The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 1 - School
Written by Deanne Bertram

It was decided that Miss Milly would take the younger children and a school room would be set up in the town hall. But before classes could begin, desks would need to be constructed. All the men in town chipped in helping out during the building process. A new chalk board was ordered from Denver. At the end of the week, North Fork had two respectable schools for its children.

*****

The new school semester was set to begin. The parents of the younger children eagerly walked them to their new school and marveled at all the work that had been done.

*****

Mr. Griswald and Miss Milly had outlined, for Mark, a morning curriculum that would ease Hope into her new life in North Fork -- Spelling and Grammar and Writing. Then during the afternoon’s she could join the others of her age for History and Government classes. Afterwards she would return to work with Mark on mathematics.

It was planned that Mr. Griswald would work with Mark before school and over his lunch hour to see that he kept up with his own studies while he was tutoring Hope.

When classes were dismissed for the day, Mark walked Hope over to the town hall and said goodbye to her and Miss Milly. Then he headed for home.

Upon arrival, Mark quickly unsaddled Blue Boy, curried him down and turned him out in the corral. He tended to his chores, filling the water trough, picking out the manure from the corral, filling the water buckets in the barn, picking stalls, and haying and graining the horses for the night.

Mark realized the woodbin was getting low as he walked to the house. He started working on splitting firewood and then stacked it and carried some into the house. He started a fire in the hearth, winter was soon arriving and nights were getting chilly. He returned outside to feed the chickens and the hogs before returning inside.

Finally, he started fixing supper and set the table. While waiting for his Pa to return, he stepped out back and washed up. He shivered at the coolness of the water against his skin.

Lucas arrived home just as Mark was taking up supper. Conversation dwelled on how things went for Hope and her first day of school and what Lucas had been working on out on the range. While Mark was cleaning and drying the dishes, Lucas was working on his books.

“Pa, how are things going? Are we going to be okay for the winter?” Mark asked.

“Mark, we’re doing just fine. There’s plenty of money in our account to get us through until Spring. Don’t worry about a thing.” Lucas closed his book and put it in the desk drawer before standing and walking over to sit down in his chair. He pulled out his bible and began to read as Mark pulled out his school books to start working on his assignments.

Mark gave a loud yawn and stretched his arms out wide as he finished his work. Closed his books and tethered everything together for the morning.

Lucas blew out the lanterns and both retired for the night.

This was the routine the McCain’s settled into for the next few days.

*****

Thursday afternoon, Micah stopped Mark after he had taken Hope over to Miss Milly’s.

“Mark,” Micah called.

“Yes Micah.”

“Would you mind stepping inside for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” Mark tied Blue Boy to the hitching rail and walked into the marshal’s office.

“Have a seat Mark.”

“Anything wrong Micah?” Mark asked.

“No, just got to thinking that as one of my deputies, you should spend a little more time in town helping out. Nothing serious, just maybe Friday nights and Saturday nights. Don’t want to have you do it through the week, because you’ve chores at home and school work. But this would give Johnny and me time to stand down, so to speak, one of us would be with you each night. But this way the people of North Fork would also take you wearing the badge a little more seriously. While here, we can teach you more of what you need to know regarding the letter of the law.”

“Are you sure? I mean…”

“Mark,” Micah stated as he sat down on the desk in front of Mark. “Johnny and I’ve been talking this over for a little while. Now I know we need to get your Pa’s buy in on this, but you’re my deputy and you have an obligation to this town as well.”

“Yes sir,” Mark replied. “You want me to start tomorrow?”

“If your Pa is okay with it. We’d appreciate it.”

Micah returned to his desk. “Oh, by the way, this is yours.” Micah pulled an envelope from his desk and handed it to Mark.

“What is it?”

“It’s your first month’s pay. Since you’re only part time, right now, it’s not a lot, but as you start taking on more responsibilities in the office, that amount will increase.”

Mark rode home and talked with his Pa and explained his conversation with Micah. He also told Lucas of the envelope containing five dollars as his first month’s wages.

“Mark, you accepted the badge. If this is what Micah wants, he’s right, you’ve got an obligation.”

“Thanks Pa.”

Mark headed out to tend to his evening chores in the barn, then returned to the house to start on his homework as his Pa fixed dinner.

*****

Friday morning, when Mark stopped to pick Hope up at Milly’s, Milly asked him if he had a moment to talk with her.

“Mark, I received word that my possessions are arriving on tomorrow’s train. Would you and your Pa be available Saturday afternoon to help move everything into the house?”

“I’m sure Pa would be happy to help you Miss Milly. What time would you like for us to come?”

“Afternoon would be fine. That would give you and your Pa time to do your chores at the ranch before helping.”

“About one, thirty? I’ll let him know.”

*****

Mark headed to Micah’s. Before walking inside he pulled his badge from his pocket. As he entered, he saw his Pa sitting on the edge of Micah’s desk.

“Pa, what are you doing here?” Mark inquired.

“Just thought I’d stop by to welcome the newest North Fork deputy to his first night on the job. As president of the town council, thought I’d welcome you right and proper, Deputy McCain.”

Smiling at his Pa, “Well, thanks Mr. McCain.” Mark burst out laughing.

“Here son, let me get your badge on you.” Lucas took the badge from Mark’s hand and pinned in on his shirt.

“Well, I’ll let you and Johnny get to business. I‘ll see you in the morning.”

“Oh, Pa. Miss Milly asked if we could help her tomorrow afternoon. Said a lot of her possessions are scheduled to arrive on the train. I didn’t think you’d mind if I agreed to it.” Mark smiled as he saw the look on his Pa’s face.

“Okay, but we have chores to do at the ranch beforehand.”

“I know Pa, told Miss Milly we’d be in to help her around one, thirty. I’ll be back at the ranch by eight in the morning to do my chores.”

*****

Lucas rode for home.

He arrived at the ranch and unsaddled Razor and tended to the animals. As he walked to the house he realized this was going to be a long night. Even though he knew exactly where Mark was going to be and who he was going to be with, he still worried.

*****

Johnny had Mark read some more from the law books and would discuss the various chapters and how they related to doing the job. As the clock struck nine, Johnny stated, “Time for us to do our nightly walk. Grab your rifle, Mark.”

They walked side by side, Johnny explaining the reasons for everything he did. Explaining it’s not just walking the street, but slowly walking, looking, listening. Jiggling the door handle to make sure the shops were properly locked. Walking down the alley ways to check the back doors. Stopping in at Sweeney’s and…. Johnny stated that maybe Mark should just peak in, instead. Looking into the windows of the bank.

It was nearing ten o’clock when they returned to Micah’s. “Mark, now comes the hard part, sleeping with your ears open. You can grab some shuteye on the bunk in the cell over there, but if trouble happens out on the street, you need to be alert to listen for it. It takes time, but it’s no different than sleeping out on the trail with a herd.”

“Thanks Johnny,” Mark stated as he walked to the cell and removed his hat before sitting down on the bunk.

“Oh, and we sleep with our boots on.” Johnny said with a grin.

Luckily things were uneventful. Mark woke before six, Johnny was already awake and fixing a pot of coffee.

“Morning Mark. How’d you sleep last night?”

“Not as well as I had hoped. Even though the cell door was wide open, I still had a nightmare about being locked up.” Mark shivered as he stretched his arms wide and gave a yawn.

“Want some coffee?”

“Johnny, how can you stand to drink that stuff?” Mark asked.

“Tell you what, I’ll ask Lou to order some cocoa for you to make hot chocolate. In the mean time, let’s head on over to Lou’s and get you warm inside. We’ll do our morning rounds and then you can head back home.”

*****

It was shortly before eight o’clock when Mark arrived home. Lucas was there to greet him, the team already hitched as they headed out to repair a fence line that Lucas had found down during the week.

Even though there was a coolness to the air, both Lucas and Mark had worked up a sweat. Both took time to wash up before heading into North Fork to help Milly for the day.

*****

The McCain’s arrived at the train depot and pulled the wagon up to the platform. Milly had them organize the boxes and crates so they would know which one came on which trip to her home. Under Milly’s direction, they loaded the buckboard. They drove each load to Milly’s and carried everything inside. As they arrived with their first load, Mark smiled as he saw Hope waiting on the front porch. Mark blushed as he admired how she was dressed. While Lucas and Mark make the next trip, Milly and Hope started unpacking.

By the time all of Milly’s belongings were at her home, it was close to supper time.

“Well, seems I owe you two supper in town tonight. How about it?”

“Sure Milly.” Lucas said as he came up behind her, put his arms around her waist and rested his chin on top of her head. “Need to make sure my boy gets fed before he has to stand watch tonight.” Lucas gave a prideful smile towards his son as he watched Mark and Hope sitting on the floor, unpacking some books from a box.

“Stand watch?” Milly asked.

“Yep. Micah told him it was about time he started fulfilling some of his other obligations as a deputy. He’ll stand watch with Micah tonight. He stood watch last night with Johnny.”

“Oh, Lucas! If I had known, I wouldn’t have asked for his help.”

“It’s okay Milly, it’s just for tonight. He’ll get to rest tomorrow after church services.”

“Well come on you two. Or are you going to just sit there and study those books and starve? Milly’s buying us supper tonight.”

Mark stood and offered his hand to help Hope up off the floor.

After dinner, the McCain’s returned their ladies to Milly’s. Before Lucas headed for home, he told Mark, “I’ll bring your Sunday clothes in tomorrow before services. You can change at Micah’s.”

“Good night Pa,” Mark said as his headed to Micah’s. Lucas returned the farewell as he headed for home.

*****

Milly invited Lucas and Mark to have Sunday dinner with her and Hope. After services, Lucas told Mark to go have fun, take Hope for a ride, enjoy his afternoon.

*****

Monday morning, Milly found the younger children being a little more obstinate than they had been the previous week. Some of the boys were insisting they didn’t have to study and take direction from a woman. Johnny overheard the commotion as he was walking through town and headed to find Mark. He explained the situation to Mark and suggested that maybe he could help Milly out for the morning.

“Miss Scott,” Mark said as he entered the school room. “If you’ll excuse me, but Hope has some questions on her studying that I… Well, I’m having trouble helping her. Do you think we could trade places this morning?”

Milly looked Mark over, questioning his story. “Please Miss Scott, maybe you’d be able to help her, seeing as how you’re a woman and I’m not. You know, maybe you could take the girls and they can help you help Hope. ”

Milly and the girls left the school room and proceeded to the restaurant. From that point on, Mark gave a stern lecture to the boys. He explained what his punishments had been when he was younger and disobeyed a teacher. “Take care not to get on my bad side. Or have any of you forgotten that I also wear a deputy badge in this town?”

After the lecture, he had them pull out their math books and he drilled them. He drilled them hard. By the time he was done working them through their lessons the boys were extremely quiet, no one squirmed in their seat.

“Now, I don’t want to hear of any of you being disrespectful to Miss Scott. She is your school teacher. You wouldn’t dare treat Mr. Griswald in that manner. If I hear otherwise, well, I can always use help cleaning up over at the marshal’s office. There’s scrubbing the floors, washing the windows, laundering the bed sheets, wiping down the jail cell bars… Do I dare continue?”

Mark looked each boy in the face as the all shook their heads no.

“Good. Now, get out your spellers and start copying your words until Miss Scott returns.”

Mark exited the school room and tried hard not to laugh. He wondered what would have happened had he been threatened like he just did.

Each day, for the rest of the week, when Mark gave Hope time to work on her own, he made sure he checked in on how the ‘boys’ were treating Milly. He smiled as he passed the room.

He walked over to the school house and picked up his own lessons before returning to the restaurant to work with Hope.

At home, Mark had been working steadily and hard beside his Pa, putting the final preparations for winter in place.

This was how Mark’s life went for the next few weeks. Tutoring Hope and studying his own lessons in the morning. Sitting in on classes during the afternoon, then more tutoring of Hope. Heading home to work on chores and then on the weekends, staying in town to relieve Micah or Johnny and learn about his obligations as a deputy marshal.

*****

Milly had been back in town for a little over a month and Lucas was sitting in his chair quietly reflecting on how good life was. Through the open bedroom door he heard Mark start to wake for the day. He hadn’t been inside to hear Mark wake for the past few weeks, he rose early to get a jump on the day to get as much done as possible. It had been a long time since he’d had to make sure Mark woke up in time to get to school. He watched Mark walk from the bedroom to the sink, Mark stretched his head forward and down, rubbing at his neck. He then lifted his head and stretched his back, backwards, rubbing at his back. Lucas watched as Mark put his head under the pump and ran water over his head. Grabbing at a towel, Mark moaned to himself. He stood there for a few moments, head down. Arms braced against the counter.

“Mark?” Lucas called.

Mark turned around, surprise on his face.

Lucas grew concerned. “Mark, I think you need to take a break. You’re spreading yourself too thin.”

“Isn’t this all part of growing up Pa?”

“Not to the point of exhaustion. Mark, why didn’t you tell me you were so tired?”

“Pa, it’s just getting started of a morning. Once I’m up and going, things get easier,” Mark answered.

“Mark, I’m going into town with you today. You’ve been going like this for three weeks solid. You need some down time yourself.” Seeing the look on his son’s face, “Mark, I’m still your father. With everything you’ve been doing, I’m ashamed at myself for not seeing how this is draining on you.”

Lucas did ride to town, first he spoke with Mr. Griswald about Mark returning to regular student status for at least the week. Lucas suggested that Hope sit in with the regular class to see how well she progressed. Lucas told Milly that she was on her own for the week and explained what he had witnessed that morning. Next stop was Micah’s.

Everyone felt embarrassed and apologized to Lucas. They hadn’t heard a word of complaint from Mark and forgot that, yes, he still wasn’t full grown and, yes, he wanted to please everyone and show that he was up to the job. They all agreed that they wouldn’t make any special requests of Mark this week.

During the week, Mark rose earlier than normal to get his own chores done. He enjoyed arriving in town early, eating breakfast with Milly and Hope and then escorting Hope to school. During recess, he did go against his father’s wishes; he made sure that if Hope didn’t understand something that Mr. Griswald was teaching them, that he took time to explain. At lunch, he would sit under the shade tree with Hope by his side, reading and just holding hands. Occasionally, Mr. Griswald would spy Mark’s arm around Hope’s shoulder and he would pull her close to him and press a kiss to her hair.

*****

By the end of the week, Lucas was pleased to see how his son was acting. He had the spring in his step and took to whistling while working out in the barn or tending to the stock.

“Pa, can I head into town to relieve Micah for the night?” Mark asked as he finished the dishes.

“No son. Tonight is still part of the week that I asked everyone to give you a chance to be my son. We’ll see how things go this weekend and then next week, you can resume a few of your responsibilities.”

“Okay, Pa,” Mark answered. He walked to his chair and picked up the latest book that Johnny had given him and started reading.

The Next Step — The Note

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

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