The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 88 - The Main Events
Written by Deanne Bertram

After seeing her husband returned to the clinic, Hope was alarmed to find her brother coming from one of the examination rooms.

“You can keep it unwrapped at night,” Thadd was stating, “just remember to put the ointment on it morning and night.”

“Ethan?” Hope inquired.

“Oh, it’s nothing sis. Just a scratch, had a bullet graze my leg,” Ethan replied and tried to change the subject from himself. “I see you finally got your husband corralled.”

“Yes, I want Doc to examine his eyes one more time and to tell me he’s going to be alright.”

“Now, Hope…” Mark started.

“No, you march yourself inside,” Hope stated as she pointed a finger to the room Ethan just exited.

“I’m gonna go spend a little time with my family before we head to the church, see you both later,” Ethan stated as he left the clinic.

*****

After watching Thadd flush out Mark’s eyes one last time, Hope was pleased to overhear their conversation, after Thadd had Mark read the eye chart.

“Okay, Mark. Your eyes are going to be a little bloodshot for a few more days, just from being irritated. I’m glad your father insisted on wrapping your eyes. It could have been a lot worse, irreparable damage could have been done to the surface of your eyes just by your blinking.”

“Will I need to wear my glasses more?” Mark asked.

“That’s up to you. I think you’re seeing well enough, just continue to wear them when you read reports or the newspaper. But if your eyes start feeling tired, go ahead and wear them. It won’t hurt.”

Hope wrapped her arm through her husband’s before they returned to her father’s home.

Upon entering the home, Zach was there to greet his parents.

“Papa?”

“Yes, Zach,” Mark answered.

“Little Ted said you got dirt in your eyes. Did the sandman surprise you?”

“Who?” Hope asked.

“The sandman,” Josh answered. “You know, the man who comes around at night and puts sand in your eyes.”

Kneeling down, Mark answered, “No, the sandman wasn’t there. We were trying to rescue Little Ted and Peter when there was an explosion and it blew a lot of dirt into the air and I got some in my eyes. But Doc Burrage cleaned them up proper.”

“Oh, then you can see real good?” Zach asked.

“Why do you ask?” Hope asked, fearing what her son was about to say.

“Uh, we tried to clean it up. We wanted to surprise you, only…”

“Where,” Mark said as he stood.

Zach took his father’s hand and led his parents to the back of the house, to the bathing room.

“Oh, boys!” Hope declared when she saw the mess. The water from the tub had overflowed onto the floor.

“We’re sorry,” Josh stated as he stood in the middle of the room holding a towel dripping with water.

“Come out of there and let me clean up the mess,” Hope instructed.

“No, I’ll take care of it,” Mark stated. Seeing the look on his wife’s face, “In your condition, you don’t need to be on your hands and knees. Why don’t you take the boys to the front room and I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

After cleaning up the bathing room and carrying a basket with the soaking, wet towels outside, Mark and Hope hung them on the clothesline behind Seth’s house to dry. Later that afternoon, the two of them worked diligently to see that their children were bathed and properly dressed for the wedding, before they bathed and dressed as well.

Milly and Lucas spent the rest of the morning over at Hattie and Micah’s listening to Little Ted tell of everything that happened after those men had kidnapped him and Peter. That afternoon, they too worked diligently to see that they and their children were cleaned and dressed for the wedding that night.

Seth stood in front of the full-length dressing mirror and struggled to tie his tie straight.

“Seth, would you like some help?” Mark asked as he peeked into his father-in-law’s bedroom.

“I’m all thumbs. I can’t believe I’m this nervous. I mean, I’ve been married before…” Seth answered as he dropped his arms to his side.

“Yes, but not to Lilah. Guess you and Pa should have had a man to man talk about what to expect today and tonight,” Mark teased.

“What?” Seth asked a little surprised.

“I remember Pa being just as nervous when he married Miss Milly. It’s new because you’re marrying Lilah. Just remember, she’s probably just a nervous as you are, if not more so. And you had better remember that tonight when you’re alone with her.”

“Imagine, me getting advice from my son-in-law,” Seth answered as he gave a little laugh. “Mark, I really do appreciate having you as a member of my family.”

“Likewise… Come on, before your intended decides to send someone to make sure you aren’t going to change your mind?” Mark teased.

“Too late,” Ethan stated as he leaned against the door frame, arms folded. “Mark, my family is already over at the church. Why don’t you get my sister and the rest of your family over to the church and then come back here and the three of us can get Father to the church.”

“Three?” Seth asked.

“Yeah, Johnny Drako’s at the back door making sure you don’t evade capture,” Ethan laughingly answered.

“Evade capture, you make it sound like I’m a prisoner,” Seth retorted back.

“Take it as you like, but you are about to be married and…” Ethan laughed.

“I’ll just let Annie know your feelings about being married,” Mark teased.

“Don’t you dare!”

*****

At the front of the church stood Reverend McCafferty and Seth Lane. Next to Seth stood Ethan, as his best man. As the matron of honor, Hope stood on the other side of Reverend McCafferty and waited for the bride to enter.

Everyone turned as Lilah made her way down the aisle on the arm of Johnny Drako. They stopped a short distance from the others and waited as Reverend McCafferty welcomed everyone and asked, “Who gives away this woman to be wed to this man?”

Johnny answered, “I do, on behalf of the town of North Fork.” Johnny placed Lilah’s hand in Seth’s before he turned to join Lou and their family in one of the pews.

At the end of the ceremony, Reverend McCafferty declared, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. You may kiss your bride.”

Seth just stood there, holding Lilah’s hands in his.

“Well? Kiss her already,” came from somewhere in the back of the church.

“May I?” Seth quietly asked.

“You better.” Lilah blushed as she whispered her reply.

Slowly, Seth pulled Lilah near to him and the kiss they shared expressed their love for one another.

As their lips separated, Reverend McCafferty declared, “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Seth Lane.”

*****

Many of the ranch hands present took the reception as time to drink and have fun, insisting on keeping Seth from dancing with his new wife. Johnny and Mark had their hands full in cutting off those they felt a little too drunk, before they could cause a scene. Regardless, everyone present enjoyed the distraction the wedding and reception offered from the struggles in dealing with the on-going drought.

As the reception wound down and the guests left, Lucas started to bid Seth and Lilah goodbye, “Guess we won’t be seeing you again until after your honeymoon.”

“Grandpa, you going away?” Eli asked as he stood beside Lucas.

“Just for a few weeks,” Seth answered as he knelt down in front of his grandson.

“What’s a honeymoon,” Zach asked as he stood to the other side of Lucas.

“It’s when a husband and wife spend the night sitting out on the porch looking at the moon and talking all kind of lovey, dovey to each other. And check out each other’s teeth. Stupid,” Josh answered as he punched his brother in the arm.

“Your brother is not stupid,” Mark stated as he tugged at his eldest’s ear, having overheard his son upon rejoining his family. “And just where did you hear that piece of information regarding a honeymoon?”

“Oh, uh…”

“Out with it,” Mark ordered.

“Uh… You know Spin Whitcomb?”

Mark nodded.

“He told me about his older sister. She and her fee-and-see were sitting on the porch talking about getting married and stuff. Spin said it was… uh… kinda gross, the way they were talking and then the way they were checking out each other’s teeth.”

The adults present struggled to keep a straight face as they listened to Josh recount the story his friend had told him.

“Seth, Hope and I’ll see you and Lilah off at the train station tomorrow.”

The families bid goodnight to each other as Lucas and his family returned to Micah and Hattie’s, Mark and his family returned to Seth’s home, and Ethan and his family returned to the boarding house. Leaving Seth and Lilah in the lobby of the hotel.

*****

After seeing his children to bed, Mark returned to the bedroom and changed into street clothes.

“Mark, just what do you think you’re doing?” Hope asked.

“It’s just going to be a small shivaree!”

“You will not!” Hope declared.

“Hope, Ethan organized this one.”

“I don’t care, he’s my father!”

“You could come along…” Mark’s eyes held a mischievous gleam.

*****

Lucas saw Mark approaching the side of the hotel, “Surprised Hope let you come,” Lucas teased.

“She tried to dissuade me from coming. I offered to let her come and join the fun,” Mark answered.

“Bet that went over like a ton of bricks.”

“Guess I should be thankful Hope and I were as young as we were when we married.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have forbid the shivaree,” Lucas jested.

“Come on, before they start without us.”

Father and son laughed as they jogged the rest of the way to join the others in celebrating Seth and Lilah’s wedding night.

*****

The families gathered at the train station Saturday morning to see Seth and Lilah off on their honeymoon.

“Father, don’t worry about your place, Annie and I will lock it up before we return to Fort Stanton on Monday,” Ethan offered.

“And Johnny and I’ll keep an eye on it until the two of you return,” Mark offered.

“I want to thank all of you for your blessings,” Seth answered as he placed his hand to the small of Lilah’s back and followed her as she stepped onto the train. Once at their seat, they waved goodbye.

The station platform didn’t empty until the train was well out of sight.

*****

“It’s going to be rather lonely,” Hope stated as she walked with her family to collect their belongings before returning home to the ranch.

“Would you rather live in town?” Mark asked, he had so looked forward to returning to his own home.

“It’s not that, it’s just…”

“What?” Mark asked.

“It’s been a while and I kinda got used to having Father… close,” Hope quietly answered.

“Hope, if you regret living out on the ranch…”

“Mark, no! I love living out on the ranch, it’s so peaceful and quiet and not so… crowded. I’m just going to miss Father.”

“Just remember, once they return, you’ll have a new mother, too.”

That thought brought a smile to Hope’s face.

*****

After seeing his family safely home and returning the boys’ beds to their home, Mark saddled Rainmaker and returned to North Fork.

“Didn’t expect to see you back in town so soon,” Johnny teased as Mark entered the Marshal’s Office.

“I want to get to the bottom concerning these two, before Jennifer and Wykestrom return,” Mark stated as he placed his rifle on his desk.

Standing in front of the cells, Mark listened as the two complained and demanded to be set free.

“If it is determined that you have… diplomatic immunity, you will be set free, but we will also see that you are returned to your home country and refused entry back into America. But until then, I want answers.”

“You’ll get nothing from us,” Dochlichter bitterly stated. “I want to see the doctor and have him look at my shoulder.”

“You’ll get nothing from our doctor. He declared your arm well enough to release you yesterday.”

“You can do this! I’ll have you drawn and quartered!” Dochlichter yelled as Mark turned from the cells and closed the door behind him.

“Didn’t think you’d get anything from them,” Johnny stated as he drank from his cup of coffee.

“It was worth a shot,” Mark answered. “Guess we’ll have to wait until Jennifer and Wykestrom return. When did Charles send the wire? I thought they’d be here on the morning train.”

“He didn’t send it until after you returned with Peter,” Johnny stated.

“Yesterday?”

“Wasn’t anything they could do except worry. This way, they know he’s safe. I’m sure they’ll arrive on the train Monday.”

In an effort to distract Mark from brooding about what had happened, Johnny stated, “Too bad Seth and Lilah didn’t stay until Monday.”

“How so?” Mark asked.

“The church social and fighting exhibition is tomorrow, or did you forget?”

“Guess I kinda forgot. Are there any good wagers being placed?” Mark asked.

“Betting? On an exhibition?”

“Don’t tell me you haven’t placed a bet or two.”

“Just don’t let Lou know,” Johnny answered with a gleam in his eyes. “Mark, things are fairly quiet since the hands have been learning how to box and it’s been a while since you’ve stayed at your place, why don’t you head on home for the night. I’m sure Hope could use your help getting things back in order.” Johnny peered over his coffee cup and stated, “So that’s the real reason you returned to town. Boy, get back to your home before I throw you in jail for dereliction of your responsibilities at home!”

“You’re no fun,” Mark teased.

“Yes I am, that’s why I’m sending you back home. Now get out of here!”

*****

Mark left the Marshal’s Office and headed to the hotel. He knocked on the door to the room where Charles and Peter had spent the night.

“Afternoon, Charles. Didn’t know if you wanted to keep Peter here or if he would be returning to the ranch. I know Ma and Pa are real sorry about his…”

“Mark, it wasn’t their fault and I won’t have your family taking blame. I think that Peter would really like to spend what time he can, back at the ranch with your sons and brothers.”

“You really mean it?!” Peter excitedly asked.

“Sure,” Charles answered as he looked to his nephew.

“Have you heard from Jennifer?” Mark asked.

“She and Wykestrom should be in on Monday’s train.”

*****

Mark and Peter returned to the McCain ranch and were rowdily greeted by the boys.

“Boys?” Mark tried to call to order.

“Oh, I Pa!” Josh answered.

Mark shook his head as he watch all six boys run to the side of the house, chasing each other, playing a game of tag.

“Didn’t think you’d be back so soon,” Hope stated as she stepped from the porch.

“Johnny kicked me out and told me to get home. Said you’d probably need some help getting our home back in order.”

“I can do most of the work, but there are a few items I’ll need your help with. In the mean time, once you get the horses taken care of, why don’t you stay out here with all the boys.”

“Oh,” Mark stopped. “Johnny reminded me of the church social tomorrow.”

“I remembered, I’ve already planned our picnic lunch,” Hope answered and smiled. “And I’ve invited Charles and Amelia to join us and your parents.”

*****

The North Fork church was almost full to capacity for Sunday services. Knowing the reason why, Reverend McCafferty had planned a shorter than usual sermon, but one still based on tolerance and turning the other cheek. At the conclusion, the parishioners streamed outside and collected their picnic baskets from their wagons or buckboards.

Everyone enjoyed the wonderful weather the day brought. Amelia was awestruck with all the festivities and how freely everyone interacted. She smiled as she watched the children playing and shouting.

“Hope, may I help you with anything?” Amelia asked.

“If you wouldn’t mind helping in keeping an eye on Mykaela?”

The men left their wives to help set up the ring for the boxing exhibition that would be held later in the afternoon.

Gwen walked over to Hope and inquired it she needed any help.

“Gwen, why don’t you spend the afternoon with Jake and his family. You shouldn’t spend all your time worrying about helping me out.”

“But Hope…”

“Today is your day off. Now go and enjoy yourself,” Hope ordered.

Before Gwen could say anything more, Jake ran up and grabbed her hand and pulled her along behind him saying, “See, I told ya.”

*****

The sun progressed across the sky and found Micah Torrance shooting his scatter gun to get everyone’s attention.

“Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Come one and all! The boxing exhibition will be shortly. Come and get your seats.”

North Fork’s citizens were excited to root for their friends and the various ranches being represented.

Leon Cooperton stood in the middle of the ring next to Micah and welcomed everyone to North Fork’s First Boxing Exhibition.

“Now folks, as you can guess it wouldn’t be fair to have certain boxers in the arena together, because of the discrepancy in the men’s sizes, so we’ve split the contestants up into categories. Feather weights, mid weights, and heavy weights. Each match will involve three rounds of three minutes apiece, with Micah being the official time keeper. After every man within a category has boxed, we will proceed to the next category, giving the earlier contestants time to catch their breath. After the heavy weight, we’ll return to the feather weights, and continue in such manner. Each match will be a process of elimination until we have only one man remaining from each category.”

The contestants strode from the back of the church and gathered around the arena.

“Now, as the boxers know, there are certain maneuvers that are not allowed and a boxer will be eliminated for any punches thrown below the belt. If necessary, when I yell break, you will go to your respective corners and wait until I say it okay to resume the match.”

Johnny Drako stepped up to the ring, “Just so you know, anyone who doesn’t break when Leon tells them too, will see the inside of my jail for the night. This is an exhibition and an exhibition only!”

The crowd cheered and laughed as each match progressed. Some of the contestants took to boxing and could go all three scheduled rounds, while others didn’t last beyond the first round of their match.

Eventually winners were declared. Oat Jackford’s hand took the heavy weight title, while one of Dave Merar’s men took home the feather weight title. As for the mid weight title, a new rancher to the territory, Mike Thomkins took home the title.

*****

Mark saw that Charles and Amelia were safely returned to the hotel for the night before he headed back home with his family, and Peter.

*****

Monday afternoon, Mark and Hope left their children with his parents while they returned to North Fork with Peter.

“Sir,” Peter asked as he stood behind the seat.

“Yes, Peter,” Mark answered.

“I wish we could stay here.”

“Don’t you want to return home with your parents?” Hope asked.

“I want to stay with my parents, but America is so different from home. Here, people could care less who I am. You’ve let me be a boy.”

“That’s why your parents left you with us. They just didn’t plan on Edgerton and Dochlichter kidnapping you.”

“Sir, I understand why my mother and father left me here. I’m ashamed for the way I was behaving at home.”

“From what I understand, it wasn’t all your fault, Peter,” Mark offered.

“No sir, but I’ll remember what we talked about last night. I’m just a person with a title, but that title doesn’t make me any better than anyone else.”

“Sounds like a good lesson to remember,” Mark answered. “Hope, I’ll drop you and Peter off at the daycare, I’m sure Jennifer and Wykestrom will want to talk regarding what happened.”

“No sir,” Peter interrupted. “I think my mother will want to make sure I’m okay first.”

Mark halted the buckboard at the livery and watched as Peter climbed down from the back. Mark made his way around and helped Hope down, before telling Nils they would be back when they could and thanked him for looking after the team.

They were met at the platform by Charles and Amelia and waited for the train to halt and for Peter’s parents to exit the train.

Wykestrom was the first to step to the platform and extend his hand to Jennifer. Peter patiently waited for them to approach, he looked at his mother, surprised she didn’t immediately run to him.

“Mother, Father,” Peter stated. “Welcome back to North Fork.”

“How are you son?” Wykestrom asked.

“I missed you. Oh Mama, I want a hug,” Peter cried as Jennifer knelt down and wrapped her arms around her son.

“Your Majesties, we’re awfully sorry about Peter being kidnapped. We didn’t receive the wire from Denver until after he had already been taken,” Mark stated.

“Mark we don’t blame you,” Wykestrom answered as he too knelt to hug his son. “I hope the bastards are dead or in custody!”

“Wykestrom!” Jennifer exclaimed.

“We have them in custody, but first, I think we need to talk,” Mark answered.

Jennifer held Peter at arms’ length and turned him one way or the other, looking him over.

“Mother, I want to be your little boy. I don’t want to be a prince, least not until I’m older,” Peter stated.

“What brought this change of heart on?” Jennifer asked.

“I made some wonderful friends and I learned that I need to respect you and Father, but more importantly, those people back home are wrong it putting me on a ped… ped… Well, they tell me I’m better than everyone else and I learned I’m not.”

“Jennifer, if I may,” Hope interrupted. “Why don’t you let me take Peter over to the daycare so the three of you can talk.”

*****

Upon entering the Marshal’s Office, Mark offered his desk chair to Jennifer.

“So are those responsible in your jail?” Wykestrom asked.

“Yes,” Johnny answered.

“I want to face them.”

Mark opened the door to the cells and allowed Wykestrom to enter first. “Edgerton! What?!” he declared.

Jennifer was immediately at her husband’s side. “You said you had a family emergency and had to return home?”

“Your Majesty, when he arrived at the outlaws’ hideout, he called for his Uncle Henry. The other man is Henry Dochlichter,” Mark stated.

“Dochlichter?” Wykestrom asked. “You! Why?!”

“How could you?” Jennifer demanded.

“You have no right to the throne,” Dochlichter spat as he pulled his hat from his face and sat up on the bed. “By eldest blood, I should be King.”

“Your grandfather was renounced as a member of the royal family when he plotted to kill his own father!” Jennifer argued.

“Jennifer, is he a diplomat?” Mark asked. “Does he have diplomatic immunity?”

“Not anymore.” Looking straight at Dochlichter, with anger in her voice, “Your family had been allowed to hold their titles as long as they did not contest the line of ascension, but now, you have no title or land. Your title and your land, and that of your get is forfeit.”

“Then he can be charged with kidnapping and stand trial here in America?” Johnny asked.

“Would your country press those charges even though my son is not a citizen?” Jennifer asked.

“Ma’am,” Johnny Drako stated. “It wasn’t just your son they kidnapped. They also kidnapped Mark’s brother, Little Ted.”

“We didn’t know,” Wykestrom stated.

“He’ll be okay. All the boys had fun playing at the ranch once we returned home. They’ve practically forgotten about it, or at least look on it as a big adventure,” Mark replied.

“Marshal, do with these two as you see fit. They are no longer citizens of our home country,” Jennifer declared. “I pray God has mercy on your souls, but you will pay for your crime against our friends.” Jennifer turned to her husband, “I wish to leave, to be with our son.”

*****

Two days later, Mark transferred the prisoners to the custody of Deputy U.S. Marshal James Jandl as they had waived their rights to trial and were to be transported to McNeil Island, in Washington State. He watched as Jandl secured the handcuffs both men wore and saw them to the last car of the train, where no one would be bothered by the men. Mark stood alone at the train station after the royal family boarded the first passenger car, to leave North Fork and return to their home. Bringing his thoughts to the present, Mark wiped his brow and headed back home.

The Next Step — The Terrible Three

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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