Synopsis: This story is a sequel to my story, the Return of Johnny Drako. This story begins just a couple of days after Lucas and Mark are allowed to return home.
Category: The Rifleman
Word Count: 9,450
In this story, I’ve borrowed several characters from various episodes of The Rifleman’s five-year run.
In “The Brother-in-Law” (season one) we’re introduced to Johnny Gibbs, brother of Lucas McCain’s deceased wife. A former rodeo rider, turned accidental robber who experienced a comedy of errors in his one brush with the law.
In “Death Never Rides Alone” (season five), we’re introduced to Johnny Drako, a long-time friend of Lucas McCain. A known gunslinger, who was always within the law when his reputation was forged. Drako was looking for a nice, quiet place to live and figured North Fork would suit him, just fine; specially since his friend called the town home. However, events beyond his control made him see the impact his arrival would have if he stayed and he decided to leave town.
In my mind’s eye, I always believed that one day, Drako would return to North Fork, after lying low and letting others gain their reputations; his own would simply fade into history.
Healing… The Return of Johnny Drako, Part II
The afternoon stage from Santa Fe arrived in North Fork, the four horses pulling the stage continued to prance in place as the driver pulled the team to a halt in front of the Mallory House Hotel. Several businessmen stepped from the stage and walked inside after collecting their luggage. Last to disembark was a man and woman who quietly exited the stage. As they stood in front of the hotel, the man began gesturing with his arms, while explaining something to the woman. After collecting their luggage, they turned and stepped inside the lobby to check in. With key in hand, they took their luggage to their assigned room before they proceeded to explore North Fork.
As they strolled down the street, arm in arm, the man continued to point out things as they passed various businesses. They walked past the door opening into the General Store as a young man came out carrying an armload of packages to the buckboard parked in front. The young man didn’t see the couple and accidentally bumped into the woman, dropping his packages. The man steadied the woman as she lost her balance. The young man attempted to stammer out an apology to the woman as he bent down to retrieve his packages; feeling totally embarrassed at the turn of events.
From across the street Deputy Johnny Drako witnessed the event and came running. “Now, Mark, you causing trouble here again?” There was a look in the deputy’s eyes that caused the couple to worry.
“No sir, I… I…” he answered as he stood up at hearing the deputy’s question.
The woman ended up answering as she turned to see a man wearing a deputy badge standing in front of them. “No Deputy, actually it was my fault. My husband and I were admiring your beautiful town and weren’t watching where we were going and I bumped into this young man. It was all my fault, we should have been more observant to the normal comings and goings in your town.”
“Welcome to North Fork. You planning to stay long?” Drako asked.
“For a few days at least. We’re here to visit family,” she answered.
“Hope you enjoy our town.” Then turning to Mark, he stated, “You tell Lucas that I’ll be out this Saturday to check in on you two.”
“Thanks Johnny. I’m sure Pa will enjoy the company,” Mark replied as he bent down to pick up another of his packages.
Johnny Drako tipped his hat to the couple and left, headed on towards the hotel.
“Mark, Mark McCain?” the man curiously asked.
Kneeling as he tried to pick up another package, Mark looked up at the man in front of him. The man reached down and took Mark’s chin in his hand. He turned Mark’s head from one side to the other, looking at the somewhat fading bruises. “Wow, and I thought the shiner your Pa gave ME was a doozy.”
Mark stared for a moment, then, his mouth gaped open and his eye’s widened as he recognized the man in front of him. It had been almost six years since Mark had last seen him. At that time the man had been clean-shaven; now he wore a distinguished short beard and mustache. Mark remembered the man’s arrival years before; he’d been on the run from the law, and had tried to hide the truth from them.
“Uncle Johnny?” Mark stood up, as a smiled played across his face, and gave his Uncle Johnny a big hug. Johnny returned the hug in earnest and tried picking Mark up with a bear hug around the ribs. Mark thought he had groaned inwardly, but realized he hadn’t, as his uncle set him down quickly.
“Mark, what’s wrong boy? What happened to you? It’s not just the bruises on your face!”
“I’m okay Uncle Johnny, just not fully healed yet. Sorry,” Mark replied.
“Not fully healed yet? Your Pa letting you break horses now? That how you got busted up? Should of waited until I returned so I could give you the ‘finer’ points of staying in the saddle. Bronc busting wasn’t your Pa’s specialty,” Johnny spoke with laughter in his voice.
“Uncle Johnny, let me get my things in the buckboard and we can head home. I don’t like leaving Pa for very long, but I needed to make a supply run.” Mark’s voice was solemn compared to his uncle’s voice.
“Mark?” Johnny started.
“Please Uncle Johnny, let’s just get home.”
“Sure boy. First I’d like to introduce you to Colleen Gibbs, my wife.” There was a sparkle in Johnny’s eye as he introduced his wife to his nephew. Mark removed his hat as he said hello. Then Johnny saw the bullet crease mark across Mark’s temple. “Mark! What the hell happened?!”
“We can talk when we get home.” Mark continued to pick up his packages, only to find the hands of the young woman and his uncle assisting him. “That’s not necessary. I can get them.” Mark tried hard to keep the tears from his voice.
“Mark, from the looks of you, let us get your packages.” Mark stood to the side, rubbing his ribs, they were causing him some pain today, but he wouldn’t admit it to anyone. He had really over done it while chopping wood earlier in the morning.
Mark returned his attention to Colleen and Johnny as they put the last of the packages into the back of the buckboard.
Johnny offered his hand to his wife to assist her in getting into the seat of the buckboard before he climbed in back. Mark drove the team home and pulled the buckboard to the side door entry to the kitchen.
Mark slowly climbed down and waited as Johnny assisted in wife in getting down; it was obvious to anyone watching, from the way their eyes sparkled, they were truly in love with each other.
“Mark, where’s your Pa?” his uncle asked, surprised Lucas hadn’t exited the home or the barn upon their arrival.
“Uncle Johnny, I think we better talk.” Mark walked to the front porch and offered the chairs to Johnny and Colleen. Mark sat on the porch and leaned back against one of the posts.
“Uncle Johnny, Pa’s probably asleep. He’s still recovering…”
“Recovering!” Johnny quieted his voice as he saw the expression on Mark’s face. “Boy, why don’t you tell me what happened. Those bruises on your face and that gunshot wound…”
“Uncle Johnny, I’ve only been home a few days. And I’m afraid I don’t have good news for you regarding Grandpa, I mean, your Pa.”
“My Pa? Mark, you’re not making any sense…”
“Uncle Johnny, I met Grandpa Gibbs last year. He came to North Fork asking Pa for help.” Mark continued to tell his uncle about how he came to find out what had happened the night his Ma passed. He also told of how the Sherman Gang had been after Samuel Gibbs, and in the end, he had forgiven his grandpa. “Anyway, early last month, Pa let me go to Bensonville for a two-week visit. I got to spend a lot of time talking with Grandpa.” Mark’s eyes lit as he remembered the good times while he was visiting. “He told me a lot of stories of my Ma, and you too. Some of the stories I’d remembered from you when you came to visit when I was ten, but other stories were brand new.” Mark’s voice quieted as he continued, “I’d been there for about ten days when Grandpa’s heart gave out. He died while I was there. Doc said he was surprise his heart lasted as long as it did.” Mark stopped talking.
Colleen covered her mouth with her hand as she started to cry.
“Pa’s dead?” Johnny didn’t really ask, it was a statement he tried to understand.
“Uncle Johnny, I’m sorry.”
“Glad he had some family with him when he died. I just never thought about going back after Margaret….” Johnny’s voice trailed off.
“So how did you get these injuries in Bensonville? And what does that have to do with Lucas recovering?” Johnny asked, changing the subject, somewhat.
“Uncle Johnny, there’s more to the story. Grandpa died almost three weeks ago. I came home early from Bensonville, without wiring Pa that I was coming. Only when I arrived, I found a group of outlaws beating Pa. The leader took a shot at me,” Mark pointed to the crease along his temple, “using Pa’s rifle. Knocked me off the horse I was riding. After I came to, I got up and pulled my rifle from the horse and shot one of them in the shoulder, two others came after and found me. I got away only to have one of the outlaws grab hold of me and then beat me. Should have remembered Pa’s lesson about a time to fight and a time to walk away. Guess I should have run faster.” Mark sat in contemplation as he remembered back. “Before I blacked out, I saw the leader shoot Pa in the chest.” Mark couldn’t look at his uncle as he recounted the story.
“When I came to, I was at Doc’s. Pa was on the other side of the room. I trailed the outlaws, alone, for five days and nights. I wanted to kill them because I thought they’d killed Pa.”
“Killed Luke?” queried Johnny.
“Or so I thought. When the doctor in Bensonville pronounced Grandpa dead, he pulled the sheet up to Grandpa’s chin. I saw Pa lying there, the same way. Sheet up to his chin.”
“I can’t imagine what you must have gone through,” commented Colleen.
“In looking back, what I did was stupid, I could have ended up getting myself killed, but I wasn’t thinking. I just kept seeing Pa lying there, dead.”
“If you trailed the outlaws, I take it you didn’t find them,” said Johnny.
“Oh, I did. I found them, I was so intent on them that I didn’t hear Marshal Buckhart come up behind me. Had he been one of the outlaws, I would have been dead.”
Mark quieted as he thought back through the events of the past few days.
“Johnny Drako trailed out after me and caught up with Marshal Sam Buckhart who was already trailing the Ortega gang. The two of them saved my life and brought me back home. The whole way home, they kept trying to tell me Pa was alive. I had his rifle in my lap and was leading Razor, but it didn’t feel like Pa was alive. I refused to believe them when they told me Pa was alive. It was the darkest time of my life…”
Johnny and Colleen both had tears in their eyes as they listened to Mark tell his story. His body posture relived the whole event through his retelling.
“I’m still trying to come to terms with what I almost did and all that happened. Pa and I did some talking that first night when I returned to North Fork.” Mark continued, “Doc only let me bring Pa home day before yesterday afternoon. Doc Burrage says he still doesn’t know how Pa survived the attack.”
“So, you’re taking care of him and the ranch, yourself?” Colleen asked as she looked out over the expanse of McCain land and then to Mark.
“Yes Ma’am. At least I’m trying to. It’s not as easy as Pa always made it out to be,” answered Mark.
“Well, Mark, don’t worry. Looks like you yourself could use some healing time. Guess we got here just in time,” Johnny said.
“Who got here just in time?” Lucas asked as he leaned against the door jamb. His shirt was unbuttoned and showed a large bandage wrapped around his chest.
Mark stood and a rushed to his Pa. “Mark, I’m okay. Just heard voices and came to see who’s here?”
“Pa, it’s Uncle Johnny and he brought his wife, Colleen,” Mark tried to help his Pa back into the house to sit down in his chair. “Pa, please? Back in the house and sit down,” he begged.
Johnny stood up and helped Lucas back into the house. Lucas practically collapsed in the chair. Mark grimaced as he felt the strain in his own ribs as he tried to hold his Pa up so he wouldn’t sit down so hard.
Johnny looked at Mark and saw his expression, but chose not to say anything. He spoke to Lucas, “Well brother, seems my wife and I got here just in time to help you two out.”
Johnny kept his tone upbeat. He felt sorrow at hearing his Pa had passed on. But, it had been a long time since he’d had anything to do with his Pa. He too had never forgiven Samuel Gibbs for being a drunkard and the consequences; he knew life was for the living and his living family was hurting and needing his help.
“So Johnny, what’s this about you getting married? Thought you’d always be the restless spirit?” Lucas said in a tone of voice that tried to convince his bother-in-law that he was feeling better than he really was.
“Well Lucas, that’s a tale best told over supper.” With a more serious tone of voice Johnny continued, “Mark told us what happened the past few weeks. I’m glad that Colleen and I came for a visit. You just leave everything to…” Johnny was distracted when he realized Mark was bringing in the supplies from the wagon. “Lucas, why don’t you sit here and keep my wife entertained while I go out and help Mark bring in the supplies.”
Johnny turned and walked out the back door to help Mark. But before he would let Mark return to the house, he intended to have a talk with the boy to find out the real extent of Mark’s injuries. Johnny closed the door behind him, no sense in letting Lucas hear their conversation.
“Mark, put that down for a moment. We need to talk.” Johnny took the packages from Mark and set them back down on the buckboard. “Mark, you’re hurting a lot more than you’re letting on to your pa, boy. Tell me truthfully, I want to know. I’ll keep your secret from your Lucas, but I need to know just how bad you’re really hurt.” Johnny pushed Mark to sit down on the back of the buckboard.
“Well Doc said the bullet crease is healing nicely, and I probably took a concussion from the fall after being shot off the horse and then from the beating. I know I’ve a few busted ribs, but that’s minor compared to Pa. Uncle Johnny, he’s taken care of me ever since Ma passed and I can’t let him down. He’s counting on me.”
Johnny could see tears forming in Mark’s eyes, but not quite ready to fall.
“Mark, so you’ve not told your Pa just how badly you’re injured?”
“No sir! Doc agreed to keep it a secret, Pa needs to know I can take care of the place while he’s healing. If he knew, he’d have me in bed and he’d be trying to do everything. We can’t have him doing that much yet. He’s not strong enough, he nearly died. You saw him inside.” Johnny could hear the emotion in Mark’s voice.
“How much are you capable of doing around here? What about chopping wood?” asked Johnny.
“I kind of over did it this morning, I took some of my anger out on the wood,” answered Mark as he gently rubbed his hand across his ribs.
“So who’s helping you out around the ranch, you can’t seriously be doing it all on your own?”
“No, Oat Jackford sent a couple of his hands to help out and make sure the cattle are doing okay ever since Drako found Pa and me that first day.”
“Does your Pa know about this?”
“No sir, at least not until he’s recovered more.”
“And just how do you plan to keep this from Lucas?”
“I’ll tell him I’m going out to work the ranch and once I’m out of sight from the house, I meet up with Billy Lehigh and Sam Montgomery. I know I need to take care of myself, so I’ll find a spot under a shade tree and catch a few hours sleep. Once Billy and Sam are done, they’ll come back to where we met up and wake me, so I can head back home.”
Shaking his head in disbelief, Johnny quietly whistled before saying, “Boy, I don’t see how you plan on doing this and keeping it a secret from your Pa.”
“We only need to keep it up for a week or two more. Doc says Pa should be a lot stronger by then. Please Uncle Johnny. Don’t tell my Pa,” pleaded Mark.
“I won’t boy. But you have to promise me that you’ll take it easy while Colleen and I are here and let us do what we can to help. Does anyone else besides those you’ve told me, know how bad you are hurt? Does your Marshal…“
“No! I can’t tell him. He and Pa are best friends. He’d of told Pa right away. The only other person who knows, besides Doc, is Johnny Drako,” Mark replied.
“Come on, we best get all this stuff into the house before your Pa comes looking for us.”
“Thanks, Uncle Johnny,” a relieved Mark stated as he reached for several of the packages.
Colleen insisted on cooking supper for the evening, much to Lucas’ disapproval. “Here you just arrived; I’ll not have you working while being a guest in this home.”
“Mr. McCain, I’m not a guest, I’m family!” was her answer, as she placed the back side of both fists on her hips.
“Well, if you’re going to take that tone with me, young lady, then you might as well call me Lucas.” A smile played across his face and he gave in to the look in this woman’s eyes.
Johnny assisted Lucas to the front porch where they talked and smoked their cigars. Colleen worked in the kitchen fixing fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Mark sat on the counter top, pointing out the locations of cooking pans and utensils or where this or that was as Colleen asked.
Much to Mark’s delight, she also baked what smelled to be a wonderful apple pie.
The group had finished supper when Colleen brought the pie to the table and served it to the new men in her family. Mark carried the coffee pot over from the stove and filled the cups for the adults. He filled his own glass with milk.
As Mark returned to the table, he heard his pa ask, “Okay Mr. Wandering Spirit, just how did you come to be married? Never thought I’d live to see the day that you’d settle down.” Lucas’ voice hinted at his disbelief.
Mark hoped no one heard his sharp intake of breath at his father’s words ‘never thought he’d live to see the day’. Colleen placed her hand on top of Mark’s and gave it a gentle squeeze. Johnny paused as he realized Lucas’ statement very well could have been fact.
“Well Lucas, don’t know that I’m settled down, yet. We’re planning to travel, a lot. But deciding to ask Colleen to marry me had a little to do with you and my failed heist,” Johnny said with a laugh.
“Oh? And just how do I fit into this?” Lucas asked.
“Well, you were quite the ‘wild and free roaming spirit’ prior to meeting Margaret. I thought to myself, if Lucas McCain could settle down, why not me?” Johnny said and then took a drink of coffee.
“Mr. Mc… Lucas, it has a lot more to do with his failed express robbery.” Colleen’s eyes started to sparkle even more and there was more than a hint of laughter in her voice. “See my father was the sheriff who Johnny bumped into that night. When Johnny dropped the strong box, it landed on my father’s foot, breaking it. Never before, as a sheriff, had my father suffered any kind of an injury and then to have that happen and the bandit get away, well, we couldn’t help but laugh about it in town. Oh, the teasing was all in good fun and Pa knew it. But still, it rankled Pa that he’d saved the strongbox but allowed the bandit to get away.
“Then your Marshal Torrance brought Johnny back to town, said he’d wanted to turn himself in to stand trial… Oh, Lucas the story just gets funnier.” Colleen and Johnny looked at each other, laughing in sharing their story.
“How can a trial be funny? Uncle Johnny could have been sent to prison for a long time.” Mark stated.
“Mark, let her finish,” his Pa replied.
“Well it gets funnier because the judge is my Ma’s brother. I was in the courtroom to watch the trial, as most everyone is town was. We all heard Johnny tell what had happened and express remorse for being drunk at the time, well, not because he was drunk, but, because he was drunk he thought he could rob the express office. Oh, hearing him try to explain his intent was quite amusing. He also told my uncle the real reason he decided to turn himself in. He said he did it because there was a little boy who told him he should do the right thing. He saw in that boy’s eyes the unconditional love of a boy for his deceased Ma’s brother.
“And then, watching my father give his testimony to my uncle, explaining how he snuck up on this ‘ner’ do well’ leaving the express office with the strong box, and he’d startled the bandit so badly causing him to drop the strong box and it landed on Pa’s foot and broke it, and the bandit got away, well, the whole room was in tears from laughing. I think that’s why my uncle went easy on Johnny and didn’t send him to prison; he just sentenced him to stay in jail in town. Oh, he had to work to earn his keep the whole time.
“Finally, Uncle Martin paroled Johnny. He left town, but he always checked in with my father every month. That was part of the agreement. A few years back Johnny returned at my uncle’s request; seems he wanted to pardon Johnny. Well, while Johnny was in town we kind of started seeing each other. My father wasn’t too pleased at first, but my Ma, she believed in Johnny. Next thing we knew, my father had given us his blessing and we were courting.”
Johnny continued the story, “We got married a few months back and I’ve been telling Colleen all about my family, meaning you two, and next thing you know, here we are!” Johnny stretched out his arms in a grand gesture.
“We’re glad you stopped by Johnny.” Lucas said as he looked from over his cup of coffee.
Johnny looked towards Lucas and could see how the man was tiring.
“Well Colleen, seems we should get back to the hotel and let Lucas and Mark get some sleep,” Johnny offered.
“Just let me do the dishes Johnny, then we can go,” Colleen stated as she started to get up from the table.
“No ma’am, I can do the dishes, seems the least I can do after you cooked that wonderful meal.” Mark stood up to clear the table. “Oh, Uncle Johnny, just take the team to town and leave them with Nils overnight. You and Aunt Colleen can use it to get back and forth from town.”
Johnny and Colleen stood up to leave.
“Johnny, it’s been good seeing you again.” Lucas said as he escorted them to the front door.
“The feeling’s mutual, Lucas. We’ll return in the morning,” Johnny said as he put his hat back on his head and placed his hand in the small of his wife’s back to escort her to the buckboard.
Colleen and Johnny Gibbs returned to North Fork for the night. Lucas retired to the bedroom, while Mark finished the dishes and tidying up the front room, before he turned in.
Colleen and Johnny woke to a beautiful morning. They ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Afterwards, Colleen indicated she wanted to go shopping, she was sure there were some things she could purchase to help Lucas and Mark out at the ranch. Johnny said he was going to talk to the Marshal and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek as they parted company.
Johnny walked into the Marshal’s office and saw Micah Torrance and Johnny Drako sitting on opposite sides of the Marshal’s desk, both enjoying their morning cup of coffee.
“Good Morning Marshal, Deputy,” he offered as he removed his hat.
“Morning, met up with your family yet?” Drako asked.
“Yep, seems he was standing right in front of my wife and me yesterday when we first saw you. Can’t believe how much that boy’s grown the past six years,” Johnny Gibbs answered.
“Family? You have family in North Fork, Mister?” Micah asked.
“Sure Micah, now don’t let this beard and mustache fool you. Can’t believe you don’t remember that ‘notorious’ outlaw Johnny Gibbs.”
“Johnny Gibbs!” Micah exclaimed as he stood up and offered his hand. “Drako, this here is Johnny Gibbs, he’s Lucas’ brother-in-law.”
“A notorious outlaw?” Drako asked with a wary look in his steel cold eyes.
“Well, maybe not so notorious when you hear the details of my one brush with holding up an express station. But that’s ancient history, I served my time. Just thought I’d stop by and let you know I was in town and we’re planning to spend some time with Lucas and Mark out at their place.”
“Johnny it’s good to see you. I take it then, that you’ve seen Mark and Lucas?” Micah asked.
“Yes, my wife, Colleen, and I spent the evening with them. We’d only planned to stay here for a few days, but by the looks of them, it’s going to be a lot longer.” Johnny said while shaking his head.
“Johnny, I know that they both would appreciate having you around,” Drako said.
“Deputy, do you think you could help me out a bit? If you don’t mind Micah?” Johnny asked.
“No, go ahead. Things are pretty quiet right now,” Micah said as he motioned Johnny and Drako out of his office.
Drako and Gibbs left the Marshal’s office. “So, how can I help you?” Drako asked as they strolled to the livery.
“Actually, I need to know more of the story of what happened. Mark said you knew. He told us some last night, but I know he wasn’t telling me everything, especially with my wife present. I know he’s hurting more than he’s letting his Pa know, but it’s not just the physical injuries, they’re easy enough to see. If Lucas weren’t as bad off as he is, he’d see it in his boy’s eyes. He’s trying to keep all of it a secret from Lucas, but boy, how I don’t envy him when Lucas finds out.” He gave out a low whistle.
“Know what you mean. If Lucas weren’t in as bad a shape as he is, I wouldn’t have agreed to keep Mark’s secret either.” Drako explained how he had returned to North Fork and then went out and found Lucas and Mark practically dead in their front yard that day. Told of how Sam Buckhart and he had encountered Mark while trailing after the Ortega Gang. He told of how devastated Mark looked in the belief that the outlaws had killed his Pa. “The boy wouldn’t believe us the whole way home.” Johnny went on to say how he’d talked with Doc Burrage and found out the extent of Mark’s injuries after they’d returned to town.
“I’ve seen plenty of death and evil in my life, but the look on Mark’s face when we found him… Well let’s just say, I never want to see it again.” It was a relief to share his feelings with someone who would help keep Mark’s secret. It was hard not telling Micah or Lou, but Drako knew that both of them would immediately tell Lucas, regardless of whether he was strong enough to hear it or not. As he came to the end of the story, they met Colleen coming out of the general store with her arms full of packages.
“Oh Johnny, can you help carry these to the buckboard, I’ve a few more inside,” Colleen stated as she handed the packages to her husband. She turned and went back into the store, Drako following to offer assistance. They took the packages to the buckboard, where Johnny Gibbs introduced his wife to Deputy Johnny Drako.
“Wow, this is going to get quite confusing having two Johnny’s around.”
“Ma’am you can call me Drako, most folks do.”
“Oh, Drako, how can we thank you for saving the McCains?” Colleen asked, remembering that Mark had said Johnny Drako had found them and rushed them back to town to save their lives.
“You can thank me by helping to take care of them. Mark’s pushing himself to take care of his Pa, when he’s not healed enough to take care of himself. I know he wants to prove to his Pa that he’s grown, but right now, he can use the love of family,” Drako offered.
“We will. Yesterday you told Mark you were planning to come out Saturday to check in on them. I heard some of the women folk talking in the store that you’ve been seeing the owner of the hotel, Lou Mallory, why don’t you bring her when you come. I’d love to have a woman to chat with and then you can stay for supper. I make a pretty good chicken and dumplings with mashed potatoes…”
“Thank you ma’am, I’ll ask Lou.” Drako tipped his hat and walked away.
“Johnny, why don’t we see about renting our own horse and buggy, for coming and going? I don’t feel right in borrowing Lucas’ buckboard all the time. They might need it while we’re here in town.”
Johnny drove the team and buckboard to the ranch, followed by Colleen driving the one-horse buggy. He didn’t plan to tell his wife all the details that Drako had told him; he felt that what Mark had said the day before would suffice.
When they arrived, Lucas was sitting up in a chair on the front porch, sipping a cup of coffee. Mark was just getting ready to head out to ‘ride the range’.
“Be back in a few hours. Take care,” as he waved and rode off. Mark was relieved, relieved that someone would be home to look after his Pa. To see that Lucas didn’t do anything he shouldn’t.
Mark met up with Billy and Sam at their agreed upon location. “I’m sure thankful for all you’ve done for me. Don’t quite know how I can ever repay you.”
“Don’t worry about repaying us Mark. This is courtesy of Oat and even if it weren’t his idea, we’d still be here helping you out,” Billy stated.
Both men waved as they rode off while Mark was stepping down from Blue Boy. He tied his horse to the tree and unsaddled him. Mark positioned his saddle against the tree, laid down against it, and promptly fell asleep. It was a few hours later when Mark felt a hand shaking his shoulder and a voice calling for him to wake up. As he opened his eyes, the person standing in front of him wasn’t who he expected it to be.
“Micah! What?” Mark said in a state of confusion. Micah was the last person he wanted to see standing in front of him.
“Boy, what are you doing out here sleeping?”
“Well what?” Micah asked. Billy and Sam rode up to witness the exchange and jumped in to rescue Mark from having to explain to Micah what was really going on.
“Micah, Billy and I saw Mark out here checking the cattle and the fences, well, we’d heard what had happened and knew he probably could use some help while his Pa was laid up, so we offered to do the riding for him today; told him to take it easy. Didn’t think telling you to ‘take it easy’ meant for you to fall asleep under a tree, boy.”
“Well if that’s what you say happened.”
“Yes Marshal, that’s the truth,” Billy offered.
“See you later Mark,” they hollered as they rode off.
“So what brings you out this way Micah?” Mark asked as he tried to get up off the ground without letting Micah see him in pain.
“Just came to check up on you and Lucas. Know that your Uncle Johnny and his wife are here to help out. Thought maybe I could stop by for a bite to eat. Do I really need an excuse to come out here and visit my best friend?”
“No sir,” Mark grinned at the banter Micah offered him. It felt good to have Micah treat him as a young man and not a little boy.
They rode back to the ranch. Mark took Blue Boy into the barn and took care of brushing him down, not that he’d worked Blue Boy at all, but he needed to take time to keep up the story for his Pa’s sake. Mark gave Blue Boy a good helping of hay and realized that Johnny had tended to the team and to Razor.
He walked to the front porch to hear Lucas and Colleen discussing everything they had purchased. Micah stood to the side watching the exchange, trying hard to keep the smirk from his face.
“Well Lucas, if I’m going to stay here and help out, I felt there should be a few more things that a ‘woman’ would enjoy; spices and fixings to make proper meals for the three men of her family. I was talking with Mrs. Donner and she told me what you usually purchase, so I just went from there. Please Lucas, let us do this for you?”
Lucas finally gave in. He saw the mischievous gleam in his boy’s eyes as he enjoyed watching the exchange. Lucas saw a brief look of relief in Mark’s face as he had tried to hide a laugh. Lucas took a moment to really look at his boy. The bruises were faded, but still evident. Yet, still, there was something about the way his son looked, something that Lucas couldn’t put his finger on.
Colleen finally brought out the sandwiches and lemonade she had fixed for lunch. Micah didn’t say anything about having ‘found’ Mark, sleeping out on the range, much to Mark’s relief.
Each day Lucas continued to get stronger; sitting up for longer periods of time without tiring. He could walk from the house to the barn with only a little effort. He’d even taken the time to give Razor a good grooming, however, he had to wait a few minutes afterwards to rest, before returning to the house.
Lucas woke late on Saturday morning to hear and see a parade of people riding up to their front door. He looked around, surprised that Mark hadn’t called for him to get up with so many people coming, and realized that Mark was still sleeping. Lucas stepped to the porch to greet everyone.
Doc Burrage exited from his buggy and said, “Came to check you out Lucas. See how you’re mending.” He motioned for Lucas to return to the house.
“Doc I’ve got guests here, this can wait,” Lucas stated a little indignantly.
“Lucas, these people know that I have first right to you and they won’t enter this house until I say they can.” Doc Burrage put his foot down as he again motioned for Lucas to move.
They headed straight for the bedroom. As Doc stepped into the room, he saw that Mark was still asleep. Doc did get concerned that with all the noise they had made that Mark hadn’t woke. But he wasn’t going to say anything until he had a chance to examine his patient.
Lucas unbuttoned and removed his shirt as he sat down on the bed. Doc unwrapped the bandages from around his chest. He poked and prodded the area around the wound, “Healing just nicely. Now, let me take a listen your heart and lungs.” Doc pulled out his stethoscope and after inserting the listening pieces into his ears, he placed the other end against Lucas’ chest in a couple of different locations and then repeated the steps along Lucas’ back. “Just fine, Luke, just fine. How are you feeling? Getting stronger each day?”
“Yes, been feeling better each day. I can even walk to and from the barn without tiring much,” Lucas said proudly.
“Well just because you can walk doesn’t mean you’re ready to take on full ranching responsibilities. Just one more week of taking it easy and I think I’ll remove any restrictions. By then your body will be able to tell you when you’re doing too much. Still no riding Razor, yet. If you want, you can ride on the buckboard, but someone has to drive you. I don’t want you pulling back on the reins if something were to spook the team and then you straining yourself. You hear?”
“Yes, Doc, I hear, and I’ll take it easy.”
“Good, now what about Mark? Lucas, how hard has the boy been working since he got home?”
Lucas did grow concerned. He’d been focusing so much on his near brush with death and feeling so helpless that he hadn’t really paid attention to his boy, he’d remembered the look on his boy’s face from a few days back, but didn’t really think anything about it at that time; besides Mark seemed to be doing okay whenever he was around. Lucas looked over to his sleeping boy and even though he was asleep Lucas finally saw the strain on his boy’s face.
“Doc, I don’t know, he’s been tending to everything, making sure I didn’t do anything. Let me wake him.”
“No Luke. Let him sleep. We need to talk.”
Doc closed the door behind him as he and Lucas entered the front room. Johnny, Colleen, Drako, and Lou were sitting around the table. Lucas sat down in his chair in front of the window.
Doc started the conversation. “Okay, this meeting of the Mark McCain Secret Society is now officially in session.”
Lucas and Lou looked on at Doc, unsure what the physician was implying.
“Lucas, now that you’re better and fully on the road to recovery, it’s about time I told you the truth on the extent of Mark’s injuries.” Seeing that Lucas’ temper was about to boil over, “Lucas, please. You and that boy of yours have been through hell over the past few weeks. There are a number of people in this town who have been helping out. And for everything that you’ve done for this town, we felt we owed it to you to help out, so don’t go getting mad at anyone. But it is time you knew the real injuries Mark suffered at the hands of the Ortega gang.”
Everyone listened as Doc told them about the concussion, which they had figured when they saw the bullet crease and heard he’d been shot out of the saddle. Doc proceeded to tell how Mark’s ribs weren’t just bruised from the beating, but he’d suffered at least three broken ribs and more than likely had bruised a lung.
Doc continued, “Lucas I know you and Mark talked that first night about what happened, but he needs to talk more. He needs to thoroughly discuss everything and that includes talking about Samuel Gibb’s death. He needs to come to terms with that and the events involving the Ortega Gang and his coming home, finding out you were alive. He needs to face your near-death experience. I don’t think he’s accepted anything yet. This whole ordeal was the worst experience he’s faced in his life. He’s keeping his emotions and his pain bottled up inside, all while trying to take care of you; trying to prove to you he could do it.”
“Doc, how could you… how could everyone have kept all this from me?” Lucas’ voice was raised in anger as he sat forward in his chair.
“Pa, they did it because I asked them,” Mark said as he leaned against the door frame from the bedroom. As Lucas stood to look at his son, he saw tears streaming down his boy’s face. “Pa, they did it because of love. You had been too near death and I saw the way you looked when I first came home. You weren’t alive enough to know the truth.”
“But son, how have you managed to take care of me, yourself, and the ranch in your condition?” Lucas asked, there was pain in his heart as he walked to his son.
“That’s just it Pa, I haven’t. Oh, I took care of you and me that day after I brought you home, but I almost gave up that first night. The next day, I used going to the store as an excuse to get out of the house. I wasn’t holding up as good as I thought I could. I was never more glad to see Uncle Johnny and meet Aunt Colleen than when I did. As far as the ranch, Billy Lehigh and Sam Montgomery have been taking care of it. Mr. Jackford insisted.”
“But you ride out…” Lucas started.
“Yeah, I ride out, but after I meet up with them, I fall asleep for a few hours, they wake me when they’re done, and I ride home.” Mark paused as he saw ‘that’ look in is Pa’s eyes. “Micah almost found out the other day. Pa, we didn’t even tell Micah. I had to lie to keep up the charade so that you could take the time to heal.”
“Mark, I know how much you love me, but this goes way beyond what you should have done. You should have told me. I would have understood…”
“No Pa. You would have insisted on doing things your way and your way would have ended up killing you. This way, you trusted me to be the man you’ve raise me to be and handle the ranch the way you’ve taught me. I’m sorry we hid the truth, but I had always planned to tell you once Doc said you were better. I’m just sorry I couldn’t be the man you raised me to be.” Mark hung his head at the shame he felt. He slipped his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. He was ashamed because he couldn’t help his father the way he felt he needed to.
“Mark, don’t feel ashamed.” Lucas placed his hand to his son’s chin and lifted his son’s face to look at him. “At least you accepted help from those who could help. I’d of been madder at you had you told me you were doing everything by yourself.” Turning to Doc Burrage, “Doc, with everything you’ve told me, I think you have a second patient to examine before you return to town.”
“Glad to hear you say that Lucas.” Doc pushed Mark back into his bedroom, Lucas was quickly on their heels.
Mark was still extremely tender around the ribs and winced painfully as Doc felt to see how they were healing. “As tender as your ribs are, you’ve been doing too much. Well boy, ribs are one of the toughest parts of the body to heal, seeing as how we use the muscles around them all the time. Now that your Pa is feeling better and your secret is out, I want you to take it easy too. I know you’ve been trying to not to do too much, but still… from now on, if you’re going to sleep, how about doing it in your own bed and not on the ground.”
“Yes sir,” Mark answered.
“Now Lucas, I want you and Mark to enjoy the day while everyone’s here, but tonight, you two need to talk. And I mean talk. Don’t hold anything back, if you need to, cry, that’s the best release for emotions, once the words are spoken.”
“We’ll do that Doc. Thank you,” Lucas said as he walked Doc to his buggy.
After Doc left, Lou and Colleen busied themselves preparing to make breakfast for the group. Johnny and Drako headed out take care of all the horses and do some of the chores in the barn. Mark came out to milk the cow. Lucas obeyed the doc to still take it easy, but he felt he at least could help out by collecting eggs and taking them back to the house. As for chopping wood, Johnny took care of that responsibility, and both he and Drako carried in several armloads.
The women had cooked a massive breakfast by the time they were done; scrambled eggs, sausage gravy over biscuits, and strong coffee. The mood of the group lightened the more they talked. Laughter abounded in the house, as family and friends enjoyed each other’s company. After breakfast, Lou and Colleen shooed the men out of the house for the day, said if any man remained in the house after five minutes, they would surely be put to work cleaning. The men quickly left the house to let the women do as the felt they needed.
Johnny and Drako re-saddled their horses and hitched the team for Mark and Lucas. The group rode out together. As they came to Mark’s meeting place, Billy and Sam were already there waiting, standing by their horses, both trying to figure out what to say when they saw Lucas.
Lucas climbed down from the buckboard and held his hand out to both of them, “Men, I just want to thank you for what you’ve done for me and my boy. I appreciate it. I won’t insult you by offering to pay you, but if Oat wants to be reimbursed for your wages…”
“He won’t hear of it Lucas. And you’re welcome.” Sam and Billy shook Lucas’ hand and then turned to mount up. “Mark do you need us to help out today?”
“Na, I think I’ve got it handled, but if you don’t mind helping out on Tuesday? I’ll see how I feel after then.”
“No problem Mark, enjoy your day!” Billy and Sam waved as they rode off.
The group was pleased to see that Billy and Sam had done a good job in keeping things in order out on the range. There was an occasional break in the fence line that they fixed, but with cattle, things can happen from one day to the next. The found a few calves had gotten them selves tangled up in a briar patch and needed rescuing before they returned to the ranch house by mid afternoon.
Lou and Colleen had spent the whole day cleaning the ranch house from top to bottom. They washed the curtains from the windows and washed the windows as well. When they were finished mopping the floors, they put all the furniture back where it originally was. Once they were done cleaning, they started preparing supper. They were quite a sight as the men came in, kerchiefs wrapped around their hair and dirty aprons over their dresses.
Lou shrieked, “No ye don’t! Each and every one of ye stay outside and clean yerselves up in the basin out back and then clean yer boots off before ye enter!
Colleen continued when Lou stopped to take a deep breath, “We’ll not have you ruin all our hard work with your acting like a bunch of drovers with no manners!
They both stood with one hand on a hip and the other hand pointing the men back out the door. They laughed as they saw the indignant expression on the men’s faces.
The men returned to the house once they were cleaned up. They smelled the aroma of chicken and dumplings. Micah rode out from town to join the group over supper. As he sat down at the table he warily looked over to Mark.
“Micah, I’m sorry we hid the truth from you too,” Mark stated when he was the lawman looking at him.
“Doc told me all about it this morning. But don’t let there be a next time,” Micah’s voice hinted at a warning, but his eye’s shone bright with relief.
They all sat down and enjoyed the wonderful meal that Colleen had fixed and Lou even made her infamous chocolate cake. The adults stepped to the porch to enjoy a final cup of coffee while Mark insisted on clearing the table and doing the dishes.
After their guests bid good night to Lucas and Mark, they left to return to town.
After waving goodbye to their friends, Lucas and Mark stayed on the porch. It was time to have the talk they had promised Doc they would have. They talked well into the night. Mark didn’t hold his emotions back. He knew his Pa was well enough to hear everything that had happened. Lucas pointed out passages from the bible that he hoped would help his boy understand and offer him some comfort. Their conversation was the release that Mark had been waiting for and had desperately needed. Tears rolled down his face as he spoke; he felt relief. A burden of dealing with Samuel Gibbs’ death and finding his Pa practically dead, and keeping all his emotions locked up inside, had been lifted from his shoulders.
Mark finished talking and looked out over the darkened landscape, and slightly startled when he felt his Pa’s hand upon his shoulder.
“There’s something else, isn’t there?” Lucas queried.
Looking into the face of his beloved Pa, Mark quietly answered, “Yes sir.”
Lucas raised an eyebrow when his son didn’t continue.
“Pa, I understand now why you were so reluctant to buy me a rifle when I begged for one as a child.”
“Do you son?”
“There’s so much more responsibility involved than I would have thought. I thought it was just a rifle.”
“What else is there?” Lucas asked.
“Knowing when and how to use it, but…more so…” Mark quieted and Lucas waited. “Dealing with the consequences of your emotions as a result of your actions… I shot one of the outlaws…when they were beating you up. I…I wanted to protect you…get those men away from you… But now…”
“Now you feel guilty?” Lucas asked with compassion in his voice.
“Pa, with everything else… Wanting to avenge your death and shooting that man… I don’t know if I deserve to own a rifle.”
“Mark, that statement by itself proves to me that you are more than ready to own a rifle. You’ll think twice before going of half-cocked and doing something that could ruin your life,” Lucas replied and pulled his son closer to him.
Lucas decided he needed to tell his son his own fears, he continued by telling his son how the Ortega gang had rode onto their property and surprised him. Lucas paused before he continued telling of what happened when he first woke, how he feared the others were lying to him, “Son, deep down, I feared you were dead as each time I woke and you weren’t there. I wanted to die, but…”
“But what, Pa?” Mark hesitantly asked.
Lucas fondly remembered his beloved. “Before I regained consciousness, I had a dream… Your ma told me I needed to live for you. She said I couldn’t leave you alone, that I had to fight to live because you needed me. But you weren’t there… I thought I hadn’t fought hard enough…”
“Pa, I do need you. I thought I could be the man you raise me to be, but…” again Mark’s guilt made its presence known.
“Son, you are becoming the man I raised you to be, but you’re not quite there yet. I don’t expect you to be able to take care of this place by yourself, or to take care of yourself and me, while we were both in the shape we were in. From what everyone has said, I couldn’t be prouder of the way you’ve handled yourself after we returned home. But we will have words regarding your trailing after those outlaws, later.”
It was well after midnight when they finished talking. “Pa, I am sorry for everything, for keeping from you my true feelings in losing Grandpa. In not talking with you in a way that you could offer me help in working through my emotions regarding what happened when I was trailing the Ortega Gang, and most of all from keeping how much I was hurting from you and hiding how much everyone was helping out. But, I knew you weren’t well enough to help me through all of this. I really missed not being able to talk with you, but tonight…”
“Mark, I know deep down that you were right in what you did this past week, but as your father…” Lucas hesitated, now was not the time to chastise his son. Now was the time to show a father’s love. “Just know that I love you.”
They walked back into their home and got ready for bed. As Mark lay down, he turned and asked, “Pa, you think you’re well enough to tuck me into bed tonight?”
Lucas hadn’t turned down the lamp and looked over to his boy; there was a gleam in Mark’s eyes that had been missing since he’d return. Lucas knew then that all was well between him and his boy. “At sixteen, don’t you think you’re a little too old for that?”
“Never! When I think about almost losing you, I’ll be glad to stay your little boy, even if I grow up to be six-foot, five.”
Johnny and Colleen stayed in North Fork for another week, helping out at the McCain ranch, before they decided to say goodbye. Doc Burrage had finally lifted all his restrictions from Lucas and stated that Mark’s ribs were really beginning to heal. Mark would probably be sore for another month, but it was going to be a good soreness. As they stood at the stage, Johnny Gibbs spoke, “Lucas, you’ve raise one fine son in Mark. I’m sure if Margaret were here, she’d be proud.”
“Thanks Johnny. You just make sure you love that wife of yours like there’s no tomorrow. And keep in touch.”
Lucas and Mark stepped back as the stage pulled out and they waved goodbye. They turned and walked over to the hotel where they planned to join Micah, Drako, and Lou for lunch.
Samuel Gibbs was introduced in “Old Man Running”
U.S. Marshal Sam Buckhart was introduced in “The Indian” and “The Raid”
Billy Lehigh & Sam Montgomery are introduced in “Home Ranch.” Both are ranch hands for Oat Jackford.