The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 103 – The Oklahoma Story - Part 2
Written by Deanne Bertram

The entire McCain and Gibbs families met at the fork in the road, one path led to Laura and Matthew’s home, the other to Margaret’s burial site. The families somberly proceeded down the path and arrived at the grave. Mark and Hope stepped from their carriage and walked forward with their children, who held small bouquets of marigolds in their hands, and knelt down to place the marigolds on the headstone.

“Papa, is this our other grandma?” Josh asked.

“This is my Ma’s grave. She died when I was your age,”

“Did you cry?” Zach asked.

“Yes, I cried,” answered Mark.

“Does she know about us? Josh asked.

“I’ve told her about all of you,” replied Mark. “And I’m sure she’s been watching you grow up.”

Mark and his young family stepped back to allow the other members of his family to honor the memory of Margaret Gibbs McCain. Everyone but Lucas stepped forward to touch the headstone or place a flower upon it.

Reverend Upshaw had accompanied the families, “Shall we join hands? Dear Heavenly Father, It is a testament to a family as I stand here and look upon those who knew and loved Margaret Gibbs McCain. Though I personally did not know her, I do know the strength of her character; as it is reflected in the faces of each and every person here today. Especially her brothers, her sister, her husband, and her son.

“The body of Margaret may lie in the ground, but her memory lives on in those who loved her and through the love she shared with her husband, Lucas McCain. The truth of their love was proven when they brought a son into the world. And here, their son has brought children of his own into the world and through them, Margaret Gibbs McCain will continue to live and be remembered, until the day we join her.

“Margaret was called home to the Heavenly Kingdom all too soon. Some say the good Lord needed another angel of mercy in Heaven to help others. But her departure left a void in the lives of her family. Though her eternal soul has be reunited with God, we are left here to go on without her and for that reason, I’m sure, God and the angels cry for us, because we are so far from His home.

“I remind thee of I Thessalonians 4:17, ‘Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’ Amen."

As family members offered their ‘Amen’ and slowly lifted their heads, sniffles echoed through the group. In smaller family units, they walked past the grave, returned to their carriages or buckboards and followed Matthew and Laura, not to their home, but to town.

*****

Friday afternoon, the fourth of June, Mark told Hope he wanted to go for a ride and would be back.

“You sound as if something’s wrong, can I help?” Hope asked.

“No, I just need to think. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to shut you out…”

“I understand. When you’re ready, I’ll be here,” an understanding Hope stated.

Mark left their hotel room and rode. He didn’t know exactly where he was going; he just knew he needed some thinking time. Back home, he would have ridden to the pond, but here… In this town that had been his home so long ago… Mark eventually found himself at his mother’s grave.

*****

Two hours later, Mark turned from sitting on the ground upon hearing a rider approach.

“Hope said you needed to do some thinking. Figured there would be only one place where you would come. Can I help?”

“Not really. Being out here hasn’t made my thinking any clearer. Pa, I don’t know what it is, but… I know I don’t want to hurt you again…”

“I think I know what’s bothering you. You’re seeing the possible family life we could have had, had I not taken you from here,” Lucas stated as he sat down.

“I don’t know… Pa?” Mark sort of knew how he was feeling, but didn’t want to get into it with his Pa, not until he could really understand.

“That’s why you don’t want to hurt me, because you know I’m right. You’ve become reacquainted with your cousins, aunts, and uncles, and met the ones that were born after we left. You’re thinking that maybe had I stayed, they could have helped you, and me, get over your Ma’s death.”

“Could they?” Mark asked without thing of the hurt that question would cause.

“Maybe… I was hurting and everything here reminded me of Margaret. If I hadn’t left, I felt I would have curled up and died. Mark, you know I’ve told you how your Ma, she hadn’t been in strong health before the epidemic and doctors were expensive. Then she contracted the disease and… You were the only thing that I had left that made my life worth living. I was afraid of losing you,” Lucas answered as he sat down beside his son.

“Losing me?”

“Mark, the epidemic was still happening. I couldn’t risk you catching it. I couldn’t lose the last part of my wife that was alive for me.”

“But Pa, when we left, we could have spread the disease.”

“Yes, we could have. That’s why for the first two weeks after we left Enid, we didn’t go near any towns. We lived off the provisions I packed in the buckboard. I just prayed we survived the incubation period. But, if you’d of come down ill during those two weeks, I would have brought you back.”

“And what if you’d of gotten sick? I was six! I wouldn’t have known where we were or how to get us home,” Mark exclaimed, allowing his emotions to surface.

Lucas could hear the accusation in his son’s voice as he came to understand more of his past.

“There would have been time for me to get us back, had I come down sick. But we didn’t get sick.”

“No, you just ran away,” Mark’s voice held a bitter edge. “You took me from the only home and family I knew.”

“Yes, I’ve admitted that in the past and I’ll admit it today. There was nothing left for us here,” Lucas again admitted.

“Nothing left?! Look at all the family members we have. How could you say there was nothing left for us?” Mark accused. “You didn’t even touch her headstone yesterday! What could our lives have been, had we stayed?!”

When Hope had informed Lucas that Mark had left to go think, he had feared what was bothering his son, yet, he had hoped he was wrong. But in listening to Mark’s tone of voice, Lucas knew he hadn’t been wrong in his thinking. This is what Lucas had really been dreading, when Mark had informed him he was taking his family to Enid.

Lucas was thankful that Mark was talking of what was bothering him, even though it hurt. Lucas took a deep breath and slowly exhaled before he spoke a little curtly, yet he hoped Mark would understand, “I don’t know, but maybe you should think on this… If we hadn’t left Enid and eventually settled in North Fork, there’d be no Milly or Hope in our lives, or any of the blessings they’ve brought us. Mark, I’ve explained as best I can. Maybe I did rob you of a life here in Enid… But I’ll say this once; I was and still am your father. I gave you a life in North Fork; one that before you left to come here, I thought you loved.”

After a long silence, Mark asked, “Would you have come back, had I not made this trip?”

Lucas stood, but he heard the change in his son’s voice; it didn’t hold the accusation, but confusion. Confusion for what he had asked his Pa and for forgetting what he had.

“I don’t know.” Lucas paused in his answer, now was the time for truthfulness. “Honestly, no. To me, being here… is looking back.”

“But it’s also looking forward. Pa, look at all our family members, they’re alive. They’re real, not just names or words written on a sheet of paper around the holidays,” Mark pleaded.

“Yes, they are real. I guess they’ve always been more real to me because I was an adult when we left here. Mark, I won’t apologize for doing what I felt I needed to do. And I won’t apologize for yesterday, being here is difficult for me. I hope you can understand and find it in yourself to accept that I did what I had to do, then and now, for both of us.”

Lucas placed his hat upon his head, walked over, and mounted his horse. He waited to see if Mark would join him for the ride back to town, only to be disappointed when Mark didn’t move.

“I’ll see you in town, son.”

Without receiving an answer, Lucas turned his horse and rode back to Enid. Never had Lucas felt so alienated from his son, they had always been partners… But ever since Mark had informed him of his intent to return to Enid, Lucas had felt their relationship crumbling, and after today’s talk, he didn’t believe Mark was going to return to North Fork.

*****

After listening to his Pa leave Mark sat in contemplation. It was a few minutes before Mark spoke, “Ma, I know he’s right. I just hurt him again, like I did before I came down with typhoid. Man, how can life seem so unfair in one moment and the next, you remember how great a life you really have. He must think I hate him.”

“He doesn’t,” Mark heard a woman’s voice from behind.

“Hello?” Mark called as he turned to look for who had spoken to him, confused because his heart thought it was the voice of his Ma.

The woman came closer. “Aunt Laura?” Mark called.

“He’d of been more upset had you kept all that inside. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, just that I saw Lucas heading out this way, and then I realized you were here… Mark, you came back because…”

“I’d been away too long,” Mark replied.

“No, that’s not the real reason. Yes, what you told your father was part of your feelings, but… Your boys are almost six years old, just six months shy of your age when you lost your Ma. You’re trying to come to terms with the fact that they’re going to have something that you didn’t have when you were growing up.”

“Two parents,” Mark sighed.

“And you’re feeling a little jealous?” Laura asked as she sat down next to her nephew.

“I don’t know. I mean when Myra turned six, I felt a little jealous, but I don’t want anything to happen to M… Miss Milly.”

“You can call her Ma. We all understand.”

“Thanks, but, I don’t understand why with my sons ready to turn six… Why do I feel so strongly about coming here and seeing her grave?”

“Mark, you’ve already said it, you needed to say a final goodbye, but your heart hasn’t accepted that yet. You were a child when Lucas took you from here and I remember how you fought him. The tantrums you threw after Margaret’s body was removed from your home, and again at her services. Because you fought against her death, you never really said goodbye to your Ma. Leastwise, not standing in front of her grave. Yes, your parents loved each other, as you love Hope, and I’ve seen the love your father has for Milly. It’s been wonderful seeing you and meeting your family, seeing my youngest brother and Johnny, too, and meeting the other members of the McCain/Gibbs clan, but this isn’t your home. As much as every one of us would love for you to move back here and live, we know, deep down, this is your past, your lives are in New Mexico.”

“Was I wrong to come back?” Mark asked, feeling even more guilt.

“No Mark, visiting family is never wrong. Maybe we should have been the ones to come and visit you in North Fork. You’ve given this family a wonderful present, by coming to visit. But a visit it must be. I’ll continue to care for your mother’s grave, but you have a life to live and it’s not here.”

“It could have been,” answered Mark, still having not let go of what he had seen.

“No, Mark, not after Margaret died. Mark, how much do you know about your Pa’s past?” Laura asked.

“I know there are the years he refuses to talk about during the war, and there were some colorful times afterwards. I think those are the years that Uncle Johnny and others have referred to as his wild years, before he met and married Ma.”

“Yes, your father came home from the war pretty messed up and he and Tom Birch up and took off one day. It was more than a year later, when they both returned to Enid. It was a Saturday and I saw my big brother bump into a pretty gal on the boardwalk. I thought it funny that he didn’t try to avoid bumping into her. I found out later that they had briefly met in Kansas City when the Gibbs family was traveling to Enid from back East. And because of her, he returned home.”

“Tom Birch told me a little about it once, and Pa told me more,” Mark answered.

“After the war, I think he talked with his brothers, but he never talked with the rest of us about what happened. I got the feeling from your Ma that he did talk with her. She let it slip one day shortly after they were married, it was only after he’d wake from a nightmare that he would open up to her. He never liked looking back, said it wasn’t healthy.”

“But Pa also said not to keep secrets,” Mark quipped.

“Mark, some secrets deserve to be kept, like what your father experienced during the war, and those are best left buried. But after your Ma died, we knew he wanted to run and we hoped he’d find himself again. Julie even tried to convince Lucas to leave you with her and Abraham.”

“Why?” a curious Mark asked.

“Our own Pa died shortly after Lucas went off to war. And after Ma died, Julie and Abe became second parents to me. I guess they were hoping to do the same with you. See Mark, I do understand you, better than most. I was eight when my Ma died. Mark, your Pa was running from his past, just like he did after the war. It wasn’t any surprise to those who really knew Lucas, after watching friends and his wife die during the epidemic… We were worried; we knew having you with him would constantly remind him of his loss. They wanted to protect you.”

“Protect me? From who?”

“Lucas,” Laura whispered.

“Pa?! He’d never hurt me! Why he never even whipped me when I was growing up!” Mark declared.

“No, but in his state of mind… His hurt and fears were so deep, they were afraid his wild side would win out, this time. And if it did, what would happen to you? It was a long, worrying year between Margaret’s death and the first letter your father wrote home.”

“It was a long year for us, too. I never understood why Pa made us leave. It can’t be just because Ma died…”

“Mark I know my brothers and sister would skin me alive for telling you what I’m about to, but they don’t even know this. You do realize your Pa hasn’t been to the house where Matthew and I live?”

“I guess I hadn’t realized…”

“Mark, we all saw the pain in Lucas’ eyes and agreed not to ask him to return to the ranch, the others agreed because it was where your Ma died. But, Matthew and I are the only ones who know the other reason…that Lucas lost it. The bank informed Lucas of their intentions to foreclose upon the ranch shortly after your Ma took sick. And then Margaret died… Lucas doesn’t know that I know the truth, I found the documentation in the bank’s files when we were purchasing the property.”

“Pa said something about doctor’s being expensive… Couldn’t he have sold some of his cattle? I mean, how could Uncle Jason…”

“No, he’d lost all his cattle as did a number of the other ranchers due to hoof and mouth disease. And Lucas wasn’t talking about Jason. Jason is a wonderful doctor for the town and our family, only he wasn’t here, he and Emily were back east. Your Ma, she…”

“Pa had told me that Ma was sick when she gave birth to me and couldn’t care for me for the first month of my life.”

“And when she miscarried three years later… Her body just wasn’t strong enough handle the stresses or fight off infections like a healthy person. Every winter, Lucas feared and worried over any little cold she took.”

“Then I am to blame for causing Ma to get sick…and…” stated Mark.

“Never, Mark! At first, when Margaret was carrying you, she just suffered from a cold, like the rest of us. But the winter you were born, it was a bitter winter, more so than any other winter we’d seen around these parts. Many people got sick. Some recovered, others didn’t. Jason took wonderful care of Margaret to see that she recovered. Lucas was thankful she lived. And he enjoyed spending that first month of your life with you. Yes, he worried for Margaret, but my brother changed in that first month, his heart was softened even more by the love for his son.”

Images flooded Mark’s memories as he tried to absorb more of his past life.

“Mark, what Lucas doesn’t understand about you, or Margaret, is why. Why sometimes, some people have to look back in order to be able to live forward, like you’re doing. And in that way, you’re so much like your mother. And this is what you needed. But, your father is struggling; he’s only here because Milly insisted that he needed to be here, for you. Yes, he’s enjoyed the reunion, but he’d prefer to be home in North Fork. I’ve seen it in his eyes; Margaret’s memory is still fresh. To him I’m sure it feels like Margaret just died.”

“Maybe I should stay in Enid then, everyone’s always stated how much I reminded them of Ma. Maybe Pa…

“No, that’s not what I’m trying to say. You are Lucas’ son, too. And its best you got your feelings out in the open with your Pa. Look at the life you have now, would you honestly trade what you have, today, for something that might have been?”

“I was just plain stupid in blurting things out like I did. Wish I got some of the McCain smarts like the rest of this family,” Mark commented.

“You have the McCain smarts, otherwise you wouldn’t wear the badge of a U.S. Marshal. Now don’t go getting your knickers in a knot, Hope accidentally let it slip the other day when the two of us were talking. I’ve not said anything to anyone else, though I don’t understand why you’re bent on keeping it a secret. But I guess you think some outlaw around might cause trouble, because of you.” Getting to her feet, “Mark, while you’ve been here, you’ve just let your heart’s past blind you to what you have. Your heart knows the truth, open your heart again. You’ve said your goodbyes and met the family, now…, now you need to live your life forward. Come on, you best get back to town. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Aunt Laura, thank you, for everything,” Mark said after they hugged.

*****

Lucas returned to the hotel, more upset than when he left. Milly begged him to talk with her. “Milly, ever since we arrive, I’m still holding Margaret in my arms while her life slips away.” Lucas held his arms in front of him, his hands curled into tight fights, “I’m still cursing Samuel for not returning... Milly, you are my life! …I can’t stay here any longer. I don’t know how to get through to Mark. He’s living in the past that could have been and forgetting what he has. I’ve lost him…” Lucas slammed his fist to the window frame. “We’re leaving for home. Get the children packed. The train leaves in an hour.”

“You’re not going to wait to say goodbye to him?” Milly asked in surprise.

“If this is the life he wants, no. I can’t stay here for two more days for the next train. I want to take what’s left of my family… home.”

*****

As Mark rode into Enid, he watched the evening train pull away from the station. Mark left the rented horse at the livery and returned to the hotel. As he entered, Owen called him over to the front desk.

“Mark, I have a note for you. Miss Milly left it.”

Mark stepped aside, opened the note, and read:

Mark,

I’ll not say I understand what has come between you and your father, but I know that he does love you – it’s just that his memories and the pain from losing Margaret are stronger.

I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye before we returned home.

If this is the life you want, I’ll accept it. All I wish is for you and Hope to be happy.

Love, Milly

“They left?” Mark looked up and asked.

“Lucas checked his family out about a half hour before the train left.”

The Next Step — This House Rebuilt

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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