The Writer's Corner
Written Deanne Bertram
Had this story been an episode, it would have taken place during
the middle part of the fourth season. Mark McCain would have
been about fourteen years old during this timeframe.
Millie Scott is the owner of the General Store in North Fork,
and a good friend to the McCains.
Mark McCain woke before dawn. As he sat up on his bunk, he
didn’t know why, but he felt compelled to get out of the house
before his Pa woke. It was Sunday and the circuit preacher
wasn’t due in North Fork that week, so they didn’t have to get
up early to get ready for church. He hadn’t made plans to go
fishing, so there was no reason to get up early to get his
chores done. He didn’t know why, but all week long he’d been
feeling out of sorts. He’d helped his Pa work on the ranch and
it was hard, tiring work, enough work to keep one’s mind off
your troubles, but something still gnawed at him, it was always
there, just below the surface, never allowing a complete
understanding of what it was. The more he tried to understand
his feelings, the more confused he became.
Over dinner, the night before, Lucas had noticed the pensiveness
in his boy, but chalked it up to him being tired from all the
hard work they’d done during week. Later that night, Lucas
smiled to himself as he sat on the porch, smoking his cigar,
feeling proud of working side by side with his boy. As he leaned
against one of the posts to the front porch, it didn’t surprise
Lucas when after Mark had finished the dishes he bade, “Good
night Pa, I’m going to turn in early.”
“Good night son. Pleasant dreams,” Lucas answered.
As his body refused to relax into his bunk and his eyes closed
in an effort to encourage sleep, Mark didn’t have pleasant
dreams, he never got to a point where he could dream at all.
He’d tried to force himself to sleep, but the more he tried, the
more agitated his mood became. Finally, he heard his Pa shut the
front door, saw him blow out the lamp in the front room, and
walk into their bedroom. Mark feigned sleep while his Pa
undressed and lay down on his bunk across the room. Soon he
heard his Pa gently snoring, blissfully sleeping.
The monotonous ticking of the clock on the table beside his
father’s bunk couldn’t drawn him to sleep, nor could the gentle
sounds of nature’s night outside their bedroom window.
The room was still dark when Mark quietly dressed before he
stepped from their bedroom, quietly pulling the door closed
behind him; he stopped at his Pa’s desk, lit the lamp, but kept
the wick low and wrote his Pa a note.
Went for a thinking ride, be home soon.
Without looking back, he quietly walked from the house and
headed for the barn. Deciding to do his morning chores first,
Mark fed and watered the horses, picked the stalls and laid down
fresh bedding, all before he finally stepped to the yard between
the house and the barn to feed the chickens. Setting the feed
pail back inside the barn, Mark turned and saddled his horse,
BlueBoy. Dawn was just starting to paint the morning sky as he
led his horse from the barn. Mark climbed in the saddle and
headed nowhere in particular.
Mark eventually found himself on the outskirts of North Fork. As
he arrived, the town was just starting to come alive for the
morning; people were greeting each other on the street, smiling
as they wished each other a good morning. For a brief moment,
Mark felt his heart lighten, but soon enough he was pulled back
Mark found himself stopped in front of the church. As he looked
to the opened doors, in welcome for those who wished to observe
Sunday in the church, he had hoped that maybe the church would
offer him an answer, but he didn’t even know the question he
wanted to ask. Reluctantly, he nudged BlueBoy on, neck reining
his horse around, he headed back towards the ranch.
Lucas woke to find his son already up for the day. He reached
for his pants and slipped them on before pulling on his boots.
As he stood, he reached for his shirt hanging from the back of
the chair next to his bunk and slipped it on. He hadn’t begun to
button the shirt when he walked into the front room, about to
call his son’s name but stopped when he saw the note on his
desk. As he picked it up to read; Lucas ran his fingers through
his hair, once read, he lowered his hand holding the note. With
his other hand, he rubbed his index finger under his stubled
chin, as he remembered the night before and remembered how much
quieter Mark had been all week. Lucas had chalked it up to the
hard work they had accomplished, but now, the father sensed
there was something wrong with his boy and he felt a wave of
guilt that he hadn’t realized it for what it was.
Grabbing his rifle, Lucas left the house, crossing the yard to
the barn. Upon entering, he saw Mark had already completed his
morning chores… and BlueBoy’s empty stall. Lucas walked out of
the barn and scanned the horizon, hoping to see his boy
returning home, wondering how early his son had risen and how
long his son had been gone. His gaze returned to the rise over
the hill when movement caught his attention; coming down the
road was a single-horse buggy carrying Millie Scott. Lucas had
forgotten he’d invited Millie to the ranch for breakfast and to
read from the bible in lieu of church services.
The tall rancher had finished buttoning his shirt when Millie
stopped the buggy in front of the house and gaily greeted him,
“Good Morning Lucas!”
“Morning Millie,” he said as he offered his hand to assist her
out of the buggy.
“Where’s Mark? Don’t tell me he’s sleeping in on such a glorious
morning?” Millie asked with laughter in her voice.
“No, he’s not sleeping in. He rose early this morning, did his
chores, and left a note saying he was going for a thinking
ride,” Lucas stated as he escorted Millie inside.
Once inside, Lucas set his rifle in its stand, just inside the
door, before he took Millie’s shawl and saw her seated a chair,
he glanced out the window.
“Lucas, you’re concerned,” Millie said seeing the expression on
“I am. We were working so hard this week that I didn’t realize
until I read his note that… that something was wrong. I…”
“Lucas, what it is?” Millie asked.
“I don’t know. I thought at first his quietness was because we
were working so hard this week, ever since he got out of school
for the summer, but now… Usually I can sense when he’s troubled,
this time, I didn’t.”
“Lucas, sometimes a boy needs to figure things out on their own.
You know how much he wants to grow up. Maybe he just wants to
think on his own before talking with you.”
“But we’ve always talked in the past…” Lucas answered.
“Yes, but not always right away. He’s growing up… A boy needs to
learn how to make decisions on his own, understanding what it
means to be a young man,” hoping she wasn’t overstepping what
was right for her to say.
Lucas nodded and accepted Millie’s reasoning, he couldn’t think
of any other explanation or even why his son was troubled.
Millie assisted Lucas by going out to milk the cow for the
morning. While she was busy in the barn, Lucas took a few
moments to shave his face. As he fixed breakfast, he kept hoping
that any minute Mark would ride up to the yard.
By the time Millie returned to the house, Lucas was placing
breakfast on the table. They both ate, but neither said
anything, each watching out the front door; Millie worrying
about Lucas, Lucas worrying about his son.
It was almost lunch time when Lucas had enough, he was beyond
worry and had grown upset that his son had rode off early in the
morning and didn’t have the courtesy of returning when he knew
they were expecting company for the morning. He’d raised his son
to have better manners and respect.
“Millie, Mark knew you were coming for breakfast and that we
were going to read from the bible as a…,” Lucas hesitated as
realization sank in; he’d almost said, ‘family’.
“Lucas? What’s wrong?” Millie asked, she’d heard how abruptly
Lucas has stopped speaking.
“I think know what’s been bothering Mark.” A moment of guilt
washed over Lucas. “I need to find him. Millie, would you mind
returning back to North Fork, I think I know where Mark is.”
Millie looked at Lucas, trying to understand what he wasn’t
“Millie, I…” Lucas was struggling to find the words to explain
to Millie what was happening, but as he was trying to think how
best to explain it, he felt the longing…, the heartache. It had
been so long…, so long that he had somehow forgotten the ache;
forgotten the ache because of Millie. “Millie, today’s the
anniversary of Margaret’s death; it’s been eight years.
Generally Mark and I spend the day together, alone. This is the
first time since Margaret’s death that I’ve invited anyone to
share the day with us. Only..., I didn’t remember what today
Tears formed in Millie’s eyes she listened to Lucas and
understood the implications. “Lucas, I’m sorry, if I had known,
I wouldn’t have accepted your offer.” She turned and headed for
Lucas quickly prevented Millie from leaving by placing a hand on
her shoulder and turned her so he could look into her eyes. As
he placed his hand to her chin and lifted her face he said,
“Millie, it’s not your fault. You know I’m not a talkative man,
that, well..., I keep my hurt to myself. I’ve enjoyed all the
time we’ve spent together and being with you eased some of the
ache in my heart.” Lucas waited to see Millie’s reaction, he
lowered his hand from her chin to her shoulder. “Right now I
think I have a boy whose heart is aching only he can’t tell me.
Maybe…maybe he doesn’t even realize why, and that’s why he left
so early this morning.”
“Lucas, go find Mark. I’ll ride on back to town. I’ll be
Lucas removed his hand from Millie’s shoulder and escorted her
as she walked out the door in front of him; she was still
quietly shedding tears as he assisted her into the buggy.
After seeing Millie off, Lucas hurriedly saddled Razor and
headed out. He knew the location where Mark would be when he
needed to be alone and not so quick for his Pa to reach him.
Mark was up on the hill that overlooked the flatlands behind the
house. He was leaning back against a tree, sitting next to a
cross marked ‘unknown’ that overlooked the pond. He was
struggling to understand why he was so upset. As he stood, he
picked up a stone and skipped it across the water. He saw the
ripples spread out as the rock hit the water and then was
airborne and then hit the water again, skipping across the
surface. Three times the rock skipped the water before it sank
beneath the smooth surface.
“Three. Why three?” a frustrated Mark asked himself. “Now why
should three upset me so?”
Mark turned his attention back to the grave marker, “Doesn’t
seem fair. Here you lie… You had a life, I don’t know why or how
you died, but to be unknown in death…” Mark hesitated and
shivered as he thought about his feelings. Whoever was buried
there had at one time been someone’s child, someone’s friend,
someone’s responsibility to bury, but no one knew who he was
when he died.
“I don’t know why I’m feeling so, so… Hell, I don’t even know
how I feel.”
Looking around Mark felt guilty for using the curse word and
mumbled an apology; he kicked a stone as an expression of his
frustrations, sending it rolling across the ground.
“There’s been times in the past when I’ve kept things from my Pa
when I knew I could of or should have talked with Pa. This time,
I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know why I’m feeling this
way…” Returning to stand in front of the grave marker, Mark
continued, “I don’t even know why the number three upset me
Quietly, Lucas rode up to the pond and saw Mark on the far side,
standing, holding his hat in his hand, facing the grave marker.
Lucas kneed Razor to walk on. Lucas stopped and dismounted Razor
next to BlueBoy. He walked over to Mark to hear him ask about
the number three.
“Mark,” Lucas quietly called. Mark turned around to face his Pa,
“Mark, I’m sorry. Please forgive me?”
“Pa? Forgive you? I don’t understand why you would ask for my
“After I read your note this morning, I realized that something
had been bothering you this whole week, only I didn’t know. Then
I was telling Millie why I was upset that you’d gone off on your
own and… it came to me, the reason you were bothered.” Lucas
quietly walked closer to his son and placed his hands upon his
son’s shoulders. “Mark, when I arrived, you said you were upset
today because of the number three.”
“But why Pa? All week long I’ve been feeling… I don’t know… The
best way to describe it is…lost. A little while ago I threw a
rock and it skipped three times. It… It upset me, but I don’t
know why. I’ve skipped rocks plenty of times and they’ve skipped
three or four times...” Mark crossed his legs as he sat down
next to the tree again. He plopped his hat down in front of him.
Lucas knelt down next to his son and removed his hat before he
spoke, “Mark, I shouldn’t have invited Millie over for today. Of
all days, not today.”
“But Pa, Millie’s been over before to share bible reading with
us when the circuit preacher wasn’t here.” Mark’s eyes pleaded
to understand why he felt as he did.
“Mark, you’ve known for this past week that Millie was going to
come over. With all the work we’ve been doing on the ranch since
you got out of school for your summer break, it’s easy to lose
track of the days. Do you remember what today is?” Lucas asked.
He braced himself for Mark’s reaction. “Mark, it’s been a long
time since it was more than just the ‘two’ of us on this day.”
Lucas could have said ‘more than just you and me’, but he knew
the number was the reason for his son’s discomfort.
After a few moments pause, “Today’s the anniversary of Ma’s
death,” Mark quietly said. It had been eight years since it had
been the three of them, and today was June third…
Lucas looked at his boy’s face, it wasn’t as devastated as he
had expected, he witnessed relief pass through his son as the
understanding settled over him. All the pensiveness that had
been building during the week slipped away, as if it had never
existed, but he could tell sorrow was welling inside his boy.
“Pa, I know when we settled here you said there was no looking
back… But… Were we wrong?” Mark asked, choosing not to look his
Pa in the eye as he asked the question.
“Wrong, that both of us forgot what today was.” Tears slowly
slipped from Mark’s eyes. “Pa, Millie’s been so kind to both of
“Son, no, we weren’t wrong; I think it was just a matter of both
of us... ‘not looking back’. North Fork is our home. Your Ma
will always be with us, but her memory shouldn’t consume us,
shouldn’t prevent us from living in the now. I’m proud of the
life we’ve made here. I’m happy we have Millie as a friend. We
just have to remember that, we’ll always have your Ma’s love.”
Lucas finally sat down next to his son. They continued to sit
next to each other and talked for several hours. Lucas talked of
the six years they had shared together as a small family,
laughing at the memories and the love they contained.
“Pa, I think maybe we should head into town,” Mark finally
“Oh?” asked Lucas as he raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I guess with all that happened this morning and this
afternoon, I thought that maybe… I owe Miss Millie an apology.”
“Mark, Millie understands what happened, I told her before I
came out here to talk with you.”
“She knows today’s…” Mark couldn’t exactly bring himself to say
the words, again. “Was she okay… afterwards?”
Nodding, Lucas told his son, “She felt our pain Mark. She cares
about both of us.”
“As you care about her?” Mark inquired; he'd seen his Pa and
Millie together when they thought he wasn't watching.
“I do care about her Mark, as any friend would.” Lucas wasn’t
sure he wanted to have that discussion with his son, at least
not on this day. Millie did mean a great deal to him, and he
knew Millie cared about him. It came down to whether Lucas was
ready to let someone else in…was he ready to make such a
commitment; after so many years of it being just the two of
them. “Come on boy, let’s get to town.”
As the afternoon sun slowly crossed the sky, Lucas and Mark
McCain rode next to each other, both quietly remembering
Margaret Gibbs McCain, loving wife and loving mother.
In the episode Tension, we found
out that Lucas McCain’s beloved wife, Margaret Gibbs McCain,
died on June 3rd.
This story is set before the episode
Two Ounces of Tin,
where we found out about the grave marked ‘unknown’ on the
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch