Synopsis: A young Mark is traumatized after witnessing a murder.
Category: The Rifleman
Word Count: 13, 150
Lucas McCain took a sip from his cup of coffee as he stepped out onto the porch of their home. He looked out over the horizon expecting to see his young son riding BlueBoy up the road any time. It was the last day of school before summer break and Lucas had planned to surprise Mark with a weekend of fishing and camping. Things had quieted on the ranch from all the activity of spring calving and planting. He’d wanted to reward his boy for bettering his grades the past few months and to spend a few quiet days together before the work of summer started in earnest.
Lucas returned to the house, placed his coffee cup in the sink before he headed to the barn. The farther the late afternoon sun dipped in the sky without sign of Mark, the more concerned Lucas became. At the latest, Mark knew he should be home no later than four o’clock. Finally, Lucas saddled Razor and headed to North Forth to track down his wayward son.
His first stop along the way was the boy’s favorite fishing hole. As he rode, Lucas gave a chuckle; how many times had he found Mark fishing with his friend Freddie when he should have been at home to work on chores? His boy was so easily distracted when it came to fish biting that he tended to lose all track of time. As Lucas approached, he didn’t see anyone sitting along the bank, so he rode on to North Fork. Upon his arrival, he stopped at the school. He peered inside the window to find no one in the building. As he absent-mindedly tried the closed doors and realized they were locked, he looked perplexed. Lucas returned to Razor and rode on to the Marshal’s Office.
“Afternoon Micah, you seen Mark lately?” inquired Lucas as he entered the office.
“Afternoon LucasBoy, he was in town a few hours back. Saw him stop by Hattie’s looking over her selection of hard candies,” Marshal Micah Torrance answered with a smile as he poured himself a cup of coffee. “Care for a cup?”
“What? No, not now,” Lucas distractedly answered. “That boy knew he was supposed to be home some time ago. Well, when I find him, we may just not take that camping trip I was planning this weekend.”
“Now Lucas, you know you were planning to surprise him with the trip. And boys will be boys. I’m sure he just lost track of time, what with today being the last day of school. He and Freddie Toomey are probably out at the fishing hole. Besides, would you expect anything less from an eleven year old boy?”
“No. Their fishing hole was the first thing I thought about. No one was fishing when I stopped there before heading into town. Stopped by the school too, just in case he got himself into trouble and was kept after, no one was there either,” Lucas stated.
“Lucas, he’s just a boy.”
Pacing in front of the marshal’s desk, Lucas frowned. With a growing irritation, Lucas continued, “Well, guess I’ll stop by Hattie’s and see if she knows where he headed after he left her place.”
Lucas turned and left the Marshal’s Office. He looked up and down the street hoping to see Mark lurking around.
Lucas entered the general store and waited as the proprietor, Hattie Denton, finished with a customer. Mrs. Porter was leaving the store as Hattie greeted Lucas, “Evening Lucas, what brings you to North Fork so late in the day?”
“I’m looking for that boy of mine. Micah said he saw him over here a few hours ago,” answered Lucas. Hattie didn’t miss the hint of irritation Lucas tried to hide in his voice.
“Lucas, he was here, I asked him to run an errand for me on his way home. Nick Bennett received a special delivery letter two days ago,” Hattie realized from Lucas’ expression that he didn’t recognize the name. “Lucas, they moved into town about a month ago. They purchased the McDougall’s place. Mark’s become friends with Nick’s boy Marty. Since it wasn’t too far out of his way home, I didn’t think you’d mind him running an errand for me.”
“McDougall’s place, well I had heard the place was bought, just hadn’t met the family yet.” Lucas answered. “I was looking forward to meeting them at the town social next weekend.”
“Quite a fine family, Nick and Mildred Bennett, they have two children, Marty and a girl, Lilly. Oh, now Lucas, Mildred does a lot of baking and Mark probably got to enjoying some of her cakes or pies and lost track of time. I’m sure by now he’s probably at home and wants to know where you are.” Hattie’s voice had taken on a motherly tone with Lucas, letting him know he was fretting over nothing.
“Maybe you’re right,” Lucas stated has he allowed Hattie to continue to chastise him.
Lucas enjoyed these moments. Hattie had taken both Lucas and Mark under her wings soon after they had arrived in North Fork. Though she didn’t have children of her own, she treated Lucas as if he were her son and Mark her only grandchild. And the feeling was mutual.
Lucas walked out of the store and mounted Razor to ride home.
“You better be home, young man,” mused Lucas.
After Lucas left the general store, Hattie walked over to the café for a bite to eat. Micah was already inside and asked Hattie to have a seat with him. As they were eating, Eddie, the town’s telegrapher, came into the cafe.
“Micah, got a wire here from the New Mexico Territorial Prison for you. Seems there might be a storm brewing our way.”
Micah accepted the sheet of paper, read the wire, and shook his head.
“Micah, what’s wrong?” Hattie asked.
Micah showed the wire to Hattie, she gasped as she read the part about Nick Bennett.
“Micah, Mark ran an errand for me to the Bennett’s this afternoon. Lucas was looking for Mark…”
Micah stood and ran out of the café. He ran over to the saloon to see who would be available for a posse. Inside were liveryman/blacksmith Nils Swenson, rancher Frank Toomey, and banker John Hamilton. Micah explained to them his fears. They all ran for their horses and rode to the Bennett’s.
As Lucas returned to the ranch house, dusk was falling and from the distance he stood, he could see no lit lamp evident on the front porch or in the front room, if Mark had been home at least one of the two lamps would have been lit.
Lucas kicked Razor and turned him to head over to the Bennett’s place. Lucas was trying to keep his temper in check as he rode, no sense losing it in front of a new family in town. He’d reprimand Mark, in private, once he got his boy home. There definitely would be no fishing trip this weekend.
As Lucas turned down the road to the Bennett’s he found Micah and a posse standing at the crossroad. Micah was giving out orders to those present; he stopped as he saw Lucas approach.
“Micah, what’s this all about?” Lucas asked.
“Lucas, did Mark get home?” Micah asked instead of answering Lucas’ question.
“Not yet. Micah you didn’t answer my question,” Lucas said seeing the expressions on the faces of the men. No one would look Lucas in the eye and he grew concerned.
“Lucas, after you left town, I received a wire from the New Mexico Territorial Prison. Seems that Tom Rawlings and two others broke out of prison a week ago.”
“Tom Rawlings, I don’t recall the name,” Lucas replied. “Sides, what’s that have to do with why you’re here?”
“Lucas, he’s better known as the Rawhide Kid. Nick Bennett was the key witness in testifying at the trial that sent the Kid to prison for life. Took them a while to track down where Bennett and his family had moved. That’s why it took so long in getting the wire to us. The warden feels that I should put Bennett into protective custody until they find Rawlings.”
“Mark!” Lucas wheeled Razor and rode as fast as he dared to the Bennett’s home. The posse followed right behind Lucas.
As they stopped their horses in front of the house, each man felt it was too quiet. Surely, it wasn’t too late in the evening that the adults wouldn’t still be awake. The posse carefully entered the house, with weapons drawn. The smell turned their stomachs when they found Nick, Mildred, and Lilly shot dead in the kitchen. The members of the posse gripped their weapons tighter, praying the murderer was no longer in the house. Each one saw Nick still had his shotgun in his hands. They averted their eyes when they saw that Mildred and been sheltering their daughter when they both were killed. The posse searched the rest of the house to look for the Bennett’s boy. Adding more horror to what they had already witnessed, Nils Swenson found Marty in an upstairs bedroom, lying below the window, bleeding, but still alive. Next to Marty, Nils picked up Mark McCain’s hat.
“Lucas, in here!” Nils yelled.
Lucas entered the room and saw the blacksmith holding his son’s hat. Lucas started yelling Mark’s name, running from room to room. Mark never answered.
“He’s still alive,” Nils stated to the others who crowded into the room.
Gathering the child in his arms, Nils carried Marty downstairs and out into the front yard. Micah came out of the house carrying a lantern and bandages. They worked to bandage the boy to stop his bleeding before taking him to town. Toomey and Hamilton ran into the barn to search for Mark.
They continued to search the property for any other signs of Mark. Toomey returned to the front yard, having found BlueBoy grazing behind the smoke house; he looped the reins around the hitching rail.
Despair was growing in Lucas’ heart, ‘Where is Mark?’
As the men milled about, having exhausted ideas on where to look, Toomey called out, “What about the cold cellar? The McDougalls had a cold cellar on the back side of barn!”
Toomey arrived at the cellar, a half step ahead of Lucas. Both reached for the cellar door handles only to find them barred from the inside. John Hamilton ran to the workbench in the barn in search of an ax.
“Mark! Are you in there? Mark!” Lucas yelled, pounding on the doors. “Mark, answer me son!”
Panic welled inside Lucas when received no response. Lucas saw John run up to them; he grabbed the ax and started swinging away at the cellar doors. Micah arrived as the third swing shattered the bar blocking the door from the inside. Lucas immediately dropped the ax and pulled open the doors. He walked down the ladder, John and Micah followed with lanterns.
“Mark! Mark, where are you?” Lucas yelled, searching for his boy.
John and Micah lifted their lanterns high above their heads as they searched around the cellar, looking behind boxes and shelving. Soon Micah spied a small figure sitting in a corner, knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around his knees, head bent down.
“Lucas, over here!” Micah hollered.
Lucas raced to where Micah stood. He threw the boxes out of his way to reach his boy.
“Mark! Mark!” Lucas knelt down in front of Mark, grabbed him by the arms to try to pick him up. Mark, frozen in place wouldn’t budge, he wouldn’t look up, and his arms had a death grip around his knees. In between hearing Lucas calling his son’s name, the men heard the ragged gasps of the boy’s breathing.
“Mark! Please! It’s Pa!” Lucas gently pleaded. Mark never looked up, never gave any indication that he knew his Pa was in front of him.
“Lucas, stay here with the boy, I’ll head back to town and bring the Doc,” John offered.
John set the lantern he’d held on one of the overturned boxes before he headed for the ladder.
After exiting the cellar, John told Toomey of the scene below, he knew he needed to get Doc Burrage for Marty and Mark, before taking both the boys back to North Fork.
Micah left the cellar shortly after John; upset that he didn’t know how to help Lucas or Mark. As he made his way out of the cellar, he asked Toomey to help hitch the team, they’d need it to get the boys to town. They also needed to prepare the bodies of the slain Bennetts to be taken to the undertaker in town.
It was sad work and no one spoke as they went about doing what needed to be done. Tears streamed down Nils’ face as he cradled the still unconscious Marty in his arms, trying to talk soothing words to the boy, begging him to hold on until Doc arrived. Micah and Toomey struggled through their own emotions as they began covering the bodies of Nick and Mildred Bennett, but it was devastating to cover the body of their young daughter and to carry the three to the back of the wagon.
John rode as hard as he dared with the light that was offered by the full moon. He pulled up in front of Doc’s house and jumped down from his horse. He pounded on the door until Doc answered.
“Doc, we need you… out at the Bennett’s place.”
“What happened?” Doc asked seeing panic in John’s face.
“We don’t rightly know… The family was murdered… And the Bennett’s boy was shot and Mark McCain, he’s just sitting in the corner of the cellar… He won’t budge, he won’t move… He wouldn’t even acknowledge that Lucas was in front of him.”
Doc turned and packed a few medicines in his bag as John hurriedly hitched Doc’s horse and buggy. Doc left his home, and jogged to the livery, and followed John out-of-town.
From the porch of the General Store Hattie witnessed John and the Doc leave town, she clasped her hands together and closed her eyes as she feared the worse.
John and Doc arrived at the Bennett’s to find Nils still cradling Marty in the front yard. Micah and Toomey had loaded the bodies of the deceased in the back of the wagon to take back to town. Doc gave Marty a brief examination, his pulse was weak and his breathing shallow, but the bleeding had stopped. With Toomey steadying him, Nils climbed to the front seat of the buckboard, still cradling Marty.
After seeing Marty settled and comfortable with Nils’ ministrations, Doc allowed himself to be led by Micah and John to the back of the barn and down into the cellar. While John was gone, Micah had found more lanterns and brought them down to the cellar. Doc stopped halfway down the ladder as he saw Lucas and Mark in the corner. He watched as Lucas kept trying to get Mark’s attention and to pry the boy’s arms from around his legs.
“Lucas, stop!” Doc Burrage called.
Grief stricken, Lucas looked over his shoulder towards the Doc.
“Lucas it’s evident he’s in shock. Let me give him some medication to make him relax and hopefully sleep. Once he’s asleep, we can move him back to town.” Walking to where Lucas knelt, Doc set his medical bag on a box next to a lamp. He pulled out a syringe and a bottle of medicine; he turned the bottle upside down, stuck the syringe into the cork cap, and drew out the liquid.
It was awkward, but Doc was able to reach a vein in Mark’s arm and administer the medication. It took longer than he expected but soon, Mark’s grip on his legs lessened and his arms fell limply to his sides. Doc was pleased to hear the boy’s breathing ease.
“Go on Lucas, pick ‘em up. Let’s get him back to town where I can properly examine him and take are of young Marty,” stated Doc Burrage.
Lucas picked up a sleeping Mark, resting the boy’s head on his shoulder, the father’s arms under his son’s back and knees, and carried him out. As the banker held Razor, Micah helped Lucas mount his horse, still holding Mark in his arms. Doc had offered to take Mark in his buggy, but Lucas wouldn’t let Mark go. Toomey tied his and Nils’ horses to the back of the wagon before he climbed to the seat and sat next to Nils. Once John and Micah mounted their own horses, with Micah leading BlueBoy, the group rode quietly back to North Fork.
Hattie ran towards the clinic when she saw the solemn procession ride to the doctor’s office, arriving as the boys were carried in.
Doc was lighting the lanterns in his office as Hattie stepped inside to see Nils place Marty on the examination table and Lucas sit down in a chair, still cradling Mark in his lap. Hattie slowly walked to Lucas’ side as he was brushing Mark’s hair back from his forehead. Tears streamed down the tall rancher’s face. He felt relief in finding his son alive, but was shattered for his child lying in his arms; he’d not been there to protect his boy.
From one of the cabinets, Hattie pulled out a light-weight blanket to wrap around the boy sleeping in Lucas’ arms.
Doc diligently worked to remove the bullet from the front of Marty’s shoulder, and after suturing the wound closed, he bandaged it, wrapping the gauze around the boy’s torso and ultimately, bound the child’s arm to his side. Many times the doctor had worked to bandage a man after being shot, but never had he thought about having to bandage a child for that reason. The wide bandage only made Marty Bennett appear even smaller than he was. With resignation, he asked Nils to take Marty to the back room and place him in a bed. Comfortable that the boy was settled under the covers, Doc returned to the front office.
Before he turned his attention to Lucas and to Mark, the doctor cleaned the blood off the examination table and his instruments. He threw the bloody rags he’d used in his effort to save a young boy’s life into the pot-bellied stove; wiping his hands on the apron he wore as the rags caught fire. Now came the hardest part, looking after the young son of a man he well-respected.
After Doc motioned to the rancher, Lucas carried Mark over and laid him down on the examination table. Hattie stood in the corner and watched everything unfold. As Lucas stepped back, Hattie walked to his side and placed what she hoped would be a comforting hand on Lucas’ arm. Doc unwrapped the child and removed Mark’s shirt, just to make sure he hadn’t taken a bullet or bullet fragment. He positioned his stethoscope over the boy’s chest and listened to Mark’s heart and lungs; to his experienced ear they sounded strong. He next opened Mark’s eyes, one at a time and held a lantern close to look into them. Both pupils reacted to the light.
Doc Burrage finished his examination and stepped back to say, “I don’t know what more I can do for him. It doesn’t appear he took any physical injury. But the emotional injury in what he saw; to a small child can be far worse than a physical trauma. However, I do believe I was right with my original assessment… The boy’s in shock.”
Lucas couldn’t speak; he didn’t know what to say, if anything.
Hattie had briefly left the clinic and returned; in her hands she carried a nightshirt from the store for Mark. Hattie assisted Lucas in removing Mark’s boots and pants. Even asleep from the medication, Lucas could see and feel his boy’s body trembling. Together, they slipped the nightshirt over Mark’s head and worked to get his arms in the sleeves. Lucas laid him back down and pulled a cover over him, then waited.
The medication kept Mark asleep for the rest of the night. Doc pulled a cot into the room so Lucas could be near his son. Doc and Hattie left the office when they realized that Lucas intended to spend the night sitting beside his son. Constantly the worried father swept his hand over his son’s forehead or lifted the small hand and held it between his own calloused hands.
While Doc Burrage was working on the boys, Toomey and Hamilton took the bodies of Marty’s parents and sister over to the undertaker.
As the sun rose over North Fork, news of the tragedy at the Bennett’s place began to spread throughout the town. People quietly spoke of their disbelief that something so horrible could happen in their town.
As Micah arrived at Doc’s in the morning, people were gathering nearby, hoping for more news surrounding Mark and Marty. Doc came out and tried to shoo everyone away, saying, “If you want to help, please, just pray for these boys. Go about your daily work. You’ll know soon enough if there’s any change.” With that, the Doc turned back to his office and closed the door as he went inside.
Hattie arrived with breakfast for those inside Doc’s office. As she entered, Doc was just coming in from the back room after examining Marty. She could see Lucas’ face was even more strained this morning than it had been the night before; it was quite evident he had not slept at all.
Hattie set the tray with the food on a table and tried to encourage Lucas to eat, without much luck, all she was able to do was to encourage him to drink some coffee, but he didn’t enjoy it.
“Doc, how is he?” Lucas asked as Doc finished checking Mark for the morning.
“I’m not sure, he’s probably still in shock,” Doc replied.
“How long before it wears off? How long before he wakes up?” begged Lucas.
“Lucas, I don’t know. He’s just an eleven year old boy and I can’t imagine what he saw out there last night. All I can do is make him comfortable and wait.”
When Micah walked into Doc’s office, there wasn’t a spring in his step, he felt older than his years. He knew the question he had to ask would not be an easy question for Lucas to answer. They needed to return to the Bennett’s homestead and track down the killers. And until the U.S. Marshal arrived in response to the wire Micah had sent, Lucas was the best person Micah knew to track down the killers.
“LucasBoy,” Micah said as he walked up next to Lucas. “We need to talk.”
“Not now Micah,” Lucas answered without caring about the tone of voice he used.
“Yes Lucas, now. Please…” Micah stepped outside; as Lucas followed he picked up his rifle from beside the door. Outside Micah explained the need to track the killers and see that they were brought to justice; said he owed it to the Bennetts.
“I never met the family. How do I owe it to them when my son is lying in the doctor’s office?” Lucas’ voice rose as he spoke.
Micah placed a hand on Lucas’s forearm, “Lucas, if not for the Bennetts then do it for Mark and his friend.”
“I can best help Mark by staying here!”
“Lucas, there are killers on the loose. They murdered a family in cold blood last night and I thank God that Mark was spared, but the next time, he might not be.”
“Next time? What do you mean, next time?” Lucas demanded, his temples throbbing in anger.
“Lucas, use your common sense, boy. This town is finding out what happened and people talk. They’ve heard the news of the Rawhide Kid’s escape and putting two and two together, they’ll figure out that he might be the person responsible. If he’s anywhere near, he’ll hear the talk that there were survivors.”
“That just goes to prove my point. I need to stay here with my boy. I have to protect him. I wasn’t able to last night, but I’m damn sure not going to let anyone get to him now,” Lucas declared.
“Lucas, I need you to help protect this town. We have to track the killers, let’s stop them before they can come back to North Fork and kill again.” Seeing that Lucas was not listening to reason, Micah continued, “Lucas, can you live with yourself if those murderers kill another family because you did nothing? Or can you accept it because it wasn’t your family?”
Lucas and Micah continued to argue for another ten minutes, neither letting the other have the final word, until Doc came outside.
“Lucas, he’s awake,” Doc Burrage quietly said.
Lucas turned, hope burned in his heart. From the doorway, he saw Hattie sitting on the side of the examination table, hugging Mark, rocking him in her arms. Mark’s eyes were open, but weren’t focusing on anything.
With his rifle still in his hand, Lucas walked into the room. The closer he walked to Mark, the wider Mark’s eyes opened. Lucas saw fear in his boy’s eyes. With Mark’s eyes focused on Lucas’ rifle, he started screaming, “No, NO! Don’t kill them!” He tried pulling away from Hattie, to get farther away from the rifle. His eyes didn’t see those in the room with him, his mind was replaying Mark’s memory from the night before. Tears streamed down Mark’s face as he continued to scream, “NO!”
“Mark?!” Lucas called as he reached out to his son. But the closer Lucas stepped, the louder Mark screamed, “NO! NO!” Lucas stopped as he saw his boy’s reaction become more violent. Pushing Hattie’s arms away, swinging his fisted hands in the air, and kicking out with his feet.
“Mark, it’s me, Pa,” Lucas plaintively stated. He looked over his shoulder towards the doctor.
“Lucas, he’s trembling something fiercely, I can’t calm him down,” Hattie stated with tears falling from her eyes as she struggled to hold Mark in her arms, hurt that all was not right once the boy woke.
Doc Burrage was there again, grabbing for Mark’s arm to administer another shot. Lucas watched as the medication took effect with Mark whimpering and ultimately collapsing in Hattie’s arms.
Lucas was devastated. ‘What happened to my boy?’ Not knowing how to reach his son, last night or now, he turned to face Micah and asked, “When do we leave for the Bennett’s?”
“We’re planning to leave from the livery in half an hour,” answered Micah.
“I’ll be there.” A crestfallen Lucas turned and stepped to Hattie. “Hattie, please…, Take care of my boy. I’ll be back when I can.”
Closing her eyes at the sight in front of her, Hattie nodded.
John Hamilton and Frank Toomey were deputized to stand watch over North Fork, especially the boys. Micah deputized other citizens to ride with the posse as they began their trek to find the Rawhide Kid and his gang.
The duly deputized posse left the livery and headed for the Bennett’s. The mood of the group was somber. Upon their arrival at the Bennett’s, Lucas and Micah realized just how difficult it was going to be to track the killers. In their search for Mark the night before and all the horses moving about as they had prepared to returned to North Fork, the tracks were intermingled.
As Micah examined the scene within the house, he picked up Nick Bennett’s shotgun and found one empty shell inside the breech. He saw a blood trail that had not been visible in the dim room the night before leading out the back door from the kitchen. Someone had been injured by Nick Bennett’s shotgun.
Outside, Lucas spent a long time studying which tracks belonged to the searchers and which tracks didn’t. Micah hollered for Lucas from the back door of the house. Finally, Lucas found the tracks he had been looking for, ones that led off over the hills, away from North Fork.
Before they headed out, Micah sent Andy Miller back to town with instructions to have Eddie send wires out to towns South of North Fork, to be on the lookout for any unknown person suffering a gunshot wound from a shotgun.
Without any further word, the posse rode.
In light of everything that had happened, the town council decided to post pone the town social that had been scheduled for the following weekend. No one felt like having fun in the aftermath of the tragedy involving the Bennett and the McCain families.
Lucas McCain sat apart from the rest of the posse their first night out, his thoughts were back in North Fork; his mind relived the terror in his son’s eyes and kept it playing over and over.
“Hey McCain!” one of the men yelled over. “How far behind the Rawhide Kid are we?”
Lucas stared over the rim of the tin coffee cup he held in his hands, his gaze settled on the fire on the other side of camp.
“McCain, I’m talking to you,” the man hollered.
“Leave him be, Gamble,” Micah ordered.
“I got a right to know! We all do!” Gamble continued.
“Leave it,” Micah replied.
“High and mighty McCain, he’s the one supposed to be leading us to them outlaws and all he does is sit over there as if he’s better ‘an us. We got a right to know if we’re close to them, we got a right to protect ourselves if they’s close.”
“The trail’s leading south, if we were close, we’d know. Rawlings wouldn’t be fool enough to be here, just outside the camp if we were too close,” Micah ordered.
“That’s what I’m getting at! This posse is going like a church social. He could be out there waiting to pick any one of us off.”
“Rawlings has a wounded man to deal with. If he thinks he got away, he’ll make a mistake. And when he does, we’ll get him,” Micah announced.
“Still don’t make no sense, him sitting over there,” Gamble threw his hand out in frustration in the direction of Lucas. “I’ve ridden with a posse before and we never…”
“You never what? Used your brains in order to out think a criminal? All you think about is using your guns, you’re nothing better than thugs. This isn’t gonna be no lynching posse.”
“I ain’t said nothing about lynching. I just want answers from McCain!” Gamble declared.
“Leave him be. The man’s son was traumatized by what the Rawhide Kid done to the Bennett family.” Micah turned away in disgust.
The other members of the posse had long settled in their bedrolls for the night. Micah stood watch from the edge of the camp, facing away from the camp fire to keep his night vision sharp. His gaze kept returning to the tall rancher, sitting alone. Standing up to stretch his legs, Micah walked over to his friend.
“Lucas?” Micah called as he neared. “You best turn in; we’ll need you rested in the morning when we take after Rawlings again. You won’t be able to see the trail if your eyes are bloodshot from lack of sleep.”
“Did you see his eyes?” inquired Lucas.
“He was more than scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Me? My rifle? He was struggling so hard against Hattie to get away.”
Hoping to alleviate the grief his friend was experiencing, Micah leaned against a boulder, his scattergun crooked in his elbow and said, “It wasn’t you or your rifle, it’s what he remembered LucasBoy. I’m sure he didn’t even realize he was in Doc’s clinic. I bet when he saw your rifle, he thought he was still at the Bennett’s place. Thinking Rawlings was walking towards him.”
“He shouldn’t have been there! He shouldn’t have seen what he saw!” cursed Lucas.
“No, no child should be exposed to that. But he’s seen you kill men before.”
“But that’s just it, when he’s seen me kill it was because I was forced to kill, it wasn’t wanton murder; especially not a woman or a child! And I wasn’t there… there to protect him, to hold him, and comfort him afterwards… He didn’t know me!”
“So, are you seeking vengeance against Rawlings?”
“I’m seeking justice, that’s what you’re always preaching about!” Lucas declared. “Isn’t that why you dragged me away from my son!”
‘So there still is some fire in there,’ mused Micah as he walked away.
The posse was two days of out of North Fork and just an hour from Jarilla Junction, New Mexico when they met up with U.S. Marshal Trip Corydan and a small posse of his own.
Jarilla Junction was a small town that grew up on the outskirts of several mining camps in the area. The town blossomed overnight with the promise of gold as men arrived to make their fortunes quick; however, the big strike of the yellow mineral proved elusive at best.
To the surprise of the posse from North Fork, the marshal informed them that the Rawhide Kid and two others were holed up in one of the local mines. They had made the mistake of taking Jarilla’s doctor to tend to a shotgun wound. Having received Micah’s wire two days prior, Marshal Corydan had posted one of his men outside the doctor’s office as a precaution.
“Abrams will wish he hadn’t left his post when I get back to town,” Corydan proclaimed. “If anything happens to Doc, I’ll string him up myself.”
“But now we know where Rawlings and the others are,” Micah declared.
“The only thing saving his hide is that he was able to sort of follow them out to the mines,” the marshal dolefully stated as he glared at his deputy.
“You said, mines,” Lucas stated. “How many mines are out this way?”
“There’s three major mines they could have gone to, two ultimately connected when they blasted a side tunnel.”
“Three mines. Three mines…” Lucas mumbled in frustration.
“Those are the major mines,” Corydan stated. “There are countless smaller mines around this area.”
“What kind of a mine is Rawlings holed up in?” Micah asked.
“Not exactly sure, my deputy only followed him to this general vicinity.”
The posse from North Fork joined Marshal Corydan and headed for the mines. As they reached the first site, they observed several men already standing behind mine carts and wagons.
“Is Rawlings in there?” Corydan asked of the deputy in charge.
“Don’t know for sure, but we were fired upon as we arrived.”
“Which mine is this one?” Corydan asked.
“Jake Dundee’s mine?” the marshal inquired.
“Yeah, old man Dundee’s been working this claim.”
“Dundee! Jake Dundee!” Corydan yelled. “This is Mashal Corydan, are you in there?”
“You ain’t driving me out of here!” came the nervous voice of an elderly man from within the mine. “I got papers saying this is mine!”
“Jake! Come out of there! No one’s trying to drive you from your claim! We’re looking for Tom Rawlings and his gang!”
“Ain’t no one here but me an’ Jezzebelle!” the old man called.
The men in the posse ducked when they saw movement from the front of the mine; Dundee walked from his mine, rifle in hand, leading a mule.
“Nothing but wasted time!” Lucas declared as he clutched his rifle and headed back to his horse. As he mounted Razor he watched the animated conversation the young lawman was having with the older prospector.
When the posse arrived at the next two mines they found guards posted well outside their openings, but no one else around who would be considered an outlaw. The guards both stated the mines were closed until Tom Rawlings and his gang were apprehended.
“That was three mines!” Lucas vehemently declared. “You said three mines!”
“I said three major mines,” Corydan corrected. “There’s one more, smaller stake mine about three miles from here.”
“You really think Tom Rawlings would kidnap your town’s doctor and drag him all the way out here?!” demanded Lucas.
Scratching at the back of his neck, Corydan answered, “Now that you put it that way…” Snapping his fingers he declared, “Honeymoon Creek!”
“What’s Honeymoon Creek?” Micah asked.
“It’s a creek that many men have tried to mine, they pan for a while, until the ‘honeymoon’ wears off. There’s a small cave that was dug out into a deeper mine a long time ago. Even still has tracks and a few carts. Why last time I was there as a kid, I was surprised with how we could fit several horses inside and still have plenty of room to play,” Corydan answered.
“Why it’s no more than three-quarters of a mile from town, only the opposite side of town than we are.”
“You said your deputy followed the man to this area,” declared Micah.
“That doesn’t mean Rawlings couldn’t have backtracked and laid a false trail for my stupid deputy,” Corydon stated with disgust.
The posse fell in behind the marshal as he rode towards Jarilla Junction.
The posse arrived at Honeymoon Creek and spread out, taking cover; handguns and rifles pointed towards the mine opening.
“Rawlings, Tom Rawlings. I’m U.S. Marshal Trip Corydan. You’re surrounded! Give yourselves up!”
The posse waited in silence.
“Rawlings! We know you’re in there!” Corydon yelled. “Give it up!”
“Like hell I will!” was yelled from inside the mine.
“We can stay out here as long as this takes! You can’t. You don’t have provisions to stay holed up! Give the doctor your guns and send him out. We’ll see that you get transported back to the territorial prison, alive!” Marshal Corydan yelled to those in the mine.
“I ain’t going back! You ain’t taking me alive!”
Then to the amazement of both posses; the doctor came running out of the mine. He took cover behind the nearest mine cart before making his way to where both marshals were waiting.
“Marshal… the one that was gunshot… is dead. The other two are arguing… I was able to sneak out,” the doctor said as he gasped for breath from running to save his own life. His limbs were shaking as he tried to support himself by holding onto the wheel of an overturned wagon.
“Thanks Doc, just take cover, we’ll handle it from here,” Marshal Corydan replied.
Gunfire erupted from the opening of the mine; the two outlaws were trying to make a run for it on horseback. For the most part, they fired their shots wildly. One of their bullets struck their intended target or unfortunately ricocheted to strike the man. Men from the combined posse returned fired. The rider in back was the first to fall from his horse. Most of the men pulled their handguns realizing that Rawlings was out of range; Lucas sighted his rifle and took one last shot causing Tom Rawlings to fall from his horse.
Warily, the Marshal, Micah, and Lucas headed towards the fallen outlaws. Once given the okay, the doctor joined the small group and declared both outlaws dead.
“If that’s all, I’ve a good man back there in need of my services,” the doctor stated, wanting to be done with the outlaws.
Marshal Corydon quickly tilted his head, motioning for the doctor to see to his patient within the posse.
Pulling the third outlaw from the cave, the posse draped the bodies of the three outlaws across the saddles of their horses; the posses were ready to head out once the injured member of the posse was situated astride his horse.
The posse from North Fork headed into Jarilla Junction and stocked up on supplies as they prepared to return home. Micah had to delay his departure long enough to provide his report to Marshal Corydan, so it could be properly filed. Before Micah left, he said he’d file the remainder of his report once he’d had a chance to talk with both of the boys who survived the attack back in North Fork.
Lucas refused to wait for Micah; he wanted to get home to his boy. Worried, what would his boy be like when he returned home? The image of Mark screaming in fear started to flood his mind. As long as he had kept his mind focused on tracking down the killers, he’d been able to block out the image. Now he had nothing to keep his mind occupied, other than getting home and holding his precious boy in his arms.
It was later in the evening, after the posse left North Fork in search of Tom Rawlings that Marty Bennett woke up. Nils was sitting in a chair at the side of the bed as he watched tears start to form in the boy’s eyes and slowly run down the sides of his face. Nils moved to sit on the bed, grabbed the boy in his arms, and just held him. He continued to talk soothingly to the boy. Rubbing the boy’s back as he held him and rocked him in his arms.
Doc Burrage entered the room to check on Marty, the scene would have been so touching to watch, if he knew the news he had to tell the boy wasn’t so heartbreaking. Doc sat down in the chair that had previously been occupied by Nils.
“Good Evening Marty. How do you feel?” Doc asked.
“My shoulder hurts,” he said through sobs. “My folks…, those men…, they killed them?”
“Yes Marty. I’m so sorry,” Doc replied.
Nils spoke to Marty, “Marty, Doc sent a wire to your father’s family in Kansas City; they’re on their way out here to take you home with them.”
“But this is my home…” Marty whispered.
“If your folks were still alive, but a young ‘en like you, you need adults to look after you. You need an established home, full of love,” Nils whispered.
Doc excused himself from the room when he heard a buggy arrive out front. Aldred and Lucy McAdams stopped by the doctor’s office; they had agreed to open their home to Marty until his family arrived. Aldred carried Marty out to their buggy and headed home, with instructions on how to keep the wound clean. Doc also gave instructions on not asking the boy any questions about what had happened. “Give the boy time to grieve, but be there to comfort him.” Doc had hoped the boy could wait until the Marshal returned.
Nils knew it was for the best that Marty be placed with people who had children, but it didn’t stop the hurt he felt as the boy rode away in the buggy.
After Marty left the clinic with the McAdams, Doc moved Mark into the bed in his back room to sleep. It was the following morning when Mark finally opened his eyes again. Hattie was there to greet him, a big smile on her face, “Good Morning Mark! How do you feel today?”
Mark gave no response. He gave no reaction that he knew Hattie was in the room with him. Hattie pulled Mark into a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the bed. She moved the water pitcher and basin over to the nightstand beside the bed. She removed his nightshirt and proceeded to wash Mark. She fervently hoped that the gentle touch of a woman’s hands would soothe the boy. As she finished bathing Mark, Doc Burrage came in to check on his patient. When the boy gave no response to any of his questions, he helped as Hattie dressed Mark in his pants and shirt. Both looked at each other, not knowing how to get through to Mark.
When the posse didn’t return by nightfall, they decided to move Mark to Hattie’s home, feeling it would be kinder to the boy versus staying in the doctor’s office. Before settling the boy at her home, Hattie requested that Mrs. Donner tend to things at the general store so she could devote herself to Mark, until Lucas returned.
For almost four more days, Lucas’ friends took turns watching over Mark. Each day was the same; Hattie would bathe and dress Mark in the morning. Force him to eat what little she could get him to eat, oatmeal for breakfast and soups or stews for lunch and supper being the easiest. John Hamilton, Nils Swenson, and even Ms. Adams, the school teacher, would stop by and try to draw him out of the shell into which he had withdrawn. During the day, he’d just sit in a chair or curl up on the couch when people would stop by to talk to him. Of a night, whoever was there would help Hattie change him back into his sleeping clothes and put him to bed.
Hattie stepped from the kitchen when she heard the sound of pounding hooves and walked to look out the window in her front room. Light from the lantern beside her front door showed Lucas running up to her porch. Before he could knock, Hattie had the door opened. Lucas removed his hat as he stepped inside and saw his son curled up on the couch in the front room, eyes open.
Setting his rifle against the inside door frame, Lucas asked, “How is he Hattie?” The concern Lucas felt caused his voice to crack as he spoke, Mark didn’t move when his father entered the room.
“I’m sorry Lucas, since you left he either sleeps or when he’s awake, he just sits there and stares. He doesn’t say anything, he just…” Tears streamed down Hattie’s face as she watched Lucas stride over and sit down next to his boy. Gently he picked Mark up in his arms and sat him in his lap, arms securely around his boy. Lucas lovingly swept a large strand of Mark’s hair from his forehead and replaced it with a kiss.
“Mark, I’m home. You don’t need to be scared. Those men can’t harm you any more.” Lucas continued to talk to Mark, hoping his words would make their way through to his boy. As Lucas spoke, he tried to bring back happier memories to his boy. After a while he felt his boy stop trembling and realized he had fallen asleep.
Lucas saw the bible sitting on the end table, it wasn’t his family bible, but he knew the words inside would offer him the same comfort. Lucas picked it up and started to read, still holding Mark in his arms.
Later that evening, Hattie carried a blanket and placed it over Mark, wrapping Lucas in some of its comfort. As she turned to leave, she softly heard, “Thank you Hattie.” She left the room to go to bed for the night.
Hattie woke in the morning to find Lucas and Mark sitting where she had left them the night before; Lucas was still reading from the bible. She proceeded into the kitchen to make breakfast for the morning.
She was just setting the table when she heard Mark screaming, “Pa! Please! Help Me! Pa!”
Hattie ran to her front room to see Lucas trying to restrain his boy. Mark’s eyes were wide with fear. Though he still sat upon Lucas’ lap, the boy was kicking his legs, his hands were balled up in fists, and striking out at someone only he could see; as if he was trying to fend off an assailant.
“Mark, I’m here, you’re safe. Please God! Help me understand! Lord, help me help my boy!” Lucas called.
“PA!” Mark continued to scream.
“Mark, please… Please come back to me!” Lucas pleaded as his boy continued to fight.
Lucas grabbed Mark by the shoulders and turned him around to face him. Lucas shook Mark harder than he had intended, but he was desperate to get through to his boy, to have his boy back. “Mark! See me! Please! Mark!” Again he urgently shook his son.
Mark stopped fighting, his body relaxed a little, and Lucas saw his eyes soften.
“Pa?” Mark called plaintively as his eyes locked onto Lucas’ eyes. “Oh Pa!” he cried. He wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and buried his face into his father’s chest. Sobs wracked his body and the more he cried the stronger his sobs became.
“Hattie, go get the doctor,” Lucas begged after seeing Hattie standing across the room from him, hands clasped as she witnessed Mark coming back to Lucas.
Hattie nodded and ran from her home; she didn’t have far to go. Doc Burrage was already on his way over to her home to check on Mark for the morning. He started to run towards Hattie when he saw the expression on her face after she yelled towards him, “Doc, it’s Mark, we need you now!”
The sobs wracking Mark’s body were very uncontrollable, the more he tried to stop crying, the harder the sobs became, causing him to gasp deeply for breath. Upon a quick survey of what was happening, Doc took out a syringe and administered some medication to the boy as Lucas held on to him. A few moments later, the sobs seemed to lessen; Mark began whimpering, but didn’t fall asleep this time. He pulled himself harder into his father’s chest, holding tighter to his Pa, as his hands went under Lucas’ arms and then up to the back of his shoulders, taking comfort in hearing his father’s heart beating.
Doc Burrage gently pulled one of the boy’s arms from around Lucas in order to take his pulse before pulling out his stethoscope and listening to the boy’s heart. A faint smiled graced the physicians face as he returned the instrument to his black bag.
“There, there now Mark…You’ll be okay,” Doc said as he patted Mark on the back of his shoulder. Talking to Lucas, “Luke, just hold him and let him know you love him. The medicine I gave him was just to relax the spasms. I didn’t give him enough to put him to sleep this time. He needs to be awake. The boy can’t heal if I keep him asleep all the time.” Doc stood and returned his instruments and medications to his bag.
“Hattie, I think the boy could eat some oatmeal for breakfast and your soup stock for lunch today. Still, nothing more than that, until after I check him later.” Doc turned and left Hattie’s.
As Doc walked along the boardwalk and returned to his office, Micah and the rest of those who served on the posse were slowly returning to town. The group wasn’t as solemn as it was when they left, but it wasn’t a joyous home-coming either. Micah stopped in front of the jail and stepped from his horse.
“Well Doc, how are the boys doing?” Micah asked as Doc Burrage approached.
“Marty will recover nicely. We’ve sent word to his father’s family and they should be here any day to take him back to Kansas City. The McAdams are tending to him. I’m hoping in a day or two he’ll be able to answer the questions I’m sure you have,” Doc stated as he followed Micah into the Marshal’s office.
“What about Mark?” the question was hard for Micah to ask. He’d grown to think of Mark as the grandson he’d never had. He couldn’t bear to see Mark as he had seen him the day they left.
“Had a rough go of it this morning; he came out of his shock, quite traumatic for the boy and for Lucas from what Hattie told me. They’re both over at Hattie’s if you’d like to check in on them.”
“Thanks, I might just do that.”
Micah left his office a few minutes after the Doc, and walked to Hattie’s. He entered the house to see Lucas sitting on the couch, holding Mark in his arms, wrapped in a blanket. Lucas was feeding the boy some oatmeal and the boy was willingly eating. Hattie looked on; a small smile on her face. Lucas looked up and gave a brief smile to Micah. The look in Lucas’ eyes was one of relief and appreciation.
Within a few minutes, the bowl was empty and Lucas set it aside, and before he could turn back to Mark, his boy was asleep, peacefully.
“How are you doing Lucas?” Micah knowingly asked.
“He called me Pa. And he actually looked at me. He’s still not talking. But at least I see life in his eyes and he’ll look at me and wrap his arms around me. Doc says it’s probably going to take a while.”
“Micah, care to join Lucas and me for a bite to eat? I’ve some breakfast already made,” Hattie offered.
“I’d be real pleased to take you up on your offer. Eating Toomey’s cooking is almost as bad as eating my own.” Micah’s comment brought a little bit of laughter to the group.
Lucas laid his boy down on the couch and followed Micah and Hattie into her kitchen.
Micah pushed his chair back from the table as he finished eating and said, “Mighty fine breakfast there Hattie.”
“You’re welcome,” Hattie answered.
After a few moments of silence, Lucas spoke. “Micah, I owe you an apology.”
“No you don’t,” Micah replied.
“Yes I do. I had no right you speak to you as I did, before we left, as well as what I said out on the trail. I guess in a way I blamed part of what happened to Mark on you.”
“You were lashing out because of something beyond your control. I know if Mark had been fine when we left, you would have been first to volunteer. If we had any earlier warning of Tom Rawlings escape, we might have prevented this whole tragedy. And Mark…”
“He’s my life Micah,” Lucas quietly spoke.
“I know Lucas. We all know,” Micah quietly answered. “Maybe I shouldn’t have asked you to go with us, but I needed you and your abilities to track.”
“I know you did Micah. And who knows… If I had stayed here, maybe… I don’t know…”
They talked through the rest of the morning and through lunch and into the early afternoon. They talked over the events of the past week. More importantly, they discussed how best to talk to the boys to find out what had happened that evening at the Bennett’s.
“With Rawlings dead, does it really matter?” inquired Hattie.
“I’m afraid it does. It will give credence to why we were forced into a shootout that killed the outlaws,” answered Micah.
“But he was an escaped prisoner,” Hattie insisted. “And he killed a family!”
Before they knew it, they heard a small voice calling, “Pa?!”
Lucas hurried to the front room and to his boy’s side. As he approached, he saw the start of a smile on his boy’s face.
“Mark… How are you feeling?”
“Not so scared… now that you’re here,” Mark answered his father, never letting his eyes drift from his father’s face.
“Come here,” Lucas said has he grabbed Mark up to carry him on his hip into Hattie’s kitchen.
“Well hello Mark, you’re sure looking better than the last time I saw you boy,” Micah said with a big smile on his face.
“Thanks Micah,” the boy answered before he quieted again and Lucas could feel his boy grab hold tighter around his neck.
“Mark? Want to talk about it?” Lucas asked. “It’s okay if you don’t. We can talk, but only when you’re ready.”
All Mark could do was nod his head and bury it against his father’s shoulder.
“Tell you what, I want the doctor here before you say anything. Okay?” Lucas stated.
Again, Mark nodded. Micah stood up to go get Doc Burrage. Hattie brought a bowl of soup over to Lucas for Mark.
“Pa, I think I can feed myself,” Mark stated as his Pa started to pick up the spoon.
As Doc and Micah entered, Doc was quite pleased to see Mark up, sitting in his Pa’s lap, eating and looking around; even more pleased when he realized the bowl was almost empty. Hattie took the bowl once Mark was finished eating.
“Doc, thanks for coming. I want you here just in case…” Lucas’ voice faltered.
Before Mark started, Lucas turned him around and sat him on top of the table so that he could look his boy straight in the eye, hoping that by their keeping eye contact, he could keep his boy calm. Lucas placed his hand under Mark’s chin and lifted his head so that he could see into his boy’s eye. “Okay Mark, just tell me what happened. Take your time. Stop when you need to, if you need a drink of water or milk just let me know.” Lucas nodded his head as he spoke, hoping to encourage his boy. He kept both of Mark’s hands in his, squeezing them to let him know he was there.
Looking over his shoulder to Hattie, Mark began, “Hattie asked that I take a letter to Marty’s father, it had come in special delivery.” He turned his face to see his father’s eyes before he continued. “I handed the letter to Mrs. Bennett and she wanted to thank me for taking the time to bring the letter to them, she was going to set out some milk and cookies for Marty and me. Lilly… she’s Marty’s sister, was at the table already. Mr. Bennett came in and read the letter. Mrs. Bennett asked me to go get Marty from his room upstairs, but first asked me to help Marty put away a few of the books he’d been reading in his bedroom. He wasn’t at school that day because he had a tummy ache earlier… Pa, I did as Mrs. Bennett asked in helping Marty, before we…” Mark stopped speaking.
“You’re doing fine Mark… Take your time,” Micah stated hoping to encourage the boy to continue.
“Before we headed back… downstairs.” Mark’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Marty and I started down the stairs, we heard voices from men in the kitchen. They were… were… yelling… loudly. Marty and I stopped halfway down, then…” Mark stopped speaking; his breathing started coming a little quicker. Lucas could tell his boy was struggling.
“It’s okay Mark. Deep, slow breaths,” Lucas said as he started breathing loudly and slowly, in, then out, hoping it would guide his son to follow his lead. Mark took a few deep breaths and then closed his eyes. His grip on his Pa’s hands tightened.
With his eyes closed, Mark continued, “Marty and I heard gunshots and heard Mr. Bennett yell. I… I… I can’t repeat those words. We heard something fall to the floor and then something fall to the table, because we… we… heard the dishes breaking on the floor.” Again Mark stopped, he didn’t open his eyes, he just closed them tighter. He took another deep breath and licked his lips before continuing. “I heard… a scatter gun go off… and one more… gunshot. And something… fell to the floor. Marty and I… We ran back upstairs.”
Lucas continued to squeeze Marks hands, telling Mark to breathe deeply and slowly. “Take your time son, we’re in no hurry. Do you want something to drink?”
Mark stiffened his body and shook his head no.
Speaking a little louder, Mark continued, “When we reached Marty’s room… he started pushing me out the window… down the rose fence. I lost my hat as I tried climbing out the window. I was halfway down, when… I looked up to see Marty climbing out the window, feet first like I’d done… I heard him yell… and I saw he was being pulled back into the window…” Speaking a faster, Mark said, “I kept climbing down and jumped the rest of the way and hid behind one of the big bushes next to the house.” Mark paused and spoke slower. “I heard Marty screaming, then….” Mark stopped again and reached for his Pa, he slipped from the table top into his Lucas’ lap, placed the side of his head against his Pa’s chest. Mark took comfort in hearing his Pa’s heartbeat; it gave him courage to continue, only quieter. “I heard another gunshot and… Marty stopped screaming. I heard the men yelling and running down the stairs and I remembered the cold cellar on the backside of the McDougall’s, I mean the Bennett’s barn. I ran and bolted the doors closed behind me. I hid in the corner. I tried to be so small so they wouldn’t find me. I just kept praying they’d just leave. But they kept rattling the cellar door. Oh Pa! I wanted it to be just a dream, I wanted to wake up and it be okay! I was so scared! They killed them all!” Mark started crying again, holding tight to his Pa.
Mark was crying, but his body wasn’t wracked with sobs this time; the tears were a release. He finally had told everyone what he had been reliving in his mind since before his Pa had found him in the cold cellar.
“Pa, I just kept seeing it play over and over again in my head. I heard you, and Hattie, and Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Swenson, even Ms. Adams, but I couldn’t get those memories out of my head,” Mark said as he continued to cry.
Lucas allowed the tears to fall from his own eyes. He looked up from his boy to see that Hattie, Micah and Doc Burrage also had tears in their eyes. He rocked Mark while they were sitting there. He stroked his boy’s back, hoping it would comfort himself as much as comfort his son.
Lucas had seen his share of death throughout his life. However, he’d always tried to shield his boy from the harsh cruelties that one man could force upon another, until he would be old enough to understand. There were some things that an eleven year old child didn’t need to know and seeing his friend’s family senselessly murdered was one of those things.
“Mark,” Lucas spoke, lifting his boy’s chin up to look into his eyes. “Mark, Marty survived the attack. Hattie says that Marty’s uncle and family will be here in a few days and they’re going to take Marty back to Kansas City.”
“Marty’s okay?” Mark’s eyes seemed to lighten when he heard the news. He tried hard to stop the tears from falling down his face. Hattie handed him a dish towel to dry his eyes.
“He’ll be okay in time. Right now the McAdams are caring for him until his family arrives,” Doc said to confirm what Lucas had told Mark.
“Has he said anything?” Mark asked as he looked to Micah.
“No boy, I haven’t been over there yet. You’re family to me, so I wanted to make sure you were doing okay before I spoke with Marty. Guess I should head over to the McAdams’ place and see how Marty is doing. You going to be okay Mark?”
“Yes sir, as long as I have my Pa,” Mark tentatively replied, snuggling closer.
“Best we be going,” Micah stated as he saw the doctor move towards the door.
Lucas sat Mark down in the chair, “Now son, I’m just going to see Micah and Doc out the door, I’ll be right back. You okay with that?”
“Yes sir,” Mark quietly answered, his eyes never leaving his Pa.
Hattie had busied herself earlier in the day by cooking a simple stew for them to eat that evening. A lot of broth, with some vegetables and beef cubes. Lucas sat opposite from Hattie at the table and Mark sat next to his Pa. He couldn’t get any closer than if he was sitting in Lucas’ lap.
After dinner, Hattie stood up to clear the table and much to her and Lucas’ surprise, Mark began helping to clear the table, he even offered to dry the dishes, if Hattie washed them, he added.
“Pa, why don’t you go outside and have your evening cigar? I know you probably haven’t had a smoke since you got back,” Mark hesitantly suggested.
“Think I will, if you’re sure you’ll be okay.”
Mark nodded. Lucas stood up and walked out the kitchen door. Happy things were starting to get back to normal, but just how normal would they be once he took Mark home. Lucas returned to the kitchen ten minutes later to hear Hattie request Mark go upstairs and get ready for bed.
“Yes ma’am.” Mark turned to leave the kitchen, “Hattie, will you come up with Pa and be with me while I say my evening prayers and help tuck me into bed?”
“Why yes Mark, I’d love to.”
Mark left the kitchen, leaving Lucas and Hattie alone.
“Hattie, thank you for everything you’ve done for me and Mark. I don’t know how I would have pulled through all this if it weren’t for you.”
“Lucas you know that you and Mark are like part of my family. I couldn’t turn Mark away and seeing the pain in your eyes when you left. I’m just bursting at the seams because all’s going to be okay. We have our Mark back.”
Lucas walked over and gave Hattie a big hug.
“I think Mark and I’ll be heading home tomorrow,” Lucas informed the store owner.
Hattie nodded; she knew she couldn’t keep them there.
Lucas and Hattie walked up the stairs to the room Mark had been sleeping in while his Pa had been with the posse. He was on his knees at the side of the bed with his hands folded in prayer. He asked God to watch over Marty and his new family in Kansas City and to watch over all the people of North Fork, “Especially my family… my Pa, my Grandma Hattie, and my Grandpa Micah. Amen.”
Mark stood up and climbed into bed. Lucas pulled the covers up over his boy and gave him a kiss on this forehead before wishing him goodnight. Hattie was there too and gave him a kiss. They both turned to leave the room.
“Pa, where you going to sleep tonight?” Mark asked.
“Probably on the couch, son.”
“Don’t you think the bed’s big enough for the two of us?” Mark asked.
“Go ahead Lucas, I think you’ll enjoy sharing the bed with Mark more than sleeping on the couch.”
Hattie left the room and closed the door behind her.
Through the night, Mark was restless, continually in motion and never really settling down to sleep. Amused that he had actually fallen asleep, Lucas woke to find Mark clinging to him. He tried to get out of bed without waking his boy, but it wasn’t to be. Mark woke and got out of bed as well. Standing next to each other, they washed up at the basin before getting dressed. The whole time, Mark made himself Lucas’ shadow, mirroring everything Lucas did.
They walked downstairs together and ate breakfast with Hattie. After Mark had helped Hattie wash and dry the dishes, Lucas and Mark prepared to head to the livery to get their horses.
Lucas hesitated as they walked towards the door, he feared how his son would react to seeing his rifle. Taking a deep breath, Lucas strode forward, opened the door and reached for his rifle. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the frozen look upon his son’s face.
“Mark? Come along son,” Lucas called and reached his hand out.
Mark quickly went to his Pa’s side, opposite of the rifle.
Mark walked so close to his Pa that Lucas almost tripped over him a few times. Lucas understood his son’s need and accepted it. They arrived at Nils’ and saddled their horses. They waved goodbye as they headed for home.
As they rode, Mark kept looking around; as if to search to see if anyone was following them. As they reached the turn off to their ranch, Lucas stopped and asked, “Mark, who are you looking for?”
“Just making sure those men aren’t following me?” Mark stated. Lucas heard a tremble in his boy’s voice.
Lucas reached over to turn Mark’s face to his, “Mark, those men who killed the Bennetts are dead. They were killed in a shootout down in Jarilla Junction. You’re safe. You’ll soon be home.” Lucas smiled at his boy and then motioned for him to ride on.
The father was thankful the nightmares hadn’t happened while at Hattie’s but still he wondered, ‘What will tonight bring?’
Over the next two weeks, Lucas rose early each morning, trying to get some work done around the ranch before Mark woke. He continued to let Mark sleep in as long as he needed. He knew that Mark was still scared from his experience; the nightmares Lucas had feared woke them their first night home, coming numerous times through the night. Whenever Mark was awake he didn’t want to be too far from his Pa’s side. Lucas didn’t push Mark, if his boy wanted to talk, he would there to listen. He prayed the memories would fade or as sometimes happened the memories would lock themselves away in a place never to be remembered.
For such a happy child that his son had been, it pained Lucas to see his son withdraw from the pleasures he previously took in life…riding his horse, fishing with friends; anything that allowed him to step away from his father’s side.
The one time they did venture to town, Mark refused to ride BlueBoy, he insisted they take the buckboard. Once underway, Lucas found it difficult to manage the reins to the team for his son sitting so close on the bench seat.
Halting the buckboard in front of the Marshal’s Office, Lucas suggested, “Mark why don’t you head on over to Hattie’s,” and have him the list of supplied they needed.
Seeing the uncertainty in his young son’s eyes, Lucas encouraged him, “It’s okay son, I’ll be right here and watch you cross the street.”
Mark’s eyes implored his fear of straying so far from his father’s side.
“Lucas,” Micah stated. “Why don’t you go ahead and take the boy to Hattie’s.”
“I think… Nils!” Lucas called upon seeing the blacksmith walk past the window to the Marshal’s Office.
“Lucas, how are you?” the burly man stated upon entering.
“Fine, would you do me a favor?” Lucas beseeched.
“Would you take Mark to Hattie’s, I need to talk to Micah for a few minutes, and if Mark could give Hattie our list…”
Turning to the young boy standing close to Lucas’ side, Nils stated, “Mark why don’t you come with me to Hattie’s, I heard she received a shipment of new candies yesterday.”
Nodding, Lucas stated, “Go with Nils, I’ll join you in a few minutes.”
With tears in his eyes, Mark took the liveryman’s hand and walked across the street.
“It’s not getting any better is it?” Micah asked.
“No, I’d hoped things would have gotten easier as time went by,” Lucas answered with a defeated tone to his voice. “He’s scared to do anything on his own. He’s leary of my rifle.”
“What’s Doc said?”
“Same as always, ‘Give the boy time.’ Well, I’m running out of time,” a frustrated Lucas answered, as he punched the desk top with the heel of his hand. “Neither of us are sleeping, his nightmares just won’t stop.”
“Can Doc give you medication to make him sleep?”
“He’s done that, but the dreams still break through.”
Feeling for his friend, the marshal handed him a cup of coffee.
“Has he said anything more about it, other than what he said at Hattie’s?”
“No, not a word. I thought after that last night at Hattie’s everything would be fine. But it’s not… He’s just so scared. You saw him… Damn it! I’ve failed him as a father!”
“Failed him?! How can you say that?” Micah asked. “You’ve been there for that boy, time and time again.”
“But I wasn’t there to protect him!” Lucas bitterly retorted. “My God! He was in danger and I couldn’t do a damn thing to protect him!”
“Lucas, you can’t be there every second of that child’s life, you can’t keep him in a glass jar… If you did, you’d smother him.” Seeing Lucas about to speak Micah spoke louder in order to continue to get his point across. “You didn’t fail that child! None of us knew Tom Rawlings broke prison and was coming after Bennett.”
“No child, especially not my child, should have to witness what my boy saw!” bellowed Lucas. “I don’t know how to get through to him.”
“Lucas, just keep loving the boy, in time, he’ll come to see he has nothing to fear. And for Heaven’s sake, keep him interacting with people. Sending him to the store with Nils was probably a good idea, that way he’ll learn to trust other people. Lead by example. Give him time, and take things one step at a time, LucasBoy.”
“I can’t lose him,” pleaded Lucas. “I just want my boy back.”
Unbeknownst to Lucas and Micah, Mark couldn’t stand to be alone at the General Store; Nils returned to the livery and Hattie waited on another customer. The boy ran across the street, his progress halted upon hearing his father declare, “I’ve failed him as a father!”
Upon hearing his father’s final plea, Mark leaned against the wall. ‘Lose me?’ Mark thought.
That night, after supper, Mark stood looking out the open doorway.
“What’re you looking at Mark?” Lucas inquired as he put the last pan way.
“The barn…” the boy answered. “Can I…”
“Can you, what, son?” Lucas answered, striding over to stand behind his son, placing his hand’s upon the boys shoulders.
Taking a quick breath and closing his eyes, Mark timidly asked, “C-Can I go see… BlueBoy?”
“Sure, you know you can,” Lucas answered, giving his son’s shoulders a gentle, loving squeeze before he pulled his hands away and slipped them into the front pockets of his pants.
Mark took a hesitant step forward, and paused. Lucas watched as his son took a deep breath, and then another step. A few more steps and his son was standing on the ground, head down and shoulders slumped.
‘Go on, Mark. You can do this,’ Lucas silently encouraged.
Mark thought of the words he’d heard Micah say earlier in the day, ‘One step at a time.’ Talking only so he could hear, Mark encouraged himself, “One step at a time… One foot in front of the other… One step at a time… One step…”
Lucas finally exhaled the breath he didn’t realize he was holding as his son entered the barn.
Fifteen minutes later, Lucas walked across the yard between their home and the barn to check on his son. He was pleased to find his son in BlueBoy’s stall grooming the horse.
“Time to get ready for bed, son,” Lucas quietly called.
“Okay, Pa,” Lucas heard his son answer, but the boy turned back to his horse and quietly spoke to the animal so that Lucas couldn’t hear what he said. Lucas patiently waited as the boy continue to talk to his horse.
“In the morning, I got to do this for Pa, BlueBoy. And you gotta help me. Okay?” Mark spoke. “I can’t do this alone.”
As if in understanding, the horse tossed his head up and down. Mark closed the stall door behind him and with effort walked to his Pa, this time, stopping next to the hand holding his rifle.
Lucas woke, surprised to find the sun faintly teasing the morning sky and that both of them had slept through the night. Lovingly he looked upon the sleeping body of his young son in his bunk across the room, so innocent.
“Best get up and get to work, so I can be back before he wakes,” Lucas said to himself.
Lucas had been out moving a few cattle from the corral behind the barn to the northern pasture when he returned to the ranch. He had planned to be back before his boy woke; however, the task took longer than expected. As he stepped inside the house and stepped to the bedroom, he found Mark’s bed empty. Panicking, Lucas returned to the front room and saw a note next to the lamp by the front door.
I’m sorry, but I have to know.
‘Know? Know what?’ Lucas stepped back onto the porch and grabbed for Razor’s reins. He walked to the barn and didn’t see BlueBoy in the stall; he turned to check the hoof prints to see which direction Mark and BlueBoy had gone. Lucas was barely in the saddle before he heard a horse running. Lucas rode to the side of the barn to see Mark and BlueBoy racing down the road with Micah following at a distance.
As Mark pulled up into the front yard he yelled at his Pa, “I did it! I did it!”
Lucas and Mark jumped down from their horses and ran to each other. As Mark jumped up in his Pa’s arms, Lucas saw the huge smile on his boy’s face and asked, “Did what?”
“I got over my fear. I rode into town by myself. I’m sorry Pa. Did you miss me?” The words came out in a rush.
Lucas looked to Micah as he arrived in the yard.
“Yep Lucas, I found him riding into town so early this morning, whooping and a hollering. I think I should arrest him for disturbing the peace… Sure made everyone in town add a spring to their step seeing Mark becoming his old self.” Micah couldn’t help the smile spreading on his face; seeing Lucas smile as he held his boy in his arms. It didn’t help that Mark’s smile was so infectious. “I decided to make sure he got home safe and sound. Also to let you know that we’ve rescheduled the town social for this Saturday night. Town council thinks maybe we’re ready.”
“We’ll be there Micah. Oh, and thanks for seeing Mark home. I’ll see to it that he stays under ‘house arrest’ for a while.”
Oh, Pa.” was all Mark could say as he saw the big grin on his Pa’s face and the gleam in his eyes.