The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
In this story I’ve borrowed a few guest characters from The
Rifleman’s five year television run.
In The Schoolmaster (season three) we met North Fork’s new
school teacher, Stevan Griswald. A man with strict expectations
of the children under his tutelage. However, he learned a lesson
that his eastern style of teaching did not work well with the
children of the west. He also learned that some boys will defend
their fathers unquestioningly. Mark also learned an unfortunate
lesson regarding the consequences of playing hooky from school.
In Death Trap (season three) we were introduced to Doctor
Simon Battle and his sixteen year old daughter, Vicki. Simon was
a former gunslinger who went up against Lucas McCain ten years
prior and was severely wounded. As his wife nursed him back to
health, she in turn took sick. Before she died, she made Simon
promise he would do something good with his life, there had to
be more doctors to save the sick. We never knew why Simon ended
up facing Lucas in their first meeting.
Traveling through North Fork and stopping for the night, Simon
Battle is the only doctor in town (Doc Burrage was out of town)
to perform surgery to save the life of a man Lucas McCain found
gravely injured as he and his son were traveling into town. The
former foes stood together to defend the town against the
outlaws who were after the wounded man. At the end, father and
daughter leave town to start his practice in the Gilla Mountain
area. (Bits n Pieces: Phillip Carey portrayed Simon Battle.
Phillip Carey went on to portray Captain Parmalee in Laredo and Asa Buchanan in
One Life to Life – just to name a few roles.)
In Death Never Rides Alone (season five), we’re introduced to
Johnny Drako, a long-time friend of Lucas McCain. Drako was a
known gunslinger, who was always within the law when his
reputation was forged. Drako was looking for a nice, quiet place
to live and figured North Fork would suit him, just fine;
specially since his friend called the town home. However, events
beyond his control made him see the impact his arrival would
have if he stayed and he decided to leave town.
In my mind’s eye, I always believed that one day, Drako would
return to North Fork, after lying low and letting others gain
their reputations; his own would simply fade into history. Thus
was the idea for my story The Return of Johnny Drako. (Bits n
Pieces: Lee Van Cleef portrayed Johnny Drako)
All other characters not recognized from The Rifleman and the
storyline are from my own over active imagination.
This story takes place after the series ended its television run
and continues the idea begun in my story A New Day, where
Mark’s studies and grades improved so much that he is now a
student teacher helping Stevan Griswald with some of the younger
children in North Fork. This story also follows through with an
idea started in The Return of Johnny Drako.
Leaving Childhood Behind
The two students sat side by side at the shared desk with the
older student helping the younger student with his spelling
lesson. The young boy dutifully copied the letters from the
large black board mounted on the wall, at the front of the one
room school, to the smaller slate on the desktop where he sat.
As the young child worked, the older boy smiled at the child’s
enthusiasm to learn, cringing occasionally as the chalk would
shriek on the slate.
“Mark,” school teacher Stevan Griswald called while sitting
behind his desk at the front of the schoolroom, “I think you and
Tommy have done enough today. Why don’t you see to it that he
gets home, okay?”
“Sure Mr. Griswald,” Mark replied. “Tommy, you did real well
today. With me working with you, your grades will really improve
in no time.”
Mr. Griswald shuffled the papers he had been grading as he
watched sixteen year old Mark loop Tommy’s books together.
Stepping from his desk, he followed to two boys outside, and
watched as Mark hooked their books over the saddle horn before
he stepped into the stirrup and mounted Blue Boy. With his right
hand holding the saddlehorn, Mark reached down and extended his
left arm to eight year old Tommy, who used both hands to grab
hold of Mark’s hands in order for the older boy to swing him up
to the back of the saddle. Tommy grabbed Mark’s jacket with his
hands to hold on as they rode away from school at a slow trot.
Stevan shook his head and smiled to himself when the boys rode
off, waving and laughing. The school teacher was pleased with
the way Mark McCain helped the younger boy with his lessons.
Patient and caring were the two words he would use to describe
Mark; a far cry from the young boy who clashed against him in
his first few weeks as North Fork’s teacher.
Mark slowed BlueBoy to a walk as they came to the pond where
Tommy enjoyed watching the duck’s floating on the surface. He
delighted in the youth’s wonder at life in their small town.
“Mark, you think my folks will be proud of the book learnin’ I
been doing this week?” Tommy asked.
“Sure, I don’t see why not. My Pa was always pleased when I did
well in school. It was a dream he and my Ma shared for me to
have a good education.”
“I can’t wait to go back tomorrow,” Tommy happily stated.
“Only one more day of school this week,” Mark replied and gave a
slight sigh, which caused Tommy to giggle.
“I thought you liked school,” commented Tommy.
“Oh, I do, but I also enjoy helping Pa out around the ranch. I
can’t wait until I can graduate and be a full-time rancher like
“You wouldn’t be helpin’ me no more?” Tommy asked, his lower lip
“I’ll make it a point to come help you, Tommy. But maybe you
won’t need me anymore. The way you understand your lessons, you
might just be able to teach me a thing or two,” teased Mark,
hoping to bring a smile back to the boy’s face.
They continued to talk and laugh as they rode. Upon their
arrival at the Mason homestead, Mark startled when he heard a
woman screaming. Knowing that Tommy’s Ma was pregnant, he sent
Tommy into the barn to start his chores.
After making sure the boy was on his way to the barn, Mark ran
towards the house as he heard the woman scream again. Mark
called out for Mr. Mason and received no response. Entering the
home, he followed the moans and walked towards what he presumed
would be the bedroom door calling, “Mrs. Mason? It’s me, Mark
He pushed open the bedroom door to see Mrs. Mason curled up on
the bed, pain and sweat anguished across her face.
“Mark, it’s too early. Clegg went for the Doc. ARGHH!” she
screamed again, grabbing her belly as another contraction
wracked her body. “Please Mark, get Doc Burrage!” she pleaded,
panting out of breath.
Mark ran from the house to the barn calling for Tommy.
“Tommy, you stay out here. I got to go for the Doc. Don’t go in
your house, okay?”
“Yes Mark,” Tommy replied as he ran back into the shadows of the
Mark raced Blue Boy back to North Fork. Without waiting for his
horse to stop, he jumped from the saddle in front of Doc
Burrage’s office and ran inside, yelling, “Doc!” He came to an
abrupt halt as Doc pulled a blanket over Clegg Mason’s body
lying on the examination table.
“Doc?” Mark asked trying to comprehend the scene in front of
“Mark, what are you doing here?” Doc asked hastily as he turned
to face the young man and turned him in an effort to move him
outside to the boardwalk.
“Doc, its Mrs. Mason, she’s in labor at their place,” Mark said
as he kept looking over his shoulder at the white sheet covering
“Mark?” rancher Oat Jackford came to stand beside Mark, “I know
you’re growing up, but let’s get you out of here. Not sure you
need to be seeing this, especially since your Pa’s not here.”
Oat wrapped an arm around Marks’ shoulder and led him from the
“Now what’s this you were saying about Mrs. Mason in labor?” Oat
“I took Tommy home from school today. She’s in their bedroom
screaming. She said it was too early and that Mr. Mason came to
town to get Doc. I… I… left Tommy there… in the barn.”
Carrying his black medical bag, Doc Burrage stepped out of his
office as Deputy Johnny Drako approached the group. After Mark
again explained everything that he knew, he turned and asked,
“Johnny, can you get word to Pa. Mrs. Mason is in labor and I
need to keep Tommy company… until the baby arrives.”
“No problem Mark. I’ll get word to your Pa,” Johnny stated and
watched as Mark mounted his horse and rode away next to Doc
“Drako,” Oat called. “It might be a long night. I found Clegg
Mason out on the road to town. Evidently his horse broke a leg
and threw him. I put the horse down a ways off the road. Clegg’s
in the doc’s office, dead.”
Drako looked at the burly rancher standing next to him. In all
his gruffness and self-bravado, those who really knew the
rancher knew he held a soft spot in his heart for Mark McCain;
Jackford would fight any man, tooth and nail, in denial. Oat bid
Drako goodbye and left to follow after Mark and the Doc. He
planned to take young Tommy home with him after the baby was
born. Mrs. Mason would have enough on her hands and mind, what
with a new baby and learning her husband was dead.
“Mark, you and Tommy stay out in the barn. We’ll come get you
when everything’s said and done,” Doc stated as he rushed into
the house upon hearing Mrs. Mason scream.
Upon entering the bedroom, Doc calmly greeted Mrs. Mason and set
his black bag down on the bed and rolled up his sleeves. After
helping position Mrs. Mason so he could begin his exam, Doc felt
his stomach muscles tightening; knowing the baby was coming too
early and unfortunately, his examination revealed the baby was
in a full-breach position. The physician dreaded what the next
few hours would bring. As the painful contractions continued to
wrack the woman’s body, he tried everything he could to maneuver
the baby into a proper position to ease the delivery. Giving a
sigh of relief, the physician briefly relaxed as he turned the
fetus. But, as the labor continued without any results and the
woman being in labor for a long time, Doc knew he was fighting a
losing battle when his patient began hemorrhaging, badly.
Grabbing towels from the table next to the bed, the doctor
attempted to stem the flow of blood as he decided to turn his
attentions to saving the life of the baby, upon realizing that
Mrs. Mason’s life could not be saved from the massive amount of
Cutting open the woman’s abdomen, the doctor worked his way
through the layers of fat that accompany any pregnancy, and
finally worked his way to the membrane of the womb. Once the
baby was revealed, Doc struggled to pull the baby backwards from
the birth canal. Holding the baby in his hands, he shook his
head upon seeing the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around the
child’s neck. The child was blue as he untangled the cord.
Holding the infant upside down by its ankles, the physician
placed several smacks to it bottom in an effort to encourage it
to take its first breath of life. Placing the infant upon the
dead woman, he set down his stethoscope having listening for a
heartbeat and not hearing one; he returned the instrument to his
medical bag. Despondent, try as he did, he couldn’t save either
one of his patients. Slowly he pulled a blanket over Mrs.
Mason’s body and the body of her stillborn infant.
Doc stepped from the bedroom to the sink in the kitchen to wash
the blood off of his hands and arms.
“Oat, where are the boys?” Doc inquired as he heard the rancher
stand from sitting at the table in the main room of the home.
“I saw them both in the barn earlier, been checking on them
every now and then. Doc, I didn’t hear a baby cry,” Oat said.
“I lost them both. The baby was coming breach and suffocated.
Mrs. Mason’s labor tore her up too much, she lost too much
blood,” Doc replied, shaking his head.
“What can I do to help?” Oat asked.
“Walk with me to tell the boys. We need to find somewhere for
Tommy to stay until we can locate relatives to take him in or
make arrangements at an orphanage.”
“I’d planned to take him home with me tonight, considering what
had happened earlier,” Oat said as they walked to the barn.
Neither Oat nor Doc realized how late in the evening it was
until they left the house and saw it was dark outside. As they
entered the barn, neither boy was in sight. Oat climbed up the
ladder to the hay loft and quietly called down, “Doc, they’re
both up here.”
Doc followed the burly rancher up the ladder.
Tommy was curled up in a pile of hay, leaning against Mark, with
Mark’s arms wrapped around him, both boys were sound asleep.
Oat walked over and knelt down next to Mark, placed a firm hand
on his shoulder, and gently shook him. Mark woke with a startled
look on his face, before he remembered where he was and what was
“Mrs. Mason and the baby?” Mark quietly asked.
Oat looked back over his shoulder towards Doc Burrage.
“I’m sorry Mark,” Doc said. “We lost both Tommy’s ma and the
baby. It was just too soon.”
“That means he’s an orphan now?” Mark inquired.
Neither man had a voice to answer Mark’s question; they just
nodded their heads.
“Oat has offered Tommy a place to stay until we can locate
family to take him in,” Doc stated as he stood behind the
“No!” Mark said with a little more emotion than he meant too.
“I’ll take him home with me. Pa and I can take care of Tommy
until then.” Seeing the expression that floated across the
rancher’s face Mark said, “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to offend
you… It’s just that… Tommy doesn’t know you, Mr. Jackford.”
“I understand Mark. No offense taken.”
Doc Burrage knelt down next to the boys and placed a hand on
Tommy’s shoulder, he gently shook the boy awake. Compassionately
as he could, Doc informed Tommy that both of his parents had
died. Tommy reached around and clung to Mark’s neck, crying hard
with loud sobs punctuating the night. Mark continued to sit with
his arms wrapped around Tommy, patting his back, trying to offer
After witnessing the young boy’s reacted, Oat knew that Mark was
right. He also realized that he had no idea on how to take care
of a child. Cattle was one thing, children were totally foreign
to the rancher.
A worried Lucas McCain rode into town and stopped his horse at
the Marshal’s Office.
“Micah, have you seen Mark since school let out today?” Lucas
asked as he entered the office and spotted the marshal sitting
behind the desk in his office.
“LucasBoy, I’ve only been back in town for about a half hour.
Mark’s missing?” Micah asked.
“I don’t know for sure, just… he hadn’t returned home from
school and it’s dark out,” Lucas answered as any concerned
“Maybe Johnny saw him today. He’s over at the hotel with Lou
eating dinner,” Micah offered as he picked up his hat and walked
to the door with his bummed arm hanging at his right side. “He
told me he’s had his hands full today, what with that latest
group of trail drovers arriving. We’ve got four in the cells for
disrupting the peace; waiting for their ramrod or trail boss to
come get them.”
They stepped from Micah’s and walked across the main street of
North Fork and into the hotel restaurant. As they entered,
Johnny Drako took one look at Lucas, slapped his forehead, stood
up, and apologetically called over, “Lucas, I’m so sorry, I
totally forgot to get word to you about Mark.”
“He’s okay?” Lucas hurriedly asked.
“He was tutoring Tommy Mason, oh God. Lucas, Oat Jackford
brought Clegg Mason to town earlier today. They found him out on
the road…been thrown from his horse. Must have struck his head
and the blow killed him.”
Panic gripped Lucas at Drako’s coarse explanation; he feared
Mark had been thrown, he felt his knees begin to collapse.
“Johnny!” an alarmed Lou squealed and clutched her hand over her
“The boy’s okay, Lucas. I meant to say Clegg Mason was thrown
and killed by a blow to the head. I’m sorry Lucas, it’s been one
of those days,” an exasperated Drako spoke.
“What does this have to do with Mark?” Lucas demanded a little
impatiently while at the same time trying to settle his rapidly
“Mark took Tommy back to his home after school, next thing I
know; Mark’s at Doc’s stating Mrs. Mason was having the baby.
Doc and Oat rode out with Mark. I was supposed to get word to
you that he’d be home when he could. Lucas, I’m sorry. Shortly
after they left town, those drovers started creating all sorts
of commotion and once I got them taken care of, I totally forgot
about Mark until you walked through the door.”
“Johnny Drako, how dare ye scare Lucas like this!” hotel
proprietor Lou Mallory exclaimed. Everyone in the restaurant
could hear the fire in her Irish brogue, indicating she was
quite upset with Johnny; the green of her eyes flashed in
contrast to her red hair. “How could ye not take the time to get
word to Lucas?! Here he’s been near scared to death that
something had happened to Mark!”
Lou stood up, threw her napkin to the tabletop, and stormed away
from the table without looking back to her dinner companion.
“Lucas I really am sorry,” Drako stated. The look on his face
fully expressed his remorse and guilt.
“Johnny, don’t fret about it. I’ll head on over to the Mason’s
and see what I can do to help out. I think you need to do some
‘sweet talking’ to Lou to get her to simmer down.”
Lucas thanked Micah for sharing his concern for Mark as they
crossed the street and stepped to the boardwalk by the hitching
“Lucas, no need to thank me. You and that boy are family. Just
let me know tomorrow if they need any help over at the Mason’s
place. I’ll get a few men and some of the town ladies to help
out as needed.”
“See you tomorrow Micah,” Lucas stated as he was about to put
his foot in the stirrup. He hesitated when he saw Doc Burrage
stop his buggy in front of his office. Both Micah and Lucas
Lawman and rancher were about to inquire about Mrs. Mason and
the baby when they saw the dejected look on Doc’s face.
Doc stepped down and turned from the buggy before he realized
Lucas and Micah were there.
“Doc?” they asked simultaneously.
“Lucas, Micah, sorry, didn’t realize either of you were there.”
“We heard the news about Clegg, what about his wife and the
baby?” Micah asked.
“I lost practically the whole family today. The baby was too
soon and breach. Guess Clegg was on his way into town to get me
when he got thrown.” Doc answered, just shaking his head.
“Oh…Lucas, Mark was planning to take Tommy to your place for the
night. Oat Jackford was going to see they got there safely
before he headed back to his ranch.” Turning to Micah he
continued, “We’ll need to find out if that boy had any other
family that would be willing to take him in. But right now, I
want to go to bed and sleep. I don’t like losing three patients
in one day!”
Doc walked away from Lucas and Micah without saying goodnight.
They watched, his posture was of a man defeated.
Micah stated, “Lucas you go home and take care of both those
boys, I’m sure Tommy will need some fatherly attention tonight.
I’ll see that Doc gets over this. Goodnight LucasBoy.”
Lucas returned to Razor, mounted and headed home. Lucas wanted
to get home fast, but at night he knew it was stupid to push
Razor to anything more than a trot. One person getting thrown
from a horse with a broken leg in one day was more than enough.
The tall rancher arrived home and stepped inside; he saw both
boys sleeping in his chair in front of the window. Tommy was
curled up in Mark’s lap; Mark had his arms around Tommy, bible
in his hands. He could tell that both boys had been crying from
the tear stains down their cheeks.
Lucas stepped to the boys, gently took the bible from Mark’s
hands and placed it on the table. Mark started to rouse.
“It’s okay son, let me put Tommy to bed.”
Lucas picked up Tommy and carried him to the bedroom he and his
son shared. He gently removed Tommy’s boots and belt before
pulling the covers up over the boy. When Lucas turned to go back
to Mark, he saw his son standing in the door way.
“Mark, do you want to go to sleep or do you want to talk?” Lucas
asked. He saw the look in his boy’s eyes and wanted to help him.
How much like his mother the boy is, Lucas thought to himself.
Even though he didn’t really know the parents, the boy felt the
sorrow in their deaths.
“Pa, can we talk?” Mark asked.
“Sure.” Lucas walked to the doorway and pulled the bedroom door
closed. He followed Mark across the front room and out onto the
front porch and watched as Mark leaned back against one of the
posts before sliding down the post to sit down.
“Son, take your time.” Lucas said as he sat down next to Mark.
“Pa, I hope you don’t mind that I brought Tommy here.” Mark
looked to his Pa, looking to see that he had done the right
“Mark, in your heart you know you did the right thing and I’m
proud that you did it. Tommy’s going to need someone around who
kind of knows what he’s going through. I don’t mind that you
brought him home.” Lucas continued to look at Mark. “Do you
need to talk about… how you feel?”
“Pa, I…” Mark hesitated. “I don’t know how to explain how I
feel… only that I sort of feel numb. Like this is all a bad
dream and I want to wake up from it… but can’t.”
Lucas saw tears start to form in Mark’s eyes. “Mark, I guess the
best way for me to help you understand what you’re feeling is
for you to tell me what happened. I only know bits and pieces
from Johnny and Doc.”
“Guess to start, Mr. Griswald had asked that I give Tommy some
special attention, seeing as how his folks… Well, I told you
Monday about why I was staying after school…”
“I remember. And I’m proud of your helping your teacher with
some of the younger students.”
Mark took a deep breath and let it out slowly, giving him time
to reorganize his thoughts and to help keep his emotions reined
in. “I’ve been tutoring him this week after school and then
taking him home each day. Today… we arrived at the house and we
heard Mrs. Mason screaming. I put Tommy in the barn and told him
to stay there until I came for him. I ran to the house, looking
for Mr. Mason to ask if he wanted me to go for Doc. He wasn’t
Mark paused again.
“Pa, she screamed again and I went to their bedroom. She was in
such agony… she yelled that it was too soon and for me to get
Doc. I raced BlueBoy back to town and ran into Doc’s office.”
Mark stopped, this time he couldn’t hold back the tears in his
eyes. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms
around his legs and dropped his head. Lucas slid closer to Mark
and wrapped an arm around Mark’s shoulders.
“Take your time Mark,” Lucas quietly spoke.
In time, Mark could continue. “Pa, I didn’t even knock on Doc
Burrage’s door before I entered… I just… ran in as… as he was
pulling a sheet over Mr. Mason’s body. The side of his head was
Sobs wracked Mark’s body again the vivid image re-appeared in
his memory. He sat there shaking his head from side to side.
Lucas held Mark even tighter, wishing there was something more
he could do to ease his boy’s emotions. To take away the scene
he was remembering.
“I hate for you to feel this pain, son, but it is part of your
growing up. We’ve talked in the past about life, how there will
be happy days and sad days. Same as there will be good people
and bad people,” Lucas told his boy. “Life and death is all part
“I know… Mr. Jackford followed us, Doc and me, back to the
Mason’s farm. Tommy came from the barn when he heard us. They
went into the house and I guess Doc ran into the bedroom. Mr.
Jackford had told me to take Tommy back to the barn because we
didn’t need to be in the house. I took Tommy up into the hayloft
and we worked on some of his lessons and I guess we fell asleep.
Next thing, Mr. Jackford was waking me up and Doc Burrage told
me that both Mrs. Mason and the baby had died.”
Mark turned and wrapped his arms around his Pa’s neck and cried.
“Oh, Pa! Why does it hurt so much? They weren’t family.”
“Mark, you are so much like your mother. You care so much about
others. I know I’m blessed to have such a caring son.” Lucas
leaned over and placed a kiss on top of Mark’s head as he
continued to hold his son. “And it’s because you care so much
that it hurts. That’s why I’ve always told you that when you
feel the need, you should cry.”
In time, Mark released his grip from his Pa and sat back. “Guess
that I should go and get one of the cots from the barn and set
it up in the front room for sleeping.” Mark got up to start to
walk to the barn.
“Mark, I’ll get it. It’s late enough. You go on in and get
ready for bed. Besides, I need to bed down Razor.”
When Lucas returned to the house, he was carrying the cot, but
he set it up in the bedroom; there was room for the three of
“Pa?” Mark stated.
“Mark, if he wakes during the night, he’s going to need you more
than me. He knows you. But I want to be here for you.”
“Thanks Pa. I’ll sleep on the cot since I was the one who
brought him home,” Mark stated.
Soon, both were asleep. Lucas woke early in the morning and
looked to Mark’s bunk, he was startled when he realized Tommy
wasn’t under the covers. Lucas quickly stood to his feet and
looked to the cot where Mark was sleeping and saw Tommy curled
up, with Mark’s arm around him.
Lucas relaxed and smiled at the sight; he was beginning to
realize just how grown up Mark was becoming. He quietly dressed
and left the bedroom. Lucas walked out of the house and to the
barn; where he fed the horses before he collected the eggs and
milked the cow. With those few chores completed, he finally
returning to the house. As quietly as possible Lucas started to
make breakfast and set the table.
Breakfast was almost ready when Lucas looked up upon hearing the
bedroom door open. He watched as two sleepy-headed boys entered
the front room.
“Pa, look what followed me home. Can I keep this puppy?” Mark
asked with a gleam in his eyes.
Tommy replied, “I’m not a puppy, I’m a rancher!”
“Boys, why don’t both of you step outside and wash up for the
morning,” Lucas suggested.
“Yeah, I’ll even make sure this puppy washes behind his ears.”
Mark picked Tommy up, half slinging the boy over his shoulder
and carried him out the back door. Tommy was laughing for Mark
to put him down.
They returned to the front room and sat down at the table. Tommy
asked if he could say grace. Lucas nodded.
After breakfast was eaten and the dishes washed and put away,
Mark realized the time. “Pa, we’re late for school!”
“Boys, I think I’m going to keep both of you here, at least
until after the funerals.”
Tommy lowered his eyes and started crying as he remembered why
he was with the McCains. Mark knelt down beside Tommy and gave
him a hug, trying to ‘shhhh’ him and let him know everything
would be okay.
When the boy had quieted, Lucas stated, “Mark, why don’t you
have Tommy help you with your chores out in the barn this
morning.” The tall rancher maneuvered Tommy out the door then
quietly he told Mark, “I’m going over to Tommy’s place and pick
up some of his things. I’ll head into town to see if Micah’s had
any luck in finding out if Mr. or Mrs. Mason had any relatives
that we can contact.”
“Sure, Pa,” answered Mark.
Lucas rode to the Mason’s farm and without knocking entered the
home. He slowly walked to the closed doors and chose one, hoping
it would have been the child’s bedroom. Breathing a sigh of
relief, Lucas entered and picked up some of Tommy’s clothing,
his school books, and some of his toys and placed them in the
carry sacks he had brought along. As he stepped back to the main
room, he refrained from opening the other bedroom door.
As he exited the house, he saw Oat Jackford and one of his
hands, Billy Lehigh, arrive.
“Lucas, how’re the boys doing?” Oat called over.
“They’re both doing okay. Tommy has his ups and downs. Glad Mark
brought him home last night,” Lucas replied.
“Guess Mark really is growing up. His tone surprised me when he
told us that he was going to take Tommy to your place. I almost
argued with your boy, but after remembering the two of them
sleeping up in the hayloft, I knew it was the right thing.”
“Oat, thanks for seeing them safely home last night, I
appreciate it,” Lucas offered.
Billy tried to hide his laughter by changing it into a cough and
covering his mouth with his hand as Oat, in all his gruffness,
looked at his employee.
“Now don’t you go saying a word to anybody that I’m going soft
about that boy,” Oat glared at Billy.
“Which one? Mark or Tommy?” Billy asked and let loose a laugh.
Oat only glared harder at Billy.
“You? Soft? I won’t tell! I value my job!” Billy exclaimed, but
still couldn’t keep the smirk from his face.
“Lucas, Billy and I had planned to take the cattle. I’ll open an
account at the bank in the boy’s name and have John Hamilton put
the money in there for him.”
“Thanks Oat. I was just picking up some of his belongings. Not
sure how long it’s going to take until any of his relatives can
be found. I’m heading on into North Fork, I’ll let Micah know
things are taken care of out here.”
“You might want to let Nils Swenson know about the horses, and
that he doesn’t need to come out here,” Oat stated. “I’ll have
Billy or Sam collect them later.”
Lucas knew the owner of the livery would probably want to come
out to see that the Mason’s horses were properly tended to
“I will,” Lucas stated as he tied the carry sacks to his
Waving goodbye, Lucas headed to North Fork.
By the time Lucas arrived in town, school was on lunch break.
Lucas stopped by to talk with Stevan Griswald. Thankfully, he
didn’t have to explain why Mark or Tommy weren’t in school;
Micah had informed the teacher earlier in the morning what had
“Lucas, don’t worry about Mark’s studies, he’s so far ahead of
everyone else, that it won’t matter if he misses a few days. If
Tommy’s up to it; just have Mark continue working with him like
he has this past week.”
“I’ll do Stevan. I picked up the rest of his school books from
their place this morning.”
“Lucas, Micah did say that they were going to plan on funeral
services for the family tomorrow. I’ll see you then.”
“That’s one of the things I was going to check in with Micah
about. Thanks, Stevan.”
Mr. Griswald turned to reprimand a few of the boys who were
aggravating several of the girls out in the school yard.
Leading Razor, Lucas left the school and walked over to Micah’s.
As he entered, Johnny pulled a second chair over and set it in
front of Micah’s desk for Lucas.
“Lucas, have a seat and talk,” Drako said as he sat back down.
“So, Johnny, just how much sweet talking did you have to do to
get back in Lou’s good graces?” Lucas asked as he poured himself
a cup of coffee and walked to sit down.
“You know she still holds a special place in her heart for you
and Mark. One little slip up on my part... She was still brewing
about it this morning. It might take longer if you don’t step in
and talk to her on my behalf Lucas,” suggested the deputy.
“I’ll stop by the hotel later and put in a good word for you.”
Lucas grinned as he remembered a few times when he had managed
to rile Lou. Not that there was ever anything serious between
the two, they just ended up being good friends.
“How’re the boys doing, LucasBoy?” Micah asked as he stood up to
close the door to the office. Knowing Lucas would want to talk
and Micah didn’t want anyone just happening by to hear their
“As well as can be expected, I guess. It’s bringing back too
many memories right now. On my way home last night, I remembered
all that I went through with Mark after Margaret died. It was
hard for the longest time. I wasn’t looking forward to reliving
that experience with Tommy. But Mark…” Lucas stopped and took a
drink of coffee.
“I take it Mark’s stepped up and is trying to protect you from
reliving your own memories in having to deal with Tommy,” Micah
“That and since he lost one of his parents, maybe he feels that
Tommy might relate to him better,” Johnny offered.
“It’s just that my boy’s growing up in so many ways.” Lucas
shook his head. “Ran into Oat out at the Mason’s this morning;
he told me the tone of voice Mark used when he said that Tommy
would be his responsibility. It surprised Oat.”
“How’s Mark handling it all?” Micah asked. “Have you had a
chance to talk?”
“We were up pretty late last night talking. He told me
everything that happened and what he had witnessed. I think he’s
doing okay. I’ll just have to take it day by day. But between
the two of them, I think they’ll pull through fine.” Then Lucas
changed the subject, “So any luck in finding if either of the
Mason’s had relatives who might take in the boy?”
“I spoke with Doc this morning. He had in his files that if
anything happened to either Mr. or Mrs. Mason and Tommy needed
looking after; we were to contact an Uncle on Clegg’s side. He
lives over in San Carlos, Arizona. I sent a wire this morning;
haven’t heard anything back, yet.”
“I stopped by the school and Stevan told me services would
probably be tomorrow. Have you scheduled a time?” Lucas asked.
Micah replied, “Probably around one o’clock. Give Toomey enough
time to finish building the coffins and for Cornelius and Gantry
to dig the graves.”
Johnny added, “Doc thought it best to bury the infant with the
mother, so there’ll only be two graves.”
“Well, I’ve been gone long enough. Probably should be getting
back home,” Lucas said as he stood to leave. “Let me know when
you hear back from the boy’s uncle.”
“Will do, Lucas. Just remember, Johnny and I are both here if
you need to talk,” Micah offered.
“Thanks,” Lucas answered, smiling to let them know how much he
appreciated their friendships.
Before Lucas could leave, Johnny reminded him, “Don’t forget to
put in a good word for me with Lou.” Actually, it was more of a
plea for help.
Lucas left the Marshal’s Office and walked across the street to
the hotel and spoke with Lou where he pleaded Johnny’s case.
“Oh, Cowboy… Don’t ye know me well enough by now? He’ll be back
in my good graces by tonight.” But then Lou’s Irish flared up,
pointing her index finger and shaking it towards Lucas, “But
mark by word. If anything had happened to Mark because Johnny
forgot to get word to ye….”
“Thanks Lou,” Lucas turned and left to head home.
The funerals were held as scheduled. Lucas and Mark rode into
town, with Tommy sitting in the saddle, riding behind Mark.
Afterwards, they stayed in town for a few hours to eat supper
prepared by some of the women folk from the church. Lucas and
the two boys returned to the ranch; again with Tommy sitting
behind Mark, holding on to his jacket.
That evening, Lucas and Mark watched as Tommy said his evening
“Dear God, I know I’m just a little boy, but I know that my
mommy and my daddy and the baby came to live with you. Please
let them know that I miss them. I wanted to thank you for
letting me live with them for as long as you did. And thank you
for letting Mark and Mr. McCain look after me. Amen.”
Tommy hopped into the bunk as Mark pulled the covers up over
him. “Get to sleep now,” Mark said as he followed his Pa back to
the front room.
“Mark, how are you holding up?” Lucas asked as he sat down in
his chair and motioned for Mark to come sit beside him.
Mark pulled a chair from the table and sat down opposite his Pa.
“I think I’m doing better than I expected. But I’m concerned
about Tommy. When we’re doing the chores, I try to get him to
talk about how he feels, but he just keeps talking about what’s
happening here on the ranch.”
“Mark, I know what I’m about to ask might hurt you, but have you
told him about losing your Ma?”
Mark shook his head, “I didn’t want it to be about me Pa. I want
to be there for Tommy.”
“Tell you what. Tomorrow, the three of us will ride out to
repair that section fence…”
“But tomorrow’s Sunday. What about church?” queried Mark.
“I think the Lord will understand our absence. How about letting
him ride Blue Boy and you drive the wagon. Maybe that will let
him feel a little more grown up. Then while we’re working, maybe
you could tell him a little bit about your Ma, and just see
where that leads.”
“I’ll try Pa,” Mark said. “Think its time I turn in too. We’ve a
hard day ahead of us. Good night.”
“Good night son,” Lucas spoke as he watched Mark walk to the
They had stopped working in order to eat lunch; Lucas sat a
small distance from the two boys, knowing that Tommy might be
more comfortable in just talking to someone closer to his own
age. Yet, Lucas wanted to be close enough to be there for his
It was hard on Mark to talk to Tommy about losing his Ma when he
did, but it worked. Tommy opened up and told Mark how he felt
and his feelings. Said he didn’t’ talk sooner because he wanted
to prove he was grown up and grown men don’t cry. Lucas watched
as he saw Mark growing up all over again. Oh, the conversations
he’d had with Mark and now, Mark was on the other end.
By the time they finished their lunch, Tommy walked over to
Lucas. “Mr. McCain?”
“Yes Tommy,” Lucas replied as the boy knelt down next to him.
“Thank you.” The boy wrapped his arms around Lucas neck and gave
him a hug. Lucas replied by patting the boy on his back.
Three days later, Micah received a wire and rode to the McCain
Ranch. Lucas was greasing one of the wheels on the buckboard
when Micah arrived.
“Lucas, received a response. Samuel Mason said he would be happy
to take in his nephew, but unfortunately, he can’t make the
entire trip to North Fork. He asked if it would be possible for
someone to bring the boy to Silver City, New Mexico and he’d
meet them there.”
“Give me a couple of days to arrange for someone to look after
the ranch. Mark and I’ll see that Tommy gets to Silver City.”
“I’ll wire Mr. Mason and let him know when you plan to leave
Lucas threw the rag he had used to wipe his hands onto the hub
of the wheel before he turned to walk into the barn to inform
It was a bitter sweet trip to Silver City. Samuel Mason and his
family met the McCains and welcomed Tommy into their family.
Lucas and Mark were thrilled Tommy was going to have plenty of
cousins to grow up with.
After spending a couple of nights in Silver City to ensure Tommy
would be all right, they returned home to North Fork, sharing
the stage with Army Lieutenant Parker Jamison. The blonde-haired
lieutenant was in his early thirties and spent as much time
answering Mark’s questions as he did asking his own.
When the conversation finally turned to Lucas’ rifle; Lucas
realized that this was probably one of the first times that Mark
hadn’t bragged about his Pa’s ability with the rifle. All he
said was that his father had designed the modification himself
and how the modification allowed him to fire the rifle quickly.
Lucas thought to himself that this was another indication of
just how much his ‘little boy’ was growing up.
The sun was at noon high and conversations quieted as the heat
of the afternoon started to take its toll on those inside. The
coach began to travel through a pass interspersed with narrow
high rising walls and wide openings. Halfway through, the stage
encountered a tree blocking the roadway in one of the openings.
The driver, Chuck, pulled the team hard to the right, to void
running them into the downed tree. As the stagecoach left the
roadway, the right side wheels sank into a trench causing the
coach to flip on its side. As it hit the ground, the twist and
abrupt halt broke the singletree, causing the team to bolt away.
Chuck was thrown from his seat atop of the coach. He landed on
the ground, and felt the snap in his arm as he put it down to
help break his fall. Even with the pain emanating from his arm,
he was able to roll over and get to his feet; looking back to
survey the scene of the crash.
Inside the coach, the Lieutenant, Lucas, and Mark were thrown
around. As they come to a rest, Mark ended up lying on top of
his father; the Lieutenant was still opposite them. Mark climbed
off his Pa as they all checked to make sure each one is no worse
for wear. They suffered a few bumps and bruises, but everything
was minor. Each gave thanks for not having suffered any broken
Lucas, being the tallest, was able to jump up, grab hold of the
windowframe, and pull himself out. Next, he asked Lieutenant
Jamison to help lift Mark up to him. Lucas pulled his son out of
the opening and helped him sit on the side of the coach before
the boy jumped to the ground. Lucas returned to the opening,
reached in, grabbed hold of the Lieutenant’s arms and helped to
pull him out.
As Lucas jumped down from the overturned stage, he saw Mark
walking next to Chuck as he returned to the stage.
“Pa, Mr. Shepard’s arm is broken,” Mark yelled.
Lucas watched as Chuck sat down on the ground, with Mark holding
the man’s arm. From their overnight bags, Lucas pulled out one
of Mark’s shirts and before he could start to rip it, he heard a
loud roar from Chuck. Mark set the driver’s broken arm, with
Chuck complaining, “Next time, give a body notice that you’re
going to yank their arm into place.” Lucas smiled as he
proceeded to rip the shirt into strips to tie around the splints
for Chuck’s arm. He used one of his shirts to fashion a sling
for Chuck’s arm.
As he approached, he heard Mark state, “I’m sorry Mr. Shepard,
but if you’d of know when I was going to do it, you could have
resisted and pulled me off my feet. This is how Doc Burrage says
he does it.”
Lucas could only snicker to himself as he saw the innocent
expression on Mark’s face. While Lucas finished tending to the
driver, Lieutenant Jamison discovered the down tree and the
trench were purposely done to flip the stagecoach. Before he
could tell Lucas, it wasn’t an accident; they turned when they
heard riders coming and saw four men leading the horses from the
stage. Lucas ordered Mark to hide behind the stage as he
realized the riders approaching already had their guns drawn.
Anger grew inside Lucas when he realized he had not thought to
locate his rifle before climbing from the wrecked stage.
As the group of riders stopped in front of them, Chuck stated,
“This stage ain’t carrying any money in the strongbox this trip.
It’s plumb empty.”
“We are well aware of that fact. We want the mail pouches you
carry,” the leader stated as he pointed his gun at the Chuck.
“By the way, where’s the third passenger? We know there were
three who left from Silver City yesterday morning. Boy, come out
from wherever you’re hiding or we’ll shoot your Pa.”
Mark stepped out and went to stand beside his Pa. Lucas put out
a protective arm in an effort to shield his boy behind him.
“Uh, uh, uh!” the leader stated as he wagged his gun towards
Mark. “Step out so I can see you. Don’t need you pulling any
hidden weapon from behind your Pa.”
Mark took three steps to the side and stopped.
While a couple of the other riders stripped the harnesses off
the team, one rider dismounted and searched the driver’s seat
area, took the mailbags, and Chuck’s rifle. He walked to the
Lieutenant and took his sidearm from his holster.
The three riders mounted their horses, each grabbing for the
stage horses. As the riders turned to leave, the lieutenant
yelled, “You can’t leave us here!”
The leader pointed his gun and pulled the trigger.
Lucas, realizing what was about to happen, pushed Mark out of
the way. A cry of pain escaped Lucas’ lips as he fell to the
ground trying to protect Mark with his body as more shots
sounded. The lieutenant and driver ran for cover towards the
back of the overturned stage.
The outlaws rode away, laughing while the wind blew the cloud of
dust from their departure over those from the stage.
Mark waited for his Pa to tell him everything was okay and he
could get up. He heard a groan as his Pa moved to get off of
him. Mark sat up and saw blood on his Pa’s shirt sleeve.
“Pa! You’ve been shot!” Mark exclaimed.
Parker came out from behind the stage and saw the blood on
Lucas’ leg that Mark had yet to see. He dropped to his knees
next to Lucas and applied pressure to the inside of his thigh to
stop the bleeding. Chuck ran and pulled another shirt from one
of the bags to use as a bandage and Mark pulled off his belt to
use for pressure.
The lieutenant used his pocketknife to cut Lucas’ pant leg on
either side of the bullet hole so he could bandage it in an
effort to stop the bleeding. After examining the injury, he told
Mark there is good news.
“You call my Pa getting shot good news?” Mark demanded having
seen his Pa had been hit numerous times.
As Parker applied the makeshift bandage and Mark’s belt, he
whispered, “Mark, the bullet didn’t strike the major artery in
his leg. Had it, your Pa would bleed out before we could get him
“You’ve had medical training then? Can you get the bullet out?”
“Mark, my father was a surgeon and I can tell you, I wouldn’t
even try to pull the bullet out, especially not out here. I
wouldn’t want to risk accidentally nicking the artery. For now,
the bullet has to remain in his leg.”
Lucas tried to keep his pain to himself, in order to not scare
Mark any more than he already was. In addition to the leg, one
bullet had deeply grazed his side and another had barely grazed
“Pa, just lie still,” Mark implored of his Pa.
“The bullet to your side Mr. McCain struck you at an angle so it
went all the way through. In through the front, probably got
deflected by a rib and came out your side. Once we have you
wrapped up, we’ll see about getting out of here.”
After tending to Lucas’ wounds the lieutenant turned to Mark
“Mark, we need to construct a litter to carry your Pa. We need
to keep his leg as still as possible to prevent the bullet from
moving. He’ll be okay, for now. Can you help me construct a
litter to carry your Pa?”
“You mean a travois, right?” Mark inquired.
“Sorry, but a travois would be too uncomfortable to you Pa, what
with it being drug along the ground. No, a litter is his best
chance; the three of us can help carry it.”
Between the three of them, they lifted Lucas, carried him, and
sat him down in the shade from the roof of the overturned stage.
Chuck brought a canteen and offered water to Lucas and the
others before they began their work.
Chuck returned to the driver’s seat, opened it up, and pulled
out an ax and a hatchet. He handed them to the lieutenant.
As they walked to a stand of trees, the lieutenant told Mark he
should just call him Parker.
“But sir, I couldn’t do that. It’s not right to address someone
who…” Mark started to reply.
“Mark, right now I won’t stand on formalities. Just think of me
as an older brother. Okay?”
“Good, now, I’ll chop down a couple of these small sturdy trees
to use as poles and then you use the hatchet to strip the
Parker had finished chopping down the second tree when he turned
around and saw Mark struggling to keep the tears from streaming
down his face.
“Mark, would you like to talk?” Parker asked.
“Boy, I know if your Pa were here in front of you instead of me,
he wouldn’t accept that answer.”
Mark looked up at the lieutenant, recognized the tone he had
used was the same his father would have used. “Son, I see a lot
of my own father in your father, so I can assume that your Pa
would want you to talk this through.”
So, Mark gave in to the lieutenant’s request as he sat down on
the ground next to Mark.
“It’s just the two of us… has been for a long time.” Mark paused
and the lieutenant waited for Mark to continue speaking again.
“I just got to thinking of here we are, out in the middle of
nowhere and no doctor around. I’m just scared for my Pa.”
“Mark, you have every right to be scared for your Pa. It’s only
natural. But don’t keep it inside. If you need to talk, you can
talk with me. If you need to cry, I want you to cry. My Pa
always made sure I spoke my piece, got me talking about how I
was feeling. And if I had to cry, he wanted me to cry. He said
it shouldn’t matter who sees you. Crying is healthy.”
“That’s the way it is between Pa and me,” Mark answered.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s a good man. Just keep remembering,
you have Chuck and me to help you out, so you’re not alone.”
Parker looked at Mark, his expression asking if Mark understood
what he was saying.
“Good, come on and let’s finish getting these two poles
stripped,” Park stated as he stood to his feet.
While Parker and Mark worked on the trees, Chuck took out his
knife and cut the leather from the boot of the stage and worked
to remove one of the doors from the stage to help solidify the
litter. Together, the three worked cutting the team harnesses
and finished fashioning the litter to carry Lucas.
“I tell you I don’t need to be carried on any litter. I can
walk, just fashion me a crutch,” Lucas demanded.
“Pa, no!” Mark exclaimed.
“Boy, you’ll do as I say,” Lucas replied, ignoring the look on
his son’s face.
“Please Pa! The lieutenant is worried about where the bullet
lodged in your leg. There’s a major artery and if the bullet
moves because you’re walking, it could nick the vein and you’d
bleed to death. Please Pa!” Mark was almost in tears as he
pleaded with his Pa.
Lucas recognized the fear in his boy’s eyes and heard it in his
voice. He saw the same reflected in the faces of the other two
men; he closed his eyes and gave in to being carried. Mark was
relieved when his father agreed.
Mark remembered their rifles. “Parker, I need your help. Pa’s
and my rifles are still in the stage, will you help me get
“Sure, let’s get them.”
Parker and Mark climbed up onto the stage. Parker lowered Mark
through the window. Mark found his rifle and handed it up, then
found his Pa’s and handed it up. Parker handed the rifles down
to Chuck, then returned to pull Mark out of the window. Before
returning to where Lucas lie, Mark found his Pa’s overnight bag
and pulled out the bag of extra cartridges his Pa always
Once they were ready to set off, Mark and Parker assisted Lucas
from the ground and helped him lie down on the litter. Lucas
tried to keep his groan inward, but moving him jostled his leg
and his side, and he couldn’t help himself.
“I’m sorry Pa.” Mark placed Lucas’ hat on his Pa’s chest as
Lucas placed an arm over his eyes to block out the late
afternoon sun. He placed their rifles next to his Pa on the
Chuck pulled some blankets from the stage boot. He rolled the
blankets and put a couple under Lucas’ leg to keep it elevated
and placed the others so they would help stabilized the leg
while they were carrying him. He returned to the stage and
pulled out from underneath the coach seat a satchel that he
always carried with him. The satchel contained a small coffee
pot, a metal cup, and a large packet of coffee.
Chuck offered to carry the canteens, the ax, and hatchet, as he
slung the satchel over his shoulder; since he wouldn’t be able
to help carry the litter with his broken arm. He also grabbed
one of the bags and stuffed it with other shirts, realizing they
might need more shirts to stem the flow of blood from Lucas’
Parker led the way with Mark carrying the back end of the
litter, realizing the strain that would be placed upon Mark’s
hands and arms, they had fashioned a sling to go over Mark’s and
Parker’s shoulders to help them carry their burden. The whole
time they walked, Mark was looking into the pained face of his
Parker thought to himself, ‘The boy’s showing some fortitude,
but this can’t be easy on him or his Pa.’
The outlaws had ridden for better than an hour before they
stopped to take a drink from their canteens.
“So why did we hit the stage if it didn’t have money in the
strong box?” Gabriel asked.
“Because, these mail pouches contained something more important.
I found out there was information concerning the Army’s payroll
transport detail coming through here this week.”
After walking for about an hour, Parker called out, “I think we
could use a break.”
They gently set the litter down on the ground. Mark knelt down
next to Lucas and helped him sit up. He took the canteen offered
by Chuck and held it out for his Pa to take and drink. Lucas
took a small drink and swished it around in his mouth before
swallowing. He took one more drink before he handed the canteen
to his son, who followed suit.
“Pa, how are you feeling?” Mark asked, seeing pain in his Pa’s
“I’m okay,” Lucas replied.
“Truthfully, Pa. We’ve always been honest with each other.”
Lucas raised his eyebrows and gave a small laugh.
“What’s so funny Pa?” Mark asked.
“Seems to me you’re using my words against me.”
“Pa, you taught me well. Now, how do you feel?”
“It hurts boy. The leg feels a little numb.”
Parker felt Lucas’ lower leg and noticed it felt cool to the
touch. He turned his back to Lucas, blocking his view and he
pinched Lucas’ calf.
Lucas exclaimed, “Ouch!”
“That’s good news Lucas. You still have feeling in your leg.”
Then addressing Mark, “We need to loosen the pressure bandage
and check to see if the wound has stopped bleeding. If it has,
then we can lessen the pressure after we change the bandage.
Mark, his leg feels cool to the touch and I’d like to get a
little better circulation restored.”
Mark allowed Parker to tend to his Pa while he sat and watched;
the whole time he rubbed his shoulders and massaged his own
hands and arms.
They rested for an hour, before starting their trek again. They
continued to walk for an hour and rest for half an hour, in
order to maintain their strength.
The sun was starting to set on their second night, when they
came to an area Parker felt would be a good stopping spot. It
had large boulders, trees, and bushes to afford them a little
protection from the strong breeze that had started blowing
earlier in the afternoon. There was also a stream near by to
refill their canteens.
Chuck set down the gear that he was carrying. He pulled the ax
out and handed it to Parker, who went and used it to chop up
some fallen branches to use as firewood. Mark tended to Lucas.
As Parker returned with firewood, he over heard Mark talking to
his Pa, “Pa we should make it back to Central by tomorrow
evening. Just try to get some sleep,” Mark stated as he covered
his Pa with one of the blankets.
Lucas didn’t answer. Mark saw the pain on his Pa’s face. “Pa,
we’ll be alright.”
Soon, Parker had a strong fire growing to ward off the chill of
the night. Chuck brewed a small batch of coffee and offered some
to everyone. Mark declined, said he couldn’t stand the taste of
the stuff and that he’d be okay with just having some water.
Before turning in for the night, Parker and Mark checked Lucas’
leg one more time. It was still seeping blood, so they changed
the bandage again.
Lucas woke during the night and knew he was running a fever; too
hot. He knew that the air temperature had dropped from when they
first stopped. He pulled off the blanket, but that didn’t seem
to help cool him down. He sat up, saw the waning fire and that
the others were sound asleep. He unbuttoned his shirt and
removed it, and used it to wipe the sweat from his forehead.
Wanting to desperately cool himself down; Lucas half-crawled,
half-dragged his body towards the sounds of the nearby stream.
He cupped his hands and splashed his face with the cool water. A
chill ran through Lucas’ body, but it felt good. He lowered his
body into the stream, letting the cool waters flow over him. As
he lay there, he curled his arm under his head, on the bank, and
The sun was just turning the sky a light pink as it rose over
the hills. Mark rolled to his side to look over towards his Pa,
only he didn’t see him lying where he last saw him. Mark jumped
to his feet and yelled, “Pa! Pa! Where are you?!” He ran to
where his Pa had laid the night before and picked up his shirt.
Hearing Mark’s frantic calls, Parker and Chuck were on their
feet. Parker saw the drag marks in the dirt and followed them
with Mark and Chuck close on his heels. They found Lucas lying
in the stream. Mark and Parker pulled him from the water. To
their horror, his skin was very clammy and cold, his lips were
tinged with blue. Parker put his ear to Lucas’ chest.
“He’s a live Mark, but we need to warm him up, he’s too cold,”
They carried Lucas and placed him on the litter, next to the
fire. Mark noticed how his Pa’s skin was wrinkled and the skin
under his fingernails was also bluing from being in the cold
water for so long. Parker told Mark to strip his Pa the rest of
the way, “Get him out of those wet pants. We need to warm his
body and the longer he stays in those wet clothes, the more of
his body heat they’ll pull out.” Parker and Chuck hunted up some
more wood to stoke the fire.
Chuck had the fire raging as Mark and Parker placed Lucas under
the blankets. They vigorously rubbed his extremities to help
enable the circulation of his blood. Parker removed the pressure
bandage from Lucas’ leg and noticed how red and inflamed the
bullet wound looked from how it appeared the night before.
“Mark, I think he’s developing an infection,” Parked stated. “He
probably woke during the night; felt fevered and went to the
stream to cool himself down.”
“But we cleaned the wound yesterday. How can it be infected?
We’ve kept it covered all this time.” Mark was very scared now.
“Mark, the bullet is still in his leg. When the bullet
penetrated his pants, I’m sure the bullet pushed a small piece
of the material and any dirt that was on it into his leg. And
that foreign material is causing this infection,” Parker
They continued to work on Lucas. It seemed like forever to Mark,
but soon Lucas started moaning, shifting his head from side to
side, but he never opened his eyes. Chuck took the metal cup and
poured it full of coffee. He carried the cup and handed the cup
“Here, force him to drink some of this coffee. It’ll help heat
him up from the inside.”
Parker forced Lucas to drink two cups before he could no longer
get any response from him.
Lucas skin finally started to take on a healthier tone as they
continued to work on him. But Parker was concerned about how
cool he felt and the infection that he feared was developing.
Parker walked over to Chuck, “We have a real problem. We need to
get him to Central soon. He needs that bullet removed by a
surgeon and needs medicine to fight the infection,” Parker
“I know that. What are we supposed to do? We can only travel so
fast with the boy carrying him. I’m no use, even if I were to
carry one side of the litter, the boy’s so much shorter than I
am, we’d be dumping his Pa.”
Before they collected their gear, they wrapped Lucas tight
within the blankets. Chuck made sure all the canteens were full.
Soon they were walking again. Shortly before noon they saw a
cloud of dust on the horizon. They watched as it slowly
approached them. They waited on the side of the road as an
elderly couple stopped their wagon.
After explaining what had happened, the couple offered to take
the group back to the town of Central.
Upon their arrival, they were informed by the saloon keeper that
there was no doctor in town, but he offered his backroom to the
group. “It’s the cleanest place I can offer you.”
The saloon keeper took the foot of the litter, relieving Mark of
his burden, and helped carry Lucas into the saloon and walked to
the back room. They placed the litter on a bed and then the
keeper lit the lantern that hung on the wall and turned to stoke
the pot belly stove, afterwards, he left. He returned a short
time later with a tray full of sandwiches for the group. He told
the group about one of the members of the town counsel had just
returned from visiting family in Silver City and had told about
a doctor who had saved a child who all thought had drowned.
“Maybe we could get him to come here?” The saloon keeper offered
his son to ride. “It’ll take him a couple of hours to get there
The man turned and left the backroom. Soon they heard the sound
of a horse running. The saloon keeper returned with another man,
wearing a star. The saloon keeper carried an empty glass and a
bottle of whiskey.
“Here boy, get this whiskey into your Pa,” the Saloon Keeper
“But my Pa, he doesn’t drink the hard stuff,” Mark answered.
“Boy right now we need to warm him up inside and give him
something to lessen the pain he’s feeling. He may not drink it,
but right now he needs it.”
Mark shook his Pa and slapped his face a couple of times, trying
to get him to rouse enough to drink. His skin still felt too
cool to Marks’ liking. He helped his Pa sit up and lean against
him and was able to get his Pa to drink about half the glass,
before he became unresponsive again.
The sun was setting when they heard a commotion coming from the
saloon. They heard a young voice say, “My Pa says they were
here, in the backroom.”
Mark’s attention was focused solely on his Pa as he heard the
footsteps enter the room; he was unprepared for the voice that
spoke, “I was told someone had been shot and needed a doctor.”
Mark raised his eyes and saw Simon Battle standing just inside
the doorway. The man stood almost as tall as Lucas, and had a
presence about him that made everyone take notice.
“Doc Battle? It… It’s my Pa, he was shot two days ago. The
bullet’s still in his leg. He took fever and while we were
sleeping last night, he crawled into a stream; we found him
earlier this morning. He’s so cold…” Mark couldn’t continue.
Tears were streaming down his face.
Simon Battle took a step back as he recognized the man the boy
was talking about. “Lucas McCain,” he whispered and stared.
“Vicki, I need you in here,” Simon called and a young,
dark-haired woman entered the room.
As she came to stand beside her father, “Yes Daddy,” she said.
“Vicki, the boy who came for us said they used to have a doctor,
why don’t you see if the boy can take you over to the doctor’s
quarters and get set up, you know what to do. Joshua,” Simon
called to someone unseen. “Go with Vicki, she can use your help.
See if they have any ether. I’ll check Lucas out here before we
carry him over.”
Simon took off his jacket, removed his string tie, and rolled up
his sleeves. He took his stethoscope out from his medical bag
and placed the ear pieces in his ears, he pulled the blankets
away from Lucas only far enough to insert his hand to place the
instrument on the Lucas’ chest. He commented to himself that
Lucas did seem too cool. After listening to Lucas’ heart and
lungs, Simon asked where he had been shot.
After Mark told him the inner left thigh still had the bullet in
it and that he’d suffered two bullet grazes, one along his ribs
and another across his arm. Simon pulled the blanket away and
unbuckled the belt being used as a pressure bandage, and removed
the bloody bandages to examine the wound. He was concerned with
how angry the wound appeared and how discolored the blood veins
looked around the area, giving indication of possible blood
poisoning, and the fact that the trajectory the bullet took
might be too close in proximity to the femoral artery and nerve.
“Boy, you should be thankful none of you tried to remove the
bullet. It’s way too close to the artery.”
“That’s what Lieutenant Jamison said,” Mark replied.
Turning to the Lieutenant, Simon asked, “You’ve had medical
“No sir, just that my father was a doctor. I used to sit up with
him and go through his medical journals when I was younger,”
The saloon keeper showed them the way to the doctor’s office as
they carried the litter with Lucas on it down the street.
As they entered the doctor’s office, Mark noticed all the
lanterns that had been lit and placed around what was to serve
as the operating table. He saw water heating on the pot belly
stove and all the instruments inside another pan of boiling
water on the stove.
They transferred Lucas from the litter to the table.
As Simon washed his hands, he spoke. “Boy, I know what your Pa
means to you, but I don’t want you in here with us. Believe me,
I’ll do everything I can to save his life, but you need to let
Vicki and me work.”
Turning to the others, Battle said, “Take the boy out of here so
we can work on his Pa. He doesn’t need to see this.”
Vicki drained the water from the pot and pulled the instruments
from the pan and laid them out on a tray and placed them next to
where Lucas lay.
Lieutenant Jamison and a man with Captain’s marks on his sleeves
took Mark by the arms and led him outside. Not knowing the town,
they headed back to the saloon with the boy.
After they were seated at a table, Captain Joshua McClary and
the Lieutenant introduced themselves. Both officers were
surprised to find out they were enroute to Fort Davis, Texas.
They ordered coffee for themselves and a glass of milk for Mark,
but it just sat on the table. As the conversation continued,
Captain McClary told the others that Doctor Battle was his
father-in-law, and after he had received transfer orders, the
man indicated he would be traveling with his daughter and her
husband and start a new medical practice.
Mark kept looking from the table to the clock, oblivious to the
discussions. Each time he looked at the clock it seemed the
hands on the face had yet to move.
Mark was pulled from his thoughts when he heard the officers
talking about the outlaws and why they would have tried robbing
a stage that had no money and then taken the mail bags. Captain
McClary stated, “There’s an army payroll due through here some
time this week. If the mailbags had the dispatch bag that
contains information as to the route and timing of the payroll
detail, we can have a number of dead soldiers on our hands.”
As time drug by, Mark couldn’t keep his eyes open, after the
events and exhaustion of the past few days; slowly his head fell
to the table and he was asleep.
Simon watched as Vicki started to administer the ether to Lucas.
Even though he was currently unconscious, they couldn’t afford
to have him wake up while they were operating on his leg. Simon
turned to the closet next to the medicine chest. He opened the
door and took out an apron and then a face mask. Once dressed,
he returned to the operating table.
“Vicki, get an apron and face mask, we can’t risk any more
contamination,” Simon told his daughter.
While Vicki was behind him, Simon pulled the blankets off Lucas
and placed several surgical sheets over his body, in a patch
work style. He left open an area so he could have access to the
wound in Lucas’ thigh.
Vicki returned to the head of the table. She placed the
earpieces of her father’s stethoscope in her ears and placed the
other end to Lucas’ chest and listened, while she monitored the
drip of the ether.
Picking up a gauze pad with the forceps, Simon slipped it in a
small bowl containing alcohol and proceeded to swab it around
the wound. He dropped the forceps into the bucket at his feet.
Next, he picked up a knife and delicately cut away the infected
skin from Lucas’ leg and dropped the knife in the bucket. He
picked up another set of forceps holding an alcohol swab and ran
it over the area he had just pared the infected skin from and
dropped the forceps into the bucket. He picked up another knife
and made an incision into Lucas’ thigh. He proceeded very
slowly, aware how close he was to the artery and the nerve,
working his way to the bullet. The bullet had ripped through the
muscle as it traveled deep into Lucas’ leg. As the bullet came
into sight, Simon splayed open the sides of the incision and
inserted another set of forceps and pulled out the bullet. He
dropped the bullet into a bowl where it rolled around until it
came to a stop in the bottom of the container. The first part of
his task accomplished, he asked Vicki to hold a lantern over the
wound so he could get a better look inside.
He found a piece of Lucas’ pant leg at the bottom of the wound,
as well as a smaller fragment from the bullet. He dipped the
forceps back into the bowl of alcohol before using them to pull
out the foreign material. He dropped the forceps into the bucket
on the floor. He took time to irrigate the area with water to
flush out any dirt that might have been on the material. Giving
thanks the man was unconscious, knowing how much it would be
stinging once he switched to irrigating the wound with alcohol,
and how his patient would react had he been awake.
“Vicki, how’s he doing? How’s his heart beat and respiration?”
“Daddy, his heart is beating regularly, but I don’t think it’s
as strong as it should be. When I listen to his lungs, I think I
hear a wheezing.” Vicki answered.
“Okay, I’ll listen once I get done here.”
Simon continued to work to repair the damage done to Lucas’ leg.
He gently worked the needle and suture thread to sew together
the edges of the muscle; working his way to the opening of the
incision he had made in the skin. Knowing he had cut away skin
and muscle to prevent the spread of the infection, once there
was nothing more to be sewn, he tied off the thread and dropped
the needle into the bucket.
Simon stepped to the medicine cabinet and pulled out some gauze
and cotton padding.
“Vicki, go ahead and stop the ether. If he starts to wake any
time soon, it’ll be okay. Just come over here and hold his leg
up a little, while I bandage it.”
Simon moved the blood laden surgical sheet from Lucas’ leg and
threw it into the fire in the pot-bellied stove. Once he was
done applying the bandage, Simon lowered the leg. He then placed
another surgical sheet over Lucas’ leg.
Next, he turned his attention to the bullet graze along Lucas’
ribs. It was in and out and didn’t appear to require stitches
except at the entrance and exit of the wound. Pleased with his
work so far, the doctor slavered on an ointment to prevent
infection. He placed a gauze pad over the wound and then sat
Lucas up so that Vicki could wrap a bandage around his ribs.
Finally, he addressed the graze to Lucas’ arm. It was mild
enough that Simon only put the ointment on it and decided to
leave it unwrapped.
He walked to the closet and from the chest at the bottom, pulled
several blankets out, and laid them over Lucas.
Simon stripped off his blood laden apron and threw it into the
pot-belly stove. He then stepped to the sink and had Vicki pour
the water from the final pot on the stove over his hands as he
washed the blood off of them.
Vicki handed her father back his stethoscope and as he listened,
she too stripped off the apron she had worn and threw it into
the stove. She watched as her father listened to Lucas’ heart
and lungs; shaking his head.
“Vicki, get me that antibiosis serum from my bag. We’ll
administer it to start.”
Simon pulled Lucas’ arm out from under the blankets, found a
vein and injected the serum. Once done, he threw the syringe
into the bucket and the needle into the fire. Simon returned
Lucas’ arm to back under the blankets.
He stepped out the back door to check for a wood box. He
returned inside with an arm load of wood and stoked the stove.
“Vicki, we’ve done everything that is medically possible. It’s
now between Lucas and God. Let’s go find the boy and let him
“Should I stay here to keep an eye on the patient?” Vicki asked.
“Might be a good idea for you to stay here. If he wakes, tell
Lucas I’ll be back and talk with him later.”
Before leaving the doctor’s office, Simon Battle picked up a
couple of splints and gauze wrapping to tend to the arm he saw
in a sling earlier, and placed them in his doctor’s bag. He blew
out most of the lanterns, but left a couple turned down low. He
walked to the saloon; the doctor thought about his first and his
last encounter with Lucas McCain. Both meetings were a far cry,
one from the other.
The first meeting, both men stood facing each other and fired
their weapons at the same time. Simon had heard of the man who
chose to use a Winchester instead of a handgun, but never could
he believe the man could be faster on the draw. There was a
slight hint of satisfaction in seeing his opponent grab at his
side; his bullet had struck the rifleman. Confusion worked its
way into his triumph when the pain finally registered that he
too had been wounded, severely. But Simon lost more, his wife;
not a strong woman to begin with, worked night and day to ensure
her husband lived.
The second meeting, the rifleman and the gunman turned doctor,
had worked side by side to save a man’s life. As the two men
worked together, Battle related how it was he became a doctor.
As his wife sacrificed her health to see her husband live, there
was nothing the husband could do to return the favor, other than
become a physician; there were too few in the west. Both men
came to a new-found respect for the other as they stood against
the small band of outlaws who were after the man who’s life they
It was well after midnight when Battle entered the saloon. The
only ones remaining were the saloon keeper, the Lieutenant and
the Captain, the coach driver, the sheriff, and Mark. The others
were quietly talking as they sat around the table; the boy had
his head down on the table. Upon entering, Captain McCrary stood
and looked to the doctor.
“Simon?” Joshua asked as he looked beyond the doctor, searching
for his wife.
“Joshua, why don’t you go to the boarding house and get a room
for the night. I saw there was a light on in a front room as I
walked over here. Vicki is keeping an eye on our patient; I’ll
send her to the boarding house once I’ve tended to this man.”
Simon Battle’s voice was authoritative and even though he was
not a military officer, the Captain followed his instructions
Joshua nodded before exiting the saloon and proceeded down the
boardwalk, hesitating before crossing the street to go wait with
Simon walked to the table and looked down at the sleeping boy.
Turning to the Lieutenant, he said, “My name is Simon Battle.
How’s the boy doing?”
“Upset… scared… as anyone would be in his position. By the way,
I’m Lieutenant Parker Jamison.”
Simon ordered a cup of coffee, strong and black before sitting
down in the chair vacated by the captain. “Lieutenant, we were
able to extract the bullet as well as a fragment and some
foreign debris. I’m concerned about Lucas lying in the stream
and the effect it is going to have on his body. His body
temperature is still lower than I’d like it to be. I’ve got him
well blanketed and the pot-belly stove blazing. I’ve
administered some medication to help him fight the infection.”
“Will he survive?” asked the lieutenant.
“That’s not my call. I’ve patched him up to the best of my
abilities. We’ll see how much he wants to fight for that young
man sleeping there.”
“You know them, sir?” asked Chuck, the stage driver.
“Yeah, I know them.”
After drinking some of his coffee, Simon turned to Chuck. “Let
me see that arm of yours.” Simon untied the sling from around
Chuck’s neck and removed the splints from his arm.
“Who set your arm?” Simon asked after his initial examination
and admired how well the bones matched.
“The boy did it… right after the accident,” Chuck answered.
“He did a good job. I’ll just reset these splints and get your
arm back in that sling.”
Parker watched as Simon replaced the splints. “Doc, do you think
we should wake Mark and take him to his Pa. I know boys need
their sleep, but from what I’ve witnessed between these two, the
sooner Mark knows his Pa is going to be okay, the better.”
“Mark? That’s the boy’s name? It’s been a number of years and…
I couldn’t remember. I think you’re right. Go ahead and wake the
boy. I’ll take him to sit with his Pa. It’ll probably be better
for Lucas too, to see his boy when he wakes.”
Simon looked on as the lieutenant placed his hand on the
sleeping boy’s shoulder, startling him awake.
“Easy there, son,” Battle stated, hoping to calm the boy.
“My Pa?” Mark quickly asked.
Battle stated, “Walk with me, son.”
As they walked to the doctor’s office, he told Mark of his Pa’s
condition. Mark was overwhelmed with the warmth of the office as
they entered. He was taken back in seeing his Pa’s face lying so
pale against the dark grey blankets that covered him. Mark
walked to Lucas’ side, picked up a towels, and wiped sweat from
his Pa’s forehead and silently prayed to God to let his Pa live.
After exploring a back room, Simon brought two chairs into the
office and set them up next to where Lucas lay.
“Doc Battle?” Mark hesitated to ask, “Is… is my Pa going to
“I hope so Mark. I truly hope so. Right now it’s between him and
God,” Simon answered as he sat down.
It had been fourteen years since Lucas and Simon had originally
met. During the next ten years, Lucas had believed that he had
killed Simon Battle in that gun fight. Now, it had been four
years since their last meeting.
Simon and Lucas had prevailed against those cowboys in North
Fork. He realized afterwards, that both had changed their ways
and for good reasons. For the love of a woman; and for the love
of the one child each was blessed to have in their lives and to
hold on to the memory of their deceased wife.
Simon sat in quiet contemplation. In the stillness of the room,
with only the sound of Lucas’ breathing, he reflected that for a
moment how he had hesitated. Upon seeing that it was Lucas
McCain in the back room of the saloon, and it was Lucas McCain
who was in need of his services, the physician has almost given
in to past anger… almost. He had almost turned his back and
walked away. Quietly he prayed to God and asked for forgiveness.
It was going to be a long night for both of them. Simon stood
up every few minutes to check Lucas’ vital signs. One time,
Simon smiled and slightly shook his head when he noticed Mark
had drifted off to sleep. The boy’s legs were pulled underneath
him, his head propped up by his arm with his elbow resting on
the arm of the chair.
“He’s going to have a kink in his neck when he wakes,” mused the
The sun hadn’t risen when Mark woke with a start; from where he
sat, he watched as Doc Battle finished checking his Pa. Simon
turned and saw Mark was awake.
Before the boy could ask the only question that mattered to him,
Battle spoke, “Mark, I’d like to ask your forgiveness.”
“For what, sir?”
“I hesitated last night. When I first realized it was your
father who needed help, I hesitated.”
Mark cocked his head and looked at Doc Battle. He slipped his
legs out from underneath, sat forward, and waited.
“Mark, remember when we first met, four years ago? When Vicki
and I were in North Fork?”
“Remember the story Vicki told you about me being in a gun fight
and how my wife nursed me back to health at the cost of her
“The gunfight… was with my Pa… wasn’t it?” Mark asked.
“Yes Mark, it was. You see… back then… I wasn’t exactly an
upstanding citizen. I was too quick to use my guns instead of
being civilized. I was a bounty hunter, dead or alive… It didn’t
matter. I always went for my guns. But your father… He stood
Mark’s eyes widened as the physician continued.
“He refused to allow me to take in a man. I went for my gun,
your father cocked his rifle. Both weapons fired simultaneously.
I found out long time later that I only knicked Lucas, grazed
him across his side. He ended up taking in my bounty.”
“Pa was a bounty hunter?” Mark asked incredulously.
“No, he took the man to Rim Rock to stand justice and it turns
out the charges had been dropped years before. Mark… Your
father’s bullet struck true; there was no doctor in that town. I
rode to get home, to my wife, to Vicki… Bleeding all over God’s
green earth. Meredith has been a nurse, and she was the one who
removed the bullet. Infection set in and she tended to me night
and day for a week until my fever broke, but in the meantime,
she wasn’t taking care of herself. Illness struck the town we
lived in and she didn’t have the strength to fight any more.
She’d given her all to see to my recovery.”
“I hated Lucas because I was going to lose my wife… I guess
Meredith saw the hatred, and she begged me…” Battle’s eyes
momentarily glazed over as he remembered. “Because of the love
of my wife and I made her a promise on her deathbed. She begged
that I change my ways, for Vicki’s sake. There were too few
doctors out west and because of that…” Taking a deep, cleansing
breath, Simon stated, “I changed my ways and became a doctor.”
Putting the past behind him, Simon stated the reason why he
asked the boy for his forgiveness, “For a brief moment last
night, I almost let my past get the better of me. I thought I
was over my past, but seeing your father there, fighting for his
life, I felt a little of the old me return. I felt the hatred
towards your father return, because he was the one who put the
bullet in me that caused my wife’s health to deteriorate. But
then I saw the look in your eyes and it reminded me of all that
I’ve tried to become. The dream my wife wanted. All the good
I’ve done. I knew that to get over that final piece of my past,
I had to save your father’s life.”
“Sir, you didn’t have to tell me…”
“No, I didn’t, but… I felt I owed you an explanation of why I
hesitated so you’d understand why I asked for your forgiveness,”
“Doctor, I know you’ve done your best to try to save my Pa’s
life. If he doesn’t live…” Mark hesitated as he tried to regain
his composure and stop the tears that threatened to form in his
eyes. “If he doesn’t live, I know it won’t be because you didn’t
try. It will be because God wants him… wants him to be with… my
It was just after dawn when Simon administered another dose of
the antibiosis serum into Lucas’ arm. As the room brightened, he
was pleased to see better color in Lucas’ face and when he felt
his chest, it was warmer than it had previously been. He
listened to Lucas’ heart and it sounded stronger. His lungs
“I think he’s turned the corner,” Doc Battle commented.
“For the good?” Mark hesitantly asked.
There was a gentle knock at the door before Vicki entered,
followed by Joshua carrying a tray of food for Mark. She stated
that they were going to get their own breakfast, and asked her
father to join them; leaving Lucas and Mark alone for a while.
They wouldn’t be gone long.
“And if Pa wakes?” Mark asked.
“Tell him the past is the past,” Battle stated as he placed his
hat on his head and followed his daughter and son—in-law from
Mark set the tray down on the desk in the office. He didn’t feel
like eating. He sat down in the chair, wishing his Pa would
wake. Honestly, he wished he had his Pa’s bible in his hands; he
could sure use the comfort the words from The Good Book provided
him. He must have drifted off to sleep for a moment, when he
thought he dreamed a quiet voice calling for him. Mark looked up
and saw his Pa moving his head back and forth and heard him call
again. Mark stood from his chair and walked to his Pa. Lucas was
moaning and calling for Mark.
Mark placed his hand to his Pa’s forehead, telling him he was
going to be all right and saying, “I’m here”. Mark watched, and
saw his Pa’s eyes flutter and open slightly.
“Pa, I’m here. You’re going to be okay,” Mark smiled as his Pa’s
eyes opened a little wider. “How do you feel?”
For a brief moment, Lucas smiled before his eyes closed again.
“Oh, Pa…” Mark quietly cried as he sat back down.
Half an hour later, Lucas mumbled again causing Mark to quickly
return to his side.
“Pa?” Mark tentatively called. “It’s okay Pa,” Mark stated as
Lucas’ eyelashes continued to flutter as he fought to return to
“Come on Pa, you can do it,” urged Mark.
“Mark?” Lucas whispered.
“It’s me Pa,” Mark happily answered.
“You don’t remember?” asked Mark.
“We were heading home, the stage flipped, outlaws…”
“They fired…” Lucas panicked, “Mark, are you okay?”
“I’m fine. You were the one who was shot. How do you feel? Mark
“Groggy… and hungry,” Lucas whispered.
Mark returned to the desk, picked up the tray with food, and
brought it to his Pa. He helped sit Lucas up and allowed him
into lean into him as he ate. The scrambled eggs and toast were
cold, but they tasted good and filled a hole in his stomach.
Though Lucas couldn’t eat everything on the tray, none of it
went to waste. After Mark laid Lucas back down and tucked the
blankets around his Pa, he finished eating what Lucas had not.
“Where are we?” inquired Lucas.
“Central City,” Mark answered.
“I didn’t think they had a doctor,” Lucas stated as he raised
his hand to rub his eyes.
“Pa, they don’t. The saloon owner’s son rode to Silver City to
bring back a doctor.”
“How bad?” Lucas asked.
“It doesn’t matter. You’re gonna be fine, that’s what you need
to focus on. Pa… the doctor who saved your life…” Mark stopped.
“What about the doctor?” Lucas asked. When Mark didn’t respond,
“Mark, come over here. Now tell me, what about the doctor? Where
Mark didn’t step to his Pa. “He and the others went to get some
breakfast. But… before he left, he told me to tell you…”
“Go on,” Lucas said as he raised himself to his elbow and saw
his boy standing by the desk with his back to him.
“He said the past was the past. He told me all about it. At
least as much as he felt he needed to tell me,” admitted Mark.
“He told you… what?” as confused Lucas asked.
“Pa… Simon Battle saved your life. He’s the one who operated on
you.” Mark slowly turned to face his Pa. “He told me he
hesitated when he saw it was you. He told me what happened
between you and him. But… then, he said, he knew the only way to
completely let go of his past was to save your life. I don’t
Lucas watched as his teenage son struggled with his emotions.
“Mark, come here son.” Lucas waited until Mark was next to him.
He reached out and placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “When Simon
and Vicki left North Fork four years ago, he had forgiven me for
shooting him. But sometimes… a man needs to forgive himself for
the wrongs he’s done. A man carries the hurt deep and just
forgiving the person we feel wronged us, doesn’t always heal the
wound. It’s not easy. You’ve watched as I’ve fought my own
demons in the past.”
Simon, Vicki, Joshua, and Parker returned to the doctor’s office
and they were all pleased to see the sight that greeted them as
Lucas turned his head at the sound of the door opening.
“Good to see you awake Lucas. How are you feeling this morning?”
Lucas looked to his boy before answering, “Better. Thank you.”
Simon turned to his daughter and Joshua, “I think we’ll be okay
now, why don’t you head back to the boarding house and let me
take care of Lucas and his boy for a while.”
Vicki and Joshua bid goodbye and left.
Turning to Lucas, Simon said, “Let me check your wounds one more
time. Mark, why don’t you and the Lieutenant go to the general
store and get your father some new clothes, especially if he
ever wants to leave this office without being embarrassed,”
teased the physician.
“I’ll be okay boy. Just run your errand.” Lucas said as he
Lucas tried to swing his legs off the side of the table to sit
up only to find Doc Battle pushing him to lie back down. “I
don’t want you exerting yourself until AFTER I get through
examining you. You were in pretty bad shape when Vicki and I
arrived last night. We performed surgery to clean your wound and
remove the bullet from your leg.” As he placed the stethoscope
to Lucas’ chest, he asked him to breathe in deep. He transferred
the stethoscope to the other side of Lucas’ chest and asked him
to breathe in deep again. Next, he slightly raised Lucas’ back
off the table as he put the stethoscope to his back and
“Your lungs sound much clearer now than they did just a few
hours ago. The medication we gave you seems to be doing the
Next, he removed the blanket from Lucas’ leg. He removed the
bandage and examined the wound area. Quite pleased with what he
saw; he reached down and pinched Lucas’ calf, causing Lucas to
call out “Ow!” as he pulled his elbows back in an effort to sit
Simon pushed him back down. “Just making sure Lucas. The bullet
route was close to the main artery and the nerve that runs down
your leg. I just wanted to make sure neither had been damaged.”
As he checked Lucas’ side, Simon continued, “You’ve got quite a
young man for a son. He’s grown up a lot since Vicki and I left
“Seems he grows up in front of my eyes every day. It won’t be
long before he’s not my little boy any more,” Lucas said as he
glanced towards the door.
“Lucas, as a father, you know they’ll always be our “little”
ones. Now, I want you to take it easy and careful. Lucas, you
need to understand… if Vicki and I hadn’t arrived when we did
and they waited any longer to get you to a doctor to get that
bullet out, you could have lost your leg or even your life from
the infection and possible blood poisoning from that lead
“Simon?” Lucas asked with a shocked tone to his voice.
“As I said, we got here in time and you’ll make a full
recovery...if you do as I say and take it easy.” See Lucas
relax, Simon continued, “I witnessed your son last night as we
sat watch over you. Anyway, Mark and I talked last night.”
“He told me…”
“At times, I saw fear in his eyes; yet, he was ready to
understand if God had chosen to call you home. Said he wouldn’t
blame me if you died, even after I told him of our past. You
should be mighty proud of how he’s handled himself.”
“I am proud to have him as my son.”
“Lucas, I talked with the Lieutenant. He told me what happened
after you had been shot. He couldn’t believe that Mark was only
sixteen, said he handles himself as someone who’s much older.”
“I’ve always wanted to make sure my boy had his ‘growing up
time’, but there have been times when his growing up faster
couldn’t be avoided.”
Mark returned to the office with new clothes for his Pa. Mark
and the others stepped outside to give Lucas some privacy while
As they returned to the office, Parker told Lucas, “We’ve made
arrangements for you and Mark at the boarding house. Once we get
you over there, the rest of us are requested at the Sheriff’s
Simon and Parker looked to each other and then stepped to either
side of Lucas, as he placed his arms around their necks, Parker
and Simon created a sling for Lucas to sit in by grabbing hold
and crossing each other’s arms.
After entering the boarding house, Lucas was seated on the
settee in the parlor and Mrs. Cambridge was planning to feed him
and Mark a good lunch, she said that she would see to it that
Lucas stayed in the parlor after eating and that she’d make sure
he stayed off his feet, until such time the doctor felt he could
manage getting around with crutches.
Simon and Parker waited for in the foyer, as Joshua to say
goodbye to Vicki, before they headed for the Sheriff’s office.
The Sheriff and the Captain questioned the Lieutenant about
exactly what had happened during the stage hold up. After he
repeated everything that had happened; he turned to the Captain
and asked, “You said there was an army payroll coming through
here. If that dispatch was in the mail pouch, then we’ve already
lost almost four days since the hold up to track that gang down
and stop them.”
They continued to talk about the outlaws and the payroll detail.
Vicki sat down in the parlor to share lunch with Lucas and Mark.
By the time they were finished eating, Lucas was having trouble
keeping his eyes open. Mark insisted that his Pa lie down and
take a nap, “You need to get your strength back Pa.”
Vicki took the dirty dishes and joined Mrs. Cambridge in the
No one noticed Mark as he slipped out of the boarding house and
made his way to the Sheriff’s Office. He quietly opened the door
and stepped inside. He listened as the men made plans to head
out to meet the payroll detail in an attempt to prevent the
outlaws from killing the soldiers and getting away with the
Simon Battle was the first to notice Mark standing in the room
when he turned to tell the men he wanted a few minutes with his
daughter before they headed out.
“Mark, what are you doing here? You should be back at the
boarding house with your father,” Simon declared.
“He’s sleeping. I want to go with you,” Mark answered.
“Boy, you’re too young to go on this posse,” the Sheriff stated.
“Either you take me with you or I go alone!” Mark declared. “We
McCains fight our own fights. It’s not your Pa those men tried
to kill. Please, I have to do this. I need to see… I need to see
that those men are brought to justice!”
Seeing the determination in the boy’s eyes, Simon stated, “I’ll
be responsible for the boy.” Then turning to Mark, “You do as I
say, when I say?”
“I’ll hold you to that.” The firmness of Battle’s words held a
hint of warning that he would not be lenient with the boy should
he not follow instructions. “First thing you’re going to do is
go to the livery and get four horses as well as the sheriff’s
horse ready. We’ll meet you out front of the boarding house once
we tell Vicki, and your father, where we’re going. Take these
canteens and make sure they’re filled. Lieutenant, Captain, get
to the General Store and stuff the saddle bags with jerky and
other foodstuff that can be eaten quickly.”
Again, without hesitation everyone obeyed Doctor Battle’s
instructions, including the Sheriff.
The group returned to the boarding house and stepped into the
parlor. Vicki and Mrs. Cambridge were sitting in chairs,
reading. Lucas was lying down asleep on the settee.
“Daddy?” Vicki stood and asked as she saw the group enter.
“Hi honey. How’s Lucas doing?” Simon asked of his daughter as he
looked to his patient.
“He ate a good lunch and we talked for a while, then he started
getting tired. He’s been sleeping for about an hour.” She looked
from her father to her husband, “Daddy, what’s going on?”
“Vicki, I want you to stay here and keep an eye on Lucas.
Continue to give him 10 cc’s of the antibiosis serum in the
morning and of an evening. Make sure his wound stays clean and
that he doesn’t try to walk on it until we get back. If he gets
too contrary, give him a dose of laudanum, it will help reduce
any pain, plus make him sleep.”
“Back, where are you going?” Vicki inquired, now looking to her
“Vicki,” Joshua stated. “The men who shot Mr. McCain, they took
the mail pouch from the stage. It’s possible it contained a
dispatch from the army outlining the details of a payroll
transfer. We have to try to save the soldiers, and the payroll.
Your father and Lieutenant Jamison will be with me. As will the
Simon stepped to Vicki, “Vicki, I want you to watch over Lucas.
Anything he needs, you do it for him. If he needs anything
medically, you know how to treat him.”
“When will you be leaving?” Vicki asked as she looked at the men
standing in front of her.
“Soon, we’re just waiting on a wire back from the Army so we
know where we’re needed,” Joshua stated.
Lieutenant Jamison entered the boarding house. He had received a
wire back from the army confirming their fears. The dispatch had
not been received and the detail was already enroute. Provided
in the wire was the general route the detail was planning to
Upon entering the boarding house Mark called out, “The horses
“Let’s ride,” Battle ordered.
Vicki began to reach for Mark, to offer him comfort as the
“Excuse me, Miss Vicki,” Mark begged as he turned to follow the
“Tell my Pa, I’m with your father.”
“Mark!” Vicki declared.
“It’s something I have to do. Tell Pa, I hope he understands… I
just couldn’t sit here waiting. I have to do something.”
As one, the men turned to leave.
They left the boarding house and stepped to the street. Mark was
first in the saddle waiting for the others to mount their
horses. The Sheriff stepped to his horse and mounted. The others
adjusted their stirrups before mounting.
Unable to contain herself, Vicki ran out the door, placing her
hand upon her father’s knee as he sat in the saddle. “Daddy, he
can’t! What do I tell Mr. McCain when he wakes?”
“Tell him I said, ‘His boy is growing up and this is something
Mark has to do.’ I’ll bring his boy back.”
The small posse headed out of town, in search of the army
payroll. Praying they would be in time.
They traveled until just before the sunset. Mark took care of
setting up the camp for the night and afterwards tended to the
“Simon, you think having the boy along is that good of an idea?”
Joshua dared asked. “What about when his father finds out?”
Unable to shake the feeling in the pit of his stomach he asked,
“What do we tell his father when something happens to the boy
and we bring him back dead?”
“Joshua, I’ll handle the boy… and Lucas,” Simon answered in a
After supper, Mark returned to the campfire with his bedroll and
his Pa’s rifle in hand. He rolled the bedroll out and laid down
on it, the rifle lay beside him. He set his hat off to his side,
folded his hands behind his head, and looked up at the stars.
Simon walked over and knelt down next to Mark.
“I think we need to talk.”
“There’s more to you wanting to be here than just seeing that
these men are brought to justice. Out with it.” Simon used the
same tone of voice that Lucas used when he gave Mark an order
that he wanted obeyed.
Mark was quiet as he tried to avoid looking at Simon.
“Boy, either you talk to me now, or I send you back.”
“Doc Battle, I’m not a boy, but I also know I’m not fully
“Those men… it wasn’t my Pa they were trying to shoot. Pa
wouldn’t have been injured had he not pushed me out of the way.”
“Parker told us what happened before you came to the Sheriff’s,
so I had an idea that might be what’s bothering you.” Seeing
Mark about to say something, “Let me ask you this. You think
your Pa would feel any better if it were you back in town, all
shot up?” Simon answered.
“No sir,” Mark said as he tried to keep his emotions in check.
“But if it were me back in town, he’d be here. Where I am. Doc…
I feel…” Mark couldn’t say what he was thinking. He just closed
his eyes as he lay on his back.
“You feel responsible... It’s understandable. You feel that if
you had done something, maybe your Pa wouldn’t have been shot.”
“Yeah, if I had done something… ” Mark said in a dejected tone.
“B.., Mark, listen to me. I’m sure you’ve seen your Pa shot
“Yes sir, I’ve had to tend to him a number of times because
someone shot him, but he’s never been shot because of me.”
“You think he was shot because of you?”
“Yes sir, I do. I should have…”
“Did you ask for your Pa to get shot?”
“No sir!” declared Mark.
“Did you ask for those outlaws to wreck the stage and steal
those mail pouches?”
“No!” repeated Mark.
“This how is your Pa getting shot your fault?”
“I… I mean… there’ve been plenty of times, where I’ve been with
my Pa and he regretted the fact that I was there. It made his
choices harder. He’s always been there to protect me. But he’s
always been able to defend those who needed defended. The other
day… he was trying to protect me and because of that he got
shot. If I hadn’t been there or had been older...”
“Mark, when the outlaws arrived, where were your rifles?” Battle
Thinking back, Mark answered, “In the stage.”
“And just how else was your Pa supposed to defend those who
needed defending if he didn’t have his rifle?”
Simon didn’t let Mark finish his train of thought. “Mark, did
you ever think that, maybe, because you were there, that your Pa
is still alive? Or if you had been older or hand your rifles in
hand, what kept those men from killing all of you?”
“No sir, I didn’t think of it that way.”
“I could sit here all night and tell you that you don’t have
anything to feel guilty about, but… you’ll have to make that
decision on your own. All I can do is guide you, same as your
father has done all your life. He’s guided you as you’ve grown
up, but ultimately, the decision is yours.
“Let me tell you what’s really bothering you… Right now, you’re
struggling to prove to yourself that you’re ready to grow up and
that you’re not a little boy who will always need protected. I
admire and understand that. I let you come along because you
need someone other than your father to help you through this.
Maybe, if I had someone to help guide me, it’s possible I
wouldn’t have become the cold-blooded bastard of a bounty
hunter, and my wife would still be alive. I want your word, as a
man, that you’ll follow each and every one of my orders, without
“I promise,” Mark said.
Simon stood up to go to his bedroll, “Oh, and keep your Pa’s
rifle close. If you brought it, be ready to use it.”
“Doc Battle, you’re right… thank you,” Mark answered.
“Just don’t make me regret letting you come along. Get some
Simon walked away and left Mark to his thinking.
Lucas woke before dinner and inquired of Vicki where Mark was.
“Mr. McCain, he’s with my father and the others,” Vicki said,
hoping her answer would suffice. She got up from the chair where
she had been reading and went to her room where she pulled out a
syringe and the vial of medication her father had left. Vicki
returned to the parlor and asked Lucas to extend his arm.
“Mr. McCain, my father said I was to administer this medicine
tonight. It’ll help fight the infection that had started in your
As Vicki administered the medication, Lucas noticed the ring on
her left hand and spoke, “I guess belated congratulations are in
order Vicki. Seeing how you are old enough and married, I think
you can call me Lucas instead of Mr. McCain.”
A little embarrassed, Vicki replied, “Thank you for the
congratulations, Lucas. Joshua and I have been married for about
six months and we’re on our way to Fort Davis, Texas, where he’s
to be posted. He’s a captain in the army.”
“From the sparkle in your voice, I take it that you really love
him,” Lucas stated.
“Yes, I do. He’s so kind and caring, but strong,” Vicki blushed
and turned her face away.
“Every new wife blushes, don’t been ashamed.”
Mrs. Cambridge brought in a tray of food for Lucas and Vicki.
The three quietly ate their dinner. Afterwards, Mrs. Cambridge
brought in a cot, some blankets and an extra pillow for Lucas to
“Mr. McCain, guess you’ll be spending the night here in the
parlor. So… I’ll get your bed set up. I can pull the parlor
curtains closed, to give you a little bit of privacy.”
“Guess Simon was serious when he said he didn’t want me walking
yet. If you’d like, you can set up a cot in here for my boy too.
I’m sure he won’t want to be that far away from me.”
“Mr. McCain, your boy and Vicki’s husband and father left with
the Sheriff and that other army fellow earlier this afternoon,”
Mrs. Cambridge stated without realizing the implication.
“Mark’s where?! Vicki!” Lucas yelled as he understood what Mrs.
Cambridge had just divulged.
Vicki came in from the kitchen, dish towel in hand.
“Vicki, a little while ago you said Mark was with your father
and the others. Just where are they?” Lucas demanded as he sat
forward on the settee.
“Lucas, I honestly don’t know where they are… but I do know Mark
“And just how to you know that?!” Lucas demanded to know.
“He’s with my father,” Vicki answered hoping Lucas would let the
“And just where is your father? Where is Simon Battle… And my
son?” Lucas leaned forward
“I don’t know… But I do know they went to track down the Army
“And why are they tracking down an Army payroll?”
“Because there was a letter in the mail pouch the outlaws took,”
“Outlaws? What outlaws?!” Lucas angrily asked.
“The outlaws who caused the stage to crash, the outlaws who shot
you…” Vicki humbly replied, folding her hands in front of her.
“Who the hell took my sixteen year old boy with them?” Lucas
demanded as he tried to get up. It took both women to push him
back down to the settee.
“Lucas, please, you’ll open your wound if you don’t lie back
down and be still,” Vicki pleaded.
“I don’t care! My boy’s out there trailing after outlaws! Of all
the stupid things that your father…” Lucas.
“Mr. McCain!” Mrs. Cambridge boldly interrupted. “In your eye’s
he’s a boy. But right now… He’s trying to be a man. It’s his
time to grow up. I’m sure the girl’s father would not have let
your boy go had he felt he couldn’t handle himself.”
“He’s… just a boy,” Lucas stated.
“Your boy he’ll always be. I do understand your concern as a
parent. I thought my two boys were too young to fight back in
the war. But the army… they thought otherwise. They both came
back to me…there were good men looking out for them…just like
there’s good men looking out for your boy. Mr. McCain, today… my
oldest is a marshal in Abilene, Texas and the other is a Texas
Ranger in Austin.”
“It’s just…” Lucas tried to explain.
“I know how you feel, Lucas. My husband is with them, too,”
Vicki said as she tried to stop the tears from welling in her
eyes. She handed Lucas a glass of water, laced with Laudanum.
It was the afternoon of their third day out when the small posse
came upon the canyon the army detail was expected to travel
“Seems stupid for the army to send a payroll through a canyon,
only asking for trouble… If ya ask me,” stated the Sheriff.
No one replied.
“Mark.” Simon called. “I want you to take your Pa’s rifle and
hit the high road. You’ll have a great vantage point over
anything that happens down here.”
“We’ll give you an hour to make your way up there and along the
rim. Find a vantage point that you can look down over both
directions. If those outlaws show up, it’ll be up to you and
that rifle to keep them penned down until we can get close to
them and take them into custody.”
“You want me out of danger,” Mark said with a hint of anger in
“Mark, you’ll be out of immediate danger, but there’s always a
chance that you could encounter danger just by being here. And
yes, like your father, I’ll do anything to keep you from harm,
but… We do need someone up on the rim, someone who can provide
cover for us, should those outlaws already have their trap set.”
Simon gave a firm squeeze with his hand upon Mark’s shoulder.
“I gave you my word and I intend to keep it, sir.”
“Good man,” Battle stated as he turned his attention to the
others and made preparations to continue on.
Mark turned the horse he was riding and backtracked until he
found a location where he could maneuver his horse along the
wall to the top of the canyon. Carefully picking his way along
the top, he passed the small posse and continued to press ahead.
He found a good vantage point and dismounted. He watched towards
both ends of the canyon, as far as he could see. The hour was up
when the posse finally came into his sight. Mark watched them
slowly ride. Each had their rifle at the ready. As they passed
Mark’s position, he quietly got up, walked away from the edge,
and mounted his horse and rode to find the next vantage point.
It was his third stop when he thought he saw the sun reflect off
something metal. Mark dropped to his belly and crawled to the
edge. Again, he saw the sun reflected. He looked down to the
direction the posse would be traveling and realized they hadn’t
seen what he had. Mark continued to look around and saw a dust
cloud coming from the other direction, ‘The payroll detail,’
Mark said out loud to himself.
Mark diligently scanned his eyes back and forth in an attempt to
find the reflection; and was finally able to see where two of
the outlaws had positioned themselves on the opposite wall of
the canyon. Looking down below, Mark had hoped to find the
others on his side of the canyon, but to no avail. Within a few
more moments, he spotted two more outlaws were down on the
canyon floor, hiding behind boulders on the opposite side. As he
watched, he realized they were intent on the payroll and not
paying any attention to anyone coming from the opposite
direction. Not one of them noticed that the posse was coming up
behind them; Mark readied his Pa’s rifle knowing that as soon as
he fired the outlaws would know they were not alone.
‘Just wait. Don’t give away your position. Breathe in and slowly
breathe out. Wait for your target. Don’t force the shot. Wait.’
Mark heard his Pa’s words in his head. He remembered when his Pa
was teaching him how to hunt for the first time, using his own
rifle. ‘Choose your shot, plan your shot, make each bullet
The payroll detail was closer to the outlaws than the posse.
Mark watched as the outlaws organized themselves. They too were
waiting for the right time.
“Lord, please let me do proud by my Pa. Let me be ready to grow
up,” Mark whispered as he realized he would have to be the first
Mark watched and waited. The outlaws were ready to spring their
trap. Mark saw them shoulder their rifles and before they could
pull the triggers, Mark fired his first shot at them.
The two on the opposite wall dove for cover as splintered rocks
rained down on them. The two down below, looked up over their
shoulders trying to figure out who had fired the shot early; not
realizing they were under siege. After the first shot, Mark kept
a slow and steady rhythm of shots; enough to keep the outlaws’
The posse, hearing the rifle shots, spurred their horses
forward. As the arrived, they jumped from their horses, scanned
the scene and determined where the shots were coming from and
the direction they were being fired.
Captain McClary and Lieutenant Jamison made their way along a
line of boulders until they were right behind the outlaws. The
outlaws were so focused on the shots from above that they were
oblivious to anyone else in the canyon.
Joshua and Parker stepped from around the boulders, guns drawn,
and pointed at the outlaws. The outlaws dropped their guns,
realizing they had no recourse.
Mark smiled as he watched the surrender down below. He turned
his attention back to the two across from him and realized they
were on the move. Mark chose his targets again; aiming true in
striking just in front of the outlaws, forcing them back to
The outlaws realized the futility of trying to get away and
dropped their rifles, and stood with their arms raised in
Simon and the Sheriff were making their way up the wall and soon
had the final two in custody.
The payroll detail at first had halted their horses, not sure
what was happening, only knowing they heard gunfire, but no
bullets were coming their way and then the gun fire stopped. The
officer in charge of the detail ordered a charge. “Race those
horses through to the end, and don’t stop!” They whipped their
horses into a gallop and headed straight towards the outlaws and
As they arrived at the scene, they were quite surprised to find
the route was safe and that the cavalry and law were already
there. The detail reined in their horses, allowing introductions
to be made, and Parker explained what had happened.
The soldiers were tying the outlaws to the back of the wagon for
the trip back to Central City when Parker realized that one of
men was not the fourth outlaw from the hold up.
“Where’s the fourth man that was with you when you robbed the
stage?” Parker demanded, grabbing the front of one of the men’s
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” the man answered in response.
“Mark!” Simon yelled and ran towards the wall. “Mark!”
After seeing the four outlaws in custody, Mark exhaled the
breath he didn’t realize he had been holding, crawled from the
edge, and walked back to his horse. He put his Pa’s rifle in the
scabbard and mounted the horse when off to his left he heard the
unmistakable cocking of a rifle.
Mark looked around and saw a man approaching him, rifle pointed
right at him; it was the outlaw leader who had shot his Pa. Mark
quickly looked around to see how he could get out of this
“Well, if it isn’t the boy from the stage,” the outlaw stated as
he walked towards Mark. “So… how’s your Pa doing little one?”
The outlaw emphasized the word little.
Mark didn’t answer. He kept playing thinking, trying his plan
out over in his head, wondering could he really do it. Could he
really save himself?
“Get down from there… little boy,” the outlaw ordered with a
laugh. “So the little boy is too scared to move without his Pa
pushing him out of the way.” He laughed again and lowered the
rifle. From his lips he pulled down the cigarette with his left
“I’m not a little boy!” Mark replied. Knowing it was now or
never, he leaned backwards in the saddle, kicking his feet from
the stirrups, his arm reaching for his Pa’s rifle, his fingers
clinched around the stock; he purposely fell from the saddle,
hit the ground, and rolled to his stomach. Without conscious
thought, he pulled the trigger, striking the outlaw in the arm
forcing him to drop the rifle.
The outlaw started cussing up a storm, unbelieving that a
“wet-nosed whelp” pulled off such a feat!
Mark slowly rose to his feet, stepped from behind his horse;
rifle still pointed at the outlaw. “Slowly pull your handgun
from your holster and drop it.”
“And if I don’t?”
Mark let the rifle speak for him. He cocked the lever and butted
it into his shoulder, his eye looking straight down the barrel,
finger on the trigger.
“Your choice,” Mark coldly voiced, pleased he could suppress the
tremble he felt.
Mark kept his Pa’s rifle aimed at the leader as the man used his
thumb and forefinger to pull the weapon from where it hung
against his leg and dropped it to the ground. Keeping his stand,
Mark made a motion with the rifle indicating he wanted the man
Relief flooded through Mark as he watched the man to walk down
the path to the bottom of the canyon below to join the others.
Eventually, Simon Battle took the leader into custody.
Mark heard his name being called from the canyon below, but he
couldn’t answer. To Mark, time seemed to stand still as
everything around him quieted down, even the wind stopped making
a noise as it wound its way across the land.
Mark sank to his knees. He looked at his Pa’s rifle in his
trembling hands. Remembered all the times his Pa had had to use
it to defend his family, his friends, his town, and even
strangers. Marveling at the strength it took to use the rifle on
another human being; as well as the strength it took know when
not to use the weapon. Mark allowed himself to finally
understand everything his Pa had tried to teach him.
Understanding why his Pa hesitated for so many years before
finally agreeing to purchase Mark his own rifle.
Yet, Mark was also grieving for the loss of his innocence. He
truly knew that he was no longer a boy. Through this experience,
he had become a man without his father present to witness. But,
had it not been for everything his father had taught him, what
kind of a man would he be? He had held a rifle on a man, looked
him square in the eye, and pulled the trigger having made the
conscious decision not to take a life. He was strong enough to
know that, when it come to it, he could pull the trigger. He had
faced his own fears. Knowing he would, eventually, become the
whole man his father was raising him to be. He also realized
there was nothing he could have done that day to protect his
father. Had Mark not been present, Doc Battle was right; the
outlaws might well have killed everyone on the stage.
Mark shamelessly cried.
Breathing heavily, Simon reached the top of the canyon to see
Mark on his knees, rifle in hand, crying. Approaching, he looked
the boy over carefully, but didn’t see any sign of injury.
“Mark?” Simon said as he walked closer. “Are you okay? Are you
Wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt, Mark answered, “No
sir. I’m okay…” With a few moments pause, Mark continued, “You
were right Doctor Battle. I needed to prove to myself that I
could grow up, but the only way I could do that, was to realize
that my Pa was doing what he had to and it wasn’t because I was
a little boy. It was because I was his son. Whether I was six,
sixteen, or sixty, he would still have pushed me out of the
“Mark, it takes a man to realize that. A little boy would still
be mad that his Pa pushed him out of the way. If you want, we
can wait until you’re up to taking your prisoners back to
“My prisoners?” Mark asked quickly.
“Well, you were the one who cornered them.”
“But if it hadn’t been for you and the others…”
“Mark as far as I’m concerned you did it. But I’ll let you call
it a group effort.” A smile graced Doc Battle’s face as he
watched the young man in front of him.
Mark stood to his feet as Simon said, “Come on, let’s get you
back to your Pa. I’m sure by now he’s causing Vicki all sorts of
“I’m sure he is, sir.”
As the group left the canyon, they came to a hidden cave, where
the outlaws’ horses were tethered. The outlaws complied as they
were put on their horses, hands tied to the saddle horns.
The sky had lost most of its color when days later the group
neared Central. Word spread throughout the town when riders came
in declaring the posse’s return on the horizon.
The five outlaws grumbled as the jail cell door was
unceremoniously closed behind them and the Sheriff sat down to
write out his report.
“I want everyone of you to write out what happened today,” the
sheriff declared as the group turned to leave.
Previously, Vicki had given in to Lucas and allowed him to use
crutches to get around; and he continued to pace the front
porch, the parlor, anywhere he could walk.
Parker, Joshua, and Simon accompanied Mark back to the boarding
house. Lucas was standing on the porch and watched as the group
approach the small patch of light illuminated by the lanterns on
the porch. Mark walked tall and straight, Simon Battle’s arm
around his shoulders. Proudly he carried his Pa’s rifle, yet he
felt apprehensive. When he saw his Pa at the far end of the
porch, he stop dead in his tracks; the fears he felt before
leaving slammed down upon him.
Using the crutches, Lucas took a small step forward, towards his
son, and spoke one word, “Mark.”
Without hesitation, Mark was in a full out run, a smile on his
face. Mark slowed to a walk to climb the porch steps to reach
his father. He held the rifle out to return it to its rightful
Seeing his pa staring at the right, Mark stated, “Pa? I brought
it back to you.”
“It’s not the rifle I was worried about. Come here. I’m so glad
Lucas didn’t take the rifle; he just pulled his boy into his
grasp and wrapped his arms around him. Mark enjoyed the
sensation of being enveloped in his Pa’s strong arms on many
occasions; this time he relished hearing his Pa’s beating heart.
“Guess I’ll never get to old to enjoy this,” Mark said quietly.
The rest of the group arrived and stopped a few feet away.
Lucas turned towards them, “Simon, thank you for bringing my boy
“Lucas, I’m afraid I didn’t bring your boy back to you. He might
have left here a boy, but I brought back a young man. He did a
lot of growing up out there and the realizations he made could
only have been made and understood by a young man.”
Vicki came running out the door and jumped into Joshua’s arms
almost knocking him off his feet. At hearing Simon Battle’s
laugh she said, “Oh Daddy, I’m glad you’re back too.” She
blushed as her husband chided her for behaving like a little
“Well, I’ll always be my Daddy’s little girl, Joshua,” Vicki
Soon Mrs. Cambridge was on the porch, admonishing every one of
them for acting like children. They needed to come in out of the
chill of the evening, less they all take colds.
The group sat around the parlor talking of the events that had
transpired over the past few days and what would probably happen
to the outlaws. Mark let the men do most of the talking, he was
happy just to be sitting next to his Pa.
Later, Mark woke to find he was alone in the parlor, lying on
the settee with a blanket over him. He sat up, pulled the
blanket around his shoulders, and stared into the flames in the
Quietly, off to his side, he heard his name called, “Mark?”
“Pa?” Mark answered as he turned in the direction the voice
Lucas stood up with the help of the crutches and hobbled over to
the settee, next to his son.
“I think we need to talk, son.”
“Yes sir, but I’m sorry to use your own words against you Pa,
but do you ‘think’ or do you ‘know’?” Mark said with a slight
grin on his face.
“We need to talk, man to man,” Lucas smiled right back at Mark.
Lucas stood a few moments to observe his son’s features as the
warm glow from the fire gently bathed his face. Carefully, Lucas
lowered himself the sit.
“Mark, I want you to know how upset I was to learn that you went
with the posse to track down those outlaws.”
“I knew you would be, Pa.”
“Why’d you do it? Why did you feel you had to go with them?”
“”Because I felt I needed to prove myself,” answered Mark.
“You don’t have to prove yourself to me.”
“It wasn’t you, Pa. It was me… I had to prove myself to me. That
I could be the man you’ve tried to raise me to be. Doc Battle
talked with me, our first night out. That was when I realized,
really realized why.”
“After you fell asleep and the others went to their rooms, Simon
and I had a long talk… He’s right you know.”
“You might have left here a boy, but you did come back a young
man. Son, you’ve been a young man for quite a while, but I was
too blind to realize just how much of a man you were becoming.
See… a father always wants their children to… well… remain
“Pa, I know this is part of my growing up time and that you were
only protecting me… because I am your son. Regardless of how old
I am, that’s your job. I was just scared that I wasn’t going to
grow up to be the man you thought I should be, and that’s why
you pushed me out of the way.”
“Simon told me of your talk after you captured those outlaws, as
well as the one your first night out. Mark, I’m sorry I wasn’t
there to help you through this,” Lucas acknowledged with sorrow
in his voice.
“But Pa, you were there! Everything you’ve taught me and
everything you instilled in me, it was all there with me. I
heard your voice… each and every step… while I was out there. If
you hadn’t been with me, I’m not sure I would have done the
right kind of growing up out there.”
From the hallway they heard Simon Battle say, as he entered the
parlor, “Lucas, I told you he did a might bit of growing up. You
have every right to be proud of him.”
“So he keeps reminding me… all the time,” Lucas replied with a
huge smile on his face.
The next day’s stage saw Captain Joshua McClary and his wife
Vicki, and Lieutenant Parker Jamison leave Central City to head
on to Fort Davis, Texas. Simon said he wanted Lucas to wait a
few more days before traveling and that he would accompany Mark
and Lucas back to North Fork, before meeting up with the others
Two former adversaries, and one’s son, ate dinner at the
restaurant in town that night. The Sheriff joined them shortly
before their waitress brought dessert.
“Mark, I received a wire a little while ago,” the Sheriff said
as he sat down and accepted a cup of coffee from their waitress.
He handed the slip of paper he pulled out of his pocket to Mark.
“Well?” Lucas asked as he watched Mark’s eyes scan the wire.
“Oh, it reads: Dear Mr. Mark McCain,
Your involvement in capturing the outlaws responsible for the
attack on our stage, theft of government mail, and the assault
on one of our passengers has come to our attention. We have
arranged for a special stage run to return you and your father
home. We have also wired to the bank in your home town of North
Fork, New Mexico a reward made payable to you in the amount of
$2,000. Please accept this as a small token of our appreciation
for what you have done.
Wells, Fargo & Company”
Mark whistled as he read the last of the wire. “Pa, a reward?
But… I didn’t do it for a reward. I did it because it was
something I had to do. You were the passenger who was attacked…
I can’t accept the reward…”
“Mark,” Lucas replied. “We’ll sort it all out once we get home.
I’m sure John Hamilton will know what to do. He’s probably
already placed the funds into your account at the bank.”
Lucas, Mark, and Simon stood outside the stage station doorway
as the special stage arrived. As another sign of his maturity,
Mark insisted that his father boarded first before handing their
rifles to him. Next, he allowed Doc Battle to enter the stage.
Mark climbed in and sat down next to his Pa.
The three travelers settled back as their journey continued.
The stage came to a stop in front of the Mallory House Hotel and
to the surprise of those inside, a crowd of well-wishers
promptly surrounded the vehicle. Seems most everyone in town was
there to greet them. After congratulations and welcomes died
down, Lucas, Mark and Simon headed to Doc Burrage’s clinic.
Doc examined Lucas’ wounds, afterwards complaining, “Don’t see
why you stopped in here to bother me. Traveling with your own
private doctor,” Doc grumbled with a grin on his face.
“Professional courtesy, he is a resident of your town,” Simon
stated in response, raising an eyebrow in amusement.
As they exited Doc’s, Simon stated, “Well, I’ve got to go, the
driver mentioned that he was to take me the rest of the way to
Fort Davis, to meet up with Vicki and Joshua. Mark, you take
care of your Pa. You hear!”
“Yes sir,” Mark replied as they watched Simon return to the
As father and son made their way to the hotel restaurant; banker
John Hamilton, Marshal Micah Torrance, and Deputy Johnny Drako
“Well young man, just what are you planning to do with your
reward money? That’s an awful lot of money, but it’s safe in the
bank,” John Hamilton stated.
“Mr. Hamilton, I was thinking about that on the way home. Before
we left Central, I told Pa that I didn’t think I could accept
it. I didn’t do it for the money.”
“Mark, it’s your money, free and clear,” John stated. “I’ve wire
several inquiries to Wells Fargo.”
“Then I could give it away if I wanted?” Mark asked looking to
“Who would you give it to?” Drako curiously asked.
“I was thinking maybe we could send some of the money to Samuel
Mason, to help his family take care of Tommy. And…
“And?” queried Micah.
“Well… North Fork is growing and… maybe we could use some of the
money to expand the church and the school?”
“Mark, that’s mighty grown up of you. Are you sure you wouldn’t
like to keep some of the reward money for yourself?” Micah
“The best reward I could ever receive is the love of my Pa and
seeing the pride in his eyes because of something I’ve done.
That’s all the reward I’ll ever need Micah.”
“Mark, if that’s what you want. I’ll make arrangements to wire
some of the money to San Carlos for Tommy, you just decide how
much and I’ll take care of it,” John said.
After hearing Mark recount what had transpired while he was with
the posse, Drako stated, “Mark, seems to me you’d make one fine
lawman. You kept your wits about you.”
“Well, I did do some growing up and I’m not a little boy any
more, but I’m not full grown yet. I still have to finish my
education. I think I’ll leave the law to you and Micah, for the
time being. Right now, my Pa needs me more than you two do.
Besides, we’re partners at the ranch.”
Lucas smiled as he swallowed his coffee. ‘Could a man’s heart
burst from pride? Pride in how much his son was growing up and
surpassing a father’s expectation?’
The following morning, Mark and Lucas returned home. Nils had
previously brought their buckboard and team to town, know Lucas
wouldn’t be able to ride Razor.
Once North Fork was out of sight, Mark asked, “Pa, have you
forgiven Doc Burrage?”
“Yes, sir,” Mark stated as he jingled the reins in his hands.
“For taking me along on the posse?”
“In a way I have. I’m still upset that you went, but I’m
thankful everything turned out as it did.”
“Did he tell you why?”
“Both of you said you needed to prove yourself.”
“That wasn’t all, Pa.” Mark pulled back the reins to stop the
team. “He told me…”
“What did he tell you?” Lucas inquired.
“He said he wished all those years ago he had someone else to
help him, and maybe, if there had been someone…”
“He said if he had had someone to help guide him, maybe he
wouldn’t have become a ‘cold-blooded bastard’ of a bounty
hunter. I did want justice, you know.”
“I know son.”
“Doc Battle made me see things differently. Pa, what do you
think happened that turned him into a bounty hunter?”
“I don’t know son. I don’t know.”
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch