The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 2 - The Note
Written by Deanne Bertram

Monday afternoon, Mark arrived home, after school, with a letter from Mr. Griswald for his father.

“Mark, just what’s this all about?” Lucas asked, as he took the note from Mark and looked at the envelope.

“I don’t know Pa. Miss Milly just stood behind Mr. Griswald as he handed me that letter and asked me to give it to you. Funny, she just stood there and smiled… I’m gonna go do my chores, be back later.”

“Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“Pa, if I’m gonna get punished, let me get some of my regular chores done before you start adding to the list,” Mark said as a weak smile played across his face. “Besides, if they wanted me to know what was in that letter, they would have addressed it to me, not you. You can tell me later.”

Mark hurried from the house, mounted Blue Boy and headed out to the range. He needed to check on the calves they were weaning and then move them to the smaller meadow, closer to the farm, before winter weather arrived. He found the young herd exactly where he thought he’d find them, only he didn’t expect there to be as many as he found. He looked the herd over and realized, some were Oat Jackford’s calves. Looking at the fence line nearby, Mark realized there was a break in the fence. He kneed Blue Boy over to take a closer look.

Brown hair was found in some of the barb wire, Mark realized the calves had broken through the wire and busted a post. Mark stepped down, removed his hat and thought to himself, ‘Just how am I going to get this herd separated?’ He put his hat back on and mounted. “Well, I guess I could ride to…”

Before Mark could finish his thought he heard his name being called. He turned in the saddle and saw Sam Montgomery riding his way.

“Well, I think I found me a cattle rustler!” Sam declared as he arrived with a smile on his face. “Hi ya Mark.”

“Hi Sam! Seems we have a small problem. Mr. Jackford’s calves busted the fence and now they’re with ours. Could you help me separate them out and then we can temporarily fix the fence? I’ll bring a post and wire out tomorrow.”

“Sure, that’s why I’m here. Billy will be here with the buckboard shortly, we found the fence busted earlier today.”

Billy arrived and pulled the buckboard to a halt and watched as Sam and Mark separated out the calves. They were thankful that the calves had been branded, made it easier to figure out which ones belonged with which herd. Finally, the calves were where they should be, and Mark helped Sam and Billy fix the fence. Mark set his rope around what was left of the fence post and then tied it to his saddle horn. He worked Blue Boy sideways, back and forth, trying to pull the piece out of the ground.

“Boy, it sure is stubborn!” Mark called.

“Hold on Mark, let me get the shovel and see if I can dig it out a little bit,” Billy offered. He started digging out the dirt next to the broken post and after digging down almost a foot and a half, he yelled, “Okay Mark, try it now!”

Mark kicked Blue Boy forward. He felt the tension on the rope across his leg. With one last kick, Blue Boy dug in and lunged forward, and the ground finally gave way its hold on the post. Sam pulled the new post from the back of the wagon, carried it over, and placed it down in the hole. Sam and Billy worked to drive it down, firm, while Mark filled the dirt back around the post. The three of them made quick work in splicing in the new barb wire.

After waving goodbye, Mark set to pushing the McCain calves closer to home.

The sun was starting to set as Mark rode for home, he thought back on the letter he had carried to his Pa. It had been a long time since he had gotten into any trouble at school and he couldn’t imagine that he had done anything to warrant the letter, except… “Well, I’m sure Pa will let me know when I get home,” he said to Blue Boy and gave him a pat on the neck. With that, he kicked Blue Boy into a lope.

Mark arrived home and led his horse into the barn, where he unsaddled him, and curried him down for the night. He grained the horses and threw down some fresh hay. Mark pulled his rifle from his scabbard, blew out the lantern on the post before he exited and headed for the house.

Slowly, he stepped up on the porch, ‘Oh, well, time to pay the piper,’ Mark said as he stood tall and turned the knob on the door. He entered the house, set his rifle in its stand, and removed his hat before saying, “Good evening, Pa.”

Lucas was sitting in his leather chair. In his hand, Mark saw his Ma’s picture.

“Pa?”

“Oh, Mark, sorry, I didn’t hear you come in. Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, if I didn’t like Blue Boy so much, I think I could have eaten him. Sorry I was gone longer than planned.”

“Longer than planned? It’s only… Guess it’s later than I thought,” Lucas said as he stood and looked out the window and saw night had fallen. “Trouble?”

“I don’t know, figured you’d tell me in when I got home,” Mark replied.

“Tell you?

“Pa, the letter I brought home from Mr. Griswald? Am I in some sort of trouble?”

“Letter?”

Mark was curious, it wasn’t like his Pa to be so distracted, not even when Mark had done something wrong and Lucas was contemplating how to discipline him. He’d never seen his Pa like this before.

Lucas shook his head to clear it. “Mark, no, you’re not in trouble.” Lucas smiled and put a hand on his boy’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Mark, just been remembering. Lost in my thoughts. What was it that delayed you?”

Mark explained how he’d come across the broken fence and how theirs and Mr. Jackford’s calves were mixed together. How he, Sam, and Billy worked to separate the herds, and then, together, they fixed the fence. Mark told of moving the calves to the Southern meadow.

“So, about that letter?” Mark asked.

“Mark, I’m not sure how exactly to tell you this.”

“Tell me what?”

“Mark, it seems that you won’t be Mr. Griswald’s student teacher after Friday,” Lucas said. He was trying real hard to keep a somber look on his face, as he watched the expression on Mark’s face.

“Guess after me not helping out last week, they realized they really didn’t need me, what with Miss Milly back and being a certified teacher.”

Lucas heard the dejection in Mark’s voice and saw it in his posture as he turned to go sit down in his own chair, next to the fire place.

“Mark, it’s kind of hard for you to be a student teacher, when you’re no longer a student.” Lucas was fighting hard to keep the smile from his face.

“They’re expelling me?! Pa, I only scolded the boys because they were giving Miss Milly a tough time!” Mark painfully stated. “Even Johnny saw how they were acting. He’s the one who told me. Honest, I wouldn’t have locked them in the jail to work.”

“Mark, there’s more than one way to no longer be a student. Mark, this here letter is an invitation to a special graduation ceremony.”

“Graduation ceremony? Who’s graduating?” Mark asked, as he started to sulk, not really paying attention to ‘what’ his Pa said.

“You are!” Lucas couldn’t help his laughter that broke, uncontrollably as he watched his boy. He saw the look of surprise appear on Mark’s face.

“Me! I’m graduating? But Pa, it’s not Spring. Graduation ceremonies are held in the Spring.” Mark was trying to understand the reality his Pa was telling him. “But you were… you had that look as if you were trying to figure out how to discipline…”

“Mark, I was distracted because I was… I was thrilled, pleased, and maybe even humbled. Guess I was even sad. I was sitting in my chair remembering the promise I made to your Ma, all those years ago. I was telling her how much you’ve grown. Thinking back on all the times… All those times I wanted to rattle your throat because you were so resistant to learning. But here you stand, about to graduate. Mark, I’m so proud of all you have accomplished. I’m proud to be your father.”

Mark sat in his chair, to say dumbfounded, would be an understatement.

Lucas headed to the kitchen and spooned out a bowl of stew and set it on the table for Mark. He looked and saw Mark sitting there, shaking his head back and forth, still not believing.

“Okay, you can ‘not’ believe it if you want to, but right now, I want you to eat.”

Not seeing Mark getting up, Lucas walked over and grabbed him by the arm and led Mark to the table. Lucas fixed himself a bowl of stew and sat down at the table with his boy -- smiling as he looked at Mark’s disbelief.

“Pa, if I graduate, who’s going to help Hope?” Mark asked. Finally pulling his thoughts together.

“I’m sure you’ll still be able to find some time to tutor Hope. Besides, while you’re here working the ranch and studying those books that Johnny gives you, Milly has been working with Hope.”

“Aren’t you the least bit excited about graduating?” Lucas asked, still seeing reservation in Mark’s eyes.

“I’m not sure. More than anything, I think I’m a little bit scared,” Mark answered as he set his fork down on the table. “Pa, I know growing up, I was such a pain when it came to my schoolwork, but it’s been a big part of my life for so long and I really hadn’t thought on graduating, figured I had at least another year or so…” Mark got quiet. “I’m really going to graduate this
Friday?!”

“Yep.”

“And Miss Milly, she didn’t tell you before hand?”

“Nope.”

“Pa? After Friday… then what?” Mark asked as he looked his Pa in the eye.

“Guess that means you’ll be my full time partner. That is when you’re not needed to help Micah or Johnny, or out tutoring Hope.” Lucas couldn’t help the smile that played across his face or the pride that swelled in his heart.

*****

What Mark had wished would be a small ceremony, with just his Pa and a few friends present, turned out to be a big shin-dig, once Lou heard the news. Upset at the short notice, but thrilled she could pull off the party.

*****

It was probably the last warm day of the year that North Fork would see before winter set in. Mr. Griwald started the ceremony by remembering back to his first few days as the school teacher in North Fork and how he had tried to bring his big city style of teaching to this small, but growing, town. He reminisced about the ‘switching’ he had given Mark. He went on to say he had learned a valuable lesson that week. He learned that there was a special bond between a certain student and his father. He realized the father took the time to teach his son in ways that the boy could understand his lessons and apply them to events that might happen in one’s life, today. And he learned how much a son could stand up for his belief in his father. As Mr. Griswald stood in front of the group, tears welled in his eyes and he again apologized to Mark for the switching.

“But from that rocky start, I saw a young boy growing up to be a fine young man. A young man, who while trying to help new students feel comfortable in a strange town, made their lessons into a fun game. A young man, who willing became a student teacher. Keeping up his own studies, while helping other students and still working on the ranch, he and his father call home. And his most recent accomplishment, he’s learning to become a deputy for this fine town.”

Mr. Griswald was quiet while he tried to collect his thoughts and his emotions.

“In all my years of teaching, I’ve never met a student as eager to learn and who puts so much devotion into learning, and passing on that knowledge. I’ve never graduated a student so young in their life. But this student has far exceeded the teaching curriculum prescribed, and I can see no reason to hold that person back, just because of his age.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of North Fork, I’d like to call Mark McCain to stand beside me and accept his certificate of graduation.”

All the people present, stood and began to clap their hands and a number of the ranch hands started whistling as Mark made his way to stand next to Mr. Griswald. Milly sat on one side of Lucas, her hands on his arm. Hope sat on the other side. All three were smiling; and Lucas and Milly had happy tears falling from their eyes. Lucas looked first to Milly and then to Hope, he placed his arms around their shoulders and pulled them into his embrace. Mark accepted his certificate as Mr. Griswald shook his hand and then pulled him into an embrace.

“Mark, I’m really proud of you and all your accomplishments,” he whispered into Mark’s ear.

Then to those present, Mr. Griswald motioned with his hands and arms for everyone to please sit and quiet down.

“Mark, would you like to say anything to those present?”

“Not sure exactly what to say except, thank you. Especially to my Pa. And also, I don’t think I’m going to miss being threatened by my Pa with bodily harm if I don’t get out of bed in time to get to school.”

The room was full of laughter.

“Well, if that’s all, let the festivities begin!” Mr. Griswald declared. Everyone started to leave the town hall and headed to the street to enjoy all the food and the music.

Mark walked back to stand with his father. He placed his arm around Hope’s waist and pulled her close to him. He accepted his father’s handshake and then a hug. Milly gave Mark a kiss on the forehead before she too hugged him.

“A little overwhelming, isn’t it?” Milly asked before she released him.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Mark, when are you going to stop ma’am’ing me?” Milly whispered.

Mark could only grin. He knew the answer he wanted to give would result in his father grabbing at his ear.

*****

Mark and Hope enjoyed strolling the main street of North Fork, arm in arm. They came to the dance square that had been lined with hay bales. The band leader called for Mark to come to center stage and they started playing a slow tune. Mark walked Hope out onto the dance floor and proceeded to dance with her in his embrace. Hope’s arms around his neck, her head resting on his shoulder. His arms around her back and he leaned his cheek to her head. His cheeks started blushing as he saw everyone staring at them. As he was dancing, his eyes came to rest on his Pa and he motioned for his Pa to join them.

Lucas grabbed Milly by the hand and led her to the dance floor, where they joined his son, dancing. After a few minutes, they exchanged partners. There was a smile on Lucas’ face as he took Hope in his arms and danced.

“So Mark, are you going to answer my question from earlier?” Milly asked.

“I would have, but Pa was right there and I didn’t want to lose an ear. I wanted to tell you that I’d stop ma’am’ing you when Pa puts a ring on your finger.” Together they laughed.

The music came to an end as father and son escorted their dance partners to the side. Lucas accepted Milly back into his embrace as Mark accepted Hope into his. The band started playing again, to an upbeat tune, and many of the town’s folks took to the dance floor, with those not wanting to dance, standing around, tapping their feet and clapping their hands.

Mark and Hope walked to the food tables and filled their plates and grabbed a cup of punch.

Drako came up behind them and placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder, then spoke to Hope. “Well, miss, how’s this deputy treating you? He’s not ignoring you with all the attention he’s been getting, has he?”

“No Deputy Drako, Mark’s being a real… gen…” Hope’s eyes pleaded with Mark to help her find the word. Mark whispered in her ear and Hope smiled. “Yes, he’s being a real gentleman.”

“Are you having a good time?”

“Yes, everyone is being so nice to me. They act as if I hadn’t spent the past six years with the Kiowa.”

“Hope, they better treat you no differently. You have many staunch allies if anyone were to treat you otherwise,” Johnny replied.

Hope asked what he meant.

Mark answered, “Hope a staunch ally is someone who believes in you. And believe me, if anyone were to treat you mean, I wouldn’t be the only person to stand up for you. They’d have to go through Pa, Micah, Johnny, Miss Milly, and me, just to name a few. This town is full of good people.” Mark finished by lifting Hope’s hand and placing a kiss on it.

“Well, I’ll leave you two be. Probably should see that I pay attention to Lou for a while this evening, before she gets her Irish up that I’ve neglected her.” Johnny tipped his hat and said, “Good night.”

There were a number of slow dances throughout the evening where Mark enjoyed the closeness of dancing with Hope in his arms. He felt the warmth of her body against his. He saw strength shining in her eyes the closer together they were.

The celebration finally ended around eleven o’clock that evening. The McCain men escorted Milly and Hope back to their home, before heading back to their ranch. Mark felt a little self conscious in bidding Hope goodnight, especially with his Pa so close and bidding goodnight to Milly.

It was well after midnight when the McCain’s reached their home. Mark was happily humming as he tended to Blue Boy. Lucas smiled as he pulled his saddle from Razor’s back; he had the same feeling deep within.

As they walked to the house, Lucas asked Mark, “So, are we going to frame that piece of paper?”

Mark reflected quietly before answering, “No Pa. I think I’m going to place it in our family bible.” Mark pulled their family bible from the trunk; it was a different bible than the one his Pa always read from. This one had a lot of emotion tied to it. Mark carried it to and set it down on his Pa’s desk as he sat down in the chair.

“There’s a lot of memories in this bible that we don’t share with anyone, because they’re private and personal. I don’t know, but deep inside, seeing as how my education was Ma’s dream, I feel it should be private. Something between us. I know that Lou wanted the party and all, but it wouldn’t have bothered me if it had just been us and a few friends tonight.”

Lucas saw tears falling down Mark’s cheeks as he placed his certificate in the bible. He watched as his son turned the pages to the front and gently moved his hand down the listing of events;

Lucas and Margaret (Gibbs) McCain, married, and the date

Mark Warren McCain, born, and the date

Margaret McCain, death, and the date

Mark’s hand hesitated over his Ma’s name. Finally, he picked up a pen and dipped it in the ink well and wrote -- Mark Warren McCain, graduated, and the date.

“Mark, I thought tonight would be a happy night for you. Why the tears?” Lucas asked as he walked behind and placed his hand on Mark’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I… Pa, I just…” Mark hung his head, this was probably the first time in his life that he felt regret. He remembered back to just before he had contracted Typhoid Fever. At that time, as a ten year old child, he felt regret, but he really knew it to be self pity. This feeling was truly regret and it welled deep inside. He’d kept his feelings hidden all night, until he was home, he couldn’t hold back his tears any longer.

“Mark?” Lucas asked as he knelt down next to Mark, lifted his chin and turned his boy’s face to look in his eyes.

“Pa, I just wish Ma was here to see me graduate.”

“I know son, but, in here,” Lucas placed the palm of his hand over Mark’s heart and tears fell down his own face. “She’s with you every day and I know she was watching tonight. I know she would be very proud of you.” Lucas pulled Mark into a fatherly embrace. Mark wrapped his arms around his Pa’s neck and wept. Lucas waited until he felt Mark cry himself out before he released him and suggested it was time they go to bed.

The Next Step — Another Repercussion

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

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents

Site Map
around The McCain Ranch