The Writer's Corner
Chapter 92 - The Wanted Poster
Written by Deanne Bertram
Lucas and Milly relaxed in each other’s arms the following
morning, listening as the rooster crowed, greeting the
“Guess we should get up and get to chores,” Lucas
reluctantly stated, but not moving a muscle to slip from
under the covers.
“Can’t they wait? God made Sunday as a day for rest…” Milly
“And what do we tell the children when they want breakfast?”
“Let them sleep in as long as possible,” Milly mumbled as
she snuggled closer to Lucas.
“We can read from the bible after breakfast.”
“So what you’re saying is, you don’t want to get out of bed
either,” Lucas whispered into Milly’s ear.
“I’m enjoying snuggling with my husband.”
Lucas moved his lips to Milly’s, where they shared a
Both were awakened from having fallen back asleep when they
heard Myra knocking on their door, “Mama? Papa?”
“We’ll be right out Myra,” Lucas replied, smiling as he
watched Milly slip from their bed and into her nightgown,
and tie her robe closed with a sash.
Later that afternoon, Hattie and Micah arrived at the McCain
“Missed you at church today, LucasBoy,” Micah called as
Lucas stepped to the porch, raising his arm and resting it
against one of the posts.
“Milly decided that today was a day of rest and that we
would read from the bible,” Lucas answered. “So, what brings
the two of you way out here?”
“Lucas, invite them in,” Milly called from inside their
Taking Micah’s and Hattie’s coats once inside, Lucas asked,
“Is everything in town okay?”
“Sure, the town is fine. Hattie just wanted to talk with
Milly and Hope to reschedule and plan the wedding reception
for Jake and Gwen.”
“Then today’s not going to be a day of rest,” Lucas teased.
“And just what is that supposed to mean, Mr. McCain?” Milly
asked, raising her eyebrows.
“I just know that when the three of you ladies get to
planning, us men folk had best make ourselves scarce.”
“Come on LucasBoy, you can show me that project of yours in
the barn,” Micah stated with a wink.
“Project? Oh, yeah.”
The men pulled on their coats and were just opening the door
to find Mark and Hope about to knock.
“Hope, come on in. Mark, you’re coming with us,” Lucas
“I am?” asked a surprised Mark.
Lucas closed the door behind Hope and the children, and
headed to the barn.
“Well, it’s such a shame that they had to postpone their
reception,” Hattie stated. “But now that I’ve heard Doc has
declared Gwen recovered,” Hattie paused when she heard Milly
giggle. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, just remembering a conversation from yesterday,” a
blushing Milly replied.
“The trouble is, the date,” Hattie continued.
“Well, I don’t think we can properly reschedule to hold it
between now and when Seth and Lilah leave for Fort Stanton,”
“Then there’s Christmas, it’s only eleven days away,” Milly
“Don’t forget yours and Lucas’ wedding anniversary the night
before,” Hattie commented, causing Milly to blush even more,
remembering their evening and morning together.
“And New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day,” Milly added to the
calendar of conflicting dates.
“And my birthday!” came from Myra’s bedroom.
“Myra, if you’re room is cleaned, you may come out and help
us,” Milly called.
“So it sounds like December is out of the question,” a
dejected Hattie spoke.
“What about after the New Year and my birthday? Connor’s
birthday isn’t until the 10th,” Myra stated, pointing to the
Milly continued, “Why can’t we hold their reception after
church? Once Lilah and Seth return?”
“But we were planning to celebrate Christmas once they
returned,” Hope replied. “I guess we could invite them over
Saturday, the second and celebrate our Christmas then…”
“Myra?!” Milly exclaimed in surprise.
“Just what did you do? And why?” Milly asked.
Hope and Hattie both turned to look at Myra, trying hard to
keep grins off their faces as they saw what had alarmed
“I just borrowed some socks. I got curious. I’m mean, after
our talk with Hope. I wanted to know what I would look like
all grown up.”
“Well, you can just pull those socks out of your shirt.
You’re too young,” Milly stated trying to keep a straight
face as she pointed Myra back to her bedroom.
“I think Faith needs to be fed, she’s getting fussy,” Hope
stated as she picked Faith up from the bassinet beside her
chair. She stood to go to one of the bedrooms.
“You won’t embarrass me, if you nurse her out here,” Hattie
Milly picked up a towel from the kitchen and handed it to
Hope as she sat back down. After placing her daughter to her
breast, Hope draped the towel over her shoulder and her
Upon Myra’s return to the front room, she walked to Hattie
and quietly asked, “Miss Hattie, did you know that under the
towel, Faith is drinking milk from Hope’s breasts?”
“Myra!” Milly scolded.
“Ain’t Miss Hattie family? You said we only talk about it in
front of the girls of the family,” Myra defended herself.
In an effort to change the subject to avoid embarrassing
Hope or Milly any further, Hattie asked, “What if we made
Gwen and Jake’s reception a box social, too?”
“What would we be raising money for?” Milly asked.
“North Fork’s Rainy Day Fund!” Hattie declared. “Who knows,
but the way the town is growing…”
“I love the idea,” Hope answered.
“Can I make a picnic box too?” Myra asked.
“Are you wanting any particular boy to bid on your picnic
box?” Hattie asked.
“Well, since it is just family present…” Myra spoke while
looking to Milly. “Mama, would it be wrong of me to want
Isaiah to bid on my box?”
“Just don’t tell him or anyone else, sweetie,” Milly
“So did you ladies decide on a date for Jake and Gwen’s
reception?” Lucas asked as they cuddled in bed that night.
“I think we’re going to plan it for January third, after
church. I just need to make sure that the date works for the
entire McCafferty family,” Milly answered.
“So would you like to explain what else happened this
afternoon?” Lucas asked, trying to keep the grin from his
“Happened? We just talked,” stated a perplexed Milly.
“I’m talking about Myra,” Lucas said with his eyebrows
“I presume she had a reason to stuff her shirt? What was
that all about? Isn’t she a little too young…”
“Oh, Lucas how…”
“I was returning for my rifle, I peeked in the window to
make sure it was safe for me to come back inside…”
“Lucas… After…” Milly didn’t know exactly how to explain, so
she just blurted it out. “Last month, we explained to Myra
about Hope breastfeeding Faith. She asked a few questions
and seemed to be okay with what we said.”
“And?” Lucas asked.
“At one point she asked if her breasts would be like ours or
more like Becky Whitcomb’s when she grew up.”
Milly paused when she heard Lucas try to refrain from
“Hope answered only God knew. Anyway, today, when she came
out of her room… there she was. I asked why, she said she
wanted to know what she would look like when she grew up.”
Lucas leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the top of
Milly’s head, still trying to stifle a laugh.
“I’m so thankful that Mark was a boy. I don’t know how I
would have handled the situation had I a daughter to raise
instead of a son.”
“Just wait Lucas, I’m sure it’s only going to get more…
interesting,” Milly sighed as she snuggled against Lucas.
It was the Saturday before Christmas as Seth and Lilah stood
on the train station platform to say goodbye as they readied
to leave to visit Ethan and Annie at Fort Stanton.
“We’ll be home by the 30th,” Seth stated as he handed his
newest granddaughter back to Hope.
“But you’ll miss Christmas,” Josh plaintively stated.
“I know, but don’t you think your Uncle Ethan and Aunt Annie
would like to share their Christmas with us?”
“I guess so,” a dejected Zach replied.
“Does that mean Santa won’t bring us any presents from you?”
“No, I’m sure Santa will make arrangements for us to delay
our Christmas until we return,” Lilah answered as she handed
Mykaela back to Mark.
“Do you really think so?” Eli asked.
“I’m sure he will,” Mark answered as he placed Mykaela to
his hip and ruffled Eli’s hair.
“Ahh, Papa. Why’d you have to muss up my hair?” Eli asked
while swatting at Mark’s hand.
“You’ll wire when you arrive?” asked Hope.
“As soon as we get off the train. You take care of our
grandchildren, we’ll be back in no time,” Seth said as he
heard the conductor call, “ALL ABOARD!”
Over the roar of the exhaust, they all tried to say goodbye.
Two days before Christmas, a rain soaked Mark returned home
to find his brothers and sister sitting around the table
with his own children, and Hope setting plates with their
lunch on the table.
“Pretty wicked storm out there,” Mark called from the porch
as he hung his rain poncho on the pegs outside the front
door, before entering. “And just what do I owe the pleasure
of you three being here?” he asked, walking up behind Myra.
“Mama was wanting to clean the house real good before Papa
got back,” Little Ted answered.
“That’s what she said, but Papa’s used to how the house
looks, I’m sure Mama was wanting to make sure the house is
presentable for when Santa Claus comes tomorrow night,” Myra
“And have you been good this year? I mean, I hear that
children who aren’t good end up getting lumps of coal in
their stockings,” Mark teased.
“We been good,” Josh piped up, causing Mark to raise his
“Well, for the most part. Papa, I been real good since then
and try real hard not to get into any more trouble,” Josh
Mark walked around the table to where his eldest sat and
tussled his hair. “I know you do. But Santa Claus might just
remember the trouble you caused back in October when you ran
“Would he remember what we did too?” Zach asked.
“He’s got a list and he checks it at least twice,” Hope
replied, she couldn’t keep the smile from her face.
“Let’s hope someone else has been in more trouble than we
were,” Little Ted offered before he took a bite from his
Looking to Hope, Mark asked, “So, where’s Pa?”
“Ma said he left early, before daybreak, to go check on the
As two o’clock approached, Mark saw his Ma hurrying across
the yard, he stood from his chair and walked over to open
“How’s the house cleaning coming along?” Mark asked, closing
the door behind Milly.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s your father; he said he was just going to check the
weanling herd. He said he wasn’t going to be that long; he’d
be back by lunch… I gave him extra time, because of the
“You’re worried,” said Mark.
“Ma, Blade is sure footed…’
“He rode Razor… You know how he likes to still ride Razor,
even as old as he’s getting, he still likes to take him out
on the range.”
“Pa’s just probably holed up somewhere, waiting for the
worst of the storm to pass.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“I’ll ride out to see if I can catch up with him.”
Mark arrived at the meadow where their weanling heard was
wintered. The rain made it difficult to see any distance, so
Mark kneed Rainmaker to walk on. Mark reached the far side
of the meadow to find Razor lying on the ground. Stepping
from his horse, Mark closed his eyes in an attempt to stem
the flow of tears, mentally acknowledging the stillness, as
Razor lay dead. Kneeling next to his father’s old horse, he
rubbed the grayed muzzle as images of a younger Mark riding
Blue Boy beside his Pa riding Razor flooded his memories.
“PA!” Mark yelled as he stood and looked around. “PA!”
Mark intently listened as the rain pelted his hat and poncho
for a reply that never came.
Night had fallen by the time Mark returned home, his effort
to sneak into his barn was in vain; both Hope and Milly were
waiting for his return. Mark had finished tying the shovel
to the back of his saddle when the barn door opened.
“Mark?” Milly called out as she saw his silhouette cast by
the lantern turned low.
“Ma, go back to the house. You shouldn’t be out in this
“Where’s your father? Where’s Lucas?”
“I don’t know. Please, just go back inside…” Mark pleaded,
unable to keep the quiver from his voice.
“Mark, please I hear it in your voice. Don’t hide the truth
from Ma,” Hope spoke as she walked across the barn floor.
“Pa’s missing… I found Razor… I need to get back to bury him
before the wolves…” Mark stopped as he heard both women
gasp. “There were tracks, but I just don’t know… I’ll be
back when I can.”
Hope stated, “I’ll go pack some provisions.”
After Hope had left the barn, Milly stated, “Mark, you find
your father,” unable to stop the tears falling down her
Before he started to dig the hole, Mark pulled Razor’s
saddle and bridle, placing them in the back of the cave on
the east side of the meadow. Returning to Rainmaker, Mark
attached his Pa’s rifle and scabbard to the left side of his
own saddle. The sun was just starting to crest the hills
when Mark pushed the last bit of dirt over the grave where
he buried Razor. Mark drove the shovel into the ground, and
with sore muscles, he tightened the cinch to Rainmakers
girth and climbed in the saddle.
Looking to the horizon, back towards their homestead, the
rain continued to soak everything around.
Mark’s attention returned to his need to find his Pa. Soon,
all the lessons Lucas taught him through the years about
tracking kicked into gear, Mark looked at the tracks in the
mud… A short distance from where he had found Razor, Mark
found what appeared to be the remnants of blood mixed in
with the mud on the ground and the impression of where a
tall man had lain. Mark started to back track. Mentally
measuring the length of Razor’s stride, he realized Lucas
had been running his old horse for all he was worth. Mark
found where a second set of tracks had paralleled and
Finding the right tracks leading away from the meadow, Mark
pulled his hat further down in an effort to keep the rain
from running down his neck before he kicked Rainmaker into a
trot, heading east.
The sun had set when the rain finally stopped. Mark arrived
in Roswell late in the evening. Walking along the main
street, he heard Christmas carols coming from the saloon,
the voices drunkenly off-key. Mark halted his horse in front
of the livery and led him inside.
“Mighty late for a young man like you to be out on Christmas
Eve,” came from the shadows as an old man stepped from a
“Any others come through this afternoon? One might be busted
up, got thrown from his horse, maybe?” Mark asked.
“On Christmas Eve? Most travelers are at their destination.
The names Nichols,” he held out his hand to Mark.
“McCain. How much do I owe you to put up my horse for the
night?” Mark asked, pulling his poncho over his head and
opening his jacket to pull out his wallet.
“You a marshal?” Nichols asked pointing to Mark’s badge.
“You hunting an outlaw?”
“Yeah, I’m the U.S. Marshal for the territory. The men I’m
hunting, one would be quite tall, sandy colored hair…”
“Naw, nobody fitting that description come through here.”
“How much for putting up my horse?” Mark asked again.
“On the house. I heard tell about you. My pleasure to put
your horse up. If you think one of them that you’s after
might been injured, there’s a doctor at the end of the
boardwalk. The hotel’s in the middle of town.”
Mark tied his poncho to his saddle and pulled his and his
Pa’s rifle from his saddle before he left the livery.
Mark noticed the sign outside the picket fence, “Hennekin
Clinic”. The name sounded vaguely familiar to Mark, but he
didn’t take time to figure out why. He closed the door to
the clinic behind him and proceeded to look around.
“Can I help you?” a female voice sounded from behind him.
Mark turned in the direction of the voice, “I’m looking for
two men, thought one might be injured and in need of a
doctor. Is the doctor here?”
“It’s Christmas Eve…”
“I know Ma’am.” Mark opened his jacket to show his badge.
“It’s important. May I speak with your doctor?”
“I’m the doctor. My name is Doctor Rosalie Hennekin. How may
I help you?”
Removing his hat, Mark continued, “Have you seen any
patients today? I’m looking for one who might be busted up
from being thrown from a horse. He’s about six foot, five,
sandy blonde hair, about two hundred fifteen pounds.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve not seen any patients today other than
children eating too much Christmas candy. Is the man you’re
looking for an outlaw?”
“No, not this one. But I’m not sure about the man he may be
traveling with,” a disappointed Mark answered. “It’s been
quite a few years since I was here, could you direct me to
your telegraph office.”
“Yes, it’s down the boardwalk, three doors this side of the
“Thank you, doctor.”
Mark placed his hat back on his head and stepped to the
Entering the telegraph office, Mark apologized for his
stopping by at such a late hour.
“Just write out your message and I’ll send it.”
Milly and Hope McCain
North Fork, New Mexico
In Roswell /stop/
Will continue /stop/
Mark handed the first wire to the telegrapher before he
started to write out a second wire.
Tom Benton, U.S. Marshal
Lucas McCain missing /stop/
“Do you have a spare note pad?”
The telegrapher nodded.
“How much for it and the wires?” Mark asked.
Mark counted out the money, picked up the note pad, and
heard the man wishing him a Merry Christmas as he left.
Stretched out on the bed in his hotel room, Mark’s mind
raced from one scenario to another on who had his Pa, and
why. Mark jotted down notes and thoughts in the notepad. It
had been a long time since Mark had kept a journal… ever
since he’d married, he hadn’t felt a need to keep a journal,
but this time… Mark wanted to make sure he could recall all
that happened while he was tracking down his Pa, especially
if it came to his needing to testify against whoever had
taken Lucas. Sore muscles and lack of sleep, from the night
before, forced Mark’s mind to quiet as sleep won out. The
lamp glowed in the room as Mark fell asleep with the notepad
on his chest and the pencil still in his hand.
The following morning, as Mark came downstairs, the clerk
greeted him by handing him a wire. Mark hooked both rifles
over his arm as he took the wire.
Mark McCain, U.S. Marshal
God Speed /stop/
Tom Benton, U.S. Marshal
Using only one hand, Mark refolded the wire and placed it in
his shirt pocket.
“Merry Christmas,” the clerk called as Mark left the lobby.
While rattling the door to the sheriff’s office, a man
passing by informed Mark that the sheriff was eating
breakfast at the small café a few doors down. There were
only two people in the café when he entered.
“I’m looking for the Sheriff.”
“You found him. Sheriff Corbitt’s the name. How can I help
you?” the Sheriff asked as he pulled the napkin from his
open shirt collar and wiped his mouth.
“I’m looking for one man; he may be traveling with at least
one other. The man I’m looking for is six foot, five, sandy
blonde hair with a little graying, possibly injured.”
“If he’s injured, you should see our doctor,” the café cook
stated upon hearing Mark’s comments.
“I did, she hasn’t seen anyone,” Mark replied.
“And just who might you be?” Sheriff Corbitt asked before he
curiously commented, “Not unusual to see someone wearing a
double holster, but I don’t recall ever seeing anyone
carrying double rifles.”
“I’m U.S. Marshal Mark McCain,” Mark replied, opening his
jacket to show his badge. He chose to ignore the comment
regarding the rifles.
“This man you’re after, he an outlaw? Do you have a wanted
poster on him?”
“Not the one I’m after.”
“And the other he may be with?”
“Don’t know,” Mark replied.
“Boy, you sure don’t have a lot of information to go on,”
“I can give you as good a description on the one, as I can.
He disappeared from his family’s ranch over in North Fork.
From the tracks, someone looked to be chasing him. I’ve
followed the trail this far. Now, I’ll ask again, have you
seen a man who fits the description?”
“Aren’t too many men that tall… Six foot, five, sandy
colored hair, you say… Hmmmm. Did he have a lump on the
forehead, above his right eye?” Corbitt asked.
“Then you have seen him?” asked an excited Mark as his hopes
“Not in person, but I do seem to remember… Hank, thanks for
breakfast.” The sheriff stood and motioned for Mark to
follow him. Upon entering the jail, the sheriff took his
seat behind his desk and started leafing through the stack
of wanted posters. After a few minutes, he looked up to
“I could of sworn that description was on a wanted poster,
but it ain’t in my stack.” Turning to a young boy sweeping
one of the cells, “Hey, Mikey, you been looking through
“Me, sir?” Mikey asked.
“Yes you… I recalled the description of a man this here U.S.
Marshal gave me and it sounded familiar, thought I’d find
the wanted poster in my stack. Did you take any poster from
“No sir, you tanned my britches good enough the last time. I
ain’t touched ‘em.”
“Dang it all. I could have sworn…”
“Pa?” Mikey asked as he placed the broom against the bars
and walked to the sheriff’s desk.
“A few weeks ago, that bounty hunter who come through here.
Remember, he had a wanted poster, you couldn’t find one to
match it in your stack…”
The sheriff scratched at his head, trying to remember. “Now
that you mention it. Yeah, I do remember. An older fella
come through here. Had a wanted poster, said he’d been
tracking him for some time after he found the poster in La
“Arizona Territory?” Mark asked.
“Nah, I think he said…” the sheriff stumbled on remembering
“Pa, weren’t it Wyoming?” Mikey asked.
“Wyoming…” a perplexed Mark mumbled.
“Pa, I know you didn’t take much stock in it cause it didn’t
have no reward money listed, but I remember the poster said
the man was called “The Rifleman,” Mikey went on to say.
Mark knelt down in front of the boy, “What else do you
“The man in the picture didn’t look that mean. I mean he had
a real friendly face,” Mikey replied.
“What about the bounty hunter,” Mark insisted.
“That’s enough,” Sheriff Corbitt ordered as he pulled Mark
to his feet. “Mikey, you go on home and tell your Ma I’ll be
home shortly and we’ll open those presents Santa Claus
“All right, Pa!” Mikey exclaimed as he ran from the office.
Waiting for the boy to leave, the Sheriff closed the door to
“Why wouldn’t you let the boy answer my question?” Mark
“Because that bounty hunter caused nothing but trouble while
he was here. Mikey and his friends started to idolize his
glib attitude. I remember the man. Mikey was right, I didn’t
take much stock in the wanted poster because it didn’t say
what he was wanted for nor did it list the amount of the
reward. I figured it was just a missing person.”
“So missing or not, you chose to forget about it?”
“It wasn’t that I forgot about it, it just didn’t seem
important. Turpin, that was the bounty hunter’s name, said a
wanted poster was a wanted poster and he aimed to see the
man returned to the Oklahoma Territory for whatever the
“Oklahoma?” Mark shook his head as he realized just how far
his travels might ultimately take him. “Sheriff, I don’t
mean to keep you any longer from your family.”
“Hey, you said your name was Mark McCain?” Corbitt asked.
“That’s right,” answered Mark.
“I remember the name on that wanted poster; it said the
man’s name was Lucas McCain…”
“Yeah, he’s my Pa,” Mark said as he turned to leave the
office. “Only he ain’t no outlaw.”
“Hey, if you see my wife while you’re here in town, I’d
appreciate it if you’d not say anything about finding me at
the café.” Placing his hands to either side of his stomach,
the sheriff shook it, “My wife wants me on a diet.”
“I wouldn’t know your wife if I saw her. Sides, I’m heading
out as soon as I get my horse.”
The Sheriff followed Mark out the door and locked it behind
“I hope you find your Pa. And Merry Christmas!”
Turning up his collar to the cold breeze, Mark headed to the
“But its Christmas!” Eli proclaimed as he tried to coax his
brothers from their beds.
“Yeah, but Papa ain’t here,” Josh stated as he pulled the
cover back over his shoulder.
Sitting up on his bed, Zach stated, “I heard Mama crying
last night. And Grandma Milly, she didn’t look too happy
yesterday with Grandpa Lucas not here.”
“Grandpa Seth and Grandma Lilah aren’t here either,” Eli
“We’re gonna have Christmas with them when they return,”
“But Santa came. I looked out the door. There’s presents
under the tree,” Eli declared as he shook Josh’s shoulder.
From the front room, they three heard, “Josh, Zach, Eli”.
Together they quietly walked from their bedroom to the front
“Yes Mama?” Zach asked.
“I’ve breakfast ready and then we can open your presents,”
Hope stated, trying to be cheerful.
Hope’s son stood by the table, sadly looking to the
Christmas tree and all the brightly wrapped presents
“Would Santa be mad if I didn’t open my presents?”
“Why wouldn’t you want to open your presents?” Hope asked.
“Papa’s not here. It just don’t feel like Christmas…”
Hope looked to her other two sons and asked, “Do you want to
open your presents?” and saw them shake their heads. “Okay,
they can wait. But you’ll sit at the table and eat your
The three boys quietly took their seats at the table and
waited for their Mama to sit Mykaela in her chair and put
their breakfast on the table.
“When you’re done eating what would you boys like to do
today?” Hope asked.
“We can do some of Papa’s chores in the barn. The horses
need fed and the stalls need cleaned,” Josh answered.
“Okay, once I’ve finished dishes, I’ll take your sisters
over to Grandma Milly’s and we’ll work in the barn,
“I never realized just how much work Mark does in taking
care of the horses…” Hope commented as she pushed a wayward
strand of hair back underneath her kerchief, having placed
the pitchfork and wheelbarrow back in their storage places.
“What about Grandpa Lucas’ barn?” Zach asked.
“Why don’t we go to Grandma Milly’s?” Hope asked.
Somberly the group walked across the yard. Hope turned as
the group reached the porch, after hearing a rider coming up
“Hope!” Micah called as he halted his horse at the hitching
rail. “We missed you and the family at services last night
and this morning. Got a wire for you, I told Amos I’d bring
it out to you.”
“Micah, come inside.” Hope maneuvered her children inside
the door and held it open for Micah.
Once inside, Micah stated, “Okay, I can tell something isn’t
right, care to tell me what’s wrong?”
“Pa’s missing and Mark’s trying to find him,” Hope replied
as she took the envelope and walked to Milly.
“Missing, what are you talking about?”
“Two days ago, Lucas didn’t come back from checking the
weanling herd. I figured he was just delayed, due to the
weather, but Mark went looking for him. He found Razor in
the meadow, dead. Mark came back for tools to bury him and
we haven’t seen either of them since,” Milly answered as she
tried to wipe away the tears falling down her cheeks.
“Why didn’t you send word?” asked a perturbed Micah.
“We didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s Christmas,” Milly
While Milly explained, Hope read the wire. Pulling her hands
to her chest, Hope closed her eyes and exhaled deeply.
“Jake will be back tomorrow to help. Mark told him to enjoy
the holiday with his family,” Hope commented.
“But you two... and… and the… the children… here all alone?”
“Micah, it was our choice,” Milly’s resolve returned.
“Your choice! Just wait until I get back to town and tell…”
“Just who are you going to tell?” Hope asked. “Everyone in
town has their own family. We can’t ask them to abandon
their responsibilities just because…”
“Because your husbands are missing… Yes you can!”
“Mark’s not missing. He’s in Roswell,” Hope answered. “I’m
sorry Milly, it’s a brief wire, he’s not found Lucas yet.”
Hope handed the wire to Milly for her to read.
Without any further discussion, Micah mounted his horse and
returned to North Fork.
“Drako!” Micah hollered as he threw open the door to the
“You don’t need to yell loud enough to wake the dead, I’m
right here,” Johnny offered.
“Lucas is missing and Mark’s gone after him. Milly, Hope,
and the children are out at the ranch all alone!” Micah
“Slow down… what about Lucas missing?” Johnny asked.
“I stopped by their ranch today because it ain’t like the
family to not come to town for one of the Christmas services
at church. Told Amos I’d take the wire that came addressed
to Hope out to their place. Milly said Lucas went missing
day before yesterday and Mark’s trailing after him. The wire
was from Mark, he’s in Roswell with no sign of Lucas.”
Grabbing his hat and coat, Johnny headed for the office
door, “I best tell Johnny Gibbs. He’ll need to know.”
As the days passed, various ranchers alternated assigning a
few of their hands to help Jake McCafferty look out after
the McCain ranch.
“You don’t think I can handle looking out after the McCain
ranch?” Jake demanded of Johnny Drako when he stopped by
town to pick up some supplies for Gwen.
“Jake, its nothing like that. You’re a newly married man,
with a wife and your own place. Lucas or Mark have always
been there with you, their place is too much for any one man
to handle. Amazes me that the three of you do such a good
job at it, being there’s only the three of you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come down so…” Jake offered as
he took a seat opposite Johnny’s desk.
“Jake, we’re all a little on edge with both Lucas and Mark
gone and no real word as to what’s happening. I know both of
them appreciate everything you’re doing to look after their
place and their families.”
Try as they might, neither, Hattie, Colleen, or Lou had any
luck in convincing Milly and Hope to move to town with their
Mark didn’t spend much more time in town before he left
Roswell. Somberly, he trotted Rainmaker down the middle of
the street, trying to block out the sights and sounds of
Christmas as the town celebrated the holiday. For several
days he traveled, passing through Portales, before stopping
and taking a room at the hotel in Clovis.
He was sitting in the far corner of the hotel restaurant
lost in his out thoughts, “Welcome back to Clovis, Marshal
Mark motioned for the man to have a seat.
“I’m Sheriff Cameron…”
“Mitchell,” Mark finished.
“Wasn’t so sure you’d remember me,” Mitchell answered as he
placed his hat on the unoccupied portion of the table.
“Didn’t remember your name until you started to say it,”
Not wanting Mark to be the only one feeling guilty for not
remembering a name, “Well, I didn’t remember your name until
Mrs. Bowers read it to me from the register. What brings you
back through our town?”
“Trailing after my Pa. I’m pretty sure he was taken against
his will from the ranch two days before Christmas,” Mark
“That was a week ago. How are you tracking him?”
“I was in Roswell on the twenty-fifth. Talked with the
“Corbitt’s a good man. What did he say?”
“A few weeks before, a bounty hunter had come through with a
wanted poster. I’ve been criss-crossing the territory
stopping in the various towns inquiring about any bounty
hunter coming through.”
“Where all ya been?”
“Besides Roswell? … Elkins, Kenna, Elida, Floyd, Portales,
slipped over to Muleshoe, Texas, but couldn’t pick up his
trail, so I thought I’d come and stop here.”
“Any better description other than a bounty hunter?”
“I’ve been able to obtain that his name is Archie Turpin and
he’s in his late fifties…hair more grey than black.”
“You know, we did have a stranger come through here a couple
of days ago and stocked up on enough supplies to feed a
small army. He was in and out real quick… I tried to make
small talk with him and he seemed kind of flighty…”
“Did you see which direction he went when he left town?”
“He headed southwest,” Mitchell answered. “I wish I had
better information for you.”
“I do to, but at least you confirmed I’m on the right trail.
Just wish I knew where in Oklahoma he was planning to take
my Pa,” a dejected Mark spoke.
“Oklahoma? But that’s Northeast from here, the opposite way
he went when he left.”
“I’m sure when he stops for supplies, he leaves Pa tied up
somewhere on the outskirts of town…”
“That’s a fair piece of traveling to do -- taking a man
against his will.”
“I found out from Corbitt, the bounty hunter had an old
wanted poster for my Pa,” Mark replied.
“You Pa’s a wanted man?” Mitchell whistled.
“Not really. See, a long time ago, Pa went undercover, up in
La Mesa, Wyoming. Micah and the Marshal Service had a wanted
poster made up on Pa, to help him with his cover. Said he
was wanted in Oklahoma Territory. I guess this Turpin must
have found one of them.”
“Oklahoma isn’t as big a territory as Texas, but still…
Where do you begin looking?” Mitchell asked.
“Figured to continue making my way Northeast, stopping along
the way and asking questions, hoping to catch word that I’m
still on the right trail.”
“I don’t envy you. You’re looking for a needle in a
“Don’t I know it,” Mark shook his head in regret.
“How long you planning to stay?”
“Just tonight. I’ll head out in the morning. Sheriff, thanks
for stopping by, I appreciate it.”
“Weren’t nothing, I wish you luck.”
With that, Sheriff Mitchell retrieved his hat and left the
Before retiring to his room at the hotel, Mark walked to the
telegraph office and wrote out a brief wire.
Milly and Hope McCain
North Fork, New Mexico
In Clovis /stop/
Crossing into Texas /stop/
As the train pulled into the North Fork station, Seth and
Lilah eagerly looked forward to returning home. Upon
stepping to the platform, both were curious that neither
Mark nor Hope were there to greet them.
“Seth, Lilah!” Nils called as he climbed the steps.
“Good Afternoon, Nils!” Lilah called.
“Uh… Johnny asked that I keep an eye out for you and get you
to the Marshal’s Office. He hoped to be back by now, guess
he’s running a little late,” Nils replied.
“Nils, something’s wrong. What?” Seth stated as he motioned
for the porter to set their luggage down. “Something happen
to Hope or the children?”
“No, they’re fine. Just fine… Please, come with me.” Nils
started stepping sideways in an attempt to get Seth and
Lilah to follow him.
“Please, just come with me.”
Nils turned his back and hurriedly led the way to the
Marshal’s Office, arriving just as Johnny returned.
“Welcome back!” Johnny called as he stepped down from his
“Drako, tell me what’s wrong.”
“Thanks Nils, I’ll take it from here. Seth, Lilah, inside
please?” Johnny asked as he opened the office door,
motioning for them to enter.
Johnny waited for Lilah to have a seat and asked if either
would like a cup of coffee.
“Drako, just spit it out. What’s wrong?” asked an impatient
“Lucas and Mark have been gone for over a week now. Story is
that Lucas disappeared two days before Christmas and Mark
took out after him that night.”
“Missing? How? Why didn’t someone wire me?!”
“Seth, we don’t know the whole story. We didn’t find out
about Lucas missing until Christmas afternoon. I went out to
the weanling meadow and I couldn’t find much of anything. By
then, the calves had pretty much obliterated any sign of a
trail. I wanted to wire you but Hope forbade it. Said you
deserved to have Christmas with Ethan and his family.
“Damn you, Drako! You should have wired me regardless!”
“Seth, she’s a grown woman. Johnny did as he should. He
respected her wishes,” Lilah stated as she stood and walked
to her husband, placing a hand on his arm.
“Still…” Seth inserted.
“Still what? Johnny told us that the trail was obliterated…
Even if we had returned earlier, how would you have tracked
them?” Lilah wrapped her arms around Seth’s left arm.
“Has any word been heard from Mark?” a calmer Seth asked.
“Christmas Eve Hope received a wire from Mark in Roswell.
Not much was included except that he was in Roswell and was
continuing. Monday we received a wire he made it to Portales
and I presume he arrived in Clovis yesterday.”
Looking to the map on the wall, Seth stated, “So he’s
trailing Lucas to the Northeast. Mark doesn’t have any idea
who took him or why?”
“Not that he’s included in a wire. He just wires where he
is. I presume once he’s found Lucas he’ll let us know, but
until then we just wait for a wire to arrive.”
“What about Benton? Have you contacted him? Does Denver know
“Benton wired us they were aware that Lucas was missing and
Mark was on the trail,” Drako stated.
“Guess I should head out to their place,” a dejected Seth
stated as he turned to head to the door.
“We’ll head out to their place,” Lilah corrected.
“It’s about time ye returned. Now maybe someone can talk
some sense into that daughter of yours. And if we can get
Hope to town, then Milly will come too,” Lou declared as she
entered the Marshal’s Office.
“Good to see you too, Lou,” Lilah replied in greeting.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that no one has been able to convince
either of them to come to town,” Lou pouted.
“Who’s taking care of their animals and the ranch?” Seth
asked. “Don’t tell me Milly and Hope are doing it?”
“Jake’s doing his fair share and a number of the ranchers
are alternating sending men over to check their herds.”
Seth halted the surrey by the hitching rail and helped Lilah
to the ground. Together, they stepped to the porch and
waited for an answer to Seth’s knocking on the door.
“Hello?!” Seth called out.
“Father!” Hope exclaimed as she came from the barn.
Lilah inhaled sharply in seeing Hope’s disheveled
“Hope, what are you doing in the barn? I though Jake was
tending to the animals?” Lilah asked.
“The boys and I were just feeding the horses. I’m sorry
about how I look, it’s just been so hectic around here…”
Hope paused in her explanation after seeing the disapproving
look from her father.
“And why haven’t you brought your children to town and
stayed at our place?” Seth asked, his tone was more of a
Wiping her hands on her apron, Hope answered, “Because it is
your home and my home is here! Father, please, it’s bad
enough that Mark is gone and Lucas is missing. Please don’t
turn into another Lou, Hattie, or Colleen by trying to make
us feel guilty.”
Seth noticed his grandsons walking from the barn and
standing behind Hope. He almost joked about their not
running to greet him, but refrained due to how sad and tired
they all looked.
“Would you at least let us take you into town and buy supper
for you?” Lilah asked.
“Lilah, I understand what you and Father are trying to do,
but it’s not necessary. We’re fine.”
“Fine?” Seth inquired. “Then at least let me help the boys
finish in the barn and Lilah will go with you into the
Seth watched while Hope and Lilah entered the house before
turning to his grandsons.
“So, what do we need to finish?”
“We just need to put away our tools, everything else is
done,” Josh answered.
Feeling a tug on his pant leg, “Grandpa, if you’re home,
does that mean Papa and Grandpa Lucas will be home soon?”
“I don’t know. I wish I had a better answer for you,” Seth
replied as he picked Eli up and carried him on his hip to
Looking the barn over, Seth knew Hope and the boys were
doing the best they could. He set Eli to his feet before he
placed the pitchfork and wheelbarrow back where they
belonged. Next, he climbed up the ladder and called down,
“Boys you stand back by the door, okay?” He watched as all
three did as he asked, before he threw down the first of
many hay bales. After stacking them along the wall, Seth
motioned for the boys to join him as he closed the barn door
and proceeded to the house.
Upon entering, he saw that Milly and her children had joined
the others in preparing for supper.
After setting Mykaela in her chair, Seth noticed all the
Christmas presents still wrapped sitting in the corner with
a blanket draped over them, the three having been already
removed from the house.
Seth and Lilah tried one more attempt to convince Hope to
come to town before they left for the night. Both knew what
the answer would be, but they couldn’t help but try.
“Hope, it can’t be healthy living like this,” Seth stated as
he pointed to the corner. “Your Christmas gifts?”
“The boys didn’t want to. Said it didn’t feel like Christmas
without Mark here.” Hope broke down when her father pulled
her into a hug. “Father… I miss him.”
“Please, come to town. You and Milly shouldn’t be suffering
like this on your own,” Seth stated as he attempted to
comfort his daughter.
“I can’t. It’s hard enough on the boys as it is… I’ll be all
right. Thank you,” Hope stated as she stepped back and dried
The Next Step — A
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch