The Rifleman
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The Next Step...
Chapter 116 - Blessed are Friends and Family
Written by Deanne Bertram

Life settled into a routine between the two doctors North Fork now boasted. Thadd was pleased that Aaron had a way of putting people at ease, so it didn’t matter to the patient which physician was at the clinic.


Several weeks had passed when Abigail commented to Thadd, “They’re totally professional at the clinic, but they try to avoid finding themselves together unless they are with a patient,” Abigail stated.

“Do you think maybe it wasn’t a good idea to hire Aaron, that maybe I should have waited to find another doctor,” asked Thadd.

“Why would you ask that?”

“Isn’t your ‘women’s intuition’ setting off an alarm that Aaron and Sarah aren’t working out so well together…” answered Thadd.

“Quite the contrary,” Abigail gave out a small laugh. “I think they are mutually attracted to each other, but are too embarrassed to show it or let the other know.”

“Embarrassed… Oh…” quipped Thadd as he understood.

“Why don’t you give them both them tomorrow off. Maybe we can contrive a way to get them together,” Abigail smiled as she thought on how to get the two together.

“Are you playing Matchmaker?”

“And if I am?” Abigail smiled to her husband, “They do make a lovely couple, even if they’re too embarrassed to acknowledge it.”


Thadd and Abigail did conspire to get Aaron and Sarah together by telling them that Seth and Lilah wanted to share a picnic lunch with them, as a way to thank them for saving Lilah’s life.

“We’ve already reserved a buggy for you at Nil’s,” Abigail stated. “Seth and Lilah said they’d meet you out by the pond just outside of town.”

When they arrived at the pond, they found a note nailed to a tree. Aaron pulled the note from the tree, unfolded the piece of paper, and read:

Sarah / Aaron,

Sorry to pull such a trick on you. Enjoy your lunch!

Thadd and Abigail

“They didn’t,” Sarah stated, pulling her hand to her mouth, blushing at hearing the words Aaron read.

“They didn’t what?” Aaron asked.

“Seth and Lilah never planned to be here. We’re out here alone.”

“Is that so unappealing to you?” Aaron asked.

“Excuse me?” a startled Sarah asked.

Aaron took her hand and led her back to the buggy, “I think a picnic lunch with a certain pretty nurse is just what the doctor and nurse ordered. If you agree...”

“Doctor?” Sarah became more embarrassed.

“I’d prefer it if you’d call me Aaron.”

“But I can’t… You’re a doctor… In nursing school we were taught not to…” Sarah pleaded as she tried to pull her hand away. “It’s not proper.”

“Sarah, please, we’re not back east. What is wrong with two colleagues wanting to spend some time together? I mean, look at Thadd and Abigail, no one says anything about them being together.”

“But they’re married!”

“But I doubt they were when they first started medical school… Why can’t we develop a relationship?”

“A relationship… We hardly know each other…” blushed Sarah.

“But I’d like to get to know you and I’d hoped you’d like to get to know me,” Aaron replied as he reached up to sweep a strand of Sarah’s hair from her face to behind her ear. “There’s nothing improper regarding colleagues enjoying a nice picnic lunch together, is there?’’

“I don’t know…”

“We’re out here in the open, not sneaking around. And our employers themselves sent us out here…”

“I don’t know what my father would have to say, if he were to ride by…” answered Sarah as she nervously looked around.

“Your father was pleased that I asked his permission before I picked you up this morning. While waiting for you to come down from your room, we were discussing that I would be driving you out here and I wanted him to know how much I respect his daughter, I’d never do anything inappropriate. So I kind of asked his permission to see you… outside of work.”

“You’ve already spoken with my father?” a surprised Sarah asked.

“Sarah, ever since the morning after I arrived… I’ve… felt something for you. I had hoped you might feel the same way for me…”

“I don’t know…,” Sarah knew her words weren’t the truth.

“Why don’t we share our lunch together, and learn about each other. I think knowing a little more about each other, besides me being a doctor and you being a nurse, will help our professional relationship,” answered Aaron.

Sarah finally agreed to have lunch.

Carrying the picnic basket, Aaron led Sarah to back to the pond, where he spread out the blanket and helped her sit down.

“Now that we’ve settled that, I’m famished,” Aaron stated as he opened the picnic basket.

After eating, the two chatted about their growing up years and their experiences at their respective schools, until they heard a rider coming down the lane. Mark halted Rainmaker and rested his elbow on the saddle horn; the look on his face was serious.

“I’m glad to see you two are okay. Thadd and Abigail started to get worried when you weren’t back in time for supper,” Mark stated, pushing his hat back on his head, he couldn’t keep the mischievous smile from his face any longer.

“Supper, we just ate lunch,” Aaron answered.

“Most folks eat supper between four, thirty and six o’clock.”

“Four, thirty,” Sarah asked alarmed that it could be so late.

“Actually, it’s closer to six o’clock. Doc, if you’ll escort Sarah back to the buggy, I’ll see you both back to town. Her parents are more than a little worried, considering what happened last month…”

“What happened last month?” asked Aaron as he helped Sarah gather up the blanket and picnic basket and escorted her to the buggy.

As they rode back to town, Sarah informed Aaron of her kidnapping as part of an outlaw gang’s attempt to break one of their own from being transferred to prison.

“From what my Pa said happened when they rescued Sarah, if you two are hitching up,” Mark teased.

“MARK!” Sarah exclaimed in shock.

Mark continued, ignoring Sarah’s plea, “Aaron, I’ll warn you about the frying pan, Pa says she swings as good as some of them baseball players we’ve read about in the newspaper.”


“It just doesn’t feel right that we’re not going to be here for Thanksgiving,” Hattie stated as she and Micah stood on the train platform, saying goodbye to Mark and Johnny a week before Thanksgiving.

“I know is won’t be the same without you, but you’re going to have a lot of fun up in Denver. I’m sure you’ll forget all about us, at least until it’s time for you to return home,” Mark answered as he placed a kiss to Hattie’s cheek.

“Now I want a full report from you regarding what you’re learning up there in Denver,” Drako seriously informed Micah.

“You really think they can teach an old dog new tricks?” Micah jovially replied.

“If I didn’t think you could do this, I wouldn’t have agreed. You’ve a lot to teach, but you also have a lot to learn about how the U.S. Marshal Service conducts their business, they’ve a lot more rules than us town marshals.”

“Micah, don’t let Johnny buffalo you, you’ll probably be teaching Tom and Cole a thing or two,” Mark interrupted.

“ALL ABOARD!” called the conductor.

“We’ll see you next month,” Mark stated as he shook Micah’s hand. “You take care of yourself up there.”

As the train pulled from the station, Johnny commented, “You know, Hattie was right. It just won’t be the same without them two here for Thanksgiving.”

“You going soft on me?” asked Mark.

“Come on, we’ve got a town to protect.”


The train pulled into the station with the conductor announcing, “Denver, Colorado, this stop!”

Looking out the window Hattie felt a twinge of doubt, had they made the right decision in coming.

“Come one Hattie,” Micah offered his arm.

“I don’t know if I can,” Hattie replied. “I haven’t been back since my sister passed on.”

“Then it’s not like you don’t know what this big city is all about,” Micah answered, hoping he said the right thing. He felt relief when he saw his wife stand and straighten her dress.

“Come on, we shouldn’t keep your new bosses waiting,” Hattie stated as she slipped into the aisle, in front of Micah.

Tom Benton and Cole Barker warmly greeted the couple to Denver and offered to take their bags.

“We’ve a carriage waiting to take you to your hotel,” Cole Benton offered. “My wife has also planned a large dinner tomorrow, that will give you today and tomorrow to settle in. Monday, we’ll get to business, Micah.”

“And what about Hattie?” Micah asked.

“Hattie’s calendar has been scheduled by my wife and each time I’ve asked I get that look,” Cole answered.

“I don’t want to be any trouble,” Hattie offered.

“Trouble? Never, my wife loves doing this sort of thing. Once she hears about any of the marshals being accompanied by their wife, my wife becomes a social engagement planner and I’m told it’s something I wouldn’t understand, so I let it drop.”

“Micah, Hattie will be so busy with engagements, she’ll probably forget all about you,” teased Tom Benton. “Until she’s ready to go home.”

“Mark same the same thing about North Fork…” Hattie commented, feeling a little out of place.


Through the days, the wives of the Denver marshals kept Hattie involved in various social events and shopping trips, making her feel right at home; not allowing her a moment to feel homesick.

Micah was amazed at all he needed to learn, he’d never given that much thought to everything Mark had learned during his trips to Denver. Drako had been right, even though he’d been teasing, there was so much more to learn about being a U.S. Marshal. Micah developed a deeper appreciation for everything Robert Garrison did, and a deeper respect for Mark McCain.

Of evenings, they would dine with various marshals and their wives. Once they returned to their hotel room, Hattie always inquired of what Micah had learned that day. Not that Micah thought Hattie wouldn’t understand, but there was just so much he was learning that he’d choose a few points that had really interested him to discuss with his wife.

Micah was always curious what the ladies had planned for Hattie, and cringed each time he heard her say, “We went shopping.”

A deep sleep came easily to both throughout their stay, yet they woke refreshed and ready to take on the new day.


Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving Hope stepped to the front porch upon hearing someone arrive, “What are you two doing here?” she asked as she saw Jake helping Gwen down from the buggy.

Hope held open the front door as Jake and Gwen entered the home.

“Jake, Mark’s in the barn,” Hope stated.

“Thank you Miss Hope,” Jake replied as he tipped his hat and left the home, closing the door behind him.

“Gwen, why did the two of you come all the way out here? You’re in no condition to be this far from town.”

“Doc Jamison thinks this baby should have been born by now, so he suggested Jake take me for a buggy ride…” Gwen commented as Hope helped her sit down in a chair in the front room.

“But so far from town?” Hope asked.

“Well, it has been a while since I’ve been out here to see you… I didn’t think there’d be any harm,” replied Gwen. “Besides I’ve not felt one twinge of a contrac… Oh!” Gwen placed her hand on the bottom of her pregnant stomach. “She kicked pretty good there. Oh!”

“Oh, what?” Hope nervously asked.

“That didn’t feel like a kick… Oh!” Gwen exclaimed and slightly doubled over at the pain.

“We best get you to the bedroom,” Hope stated as she helped Gwen to her feet.

“I really need to relieve myself…”

“No, you really need to give birth.”

“Birth?! But I’m not at the clinic!”

Hope heard the fear in Gwen’s voice.

“You’ll be in labor long enough for Jake to ride to town and fetch the doctor back here.”

“Can’t I ride back to town in the buggy?”

“I think it would be best if you were to stay here, just in case.”

“Just in case, what?” Gwen asked, scared.

“Just in case this little one decides to be quicker about her appearance.”


Hope helped Gwen to the bed, walked over to her dresser and pulled out one of the nightgowns she had worn when she was pregnant, and handed it to Gwen.

“Here, change into this. I’m going to take the children over to Ma and Pa’s and stop by the barn to ask Jake to ride back to town and bring one of the doctors back with him. It will give him something to do and not make you nervous by him pacing out there in the front room.”


Upon returning to her home, Hope knocked on the bedroom door and called, “Gwen, it’s me.”

“Hope!” Gwen yelled as her water broke. “I’m so sorry.”

Hope entered the bedroom to see the puddle on the floor at Gwen’s feet, “It’s nothing to be sorry about. This is a natural part of childbirth. Get back into bed and lie down. I’ll be right back.”

Hope ran to the tubroom and gathered several towels, as well as a couple of washclothes; throwing the towels over her shoulder, she stopped in the kitchen to fill a pitcher with water.

As she started for the bedroom, Mark entered their home to hear Gwen scream.

“They shouldn’t have come out this far,” Mark stated.

“I know, but I guess when Doc Jamison suggested they go for a buggy ride, he didn’t tell them not to go too far,” Hope answered.

Milly came to the front door, “Do you need any help?”

“Not yet, it’s too early in her labor,” commented Hope.

“If you need anything, send Mark over. I best get back to Lucas and help him with all the children,” Milly stated as she closed the door behind her.

“Hope!” Gwen yelled. “Oh!!!! It hurts!”

“Mark stay close, I think she’s going to give birth before Jake gets back here with the doctor, her contractions are too close together.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“You may need to help. You were there when I gave birth to Eli and you were there when Abigail gave birth to Savannah. I’ve only been on the other end.”

Hope returned to the bedroom. She set the pitcher on the table next to the bed and dropped the towels to the floor, where Gwen’s water had broke, and pushed the towels back and forth with her foot. Kicking the towels aside, Hope climbed into the bed, allowing Gwen to rest back against her. Hope mopped the sweat from Gwen’s face and timed the contractions. While waiting for Hope to call him into the bedroom, Mark pulled out his guitar, sat down in his chair, and began to play and sing a ballad that he hoped would help keep Gwen relaxed.

“Mark!” Hope called. Had he not been married to her for as long as he had, he would have missed the slight bit of panic in her voice. “Mark,” she called again as she came to the door.

Mark stood from his chair and hurried to the room, “She’s close.”

“Yes, she’s gonna…”


Mark entered the room and climbed in the bed to offer Gwen support to sit up, “Hope, I’ll walk you through what to do. You can do this.”

Hope climbed to the foot of the bed and patiently waited as the baby came.

“Gwen, squeeze my hand,” Mark stated as he offered his hands.

Gwen eagerly took Mark hands and squeezed hard as another strong contraction wracked her body.

“Push!” Mark encouraged. “Bear down and help push the baby out.”

“Oh!!!!!” Gwen yelled.

“Hope, support the baby’s head and shoulders as it comes out. Don’t pull,” Mark instructed.

“Make it stop!” Gwen cried.

“You can’t stop this,” Hope stated. “The baby’s head is already here.”

“Argh!” Gwen screamed as Mark encouraged her to “Push!”

“Mark, the baby’s here,” Hope stated as the baby slipped into her hands.

Mark allowed Gwen to lie back on the bed, “I’ll be right back. I’ve got the knife and some string boiling on the stove.”

Mark returned with the knife and cut the string into two sections. He tied one piece around the umbilical cord, a short distance from the baby’s abdomen and tied the other piece a few inches away. He watched as Hope cut the cord.

“Mark, if you could cool the water on the stove so we can bathe the baby,” Hope stated as she held the baby upside down and firmly smacked it’s behind, once… twice… Before she could apply a third smack, the baby inhaled and protested the new surroundings.

“Mark, before you go, could you please add more wood to the potbellied stove, I think it needs to be a little warmer in here,” Hope asked.

After making sure the wood he added to the pot-bellied stove took fire, Mark closed the grate and said, “I think I’ll leave you two be. I’ll go wait for Jake and… I think they just arrived,” Mark stated, hearing riders approach.

Mark met them at the door and suggested Jake wait out on the porch with him.

“Is Gwen okay?” Jake worriedly asked.

“She’s fine. Just give Doc some time with her to make sure she’s okay.”

“What happened?” Jake’s asked as he started shaking.

“Your wife gave birth to…” Mark didn’t get a chance to finish as Jake’s knees buckled as he passed out. Mark caught him and lowered his friend to the porch.

“Mark?!” Lucas hollered as he ran across the yard.

“He just passed out. I was trying to tell him Gwen gave birth…”

“Already?!” asked an astonished Lucas.

“I know. Don’t know if I wished all of ours were that fast or not.”

“What happened?” asked Jake, as he opened his eyes a few moments later, realizing he was laying on the porch.

“You passed out!” teased Mark.


“Mark, what happened?” Doc Jamison asked as he stepped to the porch.

“He passed out, I was trying to tell him Gwen had given birth,” answered Mark.

“Do I have a son or a daughter?” asked Jake.

“I think I’ll let your wife tell you,” answered Doc Jamison as he extended his hand to help Jake to his feet.

The McCain’s watched the others enter the house.

“Well?” asked Lucas.

“A girl,” answered Mark.


Doc Jamison had left to return to town when Lucas and Milly returned to Mark and Hope’s home to congratulate Jake and Gwen.

“Emily-Marie Anne McCafferty,” Gwen was answering Hope’s question as they entered.

“Congratulations,” they offered.

Milly did chastise Jake for taking such a risk in coming all the way out to the McCain Ranch with Gwen beyond her due date.

“How was I supposed to know I shouldn’t have come this far. Doc told me to take her for a buggy ride,” Jake innocently replied.

“It had been too long since I’d seen any of you and it was a beautiful day… I didn’t think I’d give birth so quickly,” a humbled Gwen replied.

“Jake, Gwen!” Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty called out as they entered the McCain home.

“In here Father!” answered Jake his face beaming with excitement as he announced, “You’ve a granddaughter!”

Gwen hesitated in asking, “You’re not upset she’s not a he?”

“No, she’s perfect. Just like you,” replied Jake, holding his daughter in his arms.


Later that evening, after the McCain children were asleep in their beds, Jake guiltily stood in the front room and apologized to Hope and Mark as they set up the cots with blankets and pillows, “I’m sorry to disrupt your evening, we can sleep on the cots.”

“I’ll hear no such thing!” Hope declared. “Your wife just gave birth. Mark and I can survive one night not sleeping in our own bed.”

“Go on, Jake,” Mark stated as he turned Jake around and pushed him towards the bedroom. “Go be with your family.”


Thanksgiving morning, Hope helped Gwen tend to her daughter, offering sisterly advice, also informing her that she had the water in the tubroom heating. With baby Emily-Marie sleeping, Gwen enjoyed taking a bath to clean herself and dress for her… their return to town. When she stepped from the tub room, she saw the flurry of activity as Hope was packing items into boxes and Mark and Jake were carrying them outside.

“Can I help?” Gwen asked.

“You can sit yourself down and rest. We’ll be heading into town for Thanksgiving at the hotel shortly. Mark and Jake will hitch your horse to the buggy just before we’re ready to leave.

With everything packed, Mark helped Jake hitch the horse to the buggy, while Hope made sure the baby was well wrapped against the cool November air.

The McCain family buckboards, with Jake and Gwen’s buggy between them, headed into town.

Between Doc Jamison and the McCafferty’s, news spread throughout North Fork that Jake and Gwen’s baby had been born at the McCain’s. People stopped and hollered congratulations as the small procession made their way through town.


Before the McCain’s returned to the ranch, Aaron Jamison stopped by the hotel, “Guess I need to watch my step or Thadd won’t have any need for me anymore.”

“Don’t worry about that Aaron. I’ll leave the doctoring to the two of you any day. I PREFER being a marshal. I’ll do what I have to, but I’d prefer that you give better instructions to your patients when you send them off for a buggy ride,” Mark teased.

“Touché’, Mark. Touché’,” Aaron replied, giving a slight nod of his head. He bid goodbye to the others.


The Monday after Thanksgiving, Milly and Lucas returned to North Fork to meet with Robert Garrison.

“As we’ve received no response to any of the notices placed in the papers, I think we can start the process to file the paperwork for you to adopt Robbie and Eloise. If everything goes as planned, and I think it should, you’ll have another son and daughter just after Christmas.”

Milly and Lucas smiled as they thanked Robert before leaving his office.


Micah was surprised when the carriage that picked him up from the hotel didn’t take him directly to the U.S. Marshal’s Office as it had for the past few weeks.

“Don’t worry Marshal Torrance, today’s a day for practice. No book learning for any of the recruits and that includes you. My orders are to take you to the shooting range on the outskirts of town. Marshal Benton and Marshal Baker will meet you there,” the driver stated.

In time the carriage halted in front of a building, Micah heard the sounds of gunfire from different weapons emanating from behind the building.

Cole and Tom stepped from the building and greeted Micah, “Great day for a shootout, wouldn’t you agree?” asked Cole.

“Quite a surprise to put on an old man,” Micah replied.

“Old man, come on Micah, you might get away with that in North Fork, but not here,” Tom replied.


Micah thoroughly enjoyed the day as he watched the others take target practice and go head to head in competitions. He admired some of the newer model firearms and rifles the men used.

Micah turned when he heard, “Hey Grandpa!” to see a young man he perceived to be about Mark’s age smiling as he approached. Micah watched, the easy nature of the man.

“Grandpa?” asked Micah.

“It use it as a term of respect, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“Oh, how can I help you…?” Micah replied, hoping the young man would offer his name.

“The name’s Reese Randall, and these reprobates behind me stated you wouldn’t be able to handle this,” he tossed the weapon to Micah so it was an easy catch.

“What kind of a rifle is this?” he asked.

“It’s not a rifle, it’s a shotgun,” Tom answered as he came to stand next to Micah.

“Not like any shotgun I’ve ever seen,” Micah answered, looking the weapon over, trying to figure it out.

Reese asked for the shotgun back and began to show Micah how to load the magazine and explained how it worked. “It’s a pump-action shotgun, it was designed by none other than John Browning himself.”

With an air of respect, Reese continued to tell Micah about the weapon.

“It’s brand new, a Winchester Model 1897. It comes in twelve and sixteen gauge models. The 16-gauge guns have a standard barrel length of twenty-eight inches. The 12-gauge comes with a thirty inch barrel.”

“I’ve not carried anything that long,” commented Micah.

“Oh, don’t worry, this one was special ordered short, just for you. It’s a twenty inch barrel.”

“Special ordered, for me?” asked Micah, not sure he’d heard Reese correctly.

“Sure, have to have our U.S. Marshal’s outfitted with the latest weapons,” he handed the weapon back to Micah.

“Son, a pump action takes two hands to operate. I ain’t got but one good arm,” commented Micah.

“That’s what you think,” Reese replied.

“Sure Gramps,” another smiling deputy came up behind Micah and slapped him on the shoulder. “We know your right arm isn’t as strong as your left arm, but…” the deputy looked at Micah’s curious expression, “You don’t realize how much you use your arm, do you?”

Tom motioned for everyone to follow him back to the shooting range, as he led a disbelieving Micah by the arm.

Everyone who could manage to get away from their duties showed up at the shooting range and watched as Micah tried out his new shotgun. Many murmured in surprise at how, even at his age, he could do better than hit the broad side of the barn. Retrieving the target sheets, the crowd commented how the pellet patterns were spot on centered.

“Got to keep you young’ens on your toes, don’t I,” Micah boasted, pleased that he’d been able to hold his own.


After most everyone had left, Reese Randall hung back, waiting.

“Micah, we need to get going,” Tom Benton announced.

“See you Monday morning, bright and early,” Cole Barker ordered.

“Yes, sir. Bright and early,” answered Micah, smiling as he looked down on his new shotgun. He turned when he heard, “I’m glad you like it sir. My Pa will be rather happy to know.”

“Your Pa?” asked Micah.

“Yes sir, a few weeks ago, I wired him to let him know that I finally met Marshal Micah Torrance. Ohh the stories I grew up on, listening to my Pa telling of his meeting with you and the Rifleman. How the two of you got him out of a jam.”

“I’m sorry son, but in my years…”

“I know sir, I don’t expect you to remember everyone you’ve ever met. That wasn’t what I was implying. My Pa, his name’s Wade Randall. He met you and Lucas McCain in North Fork a number of years ago. Listening to the stories he told… it inspired me to want to become a marshal. I mean, I’m about as good with a gun as my Pa ever was and I didn’t want to get myself onto the wrong side of the law…” Reese slipped his gun from his holster and gave it a whirl, showing off moves that would impress any trick shooter, before he slipped his gun easily back to where it belonged.

“Mighty impressive, but I must admit, I’m still drawing a blank on your Pa.”

“That’s alright Marshal Torrance. I don’t take it as an insult that you wouldn’t remember him. But I remember you, that’s what really matters. You and Mr. McCain stood with him when the Bolton Gang followed him to your town. That rifle is from me, but some of the other deputies wanted to chip in. We’ve all cut our teeth on stories about you.”

“I’m flattered, but…”

“You can’t refuse a gift, sir.”

“No, I guess I can’t, but I’d like to invite you to join me and my wife for supper tonight.”

“Sir I already have plans, a certain young secretary from the office, if you get my drift, but Monday, I’d be honored to supper with you and your misses.”

“Monday, Mr. Randall.”

Before parting, the two shook hands.


That evening, before retiring to bed, Hattie sensed a difference in her husband, and listened as he described his day in grand detail before he pulled out the case that held his new shotgun.

“And, just so you know, I’ve got me a lot more grandsons today,” boasted Micah.

“Oh?” queried Hattie.

“Seems they’ve given me the nickname of ‘Grandpa’ or ‘Gramps’, they were all there just to see me try this out. And afterwards, each and every one of them shook my hand… I’d only seen that look of respect in Mark’s eyes, but dang if they all didn’t have that look in their eyes. And they weren’t just putting one on me…”


Hattie dearly wished their trip to Denver didn’t have to end, but then, she was missing the quietness of their own home. She quietly counted down the days until they could return home.
Written by Deanne Bertram

The Next Step — A Tearful Christmas

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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