The Rifleman
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The Next Step...
Chapter 109 - No Choice
Written by Deanne Bertram

Levi had chosen Chief as the name for his horse; since it was the Chief of the Kiowa’s who gave him his horse, a brown and white pinto gelding with a medicine hat. Eli chose Thumper for his horse, a chestnut colored horse with a white star on his face and two white hind legs, who stomped his front hoof anytime he wanted Eli to give him a sugar cube.

While Lucas and Mark worked with Eli and Levi to teach them how to ride in one of the corrals, Hope spent time with Myra helping her get acquainted with her new horse. Together they’d go for brief rides around the ranch, never straying too far.

“You’re doing an excellent job riding her,” Hope said to Myra.

“Hope, she’s such a beautiful mare. Did Mark tell you her mama was your horse?” Myra petted Blue Girl.

“He did.”

“Do you miss her?”

“I guess, in a way I do, I never really thought about her after I started living in North Fork.”

“What was she like?”

Hope took a moment to think, before she answered. “She was spirited; we wanted to run all the time. Iron Heart was always after me to take it easier. Her coat was black as night, all four legs had white stockings, and she had a wide blaze down her face.”

*****

Myra, Little Ted, Josh, and Zach were thrilled when they were allowed to ride with the new riders as Lucas and Mark took them for brief trips around the homestead.

*****

A beautiful Saturday dawned when Lucas, Mark, and Hope followed behind as their children rode their horses, and Milly drove the buckboard with Mykaela, Faith, and the picnic baskets with their lunches and blankets to spread out on the ground as the McCain’s planned to enjoy their Saturday.

The children were thrilled to see Seth and Lilah already at the pond when they arrived.

“Children, we need to tend to your horses first,” Mark called out.

One by one, Mark and Lucas worked to unsaddle the horses while the children held them. With help from Seth, Hope stretched out the rope for the picket line, as Lilah and Milly set out the blankets and their picnic baskets. After tying all the riding horses and the team to the picket line, Mark untied BlueBoy from the back of the buckboard and led him to the line. Myra had insisted he couldn’t stay home alone.

*****

The sun was sinking from the sky when the families said goodbye and headed home, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to let everyone ride their horses,” Mark commented as he watched the children yawning and fighting to stay awake while in their saddles.

“If you’d prefer to sleep instead of ride, you can lie down in the back of the buckboard,” Lucas called out.

“No sir!’ was the reply, but it didn’t keep the children from yawning, having tired themselves out swimming and playing the whole afternoon.

*****

Activities picked up throughout North Fork; parents purchasing new clothing and school supplies in preparation for their children to return to school as August turned into September.

*****

School had been in session for two weeks when Myra woke with a nagging cough.

“I can’t miss school,” Myra tried speaking through her irritated throat. “Please, I want to go to school.”

Having placed the back of her hand to Myra’s forehead and feeling no fever, Milly reluctantly agreed. “But if your throat gets any worse or you start running a fever, I want you to tell Mr. Bullock and ask for him to send for Mark.”

“Mama, I’ll be all right.”

Milly spoke with Mark, as he was to chaperone the McCain children to school. Before leaving the children, Mark gave Myra one of ‘those’ looks.

“I’m fine. I told Mama it was nothing,” Myra answered.

“Okay, Gabby, but still, take it easy over lunch and no running around,” Mark kissed his sister and waved goodbye to the boys as he headed to work.

*****

Over the next several days, Myra did her best to hide the growing discomfort in her throat, but eventually, she fell asleep at her desk. Mark came quickly when Percy Bullock sent Isaiah to get him. Upon his arrival, he found Percy had dismissed the class for an early morning recess, allowing Mark to tend to his sister.

“She’s tried, but she hasn’t seemed herself this week,” Percy stated.

“She’s had a sore throat since Monday. I know she’s been trying to hide it from Ma and Pa. I’ll take her to Lilah’s for the day. I’ll be back after school to get the others and take them home.”

“Tell Myra that I hope she gets feeling better.”

“Thanks, Percy.”

Lovingly, Mark lifted his sleeping sister from her desk and carried her, her head on his shoulder, arms draped to her side, out the school doors. Lou was first to see Mark carrying her down the boardwalk.

“Mark, tis she okay?”

“Just not feeling well.”

“Ye can put her up in one of the rooms upstairs… If ye like…” Lou offered.

“Thanks, but you’ve already got your hands full with all your guests Johnny told me you had a full house registered at the hotel. I’ll take her over to Lilah’s and let her sleep there.”

*****

Myra woke to find herself in strange surroundings; she quickly sat up on the bed and threw the covers off.

“Hey sleepyhead,” teased Mark upon entering the room.

“How’d I get here?”

“Mr. Bullock sent for me. You fell asleep at school.”

“I did not!” claimed Myra, her voice crackling.

“Oh, then how do you explain the fact that I carried you here this morning, you slept through lunch, AND school was dismissed about fifteen minutes ago?”

“But I didn’t fall asleep…I just didn’t… feel… good,” Myra rubbed at her throat.

“I know. Come on, the others are waiting to go home.”

Mark lifted Myra from the bed and carried her downstairs, before placing her in the saddle.

“Miss Lilah… thank… you…,” Myra’s voice gave out.

*****

Mark saw the children home; he motioned for Little Ted to lead his horse to the barn, as well as the twins to take their horses to their own barn. Mark led BlueGirl with Myra to the front porch of his parents’ home where Milly greeted them; she immediately sensed something was amiss with her daughter.

“I see your sore throat got worse?” asked Milly.

Myra nodded as she reached for Milly, who helped her down from the saddle and carried her straight to her bedroom.

Mark tied Rainmaker to the hitching rail and led BlueGirl to the barn where he unsaddled her and helped his brother turn the two horses out in the corral with Blue Boy and Chief.

As Mark walked his brother home, through the open door, he saw his parents heading into Myra’s room, concern on both their faces. Mark untied Rainmaker and led him to his own barn where he helped his sons finish unsaddling their own horses and turned them out in the appropriate corrals.

*****

Friday afternoon, Mark waited outside for the younger McCain children to exit school. As they went to get their horses, Percy asked for a moment of Mark’s time.

“Sure, what’s up?” Mark asked.

“Tell your sister I’ve missed having my star pupil in class today…”

“I will, but is that all you wanted to talk about?” asked Mark.

“No, it’s not, Stevan and I need to talk to you.” Percy pointed to Stevan Griswald hurriedly walking along the boardwalk.

Stevan looked around before he spoke, “The Trumble children weren’t in school again today.”

“Maybe they’ve been sick, like Gabby,” suggested Mark.

“If that were the case, I wouldn’t be concerned,” Stevan stated.

“How many days did they make it to school this week?” asked Mark.

“They haven’t. Mark, every child deserves a proper education. It is mandated by the town charter…” Stevan proclaimed.

“Stevan, I know that all too well. Listen, Pa and I are tied up this weekend… Let’s wait to see if they return to school on Monday; if they’re not in school on Monday, I promise, I’ll ride with you to their place… Okay?”

Stevan appeared resigned to accept Mark’s stance and nodded, “Robbie just seemed so eager to learn. He’s come a long way with Milly tutoring him over the summer. It’s just so disappointing for him to miss a whole week; he was really making progress. All right, Mark. I’ll wait until Monday.

“See you Monday.” Turning to his oldest brother and his oldest sons, Mark called out, “Head ‘em up!”

“Move ‘em out!” the boys called out in reply and laughed as the bounced along in their saddles as their horses trotted.

*****

Sunday evening, Hope found Mark in a contemplative mood, “Care to talk?”

“Just dreading tomorrow afternoon,” Mark quietly replied as Hope snuggled back to his chest as she sat down in front of him on the porch step.

“Trumble?”

“Yeah, Robbie and Eloise missed all of last week and if they’re not in school tomorrow, I promised Stevan I’d ride with him out to their place.”

“They could be ill; you know Myra missed several days last week…”

“Yes, and Thadd knows about Gabby. I checked with him after church and he’s not heard anything from the Trumble’s…”

“Maybe they’re too proud to ask for his help.”

“I’m afraid it might be Mr. Trumble is too drunk to ask for any help,” Mark replied and pulled Hope nearer.

“I feel sorry for Mrs. Trumble, any time I’ve seen her, she just seems so timid, so… scared.”

“I’ve had the same feelings too.”

“Mama?” both heard from the doorway.

“Mykaela, you should be in bed, asleep,” Hope called as she turned to look to her oldest daughter.

“Me want some wadder,” Mykaela stood holding a doll and rubbing her throat.

“Come here Emmy,” invited Mark as they stood from the porch. Mark picked up his daughter and carried her into the house and back to her bed.

*****

Monday afternoon, Mark left Josh, Zach, and Little Ted at the Marshal’s Office and asked Seth if he would mind taking the children home.

“Sure, no problem. I wanted to ride out to your place today anyway and ask Hope if she would be interested in making a basket for Lilah to hang laundry. I saw the ones that Hope made for Milly and herself and thought it would make a nice present for Lilah’s birthday next month.”

“You think she’d like something as a birthday present to remind her of chores she has to do?” a curious Mark asked.

“Now that you put it that way… Maybe I’ll ask Hope to just make her one and get her something else as a birthday present,” Seth replied with half a smile.

“Good idea,” laughed Mark. “I know that Hope would love to make one for Lilah. She’s made several for herself and Ma. She told me the other day she forgot how much fun they were to make; having spent so much time with Silver Moon over the summer, she remembered.”

*****

Before heading out, Mark waited with Stevan Griswald as he watched Seth and the boys head for home.

“You can’t put this off any longer, Mark,” Stevan commented as he turned his horse next to Mark.

“Guess not.”

*****

Mark and Stephan Griswald rode up what passed for a road to the Trumble’s when they witnessed Mrs. Trumble run from the house. She hadn’t made it too far when she looked over her shoulder and trip over a rock causing her to fall to the ground, the expression on her face held unmistakable fear. They heard Trumble boisterously yelling, calling to his wife to “Get back here!” as he flung the door open. It didn’t take any time for Quinton Trumble to catch up to his wife and yank her from the ground, causing her to cry out in pain and grab for her shoulder. In horror, they watched as he backhanded her hard, yelling, “Why you lousy, no good…”, they kicked their horses faster.

“TRUMBLE! Stop it right there!” Mark yelled as he reined his horse to a halt and pulled his rifle from his scabbard.

“She’s my wife, what’s it too you, sodbuster?” Trumble belligerently called back, grabbing his wife around the waist and pulling her to him.

“She may be your wife, but that’s no way to treat a lady,” Mark replied.

“Lady? Did you hear that? This mangy man-cub thinks you’re a lady.” Stepping backwards, Trumble moved to the porch, keeping his wife firmly in his grasp.

“Trumble, let her go,” Mark called out as he pointed his rifle towards the two.

Stevan reached for Mark’s shoulder and started to say, “Mark, maybe we should…” but stopped when he saw Trumble pulled his gun.

“Whacha gonna do now? Man-cub,” Trumble taunted. “You got no call…”

“As the law, I have every right, I’ll see that you let her go, then I’m going to see that she and your children get to safety.”

“Law?! You ain’t nothin’ and you ain’t gonna do nothin’. Them brats, they got chores to do, same as her. I rule this house! They do as I say! Same for you!”

Mark watched the fear in the woman’s eyes grow as her husband raised his gun to her head.

“She’s mine, until death us do part. Ain’t that what the preacher said?” Trumble cruelly asked as he roughly tightened his grip on his wife.

“Mama?!” called Robbie as he stepped to the porch.

Trumble turned at the child’s voice and in his distraction; his grip on his wife loosened enough for her to pull away and dare to yell, “Get back inside!” Trumble, realizing his wife was running away, fired one shot in her direction. Mark hesitated in firing at Trumble because if he missed, he could strike the child. Mark jumped down the offside of Rainmaker and followed Stevan as he ran towards what was the smokehouse. Trumble fired a second shot, in their direction, and Mark watched as his former schoolteacher cried out and fell to the ground. Regardless, Mark realized he had to take the shot, somersaulting to the ground and coming up on his knees, Mark didn’t sight in his rifle, he fired from his hip as Trumble’s third shot struck him in the right arm.

Ignoring the pain, Mark watched as Trumble’s weapon slowly slipped from his fingers and his eyes rolled back in their sockets, showing only the whites, before he crumpled to the ground.

“Stevan? Are you okay?” Mark called out, his eyes and rifle still on the man he had shot.

“Yeah, he just got me in the thigh,” Stevan answered.

Slowly Mark stood to his feet and walked to where the big man lay on the ground, he kicked the man’s handgun from his reach before he knelt to see if the man still lived. From where he knelt, he smelled the sour odor of whiskey mixed with the man’s foul body odor. After a few moments of watching the man’s chest fail to rise, Mark placed his ear to the man’s chest and cursed when he didn’t hear a heartbeat. Looking over his shoulder, Mark saw Stevan sitting up and tying a handkerchief round his thigh. Mark looked over to where Mrs. Trumble lie, “Please God, let her be okay,” he prayed as he sprinted across the ground.

Mark closed his eyes at the sight of the blood spreading across the back of the flower-print dress Mrs. Trumble wore; the once vivid colors were faded and patches of wear were apparent. Carefully, Mark turned her over and realized she lived. Lifting her to a somewhat seated position, allowing her to rest against him, he listened as she struggled to talk, “Please, my babies, take care of my…”

“Hold on Mrs. Trumble, I’ll get you to Doc’s,” begged Mark. “Don’t try to talk.”

“Please… They’re… only… babies…” Her breath was raspy as she fought to speak; her grip on Mark’s arm conveyed her pain and fear.

Tears streamed down Mark’s face as the woman’s eyes fluttered and she slowly went limp in his arms. He moved his left hand to close her eyelids.

“Mama in heaven now?” spoke a quiet voice from behind Mark.

“She’s in heaven. I’m sorry,” answered Mark as he laid the woman back to the ground and turned to see the two young children standing behind him. “I’m Marshal McCain, you remember me from the time you spent with Miss Milly?”

“I do,” whispered Robbie.

“Let’s get you to the house. I need to get some blankets to cover your folks,” it tore Mark up to talk.

“We can do it. We’ll get the blankets,” Robbie said.

As Mark stood up, he watched the two children run into the house. While they were inside, Mark ran over to help Stevan get to his feet.

“Do you think you can ride to town and get a buckboard and bring it back here?” asked Mark.

“Just get me to my horse and help me into the saddle.”

*****

After seeing Stevan on his horse and down the road, Mark turned to go into the house, as he stepped to the porch, he saw the little boy return carrying a couple of blankets.

“Where’s your sister?”

“She’s inside. Sir, she’s crying,” Robbie replied.

“Why don’t you go back inside and take her to your bedroom. I’ll come get you in a little while.”

Once the two bodies were covered over, Mark entered the home and was appalled at the sight that greeted him; not much had changed over the summer except now the shabby furniture was upturned, the dining room table and chairs were broken, and dirty dishes were strewn across the floor. Mark explored the rest of the house and finally came to a back bedroom with two small bunks.

“May I come in?” Mark asked as he knocked upon the opened door.

The boy nodded.

Kneeling in front of the two, Mark’s heart fluttered as he realized he had been forced to kill, again, and it cost these two children their parents.

“I’m sorry for what happened outside.”

“Nothing for you to be sorry, he hurt Mama all the time.”

“Robbie, would you help me pack some things for you and your sister?”

“Who’s gonna take care of us?” asked Robbie.

“For the time being, I’ll take you home with me. I’ll try to find out if you have any other family.”

“Sir, we don’t have no one. Mama told me a long time ago, that if anything happened to her, she prayed God would look out for us and find us a new family to take care of us,” Robbie replied.

“Just get an overnight bag packed, some clothes and some toys if you like,” was all Mark could manage to say.

*****

Mark was just about ready to abandon his search of the house, when he finally found a bible stuffed inside one of the pillows on the bed. He opened it to find a folded note:

To whoever is reading this, my fears must have come true. All I can ask is that you find someone to raise my children and give them the love they deserve. Quinton nor I have any other family. Tell my babies, I’ll be watching them from heaven and I’ll miss them. –Martha Trumble

Mark tucked the letter into his shirt pocket when he heard a buckboard arrive. Stopping on the porch, he was surprised it was Johnny Drako wrapping the reins around the brake lever before he stepped down.

“Mark! Are you okay? Stevan is at the clinic, he wanted to come back, but I insisted he let Doc take a look at his leg. Looks like you’ll need Doc’s services too.”

“It’s just a scratch,” replied Mark shrugging off the reference to his injury.

“Stevan told us what happened. What about the children?”

“They’re inside. I found a note Mrs. Trumble wrote, they’re orphans…” quieted Mark as he looked back to the house. “I’ll help you get their parents loaded.”

It only took a few minutes before the bodies of both Trumble’s were loaded into the back of the buckboard.

“What about them?” Johnny asked as he pointed to the two children standing on the porch.

“I thought about taking them home. Can’t bring myself to ask them to ride into town with their parents dead in the back of the buckboard.”

“I’ll send Thadd out to your place, after I get their parents to the undertaker.”

“Johnny, thanks for coming out.”

Once Johnny and the buckboard were out of sight, Mark turned toward the children, “How would you like to come home with me? Wait right here, I’ll saddle one of the horses in the barn…” Mark hesitated in talking as the little girl took his hand.

Having saddled a horse, he took the small bags both held and tied them to the saddle horn, next he lifted the little girl to the front of the saddle, before he lifted the boy to sit behind her.

After stepping to his own saddle, Mark said, “Hold on” as he kneed Rainmaker and pulled the other horse beside him.

*****

Lucas was sitting on the porch and stood to his feet when he saw the riders coming down the road, “Milly, we’ve company,” he called into the house.

“Who?” she asked as she wiped her hands on her apron and stopped next to Lucas.

“That’s Rainmaker, and Mark…” Lucas answered as he recognized one horse and rider.

“Mark?” asked Lucas stepping down from to the porch.

“Pa, I want to get these two settled at home, can we talk… later?” asked Mark.

“Here, hand them down to me,” Milly stated. “Hope’s been busy with Mykaela being sick all day and Faith has been fussy.”

“I didn’t know Emmy was sick?” a worried Mark asked.

“She’ll be fine, just a sore throat again. Lucas and I’ll take care of Robbie and Eloise.”

Lucas lifted Robbie down from the saddle and set him to the ground. He turned around and reached for Eloise who eagerly jumped from the saddle into his arms, yet she didn’t want to be set to the ground. Mark watched as his parents took the two children into their home.

Mark led the horses to the barn and had them unsaddled by the time Lucas entered his son’s barn.

“You said you needed to talk. I take it Trumble’s in jail, again? How bad did he hurt Martha this time?”

With his back to his Pa, Mark whispered, “Pa, he killed her.”

Lucas couldn’t answer his son, what could he to say at a time like this.

“He killed her in front of Stevan and me. Johnny said he’d send Thadd out here after he took their parents to the undertaker.”

“Parents? What of Quinton?”

“Pa, I…” Mark tried to collect his words, it still seemed so surreal. “Stevan and I went out there to check on the children. They hadn’t been in school last week or today.” Mark told Lucas of the discussion he’d had with Stevan the previous Friday. “He shot his wife. He stood there, drunk and arguing with me. I didn’t want to shoot him because Robbie was behind him and if I missed… Pa, he started shooting at us. He shot Stevan and I realized I had to shoot. I had to stop him. I had no choice. Pa… I didn’t mean to kill him; I thought I was on target to hit him in the shoulder…”

“Hello Lucas, Mark. After Stevan told me more detail about what happened, I decided I might be needed out here. By the way, he’s going to be okay. The bullet didn’t do too much damage to his leg, but enough that he’s going to be on crutches for a little while,” Seth stated as he entered the barn.

“I killed their father,” Mark stated as he turned around looked out the door to his parents’ home. “Damn it!”

“Mark!” Seth and Lucas declared when they saw the blood upon Mark’s pants and shirt.

“It’s not my blood,” Mark stated.

“From the beginning, tell me what happened,” suggested Lucas as he led Mark to sit down on the stack of hay.

Seth took a seat on the opposite side of Mark and listened as he explained all that transpired.

“I can only imagine what some are saying, that I deliberately killed Trumble to get even with him for what he said about Hope earlier this summer.” Mark shivered as different consequences to his actions raced through his head.

“Mark, anyone who knows you would never think that. And if anyone does, be thankful Stevan was there. The only difference between your story and Stevan’s is, you didn’t include your being shot. Trumble’s bullet striking your arm, that’s what caused you to kill him,” stated Seth as he took hold of Mark’s arms and pointed out the blood on his son-in-law’s sleeve.

“Me being shot? I don’t understand,” Mark looked to the underside of his arm, realizing he had been shot. “What does that have to do with my killing a man?” asked Mark. His voice held no anger, just remorse and seeking answers to why.

“Mark, he shot you in the right arm, it altered your aim. You couldn’t have kept your sight true.”

“I didn’t shoulder my rifle, I rolled and fired from the hip…”

“Hip or shoulder, Trumble’s bullet turned you to the right and caused your bullet to strike him dead.”

“Son, listen to what Seth is saying, you know about calculating trajectory, Lord knows how you and Percy took to Geometry after you two first met. You know how one small movement can mean a larger difference at the intended target…” offered Lucas.

“I don’t remember the bullet striking me…” Continuing to look at his bloodied sleeve, Mark sighed, accepting that he had no choice but to stop Trumble… any way he could.

“Mark, why don’t you go into your home and let Hope tend to your arm. Once Thadd gets here and has had a chance to check on Robbie and Eloise, I’ll send him your way,” stated Lucas as he helped Mark to his feet.

The three left the barn, Lucas to go to his own home, while Seth walked with Mark.

“Mark! You’re bleeding!” declared Hope as she turned to see her husband and father cross the threshold to her home. “Father?! What happened?”

“He’ll be okay, most of the blood isn’t his. Doc Burrage will be over a little later to check his arm.”

“This didn’t happen in town?” asked a confused Hope.

“Trumble’s,” was all Mark could say.

“What happened?!” an angered Hope asked as she pulled out the first aid kit and walked to Mark.

“I’ll tend to him. You take care of Mykaela,” Seth offered as he heard his oldest granddaughter call for her Mama.

“Seth, they don’t have anyone.” Mark pulled out the piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to his father-in-law, after he had cleaned and wrapped Mark’s arm in a bandage.

“No one else.” Seth shook his head. “Right now they have the McCain family to comfort them, as do you.”

“Me?”

“Mark, you’re probably suffering a mild case of shock; being forced to take another life. You didn’t even realize you’d been shot.”

“How could he kill her?!” Mark’s anger was working its way through his grief; he slammed his fist on the table.

“Anger and being drunk, it was all he knew,” Seth answered.

“Who was killed?” asked Hope as she returned from Mykaela’s room.

“Hope, Quinton Trumble killed his wife. He also shot Stevan Griswald and Mark while they were checking on the family,” her father answered.

“Mark…”

“He gave me no choice, I aimed my rifle…” Mark stated as his explanation.

“Hope, Stevan said Trumble’s bullet struck Mark’s arm as he pulled the trigger. It changed the bullet’s trajectory.”

“I’ll not talk bad about the recently departed, but… this town won’t miss the trouble that man’s caused. What about their children?!”

“They’re over at Milly and Lucas’, Mark brought them home,” Seth answered.

*****

“Mark, you’re lucky. The bullet went clean through,” Thadd stated as he applied a new bandage to Mark’s right arm. “Don’t think you’ll need to keep your arm in a sling, but you’ll know how much you can or cannot use it.”

“How are Robbie and Eloise?” asked Mark.

“I gave them something to help them sleep. Robbie seems to understand what happened and he told us what happened earlier. Mark, Trumble was physically abusing all of them. The marks on the children, from being whipped and the bruises on their arms, tell the story.”

“We should have checked on them over the weekend… Stevan wanted to, but I was too busy here on the ranch with Pa.” Mark conveyed his guilt through his words.

“Stop it Mark!” ordered Thadd. “Whether it happened today or over the weekend, they both would still be dead. Both children have bruises and welts, some recent others… not so recent. The abuse has been happening for some time. So a few days didn’t really matter. I’ve asked Milly and Lucas if they would mind keeping the children for a while, at least until I can find others from their family.”

“They don’t have any.” Mark handed over the note for Thadd to read. “While you’re here, would you mind looking in on Emmy? Ma said she’d been sick all day.”

“Sure Mark.”

Thadd walked over and knocked on the bedroom door, he opened it when he heard Hope say, “Come in.”

After an examination, Thadd put his stethoscope and tongue depressor back in his black bag. “Well young lady. I think those tonsils need to come out.”

“It is really that bad?” asked Hope.

“They are inflamed, and it’s only going to get worse. I’d rather remove the tonsils before they get to a point where they can cause a major infection. Right now, it’s a simple procedure, later, it can get more complicated.”

“How soon?” asked Hope.

“It can wait until things in this household get a little more settled. Hope, I remember what Mark’s gone through in the past when he’s taken a life. Let him accept his part in what happened and then we’ll talk about surgery for Mykaela.”

“Surgery? Doc?” Mark asked as he entered his daughter’s bedroom.

“Just her tonsils, it can wait until sometime next week. Looks like I’ll have to offer my two for one pricing.”

“Two for one?” asked Hope.

“When I was over checking on the Trumble children, Milly asked that I take a look at Myra. She’s had a sore throat too. It’s best to perform surgery on both of them. It will make it easier for their recovery to have someone else who’s recovering.”

*****

With little ceremony, Quinton and MarthaTrumble’s burial happened at the cemetery on the outskirts of town the following afternoon. A few townspeople attended, in addition to Johnny Drako, Seth and Lilah Lane, and Mark and Lucas McCain, with the Trumble children.

Lucas was there to support his son. This was the first time Mark had attended the burial of someone he had killed. Lucas remembered the incident when Mark’s friend Charlie was accidentally killed; his cousin had wanted to operate Lucas’ rifle and Mark attempted to pull it back.

“What about their children?” Johnny asked as he placed his hat on his head.

“For now, they can stay with us,” Lucas answered after he motioned for the children to walk ahead to the buckboard.

“Okay Lucas. Let me know when I should contact one of the orphanages about taking them in.”

“First, let’s give them time to grieve before we uproot them and send them away.” Placing his hand upon his son’s shoulder, “How are you doing, Mark?”

“I’m okay Pa. I’ve accepted that I had no choice and I was forced into it in order to protect the lives of others. After our talk last night, Hope and I talked some more and we read from the bible. Pa, I’ll be okay.”

“Okay, but if you still need to talk, I’m here for you,” Lucas replied as he gave his son’s shoulder a squeeze.

“We just need to decide what to do with the Trumble children,” mused Mark.

“As I told Johnny, for now, they can stay with us. Robbie is talking with your brothers and sister, Eloise hasn’t said a word. She does as we ask, but she’s not talked.”

“I’m sorry to bring trouble to your house.”

“It’s no trouble.”

“Yeah, but now you have five children under your roof and Gabby needs surgery next week,” implored Mark.

“And if you had taken them in, you’d have seven under your roof and Mykaela is going to have surgery too. Mark, Milly and I are okay with them staying with us for a while.”

“Thanks, Pa.”

*****

Later that night, Milly talked with Lucas as they readied for bed.

“Lucas, how is Mark handling this?”

“You mean killing Trumble?”

“Yes. I remember the other times…”

“Remarkably well. He’s…” Lucas paused and gave thought.

“He’s what?” asked Milly.

“Ever since we returned from Enid… I’ve been trying to put a finger on something that’s… different about him… And today, I realized just what it is, he’s so much more mature, more confident of himself... understanding and accepting the consequences of events. I mean in the immediate aftermath of killing, he’s taken it hard, but afterwards…he’s willing to talk, not keep it inside. And when he does talk, it’s not by rote, it’s like he’s reanalyzing everything, every detail. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, just… I think I finally lost him as my little boy…”

“He’ll always been your little boy, in his heart. Lucas, you did a wonderful job raising Mark as a single father. The trials and heartache the two of you experienced, any one of them could have turned him cold and uncaring, but Mark is who he is because of you… and Margaret.”

*****

Sunday morning, Mark was unprepared for the questions the twins asked, “But why do we have to go to Church? Why do we have to pray to God when let Robbie and Eloise’s Pa hurt them?” asked Josh.

“Why should we give thanks and pray to him?” Zach echoed.

Mark didn’t know what to say, except, “It’s Sunday and we’re going to church.”

*****

Upon entering the church and walking to take their seats, Eloise tugged on Lucas’ pant leg, “Papa Lucas?” she whispered and wiggled her index finger, asking Lucas to lean down.

“Yes Eloise?” a surprised Lucas responded. This was the first time Eloise had spoken since Mark had brought her and her brother home.

“That man…”

“What man?” Lucas lifted Eloise to his hip.

“That man.” Eloise continued to whisper as she pointed to a picture on the wall. “I seen him. Why’s he on that wood?”

“That man is Jesus Christ. He is the son of God,” Lucas started. “He was crucified on the cross to pay for our sins.”

“He’s not there no more.”

Milly answered, “That’s right. After he died, they removed his body from the cross before they buried him.”

“No, he didn’t die.”

“He did, but he was resurrected. The bible tells us that,” Lucas answered.

“I don’t know about no bible, but he was there,” Eloise continued to talk. “He put his arms around me.”

“When was that?” Milly asked.

“When Papa was hurting Mama,” Eloise whispered.

Johnny Drako overheard the last part of what Eloise said and asked, “Eloise, was that the only time you saw your Papa, hurt your Mama?”

Eloise didn’t answer; she buried her face in Lucas’ shoulder.

“It’s too soon Johnny,” Lucas answered. “This is the first time she’s spoken.”

“No, Marshal Drako,” Robbie answered, “it weren’t, but Marshal Mark made sure it was the last time.”

Throughout church service, Eloise kept a hold of Lucas’ hand; afterwards, they walked to the restaurant for lunch.

*****

Before entering the hotel restaurant, Mark took Josh and Zach aside to talk with them.

“So, what are you feeling now?” asked Mark.

“We’re sorry Pa,” stated Josh and Zach.

“And why are you sorry?”

“Because we weren’t the ones Mr. Trumble was hurting and we thought poorly of God. Robbie and Eloise, with all their Pa done to them…they believed,” answered Zach.

“Boys, you forgot something very important… God can only provide us the guidance with which to live our lives. It’s up to us to listen and learn the lessons he teaches.”

“Just like Mr. Bullock teaches us?” asked Josh, “and Mr. Griswald?” Zach added.

“Yes, we all have lessons to learn.”

“Even you Pa?” Zach asked in surprise.

“Even me and your Grandpa’s.”

“Don’t let our Grandma’s or Mama know that,” Josh stated, shaking his head.

“Okay, this can be our little secret,” agreed Mark.

The Next Step — McCain Blood

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

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