The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 3 - Another Repercussion
Written by Deanne Bertram

Lucas McCain slept in later than usual the following morning. After waking, Lucas lay in bed, and looked over to his son. Quietly, he rose from his bed and got dressed. Knowing it had been a long and emotional night for his boy, he decided to let Mark sleep himself out.

Lucas exited the house, stopped on the porch and stretched himself tall as he deeply inhaled the crisp fall air; that held a hint that winter was going to come early. He strode to the barn to tend to the stock and start their morning chores.

He’d grained the horses and put out hay in the corral before turning the team and their saddle horses out. Lucas then returned to clean out the stalls. Finally, Lucas saddled Razor and walked him to the hitching rail in front of the house. Lucas quietly stepped to the porch and entered their home. Peaking in the bedroom, he saw Mark was still sleeping. Lucas turned to his desk and wrote Mark a note. Lucas pulled the door to their home closed, put his rifle in the scabbard, mounted, and rode out to the northern meadow.

*****

Mark was startled awake by a knocking on the front door. He looked around and saw his Pa’s bed was already made for the morning. Mark pulled his pants on and stood. The knock sounded at the door again. He picked up his shirt and put it on as he made his way to the front door.

He opened the door to see a woman standing out on the porch, as she turned he saw her put a handkerchief to her eye.

“May I help you ma’am?” Mark asked as he buttoned his shirt.

“Yes, I was looking for Mark McCain,” the woman replied as she removed her bonnet.

“Hattie! Hattie Denton!! Oh my, Hattie, you’re back. When? How? Why?” Mark asked as he enveloped her in a hug.

“Mark? Oh my, you’re not so little anymore,” she breathed.

“Please Miss Hattie, please come inside,” Mark said as he stepped aside for her to enter their home.

Hattie entered and removed her shawl. “It’s just like I remembered. Even his smell is still here.”

“Miss Hattie?”

“Oh Mark, I’m so sorry I didn’t get here sooner, but I was grieving over the death of my sister and just last week I saw the newspaper story about Micah… and your Pa. Mark, please forgive me.”

“Miss Hattie, there’s nothing to forgive, except to maybe ask your forgiveness.”

Mark escorted Hattie to sit down in his chair. “Land sake child. No. You’ve grown up a lot since I last saw you. You’re no longer a child. But why would you have to ask for my forgiveness?”

“Miss Hattie, would you like some coffee before I tell you?” Mark asked.

“Sounds lovely, Mark. But how are you getting along? You doing okay?”

Mark retrieved a cup from the cupboard and poured some coffee and handed it to Miss Hattie. “If I remember, you like yours with a little cream?”

“Sweet of you to remember Mark. Now, you haven’t answered my question.”

Mark pulled a chair from the table and placed it in front of where Hattie sat, before he sat down.

“Miss Hattie, I want to thank you for coming all this way, but there was no need.”

“No need, Mark, you lost your father just a short time ago. Now you’re not the little boy I so fondly remember, but you can’t seriously think you can live on this ranch all by yourself, plus keep to your school studies. No. Lucas wouldn’t want that. So I came back to take care of you. See that you keep to your studies and cook and clean for you. Mark, oh Mark, you were so much like a grandson to me. Let me do this for you, please.” Hattie’s eyes were sincere in her request.

“Miss Hattie, I guess I should just come out and say what happened. The story you read in the newspaper, it wasn’t real. We’d encountered an assassination attempt on a United States Senator. Unfortunately, all the outlaws, except the leader, were killed in the ensuring gun fight. In order to draw out the leader, we wrote a fake story.” Mark looked into Hattie’s eyes to see if she understood. “Miss Hattie, my Pa… and Micah, they’re both alive and well.”

“They’re both?”

Mark nodded.

“You don’t happen to have something a little stronger that I can add to my coffee, now do you?”

“Would you like a little spot of brandy, I think Pa has some in the hutch.”

Hattie nodded and asked, “We’ll keep this between us?”

Mark smiled as he stood to get the brandy.

A few minutes later, once Hattie had re-composed herself Mark continued talking with her.

“Where are you staying?”

“I hadn’t given it much thought. I only wanted to get back here and be a grandmother to my little Mark,” Hattie answered.

“I love you too, Grandma!” Mark bent over and gave her a kiss on the cheek as he offered her more coffee and cream.

“Is your father still threatening you to get out of bed to get to school, still working as hard to get you to understand your studies?” Hattie asked.

“Not anymore…” But before Mark could explain.

“Now don’t tell me he has you working full time here at the ranch. He always valued your education. Why would he not let you go to school anymore?”

Mark laughed as he sat back down. “Hattie, it’s been quite a few years since Pa had to really get after me about my studies. I finally found a reason to enjoy my education and I excelled in my studies. Actually, for more than two years, I’ve been a student teacher. At least I was until yesterday.”

“Mark, what happened yesterday?” Hattie asked with concern, as she placed her hand on top of Mark’s.

“I graduated last night.”

“Graduated, but Mark you can’t be… seventeen years old yet, you still have another year of learning.”

“I’ll be seventeen in a few weeks. Mr. Griswald stated I had exceeded the entire required curriculum and saw no reason why I shouldn’t graduate early. Oh Miss Hattie, I wish you could have been there last night. It would have made everything all the more perf… well, it would have been nice.”

Mark turned at the sounds of a rider approaching, hoping it was his Pa. He walked to the door and opened it before the rider could knock.

“Hi Johnny, what brings you out this way so early?” Mark asked as he tried to stifle a yawn.

“Mark, have you not looked at the clock yet. It’s almost noon.” Johnny answered with a laugh.

“NOON?!” Mark exclaimed. “Oh my, Pa’s going to have a fit when he finds out how late I slept.”

“Well, seeing as how you and your gal didn’t leave the party until after…” Johnny stopped as he entered and saw a woman sitting in the living room. He quickly removed his hat. “I’m sorry Mark, I didn’t realize you had company. Thought the buggy might have been Milly’s.”

“Johnny,” Mark started to introduce them. “I’d like you to meet Miss Hattie Denton. She owned the General Store when Pa and I first arrived in North Fork. Miss Hattie, I’d like you to meet Deputy Johnny Drako.”

“Pleased to meet you ma’am,” Johnny offered.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance as well Deputy Drako. Have you been a deputy here for long?”

“About a year. Town’s growing and Micah accepted my offer to help. We had a number of young desperados that Micah needed help in taming. Mark McCain being the number one offender,” Johnny said with a smile.

“Now that can’t be true! Mark is as sweet as the day is long. And Lucas would… Well, let’s just say Mark would never do anything wrong knowing his father would find out. Why if he got into any real mischief...” Hattie’s voice had taken on the chiding tone, she always used with Lucas when she tried to defend Mark.

“I know Miss Denton. Mark’s becoming a real asset to this community. By the way Mark, that’s why I’m out here. Micah left this morning, he received a wire that he was needed to testify in a case down by Las Cruses. He’ll probably be gone for about four days. I’ve been asked to meet the marshal from Roswell half way and transport a prisoner half way to Santa Fe. I’ll probably be gone for at least five days. You think you could look after the town while were gone?”

“Mark look after the town? Why Lucas always filled in for Micah, why are you asking Mark?”

“Miss Denton, a lot has changed in North Fork since you lived here. Mark is a deputy and has been for a number of months. He doesn’t have all the full responsibilities that I have, but he does have an obligation to help out in times such as this.”

“I’ll need to wait until Pa comes back, is it alright if I come to town later this afternoon?”

“Sure Mark, I’ll make sure Lou has a room ready for you. By the way,” Johnny said with a hint of mischief in his voice, “If you don’t trust that Pa of yours to stay at the ranch by himself, you can always bring him along and let him stay in your room. Lou could get the room with the double beds ready for you.”

“Thanks, Johnny. I’ll ask Pa when he gets back.”

“That or maybe your Pa will want to stay in town to make sure you keep being a gentleman towards that gal I saw on your arm last night, make sure you don’t do anything disrespectful.” Oh, but there was a boyish gleam in Johnny’s eyes.

“Johnny, I could say the same for you and Miss Lou. Now get on back to town and let me get ready.”

“Miss Denton, it was a pleasure meeting you. I better get back town and say my goodbyes to Lou before I head out.”

Johnny left the house and headed back to North Fork.

*****

Lucas was just coming across the rise as he saw a rider leaving their home. As he came around the front of the house, he spied the buggy waiting out front. A smile crept across Lucas’ face as he thought of Milly and how nice it was for her to come out to the ranch.

As he stepped to the porch he called, “Mark, I hope you finally woke up enough to keep Milly company until I returned!” as he opened the door.

Lucas stopped as he noticed the woman sitting in the chair and Mark turning towards the door.

“Hattie!” Lucas stated as he stopped and removed his hat.

“Lucas, I hear tell that the story of your death was sorely premature.” Hattie smiled as she stood and offered Lucas a hug. “Glad to see you, alive.”

Mark excused himself as Hattie and his Pa started their catching up. He went outside to saddle Blue Boy. Then after packing an overnight bag, he stepped back into the front room, and heard Hattie asking his Pa, “Lucas, what is this about Mark being a deputy?”

“Hattie that’s a little bit of a long story. Tell you what, why don’t I have Mark take you back to town and get you a room at the hotel. I’ve a few more things to do around the house, then I’ll freshen up here and meet you in town for dinner tonight. My treat. And I won’t take no for an answer.”

Hattie nodded.

“Pa, can we talk before I take Miss Hattie back to town?”

“Sure, what’s on your mind?”

“Johnny left here a little while ago… Well, he and Micah have to leave town for a few days and he needs me in town as a deputy. I was wondering, since this is really the first time I’ll be alone as a deputy…”

“You’d like for me to come and back you up.”

“Pa, I know I’m asking a lot, it’s just that, well... This will be the first time I’m on my own.”

“I understand. If everything is quiet, I’ll get to spend some time with Milly. I’ll pack an overnight bag as well. I’ll meet you in town around five o’clock. After seeing Hattie to a room at the hotel, why don’t you ask Milly and Hope to join us.”

“Milly and Hope?” Hattie asked.

“Come on and I’ll explain on the way to town Miss Hattie,” Mark said with a grin as he escorted Hattie out and avoided the towel his Pa threw in his direction.

*****

Mark tied Blue Boy to the back of the buggy and put his overnight back behind the seat. He assisted Hattie up and then climbed in himself.

“So,” Hattie started. “If I heard the deputy correct you’re courtin’ a young gal?”

“Miss Hattie?!” Mark swallowed hard. “I wouldn’t rightly say we’re courtin’, but Hope is mighty special to me.”

“So how old is your gal?”

“I think she’s sixteen, same as me.”

“You mean you don’t know?”

“Miss Hattie, it’s a long story. Once you get to know her better, I’ll tell you the whole story, but for right now, I’d like for you to get to know her for who you see, not her past. Please?”

Mark drove Miss Hattie to the hotel and saw her to her room. “I’ll return the buggy to Nils. Pa and I’ll see you for dinner about five, thirty.”

He untied Blue Boy from the buggy and tied him in front of Micah’s. He pulled his rifle out and walked back to the horse and buggy in front of the hotel. Instead of driving, he decided just to lead the horse to Nil’s.

After returning the buggy, Mark got to thinking on what Hattie had asked. He walked to the telegraph office and was greeted by Amos, “Howdy Mark, what can I do for you today?”

“Amos, I’d like to send a wire to Fort Sam Houston.”

“Well, just write out your message and I’ll send it for you.”

Mark set his rifle down on the counter, took the paper and pen, and wrote:

Major Seth Lane or Lieutenant Ethan Lane

Fort Sam Houston, Texas

Sirs, Hope is settling in fine and doing well in school. /stop/

Please know that she does miss you. /stop/

I have a question, when is her birthday? /stop/

Respectfully,

Mark McCain

North Fork, New Mexico

After he was finished writing, he handed the pad to Amos. “I’ll be in town for the next few days, either at Micah’s or at the hotel, whenever the response comes in.”

“Mark, we all know that Micah left this morning and Johnny had to leave this afternoon, so if you need any help, just holler. You’re in charge, but if you need someone to cover your back, you just ask and we’ll come a runnin’.”

“Amos, I appreciate it. I think Pa’s going to spend the evenings and nights in town, but during the day… We’ve still got a lot to do out at the Ranch before winter sets in.”

“Guess you thought you’d be able to take it easy after graduating last night?”

“For a little while at least. Or at least be able to be a full-time partner out at the ranch.”

“Don’t worry Mark. You’ll do fine. We believe in you as we believe in Micah, Johnny, and your Pa.”

“Thanks Amos. I’ll see ya.” Mark picked his rifle up from the counter and left.

After leaving the telegraph office, Mark headed to Milly’s. He smiled as he knocked on the door and waited for Milly or Hope to answer. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Afternoon Mark,” Hope stated as she answered the door, opening it wide for Mark to enter.

“Afternoon Hope.” Mark smiled and removed his hat. “Is Miss Milly around?”

“She’s in the kitchen. We’re baking.”

“That wouldn’t be Milly’s famous apple pie I’m smelling,” Mark asked. After setting his rifle and hat down, just inside the door, he put his hand at the small of Hope’s back and escorted her to the kitchen.

“Well, I should have known,” Milly said with a laugh as she put the back sides of her hands on her hips. “Just when I get an apple pie out of the oven, it’s Mark McCain who comes knocking on my door.”

“Miss Milly, I didn’t know you were baking, honest. But I’m glad I’m here.” Mark smiled at Hope and took his thumb and brushed off the flour that was lying on her cheek. “Pa asked me to stop by and ask if you and Hope would join us for dinner at the restaurant this evening.”

“Dinner, Mark? Why so formal?” Milly asked.

“Pa and I are feeling a little… uh… guilty.”

“Guilty?” Hope asked.

“Yeah, guess we didn’t realize all the repercussions that story in the newspaper would bring. We only did it to get Stedman out into the open. Well it worked, but then there was everything we put Miss Milly through. Don’t get me wrong, some of the repercussions have been great, especially Pa and Miss Milly getting back together again. I just wish he’d make it official, that the two of them are courting.”

“Mark!” Milly exclaimed.

“Well, can I help it? Everyone else in town knows it, just not Pa.”

“Mark, I’ve been back in North Fork for almost six weeks. Why, now, are you and your Pa feeling guilty?”

“Oh, it’s not just you, Miss Hattie’s back in town. Her sister passed away a few months back and she just recently saw the article from the paper about Micah and Pa being killed. She packed her bags and came to live here and take me in as her grandson.” Mark laughed as he remembered his conversation from earlier in the day.

“Mark, it must make you feel good to have others who care enough about you to return to North Fork,” Hope stated as she wrapped an arm around Mark and rested her head on his shoulder.

“Almost as good as holding you in my arms,” Mark quietly whispered, before gently squeezing his arms around her.

“Okay, enough you two. Break it up.” Milly declared. “So what time should Hope and I meet you at the restaurant?”

Mark and Hope grinned as the stepped away from each other.

“Pa’s expected in town around five, but Micah and Johnny left me as deputy, so I’d like some time with Pa over at Micah’s. How about five, thirty.”

“We’ll be there Mark. Mark, Hattie, would that be Hattie Denton?”

“Yes ma’am. You bought the general store from her when you first arrived from Santa Fe.”

Though he didn’t want to say goodbye, he gave Hope a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll see you later.”

The Next Step — Deputy McCain

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

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