The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Sound of Silence
Written by Deanne Bertram

In this story I’ve borrowed several guest characters from The Rifleman’s five year television run.

In Home Ranch (season one) we met Johnny Lehigh, a ranch hand for one of the largest ranchers in the area, Oat Jackford (who we also met), who owned property from New Mexico into Arizona.

In The Schoolmaster (season three) we met North Fork’s new school teacher, Stevan Griswald; a man with strict expectations of the children under his tutelage. However, he learned a lesson that his eastern style of teaching did not work well with the children of the west. And that some boys will defend their fathers unquestioningly. Mark also learned the unfortunate consequences of playing hooky from school.

In First Wages (season four) we met Dave Merar a fellow rancher who lived the other side of the border pass.

In Death Never Rides Alone (season five), we’ were introduced to Johnny Drako, a long-time friend of Lucas McCain. A known gunslinger, who was always within the law when his reputation was forged. Drako was looking for a nice, quiet place to live and figured North Fork would suit him, just fine; specially since his friend called the town home. However, events beyond his control made him see the impact his arrival would have if he stayed and he decided to leave town.

In my mind’s eye, I always believed that one day, Drako would return to North Fork, after lying low and letting others gain their reputations; his own would simply fade into history or oblivion. Thus was the idea for my story The Return of Johnny Drako.

All other characters not recognized from The Rifleman are from my own over active imagination.

This story takes place after the series ended its television run.

The Sound of Silence

Lucas and Mark McCain had finished lunch and were walking from the house to the barn to saddle their horses before they headed out to the range to check on this year’s calves in preparation of weaning and moving them to a different pasture.

“Mark, you still plan to head over to Billy Lehigh’s this afternoon?” Lucas asked as they saddled their horses.

“Sure Pa, you know his Mrs. Lehigh is due any time with their second baby. Billy hasn’t strayed that far from their home for the past week. He’s so nervous… what with Mrs. Lehigh’s mom being there too. Thought I could help him out this afternoon for a while. That and thought he might like having someone else around to talk to.”

Looking to his Pa, Mark thought about what he was to say next, “I don’t know a lot about having women folk around, but I kind of feel sorry for him…”

“He’s still working at Jackford’s…” Lucas had quietly questioned his son’s friendship with a man who was at least ten years older than the boy.

“Sure, but the men over there… Well, I’ve heard them when we’ve been in town…”

“And just what have you heard?” Lucas hesitantly asked.

“Well, it’s not so much what they say, but how they say it. It’s sort of like their jealous of him and his wife, and now they’re expecting their second child… Guess I’m not explaining is too good.”

“Just what do you do when you’re over there?” Lucas asked. Deep down he was proud of what his son was trying to do for his friend.

“Pa, I just let him talk as I help him do chores around their place… I’m just there to listen and to help him. I don’t make jokes about his home life, I guess he… Pa, he told me once he thought of me as his little brother.”

“Tell you what Mark. It won’t take both of us to check on the calves. I think I can handle this. Why don’t you head on over to Billy’s.”

“Really Pa,” Mark asked with an excited look on his face.

“Sure, go on, get out of here.” Lucas grinned to himself as he watched his sixteen year son ride off.

*****

When Mark arrived at the Lehigh’s homestead, he heard a woman screaming as he knocked on the front door and waited on the porch. He hesitated, but ultimately he entered the home.

“Billy, want me to go fetch Doc Burrage?” Mark asked as he saw Billy running up the stairs, carrying a bunch of towels.

“Mark! I’d really appreciate it. It’s Julie! She’s been in labor for an hour already. Her Ma’s upstairs helping. I…I…I don’t want to leave her.”

Mark returned to BlueBoy and ran him the half hour to town, jumping down in front of Doc Burrage’s office and began pounding on the door, yelling for the doc.

Hearing the commotion, Micah stepped out of the hotel and approached Mark.

“Mark, what’s wrong? Something happen to your Pa?” Micah asked with a concerned look on his face.

“No, Micah, Pa’s fine. Do you know where Doc is?”

“Sure Mark, he’s over at the Tillson’s. Adam Tillson came in earlier this morning saying Old Man Tillson was having chest pains.”

“Thanks Micah!” Mark offered as he ran past Micah to get back to BlueBoy.

“Hold on there boy,” Micah grabbed for Mark’s arm. “What’s wrong?” Micah wasn’t about to let Mark go without more information.

“We need the doc at Billy Lehigh’s. His… His wife’s in labor. They need doc to help Mrs. Lehigh give birth! Micah… I’ll head to the Tillson’s, but if I miss him, Micah, will you tell him to get out to Billy’s!”

“Mark, before you arrived at Doc’s, Dave Merar sent one of his men in to fetch the doc too. Seems one of his men got hurt bad after being bucked off a horse he was breaking. It’ll be a while before he returns to town.”

Crestfallen that it appeared he had failed in getting help for his friend, Mark scrunched his face and took a deep breath, his decision made… He was not going to fail.

“Micah, can you get word to Pa? I think I’m going to be gone a lot longer than I told Pa I would”

Concerned about the young man who stood in front of him as he saw a look flash across Mark’s face, Micah asked, “Boy, what are you planning on doing?” He still had not relinquished his hold on Mark’s arm.

“Just getting help for Billy,” answered Mark in an bland tone of voice. His mind wasn’t focusing on the question asked or his answer, he was planning his route across range to theTillson’s and then on to Dave Marar’s, the other side of the border pass.

“You stop thinking what you’re thinking. You’ll get help, but you’ll stick to the main roads,” admonished Micah.

“Sure Micah, sure,” Mark absent-mindedly answered. “You get word to Pa?” His eyes pleaded as he asked the question.

“Sure. I’ll get word to Lucas.” Seeing what he believed to be Mark agreeing with him to stay on the main roads, Micah released Mark’s arm. “Give Billy and Julie my regards once that little one arrives.”

“Thanks Micah! I gotta get going!”

Mark swung into the saddle and rode BlueBoy hard to the Tillson’s; his mind was focused on getting Doc for his friends. He didn’t regale at BlueBoy’s strength or surefootedness as he would have had they just been riding for fun.

When he halted his horse in front of the Tillson’s home, Adam Tillson met him out front.

“Mark, what’re you doing running your horse like this? I thought you knew better!” the man scolded seeing how lathered and winded BlueBoy was.

“I wouldn’t be if it weren’t so important to find Doc. Micah said he’d be here,” answered Mark.

“He was here earlier, Pa had an episode. But Doc’s already left.”

“How is your Pa?” Mark asked, not wanting to seem rude.

“He’s doing fine Mark. Doc said it was a bad case of indigestion, probably from his own cooking. Ma’s supposed to be back from her sister’s in two more days,” Mr. Tillson replied laughing.

“And Doc Burrage, you said he already left? Did he head on over to Dave Merar’s?” Mark asked.

“Sure did, left here about an hour and a half ago.” Curious to why Mark was looking for Doc, he asked, “Is everything okay with your Pa?”

“Pa’s fine. I’m trying to get Doc for Billy Lehigh and his wife. Their baby’s on the way. You tell your Pa I’m glad he’s okay. I best get after Doc, see you later!” Mark called as he turned his horse around and set out again to find the doctor.

“I will Mark, I will!” Adam Tillson called as he waved the boy goodbye. As he walked back to his home, the man slipped his hands into the front pockets of his pants and shook his head.

*****

Mark wheeled BlueBoy around and headed to Dave Merar’s. He felt guilty because how long it was taking him to find the doc. Also, never had he remembered working BlueBoy so long or so hard, but he had no choice in the matter.

“Sorry boy, but this is real important,” Mark said to his horse as he gave him a pat on the neck. “Just a little while more. Once we get Doc to Billy’s, I’ll give you a break, I promise.”

As Mark halted before he began to ride through the border pass, he momentarily shivered, remembering just a few years before when he had taken the route, against Nils orders, and encountered an outlaw who stole the horse Mark was returning to Dave Merar. Taking a deep breath, Mark prayed he wouldn’t encounter any one as he urged his horse forward.

Mark arrived at Merar’s ranch and jumped down from BlueBoy in front of the bunk house and ran inside without knocking.

Breathlessly he called out, “Doc, we need you at Billy Lehigh’s… His Misses is in labor.”

Mark stated came to an abrupt stop upon seeing the splint already on Rubin’s leg and Doc working to set the splint on the man’s arm. Mark winced at the livid bruises already formed on the side of the man’s chest and face.

“Mark, I’m almost done setting Rubin’s broken arm. Give me about ten more minutes,” Doc Burrage replied.

“Gee Rubin, I’m real sorry to see you laid up like this,” Mark offered.

“That old nag,” Rubin started to gripe, but sharply sucked in his breath when Doc tightened the bandage around the splint. He looked at Doc and decided to keep his mouth shut.

“He won’t be in the saddle for a while Mark.” Doc Burrage added as an afterthought, “But he’ll live to ride again.” Doc snickered to himself ‘Though how a cowboy ends up breaking himself instead of the horse…’ as he packed his doctor’s kit.

While waiting for Doc Burrage to finish, Mark paced the floor and fidgeted with his hat.

Turning to Mark, he asked, “Now Mark, you say Mrs. Lehigh’s in labor?”

“Yes sir, I was there about two and a half hours ago and Billy said she’d been in labor for about an hour. Her ma’s there… but I… I know Billy would feel a whole lot better if you were there to help out.”

“Okay, Okay... Guess it’s going to be a long night.” Turning to Merar, “Dave, keep Rubin in bed for about a week. Then bring him to town. If he’s doing okay, we’ll figure a way to get him up and around; going to be difficult for him using crutches with that broken arm. Well, that’s all I can do here. Best get over to the Lehigh’s. Come on Mark, let’s get going. I’m sure if this baby is anything like its older brother it’s not going to want to wait.”

Mark, Doc, and Merar stepped outside the bunkhouse together. The rancher spied BlueBoy standing in the yard, head down, flanks still heaving to fill with air.

“Doc, you head on over to Billy’s, I’m going to keep Mark here for a while. His horse looks to use a break. I’ll send him on when I feel he’s recovered,” Dave Merar stated while assisting Doc Burrage to get into his buggy.

“Okay. See you next week,” Doc answered and rein slapped his buggy horse and headed for the Lehigh’s.

Dave Merar called to Mark as he started to mount BlueBoy, “Where all you been on BlueBoy? He looks plumb worn out, son.”

“Only trotted him from home to Billy’s, but once I got there and found Mrs. Lehigh in labor, I ran him to town, then over to the Tillson’s, and then I ran him here. I know I took a lot out of him, Mr. Merar, but I had to get Doc for Billy and his wife,” Mark pleaded. As he spoke he cast his eyes down, thinking Mr. Merar was upset with him.

“Mark, I’m not chastising you in your treatment of your horse, you had good reason. I’m just saying, he’s too good of a horse to ask any more of him tonight, why don’t you leave him here for the night and borrow one of my horses. You can come back for your horse whenever it fits into your schedule,” Merar said as he placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder and turned him to the barn.

They walked BlueBoy into Merar’s barn to unsaddle him. Mark took time to sack and curry him out. He smiled as the rancher personally tossed several large flakes of hay into the stall and eventually returned with a bucket of water for the horse.

Merar turned to one of his hands, “Donaldson, go pick a horse out of the remuda that’s close to BlueBoy’s size and get it in the barn for Mark to use.” Then turning to Mark, “We’ll turn BlueBoy out in the corral later and make sure he’s got plenty of water in the trough and throw down some hay for him. He’ll be in good hands.”

“I know sir,” Mark replied. “Mr. Merar, I really appreciate this. I’m sure Pa will repay you for the hay and grain BlueBoy eats when we come back for him.”

“Non-sense boy, I’d consider it an even swap. By the way, when was the last time you ate? Seems you’ve been in the saddle for quite a while tracking down Doc. And you look a little tuckered, too.”

Embarrassed at his stomach’s betrayal as soon as the question was asked, Mark replied, “Pa and I had lunch… before noon.”

“Come on to the house. Mrs. Merar will be putting dinner on the table soon enough. I even think she baked an apple pie today. And you know how upset my wife will be with me if she finds out you were here and didn’t stay around long enough to sample her cooking.”

“An apple pie, you said?” Mark grinned.

*****

It was around six o’clock when Mark left Merar’s place. “I’m going to head across country to get to Billy’s place, before I head home. Save me some time instead of taking the roads. Pa’s going to be mad enough as it is, guess it doesn’t really matter how late I’ll be. Anyway, I did ask Micah to get word to Pa earlier, but still…” Mark stated, feeling a little guilty about the second piece of apple pie.

“Boy, you stick to the roads. It’ll be dark soon enough. You’ve had good reasons for being gone so long. I think your Pa will understand your being late.” Mr. Merar used the same tone his Pa did when he wanted his orders obeyed.

“Yes sir, I promise,” Mark guiltily answered, knowing he had disobeyed Micah’s instructions. But then, Mark hadn’t promised Micah, he only said, ‘sure’.

*****

Having lost the desire to race and the fact the horse was unfamiliar to him, Mark casually rode the horse along the main road that would take him from Dave Merar’s ranch to the homestead the Billy and Julie Lehigh shared not too far away from Oat Jackfods’s place.

As Mark rode up Craig’s Pass, he encountered a covered wagon driven by a soldier cresting the hill in front of him. Since the road through the pass wasn’t wide enough for him and the wagon at the same time, Mark turned his horse around to head back to the bottom to allow the wagon to pass him before he continued.

Mark was half way back down the hill when he heard the unmistakable sounds of a run-away. He looked over his shoulder to see the soldier struggling to stop the team, realizing he couldn’t, the soldier jumped from the wagon, yelling “Run, get out of the way!”

Mark kicked the unfamiliar horse hard in the flanks to get him moving; the horse startled and began rearing as the run-away wagon came closer. Mark finally brought the horse under control and urged it to run. Just as Mark reached the flatlands, a wagon wheel struck a bolder, causing the team to bolt sideway. The sudden jerk of the horses and the weight of the load in the wagon broke the singletree shaft. In their panicked fright, the horses continued to bolt, ripping the harnesses from the chains that attached them to the wagon. The out of control wagon flipped and struck the ground, exploding.

*****

The soldier landed on his feet, but dropped to the ground as he watched the wagon flip. He sensed the explosion through the ground and felt a blast of hot air pass over him. He covered his head and waited for the debris to finish falling. As the soldier stood to his feet, the rest of the patrol came up behind him, reining their horses to a stop.

“Sergeant, what happened?” a man wearing lieutenant’s bars yelled as he reined in his horse.

“The brake gave way, I…I… I couldn’t stop it. The wagon started pushing the horses and they bolted. I tried, but…” the sergeant answered.

The lieutenant led his patrol forward; as they reached the bottom, the smoke was clearing for them to see what remained of their totally obliterated wagon. Off in the clearing, one horse from the team was struggling to get to its feet, obviously suffering a broken leg. The other horse was struggling against its teammate to get away.

The sergeant pulled out his gun as he ran to the down horse. He pulled the trigger and the horse was still. Without having to be ordered, a corporal ran and helped the sergeant restrain and unharness the remaining horse.

“Oh my God!” The sergeant declared. “There was a boy riding up the hill. He turned to let me finish getting down the hill.”

“WHAT?!” decried the lieutenant.

“There was a civilian…”

“Find him!” ordered the lieutenant.

Every cavalry officer knows the importance of a good horse and each one cringed upon seeing the horse the boy was riding lying dead, having been impaled by a piece of the wagon. Upon spotting the crumpled body a short distance from the horse, the men approached and observed the scorch marks on his clothing, his singed hair, all indicating he had been close when the wagon exploded.

“My God!” the lieutenant exclaimed as he approached the boy. “Corporal, bring me the first aid supplies and a canteen.”

The lieutenant ran the few steps to the boy. He knelt down and slowly turned the boy over onto his back. The boy’s face bore evidence of the explosion, darkened with soot and the sheen of sweat from the heat of the explosion, and blood trickled from his ears.

The corporal handed his lieutenant the requested supplies. “Sir, what do we do now?”

“If I remember, we’re close to North Fork. We need to get this boy help. While I tend to the boy, the rest of you clear the debris from the wagon and drag the carcasses out of sight from the road.”

The lieutenant continued to examine the boy for signs of other injuries. He found the boy had broken his right arm, just above the wrist, having been thrown from his horse.

“Sergeant Palmer, bring me a couple of short lengths of wood from the wagon to use as a splint,” ordered the lieutenant.

The sergeant found a couple of pieces that weren’t too charred and brought them to the lieutenant. Palmer held the boy’s arm as the lieutenant set it and tied the splints around the arm.

“Lieutenant, we need to get him to a doctor,” Palmer quietly stated.

“I know, but I don’t want to move him that far. Don’t know if he took any internal injuries, or he could have injured his back…and without a wagon, I don’t know how to get him to town, I don’t want to carry him in the saddle,” lieutenant replied.

“Sir, let me ride. I’ll bring a doc and a wagon back here,” offered Sergeant Palmer, feeling guilty for his role in causing the boy’s injuries.

“No, I’m responsible for this detail, I’ll ride. Let’s get him under the tree over there. We can start a fire to keep him warm, won’t be long before the sun’s going to be completely down.”

“Yes sir.”

Sergeant Palmer and the lieutenant gently carried the boy and set him down under the tree. As they laid the boy down, Sergeant Palmer yelled, “Corporal Mallen and Private O’Rily, get some of that wood over here and start a fire.”

“Yes sir.” Both replied.

*****

Sergeant Palmer held the lieutenant’s horse as he mounted. “Lieutenant, we’ll be waiting for your return,” he stated as he gaze stayed upon the still form of the unconscious youth lying on the ground.

The lieutenant rode to North Fork and asked directions before heading for the Marshal’s Office. He stepped down from his horse and knocked before opening the door. He walked in to hear the marshal and deputy talking, halting their conversation mid-sentence.

“Good evening, I’m Marshal Micah Torrance and this here is my deputy, Johnny Drako. What can we do for you Lieutenant?” Micah asked when he saw the soldier enter.

Only giving a brief moment of questioning if he’d heard the marshal’s introduction correctly, the lieutenant pushed his thoughts aside and returned to why he was there.

“Sir, my name’s Lieutenant Crawford. My men and I were transporting a load of dynamite and had an accident out at a pass outside of town. Our wagon team… The brake failed and we had a run away. At the bottom of the hill, it flipped and exploded.”

“How bad are your men hurt?” Drako asked as he stood from the chair behind his desk.

“None. We lost the wagon and one of our horse team.” Seeing the perplexed look upon the men’s faces the lieutenant continued. “Unfortunately, there was a civilian, a boy… Maybe fourteen or fifteen years old, I think. My sergeant stated he was coming up the pass as our wagon started down. The boy tired to get out of the way… He’s been hurt. We need your doctor, if your town has one?”

Knowing Doc was out of town and having been informed earlier in the afternoon of what was happening, Johnny Drako stated, “Micah, Doc Burrage hasn’t returned from Merar’s or Billy’s places. You want me to ride out for him?”

“Yeah, Johnny, go get Doc, start first at Billy’s… He’s probably there by now. I’ll get Nils to hitch a team to a buck board and head out with the lieutenant and bring the boy to town. You just get the doc here as soon as possible, but don’t go being fooling enough to risk your own neck in the dark.”

Johnny left the Marshal’s office, stepped up into the saddle, and headed for Billy’s. Micah and the lieutenant headed towards the other end of town, to the livery and then to the pass.

*****

Micah drove the team as he followed, as the lieutenant rode his mount. Before they left town, Micah had offered for the lieutenant to ride with him on the seat and leave his mount in the livery. The officer declined.

Micah halted the team up and saw where the dead horses had been dragged off, out of sight from those traveling along the road. Passing carcasses, he looked at the chestnut saddle horse and didn’t recognize it. Micah maneuvered the wagon along side the fire. Before jumping down, he looked over at the soldiers caring for the injured boy. They had pulled their bedrolls from their horses and had wrapped the boy like a mummy.

“Lieutenant, I think he’s gone into shock. Even with all our bedrolls… and… and the fire, he started shaking,” Corporal O’Rily stated.

“Sergeant, let’s get the boy in to the back of the wagon. I’ll ride with him.” Looking away from the injured youth, he continued, “Corporal, put out that fire. Private, get the horses.”

*****

Johnny arrived at Billy Lehigh’s in time to hear a baby crying. He entered the house and ran upstairs calling out for the doctor. He paused outside the bedroom as he heard Doc Burrage proclaim, “Well Billy, Julie, you’ve got yourself another fine, healthy son.”

Doc Burrage was handing the baby to Julie’s mother, who carefully placed the baby in a blanket before she carried him to the basin on the nightstand and started cleaning him, as Johnny entered.

“Doc, hate to interrupt, but we got an emergency in town. Army was transporting dynamite through one of the passes and it exploded,” Johnny stated.

“How many are hurt and how bad?” Doc asked as he finished tending to Mrs. Lehigh.

“Only one that we know of, but I don’t know how bad. They said the explosion injured a boy that was on the trail.”

“Give us a few minutes to finish here.” Turning to Julie’s Ma, Doc Burrage said, “Mrs. Miller, your daughter will probably sleep through the rest of the night. You know what to do.”

When the older woman nodded, Doc turned to Drako, “Johnny, which pass?”

“They didn’t say,” Johnny admitted.

“Well, where’s the boy now?” Doc asked, upset at the lack of information.

“Micah rode out with a buckboard and was going to bring him back at town, while I came to get you,” Johnny answered.

As they left the room, Billy was cuddling and cooing to his son.

*****

Micah and the soldiers returned slowly to North Fork, careful to prevent the uneven rode from jarring their passenger and possibly injuring him further. Lieutenant Crawford rode in the back, cradling the boy’s head in his lap. Without further talking, the group went straight to Doc’s with the soldiers unloading the boy and carrying him inside. Doc opened the door as they approached and motioned for them to place the boy on the examination table.

Micah stopped at the door as Johnny came out.

“Well, do you know who the boy is?” Johnny asked.

“No, didn’t recognize the horse he was riding except that it was one of Dave Merar’s. Saw the brand. They wrapped the boy like one of them Egyptian mummies, felt he was going into shock, so I didn’t want to unwrap him. Figured best to get him here and let the Doc tend to the boy.”

“Micah, why don’t you and Johnny take the soldiers to your office and let me work on the boy. I’ll come by later when I’m done,” Doc Burrage said as he started to unwrap the blankets from around his patient.

*****

It was an hour later when Doc Burrage walked in to Micah’s.

“Well, Doc? How’s the boy?” Johnny asked.

“I think one of you needs to ride and get Lucas?” Doc replied.

“Lucas?” Micah asked.

“Micah, the boy you brought in is Mark.” Grief was evident in doc’s voice and face.

“Mark?!” Micah and Johnny exclaimed together. Then Micah continued, “But the horse I saw wasn’t BlueBoy. How can it be Mark?”

“Micah, all I know is that when I unwrapped and examined him and finally cleaned the dirt off his face, I saw Mark.”

“I’ll go get Lucas,” Johnny left the office, mounted his horse and rode hard.

*****

Lucas set his coffee cup down on the table as he heard a rider approach. Hoping it was Mark, eager to hear whether Billy and Julie had a boy or a girl; surprised to see Johnny dismount from his horse.

“Johnny, what brings you out this way so late?” Lucas asked as he stopped next to one of the porch posts and elevated his arms as he rested against it. He stood up straight when he saw the look on Johnny’s face as he stepped into the light of the lantern on the front porch.

“Lucas, there’s been an accident. Mark’s been hurt. He’s at Doc’s.”

Lucas didn’t let Johnny say anything more. After grabbing his rifle, he ran to the barn, and saddled Razor. He mounted inside the barn and rode for North Fork, with Johnny fast on his heels.

As they arrived at Doc’s, Lucas was torn between running to his boy and fearing what had happened. Lucas took a deep breath before he walked into the Doc’s office. Doc was the only one in the room, sitting at his desk.

“Doc?”

Doc Burrage didn’t look up as he spoke to Lucas. “Lucas, what did Johnny tell you?

“Only that there’d been an accident and Mark was hurt. Doc? How bad?” Lucas dreaded the answer.

“Lucas, I need you to sit down.”

“He’s…” gulped Lucas as his body began to quiver.

“He’s alive Lucas, he’s alive. Please… sit down.”

As Lucas sat down, he saw Micah and a lieutenant come from the back room. Beyond them, he briefly saw his boy lying in the room before Micah shut the door.

“Doc?!” Lucas felt the urgent desire to rise to go to his boy.

Before he could begin to stand, Doc was pushing him back down into the chair.

“Lucas, this here is Lieutenant Dustin Crawford. He and a detail were transporting a shipment of dynamite down Craig’s Pass. They had a run away and the wagon broke loose from the team. It flipped and exploded,” Micah stated.

“What happened to Mark?” Lucas angrily demanded.

“Mr. McCain, your boy was riding up the pass when my sergeant lost control of the team. Your boy tried to get out of the way, the horse he was on wasn’t quick enough. When the wagon flipped and exploded, your boy was… too close. The horse was killed; guess it took the brunt of the explosion saving your boy’s life.”

Lucas looked from Micah to Doc to Johnny, no one said a word. Lucas sat there, struggling to understand what he had heard, fearing how badly his son was injured.

“Doc? How… How bad is he?” Lucas fearfully asked.

“He took some superficial burns to his left arm and leg, and his back. His right arm is broken. Right now, he’s unconscious, has been since the accident. I hazard to guess he also suffered a concussion during the fall.”

“What else aren’t you…” Lucas stopped as he remembered back to the time when the powder keg blew up in his face. He remembered being blind for a week and was painfully aware of how he felt while being visually cut off from the world he knew.*. “His… his eyes. Is he… blind?” ‘But this wasn’t a keg of black powder, this was a shipment of dynamite,’ Lucas mournfully thought to himself.

(*Refers to incident in season three episode “Dark Day in North Fork”)

“Lucas, I don’t think so. When I lifted his eyelids and moved a lantern towards and away from him, his pupils reacted in response to the light… Unfortunately, we won’t positively know until he wakes. The blow to his head… I just don’t know Lucas,” the doctor answered in defeat.

“Mr. McCain, if I may… My men and I, we’re sorry this happened to your boy. The sergeant did everything he could… I don’t know what else we could have done.” Watching the distraught father, he continued. “We’ve requisitioned rooms at the hotel and plan on staying until we know more about your boy’s condition,” Lieutenant Crawford stated. He’d hoped to hear something from the man sitting in front of him, but when he didn’t, he bid good night, turned, and left the doctor’s office.

Johnny followed the lieutenant out as he walked over to the hotel.

“Lieutenant, wait up.”

As he stepped to the boardwalk in front of the hotel, Lieutenant Crawford stopped, “You’re Drako?”

“Yes,” he answered, knowing exactly what the lieutenant was asking, and it wasn’t to confirm his name.

“You’re a lawman now?” the lieutnant’s voice held a brief hint of disgust.

“I’ve always been within the law. I got tired of every young gun out to make a name for themselves… Too many lives destroyed.”

“So you’re hiding behind a badge,” his contempt was more obvious.

“Not hiding. I’m standing here in plain daylight, well… maybe not right now. This town knows my past and that’s what it is… My past. What matters now is that I try not to use this.” Johnny patted the holstered gun hanging from his hip. “And if my badge makes someone stop and think… so be it. I never asked for my reputation. All I ever did was defend my own.”

“You believe that?”

“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be standing here,” answered Drako.

Deciding to change the subject, he was too tired to continue, the Crawford stated, “You called out to me.”

“Yeah, I did. I get the feeling you were disappointed that Lucas didn’t say anything.” The soldiers lifted his shoulders as if to say, ‘it didn’t matter’. Give Lucas a chance to come to terms with what he just found out. His boy and him, they’re each other’s life. He’s a good man. Give him time with his bible. Let the boy wake in the morning and things will be all right.”

“Something about things looking better in the light of day?” inquired Lieutenant Crawford.

“Something like that.”

Johnny bid the lieutenant goodnight, turned and walked towards the Mallory Hotel.

*****

Doc finally decided Lucas was enough in control and walked the father into the back room. Before him, he saw his son lying under the sheet. Pain etched his face in looking upon the splint around the boy’s right arm as it was propped on top of a pillow on the far side. Lucas pulled the sheet away to examine the other injuries Doc had told him about. Lucas saw the sheen of ointment on the back of Mark’s left arm and leg, presuming some also ran down his boy’s back. Lucas covered his boy back up and sat down on the edge of the bed.

As he looked at his boy’s face, Lucas pushed Mark’s hair back and then ran his hand down the side of his boy’s face, turning Mark’s head to the side, and exclaimed “Doc, his ear, it looks like there’s blood coming from it.”

“I know Lucas. I’ve some cotton wadding inside the outer ear, but I don’t know the extent of how much his hearing has been compromised. Lucas as with his eyes, we won’t know anything until he wakes.” Doc said as tears were brimming in his own eyes as he placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “Lucas, I can bring a cot in here and let you sleep next to him tonight. Honestly, I don’t want him left alone. I want someone in here when he wakes.”

Micah brought in the cot, but Lucas never used it. He spent the whole night sitting next to Mark, worrying and praying, fearing when his son woke that he would face a world where there was perpetual darkness and no sound. Lucas couldn’t imagine facing such a world. How could he ever get through to his son?

*****

The morning sun rose and still Mark remained unconscious. Lou Mallory, owner of the Mallory House Hotel, carried in a tray bearing breakfast for Lucas.

“Lucas, I’ve brought ye breakfast. Now don’t ye go giving me that look. Ye need to keep up yer strength. Not eating won’t help Mark. Please Lucas, for Mark, ye have to eat,” Lou pleaded with her Irish accent.

She smiled that her word had convinced Lucas to eat something. “I stopped over at the church. Thought this might bring ye some comfort,” Lou stated as she handed him a bible before she left.

“Don’t you want to know how he is?” Lucas asked as he heard the swishing of her skirt as she walked back to the door.

“Micah told me. Lucas, I’m praying for the both of ye.” With that, she left the room.

Doc Burrage came in to examine Mark for the morning. Pleased, the burn marks weren’t as angry looking and the swelling of the boy’s arm was subsiding. Doc pulled the cotton wadding from Mark’s ears, thankful that the bleeding had stopped. Doc looked at Lucas and saw the pain in his face.

Regret was in Doc’s voice as he said, “I’m sorry Lucas. Give it time.” He placed his hand to the grieved father’s shoulder before he left the room.

“Time?” Lucas asked.

“Time to heal. Time to wake up.”

It was late morning when the lieutenant returned to the doctor’s office. He quietly stepped into the back room, removed his hat, and waited. He watched as Lucas sat next to his boy, bible in hand, tears falling down his face. Realizing he had no right to witness the silent exchange, the lieutenant turned to leave, but in doing so, his foot hit the leg of a chair next to the door.

“Lieutenant?” Lucas asked as he turned at the sound and saw the lieutenant standing there.

“I’m sorry Mr. McCain, I didn’t mean to intrude. I just wanted to see how th… how your boy was doing. If he had woke?” Hesitant to learn the answer.

“You’re not intruding. I appreciate your concern. Please forgive me for not talking with you last night.”

“Sir, you had more important concerns on your mind. No forgiveness is required.”

“I do owe you gratitude for bringing my boy to town,” Lucas stated as he turned his attention back to Mark.

“Sir, it wouldn’t have been necessary had my detail not lost control of the wagon. Please, Mr. McCain, we are sorry this happened. I sent word back to the fort explaining what happened. You should know… We’ve been relieved of our duties until the Army can complete an investigation. The colonel was none too pleased to hear what happened. Before we left, I tried to tell him the dynamite was too old and should be exploded where it sat, but the railroad was desperate for the dynamite.”

Lucas heard the contempt in the man’s voice. Lucas lowered his head and voice as he said, “Lieutenant, accidents happen.”

“Sir, it still doesn’t ease my conscience. It should never have happened. If’n there’s anything I can do...” With that said, the Lieutenant turned and left.

*****

As the Lieutenant returned to the hotel, he met his men in the dining room.

“Lieutenant, how’s the boy doing?” Sergeant Palmer asked.

“Not to good. He’s still out cold. As for us, we’ve been relieved of all duties pending a full investigation. We’re to wait here until the colonel arrives.”

“Full investigation?” Lou asked as she approached to take their order. Her Irish brogue coming through loud and clear. “It was an accident. How can the Army feel anyone was at fault?”

“Ma’am, it’s just the Army’s way. I do feel responsible for what happened to the boy. I should have fought harder against moving that damn dynamite,” the lieutenant declared as he slammed his fist down onto the table, jarring the dishes upon it. “Forgive me ma’am.”

“Well, just consider North Fork yer home for the time being.” Lou turned and walked away.

*****

It was mid-afternoon when Mark started to regain consciousness. Lucas was sitting in the chair, intent on the bible.

Mark turned his head and looked to his Pa and quietly called, “Pa?” When Lucas didn’t react, Mark tried speaking louder, “Pa?” With the pain in his head, Mark couldn’t understand why he couldn’t hear his own voice. He felt fear growing inside as the pain intensified when he started to sit up. “PA!” Mark cried and tried to lift his right hand to his head as he fell back to the bed.

Lucas saw movement out of the corner of his eye. “Mark, I’m here son, just lie still,” Lucas said quietly. “Welcome back boy. How’re you feeling?”

Mark’s eyes were scrunched closed as he fought against the pain in his head. Taking deeper breaths, and lying flat, helped ease his pain. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw his Pa, but somehow he knew things weren’t right. He saw his Pa’s lips moving but couldn’t hear the words. ‘Is my brain that muddled?’ Mark thought to himself. He tried talking to his Pa, but realized he couldn’t hear his voice.

Worriedly, Lucas stood up and walked to the door in order to call for Doc Burrage. “Doc, Mark’s awake, but something’s wrong.” Lucas returned to his stand at his son’s side.

Doc entered the room and walked to Mark and was pleased to see the boy follow his progress across the floor. “How do you feel Mark?” Concern grew as Doc saw the perplexed look Mark held on his face as he looked between his Pa and the Doc. “Mark?”

“What’s wrong?” asked Lucas.

Ignoring the father, “Mark, can you hear me?” Doc asked as Mark was looking at his Pa.

“Doc?” Lucas pleaded as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

Placing his hands on both sides of Mark’s face, Doc moved the boy’s head so he looked at him. “Mark can you hear me?” Again, no verbal answer only a look of fear spreading across the boy’s face.

With his hand, Doc pointed to Mark, and then to his own mouth, before moving his hands to Mark’s ears, while at the same time he again asked, “Mark can you hear me?”

Even with his mind muddled, Mark figured out what the doc must be asking and shook his head left and right, immediately regretting the movement as the pain returned and he tightly closed his eyes.

“Lucas, I fear that Mark sustained damage to his ears and he can’t hear. Lucas, I’m sorry.”

“Doc, how long?” Lucas tried to hug his boy, but quickly laid him back down when Mark moaned. Doc quickly retrieved a basin from the nightstand and shoved the father aside as he heard the tale-tell signs that indicated the boy would soon heave any contents from his stomach.

Helping the boy to lay back down a few moments later, Doc placed a cool, damp cloth to the boy’s forehead.

“What’s wrong?” inquired Lucas.

“It’s the concussion. He’ll need to lie flat for a while longer and then slowly we can get him used to sitting up again. When you pulled him into your arms, his brain didn’t have time to adjust and that’s what caused the nausea,” answered the doctor.

“But his hearing?”

“Lucas, as with your eyes, I just don’t know. You were lucky. Mark got you to my office quickly and I was able to get ointment into your eyes and get them bandaged. But ears, we just don’t know that much about how they work. It could be temporary or it could be permanent. We’ll just have to wait and pray for the best.”

“Wait and pray, is that all you’re good for?” Lucas caustically asked.

“Lucas, I know you’re hurting, we’ll see what happens when he wakes again.”

“Doc… for now, please keep this between us. Don’t to tell anyone that Mark can’t hear. I remember how uneasy he felt towards the town’s folks when I was blind, and right now, that’s the last thing he needs. When can I take him home?”

“Lucas, I’ll do as you ask, but you need to understand, this could be permanent. You need to think about what’s best for Mark.”

“I am!” declared Lucas. “When can I take him home.”

“Let’s see how the next few days go. I won’t release him until he can sit up without throwing up.”

“Okay, but no one…”

“Okay Lucas. If you want to keep this a secret for a while, best to take him home when most everyone else is at church tomorrow. That is, IF he no longer feels any nausea.”

As the doctor left the room, Lucas gave thanks that his son’s eyesight had been spared, but mourned the loss of his son’s hearing.

*****

Later that evening, Mark opened his eyes and watched the silent conversation his Pa was having with the doctor. Trying to understand what was happening, why he couldn’t hear. His eyes grew wide with fear as his head began to hurt again, he felt his heart start racing. He grabbed for his father’s arm, and watched as Doc Burrage left the room and returned a few minutes with paper and pencils.

Doc returned to the room to hear Lucas trying to calm his son.

“Lucas, use these… Write out and ask Mark if he remembers what happened,” as he handed paper and pencil to Lucas and another to Mark.

They watched as Mark tried to hold the pencil in his hand and couldn’t because of the splint and the pain of his broken arm.

“Lucas, write out yes and no questions,” as he wrote Yes and No on a piece of paper and placed it in front of Mark.

Before Lucas wrote his questions, he wrote, ‘Mark, point to yes or no to answer our questions. Do you understand?’

Using his left hand, Mark pointed to yes.

‘Do you remember what happened?’

Mark pointed to yes.

‘The solders and the wagon?’

Mark pointed to yes.

‘Do you remember the explosion?’

Again Mark pointed to yes.

‘Have you heard anything we’ve said, no matter how faint?”

Mark pointed to no.

“Are your ears ringing, do they ache?” Doc wrote.

Mark pointed to yes.

“Do you have a headache?” Doc wrote.

Mark pointed to yes, but then wavered his left hand to indicate a little.

“How bad?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas,” admonished the doctor.

While Doc continued to write his questions for Mark, Lucas wrote a note to his boy, regretfully telling Mark that BlueBoy was dead. Mark pointed to No. Lucas nodded. Mark shook his head. He picked up the pencil in his left hand and attempted to write, ‘Merar horse.’ Lucas grimaced at the uneven strokes and varying size of each letter.

Lucas wrote, ‘You weren’t riding BlueBoy?’

Mark pointed to no.

‘Where did you leave BlueBoy?’

Mark pointed to Merar.

“Lucas, I want the boy to sleep some more,” stated Doc. He stepped to the table, picked up a glass jar and mixed some of its contents into a glass of water handed it to Lucas. Lucas slightly elevated his son’s head from the pillows and held the glass of water for his son to drink.

Setting the glass aside, Lucas wrote, “Mark, try to sleep. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Going to Merar’s.”

Mark slightly nodded, trying to keep the tears from falling. Lucas patted his boy’s shoulder as he stood up to leave.

“Doc, I don’t want anyone in here and that means Micah and Lou. You do that for me?”

“Sure Lucas. If they stop by I’ll tell them Mark woke up, but I gave him something for the pain and he fell asleep.”

“Thanks,” Lucas stated as he left the room.

*****

Lucas rode out to Dave Merar’s ranch. As Lucas arrived, he met Dave coming out of the barn raising his hand as he called out, “Lucas!”

“Dave, can we talk somewhere?”

“Sure Lucas, what’s up? I hope Mark got home okay last night.”

“Dave, there was an accident last night involving Mark; unfortunately…”

“An accident? Is Mark okay?” the rancher interrupted.

“He will be. He said he left BlueBoy here.”

“Yes, I insisted he leave his horse here last night. He looked worn out after chasing the doc down for the Lehighs like he did.” Turning to yell to one of his ranch hands, “Donaldson, get BlueBoy bridled and bring him to Lucas.” Upon turning back to Lucas, “Lucas, how did the accident happen?”

“Army was heading down Craig’s Pass with a load of dynamite. They lost control and it exploded. From what the lieutenant said, your horse, the one you loaned Mark, took the brunt of the explosion and saved Mark’s life. I’ll repay you the cost of the horse."

“Lucas, that won’t be necessary. It wasn’t Mark’s fault. You get back to town and take care of Mark.”

Donaldson brought BlueBoy out of the barn and handed the reins to Lucas. Lucas turned and rode back to North Fork. He left Razor and BlueBoy at the livery.

*****

Mark had been home for five days and if anyone had stopped by, they could tell things weren’t going well between him and his Pa; he was growing frustrated. Any time his Pa came up behind him, whether in the house or the barn or just sitting on the porch, it startled him because he couldn’t hear him coming. Evenings were the worst; he missed the talks he used to have with his Pa. He couldn’t even hold a written conversation because of the splint on his arm. He missed quietly sitting on the porch, looking out over the horizon and just listening to the owls hoot or a wolf calling to its pack.

*****

Lucas was out in the barn tending to the stock while Mark was struggling to finish the dishes; washing and drying with only one good arm was difficult. Tears were streaming down Mark’s face as he grew angrier with himself and the situation he found himself in.

*****

Stevan Griswald stepped to the front porch of the McCain hom and saw Mark through the door window and knocked. When Mark didn’t turn around Mr. Griswald knocked again and entered the house, calling for Mark. A little annoyed when Mark didn’t acknowledge his presence, he walked over and placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder and turned him around.

Not realizing anyone else was in the house; Mark startled, as he spun around, his face angry, dropping the metal dishpan from his hands and he clinched them into fists. As the dishpan hit the floor, Mr. Griswald automatically placed his hands to his ears to block out the noise and watched as Mark just stared at the pan spinning around in a circle, making quite a racket. When the pan stopped spinning, Mr. Griswald bent over to pick it up. He placed the pan on the counter and watched as Mark ran from the house, out the back door.

Mr. Griswald turned as he heard the front door open and watched Lucas enter, “Lucas, Mark didn’t seem to realize I was here. I knocked and when he didn’t respond I came in. I think I startled him and….. Lucas he ran out the back.”

Lucas ran out the back door, yelling after Mark. He watched as Mark led BlueBoy from the barn, hopped on him bareback, and rode away. “MARK!” Lucas yelled. “MARK!”

Mr. Griswald came up behind Lucas. “Lucas, I’m sorry. I don’t know why Mark reacted so… He looked mad…”

“It’s not your fault, Stevan…” Being torn between going after his son and find out why the school teacher was standing beside him, Lucas asked. “What brings you out here today?”

“Micah told me about the accident and since Mark hadn’t been in school all week, I thought I would drop by and bring his lessons to him.”

Lucas placed both hands in his front pockets and slumped his shoulders as he returned to the house and sat down at the table, motioning for the man to take a seat. “Stevan, since the accident, Mark can’t hear,” Lucas replied.

“Deaf? Lucas, I didn’t know,” Stevan’s eyes held sorrow.

“Stevan, it’s not your fault. But the expression on your face is just why I asked Doc not to tell anyone, I wanted to protect my boy.”

“Beside Doc, does anyone else know? I can’t say that I’ve heard anyone say anything other than the Army board of inquiry declared it was an accident. During the investigation I heard them say Mark was going to be okay.”

“Physically, yes. His arm will heal as will the burns. But as for his hearing... Stevan, I’ve not even talked to Micah about this. I haven’t left the ranch because I didn’t want to leave Mark at home alone. But of late, Stevan, he’s just become so tense... angry” Lucas rested his head in his hands. It felt good to talk to someone. “I’ve seen it in his eyes. I’ve seen the hurt and at times I’ve seen anger. I don’t know how to help my boy.” Tears were finally streaming down Lucas’ face.

“Lucas, there are schools that can teach Mark. I know of a very good school in Albuquerque. I’d be honored to send a wire of inquiry.”

“School? What kind of school?” Lucas hesitantly asked as he raised his head from his hands.

“It’s a school for the deaf. They’ll teach Mark how to communicate using his hands, its called sign language, and the speaker uses their hands to create letters, and gestures with their hands and facial expression to create words. The teachers work with the student and the family, so they can learn to communicate with each other.”

“I don’t know Stevan, I appreciate the offer, it’s just that I was hoping Mark’s inability to hear would be temporary.” Stevan saw the pain in Lucas’ eye as he was beginning to accept that the longer Mark went without hearing, that his son’s condition might be permanent.

“Lucas, this isn’t like when you were blind. At least then, you both could still talk to each other. You could get your fears out in the open. You, yourself, said how tense Mark’s becoming… the longer you let this simmer, ultimately, it’s going to explode.” Stevan realized the word he used probably wasn’t the best one when he heard Lucas’ sharp intake of breath.

“I can’t see sending him away… to school.”

“Lucas I have friends who I’m sure would be willing to come here, at least to start helping Mark, and you.”

“Thanks Stevan.” As Lucas looked out the front window, he commented, “Mark needs someone and I’m not that person.”

“Lucas, he needs you now more than ever. You’re going to have to work just as hard to learn this new language as he will.”

*****

It was well after nightfall when Mark returned BlueBoy to the barn and walked to the house. Lucas was in his chair reading from his bible as Mark entered. Lucas started to rise when he saw the tear stains on his boy’s face. Mark didn’t even look to his Pa as he walked straight to the bedroom they shared.

Mark sat down on the side of his bed in the dark. Grieving for his loss; wanting desperately to talk to his Pa, to get his feelings out in the open. To hear his Pa tell him that everything would return to normal soon.

Lucas went to follow Mark to the bedroom, as he passed the table, he picked up a piece of paper. He wanted, needed, Mark to read what he had written. As he entered the bedroom, Lucas walked over to the nightstand and lit the lantern. Mark was sitting on the edge of his bed; the fingers of his hands interlaced and held between his thighs, his head and shoulders slumped as in defeat. Lucas was taken back by what he witnessed. He saw hurt and fear, a whole gamut of emotions held in his son’s face. Lucas walked to Mark and sat down next to him. Mark started to get up, but Lucas grabbed his left forearm, his eyes pleading for Mark to sit. He handed Mark the note he had written to him.

Mark,

I want you to know how much I love you. I know you’re hurting, I’m hurting too. I miss our talks. Mr. Griswald is wiring a friend whom he feels can help us learn to talk to teach other. He told me of a school in Albuquerque for people who are deaf.

Please Mark, I don’t know how else to help us.

Love, Pa

Mark sat and cried as Lucas wrapped him in his arms; cried because he felt his Pa was sending him away. Oh, how he wanted to talk to his Pa, beg him not to send him away. His mind raced in confusion at all that had happened. It just wasn’t fair.

As the days passed, Mark withdrew into himself even more. He felt if his Pa didn’t want him around, then he might as well stay away from the house as much as possible. He felt it would make it easier when the time came to say goodbye; when he had to leave for Albuquerque.

*****

Four days after Mr. Griswald sent the wire, the stage arrived in North Fork and Mr. Griswald was there to meet it. He helped a couple step down and collected their bags and led them to his buggy.

“Thomas, Maria, I really appreciate you coming all the way to North Fork,” Stevan Griswald spoke as he greeted his friends.

“Stevan, we were intrigued by your wire. How are the boy and his father handling the situation?” Maria asked.

“From what I heard and saw, the boy’s taking it hard. He can’t hear and because of that, he won’t talk. He can’t even hold a pencil to write because of the splint on his broken arm. His relationship with his Pa is something special. It’s been just the two of them. I’ve seen them go through ordeals that would have driven anyone else apart. They’ve always worked their problems out together and talked through their anguish, but now, their relationship is strained to a point I feel it’s about ready to break.”

“Well, Thomas and I talked on the way out here. We feel that it would be better if Thomas worked with the father and for me to work with the boy,” Maria stated.

“Good, I already have a room reserved for you at the hotel. Just so you know, no one else in the town knows about the boy’s hearing loss. Things happened in the past and Lucas felt it better, at least in the beginning, to not tell anyone else,” Stevan stated.

“Stevan, why don’t you get me settled in the hotel and then you can take Maria out to their place,” Thomas replied.

Once Thomas was settled at the hotel, Stevan drove Maria to the McCain Ranch.

*****

“Lucas, good to see you!” Stevan called as they arrived at the McCain home. “I’d like you to meet Maria Christensen. She’s here to teach you and Mark how to communicate again. Maria, this is Lucas McCain.”

“Welcome to our home Miss Christensen,” Lucas said as he assisted Maria down from the wagon.

“Please, Mr. McCain, it’s Mrs. Christensen, but call me Maria,” she said as she took Lucas’ hand.

“Fine, if you’ll call me Lucas.”

Lucas led Maria and Stevan into the house, he asked, “Can I get either of you a cup of coffee?”

“No thank you. Where’s Mark?” Stevan asked.

“Ever since I told him about the school for the deaf in Albuquerque, he rises early, does his chores in the barn and rides out of here and comes home just before it gets dark,” Lucas answered. “He eats and then goes to bed. He won’t even join me out on the porch like he used to.”

Maria saw the desperation in Lucas’ eyes and heard it in his voice. “Lucas, tell me what happened, how did Mark lose his hearing? I need to know exactly what has happened between you and your son since the accident in order to help.”

Lucas proceeded to tell Maria how the accident happened. How and why he had asked Doc Burrage to not tell anyone that Mark was deaf. How Mark tended to keep things inside, but in the end, Mark always came and talked, to work out any problems. How their relationship was built on them being able to talk and help each other.

“I heard how Mark reacted when Stevan surprised him a few days back. As hard as it’s going to be for your boy, it’s going to be harder on you. Lucas, I need to do this without you here. His running off avoiding people and you, he’s scared.”

“But he needs me. This is still wild country and I won’t have my boy out here by himself!” Lucas declared.

“Lucas, right now, he needs to gain confidence that he can do this on his own. Once he does that, then he’ll need you. Right now, I believe you are making the situation harder on him.” Sensing the concerned father was growing frustrated with her, she explained, “Unfortunately, with your continued presence here, you remind of what he’s lost. All I’m asking is for you to give him some time alone, with me.”

“Maria, I want to do what’s best for my boy...” With a breaking heart, Lucas stated, “Tell me what to do.”

“You can spend the next few days in town. I’ll come get you when I feel your son is ready for you to come home. But first, I want you to write Mark a note,” Maria replied.

“I don’t like the idea of you out here alone,” Stevan Griswald added.

“Stevan, I have to do this here. We can’t do this in town. This is where the boy feels safe and won’t have ‘prying’ eyes on him all the time. Please let me do this my way?”

Lucas wrote exactly what Maria said, realizing the last letter to his son hadn’t been worded so there would be no confusion. Lucas felt guilty when Maria explained the wording of the letter was probably the reason why Mark stayed away from their homestead so much.

Mark,

A teacher from the school for the deaf in Albuquerque, Maria Christensen, is here to help us. At first, she needs to work with you alone, here at the house. She’s asked me to stay in town for a few days. She’ll stay in our room. I’ve set up the cot in the front room for your use.

I pray that you’ll accept why I’m going to stay in town; I can’t wait until I can rejoin you in our home.

I look forward to seeing you soon.

Love, Pa

After placing the note on the table, next to the lamp, Lucas asked, “So what am I supposed to do in town while you’re out here with my boy?”

“Lucas, my husband, Thomas, is at the hotel, waiting for you. You need to learn to talk using sign language too. For right now, it’s best that you learn separately. We know this from experience, we learned the hard way. Our son was about your boy’s age when he lost his hearing, complication from Scarlet Fever. Please trust us to do what’s right for you and your boy,” Maria stated.

*****

Lucas packed a bag before he saddled Razor to return to town. Led his horse from the barn and tied him to the back of Stevan’s buggy and they rode back to North Fork.

*****

It was late when Mark returned to the house; he’d seen that Razor was missing from the barn and thought it was just as well as he couldn’t bring himself to face his Pa. As he entered the house, he saw his father’s rifle was missing, too. He found the note placed on the table, against the lantern. Mark set his hat on the table as he read. He walked to the bedroom and found the door was braced closed from the other side. As he turned, he saw the cot set up on the far side of the table. He walked to the cot, removed his boots, belt and shirt before he lay down. Before long, he was asleep with tears still streaming down his face.

*****

Stevan stopped in front of the livery. He returned his horse and buggy to Nils as Lucas settled Razor in for the night. They left the livery and headed to the hotel.

Thomas Christensen was sitting in the restaurant when they arrived. After introducing the two men, Stevan Griswald bid both men goodnight.

Lucas and Thomas sat and talked. Thomas stated that he understood Lucas’ hopes that his boy would ultimately recover some of his hearing if not all, but right now, it wasn’t practical not to treat Mark as if his hearing loss wasn’t permanent. Lucas needed to face the possible reality that Mark could be deaf for the rest of his life. And, that keeping that fact from others in town would only make matters worse later on.

“Lucas, honestly, it’s best that I teach you and a few others who mean the most to the boy to sign. That way, when you’re not around, he’ll still be able to ‘talk’ with someone else. You need to tell your friends.”

“Thanks Thomas… I guess I should talk to Micah and Johnny, our Marshal and Deputy, then there’s Lou, she owns the hotel, and of course, Stevan.”

“Lucas, Stevan was quite proficient a number of years back in signing, but a refresher course would do him some good,” Thomas stated.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Lucas stood up and placed his hat on his head before reaching for his rifle.

Lucas stepped from the hotel with a heavy heart; he was finally coming to realize there was a good possibility that Mark wouldn’t regain his hearing. First, Lucas walked to Doc Burrage’s and asked him to meet him in the restaurant in about fifteen minutes. Next, Lucas walked to the Marshal’s office.

“LucasBoy, glad to see you. How’s Mark recovering?” Micah asked as he sat down at his desk.

“That’s what I’ve come here to talk to you about. There’s some news about Mark and I didn’t let Doc tell to anyone. And now… I find that I need your help,” Lucas sighed as he sat down on the edge of Micah’s desk.

“Anything Lucas, you know how I feel about the boy,” Micah stated as he sat forward in his chair.

“Micah, Mark’s deaf. He lost his hearing in the accident.” From the doorway, Lucas heard a gasp and an ‘Oh No!’ He turned to see both Lou and Johnny had walked into the Marshal’s Office together. Lou had her hand covering her mouth. Johnny had both hands on Lou’s shoulders trying to steady her as he escorted her to a chair.

“Lucas, I’m sorry. We didn’t know.” Johnny stated after getting a cup of coffee and handing it to Lou.

Lucas continued, “I asked Doc Burrage to keep it quiet. I was hoping and praying his hearing would return. But it’s not.” Lucas sat back down on the edge of the desk.

“Lucas, you said you needed our help,” Micah said.

“Friends of Stevan Griswald arrived in town today. They work with people, and their families, who have lost their hearing. They teach them how to talk using sign language,” Lucas replied.

“Is that Thomas Christensen?” Lou asked.

“Yes, he’s at the restaurant right now. He’s here to teach me how to talk with Mark again and said it would be best to teach others, for when I’m not around. You three mean the most to Mark, and to me, I wanted to ask you if you’d agree to learn how to talk with Mark.”

All three stated there was never a need to ask, just tell them when and where.

“Thomas would like to meet with the four of us tonight and then he can work with us as a group or individually for the next few days.”

Johnny asked, “So while we’re here in town, who’s looking after Mark?”

“Thomas’ wife, Maria, is out at the ranch. Don’t much like the thought of the two of them out there alone, but she said Mark needed to do this on his own, without me around.” If anyone in the room saw the tears welling in Lucas’ eyes, no one acted as if they noticed or minded.

*****

The sun wasn’t up and Mark felt a strong vibration coming through the cot from the floor. He startled awake and looked around. After wiping the sleep from his eyes, he saw a woman walking around the kitchen. As she stood in front of the stove, he saw her long, dark hair tied into a pony tail, she was wearing jeans and a shirt. At first Mark thought Millie Scott has returned to town. As the woman turned from the stove to walk to the sink, he felt disheartened. Mark soon realize she was the reason for the vibrations he was sensing, she was stomping around and her footfalls coincided with the vibrations he was feeling through the cot. She turned from the sink and saw that Mark was awake.

She signed and spoke, ‘Good Morning’.

Mark stared at her. As she walked towards Mark, she said and repeated the sign again, only this time, she stopped at the table and picked up a card with ‘Good Morning’ written on it and showed it to Mark. Again, she repeated the sign and picked up the card. As she set the card down, she pointed to Mark and repeated the sign.

Mark made an effort to imitate what Maria had done, as best he could with his broken arm. Maria walked the rest of the way to where Mark sat and made a minor correction as Mark repeated the sign. Maria smiled at Mark and nodded approval.

She made a different gesture with her hands and picked up a card that read, “My name is Maria.” Again she repeated the gesture and picked up the card and handed Mark the note that Lucas had written.

She pointed to Mark’s clothes then signed, ‘get washed and dressed’. Again, she picked up a card from the table, showed it to Mark, then repeated the sign. Before getting dressed, Mark tried to mimic the sign.

Maria set breakfast on the table as Mark came in from washing up at the back porch. As they ate, Maria set out a set of specialized cards in front of Mark. Mark spread the cards out on the table and saw each card contained an alphabet letter and a picture of a hand in various poses.

After breakfast, Maria assisted Mark in doing the dishes and chores in the barn. They returned to the house to start their study for the day. Maria walked Mark through his alphabet. Seeing the difficulty Mark was having using his right hand with the splint, she worked with him to use his left hand, for the time being. Eventually, she pulled out the cards that spelled out her name as well as the cards that would spell out his name.

By lunch time, Mark could competently sign his name as well as names of various people living in North Fork. Since it was so close to lunch, on a pad of paper Maria wrote out, ‘Are you hungry?’ then signed the phrase. Mark nodded his head. Maria shook her head, then slowly signed, ‘I’m hungry’, and wrote out the statement as the proper response. Maria signed, ‘Are you hungry?’ to which Mark signed, ‘Yes, I’m hungry.’ Maria smiled at the initiative for Mark to spell the word ‘yes’.

After lunch, Maria continued to teach Mark how to sign. Finally, it was time to feed the stock for the afternoon. As Mark left the house, Maria noticed a smile on his face. ‘Probably the first smile since his accident,’ she thought.

*****

It had been a week that Maria worked diligently with Mark, impressed in how quick he was to pick up his new language. Stevan Griswald stopped by one afternoon, looking through the open door, he saw Mark working on his studies. Maria was coming from the bedroom and saw Stevan standing in the doorway, and gave him a nod. As Stevan entered, he started stomping his feet, Mark looked up to Maria and saw her pointing to the door. As he turned around in his chair, Mr. Griswald signed, “Good Day Mark”, a huge grin beamed across Mark’s face as he signed back “Good Day Teacher”.

Mark felt Maria stomp for his attention; he turned back to her to watch her sign, “Mark break time, you did well today.” Mark got up from his chair at the table and went to the barn where he curried BlueBoy for a while.

*****

“Well Maria,” Stevan started. “How’s Mark doing?”

“He’s a real bright boy, Stevan. Picks up everything quicker than I imagined he would. He’s also been doing his regular studying. He’s doing quite admirable in working to write with his left hand. By the way, I saw the look on his face when he realized you were entering, he’s no longer scared. How are his father and the others doing?”

“They’re really trying and coming along okay. The boy’s father is really pushing himself to learn. Do you think he can come home soon?”

“I was planning to come into town this afternoon to talk with Thomas to see if he feels they’re ready. Thought it might be a nice surprise for Mark. He’s actually been smiling the past couple of days.”

“Lucas will be pleased to see that. Maria, as for Mark’s future education, do you think it best that he goes to school in Albuquerque?”

“Stevan, you know signing almost as well as Thomas and I. He said all you needed was a refresher course. I don’t see why you can’t continue teaching him and let him stay here. The school is more for younger children who need the full education curriculum.” With a gleam in her eyes, Maria stated, “Tell you what, why don’t you stay here with Mark, give him some practice with someone new. I’ll ride your horse back to town and bring his father home.”

*****

As word spread of Mark’s true condition and the fact that there were teachers in town instructing Lucas and others in how to communicate with Mark, numerous people from the town showed a keen interest in learning how they too could talk with Mark. During the day, the children had school with Mr. Griswald, but of an evening, the school was full of people wanting to learn how to sign. Stevan Griswald worked with the children, while Thomas Christensen worked with the adults. One afternoon Lucas was surprised and concerned to see Maria enter the schoolhouse as class was getting ready to start.

“Maria, is Mark okay?” as he ran to where Maria stood.

“Lucas, Mark’s doing just fine. Don’t worry, Stevan is at the ranch with Mark, so he’s not there alone. But… I needed to talk to Thomas for a few minutes.”

Lucas stood aside and allowed Maria to walk to the front of the classroom to hold a conversation with her husband. Soon enough, a smile played across Thomas’ face.

“Class, I want to thank everyone for coming for the past week and you’ve all worked so hard. But there are times, when a break is called for. If you want, you can practice with each other, I’ll walk around and observe. Call it practical conversation.”

Thomas and Maria walked to the back of the classroom. “Lucas, we have a surprise for you. Go get your bag from the hotel, and your horse. You’re going home tonight,” Thomas stated.

Lucas walked with Maria to the hotel where he collected his bag and prepared to go home. Happy that he was going home, yet worried about how Mark would react.

*****

As they arrived, Maria was pleased with their surprise for Mark.

“Lucas, Mark didn’t know I was planning to ride into town nor that I was bringing you home. Stevan and I thought that Mark could use some time signing with someone else, so he’s inside right now. Why don’t you put your horse away, then when you come to the house, remember to stomp your feet as you near the door, it’ll give him warning that someone’s coming.” Seeing the question in Lucas’ face, “Lucas he can’t hear you stomping, but he’ll feel the vibrations. You’ll do fine.”

Maria left Lucas to tend to Razor and the stock as she returned to the house. When she entered the front room, she saw Mark standing at the stove cooking dinner; he turned as he felt her approach. Stevan had set three places at the table. Mark brought dinner to the table, Maria made sure he sat with his back to the door.

Soon, Mark felt the vibrations at his feet, as he looked up to Maria and Mr. Griswald, his curiosity show on his face when he saw they both had smiles on their faces larger than the Cheshire Cat. Mr. Griswald pointed towards the door. Mark turned around to see his father standing there.

Lucas signed, ‘Son’ as Mark signed, ‘Pa’. Mark stood up so quickly, he knocked his chair over, as he ran to give his Pa a hug. Lucas returned the hug in earnest and patted his boy on the back. After a few moments, Mark pushed himself away from his Pa, turned to Maria and signed ‘thank you’.

As Lucas joined them for dinner, between bites, Mark kept up a litany of questions. His Pa admonished him to slow down. Then said to Maria and Stevan, “Seems he signs quicker than he talks.”

Mark watched his Pa and then looked to Maria, who signed what Lucas had said. They all laughed as a smile played across Mark’s face.

Mark slowed his signing down so that his Pa could understand. A couple of times Maria or Stevan had to interpret for one of them as they either couldn’t come up with the proper sign or understand what the other was trying to say. Soon it was time for Mr. Griswald to return to town. As Lucas and Maria were saying goodnight to Stevan, Mark went to the barn and returned with another cot. He set it up in the front room, right next to his.

Maria headed for the bedroom for the night, leaving Lucas and Mark alone in the front room. They continued to sign for quite some time. When one or the other had trouble with a word, they pulled out the cards and spelled out the words for the other. Neither wanted to give into writing, both accepted they needed to learn how to continuing talking in their new language.

It was close to dawn, when Mark finally fell asleep. Lucas just watched over his boy who had a smile on his face as he slept.

Maria entered the kitchen to find Lucas up and making coffee.

“Good Morning Lucas.”

“Good Morning Maria. I want to thank you for all you’ve done for us. My heart about burst last night when I saw the smile on his face.” Trying to stifle a yawn, “Care for a cup of coffee.”

“Yes please. Just how late did the two of you stay up talking last night?” Maria asked.

“Well, Mark’s only been asleep for about an hour or so,” Lucas said as he tried to stifle another yawn.

“And you’ve not? Should have known. Here, you go sit down and let me get you some coffee, black I presume?”

Lucas nodded as he slipped his tall frame into one of the chairs at the table.

*****

It had been six weeks since the accident that had robbed Mark of his ability to hear, though Lucas was pleased that he had a way in which to communicate with his son, it was still difficult having to think about the signs instead of just talking. But the smile upon his son’s face and Mark’s willingness to sit out on the front porch of an evening was a vast improvement.

But still…Lucas worried. People without a disability took for granted the warnings their ears gave them of impending danger… Lucas realized that this would be something that would have to be taken into consideration in how Mark would manage to make his way around town or even to and from school. There were just so many unforeseen dangers as wagons and the stage lines entered and exited their town, or even trail or ranch hands racing into town to spend an evening in the saloon, and not everyone would know or remember to be aware of one deaf person.

Theodore and Maria Christensen had left the day before in order to return to their home and their school. Lucas and Mark realized that from this point forward, they would have to rely solely upon themselves, with no one to help interpret what the other meant say or should have signed instead. It was a scary thought for both, but one they would willing accept.

Father and son rode into town for Doc Burrage to re-examine Mark’s arm; hoping he would remove the splint for good. Lucas could see the worried expression on Mark’s face as they entered town. Thankfully, it was early enough in the day that not many people were out and about. This was Mark’s first trip into town since the doctor had released him to originally go home.

While they were in with Doc, quietly word was spread that Mark was in town. Micah had asked that only a few people greet Mark, the rest should wait a respectable distance until they knew how Mark was going to react.

As they exited the Doc’s, Mark was intent on his wrist; working the rubber ball Doc had given him to strengthen his grip. After six weeks of being splinted, the muscles had stiffened and his hand didn’t have a lot of strength. Mark almost walked right into Nils, startled as he stepped back and saw Nils sign ‘Good Morning Mark’ and he nodded and walked on past father and son.

Mark turned to look at Lucas, who only raised his eyebrows. They walked on to the General Store. Mark stayed close to the door as his Pa walked in. Soon Mark felt a vibration through his feet; he turned to see Micah, Johnny, and Lou coming towards him. They stopped and signed, ‘Good Morning Mark’.

Mark stood there with his mouth a little agape. Lou reached over and gently pushed his chin up to close his mouth. She then smiled and signed, ‘Surprised?’

Mark nodded, ‘Yes’. Mark looked across the street and realized the number of people standing, watching and as his eyes looked towards them, he saw them signing good morning and before they went about their business.

Emotions starting confusing Mark; feeling he was a ‘freak show’ as others signed at him in greeting, he turned and ran away. As he ran, Lou called out, “Lucas, I think Mark needs you.” As Lucas came to the door, he looked in the direction that Lou was pointing. He saw Mark running towards BlueBoy, then mount and ride off. Lucas followed Mark home at a more sedate pace.

*****

As he entered the barn, he saw Mark sitting on a hay bale, crying. He walked to Mark and sat down next to him. Before he could decide how to proceed, Mark signed, ‘Pa, why? Do they think I’m a freak?’

Lucas signed, ‘No Mark, this town loves you.’ Lucas went on to sign to Mark that once people heard they could learn to talk with him, they were eager to attend. So many people came to the first class that they had to open the school of an evening so everyone who wanted to could learn. Lucas did chastise Mark, ‘Not everyone is as good as you at signing, so don’t show off.’ He was happy to see the tears stop falling from his son’s face.

*****

Mark eventually returned to school, Mr. Griswald would sign for Mark while speaking to the rest of the class. During recess and lunch periods, Mr. Griswald spent extra time with Mark, making sure he was keeping up with and understanding his lessons and growing in his knowledge of signing.

‘Who knows, maybe when you’ll want to be a teacher at the school for the deaf when you grow up,’ Stevan signed one afternoon when Mark had stayed after school and asked about his future.

Mark signed back, ‘Guess I can’t be a rancher anymore…’

Stevan sensed a longing in the young man while he was still trying to come to terms with the realities of what his future life would entail.

‘Mark,’ Stevan signed, making sure his student saw the sincerity in his face before continuing. ‘There’s still a chance you could get your hearing back…’

‘No… It’s been almost three months… Let’s face it, I’ll never hear again. Mr. Griswald, I’ll see you Monday.’

*****

Several weeks later, Fall had made itself known by the crispness in the afternoon air and the leaves were beginning to turn to yellows and oranges. After lunch, Mark asked Mr. Griswald if he could be excused from class stating he started feeling ill. Mr. Griswald signed, ‘Get father?’ Mark replied, ‘No, just need to lie down.’ Mr. Griswald excused Mark, but signed he should just go outside and lie down under the shade tree, he’d check on him in a while.

By mid-afternoon, Mr. Griswald decided to let school out early, he was concerned for Mark. He found Mark still sleeping under the shade tree. He took off his jacket as he knelt down to place it over the boy; he saw tears streaming from Mark’s face. Knowing that Lucas would want to know, he ran to the Marshal’s Office, hoping that Micah or Johnny would ride out to the McCain ranch to bring Lucas back, pleased to see that Lucas was there.

*****

Mark woke and still felt ill, his head really hurt and even with his eyes closed he felt the world was spinning around him and things weren’t making a whole lot of sense. He decided to head to the pond, not too far from the school, just on the outskirts of town. As he arrived, he pulled out his handkerchief and swished it around in the water. He ran the wet cloth over the back of his neck and around his face. The coolness of the water made him feel a little bit better, so Mark decided to lie down and dunk his whole head in the pond. As he raised himself to his knees, he felt a hand grab his upper arm and pull him to his feet. Mark stared into the face of the unknown man holding him. The man had a scar from just in front of his left ear, down to below his jaw line. Mark watched as the man’s lips moved, not comprehending what the man was saying.

“Boy, how long you been here? What did you hear us saying?” the man was demanding of Mark.

“Wyman, look at his face, he’s too scared to talk. Let him go,” Gus Hooper replied.

“Hooper, he’s just playing scared. He heard us,” the man called Wyman said as he spat out a wad of chew. “Best take him with us, can’t risk him going to the marshal in town.”

Wyman and Hooper drug a fighting Mark to where their horses were tethered. As they neared the animals, Frank Donovan drew his gun and pointed it at Mark, motioned for the boy to mount up. They rode to an abandoned mine shack, quite a distance out of town. As Mark’s body reacted to the movements of the horse’s back, he fought down the nauseous feeling that continued to make its presence know. Donovan pulled Mark from the back of the horse Hooper was riding and pushed him forward.

Mark had no control over his stomach as the tilting of his body and the sudden feeling of falling forced him to wretch until there was nothing left to come up; afterwards Mark felt incomprehensibly weak. He groaned as he felt himself being pulled to his feet and thrust towards the open doorway.

Inside the shack, he was offered a tin cup containing water. He swished the water around his mouth before spitting it out on the floor.

“Take a drink, kid,” one of the men said.

Mark didn’t respond, he just held the cup out as he slowly sank to his knees and finally to where he found himself sitting on the floor. Fighting the sensation in his stomach and the pain in his head, Mark was oblivious to his hands being bound in front of him.

*****

“Lucas, glad you’re here,” Stevan stated as he entered the Marshal’s Office. “Mark took ill this afternoon. Said he wanted to lie down. I kept an eye on him from the window, but as the afternoon progressed, I became more concerned and let school out early. I went to check on him and he was still asleep, yet crying, so I came here. I thought it best to advise you.” After all the years he had resided in North Fork, Stevan still spoke with his proper English east coast mannerisms.

Lucas ran to the school with Stevan following; while Micah ran to get Doc Burrage. Stevan indicated where he last saw Mark, only to find Mark was no longer there, he picked his jacket from the ground.

“Lucas I swear, he was right here. This is my jacket, I placed it over his shoulders before I left to come get you,” Stevan said. They started looking around, both wondering where Mark had gone.

A few minutes later Micah and Doc arrived to hear Stevan proclaim, “I don’t know where he could be, he was asleep.”

As he stopped, Micah stated, “Lucas, BlueBoy’s still tied out back. Boy couldn’t have gone too far.”

Lucas looked around the ground where Mark had been sleeping. He spiraled out looking for Mark’s boot prints, after finding them, Lucas and Micah followed. Concern grew in Lucas as he realized how unsteady Mark’s gait was; it was obvious the boy couldn’t walk a straight line. They walked until they came to the small pond just outside of town. Saw where Mark had knelt next to the pond and ultimately lay down to drink, Lucas assumed. Lucas found other boot prints next to and some on top of Mark’s. He deciphered at least four other boot prints. He recognized signs of a struggle, signs that indicated Mark was enough aware and trying to resist whoever belonged to the other boot prints.

*****

Mark’s head was hurting even more and his ears were to aching, the pain and ringing was getting irritating, to the point he couldn’t stop crying. He curled up as he lay on the floor, ignoring those who had taken him, at that point he no longer care.

“Wyman, that boy, I don’t think we have anything to worry about him going to the Marshal.”

“What do you mean Barley, he was there at the pond when we were talking and he’s right there across the room from us,” Wyman stated. “How can you be so damn stupid?”

“Wyman, I think that’s the deaf boy from North Fork. If he is, he ain’t heard a word we been saying,” Barley started laughing.

“What?!” Donovan stated in surprise. “Of all the damn, lousy luck. Barley if you’re right, he’s more trouble than he’s worth. His Pa’s the Rifleman.”

“Why don’t we take him with us when we hit the bank? I’m sure the town will be out looking for the boy once they realize he’s missing. And those that are left in town won’t risk us hurting him. They’ll be real cooperative,” Barley smiled, he like the sound of his plan.

“And if they find us while riding with him into town, before we hit the bank? Then what? No Barley, you stay here and watch the boy. We’ll use him to get away once the job is done,” Wyman stated.

The men sat around, finishing their plan for robbing the Bank of North Fork. Including, if it meant killing someone in town to get away, no one had a problem.

*****

Lucas and Micah ran back to town and mounting their horses as they began trailing whoever had taken Mark; Johnny joined them as they rode out.

*****

Wyman, Hooper, and Donovan left the shack and rode towards North Fork. Unbeknownst to them, Lucas, Micah, and Johnny were following the trail they had originally left while leaving the pond. The small posse continued to follow the tracks that led them to a shack. Quietly making his way to around the building, Johnny peered through the dirty window. He saw Mark bound and lying on his side on the floor. Johnny signed to Lucas and Micah there was only one person inside and Mark was on the floor along the west wall, out of harm’s way.

Micah signed back that they would enter the front door after Johnny broke the window as a distraction. Johnny found a good sized rock and threw it at the window, as the glass shattered, it had the desired effect. The outlaw’s back was too them as Lucas and Micah stormed the door; the outlaw’s gun was drawn as he turned and fired wildly at those who broke through the door. Lucas fired rapidly by instinct and the man fell to the ground. Micah ran to Barley, feeling under the man’s jaw, he pronounced the man dead.

Ignoring the acrid smell of the smoke from their weapons, Lucas ran to Mark and sat his boy up, saw tears streaming down his boy’s face, and without thinking he asked, “Mark, are you alright?”

Mark opened his eyes and saw his Pa looking into his eyes. Lucas turned and asked Johnny for his knife, he knelt in front of Mark as he cut the rope from around Mark’s wrists.

“Pa, they were going to rob the bank and kill someone,” Mark whispered.

Lucas stopped mid-cut. Hope welled in Lucas; did he really just hear his boy’s voice? Lucas finished cutting Mark’s binding.

Mark looked at his Pa. He stared, trying to remember, did he really hear or did he think he heard his Pa. Did Mark really hear his own voice or did he want to speak so badly that he thought he had spoken. He raised his hands to his head, shook his head and closed his eyes to the pain. He tried hard to remember, but his head hurt, and he couldn’t remember. All he wanted to do was cry against the hurt. His head was just a jumble of thoughts.

“Micah, stay here with Mark. Keep him safe. Johnny and I’ll ride to North Fork and stop them.”

*****

Johnny and Lucas arrived back in North Fork to see the three horses tied in front of the bank. They left their own horses in front of the General Store and crept to the bank, they signed for people to get off of the street as the moved along the boardwalk. Stopping on either side of the bank doorway, they signed their plan to each other.

Two robbers exited the bank and ran for their horses; while the third stayed in the bank, pointing his gun towards the bank’s president, John Hamilton. Lucas quietly walked into the bank and placed the barrel of this rifle against the ear of Frank Donovan and cocked the weapon. He motioned for the man to step aside and told him to drop his gun.

Lucas heard the gunshots outside but didn’t turn his attention from the outlaw walking away from him as ordered. Instinct took over for Lucas as the outlaw turned, bringing his weapon to bear on Lucas, and fired. Lucas’ first shot caught the man in the middle of his chest. The outlaw’s bullet struck the doorframe over Lucas’ shoulder.

Lucas stepped outside to see Johnny had the two outlaws covered; with the one known as Tate Wyman sitting crooked in his saddle, cradling his shoulder. The outlaws’ guns and the saddlebags with the money were at the feet of their horses. Motioning to the men to dismount, Lucas and Johnny walked their prisoners to jail, while John Hamilton ran for the undertaker to remove the body from the bank lobby.

After seeing that their prisoners were safely behind bars, Lucas ran to Doc Burrage’s office. Inside he saw Billy Lehigh, his wife, and their two sons just getting ready to leave.

“Well Billy, nice to see you and Julie. How’s the newest little one?” Lucas courteously asked.

“Little Mark? Why he’s doing just fine,” Billy smiled as he looked towards his youngest son in his wife’s arms; happily holding his eldest son on his hip.

“Little Mark?” inquired Lucas.

“It was Matthew’s idea. He wanted to call his brother Mark. I hope I get the chance to learn to sign so we can talk with Mark. Been too busy at home and out at Jackford’s place since Little Mark arrived. You’ll let him know, won’t you?” Billy said.

“You just might get the chance to tell him yourself,” Lucas held the door open for the family. After the family left, Lucas told Doc, “We found Mark.”

Before Lucas could continued, Doc asked, “Is he okay?”

“I’m not sure. Doc, when we found him, he was being held by men who were planning on robbing the bank.”

“Well, that explains the gunshots I heard a few minutes ago. But…”

“Doc, as I was freeing his hands, he told us the men were going to rob the bank and maybe kill someone. Doc, he spoke. I know I wasn’t hearing things. When I left him, he was holding his head and crying. I saw pain in his eyes.”

Doc Burrage grabbed his medical bag and followed Lucas out the door, down the boardwalk to the livery. They were getting ready to head out to the shack where Micah was waiting with Mark, when they saw Micah riding into town, leading the dead man’s horse with Mark sitting in the saddle. Mark looked exhausted and in pain as they rode in; his shoulders slumped while his hands held tight onto the saddle horn. The closer Lucas strode to Mark, he saw the strain in his boy’s face. Lucas ran to Mark and arrived in time to assist his son as he slipped from the saddle. With his arm around his son’s waist and bearing most of his son’s weight, he helped Mark walk into Doc’s, with Doc Burrage right behind them.

Nils took Doc’s horse and buggy back inside the livery and unhitched them, while Micah and Johnny, with Lou joining them a few minute later, waited outside Doc’s office. The threesome looked up as Nils entered.

“How’s Mark?” the liveryman asked.

“We don’t know. Doc’s still in there with him and Lucas,” Micah answered.

“Oh… Well… You tell Lucas I hope everything turns out okay.”

“We will Nils,” Johnny Drako replied as Nils left the clinic and the three looked to the still closed door.

Doc stepped from his examination room and told those waiting it would be some time before he finished with Mark and suggested they head to the hotel restaurant. When no one moved, he strongly stated, “Get! You aren’t doing any one any good sitting here moping!”

Reluctantly, the threesome left the clinic.

*****

In the examination room, Lucas sat on the edge of Doc’s desk. Mark was lying on the examination table. Upon re-entering the room, Doc checked Mark’s eyes before listening to his heart and lungs. Lastly, Doc was standing beside Mark, looking through one of his instruments into Mark’s ears. As Mark was looking towards his Pa, Lucas signed and asked Mark, if his head hurt.

Mark signed ‘Yes’.

‘A little?’

‘Yes’

‘Your ears, do they ache?’

‘Yes’

‘How bad?’

‘Tons’

As Doc finished examining Mark, he accidentally bumped a metal tray off the table. As it hit the ground, Mark quickly sat up and looked in the direction of the noise, away from his Pa.

“Mark?!” Lucas declared.

Mark quickly turned to look at his Pa. Doc came up behind Mark and snapped his fingers next to Mark’s ear. Mark startled and turned towards the sound of the snap.

Doc stood behind Mark and spoke into his ear, “Mark if you can hear me, tell me… What is the name of your favorite dessert?”

Lucas waited with eager anticipation; hoping to hear his son’s voice again. Mark looked at his hands for a moment. He raised his left hand to his ear and snapped his fingers. He raised his right hand and snapped his fingers.

“Mark?!” Lucas yelled.

Mark turned to look at his Pa as he opened his mouth as if to speak, waited a few more seconds, unable to believe, but yet he quietly whispered, “Apple pie”.

Mark looked from Doc to his Pa and whispered, as if his acknowledging the return of his hearing would make it go away again. “Pa, I can hear.”

Lucas stood up and walked to his boy and took him into his arms and hugged him.

“Mark, do you have any head ache or ear ached?” Doc asked.

“A little, it hurt a lot more, earlier,” Mark replied. “It doesn’t seem so bad right now.”

“Mark I want you to drink this,” as Doc handed him a glass of water with some medicine. “It should help reduce your headache.”

Mark took the glass and drank about half of it before making a sour expression with his face and proclaimed, “ugh”.

“All of if boy,” Doc said.

Mark obeyed Doc and drank the rest. The men tried to hide the smiles on their faces as Mark continued to grimace at the taste.

“Doc, can I take him home?” Lucas asked.

“How about waiting until morning? Let him get a good night’s sleep at the hotel, let me see how he’s doing in the morning and then we’ll see about you taking him home,” Doc replied.

*****

Lucas and Mark left Doc’s and encountered Micah, Johnny, Lou, and Nils as they entered the hotel. All had anxious expressions on their faces as they looked to Lucas.

“Doc ordered Mark to sleep for a few hours at the hotel, Lou. Do you have a room for us?”

“Sure Lucas,” she answered while rushed to the front desk to get a key for their room.

*****

A few minutes after settling Mark into bed, Lucas turned upon hearing a knock on the door. He wasn’t surprised to see Doc standing in the hallway.

“Come in, Doc.”

“I take it he managed the walk from my office to here okay?” Doc asked.

“A little tired, but he did okay,” Lucas offered. “Doc, how…?”

“How did the boy get his hearing back?” Upon seeing the tall rancher nod, Doc continued. “I haven’t the faintest clue. It’s possible that the explosion might have ruptured something inside his ear and it’s taken all this time for it to heal, much like his arm. If he’s asleep, I’d like to examine his ears once more.”

“Sure, Doc.”

Lucas watched while the doctor looked through one of his instruments into his son’s ears, and soon after inserting a tiny swap into the ear canal, he extracted it. Lucas was startled to see the tip of the swap covered with what he presumed was his son’s blood.

“Doc?”

“Nothing to be too concerned with; most of this is dried blood, probably some residual bleeding that clotted after the accident and finally worked its way into the canal.”

Placing his instruments into his black bag, Doc stated, “My prescription is to get some food into the boy when he wakes. If he doesn’t have a headache in the morning, you can take him home. But I still want to see him.”

*****

Later that evening, Lucas and Mark greeted Micah, Johnny, and Lou in the hotel lobby, “We’re going to the restaurant for dinner, any one care to join us?” He continued to walk with his arm across Mark’s shoulders. There was a mischievous twinkle in Mark’s eye as he listened to the sound of his father’s voice as he talked to their friends. From outside, he heard the hustle and bustle of people, horses, and wagons traveling along the boardwalk and street.

As they sat down, Alice brought in coffee for everyone, except for Mark, for whom she brought in a large glass of milk. Alice proceeded around the table and took everyone’s order. When she came to Mark, she turned to Lucas and asked if he thought Mark would like some steak and potatoes, too.

Mark quietly answered, “Only if I can have some apple pie afterwards.” Much to everyone else’s surprise.

Lucas grinned, looking over his coffee cup, as he saw the astonished looks on their friends’ faces. Before Lucas could explain, Stevan Griswald came into the restaurant, relieved when he had learned that Mark was found and safe, but he wanted to see for himself. He arrived at the table and stopped dead in his stride when he heard Mark say, “Yeah, it’s still a little muffled at times. But I can hear.”

As he stood behind Mark, Mr. Griswald asked, “Just when did this happen, Mark?”

Mark turned around to see Mr. Griswald standing behind him. Mark started to grab another chair and motioned for Mr. Griswald to join them.

“I guess earlier today. When my head started hurting in class and my ears really started to ache. I’m sorry about needing to leave class, but I just felt ill and all I could think about doing was sleeping, to get away from the pain.”

“I guess that’s a good enough reason, but Mark, just don’t make it a habit in trying to get out of class,” Mr. Griswald pointed his finger at Mark.

Throughout the evening, as word spread of the return of Mark’s hearing, numerous town folks stopped by and said hello to Mark and to congratulate him on recovering. Finally, Lucas and Mark bid goodnight to their friends and walked to their hotel room.

*****

Mark was already under the covers when Lucas sat down on the edge of the bed next to him.

“Mark?”

“Yes Pa?” Mark answered as he rose up on his elbow.

“You know how much I love you and how proud I am to have you as my son.”

“Pa, I think those are the most precious words I’ve heard in a long time.”

“I’m glad you can hear them. Mind if I tuck you in for the night?”

“Thanks Pa.” Mark lay back down on the bed as Lucas pulled the covers up to his son’s chest.

Lucas gave his son a kiss on the forehead and turned down the lantern in their room. He walked to the other bed and lay down. Soon, both were asleep.

*****

Morning came and Lucas woke to see Mark still sprawled out a sleep in his bed, blankets twisted around his legs and torso. As Lucas was getting dressed, he called out to Mark, “Hey, sleepy head, time to rise and shine if you want to eat breakfast.”

He saw Mark pull the pillow over his head as he answered, “Just a few more minutes, Pa.”

“Now!” Lucas said.

He watched as Mark pulled the pillow from his head as he sat up. Lucas feeling happier than he had in quite a while, had a devilish grin on his face as he picked up the pillow from the bed he had slept in and tossed it at the yawning Mark.

*****

After eating breakfast, Lucas and Mark returned to Doc Burrage’s for him to examine Mark over one last time before they headed home.

“Mark, take it easy, no galloping BlueBoy across the country side, and yes, Lucas, he’s well enough that he can still do most of his chores. I’d hold off for a few more days before you ask him to chop any wood, but I think he’ll be okay to do anything else.”

“Gee, thanks Doc,” Mark toned.

“I think it’s time we head for home, son.”

“Yes, Pa,” Mark answered.

*****

While they rode home, Mark kept up a constant conversation, barely allowing Lucas to answer a question before Mark was talking of something else. Lucas could only smile to himself, realizing his boy was making up for lost time. By the time they reached the barn, Lucas felt as if his ears were going to fall off from Mark talking so much.

“Boy, you do know they say, silence is golden?” Lucas asked with a smile on his face as he brushed Razor down.

“Golden for who?” Mark replied, with a slightly shocked tone to his voice.

“Guess neither of us.” Lucas said as he came around Razor and leaned over BlueBoy’s back to look at Mark. “Come on, I’ve got wood to chop and you have a chicken coop that needs cleaning.”

“What?” Mark asked, “Didn’t quite hear what you said Pa.”

Their laughter filled the air as father and son walked out the barn.

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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