The Rifleman
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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 towards Hattie’s.

“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 one.

“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 bowery.”

“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 warning.”

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 saloon.

*****

“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 shoulders.

“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 with you.”

“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 dirty diapers.

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 headed home.

*****

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. “Who that?”

“That’s a picture of Hope’s father.”

“Not Papa?”

“No Gabby, not Papa. Hope has different parents than us.”

“Oh! Who that?”

“That’s Hope’s brother Ethan and his wife, Annie.”

“And him?”

“Gabby, that’s my Uncle Johnny. He’s my Ma’s brother,” Mark answered.

“Mama’s brother?”

“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 room.

*****

“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.

Pa,

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.

Mark

As he handed the note to Milly, Lucas noticed the tear stains on it.

*****

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 inside?”

“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 his head.

“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.”

“I know.”

*****

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 made camp.

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 journal.

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 more…

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!

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