The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 67 – Faith, Lost
Written by Deanne Bertram

Johnny left the doctor’s office and headed to the telegraph office and sent a wire.

Micah Torrance
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Myra and Mark found /stop
Return delayed /stop

Give Lou my love /stop

Marshal Johnny Drako

Johnny paid for the wire and headed to the hotel. He climbed the steps to his room while doubt started to plague him. He removed his hat and placed it on the table, with his gun and holster coiled and set next to it. He blew out the lantern. Sitting on the bed, he bent over and pulled his boots off. He stretched and laid backwards on the bed.

In the darkened room his thoughts wandered. He had been there with Lucas during the war and witnessed the same atrocities Lucas had. We was there as Lucas’ reputation in his prowess with his rifle grew and was boasted from regiment to regiment. After the war, his own abilities with a hand gun carved a name for himself. Unfortunately, his reputation, as with most who were too quick with the gun, tended to have him seem to be on the wrong side of the law. He had heard that Lucas eventually returned home and married his first love. He remembered smiling when he heard the news that Lucas had a son. And now… How many times had he been there when either Lucas or Mark had been injured. He knew how Lucas must feel and that was Jonny’s worry. Would his reputation as a gunfighter put his son’s or his daughter’s life in danger, sometime in his future. Sleep wouldn’t come to Johnny that night as his mind actively played over and over, many of the gunfights he’d been in. Most not of his choosing.

‘Lou,’ Johnny thought to himself. ‘What kind of life am I giving to you and your children. How could I have even thought that I could put my reputation aside and have a normal life?’

Johnny got up from the bed and went to stand next to the window, gazing out on the quiet, sleepy town, accepting the fact that this night, there would be no sleep for him. It had been a long time since he’d felt guilt. But this guilt was worse than anything before. This time the guilt was over something that hadn’t happened and may never happen, but just the thought that he could cause this type of anguish to those he loved. Guilt. All because of his past… Doubt. All because of his past… Worry… Knowing his past…

He continued to stand at the window, and as it did every day, the sun started rising in the eastern sky.

*****

Lucas opened the door to find Johnny Drako standing on the other side.

“Any change?” Johnny asked.

Lucas shook his head as he return to sit in the chair next to the bed where Mark lie.

“Lucas, how could we do this?”

“Do what?”

“Bring children into the world,” Johnny replied.

“It’s easy, we fell in love, got married…” Lucas answered.

“I’m not talking that. We both have reputations and look at all the harm it has caused.”

“Hold on there, friend,” Lucas cautioned. “I cursed at God last night because I felt he hadn’t protected my son. Because of my reputation someone came gunning for me. It was my wife who reminded me that maybe Mark was alive because of my faith in God.”

“I’m not talking God. I’m talking about you and your rifle and me and this.” Johnny pulled his gun from his holster and held it out to Lucas. “Last year, my reputation almost got your son killed.”

“Johnny, you stood beside Micah and me when Graves, Jones, and Evans tried to take our town. Don’t blame last year all on you.”

“Lucas, listen to me. Your son…”

“Yes my son. A little over a month ago I almost killed my son, because someone had taken a shot at me. I didn’t wait until I could get a clear line of sight and see who it was. Because of my reputation, I acted.”

“But that’s it. Your reputation put a mad-man on your trail and cost your son his memory.”

“And what about Harry Chase? My reputation had nothing to do with him, we don’t even know that Harry had anything to do with Mark’s condition. It could all be circumstantial,” Lucas replied.

“You don’t believe that for a moment,” Drako yelled.

“Maybe, maybe not. Johnny, what happened between Mark and me, it’s got you spooked.”

“Damn right it does. Goes to prove my point, I shouldn’t have thought I could settle down and put my reputation aside!”

“You’ve done a pretty good job the past six years or so.”

“You’re forgetting all the trouble my reputation has caused your son.”

“Johnny, he’s a lawman. He chose his profession. Maybe because of me, maybe because of Micah. I don’t know. But I’ve come to realize that, it’s possible, this was his destiny, to be a lawman long before you ever set foot in North Fork. Don’t blame yourself for anything that’s happened.”

Johnny turned as he heard the door to the room open behind him.

“I came to see if I could relieve Lucas, if you two need more time alone, I can come back with breakfast,” Milly spoke.

“No. We’re through with this conversation,” Lucas answered as he walked to the door to kiss his wife and pick up his daughter and hug her.

“Johnny, why don’t you head on back to North Fork. I appreciate your standing with me, but I think maybe you need to be close to your own family. .”

“Maybe I should. Maybe I’m having sympathy pains for Lou,” Johnny stated with half a laugh.

*****

After Johnny had left, Milly suggested that Lucas should go to the hotel and take a bath.

“I can’t, not right yet,” Lucas replied.

“Lucas, please. Let me sit for a while with Mark. You can really use a bath, then bring some breakfast back for us,” Milly stated as she pushed Lucas towards the door. “If there’s any change, I’ll send for you.”

*****

Lucas did as Milly requested and returned to the doctor’s office with a tray of food. They had just finished eating when they heard a knock, the door opened, and Seth Lane stepped in.

“Lucas, Milly, when we arrived in town late last night, the Sheriff told us about Mark. You should know we found Harry’s buckboard at the mine. We can use it to transport Mark back home. I saw Johnny at the hotel and he said he was heading back to North Fork, said something about he didn’t want to put too much pressure on Micah.”

“Thank you, Seth. Would you let everyone else know they should head on back home, too?”

“Sure thing, Lucas. But I plan to stay. Now, Lucas, I can see it in your eyes, remember… He’s my family too.”

Lucas nodded.

*****

That afternoon, they saw the other members of the posse off as they started their return to North Fork.

*****

Two more days passed before the doctor agreed to allow them to transport Mark home. Before Mark was carried out to the buckboard, the doctor made sure it was bedded down deep enough with straw and blankets. He had insisted their blacksmith construct a frame to which a canvas could be tied over to keep the sun from baking Mark and those sitting in back with him.

“You take it very carefully. Keep the team to a walk, and only a trot if the ground is extremely level. Jostling him around over the bumpy terrain won’t help him any,” the doctor warned as Lucas, Seth, the Sheriff, and Josiah Jessop loaded the still unconscious Mark in back.

Milly helped Myra get in back and then Lucas assisted Milly inside as well.

“Mrs. McCain, I fixed some sandwiches for your trip. We’ll be praying that your son wakes.”

“Thank you Mrs. Jessop. Thank you for finding our children and seeing that they were returned to us,” Milly stated as she accepted the basket and then hugged Mrs. Jessop.

Seth tied Blade, Blue Boy and his own horse to the back of the buckboard and then climbed up to the seat, next to Lucas. Lucas shook hands with Josiah Jessop one last time before he rein slapped the horses to start them for home.

*****

The trip home was agonizingly slow. Lucas frequently halted to check on Mark, to make sure he was handling the bumps that couldn’t be avoided.

“Lucas, why don’t you let Seth drive the team for a while and you sit back here and maybe get some sleep. I know you haven’t slept that much since we found Mark,” Milly pleaded.

As they continued their trip, Seth and Milly sat in the front seat, while Lucas sat in back. Not too much time had passed when Milly looked in on them and saw that exhaustion had finally caught up with Lucas and he was sleeping, curled up around Mark, with Myra sleeping on the other side of Mark.

“Milly, when we get back, should we head straight to town or to the ranch?”

“I think home. I don’t want to parade either of them through the streets of North Fork. If you wouldn’t mind, would you then go for Doc Burrage?”

“You know, once we get close enough, you and Lucas can take Mark on back to the homestead and I’ll take my horse and fetch Doc. Would be quicker getting him that way then for me to see you home and then head out for doc.”

“I think Lucas would approve.”

The continued on in silence, with Milly looking over to Seth every now and then.

“You’re worried about Hope.”

“Yes. At first I was only thinking of Mark, but I need to be there for her too. You’ve enough worry on your hands without Hope,” Seth stated.

“Seth, you’re both part of our family. Don’t ever forget that. In this family, belonging is thicker than blood. Maybe Jake McCafferty will be at the ranch and he can ride for Doc instead of you.”

Lucas finally stirred as the sun was beginning to set over the hills.

“Where are we?” he asked as he rose to his knees and stood up behind the seat.

“We should have you home tomorrow mid-day, if we continue to drive through the night. The moon is full and should provide enough light. We’ve not strained the team at this pace. We could stop and stretch our legs and let the horses graze for a little while.”

“Agreed,” Lucas stated as Seth made their way to a stand of trees.

Lucas jumped down and untied the over-check, allowing the horses to extend their necks and eat the rich grass at their feet, without unhitching them from their harnesses or the singletree.

Lucas insisted that since he had slept most of the day away, he would continue to drive and insisted that Milly and Seth grab a few hours sleep in back.

“Papa, can I ride up front with you?” Myra asked.

Looking at Milly and seeing her nod, Lucas said, “Yes” He made sure everyone was settled in before he started the team for the next part of the trip home.

*****

As the last remnants of light faded from the sky, Myra shifted closer in the seat to her father.

“Papa, did Mama tell you this was all my fault?” she asked.

“No. Would you care to explain how this is your fault?” Lucas asked.

“I didn’t do as Mr. Bullock told me to, when he let us out of school. I was so excited about my grades that I wanted to get home. I thought I could find my way home without you or Mark. The storm came and the water in the river pushed me off Blue Boy. I prayed that Mark would find me and not you. He doesn’t get as mad with me when I’m not good. Papa, I’m sorry. I’d give anything to have gone to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s that day. Then Mark wouldn’t have gotten hurt trying to rescue me. Oh, Papa, I’m so sorry,” Myra cried.

Lucas wrapped an arm around Myra and held her close.

“We’ll talk about your disobedience when we get home, but for right now, your Ma and I are thankful that you weren’t hurt.”

“But Mark was,” Myra sobbed. “Papa, I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“Sweetheart, it’s not your fault. I don’t know all the facts and maybe we never will, but Mark did what a big brother and a marshal should, he protected you. Maybe now you’ll understand the hurt your disobedience can cause and you’ll think twice before you disobey someone in the future.”

“I won’t need to think more than once. Papa, I been praying. Do you think God’s been listening to me?”

“I’m sure he’s trying to heal Mark and let him wake up.”

“Will he remember when he wakes?” Myra asked.

“I don’t know,” Lucas sighed as he closed his eyes, knowing how hard the past few days had been for not only Milly and him, but for his daughter as well.

****

Lucas pulled the team to a halt in front of Mark’s home. He looked to Milly, sitting in the seat next to him, as he realized the ranch was too quiet.

“Mr. McCain, Miss Milly!” Jake called as he stepped from the barn. “Deputy Lane!”

“Where’s Hope,” a concerned Seth asked. “I thought she’d was would be home?”

“She’s doing okay. My mother insisted that she and the children say at our home, until you returned,” Jake answered as he walked to the buckboard “Did you find Mark…” his words died on his lips as he looked inside.

“Jake, I was going to ask you to take my horse and ride for Doc Burrage, but first, would you help us get Mark inside and into his bed, then we’ll take the buckboard to town for Hope, the children, and Doc.”

“Yes, sir. Whatever you need,” Jake replied.

“Lucas and I will carry Mark, but we need you to keep his head still.”

“Yes, sir.”

Slowly the three carried Mark inside. Once Mark was placed in his bed and after Seth and Jake had left, Lucas allowed himself to cry. It tore at Milly, knowing how strong a man her husband was.

*****

An hour and a half had elapsed since Seth and Jake had left for town when a single horse was heard racing to the ranch. Milly and Lucas stepped to the porch and helped Doc Burrage from his horse.

“How is he? Drako told me a little upon his return and then what Seth said…”

“There’s been no change since we left Bisby,” Lucas replied.

Thadd took his time examining Mark, and afterwards, came to pretty much the same conclusion as Doc Ferguson had.

“Guess his hard head wasn’t hard enough, this time. I’m sorry Lucas, I shouldn’t have made light of this situation. I do believe he is in a coma. Whether his brain can heal is up to God. All we can do is keep him comfortable and wait. You’ve probably realized how much weight he’s already lost?” Lucas and Milly nodded. “I can assure you, it’s only going to get worse, if he does get better.”

“Can’t we force feed him?” Milly asked.

“No, not in a coma, he could easily drown if we were to force fluids into his system. His body won’t react like an unconscious person’s body would. An unconscious person can still be aware of his surroundings and realized when fluid is being introduced. Right now, Mark’s brain is functioning at such a reduced level, it’s just enough to keep him alive.”

Thadd had just finished explaining the situation and written instructions for Lucas and Milly when Seth returned with Hope. It was evident from the tears on her face that she had been crying the whole way home.

“He’s in your bedroom, Hope,” Milly stated as she wrapped an arms around Hope’s shoulders and supported her as she walked into her bedroom.

“It’s been over a month since he’s slept in our bed and now, he looks like death,” Hope cried as she turned around upon seeing Mark and buried her head onto Milly’s shoulder.

“Cry, Hope, cry. Come on, why don’t you crawl in bed and lie down next to him. Maybe he might sense you’re there and wake,” Milly stated as she looked backwards over her shoulder to her husband. She felt so helpless.

Lucas looked to Seth, “Where are the children?”

“When I got to town, I found your children and Hope’s all playing together. When I told Micah and Hattie and Maggie and the Reverend the news, Hattie said that she wouldn’t let the children come with us. Maggie put up a strong objection as well. Lucas, I couldn’t argue with two women.”

“They’re right. It’s probably best they all remain in town until we know.”

*****

The sun had long set while Lucas sat on the porch with his bible in his hands.

“Lord, guess I should be thankful of the twenty-four years you’ve given me with my boy. Maybe, you’re thinking it’s time he came to your Kingdom, to be with his Ma. I guess I could accept that, if that’s your choice, but know this Lord, there’d be a lot of good folk hurting down here. I know what Mark went through, in growing up without a Ma, I just don’t want to see his wife having to raise their sons and daughter without their father beside her.”

Lucas looked to the heaven as he leaned back against the post. He closed his eyes as he thought back to the church in Bisby. He thought on the words the Revered Alcaide had said and then the fact that Doc has said the Reverend had died four years previous. ‘Was he your angel, God?’ Lucas asked within himself. When Lucas opened his eyes, he saw a star shooting across the sky. “God, I pray that’s your way of answering that Mark’s going to be okay.”

*****

They had been home for four days and were running low on supplies, when Lucas agreed to head into town and purchase what they needed.

While in town, Lucas talked with Coltrane and found out that Wilton Chase was on his way back to St. Louis with Harry. “The judge signed the commitment order. It’s doubtful he’ll ever get out of the mental hospital.”

“He shouldn’t have gotten out the first time,” Lucas spoke bitterly.

“Lucas you have your family back.”

“Yeah, but look at the price my family’s paying!”

Lucas had put the last box in the back of the buckboard and started the horses for home. As he passed in front of the hotel he heard a distressed Lou calling for him.

“Lou?” Lucas called.

“Lucas, please! You have to go after him?” Lou pleaded. She held her hands to the bottom of her very pregnant belly.

“Who? Lou, who do you want me to go after?”

“Johnny! He told me this morning, he couldn’t’ do it anymore. He said he had no right to put my life and the lives of my children at risk. Lucas, they’re his children too! He rode out of here not fifteen minutes ago. Lucas, Please!” Lou begged.

“I’ll go after him, but first, you need to get back home. Don’t need you distressing yourself and going into early labor.”

Mrs. Donner had seen and heard the whole exchange and told Lucas to go after Johnny, she’d see that Lou got back home. And if not, at least to the clinic.

“After you get her home, you send word to my family?” Lucas asked.

“I will, Lucas. Go!” Mrs. Donner insisted.

Lucas ran to the livery and borrowed a horse and gear.

*****

After seeing Lou settled in her bed at home, Mrs. Donner ran to find Jake McCafferty. He and Gwen were sitting on a bench in front of the parsonage. Playing with Mark and Hope’s sons.

“Jake, I need you to get word to Miss Milly!”

Upon hearing the news, Jake and Gwen ushered the McCain children inside the parsonage where Jake informed his mother what was happening and that he was going to take the McCain supplies out to the ranch.

As he turned to leave, Gwen asked, “May I come too?”

“Sure, I’d love your company.”

Jake took Gwen’s hand as they ran back to where the McCain buckboard stood on the side of street. Jake assisted Gwen to the seat and climbed up beside her. He drove the team at a quicker pace than he normally would, but he felt he needed to get word to Miss Milly about Lucas.

Jake and Gwen shared supper with Hope, Milly, and Myra in Hope’s home.

“Well, I better be getting back home. Gwen are you coming?” Jake asked as he gathered his hat.

“No, I think I’ll spend the night here. Miss Hope, I’ll sit with Mark so you can get some sleep. Don’t mean to be rude, but it sure looks like you could use some.”

“Thank you, Gwen. None of us have gotten much sleep of late.”

“Jake, would you let Abigail know I’ll not be returning tonight?” Gwen asked.

“Sure.”

Gwen followed Jake to the porch where he snuck a kiss before getting back in the buckboard.

“Tell Mrs. McCain, I’ll return the buckboard tomorrow, and bring my own horse.”

Gwen nodded and stood on the porch, blushing as Jake drove away.

*****

The sun had set when Lucas came upon a small campfire with one person sitting on a log, sipping from a cup.

“I thought we had this all settled down in Bisby,” Lucas stated as he stepped from his horse.

“You thought wrong,” Johnny answered. His eyes held little emotion.

“You’re taking what happened to my family a little too personally, aren’t you?”

“No, just got my eyes opened as to what’s in store if I stick around. Best to stay away from those I love, so some hotshot can’t hurt them.”

“You’re worried about some stranger riding into town and hurting them? My God! You’re hurting them more than any stranger could. You left your wife when she’s less than a month away from giving birth to your child!”

“That’s my business. Besides, she’s always been sweet on you, maybe you can convert to being a Mormon and take on a second wife.”

“That’s not fair. Yes, Lou and I are good friends, I won’t argue that point, but she and I decided long time ago that any other relationship between the two of us wouldn’t work. We’re too different. Before you came to town I thought Lou’s eyes sparkled for me, but once she met you and you decided to stay… Well, let me tell you, I never saw her eyes sparkle as brightly as they do when you’re around.”

“That’s neither here nor there. She knows I love her,” Johnny commented as he threw the last of his coffee out.

“And you show her your love by abandoning her? Never figured that Johnny Drako would turn coward and yellow…”

With that, Johnny jumped to his feet and threw a punch striking Lucas in the jaw. The two fought viscously, throwing blows, and rolling on the ground, until both were too exhausted to anything more than lie on the ground. Blood ran from the corners of both of their mouths and both would have deep shiners when their eyes next saw the light of day.

“Now that you have that… out of your system,” Lucas stated, his chest heaving as he struggled to catch his breath, just as much as Johnny’s was. “You ready to return to your family and live up to your marriage vows? And the oath you swore when you became North Fork’s Marshal?”

“McCain…” Johnny struggled to call.

After catching his breath, Lucas finally sat up and said, “You were the one looking for a nice, quiet place to settle down. You should have thought about this before you decided to stay and started courting Lou. Yes, our pasts put our families at risk, but running away won’t solve your problem. Damn it man! You’re willing to throw away what you have all on the chance that something might happen in the future? The night we arrived home, I sat on the porch and I told God I could accept if he decided to take Mark. I’ve had twenty-four wonderful years with him. I’ll cherish everyone that God gave me and I pray he lets Mark recover. I’ve come to accept what I’m capable of putting my family through and they’ve chosen to stand beside me. Give Lou the same courtesy, don’t make the choice for her.”

“McCain, when your boy recovers, I think I’ll press charges against you for assaulting an officer of the law.”

“I thought you gave up on that dream of yours,”

“Naw, someone beat the truth into me… Thanks, friend,” Johnny stated and then let out an ouch as he smiled at his own words.

*****

Lucas had just returned home and put the horse away when he heard a rider fast approaching. Lucas stepped from the barn and saw a horse standing in front of his son’s home, flanks heaving. Lucas ran to the house and saw Sam Buckhart on the porch.

“Sam?!” Lucas hollered.

“Where is she?” Sam asked as he turned at hearing Lucas call his name.

“Who?” Lucas replied.

“Mark’s wife?”

“She’s probably in the house with Mark, tending to him,” Lucas answers.

“Are you sure?”

“No I’m not sure. I haven’t been in their home. I just got back from chasing down Johnny Drako yesterday. Sam, what’s up?” Lucas demanded.

“I received word from Tom Benton about Mark’s condition. Please, may I enter their home?” Sam asked urgently.

Lucas opened the door and let Sam inside, he showed Sam to the bedroom where Mark lay, still in a coma.

“She’s not here Lucas. Where is she?”

“Sam, I don’t understand. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Lucas, if Mark doesn’t recover, I worry about his wife.”

Lucas choked out, “Sam, if it comes to that…, Milly and I…, and her father will be here for her.” Seeing the expression on Sam’s face, Lucas asked, “What are you getting at?”

“How has she acted since you brought Mark home?”

Gwen entered the bedroom at hearing the men talking.

“Saying she’s been worried would be an understatement,” Gwen answered the question. “Miss Milly says Hope rarely leaves his side. I’ve tried to ask her to eat yesterday, but she refused.”

Looking around the room, Gwen asked, “Where is Hope this morning?” realizing they were the only ones in the room.

“That’s what I am trying to find out,” Sam answered.

“Then tell me why you’re so worried,” Lucas demanded.

“Lucas, she spent six years with the Kiowa.”

“I know that.”

“Lucas, did you know that many times, when a brave dies, his wife will also take her life, in order to be with him on the other side.”

“WHAT?!” Lucas exploded

“Lucas, the ways of the Indian are different from those of the white man.”

“But Mark’s not dead!” Gwen cried.

“No, but the longer he goes without recovering, her grief may force her to think that he is waiting for her, before he crosses over,” Buckhart answered.

“Sam, she’s lived as Mark’s wife for longer than she lived as a Kiowa. She’s been through worse with him. She couldn’t,” Lucas replied.

“After everything she went through last year? Then why isn’t she here, Lucas? If she’s not here tending to her husband, where is she?” Sam asked coldly, trying to drive home the urgency of the situation to Lucas.

“Her children are still in town,” Gwen answered.

Lucas, Sam, and Gwen turned in hearing a quiet voice whisper.

“Mark, did you say something?” Lucas asked as he stepped to the bed and lowered he head close to Mark.

“The Pond,” Mark said just as quietly.

“The Pond,” Lucas repeated.

“Which waterhole Lucas?”

“Let me get my horse saddled. Gwen, tell Milly.”

Together, Lucas and Sam rode for the pond, pushing their horses faster than they should have over the terrain, but a life was possibly at risk. Both hauled their horses to a halt when they saw Two-Bits eating grass and who could only be Hope lying next to the pond. From horseback, they saw the sun glint off the steel blade of a knife.

“God NO!” Lucas screamed.

“Lucas, stay here. I’ll tend to her.”

Lucas felt his knees buckle as he stepped from Blade, he grabbed the saddle horn to keep from falling as he watched Sam run to where Hope lie. He watched as Sam took the knife from Hope’s hand and put it in the back of the belt to his pants.

“Lucas, she lives,” Sam called.

Somewhat fortified, Lucas quietly thanked God as he ran to where they were.

“She tried Lucas, she tried,” Sam stated as he pulled a rag from his pocket and wrapped it around Hope’s wrist.

“How deep?” Lucas asked as he saw the tear stains down Hope’s face.

“Not deep enough. If as the other young woman said, she’s not eaten, she’s probably too weak, especially after saddling her horse and riding all the way out here… she couldn’t go through with it. I think she’s just passed out. Get your horse and I’ll hand her up to you.”

Within a few minutes, Lucas was carrying Hope in the saddle in front of him. With his arms wrapped around her, he realized how much slighter of build she had become. Lucas cursed himself for not being observant to notice how Hope had neglected herself, all for the sake of his son.

*****

Milly stepped from her home as she heard the horses galloping away and saw Gwen standing on the porch.

“Miss Milly, Miss Milly!” Gwen cried.

“Gwen what’s wrong? What happened?” Milly felt panic welling inside as Gwen ran to her, crying.

“It’s Hope, the Marshal. He was asking about Hope and talking, but…” Gwen sobbed.

“But what? Gwen, breathe slowly. What about Hope?”

“She wasn’t in the house this morning and the Marshal said she would kill herself!”

“Kill herself?” Milly felt her stomach drop.

“Something about living with the Kiowa,” Gwen said as she covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh, no God. No!” Milly cried.

Milly was never more thankful that Mark and Hope’s children were still in town with the Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty. She only wished Myra was in town with her brothers at Hattie and Micah’s, but she knew that if she sent her daughter away, Myra would feel even worse, that this really was all her fault. She wrapped an arm around Gwen’s shoulders and led her back to the house. As they stepped to the porch, Milly heard Jake McCafferty arrive with the team and buckboard.

“Jake,” Milly called as she turned around. “I need you to ride back to town and fetch Doc Burrage back here.”

Jake couldn’t help but hear the urgency in Milly’s voice as he jumped down from the buckboard and ran to the back and untied his horse.

“Is it Mark?” he called.

“No, I fear it’s Hope.”

He swung up into the saddle and didn’t even bother putting his feet in the stirrups before he was racing his horse away.

“God, how can this family endure anymore?” Milly clasped her hands together as she looked to the heavens.

They left the team hitched and standing in the yard, not knowing whether they would need to race Hope into town, once Doc Burrage arrived and she was found and brought home.

*****

Lucas and Sam return with Hope. Milly heard their return and held the door open for them. The two of them carefully got Hope down from Lucas’ horse and Lucas carried her into the house and laid her in bed, next to Mark. Gwen stood on the porch and prevented Myra from entering the house.

Milly sat on the edge of the bed and started to remove the rag that Sam had placed around Hope’s wrist. From outside, Milly heard a horse running rapidly away.

“Sam’s going to get Doc and Seth,” Lucas stated as he returned to the bedroom.

“He’ll probably encounter Doc on the way back here. I sent Jake to fetch him earlier” Milly answered.

“Lucas, Gwen told me what Sam said. She really tried to kill herself?” Milly asked as tears fell down her cheeks.

“She might have thought about it, but Sam said the knife didn’t cut deep enough.”

The both looked at the slash mark across Hope’s wrist as Milly finished unwrapping the rag. Both were thankful that she had been too weak to succeed. Milly wrapped a clean bandage around the wound and then brushed back the bangs that had fallen into Hope’s face.

“Lucas, how could we have not seen what she was going through? She’s lost so much weight in just the few days we’ve been home.”

“We were too concerned over Mark. We saw what we wanted to see. Don’t be too hard on yourself, won’t do any of us any good,” Lucas said as he walked up behind Milly and wrapped his arms around her. “We just have to pray that God will help us, all of us.”

Milly turned her head as she heard Mark whisper, “the pond”.

“Lucas, Mark’s trying to say something.”

“I know, he must have overheard Sam and I talking earlier, he must have known that Hope would have gone to the pond. I’m thankful that somehow he heard us.”

“He’s saying more than just the pond, Lucas.”

Lucas walked around the end of the bed and knelt next to his son and listened to what he was trying to say.

“The pond … … back,” was all that Lucas could understand.

“I don’t know, Milly,” Lucas replied. “He’s trying to say something about the pond and back.”

*****

Sam rode for North Fork, for the sake of those at the McCain ranch, he hoped the doctor would be in town. He was only ten minutes from the house when he saw riders heading his way. He halted his horse when he recognized Seth and Thadd. He wasn’t sure about the younger man who rode with them.

“Marshal Buckhart,” Seth called as they halted their horses. “Jake said something was wrong with Hope?”

“Ride for the McCain ranch now,” Sam ordered as he turned his horse and headed back.

*****

“I can’t believe that Hope would even consider suicide,” Thadd stated after listing to Sam explain what had happened as he sat on the edge of the bed, next to Hope.

“Suicide?” Seth questioned the word.

“Yes. David Émile Durkheim, he’s a sociologist and an anthropologist in Europe. I understand he is founding a department at the University of Bordeaux, in France. I’ve been reading some of his published papers. If I understand what I’ve been reading correctly, he would deem what Hope attempted as a suicide. The pressures of social structure place such a strain on a person that they see there’s only one way out, to kill themselves.”

“Doc, I don’t believe I understand what you are saying, but to the Indian, it isn’t a way out. It isn’t social pressures. An Indian wife will choose to be there for her husband, in life and in death, when the love it that great,” Sam spoke.

“But why now?” Milly asked. “Mark was so worse off last year, after…”

“I know Milly,” Thadd interrupted. “This could be where the social pressures come into play. The two of them have been through so much in their lives. Last year, Hope was pregnant with their child. She could have felt she couldn’t take the life of her child as well as her own, and then Mark recovered.”

“When the love between two is that great, as I believe it is between Mark and his wife, it would be easy to accept the woman’s taking her life. As for last year, it would be unforgivable for a wife to take the life of an unborn child, in case the child would be male,” Sam confirmed.

Seth sat down hard in one of the chairs in the room. He couldn’t believe what was being discussed regarding his daughter. He’d never considered how her spending those six years with the Kiowa could have impacted her life, especially now that she was married and had children of her own. He never thought that the Kiowa way of living could be so… harsh on a woman.

“Accept?!” Seth demanded. “How can you just stand there and accept the fact that a woman could take her own life? How can you raise a woman to seek death, when their husband dies?! My daughter has children to care for!”

“Deputy Lane, as I’ve said, Indian life is different. The maidens of the tribe are not raised in this manner, but it does happen and the young women remember as they are given to a brave. The children are raised by the tribe, yes, they are the offspring of a brave and his wife, but the whole tribe participates in the raising of the children. The way the McCain’s live and raise their children, your daughter could very well have felt that Mark’s mother would be a good substitute to raise her children, as well as the other young woman.”

“Substitute?! There’s no substitute for my daughter!”

Thadd asked for everyone except Milly to leave the room so he could properly examine Hope. “I don’t need this conversation happening in this room.”

*****

After the others had left the room, Thadd continued to examine Hope.

“Milly, she’s lost a lot of weight.”

“We realized that this morning, when Lucas brought her home. Gwen told Lucas that she didn’t think Hope had been eating since we brought Mark home,” Milly replied with guilt. “We hadn’t realized it.”

Thadd had finished examining the wound and wrapped a new bandage around Hope’s wrist. “Good news is that it won’t required any stitches. The bleeding has practically stopped on its own. Now, when she wakes up, I want her to eat and someone has to be here with her at all times to see that she does. As much weight as she’s lost and if it has been five days since she’s ate, eating will be a shock to her system. She’ll probably feel nauseated and want to throw up, so small, frequent amounts will be best to reintroduce food to her system. Start with chicken broth or maybe some oatmeal thinned out with milk and see how she handles it.” Thadd pulled the sheet up over Hope’s shoulders and turned to face Milly. “Milly, I’d prefer if it weren’t Gwen who stayed here with her. Send her back to town to help the McCafferty’s look after Mark and Hope’s children. You and Lucas need to be the ones to be here. Dealing with Hope could get pretty ugly, the longer Mark remains unconscious. Sometimes the fact that a person failed in killing themselves can drive them to more drastic measures to take their life. You’ll have to keep a ever, vigilant eye on her until Mark recovers.”

“Are you so sure he will?” Milly dared ask.

“I pray he will. For Hope and his children, as well as for you and especially, Lucas.”

Milly nodded in understanding.

*****

Milly stepped from the bedroom and Marshal Buckhart motioned her aside.

“Mrs. McCain, I take it that you don’t know much about the years the younger Mrs. McCain spent with the Kiowa?”

“No, I don’t think any of us do. We just, accepted her into our family, without any question. Sam, we do love her,” Milly said.

Sam saw the pain in her eyes, “I know this family does. That’s why, when I heard the news of Mark, I got here as quickly as I could. I didn’t think that she would have told anyone all the details of her life, not even Mark. When she recovers, I think it best that you get her to talk of her life before Mark rescued her.”

“How?”

“By asking. Get her talking of why she tried to take her life. This family needs to understand how her living as a Kiowa led her down this path. I’m not saying this to be cruel or bigoted. She might not even realize why she tried. But by talking, you can help her understand, and to understand, yourselves.”

“Sam, thank you. You don’t know how much your arrival means to this family,” Milly offered.

“Yes, I do, Mrs. McCain.” With that, Sam turned and called goodbye to Lucas.

*****

As Doc left, he talked with Gwen and suggested it would be best if she were to return to North Fork and to the McCafferty’s home to help with Hope and Mark’s children. “You can spend the evenings at our house, if you still feel uncomfortable in staying at the McCafferty’s.”

“But I’m needed here,” Gwen tried to say.

“No, Thadd’s right, Gwen. Lucas and I would really appreciate it if you were there to help with our grandchildren. Please?” Milly asked.

Gwen nodded and proceeded into her room to pack for her stay in town.

“We’ll send word, we promise,” Lucas said as he helped her up behind Jake and handed her carpet bag to her. “Jake you stay in town too. That’s the way I want it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jake turned his horse and slowly rode from the McCain Ranch.

The Next Step — Faith’s Redemption

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

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