The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

His Father’s Son - part 1
by Anonymous

Chapter I

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 him.

“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 hungry.”

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 potential.”

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.

Chapter II

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 very long.

“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 since.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong here son, but you don’t sound too upset about it”

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 spark.”

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 it.”

“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.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Lackey
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 hearth.

“I only want what’s best for you, Mark. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

"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 last."

"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.

"Pa?"

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 answered.

"I always do, Mark. Every single day."

Chapter III

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 yard.

“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 him.

“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 leave.

“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 was Mark.

“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 open.

“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 before dark.”

“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.

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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 said.

“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 fine.”

“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 bed.

“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.

Chapter IV

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 the present.

“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 hands.

“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 next.

“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.

Chapter V

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 him halfway.

“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 hurt.”

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 San Miguel.”

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.”

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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 waiting, too.

“Mark…what are you doing?” Lou asked gently. He didn’t even turn around.

“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.

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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.

Chapter VI

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 but wait.

“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 friend’s spirits.

“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 friend.”

“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 longer.”

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 to town.

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!”

Chapter VII

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 stethoscope away.

“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 time alone.

“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 him…or worse.

“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 him.

“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 said.

“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 her.

“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 you.”

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 gently.

“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 stove.

“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 prayer, too”

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 time.

“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.

His Father's 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!

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