Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Change of Season
Written by Morgan
Lydia back down in the cradle and smiled as his daughter drifted
back to sleep. As Lucas walked back to bed, he glanced out the
window to see his son walking the property. He grabbed his rifle
and quietly slipped out of his home.
“Little late for a walk, isn't it?”
Mark shrugged in response to Lucas as they kept walking into the
“Something the matter, Son?”
“...No, not really.”
“Then why are you walking around at two in the morning?”
“There's just been a lot on my mind as of late.”
“Care to talk about it?”
Mark sighed as he took a seat on a hillside, followed by Lucas.
“You know that feeling of responsibility we talked about after I
Lucas nodded and waited for his son to go on.
“You said it would only grow when I had children. And boy, have
I felt it grow. Pa, there are some days that I doubt I have what
it takes to be a father. I honestly don't know how I'm making it
as a husband. I don't know how to take care of a child. How am I
supposed to protect something so small, so innocent?”
“Keep in mind what you told me, Son. We're tools and have to
trust the Good Lord's to take care of the rest.”
“I know, but part of me wonders if there are things I'm supposed
to be doing that I'm not. Precautions I'm supposed to be
Mark waited a brief moment before replying.
“...I got a letter from Reaper this week. All he said was that
he looked forward to meeting again. I'd be lying if I didn't say
it bothered me a little. Then I also got a letter from the
Pinkertons this week and they're looking for an office manager
in New Jersey. I… I sometimes wonder if I'm being selfish by
settling my family here. Maybe they'd be safer out east, away
from the reputation I have, away from the history I have here.
Maybe… maybe I did miss my calling.”
Lucas took a moment to take in what his Son was saying before he
“Mark, do you feel it was selfish of me to move us out here?”
“No… it was just the two of us. If Ma was alive, it would have
been different. We wouldn't have had need to move.”
“So you think I should've moved when I married Milly?”
“Well, no, but… it's different.”
“No, Mark, it isn't. I think you're tired, I think you're still
rattled by this spring, and I think you're getting the
first-time father jitters.”
“Pa, this spring is only part of it. Look at the last eleven
years, it's one constant pattern… and I'm tired of it.”
“Look at all the good that came from it though, Mark.”
“I know, Pa. I know everything has its purpose, and I appreciate
the purpose that has come from it all. But everything has a
season, too, and maybe… maybe it's time for a change of season.”
“Son, you hate the lifestyle out east. I know you, and I know
you would go crazy sitting in an office all day. That's not the
life for you. You'd be sacrificing what you love.”
“Family is worth the sacrifice.”
“...You’d really take your family away?” Lucas hesitantly asked,
realizing Mark might actually be serious about this.
“... I'm thinking about it, Pa.”
“Mark, this isn't you talking. You love ranching, you love life
out west, you love being around the rest of your family.
Granted, I don't want you and Cassie to leave, but think about
“I know, Pa. I've been thinking a lot about this. But she has
Ned and Anna… they're both going to be married in no time and
settling down here.”
“And what about things here at the ranch?”
“Tom will be here for at least another year, and if the cattle
sell well, you should be able to hire on another hand or two. In
all reality you could use our house as a bunkhouse.”
“It wouldn't be the same, Mark.”
“Pa, you always said you would support me in whatever I decided
to do with my life.”
“If it was what you wanted to do. I think deep down you know you
don't want to do this.”
“I just don't know, Pa. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But you and
I both know we can't always make decisions based on what we
want. Sometimes we have to make decisions based on what our
Lucas sat there for a long moment, struggling. He didn't want to
see Mark go, he didn't know if he could watch his son move away.
...But he also knew he couldn't make Mark stay.
“...Son, I'm asking you not to leave. You're what makes this
“I'm still thinking, Pa.”
“Pa, I don't want to leave you and Ma. I love you. But… I just
can't turn my back on this without thinking about it. With the
baby coming… it just has changed everything.”
“Mark, I understand the nerves that come with a newborn. I think
you need to let things settle down with the baby before you make
any real decisions.”
“Like I said, Pa, I'm just thinking.”
“Use your head, Son. Life can get difficult, but morning is
always coming. You just have to out wait the darkness.”
“...And what's to say morning isn't in New Jersey?”
Lucas sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“...Just don't be rash, Mark. Be patient, and the path you're
supposed to take will become clear.”
Mark looked at his Pa, feeling somewhat guilty for saying so
much, so suddenly. He knew Lucas wasn't happy that he was
considering the position, but then again, he wasn't too happy
about it himself. Yet something was gnawing at him… Mark didn't
know if that something was from both the letters, or just one,
or something completely different.
“...Thanks for listening.”
“Two in the morning counts as anytime, Son.”
“Pa, would you be mad if I left?”
“I wouldn't be happy about it, but I wouldn't be mad. I always
envisioned my grandchildren growing up here. But I love you Son,
and we'll always be here if you decide to come back.”
“Thanks for understanding, Pa.”
“Now why don't you head back home? Maybe getting some sleep will
knock some sense back into you.”
“Are you sending me to bed?” Mark asked with a chuckle.
“It's well past your bedtime, Son.” Lucas teased.
“Yours too, Grandpa.”
Mark watched as his sister hesitantly reached out to touch
Cassie's stomach again. Lydia started to pull her hand back, but
Milly kept it there.
“It's a baby, Lydia.” Milly explained to her confused daughter.
Mark couldn't help but chuckle as Lydia pulled her hand back to
touch her own stomach, then put her hand back on Cassie's. Lydia
looked back up at Milly and laughed.
When everyone heard the buckboard enter the yard, they stood and
walked outside to meet Lucas, Rachael, and Ara DeFord.
As quickly as she could, Cassie hurried to the wagon and met Ara
with a long embrace. Soon, Ara was holding Cassie at arm's
length, looking over her daughter.
“I couldn't believe it when I got your letter, I'm so happy for
you, Cassie! My baby girl, having a child of her own.”
“That's the goal, anyway.” Cassie chuckled. “Eight weeks seems
like an eternity away.”
“Enjoy every moment of it while you can.” Ara replied. “Now
where's that husband of yours?”
“Right behind you, Ms. DeFord.”
Ara turned towards Mark and gave him a hug.
“That's Ara to you, young man.”
“Yes ma'am.” Mark replied with a chuckle.
“I don't think we met,” Milly began. “I'm Lucas’s wife, Milly.”
“A pleasure. Cassie has told me so much about you in her
“I'm sure you two have plenty to catch up on, why don't we head
inside? Supper should be done soon.”
As Lucas and Mark took care of the team, everyone else went
“Thanks for picking her up, Pa.”
“I was glad to do it, gave me a chance to get to know her a
little bit. I had to pick up those axes anyway.”
Mark let out a sigh as he threw the harness on the hook.
“I'm sorry, Pa. I don't know what has been going on.”
“You're wife's expecting, you're a little preoccupied.”
“That's no excuse to forget something like that.”
Lucas walked over to his son and put a hand on his shoulder.
“No, Son. For once you do have a legitimate excuse. Use it while
you can.” Lucas teased.
“So, the new schoolhouse survive its first week?”
“It was still standing when I picked Rachael up.” Lucas
“How many students would you say were there?”
“Oh, probably fifteen or so. With so many families having moved,
it really reduced the number of students enrolled.”
“It was sad to see Jake's family have to move with everyone
“Well at least you two had a little bit of time to catch up
before he went back to Texas. He's coming for a visit sometime
soon, isn't he?”
“Yes, but he'll probably be spending more time at the Donalds’
“Really?” Lucas laughed.
“He and Emma were made for each other.”
“I guess I can see it.”
Lucas and Mark finished in the barn before joining everyone else
inside. As they sat around the dinner table that evening, Ara
enjoyed getting re-acquainted with the family. It of course
wasn't long before she was asking questions about the baby.
“...Are you hoping for a boy, or girl?”
Mark and Cassie looked at each other before Cassie began to
“...For the longest time I wanted a baby girl, but once I found
out I was pregnant… I'm just happy to be having a baby. We've
talked of both boy and girl names.”
“Anything in particular you like?”
“Good luck with that.” Rachael chuckled. “They're refusing to
tell anyone the names they're considering.”
“We want it to be a surprise.” Cassie explained.
“I understand.” Ara responded with a smile. “Choosing a name for
your child is something special.”
“So how'd you did you decide on Cassie's name?” Mark inquired,
surprising Cassie a bit.
“You named me?” Cassie asked. “I thought… well…”
“I did think I had lost you, but if I had a girl, John knew I
wanted Cassie. I had a dear friend named Cassandra, everyone
called her Cassie for short. I wanted to name my daughter after
someone with such grace and beauty.”
“Uncle Lucas, how did you decide on Mark's name?” Cassie
“Margaret had that picked out long before I met her. I knew
better than to dispute it.” Lucas chuckled.
Later that evening, Cassie and Mark took Ara up the hill to
settle in for the night. Mark went to bed shortly after, giving
Cassie and Ara some much-needed time alone.
“...Cassie, I know we weren't able to talk much after the trial,
but thank you for keeping up through your letters; I sincerely
appreciated each one.”
“I was happy to know you wanted to keep in contact… I wasn't
sure what to expect.”
“I assume you have some questions.”
Cassie nodded, but Ara could see the hesitancy in her eyes.
“Don't be afraid, you have a right to get some answers. What
your father put you through… no person should have to go through
“You had absolutely no idea my father was married?”
“Not in the least. I wasn't living the best life, I was a poor
saloon girl who was happy to throw herself at anyone… until John
came around. He was different, and I didn't find myself flirting
with other men so easily. We got married and I got pregnant with
you… and I think you know the rest.”
“... I'd like to hear it, from you.”
Ara sighed as she thought back, all those years ago.
“He wasn't around a lot. I thought he was a salesman and didn't
think anything of it when he was gone for weeks… months at a
time. Once I told him I was pregnant though… something changed.
He got anxious, kept acting extremely strange. Once I started
showing I took leave from the saloon. I kept telling John I
didn't want to go back after I had you; I wanted to stay home.
He just kept saying it wouldn't work, and I couldn't understand
why. I went into labor prematurely. It was a long, hard birth. I
could hardly keep my eyes open after you were born. The next
morning, they told me you had died. I don't know how they
sustained you, but thank God you made it through. Shortly after
that, Alex, my brother, told me John had been arrested and sent
to prison. So I went back to the only thing I knew - working in
a saloon. I spent ten years working in various saloons before I
didn't have what it takes anymore. I drifted, but got my life
together enough to get a job working at a hotel. I tried sending
your father letters in prison, but of course, they always
returned because he wasn't in prison. Finally one day, I saw his
picture in the newspaper and almost had a heart attack. I did
some digging and finally found out where he was stationed. It
wasn't long before I was here, giving him a piece of my mind.
Not long after that I was confronting my brother, when I
discovered you had survived. Cassie… I wanted more than anything
to come here and see you, but I was afraid that by coming I
would disrupt your life. I didn't want to put you through
discovering the details of what had happened. I doubted you
would want anything to do with me.”
“...But you were wrong.”
“I know that, now.” Ara replied with a smile. “So what happened
to you, all those years I was gone?”
“A lot.” Cassie chuckled. “John filled a lot of different
marshalling positions and so we either moved around with him,
stayed with my grandparents, or stayed with my Aunt Molly. John
finally decided to settle in North Fork after a short term
assignment here. He was already good friends of the McCain’s,
and they were the first people to meet us when we arrived. Mark
and I became good friends between the time our families spent
together and the time he spent working at our ranch. We began
officially courting on my eighteenth birthday… when I found out
I was adopted… or so Ma and I thought. We worked through that
whole thing and life was good… until Mark disappeared. When your
brother had him at that cabin, no one had absolutely any idea
where he was. When he made his way back here and we found out
the truth about everything… I was devastated. I honestly thought
Mark might not speak to me again…”
“But we know that wasn't the case.”
“Not in the least. He was going to propose to me that spring.
That's what he was planning on doing when DeFord had him shot
and they took me. You've heard what happened then. Shortly after
that whole ordeal, Mark proposed and we were married that
“You wrote me about what happened, but you never mentioned what
happened to John.”
“He's still out there… somewhere.” Cassie shook her head as she
went on. “It drives me absolutely insane… knowing he's free as a
bird… that one day he could show up and turn my life completely
upside down again.”
“How does Mark handle it?”
Cassie gently smiled before replying.
“Mark's the best husband anyone could ask for. Mark's always
there to show me support, he always has a level head on his
shoulders. Just like me, I know he still has nightmares about
what happened, but he tries his best not to show the concern I
know he holds inside of him. I know he's worried, and every once
in a while we'll discuss our concerns, but he's always good
about balancing precaution and living a normal life.”
“I certainly am happy for you, Cassie. Even in the short time
we've been together I see the way he treats you. I see the love
and respect he has for you; that you have for each other. You
don't ever want to let that go.”
“I don't know how on earth I got so lucky.”
“I do have one question about Lucas and Milly.”
“What about them?”
“You call them uncle and aunt. What led to that?”
“Mark's mother died when Mark was six. He and Lucas moved to
North Fork when Mark was ten. Milly is my Ma’s sister and ended
up marrying Uncle Lucas three or four years ago.”
“Well that's simple enough.” Ara chuckled.
“What does your Pa think about it?” Johnny asked as he and Mark
entered the Marshal's office.
“He's not for it. He asked me to stay.”
“Mark, you've gotten threats before and they haven't rattled
you. Reaper didn't even exactly threaten you. What's going on?”
“Uncle Johnny, you're a father, you have a past, you know what
it's like. I don't want to risk losing Cassie again, I don't
want to risk losing another child.”
“And something inside is telling me to be extra careful right
now. Like something is going to happen, but I don't know what.”
“Mark, the same thing happened to me when Lou was getting close
to having Madelyn. Give it two more months, I'm sure everything
will be fine.”
“Uncle Johnny, what was my Ma like, growing up?”
“Your Ma?” Johnny asked, surprised by the change of subject.
Mark nodded and waited for his Uncle to respond.
“...Gentle, Mark. You could ask anyone and that's the word they
would use to describe your mother. She had a gentle spirit about
her all the time… except once.” Johnny chuckled.
“I was playing with some friends when I was about ten years old.
Every town has its cranky old man, and Mr. Wheaton was ours. We
got it in our heads to go sneak into his barn and do some jumpin’
off the hayloft. The thing was that Margaret decided to bring
him some fresh bread that day and heard us in the barn.” Johnny
chuckled as he went on. “I can remember the look on her face
when she walked into that barn… boy-howdy, we knew we were in
“What'd she do?”
“She yelled at all of us to get down from there. No one had
heard her speak that way before, and we were too scared to do
anything but obey. I thought she was going to box our ears by
the lecture she gave us. When she was all said and done she made
us all clean out his barn while she went inside and visited with
him. We never went back there again.”
“What happened to your Ma?”
“She died a long time ago. She might've made it, had my father
stopped spending money on beer and started spending it on the
doctor. But he refused and she wouldn't press the issue.”
“I know you weren't too happy when Grandpa showed up a while
“The gall of that man still amazes me.”
“We all need a second chance, Uncle Johnny.”
“He's had his fill of second chances from me. I'm through with
“Me too, Mark.” Johnny sighed. “How are things with Ara going?”
“Surprisingly well. Her and Cassie have stayed up late every
“Well, they have twenty-one years to catch up on. Catherine
“It was a little strained at first, but I think they've worked
through it. She's actually at the ranch with everyone else right
“That's encouraging to hear, I know Cassie said she was nervous
about them clashing.”
“Thankfully there haven't been any problems yet.”
“How long is Ara staying?”
“I think she'll be here for another two weeks. She wanted to
originally be here when the baby arrived, but it didn't work
“Well, I guess if you do move to New Jersey, you'll at least be
somewhat close to her.”
“...You never answered my question.”
“Look, Mark, it's your life. You've got to decide when to make
“I can tell you have an opinion.”
“Mark, I missed too much of your childhood because I made stupid
choices. Now, I don't think moving to New Jersey is equal to
breaking the law, but there are still consequences you have to
consider. You'll miss watching your sister grow up, you'll miss
time with Maddy and Madison… and I want them to grow up with you
around. Then one day there will be your own nieces and nephews,
and as an uncle I can tell you that it's something you don't
want to miss. On the other hand, I can understand wanting to
protect your family, and if you feel you have to move to New
Jersey to do that, then that's your decision.”
“You're not being much help.”
“I know.” Johnny replied with a smile. “Mark, this is a decision
you have to make on your own. I can tell you right now that
you're not going to get much support from people around here if
you decide to move, but that's to be expected. Just don't let
one thing scare you into making a decision you'll regret for the
rest of your life.”
“When does your Pa leave for that business trip?”
“Saturday, I think.”
“Is he taking the train or riding to Santa Fe?”
“Last I heard he was riding, but Ma's trying to get him to
change his mind. She keeps reminding him he's not exactly twenty
years old anymore.”
“I'm sure that went over like a pile of bricks.” Johnny
chuckled. “So what else do you have going today?”
“I'm headed to the Henderson's to give then a hand with their
sow, and then I'm helping Pete finish his barn.”
“I thought he finished that ages ago?”
“Caleb Baker was helping him, but he moved with the rest of 'em.”
“You've been here longer than I have, how long do you think
until those houses are bought again?”
“... I don't know. I would hope soon, but until that mill went
up you know how small North Fork was. Growing, but small. With
Vendix having so many more employment options right now… I don't
think we'll be having another population explosion any time
“Have you heard anything about when Ned and Helen's wedding is
supposed to be?”
“No, but Cassie and I hardly see him. Why don't you just ask him
when he's here?”
“Because he never is.” Johnny laughed. “He's still standing his
shifts, but I just see him in passing. He's always off doing
something with Helen it seems like.”
“Sounds like someone else a few years ago…”
“You weren't that bad. You and Cassie didn't really see much of
each other the summer you got engaged.”
“I wasn't talking about me, Uncle Johnny. How long did it take
us to see you after you got engaged?”
“When you live over an hour away from town, it's different.”
“Sure…” Mark teased.
“Boy, you better be careful.”
“You gonna lock me up?”
“Worse. I'll send my wife after you.”
Mark entered his parents’ home and followed the voices to the
kitchen. As he walked through the door he saw a wave of relief
come over his wife. Mark started to ask her about it, but her
eyes asked him not to.
“...And that's why they do it.” Ara concluded.
“I'm telling you, Cassie, it'll end in no good.” Catherine
informed her daughter. “Don't you agree, Milly?”
“I think there's call for it in the later years.”
“In the later years…” Ara mused.
“Call for what?” Mark inquired.
The three older women all turned to Mark and chuckled, shaking
“...Alright then…” Mark replied in confusion. “What's for
“Oh, some chicken fried steak.” Milly replied.
“Right along with rolls, corn, and beans.” Ara added.
Cassie couldn't help but chuckle at the face Mark made due to
the last item on the menu.
“You don't care for beans, Mark?” Ara inquired.
“He hates them.” Milly laughed.
“You must've not eaten enough of them growing up.” Catherine
“Oh, I did. That was the problem; I had too many growing up.”
“You complaining about my cooking again?” Lucas jested as he
entered the kitchen.
“Well, now that everyone's here I think we can head to the
dining room. ...We may be able to fit better in there.” Milly
Conversation varied around the dinner table; however, Mark
noticed that Cassie remained unusually reserved.
“Mark,” Ara began, “Catherine said you were offered a job out on
the east coast?”
“...Some acquaintances of mine are looking for an office
“What did you tell them?”
“I haven't decided yet. There's a lot to think about.”
“If you did move, Cassie, you would love the shops there. And
there's so much to get involved in. Women's clubs, churches on
practically every corner, hospitals to volunteer at…”
“She'd be too busy raising a family.” Catherine said.
“There's no reason they couldn't hire a nursery maid.”
“And have someone else raise their child? My daughter would
“My daughter is also entitled to some time to relax every now
and again. There's nothing unethical about a nursery maid.”
“They haven't even decided if they're moving yet.” Milly stated.
“They haven't said they aren't, either.” Ara replied.
“Well until further notice,” Catherine began, “This is their
“Pa, I ran into Ray Battles in town today.” Mark said as he
tried to change the subject.
“Really? What was he up to?”
“Picking up more feed for his livestock. He said to tell you
hello, and that he hopes to see you soon. He also wanted to talk
about trading out some livestock at the end of the month.”
“I'll have to ride out there and talk to him after I get back.”
Hoping the ladies had gotten the hint, Lucas changed the subject
again. “Catherine, I hear you're going to be able to quit your
“Ned and Helen want me to move in with them after they get
married, and I have enough money to make it if I'm not paying
“It must be wonderful having so much family around.” Ara
“After what our family has been through, it's something we don't
take for granted.” Milly stated, eyeing her son. “We all love
having each other close.”
“Alex was the only family I ever had, and you know what he
turned out to be.” Ara replied. “I've always wanted to have
“Yes, we do know how he turned out.” Catherine replied in a
rather condescending tone.
“You can't blame me for what he did, I had no idea what was
“I didn't say you were to blame.”
“Mark, maybe it would be good for you to get away for awhile.
Get some new exposure. There's so much of the world to see.” Ara
“I think Cassie and Mark have both seen quite enough of it.”
“A vacation is one thing,” Milly began, “But to move-”
“Is completely our decision.” Mark suddenly said as he stood.
“Thank you ladies for supper, but I think my wife and I are
going to go home for the evening.”
Mark pulled Cassie's chair out for her and started for the door.
As Mark and Cassie walked out the back door, Cassie let out a
sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Mark. I don't know how much more of that I could
“Has it been like that all day?”
“Worse.” Cassie replied as she shook her head. “But it wasn't
just about us moving. They argued the best way to birth a baby,
what position to lie in, what to have nearby. Walk, don't walk,
eat extra food, don't eat a lot, eat normal. Use a doctor, use a
midwife, use family… I heard a different opinion on each subject
at least three times. And that was just the birth. Then there
was everything I was supposed to be doing before the pregnancy,
and then after. How I should raise the child, on and on and on…”
“Even Ma?” Mark asked, a bit surprised.
“She wasn't as bad, but yes.”
“What were they discussing when I came in?”
“What the best kind of milk for your baby is. Mark, I love them
all dearly, but you would think this wasn't my baby they were
talking about. It was exhausting hearing them go round and
round. I almost went home a couple times.”
“Why didn't you?”
“... I don't know. I didn't want to offend any of them.”
“Cassie, the last thing we need is stress affecting you and the
baby. If a situation happens like that again, don't be afraid to
speak up or leave. This is our baby, not theirs. This is our
Mark walked Cassie to the house and made sure she got settled in
bed before he went back down the hill to work on the barn
chores. It wasn't long before Lucas joined him.
“You spoke pretty sharply to your mother, Son.”
“I know, I'll apologise to her tomorrow.”
“It's not like you to be that short with anyone.”
“I would've stayed and talked it all out if it hadn't been for
Cassie. When I walked into the house today I could tell
something stressful was going on. At dinner I didn't want to add
to the debate, but no one was taking the hints, either. Cassie
needed to go home, I wasn't going to make her sit through that.”
“... I can understand.”
“Rachael take Catherine home? I didn't see the buggy outside.”
“Yes, she did. Mark, if Ara needs to stay with us…”
“We'll work it through, Pa. She's welcome at the house, I have a
feeling it's just becoming more difficult for Catherine and Ara
to… “share” Cassie the closer Ara gets to her.”
“I can put my trip off if I need to.”
“It's alright, Pa, I can manage things here.”
Mark and Lucas finished up in the barn before Mark started
heading back home, but Milly caught up with him part way up the
“Mark, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Of course. Ara up the hill already?”
Milly nodded in response before saying what was on her mind.
“Mark, I'm sorry for adding to tonight. I love the two of you so
much, I just want what's best for you. I didn't mean to hurt
either one of you. Mark, I lost you once… for six long years. I
don't want to lose you again.”
Mark took his mother's hand and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“You won't lose me, Ma. No matter what. And in those six years,
we didn't really lose each other… we just… got misplaced a
little.” Mark said with his boyish grin. “...Ma, I'm sorry for
snapping at you.”
“I probably deserved it.”
“No, you didn't. You deserve respect, no matter how different
our opinions may be.”
Milly reached up and kissed her son on the cheek.
“I love you, Mark.”
“I love you too. Goodnight, Ma.”
Two men sat on their horses, watching Lucas ride out for his
“Now?” The slightly older, and shorter of the two asked.
“Give it some time, wait for Mark to leave.”
“I thought that was who you wanted?”
“He nearly killed me once, I won't give him an opportunity
again. No, this time he'll come crawling to me on my hands and
“Why'd you decide to wait so long to try this again?”
“I didn't like the first plan in the first place, I wanted time
to come up with something different, and make sure they were
completely off guard.”
The men watched as Mark mounted BlueBoy and rode for the range.
“Except there's still four of them in there.”
“What's the difference? We've got the gun.”
“I suppose, but-” The man stopped short as he saw two of the
women come out of the house and hook the team up to the
buckboard. “What now?”
“What now?” The man laughed. “This is even better. The younger
brat won't be any trouble, and what's a pregnant woman going to
do about anything?”
“Just you remember, no harm will be done to that, “pregnant
“I remember our agreement.”
“Now?” The man asked again.
“Give it time, be patient. Let's make sure no one forgot
“...Knowing this family, someone probably did.”
Sure enough, five minutes later, Mark rode back into the yard
and went inside the house. He came back out with his lunch,
mounted up again, and took off.
“Naw, let's just call it off.”
“You can't be serious!”
“Of course I'm not. This is two years in coming, let's go.”
The two men carefully rode down the hill, still checking over
their shoulder every so often. One went around the back of the
house while one walked up on the porch. The one on the porch
waited a few moments before chuckling to himself and knocking on
“Good to see you again, Cassie.”
She tried to scream, but nothing would come out. Her entire body
shook as the man in front of her revealed a gun and began
forcing his way inside.
Cassie turned as she heard Rachael scream from the kitchen.
Cassie couldn't stop the tears as she saw the man who was
pushing Rachael into the front room.
Rachael was struggling hard against the man, but he had an all
too firm grip on her arms.
“What do you want me to do with this one?”
“Tie her up in one of the closets, and don't forget the gag.”
The man began pulling Rachael towards one of the bedrooms as she
screamed Cassie's name, bringing her back to the present.
Cassie suddenly lunged towards the man that held Rachael, but
the other man caught Cassie's arm and pulled her back. Cassie
kept struggling against him until the man cocked his gun.
“Calm down, now. We won't hurt her.”
The other man came out just a few minutes later, more rope in
“We better tie her up too, she still has a lot of spunk in her.”
The man with the gun said.
“Now wait a minute…”
“We won't hurt her none, just tie her up or neither one of us
will get what want.”
Cassie struggled against both the men as the tied her hands
behind her back. They dragged her into the kitchen as taller man
“Gather what supplies you can, I'll place the note.”
He forced Cassie into a chair and started putting a piece of
paper down on the table when Cassie ran for the door. The man
easily caught her and pinned her up against the wall.
“You listen here, you-” He stopped short as his eyes fell on
Cassie's locket. “Oh, this'll be good.”
Cassie continued to struggle as the man unclasped her locket.
Once he got it in his pocket, he pinned her to the wall again.
“Look, I'd rather just kill you, but he won't hear of it.” The
man said, gesturing to his partner. “But I will kill your friend
in that back room, so I suggest you behave for a little while.”
Cassie stood there, seething in anger.
“You sure do have quite the fire inside of you.”
“Just you wait until Mark-”
“Comes chasing after me? That's the whole point, my dear.”
“I hate you. I hate both of you!”
“Now you're just plain hurting our feelings.”
“You can't win this. Neither one of you can!”
“We'll take our chances.”
“... I understand, Milly, and I'm sorry for what happened the
other night. I would love to have Mark and Cassie out east
closer to me, but like you said, Catherine, this is their home.”
“There's plenty of homes for sale here.” Catherine suggested.
“You could always move to North Fork.”
“Thanks,” Ara chuckled, “But I've made a life out east, and it's
where I'm supposed to be for the time being. Maybe one day.”
“There was one other thing…” Milly began. “Mark mentioned this
morning to me that our “helpful advice” for the baby isn't being
so helpful. They appreciate the concern we all have for Cassie
and the baby, but he asked that we be careful about debating
around Cassie. He said it's stressing her out a lot and she
feels torn between the three of us. We all may have our
differences, but we do have our love for Cassie and Mark in
common. I think we can manage to put our differences aside for a
“Agreed.” Ara said as Catherine nodded.
“Catherine, would you like to join us out at the ranch for
lunch?” Milly invited.
“Thank you, but I have to get some things done around the house.
Give Cassie my love, though.”
“I'll be sure to.”
Ara and Milly left Catherine's before running a few errands in
town and then starting back to the ranch.
“Do you mind me asking where you grew up?” Milly asked as the
team continued down the dirt road.
“Here in New Mexico. My father was a dirt farmer, but he and my
mother both died of the yellow fever. Some neighbors took us in,
but it wasn't much of a good environment. Alex and I both left
early, kept in contact, he looked after me in a way.” Ara paused
before going on. “Did you grow up in North Fork?”
“No, my family started in the midwest. My sisters and I moved
around, I lived in Santa Fe for a while before I moved to North
Fork to run the general store. After a while I realized I needed
to deal with some things with my family… my brother had died in
the war and I guess I had run away in a sense.”
“So how did you end up back here?”
“I came to visit Catherine and her family. It didn't take much
to convince me to stay, and it wasn't long before Lucas and I
were married. We had been so close before.”
“Had Cassie not mentioned it, I would've never guessed Mark
wasn't your son.”
“Oh, but he is. Not biologically, of course, but deep down there
has always been something that ties me to him. I don't feel as
though he is any less my child than Lydia is. Mark's always held
the same position… even before Lucas and I were married. And as
you know, in this family, it's not all about blood relations,
it's about bonds that last longer than a lifetime.”
The women continued talking until they pulled up to the house.
“Do you want help putting the team away?” Ara inquired.
“Mark said he would need it later and to leave them, thank you
When Ara and Milly entered the house, Milly immediately heard
Lydia screaming from the bedroom.
“Cassie? Rachael?” Ara called as Milly went to the bedroom.
Milly picked Lydia up out of the cradle and tried to calm her
daughter as she walked back out to the front room.
“They're not in the kitchen.” Ara said as she closed the door.
“Do you think they went up the hill?”
“Cassie wouldn't leave Lydia, even for a minute.”
“Where do you think they are then?”
“Maybe they're talking in Rachael's room.”
Ara and Milly made their way to the bedroom, but didn't find
anything. Becoming more and more worried, Milly made her way to
the other bedroom, calling for her nieces.
“Cassie? Rachael? ...Ara, I-”
Suddenly, Milly heard pounding coming from the other side of the
house. She ran back to her own bedroom and called again. She
heard the pounding coming from the closet. Milly handed Lydia to
Ara, ran to the door, and opened it to find Rachael bound and
“Rachael, what happened?” Milly worriedly asked as she worked to
untie the gag.
Rachael tried talking through the gag, but it was useless.
Finally, Milly pulled it away.
“Where's Cassie? Is she alright??” Rachael desperately asked.
“We haven't seen her, what happened?”
“Two men forced their way into the house! They tied me up back
here, and…” It suddenly hit Rachael. “...They must have taken
Cassie! Aunt Milly, they have Cassie!”
“Calm down, it'll be alright.” Milly said as she tried to
collect her thoughts. “Ara, can you get me a knife for these
Ara set Lydia down and ran for a knife, shortly returning.
“What did they look like?” Ara inquired as she handed Milly the
“I don't know… it was all so fast. I think they both had dark
hair… one was more heavy set. But why would they want Cassie??”
“I don't know, but we'll find out. Rachael, I want you to saddle
Liberty and go find Mark. He should be working the West
Milly watched Rachael run from the house into the barn. She then
turned towards Ara and saw her sitting, staring. Milly went
towards her and wrapped her arms around her.
“It'll be alright, Ara. We'll find out who took her, and why.”
Milly turned to pick up Lydia before starting out the bedroom.
“... I'll fix you some tea.”
“Tea?! Milly, how can you be so calm?? My daughter, your niece
“And becoming hysterical isn't going to help matters. We have to
think about this calmly, rationally, and try to figure out who's
behind this. We can't let our emotions get the best of us, Ara,
or there will be no hope for Cassie.”
Ara nodded and followed Milly to the kitchen. As Milly walked
towards the stove, she saw Cassie's locket sitting on the table,
weighing down a piece of paper.
Milly's fingers trembled as she picked up the note and read it.
“What does it say, Milly??” Ara begged.
Milly couldn't say anything. She simply handed the note to Ara
as she let herself fall into a chair.
“No…” Ara cried. “They can't! Milly, they can't kill her!”
“I should've sold you off at the last auction.” Mark mumbled as
he rubbed his shoulder.
The cow just looked at him, but Mark could've sworn there was a
grin on the cow's face.
“Next summer, I tell ya…”
Mark suddenly heard a horse coming up behind him. He grabbed his
rifle and turned around, only to see Rachael riding up.
“Mark!” Rachael yelled as she kicked Liberty once again. “Mark!”
Mark ran to meet his cousin and grabbed hold of the bridle as
Rachael pulled on the reigns.
“Rachael, what is it?”
“Two men came to the house, tied me up, and-”
“Tied you up? How'd you-”
“Ma and Ara came home. But Mark, we can't find Cassie! They took
Cassie with them!”
Mark ran back to BlueBoy and mounted him before the two raced
back to the house, Mark far ahead of Rachael. BlueBoy hadn't
even come to a full stop before Mark was running into the house
calling for his Ma, who came rushing through the kitchen door.
She couldn't say anything; Milly simply handed Mark Cassie's
locket and the note she had found on the kitchen table. He
silently read the words written on the paper.
“Seems we both need a lesson in keeping people dead. You have
twenty-four hours to get here before I kill your wife instead of
you. Follow the map on the back and you won't go wrong - notice
it doesn't include a stop in North Fork. Make sure it stays that
way. And we're not playing games in the river this time.”
“Cassie… she was right…” Mark barely whispered.
“Mark, what are you talking about?” Milly asked, on the verge of
“She wasn't tired… she did see DeFord!”
“Mark, the man's dead!”
“Not according to this note!”
“What are you-”
“I don't have time to explain. Get everyone to town, now. Wire
Marshal Anker and tell him what's going on.”
Mark shoved the note and locket in his pocket before starting
out the door, but something stopped him. He turned around as
what might happen in the next twenty four hours hit him.
Mark took two long strides towards his Ma and gave her a kiss on
“I love you.”
Mark ran back out of the house as Rachael came sprinting onto
the porch. Mark stopped and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Rachael, be strong, no matter what happens. I need you to help
my Ma, make sure she goes straight to town.”
Rachael nodded, hearing the seriousness in her cousin's voice.
“Rachael, I love you.”
“I… I love you too, Mark.”
Mark gave his cousin a hug before mounting up on BlueBoy and
Rachael started to cry, but forced the tears away. Mark was
right, she had to be strong. Rachael went into the house and
found Milly and Ara in the kitchen.
“Aunt Milly, we need to go.”
Milly nodded as she stood and went to pack a bag. Rachael ran up
the hill to grab Ara's suitcase, and it wasn't long before she
was driving the team into town.
“Rachael, drop me off at the telegraph office and then go tell
Micah what's happened.” Milly instructed as they entered town.
Rachael did as her aunt said and soon Sam was staring blankly at
“Did I hear you right?”
“Sam, we don't have time to waste. Send the telegram!”
“Y-yes, of course!”
The man sent it before Milly gave him another telegram to send.
“Milly, I'm so sorry…”
“Thank you, Sam. I'll be over at the Marshal's office or the
hotel if you get a response.”
Milly hurried to the Marshal’s office where she found Micah and
Ned fastening their gun belts.
“Milly, I'm glad you're here.” Micah said as he came around the
desk. “I want you to stay at the hotel, don't leave it for any
reason. You, Ara, Rachael, even Lydia. I'm finding Johnny and
putting him in charge of North Fork and protecting you while I'm
Without saying much else, the two lawmen escorted the women to
the hotel before finding Johnny and leaving town.
Milly sat holding Lydia in Lou's office, Ara and Rachael both
pacing. Suddenly, Catherine came through the door.
Milly meet her sister and hugged her, trying to hold back the
“Is it true?” She simply inquired.
“... I'm afraid so.”
“How, Milly? How?! The man's dead!”
Milly wrapped her arms around her sister as Catherine cried.
“I don't know, Catherine. I don't know.”
While the women embraced, Rachael quietly left the office. She
knew Micah's orders… but she couldn't stay inside. The walls
were closing in on her.
Rachael wondered the outskirts of town, but it wasn't long
before she heard someone calling her name.
“Rachael McCain, you get back to that hotel, ya hear?” Johnny
declared as he dismounted and started towards her. “Didn't Micah
tell you to stay in the hotel? What are you thinking?? You
could've… could have…”
Johnny stopped as he looked into Rachael's eyes. He saw sadness,
grief… loss. He wrapped his arms around Rachael as he went on.
“It'll be alright, Rachael. It will.”
Rachael simply shook her head as she tried to stop herself for
“What do you mean, no?”
Rachael looked back up at Johnny, trying to find her voice.
“He was saying goodbye.”
“Who was saying goodbye, Rachael?”
“Mark. Before he left… he told me to be strong. He told me he
loved me. And he hugged me tighter than I've ever been hugged
before. Uncle Johnny… Mark doesn't plan on coming back.”
“He might have been scared, Rachael, but Mark doesn't give up.”
“Did you hear what the note head to say?”
“It was pretty clear. Mark or Cassie. And Mark is going to make
sure Cassie comes home.”
Rachael gave in and let the tears fall as Johnny wrapped his
arms around her.
“Mark's smart, and Ned and Micah are going after him. He'll come
back, Rachael. You just gotta have faith.”
“You know, that's what my Ma used to say, every time my Pa would
beat us. Just have faith. Well you can see where it landed her!”
“Rachael McCain, you watch your mouth. It landed her in the best
place she could be, and you got a pretty close second livin’
with Lucas and Milly. Humans are humans, and we live in a cursed
world where people make choices. Bad ones. But don't you dare go
and start blamin’ the Almighty for it!”
“If he's so Almighty, why's he gonna let Mark die!?”
“We don't know that, Rachael. But He's either gonna take Mark
home to be with his Ma, and yours, or He's gonna bring Mark back
“Then where does the faith come in??”
“The faith comes in when you decide to trust the Good Lord's
wisdom. As much as we mess this planet up, the Good Lord sure
does us a lot of favors, but we're most of the time too busy
looking at ourselves to see what he's doing.”
“But this is Mark!”
Johnny sighed as he crossed his arms and thought for a moment.
“Come on back to the office with me.”
“I've gotta story to tell you.”
“I'm not four years old, Uncle Johnny.”
“No, you're seventeen, and it's time you learn to appreciate
what's going on around you, whether you like it or not.”
“If you're planning on telling me about Ol’ Scrooge, you can
save your breath. I've heard it.”
“First I'm gonna tell you about a man named Job. Then we'll move
on to a fella about your age, named Joseph.”¹
Ned and Micah dismounted at the McCain Ranch, looking for the
tracks Mark had left.
“Micah, if I get my hands on him…”
“Easy, Ned. I won't let you ride if you can't control yourself.”
“I'm not just your deputy, Micah.”
“Anker wouldn't let you ride, either.”
“I'll turn in my badge if I have to.”
“Ned, think sensibly. If you shoot DeFord down in cold blood,
you'll be hanging from a noose no more than a month later!”
“It'd be worth it after what he did to Mark and Cassie.”
“Ned!” Micah yelled. “What would Mark and Cassie be saying if
they were here to listen to you talk like that?”
“Well they're not here, Micah.”
“You better watch it, you're going to need your wits about you
when we catch up to DeFord, and wasting energy getting angry at
him is only going to help him. Focus on finding Mark and Cassie,
then we'll worry about DeFord.”
Ned only grunted as they continued searching for a trail.
Finally, they were able to make one out and began to follow it.
They rode in silence for the first while, but Micah could see
the wheels turning in Ned’s head. Whatever Ned was thinking
about concerned Micah.
“Out with it, son.” Micah finally said.
“Ma should've never given her consent for them to marry. They
were too young.”
“You don't believe that.”
“...Well, Mark certain doesn't seem to be doing a good job of
protecting her! Maybe he wasn't prepared enough!”
“Don't start blaming him, Ned. It's not his fault. He was doing
what any man was doing that hour of the day; working to provide
for their family. And this would've happened even if they
“... I know, Micah. I'm sorry. I just…”
“You care about both of them, and don't want to see them hurt.
You want to know what could've been done to prevent this. And
the only answer to that is if your father wasn't born. But then
you and your siblings wouldn't be here. You wouldn't have been
able to watch your little sister get married. You wouldn't be
engaged. Anna wouldn't be courting. Lucas wouldn't be as
outnumbered by females in his house, because Mark would still be
living at home, and Milly would've never come back…”
Ned couldn't help chuckle at that comment.
“...Micah, why is it that bad things only happen to good
“That's not true, Ned. Bad things happen to everyone. It's how
you react that makes all the difference. It's your reaction that
essentially makes you good… or bad.”
“Why'd my father choose the bad?”
“I don't know, Ned. You'll have to ask him about that.”
“...If they ever catch him.”
“Oh they will, Ned. Sooner or later, they will.”
They continued riding until dark and made camp, only eating a
little as they sat in front of the fire.
Micah looked over as he heard Ned suddenly chuckle.
“What is it?”
“...I was just thinking back.”
“Mind if I ask what you were thinking back to?”
“...Cassie must've been four or five. We were living in the city
and all Cassie wanted was to go live out in the country.
Complained that the buildings blocked the “glorious view”.”
“At four?” Micah laughed.
Ned nodded as he went on.
“Well, I guess she was probably five or so. One day we were
walking home from school and she pulled me off the road and down
the alley. Well, tried to pull. She didn't make much progress,
but I could rarely tell that blonde haired little sister of mine
no. Finally, she revealed to me that her life goal was to get
married to a tall brunette who was a rancher out west, and have
“Seems she succeeded in that dream.”
“...I just hope she has a chance to finish that dream.”
“She will, Ned.”
Mark rode down an old dirt road that had once been busting with
life and activity. He looked around at all the abandoned
buildings and wondered what their story was.
Once Mark reached the center of the ghost town, he halted
BlueBoy and slowly dismounted, carefully taking in all of his
surroundings. He pulled his rifle from the scabbard, jumping at
the sound of a kitten behind him.
“Oh brother…” Mark sighed.
Mark debated on whether to search the town or wait for DeFord.
He didn't have to think about it for long, however. DeFord
walked out of the old Sheriff's office, hand over his holstered
“You look just about as happy to see me as your wife did.”
DeFord chuckled as he and Mark carefully took a few steps closer
to each other.
“Where is she?” Mark asked as he twirled and cocked his rifle.
“Safe and sound, don't you worry.”
“I want to see her.”
“I'm a man of my word, Mark. She's safe.”
“What do you want?”
“I thought my note was pretty clear. I want you.”
“I could gun you down right now without thinking about it.”
“Maybe. But then you'd have to face three of my men, and you
couldn't get to all three of them before one of them got to your
wife.” A smug smile crossed DeFord's face as his men walked out
onto the street and Mark realized he couldn't do anything. “Drop
Not showing anything except anger on his face, Mark tossed his
“Like I said, McCain, I'm a man of my word. And I said that if
you testified… that, well… I'd make sure you would stay dead.”
“Get it over with.”
“Let's see… a head shot could be quick and almost painless… but
what's the fun in that?”
“You won't get away with this, DeFord.”
“A few shots to the leg would take too long, I don't have all
“It won't be long before you have every lawman in the territory
gunning for you.”
“You're very distracting. I'm trying to plan your murder right
now, if you don't mind.”
“I kinda do-”
“One to the chest and another to the abdomen sounds about right
to me. What are your thoughts, Thornton?”
Suddenly, Mark dived for his rifle… but not fast enough. Mark
clutched his chest and stomach as he collapsed onto the ground.
Pain shot through his body as another bullet hit his back.
DeFord walked over to a grunting Mark as a satisfied grin
crossed his face. He squatted down beside Mark and pushed him
onto his back.
“Everybody wants to be a hero. I will give it to you, you're
certainly not a coward. I can't stand yellow bellies.”
“How… do you live… with yourself… then?” Mark struggled to ask.
DeFord gave Mark a kick to the ribs before yelling at his men to
bring Mark inside.
Cassie sat up on the bunk as she heard gunshots outside of the
Sheriff's office. Part of her expected to hear rifle shots
following… but they never came.
A few minutes later, Cassie screamed as two men drug Mark
through the door. They unlocked her cell and threw Mark inside
before locking the door again and leaving the room. Cassie
turned Mark over, desperately calling her husband's name again
and again. She cradled his head in her lap as she tried using
her dress to stop the blood spilling out from her husband's
“Mark!” Cassie desperately cried again. “Mark, please!”
Mark struggled to open his eyes as his wife called out to him,
but he didn't have the strength.
“I'm here… Cass…” Mark softly whispered.
“Mark, stay awake, you have to stay awake!”
“I'm… I'm trying…”
“Mark, look at me!” Cassie cried. “Please, Mark, look at me!”
Again, Mark struggled to force his eyes open. His eyelids only
sat half open, but it was enough to see his wife's beautiful
“...Are you… al...alright?” He struggled to ask.
“Did he… did he hurt you?”
“No, Mark. He didn't.” Cassie cried.
Cassie carefully picked up Mark's hand and let him feel her
“Excited to be hearing his Pa’s voice.”
“So… it's a he again…”
Mark breathed a sigh of relief as his eyelids started falling
“Mark, stay awake.” Cassie said as she moved his head from side
to side. “Don't fall asleep on me!”
“Cassie… I… I need you to… do something… for me.”
“What, Mark?” Cassie asked as the tears continued to stream down
“When… when you… get home… tell Pa… I love him…”
“Mark, you're going to be fine. You'll get to tell him yourself,
“Cassie…” Mark weakly said as he tried to open his eyes more.
“Tell him for me. Promise… promise me…”
Cassie sobbed as she squeezed Mark's hand and nodded.
“Save your strength, Mark.”
“Cassie McCain, I love… I love you.”
“Mark…” Cassie cried.
“Thank you… for making it… this far… with me…”
Cassie watched in agony as Mark slowly closed his eyes.
“Mark?!” Cassie desperately called. “Mark!!”
Cassie sobbed as she called Mark's name over and over again.
“Somebody help!!” Cassie begged as the tears ran down her
cheeks. “Please, somebody!!”
The door to the room swung open as John and a few other men came
into the room.
Cassie looked up at her father as she choked on her tears.
“You have to do something!” Cassie finally screamed.
John unlocked the door and pulled Mark out of the cell. He felt
for a pulse before sighing and turning to the other men.
“Go bury him.”
“No!!” Cassie screamed as she ran towards Mark, but John pulled
her back and restrained her as the men drug Mark's body away.
“Mark, please! Mark!!”
“Calm down, Cassie!” John ordered as he turned his daughter
around. “The baby-”
Cassie slapped her father across the face before he put her back
in the cell and locked the door.
As John walked out of the room, Cassie threw herself onto the
bunk and wept harder than she ever had in her life.
Several hours later, John entered the room again. Cassie turned
so she was staring at the wall opposite of him.
“It wasn't my doing, I'm sorry it had to be this way, Cassie.”
Cassie got up and walked to the bars that kept her from slapping
her father again.
“It didn't have to be!” She yelled. “I hate you!”
“This is your grief talking, Cassie.”
“I've hated you since the day Mark got back and had you
arrested! You deserved everything they sentenced you with, and
more! And I'm not resting until I see you and DeFord both pay
for what you've done to my husband!”
“Cassie, I'm your father-”
“You gave up that right a long time ago, John Osborne. And you
will NEVER get it back!”
Osborne turned and left Cassie to her grief… knowing what his
daughter was saying was true. He walked into the office and
sighed as he dropped into a chair.
“Father-daughter bonding time?” DeFord laughed as he poured
himself a cup of coffee.
“... I was such a fool to think she'd change her thinking. That
she'd want to stay.”
“Yes, Osborne, you were a very big fool.” The man chuckled as he
dropped into his chair.
“Then why'd you let me go through with it? You could've killed
McCain at the ranch and be done with it.”
“I wanted to see him in agony. I knew your daughter was the only
way to get him to his weakest.”
“...And now Cassie has to pay the consequences…” John started
shaking his head as everything hit him. “...What have I done?”
“The only thing you could've done, John. It wasn't your fault
McCain started sticking his nose into your business.”
“No… I could've stopped this a long time ago. I could've…
Osborne suddenly looked up, a look in his eye that somewhat
frightened DeFord… and rightfully so.
Hearing two gunshots, Micah and Ned urged their horses to go
faster. They made it to the center of town before they heard one
last shot come from the Sheriff's office.
Guns drawn, the two lawmen ran into the office to see DeFord and
Osborne both prone on the office floor. As Micah covered him,
Ned went to check their pulses.
“They’re both dead.” Ned finally said.
Micah shook his head, disgusted by the two men. Seeing the other
door, Micah motioned for Ned to cover him as he went to check
“Cassie!” Micah yelled as he opened the door and began looking
for the key to the cell.
Cassie turned around and sat up, but she couldn't say anything.
Ned ran into the room, seeing the blood on his sister's dress
“What happened?!” He desperately asked as Micah opened the cell
Ned quickly went to his sister and looked her over.
“Where are you hurt? Where's all the blood coming from?
Cassie slowly looked up at her brother, tears still in her eyes.
“... It's… it's not mine, Ned.” She cried as she fell into her
“Well then who-” Suddenly, Ned realized who was missing. He put
his hands on Cassie's shoulders and looked straight into her
eyes. “Not Mark… it can't be…”
Cassie simply nodded before Ned wrapped his arms around his
sister in an attempt to comfort her.
Micah walked out of the room, unable to stop his tears.
Suddenly, everyone heard horses riding down the street. Ned and
Cassie joined Micah in the front office to see three riders
“Ned, they… they work for DeFord.”
Micah told Cassie to stay inside and down low as he and Ned went
to confront the three.
As they stepped onto the boardwalk, Ned and Micah told the men
Thornton was the first to shoot, grazing Micah's arm.
Everyone ducked for cover as they tried to shoot back.
Ned shot Thornton before missing a few shots aimed at one of the
other men. He ducked as a bullet went flying through his hat.
Micah saw one of the men running for an alleyway and was able to
shoot him. There were a few moments of silence before the last
man let off a shot, giving away his hiding spot behind a barrel.
Micah and Ned both shot until the man slumped over onto their
“You alright, Micah?” Ned asked.
“Just a scratch.”
Cassie came running out of the office and embraced her brother
as she let her tears flow.
Micah started to suggest they stay in the old hotel for the
night, but Cassie refused.
“I'll sleep outside, I don't care. Please, Ned, get me out of
here!” Cassie begged her brother.
Ned looked to Micah who nodded. As Ned went to help Cassie find
BlueBoy, Micah went back into the Sheriff's office. It didn't
take him long before he recognized Mark’s rifle sitting up on a
shelf. Tears fell down the old man's face as he brought the
rifle down and ran his hand across the barrel.
The three were soon riding out of town, away from the miserable
scene. When Cassie asked about the men's bodies, Micah said they
would send someone back to take care of them.
“...Cassie, do you know where Mark…”
“They buried him somewhere.” Cassie quickly replied, not wanting
to think about her husband's body lying in the cold earth
It was a long, quiet ride until they stopped for the night.
Little was said as they made camp that night and then as they
packed up the next morning.
As Micah took care of the horses, Ned took his sister to Doc's
immediately following their arrival in town.
Anna screamed when she saw Cassie walk in, blood covering her
dress. She ran to her sister as tears ran down her face.
“What happened?” Anna asked, but Cassie didn't reply. “Ned, what
“It's not her blood, I just want Doc to check her over.”
“Then who's blood is it?” Jason asked as he came running into
Cassie still couldn't answer; the tears just fell down her face.
“It's Mark's…” Ned sorrowfully answered.
“Where is he? He needs to-” Jason stopped short as he recognized
the look of grief on his friends’ faces.
“... Mark… didn't make it.” Ned finally said.
Anna fell into a chair as tears streamed down her face. By this
time, Doc Burrage had entered the room and could conclude what
As Jason tried to console Anna, Ned and Doc took Cassie into a
back room where Doc examined her.
“...Cassie, physically, I think you and the baby should be
“Thanks, Doc…” She managed to reply.
“Cassie, I'm so sorry for your loss… your husband was an amazing
Cassie nodded as she tried to wipe away her tears.
“...Would you like some time alone?”
Again, Cassie nodded.
Ned helped his sister out of the examination room and into room
three before making his way back to the waiting room, finding
Anna much more composed.
“... How's Cassie? And the baby?”
“Fine, just needing some rest.” Ned replied.
“...How did it happen?”
“I don't know. She just said it was Mark's blood and that they
buried him somewhere. I couldn't make myself ask her any more
There was a long silence before Micah walked through the door.
“Ned, I'm about to go tell Milly and Rachael.”
Ned nodded and followed the Marshal out the door without saying
“Oh, thank heavens you're back!” Lou exclaimed as the two men
entered the hotel.
Helen looked up from her books and ran to hug Ned.
“Are you alright?” She asked.
“Fine.” Ned replied as he tried to smile.
“Cassie and Mark over at Catherine's?” Lou inquired.
“Lou, where's Milly and Rachael?” Micah asked.
“Micah, what's going on?”
“Where are they?” Micah insisted.
“Up in their room. But where's Mark and Cassie??”
“What room, Lou?!” Micah nearly yelled.
Ned and Micah silently went up the stairs and walked down the
hall towards room eight. They knocked on the door before Milly
“Are you two alright? Where's Mark and Cassie??” She desperately
asked as she invited the men in.
“Cassie's fine, but just resting down at Doc's.”
“...And Mark?” Rachael nervously asked.
Lou was down in the lobby and heard Milly's scream echo down the
stairs. She ran to her friend's room and saw Micah holding Milly
as Ned took Lydia from Rachael's arms. As Rachael tried to
steady herself and sit down on the bed, Milly sank to the floor,
crying her son's name.
Lucas checked into his hotel and was surprised to have a
telegram waiting for him. He opened it, and almost couldn't
believe what was there.
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
NORTH FORK, NEW MEXICO”
Lucas turned right around and ran to the train station. With no
train to North Fork scheduled for three days, his only hope was
to ride Razor back as fast as he could.
It was an agonizingly slow ride back to North Fork. So many
questions ran through Lucas’s mind as Razor galloped across the
country side. So many questions he didn't have answers to.
It was almost midnight when Lucas rode into town, but he could
see the light on outside of Micah's office and several horses
outside. He ran into the building to see Micah talking with
Marshal Anker and a few others.
No one knew what to say; they just stared at Lucas.
“Does anyone care to explain to me how DeFord is alive?!” Lucas
demanded. “You said you went back and burried him!” He continued
to yell as he pointed at Anker.
“Lucas, why don't you sit down…” Anker suggested.
“I'm not going to sit down! I want answers! Why is everyone here
instead of out looking for Cassie?!”
“We found Cassie.” Micah assured.
“Is she alright??”
“Dead, for real, this time.” Anker replied.
“What do you mean for real? I checked his pulse, he was dead!”
“Sometimes it's so faint you can't detect it by hand. He was
alive… and he was gone when we went back to bury him at the
cabin.” Anker explained. “I should've told you, but your family
was going through enough at the time…”
“You had no right! You put my family in jeopardy!”
“I can't tell you how sorry I am, Lucas…”
“You just be thankful Cassie's alright. If anything had happened
“Everyone else clear out.” Johnny suddenly said from the back of
the room. “I need to talk to Lucas alone.”
No one questioned the deputy, they knew what he was about to do.
Lucas waited for the door to shut before turning to Johnny.
“What's going on? Cassie is fine, isn't she?”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“Lucas, you're going to have to be strong. You can't lose it.
Your family needs you.”
“What are you keeping from me, Johnny?!”
“Mark went after Cassie, to bring her home.”
“Lucas, Mark went home... to be with his Ma.”
Lucas dropped into a chair as he understood what Johnny was
“Get out of here, Johnny!” Lucas demanded as he stood and
pointed to the door.
Johnny knew better than to argue with a grieving Lucas. He
grabbed his hat and quietly left the building.
Lucas sank to his knees as he slammed his fist on the ground.
“Why, God?!” Lucas yelled. “Weren’t they enough?? Why did you
have to take him, too?!”
Tears streamed down the rancher's face as he repeatedly slammed
his fist on the ground.
Suddenly, Lucas could hear his son making a request of him. It
was as clear as the day Mark had made it.
“If anything happens to me… ever… I know you'll have your time
of grief. But promise me you'll live a full life. That you'll be
there to help Cass and Ma. That you'll take care of Cassie for
me. Promise me that my memory won't carve your life down to
“Oh, Son…” Lucas cried. “Mark, why?!”
Lucas softly knocked on the hotel room door.
A few moments later, he heard the door being unlocked.
Cassie only took a moment to look at Lucas before embracing him.
Cassie finally invited him inside, trying to keep her tears at
“How… how are you holding up?”
Cassie looked at Lucas for a moment longer before replying.
“...About as well as you are.”
“Not too well then…”
“He died trying to save me… how you must hate me!” Cassie
Lucas wrapped his arms around Cassie as he tried to calm her.
“Shh… of course not, Cassie. Had I been home, I would've been
right there next to Mark. Don't blame yourself, Cassie.”
Cassie slowly nodded as the tears continued to fall.
“...Micah said you haven't talked about it, and I understand…
but when you're ready…”
“You deserve to know… he was your son…”
“Cassie, if you're not ready…”
“I can do it, Uncle Lucas.”
Cassie sat down on the bed as Lucas brought a chair over and sat
across from her.
“... I don't know all the details. I was home with Rachael when
DeFord and John came to the ranch. They tied Rachael up in one
of the back rooms and took me with them to a ghost town, about a
day's ride. They locked me up in the old jail. It wasn't long…
maybe a few hours before I heard shooting out in the street.
Then…” several more tears fell down Cassie's face as she
remembered the sight. “They drug Mark in and threw him into the
cell with me. He was barely hanging on… they… they shot him at
least twice. He was so weak, Uncle Lucas… he could barely hold
his eyes open...”
Cassie was sobbing as she relived the worst minutes of her life.
“Take your time-”
“I couldn't do anything! He sat there in my lap, bleeding to
death, and all I could do was watch him die!” Cassie sobbed.
Lucas moved to sit next to Cassie and wrapped his arms around
“I'm sorry, Cassie… I shouldn't-”
“Why, Uncle Lucas? None of this was his fault! He didn't ask for
any of it! Why did I ever agree to marry him? He would be alive
right now if-”
“Stop it right now, Cassie. My son loved you, and my son wanted
you. And he was willing to sacrifice himself to give you a life
to live! Mark did it because he loved you, and he wouldn't want
you sitting here blaming yourself.”
“Love…” Cassie whispered. “He… said he loved you.”
“He wanted me to tell you that he loved you. ...He made me
promise I'd tell you, right before… before...”
Lucas stared at Cassie as he heard his son's final words to him.
Lucas again broke; he couldn't hold back the tears any longer.
¹Biblical characters; Job is mentioned in episode 2 - “Home
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch