The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 52 – The Truth
Written by Deanne Bertram

Summer was in full swing and the temperatures were hotter than normal for the beginning of August. Mark returned home from standing his shift as a deputy to find Myra sitting on the front porch, chin on her hands and her elbows on her knees.

“Hi there Gabby!” Mark called as he stepped down from Copper.

Myra looked up but didn’t answer.

“Oh, no welcome home for your big brother? What’s the matter?” Mark asked as he removed his hat, wiped his brow, and sat down on the porch next to his sister.

“You and Papa and Hope get to have all the fun.”

“Fun?”

“Yes, fun!” Myra stated as she pouted harder.

“What kind of fun do we get to have that you don’t?”

“You get to ride horses. Why can’t I have a horse of my own?”

“Well… First off, you’ve not been taught how to ride,” Mark answered.

“Then teach me! Papa and Mama said you were a student teacher and if I asked you, you might help me learn.”

“Were they talking about riding or about your studies?” Mark asked as he smiled at his sister’s problem.

“But it’s just not fair!” Myra stated as she raised her head from her hands and then stomped a foot.

“Gabby, let me talk with Ma and Pa, and if they say its okay, I’ll start teaching you how to ride.”

“On Copper?”

“No, on Blue Boy.”

“Will you promise?”

“Only if Ma and Pa say it’s okay. But you have to keep up with the studies that Ma and Hope have given you and you have to continue to be a good girl.”

“Oh please…”

“If Ma and Pa say yes, and if you promise to be good, then I’ll promise to teach you to ride.”

Myra jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck. “I promise I’ll do whatever you say. I’ll be a good girl. Can we ask them now?”

“No, right now, I want to see Hope and your nephews. I’ll come over after supper tonight,” Mark answered.

*****

Later that night, after Hope had put the boys to bed for the night, Mark returned to his parents’ home. He knocked before entering.

“We’ve been expecting you Mark,” Lucas stated as he looked up from reading his bible.

“Oh?”

“Yes, seems your sister says you have something very important to ask us, but she won’t tell us what.”

Mark saw Myra peaking out the door from her bedroom. He motioned with his index finger for her to come to him.

“So Gabby, I hear that you already told Pa?”

“No, I didn’t tell them that you were going to ask permission to…” Myra smacked her hand over her mouth and with the expression on her face Mark couldn’t help laughing, as he picked her up.

“And just what trouble are you two getting into?” Milly asked as she came into the room from making sure Little Ted was asleep in bed.

“It’s not trouble, but I told Gabby that we had to ask your permission and there were a few other things she had to agree to,” Mark answered as he handed Myra to his Ma.

“Young lady, it is well past your bedtime,” Milly stated as she started to carry Myra to bed.

“But I jut got to know the answer. Please?” Myra pleaded.

Milly looked at Lucas and then to Mark.

“Gabby wants to learn how to ride a horse. I told her you both had to say yes,” Mark stated as he looked to both his parents.

“And I have to continue with my studies from Ma and Hope and I have to continue to be good. Oh, please? I just have to learn. Can Mark teach me? Please?”

Lucas stood and walked to where Milly stood, holding their daughter. “Well, seems you two already have everything worked out.”

“But not if you say no,” Myra stated as her voice quieted when she said the word no.

“Okay, but you know that if you don’t keep up with your studies or you misbehave?” Lucas asked.

“That means yes?” Myra squealed.

“Yes, it means yes. But for now, its time for good little girls to go to bed,” Lucas stated as he kissed his daughter goodnight.

“Thank you, Papa. Thank you Mama.”

Milly carried Myra back to her bedroom and watched over as she said her nightly prayers.

“Mark?” Lucas said as he walked to his eldest.

“I know Pa, but when I came home from town this afternoon… you should have seen her. If Hope and I ever have a daughter, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to say no. Besides Pa, you were riding me in front of you in your saddle when I was younger than Gabby is.”

“Who are you going to teach her on?” Lucas asked.

“At first I’ll take to riding Blue Boy again and riding her in front of me and let her hold the reins. In time, I’ll let her ride Blue Boy on her own, but I’ll be walking next to her and have a lead line on him. Pa, you know there’s no other horse that either of us would trust to carry her.”

“How are you going to do this with Milly around?”

“I’m not. Remember that old round up corral that we built for branding?” Lucas nodded. “I thought Gabby and I could ride out there. I trust you can keep Ma pre-occupied so she doesn’t worry?”

“Mark you should know by now, parents worry all the time.”

“You’re right. I’ll see you in the morning. Good night Pa.”

Mark left the house and returned to his own home.

*****

Mark had Myra sit on a stack of hay bales while he pulled Blue Boy in from the paddock.

Lucas stood to the side and said, “Myra, your Ma and I have agreed to let Mark teach you how to ride. I’m proud that Mark is giving Blue Boy to you, to be your horse. But, I want you to understand the responsibilities that come along with this privilege.”

“You know Gabby, there’s a lot more work to owning a horse than just getting to ride him,” Mark stated.

“Or her,” Myra replied.

“Yes, or her. You’ve got to make sure they are well groomed and their hooves are picked out. There’s also making sure they get proper feed and plenty of water. Why don’t you come on over here and I’ll show you how to brush Blue Boy.”

Myra walked up and stood next to Mark. He showed her how to brush her horse and then pulled out a wooden crate for her to stand on so she could brush higher on him. Next, Mark showed his sister how to pick a horse’s hooves.

“But it will be a while before you can do this on your own. And you will not be riding on your own, until you can saddle Blue Boy by yourself. If you want to ride, one of us have to be with you at all times.”

Mark looked at Myra to make sure she was paying attention and understood what he was saying.

Mark was riding Blue Boy and Myra sat in the saddle in front of Mark. As they rode out, Myra stated, “I got a question.”

“You have a question?”

“I been wanting to ask for a long, long time. Why do you call me Gabby?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because everyone else calls me Myra, ‘cept you.”

“Your middle name is Gabriela, and when you were a lot younger, and before you knew how to talk, you would always try to talk when I’d hold you. You just moved your mouth, but nothing would come out. It just looked like you were trying to talk to me all the time and people who talk all the time are called gabby. So, it just kind of stuck. You made me feel special; to have a little sister and that you’d try your hardest to talk to me. Giving you a nickname made me feel closer to you. Do you want me to call you Myra?”

“Not really, just…”

“Just, what?”

“I don’t have a nickname for you.”

“That’s okay, only really special people get nicknames,” Mark replied.

“Did you wish you had a little sister when you were younger?”

“At times. But, it was just Pa and me. What I wanted more was a Ma,” Mark grew quiet.

“I’m sorry I made you sad.”

“Gabby, you didn’t make me sad. It was the memory. But I’m glad that Pa married Miss Milly and she became my Ma. And I’m really happy to have you as a sister.”

“And Little Ted?”

“And I’m happy to have Little Ted as a brother.”

They rode the rest of the way in silence, until they reached the branding corral.

“Mark, do you miss your Ma?” Myra asked

“I do. But I know that she’s watching over me and you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you,” Mark stated has he halted Blue Boy and dismounted. He left Myra sitting in the saddle as he placed one hand on the saddle horn and the other on the cantle of the saddle. Mark took a deep breath as he looked up to Myra, “I know my Ma is up in heaven and since you mean so much to me and to Pa, you mean a lot to her too.”

Mark pulled the lead line from his saddle bag and clipped it to the halter Blue Boy wore under his bridle.

“Okay, Gabby. You ready to learn how to ride?” Myra nodded. “You did real good with the reins to get us here, but there’s a lot more to riding. It can be scary sitting up there all by yourself. What if I just walk you around and you get used to being up there by yourself? If you get scared, you can grab the saddle horn and hold on.”

“Mark, were you scared when you first learn to ride?” Myra asked as Mark started to walk Blue Boy around the corral.

“I was. Before, I always rode in front of Pa. But it was scary the first time I was in the saddle without Pa. Just like you are now.”

After an hour of working with Myra to gain her confidence, Mark removed the lead line and put it back in his saddle bag. Then he swung up in the saddle behind his sister and they headed for home.

Over the course of the next two weeks, Mark was pleased to see that his sister kept up with her studies and continued to mind her Ma and Pa. He was also pleased to see how well she took to riding Blue Boy. Mark was exiting the barn and was surprised to see a buggy carrying Micah and Hattie pulling up in front of the barn.

“Afternoon, Micah, Hattie. What brings you out this way?” Mark asked.

“Now do we need an excuse to come for a visit?” Micah asked.

“You know you don’t. Pa’s already up at the house.” Mark helped Hattie step down from the buggy. As they stepped around the back of the buggy, Mark noticed the box in the back, with his name on the shipping label.

“It came in?” Mark asked.

“Something came in boy. Mrs. Donner asked if we’d mind bringing it out for you. Just what did you order?” Micah asked.

“It’s a new saddle for Blue Boy.”

“That box looks a might bit small for a new saddle for you,” Hattie mentioned as she watch Mark pick he box up.

“Oh, it’s not for me. It’s for Gabby. She’s learning how to ride and I thought it might be better if she rode in a saddle with a smaller seat and shorter stirrups. I thought about giving her my old saddle, but this would be more special. Something of her very own, since she’s sort of getting a hand me down horse.”

Mark carried the box into the barn and then returned to the buggy.

“Mark McCain, you’re going to spoil that sister of yours,” Micah stated with a laugh.

“Hey, if I can’t spoil my sister, who is there to spoil?”

“Your own sons!” Hattie answered.

“That’s what you and Micah are for,” Mark said as he escorted Hattie and Micah to his parents’ home.

*****

The following morning, after helping her ma with dishes and working on her studies, Myra ran to the barn. She’d seen Mark walking to the barn earlier.

“Mark, I’m ready!” Myra called as she entered the barn.

Mark saw the look of disappointment on her face as she saw him saddling Copper.

“I thought I had a riding lesson today. You have to go to work?” Myra asked.

“Nope.”

“You riding out to help Papa?”

“Nope.”

“You and Hope going riding, then?”

“Nope.”

“You going out alone?”

“Nope. You know Gabby, you sure aren’t very observant.”

“Ob-zer-bant?”

“Ob-ser-vant. It means to use your eyes and see.”

“I can see,” Myra stated as she put both her hands on her hips. Mark couldn’t help but laugh, she looked so much like her Ma in miniature when she did that.

“Then you didn’t see that Blue Boy is already for you.”

“He is?!”

“Today you get to ride him by yourself. I’ll be right beside you, riding Copper.”

“Then I have to ride him bareback?”

“No. You know, maybe instead of a riding lesson today, I should take you in to see Doc Burrage. Just let him check out your eyesight.”

“Mark! Blue Boy’s got a saddle on, but it’s…”

“It’s just your size, Gabby,” Mark laughed at his sister.

Myra walked to stand next to Blue Boy and asked, “But how do I get all the way up there?”

“I’ll show you as soon as I get Copper’s bridle on.”

Mark walked over to where Blue Boy stood. He pulled out a wooden box and placed it on the ground next to Gabby’s horse. Then, he motioned for Myra to step up on the box, then to take hold of the grab straps he had added to the saddle.

“Now you’re going to have to eat all your vegetables and grow some muscles, but just take hold of these and jump and pull yourself up, until your foot reaches the stirrup. Then swing your leg over.”

“Is this how you did it when you were little?”

“Yep. For a long time.”

Mark made sure the stirrups were the proper length for Gabby, before he hooked the lead rope to Blue Boy’s halter, then walked over and grabbed Copper’s reins, then led both horses from the barn. Milly, Lucas, and Hope stood on the porch, Lucas with his arm around his wife’s shoulders, and pulled her close.

Mark swung up into the saddle and then, brother and sister rode away from the homestead at a walk. Mark saw the huge smile on his sister’s face and knew he’d worn one just like it, the first time he rode side by side with his Pa.

*****

When Mark next arrived in town to stand his shift, Amos came into the Marshal’s office with a wire.

Deputy Mark McCain
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Ordered to take into custody Merrick Hadley /stop/
Wanted for attempted murder /stop/
Last seen in town of Merrill /stop/
Wanted poster in Monday’s packet /stop/
Return to North Fork with prisoner then wire /stop/
Directions forthcoming after capture /stop/

Good Luck, Tom Benton

Mark pulled the packet from Johnny’s desk and leafed through it until he came to Merrick Hadley’s wanted poster. He folded the copy and took it out to place in his saddle bag. Next he headed to the Johnny and Lou’s home, to let Johnny know he had to head out.

“Not sure how long I’ll be gone. But once I find Hadley, I’m to return him here and wait for further instructions,” Mark stated.

“No problem Mark. I’ll get Seth to stand your watch tonight. We’ll see you when you get back.”

*****

Myra was looking out the window, waiting for Mark to return so they could continue her riding lessons. Each day she waited and in time, returned to her studies. Milly understood her daughter and shortened the time she expected her daughter to tend to her studies.

“Did you remember to groom Blue Boy this morning?” Milly asked.

“Yes Mama. Papa was there and said I did a real good job of it.”

Milly looked to Lucas, who nodded.

“Myra,” Milly called. “If Mark does come home today, you will give him a few minutes with his family before you run out the door.”

“I am his family!” Myra replied.

“You know what your Ma means young lady,” Lucas stated as he closed his finance book.

“Yes Papa. I’m sorry Mama.”

Myra turned to look back out the window and waited. In time, she saw Mark ride to the yard, “He’s home. Mark is home. Papa, he just fell off Copper.”

Lucas quickly stood and ran out the door. Milly and Myra followed him to the porch. “No! Milly, keep back,” Lucas called, he’d seen the sweat beads on Mark’s face and that his shirt was soaked with sweat.

Mark moaned, “Pa, my prisoner was sick and he died. I couldn’t make it to…” Mark passed out in his father’s arms.

“Milly, get Hope and the boys out of their house and in to ours. NOW!”

“Lucas?”

“Milly, just do it!”

Lucas looked up to see Hope starting from their home. Milly ran and pulled Hope back into her home and helped her gather up clothing and such, and to do as Lucas asked.

Once he saw their wives standing on the porch, Lucas carried Mark into his home, and placed him on his bed. He was stripping Mark’s shirt off when he saw the first signs of the rash. Lucas stepped back, “Oh God, No!”

Lucas sat down heavily in a chair, he couldn’t regain his composure. His mind returned to sixteen years previous. The sadness, the loneliness, the heartache, the pain, those were the only things Lucas could think of. He had no idea how much time had passed, when he heard footsteps entering the home.

“I said stay out!” Lucas called, without turning around.

“Lucas, it’s me, Thadd.”

Lucas slowly turned around, his face showed the fear he felt.

“Lucas, Hope rode into town and said Mark was sick.”

“Small pox,” Lucas stated.

“Why would you say small pox?”

“Doc, I was removing his shirt, he’s got the start of the rash and the fever. He said his prisoner was sick and died.”

“It could be the measles,” Thadd replied.

“He’s had the measles and he’s had chicken pox. Doc, I lost Mark’s mother to small pox, when he was six. I remember...”

“Lucas, so many diseases all start out looking the same. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Doc tended to Mark. From the kitchen, he brought in the pitcher and basin, filled with water. With Lucas’ help, he finished removing Mark’s clothing. He started bathing Mark with cool water hoping to bring the fever down. Later that evening, Thadd answered the door to find Hope standing on the porch.

“Doc?”

“I’m sorry Hope, I can’t allow you inside, but you can do something for me.” Thadd walked to the desk in the front room, and wrote a note. “Please take this to Abigail. And then wait for Abigail to give you the medicine before you come back home.”

*****

It was the fifth night that Lucas sat on the edge of the bed next to his fevered son, listening to him pleading, “Hope, I need hope. Please, hope.”

Lucas replied, “Mark, we’re praying that you get better. We haven’t given up hope that you can pull through this. Please Mark, you have to keep fighting. Don’t give up hope in yourself. Please Mark, you have to get better.”

******

Mark’s fever had finally broken the day before, but he hadn’t opened his eyes.

“Lucas,” Doc Burrage stated. “The fever took a lot out of his body. Just keep trying to get fluids into him. That’s the only thing that’s going to help him right now. We need to replenish what the fever burned out of him.”

“Doc, he lost so much weight. He’s nothing but skin and bones.”

“He was always slight of build and this was to be expected, especially as long as the fever lasted and as high as it got, before it broke,” Doc said as he placed a hand on Lucas’ shoulder and ran his other hand through his gray hair.

*****

Mark heard the voices as if they were talking from a distance. He heard water dripping and felt a cool, damp cloth being placed to his forehead. He felt a cloth removed from his chest and replaced a few moments later. He struggled to open his eyes, but they wouldn’t. He quietly called out, barely above a whisper, “Pa?” as he started moving his head.

“Mark, welcome back son,” Lucas stated.

“Pa, what happened?” he asked with his voice fading.

“You’ve been pretty sick son. You ran a high fever for almost a week.”

“Why can’t I open my eyes?” Mark asked in a whisper.

There was another voice, “Lucas soak the rag in water and then wring it out over his eyes and then gently wipe it across them. It’s okay if the water gets in his eyes. It will help moisten his eyelids so he can open them. The fever dried his eyelids out. Once you moisten them, use your thumb and index finger to help Mark open his eyelids.”

In a few moments, Mark was able to open his eyes; it took a few moments longer for his eyes to focus on his surroundings. The room was dimly illuminated by a lamp turned down low on the table next to his bed.

“Where are Hope and the boys? Are they okay?” Mark asked.

Lucas and Doc Burrage looked at each other, “Hope and the boys?” Lucas asked as he rinsed the cloth in the bowl of water and placed it back over Mark’s forehead.

Mark tried to speak but his throat was too dry.

“Lucas, hold his head up and help give him a drink of water.”

Lucas did as told. After the third swallow, Mark started coughing and Lucas pulled the glass away from Mark and laid his head back down on the pillow.

“Easy there son, take small sips.”

“Pa, where are Hope and the boys?” Mark asked again.

“Mark, who are you asking about?” Lucas asked.

“My wife and sons,” Mark whispered.

“Wife and sons?! Mark, you’re sixteen, you’re not married. Son, you must have been dreaming while you were sick.”

“Dreaming?” Mark turned his head and saw Doc Jay Burrage standing behind his Pa.

“I think so son,” Lucas answered.

“Lucas?” called Lou from outside the bedroom. “Am I hearing Mark? Would ye like me to bring him in some broth?”

“Please Lou. He’s practically wasted away,” Lucas replied.

“Yes, Lou. Bring in some warm broth and let him drink his fill.”

Lou carried a small bowl into the room and handed it to Lucas, who again raised Mark’s head from the pillow and held the bowl to his lips for him to drink. When the bowl was empty, Lucas laid Mark’s head back to the pillow.

“Lou, how are Connor and Danielle?”

“Connor and Danielle? Who are ye asking about?” Lou replied asked as she looked from Mark to Lucas.

“Your children,” Mark whispered.

“Mark, ye know I’m not married and I don’t have any children.”

“But you and Johnny got married. Pa, what, what about Gabby and Little Ted?”

“Mark, I’m not sure who you’re asking about…”

“Pa, you and Milly got married and Gabby’s my sister and Little Ted’s my brother! Pa, I don’t understand,” Mark cried, clearly getting agitated.

“Doc?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, you probably were correct earlier, Mark was dreaming while he was ill. The delirium of the fever has caused his mind to think his dream was real.”

“But it was real!” Mark cried. He started calling for Hope.

“Mark, shhh. Mark, please… You had a dream. You’re just sixteen years old.”

Mark looked to his father and asked, “It can’t be… It was all just a dream? My sons, Hope? They’re not real?”

Lucas shook his head, no.

“Milly didn’t come back and I don’t have a sister or a brother?”

“No, Mark. I wish I could say otherwise.” Lucas removed the cloth from Mark’s forehead and set it back into the bowl.

“It can’t be…” Mark quieted, closed his eyes and allowed his head to turn to look away from everyone and he started to cry.

“Mark, i’ tis a mighty fine thing to dream of a family for yer future,” Lou stated. “And if Johnny were to ask for my hand in marriage, I’d be right honored to have ye and yer father stand up as my family.”

“Lou,” Doc Burrage stated. “Let’s leave Mark and Lucas alone for a little while. We know his fever’s broke, but I want to speak with you about what his dietary needs are going to be for the next few weeks to get his strength back.”

*****

Lucas placed his hand to Mark’s shoulder, “I’m sorry Mark. I know sometimes dreams can seem so real at times. But you’ve been extremely sick for six days. I’m just thankful Doc Burrage got you through this.”

“But Pa, Doc retired and his nephew, Thaddeus, he’s been our doctor for five years, he’s married to Abigail and they have a daughter Savannah. And Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen, they live in North Fork and have a daughter, Lillian. Pa, I can’t have dreamed it all.”

“Mark, the world you created in your dream sounds mighty wonderful, but it was all just a dream. It’s just the two of us.”

“No, I want my life back! I want my life…”

Mark wouldn’t look at his Pa any more. He turned his head and looked away and continued to cry. Lucas stood and walked to the front room, leaving the bedroom door behind him open.

“Doc, I’m concerned. He said you retired and your nephew Thaddeus was now our doctor and was married to an Abigail… Could the fever have made him that delirious?”

“Lucas, it might be the fever causing his subconscious to create a life he needed to get through his illness. But creating a new family, something more than just the two of you, there has to be a mighty powerful longing buried deep in his mind.”

After a few moments of awkward quiet, Doc continued, “Lucas, my youngest nephew is studying to become a doctor and he’s been courting a young woman named Abigail. But how would Mark know that? Well, that’s neither here nor there, I probably talked about them and Mark’s mind must have drawn them into his dream. Regardless Lucas, we need to get his strength back. I’ve talked with Lou and for the next few days, I want him to drink a lot of beef or chicken stock broth, as much as he can tolerate. His body won’t be ready for anything more than that for probably three or four days. His system won’t be able to handle anything solid until then. As for getting him out of bed… We’ll just have to see how he reacts.”

“There’s something else, isn’t there Doc?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, I’m concerned about his mental state. If his dreams are that real to him and now he’s fighting that they’re not real, it could really hamper his recovery. He could start mourning their loss, just as if they had been real and died. He could get really depressed. We just need to get his strength back and get him back into his old routine. The sooner he gets back to his old routine, the quicker he’ll forget about this dreamed up family.”

“I’ll see that he eats properly and gets his strength back,” Lou stated.

*****

A week had passed since Mark’s fever had broken and Lucas insisted on getting him up and out of bed.

“Mark, I understand you feel you’ve lost something special to you, but it was just a dream. You need to get back to your life. Come on, let’s get you up, dressed, and I’ll help you to the front porch for the afternoon. Okay?”

“But Pa, they were so real. It hurts that they’re not here.” Mark answered, feeling a deep loss.

“Son, Doc Burrage stated that you could feel that way. The mind can be a funny place. It can create an imaginary world to protect you or to offer you comfort. Why your mind created those dreams, I don’t know, but this is our real life Mark. You have to return to your real life.”

“I thought that was my real life,” Mark said has his father helped him finished getting dressed and then helped him walk to the chair on the front porch. For which Mark found out he had very little strength to walk on his own.

*****

That afternoon, Stevan Griswald came by.

“Good afternoon Mark. Good to see you up. I’ve missed having my favorite student at school and the students missed their assistant teacher.”

“At least that hasn’t changed,” Mark answered, sullenly.

“I thought I’d bring some of your studies to you until you get your strength back and can re-join the class.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll work on them a little later, if you don’t mind, I am feeling tired.”

“That’s okay Mark, you were pretty sick there for a while. Do your studies as you can. I’ll stop by in a few days and if you have any questions, I’ll work with you to help you out.”

******

Over the next few days, Lucas grew more worried as Mark seemed to be regaining his strength, but he seemed more depressed each day, as Doc Burrage had warned him. One day Lucas entered the house to see Mark asleep in his chair. On the table were Mark’s studies, next to one of the books was a wadded up sheet of paper. Lucas picked up the piece of paper, opened it, and read:

Hope, Joshua, Zachariah, and Elijah
Milly, Gabby, and Little Ted
Hattie
Thadd, Abigail and Savannah
Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen and Lillian
Connor and Danielle
Seth, Ethan, Annie, and Seth Edward
Tessa and Mabra
Drew

Why? They can’t all have been a dream.

I want my life back!

Lucas headed into town to talk with Doc. Upon his arrival, he showed the piece of paper to Doc.

“You and I both know Milly and Hattie, and then his Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen. But all these others, I don’t know these people. How could he have dreamed all of them?”

“Lucas, I don’t know. I could wire a friend of mine up in Santa Fe, he’s a psychiatrist. Maybe he can help your son come to terms with the fact that the people he’s mourning were just from his dream and try to help him get over this. This is beyond any of my training as a physician.”

“Anything Doc, I just can’t stand to see him like this.”

*****

Two days later, Doctor Horacio del Garcia arrived in North Fork. Doc Burrage had his buggy and horse hitched and drove him to the McCain Ranch. All had agreed that it would be better for Mark to have this discussion at home.

Lucas and Doc Burrage left Doctor del Garcia in the front room with Mark. They waited on the porch. Doctor del Garcia talked with Mark for a good, long while and finally decided it would be best to put Mark under hypnosis. Once he had Mark under, Doctor del Garcia asked for Lucas and Doc Burrage to come back inside.

*****

Lucas struggled to hold Mark down, he was fighting against his father and yelling, “No! No! They are real. She’s my wife! Please, she’s not a dream!” Lucas struggled to keep the tears from falling down his face. “Please, noo,” Mark cried. Lucas could hear how raspy Mark’s voice had become, from calling out and from the lack of fluids they had been able to get him to swallow.

“Doc? Can’t you do something? Anything?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, it’s the fever talking. There’s nothing we can do right yet. We just keep trying to get the medication in his body and try to replenish the fluids he sweats out.”

“Margaret didn’t get this bad until near the end and then she became lucid for a short while. Why is it affecting Mark so differently?”

“Lucas, as of this morning, I can guarantee you that it’s not small pox. His rash is the same as it was the first day. I mean there are more blotches from the rash, but the rash, it’s not bubbled up with pustules. I’m almost thinking this is Typhoid Fever.”

“But he’s had the Fever before,” Lucas answered. “He didn’t have a rash that time.”

“Lucas, certain diseases don’t create a resistance to themselves, once you’ve had them. Typhoid is one of those. And different symptoms can occur from one person to the next. Some symptoms can present themselves each time, but others… That’s why I said we had to wait and see.”

Lucas remembered back, “He was eleven when he contracted Typhoid. It hit him two weeks after he drank tainted water. I vaguely remember him calling out in his sleep, back then. The days just seemed to blend together. I don’t understand, he was fine when he left here eight days ago.”

“Medicine doesn’t hold all the answers Lucas. His calling out is from his dreaming and whatever it is, it has him very agitated. The mind works funny, when people are sick. Sometimes it can offer an escape from a difficult reality or suffering, by making the person think life in the dream is better than it really is. Other times, it can offer a stark contrast and the person struggles to get back to the good life they had. I’d have to say Mark’s dreams have him in a dark place.”

“But why?” Lucas asked.

“I don’t know Lucas. But the good news is, Mark’s fighting it, the fever and his dream. He’s a McCain and he’s strong…”

*****

During the night, Mark’s fever broke. The morning sun crept into the room when Mark finally opened his eyes. He turned his head and saw his father sleeping in the chair next to his bed. “Pa?” Mark called as he tried to raise his head, but couldn’t.

Lucas startled awake and saw Mark’s eyes open.

“Mark! Welcome back son,” Lucas said as he shifted to the edge of the bed. He pulled the cloth from he son’s forehead, rinsed the cloth, wrung it out and replaced it to Mark’s forehead.

Mark turned his head away from Lucas.

“Mark?” Lucas asked with concern.

Lucas reached for a glass of water with his right hand and raised Mark’s head with left. “Just take nice, small sips son. Not too much at first.”

Lucas laid Mark’s head back to the pillow once he stopped swallowing. He set the glass back to the table. “I’m glad you decided to wake up.” Lucas grew concerned when Mark said nothing and wouldn’t look at him.

“Talk to me son. What’s wrong?”

“It was all just a dream…” Mark stated as his voice faded.

Lucas poured more water into the glass and offered more to Mark.

“Mark you’ve been quite sick for six days. You’ve been calling out in your delirium. For the past two days, you’ve been extremely agitated. Doc’s in the front room sleeping, let me go wake him for the morning and let him know you’re awake.”

“I’m here Lucas,” Doc Burrage stated as he walked up behind Lucas.

Lucas stood from the edge of the bed and stepped back to allow Thadd to look at his son.

“Hi Mark, good to see you finally awake. How do you feel?”

Mark turned his head to the sound of the voice he hadn’t expected, a look of surprise on his face, “Doc?! I…” He started coughing and tried to raise his hand to reach out to Thadd, but it fell to his side.

“Easy there Mark.”

“Doc, should I bring Mark some warm broth, would that help?”

“Yes, Lucas.”

Lucas returned to his son’s side and raised his head, then placed the bowl of broth to his lips for him to drink.

“Thadd, Abigail?” Mark spoke before another coughing fit overtook him.

“Don’t try to talk,” Doc stated and then turned to Lucas. “Lucas, would you bring some more warm broth. The broth will help soothe his throat and start to restore his strength. And to answer your question Mark, Abigail is back in town with Savannah.”

After Mark finished drinking the next bowl of broth, Mark managed to ask, “Hope?”

“Mark, Doc wanted to keep her and the boys away from you until your fever broke,” Lucas answered. “He felt you were too contagious and we couldn’t risk exposing her or the boys. We didn’t know what was wrong with you for several days. They’re over at the house with Milly.”

“Ma?” Mark asked.

“She’s fine, just worried about you?”

Lucas grew concerned when Mark started crying. He sat down on the edge of the bed and brushed Mark’s hair back from his forehead.

“It’s okay Mark. You’re going to be okay, no need to cry.”

“It was just a dream…” Mark’s voice faded as he fell asleep.

“Lucas, let him sleep. Come on, let’s go tell Milly and Hope that his fever broke.”

*****

Lucas and Thadd walked across the yard and entered the house. Lucas was startled to see Hope kneeling over Milly, who was lying on the floor.

“Hope, what happened?” Lucas asked as he rushed to his wife.

“She just passed out Pa. We were talking and she just stopped.”

Thadd pushed Lucas out of the way to start to examine Milly. “It’s not the fever Lucas. She’s not running a fever.”

After a few moments, Milly started to come to. She opened her eyes and saw Lucas bending over her, preparing to lift her from the floor.

“Milly?” Lucas quietly stated.

“What happened?” Milly asked as she reached for Lucas’ arm.

“Ma, we were talking and then you… were on the floor,” Hope answered.

“Oh, no…” Milly replied as she lifted her hand to cover her mouth.

“Milly?” Lucas asked again as he grew more concerned.

Milly started to giggle as Lucas helped her to her feet and he practically carried her to their bedroom and saw her to their bed, followed by Thadd and Hope.

“Lucas,” Milly started as she shook her head, smiling. “It’s been two months since the Summer Social.”

“What does the Summer Social have to do with you passing out on the floor?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas,” Thadd stated as he placed a hand to Lucas’ shoulder. “I don’t think it’s really the Summer Social, but maybe something you two did, two months ago, about the time of the Summer Social?” Thadd started laughing as he realized Lucas was still in the dark. “Lucas, you’ve been through this three times before.”

“Three times be…” Then looking to Milly, “You’re pregnant?”

“I think so. I was going to go visit Thadd, but then Mark came home sick and…” Milly stopped talking as concern grew in her eyes. “Is Mark?”

“Hope, Milly,” Thadd stated. “Mark’s fever broke last night and he woke this morning. Now, I know both you and Hope probably want to go see him, but I’d prefer to give it a little while. He was quite agitated before he woke and right now, he’s sleeping. After he wakes again, I’ll evaluate the situation and if I feel it is safe enough and neither of you will be at risk, I’ll let you come visit him. But for right now, Milly, I want you to stay in bed. Okay?”

Milly nodded.

*****

The day after Mark’s fever broke, he was finally awake long enough to tell his Pa what happened. “I found my prisoner, he was in the Mossville jail. I was returning to North Fork with Hadley when I realized he was getting sicker. Guess he wanted to get out of Mossville real quick and hopefully to a town with a doctor. He didn’t look that bad when I pulled him out of their jail. Anyway, our first night out, he took real sick and after three days of tending to him, he died during the night. I spent the rest of the night burying Hadley and the next day, started feeling stiff and sore muscles. At first, I attributed it to the work to bury Hadley, but by that night, the fever and chills had set in. I knew I needed get back to North Fork, but all my mind could think of…, was home.” Mark was quiet for a few moments. “Pa, I’m sorry I put our family at risk, but I just couldn’t think of how to get to town. I just kept seeing home.”

“Mark, I’m just glad I was here when you arrived,” Lucas stated as finished feeding his son a bowl of oatmeal. When Mark was done eating, Lucas took the dishes out to the kitchen and then returned. “Mark, I know you’re still rather weak, but… Do you remember any of your dreams?”

The look on Mark’s face shook Lucas, but within a few moments, the look was gone.

“Pa, do you remember what I told you, back in November, when we thought Hope had lost the baby? How I worried that one day I was going to wake up and find out I was still sixteen?”

“Yes.”

“My dream was a nightmare. I mean, I love the life we had together, but… Pa, in my dream, I had been sick and woke up to find out I was sixteen again and nothing was as I remembered it. You and Doc Jay kept trying to convince me it was all just a dream. Hope, the boys, Milly coming back, Gabby and Little Ted and everyone else, none of them were real. You even let Doc Jay bring in a psychiatrist to try to get me to forget everyone. I just couldn’t forget them. It hurt so much that they weren’t there and no one else remembered them. You told me I had to forget them and accept that our life together was my real life.”

“Son, I’m sorry that you had to go through your dream by yourself. We heard you yelling and pleading, but we didn’t know what was happening. The good news is, it was all just a dream. We’ll try to get you up and out of bed tomorrow. If you can keep tonight’s supper down. Doc said to try you on a ticker stew tonight. Hopefully, you’ll be feeling even better tomorrow.”

“When can I see Hope and the boys?” Mark asked.

“Thadd stated he’d be by tomorrow morning and he’ll let us know.”

“Can Ma come in today, just for a few minutes? I mean it’s one thing for you to tell me they’re real and my dream wasn’t…”

“Not quite yet, seems I… uh…”

“Lucas, just spit it out,” Milly stated as she stood in the doorway.

“Milly, Thadd said you weren’t to come in her until after he saw Mark tomorrow, especially in your condition.”

“Lucas, he’s my son. It should be okay for Mark to at least see me. I couldn’t stay away. And now that I heard what Mark went through with his dreams while he was sick, I insist on him being able to see that I did indeed return to North Fork, that I am your wife, and that we are a family.”

“Okay, he’s seen you. Now will you please go back home?” Lucas pleaded. Milly turned to leave, and said, “We love you Mark. Just focus on getting better.”

Lucas returned to sit down in the chair next to Mark’s bed, when Mark asked, “What did you mean ‘especially in your condition’?”

“Oh, that. It seems, I… uh… You’re going to be a big brother again.”

“Ma’s pregnant?”

Lucas nodded.

“When?”

“I just found out yesterday morning, and if what Milly thinks is true, the baby will probably be born sometime in March. She hasn’t been to see Thadd yet.”

“Because of me?”

“Something like that. Anyway, you need to get your strength back and I want you to sleep for a few hours this afternoon.”

“Pa, how’s Gabby? I mean she has to be real disappointed in not being able to ride,” Mark stated.

“She was at first, when you were gone. We watched the boys a few times while Hope took her out. Seems she didn’t want to ride with me. But when you came home sick, she applied herself to her studies and to helping Milly and Hope with the boys.”

“She’s Ma in miniature, isn’t she,” Mark stated with a laugh.

“Now that you mention it,” Lucas smiled. “Okay, now let’s get you sitting up for a while.”

Lucas helped Mark sit up in his bed. “By the way, Percy brought a new book over for you, once he heard you were getting better.” Lucas reached over and picked up the paper wrapped package and handed it to Mark.

Mark unwrapped the book and was surprised to see the latest novel from Mark Twain, ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court’.

“Why don’t you go ahead and start reading, I’ll be back inside when its time for lunch. And don’t worry if you fall asleep,” Lucas stated as he turned to leave Mark’s home.

Mark was reading through the chapter titles when he came to one that caused him to inhale sharply, The Smallpox Hut. ‘Well, this is just a story,’ Mark thought to himself as he started to read.

Lucas headed out to work on chores around the ranch and returned to his home shortly before lunch to check in on how Milly was doing and if she was taking it easy. He had to smile when he saw Myra blocking the bedroom door and telling him, “Mama’s not to be dis… dist… You can’t go in until Hope puts lunch on the table.”

“Myra!” Milly called from behind the door.

“Oh, I guess you can go in, Papa.”

“Lucas, please, this is not necessary. Between you and Hope and Myra, you’d think that I was the one who had been so sick and not Mark,” Milly complained.

“I can’t wait to see how Myra reacts when Doc says she can go visit Mark,” Lucas stated as he smiled to his wife, trying to change the subject.

“She does idolize him,” Milly stated.

*****

Thadd returned to the McCain ranch to examine Mark once more.

“Well, you are doing quite better. Your temperature still isn’t fully returned to normal, but that’s to be expected. Has our father gotten you out of bed yet?”

“No, though he has made sure that I sit up for as long as I can.”

“Tell you what, this afternoon, I’ll recommend for Lucas to get you up and I think taking a hot bath will help make you feel better.”

“I know it will probably help make me smell better,” Mark said as he let out a little laugh.

“How are you feeling up here?” Thadd asked as he pointed to Mark’s head.

“It still feels a little strange, the dream within a dream. But Ma peaked in last night, so I know that she’s real. When can I see Hope and the boys?”

“Mark, I don’t want anyone else in here with you until your temperature has returned to one hundred percent normal for two days. But I don’t think that should stop you from seeing them. Once Lucas gets you up, he can get you to the front room and they can be outside. For now, that’s the closest I’ll let anyone other than myself or your father get to you.”

The look on Mark’s face showed the pain he felt at being separated from his family.

“Mark, I hope within three or four days tops, Hope will be in your arms.”

“Can I pray that that’s the case?”

“I’d be disappointed in you if you didn’t. Now let me go tell Lucas that I highly recommend a nice hot bath for you.”

*****

Mark worked to keep regaining his strength as August turned to September. He finally convinced Lucas that it would be okay for him and Myra to go on a small ride around the ranch. He promised that they’d do nothing more than walk their horses, Mark was anxious to just get out and about.

Lucas insisted on saddling the horses and Hope insisted in going along.

“I don’t trust either of you to just ‘walk’ your horses. But if I’m with you…”

“Yes Ma,” Mark said as he pulled Hope into a hug.

The Next Step — Myra, the School Girl

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

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