Synopsis: Mark is growing up, and excelling at school. An accident while traveling home leaves Mark wondering who he is; but sometimes, powerful memories can guide one home.
Category: The Rifleman
Word Count: 11,500
Author’s Note: This story is set after the events in two of my stories, ‘Before Your Time’ and ‘A New Day’. Also please note, the timeline of this story takes place after the fourth season episode entitled Millie’s Brother (which was the last episode we saw Joan Taylor).
The Road Home
Summer had drawn to a close and the chill of fall hung in the early morning air. Lucas McCain stood on the front porch of the home he shared with his son, sipping a cup of coffee, looking out over the horizon. Father and son had spent long hours harvesting their crops and finally completed putting the new roof on the barn which sat across the yard from their home. A feeling of pride, pride from the hard work that he had shared with his boy, welled inside him. Lucas smiled in thanks that his son was of an age where he could truly be a help to his father and that he enjoyed working side by side, and learning. Lucas turned to walk back into the house, when he almost ran into his son, Mark; still sleepy-eyed, yawning, and stretching his arms while walking out the front door.
“Pa, feels like winter’s going to come early this year.”
“It does seem that way.” Lucas gave a brief shiver, he watched as Mark walked across the porch and leaning against one of the posts, wrapped his arm around it. “You’re up mighty early this morning. That ready to get back to school again since harvesting break is over?” his Pa asked with an inquisitive gleam in his eyes. Remembering all the times that Mark had tried various excuses to get out of going to school; the boy preferred to spend more time with his father, wanting to help take care of their ranch.
“Yes sir. Funny, I remember all the times I tried to avoid going to school and here I am, almost fifteen, and I’m looking forward to going to school. Doesn’t make sense, does it?” Mark asked as he looked over his shoulder and up to his Pa.
“It’s just a sign of the times, son. Just like summer turning to fall. A boy becomes a young man. And as a young man, you’re accepting ALL your responsibilities. I’m mighty proud of all the work you’ve done alongside me during your school break and the improvement in your grades at school.” Lucas smiled at his son.
Mark gently pushed himself off the porch post and turned to walk inside; as he passed, Lucas placed his hand on his boy’s shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze. They walked into the house to prepare breakfast, Lucas to cook and Mark set the table. After the meal was eaten and dishes were done, Lucas followed Mark to the barn.
“You don’t mind if I ride with you to town, do you, Mark?” Lucas asked.
Teasingly Mark replied, “You think I’m going to skip school and play hooky today?”
“No, I’ve business to do in town today. Need to stop by the bank and I need to place an order at the hardware store, and…”
“I get the picture,” interrupted Mark as he laughed. “Sure, I’d love to have you ride with me, Pa, you know that.”
Once their horses were saddled, father and son rode to town. As they arrived in front of the school, Mr. Griswold stepped down from the steps and approached Lucas and Mark.
“Lucas, Mark, good to see you again. Hope things went well over break?” Mr. Griswold inquired with his crisp pronunciation of words.
“Yes, we accomplished more than I thought we could, my hired hand here is growing up,” Lucas said as he winked at Mark.
“I know how much help Mark has been here at the school with the younger students, so I can only imagine how much of a help he is around a working ranch. Mark, go ahead inside, I’ll be there shortly.” Mr. Griswold and Lucas watched Mark dismount, tie BlueBoy to the railing, and walk inside. “I wanted to talk with you, Lucas, before I asked Mark a favor.”
“What is it Stevan?” Lucas asked curiously as he stepped down from his horse.
“Lucas, you know we have a new family in town?”
“Alexander is their last name, if I remember correctly,” Lucas stated. “Micah told me about them a couple of weeks ago.”
“Yes, Jeremiah, Elizabeth, and their boy Heath; he was supposed to start school today with the other six-year olds; only… after church yesterday, Doc Burrage informed me he was out at their place on Saturday.”
“Everything okay?” concern etched Lucas’ voice.
“Oh, it will be, just that Heath has the measles and is going to miss school until he’s over it. I was wondering… has Mark had the measles?”
“Yes, he had it a few years back and I remember how much he complained all the time; difficult to keep an active child in bed and not scratching all the time. Next thing I knew, he was over the measles and I had them,” Lucas gave a chuckle.
“Good, then my plan will work.”
“Well, it’s going to be at least next week before Heath can come to school and I was wondering… Since Mark’s so far ahead of most all the other students his age, I was wanting him to spend some time, one on one time, tutoring Heath during the afternoons, working with Heath, under my guidance of course, to keep him close to where he should be for a child of his age. However, if Mark hadn’t had the measles….”
“I see the predicament you might have been in. I think Mark would enjoy this opportunity. We were just laughing this morning about all the times he tried to get out of school and now he’s eager to learn.” Lucas continued, “Tell Mark I said its okay, I know the Alexander’s live on the other side of town from us, so I’ll plan to meet him in town at the restaurant for supper tonight, got to be here for business all day anyway, and then we’ll ride home together.”
“Thanks Lucas,” Mr. Griswold said as he extended his hand to Lucas. After shaking hands, he turned to walk into the classroom.
“Class, we’ll break for recess now. Mark McCain, one moment please,” Mr. Griswold said as he dismissed the class.
Mark walked slowly to the front of the class, hearing Freddie, Bobby, and the rest of the boys he considered friends snickering at him. As he proceeded to the front of the classroom he wondered what trouble he’d gotten himself into, it had been some time since he was last detained by their teacher.
“Mark, I spoke with your father earlier this morning,” Mr. Griswold started.
“Am I in trouble Mr. Griswold?” Mark asked, uncertainty in his eyes as he shifted his weight between his feet.
“No, no, Mark. You’re not in trouble. In fact, you’ll be happy that I realize it has been a long time since you were in any trouble.” Mr. Griswold paused as he viewed the boy’s posture relax. “You’ve been a great help to me with the younger student over their lunch breaks. I spoke with your father regarding a new family in town and their son. Heath has the measles and won’t be able to join us until he’s better. I’d like for you to tutor him during the afternoons this week.” Mr. Griswold looked Mark in the eye. “This would mean a great deal to me and to Heath’s parents.”
“Sure Mr. Griswold, but what about my own studies, I’ll be missing out on a whole week myself.”
“Mark, just the afternoons. Besides, you’re far enough ahead of your other classmates, that… I feel this would be another learning experience for you. And… maybe this will inspire you to want to continue your schooling with college… possibly becoming a teacher, yourself. So, are you up to it?”
“I don’t know about that…” Mark stated, his emotions conflicted.
“You don’t know about what?” asked Mr. Griswold. “You do so well helping the younger children, what’s not to know?”
“Well, I always wanted to work the ranch side by side with Pa, I don’t know about going to college and becoming a teacher…” answered Mark.
Giving a small laugh, Mr. Griswold replied, “Mark, when I asked if you were up to it, I wasn’t asking you to decide about college… I was asking if you were up to tutoring Heath during the afternoons this week.”
Seeing the boy’s eyes light up, Mr. Griswold smiled.
“Yes sir. I’m up to it.”
“Good, we’ll talk about the lesson plan for Heath over lunch. Resume your seat Mark while I call the other children in from recess.”
Class resumed for the rest of the morning and soon it was lunch time. As they ate lunch together Mr. Griswold set out developing a lesson plan for Mark to work with Heath, the alphabet, spelling, and working with the boy’s verbal grammar for the day. “Each day we’ll plan a different lesson, progressing to his mathematics. We’ll leave history until he actually returns to the class room. I do think that this will be more than enough to fill the afternoons. By the way, since the Alexander family lives on the opposite side of town from your ranch, your father said he’d meet you at the hotel restaurant for supper this afternoon and the two of you would go home together.”
Mr. Griswold rang the class bell indicating lunch was over. The other students returned to their desks with curious looks as they had witnessed Mark tying the lesson books to his saddle horn and mount BlueBoy to ride away from school.
Walking up and down the aisle, Mr. Griswold returned graded papers to his students.
“Where’s Mark going?” Freddie asked.
“It would be best if you minded your own studies than those of Mr. McCain, Mr. Toomey,” Mr. Griswold stated as he handed a piece of paper with a red D in the upper right hand corner to his student.
“Oh man…” Freddie breathed as he sunk down in his seat. “Pa’s gonna kill me.”
As Mark arrived at the Alexander’s farm, he noticed the improvements that had been made after it had sat empty for so long. A fresh coat of paint on the picket fence boards surrounding the home, the new barn doors yet to be painted, curtains in the windows of the house. ‘Really seems homey, now,’ Mark thought to himself.
Mark tied BlueBoy to the hitching rail in front of the house as a the front door opened. From the house stepped a petite young woman with sandy colored hair braided and tied up into a bun on the back of her head. The calico dress she wore was simple, yet clean. “May I help you?” she asked as she wiped her hands on her white apron.
“Mrs. Alexander… ?”
“The woman nodded.
“My name’s Mark McCain and Mr. Griswold, our teacher, he asked me to come out here and work with your boy Heath on his studies,” Mark said as he took off his hat.
“My, this is unexpected. Mark you said?” questioning if she’d hear his name correctly.
“My boy has the measles and Doc Burrage said its con… conta…., its catching.”
“Don’t worry Ma’am, I had the measles a number of years ago, so I can’t catch it again. Mr. Griswold checked with my Pa to make sure, before he asked me to come out here.”
“Well then Mark, why don’t you go ahead and take your horse to the barn and unsaddle him. Put him in one of the stalls, and there’s hay to feed him too. Once you’re done come on in to the house and I’ll introduce you to Heath.”
Mark led BlueBoy to the barn, unsaddled him in the stall before he carried the saddle, pad, and bridle and placed them on a short wall. Mark returned to the house and knocked on the front door. A few moments later a young boy opened the door only wide enough for Mark to see a little bit of ashe-blonde hair and one deep green eye.
“Hi there, you must be Heath,” Mark said as he watched the boy turn and run away.
“Mark, come on in, sorry about Heath, sometimes he wants to be so grown up, but then when he meets a stranger…” Mrs. Alexander opened the door all the way, turned and called Heath back to the front room. “Heath, come on back here. I want you to meet Mark.”
Mark watched as Heath peeked around the corner from what he thought must have been the boy’s the bedroom door, then pulled his head back, only to peek around again.
“Heath, right now! Mark’s here to work with you on your schoolwork,” Mrs. Alexander stated with purpose.
“Hello Heath, I’m pleased to meet you,” Mark said as he knelt down to be close to eye level with the six-year-old.
Heath came out from the bedroom and stood behind his Ma, peeking out from under her apron. “Don’t look like no school teacher.” Before he mother could chastise him, the boy continued. “Ain’t old enough.”
Mark smiled, hoping to entice the freckled-faced boy to come out into the open.
“I’m not really a school teacher. Mr. Griswold is our teacher, but he’s at school with the rest of the students. I help him out with the younger children.” Then addressing Mrs. Alexander, “Don’t worry Mrs. Alexander, Mr. Griswold has provided a lesson plan that I’m to follow in working with Heath this week. Do you have any place, where we can work?”
Mrs. Alexander led the boys to the kitchen. Mark placed the school books Mr. Griswold had provided on the kitchen table and motioned for Heath to sit down in a chair, as he sat down. Mark first worked with Heath to see how much of the alphabet he knew. Mrs. Alexander listened intently as Mark walked Heath through his alphabet, pleased that her son remembered and could recite the letters in the proper order.
Mark pulled out a slate board and chalk and began working with Heath to write out his alphabet letters. The afternoon lessons progressed to spelling simple words and by the end of the lesson, the young boy would remember how to spell the words. There was eagerness in Heath’s eyes as Mark worked with him through his lessons. As the two boys talked, Mark politely corrected Heath in his use of grammar, as suggested by Mr. Griswold. There wasn’t much Mark could do regarding grammar until the boy started school, as Mr. Griswold had instructed.
“Well Heath, we’ve done everything that Mr. Griswold asked us to do. You did real well today,” Mark said as he closed the books they had been working in, stacked them and set them aside. “Heath, these are your books to keep. You can read them at night to help you remember, so you’ll be ready when I come back tomorrow.”
“Ma, did ya hear? Mark said I done goo… Did real well,” the boy corrected himself. “And these books are mine.” Heath picked the stack of books up gently and carried them to his bedroom.
“Mark, thank you for coming out here. I hope that you’re not missing out on your own studies to help Heath. “
“Ma’am, I asked Mr. Griswold about that myself this morning. He said this would be a different kind of learning experience for me. I’m still going to school during the mornings, so I won’t be missing that much, and if I do, Mr. Griswold will see that I make it all up when I return next week.” Mark said no more, not wanting to brag that he was more advanced than the others.
“You’re so good with children, I bet your mother and father appreciates your helping with your younger siblings,” Mrs. Alexander said, as she turned to look at Mark, she saw that the smile had disappeared from his face. “I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”
“No Ma’am, we’ve not had a chance to meet before, so you didn’t know.” Mark said. “It’s just my Pa and me; my Ma died when I was six, when we lived back in Oklahoma.”
“Mark, please forgive me. I…” Mrs. Alexander’s face blushed with embarrassment.
“Nothing to forgive Ma’am. And when you meet my Pa, he’ll tell you there’s nothing to be sorry for either. We know it’s just the two of us and ….” Mark couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Well Mark, you are a remarkable young man. I’m sure your father is mighty proud of you. As a thank you for the time you spent with Heath today, would you take home some home-baked cookies with you?”
“Yes Ma’am,” Mark said with a little more enthusiasm than he meant.
“I guess with two bachelors, you don’t get a lot of home-baked pastries.”
Mrs. Alexander was wrapping up the cookies as a dark-haired man with a thin mustache came into the kitchen. The man stood over six feet tall; dwarfing the woman he walked to stand behind in order to place a brief kiss on her cheek.
“Papa, Papa,” Heath called as he came from the bedroom. “Mark said I did real well in my studies today. He brought me books!”
Mr. Alexander picked up his son and swung him around. “Well, glad to see my boy so eager for his book learning.” As he placed Heath on his hip he turned to Mark and extended his hand, as his wife continued, “Jeremiah, this here is Mark McCain, he’s a student assistant to the teacher in town. He spent the afternoon with Heath going over this school work.”
“Mighty pleased to meet you, Mr. McCain.”
“Please, call me Mark. My Pa’s Mr. McCain. Heath is a real bright boy. Only wish I had been half as eager with my own studies when I was younger. Though, I finally learned to love learning.”
“It is getting a little late for you to be out on your own, where bout’s do you live?” Mr. Alexander asked.
“I live on the other side of town. I do need to be going. My Pa should be waiting for me at the hotel restaurant.” Mark turned to collect his hat. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Jeremiah followed Mark as he walked out of the house and to the barn to saddle up BlueBoy for the ride back to North Fork.
The small family waved goodbye as Mark rode away.
When Mark arrived at the hotel, his Pa and Mr. Griswold were already inside, talking as they were sipping from their cups of coffee.
Mark took off his hat as he sat down to join them. The waitress, Alice, came to take their order.
“Well, Mark, how did your afternoon go?” Mr. Griswold inquired.
“You’ll be pleased on how well Heath remembers his studies. He’s so eager to learn,” Mark said with a gleam in his eye.
“Kind of regretting your efforts to get out of learning when you were younger, boy?” Lucas teasingly asked.
“Sort of, but I’m making up for it now.”
“That you are,” Mr. Griswold answered.
The week flew by while Mark continued his own studies in school during the mornings and went to the Alexander’s during the afternoons. Of an evening, he met his Pa at the restaurant for supper before proceeding home; that was an extra treat, five whole days without having to cook or do the dishes from supper.
Friday afternoon, when Mark arrived at the Alexander’s, Doc Burrage was already there; pronouncing Heath recovered enough that on Monday he could start school.
After Doc left, Mark continued his final day of tutoring Heath.
Mr. Alexander came in the house just as Mark was preparing to return to town. “Mark, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“I know it’s asking a lot, with your having helped Heath all this week, but I could sure use some help this weekend around the farm. With us being new here, we don’t know that many people yet. I’d be willing to pay you.”
“I need to ask my Pa first. Hey, since Heath has a clean bill of health from Doc Burrage, why don’t you bring your family to town, have dinner with me and Pa tonight? I’d really like for you to meet him.”
“Why Mark,” stated Mrs. Alexander, “That’s an excellent suggestion. We sure would like to meet your father.”
The Alexanders and Mark rode into town; Elizabeth and Jeremiah rode in their buckboard while Mark let Heath ride in front of him in the saddle on BlueBoy. The young boy had a huge smile on his face.
In addition to the Alexanders and the McCains, Mr. Griswold joined them for supper. Stating how pleased he was to hear Mark’s progress reports on Heath and how much he looked forward to Heath joining the other students.
Mrs. Alexander praised Mark on how patient he’d been with Heath and how taken Heath had become to Mark. “Lucas, you’ve done a wonderful job raising you son. Just hope that Jeremiah and I can do as good a job with Heath.”
Lucas accepted the compliment with a smile on his face as he looked towards Mark. He replied, “Seems my boy has taken on the role of the North Fork’s pied piper, when it comes to the younger children.”
Mark looked down at his food; he could feel his cheeks start to turn red.
Mr. Griswold continued, “Yes, Mark has been a real asset in working with the younger children this year. Most all of the grades are up, especially Mark’s own grades.”
Lucas did give Mark permission to assist Mr. Alexander, but only after he finished his own chores. So plans were made that Mark would arrive at the Alexander’s by noon on Saturday.
It was one o’clock Saturday afternoon when Jeremiah saddled his horse. “Elizabeth, seeing as how on time Mark was this whole week with Heath, I can’t see him being this late. I’m just going to ride into town, maybe meet him half way. Sure would make me feel a whole lot better.”
“You’re right Jeremiah. The way that boy’s been raised, he should have been here long time ago.”
Jeremiah mounted his horse and left for North Fork.
Jeremiah arrived in North Fork and headed for the livery, hoping that the owner and blacksmith, Nils Swenson, had word of Mark.
“Good day Nils” he called from the saddle.
Nils used his forearm to wipe the sweat from his brow before he walked out to greet the man, “Afternoon Jeremiah, what brings you to North Fork today?”
“I’m looking for Mark McCain, he was supposed to arrive at my place by noon. Don’t mind saying, I’m a little worried. Thought maybe he was delayed with his chores and I’d meet him half way.”
“I’ve not seen him today, but then I’ve been working the forge. Why don’t you go see Micah. I’m sure if Mark’s been through town, he’ll know.”
“Thanks, Nils,” Jeremiah answered before he turned his horse and rode to the Marshal’s Office.
The stage to Las Cruces had left North Fork two hours later than scheduled and Chuck was pushing to try to make up some of the time. As the coach came over a rise, Sam, who was riding shotgun, saw a riderless horse ground tied along the side of the road. Sam hollered for Chuck to pull up the team, allowing the shotgun to jump down from the coach, walk over to the horse, and grab hold of the reins. Looking the horse over, he saw there were two rabbits tethered to the saddle horn off the left side. As he continued to look the horse over, on the right hand side he realized the scabbard was empty.
Several of the passengers started to exit the coach to see what was causing the added delay. The first traveler off the stage was North Fork’s banker, John Hamilton. “Sam, what’s wrong?” he called out.
“Got a horse here, no rider.” Fearing that it might be a trap by outlaws he clutched his rifle tighter.
John walked over to the horse, “Sam, that’s Mark McCain’s horse. That’s BlueBoy,” he declared.
“Are you sure?”
Sam and John turned and started yelling Mark’s name. “Mark, Mark McCain!” No response.
The other two passengers started complaining about this added delay. They were businessmen, Easterner’s, heading farther West.
“Misters, you don’t understand this country, nor who that boy is. We’re staying until I say otherwise,” Chuck informed his passengers. The businessmen grumbled under their breaths and stepped back into the coach.
As Sam and John returned to the stage, John was talking, “I just don’t get it. BlueBoy out here all alone. Mark shouldn’t be that far from him if he got thrown. And his rifle is missing.”
“You want us to return to North Fork?” Chuck asked from up top.
“I think we better,” Sam answered. He led BlueBoy to the back of the stage and tied him to the boot.
John Hamilton returned to his seat in the coach, imagining Lucas’ reaction to finding his son’s horse, but not the boy. The stage continued on, until they found a location where they could turn around and return to North Fork; both Sam and Chuck keeping an eye out for Mark.
Jeremiah dismounted his horse in front of the Marshal’s office as Micah was coming out the door. “Good Morning Jeremiah, didn’t expect to see you in town this afternoon, what with that new hired hand of yours helping out,” teased the marshal.
“That’s just it Micah, Mark never showed up. Got worried, so I came to town to check…,” worry was creeping into Jeremiah’s voice and settling into the pit of his stomach.
“Mark stopped by the office late morning, should have made it to your place around noon, no problem.”
“He didn’t make it Micah. Now I am worried.”
Micah began to say something when he saw the stage returning, Sam yelling, “Micah, Micah!”
Micah walked over to meet the stage, “What is it Sam, you forget a passenger?”
John Hamilton stepped out of the stage and said, “Mark’s missing, we found BlueBoy out on the road. No sign of Mark. Micah… we looked…” The banker stepped to the back of the stage, untied BlueBoy, and led him to the hitching rail.
Turning to John, “Just where did you find Mark’s horse?”
“We were a few miles out-of-town, the rise in the road through Boulder Pass. BlueBoy was… just there. “
“Boulder Pass, that’s beyond the road to my place. Why would Mark miss the turn off?” Jeremiah asked.
John proceeded, “We looked and yelled for Mark, but never saw nor heard him. We returned to town and brought his horse with us. I didn’t know what else to do.” John was looking for Micah to say they did the right thing.
“You heading back out with the stage?” Micah asked.
“No, my trips not as important as getting word to Lucas and helping him find the boy,” John answered.
“Okay.” Turning to the stage Micah called up, “Chuck, Sam, head on out of here with your passengers.” The two men nodded as Chuck called out to the team and rein slapped them. As the stage lurched forward the two men inside grumbled, “About time.”
Turning to speak to the banker, “Why don’t you take BlueBoy over to Nils’ place, I’m riding to Lucas’, he needs to be told.” Micah wasn’t looking forward to the ride, looking forward even less to telling Lucas that Mark was missing.
Jeremiah spoke up, “Micah, if you want, I’ll ride with you. Mark wouldn’t be missing if he wasn’t planning to help me today.”
“Appreciate the company, Jeremiah. Let’s ride.”
John led BlueBoy to the livery as Micah and Jeremiah rode to the McCain Ranch.
It was late afternoon when a tired and dirty Lucas returned to the homestead to see two horses tied to the hitching rail in front of the house; he recognized one as Micah’s but not the other.
As he stepped across the porch he heard, “Maybe we should have gone looking ourselves. We’ve wasted time waiting for Lucas to return, when we should be looking for Mark.”
“What do you mean Mark’s missing?!” Lucas yelled as he slammed the side of his fist into the door frame.
Micah recounted the story of Jeremiah coming to town looking for Mark; the stage finding BlueBoy and returning to North Fork. The three returned to North Fork. By the time they returned to town, their horses were lathered and heaving from the pace Lucas set. Many of the town’s people were waiting in front of Micah’s office after word spread of Mark missing.
The boy tried to slowly open his eyes, but try as he might he couldn’t see. From nearby he thought he heard someone moaning, but for the life of his he didn’t know who. Carefully, he moved his hand to his head because it hurt. His finger tips felt a damp cloth over his forehead and a dry cloth bound around his head and covering his eyes. He tried to pull it away when a hand stopped him and gently pushed his hand back to his stomach.
“There, there now child. Leave those bandages in place,” a woman’s voice said. It was a gentle voice, so soothing and caring. “Emanuel, he’s awake,” he heard her call out.
“So young man, you decided to return to the living?” Emanuel asked as he sat down on the driver’s seat.
“Paulo, bring me some of that soup. Need to get some food into the boy,” the woman’s voice called out.
“Yes, Ma,” the boy heard from someone not so close.
“There now, how does your head feel?” the woman asked.
“It hurts,” answered the boy.
“Let me turn down the light and I’ll remove the bandages from your eyes.” Gentle hands started to remove the bandages from his eyes. “Just keep your eyes closed until I get these off, then you can slowly open them.”
Setting the bandages down, the woman kept her hand over the boy’s eyes.
“Okay, now very slowly open your eyes.”
“I still can’t see,” the boy fearfully answered.
“That’s because my hand is still over your eyes. Let me turn up the lantern to give us some light.”
The lantern flame gently illuminated the back of the wagon, the boy said, “My eyelids won’t open.”
“Here, I’ll drop some water on your eyelids to help you open them,” the woman said. “You had plenty of dirt on your face and in your eyes, that’s why I bandaged them.”
As his eyelids parted, the boy blinked his eyes, trying to focus on the face of the woman. Finally he could open his eyes all the way and saw a beautiful, dark-haired woman sitting next to him. Her hair loosely framed her face and fell below her shoulders. Jewelry looped from the lobes of her ears and matched the chains hanging around her neck. The colorful scarves draped across her shoulders contrasted against the dark of the sky the boy saw out the back of the canvas covering the wagon.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“My name is Marissa Longoria, the one sitting above you is my husband, Emanuel, and our son, Paulo, is outside.”
The boy twisted he neck in order to see the man sitting above him on the seat of the wagon. The man was dark-haired as well, reaching just below the collar of his white shirt and colorful vest. The pants the man wore were black and white vertical stripes.
“And just who might you be?” the man asked.
“Me, my name’s…” A look of confusion came over the boy’s face. “I can’t remember. My head… it hurts,” he said as he tried to sit up. Too quickly, his vision started to spin. He moaned as Marissa pressed him back down.
Marissa looked at her husband, and then returned to look at the boy. “There, there, just lie still. You took a nasty bump to the head. It’s unfortunate, our boy Paulo was out hunting game and accidentally shot you. The bullet creased the side of your head. I’m sure that once we get some food into you, and you sleep through the night, in the morning you’ll feel better and your memory will return.”
The bed of the wagon moved, announcing Paulo was stepping inside, he carried a bowl of soup and handed it to his Ma. The boy was maybe sixteen years old, his hair tied back at the base of his skull with a strip of rawhide. He clothes mirrored those of his father.
Taking the bowl of broth, Marissa asked Emanuel to sit the boy up, a little, “Only do it slowly. I don’t need him passing out or retching.”
Emanuel slipped into the back of the wagon from where he had sat, slowly he propped the boy into a shallow sitting position. Marissa spoon fed the boy some of the soup.
“It’s good ma’am,” the boy commented as he fought to keep his eyes open.
Marissa took a damp cloth and wiped the boy’s chin.
“Lie him back, Emanuel” the woman stated as she set the empty bowl aside.
Soon afterwards, the boy was asleep again.
As the Longoria’s stood beside the camp fire outside their wagon, Emanuel spoke, “Marissa, what do we do? He has no memory of who he is. We can’t just take him along with us. He has to have family, a family who’s worried for him.”
“Emanuel, the town we passed yesterday… before we set up camp, I think it’s called North Fork. We could take him there. They surely would have a doctor who can tend to the boy. Maybe they’ll know who he is or send word to other towns.”
“Ma, we don’t go to towns. They don’t care for our kind. They might think I shot him on purpose,” Paulo worriedly said.
“Son, we need to get this boy back to his folks, same as if you were injured, we would pray that someone would return you to us. Gypsy or not,” Emanuel said. “Son, come, let’s hitch the team and go to this North Fork.”
When her son hesitated to do as his father bid, Marissa stated, “We tell the truth, that’s all we can do. He is not gypsy, it is only fitting in that we return him to a town.”
Emanuel and Paulo hitched the team of horses to the wagon, while Marissa sang a quiet gypsy lullaby as she watched over the sleeping boy.
The gentle movements of the wagon matched the rhythm of the song, keeping the boy lulled to sleep.
Once a full search team had been assembled, the searchers headed out to the location where BlueBoy was found. With the sun setting, everyone had torches in hand; as they searched, everyone called out Mark’s name.
“We need to separate out more,” Lucas complained. “We could be missing Mark’s answer by all of us being too close and yelling his name.”
“Lucas, if we spread out too far, we could miss him just as easily,” John Hamilton answered.
“It’s a testament to you that so many people wanted to help look for the boy, Lucas,” Micah answered.
It was well after sundown when the searchers returned to the road. After hours of searching, no one had found any sign of Mark. On a night with no moon, the torches weren’t much help in lighting the way to finding any tracks.
“LucasBoy,” Micah said quietly, “We best go back to town, get some sleep and return in the daylight. It’s too dark and we’re risking injury to everyone out here. Everyone’s too busy looking for Mark and they’re not keeping an eye on their own footing. Hopefully all Toomey done is sprained his ankle.”
“You’re right Micah,” the sound of despair reverberated in Lucas’ voice.
Slowly the searchers returned to North Fork. Separating as each person left the group to go to their own homes.
“Lucas, no sense you traveling all the way home tonight, not sure you’d make it, half dead in the saddle as you are, why don’t I put you up in the jail for the night.”
“Sure Micah.” Worry lines creased Lucas’ face. What he wouldn’t give to see Millie standing in front of the jail waiting for their return. To have her hold him, the smell of her hair, she’d know the right thing to say in an attempt to try to comfort him; to be able to cry in someone’s arms, someone who understood a man’s emotions. He remembered when Neff Packer had arranged for Carl Avery had kidnapped Mark; the look in her eyes gave him the strength to continue. But Millie had left North Fork to head back East to be with her family. Lucas had never felt more alone than he did at this moment.
Micah left Lucas in the jail and headed to his own apartment.
Lucas stretched out on one of the bunks in the cells, but sleep did not come easily. Images invaded his dreams, distressing images… his boy out there alone.
“Margaret, please watch over him,” Lucas quietly spoke as tears fell from the outer corners of his eyes.
The sun was already highlighting the town when Lucas woke. He sat up on the bunk, stretching his back when he heard the front door of the office opening, expecting it to be Micah arriving. He looked up to see a young man stepped inside and asked, “Excuse me, are you the marshal?”
“No, but I’m sure he’ll be here shortly.” Lucas answered as he stood up. “Is there anything I can do for you?” Over the boy’s shoulder he saw a covered wagon in front of the Marshal’s Office, through the window.
“My name’s Paulo Longoria. Does your town have a doctor?” the young man asked.
“Yes, he’s just around the corner. You got somebody sick?”
“Not sick, really. It was an accident. I was out hunting yesterday. I didn’t see the boy. My Ma’s taking care of him in the wagon, but…”
Before Paulo could finish Lucas was out the door and at the back of the wagon. He opened the covering and looked inside. A woman was sitting back from tending to bandages on …. “Mark!” The startled woman turned around.
Lucas spoke, “I’m sorry Ma’am, it’s just that… he’s my son.”
Lucas climbed in the back of the wagon. He wanted to wake his son, to hold him again.
“I’m sorry for your son’s injury. It was an accident,” Emanuel said as he looked into the back of the wagon from the driver’s seat.
Lucas lifted a sleeping Mark into his arms, stepped down from the wagon and walked to Doc Burrage’s office.
Micah was just coming down the steps from his apartment when he saw Lucas carrying Mark into the Doc’s, with gypsies following. He ran as quickly as he could to Doc’s house to get him.
Lucas placed Mark on the examining table. Looking at his son, tears streamed down his own face. He pushed Mark’s hair back from the bandage.
He turned to the strangers, “I don’t know how to thank you for returning Mark to me,” he extended his hands in gratitude.
“His name is Mark?” Marissa asked.
“Yes, I’m Lucas McCain.”
“Mr. McCain, we are truly sorry for this unfortunate accident, but there is something you need to know,” Marissa said. “Last night, when your son woke, we asked him his name, he didn’t remember.” Her eyes and voice spoke of the sorrow she felt.
“Didn’t remember?” Lucas was trying to understand what the woman was saying. Before he could ask anything else, Doc Burrage walked into his office.
“Out of here, I don’t need any of you disturbing me while I examine my patient. Micah, take them ALL to your office,” Doc Burrage ordered.
The small group returned to the Marshal’s Office.
Micah took his seat behind his desk while the couple took seats in the chairs on front of the marshal’s desk, the boy stood behind his parents. Lucas chose to lean back against the wall next to the window where he could keep an eye on the doctor’s office.
Micah broke the silence, “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“I’m Emanuel Longoria, this is my wife Marissa, and this is our boy Paulo. We’re just travelers… We hunt from the land and take only what we need. Paulo was out hunting rabbits yesterday late morning. He fired a shot and when he got to where he thought the rabbit should be, he found your son. He came to get me at our camp, and I carried your boy back to our wagon where my wife tended to him through the night.”
“What we say is the truth,” Marissa continued, “I bandaged his head, but it was a deep laceration to the temple. He awoke after dark, but he didn’t remember his name. We fed him and he fell back asleep. We knew he needed more than I could provide for him, he needed a doctor, so we brought him to town. You have to believe, it was an accident; our boy wouldn’t… couldn’t shoot someone on purpose. You must believe us.” Marissa reached for her husband’s hand, there was a pleading tone in her voice, a voice begging to accept her account of what happened.
“Micah?” Lucas asked.
“Unless Mark says otherwise, I’ll take them at their word.” After finishing writing his notes, Micah stood from his desk and walked over to the pot-bellied stove, he poured coffee for everyone as they waited.
Lucas refused the coffee and paced like a caged cat; constantly looking out the window towards the doctor’s office.
“Mr. McCain,” Marissa stated. “We are sorry for the harm we have done to your son.”
Lucas was the first to see Doc Burrage walk across the dirt road and into to the Marshal’s office.
“Well Doc? How is he? Will he be alright?” Lucas pleaded as he barely let the man enter.
“These people did a good job in tending the wound to Mark’s head.” Doc said, “He woke while I was examining him. I asked him how he felt. Said his head hurt, which doesn’t surprise me. I asked him his name and he said he didn’t remember. I asked him what he did remember… Said all he knew was that someone was going to be mighty upset with him, only he didn’t know who or why.”
“Can I see him Doc?” Lucas asked.
“Don’t see why not, only don’t push him Lucas. The mind’s a funny thing. The more you try to push him to remember, the more you can push him away. He’s frightened right now…”
“All the more reason…” Lucas tried to talk.
“Lucas you go in there like you are right now and you’ll only scare him more. He’s upset right now because his past is a blank slate. Just be patient and show him a father’s love, but don’t tell him you’re his father.”
“I am his father…”
“He doesn’t know that!” Doc raised his voice trying to make Lucas understand his concerns.
“During the war, I tended to amnesics, some… most became highly agitated when people would tell them things of their past; people with good intentions, like yourself. When their memories did resurface, the amnesic didn’t trust them as their own and they up and left… Leaving their families behind. Others… Lucas, as time went by, a few of my patients committed suicide because they couldn’t handle others telling them stuff they didn’t remember.”
Begrudgingly Lucas agreed. He entered the doctor’s office to see Mark sitting up, buttoning his shirt. His face looked pale under the bandage around his head, too pale Lucas thought. “How’re you doing boy?”
“Okay, I think. The people who brought me here, are they my family?” he asked.
“No, they found you after a hunting accident, tended to you last night, and brought you to North Fork,” Lucas answered.
“North Fork?” he quietly repeated.
Doc Burrage came in behind as Lucas asked, “Does North Fork sound familiar boy?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“My name’s Lucas McCain. Doc Burrage asked if I didn’t mind taking care of you for a while.” Lucas looked back at Doc as if to ask, ‘Am I doing this right?’
Doc nodded encouragingly.
“I can get you a room at the hotel, then we can get you some breakfast. Okay boy?” Lucas offered.
“Okay, I guess.” Tears began to well in his eyes, “Only can’t we come up with a name for me other than ‘boy’?”
Lucas put a fatherly arm around him and said yes. “Is there any name that seems familiar?”
“I heard the Doc call me Mark earlier.”
“Okay, for now, we’ll call you Mark.”
Lucas led Mark out the door and over to the hotel.
The Longorias and Micah watched Mark and Lucas head to the hotel.
“Marshal, if you like, we’ll head out-of-town now. We don’t want to cause any more trouble. We’ll set up camp on the outskirts, until you’re satisfied with our story about what happened to the boy,” Emanuel simply stated.
“Folks, I appreciate that. And I suspect you’ll also be wanting to know how Mark’s recovering.”
After watching the Longorias leave North Fork, Micah walked to the hotel to join Lucas.
By the time Lucas had escorted Mark to his hotel room, many of the people had heard the news of Mark’s return. Lucas left Mark in his room and went downstairs.
From the doorway, Micah watched as John Hamilton, Nils Swenson, Bill Sweeney, among others, were all in the lobby, anxiously waiting to hear from Lucas, to confirm that Mark was safe. One of the hardest things Lucas had to do was to tell everyone that Mark had no memory of anyone and to ask them to please, give Mark time to remember. He thanked everyone for coming, but for right now, he asked everyone to just go about their own businesses. And if they saw Mark, don’t push him to remember. Micah turned and walked to his office.
Lucas placed a breakfast order with Alice and asked that she bring it to room five. Slowly he walked the stairs. His was happy that his boy was alive, but his heart was heavy, heavy because his son had no memory of his past…no memory of him.
Soon, Alice knocked at the door and brought the tray with breakfast in for Mark.
“Well Mark, I’ll let you eat. I’ll be back later to check in on you,” Lucas said as he stood up to leave.
“Sir, you don’t have to leave. Looks to be enough food here to feed a small army. I think I’d enjoy the company,” his eye’s pleaded for Lucas to stay.
Both ate in silence; neither knowing how to start a conversation.
Having set the tray on the stable beside the door, Lucas looked to his right upon hearing a knock at the door. Lucas opened the door to find the Alexanders standing in the hallway.
“We came once we received word from the marshal. We got here as quick as we could. Is it true what we heard them say downstairs? Mark’s memory is gone?” Elizabeth asked.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Lucas resigned himself to answering the question as he turned his head to face his son, sitting in a chair, looking out the window; oblivious to the new arrivals.
“We don’t want to disturb him then, but Heath was mighty worried about Mark, can he come in for a while?” Jeremiah asked.
“Sure, Mark, you have a visitor.” Lucas turned to see Mark’s expression as he let Heath in the room. Mark’s eyes seemed to shine a little as he stood and walked to sit on the bed. “This is Heath.”
Heath ran into the room, carrying some of his books. He climbed onto the bed and sat down next to Mark. “Would you please read with me, these are new books that Mr. Griswold gave you to give to me and there’s some words I don’t know.”
“Are you my brother?” Mark asked.
“Mark,” Lucas spoke. “Heath isn’t your brother, you’ve been tutoring him during the afternoons, helping your teacher.”
“Oh…” answered Mark.
“Mark, I’ll leave you with Heath. I’ll take the tray downstairs, I’ll be back soon.” Lucas closed the door behind him as he joined the Alexanders in the hallway.
“Come on downstairs Jeremiah, Elizabeth.” As they sat down at a table in the restaurant, Lucas continued. “I’m at a loss for what to do. Doc says I can’t push him to remember. Lord knows how much I just want to hold him and tell him he’s my son.”
“Why don’t you?” Elizabeth asked.
“Doc said he needs to remember on his own. Said if I told him everything it could push him away from me if he doesn’t remember on his own,” Lucas replied. ‘Or worse’
“Lucas, your heart must be breaking,” Elizabeth said. “Give him some time to heal. As wonderful a father as you’ve been to him, I pray it won’t be long before he’s jumping in your arms again, calling you Pa.”
Lucas talked with the Alexanders for about a half hour when Heath came downstairs. “Mama, Papa, Mark read me some through the book. Said I did real good, but he was getting tired, wanted to go to sleep, so I let him sleep.”
“You were very kind to Mark. Let’s go on home. Lucas, we’ll pray your boy recovers.” The Alexanders walked out of the hotel, Jeremiah lifted Heath to the back of their buckboard before assisting Elizabeth to the wheel and steadied her before she took her seat. They smiled at Lucas as Jeremiah rein slapped the horses to head home.
Lucas returned to the restaurant; lost in his own thoughts. As the long hand of the clock on the far wall slowly made its way around the face, Lucas continued to stare at his cup of coffee.
It was lunch time when Lucas heard footfall and looked up to see Mark coming down the staircase. ‘Don’t push the boy,’ he heard Doc Burrage’s words repeat in his head. So he sat and watched. Lucas watched as his boy walked across the lobby and hesitated at the front door, before he walked out. Lucas decided to follow, but kept his distance.
He watched Mark walk over to the General Store and step inside. Lucas watched from the boardwalk, through the window as Mrs. Donner approached Mark. “Can I help you?”
“No, I was just looking… Feels like I should remember someone here.”
“Just take your time and let me know if you need anything,” Mrs. Donner stated before she turned her attention to another customer.
After walking around the general store and looking at the wares, Mark turned and walked out, as he did, Lucas hid around the corner of the building.
Mark looked up and down the street and started walking again. Next he found himself in front of the school. “So familiar, yet…” Finding the doors locked, he sat down on the steps of the school; placed his head in his hands as tears fell down his face. Lucas’ heart was breaking, but all he could do was stand and watch. He kept hearing Doc’s warning repeat in his mind and he didn’t want to push his son away. Mark regained his composure and walked back to the hotel.
As he started to go up the stairs, he stopped as Alice walked by. “Ma’am, is there someplace that I can go to borrow a horse?”
“Yes, there’s a livery just down the road. Ask for Nils.” She gave him directions.
Mark exited the hotel again and went to the livery. As he entered he saw a man working over a forge, “Is Nils here?”
“That’s me. What can I do for you?” trying to keep his voice as calm as possible.
“Can I borrow a horse?” Mark asked.
“Sure, take the one in the third stall in the back, big bay with a star.” Nils pointed him to BlueBoy. Lucas walked in and stayed in the shadows. “There’s a saddle and bridle for him over against the side wall.”
Lucas watch as Mark curried BlueBoy, scratching the horse in his favorite spots. He smiled as the horse nuzzled Mark’s pockets looking for sugar cubes. He saddled BlueBoy and led him out front.
“Which way you heading boy?” Nils asked.
“Don’t know, just want to go and think.”
“Mind you be back here before it starts getting dark!” Nils hollered.
“Yes sir.” Mark mounted BlueBoy and walked him out-of-town. While Mark and Nils were finishing their conversation in front of the livery, Lucas quickly saddled Razor, mounted and followed Mark out of town.
Still, he watched Mark from a distance. Mark rode to a crossroad and stopped. One fork in the road would take the boy towards Mescalero, the other fork would take him home. Lucas’ heart started racing as he watched Mark proceed down their road. He followed and watched as Mark stopped in front of their home, slid down from BlueBoy, stepped onto the porch and knocked on the door. Lucas stepped down from Razor behind the barn. From the shadows, he watched Mark walk turn from the front door and walk towards the barn.
Placing his hand over Razor’s muzzle, to keep his horse quite, Lucas retreated to the back side of the barn.
Upon entering the barn, Mark looked around. He walked over to the tool bench and picked up a few tools before setting them back down. Taking shuffling strides, he walked to one of the stalls and rubbed his hand over the half wall divider. Still without any memory he left the barn and returned to the house.
He knocked one more time before he placed his hand on the doorknob and turned it. Hesitantly he stepped into the house. Lucas quietly ran to the house, to the front window to look inside. Mark allowed his eyes to focus in the slightly dim interior. Seeing a desk on the wall to his left, he walked over and stopped, he fingered the frames of one of the pictures before he picked it up. The first was a beautiful woman in what was presumably a wedding dress. Carefully he set the frame back to the desk. The next picture he picked up was a handsome man, with a twinkle in his eye. Looking to the first picture Mark thought how the two looked so similar. Again, he carefully set the picture back to the desk. The third picture Mark picked up was of a man kneeling on one knee with a young boy standing next to him with the boy’s hand on the man’s shoulder. The man held a rifle in his hand opposite the boy. Mark carried the picture over to the mirror hanging on the wall. He looked back and forth from the picture to his own image reflected in the mirror. Mark returned to the desk and lay the picture face down. After he set the last picture down, he turned, ran out of the house, jumped on BlueBoy and ran him back to town, before Lucas could stop him. Lucas ran back to where he had tethered Razor and followed, trying to catch up with Mark.
Mark jumped off BlueBoy in front of the hotel, ran upstairs as fast as he could to his room, slammed the door behind him, and fell down on the bed, crying. Burying his face in the pillow, he hoped to quiet the sobs that racked his body.
A few minutes later Lucas arrived. Micah met him out front, asking what happened. “Mark just came racing through town…”
“I’ll tell you later, right now go get Doc and have him wait outside room five.”
“Lucas?” Micah inquired.
“Just get Doc,” Lucas ordered without looking back to his friend.
Lucas walked up the stairs, stopped in front of room five and knocked. No answer. He could hear sobs from inside. Slowly he turned the door knob and entered. Lucas walked to the bed, sat down next to his boy, and placed his hand on Mark’s back.
Lifting his face from the pillow, Mark dared asked, “Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me I’m your son? Did I do something to shame you? Is that why you didn’t tell me?” Mark lifted to his elbows, turned his head to Lucas, his eyes were red from crying. “Do you hate me that much?!”
“No son, I could never hate you. I feel I’m the proudest father in this town to have you as my son. I wanted to tell you so much. Doc Burrage suggested that I hold off telling you. He was afraid that if I told you everything, trying to make you remember, I’d push you away. I’d make you more scared than you were, because it wasn’t you remembering.”
“Why do I have to do this alone?” Mark’s voice held a mixture of confusion and fear. He turned his face to cry into the pillow again.
“Mark you’re not alone, this whole town is grieving with you.” There was hurt in Lucas’ voice. He waited a few minutes before continuing; all the while he rubbed his hand across his son’s back. His voice took on a more soothing tone, “Son, only you can unlock your memory and know it’s for real. I’ll be with you every step of the way, and so will our friends.”
Lucas took Mark in his arms and sat him up in the bed next to him; wrapping his arms around his boy’s shoulder.
“I can’t,” cried Mark.
“Mark, you are remembering, whether you know it or not. You used to spend a lot of time at the General Store, when we first arrived in North Fork, you spent time with Hattie and later with Miss Millie. Whenever I’d have to go out-of-town without you, you’d stay there. Why do you think you stopped there, first?”
Mark tried to understand that this was his father and what his father was telling him.
“Later, you went to the school-house. I followed you to your school. Today’s Sunday, so there’s no school, but that’s the school you go to. Mr. Griswold has you helping him with the younger children and their lessons. You’ve spent the afternoons this last week tutoring young Heath. Whether you remember or not, you did just that this morning when he brought his new books and you spent time with him, helping him with words he didn’t know. You went to your school.”
Lucas rested his cheek to the top of his son’s head, his arms still wrapped around his son’s shoulders.
“After you returned to the hotel, you went to the livery. Nils pointed you to your horse, BlueBoy. The horse you rode… he’s your horse, son. Oh, right now you probably think a horse is a horse, but I watched, you knew all the spots he likes to have rubbed. Only his rider would know that.”
“But you knew…”
“Only because I’ve watched the two of you grow up together…” Lucas answered.
Wiping the tears from his face, Mark continued to listen. Lucas set Mark back so he could look his son in the face.
“Mark, without anyone giving you directions, when you rode from town, you went to our ranch, our home. You took the road home, son. Somewhere deep inside, you remember.”
“But I don’t know that,” Mark quietly answered.
“Son, I love you and I know this has been so hard on you, but it’s been harder on me, not telling you. Something deep inside you is driving you to all these locations… and I pray that soon your memory will be unlocked, so that you’ll know what I’m saying is true.”
Mark started to stand up, but he stopped and put both of his hands to his head. “My head… oh, it hurts.”
Lucas witnessed the pain radiate from Mark’s eyes through the rest of his body as he fell backwards to the bed. He closed his eyes tight as he started to cry from the pain.
“It’s hurts,” Mark cried as he rolled to his side and pulled his knees to his chest.
“Doc, are you out there? Get in here!” Lucas yelled as he lifted his boy and held him in his arms, gently rocking the boy.
With a hand to the tall rancher’s shoulder, Doc indicated for Lucas to lay the boy back on the bed. Without being asked, Lucas stepped back to give Doc Burrage room to examine his son.
Micah was right there, placing a hand on Lucas’ upper arm. “Easy LucasBoy, I’m here with you,” he said in a whisper.
They watched as Doc Burrage pulled a syringe from his bag and administered a shot to Mark’s arm. After a few minutes the pain seemed to lessen and Doc helped Mark lie down flat in the bed, picked his legs up and turned him proper, and then pulled the blankets over him. Doc turned and walked to Lucas and Micah; he motioned for them to leave the room. They closed the door behind them and walked downstairs. Doc took them over to his office before he spoke.
“Lucas, I gave Mark something to force him to sleep. I’m not sure what happened today, but he’s in a state of shock. I told you not to push him!” the doctor’s tone implied how upset he was over the condition of his young patient.
“I’m not pushing him. I didn’t push him. Doc he’s remembering, he may not know names or why, but he’s remembering places. He went to the ranch, on his own. He saw the pictures, his Ma’s, his Uncle Johnny’s, and the picture of the two of us, from a few years back. That’s what upset him so much. He thought I was ashamed of him and that’s why I hadn’t told him he was my son.”
A look of disbelief spread across the doctor’s face.
“Doc, he went to the general store and then to the school. He returned here before heading to the livery. No one gave him directions home; something drove him to all these places. Something is trying to break through and return his memory,” declared Lucas.
Between the medication and the stress of the day, Mark slept for the rest of the evening and through the night. Lucas sat in the chair next to the bed where his son slept. Waiting, hoping, praying…
Lucas must have fallen asleep sometime during the night. He woke to find the morning sun beginning to stream into the room when he was alarmed by Mark calling out as if he was having a bad dream. Lucas sat down on the edge of the bed to wake Mark. He gently shook his boy’s shoulder. “Wake up, son.”
Mark started to open his eyes before they closed again. A few moments later his eyelids fluttered before he opened his eyes wide, “Pa? PA!” he called as he threw his arms around Lucas’ neck and gave him a hug. “I remember!”
“Mark, do you really remember?”
“Yes, Pa, I, I remember,” Mark happily declared.
“Glad you came back to me boy!” Tears fell from both of their eyes as they continued to hug each other.
Lucas had just finished briefly washing for the morning and was buttoning his shirt when they heard a knock at the hotel room door. “Lucas, it’s me, Doc Burrage, come to see how Mark’s doing. See if he’s awake yet.”
“Come on in Doc, I think I’m doing fine. I remember!” Mark called out, followed up by a giggle.
Doc opened the door to see his patient sitting up in bed, a huge smile on his face as well as a smile on Lucas’ face.
Micah entered the room right behind Doc, “Well boy, let’s just see how much you really remember. Who am I?”
“Oh, Sweeney, how could I forget you,” Mark couldn’t contain himself as he burst out laughing after seeing Micah’s expression. “Micah, don’t worry, I was just having some fun.”
“Well since you’re having some fun, why don’t you tell me what happened Saturday morning. I have some people who are anxious to hear you confirm their story of what happened.”
Upon telling all that he remembered, Mark told everyone that it had to have been an accident. “I mean, I was out there, hunting, too… I already had two rabbits when I saw a third. I thought it would be a nice dinner for the Alexanders. I remember taking aim and then, I heard a rifle shot, and a ricochet. The only other thing I remember before everything went black was a burning sensation across my temple. I must have blacked out.”
“Well Micah,” Lucas inquired.
“It matches what the Longorias said happened. I’ll ride out to their camp and let them know.”
“Doc, when can I go home?” Mark asked, changing the subject.
“Well, I’d like to keep you in town at least for today. If you get through today without any headaches, I’ll let you go home tomorrow. But Mark, listen to me, I need to know the moment you feel any discomfort in your head. Please, don’t hide anything.” There was genuine concern in Doc Burrage’s eyes.
“Yes sir, I promise, I’ll behave.” With a hint of mischief in his eyes Mark asked, “Does this mean that I don’t have to go to school today?”
Lucas burst out laughing, remembering it was only a week ago that he and Mark were talking about his penchant for trying to get out of school when he was younger.
“Well, I know how much your father values a good education, and there’s Heath Alexander to consider…”
“Doc? I’ve been sick,” Mark couldn’t resist the tease.
“Son, I’ll let you stay out of school this morning, but this afternoon… I want my monies worth,” Lucas teased back.
“Sure Pa,” Mark smiled as he answered. “Otherwise you’d take it out of my allowance.”
“Well, since there’s no one sick in this room, I’ll take my leave,” Doc Burrage stated as he picked up his black bag from the bed. “I’ll see word is also sent to the Alexanders to let them know Mark is really back.”
Lucas escorted Mark down the staircase of the hotel and into the restaurant for lunch. As they gave their order, he turned at hearing a squeal from a young boy calling for Mark.
“Mark!!” Heath yelled as he pushed his way through the legs of the people in the lobby, waiting to enter the restaurant.
“Hey there, Heath… Where’s the fire?” Mark asked.
“You’re back? You remember?” Heath breathlessly asked.
“Sure, I remember. Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” Mark asked, raising his eyebrows in disapproval.
“Sure, but I heard…”
“Heath, does Mr. Griswold know you’re here?” Lucas asked.
“We all heard Mark was back…” Heath answered.
“Lucas,” Stevan Griswold called from the archway, “Everyone knew exactly where Heath was going. The way he was yelling Mark was back… There could be no doubt he was heading here.”
“We’ll see him back to school when Mark returns this afternoon,” Lucas informed the teacher.
“Mark, it is good to have you back,” Mr. Griswold stated as he turned to leave.
“So, what would you like for lunch?” Mark asked as he pulled out a chair for Heath to join them for lunch.
For the next hour, Lucas couldn’t get a word in edgewise as the two boys talked back and forth happily discussing school. Finally Lucas stood, gathered his rifle and used the barrel to tap each boy on the shoulder to indicate they needed to get to school.
As Lucas watched his son walk to the door with a hand on Heath’s shoulder, Lucas called, “Mark, do you want me to wait for you in town, so we can go home together?”
Mark stopped before he took the steps to the school; he turned to Lucas and said, “Thanks, but… I know the road home. And Pa… I love you.”
A resolute Mark entered the school-house, happy that he knew who he was and that he had a Pa who really loved him.