The Writer's Corner
The Next Step…
Denver Bound/Homeward Bound
Written by Deanne Bertram
Mark had checked with the fort’s quartermaster about borrowing a
saddle and a spare horse for his trip. The following morning,
Mark led his new horse and a packhorse over to where Hope and
Seth waited next to the buckboard. Ethan stood a short distance
away, he understood how difficult this was going to be for his
sister. Hope admired the taller of the two horses Mark was
leading as he approached them. Whereas Two-Bits was more black
than white, Mark’s new horse was the opposite, a very striking
black and white, paint, with a lot more white.
“When I get home, I’ll make sure you know how to handle this big
fella,” Mark commented when he saw Hope looking the horse over.
“Even though he’s bigger, he’s a lot more gentler than Copper
“Does he have a name?” Hope asked as she tried to divert her
“Rainmaker. I’ll tell you the story when I get home. I’ll wire
you as soon as we reach Denver. I know it won’t do any good to
tell you not to worry.” Mark turned to Seth and extended his
hand, “Take care of her. You don’t know how much I wish I could
travel home with you.”
“I do, Mark,” Seth replied.
Mark looked to his wife as she closed her eyes to prevent
herself from crying. Mark stepped to Hope, pulled her into his
arms and gave her a kiss that said, ‘I love you’. Mark helped
Hope up to the seat of the buckboard, while Seth climbed into
the back. Ethan climbed up to the front seat to drive his sister
and father to the train station. It would be a short trip to the
train station for them, and ultimately… home.
Mark mounted Rainmaker and trotted to town, stopping in front of
the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff was tying Birch’s horse to the
hitching rail as Mark stepped from his horse.
“My prisoner ready?” Mark asked.
“Yeah, but I didn’t think he was under arrest,” Roehl replied.
“Might as well be, while he’s in my custody. Get him out here so
we can get going.”
Birch stepped from the jail and placed his hat to his head, “So
Marshal, you ready to enjoy my company?”
“Get in the saddle,” Mark replied as he put his foot back in the
stirrup and mounted his horse.
“Sheriff, it’s been a pleasure staying with you. I’ll tell all
my friends how polite you were and how comfortable the bunk in
your cell was.”
“Move out, Birch,” Mark stated as he signaled his horse to turn
around and pulled the pack horse behind him.
The train was an hour out of Stanton and the car they were
riding in was a much fancier passenger car than the train they
had taken for their outbound trip. Seth tried to keep Hope’s
thoughts elsewhere, but soon realized it wasn’t any use. Her
heart was with Mark. He finally settled back and pulled his hat
over his eyes. The rhythmic motion of the train lulled Seth to
sleep in a short time. While her father dozed in the seat beside
her, Hope worriedly looked out the window, wondering what the
country was like that Mark was traveling through. Was this Birch
worth the risk Mark was taking to get him to Denver?
In time, Hope stood up and walked to the back of the car and
asked for a glass of water. As she waited for the barman to pour
her drink, she looked through the glass window in the doors
beside her, to the car behind them. Hope saw an older woman
sitting next to the aisle, who looked quite upset. Hope
witnessed the antics of some of the cowboys sitting around her
and presumed they were the ones who were upsetting her. Before
the conductor opened the door to go to the next car, she asked
him to bring the woman to their car.
“Are you traveling alone?” Hope inquired as the woman breathed a
sigh of relief as the conductor closed the door behind her.
“Yes, I am. Those men… Shouldn’t even be considered men. The
conductor suggested I come up here.” She pulled the bonnet from
her head to reveal her auburn colored hair, streaked with grey.
“If you’d like, you can join my father and me,” Hope offered.
“My name is Hope McCain.”
“If you’re sure your father wouldn’t mind? I think I’d enjoy
some pleasant company. My name is Lilah Stovers.”
Hope led Lilah to the bench seats she shared with her father.
Hope tapped Seth on the shoulder to wake him. At feeling the
tap, Seth pushed up his hat from covering his eyes and stood at
seeing an amply shaped woman with is daughter, belatedly he
remembered to remove his hat.
“Father, I’ve invited…”
“Do I know you?” the woman replied.
“Delilah… Delilah Stovers?” Seth asked as he snapped his figures
at remembering her name.
“I am,” the woman stated, still in askance.
“I was a captain at Fort Griffin, Seth Lane, my wife was Emma.”
As the faded memory slipped into the woman’s mind, she smiled in
recognition, “Captain? Oh my, it has been a long time.. ”
“Is your husband with you?” Seth asked as he looked around.
“No, Martin passed away four years ago. Pneumonia.”
“I’m sorry. Please, won’t you join us?” Seth asked as he
gestured for her to have a seat.
“Thank you, Captain.”
“Please, call me Seth.”
As Lilah took her seat, a surprised looked crossed her face, she
excitedly asked, “You’re her father?! You found her?! She’s
alive?! Your little girl survived?! Oh, my…” Lilah pulled her
hands to her mouth in an effort to cover her embarrassment.
“Guess she would be if you’re traveling with her. I’m so sorry,
that was rather rude of me.”
“It’s not rude of you, Mrs. Stover,” Hope answered. “I take it
you know my father?”
“Hope, Delilah married Sergeant George Stovers the year after we
were posted at the fort. Sergeant Stovers was the quartermaster
at Fort Griffin.”
“Please, call me Lilah. I was also a mid-wife at the fort,”
Lilah went on to say, “I was there the day your mother gave
birth to you.”
“You knew my mother?”
“Not extremely well, the difference between enlisted and
officers. We’d chit chat, but I did know her well enough to know
she was a wonderful woman and that she loved her family. I
remember the day you were born.”
“Please tell me?” Hope begged.
Lilah looked to Seth before she continued. “Well, your mother
had been so worried about your father being out on patrol...
He’d been gone about six days and your ma…, well… she was trying
to do too much, trying to keep herself occupied so she wouldn’t
worry. She was so busy, she didn’t realize she was in labor. I
happened past her quarters and heard her scream out when her
‘labor’ really started. I found her on the kitchen floor, I ran
out and sent one of the soldiers to fetch the doc. The soldier
came back to say the doctor had been called away and no one knew
when he’d return. Your mother fretted the whole time about you
coming early and your father not being there. It weren’t but a
few hours later, I was the one who helped bring you into the
Hope looked to her father as she listened to the story.
“Did your mother ever tell you how you got your name?” Lilah
“No, least if she did, I was too young to remember,” Hope
“You were sleeping later than night, when I asked your mother if
she had decided on a name for you and she said had only picked
out a boy’s name.”
“She thought I was going to be a boy?”
“Sure did. She told me the whole time she was pregnant, she felt
just like she did when she was carrying Ethan.” Turning to Seth,
“Speaking of Ethan, where is he?”
“Lilah, we left him and his family back at Fort Stanton, he’s a
Major in the cavalry,” Seth answered.
“Like father, like son. I bet he looks just like you.”
“In a way,” Hope answered and smiled.
“Now, back to your name. Your mother was so surprised to hear
you were a girl because when she was… I think she was about five
months pregnant, a gypsy caravan came through the fort and the
fortune teller told your mother she was going to have a baby
“So if she was expecting a boy and only had boy’s names picked
“You weren’t but a few hours old, your Ma was still extremely
worried about your father being out on patrol. The whole time
your father was gone, the other wives kept telling her she just
had to have faith that the Good Lord would see her husband back
to her. We were talking and she said, ‘I just have to hope that
God’s grace will bring him home.’ That’s when she gave you your
name – Hope Grace Lane.”
“I forgot I had a middle name.”
“But you introduced yourself as Hope McCain?” Lilah asked.
“I did. I’m married,” she held out her left hand to show her
cherished wedding band on her ring finger.
“And he’s not traveling with you?”
“No, he’s a U.S. Marshal. We were visiting with Ethan and his
family, celebrating their wedding anniversary when… he was
called away on business,” Hope answered in a reserved tone.
“Seth, tell me,” Lilah stated. “How long have you two been
reunited? I mean, how did it happen? I know how devastated you
were when you received word that your sister and her family had
been murdered and then, all those years, thinking Hope had
perished as well. You do know, the dances at Fort Griffin were
never the same after you requested reassignment to ‘that’ post
in San Antonio. But to be reunited with your daughter, after all
Hope listened as her father told of how he and Ethan had heard
tales from traders of a young, white girl with red hair living
among the Kiowa. As quietly as they could, they sent inquiries,
trying to find more information, before they asked for leaves of
absence in an attempt to try to find the girl. Hope listened to
the details as Seth retold the story.
Seth told of locating Iron Heart’s camp and realizing there was
a very good chance the girl was Hope, only she had be kidnapped
two days before their arrival. He told of their arrival in North
Fork, trailing after those who had taken the girl, and then
traveling with the town’s Marshal and Deputy out to the McCain
Ranch. Seth described his first encounter with Lucas and Mark
McCain and the pursuit that followed as the now six of them,
traveled after those who had taken Hope.
“McCain, that’s your last name,” Lilah interrupted.
“Yes, Mark rescued me, twice,” Hope answered.
After Seth told of their return to North Fork and how they had
captured Stedman, Delilah asked, “So if this Mark lives in New
Mexico and you were stationed at…”
“They renamed the fort a few years back, its known as Fort Sam
Houston. But to your point, I realized I couldn’t put Hope
through bringing her back to the fort. I had hoped that she
could return to Iron Heart and still be one of their family,
then I found out how much of an insult it would have been to
them if I tried to send her back. But with her being raised by
the Kiowa, you know how some of the soldiers would have treated
her.” Seth paused as he remembered the initial remorse of
knowing his daughter was alive, but yet she couldn’t return with
him. He cringed as he remembered her first visit to Fort Sam.
“It was Mark, who suggested that she could stay in North Fork
“And… this Mark… he rescued you and then married you? It didn’t
bother him that you…” Lilah commented and then changed the
subject as she saw a worried look overcome Hope. “I’m sorry, I’m
just a nosy-body. As long as you and your husband are happy. I
think the whole story is very romantic. They could write one of
those dime-store novels about your relationship.”
“Oh, no!” Hope declared, truly startled by the idea.
Changing the subject, Lilah asked, “Seth, tell me. How is it
that you’re no longer wearing a uniform?”
Seth proceeded to tell Lilah how he had come to the realization
that he didn’t want to miss as much of his grandchildren’s
growing up years, as he had his own children’s. How each time he
came to visit Mark and Hope, it got harder and harder to leave.
“So, I decided upon my return to Fort Sam, I was going to resign
my commission as a major. Packed up all my belongings and moved
to North Fork to be near my grandchildren.”
“Grandchildren? How many do you have?” Lilah inquired.
“At that time, there were just the twins,” Hope answered.
“Now, Ethan and Annie have a boy and a girl,” Seth answered.
“So you have four grandchildren,” Lilah stated.
“No, I’ve a few more than four,” Seth replied.
“In addition to the twins, Mark and I have another son and a
daughter,” Hope replied, then averted her eyes when she saw and
heard Lilah gasp.
“Child, did you say you have four, but you can’t be but…, be old
enough…” Lilah’s face flushed as she realized just how
inconsiderate she was being. “I have no business to question you
and your family. The best measure of a man and woman’s love for
each other is the number of children they have. Lord knows I
loved George, but we were never blessed with children.”
An uneasy quiet surfaced among the three, finally, Lilah broke
the silence, “Just doesn’t seem possible. I keep wanting to see
you as that little girl bounding across the parade grounds,
chasing butterflies. Guess I don’t want to admit that I’m
getting old, and that children are old enough to have children.”
“It’s difficult at times, even for the parents to see their
children growing up, Lilah,” Seth commented. “I hadn’t really
counted them out, I’m just happy to have my family, but now that
I sit here and think about it, six grandchildren. Emma would be
quite happy to have this brood.”
Hope laughed as a thought came into her head, “At least you’re
not raising children the same age as your grandchildren.”
An inquiring look came over Lilah’s face as she tried to imagine
“My husband’s mother died when he was a young boy. His father
remarried about a year and a half before Mark and I married. My
sister-in-law was born about five months before Mark and I wed
and then, my oldest brother-in-law was born the night before I
gave birth to our twins. My youngest brother-in-law was born the
year in between my giving birth to our youngest son and our
“We’d be pleased to introduce you to the family, if you have
time when the train stops in North Fork. We should be there
later tonight, if not first thing tomorrow morning.” Seth
“Oh, I’d love to meet your family, however, I’m heading to El
Paso, my sister lives there and my niece is set to get married
next weekend. I’m already late and I really shouldn’t delay my
“I understand,” Seth stated as he tried to keep the
disappointment off his face. “Where do you call home?”
“Oh, George was transferred to Fort Laramie, up in Wyoming,
luckily he didn’t live to see her closed down and sold at
auction. It was a sad day for every soldier and their families
to see such a proud institution treated like that. I still have
a small home in the town.”
The porter stopped to announce that dinner would be served
shortly in the dining car, if they’d care to make their way to
the next car in front.
Their train arrived in North Fork late that evening, Seth and
Hope said goodbye to Lilah. After collecting their luggage, Seth
rented a buggy and saw Hope home. The three boys ran from their
grandparent’s home when they realized their Ma and Grandpa had
arrived. Gwen carried Mykaela out and handed her to Hope, after
Seth had helped his daughter down from the buggy.
With her daughter in her arms, she turned and asked her sons if
they had behaved and if they had missed her.
“Oh Mama, we missed you and we be good,” Eli answered.
“Yeah, else we wouldn’t get to lick the batter bowl,” Zach
“Where’s Papa?” Josh asked.
“Where is Mark? Did he stay in town?” Milly asked as she hugged
“No, he got pulled into business while in Stanton,” Hope stated.
The look on her face asked Milly, to please, not ask any more,
“But why are you up so late? Shouldn’t you be in bed?” Hope
asked of her sons.
“I’ve been trying to get them down for an hour. They must have
sensed you were coming home, they just wouldn’t go to bed. The
rest of the time, they were angels.
“So my children behaved themselves.” Hope looked to Milly, who
nodded. “I’m so proud of all of you.”
Seth carried Hope’s and Mark’s bags to their home and saw Hope
and the children inside.
“Hope, I need to get back to town. I’m sure Lucas will
appreciate being relieved of his responsibilities,” Seth stated
as he kissed Hope on the cheek.
“Well, I wouldn’t count on Lucas being relieved of being a
deputy, just yet,” Milly stated as she tried to hide a small
“Why?” Hope asked as she set Mykaela to the floor and knelt down
to hug each one of her sons.
“Well, Johnny kind of, well, there were two competing cattle
drives at Sweeney’s and a pretty wild fight, anyway, Johnny got
knocked down and a drover fell on him and broke Johnny’s leg.
So, from what Lucas has said when he’s been able to visit, I’m
sure Micah will be the one relieved of being an acting deputy
once you get to town.”
“I didn’t even stop by the Marshal’s Office, I just wanted to
get Hope home. Now I best get back. Milly I’ll send Lucas home
for the night and then I’ll officially relieve Micah in the
morning, when Lucas returns.”
“Father, when you see Pa, don’t say anything to him about Mark.
I think it’s best, coming from me,” Hope stated.
Hope saw the questioning look in her father’s face and replied,
“If what Mark said is true, Milly and I need time to devise a
way to keep him here and... keep him from doing anything he’d
Milly and Gwen helped Hope put her children to bed, and Milly
was thankful they were all finally agreeable to going to bed. By
the time Hope had pulled the covers over their shoulders and
kissed them goodnight, they were asleep.
As Milly and Hope returned to the front room, Milly stated,
“Okay, so tell me what really happened to Mark?”
Hope repeated the story that Mark had told her about Tom Birch.
Milly was mortified to think what Lucas might do, when he to
“Ma, I can’t keep this from him. He has a right to know…”
“I know he does, it’s just that…”
“Preventing him from doing something he’d live to regret.”
“Tell you what,” Milly suggested. “Why don’t you and Gwen blow
out all the lanterns and get to bed. Lucas won’t disturb you
tonight. You can inform him in the morning.”
“I like that idea,” Hope replied.
The following morning, Hope watched as Lucas headed to the barn.
“Morning Hope, welcome back!” Lucas called as he saw her enter
the barn, while he was saddling Blade. “You letting Mark sleep
in this morning?”
“No sir,” Hope replied.
Hearing the tone of Hope’s voice, Lucas looked up from gathering
the cinch, “It’s been a long time since you’ve called me sir.”
“I know, I have some news involving Mark and I’m not exactly
sure how you’re going to take it.”
Lucas had tightened the cinch well enough that if Blade shook
his body, the saddle wouldn’t slip. “What news?” he asked as he
turned around to see Hope staring at the ground. “Is he okay?”
“He was when Father and I left him in Stanton. While we were
there, a detail brought in a man who had be in Drew Anders’
custody. He was transporting the man to Denver to testify.”
“Why did a detail bring the man in?”
“They’d encountered outlaws chasing Drew and the man. Drew was
killed protecting his witness, but before he died, he was able
to inform the Lieutenant of what happened. Mark’s taking the man
the rest of the way to Denver.”
“That’s his job,” Lucas replied, sensing the whole story had not
been told, Lucas asked, “What else?”
Hope had walked over and sat down on a bale of hay. “The man
he’s transporting is from your past. Mark said you’d promised to
‘kill’ the man if he ever interfered with your family, again.”
“I threatened to kill…” Shock crossed Lucas’ face as he realized
there was only one man alive who Lucas swore the law would never
get the chance to see that he came to justice, if he ever
interfered with his family. “He’s transporting Tom Birch? Why
Mark? Didn’t Benton remember what happened the last time Birch…”
Hope could see the hatred welling in Lucas as his face turned
red and his voice became menacing.
“Pa, Benton doesn’t know that we were in Stanton and that Mark
is finishing the job. Father offered, but as Mark said and as
you just said, it’s his job. Mark knows the man and what he’s
capable of. He remembered and told us.”
Lucas stormed to the wall and pulled Blade’s bridle down.
“Pa!” Hope exclaimed as she ran to Lucas and grabbed at his arm.
“Please! If you go after them… Please think of Milly and your
“I AM!” Lucas shouted.
“LUCAS!” Milly yelled from the doorway.
Never having heard that tone of voice from his wife, Lucas
halted in his tracks.
“Lucas, please.” Milly paused as she walked further into the
barn and stood in front of her husband. “Mark is doing his job.
Let him. If he needs help, let him ask. He knew what he was
getting into when he agreed to take Birch to Denver.”
Still sensing her husband was seething, “Lucas, what happened
the last time you interfered with your son and his
responsibilities as a Marshal? It drove a wedge between the two
of you. Because he felt you didn’t trust him.”
“I trust my son! It’s Birch I don’t trust!” Lucas exclaimed.
“Then give Mark time to get him to Denver. Hope said neither she
nor Seth even know how Mark was planning to get Birch to Denver.
How are you going to track him. I know you’re good, but no one
is that good,” Milly declared.
“Pa, you can’t ride off like a mad-man. Please, give Mark time
and if in three days, we don’t have word, then we can wire
Benton. Mark said he’d have Birch in Denver no later than
“He said at the latest. Today’s only Monday, please Pa?!” Hope
Both women saw the change in Lucas’ posture as he gave into
their pleading. “But if we’ve not heard from him by noon on
Wednesday, I’m heading into town!”
Milly and Hope nodded.
After meeting up with Sheriff Roehl, Walker wasn’t pleased to
find out who the witness was. He was mad that Benton had
withheld that piece of information from him. Good riddance was
his first thought, if it were indeed an outlaw who had him. But,
he was a marshal and he had his orders, find the witness and see
him safely to Denver. Expecting their witness was in the hands
of those he was set to testify against, Coltrane trailed out
after Birch and whoever had him. Walker rode hard and fast. It
was extremely late when he finally decided to stop for the
night. In the distance, on Walker’s first night out from
Stanton, he saw a campfire off in the distance. He decided to
see who might be in the camp. As he neared the camp, he saw two
men fighting. The bigger of the two threw a viscous right hook,
catching his opponent on the cheek, driving him backwards to the
ground. Coltrane watched as the man still standing bent down,
picked up a rifle, and brought it to bear on his opponent lying
motionless on the ground, Coltrane recognized the standing man.
He had his handgun drawn as he entered the camp,
“Hold it right there Birch!” Walker demanded as he cocked his
Birch took his eyes off the man he was fighting and looked to
“Half-breed?” Birch hollered as he recognized Walker. “So are
you friend or foe? You here because of our past or because Garth
Grisolm ordered my head? If it’s the latter, you’ll just have to
wait until I get finished with this one. Then I’ll give you your
due. Grisolm shouldn’t have sent a boy to do a man’s job. This
one’s even younger looking than the deputy who had me in
custody. Grisolm’s gang must be getting desperate if they’re
taking in boys now a days. Good thing the Sheriff back at
Stanton was leery of this one too and slipped me a hand gun. So,
which are you?”
“Friend,” Coltrane stated as he slipped his hand gun back in his
holster and stepped from his horse. “So, who you fighting?”
Coltrane asked as he turned his attention to the other man, who
had just started coming to.
“Said his name was Mark Lane, claiming he was a U.S. Marshal.
Shucks, this is probably his way of initiating himself into
Grisolm’s gang. Delivering me to them.”
Coltrane walked over to and looked down as the man sat up,
“Mark?!” Coltrane asked in surprise.
“You know him?” Birch asked.”
“Yeah, I know him, alright,” Coltrane answered as he helped Mark
get to his feet.
“Walker? What are you doing here?” Mark asked as he shook his
head to get his wits about him and rubbed at his cheek.
“Seems Sheriff Roehl was a little leery of the person who showed
up to take Birch and Benton sent a wire telling me about Drew
and ordering me to Stanton to retrieve his key witness. Roehl
told me a Marshal Mark Lane arrived to transport Birch and we
don’t have any deputy or marshal named Mark Lane.”
“Then he is part of Grisolm’s gang?” Birch asked.
“Shut up, Birch!” Mark demanded.
Walker replied, “I can guarantee he ain’t one of Grisolm’s
bunch, just his name ain’t Lane.”
“Boy, then who are you if you ain’t part of Grisolm’s bunch and
your name ain’t Mark Lane?” Birch demanded as he purposely
strode forward and grabbed the front of Mark’s shirt, trying to
drive him backwards. Having Birch grab him again, set Mark on
the defensive and he threw an unexpected punch to Birch’s
midsection, driving him backwards instead.
“I’m not a boy!” Mark coldly stated, and before he could stop
him, Walker answered, “His name’s Marshal Mark McCain.”
“Mark Mc… McCain? Lucas’ boy?” Birch took time and looked from
Mark, to Mark’s rifle he held in his hands, then back to Mark.
“I… I… I’m sorry, if I’d of known, I wouldn’t have taken the
cheap shot and slugged you. Now your comments before we left
Stanton, referring to my time in Denver, makes so much sense…”
Birch’s voice took on a softer tone, “You still look like her…,
your ma, I mean. I should have seen it I should have seen
Mark picked up his hat from the dirt and forcefully retrieved
his rifle from Birch’s hands and scornfully stated, “You only
see what you want to see, when it suits your needs.”
Seeing the defiant look in Mark’s eyes, Birch realized he was
out of line to bring up the memory of Margaret McCain.
“It’s been a long time. Glad your Pa found you… that night,”
Birch gave half a laugh as he tried to apologize. “So, you grew
up to be a Marshal? What are you going to do with the two of
“The two of us?” Coltrane asked and then remembered, “Sorry to
disappoint you Birch but the question you should be asking is,
what are the two of us going to do with you.”
“The two of…” Birch stopped speaking as he saw Coltrane open his
jacket and show the Deputy U.S. Marshal badge pinned to his
Unbelieving, Birch started laughing, “You… A deputy? And back
then… you were…, too?” Birch doubled over as he slapped his leg,
Coltrane nodded, “I was sent to infiltrate your gang.”
When Birch finally got his laughing fit under control he said,
“Now if that don’t beat all! A half-breed Marshal… And to top it
all off, Lucas’ boy grew up to be a Marshal.”
From Mark’s posture, Walker realized that he had taken just
about all he could from the outlaw and tried to change the
subject. Before Walker could say anything, Birch asked, “So
why’d you lie? Why’d you tell the Sheriff and me your last name
“Can’t you figure that one out?” Mark bitterly replied. “I had a
job to perform, get you to Denver.”
“Still bitter over that little episode?” Birch asked, as a smirk
crossed his face.
“Little episode?!” Mark reacted before he could think.
“Then why not wire your bosses and ask for another deputy to
travel with me?” Birch asked.
“Because it’s MY job to do! Be thankful it was me and not my Pa
who found you in Stanton!”
“Why, Lucas and me, you know we’re old friends, Mark,” Tom
replied with a carefree attitude of someone who had nothing to
fear from the Rifleman.
“Birch,” Coltrane replied before Mark could. “You didn’t travel
with Mark’s father for three days and nights. The last bullet
you fired, struck him across the ribs. For three days he refused
to let us know how bad it was. We listened to him swear that
he’d kill you, if you harmed one hair on his son’s head. You
crossed the line when you kept the boys.”
“Now, you know I had nothing to do with their kidnapping! In
fact, you were there when they were taken.”
“But you didn’t set them free, either. The two of us are going
to see that you are delivered safe and sound to Denver and after
you testify, then you’ll be brought back to North Fork and we’ll
file charges against you for your previous crimes.”
“See, therein lies a little hitch in your plan, my friend. My
testimony is predicated on the fact that my little…
‘transgression’… will be forgotten, it never happened.”
“NEVER HAPPENED!” Mark demanded. “I was fourteen years old! It
“The three of us know it happened, but according to the
agreement that was made in exchange for my testimony, it never
happened. That was the price Cole Barker accepted when I agree
to testify against Garth Grisolm. You don’t have to like it, but
you do have to accept it. It’s in the past, come on boy, let’s
just forget about it.”
“Forget…” Mark sputtered. “Get to sleep,” Mark grumbled as he
Once Mark was out of hearing range Walker stated, “Birch, I
wouldn’t push McCain like you are.”
“McCain… Why, he’s just a boy. You’re treating him like he’s…”
“He’s a man. For the past three years he’s been the U.S. Marshal
for this territory and don’t you forget that,” Coltrane spoke as
he pushed a finger into Birch’s chest. “You show him the respect
he’s due as a man and as a marshal.”
“Yeah, but Lucas…”
“Birch, you don’t get it, do you? Lucas swore then next time he
saw you, the law wouldn’t get the chance to see that you never
interfered with his family again.”
“Yeah, but that was then, I’m sure he’s probably forgotten it
all by now,” Birch tried to laugh it off.
“That was then,” Walker mimicked, “You saw Mark’s reaction
towards you. No boy should have to go through the terror you put
him through. You caused Mark to do a lot of growing up, faster
than he should have been forced to and Lucas will never forget
it! If Lucas knew Mark was out here with you, I don’t think
anyone could restrain him or blame him for what he would do to
you. Just be thankful that Mark is a Marshal and all the years
of training he’s gone through, he respects everything his badge
stands for. Had I been in his shoes…, I’d have plugged you the
first night out of Stanton and thought nothing of it.”
Remorsefully, Birch looked off into the direction Mark had
walked, “He still does so look like his Ma. Him and Lucas, is it
still just the two of them?” Birch sincerely asked. “I…”
“I won’t give you any information on either of them, other than
what I’ve already told you.”
“We used to be friends,” Tom forlornly spoke.
“Friends?” Coltrane asked as he raised an eyebrow.
“Guess that was a long time ago and in a different life time.
You know, the first time I saw Lucas and Mark in North Fork, I
hadn’t known that Margaret had died…” Tom’s memories died on his
“Get to your bedroll, and don’t make me regret not handcuffing
Walker watched as Birch settled into his bedroll.
Once he was settled down, Birch stated, “You didn’t ask what we
was fighting about.”
“Figured you was just being you. Tryin’ to save your own hide.”
“If I’d of known who he was…”
“You’d of still tried something.” Walker knew the real Birch and
by the tone of his voice, let Birch know, he wasn’t going to be
able to pull anything on him. “Get to sleep, morning will be
here early enough.”
Within a half hour, Coltrane heard Birch snoring, yet, Mark had
not returned to their camp.
Coltrane woke to someone flipping the coffee pot lid closed.
“Sorry,” Mark spoke as he handed the cup to Coltrane as he
walked up behind him. “He been any trouble?”
“Just asking questions,” Coltrane replied.
“I can imagine, trying to figure a way to get out of this.”
“Mark, where’d you go last night?”
“It’s my job to get him to Denver, that doesn’t mean I have to
share camp with him. Anyway, I spent the night making sure no
one was following us close.”
“How’d you come to be with Birch anyhow?”
“Hope, Seth and I were visiting Ethan and his family at Fort
Stanton when a patrol came in with ‘him’. The Lieutenant stated
he had already sent a wire to Denver informing them of Drew’s
death after he dropped him off with the sheriff.”
“Figured it would take longer for Barker or Benton to find
someone and get them there, so I decided to make the trip.
Besides, I am the marshal for this territory,” Mark’s voice took
on a matter-of-fact tone.
“Now, don’t get an attitude with me. Why didn’t you wire
“Because he’s needed alive and I didn’t want anyone else getting
the upper hand on me.”
“Mark, I was there and I know your history with Birch and I also
know that when your Pa finds out, he’s not going to take kindly.
Why don’t you go on back home, I can take Birch from here.”
“Like I said, I’m the marshal for this territory. If you want,
you can take the packhorse and create a second trail to throw
off anyone else who might be following us.”
“You really think they’re out there?”
“Not close enough for us to know, but if they killed Drew to get
‘him’, they’re out there.” Mark took a sip from the cup of
coffee he poured for himself. “Coltrane, thank you.”
“Saving my hide last night. Had you not arrived when you did…”
“Now Mark, you know I wouldn’t have killed you,” Birch called as
he knelt down to his knee, the other side of the fire from Mark
“Not since you found out who I was, but if Walker hadn’t
arrived, you’d of pulled the trigger. You’re in this for
yourself and no one else,” Mark’s voice carried a bitterness. “I
can see it in your eyes, you thought you had a good thing, until
they killed Drew. Then you got scared and you were looking for a
way out, you still are.”
Mark stood and threw out what remained of his cup of coffee, “We
ride in fifteen minutes, break camp.”
As Mark had suggested and Coltrane agreed, Mark and Birch rode
out together, while Coltrane took the packhorse, weight down
with rocks in the packs and headed out on a parallel course to
Wednesday morning, Lucas road back to town to stand his shift as
deputy, helping Seth. After making morning rounds, Seth and
Lucas sat in front of the Marshal’s Office.
“I take it that Hope told you?” Seth asked.
“Yeah, can’t say I’m too pleased about Mark doing this on his
“I know what you mean. I even offered to take Birch instead of
Mark. I saw how torn up he was as he told us what happened. It’s
still a painful memory for him.”
“I can understand, it was fresh all over again when Hope told
me. Like it just happened yesterday. I remember it took a long
time for him to even trust going into the bank, even with Micah
and me standing watch outside. He had some nightmares after we
got home… But in time, they went away. And life returned to
normal. I honestly never thought that I’d hear of Tom Birch
“He should be there sometime today. If not by suppertime, I’ll
wire,” Seth stated.
“Lucas, let the law handle this. If worse comes to worse, we’ll
cross that bridge. Until then, you’re my deputy and you’ll do as
I say… Agreed?”
“Suppertime! And not one minute later.”
Surprisingly, Mark and Birch arrived two days later in Denver
without any incident. They had traveled part way by horse and
the rest of the way by train. Mark was relieved when he
successfully transferred Birch to the custody of the Tom Benton
at U.S. Marshal’s Office. To say that Tom Benton was surprised
to see Mark transporting Tom Birch would be an understatement.
“I heard Drew was killed and wired Coltrane after Birch, how?”
“I was in Stanton when the word came in. I left early Sunday
morning and met up with Walker that night. He’s acting as decoy
and should be here some time tomorrow at the latest. I hope.”
“Any trouble?” Benton asked.
“Other than his mouth, none. And that has me worried for
Coltrane. If those outlaws killed Drew to get Birch, I can’t
believe they didn’t make an attempt once I started out with
“Well, just be thankful. Anyway, Coltrane knows how to protect
himself. Why don’t you head to the hotel and check in. I’ll meet
you for supper later this afternoon. We’ll need you to stay in
Denver until Barker gets back tonight and you can make your full
report to him. You can catch the train home tomorrow.”
Mark couldn’t wait to head to the telegraph office, to wire home
that he had safely arrived.
The Next Step — The Resentment
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch