The Writer's Corner
The Next Step…
Chapter 15 - Mark’s Return
Written by Deanne Bertram
It was Tuesday evening, when Nils came running into the
restaurant, calling, “Micah, Lucas, Milly, he’s back. He’s at
the livery right now.”
They all stood, with Lucas giving Milly an expression that told
her to sit back down. He’d bring Mark to her.
Lucas, Micah, and Nils ran to the livery. As they entered they
saw a very tired Mark carrying a saddle to put it on a rack.
Lucas reached Mark and grabbed the saddle from him.
“Glad to see you home, son. You want some help?” Lucas asked.
“Pa, I’m sure glad to be home and yeah, I could use your help
with the horses,” Mark replied.
All could see and hear the weariness in Mark. Micah told him to
sit a spell; that the three of them would finish tending to the
horses. Mark walked over to Blue Boy and scratched him above the
eye. “Hey there boy, how’s Hope been treating you? Has she given
you enough exercise?” Mark let out a yawn and then shivered
Once the horses were tended to, Lucas walked over and put an arm
on his son’s shoulder.
“Come on Mark, Milly’s over at the restaurant. I’ll see that you
get a room at the hotel for the night,” Lucas stated as he lead
Mark out of the livery.
“Pa, I’ll be okay. I can make it home.” Mark looked up at his
Pa, and said, “Honest Pa.”
“We’ll see,” Lucas answered as they walked.
They entered the hotel and Mark saw the concerned expression on
his Ma’s face. He walked to her and gave her a huge hug.
“I’m sorry Ma. I didn’t mean to worry you. It’s just that…”
“Mark, you can tell us all about it tomorrow, right now, you’re
going to eat.”
They exchanged a few moments of understanding, without saying a
word, when Mark finally agreed and sat down. Alice brought out a
huge steak and fried potatoes for Mark.
“Mark, would you like some dessert when you’re done?” Alice
“No Ma’am, I think once I’m done with supper, I want to head
home and sleep in my own bed.”
Mark was halfway through his meal when Hope entered the
restaurant, the look of worry on her face disappeared when she
saw Mark. She smiled as she walked to the table where Micah and
the McCain’s sat. Mark stood to pull out a chair and invited her
to sit. No one really talked, they knew how tired Mark had to
be, but they were thankful to just be near him.
Mark had finished eating, when Lucas stepped out. When he
returned he led his family to the buckboard, Blue Boy tied to
the back and Mark’s saddle in the back of the buckboard.
“Hope, I’ll be back in town tomorrow. Can I see you tomorrow
afternoon?” Mark asked. She nodded.
“Pa, let me walk…” Mark started to say.
“No boy,” Micah interrupted. “You head on home with your folks,
I’ll see to it that Hope gets back to Miss Hattie’s.”
Mark smiled as they turned to walk away.
“Okay, son, up in back. I’ll take it slow and easy, just in case
you fall asleep back there,” Lucas stated. Mark hopped up in
back as Lucas lifted Milly to her seat. The headed for home.
Once home and after tending to the horses, Mark didn’t remember
returning to the house, walking to his bedroom, or falling down
in his bed.
Lucas returned to the house for lunch. As he entered from the
back, he stopped at the stove, put his arms around Milly, patted
her stomach, and asked, “So how’s the little bun doing today?”
“Much better with the medicine Doc gave me. Now, let go of me or
I’ll burn your lunch.”
Lucas turned and walked to the table, noticed the door to Mark’s
bedroom was still closed.
“How’s our bull doing?” Lucas asked, pointing to Mark’s door.
“He’s more like a calf, sleeping. I checked on him about an hour
ago. I don’t think he’s moved since he fell asleep last night.”
Then with concern in her voice, “Lucas I want Doc Burrage to
look at him. He looked so pale and exhausted last night. I’m
Lucas pulled Milly into his lap as he sat down at the table.
“Milly, I know. I am too. But we don’t know what happened out
there. If he wants to tell us, we’ll be here to listen. Once
he’s awake, we’ll see how he’s doing and if we feel he needs Doc
Burrage… Right now, let him sleep.”
Lucas was giving Milly a playful kiss when they heard, “Don’t
let me interrupt, but whatever you’re cooking smells good.”
“Afternoon son,” Lucas stated as Milly stood up and returned to
“Okay, so how long did I sleep this time?” Mark asked as he
stretched his arms.
“Have a seat. You returned to North Fork last night. So you only
slept the night and this morning.” Lucas stated and then took a
sip of coffee from the cup Milly handed him. “Mark, we won’t
pry, but if you need to talk, you know that both your Ma and I
“Pa, I’d like to talk, but first, I’m rather hungry,” Mark
Milly set a plate in front of Mark first and then served Lucas.
“Mark, while you’re eating there’s something we need to
discuss,” Lucas stated. Mark looked up from eating, his eyes
inquiring. “Hear me out. Mark, before you left, you told Micah
to tell us something that wouldn’t worry us while you were
“Well, first off, the number one rule we always lived by has
been broken, quite a lot, lately and I aim to see that it gets
re-affirmed. We don’t keep secrets from each other.” Lucas
looked directly at Milly and then to Mark.
“So, next time you leave town on business, you will tell us,
yourself. Don’t leave it to Micah.”
“Yes, sir.” Mark stated as he took another bite of food.
“Also, Milly and I have already come to an understanding about
you finding her week, before last and not telling me. That will
not happen again,” Lucas sternly stated. “If it does, both of
you will have your back-sides tanned. I’m the head of this house
and it’s my responsibility to provide for and protect. You’ll
see to it that I’m told of everything?”
“Yes, sir.” Mark answered, feeling like a child getting his hand
slapped for sneaking a cookie.
“Finally, everything is forgiven. As I once told you, Mark,
there’s no looking back, we’ve come too far.”
“I understand Pa.” Mark said as he looked at his Pa and gave a
“Lucas, I think you’re being too serious for all this. Just tell
him,” Milly laughed.
“Well son, while you were away, we found out some news,” Lucas
“So Ma is pregnant?” Mark asked as a smile crept across his face
and his eyes brightened. “I’m going to have a baby brother or
“Mark, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. You’re too
smart for your own good sometimes,” Milly claimed as she smiled.
“If we’re right, the baby will be born sometime in January.”
“How does that make you feel Mark?” Lucas asked. It had been
just the two of them for so long. Now there was Milly and soon,
a new baby due.
Mark stood and walked behind Milly, he bent over and gave her a
hug around the shoulders, then said, “Pa, I don’t regret the
life we lived, just you and me. But this is special. Having a Ma
and next year I’ll have a brother or a sister, it feels warm. It
feels right. Its home.”
A tear was streaming down Milly’s cheek as Mark gave her another
hug and she patted his arm.
Lucas followed Mark as he walked to the barn to saddle Blue Boy.
Every now and then, Mark would sneak a peek towards his Pa. He
smiled as he saw his Pa smiling. Everything was as it should be.
“I’ll be back for supper tonight. Oh, and tell Ma, I’m planning
to bring Hope. See you Pa!” Mark called as he rode to North
Fork. He needed to make his report to Micah and had promised to
Mark arrived at the Marshal’s and found Micah sitting behind his
“Afternoon Micah,” he stated as he entered.
“Hi Mark. How’re you doing?”
“Better, got to sleep in my own bed and ate some of Ma’s
cooking. The only way I could be any better would be to have
Hope in my arms.” Mark grinned at his own comment. “Micah, when
I stopped off an evening, I worked on writing out a report.
Thought I could save you some time.” He handed an envelope to
Mark sat down in the chair as Micah started to read.
“Boy are you sure you want to include how old you are in this
report?” Micah asked.
“Micah, it’s about time everyone knew anyway. More people are
bound to find out, what with Drew here, and Marshal Carson and
Sheriff Mitchell. Besides, Pa informed me this morning how much
secrets can hurt.”
“Okay, it’s your report.”
Micah had just finished reading Mark’s report when Drew hobbled
into the office on crutches.
“Hi ya Mark. So tell me about your adventure. Marshall here
didn’t tell me a whole lot.” Drew stated as he leaned his
crutches against the wall.
“There weren’t a whole lot to tell, until I finished reading
this here report.” Micah whistled. “Boy, no wonder Marshal
Carson said you were exhausted. Tell you what, Drew’s been
helping me out here in the office, while I’m out and about, why
don’t you take a few more days off. Help your Pa out at the
ranch. Come Friday night you can return to town and take back
your responsibilities as my deputy. Doc says it’s going to be a
few more weeks before he can ride, so until Johnny comes back,
I’ll could use both of you.”
“Sure Micah. Well, if that’s all, think I’ll head on over to
Miss Hattie’s to see Hope ,” Mark said as he stood to leave.
“Drew, thanks for helping out.”
“Hey Mark, it’s good to be able to stay in one place for a
while, even if I am wearing this here ball and chain. Mind if I
walk out with ya?”
“If you think you can keep up.”
Micah watched as the two stopped at the hitching rail and talked
for a few minutes. Then he heard Drew holler, “Get on over and
tell your gal I said ‘Hi’.”
Mark rode Blue Boy over to Miss Hattie’s. Before he could knock
on the door, it was opened and Hope was there.
“Mark, come on in. Miss Hattie’s looking forward to seeing you.”
Mark removed his hat as he entered the house. He followed Hope
into the parlor where Hattie was waiting and pulled him into a
“My child, you don’t look like you’ve fully recovered from your
ordeal. Why aren’t you back in bed, resting?” Hattie asked and
she looked Mark over one way and then another.
“Hattie, I needed to get to town and report in to Micah. I
should have done that last night. Besides, it gave me a great
excuse to come here and see you.” He gave her a small kiss on
“Now I know you’re not feeling well. You didn’t come here to see
me, least not that’s the only reason.”
“Miss Hattie, I was wanting to invite Hope over for dinner
tonight and if okay with you, she could spend the night at the
ranch. I’d bring a cot in from the barn and she could sleep in
my room. I mean, I’d sleep on the cot in the front room and she
could sleep in my room.”
“Mark, I know you’re a gentleman and I knew exactly what you
meant. Go on, enjoy yourselves.”
Hope packed an overnight bag and they ran out of the house to
Blue Boy. Mark got in the saddle first and then pulled Hope up
behind him. They rode to Nils, where they saddled a horse for
Hope. As they started to leave, Mark got on Blue Boy and again
pulled Hope up behind him, she rested her head against his back.
Mark led the horse for Hope as he headed for home. The people of
North Fork stopped and smiled as they saw the two of them riding
“Mark, you’ve never asked me to spend the night at the ranch
before, why now?”
“Because Drew told me he’d seen Miss Hattie and Micah sitting on
the bench outside the hotel one evening. Micah had his arm
around her shoulder. Kind of made sense after he insisted in
seeing that you got back to Miss Hattie’s last night. This way,
if they want to spend some time together, they don’t have to
worry about getting Miss Hattie back home to make sure you’re
tucked in bed. Besides, it also means I get to spend more time
Mark kicked Blue Boy up into a lope as he heard Hope laughing
Lucas was coming from the barn as they arrived.
“Well know, what’s this?”
“Hi Pa, I brought Hope home for the night. We borrowed a horse
from Nils so we could go riding and checking the fence line
“For the night?”
“Sure Pa, Hope can sleep in my room and I’ll sleep in the front
room on a cot. Besides, I think Miss Hattie and Micah might
appreciate some time alone.”
“Micah and Hattie?”
“That’s what Drew told me today. He saw the two of them together
while I was gone. Thought they might appreciate some privacy.
That and Micah told me not to report for duty until Friday
evening. So Hope and I can work the ranch until then.”
“Okay, just get the horses inside and get cleaned up. Hope,
Milly is looking forward to your company.”
“Thank you Mr. McCain.”
Lucas walked to the porch, turned around and watched as the two
led their horses to the barn. Their laughter was infectious.
“Lucas, what’s so funny?” Milly asked.
“The kids. You won’t believe what Mark had to say. He said the
Drew saw Hattie and Micah together, so Mark invited Hope here to
spend the night.” Lucas saw the look on Milly’s face and he put
his arms around her. “Don’t worry, Mark’s going to sleep on a
cot in the front room while Hope sleeps in his room. Besides, I
have a feeling those two really will get married and for a
while, they’ll be living here with us. So this’ll give a chance
to sorta get used to that idea.” Lucas snuggled into Milly’s
Their moment was broken when they heard, the metal basin out
back hit the ground and then Mark yelling, “Hope, I’m gonna get
you! Just you wait!” Both ran to the back door to see the wash
basin upturned and on the ground. They saw a soaking wet Mark
catch up to Hope and grab her around the waist. She squealed and
playfully kicked at him. Lucas saw Mark carry Hope towards the
“Mark, stop right where you are!” Lucas yelled. Mark set Hope
back on her feet, but he didn’t let go of her waist. Together
they walked, laughing, towards the house.
“Okay, young man, why don’t you go get changed into something
dry, while Hope helps Milly get supper finished.”
While Mark was changing, Milly was teasing Hope. “Hope, why on
earth would you do something like that? It wasn’t very
“Well he tried to splash me first, so when he had the towel to
his face, I just couldn’t help it. Mrs. McCain, the look on his
face, was so funny. It was like the day at Miller’s…”
“I know Hope. Mark told us. If either of our men ask, tell them
I firmly reprimanded you. Oh how I would have loved to have seen
Mark’s face,” Milly said as they both giggled. Both their faces
turned serious when they heard Mark return from his bedroom.
Hope and Mark shared the chore of setting the table, while Lucas
helped carry the food from the stove to the table. As a family
they sat down. Lucas said grace.
After Hope and Milly had finished the dishes, they returned to
the front room.
“Pa, Ma? If you’d like, I could tell all of you what happened
while I was gone,” Mark said.
“Mark, that’s up to you. If you’re ready to talk, we’ll listen.”
Mark told of leaving town with Barlow in tow. How uneventful the
first two days were as they rode, but how unsettling the nights
were. He had Barlow properly handcuffed, but still couldn’t
bring himself to fully relax into his sleep. Told of, on the
night of his third day, a ferocious storm hit. How it came with
very little warning. They raced their horses for the hills. Told
how they encountered the Jacobsen family. How he was forced to
kill one of the horse team and the other one was already dead
from the tree falling. Told of how he found Mr. Jacobsen and
worked to rescue him and how Barlow worked to save his life.
Mark was quiet and they waited for him to continue his story, in
his own time.
“Mrs. Jacobsen was in their wagon, she was in labor. I helped
bring a new life into the world… I’ve never seen anything like
it. Holding that newborn in my arms, then having Mrs. Jacobsen
tell me what I needed to do. Hearing the baby cry for the first
time. Mrs. Jacobsen’s young daughters then wrapped the baby in a
blanket. When I heard that baby cry, I realized how quiet
everything was outside. The storm had stopped. It was so
peaceful, then hearing that baby suckling at her breast.
“For the rest of that night, not only was I responsible for
Barlow, but I was responsible for the whole Jacobsen family. I
couldn’t bring myself to sleep. Worrying how to get everyone to
town. In the morning, Barlow and I made a travois and tied it to
the packhorse and got the husband settled. Then we got their two
girls up on Barlow’s horse and I was responsible for getting
Mrs. Jacobsen up on the horse I was riding. Then we had to lead
them to town. We broke camp around eight that morning and didn’t
get to Clovis until nine that night.
“After a while, it all started running together. I just focused
on placing one foot in front of the other. We stopped and rested
every now and then, but… Once we reached Clovis, it all felt
like a dream and I was sitting, watching from the outside. I
couldn’t focus on anything. Next thing I knew, it was Saturday
“I’m really sorry for causing all of you, this worry. It just
sounded so simple, escort a prisoner to Clovis and then come
Mark finish telling his story and pulled Hope into his arms. He
gave an involuntary shiver, glad that this was in his past.
Hope and Milly retired to their bedrooms, while Lucas and Mark
worked to set up a cot in the front room for Mark.
“Son, I’m mighty proud of you. You’ve taken a big step in
growing up. It amazes me the compassion and depth of caring that
you have inside you. You can hear it in your voice when you
talk. I’m sure your Ma, your real Ma, is smiling down on you.”
“Thanks Pa. I know that both of my Ma’s are smiling at me.”
“Goodnight son.” Lucas blew out the lantern.
Mark woke before anyone else. He quickly dressed and headed to
the barn to start his morning chores. As he returned to the
house, carrying a basket of eggs and a pail of milk, Hope was
coming from his bedroom. He smiled as he looked at her.
Mesmerized by the beauty he saw. Together they prepared
breakfast. When it was ready, Mark knocked on the door to his
parent’s room. “Breakfast, if you two sleepyheads are awake.”
“Be right there Mark.” Mark heard Lucas call and then heard
laughter behind the door.
Hope was just setting breakfast on the table as Lucas and Milly
entered the front room.
As they ate, Mark let his attention drift, Milly brought him
back to present when she placed a hand on his arm.
“I’m all right Ma.” He smiled and finished eating breakfast.
While Milly and Hope cleared the table and did the dishes, Mark
and Lucas walked to the barn.
“Pa, can we talk for a moment?”
“What’s on your mind?” he asked as they started to saddle their
“Pa, helping that baby come into the world… I mean, I’ve never…”
Mark cast his eyes to the ground, shame and embarrassment were
Lucas realized what was concerning his son.
“Mark, God wouldn’t have put you there, if he didn’t feel you
couldn’t handle the situation... Witnessing the birth of a child
is miraculous. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. That woman
needed help and you were the only one who could help her. Just
remember, you did what had to be done.”
“I will Pa. Thanks, I just needed to talk -- without Hope or Ma
“I understand son. There are things that should be kept between
a father and son.”
Hope entered the barn, eager to get started on riding fence.
As they rode away, Lucas hollered, “Enjoy your ride today!”
Most of their ride was uneventful. They did find one break in
the fence. A tree limb had partially come down. Mark stepped
down from Blue Boy and tied his lasso to an end of the limb.
Climbed back in the saddle and maneuvered Blue Boy to pull the
limb off the fence. Luckily he had thought about tying the ax on
back of his saddle. It was going to take a while for Mark to
chop down the limb from the tree and then repair the fence
section. He stripped his shirt, hung it over the saddle horn, as
the sun was already high in the sky and it was hot out. He
worked hard to chop the limb from the tree. Then he pulled wire
from his saddle bag and started to work on the repair. Hope
picked up the other two strands of broken wire and held for
Mark. He turned around to pick up another end, when Hope saw the
scars. It had been a long time since Thanksgiving and she had
forgotten about the attack.
Mark put his shirt back on and they continued to ride. Around
noon, they stopped for the lunch Milly had packed for them.
After eating, Mark leaned back into a tree and Hope sat in front
of him and leaned back into him, as he wrapped his arms around
“Mark, do they hurt?” Hope asked.
“The scars on your back, do they hurt? So much has happened and
I forgot about them, until earlier.”
“Not really, sometimes I’ll stretch or move and I feel a tug
across my back. They don’t really hurt. In fact, it’s been a
long time since I thought about them. The only hurt is
remembering how they came to be on my back. Same as yours. Yours
doesn’t hurt any more, does it?”
“No Mark. You took the hurt away a long time ago.”
They watched as the clouds drifted by… Hope claiming one cloud
looked like a rabbit running. Mark then pointed to another,
looking like an elephant.
“An elephant?” Hope asked.
Mark explained it was an animal that lived in India and Africa,
continents on the other side of the world, he’d read about them
in a book Mr. Griswald had given him. He’d also seen them at a
circus once, long ago.
A breeze was blowing across the range, the grass was waving in
unison and the leaves on the trees were swaying back and forth.
Mark leaned his head forward and nuzzled into Hope’s neck.
Gently, pressing a kiss to her skin.
“Hope,” Mark’s voice broke the silence of nature. “I just can’t
imagine living my life without you. I just want you to know that
I will make you my wife. I promised Pa I’d wait until we were at
least eighteen. But I also know, you need to finish your
education. And then, together, we’ll make a future life
together... Waking up with you at the ranch this morning, it
gave me a whole new understanding to the word family.”
“Mark, I want to share your dream and your life.” Hope turned to
Mark and looked into his eyes. Mark took her chin in his hand,
slowly he leaned forward and they kissed. The same warmth spread
though both their bodies as it had that day back at Miller’s
Creek. They parted and Mark pulled Hope close. Both sighed.
“Hope, I’m already hurting because I know come tonight, I will
have to return you to Miss Hattie’s and I’m missing you
“I’m missing you too. But I think we should return to your home.
It’s getting late.
The Next Step — The
Return of Johnny and Lou Drako
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch