The Writer's Corner
The Next Step…
Chapter 41 – Broken Fences
Written by Deanne Bertram
After saying goodbye to Thadd, Mark returned to the Marshal’s
Office. After leafing through the wanted posters that arrived,
Mark stood and walked to the window; looking down the street
“Everything alright Mark?” Sam asked. “I saw Hope leave the
doctor’s office before you did. She looked quite upset.”
“She and the boys will be fine, but I messed up. I hadn’t told
her I’d been shot while in Romero…”
“And I let the cat out of the bag, I am sorry Mark. You want
some time to be with her?”
“Not now, probably best to let her be for a while. Maybe let Ma
talk with her,” Mark stated as he grabbed his rifle and headed
out the door. “Looks like trouble’s brewing at Sweeney’s.”
Mark and Sam ran down the street to Sweeney’s. They broke up a
couple of trail hands, fighting in the street and once inside,
they came up against a rowdy set of trail hands. It took some
doing, but they eventually had the drovers in line, except for
“We just lettin’ off some steam deputy. This is the last town
we’ll come to for a while, so what’s the harm?”
“The harm is, this is a nice, decent town. Keep your guns in
your holsters and no more fighting and we’ll let you be. Get too
rowdy and you’ll spend time in our jail. Let your ramrod or
trail boss come in and get you after two days. See how they like
losing time on the trail because of you,” Mark answered.
Mark heard someone enter the doors behind him. “Deputy, my crew
giving you any grief?”
“No sir, just making sure they understand the rules. We don’t
mind them drinking and enjoying themselves, but this ain’t the
“Boys, you better listen to the deputy. I ran up against him a
few years back and I learned my lesson, the hard way. Anyone who
get’s thrown in his jail will collect their wages the next
morning and be gone. Understand?”
A voice from the back answered, “But he’s just a kid and the
Marshal’s just an Indian.”
“Kid or no kid. Indian or not. They are the law of this town. As
I said, I underestimated the deputy a few years back and luckily
Gil Favors was a little more tolerant of my situation. I wasn’t
forewarned like you are. Enjoy yourselves, but mind your
The trail boss stepped outside and waited for Mark and Sam to
join him. “Glad to see you’re still a deputy, McCain isn’t it?”
“Yes sir, Mark McCain and this is U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart.”
“The name’s Joe Scarlet. Don’t know that we were properly
introduced a few years back. Thanks for being so understanding
of me then and my crew today. I’ll see to it that they keep in
line, I need every one of them to get this herd joined up with
the main drive in Texas.” With that he walked back in to the
“Mark, go to your wife. I think things are quiet enough now,”
Sam stated as he placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder.
Mark walked to Hattie’s, went upstairs and knocked on the door.
“Hope, are you awake? It’s me, Mark. I’d like to come in and
talk with you,” Mark stated.
“Go away Mark McCain. Go Away!” he heard from the other side of
the door. He tried to turn the knob, only to find the door
locked. “Go Away!” Hope cried again.
“Hope, please. I’m your husband, don’t shut me out.”
“You should have thought of that before. Just Go Away!”
As Mark was leaving the house, he ran into Seth, without even
acknowledging him. “Mark?” Seth called.
Seth entered the house and proceeded upstairs, knocking on the
door. “Mark, I told you to go away! I don’t want to talk to
you!” he heard Hope yell.
“Hope, I’m your father. Open this door right now!”
He heard footsteps on the other side of the door and shortly
heard a click and the door opened. As he entered the room, he
watched as Hope threw herself on the bed and cried.
“Hope, what’s wrong? What happened?” Seth asked as he sat down
on the edge of the bed and ran his hand across his daughter’s
“He lied to me. The father of my children and he lied to me. Oh
Father!” Hope cried harder.
“Hope I’m sure Mark didn’t mean to lie to you. What happened?
Please, tell me.”
“Father, take me back with you,” she said as she rolled over and
threw her arms around Seth.
Pulling her arms from around his neck, Seth pushed his daughter
back. “Now see here young lady. You are a married woman, I don’t
know exactly what happened between you and Mark, but when I left
you at breakfast this morning, you were the happiest couple in
North Fork. Now you want to leave him. I don’t understand.”
“He lied to me. He kept the truth from me. I never want to see
him again, as long as I live. You’re my father, take me home
“No Hope. I won’t. This is something you’ll need to work out
with Mark, the two of you, together.”
“Go away! You don’t love me either. Go AWAY!” Hope screamed then
turned over and began crying on the bed again.
Seth tried pleading with his daughter, but she wouldn’t answer
him. He stood up from the bed and left the room. Pulling the
door closed behind him.
As he stepped to the bottom of the stairs, Lucas and Milly were
just entering the house.
“Lucas, I don’t know what happened between breakfast and now,
but Mark ran out of here a little while ago and Hope’s upstairs
crying on her bed. Something about Mark lying to her and telling
me that I don’t love her. Do you know what happened?”
“Seth, let Milly go upstairs and talk with Hope. You come with
me to the parlor, I’ll tell you everything.” Lucas took Little
Ted from Milly before she headed up stairs.
Lucas was just finishing telling Seth of what happened while
they were in Romero. “Seth, I’ve not had a chance to talk to
Mark since this ‘blew up’ this morning, Doc told us. I was
hoping to find Mark here.”
Milly came down, “Lucas, go get Doc Burrage, she can’t even talk
with me, she’s crying so hysterically.”
Lucas returned with Doc and went upstairs. Doc immediately
pulled a syringe from his bag upon seeing Hope gasping for
breath and crying uncontrollably, sobs wracking her body. He
grabbed hold of her arm and held tight as Hope tried to pull her
arm from his hand.
“Lucas, help me hold her arm still.”
Lucas sat down on the bed and held Hope’s arm, the whole time
she was screaming, “NO! GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE!” when she could
get a breath in. Milly sat in the bed, holding tight around
Hope’s shoulders. Trying to quiet her. Doc finally found the
vein and administered the sedative. She continued to fight them
all, until the medication took effect.
Milly quietly spoke soothing words to Hope and brushed back the
hair from Hope’s face with her hand. She laid Hope down on the
bed and covered her with the blankets, as sleep overtook her.
As Doc and Lucas stood up from the bed, they turned to see Seth
and Micah, in the doorway.
“Come on downstairs. Let’s let her sleep,” Lucas said as he
motioned to the others to leave the room.
“Lucas, I’m going to stay up here with Hope,” Milly stated.
“I think that’s a good idea Milly,” Thadd replied. “I’m going to
leave a sedative for her, if she wakes and is still agitated,
don’t hesitate to give her two pills.” After everyone else had
left, Thadd spoke, “Milly, I don’t want her nursing the babies
while she’s on this medication. I’ll talk with Hattie about
preparing bottles for the boys.”
Hope was still sleeping when Lucas brought Little Ted to the
room for Milly to nurse, later that evening. She left the room
to go to the room they had been sharing. Hattie had two bottles
in her hands as Seth and Lucas sat down in the chairs to feed
their grandsons. Once they had finished feeding the bottles and
had burped the boys, the grandpa’s tried their hands at changing
Milly returned and giggled at the sight, “You two, go back
downstairs, I think I can manage this.”
The medication Doc Burrage gave Hope made her sleep through the
night. In the morning, Milly went to check in on her. She was
still crying in bed. Milly tried talking with her, but
everything she said, just seemed to upset Hope more. She asked
Hope to take the medication that Doc Burrage had left. Milly
picked up the twins and left the room.
As she entered the kitchen, she shook her head as she looked
towards Lucas. She handed one of the boys to Hattie and the
other to Micah, Lucas had Little Ted in his lap and was trying
to help Myra with her cereal.
Hattie spoke, “Milly, why don’t you leave her with me for a
while. You and Lucas head on home and take care of Myra and
Little Ted. When I see Mark, I’ll let him know. I think for
right now, it might be best to let me deal with her. I’ll keep
you informed in how she’s doing.”
After they were done feeding the babies, Hattie and Milly
returned the twins to their cribs in Hope’s room.
As they were preparing to head home, Lucas had hoped he would
see Mark in town. Seeing the look on Lucas’ face, Micah said,
“Lucas, we’ll take care of Mark when we see him. I know this has
to be rough on your whole family, but you’ll get through this.
You always do.”
“Thanks Micah,” Lucas said as he rein slapped the horses and
As Lucas drove the team to the barn, he saw Blue Boy tied to the
hitching rail. They entered the house to realize that Mark was
in his bedroom, with the door closed. Mark sat at his desk and
looked at the picture from his wedding day. He wished he could
be in town with Hope, holding her in his arms. But he didn’t
know how to heal her hurt. His Pa always said that words spoken
in anger were hard to take back once spoken. Hearing his wife
yell for him to go away, felt like a knife plunged into his
heart. Mark set the picture down when he heard a slight knock at
the door, then heard Myra’s voice, “Mark?”
Mark stood, opened the door, and knelt down in front of his
sister. “Hi Gabby,” Mark said as he picked her up. Carrying
Myra, Mark walked and sat back down at his desk.
“Papa said I could come in. Mark, I missed you. Where Hope?”
“I missed you too, Gabby. She’s still in town.”
“You go get her?”
“Soon, Gabby. Soon.”
She looked at the pictures on Mark’s desk and pointed to one.
“That’s a picture of Hope’s father.”
“No Gabby, not Papa. Hope has different parents than us.”
“Oh! Who that?”
“That’s Hope’s brother Ethan and his wife, Annie.”
“Gabby, that’s my Uncle Johnny. He’s my Ma’s brother,” Mark
“No, he’s not Mama’s brother, he…”
Then she pointed to another picture and asked, “Who that?”
Mark picked up the picture and quietly told Myra, “This is a
picture of my Ma.”
“No, don’t look like Mama,” Myra replied.
Mark thought about how to reply to his sister. “Gabby, I don’t
know how to explain my Ma to you.”
Gabby looked at the picture and then to Mark, “NO! Not Mama! Not
Mama.” she jumped down from Mark’s lap and ran to the front
“Pa, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset her,” Mark stated as he
walked over and placed his hand on Myra’s back and knelt down.
“She not Mama!” Myra cried. “You don’t love Mama!”
Milly came from the bedroom at hearing Myra’s crying.
“Gabby, I do love Ma,” Mark tried to explain. “Gabby, please
look at me.” Mark tried to turn her around on Lucas’ lap, only
to have her grab tighter to Lucas.
“Mark what happened?” Lucas asked.
“I had her sitting on my lap and she was asking about all the
pictures, then she saw Ma’s picture on my desk…” Mark’s voice
grew quiet as he looked to Milly. “I’m sorry…” Mark stood,
confused and feeling hurt, he left the house.
After handing Myra to Milly, Lucas walked from the house and
stood on the porch as Mark swung up in the saddle, tears falling
down his face. “Mark? Talk to me son.” he pleaded.
Wiping at his tears with the heel of his hand, “Pa, there’s
nothing you can do to help. Seems of late … It doesn’t matter
what I do, all my best intentions seem to hurt those I love.
This is something I’ll have to work through, if I can.” He
turned Blue Boy and rode away, fast.
Lucas walked into the room that Hope and Mark had shared. He
looked at the pictures on the desk, and picked up the picture
that was lying face down. It was Margaret’s. Milly stood in the
doorway, with Myra in her arms. Lucas then noticed the two
badges lying on the desk and the folded sheet of paper with “Pa”
written on it. He picked it up and read.
I can’t be who everybody wants me to be. Please tell Myra, I
didn't mean to make her cry. When you see Hope, tell her I
didn’t mean to hurt her.
As he handed the note to Milly, Lucas noticed the tear stains on
Doc Burrage walked to Johnny and Lou’s and knocked on the door.
Lou answered, “Lou, if I may, can I talk with you and Johnny?”
As he sat in the parlor of Johnny and Lou’s home, he told them
what was happening, “Hope and Mark are having some problems.
I’ve read some medical literature and seems there are cases of
women who after having given birth go through mood swings and
bouts of depression. The changes a woman’s body goes through
while carrying a child, just aren’t fully understood. The new
mother doesn’t have full control over her emotions. I think
that’s what’s troubling Hope; only she can’t help herself. She
found out that Mark hadn’t told her of getting shot when he and
Lucas were up in Romero. Right now, she’s taking her hurt out on
Mark and the rest of the family. Johnny, I know it’s a little
early, but I think you, more than Micah, are ready to return to
duty. Just promise me you’ll take it easy.”
It had been three days since Mark had left home when Lucas
headed into town. As he rode in, he saw Johnny sitting in front
of the Marshal’s office.
“Johnny,” he called as he stepped down from Razor. “Mark
“No Lucas, he’s not been seen in town since Monday,” Johnny
stood and walked to Lucas. “Doc told us of the trouble. I take
it he’s not been at the ranch either?” Johnny asked. Lucas shook
“Lou’s been with Hope every day. Between her and Hattie, she’s
not been left alone. Lucas, Lou tells me that Hope’s withdrawing
into herself. She won’t talk when Hattie or Lou are in there.
The only one she talks to are the twins,” Johnny informed Lucas.
“I’d thought that Mark would have returned to town and maybe was
staying in the jail. Guess I should have realized he wouldn’t,
he left these at the house.” Lucas pulled the two badges from
his pocket and handed them to Johnny.
“This isn’t good, Lucas.”
Mark didn’t have any plans on where to head when he left home,
he just felt it wasn’t his home and he couldn’t stay there
anymore. He rode for the mountains to the West. Only stopping to
water and graze Blue Boy, then riding until night fell and he
He’d lost track of how many days he had been in the saddle when
he finally came to a lake in the mountains. As he rode around,
he found what remained of an old camp site and a dilapidated
corral. Mark unsaddled Blue Boy and turned him loose inside,
then set about to make repairs. By afternoon, he was pleased
with his results and with his sleeve, he wiped the sweat from
his brow. Realizing just how hot it was and how inviting the
water looked, Mark stripped his clothes and dove into the water.
It had been a long time since he’d gone for a swim and just
floated on the water. He let his mind go blank as the water
lapped at his body.
His reverie was broken, some time later, by the cry of an eagle
soaring across the sky. Mark swam to the shoreline, walked from
the lake and picked up his clothes, he decided to rinse them out
and lay them on a nearby rock to dry. Feeling more relaxed than
he could remember; Mark walked up to the corral, untied his
bedroll and laid it out. He laid down and fell asleep.
Mark was woken by Blue Boy snorting close by. It took a few
moments for Mark to realize where he was, he stood up, walked
over to his clothes and got dressed. He swung up on Blue Boy,
bareback and rode him to a meadow he’d ridden through on his way
up the mountain. While sitting aback his horse, he dropped his
reins and let Blue Boy graze.
This was Mark’s life for the next three days. On his fourth day,
he decided to explore his new surroundings more. As he walked
past the corral, he pulled his rifle from his saddle. He came to
a worn trail and followed it. Eventually it led to a shack, even
more dilapidated than the corral, Mark pushed the door open and
stepped inside, swatting away the cobwebs.
As he looked around, he turned away as he saw a skeleton lying
in the bunk on the far side of the room. When he got his courage
up, he walked over to have a closer look. The clothes were
faded, but he saw no evidence of foul play, no blood from a
gunshot or knife wound. On the stand, next to the bed, he found
a book and picked it up. Blowing the dust from it he saw it was
a bible. As Mark leafed through the first few pages, he saw a
faded name printed on the inside: Ezekiel Desmond.
The sun was setting as Mark continued to look around the shack.
He found matches in a cupboard to light a lantern that was
sitting on the table. Next to it, he found a journal. As he
started to read, the words intrigued him. Night had fallen, when
Mark picked up the bible, the journal, and the lantern and made
his way back to the corral, and Blue Boy.
Mark woke as the sun crested the surrounding hills. Feeling his
stomach grumble, Mark put his hat on his head, picked up his
rifle, and set out to hunt something to eat. It wasn’t long
before he returned to his camp with two rabbits. By mid-morning,
Mark had pulled enough grass to feed Blue Boy and had satisfied
his own hunger by cooking and eating one of the rabbits.
Mark pulled out the journal and continued to read. It was
evident that Ezekiel was an educated man. First off, he could
write, but Mark also realized the sentence structure and
punctuation, not your everyday mountain man had written this
During the days, Mark would hunt for food and graze Blue Boy. Of
an afternoon, he enjoyed swimming in the cool water of the lake.
Of an evening, before the sun would set, he sat and read more of
the journal. It took Mark ten days, to finish reading the
journal. Some of the entries were faded and difficult to read.
As night enveloped the land, Mark would lie back and dream about
the trials that Ezekiel had encountered and the life he had
lived. When he came to the last entry, the truth was told.
‘To whoever finds me and my words, nothing back home can be
worse than the loneliness of living here. Don’t let God’s beauty
blind you to what you left behind. The land is beautiful enough
to drown your sorrows, but one day, you’ll wake up an old man,
not knowing if your loved ones are dead or alive or if they even
remember you. Realizing everything you lost… Everything you
could have had… Maybe your hurt came over some misunderstanding.
Sometimes it’s the simplest words that are the hardest to say.
Whatever happened, two heartfelt words can mend many a broken
fence… But don’t forget to follow those two words with three
Lord, by your good graces, I’m ready for you to call me home.
As Mark read the final entry, he saw the handwriting become more
illegible, Ezekiel was struggling to finish, to put his thoughts
to paper. The page bore evidence of someone having cried.
Mark read the date at the top of the page before he closed the
journal. As Mark thought about how long it had been since he’d
left… home. He realized been gone for the better part of three
weeks. He also realized the final entry had been made twenty
years ago, this day. It was as if Ezekiel knew that Mark would
find his writings. Mark got up and put the journal and bible in
his saddle bags. He then headed back to the shack. Inside, he
found a shovel.
The sun was setting as Mark finished tapping the cross into the
ground. He stepped back and looked at the scene, a fitting,
final resting place for a man that Mark only knew from his
writings. A man that had helped Mark see his life clearer than
he had in the three previous weeks.
Mark returned to camp, knowing this would be the last night he
would stay there. It was time for him to head home.
The following morning Mark saddled Blue Boy and headed down the
mountain, towards -- home. Unsure what he would find when he
returned, but he knew he had to. He didn't want to repeat the
regrets of Ezekiel. Slowly and deliberately he rode; crossing
off the days in his mind until he made his way home.
The Next Step — Mending Fences
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch