The Writer's Corner
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
“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
“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
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.
“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
“Pa, the letter I brought home from Mr. Griswald? Am I in some
sort of trouble?”
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
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
“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
“Guess after me not helping out last week, they realized they
really didn’t need me, what with Miss Milly back and being a
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
“Graduation ceremony? Who’s graduating?” Mark asked, as he
started to sulk, not really paying attention to ‘what’ his Pa
“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
“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
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
“And Miss Milly, she didn’t tell you before hand?”
“Pa? After Friday… then what?” Mark asked as he looked his Pa in
“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
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
“Mark, when are you going to stop ma’am’ing me?” Milly
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?”
“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,
“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
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
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
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch