I never lie to my Pa. If there’s one thing’s he taught me it was always to face up to the truth, because if we don’t we’re just gonna make things harder on us and possibly others down the road. But like most kids, I had to test Pa’s theories from time to time. So, when I said I never lied to my Pa, I was lying. What I should have said was I hardly ever lied to my Pa.
It happened one afternoon after school. There was a circus act in town and one of the performers, a juggler, came to the school that day to show us his juggling act. We were all super amazed as he juggled apples, boots, and even knives right in front of our eyes. But that evening, he was going to show other things he juggled with, including with juggling with his mouth and with fire! And you know I just couldn’t miss that!
Some of the boys and I started talking as soon as we left the school that afternoon. “Did you see the way he juggled those knives?” I exclaimed as we ran out of the yard. “Why, he didn’t grab a blade, not once!”
Kevin nodded as he remembered it. “And those boots! How can a person juggle three pair of boots up in the air all at once and catch them all in their arms? That was amazing!”
“Let’s go ask my Pa if I can stay in town and eat at your house, Freddie!” I declared as we ran into town.
It was me, Freddie, Kevin, Jeff, and Stevie all running through the street. I ran smack into Micah who suddenly grabbed my by the arm and ordered me to slow down before some old lady got hurt. I swallowed hard and nodded. “Yes sir!” Then we all turned and continued running down the street.
We found my Pa in the feed store. “Pa!” I called as I ran in. Pa turned from the counter and folded his arms. I stopped and Kevin, who had been right behind me, suddenly bumped into me. “I’m sorry,” I suddenly said calmly. “Pa, can I stay in town and eat at Freddie’s house tonight? There’s a juggler we just gotta see tonight! He came to school today and put on an act with boots and knives and such, but tonight he’s gonna juggle with his mouth and with fire! I promise I’ll come home right after! And I’ll go over to Micah’s and do my homework right away and-“
Pa held up his hand and his face held a stern look. “Wow there now, boy!” He turned to pick up a sack and started out the door. “Come on outside with me so we can talk about it.” When we were outside, Pa threw the sack of oats in the back of the wagon. Then he turned around, leaned against the wagon, and folded his arms. “Now then, as I recall, I told you you weren’t doing anything until that hole in the fence was fixed.”
I remembered. I also remembered that I had forgotten to do it. But I wanted to go watch the show so terribly bad that I just couldn’t help myself. “I did, Pa.”
Pa cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes. “When?” he asked.
“Well,” I turned to look behind me where my friends stood waiting. I thought about what I was doing, but when I saw all my friends there I continued on in my lie. “I did it yesterday after school. Honest, Pa! Can I go? Please?”
Pa was looking at me strangely, but he said nothing. He was suddenly acting different. I hadn’t seen him look like that before, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Okay, son. Just be home before dark.” I was surprised I got away with it so easily, but I thanked him and ran off with my friends.
But as I sat at Freddie’s house eating that night, I couldn’t get Pa’s look out of my head. I began thinking back to all the times Pa had warned me against lying. “You could really hurt other people,” I heard his words now. “Or worse, you could hurt someone else. Maybe even cause tragedy just with your words.” I cannot count how many times my Pa had given me those various warnings.
“Mark?” Mr. Toomey suddenly called. I looked up at him. “I said do you want some pie?”
I shook my head. “Oh, no sir. But thank you.”
Freddie stood up and wiped his mouth. “May we be excused Pa? It’s time for the show.” Mr. Toomey nodded and we left.
But I was walking slowly as I got to thinking about what I had done. I had stood there in front of my Pa and flat-out lied to him! As we walked into the tent and sat down, I looked around at all the smiling faces, but I couldn’t figure out what they were so happy about. Kevin nudged me as he clapped at something the man in front of us had done. I swallowed hard and began breathing hard as I thought about what I had done.
I had lied to my father.
Suddenly, I stood up. “I gotta go. I’m not feeling too well,” I stated as I hurried out of the tent. I prayed that no one would come after me.
But Mr. Toomey and Freddie hurried out. Mr. Toomey gently grabbed me by the arm. “You okay?” he asked.
“I will be,” I answered nervously. “As soon as I get home and talk to Pa.” I could feel them staring at me as I mounted my horse and took off for home.
The closer I got to home, the more nervous I was. I usually wasn’t scared of my Pa, but I was now. I wasn’t scared because of what he would do to me – I knew I deserved whatever punishment he would give me. But I was scared of what his face would look like as I stood in front of him and confessed to telling a lie.
I slowly rode Blue Boy into the barn and bedded him down as I worked up the courage to go inside. Then I slowly made my way to the house. As I opened the door I saw Pa sitting alone at the table working on the books. “Welcome home, son,” Pa said without even looking up from the books.
I said nothing as I walked up to stand beside him. I swallowed…hard! Pa looked up from the books and noticed me. “You need to talk?” he asked. I lowered my head and nodded. Pa closed his books and pulled his chair out a bit. Then he scooted a chair out from the table and patted it. “Have a seat.”
I sat down and looked at him nervously. “Pa, I-“ I started slowly. I swallowed. “I lied.” It came out in a whisper.
Pa said nothing as I just sat there. After several moments of complete silence passed, I slowly raised my head to look at Pa. His face held that very same expression that I had seen in town earlier. “I didn’t fix the fence yesterday. I-I forgot, sir.” Pa remained quiet as he just looked at me. “You knew that, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Pa answered with a hint of anger in his voice.
“You knew in town?” I asked. Pa nodded. “Why did you let me stay?”
“Why are you home so early?” Pa asked suddenly as he folded his arms and stared hard at me.
“I couldn’t stay,” I answered slowly. “I got to thinking about what I did and – supper tasted awful, Pa. I feel sick to my stomach. And I can’t even tell you what happened in that show!” I could feel Pa staring at me even though I wasn’t even looking at him. I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand to see those disappointing eyes.
Pa suddenly stood up and put his books back in the desk. He placed both hands down on top of the desk. “Mark, do you want to know what I did when I got back home?” I turned and looked at him. “I went out onto the range to check the fence. I was praying that you had fixed it, though I knew you hadn’t. When I got there, I found a much bigger hole, and some of the cattle had gotten out. Do you know what I have to do tomorrow?”
I swallowed. “I’m sorry, Pa.”
“Mark,” Pa started as he lowered his head. “Right now I don’t really want to hear I’m sorry. I think you should go get ready for bed.”
There were some unanswered questions I had, but I knew now wasn’t the time for them. I slowly walked toward the bedroom. In the doorway, I turned back toward Pa who stood watching me with his arms folded. “I-I really am sorry, Pa.”
Pa nodded. “Yes, well being sorry won’t put the cattle back in the fence. It won’t mend the hole. And it won’t take back the lie you told.” I just stared at him for a few moments. “Go to bed.”
After I got in bed, I just laid there in the darkness. I knew Pa was upset with me and disappointed in me. I sort of wished he had punished me severely right then and there instead of just sending me to bed. As I lay there, all I could think of was what I had done, and nothing could ever erase that.
An hour must have passed as I lay there in bed staring up at the ceiling. The door finally opened and Pa stepped in. “Mark?”
I sat up in bed. “I can’t go to sleep, Pa,” I said quietly.
“I didn’t expect you to. I wanted you to do some more thinking.” Pa sat down on the edge of my bed. “Mark,” Pa sighed. “Why do you think I left you in town instead of making you come home with me today?” I didn’t really know, unless he was testing me? Pa lowered his head. “Well, I’ll tell you why, son. I know that I’ve been raising you right. We’ve talked about your always telling the truth many times. In that moment when you lied to me, I wanted to grab you by the neck and drag you home. But I knew…in here,” Pa pointed to his chest, “that you would remember my words.”
I suddenly looked up at Pa. “You knew I’d get to feeling guilty about it?” Pa nodded. “I did. I can’t explain it, Pa. It was a terrible pain in my stomach. I could think of nothing. There was a crowd of people laughing in that tent, and I couldn’t even hear them. All I could hear was-“ I stopped.
“Was what, son?” Pa asked as he put a gentle hand on my shoulder. That was the first physical contact Pa had given me since I came home.
“Your words, telling me how wrong it was to lie and that I could hurt myself and others very badly.” Pa nodded. “I guess the punishment I delivered on myself is a lot worse then any punishment you’d ever give me.”
“Wow there, young cowpoke!” Pa suddenly held up a hand. “You still got plenty of punishment going on. I don’t reckon that you’ll be lying anytime soon, but as your father, I have to punish you to make sure you won’t do it again.”
I lowered my head. “Yes sir.”
“You will no longer go to the circus Friday Night.” My head jerked up as I stared at Pa. I closed my eyes, knowing that punishment was rough. I had been looking forward to it for quite awhile now.
“Yes sir,” I answered simply.
“And you won’t go to school tomorrow. Instead, as soon as breakfast is done, you and I will go round up the cattle that got out of that fence. And you better hope we find them all safe and sound,” Pa shook his finger at me. “Then while I go to town and get your lessons from Miss Adams and the supplies to fix that fence, you will swap out the barn and clean the floors in the house. Then when I get back, we will mend the fence together.”
That was my punishment, and that’s exactly what I did the next day. You know it has to be bad if Pa makes me miss school the next day. At first I was sort of happy that I didn’t have to go to school, but when I had to swim through a swamp and crawl through a patch of briers to get one injured calf loose, I was wishing I had fixed that fence and gone to school that day!
After supper that night, Pa announced he was going to town to play checkers with Micah. He also told me I would bring my books and work on my lessons there where he could keep a close eye on me. I assured him I could do it at home, but he told me I’d have to build up his trust again. It was that night after the checker game that we saw the two Boyle boys trying the steal some horses.
The next morning, Pa told me to be waiting at the General Store when I got out of school. As I sat there and ate breakfast that morning, I began worrying about what Micah had said the night before. “Pa, you reckon Micah’s right? You reckon they’ll be trouble?”
Pa shrugged. “Well, I don’t see why there should be. It was obviously self-defense.” But I wasn’t so sure. Micah knew what he was talking about. As I thought on that, I pushed my food back and forth on my plate. “Hurry and eat, son, so you won’t be late for school.”
I worried about Pa all day. Pa said Micah hired two men to deliver Hoyt Boyle’s body up to his family early this morning. But what if someone told them who killed him? Pa had also told me that no one knew who killed him, and he wanted it kept that way. But I was still scared.
I was happy when Miss Adams let us go just a little past two. I hurried over to the General Store, but when I got there I saw strange people riding into town. Their mere presence didn’t sit right with me somehow. I suddenly found myself worried as I wondered what was about to happen.
I stood on the walkway just outside the General Store and watched two men hang a rope from a beam. A woman, Ma Boyle, announced that they had come for a hanging. It didn’t take long before I realized what was happening – and I didn’t like what was happening one single bit! Because what Ma Boyle said was going to happen was that the man who shot her son was going to be hung from that rope. I don’t think I have to mention that that scared me a bit. That’s because I knew who had killed her son – my Pa!
I stood there and listened as Mrs. Boyle’s son, Johnny, flat-out lied about what had happened! He told his Ma that they were just sitting on the horse and Pa shot Hoyt down in cold blood! That upset me. How could he lie about something as important as my father’s life? Pa came up then to stand beside me. I must say that that gave me mixed emotions as well. I was happy that he was there – he always made me feel safer. But at the same time, I was upset since he was the one who these strange people had come to hang.
Pa stood and listened for a few moments, but when they refused to leave without bringing their justice upon my Pa, Pa stepped forward to talk. Naturally I stepped forward to go with him. After all, where he went, I wanted to go. But Pa put a hand against me and held me back. I knew that meant I was to stay put. I listened as Pa spoke. He didn’t tell them that he had been the one who shot Hoyt, and I was glad.
But I was scared. They were going to find out eventually. They weren’t going to leave until they found out the truth. There seemed to be hardly any North Fork citizens around. I suppose that most of them left when these mountain people rode into town. Pa and Micah were all alone to fight against these visitors.
After Pa said his peace, he came to me. “Pa, I don’t like the way those Mountain people have been talking,” I stated. Pa handed me a coin and told me to buy some candy. I walked away sadly, knowing that was his subtle way of getting me away from there.
I walked into the store grimly. Miss Hattie smiled at me, but when I didn’t return her smile she leaned down on the counter to look at me. “Why so glum?”
I stood in front of the candy. “They’ve come to string up my Pa, Miss Hattie.”
I sighed as I looked around. “Miss Hattie, my Pa shot a mountain boy last night who was trying to steal a horse and now…his ma and brothers are here to hang him…only, they don’t know my Pa’s the one that did it.”
“Oh,” Hattie stated. “What can I get you today, Mark?”
I ordered my bag of candy then left. I couldn’t see much as I stood just outside the General Store waiting on my Pa. I was still holding on to my books and suddenly slung them over my shoulder. Johnny, the one that lied to his own Ma about what happened the night before, started telling me about his desire to read books. He wanted to explore other places. He started to tell me about him and Hoyt when he stopped.
I suddenly turned around and stared at him. . “Is that why you sole those horses?” I suddenly asked. But Johnny walked away from me.
I stood outside the store and ate my candy. But I was worried. I started to walk toward the group. I wasn’t sure what I was about to say, but I suddenly heard my name from behind me. I slowly turned and saw Pa. He gently grabbed my arm and pulled me toward Micah’s office. “Let’s work on your homework.”
Homework was the last thing on my mind. I was trying to figure a way out of my Pa being lynched and he wanted me to do homework? Pa unstrapped my books and handed me my arithmetic book. “Let’s start with this,” he stated calmly.
“Pa, I can’t!” I declared.
Pa raised his eyebrows at me. “Son, you have to.” I stared at the book but didn’t open it. Pa came around Micah’s desk and put a gentle hand on my shoulder as he looked into my eyes. “Let me tell you something, Mark. These mountain people act really mean, but they are good people. They just don’t live like we do. You have nothing to worry about.” I opened my math book. “Now, let’s see what you have to do here.”
Suddenly, Scotty ran into the Marshal’s office yelling for Micah to get over to the hardware store. Micah left in a hurry. “What now?” I asked as I looked at Pa.
Pa scratched his nose as he went to look out the window. I watched him pick up his rifle. “I want you to stay here and work on your homework, son.” Then I watched him walk outside.
I sighed as I looked down at my arithmetic book. The numbers meant nothing to me – not when these people were here to kill my father. I couldn’t take it anymore! I stood up and hurried toward the window. What I suddenly saw gave me chills! My Pa and Micah were in trouble! The mountain men were holding guns on my Pa. The men started punching him. I couldn’t take it anymore! I ran out of Marshal’s office and raced toward my Pa.
But a man grabbed me and held me back. I could only watch my Pa being beaten. I cringed with each punch, hating to see my Pa being treated this way, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Mrs. Boyle stopped the men from beating up on my Pa. But then I stared in horror when I realized what my Pa was about to do. He was about to tell them that he was the one. I shook my head, but Pa didn’t even look at me as he said, “I shot your son.” I braced myself for the explosion that I was sure would come, but Mrs. Boyles quickly put an end to the talk about hanging.
I felt relieved. I wanted to rejoice when she announced that. But it was short lived when I realized she had another plan in store for Pa. She wanted my Pa and Johnny to duel. My Pa did the only rational thing he could do – refuse. But Mrs. Boyle was mad and she wanted things done her way. She even ordered Johnny to shoot off some things from the hotel sign, which he did perfectly.
I became really frightened when she ordered her son to shoot my Pa in the foot . I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! She, a mother, wanted her own son – her own flesh and blood to kill my Pa! I anxiously watched as Pa tried to reason with Johnny. I knew he had no other choice when he finally held his rifle up against him and ordered him to put his rifle down. I must admit that I was a little relieved.
But it was the last straw as far as I was concerned when Johnny’s mother ordered him to pick his rifle back up. I couldn’t believe this! This was a mother who was supposed to love and nurture her son – something I didn’t even have – trying to order her son to kill a great man who wasn’t only the most wonderful father a boy could ever have, despite my being in deep hot water with him at the moment; but he was also a loving nurturer who didn’t want me to shoot a rifle until I was older and understood exactly what it was all about.
I was also beginning to realize why my father was so upset with me about the wrong I had committed. I couldn’t stand by and watch this boy try to kill my Pa. I also couldn’t stand by and watch this woman whom at the moment I saw as evil try to get her own son killed. So much emotion was building up in me. Naturally, I was afraid for my Pa who’s life was being threatened. But I was also very afraid for Johnny who was obviously living the way he had been raised.
But there was some other emotion from deep inside me. I was suddenly very angry at myself, because in that moment, I violently remembered the sin I had committed just a couple days ago, and at the moment I was feeling so terribly bad – and I wanted the chance to tell my Pa that I was sorry – because this time I could be sincere about it.
I grew angry when she demanded Johnny to “pick it up” in that authoritative voice that should have been saying the opposite. I suddenly grabbed the barrel of the rifle that was blocking my way and bravely hurried forward while the anger of this mother’s misdirected guidance boiled up inside me.
I couldn’t hold back anything. I spoke my mind. "Wicked woman! You're a very wicked woman Mrs. Boyle!” I screamed at her as I hurried forward. I was angry because I was left motherless at the age of six, but knew everyday that my mother would never in a million years say these things to me. No mother should ever order her son to pick up a rifle against another man to settle a misunderstanding. “Such a wicked thing, to hate. You don't even know us and you hate us."
She tried to tell me she didn’t hate anybody, but I knew better! I had been watching her all afternoon. "You do to. I don't know why, but you hate us. Maybe because we’re different. Dress different, talk different.”
But this woman…this MOTHER turned to her son and said, "You gonna shoot that gun boy?"
Suddenly, I told her, “Why you even hate him, your own son." She started to deny it, but I knew better! "You must hate him, you want to see him killed. Maybe because he's different too. Maybe that's why you hate him."
"Well, it just ain't true. It ain't true. None of what cha' sayin'." She continued to insist.
I suddenly saw the truth in her eyes. She knew the truth, just like my Pa. She may have always known the truth but wanted to deny it. "Most of all to know he lied. To know your own son was never tellin' you the truth.” Those words were really hard for me to say.
"And who would know who's lying?" She asked
I suddenly remembered that look in my father’s eyes just two days ago as I stood in front of him and lied to him. She was wearing a similar face now. She knew the truth, but she didn’t know how to handle it because I’m sure he’s told so many lies before. My father was so wonderful in my eyes at that very moment. He had known all along that I was lying because he loved me. "Why you would know. You'd have to know! You’re his mother.” I suddenly stated. Suddenly, I knew that if my mother were alive, she would have seen my lie right away, and she would see that I was telling the truth now. “My mother's dead but.....but if she were alive she'd know. Mothers always know.”
I stood there quietly staring at her, waiting for some response. But I could see the look in her eyes. I could see the truth – that she had known all along. She was suddenly very…sad. That made me even sadder for her. That increased the emotions in my heart as I thought about the pain a lie could cause a parent. Suddenly, she spoke in a soft, broken voice of hers. "It weren't hate, boy. I mean at least wise I don't think it was. Pride maybe. Sometimes a body's got nothing left except pride and they fight unfair to keep it. But I'd like to think it was pride, not just hatin' people."
It was over. She was finished denying her son’s lies, and my Pa wouldn’t have to have a shootout with this boy. I suddenly ran and clung to my father as emotions overwhelmed me. I had to talk to Pa, to tell him how sorry I really was. But right now it was enough just to cling to him and get all these emotions out of me so I could once again think with a clear head. I didn’t hear anything else that was going on around me as I just stood in front of him and cried.
Pa finally bent over and picked me up. I wrapped my arms around his neck as he carried me. “We’re going to your office, Micah,” I heard Pa say in a broken voice. I clung even tighter to him, knowing that Pa knew what I needed at that moment.
As I heard the door to the Marshal’s office close behind me, I knew we were alone. Pa sat me on top of the desk then sat down in Micah’s chair. We were eye level with each other. Pa handed me his kerchief and I wiped my face with it. Then I just played with it in my hands. “You need to talk?” Pa suddenly asked.
I nodded as I toyed with the kerchief in my hands. Pa gently, but firmly, laid his hands on top of mine to still them. Then our eyes met and he smiled at me. “Well?” he asked gently.
I licked my lips and took a deep breath. “Why did he lie?” I asked suddenly.
“Why did he lie?” Pa asked the question back as he raised his eyebrows at me.
I shrugged as I though on it. “I suppose to avoid getting into trouble for what he did and so as not to disappoint her.”
“Mm hm,” Pa answered. Then he laid a hand on my shoulder and sternly looked into my eyes. “And um…why did Mark McCain lie?”
I stared into Pa’s eyes. I saw nothing but love in those eyes. There was no longer disappointment or sadness there – only love. “Because I wanted to avoid getting into trouble for what I didn’t do and I didn’t want to disappoint you…and I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to that show if you knew the truth.”
“Mm hm,” Pa nodded his head as he smiled at me.
Suddenly, I started to cry again. “I’m so sorry, Pa! I’m so very sorry!” I threw my arms around him. “You’ll never know how sorry I am!”
Pa hugged me then pushed me away. “Mark, this time I know you really are sorry.” Pa smiled at me.
“I realize now that my lie caused a lot of damage, and it could have caused a lot more. I’m proud to have you for my Pa!” I smiled.
Pa stood up and lifted me off the desk. “Let’s go home, son,” he said.
“Pa?” I suddenly grabbed his hand and he turned and bent down in front of me. “If Ma had been here, what would she have done?”
Pa lowered his head with a sigh. “She would have done exactly what I did. She would have known that you were lying right off, but she would have waited for you to admit it. That was her way – gentle and loving.”
“Is that why you never hit me?” I suddenly asked.
Pa suddenly stood and raised an eyebrow at me. He shook his head at me. “Let’s go home, son!”
And now you know the rest of the story.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
The '7' Prisioners
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
Trail of Hate
around The McCain Ranch