The Writer's Corner
Father’s Son - part 1
Lucas stretched his tall frame under his blanket as he slowly
awakened. Today was an important day. He reached for his clock
and glanced across the room at his son’s bed. He noticed that it
was empty and already made although it did have it’s share of
wrinkles since it was done in the dark. It was just now 6:30, so
Lucas knew the sun hadn’t been up for long. He smiled and
allowed himself to reflect on the past 16 years for a few
moments before he joined Mark for breakfast. He could already
hear him in the barn attending to his chores, the same way he
had done for the last 6 years.
Lucas could hardly believe that this day had come. Mark
completed his last day of school yesterday and this evening was
the graduation ceremony. Mr. Griswold told Lucas he had gone as
far as he could with Mark. He had even sent away for extra
courses all the way from Massachusetts and Mark had finished
them, too. He was not the oldest student in the Northfork
School, however he was the most advanced. He would be graduating
that night along with 6 others, all at least one year older than
he and none who had completed the coursework he had. Yes, Lucas
was mighty proud of his son. He thought back to the first time
Mark had met his teacher. Mr. Griswold and the McCains had
certainly gotten off on the wrong foot, but things had changed
since that day. After the experience in the old mine when Mark
had barely escaped with his life, Mr. Griswold had become a
trusted family friend. He was always eager to impart knowledge
on his students and really took an individual interest in them.
He had talked to Lucas about Mark going on to college. He had
felt certain that he could be awarded a scholarship. Lucas,
however, was going to leave that decision up to Mark. While he
would love for him to have the opportunity to continue his
education he also realized it would mean Mark would have to move
away…far away, and Lucas just didn’t know how he would deal with
that. Well, he didn’t have to worry about it for now. Mark had
made it clear that he wanted a year to think about his options
before he decided anything. He was only 16 and was looking
forward to spending time making improvements on the ranch and
working side by side with his Pa full time.
Lucas decided he better get up or Mark might just finish off
breakfast without him. He got dressed and went into the kitchen.
“Mornin’ Pa.” Mark called from the stove where he was putting
the finishing touches on some eggs and bacon.
“Good morning son. Sorry I slept so late. I guess neither of us
got a good night’s rest last night. I could hear you tossing and
turning. Are you nervous about your speech tonight or just
excited that you don’t have to go to school today?” Lucas said
jokingly as he helped himself to some coffee.
“I guess it’s a little of both. I don’t know exactly. Pa. I just
feel like today is the day everything is going to change. I know
I’m only 16 and all, but I just feel….different. I’m not sure I
can really even explain it”
“I know what you mean, son. Today is a important day and it’s
only natural to have mixed feelings about it. Just remember that
you are young and you have time to make decisions about your
future. Just enjoy this day and be proud of yourself. I sure
am.” Lucas smiled at his son as he placed a plate in front of
him. Mark was certainly growing up. Lucas felt a pang as he
thought about how his son was no longer a little boy. There
would be no more school lunches, no more calling out history
questions late into the night, no more dinners at the hotel to
celebrate an A+ on a geometry test. He knew that there would be
more tests for his son, but he also knew that they were not the
kind that came from a text book. Things would never really be
that simple any more, and Lucas began to realize that life
really was going to change, even though Mark wouldn’t be leaving
home any time soon. He could only hope and pray that he had
prepared his son the best he could for the life that awaited
“Well, Pa, are you going to eat or what? I know my cooking may
not be quite as good as yours, but it sure is better than going
Lucas realized he’d been staring into space with his thoughts.
“Sorry son. It’s not your cooking. I guess I’m just thinking
instead of eating.”
“Well what kept you up last night? I mean, besides my tossing
and turning and your snoring.” Mark said with a grin.
“I guess I was awake with my thoughts, same as you were. You
know, this is a big day for me, too. It’s not every day my only
son graduates at the top of his class.”
“Oh, Pa. It’s not like I had all that much competition. There’s
only 7 of us.”
“Hey, don’t diminish your accomplishments. I know how hard
you’ve worked. Mr. Griswold says-“
“Mr. Griswold says lots of things, Pa.” Mark interrupted. “And I
agree with most of it. I just don’t want to get ahead of myself.
I have lots of options and lots of time.”
Lucas thought it sounded a little like Mark was trying to
convince himself. He wondered again for the hundredth time if he
was doing the right thing. Shouldn’t he be encouraging his son
to continue his education? Was it selfish of him to want Mark to
stay on the ranch? He knew that if the time came when he wanted
to go, that Lucas wouldn’t stand in his way. No, he loved him
too much for that. No matter how much it hurt, he knew he was
going to have to let him go one day. Just not today. Not yet.
After breakfast Lucas tended to some chores while Mark made
final notations on his speech. He was a little nervous when he
thought about speaking in front of practically the entire town,
but he was also excited. He looked at the clock. It was already
past noon and he needed to get ready. The commencement began at
5:00 and was followed by a dinner party at the hotel. Lou had
been preparing for it for days and Mark could just hear her now
as she scurried from room to room, instructing everyone in her
Irish brogue how they could improve on whatever it was they were
doing for her. Lou was a feisty woman, but she was a great
friend both to him and his father.
That evening Lucas and Mark rode into town in the buckboard.
They were both dressed in their Sunday best and Lucas had teased
Mark about having to get another mirror in the house so he’d
have a place to comb his own hair. Mark had laughed and told him
that at his age, he didn’t need a mirror. That soon his hair
would probably start falling out anyway. It was a reference to
Lucas’s recent birthday and was an old running joke between
them. At 43, Lucas was still as spry as any younger man and
although Mark teased him, he knew his father wasn’t even close
to being ready for the rocking chair yet. No, Lucas was as
strong as he ever was. Mark really couldn’t imagine him being
any other way.
The town was bustling with activity when they arrived. The
commencement was being held in the town hall and already the
seats were starting to fill. Folks were going to be standing in
the aisles and probably out in the street before it got
underway. The front row was reserved for the graduating
students. Mark saw his good friend Percy waving to him. He
walked on up to the front to take his seat. Lucas sat in the
seat Micah and Lou had saved for him a few rows back.
“Well, Lucasboy, today’s the big day. How’s it feel?” Micah
asked his friend.
“I’ll let you know when I can breathe again, Micah.” Replied
Lucas. “Right now about all I can feel are the knots in my
stomach. You know, I’ve addressed this town on numerous
occasions myself, but I don’t think I’ve ever been this anxious
about it. You’d think I was the one giving the speech.”
“Oh, Lucas. Mark will do fine. Stop frettin’” Lou scolded.
Mark did do fine. Better than fine. His speech was flawless and
he delivered it with the grace of a natural public speaker. He
challenged his fellow graduates to make their mark on the world
and to always reflect positively on North Fork. He said he knew
statehood was in the not too distant future for New Mexico
Territory and that it was up to their generation to steer it
there decisively. He was sure to include his gratitude for God,
his town, his school and his teacher. But most of all, he was
grateful for “The fine man he was blessed to call his
confidante, his best friend and most importantly his father. Pa,
would you stand up, please?” Mark led the applause that was
swiftly picked up by the crowd. Lucas fought to hold it
together. His heart was full.
After the ceremony, the party got into full swing at the hotel.
The townspeople all laughed and ate and danced. It was a very
happy occasion. At one point in the evening, Lucas found himself
taking a break from all the celebration at the bar and cooled
down with a beer. Mr. Griswold saw him and sat down next to him.
“Lucas” he began as he sat down, “It sure is going to feel
strange not having Mark in my class any more. You know, I’ve
enjoyed teaching him as much as he’s enjoyed learning. He’s also
been a big help to me with the younger students. He’s quite good
with them, you know. They’re going to miss him for certain.”
“Yes, I suppose they will. Mark does have a way with kids. I
can’t tell you how many times a group of them have followed him
home from school askin’ questions.”
“He would make a excellent teacher.” Mr. Griswold replied. A
long pause followed. Lucas tried to think of what to say. He
knew that Griswold was paying his son a compliment, but he also
knew he was expecting a response. Perhaps an explanation.
“Yes, Mark has mentioned a school for teachers in Denver. We may
pay it visit in the Fall when we’re up there for-”
“Hmph.” Griswold interrupted. “Mark has already surpassed the
academic echelon of the Denver school. There’s really no school
west of the Mississippi where Mark could reach his full
Lucas shot Griswold a contemptuous look. “Mark can make up his
own mind about that when he’s ready.”
“I know that, Lucas, but I’m not sure you do.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Lucas was getting angry. “Do
you think you know my boy better than I do?”
“Of course not, but I am in a position to observe the situation
with objectivity and it seems to me that you may be letting your
own desires cloud your view of what Mark’s might be.”
“I want what’s best for my son. I always have” Lucas said as he
turned away from Griswold.
“Yes, but you’re forgetting something.”
Lucas turned back around. “What’s that?”
“He wants what’s best for you, too.”
Lucas’ face fell. Mr. Griswold put his hand briefly on Lucas’
shoulder before he turned to go. He could tell by the look on
his friend’s face that he had said enough.
Mark let his eyes gaze over the land as he rode along checking
the fences on the south pasture. He felt completely at home in
the saddle and when he was there, there was no place he’d rather
be. He loved the land and he loved working it. He loved working
side by side with his father. He’d done that for years, of
course, but this was different. Lucas had given him more
responsibilities lately and he was even allowed to take his
rifle with him any time he was on horseback. Lucas had even
begun to pour two cups of coffee each morning. It was a small
gesture, but one that sent a clear message to Mark. His father
recognized that he was no longer a little boy, even if he wasn’t
ready to call him a man just yet. As he took some fresh air into
his lungs his mind wandered back to school and he sighed
heavily. He really didn’t like being indecisive but he was still
not sure about his future. The more time he spent on the ranch
the harder it was to imagine living anywhere else. Never going
to school again was another scenario he couldn’t imagine. He
wished there was a university closer to home, but there wasn’t
and that was a fact. And then there was his Pa. No doubt about
it, he knew Lucas didn’t want him to leave and the thought of
his father alone on the ranch just about broke his heart. He
also doubted his ability to be that far away for that long. He
remembered when Lucas had gone to work in Wyoming for several
weeks a few years ago. He had missed him terribly. Lucas wasn’t
just his father; he was his best friend. The two of them had
been through a lot together and had rarely been apart. He knew
that Mr. Griswold would be disappointed, but Mark couldn’t make
everyone happy. If he had to choose between disappointing his
father or Mr. Griswold, there was no contest. It didn’t really
occur to him to consider only what he wanted. Besides, he wasn’t
really sure what that was.
When Mark got home that evening, Lucas had supper waiting. Mark
sensed that Lucas had had something on his mind lately. Mark
wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but he would often see Lucas
staring into space smoking his cigar at night and he had awoken
a few times to find him sitting up reading in the wee hours of
the morning. He figured Lucas would tell him what was bothering
him at some point. They never kept things from each other for
“How was your afternoon?” Lucas asked
“It was good, Pa. It sure is warm out there, though.”
Mark sat down at the table. “Do you have plans tonight?” Lucas
asked as he sat down with two plates.
“No. Tomorrow evening is the barn dance over at the Wallers, but
I’m staying in tonight, Pa.”
“Are you taking Lucy?”
“No sir. Jack Bennett asked her first.”
“Really?” Lucas was surprised. “I kind of figured she’d wait for
you to ask.”
“Yeah, you and me both. I’m not really sure what’s going on. We
haven’t spent as much time together since graduation because
she’s still in school, but I’ve called on her most Saturdays
“Correct me if I’m wrong here son, but you don’t sound too upset
Mark chuckled. “You noticed, huh? Well, I like Lucy. She’s a
nice enough girl. There was just something missing. I kept
expecting more, but-I don’t know. I guess there’s just no
Lucas hid a smile in his coffee cup. “Well, son, spark is pretty
important. I’m guessing that Lucy has picked up on what’s
missing and going to the dance with Jack is probably her way of
letting you know.”
“Really? You mean I haven’t done anything wrong?”
“Well, son, only you know the answer to that, but from what
you’ve said I wouldn’t think so. When you’re dealing with girls,
though, you have to make sure you’re both on the same page. A
lack of communication can cause a lot of problems.”
Mark thought about what his father said. “A lack of
communication can cause problems with people besides girls.”
Lucas raised his head. Mark continued. “You’ve had something on
your mind, Pa. I can tell. What is it?”
Lucas put his fork down and stared at his plate. Was this the
time? “Mark, I’ve been meaning to ask you if you’re still
interested in visiting that school in Denver.” Mark grew silent.
“I just don’t know, Pa.” He replied quietly. There was a pause.
“I have been going over it in my mind and I think it may not be
a good fit for me.”
Lucas swallowed hard. “In what way?”
“I looked over the class list and I have already taken most of
“Well, do you have another plan?”
“That’s just it. I keep going over my options in my mind but I
can’t seem to come to a conclusion. I know that I want this
ranch to be my home. I just don’t know if that’s all I want.”
Lucas got up and walked over to his desk. “This was in the
mail.” He handed Mark a white envelope with a return address of
Denver College. Mark’s jaw dropped.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” Mark ripped it open and
began reading the letter inside. He passed it to Lucas. Lucas
could feel his heart pounding as he read.
Mr. Mark McCain,
It has been brought to our attention that you recently graduated
at the top of your class from North Fork School in New Mexico
Territory under the tutelage of Mr. Stephen Griswold, an alumnus
of our great school. After reviewing your transcript, we are
prepared to offer you an academic scholarship to attend Denver
College in the discipline of your choice. Enclosed is a list of
benefactors willing to offer you assistance in your room and
board as well as the purchase of books. We understand that you
will desire time to come to a decision, however please note that
this scholarship is for our upcoming semester beginning in
September. Please mail us a letter of confirmation or
declination before the end of August.
Office of Admissions, Denver College
Lucas didn’t know what to say. He looked at Mark. His face was
stricken. “Son, I…”
Mark got up abruptly and turned to face the cold fireplace. “You
don’t have to say it, Pa. I’m not going.” Lucas walked over to
his son and placed his hand on his shoulder.
“Mark, let me tell you something. Just hear me out. You have no
idea how proud I am of you. That you could be offered a
scholarship…well, I just can’t express to you how that makes me
feel.” Mark turned.
“But you don’t want me to accept.” He said as he sat down on the
“I only want what’s best for you, Mark. That’s all I’ve ever
"But how am I supposed to know what that is?" Lucas sat down
next to his son.
"Son there are many times in a man's life when he has to make a
choice that will change the course of his life. This may be the
first time you've had to do it, but it certainly won't be the
"But aren't you going to tell me not to go? That you think I'm
not ready?" Lucas sat quietly for a moment.
"No, Mark. I'm not. This is your life and your opportunity. What
kind of father would I be if I denied you this? Don't
misunderstand me. I always had a picture in my mind of you and I
working this ranch together for a long, long time. But I realize
that that is my dream and it may not be yours, and if it's not,
then it's the last thing I want for you."
"It is my dream, Pa. At least I know it's part of it. A big
part. I just don't know if it's the only part. It doesn't feel
right for me to be going away to school so soon, but if I turn
this down it's an opportunity I may never have again."
"That's true, son. But remember, worth can be measured in many
ways. Does this offer have value? Sure it does, but don't let
the fact that money is involved fool you. It may be worth
several hundred dollars, but it's also worth 4 years, Mark. Four
years of your life that you can't get back. Those four years are
worth more than any amount of money. So the question you have to
ask yourself isn't what is this opportunity worth, but what is
it worth to you?" Mark looked at his father. It always amazed
him how Lucas could bring things into perspective. He was a
lucky young man in so many ways.
"I think I understand, Pa. I also think I'm going to spend some
time alone tonight thinking this through."
"I think that's a good idea. I'm going to ride into town and pay
Micah a visit. You take all the time you need."
"Thanks, Pa." Lucas got up and prepared to leave. As he was
walking out the door, Mark asked him one more thing.
What is it, son?" Lucas turned in the doorway.
"Do you think you could pray for me tonight, when you get a
chance?" Lucas' face softened and he smiled slowly as he
"I always do, Mark. Every single day."
The July sun beat down as Lucas was replaced some loose boards
on the barn. He noticed Micah riding towards the ranch. These
visits were common and usually social, so he was surprised to
see that his friend was approaching him at a rather determined
speed. He paused in his work and met Micah as he rode into the
“Whoa! Easy there.” He said as he took the horse’s reins.
“What’s the rush, Micah?”
Micah dismounted as quickly as he could.
“Lucas, there’s trouble. A group of Mexican outlaws has crossed
the border and ravaged some of the ranches down there over the
last several weeks. I didn’t expect it to affect us this far
north, but I just got word that the Keeler ranch was attacked
last night. The house and barn were burned to the ground. Jake
and the boys were shot and killed. Louise and both girls are
missing. We think they’ve taken them.”
Lucas tried to grasp what Micah was telling him. “Jake and the
boys are dead? But those boys were only 13 and 15 years old!”
Lucas shuddered as the image of such young boys being shot and
killed flashed through his mind. He felt rage building inside
“All three of them were found with bullets to the back.” Micah
replied. Lucas walked over to the house as he tried to make
sense of all that he was hearing. Micah followed.
“Lucas, the army is supposed to be on their way. This is turning
into more than just a few banditos robbing the countryside, but
we don’t have time to wait on them. These men have taken Louise
and the girls and is planning to do God knows what to them. I’ve
gathered a posse in town. We’re meeting up with another group
from Marionette in a few hours. Are you willing?”
“Of course I am. I just…” Lucas’ voice trailed off as he saw
Mark riding up. How was he going to explain this to him? Henry
Keeler had been his friend.
“Hello Micah” Mark began to exclaim until he saw Micah and his
Pa’s faces. He immediately knew something was very wrong.
“Mark, sit down for a minute.” Lucas said. Micah got up to
“I’ll see you in town within the hour. I’ve got a few more stops
to make.” Lucas nodded as Micah left. Right now his main concern
“Pa, what in the world is going on?” Mark asked. Lucas led Mark
over to a chair.
“Son, something has happened at the Keeler’s place. Some men
attacked the place last night and took off with Mrs. Keeler and
the girls. They…” Lucas paused as he saw the horror on Mark’s
face. “Mr. Keeler and the boys were shot.” Mark’s mouth fell
“Pa, what are you saying?” Lucas put his hand on his son’s
shoulder. This was so hard.
“I’m saying that Jake, Daniel and Henry are dead.” Mark’s
reaction was utter horror. He jumped to his feet.
“No…no, they can’t be. I just saw Henry and Daniel yesterday.
They were fishing. They said…” Mark couldn’t finish. His eyes
filled with tears. “Why? Why would anyone do this?” He began to
sob. Lucas put his arms around his son.
“I don’t know son. All I know is that they did and they also
took Louise and the girls and that Micah’s taking a group to go
after them.” Mark looked up.
“Are you going with them?”
“I am. But not before I help you pack up. I want you to stay in
town while I’m gone. Lou can fix you a room and you can ride out
every day to see to the chores, but I want you back to the hotel
“No Pa. I want to come with you.” Lucas sat back so he could
look Mark in the eyes.
“That is out of the question.”
“But Pa, I’m not a kid any more. You know that. You can’t expect
me to just sit in town while this is happening. The Keelers were
my friends. I’m not..” Lucas interrupted.
“I know how you feel Mark, but you are only 16 years old. Just
because you are out of school and taking your rifle around the
ranch doesn’t mean you are ready to chase after a bunch of
killers. Now I want you to go get some things together while I
saddle the horses.”
Mark quietly got up to do as he was told. Lucas watched him as
he walked into the bedroom with his head down, wiping at the
tears that were still falling from his eyes. He could feel his
pain and it hurt him to know that he was going to have to leave
Mark this way, but he knew finding the rest of the Keeeler
family was essential and that he had to go. He could only pray
that they would find them quickly and unhurt so he could return
home and be there for his son.
Mark threw his bag down on the bed and looked around the room
with a sigh. How could things go so wrong so fast? That morning
had started out well enough. He would’ve never guessed that
before lunch he’d be alone in the hotel with thoughts of his
friend who he’d never see again. The old familiar worry for his
father filled him as he held back more tears. He’d felt this
many times before as he watched his pa ride off into other
dangerous situations and he knew it well enough to know that the
sharp pain of fear would become a dull, constant ache of worry
as he would try to go through the motions of each day. A knock
on the door interrupted his thoughts.
“Who is it?” Mark wiped his cheeks with his hands as he got up
to answer the door.
“It’s me.” Answered Lou. “I just wanted to see how your room
was.” She replied as Mark opened the door. He forced a smile.
“Likely as not, you were checking on me, not the room.” Mark
“Well, I won’t be hidin’ the fact that I’m worried about ya,
Mark. So is your Pa. He really didn’t want to leave ya.”
“I know that, but Pa really had no choice. I told him I’d be
“You know as well as I do that that didn’t convince him.”
“Yeah, well….” Mark’s voice trailed off as he sat down on the
“I know it’s hard, Mark, and I know it’ll hurt for a long time.
But there will come a time when the hurt gets less and you’ll
move on. You’ve done it before.” Lou said gently.
Mark looked at her. “Yes, I’ve done it before. But it was
different. My ma, well, I was so young and Charlie…. Well, his
death was an accident and as awful as it was, it’s just….not the
same.” Mark looked down at the floor. “I can’t understand how
someone could murder two boys and their father like that. What
could be inside someone to allow them to do that?”
Lou didn’t have an answer, but she tried just the same. “I don’t
think we’ll ever know that, Mark. And I don’t think it would
help. Why don’t you come on downstairs with me for a while? I’ll
pour you some….coffee.” She stopped herself before she could say
milk. Mark noticed and appreciated her effort.
“Thanks.” They headed down to the kitchen. Lou knew she had her
work cut out for her. She knew Lucas could handle things much
better, but she had seen the concern in his eyes when he had
asked her to keep an eye out for Mark. She prayed she wouldn’t
let him down.
Lucas rode silently as they followed the trail left behind by
the outlaws. He shuddered when he thought about what he’d seen
at the Keeler ranch. He tried to suppress images of something
like that happening to Mark but the thought kept coming back and
he was having a hard time keeping it together. He’d seen some
bad things in his life, but this had to beat them all. He knew
Mark was safe in town, but he also remembered the look in his
eyes when he’d left. There was sadness, confusion, fear and
anger. He knew this was a completely different experience for
him and he wanted to be there to help him through it. He was
having a hard enough time himself. He could only imagine the
feelings his son was having. Micah’s voice brought him back to
“Looks like they doubled back here. What do you think Lucas?”
Lucas got down off his horse and looked.
“Hmm…I think that’s what they want us to think. I’m betting
they’re taking advantage of those rocks over there and heading
south. Wouldn’t make much sense for them to turn around now.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Just one of the reasons we like
to have you along.” Micah said as he got back in the saddle.
“We’ll follow this south until dark.”
The next day found Lucas and Micah watching the bandits from
about 20 yards away having eaten and began their nightly ritual
of drinking tequila. The rest of the men held back and were
waiting for their cue. They could see Louise and the girls
huddled together and although they looked terrified, they seemed
unharmed. The men were in high spirits and were speaking too
quickly for Lucas to translate much of it. He noted their
frequent laughter and it riled him. Finally the men settled in
for the night. Two of them sat guard, one next to their women
captives and the other across from him next to the sleeping men.
“Well, this is as good as it’s going to get.” Micah said. “Even
though we are badly outnumbered.”
“Yeah…if we wait any longer we may never get those women back
home. By the time the army gets here they’ll be across the
border or worse. Then they’ll be lost for good.”
“The odds aren’t too good, Lucas boy. Are you sure about this?”
An image of Mark crossed Lucas’ mind. He knew the risk he was
taking, but he also knew that three innocent lives were in their
“Micah, we have no choice. Let’s get on with it.”
Once the other men were ready, they crouched in the brush and on
cue, they overran the camp firing their weapons. The bandits
must’ve been sleeping with their guns cocked as they were firing
back almost immediately. The women shrieked.
“Stay back!” Lucas warned them. He realized that someone had to
get to them and free them before they got hit.
“Micah cover me. I’m going to get them.”
“Lucas!” Micah yelled, but it was too late. Lucas had already
begun to make his way over. His heart clenched at the sight of
the girls. They were really just children. He began untying
their bindings as bullets whizzed all around them.
“Louise, I know this is hard but just hang on a little longer
and this will be over soon. You and the girls get to the horses
over there and double up. Ride north as fast as you can. We’ll
meet you on the north road.” Louise looked horrified but she
seemed to understand her instructions.
“Don’t stop for anything, Louise. Go!”
The women ran as fast as they could towards the horses. They
rode for over three hours until they reached the road. The girls
hung on to each other and looked to their mother for what to do
“He said to wait here.”
So there they waited…and waited….and waited.
And they were still waiting when the sun came up 5 hours later.
Mark’s eyes scanned the road into town for about the hundredth
time as he sat on a bench outside the blacksmith shop. He was
waiting for Nils to finish up some work but he was mostly
waiting for news, any news, from the posse. It had been 5 days
and no one knew anything. He tried to tell himself that this
wasn’t unusual, but he couldn’t silence the voice inside of him
that said something had gone wrong. He noticed that Joe from the
telegraph office was briskly crossing the street.
Joe…telegraph…the joining of these thoughts caused Mark to jump
up from his seat and run to catch up. When Joe saw Mark, he met
“Mark! I just received a telegram from San Miguel. Some men
found the Keeler women on the north road. They were riding
horses from the posse. They’re in shock but don’t seem to be
Mark felt his heart in his throat. “But where is the posse? How
did they get away?”
“They said the posse caught up to them two days ago and that
Lucas helped them escape amid gunfire. They were supposed to
meet up with them later but they never showed up. The women just
rode until they found a town. The first place they came to was
Joe could see all the color drain out of Mark’s face. “Don’t get
too upset until we know more, son.” As soon as he said them, he
knew how absurd his words were.
“Come on…let’s get a town meeting together so we can figure out
how to handle this thing.”
Mark walked like a robot into the church and sat down. He could
feel Lou beside him and he knew his friends were around, but he
couldn’t talk. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t do anything but
pray the same prayer silently over and over again in his head.
John Hamilton stood up and addressed the crowd.
“Alright everyone, I know we’re all upset but let’s quiet down
and talk rationally about what needs to be done. We know we to
have to get down to San Miguel to bring the Keeler women back.
We also know that the army has arrived and have begun trailing
the outlaws. We don’t need to make presumptions about what
happened to the men in the posse. Not until we know more. As
soon as we do, we’ll go after them, too. And we’ll bring them
back.” He looked directly at Mark as he made this last
statement. The meeting continued around Mark, but he really
didn’t hear much else. When it was finally over he got up
quickly, avoiding everyone’s glances and went to his room and
locked the door. He ignored the various knocks that came
throughout the afternoon as he lay on the bed staring at the
ceiling. Finally the knocking stopped and the room grew dark.
The town was sleeping. Mark was waiting. Around midnight, he got
up and quietly walked out of the hotel. As he was saddling his
horse, a voice interrupted the darkness. Someone else had been
“Mark…what are you doing?” Lou asked gently. He didn’t even turn
“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m going to find my Pa.”
Lou knew she needed to choose her next words carefully.
“Mark…you can’t do this. You know Lucas wouldn’t allow it.”
Mark turned to look at Lou. In his eyes, she could see something
she’d never seen there before. “Lou, there is nothing you or
anyone else can say or do to keep me from doing this.” For the
first time since she had met him, she thought he sounded like
Lucas. He put his foot in the stirrup. She grabbed his arm.
“Mark, please-“ she began.
He interrupted her with a simple sentence that was all the
explanation she needed. “He’s my Pa.” His dark eyes were full
and his jaw was determined. “My Pa…” He said one more time
softly. His face broke apart as he turned to mount his horse.
Lou did nothing but watch him ride away. She knew she was
powerless to stop him. She wasn’t sure she could even try. She
simply sat down in the darkness and for the first time in years,
she began to weep.
Grid pushed his horse as much as he dared in the July heat.
Night was approaching and he wanted to find his friend before
dark. He had been on an overnight errand for Nils the day
before, but he’d heard the news as soon as he got back to town.
How could he not? The whole town was talking about it. Micah,
Lucas and some other men were missing and to hear the talk, most
presumed they were dead no matter what John Hamilton said. To
add to the dismay, Mark had disappeared over night and no one
had to ask where he’d gone. Grid knew what Mark was feeling.
Having lost his own father at a young age, he’d spent years
tracking down the man he thought was responsible. That man had
been Lucas McCain. When he found him, though, things changed. He
had changed and Lucas, Micah and Lou had had a lot to do with
that. Now he saw things differently, but he still missed his
father and he knew that that bond was a powerful thing. He also
knew Mark. He knew he was an idealistic and brave young man who
would always do what he thought was right even if it meant
risking his life. Grid was only a year older than Mark, but he
was much more experienced in the ways of the world. He knew that
just because someone was doing the right thing, it didn’t mean
they’d live to get the job done.
About a half hour before sunset, Grid saw Mark up ahead. As he
got closer, Mark turned around and saw him coming. He stopped.
Mark had been expecting any number of people to come to try to
bring him back home. Grid was not one of them. He thought if
anyone would understand his reasons, it was him.
“Grid you’re wasting your time.” Mark yelled out. “I am going to
find my Pa and that’s all there is to it.”
“I figured as much.” Grid replied as he rode up beside him. He
looked around. “Is this where we’re camping for the night?”
Mark looked confused. “What do you mean, we? Aren’t you here to
tell me that I can’t do this alone and to just turn around and
go back home?”
“Well, you’re half right. I am here to tell you that you can’t
do this alone but I certainly didn’t ride 50 miles in the saddle
just to turn back around.”
Mark cocked his head to the side. “I don’t get your meaning.”
“It’s pretty simple. You can’t do this alone, so I’m not going
to let you. I’m going with you.”
Mark didn’t know what to say. After a few moments, he finally
said “You don’t have to do this Grid.”
“I know that Mark. I want to do this.” A moment of understanding
that needed no words passed between them and for the first time
that day, Mark didn’t feel alone.
Lucas struggled to open his eyes, but each time he did, he was
pulled back into the dark place he’d been in for days. He knew
he had to wake up. There was a sense of urgency that made him
keep on trying. On the afternoon when he was finally able to
open his eyes and focus, he tried to think about what or who it
was that needed him. Where was he? He could see a ceiling, a
wall. He could taste blood…and then there was the pain. The pain
that made him want to seek refuge in unconsciousness again, but
he didn’t. He could feel that someone else was in the room but
he heard nothing. He tried to speak but his voice wasn’t working
yet. Someone was there then. Someone telling him to be quiet.
Someone holding a cup of water to his lips. He drank slowly.
Mark. It was his first clear thought. He needed to see his son.
Micah. Where was Micah? He began to remember the Keelers, the
posse, the gunfire, the dust.
“Micah?” He managed to say this aloud, although he didn’t
recognize his own voice.
“There now. You’re alright. Don’t try to speak.” A woman’s
soothing voice spoke. He felt a cool cloth on his head. He
noticed for the first time that he was hot and sweaty.
“Your fever has broken. You need to be still and rest. Your
friend is here also. He is Mark or Micah, I think?” Lucas turned
his head and saw Micah on a cot across the room.
“Micah.” He raised his head. “I have to….telegram.” His head
fell back against the pillow.
“Shhh. Don’t move just yet. You’ll open your stitches.”
“What about Micah?” Lucas needed to know if he was all right.
“He’s still out, but is improving. Doc thinks he’ll recover.
Close your eyes. You need sleep.”
And Lucas fell back into the darkness.
A few days later, Lucas was sitting up in bed. Micah was awake,
but barely. Both men had been shot and left for dead. His memory
was fuzzy, but Lucas remembered dragging himself along the
ground. He remembered the dust in his mouth. He remembered
giving in to the shadows instead of crawling from them. His next
memory was waking up in the tiny farm house with the woman and
her daughter caring for him. Over the next few days he had
remembered everything. There was so much he needed to know. Did
the women make it safely? What about the other three men? He was
also concerned about Mark. He desperately wanted to get word to
him that he was alive, but the young woman told him there was no
telegraph office within 100 miles. There was nothing he could do
“Lucas?” Micah’s voice interrupted his thoughts.
“What is it Micah?”
“Has the doc been back?”
“He was here this morning. Lucky for you, you slept through the
entire examination.” Lucas said as he tried to bolster his
“What did he say about you?”
“That I’m not allowed to get shot any more.”
“I’m serious, Lucas. When will you be able to ride out of here?”
“Well, considering I don’t have a horse I’m not real sure.”
“You could find a horse.” Lucas thought for a moment.
“I suppose I could. But you are in no condition to ride, my
“We weren’t talking about me. You need to get home. You have to
let everyone know what’s happened. We need to find out about the
others. And I’m sure Mark is beside himself.”
Lucas knew he was right. Micah continued “I’ll be alright here.
The doc says I’m on the mend. I can meet you in Northfork as
soon as I’m ready to ride, but you don’t need to wait any
Lucas hated to think of leaving Micah, but he knew he was right.
“Okay, Micah. I’ll see what I can do about getting a couple of
horses. Then you’ll have one ready when you are.”
“Yeah, you do that. Now let me get some sleep.”
Lucas smiled. Micah would be himself again after all.
A few days later found Lucas on his way home. He was still sore
and a little weak, but he was quite anxious to get home. He
wondered about the outlaws they had been trailing and whether or
not the army had caught up with them. They were a mean bunch,
that’s for sure. Lucas hoped he’d never have to deal with
anything else like them again. He also hoped the women had made
it home alright. He assumed they found their way to the nearest
town, or at least he prayed that they did. All of these unknowns
were just more reasons he wanted to get home. Finally after
about a four day trip the outer parts of his ranch came into
view. At first, he was relieved to be home, but the closer he
got, the more alarming things seemed. The cattle were gone! He
approached the house. The yard and porch looked like no one had
been there in weeks. Lucas jumped off his horse, not even
bothering to throw the reins over the post.
“Mark! Mark are you here?” He called out as he walked around the
yard. It seemed abandoned. He flung open the door to the house.
“Mark!” He looked around. He saw nothing to indicate that anyone
had been inside the house in several days, maybe even weeks. The
air was stale and the furniture was dusty. He peered into the
sink. It was dry. He knew he’d told Mark to stay at the hotel at
night but he would’ve been coming to the ranch every day to do
his chores and check the cattle. It wasn’t like Mark to neglect
his responsibilities. A feeling of panic began to rise up in
Lucas’ chest. Where in the world was his son? As he was leaving
the house, he saw one last thing that stopped him in his tracks.
Mark’s rifle was gone. The only time Mark ever took his rifle
was when he was working around the ranch or hunting and it was
obvious that Mark had not been to ranch in some time. Lucas
bolted to his horse and took off for town as fast as the horse
could carry him. His mind raced with all the possible reasons
for Mark not being there. He could have taken ill. He could’ve
been hurt. Or, the most frightening of all, what if the outlaws
had come back this way and attacked more ranches, his being one
of them? An image of the Keeler boys shot dead on the ground
flashed through his mind. No…he couldn’t think that way. That
was a possibility he couldn’t bear. His son meant everything to
him. Life without him was unthinkable.
“Please God, just let him be alright.” Lucas prayed as he raced
Nils was carrying a wagon wheel over to his workshop when he
noticed a man with a wild look on his face riding like the wind
into town. It took him a moment before he realized he was
looking at Lucas. He dropped the wagon wheel.
“Lucas! It’s Lucas!” He yelled to no one and everyone. People
began to stop and stare as the man they thought they would never
see again galloped down the street. He pulled on the reins and
the horse came to a halt right outside Micah’s office. A crowd
began to form. Nils made his way to Lucas. He had a lot to tell
him and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Nils, is Mark here?” Lucas ignored the crowd that had
assembled. Nils couldn’t speak. Lucas saw John Hamilton
approaching. He pushed past Nils.
“John…John is Mark in town?”
“Lucas, I can’t believe it’s you. What happened? Where’s Micah
and the others?”
“I’ll tell you all that later. Micah will be fine. He’s
recovering from a gunshot wound at a farm down near Montega.”
Lucas spoke frantically. “Right now I want to see my son. Where
is he? He wasn’t at the ranch.”
John and Nils looked at each other and then back at Lucas.
Neither spoke. Lucas was about to reach his breaking point.
“Tell me where my son is!” His panic was making him angry.
“Lucas, I think you’d better come inside and sit down…” John
began as he took Lucas by the arm. This response upset Lucas
greatly. He could only imagine what they weren’t telling him. He
pulled his arm out of John’s grip. His face was dark.
“I don’t want to come inside or sit down. I want you to tell me
where my son is. NOW!”
“Okay, Okay, Lucas. Just calm down. We don’t know exactly where
Mark is. He left about 2 weeks ago.” Lucas felt a wave of relief
but it was very short-lived.
“Left? To go where?” Lucas was confused.
“He left to go find you.”
This answer struck a chord in Lucas that made him dizzy. He had
to sit down. John could feel his friend going weak.
“Nils! Help me get him over to the Doc’s!”
Doc Burrage eyed his patient warily as he placed his stethoscope
on Lucas’ chest and paused to listen.
“I’m fine, Doc.” Lucas said as he sat up and pushed the
“It’s clear that you are not fine, Lucas, or John and Nils
wouldn’t have had to carry you into my office. So you just sit
back down and let me get this over with.”
“No.” Lucas stood up.
“Lucas, you need-“ Doc didn’t get a chance to finish. Lucas
whirled around angrily.
“I need? I’ll tell you what I need Doc. I need someone to tell
me how my 16 year old son was allowed to just ride out of here
and go after the worst bunch of murderers this town has seen and
no one lifted a finger to stop him. That’s what I need Doc.”
Doc took Lucas by the shoulder. “You know we would’ve tried to
stop him if we’d known. He left in the middle of the night. We
didn’t realize he was gone until a whole day had passed.”
“And then what? It wasn’t worth anyone’s while to go after him?”
“Now that’s not fair, Lucas. This town has been turned upside
down in the last month. With what happened to the Keelers and
with you and the Marshal gone, everyone’s been lost. They were
frightened. They had their own families to think about.”
Lucas scoffed. “Then what was I doing out chasing after someone
else’s family? Why didn’t I think only of myself and mine? I
sent Mark into town to keep him safe while I was gone. Gone to
help bring back my dead neighbor’s wife and children. Was it too
much to expect my neighbors to have a fraction of the same
concern for my family?” Lucas was yelling now and tears pricked
at his eyes.
“It’s not like they did nothing.” Doc replied. “Nils and John
sent out inquiries into every neighboring town. They sent
telegram after telegram. They alerted the army. They did all
that they could under the circumstances.”
Lucas looked at Doc intently. “Do you have any idea what kind of
people these men are…what they’re capable of? Do you know what
they’re going to do when some kid rides up to confront them?
Well, I do. They’ll kill him, that’s what. They’ll shoot bullets
into him without a second thought and...” With this last
statement Lucas’ voice cracked. He turned to face the wall and
covered his face with trembling hands. Doc knew he needed some
“Lucas, I’ll be outside if you need me.”
Lucas didn’t say anything. He just let the tears fall. How could
he have let this happen? Why did he leave in the first place?
Because he was needed. No, his rifle was needed. That’s the way
it always was. No matter how he tried to make it otherwise, for
everyone else it always came down to his skill with a gun. But
it had never been that for him. For him, Mark was all that
mattered. He couldn’t bear the thought that someone might hurt
“No!.” Lucas hit his fist against the wall. He turned around to
face the empty room. No one was going to hurt his son. Not while
he was still breathing. And if they did, he would kill them. He
would kill them all. He was going to find his son. He was going
to find him or die trying. A sudden sense of urgency came to
Lucas’ mind. He was wasting time. He needed to start looking for
Mark immediately. He ran outside. His friends were waiting for
“I’m so sorry Lucas. I’m so sorry that we couldn’t do more.”
John Hamilton had never felt such anguish. Lucas and Mark were
among his closest friends.
“Forget that now. Now I need a fast horse, a rifle and supplies.
And I need them now.”
“You’re not well, Lucas. You need more time to recover.” Doc
“All that I need is to find my son and bring him back home. Now
is anyone going to help me?” The town grew quiet.
“I will Mr. McCain.” A young girl’s voice floated through the
crowd. They all turned to see Lizzie Keeler standing behind him.
Lucas was shocked to see her. She was very thin and had dark
circles under her eyes, but she had a look of strength about
“If you’ll come with me, I think I can give you everything
you’ll need for your trip.”
A stunned silence followed. Lucas’ face softened as he realized
what this girl had been through and how difficult it must be for
her to be there.
“Lizzie, I didn’t mean you. You’ve been through enough.” He
stepped closer to her.
“I know that Mr. McCain. I also know that if it weren’t for you
I wouldn’t be here and Mark would. Now my father had a rifle
that was in Angus’ shop during the attack. I know it’s not like
yours but maybe it would do until you get yours back. We’d also
like to offer you a horse and my ma would be glad to pack you
some food. Please, Mr. McCain.” She pleaded. “Please let us help
Lucas could see how much this meant to her. “Alright, Lizzie. I
would appreciate that.”
Lucas followed Lizzie to the house she and her mother and her
sister were living in temporarily.
“Mr. McCain, in the barn are the two horses we rode in on. I’m
not sure exactly who they belong to, but the black is a mighty
fast horse. You’re welcome to either or both of them. They’re
not really ours anyway.” Lucas and Lizzie walked out to the
barn. To Lucas’ amazement, there was Razor. He recognized his
rightful owner and whinnied in greeting. Lucas stroked his mane
“That’s a good boy. You did good.”
“You mean this is your horse?” Lizzie asked.
“Sure is. I’m mighty glad to see him, too. Thanks for taking
such good care of him.”
“Oh you’re quite welcome. It was the least we could do.”
Lucas thought for a moment. “Why don’t you and your family use
the horse I rode in on today? He’s no Razor but he’s a solid
animal. I hate to leave you a mount short.”
“Well…okay, Mr. McCain, but we’ll have him waiting for you when
you return with Mark.”
Lucas noticed her wording and it meant a great deal to him.
“Thank you, Lizzie.”
“Now my ma would like to speak with you if you don’t mind.”
“Of course.” Lucas followed her into the two room house. It was
dark and small inside, but it seemed to be well-built. The
younger Keeler daughter, Phoebe, was stirring something on the
“Hello Mr. McCain” she said. “My ma is resting but she wanted to
see you. Have a seat and I’ll go get her.” Lucas sat down at the
table. A few moments later, Louise Keeler emerged from the
bedroom. The effects of her ordeal were obvious as were her deep
grief. There were tearstains on her cheeks. Lucas wondered how
she was coping. Her loss was unimaginable to him. Lucas stood to
greet her and help her into a chair.
“Thank you, Lucas. I can’t promise you that I can speak with you
for very long. I’m just not…well. But I did want to tell you how
much I appreciate what you did for me and the girls. I just
can’t begin to tell you….” Her eyes filled up with tears. “I
just can’t begin to tell you how much it means to me. After we
were taken I was so afraid for my daughters. They were all I had
left and I told God I would never ask Him for another thing if
he would spare them.” She looked into Lucas’ eyes. “You were my
answer to prayer, Lucas. And all I can say is thank you.” She
sat back in the chair as the tears fell down into her lap. She
didn’t even bother to wipe them away. Lucas was extremely moved
by her words.
“Louise, I am just glad that I was able to help. I am just sorry
that we couldn’t help Jake and the boys. I can only imagine how
you must be feeling right now.”
“I am just trying to make it through each moment.” Louise said.
“That’s all I can do.” There were a few moments of silence.
“Lucas, we got back to Northfork a week ago, but I’ve heard
about Mark. I want you to take whatever you will need for your
journey. We have a rifle and I know Lizzie has returned your
horse to you.” She paused. “Lucas…”
Lucas looked up at her. “Yes?”
“Lucas, I know you’re afraid.” She said quietly. “But you’ll
find that boy. I know you will. You’ll be the answer to his
Lucas thought for a moment, then he smiled ever so slightly.
“Thank you Louise. He’s certainly mine.”
A small crowd gathered as Lucas prepared to leave Northfork. As
he checked his saddle, he made sure the borrowed rifle was where
it should be. It just didn’t feel right not having his own rifle
with him…especially at a time like this. Oh well, he thought to
himself. He may or may not get the rifle back. One thing he did
know. He was going to find his son and if he had been harmed,
then whoever was responsible would pay, whether it was his rifle
that did the job or not. Lucas swung his leg over the saddle and
prepared to ride out. He’d already said his goodbyes and his
friends knew he was eager to get on the road. However as he
mounted Razor he saw Nils coming towards him with an envelope.
“Not sure what this is, Lucas, but it’s been at the store for
about ten days now. Thought you might want to take a look.”
Lucas looked down. It was a letter addressed to Mark. He turned
it over and recognized the return address of Denver College. He
felt a stabbing pain as he remembered that just a few weeks ago,
his son’s biggest problem had only been deciding whether or not
to continue his education. Now it was simply staying alive. He
remembered what he had told him about life changing decisions.
He never dreamed he’d be making two in the same small stretch of
“Thanks, Nils.” Lucas said softly as he tucked the envelope into
his shirt pocket. He would hand deliver it to Mark when he found
him. When he found him. There could be no if.
Son - part 2
Be sure & read the prequel — A
New Day written by Deanne Bertram
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch