The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 66 - The Outsider
Written by Deanne Bertram

The following morning, Mark woke from where he had slept in the hayloft. He thought he’d heard a voice calling his name. As he rubbed at his shoulder he heard a creaking of the ladder to the hayloft and a few moments later a dark-haired, young girl’s head popped above the floor.

“There you are!” the girl called as she finished climbing up into the hayloft. “I heard Mama and Papa saying you were home. Did you hurt your arm? Where were you? Did you miss me?”

“Whoa there. You don’t give a body a chance to answer any of your questions do you?”

“Guess not. You been gone for a long time and not here to talk, so I got a lot of questions. You gonna answer my questions?” Myra asked as she plopped down next to Mark.

Mark watched as the girl straightened out the skirt of her dress, while he thought hard on the conversations he’d had with the man who was his father and tried to remember the girl’s name, but all the questions she asked… He hoped he was right in that this young girl was his sister.

“Myra, yes I hurt my arm. But the doctor made it better. He wanted me to keep it in this sling for a few weeks just to make sure.”

“Did Hope get mad at you for being gone so long without telling her first? Did you spend the night in the barn? It sure looks like you slept out here. Did you? How come? Wait a minute, why did you call me Myra? You never call me Myra, not even when I’m misbehaving.”

“I thought that’s what your father said your name was?”

“My father?” Myra looked perplexed. She held the back of her hand to Mark’s forehead, as if he had a fever. “Mark, you sure are acting funny. Are you funning me? You know you always call me Gabby.”

“I call you Gabby?”

“Sure do, ever since I was a baby,”

“Why?” Mark asked.

“Are you not feeling well? Does your arm hurt? Should I have Papa ride and fetch Doc Burrage?”

“No, I… Just go away!” Mark told his sister.

“Go away? But I just got here,” Myra replied.

“Go away!” Mark hollered with more anger than he meant to.

Myra scrambled to the ladder and started to climb down when they heard the door open and Lucas call for Mark.

“Papa, he’s up here.” Mark heard her jump to the ground and heard tears in her voice, “He yelled for me to go away!”

Lucas knelt down, reached out and hugged his daughter, then told her, “Myra, your Mama needs your help with fixing breakfast.”

“Yes, Papa.”

Lucas watched as his daughter ran back to her home.

“Mark?”

When Lucas received no reply, he spoke, “Mark, Hope said you spent the night in the barn and Myra already said you were up in the hayloft, so it won’t do you any good not to answer me.”

A few moments later Lucas heard weight shifting across the hayloft and watched as Mark tried to manage climbing down the ladder with one good arm.

“I’m sorry I made her cry. She was just asking so many questions and I didn’t know how to answer her,” Mark stated.

“You can’t hide forever. Talking with people might help bring back your memories. It could be the smallest comment that someone says that starts you remembering. Even something as innocent as a question a child has to ask could trigger your memory.”

“But until then? What? Pretend I’m Mark McCain and everything is normal? It ain’t normal! None of this is!” Mark was feeling more scared than anger as he leaned against the ladder, his back to his father.

“Mark, getting upset isn’t going to do anyone any good, especially you. I know you’re scared. We’re not expecting you to…”

“To what? The woman you said was my wife wanted me to sleep her bed last night. You and she both say I’m her husband, but I don’t know it. Yes, the pictures on the desk show a happy family, but I don’t feel it! My being here, just doesn’t feel like it shows in those pictures. It doesn’t feel right!”

“Did it feel right making your sister cry?” Lucas asked as he walked towards the ladder to the hayloft and stood on the opposite side from his son. He placed his arm around the rail and rested his arm against it.

“How did it feel breaking into the gun shop and stealing your own rifle?” Lucas asked.

“Stealing, my own rifle?” Mark asked.

“Yes. Of all the weapons in there, handguns and rifles, you stole your own rifle back. You’d left it there for Angus to repair the firing pin.”

“I just saw it and the modified trigger, I didn’t know... That’s not the point!” Mark stated as he walked to the back of the barn and looked into one of the stalls.

“How about when you robbed the bank and knocked John Hamilton unconscious and then stole the money, did that feel right?! How about when you were trying to get away from the posse? Did that feel right?! Well… Did it? Answer me!” Lucas yelled.

Lucas waited a few minutes to see if Mark would reply. When Mark turned around to face him, Lucas saw the consternation in his son’s face and he continued, “Tell me, did it feel right when you fired your rifle at me?! How did it feel when you saw me lying there? Did you fear you had killed me? Why’d you run towards me instead of taking off on your horse?”

Lucas waited for his words to sink in. He wanted to get Mark to thinking and not wallowing in his confusion.

“I don’t know?” Mark yelled.

“You don’t know.” Lucas paused. “How does it feel to know that you forced me to shoot you? I could have killed my own son?!” Lucas demanded, knowing full well the question was a low blow. He also knew it really wasn’t Mark’s fault, but Oliver Willdrow had put the two of them in this position. Lucas also realized that he needed to get over his own guilt in order to help his son.

From behind, Lucas heard a gasp. He looked ove his shoulder to see Hope and Milly standing in the doorway.

“Lucas? You…” Milly tried to speak, but couldn’t as she brought her hand to her mouth.

Hope had placed her hand to her mouth as well.

“I’m sorry you both had to hear what happened this way,” Lucas called, and then turned back to Mark. “Do those things feel any more right than standing here with your family and refusing to accept our help? Look inside yourself and if this really doesn’t feel right, then run, I won’t stop you. You’ve run before. But when the truth finally gets through that thick skull of yours… Your horse and the door are waiting for you. Just go away, like you told your sister.”

“Lucas!” Milly demanded as she watched Lucas turn his back to his son and walk towards her.

“Milly, I’m sorry, but I know what he’s going through. He’s afraid to let anyone in because he doesn’t know what’s real. He’s already been told one set of lies and now he’s not trusting of anyone.” Lucas stopped next to Milly and looked over his shoulder, “But I know that running away from those who can help you is wrong.” Lucas never took his eyes off Mark. “You’ve seen the truth, that we’re family. You’re not an outlaw to be on the run. Take the first step to remembering who you are by accepting our help!” Lucas started to leave the barn to return to his own home, pausing as he heard the tearful pleading in Hope’s voice.

Hope pleaded, “This is your home. Let us help you remember.”

Mark looked to the three people claiming to be his family and took a small step forward.

“How?” Mark plaintively asked.

“Just by staying here and talking with us,” Lucas stated. “And by accepting the fact that we are your family. We know you’re scared and hurting, but you’re not alone in this.”

“I hurt… my sister… Gabby?” Mark stated as he cast his eyes down.

Milly nodded.

“Guess I should go apologize to her, explain what happened, as best as I can remember. Then, Pa… maybe…, you can show me the way to town and I can apologize and try to make amends for breaking into the gunsmith shop and then for robbing the bank.” He heard another gasp as he finished speaking.

“Those will be steps in the right direction,” Lucas commented as Mark stepped towards him and headed towards his parents’ home.

*****

Milly pointed Mark the way to Myra’s bedroom. He quietly knocked on the door. “Gabby?”

“I went away!” Myra replied, crying.

“I came to talk with you. I think I have some explaining to do.”

Mark waited as he heard the doorknob jiggle and the door opened. He saw Myra run back and jump up on her bed.

“May I come in?” Mark asked.

“If you want.”

Mark walked across the room and sat down on the bed.

“Gabby, I owe you an apology for earlier. I’m not myself right now,” Mark spoke.

“Who are you, then?” Myra asked.

“I don’t know.” Myra looked to Mark and her expression showed she didn’t understand. “Gabby, some time back… a man, a stranger, shot me off my horse.”

Myra interrupted, “He caused you to hurt your shoulder?”

“No, the bullet grazed my temple. But when I woke up… I… I don’t remember anything of my past. You, Mama, Papa, Hope, or my family. It’s all… empty… up here.” Mark stated as he pointed to his head.

“You don’t remember us?”

Mark shook his head. “I thought I was an outlaw. Least that’s what the man told me. Said there was a large bounty on my head.”

“But you’re a Marshal. You arrest outlaws!”

“That’s what Papa said,”

Myra giggled. “You don’t call him Papa, I do. You call Papa, Pa.”

“Oh,” Mark answered.

“Can Doc make you better? Maybe Papa should take you to town and see Doc Burrage?”

“The other doc made my shoulder better, but there’s really nothing he can do about this,” Mark replied.

“Maybe that doctor ain’t as good as Doc Burrage?” Myra asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you can come back to school and Mr. Griswald or Mr. Bullock can help you remember,” Myra stated excitedly. “They’re real good at learning people to remember.”

“They’re your teachers?” Mark asked and Myra nodded. “I don’t think they’d be able to help me with my problem. But, I’m gonna need your help… To make sure I don’t mess up again. Am I forgiven?”

“It says so in the Good Book. I can’t be mad at you, you’re my big brother.” Then quieting her voice and leaning over to whisper in Mark’s ear she said, “You should know we have two younger brothers. Little Ted and Levi, they sleep in the other room.”

“Thanks, Gabby. Pa… told me their names, but I don’t know which one is which. Will you help me?”

Myra got to her knees and threw her arms around Mark’s neck.

*****

While Mark was talking with Myra, Lucas was talking with Milly and Hope. He explained what had happened after the bank had been robbed. Trailing after the two outlaws and then separating from the posse. He told them of coming upon an outcropping of rocks and hearing a shot ring out that barely missed him and how he pretended to be struck. He saw the shooter jump to the ground and run toward him, but with the sun behind the shooter, Lucas admitted he didn’t see who the shooter was. Not until he had taken the shot, ran over to where the outlaw laid and turned the man over, did he realize whom he had shot.

“Hope, I’m beating myself up over this. I’d do anything to pull that bullet back and never have fired it.”

“Pa, it’s like you said, you couldn’t see it was Mark. Once he remembers, I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”

“This isn’t going to be easy on any of us, but if we keep the faith, God will see us through this.”

“Lucas,” Milly spoke. “You said you knew what Mark was going through?”

“I do. It was soon after you had left town, gone back east to be with your family. Mark and I took a trip to visit an old friend of mine, up in Red Creek. I was heading to town to have my rifle checked out when an outlaw shot me off my horse, swapped Razor and my rifle for a horse he had stolen and a gun with his name burned into the handle, and left me for dead. When I came too, I didn’t remember anything, I got on the horse, and I rode and came to a town. The doctor patched me up, but said it could be the smallest detail to spark my memory or never. I was set to ride out of town when a young boy, Mark, came up to me.”

“And it was seeing Mark who made your memories return?” Milly asked.

“No, though he stood by me the whole time. Kept trying to convince me I was his Pa, even when the brothers of a man George Vale had killed tried to lynch me. Mark tried to convince the town that Stevens was a long time friend of mine and that I wasn’t George Vale. They sent a rider out to bring Stevens to town.”

“How did you get your memory back?” Hope asked.

“Seems that Vale and his partner rode into town while I was being dragged out of the livery for a hanging. Mark saw Razor, with my rifle still in the scabbard… He told me about my horse and my rifle being behind me. He asked me if I remembered my rifle. My rifle… It was my rifle, not my son, that started my memories to return. I never told Mark that I remembered that part of our trip. I know how hurt he must have been, I could see it in his eyes.”

Milly and Hope could hear the regret in his voice as he spoke the fact.

“Did they come back all at once?” Hope asked.

“No, bits and pieces, here and there. Are there some memories that I still don’t remember…? Only God knows that for sure. So, you see, we have to keep him here, close. We have to keep him talking, but we can’t push him to remember. We just have to be patient and pray.”

“Lucas, Mark said he robbed the bank, what happened?” Milly asked.

Lucas started to speak as the door to Myra’s bedroom opened, “I’ll tell you both later.”

“Guess I should go to ‘our’ home and get washed up and dressed in fresh clothes. Pa, say in an hour, can we ride into town?” Mark asked as he first looked to Hope and then to Lucas.

“Sure Mark. Whenever you’re ready.”

Mark walked to the front door and stopped, he extended his hand towards Hope. As she approached, he took her hand, and told his parents he’d be back shortly.

*****

Lucas and Mark arrived in North Fork and the first place they stopped was the Marshal’s Office.

“Morning, Lucas, Mark” both Seth and Johnny stated as he entered.

“Good Morning. I asked my ‘father’ to bring me to town so I could do some apologizing. If any of those I wronged are wanting to press charges against me, you’ll know where I can be found,” Mark stated.

“Mark, no one will be pressing charges against you. We’ve told Angus that restitution would be made and John’s satisfied that the money’s been returned to the bank.”

“I guess the word is out over town… about me robbing the bank.” Mark stated as he looked out the window and saw the crowd of people gathering in front of the café across the street.

“No Mark. John’s the only other person who knows you were in on the hold up. But a lot of people have asked about you and we told them you were back with your family, and that an outlaw had tried to kill you and as a result, you’ve no memory. People talk Mark. And you mean a lot to this town,” Seth answered as he came up behind Mark and placed a hand to his shoulder.

“Because I’m a marshal?”

“That’s only a small part. You and your father are leading citizens in this town and not just because you wear a badge or carry a rifle, but because you care about this town and her people,” Seth replied.

“Mark, it’s only natural for the town folks to be curious about what happened to you,” Lucas stated.

“I ain’t no circus freak show!”

“Easy there, Mark,” Seth said as he squeezed Mark’s shoulder harder. “No one said you were.”

“Yes, sir,” Mark answered as he walked to the back side of the office.

“No need to sir me, Mark. We’ve been family for too long,” Seth said.

Johnny interrupted, “Mark, here comes Angus, the gunsmith.”

Lucas opened the door as Angus approached.

“Lucas, is it true what I heard them say about…” Angus stopped speaking when he saw Mark on the far side of the office.

“Yes sir. It was me who broke into your shop and stole the rifle and ammunition. I’ll pay you back for the damages and all. I really will… sir.” Mark spoke sincerely.

“Mark, I don’t know what to say, I mean, it was your own gun you took. You really don’t remember who you are?”

Mark shook his head, “No sir. I don’t remember anything about anyone. I’m still trying to accept what my father and the others are saying, but....”

“Mark, don’t you worry about making restitution until you get your memory back, I know you’re good for it and besides, you got more important things to take care of than me,” Angus answered.

“Angus, just tell me how much and I’ll see to it that you get paid,” Lucas stated.

“Now, Lucas, like I said, it can wait. You need to take care of your family first.” Turning to leave Angus said, “I’ll be seeing ya. And Mark, I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thanks Angus,” Lucas stated as he opened the door for Angus.

“One down,” Johnny said as Angus left the office.

“Yeah, and it was the easier of the two,” Mark commented as he pulled off his hat and ran his hand through his hair.

“Should I go see… Mr. Hamilton at the bank or…”

“Mark, just relax and breathe for a few minutes. We’ve got all morning to do this,” Lucas answered.

It was a few minutes later when John Hamilton entered the office.

“Angus stopped by the bank and said you were in town. How are you doing?” John asked.

“Okay, I guess. I came to town to apologize for knocking you out and robbing the bank. We didn’t get time to spend any of the money,” Mark quickly spoke.

“I know you didn’t. I counted it all when Johnny returned it first thing this morning. So the other one, he convinced you that you were an outlaw?”

“Yes, Mr. Hamilton. I’m sorry for hurting you the other day. I don’t think I’d of tried to rob the bank if I’d of remembered…”

“Mark, first off, I’m John to you. Secondly, from what Johnny told me, you weren’t yourself. I accept your apology and I’m thankful that you were brought back home, safe. I’ve told your father before that money can be replaced, but your life… well… that’s more important to me.”

“Thank you…, John” Mark said as he sighed, relieved.

John said goodbye as he exited the Marshal’s Office.

“Now that your errands have been accomplished, I’d like to have Doc Burrage take a look at your wounds,” Lucas stated.

Seeing everyone still outside, Mark said, “I think I’d rather wait in here then face all of them. I don’t recognize any of them and I don’t have any answers for the questions they’re sure to ask.”

“Mark, the sooner you start to face our friends, the sooner something might happen to trigger your memories.” Lucas said as he picked up his rifle and his hat and waited for Mark, before they headed out the door.

*****

They were half way to the clinic when Lucas saw Sarah McCafferty running towards him and calling his name, “Mr. McCain!”

“What is it Sarah?” Lucas asked.

“You’ve got to come quick! Doc Burrage said you need to get Johnny out of the clinic. Colleen’s in labor.”

“Come on Mark, seems you get a brief reprieve for a while.” Lucas sprinted over to the clinic and found his brother-in-law pacing the floor. “Well, Johnny, it’s about time Colleen went into labor. Come on, let’s get you to Sweeney’s.”

“I can’t… Oh Lucas, just listen to her,” Johnny stated, worriedly.

“All women go through this. Don’t you remember when Lillian Claire was born?” Lucas asked.

*****

Lucas, set two beer mugs down at the table and a glass of sarsaparilla. He saw the expression on Mark’s face, “Mark this is your Uncle Johnny.”

“What?” Johnny asked. “Mark glad to see you back home, but Lucas?”

“Guess you haven’t heard the gossip around town this morning?” Mark stated.

“No, I kind of had my wife on my mind,” Johnny added a little sarcastically. “Sorry, but would you mind letting me in on why your father just introduced me to you.”

“It’s because I don’t know who you are,” Mark stated.

“Johnny, he’s suffering from amnesia. We were on our way to Doc’s to have him take a look at Mark when Sarah came running up.”

“You don’t… remember me?” Johnny gulped.

“No sir. How are you related to me?” Mark asked. “Through my father or my mother?”

“Your fath… Boy, you get hit in the head or someth…” Johnny stopped talking as Mark removed his hat and he saw the wound from the bullet graze. “Mark, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Guess that makes two of us,” Mark gave as a half-hearted laugh.

“Johnny is your real Ma’s brother. We chose to keep the family relationship. You mean a lot to him, to all of us,” Lucas stated.

Time passed and various citizens would either stop and gawk over the saloon doors or look in the windows, a few would even venture inside the saloon before turning around and leaving.

“If you don’t mind, I think I can find my way back to the ranch. It’s getting to be uncomfortable just sitting here.”

“Okay Mark. Tell Milly that I’ll be home once we know if it’s a boy or a girl.”

“Sure.” Mark quickly finished his drink, picked up his hat and left as he put it on his head.

“Lucas, how?” Johnny asked as his nephew left the saloon. “And what’s with his arm in a sling?”

“Seems someone had a vendetta out against me. Don’t know that I know the whole story, but they took their revenge out on Mark. Thank God their aim wasn’t true. When Mark came too, he had no memory before waking up. Nothing. The man convinced Mark he was an outlaw with a price on his head. I was tracking the bank robbers and…”

“Lucas, then… he was one of the ones who… Mark robbed?”

Lucas nodded before he said, “He took a shot at me and I returned fire.”

Johnny heard the guilt in Lucas’ voice, he let out, “Oh, my. Wow. How are…” and shook his head in disbelief.

“We’re trying to get through this, minute by minute.

*****

It was almost suppertime when Thadd entered the saloon. Johnny quickly jumped up and asked, “Well, do I have another daughter?”

“No.”

“Then I have a son! Lucas, I have a son!” Johnny exclaimed.

“Not quite,” Thadd stated with a mischievous smile on his face.

“But you just said…”

“I only said you didn’t have another daughter. You jumped to the conclusion you had a son.”

Confusion showed Lucas’ and Johnny’s faces, until Thadd said, “Congratulations, you have twin sons.”

“Twins?” Johnny stated as he sat down heavily in his chair. “Twins.”

“Oh my, Johnny, I guess there is a small blessing for Mark not remembering. Think of all the times you teased him about Josh and Zach.”

“Lucas, what do you mean, Mark not remembering?” Thadd asked, as Johnny continued to sit dumbfounded in his chair.

“We were on our way to see you when we found out about Colleen. He was ambushed and has no memory,” Lucas answered.

“Twins,” Johnny stated as he reached for his beer.

With a smile because of Johnny’s disbelief, Thadd asked, “Where is he?” as he looked around.

“He headed back to the ranch earlier. Said it was getting to be too much; people staring at him.”

“Well, help me get Johnny over to the clinic to see Colleen and I’ll head out to the ranch with you.”

*****

After several nights of Mark sleeping in the hayloft, Hope finally convinced him that he should at least move a cot into the front room and sleep there, if he was still not willing to sleep in the same bed. She just couldn’t stand watching him walk to the barn each night.

*****

In light of Mark’s condition, Tom Benton had sent Coltrane Walker to assume Mark’s responsibilities for the U.S. Marshal Service. After arriving in town, he headed straight for the McCain ranch and was thankful to find out Mark wasn’t home.

“Lucas, how are you?” Coltrane asked as he stepped from his horse while Lucas walked out the door from the barn.

“I’m fine. Thought maybe you might have been Mark coming back,” Lucas stated hopefully.

“Sorry. I wanted to let you know I was in town, and I think you understand why I’m here?”

“Figured Tom or Cole would send someone to take over Mark’s responsibilities. I told them after the last time, I couldn’t do it. Never figured it would really come up again.”

“How’s he doing? I mean, any glimpses of his memory returning?”

“No, nothing. I can tell it’s getting him down, but he tries hard. He’s finally asking questions on his own.”

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that I’m in town and hoping my stay will be short.”

“I understand Coltrane. Thanks,” Lucas replied.

*****

As the days went by, Mark rode out with Lucas to the check fence lines, check the cattle, or work in the fields with their crops, what ever was required to keep their ranch working. Occasionally, Mark would ask a question about his past, but for the most part, he kept quiet. They were on their way back home, after a hot day in the saddle, when Lucas deliberately took the route that would lead them by the pond, knowing his son was still struggling with not knowing his past.

Lucas stepped from Blade and allowed him to drink. He watched as Mark stepped from his own horse.

“You’ve been pretty quiet of late. Not really like you to not be talking. When you were growing up, there were so many times that I thought about how nice it would be to have peace and quiet when you were around. But, if you weren’t talking you were daydreaming somewhere and I would have to track you down.”

Mark pulled a bandana from his pocket, knelt down to wet it, before running it over his face and around his neck.

“You really should…” Lucas started to say.

“Should what? Talk? Talk about someone I can’t remember,” Mark stated bitterly. “Find out the answers to who I used to be? It’s not any use. What if my memories never come back? Then what?”

“We’ll face that bridge, if and when we come to it. Mark, this pond, when you were younger and whenever you needed time alone to think, you’d ride up here by yourself. I brought you here so you would know about it and if you need to get away, this is a quiet place where you can come. Maybe this might be the trick to getting your memory back.”

Both got back in the saddle and rode for the homestead.

*****

After they had eaten supper and the children were put to bed, Mark and Hope sat on the porch of their home. Lucas and Milly walked over to share a little of the evening.

Lucas spoke, “Mark, we don’t know why God hasn’t allowed your memories to return nor when he will, but we have to have faith that there’s a reason why.”

“Faith… How much faith am I supposed to have?” Mark asked dejectedly.

“You asked that exact question a number of years ago, Mark,” Milly stated as she sat down next to Lucas. “You and Lucas, and a lot of other ranchers, had lost your herds to hoof and mouth disease, for a second time. North Fork almost died, so many people moved away. Your father went to look for a job and left you in our care, Micah’s and mine, until he could return.”

Milly paused as she remembered the heartache they all went through. She fervently hoped that this might spark a little of Mark’s memory to return.

“Your father couldn’t tell you, or any of us, where he was going, only Micah knew. Micah told me one day, that it could mean your father’s life if word were to get out about what he was doing. The only explanation your father gave any of us for why he was going, was that he was looking for some way to be able to continue to raise you. I don’t’ think the two of you had ever been separated for that long. While he was gone, we received no word, for over two months. In time, you thought your father had given up and abandoned you, especially after so many of the families started returning and North Fork came back to life.” Milly hesitated again, looking carefully into Mark’s face. “It was the hardest time in my life, watching as you became more… lonesome… dejected. One day, you came back to the ranch. You had plans to clean up the house and live here, on your own. When we found you, you asked Micah and me how much faith was a person supposed to have. Micah said some pretty harsh words to you that day. You were barely thirteen and making plans to dirt farm and give up on your education. You admitted to us that you gave up on your father, because you felt he had given up on you. That you had lost as much as he had, if not more, because you felt you’d also lost him. It hurt to hear you speaking in such a fashion. It was a few minutes later that you started calling ‘pa’ ‘pa’, over and over again, and then you ran out, up to the rise over there and there your father was. I thought my heart was going to jump from my chest when I saw the two of you together. It was the sweetest reunion I ever saw. Mark, I’m telling you this so you’ll understand… you have to have just as much, if not more faith, now, and not give up. Because the moment you give up, that could be one moment too soon.”

*****

It had been ten days since Mark had returned and North Fork was ready to hold the Summer Social and celebrate Johnny and Lou’s seventh wedding anniversary. Mark waved as Jake helped Gwen into the buggy and they drove on to town. Mark helped load his family into their buckboard and followed his parents to North Fork. He had given in to learning all he could about himself and tried to remember everything his family was telling him about various townspeople. The closer they got to town, the more nervous he became.

“I can’t do this,” he declared as he halted the team.

“Mark, you can. Johnny and my father, they’ve been talking with people in town and asked them to give you the time and space you need to remember. Besides, I’ll be right beside you the whole evening. As will Pa and Ma. And you did promise Myra a dance tonight. Please, we don’t have to stay late, but we do need to attend.”

*****

Most of the townsfolk pleasantly wished the McCain families a good afternoon when they arrived and then made their leave. Mark was thankful that he had family to help run interference on his behalf. Mark’s family kept him from most of the prying eyes of the new comers to town. People would quickly avert their eyes as he looked around.

Finally, it was six o’clock and the band struck up a lively tune. Mark watched as the men and women danced. Seeing the twirling colors of the women’s dresses and skirts and hearing all the laughter, improved Mark’s attitude a little bit. When the first song came to an end, most of the people were laughing and breathing heavily from their exertions, as they exited the dance square.

Hope had just taken their plates when Mark saw the man who was his uncle and a woman, both carrying bundles in their arms, and a young girl approaching him.

“Hello Mark,” Johnny said.

“I understand congratulations are in order, Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen. My father said you had twin sons,” Mark replied.

“Yes, David Jonathan and Andrew Mark. Would you like to hold your cousins?” Colleen asked.

“I guess so.”

One by one Mark held his cousins in his arms.

“Does this bring back any memories from when your twins were babies?” Colleen asked, then immediately apologized. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair for me to ask.”

“That’s okay. Guess we’re all getting anxious if I’ll ever get my memories back,” Mark replied as he handed the last baby back to his uncle.

Hope returned and took turns holding one and then the other Gibbs’ babies.

The band started playing a very slow tune, when Hope reached to Mark, grabbed his hands and said, “I believe you reserved this dance for me,” and led him to the dance square.

Quickly, Lucas led Milly, while Johnny Drako led a very pregnant Lou to the dance floor. In short order they were joined by Micah and Hattie, and others from town.

Later that night, during one of the intermissions for the band, Lou presented Johnny with a gift, a peace-maker special with intricately carved handle.

“This is a very appropriate gift. Though I didn’t have a shotgun wedding, I have a peace-maker anniversary!” Johnny stated loud enough for everyone around him to hear the amusement in his voice. As he looked to Lou, he smiled as he saw her temper start to rise.

“Tis not funny!” Lou called.

“Oh, I thought this was a peace offering, for me having to deal with the condition that you’re in?” Johnny couldn’t help but tease his wife, he truly enjoyed riling her.

“Tis all yer fault!” Lou declared, very brash.

“Can’t be all my fault!” Then lowering his voice, placed his hand to her very pregnant belly, and whispered into his wife’s ear, “I seem to remember you enjoying our lovemaking every bit as much as I did.”

“Johnny Drako!” Lou gasped.

“Yep, that’s what you said afterwards!” Johnny retorted with a large smile on his face.

*****

Hope could tell that the evening was starting to wear on Mark when she told Lucas and Milly that they were going to head on back to the ranch.

“But please, don’t feel you have to shorten your evening just because of us. Stay here and have fun,” Hope insisted.

“No, we should head on home as well,” Lucas stated. “Though I do think that Jake will be a little disappointed that Gwen will be leaving so early in the evening.”

“I already spoke with Gwen, and Hattie and Micah. She’ll spend the night with them and then Jake will bring her home tomorrow evening. They deserve an afternoon together, tomorrow.”

Both McCain families loaded their children into their buckboards and headed home. Hope started humming a tune that she had heard during the evening as she held their daughter in her arms.

“After a wonderful evening like tonight, I could fall in love with you all over again,” Mark stated as Hope to lean against his shoulder. Cautiously, Mark placed his arm around Hope’s shoudlers.

*****

Mark had spent most of the afternoon at the pond and was leaning back against the tree, tossing pebbles into the water in front of him. In just a week, his twin sons would turn four. Though he was enjoying the life he was living, he felt like an outsider looking in. He still couldn’t remember his past and each day it was growing more frustrating. Today, he just needed to get away from all the reminders. Reminders of what he didn’t remember.

Hearing a horse snorting roused Mark from his contemplations.

“Didn’t mean to interrupt your thoughts, just wanted to water my horse,” the man said.

“That’s okay. I need to be getting back anyway.” Mark picked up his hat and stood up. He looked at the stranger watering his horse.

“Can I ask you a question?” the man asked.

“Sure,” Mark replied.

“Is this McCain property that I’m on?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lucas and Mark McCain?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Does Milly Scott still live around these parts?” the man asked.

“I don’t rightly know of any Milly Scott, but I know Lucas McCain is married to a woman named Milly.”

“Oh, and Lucas let’s you trespass on his property?”

“I’m not trespassing on my own property,” Mark replied.

The stranger looked kind of funny towards Mark and asked, “Then you’d be Mark McCain?”

“That’s what they tell me?”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you said, they tell you?”

“It’s a long story, but I don’t remember anything prior to a month ago. Had a stranger come to town and shot me from my horse, when I came too,.. Nothing. The family’s trying to help...”

“You’re here trying to remember on your own?”

“It’s a little much, not knowing who you are,” Mark replied.

“I think I can understand.”

“I don’t remember any of them. Nothing. The town’s people and my family know more about me, than I do and it’s… I came up here to get away from all of them for a while.”

The stranger pushed his hat back on his head and stepped away from his horse as the horse drooled water from its mouth.

“Do you know me and my Pa?” Mark asked.

“Sort of. Guess it was eleven years ago that I rode through here last.”

“Can you help me? I mean, maybe if I hear from someone else, things that happened. Oh Mister, please?”

“I’ll tell you all that I know, but you have to promise me, you won’t tell your folks that I’m here. At least, not yet.”

“Not yet?”

“I’ll explain as we talk. We can meet here again tomorrow, say one o’clock?”

“Sure,” Mark replied. “By the way, doesn’t exactly seem proper for me to call you mister all the time.”

“My name’s Chase. Harry Chase.”

“Mr. Chase, Harry. It’s a pleasure meeting you… again.” Mark shook hands with Harry then grabbed the reins of his horse and headed back home…

*****

The following afternoon Mark returned to the pond, he felt excited, maybe today would be the day. He turned as he heard a horse approaching.

“Afternoon, Mark!” Harry called.

“Afternoon, Harry,” Mark replied.

“So, where do you want to begin?” Harris asked as he stepped from his horse.

“I don’t know. How long have you known my Pa?”

“He was my training officer back in the war, before I was shipped out.”

“The War? Between the States?”

Harry nodded. He continued to tell of how scared he was as a young man. He’d heard of the atrocities, brothers against brothers, fathers against sons, “But you weren’t a man if you didn’t step up to serve. Defend what was right against what was wrong.”

Mark spent the afternoon listening, envisioning Lieutenant McCain commanding the enlisted men. He listened as Harry told of the battles he had been in and his field promotions. Before Mark knew it, it was time he needed to get home.

“Tomorrow’s Sunday and I’m usually expected to spend the afternoon at the ranch, with my family. Can we meet again Monday afternoon?” Mark asked as he tightened the cinch to Copper’s saddle.

“Sure, Mark. Monday afternoon.”

Though Harry’s talks hadn’t brought Mark’s memory back, he was feeling a little better, knowing that he was learning something he wasn’t expected to really know about his Pa.

*****

Harry had been in town for almost four days and except for Sunday, he had met Mark every day at the pond. When not at the pond he’d kept to the hotel or saloon. He had been able to confirm that Milly McCain was the former Milly Scott. He listened as the town’s people would talk and gossip. Each night as he lay down in bed, he pulled his Bible to his chest, soon, very soon, you’ll be back in my arms, where you belong. The following morning, Harry woke and realized, today was the day that he was to put his life back together.

*****

Mark rapidly got to his feet as Harry finished speaking. “You! You were the one! You tricked Milly into caring for you by saying you were there when her brother was killed?” Mark yelled as a piece of his memory came back. “You drove Milly away from Pa! Because of you she left town, she left us! You bastard!” Mark yelled and tried to run for his horse, stopping when he heard the sound.

Harry stood and watched. He was quite surprised at the reaction of his ‘new’ friend, causing him to draw his gun and cock it.

“Mark, we’re friends. Friends don’t talk to friends like that.”

“Friends don’t draw guns on their friends, either. What do you want with me?” Mark demanded as he turned around to face Harry.

“From you? Nothing. I’m here to get what should have been mine and you’re going to help me get it. Though I am surprised that of all times, you chose now to get your memory back.”

“Not all of it, but you… I remember you and what you did.”

“That’s a little too bad, for you,” Harry Chase stated as he moved his gun, motioning Mark to get to his horse.

“What do you want?” Mark demanded.

“Like I said, I want what’s rightfully mine. You and your Pa have each other, the Rifleman and the Lawman. Made for pretty interesting reading. Didn’t realize that Milly would have turned around and married your Pa, she’s mine.”

“Yours? You deceived her and made her care for you over nothing but a bunch of lies you told her about you and her brother! How can you think she’ll ever care for you?!”

“When I have what’s most precious to her, she’ll come with me and we’ll be one happy family.”

“Family… NO! I won’t let you!” Mark yelled as he realized what Harry might be talking about.

“You can ride with me and be part of the family or I can tie you up here or shoot you. One way or the other, I’ll get your sister. As for your brothers, well, maybe I’ll be nice and let your Pa keep his other sons. With or without your help, I’ll get what’s rightfully mine,” Harry stated as he motioned Mark to get in the saddle.

As they rode to town, Mark saw the ominous clouds coming across the plains. He grew concerned about what Harry Chase had in store for him and his sister and just how he was going to use them to get to Milly.

*****

Harry followed Mark back to North Fork and stopped just outside the school grounds. Mark trotted his horse to the steps of the school house, looking back over his shoulder to see Harry nod at him. “Percy,” Mark hollered over the winds, “Where’s Gabby?”

“I dismissed the children early because of the storm coming, she left here not ten minutes ago,” Percy replied. “I told her to head to Johnny and Colleen’s to wait for you or Lucas.”

Mark turned his horse and headed back to Harry.

“Looked real good there Mark. Didn’t look like you did anything to tip the ‘schoolmarm’ off.”

“Not with you threatening to kill him.”

“Where’s your sister?”

“He dismissed the children and sent Myra to my aunt and uncle’s to wait for me.”

“Then let’s be a good big brother and ride and get her.” As they rode, Harry turned his collar up as the wind started blowing the rain.

Once there, Mark saw his uncle running from the front door to greet them. Mark was informed that Myra had not come to their home. Mark twisted around in the saddle, they’d come by the main road, now his mind raced on the shortcut he’d heard Gabby talking about. Mark whirled his horse and without a goodbye, raced homeward. The sheeting rain hurt as it stung his face. The full fury of the storm was upon them and the temperature began to drop. Mark could care less that Harry Chase was behind him, he had to find his sister. Bits of hail struck him as he urged Copper on faster. He raced onwards to the shortcut. Lightning illuminated the darkening sky as they reached the river and saw it was already swollen.

“What are you up to, boy?!” Harry yelled as Mark pulled his horse to a stop.

“My sister didn’t go to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s. I think she took a shortcut to head home by herself!” Mark yelled back.

He waited for the next bolt of lightning and saw what he feared; standing on the far side was a horse with its haunches to the wind. He pushed Copper across the deepening water. Mark recognized the horse his sister rode, Blue Boy.

“GABBY!” Mark yelled over the storm. “GABBY!” Mark jumped from his horse and searched the ground, realizing there were no child foot prints in the mud. He ran back to the river, seeing how much more it had swollen in the past few minutes. “G-A-B-B-Y!”

“What do you think you’re up to?” Harry yelled.

“That’s my sister’s horse! There aren’t any footprints in the mud! Gabby had to get swept downriver as she tried to cross!”

“She’s what, six? She’s dead. She’d never survive the waters!”

“She’s a strong swimmer! She’s a McCain!” Mark turned, ran, and dove into the river before Harry could react.

The water struck Mark like a sledge hammer, driving the breath from his lungs. He fought the current, remembering years ago when he was able to rescue… He remembered, he had been swept away once before… That he had been trying to rescue a child who had just been barely out of his reach as he swam to... His thoughts returned to his sister and he had no idea where she was other than somewhere in the waters.

Mark struggled to keep his head above the water, but allowed the current to carry him freely. He had no idea how much time had lapsed, when a bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, showing him the river starting to turn up ahead. As the currents tossed him about, in the next lightning bolt, he thought he saw a small figure clinging to a fallen tree lodged between a couple of boulders in the middle of the river. Mark started swimming and kicking, trying to set himself up to reach the tiny figure.

“GABBY!” Mark yelled. “I’M HERE!”

He grabbed around her waist and pulled her close to him, just as she lost her strength to hold on. Together they struggled to keep their heads above the water as they were forced further down river. There was so much debris in the raging water and Mark did his best to protect his sister. Neither had control over where they were taken, yet Mark struggled to keep Myra close to him and not let the current rip her from his grasp. Through the flashes of lightning, Mark saw the landscape change as they passed through canyons and arroyos. In time, the fury of the storm lessened and the water calmed and spread out into the flat lands. Mark finally found that he could have some control over where they went as he swam towards the shore. He limped badly as he carried the body of his sister out of the water and placed her to the ground, she coughed and sputtered before she was quiet and he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. The rain continued to fall as the two McCain children lay huddled together.

*****

From as if far away, Mark heard his name being plaintively called, “Mark?” He felt someone shaking his shoulder. He felt stiff and sore and cold. “Mark, please wake up?”

Mark opened his eyes to see his sister kneeling next to him.

“Gabby? What?” Mark asked as he sat up.

“You came! I prayed, asking God to send you or Papa. You came!”

Mark could feel her shivering as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He knew it would only get worse during the night, as the temperature continued to drop.

*****

It was raining hard when Milly heard someone knocking at the front door.

“Yes?” Milly asked as she opened the door.

“Hello, Milly,” Harry Chase warmly greeted her as he removed his hat.

“Harry? What?” Milly asked as she recognized him and remembered the last time.

“I came to get what is rightfully mine.”

“Yours? Harry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just leave. You’re not welcome in this home!” Milly demanded.

“You’ll change your mind. At least you will if you ever want to see your precious daughter again.”

“Myra? My husband left earlier this afternoon to bring Myra home from school,” Milly replied.

“She left before he got there. Look out front, don’t you recognize the horses I rode in with?”

Milly stepped to the porch and recognized two of the horses, Mark’s and Myra’s. “What have you done with my children?”

“Nothing, yet. And I won’t do anything to them as long as you come with me.”

“Come with you? I will not!” Milly tried to turn and run, but Harry grabbed her arm.

“If you want to see your daughter and if you want McCain to ever see his son again, you’ll come with me. This isn’t your home!”

Harry pulled Milly from the house, across the porch and to the horses; he pushed her up into the saddle. They rode away leaving Copper standing in the rain.

*****

Gwen called to Hope, “Hope, someone just arrived with two other horses over at Lucas and Milly’s.”

“Who would be out on such a night?” Hope asked as she looked out the window. She saw a man pushing a woman up onto one of the horses. The man grabbed the reins and led the horse and woman away.

“Milly?!” Hope screamed and started for the door.

Jake McCafferty grabbed her arm, “You can’t go out there!”

Hope jerked from Jake’s grasp and ran from the house, with Gwen and Jake close on her heels. She got to the horse left standing and recognized him as Copper,

“Something’s wrong. This is Mark’s horse and I’m sure that man took Milly against her will. She wouldn’t have left Little Ted and Levi in the house alone. Get them over to our house. Would you mind watching them as well?”

“As well? Hope, what are you planning?” Gwen asked.

“I’m gonna ride Mark’s horse to town. Pa needs to know.”

“Miss Hope…” Jake tried to stop her, but she was in the saddle and slapping the reins to Copper’s flanks before he could reach for her.

*****

After finding the school house closed for the day, Lucas headed further into town and found Percy Bullock and Stevan Griswald at the hotel restaurant and was informed that Mark had been in town earlier to get Myra.

“Okay, thanks. Guess I’ll head over to the Marshal’s to wait out the storm.”

Lucas led Blade to the livery and then ran back across the street to the Marshal’s Office and didn’t hesitate before entering.

“Hey! What’s the meaning?!” Johnny asked as the wind blew rain through the open door.

“Haven’t seen either of you since the Summer Social and decided to wait out the storm here,” Lucas answered.

“You came all the way to town…? In this storm?” Coltrane asked. “Just to see us?”

“No, in fact, I was here to pick up Myra from school. I saw Percy over at the restaurant and he said Mark was in town earlier to get her. So they’re probably already home and I’m stuck here with you two until the storm lets up,” Lucas laughed.

Into the evening, the men bantered back and forth. Finally, Lucas decided he probably should get something to eat. Johnny accompanied Lucas to the restaurant. Anna, the newest waitress in town, had just removed the last of the dishes from their table and was offering them more coffee when Coltrane ran into the restaurant.

“Lucas, you gotta come to the office, it’s your daughter-in-law! Micah went to get the doctor!”

As the three ran back to the Marshal’s Office, they heard a single gunshot above the rain. Lucas bolted through the door and saw Hope lying on the chaise, soaking wet and covered in mud, wrapped in Hattie’s arms.

“Hope?” Lucas ran over and knelt down next to her. “Hope, what’s wrong? What happened?”

“Pa! I had to get to town,” Hope tried to speak through her sobs. “I couldn’t control him, he was too strong. He ran flat out, but I had to get to town. Something’s wrong!”

“Hope, take deep breaths and try to calm down. Tell me what happened.”

“Gwen,” Hope tried gulping air. “Gwen saw someone arrive at the ranch. He… He forced…,” Hope gasped for air.

“Breathe, Hope. Try to slow your breathing.”

Lucas put his hand to Hope’s face, making sure she kept eye contact with him. So much like he’d had to do at times with Mark when he was younger.

“A man arrived, leading two horses. He had to have forced Milly to go with him. She wouldn’t have just left the boys at the house alone! Not without telling us.”

From behind him, Lucas heard Johnny asking Doc Burrage if there was anything he could give Hope to help settle her so she could tell what she needed to say.

“What do you mean, someone forced Milly to go with him?” Lucas asked.

Hope felt someone take her arm, but she didn’t take her eyes of Lucas, she needed his strength to talk. Soon, she felt something prick the skin of her arm.

“She didn’t come and ask us to watch the boys, they just rode away. The man had the reins to the other horse that Milly was on. It was pouring rain, with the storm!”

“Where’s Mark?” Lucas asked.

“He didn’t come home.”

“Pa, the horse the stranger left, it was Copper. I… I…”

“Easy Hope, just try to take deep, slow breaths,” Thadd told her.

Lucas waited before he attempted to ask Hope any more questions, Thadd had asked him to let the medication take affect. It wasn’t but a couple of minutes later when Hope’s breathing and heart rate returned to a more normal rate.

“What happened?” Lucas asked.

“No stranger would have Copper unless something happened to Mark! If something had happened to Mark, why would the stranger take Milly and not me? I had to get to town to tell you. I… I’ve never ridden Copper without Mark behind me. He’s so strong, so much more than Two-Bits. I couldn’t stop him once he got running! With the rain and winds and he was so fast, I could barely see or breathe. It took all I could do to keep him on the road to town. I tried to stop him. Pa, I tried… You had to know someone took Milly and something’s not right with Mark not being home!”

“Lucas,” Coltrane quietly interrupted with a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “What about your daughter? You said Mark had come to town to get her from school.”

“Hope, did Myra make it home from school today?”

“No,” she sobbed. “I thought she stayed in town, the storms.”

“Lucas, that’s all I’m gonna allow her to say until I’ve had a chance to examine her,” Thadd stated as he pushed Lucas out of the way. “Marshal Walker, would you mind carrying her to the clinic?”

“I can carry her,” Lucas stated.

“No, Lucas, I think you and Johnny need to get to your home and figure out what’s happening. I’ll have Hattie help me take care of Hope.”

Lucas watched as Coltrane picked up Hope and carried her out the front door, with Hattie following close behind. As they exited, Nils entered.

“I’m sorry Lucas, there wasn’t anything that could be done,” Nils spoke.

His mind was still trying to understand everything that Hope had tried to tell him, that Lucas couldn’t put his thoughts around what Nils was saying.

“I had to put him down, Lucas. He busted a leg. I couldn’t let him suffer any more. Uh… How’s Hope?”

“What?” Lucas asked, totally confused.

“I was over at Hattie and Micah’s and we seen a rider racing their horse. I saw ‘em trying to stop. It weren’t pretty, the horse slipped and went down in the mud, the rider got thrown. We ran out there and saw it was Hope. I helped Micah carry her over here, didn’t want to move her any further without Doc seeing her. I went back and Copper was struggling to get up. He busted a rear leg. What was Hope doing riding him? He’s way too much horse for someone like her to be riding. Besides with this storm, what’s she doing out anyway?”

“Nils, I’m not sure,” Johnny stated. “Hope came to town to tell us someone forced Milly to go with them. We also found out Mark never made it home with Myra, after school.”

“That don’t make any sense!” Nils declared.

*****

Before leaving the office, Johnny grabbed a badge from the desk drawer and tossed it to Micah. “Keep an eye on my town.” Regardless of the storm, Lucas and Johnny ran to the livery, saddled their horses and headed to the McCain Ranch.

*****

“Gabby, are you hurt?” Mark asked as the moon finally peaked from behind the disbursing storm clouds.

“I’m just wet and cold,” Myra said as her teeth chattered. Mark wrapped his arms around her tighter.

“Why did you head home? Why didn’t you do as Mr. Bullock said and go to Aunt Colleen and Uncle Johnny’s?” Mark asked.

“I didn’t think the rain was going to be that bad. I wanted to get home to show Mama my grades. I’m sorry I got us into this,” Myra stated as she started to cry.

“I know you are. I know you are. Come on, let’s see if we can find a cave or something to use as shelter.”

Mark assisted Myra to her feet and then got to his feet. As he took her hand, his left leg collapsed from underneath him and he fell to the ground.

“Mark!” Myra cried.

“I’m okay, Gabby. My leg just fell asleep. I’ll be okay in a few minutes.” As Mark rubbed at his leg, he knew better, he felt how swollen his knee was. Mark looked around and saw a tree limb he thought he could use as a crutch.

“Gabby, see that branch over there, go fetch it for me, please?” Mark asked.

He watched as Gabby ran to the branch and began dragging it back towards him. Using the branch, Mark climbed to his feet and they set out to find shelter.

*****

Johnny and Lucas arrived at the ranch. Gwen and Jake heard their arrival and met them on the front porch.

“Mr. McCain, did Hope make it to town okay?” Gwen asked.

“She made it to town. She’s at the clinic right now,” Lucas answered.

Johnny motioned for them to get back inside and tell them exactly what had happened. Everything they said was exactly as Hope had told them. Lucas ran to Mark’s desk and pulled open the drawer where Mark kept the cartridges for his rifle and headed back outside. Johnny asked Jake to stay at the ranch and help keep an eye on things.

“Would that be proper?” Jake gulped as he asked.

“Under the circumstances, can you see leaving Gwen and the McCain children here alone?”

“No sir,” Jake gulped.

Johnny stepped to the porch and watched as Lucas examined the ground, he could see the fury his friend was feeling.

“These prints, one’s Copper’s, the other belongs to Blue Boy. Then there’s another I don’t recognize,” Lucas called.

“So, which tracks do we follow? The incoming ones to find out why the stranger had Copper and Blue Boy or the other ones to find out why Milly was taken?”

“Damn it, Johnny! How should I know! They’re all my family!”

As the rain dissipated, they heard the sounds of other riders approaching, Lucas had his rifle up and Johnny had his guns drawn when they recognized Coltrane Walker, Seth Lane, and others from North Fork.

“I brought as many men as I could quickly round up,” Coltrane stated as he, and the others, pulled their horses to a stop.

“Lucas,” said Seth. “Micah’s sending wires to all the towns nearby to be on the lookout for Milly, as well as looking for any word on Mark and Myra. We’ll find them. We’ll bring them home.”

“Everyone, we’re going to split into two groups, Coltrane and Seth will lead one group and back track to where the stranger picked up Mark and Myra’s horses. Lucas and I will lead the second group, following the stranger and Milly.”

*****

The next morning, they followed along the creek bank, crawling over the downed trees and driftwood. One pile of logs made a natural dam they had to climb over. Mark crawled ever so carefully, checking for stability before allowing Myra to follow him across. Even with the sun at the mid-day sky, Mark still felt cold, he tried to control his shivering as he reached a hand to help Myra down from the log pile. Mark looked to the next log jam they had to climb over and he over reached his balance as he turned from setting Myra to her feet, he slipped from the wet logs and fell into the water, striking his head on one of the logs.

“Mark!” Myra screamed as he lay unconscious with the water tugging at his body. Myra grabbed his arm and pulled back. “Please God! Let Papa find us!” Myra screamed.

*****

Morning dawned at the McCain ranch and Jake felt very uncomfortable having spent the night there. He picked himself up off the cot and walked to the door to Gwen’s sitting room and placed his ear to the door and heard no sound of her being awake yet. Next, he put his ear to the door of the room where the boys were sleeping. So far, Jake was the only one awake for the day. He exited the house and headed to the barns to start tending to the animals. By the time he returned to the house, Gwen was awake, had already fed Mykaela her bottle, and was just about to put breakfast for everyone else on the table. The boys were quietly sitting, waiting.

Over breakfast, Gwen and Jake discussed the situation and felt that they really needed to get the children to town… not knowing why Lucas had said Hope was at the clinic… neither felt they were really ready to take care of all the children by themselves. They decided that while Gwen tidied up the house, Jake would go out and hitch the team.

The streets of North Fork were just beginning to hustle and bustle when Jake stopped the team in front of the clinic. Doc Burrage was just opening the clinic when saw them coming up the street and he waited.

“Morning Jake, Gwen,” Thadd called.

“Morning Doc,” Jake replied. “We brought the McCain children to town, it felt awkward just the two of us at the ranch with them… They said Miss Hope was brought here last night.”

Jake stopped when he heard his mother’s voice calling to him.

“Mother,” Jake called.

Shortly, Micah came from the Marshal’s Office and the boys all called out for their Grandpa Micah.

“Jake, Gwen, Mrs. McCafferty, why don’t we bring Hope’s children inside. Micah, would you mind taking Lucas and Milly’s children over to Hattie at the day care?” Thadd asked.

“Sure, no problem,” Micah offered as he helped Little Ted down and then picked Levi up and carried him on his hip.

Gwen carried Mykaela into the clinic while Jake and his mother helped get Josh, Zach, and Eli inside. Thadd motioned for them to wait in the hallway while he opened the door to the room where Hope was sleeping and saw that she was just waking for the morning.

“Good morning, Hope. How are you feeling this morning?”

“I’m so sore. I don’t know that there’s anywhere that I don’t ache,” Hope replied as she tried stretching and moaned at the effort.

You have some visitors in the hallway who really want to see you.”

Hope looked up to see Gwen holding Mykaela in her arms, she immediately told everyone to come in side. Gwen handed Hope’s daughter to her and then told the boys they should quietly sit in the chairs in the room.

“Miss Hope, I’m not sure what all happened last night, but until you and Mark can return to the ranch, I’ll stay out there and keep an eye on the homestead. Don’t you worry about anything out there,” Jake offered.

Everyone could see the worry in Hope’s face as she thought on what could have happened to Mark and just who had taken Milly the night before.

“Hope, I’ll let you know,” Thadd stated. “After I sedated you last night, Lucas, Johnny, Coltrane, your father, and others, they all headed out to the ranch.”

“When they arrived, Mr. McCain asked us to tell him everything we saw. Marshal Drako told Jake to stay at the ranch last night. We didn’t do anything improper,” Gwen quickly added. “Jake slept on the cot in the front room, the one that Mark had been sleeping on.”

“The rain had just come to an end when the others arrived and they split up and headed to out look for Miss Milly and Mark,” Jake informed the others.

“Hope, once Doc says you’re okay to be released, I insist that you and your children come to the parsonage and stay with us. With Jake out at your place and Sarah off to nursing school again, our home is going to be quite lonely.”

“Thank you, Maggie. I appreciate it,” Hope answered.

“Oh, and Gwen, the offer is extended to you too,” Maggie quickly added.

“Thank you, but it wouldn’t be quite proper for me to say there. I can get a room at the hotel,” Gwen replied, blushing as she thought of staying at the same home where Jake had grown up and lived.

“I’ll hear nothing of the sort,” Thadd stated. “Abigail and I have a spare room at our place and I know that Abigail would love to have you stay with us. There, it’s all settled.”

“When can I be released?” Hope asked.

“I’ll let Gwen and Jake take your boys to the parsonage, I want to examine you one more time this morning. Then, Maggie, I’d like you to escort Hope to your home. But before you leave here, I think Mykaela might enjoy being nursed,’ Thadd stated as he saw how fussy Mykaela was becoming.

*****

Myra still had a hold of Mark’s arm, quietly crying, praying for someone to help her and Mark. With the sleeve of her torn and dirty dress, she wiped at the tears falling down her creeks. As the sun approached late afternoon, Mark started to rouse.

“Mark, wake up!” Mark called.

“Gabby?”

“Mark, please, wake up!”

“What happened?” Mark asked as he tried to sit up.

“You fell and hit your head. You been sleeping for hours!”

“I what?” Mark asked groggily as he put a hand to his head, trying to stop his vision from spinning. He saw the blood on his hand as he pulled it away from his head. He turned over and struggled to his knees and crawled from the water. When he got to a large rock on the riverbank, he tried to use it to help him get to his feet. He head throbbed harder and his vision spun faster, causing him to fall back to his knees.

“Mark, please… We got to get home. Mama and Papa have to be so worried about us.”

“Worried? Gabby, I can’t,” Mark said as he raised his head to look at his sister. Even that little movement sent his stomach into convulsions; luckily, it had been some time since he’d eaten so there was nothing to come up, other than bile.

“Gabby, I can’t,” Mark finally stated as he collapsed to his side.

“What do you mean you can’t? We have to get home!” Myra pleaded.

“Sis, I can’t see straight. I can’t even stand. Listen, you’ll have to follow the river and get help,” Mark said as he hugged his middle.

“Mark, I can’t leave you!”

“Just follow the river. When you get tired, stop and rest. Don’t over drink, but drink just enough to satisfy your thirst. If you get too hot, just lie down at the river’s edge and soak your dress. You’ll eventually come to a river crossing. Follow the wagon trails and they’ll lead you to people. Tell them what happened. Ask them to get you home,”

“But I don’t know where we are. I don’t know who to ask for help…”

“Gabby, I can’t go on, but you can do it. You have to get back to Pa and to Ma. I’m counting on you,” Mark stated before blackness enveloped him again.

Myra looked around. She’d never felt so scared in her life. Her parents or Mark and Hope had always been there to look out for her, but now… She waited a while longer to see if Mark would wake up again. Finally she decided she had to do this, for Mark. Myra leaned over and kissed Mark on the cheek and whispered, “I’ll bring help. Hold on.” Finally getting to her feet, Myra started walking, heading up river.

Hunger gnawed at her belly as she walked. Occasionally Myra would stumble and fall, yet pick herself back up and continue. The sun was setting when she found a large grouping of boulders to hide behind. She cried as she heard the animals of the night come to life, the howl of a distant wolf or coyote or the hoot of an owl.

She looked to the heavens and prayed, “God, please send someone to find me and help Mark. I miss my Mama and Papa. Please, I promise I’ll be good.” Myra curled up and cried herself to sleep.

*****

The sun was barely painting the sky pink when Myra woke. She walked to the water’s edge and laid down on her stomach to take a drink. She took a moment to look at her reflection in the water, “You can do this Miss Myra. Your brother is depending on you.” She got to her feet, looked around, and started walking again.

By lunch time, she came to a crossing of the river with plenty of wagon tracks as well as horse and oxen hoof prints. She decided to rest beside the crossing. She pulled her boots off and dumped out the sand and pebbles that had accumulated. In time she heard a noise that startled her, she jumped down from the tree stump and hid behind it.

“I know I saw someone. You just come on out from where your hiding!” the man’s voice demanded.

Myra slowly stood up to see an oxen drawn covered wagon with an older man and woman sitting in the front seat, the man holding a shotgun in his hands, pointed at her.

“Josiah, it’s just a child! Put that down!” the woman demanded as she placed her hand on the barrel of the shotgun and pushed it downward. “Child, what are you doing out here all alone?” the woman asked as she and the man jumped down from the wagon.

“Are you good folk?” Myra asked.

“Good folk?” the man asked.

“According to the Bible. Are you good folk? Do you help people in trouble?”

“Are you in trouble?” the woman asked.

“I am, but my brother, he’s in more trouble than me,” Myra answered.

“Child, where’s your brother?” the man asked.

“I left him back there yesterday,” Myra stated as she pointed down river. “He was hurt real bad. We got caught up in the river after the storm the other day.”

The man and the woman looked to each other, figuring the girl’s brother was probably dead, drowned in the river and she thought he was sleeping.

“Child, come with us, we’ll take care of you. What’s your name?”

“Myra, Myra McCain. My brother, his name is Mark McCain. He’s a U.S. Marshal, least he was before he forgot. Please, will you help me get help for him?”

“Miss McCain, we’ll get you back to our place and then come back and follow your tracks. We’ll find your brother and bury his body.”

“He ain’t dead!” Myra screamed as she pulled away from the people. “NO! He ain’t dead! He’s just hurt! Please, just come back with me! You’ll see!”

*****

Harry pushed Milly up into the saddle and holstered his gun as he went to mount his own horse. He reached for the reins to the horse Milly was riding and then kicked his horse into a lope. Milly’s head jerked back as Blue Boy picked up the lope and followed.

Milly had never been in the saddle before and was extremely sore when Harry finally called for a halt the following evening in front of the office to an old abandoned mine.

“Let me help you down from there!” Harry stated.

“Why are you doing this? Where are Mark and Myra?” Milly pleaded as she looked around.

“I said get down,” Harry stated looking at her.

He took the horses and led them into what once was the livery. “Ain’t nothing around here for miles, if you choose to run. Do it and you might as well have pulled the trigger on your children.”

“Where are they? Where are Myra and Mark?” Milly demanded.

“You don’t need to worry about them right now. You have other concerns to which you need to focus your attention.”

After tending to the horses, Harry led Milly back to the office.

“Harry, why? Why are you doing this?”

“Because you belong to me. I should have been the one you married, not McCain. He’s not good enough for you. All he did was brag about himself and his boy, the Lawman.” Harry led Milly to the far side of the office, he pulled back the dusty sheet from the chaise. Milly sat down and then Harry sat down next to her. Milly tried to keep proper distance between them, but Harry pulled her closer. “He didn’t love you enough to mention you in those newspaper articles. What man seeks to keep all the glory for himself and not brag about how beautiful of a wife he has.” Harry ran the back of his hand against Milly’s cheek as she turned her face away. “He can’t appreciate you like I can. If he truly loved you he would have told the whole world about you.”

“He didn’t because he wanted to protect me and our children!” Milly demanded.

“So he says. If it were me being interviewed, the whole story would be about you. In time, I’ll see that you forget about him. You’ll come to love me, like you did before.”

“I didn’t love you, then,” Milly retorted.

“That’s what Lucas convinced you. I brought you closer to your brother, like you had been before he went off to war. You know different, in your heart, you longed for the memory of your brother and you loved me. I’ll give you all the time you need, but one day, you’ll realize Lucas McCain never loved you, not the way I did or still do.”

“Harry, I don’t love you,” Milly cried out.

“Maybe not now, but in time you will. In time it will be me, you’ll long to have my arms wrapped around you. We’ll make our own family. You’ll be the belle of all the balls I take you to. When we arrive and are presented, everyone will say, there is a happy couple, truly in love, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Chase.”

“Harry I can’t and won’t love you. I love Lucas and the children we have together! I’ll never love you!” Milly replied, coldly.

“You will!”

Harry grabbed Milly by the arm and turned her towards him. He pressed himself closer to her. He could sense her fear… His demeanor changed. Harry gently guided her towards the kitchen.

“Now, you’ll fix your husband a proper meal for the night. And don’t make me regret not tying you so you can’t get away! Remember, I know where Mark and you daughter are.”

With no other choice, Milly resigned herself to fix a meal for the two of them. As she went through the cupboards, she realized that all the canned food was new and there was no dust or dirt build up on the cans. She became alarmed, how long had Harry had been planning this?.

Over supper, Milly listened as Harry talked of plans for their future, their wedding, the home he would purchase for her, the parties they would attend and the children they would have together. She bolted from the table and ran to the door before Harry stopped her.

“Darling, what’s distressed you so much?” Harry asked as he grabbed her arm and lovingly ran his hand down her cheek, brushing away tears.

“You have! You’ve forced me from those I love! My family!”

“Milly, I’m all the family you need. We’ll create a large family of our own, just wait and see. The family we’ll have together will be so much more than what you’ve left behind. You were right to run away with me. I’ll protect you.”

Knowing that she could no longer bear children tore Milly up inside, but she wasn’t about to tell Harry about the truth. Harry led her back to the table.

“Milly, you’re just upset and scared, all women get that way before their wedding day. Please, come back to the table so we can talk of our plans.”

*****

Josiah drove their oxen team along the bank of the river while his wife Ester had an arm wrapped around Myra, in the seat between them. When the team could go no further, Josiah handed the reins to his wife and then he jumped down. As he walked along the riverbank, he looked down to the child-size footprints and then back to his wife, until his wagon was no longer in sight. As he rounded a rock outcropping, he saw a pile of shattered trees piled across the river. Carefully he made his way up to the top of the pile, testing each log with part of his weight, checking its stability before he committed his full weight. At the top, he looked down and saw the body of a young man lying a short distance from the river, curled up next to a boulder.

As slowly as Josiah climbed up the pile, he took just as much time climbing down. Once he had both feet on the ground, he quickly made his way to the body. The first thing he noticed was the blood-encrusted, matted hair as he pushed the body onto its back. Josiah placed his ear to the man’s chest and faintly heard a heart beat. Rocking back to his heels, Josiah pushed his hat back on his head, shaking it in an unbelieving manner.

It was forty minutes before he returned to his wagon, “Ester, its like she said, her brother is bad hurt on the other side of that log pile. You head back to the ranch and get some of the men back here. We’ll try to get the boy out of there and to town, to the doc. I’ll stay here and wait, in case he wakes.”

“I want to stay,” Myra spoke.

“No,” Ester emphatically stated. “You’ll stay with me and we’ll wait for the men folk to bring your brother back to the ranch.”

“Ester, you might as well return with the men, we’ll need the wagon to get the young man to town.”

*****

The sun indicated it was late afternoon before the men arrived where Josiah waited. He gave them instructions on how they were going to retrieve the injured man from the other side of the logjam.

“Mr. Jessop, I brought some dynamite along. After we get him to this side, we can’t leave this log jam here,” a ranch hand said.

“Good thinking, Potter,” Josiah answered.

After carefully moving Mark to the far side of the log jam and then far enough away to not be in any danger from flying debris, the others returned to set the dynamite. Josiah lit the fuse and everyone ran for cover, making sure those responsible for handling the horses had a tight hold on all the reins.

Esther and Myra returned as the sun started sinking behind the distant hills. Carefully, the men carried Mark and placed him in the back of the wagon, with Myra climbing up to sit right beside him. After sending most their hired help back to the ranch, two hands stayed with the Jessop’s as they slowly traveled north to Bisby.

*****

Lucas, Johnny and the others in their posse followed the tracks to the town of Bisby. They stopped at the General Store to refresh their supplies before heading back out to look for Milly. As they were putting the last of their provisions in their saddlebags, they heard, “LUCAS!” Turning, he saw Coltrane, Seth, and the others riding into town.

“What are you doing here and not following Mark and Myra’s trail?” Lucas demanded as he ran up to Coltrane’s horse and grabbed hold of a rein.

“Lucas, we are. We followed Blue Boy’s and Copper’s tracks back to the river. We’ve been following the river the whole time. It’s been difficult with all the debris we’ve encountered. The flash flood that came through did a hell of a lot of damage, trees, bushes, boulders, dead carcasses. Each time we come to a jam, we been sifting through it to make sure… Lucas, we were getting low on supplies so we decided to come into town and send a wire back to North Fork inquiring if you’d had any better luck. I see you haven’t either.”

“No,” Johnny solemnly stated as he returned from the Sheriff’s Office.. “But we’re still following the tracks. I asked the Sheriff if he knew of any place around here where a person could hide out for a while and not be noticed. He said about ten miles out of town, there’s an old, abandoned mine site, with shacks and small homes, that if someone had planned it out, they could live there for a long time with none the wiser.

Coltrane looked to Lucas and asked, “You think whoever took Milly, is laying a trap for you out at this mine? We shouldn’t take any chances Lucas, the rest of us will accompany you. If there’s a gang hiding out, we don’t want to be too few when we rescue Milly.”

Lucas nodded.

The two small posses merged into one and before they could ride off, the noonday stage arrived in town. No one in the posse paid much attention until they heard, “McCain? Lucas McCain?”

Lucas turned to see a man stepping out from the stage, waving his hat, and running over to meet them.

“I’m right, you’re Lucas McCain?” the man asked.

Lucas was unsure how to read the man, “I am and just what business is that of yours.”

“I just… Not too many people fit your description. Saw you long time ago, back in the war.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but we’re on the trail of the man who took my wife against her will,” Lucas stated.

“Mr. McCain, my name is Wilton Chase. I believe you know my brother…”

“Harry Chase,” Lucas spewed as he grabbed the man by the collar of his jacket as he put two and two, together. “What has he done with my wife!”

The others tried to pull Lucas from Wilton.

“Please, Mr. McCain, he’s not in his right mind.”

Johnny and Coltrane finally got Lucas pulled from Wilton.

“What do you mean, he’s not in his right mind? Has he harmed my wife?”

“I pray, no. Mr. McCain, ten years ago, my brother returned to St. Louis. He spoke of what he had done while visiting North Fork and meeting a Miss Milly Scott.”

“Milly Scott is now Mrs. Lucas McCain and has been for seven and a half years,” Drako stated.

“My brother is a sick man, mentally. Shortly after his return, our family placed him in one of the better psychiatric hospitals in the state. I’d visit him quite regularly and we’d talk. I’m afraid his mental illness caused him to create an unreal world in which he lives. He spoke all the time of his fiancée, Miss Scott. We went along with him, the doctors said it was best to do that instead of upsetting him. He’d get quite agitated when we would try to tell him the truth. Two months back, I went to visit him and he had gone missing during the night. After searching his room, we found newspaper articles about you and your son. I regret to say that the notations Harry wrote, left little doubt of where his mindset was, but I didn’t dare head straight to North Fork. I figured, it would be best for me to follow Harry directly. I followed him and eventually ended up in Orla, Texas. While there, I found out he had requested maps of mines in the area surrounding Bisby. With some of the provisions the store keeper stated he had purchased, I figured he was planning to hide out somewhere around here. I had hoped to catch up with him before he did any damage. Mr. McCain, in his mind, your wife is still in love with him. I don’t think he’d do anything to harm her, he loves Miss Scott.”

“Mrs. McCain,” Coltrane corrected.

“I’m sorry, I know. Maybe we were wrong to do as the doctors suggested, but we never thought he’d get away from the hospital. They were quite distressed to find out that he had somehow managed to… ‘leave’. Please let me get a horse and go with you. I can convince Harry to let her go, if he really does have her.”

“You think there’s any doubt? He kidnapped a married woman, forced her from her home, leaving her two small children alone. And then us following their trail here?” Drako demanded.

“Chase, you should also know that two of Lucas’ other children are missing and your brother, undoubtedly, had something to do with their disappearance as well,” Coltrane added.

“My God, how old are the children involved?” Wilton asked ashamedly.

“Mark’s a grown man, but there’s Lucas’ daughter who’s six. Then there are the two babies, one who will soon be four and the other who’s two, who your brother forced their mother from,” Seth answered.

“My God, Harry, what have you done?” Wilton asked as he looked to the heavens.

“Get your horse, we ride in ten minutes,” Lucas stated as he turned and walked back to his horse.

*****

Lucas stood in front of Harry, with his rifle pointed at him, as Harry sat and cowered in the corner of the room, highly agitated and talking incoherently. The others rushed into the room behind Lucas with their weapons drawn. They all stared and, at times, they barely could make out “She’s my fiancée” or “We’re getting married” or “My mother would be so proud”.

“Lucas!” they heard a woman scream.

Lucas turned and ran out the doorway into the room next door where he saw Milly standing, tears in her eyes, her hands to her mouth. She just stood there, immobile as Lucas ran to her. With his rifle still in his hand, he wrapped his arms around Milly and pulled her close to him. Only Milly heard Lucas say, “Thank you, God.”

*****

Coltrane pushed Milly and Lucas out of the building. “Lucas, take your wife and head to Bisby. It’ll be a slower ride by horse back to get you back there.”

“I’ll take care of my brother,” Wilton spoke. “When he’s more coherent and calmer, we’ll bring him to the sheriff’s office.”

“I should have killed him,” Lucas stated as he wrapped his arm tighter around Milly.

“You couldn’t, Lucas, and you know it. As much as he hurt us, he can’t hurt us any more. His mind, it’s like he’s built a make believe world. Please Lucas, take me away from him. I just want to get away from here. I want to go home. Do you know where Mark or Myra are? Harry said he had them.”

Lucas placed his left hand to the back of Milly’s head and pulled her closer to his chest as he tearfully said, “No.”

Members of the posse had found where Harry had stabled the two horses. They led them to the front of the office.

Lucas led Milly to Blue Boy, “I can’t Lucas. I can’t ride him alone,” Milly cried, her husband understood.

Johnny Drako held Blade as Lucas mounted and then he helped Milly get in the saddle, in front of Lucas, sitting side saddle. Before Lucas and Milly had gotten fifty yards, Johnny was by their side.

“I ain’t letting the two of you out of my sight until I get you back home,” Johnny stated as he put his hand to his gun.

Trying to add a little levity to the situation, Lucas replied, “I’ll take issue with that when I get my wife to a hotel.”

“Well, lets just say, I’ll be standing guard outside your rooms, then.”

“Rooms?” Milly asked inquisitively.

“You know what I mean, the bathing room and then your sleeping room,” Johnny stated as he shook his head, unbelieving that they both could still tease him after all that had happened.

“Johnny, I don’t think you need to worry. Harry’s mind… warped. I think after he left North Fork, he couldn’t face the reality of who he was and all he had done. He created a world he could live in and one day, his false reality was so overpowering, he had to come back and re-claim me, so his world would be complete. There was never anyone else around.”

“Johnny, thank you my friend. We’ll accept your company, up to a certain point,” Lucas commented as he held Milly tight, while she rested into Lucas’ chest.

It wasn’t the most comfortable way to ride, but Milly wanted nothing to do with being astride a horse on her own. She took comfort in hearing Lucas’ heart beating steadily. She took comfort in the strength she felt in his chest. As they walked along, the steady footfall of the horses’ walk lulled Milly to sleep in Lucas’ arms. Gently Lucas pressed a kiss to the top of her head, thankful she was back in his arms. Now his concern was to get her to town and then try to, somehow, find his eldest son and daughter.

*****

Josiah Jessop drove his oxen pulled wagon on to the main street of Bisby and the group saw a posse racing out of town, heading to the east. He stopped the wagon in front of the doctor’s office. Josiah assisted Ester down from her seat as one of his hands ran to bring the doctor outside.

Only a few moments had passed when an elderly gentleman walked through the doorway with the ranch hand behind him.

“Doc, found this here stranger and his sister yesterday. He’s hurt something bad. From what the child says, they got caught up in that flash flood a few days back,” Josiah stated as they started to remove Mark from the back of the wagon.

“Gently, men. Carry him inside and put him on the bed in the room on the left,” the doc called as he followed them inside.

The doctor shuffled his feet as he shooed everyone from the room so he could tend to his patient.

“But I want to stay with my brother,” Myra pleaded.

“Miss, I think it best you go with Miss Ester. She’ll take good care of you.”

“I don’t want taken care of. Mark needs taken care of. He’s my brother. He wouldn’t of been hurt had I done like I was told!” Myra cried.

“There, there, now child,” Ester picked Myra up into her arms and carried her out. “Just cry yourself. It’s okay for you to cry.”

Doc turned his attention back to his patient. He noticed the dried blood caked in his patient’s hair. He pumped some water into a bowl and placed it on the table next to the bed. Carefully he washed the blood away until he could see the extent of the injury. Shaking his head as he probed the side of his patient’s head, “Ain’t good. Not at all. God, it’s a miracle this young man is still alive.”

After cleaning the wound, shaving away some of the hair, and applying a few stitches, doc wound a bandage around Mark’s head to protect the injury.

Next, he examined his patient’s extremities. Pleased he felt no broken bones in the hands or arms. His examination led to the legs where he found a severely wretched left knee. Doc cut open the pant leg so he could get a better look at the injured leg, “Well, maybe if I just wrap it to keep it stable, but then, in your condition, you’re not going to be jumping up and dancing a jig any time soon.”

He next examined his patient’s chest and back, thankful he could feel no broken ribs.

Doc turned to leave the room and paused at the door, “Young man, I hope you believe in God. It’s gonna take a lot of faith to bring you back and get you on your feet.”

*****

Doc grabbed his cane as he headed to the hotel, where he figured the Jessop’s would have headed with the girl. He entered the hotel and found the three sitting in a corner of the parlor. Myra was the first to see him and jumped up and ran to the doctor.

“Is my brother going to be all right?”

“Whoa there, little lady. Let’s get back to the Jessop’s and we’ll talk.”

The doctor took Myra’s hand and led her back to the corner of the parlor.

“Well doc?” Josiah asked.

“It’s gonna take a lot of prayers and faith to see him through to recovery.” Both Josiah and Ester understood what the doctor wasn’t saying.

“We believe, oh how we believe!” Myra insisted.

*****

It was almost evening and the hotel owner was sitting back, relaxing in a chair on the porch to his establishment when he saw two men and a woman riding up. A man and the woman were on one horse, while the other man rode and led another saddled horse. The hotel owner stood up as he watched the single rider assist the woman down from the horse, then he was amazed at just how tall the other man was as he stepped down from his horse and then wrapped an arm around the woman’s shoulders.

“Sir, we require two rooms for the night,” Lucas stated. “And more importantly, if you have a bathing room, my wife would like to freshen herself up.”

“Yes, yes, I have several rooms still available and up on the second floor, I have indoor plumbing with hot water available for bathing.”

Lucas led Milly inside while Drako took the horses down to the livery. An hour later, Lucas and Milly physically felt rejuvenated, but emotionally, both were still exhausted.

As they reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the lobby of the hotel, Lucas asked the proprietor if the town had a restaurant, and if so, would he provide directions. The owner walked them to the door and pointed them in the right direction.

They walked down the street, arm in arm, with Lucas’ body posture and the grip he had on his rifle daring anyone to come near them. As they passed the Sheriff’s Office, Johnny Drako hailed them and asked if they were heading to supper.

“Yes, would you care to join us?” Milly asked.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Drako replied.

As they walked, Johnny informed them that he had sent a wire informing Micah that Milly was safe.

“I also inquired if there was any word on Mark or Myra,” Johnny stated.

The three entered the restaurant and were greeted by the hostess, before Lucas could say anything to the woman who greeted them, they all heard, “Mama! Papa!” Everyone turned to the direction of the voice and saw Myra running towards them. Lucas and Milly hurried towards their daughter and dropped to their knees and pulled her into a three-way embrace. Tears were streaming down each face, then together, Lucas and Milly held Myra at arms length checking her over. They saw her dress was dirty and torn, but otherwise, she looked to be okay.

“Myra, how?” Milly asked and then didn’t give her a chance to respond before she pulled her tight into another hug.

The Jessop’s stood as they watched the reunion unfold, they made their way to the entrance of the restaurant.

“Excuse me, but, my wife and me don’t mean to be interrupt, but we take it, you’re her parents?” Josiah asked.

“We are,” Lucas responded as he stood.

“My wife and me, we found her yesterday out by the river crossing.”

“Thank you for rescuing our daughter,” Milly stated as she too stood.

“Please, forgive my husband, but my name is Ester and my husband is Josiah Jessop,”

Lucas, Milly, and Johnny introduced themselves and again thanked the Jessop’s for taking care of Myra and bringing her to town.

“Papa, please… they brought Mark too. He’s hurt,” Myra quitely spoke.

“Mark’s here?!” Milly cried.

“He’s over at Doc’s office. Took a hard blow to his head. He’s not been conscious since we found him and brought him to town,” Josiah said.

“If you’d like, we can take you over there?” Ester asked.

“Yes! Please?!” Milly begged.

Before being shown to the doctor’s office, Lucas picked up his daughter and placed her on his hip, while Myra slipped her arms around his neck, as if to never let go. Lucas, Milly, and Johnny followed the Jessop’s to the doctor’s office. As they entered, the elderly doctor stepped from a room, closing the door behind him.

“Doc Ferguson, these here people are the young man’s and his sister’s folks,” Josiah introduced. “My wife and I’ll take our leave. We’ll keep your family in our prayers.”

“Doctor Ferguson, Mr. Jessop said Mark took a hard blow to his head?” Lucas asked.

“He fell trying to help me get down from a pile of logs that was blocking our way,” Myra answered. “He slept for a long time, when he woke, he said he couldn’t see right and he threw up. Told me I had to get help.”

“Mr. and Mrs. McCain?” the doctor asked.

They nodded.

“I’d like to talk with you before I show you to your son’s room. Could you leave young Myra with the Marshal?”

Johnny offered to take Myra. “Myra, what say we go order supper for your Papa and your Mama?”

“Okay,” Myra replied.

After watching Johnny carry Myra on his hip, out the door, Lucas and Milly turned back to the doctor.

“Doctor?” Milly asked.

“This way and we can talk.” Doctor Ferguson showed them to his office and asked them to sit in the chairs.

“From what your daughter just said, it doesn’t surprise me. It confirms my suspicions. Yes, your son took blow to his head. It was severe enough that, I feared, it fractured his skull. Currently, I’d say, he’s in what them fancy hospitals back east call a coma. He’s totally unaware of his surroundings and doesn’t respond to verbal commands or to pain; pain being the pinching of his skin or poking of a needle.”

“How long will he be in this condition?” Lucas asked.

“I don’t know. This is so far beyond my training as a physician. I’m an old man, I came out west to get away from the hustle and bustle. When this town found out I had been a doctor, we’ll, I know enough to tend to colds and broken bones, gunshot and stab wounds, and the occasional baby, but this… While I was examining him, I noticed a number of older injuries. Healed wounds and such,” Doc Ferguson inquired.

“Our son’s the U.S. Marshal for this territory,” Milly replied as she tried to be strong.

“Then I can understand how rough a life he’s lived then. I can’t give you any prognosis. This coma could last a few days, weeks, or he could never recover. Folks, there’s just so much about the human body that we don’t understand. I’m doing all I know how. Keeping him comfortable and away from external stimulus,” Doc stated.

Lucas asked, “But wouldn’t him hearing activity be better? I mean there’s been other times, when he’s been unconscious and having friends and family with him, talking, has helped.”

“Mr. McCain, I’m talking about loud noises. For his brain to heal, he needs quiet. But still, quiet conversations or reading from the bible might work when a person is ‘just’ unconscious, even then, a person can respond to pain. A coma is different. Essentially his brain is barely functioning at keeping his body alive. Now, I won’t say you can’t stay with him and talk to him, but I can’t see there being any benefit to him. Just to you.”

“Doctor,” Milly started to speak, but was too choked up to continue.

“Why don’t I let you go sit with your son? When the Marshal and your daughter return with your supper, I’ll let them in the room. There are a few chairs and a side table you can use to eat from.”

*****

Milly stood to the side to allow Lucas to sit on the edge of the bed, beside Mark, with one hand lovingly and supportingly placed on his shoulder, sharing his pain with him.

“Lucas, we have to believe. To have faith,” Milly quietly spoke.

“Milly, you told Mark a few weeks back about the need to not give up on faith. I don’t know how to any more. He’s been through so much, it’s not fair.” Lucas stood and pulled from Milly’s touch as he strode to the wall and slammed his fist against it as he shouted, “Damn you, God!”

“Lucas!” Milly exclaimed, shocked at what Lucas had just said.

“Milly don’t tell me I’m wrong. God took my first wife from me, leaving me to raise my son on my own and I accepted that. When he was growing up, all he wanted to be was a rancher like me. Like Me! God gave me a talent using a rifle and because of that, my son grew up to become a U.S. Marshal. Because of my rifle, my son is lying there. There’s always going to be some outlaw after him, all because of me and my rifle. It’s not fair that God allowed this to happen to him. If anyone should be lying there, it’s me, not my son!”

“Lucas, you can’t blame God any more than you can blame yourself! It was Mark’s choice to become who he is and yes, because of you he chose to be a lawman. Have you thought that maybe Mark is alive today because of this family’s faith in God? If God weren’t looking out for our son, he might very well be dead?” Milly walked over, stood next to Lucas, and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Lucas, please… We have to believe Mark can pull through this. The two of you, this entire family has been through too much to believe otherwise.”

*****

Once Johnny and Myra returned, they ate supper in the room, quietly telling Johnny some of the information the doctor had told them.

“Myra, aren’t you hungry?” Johnny asked as Myra got up from her chair and went to climb in the bed where Mark lay.

“No sir. The Jessop’s and I ate earlier.” Myra put her hand to Mark’s cheeks like she had seen her Ma do to him or her or their brothers, so many times before. “Mama, is Mark going to wake?”

“We can only pray, sweetheart,” Milly replied.

That evening, Lucas walked Milly back to the hotel to make sure that she and Myra were settled in before he returned to the doctor’s office and his son.

“I’ll return in the morning for the two of you. Right now, I want both of you to get some sleep,” Lucas stated before he kissed both of them goodnight.

*****

After Lucas closed the door, Milly turned to Myra and picked her up.

“I’m so thankful that you’re all right,” Milly stated as she hugged her daughter. “Now, let’s get you out of these clothes and see about a bath for you, young lady.”

“I missed you. You should know it was my fault,” Myra stated as she started crying in Milly’s arms.

Milly carried Myra over to the bed and sat down. She started to undress Myra for her bath.

“It’s not your fault? Myra, that man, he’s to blame.”

“What man?” Myra asked.

“The stranger who came and forced you and Mark to go with him?”

“There wasn’t any stranger, Mama,” Myra replied as she wrapped her arms around Milly. “Mr. Bullock let us out of school early because he saw the storm coming. He…”

“He what?” Milly asked.

“He told me I should go to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s to wait for Papa or Mark.”

Milly waited for Myra to continue, but when she realized she wasn’t, she asked, “Where did you go?”

“I started to ride home on my own,” Myra quietly whispered.

“You what?! Myra you know you’re supposed to wait for your father or your brother! You’re not old enough to ride home on your own,” Milly stated as she reprimanded her daughter.

“I know that, now. But I…”

“You what?”

“I wanted to show you my report card. I was so excited, I wanted to get home to you and Hope and show you. But I lost it when the river swept me off Blue Boy.”

“The river?!”

“Oh Mama. It wasn’t that deep, but then Blue Boy stopped to drink and I couldn’t get him moving. It started raining real hard and the sky got dark, then the river started rising and I couldn’t hold onto the saddle any more. I prayed for God to send Mark to find me. And he did. Mama, he heard my prayers!” Myra sobbed as she cried holding onto her mother.

“Myra,” Milly called as she rocked Myra back and forth. “You’re safe now. You’re safe.”

“But Mark’s not and it’s because of me.”

Milly finished pulling the dirty dress from Myra when she heard a light knock at the door.

“Yes?” Milly answered.

“Ma’am, my husband and I own the general store and I think I have a few things you could use,” a woman’s voice came from the other side of the door.

Milly set Myra down on the bed and walked to the door. She opened the door to see a woman a few years older than her holding several packages wrapped in brown paper, tied with strings. “Yes, I heard right. I have a night gown and a simple dress for your daughter to wear.

“How?” Milly started to ask.

“Mrs. Jessop stopped by our store and told us a little of what was happening. When I heard about your daughter, well, I just had to bring you some things to make it easier on the child. My name’s Sylvia Burgard.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Burgard, but…”

“No buts about it and you can call me Sylvia,” she stated as she entered the room.

“Sylvia, my name is Milly McCain and this is my daughter, Myra.” Then turning to Myra, “This is Mrs. Burgard.”

“Pleased to meet you ma’am,” Myra said as she jump down from the bed and curtsied.

“Pleased as well, Miss Myra. Now, let’s see if these will fit you.” After holding the clothing up to Myra, Sylvia stated, “I think they’ll be just fine. Now, what would you say about a nice bath?”

“Only if I have too.”

“Myra!” Milly called.

“That’s okay, my little girl was the same way when she was this age.”

*****

Lucas stepped from the hotel and looked up the street towards the doctor’s office. His thoughts drifted to his words earlier in the evening. He looked the other direction down the street and saw a steeple spire rising above a few other buildings, Lucas turned in the direction his heart was pulling him.

He stood in front of the door, removed his hat and entered. Slowly and humbly he walked to the front of the church and kneeled in front of the alter.

“God forgive me. I shouldn’t have spoken as I did earlier, it’s just that at some point…, a man has to, to question why. I’ve previously stood firm in my beliefs and today… when it came down to needing you, I didn’t trust your judgment. It took my wife reminding me that maybe you had answered our prayers and that’s why my boy is still alive. I’m just a man. Please don’t judge my boy against my actions…” Lucas bowed his head and cried.

While he knelt in front of the alter, a peace and calmness came over Lucas. He felt that God had forgiven him. In time, he raised his head and looked at the cross on the wall, “Thank you,” Lucas quietly spoke as he got to his feet.

He turned to see a man standing in front of the first row of pews, holding a lantern. The man spoke, “God understands. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He created us with flaws and he knows what our flaws are. It’s what one does with those flaws that shapes one’s destiny. Mr. McCain, go to your son. God has already forgiven you.”

“You know who I am?”

“People talk... God talks... In time, your son will talk, too. Go to him. Tell him that Reverend Alcaide is praying for him.”

Lucas strode to the door, before putting his hat back on his head, he turned as the room darkened, there was no one else in the room. He quickly looked left and right, then put his hat on his head and left the church.

*****

“Lucas?” Johnny asked as Lucas returned to the room.

“I’m okay. Why don’t you go to the hotel and get some sleep. I’ll stay here with Mark for the night.”

“Doc said there’s a cot in the closet there, and some blankets.”

Johnny stood to leave, “Lucas, remember, he’s a McCain. He’s strong, just like you.”

“Thanks Johnny.”

Lucas turned the lantern down low after he pulled the cot from the closet and set it up. For a while longer, Lucas sat on the edge of the bed next to Mark. Talking, remembering, begging for Mark to open his eyes.

“Too many times, I’ve sat next to you like this. Mark, I don’t know if you can hear me, but don’t you give up on yourself or God. Your Ma and your sister are both safe, so just you focus on waking up and coming back to us and your own family. Reverend Alcaide said he’d be praying for you, too.”

“Mr. McCain,” Doc Ferguson quietly spoke.

“Yes,” Lucas replied as he turned at the sound of the doctor’s voice.

“You said Reverend Alcaide?”

“Yes, I met him over at the church. I needed to ask God for forgiveness.”

“Mr. McCain, I don’t know who you met, but… Reverend Alcaide passed away four years ago.”

“But he said he was…” Lucas was confused. “He was about five foot, ten. Salt and pepper hair, thinning on the top. On the wrist that held the lantern, I saw a scar like this,” Lucas stated as he drew the scar on his own wrist.

“Mr. McCain, do you believe in angels, messengers from God? Because if you don’t, I think you should. You described him. The scar was caused by the man who killed him. He refused to tell the outlaws what they wanted to know. They had come searching for money they’d heard rumored buried around the church. With the improvements he made to the building and grounds, they felt he’d found the money. They drew a knife across his wrist and watched him bleed to death.”

“He said he’d pray for my son…”

“I believe the Reverend was sent to you as an omen,” Doc Ferguson said.

“Good or bad?” Lucas asked.

“If Reverend Alcaide was present, good. Get some sleep, Mr. McCain. That’s the best thing you can do for your son. Good night.”

Next Step — Faith, Lost

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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