The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 104 – This House Rebuilt
Written by Deanne Bertram

Mark ran upstairs to their hotel room, “Hope!”

“Mark, what’s wrong?” Hope replied as she turned from changing Faith.

“They left!” Mark breathed.

“Who left?”

“Pa, Ma, they left on the evening train.”

“What do you mean they left?” Hope asked as she set Faith to the floor.

“I was so stupid,” Mark commented as he sat down on the bed and Hope read the note he handed her.

“Mark, what happened? I thought you and Pa talked…”

“We did, and like always, I managed to say the wrong things. Hope I love the life we have, I just believed my eyes and not my heart,” Mark whispered as he lowered his head to his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.

“Papa?” Josh called.

Hope stood, picked up Faith, and motioned for all the children to follow. They walked two doors down the hallway where Hope knocked on the door to the room occupied by Johnny and Colleen.

“Hope?” Colleen asked upon opening the door.

“Please, can you watch the children?”

“Sure, but what about Lucas and Milly?”

“They left on the train. I need time with Mark to figure out what happened… Please?”

Colleen stepped back and let the older children enter the room and took Faith from Hope.

*****

Returning to their hotel room, Hope saw Mark even more despondent than just a few minutes before.

“Mark, please… Tell me what happened,” asked Hope.

“I asked all the wrong questions and accused Pa… I’ve been living a clouded truth ever since we arrived; I forgot to listen to my heart.” Tears readily fell down Mark cheeks. “He wanted me to join him for the ride back to town, and I didn’t. I was still feeling bitter from being taken from what my life could have been.”

“Could have been? What… if you’d stayed here?” asked Hope.

“Yeah, if we’d stayed. But Aunt Laura overheard it all, only she waited until Pa had left before she came to talk to me. She explained everything so much better. There’s so much of Pa’s past that I didn’t know, and he’d probably be ashamed if he knew I knew. I’m twenty-six and I behaved as if I was still six years old. Being angry at him for taking me away...”

“I’m listening…” stated Hope.

“I found out there was more behind why Pa left Enid after Ma died. It wasn’t just because of her memory… When Aunt Laura and Uncle Matthew were purchasing the ranch, they found old paperwork that Pa lost the ranch… He fell behind on payments because Ma wasn’t healthy and another doctor was charging him more for his services and the medications Ma needed. He lost his herd because of hoof and mouth… And then the epidemic hit… So Pa was right, there was nothing keeping him, or us, here anymore.”

“Mark…” Hope was at a loss for words.

”I should have remembered Marnie’s warning…”

*****

The train rumbled across the land, and Milly watched Lucas intently. She saw the grief in her husband’s face from losing another member of his family, yet, she also saw the anxiousness of his wanting to get home, get back to the life he knew and lived.

Over the course of the two-day train ride, Milly constantly had to remind Myra, Little Ted, and Levi not to mention Mark or his family, lest they upset their father.

*****

Seth and Lilah were stepping from the restaurant when they saw Lucas and Milly making their way to the livery, “Welcome home!” Seth called out.

“Hello Seth, Lilah,” Lucas and Milly greeted.

“When are Mark and Hope due home?” Lilah asked.

“Not sure, they wanted to stay a while and continue to catch up with the family,” answered Milly. She saw the consternation in Lucas’ face at the question and her answer. “Listen, it’s been a tiring trip and we need to get the children home. Why don’t you come out to the ranch tomorrow and we can talk.”

*****

Lucas halted the team in front of their barn and was oblivious of his children jumping down from the back of the buckboard; his thoughts were focused on his loss…the other house sitting dark and empty. He startled when Milly placed her hand upon his shoulder.

“Lucas, they’ll be back…” spoke Milly.

“Will they?”

“You know they will.”

“I’m not so sure. You didn’t see the look in his eyes or hear the accusation in his voice…” Lucas’ voice trailed off.

“Lucas, give him some time, I’m sure they’ll be home.”

Lucas shook his head.

“I’ll get supper ready, why don’t you unhitch the team.”

Milly didn’t wait for Lucas to help her down. She called for their children and headed into their home.

*****

When Lucas returned to the home, Milly never recalled seeing him so defeated. In all his trials, her husband had stood firm in his faith, he quavered a little now and then, but ultimately, his faith in God saw him through. She watched as he sat heavily in his chair and looked forlornly out the front window.

“Mama,” Myra whispered.

“Yes, sweetie,” Milly replied.

“Can I go sit in Papa’s lap to help him feel better?”

“I think that would be a lovely idea.”

Milly watched as her daughter walked across the floor, picked up her father’s bible, and climbed into his lap. Lucas took his bible from his daughter’s hands, wrapped his other arm around Myra, opened the bible, and began to read.

*****

Late Tuesday afternoon, Mark rode into the yard in front of his parents’ home. He saw Milly look out the front window, but she knew his conversation wasn’t with her; it needed to be with his Pa. Stepping from Rainmaker, he walked to the side of the home where he had grown up. Removing his hat, he touched the sign they had carved from wood. Though the years had weathered the words, one could still read what had been mounted on the wall, so long ago. “This house rebuilt by Lucas McCain and his son Mark — Aug. 1881 ― God bless our home.” Toying with his hat, Mark looked at the words one more time, “Home…”

Mark led Rainmaker over to his father’s barn and ground tied him. He entered the barn, hat in hand, and watched as his Pa pitched dirty bedding from one of the horse stalls. “Hello… Pa.”

“Mark,” Lucas acknowledged.

“Can we talk?” Mark asked.

“Mark, I think we said everything that we needed to, back in Enid.”

“No sir, we didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?” asked Lucas, his back still to Mark.

“We didn’t say everything, least I didn’t. Pa, please… I…” Mark’s words faltered as he tried to talk to his Pa.

Hearing something different in his son’s voice, Lucas set aside the pitchfork, turned and looked to Mark.

“I enjoyed meeting our family, but…” Looking to his Pa, Mark continued, “Pa, I only…”

“Only what?” Lucas asked as he walked to Mark.

“I thought if I could go back… back to Enid that somehow... I just wanted to touch something from Ma to help remember that she was real. Now please… don’t go getting upset with me, I know she was real, but I hoped going back would start healing me. Maybe I could find myself, but instead, I hurt you.” Mark worked to keep the tears from falling from his eyes as he finished talking.

“Find yourself? Why Mark, why?” Lucas asked.

Mark hung his head. “Pa, I didn’t know what else to do, though I have a better understanding now…” Mark allowed his shame to show.

“A better understanding?” asked Lucas.

“My hurting over Ma’s death, I remember I refused to accept it in the beginning; and I never really said goodbye. Then we left. We were traveling…I blamed you for taking me from those who loved me, away from Ma. Ultimately, we settled here and created a life, and along the way I tried forget Enid, because you told me I had to. But, back in February, I… we were so close to Enid. And then we came back from Cambridge and we had that layover in Oklahoma City… I kept remembering that I never said ‘goodbye,’ not really. We were so close…”

Lucas stood there and looked at his son, not sure exactly what to say.

“Pa, I know spoken hurt can’t be pulled back, but I want you to know, I am sorry for putting you through this. I just wanted to feel something other than the hurt in here…” Mark’s right hand was balled into a loose fist and he brought it up and thumped his chest as tears flowed down his cheeks. “I remembered the way I acted after Ma’s death… It didn’t speak well for her memory…”

“I guess I should have been more understanding...” Trying to prevent his own tears from falling, “What made you change your mind and return to North Fork?”

“I always planned to come home.” Mark emphasized the word home. “Aunt Laura helped me to finally understand everything. Pa, I realized that I forgot who I was. I remember now, took you leaving to remind me. I hope you can accept me back.”

“Accept you back?” Lucas asked.

“I can see it in your eyes, not everything is right between us, yet. I’m ready to work hard to be your partner again, if you’ll have me.”

“Mark, you were never, not my partner. I didn’t hear your family outside,” Lucas stated as he looked out the barn door, anticipating his grandsons running up to greet him, using his statement as a diversion to getting his own emotions under control.

“I left Hope and the children at Seth and Lilah’s. I wanted to talk with you, son to father.”

“Then there’s more you’ve not told me, I can hear it in your voice. I’m listening… this time.”

“Pa, when Turpin had you… I met a woman who gave me a warning… She told me you wouldn’t be the only one I would end up seeking, that I would seek someone dearer to my heart. She also warned me of the spider’s web. Well… The way Mable… you know… her being a widow and then that dress she wore that last night, I kind of compared her to a black widow spider…”

“She was at that… But, how does Mable figure into this?” Lucas asked, the mere mention of the woman’s name upset him.

“Not Mable, Marnie. She was right in warning me about Mable, but I took her other warning the wrong way. I figured when she warned me about seeking the one dearer to my heart she meant that I really wanted to get home, but it wasn’t Hope she was talking about -- it was Ma. Marnie knew that my traveling to find you would start me thinking on Ma again. Pa, Marnie warned me that my eyes would see a clouded image, and boy did they. But, Marnie also told me, if I trusted my heart, I would see the truth. I didn’t remember Marnie’s warning… I thought nothing more about it until I sat down next to Hope, after you and Ma left.”

Lucas listened as Mark tried to explain his feelings.

“Pa, I needed to return to Enid. Twice in six months, I had been so close… and it got me to thinking… I tried to remember us as a family, but I couldn’t feel Ma. I used to... After Oat’s wedding, I remembered the first few weeks we traveled…”

“I remember those weeks too. I remember how after supper, you would wash the dishes in the small brook before crawling into your bedroll for the night. I’d sit there and listen to you crying yourself to sleep. I didn’t know how to help you. Many a night I would walk over to the buckboard and pull out my bible from my satchel. I’d lean against a fallen tree or the wagon wheel and try to read from the Holy Bible by the light of their campfire. Many a night I would ask, ‘Dear Lord, help me. I’ve not done this before. How do I raise a child on my own?’ I missed your Ma too.”

“Pa, the first day I was back in Enid, I told Uncle Abraham about not remembering the feel of Ma’s arms around me or remembering her voice as she sang while working around the house. Uncle Abe told me it was normal, that I’d remember those things until it was my time to pass those same memories to my children…” Lucas listened to the hurt in his son’s voice, but let him continue, uninterrupted. “I remembered she sang, but I couldn’t hear her voice anymore. Once I arrived, my eyes saw a life that could have been so different for us, all my aunts and uncles and cousins... When I was in Aunt Laura’s home, I saw all the pictures on wall, recent pictures of the others… yet… our picture was still the one taken before the last Christmas. I allowed myself to be pulled into a web of regret. Marnie was right, it’s difficult to get out of the web if you let yourself be drawn into it. Before you left… Pa, I was still so confused… Aunt Laura came along and explained a lot to me after you rode away.”

“What did she tell you?” asked Lucas.

“She explained more about Ma’s health, and how you sold off some of your herd to pay for the doctor and the medicines. Told me of how hoof and mouth struck and you were forced to kill the rest of your herd, and then the small pox epidemic struck.”

“And…”

“She got me to listen to my heart. I truly know, ‘here’ is where I belong. This is my home, but more importantly… Pa, this is my family. You’re my family. I remembered who I am, I’m your son. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have the life I have and love…a beautiful wife, sons, daughters, a Ma, brothers, and a sister. Oh sure, you might have remarried, but it wouldn’t have been to Milly and if you’d had other children, they wouldn’t be Gabby, Little Ted, or Levi. And I know I would never have met Hope… Pa, home is where the heart is and my heart is here. I’m just so sorry that I forgot. I want to rebuild our partnership, just like we rebuilt our house.”

Lucas walked to the main door of the barn, cupping his hand around the doorframe, and looked to his home, “This house rebuilt by Lucas McCain and his son, Mark…” Lucas recited.

“I hope we can be partners again,” Mark replied, still knowing it was going to take time to put things right between them.

“No, I can’t welcome you back as my partner,” quietly Lucas stated. He turned and closed the distance between the two of them and pulled Mark into a hug. “I’m welcoming my son home.”

*****

Milly had made her way to just outside the barn door, listened, and heard nothing. She peeked around the doorframe and smiled when she saw the two most important men in her life, reconciling.

“Stop peeking and come inside, Milly,” Lucas stated as he realized his wife was just outside the door.

“Welcome home, Mark. Did Hope and the children come, too? What of Johnny and Colleen’s return?” Milly asked.

“I left the family in town. I didn’t know how long our talk would take. Johnny and Colleen said they planned to return home by Friday.”

“Well, get to town and get your family, unless you’re willing to let them visit with Seth and Lilah while you help your father by holding up your end of the partnership,” Milly stated with a smile.

“It’s not a partnership, Milly,” Lucas stated.

“We’re family,” Mark finished. “Let me go get changed. I’ll be right back.” With a lighter step, Mark ran from the barn as he had so many times as a little boy.

Looking to his wife, “I know… I should have listened before.”

“I won’t say I told you so…” Milly paused, “but it’s good to know he’s home.”

“A home rebuilt…” Lucas mused.

“Are you going to tell him the whole story?” asked Milly.

“Maybe I should. Maybe if I had told him the whole story the night when I told him why I wouldn’t sell the ranch to make way for the railroad… I told him of the land and what was missing, but I never told him how I lost our ranch in Enid. Maybe tonight…after his family returns.”

*****

The children were in bed when Milly and Lucas walked over to join Hope and Mark on their front porch. As they approached, they heard Mark quietly singing as he strummed his guitar.

“Mighty fine country, Pa,” Mark whispered as Lucas sat down on the other side of the porch step from him.

Mark set his guitar aside to allow Hope to sit on the step in front of him. Milly sat on the step in front of Lucas, both wives leaned back to their husbands’ support.

“Mark, there’s more to our leaving Enid that I think you need to know,” Lucas stated as he looked out towards the horizon.

Mark squeezed Hope’s shoulder when he sensed she was about to say something. Hope slowly let out her breath and listened as Lucas spoke. Lucas told Mark the whole story behind their leaving Enid.

The Next Step — Rough and Ready

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

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