Synopsis: Fearing the worst when outlaws shoot Lucas, North Fork looks after Mark.
Category: The Rifleman
Word Count: 9,650
It was Saturday on the McCain Ranch and summer was well underway; the hectic times of spring were past. All the heifers had birthed and the crops were coming in nicely. Lucas McCain was taking time to look out over his land, standing on the porch of the ranch house, drinking a late afternoon cup of coffee. ‘It’s been four years Margaret, four years since Mark and I settled in North Fork. I wish you could see this place, it’s so much like our home back in Enid.’ He watched as his son, Mark, galloped BlueBoy towards the house and reined him in.
“Slow down boy, you’re running BlueBoy too hard!” Lucas admonished his son.
Lucas grinned as his son’s cheeks blushed at the warning he had given him.
Petting BlueBoy along his neck, Mark blurted out, “Pa, I know, but that big tree in the north pasture, its down and it took the fence with it and the cattle crossed over into Mr. Marley’s land. Evidently some of the fence posts on either side were rotten at the base, because there’s a whole stretch of fence line down.”
Lucas hesitated before he stepped inside the house when he heard his son state, “Do you want me to get the buckboard ready?”
“Let’s first see how big a job this is going to be. Might need to make a run into town to get fencing supplies; for the time being, let’s hope we can patch it together.”
“Sure Pa,” replied Mark.
After placing his coffee cup in the sink, Lucas walked out of their home, across the yard and into the barn. He quickly saddled and mounted Razor, before following his son to the north pasture. Upon their arrival, they saw their small herd of cattle was scattered on both sides of the property line the fence divided. Without words between them, Lucas and Mark started rounding up their cattle in order to drive them back to their land.
Having separated their cattle and working them towards the downed fence line, Mark called, “Pa! There’s a ravine on the other side, want me to check to make sure none of our cattle are there?”
“Sure. Take it easy going down into the ravine. Don’t need BlueBoy to stumble and dump you.” His father stated, “If there are any down there, just drive them to the other end, don’t chase them back up here. I’ll meet you at the far end, where the ravine opens up, with the rest of these cows.”
“Okay Pa!” Mark took off to towards the ravine.
Lucas watched his boy ride to the ravine. ‘Fourteen years old. What I wouldn’t give to have some of that enthusiasm now a day,’ he thought as he shook his head, and laughed to himself. Lucas watched as Mark slowed his horse and proceeded carefully down into the ravine, before he disappeared from sight. Other than the far end, the ravine was fairly steep most of the way along. Once Mark was out of sight, Lucas continued to push the small herd down toward the opening of the ravine to meet back up with Mark.
Mark carefully rode BlueBoy down into the ravine, leaning back in the saddle, giving his horse his head, as the horse lowered its haunches for balance. Once on flat ground, Mark kept an eye out for any of their cattle. After a few minutes, Mark came across five yearling calves laying in a tall stand of grass. “Git up, git up! Yah!” he called as he swung his looped lariat in as large a circle as his arms would allow, up and over his head. The calves got up and started bawling, moving in the direction Mark was pushing them.
Mark was half way through the ravine when he heard a gunshot. Standing in his stirrups, Mark looked around and immediately thought of his Pa. Was his Pa trying to signal him or was his Pa in trouble? Mark looked up and realized the slopes of the ravine were too steep for him to ascend, so decided to continue to push the calves a little quicker to get to the opening to meet up with his Pa.
The ravine leveled out into open country, yet Mark didn’t see his Pa. Remembering the gunfire, forgetting the calves, he ran BlueBoy along the route where he thought he should meet up with Pa. Their cattle came into sight, but no Pa and no Razor.
“PA! PA!” Mark yelled as he grew concerned. He raced BlueBoy around the milling herd, still no Pa. “PA! PA!” Mark continued back towards where he last saw his Pa.
Dusk was beginning to settle as Mark found his Pa unconscious on the trail. He jumped down from BlueBoy and ran to him. As Mark felt to his knees he saw that his Pa had been shot in the back and evidence he had struck his head on a rock when he had fallen from Razor.
“Pa, wake up, Pa!” Panic was welling in the pit of Mark’s stomach. ‘Who would shoot Pa and where was Razor?’
Lucas began to regain consciousness and with Mark’s aid and encouragement, sat up. Upon opening his eyes the surrounding landscape was spinning and continued to do so even as he closed his eyes. The spinning sensation didn’t stop as he slumped to the ground and began retching the contents from his stomach. When his stomach stopped convulsing, Mark handed him a wet handkerchief in order to clean his face.
“Thanks son,” Lucas commented before he upended the canteen and poured water into his mouth; swishing the water around before spitting it out onto the ground. He repeated the process once more and handed the canteen to his son.
“Pa, can you get up?” Mark asked as he saw his Pa closed his eyes and heard him groan.
Lucas slowly shook his head, before collapsing back into the darkness.
Mark decided the best thing to do was return to the ranch for the buckboard.
“Pa, I don’t like leaving you here alone, but I got no choice.”
Mark ran to his horse and raced BlueBoy back towards the ranch, praying the storm clouds that were beginning to brew over the far off hills would hold off until he could get his pa home.
As the sun lost its grasp on the surrounding landscape, Mark realized he couldn’t reach their homestead before the storm let loose its furry. Worried with fear, he felt somewhat comforted when he spied a small campfire and came upon a couple of men tending to two horses tethered between the trees on the far side of their camp.
‘Maybe they can help me with Pa?’ Mark thought before he yelled, “Hello in the camp!”
“Hello yourself, come on in,” one of the men replied.
“I need help, my Pa’s been shot. Please, can you help me?” Mark called back.
As Mark rode further into the camp, he saw both of the men turn towards him, one started walking in his direction and the other picked up a rifle, a rifle that looked extremely familiar. ‘Pa’s…’ BlueBoy fidgeted and neighed, receiving a response from one of the two horses on the opposite side of the camp. Looking intently at the horses, he recognized one of them as Razor.
‘They’re the ones who shot Pa!’’ raced through Mark’s mind. His eyes bulged wide in fear, his heart pounded within his chest.
One of the men saw the fear in Mark’s eyes and he started to grab for BlueBoy’s reins, “Now hold on son…” He wasn’t able to say anything more. The clouds let loose and the rain started pouring from the sky. A lightning bolt struck a tree near the camp and the roar of thunder was deafening. Both men dove for cover as bark from the stricken tree flew towards them. Mark struggled to control his horse and decided to go with his horse’s instincts as he wheeled BlueBoy around and galloped away.
‘Can’t leave Pa, those men shot him, they know I’m here, they’ll try to find Pa, they know he’s alive, they’ll kill him,’ Mark’s mind was raced with thoughts. A strong urge to return to where Lucas lie drove him back to his father versus heading for home.
Mark raced BlueBoy as fast as he could, he knew he had to get to his Pa and protect him. As he rode, the weather deteriorated, the heavy rain drops stung as they hit his face, but still Mark continued back to his Pa. All the while, he prayed for God to watch over his Pa until he could return.
Lucas was starting to regain consciousness, again, as Mark arrived. Jumping from his horse before BlueBoy came to a complete halt, Mark yelled, “Pa! Please Pa! Come on! We have to leave here now!” There was urgency in Mark’s voice as he was struggling to pull his Pa to his feet and praying he could get him on BlueBoy.
“Mark,” Lucas started to say, “Leave me and go get help from town.” Blindly he pushed his son away.
“I can’t Pa, those men who shot you; they know I’m out here. They’re coming! Please Pa! GET UP!”
Mark didn’t care that his voice broke into an unmanly squawk as he cried out his urgency.
With a lot of help from Mark, Lucas was able to pull himself into the saddle on BlueBoy. “Pa, hold on, I’ll get us to shelter. Got to get you out of this rain.”
Making sure his Pa was holding onto the saddle horn, Mark led his horse from foot.
It was slow going as Mark tried to pick his way through the underbrush and uneven footing as he was leading BlueBoy, the wind drove the rain into his eyes and it ran down his neck into his shirt. Mark forced himself to remember the layout of the land as each lightning bolt illuminated the darkened sky. Too many times he tripped over rocks or clumps of grass and fell to his knees. Each time he rose to his feet, he had more mud covering him clothes and his skin.
Lightning continued to crackle and illuminate the landscape in rapid succession, allowing Mark to spy an opening to a cave. Maneuvering BlueBoy close to the opening, he pulled his Pa down from his horse, and steadied him. “Pa, can you walk? There’s a cave right here. Please Pa!” Again his voice broke with emotions as well as his voice was beginning to change.
Leaning heavily on Mark, Lucas stumbled into the cave and collapsed against a wall, pulling Mark down with him. Mark climbed to his feet, ran out, and led BlueBoy into the cave, after he realized it was large enough inside to shelter all of them. Mark rummaged through his saddle bags looking for anything he could use as bandages to stop his Pa from bleeding. Mark worked for a good fifteen minutes, ripping rags into strips to tie around his Pa. It took a lot of effort to move his Pa in order to get the bandages around him. Lucas was nothing but dead weight.
Mark knew his Pa had lost a lot of blood, but there wasn’t anything he could do. As he tied the last of the bandages on, Mark realized his father was starting to shiver, because he was soaked through and with the setting of the sun, the temperature was dropping. Mark hunted around the cave for any firewood only to find none. Mark went outside into the storm again, to bring some wood back inside. He piled the wood and material he found to use as kindling, and struck a match, but regretted the wood was too wet and the fire would not catch.
“Damn it!” Mark exclaimed. “Sorry.” He said to no one in particular, knowing his father was unable to hear him use the language he strongly opposed.
Concern for his Pa grew. Mark knew he needed to get help for his Pa, but it was too far back to North Fork for him to lead his Pa on BlueBoy. He also knew it would be foolish for him to try to get to town on his own while the storm continued to batter then land. And then there were those men. Mark said a prayer, ‘God, please! My Pa needs help. Please just lessen the storm so I can ride to town.’ Mark unsaddled BlueBoy, hoping his saddle blanket might help keep his Pa warm enough. He kept rubbing his Pa’s arms and legs; he’d remembered how Doc Burrage had told him once about helping the circulation.
Mark struggled to stay awake through the night. Trying to keep alert for sounds from those men or any animal that might claim the cave as their home; not knowing which would be worse. Regardless, he worried for his Pa’s life.
Day broke to show the storm subsided. Lucas was still unconscious and trembling even more. For the second time in less than twenty-four hours, Mark made one of the hardest decisions of his life.
“Pa, I can’t get you home or to town, so I’m gonna go get help. Can you hear me? Pa? I’ll be back. I promise. Please hang on! I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Mark walked over and re-saddled BlueBoy. “Come on Boy, we need to get to North Fork and get Doc Burrage!” Mark jumped on BlueBoy and rode hard.
As Mark rode, he was unaware the two men from the night before had spotted him. One of the men raised Lucas’ rifle to fire. “No, Clancy! He’s too far. No sense wasting ammunition,” as his arm snaked out from under his rain poncho, Jed pushed the rifle barrel down. “We take care of his pa and then we take care of the brat.”
“Jed, he’s going for help. He’ll tell the law we’re out here,” Clancy replied.
“Yeh, well let’s just track him backwards and take care of his Pa! If he brings the law, we’ll take care of all of them when they arrive. They’ll be more concerned about caring for that sodbuster than looking for us.” Both men laughed a hollow, evil laugh.
After removing their rain gear, the men rode to where they had witnessed Mark and began to follow his trail.
An exhausted and scared Mark arrived in North Fork, jumped from BlueBoy in front of Doc Burrage’s and ran into the office, not bothering to knock on the door, he turned the knob, threw open the door and yelled, “DOC?”
When he received no answer, he looked from side to side before he remembered it was Sunday. He ran back out, jumped on his horse, and rode to the church.
The doors to Sunday Service had already been closed, but that didn’t deter Mark. He didn’t slow down as he ran from BlueBoy and burst through the doors. People in the congregation stared at Mark. Some thinking ‘How rude!” Others were totally appalled to see he was covered in dried mud from head to toe and couldn’t believe anyone would dare show up in the house of the Lord in such fashion.
“DOC! PA’S BEEN SHOT! Please, you gotta come with me,” he called out, fearing he didn’t have the time to look for the doctor and quietly inform him of his need.
Doc Burrage stood from the congregation and ran back towards Mark. “Mark where’s your Pa?” He placed his right hand on Mark’s left shoulder, hoping it would offer some comfort to the boy.
“I’ve got him in a cave out on the ranch. Please Doc?” Mark called as he was pulling Doc Burrage along behind him.
“Mark, I need to stop at the office to get my bag. You go get Micah,” turning to Nils Swenson, owner of the town livery, “Nils, I need your wagon.”
“No problem Doc. I’ll have it ready and in front of your place in a jiffy,” the portly man stated as he made his way through the church doors.
Mark jumped on BlueBoy and left the doc standing in front of the church. Members of the congregation were pouring out the church door, trying to understand what had just happened. Many worried about the true condition of Lucas McCain.
Mark jumped off his horse in front of the Marshal’s office and ran inside, not paying attention to the two men standing just inside the door as he entered yelling “Micah, Pa’s been shot!” His anguish again caused his voice to break as he ran into one of the strangers. Forgetting his manners he continued, “I need your help. Doc’s getting his stuff. Please Micah hurry!”
“Mark slow down. Tell me what happened.” Micah jumped up from behind his desk and walked to Mark.
“Micah, please? I don’t have time, just come with me, I’ll tell you when we get to Pa.” Mark ran back out to BlueBoy and led him over to the Doc’s just as Nils arrived with his wagon.
Micah and the two men, both wearing U.S. Marshal badges, followed Mark over to Doc’s. Folks from North Fork had met the first Marshal on several occasions as Lucas had helped him identify a murderer and later, the Marshal had helped Lucas retrieve his son from the Apache, Chaqua. Though many held reservations against an Indian wearing a badge, they respected what the badge stood for. Fearing him less as even his own kind called him a ‘tame Apache’.
The second Marshal was a stranger to North Fork. Standing at just over six feet in stature, the man’s blonde hair and deep blue eyes contrasted sharply against his tanned complexion. His easy-going manner indicated how comfortable he was in working with the partner assigned to him.
“Mark, we’re not going anywhere until you tell us what happened!” Micah stated as he reached for BlueBoy’s reins.
“Micah, please, I don’t have time!” Mark pleaded.
“You have time,” Micah stared at the boy.
“I told you, two strangers shot Pa late yesterday afternoon. I found them last night as I was heading back to the ranch for the buckboard. They know I’m out there and they know Pa’s still alive. Please Micah?” There were tears in Mark’s eyes as he pleaded for Micah’s help and remembering his Pa was out there alone. “They have his rifle and Razor!”
“Two strangers you say boy?” one of the men who accompanied Micah asked. “Did either of them have a scar down his face?”
“I guess. I think down the left side. But the storm… Please, we’re wasting time!” Mark’s last words game out barely as a squeal as it raised an octave.
Micah and the two Marshals ran for their horses and followed Mark as he led the small group back to the cave where he’d left his Pa.
While Mark was in North Fork, Clancy and Jed were trying to follow his tracks backwards. Neither of them was very good at it; especially when Mark had run BlueBoy through the river bottom.
Finally, they found where Mark had entered the water and slowly continued to back track to where they hoped Mark had left his Pa.
“Why do we have to get that mangy sodbuster? He didn’t see nuttin’,” Clancy declared. “We’s behind him when I shot him.”
“Let’s just say, I don’t like leaving loose ends,” Jed answered.
“But that boy…” Clancy continued.
“One problem at a time,” glared Jed.
The group from North Fork followed Mark, Micah yelled for him to slow up, that the buckboard couldn’t travel at these speeds. Mark felt frustration and let it be known how urgently he needed to get back to his Pa, but knowing Micah was right he finally gave in.
No sooner did the small group arrive in front of the cave before gun fire erupted. Jed and Clancy had found the cave, but before they could enter they heard the sounds of riders and a wagon. The two men ran to hide in a thicket of trees to use for cover and execute their ambush. Micah yelled for the others to run into the cave for cover when the first volley ricocheted off the rocks surrounding the cave. As they ran, Mark dared look back and realized the two Marshals were no longer with them.
‘No problem, as long as Doc’s here for Pa,’ Mark thought to himself.
Mark ran over to where his Pa was lying, kneeling beside him and taking his face into his hands. “Pa, I brought Doc Burrage and Micah. Please Pa, wake up!” Again his voice broke.
Doc Burrage started to examine Lucas as best he could with what sunlight was reaching the back of the cave from the opening. “Mark you did a good job with the bandaging, however, we need to get him back to town.”
“Doc, we were out in the storm last night. I tried to light a fire, but the wood was too wet. I kept rubbing him…,” fear was rising in Mark’s voice.
The two Marshals walking into the cave; no one inside had realized, the gunfire from outside had waned and finally stopped.
“Micah?” asked a voice entering the cave.
“Back here Sam!” Micah called.
“Those two will not be causing anyone any more trouble,” Sam answered.
“Sam?” Mark said aloud as he began to recognize the voice. “Marshal Buckhart? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was you back at Micah’s.”
“I understand, Mark. This is U.S. Marshal Jason Cord. We have been tracking those two, Clancy and Jed Morgan, for months.” Looking towards Lucas, “How is your Pa?”
“I don’t know,” Mark answered as he continued to watch the doctor tend to his Pa. Ignoring Micah’s gentle prompts to moving away; giving the doctor the space he needed to examine his patient.
“Micah, Sam, Jason, come over here,” called Doc Burrage has he stood up. “I’ve done all I can do with Lucas out here, let’s get him loaded into the buckboard and back to North Fork. I’ll have to perform surgery to get the bullet out, once I’m at the clinic.”
The three men gently lifted Lucas, Sam and Jason carrying him by the shoulders and middle, while Micah took his feet. Carefully they loaded Lucas into the back of the buckboard. Mark tied BlueBoy to the railing and rode in back, cradling his Pa’s head in his lap; tears streaming down his face, unashamedly. Doc drove the wagon, with Micah riding beside. Sam and Jason remained behind to bury the Morgan brothers.
Doc was surprise that before they reached North Fork, Sam and Jason met up with the group, leading Razor and another horse. Sam also carried Lucas’ rifle across his lap. When they reached town, they pulled the wagon up in front of Doc’s as Nils Swenson and Bill Sweeney, owner of the saloon, arrived to help move Lucas into Doc’s office.
Millie Scott, owner of the general store and good friend to the McCains, ran up and pushed her way through the crowd; Micah pushing everyone out of the office, “Not now Millie.”
“I don’t know Millie. Doc says it doesn’t look too good.” His words quieted as he looked over his shoulder to see where Mark McCain stood in the room.
“Mark? Where’s Mark?” there was genuine fear in her eyes for the boy she saw sitting on the desk in the doctor’s office.
“He’s inside. Millie, take him out of here. He’s half dead with exhaustion and worry,” Micah stated allowing
Millie walked to Mark’s side and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Mark, please, come with me.” Millie looked at Mark’s face and saw how much the boy was hurting. “Mark, please?” Millie took hold of Mark’s arm and raised him to his feet.
Mark walked where Millie led; putting one foot in front of the other, oblivious of anything other than concern for his Pa.
Millie led Mark back to her place. She sat him down on the big couch in her living room. “Mark, I’ll be right back, I’m going to put some water on and brew us some tea. Would you like some tea?”
Mark didn’t hear or acknowledge Millie’s words, he just sat and saw the image of his Pa and all the blood.
Soon, Millie stepped from the kitchen as Micah knocked and entered. Both stood looking at each other and then at Mark. Millie brought the tray with tea and cups to the living room table and set them down on the low table in front of the couch where Mark sat.
“Mark, Micah’s here. Do you want to talk?” Millie asked, concern etched her voice.
“Mark?” Micah asked as he stepped to the boy and placed a hand on his shoulder.
Mark just sat there, he didn’t move, he didn’t answer.
Micah and Millie looked at each other again. Millie sat down next to Mark, wrapped both her arms around him and pulled him close. She could feel him trembling in her arms, not from chill, but from fear.
“Mark, please, we’re here for you. Talk to us,” Millie begged. “You can’t keep this all inside. Please, Mark.”
Quietly, at first, “I don’t want him to die!” Mark cried louder, “He can’t die. He can’t leave me alone!”
The tears streamed down Mark’s face and sobs wracked his body as Millie continued to hold tight to him.
“I tried, I tried, but the storms last night, and those men, I couldn’t leave him,” Mark cried out. His fear wouldn’t allow him to stop crying.
Millie looked to Micah, “Micah, now’s not the time. He can’t tell you anything. Not now. Let him cry and get some sleep. I’ll send for you when he’s ready.”
Millie continued to hold Mark in her arms gently rocking him, allowing the movement to calm him, he fell asleep, exhaustion having won. She laid Mark down on the couch, dirt and all, and covered him with a blanket.
Over an hour later there was a gentle knock on Millie’s front door. As she answered, she saw Doc Burrage through the glass and looked back over her shoulder towards Mark. “Doc, please, come in,” she said quietly. “How is Lucas?” yet fearing the answer.
“I’ve done all that I can do. Was able to get the bullet out, and tended to the bump on his head, however… He’s taken a fever and he’s struggling to breathe. I’m afraid he’s in such a bad way he might be coming down with pneumonia. Honestly, the rest is up to Lucas and God,” Doc said as he shook his head. “I’ve come to check on Mark. How’s the boy doing?”
“He’s asleep in the living room. Micah was right; he was half dead when I brought him over here earlier.”
“Well if he’s asleep, let him be. That would be best for him right now. I don’t need him over at my place, worrying himself sick over his Pa. Millie, I can’t imagine what that boy went through out there all alone last night with his Pa in the shape he was. When the boy wakes, mix some of this in with his drink, I want him to sleep, keep him asleep for as long as you can tonight.”
Millie took the packets containing the sleeping powders from Doc Burrage as he turned to leave. Millie quietly closed the door behind him, turned and walked back to the living room. She hid the packets in the pocket of her dress and sat down in a chair opposite from where Mark slept. Millie reached for her bible, hoping it could comfort her while she waited.
She looked over at Mark, ‘Even in his sleep, the worry lines show on his face. As often as Lucas says Mark is his life, it’s a two-way street. What if….’ Millie tried to shut out her thoughts of ‘what if’ as she returned to her bible.
It was late evening when Mark woke. Bolting upright, trying to get his bearings, where he was. He saw Millie asleep in the chair across the room. Mark stood up and bumped into the table, causing Millie to wake. “Mark!”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered Millie faintly.
“Are you hungry, can I fix you something to eat?”
“No, Ma’am. I want to go see my Pa,” he answered as he walked to the door to leave.
“Mark, wait here. Doc would prefer you not come over just yet. Here let me get you something to drink.” A few moments later, Millie returned to the front room and handed Mark a glass. “I think it best you drink this and wait here, I’ll go get Doc Burrage.” Millie watched as Mark drank the entire glass. Seeing that Mark sat back on the couch, Millie stepped out the door and waited. It didn’t take long for the medication to work on Mark and he was fast asleep again.
The sun rose as Micah came to check in on Mark. “How’s the boy doing Millie?” he asked as he walked into Millie’s kitchen.
“Doc gave me some medication to keep him asleep last night. I don’t know if I should give him any this morning when he wakes.”
“Let him have today to see his Pa, then you can give him some more tonight, if need be.”
“How’s Lucas? Have you been to Doc’s this morning?” Millie asked.
“Was there before coming here. No change. I’ll wait for Mark to wake up and then I’ll walk with him over to Doc’s.”
A few minutes later, Mark’s voice could be heard calling from the living room, “Millie?”
Millie rushed into the living room, her long skirt swishing with the hurried movement of her legs.
“Mark, how are you this morning?” Millie asked quietly as she sat down on her couch and wrapped an arm around the boy.
“I don’t know. How’s Pa?” he tentatively inquired.
“According to Micah still no change from yesterday. Micah’s here, could you tell us what happened? The Marshals, Sam Buckhart and Jason Cord, need your statement for their report. Can you do it Mark?”
“I want to see Pa,” Mark whispered.
“Mark, he’s asleep right now. I think you need a bath, you’re full of mud. You know as filthy as you are, Doc wouldn’t allow you to see your father.” Seeing the sad look in the boy’s eyes, she continued, “I stopped by the store and brought some clothes that should fit you. Then, after you talk to Micah and the Marshals you can go see Lucas.” Helping the boy to his feet, she led him across the front room and stated, ”These stairs will lead up to a room where I’ve hot water waiting for you, first door on your left.”
“Okay Millie,” Mark answered without emotion as he placed one hand on the banister and lifted his foot to climb the steps.
Millie left Mark and returned to the kitchen, and Micah.
“Micah, Mark’s going to get cleaned up. Why don’t you go get Sam and Jason? When Mark is done with his bath, I’m sure he’ll be ready to tell you what happened.”
“Do you think I should bring Doc?” Micah asked as he stood from his seat at the table.
“You might want to stop by and tell him you’re going to talk to Mark. If the boy gets too upset, it might be better for Doc to inject a sedative into him instead of waiting for these powders to work.”
“I’ll return in a little while.”
Micah returned a short while later with the U.S. Marshals and Doc. “Mark, take your time and tell us what you can. The more details you can remember the better,” Jason said as everyone took a seat around the table; Micah and Millie were sitting on either side of Mark, while Doc Burrage leaned against the sink counter.
Mark told his story. The whole time he stared at his hands, fingers interlaced as they lie on the top of the table, his eyes never looked to those seated around him. He answered the occasional question and continued on. Mark’s voice held no life; he spoke as if by rote. By the time Mark was finished, tears were falling from Millie’s eyes, a steady stream made its way down both her cheeks.
‘Yes, he is his father’s son, but his strength lies so much in pleasing his father. Dear Lord, please don’t separate these two,’ Millie said a quiet prayer.
Realizing his services were not required, Doc Burrage retrieved his black bag from the counter and left; returning to his patient.
“Mark,” Sam said as he and Jason rose. “We will file your story with our report. This case is closed as far as the U.S. Marshal Service is concerned. However, our thoughts will be with you and your father. I truly wish he recovers.”
“Marshal Buckhart?” Mark quietly called. “Why? Why’d they shoot Pa?”
“Clancy and Jed never needed a reason to shoot anyone,” Jason sarcastically answered.
Stepping to stand next to Mark, Sam placed a hand upon the boy’s shoulder and knelt beside him.
“Mark, Jason is correct. Those two never needed an excuse to do anything. All they knew was how to take what they wanted; never caring who might get hurt. We knew they had lost one of their horses several days ago and that is why they took your father’s horse. Once your father was down, and they saw his rifle… They never knew the meaning of an honest day’s labor. I am sorry we were not able to apprehend them before Lucas crossed paths with them.”
“Mark, Sam and Jason returned Razor to town and handed me your father’s rifle,” Micah stated as he squeezed Mark’s hands.
“You have them, here?” Mark asked.
“Well, Razor is at the livery and I have your father’s rifle at the office,” answered Micah.
Bidding good-bye, Marshals Sam Buckhart and Jason Cord left Millie’s and North Fork that day.
Having made sure the boy had eaten, Micah stated, “Mark, if you’re ready, I’ll walk with you over to Doc’s.”
Mark and Micah left Millie’s and slowly walked over to Doc Burrage’s. People on the street stopped and watched; their hearts felt heavy for the burden Mark had to bear. No one knew exactly what to say to the boy, so they said nothing as they stepped aside or crossed the road to avoid him.
“Doc?” Micah called as they entered the office. “Doc, I brought Mark to see Lucas.”
Doc Burrage stepped from a side room. “Mark. How are you feeling today? Did you sleep yourself out?”
“Can I see my Pa?” Mark’s eyes pleaded.
“Sure, come with me.”
Doc led Mark into the room he had just left.
Mark entered the room and saw his pa lying on a bed, covers pulled up to his shoulders, sweat on his brow, he heard the sounds of his Pa struggling to breath.
“Doc? Is he… Is he going to … die?”
“Mark. I don’t know. I pulled the bullet out and treated that bump on his head… I won’t lie to you son. I’m more concerned about his contracting pneumonia. I’ve sent for medicine to help, but I don’t know.”
“It’s all because of me,” Mark quietly berated himself.
“Mark, I you need to understand and I can’t sugar coat this. Your Pa is in very serious condition. He’s struggling to breath because of an infection in his lungs, that’s pneumonia.”
“Because I couldn’t start the fire to keep him warm?” tears were starting to form in Mark’s eyes again.
“Mark, even if you could have started the fire, the damage was already done. Don’t blame yourself. You did more than any fourteen-year old, or most grown men, would have done to save your Pa.” Unsure his words were getting through to the boy, he continued, “I’ll let you sit by your Pa for a while. Talk to him. Tell him stories. There’s new medical talk of people hearing family members even when they’re unconscious. I’ll get Millie to take you back to her place in a little while.”
Doc left Mark alone with his Pa as he returned to the front part of his office to see the marshal still there.
“Micah, leave the boy with me for a while. I’ll see that he gets to Millie’s.”
Mark sat down next to his Pa. “Pa, it’s me, Mark. Doc said I could talk to you… Maybe tell you stories…. I don’t know what to do.” Taking the rag from Luca’s forehead, he dipped it in the bowl setting on the small table next to the bed, and rang it out before returning it to his father’s forehead.
A few minutes later Mark continued, “Micah and Millie are looking after me. I stayed at Millie’s last night. I think Doc had her put something in my drink because I really wanted to see you last night and all I could do was fall asleep,” Mark stated guiltily.
“Marshall Buckhart and another were tracking those men who shot you, and stole your rifle and Razor. You don’t have to worry about those men any more, they’re dead and buried. Marshall Buckhart got your rifle and Razor back.”
As he curled up in the bed beside his Pa, he cried, “Pa, I miss you.”
It was dinner time when Millie came to Doc’s looking for Mark. “Doc. Is Mark still here? I wanted to see that he ate dinner this evening.”
“He’s in the room with Lucas, Millie, come with me.”
Doc and Millie entered the room to see Mark sleeping next to his Pa.
“Well at least he’s slept some more. Go ahead and wake him. Get some food into the boy. Make sure you give him more of the sleeping powders again tonight,” Doc said as he left the room.
Millie walked over to Mark and gently shook his shoulder, “Mark, time to wake up dear. Let’s get you to the hotel and have some dinner. Okay?”
Mark started to stir, opened his eyes, and gently climbed out of the bed. He turned to his father and placed a kiss on his forehead. “I’ll be back Pa. Millie and I are going to go eat.”
Mark and Millie walked to the hotel and as they passed the Marshal’s Office, Micah joined them, “Mind if I accompany you two?”
“Micah, I think Mark and I would enjoy the company.”
The three entered the hotel lobby. Mark was well aware that all eyes turned towards him as he entered. He could see the pity in people’s faces; he wanted to run and to hide. Millie put a comforting hand on his shoulder and guided him to a corner table in the restaurant.
The three ate in silence, both adults hoping just their presence would be of comfort to the boy who sat with them. A few towns’ people stopped by the table to inform Mark that they were keeping his Pa in their prayers, but most paid their bills and left.
As the days passed, Doc Burrage continued to treat Lucas for pneumonia, hoping each day would be the day that Lucas’ fever would break and he would regain consciousness. ‘Just only so much that medicine can do,’ he fretted to himself. ‘At least he is breathing a little easier.”
Nils or Micah alternated each day as one would ride with Mark to the ranch to tend to chores, “Boy, when your Pa recovers he would be sure upset to find out you’ve been slacking in your responsibilities,” they kept telling him.
It had been two weeks since Lucas had been injured and taken sick. Mark didn’t seem to notice the passage of time; he just did what others told him to do. Unable to keep his full attention on his chores; all the while he just wanted to be with his Pa. Wondering when his Pa was going to wake up; praying that his Pa would wake up.
Having heard the same comment as he had heard each preceding day, Mark dejectedly stated, “What good is that going to do?” as they stopped in front of the barn, still in the saddle. “He ain’t gonna get better.”
“Don’t say that!” Nils reprimanded the boy. “Your Pa ain’t never give up on you and I don’t never want you to talk that way!”
As he had the day before, Mark returned to Doc Burrage’s and told his Pa about the ranch and what chores Micah or Nils had helped him with. He also brought his Pa’s bible and read from the Scriptures; knowing his reading was more for his pa than for him. He took no comfort from the words he read.
He took no joy when his best friend, Freddie Toomey, stopped by Millie’s to ask if he wanted to go fishing.
“Naw, I just don’t feel like it,” was all he would say.
Millie could tell that Mark was withdrawing into himself. He didn’t play with any of his friends and the only people he paid attention to were Doc, Micah, Nils, and herself, only he never started any of the conversations. All he did was answer their questions. The only one he really talked to was his Pa, but he couldn’t give Mark the answers he was looking for. She needed to bring Mark back to life; somehow. She had hoped getting Mark’s friends to stop by would encourage the boy.
That night Millie spoke with Doc Burrage after Mark had gone to bed, “I may not be his mother, but I feel his pain as if I were. Doc, I don’t know what to do. I think he’s losing hope. You and I both know that as much as Mark wants to prove to his Pa that he’s grown, it’s his Pa who he truly needs.”
“I know Millie, I feel so inadequate, I’ve done everything I know how to do and just keep doing the same thing over and over again,” a little bit of despair crept into his voice. “The fever’s broke, but it wasted him away and I don’t know if his body has the strength to get over this. I’ve heard Lucas say time and time again that Mark’s his strength and his weakness. I only hope the boy has the strength to survive, if his Pa doesn’t.”
Millie closed her eyes, not even wanting to think of that scenario. “Doc all we can do is keep on praying so that our strength is there for them.”
Unbeknownst to either Doc or Millie, Mark had returned downstairs and was sitting on the steps, listening to their conversation. Quietly, he snuck out the backdoor.
Sunday morning dawned and Millie walked upstairs to wake Mark as she had done for the past two weeks. Stopping outside the closed door, she paused long enough to force a smile to her face and hope her voice held the cheerfulness she did not feel. As the door opened, the sun streaming through the window showed that Mark wasn’t in his room. Millie ran out of her house and down to the Marshal’s Office.
“Micah, Mark’s missing, I went to wake him and his bed wasn’t slept in last night,” Millie stated as she wrung her hands together.
“Millie, let’s go check Doc’s, nowhere else for the boy to be. Doubt he’s at the ranch considering how much Nils and I have to push him to tend to chores.”
Together, they walked over to Doc’s and entered. Doc was sitting at his table, reading a medical book.
“Doc, Millie says Mark didn’t sleep in his bed last night, hoping he might be here, with Lucas,” Micah inquired.
“Yes, I found him asleep in bed next to Lucas when I returned from Millie’s last night. He spent the night here with Lucas. Sorry, I thought you knew.”
The three walked over to the entrance to the room, Doc turned the knob and opened the door. The morning light was streaming in the window and all three saw Mark, curled up next to his Pa. But they also saw Lucas’ hand reaching for his boy; his blue eyes were open.
“Lucas!” Millie started to yell and quickly covered her mouth with her hands.
Doc Burrage strode over to Lucas and quietly asked, “How do you feel?” as he reached for the man’s wrist, pulling out a pocket watch.
“Tired. How long have I been out?” his voice broke from dryness.
“About two weeks,” Doc said.
“Mark, how…?” his voice faltered as he looked towards his son.
“Lucas,” Millie replied as she neared the bed. “Lucas, thank the Lord. Mark’s had a hard time of it. He’s been so worried about you. I can barely get him to eat and Doc has me fix a sleeping tonic for him each night. At least he’s not the skin and bones you are. You’ve practically wasted away.”
Millie poured Lucas a glass of water and held the glass for him to drink, insisting he drink it slowly while Doc lifted the rancher’s head. Lucas had no strength to hold the glass or himself.
“Millie, wake him,” Lucas said faintly, as his eyes pleaded.
Millie turned to Mark and shook his shoulder, “Mark, wake up sweet heart.” Mark didn’t stir. “Mark, wake up, there’s someone here who wants to see you.”
“Go away! Tell ‘em to go away!” Mark cried hoarsely, his eyes still closed, tears slipping from his eyelids. “I can’t do it, I can’t do it anymore. I don’t have any more strength.”
Millie gasped when she realized that Mark had overheard her conversation with Doc the night before.
“Mark, your Pa’s awake, please open your eyes. He’s wants to see you,” begged Millie as she knelt beside the bed and ran her hand over the top of his head.
Slowly Mark opened his eyes; they were bloodshot, more than they had ever been during the last two weeks. Mark looked at Millie, saw a smile on her face as she nodded her head at him, a smile he hadn’t seen in a while. Mark turned around to look towards his Pa.
A smile started to appear on Lucas’ face as Mark’s eyes widened in seeing that his Pa was indeed awake.
“PA!” Mark yelled, his voice breaking, as he rolled over and reached to hug his Pa. Tears were running down Mark’s face, this time tears of joy. Lucas had only enough strength to softly hug his son in return.
“LucasBoy, mighty glad to see you decided to wake up. I don’t mind keeping an eye on Mark every now and then, but this was a might bit too long. If you don’t mind, I’m going over to church to let everyone know you’re back,” Micah said as he turned away, hoping to wipe the tears from his own eyes without anyone else noticing.
It was a few days later when Doc allowed Lucas to get out of bed and sit up for a short period of time. This only proved to Lucas that he had no strength, the effort exhausted him. Micah stopped by to see how he was doing. Micah told Lucas of how Sam Buckhart and Jason Cord had been tracking the Morgan brothers and ended up in North Fork. He recounted the story Mark told about the events beginning when he was chasing the calves in the ravine until they got Lucas back to North Fork. By the time Micah left, Lucas struggled to keep his eyes open.
The facts Micah imparted to him, pained the tall rancher and as much as he wanted to speak to and comfort his son, the needs of his body overpowered his mind and forced him back to slumber.
Millie insisted in being allowed to do the cooking for Lucas while he was at Doc’s and having Mark continue to stay with her in her spare room. She intended to “fatten” both of them up, as best she could.
In time, Lucas recovered his strength to where Doc said he was going to discharge him to go home. However, Millie had other plans.
As Lucas stood in the doctor’s office with his hand place around his son’s shoulders, he listened as Millie and Doc Burrage discussed them, as if they were not there.
“Lucas is not going home. He’s not ready to take on ranching AND raising Mark full-time.”
“I’ve done all I can for him, I can’t see keeping a healthy person here any longer,” Doc Burrage replied.
“Well, you might consider him healthy from a medical point of view, but there is no way you can consider him fully healed! Healed enough to ride home!”
“No, I told Mark to bring the buckboard in to take his Pa home,” Doc answered.
“If he’s not healed enough to ride, then he’s not healed enough to return home and take care of everything, ON HIS OWN!” declared Millie.
Looking to Lucas, the doc’s eye pleaded.
“You’re the doctor,” Lucas answered, his eyes gleamed with mirth.
Turning her focus to the tall rancher, and waggling her index finger at him, Millie stated, “Lucas McCain, don’t argue with me, not one word. I’ve a spare bedroom at my place, you can take the bed that Mark’s been sleeping in and I’ll bring in a cot for Mark to sleep on.”
“Millie, what would people think?” Lucas tried to argue.
“I don’t care what people say, you still need some looking after!” Millie stood in the doorway, with both hands on her hips, daring Lucas to object.
“We could always take a room at the Madera House,” Mark stated.
“The hotel?!” Millie stated in disgust. “Young man, there is no need for you to pay for a room and all your meals when I have an unused room at my home.”
“Millie, we can manage,” Lucas began.
“Only when you can ride your horse!” spat Millie. “There is no further discussion. You march yourself to my place and Mark will show you to your room where you will take a nap until I can fix dinner.”
Meekly, Lucas nodded his head as he gently prodded his son out the door of the clinic.
So it was that Lucas and Mark moved into Millie’s, at least until he was recovered well enough to head back to the ranch.
A few days later, Lucas and Mark were talking as they were sitting on the porch at Millie’s.
“Son, I’ve been remiss in thanking you for saving my life.”
“Micah told me what happened. I’m sorry that I put you through all this worry.”
“Weren’t your fault Pa. You didn’t know those men were waiting to ambush you to steal your rifle and Razor.”
“No. No I didn’t. But I wanted to wake up sooner. I heard you talking to me. I wanted to take you in my arms and hold you, protect you, and comfort you. I just couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t get my body to listen to me.”
“That’s okay Pa, Doc told me you might be able to hear me.”
Knowing there was more he needed to understand, Lucas waited a few moments, thinking of how to ask his question, Lucas finally stated, “That morning when I woke up, you told Millie you couldn’t do it anymore. You didn’t have any more strength. What did you mean?” Lucas asked with concern in his eyes.
Mark swallowed with a little difficulty, he knew he’d been wrong to eavesdrop.
“I overheard Millie and Doc Burrage talking the night before. He said he hoped I had strength enough to get you through this, if you didn’t. Pa, I was just so tired. I was worried about you and trying to keep things going on the ranch. I felt I used all my strength praying you’d get better and wake up. But you didn’t. Each day, I tried Pa… Honestly, I did. That night, I came to your room; I remembered back to all you did for me when I was sick with Typhoid. I realized I couldn’t give up, because you didn’t. I asked God to take all my strength and give it to you. I wanted you better; I wanted you to wake up, but… I guess I didn’t have any strength for God to take… And I was so tired… I didn’t know what to do anymore. I couldn’t give up, so I just prayed. It was surely the longest night of my life.”
“Son, you’re right, don’t ever give up. At times, the good Lord tries us in ways only he understands. I think, maybe, he was testing you to see how strong and grown up you are.”
“Strong?” Mark interrupted. “I couldn’t get you back to town. Grown up? I’m just a squeaky voiced kid.”
“Who got me up on BlueBoy?” Lucas asked with love in his eyes. “That took strength… Maybe not muscles, but sure determination on your part. As for being grown up? Mark, you’re just becoming a young man. You should have heard my voice squeak when I was your age. Give it a few more months and your voice should settle down.”
“I know that’s what Doc said, but still…it’s embarrassing…”
“Son, I know you’re not fully grown and won’t be for some time, and I don’t expect you to be able to do everything that a man should do, but I’ve seen grown men not be able to do what you did, in order to get the help you needed. There’s nothing wrong in asking others for help, even if you are fully grown.”
Taking a few moments to consider his words, Lucas continued, “Son, you’ll never be a disappointment to me. Believe me when I say, no one will think any less of you for giving us both the best chance of surviving. I’m proud to have you as my son and I’m proud of you.”
After thinking of what his father said, Mark asked, “So, strength of character can be stronger than physical strength?”
“Yes and I guess you were strong enough for both of us. Now all we have to do is to convince Millie…”
“What are you two characters trying to convince me of?” Millie asked as she walked out the door carrying a tray bearing glasses of lemonade.
“Nothing,” both father and son said together.
As the next ten days passed, many of the town’s people stopped by to check in on Lucas, telling them how much they had prayed for his recovery, how various ranchers around the area were helping Mark keep up with the chores around the ranch until they could both return home.
Obediah Marley stopped by one afternoon to inform Lucas that some of his hands had fixed the downed fence between their properties.
“Mark told me this all started the day you found the fence down. I take full blame and I’m sorry it happened,” Marley stated.
“It wasn’t your fault the Morgan brothers shot me,” Lucas offered.
“No, but you wouldn’t a been on my property, searching for your cattle if’n my men had done their work. That was my fence, not yours. And it’s because some of my men got lazy that you was there, puttin’ you in a position where you done got shot.”
Understanding how the rancher felt, Lucas accepted his apology.
One afternoon, the banker, John Hamilton, stopped by Millie’s to check in on his friends.
“Well Lucas, shouldn’t be too much longer and most of the womenfolk will have you and Millie married, that is if you stay here too much longer. Though I can understand why you’re staying on. Three home-cooked meals a day, fixed by a woman. Having a fine a woman as Millie waiting on you day in and day out.” There was a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
After dinner, later that evening, Lucas stood beside Millie as she finished washing dishes, and informed her that he felt it was time that he and Mark returned to their own place, that he felt recovered enough.
“Millie, I appreciate everything that you’ve done for Mark and for me… I’m at a loss for words to express how I feel for taking care of us,” Lucas quietly slipped his arms around Millie and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Does this mean we have to go back to doing our own cooking and dishes,” Mark asked as he turned around at the table, just in time to see his Pa step away from Millie.
Lucas and Millie burst out with laughter.
The next morning all three were in front of Millie’s home. “Lucas, you and Mark will always be welcome anytime you want to stop by for dinner,” Millie said, as she hoped they would stop by more often. She’d gotten used to having ‘menfolk’ around and she felt both Mark and Lucas were part of her family. “And I don’t mean just on Sundays after church.”
Millie watched as Lucas and Mark rode their horses at a trot, away from her home. All of the town’s folks who were out and about, waved to Mark and Lucas as they rode down the center of main street and out-of-town, towards home.
The character Sam Buckhart, U.S. Marshal, was introduced in the episodes, The Indian and The Raid.