The Writer's Corner
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
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
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
Thursday afternoon, Micah stopped Mark after he had taken Hope
over to Miss Milly’s.
“Mark,” Micah called.
“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
“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.”
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
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
Smiling at his Pa, “Well, thanks Mr. McCain.” Mark burst out
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
“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
Mark looked each boy in the face as the all shook their heads
“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
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
“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
“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!
around The McCain Ranch