Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Written by Morgan
everyone's surprise, Lucas and Milly decided to wait on tying
the knot until the beginning of July. Milly told Lucas she
didn't mind waiting until he was less busy with the cattle and
all the summer ranch work, but Lucas insisted he didn't want to
wait any longer than they had to.
Lucas, Mark, and Milly stayed plenty busy between planning the
wedding and adding on to the ranch house. Lucas decided it was
time to turn the cabin into a proper home, since it wasn't just
going to be a couple of bachelors living there anymore.
The front room would be turned into a proper sitting room; and a
kitchen and dining room, as well as an extra bedroom, would be
added on to the back of house.
By late May, Lucas and Mark were finally down to the second
bedroom and spent whatever spare time they could working on it.
One evening after supper, the two were working side by side with
the little light they had left from the sun.
"Pa, can I ask you a question?" Mark Inquired, looking towards
"Well you just did..." Lucas teased.
"Pa, I know it's still a ways off, especially with the fact that
Cassie's going to school and all this fall. But I wanted to
know, if you'd be alright with me building a house on the ranch,
for Cassie and I… eventually."
"Of course you can. I've told you many times before; this ranch
is as much yours as it is mine. I'd love to see you settle your
family here, when the time does come for you to get married."
"Pa, did you ever officially court Ma?"
"Well yes, but things were different back then."
"Well how long was it between the time you met her to the time
you asked her to marry you?"
"A few months, why do you ask?"
"I still want to court Cassie and everythin', the right way, but
I was just curious. June used to not seem so far away, but the
closer it gets, the farther away it seems."
Lucas looked at his son and let out a chuckle.
"...Guess it doesn't make that much sense," Mark admitted.
"Oh, I think I understand. Don't worry; it'll get here soon
enough. Are you thinking of building close to this house, or on
a different section of the property?"
"Well I want to be close to you and Miss Milly, so somewhere
around here. I was thinking the hill up behind the house would
be a good spot... Cassie loves the view from up there. Do you
see any reason why we couldn't, Pa?"
"Not that I can think of," Lucas replied as he hammered one last
nail into place. "Alright, let's see if these walls will stay
up, you want to get that brace?" Lucas asked as he gestured
across the room.
Mark and Lucas both breathed a slight sigh of relief as they
knocked the supports out of place and everything stayed up, the
way it should.
"Why don't we call it a night? We can finish with the roof after
you get back from the Osborne's tomorrow."
"Pa, aren't you forgetting something?"
"Not that I can think of, we didn't have any plans tomorrow
night, did we?"
"The graduation ceremony?" Mark asked in disbelief.
"Oh I thought you didn't want to go," Lucas replied with a
Mark realized his Pa had been teasing him the whole time.
"We'll finish Saturday, and hopefully have time to start moving
furniture around before we turn in."
Lucas and Mark started putting their tools away before heading
to the bedroom to prepare for bed.
"Pa," Mark began as he and Lucas lay down in their bunks. "After
you and Miss Milly get married, do you think she'd be alright
with... would you be alright with... I mean, do you think I'd be
dis-honoring Ma's memory by calling Miss Milly... well, Ma?"
"Mark, that's completely your choice. I know Milly and I
wouldn't mind it at all, and I don't think your mother would,
either. By no means would you be dis-honoring her memory. It
takes a special woman to fill the role of mother and your Ma did
that, and even though Milly and I aren't married yet, I've
always felt that Milly filled that role for you when she lived
Several hours later, Mark bolted upright in his bed, trying to
catch his breath. He looked across the room and breathed a sigh
of relief when he saw his Pa there, peacefully asleep.
Mark took a minute to relax as he reminded himself of where he
was and that this was reality.
Mark got out of bed and quietly made his bunk before slipping
into the front room. He lit a lantern before making his way
outside to the porch where he stood, looking up to the sky. The
moon was still fairly high and Mark knew it would be a long time
before the sun would begin to peek over the hills, which meant
he would have quite a lot of “thinking time” on his hands.
The nightmares caused by the incident almost two years ago had
never completely gone away, and after Lucas and Milly went
missing, they only had begun to plague Mark all the more often.
This week had been no exception.
Sometimes Mark's dreams would take him back to the one that
started it all, the dream where his Pa had died instead of his
Ma. Other times, like that night, Mark's nightmares left him in
North Fork, just without his Pa. In some cases Mark was twelve
again, sometimes he was still eighteen. Sometimes sickness was
the cause of death, or other times various outlaws from the
McCain's past were the reason Mark was left alone. But the end
result of his nightmares was always the same, no Pa.
Mark could never manage to fall back asleep after such a
disturbing dream, and often spent long nights sitting out on the
porch, assuring himself that what his imagination had come up
with wasn't real.
The fear he felt in his dreams were not imagination, however,
and Mark knew that fear was what caused the nightmares. Mark
often felt ashamed for having such “childish dreams” as he
though of them, which was part of the reason he never told Lucas
about them. Mark couldn't understand why he couldn't just let
go; he understood there was nothing he could do to protect his
Pa. Yet every time another dream came, he felt like he was
reliving the week he had grieved Lucas's death.
As much as Mark hated the nightmares and wished they would go
away, he knew that they definitely helped him cherish the time
he had with his Pa even more - because they reminded
him of how little time he could have left.
For the third time that week, Lucas found Mark's bunk made and
his son gone from the bedroom when he woke up. Over the past few
months, Lucas and Mark had both typically gotten up around the
same time and started on the morning chores together, but every
so often Mark managed to wake before Lucas and got a jump start
on everything. Lucas didn't understand how his son could drag
himself out of bed so early, and knew his son needed more sleep
than he often let himself have, but Mark insisted he couldn't
Lucas got dressed, and upon seeing his son had already started
the coffee on the stove in the front room, made his way outside
to the barn.
"Couldn't sleep again?" Lucas inquired as he grabbed a shovel to
muck the stalls while Mark milked the cow.
"Yeah," Mark replied as he tried to stifle a yawn. "I already
mucked the stalls."
"I see. What've you already done? Or is it better to ask what is
there left to do?"
"Nothing really," Mark replied with a shrug.
Lucas walked over to Mark and put a hand on his son's shoulder.
"You know, this is a partnership. Are you trying to get rid of
me?" Lucas teased.
"Nope, just making up for all the slacking off I did when I was
younger," Mark replied as he picked up the pail and turned
towards his Pa.
Lucas's slight chuckle suddenly stopped as he got a good look at
"Son, are you feeling alright?" Lucas asked as he put a hand to
Mark's forehead, which, to his surprise, felt normal.
"Just tired, why do you ask?" Mark replied as the two began
walking towards the house.
"You look awful."
"Well thanks," Mark sarcastically replied.
"Mark, seriously, maybe you should stay home today."
"I can't, there's too much to be done at the Osborne's before we
take those horses to market and 'sides that, there's plenty that
needs to get done around here, too."
"Mark, you've got to understand that sometimes your health comes
before work," Lucas told his son as they entered the house.
"Like the summer we had to put all the cattle down?"
"You know very well I had to push it in order for us to survive,
this is different. One day of rest isn't going to ruin either of
"I'm fine, I don't need-"
"Mark, look in that mirror," Lucas ordered as he pointed to the
mirror behind Mark.
Mark obeyed and was a little surprised. His eyes were bloodshot
and there were dark circles underneath his eyes. His face was
pale and he supposed he could now understand why his Pa was a
"I'll take it easy-"
"Sunday," Mark finished.
Lucas rolled his eyes as he shook his head.
"What on earth am I going to do with you?"
Mark spent the rest of the morning explaining to his Pa that he
felt fine and didn't need to rest. Lucas was worried that Mark
was over doing it, and was still trying to convince Mark to stay
home that day as Mark mounted Blue Boy.
"I'll see you tonight, Pa."
Lucas sighed as he realized he wasn't getting anywhere.
"Have a good day," Lucas replied with a smile as he stepped back
from Blue Boy.
When Mark got into town, his first stop was the general store.
"No, it's not in yet," Mrs. Maguire called from the back room as
Mark entered the store.
"How'd you know it was me?" Mark inquired as Mrs. Maguire came
out of the back.
"For two weeks now you've come in every Monday through Saturday
at the same time, asking the same thing," the woman replied with
a smile. "Don't worry about it; you've still got a month for it
to get here."
"I know, I'd just feel a whole lot better if I had it. ...You
haven't told anyone, right?"
"Of course not, but I don't know why you're being so secretive
about it. The whole town practically has you two engaged."
"Oh I know, but she doesn't know I've even talked to her Pa
about courtship and I want this to be a surprise."
"Well it's a sweet gesture, I'm sure she is going to love it,
although I'm sure not near as much as she loves you."
Mark's face got a little red from embarrassment as he shifted
"Oh, Mark..." the woman laughed.
"Thank you; have a good day, Mrs. Maguire."
Mark left the general store and crossed the street before
entering the Marshal's office.
"John? Micah?" Mark called when he saw no one in the front
"Be out in a minute, Mark," came the reply from the cell area of
The door was closed, but through the barred window in the door,
Mark could see John talking to a prisoner.
"Who's that?" Mark inquired as John came out to the front
"Just a suspect Micah picked up as he was checking some of the
outlining ranches. Did you need something?"
"Suspect? What do you think he did?"
"Nothing at this point Mark. I've questioned him and will
probably let him go; Micah just thought he matched the
description on a wanted poster."
"Well then shouldn't you-"
"Are you a Marshal?"
The way John asked the question confused Mark. He felt like John
was trying to make it sound like he was teasing when he was
serious. It seemed as though the marshal felt threatened.
"Sorry. I'm heading out to your place now, anything I need to
"As far as I know, everything's as it should be."
"Alright, see you tonight then."
"Tonight?" John inquired in confusion.
"Oh yes, of course. See you then."
Mark watched as the marshal turned to go through a stack of
papers. Mark felt as though something was out of place, that
something just wasn't normal. Mark shook his head in confusion
as he left the office. Maybe there was just something going on
John couldn't tell Mark because it was classified or something.
Whatever it was, Mark put it aside and hurried to the Osborne's.
Mark hadn't had a chance to see Cassie before the graduation
ceremony, but as soon as he walked in the schoolhouse doors, she
was the only thing he could pay any attention to. Never in his
life had he seen her so dressed up, and he had to admit she was
absolutely stunning. Beyond the fact that she looked beautiful
in the dress she wore, Mark couldn't keep his eyes off the
beautiful, graceful smile on her face.
Mark sat next to his Pa, who of course was next to Milly,
throughout the ceremony. Since there were two others graduating
besides Cassie, the ceremony took longer than it had the
When the crowd was dismissed to the reception, Cassie made her
way towards the McCain's and her family. She hugged her mother
and father, and the others could tell she almost went to embrace
Mark, but knew it wasn't proper.
"Congratulations, Cassie. We're all very proud of you," Milly
stated as she hugged her niece.
"Thank you. I can't tell you what it means-" Cassie stopped as
she felt someone tap on her shoulder.
When Cassie turned around, everyone let out a chuckle at the
shock written all over her face.
"Ned! What- when...? How...? I thought you weren't coming home
"I couldn't miss my little sister's graduation, now could I?"
Ned replied as he embraced his sister.
"How long have you been in town?" Cassie asked, still pleasantly
"I got in last night."
"It was a wonderful surprise; it's so good to see you!"
"You almost found out a couple times. Thankfully you've been a
bit distracted the last few weeks," Anna interjected with a
"How long have you all been planning this?" Cassie questioned.
"Two months," Milly answered.
"It was very thoughtful of you all, thank you."
"Why don't we get outside before all the food's gone?" Ned
"Ah, now the truth comes out. You just came for the food,"
The group made their way outside and slowly dispersed as they
were pulled away by respective friends and neighbors. To no
one's surprise, Milly spent the evening arm in arm with Lucas;
and Mark stood with Cassie as she made polite conversation with
those offering her congratulations on her accomplishment.
Mark was getting some punch for himself and Cassie when Ned came
up next to him.
"What'd you do with my little sister, McCain? I leave her with
you for a few months and all of a sudden she's mature," Ned
said, half teasingly, half seriously.
"I didn't do anything to her, teaching did. But she has become a
beautiful woman, that's for sure."
"And you can't get your eyes off her."
"Nope," Mark readily admitted with a grin.
"Mark, this may seem a bit strange, but I am her big brother and
I am going to look out for her.
Are you serious about this whole thing or are you just playing
around with her? Because like I said, if you hurt her..."
"Ned, your sister is a beautiful woman on the outside, but her
beauty of character is what I love about her the most. She
definitely has a lot more spunk and determination than most
women, but I like that about her. I don't know how I got lucky
enough to have her take interest in me, but we both do love each
other and I'd do anything to protect her, physically and
"So what are you waiting for?"
"End of June," Mark replied with a sigh.
"She turns eighteen on June twenty-fourth."
"I'm her brother, I know... Oh. My parents ask you to wait?"
"Until she was done with school, but my Pa told me to wait until
she turned eighteen. Thirty-one more days."
"Well I'm glad you're respecting his wishes then, but if you
don't hurry up she might just go crazy, according to her
letters," Ned laughed.
"Oh believe me, I'm not waiting a second more than I have to. It
has been a long year. Good for the both of us, but long."
"I know she's waiting for you, so I'll let you get back over
there. Good talking to you, Mark."
"You too," Mark replied before heading back towards Cassie, but
as he passed the school house, he heard stressed voices and
stopped for a moment.
"John, why'd you let him go? He matched the description
perfectly!" Mark heard Micah exclaim from the other side of the
"I questioned him and didn't have probable cause to keep him
locked up. A lot of people in the world match that description
Micah, and his story checked out."
"Who confirmed it?"
"I did some checking myself; I don't know why you're so bent on
him being the man we're looking for."
"Because there is at least cause for you to check with the
office in Denver. I don't know why you can't see that!"
"Micah, as ranking officer I'm ordering you to drop it."
"Osborne, you may have just let a murderer go free. I hope your
conscious can live with that." Micah stormed out of the school
house as Mark started walking again.
"Mark, is something wrong?" Cassie asked as she took the glass
Mark was offering her.
"No, it's fine. Are you tired? We can sit down for a while if
you want," Mark suggested.
"No, I'm fine, but-"
Cassie was interrupted as a couple suddenly came up to give
their congratulations. She couldn't tell if Mark was fine or
not, but put it aside for a moment to respond to the couple.
Mark was just as confused as Cassie. John and Micah always
agreed... well, almost always. Except when... well, the more
Mark thought about it, the more he realized that they were
disagreeing more and more as time went on. Or maybe they'd
always disagreed, but the opportunity to disagree on a subject
hadn't been there.
When Micah left that building, he had looked MAD. And if Micah
was right about the prisoner, Mark could understand why he would
be. But at the same time, Mark knew Marshal Osborne wouldn't let
someone go if he thought that person were a threat to society.
Again, Mark tried to blow the situation off as none of his
business, but this time it wouldn't blow off the way he wanted
Later that evening, Mark waved goodbye as the Osborne's left in
their buckboard. Mark stood, staring after them... after Cassie,
for a long time.
"You're gonna get yourself run over standing in the street like
"Uhuh," Mark replied to his uncle's call.
Johnny rolled his eyes as he made his way towards Mark.
"She's a beautiful young woman, isn't she?" Johnny inquired.
"Bet you can't wait to marry her."
"Your pant leg is on fire."
"Nice try. I'm listening to ya," Mark replied with a smile as he
looked at his uncle.
"Mark, where's your Pa?"
"Talking to Miss Milly over there," Mark replied as he gestured
to the couple.
"Didn't the Osborne's just leave though?"
"Pa's going to see her home."
"Should've guessed it. Well, she and Lou are close enough
anyhow; I don't see why she can't come too. Grab your Pa and
Milly and come over to the hotel, will ya?"
"Sure, but what for?"
"I'll see you over there," was all Johnny said before walking
Confused, Mark walked over to where his Pa and Milly stood.
"Pa, Uncle Johnny wants us all at the hotel."
"Why? Is something wrong?" Lucas inquired.
"I don't think so. He just said to come over."
"Alright," Lucas shrugged as the three started making their way
to the hotel.
They found Lou and Johnny sitting in the restaurant, the rest of
the hotel seemed to be deserted.
"Lou, is something wrong?" Milly asked as she sat down next to
"Lucas, Mark, please sit," Lou invited.
Lucas and Mark sat, but worry was written all over their faces
as they did.
"Lou?" Milly asked again.
"Johnny, why don't ye tell them? I don't think I can..."
Johnny sighed heavily as he looked lovingly at his wife.
"Lou went to Doc's the other day; she hasn't been feeling too
well as of late. He found out what the problem was... he told us
that in three or four weeks... that... well..." Johnny paused
and swallowed before continuing. "…She won't have to deal with
the sickness anymore."
Mark and Lucas looked at Lou and Johnny in worry and disbelief,
and were shocked to hear Milly let out a laugh.
"You two are horrible!" Milly exclaimed. "Had I not had my
suspicions, I'd probably look like Lucas and Mark do now!"
Johnny and Lou joined Milly's laughter, and shortly Lucas was
laughing as well. Mark, however, was completely lost.
"Why are you all laughing?" Mark finally asked.
"Remember what I said about the likelihood of someone inventing
a machine to wash dishes?" Lucas asked.
"Yeah, what's that got to do with anything?"
Milly, Lou, Lucas, and Johnny all began laughing even harder.
"Will someone please tell me what's going on?" Mark begged,
still very concerned for his aunt.
"Mark, for someone as intelligent as you, I'm surprised you
haven't figured it out yet," Johnny mused.
"Mark, I'm expecting," Lou told him.
"Expecting... you mean like actually expecting? Like you're
having a baby?"
Lou nodded her head as everyone chuckled at Mark's astonishment.
"Congratulations!" Mark exclaimed with a smile on his face.
"I'm so happy for the both of you, you'll make wonderful
parents," Milly told Johnny and Lou.
"When are you due?" Lucas inquired.
"Doc and I believe at the beginning of December," Lou answered.
The small group continued chatting for a short while before
Lucas, Milly, and Mark left so Lou and Johnny could get home.
"Mark, go ahead and head home, I'm going to take Milly to the
Osborne's then stop by Micah's before I come home," Lucas told
"Alright. Goodnight, Miss Milly."
"Goodnight Mark," Milly replied as Mark started heading towards
"And Mark?" Lucas called.
"Go to bed when you get home, understand?"
"I already did the evening chores, so no excuses."
"Yes sir," Mark replied as he mounted and rode off.
Milly let out a chuckle that caused Lucas to look towards her.
"What is it?"
"Just a bit strange, you telling your eighteen year old to go to
bed. He looked like he was being chided for sneaking a cookie."
"I'm afraid our problems are a bit bigger than that," Lucas
"Problems?" Milly inquired.
"That boy just doesn't seem to know when he needs to stop. He's
working constantly, and for some reason he's been having trouble
sleeping this week. I just about made him stay home from the
Osborne's today, but he insisted there was too much to be done."
"He's a McCain alright," Milly stated.
"Two months and you will be one, too. Milly I love you so much."
"Lucas, I love you too. I can't wait until we're married. But
"What is it?"
"Mark has always held a special place in my heart. You know
that. In some ways, when I lived here before I felt like a
mother to him... and I do now. But does Mark feel at all as
though I'm... trying to replace Margaret?" Milly apprehensively
"Oh Milly, of course not," Lucas replied as he faced Milly and
wrapped his arms around her waist. "I don't want you to ever
feel like you have to try to be her either. Mark and I both love
you as you are; we want you, because of who you are."
"Milly, do you know what Mark asked me the other night?"
Milly shook her head no as she stared into Lucas's eyes.
"He asked if he could call you Ma after we got married. Milly,
you're like a mother to him, and in two short months you
officially will be. He loves you Milly. I love you."
Lucas drew Milly closer and put his lips on hers. As Milly
kissed him back, her arms wrapped around Lucas, never wanting to
"Last one, Pa!" Mark hollered from the roof as he hammered the
last nail in place.
"It's about time!" Lucas teased.
"Well if you would've been up here instead of wasting time down
there, we would've been done a long time ago," Mark quipped as
he started to collect the tools and make his way down the
Lucas and Mark stepped back to admire their handy work.
"Why don't we take a break before we start moving furniture
around? I'm famished!" Lucas declared as he put his arm around
Mark and the two walked inside the house.
"How long do you think until we'll start seeing calves around?
Getting kinda late, isn't it?" Mark asked as he and Lucas ate
"Yes, a bit, but I don't think it'll be too much longer. Keep in
mind we didn’t let the bull out until later than usual. I am
worried about that younger cow though, she's a bit young to be
mating but I can't really do anything about it now. Just keep a
close eye on her when you check the cattle."
"When are you leaving with John to get those horses up to
"The tenth of June. He said he wants to get there early to kinda
get the feel of things. I honestly don't understand why he feels
the need to show up almost a week early, but to each their own I
"Are you still thinking about buying a few breeding horses,
"If you're still alright with it."
"It's your money, your business, but I think it's good for you
to try to branch out some."
"Pa, even though Marshal Osborne is a U.S. Marshal and all, he
still came out here to technically be Micah's deputy... can
Marshal Osborne still pull rank?"
"Yes, but I can't imagine why he would ever have to, why do you
"Because he did yesterday."
"What do you mean?" Lucas asked confusion crossed his face.
"Micah didn't think he should have released a prisoner they had
in custody, but John did and told Micah to drop the case. Micah
was pretty mad."
"And how do you happen to know all this?"
"Right place at the right time."
"Or the right place at the wrong time. You shouldn't interfere;
it's none of your business."
"But Pa, when I went into the office that morning to talk to
"Did talking to him make it your business?"
“I guess not...”
"Since when do you call Marshal Osborne by his first name?"
"Believe me, I wouldn't be, but he told me to... back in
"Alright, as long as he told you to."
"What's the plan with the furniture?"
"Well since we decided that you're staying in the room we're in
now, and we built the kitchen around the stove and pump, we just
need to move the table and chairs, then rearrange the furniture
in the sitting room so we can fit the couch in there."
"It's not going to move itself, let's go!"
Lucas and Mark were done moving furniture by mid-afternoon, and
were glad everything was finally complete after months of labor.
Lucas had refused to let Milly see the house until everything
was finished, so the next day Mark and Lucas had Milly and the
Osborne's over for Sunday dinner. Much to Mark's disappointment,
Cassie wasn't even in church that day because she was home sick,
but had insisted the rest of her family go on to the McCain's
after the service.
After lunch, Mark and Ned mounted up so Mark could show Ned the
ranch. They had stopped at the ridge overlooking Box Canyon when
Ned broke the silence.
"So this is the canyon Cassie is always going on about. She
loved it when you took her out here."
"Really? That was... almost two years ago; it was the first time
I showed her and Anna around the ranch."
"Well don't ever mention it to her, or she won't stop talking
"...Ned, the first time we met, the weekend you saved my life...
why'd you do it?"
"Save me instead of run for your life? You didn't even know my
name at that point."
"Because it was the right thing to do. Other than that I don't
really have an answer. You were innocent, he was trying to kill
you, and I had opportunity to help."
"I'm still indebted to you."
"Mark, I told you-"
"If you ever need anything, let me know."
"Alright..." Ned sighed. "Same goes for you though. Mark, you're
like the brother I never had and I appreciate your friendship.
If you ever get yourself in a scrape, you can count on me."
June soon arrived and the cattle were keeping the McCain's
plenty busy. Ned had found an office space to rent in town and
was officially opening his firm the first of September, but
stayed plenty busy getting the office ready.
One day as Ned was returning home from town, he was surprised to
see Anna go racing past him on her horse. He called out to her,
but she either didn't hear him or simply was ignoring him.
After putting his own horse in its stall, Ned made his way to
the house, and saw Cassie standing on the porch.
"I wouldn't go in there if I were you," Cassie warned as Ned
reached for the door handle.
Ned didn't have to ask why when he heard yelling from inside.
"It's gotten worse, hasn't it?"
Cassie simply nodded as she sat down on the porch steps with her
"Anna taking it hard?" Ned inquired.
"Usually she can manage it fine, but today was just too much for
her. I wanted to go after her but... I couldn't exactly get away
at the moment."
"What happened that made today so much worse?"
"Pa yelled at both of us, louder than I've heard him yell
before. It just about killed Anna."
"That would explain the tears. What started it?"
"Ned, I don't even know, really. Anna and I were a few minutes
late coming home from town because Doc Burrage stopped Anna to
talk to her for a minute. The second we rode into the yard, Pa
ordered us inside and started yelling. Ma heard the commotion
and tried to help, but now... well it's that," Cassie explained
as she gestured inside. "Ned, something has happened over the
last few months. I can't explain it. You saw how much things had
changed when you came home for Christmas, and they only have
gotten worse. It's more than the arguments our parents have, Pa
hardly ever lets Anna, Ma, or I out of his sight. It was like
pulling teeth to try to get him to let Anna and I ride to town
today. Thankfully Aunt Milly is at the McCain's, and Mark was
running an errand for Pa, so they haven't had to listen to all
"Aunt Camilla. Everyone around here calls her Milly, like cousin
Sally and her family sometimes does. I guess it's sorta rubbed
off on me." Cassie paused before continuing. "Ned, I'm worried.
What if Ma and Pa decide to separate... or even... di-"
"Cassie Osborne, how could you suggest that they would divorce?
Things might be rough right now, but Ma and Pa love each other."
"Ned, how would you know? You're always gone. ...I understand,
you have your own life, but I'm not so sure they do anymore. The
few times you've been home for supper you've seen how it goes.
Aunt Milly is the only one who can get a peaceful conversation
to happen. You're moving out this month, Aunt Milly is moving
next month, and I'm leaving at the end of August. Ned, I'm
worried about Anna, I don't know if she's going to be alright."
"Do you know where she would've ridden off to?"
"...I have a few ideas."
Ned and Cassie saddled their horses and the two left to find
their younger sister. After checking a few places, Cassie could
only think of one other place Anna would have ridden to, and
hoped her sister was there.
"That's her horse alright," Ned commented as they rode up to an
abandoned mine shaft.
Brother and sister dismounted and entered the shaft calling for
their sister, but didn't hear a reply.
"Anna!" Ned called again.
"Shh!" Cassie ordered. "Listen..."
Ever so faintly, they heard what sounded like someone crying.
Following the noise, Cassie and Ned ventured deeper into the
"Anna..." Cassie gently said as she and Ned knelt next to their
sister, who was sitting with her arms wrapped around her legs.
"He hates me..." Anna whispered as she put her head down.
Cassie put a comforting hand on Anna's shoulder as Ned did the
"Anna, Pa doesn't hate you," Ned began. "He loves you so much-"
"Then why'd he say he shouldn't bother caring about me? He
doesn't care, he doesn't love me, he hates me. I don't know why
everyone else doesn't feel the same way. All I do is cause
"Anna, you don't cause any problems, you practically live to
resolve them. All you ever want to do is try to help people,
make their lives easier, and you do," Cassie replied.
"Anna, Pa's just on edge, money is tight but once the horses
sell, things should get better, things should be less
stressful," Ned added.
"They would probably be a lot less stressful if I wasn't here.
Maybe I should just make things better for everyone and-"
"Anna don't you say it!" Cassie exclaimed as tears began rolling
down her cheeks.
"Anna, look at me," Ned ordered.
Anna didn't move, so Ned ever so gently made his sister look at
"You are a wonderful, mature young woman. Beautiful inside and
out. This world needs an Anna Osborne, and it'd be purely
selfish of you to take yourself out of it."
"Anna, our whole family loves you, this whole town loves you,"
Cassie told her sister.
"No they don't, I'm no use to anyone."
"Anna, the few short weeks I've been in North Fork, I can't tell
you how much I've heard people mention how you've helped people
around here. But they don't love that you're helping, Anna,
they love your character, your heart," Ned stated.
"Anna, when Ms. Lou's friend came to town last spring, who
offered to watch her little ones so she could help Lou? Who
helped Doc save Mark's life this winter? Who's kept me going
these last few months? You have, Anna. Don't do something
foolish; don't throw your life away."
"Ned... Cassie..." Anna started, but tears just streamed down
Cassie and Ned simply turned to embrace their sister as she
"We'll get through this, it'll be alright," Cassie assured Anna.
"We're here for you, Anna, you don't have to do this alone," Ned
It was a long time before Anna had spent her tears, but finally
she began to stand as she spoke.
"Thank you both for coming out here... I suppose we she get back
home before..." Anna stopped and a concentrated look came over
"What is it?" Ned asked.
"Do you hear that?" Anna asked.
The rumbling grew louder and Cassie and Ned could now hear it.
Suddenly, Ned realized what was happening, but it was too late
as everything started crashing around them.
The three started towards the exit of the shaft, but beams fell
in their way. They turned around to go the other way, but Ned
saw another beam falling towards them.
"Move!" Ned yelled as he shoved his sisters out of the way.
Ned pulled out a bandana as his sisters grabbed their
handkerchiefs and put them over their noses. Ned ordered his
sisters to crouch down and cover their heads as he tried to use
his body to shield them.
"Evening, Mrs. Osborne. Has your husband left for town yet?"
Mark inquired as he dismounted.
"I'm afraid he has Mark, anything I can help you with?"
"I just have a quote from Mr. Langley for him; I'll stop by the
office on my way home."
"Thank you, Mark."
Mark continued to finish his normal jobs around the Osborne's
before getting ready to bed down the horses for the night. After
doing that, he went back to Blue Boy and found Mrs. Osborne
still on the porch. Mark could tell that something was troubling
her, but he couldn't figure out what.
"Mrs. Osborne, is something the matter?" Mark inquired.
"You didn't happen to see my children on the way over here, did
"No, are they overdue?"
"The three of them apparently went for a ride this afternoon,
and haven't returned. It's probably nothing, they're probably in
"I can look for them when I go in. It wouldn't be any trouble."
"Thank you, I'd appreciate it."
Catherine watched Mark mount up and ride off. She was trying to
convince herself that everything was fine, but something within
in her told her otherwise.
Sometime later, Catherine looked up after hearing approaching
horses, hoping it was her children, but found Lucas and Milly
riding up to the house.
"Evening, Lucas, Milly," Catherine greeted as she stepped off
her porch. "I trust you two had a wonderful afternoon."
"It was splendid," Milly replied.
"Catherine, Is Mark still around here? I was surprised when we
didn't see him on the road," Lucas commented.
"He went to town to talk to John, and offered to look for Ned,
Cassie, and Anna while he was there."
"Why would he be looking for them?" Milly inquired, becoming
"They've just all been gone the whole afternoon, on a ride. I
don't really think it's anything... but mother's intuition tells
"It's almost dark and Ned would've-" Milly began.
"I know, that's why Mark offered to check town for them."
Suddenly the three turned around at the sound of a horse rapidly
"Pa, thank goodness you're here!" Mark exclaimed as he rode up
"Mark what's wrong?" Lucas asked as he grabbed Blue Boy's halter
and tried to help Mark steady the horse.
"I was going into town and saw Anna's horse off by itself.
Obviously I could tell something wasn't right so I found its
tracks and followed them back to an old mine shaft. Ned and
Cassie's horses are picketed nearby and it looks like there was
a cave in."
"Oh, no!" Milly and Catherine gasped.
"Mark, head to town and get some help," Lucas began. "I'll stay
here and help Milly and Catherine load a buck board with
"Alright, Pa," Mark replied as he started to leave, but Lucas
tightened his grip on the halter.
Mark met his father's eyes and waited for Lucas to say
"Son, be careful, I'm worried too, but it's dark and that road
has numerous pot holes. Don't just ride fast, ride smart."
Mark took off on Blue Boy and the three remaining at the
Osborne's began gathering blankets and first aid supplies.
Lucas watched as Milly tried to reassure her sister that
everything would be alright, but they were all wondering if it
actually would be.
The final blast had sent Ned flying backwards and his sisters in
different directions. After everything had settled, an uneasy
quietness fell over the small area that remained unburied.
"Anna? Cassie?" Ned called out in the darkness as he began to
"Over here, Ned," Cassie replied as she started to brush herself
off. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine, what about you?"
"Just going to be sore for a few days. Anna, are you alright?"
Cassie waited a few moments before calling out again. "Anna?"
"Cassie can you see her?"
"I can't see anything, it's too dark. Anna!" Cassie called
"Not too loud Cassie," Ned warned. "You might cave in this area
too. Carefully walk around and see if you can't find her," Ned
ordered as he did the same.
"Ned, she's over here!" Cassie finally exclaimed as she knelt
next to her sister.
"Shh!" Ned demanded as he made his way towards Cassie's voice.
Upon reaching his sisters, Ned first felt for Anna's pulse and
breathed a sigh of relief when he found one. Next, Cassie and
Ned felt around to make sure Anna wasn't caught underneath
"Ned, what do we do?" Cassie asked worriedly.
"There's nothing we can really do except wait and hope somebody
figures out that something is wrong. We can't see anything so we
can't dig our way out."
"Ned, it's going to be a long time before we're missed..."
"Well then what-"
"Cassie, all we can do is wait and pray."
Ned could hear the fear and alarm in Cassie's voice; he felt it
himself. He knew just as well as she did that they could be
breathing their last breaths.
What felt like eternity had passed when Cassie was beginning
Amazing Grace for the tenth time.
"We really need to talk to reverend Graft about getting new hymn
books," Ned commented, interrupting Cassie's singing.
"Because I'm tired of hearing the same six songs over and over."
"You said to stay awake, you got a better idea?" Cassie shot
"As a matter of fact, I-"
"No, I mean listen! Do you hear that?"
"...Hear what? I don't hear anything."
"Ned, I hear shoveling!"
"It's your imagination."
Ned gave in and listened more intensely. Cassie was right -
something did sound like shoveling.
"Is somebody out there?! Hello?!" Ned yelled.
There was an abrupt stop to the sound and Ned continued.
"Ned is that you?" Cassie and Ned heard from the other side of
the dirt wall.
"Pa, I'm in here with Cassie and Anna!"
"Is everyone alright?"
"Cassie and I are, but Anna is unconscious."
"You sit still and we'll be in there as soon as we can!"
The shoveling sound continued, faster this time. Cassie and Ned
waited until finally a shovel popped through and light from
lanterns on the other side flooded the room. As soon as the hole
was big enough, a lantern was passed through the opening and Ned
and Cassie checked Anna over. It was apparent something had hit
her head and cracked it open, but not too much. Thankfully the
bleeding appeared to have stopped shortly after the injury, but
it had left plenty of
dried blood over Anna's face. Ned checked for broken bones while
Cassie checked her head for any other bumps or bruising. Both
were oblivious to the fact that someone had made it through the
"We brought the buckboard, we'll need to pass her through the
opening if nothing's broken and get her to doc's as soon as
Cassie turned around upon hearing Mark's voice and had Ned not
been there, as well as those on the other side of the wall, she
would have readily fallen into his arms.
Ned and Mark carried Anna to the opening and passed her through
the hole to those waiting on the other side. Cassie went next,
followed by Ned, then Mark.
Catherine was helping her husband and Milly situate Anna in the
buckboard when Ned and Cassie came out to them.
Catherine and John embraced their children and carefully looked
them over before the marshal told them to get in the buckboard
and the family drove to Doc's.
Lucas and Mark stayed at the mine the few short minutes it took
to clean up and board the entrance to the mine off before
heading to town themselves.
As soon as Lucas and Mark entered the doctor's office, Cassie
quickly made her way towards Mark, but both of them stopped
themselves from making contact, even though both of them wanted
"Cassie, are you alright?" Mark asked as he carefully looked her
over while Lucas walked over to the marshal and his wife.
"Just a few scratches, Doc said I'll be sore for a few days and
that's about it," Cassie replied as Ned made his way over.
"What about you, Ned?" Mark inquired.
"She's still unconscious and Doc doesn't really have answers
right now," Ned replied.
"I had no idea there was a mine shaft on the property, how'd you
guys find it?" Mark asked.
"Anna was actually the one who found it a few months back, she
goes there every so often to
think..." Cassie replied.
"What were you all doing in there?"
Cassie and Ned looked at each other for a moment, not really
sure how much to say at the moment.
"Cassie and I were out for a ride and found Anna. We went in to
talk to her for a while and then it caved in," Ned answered.
"I hope Anna will be alright," Mark stated.
A tear began rolling down Cassie's cheek and Ned hugged his
sister, telling her that all would be fine.
Mark wanted to do the same, but due to the other people there,
The McCain's, Osborne's, and Milly waited in the waiting room
for several hours before Doc came out and announced that Anna
was awake. He told everyone that she had a concussion and
various abrasions, but it appeared that everything would be
fine. The family began taking turns going in to see her and
Lucas and Mark bid the family goodnight before heading home.
As Lucas and Mark were getting ready for bed that night, Lucas
could tell something was on Mark's mind.
"Something you want to talk about son?"
"Yeah, I guess there is. Pa, what is it with society and all
this social acceptability and such?" Mark inquired.
"What do you mean?" Lucas replied.
"I mean I wanted to take Cassie in my arms and tell her
everything was going to be alright. I wanted to hold her... I
wanted to kiss her. But because of our age and the fact that
we're not officially in a courting relationship, it's not
“acceptable” for us to do any of that. Why? Pa I love her, I was
worried about her, and because all those people were there, I
couldn't express that."
"Mark, part of that is simply culture and tradition. Another
part of it is putting safeguards in place for people, especially
people at your age who are experiencing these feelings for the
"But we love each other just the same whether we're courting or
"It's simply a precaution, but don't let yourself see it as an
obstacle Mark. Think of it as a way
you can make the times when you do get to “express yourselves”
even more special. I do, however, believe you are right to avoid
displays of affection at this point, but I understand why you
hugged her when she saw you after you woke up from the coma. I
didn't interfere because I honestly believe she needed it."
"Pa, Cassie's the only person I've felt this way about before. I
just about died when I saw her horse in front of the caved in
mine; it was like when I've seen you in danger."
"But she's alright, and hopefully Anna will be too."
"Did you ever have a time where you thought you might not ever
see Ma again...? I mean, before she got sick?"
There was a long silence before Lucas answered.
"... It happened a little over twenty years ago, your mother and
I had been married about a year and a half and were well
established in Enid. The weeks leading up to the event were a
bit strange, I'll admit your mother and I were a bit at odds,
though neither one of us were sure what it was over. We were
still able to kiss goodnight, but during the day, tempers tended
to flare. Your Uncle Johnny and I were supposed to leave for a
few days on a hunting trip, and the day we were supposed to
leave your Ma and I got in a big argument. I left that morning,
both of us still boiling, and I didn't bother kissing her
goodbye. Mark, that was probably one of my biggest mistakes I
made during our married life. When you do get married, don't
ever leave while you're angry. Make it a point to kiss before
you step foot out of the house. I told her goodbye and left to
meet Johnny for a few days of camping and hunting. With all of
that time on our hands, Johnny ended up hearing about the
arguments and helped me cool down and see that there were some
things I just needed to let go. Your uncle gave great advice for
never being married. At the end of the trip, Johnny and I both
had a few bucks and headed back home. I spent the whole two days
it took to ride back home regretting the frankly stupid things I
had said to your mother. I was ready to come back home and make
up with her; I wanted to apologize to her for being so stubborn
and bigoted. I said goodbye to Johnny as he turned down the road
that he lived on and continued to the edge of town where we
lived. I hung the bucks in the barn and put my horse in his
stall before heading to the house. Never in my life had it
seemed so quiet and empty inside. I checked everywhere and
couldn't find your mother, so I went to town thinking she was
running errands. The longer I looked for her however, the more I
was becoming worried - worried that she had left. No one had
seen her since the day after Johnny and I had left town. I raced
home, desperate to see if I could find any indication of where
on earth she had gone. At that point I was regretting more than
ever leaving while we were both angry. Never in a hundred years
did I think that she would leave me."
"Ma left you?" Mark asked in disbelief.
"No, my assumption was wrong. I fretted all night before finding
that out though. That was the first time as a grown man I cried
myself to sleep. I couldn't imagine living life without her.
When I woke up the next morning I found a note on the kitchen
table. Someone I didn't remember, but apparently from my past
said that if I wanted her back, I would have to go get her. He
told me where to meet him and I didn't waste any time before
taking off. It was a whole day's ride and all I could do was
imagine what this mad man had done with my wife. All I could do
was wonder if I would ever see her again, ever apologize, ever
get to do what I had taken for granted a few days before - be
able to take her in my arms and kiss her. When I arrived at the
destination, I quickly realized where I was. It had been one of
the first places I had led men into battle only a few short
years before. I wasn't the head officer, but was among those in
charge. There had been several casualties and I found out that
casualties were exactly what the whole situation was about. The
man who had taken your mother went on this long rant about how
it was my fault his brother had died in that battle; how I
should've called for surrender. I tried telling him that it
hadn't been my decision, but of course he was too loco to
listen. I demanded to see your Ma, but he refused, and I
wondered if he was playing games and had already killed her. He
told me that we were going to have our own “battle” and the
winner got to keep your Ma. He ordered me to ready my rifle, but
I refused and tried to talk reason with him. He finally went for
his gun and I shot his hand before he cleared the holster. I
rushed towards him and grabbed his shirt in a fist as I pulled
him up to me, demanding him to tell me what he had done with
your Ma. After threatening him in several different ways he
finally gave me directions to a cabin in the woods and I took
off, desperate to find your Ma alive. It probably only took five
minutes to get there, but it was one of the longest rides of my
life. As soon as I got close enough to the cabin I jumped off my
horse and rushed up the porch steps. I found a lock on the
outside of the door and blasted it with my rifle before kicking
the door in. Your Ma was sitting huddled in a corner, and I
could see the tears begin to stream down her face when I walked
through the door. I untied her ropes and took her in my arms...
I can't tell you the relief I felt at that moment... It..."
Lucas stopped as a tear fell down his cheek.
"Pa, I shouldn't have-"
"No Mark, I'm glad you did. Because there's a part of this story
I've been meaning to tell you for a LONG time... I've just never
gotten up the nerve to tell you. By the time I had made it back
to the original meeting point with your Ma, the man was gone and
it was probably a good thing... I don't know what I would have
done to him if he had stuck around. He honestly probably
wouldn't have had a trial. Your Ma and I spent the whole way
home apologizing back and forth and telling the other how much
we loved them. The night we got back we talked through all the
ridiculous arguments we had created over the past few weeks and
were reminded of why we loved each other. As the days passed
though, I realized your Ma didn't seem to be doing too well and
was getting tired really easily. I thought the crazy man who had
taken her had done something, but she insisted he hadn't. One
night I came home and she sat me down and told me why she had
been so sick, and possibly why she had been so short tempered.
She told me I was going to be a father."
Lucas simply waited for Mark to say something. At first Mark
wondered why his Pa wasn't continuing, but then he started
"You said this happened over twenty years ago... I'm only
"Your Ma was expecting a baby before you... that she
unfortunately lost at about four months."
"...Why keep it a secret?"
"Because it was too painful for me to talk about, partially
because I used to blame myself. I felt that the stress of what
happened caused her to lose our baby. I thought that if I had
been there to stop the whole incident from happening, I could've
saved the baby and all the grief your mother and I went through.
The miscarriage was what weakened your Ma's body as well...
that's why she couldn't fight the smallpox. Another reason I
couldn't talk about it, but you deserve to know, he or she would
have been your sibling."
"Pa it's not-"
"I know now it wasn't my fault now, but I couldn't come to terms
with it for the longest time."
"Thanks for telling me..."
"I hope this helps you understand why I can be so overprotective
at times. After losing our first baby... I couldn't bear to lose
another child, and then your Ma died. I remember the day she
died... she made me promise to take care of you, see to it that
you finished your schooling, to be gentle... something I hadn't
always been the best at. That day I promised myself I'd be there
to protect you in whatever ways I could. I couldn't save my
first child or your mother, but I'll do whatever it takes to
protect you, Son. I love you Mark."
"I love you too, Pa."
"...We better hit the sack; it's been a long day."
"Goodnight Pa, I love you."
Within the next few days, Anna was released from Doc's and
appeared to be recuperating well. Things started to get back to
normal - that is, as normal as things ever got around North
Fork. Cassie was elated when she found out that her guess about
Lou being pregnant was right, she had wondered for over a month.
Soon it was time for Mark and John to leave on their trip to
northern New Mexico and Lucas, Milly, and the Osborne's stood in
the Osborne's yard saying goodbye.
Milly, Catherine, Anna, and Cassie had made a bounty of baked
goods for the two to take with them, and Mark wasn't sure they
would be able to eat it all.
Lucas watched as Milly lovingly mothered Mark, telling him to be
careful, to eat plenty of protein and not to stay in wet
clothes. As much as Mark tried to hide it, Lucas knew he was
enjoying being mothered by Milly.
When Mark and Cassie said goodbye, there wasn't the typical
lively banter between them, rather concern on both their parts.
Those trying to make it not obvious they were watching were
surprised at how far the two, once seemingly juvenile children,
bade farewell as mature adults.
"...Be back soon." Mark assured Cassie as he mounted.
"You better be, no playing with wolves," Cassie seriously stated
as she forced a concerned smile on her face.
"I promise, I'll steer clear of them. See you later Cassie."
After Mark and John headed out, Lucas and Milly went to town to
do more wedding planning with Lou, and Anna went to her room to
lie down. Catherine and Cassie had both sat down in the living
room to read a book, but Catherine realized her daughter wasn't
reading, just staring at the page.
"Cassie, what's the matter dear?"
"Hmm?" Cassie asked as she slowly looked up at her mother.
"You haven't turned a single page yet, what's wrong?"
"Ma... I don't know. I guess I'm worried about Mark and Pa
riding across open country. I'm confused... because I think I'm
worried about Mark as much... if not more than Pa. I feel
horrible saying it, but I think it's true."
"You've seen Mark hurt in ways you haven't seen your Pa in
danger, it's understandable."
"Ma, I love Mark, but it's a completely different love than I've
ever felt before. It's just so... I can't explain it..."
"One rarely can," Mrs. Osborne chuckled as she remembered her
discovery of true love. "It's a wonderful thing, Cassie; don't
let yourself get numb to it."
"Oh I don't think I ever could. Ma, I'm confused though, because
I feel like part of me is scared... maybe I'm just afraid this
isn't real or going to last, but at the same time... I feel like
could never go away. Mark's so gentle... caring... things I've
never been much good at, but he's shown me how to be. When he
encouraged me to focus on my studies instead of him last fall, I
was quite upset with him for a while, but it opened up a whole
other world to me, one that now I can venture through with
Mark... I hope..."
"What do you mean you hope?"
"It's been a year since we initially talked about how we felt...
and he's done nothing. He's talked about things in the future,
but he doesn't do anything now. What if... he feels differently
"Cassie, think about your exchange with him not an hour ago.
Think about the way he looked at you; think about the way he
promised he'd be back soon. Do you really think he feels
"...No, but then why doesn't he do something?"
"I wish I had an answer for you my dear, but typically men do
have a reason for what they do. Give him time, be patient.
Waiting this long has helped your relationship so far, hasn't
"...Well yes, it's just that waiting is so hard."
"Believe me, I understand. After your father and I stopped being
mortal enemies, it took him forever to ask me to a dance."
"Ma, I wish I knew what he was thinking."
"But then there wouldn't be any mystery to him. It'll all be
worth it, just wait."
The first two days on the trail went smoothly for Mark and John
with nothing irregular occurring. The horses stayed pretty calm
and didn't seem phased by their constantly changing
surroundings, reassuring John that Mark had done a good job with
The second night, Mark was lying awake in his bedroll trying to
fall asleep when he heard a rider approaching. He instinctively
reached for his rifle, but relaxed when Marshal Osborne greeted
the man as if he knew the rider. Mark rolled back over in his
bedroll and tried to go to sleep, but couldn't help overhearing
the conversation the two men were having.
"You've got the money, Osborne?"
"I told you that I won't have it until the end of this week,
I'll get it to you."
"You better, you know the consequences if you don't."
"I'll have it at the end of the week. You never seem to have
trouble finding me, so you shouldn't this time."
"I'd be careful if I were you Osborne, you've been stretching
the limits the last few times."
"I'm watching myself. Now is there anything else you want? I've
gotta get some sleep."
"Just think about what I said last time. They both have a right
to know what happened. After eighteen years, I think Ara's still
grieving, in her own way."
"It wouldn't do any good for them to find out, and that's why
I'm paying you to keep your mouth shut."
"If I wasn't in such a scrape, they'd have found out a long time
ago. You better pull through, Osborne."
"I'll see you this weekend, DeFord. And I hope for both our
sakes not a moment sooner."
Mark heard the stranger ride away. Mark couldn't just blow this
one off and walked over towards Marshal Osborne who sat by the
"Who was that man?" Mark inquired as he sat down.
"You heard that whole exchange?"
"Not on purpose, but yes."
"He's a contact for myself and some other marshals in the area.
We pay him for information and for doing a few favors like
spreading rumors or keeping quiet."
"...What'd he mean when he said you'd stretched the limits
"There's just some dispute about how much money we agreed on
last time, but nothing serious. He puts up a strong front, but
deep down he's scared."
"Sorry Mark, but I'm not at liberty to say right now. Now we
better both turn in, we still have a few hours to ride
Mark nodded and returned to his bedroll as John did the same.
Mark tried to fall asleep, but he
found it difficult to. His mind kept replaying the conversation
he had overheard, and something just didn't seem right. To Mark,
it had sounded like the marshal was the one who was scared.
Mark's curious mind wasn't satisfied with the answers he had
received, but deep down he knew he shouldn't interfere with U.S.
It took a long time, but Mark eventually drifted to sleep.
The next morning, Mark was up before John and set to making a
light breakfast. As much as he hated the stuff, he went ahead
and made John a pot of coffee, knowing how tired they both were.
"How long have you been up?" John asked as he came up behind
"Not too terribly long. I can't sleep with the sun up. Coffee?"
"Thanks," John answered as Mark poured him a cup.
"What time do you figure we'll be in Silas?"
"Probably around noon, if we don't have any trouble. I will say
I'm surprised at how well those young horses are doing,
considering they haven't been on the trail before. You've done a
right fine job with them."
"Most of what I know is because of Mr. Jackford and an Indian
chief Pa and I know. Once you learn to work with them, it's
really not that difficult."
"Well you did a better job than I could've ever done. You know,
Catherine and I were talking the other day about how we're going
to miss having you around the ranch."
"It'll be strange, that's for sure."
"Then again, with Cassie's birthday coming up, we'll probably be
seeing you quite a bit still."
"I certainly hope so," Mark replied with a sheepish smile.
After a fast breakfast, Mark and John packed up camp and began
the final leg of the trip to Silas.
As soon as they arrived, they rented stalls to keep the horses
in for the week and then checked into their rooms at the hotel
before meeting in the lobby for lunch.
Afterwards, the two walked the town and found out that a few
other horse traders and buyers had come early as well, so they
looked over the stock.
As they were doing so, a man came up to John and handed him a
piece of paper before walking away. Mark watched curiously as
the marshal read it before putting it in his pocket, and giving
a heavy sigh.
"Something wrong?" Mark inquired.
"No, it just seems there's some marshal business I have to take
care of in a nearby town. You wouldn't mind keeping an eye on
things here while I take care of things, would you?"
"Of course not. When do you have to leave?"
"Probably after supper, I shouldn't be gone too long, hopefully
I'll be back in two days. Mark, I'm sorry to leave you here like
"It's not a problem; it'll give me time to look for some good
breeding horses before we have to worry about selling yours."
"Thanks Mark, I appreciate it."
As boring as it was, Mark somewhat enjoyed having the next two
days to himself, not having to be anywhere or do anything.
Needless to say, Mark spent a good amount of time thinking about
Cassie and planning for her birthday, and that's exactly what he
was doing as he walked into the town's cafe.
"Mark McCain?" A woman called from his left.
"Ms. Adams?" Mark asked in astonishment as he walked to the
table where she was seated with a man who held a baby in his
"I thought it was you, Mark!" She replied with a smile.
“It’s good to see you, Ms. Adams.”
"It's not Ms. Adams anymore," the man spoke up with a smile.
"Mark, this is my husband, Nathaniel Whitshire and my daughter,
Emily. Nathaniel, this is Mark McCain, he used to attend a
school I taught. My, how you've grown Mark! I could hardly
recognize you, but the fact that you were carrying a rifle
confirmed my suspicions. Like father like son. Speaking of your
father, is he here?"
"No ma'am, I'm in town for the horse auction with one of the
marshals from North Fork. He had to be pulled away to take care
of something for a few days, so I'm here alone."
"Would you like to join us for supper?" Nathaniel invited.
"We've just sat down."
"I wouldn't want to impose..." Mark replied.
"Oh Mark, it's not an imposition. I'd love to hear how things
are in North Fork," Mrs. Whitshire insisted.
"Well thank you," Mark replied as he took a seat.
"You said one of the marshals from North Fork... did Micah
retire?" Mrs. Whitshire inquired.
"No, we just gained a marshal about... two years ago. North Fork
really has grown quite a bit since you left."
"I'm sure it has. I trust North Fork's current teacher doesn't
have to get after you for firing spit balls anymore?" She
"No ma'am, I learned a long time ago to stop doing that, but I
graduated last spring."
"I guess it has been what... almost eight years?"
"Close to it," Mark replied.
"So what have you been doing since you finished school?"
"My Pa and I own a cattle ranch, so I've been helping him run
that, and working for our Marshal Osborne, raising some colts he
bought. I almost went to school for medicine, but as much as I
enjoy learning and studying, it wasn't right for me."
"You enjoy learning?" Mrs. Whitshire asked with a slight
chuckle. "When did this happen?"
Mark laughed along with her, but Mr. Whitshire was confused.
"Sorry Nathaniel," she apologized. "Mark used to hate anything
having to do with school. His Pa and I worked so hard at getting
him to complete his lessons."
"I assume you live here in Silas, then?" Mark inquired.
"Been happily married and settled here for three years,"
Nathaniel answered. "Bethany is teaching at the Indian
reservation nearby, although is breaking for the summer months
due to normal school schedule and the fact that she just had
The remainder of the evening was spent by various questions from
both parties being answered. Around seven, Mark bade the couple
goodnight and returned to the hotel. As Mark passed the hotel's
restaurant, he heard someone mention “Osborne” and went into the
restaurant before picking a table to sit down. He knew his
curiosity was getting the best of him, but pretended to look
over the menu as he listened to their conversation anyway.
"Are you sure he's going to do the job right? What if he goes to
"He won't, we hold all the aces."
"I don't know, him being a marshal and all..."
"Alex talked to him the other night, he won't chicken out."
"I hope you're right."
Mark watched one man get up and leave, and after the second man
finally exited the building as well, Mark returned to his hotel
room. He was confused, and needless to say his faith in John had
begun to waver. Mark reminded himself of what John had said the
other night, about not being able to disclose information. He
was probably working undercover and if Mark interfered there
could be problems, so Mark tried to let it go. However, the
entire night the same words constantly ran through his head.
Lucas knocked on the door for a third time and Cassie finally
opened it, but only enough so she could block Lucas' view
"Afternoon, Mr. McCain," Cassie greeted with a pleasant smile.
"Afternoon Cassie..." Lucas suspiciously replied. "...Is your
"Should be in just a minute, I'd invite you inside, but we're
working on the dress."
"Ahh," Lucas said with a smile. "Well would you please have your
aunt come out when she's ready?"
"Yes sir. Would you like anything while you're waiting?"
"No, thank you though."
Cassie closed the door and Lucas only waited a minute or two
before Milly stepped out on the porch.
"You look beautiful this afternoon."
"Lucas, your exaggerating is going to get you in trouble one of
"Did I say beautiful? I meant breathtaking."
Milly gently laughed as Lucas helped her up into the buck board.
"What do we have to do today?" Milly inquired as Lucas urged the
"All those kitchen supplies you said we needed arrived; I
figured you'd want to be there when we put them away in your
kitchen, so you know where everything is. Then I thought you'd
enjoy a ride around the ranch."
"Sounds like a wonderful idea," Milly replied as she smiled.
It took longer than Lucas had expected for Milly to decide where
she wanted everything, and frankly he didn't understand why she
felt like every item needed to be moved to three different
cabinets, but he didn't mind it in the least.
After everything was finally put in place, Lucas and Milly went
to the barn, where Milly found a horse, saddled, with a bow tied
around its neck.
"Happy birthday, Milly, from Mark and I," Lucas said as he gave
her the reigns.
"Oh Lucas you shouldn't have..."
"I know you can handle the team and buck board fine, but Mark
and I thought you'd want something a bit more practical for
"...Thank you Lucas, she's beautiful."
"Mark wanted to be here when we gave it to you, but said she was
no use to you sitting in the barn."
"How did you know it was my birthday?"
"Well I'm marrying you; I better at least know that."
"Thank you Lucas," Milly stated again as she kissed him on the
Lucas helped Milly mount up before mounting Razor and the two
left the yard, riding side by side. Lucas took Milly around to a
few specific spots on the ranch before returning to the hill
above the house.
"It's not too terribly high up, but the view is still beautiful
from up here," Milly commented.
"It's where Mark wants to build a house for Cassie and him."
"He's already thinking about building a house?"
"Not now of course, but he's just thinking ahead. He seriously
wants to marry her."
"Lucas, I can't believe he's old enough to be thinking about
marriage already... the years just seem to slip by."
"They certainly do. It seems like yesterday I was holding him in
my arms, trying to get him to stop crying."
"Lucas, what's that?" Milly inquired as she gestured to a cross
a little ways from them.
"Something that Mark and I need to get rid of."
"But isn't it a grave marker?"
"Yes, it's mine."
"The ordeal two years ago?"
Lucas nodded his head yes as his mind filled with regret once
again for the pain he had caused his son.
Milly could see the emotions Lucas was feeling on his face. He
had explained to her what had happened in more detail over the
past six months and understood some of the remorse he felt.
"Lucas, Mark loves you; he understands why you did what you did.
You've both moved on, don't slip back."
Lucas looked at Milly with loving eyes.
"How did I ever get lucky enough to have you back?"
"The same way I got lucky enough to find you again. I love you
Lucas and Milly both leaned towards the other person and
lovingly kissed before heading back down to the house.
As Mark made his way down the hotel stairs, he subconsciously
breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Marshal Osborne and two
other marshals arresting the men he had heard talking about John
the night before.
Mark knew he could trust John and felt a little guilty that he
had doubted Osborne's character.
John saw Mark and made his way over to him when the other
marshals took their prisoners out of the establishment.
"I just have a little bit of paperwork to do at the sheriff's
office and then I'll meet you at the stables. Thanks for looking
after things while I was gone."
"It wasn't a problem. I'll see you in a bit."
John left and Mark entered the hotel's restaurant and ordered
something for breakfast. After eating, Mark made his way over to
the stables where John's horses were being kept. He took some
time to groom and feed them, and while he was doing so two other
men entered the building and stood by the gate of the stall Mark
was working in. They didn't say anything, just watched him.
Eventually Mark got tired of it and turned around.
"Anything I could do for you two gentlemen?" Mark inquired.
"We was just curious is all," the shorter of the two men stated.
"Well the horses are going up for auction on Monday if you're
interested, or you could talk to-"
"It isn't the horses we're curious about," the second man
"What is it then?" Mark asked. He didn't like the feeling he was
getting from these two and wanted to end the conversation as
soon as possible.
"It's just strange seeing a man out here in the west carrying a
rifle instead of a handgun. You don't see that very often," the
taller man explained.
"No, I suppose you don't," Mark replied as he grabbed his rifle
and walked out of the stall.
"Seems I heard about a kid not more 'an eighteen carrying a
rifle, catching a bunch of criminals
down in Lordsburg a few months back. I hear he's pretty good,
better than anyone in the town who used a rifle or pistol."
"Yeah, what about him?"
"I reckon that kid would be you."
"Maybe, maybe not. If you'll excuse me..." Mark started to try
to walk past the two men, but they stood their ground. Mark
backed up, putting more distance between him and the men.
"Alright, so what do you want?"
"Just to see how good you really are. I've won just about every
shooting contest in Northern New Mexico and from what I've
heard; we'd be a good match, you and I, to test our abilities."
"Sorry to disappoint you, but I don't test myself against
anybody. I'm satisfied with knowing my limits and I like to keep
it that way."
"See here's the thing. Some people are saying that you be even
better than me, and I don't really like the sound of that."
Mark saw the men starting to go for their guns. Before either
man cleared the holster Mark had his rifle on both of them.
"Carefully drop your guns," Mark ordered.
The two men slightly hesitated but Mark gestured with his rifle
and they conceded.
"Now I don't know why you're so set on having a contest with me,
but I'd say we just had one and that I won. You're lucky I'm not
trigger happy like most other men around these parts."
Mark saw Marshal Osborne enter the stable behind the men and
look at him curiously.
"Everything alright, Mark?" John asked.
"Fine. Now you two get out of here before I decide to have the
sheriff arrest you."
"Under what charge?" The short man demanded.
"Attempting to insight a gun fight within city limits or
attempted murder. Your choice."
"We'll get," the taller man stated. "C'mon Pete, let's go."
"I better not see either of you again," Mark calmly, firmly
stated as the men walked past John
and out of the building.
"What was that all about? You alright?" Osborne inquired as he
walked towards the guns he saw lying on the ground.
"Just a couple of trouble makers looking to stay on top."
"You said attempted murder, Mark."
"Nothing that would stand up in a court of law. It's their word
against mine. They tried drawing on me and I had my rifle on
them before they touched their guns, nothing to worry about."
John picked up the guns and handed them to Mark.
"What are you going to do with them?"
"Give them to the sheriff and let him decide whether to give
them back to 'em or not. Those two will probably end up with a
bullet inside of 'em, one of these days if they don't learn to
be more careful."
"They're lucky you stop yourself from pulling the trigger, as
quick as you cock and aim that thing," John replied as he
gestured to the rifle.
"Self-control's the first thing you've gotta learn when you take
the responsibility of carrying a gun, of any size. The next
person they try to force into a fight may not have that."
"Some more horse owners just rode into town, you wanna look over
their stock?" John suggested.
"Thanks, but I already know what I want."
"They must be pretty good if you don't want to bother looking at
anything else," John stated in surprise.
"I'll show you."
Mark proceeded to lead Marshal Osborne out of the building to
the stable farthest from the auction arena.
"You realize you're going to have to wait until towards the end
of the auction to bid on these, right?"
"I know. If you need to leave Silas before then, I can handle
the horses fine by myself."
"No, it's not a problem. I just wasn't sure if you were aware.
Are you sure you want to wait until the end? The best horses are
usually at the beginning," John told Mark as they entered the
John realized there weren't any horses inside and continued to
follow Mark to a corral.
"That's what most people think, because that's usually the case
- unless you have Indians selling. Then it's definitely worth
the wait. And by then, most of the big spenders are gone so you
have a better chance of getting a better deal."
"You're a bright young man," a voice stated behind them.
Mark and John turned around to see a man, obviously Indian
walking up next to them.
"I'm Chief Bear Claw. Forgive my intrusion to your conversation,
I couldn't help but overhear you talking when you entered the
The man spoke in very clear English which surprised Mark a bit,
but not that much.
"No intrusion. I'm Mark McCain; it's a pleasure to meet you."
Mark shook the man's hand and John introduced himself before
Mark continued. "I've been watching your horses for several
days, they've all been wonderfully bred and trained, which I'm
not really surprised to find."
"I'm guessing this isn't your first time to see an Indian or
their horses, then," the chief commented.
"No sir; met plenty of them. Learned quite a bit about the way
you train the horses too. It's quite a fascinating technique
I've used quite a bit."
"That's good. Are there any horses you would like to ride? That
is, if you don't mind doing it without a saddle."
"Are you sure?" Mark asked in amazement.
"If you're looking to buy them, what better way to increase my
chances of selling them?"
"Thank you, sir," Mark replied.
"Marshal, how about you?" The chief inquired.
"I'm actually not buying any horses this week, but thank you.
There's some business I need to take care of in town that I
forgot about this morning, so I have to go. Mark I'll see you at
the hotel for supper?"
"Sure thing," Mark answered before John left.
After taking up the chief's offer, Mark spent the afternoon
conversing with the elderly man on several different topics.
Mark was able to meet some of the other Indians who had been
allowed to leave the reservation for the auction and each one
was quite surprised to find such wisdom and understanding in one
By the end of the week, Mark had established a good relationship
with the Indians and even made a trip up to the reservation the
day before the auction would end since the Marshal's horses had
sold and he wouldn't be bidding until the next day. Mark enjoyed
his time there and knew why. The Indians were real, they didn't
try to hide behind masks or put up pretenses in order to appear
a certain way for a crowd. They were a truly loving people who
The day finally came when Mark and John left Silas and headed
back home. Mark had bought a stallion and two mares, one of
which he had bought at the reservation. It was a long ride back
home; both Mark and John were absolutely exhausted. Mark fell
asleep in the saddle several times, giving John a good laugh.
"Thanks for all your help this past year Mark, I can't tell you
how much I've appreciated it," John said as they approached the
turn off for him to take home.
"I've enjoyed it, thanks for the job. I'll see you tomorrow,"
"Have a goodnight."
John waved as he rode away and Mark headed towards town. Mark
couldn't wait to get home and sleep in his own bed, but he
wanted to make one last stop before leaving town.
"Evening, Mrs. Maguire," Mark greeted as he put his rifle on the
"Good evening Mark, just get back into town?"
"Yes ma'am, I wanted to see if it came in yet."
"Day before yesterday," She replied before reaching under the
counter before handing Mark a small package.
"Thank you for ordering it for me."
"Not a problem. Anything else you need?"
"No ma'am, that'll do it. Have a goodnight."
Mark left the store and mounted up to head home. Mark enjoyed
traveling and meeting new people, but there was no place like
home and no person like his Pa.
Upon arriving home, Mark put the horses in the barn before
climbing the porch steps and entering the house. Mark laughed
when he saw his Pa in the front room asleep in his chair, still
in his clothes from working on the range. Mark quietly shut the
front door and retrieved clean clothes for himself from his room
before taking a shower out behind the house. Mark came in
through the back kitchen door and started something for supper.
It was much too hot for soup, and Mark was too tired to do
anything complicated so he just fried up some pork chops.
Apparently something had woken Lucas up, because when Mark
looked in the doorway, his Pa stood there with a frown on his
face, shaking his head.
"What am I going to do with you?" Lucas asked as his frown broke
into a smile and he slightly chuckled.
Lucas made his way to Mark and put his arm around his son.
"When did you get home?" Lucas inquired.
"About an hour ago."
"You should've woken me up; sorry you had to come home to no
"Oh Pa, it's fine. You looked pretty tired anyway. The cattle
giving you trouble?"
"No not really, I just forgot how much work it is when you're
"Well ya hungry? Supper's ready."
Over supper, Mark told his Pa about the trip, seeing his old
teacher again, and the Indians he had met.
Well after they had finished eating, Mark and Lucas went to the
barn to do the evening chores and so Lucas could see the horses
Mark had purchased.
"Well son, you definitely know how to pick them. You were right,
they certainly are beauties."
"I almost wouldn't have found out about them, but Ms. Adams... I
mean, Mrs. Whitshire mentioned it to me."
"Well I'm glad you bought them and were able to meet the Indians
As Mark and Lucas worked on the chores, Lucas knew there was
something eating at his son. Mark knew that Lucas could tell
something was wrong, but he wasn't sure how to bring it up or
even explain it. After they finished the chores, Lucas put his
hands on Mark's shoulders and directed him to sit down on a bale
of hay like he had so many times when Mark was younger.
"What happened?" Lucas simply asked as he took a seat across
"You remember how we've had to deal with men in the past… how
they didn't “appreciate” you being considered the fastest gun?"
"Yes, I do."
"And you had no choice but to shoot when they drew?"
Lucas nodded, trying to keep himself from jumping to any
"Well there was this man in Silas who had heard about that
shooting contest over in Lordsburg. Apparently word's spread
about the “kid” with a rifle. He wanted to test himself against
me and I said no. He and his partner went for their guns, but I
had my rifle on them before they could lay a finger on their
weapons. I made them throw their guns to the floor before I told
them to get out of there, and I didn't shoot 'em or anything,
didn't have cause, need, or want to. But, Pa... a situation like
that, well... I think you understand why I say it scared me. I
mean, I was able to keep calm and take care of the problem, but
I just don't get it. Two perfectly random strangers decide to
draw on me because I don't want to try to outshoot 'em. I mean,
what if there's a next time? What if I can't... can't keep
myself from pulling the trigger? I could've easily killed both
of them... I could-"
"But you didn't, Mark, because you've harnessed self-control."
Lucas let out a long sigh before continuing. He hadn't ever
expected to hear this from his son. "Mark, when the time came, I
taught you to use your rifle and to use it right. You practiced
and practiced with that thing so if the time ever came when you
needed to use it, you could use it with confidence. Neither you
nor I ever go looking for trouble, but the problem seems to be
that trouble comes looking for us and we eventually do end up
with stories being told and exaggerated about us, leading to
incidents like this. There's not much you or I can really do
about it except be watchful and careful."
Lucas paused again, trying to collect his thoughts and keep his
composure. Truth be told, he was downright furious at the men
who had tried to draw on Mark, but showing that wouldn't do any
"Mark, I'm glad you're alright, and I'm glad you told me what
happened. I had hoped you never would have to face a scenario
like that, that by the time you were old enough to be carrying
that rifle out on your own, people would be civil enough so you
wouldn't have to watch your back. But I guess it's the reality
we have to live in. You just can't let yourself become paranoid.
There are many men that have been driven to insanity just
because they constantly thought someone was attempting to kill
them. You've got a good, level head on your shoulders, Mark,
keep it there."
Mark studied his Pa for a moment, not really sure what to say.
"...Pa, are you alright?"
Lucas stood and put a hand on Mark's shoulder, but didn't say
anything. Mark stood and looked Lucas in the eyes.
"Yes Mark, I'm alright. It's just a little hard to get over the
"I understand... I've been on your end of this plenty of times
"I love you son, welcome home."
"Cassie, you've been staring out that window all day. What are
you waiting for?" Anna asked her sister as she entered the front
room of their home.
"...Maybe I'm just being silly, but I thought maybe Mark would
stop by today... at least for a little bit. Then again, I don't
think I've ever told him when my birthday was. Even if he did
know I don't know why I'm half expecting him, he just got back
from a long trip... I'm sure he's exhausted. I'm being
Anna gave a slight chuckle when Cassie went back to staring out
the window. Cassie didn't realize her sister had left the room
for a moment before returning with a pair of riding pants until
they landed in her lap.
"Where?" Cassie asked.
"For a ride. You know I'm only gonna have you around for a few
more months, we best make the most of it."
"I'm all for going on a ride, but are you sure you want to?"
Cassie asked, a bit surprised that Anna would suggest it.
"Hurry up and change, I'll meet you outside."
Cassie did what her sister said and was outside saddling Storm
within a few short minutes.
"Where do you want to go?" Cassie inquired as she mounted.
"Just follow me," Anna stated before mounting her own horse and
heading out of the barn.
Cassie looked after her sister with confusion before slowly
starting to follow her. None of this was really like Anna, but
Cassie shrugged it off and decided to go along with it.
After riding for quite some time, Anna stopped her horse and
handed Cassie a bandana.
"What's this for?" Cassie asked in confusion.
"I have a surprise for you, but you have to be blindfolded."
"Just do it, please?"
Cassie gave in and tied the bandana around her head as Anna took
"Where are we going?" Cassie asked again.
"If I told you it wouldn't really be much of a surprise, now
Anna and Cassie continued to ride for, what seemed to Cassie, an
eternity. She couldn't figure out what on earth her sister was
up to, but appreciated the thought nevertheless. When the horses
stopped, Anna carefully helped Cassie down and led Cassie a
little ways before stopping. Cassie waited for Anna to say
something, but she never did.
"Well can I take this thing off now?" Cassie asked, but she
suddenly felt it being untied for her.
When the bandana dropped, Cassie looked around and was amazed at
the view. They were out on a ledge, and Cassie thought she
recognized the spot below her.
"Isn't this Mark's spot? How'd you ever figure out how to get up
here?" Cassie asked without looking to Anna, who she thought was
"Well it was my spot, but I figured we could kinda share it."
Cassie turned around in shock and saw Mark standing there, with
a big smile on his face.
"Happy birthday, Cassie," Mark said as he handed her a bouquet
"Oh Mark, they're beautiful."
"Not as beautiful as you. Cassie, I have a question to ask you.
One I've been waiting ten long months to ask you, and don't
think I could stand to wait a minute more. Cassie Osborne, would
you do me the honor of allowing me to court you?"
Cassie quickly nodded her head yes before finding her voice.
"Yes, of course!" Cassie exclaimed before giving Mark a hug.
Mark and Cassie took a step back, smiling at each other.
"Sorry it took me so long to get around to asking you, but it's
what our parents wanted. I got you something..." Mark started as
he handed Cassie a beautifully wrapped package.
"Mark, you shouldn't-"
"I wanted to," Mark stated as he gestured to the box.
Cassie unwrapped the gift and found a small wooden box with her
name carved into it. When she opened the box, she almost
couldn't believe her eyes.
"Mark..." Cassie gasped.
Mark took the silver plated, heart shaped locket out of the box
and helped Cassie put it on.
"This is to remind you of the promise I'm making right now, that
no matter how far apart we may be, no matter what happens, I
love you Cassie Osborne. You have captured my heart, and I'll
gladly let you have it. And I also promise, that when the right
time comes and our parents give their blessing, I will ask you
to marry me." Mark clasped the necklace and walked around Cassie
to face her. "Cassie, you complete me and I love you with all my
Cassie leaned forward and gave Mark a long hug. Mark looked up
to see Anna tapping her wrist and motioning to get going. Mark
nodded and stepped back a little bit.
"It'll be dark before too long, why don't I take you back home?"
Cassie nodded and Mark took her hand and led her to the horses.
Anna rode behind the two of them, smiling at the looks they both
Once arriving at the Osborne's, the girls put their horses in
the barn and Mark let Blue Boy out in the corral. They walked up
to the porch and Mark opened the door for Cassie, who was
welcomed home with a loud shout.
Cassie looked around the room to see her parents and Ned, Milly
and Lucas, the Donald's, Lou and Johnny, and many of her friends
standing in her home.
Mrs. Osborne came up to Cassie and gave her daughter a hug.
"Happy birthday, dear."
"Thank you but... I thought..."
"I know what you thought. We thought something a little bigger
than supper at the hotel was in order."
Cassie just stood there, still trying to get over her shock.
"Well are you just going to stand there all night or can we get
this thing started?" Ned asked. "I'm starving!"
Everyone let out a big laugh and Cassie went to greet her
guests. Mark went over to stand by Miss Milly and his Pa, but
kept watching Cassie.
"Well did you ask her?" Lucas inquired after Mark didn't say
"Yep," Mark replied.
"Ask who, what?" Milly asked.
"Mark was going to ask Cassie if he could court her today,"
"Knowing Cassie, I'm sure she said no." Milly teased.
Mark proceeded to tell his Pa and Milly about asking Cassie,
keeping his eyes on her the whole
As the evening continued on, Mark spent plenty of time next to
Cassie and when it was time for the McCain's to leave, Lucas had
to practically drag Mark outside.
"She'll be in church tomorrow, Mark. Let's go home!"
"Goodnight Mark. Thanks for... everything."
Cassie watched as the McCain's rode off into the distance. She
eventually went back inside and started helping clean up.
After everyone else had gone to bed, Cassie wanted to talk with
her parents about that afternoon and was just about to knock on
their door when she heard yelling - again. She started to walk
away, but the words her parents were exchanging stopped her.
"Cassie's eighteen; she has a right to know, John!"
"She doesn't need to know anything. What good will it do
"I don't know if it will do any good, but she deserves to know
she has another family out there, somewhere."
"I told you, her mother couldn't take care of her and hasn't
bothered contacting us, so we should leave things as they are!
She's happy, she has her whole future ahead of her! We don't
need to complicate it by telling her you didn't give birth to
her, we're her parents and that's what's important!"
"John-" Catherine stopped short when she heard the front door to
the house slam shut. "She heard... John, I told you..." Mrs.
Osborne didn't finish as John and Catherine both ran out of the
bedroom and then outside.
"Cassie, come back!" John ordered as Cassie raced past them on
Storm, riding bareback.
"I'll be back later!" Cassie yelled over her shoulder, tears
streaming down her face.
"John, aren't you going to go after her?" Catherine asked as she
stared helplessly after Cassie.
"No... she said she'll be back, we best let her be for a while."
"But it's dark and-"
"She knows how to ride, she'll be fine."
Lucas was reading in the front room when he heard someone ride
up to the house before knocking on the door. Lucas stood to
answer the door, grabbing his rifle as he did, but put it down
when he saw who was on the porch.
"Cassie, what are you doing here? Is everything alright?" Lucas
inquired, seeing the tear stains on her face.
"I'm sorry to call at such a late hour Mr. McCain, but could I
talk with Mark... and you?"
"Of course, come in and take a seat, I'll get Mark."
Cassie sat down as Lucas went into one of the bedrooms and shook
"What is it Pa?" Mark asked as he sat up a little.
"Mark, Cassie's here and she needs to talk to us. It's obvious
she's been crying, but I don't know what's wrong."
Mark quickly threw the covers off before changing back into his
jeans and shirt. He and Lucas walked back into the front room
and Mark quickly made his way to sit next to Cassie on the
"Cassie, what's wrong?" Mark asked with concern as he looked
into her eyes.
"...I went to knock on my parent's door tonight. I wanted to
talk to them about this afternoon..." Cassie looked nervously
between Lucas and Mark, she didn't know if she could keep
"Take your time," Lucas said with a comforting smile.
Cassie took a deep breath before continuing.
"Well I heard them arguing and at first I was going to just go
to bed. But then I heard what they were arguing about. I... I'm
not their child."
Mark and Lucas were surprised, but didn't ask anything. Instead
they waited for Cassie to continue.
"Ma wanted to tell me, she was telling Pa I had a right to know.
Pa didn't want to; he said it wouldn't do any good. Why would he
say that? Why would he deny me the right of knowing who my
biological family is... knowing who I really am? Why would they
keep it a secret?" A tear fell down Cassie's face, followed by
many more as she looked to the ground. "Are they ashamed of whom
I really am?"
"Cassie," Lucas began. "You are not who your family is. You are
a wonderful, graceful young woman who is strong and independent.
That's who you are. But your family is who you make it. For most
of your life it's been your parents, Anna, and Ned. Does the
fact that you have a different biological “family” change that?"
"No, Mr. McCain, it doesn't... and I understand that. I love all
of them and like you said, we've been family. That's the thing
though, a family is supposed to trust, and not keep secrets. But
for how many ever years they've been my parents, Ma and Pa have
been keeping this secret from me. And it hurts because the
people I thought I could trust most in this world have been
lying to me my whole life!" As hard as she tried, Cassie
couldn't stop the tears.
Mark simply put an arm around her and pulled her close, not
knowing what to say. He looked to Lucas, his eyes asking him,
“what do I do?”
"Cassie," Lucas started again. "No parent is perfect. We all
make big mistakes as we try to raise our children. Your parents
love you and only want what's best for you. That's what your Pa
thought he was giving you when he decided to keep this a
"But Mr. McCain, it's not what was best for me... I've lived a
lie my whole life because he didn't tell me."
"I'm not saying whether it was or wasn't. But Cassie, he did it
because he loves you wand wanted to protect you. Even if his
choice was wrong, you still love him and your Ma, don't you?"
Cassie nodded before Lucas continued. "Family forgives, even the
difficult things. Holding this against your parents will end up
hurting you more than them. Bitterness is a horrid thing. Once
you let it plant a seed in you, it takes years and years to
uproot it. Don't let it plant a seed Cassie. Forgive and move
Cassie slowly nodded her head as everything began to settle
inside of her.
"I… I'm sorry for bothering you at such a late hour, I should be
"Cassie, you're welcome around here any time," Lucas began.
"It's dark and I wouldn't trust myself out on those pothole
filled roads. Why don't we set up a cot for you in the second
room, then Mark and I can ride you home in time to change before
the service tomorrow morning."
"Oh I couldn't impose..."
"It's no imposition. Why don't you and Mark take care of your
horse and get the cot while I find some blankets?"
"...Thank you, Mr. McCain."
Mark and Cassie left the house and bedded Storm down in the barn
before Mark got the cot out of its spot.
"Cassie, are you really alright?" Mark asked as he set the cot
down and put his hands on Cassie's face, using his thumbs to
wipe away the few remaining tears.
"...I think so; it's just a big shock to get over. …But your Pa
was right; family is what I make it. I'd just like to know... at
some point, where I come from, who gave birth to me... why they
couldn't keep me."
"I'm sure they wan-"
"Please don't say that. Neither one of knows if that's the truth
"I do know one thing. Two things, actually."
"Your parents want you, and Cassie, I want you."
"Sure you're going to be alright Cassie?" Mark asked as he
helped her down from Storm.
"I'll be fine, thank you. Thank you for letting me stay at the
ranch last night, Mr. McCain... and for helping me understand
everything else, too."
"You're welcome, Cassie," Lucas replied.
Mark and Lucas waited for Cassie to enter her home before they
headed to Micah's to wait for the service to start.
When Cassie stepped inside, she found no one awake yet, which
didn't really surprise her. It was pretty early for a Sunday in
their household. Cassie quietly made her way to her bedroom, but
when she opened the door found her mother asleep on her bed.
"Ma..." Cassie whispered as she gently shook her mother.
Catherine slowly woke up, and upon seeing Cassie, took her
daughter in her arms.
"Oh Cassie, I'm sorry you had to find out the way you did. I
love you dear, so much than I could ever tell you and-"
"Ma, I love you. You may not have birthed me, but you tended to
injuries, braided my hair, scolded me for climbing trees, and
calmed my fears. You're just as much my mother as you are Anna
or Ned's, and I'd be a fool to think otherwise. I love you, and
I'm sorry I took off like I did last night, I needed time to
think... and someone to set me straight."
"Mark?" John asked from the doorway.
Cassie turned and walked towards her Pa.
"No, he really did give me the emotional support I needed
though. Mr. McCain helped me see things from your perspective. I
love you both so much and I want you to know that this is my
family, whether through blood or not."
"I'm sorry Cassie..." John slowly stated.
"I love you, Pa," Cassie walked towards the door and embraced
"Nervous, Pa?" Mark asked as he adjusted his tie.
"Now what would make you think I'd be nervous?" Lucas inquired.
"Oh I don't know. Maybe the fact that you've been trying to tie
that tie for ten minutes. Let me help you." Mark turned towards
Lucas and fixed his tie for him before letting out a chuckle.
"What?" Lucas asked.
"Oh nothing," Mark said as he smiled at Micah.
"Well it's something," Lucas retorted.
"You want some more coffee?" Mark asked, changing the subject.
"No thanks. Where's your uncle? He was supposed to be here ten
"Probably stirring up mischief somewhere," Micah replied for
"That's what I'm afraid of..." Lucas sighed.
A few minutes later Johnny entered the office, apparently ready
"Where have you been?" Lucas asked.
"Nowhere," Johnny replied with a shrug.
"Well you had to be some- you know what? I'm just gonna let it
go. I don't want to think about the potential trouble you've
"Who, me?" Johnny innocently asked.
"Let's get going, it's about time," Micah said as he headed out
there door, followed by the other three men.
Mark watched his Pa nervously wait for Milly to come down the
aisle. When she finally did, a huge smile spread across Lucas's
face and all of his nerves seemed to fly away.
It seemed to take forever, but finally reverend Graft turned to
the congregation and announced,
"Mr. and Mrs. Lucas McCain!"
Everyone soon headed across the way and piled into the hotel’s
beautifully decorated restaurant. The tables and chairs had all
been moved to the perimeter of the room, making room for a dance
floor. Lou had really outdone herself this time, and Lucas and
Milly couldn't thank her enough for the work she'd put into the
Mark finally found Cassie in the crowd of people and worked his
way towards her.
"Hello Mark," Cassie greeted with a smile as the band finished
playing the current song and moved to the next.
"Cassie, may I have this dance?" Mark asked with a slight bow.
"It'd be my pleasure," Cassie replied as she reached her hand
Mark led Cassie to the dance floor and the two began slowly
moving to the music along with the other couples dancing.
"You know, I'm really going to miss you when you leave this
"I'm gonna miss you too... I love you, Mark."
"Just remember that no matter how far apart we are..."
"I'll still have your heart," Cassie finished for Mark as she
touched the locket that hung around her neck.
Cassie and Mark danced for another minute or two before Ned
tapped on Mark's shoulder and Mark handed Cassie off to him.
Mark saw his Pa dancing with Milly and a grin spread across his
face. He tapped his Pa's shoulder, who had been oblivious to
"May I have a dance with the bride?" Mark asked.
"I'll go get us something to drink, Milly," Lucas stated as he
moved out of the way.
"Mark, I've talked with your Pa, but never with you," Milly said
as she started dancing with Mark. "I love you and your Pa
dearly, but I understand that your mother is and always will be
a part of you. I hope you don't feel as though I'm trying to
"She could never be replaced, just like you could never be
replaced. There was such a void in our lives after you left
North Fork, and since you've come back I've been reminded of a
very important thing. Family is what you make it. So welcome to
the family, Ma."
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch