Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Character of a Coward, part 2
Written by Morgan
"I want him,
Robert. Why can't you just give the man a chance?"
"Because the “man” is still a boy! You know the nickname people
gave him? The Rifle Kid. If that doesn't say something to you, I
don't know what will."
"It's a play on words, simply because of who his old man is. And
if he's really “still a boy,” then how'd he capture the Ketchum
brothers and the Hawz gang? You may not believe in his
reputation yet, but you've read the reports. He captured the
Ketchums single handedly, with an unconscious woman and four
year old girl to deal with."
"Pure luck, if you remember. He wasn't trying to apprehend
them," Robert reminded his brother.
"Fine, if you want to call that one pure luck, go ahead. It
still took courage. And what about the Hawz gang? He infiltrated
their gang, stopped an assassination, and rescued two people
Hawz had taken prisoner. He even refused the reward money;
something father was always looking for. You think just a boy
could do that? He may be young, but he's not a boy."
"William, you're jumping into this too quickly, we hardly know
anything about the kid anyway. Why are you so interested in
hiring him? Why not send someone we know and trust?"
"Because there isn't any one I trust to send down there.
Besides, he knows the territory and has connections with the
Marshal's Service down there. He's an upstanding citizen with
values the same as father."
"And how do you know this?" Robert inquired.
"I did some research. After all, I am a detective. I'm not
jumping into this as blindly as you think," Will said as he
dropped a small stack of papers on his brother's desk.
"I got ahold of some of the papers he wrote while he was in high
school. Even you would be impressed, especially with the last
"What are those two about?"
"The first one is a five page report on the letter of the law
and the spirit of the law. The second one was the last paper he
wrote before graduating."
"...Well what's it about?"
"He entitled it, “The Free Man's Creed.” He lives what we strive
to get our employees to simply understand. The fact that
everything is privilege in life. That it's a privilege to have
rights, own a gun, to defend yourself and others. That it's a
privilege to own your own land, work it, and reap the reward.
That it's a privilege to have law and order, and that it's the
individual's duty to support and protect those privileges. I
truly believe he's the man we want representing the Pinkertons
in the New Mexico territory."
Robert stared at his brother for a long moment before taking the
stack and reading the two papers William had spoken of. After he
was done reading, Robert sat there thinking for several minutes.
His brother was right, he was impressed. The writer expressed
his ideals with great passion and conviction; persuading the
reader to come to agree with his position, if he didn't already.
"How old was he when he wrote these?"
"Seventeen, I believe."
"...Alright William, here's the deal. You talk to him and see if
he's even interested in working for us. If he says that he is,
then we let him join up for training in March."
"And if you like him?"
"That's a big “if”," Robert retorted.
"...Then we'll let him continue the training until he fails,
quits… or completes it. But I'm just telling you, he's not
getting any favors because you've taken a liking to him."
"You're not going to regret this, Robert."
"I hope for your sake, I don't."
The two brothers stared at each other coldly for a moment before
breaking into laughter.
"Come on," Robert said as he slapped his brother's shoulder.
"Let's get out of the office for a while. I'm buying lunch."
"Milly, are you coming?" Lucas called as he entered his home.
"Sorry Lucas," Milly began as she stepped out of the bedroom,
placing her bonnet on her head.
"I couldn't find my hat."
Lucas offered his wife his arm and walked her to the buck board
before helping her up inside of it. Lucas climbed in beside his
wife and urged the team forward.
"What about Mark?" Milly inquired.
"Right behind you," Mark called from Blue Boy as he came out
from behind the barn.
Saturdays had once been the day Lucas and Mark came to town to
pick up supplies for the ranch, but since Mark had been working
for the Osbornes for so long, he usually just picked things up
as they were needed. The same thing had tended to happen with
things getting a little crazy over the summer months he wasn't
working for them, but as things settled down, Wednesday had been
chosen as the day the whole McCain family would make a trip into
town to run errands. With everything that happened in November
and December, very few regular trips had been made into town,
and this was the first “normal” thing that had seemed to happen
since Mark returned home.
Mark would stop at the livery to drop off and pick up blades as
well as horseshoes, and then make his way to the telegraph
office while Lucas would drop Milly off at the general store,
and then head to the hardware store himself.
Typically, Mark would drop by Ned's office to say hello, but
when he tried the door, he found it locked. The shades were
drawn as well, indicating Ned had stepped out, as he sometimes
did to run errands. It was unusual, however, for him not to
leave a sign in the window stating his intended time of return.
Shrugging it off, Mark remounted Blue Boy and returned to Main
Street where he found Lucas exiting the bank.
"There weren't any telegrams, but you did get a letter from Miss
Hattie, and you and Ma got a letter from a..."
Mark looked at the letter again before handing both letters to
Lucas. "Josiah Scott. A relative of Ma's?"
"Her father," Lucas replied.
"Oh." Mark paused before continuing. "Pa, do you mind if I-"
"Ride to the Osborne's before supper?"
"How'd you know?"
"You had that look in your eye," Lucas answered his son with a
"The one you get anytime you think about her."
"I don't get a look."
Lucas shook his head as he chuckled.
"Go ahead, just make sure you're back in time. Your aunt won't
be too happy if you're late."
"I will. See ya later Pa."
Lucas watched as Mark turned Blue Boy around and headed for the
Osborne's. His son might have been a full grown man, but Lucas
couldn't help but see a ten year old boy on top of the horse.
Lucas crossed the street and entered the Marshal's Office to
find Micah asleep in his chair, boots on the desk.
Osborne was resting on his bunk in the cell part of the jail,
but Lucas wasn't confident he was asleep and shut the door
leading to that area.
Lucas shook his friend awake before walking to the pot bellied
"Sleeping on the job, you're going to get yourself in trouble,"
Lucas teased as he helped himself to a cup of coffee.
"I wasn't sleeping, just resting my eyes."
"Micah, I could hear you snoring half way down the street,"
Lucas laughed as he poured Micah a cup as well.
"I didn't realize what arresting John meant."
"Taking care of the town wearing on you?" Lucas asked with
concern as he sat across from his friend.
"Oh, just about as much as it ever did. I'm just thankful things
haven't been crazy at Sweeney's the last couple days."
"Have you asked for a replacement deputy yet?"
"No... I don't think this town is quite ready for another
stranger to come in and take authority. We all put our trust in
the wrong place, and that almost cost all of us... Mark. This
town loves your son, Lucas. Always has, always will. I don't
think it's going to be easy to get everyone to place their trust
in someone again."
"So what are you going to do? You can't take care of North Fork
by yourself, she's too big."
"I'll have to deputize someone from around town. Only problem
is, most people already are working for somebody or don't have a
blessed clue about the law, and not too many of the farmers or
ranchers outside of North Fork do, either."
"Well it'd have to be somebody who knows how to handle a gun and
ride with a posse good, too. Someone like Jake Davidson knows
the law well, but if it ever came down to him tracking
criminals... things wouldn't end too well."
"I'd need someone who's had experience with the Marshal's
Service, too. Someone who can jump right in... Say someone who's
been on an assignment or two before. Someone who has watched the
office for me a time or two..." Micah stated as he sipped his
coffee, eyeing Lucas.
"What?" Lucas asked in confusion.
"Oh, nothing," Micah said innocently.
Suddenly, Lucas realized what his friend was hinting at.
"No thank you, Micah," Lucas said with a chuckle. "It's been a
long time since I've worn the badge, and I think I'd like it to
keep it that way."
"Did I say anything about you picking it up again?"
"You might as well have."
"Just think about it, Lucas-boy."
"Alright," Lucas said before pausing and pretending to think.
"There, and the answer is still no."
"You could use the extra money to just get you through the
winter. Things will settle down by spring and maybe we can try
for another deputy from Denver by then."
"Micah, I appreciate the offer, but I can't. I have Milly to
"Alright..." Micah sighed. "But if you change your mind, let me
"So when is John being transferred to Gantry?"
"There should be a deputy here in about two weeks to take him up
"Are you coming to the trial?"
"Yes, I'm testifying to backup Mark's testimony. Oh, and don't
let me leave without a packet of original reports that the
"I thought John was pleading guilty?"
"That's what I thought, until he refused to sign a confession.
He contacted his lawyer and refused to say or do anything 'till
the man got here. He convinced John to plead innocent and now
the trial is going to be even longer than I originally thought.
Didn't Mark tell you?"
"Mark has... been preoccupied."
"Even more so than normal?"
"Wouldn't you be if you had just kissed, and I mean really
kissed, your girl for the first time?"
"Ahh," Micah replied with a laugh.
"The life they bring into each other's eyes is amazing, it's
wonderful watching their relationship develop. I never thought
parenting would bring joys like this."
"Just a few more years and hopefully you'll get to enjoy grand
"I hear that's the best part. You can spoil 'em all you want and
send them home to their parents."
"Mark will be real pleased, I'm sure."
"Like you won't be spoiling his children rotten, too."
"True..." Micah replied with a smile.
"Afternoon, Mark," Cassie greeted with a smile as she opened the
door. "You want to come in?"
"Thanks. How are you?" Mark inquired as he stepped inside and
Cassie closed the door behind him.
"Hanging in there. It's been a rough few days, but... we're
getting through it. What brings you by?"
"We were in town and I came by to say hello. I haven't seen you
"Sunday," Anna interrupted with laugh. "Three whole days, I
don't know how you two stand it!"
Cassie looked at her sister, annoyed, but it wasn't too long
before all three of them were laughing.
"When I was in town, I didn't see Ned in his office or a sign
saying when he'd be back," Mark said, changing the subject. "Do
you know where he would've gone off to?"
A serious look came over both Anna and Cassie's faces.
"...Ned didn't tell you?" Cassie hesitantly asked.
"Tell me what?"
"He left town..." Anna quietly stated.
"We tried to convince him otherwise, but he didn't think he'd be
accepted in town as a lawyer after what came out about Pa. He
packed up and went farther west, to California," Cassie
"He just left you all?"
"Ma understood and gave him her blessing, he didn't want to face
anyone in town though or try to explain himself a hundred
times," Cassie answered.
"What is your Ma planning to do, after the trial?"
"Mr. Hamilton offered to have the bank buy the house and
property, it's not like we ever needed
this much land in the first place," Anna said.
"She's not planning on moving you all, is she?" Mark asked with
a hint of worry.
"Just into town. I'm going to get a job at the dressmaker's and
help Ma out until she can find a job of her own," Cassie
"What about school, Cassie?" Anna asked. "When did you decide
"After Ned said he was leaving. I learned a lot last semester,
and teaching was a great dream to pursue, but I think that's all
it's ever going to be, a dream."
"Did you talk to Ma?" Anna asked, a bit alarmed.
"She didn't want me to feel like I had to stay, she told me to
go back. But I can make my own decisions and this is what I need
"...I guess you wouldn't have been teaching too long, if at all
after graduation anyway," Anna stated with a sly smile.
"What do you mean?" Cassie asked.
"I mean with you and Mark getting married and all..."
Mark and Anna were both chuckling at Cassie's blushing.
"Come on Cass, you know she's right," Mark laughed.
Refusing to give in, Cassie changed the subject.
"When are you leaving for the trial? We aren't leaving until
"I have to be there a few days early, so I'm leaving the first,"
Mark replied. "Do you know when you're moving into town? I can
talk to Pa and see if we can't help you."
"In about two weeks, which doesn't really give us much time to
pack the house up," Anna replied.
"But we'd appreciate the help when the day comes, if it's not
too much trouble," Mrs. Osborne said, coming from the kitchen.
"It wouldn't be a problem," Mark assured her. "What are going to
do with the horses?"
"I don't really ride anymore and with Anna leaving for school
this fall, she decided it wouldn't hurt to sell her horse. We'll
keep Storm and the team at the livery and see if anyone would be
interested in buying Lightning and Thunder," Mrs. Osborne said.
"Anna, I'm guessing Doc got you into a nursing school then?"
"Yes, he did. He's even letting me do a little at the office
until I leave. Just scheduling appointments and helping him with
paperwork, but I enjoy it. He promised me a job if I wanted it,
over summer breaks and after I graduate."
"Will you take his offer?" Mark inquired.
"I hope to. I love North Fork."
Mark spent the next few hours at the Osborne's conversing with
the women. He enjoyed any time he was able to spend with Cassie
and enjoyed watching her laugh or even smile.
"Mark, would you like to stay for supper?" Catherine invited.
"Thank you ma'am, but I'm supposed to have supper in town with
my family. I should probably get going so I'm not late."
"Well thank you for stopping by, you're welcome any time."
Cassie walked Mark out and to the barn where he had left Blue
"Cassie, are you really doing alright with everything?
Especially since you decided to not go back to school?"
"Some things are more important than a dream. Ma... Anna... you.
It is hard though... knowing that I caused all these problems.
If... I hadn't been born..."
Mark put his hands on Cassie's shoulders as he interrupted her.
"Hey now, none of this is your fault. Your Pa caused all of it,
and you, Cassie, are the one blessing that came out of it all."
"...Or the one accident."
"You really think our meeting was an accident? That you and I
weren't supposed to be?"
"Well no, but-"
"Cassie, it's not an accident. I'd say it's a miracle. Cassie,
you're my miracle. We may have teased each other relentlessly...
and sometimes still do, but you captured my heart, and I don't
want it back," Mark softly stated as he tapped on Cassie's
Cassie looked up at Mark and smiled.
"See you Sunday?"
"If not before then," Mark replied before turning towards Blue
Boy and mounting up.
"See you later, Cassie."
Mark rode back towards town with a big grin on his face. Those
who passed him on the road didn't wonder why, they could guess
where he had come from.
The grin was still on his face as he knocked on the Gibbs’ door
before entering the house.
"You keep smiling like that, your face will stay that way,"
Johnny warned as he and Lucas looked up from their chess game.
"I don't care," Mark replied as he sat down across the room.
"Lucas," Johnny started. "You've got to do something about your
son, I think he's lost his mind."
"Worse than that, he's followed in our footsteps and fallen in
"Pa, Mrs. Osborne, Anna, and Cassie are moving to a smaller
house in town in a couple weeks. Do you think we could give them
a hand with moving stuff?"
"Oh I'm sure we could squeeze it in somewhere," Lucas replied
sarcastically. "Just have Catherine tell us when and we'll be
"Let me know too, I might be able to lend a hand for a bit,"
"Sure thing, Uncle Johnny."
Lucas and Johnny returned to their chess game and Mark watched
as the tables slowly turned
in his uncle's favor.
"Supper is on the table," Lou called from the kitchen door.
"Checkmate. We're coming Lou," Johnny replied as the three men
began to stand.
Little to everyone's surprise, Milly held Maddy for the majority
of the evening. Conversation varied from ranch work to raising
children, which was much to Mark's embarrassment when Lucas and
Milly couldn't help but share stories from Mark's younger days.
Of course, things led to the re-telling of Mark's crush on Sally
Walker and Johnny finally had something he could tease Mark
relentlessly with. Because unlike his current relationship with
Cassie, Mark was completely embarrassed by the ordeal with
After an enjoyable evening, the McCain's said goodbye to the
"We'll see you Sunday," Lucas said as he started out the door.
"Oh, Milly, did ye want me to bring anything for supper?" Lou
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble, could you bring a dessert?"
"I'd be happy to. Ye have a goodnight!"
Lucas helped Milly into the buck board before climbing up
inside, while Mark untied and mounted Blue Boy.
The snowy ground, as usual, made for a longer trip than during
fairer weather, but before long Milly was headed inside while
Lucas and Mark took care of the horses and evening chores.
"Pa, you've been thinking about buying new horses to pull the
buck board, right?"
"When the right ones come along, yes. Why?"
"Because the Osborne's are selling Lightning and Thunder, and
they're well trained, strong horses. Just about the right age to
start pulling about springtime too."
"And you're thinking that they're going to need the money, too."
"Well, yeah. But we do need new horses."
"I'll talk to Catherine on Sunday. How did they all seem to be
"It's hard, especially on Cassie. She feels that if she hadn't
been born nothing would've come out. I told her otherwise and I
think I got through to her, but they're all still hurting. I
think Ned is too, but having a hard time coping in North Fork.
He left for California this week."
"California?" Lucas asked in surprise. "That's a little drastic,
"To each their own, I suppose," Mark shrugged. "I just wish he
hadn't left so abruptly. These next few weeks leading up to the
trial are going to be hard for all of them, and I know Cassie
always had a special relationship with her brother."
"Well hopefully the few people in town that blame Mrs. Osborne
and her children for what John did will wise up sooner rather
than later and help them out. We can only try to be here for
them, but they'll have to deal with it in their own time."
Lucas turned back to finish bedding down Razor.
"Are you sure?"
Mark and Lucas finished the chores in the barn, blew out the
lanterns, and secured the barn door before heading to the house.
Lucas and Milly said goodnight to their son and everyone went to
bed for the evening, but it was a long time before any of them
Lucas couldn't get Micah's offer out of his head. Winter was
always a harder time of year to get by, and his friend really
did need the help...
Milly was thinking about how wonderful it had been to hold a
small baby in her arms. Though she felt she was every bit Mark's
mother, there was a deep longing inside of her to carry and
birth a baby; to be able to hold that child in her arms and
watch her baby grow up... Things she hadn't enjoyed with Mark.
Mark... he was thinking about the woman whom completed him, the
woman he wanted to be his
At breakfast the next morning, Milly noticed that both her
husband and son seemed to be preoccupied. She wasn't even sure
they knew what they were eating, but simply chuckled and left
them to their thoughts.
Milly packed both of them a lunch to eat, even though she tried
insisting that it was too cold for them to stay out that long.
"We live on a working ranch, Milly," her husband replied. "Work
can't stop because it's a little cold."
"I'll see you both for supper," Milly said before planting a
kiss on both of their cheeks.
Lucas and Mark had already saddled their horses when they did
the chores that morning, so they simply mounted up and took off
for the west pasture.
They worked silently side by side; counting the cattle,
straightening fence posts, forcing the occasional cow back
towards the herd when it strayed too far.
Both men were deep in thought, but close to noon Mark realized
they had worked the whole morning without saying a word...
something that was quite unusual for his Pa. Typically Lucas
said what was on his mind or got Mark to talk about whatever had
kept him quiet, but neither had occurred that morning. As he
looked over at his Pa, Mark wondered if something was wrong due
to the expression on Lucas's face. His Pa seemed to be
struggling with something, and Mark wondered what it could be.
When they stopped to eat, Mark finally decided to ask his Pa
"Pa, what's wrong?"
"Hmm?" Lucas asked as he moved his attention to his son.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing, why do you ask?"
"Come on, Pa. I've lived with you for eighteen years-"
"Nineteen? What are you-" It suddenly hit Mark. "I guess I did
have my birthday. Alright, so I've lived with you for nineteen
years. I know when something's wrong. What's eating at you?"
Lucas let out a long sigh as he looked out on his and his son's
"You've been able to read me like a book since you were thirteen
or fourteen. I have to say, that's not entirely fair."
"Fair? You've read me like a book for nineteen years. I never
could lie to you. When I was younger I saw it as a curse, but
now I'm glad I couldn't. I would've done some pretty crazy
things had I been able to."
"Would've?" Lucas asked with raised eyebrows.
"...More crazy things than I did," Mark replied with a chuckle.
"Seriously though, is everything alright?"
"Nothing's wrong, I'm just contemplating something Micah
"...Can I ask what it was?"
"Later. I need to talk to your Ma first."
"Alright," Mark understood, but sometimes it was a little hard
to wait for answers.
"What about you? You've been awfully quiet today," Lucas
"...Later," Mark replied with a mischievous grin.
Lucas patted Mark on the shoulder and the rest of the afternoon
was filled with light hearted conversation and banter. As crazy
as things had gotten over the last few months, the one thing
that stayed the same was the bond the McCain men shared. A bond
that ran deeper with each day. Other than the day Mark had
returned home, little had been said about the month Mark was
missing... little needed to be said. Mark had recognized the
grief in his Pa's eyes, and subtly assured him all was going to
be fine. Lucas had seen the hurt in Mark's eyes, but never
defeat; and reminded his son often to keep walking forward.
After finishing riding the range for the day, Mark and Lucas
returned to the homestead and completed the evening chores
before entering the house through the kitchen door.
"Supper will be ready in about half an hour," Milly announced as
she closed the oven door.
"How was your day?" Lucas asked as he wrapped his arms around
Milly and kissed her cheek.
"Good. I finished that quilt, added some chinking in Mark's room
"Ma, I could've done that, you should've left it for me," Mark
"Oh I had spare time on my hands, it was nothing. Besides, I
don't think you would've gotten around to it any time soon."
"What's for supper?" Lucas inquired.
"Lamb stew," Milly laughed when she saw the sudden change in the
men's expressions. "Not the last recipe we tried. Believe me,
that recipe deserves to be burned and its ashes buried. Lou gave
me this one."
Much to everyone's delight, the stew turned out nothing like the
previous one. After the meal, Mark volunteered to clean the
kitchen, so Lucas and Milly made their way to the front room and
sat down together on the sofa.
"It's so good to have everything back to normal," Milly said as
she rested her head on Lucas's shoulder.
"I don't think there ever really has been a normal around
here..." Lucas commented with a slight grin.
"No, I suppose you're right. I'm glad the family's complete
"Me too." Lucas hesitated slightly before continuing. "...Milly,
you know how things are tight around here over the winter and
"Micah is needing help in town?" Milly finished for Lucas.
"How did you know?"
"I knew you had stopped in and talked to Micah yesterday and you
just weren't the same afterwards. You've been thinking all last
night and today, I could see it. Micah offering you a job made
the most sense to me."
"It would only be temporary, but how do you feel about it?"
"I don't like to see either of you in danger, period. But
Micah's a marshal and that's his choice. If you pick up the
badge again, that's your choice and part of who you're deciding
to be. You're a good man, Lucas McCain, who cares about people
and wants to see justice done. I'll love you and be proud of you
no matter what you decide. I'm sure Mark will, too, but talk to
him about it
first, Lucas. I don't know much about what happened during my
five year absence, but I do know what Mark felt every time you
picked up that badge and you had him stay with me. He loves you
Lucas, in a way I'll never understand, but he does."
"I know, and I'll talk to him. Are you sure you're alright with
"Yes... it'll be good to see you wearing the badge again. Like
you said, it'd only be temporary." Milly snuggled closer to her
husband as he put an arm around her. "Lucas, something has been
on Mark's mind, too. Do you know what it is?"
"No, I tried talking to him this morning, but he simply told me
"What do you think is wrong?"
"Nothing, this time. I can't put my finger on it, but I think
whatever it is, is something good."
Milly let out a slight chuckle.
"What is it?" Lucas inquired.
"Oh I was just remembering all the times Mark came to the store
after school, buying candies to stuff in his mouth."
"He's always had a sweet tooth."
"Oh it seems like yesterday he was just twelve years old,
gawking at a lady wearing jeans..." Milly let out another laugh.
"And you, Mr. McCain, weren't too happy with a certain store
keeper who came to town."
"I don't know what you're talking about..." Lucas teased.
"Oh I'm glad you talked some sense into me. I was half crazy
demanding accounts settled when I took over the store. I'm glad
you didn't ever give up on me, Lucas."
"I'm glad you didn't give up on me after I died."
Mark walked into the front room to find his parents kissing and
awkwardly walked to his bedroom. He'd waited this long, he
supposed a few more hours wouldn't hurt.
Mark sat down at his desk and looked at the picture of Margaret.
It felt a little strange, having two people to call Ma, but he
knew it was a blessing. Mark had a special connection with his
mother that would be there forever; but he knew he was
forgetting. Simple things, like the way her touch felt or the
sound of her singing around the house. Simple things, that were
precious to Mark. Even though Mark knew he couldn't get them
back, he knew the memory of his Ma as the loving person she was,
would be there forever. And the Ma he had now, didn't replace
her, but gave him new memories he could one day tell his
Mark blew his lantern out earlier than usual and crawled into
bed... he soon wished that he hadn't, for Mark's dreams brought
him another nightmare.
Mark recognizes a familiar scene; a six year old boy sitting in
his home, looking up as a tall man comes out of the bedroom.
Neither the little boy or the man see a dark shadow leave the
bedroom the man had come out of.
Next, Mark watches as the boy and man stand next to a grave.
"Pa, I don't want to leave!" The boy cries as he tries to pull
away from his father.
"Son, there's nothing keeping us here."
The man picks up his resistant son and walks away from the
grave. Mark sees something lurking in the shadows, following
behind the man and boy.
Suddenly, Mark sees that same man lying in a doctor's office.
The boy who had been by the graveside with the man is now a few
years older, and dropping into the room from a window. He lies
down next to the man, trying to not give up hope. Unbeknownst to
the boy, something else climbs through the window. A dark
shadow, a figure. The one that had been following them for five
The shadow circles the bed and creeps up to the man. The figure
reaches out, but stops inches away from touching the man.
Again and again, memories play through Mark's mind. but in each
part of his dream, Mark sees another aspect he never saw during
the actual events. That something, or someone, stalking the boy,
Mark, and whoever he comes into contact with.
Then his dreams bring him something other than a deranged
memory. Mark sees himself and his Pa standing beside two
recently dug graves. He looks at the crosses, but can't believe
"No..." Mark hears himself whisper.
"They're gone, Mark. Your Ma and Cassie are gone."
They turn and walk away, the figure still following them.
A new scene plays in Mark's mind, only this time he's not
watching; he's experiencing. He looks down and finds his arms
and legs tied securely to a chair. Standing next to Mark, the
shadow waits, ready to give relief to the next victim of man's
cruelty. To bring them what he is: Death.
Mark watches in horror as Lucas dismounts to fix a fence on
their property. He doesn't see the numerous outlaws surrounding
The Hawz gang, a deranged confederate soldier, seven men filing
out of a prison wagon, Bantry, an old widow, an angry judge, and
so many more. All taking aim.
"PA!" Mark screams as he struggles against his restraints, but
the ropes only tighten. "PA!" Mark desperately cries, but his Pa
can't hear him.
Death leaves Mark's side and slowly inches closer to Lucas.
"STOP!" Mark screams. "PA!"
Mark hears the shots and watches his father fall to the ground,
Death taking Lucas by the hand.
"PAAA!" Mark sobs.
Mark feels his body being pushed towards his deceased father,
his restraints now gone. Mark resists, but the force is too
strong. He collapses next to his Pa and looks up at Death.
"Please!" Mark begs. "Take me, too!"
Death only laughs and runs away, leaving Mark kneeling over
Lucas's dead body. Mark looks into Lucas's open eyes and sees
that disappointed look Mark had tried so hard to avoid all his
"Pa, no, please! Please, Pa! PA!"
Mark threw his covers off and dressed; frustrated and angry.
Mark went to the front room and got his hat, coat, and rifle.
Why? Why did the nightmares have to come? Why did he constantly
have to relive the worst moments of his life? Why must his mind
come up with the only thing that could top those “worst
Though Milly still lay sound asleep, Lucas startled awake and
quietly left the room. He opened
his son's bedroom door and was alarmed to find Mark gone and his
bed unmade. Lucas put on his boots and coat, grabbed his rifle
and quickly made his way outside. Light could be seen coming
from a lantern in the barn, and Lucas crossed the yard before
cautiously opening the barn door and peering inside.
Lucas was relieved to find his son inside and alone, but became
concerned as he saw what his son was doing.
Lucas watched curiously as Mark kicked a pail out of his way as
he paced back and forth across the barn. Mark eventually turned
and braced himself against the wall opposite of Lucas.
"WHY?!" Mark screamed as he slammed his fist against the barn
Mark closed his eyes as he turned around and slid down the wall,
tears escaping his eyelids as he pressed the heel of his hand
against his forehead.
Lucas's heart ached for his son, he didn't know if... actually,
he knew for sure that he'd never seen Mark in so much turmoil.
Lucas slowly walked into the barn and knelt down next to his
"Mark..." Lucas barely whispered.
Mark slowly looked up to see that the last person he wanted to
talk to was next to him. He couldn't explain everything to his
Pa and watch that disappointed look creep into Lucas's eye. How
could he tell his father that he was afraid of a childish dream?
After all Lucas did to raise him, how could Mark tell Lucas he
didn't know how to get over a silly nightmare?
"Mark..." Lucas uttered again. "What on earth... is wrong?"
Mark didn't answer, he didn't even look at his Pa, which
concerned Lucas even more.
Lucas got up and Mark thought he was going to leave, but his Pa
only shut and latched the barn door. Lucas grabbed the milking
stool and set it down in front of his son before sitting on it.
"Son, for nineteen years I've watched you grow up. I taught you
the easy and hard lessons of life, I've watched you cope with
situations someone my age shouldn't have to deal with. I've
watched you laugh and cry, and I know when you've hit rock
bottom. I know you son, and whatever this weight is you're
carrying, you're trying to bear it alone. For whatever the
reasons may be, you don't want my help. But son, I love you and
as your father it is sometimes my job to give you things you
don't want, even if it is help. I've failed miserably and missed
something that's pulling you down Mark, something that's
destroying you. Whatever it is, neither of us are moving until
you tell me what's going on."
Lucas watched his son's eyes and saw the determination there,
telling Lucas it was going to be one long night.
So they both sat there. Mark shifting uncomfortably underneath
his father's gaze as he tried to avoid eye contact. Mark was
surprised that his Pa didn't say anything else, but patiently
waited. Mark wanted to crack and tell Lucas all the fears and
pressures he felt, but he didn't want to unload on his Pa
either. He didn't want to cause pain for his Pa.
An agonizing hour passed.
"Mark, look at me."
Mark didn't move.
"That's an order, Son."
Begrudgingly, Mark looked into Lucas's eyes. They weren't harsh
and angry though. They were filled with love and worry.
"Son, whatever happened; I love you."
Lucas was expecting to go back to the waiting game, but he saw a
change in son's eyes.
"Pa..." Mark whispered as a tear streamed down his face. "At
least once a week... for over two and a half years... I've
watched you die."
"You've been curious about why I get up early so often and start
on the chores. I say that I can't get back to sleep... and
that's the truth. My mind doesn't want to face the nightmares
again. My body won't let itself fall asleep again. Sometimes it
gets so bad that I don't even want to sleep... so I just don't
until I can't stop myself."
"...What exactly happens in these nightmares?"
"They usually start out the same, with Ma's death when I was
six. Sometimes I'll dream about the times I've come close to
losing you, in the real world, and sometimes it will skip to the
part where you die. The cause of death varies... but the ending
is always the same. They keep getting worse and when I dream
like I did tonight... Pa... I'm sorry but I've tried so hard to
get over these dreams! I can't! They're childish, they're
stupid, and I'm sorry!"
"Why are you sorry, Mark?"
"Because I can't man up enough like you taught me to handle it!"
Mark started to get up but Lucas quickly got off the stool and
took his son's arm. Lucas gently, yet firmly set Mark back down
and sat next to his son.
"Do you think that I'm not a man because I still have nightmares
about the war?"
"Of course not! That's war and that's different!"
"Yes it is, Son. It's different because I lost a lot of good
friends in that war, but I didn't lose my father. I didn't lose
anyone that I had such a bond with as I do with you, Mark. It's
different because I have old war buddies I can talk to about it,
but you've kept this buried inside of you for two and a half
years... It's different because there were people who instantly
recognized the hurt in me and walked me through it, but I failed
to see you crying out for help. Son, I'M the one who's sorry."
Mark stared into his father's eyes and found the compassion and
love he needed. Tears flooded Mark's face as his Pa pulled him
into an embrace.
"I can't do this alone," Mark admitted as he sobbed.
Lucas tightened his grip around his son as he breathed a sigh of
relief, knowing he had gotten through to his son.
"What happened tonight?" Lucas asked as he let Mark go.
"...It started like normal, Ma's death. Then my brain trudged up
every memory I have of almost losing you and I watched as death
literally circled around you. Then Ma... Milly, had died. That
wasn't unusual, Ma had died before in the dreams. But Cassie had
died too; that was a first. Then I stood helplessly and watched
every outlaw I've seen you face shoot you. Death had taken you,
but refused to take me as well. I looked into your face and all
I saw was... disappointment. It didn't kill me, but in the dream
I wish it had."
"Mark, we've talked about this. I couldn't be more proud of the
man you grew up to be. I'm not disappointed in you, and
especially not because you have to try to cope with losing me
two and a half years ago. We said it would take a long time to
get over, that we just needed to keep moving forward... I guess
I moved a little too quickly, and I'm sorry. Mark I should've
seen that you were struggling, and I'm sorry I wasn't there for
"It's not your fault... I kinda broke our “no secrets” rule."
Mark paused before continuing. "Pa... I need you. More than I
ever realized as a child. I know I'm a full grown man, but I
still need you in my life. I think that's part of what I wasn't
wanting to admit, but at the same time wanting to never forget
because I know how short our time together could be. Pa, I'm
scared of losing the ones I love the most, but I don't want to
be. I don't think I ever healed from grieving your death... but
I want to."
Lucas pulled his son back into an embrace as he let his own
"I'm here for you son. I'm alive and I'm here for you."
The rest of the night was spent working through every aspect of
every detail of Mark's worst nightmares. It was a long, hard
night for father and son; but together they got through it. By
the time they opened the barn doors, the sun was coming up. Mark
turned to apologize to Lucas for keeping him up all night, but
Lucas simply shook his head.
"ANY time Mark, you can talk to me."
They completed the morning chores before returning to the house
to catch a few hours of sleep before getting up again.
When Lucas entered the bedroom, Milly was just waking up.
"Lucas, you look exhausted, is everything alright?"
"Now it is. Mark and I... need a few extra hours of sleep this
"But..." Milly stopped when she saw the plaintive look Lucas was
giving her, asking her to let it go. "Alright, goodnight."
Lucas kissed his wife before crawling back underneath the covers
as Milly left the room.
When Mark woke it was well past noon. Although it had taken him
quite a long time to fall asleep, he had enjoyed the most
restful sleep he had experienced in a long time. After Mark made
his bed a put his boots back on, he entered the front room to
find his Ma sitting on the front room floor, cutting out fabric.
"Starting another quilt?" Mark inquired as he carefully stepped
around the fabric and joined Milly on the floor.
"Just a baby blanket for Maddy," Milly replied with a smile.
"Is Pa up yet?"
"No, he's still asleep."
Milly noticed a slightly discouraged look cross Mark's face, but
soon it was replaced by that boyish grin Mark would always carry
"I'm going to check the cattle. If Pa gets up and starts to head
out, would you tell him that I'll handle it for the afternoon?"
"Sure, just make sure..." Milly stopped herself from finishing,
silently reminding herself that Mark wasn't a little boy
"I'll be back before dark, I promise," Mark kissed his Ma before
getting his coat off the hook and putting it on.
"Thank you, Mark."
"I love you Ma, see you later."
Milly watched Mark put his hat on his head, grab his rifle, and
walk out the door.
As Mark checked the cattle that afternoon, he was able to do a
lot of thinking. He was glad and thankful his Pa hadn't given up
on him and made him talk through everything. There were still
fears to overcome, but Mark felt more free than he had ever
The time he had alone also gave him opportunity to contemplate
the conversation he needed to have with his Ma and Pa. He was
actually glad he hadn't talked to them the night before, because
he realized that he needed to deal with his issues before
pledging to take on someone else's. Now he found himself more
than ready to make Cassie his wife, but nervously wondered how
he would go about asking for his parent's blessing.
Mark's train of thought was broken when he heard a cow
frantically mooing. Mark followed the noise until he saw his
least favorite cow of the herd, Trouble, trying to pull her head
out from a fence.
Mark wasn't particularly in the habit of naming the cows
anymore, as he did when he was younger, but this cow had earned
its name. The cow always got into or caused some sort of
trouble. It seemed that every time he got close to her he walked
away in pain; and he cringed at the prospect of having to draw
near to her yet again.
"Alright, nice and easy, this won't hurt," Mark said as he
approached the fence and cow.
At first, Trouble resisted Mark's assistance, but soon let him
control her and Mark easily pulled the cow's head out. Mark
squatted down to examine the cow's neck... which was a mistake.
"There, that wasn't so-"
Too late, Mark realized Trouble had plans of her own and the cow
practically plowed Mark down before walking away and towards the
herd. Mark laid on the ground for a few moments, rubbing the
shoulder the cow had stepped on, the shoulder he had injured a
“Why do I even bother?”
Eventually, Mark got up and remounted Blue Boy. He finished
counting the cattle and finding all in order, returned home.
Unsaddling Blue Boy was a painful feat, but Mark paid it no mind
and soon was walking into the kitchen.
"Mark, would you mind setting the table? Supper will be ready in
a few minutes," Lucas said from the stove as he helped his wife
prepare the evening meal.
Mark set to his task; but avoided using his right arm for much,
and instead deferred to his non-dominant hand.
As the three were getting ready to sit down for supper, they
heard a knock on the front door.
"I wonder who that could be?" Milly commented.
Lucas left the kitchen and made his way to the front room to
answer the door.
When he opened it, he found a well dressed man, with a mustache
and neatly combed hair in front of him. The man seemed to be in
his mid forties, and held a professional, yet relaxed air about
"Lucas McCain, I presume?"
"...That depends on who's asking," Lucas hesitantly replied.
"Forgive me. William Pinkerton, Pinkerton Detective Agency," the
man responded as he shook Lucas's hand.
"Mr. Pinkerton, your reputation precedes you. May I ask what
your interest in me is?"
"Your son is the reason I'm here, actually."
"Would you like to step inside?"
"Much obliged, thank you."
The man stepped inside the McCain home as Lucas shut the door
"Why would a detective be interested in my son?" Lucas inquired
with increasing alarm.
"Mr. McCain, I'd like to offer your son a job... potentially."
Lucas relaxed and replied.
"Well how did-"
"Lucas, who's here?" Milly asked as she entered the front room.
"...A man who needs to speak with Mark. Mr. Pinkerton-"
"Alright. Will, this is my wife, Milly McCain."
"A pleasure to meet you ma'am," Will stated as he took Milly's
"Likewise, I'm sure. Would you join us for supper? We were just
sitting down to eat."
"I wouldn't want to impose, just showing up like this."
"It's not an imposition, please join us. I'll set another
place," Milly said before leaving.
"Thank you, very much."
"Our pleasure," Lucas stated as he gestured for Will to follow
Mark rose to greet their guest as his Pa and another man stepped
into the kitchen.
"Will, this is my son Mark. Mark, I'd like you to meet William
Pinkerton," Lucas introduced.
"How do you do, sir?" Mark asked as he shook the man's hand.
"Fine, thank you. It's a pleasure to finally meet you," the man
replied before the four sat down.
Mark started to ask a question, but Lucas suggested they say
grace and begin the meal before they continued conversation.
After Lucas was done praying, Mark spoke up again.
"What do you mean by finally meet me?" Mark inquired.
"I won't beat around the bush, I've already inconvenienced you
enough. I'm not really sure how to go about explaining this,
except to start at the beginning. Quite a few years ago I read a
newspaper story about a young man that stopped an assassination
attempt on the senator around here... with a slingshot. I was
most impressed, but honestly forgot about it until a few years
later when a friend at the Marshal's Service office told me
about that same young man apprehending the Ketchum brothers."
"That was sort of an accident," Mark admitted.
"Not in my book. You could've let them go or taken the easy way
out and not even had been out there helping that woman and her
daughter, but you didn't. Again, I was impressed. Then I heard
about you infiltrating and apprehending the Hawz gang, and that
finalized it for me."
"Finalized what?" Mark inquired.
"The idea that I wanted you working for the Pinkerton Detective
"Pinkerton... THE Pinkerton Detective Agency?"
The man nodded his head.
"That means you're... William Pinkerton." Mark stated as it sunk
in. "I didn't make the connection..."
"We aren't a federal law office, but we swear to uphold the law
and assist local law offices in the apprehending of criminals. I
see in you great qualities that I wish each of our detectives
had, and hopefully one day will have. My brother and I are
trying to increase our presence in the United States and
surrounding territories. Granted, you are young and my brother
is a bit leery of hiring one so young, but I was able to
persuade him to agree to inviting you to join one of our
training sessions. I will say, only about half the men make it
through the first week, and the numbers dwindle from there, but
I have confidence in you. If you do make it through all four
weeks of training and wish to continue in the agency, we would
like to place you here in North Fork or anywhere else in New
Mexico as our first operative in the territory."
Mark leaned back in his chair as he let Mr. Pinkerton's words
sink in. He eyed his Pa, who ever
so slightly shrugged and gave him a look saying, “It's your
"I can't give you an answer tonight..."
"Nor would I expect you to, I would honestly be a bit concerned
if you gave me an answer right off. I'll be at the hotel until
Wednesday, but I'll need an answer before I leave, we only have
so many spots for each session."
"Thank you, and I will think about it seriously. I do wonder
though why you'd come all the way out here to offer this to me?"
"Because when I see a man starting out in life, right; who
strives to see justice done, who understands the meaning of the
words, “We the people”, I believe they deserve to be recognized.
But I do have a somewhat selfish reason as well. I just wasn't
happy with the candidates we were getting to be placed out here.
Not only did they not understand the way of life out west, but
they were simply prejudice and bigoted. I wanted someone with a
level head on their shoulders, who knows how to deal with people
and connect with them. After all, you would be representing my
brother and I."
"Say I did make it through and decided to stay on. How much
flexibility would it give me with ranching?"
"That was the next thing I was going to mention. You would have
an office in town, and you'd have paperwork and reports when
you're not on a case; but you'd need a regular job to support
yourself and any future family you might have. You would have
quite a bit of flexibility, and this would almost be a part-time
job, with certain weeks being full-time."
The rest of the evening Lucas and Milly sat back as they watched
this opportunity for Mark unfold. Both Will and Mark asked the
other questions and the parents were proud to see their son
being held in such high regard with a stranger.
As the evening grew later, Mr. Pinkerton said he best be
"Thank you for coming out here," Lucas offered as he shook the
man's hand and the McCains walked him to the front door.
"Thank you for letting me invade your evening. And for supper,
Mrs. McCain, it was wonderful."
"Have a goodnight," Mark said as he shook the man's hand.
The McCains watched the man mount up and ride off before Lucas
closed the door.
"Well?" Mark asked as they all walked back to the kitchen to
"Well, what?" Lucas asked.
"Well what do you think?"
"I think it's your decision, Mark."
"Oh come on Pa, you've gotta have an opinion."
Lucas sighed and looked at Milly before looking back at Mark.
Mark wasn't sure if that was bad or good.
"In all honesty, Mark, I'm proud of you. All your life you've
stood up for what's right and stuck to your morals, and someone
noticed and wants to offer you a job. I honestly think you
should at least go for the training, and if you find that kind
of work doesn't suit you, you can come home early. It's long
enough after the trial, but before calving season begins."
"I agree with your father. Mark, this is a wonderful opportunity
for you, but you shouldn't let that cloud your judgement either.
Think about it long and hard, I know you'll make the right
The three finished cleaning the kitchen before Lucas and Mark
did the evening chores and returned to the house.
"Lucas, are you ready for bed? It's getting late," Milly
commented as she closed her book and put it on the mantle.
"Yes, go ahead, I'll be in shortly."
"Actually..." Mark started, but he didn't continue.
"Yes, Mark?" Milly asked as she looked at her son.
"Can... can I talk to both of you for a minute?"
"Sure, what is it?" Lucas replied.
"Would you mind sitting down?" Mark asked.
Milly and Lucas looked at each other with questioning faces
before doing as their son asked and taking a seat on the sofa.
Mark started nervously pacing in front of them, concerning
Milly; but Lucas suddenly realized what his son was going to
say. This was the “later” his son had talked about.
"Well... I know I've only been courting Cassie a little less
than seven months, but I've known her for two and a half years
and, you see..." Mark slightly paused before continuing. "Well I
wouldn't say anything to her until after everything settles down
with the trial and all, but, I want to- I mean I was wondering
if..." Mark stopped pacing and looked between his parents. "Pa
and Ma, I would like your blessing for me to marry Cassie."
Lucas and Milly looked at each other before smiling.
"Well?" Mark nervously asked.
"Of course we give you our blessing, Mark," Lucas said with a
Lucas got off the sofa with Milly and they hugged Mark.
As he stepped back, Lucas laughed at Mark's relieved expression.
"A little nervous there, Son?"
"I just didn't know what you would think, us being so young and
"Young, yes," Milly replied. "But you are going to make a
"...Who are you going to ask for her hand?" Lucas inquired.
Lucas nodded in approval.
"Well, I'm happy for you-"
As Lucas spoke, he firmly patted Mark's shoulder, sending
excruciating pain down his arm. Milly and Lucas both saw it in
"What's the matter, Mark?" Milly asked with worry.
"Trouble," Mark replied as he rubbed his shoulder.
"That's obvious, what kind?" Lucas inquired.
"Cow?" Milly asked.
"The cow that doesn't seem to like Mark too much," Lucas
answered. "Should we take a look at it?"
"I'll see if it's doing any better tomorrow morning, thanks
"...Alright, but if you need anything, let us know," Milly said
as she put a hand on Mark's arm.
"Unless there's anything else you want to talk about, we better
get to bed," Lucas stated.
"Alright, goodnight," Mark replied.
Each went to their respective rooms for the evening before
preparing for bed.
"Lucas, that shoulder can't be good."
"We're not going to let this one go, are we? When you came down
on his shoulder... it looked like he wanted to yell out."
"No, we're not. I didn't want to argue with him about it tonight
though. I'll take him to see Doc tomorrow morning."
"Thank you," Milly said as she climbed into bed. "Sometimes I
wonder if he thinks he's invincible... like someone else I
"I don't know what you're talking about," Lucas replied as he
got into bed with his wife and planted a kiss on her forehead.
Mark came out from his bedroom the next morning and started to
put his coat and hat on before Milly entered the room from the
"How's your shoulder?"
"Fine," Mark said as he looked down, conveniently at the same
time he went to pull his boots on.
"Uhuh..." Milly sighed as she walked to where Mark stood. "Mark,
a lot has changed over the past few years; but one thing's still
the same. You're still the worst liar on earth."
"I can actually lie pretty decently... just not to you or Pa."
"And who else would you be lying to?" Milly asked with
"Hawz believed every lie I told him."
"...I suppose that I can live with you lying to an outlaw. Mark,
really, how's your shoulder?"
"...Don't worry about it, it'll be fine." Mark picked up his
rifle and started out the door.
"That's not an answer!" Milly called, but the door shut behind
Milly gave a short chuckle followed by a concerned sigh. What
was she going to do with him?
"Pa, why are Blue Boy and Razor saddled? I thought we weren't
riding the range today...?"
"We're not, but we're making a trip into town."
"On a Saturday?"
"Mhmm," Lucas replied. "And you can head back inside,
everything's done out here."
Mark looked around the barn in confusion.
"Why didn't you wait for me? I could- this is about the
shoulder, isn't it?"
"Yes it is," Lucas answered as he faced Mark and walked the few
feet between them.
"Pa, it's fine. Give it a couple days and-"
"Mark, go pick up that hay bale," Lucas instructed, gesturing.
Mark walked across the barn and bent down to pick the hay bale
up. He had only lifted it a few inches from the ground before
the weight became too much on his shoulder and he dropped it.
"Fine?" Lucas asked.
"Come on, let's get something to eat and then we'll head out."
Mark knew his Pa wasn't giving him an option. He slowly walked
back over towards Lucas and the two returned to the house.
After breakfast, the two McCain men mounted up and rode for
As Mark and Lucas walked into Doc Burrage's office, they found
Anna seated at the desk.
"How can I help-" Anna stopped when she saw who had entered the
room. "Mark... Mr. McCain? Is everything alright?"
"Mark had a little incident and his shoulder is giving him a lot
of trouble. We need Doc to look at it."
"Why don't you take a seat and I'll talk to Doc."
Lucas and Mark sat down as Anna left the room for a few moments.
Both men stood upon her return, and Anna opened the door to the
examination room on her way back to the desk.
"You can go ahead and go in, Doc will be there in a minute."
"Thank you," Lucas replied before he and Mark did as Anna
"Pa, why make such a big fuss? It's nothing time won't heal,"
Mark commented after Lucas shut the door.
"Because knowing you, you won't give it the time to heal."
"I'm nineteen; I know how to take care of myself."
"That's not the question. The question is whether you do or
The second door to the room opened and Doc Burrage came in.
"Well, who did something this time? Or did both of you?"
"Just one of us," Lucas replied. "Mark re-injured his shoulder
and it's giving him a lot more trouble than he'll admit."
"How'd it happen?" The doctor inquired.
Lucas started to reply, but then he realized he didn't even know
what had caused the injury exactly.
"...How did it happen, Mark?"
"A cow got her head stuck in the fence, so I was trying to get
her out. After I did she plowed me down and stepped on my
"How long ago was this?" Doc asked.
"Late yesterday afternoon." Mark answered.
"Alright," Doc began. "Take your shirt off and take a seat in
the examination table."
Lucas watched as the elderly Doctor took his time in examining
Mark. It was evident anytime Doc touched Mark's shoulder it
caused horrible pain, but Mark tried to hide it as much as
After finishing his examination, Doc went to one of the
cupboards and retrieved bandages. As he began to wrap Mark's
chest and shoulder, he began to explain.
"Mark, you sprained your shoulder, and quite seriously. This is
to help support and hold things together a bit better while
they're healing. I don't want you putting any pressure on your
shoulder. No chopping wood or shooting until I give you the all
Mark nodded and sighed, not too happy with the Doctor's orders.
"Thank you, Doc," Mark offered as he put his shirt back on and
got off the table.
"You're welcome. Anna will help you at the front desk, I've got
to get back to that mountain of paperwork on my desk."
"Thanks," Lucas stated as he and Mark headed for the waiting
Lucas paid for the visit and Mark and Lucas headed outside.
"Now that wasn't so bad, was it?" Lucas teased.
"...As much as I hate going to the doctor's, thanks for making
"It's all part of my job. You want to head over to Micah's
office and say hi for a minute?"
Mark was thinking very carefully about how to respond... but he
couldn't figure out how to explain himself.
"You haven't been over there since you gave Micah your account,
have you?" Lucas inquired.
"Mark, you're going to have to face Osborne at the trial."
"I know... but... I just don't understand how he can sit there
and make excuses for himself, much less plead not guilty. I
don't want to listen to him try to explain himself to me."
"None of that is Micah's fault."
"...No, it's not," Mark admitted. "I do miss stopping in, I
suppose it couldn't hurt."
"Let's go then," Lucas replied with a smile. He knew Mark was
trying so hard to fight irrational emotion and anger. Slowly but
surely, he knew Mark was winning the battle.
Mark and Lucas walked to the marshal's office and were greeted
by Micah as they entered.
"Howdy Lucas, Mark. What brings you to town?"
"Mark had a little trouble with one of the cows yesterday and
hurt his shoulder. I dragged him into town so Doc could look at
it," Lucas replied.
"What'd Doc have to say?"
"He said it'd be fine in a couple weeks," Mark answered.
"Coffee, Lucas?" Micah asked as he gestured for the two to sit
"No, thanks. I had plenty this morning at breakfast. Have-"
Lucas's statement was interrupted by a voice calling from one of
"Marshal, when are you gonna let me out of here?"
"Trouble at Sweeney's last night?" Lucas asked.
"Yeah I got a couple of 'em locked up, sleeping it off."
"Marshal!" The man called again.
Micah stood and made his way to the doorway dividing the front
office and cell area.
"When you've all slept it off. Catch a few more hours of sleep,
why don't ya?"
Micah shut the door before returning to the desk.
"I sure wish you'd reconsider..." Micah's statement trailed off
as he saw the look Lucas gave him as Lucas almost unnoticeably
gestured to Mark. "...reconsider joining me for lunch Thursday."
"Well I'd like to, but Mark and I have to work on the barn. It's
needed fixing up for a while now and it can't wait for the warm
weather to return."
"Some other time then. Besides the incident with the cow, how
have things been around the ranch?"
"Steady. There used to be so much less to do during the winter,
but things seem to keep us occupied," Lucas replied.
"Well we also used to have a lot less cattle, too," Mark added.
"Micah, how have things been going around here? Are you getting
along alright by yourself?"
"I'm hanging on, but I'm hoping to get a deputy soon."
"Well we better get back to the ranch before Milly misses us,
see you tomorrow Micah?" Lucas asked as the three men stood and
started for the door.
"Hopefully, if I don't have another crowd of drunks to deal with
in here. Mark, tell your Ma I said hello."
"I will, bye Micah."
Lucas and Mark walked out of the office and back to their
horses. As they started for home, Mark turned towards Lucas to
ask a question.
"Pa, what was Micah really wanting you to reconsider?"
Lucas sighed and thought a moment before replying.
"I was planning on talking with you, but the occasion never
arose. Micah wants to temporarily deputize me, he doesn't want
another stranger coming in and he doesn't have that many
options. Right off I told him no, but then I got to thinking
about it, and eventually spoke with your Ma."
"Well how'd Ma react?"
"I don't think she likes the idea, but she doesn't like the idea
of Micah being a marshal, either. She's fine with it if I think
that's what's best."
"Well do you?"
"Yes, I do."
"Well then why..." Mark realized what his Pa was thinking.
"...Growing up, I watched you pick up the badge countless times.
I was proud to see you wear it; sometimes out of mere childish
foolishness, but as I got older I learned to respect what that
badge meant and was proud to see you defending the morals upon
which the Marshal's Service was founded. I was proud to see you
standing up for what's right. I worried about you, especially
that one time you almost had to go up against those four outlaws
alone; but I knew why you were doing it and although I prayed
with all my heart that you would be fine, if I had the chance I
wouldn't have dared gone back and changed it so you weren't the
deputy that day. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I love you
and worry about you; but that shouldn't be a reason either of us
fails to do our duty to protect the laws of the land. I think
you'd be the best deputy Micah ever had or will have, and
although I appreciate you taking how I would feel into account,
it's not my place to stop you from helping Micah or the town
out. 'Sides, I can handle a little more ranch work when you're
in town and I'm sure a little more money couldn't hurt right
"You're right about that. Mark, I'm glad you feel the way you
do, I know things haven't been easy on you growing up and I
wasn't sure how me picking up the badge again would affect you."
"Just no more trips across Dead Man's Crossing!"
"Believe me, Micah and I learned our lesson last time."
Sunday afternoon saw the Grafts, Gibbs, Osbornes, and Micah at
the McCain's for Sunday dinner. It was a little warmer than it
had been the past week, and the wind had died down quite a bit,
making the ride from town much more bearable. When the Osbornes
arrived, Mark took care of their team while Anna and Catherine
went inside, but Cassie stayed with Mark and helped lead the two
horses into the barn. Mark had wanted to speak with Cassie about
Mr. Pinkerton's offer, and began explaining everything as they
began brushing down the horses.
"...Providing I make it through the whole training program, I'd
be gone about a month."
"Why that's wonderful news, Mark!"
"That I could be gone for a month?"
"Oh you know what I mean!" Cassie replied as she playfully
slapped him with a brush.
"...So you'd be alright with it; if that's what I chose to do
"...My father was a marshal. You never stop worrying but you
get... used to it, I suppose. I wouldn't want to see anything
happen to you, but I also think it'd be a mistake if you didn't
take up their offer, or at least look into it more. If you want
to become a detective, I think it would suit you very well, and
I think you should join their agency. Operating for a federal or
private office, Mark, I would be so proud to see you wearing a
badge, swearing to uphold the law. You're a man of good morals
and justice, who wants to help people, and I'd be a fool to want
you to turn away from who you are because there's a little
"Well that makes my decision a whole lot easier, thank you,
"Don't thank me, it's your life."
"But one day it'll be our life."
There was a beautiful silence between the two as they stopped
brushing and looked into the other's eyes. Both gently smiling
as Cassie's cheeks continued to turn a darker shade of red.
"I hate to interrupt," Johnny called from the barn door,
startling both Mark and Cassie. "But your Ma told me to have you
bring plenty of firewood when you come in, Mark."
"...Thanks, Uncle Johnny. We'll be inside in a minute," Mark
replied as he brushed the horse a few more times before putting
him in one of the empty stalls.
"You better be careful, Mark. Sally might get a little hurt if
"Oh brother!" Mark exclaimed in embarrassment.
"What do you mean, Mr. Gibbs?" Cassie inquired.
"Nothing. Nothing at all..." Johnny replied as he walked out of
"It’s history... he's just trying to get at me for teasing him
and Aunt Lou so much. And it's
Cassie chuckled before Mark put the horse she had been brushing
in the stall with the other horse.
On the way back to the house with Cassie, Mark got the firewood
and brought it to the kitchen where the women were busy
preparing the meal and spoiling Maddy.
It wasn't too long before Mark got himself kicked out of the
kitchen for sampling the food.
"Cassie girl, are ye goin' ta sit there and gawk after the boy
all day or help me with these green beans?" Lou asked as she
snapped the end of another bean.
"Sorry..." Cassie blushed as she started helping Lou.
The other women in the kitchen chuckled at the love-struck young
lady in their midst, all remembering back to the days they were
After dinner was eaten in the dining room, everyone made their
way back to the front room to converse.
The Osbornes were the last ones to leave that evening and Mark
hitched the team up for them before they drove back home.
Some folks in town thought it strange that Mark, or any of the
McCains for that matter, would still associate with the
Osbornes. On the contrary, both families felt that the continued
relationship helped them all deal with everything that had
happened and move on in the respects in which they could. There
would always be the close minded, callous people in town who
would turn their nose up at the Osbornes, simply because of what
John had done; but the majority of folks had accepted that John
Osborne's wife and children had nothing to do with his actions.
Mark was glad, knowing what guilt Cassie struggled with
Mark walked back inside the house after the Osborne's buck board
disappeared out of sight and found his parents relaxing on the
He picked up a book and sat across from them in his chair.
About fifteen minutes had passed when they all heard a horse
quickly ride up to the house, soon followed by pounding on the
Lucas rose to answer the door as Milly and Mark looked up from
"Micah, what's the matter?" Lucas asked as he opened the door
more to let his friend inside.
All the McCains could see the worried look on Micah's face and
nervously waited for him to answer as the marshal uncomfortably
shifted his weight and sighed.
"Micah?" Mark asked as he walked closer to the marshal.
Micah took a telegram out of his pocket and handed it to Mark,
who opened and read it.
Seeing the look that came over their son's face, Lucas and Milly
became even more worried.
"Mark, what does it say?" Lucas inquired.
Mark looked at the telegram before reading it aloud.
NORTH FORK, NEW MEXICO
Forget about testifying at Osborne's trial
Otherwise I'll make sure you stay dead
GANTRY, NEW MEXICO"
Mark folded the telegram as Lucas and Milly stared at him in
"...Micah," Mark slowly began. "How'd he find out? The story
only came out in the local paper a few weeks ago!"
"Osborne was a U.S. Marshal, Mark. Plenty of reporters have a
way of getting their hands on information, and a story like this
certainly wouldn't be refused by any editor. Gantry isn't too
terribly far from here, either," Micah replied.
"Oh, I'm sure he wasn't there when he heard. That's where the
trial is being held; he left the name of the town in the
telegram on purpose. He wants me to know he's waiting."
"I've already sent the authorities down there a warning and
asked them to keep a lookout for DeFord or any of his men. I'm
sure we'll find him before the trial starts."
"Well you're not planning on going down there if he isn't
caught, are you?" Milly worriedly asked.
"I don't have a choice," Mark replied. "The little physical
evidence they have isn't enough to convict him. We need the
evidence, my testimony, and Micah's testimony about what
the night I got back. It’s the only chance the prosecution has.
I hate to say it, but there's no telling what Osborne might do
if the court can't find him guilty. I'm not going to let DeFord
scare me with what very well could be just an empty threat."
"Mark it could be more than that," Lucas commented.
Mark looked at his Pa for a moment in astonishment.
"You're not asking me to stay, are you? You remember that time
you had to testify at a trial because the first witness was
shot? You didn't refuse to stand up for what's right then, so
please don't ask me to, now."
"...I'm not going to, but son, you have to realize that this
could be more than just empty threats."
Mark nodded before turning back towards Micah.
"Thanks for riding all the way back out here," Mark offered.
"Don't thank me. I'm sorry it had to be such bad news that
brought me back out. I better be getting back to the jail."
Micah turned and left, leaving the McCain's alone once again in
their home. After a few minutes of silence, Lucas and Milly
watched Mark walk to his bedroom and shut the door behind him.
"Oh, Lucas!" Milly cried as she collapsed onto the couch.
Lucas sat down next to his wife and gently rubbed his hand
across her back.
"It's going to be alright, Milly. We've dealt with threats
before, we'll deal with this one."
"But not a threat like this! Lucas, how can you just sit there
and let him go through-"
"Milly, he has to do what's right. He couldn't live with himself
if he let Osborne go free, and frankly, I'd be disappointed in
him if he did. I love him Milly, but I can't ask him nor do I
want him to turn his back on justice. While we're in Gantry,
believe me, I'll be watching him every second and won't let him
out of my sight; I'm worried about him, but this is his
choice... and I'm proud of the choice he's making, not that I
expected any less from him."
"Lucas, if something happened to either one of you-"
"If is a dangerous word. We've got to live in the present, and
take the hand we're dealt in life."
Milly nodded as she tried to stop her flowing tears. After a few
minutes she stood and headed
for their bedroom.
"Coming to bed?" She asked.
"I'll be there in a minute."
Milly nodded again and left the room.
Lucas stood and walked to his son's door. He entered without
knocking and found his son at the desk.
"Pa?" Mark asked as he turned around and looked up.
Lucas walked to the desk and sat on its edge as he crossed his
arms. He studied his son for a moment before replying.
"Are you alright?"
"There's not much point in not being alright, seeing as how I
can't change anything."
"But ARE you alright?"
Lucas waited for his son to collect his thoughts and explain.
"This whole thing was difficult enough to deal with before. I'm
still struggling with who John actually turned out to be, what
he did to his family and ours. I was going to have a hard enough
time facing him during the trial and listening to him try to
redeem himself. I'm going through with the trial, regardless of
what DeFord or anyone else threats... But having someone
threaten my life like that..."
"It's scary?" Lucas finished for Mark.
Mark nodded his head.
"I wish I could take away the threat Mark, but I know I can't. I
wish I could tell you there was an easy way to deal with any
sort of threat, but we both know there isn't. We've gotta face
it and deal with it as situations arise. But I can tell you one
thing; you'll always have a partner to watch your back."
"Thanks Pa." Mark let out a slight chuckle.
"Oh I just would've loved to see DeFord's face when he found out
I was alive."
"Well I'm glad you're laughing about it. We both better be
heading to bed, especially if you're still planning on riding
into town tomorrow."
"If?" Mark asked.
"Since," Lucas replied with a quiet chuckle. "I hope everything
goes smoothly for you."
"If it goes any smoother than it did with you and Ma, I'll be
"Goodnight Mark. See you in the morning."
The next morning after breakfast, Mark mounted up and headed for
town. His first stop was the hotel, and as he entered the
establishment he was greeted by Lou.
"Good morning Mark, what brings ye in this morning?"
"Would you happen to know where Mr. Pinkerton is?"
"He came down for breakfast a while ago, I believe he went back
up to his room. Why would ye be lookin' for 'im?"
"I have some business with him."
"Is everythin' alright? I don't understand what a cattle rancher
would need from a detective."
"Everything's fine, he offered me a potential job."
"I'm glad to hear that. He's in room nine."
"Thank you, Aunt Lou."
Mark walked up the stairs and went to knock on the door of Mr.
Pinkerton's room, but before he could, the door was opened.
"Come on in," Will invited.
Mark entered the room and shut the door behind him.
"I'm presuming you're here about my offer," Mr. Pinkerton
"Yes sir, I am. First of all I want to thank you for giving me
this opportunity, it's something I don't take for granted. I
know I'm young and that can make some people think it puts me at
"But it doesn't. I know what you're capable of, and that's why I
offered this to you. I'm assuming you've come to a decision?"
"I would very much like to take your offer, Mr. Pinkerton."
"I'm very glad to hear that my trip wasn't wasted. I'll leave a
packet of information with you, giving you a bit more details
about the training program, where it will be, when you should
show up, that sort of thing."
Will proceeded to find his briefcase and rummage through it
until he found the packet.
"Thank you," Mark said as he took it.
"No, thank you. You're the type of man I want at the agency, and
I'm glad you've accepted the offer. I understand if you get
through training and change your mind; that's understandable,
but I certainly hope you don't. I'll let you go, I'm sure you
have a few more things to do while you're in town. If you have
any questions before I leave, I'll be happy to answer them.
Otherwise, I'll see you in March."
"Thank you Mr. Pinkerton, have a great day."
Mark shook the man's hand and left the hotel room. Everything
started to slowly sink in as he left the hotel.
He had just accepted an offer to attend the Pinkerton Detective
Agency's training program, and in a few months, he could be
working for them.
Mark was excited to see everything happening. He remembered back
to the night he graduated, wondering what the rest of his life
would hold... How he would make a difference. This was his way
to help people and see justice done... this gave him drive, and
this was what he wanted to do.
Mark mounted up on Blue Boy and headed for the Osborne's. His
mind was constantly rehearsing what he was going to say to Mrs.
Osborne, and he let out an agitated sigh every time his thoughts
got jumbled up.
After dismounting and tying Blue Boy to the porch railing, Mark
made his way up the steps and knocked on the door.
"Morning Mark, good to see you," Mrs. Osborne pleasantly
"Good morning, Mrs. Osborne."
"I'm afraid if you're looking for Cassie, she's at the
"Actually, I'm here to speak with you. May I have a moment of
"Certainly, please come in."
Mark stepped inside and Mrs. Osborne shut the door behind him.
"Would you like some coffee?"
"No thank you ma'am, I don't drink it."
"Please, take a seat," Mrs. Osborne offered as she sat down
Mark sat across from her and nervously played with his hat.
"What was it you were wanting to speak with me about?"
"...Well, Mrs. Osborne," Mark began as he looked at her in the
eye. "I don't know how else to go about this other than to just
say it. I love your daughter and she completes me. Mrs. Osborne,
may I have Cassie's hand in marriage?"
"Have you spoken with your parents about this?"
"Yes ma'am, they both give their full blessing. I know we're
young, but I believe we're both ready for this, and frankly I
can't imagine not spending the rest of my life with her."
"Mark... I've said it before, I would be very honored to have
you as my son-in-law. Yes, you have my permission and blessing."
"Thank you Mrs. Osborne," Mark stood and offered to shake her
"Oh posh, Mark."
Mrs. Osborne gave Mark a hug which he gladly returned.
"Now when do you figure on asking Cassie?"
"I haven't quite decided... I want to wait for things from the
trial to settle down, I'm just not sure if I want to ask her
before or after training in March."
"Well whatever you decide, she'll be absolutely thrilled. She
loves you, Mark."
"Do you have anything that needs to be done around here before I
leave? Firewood or something?"
"Oh no you don't, your Pa mentioned the shoulder and told us
you're not supposed to be doing any strenuous work," Catherine
said with a smile.
"Alright, but if you do need anything-"
"I'll get Percy or someone else to do it, if I can't. Go ahead
and head home, you've done plenty around here anyway."
"When are you moving into town?"
"A week from today."
"Pa and I will be here first thing to help."
"Thank you Mark, have a good day."
Catherine walked Mark to the door and he left after bidding her
On his way back through town, Mark decided to stop in to talk
with Micah. But when he entered the office, he didn't see the
"Micah?" Mark called.
"Went to make his rounds," Osborne replied from the cell.
"Like you would care."
"Believe it or not Mark, I do. I spent two and a half years
serving this town, serving you, and I do care."
"Actions speak louder than words." Mark started to leave, but he
turned back around and walked to John's cell. "Why'd you let
yourself get into this mess? When you came to town, I held the
greatest respect for you. You seemed to be such an upstanding
person, I was proud to have you as our marshal. Then you started
turning your head, started working with criminals, started not
caring about anyone but yourself-"
"I did all of it for my family!"
"No, you did all of it for yourself. The reason you married Ara?
That wasn't for your family. The reason you hid the truth about
Cassie's birth? That wasn't for your family either, it was to
save your honor. The reason you let those criminals out of jail?
You couldn't let your pride go. The reason you left me with the
"I couldn't face you again! I admit it. I know what you thought
of me before you found out, I'd seen the disappointment in your
eyes after what happened to Milly and Lucas, and I couldn't see
that again. I was a coward and I know it. I had too much pride,
and I know it. I made a mess of things because I didn't own up
to anything, and I know it!"
"Then why are you pleading innocent!?"
"Because DeFord said if I don't, and I let him be implicated at
all, he'll take it out on my family!"
"How'd he contact you?"
"The lawyer that's been in and out of town the last couple
"Did you tell Micah?"
"No, and you're not going to either."
"Why not?! Then he could-"
"Because DeFord promised that if I did, I'd never see any of
them again! Mark, I'm only telling you this because I want you
to understand I want to plead guilty, but I don't have a choice.
Promise me you won't say anything to Micah!"
"... I can't. He needs to know, he can't protect them if he
doesn't know they need protecting! If you care about them, you
should've told Micah about this a long time ago."
"Mark, don't you accuse me of not caring about my family again,
or so help me..."
"You'll what? Make me regret it? Kill me? You'll have to wait
your turn, DeFord's first in line! I do believe you cared about
them at one point, and still do, but you've been blinded and you
can't see straight. You have priorities mixed up. You should be
the one to step up, but since you won't, I'm telling Micah that
DeFord's threatening your family."
"Mark, if something happens to them-"
"You think DeFord will leave them alone even if you somehow are
found not guilty and they don't go hunting after him? He's going
to be playing a game with you the rest of your life! It's time
you end this game of cat and mouse!"
Mark and John heard the door to the office open and saw Micah
make his way inside.
"Mark, what are you doing here?" Micah inquired.
"Micah, I need to talk to you..." John stated.
"DeFord," Mark replied.
"What are they going to do?" Milly asked after she and Lucas
heard Mark's account of what transpired in the jail that
"Try to pack up sooner than they already are and move into town.
Micah's checking in at their place just about every few hours,"
"Lucas," Milly began. "Do you think I could go over tomorrow and
give Catherine a hand?"
"After Mark and I check on the cattle, we all can. I'm sure they
need all the help they can get. I know it's not easy packing up
"Mark, were you not able to speak with Catherine this morning,
due to the news?"
"I spoke with her before I went to the jail."
Lucas and Milly waited for Mark to continue, but he kept silent.
"Well what did she say?" Lucas asked his son.
"She gave us her full blessing and permission," Mark replied
with a smile.
"When are you going to pop the question?" Milly inquired.
"I haven't decided yet, I at least want to wait for things with
the trial to calm down, so it might be after I go to Chicago for
"When a... do you plan on telling your Uncle Johnny?" Lucas
asked with a grin.
"Not until after I propose. Thank you both so much for telling
him about Sally, it alleviates so much awkwardness," Mark stated
"Does Cassie even know you had a crush on her cousin?" Milly
"No, I figure she'll find out soon enough; especially if Uncle
Johnny has anything to say about it."
Over the next several days, the McCains kept busy helping the
Osborne's pack up and move. Lucas, Milly, and Catherine were all
constantly reminding Mark to take it easy on his shoulder.
Mark new Catherine hadn't told her daughters why she decided to
move so quickly, and was glad neither one of them had to carry
that burden in their mind. He was, however, concerned about Mrs.
Osborne. She was getting worn down and it was obvious that
stress was a constant in her life. Mark watched as she cringed
every time one of her daughters left to run an errand, even if
they weren't alone.
By Saturday afternoon, the Osbornes were settled in their new
home, and invited the McCain's and Gibbs', who had lent a hand
that day as well, to join them for supper. Mark and Cassie
volunteered to do the dishes while Anna worked on her homework
and everyone else talked in the living room.
Cassie noticed that Mark wasn't very talkative and seemed to be
deep in thought as he rinsed and dried the dishes, staring out
"Mark, is everything alright?" Cassie asked as she looked at him
"Yeah, I'm just thinking," Mark replied as he put the dish he
had been drying away and began to rinse another.
"The day we met... and then the day you started helping us with
the barn," Mark chuckled before continuing. "I remember talking
to Pa about it when I got home. I thought it was so strange that
you'd want to help us build that barn..."
"In all honesty it wasn't the barn I was so interested in. I
found you a bit... strange, as well."
"Good or bad kind of strange?"
"I wasn't really sure. What about you?"
"Good strange," Mark answered with a smile. "How about now? What
kind of strange am I?"
"Definitely not a good kind..." Cassie replied with a
mischievous grin. "You're a wonderful kind of strange, Mark
Anna walked in the kitchen just in time to see Cassie planting a
kiss on Mark's cheek. She abruptly turned around and went back
"I'm going to miss our old place..." Cassie sighed. "For one
thing, our barn seemed to be the only place we could have any
The weeks before the trial seemed to drag by, but the night
before John Osborne's trial finally arrived. Micah, Lucas, and
Mark had arrived in Gantry a few days before the trial was
supposed to start, since Micah and Mark were both witnesses. The
afternoon before the trial, Cassie, Anna, and Catherine arrived
in town and checked into their hotel.
Mark and Lucas had supper with Micah and the Osbornes that
evening, and afterwards returned to their room for the night.
After entering their room, Lucas sat down on one of the beds
while Mark took the chair next to the window.
The tall rancher watched as his son intensely stared out the
window, deep in thought.
"Mark, what's wrong?" Lucas asked.
"DeFord is getting to me, that's all. I sure wish they would've
found him by now, especially since Cass and her mother and Anna
are here. Pa, if something were to happen to any of them..."
"It wouldn't be your fault Mark. You did right in convincing
John to tell Micah, don't doubt yourself."
"I know... I just hate that I can't control what happens. I use
to be able to take it fine, but now... I don't know what the
"You fell in love Mark," Lucas chuckled. "It's different love
than you'll ever feel for me, your Ma, or anyone else. Things
change when you fall in love and you want to protect her, you
don't want to see her hurt."
"But I love you and Ma. I want to protect you both. Yet I have
learned to accept what happens within our family. But with
"That's just it Mark, you've learned. You haven't been in a
situation like this with Cassie before and you don't know how to
handle it because all of it is new for you. The same way you
learned to leave things in the hands of God when it comes to
your Ma and I, you have to learn to surrender with Cassie."
"Don't take this wrong... but it seems so much harder."
Lucas softly chuckled.
"I understand son. Your relationship with Cassie is completely
separate and different from your relationship with me. The same
way my relationship with your Ma is different than the one I
have with you. It's hard to let go... and it's not wrong to hold
concern for her, especially in this situation. You just can't
let fear run your life."
Mark sighed before looking at his Pa for the first time.
"But instead, redirect that fear..."
Mark and Lucas both remembered back to the conversation they had
several years prior.
"Why don't we hit the sack, we have a long few days ahead of
Mark and Lucas prepared for bed before getting under the covers
and blowing out the lantern.
Lucas was asleep within a few minutes, but Mark lay awake for
several hours, thinking through the long four weeks of
captivity. Finally, Mark couldn't take it anymore and decided to
go outside; he felt like the walls of the room were closing in
on him. As he walked outside of the establishment, he saw
someone leaning on a nearby hitching post.
"Ms. DeFord, I wasn't expecting to see you here," Mark commented
as he approached her.
Ara turned around and after a moment, recognized Mark.
"You're the man who helped me find John in North Fork, aren't
"What are you doing here? I'm simply here because the
prosecution dug me up..."
"I'm assuming you filed for divorce, then?"
"...How did you know?"
"You answered to Ms. DeFord and-"
"Not about the divorce. How did you know that I was even married
"...You see ma'am, the day you made your brother explain
everything to you, he had me tied up in the back room."
“...You have to understand that until the prosecution informed
me, I had no idea my brother was a criminal, except the
blackmailing incident, which I only found out about that day...”
"I believe you. Anyway, that's why I'm here... testifying
against Osborne and ultimately your brother... except he hasn't
been arrested yet. I suppose when they catch him we'll have to
do this all over again."
"How much do you know?"
"And you know Cassie..."
"Is your daughter. Have you talked to her?"
"No, I arrived on the evening train. Haven't even seen her."
"Are you going to talk to her before the trial?"
"I don't know if I could face her. She has a mother that's been
there for her all eighteen years of her life... who am I to come
in and stir things up?"
"She loves Mrs. Osborne, yes. But I do know she would like to
meet you. She knows you didn't do anything on purpose, she knows
you didn't know that her Pa was married. She knows-"
"She knows I'm just a stranger. As much as I love her, as much
as she is my daughter... I can't make her love me, I can't make
her accept me. I don't want to try to replace Mrs. Osborne...
woman is as much Cassie's mother as I am... perhaps in some
ways, more so. The girl has had to deal with so many
repercussions from this whole mess she doesn't need me to show
up in her life, too."
"But don't you think it'd be better for you to meet her before
the trial instead of during?"
"...Maybe, maybe not. That's for me to decide. If you'll excuse
me, I think I'll return to my room. Goodnight."
"Ma'am," Mark lifted his hat as she walked past him and towards
Mark leaned against the hitching post, and sighed deeply. He
stood there looking up at the sky for quite some time before he
heard a voice quietly call his name.
Mark quickly walked towards Cassie as she came down the
"Cassie, what are you doing out here?"
"I couldn't sleep, I needed some air."
"But to come outside? Alone? At night?"
"Cassie, I'm man and I have a rifle. What if some mad man were
to attack you?"
"The only mad man out here is you," Cassie light heartedly
"Please, Cassie, you shouldn't go walking off alone. It's
"Mark, what's troubling you?"
"Cassie, I'm just worried about you. Strange city, strange
people, and who knows? Someone might have something against your
"Mark, I know about DeFord's threat."
"I accidentally overheard when Marshal Torrance told Ma," Cassie
"And you still came outside?!"
"Shh! You want to wake the whole town?" Cassie waited for Mark
to relax before continuing. "I also know Ma told you not to say
anything... so I'm letting this one slide. Maybe coming out
alone wasn't the best idea, but..."
"Ok, so it wasn't a smart idea!" Cassie was whispering, but made
it obvious she was frustrated. "I needed space, I needed time to
think! I'm scared! You think it's easy to just sit around with
someone threatening your family? You think it's easy to just sit
and wait for this trial to get over with? You think it's easy
knowing that this nightmare doesn't end when the judge delivers
his verdict? I'm tired of the stares I get from people when they
hear my name. I'm tired of hearing women gossip in the dress
shop, whispering that I was born out of wedlock - which isn't
true! The day you left North Fork, three newspaper reporters
arrived in town and wanted to interview my Ma, Anna, and me.
They wanted to know every detail of my life and how I feel about
my father... and all I want is some space! The entire territory
knows what my father did, and nothing is going to change when
the judge closes the case. There will still be stares, I'll
still hear the whispers, and you can count on there being
reporters to deal with! I feel like everything is falling apart
and I can't stop it from happening! Mark, everything is out of
control and I can't talk to anyone who understands! I tried to
be strong for Ma, for Anna. I tried to act oblivious to the
things I wasn't supposed to know, I tried to keep quiet about
the things I was supposed to understand, because talking about
it hurt Ma too much!"
A steady flow of tears were streaming down Cassie's face as she
"Cass, why didn't you talk to me?"
"Because you've already been burdened enough with this
situation; you have your own struggles to handle and I don't
expect you to take mine on as well! I'm sorry I even came out
Cassie turned to walk away from Mark, but he caught her arm and
turned her back towards himself.
"Cassie, look at me," Mark pleaded.
Cassie slowly looked up and stared into Mark's eyes. She found
compassion and love... but she wasn't sure if she could let
herself take those at the moment.
"Cassie, we both have a lot to deal with. Neither of us should
have to deal with this alone... and I've left you to do that. I
was too blinded by my own hurt to take the initiative to help
you through yours. I'm sorry, Cass. I love you, I want to help
you through this... if you'll let me."
"Mark, I... I think you've already started."
"How?" Mark inquired as he wrinkled his brow.
"By letting me yell at you."
"You listened. All anyone else wants to do is ask questions...
if that. Mark I'm sorry... I'm just flat out scared of what is
going to happen the next few days, and I just feel so lost..."
Cassie's voice trailed off as she wrapped her arms around Mark's
waist and laid her head on his chest.
Mark rested his head on hers and held Cassie as she finished her
tears. He wished that he would've done more listening before
things had gotten to this point, but now all he could do was
just keep listening, and try to be there for her.
"Mark, I'm sor-"
"No need to apologize. I love you Cassie, and I promise I'll do
better about being here for you."
"You've been wonderful, I just haven't been very open..."
"Well I wouldn't-"
"Mark." Cassie looked up into Mark's dark brown eyes. "Let's
just call it even, why don't we?"
Mark didn't voice a reply, but Cassie understood his answer when
he bent his head down and gave her a kiss.
Neither of them heard the rider turn the street corner and
approach them quietly on his horse. The man waited a moment
before deciding to interrupt.
"Well I can see she hasn't killed you yet, Mark. He been
treating you alright, little sis?"
Mark and Cassie looked up to see Ned dismounting from his horse.
Cassie hurried towards her brother and gave him a long hug.
"Oh I thought you weren't coming! I'm so glad you're here!"
"I shouldn't have just left like I did. I came back to talk with
Pa, and to be here for the rest of you. I had no right to up and
leave... especially with you all hurting like you were."
"The important thing is you're here," Cassie offered.
"Even if I did interrupt your kiss?"
Mark and Ned laughed as Cassie's face turned a dark shade of
"C'mon," Mark began. "Let's get you a room, and then I think
it's time we all get to bed."
The next morning came all too soon. Lucas had to practically
drag Mark out of bed, something he hadn't needed to do for a
long time. After they both dressed they headed downstairs and
joined Micah in the hotel's cafe for breakfast.
"Have the Osbornes come down yet?" Lucas inquired as he and Mark
took their seats.
"No, I stopped by their room on the way down though, they'll be
down in a bit."
"I can't wait for this whole thing to be done and over with."
Lucas sighed before the waitress came up to their table.
The men ordered their meal and sat back in their chairs
waiting... no one really felt like holding a conversation.
Shortly after their meal came, Micah almost choked on his coffee
when he saw Ned accompanying his mother and sisters down the
"What is it Micah?" Lucas asked before looking behind him. "Ned,
when did you get here?"
"Rode in last night... I realized there were some things I
needed to deal with before I could start over anywhere."
"Well I'm glad you came," Lucas offered.
"I'm surprised Mark didn't say anything..." Ned commented with a
Only Mark noticed the slight elbow jab Cassie gave her brother.
"Why would Mark have said anything?" Micah inquired.
"...He helped me check in last night."
"I wasn't sure if you wanted me to say something or not," Mark
The Osbornes took the table next to the McCain's and Micah.
Throughout the next half hour, as everyone conversed, Neither
Catherine or Lucas, nor Micah or Anna were aware of the silent
exchanges between Cassie, Ned, and Mark. It started with Ned
taking the seat closest to Mark, just to tease his little
sister. Every once and a while Ned would give the slightest hint
to what had happened the previous night, resulting in a kick
from Cassie, which both Ned and Mark inwardly chuckled at. Mark
knew Ned was teasing them in his own way and that it was all in
fun, but Cassie was beyond embarrassed. She finally looked at
her brother who sat directly across from her and gave him a
He knew she was asking him to stop. He replied to her plea with
a smile. A smile Cassie knew meant, “not a chance.”
After breakfast was finally finished, everyone made the dreaded
walk to the court house. After they had settled, John's lawyer
walked over to Mark and handed him a folded slip of paper, and
returned to the front of the room without saying a word. Mark
opened the paper and read it.
'Believe me, I want to plead guilty.'
As much as Mark condemned Osborne as a coward in other areas, he
didn't blame him as much in this one. He understood that Osborne
was at least partially making this decision for his family and
The trial began and everyone in the room stood as the judge
entered. After everyone sat, the judge began the regular
formalities of stating the case and introducing both sides
before stating the charges... which there were a lot of.
Accessory to armed robbery, unlawful imprisonment and
counterfeiting; aiding in the escape of convicts from a
territorial prison, failing to uphold the laws of the land...
the list almost seemed endless.
"Does the defendant plead guilty or not guilty to the charges
presented against him?"
"Not guilty, your honor," John's lawyer replied.
Mark watched Osborne cringe at the sound of the words. He wasn't
looking forward to the next few days any more than Mark was.
"Alright then. Mr. Landers, your opening statement please."
John's lawyer began a rather pitiful long spiel about how
everything John did was undercover work for the U.S. Marshal's
service, that hadn't been assigned to him. He had the audacity
state that those witnessing against Marshal Osborne simply had a
grudge against the marshal for their own various reasons. He
concluded by saying that all John Osborne did was try to protect
and serve those he had sworn to defend.
The prosecution likewise gave their opening statements,
promising that they would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt
The prosecution then began making its case. Mr. DeLong, the
prosecution attorney, began by presenting files and reports and
other solid physical evidence that they had. He called Ara to
the stand, and Mark heard the gasps from the residents of North
Fork. They knew she had to be Cassie's mother. Cassie started to
stand to leave, but Mark put a hand on her arm to stop her.
"Don't jump to conclusions," Mark whispered as Cassie sat back
down. "She didn't know how to approach you."
Ms. DeFord gave her testimony and presented a copy of the
marriage license, explaining John had used an alias. After Mr.
DeLong finished, Mr. Landers cross examined.
"Ms. DeFord, do you have anyone here today that could verify
that this man was indeed your husband?"
"Well of course not," Ara answered. "This happened nineteen
years ago. The judge who married us is probably dead and the
town we married in... why it's a ghost town now."
"Any proof that Cassie Osborne is even your daughter?"
"I told you before, I thought she had died! No I don't have any
proof..." Ara's eyes fell upon Cassie and she smiled knowing
this young woman was her child... the child she thought she'd
never see again. "Besides the fact that she's the spitting image
"That's not evidence, really, now is it?" The defense inquired.
"Do you have any proof that she isn't my daughter?"
"I'm asking the questions Ms. DeFord, and it's not my job to
"It is if you have the audacity-"
"Ms. DeFord, please control yourself," the judge interrupted.
"Any more questions, Mr. Landers?"
"None at this time, your honor."
"You may step down, Ms. DeFord."
Next Mr. DeLong called up several different marshals and lawmen,
asking them to share about the dealings they had with Osborne.
Mr. Landers couldn't argue any of the counterfeiting points or
the evidence presented indicating that John helped DeFord and
his men escape, so he didn't bother to cross examine them. It
was most interesting however, that when Micah gave his testimony
of what occurred the night Mark returned to North Fork, that
Landers didn't cross examine then, either. Finally, DeLong
called for Mark to come to the witness stand. He walked up to
his seat and like every witness before him, was sworn to tell
"Mr. McCain, you were held prisoner by Alex DeFord, were you
not?" Mr. DeLong inquired.
"Yes sir, I was."
"Would you then explain in your own words how you came to be
captured and what you learned while you were being held?"
"I was in town running errands and after picking up the mail was
asked to drop something off at the marshal's office, so I
happily obliged. While talking to Marshal Osborne, someone came
running into the office stating the bank had been robbed. I
watched as the marshal slowly collected his gear and made his
way to the bank; I followed. After getting told what had
happened, John Osborne said he was going to head off after the
criminals, without any kind of backup. Most men who knew how to
ride or shoot were out of town at a convention. The banker
volunteered to help but the marshal said he was too closely
involved. I volunteered to go, but he told me I wasn't going
with him and left the bank. I followed him back to the office
and argued with him, knowing he couldn't take on three criminals
alone. I already wondered if there was something out of place,
but then he said..." Mark stopped and swallowed for a moment and
nervously looked around.
Micah and Lucas chuckled at Mark's uncomfortableness, knowing
what Osborne had told Mark.
"He said...?" The lawyer asked.
"Uhh... That if I... I loved his daughter I'd stay out of it. He
mounted up and rode off. I couldn't let him go out alone and
followed him not too long afterwards, but kept my distance. I
watched him go into a cabin, talk with somebody, then go out and
head back towards North Fork. I was going to go down to the
cabin myself, but I was then caught by DeFord and his men. They
were the ones who robbed the bank. When we got to the cabin, the
person Marshal Osborne had spoken with was gone and they tied me
up and started asking questions. I wouldn't answer any of them
and for days they tried to get it out of me and I eventually
told them my name. Shortly after I did, one of the men came
inside saying DeFord's sister was riding up. They kept me tied
up and locked me in the back room, but I heard every word. Ms.
DeFord wanted to know why the man she married was actually a
U.S. Marshal and had a family. DeFord explained that John
married her after Mrs. Osborne, and that John had been paying
DeFord to keep quiet about it and the fact that Cassie was
alive. As she was leaving, John Osborne came in and told DeFord
he was looking for me... DeFord said I knew too much. Osborne
convinced DeFord not to kill me and just send me off to Shanghai
on one of those work ships. I eventually managed to escape and
got the money they had stolen from the bank back. I confronted
John with our other marshal present and he eventually admitted
to helping DeFord and his men escape, turning his head when they
robbed the bank, not arresting one of them who there was a
wanted poster on, marrying Ms. DeFord at the same time he was
married to Mrs. Osborne, and letting other things go past him,
which have already been addressed by the lawmen present."
"Thank you, no more questions at this time, your honor."
"Mr. Landers, would you like to cross examine?"
"Thank you your honor," the lawyer replied as he stood. "Mr.
McCain, you said the reason most of the men who would ride in
the posse were out of town at a convention. What kind of
"The annual cattlemen's convention," Mark answered.
"Aren't you a rancher yourself?"
"Yes sir, my father and I own a ranch outside of North Fork."
"Why would you not go then? It being such a big event."
"I was still recovering from pneumonia which I had contracted
several weeks prior. I felt it was better to take care of things
at the ranch anyway."
"I see. And while you were tracking the outlaws, did your
"Objection your honor! I don't see how any of this is relevant,"
Mr. DeLong spoke up.
"Your honor, if you would let me continue, I will explain,"
"Overruled. Answer the question please, Mr. McCain."
"Yes, it did, a little."
"While DeFord was “trying to get answers,” I'm assuming that he
physically assaulted you?"
"And while you were locked in the back room, did you ever see
the man's face who spoke with DeFord?"
"...No, but I-"
"Did DeFord ever address the man whom he was speaking with by
first or last name?"
"Then how did you know who it was?"
"I recognized Osborne's voice, and by the conversation he had
with DeFord about Ms. DeFord, and the fact that he admitted it
all to Marshal Torrance and I later." Mark's voice stayed steady
and confident as he spoke.
"You were ill, perhaps your mind distorted what you heard?"
Mark had known the whole time what the lawyer had been trying to
"Then why would Osborne admit everything to Marshal Torrance?
Because it's not just my word against his. It’s evidence, facts,
my testimony, Ms. DeFord's testimony and Marshal Torrance's
testimony and John knew he couldn't get out of it. Mr. Landers,
I was not delusional and had full control of my senses, thank
you very much."
"Mr. McCain, you don't like Marshal Osborne very much, do you?"
"This isn't a matter of personal relationships; it's a matter of
"Oh I think it is. You said something earlier that piqued my
interest." The man paused and turned to the judge. "I will make
this question worthwhile your honor." Landers turned back
towards Mark. "Do you have a personal interest and personal
affection for Marshal Osborne's daughter?"
"Yes sir, I do."
"Then say, if he were to refuse your request to marry her, you
would be very upset. Even to the point where you might try to
ruin him... tell a crazy lie, get your town's marshal who is
jealous of Osborne's position to go along with you. You were
asking for Miss Osborne's hand, that's what you and Osborne were
talking about before the banker came rushing in, wasn't it?"
"No, of course not!"
"You wanted to get even with him, so after escaping the outlaws,
you came back with this crazy
story about the town's marshal being a criminal himself! Why do
you hate a man so?"
"That's not true!" Mark was frustrated with the accusations this
man was making.
"But you don't deny hating the man?"
"Your honor, I object! There is absolutely no basis for these
questions or ground upon which to make these claims!" Mr. DeLong
"Sustained. Mr. Landers..." the judge began.
"Excuse me your honor, but I'd like to answer this question,"
Mark calmly stated.
"Mr. DeLong?" The judge inquired.
DeLong sighed and shrugged his shoulders, waving Mark on.
"Two and a half years ago my father faked his death in order to
capture the Mistil gang. That was the undercover assignment
Osborne was on. The thing was though, I didn't know a thing
about it and thought both my Pa and Marshal Torrance had died. I
spent a week grieving before I learned the truth. Marshal
Osborne was the one person that supported me and got me through
that time in my life and up until a few months ago, I held the
greatest respect for him. Yes, I eventually fell in love with
his daughter, but never once asked for her hand, only permission
to court her and he happily gave his blessing. When I found out
who John Osborne really was, it killed me. I didn't want to
admit that a man I so respected and trusted, turned out to be
nothing more than a coward. But I told the law about what
happened, not because I hated him, but because justice needed to
be done. He betrayed his family, the town, his badge, and the
law. I couldn't let him run free. I knew what this would do to
his daughter, I now understood why he told me to stay out of it
if I loved her, but I knew I had to stand up for what was right.
If you believe that I would up and ruin a man for spite, you're
a fool. Why not just run away with his daughter? She's of age!
Mr. Landers, you're out of an argument and you know it! My
testimony has been backed up and proven, and if we had the time
I'd go into more detail about how everything connects, but I
wouldn't want to bore you. The point is that Osborne is guilty
and you don't know how to win this case, so you're attacking my
integrity. If I'm lying, why would I sit here and testify
against Osborne, when DeFord threatened to kill me if I did?"
Mark heard a gasp come from the audience and looked to see
Cassie covering her mouth, tears starting to trickle down her
Cassie looked into Mark's eyes and saw the apology for not
Mark looked back into her eyes... but wasn't sure what she was
“Isn't it true that some of the money stolen from the bank was
reported still missing?” Landers asked. “Maybe you were the one
that arranged for the bank to be robbed! You set this whole
thing up to destroy a lawman's career! You, who claims to stand
up for what's right! Sitting there, lying under oath!”
"Your honor I object!" DeLong yelled again.
The people in the courtroom started loudly murmuring.
"Landers-" the judge began.
"And you would so much as accuse a man... a U.S. MARSHAL of
being a coward!" Landers continued.
"You're one to talk!" DeLong yelled at the other attorney.
The commotion in the courtroom was getting out of hand, the two
lawyers continued arguing and were soon close to blows, and the
judge kept yelling for order. Mark was getting a headache... and
he knew it wasn't from the tension. This kind of headache only
came before an episode. Mark braced himself and waited for
everything to either settle down or him to start seizing.
Suddenly a loud voice overpowered everyone else in the room.
"I PLEAD GUILTY!"
Everyone turned to see John Osborne, who had been silent the
entire trial, standing behind the defense desk.
"What did you say?" The judge inquired.
"I plead guilty! Everything they said is true. I'm not going to
sit here a watch an upstanding man get accused of being what I
am, a coward and a hypocrite! DeFord warned me, threatened me,
but too much has already been said about him so it makes no
There was a long silence before the judge spoke.
"I'm calling for a thirty minute recess. I want to see the
prosecution and defense in my chambers!" The judge slammed his
gavel and left the room followed by the lawyers, Osborne, and
Mark saw Cassie hurrying towards the front of the room and made
his way towards her. When they met, Mark started to apologize,
but Cassie just wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Oh don't do that to me, ever again!" Cassie let Mark go and
looked into his eyes.
"Cass... I didn't want to worry you. I'm sorry. Please for-"
"No Mark. Don't say it, you don't need to... I love you."
Mark gave Cassie another quick hug shortly before Lucas
approached the two of them.
"Mark, do you need anything?" Lucas inquired.
"We should probably head back to the hotel and grab that new
medication Doc said to try."
"Medication?" Cassie asked with concern.
"You stay put and I'll get it," Lucas said in reply to Mark, not
hearing Cassie's question.
"But it'll be longer before I can take it. 'Sides, a little
walk'll do me some good."
"What medication?" Cassie asked again.
"Alright then," Lucas agreed. "Cassie would you like to join us
or stay here?"
"I'd like to be told what is going on. What medication? What's
"Doc uses some sedatives when my seizures are really bad, but he
learned about this new medicine that is supposed to help prevent
a seizure, if you get it in you in time." Mark offered Cassie
his arm and they began walking as he continued to explain. "He
gave us some to keep with us in case something went wrong and we
couldn't get to town or were in a town that might not have it."
"But Uncle Lucas, why... how did you know something was wrong?
I'm sorry... I had no idea..." Cassie felt miserable for not
realizing Mark wasn't doing well.
"Don't worry about it Cass, I barely catch it sometimes. Pa just
knows me and can read my body language like a book."
"Mark, are you doing alright with... well everything that half
insane lawyer was accusing you of?" Cassie inquired as she
looked to Mark and clung to his arm a little tighter.
"They were only accusations. Anyone who knows me know they
Lucas dropped behind Cassie and Mark as they walked down the
street and towards the hotel; he couldn’t help but smile,
watching them interact.
"How are you doing with... Seeing Ara DeFord for the first
time?" Mark asked.
"...Confused. Why did you tell me not to jump to conclusions and
stop me from leaving?"
"Well, what was your thought when she went up there?"
"How could she... just completely ignore me? How could she not
have the decency to go up and at least say, “I gave birth to
you?” I wonder what I did to make her dislike me so..."
"Cassie, I know for a fact she loves you. She may just be a
stranger to you, but-"
"Mark, she's my mother! In different ways than Ma, but she still
is... and I don't see her as a stranger."
"Well that's good, I think that's what she was partially afraid
of. She didn't know how to go about talking to you and didn't
want to hurt you by stirring things up."
"Oh... well how do you know that?"
"I talked to her last night before you came out. Like I said,
she loves you, and just doesn't want to hurt you. That's why I
said not to jump to conclusions."
"... I did a mighty fine job of listening..." Cassie replied.
Mark and Cassie continued to talk as they made their way back to
the hotel. After Mark took the medication, Lucas made him sit
down for a few minutes before they went back to the courthouse
and rejoined everyone else. Soon the bailiff was calling for
everyone to rise as the judge entered.
"Please be seated," the judge requested after taking his own
seat. "We have had quite a surprising change of events, to say
the least. I won't waste any more time. John Osborne, you have
pled guilty to the charges against you. I sentence you to serve
fifteen years in the New Mexico Territorial Prison which will
include heavy labor in order to pay back what you cannot with
your own means your fine of two thousand, five hundred dollars.
You are stripped of your title as marshal and are not allowed to
work for any government agencies or offices henceforth. Case
dismissed!" And with that, the judge slammed him gavel and
retired to his chamber.
There were no burdens lifted when the sentence was delivered or
case dismissed, everyone knew that there was no winner in this
scenario. They had all lost faith and trust in a man who they
all had once loved and respected.
Ara said very few words to Cassie after the trial, simply
because she had to catch a stage to head back east... but they
both understood they had a bond that had begun when Cassie was
conceived and that it wouldn't break. They both promised to
write and Cassie and Mark saw her off on the stage.
Ned spoke with his Pa, but only briefly as the rest of the
family eventually did. They all still loved him, but oh, how
they were disappointed and angry.
Mark felt a strange mixture of despise and forgiveness in his
heart. He couldn't understand what was going on inside his head,
and eventually found himself standing in front of John's cell.
"Mark, I'm sorry that lawyer drug you through that. He had no
right, and believe me I didn't want him on the case, but DeFord
insisted... and also threatened Landers. I'm sorry I didn't
gather up enough courage to confess everything before I did. I'm
sorry I did what I did... I know this is hard for you to
believe, but I really mean that. Mark, I have no right, but I'm
asking you to forgive me."
Mark's head shot up and he looked straight at Osborne. The first
thoughts that ran through his head were how on earth could
Osborne have the gall to ask such a thing. But then he started
"I once asked you to tell me who killed my father," Mark began.
"At first you refused, saying I didn't want to waste my life
getting revenge; and I agreed. I said I wasn't going to let
bitterness start growing inside of me, and I wasn't going to let
anyone destroy the foundation my Pa built for me. It's been a
long and hard two months. But I suppose if I can forgive the man
that killed my Pa it really shouldn't be that hard to forgive
you. You made a lot of mistakes that affected a lot of people
and almost killed me... but I don't have to live with carrying
that guilt; you do. Yes Osborne, I forgive you."
Mark put his hand through the cell bars and shook John's hand
the way he had the day they met.
A very large burden was lifted from Mark's shoulders at that
moment, one Mark was glad to be rid of.
When Mark returned to his hotel room that evening, he found his
Pa staring at the wall, with an intense, concentrated look on
his face. Mark was surprised that his Pa didn't even seem to
realize Mark had entered the room.
Mark walked over to Lucas and looked at his father in concern
for a few moments.
"...Pa, what is it?"
Without saying anything, Lucas handed Mark a slip of paper and
watched his son read the words printed on it.
“I warned you all.”
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch