The Writer's Corner
The Next Step…
Chapter 49 – Trail of Fear
Written by Deanne Bertram
The early afternoon air held a hint of fall as the summer gave
way to fall. Mark was tying his saddlebags and bedroll on when
Hope came up behind him.
“Doc said Willow Springs needs the medicine bad and its three
days before the stage arrives here that could take the medicine
to them,” Mark stated as he put the food Hope had prepared for
him in his saddle bags.
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” Hope asked.
“If I ride hard, I should get there tomorrow evening. After I
deliver the medicine, I’ll want to rest Blue Boy for a day
before I think on heading home. Then I’ll take it a little
slower coming back. Though I’d race the sun to get home to you
quicker. I should be home in five days, six at the most. I’ll
wire once I get there and right before I leave, okay?”
Hope nodded and then looked over her shoulder, back into their
“I could ask your father to come out here and stay with you and
the boys. I don’t think he’d mind,” Mark said.
“No, your Ma and Pa will be here and you’ve taught me well
enough how to use the rifle. It’s just that this is…”
“I know,” Mark stated as he pulled Hope close to him. “This is
the first time I’ll be away from you for any length of time,
since this summer. I’m sure Ma and Pa would let you…”
“No Mark. This is something I have to do on my own too. You’ve
learned to let us stay here while you’re in town.”
“But this is different, Hope. It’s not a quick ride into town to
bring me back.”
“We’ll be fine. If I do get unnerved, I promise, I’ll pack up
both the boys and barge in on Ma and Pa,” Hope stated as she put
on a brave face and smiled.
After kissing Hope goodbye, Mark swung up into the saddle, Lucas
and Milly waved from their porch and yelled, “Safe travel son!”
It was a harder ride to Willow Springs than Mark recollected or
planned. One section of the trail had been blocked by a rock
slide. He and Blue Boy had to pick their way around carefully,
only to find they needed to back track and take a different
route. It was much later in the night when Mark arrived and
stopped at the Sheriff’s Office, inquiring where the Doctor’s
“I’m Sheriff Adam Banes, you got sick folk out on the trail?”
“No sir, my name’s Mark McCain, I’m the deputy from North Fork
and I’ve the medicine you doctor wired Doc Burrage for.”
“Well why didn’t ya say so first off? Follow me youngster.” The
Sheriff hustled his way down the boardwalk to the doctor’s
“Doc Simmons! This here deputy got the medicines you’re waiting
for!” Sheriff Banes yelled.
Mark handed his saddle bags to the doctor. “Sheriff, could you
direct me to your livery? I want to see my horse bedded down
“Sure. You’ll probably want to sleep in the hayloft any how. The
hotel’s got a number of sick folk staying there. Doc brought
them to town so they’d be in one place instead of him riding all
over the countryside.”
The Sheriff left Mark in front of the livery and then returned
to his office.
Mark led Blue Boy inside and put him in one of the empty stalls.
After unsaddling and picking his hooves, he took the time to
curry his horse down. As he worked, he pulled out a few sugar
cubes. As Mark put his saddle and bridle on the rack, an old man
came into the livery.
“Sheriff Banes stated there was a young fella here and you
brought the medicine? My name’s Asa, Asa Colby.”
“Mr. Colby, my name’s Mark McCain. I hope you don’t mind that I
helped myself to a stall for my horse and fed him some hay.”
“No, no. Don’t hold to no one calling me mister. Everyone here
calls me Asa. Besides, it’s the least we can do. You rode, what
two days to get here?”
“Almost, I left North Fork early yesterday afternoon, though I
had to back track because of a rock slide. I just hope I got
here with the medicine in time,” Mark replied. “Could you tell
me where the telegraph office is so I can send a wire that I
“Sure, Sure do. Zeb Ackers runs it. I can take ya over there.”
“I’d be obliged.”
After sending word that he had arrived safely in Willow Springs,
Mark returned to the livery and climbed up into the hayloft,
carrying his bedroll with him. Mark woke the following morning
to the sounds of horses nickering in anticipation of their
morning feeding. Mark crawled from his bed and stretched
himself, before climbing down. Mark helped Asa finish feeding
the horses before he asked about someplace where he could get
“Mrs. Johanssen runs a small café towards the middle of town.
She fixes some mighty fine vittles.”
Mark said goodbye and made his way towards breakfast. After
eating breakfast, Mark walked towards the doctor’s office and
saw a crowd outside… waiting. He pulled out his pocket watch and
realized it was almost mid-morning. Mark leaned up against the
hitching rail outside the Sheriff’s Office and watched. A few
minutes later he saw the doctor’s door open and the doctor
stepped out. Soon the crowd was joyously cheering. Doc ran from
his office straight towards the hotel. By nightfall, Mark had
heard that most everyone was well on the road to recovery. A few
would take a little longer, but they had been sicker to begin
Mark returned to the livery and made arrangements with Asa that
he would leave in the morning. Before crawling back up into the
hayloft, Mark sent one more wire home.
As quietly as Mark had entered Willow Springs, he left just as
quietly, before daybreak. As promised, he took things slower
with Blue Boy on the return home. His first night out, he still
wasn’t tired enough to sleep, so he continued to ride Blue Boy
at a walk, until he saw a small campfire in the distance. Mark
proceeded and when he was close enough, he called out to those
in the camp.
“In the camp, I’m a weary traveler looking to bed down for the
night. I’ve some food and water to spare as payment for sharing
the warmth of your fire.”
“Come on in!” Mark heard in response.
Mark entered the light of the fire only to see a man wearing a
holstered gun and holding a rifle trained on him. Mark slowly
raised his arms.
“Mister, I don’t want no trouble and if I make you that nervous,
I’ll just ride on out of here and leave you to yours,” Mark
“I don’t want any trouble either, just… A man can’t be too
careful out here. What’s your business?” the man asked.
“My name’s Mark McCain. I’m on my way home to North Fork, from
delivering some medicines to Willow Springs.”
“You always travel around the countryside at night, without
guns?” the man asked.
“No sir, I have a rifle, it’s in the scabbard on the off side of
my saddle,” Mark replied.
“You don’t hold to hand guns?”
“A rifle served my Pa just fine, so it suits me just fine. As I
said, I’m not looking to cause you any trouble. If it’ll make
you feel any better, if I may…?” Mark asked.
“Slowly,” the man said as he brought his rifle to his shoulder.
Mark pulled open his jacket just enough to show his badge.
“Are you really a lawman?”
Mark slowly lowered his arms as the man lowered his rifle and
“As I said, I’ve some water and some foodstuff I can share with
you. Your camp looks a little sparse,” Mark stated as he stepped
down from the saddle.
“I’d appreciate it, not for me though.” The man turned as
called, “Tyler, come on out boy. It’s okay, he’s a lawman.”
Mark looked in the direction the man turned and saw a young boy
walk from behind a large boulder. He quickly ran to stand and
peak from behind his Pa.
“Hello there,” Mark said. “I’m Deputy Mark McCain.” He extended
his hand as he knelt down to the boy.
The boy looked up to his Pa, as Mark followed his eyes, he saw
the man nod his head. The boy slowly came from behind his Pa and
extended his hand and said, “My name’s Tyler Blackwood.”
“Well Tyler, I’m pleased to meet you. Do you like peaches?”
The boy nodded and Mark walked to the near side of his horse and
pulled his saddle bags down. He handed the bag to the man and
said, “There’s a few cans of peaches and a can opener in there.
Feed them and the jerky to your son.”
Mark led Blue Boy over to where the other two horses were tied.
He pulled his saddle and laid it on a fallen tree. When he
returned to the camp he carried his bedroll and his rifle.
“Mister, as I said, I’m not here to cause you any trouble. I
only have my rifle for protection.”
“I’m sorry Deputy. Just with the boy and all, I couldn’t be too
careful. I want to thank you for your generosity. My name’s Syd
After a while, Mark noticed the boy fighting sleep. Syd picked
his son up and placed him in his bedroll and pulled the covers
over him. Then sat down next to his sleeping son.
“Now that the boy’s asleep, you care to tell me why you’re so
nervous? It’s not just protecting him, is it?” Mark asked.
“You have family?” Syd asked.
“Yes, a wife and two sons.”
“You love them like there’s no tomorrow? Guess you think it’s
pretty stupid question. You don’t know what it’s like, traveling
on my own, with just my young son. I lost my wife a year and a
half ago, Tuberculosis. We lived in Springfield, Illinois. My
wife and I always dreams of traveling west, before we had Tyler.
But then he came and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to travel
with an infant.”
“How old’s the boy now?” Mark asked.
“He’ll be seven come February. Maybe it’s stupid, me traveling
with him being so young and all, but I just couldn’t stay in
Springfield any more. I keep him up on his studies. You should
always feel blessed to have a wife. I’m sorry to ramble on. It’s
just that before Alice took sick, we sort of, well…”
“Syd, you don’t need to explain.”
“Oh, but I do. I owe you an explanation for holding a rifle on
you. He’s all I got left of Alice. Maybe it sounds strange to
“Syd, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a wife, but growing
up, I was your boy. My own Ma died when I was six. We lived in
Enid, Oklahoma. My Pa couldn’t stay there, not with her memory
everywhere. We traveled, occasionally staying in one town or
another for a few months, but never calling anywhere ‘home’
until we got to North Fork. We finally settled down when I was
ten. So, you don’t need to explain yourselves to me.”
“There’s more to my story Mark.” Syd looked down to his sleeping
“You on the run from something?”
“Not something, some one. I’m not wanted by the law, well, I am,
but not that I done anything wrong. I witnessed a murder a few
weeks back and Cory Grainger is supposed to stand trial in
Roswell, next week.”
“That’s where the murder occurred?” Mark asked.
“No, it happened in a small town called Coy, but the man was a
big cattle rancher just passing through. So the trial got moved
“You’re a ways still from Roswell.”
“I received death threats against me and my boy. I showed the
notes to the Sheriff in Coy and he didn’t seem too eager to help
me out. So I headed out on my own. Figured I’d show up the day
before the trial, say my piece, and then head out again.”
“I can help you, if you’d let me?” Mark offered.
“Syd, I’m not just a deputy in North Fork, I’m also a Deputy
U.S. Marshal. If you come back with me, I’ll offer you
protection, for you and your boy. I can wire the Marshal’s
office in Denver and see if there’s someone who can accompany
you to Roswell, if not, I’m sure they’ll assign me. While you’re
testifying, you can leave Tyler with my family.”
“I don’t want to impose on you,” Syd hastily replied.
“No imposition, I’m the one offering. Why don’t you go ahead a
get some sleep? Morning will come soon enough.”
Syd woke early the following Mark, seeing Mark already up and
about, rifle in hand.
“You didn’t sleep last night, did you?” he asked.
“No, I figured with what you told me, that one of use should
keep our eyes open.”
Mark set his rifle down, then poured a cup of coffee for Syd and
himself. As he drank, he looked over the edge of the cup towards
“I’m sorry if we’re bringing back bad memories,” Syd stated as
he noticed Mark watching his son.
“They’re not bad memories, just sad at times. The first year was
the worst. I’m sure you had the same difficulties with Tyler, a
child so young doesn’t easily understand what death is and then
to find out so young. You hope and pray they don’t turn bitter.”
Mark hesitated as he remembered back. “Pa struggled to get me to
accept that it couldn’t be changed and that we couldn’t go back
there. He wouldn’t even call it home, anymore. He and Ma had a
dream of a big spread back in Oklahoma. Our place now, reminds
us so much of what they had…” Mark stopped speaking as he saw
Tyler start to wake, he pointed towards the boy with his hand
holding his cup of coffee.
“Good morning, son,” Syd said as he stood up to go to his boy.
“Morning Pa. Morning deputy.”
“If you’re hungry this morning, I have some more peaches and
some biscuits,” Mark offered.
Tyler looked to his Pa, who nodded.
By nine o’clock the three were back in the saddle and heading
towards North Fork. Tyler kept up a running conversation,
telling Mark of where they’d been and what they’d seen, while
they were traveling.
“What about your studies?” Mark asked.
“Oh them? Pa makes sure when we make camp for the night that I
spend a few hours with my books. Each town we come to, he buys
another school book for my studying,” Tyler answered with the
same disdain in his voice as any child would, when asked about
“I know someone who was very much like you. Didn’t understand
why it was so necessary to do book learning. Oh how he tried to
get out of doing it, but his Pa saw to it that he kept to his
studies. Oh how he hated learning fractions.”
“Did he ever get done with studying?” Tyler asked.
“Sure, he did. He even graduated from school early. Finished the
entire required curriculum over a year ahead of schedule,” Mark
“Curriculum. That means what the government states a child
should learn during their time in school.”
“He got graduated early?”
“Yes he did, but you know, before that, he came to love
learning, reading, and teaching.”
“He became a teacher?”
“Not really a teacher, but a student teacher. He worked with
some of the younger students who were having trouble following
with the main class. He’d work with them before and after
school, and over lunch time, too.”
“So, does he still work with the teacher and help out?”
“Not anymore. But he still loves to read and to learn.”
“What’s he do now?”
“I believe he grew up to be a deputy.”
Tyler stopped his horse and took a good long look at Mark. “You
Mark and Syd stopped their horses.
Tyler asked, “So this person you talking about, you’re him?”
Tyler asked his horse to walk on. “So you didn’t like learning
when you were younger, but then all of a sudden you did?”
“Yep, and I still do.”
“Learning the law. What it means to wear this badge and protect
a town and her citizens from people who would try to harm them.”
“Would you protect people who don’t live in your town? I mean…”
Syd turned to his son and asked, “Why would you ask a question
“I’m sorry Pa, but I wasn’t really asleep last night when you
two were talking, but I didn’t hear everything, because I did
fall asleep. I know you been worried about something,…”
“Tyler, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you everything, I didn’t want to
“So there are bad men out there who want to hurt you?”
“Yes, but Deputy Mark has offered us his protection and when I
have to go to Roswell to testify, I’m going to leave you with
his family, just until I can come get you.”
They rode for the next hour in silence and soon came to a stage
relay station. The manager offered them the hospitality of stew
and biscuits for lunch. While Syd took his boy inside, Mark
tended to their horses. He pulled his rifle from his saddle,
before heading inside.
Mark entered the station and saw Tyler staring at the manager,
who was telling him a ‘tall tale’ as his wife set bowls of stew
in front of everyone. By the end of the story, the whole group
was laughing. Even the working hand, who Mark figured had
probably heard the story a hundred times, was laughing, because
Tyler’s laughter was so infectious.
“Well young man,” the manager stated to Tyler. “You know, you
and your Pa are riding in good company.”
“Yes sir, the deputy’s looking out for us.”
“You mean you don’t know who he is?” the man asked.
“He said his name was Deputy Mark Mc… Mc… McCain, that’s it!”
Tyler boldly announced.
“Well, that’s his name, but around these parts, he’s better
known at The Lawman. And you know who his Pa is?”
Tyler’s eyes grew wide. “His Pa’s the Rifleman. Pa, we read
about them in the newspaper! Pa, we’re riding with The Lawman!”
In hearing who they were riding with, Syd choked on the food he
was swallowing and grabbed for a glass of water.
“You didn’t know?” the manager asked.
“No.” Syd said when he finally got the bite down. “We didn’t.
I’m sorry even more now, that I didn’t trust you last night.”
Mark tried to play down his nickname. “Syd, Tyler, I’m no
different than I was when we rode in here. I’m still the same
“But you’re The Lawman!” Tyler declared.
“Tyler, I’m A lawman. I’m no different than any other deputy who
wears a badge.”
“Tyler, those were just stories A man wrote. He’d heard stories
about my Pa and his rifle and thought there was something
exciting to write about. What he found out was, my Pa is a man,
who has a talent with a rifle and who tried to raise a son on
his own. My Pa’s talent with a rifle is no different than a
writer’s talent with words. It’s a tool. Some men do good with a
rifle and some men don’t. Some men do good when they write the
words properly or they can be mean and lie with the words they
write. My Pa never looked to have a reputation with the rifle.
He learned his skill growing up as a boy on his father’s farm.
Then the Civil War honed his skill.”
“But, your Pa, he teach you how to shoot your rifle?” Tyler
“Yes he did, but he didn’t give into my begging for my own rifle
until I was almost fourteen. He wanted to make sure I understood
the responsibilities of a weapon and that it wasn’t something to
be played with.”
“But you’re a deputy?”
“I am now. Tyler, with my job I can protect people like you and
your pa, and the people of the town I call home, so that maybe
someday, you and they, won’t have to worry about learning how to
use a weapon to defend yourself. I prefer to not have to carry a
rifle all the time. Someday, I hope, the people will leave the
gun carrying to the law and they can live their lives without
having to see a gun strapped to the leg of every man they pass
on the street.”
“Tyler,” Syd spoke. “Do you understand what Mark’s trying to
“I think I do. That just because someone calls you a name and
writes stories about you, it doesn’t mean you’re any better than
any one else. That’s what you were trying to tell me when we
were reading the stories.”
Syd nodded, then told Tyler to go help the manager’s wife with
the dishes. Syd asked Mark to step outside with him.
“I’m sorry about all the questions my boy is asking and now
about his idolizing you.”
“Don’t be Syd, he’s curious and sometimes, as I learned early
on, asking questions is easier than studying the answers. You
should be proud of him.”
“I am, just that sometimes…”
“Syd, remember, I was once so much just like Tyler. It’s been
fun, remembering the younger me and seeing myself in your son.”
The sun was at late-afternoon, a day later when Mark, Syd, and
Tyler rode into the front yard of the McCain Ranch.
“Son, welcome home!” Lucas called has he strode from the barn,
wiping his hands on a towel.
“Thanks, Pa. I’d like you to meet Syd and Tyler Blackwood.
They’re sort of in my protective custody. Syd, Tyler, this is my
father, Lucas McCain.”
Tyler held out his hand and stared way up at Lucas. “You’re the
one they call the Rifleman, but more importantly, you’re Deputy
“Yes I am,” Lucas stated as he knelt down to Tyler.
“Mark!” Hope called as she came running from their home. She
wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck and kissed him sweetly.
“I missed you too, Hope,” Mark stated as he released Hope from
his hug to introduce her.
Before Mark could, he felt her go limp in his arms and he caught
her before she fell to the ground.
“Pa!” Mark exclaimed.
“Oh, my. Its okay son, just get her inside.”
As Mark lifted Hope, Milly came from the house.
“Milly, I think you should help Mark tend to Hope. I’ll take
care of our guests Mark brought home for the night.”
“Mr. McCain, with what just happened, I can’t impose. Tyler and
“No such thing. You’re in Mark’s protective custody and you’ll
not leave this property without him,” Lucas stated as he watched
Milly follow after Mark and Hope. “Come on, let’s get your
horses taken care of.” Lucas said as he grabbed Blue Boy’s reins
and let him to the barn.
“Mr. McCain, aren’t you concerned about the girl?”
“We already know what’s wrong with her. She’ll be fine in a few
“Mr. Blackwood, she’s in the early stages of her pregnancy, only
Mark doesn’t know, yet. I’ll let my wife tend to them. Right
now, I’m looking after my son’s charges.” Then turning to Tyler,
“Come on boy, let’s show your Pa who’s the best in taking care
of these critters.”
Mark carried Hope into their home and to their bedroom. Both
boys came running and calling “PaPa”, but they quieted quickly,
when Milly hushed them and told them to sit and wait in the
front room. Milly pulled a basin from under the sink and pumped
some water into it, then grabbed a towel before carrying it into
their bedroom. She set the basin down on the night stand next to
“Ma?” Mark asked with deep worry on his face. He sat on the edge
of the bed and held Hope’s hand.
“She’s fine Mark. She was going to surprise you and tell you
after supper tonight,” Milly stated as she wrung the cloth out
and placed it over Hope’s forehead. “Mark, honest, give her just
a few minutes and she’ll be awake. You know, I seem to remember
you finding me unconscious on the kitchen floor once.” Milly
turned and looked at Mark, seeing if he understood.
“You mean? She’s… I’m…” Mark stammered.
“She and the boys were having dinner with us after you sent your
first wire. She passed out before we sat down to eat. We took
her into Doc’s the next morning and he confirmed, she’s
Mark removed the towel from his wife’s forehead and dipped it
back in the water, then wrung it out before replacing it. A few
minutes later, Hope started to come to and stared into the eyes
of her smiling husband.
“Fine welcome home I get after being gone for almost six days. I
hope you had a nice nap?” Mark teased.
“Oh, Mark,” Hope stated as she tried to sit up, but Mark
wouldn’t let her.
“You just take it easy. I’ll not have you out of this bed yet.”
“You’re not upset with me?” Hope asked.
“I was worried when you fainted, but Ma told me what happened
while I was gone. I’m not upset. So, are you going to give me
another boy this time or am I going to get a daughter?”
“We’ll have to wait another seven months or less to find out,”
Hope replied as Mark leaned over and kissed her.
“Have the boys had their supper?”
“I was about to take up the stew when you rode in,” Hope
“You can get out of this bed after I have supper on the table
and the boys seated.”
“What of the man and boy who rode in with you?” Hope asked.
Mark hurriedly replied, “I forgot all about them?”
“Mark, I saw Lucas taking them to the barn,” Milly replied. “Now
that you know Hope’s fine, why don’t you go on out.”
As Mark exited his home, he saw his Pa and the Blackwood’s
walking towards him, he stammered out an apology.
“No need to apologize Mark. Your father told us what was
happening. If you’d like, Tyler and I can stay in the barn
“I’ll not hear of it. We’ll get the cots set up in the front
room and you’ll stay in my home tonight.” Then turning to his
father, “Pa, thanks for taking care of things.”
“No problem, Mark.” Lucas handed Mark his rifle and then turned
to enter his own home as Milly joined him.
Mark and the Blackwood’s walked into his home. Mark removed his
hat and placed his rifle over the fireplace.
“Papa,” the boys called. “Is Mama okay?”
“She will be. She just needed to rest for a little while. Josh,
Zach, I’d like you to meet Tyler and his Pa, Mr. Blackwood.”
Then speaking to Syd and Tyler, these are my son’s, the one on
the right is Josh and the one on the left is Zach. Have a seat
and I’ll set the table and then take up the stew Hope fixed for
“Mark, tell me where the dishes are and I’ll set the table for
you,” Syd offered.
Mark directed Syd to the hutch as he spooned the stew into a
serving bowl. Mark got both his sons in their chairs and then
went to get Hope.
As she took her seat at the table, Mark introduced her to the
Blackwood’s. Hope tried to apologize.
“Mrs. McCain, no need to apologize. I remember when my Alice was
pregnant with Tyler, here. There were a few times when I found
her fainted in our home. It’s all a part of carrying God’s
Hope insisted that Syd call her Hope and thanked him for being
Once supper was eaten, Mark and Syd did the dishes while Hope
read to the boys. Later, after the cots were brought in, Mark
insisted that Syd let Tyler sleep on a cot in the boys’ room.
After all three were asleep, Mark and Syd returned to the front
room. Mark kissed Hope goodnight and watched as the door to
their bedroom closed.
“Mark, I hope you don’t think me forward, but out on the trail,
you said you were like Tyler, you lost your Ma when you were
“I did. Milly’s my step-mom.”
“How long after did your father remarry?”
“It’ll be five years ago Christmas eve they were married. Milly
used to live in North Fork for a couple of years when I was
twelve and at that time I had hoped they might marry, but things
happened and Milly moved back home to Philadelphia.”
“But she came back? I’m sorry Mark, it’s just been so long since
I’ve had adult conversations and could talk of my hurt. I mean,
it’s great to talk with someone’s sort of gone through what I
have and then was able to find happiness and settle down again,”
Syd stated. “How did it happen? I mean what brought her back?”
“I understand. I was sixteen, when we found out there was an
assassination attempt being planned on Senator Borden. Actually
because of things that happened leading up to us finding out
about the assassination attempt, I met Hope. Anyway, we had to
try to flush out the gang leader and wrote a story for the
newspaper that got picked up and published in other papers
around the country. In order for the leader to think he could
kill the only witness to his plan, we wrote of how our Marshal
and my Pa were killed, and our deputy was gravely wounded. We
didn’t realize all the ramifications our story would create. As
soon as she read the story, Milly was on the train back to North
Fork, wanting to be here to take care of me. It didn’t take long
and they both realized the spark was still in the other’s eyes,
and finally, I got my wish, a couple of weeks after I turned
seventeen, they were married. Should of happened a long time
before, but Pa was always too worried about taking care of me
and I know he knew how much I wanted another mother, but he had
to be sure that he married the right woman.”
“So your father gave up chances at his own happiness to take
care of you? I know right now, I can’t think on anything other
than protecting and providing for Tyler.”
“Syd, I lost my Ma when I was six, we settled here when I was
ten. Pa didn’t meet Milly until I was twelve and even then, we
still had our hurts. But Milly helped ease some of those hurts.
For me, it was someone who could mother me and bake cookies, or
just to take care of me when Pa had to go out of town. For Pa, I
know he lived a rough life prior to meeting and then marrying my
Ma and having me. But to find someone that he could be
comfortable with and who could accept the memory of another
woman living in the house… It took a long time.”
“Have you ever feared losing your wife?” Syd asked and
immediately regretted it when he saw the look on Mark’s face.
“I’m sorry, I was out of line.”
“No Syd, it’s just that I have faced losing Hope on several
different occasions. Just this summer, I thought she had been
killed. For ten days, I was in Mexico and believed that an
outlaw, who had kidnapped her, my Ma, and two other girls, had
killed her. I didn’t know she was alive until I returned home.
So, no, I’ve not actually lost my wife, but for ten long days, I
grieved because I thought I had, I…” Mark looked to the bedroom
door. “You and my Pa are both so much stronger than I was. I was
ready to walk away from my sons and let her brother and
sister-in-law raise them. I just couldn’t imagine… I couldn’t
face them. I thought, they were so young, they wouldn’t know the
“I know what you mean. When they told me Alice only had a few
moments left to live, I was devastated. All our plans, our
hopes, our dreams… Gone. One moment our life was happy and there
was a future. Then there was nothing. My life was ripped away
from me. I sat there as they placed the sheet over her. The
nurses pulled me from the room and told me I needed to take care
of my son. For a few minutes, I had actually forgotten I had a
child. I walked into the waiting room at the hospital and there,
in the arms of a nun slept my son. The only thing I had left of
Alice. I picked him up in my arms and left the hospital. The
next day Alice was buried and then I packed some clothes and
books and we left. We’ve been traveling ever since. I keep
hoping we can find someplace to call home. I didn’t like what I
saw in that town of Coy, but we had to stop. Tyler had started
to take a cold and I heard they had a doctor and wanted him to
look Tyler over. That night, as I carried him to the hotel, I
saw three men run out of the saloon and trailed after another
man. I watched as one of the men drew his handgun and shot the
man in the back. I watched as they stole his money belt. The
gunman turned and ran right past me, right under the street
lamp. I got a good look at him – Cory Grainger. It’s been almost
six weeks since the murder and its tearing at me.”
“Syd, we’ll head to into town tomorrow and like I said, we’ll
wire Denver and see what we can do to help you,” Mark answered.
“Mark, I appreciate you taking Tyler and me in, and I appreciate
talking. Especially since we’re strangers to you.”
“You might think talking is only beneficial to you, but
sometimes its easier talking about hurtful things with
strangers. With family, they’re going through the hurt too.
Sometimes you just need an ear to let you talk.”
By noon, Mark has received a response to his Denver wire. Mark
was requested to escort Syd Blackwood to Roswell. Once there, he
would place him into the protective custody of Marshal Coltrane
Mark saw to it that Syd got back to the ranch, but before he
could head out, again, Lucas stopped him.
“Mark, where are you off to?” Lucas asked.
“Pa, Blue Boy and I just returned from Willow Springs and I
can’t ask him to make this next trip. I’m going over to Oat’s
place and purchase another horse. I heard him bragging in town
about some of the new stock he’s had Billy breaking in.”
“I was planning to tell everyone when I return, but I need to
get Syd over to Roswell and Marshall Benton said I was the only
one who could get him there in time. He was going to wire
Coltrane to meet me in Roswell. I’m sorry, Pa, but I need to go
now, if I’m to get back in time for supper. Keep an eye on
things until I get back? Tom said word was out that Syd would be
making his way to Roswell. Right now, no one knows where he is.”
Mark turned Blued Boy and kicked him into a lope.
Several hours later, Mark returned with a striking copper
colored gelding with a flaxen mane and tail, in tow.
Early the following morning, Mark saddled his new horse as Syd
saddled his own. As Mark said goodbye to Hope, and promised her
he’d wire her when they arrived, Syd was telling his son to mind
his manners and to do everything that McCain’s asked him to do.
Late that afternoon, Lucas stepped to the porch upon hearing
riders approach. Upon seeing who was about to ride into the
yard, Lucas ordered Milly and Hope to stay in the house with the
children. He picked up his rifle and closed the door behind him.
“Seth, get away from those two. They’ve no right to be on this
property!” Lucas demanded.
“Lucas, they told me what happened, eleven years ago. But we’ve
got bigger problems than the past. One of the members of the
gang that Syd was to testify against was in town. He forced Amos
to tell him about the wires Mark sent and received. They know
that your family is helping Blackwood and they’ll probably
figure that Syd would leave his son with you, rather than
risking him on the trip.”
“Mr. McCain, we only came to North Fork after reading the
stories of you and your son in the newspaper. We wanted to let
you know that we… we were truly are sorry for what we did back
then. We wanted to apologize and ask your forgiveness. If our
riding with you now, could make some amends… for what happened
to the boy…” Benjamin Stark stated. “You want to see your family
safe, then let’s get your team hitched up and then Noely will
see that they all get to town and I promise you, this time, if
anything does happen, Noely will stay with them until help
Anger was seething inside of Lucas, but what choice did he have.
He needed to make sure his entire family was safe and yet, Mark
was out there, on his own. He agreed. Within half an hour, Noely
was driving Lucas’ and Mark’s families to North Fork, while
Lucas, Seth, and Benjamin headed out.
Mark and Syd encounter trouble their first night out. Realizing
they were being followed, they kicked their horses into a
gallop. As the sun set, one of the outlaws got off a lucky shot
and Syd’s horse collapsed from under him. Mark circled back,
held out his arm as he pulled his foot from his stirrup. He
hauled Syd up to ride behind him. They continued to ride in the
dark, cursing the new moon that there was no light to guide
their way, but thankful too, because the outlaws couldn’t track
them in the dark, either.
They continued to ride double through the night. Mark guided his
horse to pick their way carefully, not risking breaking a leg of
their only mount. As the sun rose for the morning, Mark kicked
their mount to a faster pace. Both knew that riding double was
wearing their horse out faster, but they had no choice. When
Mark sensed his horse was tiring, he slowed him to a walk, a the
while, Syd kept a very watchful eye out behind them. Shortly
after one o’clock, Syd saw the tale tell signs of the outlaws
trailing them, a dust cloud. Mark urged his horse faster,
praying they could reach the hills looming in front of them in
The small group Lucas was leading saw the body of the dead horse
up ahead. Lucas motioned for Seth and Benjamin to stay back
while he investigated.
As he returned he spoke, “It’s the horse Syd was riding, looks
like it was shot out from under him. From the tracks, Mark
circled back and they’re riding double now and only have the two
canteens of water that Mark had on his saddle. Both the canteens
Syd had are still there. The outlaws must have been too close.”
“Mr. McCain, the good news is, this isn’t the desert, there’s
water holes up ahead, between here and Roswell,” Stark stated.
“That’s if they get the chance to stop. I estimate that the
horse was killed around sundown last night, so at least Mark and
Syd had the cover of darkness and could take it easy on the
horse and not run him all night.”
Both men sensed the horse was faltering as Mark pulled him to a
stop. They had less than a quarter of a mile to run to get to
the base of the hills and climb. Mark pulled his rifle as Syd
grabbed the one remaining canteen full of water and the saddle
bags. They ran. Once they reached the hills, they started
climbing up the rocks. Both struggling to breathe from their
exertions. They climbed about a hundred feet up, when they found
a ledge and rocks they could take cover behind.
They took stock of their situation, one hand gun with twenty
bullets, one rifle and two boxes of cartridges, some jerky, and
one canteen of water. Both men prayed they could hold out long
enough for Coltrane Walker to realize something was wrong and
come searching for them.
The outlaws had good cover and a small water hole a short
distance from the hills and occasionally fired shots towards
Mark and Syd.
As the sun set for the night, Mark and Syd could see the
outlaws’ camp fire and hear them laughing. Both fastened closed
their jackets and turned up their collars. Mark suggested Syd
try to get some sleep, he’d wake him to stand watch after
midnight. Though Syd closed his eyes, Mark knew he didn’t fall
asleep until well after ten.
Mark waited until he could no longer keep his eyes open before
he woke Syd. He handed his rifle over, then laid down and curled
up, and was promptly asleep.
Noely drove the buckboard with care, especially with all the
children in back and the sun was setting for the night. He
arrived in North Fork and Hope directed him where to go, to get
to her father’s home. As they were driving down the main street
of North Fork, Micah saw them. He jumped out, demanding to know
what was going on and why ‘that’ man was driving the team? Why
did Lucas let an ex-con bring his family to town? Johnny Drako
came running from the Marshal’s Office, as did Johnny Gibbs.
Milly tried to bring calm back to the group, “Please Micah,
everyone, let us get the children to Seth’s home and we can
talk. Let’s not create a scene in the middle of the street!”
Noely slowly drove the buckboard with Micah, and both Johnny’s
following. Milly asked Micah to please let them get the children
inside and then they would talk.
After all the children were inside and down for the night, the
adults returned to the living room. Micah didn’t give anyone
time to think before he demanded answers to his questions, “This
man almost killed Mark eleven years ago!”
Hope and Milly stood in shock at hearing Micah’s words.
“It’s true, I was there, but it was an accident. You, yourself,
was there when Mr. McCain stood up at the trial and said I
hadn’t harmed his boy,” Noely stated as he pulled his hat from
his head and held it in front of him.
“Not directly.” Micah continued in a more demanding tone, “But
if you and your brother hadn’t used him as a hostage to force
Lucas to help you rob the bank, he wouldn’t have had to run away
and tripped and practically caved his skull in!”
“Micah, please,” Milly begged. “Let him tell us what happened.”
Drako and Gibbs stood together, both upset at what they were
“While what your Marshal said is true, things have changed.
Ma’am, we didn’t get a chance to be properly introduced earlier
and maybe you don’t want me anywhere near you or your family,
but my brother promised Mr. McCain I’d see his family delivered
safely to town and I done that. I drove real careful so as to
not risk harming any one of you.”
“Mr. Stark, I appreciate your getting us to town safely. Tell us
what happened that day,” Milly asked.
“I’ll tell you…!” Micah started.
“Micah, I asked him!” Milly stood firm in her demand.
“Ma’am, my brother and me and another man, we used to be bank
robbers. Ben figured to find a family outside of town and take
them hostage, leaving me behind to watch over, and have the farm
owner go with him and make introductions, then Ben and Cougar
would rob the bank. I never hurt no one before, in fact I helped
the boy with his chores that day. I told him that if things
didn’t go right in town, that I’d just ride away. Leave and
never been seen again. I guess in our talking he got scared of
me, because he found a half-full grain bag in they hay wagon and
threw it down at me, knocking me to the ground.”
Noely continued, “I got up and ran after the boy. I saw him trip
and fall. I knelt down beside him, honest, I thought he was
funnin’ me when he just laid there. When I removed his hat and
his head fell to the side, I saw the rock and knew something was
wrong. So I picked him up and carried him back to the house and
laid him in one of the beds. Then Ben and Cougar returned. I ran
out to tell them what happened and Ben said it was best to
leave. I wanted to stay and go fetch a doctor for him, but Ben
was my older brother and he knows lots of things I don’t. He
told me it was best to leave the boy and ride away. No one would
believe what I said, if the boy died.”
“So you just left him there?” Hope asked, horrified at the
“I had no choice. I had to go with my brother. Then the boy’s Pa
tracked us, he shot our horses away and shot our canteens full
of wholes and made us walk through the desert. Cougar tried to
trick Mr. McCain and then got into an argument with my brother
and tried to kill him. Ben killed Cougar, but Cougar shot me. I
could have died had Mr. McCain not decided to help us. He said
it wasn’t for him to play God. Once I got recovered, I stood
trial with my brother. Ben served ten years and I served seven.”
“So why did you return to North Fork, now?” Milly asked, still
trying to keep the calm.
“Ben read the stories in the newspaper. The ones about the
Rifleman and the Lawman. We wanted to let Mr. McCain know that
we were out of prison and that he wanted to thank him for saving
our lives. We been on the straight ever since we got out.
Honest! We turned our lives around and wanted to thank Mr.
McCain, and apologize again.”
“Milly you should know,” Micah stated, still angered that the
Stark’s were involved with the McCain family again. “And John
Hamilton will back me up on this. After his brother robbed the
bank, he forced Lucas to wait a whole hour before he could head
home. Lucas borrowed a horse to race home and make sure Mark was
okay. John came running to me telling me the bank and been
robbed, but more importantly, Mark had been held hostage and
used as a pawn against Lucas. John and I rode out to the house,
when I entered, I’ve never seen Lucas more devastated in his
life. Probably the only time he felt worse was when Margaret
died. Mark, eleven year old Mark, was left lying in their home
all alone. He was bleeding from the back of his head and looked
so pale. For that hour, Mark lie in his bed and could have died.
I sent John back to town to fetch the doc.”
Micah continued, “I stayed with Lucas and Mark until the doc
arrived. He never moved once, never moaned once, you could
barely see his chest rising and falling as he breathed. While we
waited, a number of times, Lucas placed his ear to Mark’s chest
to make sure the boy still lived. I headed back to town and got
a posse together, after the doc arrived.”
“But the boy lived!” Noely proclaimed. “I’m sorry for the hurt
we caused your family. We didn’t know Mr. McCain had a wife and
daughter, in addition to the boy.”
“He didn’t, back then,” Johnny Gibbs stated. “Mrs. McCain
married Lucas almost five years ago and the younger Mrs. McCain
married Mark just over three years ago.”
“Where’s your brother?” Micah demanded.
“I think I can answer that Micah,” Drako spoke. “Seth and the
brother headed out to Lucas’. Only he introduced himself as an
old friend when they arrived at the office late this afternoon.
Amos came in and told us that the outlaws had forced him to tell
them about the wires Mark had sent and received. I’m sure if
this one is here, then his brother is helping Lucas and Seth
track down the outlaws who are after Syd Blackwood.”
“How can you be so sure they ain’t part of a trap for Lucas and
Seth?!” Micah demanded.
“Honest Marshal, we aint’. I’m right pleased to know the boy
grew up and is full grown with a family of his own. It pleases
me to no end, to know he wears a badge and stands up for what’s
right. Ben and me, we don’t cotton to going against the law. We
learned our lesson in prison. Neither of us want to go back!”
“Stark,” Drako said. “I don’t know whether to trust you or not.”
“I can tell you, you can’t trust him!” Micah demanded.
“But right now, I have no legal grounds to hold you or to put
you in jail. But, if I were you…”
“Run him out of town, NOW!” Micah insisted.
“Micah, I’m sorry, but right now, I’d rather know where he is. I
want him to stay in town until the time that Lucas and Seth
return with Mark, safely.”
“If you’d feel better, of an evening you can lock me up in the
jail and I’ll make sure I tell you where I’m going to be during
the day. Honest, when the telegraph man came in, it was quite a
shock to Benjamin and me. We only want to do what’s right. To
make amends for what we done,” Noely pleaded.
Lucas, Seth and Ben continued to trail after the outlaws
trailing after Mark and Syd. Lucas kept quiet. Remembering when
the Stark’s had come into their lives. Remembering the hatred he
held in his heart, as he trailed them, because he thought those
men had tried to kill his boy. But this time, this trail was
different. There was fear in his heart. Fear that outlaws would
kill his boy, and do it not to get away with robbing a bank, but
to keep him from doing his job -- protecting an innocent man and
seeing that he made it to Roswell, alive, to testify. By
nightfall, they saw in the distance a campfire.
“Maybe it’s not the outlaws, just travelers,” Ben stated.
“Better play it safe than sorry,” Seth offered. “If they are
innocent travelers, we can offer them escort to where ever
they’re heading. If they’re the outlaws…”
“We split up and come in on them from different angles,” Lucas
stated. Pointing Seth to go left and Ben to go right. He’d head
straight on in. “We wait until the sun is up enough that we know
where all of them are in the camp.
All three left their horses and pulled their weapons, then
headed out their assigned routes.
Mark woke to a hearing a ricochet off the rocks below them. He
saw Syd sighting down his rifle, but not firing.
“What’s up?” Mark asked.
“One took a pot shot at us, but didn’t getting close enough to
be dangerous. My concern was during the night; did one of them
climb up and get above us?”
“Good point. We know their guns can’t reach us here, let’s climb
higher,” Mark stated as he took his rifle and saddle bags. Syd
grabbed the canteen. They climbed until they reached another
outcropping to hide behind and, they found a cave, to give them
coverage from an attack from above.
The sun was just rising from behind the hill when they entered
the camp. They pulled the blankets back from the outlaws to find
they weren’t there. Only scrub brush was found under the
blankets. They turned towards the hill when they heard gunfire,
Lucas ran towards the hill only to be tackled by Ben when the
Rocks were raining down on them and they heard laughter and
yelling from the outlaws up on top of the hill. Lucas rolled Ben
off him as they looked up to see the outlaws riding away. Smoke
and dirt still rising from where the dynamite had started a land
Slowly, the three picked themselves up off the ground.
“Mark?!” Lucas exclaimed.
“McCain, we can’t be sure,” Benjamin stated.
“Why else would they have used dynamite? There has to be a cave
up there.” Lucas didn’t wait, he ran the rest of the way to the
bottom of the hill and then started climbing. Seth and Ben
weren’t too far behind. Each chose a different route to try to
get to the top, not wanting to be below and have rocks rain down
They reached the ledge and started pushing rocks over the edge
and praying there would be an opening behind the pile, and that
they’d be in time to rescue Mark and Syd.
It was mid-morning when Benjamin told Lucas, “It’s no use. We
don’t know how deep the cave was or even if they’re alive,” as
he pushed his hat further back on his head as he sat back.
“I won’t stop until I know. I got him out of a cave-in once
before, I can do it this time too.”
“Lucas?” Seth asked.
“It was a long time ago. The first week that Steven Griwald
arrived as the new school teacher. Seth, I can’t waste my breath
talking about it now, but later, once Mark is safe, I’ll tell
you all about it.” The three took turns, two at a time, digging
out the opening.
The sun was high in the sky when they finally broke through and
sun light streamed into the cave, Lucas yelled, “Mark! Are you
all right? Answer me son! Mark!”
He held his ear to the opening, praying to God to hear a
response. Nothing. They continued to dig. Soon the opening was
large enough for each man to crawl in.
“Mark! Answer me! Mark!” Lucas hollered again.
Once inside, they realized it was a narrow cave. As they
followed the fading light to the back, they found two crumpled
bodies lying at the back of the cave. They rushed to the bodies.
Lucas realized Mark had been doing his job, with his body on
top, trying to protect Syd. Slowly they rolled Mark off Syd and
lay him down on his back. Lucas lowered his ear to Mark’s chest
and heard a heartbeat, “He’s alive.” Lucas barely stated,
quietly thanking God. “What about Syd?”
Ben sat up from listening to Syd’s chest, “He’s alive too.”
Ben grabbed under Syd’s arms, while Seth picked up his legs to
carry him to the opening. Lucas picked Mark up in his arms and
carried him. First Syd and then Mark were handed through the
opening and laid on the ledge. As Ben climbed down and ran to
where they had left the horses, he spotted another saddled horse
standing not too far away. He ran for the single horse and led
him to where the others were tethered. Ben brought all four
horses to the base of the hill. He grabbed the canteens and one
of the saddlebags and headed up to the ledge.
Ben pulled some rags from the saddle bag and poured water over
them and handed one to Seth and another to Lucas. He watched as
they washed the dirt from the men’s faces. He knelt in awe as he
looked at the man the boy had grown into. Feeling even more
regret for what he and his brother had done, so many years ago.
“Give them time to come to Lucas. The air inside was pretty dank
and the debris from the dynamite. While we’re waiting, why don’t
you tell us about when Mark was trapped in a cave.”
Lucas told the story of how after meeting the new school
teacher, he and Mark had come to a disagreement. How Mark had
not taken to Mr. Griswald. Told of how Mark felt the man was
mean and cruel, because he blamed his father for not allowing
Mark to finish his homework. Lucas recounted the incident with
the juju beans and the book; and the switching Mark had received
rather than snitch on a friend. “I told him if he chose to take
the punishment, then he had to accept it like a man. I demanded
he go back to school the next day. I said it wasn’t for him to
pass judgment on who the town chose as a teacher.”
Lucas looked at his son lying in his arms before. He continued
to wet the cloth and wipe it over Mark’s face and throat.
“Mark played hooky the next day. He and Billy Davis went
exploring in an old abandoned mine and the ceiling collapsed.
Billy got out, but Mark was trapped. It took us hours to dig
through the rubble to get him out.”
Syd started to come to first. Ben handed a canteen to Seth, who
held it to Syd’s lips and he readily drank. Coughing and
sputtering as he drank too fast. A few minutes later Mark
started to regain consciousness. Lucas lifted him to a sitting
position and offered him to drink from the other canteen. Mark
hurriedly drank to quench his thirst.
Mark heard his Pa’s voice, only it sounded far away.. It sounded
distorted over the ringing in his ears. Mark looked into his
father’s face as Lucas pulled the canteen from Mark’s lips. Mark
tried to ‘ring’ out his ears so he could hear better and shook
“Lucas,” Seth stated. “They’re both probably suffering a little
after affects of the concussion blast from the dynamite. Being
in such a confined space with the dynamite went off. Give them a
few more minutes to get their wits about them. What happened
when you got him out?”
“Out? Oh, Stevan realized that there was a lot he had to learn
about teaching children in the west versus children in the big
cities back east. Here, children are needed to help out on the
family farms and ranches. He also learned how much a son will
stand up for his belief in his father. I think we all learned
something that week.”
After finishing his story, Lucas asked, “Mark, are you okay?”
“I think so Pa. Thanks for getting me out of another cave-in.”
Mark’s eyes laughed at the memory.
Mark took the canteen from his father to take another drink and
then his eyes focused on the man kneeling in front of him, his
body tensed with recognition.
“It’s okay son,” Lucas stated. “Benjamin Stark rode with us to
help find you.”
Mark’s mind was still remembering, “You were with Cougar and
Noely, you forced my Pa to help you rob the bank,” Mark stated.
“That I did and I truly regret everything that happened. Noely
and I read the articles in the newspapers about you and your
father. We came to apologize to you and ask your forgiveness for
what we did.”
For a few moments the group remained quiet, before Mark spoke.
“It’s been so long ago, that I can’t see holding ill feelings
against you or your brother. It wasn’t your fault I tripped and
“Mr. McCain, if you’d allow me, you and the deputy should ride
on to Roswell and let the other Marshal know what happened. I’ll
follow with these two, once they’re able,” Ben offered.
Seeing the look in Lucas’ eye, Mark said, “Pa, we’ll be okay.”
After watching them for a few minutes more of resting and
drinking, Lucas and Seth agreed.
“Mark, before we leave, where’s your rifle?” Lucas asked.
“Guess it’s still in the cave, as are my saddle bags with the
boxes of cartridges,” Mark replied.
Lucas stood and crawled back into the cave, returning a few
minutes later with Mark’s rifle and the saddle bags.
“Stark, I thank you for riding with us to this point. I still
don’t know that I trust you one hundred percent, but so help me
God, if Mark isn’t in Roswell within six hours of our arrival.
You’ll wish that I had killed you and your brother out in the
desert. Six hours will give you time, I want them to rest a
little longer before starting out, but also considering they’ll
be riding double.”
“Mr. McCain, I won’t let you down. We’ll see you within six
hours of your arrival.” Ben held out his hand to Lucas.
Three days had lapsed since Lucas and Seth had ridden out after
Mark, and there was no word. Milly tried to keep Hope from
worrying too much, but knew her own worries were plainly
expressed on her own face.
Hope was standing on a step stool, trying to reach for a baking
pan on the stop shelf of the cabinet, when the twins came
running into the kitchen, shrieking and playing. Momentarily,
Hope allowed herself to be distracted by the boys and lost her
balance. The stool tipped over and Hope fell to the floor.
Milly and Noely were just entering Seth’s home when they heard
the noise from the kitchen and the twins came running out,
yelling, “GanMa, Mama fell!”
Milly and Noely rushed to the kitchen to see Hope pushing
herself into a sitting position and then trying to stand. Milly
was quickly at Hope’s side, asking if she was okay. “I’m fine
Ma, I was just reaching for a baking pan when the boys came
running in and I lost my balance.” As she stood fully up, Hope
felt a sharp pain in her abdomen and cried out.
“Hope, what’s wrong?” Milly asked.
“Ma, my stomach, oh it hurts,” Hope cried as she doubled over in
“Miss Milly, here, let me carry her to a bedroom. Show me the
way,” Noely stated as he picked Hope up and carried her.
Noely laid Hope down on the bed and she immediately turned on
her side and curled herself into a ball, hugging at her stomach,
and crying at the pain.
“Noely, do you know where Doc Burrage’s clinic is?” Noely shook
his head no. “Okay, then just stay here with boys, down stairs,
I’m gonna go get Doc Burrage. Hope, I’ll be right back.”
Noely followed Milly downstairs, “Miss Milly, what’s wrong? She
didn’t look hurt.”
“Noely, Hope’s pregnant, she’s only about two months along.
Please Noely, watch the boys and keep them downstairs, I’ll be
back as soon as I can with the doctor.”
Milly ran from the house and through town. She didn’t hesitate
when she arrived at the clinic and called for Thadd.
“Milly? What’s wrong?” Thadd stated as he came from a back room.
“Thadd, Hope fell! She started to stand up and then doubled over
in pain. Doc, the baby?!”
Thadd had his medical bag and ran to Seth’s, not waiting for
Milly to keep up. He entered the home and immediately ran
upstairs, following the sounds of Hope’s cries to the bedroom.
“Hope please, let me examine you,” Thadd pleaded.
“Oh, it hurts. No! Oh, make the pain go away!” Hope cried.
Thadd pulled out a syringe and extracted the medicine from the
bottle he pulled from his medical bag. He found a vein in Hope’s
arm and administered the sedative. A few minutes later Hope
relaxed and soon fell asleep. Milly came in the room and watched
as Thadd examined Hope.
In time, he pulled the blankets up over the shoulders of the
sleeping Hope. As he turned around, he shook his head to answer
the question in Milly’s eyes.
“I’m sorry Milly. I’m pretty sure, Hope lost the baby. What
happened? What caused her to fall?” Thadd asked.
Through her tears, Milly replied, “She said she was reaching for
a baking pan and the boys ran into the kitchen and distracted
her and she lost her balance and fell. We arrived and heard the
noise and the twins came running into the front room.” Walking
over to sit down on the edge of the bed and brush the bangs from
Hope’s face, Milly asked, “Doc, are you sure?”
“Milly, a baby in the womb is so fragile at this stage in its
development. A fall like that would easily dislodge the embryo
from the uterine wall and the pain she felt was the uterus
trying to expel what it considers foreign matter.”
“But so soon after the fall?”
“Milly, her body could have already been rejecting the baby and
it just happened to coincide with her fall. Do you know if Seth
has a water bladder? I think if we filled one with really warm
water and placed it over her stomach it might ease some of the
cramping she’s going to feel when she wakes.”
“I don’t know if Seth does, but I can send Noely to the general
store to get one.”
Milly called for Noely and asked him to go purchase one of the
water bladders from the general store. Milly left the room to
put some water on the stove to heat.
As she returned, Seth said, “She’ll sleep for a few more hours.
Go ahead and put the water bladder on her stomach while she’s
sleeping, it’ll help with the physical pain… I’ll stop by later
tonight and check in on how she’s doing. If you like, I can be
the one to tell her.” Thadd’s offer was an attempt to spare
Milly any more heartache, but Milly declined.
“I’ll tell her when she wakes up. Thank you, Thadd.”
When Hope woke, Milly was at her side. She didn’t have to ask or
be told, she already knew she’d lost Mark’s baby. Hope turned on
her side, away from Milly and cried. Milly continued to sit next
to Hope and rubbed her back. In time, Hope cried herself to
Lucas and Seth arrived in Roswell and rode to the Sheriff’s
Office. Upon arrival they were greeted by Marshal Coltrane
“Lucas!” Coltrane stated. “What happened? Where’s Mark? Tom
wired that Mark was to deliver a witness to me here in Roswell.”
“Coltrane, Mark and your witness will be here within six hours.
They were ambushed by outlaws trying to prevent them from
getting here. They would have succeeded if Seth and I hadn’t
trailed out after them. One of the outlaws forced our telegraph
operator to tell him about the wires Mark sent and received.
Luckily we got to Mark and Syd and were able to dig them out of
the cave the outlaw’s had dynamited.”
“Dynamited!” Coltrane exclaimed.
“The outlaws rode off after the blast. I don’t think they’ll be
expecting Mark or Syd to arrive,” Seth stated. “Mark and Syd are
having to ride double, so we thought to come quicker and let you
know what happened.”
“You left them out there alone?”
“No, there another man riding with them. He promised to make
sure they made it here within six hours of our arrival.”
“Coltrane, while we’re waiting, first thing I’d like to do is to
send a wire back home. To let Milly and Hope know everyone is
“Sure Lucas, come with me and I’ll show you to the telegraph
The three left the Sheriff’s Office. After sending the wire,
Coltrane asked, “So what else do you have in mind? I know your
son and if you’re anything like he is, you’re not content to sit
around and wait.”
“No, I’m not,” Lucas stated. “Those outlaws think they got away
with murdering my son and another man. I’m sure they’re probably
in town, in the saloon and I’m expecting they’ll get to talking
later. Seth and I’ll head on over and listen. We’ll soon know
who’s trying get Cory Grainger off. Without a witness, the judge
would have to drop all charges and release him from custody. If
we’re lucky, by midnight we’ll know.”
Seth took off his badge before he entered the saloon with Lucas.
Both slapped the dirt off as they entered, looked around for a
table, and then took a seat. A skimpily dressed woman came over
and took their order for two beers. Then they waited, not only
for the outlaws to show themselves, but for Benjamin Stark to
keep his promise.
It was nearing midnight, when the two horses with three riders
stopped on the outskirts of town.
“So Deputy,” Benjamin stated. “What do we do?”
“I think you should ride on in alone,” Mark replied. “Go to the
Sheriff’s Office and ask for Marshal Coltrane Walker. Tell him
“And what are you two going to do? Don’t you think Syd should
ride in with me? I can see that he gets to the Sheriff.”
“No, if I know my father, he’s at the saloon… Trying to figure
out who tried to kill us. Maybe we can help the outlaws show
themselves by our walking in. Syd, you up to this?”
“Yeah Mark, I’m ready to let them know they can’t scare me. They
should be more scared of me and what I know.”
“Stark, you tell Walker we expect to see him at the saloon in a
“I’ll tell him Mark. I promise.”
Benjamin rode separate into town, as planned. Mark and Syd
continued to ride double, stopping his horse in front of the
saloon. Mark took his rifle from Syd as they stepped to the
Hesitating outside, looking in through the window, Mark looked
at every man still in the bar, three tables full of men playing
cards, a few standing at the bar, and then seeing his father and
father-in-law at a table in a back corner.
Syd with his handgun drawn and Mark with his rifle in both
hands, they entered the saloon. The saloon girl screamed and
dropped the tray full of beer mugs. The piano player stopped
playing. Four men playing cards at a table in the middle of the
room stopped playing cards, with one of the men jumping to his
feet, reaching for his gun, calling, “You’re supposed to be
Mark shouldered his rifle and yelled, “Don’t do it!”
The other three jumped to their feet and went for their guns.
The other patrons scrambled to get out of the way of the
anticipated gun fight.
The outlaw, who called out, had drawn his gun and was raising it
to point towards Mark. Before he could pull the trigger, Mark
shot the gun out of the outlaw’s hand. Lucas and Seth had their
weapons pointed at the other three. With one outlaw cussing and
holding his hand and the others, having dropped their weapons,
standing with their hands raised above their heads, Coltrane
Walker and Benjamin Stark entered the saloon.
Coltrane declared, “You men picked the wrong deputy to mess
“How’d you get out?!” one of the men declared.
“I have family,” Mark stated coolly.
“Well Deputy McCain,” Coltrane started, but was interrupted.
“McCain…, McCain! You ain’t old enough to be the Rifleman!” one
of the others declared.
“No, but I’m old enough to be The Lawman. The Rifleman is
standing behind you.”
The next morning, Amos received a second wire from Roswell.
To all concerned in North Fork,
All Safe /stop/
All Outlaws in jail /stop/
Testify tomorrow /stop/
Be home in four days /stop/
Lucas, Seth, Mark, Syd, and Benjamin
Amos ran and showed the wire to Marshal Drako. Who took it to
Micah’s and then to Johnny Gibbs’. He wanted company when he
headed to Seth’s place to tell Milly and Hope. He knew the women
would be happy to hear everyone was okay and when they’d be
home, but he didn’t know what to say to Hope, about the baby.
As promised, it was late afternoon, four days later, when the
five returned to North Fork. Johnny Drako had kept an eye out
for them. When he saw them enter town, he ran and stopped them,
told Syd that Tyler was at the day care. He let Ben know that
his brother was at the livery, helping Nils. Drako asked then
asked that the others come to his office first.
“But Johnny, can’t this wait? I want to see my family,” Mark
“It’s your family we want to talk with you about,” Drako
“We? What happened?” Lucas demanded.
As they entered the office, Drako shut the door behind them.
Johnny Gibbs was there waiting, he was to be the one to break
“Mark there was an accident at Seth’s home. Hope took a fall the
other day. Your Ma and Noely arrived right after it happened and
they got the doc right away. Now Hope’s fine, just got a big
bruise on her thigh I’m told.”
“Well if that’s all, Uncle Johnny?” Mark said as he turned to
“No Mark, it’s not. Mark…,” Johnny hesitated, he knew how much
he was about to hurt his nephew. “Hope lost the baby.”
“She lost the baby?” Mark repeated, his eye’s pleading that it
“Mark, Milly asked me to tell you. She wanted you to know before
you got to Seth’s and saw Hope. I’ll give you a few minutes
alone, if you’d like,” Johnny stated.
“I think I want to go see Hope,” Mark stated as tears fell down
Mark slowly climbed the stairs to where Hope was sleeping. He
crawled into bed, curled up around Hope and cried.
Later that day, Lucas, Milly and Seth bid Syd and Tyler
“Where will you head to?” Milly asked.
“Maybe Arizona. Alice and I always thought of finding a ranch
and settling down. Maybe I’ll get as lucky as you were Mr.
“Not sure what you mean, Syd.”
“Mark and I did a lot of talking out on the trail and at his
home. He saw a lot of himself in Tyler here. Someday, maybe
we’ll be lucky enough to find a home and I’ll find a woman who
can accept me and my boy. You’ll tell him goodbye for us?”
“You sure you can’t wait till morning?” Seth asked.
“No, we best be heading on. Our dream,” Syd looked to Tyler,
“feels closer to becoming a reality since we met the McCain
Lucas wrapped his arms around Milly and watched as the father
and son rode west.
“Bring back memories?” Milly asked.
“Yeah. I miss the young boy that Mark used to be,” Lucas stated.
“Well, wait a few more years and I’m sure Little Ted will start
to fill in those shoes,” Milly offered.
“No, there’s only one Mark. Little Ted will wear his own shoes.”
The next morning, Benjamin and Noely Stark said goodbye to
Lucas, Milly, and Seth, and left North Fork. As they returned to
inside Seth’s house, Mark and Hope were coming down the stairs.
It was quite evident that both had still been crying that
“Would you like some breakfast?” Milly asked.
“No Ma,” Mark answered. “We’d like to head home.”
Lucas and Mark headed to the livery to get their horses and
hitch the team. Mark asked Milly if she wouldn’t mind seeing the
twins home, “I want some time alone with Hope. Please Ma?”
Milly understood and nodded.
Mark saw to it that their sons were loaded into the back of the
buckboard and told them to mind their manners and do everything
that Grandma and Grandpa tell them. “Gabby, it’s up to you to
see that they stay seated, okay?”
“I will,” Myra replied.
Mark got in the saddle, removed his foot from the stirrup, and
extended his arm down to Hope, then swung her up behind him.
They rode to the pond and sat down against a tree and talked.
Hope told Mark the story that Noely had told them when they got
to town. She asked if it was true. Mark stated it was. He added
that he hadn’t gotten scared by Noely, but he was scared for his
Pa, being forced to rob a bank.
“I don’t know what I thought I could do other than run to Micah
and let him know. Maybe he could have stopped them from robbing
the bank. But I wasn’t being careful where I ran. I remember
looking over my shoulder and then I tripped and I remember
falling, then… Between Hattie looking out for me and then once
Pa returned home, it took me several days before I could even
sit up. And about a week before Pa would let me out of my bed,”
“Noely stated Pa trailed after them.”
“He did. The night it happened, I remember Doc Burrage being
there and tending to me. Then Pa came into the room. I heard him
talking, but the words didn’t make any sense and I couldn’t put
two words together. I couldn’t even say Pa.” Mark stopped
talking as he remembered back. “When I woke the next time,
Hattie was there caring for me. Eventually I came to realize
that Pa thought that one of the Stark’s or Cougar had hurt me.
Even now, I feel sorry for anyone who hurts a member of our
family, because I’ve seen the dark side of my father. Heaven
help the man who…”
“But your father, he…”
“He couldn’t kill in cold blood. Even if I had died, the Good
Book is too ingrained in Pa for him to. Hattie told me that God
would stop my Pa and make him see right, before he did anything
Mark looked to see if Hope understood.
“Hope, you know my Ma died when I was young.” She nodded. “There
was medication that could have saved my Ma’s life. Only my
grandfather didn’t return with the medicine. I didn’t find out
about any of this until I was fourteen. My own grandfather could
have saved my Ma’s life and Pa wanted to kill him. Samuel Gibbs
didn’t return to Enid until after Pa and I had left. Pa decided
it was more important to make a life for me than to wait around
and kill a man he thought had killed his wife.”
“But he was your grandfather! Would Pa have really killed him?”
“Hope, had my grandfather returned before we left, I can only
pray that God would have protected my father as he protected him
when he was tracking strangers.”
“Mark, there’s just so much that I don’t know about you or your
father. It was shocking to hear Noely talk about what happened.”
“Hope you can ask me anything about my growing up years and I’ll
tell you. The main thing to remember is; that’s the past. Pa and
I can remember back, but we choose to live in the here and now,
not in the ‘what could have been’. Just like you and I will have
to do now.”
“Mark, I’m so sorry I lost your baby,” Hope said as she started
to softly cry in Mark’s arms.
“Hope, it’s not your fault. This baby just wasn’t meant to be,
“I was so excited about giving you another child.”
“Hope, it’s not about you giving me another child. It’s about us
creating a life. We have a wonderful life together, with two
beautiful sons. And, if God feels we should have more, he’ll see
that we do. Please dry your tears.”
“You’re not upset with me?”
“No. I’m not upset. It hurt when Uncle Johnny told me the news.
I didn’t realize how much I’d already gotten used to the idea of
another little McCain running around. I’m just sorry I wasn’t
here when you needed me.”
“But you’re here now. Just having your arms around me and our
talking has taken away a lot of the hurt. You think we should
head on home and relieve Ma and Pa from watching the terrible
“If you think you’re up to it, I mean chasing after them.
They’re getting to be quite a handful to keep up with,” Mark
stated as he pulled Hope closer against him.
Hope let out a deep sigh as enjoyed the time with Mark.
“Are you going to be okay?” Mark asked.
“I am, now. Thank you.” Hope turned and kissed Mark.
Hope got to her feet and said, “You know what?”
“Last one to your horse rides in back!” Hope sprinted to Mark’s
horse. She finally felt at peace with what had happened.
“Oh, you!” Mark laughed and ran after his wife.
Mark saw to it that Hope got in the saddle then he climbed up to
ride behind her.
“So, what did you end up naming this beast?” Hope asked.
“I hadn’t given it any thought. What would you call him?”
“Well, he is a beautiful shade of copper, why not Copper? It
kind of goes with your horse theme of their name including
“Okay, then Copper it is,” Mark replied as Hope signaled the
horse to lope.
Lucas and Milly were watching the children play in the front
yard when Hope and Mark rode in smiling.
The Next Step — Fortunes
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch