The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Next Step...
Chapter 97 - Reunited
Written by Deanne Bertram

With train tickets in hand, Mark slowly climbed the stairs to their hotel room. Entering their room, Mark watched as Lucas attempted to hide his pain while lying down on the bed.

“Pa, how are feeling?”

“I’ll feel better when we’re home and I have Milly in my arms,” Lucas quietly spoke, trying not to agitate his ribs.

“Doc said he’ll wrap your ribs again in the morning before he officially discharges you. We’ll have plenty of time to get to the train station. The tickets are for tomorrow afternoon. We’re in the sleeper car.”

“Train… Okay…” Lucas stated as he started to drift off to sleep. “Can’t wait to get home…”

“Pa, I was wondering… It’s been a long time since we were in Oklahoma,” Mark ventured to address the subject of his wonderings as he sat down in the overstuffed chair in the room. The past several days Mark’s mind had wandered while waiting for the doctor to discharge his Pa.

“Home…” Lucas sleepily stated, as the medication took effect.

Feeling that his Pa didn’t want to talk about it, Mark said, “I can’t wait to get home either.”

*****

Doc Brubaker finally discharged Lucas to return home on Sunday the seventh of February, Mark kept an eye on Lucas while they carefully made their way down the hotel staircase. Slowly, father and son made their way to the train platform. Seeing Lucas to a bench, Mark told him, “I’ll be right back.”

Mark stopped at the telegraph office.

Milly and Hope McCain
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Heading home on the train /stop/
Be home soon /stop/

Lucas and Mark McCain

When Mark returned to the train station, he was leading Rainmaker and carrying two rifles, he leaned both against the bench upon which his Pa sat.

“Let me make arrangements for Rainmaker in the stock car…”

While Mark was tending to Rainmaker, Lucas realized the second rifle was his…

“Yeah, it’s your rifle,” Mark stated upon his return.

“How?” Lucas asked.

“I pulled it off Razor. Pa, I’m so sorry…” Mark didn’t know exactly what to say, tears welled in his eyes as he sat down.

“Razor…”

“I found him where he fell. I guess his heart gave out…” Mark’s voice quieted.

“I shouldn’t have taken him out that day…”

“Pa, why not? How were you supposed to know Turpin was coming for you?” Mark pleaded.

“Just a rotten way to lose him…”

“I buried him where he fell.”

“You buried…”

“Pa, I couldn’t leave him for the wolves. Spent the evening and night digging the hole. I used Rainmaker to position his body, before I started covering him over.”

“He was a good horse…”

“He was Pa, he was.”

“ALL ABOARD!” called the conductor.

*****

Two days later, the train pulled into the North Fork station while Mark looked out at the freshly fallen snow that blanketed the town. He helped steady Lucas down to the platform before they headed to the clinic. Crossing the main street, they encountered Nils , who Mark requested take Rainmaker from the stock car and put him up at the livery. Upon entering the clinic, both stopped when they heard a woman screaming.

“Maybe we should come back tomorrow,” Lucas stated.

The door to the room at the end of the hallway opened and Sarah McCafferty stepped out, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Mark, Mr. McCain, you’re home. Is there something I can help you with?” Sarah asked and stopped when she realized Lucas was on crutches.

“I was hoping Thadd could take a look at Pa, before I take him home.”

“He’s sort of busy right now, Abigail went into labor earlier. If you don’t mind waiting, I’m sure it won’t be much longer. I’m just going to see if the water is warm enough to use for bathing the baby.”

“Go ahead. What room can I put Pa in?” Mark asked.

“Two” Sarah answered as she proceeded to tend to her task.

After seeing Lucas comfortable on the examination table Mark stated, “I think I’ll head over to Seth’s to see…”

“That won’t be necessary,” Seth stated as he entered the room. “I heard the train and figured you’d stop here first.”

“I didn’t wire that Pa had been injured,” Mark replied.

“You didn’t need to. I saw the two of you making your way here.”

“We’ve been gone a while, how are Hope and Milly and the children?” Mark asked.

“They’re all doing fine. You hadn’t been gone but a few days when word made its way around town and your uncle, and the ranchers, started pitching in and helping. That and I hired on a fella to help, too. Taking care of your place for this long was more than what Jake should be asked to handle on his own.”

“You hired some stranger to watch over the ranch?” Lucas demanded as he sat up.

“Neither of you were around and we didn’t know how long Mark was going to be gone chasing after you. Milly and Hope were trying to do it all. He came to town, looking for the two of you...”

“Pa, lie back down,” Mark tried to order.

“You didn’t move our families to town after I went missing. How could you leave two women and eight children out there all alone?” Lucas’ temper rose.

With more attitude than he meant, Seth replied to Lucas’ accusations, “Why don’t you ask your son the same question! Seems you had no choice, but Mark didn’t let anyone in town know before he took off after you!”

“Seth, who did you hire?” Mark asked as he tried to restrain Lucas and calm the situation between his Pa and his father-in-law.

“Yes, just who did you hire to watch over MY family?!”

While Lucas was losing his temper, and Mark was trying to calm him down, and Seth was attempting to explain, no one noticed the sound of a baby crying emanating from down the hall.

“A good friend of yours, Lariat Jones. And since he arrived, he’s been a hard worker. I helped Hope set him up a cot in Gwen’s old room. He even insisted that Hope put a padlock on her side of the door so that way, he’d only gain entrance to the house with her permission.”

“Pa, please lie back down,” Mark insisted.

“Lariat’s back in town?” Lucas relaxed back, comforted in the name of a friend helping to watch his family. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“Yes, Lariat’s back in town. And I was trying to tell you that when you started accusing me of abandoning your family.” Point his finger to Lucas, “Just keep in mind, your daughter-in-law is MY daughter!” Calming his attitude, Seth continued, “Lariat arrived just after New Year’s Day. Milly and Hope tried to take care of the ranch with just Jake’s help as well as Johnny’s and a few of the other hands helping out here and there, but they learned just how hard you work to keep the ranch going and it was more than what Jake could do alone.”

“Lucas!” the threesome heard Johnny Gibbs call from the hallway.

“In here,” Lucas replied.

Soon, Johnny Gibbs and others were gathered in and around the clinic, wanting to see for themselves that Lucas and Mark McCain had returned. After Thadd ordered everyone from the room, he entered and started shaking his head at the sight.

“Well, at least you’re both clean shaven this time.” Looking to Lucas, “So, tell me about all your injuries.”

“What about Abigail?” Lucas asked. “Sarah said she was in labor…”

“You three have been arguing so loudly you missed hearing the baby’s crying,” Thadd stated as he smiled.

“So, is it a boy or a girl?” Mark asked.

“A girl,” Thadd answered.

“Have you named her yet?” Lucas managed to ask.

“No, right now Abigail is nursing her while I come to tend to the two of you,” Thadd replied. “So other than the bruising and a busted leg…”

Lucas proceeded to tell Thadd of his bruised and broken ribs, as well as his broken leg. Upon completing his examination, Thadd was quite satisfied with the level of medical attention Lucas had received.

“Doctor Brubaker should have left that town a long time ago, but there were enough good people still requiring his services. Seems he was one of few who cared about the town,” Mark stated.

“I don’t understand,” Thadd replied.

“Elk City had turned into a haven for outlaws. Tom Benton is going to do some inquiring and regardless of whether it was incompetence or the constable being in cahoots, I wouldn’t be surprised if Elk City needs to elect a new lawman to watch over the town,” Mark replied.

“Oh… Now, other than your colorful complexion, what injuries did you suffer, Mark?” Thadd asked.

“I’m just sore along the ribs.”

“And?” Thadd asked.

“Thadd, he spent the better part of six weeks in the saddle trailing after me,” Lucas laughed.

“Oh, I get the picture. If you need some salve for your…”

“No, I’m just need to get my land legs back,” answered Mark as he tried to stretch out his legs.

“Well, I’m sure Nils would loan you a wagon to get back to the ranch. Mark, I don’t see why you can’t resume your duties as Marshal whenever you’re ready. Lucas, you’re going to be laid up for about five more weeks. I want to see you next week to check on how your ribs are mending.”

*****

“Stop complaining about my driving. Until Doc takes out your stitches, you’re stuck riding on this bench seat. Besides, Gwen enjoys my driving,” Jake laughed.

“I ain’t married to you!” Lariat replied under his breath.

“It’s been ten days, maybe today will be the day Doc will take out your stitches and say you can start riding…”

“Then you should have let me tie my horse to the back.”

“You sound worse than the twins when they don’t get their… Hey, isn’t that Rainmaker?” Jake asked as he pulled the team to a halt.

“Who?” Lariat asked as he started looking around.

“Hey Jake!” Nils yelled as he tried to hurry Rainmaker towards the buckboard. “You two better make yourselves scarce.”

“Then that is Rainmaker?” Jake asked.

“And why should we make ourselves scarce because of a horse?” Lariat sulked.

“Because this horse belongs to Mark, he and Lucas came in on the afternoon train. They’re at the clinic right now. Lucas looks to be busted up and Mark, well, Hope’s going to just love the bruising on his face, too.”

“Lucas is back?!” Lariat perked up.

“Lariat, they’re not supposed to know what happened out at the ranch, so you better pray you’re healed enough for Doc to say you can go without that sling if he doesn’t remove your stitches,” Jake offered

*****

As Lucas and Mark exited the examination room, Johnny Gibbs declared, “You’ll never guess who else was on the train!”

“Who?” was asked in unison.

“Did you know that Oat has a sister? A gruff and tuff old man like him has such a pretty gal as a sister, who’d a thunk?”

*****

“What are ye two doing, hiding in my kitchen?” Lou declared.

Jake turned and answered, “Lucas and Mark are back.”

“Oh, I see, well… I don’t hold with what all of ye are planning to do in keeping secrets from the McCain’s… So just get out of my kitchen. Go on now! Shoo!”

Jake and Lariat scurried from the kitchen and into the restaurant. While not watching where they were going, Lariat accidentally bumped into a woman who Oat Jackford was escorting.

“Oh, pardon me ma’am. Sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going,” Lariat stated while tipping his hat.

“Oh Oat, are all these cowboys always this clumsy?” the woman asked.

“Clumsy? Why I have you know…”

“They are when they’re trying to hide…” Oat stated, knowing he was getting a rub in on Lariat.

“Are they outlaws?” the woman’s eyes gleamed.

“No ma’am, but if Lucas sees me now, I may very well wish I was. Lariat Jones is the name,” he extended his hand.

“Mr. Jones, how sweet of you. I’m Ruth Jackford,”

“I didn’t know you had a wife, Mr. Jackford,” Jake stated.

“I’m not his wife, thank goodness. I’m his sister. And you are?”

“Jake McCafferty, ma’am.”

“If you two riff raff will excuse us, I was planning to have lunch with my sister,” Oat stated.

Ignoring Oat, “Will you be visiting your brother for very long?” Lariat inquired.

“I’m not really sure,” Ruth replied. “Do you live in town?”

“Come along Ruth,” Oat ordered as he took hold of his sister’s upper arm and guided her to a table in the corner.

*****

“Oh Mary! In here!” Ruth called to the woman standing in the entrance to the restaurant. As the woman and her young son approached, Ruth introduced them, “Oat, I’d like for you to meet Mary Walters and her son, Corbin. We were on the train together. Mary, this is my oldest brother, Oat.”

Extending his hand Oat stated, “Pleased to meet you ma’am, Corbin. If you’d like to join us for lunch?”

*****

Mark halted the team in front of the barn and jumped down before he proceeded around the back of the buckboard to help his Pa down. Mark was reaching into the back of the buckboard when a snowball struck Lucas in the back. Milly came from the side of the barn and gasped at who her snowball had struck when she realized it was Mark standing next to… “Lucas?!” Milly called out, unbelieving he was actually home.

Lucas turned around and gave a smile that stated he was happy to be home. Their children came running to the buckboard, excited their papa was home.

Milly hurried to Lucas, yet paused before attempting to hug him, “I thought it was Jake and Lariat returning from town with the team.”

“So you’re throwing snowballs at the hired help?” Lucas reached out, inviting his family to hug him, and kept his grimace to himself.

“Mark!” Hope yelled as their children ran to greet their papa. Hope carried Faith as she ran through the snow to greet her husband.

When Hope was close enough, she took Mark’s chin in her hand and turned his face to get a good look at the bruise on the right side of his face.

“I’ll explain everything later,” Mark stated as he hugged and enjoyed being reunited with his family.

“Did you see Lariat at the clinic?” Milly asked. “So you know he’s been staying here and helping out?”

“Why would Lariat be at the clinic? Something happen to Jake?” Lucas asked.

“Uh, no… Jake’s fine,” Hope answered.

“The children and you look okay,” Mark stated. “What’s Lariat doing at the clinic?”

Both Hope and Milly started to corral their children to allow Lucas room to walk, using the crutches, through the snow and into his home. “Well, the two of them are in town and I presume they would have stopped by to see you at the clinic.”

“Ma? Hope?” Mark asked, not believing their answer.

“Let’s get your father inside,” Milly answered and turned to the children. “Children, let’s get inside.”

“Can we go to Grandma and Grandpa’s?” Zach asked.

“Yes, I think we’ll ALL go to Grandma and Grandpa’s,” Mark replied. “I’ll take care of unharnessing the team and putting Rainmaker up. I’ll be inside soon.”

Milly and Hope made themselves busy helping their children get out of their winter coats, hats, and mittens. Looking to each other, they entered the kitchen to start preparing supper.

*****

Mark returned to the house and started go into the kitchen when he heard, “Mark?”

“Yes Pa?”

Lucas motioned for Mark to come back to the front room. “Give them time. Both of us have stories to tell. Let’s wait until after the children are asleep before we talk.”

*****

Mark stepped to the porch upon hearing the sound from a team of horses arriving. “Jake, Lariat, welcome back!”

“Welcome back, yourself!” Lariat called as he jumped down from the buckboard. “Sorry we missed you in town.”

Mark helped Jake unhitch the team while Lariat entered the house to catch up with Lucas.

“So, everything was okay while we were gone?” Mark asked.

“Sure, everyone helped out a lot… Sam, Billy, Lariat, even your Uncle Johnny.”

“There’s nothing in the back of the buckboard, so why were the two of you in town?”

“We just missed you at the clinic. Lariat pulled a muscle in his shoulder pretty badly, one of the yearlings got bogged down and Lariat… Well, you can picture what happened. Doc said he could stop wearing the sling today and slowly work his way back to using his arm.”

“Oh, is that all…” Mark replied.

“I really need to get back home to Gwen. You’ll tell your father I said hello and welcome home?”

“Sure, and why don’t you take a few days off. From the looks of things around here, you could stand to take some time off. I can handle the ranch for a few days.”

“But Doc said your…”

“Don’t you worry, we’ll be fine. Give Gwen a kiss from me.”

Mark saw Jake off before he returned to his parents’ home.

*****

“I tell you Lucas, had that yearling not been the best looking one of the herd, I would have left him there. After I ended up pulling a doozy on my shoulder, I wish I had.” Lariat moved his arm around to show that he didn’t quite have full range of motion. “Hey Mark,” Lariat called as Mark entered the house, “your misses here is some cook! Between her and Milly, why I swear I’ve put on ten pounds while the two of you been gone.”

“You’re lucky if that’s all!,” Lucas teased.

“Lucas, I’ll have you fattened back up in no time,” Milly stated as she came to sit on the arm of Lucas’ chair. “Both, you and Mark, look so gaunt.” Milly leaned over and gave Lucas a kiss.

“You don’t know how much I’ve been looking forward to getting back home,” Lucas stated as he leaned back in his chair.

“Papa, would you like your bible?” Myra asked.

Lucas took the bible from his daughter and opened it to Psalms 23, as he read, he was thankful to be home to the house the Lord had blessed unto him. It didn’t take long for Lucas to fall asleep in his chair.

Milly woke him after they had supper on the table and all the children were settled.

*****

As they settled their children into bed for the night and closed the bedroom doors, Hope commented, “There is one more thing we need to do.”

“What’s that?” asked Mark.

“Celebrate Christmas…”

“Christmas? But that was almost two months ago…”

“I know, but the boys said it didn’t feel like Christmas without you here. They didn’t want to open their presents, I still have them wrapped in the bedroom closet.”

“I’m so sorry, Hope. Pa was missing…” Mark’s eyes pleaded for her understanding.

“Mark, I understand,” Hope stated as she climbed into bed and positioned Faith to her breast to nurse her before putting her in her bassinet for the night.

*****

“Papa,” said Myra as she stood to the side of her parents’ bed that morning.

“Myra?” Milly sleepily asked.

“What?” Lucas woke confused.

“Since Papa was home, I thought maybe…”

“Maybe what?” Lucas asked as he pushed himself to sit up in bed.

“Papa, could we open our Christmas presents?”

“Your Christmas presents? Milly?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, when you disappeared, it was hard on all of us… And Christmas morning, no one felt like celebrating.”

“Then I think today should be Christmas!” Lucas exclaimed and moved faster than he should have.

“Lucas?” asked Milly.

“For a moment there I forgot my injuries. Myra, go wake your brothers. Milly? How about a big Christmas breakfast?” Lucas reached for his crutches to help him from bed as Myra ran from their bedroom calling “Little Ted, Levi, wake up! It’s Christmas!”

Lucas and Milly started singing Christmas carols as he entered the front room and Milly proceeded to move the brightly wrapped packages from their bedroom closet to the front room. Lucas quietly thanked God for re-uniting him with his family as he enjoyed watching everyone open their presents. The children were excited about their new clothes, and the boys loved their train sets and Myra squealed when she opened her final present to see a new set of books for her to read.

“Papa, just so you know…” Myra stated as she stood and walked to Lucas. “The best present is your being back home. We really missed you.”

“I missed each and every one of you.”

*****

Having been gone for almost seven weeks and sleeping in strange beds or in his bedroll, Mark relished the idea of sleeping in his own bed. As comfortable as his bed was, Mark woke well before the sun rose after hearing sounds from the bassinet. Upon peeking in, Mark saw his daughter wide-awake, babbling, and stretching her arms towards him. Mark carried her into the kitchen to fix her a bottle as she continued to squeal and babble. Having sat down in his chair, Mark smiled as he listened to his daughter slurping at the bottle. Once finished, Mark set the bottle to the side table and placed Faith to his shoulder to pat her on the back, encouraging a burp. While waiting, Mark listened to her unintelligible chatting and cooing. Mark’s patience paid off and was rewarded in hearing several solid burps escape from his daughter.

“Now I’ve one task to do before everyone else wakes up, so you’re going to have to be real quiet. Well, maybe that can wait, first I think I need to change you.”

Mark quietly reentered their bedroom and collected everything he needed in order to change Faith. Once done, he laid her down in the bassinet in the front room and set about decorating the house and pulling the presents out from the closet. The sun had yet to rise when Mark stood back and looked at his handiwork.

Picking Faith up and carrying her to sit down in his chair, Mark set her back to his lap, and spoke, “Well now, if you’re not the chatter box. Can’t call you Gabby, that nickname is already taken by your Aunt Myra.”

Faith smiled and stretched her arms toward Mark as she continued to sing her own song.

“You sound almost as sweet as a morning bird,” Mark whispered as Faith grabbed his fingers in her tiny hands. “You know, you’re named after my Ma. That’s where you get your name Margaret. Can’t call you Maggie because your mama chose to call you Faith, that and the Reverend’s wife is called Maggie… We have too many Johnny’s around here, so I know how confusing it can get about names.”

Mark continued to enjoy his early morning with Faith in his lap. “Hmmmm. I guess you like to hear your mama singing around the house when she’s doing her chores… A mocking bird… how would you like to be called Magpie?”

Faith squealed louder and tried pulling Mark’s hand into her slobbery mouth.

“No you don’t. You need to keep quiet else you’ll wake your mama,” Mark said, pulling his hands from his daughter’s grasp and lifting her high over his head, before lowering her to his lap. Mark didn’t anticipate the squeal of happiness that Faith let out as he lifted her again. Quickly he lowered her to his lap and placed a finger over her lips.

“Mark?!” Hope called as she opened the door. “Is Faith alright?”

“She’s fine. We were just having a father/daughter talk. I’m sorry we woke you.”

“Why don’t you go on back to bed and I’ll stay in here and nurse her, she must be hungry.”

Mark answered as he stood, “We’ve already had a bottle, haven’t we Magpie?”

“Magpie?” asked Hope.

“That’s what we were discussing. She sings almost as sweet as you do and it gave me the idea for her nickname.”

“Mark?!” Hope squealed when she realized the front room was redecorated for Christmas.

“Go wake the others so we can celebrate Christmas.”

Hope proceeded to wake their other children. Mark smiled as the sleepy heads came from their bedrooms.

“Merry Christmas!” called Mark, who smiled as he watched his children’s faces light up.

*****

Lucas and Mark had only been home for a couple of days when Micah stopped by Lucas and Milly’s.

“I’m thankful the snow didn’t last any longer than it did,” Micah commented. “Still, having to deal with all the mud until it dries up…”

Micah shivered and accepted a cup of coffee from Mark when Little Ted came from his bedroom, pretending to be firing a rifle, “Bang, bang!”

“Easy there, are you a good guy or a bad buy?” Micah asked.

“Why, I’m you… I’m killing that man dead in his tracks… Just like you did. Bang! Bang!”

“Just like you did?” Lucas looked from his middle son to Micah. “What’s he talking about? Have you been telling tales?”

“No Pa, he shot the man dea…” Little Ted stopped talking upon hearing, “Little Ted!” being exclaimed by Milly and Hope as they returned inside with a basket full of eggs and the milk pail.

“When did Micah kill a man?” Mark asked, standing tall over his brother.

“Micah? What’s that under your… You’re wearing a badge,” Lucas stated.

“A badge?” Mark walked over and raised the collar of Micah’s coat to see for himself.

“Johnny and Seth needed some help,” Micah tried to answer.

“Was that before or after you killed the man?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas,” Milly tried to intervene. “A man came to town causing trouble.”

“What did he do that forced Micah to kill him?” Lucas’ words were meant as a question for Micah.

“It’s taken care of. Nothing you need to fret about, just concentrate on getting healthy,” Micah spoke.

“As I’m the U.S. Marshal for this territory, you’ll tell me who you killed. It’s one thing for you to try to keep this from Pa, but I can’t accept that excuse. I have reports to write to Denver.”

“Mark, don’ t make me,” Micah asked.

“Make you? You come out here wearing the badge… Killing a man, did it have anything to do with your wearing the badge again?” Mark asked.

“What does Hattie have to say about it?” Lucas demanded.

“Hattie wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but dang it… You’ve not been here since before Christmas! And I still got a few tricks that I can teach Johnny and Seth, besides they needed help looking after the town.”

“Then if you want to keep wearing that badge, you’ll tell me who you killed,” Mark stated.

“Mark, that’s not fair,” pleaded Hope.

“Keep out of this before I ask you, since it sounds like everyone is in on keeping this a secret…”

“You’ve no right to talk to Hope that way,” Milly demanded.

“Milly!” Lucas’ voice warned.

”Micah, I’ll ask you one more time. Who?”

Before answering, Micah stared at Lucas and Mark. He saw the demand in Mark’s eyes and knew he couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. “Dan Maury. Now Lucas don’t you…” Micah pointed his finger towards Lucas.

“DAN MAURY! I thought he was dead fifteen years ago!” Lucas yelled as he sat forward in his chair.

“You were too shot up to know the truth!” Micah yelled in return.

“For fifteen years he’s been out there, possibly gunning for either of us?!”

“No! He spent the last fifteen years in jail, only returning to North Fork a few weeks ago, after being released from prison,” stated Micah.

“Released from prison?!” Lucas yelled.

Milly folded her arms and stared at Lucas, unbelieving her husband and son’s attitudes.

“Little Ted, where were you when Micah killed this man?” asked Mark.

“Here,” Little Ted quietly answered.

“And the man was killed, where?” asked Mark.

Hope answered, “He was killed in front of his house!”

“So you’ve all conspired to hide the truth from me? That a man was killed… on my property… And this man was the same man who tried to kill me fifteen years ago. And I thought this same man had been killed fifteen years ago…” Lucas demanded.

“Now Milly and Hope weren’t even in North Fork fifteen years ago,” Micah replied.

“I’ll talk with you later on that,” Lucas commented as he reached for his crutches.

“We handled it Lucas!” Milly replied, standing her ground.

“Handled it?! You shouldn’t have HAD to handle it. Tell me, Lariat didn’t just pull a muscle in his shoulder, did he?” Lucas stood from his chair, leaning heavily on his crutches.

“Either you sit back down and let us explain, or…” Milly ordered.

“Or what, Ma?” a very upset Mark asked.

“It’s in the past. There’s nothing that needs discussed,” Hope stated.

“Nothing to be discussed?” Mark turned and looked Hope square in the eye. “A man from Pa’s past, a man we both thought was dead, comes gunning for our family… and you… everyone of you are set to write it off as if it didn’t happen? My God, I could have come home to find out my family had been murdered!” Mark lost his temper and punched his fist on top of the table. “And not one of you can be truthful about it?!”

Mark grabbed his hat and stormed from his parents’ home, slamming the door behind him.

“Papa? Am I in trouble?” Little Ted asked from the doorway to his bedroom, Josh, Zach, Eli, and Levi right there with him. Myra stood in the doorway to her bedroom, with Mykaela holding her hand.

Lucas looked at the scared looks on the children’s faces, realizing how wrong he had been for losing his temper. He took a deep breath before he lowered himself to his chair.

“No Little Ted, you’re not in trouble. Kids go back into your bedrooms.” Lucas waited for the doors to close before he spoke again, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that… It’s just…”

“Lucas,” Milly interrupted. “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have kept it from you. You have a right to know that Dan Maury was here. He tried to kill Lariat, luckily Johnny Drako had warned Lariat, just in case he did try to cause trouble here.”

“And just how did you happen to be here?” Lucas asked of Micah.

“After I sobered up…” Micah paused when he saw the look on Lucas’ face. “Yes, I took to drinking after Maury rode back into town. I tried to warn Johnny and Seth and they didn’t take my warnings seriously…tried writing me off as a worried old maid. I started feeling worthless. Took me four days to realize my error. Took me two days to sober up and I kept an eye on him. I finally figured out what he was waiting for and took the shortcut to get here. Arrived with enough time to hide in the barn, and warn Lariat. And you’re right, Lariat didn’t pull a muscle. He took a bullet from Maury. His own bullet grazed Maury across the ribs. I stepped from the barn and when Maury raised his gun towards me and fired…I got him. He’s buried in the cemetery.”

“And last time? Fifteen years ago?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, you almost killed yourself with that fool stunt… but I’m thankful you were there. My bullet seriously wounded him and Doc Burrage honestly didn’t think he’d survive more than twenty-four to forty-eight hours. So we told you he died. When he didn’t… We made arrangements to get him to Yuma until he could stand trial. Everyone in North Fork agreed to keep this secret. As ornery a cuss as he was, no one figured he’d survive in prison.”

“I’m sorry… It’s just that after everything that Turpin put me through… Coming home to find out this, and not be told up front about it. Can you forgive me losing my temper?” Lucas asked looking to Milly.

“Only if you can forgive us for trying to keep this from you?” Milly stated. “We knew how much this would upset you. We should have figured out you’d be more upset in finding out we tried to keep it a secret.”

Lucas nodded.

“What about Mark?” Hope asked.

“I’ll talk to him when he returns,” Lucas stated. “I was the one who lost my temper first. Micah, you’ll stay for supper?”

“I was hoping you’d ask. Hattie’s helping Abigail out with their newest baby tonight.”

“Baby?” Milly and Hope asked in unison.

“Sure, didn’t Lucas or Mark tell you when they came home?” Micah asked.

“Lucas McCain, you knew that Abigail had her baby and you didn’t tell me?” Milly warned.

“Milly McCain,” Lucas mocked Milly tone. “I was so glad to be with reunited with my family, I kind of forgot.”

“Was it a boy or a girl?” asked Hope.

“Thadd said a daughter,” Lucas answered.

“And her name?” Myra asked.

“Well, we left town before they’d named her,” answered Lucas.

“Sadie Irene Burrage,” laughed Micah in seeing the apologetic expression on Lucas’ face. “Don’t be too hard on either one of them. Seeing the lovely coloring of their own faces, I think they both had other things on their minds.”

*****

Milly and Hope had just finished removing the supper dishes from the table to the sink when there was a knock on the front door.

“I’ll get it,” Milly stated as she wiped her hands on her apron. “Yes, can I…?” Milly’s voice broke as she realized who was standing at the door.

“Ma, I’m sorry,” Mark stated as he removed his hat, waiting for Milly to step back from the doorway.

“Mark?” Milly asked as she stepped back.

“I was stupid… I haven’t gotten over everything from trailing after Pa, and I should accept that I have friends who can help watch over my family.” Mark turned from Milly and walked to Hope. “I ask for your forgiveness for speaking to you as I did?” Mark picked up her hand and gently pulled her towards him.

“You’re forgiven,” answered Hope, as she closed her eyes and nodded.

Turning to Micah… “Thank you for protecting my family, then… and now.” Mark held out his hand to Micah, smiling as all was forgiven.

“There is one thing I cannot forgive you for?” Hope stated as she rested her head on Mark’s shoulder.

“Oh?”

“You didn’t tell us that Abigail had her baby!”

“Oh, that… Uh, Hope, Abigail gave birth to a daughter the day Pa and I came home,” Mark replied for which Hope slapped him on the chest.

*****

Upon returning to their home with their children, Hope informed Mark, “I did accept your apology for talking to me as you did earlier, however…”

Standing to face his wife, “Hope I’ve been through so much in the past two months… that hearing that Dan Maury was here, it just got to me… Did Micah tell you what happened the last time he was here?”

Hope nodded.

“I wasn’t quite eleven. Imagine how I felt coming home to find a small pool of blood on the ground and Pa’s rifle leaning against the barn and no Pa in sight. I ran to the house and found him leaning against the counter of the kitchen sink… blood everywhere. Maury had shot him twice. I managed to get the team hitched by myself and race them to town with Pa in the back of the buckboard. The town was quiet as death…”

“Micah told us the rest of the story. Mark, we didn’t want to worry either of you. We knew how much it would upset both of you. As Ma said while you were out, maybe we should have realized you would be even more upset when you found out our secret.”

“Please, I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you for talking to you as I did. I’ll help you clean the house, do laundry… I’ll even mop the floor.”

“You’ll do that and more.” Hope hid her smile.

“More? What else did you have in mind?” a wary Mark asked.

“You can take me to the Sweetheart’s Dance.”

“But that’s the day after tomorrow...” A relieved Mark stated, “Oh, I think I can handle that” and accepted the last of his penance for talking to his wife as he had.

The Next Step — A Changing Wind

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

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents

Site Map
around The McCain Ranch