The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 79 - Mistaken Identity
Written by Deanne Bertram

As the days of December passed, Mark and Hope quietly celebrated their twenty-fifth birthdays with their families at home. Besides Mark’s parents and siblings, Johnny and Colleen Gibbs and their three children were in attendance and Seth Lane brought Lilah for the evening.

Upon arrival, Lilah felt a little self-conscious about being there, but Milly put her at ease, “Lilah, we don’t consider ourselves a regular family. We consider our very good friends to be part of our extended family. Why look at Micah and Hattie, Johnny and Lou… You’ve met them since you arrived in North Fork? You’re more than welcome in this house.”

Hope and Mark had requested that no presents be brought on their behalf; just the company of family was gift enough for them.

After their guests had left and their children sleeping in bed, Mark assisted Hope in cleaning up their home.

“Do you think it’s going to become serious?” Mark asked as he dried a dish.

“What’s going to become serious?”

“Seth and Lilah? Or hadn’t you noticed.”

“Father and Lilah… I never thought about it. I mean, we met her on the train ride back from Fort Stanton. Father wanted to introduce her to his grandchildren, but she was traveling to her niece’s wedding. I just presumed she stopped by on her way back home… And once here, she helped get you and Milly through the influenza.”

“Hope, I’m surprised you and Ma and the rest of the town’s women don’t already have them married.”

“Mark?!”

“Hope, she arrived over three weeks ago…”

“And today was the first time she’s been to visit our…” Hope laughed as she realized the truth in what Mark was saying. “I never thought about it before.”

“Can you be happy for your father?” Mark asked as he wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist.

“I can, if this is what he wants,” Hope answered wrapping her arms around his neck. “It’s been so long ago since my mother died. And for the longest time it was just Father and Ethan.”

“Like Pa and me.”

“I guess so. Lilah didn’t seem to get upset or uncomfortable with all the children asking her questions and she did laugh a lot with them.”

“We all laughed tonight. Come on, it’s getting late. Let’s finish this in the morning. I want to unwrap my present…”

“Your pres… I didn’t get you a present,” Hope stated a little shocked.

“You’re my present,” Mark answered as he led his wife to their bedroom.

*****

Lucas, Milly and their family returned to their home. After watching their children saying their nightly prayers and tucking them into bed, Milly and Lucas entered their own bedroom and got ready for bed.

“So, do you think it’s serious?” Milly asked.

“What’s serious?” Lucas replied.

“Seth and Lilah.”

“How should I know,” Lucas stated as he slipped under the covers.

“I mean, it’s been almost two weeks since Mark and I were discharged from the clinic, and she’s still in North Fork. If she was just passing through…”

“Milly, if it is, it’s their business, not ours.” Lucas tried to end the discussion by lifting up the covers to invite Milly into bed. Milly climbed into bed after blowing out the lantern on the side table.

“It must be difficult for Hope,” Milly stated.

“Why would it be difficult for Hope?”

“For so long she was without a family and a mother,” Milly stated, her tone of voice indicated her dissatisfaction with Lucas’ indifferent attitude. “And now, another woman might step into that role?”

“It wasn’t difficult for Mark…” Lucas stated as he raise an eyebrow.

Milly started to snap, “Lucas Mc…”, but ended up laughing. “Point taken. I’m sorry; I must sound like a nosy, busy body.”

“No, I’d say you sound a lot like the woman I took to be my wife.” Lucas wrapped his arms around Milly, pulled her close, and whispered, “If it is to be, let their relationship develop without any outside interference.”

“Yes, my love.”

“Now, if you want to talk about relationships, I think our relationship needs a little attention and…” Lucas’ words died on his lips as Milly started to kiss and caress him.

*****

Christmas was only a week away when Mark stopped by the leather shop to check on the presents he and his father were planning to have Old Saint Nick deliver to his twins, and his oldest brother.

“Hello Mark!” Leon called as Mark entered his leather shop.

“Good afternoon Leon. How’s the family?”

“Doing well. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Ethyl so happy. She appreciates your wife’s and your mother’s friendship.” Leon stood and wiped at the leather tanning liquid from his hands. “Bet you’re here about the presents.”

“Sure am, Christmas is only a week away.”

“No worry Mark, they’re done. I was planning to deliver them out your way tomorrow, when the boys are in school.”

“No need to make a special trip. I have to come back to town with the buckboard on Friday and do some shopping for Hope, I’ll plan to pick the saddles up before I head on home.”

“You want to see them?”

“You mean I’m allowed in Saint Nick’s workshop?”

“The law is always allowed in the workshop. Come on into the back room. All I have to do is work the different patterns onto the saddle horns, that way, each boy will know which saddle is his.”

Upon entering the workshop, Mark paid no mind as Leon pulled a cloth over another saddle he was working on.

Mark let out a whistle as he reviewed the craftsmanship that went into each saddle. As they left the back room, Mark felt like a child again, fearing that Christmas would never arrive.

*****

It took longer to put the boys to bed that Christmas Eve, and since it was his parents’ anniversary, it was extremely late when Mark rode over to Oat Jackford’s to retrieve the presents for his eldest sons and Little Ted.

“Oat, sorry to intrude so late on your Christmas Eve, but Pa and I appreciate you keeping the boys’ presents,” Mark stated as he shook hands.

“What a Christmas present! You finally called me Oat,” he laughed.

“I did? Well, Merry Christmas, and if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it! No one would believe you anyway!” Mark called as he tied the lead ropes and looped them to his saddle horn.

“I remember the first time I met you. Can’t believe you’re so grown up now. Doesn’t seem possible that you’ve four children. Mark, once your boys get good at riding…”

“Yes?” Mark asked, trying to figure out what Oat was trying to say.

The gruffness that most people saw in Oat disappeared as he talked with Mark, “I never found me a woman who could put up with me and seeing your Pa and Milly and their children, and you and your family, well… I’ll admit it. I do have soft spot in my heart for you. There’ve been plenty of times where I wished I’d had a son and that he’d be a lot like you. Your boys are welcome on my property anytime.”

“Oat, thank you. We can keep this just between us, if you like,” Mark stated.

“You might,” Billy Lehigh called as he walked up behind the two. “But I won’t.”

“Billy, your employment can be in jeopardy with talk like that,” Oat gruffly answered.

“Yes sir, just like every other time you’ve shown a soft spot towards Mark. Hi ya, Mark. You finally taking those undersized hay burners home?”

“Don’t let my boys here you talking that way. You don’t know what it’s like to take on the McCain three,” Mark laughed in return.

“It’s been fun having them here. Even if they are on the small size, they’re good looking animals. Can’t wait to see the McCain five come riding into town. You just let me know so I can be in town to see this.”

*****

On Christmas morning, the McCain’s woke to a light dusting of snow on the ground. Before breakfast, Mark headed out to work on his chores. He quickly returned to his home, calling for the boys to get their coats on, “There’s something not right out in the barn!”

“What’s wrong?” Josh asked.

“I think Santa might have forgotten a few of his reindeer!”

Excitedly the boys pulled on their winter coats, boots and hats and gathered around the front door, anxious to go to the barn.

“Mark, their mittens!” Hope called.

“I’ve the wood burning stove going in the barn, they’ll be warm enough. Get Emmy bundled and come on out. I can’t wait to see a reindeer,” Mark smiled and winked at Hope.

*****

“Papa!” Little Ted called to Lucas as he helped is Pa do his morning chores in the barn.

“Yes, Little Ted?”

“Papa, there’s a note and it has my name on it. Can you read it to me?” Little Ted carried the note to his Papa and handed it to him.

Lucas took the envelop and opened the letter,

Dear Theodore Scott McCain,

My stable at the North Pole is full and I find that I need a special boy to watch over one of my favorite animals. Cappy needs someone special to watch over him, make sure he has plenty of water, grain, and hay. As well as someone to clean his stall and groom him regularly. This person will also need to make sure he receives just the right amount of exercise.

I’ve watched you grow up and I feel you are deserving of this honor. And in time, I’m sure you’ll be an expert, riding and training him properly.

Take care of him, and love him.

I’ll be watching you,

Sincerely,

Saint Nicholas

“My, my,” Lucas declared as he folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope. “Santa left you one of his reindeer?” Lucas stood and took Little Ted’s hand and walked over to the stall. He hefted Ted to his hip before he opened the stall door.

“Papa, it’s not a reindeer!” Little Ted stated, with wide open eyes.

“It’s not?” Lucas asked, pretending to be surprised.

“No, it’s a pony. Papa, Santa brought me a pony! My own pony! And his name is Cappy. How did he know I wanted a horse named Cappy? Now I can ride like you and Mark! I can ride with you and work with you. And...”

“Hold on there. First, you have to learn how to ride and I’ll give you the same rules Myra had when Mark gave her BlueBoy. You’re not to ride without me, Mark, or Hope with you. And you can’t ride on your own until you grow big enough to saddle Cappy on your own.”

“Oh.”

Lucas looked as he heard the disappointment in his son’s voice, “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t have a saddle,” Little Ted answered, disappointment in his eyes.

“I think there’s a box over there that has your name on it.”

Lucas helped Little Ted open the box and laughed at how big his son’s eyes became as he saw his very own saddle.

“Oh Papa!” Little Ted declared as he wrapped his arms around his Papa’s neck, while Lucas knelt beside him.

“And he’s mine and I can groom him whenever I want?”

“Yes he is yours, but you have to do your other chores and mind your Ma. Owning a horse is a privilege. You fail to mind your manners and Saint Nick might just come and take him home and find another boy he feels might be more deserving.”

“I promise, I’ll be good.”

“Okay, why don’t you head on back to the house. I’ll be up there shortly,” Lucas stated. From the door, he watched until his son had entered his home.

Once finished doing his chores, Lucas stopped by Razor, his heart held sadness at how gray his old horse’s muzzle had become. He saw tiredness in the eyes, even though Razor nickered to him.

“Hey old man. You want out today?” Lucas looped a lariat around Razor’s neck and slowly led him from the barn. He knew that someday he’d have to face putting his old friend down, thankful today was not that day.

*****

Mark and his family headed to their barn. Once inside, the boys ran to the stall where there were two notes nailed to the doors, bearing their names. Hope pulled the notes from stall.

“What does it say Mama?” Zach asked as Hope opened the envelopes.

“Well, it seems that Saint Nicholas had to find new homes for some of his… reindeer?”

Together the twins drug a hay bale over to the stall, climbed up on it to look into the stall.

“It ain’t a reindeer, it got no horns!” Josh exclaimed.

“Horns?” Mark asked. “Oh you mean antlers, no they sure don’t have antlers.”

“It’s a pony! They’re ponies!” Zach stated.

“I guess they are ponies,” Hope answered as she smiled at her sons. The twins turned around and helped Eli up onto the hay bale so he too could see the ponies.

“What are their names?” Josh asked.

Taking the notes from Hope, so she could hold the squirming Mykaela, “Well, it seems the brown one is called Chip and cream colored one is called Poco.

“Can we pet them?” Zach asked.

“You have to be real careful and not spook them.”

Mark opened the stall door and walked inside holding his sons’ hands. Josh immediately wanted to pet the brown pony, while Zach wanted to go to the light colored pony. Both boys started giggling as each pony nuzzled at their pockets.

“Okay, I think we best get back inside, else Eli and Mykaela won’t get to open their presents,” Hope stated as she started to turn to the barn door.

*****

After breakfast, Mark and Hope set the presents for their two youngest on the floor. Eli rapidly tore away the brightly colored paper and shouted when he realized he had received a toy horse and sticks for a corral as a present.

“Papa, Saint Niklus gave me a pony!” Eli called out. “I call him Thunder!” As he played as if the horse was galloping around the front room.

Mykaela sat on Hope’s lap while Hope helped her pull the brightly colored paper from her present. Their daughter clapped her hands and squealed when she saw a doll for her to play with.

*****

Lucas return to his home as Milly finished setting breakfast to the table. Once the dishes were in the sink, Milly and Lucas returned to the front room and pulled out several brightly colored boxes and set them in front of Myra and Levi.

Myra opened her present to find a tea set, with a teapot, cups and saucers, and small pitcher as a creamer, and a bowl for sugar cubes. She squealed, “Oh, Mama, how does Saint Nicholas know what I wanted?”

Levi opened his present to find a wooden train engine and matching caboose. “Choo choo,” Levi called out as he crawled across the floor pushing his train along imaginary train tracks.

*****

As they walked across the yard to Mark’s parent’s home Hope commented, “I wish Gwen could have been here to see the children receive their presents.”

“So do I, but she’s going to have a life as a member of the McCafferty’s some day. Maggie asked if we minded if she spent Christmas eve and day with them.”

“I’ll miss not having her here to help all the time,” Hope stated.

“The good news is that Gabby is growing up and she can be a help to you. Maybe not cooking and doing the laundry,yet, but she can help keep an eye on the children while you work.”

Lucas boldly wished his son and his family a “Merry Christmas” as they entered his home. He took their coats and placed them in the bedroom. When he returned to the front room, Little Ted and the twins were excited talking about their presents.

“So, the twins liked their presents?”

“Seems as much as Little Ted does.”

*****

Mark and Hope settled their children on the floor, before they too sat down on the floor with Hope leaning back to her husband’s chest, while Milly settle hers and Lucas’ children. Milly finally sat in her chair as Lucas sat in his and pulled out his bible.

Throughout the afternoon, Lucas read from the scriptures the story of Jesus birth. Mark and Hope sang Christmas carols as their children tried to sing along.

The family had finished eating supper and the dishes washed when Lucas brought out a large box with Mark’s name on it.

“Pa?” Mark asked.

“Says it’s from Saint Nick,” Lucas replied.

“Papa, what inside?” Eli asked.

“I’m not sure,” Mark answered.

Hope and Milly stood on either side of Lucas, excitement in their eyes as they watched Mark open his present.

The box was opened and Mark stated, “I surely don’t understand, mine…”

“Yours… The seat on yours is long worn out and besides, the black of this saddle will go so much better with Rainmaker,” Hope stated as she walked towards her husband.

“But?”

“Santa has little helpers all over the world, including North Fork,” Milly answered. “Merry Christmas, Mark.”

The Next Step — Whiteout

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

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