Alright! But I don’t think it’s necessary!” After I was back in bed Pa turned to finish breakfast.
After breakfast I asked Pa when Doc Burrage would be here. “Sometime today, son,” Pa answered.
“The day just started, Pa!” I declared. What if he doesn’t come until this afternoon? I’ll have to wait a whole day to get up! What am I supposed to do all day in this dull, boring bed?”
“Oh, but you have plenty to do,” Pa insisted as he handed me my schoolbooks. “While you’re waiting, you can start reading your history or science lessons.”
I sure was happy when Doc arrived just before lunch. I slammed my history book shut and threw them on the floor with a great big thud. Pa raised an eyebrow at me but said nothing.
Doc Burrage examined me and told Pa I could get up, but I needed to take it slow and easy for a few days while my body re-adjusted. He told Pa I could go back to school come Monday. I groaned. I thought it was an inward groan, but when Pa suddenly turned and shot me a look I knew I had groaned out loud.
The trial went well. I bet you’re pretty curious to know what happened to the brothers, huh? Well, you will just have to wait to find out!
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Woman from Hog Ridge
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
around The McCain Ranch