The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 45 – The Legacy
Written by Deanne Bertram

Tom Benton arrived back in North Fork, the day before Hope and Mark’s birthday. He rode for the McCain ranch, arriving just before supper. Mark and Lucas were just stepping from the barn after tending to the horses.
“Tom?” Lucas said. “Welcome! What brings you here?”
“Your son,” Tom answered. Then turning to Mark, “Well Mark? I’m hoping you’ll make it official. Are you willing to be my deputy?”
After a few moments of looking from his father, to the house, then to Tom, he replied, “No sir, I’m sorry I can’t be your deputy, I’m Micah and Johnny’s deputy. But…, I’d be happy to be your Deputy U.S. Marshal.”
“Lucas, don’t you ever feel like taking him over your knee?”
“Tom, there’s been plenty of times. Come on inside, I insist you join us for supper.”
“You don’t know how much I miss good, home cooking.”
*****
As Tom was bidding the McCain’s good night, he said, “Mark, in the morning I’ll wire Marshall Cole Barker and let him know your answer. He said if you accepted, he wanted to be the one to officially swear you in. It wouldn’t happen until after the first of the year, though.”
“No problem Marshal Benton,” Mark answered.
“Mark, I think at your age and seeing as we’re going to be working together, it’s about time you started calling me Tom.”
“Yes, sir… Tom.”
*****
As their birthday party wound down, Hope and Mark handed Lucas and Milly an envelope. Everyone stood around, waiting with anticipation, knowing what was in the envelope.

“Mark, what’s this?” Lucas asked.

“Well, it’s a present for you and Ma. We thought you could use some time away by yourselves. To celebrate your wedding anniversary, seeing as you never took a honeymoon. We’ve a room reserved for you at The Grande in Albuquerque and included in the envelope are two train tickets, you leave day after tomorrow, and you’ll be back home in time to celebrate everything else here.”

“Mark, Hope, this isn’t necessary, this birthday party is for the two of you,” Milly stated. “What of Myra and Little Ted?”

“Ma, this is something we all want to do for you,” Hope answered. “We know you wouldn’t do it for yourselves, seeing as how your anniversary, Christmas, and Myra’s birthday are all so close. So we did it for you. Mark and I can take care of Myra and Little Ted while you’re away.”

“Pa, with everything that happened earlier this year,” Mark stated. “It’s time you and Ma did something for yourselves. I mean, it’s not like I’m still twelve years old and you have ask someone to watch out after me.”

“Mark, it’s not that…”

“Then what?” Mark demanded. “We won’t take no for an answer.”

*****

Lucas and Milly boarded the early morning train, bound for Albuquerque.

“Lucas, are you sure?” Milly asked.

“Milly, they’re right. It’s not like Mark is still twelve years old and can’t take care of himself. We’ll be home before Christmas. Besides, we never really did take a honeymoon. I’m kind of looking forward to some time alone with my wife.”

*****

They arrived in Albuquerque later the next day. A carriage was waiting to take them to The Grande. Two porters were waiting in the lobby to show them, and take their luggage, to their room. Lucas tried to tip the men, but both refused.

“Sir, we can’t accept your money. We’re under strict orders. All your expenses are paid in full. There’s a bath with an attendant, down the hall, if you’d like to freshen up after your trip. Your dinner reservation at the hotel’s restaurant is at seven o’clock. Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. McCain.”

With that, both porters left the room.

“Milly, seems I’m going to have to have words with a certain son, when we return home,” Lucas said as he shook his head.

“Lucas, it’s not just Mark…”

Milly handed the letter to Lucas.

“Dear Ma and Pa,

Don’t be upset with any of us. Everyone in North Fork chipped in, in one way or another. This is just our way of showing you how much you mean to us and to say ‘thank you’ for everything you’ve done to help everyone.

Now, go freshen up and enjoy your honeymoon. We’ll see you when you get home!

Love Mark, Hope, and the rest of North Fork.”

*****

Before heading to the restaurant, Milly asked, “Lucas, why don’t you leave your rifle in the room. We’re not leaving the building. Is it really necessary to carry?”

With some misgivings, Lucas agreed. As they left their room, Lucas extended his arm to Milly.

*****

Lucas and Milly had dinner at the restaurant, then followed the music towards the hotel’s banquet hall and spent the rest of the evening dancing and enjoying themselves.

*****

As they walked to their room, Milly asked, “Now was it really that hard to leave your rifle behind? I mean, someday, this territory is going to be civilized and you won’t see everyone walking around with guns strapped to their legs or carrying rifles.”

Pulling Milly close and wrapping an arm around her shoulders, they walked up the stairs, “Milly, I so much want to see that day, but I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime. I wish it would happen in Mark’s, but more realistically, I pray it will happen in Little Ted’s. That’s why I waited so long to introduce Mark to a rifle. I prayed he wouldn’t need to learn, except to hunt for food. I guess I was kidding myself.”

“Lucas, it’s an admirable dream; to want better for your children. I remember all the times Mark asked you for a rifle and you said no. He understands the rifle’s purpose and the realities of the rifle better than most people ever will. He’s seen you through so much while he was growing up.”

As they entered their room, Lucas replied, “And now he has to use a rifle. How I wish he didn’t. Deep down, I wish he were a rancher, just like me.”

“Lucas, he is just like you, a rancher, but he also accepted the responsibility to keep the law, full time. How could he otherwise, after watching you help the town out, time after time. If it hadn’t been for Mark, I’m sure you would have taken up the badge.”

“Milly, if it weren’t for Mark, I probably would have been on the other side of the law, after I lost Margaret.”

Seeing the shock in Milly’s face Lucas continued, “Milly, before I met Margaret, I told you how wild I was…” Milly nodded. “Well, after I lost Margaret, the only thing that kept me from… from wanting to kill Samuel Gibbs was Mark. Knowing that if I killed a man in cold blood, I’d be sent to prison, if not executed. And then where would Mark be? Milly, there have been a number of times, that if it hadn’t been for Mark, I’m not sure I’d be here today. He’s been my weakness, but God knows, he’s also been my strength. My reason for living.”

Turning in for the night, Lucas blew out the lantern on the side table and they went to sleep in each other’s arms.

*****

On their second day, another guest approached them as they were finishing their breakfast.

“Excuse me sir,” he interrupted.

“Yes?” Lucas replied.

“My name is William Walsh and I’m a writer for the Albuquerque Journal, are you Lucas McCain?”

“I am.”

“I saw your rifle when you checked into the hotel yesterday. You are better known as the Rifleman, am I right?”

“No, I’m known as Lucas McCain and some people have referred to me as the Rifleman.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you or your wife. I was hoping you’d grant me an interview. A first person story of your life, in helping to tame the West. All the people back east hear about are the outlaws and the lawmen that chase them. I’ve heard about you and think you’d make interesting reading.”

“Mr… Walsh, I’m not interested,” Lucas said as he stood to leave.

“Mr. McCain, please…”

“Mr. Walsh, when I’ve been forced to use my rifle, it’s just that, I was forced. It comes down to protecting the town I call home or protecting my family, I take no pleasure in killing any man. I don’t go looking for trouble and I don’t want any trouble. I’ve spent many sleepless nights talking with God, asking for his forgiveness.”

“But sir, it wouldn’t be any trouble,” Walsh pleaded.

“Mister there was a time in the past, when a story was written and the writer put their own take on their subject, a former lawman known for his speed with a hand gun, but now was someone who was years past his prime, only the writer left that part of their story out. I saw a man eager to make a name for him self come to my town and challenge a man just because of who he used to be. He wouldn’t leave the man alone, to the point my friend would rather take the risk of being killed in a gun fight versus the man hounding him. I want no part of that. I’m a man, plain and simple. My rifle is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. If I’m to leave a legacy, I’d rather my legacy be my children, not my rifle.” Offering his arm to Milly, “If you’ll excuse us?”

*****

Throughout their stay in Albuquerque, each night they were invited to share dinner with various guests as word got out that The Rifleman was staying at the hotel. Some were newcomers to the territory. Others we long-time residents.

Though it upset Lucas to be admired for his prowess with the rifle, at least he could set the record straight in talking with the people. More often than not, by evening’s end, the people felt truly embarrassed. Thinking they knew what the man and his rifle were all about. They left the supper table, truly humbled by a man who lived by the Word of God and was at times forced, regretfully, to take the life a another human being. A man with strong convictions in family.

*****

They were North Fork bound, enjoying their memories of the past week. Just the two of them, Lucas’ arm was wrapped around Milly as she rested against him. Their memories were interrupted as the train started slowing down. Lucas looked out the window.

“Excuse me sir, but I noticed when you boarded you carried a rifle,” the conductor stated as he stopped next to Lucas.

“Yes I do,” Lucas replied.

“You any good with it?”

“Some. Why do you ask?” Lucas inquired.

“I overheard a couple of men talking and one of them said you were known as the Rifleman. Now, I’m not sure what’s up, but this ain’t a planned slow down. Not many people know, but we got a bank shipment in the cargo car. The bank thought shipping it a couple of days earlier than normal, would get it through without risk. I’ve two guards in back there, but… I’d rather people tell me I’m being paranoid because nothing happened. Sir, I got a bad feeling about this.”

Lucas excused himself from Milly as he picked up his rifle and followed the conductor.

*****

The train lurched to a stop. Several men attempted to board the train by knocking on the door to the cargo car, the conductor opened the door, and those men found three Winchesters pointing straight at them. Those in the car saw a number of men wearing cavalry uniforms, guns still holstered.

“Lucas?!” the man wear a major’s insignia called.

“Seth?! What are you doing here? Why are you stopping the train?” Lucas asked, then said, “Men you can lower your rifles, we don’t have anything to worry about. This is a real cavalry detail.”

“Lucas, surprised to find you on board, but we’re under orders, I’m to give this letter to an Everett Dalton, he’s supposed to be one of the guards.”

“I’m Everett Dalton,” the man said as he lowered his rifle from his shoulder to his hip, still not uncocking the weapon as he turned to Lucas. “So just how do you know this man? And why should I trust you? Sure you stood up to help, but this could all be a deception.”

“Mr. Dalton, you ever heard of the Rifleman? You ever heard what his rifle looks like? There’s only one like it in this country,” Seth Lane stated. “You’re talking to Lucas McCain here. You ever heard the description of the Rifleman? Not too many men stand six foot, five and carry that rifle.”

“Well…”

“Mr. Dalton, the Major here is the father of my son’s wife.” Then turning to Seth, “But what are you doing here, I thought you were supposed to be on your way back to Fort Sam?”

“I was all set to return, but I received a wire, I was ordered to meet up with this detachment out of Fort Stanton and then command them as we transport this shipment from the Denver mint to the Fort Worth/Dallas mint. They’re trying their damnedest to keep anyone from knowing where this shipment really is. Mr. Dalton, there’s instructions that you and a Mr. Cole are to accompany this shipment, regardless.”

Lucas assisted in transferring the shipment from the trail to the wagon. Soon the train was continuing its trip to North Fork.

*****

The McCain and the Gibbs families celebrated a quiet Christmas together. Lucas was thankful this year there weren’t any surprise announcements. Lucas pulled out one last gift.

“Mark, this is from me to you.” Lucas handed the box to Mark and watched as he opened it. “I worked with Angus on its design. Now it’s not exactly like mine, seeing as how your arms aren’t quite long enough, but with Micah getting ready to retire, your position as Johnny’s deputy and you’re about to be deputized as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, I thought this one would be more practical for you.”

Mark pulled the rifle from the box, its lever was modified to allow Mark to rapid fire, but the lever didn’t contain the expanded loop. Mark laughed as he remembered the one time when he tried to twirl cock his father’s rifle.

*****

It was New Year’s eve, Lucas and Milly had enjoyed a quiet evening at the house with Mark and Hope and the twins. Myra and Little Ted had been put down for the night as Mark and Hope carried the sleeping twins to go home for the night. They stepped to the porch to say goodnight when they heard a rider approaching.

“Hello Johnny, what brings you out this late at night?” Lucas asked of his brother-in-law.

“A newspaper story. Thought you should see it as soon as possible.” Johnny pulled the paper from his saddle bag. “I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with Colleen. See you then, Lucas.”

“Pa, I’ll be back after I help Hope put the boys to bed,” Mark said.

Lucas walked back in the house, sat down at the table, and opened the paper. Milly stood behind him. On the third page, the circled headline read:

*****

The Rifleman and His Legacy, by William Walsh

Most folks would say, the name of the man isn’t as important as what others call him, The Rifleman. He carries a modified Winchester rifle that some claim, makes him as lethal with it as any man with a six gun. There are stories told around saloons, camp fires, and in prisons, about a big bear of a man who shoots first and asks questions later. The sound of his rifle being twirled as he cocks it has been said to strike fear into the heart of anyone who dare challenges him.

But I had a chance encounter to meet, The Rifleman. A man who would prefer to be left in the background, with no attention brought to himself. A man who says that all he’s done, was what was necessary.

Could it be that as time passes from an event; the facts get stretched in each retelling? And soon the myth is larger than the man. Pretty tall tales considering this man stands a good six foot, five inches tall. Yet, the man I met, said he never went looking for a fight, he never went to intentionally kill a man. He doesn’t seek the fame his abilities afford him.

The Rifleman told me “I’ve been forced to use my rifle; it’s just that, I was forced. [When} It comes down to protecting the town I call home or protecting my family, I take no pleasure in killing any man. I don’t go looking for trouble. I’ve spent many sleepless nights talking with God, asking for his forgiveness.”

He went on to say, “I’m a man, plain and simple. My rifle is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. If I’m to leave a legacy, I’d rather my legacy be my children, not my rifle.”

The story I intend to write is of The Rifleman and the Lawman, a Legacy Fulfilled.

…to be continued in future editions.

*****

Lucas handed the newspaper to Mark, after he re-entered the house, and asked, “Mark were you aware of this?”

Mark took the paper and read the story. He shook his head as he finished, “Pa, I knew there was a newspaper man in town and he was talking with folks, but honestly, I had no idea what he was writing. He said here, he met you.”

“In Albuquerque, at the hotel, but I told him I didn’t want any part of his story,” Lucas stated.

“Guess one way or another, he wanted his story printed. He left town before you and Ma returned, but he came back to town earlier today,” Mark replied. “I’ll have a talk with him in the morning.”

“No Mark.”

“Pa, he mentions both of us as subjects of his future stories. If you talk with him, so do I. Besides, I carry a little bit more weight, being a deputy.”

“In the morning then,” Lucas replied.

*****

After finishing their chores, Lucas and Mark rode into North Fork and dismounted in front of the Marshal’s Office. Johnny was already inside, reading a copy of the paper.

“Well, seems we have a few celebrities in our fair town,” Johnny stated with a laugh.

“Not now Johnny,” Lucas said. “Neither of us asked for this story to be written.”

“Johnny, I stopped by to let you know it’ll be a little while before I relieve you this morning,” Mark stated. “We’re going to talk with Robert Garrison before we talk with this… William Walsh.”

“I kind of figured you’d be detained this morning after I read the article. I’ll go ahead and walk the town this morning, then head to Lou’s for breakfast.”

*****

“Robert,” Lucas stated. “What can we do? Neither Mark nor I gave this man permission to write a story about us.”

“Lucas, I understand your position, but right now, you don’t know that he’s talking about you. He didn’t identify you directly in his story,” Robert replied.

“Mr. Garrison, how many other men are known as ‘The Rifleman’?” Mark asked. “How many stand as tall as Pa?”

“Robert he quoted me in the story. How can he not be writing about me, and then implying a future story about Mark?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, there are plenty of ways for writers to complete their works without approval from their subjects and as long as he doesn’t libel you, there’s nothing you can do. He’ll claim protection by the First Amendment – Freedom of the Press.”

“Robert, we’ve had writers here before who’ve stirred up trouble. I don’t want that to happen again!” Lucas stated as he slammed his fist down on Robert’s desk. “I’m sorry. It’s just that all Mark’s life, I’ve tried to protect him…”

“Lucas,” Robert interrupted. “Mark’s a grown man. And soon, he’ll be a Deputy U.S. Marshal. You can’t protect him forever.”

“What if some ‘kid’ or ‘gunfighter’ out to make a name for himself, what if they come here, looking for a gun fight? I want him out of North Fork before that happens!”

“Pa, the damage is already done,” Mark stated as he rolled his hat around in his hands. “Mr. Garrison…”

“Mark, please call me Robert. You needn’t be that formal with me.”

“Sorry, it’s just that…” Mark hesitated, unsure how to say what he wanted to.

“I understand, Mark.” Robert interrupted. “You’ve grown up and there are so many of us that you’ve known since you were so young, and during that time, it was proper for you to address us formally. Believe me; it took all of us a little getting used to you being a deputy, in the beginning. We remember you as a young boy and some of the troubles you got into or caused. And here, the last few years… we’re mighty proud of you. It’s just a sign that times are changing.”

“Robert, is there any way we can insist on approval before any future stories are printed? I mean, if he’s going to write about us, don’t we have a right to verify the facts?” Mark asked.

“Well, there is that option, if he’ll agree.’ Then looking to Lucas, “You know, based on what you told me, I think that’s what he’s really after. This first story was just to get you riled enough that you’d want to see the truth printed and you’d agree to help him. Lucas, I know how you want to protect Myra and Little Ted, as well as Mark’s children, but maybe this would be the way. Agree to help him write his story, but make him agree to not mention the little ones,” Robert said.

“But that still won’t stop someone from trying to kill either of us. And what if they succeed?” Lucas demanded, still angry.

“Lucas, as good as you are with that rifle?”

“I’ve been shot before and you know that Mark was taken hostage just a month ago by outlaws. They didn’t know Mark was my son, only that he was a deputy. They were only looking to settle a score with Drako. But now, people are going to know…”

“Pa, we’ll just have to keep a sharper eye out. I know you don’t like it, neither do I, but it’s the best we can do. I think we should ask this Walsh to submit his stories to us for verification before he sends them for publication. That way, we’ll know what he’s up to, and if anything needs changed, we can be prepared. Best to have him on our side instead of letting him set his own agenda that would cause us even more grief.”

*****

Robert Garrison joined Lucas and Mark as they headed to the hotel to request a meeting with William Walsh. As they approached the front desk, they heard, “Mr. McCain!” called from the restaurant. The three walked into the restaurant.

“Please have a seat, join me for a cup of coffee,” William Walsh invited. “So, you must be the young McCain, the son of the Rifleman?”

“My name is Mark McCain. As you probably learned during your first visit to North Fork,” Mark replied as he removed his hat and leaned his rifle up against his chair. As Lucas did the same.

“Yes, I learned your name and that you are also a deputy for this fine town.” Then turning to Robert, “And you sir, I presume you must be a lawyer in the town.”

“I am. The name’s Robert Garrison.”

“Now that we all know who everyone is, what can I do for you gentlemen?” Walsh asked.

“You could stop writing your story,” Lucas stated, matter-of-factly.

“Sorry, can’t do that. My editor loved my first submission and wants more. You both are news and that’s what we’re in the business of, news. Then there’s a little matter of the First Amendment.”

“Told you Lucas,” Robert stated, then ordered a cup of coffee from Alice as she stopped by the table. Lucas ordered coffee while Mark ordered a copy of hot chocolate.

“See you’ve not acquired the taste, boy.” Walsh stated as he drank from his cup.

“Sir, you will call me by my name or by deputy, not ‘boy’ when you address me,” Mark stated as he started to dislike the man.

“I’m sorry, just seeing someone as young as you wearing the badge, I’m just used to older marshals and deputies. But that’s just one of the points I want to get across in my story. The story of Lucas McCain, the Rifleman, and then I found out about you, the Lawman. I’d never heard before that the Rifleman had a son. I mean, why is it the son wears the badge and not the father? How did Lucas McCain become known as the Rifleman and then tell the story of how he passed his skills to his son. Mark, you must have been teethed on the rifle!” Walsh bragged.

“Mr. Walsh,” Robert said. “I’ve discussed with my clients, their situation. We would like to propose that they agree in helping you with your story, however, before your story is submitted, they have first right of review and final approval to whatever is printed.”

“Really?” Walsh stated, unbelieving that he wasn’t going to have to put up a larger fight.

“But there are a few more conditions,” Robert announced. “I’m sure that you are aware from talking with the citizens of North Fork that both Lucas and Mark have young children?” Walsh nodded. “Good. Nothing in your stories will mention anything regarding them. My clients wish to protect their families. You will not mention anything about their wives, either. If this is the story of the Rifleman and the Lawman, your story will only be about them and no one else in their families, unless we give you permission. If you are in agreement, to these terms, I’ll write up a letter of understanding for your signature later today.”

“Sure, I never really expected this kind of cooperation,” Walsh stated.

“Walsh, my son and I will cooperate as long as things are as we approve. One minor deviation from what we approve and your story is over. We’ll force a retraction and there always is the possibility of a lawsuit against you and the paper you write for. You have to understand, you’re writing about the lives of two men. We’re not characters in some dime store novel. We didn’t ask for this, but in order to see that what is written is real and not exaggerated, we’ll cooperate. But you have to cooperate with us as well,” Lucas stated as he pointed a finger towards Walsh.

Mark then said, “Mr. Walsh, I just hope we don’t disappoint you. That you’ve not imagined a bigger story, than warranted by the facts. If you’ll excuse me, I have a job I need to get to.” Mark picked up his hat and rifle and left the group.

As Lucas watched Mark leave, he added, “There’s one more thing you should understand Walsh, I tried to keep my son from the rifle while he was growing up. It wasn’t easy, being a widower with a young boy to raise on my own. I had hoped that by the time he was grown, we wouldn’t still be depending on the rifle or the gun. I wish to God this territory was more civilized. But it was his choice to step up to wear the badge, events happened that no one could have foreseen. Growing up, there were so many other ideas he had about what he wanted to be when he grew up, in fact, he once met Samuel Clemens and seriously thought about becoming a writer. I’ve come to accept the fact that my son wears a badge and carries a rifle. Don’t make me regret agreeing to help you,” Lucas stood and bid the men goodbye, as he picked up his hat and rifle.

*****

Mark finished his watch of North Fork for the day. Before leaving to head home, he stopped at the General Store and picked up the package he had waiting. Regretting that he was going to be so late. The sun had set by the time he arrived, and after tending to the livestock in the barn, he walked to his parent’s house. As he entered, Myra was there to greet him.

“Mark, you late for my party!”

“And what party would that be Gabby?” Mark asked as he set the package down in his chair and picked Myra up in his arms.

“My birthday party! I turn three today.” Myra took Mark’s hat from his head and put it on her’s.

“Three, you say. You’re getting to be a big girl, aren’t you?”

“Uh huh!” Myra said as she nodded her head and Mark’s hat fell off.

“Myra, you should let your brother take his coat off before you climb up in his arms,” Milly stated as she pulled Myra from Mark.

“Thanks Ma.”

Hope came and kissed Mark welcome home. “The boys are in Myra’s room sleeping. Why are you so late?”

“Mark,” Lucas came up behind Mark and put a hand on his shoulder. “Everything okay in town? We expected you earlier. Johnny and Colleen were sorry to miss you.”

“I know, I met them on the road just outside of town. I’m real sorry about being so late. We had trouble when the train arrived in town; I had to get Johnny to help me deal with bunch of drunken drovers. The conductor and other passengers wanted them off. Took some doing, but we finally got the worst of them to the jail. The others that weren’t so much the problem, we shipped them back out when the train left this evening. They settled down once they got a taste of how we handle drunks. They’re still a few in the jail, until they sober up. Never understand what makes a man want to get so drunk, they don’t know what they’re doing, right or wrong.”

“Mark, would you like something to eat?” Milly asked.

“Your stew sure smells good Ma, I could use a bowl,” Mark replied.

“Mark, for me?” Myra asked as she looked at the package Mark had set down.

“Are you the birthday girl?”

“Yes!” she giggled.

Mark picked up the package and sat down in his chair, allowing Myra to climb up in his lap. He helped her unwrap her present.

“Books, books! Papa, books! Read me! Please? Read me?” Myra squealed as she handed a book to Mark.

“Myra, let Mark eat. Would you like for Hope to read to you?” Milly asked.

Myra climbed from Mark’s lap and carried one of her new books to Hope. “Read me?”

“Myra, I’d love to read to you. Tell you what,” Hope stated and she knelt down to Myra. “Why don’t you get ready for bed and I’ll read to you in bed. Would you like that?”

“Me go bed and you read me?”

Milly lead Myra to her room, after handing Mark a bowl of stew.

*****

Mark was carrying the empty bowl to the sink when they all heard, “Me ready!” coming from Myra’s room. Mark and Hope entered the room and sat down on the bed, on either side of Myra.

Lucas followed, stopping at the door and asking, “Did you say your evening prayers, young lady?”

“Yes, Papa.”

Mark and Hope took turns reading from the book. Soon, Myra was asleep. Mark and Hope kissed their sister goodnight after making sure she was tucked in. They picked up their sons, bid Lucas and Milly goodnight, then walked home.

*****

Seems almost the entire town of North Fork showed up throughout the day to celebrate the second birthday of Connor Sean Drako at the hotel restaurant. Lou and Johnny were enjoying spending the day together as a family and sharing their blessings with friends.

As the evening wound down, just the Bullock’s, the Torrance’s, and the Drako’s remained.

Percy pulled Micah aside, “Marshal,”

“Percy, you know I’m not the Marshal anymore, that’s Johnny Drako’s job,” Micah stated.

“I know, just that, you’ve always been the Marshal, ever since Father and I arrived. Going to take a while to get used to calling you something other than Marshal. Any way, you and Miss Hattie have been helping to look after Tessa and Mabra, and so, I kind of feel like you’re family to them.”

“Their very wonderful young ladies, Percy.”

“I know, but… I… I…” Percy stuttered.

“What is it, Percy?”

“Well, I want to ask Tessa and since she doesn’t have any family, other than Mabra; I thought, well… maybe you could speak on her behalf. I mean, talk with her to see if she’d be interested… I mean agreeable… Oh, I don’t know exactly, but I want more than anything to ask for her hand in marriage.”

“Percy, I understand your predicament. Tell you what, let Hattie and I walk the ladies back to the boarding house and I’ll let you know in the morning.”

“Thanks, Marshal,”

*****

The following morning, Percy waited for Micah outside the day care. “So young man, when do you expect to ask your intended?”

“She said yes?!” Percy asked excitedly.

“Well, yes that she would be interested in marrying you. But she hasn’t said, ‘yes’ to marriage, because you haven’t proposed, yet.” Micah answered with a laugh.”

“Sir, I know this Saturday is your retirement party, would you mind if I asked her then? I mean everyone we know will be there and it would add to the celebration, please?”

“Sure, Percy. Honestly, I’d rather the whole party be an engagement party instead of a retirement party for me.”

*****

Mark turned up his coat collar as he waited for the morning train to arrive in North Fork. He’d received a wire the day before that Tom Benton and Cole Barker would be on the Saturday morning train, arriving from Denver.

Mark accepted the mail pouch from the conductor then waited for the passengers to disembark. He was totally surprised when not only Tom and Cole, stepped from the train, but also Marshals Sam Buckhart, Drew Anders, and Coltrane Walker all stepped to the platform.

All the marshals were laughing and making a big to do about today being, the big day.

“If all of you keep up like this, I might just have to throw the lot of you in jail for disturbing the peace,” Mark called to them. And in turn, they all burst out laughing.

“You just do that deputy, there’s not a good one in the lot, besides me,” Cole Barker stated as he offered his hand to Mark. “Glad to finally meet you. And it will be my privilege to swear you in as a Deputy U.S. Marshal this afternoon. I also hear its perfect timing as the town’s planning to celebrate Marshal Torrance’s retirement tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” Mark stated as he shook everyone’s hand, in turn. “Come on, I’ll get all of you over to the hotel.”

*****

As afternoon was changing over to evening, Mark impatiently stood as Hope tried to straighten his tie. “I don’t see what the fuss is all about. I’ve been considered a U.S. Marshal for some time and this is all just a formality.”

“Mark, hold still! Let me get this properly tied. And why didn’t you get your hair cut yesterday. Honestly Mark, I don’t want everyone to think I married a slob.”

“Oh, how I wish today were over.”

“Mark McCain! Today’s not just about you. This is a big day for a lot of people!”

“Who?” Mark asked as he continued to fidget.

“Your father, for one. You weren’t home this morning to see the look in his eyes. Mark, he is so proud of you. And then there’s Micah and Johnny. Micah’s seen you grow up from such a small boy to being his deputy and now a deputy U.S. Marshal. And Johnny, he’s not known you as long, but he’s taking just as much pride in all of this. Between the two of them, I’m not sure whose strutting around like a peacock, more. And Uncle Johnny, I mean, he cherishes his sister’s son and how you’ve grown up. And then there’s your wife,” Hope stated.

“And just what about my wife?” Mark asked as he put his hands to her waist and pulled Hope nearer to him.

“I’m proud for you and all you’ve become. I love the man I married,” Hope answered as she placed her arms around Mark’s neck and they kissed.

“You know,” Johnny stated as he poked his head in the door. “There are a lot of people waiting for the guest of honor.”

“Sorry, Johnny, but my wife is trying to strangle me by tying this tie so dang tight. It’s down right uncomfortable!” Mark replied, looking in the mirror and trying to loosen the tie.

“Mark, don’t make me pull out the handcuffs and force you to the hotel at gunpoint,” Johnny stated with a smile.

Mark and Hope walked into the hotel restaurant, arm in arm. A round of applause went up from those present.

Cole Barker called the gathering to order.

“Micah Torrance, I believe you have a few words you’d like to say?”

“Thank Marshal Barker. Most everyone here knows that Mark is for all intent and purposes a grandson to me. I had reservations the first day I pinned a badge on his shirt in order to join the posse and help me track some outlaws. The events that followed… well, they brought me to my knees. I saw the hurt my best friend experienced in having to deal with the aftermath of having his son shot, because I deputized him. But the faith these two hold in the Bible and their friends, made me realize, I was the one pulling away from them. They welcomed me back into their home, because I was family. Mark, I’m honored that you’ve chosen to follow in my footsteps. I know you’ll be a good lawman.”

As Micah took his seat next to Hattie, Johnny Drako stood to say a few words.

“Mark, I first met you when you were, what fourteen? Curious to see who I was, the gunfighter, Johnny Drako. I remember our first meeting. I told you to pick up my hand gun. You did, but you set it right back down on the table. I told you, ‘You did right. Now remember, just because you can pick one up doesn't mean you have to marry it.’ Glad to see you married such a fine gal as Hope there." Everyone present laughed. “I remember the next time I came through North Fork, for a visit and trailing after the outlaws who had tried to kill Lucas and beat you, as well. I remember your defiance as Sam and I tried to get you to see reason. To leave the outlaws to us and the army. Should have known then that you’d eventually pick up the badge. I’m proud to have you as my deputy and maybe just a little bit jealous that the U.S. Marshal Service knows just how good you are and wants you as one of their own, too. Just remember, you report to me first.”

“Yes, sir,” Mark declared.

Johnny sat down and Sam Buckhart stood.

“I remember a very young Mark McCain; astounded at his first meeting with an Indian. I remember the shocked look on your face as your Father spoke up, against me. Then the look of pride as you realized he wasn’t talking against me, but making the town understand what they were doing was wrong. I remember when Chaqua kidnapped you for his son, I know at nights you cried, not knowing that your Father lived, but during the day, when you traveled as their prisoner, you stood tall and brave. I too was there when you were trailing after the outlaws who you thought had killed Lucas. I know how much the thought of returning home and him not being there destroyed you. But through everything you’ve experienced, you stood true to everything your Father taught you. I am proud to know you will serve the people of this town and this territory well.”

As Sam sat down, Drew Anders stood.

“Well, I don’t have as grand a story as those before me, but I do know that Mark holds high what is right. And when necessary, he’ll step up to help out anyone in need. Mark, it’s not official yet, are you sure you really want to do this? Marshal Barker can be a real hard…”

“That’s enough there Deputy Anders!” Tom called. “There are decent folks present in the room.”

“Sorry. But, Mark, you still have time to change your mind?”

“No thank you, Drew!” Mark called. “As someone once told me, ‘You make your bed, its surely the one you’re going to lie in.’ I requested this burden, so I guess I’ll have to wear it.”

“Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning!” Drew called as he took his seat, allowing Coltrane Walker to stand and have a say.

“Mark, guess our first meeting wasn’t what you would want to right home about.” Turning to the others present, “Mark thought I was an outlaw, riding with… Well, let’s just say I was riding with some real bad company. But what he didn’t know, I had infiltrated the gang in order to stop them from robbing the stage carrying one hundred thousand dollars. Well, I didn’t play my part quite so well and a number of banks got robbed along the way, and Mark got kidnapped during one of those robberies, and it took Tom Benton to stop them from robbing the stage. We finally rode to rescue the kidnapped Mark, thinking the outlaw had gotten away with all the stolen money.” Then turning back to Mark, “Imagine my surprise when I realized you were robbing the outlaws while we forced you to tend to the stock. Knew then that you had lawman blood running through your veins. I’d like to say, welcome to the brotherhood.”

Coltrane took his seat and allowed Tom Benton to say a few words.

“I’ve not had such wild adventures with Mark McCain as the rest of you, but I do know the father, and I’m glad to know they both stand on the side of law and order. There’s a saying, ‘the acorn doesn’t fall too far from the tree’. With Lucas McCain as a father, there’s no way this young man could be anything other than who he is today. Well, I can see Cole is getting a little anxious and Mark is wanting to get all this over with so, I’ve said my piece. Mark, I’m proud to have you as a brother-of-the-law.”

“Okay,” Cole said as he stood. “Is there anyone else who wishes to ‘testify’ against this ‘outlaw’? Mark, I think I’m going to have to give second thoughts about you becoming a U.S. Marshal. You’ve associated yourself with some pretty unsavory characters.”

“Don’t hold it against me, you hired most of them!” Mark hollered as a few muffled laughs were heard from the crowd.

“Don’t remind me. In all seriousness, it takes a special breed of man to dedicate themselves to upholding the law. Most men come to that decision later in life or, if they’re younger, they’re following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather. Today, I’m honored to swear a young man into the ranks of being a Deputy U.S. Marshal, even though this is just a formality, it still holds significance. This young man took up the badge when he was just shy of seventeen. Knowing what needed to be done and not shying away from the responsibilities. Even though one man only wore the badge on occasion, Mark McCain couldn’t have asked for three finer examples of lawmen to guide his life.

“Mark, will you step forward?” Cole waited for Mark to walk up to stand next to him. “Please raise your right hand and place the other on the bible.”

“Mark McCain, do you swear to faithfully execute the duties of the U.S. Marshal Service as a deputy? To uphold and defend the letter of the law?

“Yes sir,” Mark replied.

“Good, then as the Director of the U.S. Marshal Service out of Denver, Colorado, I hear by officially declare you to be a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Congratulations, son!”

“So Mark,” Percy Bullock hollered. “What’s your first official act as a Deputy U.S. Marshal?”

“Changing diapers! If you’ll excuse me, ‘duty’ calls.” Every one present broke out in laughter.

Mark and Hope carried their sons upstairs, followed by Lucas and Milly carrying Myra and Little Ted, and Johnny carrying Connor, and last was Thadd carrying Savannah. After all the ‘children’ were changed and put to bed for the night, the adults returned downstairs to the party.

*****

As the evening progressed, Lucas called for everyone’s attention and held his glass high.

“Now as President of the town council, I’d like to say a few words about Micah Torrance. Micah, I’ve been honored to call you a friend, for what, that last eleven years? You’ve faithfully served this town and her people. You will be sorely missed as our marshal, but we rest easy knowing you’ve trained two deputies to carry on the defending this town. Thank you for protecting us.”

“Here! Here!” came from those present as they offered their thanks to Micah.

“Speech!” was yelled by someone.

“Well, I never was good at speech making. But I would like to say, thank you for believing in me and giving me a town to call home. Now, enough about me. There’s something else that was planned tonight that hasn’t happened yet. And if all of you are going to continue to embarrass me like you have, then I’m going to see that others, beside Mark and me are in the same boat. Where’s Percy Bullock? Percy! – Don’t tell me that boy’s bolted. We got enough lawmen here, I’ll swear out a warrant for his arrest if he’s not in here in sixty seconds!”

Micah spied Percy looking around the corner, “Percy get yourself over here!”

Slowly Percy walked into the room, pulling at his collar. He stopped next to Tessa. The room quieted, completely, as he got down on one knee.

“Tessa, I… I…” Percy looked around the room. “Tessa, I wanted to ask if you would want to be my wife, I’m proposing marriage. If you’ll have me?”

Percy closed his eyes and nervously held his breath, wandering what could be taking her so long to answer. Micah came up behind Percy and said, “Boy, you better open your eyes, she’s nodding.”

“Will you?” Percy asked as he looked up to Tessa.

“Yes, oh, yes!” Tessa exclaimed. Percy stood up and pulled the ring from his pocket and slipped it on her finger.

The elder Percy Bullock pulled Mabra into a hug and said, “Always wondered what it would be like to have a daughter in the house, now I’m going to have two.”

“Oh, really Mr. Bullock?” Mabra asked.

“Yes, young lady, now that it’s official. We’ll start getting your room ready. The house is big enough that everyone will have their own room. And you can help me keep an eye on those two. Since we’re going to be related… ”

“Could I call you Father?” Mabra asked.

“I’d be most honored.”

The celebrations continued until well after midnight.

Next Step — The Story Continues

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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