The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

Mark Leaves the Ranch
by Donna Hume     
This is a continuing saga based on the TV series The Rifleman

1 –

Lucas and Mark worked the ranch all summer; neither said a word about the possibility of Mark going off to Medical School. Doc Burrage had sent his letter of recommendation off to Yale but there had been no word. Lucas was proud that Mark thought about becoming a doctor but he was relieved that there had been no response; Connecticut was just too far away. Eighteen years with this boy, how could he just let him walk away? He knew all to well it would happen one day, he just hoped one day would be further away.

Mark worried how his Pa would fare when he left the ranch. He had no doubt he would be going off to medical school; he already received his letter of acceptance. He was waiting for the right time to say something but the way Lucas looked at him, like his heart was breaking, kept Mark from saying anything. Mark was excited by the fact that he would be learning how to help people; he always tended to his Pa, even Micah when they were hurt. He wondered if there would ever be a right time to say he was leaving.
Micah had been spending more time at the ranch and less time in the office. Mark hoped Micah would spend even more time at the ranch so his Pa would have someone around. He couldn’t bare the fact that his Pa might be alone. Mark knew Lucas passed on many chances of happiness, just to make sure he gave his son the best. How many times could he have married? His eyes would swell with tears every time he thought about how much his Pa had sacrificed for him. If his Pa was going to be alone, well then, he would just have to give up his dream of becoming a doctor.

Micah knew what was going on, no one told him, he just read it in their faces. They were both be so stubborn, they would rather hurt themselves than risk hurting the other. Micah tried to turn conversations to the possibility of Mark leaving; the conversations were always switched to something else, anything else by either Lucas or Mark. Micah thought about how much he would miss Mark; he could only imagine how much Lucas would feel the loss. Knowing he was getting to old to be a good marshal, he was grateful he had a quiet place where he could retire. He never had a family of his own; he treasured this one even more.

2 –

About mid summer, the three of them were fixing the fence on the north side of the ranch; Micah saw the look in Marks’ eyes. “You got somthin’ on your mind boy?” Not wanting to admit anything he just replied, “No, not really.” Lucas looked at Micah quizzically and then over at Mark, “What is it son? Are you upset that you haven’t heard from that medical school?” “No Pa, that’s not it.”

“Then what is it boy, spit it out.” “Pa, I did hear from them.” “Are you tryin’ to tell me that you’re not good enough for them?” Lucas was upset at that prospect but at the same time very happy that Mark would not be going away.

“Lucas, let the boy talk.” Mark started back to working on the fence, he did not want to meet his fathers’ eyes. He finally realized the only way to tell him was by not looking at him. “Pa, school starts in the fall.” “I know son, what does that have to do with medical school.”

Micah looked Lucas in the eye the pointed to Mark with his head. Lucas was confused, “Mark, what are you tryin’ to tell me?” “Pa, I’ll be leaving for Connecticut in the fall, I’m gonna’ become a doctor. ”Lucas tried to hide his disappointment from Mark, he wanted his son to know how proud he was but the thought of him leaving was too much to hide. “Pa, if you don’t want me to go, I’ll stay here.”

“No son, I’m proud of you, I was just hopin’ I would have more time with my boy. Seems like you’ve turned into a man. I can’t say I’m pleased about not bein’ able to keep you as that little boy you were when we first came here.”

“Ah, I don’t have to go, I’ll just stay here and work on the ranch with you, just like we always planned.” Mark had seen the hurt in his fathers’ face; he couldn’t stand causing him any pain.

“Mark, I don’t really think your Pa wants to hold you back from becoming the man he raised you to be. He taught you how to think for yourself and to be true to yourself. If you don’t go off to that school, that’s when you will really be letting him down.” 
“Micah is right son, as much as I would love you to stay here, you should go off to school. This town is still growing and we will need a doctor to replace Doc Burrage. Think about that, North Fork will stop talkin’ about ‘The Rifleman’ and start talkin’ about Dr. Mark McCain.”

“Do you really mean that Pa?” “Course he does” interjected Micah, “We both do. You know, I can probably stay out here at the ranch more, Drako really is turning out to be an asset to North Fork. He can handle the job as Marshall and your Pa and I can fill in for him if he needs to leave town for anything. This way, I won’t have to wait to see who I’ll be playin’ checkers at night, there will only be the two of us.”

Lucas looked away, his eyes so filled with tears; he couldn’t let Mark see him that way. “What’s the matter Pa?” Lucas looked at Mark, tears still in his eyes, “Mark, I am happy for you. Micah is right, I taught you to think for yourself. You will make an excellent doctor, I am very proud of you. I will have to admit, I will be missing you something awful.” “Pa, I’ll miss you and Micah too but they do have breaks, I can come home over Christmas and every summer, it’s not like I’ll never come back.”

“Mark, remember I told you once before, no matter how old you get, your Pa there is gonna’ remember you as his little boy. We’ll be fine out here, and when you come back to visit us, why, we’ll just have a great time. Won’t we Lucasboy?”

“Yah Micah, we’ll be looking forward to every time you come home. Understand now, I don’t want you neglecting your studies, just cause I won’t be there.” Lucas smiled at his son; Mark was more of a man than he could have ever hoped for. There was so much of Margaret in him, now he saw himself in his son as well.

3 –

Spring gave way to summer and summer gave way to fall. Lucas dreaded this moment from the time Mark told him he would be going away to school. It was harder than he anticipated but he had to be strong for his son. This was a wonderful opportunity for Mark, Lucas looked over at Mark his mouth was so dry, it felt like he had been drinking sand, “You have everything you need son? You’re gonna’ be away for quite a spell.” At this moment, Lucas believed nothing could ever be worse or better than it was right then. His son was a man, going off to live his own life, his own dream.

“I don’t know Pa, they say it gets a lot colder up north.” Mark lifted his eyebrows; it was obvious that he was hinting for Lucas to buy him a new jacket.

“Mark, Micah and me, well, we just thought maybe you would need to get some things while you were up north, maybe like a warmer jacket and well…” his voice broke off.

“Mark, what your Pa is trying to say is that we have a little gift for you, you know, to help you with expenses” then Micah pushed Lucas to hand Mark the wallet with the money.

“Oh Pa, Micah, this is too much. You’re gonna’ need some of this back to run the ranch.”

“No we don’t son, we budgeted out everything we would need and that is just some of what we had leftover, both Micah and I want you to take it so don’t argue.”

“Yes sir, but can’t I leave some of it here, just in case? I will be back at Christmas. Besides, what if I were to lose that wallet, then what?”

“I’d say you better pay more attention to your money but you can leave some here if you want, it will be here waiting for you.” Lucas smiled at his son, trying not to be too protective and trying not to be too proud. Mark loved that look he saw on his Pa’s face, he saw it every time his Pa was proud of him but didn’t have the words to express the feelings. He still wasn’t sure how either of them would fare without the other, but this was something he had to do, it would all be worth it when he finally came home, as a doctor and Lucas would have that same look on his face again. Mark had a great big smile in his heart.

They all rode into town together; Lucas wanted to see Mark’s face as long as possible. He tried to burn the memory of his sons’ face into his brain. Mark was catching the train at 10:00; he was excited and anxious at the same time. All sorts of things were running through his mind. Was he doing the right thing? Would he be able to pass all the classes? Would Lucas be disappointed if he failed? So many ifs’ and no answers.

Before he got on the train, Mark hugged Micah and then turned to his Pa. “Pa, you make sure you eat right” then he hugged his Pa the same way he did as a little boy. Mark turned and got on the train, willing himself not to cry. As the train started pulling away from the station, Mark yelled out the window of the train, “Pa, I love you Pa.” Lucas yelled “I love you too son” but Mark couldn’t hear what he said, if only the train wasn’t so loud, but he waved at Lucas and Micah and stared out the window until he could no longer see the town.

Lucas and Micah stood at the station well after the train was out of sight. “Lucasboy, how about I buy you a beer.”
“I could probably use one right about now.”

Sweeney had seen them at the station and figured they would be in to see him. It was clear to everyone in town how much he was gonna’ miss Mark. “Lucas, Micah, how about I buy you a beer?”

“Might just take you up on that Sweeney”, said Lucas.

“There’s no might about it Sweeney, you can definitely buy us a beer,” interjected Micah with a big grin. “No better way to have a beer than if it’s free.”

Micah and Lucas stayed around for a little more than one beer. When they heard the whistle for the 5:00 train, they figured they had been in town long enough; it was time to get back to the ranch, and reality.

Lucas was a little tipsy, something that he usually avoided so he wasn’t paying much attention to where he was going, just trying to make sure he stayed upright. Micah was laughing at him, he never saw Lucas this way in all the years he knew him. They were walking back to the station, for their horses when Lucas literally bumped into a woman from his past.

4-

Mark was getting comfortable on the train, it was faster than stagecoach but it was still going to be a long ride. He hunkered down in his seat, put his bag under his feet, had his rifle in his hand, and his hat pulled down over his face. He was sleeping pretty good, didn’t even notice the train stop to pick up more passengers until someone said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?” He really didn’t want to be disturbed but the voice was one that made him take notice. He lifted his hat, his eyes opened wide, and he said, “Sure, sure you can, my name is Mark, Mark McCain”, as he stood up to face a most interesting young lady. “Can I help you with your bags?” The way she looked at him made him a little uncomfortable. She looked him square in the eyes as she said, “What, do you think that just because I am a woman means that I’m not as good as a man?” Mark started stumbling over himself and his words, “No, why I don’t even know you, I would never say something like that, my Pa taught me better. He said every person is unique and you had to wait and see what they did before you could decide how you felt about them.” She looked at him again, this time her eyes were softer. She said, “I’m sorry, I’m just used to people thinking I can’t do something just because I am a woman. Can we start this again?” “Sure, my name is Mark, would you like to sit here, there is an empty seat.” “Why, I would be honored sir, just let me put my bag up here.” It was against his nature but he let her take care of her own bag. When she sat down, she introduced herself, “My name is Elizabeth, Elizabeth Adams, it is nice to meet you Mr. McCain.” As she sat in the empty seat, they both laughed. Mark was telling Elizabeth all about North Fork and what it was like growing up there. She told him all about Ohio. “For real, you have snow every winter?” Elizabeth laughed, “Yes, we have snow all winter. I hope you have a warmer jacket than that, you will freeze to death. Where are you going?” “I’m going to Connecticut”, Mark didn’t say any more, Elizabeth didn’t give him a chance. “I’m going to Connecticut too, do you have a warmer jacket?” Their conversations jumped from subject to subject, never really finishing one before they started on the next.

Mark really liked Elizabeth, he started thinking maybe they could see each other once in a while, they were going to be in the same state. Trying to find out where she would be without prying into something that wasn’t his business, he asked “Why are you going to Connecticut?” “You are going to change your mind about me if I tell you”, replied Elizabeth. “You don’t know what I think about you now, why not take a chance?” Mark laughed out to her. “I am going to Yale, to become a doctor”, stated Elizabeth with an air of haughtiness. Mark couldn’t believe his ears, “That’s great, I mean, we will be able to see each other all the time, I mean, I’m going to Yale too, to become a doctor.” Elizabeth told him it wasn’t very nice to make fun at her expense and turned in her seat. “But” Mark spurt out, “I’m not making fun of you, I really am going to go to school, to become a doctor. What makes you think I would make fun of you?” Looking at Mark with stern eyes “No one thinks a woman can be a doctor” sneered Elizabeth. “Why not? My Pa says a person can be anything they want.” “You trying to tell me that you and your Pa are all that different from all the other men?” Mark didn’t know why she was so angry, especially at him, “Why are you upset with me? Did I say something wrong?” Elizabeth sat with her back straight and looked at him “No, you didn’t say anything wrong. You just seem so different, I am not used to that.  Everyone keeps telling me I can never be a doctor. It took me a long time to force them into admitting me to that school and you act like it is no big thing, well it is for me” cried Elizabeth. “Elizabeth, I didn’t mean to make you cry, but it was a big deal for me to be admitted to Yale also, you act like you are the only one who had to work for this.” “Mark, you just don’t understand, I am a woman.” “I can see you are a woman, that is obvious” the words just spilled from his mouth, “Do you think it was easy for me to be admitted? Well, it wasn’t. I wouldn’t have had a chance except for Doc Burrage telling them what I have been through. I’ve never had any high learning, I’m scared I’m gonna’ mess up and make everybody back home disappointed with me.” Elizabeth looked at him, her face skewered up, “You think that is trouble? Do you know why you have never seen a female doctor? That’s because no one believes a woman is smart enough to be a doctor. No one wants to give me a chance.” Mark shouted back at her “Apparently someone believed in you enough to get you admitted to school!” Shocked that he would talk to her as an equal, Elizabeth barely whispered “You are going to be trouble for me aren’t you? I mean, you’re not going to let me slide on being a woman and trying for this are you?” “No Elizabeth, I’m not, in fact, I think we should study together, we can make sure neither one of us slides on anything!” The rest of the trip flew by, they never stopped talking until the conductor told them that this was their stop.

5 –

It took a while for Micah to get Lucas back home, he was beginning to think he should have gotten a buckboard from Nils at the Livery, Lucas kept teetering on Razors’ back. Micah took Lucas into the house and walked him into his room, took off his boots and belt and started to cover him with a blanket. “Micah, I know that woman, I can’t believe how beautiful she is. Do you think she noticed me?” “Lucasboy, she couldn’t help but notice you, you practically ran her down.” Slurring his words “Micah, I think she likes me, don’t you think she likes me? She looked at me like she liked me. I think I know her.” “Lucasboy, when you wake up in the morning, with a headache, then we will discuss your mystery woman, for now, just go to sleep.”

Morning came, and so did that headache. Lucas came out of his room around noon, holding his head “Micah, how could you let me drink that much?” Knowing fully well how Lucas was feeling Micah found the words but he couldn’t help laughing as he said “I tried to get you to leave sooner but you told me to mind my own business.” “Since when did that ever stop you?” growled Lucas. “Well, I thought you might need it last night. Do you remember that woman you ran into?” “Huh? What woman?” “The one you practically ran down while we were walking back to the horses.” “Did I hurt her? Who was she?” Micah chuckled “Well, I guess you’ll remember when she gets here for supper tonight.” “Micah, who is she?” Micah just continued to laugh and Lucas hung his head in pain.

It was about suppertime and Lucas had everything ready for the mystery lady to arrive. Micah told Lucas he was going to go into town. “What, you can’t leave me out here alone, I don’t even know who she is!” “You will when you see her Lucasboy, you will when you see her.” With that, Micah got on his horse and rode away. Lucas was pacing the floor, when he heard the buggy arrive. He opened the door with apprehension and found a great big smile on his face as he greeted his guest. “Millie, Millie Scott, you look wonderful, how long has it been?” “Seems to me it was just last night” Millie smiled and told Lucas she would forgive him not remembering last night, after all, he did remember her. “What are you doing back here in North Fork?” “Well, I was out east for awhile after I told Harry to go away and leave me alone.” Lucas started to tremble, just the thought of that man and what happened to Mark caused him to punch the wall. Millie stepped back, stunned “Lucas, I’ve never seen you like this, you are frightening me, I think I should go back to town.” “Wait Millie, let me explain, it’s just what he did to Mark..” “What did he do to Mark?” Lucas explained everything that happened, Millie was in tears. “Oh Lucas, it’s all my fault, I’m so sorry”, cried Millie. “Millie, you can’t be held responsible for that, it was Harry and that madman. Every time I hear their names I just remember the whole ordeal.” “Oh, Lucas, I can’t imagine what you had to go through, and Mark, such an innocent boy. Where is he?” Now with his eyes a little blurred he told Millie about how Mark went off to school in Connecticut and how much he missed him but also how proud. They were still talking when Micah returned. Millie looked around, “Oh my, I didn’t realize how late it was, I better be heading back to town.” “Millie, what are you doing back in North Fork?” queried Micah. “I’m opening another store, one tailored to women’s fashion. I learned quite a bit back east and I can sew most anything.  We can talk about all this later, why don’t the two of you come into town on Sunday, I’ll make fried chicken?” Lucas responded with laughter in his voice “We’d love to, wait until I write Mark and tell him the meal he missed.” “I’ll expect you about noon, OK?” “We’ll be there” said Micah, “It will be good to eat something besides his cooking.” With that Millie laughed, Micah looked proud of himself, and Lucas gave Micah a dirty look. Lucas helped Millie into the buggy, then Micah and Lucas watched as she rode away. Lucas looked at Micah, “You set me up old friend, I’ll see if I can’t repay the favor some day.”

6 –

Mark and Elizabeth got off of the train. Mark asked Elizabeth if he could walk her to wherever it was she was going, “Thank you Mr. McCain, that would be nice. Where are you staying?” “I never thought about that, I guess I will have to find somewhere not too expensive.” Elizabeth didn’t say anything just then, she only smiled. Mark continued to talk to Elizabeth, not paying much attention to where they were going, then he saw the University, “Hey, that’s bigger than North Fork.” “I thought you said North Fork was a growing town?” “I did, but I never expected to see anything like this. I’ll probably be lost everyday.” Elizabeth laughed at him, “You won’t have to worry about being lost if you don’t have a place to stay. This is where I will be, my uncle lives here, why don’t you come in for a minute?” Mark nodded, “I’d be pleased.”

Elizabeth knocked on the door, a gray haired lady answered the door, “Yes, may I help you?” Elizabeth laughed, “Aunt Mary, it’s me, Elizabeth.” “Come in child, we were wondering when you would arrive. Who is this with you?” Elizabeth introduced them “Aunt Mary, this is Mr. Mark McCain, he is going to Yale too, Mark, this is my Aunt Mary. Where is Uncle John? I would like to introduce him to Mark. I am so happy to be here, thank you for letting me stay.” “Hush child, you haven’t let me say a word since you stepped in the door. Mr. McCain, I would like to thank you for walking my niece to our home, I don’t like her walking around by herself.” Mary had just closed the door when John came into the foyer, “What have we here? Is this my little Elizabeth?” “Uncle John, I haven’t been little for a long time now, how are you?” said Elizabeth as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “You will always be my little Elizabeth, who is this?” “This is Mr. Mark McCain, I just told Aunt Mary that he is going to Yale also.” “Please sir, ma’am just call me Mark, Mr. McCain is my Pa.” John extended his hand to Mark, “Well then Mark, welcome to our home. If I heard correctly, you brought our dear Elizabeth to our door.” “Yes sir, my Pa said a lady should never have to walk alone.” “You have manners, I haven’t seen a young man with manners in quite some time”, noted Mary, “I bet your mother had something to do with that.” “Ma’am mostly it was my Pa, my mother died when I was little.” Mary put her handkerchief to her eye, “You poor child, not having the love of a mother to grow with.” “It was not so bad, my Pa was always there for me, he made sure I went to school and he taught me a lot of things too. I may not have had a mother, but my Pa made sure I remembered her.” “Mary, leave the poor boy alone. I don’t know which is worse, you or Elizabeth, Mark, won’t you come in and have a seat.” “Thank you sir” Mark was still standing holding his suitcase and his hat. “Leave your suitcase there, Elizabeth would you take his hat? Mary, would you get something to drink for all of us?” suggested John.

As they talked about going to school, the trip here, how Mark and Elizabeth met on the train; Mark had not paid attention to the time. He looked outside and tried to excuse himself, “It has been very nice meeting you, thank you for the beverage and conversation but I have to find a place to stay.” Mark stood up and John looked at him with a stern look, “You didn’t make arrangements for living here?” “I guess we never thought about it. It will be fine, I can get a job while I go to school, I will be able to pay for everything I need” stated Mark. Mary looked at John and nodded her head, John put his hand on Marks shoulder “Mark, I think, at least for the night, you should stay here. We will see tomorrow about finding you another dwelling, if you find this one unsuitable.” Mark stood with his mouth open. “Mark, close your mouth, you look like you are catching flies” laughed Mary. “I never intended for you to have me stay here, really, I can find a place.” “We will see in the morning, your Pa did indeed raise you well young man, that is why I am offering a room in our home to you” John said with a stern look, like one his Pa would give him when he meant for Mark not to argue. “Yes sir, we can discuss it in the morning. Where would you like me to put my bag?”
 
John took him to a room on the first floor while Mary took Elizabeth to a room on the third floor. “Mark, this has been my den for many years, I trust you will respect my things?” “Yes sir, I can make up a spot to sleep right here in the corner.” “Don’t be silly, you and I can bring a bed from upstairs in here. You may use my desk to study. Just to let you know, I will not tolerate anything between you and Elizabeth” Mark was going to interrupt but John held up his hand “She has been entrusted to our care and I will not see her disgraced.” Mark looked deep into Johns’ eyes “Sir, I would never do anything to disgrace her, my Pa taught me better than that.” Mark was about to pick up his bag to leave when John stopped him “Son, I just wanted to make that clear. I see you have an integrity I have not seen in any of the young men in this city. I will trust you at your word.” Mark put his bag back on the floor “Thank you sir. If you don’t mind, could we get that bed now? I am really tired and I would like to start a letter to my Pa to have it ready to mail tomorrow.”

“John, how are you and Mark doing?” asked Mary. “Just fine dear, while Mark and I set up a bed for him, would you mind getting both of them something to eat?” Mary ran off to the kitchen, Elizabeth smiled at her Uncle and Mark “Uncle John, we have so much to tell you. It was such a long ride, even longer for Mark, he came here from North Fork…” Elizabeth was pulling her Uncle along toward the kitchen. They had something to eat, talked a little more and John saw Mark try to stifle a yawn. “Mary, I think we have kept these two awake long enough. I believe young Mark wanted to write a letter to his father before he retired.” Mary looked at all three “I am a little tired myself. Elizabeth, why don’t you walk me up to my room and let your Uncle help Mark make himself comfortable?” Mark was unsure as to what John was going to do but he did want to find out what to call him “Sir, Elizabeth introduced me to you and your wife, but she never said your last name.” John smiled “It is Adams, same as hers. She is my brothers’ daughter. Mary and I were never blessed with children so we are very pleased to have Elizabeth with us.” “Thank you Mr. Adams, you and Mrs. Adams are very nice to let me stay the night.” “Mark, if you are going to Yale, I think you are man enough to call me John.” “No sir, my Pa wouldn’t like me being that disrespectful.” John laughed as he helped Mark put the bedding on his bed, he told Mark where he could find pen and paper, and an envelope. “If you place it here, I will make sure it makes the post in the morning” and with that John left Mark on his own.

7 –

Lucas and Micah went to Millie’s’ on Sunday after church. Lucas was wearing his best clothes and Micah kept snickering at him “Lucasboy, I haven’t seen you look this good in a long time.” “Stop it Micah, I see you dressed up more than usual yourself.” “I haven’t had a good chicken dinner since Millie left town all those years ago, I want to make a good impression” said Micah. “You just want to make sure you get invited back” chuckled Lucas.

When they arrived at Millie’s, Lucas seemed more uncomfortable than Micah had ever seen him. Millie acted like she didn’t notice but every time she went back into the kitchen for something; she had a big smile on her face and in her heart, “Would anyone care for some apple pie?” Lucas got a lost look on his face, “Lucas, what is wrong?” queried Millie. “I was just thinking how much Mark liked you apple pies. I wonder what he is doing now.” “Lucasboy, I’m sure he is fine. Millie, thank you for this wonderful meal and let me help you with that pie and maybe some more coffee.” Micah knew Lucas needed just a little time alone. Micah and Millie were talking in the kitchen when they heard Lucas, “How long does it take to get that pie and coffee?” “Well Mr. McCain, it would have gone faster if you had bothered to help” Millie scoffed as she looked at Lucas. “I didn’t know you needed any help, I’m sorry.” Millie and Micah broke out into laughter leaving Lucas even more confused.

The rest of the evening went smoothly, except when anyone brought up Mark, then Lucas was far away in thought. Millie told them how she had been progressing with her store and how she loved being back in North Fork. “There are so many knew faces, and the town is really much bigger than I thought it would be.” Micah and Lucas started telling her all about the people who came and left and more about the ones who stayed. “Millie, I sure hope you stay this time” the words came from Lucas before he could stop them. “I hope I have reason to, Mr. McCain.” “My name is Lucas, or did you forget?” “I didn’t forget, anything.” “Well if you two are going to start reliving your personal lives, I’m going to go back to the ranch.” Millie looked up quickly, not quite ready to relive those time, at least not until she knew how Lucas felt, “Micah, don’t leave, there is still so much more we can talk about.” “I’ll leave that for another Sunday dinner, if you would be kind enough to invite us again. If I sit here and talk about everything tonight, Lucas won’t be able to come back by himself, unless he is courting you” there was a gleam in Micah’s eye. Lucas was taken aback “I don’t recall saying anything about courting.” “Oh Mr. McCain, are you saying you have no interest in me?” Millie laughed nervously. “I never said that either. C’mon Micah, let’s go home before you have Millie and me married up.” Millie watched from her door until they were out of sight, she was watching to see if Lucas would look back, he did not let her down, he looked back twice.

8 –

John insisted that Mark at least refer to he and Mary as Aunt and Uncle if he would not just call them by their given names, Mark agreed. “It has been a long, long time since I have had any family around, except for Pa of course, and our friend Micah.” Mark had settled in to his new accommodations quite well. He insisted he be allowed to do something for his keep “Pa would never like it if I just took advantage of someone.” There were only the horses for the buggy, no other animals to tend so Mark told Uncle John he would tend to the horses; muck out the stalls and such. He also volunteered to help with chopping wood. John was most pleased with the offer, this was a big house and they used an awful lot of firewood. “Mark, I believe you show well-mannered up bringing by your offers, and I will let you help, as long as it does not interfere with your studies. Becoming a doctor is not easy work; you and Elizabeth will have much to learn. I will help whenever I can but you must take the time to study.” Nodding to John, “Yes sir.” Elizabeth came down the steps, Uncle John, I just heard what you told Mark, thank you.” John looked quizzically at Elizabeth “Thank me for what?” “For trusting my judgment, now, may we start calling me Beth?” Aunt Mary cajoled a little “Elizabeth, don’t you like your given name?” Once Beth looked at her, she played into her Aunts’ ploy “I never could stand anyone calling me Elizabeth.” Mark looked up at her “Why did you tell me that was your name if you didn’t like it?” John laughed out loud “We are going to have to watch this young man, he is very insightful.
 
Mark, why don’t you let us take you and Beth to the University so you can pick up your class schedule and your books?” “I don’t know what I am supposed to get, all I ever received was my letter of acceptance.” “You did write back and tell them you were interested, didn’t you?” queried John. “Yes sir, Pa sent a telegraph but we never received an answer.” Beth looked upset, “Uncle John, you have to help, he can’t have traveled all this way for them to turn him away” cried Beth. “What do you mean, turn me away?” “Don’t worry Mark” said John, “I will make sure you will have your classes. It will be up to you to make sure you keep them.”
 
Mark asked Beth how her Uncle could insure he would be admitted, Beth told him her Uncle was the headmaster of the University, Mark was very impressed but a little intimidated by his title. “Don’t worry Mark, it is just a title, it means nothing if I don’t work for it, that is why I say you will have to study, and study hard. There will be little time for anything else.” “I understand sir, Doc Burrage told me it would not be easy but he believed I had a good feel for it.” John looked at him, “Did you say Doc Burrage?” “Yes sir, he wrote the letter inquiring about admitting me.” “He must have a great deal of faith in you. He was one of my instructors, he was not easily impressed.” “I don’t think I impressed him any, except for when I took care of my Pa and Micah.” John knew that if Doc Burrage supported Marks attempts to become a doctor, he had to have a great deal of potential.

9 –

Mark was busily writing a letter to Lucas so he didn’t notice Mary walk into the room. “What are you doing Mark?” “I’m just telling my Pa how everything is going, you know, how you and Mr. I mean Uncle John are letting me stay here, how he made sure I was admitted to the school, and how much colder it is here than at home.” “You sure do love and respect your Pa, don’t see that in young people much these days. Do you mind if I read the letter?” Mark was a little embarrassed as he had said so many nice things about Mr. and Mrs. Adams but he handed her the letter. “Mark, you have said such wonderful things about my husband and me, I think you are misleading your father.” “No ma’am everything I said is the truth. My Pa would want to know how good you have been to me, I’m sure he will be writing a letter back to you, just as soon as he gets this one.” “I’m sure he will Mark, I’m sure he will” the words came from behind him. “Is there something wrong sir?” queried Mark. “Not at all, do you mind if we include a letter with yours? You may read it first of course” stated John. “You don’t have to let me read it, I trust you.” “Mark, you are far too trusting” said Beth, “I am sure Uncle John and Aunt Mary will have nothing but good to say about you but you need to learn a lesson. You can’t always trust people.” John looked at Beth. “I don’t mean you Uncle John, but he is too trusting.” “Remember young lady, I also said he was very insightful.”

10 –

Lucas had gone into town to pick up some supplies, Micah rode along hoping they might stop at the saloon, “I’m not saying we have to spend the day there but it sure would be nice to do a little visiting while we have a drink or two.” “Micah, every time we go in for a drink or two, I end up getting into trouble.” “Lucasboy, you wouldn’t have so much trouble if you would decide between Lou and Millie, you can’t play two women against each other.” “I’m not playing at anything, Lou and I are just friends, I never led her to believe anything else.” “Well cowboy” Lou had walked up behind Micah and Lucas, “You did not lead me to believe we were only friends either.” While Lucas and Lou were talking, Micah went to the saloon. Millie had just stepped out of her store when she saw Lucas and Lou in an embrace, putting her hand to her mouth, she ran back inside the store, closing and locking the door. She turned the sign to closed and pulled the shades and sat down in the middle of the floor, crying. Had she made a mistake all those years back when she left North Fork or had she made a bigger mistake returning? She didn’t know how long she sat there crying, but now it was dark and someone was knocking on the door. “Millie, Mille, are you in there?” shouted Lucas. Millie gathered all her pride and strength and replied, “I am just fine Mr. McCain, I just have some things I need to tend.” Her voice did not betray her but still Lucas persisted “Millie, open the door, I know something is wrong or you would have called me Lucas.” Millie wiped her face and straightened her back “Lucas, there is nothing wrong, I just have some work to do and I need to concentrate. Please go away, I will see you tomorrow at church.” Lucas looked at the door, “Millie?” “Please Lucas, just go away.” Lucas cast his eyes downward, what had he done now? Seems like he should have gone to the saloon with Micah, at least then he would have known what he did.
Micah had stopped at the post office and was holding a letter when he saw Lucas riding in his direction. “Lucasboy, we have a letter.” “Micah, get up on your horse, we are going home.” Micah was confused, Lucas had been hoping for a letter from Mark yet he showed no interest. “Don’t you want to read it?” “Micah, let’s just go home.” Micah got up on his horse, stuffed the envelope into his shirt and rode silently beside Lucas as they headed home to the ranch.

Lucas told Micah to go on inside and start some supper; he would tend to the horses. Micah looked at his friend, he knew something was wrong but Lucas was not ready to tell him. Whatever it was, Lucas would feel better once he read the letter and he would tell Micah about his problem when he was ready.

Supper was ready, it was rabbit stew, Micah had a way with stew. Lucas could smell it as he walked up to the house, he also smelled the coffee; he was ready for both. He put a smile on his face and walked inside, “Micah, that stew sure does smell good.” “Yeah, well it sure would taste a lot better if we had some of that bread you were supposed to make yesterday.” Lucas didn’t say anything, they sat quietly through the meal and Lucas started to clean up the dishes. “Hey Lucasboy, how about you bring in some coffee and we read this letter, it should perk you up some?” “Who says I need perking up? Who is the letter from anyway?” “Let’s see here, it’s from Connecticut…” “Why didn’t you say it was from Mark, give it to me.” Lucas sat down hard on the chair as he ripped open the envelope. You could see the light dancing in Micah’s eyes as Lucas read the letter. Mark explained how he almost didn’t get into school except for Mr. Adams helping him and that he was asked Mark to call him Uncle John and his wife Aunt Mary. He explained that he wasn’t taking advantage because he would be taking care of the horses and chopping firewood. It was a big house and John was letting him sleep in the study but Beth was up on the third floor. Lucas lifted his eyebrow as he read what Mark had to say about Beth.” “Looks like maybe Mark will find a wife before you do Lucasboy!” Lucas smiled at Micah and reread the letter again and again. Finally, Micah told him he really should go on to bed, he could read the letter more tomorrow, Lucas just looked up at Micah with tears streaming down his face.

11 –

Mark was talking to John “But sir, you told me I could work off my staying here.” “Yes I did, but I also stated it should not interfere with your studies. Beth tells me you are always so tired that she has to keep waking you during class.” “I admit I am a bit tired, but I am keeping up with everyone.” Mary stepped in, “That is the point Mark, you are keeping up, imagine what you would be able to do if you weren’t so tired.” “Look Mark, Doc Burrage was right about his faith in you, I have seen what you have accomplished in these last two months, you will be a brilliant doctor, if you don’t kill yourself trying to become one” John looked right into Marks’ eyes. Mark looked at both of them “I don’t see how I can continue to accept your help if you won’t let me do anything for you.” Beth looked at all three of them, she knew Mark was planning to leave if he couldn’t repay them somehow “I have an idea, why can’t Mark tutor me for his room and board? I know I shouldn’t be having trouble with my classes but I am. If he tutors me, wouldn’t that help all of us?” Mark again stood with his mouth open, Mary told him to shut it before he caught a fly he didn’t want. “Beth is right Mark,” said John “She is having trouble and she could use your help. It took an awful lot of favors to get her into this school; I want to see her succeed. They are making it more difficult on her because she is a woman.” “I’ve never been able to tutor anyone before, I don’t think…” “Mark McCain, are you saying that I am too stupid to learn?” “Why Beth, I would never say anything like that, I just don’t think you need…” “Mark, do you want to see me flunk out, do you want to flunk out? I don’t think so. I think you should accept this offer.” John and Mary stood next to each other, smiling “Mark, Aunt Mary and I must agree with Beth, when she sets her head on something, there is no reasoning with her. Do you have any idea how long I tried to discourage her from becoming the first woman doctor? Did no good, no good at all. Any way, she is here and we would like her to see her dream, will you help?” Mark knew this was just a scheme allowing him to study without worrying about financing his keep, he was not sure if he should accept, what would Pa say? “I’ll tell you what, I will help Beth, at least until I get home to talk to my Pa during Christmas. If he says it is OK, then that would be fine with me. Pa always says you shouldn’t accept something for nothing, it’s not respectable and you should never be owing to someone.” “Someday we would like to meet your Pa, he sounds like a very smart man” remarked John.

The days passed by and Mark was at the head of his class. Beth actually was doing better too. They would start studying as soon as they returned from school, until Aunt Mary would serve supper, then they would return to their studies. John looked in on them every now and then; he wanted to make sure they were studying their school subjects, not each other. Soon the winter skies started to let fall their snow, while they were walking back home from school, Mark had told Beth he really did need to get a warmer jacket. The next morning, where his jacket had hung was a very heavy coat. Mark tried looking around for his jacket as Beth was calling to him to get moving or they would be late for class. “I can’t find my jacket and I’m not going out there without it.” Mary came out of the kitchen “Oh Mark, use that coat, it is too small for Uncle John so we thought you might be able to use it. Now don’t go standing there catching flies again, put the coat on and get off to class, you don’t want to be late.” “Yes ma’am” said Mark as he smiled and put on the coat. “We can talk tonight boy, now get going.” At that, Mark ran out the door, trying to catch up to Beth.
Mark couldn’t help but notice how warm the coat was, nor could he help but notice the newness of the smell. Why were Mr. and Mrs. Adams so willing to help him? He was definitely going to have to talk all this over with his Pa.

12 –

The 10:00 train pulled into North Fork, bringing with it new people to the growing town of North Fork. Sheriff Drako was there, as usual, to insure any undesirable characters stay on the train. Lou met him there, if anyone was getting off the train, she wanted them to know about her hotel. “Lou, you and I are going to have to quit meeting like this, people will start to talk.” “People always talk, are you coming by for supper tonight?” inquired Lou. “That depends, will I be a guest or a customer?” Lou laughed at Drako; “You know you are my guest, as always.” “Maybe someday, I will be more than just a guest,” chided Drako. “If you play your cards right Sheriff, if you play your cards right.”

Lucas rode into town early, he wanted to get his letter off to Mark. He was pleased that the Adams Family was helping Mark but he wanted to know if Mark was really shouldering his load. He told Mark how things were going at the ranch, that Millie came back to town, how he and Micah were over there every Sunday after church for chicken and pie. It took a long time to write the letter, he so missed his son. Micah put a small envelope into the letter, Lucas wanted to know what it was, “If I wanted you to know, I wouldn’t have already sealed the envelope” humphed Micah. As Lucas was walking to the Post Office, he stopped in at Millie’s store to say hello but she looked at him and acted like he wasn’t even there. Lucas couldn’t figure out what he might have done wrong, should he have said something when Micah was teasing about them courting or did he hurt her feelings when he told Micah they should leave before Micah had them married up? Whatever it was, he would need to get it straightened out but that would have to wait until the letter was posted.

Lucas saw Lou walking with Drako; he couldn’t help but chuckle, Drako, being tamed. Lou was good for Drako, she was very high-spirited and high maintenance, at least she was as far as Lucas was concerned. Drako walked with Lou for a bit then headed off to his office, Lou headed toward the hotel. Lucas followed her over and they went inside as they were talking, he wanted a woman’s perspective regarding his situation with Millie. Lou gave him a piece of her mind, as usual but she also gave him some things to think about. Lou walked him to the door and gave him a hug; this time both Millie and Drako saw the embrace. Millie turned around and tried to hide her tears, Drako squinted his eyes as he walked over to Lucas and Lou “Do you two mind telling me what is going on around here? I was under the impression that you and I were courting and here I find you hugging him.” Lucas opened his eyes wide, he couldn’t believe what Drako had just insinuated but before he could say anything, Lou reared back her head “What right have you got to tell me who I can or cannot have as a friend. Lucas was a friend to me since the day I walked into this town, even when I wasn’t very nice to him.” Drako to a step backwards but that didn’t stop Lou “I enjoy your company Sheriff but as my dear old father used to say, ‘A man who tries to keep you from your friends, isn’t much of a friend himself’ so it that is your intention, perhaps you might want to reconsider your supper plans for tonight.” Drako looked deep into her eyes, challenging her “Did I say you couldn’t be friends? Maybe you could warn a man that you have a special friendship with someone so nobody gets jealous.” Now Lou got a smile from ear to ear “Are you trying to tell me you were jealous?” “Maybe so, you know how I feel.” All this time, Lucas was just watching them, he wondered if he had done or said something like this that upset Millie. Well, the letter was posted, Lou and Drako were still toying with each other so he excused himself, not that they noticed.

Lucas walked over to Millie’s store and walked on inside. As soon as Millie saw him she pretended to be busy. There was no one else in the store so Lucas closed and locked the door; Millie turned toward him “What do you think you are doing?” “I’m going to find out what I did to make you so angry.” Millie turned away, “What makes you think I am angry?” “For one thing, the way your voice just broke and for another because you keep ignoring me. What did I do?” He thought it best not to mention the possibility of the marriage comment being the cause of her anger. “What did you do? What did you do? Everyone knows that you and Micah have been coming over to my home after church every Sunday, then you have the nerve to stand in the middle of the street hugging that woman.” Lucas was stunned “What woman?” “You know very well what woman, that Irish woman you were courting before I came back to North Fork. Didn’t you think anyone would tell me?” Lucas started to laugh; the look on Millie’s face was more determined and less tearful. Lucas knew he had to do something, and quickly, he put his arms around Millie and said “Lou and I are just good friends. Yes, we courted for a while but we weren’t right for each other.” “Oh, and when did you decide that, before or after I came back to town?” “Not that it matters but before.” Millie wasn’t trying to escape from his embrace but looked up at him and asked why. “Lou is more focused on quoting what her dear old father had to say than quoting from The Good Book. I’m not saying that she isn’t a good Christian woman but shortly after Marks’ accident with his legs being paralyzed, we knew we weren’t right for each other but we stayed good friends. In fact, I was just over there asking her if she knew what I did wrong to upset you.” “And what did she tell you?” “She told me to ask you but then I figured it out myself.” Now Millie looked up with the eyes of a doe “And what did you figure out, and how?” Lucas looked down into Millie’s eyes and almost whispered “When I heard Drako sounding so jealous of Lou and I hugging, I figured maybe you had a little bit of jealousy going on in your head.” Millie started to pull away “And why would I be jealous?” Lucas lowered his head “Hopefully because you feel about me the same way I feel about you” and then he kissed her, ever so gently.

13 –

Christmas was drawing closer and Beth was trying to convince Mark not to go home. “Mark, you need to study, you need to help me study. Can’t you wait until summer to go home?” John looked at Beth “Child, you know how he feels about his father, how can you ask him not to go see him?” “Maybe his father could come here?” Mark entered into the discussion “I really think I need to go home, Pa and I have a lot to talk about. Besides, I need to talk to Doc Burrage, I haven’t seen anyone in town, I haven’t ridden Blueboy, he may need to be broke all over again.” John looked over at Mark “You go on and visit with your family, just be sure you come back to us. I will help Beth but I think she prefers you as her tutor.” At that Beth blushed “Uncle John, what a thing to say.” Mark was blushing too “She is a real good learner.” Mary laughed as she told John to help Mark pack up, only what he would need, “Make sure he doesn’t take everything, that way he will have to come back.”

It was a long train ride back to North Fork, at least it seemed really long to Mark. Lucas had received the telegram about a week ago and was at the station waiting for the train to arrive, long before Mark was scheduled to arrive. Today, neither he nor Micah wanted to wait in the saloon; they stopped at the hotel for coffee. Millie saw them go in, so did Drako so they both went over to the hotel as well. They happened to be walking in together, neither Lucas nor Lou seemed too happy about that. Lou said “So, Sheriff Drako, what brings you here today? Did Millie need your help to get here?” Millie answered, “No I didn’t need his help. I just came by to check with Lucas as to whether there was a change in the time Mark was due in.” “Millie, why don’t you come over and have some coffee with Lucas and me” suggested Micah. Millie did a quick turn away from Lou toward the table, “Thank you Micah, I think I will.”
 
Lou glared at Drako, “What’s wrong Lou, you are acting like you are jealous”, mocked Drako. In her Irish lilt Lou exclaimed, “Now why would I be jealous of anything you do?” Drako couldn’t help but laugh, Lou turned on her heel to walk away; “Where do you think you are going?” asked Drako as he grabbed her arm. He pulled her aside, where no one could see and gave her a very passionate kiss; she didn’t try to push him away. Lou liked it when Drako was assertive with her, without being overpowering; no one had ever been able to make her feel this way before, she was still a lady and still independent but he was so strong and sure of himself that she always fell into his arms.
 
Lucas looked at Millie, he couldn’t help but notice how good she smelled, the way her hair fell around her shoulders, the color of her eyes, how she seemed to be able to look right into his soul. “Lucas, why are you staring at me?” asked Millie, she had to ask a second time, as Lucas seemed to be in a fog. “I’m sorry, I was just thinking about how much you mean to me and I can’t wait for Mark to see you too. You are coming out to the ranch tonight, aren’t you?” “Old Lucasboy there has been cooking up a storm so Mark would have enough to eat while he was here. I think he forgot how bad he cooks.” “Maybe I should bring some chicken and an apple pie”, chided Millie. Micah answered so fast, “That sure would be nice, I can’t imagine Mark wanting to eat what is out there now”; Lucas hadn’t realized what had been said. “I thought you were riding back to the ranch with us?” “I am Lucas, I already made the chicken and the pie, you don’t think after all these years I would let Mark down, now do you?”

Millie questioned Lucas about how much she meant to him. “Millie, I can’t really explain it. You know how I told you about Lou and her father, why we could only be friends? You are different, I haven’t felt this way about anyone since Margaret passed”, Lucas stopped talking, he might propose someday but not today. Millie smiled, she felt a great warmth deep inside her heart; finally she knew how much she really meant to Lucas, she knew she was right to come back to North Fork.

14 –

The train finally pulled into North Fork; there were a lot of people there to meet him. As the train was stopping he could see all of them and he knew they were there to meet him. When he got off the train he ran towards Lucas and they hugged each other like they had been apart for years, not just months. When Lucas finally let him go, Mark made the rounds of saying hello to everyone. “Pa, can we invite Doc Burrage to dinner, I sure want to find out more about him?”  “Doc is out of town Mark” that is when Mark finally noticed Millie, he ran over to her, picked her up and spun her around, “I sure am glad you are back in town, we really missed you.” Millie was so surprised at how tall and strong Mark was that she just stared at him, finally she was able to utter a few words, “I’m glad to be back Mark, I hadn’t realized how much I was going to miss this town, and certain people in it until I came back.”

Mark was glad that Lucas had brought Blueboy, he really missed his horse while he was in Connecticut, especially now in the winter. Mark was talking to Millie, Micah, and Lucas all the way back to the ranch. They didn’t have a chance to say anything; he barely gave them time to nod their heads before he was onto another subject. As they drew nearer the ranch Lucas asked him if he had been silent for so long that he planned to wear out their ears. Mark didn’t even notice. By the time they reached the ranch, Lucas thought his ears were going to bleed from so much talking. Finally, he looked at Lucas and said “Race you to the ranch” and took off in a gallop. Lucas was on his tail, Millie and Micah looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and continued at their established pace back to the ranch. Mark and Lucas reached the ranch at the same time, both jumped off their horses and hugged again. When Micah and Millie arrived, Lucas looked at his son again, “If I didn’t know better, I would say you grew. You look healthy, are you happy?” Lucas continued with a flow of questions until Millie stopped him, “If you want answers to your questions, perhaps you could give him a chance to answer. Between the two of you, poor Micah and I will have blood running from our ears.” Everyone had a good laugh as they went into the house.

Everyone helped set the table; they were all ready to eat Millie’s chicken. Lucas had some serious questions to ask Mark but he didn’t want to spoil this moment. Finally Mark was quiet, he was stuffing his mouth with food. Lucas looked at his son “Millie, it’s a good thing you brought two chickens, it looks like Mark is going to eat one all by himself.” “I can’t help it Pa, nobody makes chicken like Millie.” All were enjoying the meal, until it was gone. “Would anyone like some coffee?” offered Millie. Lucas and Micah agreed and Mark said, “No thank you, I still don’t know how you drink that stuff.” Lucas offered Micah and Mark a cigar, “Lucas McCain, why are you suggesting that Mark partake in that disgusting habit?” exclaimed Millie. “I hadn’t realized you thought it was a disgusting habit”, stated Lucas as he narrowed his eyes and looked at Millie. “Obviously you have never been on the receiving end of a kiss after someone has indulged in smoking, why, it is like licking a burnt stick.”  Mark interrupted, “Don’t argue about it, I smoked a cigar once, I thought you remembered that Pa, I was so green I looked like an apple. Speaking of apples, when are we going to have that pie?” Lucas and Micah put aside their desire for a cigar to join Mark and Millie in enjoying the apple pie.
 
After talking for several more hours, Millie got up to get her coat to go home. “Millie, it is very late, are you sure you want to go home at this hour?” asked Lucas. “If I want to keep my reputation as a lady, I must.” Lucas walked with her to her buggy. Before helping Millie up into her buggy, Lucas put his arms around her; it amazed her every time that such a strong man could be so gentle. “You know, I haven’t had that cigar yet, could I give you a kiss, without the taste of a burnt stick?” Millie lifted her head towards his and they shared a very tender and long kiss. Lucas did not want to let go of her, nor she him, but there were proprieties and they were bound by them. This time, Lucas looked at her ride away; he felt a sadness in his heart that had not haunted him for many years.

15 –

“Beth, why are you so glum?” “Aunt Mary, how did you know… I mean when did you know…, I mean….” “You want to know how I knew that your Uncle John was the right person for me?” “Yes and how long had you known him?” “Come girl, sit down and we will talk, I imagine you brought this up because of Mark.” “Yes ma’am, I just feel all funny inside whenever I am near him, and now that he is gone, everything inside me aches.” “Do you know how he feels about you?” asked Aunt Mary. “He never talks about anything but school or back in North Fork. How do I get him to notice me?” John just walked into the room “You wait child, you wait.” “But Uncle John, I can barely breathe when he is here and it is worse since he has gone.” John looked down at his tearful niece, “He is a young man with integrity. I saw how you felt about him from the first day the two of you arrived and your Aunt Mary saw that same look in his eyes that she had first seen in mine. Give him time, he is finding out where he fits. I would imagine he is talking with his father right now, trying to ascertain why we treat him as we do.” Beth looked up at her uncle, “Why do you treat him with such compassion?” “Beth, when I was going through medical school, it was hard, very hard. Doc Burrage took a special interest in me and helped me study many times, I have to repay the favor. Besides, do you think I want my future nephew to dislike me?” “John, Beth never said anything about marriage.” “She didn’t have to Mary, look at her now and remember the way Mark looked when he said goodbye. Those two are going to marry, you mark my words.” Beth blushed as the tears streamed down her face, why did Mark have to go home anyway?

16 –

Lou and Drako were seen everywhere together. Some of the other women in town were being rather unmannerly toward Lou and this angered Drako. “Johnny, don’t worry about what those women say, it doesn’t bother me.” “Well it bothers me, they have no right.” “They have every right, you are their Sheriff.” “Why does that give them the right to taunt you?” Lucas overheard the last part of the conversation “Because they are jealous and have nothing better to do with their time.” Lou believed the presence of Lucas could sway the conversation, “Lucas, how nice to see you. Where is Mark?” Drako still didn’t like the way Lou and Lucas seemed so friendly, “What business is this of yours McCain?” “Plenty, you and Lou are both my friends and I don’t like it when my friends are hurting.” Drako started to soften, “Where is Mark? I am surprised you let him out of your site.” “Mark is no longer my little boy, although you might not think so with the amount of candy he is buying from your store, Lou!” “Maybe next time, I shouldn’t order all of his favorites” chuckled Lou. Lucas looked over at Drako, “I won’t hold you two up any longer, I have to see if Doc Burrage can come by for supper tonight, Mark wants to talk to him. Good day to you both” and he was on his way.
 
Drako wanted to know why Lucas was always so friendly, Lou reminded him that he and Lucas were friends. “But he is too friendly with you” sneered Drako. “How many times must I tell you, he and I are just friends. As my dear old father used to say…” Lou did not get a chance to finish her sentence, Drako pulled her aside and they kissed passionately. “Lou, I’m just going to have to make an honest woman out of you, marry me.” “Johnny Drako, I am an honest woman. If that is the only reason you are proposing I will have to decline.” “You know that is not the only reason I am proposing, I love you Lou and I am tired of trying to steal a moment here or a moment there, to sneak a kiss or a hug because all of these fine citizens will talk. I want you to be able to hold your head up high when they see us together. I want to hold you in my arms all night, I want…” “I know what you want Johnny Drako, I want that too, so I guess I will just have to accept your proposal.” Johnny was only slightly taken aback but then he pulled something from his pocket, “I have been carrying this for quite a spell, hoping one day I would have the nerve to ask you and hoping you would say yes. Would you wear this betrothal ring?” “Johnny, it is beautiful” whispered Lou as tears streamed down her face, “I didn’t expect this.” “Is that a yes?” “That is a definite yes” exclaimed Lou as she hugged Drako tightly and kissed him over and over.

Lucas found Doc Burrage and invited him to supper “Mark is insisting you come join us.” “Well, I could join you for supper but I am afraid it will have to be here in town.” Lucas looked a little puzzled “Is there something wrong Doc?” “No, no, nothing wrong, it is just that Mrs. Tulley is ready to have that baby any time now, I don’t want to be too far away.” Lucas smiled “How about we come and get you about 5:00, we can eat over at the hotel, I’ll invite Millie.” Millie had just walked up behind Lucas, “Invite me to what?” “Lucas just invited me to supper at the hotel” said Doc. “Nonsense, you eat there all the time Doc, I insist you all join me at my place.” “Well, I know Mark won’t object, what about you Doc?” “I’ll eat one of Millie’s meals anytime, she is the best cook in town” looking over in her direction, Doc added, “perhaps I will ask her to marry me some day, if no one beats me to it.” Millie snickered, Lucas was not amused but he added, “I’ll go back to the ranch and get Mark and Micah, see you about 5:00?” “Just don’t be late, I don’t want Doc saying my cooking is bad because it got overcooked waiting for you.” Lucas gave her a quick peck on the cheek and got up on Razor to ride back to the ranch.

17 –

Doc was the last person to get to Millie’s but he was still there before 5:00. Millie had prepared a beef stew, she used many vegetables because she didn’t believe either Micah or Lucas were eating enough of them. She also made some fresh bread and of course an apple pie. Doc wanted to know why Mark wanted to talk to him. “Doc, do you know a John Adams, Doctor John Adams?” “Let me think Mark, I have met many people.” “This was back when you were teaching” said Mark. Lucas inquired about this Doctor Adams as well. “What do you want to know, and why?” “I want to know what they have in mind for my son” Lucas continued to explain about Mr. and Mrs. Adams taking Mark in and caring for him, “They are even buying him clothes.” “Is there something wrong with them buying him a few things?” asked Doc. “Look Doc, this is my boy we’re talking about, I don’t want anything to happen to him.” “Lucasboy, give the Doc a chance to say something before you rip him apart” countered Micah. Millie sat by quietly, she also wondered why this family was taking Mark under their wing.

Mark stopped them all from questioning the Doctor, “He seems to think very highly of you, he said you are not a man easily impressed, and he said that if you have faith in me, who is he to doubt you.” Doc sat back, deep in thought, “I do remember who you are talking about Mark. He was a young man when he came to Yale, I was a professor back then. He came with nothing, no recommendation, no place to stay, no way to pay for school, and no admittance to the school, but he had his mindset to become a doctor. I told him to go back home, there was no place for him at Yale. Then I saw him stop a man from beating a dog half to death, saw how he approached that animal and the confidence he had that the dog would not harm him; I knew he would become a very compassionate physician.” Doc talked on for about an hour explaining how he allowed John to stay with him and made him promise if he ever saw another young man who was inspired, that he would help him to see his dream. Lucas was ready to ask one more question when Mr. Tulley came rushing into Millie’s “Doc, it is time.” Doc excused himself and hurried off to assist Mrs. Tulley.
 
“Well Lucasboy, that should answer your question. Not only is Mr. Adams keeping his promise to Doc but he found a young man recommended by Doc. I am sure Mr. Adams probably feels like Mark is a kindred soul, he will make sure Mark sees his dream.” Lucas was still concerned “That does not explain him financing Mark’s living expenses.” “Yes it does, that is what Doc did for him, he is probably grateful the opportunity to repay that debt by helping Mark. He too must have seen something in Mark, you are just too much of a father to realized your little boy is a young man” scowled Millie. “Maybe you are right, I still think of Mark as my little boy, those were days that he held to me like I was his life.” Mark got up and went to his fathers’ side; “I still do Pa, I still do” and Mark hugged Lucas with one of those childhood hugs and kissed him on the cheek.

18 –

Beth was counting the days until Mark would return. She studied with her Uncle every day but she missed Mark and the way they studied. At night, she would go outside to look up at the stars, believing Mark was looking at the same stars and that made her feel closer to him.

“Elizabeth Adams, you come in here right this minute, you are going to catch your death, what were you doing out there” Aunt Mary had surprised her. “I’m fine, I was just thinking.” As Mary scurried Beth inside, she wrapped a blanket around her and sat her down in front of the fire. “I can only imagine what you were thinking but it will do you no good to wish him back if you are too sick to see him or go to school. You know you must be at school everyday or they will make things even more difficult for you, you being a young woman and all” scolded Aunt Mary. Knowing her Aunt was right, she picked up one of her school books and started reading but she had to keep re-reading the same sentence over and over, she kept seeing Marks’ face in the book and the words made no sense to her. She reached over for a different book and read from its’ pages, Mark was right, when you read from The Good Book, everything just seemed to fall into place.

19 –

It was time for Mark to leave, to return to school. This time Lucas, Millie, Micah, even Drako and Lou were there to see him off. Mark was a little more confident and Lucas was a little more sad. Mark said goodbye to everyone, leaving his father for last, “I love you Pa, nothing will ever change that.” As they hugged again, Lucas kissed his son on the cheek and Mark had to rush to get on the train before it left without him. Mark still looked out the window for his father, this time because of the cold outside the window remained closed. Lucas stood watching the tracks long after the train was out of site. Lou and Drako had left right away; Micah and Millie had waited with Lucas. Knowing Lucas was not ready to let go yet, Micah took Millie by the arm and walked her back to her store “Lucasboy will be along, let him say his goodbyes his way, might help if you asked him for supper.” Looking up at Micah, Millie joked, “Are you thinking of Lucas or yourself?” “Why, I would say all three of us. He is going to be a bear to live with these next few days. Might as well have a good meal to take some of the edge off it.” “Well, I am not going to make any pie, that would only make Lucas miss him more.”

When Lucas realized he was the only person standing at the station, he wiped his eyes and started to look for someone. He realized that his two dearest friends would be together and that meant they would be at Millie’s instead of the bar like the first time Mark had gotten on that train. Then he remembered, that was the day he ran into Millie. So often, when something hurts so much you can barely stand it, the Lord gives you something to ease the pain, He had given Lucas both Micah and Millie.

20 –

Micah thought he had finally found a family with Lucas and Mark, now Mark had gone back to school, Lucas was sparking Millie, even Drako was sparking Lou. Micah didn’t have much left for himself. He could either crawl back into the bottle or see if he could resume some of his duties as a deputy for Drako. Drako was happy to accept his offer, he had plans coming up soon, very soon, and would need someone to take his place. There was no one better than the former Marshall, so he pinned a badge on Micah and went over to talk to Lou.

Lucas was concerned about the way Micah had pulled away, “Micah, you know that it doesn’t matter what happens, you are always going to be a member of my family. Mark and I talked over a few things before he left, he suggested we give you a separate sitting room, in case you wanted to entertain or just be by yourself without having to stay in your room, what do you think?” “Lucasboy, you don’t have to go to all that trouble, I can spend some extra time here in town, give you and Millie some time by yourselves.”

“Micah, I am not going to stand for you being run out of your own home, you either accept the offer Lucas has made or you will no longer be invited over for supper”, said Millie as she pulled Micah by the arm. Micah shook his head “Don’t worry about me, I’m going to be helping Drako out for a spell. We have plenty of time to work on that separate sitting room, I kind of like the idea”, his thoughts were that way when Millie and Lucas finally married, he would still be able to eat her cooking and both of them would always make sure he was included.

Lou and Drako were married on January 3rd; everyone in town was at the wedding. Millie was happy for her; Lou was wearing her mothers’ wedding dress and the biggest smile any of them had ever seen. Drako was looking a little nervous, it was the first time Lucas had ever seen him that way, but he remembered his first night with Margaret and smiled. It was a beautiful day for a wedding and Lucas remembered his other talk with Mark, about Millie; he took Millie aside, “You know I have never seen Lou happier or Drako more nervous.” Millie giggled a little and Lucas continued, “It was a beautiful day for a wedding but I think it is a better day for a proposal. Millie, would you marry me? I don’t have a ring, only the one Margaret wore, I think she would be pleased if you were to wear it.” Millie didn’t say a word; Lucas was concerned, “If you don’t want to wear that ring, we can go get you one of your own…” Millie interrupted him, “I would love to marry you and just the thought that you would want me to wear Margaret’s ring makes me warm inside, I know how much you loved her.” “Millie, I will never stop loving her but I can’t think of anyone who I could ever love more than I love you.” “Lucas, I love you too. Let’s not say anything today, I don’t want to take anything else away from Lou, I have you.” “Millie, you always had me, I’m just glad that we both finally figured that out before we lost each other again. I know you probably want time to plan everything but I sure would love to get married soon, I can’t tell you how much I want to hold you in my arms all night.” Micah was walking by, “I hope you plan to do more than just hold her all night” and then he kept walking, he knew he had embarrassed both of them.

21 –

Mark and Beth were back to school and studying was not going very well. Beth seemed to be distracted and Mark couldn’t figure out why. John pulled Mark aside to ask him if he was aware of any problems, Mark looked at him kind of funny and said, “Yes sir, but I don’t rightly know what the problem is.” John laughed a little and asked Mark if he had any feelings for Beth. “Heck, I don’t know, we don’t really talk about anything but school and what we both expect once we graduate.” “Mark, what kind of things does Beth say?” asked John. “Well, she wants to graduate, wants to practice here or maybe in Ohio, wants to settle down and get married and have children. I don’t know how she will be able to be a doctor, a wife, and a mother all at the same time.” John told Mark that if Beth found the right partner, it would be doable. Mark shook his head, “I don’t know of too many men want to clean house, cook, and take care of children.” Mary walked into the room just after Mark uttered that statement, “Isn’t that what your father did?” “Well yea, but that was different, my Ma died; he had to take care of me.” John shook his head, “Mark, don’t you think that if your mother had lived, and wanted to do something special, like being a doctor, that your Pa would have supported her in her efforts?” After thinking for a while, Mark remembered that after some reading his father was in favor of women voting so he nodded his head, “Yes, I guess he would have. What does all this have to do with me and Beth?” Mary walked out of the room, leaving John to answer the question, “Mark, I believe Beth may be expecting to be that special kind of man for her.” Mark held his jaw open again, “Honest Uncle John, I never said or tried anything to give her that idea, not that I know of anyhow.” “I believe you Mark but perhaps now that you are aware of the situation, perhaps you will be more aware of why Beth is distracted around you. By the way, it is best if we do not tell Beth of this conversation, she would be awfully angry with all of us.” “Yes sir, I won’t say anything” Mark barely whispered his response; he was very concerned over the news John had just given to him. He liked Beth but he had no ideas of marriage, at least not yet, he wanted to become a doctor. Besides that, from what Uncle John had told him, she would not want to go to North Fork to practice and that is where he planned to live.

22 –

Millie and Lucas decided they would not marry until Mark was home again. Whenever that day came, Lucas and Millie planned to marry the next day. Millie made created her wedding dress and kept it ready. Lucas did not tell Mark anything in his letters, he wanted to tell Mark in person. Millie asked Lucas, “What if Mark doesn’t want you to get married again?” “Millie, Mark and I have discussed me taking another wife since he was a little boy, he even tried to find a wife for me a time or two as I remember. He has always liked you, you saw how he stayed by your side when he was here, believe me he will not be unhappy.” “I just worry, I don’t want him to think I am taking the place of his mother.” “Millie, stop worrying, I think Mark may love you, almost as much as I do.”

Drako and Lou were out of town for their honeymoon leaving Micah to act as Marshall. Lucas was aware that Micah wasn’t as fast as he used to be so he made a habit of coming to town to see Millie every day, that way he could see how Micah was doing too. Besides, he missed Micah out at the ranch. All those years of just him and Mark, then Micah joined them, next Millie would be there too; now he was finally getting a bigger family and he liked the idea. He was happy that Millie agreed that after the two of them were married Micah was not to leave. If she had said she didn’t want Micah there, he knew he would have had to rethink his proposal.

Micah would come out to the ranch, to help Lucas build him that private sitting room they talked about. Millie suggested that they make the addition large enough so Mark would have a place to stay when he was back from school breaks. “Lucas, I know you are not thinking that far ahead and I know money is tight but it will be my home too so I want to contribute, besides, I don’t want Mark sleeping in the same room as us once we are married” chided Millie. Lucas agreed and they started making a very large room. It was cold outside so the first thing they started with was a door to the outside, that way, once they got the walls up and the roof on, they could finish the rest of the work without having to go outside again. Micah was giving his advice and Millie was giving hers leaving Lucas with most of the work. Millie was also picking out some new material for curtains and deciding on new furniture; she was not about to sleep in separate bunks once she and Lucas were married. If Lucas had any idea of how much she was spending, he would have told her enough was enough; but he didn’t and it was money she made at her store. She didn’t believe she needed the best of anything but she did want some furniture for her sitting area as well. Lucas could have made much of what she wanted but he had so much to do already that she kept buying everything she thought they would need. She was happy to keep most of what Lucas still had of Margaret’s but did need a few things that Lucas, Mark and Micah had broken and not bothered to replace; she brought that in a little at a time telling Lucas he couldn’t expect her to cook without the proper cookware.

Micah continued Drako’s habit of meeting the train each day, and on the last day before Drako was to return, a very interesting person detrained. Micah couldn’t believe his eyes. How many years had it been? The woman noticed him right off and headed his direction, was he dreaming?

23 –

Mark started paying closer attention to Beth, not just her studies but to her. When he realized he really did like her he went to talk to Uncle John. “Now what am I supposed to do? How can I tutor someone I would like to court? She won’t want to move to North Fork so how do I stop liking her?” asked Mark. “Sounds like you have yourself a problem, as long as you are true to yourself and do not try to take advantage of my niece, you will be able to solve your dilemma” stated Uncle John. Mark reaffirmed that he would never take advantage of a lady, “My Pa would skin me alive if I ever did that.”

John asked Mark if his father had ever really hit him, “Not that I can remember and he got awful mad if anyone else tried.” This brought back memories of a few years ago and Joe kidnapping him; he got real quiet and John became concerned, “What’s the matter Mark?” Mark waited until he was in control his emotions before he told John the whole sordid story. John was amazed at Marks maturity in reliving the incident; he was also astounded that Mark remained a respectful young man after such an ordeal. “Mark, I am sure that was not an easy memory to relive, I admire your character and I believe you would never do anything purposely to hurt anyone. I feel even better about being able to assist you in your endeavor to become a doctor; we need more people like you representing physicians.” Later when John told Mary about Marks story, she wept in his arms, “That boy is the most courageous person I have ever met.” “I think much of that is because of his father, I would like to meet him some day”, said John.

Because John gave permission for Mark to court Beth, they were spending even more time together, Mark made sure most of it was in the sitting room and this pleased both John and Mary. On occasion he and Beth would go to a theatre production but not very often, they had much studying to do and that was becoming more fun since they started courting.

24 –

“Well Marshall, is that how you greet an old friend, by starring at them?” sounded the voice from his past. “No, I just can’t believe you are here” looking around “Where is Norman?” enquired Micah. “That no good Norman Ambrose Carraway, he run off two weeks after we left North Fork,” grumbled Leota. “Why didn’t you come back to North Fork?” reproached Micah. “I was too embarrassed to, me and Hab just headed up north, that is until Hab met himself a little lady and they got hitched, legal and proper like.” Micah had not noticed anyone else get off the train, “Were is Hab?” “He and his Missus just settled over in Marionette, I just thought, after all these years, if you were still here...” Micah looked very somber, “I never forgot you Lee, never found anyone else who could make me feel the way you did, but then you did think I was Norman.” “Micah, I think I knowed right off that you weren’t him, you was too nice and honest. Hab remembered you too, he is the new Marshall in Marionette, said he wanted to make you proud of him.” “I still have that wood link chain he whittled for me; I have it hung right next to my bed.” “Micah, do you still live in the same place, I could fix you something to eat?” asked Leota. “I think maybe I will just have to take you up on that offer, but it will have to be my treat at the hotel. I don’t live here in town anymore.” Micah told Leota how things had changed in North Fork. It was midnight before they realized the time. Micah walked Lee over to the registry to get her a room but the hotel was full up. “This is all my fault”, Micah told Leota, “You would have had a place to stay if I hadn’t talked your ear off.” The clerk jumped into the conversation, “No sir, Micah, this hotel was full up this morning, so is the boarding house. Don’t know what is supposed to be happening but there ain’t a room to be had anywhere.” Micah had a bit of a twinkle in his eye “I could put you up at the jail! I wouldn’t lock the cell, we could hang something up over the windows and door, give you some privacy, until we can figure something tomorrow.” “Well Micah, I guess I will just have to take you up on that offer, I didn’t realize just how tired I was.” Micah offered his arm to Leota, she took it and they walked over to the office together.

Morning came early, so did Lucas. “Micah, what are you doing in here, putting up curtains?” “Ah, Lucasboy, don’t go back there” said Micah as he stepped between Lucas and the door to the cells. “Micah, what’s wrong with you? Who have you got locked up back there?” “Nobody is locked up, just that, er… someone needed a place to stay and I had to afford her some privacy.” “Her? Micah, what is going on?” Just then Leota came through the door from the cell area, she didn’t notice Lucas, “Micah, I can’t hardly believe I have ever had such a wonderful night, and in jail, no less.” Lucas couldn’t believe what he heard, nor did he want to believe what he thought, “Micah?” “Lucasboy, you remember Leota Carraway, her son Hab is the Marshall over to Marionette.” “Sure I remember Leota” said Lucas with his eyebrows lifting, “Where is Norman?” Before Leota could respond, Micah said, “Norman was a no good slug, he left this beautiful woman again. We got to talking last night and then there was no place Lee could stay; everything was full up, so I put her up here. I slept out here on the chaise.” Lucas got kind of funny grin on his face “Well, since everybody is awake, how about I go over and get Millie and meet you two over at the hotel for breakfast?” Leota sidled up to Micah, she seemed nervous, “That would be right nice, Mr. McCain.” “Call me Lucas, I’ll see you two over at the hotel in about fifteen minutes, OK?” “Sure, Lucasboy, that will give me enough time to scrape a little of this hair off my face. See you over there soon.”

Lucas was telling Millie about his morning on their way over to the hotel. Micah and Leota were already seated at a table, Micah stood when Lucas and Millie joined them. Millie gave Leota a great big smile “Nice to meet you Leota, I have heard a lot about you.” Micah held a sheepish grin and Leota gave him a sideward glance, “Please, just call me Lee. I didn’t know Micah had told much of anybody about me, with what I did to him and all.” “Micah has never quit talking about you, Lee. I think he regretted me going out and finding Norman the way I did” stated Lucas. Millie asked Leota if she knew where Norman was, “After that no good coyote run off, I still tracked him, in case he might change his mind. Found out he died about three years ago” said Lee. Before anyone could ask her any more questions, Micah asked everyone if they knew what they were going to eat. They talked about many things during the meal and finally landed on the subject of where Lee could stay. “I see no reason you can’t stay with me”, said Millie. “It would be kind of nice to have a room mate, and it looks like we are both being courted by two gentlemen who also share a house. We could share all kinds of secrets.”

Micah looked slightly shocked at the thought of him courting Lee but he remembered how close he was before to this woman, and how much he missed her when she left, “I think that is a great idea, that way when Lucas comes into town to see you, I will have my own Lady to court, it that’s alright with you, Lee?” “Mr. Torrance, I would like nothing better. I would have to send a wire to Hab, to let him know I am fine and that I will be staying here, at least for a while”, said Lee. “I hope more than just a while”, said Micah.

Lucas wasn’t too sure about these two ladies sharing secrets, “When two women get to sharing secrets, we men don’t have a chance.” All four of them laughed on their way out of the hotel. Lucas and Micah carried what little Lee had over to Millie’s and helped her set up a bed for Lee. Lee tried to hurry both of them out of the room, “Ain’t proper for a man to see a woman’s boudoirs before they are hitched, right and proper.” Lucas and Micah looked at each other with questions on their faces as Millie urged them toward the door. Lucas told Micah he would walk back to the office with him to wait for Drako to return. After they left, Millie explained what she did with the store and Lee told her how much she could help, to pay for her keep and all. They both worked in the store that day and talked well into the night before they went to sleep.

Mark Leaves the Ranch - part  2

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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