The Writer's Corner
Written by Deanne Bertram
Doc Burrage had allowed Mark to finally return home about five
days ago. He’d kept Mark in town for a week after suffering
injuries when he was kidnapped, while helping the posse track
the outlaws who had robbed the stage.
As much as Mark’s Pa told him to take it easy, it wasn’t easy to
just sit around the ranch house or work on lessons for school.
Time seemed to drag by so slowly and Mark felt guilty,
especially since a lot of the time he found himself falling
asleep. He knew how much harder his Pa was working to make up
for there only being one of them able to work the ranch.
He rose early Friday morning because he couldn’t sleep; he’d
heard his Pa calling out for him while he slept. Mark knew his
Pa was probably reliving his meeting up with Dobbs and Grayson
and then the horror of the aftermath. During his week-long stay
while recovering at the hotel in North Fork, Mark had talked a
lot to his Pa about what had happened while he was riding with
the posse and then they discussed why he chose to act as he did
in an effort to try to save his Pa’s life. This morning, Mark
realized the talks never turned to how Lucas felt. ‘Seeing as
how troubled Pa is in his sleep, maybe I should ask him about
it.’ Mark thought to himself.
As Mark sat up in his bed in the darkened room, he looked
towards his Pa and heard that he was soundly a sleep. Mark got
dressed, then using the crutches he got up and left the bedroom,
quietly closing the door behind him, and hobbled to the table in
the front room. He struck a match to light the lamp and pulled
out his school books to work on some of the assignments Mr.
Griswald had brought by the evening before.
Mark realized he had lost track of time when the sun started to
shine through the windows. Mark was surprised his Pa didn’t hear
him exit their bedroom earlier. Knowing his Pa should be waking
soon, Mark headed out to the barn to collect the eggs and milk
the cow before breakfast.
‘Let Pa scold me afterwards, but I just have to do something.’
Mark thought to himself as he left the house.
Lucas woke and saw that Mark’s was bed empty. Entering the front
room, he saw Mark’s school books open and a tablet of paper and
his pencil on the table, but Mark wasn’t in the house.
As Lucas started to button his shirt, he heard a noise out on
the porch and opened the door to see Mark trying to carry a
basket of eggs and open front door, while trying to balance
himself with the crutches.
“Mark, what are you doing? Let me help you,” Lucas said as he
reached for the basket of eggs.
“Pa, I couldn’t manage to carry the basket of eggs and the milk
pail. It’s still out in the barn.”
After placing the basket of eggs on the kitchen counter, Lucas
headed to the barn to bring back the milk pail. Noticing the
horses had already been turned out in the paddock and some of
Mark’s regular chores had been started, but not completed, Lucas
shook his head.
Lucas returned to the house, carrying the milk pail. As he
entered the house, he saw Mark trying to get the skillet out
from the cabinet. “Mark, I’ll ask again, what are you doing? You
know you’re supposed to still be taking it easy.”
Lucas sat the milk pail on the counter, took the skillet from
Mark’s hand, and motioned for him to sit at the table.
“Pa, I’m tired of just sitting around the ranch, doing nothing.
My injuries won’t allow me to ride Blue Boy. And you won’t let
me drive the team. Mr. Griswald brings my lessons out to the
ranch. All I do is school work and sleep. I want to help, to
feel needed.” Mark saw the expression on his Pa’s face and said,
“Guess I’m just feeling useless, is all.
“Pa, you’re so tired from doing all the chores; you didn’t even
hear me get up earlier. Since I returned home, it already feels
longer than when I was on punishment for six weeks and here, I’m
only on my second week of “restricted” activities,” Mark
“When did I ever punish you for six weeks?”
“Well, there was the four weeks from when I was working for Nils
and I disobeyed him when he told me to not take the Boarder Pass
out to Mr. Merar’s place and I went ahead and did anyway. And
then the two extra weeks that were added on because I ‘forgot’
to study for my history exam until the morning of the test and I
flunked it. You told me once, you didn’t mind my mistakes as
long as I remembered my lessons learned from them. Guess I
remembered better than you did Pa.”
“Oh, I kind of forgot about that,” Lucas said as he grinned to
himself. “But Mark, you need time to heal. There will be plenty
of work for you to do once Doc Burrage says you’re ready to
start helping me out again.
“But Pa, that’s probably another month away. I can’t just sit
here and let you do everything. There’s so much that needs to be
done, bringing in the crops and getting the cattle ready for
branding and so much more to get done to prepare the ranch for
the coming winter. And…”
“Mark,” Lucas interrupted. “I understand how you feel and yes,
you can ‘just sit there’. As your father, to me, it’s more
important that my son gets healthy so he can help me later. Why
don’t you focus on your studies and I’ll fix breakfast. Maybe in
another week, Doc Burrage will say its okay for you to drive the
team and you can return to school, then.”
“But Pa…” Mark started.
“Mark, please. Let’s not argue about this. We’ll get through
this, just like we have everything else,” Lucas replied.
Though he didn’t want to give in, Mark returned to his studies.
After they had eaten breakfast, Lucas carried the dishes to the
sink. “If you really want to help out, why don’t you do the
dishes? I think you can handle standing in front of the sink to
do the washing and the drying. I’ll head out to the barn to
finish the chores you started.”
Lucas grabbed his hat and rifle and headed out to the barn.
Mark was just finishing the dishes when he heard the sounds of
riders arriving. He made his way to the door and opened it, to
see a number of his friends stepping down from their horses,
removing their hats, and a few were walking towards his Pa, as
he exited the barn.
“Boys?” Lucas called as he watched all the activity in the yard.
“Mr. McCain, we’re all here to help you today. We don’t have
school and most of us finished our chores at home, so we asked
our parents if we could come and help you and Mark out for the
day and this weekend,” Billy Davis stated.
“Boys, I appreciate the offer, but that’s not necessary. Mark
and I’ll be just fine. Why don’t you head back to your homes.”
As Lucas finished talking he saw Micah Torrance and Johnny Drako
“But Mr. McCain, you always tell Mark about the value of his
gettin’ a good education. You don’t want to see any of us flunk
at school? Do ya?” Billy asked.
“Flunk? What does riding out here, offering to work have to do
with your school studies?” Lucas asked.
The boys started shuffling their feet and playing with their
“Well, Mr. Griswald gave us a lecture based on the Civic
Responsibilities of a Community. Said it weren’t enough that we
lived in a community, but that we had a responsibility to help
the community, when there was a need. Said we had to come up
with an assignment that showed we understood our
responsibilities. We figured you might help us all get a passing
grade by allowing us to help out and work for you?” Percy
Bullock pleaded their case.
“Micah, Johnny, did either of you have anything to do with this
mob?” Lucas called over.
“Not us LucasBoy. Johnny and I thought we’d come out here to see
how you and Mark were getting along and if you needed any help.
By the looks of this ‘mob’, I can see we wasted our time coming
Lucas looked over and saw Mark, leaning back against the door
frame, holding at the side of his chest, trying to stop from
laughing. “Well Pa, you can’t stand there and be the one
responsible for them getting a failing grade now, can you?”
“Okay, okay! Just for the weekend!”
Lucas assigned a few boys various chores around the barn,
designated a number to start bringing in the crops, and took a
few with him as he needed to start rounding up the cattle in
preparation for branding.
Mark followed Kevin Connor into the barn. He’d hoped that Kevin
would be more understanding and let him help out. That wasn’t to
be the case. Kevin told Mark, in no uncertain terms, that if he
wanted to stay in the barn, he was to sit down on the hay bales
and not lift one finger! “You can keep me company and tell me if
I’m tending to your chores correctly,” Kevin stated.
During the afternoon, they talked about school work and how
things were going in North Fork.
It was late afternoon when the boys had finished their assigned
chores for the day and had returned to the ranch house to wait
for those who went out with Lucas.
Drako returned to the McCain Ranch later in the afternoon, with
Lou sitting next to him on the seat of the buckboard. Freddie
Toomey and Kevin walked out onto the porch to greet them.
“Deputy Drako, Miss Mallory, Sshhh. Mark’s inside, he fell
asleep in his Pa’s chair,” Freddie stated.
Drako lifted Lou down from the buckboard and then asked the boys
if they minded helping to carry in some of the food they brought
“We know how hard everyone probably worked today, so we thought
we’d feed you tonight,” Lou stated as she and Johnny walked to
the back of the wagon.
Lucas, Bobby Hamilton, Percy, and Billy returned to the house.
They tied their horses to the railing of the corral. There were
so many horses in the yard that there wasn’t any more room at
the hitching rails. As they walked to the house, they saw the
others sitting on the porch with plates of food on their laps,
happily eating and quietly talking.
Lucas entered the house, only to be “Sshh’d” by Lou, as she
pointed over to Lucas’ chair, he turned and saw Mark asleep. She
whispered for the late arrivals to go out back and wash up.
Their supper was ready to be served.
Percy, Billy and Bobby filled their plates and as they were
walking out the front door, Billy noticed the deputy badge
sitting on the mantle of the fireplace. He proceeded outside to
eat with the others.
Lucas walked over to Mark and gently shook his shoulder and
called him awake. Mark woke with a start.
“Mark, Lou has supper ready, if you’re hungry?” Lucas stated.
“Lou? Hungry? Pa? What time is it?” Mark asked, rubbing the
sleep from his eyes.
“Supper time,” Drako answered with a laugh, while sitting at the
table. Then put another bite of beef stew in his mouth.
Lou brought Mark a plate of stew and biscuits and a glass of
“Lou, Johnny, I sure do appreciate your helping to feed this
crew of mine. They all worked hard today.” Then looking to Mark
he said, “But I sure do miss having my number one hand out next
to me,” Lucas stated.
After tidying up and everyone had left, Lucas and Mark were
sitting on the porch, watching the sun set.
“Mark, how about tomorrow I drive you out to the branding site.
I’ve been thinking about what you said earlier. There’s no
reason why you can’t come out and help keep tally of the herd.
And it would get you out of the house for a while.”
“I’d really like that Pa. As much as I love being home, just
knowing that I’m stuck here…”
“I understand son.”
Lucas pulled out a cigar, lit it, slowly inhaled and even more
“Pa? Can we talk?”
“You know we can.”
“But… you haven’t.”
“I haven’t what?” Lucas asked. There was a curious tone in his
“Talked. You haven’t talked about what happened to me. I know
you’ve probably talked a little with Micah and Johnny, but I
think that… well… maybe… I’m grown enough to try to understand
your side of what I put you through.”
“Pa, I heard you calling out my name last night while you were
sleeping. It’s one of the reasons I was up so early. I figured
you were probably dreaming of what happened. You’ve always been
there to help me understand my feelings. Pa, I just thought
that, maybe...” Mark stopped talking; he didn’t know what else
“You’re right son. I’ve been telling Micah and Johnny how much
I’m realizing you are growing up and here you’ve gone and done
it again. You have a right to know how I felt and know this
Mark, I don’t blame you one second for what happened,” Lucas
stated as he took another smoke from his cigar before he put it
“As a father, your father, all I can do is hope and pray that
I’m raising you right; so that you can make the right decisions
in your life. And as John Hamilton stated, after all the years
of you watching me fill in for Micah and help him out, it was
only natural that you’d offer to help out the posse when there
were so few people in town. And all the times I spent teaching
you to track... No, Mark, you were right to offer your skills to
help Micah. It took a few moments to get past my fears, but I
was real proud that you had stepped up.”
Lucas was quiet as he thought how best to proceed. There was
just a mixture of pride and pain in his heart. He contemplated
how to proceed to tell his child, his child who was becoming a
man, how he felt.
“Johnny and I didn’t know you’d gone missing, when we headed out
after we received Micah’s wire. After meeting up with Micah and
the others, and finding you were missing… All sorts of thoughts
went through my head. But first and foremost, I prayed to God to
keep you safe.
“We tracked the outlaws and eventually realized their trail was
leading back to North Fork and I didn’t understand why. None of
us could. I was concerned for your safety and confused why they
were heading back home. Down deep, I knew they weren’t concerned
citizens bringing a boy home to his father.
“But then that man, called himself a Sheriff,” Lucas’ voice was
bitter with disdain. “He was waiting for me, here, once I got
home. Said he’d written instructions for me to follow the next
morning. With what he told me, I was furious when I figured out
Ralph Hayden had hired someone to try to kill me again. Once I
arrived at the box canyon, I remembered Grayson from when I was
up in Santa Fe, at the Cattlemen’s Association Meeting. I got
more confused. I realized I had to clear my head if I were to
get the two of us out of the situation, alive. As I began to
think, I saw they had positioned themselves as dictated by the
tactics of dealing with a single foe. They had split themselves
apart, Dobbs with you and Grayson a distance off. Both within
range of my rifle, but too far apart for me to quickly have a
chance at both of them.”
Lucas stopped and took several deep breaths, tried to not let
his emotions get the best of him.
“Mark, I’m sorry, but for a moment, I had to put you out of my
mind as I tried to figure out a counter tactic. I was so focused
on Grayson, when I heard the first gunshot, I just reacted, my
rifle was on my thigh, and I tipped it forward and shot from the
hip. I watched as Grayson fell from his horse. Then I remembered
the shot, I guess maybe I hoped someone else had taken a shot at
Dobbs. That maybe Johnny or Micah had gone against my wishes and
followed me there. I looked over, towards where you were, and
saw you on the ground and Dobbs was getting up. Then, there was
another shot and Dobbs fell across you.
“I jumped from Razor and ran to you. I threw Dobbs off. I saw
the blood on your shirt and… I tried to convince myself that it
was Dobbs’ blood. I had removed the bag from your head, when I
realized the blood on your shirt was yours. Mark…, everything
stopped… I didn’t hear the rider ride up. I didn’t hear him
shoot Dobbs dead, behind me... Mark, you’re my whole world… And
right then… I felt my whole world stop. I felt my life slipping
away from me as I saw the bloodstain on your shirt spread.”
Mark waited for Lucas to continue, he didn’t want to interrupt,
he saw tears falling from his Pa’s face.
“I knew how much you had to be hurting, but as I held you in my
arms and looked into your face, I saw relief in your eyes before
you passed out. At that moment, I thought I saw my little boy
thankful to be in his Pa’s arms. There was no blame or question
in your eyes that I hadn’t been there to protect you.
“Shortly, thereafter, I realized the rider behind me was Johnny.
Mark, I was scared. What if Doc Burrage wasn’t in town? I got on
Razor and with Johnny’s help, got you up in the saddle, in front
of me. He led us all the way as we raced you back to town. The
whole way there, I kept praying for God to let you live and
asking for you to forgive me for not getting to you in time.”
Lucas faltered again. He wiped away the tears falling down his
face. He still didn’t have the heart to look at his son while he
“And I… I remembered all the times when you were real little,
when I let you ride in front of me in the saddle, remembered
happier times from when we lived back in Enid. As my thoughts
returned to the present, it hurt to carry you as I did, because
I… Mark, I never dreamed that I would ever be in that kind of a
situation with you.
“I’ve always felt that my duty, as your father, was to protect
your life. But as we talked last week, I realized that look in
your eyes wasn’t relief that you were in my arms, but relief
that I was alive to hold you in my arms. I know that you felt it
was your duty, as my son, to protect my life because you knew
what was planned. And I know, as you get older, that feeling
will only intensify. Guess that’s why we make such a great team.
We look out for each other.”
Lucas continued as his eyes finally looked to his son, “Mark, I
won’t lie to you and say that at times I don’t feel guilty for
not being in town when Micah needed someone to help track those
outlaws and it fell upon you to help. I won’t say that I don’t
feel guilty in not getting to you sooner and preventing Dobbs
from shooting you. But knowing you acted out of love to try to
save both our lives that eases my burden, some.”
“Pa, it means a lot that you talked to me. But, if…, like you
told me, I have nothing to feel guilty about, because of what
happened, then you shouldn’t feel guilty either. We both did the
only thing we could have done. We both lived.”
The following morning most of the boys returned, a few didn’t
because they had to tend to their own chores at home. When they
arrived, they saw Mark standing on the front porch leaning into
his crutches. Oat Jackford and Dave Merar were sitting on their
horses, talking to Lucas about how to proceed with the branding.
This was the first year that all the cattlemen agreed that each
herd needed to be branded.
Lucas called over to the boys and asked if they wouldn’t mind
hitching up the team to the wagon and if they also would saddle
Razor for him.
The group headed out to the branding site at seven o’clock.
Lucas tied Razor to the back and then drove the buckboard, with
Mark sitting right night to him. Lucas gave a glance over to his
son and saw a huge grin on Mark’s face, watched as he took in a
deep breath, enjoying the morning air.
The boys were responsible for driving the cows and calves
towards the branding area and preventing them from running back
to the herd. The boys learned it was easier said then done.
Lucas and Oat would head and heel the cows and Dave fired the
McCain brand – 2Mc – and branded the cattle. After the first few
cows, the area really began to stink with the smell of burnt
hides. The calves could be heard bawling excessively.
By mid afternoon, all the McCain cattle were branded. Lucas and
the boys herded the cattle back to the pastures. Mark had kept
tally of all the cattle and their calves. He was pleased with
how their herd had grown steadily; ever since the last hoof and
mouth epidemic that had struck North Fork.
Oat and Dave waved goodbye as they headed back to their own
ranches. Lucas tied Razor to the back of the buckboard. The boys
from school returned to the ranch house with Lucas and Mark. As
they were heading home, Lucas looked at Mark.
“Here, I’m plumb tired,” Lucas said as he handed the reins to
Mark. Lucas leaned back, pulled his hat over his eyes, relaxing,
but ever alert and ready to take over should something cause the
horses to bolt.
Before washing up for supper, the boys helped Lucas finish the
barn chores. Lucas pulled out some smoked ham to fry up and the
boys chipped in and peeled some potatoes and sliced them up to
The whole group sat out on the porch eating dinner and talking.
The boys were excitedly, retelling their adventures in herding
the cattle to be branded. Most of the boys lived in town and
didn’t do a lot of ranch work. Finally, Lucas stated that it was
time for everyone to get home and told them he would give a
favorable report to Mr. Griswald, so there was no need for them
to return on Sunday.
“The Good Lord made Sunday for a day of rest,” Lucas declared.
Before each boy left, they placed their dirty dishes in the sink
and said goodbye.
Using the crutches Mark hobbled into the kitchen to start
washing the dishes. Lucas came up beside him and motioned for
Mark to start drying. As he started to take over the washing, he
said, “I think I’ll ask Doc Burrage, after church tomorrow, if I
can bring you in on Monday and have him take a look at your side
there. If he says okay, then I’ll allow you to drive the team
back and forth to school. You handled them pretty well today.
Mark, I just want to make sure your side is healed, before I
turn you loose again. But, riding Blue Boy is out of the
question until your ankle is healed.”
“I understand and I guess I can wait until Monday,” Mark stated
as he handed a plate back to his Pa and told him, “You missed a
spot.” Together they laughed.
Sleep came quickly to Mark that night. It was the first time in
two weeks that he hadn’t fallen asleep during the afternoon.
Mark promptly fell into a deep dream and it intrigued him. It
was of an adult Mark. He was married to a woman he truly loved
and had several children of his own. Grandpa Lucas enjoyed
spending time with Mark and his family. Their homestead was just
over the rise from Lucas’. Mark’s wife understood the bond that
Lucas and Mark had shared and she wanted that bond to be passed
down to their children, Lucas’ grandchildren.
Mark’s dream had him sitting on the front porch one night,
talking with his Pa. He glanced into his old home and saw a
woman standing at the sink, humming, as she washed dishes. She
looked so familiar to Mark, but from the back, he couldn’t
figure out who she was.
“Mark, I hope you’re as happy in your marriage as your Ma and I
are. Being married again, it’s brought a whole new, different
kind of happiness to my life.”
“If you and Ma are an example of what real happiness is Pa, I’d
say yes, I am very happy. And having my own children…, holding
that tiny baby in my arms for the first time, watching as they
grow up and take their first steps, and before you know it,
they’re starting school.”
Mark’s eyes softened as he remembered. Lucas looked at his son
and then started remembering his own memories.
“Mark, to me, you grew up too fast. Seems we just settled in
North Fork and now, you’ve got a family of your own.”
“You’ll always be part of my family, Pa. Even though I’m grown,
I still need your advice. But you know? You were right.” Mark
“Right, son?” Lucas replied.
“Yeah, that I’d understand everything better when I was grown
and had children of my own.” Looking out over the horizon, Mark
continued, “But how I must have tried you as I was growing up.
The trouble I got into. I only hope, and pray, that my boys
aren’t nearly as much trouble as I was for you.”
“Only time will tell, son. Only time will tell.
The sun was beginning to set as Mark’s oldest son came running
up, hardly stopping before he threw his arms around Grandpa
Lucas and gave him a hug. “Hi Gran’pa, I got an impor’ant
message for Pa!” he declared.
Then looking to his Pa, a little out of breath he said, “Pa, Ma
said you get home an’ do your chores, else you be sleepin’ in
the barn ‘cause it’s gonna be late. Said she didn’t care if you
were a Deputy or not, you have resb… respens… you got chores to
do Pa. When we get home, can I help?”
“Sure, son. Come on, let’s go home.”
Mark stood up, gave his Pa a quick kiss on the cheek, walked
inside, kissed his Ma and said goodnight, returned to the porch,
then took his son’s hand in his and swung him up to ride on his
back as he walked home.
Mark continued to sleep with a smile of contentment on his face.
Yes, he was his father’s son. He realized his Pa was treating
him as a man, the man his Pa had worked so hard to see that he
grew up to become.
Sunday morning dawned bright at the McCain ranch. As Mark woke,
he still had that feeling of contentment that he had felt in his
dream. He leaned over to grab his crutches and let out a laugh.
“What’s so funny so early on a Sunday, Mark?” Lucas asked as he
sat up in bed.
“I had a dream last night. I dreamed I was married and had
children, and we were talking that I finally understood all the
times you told me I’d understand when I was older and had
children of my own,” Mark laughed again as he answered.
“Well, come on ‘Pa’, let’s get up and dressed, and eat so we can
get to church today,” Lucas said as he smiled over at Mark.
“Okay, ‘Grandpa’. Oh, and you should know, in my dream, you were
remarried and I had a new Ma… I just couldn’t see who she was.”
A little bit of disappointment could be heard in Mark’s voice.
“Oh really!” was all Lucas could say.
Lucas hitched up the team and allowed Mark to drive them to
church services. Everyone at church was happy to see the
McCain’s in town again. After services, many people stopped and
talked with both Lucas and Mark. Lucas did get the chance to
speak with Doc Burrage, who indicated he had rounds to make in
the morning but that he’d be back mid- afternoon and asked Lucas
to bring Mark by around 3:30.
As they walked over to have lunch, they met Stevan Griswald, who
joined them as they made their way to the Mallory House Hotel
“I understand that some of my students used their Civic
Responsibilities assignment to help you and Mark out?” Stevan
“They sure did. Each one of them pulled their weight after
explaining why they were there. Stevan, I do appreciate what you
were trying to do, but it wasn’t necessary. Mark and I could
“I know Lucas, but with all that you and Mark have done for this
town without accepting anything in return, well, it was fun
getting one up on you. We knew you couldn’t object when it came
to the boys’ education.”
“And just who are the ‘we’ you’re talking about?” Lucas asked as
he stopped, pushed his hat back on his head, raised his
eyebrows, and crossed his arms.
Mark stopped next to his Pa and stared at Mr. Griswald.
“Oh, did I say we? Sorry Lucas, I’m the only guilty culprit.”
They proceeded into the restaurant and had lunch together.
Monday morning, Lucas worked on bringing in more of their corn
crop. He hadn’t realized how much work the boys had gotten done
on Friday, but with there being so many of them present to help,
it really didn’t surprise him. Before lunch time, Lucas decided
to take Mark into town. Maybe he could sit in on the afternoon
session at school, before going to Doc’s.
As Mark pulled the buckboard to a stop in front of the school,
the students were just getting released for lunch. The boys ran
over to help Mark get down and then made sure he made it safely
to the bench by the tree. He waved to his Pa as Lucas drove the
team towards Micah’s.
“Hey guys, I really appreciate everyone coming and helping out
at the ranch this weekend,” Mark said.
Once Mark was seated, the boys were eager to re-tell their
stories of working at the McCain Ranch and how much fun it was.
But fun to help, they couldn’t imagine doing it all the time.
They told Mark that Mr. Griswald said that they all received a
good grade for the Civic Responsibilities lesson.
After everyone was done eating, Billy spoke up. “Mark, Friday,
when we was at your place, I saw a deputy badge sitting on the
mantle of your fireplace. Marshal Torrance, he didn’t
un-deputize your Pa after killing those outlaws? Is your Pa
still in some kind of trouble because of that?”
“Billy, now of course the Marshal un-deputized Mr. McCain. You
didn’t see him wearing the badge while heading to town, now did
ya?” Jeff asked.
“Yeah, why would he still need Mr. McCain’s help when he’s got
Deputy Drako to help out?” Bobby asked.
Mark was ready to let the boys talk about the badge among
themselves and hoped that the subject would be dropped.
“But if Micah, released him from his oath, what’s the badge
still doing out at Mark’s?” Billy asked.
From behind them, a voice answered. “Boys, that badge belongs to
They all turned around and looked up to see Deputy Drako sitting
on his horse. “Mark’s?” they all pretty much asked in unison and
then stared at Mark.
“Boys, don’t ask him too many questions about the badge. He
still has a lot to learn about the responsibilities of wearing
it, but he knows when he’s allowed to wear it and for what
reasons. Right now, he’s Mark McCain, student and rancher. If
you push him too much to talk bout it, the Marshal and I might
just have to put you in jail.”
“Jail?” Billy’s voice broke as it went up an octave. “For what?”
“I can come up with a good reason, if I need to.”
Then looking to Mark, “I was getting ready to head out to your
place when I saw your Pa pull up in front of the office, he told
me he left you here. Thought I’d bring you a book for reading.
It might help you understand more of the responsibilities that
go along with the badge Micah gave you.”
Johnny smiled as handed the book down to Mark and then he kneed
his horse to walk on as he bid goodbye to the boys.
Mr. Griswald called lunch break over and all the students
returned to take their seats. Mark enjoyed being able to attend
school, at least for the afternoon. He paid close attention to
the lesson on American Government that the older students were
starting to learn about. Towards the end of the day, Mr.
Griswald gave the students time to read more of their lessons on
their own. Before Mark realized, Mr. Griswald was dismissing the
class for the day.
After everyone else had left, Mr. Griswald came up to Mark and
spoke. “Mark, it’s a pleasure seeing you back in class today.
When do you think you’ll be able to return full time?”
“I have an appointment with Doc Burrage at three, thirty today.
I’m hoping he’ll say that my side is healed enough that I can
come back to school beginning tomorrow. Pa’s been letting me
drive the team since Saturday afternoon, but not without him by
my side, at least until Doc says different. By the way, thank
you for getting the guys out to the ranch and helping out. I
really appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome Mark. I could tell when we talked earlier last
week how troubled you were because you weren’t able to help your
father. Anyway, it served two purposes.”
“Mark?” Lucas called from the back of the room.
“Be right there Pa,” Mark called. “Mr. Griswald, I’ll see you
Mark hobbled to his Pa and Lucas helped him down the steps of
the school house.
Mark was all smiles as he left Doc Burrage’s.
“Good, maybe only three more weeks before Doc says I can walk
without crutches!” Mark called to Micah and Johnny, who were
waiting outside of Doc’s.
“Maybe three, Mark. But you still have to take it easy.
Otherwise it will be at least four more weeks,” Lucas stated as
he shook his head.
“Yes sir.” Mark answered, but he still was happy. He could
return to school full time and start helping out around the
ranch more than he had recently.
It felt good to Mark to be back helping his Pa. He enjoyed
driving the team, while his Pa worked to stack the hay bales in
back. When they returned to the barn one evening, Freddie and
Kevin were there, waiting.
“Boys, what’s this all about?” Lucas asked.
“Well, Mark said you’d be bringing in the hay today and well, it
just seemed to us that our Civic Responsibilities shouldn’t be a
one-time offering. Besides, Mark’s been helping us at school by
working us on some of our American Government lessons over lunch
time, so it’s not like we’re doing this for nothing, Mr.
McCain,” Kevin replied.
“I guess with three of us unloading and stacking, the job would
go a might bit faster. Come on,” Lucas answered as he stepped
down from the wagon and shook his head.
Lucas helped Mark unhitch the team and led and tied them to the
railing inside the coral. Mark unharnessed them and Lucas led
them to turn them loose. As best he could manage, Mark made
several trips and carried the harnesses and hung them up inside
the barn and proceeded to wipe down the leather. Once done, Mark
hobbled to the house to start fixing supper.
Mark had just finished setting the table and was ready to take
supper up when Lucas, Kevin, and Freddie walked in.
“Get yourselves washed up out back. Supper’s ready,” Mark
The next three weeks seemed to fly by for Mark. He was kept
pretty busy between going to school and helping out around the
ranch. Of an evening, once his homework was done, he read from
the book that Johnny gave him.
It was finally the day that Mark had been waiting for. It had
been a long, tiring five weeks since the incident. Still, Mark
wondered, would Doc Burrage finally say his ankle was healed
enough to get rid of the crutches?
Lucas let Mark drive them to North Fork and stopped the team in
front of Doc’s. Mark hopped down and grabbed his crutches out
from under the seat. Lucas grabbed his rifle, as well as Mark’s
boot, and followed Mark inside. Lucas sat down in the chair next
to Doc’s desk as Mark hopped up on the examination table.
Doc Burrage slowly unwrapped Mark’s ankle and finally removed
the splints. He looked over the ankle, manipulating the foot up
and down and from side to side. As he continued to move the
foot, he paid close attention to any reaction of pain from Mark.
He felt the site of the break, trying to determine if the bone
had truly healed. Next, he started to palpate Mark’s calf. He
knew after five weeks of non-use, the muscle would have softened
Afterwards, Doc placed Mark’s leg back down on the examination
table and stepped back and started to rub his chin.
“Well?” Mark asked.
“Gently, hop down and let’s see you walk on it,” Doc stated.
Mark slowly lowered himself from the table and stood on both
feet. He shifted his weight back and forth, before finally
taking a tentative step with his right leg. Lucas stood at the
ready, he remembered back to when Mark had been paralyzed, lest
he loose his balance. Mark took a few more steps, with each step
the smile on his face grew wider. Mark turned around and walked
back to the examination table.
“Well?” Mark asked again.
“Any discomfort? Any pain?” Doc asked.
“No sir, just feels funny. Kinda like I’ve got ants walking all
over it and it just feels -- different,” Mark replied.
“Oh, that’s to be expected. The bone is healed, just that after
five weeks of not using your leg, the muscle has softened up
some and with you just now using the muscles, your blood is
flowing through your leg a little more than before. Just…” Doc
“Just what?” Lucas asked, concern in his voice.
“Now Lucas, nothing to be concerned about. Its just that, well,
Mark can give up using the crutches, but I’d like for him to use
“A cane?” Mark asked, a little louder than he meant to.
“Just for a few more weeks. To help your balance. I’ll give you
some exercises to help strengthen the muscles in your leg, just
don’t overdo it.”
“What about riding?” Mark inquired; eager to get back in the
“Don’t see why not, just don’t go jumping down. Step down nice
and gentle like, at least until you’re more comfortable in
walking around. Your Pa can probably rig up something to attach
to your saddle, similar to the scabbard for your rifle, to carry
your cane. And I mean use the cane to walk, don’t be too proud,”
Doc said as he pointed a finger towards Mark.
As Doc stepped to a back room, Lucas handed Mark a sock and his
boot. Doc returned with a couple of canes and handed them one at
a time for Mark to test to see which one would be the correct
length. Once they decided on which cane, Doc watched Mark walk
around his office for a few minutes.
“You’ll use it until I saw otherwise, Mark? Promise?” Doc asked.
“Yes sir. I promise.”
“Doc,” Lucas stated. “Do you have any plans for dinner this
“Why no Lucas, I don’t.”
“Well you do now, why don’t you join Mark and me at the
restaurant for dinner. My treat.”
“That’s the best way to eat dinner.”
As they walked to the hotel, Mark felt more self conscious about
using the cane than he had using the crutches, but he made a
promise and he understood the reason for the cane. By the time
they arrived at the hotel, Mark was thankful for the cane.
The next morning found Lucas saddling Blue Boy for Mark to ride
to school. He also had Razor saddled. As Mark entered the barn,
he stopped and had a questioning look on his face.
“Mark, just today. It’s your first day back in the saddle. I
promise after we get our chores done tomorrow, you can spend the
rest of the day out riding on your own, without me as your
shadow. Just give me today. Okay?”
“Sure Pa. I know I’ll always be your little boy, just as you’ll
always be my Pa. Well, come on,” Mark said as he got in the
saddle. “Or else you can tell Mr. Griswald you’re the reason why
I’m late for school today.”
Mark laughed as his Pa got in the saddle. They rode side by
side. Mark couldn’t help the grin on his face. It felt good to
be back in the saddle. But he knew he needed to take it easy, if
he overdid it while riding, he would pay the price of sore
muscles, not to mention sore seat bones, for the next week or
so. He was happy to just walk and trot Blue Boy to school. It
was also easier to talk with his Pa during their trip, when they
were taking it slow. He could wait until he was fully released
to really start riding. Right now, it felt good to be in the
saddle and he planned on taking it slow and easy.
Two weeks later, and finally, Mark had been given a complete,
clean bill of health, by Doc Burrage. Mark had also realized his
Pa hadn’t had the bad dream in a while. Maybe things were
finally returning to normal at the McCain ranch. Mark had
returned to working side by side with his Pa on the ranch and
taking back all the responsibilities of working his own chores.
He rose early Saturday, as he planned to check the fence line
out on the southeast edge of the ranch. But before he left, he
couldn’t find his rifle. It wasn’t in the stand, beside his
Pa’s. Until today, Mark hadn’t really looked for it. He hadn’t
been in a position to need it until now.
“Pa,” Mark called as Lucas came in from the barn. “I just
realized, my rifle is missing. It’s been so long, guess I must
have left it back a Micah’s.” Mark said as he scratched at his
head before putting his hat back on, then he saw his Pa was
carrying a box.
“It’s not missing Mark. I talked it over with Angus and I hope
you don’t mind. I’ve been waiting for this morning to come for
quite a few weeks. You’ve done some growing up and I felt it was
time to trade in your .22.” Lucas handed the box to Mark and
watched as he opened it.
Mark’s eyes grew wide as he realized it was a rifle, like his
Pa’s, except it didn’t have a modified lever.
“Pa…” Mark said as tear welled in his eyes. He pulled the rifle
from the box and looked it over.
“Angus adjusted the stock so it would be the same as the one you
borrowed from Micah when you rode with the posse. It should fit
you well. I tried the action and was pleased. And it sights in
Lucas walked to the dresser in their bedroom and pulled out a
box of shells. Returning to the front room, he handed them to
Mark. “It’s a big step up, but I think you’re ready.”
Mark held the rifle in one hand and gave his Pa a big hug.
“Thank you, Pa.”
As Mark rode the fence line, he came to the bluffs that
separated the McCain Ranch from Oat Jackford’s ranch. He
shuddered; like he did every time he passed the bluffs, as he
remembered back to that day when he encountered the wolf and how
he had tripped and fallen down the bluff. Micah and Mr. Jackford
had been in the right place at the right time to find him and
save his life. He remembered that it had been the first time
since just after their arrival in North Fork that his Pa had let
him spend the night alone at the ranch. He remembered the
accident and how guilty he had felt afterwards for failing The
Test, not realizing while he was unconscious that Micah had had
words with his Pa, and his Pa was taking the blame for failing
The Test, too. ‘Yeah, seems Pa and I are more alike than either
of us want to realize at times,’ Mark thought to himself and
Mark’s attention was brought back to the present when he heard
voices yelling. He looked up and saw riders chasing after a lone
figure, running on foot. He watched as the figure fell to the
ground and the riders pulled up their horses and jumped down.
Mark saw one of the riders pull out a bull whip and let it sail
towards the figure lying on the ground. The person screamed as
the whip lashed into their back. The other man had a knife in
his hand as he ran to the figure; he grabbed the long braid of
hair falling down the person’s back and cut it off, not too far
from their scalp. Mark pulled out his rifle and kicked Blue Boy
into a gallop. As he approached the riders, he fired one shot as
a warning. As he arrived, he pulled Blue Boy to a halt and his
rifle aimed at the man with the whip.
“Misters, this is McCain property and we don’t allow
trespassing. I’d be obliged if you’d get on your horses and
“Boy, there’s only one of you and two of us,” one of the men
“I know. And just which one of the two of you wants to take the
first bullet? As I said, get in your saddles and leave this
ranch! Don’t let me find you here again!”
One of the men grabbed for the figure on the ground and the
person recoiled away.
“I said leave!” Mark demanded.
“It’s our property,” the other said.
“You have no right to own another human being. Based on the way
you were treating him, I’d say count your blessings I’m letting
you leave with your lives. Get mounted!”
Mark watched as the man with the whip coiled it and took a step
towards Mark. Using only the weight of his seat, Mark backed
Blue Boy a step. The man with the knife placed it in the sheath
and called to his partner, “McCormick, get in the saddle.”Mark
kept his rifle shouldered as he watched the men ride away. He
didn’t lower it until they were well out of sight. Mark placed
his rifle in his scabbard and then stepped down from Blue Boy
and looked at the person, still on the ground. He knelt down and
extended a hand, “Don’t be afraid, I’m here to help.”
‘My God, it’s a girl, maybe my age,’ Mark thought to himself.
The girl tried to crawl backwards from Mark.
“Please, I’m not going to hurt you.” Mark said, but didn’t
The girl stopped and pushed back what was left of her hair from
her face. Under the dirt, Mark saw the bruises on her face, saw
the blood trickling from the corner of her mouth, saw the rope
burns on her wrists. He saw how worn the soles of her moccasins
were, and the rifts in the sleeves of her top. He stood and
pulled down his canteen, knelt and offered it to the girl.
She took a hesitant move towards Mark. He placed the canteen on
the ground and stepped back.
“Its water, help yourself,” Mark said as he sat down and crossed
He watched as she crawled to the canteen, picked it up, twisted
the cap and began to drink. All the while, she kept a wary eye
He pulled his bandanna from his back pocket and held it out to
the girl. He didn’t react as she moved closer and snatched the
bandanna from him and then scurried backwards from his reach.
Mark watched as she poured a little water into the bandanna,
then replaced the cap on the canteen and set it down. She wiped
her face and then dabbed at the corner of her mouth. He then
noticed her clothing was made from animal skins. ‘Could she be
an Indian?’ he thought.
Mark moved to get up and watched the girl’s reaction, there was
still fear in her eyes, but she didn’t back away. Mark picked up
the canteen and asked her to turn around and let him tend to her
back, as he made a motion indicating for her to turn around, he
held his hand out for the bandanna. She looked from Mark to his
horse; eyes focused on the rifle, and then back to Mark. She
held out the bandanna to Mark and as he took it, she turned
around, but kept her head turned to keep an eye on Mark.
Mark poured water into the bandanna and slowly pulled open the
back side of her shirt from where the rawhide whip had cut
through the cloth and then tended to her back. Mark noticed how
white her skin was underneath as he dabbed at the blood seeping
from the whip mark.
“You probably don’t understand a word I’m saying, but, maybe
you’ll understand from my tone of voice and my actions, that I
don’t mean you any harm.”
As she looked over her shoulder, she saw the smile on Mark’s
face, but flinched as he touched at a deeper laceration from the
“I’m sorry, but it needs to be cleaned,” Mark said in reaction
to her flinch.
He continued to smile at her, hoping she’d come to trust him
more. He wanted to get her back to his home and tell his Pa what
had happened. All the time, Mark still kept a wary eye and his
ears open in case those two men returned.
Once Mark felt he’d tended to her back as best he could, he
stood and returned his canteen to his saddle. He untied his
jacket from behind his saddle and held it out to her.
Cautiously, she took the jacket and put it on.
Mark stepped into the stirrup and mounted Blue Boy. He then
removed his foot from the stirrup and extended his arm down for
the girl. She looked around and then grabbed Mark’s arm, placed
a foot in the stirrup, and swung up to sit behind Mark. She
placed her arms around Mark’s waist and held on. Mark signaled
Blue Boy to pick up a lope and they headed for home.
Mark arrived in front of the barn as the sun was setting, to see
his Pa leading Razor out.
“Mark where have you been? You should have been home hours ago.
I was…,” Lucas called out, deep concern was in his voice.
“Pa, I’m sorry. I couldn’t help being late,” Mark interrupted.
“I was out near the bluffs and saw two men trespassing and well,
they were chasing a girl. She tripped and they started to whip
her. One of the men cut off her braid.”
Lucas finally saw that there was someone else sitting behind
Mark as he turned Blue Boy sideways for his Pa to see.
“Mark… I’m sorry, I was just getting worried when you weren’t
back when you said you’d be.”
“I know Pa.”
Lucas dropped Razor’s reins and walked over to Mark. Mark felt
the girl behind him tense.
“Pa, please, it took me a long time to gain her trust, she’s
Lucas stopped and took a step backwards, Mark felt the girl
relax her hold.
“Should we keep her here tonight or should I take her on in to
see Doc Burrage. I’m concerned about the laceration on her
“Mark, we’ll keep her here tonight. Doc Burrage won’t be back
until late tomorrow afternoon.”
Lucas picked up Razor’s reins and watched as Mark stepped down
from Blue Boy and then assisted the girl to get down. As he
looked at her, he saw the fear in her eyes as she returned his
stare, yet, he marveled at how his son had managed to gain her
trust, as they walked into the house.
Then leading both horses, Lucas returned to the barn and
As he entered the house, he placed his and Mark’s rifles in
their stands, by the door. He saw Mark and the girl standing at
the sink, Mark was working the pump as the girl held her head
under the water and rubbed her hair, her face and finally her
arms. Through her torn shirt, Lucas saw the lash mark the whip
had left. He walked into the bed room, pulled out a medicine
box, and returned to the front room. He set the medicine box on
the table and went to sit in his chair.
Mark helped wrap a towel around the girl’s hair and then
escorted her to a chair at the table and motioned for her to sit
down. He opened the medicine box and pulled out a tub of salve
and applied it to her back to help prevent infection and aid in
the healing of the laceration. As he worked on the girl’s back
he talked to his Pa and told of what happened.
As he continue his conversation he stated, “Pa, I had just been
remembering back and was thinking about how Micah and Mr.
Jackford had been in the right place at the right time, when I
encountered that wolf on the bluffs. And here I was in the right
place and right time to save her. Pa, I’m sorry for bringing
this trouble home, but I couldn’t just let it happen. Not on
McCain property! Guess we’ll need to let Micah know to keep an
eye out for those men.”
“Mark, I’ll do that tomorrow when we take her to town. For now,
I don’t want you leaving the house or barn without me. When you
go to the barn, keep your rifle with you. Who knows who those
men are and whether they’re still out there trying to get her
back.” Lucas stood. “I’m going to get a cot from the barn. She
can sleep in the front room tonight. Why don’t you get her one
of your shirts to wear instead of that ripped shirt she’s
The girl started to rub her hair with the towel, as Mark
returned to the front room with his shirt in hand he heard,
“Mark” and saw the girl was pointing towards him. As Lucas
entered the house, carrying the cot, she said, “Pa?” as she
pointed to Lucas.
Mark smiled and said, “Yes, my name is Mark. And,” pointing to
Lucas, “He’s my Pa.”
The girl stood from the chair, placed the towel on the table,
and walked to Lucas’ desk. She picked up a picture and said,
“Your Ma” and then pointed to Mark.
“Yes, that’s my Ma, but she died a long time ago,” there was
sorrow in Mark’s voice as the girl handed the picture to Mark
and he set it down on the desk.
“Do you remember your name?” He pointed to himself when he said,
“My name is Mark”. Then he pointed to the girl and said “Your
The girl looked at Mark and then looked at the floor. Mark could
tell she was trying to remember. Lucas watched the exchange as
set up the cot.
The girl pointed to herself and said, “Dawn Fire, but before,
H-hope,” she eventually said. “My n-name was Hope.”
“You remember speaking English, our language?” Mark asked.
“From long time ago. Iron Heart, he talk some and white medicine
man, he talk with me.”
“Iron Heart?” Mark inquired.
“He took me as family,” Hope replied.
Lucas laid out a pillow and blankets on the cot, and turned to
the girl and said, “For you to sleep.”
She walked to Lucas’ chair and picked up Lucas’ bible from the
side table. Lucas started to take a step forward, but stopped
when Mark said, “Pa, wait.”
The girl ran her hand over the cover of the bible and she opened
the bible and ran her hand over the pages. As she closed her
eyes she said, “I remember… A long time ago… ‘Our Father who art
in Heaven…” The girl closed the bible and set it gently back on
the table. She hung her head and she dropped her hands to her
Mark walked to her and placed a hand on her shoulder, “Its
okay,” he stated as he gently turned her around. He saw tears
falling down her cheeks. He led her over to the cot and gently
pushed her to sit and finally to lie down. He pulled the covers
over her as she curled up on her side, tears still falling.
Lucas blew out the lanterns in the front room as he and Mark
retired to their bed room. As they dressed for bed, Mark started
“Pa, years ago, when that book salesman came to town,
afterwards, you told me of how he stole something from women
that should only be shared with their husband…”
“Do you think those men could have tried stealing that same
thing from her. As much as she’s been beaten, could those men
Lucas heard in Mark’s voice that this was a concern that was
weighing heavily on his mind. “I don’t know son. I pray not.
But, if those men thought she was an Indian, they probably would
have tried. That will be up to Doc Burrage to determine.”
“Pa, I don’t think she’s an Indian. From the way she dressed,
one would think so, but when I was tending her back out on the
bluffs, her skin is so white underneath her shirt and her hair.
Pa, who’s ever heard of an Indian with red hair? Pa, could she
have been captive by some tribe?”
“It’s possible. She remembers some English, we’ll just have to
give her time to trust us and to talk with us. Goodnight son.”
Lucas and Mark entered the front room in the morning to find the
girl still curled up and asleep. They quietly picked up their
rifles, left the house, and headed to the barn to do their
As Mark was feeding the chickens, he saw the girl exit the house
and that she had put on the shirt he’d given her the night
before. She hadn’t tucked the shirttail in, but rather, wore the
shirt tail on the outside of her britches. Lucas was carrying a
basket of eggs and the milk pail when he saw her and noticed the
absence of fear in her eyes.
The three returned to the house. The girl sat down on the hearth
of the fireplace. Mark sat down in his chair next to where she
sat. They quietly talked as Lucas fixed breakfast.
As they were finishing eating breakfast, a rider could be heard
approaching the house. Hope stood quickly, knocking her chair
over. Lucas saw panic and fear in her eyes. Mark got up and
walked to the open front door, “Pa, its Micah.”
Mark turned from the door, walked to the girl, and said, “Hope,
you’re okay. He’s a friend. It’s not those men.”
Lucas stood and walked to the door to meet Micah on the porch.
“Good Morning Micah. What brings you out this way so early this
“There might be trouble heading your way LucasBoy. Sweeney had a
couple of men in the bar last night. They got talking drunk
about getting even with ‘that’ boy because of him interfering
with their property. Sweeney kept an ear on what they were
saying all night and couldn’t figure out who they were talking
about. He came to me first thing this morning, so Drako and I
are warning all the ranchers keep an eye out for strangers. Not
sure what this is all about, but better to be safely forewarned.
Boy that coffee does smell good, mind if I help myself?”
“Micah, just a minute. Those men, they were talking about Mark.
He had a run in with two strangers out near the bluffs
yesterday. They were chasing a girl and done a pretty good job
of beating her. Took a whip to her back and cut off her braid
before Mark could stop them. He chased them off and brought the
girl here. Mark said, they claimed the girl to be their
“How could they claim a girl as property?” Micah asked.
“Probably because they thought she was an Indian. It’s doubtful
that she is. Mark and I think that she might have been a captive
of a tribe and either those men traded or stole her away, not
realizing she’s white.”
“Oh, Lucas, I’m not looking forward to having this kind of
trouble in North Fork this morning.”
“Well, if you hadn’t ridden out Micah, you wouldn’t have heard
about it until this afternoon.” Lucas grinned at his play on
words to Micah, “Mark and I planned to bring her to town to have
Doc Burrage take a look at her.”
“Well, at least I can stop riding across the country side,
sounding an alarm. I’ll head back to town and let Johnny know
what’s up. What time do you plan to arrive at Doc’s?”
“I was thinking about four o’clock and afterwards we could head
to the General Store with Lou, after it’s closed for the day and
not have any more prying eyes than necessary.”
“Okay, LucasBoy, I’ll see you later.”
Micah returned to his office to find Billy Lehigh having a
serious discussion with Johnny Drako.
“But I tell you, I saw them. There were three of them, couldn’t
miss the ponies they were riding. I know Indians when I see ‘em,”
Billy was stating as he was leaned over the desk pointing a
finger at Drako.
“Billy, just settle down,” Johnny stated, then seeing Micah
arrive. “Micah, Billy says he saw three Indians out near the
bluffs that separate Oat’s place from Lucas’.”
Micah entered the office and closed the door behind him.
“Bill, just when did you see them?”
“Why this morning, I saw them and immediately headed here! I
don’t think they saw me. Aren’t they supposed to be on a
reservation way up North? What are they doing this close to
“Settle down. I think I know why, but I don’t have all the
facts, yet,” Micah stated. “Billy, have a seat.”
Micah proceeded to tell Johnny and Billy the story that Lucas
told him earlier.
“I’m thinking those two drunks as Sweeney’s last night, stole
the girl from the tribe, and now they’re looking to get her
back. Johnny, I want you to head out to Lucas’ place. He and
Mark were going to bring the girl to town later today, but if
those Indians were already at the bluffs… Billy, you get back
and warn Oat.”
Before Johnny or Billy could leave the office, there was a rap
on the door just before it opened to have two Cavalry soldiers
Micah was the first to address them, “Good Day officers. What
can I do for you?”
“Marshal, my name is Major Seth Lane and this is Lieutenant
Ethan Lane. We need your assistance.”
“How can a town marshal help the army?” Drako asked.
“This isn’t exactly helping the Army. We’re both on personal
leave of absence. Several months ago, we heard word that one of
the Indian tribes in this territory had a young woman with them,
a white woman with red hair. We had hoped to meet up with this
tribe and see this young woman.”
“What for?” Billy asked.
Micah shot him a warning look.
“That’s a valid question. A little more than six years ago, I
lost my wife to fever. I was already committed to the army and I
didn’t know anything about raising a daughter. I took my boy,
Ethan, with me to the fort because he was old enough, but I sent
my daughter to live with my sister and her family. Thought with
cousins, she’d have a happier life growing up than living on an
Army post. About four months later, I received word there had
been an Indian attack and my sister and her family had been
killed. At that time, I just presumed my daughter had been
killed as well.”
As the major stopped talking, the lieutenant continued.
“It almost destroyed my father. But as he said, several months
ago we heard about a red-haired Indian girl. We eventually found
the tribe and talked with the elders, but were too late. Five
days previous, several trappers had come to their hunting camp
away from the reservation. The men stayed with the tribe
overnight and the next day, they and the girl were gone. It’s
been almost a week that we’ve been trailing them.
“Dawn Fire was the name the tribe gave the girl. Said because
they found her at sunrise and the sun light made her red hair
seem on fire… They told us the story of how they had found her
wandering out in the desert. They followed her tracks backwards
and found what remained of the family’s homestead. There was no
town within several days ride, so they decided to take the girl
and provide for her. My father and I are convinced that this
girl is my sister, Hope. She’d be sixteen years old now.”
“Gentlemen, I think all our troubles can be answered out at the
But before Micah could continue, Sweeney came running in.
“Micah, those two strangers, they came back and had friends,
tried to buy whiskey from me. I refused to sell them any. They
argued for a little bit, but then they left. Micah, they were
already drunk and as they were leaving Toomey heard one of them
talk about getting that boy.”
“Oh, my. Can this day get any better?” Micah stated with a heavy
sigh as he lifted his eyes up and looked towards the heavens.
“Men, we need to ride, now!” Micah pushed his way past the
soldiers, with Johnny and Billy close on his heels. The Lane’s
had no choice but to follow, hoping someone would provide an
answer as to what was happening. Sweeney stood in the Marshal’s
They rode five strong for the McCain ranch. As they arrived,
they saw Lucas stepping down from Razor, in front of the barn.
“Lucas,” Micah called. “I’d like you to meet Major Seth Lane and
his son, Lieutenant Ethan Lane. Where are Mark and the girl?”
“In the house, I presume, probably getting a late lunch ready.
“That trouble I was talking about earlier, its worse than we
thought. Billy here told us he saw three Indians out near the
bluffs where you said Mark found the girl. These soldiers here
might just be the girl’s real family. And before we left to come
out here, Sweeney told us those strangers were back, with
friends, and they commented about ‘getting that boy’ before they
“Mark!” Lucas yelled as he ran for the house.
He entered their home to find Mark struggling to stand up,
holding his hand to the back of his head.
“Take it easy Mark. Sit down slowly,” Lucas cautioned, as he put
his arms around Mark’s waist to help steady him. “Micah, get in
Those from town and the soldiers entered the house and stared at
the scene in front of them. Johnny and Billy exited the house
and started looking around.
“I’m okay Pa, where’s Hope?” Mark asked as he tried to pull
himself out of his Pa’s grasp. He shook his head and took one
step before stumbling sideways, off balance.
“Whoa, there boy. You’re not okay,” Lucas stated as he grabbed
hold of Mark again.
“Pa, I’m alright. My vision just kind of started fading away and
I got real light headed. I’m sorry,” Mark replied.
“Nothing to be sorry for. Come on, let’s get you sitting down,”
Lucas said as he led Mark to sit in his chair.
As Lucas finished helping Mark sit down, he asked Mark to tell
them what happened.
“I don’t rightly know. Hope and I were getting ready to set the
table for lunch and next thing I know, I’m getting up off the
floor and you’re standing next to me. Pa, where’s Hope?”
“Mark, were they Indians or white men?” Micah asked.
Mark just shook his head, whether answer no or shaking the
cobwebs, he didn’t know.
“Lucas,” Johnny stated as he and Billy returned to the house.
“Seems someone wearing boots entered from the bedroom window.
Same boot prints then are dragging someone out the back door.”
“Guess that answers your question Micah,” Lucas stated.
“Those men, it had to be. They came back and took Hope!” Mark
exclaimed as he winced from the sound of how loud his own voice
was. “Pa, we have to go after them.”
Mark, against his father’s wishes, stood up and took a tentative
step towards the door. Realizing his no longer felt dizzy, he
continued. He picked up the deputy badge from the mantle, pinned
it on, and then walked to the door and reached for his rifle.
“Mark!” Lucas demanded.
“Pa, I’m going to bring Hope back. Either you and the others can
come with me or you can stay here.”
“Lucas,” Micah said. “We best go get his horse saddled. Johnny,
Billy, get some food from the smoke house and the cabinets, we
ride as soon as Blue Boy is ready.”
Seth and Ethan Lane stood and watched the events unfold in front
“Mark, you stay right here and sit down until we’re ready to
head out,” Lucas stated as he pointed a finger to his son and
watched as Mark sat down at a chair from the table.
As Lucas and Micah left the house to get the horses ready, Lt.
Lane spoke, “Boy, you called the girl Hope, does she have red
hair and a small crescent shaped scar, kind of lying on its
back, on her right cheek, half way between her cheek bone and
her jaw bone?”
“Yes sir she does. But who are you and how’d you know?” Mark
The Lieutenant introduced himself and his father to Mark and
then told him there was the possibility that the girl, Hope, was
his sister. The scar was from a dog bite when she wasn’t yet
Soon enough, they were ready to leave. Micah told Billy Lehigh
to head on back home, to his wife and sons.
The riders stopped at an old, abandoned stage relay station,
just outside of Alamogordo, for the night. After typing up the
girl and shoving her in a closet, they pulled out bedrolls and
rolled them out. “Keene,” McCormick yelled. “Why’d you stop me
from killing that boy back there? You should have let me kill
“Yeah, and just how far do you think we’d of gotten if his Pa
heard that shot?”
“Wouldn’t have mattered, I’ve of killed him too,” McCormick
“McCormick, we ain’t being paid to kill anyone and I don’t think
we’d get any extra for the killings. All we’re being paid to do
is to bring this injun to Stedman and meet him here in
“But I owe that kid.”
“McCormick, drop it. Just do as we’re being paid to do and
that’s all!” Keene stated. “Now, get some sleep. Stedman should
be here in the morning.”
The moon had risen when the posse finally stopped for the night.
After they had eaten a supper of beans and bread, Mark set out
his bedroll next to his Pa’s and lay down.
“Mark, I’m proud of how you’re handling yourself today. I’m
proud to watch you read their trail and understand it as well as
“Yes, sir,” Mark replied.
Lucas could hear tension in Mark’s voice.
“So tell me, what’s wrong. You sound tense,” Lucas stated.
“Pa, I don’t know what it is. I’ve only known Hope for just over
a day and I feel… I don’t know what it is I feel, but it’s
strong. Am I ashamed? Angry? Hurt? I don’t know,” Mark stated as
he sat up and crossed his legs.
“Do you know why you have these feelings?” Lucas asked.
“I’m ashamed and angry for how those men treated Hope. Just
because they think she’s an Indian. I hurt for what she’s gone
through at the hands of those men. So many people think its okay
to treat an Indian, just because of the color of their skin, as
if they’re nothing more than, well…, dirt. It says in the bible
that God created man in His image. It’s just not right for them
to be treated any less than us!”
“Boy, there’s people out there who disagree with your
philosophy. They don’t believe the red man to be a man, that
he’s more animal than man,” Major Lane said.
“But they’re just contradicting themselves. They call him a red
man, that itself says he’s a man. He can feel and talk. I’ve
seen the red man cry tears. I’ve never seen a dog or a horse or
a cow cry tears. We may not understand the language he speaks,
but that doesn’t mean he’s not a man. Not everyone understands
the Spanish or French languages, but that doesn’t mean those
people aren’t ‘men’,” Mark’s voice showed the passion he felt
about the subject.
“Mark, you’d be rightly welcomed in Washington, D.C. for your
viewpoints. The politicians only hear from those who say the red
man is nothing. For me, it’s refreshing to hear someone so young
speak with such depth and compassion and understanding,” Ethan
“Mark, my son’s right. And for a long time, I was one of those
who felt there was nothing ‘good’ about the Indian. But in time,
I’ve come to believe as you do. It took me a long time to change
my way of thinking. And now, that there’s a possibility that a
tribe saved the life of my daughter, I’m glad my mind set
changed before I came here,” Seth Lane stated as he took a drink
from his cup of coffee.
“Well, I don’t know about Washington, D.C., it’s too far way for
me to even think about. Right now I just want to get Hope back.
And if she is your daughter, get the three of you reunited.”
Mark, grabbed his rifle, stood, and left the camp. The others
watched him leave. A few moments later, Lucas got up and
followed. He approached and saw Mark sitting on a large boulder,
“I’m here Pa. I’m sorry if I spoke out of line back there and
was wrong in walking away. I just needed to sort through my
feelings. Problem is, I don’t know why I really feel the way I
“You weren’t wrong Mark. You have a viewpoint that will,
hopefully, one day lead this territory to Statehood. All men do
need to think of themselves as brothers. Maybe the Lieutenant is
right and that your calling is in Washington.”
“Never! To be stuck in that CITY and so far away from where my
home is? If I’m to do any good, it’s got to be here, where it
matters. Not back East where no one here would know what’s
“Son, take your time to do your thinking, but remember, we’re
riding at sun up. We all need our sleep.”
“Yes sir. Pa? …Remember that dream I told out about? The one
where I said I finally understood what you had been trying to
teach me because I was married and had children?” Mark
hesitated, waited to see if his Pa remembered.
Lucas nodded and looked at his son.
“Down deep…, it may sound strange, but… I feel that Hope was a
part of that dream. I didn’t want to say anything back at camp,
because… it’s scaring me,” Mark replied as he looked back out
over the horizon. Trying to understand exactly what it was that
was pulling at him.
“You want me to stay?”
“No sir, I think this is one of those times I need to do some
thinking on my own.”
“All right son,” Lucas said, as he turned and walked back to
With the McCain’s gone from the camp the Major inquired about
them. “Marshal, that boy and his father, they seem quite
different than most settlers out here. Ethan and I have a good
relationship, but I don’t think that even we have that kind of a
bond. And for Mark, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone so
young speak with such conviction and belief, especially around
their elders,” Seth stated.
Ethan added, “I guess I’m just a tad bit curious as to why he’s
wearing a deputy badge and not his father.”
Micah took the time to tell the Lane’s a little of the past
history of Lucas and Mark McCain and then more recently how Mark
was deputized when it fell to him to assist the posse in
tracking down outlaws who robbed the stage. He went on to add,
that some day, in the future, he planned to retire, and it just
seemed, right, to leave Mark deputized.
“Don’t ask us why, but it does.” Johnny stated as he raised his
coffee cup in a small salute. “Guess it does seem strange to
have the son and not the father as a deputy, but Lucas is okay
with it, surprisingly enough. And Mark is learning his
responsibilities and takes seriously what the badge represents.”
Lucas returned to camp and Micah inquired, “How’s Mark?”
“Give him a little time. He’s trying to figure some things out.
He’ll be back soon.”
Lucas laid his rifle down next to his bedroll and climbed in.
The others turned in as well.
The group was abruptly woken in the morning to hearing Mark
yell, “Ow! Dang it!” as he set the coffee pot down and started
shaking his hand in the air.
“Sorry, Pa, just wasn’t paying attention and grabbed the pot
wrong. Coffee’s ready and I’ve warmed some biscuits, if anyone
wants some. The horses are ready to go, just need to tighten the
cinches before we ride.”
“You get your thinking done last night?” Lucas asked as he
climbed from his bedroll, walked over and took a cup of coffee
“Not really, but it doesn’t scare me as much. I had a long talk
with God last night and felt a lot better afterwards,” Mark
Keene and McCormick were up before daybreak, getting things set.
The others were outside, waiting. Stedman should arrive at the
relay station any time. They pulled the girl from the closet,
checked the bindings around her wrists and tightened the gag.
They set her in a chair and then ran another rope around her,
securely tying her to the chair.
The sun was just peaking over the hills when Stedman arrived. He
entered the station and pulled himself up to his full height.
“That her?” he asked, not taking his eyes off the girl.
“That’s her. Mind telling us why?” McCormick asked.
“Guess you got reason to know. I want to start an all out war.
I’m gonna force those red bastards to break the treaty. Then the
Army will have to come in and deal with them once and for all.
Move them down to the swamp lands in Florida. The land the
government set aside as their reservation, was my land. Good,
prime, cattle raising land. I was all ready to take that land,
dirt cheap, and those ‘legislatures’ in Washington don’t know
what they done. I ain’t gonna see no filthy redskin squat on it.
I want my land back!”
“And just how does this squaw figure in?” Keene asked.
“She’s the daughter of Iron Heart. Through her, I can get him to
do anything I please. All I have to do is see to it that she is
killed, by a white man. He’ll go on the war path and I’ll get
what I want.”
“Hell, if you wanted her dead, we could have done that back
before we took her. Why’d we have to go through all this trouble
to get her here?” McCormick stated.
Because, Senator Borden is arriving in Alamogordo tomorrow and I
need to make sure he is a casualty. Killing two birds with one
stone, so to speak.”
Stedman walked over to the girl, as he approached, she started
kicking out with her legs, just trying to keep him away.
“Did you have any trouble getting her? You should have been able
to get in and get out quickly with her.” Vindictiveness could be
heard in Stedman’s voice.
“We did. Just that she got away from us once and some son of a
sodbuster saw us chasing her and pulled a rifle on us. Forced
our hand to leave her with him.” Keene continued, “But we got
“Did you leave a witness?” Stedman demanded.
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t call him a witness. He’s probably thankful
not to have to deal with her any more, once he realized what she
was.” McCormick replied. “’Sides, Keene wouldn’t let me kill the
“Idiots! There’s a kid out there who can connect you to her and
then she shows up dead? How could you be so stupid?” Stedman
“No one can tie her to you. What’s it matter, she’s just a
stinkin’ Injun. Ain’t no white man gonna think twice about
finding her dead anyhow. You still get what you want, your war
and your land,” Keene stated. “Besides, he was just a kid, a
The men continued to discuss their plan. How they intended to
kill the girl and Senator Borden.
The others stepped down from their horses to stretch their legs
as Lucas and Mark examined the tracks.
“Pa, we’re not the only ones tracking them,” Mark quietly said
as he studied the trail.
“I know. When Micah came out yesterday, he told me that Billy
Lehigh saw three Indians out on the bluffs.” Lucas quickly told
Mark the story that Micah had told him.
“Three? But Pa, there’s only two unshod tracks here.”
“I know and these two are ahead of us. So I’m presuming one is
“Pa, do you think the others are the Indians who cared for her?”
“I would hope to think they are.”
Lucas and Mark returned to their horses.
“They’re heading for Alamogordo,” Lucas declared.
They entered Alamogordo and rode for the Sheriff’s office; to
explain why they were there and to find out if the men they were
tracking had been seen. After talking with the Sheriff, they
headed for the hotel. They had just finished registering at the
hotel, when those from the carriage that had just pulled up in
front of the hotel, entered.
Mark stood to the back of the lobby, waiting. Seeing his Pa turn
around, Mark turned around and ran into the man entering.
Stepping back quickly, he said, “Senator Borden, I’m so sorry. I
should have looked before I turned around, I really am sorry.”
The senator’s aid tried pushing Mark aside, until he saw the
badge. “I’m sorry deputy. I didn’t see your badge,” he said as
he stepped aside.
“Young man, you seem to be one up on me. No one knew that we
were coming here.”
“Sir, we didn’t know it either, it’s just that I remember you
from four years ago, when you visited North Fork and we had
those outlaws dressed as cavalry make an attempt on your life.”
A smile of recognition came across the Senator’s face, “Why if
my memory serves me correctly, you’ve traded in your slingshot
for something a little more powerful. Young Mr. McCain, am I
right? You’ve done some growing up since last I saw you. And a
badge at that. I’m right honored to be reacquainted with you.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you sir,” Mark answered, a little more than
Introductions were made for the rest of the group. “Officers,”
Senator’s aid stated. “I’d appreciate a word with you for a
moment.” The rest of posse from North Fork then excused
The Lane’s rejoined the group from North Fork for supper.
Conversation included the fact that the Senator’s group
appreciated there being more soldiers and deputies in town. They
had heard rumblings of a serious threat against the Senator.
This wasn’t a business trip; the Senator was on his way to visit
his sister in Arizona. The Senator was especially pleased to
know that those responsible for preventing a previous
assassination attempt were in town.
The next day, group from North Fork had finished their breakfast
and walked outside. Mark headed for the livery as his Pa, Micah,
and Johnny returned to the Sheriff’s office. Without any
warning, all hell broke loose as Senator Borden and his
entourage were walking from the hotel to the livery. The Senator
and his people ran for cover as did the citizens of Alamogordo.
The Sheriff and those from North Fork ran out of the office and
took cover. They determined the shots were coming from three
different directions, before they returned fire.
Though Lucas was occupied with helping to protect the town, he
grew concerned when he couldn’t see Mark.
It took time, but eventually the last shot was fired. Slowly
Lucas stood up and stepped from behind a water trough. Johnny
and Micah stepped out from behind a wagon in front of the
general store. The Lane’s stood from behind a carriage in front
of the hotel. Everyone still had guns in hand. Lucas continued
to look for Mark, but his attention was drawn to one man riding
a horse, pushing in front of them, a person on foot, down the
middle of the street.
From a side alley, Mark saw the same rider and person. He saw in
one hand the rider held a gun and in the other, a rope that was
tied around the neck of… “Hope!” Mark yelled as he ran into the
street. As he stopped, he shouldered his rifle.
The rider stopped and tugged on the rope. “Stop right there
deputy! You?!” he screamed when he recognized Mark. “You’re a
deputy? Why you’re nothing more than a brat!”
“I might be a brat, but, McCormick, you’re a dead man unless you
drop that rope.” Mark answered, with a dead calm to his voice,
loud enough that everyone could hear.
Mark didn’t dare take his eyes off the man to spare a look at
Hope, lest McCormick take advantage of his distraction.
“Seems like we have a Mexican standoff here, boy!” McCormick
started laughing. “The men sent a boy to do a man’s job. Maybe
one of those MEN could get a shot off at me, but right now, my
gun is focused on you. You want to be the first to take a
Mark answered loud enough that only McCormick and Hope could
hear him, he didn’t want his Pa to hear. “Not really, but if it
means that you can’t hurt Hope any more, I’ll take a bullet for
Before their eyes, they saw three arrows strike the ground in
front of McCormick’s horse, causing it to spook sideways and
McCormick struggled to regain control. Mark saw the rope binding
Hope was also tied to the saddle horn. He knelt, rested his arm
on his knee, took aim and fired, and just as the rope tightened
to pull Hope backwards, the bullet struck, severing it. Before
Mark could fire a second shot, he saw an arrow strike McCormick
in the chest. Mark got to his feet and ran to Hope’s side. He
helped her get up off the ground. As he put an arm around her
waist to turn her away from the scene, he found three Indians
between him and the others.
An older Indian dismounted from his horse, walked to where
McCormick lay, turned him over and spit in his face. Then he
walked back to Mark and Hope, and pulled a knife from its sheath
on his belt. He cut the bindings on her wrists and cut the rope
from her neck. After returning his knife to its sheath, he held
his hand out, in white man fashion to Mark.
He spoke in broken English, “It was brave what you did, today
“Before?” Mark asked.
“We follow tracks after men took Dawn Fire. Follow home. Saw
them take her from you. Saw you leading law. You stand here,
brave against a coward.”
“But I wasn’t alone, my Pa and the others, they stood behind
me,” Mark said.
“Alone, you offered to lose life to save one.”
Then turning to Hope, “Dawn Fire, I am pleased that you are
safe, but soldiers who ride with this one, are your family. Our
hearts sad you no longer live with us. But know, your memory
will always shine.” He turned to walk away.
“Sir?” Mark asked. “You are Iron Heart?” He nodded. “Please
stay? You can’t just walk away.”
“We leave,” Iron Heart spoke.
Mark looked to Hope and saw the tears falling down her cheeks.
He took his hand and wiped away those falling down her right
cheek. She turned towards Mark and allowed him to wrap her in
his arms as she cried.
“Sir, I understand your heart. Maybe we could meet you and make
camp outside of town. You need to talk to Hope, she needs to
”Maybe, one day, we can live as brothers, if more believed as
you.” He walked back to his horse and mounted, then waited.
Mark released Hope, but grabbed her hand and ran to the livery.
He bridled Blue Boy, hopped on him bareback, and pulled Hope up
behind him. He ran Blue Boy past his Pa and the others. He heard
his Pa yell his name as he rode and stopped next to Iron Heart.
Lucas and the others watched as Mark stopped his horse. Lucas
wanted to follow, but coming up all around them was the Senator
as well as his entourage. And the people of the town were coming
out from their hiding places as some watched in awe and others
watched in fear, as Mark and the Indians rode down the middle of
the street. Everyone crowded around those from North Fork; the
were talking and asking questions. The Sheriff and those from
North Fork tried their best to answer. Finally, the Sheriff of
Alamogordo and his deputy tried to break up the crowd. Told them
all to go about their own businesses or to head home. He wanted
everyone off the street! Next, they dragged the four bodies off
to the undertaker’s.
Micah and Johnny grabbed Lucas’ arms and led him to the hotel.
“Come on Lucas. Let’s get you to the hotel. Mark will be back.”
“I need to go find him.” Lucas asked.
“Lucas, trust Mark now, as you’ve trusted him before. He’ll be
The Lane’s accompanied them to the hotel and waited in the
Mark rode with Iron Heart and helped as they made a small camp
outside of town. Soon they were sitting around a small fire.
Mark was told the other braves were Iron Heart’s sons.
Iron Heart spoke, “You have no fear of us?”
“No sir. I’ve spent time with the Apaches, they found me injured
and nursed me back to health. Though, when I was maybe eleven, a
different tribe had kidnapped me.” Mark stopped talking as he
Iron Heart told Mark of finding a child out in the desert and of
the tragedy in finding her family massacred. They told of the
decision to raise the child as one of their own, regardless that
she was white. They couldn’t abandon a child to nature. Iron
Heart then told of the soldiers’ arrival at their camp,
inquiring of a red-haired, young woman. He described how he felt
their hurt and need to find their daughter/sister. When they
left, he set out to join his sons in tracking down those who had
taken her. Iron Heart took Hope’s chin in his hand as he turned
her face to the side and said the soldiers knew of the scar.
“Dawn Fire,” Iron Heart spoke. “I wish you to stay, to be a part
of family, but the soldiers are real family. They hurt for their
loss. You must go to own kind.”
“Hope, is your name. This one protected you,” Iron Heart said as
he pointed to Mark. “It is right that you return with him to
The group stood, with tears in Iron Heart’s eyes, he gave Hope
one final hug. He motioned for them to go to Mark’s horse and
pointed them to town. Iron Heart’s sons put out the fire and
mounted their horses. Iron Heart was soon on the back of his own
horse. The three turned in unison and rode away. They never
Mark stood next to Hope, saw the tears falling. He put his arms
around her and pulled her into his embrace, putting one hand on
the back of her head, pulling it to his shoulder. He felt her
trying to control her crying as she put her arms around him. He
The longer Mark was gone, the more worried Lucas became. It
didn’t matter what Micah or Johnny told him.
“It’s my job as his father to worry,” Lucas said as he placed
his cup of coffee down on the table.
It was approaching supper time when he looked out the window and
saw a horse with two riders stop at the hitching rail. Lucas was
outside in a heart beat.
“Mark?” he said as he stopped and watched Mark help Hope get
down. Lucas saw the sorrow in both their eyes.
“Pa, are the Lane’s inside?” Mark asked.
“Yes, they’re in the restaurant.”
“First I want to get her to the town doctor and then I think,
WE, need to talk. Can I meet you in our room later? Would you
let the Lane’s know?”
“Sure son.” Lucas stepped aside as Mark led Hope a couple doors
down to the doctor’s office.
Mark waited on the bench in front of the doctor’s office.
Shortly the Lane’s walked up.
“Sirs,” Mark started. “Iron Heart told Hope everything and said
she should return to her own kind. I can’t exactly imagine how
she feels, but I know she needs time to understand. All I ask is
that you try to understand her and not force our ways on her.
She’s been raise as a member of Iron Hearts family for six
years. I only spent a few weeks with the Lipan tribe of the
Apache Nation, and appreciated how they took me in as family and
treated my injuries before I was re-united with my Pa. I so
wanted to be back with my Pa, but it still hurt leaving behind
people who cared for me when they didn’t have to.”
Inside, the doctor administered a salve to the rope marks on
Hope’s wrists and to the lash mark on her back. As for the
bruising on her face and arms, the doctor handed her a bottle of
witch-hazel with directions to rub some on the bruises in the
morning and of an evening.
One of the ladies from town stopped by and dropped off a clean
shirt and pant/skirt that she thought might fit Hope. She
changed into the clothes and exited to meet Mark outside; and
much to Mark’s surprise, he let loose a whistle. As both her
father and brother looked towards him, his cheeks started
turning red, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Mark watched as the Lane’s escorted Hope to the hotel. He
entered the Doc’s office and had a brief discussion. Mark
returned to the room he shared with his Pa. He sat down on the
bed and re-told what he had heard from Iron Heart and how he
wanted Hope to return to her family.
“Pa, why do I feel towards Hope like I do? I know I had that
dream and I somehow feel she’s connected to it.” Mark hesitated,
“Pa, you should know that when I was standing in the street,
with my rifle on McCormick, he taunted me. He used my words
against me from a few days ago. He said how one of you could
surely pull the trigger to shoot him, but that I’d take the
first bullet…” He thought hard before continuing, “Pa, I told
him I was willing to give up my life to save her. I don’t
understand. It’s not that I feel sorry for her… I felt… I… I
didn’t hurt any more when she was standing so close to me. Does
that make any sense?”
“I think it’s another sign that my boy is growing up.”
“Growing up? I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused. I mean…,
I don’t know what I mean. Pa, could you give me some time alone?
I thought maybe I’d understand better if we talked, but I don’t
even know what to ask.”
“I’ll be downstairs in the restaurant,” Lucas turned and left
the room. Before he shut the door, he saw Mark lie down on the
bed and curl up on his side.
Mark escorted Hope from her room to the restaurant for a late
supper. He walked her to the table where her family was sitting.
He saw her to her seat and then turned to leave to go sit with
his family at a different table.
“Mark, please stay. Your presence brings comfort to Hope, so you
should stay here,” Major Lane stated.
Mark looked over to his father, who nodded. Mark sat down at the
Then turning to the girl, Seth Lane began, “Dawn Fire, I think
that’s what Iron Heart said they called you. Do you remember
“You sent me away,” Hope answered as she looked at him.
“Hope, Pa really didn’t send you away, but he didn’t know how to
take care of a little girl. He felt Aunt Susan and her family
would be able to care for you better than we could. Please
understand how much it hurt both of us to say goodbye to you,
but we thought it would be for the best,” Ethan Lane said.
Seeing the hurt in his Pa’s eyes, he thought that maybe the
explanation would come better from him.
“If we had known that the Indians would attack and kill Aunt
Susan and her family, we never would have left you. We just
didn’t know,” Ethan pleaded. “We’re just so thankful those
Indians didn’t kill you.”
“Indians didn’t attack! They were white and brown men,” Hope
replied, her eyes had taken on a boldness and her voice, a tone
“I was playing behind the barn when the riders came. I heard the
screams. When it was quiet, I stopped hiding. I saw them. I ran.
Iron Heart found me and kept me safe. He followed my trail, to
take me back. He saw what had happened. Iron Heart raised me as
one of his own. He wanted a daughter!” As she spoke the last
words, they heard her voice rise in tone. Her eyes dared the
soldiers in front of her to say otherwise.
Major Lane knelt in front of his daughter, “Hope, it’s not that
I didn’t want a daughter. I loved you from the first time I held
you in my arms as a little baby. I loved watching you grow up,
taking your first step and tucking you in bed at night. But, I
had just lost your mother and I was a soldier, I didn’t know how
to take care of you. You were almost eleven and my sister had a
girl, just a little bit older than you, and I thought it would
be better for her to raise you. An army post, out in this
territory, was no place to raise a young girl.”
The quietness was unnerving.
“Hope, I thank God that you’re alive and want you to know that I
do love you and will always love you. You’re a part of me, as is
your brother. I pray that someday you’ll be able to understand
why I did, what I did. It wasn’t easy. It’s never easy for a
father to leave a child. Ever since Ethan and I heard of a
red-haired girl living with the Kiowa, we’ve been searching for
“Hope,” Ethan spoke. “Two weeks ago, we found Iron Heart and the
tribe. But by the time we arrived, you had been taken by those
men. He had sent his sons after you. He listened to us and knew
the words we spoke were true. We’ve been trailing you ever
since. Believe us, if we didn’t love you, we wouldn’t have come
after you. We didn’t ask Iron Heart to return you to us, we just
wanted to know that you were alive and okay. He was the one who
said it was only right for you to be re-united with us.”
“Hope,” Mark quietly spoke. “Listen to their hearts. Not just
their words. I think you’ll understand and know the truth. Look
into their eyes and know their hearts.”
The look on Hope’s face softened. “My heart knows your words are
true, but I’ve lived as an Indian for the past six years. How
will people at the fort look at me? Will they see me as your
white daughter or will they see me as an Indian?”
After supper, the others watch Mark escort Hope to sit out on a
bench in front of the hotel. Lucas tried to hide the grin on his
face as he quickly took a drink of coffee.
“Lucas, I’m not sure what to do,” Seth Lane stated as he and
Ethan approach the table with Lucas, Micah, and Johnny.
“What to do?” Lucas asked.
“I’ve seen the look in Hope’s eyes when your boy isn’t around
her. It seems she’s getting her strength from him. Everything
she’s known for the past six years is gone, yet, with Mark at
her side, she seems ready to take on the world.”
“Seth, I’m sure she’s just grateful for Mark saving her life,
twice. Give her time. You’re her family, she’ll come around.”
“Lucas, I’ve also seen the look in your boy’s eyes when he’s
with her. One of the reasons that I sent Hope to live with my
sister, was I didn’t feel an army post was any place to raise a
daughter. I still feel that way, yet… my life is the Army, as is
Ethan’s. Hope asked me how those at the fort would see her. If
she were to return with us to the post, I’m not sure how she
would fit in. She spent six years living with the Kiowa. There
are people at the post who would hold it against her and treat
her as if she were an Indian. There are those who would never
see her as anything else other than an Indian. I want her to
have a chance to be happy. I just wonder if her returning to
Iron Heart’s tribe would be the best for her.”
“Seth, she can’t go back to them, it would dishonor Iron Heart
and his tribe if you were to send her back to them.” Lucas was
interrupted by Mark running into the restaurant, holding Hope’s
hand in his.
“Pa, Senator Borden is still at risk,” Mark stated as he came to
“What do you mean?” Borden asked as he walked into the
“Senator, Hope told me there was another man, named Stedman. He
was the one who arranged for those men to take her and bring her
here. They were to see that she was killed, as well as you. He
planned to start a war so that Iron Heart would break the treaty
and then the army would be forced to send her tribe to Florida.
Senator, if I remember correctly, you backed the bill assigning
the territory that the Kiowa have as their reservation. Stedman
wanted it for his cattle. He’s still out there. Don’t you see?
Hope and you are still at risk!”
“So how do we go about bringing the Stedman into the open and
arrest him?” Senator Borden asked.
Micah answered, “Right now, it’s the girl’s word against
whatever Stedman says. We don’t even know who he is or where he
is right now.”
“I have an idea,” Mark offered. “It will require the cooperation
of everyone, the Sheriff, the people of this town, the Army, and
Mark’s plan was to draw Stedman to North Fork. “We can place a
story in the newspaper about the attempt on Senator Borden’s
life and how he may not survive. The story can say that there
were four outlaws involved and all were killed. However, there
was one lone survivor, a Kiowa Indian captive. We can go on to
say how the Army is transporting the person, through North Fork
where they will meet up with a translator who can interrogate
“Why North Fork, Mark?” Borden asked.
“Because we know it best.” There was a determination in Mark’s
eyes and voice.
The group discussed their plan; they needed to work out every
detail before they set it in motion. Micah felt that their story
needed to make it seem easy for Stedman to show his hand.
“Maybe the article should state that I was killed as well as my
deputy seriously wounded…”
Mark sat down and worked out the story for the newspaper to
print. He handed it to Micah and then to the others. All were in
The following morning the leading story of the Alamogordo Times
Attempted Assassination of Senator Borden
Senator Border was critically wounded in an assassination
attempt while traveling through Alamogordo. It is doubtful, at
this time, that he will survive his wounds. Senator Borden’s
aid, Andrew Nelson, was sending word to Washington, D.C. Also,
Marshal Micah Torrance and Lucas McCain, both from North Fork,
New Mexico, were killed in the gun fight. Deputy Johnny Drako,
also of North Fork, was seriously wounded, and is unknown at
this time if he will survive. Alamogordo’s Sheriff, Trevor King
was wounded during the gun battle and should make a full
recovery. Sheriff King expressed regret at the deaths of such
fine men, but said that if it weren’t for them, more folks could
have been killed. The four outlaws responsible for the brazen
attack were killed during the gun fight or died last night from
their wounds. However, there was one lone survivor, a Kiowa
Indian captive. Two members of the U.S. Cavalry, who were
accompanying Senator Borden, and Lucas McCain’s son, will be
transporting the deceased back to their home in North Fork for
burial. The prisoner will be held in the custody of the U.S.
Cavalry pending transport back to their fort for interrogation.
After the newspaper story was printed, it was decided that the
Senator would head on to his sister’s in Arizona, as soon as
“Senator, I apologize for any distress our plan is going to
cause your sister when the story is printed in her town
newspaper. I hope she will be understanding, once she sees you
alive and well,” Mark said as the group returned to their rooms
for the night.
“Mark, don’t worry about my family. I’d worry more about how
your town is going to feel when they read they’ve lost two
upstanding citizens. You just see to it that Stedman is brought
to justice. When I’m finished visiting my sister, I handle any
repercussions after I return from my grave.”
As they prepared to set the next part of their plan in motion,
Lucas asked Mark a question.
“Okay Mark, why was it so important that I be killed in the
story you wrote for the paper?”
“Pa, with us returning to North Fork, I’m sure Stedman knows of
you and your reputation. I just needed to make it easier for him
to try something back home. How much easier could it be, the
Marshal dead, his deputy wounded and unable to return, the
Rifleman dead… I know you want to be by my side through this,
but if our plan is to work… If we’re to get the man who started
this.... I’m sorry Pa, but you just have to be dead. For a
“Pa, you, Micah, and Johnny, none of you can been seen riding
with us back to North Fork.”
Lucas, Micah, and Johnny prepared to leave Alamogordo under
cover of night. Mark removed his deputy badge and handed it to
“Pa, right now, I need to be your son, would you keep this for
me?” Lucas took the badge and pulled Mark into his embrace, an
embrace he didn’t want to release.
“Mark,” Micah stated. “You really need to keep the badge. Until
I can be resurrected from my grave, you’re the only deputy North
After Lucas released Mark, he pinned the badge back on Mark’s
Major Lane held horse from the livery as Lucas mounted. The
final piece of the plan was for Mark to lead Razor back to North
Fork and to carry his Pa’s rifle. He wasn’t happy to not be
riding Razor, nor having his own rifle, but he knew if Mark
returned without either…
“You see to it that my boy…” Lucas couldn’t continue.
“Lucas, I’ll do my best. We’ll see you when this is all over.”
As Mark watched them ride away, his thoughts returned to their
plan and in some ways, he felt as if the grief was real.
The next morning, they loaded two coffins, laden with grain
sacks, in the back of the wagon. Mark watched as the Lane’s
walked to the hotel and came out with Hope. The group left mid
morning to return to North Fork.
It was late night, three days later, when the group arrived in
North Fork. Most of the town was asleep and Mark noticed the
eerily silence that covered the street. Usually, even this late
at night, music could be heard coming from Sweeney’s. But as
they passed, Mark saw there were no lanterns lit and the doors
Mark opened the door to Micah’s office and let the Lane’s
“Well,” Ethan stated. “If we’re going to keep Hope in protective
custody, I guess that means you’re going to have to spend some
time in the cell.”
“Do I have too?” Hope asked.
“At least until we get Stedman,” Mark replied. “I won’t lock the
“Mark,” the Major said. “I think you should go ahead and put
your horses up at the livery and then go get a room at the
hotel. Ethan and I will see to it that the coffins carrying your
Pa and Micah are delivered to your Doc’s. Remember, you need to
keep acting the part of a son in mourning.”
Mark left Micah’s office, grabbed the reins and led Blue Boy and
Razor to Nils. He slowly entered the livery and untacked the
horses and put them in stalls. He set their saddles and bridles
aside. Then he pulled his and his Pa’s rifles from their
scabbards. While he thought he was alone, Mark ran his hand over
the stock of his Pa’s rifle. Quietly telling himself, ‘Soon
you’ll be reunited. We just have to wait for the right time.’
He turned around and jumped when he saw Nils standing in the
“I’m sorry Mark, I didn’t want to intrude. Eddie told us about
the wire he received two days ago. It is true? Is your Pa and
Micah… Are they really dead?”
Though he wasn’t sure which felt worse, the pain of being
separated from his Pa or having to lie to their friends, all
Mark did was nod as he slowly left the livery and proceeded to
Word had gotten to Lou of Mark’s return. She met him in the
lobby of the hotel, desperately seeking news of Johnny’s
condition. Again, the pain of lying pulled at Mark, but he knew,
in order for their plan to succeed, it had to be done. He told
Lou of the “injuries” Johnny had received and that he had been
unconscious when he left, but the doctor didn’t know if that he
would make a full recovery. Mark said that he planned to go back
and bring Johnny home as soon as they got word.
“Lou, I know I probably should have stayed with Johnny, but I
needed to bring Pa home. I wanted to bury him at ho…” Mark let
tears fall. He couldn’t tell if they were play acting or real
“No Mark,” Lou answered. “You were right to bring Lucas home.
You need to be with fam… friends. I’m sure Johnny will
Lou put an arm around Mark’s shoulder and walked up the stairs
and opened the door to his room.
“Mark, you sleep in as long as you need to in the morning. I
won’t let any one disturb you. You take all the time to grieve
that you need.”
Lou pulled the door closed. She prayed to God that Johnny was
going to be all right. “But dear Lord, how is Mark going to
survive without his father?”
The following morning, Mark woke to hearing a woman screaming in
the hotel. He bolted from his room, ran down the stairs, to see
Eddie, holding Lou in his arms.
“Mark,” Eddie said as he saw Mark approach. “We just got word
from Alamogordo that Johnny died.”
Mark helped Eddie carry Lou to her home on the back side of the
hotel. He then ran to Doc’s. He had to knock loudly on Doc’s
office door before he opened it.
“Doc, we need you at the hotel! Lou fainted!”
Doc grabbed his medical bag and followed Mark to Lou’s. After
Eddie told him what happened, Doc administered some smelling
salts and recommended Lou stay in bed for the rest of the day.
He’d check on her later in the day.
“Mark,” Doc said. “I’d like for you to come with me back to my
As they entered Doc’s, he locked the door behind them.
“Okay, so do you want to tell me why I have to coffins carrying
grain sacks in my back room?”
“Oh, you looked?” Mark asked, a little worried.
“Yeah, I looked. Two of my dearest friends are reported dead…”
“Doc, you have to go along with this. No one has been killed,
except the outlaws, but we’re trying to draw out the leader who
planned the assassination. You can’t let on to anyone that you
know Pa, Micah, and Johnny are alive. Please!” There was a
pleading in Mark’s voice.
Shortly, there was a knock on the door. Doc gave Mark time to,
compose himself in grief, before he answered.
“Just a minute!” Doc called.
As he opened the door, the undertaker was standing out front.
“Doc, just came to see what arrangements will be required.” Then
noticing Mark was sitting at Doc’s desk with his head in his
hands, “Mark, I just want you to know how sorry I am, the whole
town is… I need to ask you, do you wish your Pa to be buried in
“No! I’ll bury him at home. I know the spot, but I could use
your help…” Mark answered.
“I’ll be out later today,” then he turned and left.
Mark left Doc’s to head to the Marshal’s office. He entered to
find Hope sitting on the bunk eating breakfast, and her father
and brother were eating sitting in the chairs, on either side of
Before anyone could say anything, members of the town council
entered the office.
“Mark,” Frank Toomey stated. “We wanted to stop by and express
our condolences. Your father was a fine man. If you need
anything, you just let anyone of us know.”
“I appreciate that Mr. Toomey. Thank you.”
John Hamilton addressed the Lane’s, “Officers, I just want to
thank you for bringing Mark, Lucas, and Micah back home.”
Seth and Ethan just nodded their heads.
“Sirs, I was wondering, actually we all were wondering. We know
Micah deputized Mark sometime back, but we can’t leave
protecting this town to him alone.” Then turning to Mark, John
Hamilton continued, “Mark, it’s not that we don’t believe in
you, but you need time to grieve.”
“Mr. Hamilton, I understand. Before we left Alamogordo, I sent a
wire to the U.S. Marshal in Denver. I’m hoping soon, we’ll get
word on Micah’s replacement.”
Everyone present saw the sorrow in Mark’s eyes and heard it in
“People of North Fork,” Seth said. “We won’t leave Mark here
alone. He was duly deputized by your previous Marshal and we
will respect his wishes. My son and I will stay here, supporting
the deputy, until such time as a new marshal arrives.”
There was a murmur of appreciation from all present.
That afternoon, services were held at the North Fork Cemetery
for Micah. All the town’s folks and ranchers who had looked to
Micah for protection were present.
After services for Micah were over. The undertaker, Frank
Toomey, and Mark, left town. Mark drove the buckboard with his
Pa’s coffin in the back. Blue Boy and Razor tied behind.
Just before sunset, a large procession arrived at the McCain
ranch – a final farewell to a man everyone respected. After the
coffin was lowered into the grave, most folks left. A few chose
to stay, offering to help. Mark’s eyes were so filled with
tears, he pleaded with everyone to just go away. He sat on the
ground, crying, and watched as everyone left. After composing
himself, he stood up and began shoveling dirt over the coffin.
Before long, he heard his Pa’s voice behind him. “Son, how are
you holding up?
“Pa, what are you doing here?!” Mark asked, a little shocked, as
he looked around.
“Just came to help. Don’t worry, everyone is heading back to
town. Here give me the shovel.”
Mark watched as his Pa finished burying himself. They both sat
down under the tree and rested.
“Mighty fine turnout for Micah’s and my funerals,” Lucas stated
with a smile on his face.
“Guess we know just how much this town loves the two of you.”
The sun had long set when Johnny and Micah rode up.
“Johnny, you’re really going to have to do some sweet talking to
Lou when the three of you get resurrected. She got the wire
first thing this morning, announcing your death. She screamed
and fainted dead away. I had to go get… Oh, Doc Burrage knows
all three of you are really alive. He looked in the coffins and
I had to tell him what was happening.”
“Well,” Lucas said. “We know he can keep a secret. Remember when
Jim West was through here a few years back?”
Mark turned to his Pa and asked, “So just where are you three
camping out? If anything happens in town, I’ll need to send the
Major or the Lieutenant out to get you.”
Lucas described their camping location, just north of town. Far
enough away that no one should bother them, but close enough, if
Mark returned to his home that night. It felt strange, spending
the night there alone. It wasn’t the first time, but the whole
ordeal was becoming surreal for Mark.
It had been a week since they had returned to North Fork. Ethan
Lane stated, maybe they were wrong, maybe Stedman wasn’t going
to take the bait.
“He’s got to. I believe everything Hope said. He’s got to come
after her, one way or another, to tie up any loose ends. He
can’t risk her telling what she might know to your translator.”
Mark continued, “Ethan, I don’t know how much more of this I can
stand. I just wish that Stedman would arrive. This lying and…”
Mark stopped talking and shook his head.
“You need to talk, I can close the door?” Ethan stated as he
walked to the door and closed it.
“Maybe I should,” Mark walked to the cell where Hope was staying
and opened it. She followed him to sit down on the chaise, as
she and Ethan listened to Mark.
“It’s just the looks that everyone in town is giving me. I know
they mean well, it’s just hard watching it day after day. See,
back when I was 12, seems so long ago…” Mark let his memory
drift back to that day. “Pa was loading some black powder in the
wagon to go out and blast a tree stump that we hadn’t been able
to pull. Anyway, something happened and the powder keg blew. Pa
was blinded by the accident, temporarily. Only at that time, we
didn’t know. Guess I’m just too sensitive when it comes to
people and their pity. Compassion is one thing, but I don’t want
their pity. That’s what I see in everyone’s eyes. I just wish we
could get this lie over and done with.
“The only thing that’s making this whole lie bearable is that a
good friend of my Pa’s isn’t here. She tried to be my rock
during that first day after hearing the news, but between her
and Micah, and everyone else in town. I just wanted to run and
hide. It felt like a circus, the way they kept looking at me. I
guess I just too self-conscious about all this.”
“Mark, maybe you should ride out to your father. Maybe we should
cancel this whole trap,” Hope’s eyes pleaded to her brother.
The three talked for a while. Finally, Hope stood to return to
her cell. Ethan left to get everyone some supper.
The Seth Lane was walking the streets of North Fork, when the
evening train arrived. A dark haired woman exited the train. He
watched as she tearfully picked up her luggage and headed to the
hotel. Seth approached and offered her a hand.
As she turned at his approach, she stated, “I’m sorry, Major, am
I correct?” she asked.
“Yes Ma’am, may I escort you to the hotel?” Seth replied.
Seth saw the woman to the hotel. As they entered, he tipped his
hat and left. Lou was standing behind the counter as the woman
registered. Lou looked at the name written.
“Milly, Milly Scott? You owned the general store here in town?”
“Yes. But that was a long time ago. Can I ask you, do you know
where Mark McCain is? I have to see him.”
Tears were readily falling down Milly’s face.
“Milly, I’m Lou Mallory. I purchased the general store from you.
Please come with me, I think Mark will appreciate seeing you. I
think anyone who knew his Pa will help brighten his face. He’s
just not been himself since Lucas was buried.”
Lou came around the counter and pulled Milly into an embrace,
then slipped her arm into Milly’s. She led her over to the
“Oh, no, I don’t think I could go in there. There’s too many
memories of Lucas inside,” Milly cried.
“Milly, Mark needs you. And I think you need him. Mark’s
“Inside? I don’t understand.”
Lou opened the door and allowed Milly to enter first. Milly saw
an army Lieutenant sitting, eating in front of the desk, he
stopped talking as he heard them enter, he stood and stepped
Milly saw Mark sitting in Micah’s chair, eating, and wearing the
“Mark? What are you doing behind Micah’s desk. Where’s the
replacement marshal? He’s just a boy! How can you sit here and
put a deputy badge on him!” Milly’s voice held anger.
“Milly, there’s a story to tell, but Mark was deputized by Micah
some time back and until the new marshal gets here, Mark is our
deputy. But don’t worry, the soldier who escorted you to the
hotel, and the Lieutenant, are here to help.”
“Milly?” Mark squeaked out, as he finally found his voice. “Miss
Milly!” A look of shock was evident on Mark’s face. So much so
that he ran from the office, jumped on Blue Boy and rode for
Both women stood, dumbfounded in the marshal’s office.
“Milly, give him some time. This is all weighing heavily on him.
I’m sure seeing you, brought back memories that he needs time to
understand. Come on, let’s get you back to the hotel.”
Seth saw Mark run from the Marshal’s office and ride out of
town. He entered the office and asked, “Ethan, what happened?
Why did the deputy high tail it out of town?”
“Major Seth Lane, Lt. Ethan Lane, I’d like to introduce to you
Miss Milly Scott. From Philadelphia, but formerly from North
“Oh!” they both said in unison.
Mark made sure no one was following him before he headed home.
As he arrived, he didn’t even bother to tie Blue Boy to the
rail; he just dropped his rains and entered their home.
More emotions ran though his head. Dealing with the trap. Not
having his Pa close to help him. And now, Milly returned to
North Fork… He fell asleep in his Pa’s chair.
The sun hadn’t risen when Mark woke in the morning; he finally
found the whole situation amusing. He smiled to himself as he
thought of his Pa’s reaction when he found out Milly was back!
He felt guilty as he stepped to the porch and saw Blue Boy
standing out front. He gave him a pat on the forehead, gathered
the reins, climbed in the saddle and headed back to town.
He arrived just as the first rays of the sun were shining into
North Fork. He took Blue Boy to the livery, unsaddled him, put
him in a stall, rubbed him down, and gave him plenty of oats and
hay. Then he proceeded to the Marshal’s office.
Seth and Ethan were there to meet him as he entered. “Mark? You
okay? Miss Mallory introduced us to Miss Scott after you, um,
left,” Ethan spoke.
“I’m better now,” Mark replied. “Ethan, Miss Milly is my Pa’s
friend that I was talking about.”
“I kind of, sort of, figured that out,” Ethan stated as a smiled
played across his face. “So does your Pa know, did you tell
“No! Oh boy! Between Johnny having to sweet talk Lou and now
Miss Milly returning to North Fork. Once this is over and done
with, I’m going to have the laugh of my life! This is going to
be even better than the one time I pushed Pa into the creek. --
Long Story!” Mark added as he saw the inquiring look on the
“Were heading over to the hotel to get some breakfast, can we
bring something back for you?”
“Sure, flapjacks and maple syrup sound good.”
The Lane’s left Hope and Mark alone in the office.
Sunday morning arrived, to find Lucas, Micah, and Johnny all
ready to call off the whole trap. Before they broke camp, they
heard a single gunshot. They hurried to saddle the horses and
head to where they thought the shot came from.
They arrived to find a man lying on the ground. Johnny stepped
down from his horse and turned the man over. There was a single
gunshot wound to the chest.
“He’s dead,” he stated as he started going through then man’s
pockets, looking for identification.
Micah and Lucas stepped down from their horses. Lucas started
looking at the tracks, while Micah walked to stand next to
“I know this man!” Micah declared. “He’s Walter Christman.”
“Micah,” Lucas called. “Fresh tracks lead from here and are
heading to North Fork.”
“Trouble’s brewing, ten years ago, when I knew Christman, he was
a U.S. Marshal, worked in Kansas City.”
“Mark!” Lucas exclaimed.
All three mounted and headed for North Fork.
Mark took off his hat and set in on the desk. He led Hope from
her cell to sit on the chaise. “Hope, thanks for listening to me
last night. I’m sorry if you think of me as being ‘childish’ for
my feelings last night?”
“Mark, we’re both having troubles. You heard me speak and now I
hear you.” They continued to talk until they saw a horse and
rider stop in front of the office.
Hope smiled as Mark took her hand and returned her to the cell.
He pushed the door too. As he turned to walk back to the desk,
he saw a man enter.
“Can I help you?” Mark asked.
“Yes, I…” the man had a perplexed look on his face after seeing
Mark and the badge. “I was hoping to speak with the soldiers who
came to town with an Indian girl, I’m Walter Christman, I’m the
new Marshal, …deputy?”
“I know, I’m a little young for the job, but there were
extenuating circumstances. I’m really pleased that you’re here.”
“And your name?”
“I’m sorry. My name’s McCain, Mark McCain.”
“Your Pa was the one killed with the Marshal?” Christman asked.
“Yes, sir, we were there.”
“I was there when my Pa was killed. The soldiers help return
their bodies, me, and the…” Mark hesitated. He remembered what
Christman said, ‘Indian girl’. Nothing they had written or wired
indicated the Indian was a girl, just an Indian captive.
“You, you’re Stedman!” Mark said without really thinking. Before
he could react any further, Stedman had his gun drawn. He turned
to face the cell. Hope stood inside, “Mark that’s him. That’s
“You speak English! This is a trap?!” Stedman declared.
As Mark turned to get his rifle, Stedman struck him over the
back of the head. Hope screamed as she watched Mark collapse and
she pushed the cell door open to run to Mark.
Stedman stopped her by grabbing her arm. She reached for the gun
in his other hand, kicking at his knees; she kneed him in the
groin. As he bent forward, he let go of Hope and as she ran to
hide behind the desk, he fired one shot in her direction,
missing. On the ground, Mark started moaning, his hand reaching
for the back of his head. Stedman aimed his gun at Mark. Hope
screamed his name. Then a single shot came through the glass
window, striking Stedman in the back. Hope watched as his grip
on the gun loosened, it fell from his hand; he slowly sank to
his knees and then fell sideways to the floor.
She scrambled from behind the desk and was cradling Mark’s head
in her lap, when Lucas, Johnny, and Micah rushed into the
office. Not a moment later, Seth and Ethan followed.
Lucas knelt next to his boy, “Mark?” he cried as he put his hand
to Mark’s head, he pulled it away when he felt a warm, moisture
touch his hand -- he saw blood on his palm.
“Pa? Stedman? Protect Hope,” Mark said before he returned to the
Lucas lifted Mark from the floor, Seth and Ethan pushed the
town’s folks away from the door to allow Lucas out. He raced
Mark to Doc’s, followed by Hope, Micah, and Johnny, and the
Lane’s. The Lane’s kept everyone well back from the door to
Doc shaved away some of the hair from the back of Mark’s head.
When he was done, Mark had ten stitches. About a half hour
later, Mark was starting to rouse.
“Morning Mark,” Doc said as Mark opened his eyes.
“Doc? What happened?” Mark asked groggily, flinching at the
sound of his voice.
“Guess I’ll let your Pa tell you.” Doc smiled as he stepped
“Pa?” He turned his head as he felt someone sit down next to
him. “What are you doing in town?” Mark whispered.
“Stedman showed up,” Lucas replied.
“HOPE!” Mark yelled, tried to sit up, and groaned as the room
“Easy there. She’s fine. Just lie back down,” Lucas said as he
pushed Mark to lie down.
A commotion could be heard outside Doc’s. It was evident that
Seth and Ethan Lane were having trouble outside.
“Lucas, I think I’m going to need your protection. That’s Lou
outside,” Johnny sheepily stated.
Doc hollered, “Before anyone opens that door, let me get my
Micah opened the door and tapped the Major on the shoulder. He
stepped aside. A gasp went up from those gathered outside as
they saw Micah, alive and well, walk out the door.
“Folks, we’ll explain everything later, right now, just get back
to your businesses or your homes,” he ordered.
Johnny walked out the door behind Micah and stood in front of
Lou. Expecting her to faint, he tried to put his arms around her
waist. And for that, he received a resounding slap across the
face. He rubbed at his smarting cheek and watched as Lou stormed
“Johnny, you best to after that woman. I don’t think Lucas is in
any position to help you out. This time, you’re on your own,”
Micah snickered and shook his head.
He turned to walk back into Doc’s when he felt a hand on his
shoulder and heard, “Micah, They said Mark was hurt. Is he going
to be okay? Can I see him?”
Micah turned and his eyes widened, as if he saw a ghost. “Oh my!
LucasBoy,” Micah called into Doc’s. “Johnny’s not the only one
who has some sweet talking to do.”
“Lucas?” Milly asked.
Micah motioned for Milly to step into Doc’s office, he stood
close behind. Lucas looked up from tending to Mark to see Milly
faint into Micah’s arms.
“Oh, Pa. I forgot to tell you, Milly’s back in town,” Mark said
as he put crook of his elbow across his eyes.
“Doc, we need those smelling salts!” Micah called.
As Doc approached, Lucas took Milly from Micah. “Micah, stay
here and keep and eye on Mark. I’ll be back when I can,” Luca
said, as he carried Milly back to the hotel. As he entered, he
heard Lou and Johnny’s discussion. “Lou, you can yell at him
later, get me the key to Milly’s room.”
Lou hurriedly grabbed the key, ran up the stairs, and opened the
door. Lucas gently placed Milly on the bed as Doc followed. Lou
picked up the water pitcher and its basin, and a towel, then
placed them on the stand next to the bed. Doc was holding the
smelling salts under Milly’s nose and she was starting to move
her head from side to side. Lou poured some water into the
Lucas came up behind Lou, took her by the shoulder and walked
her back to the door. “You go tend to Johnny. And don’t be too
hard on him. We had to do what we did in order to draw a madman
out into the open.” Lucas closed the door behind Lou, walked
over and sat down on the edge of the bed next to Milly. He
picked up the towel and dipped it into the water, wrung it out,
then gently placed the towel over Milly’s forehead.
“Lucas, I think I’ll go keep an eye on Mark instead of Micah
staying there. That way we have at least one law officer who is
capable of doing his job. And I believe that rifle shot I heard
before you carried Mark in, means there’s a dead man in Micah’s
office that he needs to tend to.”
Milly finally came around. Her eyes fully opened and she looked
into the eyes of Lucas McCain. “Oh, Lucas!” she cried as she sat
up and threw her arms around his neck.
Lucas let Milly cry in his arms, he was content just to have her
back in North Fork.
“Lucas, they said in the newspaper you were dead. I felt as if
part of me died when I read it. Oh, Lucas!” Milly cried again.
“Milly, when did you get back?” Lucas asked.
Finally, Milly’s crying eased and she pushed herself back from
Lucas and answered, “Last night. How could you do such a thing
to Mark? When I could think again, my first thought was to come
back to North Fork and be here for Mark. Lucas… I know I’ve been
gone for too long and maybe, I don’t belong here anymore, maybe
you found someone else, but, I had to come for Mark. But how
could you put that boy through such an ordeal.”
“Milly, it was Mark’s idea to kill me off. We had to lure a
dangerous man into the open.” The look in Lucas’ eyes was
sincere and loving. “You came all this way for Mark?”
“Because when I lived here before, I… I’d dream of what it would
be like to have him as my boy. There were so many times, where I
felt a motherly bond with him. Not that I ever wanted to replace
Margaret in his life, but… Lucas, if I hadn’t run away,…”
“Shhhh” Lucas said as he placed the tips of his fingers over her
“Milly, would you have come back for me. If I asked?”
She nodded and Lucas pulled her into a passionate kiss. More
passionate than the one he gave her before he stormed out of the
store, before she left town. Milly responded.
Soon a knock was heard at the door and the door knob jiggled.
“Lucas? Milly?” Lou called.
They parted and broke into laughter.
“One moment Lou!” Lucas called as he stood to open the door and
“Lucas, if Milly is recovered enough, I think maybe you should
get back to Doc’s.”
“He’s fine, but maybe you should focus your attentions on your
son, for a little while,” Lou stated.
“Go on Lucas, Lou can stay with me to make sure I’m not going to
faint again,” Milly said as her blush turned deeper.
Doc Burrage released Mark the following morning to return home,
with instructions to take it easy.
“I’ll remove those stitches from that hard head of yours in ten
days. Do you think you can go that long without needing my
services? You know, seems the marshal and I, and the undertaker,
have a lifetime of job security with you two around.” Mark and
Lucas stared at Doc and laughed when they saw him practically
bending, double, laughing.
The following day Seth and Ethan Lane announce that they would
soon return to their duties with the Army. The McCain’s, the
Lane’s, and Milly, sat at a table in the hotel restaurant. Seth
began to talk to his daughter.
“Hope, Ethan and I understand that you can’t return to Iron
Heart and his tribe.” There was regret in Seth’s voice, “Hope,
my life is the army, as is Ethan’s. We would welcome you into
our home anytime, but, you were right, there would be others
that would always think of you as an Indian and treat you as
one. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“Hope, we’re not sending you away, we’re just wanting to give
you time to adjust to not living with Iron Heart and his tribe.
The more we got to thinking about what you asked, how would the
people at the fort treat you, it got us to thinking,” Ethan
Before anyone else could say anything, Mark chimed in, “Sirs,
maybe Hope could stay here in North Fork. We could find a home
for her and I could work with her on her school work and in no
“Hold on, son,” Lucas spoke. “Just who did you have in mind?”
“Well, I was thinking that maybe Milly could, that is, if she’s
going to stay in North Fork. And, well, it wouldn’t be proper
for her to live with us. Would it?” Mark asked, sincerely.
“Mark?!” Milly and Lucas cried, in unison.
Turning to her family, Hope said, “I know you love me. What you
ask and do is hard. But, if I stay here, will we still be
“Yes, Hope. We’ll always be family.” Seth replied. “Could you be
happy living here?”
Hope nodded as she looked to Mark and saw his smile.
“Well, Miss Milly?” Mark asked, he felt scared and nervous and
excited as he awaited Milly’s answer.
Milly looked around to those sitting at the table and finally
stated, “If only to keep her from your bachelor cooking and
sense of housekeeping.”
“Lucas, I…” Milly blushed and the look on her face told asked if
they could we talk later?
Lucas nodded and smiled in response. He couldn’t wait to talk
with Milly as her eyes settle on his.
The following afternoon, Mark returned to North Fork. He saw
Micah sitting in front of his office as he called to him,
“Mark, I thought your Pa was coming in with you this afternoon?”
A smiled played across Mark’s face as he rode up and stopped in
front of the Marshal’s office and stepped down from Blue Boy.
“Well, Pa didn’t get in from his talk with Miss Milly until
early this morning. I got up, fixed breakfast, did my chores,
and he was still sleeping. So I came to town without him.”
“Boy, you’re grinning like a Cheshire cat!” Micah declared.
“Well, Pa must have thought I was sleeping because I saw him
have a look in his eye. You should have seen the smile on his
face. I hadn’t seen that seen look since before Miss Milly left.
Were they really at the restaurant, talking all night?”
Curiosity got the better of Mark. He couldn’t resist asking as
he tied Blue Boy to the railing.
“Yep. Lou closed the doors at midnight and they were still
talking. Johnny said he couldn’t sleep, so he got up and did a
round of the town and they were surprised when he found them in
the restaurant, said it was 2:00 am. He watched Milly go up the
stairs and your Pa, well, he watched your Pa get on Razor and
look up to the front room where Milly’s staying at least three
times before he headed for home.”
Mark walked to the General Store where Lou was helping Hope
choose some new clothes. Lou pulled out several dresses and
walked Hope to the dressing room. As Hope removed her shirt, Lou
saw the fading lash mark and gasped, “Oh! I’m sorry. I shouldn’t
She continued to help Hope get dressed, then pulled back the
curtains for Mark to see. Mark couldn’t help but laugh. “Lou,
please, something a little more ‘normal’ for North Fork, that’s
way too big city for her, it’s worse than the jacket Hattie
tried to get Pa to buy for me. I looked like a barber shop pole.
Please, I think a simple skirt and shirt, as well as some pants.
Oh, and boots too, and any um…. Underthings.”
“And just what would you know about ladies’ underthings?” Lou
asked a little startled.
“Well, if boys and men have underthings, I surely think that
girls and ladies would too,” Mark tried to explain as he really
started to blush.
Shortly, Mrs. Mayhern entered the store. She walked over to Hope
and introduced herself. She asked Hope to sit on a chair and
then proceeded to cut and style her hair.
“Such a shame what Micah told us those men did in cutting off
your hair. Well, I’ll get you looking stylish again.”
An hour had passed before Lou and Mrs. Mayhern were satisfied
that Hope had everything she needed. As they left the General
Store, Mark commented, “Maybe I should have driven the buckboard
into town to get all this stuff back to the hotel,” as he and
Lou both carried an armload of boxes.
“Mark that’s not funny!” Lou said as she and Hope burst out
They placed their purchases in Hope’s room and headed for the
restaurant. But before they could enter, Lou stopped them and
motioned for them to wait behind the curtain. Micah, Seth, and
Ethan stood as Lou entered. With a gleam in her eye and a smile
on her face, Lou pulled the curtain aside and ushered in Hope
and Mark. Seth and Ethan stared at the transformation in Hope.
The bruises were practically gone, but there was a shy,
confidence in her eyes, that they knew was for Mark McCain.
“Mark, guess you should have dressed yourself up some, before
you headed to town,” Lucas said with a laugh as he came up
Mark escorted Hope to the table where everyone already sat. He
pulled back the chair, and motioned for her to sit. He then
assisted her in sitting her chair forward. There was a fatherly
feeling of pride in seeing his son being such a gentleman.
Drako entered, walked in behind them, and held Lou’s chair in a
similar manner. Shortly, Milly joined the group. Mark watched
and saw a sparkle in his Pa’s eyes as he held out a chair for
Milly. A warmth spread through Mark as he then looked to Milly
and saw the same sparkle in her eyes.
During supper, Mr. Griswald entered the hotel. “Well, Miss
Scott, have you told the group your news?” he inquired.
“News?” Mark asked.
“Well, not yet.”
“What’s this news?” Lucas stated as he looked over his cup of
“Well, seeing as how much North Fork has grown and how many
children are living in town and the outlying ranches…”
“That’s great Miss Milly!” Mark declared as he jumped up to give
her a hug.
“What’s great? I haven’t told you the news,” Milly deplored.
“Well you used to be a school teacher, before you bought the
general store, and with what you just said, that means you’re
planning to stay and North Fork will have two teachers.”
“And don’t forget one student teacher Mark, that is, when you’re
not too busy being a deputy,” Mr. Griswald added.
Once Alice came in with dessert, Mark was all smiles as he ate
his apple pie and watched as Hope sampled her’s. In between
bites he kept looking back and forth from his Pa, to Milly, to
The following morning, Seth and Ethan Lane waited in front of
their horses as they readied to return to their duties in the
Seth stood in front of his daughter and put both hands on her
shoulders. “Hope, if you need anything, we’re only a wire away,”
Seth stated. “We know that Mark, Lucas, and Milly, as well the
rest of North Fork, will take good care of you.” He gave her a
kiss on the forehead and took a step back.
“Thank you father,” Hope said as a tear welled in her eyes. She
looked over to see Mark, standing beside her, smiling; he took
her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Ethan gave Hope a kiss on the cheek, “Sis, it’s just a wire if
you need us. I’ll miss you.” He turned and mounted his horse.
Lucas and Micah watched from in front of Micah’s office, as the
Lane’s rode from town. They saw Mark place a comforting arm
around Hope’s shoulder. Lucas smiled as he saw, the young man
who was his son; pull Hope closer to him, he leaned forward, and
placed a kiss on top of her head.
“Well LucasBoy?” Micah asked as he leaned his forearms against
the hitching rail.
“Just wondering, who’s going to be first?”
“Yep, I’ve got two deputies that are head over heels in love,
with mighty fine ladies, and not to mention my best friend has
eyes for a certain, dark haired, beautiful woman who recently
returned to town. So, are you or that young man you’ve raised
going to tie the knot first?”
“I’m not joking LucasBoy. Mark my words, within the next year,
one or both of you are going to be married.” A large grin spread
across Micah’s face as he looked out the corner of his eye and
saw the look on Lucas’ face.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch