The Rifleman
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The Accident RATED G

DISCLAIMER: LGL Productions owns the characters and the premise behind The Rifleman.

~ ~ ~

High in the mountains, lightning cracked near a massive tree on the bank of the swollen Canadian river*. The tired old oak quivered. Its roots were being swiftly undermined by the watery turbulence. Heavy rains in the mountains were draining down into the valleys and turning even small creeks into torrents. For nearly a hundred years the oak had grown there, watching the small mountain stream dig its way deeper into the earth, widening with each passing year. The water, which had nourished its roots, was now its enemy. When it finally fell, able to stand no more, its thirty feet would be carried swiftly downstream, no doubt wreaking havoc on those below. But a tree has no choice.

~ ~ ~

It was going to be another hot, muggy day. The recent heavy rains had ceased and the normally dry country surrounding North Fork, NM was almost steaming. Lucas McCain mopped his brow with an already damp handkerchief and eased the harness on the near horse.

‘Mark!’ he called impatiently.

‘Coming, Pa!’

Ten-year-old Mark McCain closed the door behind him and ran to climb into the buckboard. ‘Sorry, Pa – I was busy gettin’ slicked up. I don’t get to meet a new cousin every day. What’s her name again?’

‘Gwen. She’s your mother’s youngest sister’s child.’

‘How many sisters did Ma have, anyway? The only one I know is Aunt Susan.’

‘There were just two – Susan - Madge’s mother – and Mary**, Gwen’s mother. She also had a brother, Johnny. I imagine you’ll meet him some day. Last I heard, he wasn’t married.’

Mark looked dejected. ‘Gee whiz, why couldn’t I have had some boy cousins?’

‘I thought you were looking forward to meeting her.’

‘I-I am, but…’

‘You figure you’d have more fun with a boy your own age then, is that it?’


‘Well, Mary wrote a while back about what a tomboy Gwen is – a lot like Madge. She’s a good rider, her mother says. You’ll have a lot of fun, I’m sure. Give it a chance.’

‘I’ll try, Pa.’
*The location of North Fork NM is estimated to be near the Canadian River.
**Another sister for Margaret McCain has been created against canon.

Lucas cast a quick glance at the sky. ‘We got a bit of a late start, son – read me the letter again – when is the stage due?’
Mark took the letter from his father and cleared his throat.
‘Dear Lucas,
I hope this letter finds you and Mark well. I imagine he is growing like a weed. Thank you again for having Gwen visit for a few days. She misses her dad and I think being with you even for a short time will lift her spirits. My heart is too heavy to say more, but I think she will benefit from this visit in more ways than one.’
‘Where’s her dad, Pa?’ asked Mark.

‘He was killed in an accident about a year ago. Mary never told me exactly what happened. Just wrote and ask if it would be all right for Gwen to visit. I wrote back right away.’

Mark continued reading.
‘Look for her on the noon stage June 10. Be sure to pick her up in the buckboard.’
‘Pa, I’m confused. Why bring the buckboard if she’s such a good rider?’

‘Well, I’m a little confused myself, Mark – that letter’s vague, all right. Let’s just wait until we’ve met your cousin, maybe things’ll clear up. Meanwhile, we’d better get a move on or we’ll be late!’

Lucas flapped the reins. The horses broke into a gallop.

~ ~ ~

North Fork was bustling as it usually was on a Saturday. Lucas pulled up the team in front of the Marshall’s office, tied them to the hitching post and went in to talk to his old friend Micah Torrance while Mark waited in the buckboard.

In only a few minutes, the stagecoach rumbled in, kicking up dust. They had made it in time. Mark jumped down and entered the Marshall’s office to tell his father. Micah joined them on the boardwalk.

From the interior of the stage, a man and a woman alighted; then a young man and another, older one. The two drivers climbed to the roof of the stage and began unroping and lifting down baggage. The last item was not a bag. The men set it on the boardwalk not far from where Lucas and Mark were standing. Mark had never seen such a contraption before. It was a wooden chair with a high, caned back and three wheels attached – two large ones on each side and a smaller one in back. Lucas and Mark looked at it curiously.

The stagecoach driver called, ‘McCain?’

‘I’m McCain,’ Lucas affirmed.

‘I’m carrying your niece. Help me with the door.’

Mystified, Lucas held the door open while the driver entered the stage. He emerged with a young girl about Mark’s age in his arms and descended carefully to the ground. He carried the girl to the wheelchair and lowered her gently into it. She arranged her long skirts and tucked them down beside her.

Tipping his hat to Lucas, the coachman boarded the stage and took his team to the livery be fed and watered.
Mark hung back, watching his father tentatively approach the girl, who seemed not at all happy to have arrived.
‘Gwen? Hello. I’m your Uncle Lucas McCain. This is Mark, your cousin,’ he said gently, gesturing back toward Mark.
‘Hello,’ said the girl with a small smile.

Mark said nothing. He tried not to stare, instead exchanging glances with Micah, who merely smiled gruffly and returned to his office.
Lucas was swift to cover the awkward situation. ‘I imagine you’re hungry after your trip. How about lunch at the Madera House? Today’s a special treat.’

The girl only nodded.

‘Mark, put her things in the buckboard then come join us.’
Mark silently obeyed.

~ ~ ~

Dinner was a silent, strained affair with Lucas making all the effort at small talk. Inwardly he was seething. His sister-in-law had placed him in a difficult position and had sent not one word about the girl’s condition - although that cryptic letter certainly made more sense now. Mary apparently figured that a change of scenery – and perhaps a father’s influence – would have a beneficial effect on the melancholy girl; perhaps she was afraid Lucas would turn her down if she had written the truth. While he didn’t blame her, he knew that a poor attitudes toward reality could scar the girl for life. Didn’t her mother realize that? And Mark – Lucas studied his son. The boy had pushed more food around his plate than he had eaten. This was a blow to him, too, and being as young as he was, he didn’t know how to handle it. In his mind, Lucas imagined taking Gwen to the ranch and placing her chair on the porch; all she could do was watch them at their daily chores. He might admonish Mark to try to entertain their guest, but Mark would protest, saying, ‘But Pa, she can’t do anything!’ Lucas sighed to himself. He didn’t look forward to the next few days, but they were going to have to make the best of it.

It was time to go home. Gwen, in her chair, had been lifted to the buckboard and the chair secured. Mark sat beside his father on the seat as Lucas took the reins. Lucas nudged him and cast his eyes back at Gwen, indicating that Mark should sit in the back and talk to her. It would take them at least an hour to get home. Mark sighed - and obediently complied. Micah emerged from his office and waved farewell as the buckboard rattled out of town.

~ ~ ~

Gwen said nothing until they were well out of town, then she spoke quietly. ‘Thank you, Uncle Lucas.’

‘We’re glad you came, Gwen,’ replied Lucas, warmly.

‘I won’t be here long. I guess Mama thought it might be good for me.’

‘Figured as much,’ said Lucas.

‘I’ll try not to be any trouble. I can sew and mend things.’

‘That’ll be fine.’

Mark spoke up. ‘Is that all you can do?’

‘Mark!’ Lucas spoke harshly. ‘Apologize, son. That remark wasn’t very kindly.’

‘I-I’m sorry. But Pa said you used to ride horses and all. What happened? Why are you in that chair?’


‘It’s all right, Uncle Lucas. I’ll tell him.’ Gwen looked out across the meadow, remembering the day that changed her life forever. She sighed. ‘You see, Mark, my father was breaking a stallion in the corral one day. The horse was too much for him; everybody tried to tell him so but he wouldn’t listen. The horse threw Papa and stomped him to death. I- I was sitting on the top rail, watching, and before I could move he lunged at me. I fell backward and my feet got caught in the rails. I was trying to get free but the horse reared and kept coming at me before the ranch hands could do anything. My legs were crushed by his hooves. Now I have no legs.’

She raised her skirts a few inches. The footrest of the wheelchair was empty. She swiftly dropped her skirts before Mark’s horror-filled eyes. Lucas’s face was set in stone. Something like this would be a stigma to so young a girl, he thought. No wonder Mary didn’t want to tell us. ‘I’m sorry about what happened, Gwen,’ he told the girl, ‘but you’ll be fine.’ Lucas didn’t know if he believed his own words.

‘What happened to the horse?’ asked Mark.

‘Mama ordered him shot,’ said Gwen. ‘She hasn’t been the same since that day.’ Gwen said no more. The buckboard continued on. The clip-clop of the horse’s hooves and the rattling of the wheels were the only sounds breaking the silence.

Lucas reined up at the bridge which spanned the river between town and the ranch. The horses nickered nervously. The river had been running fast and high due to the recent rains but it wasn’t yet up to the trusses. The rush of the water was spooking the horses. He motioned Mark to the seat to take the reins. After a long, careful look at the bridge, Lucas decided to walk the team over it. Talking to them soothingly, Lucas encouraged them forward. Nearly halfway across, something caught his attention – out of the corner of his eye he saw a massive tree being carried by the river. He turned for a better look and at the same time heard Gwen scream, ‘Uncle Lucas!’

The bridge shuddered under the tremendous impact and began buckling. Timbers groaned; boards cracked; the horses screamed; the world turned upside down and the color faded from everything.

Lucas McCain’s last thought was of his son.

The section of the bridge leading to the farm was gone and the other half lay in the river, ruined and buffeted. The huge oak tree, still bearing a few leaves along with parts of the bridge, had been carried on downriver.

~ ~ ~

The rushing water beneath the overturned buckboard was deafening. Completely disoriented, Mark opened his eyes to darkness. There was air to breathe but the cold water rushing over his body chilled him to the bone. He felt around. The buckboard seat on which he sat just a moment ago now rested on his stomach. His head was out of the water, toward the rear of the buckboard, which lay at a slant. The rest of his body was underwater; one boot was off and he felt debris being swept against his foot. In a futile effort, he pressed his hands against the upturned buckboard. He was vaguely worried but couldn’t follow the thought. Then it struck him what had happened. Where was Pa? He had a flashback; the sight of his father’s body sailing through the air, the horses writhing in their harness, struggling in vain as the bridge was battered down.

In a panic, Mark struggled, yelling for his father. He heard splashing sounds close by and labored breathing.

‘Pa?’ he asked hopefully.

‘It’s me, Mark – Gwen.’

‘Where’s Pa?’

‘I don’t know.’

In the darkness, he heard Gwen banging on the overturned buckboard with her hands.

‘Are you all right?’ asked Mark querulously. The echo of their voices coupled with the darkness somehow made the situation worse. He knew what his Pa would want him to do – stay calm and think things through. It was hard to do, though, as scared as he was. He took note that Gwen seemed to be pretty calm – for a girl. She wasn’t screaming or anything.


‘I’m here, Mark. I’m all right. Somehow I ended up under here with you! When I saw that bridge start to go, I just held my breath and fell out of my chair. I think it got swept away in the water.’

‘Good thing it didn’t take you with it,’ said Mark. ‘Wait, listen!’

‘Mark! Gwen!’ A faint, muffled shout could be heard over the noise of the rushing water.

‘We’re here! We’re ok but we’re under the wagon!’ Mark yelled back. Pa was safe!

‘I’m coming!’ yelled Lucas.  He carefully made his way, clinging to parts of the bridge, to one of the wagon wheels and forced himself beneath the cold water. He soon surfaced beneath the buckboard, feeling around in the inky blackness, making a mental picture of the situation. He soon found Gwen and helped her onto a slightly higher, if uncomfortable, perch on a thick branch that had become lodged in the bed of the buckboard. It was stable and would hold her for now. She assured him she was all right. Lucas turned his attention to his son.

‘Are you all right, Pa?’

‘Somehow I got thrown clear, son – I’m all right. Didn’t figure on this to happen! Let’s see about getting you kids out of here. Put your arms around my neck and I’ll pull you out.’

‘You can’t, Pa - I’m caught.’

Lucas followed his son’s body to where the seat, now inverted, trapped him. He tried lifting, straining against the buckboard again and again, but there was nothing to brace against; it was too much for even his massive strength. Assessing the situation swiftly, he knew there was only one thing he could do.

‘Mark – Gwen – listen to me. One of the horses made it - I’m going to catch it and ride it back to town for help. You’ve got plenty of air and I can be back with some men soon. Can you do that?’

Surprisingly, it was Gwen who spoke for them. ‘Sure we can, Uncle Lucas. We’ll be fine.’

Lucas reached up in the dark until he found Gwen’s face and cupped it tenderly. He hugged Mark’s head to his chest. ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can. Hold on. Hold on.’

Anxious and worried, Lucas knew he had to leave them. He took a breath and submerged.

One of the horses lay dead against the bank, but the other one had escaped with only a few cuts from the broken harness or broken timbers. It would have to run despite its wounds. It stood in a grove of trees on the town side of the bank, quivering. Lucas finally emerged, fighting the current. He caught the horse, grabbed a handful of mane, and vaulted onto the horse’s back. He wheeled the animal and raced, bareback, toward North Fork.

~ ~ ~

It was comforting to Mark to have a companion in this predicament, one who displayed a calm courage that boosted his own. He was nearly completely submerged, shivering uncontrollably. Gwen, too, was aching from the cold water, but kept up a steady stream of conversation to buck him up. The overturned buckboard kept lurching with the pressure of the water and the ruined bridge against it. Little by little, Gwen carefully stretched herself along the submerged branch until her head was directly above Mark’s. With some alarm, she felt the water lapping at his ears. Previously, it had only reached his shoulders. The river was rising – fast. Fighting panic, and knowing Mark knew what was happening as well as she did, she kept talking to him.

‘Mark, listen. The water is coming up. If it gets too high before Uncle Lucas gets back, I’m going to have to help you breathe. OK?’

‘How-' Mark chattered, ‘how are you going to do that?’

‘I’ve been doing a lot of swimming since my accident.  I guess I’m not supposed to. Mama wants me to stay in the house all day. But there’s a lake near the house, and I talked our farm hand into taking me down there just about every day. It’s the only thing I enjoy. I like to go underwater and see all the things under the lake – tall grasses and even things like an old coffee pot and a rusty old gun. Then when Hank carries me back out, Mama always has a hissy fit and tells him she’s going to fire him. She tells me I can’t do that any more. She tells me I can’t do anything any more.’

‘Th-that’s not fair,’ Mark stuttered. ‘Th-there’s lots of things you could do, if you set your mind to it. My Pa would tell you –‘

He broke off as a surge of water enveloped his head. Gwen lost no time. She pulled his head up as far as she could out of the water.

‘Mark, I can’t hold you up like this for long – so this is what we’re going to do. Mark! Listen! When the water gets too high, I will go underwater and give you a breath from my mouth. Then I’ll come up and get more air and bring it down to you again. I don’t think the river will rise as high as I am until your Pa gets back. So don’t worry, just relax – let me breathe for you. You can do that, can’t you?’

Mark, fighting panic, nodded. It was all he could do. He had to survive – for his Pa. Suddenly, Gwen lost her grip on Mark and he went under. True to her word, she came after him. He felt her mouth on his and opened his lips for the life-giving air, sucking it into his lungs. There wasn’t much, but he knew that if he didn’t panic, it would be sufficient. He released a few bubbles and waited. Again, her breath fed his need, and she surfaced again. Again, he fought the urge to give in to panic. He only hoped help would come before the river took both of them. As it was, his life was in the hands of a little crippled girl who had been told she could do nothing.

Again, she was there. And again; her hands cradled his head while she gave him air. The water was still rising. When next Gwen came up for air, her head hit the buckboard and she had to turn sideways to breathe. There were only a few inches of air left to her! Then she heard the muffled shouts of several men. Uncle Lucas was back! With no way to tell Mark, she continued to supply him with air.

~ ~ ~

Lucas, his face tight with worry, swiftly directed the men with axes while Dr. Burrage built a fire and readied blankets, coffee and brandy. Nels Swenson swung his big axe, chopping a hole where Lucas indicated in the bottom of the buckboard. Lucas again lowered himself into the river and came up beside Mark. Between breaths, Gwen screamed, ‘Get Mark out first! Get him first! He’s under water!’ By the light through the cracks made by the axe, he could see Gwen dipping her head beneath the cold water to give life to his son. He hit against the wood at a place where they could remove Mark without hitting him.

‘Here! Chop here!’ he yelled.

Presently the light of day broke through and allowed the men to see how to free Mark. Gwen was tiring; still, she faithfully kept up her respirations while they worked. Finally Mark was lifted out, coughing and spluttering. Gwen, exhausted, gratefully slipped into Lucas’s arms. He raised her up through the hole and the men grabbed her. Only when she was free did Lucas climb out himself.

Mark and Gwen were handed man-to-man over the ruined pieces of bridge to the bank, where they were wrapped in layers of blankets and placed by the fire. Dr. Burrage worked over them. Mark was spitting up water and shivering. Gwen was just as cold and rather winded, but lay quietly, resting.

A rumble in the direction of the river caused all to turn and look: the buckboard and the remnants of the bridge finally broke loose and began their turbulent journey downstream. Help had arrived just in time.

Lucas anxiously knelt by his son. He looked at the doctor.

‘Lucas, this kid of yours would have been a goner had it not been for this young lady,’ Dr. Burrage stated bluntly. He’s much too cold, but the fire will fix that shortly. They’ll both be fine once they get enough air in their lungs and warm up, I think,’ the doctor assured him. ‘I’ll take them in the buggy back to my office. I’d like to watch them overnight.’

Lucas’s throat worked. ‘Thanks,’ he said.

‘You need to let me stitch up that gash in your back while I’m at it,’ admonished the doctor.

Lucas hadn’t even felt it. He nodded.

The doctor handed both children a cup of hot coffee laced with brandy. They sipped it, each making a face at the taste. Mark looked at Gwen and weakly smiled at her. He looked up at his father.

‘Mighty lucky, weren’t we, Pa?’

Lucas held his boy tight. ‘Mighty lucky, son.’

~ ~ ~

Mark and Gwen were in bed by the time Dr. Burrage finished with Lucas. The doctor would watch them overnight and Lucas could stay at the hotel until they were strong enough to head home. Nels, Lucas learned, had assembled all the men in town with enough lumber to make a temporary bridge further downstream where the river narrowed.

Lucas came in to bid the children good night. ‘Gwen, how would you feel about staying longer than just a few days, if your mother doesn’t mind?’ asked Lucas.

‘I’d like that fine, Uncle Lucas,’ she smiled. ‘Is that ok with you, Mark?’

‘Why, sure!’ he said.

‘Besides,’ Lucas continued, ‘we’ll need to get you a new wheelchair – and me new buckboard. That’s gonna take time,’ he smiled broadly. ‘You know, you showed a great deal of courage – not to mention fast thinking – when you saved Mark’s life. You’re going to do fine - from where I stand, you are a most capable young lady.’

The girl smiled brightly at her uncle, who embraced her gently.

‘Yes, Mark?’

‘Don’t ever let anybody tell you that all you can do is sew!’ exclaimed Mark.

The End

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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