The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 55 – McCain, U.S. Marshal
Written by Deanne Bertram

Long before the sun rose Saturday morning, Mark was awake, lying in bed, next to Hope. As he watched his wife peacefully sleeping, he was thinking back on the events of the three previous weeks.

He thought back on his arrival in Denver and having supper the first night with Tom Benton and Cole Barker. After inquiring about how both of Mark’s families were, his father’s and his own, both men commented of how pleased they were with the job he had been doing and impressed with his reports.

“You know Mark,” Cole started. “You continue to rank the highest in all the testing we send out to our field deputies. I’m quite impressed with your dedication to continuing to study the materials we send out. Some of the older deputies and marshals just don’t put the time or the effort into what we’re asking of them.”

Tom interrupted, “They think the only answer they need to know involves a gun. That’s why Tom and I are so insistent on training our new deputies properly from the beginning. You’ve been our best candidate. Though we both were a little leery of starting you so young, but you’ve proven yourself to us, time and time again.”

Mark remembered back on not knowing exactly how to respond.

“Mark, we’re not looking to embarrass you, but maybe your abilities have a lot to do with your father.”

“My father?” Mark asked of Tom.

“Mark, I knew the kind of man your father was when he was a lieutenant under my command back in the War. I remember that he had dreams of having a family one day, maybe settling down. But he knew it would take a special woman to tame him. I remember visiting him shortly after they found out Margaret was pregnant. He told me that he hoped, if he had a son, that you would never have to use a gun, as he had.”

“I know. Before Pa ever bought me my first rifle, he told me why he waited so long. It still hurts me that I ruined that dream of his,” Mark stated as he accepted the cup of coffee from the waitress.

“Mark, you didn’t ruin his dream. You redirected it. You’ve learned to rein in the McCain temper and direct it so that you don’t rely on the gun. You rely on your brains first and as a last resort, the gun. Your testing proves that. And your father did raise you, Mark.”

Mark remembered when he went to bed that night, how strange it really felt to be talking to Tom and Cole as equals. He felt there was something else that neither of them was telling him. Little did he know…

*****

Mark heard the boys starting to wake and quietly slipped out of the bed. Hope didn’t stir. He left the bedroom and pulled the door closed behind him. He opened the door to his sons’ bedroom and saw the twins sitting up.

“Good morning boys,” he called. Not wanting them to wake Hope, he placed his index finger to his lips, indicating the boys should be quiet.

“Papa,” they quietly called.

Mark walked to the crib where Eli was still sleeping. “I can’t get over how big all three of you got while I was gone,” Mark commented.

“We did as Mama and Ganpa said,” Zach told Mark.

“I’m glad you did. Come on, let’s go into the front room and we can start fixing breakfast and surprise your Ma.”

“Supize Ma? Josh asked.

“Yes, but we have to be quiet.”

Mark decided to make scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast for his family. As he was setting the table, Hope came from their bedroom.

“Morning sleepy head,” Mark declared as he looked up.

“How long have you and the boys been up?”

“Long enough for breakfast to be ready in a little while.” Mark stopped speaking as they heard Eli starting to cry.

“Guess Eli will get his breakfast before me. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Hope stated as she headed to the boys’ bedroom. Ten minutes later she came out carrying Eli.

*****

After Mark finished getting dressed for the day, he entered the front room while pinning his badge on his shirt.

“Mark, that’s not your deputy badge?” Hope queried as she finished with the morning dishes.

“No, it’s a U.S. Marshal’s badge.”

“A Marshal’s badge? I don’t understand?”

Mark walked over and stood behind Hope and wrapped his arms around her. “Hope, while I was up in Denver, Tom Benton told us they needed to assign an official U.S. Marshal to New Mexico, the more talk there is of Statehood, Tom felt there needed to be an official law presence, not just town marshals and sheriffs or even a deputy U.S. Marshal. He and Cole Barker felt Washington would take our talk of statehood more seriously if we had a U.S. Marshal permanently assigned.”

“And he chose you for the job?”

“No, not really. He gathered in all the deputies and it was put to a vote. He let his deputies decide who would represent the U.S. Marshal Service in this Territory.”

“It wasn’t a training class you attended?”

“Oh it was, but the morning of the first class he announced to the group the real reason we were there and that all of us were candidates for the job and then they set out to training us. After two weeks, he put the job to a vote.”

“And you were elected?”

“By my peers. Afterwards, Tom told me they had wanted to assign the job to me outright, but didn’t want to create any hard feelings among the deputies, so he left it up to us to decide who would take the job.”

“Mark, why didn’t you say anything when you arrived back in town?”

“Because I met Ethan and Annie on the train. To me, it was more important to celebrate your family being reunited. I mean that’s the real meaning behind Thanksgiving -- family. I didn’t want the day to be about me. Besides, I still have to tell Johnny that he’s no longer my first boss. I actually out rank him. I report directly to Tom and secondarily to Johnny. And since this town now has an official U.S. Marshal presence, any of the laws broken could have stronger consequences. It also means that I might have to do more traveling, depending on the circumstances.”

“You couldn’t say no to that part of the job?”

“I couldn’t. But Tom knows I have a young family. The good news is that he will be hiring more people to be my deputies and they’ll be stationed around the territory. I’m hoping they’ll be able to do most of the traveling to transport or apprehend outlaws, but I have to do my share, when it’s necessary, its part of the job.”

“I understand. Have you told Pa?”

“Not yet, I wanted to tell Johnny first. Will you be okay with the boys today? I know I just got back, but…”

“You need to talk with Johnny and Father,” Hope replied. “And today is your normal day to stand watch. We’ll be fine.”

“I’ll see you at church services tomorrow.” Mark kissed Hope before he left their bedroom. He grabbed his coat before heading out to do his chores.

*****

As Mark was leading Copper out the barn door, he met up with Lucas.

“Hi Pa. I’ve already tended to the stock this morning. I need to head into town and stand my watch. Johnny asked if I could come in earlier than usual today. Guess he wants me to make up for being gone so long.”

“Is everything alright?”

“I think so Pa. I’ll see you tomorrow at church.” Mark mounted Copper and headed to town.

Lucas turned and saw Hope and all three boys exiting their home, heading towards his home.

“GanPa” “GanPa’ the twins called as they ran across the yard.

Lucas bent down and picked both boys up in his arms and then followed Hope into his home.

“Morning Hope,” Milly called from the kitchen.

“Morning!” Hope replied.

“Hope, will you help me with my studies?” Myra asked, sitting at the table.

“Working on school work on a Saturday?” Hope asked and then turned to Lucas. “Are you sure Myra is really your daughter? I mean, she didn’t accidentally get switched with another baby at the clinic, did she? With what I’ve been learning about Mark when he was younger, your two children couldn’t be any more different.”

“I’m glad of that. I don’t know that I could handle raising another Mark,” Lucas answered in jest.

“Well, maybe it could just be a boy versus a girl. Guess you’ll find out when Little Ted gets ready to start school,” Hope answered.

“Changing the subject, is everything okay with Mark? I know we didn’t get to do a lot of talking Thursday evening or yesterday, but he seemed a little pre-occupied this morning.” Lucas stated.

“He’s okay Pa. He just… He has to tell Johnny that he’s no longer his deputy, first.”

Milly interrupted, “What do you mean, no longer Johnny’s deputy?”

“He told me this morning that when he was up in Denver, Tom called in his deputies and they were there to decide on a territorial marshal, they put it to a vote and Mark was elected to be the territorial U.S Marshal of New Mexico. He reports directly to Tom Benton and secondarily to Johnny.”

“And he’s kept this secret from his father?” Milly asked.

“He said wanted to talk with Johnny first.”

*****

“Well, can’t say that I didn’t know this day was coming. You’re just too good of a lawman to keep you tied down to this little town,” Johnny stated after hearing the news.

“Johnny, I didn’t ask for the job,” Mark pleaded. “Tom had all the deputies that they felt were qualified for the job up in Denver. They other deputies elected me to the position. Besides, I’ll still be able to stand my watch over North Fork.”

“Have you told Hope?” Seth asked.

“I did this morning. She noticed the new badge right away.”

“Was she upset you didn’t say anything before this morning?” Johnny asked.

“I think she was a little, but once I told her why I hadn’t said anything, she understood,” Mark replied.

“What of Lucas? What does your father say about this?” Seth asked.

“I haven’t talked with him yet,” Mark stated as he played with his hat in his hand. “I felt I owed it to Johnny to let him know first. That and I kind of don’t know how, exactly, to bring the subject up with Pa. Before I met up with Ethan and Annie on the train, I got to remembering all the times Pa and I had talked about my wanting a rifle. Even while I was up in Denver, I got to thinking of Pa and when he finally explained why he waited so long to buy me a rifle.”

“Mark, you’re a grown man. Your Pa raised you to live you life, he gave you the guidance, but ultimately, its your decision,” Johnny stated.

“I know, but… I remembered the first time you came to town. You tried to get a point across to me and told me to pick up your gun, after you placed on the table. I did and then I set it right back down. You told me that I’d done the right thing. And you hoped that I wouldn’t end up marrying a gun. Then, not a month later, Pa and I had the same conversation.” Mark laughed as he remembered the fight with Freddie, after he had blurted to all the guys that Mark didn’t know how to fire a rifle, and he remembered back to his first stay in a jail cell. “I just know how much he wanted to keep me from having to depend on the rifle as a way of life, then I become Micah’s deputy, then your deputy and a deputy U.S. Marshal, and now I’m a full-fledged U.S. Marshal.”

“Mark,” Seth stated. “I’ve not known your father as long as Johnny has, but I’m sure your father will understand. You have respect for the rifle and you only use it as a means of last resort. I’m sure that your father will be proud of this honor you’ve received. But I do understand what you mean. I had dreams that Ethan would become something other than a cavalry officer, but once I knew that was his intention and there was nothing I could do to prevent it, I supported him with all my heart -- because he was my son. I’m sure your Pa will be the same way. You’re his son.”

“Thanks Seth, Johnny. Actually, that’s what Tom and Cole said to me,” Mark stated as he finally put his hat on the peg on the wall. “Okay Johnny, get out of here before Lou comes over and threatens to skin us alive for keeping you too long.”

*****

After Mark stood his shift, he headed home. As he lead Copper into the barn, he saw his Pa saddling Razor.

“Taking the old man out?” Mark asked.

“Just going to check the fences in the yearling heard and thought to take him out,” Lucas replied.

“Can I join you?” Mark asked.

“You don’t need to ask permission to come with me. But something must be up if you want to ride out with me before seeing your wife.”

“Well, I do have something I need to talk with you about.”

“About what happened up in Denver?” Mark nodded. “Hope told us a little. Come on, mount up. There’s more than what ever happened up in Denver that’s on your mind.”

As they rode, Mark told Lucas of all that happened in Denver. He also told him how he thought that his was dishonoring one of Lucas’ dreams, “Pa, its being weighing on my mind for a while, but I didn’t know exactly what it was until after Tom pinned this badge to my shirt. I feel that I’ve let you down with the fact that I have made the rifle so much a part of my life.”

“Hold it right there. You didn’t let me down, nor did you let yourself down. Mark, I didn’t want you to be reckless with a gun or feel you could use it when ever. You’ve accepted the responsibilities that come along with your rifle, but you’ve never abused the privilege. Mark, I’ve never been more proud of your accomplishments. You’ve made a name and a home for yourself here. The McCain name is a name we can both be proud of. While I do wish that it weren’t necessary that guns needed to be carried all the time, you’ve carried yours with honor. You’ve proven to me that I did raise you right. Marshal Mark McCain, has a nice sound to it.”

The Next Step — December

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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