The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
It was Saturday on the McCain Ranch and summer was well
underway; the hectic times of spring were past. All the heifers
had birthed and the crops were coming in nicely. Lucas McCain
was taking time to look out over his land, standing on the porch
of the ranch house, drinking a late afternoon cup of coffee.
‘It’s been four years Margaret, four years since Mark and I
settled in North Fork. I wish you could see this place, it’s so
much like our home back in Enid.’ He watched as his son, Mark,
galloped BlueBoy towards the house and reined him in.
“Slow down boy, you’re running BlueBoy too hard!” Lucas
admonished his son.
Lucas grinned as his son’s cheeks blushed at the warning he had
Petting BlueBoy along his neck, Mark blurted out, “Pa, I know,
but that big tree in the north pasture, its down and it took the
fence with it and the cattle crossed over into Mr. Marley’s
land. Evidently some of the fence posts on either side were
rotten at the base, because there’s a whole stretch of fence
Lucas hesitated before he stepped inside the house when he heard
his son state, “Do you want me to get the buckboard ready?”
“Let’s first see how big a job this is going to be. Might need
to make a run into town to get fencing supplies; for the time
being, let’s hope we can patch it together.”
“Sure Pa,” replied Mark.
After placing his coffee cup in the sink, Lucas walked out of
their home, across the yard and into the barn. He quickly
saddled and mounted Razor, before following his son to the north
pasture. Upon their arrival, they saw their small herd of cattle
was scattered on both sides of the property line the fence
divided. Without words between them, Lucas and Mark started
rounding up their cattle in order to drive them back to their
Having separated their cattle and working them towards the
downed fence line, Mark called, “Pa! There’s a ravine on the
other side, want me to check to make sure none of our cattle are
“Sure. Take it easy going down into the ravine. Don’t need
BlueBoy to stumble and dump you.” His father stated, “If there
are any down there, just drive them to the other end, don’t
chase them back up here. I’ll meet you at the far end, where the
ravine opens up, with the rest of these cows.”
“Okay Pa!” Mark took off to towards the ravine.
Lucas watched his boy ride to the ravine. ‘Fourteen years old.
What I wouldn’t give to have some of that enthusiasm now a day,’
he thought as he shook his head, and laughed to himself. Lucas
watched as Mark slowed his horse and proceeded carefully down
into the ravine, before he disappeared from sight. Other than
the far end, the ravine was fairly steep most of the way along.
Once Mark was out of sight, Lucas continued to push the small
herd down toward the opening of the ravine to meet back up with
Mark carefully rode BlueBoy down into the ravine, leaning back
in the saddle, giving his horse his head, as the horse lowered
its haunches for balance. Once on flat ground, Mark kept an eye
out for any of their cattle. After a few minutes, Mark came
across five yearling calves laying in a tall stand of grass.
“Git up, git up! Yah!” he called as he swung his looped lariat
in as large a circle as his arms would allow, up and over his
head. The calves got up and started bawling, moving in the
direction Mark was pushing them.
Mark was half way through the ravine when he heard a gunshot.
Standing in his stirrups, Mark looked around and immediately
thought of his Pa. Was his Pa trying to signal him or was his Pa
in trouble? Mark looked up and realized the slopes of the ravine
were too steep for him to ascend, so decided to continue to push
the calves a little quicker to get to the opening to meet up
with his Pa.
The ravine leveled out into open country, yet Mark didn’t see
his Pa. Remembering the gunfire, forgetting the calves, he ran
BlueBoy along the route where he thought he should meet up with
Pa. Their cattle came into sight, but no Pa and no Razor.
“PA! PA!” Mark yelled as he grew concerned. He raced BlueBoy
around the milling herd, still no Pa. “PA! PA!” Mark continued
back towards where he last saw his Pa.
Dusk was beginning to settle as Mark found his Pa unconscious on
the trail. He jumped down from BlueBoy and ran to him. As Mark
felt to his knees he saw that his Pa had been shot in the back
and evidence he had struck his head on a rock when he had fallen
“Pa, wake up, Pa!” Panic was welling in the pit of Mark’s
stomach. ‘Who would shoot Pa and where was Razor?’
Lucas began to regain consciousness and with Mark’s aid and
encouragement, sat up. Upon opening his eyes the surrounding
landscape was spinning and continued to do so even as he closed
his eyes. The spinning sensation didn’t stop as he slumped to
the ground and began retching the contents from his stomach.
When his stomach stopped convulsing, Mark handed him a wet
handkerchief in order to clean his face.
“Thanks son,” Lucas commented before he upended the canteen and
poured water into his mouth; swishing the water around before
spitting it out onto the ground. He repeated the process once
more and handed the canteen to his son.
“Pa, can you get up?” Mark asked as he saw his Pa closed his
eyes and heard him groan.
Lucas slowly shook his head, before collapsing back into the
Mark decided the best thing to do was return to the ranch for
“Pa, I don’t like leaving you here alone, but I got no choice.”
Mark ran to his horse and raced BlueBoy back towards the ranch,
praying the storm clouds that were beginning to brew over the
far off hills would hold off until he could get his pa home.
As the sun lost its grasp on the surrounding landscape, Mark
realized he couldn’t reach their homestead before the storm let
loose its furry. Worried with fear, he felt somewhat comforted
when he spied a small campfire and came upon a couple of men
tending to two horses tethered between the trees on the far side
of their camp.
‘Maybe they can help me with Pa?’ Mark thought before he yelled,
“Hello in the camp!”
“Hello yourself, come on in,” one of the men replied.
“I need help, my Pa’s been shot. Please, can you help me?” Mark
As Mark rode further into the camp, he saw both of the men turn
towards him, one started walking in his direction and the other
picked up a rifle, a rifle that looked extremely familiar.
‘Pa’s…’ BlueBoy fidgeted and neighed, receiving a response from
one of the two horses on the opposite side of the camp. Looking
intently at the horses, he recognized one of them as Razor.
‘They’re the ones who shot Pa!’’ raced through Mark’s mind. His
eyes bulged wide in fear, his heart pounded within his chest.
One of the men saw the fear in Mark’s eyes and he started to
grab for BlueBoy’s reins, “Now hold on son…” He wasn’t able to
say anything more. The clouds let loose and the rain started
pouring from the sky. A lightning bolt struck a tree near the
camp and the roar of thunder was deafening. Both men dove for
cover as bark from the stricken tree flew towards them. Mark
struggled to control his horse and decided to go with his
horse’s instincts as he wheeled BlueBoy around and galloped
‘Can’t leave Pa, those men shot him, they know I’m here, they’ll
try to find Pa, they know he’s alive, they’ll kill him,’ Mark’s
mind was raced with thoughts. A strong urge to return to where
Lucas lie drove him back to his father versus heading for home.
Mark raced BlueBoy as fast as he could, he knew he had to get to
his Pa and protect him. As he rode, the weather deteriorated,
the heavy rain drops stung as they hit his face, but still Mark
continued back to his Pa. All the while, he prayed for God to
watch over his Pa until he could return.
Lucas was starting to regain consciousness, again, as Mark
arrived. Jumping from his horse before BlueBoy came to a
complete halt, Mark yelled, “Pa! Please Pa! Come on! We have to
leave here now!” There was urgency in Mark’s voice as he was
struggling to pull his Pa to his feet and praying he could get
him on BlueBoy.
“Mark,” Lucas started to say, “Leave me and go get help from
town.” Blindly he pushed his son away.
“I can’t Pa, those men who shot you; they know I’m out here.
They’re coming! Please Pa! GET UP!”
Mark didn’t care that his voice broke into an unmanly squawk as
he cried out his urgency.
With a lot of help from Mark, Lucas was able to pull himself
into the saddle on BlueBoy. “Pa, hold on, I’ll get us to
shelter. Got to get you out of this rain.”
Making sure his Pa was holding onto the saddle horn, Mark led
his horse from foot.
It was slow going as Mark tried to pick his way through the
underbrush and uneven footing as he was leading BlueBoy, the
wind drove the rain into his eyes and it ran down his neck into
his shirt. Mark forced himself to remember the layout of the
land as each lightning bolt illuminated the darkened sky. Too
many times he tripped over rocks or clumps of grass and fell to
his knees. Each time he rose to his feet, he had more mud
covering him clothes and his skin.
Lightning continued to crackle and illuminate the landscape in
rapid succession, allowing Mark to spy an opening to a cave.
Maneuvering BlueBoy close to the opening, he pulled his Pa down
from his horse, and steadied him. “Pa, can you walk? There’s a
cave right here. Please Pa!” Again his voice broke with emotions
as well as his voice was beginning to change.
Leaning heavily on Mark, Lucas stumbled into the cave and
collapsed against a wall, pulling Mark down with him. Mark
climbed to his feet, ran out, and led BlueBoy into the cave,
after he realized it was large enough inside to shelter all of
them. Mark rummaged through his saddle bags looking for anything
he could use as bandages to stop his Pa from bleeding. Mark
worked for a good fifteen minutes, ripping rags into strips to
tie around his Pa. It took a lot of effort to move his Pa in
order to get the bandages around him. Lucas was nothing but dead
Mark knew his Pa had lost a lot of blood, but there wasn’t
anything he could do. As he tied the last of the bandages on,
Mark realized his father was starting to shiver, because he was
soaked through and with the setting of the sun, the temperature
was dropping. Mark hunted around the cave for any firewood only
to find none. Mark went outside into the storm again, to bring
some wood back inside. He piled the wood and material he found
to use as kindling, and struck a match, but regretted the wood
was too wet and the fire would not catch.
“Damn it!” Mark exclaimed. “Sorry.” He said to no one in
particular, knowing his father was unable to hear him use the
language he strongly opposed.
Concern for his Pa grew. Mark knew he needed to get help for his
Pa, but it was too far back to North Fork for him to lead his Pa
on BlueBoy. He also knew it would be foolish for him to try to
get to town on his own while the storm continued to batter then
land. And then there were those men. Mark said a prayer, ‘God,
please! My Pa needs help. Please just lessen the storm so I can
ride to town.’ Mark unsaddled BlueBoy, hoping his saddle blanket
might help keep his Pa warm enough. He kept rubbing his Pa’s
arms and legs; he’d remembered how Doc Burrage had told him once
about helping the circulation.
Mark struggled to stay awake through the night. Trying to keep
alert for sounds from those men or any animal that might claim
the cave as their home; not knowing which would be worse.
Regardless, he worried for his Pa’s life.
Day broke to show the storm subsided. Lucas was still
unconscious and trembling even more. For the second time in less
than twenty-four hours, Mark made one of the hardest decisions
of his life.
“Pa, I can’t get you home or to town, so I’m gonna go get help.
Can you hear me? Pa? I’ll be back. I promise. Please hang on!
I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Mark walked over and re-saddled BlueBoy. “Come on Boy, we need
to get to North Fork and get Doc Burrage!” Mark jumped on
BlueBoy and rode hard.
As Mark rode, he was unaware the two men from the night before
had spotted him. One of the men raised Lucas’ rifle to fire.
“No, Clancy! He’s too far. No sense wasting ammunition,” as his
arm snaked out from under his rain poncho, Jed pushed the rifle
barrel down. “We take care of his pa and then we take care of
“Jed, he’s going for help. He’ll tell the law we’re out here,”
“Yeh, well let’s just track him backwards and take care of his
Pa! If he brings the law, we’ll take care of all of them when
they arrive. They’ll be more concerned about caring for that
sodbuster than looking for us.” Both men laughed a hollow, evil
After removing their rain gear, the men rode to where they had
witnessed Mark and began to follow his trail.
An exhausted and scared Mark arrived in North Fork, jumped from
BlueBoy in front of Doc Burrage’s and ran into the office, not
bothering to knock on the door, he turned the knob, threw open
the door and yelled, “DOC?”
When he received no answer, he looked from side to side before
he remembered it was Sunday. He ran back out, jumped on his
horse, and rode to the church.
The doors to Sunday Service had already been closed, but that
didn’t deter Mark. He didn’t slow down as he ran from BlueBoy
and burst through the doors. People in the congregation stared
at Mark. Some thinking ‘How rude!” Others were totally appalled
to see he was covered in dried mud from head to toe and couldn’t
believe anyone would dare show up in the house of the Lord in
“DOC! PA’S BEEN SHOT! Please, you gotta come with me,” he called
out, fearing he didn’t have the time to look for the doctor and
quietly inform him of his need.
Doc Burrage stood from the congregation and ran back towards
Mark. “Mark where’s your Pa?” He placed his right hand on Mark’s
left shoulder, hoping it would offer some comfort to the boy.
“I’ve got him in a cave out on the ranch. Please Doc?” Mark
called as he was pulling Doc Burrage along behind him.
“Mark, I need to stop at the office to get my bag. You go get
Micah,” turning to Nils Swenson, owner of the town livery,
“Nils, I need your wagon.”
“No problem Doc. I’ll have it ready and in front of your place
in a jiffy,” the portly man stated as he made his way through
the church doors.
Mark jumped on BlueBoy and left the doc standing in front of the
church. Members of the congregation were pouring out the church
door, trying to understand what had just happened. Many worried
about the true condition of Lucas McCain.
Mark jumped off his horse in front of the Marshal’s office and
ran inside, not paying attention to the two men standing just
inside the door as he entered yelling “Micah, Pa’s been shot!”
His anguish again caused his voice to break as he ran into one
of the strangers. Forgetting his manners he continued, “I need
your help. Doc’s getting his stuff. Please Micah hurry!”
“Mark slow down. Tell me what happened.” Micah jumped up from
behind his desk and walked to Mark.
“Micah, please? I don’t have time, just come with me, I’ll tell
you when we get to Pa.” Mark ran back out to BlueBoy and led him
over to the Doc’s just as Nils arrived with his wagon.
Micah and the two men, both wearing U.S. Marshal badges,
followed Mark over to Doc’s. Folks from North Fork had met the
first Marshal on several occasions as Lucas had helped him
identify a murderer and later, the Marshal had helped Lucas
retrieve his son from the Apache, Chaqua. Though many held
reservations against an Indian wearing a badge, they respected
what the badge stood for. Fearing him less as even his own kind
called him a ‘tame Apache’.
The second Marshal was a stranger to North Fork. Standing at
just over six feet in stature, the man’s blonde hair and deep
blue eyes contrasted sharply against his tanned complexion. His
easy-going manner indicated how comfortable he was in working
with the partner assigned to him.
“Mark, we’re not going anywhere until you tell us what
happened!” Micah stated as he reached for BlueBoy’s reins.
“Micah, please, I don’t have time!” Mark pleaded.
“You have time,” Micah stared at the boy.
“I told you, two strangers shot Pa late yesterday afternoon. I
found them last night as I was heading back to the ranch for the
buckboard. They know I’m out there and they know Pa’s still
alive. Please Micah?” There were tears in Mark’s eyes as he
pleaded for Micah’s help and remembering his Pa was out there
alone. “They have his rifle and Razor!”
“Two strangers you say boy?” one of the men who accompanied
Micah asked. “Did either of them have a scar down his face?”
“I guess. I think down the left side. But the storm… Please,
we’re wasting time!” Mark’s last words game out barely as a
squeal as it raised an octave.
Micah and the two Marshals ran for their horses and followed
Mark as he led the small group back to the cave where he’d left
While Mark was in North Fork, Clancy and Jed were trying to
follow his tracks backwards. Neither of them was very good at
it; especially when Mark had run BlueBoy through the river
Finally, they found where Mark had entered the water and slowly
continued to back track to where they hoped Mark had left his
“Why do we have to get that mangy sodbuster? He didn’t see
nuttin’,” Clancy declared. “We’s behind him when I shot him.”
“Let’s just say, I don’t like leaving loose ends,” Jed answered.
“But that boy…” Clancy continued.
“One problem at a time,” glared Jed.
The group from North Fork followed Mark, Micah yelled for him to
slow up, that the buckboard couldn’t travel at these speeds.
Mark felt frustration and let it be known how urgently he needed
to get back to his Pa, but knowing Micah was right he finally
No sooner did the small group arrive in front of the cave before
gun fire erupted. Jed and Clancy had found the cave, but before
they could enter they heard the sounds of riders and a wagon.
The two men ran to hide in a thicket of trees to use for cover
and execute their ambush. Micah yelled for the others to run
into the cave for cover when the first volley ricocheted off the
rocks surrounding the cave. As they ran, Mark dared look back
and realized the two Marshals were no longer with them.
‘No problem, as long as Doc’s here for Pa,’ Mark thought to
Mark ran over to where his Pa was lying, kneeling beside him and
taking his face into his hands. “Pa, I brought Doc Burrage and
Micah. Please Pa, wake up!” Again his voice broke.
Doc Burrage started to examine Lucas as best he could with what
sunlight was reaching the back of the cave from the opening.
“Mark you did a good job with the bandaging, however, we need to
get him back to town.”
“Doc, we were out in the storm last night. I tried to light a
fire, but the wood was too wet. I kept rubbing him…,” fear was
rising in Mark’s voice.
The two Marshals walking into the cave; no one inside had
realized, the gunfire from outside had waned and finally
“Micah?” asked a voice entering the cave.
“Back here Sam!” Micah called.
“Those two will not be causing anyone any more trouble,” Sam
“Sam?” Mark said aloud as he began to recognize the voice.
“Marshal Buckhart? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was you back
“I understand, Mark. This is U.S. Marshal Jason Cord. We have
been tracking those two, Clancy and Jed Morgan, for months.”
Looking towards Lucas, “How is your Pa?”
“I don’t know,” Mark answered as he continued to watch the
doctor tend to his Pa. Ignoring Micah’s gentle prompts to moving
away; giving the doctor the space he needed to examine his
“Micah, Sam, Jason, come over here,” called Doc Burrage has he
stood up. “I’ve done all I can do with Lucas out here, let’s get
him loaded into the buckboard and back to North Fork. I’ll have
to perform surgery to get the bullet out, once I’m at the
The three men gently lifted Lucas, Sam and Jason carrying him by
the shoulders and middle, while Micah took his feet. Carefully
they loaded Lucas into the back of the buckboard. Mark tied
BlueBoy to the railing and rode in back, cradling his Pa’s head
in his lap; tears streaming down his face, unashamedly. Doc
drove the wagon, with Micah riding beside. Sam and Jason
remained behind to bury the Morgan brothers.
Doc was surprise that before they reached North Fork, Sam and
Jason met up with the group, leading Razor and another horse.
Sam also carried Lucas’ rifle across his lap. When they reached
town, they pulled the wagon up in front of Doc’s as Nils Swenson
and Bill Sweeney, owner of the saloon, arrived to help move
Lucas into Doc’s office.
Millie Scott, owner of the general store and good friend to the
McCains, ran up and pushed her way through the crowd; Micah
pushing everyone out of the office, “Not now Millie.”
“I don’t know Millie. Doc says it doesn’t look too good.” His
words quieted as he looked over his shoulder to see where Mark
McCain stood in the room.
“Mark? Where’s Mark?” there was genuine fear in her eyes for the
boy she saw sitting on the desk in the doctor’s office.
“He’s inside. Millie, take him out of here. He’s half dead with
exhaustion and worry,” Micah stated allowing
Millie walked to Mark’s side and placed her hand on his
shoulder. “Mark, please, come with me.” Millie looked at Mark’s
face and saw how much the boy was hurting. “Mark, please?”
Millie took hold of Mark’s arm and raised him to his feet.
Mark walked where Millie led; putting one foot in front of the
other, oblivious of anything other than concern for his Pa.
Millie led Mark back to her place. She sat him down on the big
couch in her living room. “Mark, I’ll be right back, I’m going
to put some water on and brew us some tea. Would you like some
Mark didn’t hear or acknowledge Millie’s words, he just sat and
saw the image of his Pa and all the blood.
Soon, Millie stepped from the kitchen as Micah knocked and
entered. Both stood looking at each other and then at Mark.
Millie brought the tray with tea and cups to the living room
table and set them down on the low table in front of the couch
where Mark sat.
“Mark, Micah’s here. Do you want to talk?” Millie asked, concern
etched her voice.
“Mark?” Micah asked as he stepped to the boy and placed a hand
on his shoulder.
Mark just sat there, he didn’t move, he didn’t answer.
Micah and Millie looked at each other again. Millie sat down
next to Mark, wrapped both her arms around him and pulled him
close. She could feel him trembling in her arms, not from chill,
but from fear.
“Mark, please, we’re here for you. Talk to us,” Millie begged.
“You can’t keep this all inside. Please, Mark.”
Quietly, at first, “I don’t want him to die!” Mark cried louder,
“He can’t die. He can’t leave me alone!”
The tears streamed down Mark’s face and sobs wracked his body as
Millie continued to hold tight to him.
“I tried, I tried, but the storms last night, and those men, I
couldn’t leave him,” Mark cried out. His fear wouldn’t allow him
to stop crying.
Millie looked to Micah, “Micah, now’s not the time. He can’t
tell you anything. Not now. Let him cry and get some sleep. I’ll
send for you when he’s ready.”
Millie continued to hold Mark in her arms gently rocking him,
allowing the movement to calm him, he fell asleep, exhaustion
having won. She laid Mark down on the couch, dirt and all, and
covered him with a blanket.
Over an hour later there was a gentle knock on Millie’s front
door. As she answered, she saw Doc Burrage through the glass and
looked back over her shoulder towards Mark. “Doc, please, come
in,” she said quietly. “How is Lucas?” yet fearing the answer.
“I’ve done all that I can do. Was able to get the bullet out,
and tended to the bump on his head, however… He’s taken a fever
and he’s struggling to breath. I’m afraid he’s in such a bad way
he might be coming down with pneumonia. Honestly, the rest is up
to Lucas and God,” Doc said as he shook his head. “I’ve come to
check on Mark. How’s the boy doing?”
“He’s asleep in the living room. Micah was right; he was half
dead when I brought him over here earlier.”
“Well if he’s asleep, let him be. That would be best for him
right now. I don’t need him over at my place, worrying himself
sick over his Pa. Millie, I can’t imagine what that boy went
through out there all alone last night with his Pa in the shape
he was. When the boy wakes, mix some of this in with his drink,
I want him to sleep, keep him asleep for as long as you can
Millie took the packets containing the sleeping powders from Doc
Burrage as he turned to leave. Millie quietly closed the door
behind him, turned and walked back to the living room. She hid
the packets in the pocket of her dress and sat down in a chair
opposite from where Mark slept. Millie reached for her bible,
hoping it could comfort her while she waited.
She looked over at Mark, ‘Even in his sleep, the worry lines
show on his face. As often as Lucas says Mark is his life, it’s
a two way street. What if….’ Millie tried to shut out her
thoughts of ‘what if’ as she returned to her bible.
It was late evening when Mark woke. Bolting upright, trying to
get his bearings, where he was. He saw Millie asleep in the
chair across the room. Mark stood up and bumped into the table,
causing Millie to wake. “Mark!”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered Millie faintly.
“Are you hungry, can I fix you something to eat?”
“No, Ma’am. I want to go see my Pa,” he answered as he walked to
the door to leave.
“Mark, wait here. Doc would prefer you not come over just yet.
Here let me get you something to drink.” A few moments later,
Millie returned to the front room and handed Mark a glass. “I
think it best you drink this and wait here, I’ll go get Doc
Burrage.” Millie watched as Mark drank the entire glass. Seeing
that Mark sat back on the couch, Millie stepped out the door and
waited. It didn’t take long for the medication to work on Mark
and he was fast asleep again.
The sun rose as Micah came to check in on Mark. “How’s the boy
doing Millie?” he asked as he walked into Millie’s kitchen.
“Doc gave me some medication to keep him asleep last night. I
don’t know if I should give him any this morning when he wakes.”
“Let him have today to see his Pa, then you can give him some
more tonight, if need be.”
“How’s Lucas? Have you been to Doc’s this morning?” Millie
“Was there before coming here. No change. I’ll wait for Mark to
wake up and then I’ll walk with him over to Doc’s.”
A few minutes later, Mark’s voice could be heard calling from
the living room, “Millie?”
Millie rushed into the living room, her long skirt swishing with
the hurried movement of her legs.
“Mark, how are you this morning?” Millie asked quietly as she
sat down on her couch and wrapped an arm around the boy.
“I don’t know. How’s Pa?” he tentatively inquired.
“According to Micah still no change from yesterday. Micah’s
here, could you tell us what happened? The Marshals, Sam
Buckhart and Jason Cord, need your statement for their report.
Can you do it Mark?”
“I want to see Pa,” Mark whispered.
“Mark, he’s asleep right now. I think you need a bath, you’re
full of mud. You know as filthy as you are, Doc wouldn’t allow
you to see your father.” Seeing the sad look in the boy’s eyes,
she continued, “I stopped by the store and brought some clothes
that should fit you. Then, after you talk to Micah and the
Marshals you can go see Lucas.” Helping the boy to his feet, she
led him across the front room and stated, ”These stairs will
lead up to a room where I’ve hot water waiting for you, first
door on your left.”
“Okay Millie,” Mark answered without emotion as he placed one
hand on the banister and lifted his foot to climb the steps.
Millie left Mark and returned to the kitchen, and Micah.
“Micah, Mark’s going to get cleaned up. Why don’t you go get Sam
and Jason? When Mark is done with his bath, I’m sure he’ll be
ready to tell you what happened.”
“Do you think I should bring Doc?” Micah asked as he stood from
his seat at the table.
“You might want to stop by and tell him you’re going to talk to
Mark. If the boy gets too upset, it might be better for Doc to
inject a sedative into him instead of waiting for these powders
“I’ll return in a little while.”
Micah returned a short while later with the U.S. Marshals and
Doc. “Mark, take your time and tell us what you can. The more
details you can remember the better,” Jason said as everyone
took a seat around the table; Micah and Millie were sitting on
either side of Mark, while Doc Burrage leaned against the sink
Mark told his story. The whole time he stared at his hands,
fingers interlaced as they lie on the top of the table, his eyes
never looked to those seated around him. He answered the
occasional question and continued on. Mark’s voice held no life;
he spoke as if by rote. By the time Mark was finished, tears
were falling from Millie’s eyes, a steady stream made its way
down both her cheeks.
‘Yes, he is his father’s son, but his strength lies so much in
pleasing his father. Dear Lord, please don’t separate these
two,’ Millie said a quiet prayer.
Realizing his services were not required, Doc Burrage retrieved
his black bag from the counter and left; returning to his
“Mark,” Sam said as he and Jason rose. “We will file your story
with our report. This case is closed as far as the U.S. Marshal
Service is concerned. However, our thoughts will be with you and
your father. I truly wish he recovers.”
“Marshal Buckhart?” Mark quietly called. “Why? Why’d they shoot
“Clancy and Jed never needed a reason to shoot anyone,” Jason
Stepping to stand next to Mark, Sam placed a hand upon the boy’s
shoulder and knelt beside him.
“Mark, Jason is correct. Those two never needed an excuse to do
anything. All they knew was how to take what they wanted; never
caring who might get hurt. We knew they had lost one of their
horses several days ago and that is why they took your father’s
horse. Once your father was down, and they saw his rifle… They
never knew the meaning of an honest day’s labor. I am sorry we
were not able to apprehend them before Lucas crossed paths with
“Mark, Sam and Jason returned Razor to town and handed me your
father’s rifle,” Micah stated as he squeezed Mark’s hands.
“You have them, here?” Mark asked.
“Well, Razor is at the livery and I have your father’s rifle at
the office,” answered Micah.
Bidding good bye, Marshals Sam Buckhart and Jason Cord left
Millie’s and North Fork that day.
Having made sure the boy had ate, Micah stated, “Mark, if you’re
ready, I’ll walk with you over to Doc’s.”
Mark and Micah left Millie’s and slowly walked over to Doc
Burrage’s. People on the street stopped and watched; their
hearts felt heavy for the burden Mark had to bear. No one knew
exactly what to say to the boy, so they said nothing as they
stepped aside or crossed the road to avoid him.
“Doc?” Micah called as they entered the office. “Doc, I brought
Mark to see Lucas.”
Doc Burrage stepped from a side room. “Mark. How are you feeling
today? Did you sleep yourself out?”
“Can I see my Pa?” Mark’s eyes pleaded.
“Sure, come with me.”
Doc led Mark into the room he had just left.
Mark entered the room and saw his pa lying on a bed, covers
pulled up to his shoulders, sweat on his brow, he heard the
sounds of his Pa struggling to breath.
“Doc? Is he… Is he going to … die?”
“Mark. I don’t know. I pulled the bullet out and treated that
bump on his head… I won’t lie to you son. I’m more concerned
about his contracting pneumonia. I’ve sent for medicine to help,
but I don’t know.”
“It’s all because of me,” Mark quietly berated himself.
“Mark, I you need to understand and I can’t sugar coat this.
Your Pa is in very serious condition. He’s struggling to breath
because of an infection in his lungs, that’s pneumonia.”
“Because I couldn’t start the fire to keep him warm?” tears were
starting to form in Mark’s eyes again.
“Mark, even if you could have started the fire, the damage was
already done. Don’t blame yourself. You did more than any
fourteen-year old, or most grown men, would have done to save
your Pa.” Unsure his words were getting through to the boy, he
continued, “I’ll let you sit by your Pa for a while. Talk to
him. Tell him stories. There’s new medical talk of people
hearing family members even when they’re unconscious. I’ll get
Millie to take you back to her place in a little while.”
Doc left Mark alone with his Pa as he returned to the front part
of his office to see the marshal still there.
“Micah, leave the boy with me for a while. I’ll see that he gets
Mark sat down next to his Pa. “Pa, it’s me, Mark. Doc said I
could talk to you… Maybe tell you stories…. I don’t know what to
do.” Taking the rag from Luca’s forehead, he dipped it in the
bowl setting on the small table next to the bed, and rang it out
before returning it to his father’s forehead.
A few minutes later Mark continued, “Micah and Millie are
looking after me. I stayed at Millie’s last night. I think Doc
had her put something in my drink because I really wanted to see
you last night and all I could do was fall asleep,” Mark stated
“Marshall Buckhart and another were tracking those men who shot
you, and stole your rifle and Razor. You don’t have to worry
about those men any more, they’re dead and buried. Marshall
Buckhart got your rifle and Razor back.”
As he curled up in the bed beside his Pa, he cried, “Pa, I miss
It was dinner time when Millie came to Doc’s looking for Mark.
“Doc. Is Mark still here? I wanted to see that he ate dinner
“He’s in the room with Lucas, Millie, come with me.”
Doc and Millie entered the room to see Mark sleeping next to his
“Well at least he’s slept some more. Go ahead and wake him. Get
some food into the boy. Make sure you give him more of the
sleeping powders again tonight,” Doc said as he left the room.
Millie walked over to Mark and gently shook his shoulder, “Mark,
time to wake up dear. Let’s get you to the hotel and have some
Mark started to stir, opened his eyes, and gently climbed out of
the bed. He turned to his father and placed a kiss on his
forehead. “I’ll be back Pa. Millie and I are going to go eat.”
Mark and Millie walked to the hotel and as they passed the
Marshal’s Office, Micah joined them, “Mind if I accompany you
“Micah, I think Mark and I would enjoy the company.”
The three entered the hotel lobby. Mark was well aware that all
eyes turned towards him as he entered. He could see the pity in
people’s faces; he wanted to run and to hide. Millie put a
comforting hand on his shoulder and guided him to a corner table
in the restaurant.
The three ate in silence, both adults hoping just their presence
would be of comfort to the boy who sat with them. A few towns’
people stopped by the table to inform Mark that they were
keeping his Pa in their prayers, but most paid their bills and
As the days passed, Doc Burrage continued to treat Lucas for
pneumonia, hoping each day would be the day that Lucas’ fever
would break and he would regain consciousness. ‘Just only so
much that medicine can do,’ he fretted to himself. ‘At least he
is breathing a little easier.”
Nils or Micah alternated each day as one would ride with Mark to
the ranch to tend to chores, “Boy, when your Pa recovers he
would be sure upset to find out you’ve been slacking in your
responsibilities,” they kept telling him.
It had been two weeks since Lucas had been injured and taken
sick. Mark didn’t seem to notice the passage of time; he just
did what others told him to do. Unable to keep his full
attention on his chores; all the while he just wanted to be with
his Pa. Wondering when his Pa was going to wake up; praying that
his Pa would wake up.
Having heard the same comment as he had heard each preceding
day, Mark dejectedly stated, “What good is that going to do?” as
they stopped in front of the barn, still in the saddle. “He
ain’t gonna get better.”
“Don’t say that!” Nils reprimanded the boy. “Your Pa ain’t never
give up on you and I don’t never want you to talk that way!”
As he had the day before, Mark returned to Doc Burrage’s and
told his Pa about the ranch and what chores Micah or Nils had
helped him with. He also brought his Pa’s bible and read from
the Scriptures; knowing his reading was more for his pa than for
him. He took no comfort from the words he read.
He took no joy when his best friend, Freddie Toomey, stopped by
Millie’s to ask if he wanted to go fishing.
“Naw, I just don’t feel like it,” was all he would say.
Millie could tell that Mark was withdrawing into himself. He
didn’t play with any of his friends and the only people he paid
attention to were Doc, Micah, Nils, and herself, only he never
started any of the conversations. All he did was answer their
questions. The only one he really talked to was his Pa, but he
couldn’t give Mark the answers he was looking for. She needed to
bring Mark back to life; somehow. She had hoped getting Mark’s
friends to stop by would encourage the boy.
That night Millie spoke with Doc Burrage after Mark had gone to
bed, “I may not be his mother, but I feel his pain as if I were.
Doc, I don’t know what to do. I think he’s losing hope. You and
I both know that as much as Mark wants to prove to his Pa that
he’s grown, it’s his Pa who he truly needs.”
“I know Millie, I feel so inadequate, I’ve done everything I
know how to do and just keep doing the same thing over and over
again,” a little bit of despair crept into his voice. “The
fever’s broke, but it wasted him away and I don’t know if his
body has the strength to get over this. I’ve heard Lucas say
time and time again that Mark’s his strength and his weakness. I
only hope the boy has the strength to survive, if his Pa
Millie closed her eyes, not even wanting to think of that
scenario. “Doc all we can do is keep on praying so that our
strength is there for them.”
Unbeknownst to either Doc or Millie, Mark had returned
downstairs and was sitting on the steps, listening to their
conversation. Quietly, he snuck out the backdoor.
Sunday morning dawned and Millie walked upstairs to wake Mark as
she had done for the past two weeks. Stopping outside the closed
door, she paused long enough to force a smile to her face and
hope her voice held the cheerfulness she did not feel. As the
door opened, the sun streaming through the window showed that
Mark wasn’t in his room. Millie ran out of her house and down to
the Marshal’s Office.
“Micah, Mark’s missing, I went to wake him and his bed wasn’t
slept in last night,” Millie stated as she wrung her hands
“Millie, let’s go check Doc’s, nowhere else for the boy to be.
Doubt he’s at the ranch considering how much Nils and I have to
push him to tend to chores.”
Together, they walked over to Doc’s and entered. Doc was sitting
at his table, reading a medical book.
“Doc, Millie says Mark didn’t sleep in his bed last night,
hoping he might be here, with Lucas,” Micah inquired.
“Yes, I found him asleep in bed next to Lucas when I returned
from Millie’s last night. He spent the night here with Lucas.
Sorry, I thought you knew.”
The three walked over to the entrance to the room, Doc turned
the knob and opened the door. The morning light was streaming in
the window and all three saw Mark, curled up next to his Pa. But
they also saw Lucas’ hand reaching for his boy; his blue eyes
“Lucas!” Millie started to yell and quickly covered her mouth
with her hands.
Doc Burrage strode over to Lucas and quietly asked, “How do you
feel?” as he reached for the man’s wrist, pulling out a pocket
“Tired. How long have I been out?” his voice broke from dryness.
“About two weeks,” Doc said.
“Mark, how…?” his voice faltered as he looked towards his son.
“Lucas,” Millie replied as she neared the bed. “Lucas, thank the
Lord. Mark’s had a hard time of it. He’s been so worried about
you. I can barely get him to eat and Doc has me fix a sleeping
tonic for him each night. At least he’s not the skin and bones
you are. You’ve practically wasted away.”
Millie poured Lucas a glass of water and held the glass for him
to drink, insisting he drink it slowly while Doc lifted the
rancher’s head. Lucas had no strength to hold the glass or
“Millie, wake him,” Lucas said faintly, as his eyes pleaded.
Millie turned to Mark and shook his shoulder, “Mark, wake up
sweet heart.” Mark didn’t stir. “Mark, wake up, there’s someone
here who wants to see you.”
“Go away! Tell ‘em to go away!” Mark cried hoarsely, his eyes
still closed, tears slipping from his eyelids. “I can’t do it, I
can’t do it anymore. I don’t have any more strength.”
Millie gasped when she realized that Mark had overheard her
conversation with Doc the night before.
“Mark, your Pa’s awake, please open your eyes. He’s wants to see
you,” begged Millie as she knelt beside the bed and ran her hand
over the top of his head.
Slowly Mark opened his eyes; they were bloodshot, more than they
had ever been during the last two weeks. Mark looked at Millie,
saw a smile on her face as she nodded her head at him, a smile
he hadn’t seen in a while. Mark turned around to look towards
A smile started to appear on Lucas’ face as Mark’s eyes widened
in seeing that his Pa was indeed awake.
“PA!” Mark yelled, his voice breaking, as he rolled over and
reached to hug his Pa. Tears were running down Mark’s face, this
time tears of joy. Lucas had only enough strength to softly hug
his son in return.
“LucasBoy, mighty glad to see you decided to wake up. I don’t
mind keeping an eye on Mark every now and then, but this was a
might bit too long. If you don’t mind, I’m going over to church
to let everyone know you’re back,” Micah said as he turned away,
hoping to wipe the tears from his own eyes without anyone else
It was a few days later when Doc allowed Lucas to get out of bed
and sit up for a short period of time. This only proved to Lucas
that he had no strength, the effort exhausted him. Micah stopped
by to see how he was doing. Micah told Lucas of how Sam Buckhart
and Jason Cord had been tracking the Morgan brothers and ended
up in North Fork. He recounted the story Mark told about the
events beginning when he was chasing the calves in the ravine
until they got Lucas back to North Fork. By the time Micah left,
Lucas struggled to keep his eyes open.
The facts Micah imparted to him, pained the tall rancher and as
much as he wanted to speak to and comfort his son, the needs of
his body overpowered his mind and forced him back to slumber.
Millie insisted in being allowed to do the cooking for Lucas
while he was at Doc’s and having Mark continue to stay with her
in her spare room. She intended to “fatten” both of them up, as
best she could.
In time, Lucas recovered his strength to where Doc said he was
going to discharge him to go home. However, Millie had other
As Lucas stood in the doctor’s office with his hand place around
his son’s shoulders, he listened as Millie and Doc Burrage
discussed them, as if they were not there.
“Lucas is not going home. He’s not ready to take on ranching AND
raising Mark full time.”
“I’ve done all I can for him, I can’t see keeping a healthy
person here any longer,” Doc Burrage replied.
“Well, you might consider him healthy from a medical point of
view, but there is no way you can consider him fully healed!
Healed enough to ride home!”
“No, I told Mark to bring the buckboard in to take his Pa home,”
“If he’s not healed enough to ride, then he’s not healed enough
to return home and take care of everything, ON HIS OWN!”
Looking to Lucas, the doc’s eye pleaded.
“You’re the doctor,” Lucas answered, his eyes gleamed with
Turning her focus to the tall rancher, and waggling her index
finger at him, Millie stated, “Lucas McCain, don’t argue with
me, not one word. I’ve a spare bedroom at my place, you can take
the bed that Mark’s been sleeping in and I’ll bring in a cot for
Mark to sleep on.”
“Millie, what would people think?” Lucas tried to argue.
“I don’t care what people say, you still need some looking
after!” Millie stood in the doorway, with both hands on her
hips, daring Lucas to object.
“We could always take a room at the Madera House,” Mark stated.
“The hotel?!” Millie stated in disgust. “Young man, there is no
need for you to pay for a room and all your meals when I have an
unused room at my home.”
“Millie, we can manage,” Lucas began.
“Only when you can ride your horse!” spat Millie. “There is no
further discussion. You march yourself to my place and Mark will
show you to your room where you will take a nap until I can fix
Meekly, Lucas nodded his head as he gently prodded his son out
the door of the clinic.
So it was that Lucas and Mark moved into Millie’s, at least
until he was recovered well enough to head back to the ranch.
A few days later, Lucas and Mark were talking as they were
sitting on the porch at Millie’s.
“Son, I’ve been remiss in thanking you for saving my life.”
“Micah told me what happened. I’m sorry that I put you through
all this worry.”
“Weren’t your fault Pa. You didn’t know those men were waiting
to ambush you to steal your rifle and Razor.”
“No. No I didn’t. But I wanted to wake up sooner. I heard you
talking to me. I wanted to take you in my arms and hold you,
protect you, and comfort you. I just couldn’t open my eyes. I
couldn’t get my body to listen to me.”
“That’s okay Pa, Doc told me you might be able to hear me.”
Knowing there was more he needed to understand, Lucas waited a
few moments, thinking of how to ask his question, Lucas finally
stated, “That morning when I woke up, you told Millie you
couldn’t do it anymore. You didn’t have any more strength. What
did you mean?” Lucas asked with concern in his eyes.
Mark swallowed with a little difficulty, he knew he’d been wrong
“I overheard Millie and Doc Burrage talking the night before. He
said he hoped I had strength enough to get you through this, if
you didn’t. Pa, I was just so tired. I was worried about you and
trying to keep things going on the ranch. I felt I used all my
strength praying you’d get better and wake up. But you didn’t.
Each day, I tried Pa… Honestly, I did. That night, I came to
your room; I remembered back to all you did for me when I was
sick with Typhoid. I realized I couldn’t give up, because you
didn’t. I asked God to take all my strength and give it to you.
I wanted you better; I wanted you to wake up, but… I guess I
didn’t have any strength for God to take… And I was so tired… I
didn’t know what to do anymore. I couldn’t give up, so I just
prayed. It was surely the longest night of my life.”
“Son, you’re right, don’t ever give up. At times, the good Lord
tries us in ways only he understands. I think, maybe, he was
testing you to see how strong and grown up you are.”
“Strong?” Mark interrupted. “I couldn’t get you back to town.
Grown up? I’m just a squeaky voiced kid.”
“Who got me up on BlueBoy?” Lucas asked with love in his eyes.
“That took strength… Maybe not muscles, but sure determination
on your part. As for being grown up? Mark, you’re just becoming
a young man. You should have heard my voice squeak when I was
your age. Give it a few more months and your voice should settle
“I know that’s what Doc said, but still...it’s embarrassing…”
“Son, I know you’re not fully grown and won’t be for some time,
and I don’t expect you to be able to do everything that a man
should do, but I’ve seen grown men not be able to do what you
did, in order to get the help you needed. There’s nothing wrong
in asking others for help, even if you are fully grown.”
Taking a few moments to consider his words, Lucas continued,
“Son, you’ll never be a disappointment to me. Believe me when I
say, no one will think any less of you for giving us both the
best chance of surviving. I’m proud to have you as my son and
I’m proud of you.”
After thinking of what his father said, Mark asked, “So,
strength of character can be stronger than physical strength?”
“Yes and I guess you were strong enough for both of us. Now all
we have to do is to convince Millie…”
“What are you two characters trying to convince me of?” Millie
asked as she walked out the door carrying a tray bearing glasses
“Nothing,” both father and son said together.
As the next ten days passed, many of the town’s people stopped
by to check in on Lucas, telling them how much they had prayed
for his recovery, how various ranchers around the area were
helping Mark keep up with the chores around the ranch until they
could both return home.
Obediah Marley stopped by one afternoon to inform Lucas that
some of his hands had fixed the downed fence between their
“Mark told me this all started the day you found the fence down.
I take full blame and I’m sorry it happened,” Marley stated.
“It wasn’t your fault the Morgan brothers shot me,” Lucas
“No, but you wouldn’t a been on my property, searching for your
cattle if’n my men had done their work. That was my fence, not
yours. And it’s because some of my men got lazy that you was
there, puttin’ you in a position where you done got shot.”
Understanding how the rancher felt, Lucas accepted his apology.
One afternoon, the banker, John Hamilton, stopped by Millie’s to
check in on his friends.
“Well Lucas, shouldn’t be too much longer and most of the
womenfolk will have you and Millie married, that is if you stay
here too much longer. Though I can understand why you’re staying
on. Three home-cooked meals a day, fixed by a woman. Having a
fine a woman as Millie waiting on you day in and day out.” There
was a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
After dinner, later that evening, Lucas stood beside Millie as
she finished washing dishes, and informed her that he felt it
was time that he and Mark returned to their own place, that he
felt recovered enough.
“Millie, I appreciate everything that you’ve done for Mark and
for me… I’m at a loss for words to express how I feel for taking
care of us,” Lucas quietly slipped his arms around Millie and
gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Does this mean we have to go back to doing our own cooking and
dishes,” Mark asked as he turned around at the table, just in
time to see his Pa step away from Millie.
Lucas and Millie burst out with laughter.
The next morning all three were in front of Millie’s home.
“Lucas, you and Mark will always be welcome anytime you want to
stop by for dinner,” Millie said, as she hoped they would stop
by more often. She’d gotten used to having ‘menfolk’ around and
she felt both Mark and Lucas were part of her family. “And I
don’t mean just on Sundays after church.”
Millie watched as Lucas and Mark rode there horses at a trot,
away from her home. All of the town’s folks who were out and
about, waved to Mark and Lucas as they rode down the center of
main street and out of town, towards home.
The character Sam Buckhart, U.S. Marshal, was introduced in the
episodes, The Indian and
The characters other than the regularly recognized cast of The
Rifleman are from my overactive imagination.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch