The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 80 - Whiteout
Written by Deanne Bertram

It was late Friday morning and Hope was dealing with the disappointment that Josh and Zach were experiencing as they had expected their father home long before. The twins were constantly underfoot asking when Papa would come home so they could go for a horseback ride. Since it was such a nice February day, Hope relented and took Eli and Mykaela to Milly’s. Once Little Ted found out the others are going for a ride, he too wanted to go. So, Hope saddled up all three ponies and Two-Bits and the foursome headed out.

Hope kept a watchful eye on all three boys riding their ponies, giggling to herself as the ponies would pick up a trot and the boys would bounces in their saddles. Once they had enough of bouncing, they would bring the ponies back to a walk. She listened to them talking of the races they would run and who would win, once they learned how to do more than just walk or trot. They talked of riding with their Papa’s and helping to drive their cattle to market when they grew up.

“Mama, would you miss us when we go on a cattle drive with Papa?” Josh asked.

“I sure would. Home would be pretty quiet without you two around.”

“And me?” Little Ted asked.

“Yes, you too.”

“What about Papa?” Zach inquired.

“I guess I’d even miss your Papa’s.”

*****

Hope enjoyed riding Two-Bits and listening to the boys continuing to bantered back and forth. They’d been gone for about two hours when Hope realized the weather was changing. Dark clouds started rolling over the hills and the temperature was dropping. She made sure the boys buttoned their jackets up as they started to head home. The ponies had sensed the change in the weather too and were acting up, causing the boys to get scared. Finally, Hope tied one pony to the next, and she tied the final pony to Two Bits’ saddle. They didn’t make it too far before a heavy, wet snow started falling. Hope knew the boys were trying to be brave and not complain, but she could tell they were cold and wanting to be home.

As the snow fell heavier, the group found shelter in an old, abandoned shack on the north side of McCain property. Hope never remembered seeing the building when she and Mark had been out riding together. Hope noticed an even more dilapidated shed, large enough to shelter the horses, on the backside of the shack. After seeing the boys inside, she stepped outside to search for enough kindling for a fire. Once she had a fire blazing in the fireplace, she led the horses through the deepening snow, into the shed and pulled their saddles. Grabbing her rifle, she left the saddles in the shed, and carried it and the saddle blankets into the shack, wrapping them around the boys in an effort to help keep them warm.

Hope returned to the door and tried to figure out why the hinges wouldn’t allow the door to close completely. She saw years of built up rust causing part of the hinges to corroded and break off. This prevented the door from fully closing. She tried pushing the door harder, hoping that even if a hinge broke, she could get the door to close. Without any luck, she stood watch, shivering as the wind blew past the door. While the wind howled and Hope prayed the wind was the only thing outside howling. Hope looked to the boys and saw them huddled together around the fading fire.

“Boy’s, I’m going out to find more wood, stay put. You hear me?” Hope asked.

“Yes!” they replied.

Before Hope realized, a white out was upon them, she couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of her. For a few brief moments, she feared getting lost and not being able to find her back way to the children. After taking a few deep breaths, she calmed herself and found her way back to the shack. She knew the small amount of wood she had found for the fire wouldn’t last long. Hope shivered as she returned to the doorway, her jacket and clothing soaked.

Even without seeing the sun, the day progressed into the evening, and Hope did her best to protect the boys from the weather and made sure they stayed close to the fire to keep warm.

“Mama, I’m sorry,” Zach offered as Hope knelt next to them to make sure they were doing okay.

“Why are you sorry?”

“Because we wanted to come out and ride. And now we can’t go home.”

“We’ll get home. We just have to wait until the storm dies down.”

Once she had kissed each boy, Hope returned to the doorway.

*****

The snow had eased considerably, but continued to fall. With her body shaking from being cold, Hope decided to take a chance and look for more firewood; hoping that as she moved around during her search, she would warm up. Stiffly, she bent down to picked up the last of the wood she could carry and still hold her rifle, she saw paw tracks that sent a colder chill down her spine… “wolves”.

“Oh God, please let me keep the boys safe.”

Hurriedly she returned to the shack as darkness surrounded them; ever so vigilant in listening for sounds of the pack. Once inside, she added some of the wood to the fireplace and listened to it sizzle and pop as the moisture inside evaporated.

*****

Mark and Lucas, along with Myra, looked relieved as they crested the hill overlooking their homes.

“I’m happy that snow storm didn’t last too long,” Myra stated. “I want to show Mama my grades.”

“She’s going to be pleased with your progress report,” Lucas replied.

“Pa, something’s not right,” Mark stated, an uneasiness fell over him.

“What?”

“Pa, my house, its dark.”

“Hope probably has your children over at our place. Come on, I’m sure they’re worried about us anyway.”

They arrived home just before suppertime to find a frantic Milly calling from the porch. Milly ushered Myra into the front door before returning to the porch, where she informed Lucas and Mark that Hope and the boys were ‘out there’.

“What do you mean, out there?” Mark asked.

“The twins were so anxious to ride today, it WAS so nice.” Milly answered. “Lucas, Little Ted begged to go with them.”

“How long ago did they leave?” Lucas asked.

“It had to be before noon. I put the others down for a nap after I fed them lunch.”

“Which way did they head out?” Mark asked.

“They went North,” Milly replied.

Lucas and Mark left their homes after packing their saddlebags and tying extra blankets to the back of their bedrolls.

While they searched, Lucas fretted, “I shouldn’t have gone to town. You could have brought Myra home from school.”

“Pa, don’t play the blame game. I should have been home sooner, I was all set to get Gabby and come home when Clay Akers arrived, transporting a prisoner. I took his report and set him up at the hotel for the night.”

“You had a job to do!” Lucas demanded.

“And so do you, running this ranch. Neither of us could have known the snow storm was coming. And I’m sure Hope thought she was doing right by the boys in taking them out for a ride. It was such a beautiful morning and early afternoon. The twins have been so excited since they got their ponies, any nice day they have begged me to let them ride around in the corral.”

Lucas sighed as he realized blaming himself wasn’t going to help their situation. Both signaled their horses to move on.

*****

“It’s no use. We’ll have to stop for the night and start up fresh in the morning,” Lucas stated as he realized they wouldn’t be able to see for much longer.

“Pa, if I remember, there’s an old prospector’s shack not too far from here. I came across it years ago when I was out galloping BlueBoy. Ain’t much, but it’ll offer us some shelter,” Mark stated as the sun finally disappeared from the sky.

Slowly they walked their horses over the deep, slippery snow, across the darkened terrain. Both startled when they heard two rifle shots. After looking to each other, they kicked their horses into a trot and headed in the direction of the shots.

As they crested a hill, “Mark, look! Someone’s inside the shack!” Lucas yelled after seeing a faint glow through a window and smoke rising from the chimney. He kicked his horse into a gallop, closely followed by Mark.

As they arrived, they saw wolves circling in front of the shack and its partially opened door. They heard cries from horses, clearly agitated by the proximity of the pack. They heard two more rifle shots and a yelp as they watched one wolf collapse. Both men pulled their rifles and fired until there wasn’t a single wolf remaining in their sights.

Lowering their rifles, Lucas and Mark dismounted and ran to where the figure leaned against the opening into the shack.

“Hope!” Mark called as he realized it was his wife he caught when she started to fall. Mark felt her body trembling from the cold, he realized how soaked her jacket was from the snow.

“Papa! Papa!” they heard from further within the shack.

Mark turned and looked as Lucas knelt to gather all three little boys in his arms.

“Papa!” “GrandPa!” the three called over and over.

“Let me look at you,” Lucas stated as he held each one at arm’s length. “Are you okay? Are any of you hurt?”

“No, Papa! I’m okay,” Little Ted answered.

“Grandpa, I’m hungry!” Zach said as Lucas looked to him.

“You are? I’ve some biscuits and meat in my saddle bags,” Lucas answered.

“Can I have some too? We’ve not ate since this morning,” Josh stated.

“You boys get back to the fire and keep warm. I’ll get our horses and put them with the others.” Lucas stated as he pushed the boys back towards the fire and stood. Before leaving the shack, he stopped and knelt next to Mark, “How is she?”

“Pa, she’s so cold,” Mark answered. “Her lips are blue.”

“Get her back to the fire. I’ll tend to the horses and we’ll let the boys eat some of the food Milly sent with us. We’ll have to spend the night here and I’ll take the boys back home in the morning. I’ll return with the buckboard for you and Hope.”

When Lucas returned to the shack, he handed a number of blankets to Mark to wrap around Hope. Lucas carried a couple more blankets to the boys, as well as his saddle bags, pulling out food and handing it to the hungry boys. Lucas stepped from the shack and scoured around for more firewood. When he returned the three younger boys were huddled together, sound asleep in front of the fire. Mark sat on the other side of the fireplace, with a bundled Hope in his arms.

Lucas worried for his son and his daughter-in-law, while he stood watch at the front door. Worrying if they had driven off the entire pack or were some still lurking.

*****

It was late morning when Lucas returned with the buckboard bedded deeply with straw and blankets. He helped Mark get his wife into the back and climbed up into the front seat. Lucas raced the team, through the melting snow and mud, back to the ranch. Milly was waiting at the house, as Mark carried Hope to the front porch; Milly opened the door to their home. Within moments, Mark was overcome with the warmth of their bedroom.

“Mark get her in bed and get her stripped,” Milly ordered. “Lucas, Gwen has all the children at our place, the twins were getting upset while waiting for you to return. Why don’t you go home and help Gwen. I’ll be back once I’ve finished helping Mark.”

“Ma?!”” Mark asked.

Milly shut the door as she pushed Lucas out of the room; she returned to help Mark. Milly was shocked with how cold and clammy Hope’s skin was to the touch as she pulled the blankets over Hope.

“Mark, we’ll take care of your children, you strip yourself and climb in the bed with Hope and wrap yourself around her.”

Mark looked to Milly in askance.

“Mark, you’re not thinking… If you want to make sure Hope recovers you better get to thinking like a doctor, as you have in the past. Worrying won’t do either of you any good right now. Strip and use your body heat to help warm her.”

Milly closed the door behind her as she left the room carrying Hope’s still damp clothing.

*****

An hour had passed when Lucas returned to Mark’s home carrying a bottle. He knocked on the bedroom door before proceeding into the room.

“Come in,” Mark called.

“I brought some brandy,” Lucas stated.

“Pa, they gave me brandy… when I went to fetch Doc Burrage, when Ma was giving birth to Gabby.”

“We used it during the War, too.”

Mark sat up and gently shook Hope, she roused, but didn’t wake.

“As long as she’s somewhat conscious, it should be okay to make her drink.”

Mark watched as his father poured some of the contents from the bottle into a cup and held it out to Mark. Mark took the cup and placed it to Hope’s lips, he encouraged her to drink. As the brandy trickled over Hope’s tongue, she fought drinking, but with Mark’s loving and encouraging words, she swallowed. Mark handed the empty cup back to Lucas, who filled it half full again and returned the cup to Mark.

Hope had finished drinking when Mark felt her relax back against him.

“She’s not trembling as much,” Mark stated.

“I’ll leave the bottle here on the side table. If she gets to trembling again, give her another half cup full,” Lucas stated. Before leaving he walked to the pot-bellied stove and placed several more pieces of wood inside.

“Milly and I’ll be back later this evening to check on the two of you.”

“Pa… Thank you,” Mark stated as he looked to his father.

“It’s what fathers do.” Lucas pulled the door closed behind him as he left their bedroom to return to his own home.

*****

An hour later, Mark woke to feeling Hope trembling beside him. As instructed by his Pa, he reached for the bottle and poured another half cup and encouraged Hope to drink. After setting the cup back to the side table, Mark remembered more from his experience in Marionette, he started rubbing Hope’s hands and arms, trying to stimulate the flow of blood. Rolling his wife to her stomach, he rubbed her back. Next, he uncovered one leg at a time and started rubbing them. Once he was satisfied, that her skin was returning to a healthier color and a more normal temperature, Mark wrapped the covers over her legs. He slipped back under the covers, pulling his wife against him and was pleased with how warm she was beginning to feel. He said a quiet thank you prayer to God.

*****

Night had fallen the next time Lucas and Milly returned to check in on Hope. Mark woke to hearing someone knock on the bedroom door.

“Yes?”

“Mark, it’s me and your father,” Milly answered and entered the room.

“She’s not trembling as much, and she doesn’t feel as cold.” Mark answered after they asked how Hope was doing.

Milly reached under the blankets for Hope’s arm and was pleased with the change in the way Hope’s skin felt.

“She is feeling much warmer. Are you hungry?” Milly asked.

“Yes, Ma’am” Mark stated with a little more enthusiasm than he meant. “Now that you mention it,” Mark stated as they all heard his stomach grumble.

“I brought a stew for you and some broth to continue to warm her up from the inside,” Milly stated.

“Pa, brought…” Mark started to say.

“I know what Lucas brought,” Milly replied and gave a disapproving look to her husband.

Milly stepped from the bedroom and returned a few moments later carrying a tray with supper for Mark. After seeing to it that Mark had eaten, Milly again stepped to the kitchen and returned a few moments later with a bowl of broth for Hope. Mark roused Hope enough for her to drink.

Lucas stepped to the pot-bellied stove and placed a few more pieces of wood inside.

“We’ll let you two be,” Milly stated as she pushed Lucas towards the door.

Milly wrapped her shawl tightly around her shoulders before they left Mark’s home. “I can’t believe you did that!” she stated as Lucas closed the door behind them.

“Milly, it’s a tried and true way for warming someone up… from the inside.”

“But she’s…”

“She’s going to be okay. Though she might be a little out of sorts when she finally wakes, depending on how much Mark’s given her.”

“Lucas McCain, just how much…”

“She drank a full cup and a half earlier, and I told Mark to give her a half-cup each time she started to wake, if she was still trembling. It appears that Mark’s given her at least another cup and a half.”

“LUCAS!” Milly stated. “If she’s not drunk when she wakes… how could you?” Milly scolded.

“Guess we better get some black coffee brewed for later…” Lucas stated with a mischievous smile on his face. He opened the door to their own home and allowed Milly to enter before him.

*****

The moon was shining through the window of bedroom when Hope opened her eyes. She stretched her body and regaled in the warmth of the room and snuggled closer to Mark. Mark wrapped his arm tighter around Hope as he slept.

Hope bolted upright and called, “The Boys!”

Mark startled awake at hearing Hope call out.

“They’re okay. They’re at Ma and Pa’s,” Mark stated as he pulled Hope back to lie down beside him and pulled the covers over her. “We found you Friday night.”

“What is today?” Hope asked.

“It just past mid-night. It’s Sunday morning.”

“Are you sure the boys are alright?” Hope quietly asked.

“According to Ma and Pa, yes. They survived the whiteout better than you did. Do you remember what happened?”

Hope proceeded to tell Mark of their riding out and without warning, the weather turned. Knowing she needed to seek shelter, she ushered the boys and their ponies until they found the abandoned shack.

“I was out hunting more wood to keep the fire going when I encountered wolf tracks.” Hope trembled as she snuggled against Mark.

“Are you cold?” Mark quickly asked.

“No,” Hope hiccupped. “Just the memory.” She raised her hand to her head, “I feel so light-headed.” She hiccupped again.

“Oh,” was all Mark could answer, as he smiled in knowing why. Mark encouraged Hope to continue telling him what had happened, even though her words were a little bit slurred.

“When I returned to the shack, I saw their ssilhouettes, they were so close. And so many of them…” Hope buried her head into Mark’s chest with him rubbing her back, as she hiccupped again.

“You’re safe and home,” Mark stated and kissed the top of her head. “Are you warm enough?”

Hope nodded as she cuddled closer to Mark while he continued to hold her close, rubbing her back and upper arm.

Quietly Hope asked, “Are you sure the boys really alright?”

“Yes,” Mark whispered in return. “Ma and Pa are keeping the children for the night and Gwen’s helping them.”

As the warmth welled deep inside Hope, she started caressing her hands across her husband’s chest, up his neck and around the back of his head; she pulled his head close to hers and passionately kissed Mark. Their cuddling turned to making love, with more than just their hearts intertwined. Any last trace from Hope’s exposure to the elements faded as both experienced the warmth of their shared desire and passion.

*****

Hope woke later in the morning to feeling quite ill. She moaned as she rolled over in bed.

“Hope, are you okay?” Mark asked as he woke.

“My head hurts and I feel so dizzy,” she answered. “And I really have to relieve myself.”

“Stay in bed and let me get the fire going, I’ll bring a chamber pot and fix you some coffee,” Mark answered.

“Coffee? You know I don’t…”

“You will today and believe me, it tastes better with lots of sugar…” Mark stated as he pulled on his long johns.

From under the covers, Hope watched Mark open the front grate to the pot-bellied stove; she cringed at the sound of metal grating metal. Each thud of wood landing in the bottom of the stove sounded louder than she ever remembered. Mark pulled on his jeans and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him, only to return a few moments later with the chamber pot, before leaving again. After slipping into a nightgown and crawling back into bed, Hope grabbed at her head when she heard the coffee pot and the cooking pan bang as Mark set them to the stove, she pulled the pillow over her head and held it tight, trying to block out the sounds. Realizing it was little use, Hope propped the pillow up and laid her head back down on top of it and pulled the blankets tight around her.

The coffee and oatmeal Mark was fixing were almost ready when Mark turned at hearing a knock on the front door and saw it open to admit Lucas.

“How is Hope this morning?” Lucas asked.

“She’s awake and a little hung over,” Mark sheepishly answered.

“Then I’ll report back to Milly,” Lucas replied.

“How are the boys, and Mykaela?” Mark asked before Lucas could leave.

“Asking when they can come back home. We told them this afternoon, if their Mama was up to it.”

“I’ll let you know around lunch time,” Mark answered as he spooned the oatmeal from the pot into a bowl.

*****

Carrying the tray with breakfast, Mark returned to their bedroom to find Hope sitting up in bed with the blankets pulled around her.

“And just WHY am I hung over?” she demanded and cringed at the loudness of her own voice.

Embarrassed, Mark stated, “We kind of got you drunk yesterday afternoon.”

“We! You and who else?!” Hope cringed and hiccupped, pulling her hand to cover her mouth.

“Hope, we needed to warm you up, you were so cold. Pa brought over a bottle of brandy yesterday.”

“And?” Hope spoke quieter.

“And you probably had about three cups worth,” Mark steeled himself for her outburst.

“Three cups?! On an empty stomach?!” she hiccupped. “Oh, my head,” Hope moaned.

“There was only so much that we could do to warm you up from the outside,” Mark stated.

“From the outside… I vaguely remember… we…” Hope’s eyes grew wide. “Mark! You got me drunk and… and… this morning…”

“I’ll admit to getting you a little drunk,” Mark stated as he set the tray with the oatmeal at his wife’s lap. “But as for what happened earlier this morning, that was your doing,” Mark couldn’t stop the laughter as he looked at the expression on his wife’s face.

“Me?”

“Yep. But I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy every minute of it. I’ll have to remember to…”

“Don’t you dare! Mark McCain, how could you?!”

Taking on a somber tone, “Because if we didn’t’ get you warmed up by drinking all that brandy, you could have become sick with pneumonia or even died. A body can’t survive long with a temperature as low as yours was. Remember, I went through something similar when I rode to Marionette to get the doctor… When Ma was giving birth to Gabby. Besides, we are married. And what we do in this bed…” Mark stated with a devilish grin. “Now, eat your breakfast,” he ordered.

“It would serve you right if I got pregnant…” Hope pulled her hand to her mouth as she hiccupped again.

“Would just go to prove how much I love you… Can I put a request in for another set of twins?” Mark laughed as he asked.

“Can you talk a little softer until I feel better,” Hope asked as she put her hand to her head.

“Alright,” Mark whispered. “Pa said the boys were anxious to come back home, I told him I’d be over around lunch to let them know if you were up to it.” Mark handed Hope a cup of hot coffee. “Drink, you’ll feel better.”

“Oh, even with sugar it tastes bitter,” Hope complained and hiccupped again.

After seeing that Hope ate the entire bowl of oatmeal and drank the entire cup of coffee, Mark insisted that Hope slide back down under the covers and sleep the rest of her hangover off. Quietly he placed more wood into the pot-bellied stove in their bedroom.

*****

As promised after lunch, Mark bundled himself up and headed to his parents’, to check on his children.

“Where’s my family?” Mark cheerfully called as he closed the door behind him.

“Papa!” his three sons called.

“Is Mama okay?” Josh asked.

“She’s going to be just fine. How about you boys? Are you up to keeping Little Ted and Levi company this afternoon. Your Mama still needs to sleep.”

“We come home?” Eli asked.

“Maybe after supper,” Mark replied as he finished hugging his sons.

Mark stood to take his daughter from Milly, “And how’s my Emmy?” She clapped her hands and stated “Mama.”

“Not until later,” Mark answered.

“Mama.” Mykaela called.

“She’s sleeping,” Mark stated.

“Mama seeping,”

“Yes, Mama’s sleeping.”

Milly came up behind Mark and took Mykaela into her arms, “As you should be too. It’s time for your naps. All of you!”

“Grandma,” Mark’s boys complained.

Little Ted offered, “Don’t do you no good. She says I have to take a nap too,” as he walked to his bedroom.

Mark walked to the table, where his sister sat. “So Gabby, what are you working on?”

“A com-po-ze-shun,” Myra stated. “I have to write a com… compa…”

“Composition?” Mark asked.

“That’s it, a composition! I have to write a story,” Myra answered.

“On what?” Mark asked.

“On paper! How else?”

“No, silly,” Mark leaned over and tickled his sister, “What’s your story about?”

“My family,” Myra answered.

“That’s a big story.”

“Whew! Don’t I know it,” Myra stated. “Is Hope really going to be okay?”

“Yeah, she will be. She just needs to sleep off, uh, sleep some more today. Tell you what, why don’t you take your homework into your bedroom for a while. I need to talk with Ma and Pa.”

“Okay.’ Myra hopped down from the chair and carried her books, paper, and pencil into her bedroom.

*****

Milly returned to the front room after seeing the younger children to bed for their naps.

“How is she really?”

“Ma, she’ll be fine. She just needs to sleep, she, uh, woke up feeling, well… drunk.”

Lucas let out a short laugh, but quickly changed his expression as he saw the look Milly gave him.

“Lucas McCain, I’ll have you know Hope has probably never had a drink of liquor in her life and you… You made Mark force her to drink enough to get her drunk! There are other ways to warm a person up from the inside. Beef or chick broth… Hot cocoa… Soothing yet warming. Men! You reach for liquor without thinking of the repercussions…” Milly continued to chastise her husband and her son for agreeing with his father.

*****

Tuesday afternoon, Mark had returned to town to stand his shift. Seth was placing more wood in the pot-bellied stove and Johnny was just getting ready to head for home. Mark looked up from reviewing the stack of wanted posters on his desk to see Percy Bullock entering the office.

“Hey Percy! Been a while. How are things at home? How are Tessa, Shawnee, Mabra, and your father?”

“Things seem to be a little more ‘tame’ at my home than at yours,” Percy stated.

A perplexed Mark answered, “I don’t understand.”

“Last Friday, I assigned the students to write a composition over the weekend.”

“I know, Gabby told me it about it Sunday, said it was supposed to be about her family. So what does that have to do with how things are at your place versus mine?” Mark started to take a drink of coffee from the cup that sat on his desk.

“Well, seems I didn’t get my wife drunk over the weekend…”

Mark spit out the coffee and coughed as he had already started to swallow.

“What?!” Mark demanded, eyes wide open, shocked.

“You what?” Johnny asked with a strong laugh and surprise in his eyes.

“Seems Myra wrote about Milly being quite upset when she learned that Lucas had taken you a bottle of brandy and,” Percy paused, “you made Hope drink a whole lot of it and got your wife drunk. So drunk that none of the family could go to church?” Sitting down on the corner of the desk, with eyebrows raised Percy asked, “You care to tell me what happened?”

“You got my daughter drunk?” Seth stated with a disapproving edge to his voice.

Mark leaned back in the chair and ran his hand through his hair, “I told you what happened over the weekend,” Mark complained.

“You told us about how you headed home on Friday, only to find Hope and the boys not home from their ride and the storm stranding them in a shack overnight. You didn’t say anything about getting your wife… drunk,” Johnny continued to laugh.

“You also mentioned having to shoot off a pack of wolves, too,” Seth stated with reproach.

“Throughout the afternoon, she had been in and out of the shack, getting firewood and yes, she did her best to protect the boys from a pack of wolves. When Pa and I got to her, her jacket was soaked clear through from the snow. The only time she was near the fire was to add more wood to it, until we got there. By the time we found them, her body temperature was so low. After we got them home, Pa said they…” Changing his tone of voice, “No one minded when Judge Tanner and his wife forced me to drink brandy when I went to Marionette…” Mark stated indignantly.

“Well, your sister didn’t write an essay about that, but she did about this.” Percy stated as he handed the paper to Mark.

After a few moments of reading, Mark asked, “Who else has seen this?” as he shook his head.

“Just me,” Percy started laughing. “My, oh, my. Mark, I was quite surprised to read this. You’ll have a word with your parents?”

“Guess I need to. This isn’t something that I should keep between Gabby and me.”

“No,” Johnny Drako laughed. “Boy how I’d love to see Lucas’ face when he reads that sheet of paper.”

“Thanks a lot Johnny,” Mark dead panned as he watched Johnny leave the office, laughing.

“Percy, why not talk to Pa when he comes to get Gabby this afternoon?” Mark asked.

“Because she didn’t right about Milly. She wrote about Hope, your wife.”

“See ya later, friend,” Mark stated as Percy left the office.

“So,” Seth stated as he stood in front of Mark’s desk and folded his arms.

“Seth, she’s recovered. No signs of frost bite, no signs of taking a cold.”

“And?”

“She was sobered up Sunday evening. Seth, if it wasn’t so urgent to get her warmed up, I wouldn’t have given her the stuff. I remember how I felt after my trip to Marionette. I kept an eye on her all day until she said she was fine. I’m sorry, what else can I say? I was worried about my wife and…” Mark’s voice had taken a tone that he didn’t appreciate his motives in trying to save his wife’s life being questioned.

“Guess I shouldn’t have come down on you so hard… I probably would have done the same thing, had I been in your shoes. Still, she is my daughter…”

“I’ll forget about it, if you will,” Mark offered.

“I don’t think Johnny will let you forget.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I can always say something to Lou…”

“You wouldn’t?” Seth asked, knowing the trouble that Johnny would get into.

“Hey, she’s always had a soft spot in her heart for me… I can just say that Johnny’s being… well… Guess I should keep my mouth shut.”

“Good idea.”

*****

Mark was watching out the window when he saw his Pa ride into town to get Gabby from school.

“Pa!” Mark hollered and he ran out the door, flapping closed his coat collar. “You have a moment?”

Lucas stopped Blade in front of the Marshal’s Office, “I’m here to see Myra home.”

“I think Percy will keep her for a few minutes.”

Lucas stepped down from the saddle and walked into the office. Gladly, he accepted the hot cup of coffee offered to him by Seth.

“Thanks.” Lucas walked across the office and sat down on the edge of Mark’s desk. “So you were the one who wanted a moment of my time.” He raised an eyebrow as he took a drink from the cup.

“Pa, Percy stopped by this afternoon and showed me the composition Gabby wrote and turned in yesterday.”

“This is the composition about her family?” Lucas asked.

“Yeah. I take it that Ma didn’t read the essay?”

“She hasn’t had to check Myra’s work in some time. She does a lot better in school than you did at her age… I’m sorry Mark, that wasn’t fair. At her age, it was just the two of us and we hadn’t settled…”

“Pa, that’s not the point. It’s just that, well… the subject she chose kind of got me in trouble with the school teacher.”

“Got you in trouble? How?”

“Gabby chose to write of what happened this weekend.”

“A matter of the two of you getting my daughter – drunk!” Seth added as he affected an air of displeasure, yet enjoying the look of discomfort that appeared on Lucas’ face.

“Myra wrote.. But she…”

“Evidently, Ma was scolding both of us loud enough that Gabby heard her, through the bedroom door. Pa, I think you and Ma need to have a talk with her…”

Lucas pushed his hat back on his head. “Oh my, how do I tell Milly?”

“How do you tell Ma? How do I tell Hope? Luckily, Percy was the only one who saw the essay, but Johnny was in here when Percy arrived. You’ll talk with Gabby tonight?”

“We’ll talk with her. Mark, all I can say, you were never this much trouble.”

“Have a good night. I’ll be home tomorrow and I’ll see that Gabby gets home after school.”

*****

“Speaking of wives…” Mark averted his eyes, and faked looking at the wanted posters again, as he spoke to Seth.

“Wives?”

“You and Lilah. It’s been a couple of months since she returned to North Fork and I hear tell you’ve been seen escorting her around town and she’s taking up residence at the boarding house.”

“Mark, we’re just two people who enjoy each other’s company.”

“I seem to remember hearing someone else saying the same thing, before he finally asked Pa for permission to marry Miss Hattie,” Mark snickered.

“Mark, what’s between Lilah and me, if anything, is our business. I don’t see how it’s any of your concern,” Seth stated a little flustered.

“Well, I think it is my concern, since she may become my wife’s mother…”

“OUT!” Seth hollered as Mark ran from the office.

“I got rounds to do. I’ll be back once you’ve had a chance to cool down,” Mark called laughingly.

*****

Watching Mark run from the office, Seth leaned back in his chair and thought how it had been nice having the company of a woman for supper and going to church. He had been surprised when Lilah showed up in the middle of the influenza outbreak. After she stated she had to leave, it didn’t surprise Seth when he asked if there was anything really keeping her in Laramie. What did surprise Seth was her response, “No.” She left shortly after Mark and Hope’s birthday and returned after the New Year.”

*****

Wednesday afternoon, Mark met his sister as she stepped down the steps from the schoolhouse.

“Hi Gabby. You ready to go home?” Mark called.

“Guess so,” she answered.

“You upset with me?” Mark asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it. Just see me home,” Myra stated as she grabbed the saddle straps and pulled herself to the stirrups and got in the saddle.

On the way home, Mark tried to entice his sister into conversation without any luck.

As they rode into the yard, Mark stated, “If you’re going to continue to pout, get inside and start your homework. I’ll take care of the horses.”

As Myra entered her home, Hope was exiting the door, carrying Mykaela, “Good afternoon Myra.”

“I got homework to do.”

“Myra?” Hope called. Without receiving any response, Hope looked to Mark. “What’s wrong with her?”

“You don’t know?… Let me take care of BlueBoy.”

“No son, I’ll take care of him. You talk with Hope,” Lucas stated as he came from the barn and took BlueBoy’s reins.

“Ma didn’t tell…” Mark stopped talking when he saw his Pa try to hide a grin and shake his head.

“Tell me what?” Hope asked.

Milly stepped to the porch and said, “We’ll keep the boys here, until you’re through.”

“What does everyone else know that I don’t?”

“Come on, I have a tale to tell you.”

Lucas was walking across the yard from the barn to his house when he heard Hope yell, “She did what?” Lucas couldn’t keep the smirk from his face as he entered his home. He could only imagine what Mark was having to say to calm his wife.

The Next Step — Vengeance Returns

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

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