Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Written by Morgan
across the bedroom to find Mark's bed empty. At first he didn't
find this particularly strange... until he looked at the
timepiece, which read four-thirteen. Mark was an early riser,
but he usually didn't get up this early. Lucas started to try to
go back to sleep for a little while longer, but something was
tugging at him, telling him to go find Mark. Lucas pulled
himself out of bed and dressed before making his way into the
front room. Mark wasn't there, but a lantern had been lit and
the fire had been stoked. Lucas started a pot of coffee and then
headed to the barn to see if Mark was there, working on his
chores. The chores were done, but Mark wasn't there and BlueBoy
was absent from his stall. Confused, Lucas stepped outside of
Where would Mark be this hour in the morning? Lucas began to
look across the land surrounding the house, and as he looked up
a hill, caught sight of his son next to BlueBoy at the “grave”.
At first, Lucas was a little confused, but soon it all made
sense. Lucas headed up the hill and put a hand on Mark's
shoulder as he came up behind his son.
Mark acknowledged his Pa's presence with a slight nod, but
neither one said anything. They both simply stood there,
thinking, remembering, and taking in the moment.
After quite some time, Mark turned around and looked at his Pa.
"Forward?" Mark asked. For once in his life he felt a peace
about his Ma's death on June third. There was no empty hole in
his heart, his Ma had filled it enough to last a lifetime when
she was alive.
"No looking back," Lucas replied.
Both silently told Margaret they loved her before heading back
down the hill. It was a day that surprisingly brought both of
the McCain's hope of the future, but still gave them wonderful
memories of the past.
"You know Pa," Mark began as they walked in the house. "Uncle
Johnny might be needing a little family today."
"We'll stop in town for supper. Just keep in mind that he might
be needing some distance, too. Everyone deals with these things
differently, he was really close to your Ma. I don't know if we
would help or cause damage."
"I know," Mark replied. "Thanks for joining me this morning."
"What happened to our spot in the woods?" Lucas asked curiously
as he started breakfast.
"I don't know. The grave just seemed more fitting."
"I think I like it better."
"Why?" Mark inquired. He liked their spot in the woods much
better than the grave sight.
"It's a much shorter walk," Lucas said with a smile. "How do
flapjacks and bacon sound?"
"Great! ...As long as you're not making them.," Mark teased.
"At least I don't put pepper in mine," Lucas shot back.
"I did that once! What was I, five?"
"I don't know, but you're never going to live it down."
Lucas and Mark had spent that morning riding the fence line
before eating lunch and heading back towards the house. As they
approached the house, Lucas slowed Razor and eventually stopped.
"Pa?" Mark asked as he circled back around and directed BlueBoy
"Mark, I know we've moved on about your Ma, but there was
something more bothering you this morning, wasn't there?" Lucas
"...Yeah..." Mark slowly replied.
"Honestly, this morning was hard. Surprisingly it didn't have to
do with Ma."
"What did it have to do with then?"
"...I think I almost let myself get angry again. It wasn't just
anger though, it was a mixture of fear, love, concern... Pa, a
year ago today you died."
Lucas waited for his son to continue; he wasn't sure how to
"Pa, this morning brought back all those memories from last
year. It was hard... the grief, pain, loss... loneliness. It
brought worries and concerns of what might happen in the future,
starting to get really... “lost” I guess in fear."
"Mark-" Lucas started.
"But then I realized, it's in the past. Pa, I can't deny that it
still hurts a little, but the point is that you are here, and
we're together. I wish I could tell you it doesn't bother me at
all, that you “dying” has no effect on me anymore, but I can't.
Pa, I know this is just going to take time to heal, but I want
you to know I don't blame you. I know you had a responsibility
to people to catch those criminals."
"Mark, I had a responsibility to you first."
"And you fulfilled that responsibility, it just took you a
Lucas waited a moment before replying. He still felt guilty, but
Mark was so forgiving and understanding it made what he felt
"I love you son," Lucas said as he patted Mark's shoulder.
"I'll see you in town for supper then?" Mark asked as they
continued towards the house.
"Meet me at the hotel as soon as you finish at the Osborne's."
"Alright Pa, see ya later." Mark kicked BlueBoy's flanks and
headed off towards the Osborne's.
"It's about time you showed up!" Cassie hollered from one of the
stalls as Mark entered the barn.
"Two O'clock, on the dot," Mark replied as he checked his pocket
"It feels a lot later than that," Cassie commented.
"Rough day?" Mark asked as he walked up to Cassie.
"Just a little. The fencing on the south side of the corral got
practically destroyed in last night's storm, a tree fell on top
of it. Anna forgot to leave the barn door open that leads to the
corral, so the horses couldn't head into the barn for shelter
when it started raining. Five of the foals are missing and I've
been trying to get the rest of them in the barn until we get
that fence fixed. They were all pretty skittish."
"And the straw?" Mark asked as he gestured to Cassie's hair
which had straw tangled in it.
"Don't ask. This is the last of the foals that stayed in the
corral, we better go find the others."
"It's taken you this long to get three foals in the barn?" Mark
"Lightning and Thunder were out there too, which makes five, but
besides that there were... complications," Cassie defended.
"Do I want to know?"
"Just mount up," Cassie said as she headed to the other barn to
get Storm out of his stall.
Mark and Cassie spent a good amount of the afternoon getting the
foals back to the barn. The last foal was being quite stubborn.
Mark was starting to get a little annoyed with the horse, but
watching Cassie's frustration made it all worth it.
After clearing the tree that had fallen on the corral fence,
Mark started repairing the fence as Cassie worked on rubbing
down the leg of a foal that was injured. Mark suddenly heard
Cassie yell from the barn and hurried in to see what was wrong.
"Cassie-" Mark stopped and took in the scene before him before
letting out a laugh.
Cassie's dress was covered with water and the paste she had made
to rub on the leg.
"Mark, this isn't funny," Cassie stated as she started to stand.
"Watch where you-" Mark started as Cassie stepped in a pile of
muck. "Step." Mark couldn't help it and let out another bout of
"You try. I'm gonna go change!" Cassie declared as she stormed
out of the barn.
Mark started by shoveling the muck into the wheelbarrow and then
began tending to the horse's leg. After a while, Mark heard
someone ride up outside.
"Mark?" Marshal Osborne called as he entered the barn.
"Afternoon Marshal," Mark replied. "Were you standing shift
"Mark I need to ask you something, and I need you to give me an
"...Sure," Mark answered, realizing that something was wrong.
"Do you think you can handle things around here for a week, by
"Well, yeah, why? What's wrong?" Mark inquired, becoming
"Mark, if you can't, I don't mind hiring someone else to help
you out, I just need to know."
"No, it wouldn't be a problem. What's wrong?" The look on the
Marshal's face was the same one Mark saw on his Pa's face when
something was seriously wrong.
"I just received word that my wife's father was seriously
injured in a house fire... and her mother was killed. We need to
leave on the morning train, they're not sure if he's going to
make it..." the Marshal slowly replied.
"I'm sorry... of course I can handle things around here."
"We'll try to not be gone too long, but..."
"Don't worry about it. Take all the time you need... believe me,
"Thank you Mark. ...I need to go inform the family."
"If you'd like, I can finish up as soon as I can so I can get
out of here and give you all some space, or stick around and
finish for the day, whatever you want."
"I appreciate it Mark, but things just can't stop around here.
You can go ahead and finish up for the day."
Marshal Osborne began to head out of the barn.
"Marshal Osborne," Mark started. "I'm sorry for your loss."
Mark finished with the foal before getting back to work on the
fence. It wasn't too long after Marshal Osborne had gone into
his house that Mark heard a door slam and looked up to see
Cassie running from the house and go into the barn. He hadn't
ever lost a grandparent he was close to, but if it was anything
like losing a parent, he knew the pain Cassie felt.
The afternoon drug on as Mark continued to work. His heart felt
heavy for the Osborne's and he wished there was some way he
could help. When it was time for Mark to leave, he checked the
horses for a final time in the barns, and as Mark was headed
outside, he realized that Cassie hadn't ever come out of the
barn. Mark looked around curiously, wondering where she could
be, then saw the ladder to the hayloft.
Cassie had watched Mark work around the barn, and waited as he
made his way up the ladder.
"Hi," Mark simply stated as he reached the top.
"...Hi..." Cassie replied. "...My grandparents..." Cassie began,
trying to keep a dignified composure.
"I understand, your Pa told me. Cassie, I'm sorry."
Cassie just nodded; why couldn't he leave her alone?
"...How are you holding up? You've been up here for a while."
"Fine, I just like coming up here when I have nothing else to
do," Cassie said, trying to convince herself she was fine more
"I know it's hard. And I'm not gonna say I know how ya feel,
'cause every person and situation is different. Cassie, I do
understand the pain though. The grief. The loss. When my Pa-"
"But at least you got your Pa back... my grandmother isn't
coming back, and the same thing might happen to my grandfather!"
"I did, but I didn't get my Ma back."
"Oh..." Cassie stated. She had completely forgotten about her
question of whether Mrs. McCain had left or died. Well, now she
had her answer. Mark must've thought she was so insensitive.
"Mark, I'm sorry..."
"I understand. When you're trying to process the loss of someone
you love, you don't think anyone could understand your pain, and
to a point, you do have different feelings than the people
around you. But it's all grief, and it all is horrible. Some
people think it gets easier, that once you've lost someone, the
next person isn't as bad. But they're wrong. I'd say it gets
"Well thanks, that's awful reassuring."
"I'm trying to say, that it doesn't, but you do learn to handle
it better. Yeah sure, I got my Pa back, but I went through the
whole grieving process again. And it was actually worse than
my Ma died. But I knew that I couldn't run away, even though I
wanted to. At the same time, I couldn't just put up a tough
front for people. You have to let yourself feel, let yourself
cry, and be open about what you're experiencing. It's the only
way to heal properly."
"What do you mean, “heal properly”?" Cassie inquired.
"After my Ma died, my Pa packed up all our belongings and we
left our home, everything I had ever known. Only being six,
there were some things I didn't understand, but one thing I did
understand after a few days was that my Ma was gone... forever.
Even at that age, I soon realized my Pa was hurting, a lot.
After he thought I fell asleep was when he'd let himself cry. I
tried to be strong for him, I never brought it up, kept quiet,
didn't show him the tears. I kept it all inside, and ignored it
instead of addressing the pain. Then we settled in North Fork.
By this point, Pa had healed, and I thought I had too... until I
started forgetting memories with my Ma, which honestly scared
me. It took a while, and I was able to find some of them, but
with the memories came that long buried pain, and I had to deal
with it again. It took a long time, but with my Pa's help I
became at peace with my Ma's death. Then my Pa “died”. It hurt
so much more, I was almost ready to give up, I had no way to go
on. I didn't even have Micah to talk to."
"Well how did you survive?"
"The first step was crying."
"You?" Cassie asked, a bit shocked. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't-"
"It's fine. Yes, I cried, all the time. I had to embrace the
grief, and not bury it like with my Ma. The second thing was
talking about it with your Pa. I honestly don't know what I
would've done without him there, helping me. There's no shame in
talking about it, no shame in crying. It shows that you care,
that you love. Emotions are part of being human. Don't shove
Cassie stared at Mark for a long moment. He understood... he
cared. He knew she was hurting and was trying to help.
"She's gone..." Cassie cried as she rested her head against the
Mark hesitantly reached to put a hand on Cassie's shoulder. He
wished he could give her more comfort than that, but it was all
he could offer.
There was now a heavy flow of tears streaming down Cassie's
face, but both Mark and Cassie knew it was a good thing that
they were there.
"She was like my best friend. Always there for me, always
willing to stop whatever she was doing to talk to me. All she
ever did was love and give... and I can't believe she's gone."
Cassie continued to cry as she leaned on Mark's shoulder. "I
want her here, Mark... so badly. Moving
was so hard on all of us. We talked about all the visits we were
going to have to make. When we left last summer, I had no
idea... it would be the last time I saw her. ...I'm never going
to see her again!" Cassie sobbed as Mark silently sat there,
He knew now that he had her crying, all he could do was listen.
Nothing he could say would help her, or relieve the pain, but he
could give her someone to talk to, and that's exactly what he
did. Cassie tried to put into words the grief and sadness she
felt, the loneliness that she felt... the fears that had come
because she realized now how easy it was to lose someone she
After Cassie had finished pouring out her feelings to Mark, they
sat in the hay loft, simply staring out the open barn door.
"I better get back inside. Ma is probably worried... I left
kinda... abruptly," Cassie said as she sat up and wiped her
"Alright," Mark quietly replied. He wished he could take her
pain away, but it was something she was going to have to feel
Mark escorted Cassie to the porch, and she started to go inside
before stopping herself.
"Mark?" Cassie called.
"Yes?" Mark replied as he turned back around.
When Lucas came into town that evening, he wasn't really sure
what to expect. He didn't know how much Johnny had changed over
the last few years, and didn't know whether to expect to find
Johnny drunk or completely fine.
As Lucas passed the saloon, he hoped the fact that he didn't see
Johnny there was a good sign. Margaret and Johnny had been so
close, it was something Lucas had seen even before he had
married Margaret. Making his way into the hotel, Lucas looked
around for Lou and caught sight of her taking orders in the
"Howdy Lucas, what brings you to town?" Johnny inquired as he
came up to Lucas.
"Mark and I were going to see if you wanted to have supper with
us tonight," Lucas replied after turning around. "Johnny, I
didn't know if family would help or cause damage today, but
whatever your answer is, it's fine."
"Thanks Lucas, I appreciate it. Since Lou rejected my invitation
for a picnic supper, I suppose I could join you two," Johnny
said as Lou walked by.
"I have a business ta run!" Lou called over her left shoulder.
Lucas and Johnny began making their way into the restaurant as
Johnny asked where Mark was.
"He should be here soon, was working at the Osborne's today,"
Suddenly, Lucas realized what his brother-in-law had said
earlier. "Johnny, did you really ask Lou to supper?" Lucas
inquired as he gave Johnny a questioning look.
"Sure did," Johnny said with a smile. "That woman is something
"You're not seriously thinking about anything long term... are
"Is there a problem?" Johnny asked.
"Good, because I wanted to ask you if you knew of anyone I
should get permission from before I propose."
"Propose? You?" Lucas asked, a little stunned.
"You heard me."
"...Well to answer your question, no, there's not anyone. You're
really serious about settling down?" Lucas asked.
"Sure am. Already in the process of buying a house."
"Well Johnny, you're full of surprises. I hope she says..."
Lucas stopped as he sighed and closed his eyes.
"What is it?"
"I know. Just do me a favor and don't let him find out, I want
to be the one to tell him, or I'll never hear the end of it."
"I think it's too late. He practically had you two married the
first day you showed up."
Lucas and Johnny went ahead and ordered their meals, Lucas
figured John must've kept Mark late for some reason. As Lucas
and Johnny talked, Johnny explained how he and Lou had gotten so
"You nervous about proposing?" Lucas asked.
"Weren't you?" Johnny asked.
"Yes, but you're lucky. You don't have to worry about getting on
her brother's good side."
"What can I say? You were coming in to take my sister away, I
wasn't gonna make it easy for ya."
"You gave me such a hard time, did you really think I wasn't
right for her?"
"Naw, I knew right away you two were made for each other. I'm
glad you didn't give up."
The two finished supper and soon Johnny said he had to go take
care of some business.
"I'm sorry Mark didn't show up, I don't know what could've kept
him. It was his idea to come into town tonight," Lucas stated.
"It's alright, it was good catching up with you Lucas. I'll see
you later," Johnny said as he got up from the table.
Lucas watched his brother-in-law wait for Lou to finish with a
customer before Johnny bade her goodbye, paid his bill, and left
the restaurant. Lucas softly chuckled to himself. Never in a
hundred years would he have envisioned Lou or Johnny getting
Lucas paid for his meal and went to wait for Mark in the lobby.
It wasn't like Mark to do something like this, and was upset his
son had been so inconsiderate as to not even send word he was
going to be late. Lucas couldn't think of anything that
should've kept Mark, at least not this late. Mark should've left
the Osborne's almost two hours ago, and it was only a five
minute ride to town.
Finally, Lucas watched his son walk into the hotel and remove
"Your uncle already had to leave," Lucas said as Mark approached
"You didn't wait for me, did you?" Mark inquired, hoping they
"I'm sorry, I lost track of time."
"Working?" Lucas asked curiously.
"Well no, you see..."
"Mark, it's not like you to stand people up like that. You
should've at least left a message with Lou before heading off to
do whatever you did. You should know better than this."
"Yes Pa, I know that's-"
"Mark, I really don't want to hear any excuses. Let's head
Mark knew his Pa was jumping to conclusions and not really being
fair, but decided to explain later. His Pa didn't really seem in
the mood to discuss anything.
Once home, Mark got something to eat and then did his evening
chores out in the barn. It hurt a little that his Pa hadn't let
him explain, but Mark knew he jumped to conclusions quite often
himself. As Mark worked in the barn, he was fighting letting
himself get angry with his Pa. He hated seeing that disappointed
look in his Pa's eyes, but there's nothing he really would have
done differently had the situation occurred again.
Lucas was sitting inside, making sure all the books were
balanced when Mark came in. Mark went to the table and stood
there for a moment, waiting for his Pa to look up.
"Pa, can I talk to you for a minute?" Mark asked once he had his
"Mark, you know you can talk to me any time. What is it?" Lucas
asked as he gestured to a chair.
Mark took a seat and took a few more moments to finish thinking
through what he was going to say before he started to reply.
"Pa, the Osborne's found out today that Mrs. Osborne's parents
were in a house fire."
"Are they all right?" Lucas asked with concern.
"Her father was seriously injured and they don't know if he's
going to make it. Her mother died. The Osborne's are leaving on
the morning train to try to get there as soon as possible."
"How are the Osborne's doing?"
"As good as can be expected. Cassie took it really hard. She was
up in the hay loft for hours while I was working. I joined her
after I was done working, I guess to try to offer her comfort.
I'm glad I did though... she really needed to talk to someone
despite trying to put up a wall at first. I sat with her as she
cried for almost two hours. I didn't really say much after I got
her to open up. She really just needed somebody to cry on and I
was able to be that someone."
"Well I'm glad you were able to help-" Suddenly, Lucas realized
what Mark was indirectly, respectfully telling him. He had been
wrong. "That's why you didn't show up in town or leave a
message, wasn't it?"
Mark simply nodded as he shifted his weight uncomfortably. He
tried to read his Pa's face, but found it difficult to figure it
"Mark, I'm sorry, I should've let you explain while we were in
town. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. When you said you
hadn't been working, I figured you went off fishing or
"...Do you really think I would've done something like that?"
Mark carefully asked.
"No, but it was the only thing I could think of. I'm sorry
"I understand, Pa," Mark replied. "So, Marshal Osborne needs me
to take care of things at his place while he's gone, that's not
a problem, is it?"
"Not at all. And if things get to be too much over there, let me
"I will Pa."
The next morning, Mark was at the Osborne's early to help
however he could. He did the normal barn chores that Cassie and
Anna typically did so the family could finish getting ready to
go. As Mark and Marshal Osborne loaded the buck board they
didn't really do a lot of talking until John suddenly spoke up.
"Mark, Cassie told us what you did for her yesterday. Her mother
and I talked about last night, and want to thank you for taking
the time to talk to Cassie like you did. I honestly don't know
if we would've gotten her to open up if you hadn't talked with
her first. Thank you."
"It wasn't a problem, I understood just needing someone to
listen... like when you first came to town, and helped me. I'm
glad I was able to be there for her."
"We're also grateful for you taking everything on around here.
And just so we're clear, I will be paying you for your extra
"It's not necessary. I'd like to help out, as a friend."
"Then I'll be paying you, as a friend."
Mark rode in the back of the buck board with Cassie and Anna to
the train station. Once they arrived, Mark helped the girls
down, then helped John and Micah, who had been waiting for them,
load the bags on the train. After they had finished and Mark
made his way to the buck board, Cassie came up to him.
"Thanks again for being there yesterday. Mark, you're a real
friend... I don't have many of those."
"You're welcome Cassie. I hope your trip goes well," Mark
The conductor called for everyone to board the train and Cassie
joined her family.
"I sure hope the house is at least standing when we get back!"
Cassie called from one of the windows.
"Well you won't be there to catch the kitchen on fire again, so
I don't think there's anything to worry about!" Mark replied as
the train began to move.
"How do you know about that?!" Cassie exclaimed.
Mark just smiled, shrugged, and waved goodbye as Cassie looked
to her family for an explanation. They all just gave her the
same response as Mark.
After the train was out of sight, Mark headed back to the
Osborne's and started working on his normal responsibilities.
Mark was working with one of the foals in the corral when he saw
his uncle ride up.
"Hey uncle Johnny," Mark greeted as his uncle made his way to
the corral. "If you're looking for Marshal Osborne, he left on
this morning's train."
"Looking for you, actually," Johnny replied. "Micah said this is
where you would be when I mentioned needing to talk to you."
Surprised, Mark walked over to the edge of the corral with the
"What'd you need to talk to me about?" Mark inquired.
"Seems I need help with something, probably in the next two or
three weeks. Could ya give me a hand?"
"Well probably, what is it?"
"I'm still waitin' for a few things to fall into place, but I'm
going to need your help fixin' up the house I'm gonna buy."
"You're settling down for good?" Mark asked hopefully.
"Just wait 'till Pa finds out. Even after what you said a while
back 'bout having a place to call home, he didn't think you'd
"He already knows. In fact, he knows something you don't,"
Johnny said with a smile.
"What is it?" Mark said as he gave his uncle a confused look.
"You'll find out soon enough."
"You talking about you proposing to Lou?" Mark inquired.
The look on Johnny's face answered Mark's question.
"I've known for weeks."
"But how could you have possibly known?" Johnny asked.
"I have my ways..." Mark snickered.
At first, Johnny gave Mark a disapproving frown, but eventually
joined his nephew's laughter.
"Took ya long enough. When are you going to ask Lou the
question?" Mark inquired.
"I'm thinking it'll be the end of July."
"I'm glad you're stayin' Uncle Johnny, it's been great having
"You just keep quiet about this, ya hear?" Johnny said.
"I've kept quiet this long, I don't think seven more weeks is
going to be a problem," Mark replied.
"Yeah, real quiet. And one more thing, I can do without your
sarcastic comments and teasing."
"Who, me?" Mark asked innocently.
"See ya later, Mark," Johnny said as he smiled and playfully
slapped Mark's arm before mounting up.
Mark soon finished at the Osborne's and was on his way home. His
thoughts drifted to the Osborne's and hoped they were all doing
alright, he was most concerned about Cassie. When the train had
pulled out, she seemed to be doing okay, but in the buck board
Mark could tell she was battling the tears.
Once he arrived at the ranch, Mark headed to the south pasture
to check on the cattle. Everything seemed fine, except Mark
couldn't find one of the calves. He looked in the bushes,
checked for a break in the fence, even found its mother, but the
calf itself was nowhere to be seen. Mark wondered if it had
gotten sick or something and his Pa had brought it up to the
barn, but when Mark put BlueBoy away later, he saw it wasn't
By the time Mark was finishing with his chores, Lucas rode into
"Hi Pa," Mark greeted as Lucas walked into the barn with Razor.
"How did fixing that fence go?"
"I should've taken you up on your offer to help me after you got
back. It was a mess."
"Do you still need any help?" Mark offered.
"No, I got it done, it was just a lot more difficult than I
"Pa, did you do something with one of the calves?" Mark inquired
"What do you mean, “do something”?" Lucas asked.
"Move it or something. One of the calves was missing when I
checked the cattle this afternoon."
"No, I didn't. Sure you didn't just mis-count?" Lucas
"I counted three times, and checked all over for it."
"We'll keep an eye out for it then. Probably just made its way
to a different pasture."
"I hope that's all it is." Mark stated.
"Mornin' Nils." Mark called as he entered the livery Thursday.
"Hello, Mark! Good to see ya. You haven't been around for so
long, I thought I was going to have to find someone else to play
"Sorry, been a bit busy."
"What brings you here today?"
"Pa asked me to drop some saw blades off on the way to the
Osborne's. Do you think you could get to them today?" Mark asked
as he put the blades on a nearby table.
"Sure, not a problem. I'll have them ready for you this
"Thanks," Mark replied.
"You up for a quick game when you pick them up?" Nils inquired.
"Sounds good," Mark agreed. "I better get going, see you this
Mark was almost to the edge of town when he heard someone call
his name. He turned around in the saddle to see Mr. Griswold
approaching him. Mark dismounted and waited for his former
teacher to catch up with him.
"Morning Mr. Griswold."
"Good morning, Mark. A pleasure to see you. What brings you this
far into town?"
"Headed to the Osborne's. Had to cut through town and make a
stop at the livery."
"Well I'm glad I caught you, saved me a trip out to your ranch.
Do you have a minute?"
"Sure, what is it?" Mark inquired.
"I received a reply from the Chicago Medical College, one of the
schools I wrote, stating they wanted to give you a full
scholarship for their medical program. I know you said you
didn't really think you were interested in going to school, but
you have the opportunity. Mark, I encourage you to take it, it's
the chance of a lifetime."
Mark was surprised to say the least, he wasn't exactly sure how
"...I don't know. Mr. Griswold, I really appreciate you writing
the schools, but I just don't know if it's what I'm supposed to
"Promise me you'll think about it, I'd hate to see you give up
such an opportunity without exploring your options more."
"I will," Mark assured.
"Mark, at the end of July I'm taking a trip to Chicago to visit
some friends. I would like you to think about coming with me so
I could show you the school and introduce you to some of the
instructors who will still be there. You'd only have to stay a
few days before you headed back to North Fork, but I really
encourage you to just visit, at least."
"I'll think about it and give you an answer soon," Mark replied.
"Thank you. I best be on my way and let you go, just keep your
mind open Mark. You have such potential."
"Thank you Mr. Griswold," Mark said before mounting up and
As Mark rode, he thought about what Stephan had said. It was a
great opportunity, but was it one he was supposed to take? Could
he even bring himself to take it if it was?
As Mark worked that morning, he continued to contemplate his
offer. It was much more difficult to try to make a decision than
he thought it would be. He knew he didn't really want to leave
North Fork... at all. But finally decided, that at least for Mr.
Griswold's sake, he'd talk to his Pa about visiting the college.
Each day Mark missed having the Osborne's around more and more.
Everything seemed so quiet and empty around the place without
them, and today was no exception. Mark had gotten kinda used to
working side by side with Cassie, and missed her company, as
well as the banter between the two them.
Cassie was normally the one to take care of Thunder and
Lightning, but since she was gone Mark took some extra time to
work with them. He followed Cassie's routine as closely as he
could remember and thought through the times he had watched her
work with them. He thought about other times, as well.
Thanksgiving, their occasional rides, the graduation reception.
Mark faintly smiled as he remembered the snowball fight they had
gotten into a few months back. Even though Mark had several
friends his age, he had often found it difficult to relate to
any of them. They could do normal things like go swimming or
fishing together, but he felt out of place
almost when hanging around with them... perhaps because he had
grown up so much faster. Mark knew that was the reason why he
preferred hanging around the adults, even if he couldn't
contribute to their conversation. Cassie was different. He felt
like she was the one person his age he could connect with. She'd
been the closest friend he'd ever had.
As Mark was getting ready to leave that afternoon, he passed
Storm's stall and petted the horse before giving him a sugar
cube. Mark could tell he was anxious to be ridden.
"Just a few more days boy," Mark told the horse. "She'll be
Mark suddenly realized how glad he was to hear himself say that,
and for the first time he wondered... no... he knew, Cassie was
becoming much more than just a friend.
After beating Nils at checkers and picking up the saw blades,
Mark headed home. Once Mark arrived at the ranch, he found his
Pa repairing the buck board.
"Something happen?" Mark asked as he dismounted.
"I was heading out to fix a break in the fence when the axle
gave way," Lucas replied. "Did Nils get to those saw blades?"
"Yep," Mark answered as he pulled them out of the saddle bag.
"I'm glad it broke here instead of way out in the pasture."
"You and me both."
After Mark put the blades away, he started to give his Pa a hand
with the buck board. After they had it fixed, they headed out to
fix the fence line.
As they worked, Lucas could tell Mark's mind was preoccupied
with other things and didn't try to engage in any conversation
until Mark finally spoke up.
"I saw Mr. Griswold in town today..." Mark slowly began. Mark
realized that this was going to be a very difficult
conversation. "...You remember back when he said he was writing
Lucas looked up at his son as he nodded. His mind began to race
as he realized where this conversation could be going.
"Well, seems there's a school in Chicago that wants to give me a
"...What did you tell Mr. Griswold?" Lucas asked, trying not to
show how torn he was. He was
proud of Mark, he wanted him to prosper. But for his son to go
away... that far?
"I told him I'm not sure it's what I'm supposed to do, but that
I'd think about it. He's going to Chicago at the end of July and
wants me to go see the school for just a few days. I'd come back
alone, but he wants to be able to introduce me to some people
and show me the school."
"Are you going to go?"
"I... don't really know if I want to, but I feel like I should.
That is, if you're alright with it and I can get the time off
from Marshal Osborne and if you don't need me around here." Mark
was almost hoping his Pa would tell him not to go. He was afraid
that he'd get there and realize he was supposed to leave North
Fork, leave his home, leave... his Pa.
At the same time, Lucas wanted to tell Mark what he was wanting
to hear, but Lucas knew that would simply be selfishness on his
part. This was Mark's life, and he couldn't stand in the way.
"Do whatever you want, Mark, I can manage around here for a few
days while you're gone. Just don't let Mr. Griswold, or me,
influence your decision."
Monday morning, Mark stood on the platform of the train station,
waiting for the train to come to a stop. As the passengers began
to step off the train, Mark began took look for members of the
Osborne family. Mrs. Osborne was the first off the train,
followed by Anna, then John. Mark headed towards the family,
waiting to see Cassie step off the train any second... but never
"Where's Cassie?" Mark asked, confusion written all over his
"It was decided that she would stay with her aunt to help take
care of her grandfather. It looks like he's going to pull
through," John answered.
"How long will she be out there?"
"One to two months, it depends on how much help her aunt needs,"
Marshal Osborne responded.
"Oh," Mark said, showing a bit more disappointment than he had
Mark helped get the bags and load them on the Osborne's buck
board before the four headed back to the Osborne's home.
As Mark worked that morning, he found it hard to concentrate.
His mind kept wandering off... he was confused, and perhaps even
a bit alarmed by the fact that it kept going back to Cassie.
Mark tried to focus on what he was doing, and even though he got
it done, it didn't keep him from daydreaming.
Before leaving for home, Mark talked to Marshal Osborne about
the potential trip to Chicago. John congratulated Mark on the
scholarship and told him to take off whatever time he needed,
just to let him know so he could work out scheduling with Micah.
"Thanks, I'll try to make it as short as possible," Mark said
before mounting up.
"Not a problem." John replied.
As Mark rode home, he succeeded in convincing himself that this
trip would be good for him. It would help give him get
perspective and help him explore his options better. Leaving
home was going to be difficult, even for just a few days, but
Mark knew it was a good step towards independence and adulthood.
"Cassie, are you feeling all right? You've hardly touched your
supper," Cassie's aunt asked as she looked at her niece with
"I'm sorry," Cassie replied, sitting up a little straighter. "I
guess I'm just distracted."
"Missing your grandmother?"
"I suppose that's it," Cassie stated solemnly.
"Cassie, you're worrying me. I don't think you've held more than
two conversations over the past week. That's not like you at
all. Darling, I know you and my mother were close, there's no
shame in talking about it."
"I know. When we first found out, one of my friends back home
helped me see that, and we... well, I guess I talked a lot. I
still miss Grandma, but he helped me see that eventually I could
come to peace with her death... and I think I have."
"Then what's wrong?"
"I don't know. I'm probably just homesick. I miss the ranch, the
horses, working with..." Cassie stopped herself, a bit surprised
at what she had almost said. As Cassie thought about the past
week, she realized Mark had been at the forefront of her mind
almost the whole time. "I miss my friends," Cassie hastily said,
talking more to herself than her aunt. ...But the words didn't
seem to fit right. "But I'll be fine. Let me help you with the
dishes," Cassie stated before standing and starting to clear the
Cassie's aunt watched her niece curiously as she also began to
clear dishes from the table. Cassie's sudden change in behavior
made her wonder what was going through her niece's head.
Cassie dried and put away the dishes as her aunt washed them.
She was more than startled by the realization of how often she
really did think of Mark, how much she missed him. She had
gotten used to seeing him every single day, and was beginning to
realize how much she had been enjoying the times they spent
together. She started to wonder if there was something more
between them than she had admitted. At Mark's graduation,
“friends” seemed to describe their relationship fine... but
now... maybe it didn't. Cassie was confused... and almost scared
by these thoughts, but at the same time... they excited her.
"I think that plate's dry enough," Cassie's aunt stated.
"Hmm?" Cassie asked, slowly returning to the present. "Oh, I
suppose it is," Cassie replied before putting it away.
"Why don't you and I make some chocolate pudding for your
grandfather, I'm sure he'd enjoy it."
Cassie suddenly let out a bout of laughter as she remembered the
last time she had enjoyed some chocolate pudding. It had been
Thanksgiving with Mark.
"There's the Cassie I remember," her aunt smiled. "What's so
"Oh, just a little incident on Thanksgiving. I got into a... I
don't know what you would call it. It ended with pudding in my
hair and pumpkin pie on someone else's face."
"I'm sure your mother was pleased with you."
"She still doesn't know what happened."
"Oh, Cassie..." her aunt sighed as she laughed along with her
As they worked on the pudding, Cassie continued to think about
her and Mark. Was she just making all this up, or did she feel
something for him?
"Aunt Camilla, did you ever meet someone... well, a man, who you
became friends with... and then wondered if there was...
something more between you?"
Cassie could sense her aunt becoming distant. Her eyes had a
glossed over look and a faint smile appeared on her face.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't-" Cassie began.
"No, it's alright. ...A few years ago, there was a man that
became a very close friend, and over time our relationship did
develop into something more. It wasn't sudden, it wasn't rushed,
it just came on slowly, and one day I realized what all he meant
to me. I really did love him..."
"I... wasn't ready. Things happened and we parted ways... then I
found out he died about a year ago." There was a pause in the
conversation as Cassie's aunt reflected on the man she once
loved... and even though he was dead, still did. "Why do you
"Because I think a friend back home is becoming... or has
become, more than a friend. I don't know what to do though... a
few weeks back I kinda made it clear we were friends, but I
don't know how he feels... and I'm not quite sure how I feel,
"Cassie, be honest to yourself, no matter what the outcome may
be. Do you care for him?"
"A great deal. He's the closest someone has ever been to me. He
puts up with my teasing... gives me a great deal of it as well.
He's kind... patient... quite a gentleman..."
"I think you know what your heart is telling you."
"Yes... I think I do," Cassie slowly said as a smile crept onto
her face. But suddenly it disappeared. "How do I know if he
feels the same way? What if he's happy with just being friends
"Cassie, be open with him. If you're good friends, something
like this shouldn't end with things awkward between the two of
you, even if he doesn't feel the same way."
Cassie thought about what her aunt had said for a long moment.
"Aunt Camilla, may I write a letter?"
Cassie's aunt stood to get the proper stationery. If only she
had done the same thing... how different would her life be?
Micah was watching Lucas walk back and forth across his office
floor as he sipped his coffee. It
was almost amusing watching the strong, tall, seemingly
confident rancher fret. If the situation hadn't been so serious
for his friend, Micah would've laughed, but he understood some
of Lucas's pain... he didn't want to see Mark go either.
"Micah, why does this have to be so hard?" Lucas asked. "I told
Mark a long time ago that I supported him in whatever he chose
to do, but the closer it gets to him leaving, the harder it gets
for me to keep saying that."
"It's not like he's leaving forever, Lucas-boy. He's only going
to be gone a week."
"But what if he decides to go to school? Micah, you know I've
slowly had to accept that Mark's grown up. I get it. That makes
it even harder though. The older he gets, the closer we bond, in
ways we couldn't when he was younger. What if Mark decides to
move out East when he finishes school?"
"Lucas, you're afraid of losing your boy, your partner, your
son. But he won't leave you behind him. Lucas-boy, you're not
going to lose him. You two are too close for that. No matter how
much distance separates you two, you'll stay connected. Wherever
he goes, whatever he does, he will take the love you give him
with him. He's got to find his calling, and as you know, you
can't interfere with that."
"And when it comes to saying goodbye? Possibly for years?"
"If it ever comes to that, and that's a big, troublesome “if”,
you both will know it's the right thing. You're afraid of
something else too, though, aren't you?" Micah inquired.
"He's my son, how could I not be?" Lucas asked as he braced
himself against the desk, looking Micah in the eyes.
"I understand why you are Lucas. You and Mark have encountered
more tragedies than I care to count. But the fact is, Mark is no
safer here than he is on the other side of the world. Neither
you or I can do anything to protect your son."
"I've got enemies all over the place. At least while he's here I
can recognize them and warn him. If he's off at some school..."
"Like Marcello?" Micah asked.
Lucas took in a deep breath as he gave Micah a stern look.
"Micah that was-"
"I know it was a low blow. That's why I said it. You know as
well as I do, that not even you can
protect Mark all the time. Wake up Lucas-boy, face the reality
you're in, and enjoy the time you have him here. If Mark does
decide to leave, you should be able to look back at the last few
months you were together as good times, not strained, tension
filled ones. Trust your boy, Lucas, he'll make the right
"...Micah, how are you always so... “right” all the time?"
"I've got plenty of years of experience. I gotta go walk the
town, see you Sunday," Micah said as he got his shotgun.
"Not a problem, Lucas-boy," Micah replied as he patted Lucas'
Lucas kicked Razor to increase his pace when he caught sight of
Mark about fifty yards ahead of him on the road. As he came
close to his son, he realized that Mark wasn't focused on his
surroundings at all.
"Mark, are you alright?" Lucas asked as he looked at his boy in
concern. "Mark?" Lucas asked as he put a hand on Mark's
Suddenly feeling somebody touching him, Mark just about jumped
off BlueBoy. He looked to his left and relaxed when he saw his
Pa next to him.
"Didn't hear ya come up behind me, you startled me," Mark said
as he engaged himself with the present.
"I know. Is everything all right? You're usually very aware of
what's going on around you. I don't need to tell you why it's
important." It wasn't like Mark to let somebody that close to
him without simply sensing their presence, let alone hearing
"Guess I'm just tired."
"What were you thinking about?" Lucas inquired.
"Oh just work and things," He was thinking about work he did
with Cassie, but nevertheless, it was work. Mark didn't quite
know how to bring Cassie up to his Pa yet. He'd been struggling
with it for weeks, and the more he thought about her, the more
he missed her, the stronger his feelings for her became.
"How are things going with your uncle's house?"
"Uncle Johnny is quite a slave driver."
"Are you two going to be able to finish before you leave on
Friday?" Lucas asked.
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that. We should be, though. Just have a
few finishing touches left to tend to tomorrow."
"You forgot about your trip?" Lucas asked as he chuckled at his
"Guess I've just been distracted lately."
"Yes, you have been. Is there anything you're needing to talk
about? Other than distracted you've seemed... just different
lately. What's going on?"
"Pa, honestly I'm not really sure. I think there are just some
things I need to sort out in my head before I talk to you about
it. Nothing against you, it's just... I don't know if I can even
organize my thoughts enough to talk through them."
"I understand, Mark. Since you're leaving in two days, don't you
think you should pack when we get home?"
"I guess I oughta." Suddenly, it hit Mark. "Two days? It's that
"Lose track of the days again?" Lucas asked as he laughed.
"I guess I did. Boy, It's gonna be strange leaving North Fork."
"You have before."
"Well yeah, I guess... it's gonna be strange leaving you in
"I know what you mean. It's always been the other way around or
we've gone together. It'll be different, that's for sure." Lucas
paused before changing the subject. "So, other than the fact
that he's a slave driver, how do you like working with your
"It depends on the day. There're the days that are interesting,
and then the days that are quite dull."
"How do you mean?" Lucas inquired.
"Well, a dull day would be when all he can think about is Lou.
He goes on and on and on about her, telling me things I already
know. He doesn't seem to remember that I've known her longer
than he has."
"...And an interesting day?"
Mark smirked and shook his head, trying to hold in his laughter.
"Well?" Lucas asked as he looked at Mark curiously.
"That would be like today. When he does some... remembering back
to the “good ole days”,"
"Those, “good ole days” he's telling you about were after you
were born, right?" Lucas asked, dreading the answer.
"Not a chance," Mark laughed.
"He hasn't told you about Colorado, right?"
"First day I helped him. Is that why you got on me about
spookin' cattle a few years back?"
"I “got on” you because it was wrong," Lucas stated firmly.
"...And I didn't want you ending up in the trouble your uncle
got me into."
"There's no way I would've gone that far," Mark said
emphatically. "You'd tan my hide if I went into-"
"You know what, let's change the subject," Lucas declared.
Mark just laughed and soon Lucas joined his son.
"Seriously though, don't ever bring that story up around
anybody," Lucas cautioned.
"I won't..." Mark answered as he continued to chuckle.
Thursday evening, Lucas joined Mark outside and the two had a
little target practice. Lucas was still much quicker than Mark,
but his son's accuracy matched his own.
Lucas remembered what Micah had told him the day before and had
decided to make the best of what time he did have Mark with him.
Lucas knew he could trust his son to make they right
Mark had noticed his Pa had been become much more relaxed, and
was glad. He figured his trip was probably what was causing his
Pa stress, but it was something Mark knew he needed to do. It
was good to have things less strained at home, and was glad he
was leaving with everything as it should be. A little fear still
threatened Mark, and he was nervous about what would happen over
the next week, but for the moment, Mark was able to put it aside
and enjoy the evening with his Pa.
"Are you taking your rifle?" Lucas asked as the two went to look
at the targets they had just shot at.
"Yep," Mark confidently stated.
It surprised Lucas that Mark didn't add, “as long as you're
alright with it” or “as long as you don't have a problem”, but
it didn't necessarily bother him. Mark was getting ready to
decide whether to go to college or not, something like this
should be a decision that he could make on his own, anyway.
"I don't think Mr. Griswold is going to be happy about it
though," Mark added.
"Why do you say that?" Lucas inquired.
"You should've seen his reaction the first time I brought my .22
to school. I'm surprised he didn't talk to you about it. He
doesn't really like the idea of people walking around with guns.
Of course, when he approached me about it, I ...respectfully...
informed him that out here it's kind of a necessity whether we
like it or not. He kinda agreed. I'm sure when he sees the gun
he's going to say that in “civilized” country, there's no need
to carry firearms. But you get “uncivilized” people wherever you
go. I don't like the idea of people having to carry guns either,
but if I can protect myself and the people around me by carrying
my rifle, I will."
"Just stick to what you believe is right, Mark. Don't let other
people make you back down. I'm not saying that's what Stephan
was trying or will try to do, but you'll meet plenty of people
"...You better turn in, you've got a long day tomorrow."
It wasn't really a suggestion, Mark knew it was an order. He may
be seventeen, but when his Pa told him to turn in, Mark knew to
head to bed.
The next morning, Lucas and Mark headed into town to run a few
errands before Mark left. Lucas dropped Mark off to check the
mail, then drove the buck board over to the general store so he
could start loading supplies.
Mark looked through the few letters they had received. One was
for his Pa from Miss Hattie, another for his Pa from somebody
Mark didn't know, and the last one... Mark read the name on the
envelope again, just to make sure it was for him. Mark couldn't
remember the last time he had received a letter. There was no
return address, but the writing on the envelope was very neat
and clear. Mark wanted to open it right away, but decided to put
it in his pocket and go help his Pa.
Mark didn't have to be at the train station until one, so he and
Lucas went to the hotel for lunch. As they entered the
establishment, they saw Johnny once again talking to Lou at the
front desk. They walked up to the two of them and heard Lou
giving in to Johnny.
"Alright, I don't know what ye're planning, but fine. If it'll
make ye happy, I would be delighted to join ye for lunch on
Sunday." Turning to Lucas and Mark, she continued. "Are ye here
"Sure are. You two want to join us?" Lucas asked.
"I already ate and need to get back to Jackford's. Thanks
though," Johnny replied.
"Alice is on her honeymoon and the cook came down with
somethin', so I'm understaffed, even with Tara's help. The woman
shouldn't be in the kitchen though, what with two youngin's to
keep track of. Thank ye for the invitation, but I've gotta keep
things runnin' around here. Pick a seat and I'll take yer order
as soon as ye're ready," Lou said before going to greet a couple
that had just walked inside.
"You would ask her when I'm gone, wouldn't you?" Mark asked his
"You bet I would. Enjoy your trip, Mark," Johnny replied before
he turned around to leave.
"What did you mean with your uncle? Ask who, what?" Lucas
inquired as they started towards the restaurant.
"He's gonna propose while I'm gone."
"How could you tell?" Lucas curiously asked as they sat down.
"He was nervous and uncomfortable. Uncle Johnny is never like
that. He wouldn't look her in the eye, played with his hat, and
constantly shifted his weight. After she accepted his
invitation, he relaxed a little, but you could still tell he was
"Hmm," was all Lucas said in reply. Mark had always been very
observant when it came to Lucas's behaviors, but Lucas hadn't
realized that Mark picked up on other people's mannerisms as
After lunch, Lucas and Mark headed over to the train station.
Lucas found it amusing when Stephan commented on the gun the way
Mark said he would. The conductor called for everyone to board,
and not caring who was watching, Mark hugged his Pa.
"I love you," father and son said simultaneously.
"See ya in a week," Mark stated before turning to board the
"Have a good time, son."
Mark stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out his letter
and train ticket. After showing his ticket to the conductor,
Mark put it back, but held onto the letter as he sat down again.
He was just about to open it when Mr. Griswold started talking
about the college - again. Mark placed the letter inside his hat
and listened to his former teacher praise the school's excellent
programs. Stephan had talked of nothing else the entire first
train ride, and Mark figured he'd talk of nothing else on the
second. Mark didn't mind too much though, he found hearing about
their different methods and techniques quite interesting.
"Mark, choosing to be a physician would be a perfect career
choice for you. You're intelligent and good with people. It
wouldn't surprise me a bit if one day you go down in history as
a famous doctor."
"...That's if I choose to go to college," Mark tactfully
"Yes, if..." Stephan slowly replied. "Mark, it would be a great
waste for you to not use your mind to its full potential."
"Yes, I know. But it's not a waste as long as I am using it, and
I don't necessarily need a degree to do that."
"I hope you make your own decision, and don't let people you're
close to make it for you."
Mark knew exactly who Mr. Griswold was referring to, and the
comment didn't go over too well with Mark. He was careful not to
show his growing annoyance with Mr. Griswold and calmed down a
bit before replying.
"Pa and I have talked about it, and he told me to do whatever I
thought was right. Mr. Griswold, that may very well be going to
school to become a doctor or something, but it also may not be.
Honestly, at first I was pretty closed to the idea of going off
to college. But now, I see the wonderful opportunity it is for
me, and am going to be seriously considering it over the next
few days and weeks. I know it's a decision I have to make for
myself, which is why I'm not going to let anyone, including my
Pa... or you... influence that decision."
"Mark, I simply want what is best for you. I don't mean to
influence your decision, I just want you to see your
Mark continued the conversation until he could excuse himself
without seeming rude. He made his way to the outside of the car
where he stood, watching the prairie rush past him. He
understood where Stephen was coming from, he just wished Mr.
Griswold wouldn't put so much pressure on him to go to school.
Mark was already torn between staying or leaving North Fork.
Truth be told, Mark was beginning to want to become a doctor.
The field of medicine had him quite intrigued, and whatever he
did in life, he wanted to help people. What better way to help
people than become a doctor? ...But there were opportunities to
help people no matter what he did.
Mark ran his fingers through his hair as he let out a long sigh.
Mark felt like the biggest problem was that he felt by choosing
one or the other, he was choosing between his Pa and Mr.
Griswold. They had both put so much effort and time into him,
and he was going to have to at least somewhat hurt one of them.
Mark could see how hard this was on his Pa. Lucas was starting
to do better, but it was still going to be a big adjustment if
Mark left. And then there was Mr. Griswold, who had worked so
hard at teaching and providing material for Mark. Writing and
contacting the colleges, doing whatever he could to advance
Mark. How could he just throw away all the work both of them had
done over the past few years?
Mark looked up to the sky as he prayed for clear guidance. This
was really the first big decision he was going to have to make
in his life... what if he chose wrong?
"Aleasia, Ben, wonderful to see you!" Mr. Griswold exclaimed as
he and Mark stepped out of the train station.
Mark saw a man and woman quickly approaching him and Mr.
Griswold. He could tell right away that they were well-off; the
lady wore a fancy pink dress with an elaborate bonnet, and the
man wore a grey suit with a matching top hat.
"Stephan, It's been too long!" The man replied as he shook Mr.
Griswold's hand, then turned to Mark. "You must be Mark McCain,
Stephan has written us a lot about you. It's good to finally put
a face to the name. I'm Dr. Ben Thomas."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir. I've read quite a bit about
you," Mark stated as he shook the man's hand.
"This is my lovely wife, Aleasia," the doctor continued.
"A pleasure, ma'am," Mark said as he removed his hat and gently
shook her hand. "Thank you both for opening up your home to me
for a few days."
"It'll be a pleasure, I hope you enjoy your stay," Mrs. Thomas
"Let's make our way to the carriage, shall we?" Dr. Thomas
The foursome made their way to a black and red carriage where a
driver was loading Mark and Mr. Griswold's luggage.
As the carriage bounced down the road, the doctor turned his
attention from his conversation with Stephan to Mark.
"How long have you been interested in the field of medicine,
"I've always had great respect for doctors and such, but I
suppose it wasn't until last summer when Mr. Griswold gave me
some medical journals to read that I really became interested in
"I was very pleased with what Stephan said about you, and
frankly very impressed by some of your papers. I hope you do
decide to enter the world of modern medicine, it would be a
great joy to have you in some of my classes."
"So you teach at the school then?" Mark inquired.
"Yes, quite a bit actually. Every once in a while I have to step
out of the class to deal with some emergency at the hospital,
but thankfully that doesn't happen too often," Ben replied.
"Did you two have a good trip up here?" His wife asked.
"It was indeed a very smooth trip. Although it wasn't the most
comfortable train I've ever ridden on... it seemed quite
cramped," Stephan answered.
"And how did you find it, Mark?" Aleasia inquired.
"I thought it was fine, the second train was the most impressive
train I've seen."
"Oh my, the one you came in on?" She asked. Mark nodded in
reply. "That one is years old. If
you find that one impressive, you should see some of the ones
that were built this year."
They all made polite conversation as the carriage continued down
the road. As the carriage turned a corner into the “higher” end
of town, Mark was beginning to feel quite out of place. The
homes that lined the streets were incredibly large and the wood
work on some of them was extremely intricate. The buggies and
carriages that passed them were filled with people who looked
like they were headed for a ball, and as Mark continued to
observe those around him, he realized that his teacher was
right. No one was carrying any form of gun. Mark still knew he
was going to keep his rifle close, it had become a part of him
that he didn't want to lose, even if he was in the city.
As they rounded one last corner, Mark saw a house painted white
like all the others he had seen, but that was the only
characteristic it shared with the other houses. It looked to be
at least two times the size of most other homes, and had huge
pillars supporting a canopy that extended off of the roof. As
the carriage came underneath the canopy he couldn't believe this
was all even real. Somewhat still in a stunned state, Mark
followed Mrs. Thomas out of the carriage. Mark turned around to
retrieve his rifle, then grabbed his suitcase from Dr. Thomas.
"I though your name sounded familiar," Ben suddenly stated.
"What do you mean?" Mark inquired as he followed the three
"When Stephan first wrote me about you, I thought for sure I had
heard your name before, but I couldn't place it. Your rifle
helped me finally figure it out. Lucas McCain, The Rifleman was
your father, wasn't he?"
"Yes, Lucas McCain is my father, and some people do call him The
Rifleman," Mark plainly said.
"He was a very respectable, great man. I'm sure he had instilled
in you the great values he held. I enjoyed reading your report
on the law."
Mark's face held a confused look on it and the doctor began to
"Your teacher sent me a copy of the report you wrote on the
letter of the law and the spirit of the law. It was very well
"I'm very aware of that sir, he asked for my consent before he
sent them. I am, however, a bit confused about why you keep
speaking about my father in the past tense?"
The doctor and his wife both returned Mark's confused stare,
neither wanting to speak of such a sensitive subject. There was
a short silence before Stephan spoke up.
"I think they're referring to last June, Mark."
"Oh..." Mark said as he shook his head and gave a slight grin.
"No, he didn't die, that was a story that reached more people
than they had planned on. He and our Marshal back home faked
their deaths to catch some criminals. We talked about printing a
story to set the record straight, seeing as how so many people
heard about it, but it just made more sense to leave everything
the way it is with my Pa's reputation. We wrote letters to most
people we knew outside of North Fork, but left everything else
the way it was."
"I'm glad to hear it, the world needs more people like your
father," the doctor stated.
Ben and Aleasia gave their guests a tour of their home, and
introduced them to the other guests that were staying with them.
When they came to the library, Dr. Thomas told Mark he could
have full access to it while he was with them. The final part of
the house they showed them was where the bedrooms were located.
The couple left Mark and Stephan to settle in their respective
rooms and “freshen up” before dinner.
Mark shut the door behind him, and after putting down his
suitcase and rifle, let himself fall on the bed. Mark sunk into
the mattress and couldn't believe how soft it was... it was even
more comfortable than the beds at the hotel, and he had thought
nothing could be softer than that. After just lying on the bed,
taking everything in for a few moments, Mark changed out of his
Mark wondered what the next few days would bring... and if would
continue to feel as out of place as he had for the past thirty
Over dinner, Mark stayed fairly quiet. He didn't understand who
or what most of the conversation was about, and when someone did
finally ask Mark a bit about himself, they lost interested as
soon as he started talking about the ranch.
The other guests staying at the house varied greatly in age. The
youngest was a seven month old baby, and the oldest was Mrs.
Thomas's father, who Mark guessed to be in his late sixties.
After dessert, everyone made their way to the parlor where they
continued to have, what Mark considered to be, quite empty and
dull conversation. A few parlor games were played, but Mark
simply watched even though he was invited to join the games
several times. Mark did enjoy watching the others play the games
though, and found a few of them quite amusing.
The evening slowly passed by, and Mark was waiting for everyone
to decide to retire, but with the exception of Mrs. Thomas's
father and the couple with the baby, everyone was still in the
parlor at a quarter past eleven. Finally, Mark excused himself
and went to his room for the night, exhausted from the day. As
Mark laid on the bed, he could still hear conversation and
coming from the parlor below him. Life in the city was much
different than he had expected, and it wasn't just the fancier
houses and food. Although the people looked like they were happy
and larger than life, they all almost seemed... fake. Even Mr.
Griswold seemed to be slipping back into the person he was when
he first arrived in North Fork, and Mark hated to be watching it
happen. Mark hoped he would start to get more comfortable with
his surroundings, but had a feeling it wasn't going to happen.
The next morning, Mark was surprised when he looked at the
timepiece and saw that it was half past seven. He never slept
this late and figured everyone was probably up and had already
eaten. Mark quickly changed and made his bed before making his
way downstairs, only to find no one there. The house was
extremely quiet, almost too quiet, and when Mark finally heard a
noise in the kitchen, he headed that way to find out what was
"Did everyone leave?" Mark asked the maid as he entered the
"Oh heavens no!" She replied with a laugh. "They probably won't
be awake for another hour and a half."
"An hour and a half?" Mark asked in surprise.
"It's the way it is on the weekends. Stay up until the early
hours of the morning and sleep until most of the morning has
wasted away. Doesn't make much sense to me, but it's the way
people do it around here. Had I slept that late when I was a
youngin', my mother would've just 'bout tanned my hide. If
you're hungry, I'm sure the cook could make you something."
"That's alright," Mark assured.
"Well if you need something just ask, I've got to get started on
cleaning the parlor." The maid headed out the door.
Mark didn't really know what to do, especially with this much
time on his hands. Remembering the library, Mark headed that way
to see if there was a book he could find to read. After finding
a story printed in a series of magazines, Mark sat down and
began to read.
Mark hadn't realized how absorbed he had become in the stories
until he suddenly heard someone say something behind him.
"Kidnapped. I enjoyed reading that story as it came out."
Mark jumped and turned around to see who was behind him. He saw
Mrs. Thomas's father quietly chuckling behind him.
"I didn't hear you come in," Mark said as he stood up and faced
the elderly man.
"I don't blame you, those stories are quite intriguing, aren't
"Yes sir. Do you enjoy reading Mr. Hanes?"
"When you get to my age it's practically all you do, especially
when you have a daughter who won't let you go out of her sight.
But I've always been an avid reader. Reading expands your mind
in so many ways."
"Do you have a favorite book?" Mark inquired.
"Oliver Twist, without a doubt. I read it over and over again
while I was in California, looking for gold. It went through the
war with me, and I still read it every once in a while."
"You were a gold miner?" Mark asked with interest.
"Sure was. Left the city and headed to California with everyone
else in forty-eight."
"Did you have any success?"
"Quite a bit, but I didn't actually ever find more than an ounce
or two of gold."
"How do you mean?" Mark asked in confusion.
"Mark, a lot of people think that money is the way to success
and happiness. They think that the only people who gained from
the gold rush were those who found the “mother-load.” I think
those who found the least amount of gold, gained the most. I may
not have become rich from my endeavors, but I learned hard work,
perseverance, and appreciation for a bed. I learned how to take
care of my needs on my own, without using my parents as a
crutch, because for the first time in my life I couldn't. Money
isn't everything, Mark. As you've probably noticed, those who
have an overabundance of things they need on the outside tend to
have nothing but emptiness on the inside. So I might not have
had the latest fashion or most impressive house for most of my
life, but I was able to meet the needs of my family, and had
happiness in my life."
"Yes sir, I couldn't agree more."
"What brings you to Chicago any way? You don't exactly seem the
Mark proceeded to explain to Mr. Hanes why he was in Chicago and
tell him a bit about his life. When Mrs. Thomas came to inform
them that breakfast was being served, they headed to the dining
room together and continued their conversation through the meal.
Mark was fascinated by the stories Mr. Hanes told him about the
war, and asked him several questions about the man's life.
That afternoon, Mark, Dr. Thomas and Mr. Griswold headed to the
school. Dr. Thomas explained that a Saturday would be the best
day to show Mark around the campus since those on the summer
staff most likely wouldn't be there anyway. Mark became fairly
familiar with the layout of the buildings and was quite
impressed by the dormitories. Dr. Thomas went into explaining
the school's programs a little bit, but told Mark he would have
plenty of time to learn about that next week, when he would have
the opportunity to sit in on some of the classes and lectures
they would have for student interns that were having classes
over the summer.
The three returned that evening to the Thomas's and Mark found
out that they were having a dinner party that night, which meant
he was expected to wear something nicer. Mark definitely
preferred the gatherings back home, they may not have been as
fancy, but at least everyone was real.
When Mark walked into the dining room that evening, he heard Mr.
Griswold being asked if he thought the west was a “suitable”
place to raise children. He almost couldn't believe Stephan's
"Many families do raise their children out west without any
major problems. But there are the simple dangers of living out
there. Medical standards aren't very high, and there are the
dangers of outlaws and renegades."
"What about the Indians?" The woman with the baby asked.
Mark rolled his eyes and took his seat, then turned to say
something to the man next to him.
"They are a problem, Mark was almost killed by some when he was
Mark's head whipped around after hearing Stephan's response.
"I was what?" Mark asked, trying to keep his temper in check.
"Chaqua? Don't you remember?" Stephan inquired.
"I remember being kidnapped by Chaqua, and I also remember that
you weren't around when it happened, and-"
"I have been told the story several times," Mr. Griswold
"Obviously you heard it wrong. The tribe that took me had no
intention of killing me, and if you know that story, you should
also remember that another Indian risked his life to get me
back, and that that same man saved my life a few years ago."
Mark excused himself and abruptly left
As Mark made his way to his room, he couldn't believe what Mr.
Griswold was saying. He had lived with them in North Fork for
years, and still considered it unfit for a family and
uncivilized. Mark had heard Stephan indirectly call the west
“uncivilized” but hadn't realized just how Stephan saw the west,
North Fork, how Stephan viewed Mark's life.
"Where do ye want ta sit?" Lou asked as Johnny came into the
"We're not eating at the hotel today," Johnny replied as he
offered Lou his hand.
"Where else would we eat? It's too hot for a picnic."
"You'll see," Johnny simply replied as he led her out of the
"Alright, but I have to be back by-"
"I already took care of it."
"What do ye mean? I have a hotel ta run."
"Your staff gave you the afternoon off."
"Johnny what are ye up to?" Lou asked as she gave him a
"Just trust me."
Lou sighed and decided to go along with it. She walked with
Johnny around town and noticed he was unusually quiet, which
made her suspicious of whatever he had in store. At the edge of
town they came to a two story house with a beautiful wrap around
porch. They made their way up the porch steps and Johnny held
the door open for Lou.
"Isn't this the Smith's home?" Lou asked.
"It was, it's mine now," Johnny replied as he followed her
"You're settling down for good then?" Lou asked as a smile
crossed her face.
"I wouldn't dream of doing anything else."
Johnny escorted Lou to the dining room where she found a table
set for two with a beautiful lace
table cloth and elegant China dishes.
"Oh Johnny..." Lou said as she put her hand to her mouth.
"Today, I serve you for a change," Johnny replied as he pulled
out her chair.
Lou looked around and couldn't believe what Johnny had done with
the room. There were beautiful roses scattered around on various
pieces of furniture, candles lit the areas where the sunlight
didn't quite brighten the room enough, and as she looked up, she
realized there was a beautiful chandelier above the table.
Johnny had prepared a wonderful steak dinner for the two of
them, and Lou almost couldn't believe Johnny had cooked it.
"Where did ye learn to cook?" Lou asked as she finished her last
bite of potatoes.
"When you're off on your own, learning to cook is sort of a
"Well thank ye, it was delicious. Let me do the dishes," Lou
offered as she began to stand.
Johnny quickly stood and made her sit back down.
"I told you, today I'm going to serve you. But there is
something you could do for me."
"And what is that?"
"Well this is an awfully big house for just one person..."
Johnny started. "Lou, I couldn't imagine living the rest of my
life without you by my side. I want to share this house with you
for the rest of my days."
Johnny went down on one knee and took Lou's hand in his own.
"Lou Mallory, would you be my wife?"
"Johnny, I would love to become yer wife!"
Lou and Johnny both stood before taking each other in their arms
and passionately kissing. As their lips parted, they stared into
each other's eyes.
"Johnny Gibbs, I love ye," Lou softly whispered.
Sunday dragged by, and Mark spent most of the day reading. He
didn't enjoy the company of most of the guests in the house, and
Mr. Hanes was in town with his daughter.
Monday, however, as well as the rest of the week flew by. Mark
attended classes, listened to lectures, looked through the
school's curriculum, met and spoke with several of the teachers,
and watched a few experiments performed in the laboratory. Mark
was becoming more and more interested in the school, and
immensely enjoyed the time he had at the college, even if he
dreaded the small amount of time he spent at the house. Mark
liked learning and growing while he was there, but there was a
part of him that still felt empty, the part of him that was
still in North Fork.
The night before Mark was supposed to leave, he sat in the
parlor once again, listening to bits and pieces of different
conversations. Most of the evening had been filled with talk of
politics and problems in society, but now the conversation was
turning towards what the government was going to do with the
Indians. Mark almost couldn't believe these people's ideals, and
had quite a difficult time keeping his mouth shut. Mr. Griswold
had given him a lecture about “manners” after he left the table
Saturday evening. Even though Mark didn't feel he had done
anything wrong, he tried to keep quiet so he wouldn't
“embarrass” Stephan. Mark had never found it so difficult in his
life to keep quiet.
"Those heathen red men should be locked away, never to be heard
from again," one of Mrs. Thomas's friends stated.
Finally, Mark had listened to enough.
"And why should they? Because a few tribes don't understand that
we want to live peacefully with them, we should lock them all;
men, women and children in cages like animals?"
"It's what they are," she replied after getting over the shock
of what Mark had said.
"Oh, so they are animals? Funny thing, I thought I heard you
call them red “men” just a minute ago. If you're going to
classify them as animals, you might as well classify the rest of
us as animals, too. They're as much human as you and I are. They
have the same bodies, they have children, they have feelings,
they have a different way of life, that's all. And that's just
it, too. It may be a “different” way of life, but it still is a
way of life. We just don't understand it, and we can't control
it, so everyone is afraid of it. I was held captive by Indians
for days, you would think I'd be the most afraid, but I'm not,
and you know why? Because even though they may have wrongly
kidnapped me, I could still see that they were people! People
with family and loved ones, people who just want to be left
alone. Since then, my Pa and I have met and become friends
several Indian families, and they are very kind, respectable
people. But you want to tear their families and way of life
apart. How would you like it if a bunch of men, that spoke a
language you didn't understand, broke in here tonight and took
us all off to different places to spend the rest of our lives on
a reservation? What if they took you away from everything you
ever knew; your parties, your fancy clothes, your elaborate
seven course meals, and forced you to live the way they wanted
you to, away from the rest of civilization? You would never set
foot off that land again, and never see anyone besides those you
were blessed enough to be forced to live with again!"
Mark suddenly realized that he had begun speaking quite loudly,
and now everyone in the room was watching him. He thought about
stopping there, but he continued.
"Mrs. Jones, how would you like it if some man came in here and
tore your baby from your arms? Mr. Jones, how would you react if
someone took your wife away forever? You would do your best to
stop them, even if it meant getting shot in the process because
you had no way to protect yourself against a pistol. You all
wonder why you hear about the Indians reacting violently, but
wouldn't you do the same if you were in their situation? Most of
you in here either served or know someone who served in the
civil war. And at least half of you lost someone due to that
war. Did all those men die in vain? Do we not believe that all
men were created equally? How dare we say we respect their
sacrifice while we free one race, yet put another in bondage.
How dare we, who were equally created with them say that they
are unfit to live. How dare we- no, how dare YOU try to deny
those men life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How dare
you assume that you can take away what the Creator has given
those men as unalienable rights! Answer me this; are they men,
or are we animals?"
Mark looked around at every adult in the room. He spent a few
seconds looking to every one of them, but none of them would
give him eye contact. No one had anything to say in reply to
Mark either, so after a few minutes he just shook his head,
grabbed his rifle, and headed out of the room. Instead of going
to his room, Mark headed outside and made his way to the
As he stepped inside, Mark was flooded with thoughts of home,
filled with memories of family and friends, and awakened to the
realization of how much he missed them. Mark inhaled deeply,
welcoming the smell of hay and animals as he made his way
towards one of the horses. Mark had only been away for less than
a week, but he felt like it had been an eternity. Mark spent
quite some time petting the horse and thinking before he turned
around to see Mr. Hanes walking into the barn.
"I wondered where you went off to," the man said as he made his
way towards Mark.
"I thought you went to bed," Mark curiously stated.
"I did, but some young man who knew what he was talking about
started giving a very loud lecture to some very ignorant
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize that I was being so loud... I was a
little... angry I guess."
"It was a welcome interruption. I don't think I've heard anyone
talk like that around here for years. You're very passionate
about what you believe, aren't you?"
"Yes sir, a bit stubborn too, I suppose."
"You suppose?" Mr. Hanes asked as he lifted his eyebrows.
"Actually quite stubborn. I get it from my Pa... who probably
would be lecturing ME right now if he had heard the way I was
talking. I tried to keep quiet, but..."
"Your Pa would probably be proud of you for standing up for
what's right. It takes a lot of guts to stand up to a room full
of people like that, and it takes a whole lot of knowledge to
challenge their thinking, which you did. I heard most of what
you said, and Mark, I don't think I could've said it better
"Thank you." Mark really wasn't sure what else to say.
"So have you decided whether or not you're going to school?"
"I doubt that they would want me after that whole episode, a lot
of the people in there were teachers on the school board."
"I'm sure they would, not every seventeen year old can challenge
the thinking of a fifty year old professor. If they still
offered you it, what would you do?"
"Up until tonight I was undecided. I liked the programs at the
college, I was very intrigued by the curriculum, and they are
one of the best schools out here."
"But as much as I enjoyed all that, I still felt like I wasn't
“complete” here. I figured it was just because I was missing
everyone back home, but after what happened inside, I realized
what it really was."
"And what was it?"
"Becoming a doctor may be a wonderful way to help people, but my
heart's not in it. My brain connected to the scholastic side of
it, but my heart isn't connected to the emotional side of it.
It's not my passion, it's not what drives me. What I believe,
what I stand for, and the people I care about are the things
that drive me. That's why I finally had to speak up tonight, and
that's why I'm not going to school. Whatever I do needs to be
driven by my passions and my beliefs, not by what I enjoy for a
short while. I also think that had I decided to attend the
college this fall, the ideals and standards of those I was being
instructed by would have ended up driving me insane. As I looked
at the adults in that room tonight, I looked into the faces of
people I would be studying under, learning from. They may know
more about science and medicine than me, and I could undoubtedly
learn from them, but they agree with things I am completely
against. They're small minded people, who put themselves above
those less fortunate than themselves. Those would be the kind of
people I would be surrounded by for the majority of the next
several years. Fake people who only repeat what they hear
instead of formulating their own ideals. I don't want to put
myself in that kind of position. No offense, Mr. Hanes, but I
couldn't live in the city. I'm a rancher, not a city boy. I need
to do more than sit behind a desk all day, and I definitely
don't want to support what I found out most of the men in that
room stand for."
"I'm glad to hear you say that, I can't tell you how much I was
hoping my son-in-law wouldn't convince you to go to college. I
see great potential in you, Mark. Potential that can't be
unlocked in a classroom."
Mr. Hanes patted Mark on the shoulder and headed out of the
stable. Mark was more at peace with himself than he had been for
a long time. Mark was satisfied with the decision he had made.
Mark spent a long time in the stable that evening, thinking
about how good it was going to be to get home and see everyone.
Mark was a little uneasy about the fact that he was almost
looking forward to seeing Cassie as much as he was looking
forward to seeing his Pa. There hadn't ever been someone he had
missed that much before, except his Ma.
When Mark returned to the house that night, he found everyone
had already retired for the evening. Mark went to his room and
began to pack for his trip home. It was going to be a long two
days since he was staying the night in a town before getting on
the second train, but Mark figured it would give him time to
figure a few more things out before he arrived home.
As Mark started to check his trunk one more time to make sure he
had packed everything, he found an envelope with his name on it.
Mark opened it as he sat down on the bed and read the note to
I hope that your trip is going well. I can't tell you how proud
I am of everything you've accomplished. As you know, it's been
bittersweet for me, watching you grow up, and I know you see
that. I want to reassure you that I am fine with whatever you
chose to do, I trust you to make the right choices in your life.
Whatever ends up happening, Mark, I love you and won't let the
distance between us break our bond. Keep true to who you are,
not what other people want you to be.
I'm so proud of you, son.
Mark let himself fall back on the bed. North Fork, his Pa,
...Cassie, were all right choices.
After a very awkward morning and afternoon, Mark was finally on
the train headed home. As Chicago disappeared from his sight,
Mark felt like a huge burden was lifted from him and that, in a
sense, he had been set free. After sitting in the car for a few
hours, Mark decided to walk around a bit. He walked to the last
car on the train, but as he opened the door he realized it
wasn't a normal passenger car. Mark saw two men seated a table
with money scattered on top of it. One of the men slightly
jumped from his seat while the other remained still.
"My apologies, I didn't realize this was a private car," Mark
stated as the startled man stood up.
"Quite alright," the calmer man, with dark hair and a mustache
started. "Is there a certain car you're looking for?"
"No sir, just walking around. I'll get out of your way."
"Have a good day," the nervous man replied as he shut the door
Mark found the situation quite suspicious, and as he thought
about the encounter, he realized what he had seen on the table
along with the money - plates. Plates that were used for
Mark was nervous the rest of the train ride. The calm man didn't
seem to care that Mark had walked in on them, but the other one
certainly did. Mark wondered if they just thought he hadn't seen
anything or if they were waiting to threaten or do something to
him until they made it into town. Mark tried to stay level
headed, but he feared the worst, especially since he was alone
and had no one he knew or trusted around. Mark knew how quickly
this whole situation could turn into a huge mess, and hoped that
they would get to town, and the law soon.
When the train finally stopped, Mark quickly made his way to the
hotel to check in before putting his things in his room and then
heading towards the sheriff's office.
"Sheriff, I need to report-" Mark started as he entered the
jail, but stopped as he saw just who exactly the sheriff was.
The man in front of him, who wore a sheriff's badge, was the
same man who Mark had seen on the train, the calmer of the two
"I'm glad you came in, please take a seat, young man," The
"That's alright..." Mark slowly stated. He wasn't sure what to
"I'm sure you're probably alarmed by the fact to see that I'm
the sheriff in town, but don't worry, I'm not part of a
counterfeiting scheme. The Marshal's office asked for some help
in a case they're trying to crack, so I went undercover for
them. I have the criminals locked up in the back now and the
Marshal's office will take over the case once they get here, so
there's nothing to worry about," the sheriff explained.
Mark relaxed, he was glad everything was all taken care of and
that there wasn't a crooked Sheriff to work around.
"That's good to hear, I just 'bout had a heart attack when I
walked in here."
"You traveling alone then?" The Sheriff inquired.
"Yes sir, I went to visit a school in Chicago and am headed back
"And where is that?"
"A small town in New Mexico, called North Fork."
"Do you like it there?"
"Yes sir, it's a great place to call home."
"I'm sure you're excited to be getting back then."
"Yes sir, leaving on the first train tomorrow morning."
"Well I hope you enjoy your visit in our town."
"Thank you sir," Mark said as the sheriff walked him to the
After Mark left, a man came out of the jail area of the office.
"Why'd you let him leave?" The man asked, obviously irritated.
"He thinks everything is fine, there's no reason to keep him."
"And what if he figures out that everything isn't fine and he
becomes a problem?"
"Then we'll deal with him the same way we're dealing with our
other problem. Speaking of which, how is he?"
"Still out. I hope you know what you're doing, because I ain't
gonna be happy if you mess this
"It'll all be fine, trust me. The kid is clueless."
"I'm gonna go find out just who he is, be back in a while."
"Stay out of sight, he thinks you're in jail."
Mark walked back to the hotel and ordered supper, but the longer
he thought about his conversation with the Sheriff, the more
uneasy he became. If the Marshal's office was trying to crack
the case, how could the Sheriff already have people arrested?
Since when did the U.S. Marshals use local law officers in cases
that spanned several states? The Sheriff had used the word
criminals. There was only one other man in that train car. The
more Mark thought, the less he believed the Sheriff's story, and
the more anxious he became. After Mark ate, he calmed himself
down and headed back to the Sheriff's office, to see if he could
either clear or trap the Sheriff.
As Mark walked in the door, he realized he should've wired
someone first. The Sheriff stood talking to the man who had been
on the train earlier that evening, and before Mark realized it,
the three stood with their guns pointed at each other.
"You may be the Rifleman's son and all, but he couldn't even get
both of us before one of us shot him, so I suggest you put your
gun down," the sheriff calmly stated.
Mark knew he was beat and put the rifle on the Sheriff's desk.
He should've known better than to set himself up for a situation
"So you obviously know who I am, what are you planning to do
with me?" Mark asked.
"For now you'll enjoy a little jail time. You should like your
cellmate, a real pleasant fellow. Only he was like you and just
a bit too curious." The sheriff stood and gestured to the door
leading to the cell area.
After locking Mark in the cell with an unconscious man, the
sheriff and his partner headed to the front office.
"Keep an eye on 'em, I've got a few things to take care of," the
"What are we going to do with them? We can't keep them in there
"I was really hoping we could avoid cold blooded murder on this
job, but those two kinda made it impossible."
NORTH FORK, NEW MEXICO
Been delayed two weeks
Will explain later
Lucas stared curiously at the telegram in his hand. He couldn't
think of any reason Mark would have been delayed in Chicago, but
decided that like Micah had said, he could trust Mark.
As Lucas passed the train station, he saw John Osborne standing
on the platform with his wife and daughter, and headed over to
"Evening John, Catherine, Anna. Cassie coming home today?" Lucas
"Should be here any minute," Mrs. Osborne replied happily.
"Things have been quite different around here with both her and
Mark gone," John commented.
"Speaking of-" Lucas started, but the train's whistle
overpowered the sound of his voice.
All four watched the train approach the station and finally stop
in front of them. After a minute or two, people began to come
off the train and the Osborne's anxiously looked around for
"There she is!" Anna exclaimed as she pointed three cars down.
The Osborne's got Cassie's attention and she quickly made her
way towards her family. After reuniting with her family and
greeting Lucas, Cassie looked around the platform, but didn't
find who she wanted to.
"Is Mark not here?" Cassie asked Lucas.
"No, he's in Chicago looking at a college, which is why I'm even
here. John, I just got a telegram from Mark saying he's been
delayed two weeks, which means he won't be able to work for
"That's alright, I told him to take as much time as he needed.
Did he say why he was delayed?"
"No, just said he'd explain later," Lucas replied as he
shrugged. "That boy can be quite confusing."
"Mr. McCain, Mark didn't get my letter then, did he?" Cassie
"No... we didn't get any letter from you at all."
"I sent it almost two months ago, it should be here by now."
"Perhaps it was lost in the mail," Mrs. Osborne suggested.
"You're probably right."
Maybe it was for the better, maybe she shouldn't have even sent
it in the first place. Cassie tried seeing the fact that Mark
hadn't read her letter as a good thing, but had a difficult time
doing so. She had hoped he would've read and had time to think
about it before he saw her, but now she was either going to have
to keep her emotions to herself or tell him how she felt
personally. Cassie couldn't decide which would be harder.
"Well since I won't be in town tomorrow to pick Mark up, I guess
I'll see you all Sunday," Lucas stated, interrupting Cassie's
"So long, Lucas," Marshal Osborne replied as he shook Lucas's
The three Osborne ladies said goodbye and then made their way to
their buck board as Marshal Osborne got Cassie's trunk. Soon
Cassie found herself answering her family's various questions
about her trip, but in the back of her mind kept thinking about
What was she going to do when he got home?
As the sheriff and his partner walked to the front office, Mark
sat on the vacant bunk in the cell.
'Good job, Mark,' he thought to himself.
Mark had no idea how he was going to get himself out of this
situation. He was locked in a cell with no access to any
weapons, in a strange town with a crooked Sheriff, and no one in
North Fork would know something was amiss until tomorrow
Mark lied down on the bunk in defeat as he took off his hat and
started playing with it.
“This is going to be one long-” Mark stopped short as he saw the
letter tucked inside the hat band. He had completely forgotten
that he had stuck it there on the train last week. Having
nothing else to do, Mark figured now was as good a time as any
to read it. He tore open the envelope and opened the letter. A
faint smile crossed Mark's face as he looked at the bottom of
the letter and saw who it was from. Cassie.
I hope this letter finds you and everyone in North Fork well.
Things have seemed to move extremely slow out here, and even
though I've only been gone a little over a week, I feel like
it's been an eternity. My aunt has been keeping me plenty busy
however, and is constantly reminding me that, “Idle hands are
the devil's playground.” Between cooking, cleaning, sewing, and
taking care of my grandfather (who is recovering well), I hardly
have time to miss home, but at the same time, I feel like it's
all I do. I miss my family and working with the horses, but
there's something else I'm missing too. I didn't realize it
until tonight, but if I am going to be honest with myself, I
must admit, Mark, that I miss you terribly. I didn't realize
until this trip how much you mean to me, how much you are a part
of my life. I didn't realize that at some point, somehow, at
least... I feel that perhaps we've stepped beyond being friends.
I apologize if I am being too forward, but for the past year
I've immensely enjoyed our relationship and think it only fair
that I be honest with myself as well as you. At your graduation
ceremony I don't think I was doing that as I told Sarah and
Lilly we were, “just friends.”
Mark, I don't know how to put what I'm feeling into words, and
hope that this doesn't destroy the relationship we've built...
but I wanted you to know that I don't consider you a friend
anymore; I consider you much more than that.
I will be arriving home at the end of July, and hope that
shortly after my return I can talk to you. I understand if
friends is all you want to be, and I'll respect that if it's
what you want. But Mark, I honestly want it to be more... and I
think it has become more.
A contented smile now rested on Mark's face, and for a short
moment he forgot where he was at and what situation he was in.
Mark felt as though he could burst with happiness, knowing
Cassie felt the same way he did. If only he could tell her that,
if only... he wasn't stuck in a jail cell. Reality hit Mark
again, but he still kept a smile on his face; he felt as though
he had a brand new drive and passion.
"What are you smiling about?"
Mark looked to the other side of the cell to see his cell mate,
who appeared to be nineteen or
twenty, sitting up against the wall.
"Just read a letter is all," Mark replied as he stuck the letter
in his hat and sat up.
"From your sweet heart?"
"Well I wouldn't exactly..."
"Your friend who's more than a friend," the man corrected
"How did you know?"
"You learn to read people in my kind of work."
"And what kind of work is that?"
"I'm studying to become a lawyer." The man paused a moment
before continuing, "So how'd you figure out the Sheriff was
"His story seemed improbable so I came back to talk to him and
found him talking to the man he told me he arrested for
counterfeiting. The sheriff said you were like me and a “bit too
How'd you wind up in here... and how'd you know I wasn't just
some run of the mill trouble maker?"
"You don't look or act the type, and this Sheriff would let a
murderer get away, it wouldn't surprise me if he is one himself.
He wouldn't have arrested you for anything. And how'd I get
here? Well, I was at college finishing some internships and
summer classes. I decided to surprise my family and come home
early; I haven't seen them since Christmas. I had a lay over
here and accidentally walked into a wrong room in the back of
the hotel. I've been here a week. Almost got away last night,
but the Sheriff somehow got the jump on me and I guess knocked
"How'd you almost get away?" Mark inquired.
"The sheriff was gone and his partner was back here getting my
dishes from supper. When he got distracted I hit him on the back
of the head with a bowl and then got his keys. I would've been
home free had the Sheriff not entered the front office as I was
trying to leave it."
"Have you tried the bars on the windows?"
"If we had a good tool, it'd be pretty easy to cut through them,
but nothing around here is sharp enough to cut through them, and
they haven't given me any silverware."
Mark looked towards the door leading to the front office before
standing and making his way to the window.
"What are doing?" The man asked.
"Just keep an eye out for them," Mark replied as he pulled out
his pocket knife.
"That thing sharp enough?"
"It better be."
Mark went to work on the bars and slowly made progress as time
drug on. Mark hoped the blade would last long enough to cut
through the bars, but it was going to be close. After about two
hours, Mark was warned that someone was coming so Mark hopped
onto his bunk and hid the knife.
The sheriff entered the cell area followed by his partner;
neither of them looked very happy. The sheriff unlocked the cell
door and headed straight for Mark.
"You think this is funny don't you?" He asked angrily as he
grabbed Mark's shirt in a fist.
Mark stared the sheriff in the eyes and tried not to show the
panic racing through him.
"I wouldn't say there's anything funny about criminal activity,"
Mark told him.
The sheriff threw Mark back against the brick wall, making him
hit his head. Intense pain shot through Mark's skull, but he
tried not to show it.
"Give me the knife and I'll be lenient. Play more games and...
maybe I'll play a few."
"What knife?" Mark asked.
"Don't play dumb, I saw you working on the bars. Show me the
knife or your cell mate over here isn't going to live to see
tomorrow." The sheriff pointed a gun to the other man's head.
Without hesitation Mark revealed the pocket knife and handed it
to the sheriff.
"That's better. If you keep playing games, someone is going to
end up dying."
"That somebody might be you," Mark commented.
The man didn't appreciate that remark at all and used the butt
of his gun to bash Mark on the
side of the head, causing him to fall to the ground. First,
Mark's vision blurred as he watched the two men leave the area,
then suddenly - nothing.
Mark slowly began regaining consciousness and fought hard to
stay awake. As his senses began sharpening, he acknowledged the
sharp pain shooting through his head and began to realize how
nauseated he felt. As Mark sat up, his ears began to ring and
his vision threatened to black out, but he kept himself from
passing out. Mark soon realized that he was no longer in the
jail, but in the back of what appeared to be a prison wagon.
"You really know how to get on someone's good side, don't you?"
The man who had once been Mark's cell mate asked.
"You're telling me," Mark replied as he rubbed his head.
"I'll live. Where are we?"
"I hate to tell you this, but I think we're on the way to our
"How long have I been out?"
"Six, seven hours maybe? I couldn't believe how long you were
out, he must've hit you good. We left town probably an hour ago
and I've heard them talking about getting “rid” of us."
"How many guns do they have?"
"Does it matter? We're pretty much dead," the man said.
"...The sheriff and his partner both have a Colt Peacemaker and
they grabbed a rifle from the front office before we left.
You're seriously not going to try something, are you?"
"You're not seriously ready to die, are you?" Mark retorted.
"...What'd you have in mind?"
"Nothing yet, give me a minute," Mark said as the wagon came to
"We're dead," the man stated in defeat.
Mark's mind began racing, trying to create a way out of the
situation. He had to admit it looked pretty hopeless, but he
wasn't ready to give up.
The door to the wagon was swung open as the sheriff ordered his
two prisoners out of the wagon. The moon gave a little light,
but storm clouds blocked it partially. Mark looked around for a
means of escape, but nothing seemed plausible. The sheriff and
his partner were both pointing their guns at them, the sheriff
holding Mark's rifle under his left arm.
“Alright you two, move it.”
Mark did as he told and started walking. Mark wondered if these
were his last few minutes alive, if he'd ever see his Pa again.
How could he have let himself get into this mess?
'Pa...' Mark thought. How he longed to be with his Pa.
After fifteen minutes of walking and listening to approaching
thunder, Mark could feel the rain beginning to tap his body. The
sheriff finally told them to stop and kneel down.
As Mark tried to keep panic from taking over, he listened to the
storm and let himself enjoy it. If he was going to die, he might
as well enjoy the last few moments of his life. The thunder,
rain, wind, and lightening calmed him as he thought about the
only person he knew that could enjoy a storm like this. If he
could've seen her before he died... if only he could tell her
Mark heard a gunshot, but it was distant and Mark looked over to
see the sheriff's partner clutching his chest. Taking the
opportunity, Mark knocked the Peacemaker out of the distracted
sheriff's hand and attempted to get his rifle. The sheriff
quickly focused on trying to stop Mark and tried throwing a
punch to Mark's head, but Mark dodged it. Mark was starting to
get the rifle free from the Sheriff but it was suddenly thrown
far out of his reach. The sheriff continued to throw punches at
Mark, a majority of which Mark couldn't avoid. Mark tried
fighting back, but the sheriff was too big and too strong, and
soon had Mark on the ground. The sheriff took his hands and
squeezed hard around Mark's throat; Mark felt like his neck was
going to break. Just as Mark felt like he was going to lose
consciousness, he heard a rifle shot and the sheriff slumped
over. Mark saw the man he had been imprisoned with holding his
rifle as he walked towards Mark.
"I never introduced myself, I'm Ned," he said as he helped Mark
"I'm Mark, Mark McCain," Mark replied as he shook Ned's hand.
"Thanks for saving my life."
"Don't mention it. Who do you think it was who sent off the
"I think we're about to find out," Mark said as he nodded
towards a couple riders making their
way towards him. Ned offered Mark his rifle and he gladly
"Are you boys alright?" The leader of the group asked as he
assessed the two young men in front of him.
"Yes sir," Ned replied.
"I'm Marshal Anker with the U.S. Marshal's Service. To my left
is Deputy Beck, and this is Deputy Hall." The marshal said as he
gestured to the other man and showed his badge to them. "Why
don't we get you two to town, and then you can tell us how you
got caught up in this whole mess."
As the deputies took care of the bodies of the two deceased men,
Marshal Anker sat down with Ned and Mark in the sheriff's
"We've been watching these two for months and were just about to
arrest them when they took off with you two," The marshal began.
"They had a nice set up with counterfeiting money, but a little
too sloppy. I still have to send in a report to my superiors, so
I'm going to need your names and an account of what happened."
Mark suddenly looked over to Ned, but before he could say
anything, the Marshal spoke up.
"You wouldn't be Marshal John Osborne's son, would you?"
"Yes sir," Ned replied.
"Your father is a great man, son. He wouldn't admit to it, but
he's saved my hide countless times over the years. Gotten me
into a few scrapes as well..." The marshal chuckled.
"Sounds like Pa alright," Ned stated.
"John Osborne. You were headed to North Fork?" Mark asked.
"I work for your Pa. North Fork is where I've lived for the past
seven years," Mark stated as he laughed.
"It's a small world..." Ned mused.
"And what's your name, son?" The marshal asked Mark.
"Sorry, Mark McCain."
The Marshal began to write the two names down, but suddenly
"McCain? You're the Rifleman's son?"
Mark nodded in reply.
"I read the report about the case he, Marshal Torrance and
Marshal Osborne worked on. Quite a bit of fine work. I'd heard
about the Rifleman before, but when I read the report and heard
what he did during the shoot out in North Fork..." Anker let out
a long whistle. "I couldn't believe it."
It took a while to get the marshal back on track, but eventually
Mark and Ned gave their accounts of what happened. Anker started
to understand the bruises developing on Mark's face and neck as
Mark told the Marshal about the fight between himself and the
sheriff. After both of them had finished giving their accounts,
the marshal suggested they get something to eat over at the
The sun was just starting to rise and the hotel was almost
deserted. After a waitress appeared, the three took their seats
and quickly ordered.
"When do you two plan on heading home?" The marshal inquired.
"I was supposed to leave on this morning's train anyway, so
about eight-thirty," Mark replied.
"I'll probably try to get on this morning's train too, then,"
"I'll make sure you get on it," The marshal promised. "Mark, do
you want to see the doctor before you leave? Those bruises don't
look very good, and it sounds like something was damaged that
affected your voice."
"I'll be fine, I think my throat will just be sore for a few
days," Mark replied.
"If you change your mind let me know, I'd feel a lot better if
you got it checked out before you left."
"It's fine, don't worry about it," Mark assured.
He was half tempted to take up the marshal's offer, he still had
a pounding migraine and his
ears were still slightly ringing from being knocked out the
previous night, but decided to wait until he got home. Mark
didn't want to inconvenience anyone or have anyone worrying
about him, and he definitely didn't want to be told he couldn't
Mark and Ned were soon on the train, headed for North Fork. Both
missed their families and felt like the train just couldn't move
"Ned, I want to thank you again for saving my life," Mark said.
"It was nothing."
"But it was, I know it's not easy to use a gun on someone."
"...Yes, it was difficult, but it was necessary. I couldn't just
stand there and let him kill you."
"I'm glad you didn't."
"So when we get to North Fork," Ned started, changing the
subject. "Would you mind showing me the way to my folk's? All I
know is that it's about five minutes from town based on what
Cassie wrote me-"
Ned suddenly stopped and gave Mark a strange stare.
"What is it?" Mark asked.
"That letter you had in the jail. I thought the handwriting
looked familiar," Ned said as a smile crossed his face. "You're
sweet on my sister!"
"...Who wouldn't be?" Mark asked innocently.
"Does she know?"
"Not exactly, so if you could not say anything to her until we
"I understand. You realize though that if you hurt her, you're
going to have to deal with me, right?" Ned half jokingly, half
"If I hurt her, I don't think there will be a piece left of me
for you to deal with."
"You know her pretty well then."
"Next stop, North Fork!" The conductor called. "Five minutes to
Ned and Mark began getting their things together along with the
rest of the passengers and waited for the train to roll into
As the train slowly came to a halt, Mark looked out the window
to see if he could find his or Ned's Pa, but only saw Micah
waiting to greet the new comers.
"Your Pa must be off duty," Mark started. "Micah, our other
marshal, is on the platform."
Mark soon followed the several other passengers off the train.
Mark thought about saying hi to Micah, but decided to let him
deal with the other passengers and stop at the office later.
"No one here to meet you?" Ned asked as they walked away from
the train station.
"Well, I thought my Pa would, but maybe he just forgot."
The two headed over to the livery to borrow two horses for a
while. Nils gladly let them choose whatever ones they wanted,
but was appalled when he got a good look at Mark.
"What happened?" Nils asked in shock.
"Just got on someone's bad side," Mark simply replied.
"Has a doctor looked at it?"
"I'm going to stop at Doc's after I take Ned home."
"If I find out that you just head straight home, I'll-"
"I promise. As soon as I take Ned home, I will talk to Doc."
Mark and Ned soon were mounted and headed towards the Osborne's.
When the two entered the yard, they saw Cassie in the corral
working with a foal. The two dismounted and climbed up on the
fence, watching Cassie, who was oblivious to their presence.
"You're doing it wrong, little sister!" Ned finally called.
Cassie suddenly dropped the rope and turned around.
"Ned!" Cassie yelled as she ran to her brother and gave him a
hug. "I though you had to stay all summer! Why didn't you tell
us you were coming?!"
"I wanted to surprise you."
"Who's th-" Cassie started as she turned to see who Ned had
brought home with him, but stopped as she recognized him. "Mark,
what happened?! Are you alright?!"
"Just got in a little fist fight."
"A little fist fight? It looks like you were run over by a
stampede of cows! Ned, what'd he do?"
Mark gave Ned a look asking him not to say anything.
"Just a little fist fight," Ned answered.
"Mark McCain, you listen here..."
"I best be going, I'm sure you two have a lot to catch up on,
and I'm sure Ned wants to see the rest of your family."
"Mark..." Cassie said, obviously flustered.
"See you later Cassie, thanks for everything Ned. I'll see you
at church tomorrow." Mark jumped down from the fence and headed
for the horses. Mark wished he hadn't jumped, it only made his
"He has to be the most stubborn person in the world!" Cassie
"I don't know, you're pretty stubborn yourself," Ned jested.
Cassie glared at her brother before cracking a smile and
"Alright, I'll give him a close second."
Mark returned the horse Ned had used to the livery, then rode
down the street to the doctor's office. As he walked in, the
doctor looked up from his desk to see who had entered the
Stunned to say the least, Doc Burrage made his way over to Mark.
"Mark McCain, what trouble did you get yourself into this time?"
"Kinda got mixed up with some outlaws who don't like witnesses."
"You go to look at a college and end up almost getting killed?"
"Pretty much sums it up."
"What am I going to do with you? It seems like almost every six
months you or your Pa is in here for something."
"At least you get business," Mark replied.
"Let's get you to the back," Doc said, shaking his head.
The doctor had Mark take off his shirt and started by looking at
"Did someone try to strangle you?" The doctor asked in
"I got in a fist fight with a criminal and by the end he had me
on the ground. He would've killed me had Ned not shot him."
"Who's Ned?" The doctor inquired.
"Marshal Osborne's son, but that's a long story."
"By the sound of your voice I can tell whoever tried strangling
you damaged your vocal chords," the doctor said as he started
touching Mark's neck ever so slightly.
Mark's initial reaction was to stop Doc, but he forced his arm
back down as he winced at the pain.
"Tender?" The doctor asked.
"I feel like you're punching me in the throat."
"It'll be sore for a few weeks, that's for sure. You're going to
have those shiners for a while, too. I'm going to check and make
sure your cheekbone isn't cracked," the doctor stated as he
started touching around Mark's eye.
As the doctor finished, saying it appeared to be fine, Mark
suddenly inhaled sharply and put his hand to his head.
"What is it?" Doc asked.
"My head's been hurting ever since I hit it on a brick wall."
"How'd that happen?"
"One of the outlaws didn't really like what I had to say to him,
and so he threw me back against a wall which I hit my head on.
That's when it started. Then I opened my big mouth again and he
used the butt of his gun to give me a blow across the head,"
Mark explained, touching the side he'd been hit on. "When I woke
up I was... and still am, in some pretty serious pain. My ears
are still ringing."
"Your ears are ringing? Can you hear everything fine?"
"Yeah, I've had no problem with hearing."
"And how long ago was this?"
"I woke up probably about three or four this morning."
The doctor rolled his eyes and began to examine Mark's head.
Mark could tell the doctor didn't like what he was finding, and
Mark didn't like the concerned look on the doctor's face.
"Well?" Mark asked as the doctor stepped back.
"Mark McCain, you stay right here and do not move a muscle. I
will be back in two minutes," the doctor said before making his
way to the door. "If you move while I'm gone, so help me..."
"I promise I'll stay put," Mark assured.
Doc Burrage made his way out of the office and practically ran
to the Marshal's office. As he rushed inside, Micah jumped in
his seat at the desk.
"Doc, what's wrong?" Micah asked as he stood.
"You need to go get Lucas," Burrage ordered.
"He's awake, He's stable, He's most likely going to be fine, but
Mark just about got himself killed and fractured his skull."
"He what?! He's not supposed to be back for another-"
"Just go get Lucas! He deserves to know, and if something
happens, I need Lucas here to make decisions!"
Micah grabbed his hat and shotgun and high tailed it out of the
Lucas was in the process of straightening a fence post when he
heard someone quickly riding up. He looked up to see Micah
coming towards him, the look on his friend's face worried Lucas.
"Micah?" Lucas asked as Micah stopped his horse beside Lucas.
"Lucas, you need to mount up!"
"Why? What's the matter?" Lucas asked as he mounted; he could
hear the urgency in his friend's voice.
"I'll explain on the way into town," Micah said, stalling. He
wasn't sure how to break the news to Lucas.
The two were soon racing towards town, and Lucas asked Micah
what was wrong again.
"Lucas, he's awake and stable, and Doc thinks he's going to be
"Did something happen to Johnny?" Lucas asked with concern.
"Mark was almost killed..." Micah stated.
In shock, Lucas suddenly stopped Razor.
"Mark what?! Mark's in Chicago, Micah! What are you talking
"Lucas, I don't know why he's here and not there, but I do know
that Doc says that Mark is in his office with a fractured
skull," Micah tried to calmly explain, but his own worry for the
boy was too great not to show a little emotion.
Lucas kicked Razor's flanks and raced into town as fast as he
could. Once he finally reached the doctor's office, Lucas didn't
even bother tying Razor to the hitching post and stormed inside,
calling for the doctor.
Hearing the doctor reply from the back room, Lucas rushed into
the room where Mark was, followed by Micah.
"Hi Pa," Mark called as if nothing was wrong.
"Hi Pa. Hi Pa!?" Lucas started. "Mark what are you doing here?
What happened? What are all those bruises? Did Micah say you
were almost killed?" Lucas asked as he made his way towards his
"Lucas, calm down," Doc ordered. "The good thing is that he's
awake and has been for a long time. I am, however, very
concerned about his skull fracture, especially since this is his
second one. I don't know how he's awake right now, but he is and
that's good, we can monitor him better that way. I must tell you
though that with a head injury like this, on top of everything
else that happened, there are a LOT of things that could go
"Pa, don't worry, it'll be fine," Mark said.
"Mark, this isn't like your ankle, there could be serious...
even fatal consequences. Just because you're awake doesn't mean
you're out of the woods," Burrage told him. For once he just
needed Mark to take him seriously.
"...I know," Mark solemnly replied.
This response somewhat shocked the three other men in the room.
From the way he responded, it seemed as though Mark was
terrified, yet completely calm at the same time.
"Mark, I'm going to keep you here for at least for forty-eight
hours, and if there aren't any complications we'll talk about
you possibly going home. If you need anything, you ask someone.
I don't want to see you out of this bed until I say; you've done
way too much today," Doc stated.
Lucas and Micah were both slowly calming down, but Lucas was
having a more difficult time.
"Mark, why aren't you in Chicago?" Lucas finally asked.
Mark looked at his Pa in confusion before replying.
"My trip was only a week, I was wondering why you weren't at the
"But you wired me last night saying you had been delayed two
weeks," Lucas replied.
"I didn't send you a telegram."
"I had finished a late dinner with your uncle and was getting
ready to head out of town when Amos brought it to me."
"What time was that?" Mark asked.
"Eight-thirty I believe, it was right before the evening train
"Pa, I was locked in jail shortly after seven. Even with the
delay, there's no way I could've sent that- oh."
"Oh what? And what do you mean you were locked in jail?" Lucas
asked with increasing concern.
"That's just it. I got locked up in jail by some criminals. They
probably sent it knowing I was expected home this afternoon, and
also thinking that I wasn't going to be here."
"Mark, you might want to start from the beginning," Micah
Mark started with the train ride from Chicago and told all three
men what had transpired over the last twenty-four hours. He
talked about every detail he could think of, including meeting
Ned and not finding out who he was until early that morning.
Mark could see the devastation written all over his Pa's face as
he told about having almost been killed. Mark wanted to stop, he
didn't want to see his Pa like that, but he knew he needed to be
open and honest, for both their sakes.
"Once we arrived back in North Fork, I took Ned to the Osborne's
before coming over here," Mark concluded.
"Mark, it's a miracle you're alive," the doctor marveled. "Why
didn't you see the doctor in Woodpike? Did they not have one?"
"I wanted to get home..." Mark said, anticipating an earful.
"And you knew they'd make you stay there," Doc began. "Mark
McCain, sometimes I think you want to kill yourself! What were
you thinking?! You know better! You know the risks! And then you
ride Ned to the Osborne's? Do you have any idea what that
could've done to your head?! If you had-"
" You know, “if” is a troublesome word..." Mark stated.
"Lucas, make sure your stubborn son stays put. I'm going to take
a sedative for all the stress he's causing me," the doctor mused
as he went to the front office.
"You better be careful, Mark..." Micah teasingly warned. "Glad
you're back Mark, things haven't been the same without you. I've
gotta get back to the office, I'll check in later."
"Bye, Micah," Mark called as Micah headed out of the room.
There was a silence between Mark and Lucas for a few moments,
both trying to read the other person.
"...Mark, are you alright?" Lucas finally asked.
Mark let out a long sigh, knowing his Pa didn't mean physically.
It was a minute before Mark started to reply... it was a lot to
"...I will be. I've been in quite a few situations where I
wished I was dead, several people have threatened to kill me,
you know that once I wanted to kill myself even. But this
morning that “sheriff” had a gun pointed at my head. He was
going to pull the trigger. I was going to die. Then later when
he had me on the ground... his hands were wrapped around my
neck. He was squeezing the life from me... everything was
getting darker and darker. Again, I was going to die. It's a
sobering, scary thought. I didn't really realize how short life
was until I almost lost mine. I know it's in the past... but I
think it's going to take a while to get over."
Lucas looked into his son's eyes and could see Mark struggling,
trying to pull himself out of his fears.
"It will," Lucas began. "But Mark, I'll be here with you to help
you get over it."
"Thanks Pa," Mark replied as a faint smile crossed his face. "I
found the note you stuck in my trunk," Mark said, changing the
subject. "Thanks, it really meant a lot knowing you still
support my decision."
"You decided to go to school then?" Lucas asked as his heart
sunk a little.
"What are you talking about? How am I supposed to help run OUR
ranch from Chicago?"
"You're sure it's what you want?" Lucas asked.
"You're not getting rid of me that easily," Mark quipped.
"I'm glad I've still got a partner to “watch my back”."
"Oh yeah, remember back when you said me getting cousins was as
likely as someone inventing a machine to wash dishes?"
"Don't tell me..."
"One of Mrs. Thomas's friends is designing one with her husband.
What'd Lou say when uncle Johnny asked her?"
Lucas sighed and rolled his eyes before replying.
"You're gonna have another aunt in a few months."
Sunday afternoon, Mark was reading while Lucas was getting some
things from the ranch for the two of them. Seeing that Mark
seemed to be doing fine, Doc Burrage had stepped out for a while
to make his rounds. Mark was enjoying the peace and quiet when
suddenly he heard the front door to the office slam shut. The
sudden noise made Mark jump a little and sent another wave of
sharp pain through his head. Mark heard a knock at the door and
expected whoever it was to come in, but they kept knocking...
no, pounding, on the door.
"It's open!" Mark called. He couldn't figure out who on earth it
was, and was a little shocked to see Cassie storming into the
"Hi Cassie, what-"
"Don't “hi Cassie” me, Mark McCain!"
Mark didn't know what on earth he did to get her so riled, but
regretted whatever it was. Mark didn't think he'd ever seen
Cassie this mad.
"What did I do?" Mark innocently asked.
"I thought I had just missed you in church today, but I heard
Ned telling Pa what happened, and I heard Pa say Marshal
Torrance said Doc is concerned about your fractured skull. How
could you do this?"
"...Do what?" Mark cautiously asked.
"Almost get yourself killed! And then you didn't even have the
decency to tell me!"
"I didn't want to worry you, it was in the past, there was no
point in you knowing," Mark defended.
"No point in me knowing!? Mark do you realize..." Cassie stopped
herself... Mark didn't know. She calmed down a bit before
continuing. "Mark when I was at my grandfather's, I did a whole
lot of thinking. I realized... well, that I care about you... a
lot. I realized-"
"Let me finish. I realized that you meant so much more to me
than just a friend. I sent you a letter, but your Pa said you
never got it. In it I wrote what I found out I felt for you."
Cassie paused for a brief moment. "Mark, what I'm trying to say
is..." Cassie didn't know how to express herself.
"Cassie, I got the letter," Mark simply stated.
"Right before I left for Chicago. Because you didn't put a
return address I didn't know who it was from and didn't get
around to reading it until Friday night when I was locked up in
Cassie had never felt so uncomfortable in her life. He knew how
she felt... did he not feel the same way?
"Cassie, as I sat in jail things looked pretty hopeless, but
when I read your letter, I felt like the luckiest person alive.
I've done a lot of thinking this summer too..." Mark stood up
and walked the few feet that separated them. "Cassie, I want us
to be more than friends too, and to be truly honest, I think we
are. When I stood with a gun pointed to my head, all I could
think about was this crazy girl back home who would've enjoyed
the thunderstorm we were in as much as I was."
"Mark..." Cassie started, but she couldn't find the words to
"Yesterday when I took Ned to your home, I knew what you had
written in your letter, I knew you cared. All I wanted to do was
protect you from knowing the details of what had happened. I'm
sorry, it seemed like the best thing at the time. Cassie, I care
about you and after everything you've gone through this summer,
I didn't want to add any worry. But Cassie, I agree with what
you said in the letter… I don't think we can honestly deny the
fact that we've become more than friends."
"Mark if you're serious about this, promise me just one thing."
"We can't have secrets."
"...Cassie, I promise I won't keep anything from you, but I need
you to promise me the same thing."
"...Of course, Mark. Friends or… more than friends, we have to
be able to trust each other.”
“...So does that mean you're going to tell me the details of how
you nearly caught the kitchen-”
“Mark, you're supposed to be resting your voice, remember?”
“My ears are working just fine.”
Cassie gave Mark a playful shove back towards the bed.
“You rest, I need to get back home.”
“See you later, Cassie.”
Mark got back in bed as he watched Cassie walk out of the room.
As simple as a promise may have seemed to most people, Mark knew
he was making a big commitment when he told Cassie he wouldn't
keep anything from her. But deep down, Mark knew they both
needed to do so if they were going to pursue any kind of
relationship. Deep down, Mark knew making that promise to Cassie
was the right choice.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch