“There’s a what?” I suddenly asked Freddie as we sat eating lunch one Friday.
“A carnival. My pa said that it’ll be here in the morning. There’s gonna be a show, lots of games, and stuff!”
I took another bite of my sandwich and stared off in the distance. “Wow,” I sighed. “I haven’t been to a carnival since I was little!”
It was at that moment that I started trying to think on how I was going to broach the subject with Pa. After school let out, I jumped on my horse and raced for home. Pa had told me he would be out mending fences, so he may not be at the ranch when I got there. So I immediately set out to do my chores. I fed all the animals, unsaddled my horse, swapped out the barn, and even started the beef stew cooking. Then I quickly sat down at the table and started on my homework.
It was while I was doing my homework that Pa walked inside. He put his rifle in it’s holder as he stared at me. “Hi, Pa!” I greeted him without looking up from my book. Pa immediately sat down at the table and put his hand to my forehead. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Just checking to see if you have a fever.” I rolled my eyes at him, as I stood up and walked to the stove to check on the stew. Pa followed me over and folded his arms as he leaned against the counter. I started to walk back to the table, but he grabbed my shoulder to stop me. “All right, what kind of trouble did you get into today?”
“Trouble?” I asked innocently. “Pa, I didn’t get into any trouble!”
“Okay. Let me guess again. What plans do you have for tomorrow?”
I innocently looked at him again. “What makes you think I have any plans?”
Pa followed me as I once again walked over to the table. “You got all your chores done, you’re starting supper without my telling you to. And,” he tapped my math book. “You’re doing homework on a Friday night?”
I couldn’t keep the grin from my face as I tried to concentrate on my work. But my mind was lost. I put my pencil down and suddenly stood up. “There’s a carnival in town tomorrow, Pa. Everybody’s gonna be there! There’s gonna be games and a show and all kinds of sweets there!”
Pa raised an eyebrow at me. “You know we have all kinds of ranch work to do.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. “But just this once, couldn’t we do it Sunday after church? I promise I’ll work the rest of the weekend if you’ll just let me go to the carnival!” I could tell Pa was still thinking on it. “I’ll go by myself, and I promise-“
Pa held up a hand. “Oh no you don’t!” Pa stated. “You know you can’t go by yourself.”
“Oh, but Pa! I’m ten years old!” I protested.
Pa laughed. “You think I’m going to stay at the ranch and work while my son is in town living it up? This is good quality family time, boy!”
I smiled at him. Then I jumped up and hugged him. “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!” I jumped up and down.
Pa smiled. “Son, why don’t you finish supper? I think you’re homework can wait until after supper.”
I was so excited that night that I could hardly sleep! I couldn’t believe that tomorrow we would be going into North Fork for a carnival! As I was getting dressed for bed, Pa came in to grab something from the closet. “Pa, you think there will be Carmel Apples there?”
“Where?” Pa was suddenly distracted.
“At the carnival!” I threw my hands up, surprised that he could think about anything else.
Pa smiled. “Well, even if there are, they aren’t for you,” he answered.
“Oh, but Pa!” I started.
Pa held his hands up at me. “You earned ten cents last Saturday for digging those fence posts for me. You spent the rest of your allowance on candy already. So ten cents is all you get. I’m not buying you any sweets at the carnival.”
“Yes sir,” I said reluctantly.
“And,” Pa came over and put a hand under my chin, lifting my face up to look straight into his. “If I hear another peep out of you or catch you awake again tonight, there will be no carnival!”
“Yes sir,” I answered as I crawled into bed. Pa smiled and tucked the covers snuggly around me. “Good night, Mark.”
When I woke up the next morning, Pa was still fast asleep. I got up and quickly dressed, then I ran out to the barn to start on the morning chores. Pa came out while I was milking the cow. “Mark McCain’s up this early on a Saturday morning?” Pa yawned. “You must be excited!”
“Yes sir!” I stated enthusiastically. “Can we go as soon as the chores are done?”
Pa laughed. “Can we eat breakfast first?” he asked.
“Well,” I sighed impatiently. “If we have to I suppose.”
Pa picked up the bucket of milk and nodded toward the house. “Go make your bunk and straighten up your side of the room. It looks like a tornado went through there in the night!”
When everything was finally done to Pa’s satisfaction, we finally mounted our horses and rode off. Pa was having fun with how excited I was, but allowed me to gallop into North Fork. When we got there, I jumped off my horse and started to run off. “Wow there, sprout!” Pa grabbed the back of my shirt. “You’re staying with me. I know you are a pretty good boy, but you tend to forget that when you get with your friends.”
I ran up to the opening and impatiently waited while Pa paid for out tickets. “Come on, Pa! Hurry!” I said, jumping up and down.
Pa laughed as he grabbed the tickets and thanked the man. “Son, you’re acting more like a six year old then a ten year old!” But I didn’t care. I was too excited about this carnival.
I saw a show. There was a sign that read “Wild Man of Borneo.” There was also a snake charmer and Trapeze in there. I knew I had to see it. “Come on, Pa!” I took his hand and dragged him inside.
I was amazed as I stood and watched the man blowing on the instrument. I watched the snake dance. I tried to get a little closer, but Pa grabbed my arm and shook his head. I could tell by the look on his face that the snakes made him nervous. I watched for a little while. Then when Pa couldn’t take anymore, he grabbed my arm and moved me to something else.
I hurried up to I giant net and watched a man as he swung on a swing way up in the air – high above our heads. “Wow!” I gasped as I watched. Then he jumped off the swing and flipped his whole body three times before he grabbed another swing on the other side of the net. I couldn’t believe it! There was someone on that swing, and they grabbed his hands as he continued to swing. “Pa, look!” I gasped again, pointing at them.
Pa grabbed my hand and lowered it. “I know, I know, son.”
“I want to do that someday!” I stated excitedly.
I heard a grunt leave my Pa’s throat. “I think you can find a calling that would be a little more promising then that, son,” he stated as he again led me away.
We suddenly came to another booth that was covered. I watched as people handed the collector their tickets and started to go inside. I hurried forward, but Pa grabbed my arm and shook his head. “But Pa, there’s a wild man in there!” I stated. “The poster says he’s half man, half animal!”
Pa hesitated a minute, but finally allowed that I could have a quick peak. As we went inside, my eyes grew big. He was really wild inside that cage. He was grabbing the bars and shaking them, roaring like a lion, and everything. My eyes grew big as I watched him for a few minutes. But then I was the one who wanted to leave. As we walked out of the curtains, I asked Pa if he was really from Borneo. “That’s what the poster says,” Pa answered me. “You don’t have to believe it, but it’s more fun if you do.”
Then I saw all the games at the carnival. Pa told me I could spend my dime here, and I had to decide where I wanted to spend it. As Pa started for a different game, my eyes caught the shell game. I went up to watch the man try to guess which shell held the pea. I watched the man move the shells around, and was pretty sure where it went. I knew I could double my money. Then I’d have twenty cents to spend at the carnival.
I ran to Pa. The one thing he had told me that morning when he gave me the dime is that I had to ask him before spending it. He didn’t want me just spending it on just anything. I ran up to him where he was trying to hit the dolls with the balls. “Pa, I saw where the pea went. Alright if I bet my dime?” I asked.
Pa turned and looked at the game. “That’s a game of chance, son.” Pa warned me.
I told Pa there wasn’t any chance to it. I knew where the pea went! Pa asked me if I was prepared to loose. Of course I was, but I knew for sure that I could do this! It was an easy way to double my money! Pa stated it was my money, then came over to watch.
I kept my eye on the shell that the pea was under. When they stopped, I knew exactly where the pea was. I pointed to it, with a great big smile on my face. But as the man lifted the shell, my smile disappeared. There was no pea. I didn’t understand it. I knew it was under there!
I suddenly found myself without any money when I knew that pea had been under that shell. Pa tried to tell me that I had just thought it was there, but I was upset. I had worked hard earning that money by digging five post holes. Pa didn’t seem to feel a bit sorry for me. He simply stated that I’d have to dig five more.
He tried to appease me by offering to let me help him in his game, but I didn’t want to. I knew better then to pout, but that didn’t stop me from doing it. “Now just a minute, son.” Pa suddenly said. I knew that meant a lecture. “In a way you were lucky back there.”
I didn’t see how loosing ten cents was lucky! He told me it cost me a dime to learn something a lot of men spent a fortune learning – that I can’t expect to get anything in this life free and easy. I knew he was right. That game had to be too good to be true. So, I decided to help him with his game and be a good sport about it.
As we were finishing, we saw the man from the shell game hit a man in the head and try to steal some money. Pa went over to stop it, but then he had to fight three men! I stood and watched – there wasn’t much else I could do. I felt awful sorry for Pa, but he seemed to be doing a pretty good job, all things considered! I smiled a couple times, proud at how he was able to throw those men off of himself. I sure was happy, though, when Micah showed up and stopped the fight by shooting his gun in the air.
I ran up to make sure Pa was okay, then I couldn’t help but state that it was some “hum-dinger of a fight!” The man that had been knocked out came to. He came up to me and stated, “All in a days work, my friend,” as he patted me on the back.
Then I found out who it was: Jay Jefferson, the famous lawman. Boy, this was turning out to be a better day then I thought! First I got to go to a carnival and see all sorts of interesting things, then I got to see my Pa fight three men at the same time and come out on top. Now I got to meet Jay Jefferson! I was so impressed that I had to talk to him. I begged pa to let me go talk to him, and he told me I could.
I was supposed to meet Pa in the cafeteria later, which was okay because I followed Mr. Jefferson inside. I stood there for a minute, just staring at this legend. I couldn’t believe I was standing right in front of him! When he finally talked to me, I told him he sure did carry his gun strangely. It wasn’t in a normal holster hanging down on his side, but more like in a belt across his chest, where he drew it out at the bottom near his stomach. He suddenly stated, “It’s not how you carry a gun that’s important.” Then he suddenly grabbed it and drew it on me. It surprised me at first, but then I smiled when he said, “It’s how you use it when you need it.”
I asked him for one of his bullets so I could show all my friends at school. They would never believe that I saw him!
Pa came in to eat while I was sitting there. I just sat and stared at the bullet. I was so impressed with meeting the lawman that I forgot to take my hat off. Pa reminded me to take it off.
When we finished eating, we were on our way out. Pa said that since the carnival was over, it was time for us to get back to the ranch and get some work done. But then he saw Curly Smith about to get into a fight with Mr. Jefferson as he called Mr. Jefferson a cheater. I couldn’t believe anyone calling Mr. Jefferson a cheater! He was a famous lawman after all!
As Pa took Mr. Smith outside, Mr. Jefferson stopped me to ask me a question. He explained to me that sometimes people had to answer questions they didn’t want to answer. I understood what he meant. After all, he was the law! So when he showed me the wanted poster, I immediately knew who it was. “I think it could be Frank Hardy,” I answered.
He asked me if I was sure. I looked at the poster again. “It looks like him. Bald too,” I stated. I knew I was getting him in trouble, but it’s like Mr. Jefferson said. It was my duty to tell the truth. He asked me where he lived. I told him he was about five miles out of town.
Suddenly Pa walked back in. He told me to stop talking. Then he grabbed the poster from me and looked at it. He stated that he didn’t like him asking children for help. I didn’t really understand why Pa was so upset! After all, Mr. Jefferson was a famous lawman! We had to tell him the truth! And if Mr. Hardy was an outlaw, he deserved being in jail.
Pa led me out the door. I could tell he was upset, and I asked him why. “After all, he’s just doing his job.”
Pa didn’t comment too much, but told me that no respectful lawman would question me without his permission. “But Pa, he was just trying to get at the truth!” I stated.
“Nevermind, Mark,” Pa said, telling me to stop talking about it. Then he want to the Marshal’s office as I was once again left alone to try to figure out what was going on. I asked Pa if we were going home when he came out of the Marshal’s office, but he said we had to wait for Mr. Jefferson to get back. “Frank Hardy’s our friend, Mark,” he reminded me. I nodded, knowing Pa was right. I shouldn’t have said anything without talking to Pa first.
We waited some more as Pa started whittling on a piece of wood. “Can I go get some candy?”
“No,” pa answered, frustration sounding in his voice. I sighed. I sure had fun this morning, but Pa wouldn’t let me do anything now. The town seemed less busy then usual for some reason.
“When are we going to go home, pa?” I asked Pa again.
“Soon I hope,” Pa answered. He’d been saying soon for the last hour!
“All right if I go watch Nels at the forge?” I asked then. I couldn’t just stand here any longer! I guess Pa finally got tired of hearing me complain, because he told me I could go, but reminded me not to get in his way.
I watched Nels for awhile. Nels asked me why we were still in town, and I told him we were waiting for Jay Jefferson to get back to town. “I think he just found an outlaw! His name’s Pete Dawson!” I stated excitedly.
Suddenly, we heard two gunshots coming from the hotel. I ran over there and saw lots of other people running over there too. I quickly climbed the stairs and saw a large crowd of people gathered at the door. That must have been were it happened. Being a boy, I naturally wanted to see what was going on, so I squeezed through the crowd. That’s when I saw Mr. Smith laying dead on the hotel floor. I couldn’t believe it! Pa saw me and told me to get out. It seems I never get to stay where the excitement is!
I saw Mr. Jefferson out in the hall. “What happened?” I asked.
“Well, when I went out to talk to Frank Hardy, I realized that it wasn’t him. That’s when I knew, son, that it was Curly Smith!”
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “You’d never know it. Why’d you shoot him?”
“I warned him, son. I told him not to go for his gun. But he paid me no mind.”
I knew Mr. Jefferson had done all he could to keep from shooting him. “Well, he shouldn’t have tried to resist arrest!” I stated.
Suddenly, I heard Pa call my name harshly. When I turned to him, he told me to come with him. As we walked out to the horses, I mentioned to Pa that if Mr. Jefferson hadn’t come, we would have never known that Curly Smith was really Pete Dawson! I sure was impressed with Mr. Jefferson’s being able to get to the bottom of the truth.
But Pa suddenly acted like he didn’t believe what Mr. Jefferson was saying. He started talking like Mr. Jefferson was a fake. I can’t say that I wasn’t shocked! It wasn’t like Pa to go talking against people! I watched as Pa mounted his horse, but he didn’t tell me to. “Where you going?” I asked him.
He told me he’d be back in a couple hours, and I was to meet him there. So for the next hour I just wondered around the town. Like I said, almost everything had closed down for the day because of the carnival so there wasn’t that much to do. I finally ran into one of my classmates and told them what had been happening. Then I wondered over to the store. Miss Hattie greeted me and asked me if I wanted some candy. “Pa said no,” I stated.
“Well, this is free candy,” Miss Hattie pointed to one of the jars.
I looked at it, wanting to take a piece. But earlier Pa had made it very clear that I could have no candy. I shook my head. “Pa said no,” I answered again.
I heard some commotion out on the street then, so I hurried outside to see what was going on. Mr. Jefferson had pulled his gun out on Pa and Micah. But my Pa was pretty smart and hit him with his rifle. I watched as Micah arrested him for Mr. Smith’s murder.
I stared, not believing what I was seeing. I looked at my Pa, who ran a hand through his hair in frustration. Then I turned around to hide the look of disappointment and shame. Pa came up to me and gently laid a hand on my shoulder. “Mark,” he said softly. I didn’t turn around. I didn’t want to talk about it. But Pa turned me around. Then he kneeled down in front of me and put his hands on my shoulders. “I’m sorry, son.”
“But he was so famous! Everyone said that-“ I stopped. I was confused.
Pa shook his head. “You can’t believe everything you hear, son. It’s kind of like that wild man you saw earlier today. When we watched the show, we believed he was really a wild man, and he really was from Borneo. Why did you believe it?”
“Because I wanted to,” I answered quietly.
“Does that make it true, son?” Pa asked.
“No,” I answered.
I lifted my head to look at Pa. Then I smiled at him. No words needed spoken. He knew I had learned something today. “Come on,” Pa motioned.
We walked into Micah’s office. He was sitting at the desk doing paperwork. “Well Mark, how are you taking this new revelation?” Micah asked me.
I turned and looked up at my Pa. He smiled at me and patted me on the shoulder. “Just fine, Micah. Just fine.”
*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
The Deadly Wait
around The McCain Ranch