The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
This story takes place after The Rifleman’s five-year television
I was always disappointed with the two episodes aired with Mark
having a ‘potential’ girlfriend. The first episode was A Young
Man’s Fancy where Mark was portrayed as a 13-year old
love-struck teenager when Miss Milly’s 16-year old niece, Sally,
came to town. The second episode was Old Tony, the very last
episode. In that episode, the girl Mark was riding and hunting
arrowheads with ended up getting herself stuck in quicksand, and
ultimately, Mark got stuck too. Neither episode was what I would
have in mind for Mark’s first girlfriend.
Characters, other than those recognized as cast members of The
Rifleman, are from my own overly active imagination, as is the
Lucas and Mark McCain entered the Mallory House Hotel, their
bodies briefly shivering as the warmth of the lobby penetrated
through their heavy coats. Closing the double doors from the
street into the hotel behind them, they stepped into the
restaurant where hotel owner, Lou Mallory, met them at the
entrance, “Evening Cowboy, Mark,” Lou offered as she led them to
a table inside.
“Evening Miss Lou,” Mark answered.
“Evening Lou,” Lucas replied as he and his son took off their
heavy gloves and jackets before sitting down at the table.
“Care for a cup of coffee and hot chocolate?” looking to Lucas
first and then to Mark, she asked.
“Yes please,” they answered together, as each one rubbed
together their hands to encourage them warm up. Lucas removed
his hat before reaching over to remove his son’s hat and placing
both on the opposite side of the table.
“Kind of quiet in here tonight?” Lucas asked and smiled
pleasantly at the redhead.
“First real cold snap of the season and most people stayed home
in front of their fireplaces. Hotel is even empty tonight. I’ll
be right back to take yer order,” Lou’s Irish accent lilted as
she quietly answered before turning and walking away. Lou
shortly returned carrying two cups on saucers, steam rising from
the hot beverages inside.
“Well McCains, what can I get ye?” she asked, happy to have
customers, especially this set of customers, enter her
“Mark’s choice tonight; whatever he’d like to order since it’s
his day,” Lucas answered.
Lou observed a different gleam in Lucas’ eyes and saw a slight
embarrassment in Mark’s face towards his father’s words.
“His day?” Lou inquired.
“Well, it’s not every day that my only son turns sixteen.”
“Mark, Happy Birthday! If I’d of known, I’d of planned a big
party for ye.” Lou being Lou, was a little upset in finding out
about Mark’s birthday so late in the day. For as long as she’d
been in North Fork, she’d never witnessed Lucas nor Mark
celebrate either of their birthdays.
“That’s okay Lou. Pa and I’ve always quietly celebrated my day
and not made that big of a deal about it,” Mark answered her
quietly. The look in Lucas’ eyes asked Lou to respect Mark’s
“Well, order whatever ye like, it’s on the house, both of yer
meals.” Lou took their order and before she returned to the
kitchen, she said, “While I’m in back, I’m going to make
notation on my calendar that December tenth is Mark McCain’s
birthday. You won’t catch me unaware next year.”
After Lou left, Lucas spoke to Mark, “I’m sorry Mark. I am proud
of you and like I said, it’s not every day that my only boy
turns sixteen. So please, allow me some leeway and let me share
a little bit of fatherly pride. I think you’ll survive.”
As they waited for their meal, a small family walked into the
restaurant. Lucas nodded to them as they looked around.
“Folks go ahead and have a seat, Lou will be back shortly,”
As the family was removing their coats, Lou re-entered the
“Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Dawson, AnnaLee, how nice to see ye this
evening. Have ye met the McCains? – No – Come on, I’ll introduce
ye.” Lou barely gave anyone time to answer before she was set on
Lou escorted the family over to the table where Lucas and Mark
sat. As they approached, Lucas and Mark stood.
“Lucas, Mark McCain, I’d like ye to meet Andrew and MaryBeth
Dawson and their daughter AnnaLee, she’s fifteen.” Lou’s eyes
sparkled as she introduced the girl to Mark. “They just moved to
North Fork from Chicago, Illinois.”
Mark noticed how quiet and shy AnnaLee appeared to be. He also
noticed how her dark hair, framed the light complexion of her
face, before it fell down her back to her shoulder blades. Her
big blue eyes didn’t shine as he had expected, it was as if she
held something in reserve.
After pleasantries were exchanged, the family went to sit at
their own table and placed their order for dinner.
After Mark and Lucas had finished their meals, Lou brought in a
small piece of chocolate cake with a single candle on it. “Mark,
I hope all yer wishes and dreams come true,” Lou wished and
placed a small kiss on Mark’s cheek and left.
“Well my little calf or should I call you a bull by now? I did
get you a small gift for today,” Lucas stated.
Lucas pulled out a plainly wrapped package from the inside
pocket of his coat that hung on the back of his chair and handed
it to Mark. As he watched Mark take his present, he remembered
back to the last birthday that Mark celebrated before Margaret
had passed. He remembered, Margaret calling Mark a kitten,
before Lucas decided, instead, he was more like a bull calf.
“Pa, you shouldn’t have,” Mark replied looking at his father,
before looking at the package in his hands.
“Go on,” encouraged Lucas.
Mark carefully removed the wrapping paper around the gift to
find inside a book, “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens.
Mark’s eyes widened as he realized the gift was a book he had
desperately wanted to finish reading. “Pa, how’d you know?”
“Mr. Bullock told me a few months ago that you had the chance to
read the start of the book, but never had the time to come back
and finish reading it. He was quite pleased to be able to have a
small part in celebrating your birthday. He helped me order the
copy you have in your hands.”
Mark leaned over and gave his father a big hug. Shortly, they
rose to leave the restaurant. As they passed the Dawsons they
said good night and tipped their hats.
As they stepped outside Mark stated, “Gee almost wish we didn’t
have to ride home.”
Father and son turned up their collars to the cold wind blowing
along the street.
“Why don’t we just spend the night in town, son. Let’s ask Nils
to stable Razor and BlueBoy, we’ll head home in the morning.”
Father and son walked their horses to the livery and returned to
the hotel. Lou met them on their way back in.
“Lou, how about giving us a room for the night? My boy here
doesn’t feel like riding all the way home in the cold out
“As well he shouldn’t on his birthday. How about room ten. It
has two beds in it. I think at sixteen Mark’s a little too old
to be sharing a bed with his Pa.” Lou had a ‘devilish’ gleam in
her eyes as she spoke.
Mark McCain woke before his pa the next morning. He headed
downstairs, putting on his coat and gloves before he walked out
the front door.
Seeing Lou behind the counter, Mark called, “Lou, tell Pa that I
went to the livery to see if I could help Nils out this morning.
I’ll be back shortly.”
Mark walked out the front of the hotel and turned his collar up
to the morning breeze. The sun made the day appear warmer than
it really was.
Having helped Nils pick out the stalls and feed their horses at
the livery, Mark was returning to the hotel when he encountered
AnnaLee coming out of the General Store with her mother, both
having several packages in their arms.
Mark smiled and tipped his hat and stammered out, “G-Good
Morning Mrs. Dawson, AnnaLee.”
“Good Morning Mark,” Mrs. Dawson replied.
AnnaLee just smiled in return.
“May I help carry those for you?” Mark asked.
“So polite, we’d be pleased to accept your hospitality Mark.”
Mrs. Dawson handed her packages to Mark. As they walked along,
Mrs. Dawson opened up the conversation, “Mark, do you go to
school or does your father have you working?”
“He sees to it that I go to school. He knows the value of a good
education. Though when I was younger, it was somewhat of a
hassle to get me understand. What I wouldn’t try to do in order
to get out of going to school.” Mark heard a small giggle from
AnnaLee. Then, he thought to himself, ‘Why did I have to go and
say something like that?’
“We have AnnaLee enrolled and she’ll start school on Monday. Do
you like your teacher Mark?”
“Oh yes Ma’am. Mr. Griswald is a good teacher. He has me working
through some advanced studies and helping out with the younger
students at school.” Again Mark thought to himself, ‘Why am I
telling them so much?’
As they stopped at the front door to the Dawson’s home, Mrs.
Dawson invited Mark inside.
“Thank you all the same Ma’am, but I’m sure by now my Pa’s
looking for me so we can head back to the ranch.”
“You don’t live here in town?” AnnaLee asked. It was the first
time Mark had heard her voice and to him, it sounded like a
“No, we have a cattle ranch a few miles outside of town. It’s
not as big as some of the other spreads around, but we call it
home.” Mark tipped his hat as he turned to walk away.
As Mark returned to the hotel he found himself whistling, before
he pushed his gloved hands into the pockets of his jacket. He
was happy. In his mood, the cold breeze felt warm.
As he passed the livery, he found his father waiting for him,
arms crossed and tapping his foot, holding the reins to both
Razor and BlueBoy. “Boy where’ve you been off too? Lou said
you’d be here.”
“Well I was heading back to the hotel and I met up with Mrs.
Dawson and…, well I helped carry their packages home.”
“Oh!” Lucas could only smile as he saw the look on Mark’s face.
“Okay, let’s get going home. We have plenty of Saturday morning
chores to do once we get home. Have to make up some time for
staying in town last night.”
Lucas and Mark mounted their horses and rode back home. As they
rode, Lucas occasionally looked to his son and couldn’t repress
the smile on his face as he witnessed the smile his boy wore.
When Mark arrived at school Monday morning, AnnaLee was already
in the schoolhouse, sitting at desk that was just behind the
seat that Mark always sat in. Mark took his seat as Mr. Griswald
called the class to order.
Mr. Griswald introduced the new student to the class and
explained that during the next few days he would be evaluating
her level of education compared to the rest of the students.
Morning lessons consisted of reviewing the children’s homework
assignments from Friday and before proceeding to American
History. Soon it was time for recess. Mark started to leave the
schoolhouse and play with the boys when he saw that AnnaLee
wasn’t getting up from her seat.
“AnnaLee, you want to come outside?” Mark asked.
“No, I think I’ll just stay inside and read. I need to catch up
on some of the assignments that you’ve already been working
Mark left the schoolhouse and played ball with the boys for a
little while, but his attention drifted back to AnnaLee. As she
sat reading from her lesson book, Mark saw loneliness in her
posture. Mark excused himself from his friends and went back
inside to talk with AnnaLee.
Mr. Griswald watched as Mark tried drawing AnnaLee into
conversation. He’d watched Mark grow up from a mischievous boy
to a young man who was eager to help with the younger student
and now… He smiled to himself and then went back to reading a
“AnnaLee, if you’d like, I can help you get caught up to where
the rest of us are. I know how you must feel being the new
student in school and not sure of yourself. We can work together
afterschool if you’d like?”
“Mark, I’d really like that, but don’t you have work to do at
your ranch after school?”
“Sure I do, but Pa’s always given me a little time to go fishing
with either Freddie or Billy, as long as I’m home by four
o’clock he’s alright.”
“I don’t want to be any trouble, Mark.”
“Oh, you won’t be any trouble. Over lunch I help Mr. Griswald
with the younger students in going over their lessons. Mr.
Griswald really appreciates the help. Tell you what. Why don’t
you help me at lunch today?”
“Really Mark?” It was the first time Mark witnessed the girl’s
eye light up.
“Sure, you’ll do fine.”
Soon class was called in from recess. Studies continued until
lunch. After they had eaten Mark, AnnaLee, and the younger
students sat down by the side of the schoolhouse and started to
work through their grammar lessons. AnnaLee was surprised at how
well Mark worked with the younger children and how they were so
attentive. She found herself drawn into the lesson. At Mark’s
urging, she started working with the two youngest children on
their alphabet. Mr. Griswald was taking his usual lunchtime
stroll and stopped as he realized what Mark had done. He’d taken
AnnaLee’s uncertainties and without her knowing, had convinced
her that she could be a value in helping with the younger
School commenced for the afternoon and soon the day was over. As
the other students left the room, Mark and AnnaLee stayed
behind. Mark worked with AnnaLee until he heard his father’s
voice calling from the doorway.
“Pa, I’m sorry, is it really that late? I must of lost track of
time. I was helping AnnaLee with her studies.”
“That’s okay boy. I had to come into town unexpectedly. Razor
threw a shoe today. So, no you’re not late, just wanted to let
you know I was in town. Finish up and meet me at Nils’.”
The week flew by with AnnaLee and Mark working with the younger
children during lunch and then Mark helping AnnaLee with her own
studies after school. Soon AnnaLee was caught up and not too far
behind Mark’s ratings in schoolwork.
Saturday dawned a beautiful morning. The temperature gave the
hint that it was going to be warmer than it had been recently.
Mark finished his own chores shortly before lunch. As he and
Lucas sat down to eat, Mark asked, “Pa, do you think I could
borrow Razor this afternoon?”
“Borrow Razor? Something wrong with BlueBoy?” Concern was etched
in Lucas’ voice.
“No, nothing’s wrong, it’s just that, well. I wanted to take
AnnaLee out for a ride this afternoon. She’s not ridden before
and I wanted her to ride BlueBoy. You know how surefooted he is.
I thought it best she ride him instead of one of the horses at
“Okay, Mark, we’ll have to do some adjusting to the stirrup
lengths before you head out.” A smiled played at Lucas’ face as
he watched his son.
Mark rode Razor and led BlueBoy to North Fork. He stopped in
front of the Dawson’s house and tied both horses to the hitching
rail in front of the picket fence. He opened the gate and across
the stone steps before stepping to the porch. He removed his hat
before knocking on the door.
Mr. Dawson answered the door and invited Mark inside.
“Good Afternoon Mr. Dawson. Is AnnaLee ready?” Mark asked.
“Sure, she’s upstairs with her Ma for a few minutes. I wanted a
chance to talk with you before you head out,” Mr. Dawson said.
“Sir?” Mark asked.
“Now Mark, you know that AnnaLee’s never been on a horse
“Yes sir, that’s why she’s going to ride my horse. He’s
surefooted and a smooth ride. We won’t do more than walk sir. It
takes time to develop the knack of riding properly.”
“And just how long do you plan on being gone?”
“Oh, no more than two hours sir,” Mark started fidgeting with
“Andrew, now don’t grill the boy. He’s just taking AnnaLee out
for a ride. They’ll be fine,” MaryBeth said as he addressed her
husband while coming into the front room with AnnaLee.
Mark and AnnaLee left the house. Andrew and MaryBeth watch from
the front room window as Mark assisted AnnaLee in getting in the
saddle. Watched as he adjusted the stirrups to fit AnnaLee. Then
Mark climbed into the saddle on his Pa’s horse and they rode
Mark and AnnaLee rode away from North Fork, asking each other
questions and answering. They laughed as they realized how much
they had in common. Finally, AnnaLee asked if they could sit
down for a while.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t of asked you to ride for so long.”
“It’s not that Mark, it’s just that, well…. This is the first
time in a long time that my parents have allowed me to go out
“AnnaLee, there’s something else isn’t there? I see it in your
eyes. I see you wanting to be happy, but something holds you
“Oh Mark, Can we talk? I mean really talk. I need to talk to
someone and I can’t talk to my parents. Please Mark?” AnnaLee
was almost in tears.
“Sure, we can talk. But I don’t understand why you say you can’t
talk with your parents. They seem like nice folks. My Pa and I,
we talk all the time.”
“Mark you don’t understand, but I think you will. See before
coming to North Fork, we lived in Chicago.”
“I remember Lou, Miss Mallory, telling us when we first met you
at the restaurant,” Mark interrupted.
“Well… Ma and Pa kept taking me to lots of doctors all the time.
Since I was twelve, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t going
to a doctor. The last time, they ran some kind of special tests
on me. Doc said I was going to be fine. But later that night, I
overheard Ma and Pa talking.” AnnaLee started crying, she turned
to Mark and he held her in his arms until she was ready to
“Mark, I overheard my parents say I was going to die, that there
was something wrong with my blood that had made me sick all
these years and there was nothing the doctors could do about
Mark continued to hold AnnaLee in his arms.
“My parents brought me out west in hopes that the warmer and
drier climate might help me feel better. But it’s not a cure.”
“AnnaLee, I’m so sorry. You don’t look sick,” was all that Mark
“I don’t feel sick right now. But my parents say it could flair
back up at any time and I can get really sick. Mark, I’m scared.
I don’t want my parents to know that I know, but I just had to
tell someone... Will you keep my secret?”
“Sure I will. AnnaLee, there’ve been some tough times in my
life, especially after my Ma died. I know I didn’t help my
father any when I kept pleading for him to take me back home to
Oklahoma and to my Ma, I was only six at the time. But Pa’s
always turned to the bible for answers. Every time we’ve faced
an obstacle in our lives, we’ve turned to the bible. Even when
times are good, we believe and live by the Good Book. Do you
“We used to go to church all the time back home, but we haven’t
been to regular services since I got sick, and never since we
“AnnaLee, why don’t Pa and I pick you and your family up
tomorrow morning? I think its time you meet the Reverend and
Mrs. McCafferty. They’re real nice people.”
“Oh, Mark, could you?”
Mark realized that it was getting close to the time he had
promised to have AnnaLee back home. He helped her mount BlueBoy
and again they rode. By the time they returned to the Dawson’s,
AnnaLee had dried her tears and showed no signs of having cried.
Lucas and Mark did meet the Dawson’s and walked with them to
church services Sunday morning. Afterwards, they introduced them
to the Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty and their children Jake and
The three families headed to the Mallory House Hotel for an
after church services lunch.
After everyone had their fill, Mark and AnnaLee excused
themselves and went outside. Jake and Sarah asked their Ma if
they could go with Mark, “I think you should stay here with us.
Let Mark and AnnaLee have some time together.”
Through the window Lucas watched as the two sat down on the
bench in front of the hotel and started talking.
Finally, it was time to head home for the day. As they rode,
Lucas asked Mark about AnnaLee and how she was settling into
school and life in North Fork.
“Pa, she’s doing real well. I helped her catch up in her studies
and now her grades are almost as good as mine. I even have her
helping me with the younger students. Mr. Griswald sure seemed
“Pa, do you mind if I spend more time over at the Dawson’s? I
mean I’ll make sure my chores are done first.”
“And what do you plan on doing while you’re there?” Lucas
“Well AnnaLee and I had planned to do some studying and just
reading to each other. I showed her my birthday present you gave
me and she was delighted to see a copy. So we’ve just been
reading from it to each other, once we finish our studies at
school. Anyway, it doesn’t seem right to keep Mr. Griswald at
school just to keep and eye on us.”
“Alright Mark, you just make sure you keep up on your chores at
“Thanks Pa!” Mark kicked BlueBoy into a lope and headed home.
Mark spent Monday after school at the Dawson’s. Before he left,
MaryBeth had given him a note for his Pa.
When Mark arrived home, he handed the note to his Pa and then
headed out to do his chores, but stopped as he heard the tone in
his father’s voice.
“A note? It’s been a long time since you’ve come home with a
note boy.” There was a look of disapproval on Lucas’ face.
“Pa, it’s not from Mr. Griswald, it’s from AnnaLee’s Ma, Mrs.
Dawson,” Mark laughingly replied.
Lucas opened the envelope, pulled out the note and read:
We want to thank you and Mark for everything you’ve done for us
since our arrival in North Fork. Please accept our invitation to
a Christmas Eve dinner at our house. We would be honored to have
you as our guests.
MaryBeth and Andrew
“Pa, what does it say?” Mark asked.
“Seems like we’re invited to Christmas Eve dinner at the
“Are we going?” Mark asked with eager anticipation in his eyes.
“Yes boy, we’ll go. Just need to make sure we get you a haircut
before hand.” Lucas stated as he ran his hand through his son’s
hair to see just how long it had gotten.
Mrs. Dawson out did herself over dinner. She’d cooked a
wonderful goose, with yams, dressing, fresh baked rolls, and for
desert, she’d baked an elegant apple cobbler with lattice work
crust across the top. After dinner was over, the adults headed
to the living room to enjoy their coffee and talk. AnnaLee and
Mark stayed in the dining room and started to clear the table
and wash/dry the dishes in the kitchen. Once they were done,
Mark pulled out a small package from his shirt pocket.
“AnnaLee, I got this for you. Merry Christmas,” Mark quietly
AnnaLee took the package from Mark and opened it. Inside was a
silver chain necklace and the pendant was a delicate silver
“Mark, it’s beautiful. Thank you,” AnnaLee squealed. “Oh, here,
please help me put it on.” She turned her back to Mark and
lifted her long, dark hair. Mark fumbled a little bit with the
latch, but soon the necklace was hanging around AnnaLee’s neck.
She turned around with a smile beaming from her face.
Soon it was time for Lucas and Mark to head home.
Christmas morning dawned bright as Lucas and Mark did their
chores around the ranch. They worked together to clean the
stalls and feed the horses. They collected any eggs and put them
in the cool room until they went to town the next day.
They went back into the house to read from the Good Book and
reflect on their blessings during this past year.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s saw Mark and AnnaLee
together, a lot. They were either studying or reading or just
out riding, enjoying each other’s company.
Mr. and Mrs. Dawson watched as their daughter blossomed into a
confident young woman. It had been months since she’d shown any
signs of her illness. She was enjoying life.
Mark had asked AnnaLee to accompany him to the New Year’s Eve
Dance being held out at Oat Jackford’s place, with her parent’s
permission of course.
“Sure Mark, you can take AnnaLee to the dance. In fact, I was
thinking of asking my wife to accompany me. It’s been too long
since we’ve enjoyed ourselves at a dance. Will your Pa be coming
“As President of the Town Council, he has too.” Mark laughed as
It was a grand evening out at Oat’s place. Mr. and Mrs. Dawson
enjoyed themselves immensely. Lucas and Marshal Micah Torrance
stood watch over the punch bowl, making sure no one spiked it
for the night.
Lucas smiled as he watched Mark and AnnaLee dance every slow
dance that night. When ever the music was too, up tempo, they
would sit in chairs set out around the ranch house. Lucas saw
the look in his boy’s and the girl’s eyes. It reminded him of
Margaret’s eyes from so long ago.
Micah brought Lucas back to the present when he said, “LucasBoy,
you’re supposed to be keeping an eye on the punch bowl. How can
you do that when you’re standing there daydreaming? Seems you’re
worse than Mark.” Micah was laughing.
Soon the colder temperatures of winter gave way to the renewal
of the land as spring arrived. The grasses out in the pastures
were starting to turn green again. Trees were budding and
flowers were blooming. The cows were calving and the horses were
foaling. The promise of new life was everywhere, not just on the
ranches, but out in the hills and valleys.
Mark and AnnaLee continued their weekend rides out along the
countryside. She’d become a competent enough rider that she
could now trot and lope BlueBoy with ease.
Farmers were finishing planting their spring crops of corn,
green beans, and other vegetables, as well as wheat and barley.
School was finally out for the summer. Mark’s Saturday afternoon
rides with AnnaLee became a daily occurrence. The people of
North Fork smiled as they saw the two riding out together. Each
person thinking back on various memories they had of Mark McCain
growing up. In the beginning such a small boy with sorrow in his
heart, to the mischievous Mark, to a boy trying to please his Pa
and show that he was growing up, to the young man helping out
Mr. Griswald, to helping various ranchers with their herds. As
with any life, some of the memories were tragic. Mark’s growing
up, watching his father protect the town and its people time and
time again, by putting his life at risk. How many times had
young Mark been forced to deal with the aftermath of Lucas being
shot? Yet with all that Mark had experienced, he was growing to
be a fine young man.
One evening shortly before the Summer Social, Lucas and Mark
were sitting on the porch of their home. Mark asked his Pa,
“When did you know that Ma was the one?”
“Just curious, I know that we’ve talked in the past about the
love you and Ma shared and what it meant for the two of you to
be married, but before that. How did you know that Ma was the
“Well now son, I don’t rightly know. If I remember correctly, I
fancied your Ma, but felt I didn’t deserve to have such a woman
as her. I’d lived a rough life. I’d served in the war and seen
things that I didn’t want to share with anyone. The more
Margaret talked with me, the more she made me see the good in
myself. Eventually, she changed my mind. She had a gentleness
about her, a way of seeing through a person’s exterior and into
their soul.” Lucas stopped talking as he remembered Margaret,
his beloved Margaret.
Mark knew the look on his Pa’s face and knew he was remembering,
so Mark let his Pa remember in peace, he waited until his Pa’s
thoughts came back to the present.
“Mark, you have a lot of the same qualities as your Ma. I see
her in you every day. I look at you and thank the Good Lord that
a part of her is kept alive through you.”
Lucas paused and took a long look at his son.
“Mark, there’s something more than you just wanting to know
about me and your Ma. Want to talk about it?”
“Pa, I don’t know if what I’m feeling is truly love, but with
AnnaLee, we can talk to each other and sometimes, she’ll finish
what I was saying as if she knew my mind. I remember what you
said, it’s more than just being in love, you have to be there
for each other and listen. You have to be able to talk with each
other and cry with each other. Working together, side by side to
make the marriage last.
“Pa, when they first arrived, AnnaLee was so quiet, she almost
seemed scared, now… Pa she laughs and her eyes sparkle.”
Before Lucas could say anything Mark continued, “Pa, I remember
how I acted when we met Miss Millie’s niece and how infatuated
I’d become with her. But this is different, I’m older. I don’t
feel butterflies; I feel contentment inside when I’m with
This was a different side of Mark McCain and maybe Lucas had
seen it coming at the New Year’s dance, but he felt he wasn’t
ready to deal with his son and dating, not just yet.
“Pa, I’ve asked AnnaLee if she’d go to the Summer Social with
me,” Mark finished saying.
All Lucas could say was, “As if there would be anyone else that
The dance was held right down the middle of North Fork’s main
street. Banners adorned all the buildings and lanterns were hung
to illuminate the night. A band had come all the way from Las
Cruces to provide the evening’s music.
It was a wonderful evening for the people of North Fork. The
women had outdone themselves in baking and cooking for the
event. The men arrived in their Sunday best and the dresses the
women wore spoke volumes, colors and pastels, florals, and
patterns, and simple yet, elegantly plain dresses.
Mark and AnnaLee spent the evening together, whether dancing
slow dances or just strolling along the street of North Fork.
Mark noticed that AnnaLee started to take a chill and appeared
to be tiring, not so surprising, the festivities in town had
been going on since four o’clock and it was now close to ten.
Mark escorted AnnaLee to sit on a bale of hay placed to the side
of the area roped off for dancing. As they sat down, Mark
wrapped his arms around AnnaLee and she leaned into the comfort
of his arms.
They talked. They talked of making plans of going to college
and, maybe have a life together once they were out of school.
“And Mark, just what college would we go to. What would we study
“Oh, Mr. Griswald has talked with me about Harvard and there’s a
whole bunch of Universities back East. As for a field of study,
I think we both love reading and writing and working with
children, why I don’t see why we both can’t be teachers. I won’t
even make you give up teaching once we get married.”
“And just why would I have to give up teaching if I got
married,” AnnaLee asked, a little peeved at the thought. Mark
felt her body stiffen in his arms.
“Well, when I was younger, we had a teacher, Ms. Adams, I really
liked her. She understood me from the beginning. Anyway, she
ended up getting married and had to give up teaching to be with
her husband. Pa said that married women weren’t meant to hold
jobs, they needed to tend to their husbands and families.”
“Don’t you think a wife can do both, tend to their family and
“I think if my wife sets her mind on it, I’ll do everything I
can to see that her dreams come true.”
Mark and AnnaLee didn’t know that her mother was listening to
their entire conversation. But she couldn’t bear to listen to
any more and ran away. MaryBeth found Andrew over in front of
the saloon, where most of the men had finally gathered before
heading home with their families. Andrew watched his wife
approach and excused himself from the group.
Seeing the tears brimming his wife’s eyes, the Dawson’s went
“Now MaryBeth, what happened to put such a sad expression on
your beautiful face,” Andrew asked as he tried to draw his wife
into a hug and plant a kiss on her lips.
He felt resistance from his wife to his advances and was a
little hurt when she turned her back and pulled away from him, “MaryBeth?”
“Andrew, I…” Tears were falling down MaryBeth’s face as she
turned to face her husband. “I heard Mark and AnnaLee talking
tonight. Now I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but something I heard
them say… drew me to their conversation. Andrew, they were
talking about going to college together, becoming teachers, and
maybe getting married.”
Andrew walked to his wife and pulled her into his arms. All he
did was hold her. Unashamedly, tears started falling down his
“Andrew, we have to tell him, he has to be told, there can’t be
a future between him and AnnaLee,” MaryBeth cried.
“I don’t know how to break it to the boy. Maybe we should talk
to his father tomorrow. I heard Lucas say he plans to be in town
to help with the clean up. We just need to make sure that Mark
and AnnaLee go for their Saturday afternoon ride. But for right
now, we have to put our best faces back on. We can’t have
AnnaLee walking in here and see the two of us crying.”
Andrew pushed his wife to the bedroom so she could compose
herself before Mark brought AnnaLee home.
By the time that Mark did get AnnaLee home, she was leaning
against him for support. Mark could see the tiredness in her
eyes, the tiredness he had originally mistaken for loneliness
when he first met her. As he said goodbye on the porch, he dared
give her a quick kiss on the cheek before her parents opened the
door. As he walked away, he turned back to look, just to see if
she looked back towards him. She did. AnnaLee’s parents walked
her inside and shut the door.
As MaryBeth brushed AnnaLee’s hair while sitting on her bed,
AnnaLee talk wit her Ma about her feelings towards Mark. She
told her Ma some of the stories that Mark had told her about
when he and his Pa first arrived in North Fork. Stories of some
of the adventures, some of the sorrows, but ended with the happy
She told her mother she had never felt so ‘alive’ with anyone
before. To her, it wasn’t that the sun set and rose upon Mark
McCain, but because of Mark McCain, the sun showed her how
glorious the days could be.
Settling her daughter under the cover, MaryBeth kiss her upon
the forehead and bid her goodnight. Before leaving the room, she
turned down the lantern on the dresser top, and looked one more
time to the smile upon her daughter’s sleeping face.
Mark and Lucas had finished their chores at the ranch and rode
into North Fork to help with cleaning the town after the
festivities from the night before. Upon their arrival, Andrew
Dawson met them and said “Since we have plenty of people here to
help do the work, Mark, why don’t you go ahead and take AnnaLee
for a ride.”
“Pa?” Mark inquired, unsure if it was okay for him to forego his
promise to help clean up the main street with the other men and
“Go ahead boy, have fun, I’ll slave away all day,” Lucas said as
he stepped down from Razor and shortened the stirrups.
They watched as Mark rode to the Dawson’s home. AnnaLee was
waiting for Mark on the front porch. A smile beamed across her
face as Mark offered his arm and he escorted her to their
horses. Soon they were out of sight.
“Lucas, if I could, I think my wife and I need to have a word
with you. Right now, it’s more important that we talk, than help
“Andrew, what’s up?” Lucas asked.
“Not here Lucas, please come with me to the house.”
Lucas could tell by the way that Andrew was talking that there
was something serious that needed to be discussed. He’d hoped
and prayed that Mark had behaved as a true gentleman the night
Andrew led Lucas into the kitchen of their home. As they
entered, Lucas saw MaryBeth sitting at the kitchen table,
evident that she had been crying.
“Andrew, MaryBeth, has Mark done something to disrespect either
of you...? Or AnnaLee? I’ve tried to raise my boy to be a
gentleman and if something happened last night that has offended
“Lucas, please, let us talk. First off, Mark’s been nothing more
than a true gentleman when it comes to our family, especially
towards AnnaLee. You’ve raised yourself quite a young man. He’s
so different than any of the other boy’s AnnaLee’s age that we
knew back in Chicago.” Andrew spoke while looking at his wife,
his hand resting upon hers.
“I’m pleased to know my son hasn’t done wrong. But something’s
on your mind.” Lucas looked from MaryBeth to Andrew.
“Lucas,” MaryBeth spoke, “I overheard Mark and AnnaLee talking
last night and well, they were planning a future together. We
hold Mark is very high regards, but it’s a future that can’t
“I don’t understand, my boy’s been a gentleman and I know how he
feels about AnnaLee, I’m sure he’d do nothing to make you feel
less about him.” Lucas was concerned. These people held Mark in
high regards, yet they were against a possible future between
his son and their daughter.
“Lucas, AnnaLee is dying!” MaryBeth blurted out.
Saying there was a look of shock on Lucas’ face was an
Andrew continued, “As a child, AnnaLee’s always been a frail
child, when she turned twelve, she started getting sick. We’ve
been from one specialist to another to another. Finally, last
summer one of the specialists told us she probably didn’t have a
year to live. There’s something in her blood that’s going to
kill her. She doesn’t know it Lucas. We didn’t have the heart to
“The doctor told us we could make the last year of her life
easier on her if we got her to a warmer and drier climate.
That’s how we ended up coming to North Fork. You might think
that your winter was cold, but it was nothing compared to the
winters in Chicago.” Andrew stated as he stood behind his wife,
he’d wrapped his arms around her shoulders as she sat at the
“Lucas, we never expected to meet a young man quite like Mark.
He’s brought a strength to our daughter and a light to her eyes
that we’d not seen since before she took sick.” MaryBeth
continued, “We’re happy, the last six months have been so happy
in this house that we forgot she was sick. She’s been so much
stronger since she met your boy. She even reads from the bible
before going to bed each night. She never did that before
meeting your boy.”
Andrew continued when his wife couldn’t, “Lucas, last night when
Mark brought AnnaLee home, we saw the strain in her face. She
was trying to hide it, but I think her illness is taking hold
again. Lucas, we don’t know how to break this to your boy. We
don’t even know how to break this to our daughter.”
Lucas knew his boy cared for AnnaLee. Lucas remembered back to
how he felt when he lost Margaret. He remembered how long it
took to get the ‘child’ Mark to understand and accept his Ma’s
death. How would he get the ‘young man’ Mark through this?
“Andrew, MaryBeth, I want to thank you for talking with me. I
know it couldn’t have been easy. I think I need to do a lot of
reading from the bible in order to understand how best to break
this news to Mark.”
Lucas left the Dawson’s home and headed for the church. Reverend
Mark McCafferty was working on putting the finishing touches to
his sermon for the next day. He stopped as he saw Lucas enter.
“Morning Lucas, see you got out of helping clean up the t…” he
stopped mid-sentence as he saw the look on Lucas’ face. He’d
witnessed many of Lucas’ expressions in the few years since he
and his family had moved to North Fork, yet he didn’t recall
ever seeing this expression before.
“Lucas, can I help?”
“I’d appreciate it Mark. I think I’m going to need all the help
that you can offer me to get through this.”
Lucas sat down in a pew in the front of the church. The Reverend
sat down next to him. Lucas repeated the news he had just heard
from the Dawsons.
“How do I break this news to Mark? He’s become genuinely
attached to AnnaLee. I just remember everything Mark and I went
through that first year after Margaret died. I didn’t know how
to get through to him through his grief.”
“Lucas, trying to explain the death of a mother to anyone is
difficult; even more so to a six year old boy. But Mark’s grown,
he’s almost a man. You’ve raised him right and seen to it that
he’s lived by the Good Book. Don’t underestimate the love that
the two of you share. And Lucas, don’t underestimate how much
your son has grown up.”
“I know, but still… How do you tell someone that someone they
care about is going to die?” Lucas asked.
“If you feel that my talking with Mark would help, I’m here
“Thank you Mark, but I think this is something I need to do as
Mark and AnnaLee rode through the countryside. They hadn’t gone
too far when AnnaLee asked Mark if they could just sit for a
while. Mark saw the look in AnnaLee’s eyes. He dismounted from
Razor and helped AnnaLee down from BlueBoy.
“AnnaLee, are you okay?” Mark asked as he escorted her to sit
down under ‘their’ tree.
“I don’t know Mark. Everything’s been going so wonderfully. Then
yesterday, I just started not feeling well again. Oh, Mark I
enjoyed our day together, dancing, strolling through North Fork
and talking. But I think my illness is coming back again.”
AnnaLee turned and threw her arms around Mark’s neck, he held
her tight in his arms. He let her cry as long as she needed.
When AnnaLee finally stopped crying he asked, “Do your parents
“I think Ma realized it last night after you brought me home.
It’s been so long since we sat in bed together with her brushing
my hair. She always did that whenever I got real sick.”
“If you’d like, we can ride back to town and get you home.”
“No Mark, I just want to sit out here in your arms and enjoy the
quietness. I remember in the past, when I would get really sick,
Ma and Pa would try their best to cheer me up, but their hearts
weren’t really into the happiness they were pretending and it
made me feel sad. Feel sad that they couldn’t tell me the truth.
I know how hurt they must be in knowing that I’m going to die
Mark quickly added, “But AnnaLee, that’s just it. We’re all
going to die someday. We don’t know exactly when. When my Ma got
sick from the epidemic, there was so much death going on in
Enid, but the adults didn’t give up, they kept trying to make
those who were sick better. My Ma took sick because she was
trying to help, she could have stayed at home and ignored
everything, but she didn’t. She lived to help people. Pa said
that was part of her gentleness, she couldn’t stand to see
anyone suffer. AnnaLee, no one knows God’s plans for us. We
could live to be one hundred or God could call us home
It was late afternoon when Mark finally took AnnaLee home.
Lucas was still working up the courage to speak with Mark later
that night. A lone wolf could be heard calling in the distance
as they sat on the porch. Mark looked to his Pa, “Pa, you look
like need to say something.”
“I do boy, just don’t know how to say it.” It pained Lucas to
know the heartache his boy was going to feel after they talked.
“Mark, earlier today, when you and AnnaLee were out for your
ride, her parents and I had a talk.”
“Oh, what about?” Mark asked.
“Mark they told me some bad news. I just don’t know how to tell
you and not cause you any hurt.”
“Pa, I guess they told you she was dying?” Mark asked as he
averted his eyes from his Pa.
“She overheard them talking one night when they were still back
in Chicago. Pa, she told me that first time we went on a ride
together. She told me she was scared. It made her sad that her
parents couldn’t tell her. I’ve been helping her find comfort in
the bible. When were not studying, we’ve been reading the bible
“But Mark, if you knew… Mrs. Dawson said she overheard the two
of you talking last night. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but she
heard you making plans, college and maybe getting married some
“Pa, life is for living. Why shouldn’t AnnaLee make plans for a
future? We both know the truth, but should what ‘might’ happen
tomorrow, keep us from living today? Pa, she says she’s never
remembered being happier or felt more alive than she has since
she moved here.” Mark’s voice quieted and his father saw the
change in his mood.
“Mark, I’m listening.”
“Pa, I think she’s getting sick again. She told me when we were
out today. She didn’t want to do much riding, so we just sat
under a tree talking… and crying.”
“Mark I want to protect you from this hurt, I know you care for
“Pa, you can’t protect me from living. When you knew Ma was
getting sick, did you walk away from her? Pa, don’t ask me to
walk away from AnnaLee. Pa, please, I want to be there for her,
for as long as the Good Lord let’s her be here.”
“Mark, I understand. I’m here whenever you need me.”
“I know Pa, I know I’m going to need you a lot more,
As the days passed, Mark and AnnaLee’s summer afternoon rides
weren’t as frequent. They chose to spend their afternoons
sitting together under a tree in her back yard. They’d read
books borrowed from Mr. Bullock; eventually, the weaker AnnaLee
became, they read more from the bible.
One day having held AnnaLee in his arms, she surprised Mark by
asking, “Mark, do you think that when I get to heaven your Ma
will be there to greet me? Do you think she’ll approve of me?”
Mark didn’t hesitate to answer, he had already known what his Ma
“AnnaLee, I’m sure Ma will be there to greet you with open arms.
And it’s not a matter of her approving of you, she’ll love you.
How could she not love the girl her boy’s fallen in love with?”
Quietly, with breathily words AnnaLee asked, “Will you make me a
“When I’m gone, don’t leave North Fork. Don’t run away from my
memory. Stay here and plant flowers on my grave.”
It was a day towards the end of July when Lucas McCain stepped
to the front porch to see Billy Davis riding hard down the road.
“Mr. McCain! Mr. McCain! I got to find Mark. Mr. Dawson sent
me,” he yelled as he pulled his horse to a stop.
“That’s okay Billy, I know where Mark is. You go on back to
town. We’ll be in shortly.”
Lucas rode out to the range to find Mark. As he approached he
saw Mark had a calf lassoed and BlueBoy was dragging the calf
out of the muddy end of the watering hole.
“Mark,” Lucas called as he rode up.
Seeing the expression on his Pa’s face, Mark answered, “AnnaLee?”
Mark jumped down from his horse and untied the calf. He quickly
mounted BlueBoy and raced to town; his Pa at his side.
As they arrived in front of the Dawson’s home, Mark untied his
jacket from behind his saddle and ran inside.
Already in the house were the Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty and
Doc Burrage. Lucas waited with them in the front room as Mrs.
Dawson led Mark upstairs to AnnaLee’s bedroom. He tried hard to
keep his tears from falling.
Mark sat down at the headboard to AnnaLee’s bed. She sat up to
lean into him. Mark wrapped her in his arms and gave her a
gentle kiss on the cheek.
Mrs. Dawson sat in the chair, while Mr. Dawson sat on the arm of
the chair. They held each other’s hands; tears falling freely.
“Mark, I’m not scared any more. I’m… at peace with dying. I look
forward to meeting your Ma and telling her how much you mean to
me. I only regret that I won’t have a chance to get married and
have children and grow old with you.”
Not acknowledging the tears falling down his face, Mark reached
over to his jacket and pulled out a small box and handed it to
AnnaLee. As she opened the box, she saw a paper ring. On it Mark
had printed “AnnaLee + Mark = Love”. Mark removed the paper ring
and carefully placed it on her ring finger.
“Oh, Mark, it’s beautiful” she quietly said as she looked at the
ring on her hand as she held in out front of her. “Remember your
promise…” Soon AnnaLee pulled her hand to her heart and closed
her eyes. Her breathing became more labored and soon, her
breathing stopped; a look of peace settled across her face.
Mr. and Mrs. Dawson held each other tightly as they realized
their precious child had passed. Their sorrow wasn’t just for
themselves, it was also for Mark. They had come to consider him
a part of their family. They knew how much Mark had come to love
Mr. and Mrs. Dawson stood up and left the room. As they looked
back they watched Mark hold their daughter even tighter, tears
As they entered the front room, Doc Burrage stood and picked up
his bag to walk to the bedroom. He placed his stethoscope to
AnnaLee’s chest, then looked to Mark and said, “I’m sorry boy,
she’s with your Ma now.”
Doc Burrage lifted AnnaLee up so that Mark could slip out from
behind her and get off the bed. Lucas stood at the doorway and
watched his boy stand up. Lucas remembered back to when he lost
Margaret and knew his own heartache, now he had to be strong for
his boy, again. Lucas walked to Mark and placed a hand on his
shoulder, “Come Mark, let’s go home.”
As they rode home, Lucas let his boy grieve. Mark took care of
tending to the horses while his Pa fixed a simple stew for
dinner. They ate quietly. Lucas knew it was better to wait until
his boy was ready to talk rather than forcing him to talk right
now. He remembered back to Enid, when people tried to get him to
talk after Margaret’s death. He got angry! They couldn’t
understand his hurt in losing his wife and dealing with a child
who didn’t understand death. He ran away. This was the first
time that Lucas had really admitted to himself that he had run
away. Oh, he told himself he was running to something and that
something eventually became North Fork, but first, he ran away
from the memory and the hurt.
Lucas stood up and cleared the table and did the dishes as his
boy went out to sit on the front porch. Lucas joined him
“Pa, is this how you felt when you lost Ma?” Mark quietly asked.
Tears were still streaming down his face.
“I reckon you’re feeling a lot like I did after your Ma died.”
Mark woke to a morning looking a lot like he felt; as a gentle
summer rain fell from a grey sky. As they prepared their horses
to ride to town for AnnaLee’s funeral, the clouds broke and the
sun shone bright. This change in the weather didn’t do anything
to brighten Mark’s feelings.
Lucas and Mark, and most of North Fork, arrived at the cemetery
to say their goodbye’s to AnnaLee. Frank Toomey had crafted a
beautiful coffin for AnnaLee. She was buried still wearing the
paper ring that Mark had placed on her hand.
After services, most folks headed back to the hotel to enjoy the
meal that Lou had prepared and to share their memories of
Outside the cemetery, Mark wasn’t ready, “Pa, I think I’d like
to be alone for a while. I’m gonna go for a ride. I’ll come back
to town later and we can go home together.” Mark got in the
saddle and kneed BlueBoy to walk on.
Mark rode out to the range and stopped at the tree where he and
AnnaLee had stopped that first ride. He sat down under the tree
and cried some more. Soon, a calmness came over Mark. He felt
the presence of his Ma standing with her arms around AnnaLee. He
sensed both his Ma and AnnaLee smiling at him. Mark soon got up
and rode back to town. He knew it would take time to get over
the sorrow, but as he told his Pa, ‘Life is for Living’. He also
heard the words his Pa spoke to him when they first arrived in
North Fork, “There’s no looking back.” To which he replied, "I'm
not looking back, I'm just remembering."
Mark returned to the hotel and went to stand next to his father.
Lucas placed an arm around Mark’s shoulder and smiled. They
stayed at the hotel until they were the only ones remaining,
other than the Dawsons.
The Dawsons approached the McCains, “Mark, my wife and I’d just
like to say thank you for making the last few months of our
daughter’s life so special. If it could have been, we’d of loved
to have accepted you into our family as a son-in-law. But just
know that you will always be a special part of our family.”
Mrs. Dawson placed a kiss on Mark’s cheek and said “We love you
boy,” as she turned and walked away, arm in arm with her
Lucas and Mark walked to their horses to return home. They
watched as the sky turned all sorts of wonderful colors as the
sun set. Mark took contentment that it was AnnaLee painting the
sky to let him know everything was going to be okay.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch