The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 13 (by BluewindFarm)

Synopsis:  An AU look at the lives of the McCains and their friends after the end of the series’ five-year run.  A continuing saga of an idea that began in my story, Timing.

Category:  The Rifleman
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  52,520


The Next Generation… Chapter 65 – The Stranger

The son stood over the grave marked Madilyn Willdrow. There weren’t too many people who attended her funeral on that hot day at the end of May; just the town’s doctor, the preacher and his wife, a few women from the church, the sheriff, the grave diggers, and her son. As the son turned away from the grave, the sheriff spoke, “Oliver, we’re sorry you didn’t make it back in time to say your goodbyes proper. Your Ma, she really tried to hang on until you could get home.”

“Don’t matter anymore. She can finally be at peace,” Oliver replied.

“Oliver, if you’d like,” the preacher’s wife spoke. “I can help you go through your Ma’s belongings and what you don’t want…”

“Thank you Mrs. Armsted, but I can to do it by myself.”

*****

The walk from the cemetery to the house, that had once been his home, took longer than he remembered it normally took. Memories from his childhood ran through his head as he walked with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jacket, not looking at the others on the streets. He stepped up onto the porch and stopped in front of the door. Slowly, he turned the knob to open the door, hoping other memories wouldn’t hit him like floodwaters. The house was like it had been, the last time he’d been home. Nothing had been moved. He walked over and pushed the rocking chair in the corner, remembering all the times when he was younger when his Ma had rocked him to try to quiet his tears. The questions he always asked, “What was Pa like? Why did Pa leave us? All the other boys at school had fathers, why not me?”

The rhythmic creaking of the rocking chair brought his mother’s words to mind, “Your father is a good man. He had other responsibilities that prevented him from staying with us. I couldn’t ask him to stop being who he was, just for us. There are others out there who needed him more.”

“But he don’t write or send money to help out?” young Oliver asked.

“I don’t expect him to. Oliver, your father is a kind, gentle man, but there are those out there, who if they knew you were his son, would possibly hurt you, just to get to him. This has to be our secret. Lucas McCain would be so proud of you.”

“Proud? The man has a son he never cared about. Never asked about,” the adult Oliver spoke bitterly aloud.

His thoughts returned to his childhood, the taunting the other children had done because he had no father. As he grew older, he became sullen and spiteful, mad at the other boys for having fathers. ‘One day, one day… I’ll find out why he abandoned us!’ Oliver remembered saying as a young man.

*****

Oliver was seventeen years old when he left home. He remembered the morning not quite ten years before, telling his Ma he was going to find Lucas McCain, his father.

“You can’t!” she cried. Her voice held a hint of fear that Oliver didn’t understand.

“Why not? He’s my father. I have a right to know who he is! I have a right to know why he abandoned us!” the young Oliver replied.

“Oliver, I promised him. You were never supposed to know who your father was,” his Ma pleaded. “Your life would be in danger if others found out you were his son. Please, just forget you’re his son. You’re all I have left!”

“Then why? Why all these years have you told me who he was?”

“Because I had hoped you would grow up to be just like him, if you knew what kind of a man he was. Kind and compassionate,” his Ma stated as she averted her eyes.

“Kind and compassionate? I am who I am because he abandoned us. He left you to fend for us on your own. I watched you toil from sun up to sun down trying to provide. You’re old before your time. You were beautiful when you were younger. Why didn’t you ever remarry? You could have married someone else before I was old enough to know better.”

“Oliver, you don’t understand!” she pleaded.

“Then explain it to me. How can you love a man who doesn’t love you enough to care about the son he seeded inside you?”

“What are you saying?” his mother asked.

“I’ve heard the people talking. I’ve heard what the women in town say about you, you and your bastard child. Tell me Mother, am I a bastard? Were you a whore working in some saloon?!”

To this day, Oliver still felt the sting from the slap across his face.

*****

Oliver walked to the bedroom that had been his Ma’s. With barely a touch, the door opened. After her body had been taken, someone had tidied up the room. The bed was made and the pillows placed prettily at the headboard. The sun shone through the window onto the bed. At the foot of the bed was a chest his Ma never let him look inside. She said those were ‘her memories’ and she wanted to keep them that way. Oliver pulled the chest away from the foot of the bed and raised the lid as he sat down on the floor.

First to be pulled out was his Ma’s favorite springtime hat, with its yellowed lace. Next were her ‘go to church’ gloves. From under the quilt, he remembered his Ma having sewed, he pulled out a bible. Oliver didn’t remember this bible; it wasn’t worn as the bible he remembered his Ma carrying to and from church or reading from of an evening. He opened the cover and saw listed on the first page the bible belonged to Madilyn Carson. He ran his finger down the page and read each event listed and stopped as he read, Horace Willdrow and Madilyn Carson, married and the date.

‘Almost two years before I was born?’ Oliver thought to himself.

The next entry listed was Oliver Lionel Willdrow, born, and the date. The following entry, just thirty days later noted, Horace Willdrow, deceased. ‘Who was this Horace Willdrow?’ Oliver asked himself, he didn’t understand.

He looked back into the chest and saw other books. He pulled one out and opened it to find it was a journal, evidently one of several journals his mother had kept. He lifted out each journal and briefly scanned through the pages, until he found the journal that corresponded to the year of her wedding to Horace Willdrow. Oliver read of their courtship and their subsequent engagement. His mother wrote of her feelings towards Horace, though he was a number of years older than her, she fell in love with him. She told of church socials and picnics and of spending time together. Oliver found the entry for the day she had married Horace. She wrote of how nervous she had felt as she stood in front of their family and friends and listened as the preacher finally pronounced them husband and wife.

She wrote of the shivaree that followed that evening. They both knew it would come, so they had talked of their future while they waited. She wrote of it being close to midnight before their friends arrived for the fun.

At first, all the entries conveyed the love his mother felt for the man she married. He sat for hours reading of his Ma’s inner thoughts. But during the second year of her marriage, the tone of her writings changed, she became worried. She wrote that, as their crops failed that year due to a drought, Horace had become obsessed with their failure. How he started to avoid going to church, yelling, “How can you go to church and ‘praise be’ to a God who lets our crops fail?” But he still tries to provide for us.

One entry drew Oliver’s attention, How do I tell my husband the news? I can only dream that, maybe, maybe the life that I am carrying inside me will bring him from his dark despair. Oh, how I pray my news will return Horace to being the happy man I married.

The next entry was written and Oliver saw evidence of tear stains on the page, I told Horace we had been blessed with a miracle from God and that I was carrying his child. I love him so dearly, but he’s not the man I wed. I never thought the man I married and loved could be so heartless and cruel. He called me a ‘whore’ and said I was good for nothing but sucking the life out of him. God, please send someone to help me, I can’t live like this anymore!”

After that, her writings took on a scared tone, writing how Horace had taken to drinking and staying out late at the saloon. She wrote of what little money they had, he spent on whiskey. He had become even more bitter towards her.

The following entries Oliver read of the battle going on within his Ma. Her love for the life that she carried within her and the fear for the man who shared her bed. Through her belief in God, leaving him was not an option.

Finally he came to the entry for the day he was born. Horace was nowhere to be heard or seen when the first contractions hit. Thankfully, a friend from church stopped by and went for the doctor. For a day and a half, I struggled in labor to bring this new life into the world. Oliver Lionel Willdrow, my son. My friend Maria was at my side the whole time, after she brought the doctor. The pain of labor was nothing like I expected, but even though it’s only been a few hours since my son came into this world, the memory of the pain is fading. My husband doesn’t even know of Oliver’s birth. Dear God, why can’t you erase the pain Horace is feeling and allow my husband to be the man he was when I married him?

The entry for the next day read, Horace finally came home. He left as soon as he heard Oliver crying.

The following entries noted a mother’s love for her baby, the feelings as she placed her son to her breast and gave him sustenance. She described the feelings and the yearnings deep within her. She wrote of her curiosity, Is this just me or do all new mothers experience the same rapture? I don’t want to remove him from my breast.

Though it embarrassed Oliver to read such personal thoughts from his mother, he couldn’t put the journals down.

This new life relies on me for everything, so innocent is my son. How can Horace be so uncompassionate?

Then Oliver came to the entry, thirty days after his birth. Horace beat me today. I didn’t have supper on the table when he came home. I had spent the day enjoying my son and lost track of the time. I tried to take Oliver and run away, but he chased me down. Oliver was lying on the ground, wrapped in his blanket as I tried to protect him, while Horace beat me. Then a stranger rode up. He pulled Horace off me. I cowered and crawled away carrying my son, praying to God that he took no hurt. I looked to the two men and watched as Horace drew his pistol and started to aim it at the stranger. The stranger was fast, he didn’t even shoulder his rifle before he fired it at Horace. I watched as life left my husband’s eyes. But he had stopped being my husband a long, long time ago.

The stranger ran to Horace and placed his ear to his chest. Then I saw the man slam his fist to the ground and cry out ‘I didn’t mean to kill him!’ and hung his head, as if in shame.

The man stood and walked to me. He helped me to my feet and then to the house and saw me to my bedroom. He told me to lie down with my child. He said that he was going to take care of the body and ride to town to request the doctor come to our home. Then he closed the door.

I cried while the stranger was gone. But it wasn’t for my dead husband. It was because I was relieved the nightmare was over. Should I be condemned for such thoughts?

While the doctor tended to me, the stranger stayed. I could hear him outside chopping wood. I heard his boots walking across the floor and putting the wood in the bin beside the fireplace. In time the doctor left, but the stranger was still here. He told me his name was Lucas McCain and that he had stopped by to request permission to graze a few of his cattle on our land for the night. He apologized for killing my husband. I could see how grieved he was for me, a stranger.

He fixed me a stew for supper and tended to my son and put him in his cradle for the night. I saw a longing in this man’s eyes for something… Maybe something he wished could be for himself. Maybe he wished he too could know the joys of holding his own child in his arms.

The next entry was the following day.

The stranger stayed in the barn last night. I told him there was a cot he could bring into the front room, but he declined. Said it wouldn’t be proper. This morning, Lucas knocked on the bedroom door to let me know breakfast was ready. Over breakfast, I don’t know why, but I told this stranger of who Horace had once been. He was so apologetic that he had killed my husband. Then he told me of his wife back in Enid. That they had only been married a short time. He told of how he was taking some of their cattle to market in hopes of earning enough money to make it through their first winter together. He spoke so lovingly of his wife. I could see that his heart was good because of the compassion he showed to me. God, please forgive me for my thoughts, but how I wish Lucas McCain could be the father of my son.

The following entries wrote of Madilyn wishing her son to know a kind and compassionate man as his father, not the man her husband had become. Oliver continued to read and found a journal entry, dated two weeks later that told of how Madilyn had packed up what few belongings she possessed, and with her son, ventured further west to find a new home where the horrible memories weren’t present and she could raise her child with none the wiser. I leave Horace and all his memories behind. Today, I start a new life with my son. From today forward Lucas McCain will be the father I tell my son about. In between the pages of the journals he would occasionally find yellowed newspaper articles and the stories were about Lucas McCain.

‘My life’s been a lie? Lucas McCain, the man I believed all my life was my father, in truth killed my father?’ Oliver struggled to comprehend.

As he looked further into the other journals his mother had kept, he found more recent newspaper clippings written by a William Walsh about The Rifleman, Lucas McCain and his son, The Lawman. And the town they called home, North Fork, New Mexico. After reading the articles, anger welled deep within Oliver. Anger over the lies his mother had told him his entire life. Anger that his mother had not stood up with her husband when times turned hard. Anger that she was ‘thankful’ her husband was dead. Anger that a stranger had killed his father. He felt hatred that the man who had killed his father had gone on to sire a son and never looked back to the pain he had so callously caused.

“My life could have been so different if it weren’t for you, Rifleman. I’ll make you pay. You’ll pay for ruining my life!”

Oliver crumpled the newspaper articles and left the house. He mounted his horse and rode to the nearest town with a train station. He purchased a one-way ticket for him and his horse to North Fork.

*****

Even as pregnant as she was, Lou had planned a big celebration for her daughter’s third birthday. All their friends were present and having a wonderful time. Throughout the afternoon, Lou just had to cuddle each baby who had been born the previous month.

‘’Just a few more months and ye’ll have another wee babe of your own to hold in your arms,” Johnny stated, trying to mimic Lou’s Irish brogue, as Lou handed baby Steven back to his mother, Abigail.

“Are ye mocking me husband?” Lou demanded.

“Only to see that Irish temper of yours surface, because…”

“No you don’t. I’m pregnant with yer child because of the last time ye got me riled,” Lou quietly retorted.

Johnny leaned to Lou’s ear and whispered, “Admit it. You enjoyed me getting you all riled up the last time.”

As Johnny stood straight, he enjoyed watching the cheeks of his wife’s face turn red as she blushed.

*****

Mark stepped to the porch of the hotel and took a deep breath as he surveyed the main street of town. He leaned against one of the posts and rested his head against it.

“Everything okay, son?” Lucas asked as he came out to stand next to Mark. He saw the expression on Mark’s face as he left the restaurant.

“Yeah, just felt like I needed to step out for a breath of fresh air. Speaking of fresh air, I thought you gave those up?” Mark inquired as Lucas pulled out a hidden cigar.

“I did, but Milly understands that ‘occasionally’ I need to enjoy one,” Lucas said as he lit the cigar and placed it to his lips, inhaling deeply. “You know, the more time between, the less I seem to enjoy them.”

*****

Sunday morning dawned with Mark still feeling like he needed some fresh air. Quietly he slipped from bed and dressed. Before leaving their bedroom, a smile came to his face as he looked back at his sleeping wife and his daughter. He closed the door and went to check on their sons, watching as their chests rose and fell as they peacefully slept. Mark closed the door as he went to start his morning chores.

While working on his chores, something kept tugging at Mark, something important that he shouldn’t have forgotten. He cringed as he remembered losing track of the dates and forgetting his anniversary. Mark set the pitch fork against the stall wall and walked over to the calendar that hung nailed to the wall. He crossed off the previous day and realized it was June third.

Aloud Mark spoke, “That’s why.” Mark cast his eyes down. “I’m sorry Ma. It’s been eighteen years.” He turned and walked to the corral to catch Copper. Mark led his horseback into the barn and saddled him. Without a note to anyone, Mark rode to the pond.

*****

Lucas was enjoying breakfast with his family when they heard a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Lucas called and saw Hope open the door to enter.

“Is Mark over here?” she asked.

“I haven’t seen him today,” Lucas replied.

“His chores are done but…”

“Lucas!” Milly spoke as she put her hand to her mouth.

“Yes?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, today… Last night, at the hotel, you said that Mark seemed a little reserved.”

“He did for a little while, but he was fine later…”

“Lucas, today is June third.”

The three looked at each other in understanding, then Lucas left the house.

*****

Lucas saddled Blade and rode to the pond, where he was sure he would find Mark.

“Morning Pa,” Mark said without looking over his shoulder.

“Would you prefer to be alone?” Lucas asked as he walked up behind his son.

“No sir.”

“You were thinking about today, last night at the hotel, weren’t you?”

“Guess so. It just struck me that there were too many people around and I needed some air. Then this morning, when I was finishing my chores… It’s been a long time since today has struck me this… hard. It’s been eighteen years…” Tears choked Mark’s voice.

Lucas set down next to his son and watched the trees sway in the morning breeze. “Is there something else bothering you?”

“Guilt,” Mark replied.

“Guilt? Why would you feel guilty?”

“In a way, I guess I was feeling jealous of Gabby. I was six and a half when we lost Ma and Gabby’s now six and a half. Now Pa, I don’t wish anything to happen to Miss Milly, I love her as if she were my Ma. In fact, she’s been my Ma for longer than my real Ma was. I don’t know how to explain what I’m really feeling… It’s just… This is the first time since I graduated from school that I really miss her.”

“I think I understand. I’ll probably understand better when I’ve been married to Milly longer than I was to your Ma. I do know your Ma would be just as proud of you as I am. You’ve grown to become a man that neither of us could have imagined.”

“I’m not looking back, Pa. I just wanted to talk with her, out here. Tell her about her grandsons, her granddaughter, and Hope.”

Lucas waited for his son to continue.

“Pa, thank you.”

“For what?” Lucas asked.

“For being my Pa,” Mark said as he got to his feet. “Probably should head home so our wives don’t worry anymore than necessary.”

“Good idea.”

*****

The following morning, Oliver quietly stepped from the train and retrieved his horse and gear from the stock car and rode into North Fork. He stopped at the saloon. After ordering a beer, he grabbed a couple of chairs in the corner, sat in one and propped his feet upon the other as he drank from the glass. He watched, waited, and listened.

Later that afternoon, Oliver visited the general store and picked up supplies that he needed. While he waited, Mrs. Donner idly talked with Mrs. Porter about how her family was doing. When Mrs. Porter left, Oliver approached the counter and said “Good morning.”

Mrs. Donner, realizing he was new in North Fork started a pleasant conversation with him. She thought nothing of the questions the man asked about the town and its marshals. While she filled his order, she bragged on the three very capable marshals that protected the town. She told of Johnny Drako, the former gunslinger, turned deputy and eventually became North Fork’s marshal. She told of Mark McCain and how he had become a deputy for the town, and then a deputy U.S. Marshal and finally a territorial U.S. Marshal, and then Seth Lane, former Major for the United States Army and now a deputy for North Fork.

“Sounds mighty comforting to know this town has such fine lawmen looking out for her,” Oliver spoke.

“It sure is. We still have outlaws who try to come through and cause trouble. But, our marshals see that justice is served.”

As Oliver paid for his supplies, he commented, “Yep, mighty fine town.”

“We’re a growing community and always eager to welcome people who want to call North Fork home,” Mrs. Donner called as Oliver left the store. He placed his supplies in his saddle bags and returned to the saloon.

*****

Of an evening, Oliver would ride from town and make camp, he’d found an old abandoned shack to stay in, only to return to the saloon of a morning. So was his routine for the next few days, until he heard a voice call out, “Morning Lucas, Mark! How are things at the ranch?”

‘So,’ Oliver thought to himself. ‘That’s him, the man who murdered my father and turned my mother against him. Mr. Rifleman, just wait, you are going to pay dearly for what you’ve done.’

Oliver watched as Mark waved to Lucas and rode on to the Marshal’s Office.

*****

While in North Fork, Oliver would walk the town, talking with various folks, making himself seem real likable. He talked with Johnny Gibbs at the hardware store, and with Nils at the livery. He even spoke with John Hamilton at the bank about possibly calling North Fork home. He’d join in the laughter as different ranch hands would come into town and spend some of their hard earned money at the saloon. Always listening for when the topic of the conversations would turn to the McCain’s.

As the days passed, he was more obsessed with Mark’s coming and goings from town. His anger to Lucas McCain was firm, but inside him, his mind sought a different path for his revenge. He no longer felt that killing Lucas McCain would be adequate for the murder of his father. He wanted to make Lucas McCain suffer, to take something from Lucas, no someone… Finally Oliver knew what he was going to do. He was going to make Lucas McCain watch his son die.

A week after having arrived, Oliver decided to put his thoughts into action, he watched as Mark left the Marshal’s Office and headed to the gunsmith’s shop.

*****

“Hi Angus,” Mark called as he entered.

“Mark, good afternoon. How can I help you today?”

“Was wondering if you could take a look at my rifle. I think the firing pin might be bent. It just doesn’t feel like it normally does.”

“Oh?”

“I was heading over to the Mapleton’s place to check in on them and I saw a couple of rabbits, thought Mrs. Mapleton might appreciate it and fix a rabbit stew for the family…”

“You missed your shot?” Angus asked, surprised.

“You know me better than that. But my rifle felt… sluggish,” Mark replied.

“Okay, Mark. I’ll take a look at it. I can’t do it right this minute, but it’ll be ready for you by supper tonight.”

“I was getting ready to head home,” Mark answered.

“I can loan you a similar rifle… And then you can come get yours the next time you’re in town.”

“Sure, Angus. Thanks.”

Mark left his rifle and took the one Angus offered him. He returned to his horse, standing at the hitching rail in front of the Marshal’s Office. As he mounted, he placed the loaner rifle in his scabbard, then he waved to Johnny and Seth inside and rode out of town.

*****

Mark was halfway home, when he felt a searing pain across his temple. It was only as he fell from Copper that he heard the shot. Mark was unconscious before he hit the ground.

*****

Oliver rode to the scene as Copper ran away. Stepping from his horse, Oliver walked to where Mark lie on the ground, he knelt and turned him over. Realizing the bullet only grazed Mark’s temple, Oliver reached down and removed the badge from Mark’s shirt and tossed it aside. Thinking he heard a rider approaching, he drug Mark over to his horse and slung him across the saddle. He grabbed Mark’s hat from the dirt and then climbed back on his horse and rode away.

The sun was starting to set when Oliver dropped Mark from in front of him and set up camp. As he drank his coffee, he sat and contemplated how he was going to handle ‘Mark McCain’ when he woke. What would his story be about the wound and where they were? How would he get Mark to where the Rifleman would watch him die?

*****

It was night when Mark woke and tried to pick himself up off the ground. He placed his hand to his head and pulled it away to see blood on his fingers. From behind he heard, “How you feeling?”

Mark looked around and saw a man sitting on his heels next to a fire, drinking from a cup.

“Head hurts. What happened?” Mark asked.

“Don’t you remember?”

Taking a moment to think, Mark replied, “No.” Then Mark asked, “Do I know you?”

Knowing that they didn’t know each other, yet being curious, “You’re joking, right?” Oliver asked.

“Joking? I don’t think so. I…” Mark put his hand to his head again and let out a moan.

“Come on Mark, get some coffee into you. I’m sure you’ll feel better,” Oliver offered.

“My name’s Mark?”

“Quit funnin’. Of course your name’s Mark.”

“I ain’t funnin’. I… I don’t remember…”

“What do you mean, you don’t remember?” Oliver asked, intrigued.

“I just don’t remember. There’s nothing prior to waking up a few minutes ago. You said my name’s Mark?” The expression on Mark’s face indicated the struggle he was experiencing in trying to remember. “Mark what?”

Oliver looked to Mark as another plan fell into place. He thought to himself, ‘He don’t remember who he is, this couldn’t get any better.’ Then aloud he stated, “You don’t remember that my name’s Oliver Willdrow and your name’s Mark… Marcus Cordel. And that we been partners for three years.”

“Partners?” Mark asked.

“You really don’t remember?” Oliver asked.

“No, honest. Marcus Cordel? It doesn’t mean anything to me,” Mark said as he stood and walked over and took a cup of coffee from Oliver.

“What happened to my head?” Mark asked as he pulled his shirt tail and dabbed it at the bullet wound.

“We was riding away from the last hold up in Clay City. One in the posse shot your horse out from under you and another did that.” Oliver stated as he used this hand holding his coffee cup and pointed towards Mark’s head. “You’ve barely been able to stand on your own since yesterday. We’ve been riding double,” Oliver stated as he grinned.

“I’m an outlaw?” Mark asked.

“Yep, there’s a two thousand dollar bounty on both our hides,” Oliver replied. He hid his grin behind his coffee cup.

“Two thousand?” Mark pressed the heel of his hand to his head, wishing the throbbing would cease.

“Well, if you’re up to it, we best ride to the old shack I know about, outside of North Fork.”

“North Fork?” Mark asked.

“Come on. Maybe after another good night’s sleep you’ll get to remembering.”

Still suffering a headache, Mark climbed onto the horse, behind Oliver, to head to their hideout. As they rode, he inquired about the money.

“Figure it’s on its way back to the bank. It was in your saddlebags,” Oliver replied.

“What about my gun?”

“Told you it was a fool thing to rely on a rifle all the time. It was in the scabbard of your saddle when your horse went down.”

Nothing Oliver told him sounded familiar.

*****

As he lay on the bunk at the hideout, the pain from his headache caused Mark to eventually pass out. When he woke in the morning, his memories were still blank, but at least his headache wasn’t as bad.

*****

Hope wasn’t worried when Mark didn’t return home as normal, there had been times when his work had kept him late and he stayed in town and traveled home the following morning. When he didn’t arrive by mid-morning, Hope talked with Milly and shared her concerns. When Lucas returned to his home for lunch, he was informed of Hope’s concerns. Knowing how uncharacteristic it was for his son, Lucas told the women he’d head into town. As he led Blade from the barn, he saw a rider coming down the road, leading a second horse.

“Lehigh, what…” Lucas started to ask, but stopped as he realized the second horse was Copper.

“Lucas, guess you confirmed my suspicions. This IS Mark’s horse.”

“It is. Where’d you find him?”

“I was riding into town this afternoon and saw him standing to the side of the road.” Billy spoke as Lucas looked Copper over.

“He doesn’t look lame and Mark’s rifle is still…” Lucas quieted as he saw a blood stain on Copper’s neck.

“I looked around for a little while, but I didn’t see any signs of…” Billy stopped talking as Hope and Milly came from the house.

“Lucas, is it?” Milly asked.

Lucas nodded as he took hold of Copper’s reins and mounted Blade. He rode away with Billy.

*****

Billy Lehigh showed Lucas exactly where he had found Mark’s horse. Lucas tied Copper’s reins to the saddle horn, before he stepped from Blade and began searching the area. Getting back in the saddle, he back tracked Copper’s hoofprints and found where it appeared a body had laid. Both men stepped from their horses and took a good look around. As Lucas knelt down, he noticed the blood stain in the dirt. He followed the trail of what looked like a body being drug and…

“Lucas?” Billy asked. “I got something over here.”

Lucas stood and walked to where Billy was kneeling. “What is it?”

“I think its Mark’s badge,” Billy replied as he picked it up and handed it to Lucas.

Lucas turned it over in his hand and noticed the pin wasn’t bent, indicating it probably wasn’t ripped off Mark’s shirt.

Both stood up and Lucas called Mark’s name, several times. Each time, waiting to hear a response.

“I don’t know. Let’s get to town and see if maybe Mark is there.”

He gathered Blade’s reins and swung up into the saddle.

*****

Upon their arrival at the Marshal’s Office, Lucas asked if either of them had seen Mark.

“Seen Mark?” Seth asked. “Not since he left for home yesterday.”

“Nothing happen here in town that…” Lucas started to say.

“Lucas, spit it out,” Johnny Drako interrupted.

“He didn’t make it home last night or today,” Lucas answered. “And Billy brought his horse to the ranch after lunch.”

“I was riding into town for a few supplies.” Billy continued, “And when I took Lucas back to where I found Copper, we trailed him and found Mark’s badge lying next to some bushes.”

“You sure there wasn’t any trouble in town that would have kept Mark…” Lucas saw both Johnny and Seth shake their heads. “Then I don’t understand, where could he be and why discard his badge?”

“Lucas, there’s always the chance that he might have had to quickly get rid of his badge. He could have seen someone who had a wanted poster on them,” Johnny stated.

“He’s a Marshal! Even so, if that were the case, then why leave his horse. If for some reason Copper was spooked away, wouldn’t we have found Mark, on foot?” Lucas asked.

Looking at the time, Billy said, “I really am sorry, but I need to get the supplies I was riding into town to get for Julie and then need to get home.”

“Go on, Billy. We’ll let you know what we find out,” Drako stated.

“Lucas, I’m sorry. We’ll say a prayer for you and your family,” Billy stated.

“Billy, thank you,” Lucas said as Billy left the Marshal’s.

*****

The three continued to contemplate what had happened to Mark. Lucas inquired about any strangers in town that had kept a particular eye on Mark.

“None that we noticed or any that made trouble,” Seth replied.

“Lucas, ever since the train came to town, there’s all sorts of strangers coming and going,” Johnny stated. “I wonder?… How far away from the train tracks do you think you found Mark’s horse… Could be that if he did come across an outlaw, he’s having to pretend he ain’t a marshal. Could be he had to leave Copper and then got whoever it was to the train.”

“Why the train? Why not bring whoever it was to town and put him in jail?!” Lucas demanded, getting more frustrated.

“Lucas, Mark’s a grown man and he can take care of himself,” Seth stated.

“I know he is, but there was also dried blood on Copper’s neck and dried blood on the ground where someone’s body laid,” Lucas replied.

“Johnny, you want me to ride out to some of the outlying ranches to see if Mark might be there?” Seth asked.

“If he was afoot or hurt, don’t you think someone would have come to town and got Doc?” Johnny answered. “Or the least anyone would have done was to go and get Lucas.”

“You’re right,” Seth answered.

“Lucas, you head on home and we’ll let you know if we find out anything,” Johnny stated. “He could be on business for the U.S. Marshal Service. That’s the trouble with him having two bosses, we just don’t know.”

“Lucas,” Seth started. “The best thing you can do is to get home and try to ease the fears of your wife and my daughter. We’ll send word if we hear anything.”

Not wanting too, but Lucas ultimately agreed. He could only imagine the worries and fears running through Milly’s and Hope’s minds. Lucas rode for home with Copper in tow.

*****

Under the cover of darkness, Oliver dropped Mark off at the outskirts of North Fork and proceeded to ride into town, stopping a ways from the saloon. Slowly, as he walked along the boardwalk, he surveyed the street and then entered the saloon. Carefully, Mark snuck along the boardwalk, backing into the shadows as he heard voices approaching. Finally he made his way to a group of horses tied to a hitching rail and after quietly looking the animals over, he made his choice. He untied the reins and led the horse away, walking it down the street and tying it next to Oliver’s horse.

Next, Mark ran to the gunsmith’s and snuck around back. He broke the window in the back door, reached his hand inside and unlocked the door. In the dark, Mark struck a match and carefully looked over the selection of handguns and holsters. He was stepping to another display case when the flame nipped at his fingers and he fanned out the match. As he struck a new match, he saw a rifle in a rack on the wall. He pulled the rifle down and butted it to his shoulder, perfect fit. He found the drawer for ammunition and took several boxes for the rifle as well as bullets for Oliver’s Colt 45.

Mark heard the door creep open and turned to find Oliver standing, “Come on, Mark! You’re taking too long.”

Together they ran from the gunsmith’s.

*****

Angus was returning to his shop after having supper at home; he wanted to finish the present for Drako that Lou had commissioned. As he walked down the boardwalk he saw two figures running from the shadows and jumping onto horses and riding from town, fast. As he watched the riders go by, he said aloud, “Naw, I’m just imagining things. Guess I’m feeling guilty for working on Mark’s rifle instead of working on Lou’s anniversary gift for Johnny.”

When he reached his shop, Angus unlocked the front door and entered. His walked to his work table and lit the lantern. He turned and walked to the cabinet where he had placed the gun that was to be Johnny’s gift. As he opened the cabinet, he spotted the broken glass on the floor and noticed the back door wasn’t securely closed. Angus quickly turned around and looked the room over, he saw the ammunition drawers hanging open. He quickly walked over and realized several boxes of .45 and .44-40 cartridges were missing. Angus looked around and was relieved that none of the handguns were missing from the display cases. He looked to the rifle and shotgun racks on the walls and his eyes came to rest on an open position in one of the rifle racks — the rack where he had placed Mark’s rifle. He realized Mark’s rifle was missing.

*****

Angus ran from his shop and over to the Marshal’s office. Seeing no one inside, he headed to the Mallory House. Inside he found Seth having a late supper with Lou and Johnny.

“Johnny, my shop was broke into while I was home for supper!” Angus stated as he stopped at their table.

“Anything taken?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah, a few boxes of ammunition and Mark’s rifle.”

“Mark’s rifle?” Seth asked.

“He left it yesterday as he was leaving town. The firing pin was bent. I gave him a loaner rifle until I could get his repaired and he could return to town for his.”

“You don’t suppose?” Seth asked.

“Mark came to town and took his rifle?” Johnny asked, not believing. “If so, where’s he been since yesterday?”

“He knows where I live and if he needed it, all he had to do was come and I’d of opened the shop. No need for him to bust out a window and break into my shop,” Angus stated. “But what do you mean, where’s he been since yesterday?”

“He never made it home. Lucas came to town this afternoon with Billy Lehigh. Billy had found Copper out on the road when he was coming to town.” He refrained from mentioning the dried blood, no need to get Lou all riled.

“Mark’s missing?” Lou asked, in typical Lou fashion. “Ye didn’t tell me Mark’s missing!”

“Lou, we don’t know, exactly that he is missing. He just didn’t make it home yesterday or this morning.”

“Same difference. I declare Johnny Drako!”

“Simmer down, Lou. No need to get you or the baby all riled up.”

“Johnny,” Angus stated. “I saw two men running from the shadows and then riding from town. I thought it might have been my guilt for working on Mark’s rifle, instead of… that maybe, I was imagining things.”

“Why would you be guilty for working on Mark’s rifle?” Johnny asked.

“Oh I, well, I… I had other work that I needed to get done. But, him being a Marshal and all… I put the… That’s why I was going back to my shop tonight,” Angus replied, realizing what he almost said.

“So, what were you imagining?” Seth asked.

“I thought, well, one of the two sure looked as if he could have been Mark. I mean, he looked to be of the same size and build of Mark. I’m not saying it was, because I didn’t get a look at his face,” Angus answered, feeling a little guilty for even implying that Mark might have had anything to do with breaking into his shop.

“Come on, Seth. Let’s go check out Angus’ shop. Lou, I’ll be home later,” Johnny stated as he picked his hat up from the table next to them and left the restaurant.

*****

Johnny, Seth, and Angus entered the gun shop. Angus went to light a few more lanterns. Quickly he hid Johnny’s surprise present, hoping Johnny hadn’t seen it sitting in the open cabinet. Seth picked up what remained of the burned matches from the floor.

“This is where you had Mark’s rifle?” Johnny asked.

“Yes, I put it there, the furthest away from the display area. I just don’t get it. Not too many people would break in to steal a rifle, now hand guns are a different story.”

“Could it be kids pranking?” Seth asked.

“Not from the size of those I saw riding away. They weren’t kids. They was full grown men,” Angus replied.

“Doesn’t make any sense to only take the one rifle,” Johnny commented. “Angus, you need help boarding up your back door?”

“Naw, I can do it. Thanks for coming over.”

*****

As they were leaving the gunsmith’s, Seth asked, “Do we tell Lucas?”

“Tell him what, that in addition to his son possibly missing, now his son’s rifle is missing, and that Angus, in the dark, thought he saw someone who was of the same build as Mark riding down the street after his shop was broken into?” Johnny replied. “Seth, I don’t know what’s going on, but if Mark’s on a case for the U.S. Marshal’s office, the worse thing we can do is interfere.”

“But if he is on a case…” Seth stated. “Amos would have received a wire. We can at least find out?”

After talking with Amos, to hear that it had been some time since Mark had received any wires from the U.S. Marshal’s Service, they were even more perplexed.

“Guess it was too much to hope for. Even if he had been on a case, Mark would still have left word with someone. It just ain’t like him to go off without telling anyone,” Seth stated as he hung his thumbs through his belt loops.

“All we can do is wait,” Johnny stated. “I sure don’t feel like going home tonight and facing Lou.”

“If you stayed at the office, you can sure bet she’d track you down,” Seth replied with half a laugh.

“Yeah.” Johnny said good night as he left to head home.

*****

Seth was just about to retire to the chaise in the office when he heard someone knocking at the door to the office. He opened it to find one of Dave Merar’s men barely able to stand straight, leaning up against the door frame.

“Deputy, someone stole my horse,” he declared.

“Curry, which horse did you ride into town tonight?” Seth asked. If Curry was really listening to Seth, he would have heard the mocking tone of his voice.

“Old Ornery,” Curry replied.

“Old Ornery. And just why do you call him Old Ornery?” Seth asked as he raised his eyebrows.

“Because he’s an ornery…”

“Uh huh,” Seth replied. “Go sleep it off over at the livery tonight. I’m sure Dave will send one of the other hands in to town for you tomorrow. You’ll probably find that your horse got tired of waiting, untied himself, and went back to the ranch. It’s not the first time you’ve reported him stolen after you’ve spent the night drinking.”

Seth shook his head as he watched Curry head to the livery. He blew out the lantern and laid down on the chaise.

*****

The following morning, John Hamilton pulled his watch from his pocket and compared it’s time to the clock on the wall; it was about time to open the bank. As he stood from his desk to walk to the front door, he heard knocks at the back door of the bank. He proceeded to open the back door only to have two masked men force their way inside. They shoved him back towards the safe and ordered him to open it. After he had complied, one of the men struck him over the head with the butt of a rifle, knocking him unconscious. The bandits stuffed the money into their saddle bags and left the bank the same way they had entered. Soon they were racing from town.

*****

Lucas returned to town and was riding by the bank when he saw the bank door open and John Hamilton struggling to walk. He jumped down from Blade and ran to John.

“Easy there, John. What happened?” Lucas asked.

“The bank was robbed. I was just about to open when someone knocked at the back door. There were two of them. They knocked me out after I opened the safe.”

“Come on, let’s get you to Doc’s.”

Lucas assisted John to Doc’s, then headed for the Marshal’s Office.

As he entered, Johnny greeted him, “Lucas, I’m sorry. There’s still no word on Mark.”

“We’ve got bigger problems. I just took John Hamilton over to the clinic. The bank was robbed before he opened this morning.”

Johnny and Seth grabbed their hats and the three of them ran to the clinic. They listened to everything that John had to say about what happened, but one thing struck Johnny and Seth as odd.

“Johnny,” John started. “When the one raised his rifle up to knock me out, I noticed the rapid firing pin, like Lucas’ rifle. Guess someone else figured out how to make it work.”

Seth and Johnny motioned for Lucas to step outside.

“Lucas,” Johnny started.

“So what? I’ve had this long enough and my reputation is out there, about this,” Lucas stated as he held up his rifle. “Bound to happen for someone to try to copy my rifle.”

“That’s not it Lucas,” Seth stated. “Someone broke into Angus’ shop last night. They took ammunition and the only gun missing, was Mark’s.”

“Mark’s? But his was in his scabbard on his saddle,” Lucas replied.

“No, it wasn’t his. I think if you were to ride home and check, you’d see that the rifle is a loaner. Mark left his rifle with Angus before he rode home. Come on let’s go check out the bank,” Johnny said.

They entered to see the safe standing wide open and only a few stray dollar bills remained behind. They headed to the back door and looked at the tracks in the dirt.

“Whoever it was, they waited here for a while,” Johnny stated. “Damn, I wish I knew where Mark was. I need him for the posse, the way he can track.”

“Old friend, you’re forgetting who taught him?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, I can’t ask you to go,” Johnny stated.

“Why not?” Lucas asked.

“With Mark missing, I just don’t feel right. Besides, I need someone to watch the town while I’m out trailing these outlaws.”

“What about your brother-in-law?” Seth asked looking to Lucas.

“Colleen’s too near her time. I can’t ask Johnny to watch the town. I was thinking of Micah. I think Micah just might enjoy wearing the badge again, even if it is only for a little while.”

“Okay, I’ll do it. Seth you go get some supplies ready. Lucas, you’ll need to get word to your family.”

“I’ll head over to the parsonage and send word with Jake.”

“Good, we’ll meet in front of the jail in fifteen minutes.”

Each left to take care of their assigned task. In fifteen minutes, the small posse was riding from North Fork.

*****

The outlaws had been on the run since they robbed the bank. As they ran their horses, they kept an eye out behind them for any signs of pursuit.

As the sun was setting, they stopped their horses for a long breather.

“I can’t believe we’re not being followed,” Mark stated as he looked back the way they came.

“We are. Even if we can’t see their dust cloud, believe me, we’re being followed.”

“How? If they are, they’re so far behind us, our dust cloud has settled,” Mark stated.

“I heard they have a devil tracker living in North Fork. Rumors have it that he trails his quarry and when he catches up with ‘em, he shoots first and no questions are asked.”

Oliver finally convinced Mark their chances of getting away would be better if they split up.

“When and where should we meet up?” Mark asked as they divvied up the money.

Oliver replied, “In two weeks time, let’s plan on meeting in Albuquerque.”

“Albuquerque?”

“Yeah, it’s a big city, north of here, and we can easily get lost in a crowd for a while. Okay, partner? There’s a livery behind a hotel. I think they call the hotel, The Grande.”

“In two weeks then, partner,” Mark replied as he headed west.

Oliver started to head north, but shortly, he changed his direction. Keeping his distance, he followed Mark, anticipating the gunfight that would ensue when Mark became cornered by the posse.

*****

It had been several hours since the posse had left town when Doc Burrage felt that John Hamilton had recovered and was steady enough on his feet, after being knocked unconscious, that he allowed him to leave the clinic. Before John left, he was given strict orders to go home and rest for the remainder of the day.

John’s walk home led him directly past the Marshal’s Office, where he stopped, surprised and pleased to see who Johnny had left in charge, sitting in front of the office, leaning back in a chair.

“How does it feel to be wearing the badge again, Micah?” John called.

“Like an old friend. How are you feeling?”

“Like a fool. Can’t believe I was so naive as to let them in the back door,” John replied.

“Any idea on who they might be?”

“No. They both wore masks over their faces. Guess there’s no fool like an old fool,” John commented.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. They’ll get your money back for you,” Micah stated.

“It’s not my money, Micah. It’s the people’s. I just hope the people will understand.”

“John, you’ve lived in this town long enough, the people know you. They’ll know it wasn’t your fault,” Micah stated.

“Thanks, Micah. I’m gonna follow Doc’s orders and head on home.”

Micah watched John walk away. He could tell that John was upset and embarrassed by what had transpired.

*****

Though Micah wished he could have joined in the posse to track down the outlaws, deep down, he was thankful he wasn’t going to have to spend countless, long hours in the saddle. Age and his past had caught up with him over the last few years. Micah was thankful for all the children he helped Hattie look after at the day care and how they helped keep him feeling younger than he really was.

As Micah walked the town that afternoon, many people stopped him, some stated how good it was to see him behind the badge, others inquired about the posse, and a few, asked where Mark was.

“He probably got caught up in something for the U.S. Marshal’s Service and couldn’t let anyone know. Just keep him in your prayers,” Micah would state as he continued on.

*****

The posse stopped to briefly rest their horses when Lucas lost track of the outlaws’ trail. He stepped from Blade and handed the reins to Seth. Carefully he walked around, looking for any tell-tale sign. He found it.

“Over here!” Lucas called. “They split up! One’s heading north, the other is heading west.”

“Who goes which direction?” Seth asked.

“Two of us should go north, there’s a town about a half days ride. It’ll take two of us to check over the town. There’s nothing west of here until tomorrow evening,” Johnny answered.

“I’ll head west,” Lucas stated. “The terrain becomes more hard pan, the further west we go. It’ll be easier for the two of you to follow the one heading north.”

“Doubting my abilities, Lucas?” Johnny asked.

“No, just know my own. If I lose this one, I’ll plan to meet you two in Willow Springs,” Lucas answered after he finished taking a drink from his canteen and screwed the cap back on.

*****

Still with no memory of who he was, Mark traveled on, keeping to the shadows and off well traveled roads and trying to hide his tracks from those chasing after him. Mark found a quiet brook where he could refill his canteen. As he unscrewed the lid, he looked at his reflection in the water. ‘Ain’t bad looking, but why can’t I remember you?’ Mark asked of himself. ‘Marcus Cordel. Who are you and why an outlaw? What happened to put you on the wrong side of the law?’ He lowered his canteen into the brook and watched as his reflection warped. After the canteen was filled, he raised it to his lips and took a long drink. He wiped the excess water from his mouth by using the back of his hand. He refilled the canteen and screwed the cap back on, then returned to his horse and hung the canteen on his saddle horn. Mark continued to ride, keeping to the brook in an effort to hide his trail.

The heat of the day was fully upon him the next time he stopped. Mark stepped from his horse and unbuttoned his shirt. After looking around, he realized he was going to have to leave the brook and head cross country. But first, from his back pocket he pulled a bandana and soaked it in the water. He then ran the wet bandana over his face, behind his neck, and across his chest. Kneeling down, he dipped the bandana into the brook again before he tied it around his neck, letting the water drip to cool his body. Next, he removed his shirt and soaked it in the brook and put it back on and buttoned it. Finally, he took one last look at his reflection in the water, ‘Well, Marcus Cordel, maybe next time I see you, I’ll remember just who you are.’ With that, he returned to his horse, picked up the reins, and led him on.

*****

Ever since Lucas had split from Johnny and Seth, he followed the tracks. Losing the trail occasionally and working to pick it up again as he circled around.

‘Whoever it was who robbed the bank, he’s good at trying to cover his tracks,’ Lucas thought to himself. ‘But not quite good enough.’

Finally, he came to the location where the rider first stopped at the brook. He realized the tracks never left the brook and decided to head upstream, seeing as how that was the general direction the outlaw had been riding. In time, he found a heel print indicating where the rider stepped from his horse and knelt down. Looking around, Lucas followed the boot prints where the rider led his horse away from the water.

*****

It had been almost a day and a half since he had helped rob the bank; he had only eaten jerky and wild berries, but he hadn’t slept since. Ever so vigilant about the posse after him, Mark was constantly on the alert. His headache had returned earlier in the day, but try as he might, it just wouldn’t go away. Mark finally came to a spot he felt was secluded enough. He tied his horse in a thicket of trees and climbed up into a rock outcropping. He laid his rifle across his lap as he sat down. In no time, he gave into the fatigue and was asleep.

Hours later, he woke to the sound of an approaching horse snorting. Grabbing his rifle he looked over the outcropping of rocks where he was hiding. Long shadows played across the landscape. He brought his rifle to bear on a tall man riding alone, reins in one hand, rifle in the other, looking down at the ground, slowly following his tracks.

‘Devil Tracker,’ Mark heard Oliver Willdrow’s words repeated in his mind.

Mark watched as the rider came closer into range, but visions started clouding his eyes. He tried to shake them off. He rubbed at his eyes and shook his head. Carefully he aimed his rifle as he waited for the rider to come closer. With his finger firmly on the trigger, an image of the approaching rider saying to him, ‘I’m proud of you, son’, flashed into his mind, causing him to jerk, just as he pulled the trigger. Mark had fired. He watched the man fall from the saddle. Mark stood and jumped down from the boulder, the sun at his back. He started to run towards the downed rider… fuzzy images flashed in Mark’s head, causing his head to hurt even more. It wasn’t just a downed rider he was running to check on… In his mind, he started to scream… but his thoughts never developed as he felt fire tear into his shoulder. The force of the bullet spun him around and dropped him to the ground.

Face down on the ground, Mark heard the man running in the hard pan and he felt a hand grab his arm and roughly turn him over. He looked at the rifle pointed to his chest and followed it up and stared at the man who stood over him. He watched the expression the man bore change from anger to shock, as Mark’s world faded to black.

*****

Lucas heard the rifle shot and felt the bullet tear at his shirt sleeve, without thinking, Lucas reacted, he fell from Blade. As he hit the ground, Lucas made sure to lie still, his rifle in his hand, pretending he had been hit. He heard the sound of someone jumping down and landing on the hardpan. Lucas opened his eyelids enough so they were just slits; facing the setting sun, he couldn’t open his eyes any further. He saw the silhouette of the shooter running towards him, rifle still in hand. When he saw the runner’s head tilt downward, Lucas reacted. He rolled over and without hesitation he fired. His first shot was true and the bullet spun the man around and dropped him to the ground.

With his rifle still at the ready, Lucas slowly stood to his feet and cautiously walked over to where the man had fallen face down in the dirt. Lucas kicked the rifle away from reach of the man. Anger ran through Lucas’ head, this was one of the outlaws who had robbed the bank and knocked John Hamilton unconscious. This was the outlaw he had been trailing and who had taken a shot at him. Lucas lowered the barrel of his rifle towards the man when he reach down and grabbed the man by the arm and roughly turned him over. Slowly the man’s face came into view and Lucas noticed the eye’s first, he saw they held fear and pain.

The anger Lucas felt turned to shock as he watched the man’s eyes close. Only it wasn’t an outlaw…

“My God, NO!” Lucas yelled as he dropped his rifle.

Lucas momentarily stood over the body, frozen in place, while he realized that the man he had been tracking was his son. Lucas’ mind raced as he tried to comprehend that his son had taken a shot at him, but even more disturbing, Lucas knew he had shot his son. Not able to think, Lucas acted, he ran to his horse, pulled his saddle bag and returned to Mark. He pulled out some rags from the bag. He returned to Mark’s side and ripped open Mark’s shirt to push a rag down into the wound, attempting to stop the flow of blood. He tied the other rags together and tried to make a bandage of them.

The whole time Lucas tended to Mark, he didn’t realize he was pleading as tears streamed down his face. Pleading to God to let his son live, pleading to his son to forgive him. Lucas’ mind whirled as he tried to understand how the events could have unfolded like they had.

“Mark, please forgive me! God, you can’t let him die! Mark, why? Why were you running? Were you on the trail of the outlaws? Why did you shoot at me? God, please, help me?” Lucas rambled over and over again. “Margaret, I didn’t mean to shoot our son.”

Lucas grabbed Mark’s other arm and pulled it across his shoulders as he carried/dragged Mark to where Blade stood. He turned at the sound of a rider approaching. “Please help me. My son…” Lucas pleaded to the rider.

“Don’t think so,” the man said as he pulled his gun on Lucas. “Put him back on the ground.”

“You don’t understand! MY SON’S BEEN SHOT! Please, I have to get him to Willow Springs and to a doctor!”

“No, you’re not going anywhere. You’re going to put your son down and then you’re going to sit over there and watch him bleed to death.”

“Watch him…? Are you mad?! I don’t care what the hell you’re saying,” Lucas demanded, unbelieving what the man was telling him. “I have to get my son to a doctor!”

“Put him down or I’ll kill him right now, then once he’s dead, I’ll have my final revenge on you. So it’s up to you,” the rider called, then Lucas heard the gun being cocked.

Lucas had no choice but to do as told. Carefully he placed Mark on the ground, cradling his son’s head gently, he stood up and turned towards the stranger.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this?!” Lucas demanded, not caring that tears were still falling down his face.

“Payback! All my life I thought the great Rifleman, Lucas McCain was my father!” Oliver stated as he stepped from his horse, gun still on Lucas. “Tell me, how easy was it for you to kill my father?”

“Your father?!” Lucas asked. Confusion was evident on his face. “I don’t even know you, who are you?”

“I was raised Oliver Willdrow, but, my mother told me my father’s name was Lucas McCain. I resented the fact that you left us. Ma always said you had other responsibilities and couldn’t be tied down by a wife or a son. Said it was dangerous for anyone to know that I was your son. She died last month and when I was going through her papers, I found the truth. Oliver Willdrow was my name, but my father’s name was Horace Willdrow. By all accounts a man driven to be a drunk, BUT HE WAS MY FATHER!”

“Horace Willdrow? I don’t know a Horace Willdrow!” Lucas stated.

“You don’t remember the names of those you killed? You KILLED HIM?! My Ma wrote it in her journals. You took my Pa from me and then left Ma and me on our own. You made my Ma so ashamed of my father that she lied to me! She told me stories about you! The great Lucas McCain! You’re nothing but a murderer! You killed my father and then you killed my Ma’s memory of him. So now, I’ll have my revenge. I’ll enjoy watching you suffer. How does it feel to know you killed your son?”

“I don’t understand! I was trailing one of the outlaws who robbed the bank in North Fork. He fired at me, the sun was at his back, I didn’t see he was my son,” Lucas begged. “Why are you doing this?!”

“At first, I wanted revenge on you. I wanted to see you dead. But the more I thought on it, I wanted you to grieve over your dead son. I wanted to kill someone who is as precious to you as my father could have been to me. Only, you never gave me the chance to know my father!” Oliver replied. “But then fate changed and gave me a better idea. How great would it be for Lucas McCain to kill his own son?”

“What did you do to him to make him fire on me?!” Lucas demanded.

“I was all set to kill him as he rode home the other day, but my aim wasn’t true. Funny what a bullet graze across the temple will do? Amnesia. All I had to do was give him bits and pieces of an idea. I created a life for him and he believed me. He was so desperate to figure out who he was, that I was able to convince him he was an outlaw. Go figure, me, Oliver Willdrow got The Lawman to rob a bank and then watched as he attempted to kill his father. And you know what the best part was? I got the father to kill his son.” Oliver started laughing, a morbid laugh. “Guess he ain’t quite as good with a rifle as those newspaper stories wrote about.”

“You can’t sit there and let my son bleed to death!” Lucas yelled.

“Yes, I can. And yes, you will,” Oliver replied. “I can’t wait to read the headlines, The Rifleman kills The Lawman.” Oliver’s laugh was even more morbid than before.

Lucas took a step forward. He had to take a chance. Mark needed a doctor. Oliver fired at Lucas’ feet.

“The next one goes into your son. The Rifleman.” Oliver stated in disgust and spat on the ground. “You’re nothing but a murderer.”

“I’m not a murderer!”

“So what do you call it? All the other men you’ve gunned down?”

“Please, whatever grievance you have against me, it’s between you and me. Not my son. Help me get him to a doctor!”

*****

Seth and Johnny followed the second set of tracks heading north, only to realize a short time later the rider had changed direction and wasn’t taking any precautions in covering his trail. They followed the tracks. After hearing a gunshot and realizing how close it was, they looked at each other as they pulled their horses to a halt. They left their horses behind and crept through the trees and boulders to find out what was happening.

The closer they got, they realized one of the arguing voices was Lucas and the other, they didn’t recognize. From their hiding spot, they surveyed the scene and saw Mark lying unconscious on the ground. They saw the red stain of blood on his shirt. Listening as Lucas pleaded to take Mark to a doctor. Without saying anything, both men knew what to do. They needed to distract the stranger so they could save Lucas and Mark.

Quietly, both moved to where they had a clear shot at the man holding a gun on Lucas and Mark. Both sensed they would have little time to react, each word the man spoke sounded more and more deranged.

“I don’t want him to live! I want you to watch him die and know that you put the bullet in him. You killed your own son!”

Oliver heard the snap of a branch, moved his gun around, and fired in that direction. Lucas took the chance to dive for his rifle, grabbing it, rolling over and getting to his knees and trying to bring it to bear on Willdrow, but before he could cock his rifle, he heard the shots fired. He saw the surprise and shock on the man’s face and watched as he crumpled to the ground.

“Seth! – Lucas!” Johnny called.

“Johnny – Lucas!” Seth called.

The three men stood in the clearing, for only a moment, to realize the others of their posse were okay.

*****

Drako was kneeling over the body of Oliver Willdrow, confirming to Lucas and Seth that he was indeed dead.

“Lucas, what happened?” Seth asked as he ran over to where Lucas knelt over Mark.

“I heard a shot fired and it ripped through my sleeve and hit off the ground, just past me. I pretended I’d been struck. A few moments later, I saw a man with a rifle jump down from his hiding spot in the rock outcropping over there and I shot back. The sun was behind him and I didn’t see who he was. Seth, I shot my own son! God forgive me!” Lucas stated as he knelt next to Mark and tried to check on the gunshot wound.

Mark started to moan and move his head from side to side.

“Take it easy there, Mark. We’ll get you to a doctor,” Seth stated as he knelt down next to his son-in-law.

As Mark opened his eyes, fear was evident, after his eyes focused on the two men kneeling next to him. He propped himself up and looked around and saw the body of Oliver laying a short distance away.

With panic in his voice, Mark asked, “Why didn’t you kill me, too?”

“Kill you?” Seth replied and looked to Lucas.

“It was an accident. I couldn’t see it was you,” Lucas pleaded.

“Accident! You were tracking us ever since we robbed the bank. You killed my partner, but you let me live? Why? I’m worth two thousand dollars, dead or alive! Get it over with! I ain’t going to no prison!” Mark yelled as he started fighting Lucas’ and Seth’s restraining arms.

“Mark what are you talking about?” Johnny asked as he came to stand next to where the others were.

“It must be the amnesia,” Lucas stated. “Willdrow told me he’d shot Mark out of his saddle and when he came too, he didn’t know anything of his past.” Then turning to Mark, “Listen to me son…” Lucas’ voice and face softened.

“I ain’t your son!” Mark yelled as he stood up and tried fighting harder to get away.

“Yes, you are! Your name is Mark McCain, son of Lucas and Margaret McCain. You were born in Enid, Oklahoma and we call North Fork, New Mexico our home. ” Lucas pleaded, trying to get through to his son.

“You’re making it up, hoping to get me to stop fighting so you can get me peaceably back to your town and then to prison! I ain’t going to prison!” Mark tried to fight harder. He swung and punched Seth across the jaw. Lucas grabbed Mark from behind and held him in a bear hug.

“Listen to him, boy!” Drako called, standing in front of Mark.

“I ain’t no boy! I’m a grown… I’m a… aargh” Mark yelled, but stopped fighting, tried to put his hand to his head, but went limp in Lucas’ arms.

Gently, Lucas lowered Mark back to the ground. He pulled the bandage from the gunshot wound to Mark’s shoulder, pleased the bleeding had stopped.

“Lucas, what do we do?” Seth asked.

“Wait for him to wake. Hopefully when he wakes, he’ll remember who he is.”

*****

For the half hour that Mark remained unconscious, Lucas sat on the ground, cradling Mark’s head in his lap. Continuing to plead for Mark to be okay. When Mark finally stirred and sat up, Lucas was disappointed to hear his son still had no memory. The four rode to Willow Springs, to get Mark to a doctor and get Oliver Willdrow’s body to an undertaker.

*****

After examining the wound to Mark’s shoulder, the doctor stated he could get the bullet out and told Mark to lie down and he’d get the anesthesia.

“No!” Mark jumped from the table and cringed as he felt the jolt in his shoulder.

Lucas put a restraining arm on Mark, “Mark, let the doctor do what he needs to do to operate and get that bullet out.”

“No, if it comes out, it comes out while I’m awake,” Mark demanded.

The doctor looked to the men standing in his office, “If that’s the way he wants it. I’ll get my instruments and something for him to bite down on. All these years of medicine and now I’m back to operating in the dark ages,” the doctor mumbled as he headed to his cabinet.

The doctor returned to the table and handed Mark a bottle, “Drink up.”

“What’s this?”

“Something to help lessen the pain you’re going to feel when I pull that bullet out.”

Mark took a swig and spat and sputtered, “You trying to kill me instead of getting the bullet out?” he yelled and pushed the bottle back to the doctor.

Lucas, Seth, and Johnny tried their best to hide their laughter. Even without his memories, he still didn’t care for anything alcoholic.

“Son,” Lucas started to say.

“I told you, I ain’t your son!” Mark hollered back.

“Mark, please. Let the doctor administer the drug to make you sleep so he can get the bullet out,” Lucas begged.

“No way!” Mark said as his eye’s glared.

“If you won’t let me anesthetize you and you won’t drink up, then this is going to hurt like hell. I’ll need all of you to help restrain him,” the doctor said as he looked to the others.

Mark placed the piece of wood the doctor had handed him in his mouth and laid down on the table. The three held Mark down while the doctor forced the locator tool into the wound. Mark screamed and bit down hard on the tool, his body tensed the deeper the doctor probed into Mark’s shoulder. Seth and Johnny looked to Lucas and saw the pain he was feeling at his boy’s suffering. Lucas closed his eyes and tried to block out Mark’s screaming as he helped to forcibly hold his son down to the table.

“Hold him down!” the doctor yelled.

Mark continued to struggle and scream from the pain, after a few more moments he passed out.

“It didn’t have to be this hard on him,” the doctor stated as he finally pulled the bullet from Mark’s shoulder. “Why’s he so set against modern medicine?”

“He’s not exactly himself right now doc,” Johnny stated. “See the bullet graze to his temple? … He’s suffering amnesia. He barely trusts what we’re telling him as the truth.”

“He’s your prisoner?” the doctor asked.

“No, he’s my son,” Lucas answered.

The doctor finished patching up the bullet wound and applied an antibiotic salve to the bullet graze along Mark’s temple.

“Say, this ain’t the first time he’s been wounded, here,” the doctor commented.

“No, the first time was about eight years ago,” Lucas replied.

“Well, that could have something to do with him not remembering.”

*****

Lucas sat next to the bed where Mark lay, waiting for him to regain consciousness and hopefully his memory. It was almost midnight when Mark started moaning and opened his eyes.

“How are you feeling?” Lucas asked.

Mark looked at him, his face blank and asked, “Does it really matter?”

Lucas’ heart sank, he kept praying to God to forgive him for shooting his own son and he had prayed for God to allow Mark’s memories to be restored.

“It does. I’m your father.”

“So you said. When do you plan to take me back to North Fork and your jail?”

“We’ll head to North Fork tomorrow morning, but you’re not going to jail,” Lucas replied.

“Mister, you’re not making any sense. I robbed your bank!”

“Mark, you’re the one not understanding. The way Johnny’s going to write this up is that you were under duress. With the money being recovered, you won’t stand trial.”

*****

The return trip to North Fork was tedious for Mark. His mind ran from the story of his life that Oliver Willdrow had told him to the stories the tall man had been telling him. None of the stories sounded familiar, but he was leaning towards the life with these men. Maybe it was because he didn’t want to go to jail, more than anything. He felt it odd that these lawmen never took the money from his saddle bags. In fact, the money that Oliver had taken had been placed in his saddle bags as well. Confusion addled his brain when they stopped the first night and the taller of the three men told him to go sit on the fallen tree and he’d take care of unsaddling his horse. After eating their supper, Mark realized that they had never hand-cuffed him. Even with one arm in a sling, he couldn’t believe they hadn’t hand-cuffed him to a tree or something…

*****

‘I must be who these men think I am, but why can’t I remember?’ Mark thought to himself as sat up in his bedroll, while the others slept. He got to his feet and walked to the camp fire and poured himself a cup of coffee. He studied the two men sleeping on the far side of the fire. Mark jumped as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Guess you must be pretty confused about everything?” Lucas stated as he knelt down next to his son, the guilt in his voice was evident.

“To say the least. You’re making a life for me that sounds real good. So good, it can’t be true,” Mark commented.

“I’m not making it up. We made it, together. And then Hope and Milly came into our lives, and our children.”

“I want to remember, I really do, but prior to my waking up at Willdrow’s camp that night, there’s nothing…, just one big empty black hole…” After taking another drink of his coffee, he said, “You know, the one called Drako doesn’t make that great of coffee. How can you stand to drink this stuff?”

“Well, it’s not his coffee making. You usually heap a lot of sugar into your coffee, regardless of who makes it.”

“Oh.” Mark dumped the coffee from his cup into the embers. “You said I have a wife? Which one, Milly or Hope?”

“Hope’s your wife, you’ve been married for six years,” Lucas answered. “And Seth Lane, the deputy, he’s your father-in-law.”

“Then Milly’s my Ma?”

“Not your real Ma, but you call her Ma. Milly and I’ve only been married for seven years; it’ll be eight, this Christmas Eve. Your real ma, my first wife, died when you were six.”

“How many ma’s have I had?”

Lucas hesitated for a moment, “Just your real Ma and Milly.”

“If I am your son, guess it hurts you to know I don’t remember any of this?” Mark asked.

“You are my son and yes, it hurts me to see you hurting and to know… As your father, I’ve always tried to protect you in some manner or another, and in the past it’s caused some hurt between the two of us. But this time, I…” Lucas quieted, he couldn’t bring himself to admit to Mark that he had shot his own son.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty, about this,” Mark stated as he rubbed at his shoulder. “I did rob the bank and one thing I do remember is, I took the first shot at you.”

“I’m surprised you missed, yet I’m thankful you did. It’s not like you to miss that easy of a shot.”

“I don’t know how I missed you. I had a perfect bead on you and then…”

“Then?” Lucas asked.

“I saw a… I guess you could call it a fragment of a memory… you said, ‘I’m proud of you son’. Must have caused me to pull my shot. Funny thing though… I got in a panic when I saw you lying there on the ground. Something pulled me to run to you. But my mind said not to trust you, Willdrow called you a devil tracker and that you’d just as soon kill your quarry instead of taking them in alive”

“It was reflex, my shooting you, a man who had just taken a shot at me, running towards me… gun in hand…”

“I can’t say as I blame you. You sure don’t sound like a lawman,” Mark commented.

“I’m not the lawman in the family, you are.”

“Me, a lawman?”

“Not just a lawman,” Seth stated as he joined in the conversation. “You’re the U.S. Marshal for the territory of New Mexico and there’ve been a few stories written in the newspapers a few years back, about the two of you. Your father, he’s also known as the Rifleman.”

Mark was quiet as he thought on all that he was learning about himself.

“Mark, you need your sleep as much as we do. Why don’t you turn in for the night? We can talk more tomorrow. We should be back in North Fork tomorrow night,” Seth stated.

*****

Lucas, Seth, Johnny, and Mark arrive at the McCain Ranch as night was settling. Hope and Milly ran from the house as they saw them return. Mark stayed in his saddle, looking around, taking in the sight of the two homes, barns, and other buildings, as the others dismounted.

He heard a woman call his name and turned to see his ‘father’ stop her and quietly speak to her and the other woman. Mark watched as the younger woman put her hand to her mouth and then started shaking her head. The other woman stepped to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. His ‘father-in-law’ walked to the other side and put his arm around her. Then, his ‘father’ walked back to him.

“Come on son. Maybe meeting your wife and seeing your family will help you remember.” Lucas offered a hand to help Mark get down from the saddle.

Behind him, the Marshal took the horses to the barn.

*****

Mark entered what the others said was his home and saw another young woman surrounded by children. The boys ran to Mark, calling “Papa, we glad you home!” “Papa, pick me up!” “Papa, you hurt?”

It was all a little overwhelming for Mark.

“Mark, the one with the red shirt is Joshua. The one in the blue shirt is Zachariah. And the younger boy is Elijah,” Lucas introduced them.

Mark did his best to act normal in front of them. He bent down and, with uncertainty, hugged each one. Gwen stepped to the group and knelt down and told the boys it was past their bedtime, to hurry up and say their goodnights to their father and then head to their bedroom.

The boys said ‘goodnight’ then turned and ran to their bedroom.

When Joshua got to the door, he called back, “You’ll come watch over us say our prayers?”

Mark creased his brow and nodded.

“Mark,” Lucas stated. “This is Gwen.”

“Gwen? Is she…”

“She’s an extended member of our family. She’s a nanny to your children and sometimes, mine.”

The look on Gwen’s face told she didn’t understand what was happening.

Mark watched as Hope came from a bedroom carrying a child. “Mark, this is your daughter, Mykaela, but you call her Emmy.”

Mark took the child into his good arm and held her. He looked into her face, but felt nothing other than the baby was very adorable as she cooed and spit up bubbles around her mouth. Mark smiled at the tiny hands reaching towards his face.

While Mark held the child, Lucas took Gwen aside and explained what was happening.

*****

Lucas and Milly were hesitant to leave Mark alone, feeling as an outsider to his family, but they knew he had to remember on his own. There’s only so much they could do to try to help.

Gwen stepped from the boys’ room and said, “Good night” before retiring to her own room.

Mark handed the baby back to Hope and watched as she carried the child and placed her in the bassinet in the bedroom. Mark looked around, the fireplace, the chairs, the table, the desk, he saw the pictures and was drawn towards them. The pictures held the truth, this was his family and it started to anger him that he couldn’t remember.

He startled at the gentle hand placed on his shoulder, “I’m sorry to startle you, but the boys are ready for their nightly prayers.”

Mark and Hope entered the bedroom and saw all three boys kneeling on the floor, heads bowed, hands folded.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Angels watch me through the night, And wake me with the morning light. God bless Mama and Papa and Grandma and Grandpa Lucas and Grandpa Seth and Gwen, Amen.”

Mark watched as all three boys jumped into their beds and Hope went from each bed and tucked them in before placing a kiss to each one’s forehead.

“Papa,” Eli called. “You kiss good night?”

Hope looked to Mark and nodded her support. Mark walked to each child, kissed them on the forehead and quietly wished them pleasant dreams. Before leaving the room, Hope blew out the lantern sitting on the table, next to the door.

“I know how hard this must be for you Mark. If you need to, we can talk…”

“Talk? About what? Ain’t anything before this week that I remember,” Mark answered.

“You could ask me questions about us, about the boys, the ranch…”

“I don’t know that I want to know. Least not yet.”

“You need to know something, the boys are very close to you,” Hope said.

“They’re just babies.”

“The twins will be four next month and Eli turned two last month. They’re not babies anymore,” Hope answered a little upset at her husband.

“I’m sorry. This is all so… Maybe in the morning, we can talk. Right now, I’m really tired and just want to sleep.”

“Okay. In the morning,” Hope stated as she walked to the table and removed the glass chimney from the lantern and blew it out.

“You’re not going to push me to answer any questions?” Mark asked.

“Mark, I have so many questions, but I don’t want to upset you any more than you already are. I can wait, until you’re ready. Come to bed,” Hope turned and headed to the bedroom door.

“Bed?” Mark stopped in the middle of the front room.

“Mark?” Hope asked as she turned around.

“I’ll go sleep in the barn.”

“You’ll do no such thing! You’ll sleep in our bed.”

“I can’t. It wouldn’t be proper.”

“Proper? You and I are married. We’re husband and wife. What’s not proper about us sharing our bed?”

“I don’t remember… us. I don’t remember… me. You’re a beautiful woman, but I can’t … Please…”

Confusion abounded in Mark’s mind. From the pictures he knew what the others had said, were saying, was true, but in his heart…

“Mark, I’m sure all of this is difficult for you and I can’t begin to understand. But know this, I’m your wife and this is our home to share and that includes our bed. I love you.”

Mark stood for a few moments before saying, “I wish I could feel the same way…” he turned and walked out the front door, closing it behind him.

Hope ran to the window and watched as Mark slowly walked, with his head down, towards the barn. She saw him open the door and then the door closed. Hope sank into Mark’s chair, drew her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around her knees and cried.

*****

In the house next door, Lucas helped Milly put their children to bed. As they returned to their own bed, Milly said, “Please, tell me what happened.”

“Someone seeking revenge against me, and from what I gather, I killed his father a long time ago. Only, I don’t remember the name the man told me.”

Milly could hear the pain in Lucas’ voice as he continued.

“The first night Mark didn’t come home, the man had already shot Mark out of the saddle and when he came too, Mark didn’t remember who he was, nothing. I’m still trying to put all the pieces of this together, but the man somehow convinced Mark they were partners– outlaws. He was originally plotting to have me watch as he killed Mark, but then…”

“Lucas, don’t. It was wrong of me to ask. We’ll talk about it when it’s not so painful,” Milly stated as she saw the pain in Lucas’ face. She knew there was something more tearing at Lucas and decided to let him tell her, when he could.

Lucas kissed his wife and pulled her close to him. Sleep didn’t come easily for Lucas that night as images from the past few days kept repeating in his mind.. Again, he asked God to forgive him for what he had done and he apologized once more to Margaret.

The Next Generation… Chapter 66 – The Outsider

The following morning, Mark woke from where he had slept in the hayloft. He thought he’d heard a voice calling his name. As he rubbed at his shoulder he heard a creaking of the ladder to the hayloft and a few moments later a dark-haired, young girl’s head popped above the floor.

“There you are!” the girl called as she finished climbing up into the hayloft. “I heard Mama and Papa saying you were home. Did you hurt your arm? Where were you? Did you miss me?”

“Whoa there. You don’t give a body a chance to answer any of your questions do you?”

“Guess not. You been gone for a long time and not here to talk, so I got a lot of questions. You gonna answer my questions?” Myra asked as she plopped down next to Mark.

Mark watched as the girl straightened out the skirt of her dress, while he thought hard on the conversations he’d had with the man who was his father and tried to remember the girl’s name, but all the questions she asked… He hoped he was right in that this young girl was his sister.

“Myra, yes I hurt my arm. But the doctor made it better. He wanted me to keep it in this sling for a few weeks just to make sure.”

“Did Hope get mad at you for being gone so long without telling her first? Did you spend the night in the barn? It sure looks like you slept out here. Did you? How come? Wait a minute, why did you call me Myra? You never call me Myra, not even when I’m misbehaving.”

“I thought that’s what your father said your name was?”

“My father?” Myra looked perplexed. She held the back of her hand to Mark’s forehead, as if he had a fever. “Mark, you sure are acting funny. Are you funning me? You know you always call me Gabby.”

“I call you Gabby?”

“Sure do, ever since I was a baby,”

“Why?” Mark asked.

“Are you not feeling well? Does your arm hurt? Should I have Papa ride and fetch Doc Burrage?”

“No, I… Just go away!” Mark told his sister.

“Go away? But I just got here,” Myra replied.

“Go away!” Mark hollered with more anger than he meant to.

Myra scrambled to the ladder and started to climb down when they heard the door open and Lucas call for Mark.

“Papa, he’s up here.” Mark heard her jump to the ground and heard tears in her voice, “He yelled for me to go away!”

Lucas knelt down, reached out and hugged his daughter, then told her, “Myra, your Mama needs your help with fixing breakfast.”

“Yes, Papa.”

Lucas watched as his daughter ran back to her home.

“Mark?”

When Lucas received no reply, he spoke, “Mark, Hope said you spent the night in the barn and Myra already said you were up in the hayloft, so it won’t do you any good not to answer me.”

A few moments later Lucas heard weight shifting across the hayloft and watched as Mark tried to manage climbing down the ladder with one good arm.

“I’m sorry I made her cry. She was just asking so many questions and I didn’t know how to answer her,” Mark stated.

“You can’t hide forever. Talking with people might help bring back your memories. It could be the smallest comment that someone says that starts you remembering. Even something as innocent as a question a child has to ask could trigger your memory.”

“But until then? What? Pretend I’m Mark McCain and everything is normal? It ain’t normal! None of this is!” Mark was feeling more scared than anger as he leaned against the ladder, his back to his father.

“Mark, getting upset isn’t going to do anyone any good, especially you. I know you’re scared. We’re not expecting you to…”

“To what? The woman you said was my wife wanted me to sleep her bed last night. You and she both say I’m her husband, but I don’t know it. Yes, the pictures on the desk show a happy family, but I don’t feel it! My being here, just doesn’t feel like it shows in those pictures. It doesn’t feel right!”

“Did it feel right making your sister cry?” Lucas asked as he walked towards the ladder to the hayloft and stood on the opposite side from his son. He placed his arm around the rail and rested his arm against it.

“How did it feel breaking into the gun shop and stealing your own rifle?” Lucas asked.

“Stealing, my own rifle?” Mark asked.

“Yes. Of all the weapons in there, handguns and rifles, you stole your own rifle back. You’d left it there for Angus to repair the firing pin.”

“I just saw it and the modified trigger, I didn’t know… That’s not the point!” Mark stated as he walked to the back of the barn and looked into one of the stalls.

“How about when you robbed the bank and knocked John Hamilton unconscious and stole the money, did that feel right?! How about when you were trying to get away from the posse? Did that feel right?! Well… Did it? Answer me!” Lucas yelled.

Lucas waited a few minutes to see if Mark would reply. When Mark turned around to face him, Lucas saw the consternation in his son’s face and he continued, “Tell me, did it feel right when you fired your rifle at me?! How did it feel when you saw me lying there? Did you fear you had killed me? Why’d you run towards me instead of taking off on your horse?”

Lucas waited for his words to sink in. He wanted to get Mark to thinking and not wallowing in his confusion.

“I don’t know?” Mark yelled.

“You don’t know.” Lucas paused. “How does it feel to know that you forced me to shoot you? I could have killed my own son?!” Lucas demanded, knowing full well the question was a low blow. He also knew it really wasn’t Mark’s fault, but Oliver Willdrow had put the two of them in this position. Lucas also realized that he needed to get over his own guilt in order to help his son.

From behind, Lucas heard a gasp. He looked over his shoulder to see Hope and Milly standing in the doorway.

“Lucas? You…” Milly tried to speak, but couldn’t as she brought her hand to her mouth.

Hope had placed her hand to her mouth as well.

“I’m sorry you both had to hear what happened this way,” Lucas called, as he turned back to Mark. “Do those things feel any more right than standing here with your family and refusing to accept our help? Look inside yourself and if this really doesn’t feel right, then run, I won’t stop you. You’ve run before. But when the truth finally gets through that thick skull of yours… Your horse and the door are waiting for you. Just go away, like you told your sister.”

“Lucas!” Milly demanded as she watched Lucas turn his back to his son and walk towards her.

“Milly, I’m sorry, but I know what he’s going through. He’s afraid to let anyone in because he doesn’t know what’s real. He’s already been told one set of lies and now he’s not trusting of anyone.” Lucas stopped next to Milly and looked over his shoulder, “But I know that running away from those who can help you is wrong.” Lucas never took his eyes off Mark. “You’ve seen the truth, that we’re family. You’re not an outlaw to be on the run. Take the first step to remembering who you are by accepting our help!” Lucas started to leave the barn to return to his own home, pausing as he heard the tearful pleading in Hope’s voice.

Hope pleaded, “This is your home. Let us help you remember.”

Mark looked to the three people claiming to be his family and took a small step forward.

“How?” Mark plaintively asked.

“Just by staying here and talking with us,” Lucas stated. “And by accepting the fact that we are your family. We know you’re scared and hurting, but you’re not alone in this.”

“I hurt… my sister… Gabby?” Mark stated as he cast his eyes down.

Milly nodded.

“Guess I should go apologize to her, explain what happened, as best as I can remember. Then… maybe…, you can show me the way to town and I can apologize and try to make amends for breaking into the gunsmith shop and then for robbing the bank.” He heard another gasp as he finished speaking.

“Those will be steps in the right direction,” Lucas commented as Mark stepped towards him and headed towards his parents’ home.

*****

Milly pointed Mark the way to Myra’s bedroom. He quietly knocked on the door. “Gabby?”

“I went away!” replied a crying Myra.

“I came to talk with you. I think I have some explaining to do.”

Mark waited as he heard the doorknob jiggle and the door opened. He saw Myra run back and jump up on her bed.

“May I come in?” Mark asked.

“If you want.”

Mark walked across the room and sat down on the bed.

“Gabby, I owe you an apology for earlier. I’m not myself right now,” Mark spoke.

“Who are you, then?” Myra asked.

“I don’t know.” Myra looked to Mark and her expression showed she didn’t understand. “Gabby, some time back… a man, a stranger, shot me off my horse.”

Myra interrupted, “He caused you to hurt your shoulder?”

“No, the bullet grazed my temple. But when I woke up… I… I don’t remember anything of my past. You, Mama, Papa, Hope, or my family. It’s all… empty… up here.” Mark stated as he pointed to his head.

“You don’t remember us?”

Mark shook his head. “I thought I was an outlaw. Least that’s what the man told me. Said there was a large bounty on my head.”

“But you’re a Marshal. You arrest outlaws!”

“That’s what Papa said,”

Myra giggled. “You don’t call him Papa, I do. You call Papa, Pa.”

“Oh,” Mark answered.

“Can Doc make you better? Maybe Papa should take you to town and see Doc Burrage?”

“The other doc made my shoulder better, but there’s really nothing he can do about this,” Mark replied, tapping his head.

“Maybe that doctor ain’t as good as Doc Burrage?” Myra asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you can come back to school and Mr. Griswald or Mr. Bullock can help you remember,” Myra stated excitedly. “They’re real good at learning people to remember.”

“They’re your teachers?” Mark asked and Myra nodded. “I don’t think they’d be able to help me with my problem. But, I’m gonna need your help… To make sure I don’t mess up again. Am I forgiven?”

“It says so in the Good Book. I can’t be mad at you, you’re my big brother.” Then quieting her voice and leaning over to whisper in Mark’s ear she said, “You should know we have two younger brothers. Little Ted and Levi, they sleep in the other room.”

“Thanks, Gabby. Pa… told me their names, but I don’t know which one is which. Will you help me?”

Myra got to her knees and threw her arms around Mark’s neck.

*****

While Mark was talking with Myra, Lucas was talking with Milly and Hope. He explained what had happened after the bank had been robbed. Trailing after the two outlaws and then separating from the posse. He told them of coming upon an outcropping of rocks and hearing a shot ring out that barely missed him and how he pretended to be struck. He saw the shooter jump to the ground and run toward him, but with the sun behind the shooter, Lucas admitted he didn’t see who the shooter was. Not until he had taken the shot, ran over to where the outlaw laid and turned the man over, did he realize whom he had shot.

“Hope, I’m beating myself up over this. I’d do anything to pull that bullet back and never have fired it.”

“Pa, it’s like you said, you couldn’t see it was Mark. Once he remembers, I’m sure he’ll forgive you.”

“This isn’t going to be easy on any of us, but if we keep the faith, God will see us through this.”

“Lucas,” Milly spoke. “You said you knew what Mark was going through?”

“I do. It was soon after you had left town, gone back east to be with your family. Mark and I took a trip to visit an old friend of mine, up in Red Creek. I was heading to town to have my rifle checked out when an outlaw shot me off my horse, swapped Razor and my rifle for a horse he had stolen and a gun with his name burned into the handle, and left me for dead. When I came too, I didn’t remember anything, I got on the horse, and I rode and came to a town. The doctor patched me up, but said it could be the smallest detail to spark my memory or never. I was set to ride out of town when a young boy, Mark, came up to me.”

“And it was seeing Mark who made your memories return?” Milly asked.

“No, though he stood by me the whole time. Kept trying to convince me I was his Pa, even when the brothers of a man George Vale had killed tried to lynch me. Mark tried to convince the town that Stevens was a long time friend of mine and that I wasn’t George Vale. They sent a rider out to bring Stevens to town.”

“How did you get your memory back?” Hope asked.

“Seems that Vale and his partner rode into town while I was being dragged out of the livery for a hanging. Mark saw Razor, with my rifle still in the scabbard… He told me about my horse and my rifle being behind me. He asked me if I remembered my rifle. My rifle… It was my rifle, not my son, that started my memories to return. I never told Mark that I remembered that part of our trip. I know how hurt he must have been, I could see it in his eyes.”

Milly and Hope could hear the regret in his voice as he spoke the fact.

“Did they come back all at once?” Hope asked.

“No, bits and pieces, here and there. Are there some memories that I still don’t remember…? Only God knows that for sure. So, you see, we have to keep him here, close. We have to keep him talking, but we can’t push him to remember. We just have to be patient and pray.”

“Lucas, Mark said he robbed the bank, what happened?” Milly asked.

Lucas started to speak as the door to Myra’s bedroom opened, “I’ll tell you both later.”

“Guess I should go to ‘our’ home and get washed up and dressed in fresh clothes. Pa, say in an hour, can we ride into town?” Mark asked as he first looked to Hope and then to Lucas.

“Sure Mark. Whenever you’re ready.”

Mark walked to the front door and stopped, he extended his hand towards Hope. As she approached, he took her hand, and told his parents he’d be back shortly.

*****

Lucas and Mark arrived in North Fork and the first place they stopped was the Marshal’s Office.

“Morning, Lucas, Mark” both Seth and Johnny stated as they entered.

“Good Morning. I asked my ‘father’ to bring me to town so I could do some apologizing. If any of those I wronged are wanting to press charges against me, you’ll know where I can be found,” Mark stated.

“Mark, no one will be pressing charges against you. We’ve told Angus that restitution would be made and John’s satisfied that the money’s been returned to the bank.”

“I guess the word is out over town… about me robbing the bank.” Mark stated as he looked out the window and saw the crowd of people gathering in front of the café across the street.

“No Mark. John’s the only other person who knows you were in on the hold up. But a lot of people have asked about you and we told them you were back with your family, and that an outlaw had tried to kill you and as a result, you’ve no memory. People talk Mark. And you mean a lot to this town,” Seth answered as he came up behind Mark and placed a hand to his shoulder.

“Because I’m a marshal?”

“That’s only a small part. You and your father are leading citizens in this town and not just because you wear a badge or carry a rifle, but because you care about this town and her people,” Seth replied.

“Mark, it’s only natural for the town folks to be curious about what happened to you,” Lucas stated.

“I ain’t no circus freak show!”

“Easy there, Mark,” Seth said as he squeezed Mark’s shoulder harder. “No one said you were.”

“Yes, sir,” Mark answered as he walked to the back side of the office.

“No need to sir me, Mark. We’ve been family for too long,” Seth said.

Johnny interrupted, “Mark, here comes Angus, the gunsmith.”

Lucas opened the door as Angus approached.

“Lucas, is it true what I heard them say about…” Angus stopped speaking when he saw Mark on the far side of the office.

“Yes sir. It was me who broke into your shop and stole the rifle and ammunition. I’ll pay you back for the damages and all. I really will… sir,” Mark spoke sincerely.

“Mark, I don’t know what to say, I mean, it was your own gun you took. You really don’t remember who you are?”

Mark shook his head, “No sir. I don’t remember anything about anyone. I’m still trying to accept what my father and the others are saying, but….”

“Mark, don’t you worry about making restitution until you get your memory back, I know you’re good for it and besides, you got more important things to take care of than me,” Angus answered.

“Angus, just tell me how much and I’ll see to it that you get paid,” Lucas stated.

“Now, Lucas, like I said, it can wait. You need to take care of your family first.” Turning to leave Angus said, “I’ll be seeing ya. And Mark, I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thanks Angus,” Lucas stated as he opened the door for Angus.

“One down,” Johnny said as Angus left the office.

“Yeah, and it was the easier of the two,” Mark commented as he pulled off his hat and ran his hand through his hair.

“Should I go see… Mr. Hamilton at the bank or…”

“Mark, just relax and breathe for a few minutes. We’ve got all morning to do this,” Lucas answered.

It was a few minutes later when John Hamilton entered the office.

“Angus stopped by the bank and said you were in town. How are you doing?” John asked.

“Okay, I guess. I came to town to apologize for knocking you out and robbing the bank. We didn’t get time to spend any of the money,” Mark quickly spoke.

“I know you didn’t. I counted it all when Johnny returned it first thing this morning. So the other one, he convinced you that you were an outlaw?”

“Yes, Mr. Hamilton. I’m sorry for hurting you the other day. I don’t think I’d of tried to rob the bank if I’d of remembered…”

“Mark, first off, I’m John to you. Secondly, from what Johnny told me, you weren’t yourself. I accept your apology and I’m thankful that you were brought back home, safe. I’ve told your father before that money can be replaced, but your life… well… that’s more important to me.”

“Thank you…, John” Mark said as he sighed, relieved.

John said goodbye as he exited the Marshal’s Office.

“Now that your errands have been accomplished, I’d like to have Doc Burrage take a look at your wounds,” Lucas stated.

Seeing everyone still outside, Mark said, “I think I’d rather wait in here than face all of them. I don’t recognize any of them and I don’t have any answers for the questions they’re sure to ask.”

“Mark, the sooner you start to face our friends, the sooner something might happen to trigger your memories.” Lucas said as he picked up his rifle and his hat and waited for Mark, before they headed out the door.

*****

They were half way to the clinic when Lucas saw Sarah McCafferty running towards him and calling his name, “Mr. McCain!”

“What is it Sarah?” Lucas asked.

“You’ve got to come quick! Doc Burrage said you need to get Johnny out of the clinic. Colleen’s in labor.”

“Come on Mark, seems you get a brief reprieve for a while.” Lucas sprinted over to the clinic and found his brother-in-law pacing the floor. “Well, Johnny, it’s about time Colleen went into labor. Come on, let’s get you to Sweeney’s.”

“I can’t… Oh Lucas, just listen to her,” Johnny stated, worriedly.

“All women go through this. Don’t you remember when Lillian Claire was born?” Lucas asked.

*****

Lucas, set two beer mugs down at the table and a glass of sarsaparilla. He saw the expression on Mark’s face, “Mark this is your Uncle Johnny.”

“What?” Johnny asked. “Mark glad to see you back home, but Lucas?”

“Guess you haven’t heard the gossip around town this morning?” Mark stated.

“No, I kind of had my wife on my mind,” Johnny added a little sarcastically. “Sorry, but would you mind letting me in on why your pa just introduced me to you.”

“It’s because I don’t know who you are,” Mark stated.

“Johnny, he’s suffering from amnesia. We were on our way to Doc’s to have him take a look at Mark when Sarah came running up.”

“You don’t… remember me?” Johnny gulped.

“No sir. How are you related to me?” Mark asked. “Through my father or my mother?”

“Your fath… Boy, you get hit in the head or someth…” Johnny stopped talking as Mark removed his hat and he saw the wound from the bullet graze. “Mark, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Guess that makes two of us,” Mark gave a half-hearted laugh.

“Johnny is your real Ma’s brother. We chose to keep the family relationship. You mean a lot to him, to all of us,” Lucas stated.

Time passed and various citizens would either stop and gawk over the saloon doors or look in the windows, a few would even venture inside the saloon before turning around and leaving.

“If you don’t mind, I think I can find my way back to the ranch. It’s getting to be uncomfortable just sitting here.”

“Okay Mark. Tell Milly that I’ll be home once we know if it’s a boy or a girl.”

“Sure.” Mark quickly finished his drink, picked up his hat and left as he put it on his head.

“Lucas, how?” Johnny asked as his nephew left the saloon. “And what’s with his arm in a sling?”

“Seems someone had a vendetta out against me. Don’t know that I know the whole story, but they took their revenge out on Mark. Thank God their aim wasn’t true. When Mark came too, he had no memory before waking up. Nothing. The man convinced Mark he was an outlaw with a price on his head. I was tracking the bank robbers and…”

“Lucas, then… he was one of the ones who… Mark robbed?”

Lucas nodded before he said, “He took a shot at me and I returned fire.”

Johnny heard the guilt in Lucas’ voice, he let out, “Oh, my. Wow. How are…” and shook his head in disbelief.

“We’re trying to get through this, minute by minute.”

*****

It was almost suppertime when Thadd entered the saloon. Johnny quickly jumped up and asked, “Well, do I have another daughter?”

“No.”

“Then I have a son! Lucas, I have a son!” Johnny exclaimed.

“Not quite,” Thadd stated with a mischievous smile on his face.

“But you just said…”

“I only said you didn’t have another daughter. You jumped to the conclusion you had a son.”

Confusion showed Lucas’ and Johnny’s faces, until Thadd said, “Congratulations, you have twin sons.”

“Twins?” Johnny stated as he sat down heavily in his chair. “Twins.”

“Oh my, Johnny, I guess there is a small blessing for Mark not remembering. Think of all the times you teased him about Josh and Zach.”

“Lucas, what do you mean, Mark not remembering?” Thadd asked, as Johnny continued to sit dumbfounded in his chair.

“We were on our way to see you when we found out about Colleen. He was ambushed and has no memory,” Lucas answered.

“Twins,” Johnny stated as he reached for his beer.

With a smile because of Johnny’s disbelief, Thadd asked, “Where is he?” as he looked around.

“He headed back to the ranch earlier. Said it was getting to be too much; people staring at him.”

“Well, help me get Johnny over to the clinic to see Colleen and I’ll head out to the ranch with you.”

*****

After several nights of Mark sleeping in the hayloft, Hope finally convinced him that he should at least move a cot into the front room and sleep there, if he was still not willing to sleep in the same bed. She just couldn’t stand watching him walk to the barn each night.

*****

In light of Mark’s condition, Tom Benton sent Coltrane Walker to assume Mark’s responsibilities for the U.S. Marshal Service. After arriving in town, he headed straight for the McCain ranch and was thankful to find out Mark wasn’t home.

“Lucas, how are you?” Coltrane asked as he stepped from his horse while Lucas walked out the door from the barn.

“I’m fine. Thought maybe you might have been Mark coming back,” Lucas stated hopefully.

“Sorry. I wanted to let you know I was in town, and I think you understand why I’m here?”

“Figured Tom or Cole would send someone to take over Mark’s responsibilities. I told them after the last time, I couldn’t do it. Never figured it would really come up again.”

“How’s he doing? I mean, any glimpses of his memory returning?”

“No, nothing. I can tell it’s getting him down, but he tries hard. He’s finally asking questions on his own.”

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that I’m in town and hoping my stay will be short.”

“I understand Coltrane. Thanks,” Lucas replied.

*****

As the days went by, Mark rode out with Lucas to the check fence lines, check the cattle, or work in the fields with their crops, whatever was required to keep their ranch working. Occasionally, Mark would ask a question about his past, but for the most part, he kept quiet. They were on their way back home, after a hot day in the saddle, when Lucas deliberately took the route that would lead them by the pond, knowing his son was still struggling with not knowing his past.

Lucas stepped from Blade and allowed him to drink. He watched as Mark stepped from his own horse.

“You’ve been pretty quiet of late. Not really like you to not be talking. When you were growing up, there were so many times that I thought about how nice it would be to have peace and quiet when you were around. But, if you weren’t talking you were daydreaming somewhere and I would have to track you down.”

Mark pulled a bandana from his pocket, knelt down to wet it, before running it over his face and around his neck.

“You really should…” Lucas started to say.

“Should what? Talk? Talk about someone I can’t remember,” Mark stated bitterly. “Find out the answers to who I used to be? It’s not any use. What if my memories never come back? Then what?”

“We’ll face that bridge, if and when we come to it. Mark, this pond, when you were younger and whenever you needed time alone to think, you’d ride up here by yourself. I brought you here so you would know about it and if you need to get away, this is a quiet place where you can come. Maybe this might be the trick to getting your memory back.”

Both got back in the saddle and rode for the homestead.

*****

After they had eaten supper and the children were put to bed, Mark and Hope sat on the porch of their home. Lucas and Milly walked over to share a little of the evening.

Lucas spoke, “Mark, we don’t know why God hasn’t allowed your memories to return nor when he will, but we have to have faith that there’s a reason why.”

“Faith… How much faith am I supposed to have?” Mark asked dejectedly.

“You asked that exact question a number of years ago, Mark,” Milly stated as she sat down next to Lucas. “You and Lucas, and a lot of other ranchers, had lost your herds to hoof and mouth disease, for a second time. North Fork almost died, so many people moved away. Your father went to look for a job and left you in our care, Micah’s and mine, until he could return.”

Milly paused as she remembered the heartache they all went through. She fervently hoped that this might spark a little of Mark’s memory to return.

“Your father couldn’t tell you, or any of us, where he was going, only Micah knew. Micah told me one day, that it could mean your father’s life if word were to get out about what he was doing. The only explanation your father gave any of us for why he was going, was that he was looking for some way to be able to continue to raise you. I don’t’ think the two of you had ever been separated for that long. While he was gone, we received no word, for over two months. In time, you thought your father had given up and abandoned you, especially after so many of the families started returning and North Fork came back to life.” Milly hesitated again, looking carefully into Mark’s face. “It was the hardest time in my life, watching as you became more… lonesome… dejected. One day, you came back to the ranch. You had plans to clean up the house and live here, on your own. When we found you, you asked Micah and me how much faith was a person supposed to have. Micah said some pretty harsh words to you that day. You were barely thirteen and making plans to dirt farm and give up on your education. You admitted to us that you gave up on your father, because you felt he had given up on you. That you had lost as much as he had, if not more, because you felt you’d also lost him. It hurt to hear you speaking in such a fashion. It was a few minutes later that you started calling ‘pa’ ‘pa’, over and over again, and then you ran out, up to the rise over there and there your father was. I thought my heart was going to jump from my chest when I saw the two of you together. It was the sweetest reunion I ever saw. Mark, I’m telling you this so you’ll understand… you have to have just as much, if not more faith, now, and not give up. Because the moment you give up, that could be one moment too soon.”

*****

It had been ten days since Mark had returned and North Fork was ready to hold the Summer Social and celebrate Johnny and Lou’s seventh wedding anniversary. Mark waved as Jake helped Gwen into the buggy and they drove on to town. Mark helped load his family into their buckboard and followed his parents to North Fork. He had given in to learning all he could about himself and tried to remember everything his family was telling him about various townspeople. The closer they got to town, the more nervous he became.

“I can’t do this,” he declared as he halted the team.

“Mark, you can. Johnny and my father, they’ve been talking with people in town and asked them to give you the time and space you need to remember. Besides, I’ll be right beside you the whole evening. As will Pa and Ma. And you did promise Myra a dance tonight. Please, we don’t have to stay late, but we do need to attend.”

*****

Most of the townsfolk pleasantly wished the McCain families a good afternoon when they arrived and then made their leave. Mark was thankful that he had family to help run interference on his behalf. Mark’s family kept him from most of the prying eyes of the new comers to town. People would quickly avert their eyes as he looked around.

Finally, it was six o’clock and the band struck up a lively tune. Mark watched as the men and women danced. Seeing the twirling colors of the women’s dresses and skirts and hearing all the laughter, improved Mark’s attitude a little bit. When the first song came to an end, most of the people were laughing and breathing heavily from their exertions, as they exited the dance square.

Hope had just taken their plates when Mark saw the man who was his uncle and a woman, both carrying bundles in their arms, and a young girl approaching him.

“Hello Mark,” Johnny said.

“I understand congratulations are in order, Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen. My father said you had twin sons,” Mark replied.

“Yes, David Jonathan and Andrew Mark. Would you like to hold your cousins?” Colleen asked.

“I guess so.”

One by one Mark held his cousins in his arms.

“Does this bring back any memories from when your twins were babies?” Colleen asked, then immediately apologized. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair for me to ask.”

“That’s okay. Guess we’re all getting anxious if I’ll ever get my memories back,” Mark replied as he handed the last baby back to his uncle.

Hope returned and took turns holding one and then the other Gibbs’ babies.

The band started playing a very slow tune, when Hope reached to Mark, grabbed his hands and said, “I believe you reserved this dance for me,” and led him to the dance square.

Quickly, Lucas led Milly, while Johnny Drako led a very pregnant Lou to the dance floor. In short order they were joined by Micah and Hattie, and others from town.

Later that night, during one of the intermissions for the band, Lou presented Johnny with a gift, a peace-maker special with an intricately carved handle.

“This is a very appropriate gift. Though I didn’t have a shotgun wedding, I have a peace-maker anniversary!” Johnny stated loud enough for everyone around him to hear the amusement in his voice. As he looked to Lou, he smiled as he saw her temper start to rise.

“Tis not funny!” Lou called.

“Oh, I thought this was a peace offering, for me having to deal with the condition that you’re in?” Johnny couldn’t help but tease his wife, he truly enjoyed riling her.

“Tis all yer fault!” Lou declared, very brash.

“Can’t be all my fault!” Then lowering his voice, placed his hand to her very pregnant belly, and whispered into his wife’s ear, “I seem to remember you enjoying our lovemaking every bit as much as I did.”

“Johnny Drako!” Lou gasped.

“Yep, that’s what you said afterwards!” Johnny retorted with a large smile on his face.

*****

Hope could tell that the evening was starting to wear on Mark when she told Lucas and Milly that they were going to head on back to the ranch.

“But please, don’t feel you have to shorten your evening just because of us. Stay here and have fun,” Hope insisted.

“No, we should head on home as well,” Lucas stated. “Though I do think that Jake will be a little disappointed that Gwen will be leaving so early in the evening.”

“I already spoke with Gwen, and Hattie and Micah. She’ll spend the night with them and then Jake will bring her home tomorrow evening. They deserve an afternoon together, tomorrow.”

Both McCain families loaded their children into their buckboards and headed home. Hope started humming a tune that she had heard during the evening as she held their daughter in her arms.

“After a wonderful evening like tonight, I could fall in love with you all over again,” Mark stated as Hope to lean against his shoulder. Cautiously, Mark placed his arm around Hope’s shoulders.

*****

Mark had spent most of the afternoon at the pond and was leaning back against the tree, tossing pebbles into the water in front of him. In just a week, his twin sons would turn four. Though he was enjoying the life he was living, he felt like an outsider looking in. He still couldn’t remember his past and each day it was growing more frustrating. Today, he just needed to get away from all the reminders. Reminders of what he didn’t remember.

Hearing a horse snorting roused Mark from his contemplations.

“Didn’t mean to interrupt your thoughts, just wanted to water my horse,” the man said.

“That’s okay. I need to be getting back anyway.” Mark picked up his hat and stood up. He looked at the stranger watering his horse.

“Can I ask you a question?” the man asked.

“Sure,” Mark replied.

“Is this McCain property that I’m on?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lucas and Mark McCain?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Does Milly Scott still live around these parts?” the man asked.

“I don’t rightly know of any Milly Scott, but I know Lucas McCain is married to a woman named Milly.”

“Oh, and Lucas let’s you trespass on his property?”

“I’m not trespassing on my own property,” Mark replied.

The stranger looked kind of funny towards Mark and asked, “Then you’d be Mark McCain?”

“That’s what they tell me?”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you said, they tell you?”

“It’s a long story, but I don’t remember anything prior to a month ago. Had a stranger come to town and shot me from my horse, when I came too,.. Nothing. The family’s trying to help…”

“You’re here trying to remember on your own?”

“It’s a little much, not knowing who you are,” Mark replied.

“I think I can understand.”

“I don’t remember any of them. Nothing. The town’s people and my family know more about me, than I do and it’s… I came up here to get away from all of them for a while.”

The stranger pushed his hat back on his head and stepped away from his horse as the horse drooled water from its mouth.

“Do you know me and my Pa?” Mark asked.

“Sort of. Guess it was eleven years ago that I rode through here last.”

“Can you help me? I mean, maybe if I hear from someone else, things that happened. Oh Mister, please?”

“I’ll tell you all that I know, but you have to promise me, you won’t tell your folks that I’m here. At least, not yet.”

“Not yet?”

“I’ll explain as we talk. We can meet here again tomorrow, say one o’clock?”

“Sure,” Mark replied. “By the way, doesn’t exactly seem proper for me to call you mister all the time.”

“My name’s Chase. Harry Chase.”

“Mr. Chase, Harry. It’s a pleasure meeting you… again.” Mark shook hands with Harry then grabbed the reins of his horse and headed back home…

*****

The following afternoon Mark returned to the pond, he felt excited, maybe today would be the day. He turned as he heard a horse approaching.

“Afternoon, Mark!” Harry called.

“Afternoon, Harry,” Mark replied.

“So, where do you want to begin?” Harry asked as he stepped from his horse.

“I don’t know. How long have you known my Pa?”

“He was my training officer back in the war, before I was shipped out.”

“The War? Between the States?”

Harry nodded. He continued to tell of how scared he was as a young man. He’d heard of the atrocities, brothers against brothers, fathers against sons, “But you weren’t a man if you didn’t step up to serve. Defend what was right against what was wrong.”

Mark spent the afternoon listening, envisioning Lieutenant McCain commanding the enlisted men. He listened as Harry told of the battles he had been in and his field promotions. Before Mark knew it, it was time he needed to get home.

“Tomorrow’s Sunday and I’m usually expected to spend the afternoon at the ranch, with my family. Can we meet again Monday afternoon?” Mark asked as he tightened the cinch to Copper’s saddle.

“Sure, Mark. Monday afternoon.”

Though Harry’s talks hadn’t brought Mark’s memory back, he was feeling a little better, knowing that he was learning something he wasn’t expected to really know about his Pa.

*****

Harry had been in town for almost four days and except for Sunday, he had met Mark every day at the pond. When not at the pond he’d kept to the hotel or saloon. He had been able to confirm that Milly McCain was the former Milly Scott. He listened as the town’s people would talk and gossip. Each night as he lay down in bed, he pulled his Bible to his chest, ‘Soon, very soon, you’ll be back in my arms, where you belong.’ The following morning, Harry woke and realized, today was the day that he was to put his life back together.

*****

Mark rapidly got to his feet as Harry finished speaking. “You! You were the one! You tricked Milly into caring for you by saying you were there when her brother was killed?” Mark yelled as a piece of his memory came back. “You drove Milly away from Pa! Because of you she left town, she left us! You bastard!” Mark yelled and tried to run for his horse, stopping when he heard the sound.

Harry stood and watched. He was quite surprised at the reaction of his ‘new’ friend, causing him to draw his gun and cock it.

“Mark, we’re friends. Friends don’t talk to friends like that.”

“Friends don’t draw guns on their friends, either. What do you want with me?” Mark demanded as he turned around to face Harry.

“From you? Nothing. I’m here to get what should have been mine and you’re going to help me get it. Though I am surprised that of all times, you chose now to get your memory back.”

“Not all of it, but you… I remember you and what you did.”

“That’s a little too bad, for you,” Harry Chase stated as he moved his gun, motioning Mark to get to his horse.

“What do you want?” Mark demanded.

“Like I said, I want what’s rightfully mine. You and your Pa have each other, the Rifleman and the Lawman. Made for pretty interesting reading. Didn’t realize that Milly would have turned around and married your Pa, she’s mine.”

“Yours? You deceived her and made her care for you over nothing but a bunch of lies you told her about you and her brother! How can you think she’ll ever care for you?!”

“When I have what’s most precious to her, she’ll come with me and we’ll be one happy family.”

“Family… NO! I won’t let you!” Mark yelled as he realized what Harry might be talking about.

“You can ride with me and be part of the family or I can tie you up here or shoot you. One way or the other, I’ll get your sister. As for your brothers, well, maybe I’ll be nice and let your Pa keep his other sons. With or without your help, I’ll get what’s rightfully mine,” Harry stated as he motioned Mark to get in the saddle.

As they rode to town, Mark saw the ominous clouds coming across the plains. He grew concerned about what Harry Chase had in store for him and his sister and just how he was going to use them to get to Milly.

*****

Harry followed Mark back to North Fork and stopped just outside the school grounds. Mark trotted his horse to the steps of the school house, looking back over his shoulder to see Harry nod at him. “Percy,” Mark hollered over the winds, “Where’s Gabby?”

“I dismissed the children early because of the storm coming, she left here not ten minutes ago,” Percy replied. “I told her to head to Johnny and Colleen’s to wait for you or Lucas.”

Mark turned his horse and headed back to Harry.

“Looked real good there Mark. Didn’t look like you did anything to tip the ‘schoolmarm’ off.”

“Not with you threatening to kill him.”

“Where’s your sister?”

“He dismissed the children and sent Myra to my aunt and uncle’s to wait for me.”

“Then let’s be a good big brother and ride and get her.” As they rode, Harry turned his collar up as the wind started blowing the rain.

Once there, Mark saw his uncle running from the front door to greet them. Mark was informed that Myra had not come to their home. Mark twisted around in the saddle, they’d come by the main road, now his mind raced on the shortcut he’d heard Gabby talking about. Mark whirled his horse and without a goodbye, raced homeward. The sheeting rain hurt as it stung his face. The full fury of the storm was upon them and the temperature began to drop. Mark could care less that Harry Chase was behind him, he had to find his sister. Bits of hail struck him as he urged Copper on faster. He raced onwards to the shortcut. Lightning illuminated the darkening sky as they reached the river and saw it was already swollen.

“What are you up to, boy?!” Harry yelled as Mark pulled his horse to a stop.

“My sister didn’t go to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s. I think she took a shortcut to head home by herself!” Mark yelled back.

He waited for the next bolt of lightning and saw what he feared; standing on the far side was a horse with its haunches to the wind. He pushed Copper across the deepening water. Mark recognized the horse his sister rode, Blue Boy.

“GABBY!” Mark yelled over the storm. “GABBY!” Mark jumped from his horse and searched the ground, realizing there were no child foot prints in the mud. He ran back to the river, seeing how much more it had swollen in the past few minutes. “G-A-B-B-Y!”

“What do you think you’re up to?” Harry yelled.

“That’s my sister’s horse! There aren’t any footprints in the mud! Gabby had to get swept downriver as she tried to cross!”

“She’s what, six? She’s dead. She’d never survive the waters!”

“She’s a strong swimmer! She’s a McCain!” Mark turned, ran, and dove into the river before Harry could react.

The water struck Mark like a sledge hammer, driving the breath from his lungs. He fought the current, remembering years ago when he was able to rescue… He remembered, he had been swept away once before… That he had been trying to rescue a child who had just been barely out of his reach as he swam to… His thoughts returned to his sister and he had no idea where she was other than somewhere in the waters.

Mark struggled to keep his head above the water, but allowed the current to carry him freely. He had no idea how much time had lapsed, when a bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, showing him the river starting to turn up ahead. As the currents tossed him about, in the next lightning bolt, he thought he saw a small figure clinging to a fallen tree lodged between a couple of boulders in the middle of the river. Mark started swimming and kicking, trying to set himself up to reach the tiny figure.

“GABBY!” Mark yelled. “I’M HERE!”

He grabbed around her waist and pulled her close to him, just as she lost her strength to hold on. Together they struggled to keep their heads above the water as they were forced farther down river. There was so much debris in the raging water and Mark did his best to protect his sister. Neither had control over where they were taken, yet Mark struggled to keep Myra close to him and not let the current rip her from his grasp. Through the flashes of lightning, Mark saw the landscape change as they passed through canyons and arroyos. In time, the fury of the storm lessened and the water calmed and spread out into the flat lands. Mark finally found that he could have some control over where they went as he swam towards the shore. He limped badly as he carried the body of his sister out of the water and placed her to the ground, she coughed and sputtered before she was quiet and he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. The rain continued to fall as the two McCain children lay huddled together.

*****

From as if far away, Mark heard his name being plaintively called, “Mark?” He felt someone shaking his shoulder. He felt stiff and sore and cold. “Mark, please wake up?”

Mark opened his eyes to see his sister kneeling next to him.

“Gabby? What?” Mark asked as he sat up.

“You came! I prayed, asking God to send you or Papa. You came!”

Mark could feel her shivering as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He knew it would only get worse during the night, as the temperature continued to drop.

*****

It was raining hard when Milly heard someone knocking at the front door.

“Yes?” Milly asked as she opened the door.

“Hello, Milly,” Harry Chase warmly greeted her as he removed his hat.

“Harry? What?” Milly asked as she recognized him and remembered the last time.

“I came to get what is rightfully mine.”

“Yours? Harry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just leave. You’re not welcome in this home!” Milly demanded.

“You’ll change your mind. At least you will if you ever want to see your precious daughter again.”

“Myra? My husband left earlier this afternoon to bring Myra home from school,” Milly replied.

“She left before he got there. Look out front, don’t you recognize the horses I rode in with?”

Milly stepped to the porch and recognized two of the horses, Mark’s and Myra’s. “What have you done with my children?”

“Nothing, yet. And I won’t do anything to them as long as you come with me.”

“Come with you? I will not!” Milly tried to turn and run, but Harry grabbed her arm.

“If you want to see your daughter and if you want McCain to ever see his son again, you’ll come with me. This isn’t your home!”

Harry pulled Milly from the house, across the porch and to the horses; he pushed her up into the saddle. They rode away leaving Copper standing in the rain.

*****

Gwen called to Hope, “Hope, someone just arrived with two other horses over at Lucas and Milly’s.”

“Who would be out on such a night?” Hope asked as she looked out the window. She saw a man pushing a woman up onto one of the horses. The man grabbed the reins and led the horse and woman away.

“Milly?!” Hope screamed and started for the door.

Jake McCafferty grabbed her arm, “You can’t go out there!”

Hope jerked from Jake’s grasp and ran from the house, with Gwen and Jake close on her heels. She got to the horse left standing and recognized him as Copper.

“Something’s wrong. This is Mark’s horse and I’m sure that man took Milly against her will. She wouldn’t have left Little Ted and Levi in the house alone. Get them over to our house. Would you mind watching them as well?”

“As well? Hope, what are you planning?” Gwen asked.

“I’m gonna ride Mark’s horse to town. Pa needs to know.”

“Miss Hope…” Jake tried to stop her, but she was in the saddle and slapping the reins to Copper’s flanks before he could reach for her.

*****

After finding the school house closed for the day, Lucas headed farther into town and found Percy Bullock and Stevan Griswald at the hotel restaurant and was informed that Mark had been in town earlier to get Myra.

“Okay, thanks. Guess I’ll head over to the Marshal’s to wait out the storm.”

Lucas led Blade to the livery before he ran back across the street to the Marshal’s Office and didn’t hesitate before entering.

“Hey! What’s the meaning?!” Johnny asked as the wind blew rain through the open door.

“Haven’t seen either of you since the Summer Social and decided to wait out the storm here,” Lucas answered.

“You came all the way to town…? In this storm?” Coltrane asked. “Just to see us?”

“No, in fact, I was here to pick up Myra from school. I saw Percy over at the restaurant and he said Mark was in town earlier to get her. So they’re probably already home and I’m stuck here with you two until the storm lets up,” Lucas laughed.

Into the evening, the men bantered back and forth. Finally, Lucas decided he probably should get something to eat. Johnny accompanied Lucas to the restaurant. Anna, the newest waitress in town, had just removed the last of the dishes from their table and was offering them more coffee when Coltrane ran into the restaurant.

“Lucas, you gotta come to the office, it’s your daughter-in-law! Micah went to get the doctor!”

As the three ran back to the Marshal’s Office, they heard a single gunshot above the rain. Lucas bolted through the door and saw Hope lying on the chaise, soaking wet and covered in mud, wrapped in Hattie’s arms.

“Hope?” Lucas ran over and knelt down next to her. “Hope, what’s wrong? What happened?”

“Pa! I had to get to town,” Hope tried to speak through her sobs. “I couldn’t control him, he was too strong. He ran flat out, but I had to get to town. Something’s wrong!”

“Hope, take deep breaths and try to calm down. Tell me what happened.”

“Gwen,” Hope tried gulping air. “Gwen saw someone arrive at the ranch. He… He forced…,” Hope gasped for air.

“Breathe, Hope. Try to slow your breathing.”

Lucas put his hand to Hope’s face, making sure she kept eye contact with him. So much like he’d had to do at times with Mark when he was younger.

“A man arrived, leading two horses. He had to have forced Milly to go with him. She wouldn’t have just left the boys at the house alone! Not without telling us.”

From behind him, Lucas heard Johnny asking Doc Burrage if there was anything he could give Hope to help settle her so she could tell what she needed to say.

“What do you mean, someone forced Milly to go with him?” Lucas asked.

Hope felt someone take her arm, but she didn’t take her eyes off Lucas, she needed his strength to talk. Soon, she felt something prick the skin of her arm.

“She didn’t come and ask us to watch the boys, they just rode away. The man had the reins to the other horse that Milly was on. It was pouring rain, with the storm!”

“Where’s Mark?” Lucas asked.

“He didn’t come home.”

“Pa, the horse the stranger left, it was Copper. I… I…”

“Easy Hope, just try to take deep, slow breaths,” Thadd told her.

Lucas waited before he attempted to ask Hope any more questions, Thadd had asked him to let the medication take effect. It wasn’t but a couple of minutes later when Hope’s breathing and heart rate returned to a more normal rate.

“What happened?” Lucas asked.

“No stranger would have Copper unless something happened to Mark! If something had happened to Mark, why would the stranger take Milly and not me? I had to get to town to tell you. I… I’ve never ridden Copper without Mark behind me. He’s so strong, so much more than Two-Bits. I couldn’t stop him once he got running! With the rain and winds and he was so fast, I could barely see or breathe. It took all I could do to keep him on the road to town. I tried to stop him. Pa, I tried… You had to know someone took Milly and something’s not right with Mark not being home!”

“Lucas,” Coltrane quietly interrupted with a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “What about your daughter? You said Mark had come to town to get her from school.”

“Hope, did Myra make it home from school today?”

“No,” she sobbed. “I thought she stayed in town, the storms.”

“Lucas, that’s all I’m gonna allow her to say until I’ve had a chance to examine her,” Thadd stated as he pushed Lucas out of the way. “Marshal Walker, would you mind carrying her to the clinic?”

“I can carry her,” Lucas stated.

“No, Lucas, I think you and Johnny need to get to your home and figure out what’s happening. I’ll have Hattie help me take care of Hope.”

Lucas watched as Coltrane picked up Hope and carried her out the front door, with Hattie following close behind. As they exited, Nils entered.

“I’m sorry Lucas, there wasn’t anything that could be done,” Nils spoke.

His mind was still trying to understand everything that Hope had tried to tell him, that Lucas couldn’t put his thoughts around what Nils was saying.

“I had to put him down, Lucas. He busted a leg. I couldn’t let him suffer any more. Uh… How’s Hope?”

“What?” Lucas asked, totally confused.

“I was over at Hattie and Micah’s and we seen a rider racing their horse. I saw ‘em trying to stop. It weren’t pretty, the horse slipped and went down in the mud, the rider got thrown. We ran out there and saw it was Hope. I helped Micah carry her over here, didn’t want to move her any further without Doc seeing her. I went back and Copper was struggling to get up. He busted a rear leg. What was Hope doing riding him? He’s way too much horse for someone like her to be riding. Besides with this storm, what’s she doing out anyway?”

“Nils, I’m not sure,” Johnny stated. “Hope came to town to tell us someone forced Milly to go with them. We also found out Mark never made it home with Myra, after school.”

“That don’t make any sense!” Nils declared.

*****

Before leaving the office, Johnny grabbed a badge from the desk drawer and tossed it to Micah. “Keep an eye on my town.” Regardless of the storm, Lucas and Johnny ran to the livery, saddled their horses and headed to the McCain Ranch.

*****

“Gabby, are you hurt?” Mark asked as the moon finally peeked from behind the disbursing storm clouds.

“I’m just wet and cold,” Myra said as her teeth chattered. Mark wrapped his arms around her tighter.

“Why did you head home? Why didn’t you do as Mr. Bullock said and go to Aunt Colleen and Uncle Johnny’s?” Mark asked.

“I didn’t think the rain was going to be that bad. I wanted to get home to show Mama my grades. I’m sorry I got us into this,” Myra stated as she started to cry.

“I know you are. I know you are. Come on, let’s see if we can find a cave or something to use as shelter.”

Mark assisted Myra to her feet and then got to his feet. As he took her hand, his left leg collapsed from underneath him and he fell to the ground.

“Mark!” Myra cried.

“I’m okay, Gabby. My leg just fell asleep. I’ll be okay in a few minutes.” As Mark rubbed at his leg, he knew better, he felt how swollen his knee was. Mark looked around and saw a tree limb he thought he could use as a crutch.

“Gabby, see that branch over there, go fetch it for me, please?” Mark asked.

He watched as Gabby ran to the branch and began dragging it back towards him. Using the branch, Mark climbed to his feet and they set out to find shelter.

*****

Johnny and Lucas arrived at the ranch. Gwen and Jake heard their arrival and met them on the front porch.

“Mr. McCain, did Hope make it to town okay?” Gwen asked.

“She made it to town. She’s at the clinic right now,” Lucas answered.

Johnny motioned for them to get back inside and tell them exactly what had happened. Everything they said was exactly as Hope had told them. Lucas ran to Mark’s desk and pulled open the drawer where Mark kept the cartridges for his rifle and headed back outside. Johnny asked Jake to stay at the ranch and help keep an eye on things.

“Would that be proper?” Jake gulped as he asked.

“Under the circumstances, can you see leaving Gwen and the McCain children here alone?”

“No sir,” Jake gulped.

Johnny stepped to the porch and watched as Lucas examined the ground, he could see the fury his friend was feeling.

“These prints, one’s Copper’s, the other belongs to Blue Boy. Then there’s another I don’t recognize,” Lucas called.

“So, which tracks do we follow? The incoming ones to find out why the stranger had Copper and Blue Boy or the other ones to find out why Milly was taken?”

“Damn it, Johnny! How should I know! They’re all my family!”

As the rain dissipated, they heard the sounds of other riders approaching, Lucas had his rifle up and Johnny had his guns drawn when they recognized Coltrane Walker, Seth Lane, and others from North Fork.

“I brought as many men as I could quickly round up,” Coltrane stated as he, and the others, pulled their horses to a stop.

“Lucas,” said Seth. “Micah’s sending wires to all the towns nearby to be on the lookout for Milly, as well as looking for any word on Mark and Myra. We’ll find them. We’ll bring them home.”

“Everyone, we’re going to split into two groups, Coltrane and Seth will lead one group and back track to where the stranger picked up Mark and Myra’s horses. Lucas and I will lead the second group, following the stranger and Milly.”

*****

The next morning, they followed along the riverbank, crawling over the downed trees and driftwood. One pile of logs made a natural dam they had to climb over. Mark crawled ever so carefully, checking for stability before allowing Myra to follow him across. Even with the sun at the mid-day sky, Mark still felt cold, he tried to control his shivering as he reached a hand to help Myra down from the log pile. Mark looked to the next log jam they had to climb over and he over reached his balance as he turned from setting Myra to her feet, he slipped from the wet logs and fell into the water, striking his head on one of the logs.

“Mark!” Myra screamed as he lay unconscious with the water tugging at his body. Myra grabbed his arm and pulled back. “Please God! Let Papa find us!” Myra screamed.

*****

Morning dawned at the McCain ranch and Jake felt very uncomfortable having spent the night there. He picked himself up off the cot and walked to the door to Gwen’s sitting room and placed his ear to the door and heard no sound of her being awake yet. Next, he put his ear to the door of the room where the boys were sleeping. So far, Jake was the only one awake for the day. He exited the house and headed to the barns to start tending to the animals. By the time he returned to the house, Gwen was awake, had already fed Mykaela her bottle, and was just about to put breakfast for everyone else on the table. The boys were quietly sitting, waiting.

Over breakfast, Gwen and Jake discussed the situation and felt that they really needed to get the children to town… not knowing why Lucas had said Hope was at the clinic… neither felt they were really ready to take care of all the children by themselves. They decided that while Gwen tidied up the house, Jake would go out and hitch the team.

The streets of North Fork were just beginning to hustle and bustle when Jake stopped the team in front of the clinic. Doc Burrage was just opening the clinic when he saw them coming up the street and he waited.

“Morning Jake, Gwen,” Thadd called.

“Morning Doc,” Jake replied. “We brought the McCain children to town, it felt awkward just the two of us at the ranch with them… They said Miss Hope was brought here last night.”

Jake stopped when he heard his mother’s voice calling to him.

“Mother,” Jake called.

Shortly, Micah came from the Marshal’s Office and the boys all called out for their Grandpa Micah.

“Jake, Gwen, Mrs. McCafferty, why don’t we bring Hope’s children inside. Micah, would you mind taking Lucas and Milly’s children over to Hattie at the day care?” Thadd asked.

“Sure, no problem,” Micah offered as he helped Little Ted down and then picked Levi up and carried him on his hip.

Gwen carried Mykaela into the clinic while Jake and his mother helped get Josh, Zach, and Eli inside. Thadd motioned for them to wait in the hallway while he opened the door to the room where Hope was sleeping and saw that she was just waking for the morning.

“Good morning, Hope. How are you feeling this morning?”

“I’m so sore. I don’t know that there’s anywhere that I don’t ache,” Hope replied as she tried stretching and moaned at the effort.

“You have some visitors in the hallway who really want to see you.”

Hope looked up to see Gwen holding Mykaela in her arms, she immediately told everyone to come in side. Gwen handed Hope’s daughter to her and then told the boys they should quietly sit in the chairs in the room.

“Miss Hope, I’m not sure what all happened last night, but until you and Mark can return to the ranch, I’ll stay out there and keep an eye on the homestead. Don’t you worry about anything out there,” Jake offered.

Everyone could see the worry in Hope’s face as she thought on what could have happened to Mark and just who had taken Milly the night before.

“Hope, I’ll let you know,” Thadd stated. “After I sedated you last night, Lucas, Johnny, Coltrane, your father, and others, they all headed out to the ranch.”

“When they arrived, Mr. McCain asked us to tell him everything we saw. Marshal Drako told Jake to stay at the ranch last night. We didn’t do anything improper,” Gwen quickly added. “Jake slept on the cot in the front room, the one that Mark had been sleeping on.”

“The rain had just come to an end when the others arrived and they split up and headed out to look for Miss Milly and Mark,” Jake informed the others.

“Hope, once Doc says you’re okay to be released, I insist that you and your children come to the parsonage and stay with us. With Jake out at your place and Sarah off to nursing school again, our home is going to be quite lonely,” Mrs. McCafferty offered.

“Thank you, Maggie. I appreciate it,” Hope answered.

“Oh, and Gwen, the offer is extended to you too,” Maggie quickly added.

“Thank you, but it wouldn’t be quite proper for me to say there. I can get a room at the hotel,” Gwen replied, blushing as she thought of staying at the same home where Jake had grown up and lived.

“I’ll hear nothing of the sort,” Thadd stated. “Abigail and I have a spare room at our place and I know that Abigail would love to have you stay with us. There, it’s all settled.”

“When can I be released?” Hope asked.

“I’ll let Gwen and Jake take your boys to the parsonage, I want to examine you one more time this morning. Then, Maggie, I’d like you to escort Hope to your home. But before you leave here, I think Mykaela might enjoy being nursed,” Thadd stated as he saw how fussy Mykaela was becoming.

*****

Myra still had a hold of Mark’s arm, quietly crying, praying for someone to help her and Mark. With the sleeve of her torn and dirty dress, she wiped at the tears falling down her cheeks. As the sun approached late afternoon, Mark started to rouse.

“Mark, wake up!” Mark called.

“Gabby?”

“Mark, please, wake up!”

“What happened?” Mark asked as he tried to sit up.

“You fell and hit your head. You been sleeping for hours!”

“I what?” Mark asked groggily as he put a hand to his head, trying to stop his vision from spinning. He saw the blood on his hand as he pulled it away from his head. He turned over and struggled to his knees and crawled from the water. When he made it to a large rock on the riverbank, he tried to use it to help him get to his feet. He head throbbed harder and his vision spun faster, causing him to fall back to his knees.

“Mark, please… We got to get home. Mama and Papa have to be so worried about us.”

“Worried? Gabby, I can’t,” Mark said as he raised his head to look at his sister. Even that little movement sent his stomach into convulsions; luckily, it had been some time since he’d eaten so there was nothing to come up, other than bile.

“Gabby, I can’t,” Mark finally stated as he collapsed to his side.

“What do you mean you can’t? We have to get home!” Myra pleaded.

“Sis, I can’t see straight. I can’t even stand. Listen, you’ll have to follow the river and get help,” Mark said as he hugged his middle.

“Mark, I can’t leave you!”

“Just follow the river. When you get tired, stop and rest. Don’t over drink, but drink just enough to satisfy your thirst. If you get too hot, just lie down at the river’s edge and soak your dress. You’ll eventually come to a river crossing. Follow the wagon trails and they’ll lead you to people. Tell them what happened. Ask them to get you home,”

“But I don’t know where we are. I don’t know who to ask for help…”

“Gabby, I can’t go on, but you can do it. You have to get back to Pa and to Ma. I’m counting on you,” Mark stated before blackness enveloped him again.

Myra looked around. She’d never felt so scared in her life. Her parents or Mark and Hope had always been there to look out for her, but now… She waited a while longer to see if Mark would wake up again. Finally she decided she had to do this, for Mark. Myra leaned over and kissed Mark on the cheek and whispered, “I’ll bring help. Hold on.” Finally getting to her feet, Myra started walking, heading up river.

Hunger gnawed at her belly as she walked. Occasionally Myra would stumble and fall, yet pick herself back up and continue. The sun was setting when she found a large grouping of boulders to hide behind. She cried as she heard the animals of the night come to life, the howl of a distant wolf or coyote or the hoot of an owl.

She looked to the heavens and prayed, “God, please send someone to find me and help Mark. I miss my Mama and Papa. Please, I promise I’ll be good.” Myra curled up and cried herself to sleep.

*****

The sun was barely painting the sky pink when Myra woke. She walked to the water’s edge and laid down on her stomach to take a drink. She took a moment to look at her reflection in the water, “You can do this Miss Myra. Your brother is depending on you.” She stood to her feet, looked around, and started walking again.

By lunch time, she came to a crossing of the river with plenty of wagon tracks as well as horse and oxen hoof prints. She decided to rest beside the crossing. She pulled her boots off and dumped out the sand and pebbles that had accumulated. In time she heard a noise that startled her, she jumped down from the tree stump and hid behind it.

“I know I saw someone. You just come on out from where you’re hiding!” the man’s voice demanded.

Myra slowly stood up to see an oxen drawn covered wagon with an older man and woman sitting in the front seat, the man holding a shotgun in his hands, pointed at her.

“Josiah, it’s just a child! Put that down!” the woman demanded as she placed her hand on the barrel of the shotgun and pushed it downward. “Child, what are you doing out here all alone?” the woman asked as she and the man jumped down from the wagon.

“Are you good folk?” Myra asked.

“Good folk?” the man asked.

“According to the Bible. Are you good folk? Do you help people in trouble?”

“Are you in trouble?” the woman asked.

“I am, but my brother, he’s in more trouble than me,” Myra answered.

“Child, where’s your brother?” the man asked.

“I left him back there yesterday,” Myra stated as she pointed down river. “He was hurt real bad. We got caught up in the river after the storm the other day.”

The man and the woman looked to each other, figuring the girl’s brother was probably dead, drowned in the river and she thought he was sleeping.

“Child, come with us, we’ll take care of you. What’s your name?”

“Myra, Myra McCain. My brother, his name is Mark McCain. He’s a U.S. Marshal, least he was before he forgot. Please, will you help me get help for him?”

“Miss McCain, we’ll get you back to our place and then come back and follow your tracks. We’ll find your brother and bury his body.”

“He ain’t dead!” Myra screamed as she pulled away from the people. “NO! He ain’t dead! He’s just hurt! Please, just come back with me! You’ll see!”

*****

Harry pushed Milly up into the saddle and holstered his gun as he went to mount his own horse. He reached for the reins to the horse Milly was riding and then kicked his horse into a lope. Milly’s head jerked back as Blue Boy picked up the lope and followed.

Milly had never been in the saddle before and was extremely sore when Harry finally called for a halt the following evening in front of the office to an old abandoned mine.

“Let me help you down from there!” Harry stated.

“Why are you doing this? Where are Mark and Myra?” Milly pleaded as she looked around.

“I said get down,” Harry stated looking at her.

He took the horses and led them into what once was the livery. “Ain’t nothing around here for miles, if you choose to run. Do it and you might as well have pulled the trigger on your children.”

“Where are they? Where are Myra and Mark?” Milly demanded.

“You don’t need to worry about them right now. You have other concerns to which you need to focus your attention.”

After tending to the horses, Harry led Milly back to the office.

“Harry, why? Why are you doing this?”

“Because you belong to me. I should have been the one you married, not McCain. He’s not good enough for you. All he did was brag about himself and his boy, the Lawman.” Harry led Milly to the far side of the office, he pulled back the dusty sheet from the chaise. Milly sat down and then Harry sat down next to her. Milly tried to keep proper distance between them, but Harry pulled her closer. “He didn’t love you enough to mention you in those newspaper articles. What man seeks to keep all the glory for himself and not brag about how beautiful of a wife he has.” Harry ran the back of his hand against Milly’s cheek as she turned her face away. “He can’t appreciate you like I can. If he truly loved you he would have told the whole world about you.”

“He didn’t because he wanted to protect me and our children!” Milly demanded.

“So he says. If it were me being interviewed, the whole story would be about you. In time, I’ll see that you forget about him. You’ll come to love me, like you did before.”

“I didn’t love you, then,” Milly retorted.

“That’s what Lucas convinced you. I brought you closer to your brother, like you had been before he went off to war. You know, in your heart, you longed for the memory of your brother and you loved me. I’ll give you all the time you need, but one day, you’ll realize Lucas McCain never loved you, not the way I did or still do.”

“Harry, I don’t love you,” Milly cried out.

“Maybe not now, but in time you will. In time it will be me, you’ll long to have my arms wrapped around you. We’ll make our own family. You’ll be the belle of all the balls I take you to. When we arrive and are presented, everyone will say, there is a happy couple, truly in love, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Chase.”

“Harry I can’t and won’t love you. I love Lucas and the children we have together! I’ll never love you!” Milly replied, coldly.

“You will!”

Harry grabbed Milly by the arm and turned her towards him. He pressed himself closer to her. He could sense her fear… His demeanor changed. Harry gently guided her towards the kitchen.

“Now, you’ll fix your husband a proper meal for the night. And don’t make me regret not tying you so you can’t get away! Remember, I know where Mark and you daughter are.”

With no other choice, Milly resigned herself to fix a meal for the two of them. As she went through the cupboards, she realized that all the canned food was new as there was no dust or dirt build up on the cans. She became alarmed, how long had Harry had been planning this?

Over supper, Milly listened as Harry talked of plans for their future, their wedding, the home he would purchase for her, the parties they would attend and the children they would have together. She bolted from the table and ran to the door before Harry stopped her.

“Darling, what’s distressed you so much?” Harry asked as he grabbed her arm and lovingly ran his hand down her cheek, brushing away tears.

“You have! You’ve forced me from those I love! My family!”

“Milly, I’m all the family you need. We’ll create a large family of our own, just wait and see. The family we’ll have together will be so much more than what you’ve left behind. You were right to run away with me. I’ll protect you.”

Knowing that she could no longer bear children tore Milly up inside, but she wasn’t about to tell Harry about the truth. Harry led her back to the table.

“Milly, you’re just upset and scared, all women get that way before their wedding day. Please, come back to the table so we can talk of our plans.”

*****

Josiah drove their oxen team along the bank of the river while his wife Ester had an arm wrapped around Myra, in the seat between them. When the team could go no further, Josiah handed the reins to his wife and jumped down. As he walked along the riverbank, he looked down to the child-size footprints and then back to his wife, until his wagon was no longer in sight. As he rounded a rock outcropping, he saw a pile of shattered trees piled across the river. Carefully he made his way up to the top of the pile, testing each log with part of his weight, checking its stability before he committed his full weight. At the top, he looked down and saw the body of a young man lying a short distance from the river, curled up next to a boulder.

As slowly as Josiah climbed up the pile, he took just as much time climbing down. Once he had both feet on the ground, he quickly made his way to the body. The first thing he noticed was the blood-encrusted, matted hair as he pushed the body onto its back. Josiah placed his ear to the man’s chest and faintly heard a heartbeat. Rocking back to his heels, Josiah pushed his hat back on his head, shaking it in an unbelieving manner.

It was forty minutes before he returned to his wagon, “Ester, it’s like she said, her brother is bad hurt on the other side of that log pile. You head back to the ranch and get some of the men back here. We’ll try to get the boy out of there and to town, to the doc. I’ll stay here and wait, in case he wakes.”

“I want to stay,” Myra spoke.

“No,” Ester emphatically stated. “You’ll stay with me and we’ll wait for the men folk to bring your brother back to the ranch.”

“Ester, you might as well return with the men, we’ll need the wagon to get the young man to town.”

*****

The sun indicated it was late afternoon before the men arrived where Josiah waited. He gave them instructions on how they were going to retrieve the injured man from the other side of the logjam.

“Mr. Jessop, I brought some dynamite along. After we get him to this side, we can’t leave this log jam here,” a ranch hand said.

“Good thinking, Potter,” Josiah answered.

After carefully moving Mark to the far side of the log jam and then far enough away to not be in any danger from flying debris, the others returned to set the dynamite. Josiah lit the fuse and everyone ran for cover, making sure those responsible for handling the horses had a tight hold on all the reins.

Esther and Myra returned as the sun started sinking behind the distant hills. Carefully, the men carried Mark and placed him in the back of the wagon, with Myra climbing up to sit right beside him. After sending most their hired help back to the ranch, two hands stayed with the Jessop’s as they slowly traveled north to Bisby.

*****

Lucas, Johnny and the others in their posse followed the tracks to the town of Bisby. They stopped at the General Store to refresh their supplies before heading back out to look for Milly. As they were putting the last of their provisions in their saddlebags, they heard, “LUCAS!” Turning, he saw Coltrane, Seth, and the others riding into town.

“What are you doing here and not following Mark and Myra’s trail?” Lucas demanded as he ran up to Coltrane’s horse and grabbed hold of a rein.

“Lucas, we are. We followed Blue Boy’s and Copper’s tracks back to the river. We’ve been following the river the whole time. It’s been difficult with all the debris we’ve encountered. The flash flood that came through did a hell of a lot of damage, trees, bushes, boulders, dead carcasses. Each time we come to a jam, we been sifting through it to make sure… Lucas, we were getting low on supplies so we decided to come into town and send a wire back to North Fork inquiring if you’d had any better luck. I see you haven’t either.”

“No,” Johnny solemnly stated as he returned from the Sheriff’s Office.. “But we’re still following the tracks. I asked the Sheriff if he knew of any place around here where a person could hide out for a while and not be noticed. He said about ten miles out of town, there’s an old, abandoned mine site, with shacks and small homes, that if someone had planned it out, they could live there for a long time with none the wiser.

Coltrane looked to Lucas and asked, “You think whoever took Milly, is laying a trap for you out at this mine? We shouldn’t take any chances Lucas, the rest of us will accompany you. If there’s a gang hiding out, we don’t want to be too few when we rescue Milly.”

Lucas nodded.

The two small posses merged into one and before they could ride off, the noonday stage arrived in town. No one in the posse paid much attention until they heard, “McCain? Lucas McCain?”

Lucas turned to see a man stepping out from the stage, waving his hat, and running over to meet them.

“I’m right, you’re Lucas McCain?” the man asked.

Lucas was unsure how to read the man, “I am and just what business is that of yours.”

“I just… Not too many people fit your description. Saw you long time ago, back in the war.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, but we’re on the trail of the man who took my wife against her will,” Lucas stated.

“Mr. McCain, my name is Wilton Chase. I believe you know my brother…”

“Harry Chase,” Lucas spewed as he grabbed the man by the collar of his jacket after he put two and two, together. “What has he done with my wife!”

The others tried to pull Lucas from Wilton.

“Please, Mr. McCain, he’s not in his right mind.”

Johnny and Coltrane struggled until they finally pulled Lucas from Wilton.

“What do you mean, he’s not in his right mind? Has he harmed my wife?”

“I pray, no. Mr. McCain, ten years ago, my brother returned to St. Louis. He spoke of what he had done while visiting North Fork and meeting a Miss Milly Scott.”

“Milly Scott is now Mrs. Lucas McCain and has been for seven and a half years,” Drako stated.

“My brother is a sick man, mentally. Shortly after his return, our family placed him in one of the better psychiatric hospitals in the state. I’d visit him quite regularly and we’d talk. I’m afraid his mental illness caused him to create an unreal world in which he lives. He spoke all the time of his fiancée, Miss Scott. We went along with him, the doctors said it was best to do that instead of upsetting him. He’d get quite agitated when we would try to tell him the truth. Two months back, I went to visit him and he had gone missing during the night. After searching his room, we found newspaper articles about you and your son. I regret to say that the notations Harry wrote, left little doubt of where his mindset was, but I didn’t dare head straight to North Fork. I figured, it would be best for me to follow Harry directly. I followed him and eventually ended up in Orla, Texas. While there, I found out he had requested maps of mines in the area surrounding Bisby. With some of the provisions the store keeper stated he had purchased, I figured he was planning to hide out somewhere around here. I had hoped to catch up with him before he did any damage. Mr. McCain, in his mind, your wife is still in love with him. I don’t think he’d do anything to harm her, he loves Miss Scott.”

“Mrs. McCain,” Coltrane corrected.

“I’m sorry, I know. Maybe we were wrong to do as the doctors suggested, but we never thought he’d get away from the hospital. They were quite distressed to find out that he had somehow managed to… ‘leave’. Please let me get a horse and go with you. I can convince Harry to let her go, if he really does have her.”

“You think there’s any doubt? He kidnapped a married woman, forced her from her home, leaving her two small children alone. And then us following their trail here?” Drako demanded.

“Chase, you should also know that two of Lucas’ other children are missing and your brother, undoubtedly, had something to do with their disappearance as well,” Coltrane added.

“My God, how old are the children involved?” Wilton asked ashamedly.

“Mark’s a grown man, but there’s Lucas’ daughter who’s six. Then there are the two babies, one who will soon be four and the other who’s two, who your brother forced their mother from,” Seth answered.

“My God, Harry, what have you done?” Wilton asked as he looked to the heavens.

“Get your horse, we ride in ten minutes,” Lucas stated as he turned and walked back to his horse.

*****

Lucas stood in front of Harry, with his rifle pointed at him, as Harry sat and cowered in the corner of the room, highly agitated and talking incoherently. The others rushed into the room behind Lucas with their weapons drawn. They all stared and, at times, they barely could make out “She’s my fiancée” or “We’re getting married” or “My mother would be so proud”.

“Lucas!” they heard a woman scream.

Lucas turned and ran out the doorway into the room next door where he saw Milly standing, tears in her eyes, her hands to her mouth. She just stood there, immobile as Lucas ran to her. With his rifle still in his hand, he wrapped his arms around Milly and pulled her close to him. Only Milly heard Lucas say, “Thank you, God.”

*****

Coltrane pushed Milly and Lucas out of the building. “Lucas, take your wife and head to Bisby. It’ll be a slower ride by horse back to get you back there.”

“I’ll take care of my brother,” Wilton spoke. “When he’s more coherent and calmer, we’ll bring him to the sheriff’s office.”

“I should have killed him,” Lucas stated as he wrapped his arm tighter around Milly.

“You couldn’t, Lucas, and you know it. As much as he hurt us, he can’t hurt us anymore. His mind, it’s like he’s built a make believe world. Please Lucas, take me away from him. I just want to get away from here. I want to go home. Do you know where Mark or Myra are? Harry said he had them.”

Lucas placed his left hand to the back of Milly’s head and pulled her closer to his chest as he tearfully said, “No.”

Members of the posse had found where Harry had stabled the two horses. They led them to the front of the office.

Lucas led Milly to Blue Boy, “I can’t Lucas. I can’t ride him alone,” Milly cried, her husband understood.

Johnny Drako held Blade as Lucas mounted and then he helped Milly get in the saddle, in front of Lucas, sitting side saddle. Before Lucas and Milly had gotten fifty yards, Johnny was by their side.

“I ain’t letting the two of you out of my sight until I get you back home,” Johnny stated as he put his hand to his gun.

Trying to add a little levity to the situation, Lucas replied, “I’ll take issue with that when I get my wife to a hotel.”

“Well, let’s just say, I’ll be standing guard outside your rooms, then.”

“Rooms?” Milly asked inquisitively.

“You know what I mean, the bathing room and then your sleeping room,” Johnny stated as he shook his head, unbelieving that they both could still tease him after all that had happened.

“Johnny, I don’t think you need to worry. Harry’s mind… warped. I think after he left North Fork, he couldn’t face the reality of who he was and all he had done. He created a world he could live in and one day, his false reality was so overpowering, he had to come back and re-claim me, so his world would be complete. There was never anyone else around.”

“Johnny, thank you my friend. We’ll accept your company, up to a certain point,” Lucas commented as he held Milly tight, while she rested into Lucas’ chest.

It wasn’t the most comfortable way to ride, but Milly wanted nothing to do with being astride a horse on her own. She took comfort in hearing Lucas’ heart beating steadily. She took comfort in the strength she felt in his chest. As they walked along, the steady footfall of the horses’ walk lulled Milly to sleep in Lucas’ arms. Gently Lucas pressed a kiss to the top of her head, thankful she was back in his arms. Now his concern was to get her to town and then try to, somehow, find his eldest son and daughter.

*****

Josiah Jessop drove his oxen pulled wagon on to the main street of Bisby and the group saw a posse racing out of town, heading to the east. He stopped the wagon in front of the doctor’s office. Josiah assisted Ester down from her seat as one of his hands ran to bring the doctor outside.

Only a few moments had passed when an elderly gentleman walked through the doorway with the ranch hand behind him.

“Doc, found this here stranger and his sister yesterday. He’s hurt something bad. From what the child says, they got caught up in that flash flood a few days back,” Josiah stated as they started to remove Mark from the back of the wagon.

“Gently, men. Carry him inside and put him on the bed in the room on the left,” the doc called as he followed them inside.

The doctor shuffled his feet as he shooed everyone from the room so he could tend to his patient.

“But I want to stay with my brother,” Myra pleaded.

“Miss, I think it best you go with Miss Ester. She’ll take good care of you.”

“I don’t want taken care of. Mark needs taken care of. He’s my brother. He wouldn’t of been hurt had I done like I was told!” Myra cried.

“There, there, now child,” Ester picked Myra up into her arms and carried her out. “Just cry yourself. It’s okay for you to cry.”

Doc turned his attention back to his patient. He noticed the dried blood caked in his patient’s hair. He pumped some water into a bowl and placed it on the table next to the bed. Carefully he washed the blood away until he could see the extent of the injury. Shaking his head as he probed the side of his patient’s head, “Ain’t good. Not at all. God, it’s a miracle this young man is still alive.”

After cleaning the wound, shaving away some of the hair, and applying a few stitches, doc wound a bandage around Mark’s head to protect the injury.

Next, he examined his patient’s extremities. Pleased he felt no broken bones in the hands or arms. His examination led to the legs where he found a severely wretched left knee. Doc cut open the pant leg so he could get a better look at the injured leg, “Well, maybe if I just wrap it to keep it stable, but then, in your condition, you’re not going to be jumping up and dancing a jig any time soon.”

He next examined his patient’s chest and back, thankful he could feel no broken ribs.

Doc turned to leave the room and paused at the door, “Young man, I hope you believe in God. It’s gonna take a lot of faith to bring you back and get you on your feet.”

*****

Doc grabbed his cane as he headed to the hotel, where he figured the Jessop’s would have headed with the girl. He entered the hotel and found the three sitting in a corner of the parlor. Myra was the first to see him and jumped up and ran to the doctor.

“Is my brother going to be all right?”

“Whoa there, little lady. Let’s get back to the Jessop’s and we’ll talk.”

The doctor took Myra’s hand and led her back to the corner of the parlor.

“Well doc?” Josiah asked.

“It’s gonna take a lot of prayers and faith to see him through to recovery.” Both Josiah and Ester understood what the doctor wasn’t saying.

“We believe, oh how we believe!” Myra insisted.

*****

It was almost evening and the hotel owner was sitting back, relaxing in a chair on the porch to his establishment when he saw two men and a woman riding up. A man and the woman were on one horse, while the other man rode and led another saddled horse. The hotel owner stood up as he watched the single rider assist the woman down from the horse, then he was amazed at just how tall the other man was as he stepped down from his horse and then wrapped an arm around the woman’s shoulders.

“Sir, we require two rooms for the night,” Lucas stated. “And more importantly, if you have a bathing room, my wife would like to freshen herself up.”

“Yes, yes, I have several rooms still available and up on the second floor, I have indoor plumbing with hot water available for bathing.”

Lucas led Milly inside while Drako took the horses down to the livery. An hour later, Lucas and Milly physically felt rejuvenated, but emotionally, both were still exhausted.

As they reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the lobby of the hotel, Lucas asked the proprietor if the town had a restaurant, and if so, would he provide directions. The owner walked them to the door and pointed them in the right direction.

They walked down the street, arm in arm, with Lucas’ body posture and the grip he had on his rifle daring anyone to come near them. As they passed the Sheriff’s Office, Johnny Drako hailed them and asked if they were heading to supper.

“Yes, would you care to join us?” Milly asked.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Drako replied.

As they walked, Johnny informed them that he had sent a wire informing Micah that Milly was safe.

“I also inquired if there was any word on Mark or Myra,” Johnny stated.

The three entered the restaurant and were greeted by the hostess, before Lucas could say anything to the woman who greeted them, they all heard, “Mama! Papa!” Everyone turned to the direction of the voice and saw Myra running towards them. Lucas and Milly hurried towards their daughter and dropped to their knees and pulled her into a three-way embrace. Tears were streaming down each face, then together, Lucas and Milly held Myra at arm’s length checking her over. They saw her dress was dirty and torn, but otherwise, she looked to be okay.

“Myra, how?” Milly asked and then didn’t give her a chance to respond before she pulled her tight into another hug.

The Jessop’s stood as they watched the reunion unfold, they made their way to the entrance of the restaurant.

“Excuse me, but, my wife and me don’t mean to be interrupt, but we take it, you’re her parents?” Josiah asked.

“We are,” Lucas responded as he stood.

“My wife and me, we found her yesterday out by the river crossing.”

“Thank you for rescuing our daughter,” Milly stated as she too stood.

“Please, forgive my husband, but my name is Ester and my husband is Josiah Jessop,”

Lucas, Milly, and Johnny introduced themselves and again thanked the Jessop’s for taking care of Myra and bringing her to town.

“Papa, please… they brought Mark too. He’s hurt,” Myra quietly spoke.

“Mark’s here?!” Milly cried.

“He’s over at Doc’s office. Took a hard blow to his head. He’s not been conscious since we found him and brought him to town,” Josiah said.

“If you’d like, we can take you over there?” Ester asked.

“Yes! Please?!” Milly begged.

Before being shown to the doctor’s office, Lucas picked up his daughter and placed her on his hip, while Myra slipped her arms around his neck, as if to never let go. Lucas, Milly, and Johnny followed the Jessop’s to the doctor’s office. As they entered, the elderly doctor stepped from a room, closing the door behind him.

“Doc Ferguson, these here people are the young man’s and his sister’s folks,” Josiah introduced. “My wife and I’ll take our leave. We’ll keep your family in our prayers.”

“Doctor Ferguson, Mr. Jessop said Mark took a hard blow to his head?” Lucas asked.

“He fell trying to help me get down from a pile of logs that was blocking our way,” Myra answered. “He slept for a long time, when he woke, he said he couldn’t see right and he threw up. Told me I had to get help.”

“Mr. and Mrs. McCain?” the doctor asked.

They nodded.

“I’d like to talk with you before I show you to your son’s room. Could you leave young Myra with the Marshal?”

Johnny offered to take Myra. “Myra, what say we go order supper for your Papa and your Mama?”

“Okay,” Myra replied.

After watching Johnny carry Myra on his hip, out the door, Lucas and Milly turned back to the doctor.

“Doctor?” Milly asked.

“This way and we can talk.” Doctor Ferguson showed them to his office and asked them to sit in the chairs.

“From what your daughter just said, it doesn’t surprise me. It confirms my suspicions. Yes, your son took blow to his head. It was severe enough that, I feared, it fractured his skull. Currently, I’d say, he’s in what them fancy hospitals back east call a coma. He’s totally unaware of his surroundings and doesn’t respond to verbal commands or to pain; pain being the pinching of his skin or poking of a needle.”

“How long will he be in this condition?” Lucas asked.

“I don’t know. This is so far beyond my training as a physician. I’m an old man, I came out west to get away from the hustle and bustle. When this town found out I had been a doctor, we’ll, I know enough to tend to colds and broken bones, gunshot and stab wounds, and the occasional baby, but this… While I was examining him, I noticed a number of older injuries. Healed wounds and such,” Doc Ferguson inquired.

“Our son’s the U.S. Marshal for this territory,” Milly replied as she tried to be strong.

“Then I can understand how rough a life he’s lived then. I can’t give you any prognosis. This coma could last a few days, weeks, or he could never recover. Folks, there’s just so much about the human body that we don’t understand. I’m doing all I know how. Keeping him comfortable and away from external stimulus,” Doc stated.

Lucas asked, “But wouldn’t him hearing activity be better? I mean there’s been other times, when he’s been unconscious and having friends and family with him, talking, has helped.”

“Mr. McCain, I’m talking about loud noises. For his brain to heal, he needs quiet. But still, quiet conversations or reading from the bible might work when a person is ‘just’ unconscious, even then, a person can respond to pain. A coma is different. Essentially his brain is barely functioning at keeping his body alive. Now, I won’t say you can’t stay with him and talk to him, but I can’t see there being any benefit to him. Just to you.”

“Doctor,” Milly started to speak, but was too choked up to continue.

“Why don’t I let you go sit with your son? When the Marshal and your daughter return with your supper, I’ll let them in the room. There are a few chairs and a side table you can use to eat from.”

*****

Milly stood to the side to allow Lucas to sit on the edge of the bed, beside Mark, with one hand lovingly and supportingly placed on his shoulder, sharing his pain with him.

“Lucas, we have to believe. To have faith,” Milly quietly spoke.

“Milly, you told Mark a few weeks back about the need to not give up on faith. I don’t know how to any more. He’s been through so much, it’s not fair.” Lucas stood and pulled from Milly’s touch as he strode to the wall and slammed his fist against it as he shouted, “Damn you, God!”

“Lucas!” Milly exclaimed, shocked at what Lucas had just said.

“Milly don’t tell me I’m wrong. God took my first wife from me, leaving me to raise my son on my own and I accepted that. When he was growing up, all he wanted to be was a rancher like me. Like Me! God gave me a talent using a rifle and because of that, my son grew up to become a U.S. Marshal. Because of my rifle, my son is lying there. There’s always going to be some outlaw after him, all because of me and my rifle. It’s not fair that God allowed this to happen to him. If anyone should be lying there, it’s me, not my son!”

“Lucas, you can’t blame God any more than you can blame yourself! It was Mark’s choice to become who he is and yes, because of you he chose to be a lawman. Have you thought that maybe Mark is alive today because of this family’s faith in God? If God weren’t looking out for our son, he might very well be dead?” Milly walked over, stood next to Lucas, and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Lucas, please… We have to believe Mark can pull through this. The two of you, this entire family has been through too much to believe otherwise.”

*****

Once Johnny and Myra returned, they ate supper in the room, quietly telling Johnny some of the information the doctor had told them.

“Myra, aren’t you hungry?” Johnny asked as Myra got up from her chair and went to climb in the bed where Mark lay.

“No sir. The Jessop’s and I ate earlier.” Myra put her hand to Mark’s cheeks like she had seen her Ma do to him or her or their brothers, so many times before. “Mama, is Mark going to wake?”

“We can only pray, sweetheart,” Milly replied.

That evening, Lucas walked Milly back to the hotel to make sure that she and Myra were settled in before he returned to the doctor’s office and his son.

“I’ll return in the morning for the two of you. Right now, I want both of you to get some sleep,” Lucas stated before he kissed both of them goodnight.

*****

After Lucas closed the door, Milly turned to Myra and picked her up.

“I’m so thankful that you’re all right,” Milly stated as she hugged her daughter. “Now, let’s get you out of these clothes and see about a bath for you, young lady.”

“I missed you. You should know it was my fault,” Myra stated as she started crying in Milly’s arms.

Milly carried Myra over to the bed and sat down. She started to undress Myra for her bath.

“It’s not your fault? Myra, that man, he’s to blame.”

“What man?” Myra asked.

“The stranger who came and forced you and Mark to go with him?”

“There wasn’t any stranger, Mama,” Myra replied as she wrapped her arms around Milly. “Mr. Bullock let us out of school early because he saw the storm coming. He…”

“He what?” Milly asked.

“He told me I should go to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s to wait for Papa or Mark.”

Milly waited for Myra to continue, but when she realized she wasn’t, she asked, “Where did you go?”

“I started to ride home on my own,” Myra quietly whispered.

“You what?! Myra you know you’re supposed to wait for your father or your brother! You’re not old enough to ride home on your own,” Milly stated as she reprimanded her daughter.

“I know that, now. But I…”

“You what?”

“I wanted to show you my report card. I was so excited, I wanted to get home to you and Hope and show you. But I lost it when the river swept me off Blue Boy.”

“The river?!”

“Oh Mama. It wasn’t that deep, but then Blue Boy stopped to drink and I couldn’t get him moving. It started raining real hard and the sky got dark, then the river started rising and I couldn’t hold onto the saddle any more. I prayed for God to send Mark to find me. And he did. Mama, he heard my prayers!” Myra sobbed as she cried holding onto her mother.

“Myra,” Milly called as she rocked Myra back and forth. “You’re safe now. You’re safe.”

“But Mark’s not and it’s because of me.”

Milly finished pulling the dirty dress from Myra when she heard a light knock at the door.

“Yes?” Milly answered.

“Ma’am, my husband and I own the general store and I think I have a few things you could use,” a woman’s voice came from the other side of the door.

Milly set Myra down on the bed and walked to the door. She opened the door to see a woman a few years older than her holding several packages wrapped in brown paper, tied with strings. “Yes, I heard right. I have a night gown and a simple dress for your daughter to wear.

“How?” Milly started to ask.

“Mrs. Jessop stopped by our store and told us a little of what was happening. When I heard about your daughter, well, I just had to bring you some things to make it easier on the child. My name’s Sylvia Burgard.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Burgard, but…”

“No buts about it and you can call me Sylvia,” she stated as she entered the room.

“Sylvia, my name is Milly McCain and this is my daughter, Myra.” Then turning to Myra, “This is Mrs. Burgard.”

“Pleased to meet you ma’am,” Myra said as she jump down from the bed and curtsied.

“Pleased as well, Miss Myra. Now, let’s see if these will fit you.” After holding the clothing up to Myra, Sylvia stated, “I think they’ll be just fine. Now, what would you say about a nice bath?”

“Only if I have too.”

“Myra!” Milly called.

“That’s okay, my little girl was the same way when she was this age.”

*****

Lucas stepped from the hotel and looked up the street towards the doctor’s office. His thoughts drifted to his words earlier in the evening. He looked the other direction down the street and saw a steeple spire rising above a few other buildings, Lucas turned in the direction his heart was pulling him.

He stood in front of the door, removed his hat and entered. Slowly and humbly he walked to the front of the church and kneeled in front of the alter.

“God forgive me. I shouldn’t have spoken as I did earlier, it’s just that at some point…, a man has to, to question why. I’ve previously stood firm in my beliefs and today… when it came down to needing you, I didn’t trust your judgment. It took my wife reminding me that maybe you had answered our prayers and that’s why my boy is still alive. I’m just a man. Please don’t judge my boy against my actions…” Lucas bowed his head and cried.

While he knelt in front of the alter, a peace and calmness came over Lucas. He felt that God had forgiven him. In time, he raised his head and looked at the cross on the wall, “Thank you,” Lucas quietly spoke as he got to his feet.

He turned to see a man standing in front of the first row of pews, holding a lantern. The man spoke, “God understands. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He created us with flaws and he knows what our flaws are. It’s what one does with those flaws that shapes one’s destiny. Mr. McCain, go to your son. God has already forgiven you.”

“You know who I am?”

“People talk… God talks… In time, your son will talk, too. Go to him. Tell him that Reverend Alcaide is praying for him.”

Lucas strode to the door, before putting his hat back on his head, he turned as the room darkened, there was no one else in the room. He quickly looked left and right, then put his hat on his head and left the church.

*****

“Lucas?” Johnny asked as Lucas returned to the room.

“I’m okay. Why don’t you go to the hotel and get some sleep. I’ll stay here with Mark for the night.”

“Doc said there’s a cot in the closet there, and some blankets.”

Johnny stood to leave, “Lucas, remember, he’s a McCain. He’s strong, just like you.”

“Thanks Johnny.”

Lucas turned the lantern down low after he pulled the cot from the closet and set it up. For a while longer, Lucas sat on the edge of the bed next to Mark. Talking, remembering, begging for Mark to open his eyes.

“Too many times, I’ve sat next to you like this. Mark, I don’t know if you can hear me, but don’t you give up on yourself or God. Your Ma and your sister are both safe, so just you focus on waking up and coming back to us and your own family. Reverend Alcaide said he’d be praying for you, too.”

“Mr. McCain,” Doc Ferguson quietly spoke.

“Yes,” Lucas replied as he turned at the sound of the doctor’s voice.

“You said Reverend Alcaide?”

“Yes, I met him over at the church. I needed to ask God for forgiveness.”

“Mr. McCain, I don’t know who you met, but… Reverend Alcaide passed away four years ago.”

“But he said he was…” Lucas was confused. “He was about five foot, ten. Salt and pepper hair, thinning on the top. On the wrist that held the lantern, I saw a scar like this,” Lucas stated as he drew the scar on his own wrist.

“Mr. McCain, do you believe in angels, messengers from God? Because if you don’t, I think you should. You described him. The scar was caused by the man who killed him. He refused to tell the outlaws what they wanted to know. They had come searching for money they’d heard rumored buried around the church. With the improvements he made to the building and grounds, they felt he’d found the money. They drew a knife across his wrist and watched him bleed to death.”

“He said he’d pray for my son…”

“I believe the Reverend was sent to you as an omen,” Doc Ferguson said.

“Good or bad?” Lucas asked.

“If Reverend Alcaide was present, good. Get some sleep, Mr. McCain. That’s the best thing you can do for your son. Good night.”

The Next Generation… Chapter 67 – Faith, Lost

Johnny left the doctor’s office and headed to the telegraph office and sent a wire.

Micah Torrance
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Myra and Mark found /stop
Return delayed /stop

Give Lou my love /stop

Marshal Johnny Drako

Johnny paid for the wire and headed to the hotel. He climbed the steps to his room while doubt started to plague him. He removed his hat and placed it on the table, with his gun and holster coiled and set next to it. He blew out the lantern. Sitting on the bed, he bent over and pulled his boots off. He stretched and laid backwards on the bed.

In the darkened room his thoughts wandered. He had been there with Lucas during the war and witnessed the same atrocities Lucas had. We was there as Lucas’ reputation in his prowess with his rifle grew and was boasted from regiment to regiment. After the war, his own abilities with a hand gun carved a name for himself. Unfortunately, his reputation, as with most who were too quick with the gun, tended to have him seem to be on the wrong side of the law. He had heard that Lucas eventually returned home and married his first love. He remembered smiling when he heard the news that Lucas had a son. And now… How many times had he been there when either Lucas or Mark had been injured. He knew how Lucas must feel and that was Jonny’s worry. Would his reputation as a gunfighter put his son’s or his daughter’s life in danger, sometime in his future. Sleep wouldn’t come to Johnny that night as his mind actively played over and over, many of the gunfights he’d been in. Most not of his choosing.

‘Lou,’ Johnny thought to himself. ‘What kind of life am I giving to you and your children. How could I have even thought that I could put my reputation aside and have a normal life?’

Johnny stood from the bed and went to stand next to the window, gazing out on the quiet, sleepy town, accepting the fact that this night, there would be no sleep for him. It had been a long time since he’d felt guilt. But this guilt was worse than anything before. This time the guilt was over something that hadn’t happened and may never happen, but just the thought that he could cause this type of anguish to those he loved. Guilt. All because of his past… Doubt. All because of his past… Worry… Knowing his past…

He continued to stand at the window, and as it did every day, the sun started rising in the eastern sky.

*****

Lucas opened the door to find Johnny Drako standing on the other side.

“Any change?” Johnny asked.

Lucas shook his head as he returned to sit in the chair next to the bed where Mark lie.

“Lucas, how could we do this?”

“Do what?”

“Bring children into the world,” Johnny replied.

“It’s easy, we fell in love, got married…” Lucas answered.

“I’m not talking that. We both have reputations and look at all the harm it has caused.”

“Hold on there, friend,” Lucas cautioned. “I cursed at God last night because I felt he hadn’t protected my son. Because of my reputation someone came gunning for me. It was my wife who reminded me that maybe Mark was alive because of my faith in God.”

“I’m not talking God. I’m talking about you and your rifle and me and this.” Johnny pulled his gun from his holster and held it out to Lucas. “Last year, my reputation almost got your son killed.”

“Johnny, you stood beside Micah and me when Graves, Jones, and Evans tried to take our town. Don’t blame last year all on you.”

“Lucas, listen to me. Your son…”

“Yes my son. A little over a month ago I almost killed my son, because someone had taken a shot at me. I didn’t wait until I could get a clear line of sight and see who it was. Because of my reputation, I acted.”

“But that’s it. Your reputation put a mad-man on your trail and cost your son his memory.”

“And what about Harry Chase? My reputation had nothing to do with him, we don’t even know that Harry had anything to do with Mark’s condition. It could all be circumstantial,” Lucas replied.

“You don’t believe that for a moment,” Drako yelled.

“Maybe, maybe not. Johnny, what happened between Mark and me, it’s got you spooked.”

“Damn right it does. Goes to prove my point, I shouldn’t have thought I could settle down and put my reputation aside!”

“You’ve done a pretty good job the past six years or so.”

“You’re forgetting all the trouble my reputation has caused your son.”

“Johnny, he’s a lawman. He chose his profession. Maybe because of me, maybe because of Micah. I don’t know. But I’ve come to realize that, it’s possible, this was his destiny, to be a lawman long before you ever set foot in North Fork. Don’t blame yourself for anything that’s happened.”

Johnny turned as he heard the door to the room open behind him.

“I came to see if I could relieve Lucas, if you two need more time alone, I can come back with breakfast,” Milly spoke.

“No. We’re through with this conversation,” Lucas answered as he walked to the door to kiss his wife and pick up his daughter and hug her.

“Johnny, why don’t you head on back to North Fork. I appreciate your standing with me, but I think maybe you need to be close to your own family. .”

“Maybe I should. Maybe I’m having sympathy pains for Lou,” Johnny stated with half a laugh.

*****

After Johnny had left, Milly suggested that Lucas should go to the hotel and take a bath.

“I can’t, not right yet,” Lucas replied.

“Lucas, please. Let me sit for a while with Mark. You can really use a bath, then bring some breakfast back for us,” Milly stated as she pushed Lucas towards the door. “If there’s any change, I’ll send for you.”

*****

Lucas did as Milly requested and returned to the doctor’s office with a tray of food. They had just finished eating when they heard a knock, the door opened, and Seth Lane stepped in.

“Lucas, Milly, when we arrived in town late last night, the Sheriff told us about Mark. You should know we found Harry’s buckboard at the mine. We can use it to transport Mark back home. I saw Johnny at the hotel and he said he was heading back to North Fork, said something about he didn’t want to put too much pressure on Micah.”

“Thank you, Seth. Would you let everyone else know they should head on back home, too?”

“Sure thing, Lucas. But I plan to stay. Now, Lucas, I can see it in your eyes, remember… He’s my family too.”

Lucas nodded.

*****

That afternoon, they saw the other members of the posse off as they started their return to North Fork.

*****

Two more days passed before the doctor agreed to allow them to transport Mark home. Before Mark was carried out to the buckboard, the doctor made sure it was bedded down deep enough with straw and blankets. He had insisted their blacksmith construct a frame to which a canvas could be tied over to keep the sun from baking Mark and those sitting in back with him.

“You take it very carefully. Keep the team to a walk, and only a trot if the ground is extremely level. Jostling him around over the bumpy terrain won’t help him any,” the doctor warned as Lucas, Seth, the Sheriff, and Josiah Jessop loaded the still unconscious Mark in back.

Milly helped Myra get in back and then Lucas assisted Milly inside as well.

“Mrs. McCain, I fixed some sandwiches for your trip. We’ll be praying that your son wakes.”

“Thank you Mrs. Jessop. Thank you for finding our children and seeing that they were returned to us,” Milly stated as she accepted the basket and then hugged Mrs. Jessop.

Seth tied Blade, Blue Boy and his own horse to the back of the buckboard and then climbed up to the seat, next to Lucas. Lucas shook hands with Josiah Jessop one last time before he rein slapped the horses to start them for home.

*****

The trip home was agonizingly slow. Lucas frequently halted to check on Mark, to make sure he was handling the bumps that couldn’t be avoided.

“Lucas, why don’t you let Seth drive the team for a while and you sit back here and maybe get some sleep. I know you haven’t slept that much since we found Mark,” Milly pleaded.

As they continued their trip, Seth and Milly sat in the front seat, while Lucas sat in back. Not too much time had passed when Milly looked in on them and saw that exhaustion had finally caught up with Lucas and he was sleeping, curled up around Mark, with Myra sleeping on the other side of Mark.

“Milly, when we get back, should we head straight to town or to the ranch?”

“I think home. I don’t want to parade either of them through the streets of North Fork. If you wouldn’t mind, would you then go for Doc Burrage?”

“You know, once we get close enough, you and Lucas can take Mark on back to the homestead and I’ll take my horse and fetch Doc. Would be quicker getting him that way then for me to see you home and then head out for doc.”

“I think Lucas would approve.”

They continued on in silence, with Milly looking over to Seth every now and then.

“You’re worried about Hope.”

“Yes. At first I was only thinking of Mark, but I need to be there for her too. You’ve enough worry on your hands without Hope,” Seth stated.

“Seth, you’re both part of our family. Don’t ever forget that. In this family, belonging is thicker than blood. Maybe Jake McCafferty will be at the ranch and he can ride for Doc instead of you.”

Lucas finally stirred as the sun was beginning to set over the hills.

“Where are we?” he asked as he rose to his knees and stood up behind the seat.

“We should have you home tomorrow mid-day, if we continue to drive through the night. The moon is full and should provide enough light. We’ve not strained the team at this pace. We could stop and stretch our legs and let the horses graze for a little while.”

“Agreed,” Lucas stated as Seth made their way to a stand of trees.

Lucas jumped down and untied the over-check, allowing the horses to extend their necks and eat the rich grass at their feet, without unhitching them from their harnesses or the singletree.

Lucas insisted that since he had slept most of the day away, he would continue to drive and insisted that Milly and Seth grab a few hours sleep in back.

“Papa, can I ride up front with you?” Myra asked.

Looking at Milly and seeing her nod, Lucas said, “Yes” He made sure everyone was settled in before he started the team for the next part of the trip home.

*****

As the last remnants of light faded from the sky, Myra shifted closer in the seat to her father.

“Papa, did Mama tell you this was all my fault?” she asked.

“No. Would you care to explain how this is your fault?” Lucas asked.

“I didn’t do as Mr. Bullock told me to, when he let us out of school. I was so excited about my grades that I wanted to get home. I thought I could find my way home without you or Mark. The storm came and the water in the river pushed me off Blue Boy. I prayed that Mark would find me and not you. He doesn’t get as mad with me when I’m not good. Papa, I’m sorry. I’d give anything to have gone to Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s that day. Then Mark wouldn’t have gotten hurt trying to rescue me. Oh, Papa, I’m so sorry,” Myra cried.

Lucas wrapped an arm around Myra and held her close.

“We’ll talk about your disobedience when we get home, but for right now, your Ma and I are thankful that you weren’t hurt.”

“But Mark was,” Myra sobbed. “Papa, I didn’t mean for this to happen.”

“Sweetheart, it’s not your fault. I don’t know all the facts and maybe we never will, but Mark did what a big brother and a marshal should, he protected you. Maybe now you’ll understand the hurt your disobedience can cause and you’ll think twice before you disobey someone in the future.”

“I won’t need to think more than once. Papa, I been praying. Do you think God’s been listening to me?”

“I’m sure he’s trying to heal Mark and let him wake up.”

“Will he remember when he wakes?” Myra asked.

“I don’t know,” Lucas sighed as he closed his eyes, knowing how hard the past few days had been for not only Milly and him, but for his daughter as well.

****

Lucas pulled the team to a halt in front of Mark’s home. He looked to Milly, sitting in the seat next to him, as he realized the ranch was too quiet.

“Mr. McCain, Miss Milly!” Jake called as he stepped from the barn. “Deputy Lane!”

“Where’s Hope,” a concerned Seth asked. “I thought she would be home?”

“She’s doing okay. My mother insisted that she and the children stay at our home, until you returned,” Jake answered as he walked to the buckboard “Did you find Mark…” his words died on his lips as he looked inside.

“Jake, I was going to ask you to take my horse and ride for Doc Burrage, but first, would you help us get Mark inside and into his bed, then we’ll take the buckboard to town for Hope, the children, and Doc.”

“Yes, sir. Whatever you need,” Jake replied.

“Lucas and I will carry Mark, but we need you to keep his head still.”

“Yes, sir.”

Slowly the three carried Mark inside. Once Mark was placed in his bed and after Seth and Jake had left, Lucas allowed himself to cry. It tore at Milly, knowing how strong a man her husband was.

*****

An hour and a half had elapsed since Seth and Jake had left for town when a single horse was heard racing to the ranch. Milly and Lucas stepped to the porch and helped Doc Burrage from his horse.

“How is he? Drako told me a little upon his return and then what Seth said…”

“There’s been no change since we left Bisby,” Lucas replied.

Thadd took his time examining Mark, and afterwards, came to pretty much the same conclusion as Doc Ferguson had.

“Guess his hard head wasn’t hard enough, this time. I’m sorry Lucas, I shouldn’t have made light of this situation. I do believe he is in a coma. Whether his brain can heal is up to God. All we can do is keep him comfortable and wait. You’ve probably realized how much weight he’s already lost?” Lucas and Milly nodded. “I can assure you, it’s only going to get worse, if he does get better.”

“Can’t we force feed him?” Milly asked.

“No, not in a coma, he could easily drown if we were to force fluids into his system. His body won’t react like an unconscious person’s body would. An unconscious person can still be aware of his surroundings and realize when fluid is being introduced. Right now, Mark’s brain is functioning at such a reduced level, it’s just enough to keep him alive.”

Thadd had just finished explaining the situation and written instructions for Lucas and Milly when Seth returned with Hope. It was evident from the tears on her face that she had been crying the whole way home.

“He’s in your bedroom, Hope,” Milly stated as she wrapped an arm around Hope’s shoulders and supported her as she walked into her bedroom.

“It’s been over a month since he’s slept in our bed and now, he looks like death,” Hope cried as she turned around upon seeing Mark and buried her head onto Milly’s shoulder.

“Cry, Hope, cry. Come on, why don’t you crawl in bed and lie down next to him. Maybe he might sense you’re there and wake,” Milly stated as she looked backwards over her shoulder to her husband. She felt so helpless.

Lucas looked to Seth, “Where are the children?”

“When I got to town, I found your children and Hope’s all playing together. When I told Micah and Hattie and Maggie and the Reverend the news, Hattie said that she wouldn’t let the children come with us. Maggie put up a strong objection as well. Lucas, I couldn’t argue with two women.”

“They’re right. It’s probably best they all remain in town until we know.”

*****

The sun had long set while Lucas sat on the porch with his bible in his hands.

“Lord, guess I should be thankful of the twenty-four years you’ve given me with my boy. Maybe, you’re thinking it’s time he came to your Kingdom, to be with his Ma. I guess I could accept that, if that’s your choice, but know this Lord, there’d be a lot of good folk hurting down here. I know what Mark went through, in growing up without a Ma, I just don’t want to see his wife having to raise their sons and daughter without their father beside her.”

Lucas looked to the heaven as he leaned back against the post. He closed his eyes as he thought back to the church in Bisby. He thought on the words the Revered Alcaide had said and then the fact that Doc has said the Reverend had died four years previous. ‘Was he your angel, God?’ Lucas asked within himself. When Lucas opened his eyes, he saw a star shooting across the sky. “God, I pray that’s your way of answering that Mark’s going to be okay.”

*****

They had been home for four days and were running low on supplies, when Lucas agreed to head into town and purchase what they needed.

While in town, Lucas talked with Coltrane and found out that Wilton Chase was on his way back to St. Louis with Harry. “The judge signed the commitment order. It’s doubtful he’ll ever get out of the mental hospital.”

“He shouldn’t have gotten out the first time,” Lucas spoke bitterly.

“Lucas you have your family back.”

“Yeah, but look at the price my family’s paying!”

Lucas had put the last box in the back of the buckboard and started the horses for home. As he passed in front of the hotel he heard a distressed Lou calling for him.

“Lou?” Lucas called.

“Lucas, please! You have to go after him?” Lou pleaded. She held her hands to the bottom of her very pregnant belly.

“Who? Lou, who do you want me to go after?”

“Johnny! He told me this morning, he couldn’t’ do it anymore. He said he had no right to put my life and the lives of my children at risk. Lucas, they’re his children too! He rode out of here not fifteen minutes ago. Lucas, Please!” Lou begged.

“I’ll go after him, but first, you need to get back home. Don’t need you distressing yourself and going into early labor.”

Mrs. Donner had seen and heard the whole exchange and told Lucas to go after Johnny, she’d see that Lou got back home. And if not, at least to the clinic.

“After you get her home, you send word to my family?” Lucas asked.

“I will, Lucas. Go!” Mrs. Donner insisted.

Lucas ran to the livery and borrowed a horse and gear.

*****

After seeing Lou settled in her bed at home, Mrs. Donner ran to find Jake McCafferty. He and Gwen were sitting on a bench in front of the parsonage. Playing with Mark and Hope’s sons.

“Jake, I need you to get word to Miss Milly!”

Upon hearing the news, Jake and Gwen ushered the McCain children inside the parsonage where Jake informed his mother what was happening and that he was going to take the McCain supplies out to the ranch.

As he turned to leave, Gwen asked, “May I come too?”

“Sure, I’d love your company.”

Jake took Gwen’s hand as they ran back to where the McCain buckboard stood on the side of street. Jake assisted Gwen to the seat and climbed up beside her. He drove the team at a quicker pace than he normally would, but he felt he needed to get word to Miss Milly about Lucas.

Jake and Gwen shared supper with Hope, Milly, and Myra in Hope’s home.

“Well, I better be getting back home. Gwen are you coming?” Jake asked as he gathered his hat.

“No, I think I’ll spend the night here. Miss Hope, I’ll sit with Mark so you can get some sleep. Don’t mean to be rude, but it sure looks like you could use some.”

“Thank you, Gwen. None of us have gotten much sleep of late.”

“Jake, would you let Abigail know I’ll not be returning tonight?” Gwen asked.

“Sure.”

Gwen followed Jake to the porch where he snuck a kiss before getting back in the buckboard.

“Tell Mrs. McCain, I’ll return the buckboard tomorrow, and bring my own horse.”

Gwen nodded and stood on the porch, blushing as Jake drove away.

*****

The sun had set when Lucas came upon a small campfire with one person sitting on a log, sipping from a cup.

“I thought we had this all settled down in Bisby,” Lucas stated as he stepped from his horse.

“You thought wrong,” Johnny answered. His eyes held little emotion.

“You’re taking what happened to my family a little too personally, aren’t you?”

“No, just got my eyes opened as to what’s in store if I stick around. Best to stay away from those I love, so some hotshot can’t hurt them.”

“You’re worried about some stranger riding into town and hurting them? My God! You’re hurting them more than any stranger could. You left your wife when she’s less than a month away from giving birth to your child!”

“That’s my business. Besides, she’s always been sweet on you, maybe you can convert to being a Mormon and take on a second wife.”

“That’s not fair. Yes, Lou and I are good friends, I won’t argue that point, but she and I decided a long time ago that any other relationship between the two of us wouldn’t work. We’re too different. Before you came to town I thought Lou’s eyes sparkled for me, but once she met you and you decided to stay… Well, let me tell you, I never saw her eyes sparkle as brightly as they do when you’re around.”

“That’s neither here nor there. She knows I love her,” Johnny commented as he threw the last of his coffee out.

“And you show her your love by abandoning her? Never figured that Johnny Drako would turn coward and yellow…”

With that, Johnny jumped to his feet and threw a punch striking Lucas in the jaw. The two fought viscously, throwing blows, and rolling on the ground, until both were too exhausted to anything more than lie on the ground. Blood ran from the corners of both of their mouths and both would have deep shiners when their eyes next saw the light of day.

“Now that you have that… out of your system,” Lucas stated, his chest heaving as he struggled to catch his breath, just as much as Johnny’s was. “You ready to return to your family and live up to your marriage vows? And the oath you swore when you became North Fork’s Marshal?”

“McCain…” Johnny struggled to call.

After catching his breath, Lucas finally sat up and said, “You were the one looking for a nice, quiet place to settle down. You should have thought about this before you decided to stay and started courting Lou. Yes, our pasts put our families at risk, but running away won’t solve your problem. Damn it man! You’re willing to throw away what you have all on the chance that something might happen in the future? The night we arrived home, I sat on the porch and I told God I could accept if he decided to take Mark. I’ve had twenty-four wonderful years with him. I’ll cherish everyone that God gave me and I pray he lets Mark recover. I’ve come to accept what I’m capable of putting my family through and they’ve chosen to stand beside me. Give Lou the same courtesy, don’t make the choice for her.”

“McCain, when your boy recovers, I think I’ll press charges against you for assaulting an officer of the law.”

“I thought you gave up on that dream of yours,”

“Naw, someone beat the truth into me… Thanks, friend,” Johnny stated and then let out an ouch as he smiled at his own words.

*****

Lucas had just returned home and put the horse away when he heard a rider fast approaching. Lucas stepped from the barn and saw a horse standing in front of his son’s home, flanks heaving. Lucas ran to the house and saw Sam Buckhart on the porch.

“Sam?!” Lucas hollered.

“Where is she?” Sam asked as he turned at hearing Lucas call his name.

“Who?” Lucas replied.

“Mark’s wife?”

“She’s probably in the house with Mark, tending to him,” Lucas answers.

“Are you sure?”

“No I’m not sure. I haven’t been in their home. I just got back from chasing down Johnny Drako yesterday. Sam, what’s up?” Lucas demanded.

“I received word from Tom Benton about Mark’s condition. Please, may I enter their home?” Sam asked urgently.

Lucas opened the door and let Sam inside, he showed Sam to the bedroom where Mark lay, still in a coma.

“She’s not here Lucas. Where is she?”

“Sam, I don’t understand. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Lucas, if Mark doesn’t recover, I worry about his wife.”

Lucas choked out, “Sam, if it comes to that…, Milly and I…, and her father will be here for her.” Seeing the expression on Sam’s face, Lucas asked, “What are you getting at?”

“How has she acted since you brought Mark home?”

Gwen entered the bedroom at hearing the men talking.

“Saying she’s been worried would be an understatement,” Gwen answered the question. “Miss Milly says Hope rarely leaves his side. I tried to ask her to eat yesterday, but she refused.”

Looking around the room, Gwen asked, “Where is Hope this morning?” realizing they were the only ones in the room.

“That’s what I am trying to find out,” Sam answered.

“Then tell me why you’re so worried,” Lucas demanded.

“Lucas, she spent six years with the Kiowa.”

“I know that.”

“Lucas, did you know that many times, when a brave dies, his wife will also take her life, in order to be with him on the other side.”

“WHAT?!” Lucas exploded

“Lucas, the ways of the Indian are different from those of the white man.”

“But Mark’s not dead!” Gwen cried.

“No, but the longer he goes without recovering, her grief may force her to think that he is waiting for her, before he crosses over,” Buckhart answered.

“Sam, she’s lived as Mark’s wife for longer than she lived as a Kiowa. She’s been through worse with him. She couldn’t,” Lucas replied.

“After everything she went through last year? Then why isn’t she here, Lucas? If she’s not here tending to her husband, where is she?” Sam asked coldly, trying to drive home the urgency of the situation to Lucas.

“Her children are still in town,” Gwen answered.

Lucas, Sam, and Gwen turned in hearing a quiet voice whisper.

“Mark, did you say something?” Lucas asked as he stepped to the bed and lowered he head close to Mark.

“The Pond,” Mark said just as quietly.

“The Pond,” Lucas repeated.

“Which waterhole Lucas?”

“Let me get my horse saddled. Gwen, tell Milly.”

Together, Lucas and Sam rode for the pond, pushing their horses faster than they should have over the terrain, but a life was possibly at risk. Both hauled their horses to a halt when they saw Two-Bits eating grass and who could only be Hope lying next to the pond. From horseback, they saw the sun glint off the steel blade of a knife.

“God NO!” Lucas screamed.

“Lucas, stay here. I’ll tend to her.”

Lucas felt his knees buckle as he stepped from Blade, he grabbed the saddle horn to keep from falling as he watched Sam run to where Hope lie. He watched as Sam took the knife from Hope’s hand and put it in the back of the belt to his pants.

“Lucas, she lives,” Sam called.

Somewhat fortified, Lucas quietly thanked God as he ran to where they were.

“She tried Lucas, she tried,” Sam stated as he pulled a rag from his pocket and wrapped it around Hope’s wrist.

“How deep?” Lucas asked as he saw the tear stains down Hope’s face.

“Not deep enough. If as the other young woman said, she’s not eaten, she’s probably too weak, especially after saddling her horse and riding all the way out here… she couldn’t go through with it. I think she’s just passed out. Get your horse and I’ll hand her up to you.”

Within a few minutes, Lucas was carrying Hope in the saddle in front of him. With his arms wrapped around her, he realized how much slighter of build she had become. Lucas cursed himself for not being observant to notice how Hope had neglected herself, all for the sake of his son.

*****

Milly stepped from her home as she heard the horses galloping away and saw Gwen standing on the porch.

“Miss Milly, Miss Milly!” Gwen cried.

“Gwen what’s wrong? What happened?” Milly felt panic welling inside as Gwen ran to her, crying.

“It’s Hope, the Marshal. He was asking about Hope and talking, but…” Gwen sobbed.

“But what? Gwen, breathe slowly. What about Hope?”

“She wasn’t in the house this morning and the Marshal said she would kill herself!”

“Kill herself?” Milly felt her stomach drop.

“Something about living with the Kiowa,” Gwen said as she covered her mouth with her hand.

“Oh, no God. No!” Milly cried.

Milly was never more thankful that Mark and Hope’s children were still in town with the Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty. She only wished Myra was in town with her brothers at Hattie and Micah’s, but she knew that if she sent her daughter away, Myra would feel even worse, that this really was all her fault. She wrapped an arm around Gwen’s shoulders and led her back to the house. As they stepped to the porch, Milly heard Jake McCafferty arrive with the team and buckboard.

“Jake,” Milly called as she turned around. “I need you to ride back to town and fetch Doc Burrage back here.”

Jake couldn’t help but hear the urgency in Milly’s voice as he jumped down from the buckboard and ran to the back and untied his horse.

“Is it Mark?” he called.

“No, I fear it’s Hope.”

He swung up into the saddle and didn’t even bother putting his feet in the stirrups before he was racing his horse away.

“God, how can this family endure anymore?” Milly clasped her hands together as she looked to the heavens.

They left the team hitched and standing in the yard, not knowing whether they would need to race Hope into town, once Doc Burrage arrived and she was found and brought home.

*****

Lucas and Sam return with Hope. Milly heard their return and held the door open for them. The two of them carefully removed Hope from Lucas’ horse and Lucas carried her into the house and laid her in bed, next to Mark. Gwen stood on the porch and prevented Myra from entering the house.

Milly sat on the edge of the bed and started to remove the rag that Sam had placed around Hope’s wrist. From outside, Milly heard a horse running rapidly away.

“Sam’s going to get Doc and Seth,” Lucas stated as he returned to the bedroom.

“He’ll probably encounter Doc on the way back here. I sent Jake to fetch him earlier” Milly answered.

“Lucas, Gwen told me what Sam said. She really tried to kill herself?” Milly asked as tears fell down her cheeks.

“She might have thought about it, but Sam said the knife didn’t cut deep enough.”

The both looked at the slash mark across Hope’s wrist as Milly finished unwrapping the rag. Both were thankful that she had been too weak to succeed. Milly wrapped a clean bandage around the wound and then brushed back the bangs that had fallen into Hope’s face.

“Lucas, how could we have not seen what she was going through? She’s lost so much weight in just the few days we’ve been home.”

“We were too concerned over Mark. We saw what we wanted to see. Don’t be too hard on yourself, won’t do any of us any good,” Lucas said as he walked up behind Milly and wrapped his arms around her. “We just have to pray that God will help us, all of us.”

Milly turned her head as she heard Mark whisper, “the pond”.

“Lucas, Mark’s trying to say something.”

“I know, he must have overheard Sam and I talking earlier, he must have known that Hope would have gone to the pond. I’m thankful that somehow he heard us.”

“He’s saying more than just the pond, Lucas.”

Lucas walked around the end of the bed and knelt next to his son and listened to what he was trying to say.

“The pond … … back,” was all that Lucas could understand.

“I don’t know, Milly,” Lucas replied. “He’s trying to say something about the pond and back.”

*****

Sam rode for North Fork, for the sake of those at the McCain ranch, he hoped the doctor would be in town. He was only ten minutes from the house when he saw riders heading his way. He halted his horse when he recognized Seth and Thadd. He wasn’t sure about the younger man who rode with them.

“Marshal Buckhart,” Seth called as they halted their horses. “Jake said something was wrong with Hope?”

“Ride for the McCain ranch now,” Sam ordered as he turned his horse and headed back.

*****

“I can’t believe that Hope would even consider suicide,” Thadd stated after listing to Sam explain what had happened as he sat on the edge of the bed, next to Hope.

“Suicide?” Seth questioned the word.

“Yes. David Émile Durkheim, he’s a sociologist and an anthropologist in Europe. I understand he is founding a department at the University of Bordeaux, in France. I’ve been reading some of his published papers. If I understand what I’ve been reading correctly, he would deem what Hope attempted as a suicide. The pressures of social structure place such a strain on a person that they see there’s only one way out, to kill themselves.”

“Doc, I don’t believe I understand what you are saying, but to the Indian, it isn’t a way out. It isn’t social pressures. An Indian wife will choose to be there for her husband, in life and in death, when the love it that great,” Sam spoke.

“But why now?” Milly asked. “Mark was so worse off last year, after…”

“I know Milly,” Thadd interrupted. “This could be where the social pressures come into play. The two of them have been through so much in their lives. Last year, Hope was pregnant with their child. She could have felt she couldn’t take the life of her child as well as her own, and then Mark recovered.”

“When the love between two is that great, as I believe it is between Mark and his wife, it would be easy to accept the woman’s taking her life. As for last year, it would be unforgivable for a wife to take the life of an unborn child, in case the child would be male,” Sam confirmed.

Seth sat down hard in one of the chairs in the room. He couldn’t believe what was being discussed regarding his daughter. He’d never considered how her spending those six years with the Kiowa could have impacted her life, especially now that she was married and had children of her own. He never thought that the Kiowa way of living could be so… harsh on a woman.

“Accept?!” Seth demanded. “How can you just stand there and accept the fact that a woman could take her own life? How can you raise a woman to seek death, when their husband dies?! My daughter has children to care for!”

“Deputy Lane, as I’ve said, Indian life is different. The maidens of the tribe are not raised in this manner, but it does happen and the young women remember as they are given to a brave. The children are raised by the tribe, yes, they are the offspring of a brave and his wife, but the whole tribe participates in the raising of the children. The way the McCain’s live and raise their children, your daughter could very well have felt that Mark’s mother would be a good substitute to raise her children, as well as the other young woman.”

“Substitute?! There’s no substitute for my daughter!”

Thadd asked for everyone except Milly to leave the room so he could properly examine Hope. “I don’t need this conversation happening in this room.”

*****

After the others had left the room, Thadd continued to examine Hope.

“Milly, she’s lost a lot of weight.”

“We realized that this morning, when Lucas brought her home. Gwen told Lucas that she didn’t think Hope had been eating since we brought Mark home,” Milly replied with guilt. “We hadn’t realized it.”

Thadd had finished examining the wound and wrapped a new bandage around Hope’s wrist. “Good news is that it won’t required any stitches. The bleeding has practically stopped on its own. Now, when she wakes up, I want her to eat and someone has to be here with her at all times to see that she does. As much weight as she’s lost and if it has been five days since she’s ate, eating will be a shock to her system. She’ll probably feel nauseated and want to throw up, so small, frequent amounts will be best to reintroduce food to her system. Start with chicken broth or maybe some oatmeal thinned out with milk and see how she handles it.” Thadd pulled the sheet up over Hope’s shoulders and turned to face Milly. “Milly, I’d prefer if it weren’t Gwen who stayed here with her. Send her back to town to help the McCafferty’s look after Mark and Hope’s children. You and Lucas need to be the ones to be here. Dealing with Hope could get pretty ugly, the longer Mark remains unconscious. Sometimes the fact that a person failed in killing themselves can drive them to more drastic measures to take their life. You’ll have to keep a ever, vigilant eye on her until Mark recovers.”

“Are you so sure he will?” Milly dared ask.

“I pray he will. For Hope and his children, as well as for you and especially, Lucas.”

Milly nodded in understanding.

*****

Milly stepped from the bedroom and Marshal Buckhart motioned her aside.

“Mrs. McCain, I take it that you don’t know much about the years the younger Mrs. McCain spent with the Kiowa?”

“No, I don’t think any of us do. We just, accepted her into our family, without any question. Sam, we do love her,” Milly said.

Sam saw the pain in her eyes, “I know this family does. That’s why, when I heard the news of Mark, I returned as quickly as I could. I didn’t think that she would have told anyone all the details of her life, not even Mark. When she recovers, I think it best that you get her to talk of her life before Mark rescued her.”

“How?”

“By asking. Get her talking of why she tried to take her life. This family needs to understand how her living as a Kiowa led her down this path. I’m not saying this to be cruel or bigoted. She might not even realize why she tried. But by talking, you can help her understand, and to understand, yourselves.”

“Sam, thank you. You don’t know how much your arrival means to this family,” Milly offered.

“Yes, I do, Mrs. McCain.” With that, Sam turned and called goodbye to Lucas.

*****

As Doc left, he talked with Gwen and suggested it would be best if she were to return to North Fork and to the McCafferty’s home to help with Hope and Mark’s children. “You can spend the evenings at our house, if you still feel uncomfortable in staying at the McCafferty’s.”

“But I’m needed here,” Gwen tried to say.

“No, Thadd’s right, Gwen. Lucas and I would really appreciate it if you were there to help with our grandchildren. Please?” Milly asked.

Gwen nodded and proceeded into her room to pack for her stay in town.

“We’ll send word, we promise,” Lucas said as he helped her up behind Jake and handed her carpet bag to her. “Jake you stay in town too. That’s the way I want it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Jake turned his horse and slowly rode from the McCain Ranch.

The Next Generation… Chapter 68 – Faith’s Redemption

Johnny returned to North Fork and headed for his home. He felt remorse for his actions as he slowly stepped to the porch. He entered his home, stood still and listened to the sounds of the house after he closed the door behind him. The lantern on the front table was turned low. Pulling his hat from his head, he set it on the table next to the lantern. Taking a deep breath, he reached down and unfastened his gun belt and hung it on the peg on the wall. He slowly climbed the steps to the second floor of their home. He paused to look into Connor’s bedroom and saw him still sleeping for the morning. Next, was Danielle’s room; she too had yet to stir for the day. Pausing outside the closed door to his own bedroom, he heard Lou crying.

“Lou,” Johnny quietly called as he opened the door and stepped inside their bedroom. “I’m sorry for hurting you like I did. I…”

“Why did ye come back?” Lou asked, not looking at Johnny, but the bitterness was evident in her voice.

“Because a good friend, uh…, had a long, hard ‘talk’ with me. Lou, I’ve never been so scared before, not even back in the war.”

“Scared?” Lou said as she tried to stop crying. She turned over to sit up on the bed and looked at her husband. “Talked? Looks like more than talking was done!” Lou declared as she saw the shadows indicating bruises were forming on Johnny’s face.

“Yeah, something like that,” Johnny said as he walked to the bed where his wife sat. He noticed how bloodshot her eyes were and the puffiness of her eyelids. “Lou, you and the children mean everything to me.”

“Then why’d ye run away?”

“Because I didn’t want to end up like Lucas and Mark.” Johnny lowered his eyes.

“Not like Lucas and Mark? They have wonderful families and the two of them have a bond the likes ye’ve never seen before. A bond that I had hoped Connor would grow up and share with ye.”

“Lou, it’s not easy for me. I have a past reputation.”

“And so does Lucas!”

“And that’s part of the problem. Look at all that’s happened because of his past. Look at the hurt my past caused Lucas’ family last year. I saw myself as Lucas and Connor as Mark… Look at all they’ve gone through… ”

“And who says ye have to go through what they have?”

“A little voice inside my head. Lou, I loved you the first time I came to North Fork. That’s why I left North Fork. I couldn’t stand to see the hurt my reputation could cause this town… or you. I came back because I couldn’t get you out of my head. Oh sure for a while I could convince myself that I was just dreaming, that the likes of you could love the likes of me, but….”

“And just do tell, what are the ‘likes of me’?” Lou asked, fired up.

“Strong, independent, … beautiful… Lou, after we found Mark, I kept seeing a grave marker bearing my name. They say the only resting place a gunfighter ever gets is six feet under. I took it as an Omen that if I stayed, that’s where I’d end up, or worse yet, someone would come after Connor, because of my reputation. I wasn’t strong enough… I’m not strong enough to go through what they have.”

“Yes, ye are strong, husband!”

“Lou, it’s difficult enough coming back to you.”

“Was it easier to run away?” Lou demanded her temper flaring.

“No, but it was the only thing that made sense… at the time.”

“At the time! Johnny Drako, ye came to this town looking for a nice quiet place to live. For all these years ye’ve been respectable. Sure a few outlaws have come here trying to make trouble because of yer past, but it’s because of yer past that yer still here and not the outlaws. Ye’ve a wife and two children and soon a third. How could ye choose to run away?!” There was no holding back Lou’s temper. “Ye were going to run away and leave me! What was I to tell Connor? What about Danielle? And this baby?! How could ye run and leave me here to face our friends and this town with everyone knowing that ye had run off? Were the past seven years a lie? Yer the marshal of this here town and ye run away! Oh!!!”

“I’m sorry Lou, I don’t know what more I can do to prove to you that I know I was wrong and that I’m here to stay and to say that I love you. What more can I do?”

“Get the doctor!” Lou demanded.

“Lou, let me wear my bruises to remind me of how stupid I was. No sense letting a good fight…”

“Not for you, for me. Oh!!!!” Lou yelled as she grabbed at her belly.

“You?”

“The baby’s coming!”

“It… It’s not time, not for a couple more weeks!” Johnny exclaimed.

“JOHNNY!” Lou screamed as she fell back on the bed and rolled to her side, grabbing at her belly.

“I’m going! I’m… I’ll be right back!” Johnny turned and bolted from the room. Not even stopping to apologize to those he bumped into, Johnny ran to get Doc Burrage.

*****

Johnny return to his home without Doc Burrage.

“Where’s the doctor?” Lou demanded, fear in her eyes.

“He’s out at Lucas’, Jake McCafferty came and got him a little while ago,” Johnny answered.

“Then go get him! OH!” Lou screamed.

“I’m not leaving, I left word with Abigail that we needed him here.”

Johnny went and filled the pitcher with water and brought it back to their bedroom. He waited beside Lou, wiping the sweat from her face and rinsing the wash cloth, before placing it back across her forehead. In the beginning, there was plenty of time between the contractions.

“Johnny, go wake the children and get them to the daycare, to Hattie,” Lou pleaded.

“But…” Johnny replied.

“DO IT!” Lou yelled.

“Yes Ma’am.” Johnny ran from the room. He woke his children, got them dressed and then took them to Hattie.

“Johnny?!” Hattie asked, seeing how rushed and nervous he was.

“It’s the baby, he’s coming and Doc’s out at Lucas’. Lou wants the children here until the baby’s born.”

“Go on now, get back to your wife. I’ll come later… to check on Lou and the new baby.”

“Thanks Hattie,” Johnny spoke as he quickly gave her a ‘thank you’ kiss on the cheek.

It was after two o’clock when Doc Burrage knocked on the front door to their residence. Johnny ran down the steps to let him in. While they took the steps two at a time up the stairs, they could hear Lou screaming from another contraction.

“Johnny,” Thadd stated as he stopped before entering Lou’s bedroom. “Why don’t you head to the saloon. I’ll come get you when the baby’s born.”

“No sir. You’re not sending me away. I owe it to Lou to be here for her. I…”

“Okay, I can’t fault you. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

“Do I have a choice?” Johnny asked as he opened the door.

Johnny quickly proceeded to the head of the bed and climbed in and sat Lou up, resting her back against his chest.

“Johnny, what are ye doing?” Lou demanded when she could catch her breath after the last contraction.

“I’m not leaving your side. This baby is ours and I’ll be right here until he’s born.’

“OH!” Lou screamed as another contraction wracked her body.

“Doc? Can’t you do something?” Johnny pleaded.

“I am.” Thadd stated as he started to examine Lou to see how far along she was. “Johnny you just keep Lou breathing calmly and give her your hand when she needs it.”

“Anything.” Johnny stated as he placed a kiss to Lou’s head.

*****

Into the afternoon, Seth sat in a chair next to Hope, while Lucas sat in a chair next to Mark. Milly allowed Myra to come into the room with her, as she carried a basin filled with water. Myra carried the bottle of witch-hazel and a towel.

“Milly, I’m fine,” Lucas stated as Milly set the basin down on the night stand beside him.

“You will be, once I’m through tending to you.”

Milly turned Lucas’ face one way and then another as she tended to the bruises on his face and his bloodied lip.

“Oh Lucas, you’re going to look a lot worse tomorrow if I don’t get you treated properly,” Milly begged.

While Milly tended to Lucas, Myra crawled up into the bed, between Mark and Hope and fell asleep with her arm draped across her brother.

“I wish you would have sent her to Hattie and Micah’s,” Lucas commented as Milly finished doctoring him.

“I thought about it, but she was feeling so bad about this all being her fault. She doesn’t know the whole story, nor does she need to know. But I felt she needed to be here,” Milly spoke as she draped the towel over her shoulder.

“Thank you for your gentle touch,” Lucas stated as he pulled Milly to sit on his lap.

“So, Johnny did this to you?” Milly asked.

“Yeah, this episode really scared him. He was all set to leave Lou and the children, just because of what’s happened to Mark. All because of his past reputation.”

“What does Johnny’s reputation have to do with what happened to Mark?” Milly asked.

“Nothing, this time. Only he knows I have a reputation too,” Lucas replied. “He was putting himself in my shoes and fearing the same thing might happen in his future, with Connor.”

“Can’t wait to see Johnny’s face,” Seth stated. “Not sure who got the worst end of the fight. I’m sure Lou’s going to have a few choice words when she sees you next, Lucas.”

“Well, I’d rather face Lou with Johnny by her side than without him. I just hope he can bury his demons.”

“Guess we’re all going to be fighting demons for a while. Lucas, if Hope had succeeded?” Milly cried as she wrapped her arms around her husband.

Lucas held tight to his wife. He fervently believed his son would recover and couldn’t imagine Mark or Hope, having to raise four children without the other.

Seth took Hope’s hand in his and closed his eyes to pray. “Child, your Ma once told me, the Will of God will never take you where the Grace of God cannot protect you. He brought you back to me once before, I pray you’ll come back to us now. Hope please, I can’t lose you.”

*****

In time, Myra woke from her nap, sad in seeing her brother and Hope still sleeping in the bed. Milly took Myra to the kitchen, “Let’s fix supper, okay?”

“Yes, Mama.”

As she helped her mother, Myra asked, “Mama, He answered my prayers when I was in the river, why won’t He answer my prayers now? I want Mark to wake up, real bad.”

“God has a whole world full of people praying to him. He has to choose who to answer. All we can do is keep praying.”

“I don’t think I can pray any harder,” Myra stated as she carried the silverware into the room as Milly carried a tray with plates of food.

*****

Through the afternoon, Johnny was beside Lou, feeling her pain every time a contraction hit. It had been a while since Lou had felt a contraction and she rested heavily against Johnny.

“Well, it could be a false labor,” Thadd stated.

“False Labor?!” Lou called out, loud and clear. “I’ll let ye know each contraction was real and they hurt!”

“I know Lou, but a false labor can mimic a real labor and then it stops.”

“Stops?” Johnny asked.

“OH!” Lou screamed as the strongest contraction, yet, presented itself. “JOHNNY!”

“Breathe Lou, breathe!”

“I AM!”

Contraction after contraction hit and soon Thadd stated, “I can see the baby’s head, push Lou. The next time a contraction hits, you need to push for all you’re worth.”

“You can do this, Lou,” Johnny spoke. “We can do this. I’m right here with you.”

Before Johnny could finish speaking, Lou was squeezing his hand, screaming, and pushing.

“Just a little more. One more contraction, Lou. One more push and your baby will be here.”

Lou screamed and pushed as another contraction came.

“It’s a girl, Lou, Johnny. You’ve another daughter,” Thadd called as Lou collapsed back into Johnny’s arms.

Doc proceeded to tie the umbilical cord and then cut it. Next he held the baby upside down and gave her a hard smack, to which the baby let everyone know she was not happy about as she cried with life’s first breath.

Johnny flexed his fingers trying to restore the flow of blood from Lou squeezing so hard. When his hand felt better, he wrapped his arms around Lou and gave her a hug.

“A daughter. You gave us a daughter, Lou. I love you.” And kissed her on top of the head one more time.

Johnny noticed the sun was starting to set as he asked, “Is it always like this?”

“More or less. Some babies are quick to make their presence known while others never want to leave the comfort of the mother’s womb.”

“But the pain,” Johnny asked.

“Ye now nothing of the pain, Johnny,” Lou broached.

“Maybe not, but I hurt for you each and every contraction.”

Thadd had finished bathing Lou and Johnny’s daughter and was about to wrap her in a blanket when Lou let out another scream, quickly Doc placed the baby on the bed. They heard a knock at the door when Hattie stuck her head into the room. “Do you need any help?”

“Please Hattie!” Thadd asked her in. “Hattie, the baby’s on the bed, please pick her up and wrap her in a blanket. Something’s not right with Lou!”

Lou screamed again.

“Doc?!” Johnny asked, fear showed on his face and was heard in his voice.

“Lou?” Thadd asked. “What’s wrong?”

“It feels like another contraction!” Lou answered and screamed again.

“She’s already had the baby, Doc?” Johnny pleaded.

Thadd placed his hand on top of Lou’s belly and said, “Oh, no, not again,” as he felt the start of another contraction. Thadd returned to the foot of the bed and proceeded to position Lou, again.

“Again?” Johnny asked.

“Johnny, you best sit your wife up again, she’s fixing to give birth to another child and…”

“Another?!” Johnny asked.

Lou screamed and dug her nails into Johnny’s arm.

“Come on Lou, you can do this,” Thadd tried to encourage Lou.

“I can’t, oh, it hurts.”

“Lou you have to push when the next contraction hits!” Thadd ordered.

“I can’t, I’m too tired. I… Aaargh!! Make it stop!” Lou cried out.

“You have to push!” Thadd demanded.

“Come on Lou, if Hope can do this, so can you!” Johnny encouraged.

“She’s a lot younger than I am.” Lou cried as another contraction hit and she tried to push. “I can’t… I can’t.”

Thadd realized that Lou really was too exhausted from delivering her daughter and that meant he had to help bear down on Lou’s belly as a another contraction hit. It was a little before eight o’clock when Thadd delivered the second Drako baby of the night, calling to the parents, “It’s a boy! You’ve another son, congratulations! Lou, just lean back and relax. Hattie would you mind, I need to tend to Lou.”

*****

Seth stepped to the front room to light the fire, even though it was summer, the evenings cooled considerably. He straightened when he heard Milly call, “No!”

Seth ran to the room and saw Milly standing by the window, face in her hands as Lucas knelt next to the bed, his head bent over to Mark, listening. Seth saw Lucas stand and walk to Milly, place both hands on her shoulders, turn her around and pull her into an embrace.

“Lucas?” Seth asked.

“It was as we figured. Harry Chase did have something to do with Mark’s disappearance. He was trying to warn us — Harry’s back. Milly heard Mark mumble that Harry threatened Myra’s life to get Mark to cooperate so he could get to Milly.”

“But we already know that Chase took Milly,” Seth stated as he entered to room.

“It also means we were damn lucky earlier today. Seth, Mark wasn’t telling us that Hope had gone to the pond, he was trying to warn us about Harry.”

“Lucas, if Mark’s trying to warn us…, then that means he’s coming out of his coma! Thadd told us a person in a coma has minimal brain activity. They wouldn’t talk.”

Milly raised her head from her hands and looked to Seth, then to Lucas.

“Lucas?” Milly asked.

Lucas turned to face his son. “Or obey commands.” He walked over and knelt next to the bed again, “Mark, if you can understand me, move a finger on your right hand.”

Milly, Lucas, and Seth focused on Mark’s right hand.

“Please Mark, try. Try to move a finger on your right hand.” There was an urgent tone to Lucas’ voice this time.

All three looked up when Myra squealed, “He did it. He moved his finger!”

They looked in the direction Myra was pointing, to Mark’s left hand, and saw him raising his index finger.

“Wonderful Mark!” Lucas cried. “Son, open your eyes. Please?”

Mark’s eyes didn’t open and he stopped moving his finger.

*****

Later that evening, Lucas insisted that Milly and Myra returned to their home and sleep in their own beds. Seth and Lucas pulled cots into the bedroom and tried to sleep themselves. As exhausted as they all were, a dreamless sleep came readily.

*****

While Hattie bathed the newest Drako baby, Thadd held the first baby as Lou unbuttoned her blouse so she could nurse their daughter.

“Lou, if I’d of had any indication you were carrying twins, I would have been better prepared for this evening. I just don’t believe it.” Thadd stated as he shook his head. ”You and Colleen surprised me this year. Might just have to find out if there was indeed something in the water last year.”

*****

Johnny kept shaking his head as he held his newborn daughter while Lou proceeded to nurse their newborn son.

“Have you decided on names?” Hattie asked.

“We were thinking of Liam Kaine if the baby was a boy,” Johnny answered.

“And Shaylyn Tara, if the baby were a girl,” Lou answered as she looked to her son nursing from her breast.

By the time Thadd and Hattie left, the newest Drako children were sleeping in a bassinet in their parents’ bedroom. It wasn’t long before Lou fell asleep.

Johnny stepped to the window and looked to the heavens, “Thank you, God. For giving me a good friend in Lucas McCain, and a fine wife in Lou. I promise, I’ll always be here to provide for my family, for as long as you let me. I learned my lesson.”

*****

The sun had yet to rise when Lucas and Seth were abruptly woken when they heard Hope scream, “NO!” followed by a loud thud on the floor. They jumped from their cots when they realized she had tried to get out of bed and had fallen.

“Let me go, I have to…!” Hope cried as she weakly fought her father while he picked her up and placed her back into bed.

“Hope, Mark lives. Please, live for him and your children.”

“No! I can’t. He’s waiting for me!” she cried.

As much as it pained him, Seth slapped Hope across the face. She turned onto her side and cried. “He’s waiting for me,” she sobbed and she curled up in the bed.

“Hope, I’m sorry, but you have to understand, Mark lives. You will eat and you will live. Your living is the key to Mark’s survival. Do you think he’d want to live if he knew you took your life? Don’t rob him of his purpose to live. It’s because of you that he’ll survive,” Seth pleaded.

Hope continued to cry as she lay in the bed. Seth looked to Lucas, “What do I do?” he asked.

“We keep praying and keep a vigil over the two of them. Milly started a chicken broth last night, I’ll heat it and see if we can get her to drink some of it.”

It was a struggle for the two of them to get Hope to drink. Even as weakened as she was, she put up a fight when it came to drinking from the cup they placed to her lips.

“Hope, stop it!” Seth demanded as he restrained his daughter. “You must drink this. If I have to pour it down your throat, you will drink!”

Her physical strength gone, Hope couldn’t fight anymore. Lucas handed the cup back to Seth, who held it to the lips of his daughter. At first the broth spilled from her lips, but then, Hope slightly parted her lips and allowed the broth to enter her mouth. She swallowed several times taking in small amounts before she reached to the cup and tried to drink more.

“That’s it, Hope. Not too much,” Seth stated as continued to hold the cup and felt Hope’s body relax against his. Seth brushed back the bangs from Hope’s face as he realized his daughter had chosen to live.

When the cup was empty, Seth asked, “Would you like some more?”

Hope nodded.

Seth handed the cup to Lucas who returned with it filled only half way. Both knew that too much could be just as bad as nothing.

When she had finished drinking, Seth slipped out from behind Hope and laid her back down on the bed and pulled the covers over her.

“Sleep daughter, sleep.”

*****

Milly and Myra returned to the house later that morning. Myra quietly walked into the room and climbed to the edge of the bed next to Mark. She picked up his hand in hers and held it in her lap.

“Mark, please. I need my big brother. Won’t you wake up?” Myra quietly asked as she sat there, looking at Mark’s hand, interlacing her fingers with his. “I’m sorry I caused this. I been praying and praying. Oh, Mark, please wake up.”

“Gabby?” Mark whispered. “Gabby?” he said again when he didn’t hear her respond.

Myra looked up and saw a faint smile on Mark’s face and his eyes slightly open.

“Mark? Are you in there?” Myra quietly asked as she leaned forward to put her face real close to his.

“I’m here sis,” Mark said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Myra whispered back.

“Where are we?”

“Home.”

“Home?”

“Silly, don’t you recognize your own bedroom?” Myra giggled.

“Nothing’s in focus. How did we get here?”

“Papa and Mama brought us home.”

“Ma?!” Mark said a little louder.

“Shhh. You’ll wake Hope,” Myra stated.

“Gabby, Ma’s here? She’s all right?” Mark asked.

“Yes, why wouldn’t she be? Are you hungry? She’s fixing breakfast.”

“Yeah, I could eat a bear.”

“Well, I think oatmeal and a glass of milk will have to do.”

“That sounds good, sis,” Mark whispered.

Myra slipped down from the bed when she heard Milly call her name, “Myra, come in here and sit at the table for your breakfast.”

“Coming,” Myra answered her Ma. Then to Mark she said, “I’ll be right back.”

Seth had pulled the chair away from the table to allow Myra to sit down and watched as Myra pulled two bowls from the table and carried them to the stove.

“Myra, are you that hungry this morning that you want two bowls of oatmeal?” Seth asked of Myra.

“Myra, that’s not nice. You put that bowl back where I set it,” Milly scolded. “And then young lady, you will sit down at the table.”

“But Mark’s hungry. I thought I would take his breakfast to him and eat in there,” Myra pouted.

“Mark’s… hungry?!” Lucas asked, surprised.

“Uh huh. He said he could eat a bear.”

Milly inhaled sharply as she watched Lucas quickly walk into the bedroom.

Lucas entered the bed room and quietly called Mark’s name. Though he didn’t open his eyes, Mark did turn his head. Lucas walked farther into the room and sat down on the bed.

“Mark?” Lucas asked again.

“Pa?” Mark whispered. “Is Ma okay? Harry came back. He tricked me. He was going to use Gabby to get to Ma.”

“Mark, Milly is fine. Harry did take her, but we got her back. He’s on his way back to St. Louis, to the mental hospital where he belongs.”

Lucas brushed back the bangs from Mark’s forehead as he continued to talk, “How do you feel?”

“My head hurts, I feel so weak, like my body isn’t mine.”

“What else?” Lucas asked.

“I am hungry,” Mark replied.

“Well, you took a pretty hard blow to your head, Doc feared you fractured your skull.”

“How long have I been out?” Mark asked.

“About ten days, from what we gather. Myra said you could eat a bear?”

“I think oatmeal would be easier to eat. Pa?” Mark called as he sensed Lucas get up from the bed.

“Yes?”

“Where’s Hope?”

“She sleeping next to you, son,” Lucas quietly answered.

Lucas turned to see Milly standing at the door, tears in her eyes as she thanked God for answering their prayers.

“Milly, our boy’s hungry,” Lucas stated with a relieved smile on his face as he stopped at the doorway. Lucas and Milly walked to the kitchen, “Milly, if Doc wanted Hope on broth and thinned oatmeal for a while, then I think we maybe should thin out the oatmeal for Mark. Too much on his stomach…”

“I was already thinking the same thing,” Milly stated as she returned to the stove.

Lucas carried the bowl of oatmeal into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed to spoon feed Mark. Lucas called, “Seth” in seeing Hope start to wake.

At seeing Seth enter the doorway, Lucas nodded towards Hope who had curled up with her back towards Mark.

“Good morning, daughter,” Seth said as he sat on the edge of the bed and brushed the hair from her face. When she didn’t answer or open her eyes, he said, “You can pretend to ignore me, but I think your husband wouldn’t appreciate your ignoring him.”

Lucas held off spooning the oatmeal to Mark when he heard Mark faintly call Hope’s name. In hearing her name, Hope opened her eyes as she looked over her shoulder. Hope started crying as she tried to sit up, Seth helped her sit up as he wrapped his arms around her.

“Pa?” Mark asked.

“She’s just been worried about you Mark. She’s just been worried…” Lucas answered.

“We all have,” Seth replied. Knowing the unspoken truth could wait until Mark was stronger.

*****

Once Lucas had finished feeding Mark his breakfast, he tucked Mark back underneath the blankets and watched as he fell asleep. Before leaving the room he paused at the door and quietly thanked God one more time.

Seth wrapped his arms around Hope and carried her to the front room.

“Father, please… I can’t,” Hope said as she rested back into her chair and tried not to take the bowl of oatmeal Seth was handing her.

“You can and you will. Milly will make sure you eat every drop of this oatmeal while I’m gone.”

“Gone?!” Hope asked, panicked.

“With your husband having regained consciousness and your coming to your senses – I pray, I’m going into town to fetch Doc back here. Now, you eat!” Seth ordered.

Milly followed Seth out to the barn, “Milly I want you to make sure she eats every bite. She’s not to go into the bedroom until I get back.”

“Seth, aren’t you being a little harsh on her?” Milly asked as she watched him proceed to saddle his horse.

“Harsh?! She tried to kill herself! She was wrong!” Seth argued back.

“And now she knows she was wrong. She’s seen that Mark’s recovering.”

“She’s got to know that…”

“Seth, Sam explained why. You can’t blame her for how she was raised by the Kiowa, it’s the life she led,” Milly pleaded.

“Blame her?!”

Milly walked and placed a hand to Seth’s shoulder, “Seth, maybe you’re not blaming Hope.”

“They took my daughter and raised her to kill herself!” Seth yelled.

“Seth! Listen to what you’re saying. Iron Heart didn’t take your daughter, he saved her life! If you’re going to blame Iron Heart then blame Mark! Blame him for rescuing your daughter from those other men who took her from Iron Heart’s tribe. Blame Mark for falling in love with your daughter and marrying her. Blame Lucas for raising a son who cares about the people around him!”

As he listened to Milly, Seth stood with one hand on the saddle horn and the other on the cantle of the saddle.

“You know, maybe you should blame yourself! You were the one who sent her away after your wife died!” Milly berated Seth. She saw his shoulders jump at her accusation and then watched as he hung his head.

“I thought it would be for the best. I didn’t know about raising a daughter. Milly, it’s because of me.” Milly heard the pain in his voice as he said, “It’s all my fault.”

“Seth, it’s no one’s fault. God was watching over Hope that day at her aunt’s, and sent Iron Heart. God was watching over her that day at the bluffs, and sent Mark. God was watching Hope yesterday and sent Sam to warn us. We can’t lay blame. We have to accept things happen, good or bad, right or wrong, they just do. I think this family has taken Hope’s past for granted. Sam told me that we need to get her to talk more about her life when she was living with Iron Heart. We know so little…”

“He was the chief, he…”

“He saved her life, but for six years she was raised as Kiowa. With all that your daughter and our son have been through since they met, I thank God that she’s never tried this before. We have to be there and ready to listen when she’s ready to talk… But we do need to see that she does talk.”

“I resigned my commission because I missed so much of her growing up years, but once I got here, I didn’t inquire of her past. I didn’t think those six years were really important, I was just thankful to have her back…”

“Seth, take your time and talk with God while you’re riding for Doc. Both our children will pull through and so will we.”

*****

Milly returned to the house to find Lucas washing the dishes and Hope in her chair, looking forlornly out the window.

“Where’s Myra?” Milly asked.

“I think she’s in the boys’ room,” Lucas answered as he dried his hands.

“Myra?” Lucas called.

Lucas looked to Milly when they heard no answer. Both walked to the bedroom door, where Milly knocked.

“Myra?” Milly called.

Milly opened the door when Myra still didn’t answer. They entered the room and found Myra sitting with her back in a corner of the room, knees drawn to her chest, and her arms wrapped around her legs, leaning sideways against the wall.

“Myra, didn’t you hear us calling for you?” Milly asked.

They both heard her sniffle and saw her wipe at her eyes.

“Yes Ma’am,”

“Then why didn’t you answer?” Milly inquired.

“Because…”

“That’s not an answer, young lady,” Lucas replied. “Why didn’t you answer or come to the front room?”

“Because I caused trouble and when you’re bad, you sit in the corner,” Myra pouted.

“Bad?” Milly asked.

“If it weren’t for me Mark wouldn’t be hurt and you wouldn’t be crying over him and Hope. You’d of been happy when Mark woke, but you scolded me. Uncle Seth wouldn’t have yelled at Hope this morning. My brothers would be here and this family would be happy! So just go leave me alone!”

Lucas and Milly looked to each other realizing their problems were far from over. Both walked farther into the room and sat down on the floor next to Myra, Lucas tried to pick Myra up to set her in his lap but she pulled away.

“Myra, none of this is your fault,” Milly spoke gently.

“Is too! If I had waited at Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s like Mr. Bullock told me too, then I wouldn’t have gotten carried away in the river. Then Mark wouldn’t of had to rescue me and then he wouldn’t have fallen and hit his head and Hope…” Myra stopped speaking to take a breath.

“Easy, there…” Lucas stated. “I thought we had this settled when we were bringing Mark home. This is not your fault. We still have to talk about your disobedience later, but right now, you should know that…” Lucas struggled with what to tell his daughter. “Myra, Mark is going to recover. And by this weekend the boys and Mykaela will be home. We’re not mad at you.”

“Yes you are! No one is happy, so you have to be mad at me…” Myra cried, lowering her head to her knees as tears fell down her cheeks.

“Come here, sweetheart,” Lucas said as he picked Myra up and cradled her in his arms.

“Myra, yes you were wrong to try to come home on your own. But you didn’t deliberately set out to make this happen.”

“Delib…” Myra tried to say through her tears.

“You didn’t do it on purpose, to hurt Mark.”

“Don’t matter. You talk about something that happens because of something that’s done. Because I did something wrong, Mark got hurt. It’s all my fault!”

“No, not all your fault,” Milly told her daughter.

“There weren’t no one else around!” Myra argued through her tears.

“Yes there was. There was another man who told Mark that he would hurt you, unless Mark helped him get you so he could try to hurt your Ma.”

“A bad man?” Myra asked, as she sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Wanted to hurt Mama?”

“Yes, there was a bad man.” Milly continued, “I’m sure Mark did everything he could to protect you.”

“Did he hurt you?” Myra cautiously asked.

“Yes, he hurt me because I didn’t know where you or Mark were. He said he knew where you were. I thought he was keeping you from me. Your father and I, neither of us knew the danger you or Mark were in. Myra, I was so worried about you… and Mark.”

“Then, you forgive me?” Myra asked.

“Sweetheart, there’s nothing to forgive. We love you,” Lucas stated as Myra turned on his lap and looked at her.

“I love you too.” She threw her hands around Lucas’ neck and hugged him.

Lucas stood, still holding Myra in his arms. “Come on, I think your Mama would appreciate us drying and putting away the dishes. Would you like to help your Papa?”

“Yes.”

Milly followed Lucas into the front room and watched as Lucas carried Myra into the kitchen.

*****

Milly returned to the front room, walked to Hope and asked, “How are you feeling, Hope?”

“Ashamed. My father’s ashamed of me,” she quietly whispered.

“He’s not ashamed,” Milly answered.

“No? Didn’t you hear the tone of his voice. I’ve never heard him talk that way before.”

Milly pulled a chair from the table and set it in front of Hope and then sat down.

“Hope, look at me?” Milly waited until Hope turned from the window. “Your father’s not ashamed of you. He’s scared. He’s scared of the six years you lived among the Kiowa and whatever you experienced that made you try to take your own life. He’s blaming himself and taking his hurt out on you.”

“He’s blaming himself?” Hope asked.

“Hope,” Lucas stepped from the kitchen to stand behind Milly. “When a father sees their child struggling, for whatever the reason, the father sees themselves as… well… a failure. That we didn’t do something right. That we weren’t there for our child. When we found Mark in Bisby, I cursed God. I blamed him for allowing this to happen. Milly pointed out that God was the reason that Mark was still alive. I then realized, it was easier for me to blame God than to blame myself. And that’s who I was really angry at. Me and my rifle. All the years that I raised Mark on my own, the only other thing constant, was my rifle. And because of my rifle and everything Mark witnessed as he was growing up, he became a Marshal.”

Lucas paused as he watched the expression on Hope’s face, “Hope, your father was scared for you, because of the years you spent with the Kiowa. It was easier for him to take his anger out on you, than on himself. He loves you, but was scared to know that you could try to take your own life.”

“We don’t have to understand why things happen, but to accept that God has a reason for everything, good or bad,” Milly continued. “God will see that Mark pulls through and that you recover as well.”

“Faith…” Hope said as she started to smile.

Milly nodded.

*****

It was after lunch time when Seth returned to the McCain ranch with Doc Burrage. Seth tended to the horses while Lucas showed Thadd inside. Seth joined them shortly.

After fifteen minutes, Hope looked up from where she sat, as the bedroom door opened and was surprised at hearing what sounded like laughter coming from the bedroom.

“Milly, you’re never going to believe this,” Lucas called as the group stepped from the bedroom.

“Is Mark going to be okay?” Hope asked.

“Yes, it’s going to take some time, not sure how long, but with your love and devotion, Mark should recover. I’ll leave a list of exercises that you will need to help Mark perform several times, every day,” Thadd stated. “Now, young lady, how are you feeling?” he lowered his voice.

“Better, we talked while my father was riding to get you.”

“Have you eaten?” Thadd has.

Lucas piped up and answered, “She drank a cup and a half of chicken broth earlier in the morning and then a whole bowl of oatmeal while waiting for you.”

“Good, good. Then just keep eating small, frequent meals and in time, your system will be able to eat normally.”

“So, now that you have declared both Mark and Hope are out of the woods, so to speak,” Milly interrupted. “Just what am I not going to believe?”

“Lou gave birth yesterday!” Thadd stated.

“Was the baby a boy or a girl?” Milly asked.

“Both!” Thadd smiled as he spoke.

“Both? They had twins?” Hope asked.

“Yep.”

“And I heard Mark laughing?” Hope inquired.

“Yes, you sure did. Besides recovering from the fractured skull of his, he’s gotten some of his memory back. He told me to warn Johnny, both of them, that payback was going to be sweet revenge. He reminded us of some of the teasing they did after your twins were born and then when you two made the announcement about being pregnant with Eli.”

“He remembers that?” Milly asked.

“Oh, yes,” Lucas stated devilishly.

Before leaving Thadd emphasized how important it was to get Mark working on the exercises to improve his control over his body.

“Improve his control over his body?” Hope asked.

Thadd pulled a chair up and sat down in front of Hope.

“Yes, with the injury to his brain, he doesn’t have full control over his body. He can feel his hands, and legs, but he can’t make them move on his own yet. He can move a finger and feel when he’s pinched, but nothing more.”

“He’s paralyzed?” Hope asked.

“No, not at all. It’s not uncommon for this to happen after such an injury. The nerves in his body just need to be reactivated. And that can and will happen by performing the exercises. Now, I’d allow him to sleep as much as he wants, but when he’s awake, see how he can handle sitting slightly propped up. Get him moving his arms, now you’ll probably have to do the moving for him in the beginning, but encourage him to try to move his hands and feet. I’ll be back in a few days and I’ll bring Doc Jeffers with me.”

“Doc Jeffers? From Marionette?” Milly asked. “But why?”

“Milly, right now, Mark’s eyes won’t properly focus. Doc Jeffers is an eye doctor, more knowledgeable in how the eyes work than I am. When I get back to town, I’m going to wire him and see if he’d mind traveling here to examining Mark, and if necessary, go about creating eye glasses for him to wear.”

“Glasses?” Hope asked.

“Hope, he can see, but right now, everything is blurry. He can tell when someone is there, but if you and Milly were to sit side by side in a chair on the other side of the room, he couldn’t tell the two of you apart. Now, it’s not unheard of with brain injuries. Again, sleep can be the best thing for him. Who knows, in a few days when Doc Jeffers arrives, Mark’s eyesight might be better.”

“Doc?” Hope asked as he started for the door.

“Yes?”

“When can our children come home?”

“Well, I’d say after I come back with Doc Jeffers. But you have to promise to continue to eat and gain your strength back. I’ll see if Jake McCafferty and Gwen Shawnesee will bring all the McCain children back. I think I might also ask Hattie and Micah to come out for the day too. They’ve both been so worried.”

“I promise Doc and thank you,” Hope sincerely spoke.

*****

After hearing his daughter inquire of her children, Seth knew she was going to be okay. That evening, before supper, Seth sat on the porch and talked with Hope. He apologized for his actions earlier in the day. He told her of his fears and how upset he was with himself for not trying to learn more about his daughter and the years she lived away from him.

After supper, Seth announced that he was going to return to North Fork, “Time one of North Fork’s deputies actually did their job.”

“Now daughter, your children’s return is contingent upon you following Doc’s orders.”

“I will father, I’ve got too much to live for, to not.”

The Next Generation… Chapter 69 – Past and Present

The following morning saw Lucas carrying a pitcher and basin into Mark and Hope’s bedroom, as Hope carried their breakfast dishes to the kitchen.

“Hope, why don’t you spend some time with Myra out on the front porch over at our home and let me tend to Mark’s exercises and bathing him.”

“Pa, I think I’m old enough to bathe myself,” Mark complained.

“And just how do you plan on doing that?” Lucas asked. “Show me you can readily move your arms and I’ll let you bathe yourself.”

“Well, I’m sure that Hope could…” Mark started to say as his cheeks flushed.

“Mark, just be thankful I’m not asking Milly in here to bathe you,” Lucas smiled as he chastised his son. “You’re not up to having your wife bathe you. That’ll come in time. First we have the exercises that Thadd prescribed for you.”

*****

As embarrassed as Mark was about having his Pa state he was going to bathe him, Mark was even more embarrassed to find out how little control he had over his body.

*****

While Lucas worked Mark through his exercises, Milly returned to her front porch after hanging the laundry on the clothes line. She asked Myra to go inside and work on her studies, while she talked with Hope.

“Mark’s going to be alright,” Milly stated as the front door closed.

“I know that now, Ma. Oh Ma, how could I? You were the one talking about having faith and not giving up. But when it came down to it, I didn’t…”

Milly pulled over a chair and sat down next to Hope.

“Hope, you’re strong of faith. Ever since I met you, I know how strong you are. But, this time, there was something else pulling at you. You’ve been through so much with Mark, that… I couldn’t believe it when Gwen told us what Marshal Buckhart said.”

Sniffing and trying to dry her tears, “What did he say?”

“When he received word of Mark’s condition, he immediately came here. Worried for you. He said that sometimes when an Indian woman’s husband dies… if the love was so great… the woman would choose to take her own life to be with him on the other side, instead of living without him.”

“Ma, I do love him…”

“We know you do,” Milly stated as she put her hand on top of Hope’s.

“And that’s why Sam came here, to alert us. We didn’t know this aspect of life among the Kiowa. You’ve been married to Mark for almost as long as you lived with the Kiowa… Hope, if you need to talk, I’m here for you. I want to know more of your life from those years you lived with Iron Heart. You’ve learned so much of Mark’s growing up with Lucas, but we’ve not learned of your growing up years. Hope, I’m not judging what you did… I just want to understand how the years… Your life with Iron Heart and his tribe is part of who you are and I’m here, when you want to talk…”

Looking to the door to her home, Hope said, “My best friend, Spotted Doe, was married to Running Wolf. She wasn’t that much older than me and already married and had a beautiful baby boy…”

“She was already married and had a child?” Milly asked. “Are most Indian women married so young?”

“Those who catch the eye of a brave…” Hope quietly answered.

“And you didn’t catch… I’m sorry Hope, I had no right to asked that,” Milly closed her eyes, embarrassed that she had asked.

Giving a half-hearted smile, “I was the white daughter of the chief. Even if I had been Indian, I would not have been given to any brave until I was eighteen.”

“Given?” Milly asked.

“Yes, a brave would have traded many ponies and such in exchange to a maiden’s father for the right to marry.”

“I guess it’s not too different from a bride’s family presenting a dowry.” Seeing that Hope was unfamiliar, Milly explained, “In England and other countries, a woman is presented to her betrothed with a dowry. It’s the woman’s family’s way of making sure the future husband will take good care of their daughter or give her something to ensure she has a means to support herself, if…the husband were killed early in the marriage. Sort of like receiving an inheritance, before the death of the parents.” Milly thought on what Hope was saying, would there have been a brave in her future…had the past not happened as it had? “Your friend, Spotted Doe?”

“They were married when she was sixteen and she was seventeen when Soaring Hawk was born. The braves had gone on a buffalo hunt. Running Wolf’s horse was gored by a bull. He was thrown and trampled. Oh Ma! When Mark was just lying there, I kept seeing Running Wolf after they brought him back to camp. For several days, the medicine man tended to him. I heard the other women talking… I was present when she nursed her son, she loved Running Wolf so much, that not even her son nursing at her breast would bring life to her eyes. Running Wolf passed during the night. The next morning, I found Spotted Doe, down by the lake…” Hope cried harder as she remembered. “I found her, she had already reunited with Running Wolf. I remember the red of her blood staining the grass…” Hope drew her hands to her face and cried.

“Hope, please, I didn’t mean to bring up such memories. I had no idea… I shouldn’t have…” Milly leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Hope.

“No Ma, you were right. You have a right to know why I tried to take my own life.” Hope sobbed, “I remembered them talking of other women… when their husbands died, either on the hunts or in conflicts with the white man.”

“Sam stated that the children of the tribe are raised… by the tribe? Even with the parents still alive?” Milly asked.

“They are, but because Soaring Hawk was so young, Running Wolf’s parents asked me to care for the baby, though I couldn’t be his wet nurse and no other woman had a child at their breast… I was the one who milked the goats to keep him alive, until those men came to our camp and took me…”

“Hope, I wish to know more of the life you lived among the Kiowa. I’m embarrassed that we haven’t talked about your past before.”

“It was my past, I thought it didn’t matter,” Hope quietly said.

“Well, that’s not to be anymore. I want to learn of your younger years. But for now, Lucas and I don’t want Mark to know about this,” Milly stated as she picked up Hope’s bandaged wrist.

“We don’t keep secrets…”

“When one like this will hurt Mark so much, we’ll keep it until he’s stronger.”

Hope finally agreed.

*****

Three days later, Doc Burrage returned to the ranch with Doctor Jeremiah Jeffers, from Marionette.

“How’s Mark doing?” Thadd asked of Hope as he entered her home.

“He’s doing well. He and Pa are in the bedroom working on his exercises for this morning,” Hope answered.

“Good. Hope this is Jeremiah Jeffers, the eye doctor I was telling you about.”

After pleasantries were exchanged, Hope showed the two doctors to their bedroom. Fifteen minutes later, Doc Jeffers announced his diagnosis.

“I agree with Thadd, that the change in Mark’s vision is a direct result of the blow to his head. From what I’ve seen, the more you recover and gain your strength back and your brain learns to control your body, in time, I feel your eyesight will return to normal, or close to it.”

“But what about now?” asked Mark.

“Well, for now, I did bring a selection of eyeglasses for you to try, to see which one gives you the best vision.”

By the eighth pair, Doc Jeffers was pleased with Mark’s being able to read the chart he presented.

“Well, I’ll leave several lesser strength glasses here with Thadd and as your vision improves, he can change them out, without my having to come all the way back here. But I’ll want to see you next month. We’ll be in touch.”

Doc Jeffers and Thadd said goodbye to the McCains and returned to town. Thadd halted the buggy at the train station and thanked his friend for traveling to North Fork.

After seeing Doc Jeffers off, Thadd drove the rest of the way to the clinic, where he was met by Jake McCafferty and Gwen Shawnesee.

“Well?” Gwen eagerly asked.

“Why don’t you take the McCain children back to their parents. I’ll go tell Micah and Hattie that they too can visit the McCains.”

“Thanks, Doc!” Jake stated as he headed back to his home, not letting Gwen’s hand go as they ran.

*****

As Jake drove the buckboard with the McCain children, he passed the General Store, where Mrs. Donner called to him.

“Yes, Mrs. Donner?” Jake answered as he pulled the team to a halt.

“With all that’s happened at the McCain ranch, I keep forgetting to send this letter out to Lucas. I presume since you’re taking the children, that things are improving?”

“I think so, otherwise Doc Burrage wouldn’t let us be taking the children back home.”

“Would you mind delivering this letter out to Lucas?”

“No ma’am.” Jake took the letter and placed it in the pocket of his shirt.

“Tell the family we look forward to their returning to church,” Mrs. Donner said as Jake picked up the reins to the team.

“I will, Mrs. Donner. Good day!”

*****

Lucas, Milly, and Hope stood on the porch to Mark and Hope’s home when Jake drove the team to the house. Behind them, were Hattie and Micah in a buggy.

All the boys were calling for their parents, and Josh, Zach, and Eli also called for their grandparents. After numerous hugs were shared among the group, Lucas finally invited everyone inside. Lucas asked the boys to sit on the bricks in front of the fireplace. As the boys scurried to sit down, Lucas watched as Gwen handed Mykaela to Hope.

“Thank you, Gwen. I don’t know…”

“Hope, you don’t. I’m just happy Doc said we can bring them all home.”

Micah carried Levi into the house and handed him to Milly.

Lucas turned to the older boys when he heard Josh ask, “Where’s Papa?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you boys about. Now, your Papa got hurt and Doc wants him to stay in bed for a while. Right now, he’s sleeping, but when he wakes, we’ll let you in to see him. Okay?”

“Yes, sir,” The boys said or nodded.

“Right now, your Mama’s have an early supper ready for you and for now, you’ll need to try to keep quiet.”

*****

While the children ate, Lucas asked Hattie and Micah out to the porch. He told them of Mark’s diagnosis and progress that he had made in just a few days.

Milly stepped to the porch to inform everyone that Mark was awake and she had already fed him. That evening, there were more people in the bedroom than ever before. Mark was eager to see his children as well as his brothers, and happy that Micah and Hattie had come too. Two hours had passed when Lucas noticed that Mark couldn’t keep his eyes open and suggested they let Mark sleep.

“Pa, can’t the boys stay?” Mark pleaded.

“I’ll get them to bed later, Pa,” Hope stated as she smiled, seeing Mark and their three boys sitting in the bed together.

Lucas agreed.

As Jake was getting ready to leave, he remembered the letter Mrs. Donner had asked him to deliver.

“Mr. McCain, this letter came for you,” Jake said as he handed the letter to Lucas.

Jake stepped to the porch where he slowly said goodnight to Gwen.

“I wish you could come back to town with me?” Jake stated as he shifted his feet and couldn’t look at Gwen.

“I belong here. Hope’s going to need my help now. Besides, you need to get home so you can get a good night’s sleep to come back in the morning to help Mr. Lucas.”

“And see you?” Jake quickly whispered in Gwen’s ear as he stole a kiss, turned, and ran back to the buckboard.

Gwen placed her hand to her cheek and smiled.

*****

Gwen re-entered the home to see Lucas carrying one of the twins, Milly the other, while Hope carried Eli to their bedroom.

After tucking all three boys in their beds, Lucas stated, “Not sure who fell asleep first, Mark or his sons.”

“He had a great evening,” Hope quietly spoke as they left the bedroom.

“Hope, will you need anything?” Gwen asked.

“No, why don’t you go ahead and go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Everyone said goodnight.

*****

Once back in their own home and after their children were put to bed, Lucas sat down in his chair and pulled out the letter Jake had handed him.

“Lucas?” Milly asked.

“I don’t know it’s postmarked Golden, Colorado. It was mailed over a month ago.”

Lucas opened the letter and read:

Mr. Lucas McCain
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Dear Mr. McCain,

I write this letter to warn you. Recently a good friend of mine, Madilyn Willdrow, passed. Her son returned home, after almost ten years of being gone, only in time for the funeral. Afterwards, Oliver proceeded through her belongings and later that day he rapidly left town.

I entered the home the next day and found her journals strewn about her bedroom. Also strewn were newspapers articles of you and then more of you and your son.

Mr. McCain, I fear for the safety of you and your family. Oliver was led to believe that you were his father when in truth, you killed his father while trying to rescue his mother, a month after Oliver was born. This all happen in Oklahoma, about twenty-seven years ago, from what Madilyn wrote, you had only been married to your own wife a short time.

Please Mr. McCain, protect your family. I fear that Oliver wishes to harm you and your family.

In God’s grace,

Mrs. Armsted
Golden, Colorado

“Lucas?” Milly asked as she heard Lucas’ fist hit the arm of his chair.

“This letter explains Oliver Willdrow.” Lucas handed the letter to Milly and allowed her to read.

“Lucas, you couldn’t have known. But this is the past. We have to focus on now, helping Mark and Hope recover.”

“I know,” Lucas sighed.

“Are you coming to bed?” Milly asked.

“Not yet. I need some time to think.”

“Lucas, God understands and no one blames you for what happened to Mark. Our family is back home. Lucas talk with God and when he’s put peace back in your heart, come to bed,” Milly finally stated as she realized that none of her words were comforting to her husband.

*****

Milly woke early the following morning and found the front door to their home ajar. She hurried to the door and stepped to the porch, she looked left and then right.

“Myra McCain?”

Myra stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around at hearing her Ma calling her, “Yes, Mama?”

“Just where do you think you are going.”

“To help Hope and Gwen,” Myra said as she looked at her feet. Then looking up, “Please Mama, I got to talk to Mark. I got to know.”

Milly had walked to where Myra stood and knelt in front of her daughter.

“Myra, do you want to talk about this?”

“Mama, I got to know that Mark’s going to really be okay and that he don’t…”

“He doesn’t what?”

“Hate me,” Myra barely whispered.

“Hate you?” Milly asked, shocked. “Myra we talked about this the other day, your father and I, we told you it wasn’t your fault.”

“I know, you don’t blame me, but…”

Milly waited.

“But maybe Mark does. He laughed and had fun with the boys last night. He didn’t even call for me. Mama, if he hates me because…”

“Young lady,” Milly said as she stood and took Myra’s hand. “We’ll get this settled for once and for all.”

Milly walked Myra to Mark and Hope’s home, quietly opening the front door to see Hope coming from the bedroom.

“Good Morning Hope,” Milly called.

“Ma? Myra? Good Morning. What brings you over here so early?”

“Is Mark awake?”

“He is. I was going to fix him breakfast before the boys woke.”

“Would you mind if Myra spends some time with Mark. She needs to talk with him.”

Hope looked from Milly to Myra and then back to Milly. “Sure Ma.”

Milly walked to the door and gently knocked on the door, she heard Mark called, “Come in.”

“Mark, I think you need to talk with Myra. She’s carrying some… Well, she feels that…”

“I understand,” Mark answered, realizing what his Ma couldn’t bring herself to say. “Gabby?”

Myra stepped to the door and stopped.

“I sure have missed you, Gabby. I think we need to talk.”

Milly gently pushed Myra towards Mark’s bed, she closed the door as she left the room.

“You’re being awfully quiet. That’s not the Gabby I remember,” Mark spoke as he motioned for his sister climb up on the bed.

“You remember? You’re not just saying that?” Myra asked.

“I remember how difficult it is to keep you quiet. How you’re always asking questions and not waiting for someone to answer, before you ask the next.”

“What else do you remember?”

“I know your birthday is New Year’s Day and that you’re going to be seven next year. I know you’re probably feeling bad, that maybe this is all your fault? That maybe I don’t love you anymore?”

“Do you?”

“Sis, this isn’t your fault at all. And how can I not love my only sister? If it weren’t for you, I probably would have died out there.”

“But you wouldn’t have been out there if I hadn’t tried to go home and gotten swept away in the storm.”

“Gabby, if I’d of been to town a little earlier, we probably would have been at the river anyway.”

“You would have known it wasn’t safe to cross,” Myra countered.

“Ma and Pa will probably be mad at me for telling you this, but there was a mean man who was going to try to hurt Ma. He was going to try to take you to force Ma to go with him.”

“Then Mama and Papa weren’t just saying that, to make me feel better?”

“They told you about Harry?”

“I don’t know his name, but they said a bad man came and tried to hurt Mama.”

“It’s the truth. I’m actually thankful you tried to go home. If you hadn’t, I don’t know what he would have done to either of us.”

“So you do love me?”

“Always,” Mark said as he raise his hands a little from his sides, encouraging Myra to come to him so he could give her a big ole hug.

“So you can move your arms now?”

“Yeah, just wish I could walk. It gets pretty boring just lying here in bed.”

“I remember a previous time where you were confined to bed and you did a lot of reading to Myra,” Hope called from the doorway. “Are you two hungry?”

“I should get back home,” Myra said.

“No, your Mama asked me to let you spend the morning with us. It’s the first time all three boys have been back here in a while and I’m gonna need a lot of help today. Mark has exercises to do and your Papa is planning to work the ranch today, so Myra, Gwen and I could really use your help. We need someone to make sure Mark stays in bed when we’re not in the house. We have laundry to wash and hang. Do you think you can keep him in bed?”

“Yes Ma’am. Could I go home and get my schoolbooks?”

“After you eat.”

Hope served breakfast in bed to Mark and Myra that morning. As she tended to their sons and daughter she smiled as she listened to the laughter coming from the bedroom.

*****

August started just as hot as June and July had. That day, both McCain family’s observed Sunday in Mark and Hope’s home, with Lucas reading from the Good Book. Before lunch, Lucas headed to the barn and shortly, Mark heard the team being driven to the front of the house.

“Pa?” Mark inquired.

“I spoke with Doc yesterday and he suggested a new exercise to help you learn to walk. We’re going to the pond, boys get your swimming suits. Ladies, you too. Milly and Hope have already fixed a picnic lunch for the whole family.”

*****

Lucas helped get Mark into the pond. Mark was pleased to realize that he could float on the water. Hope had to caution the boys to not be so rowdy around their father.

The strain of the previous two months wasn’t evident with the families today. Everyone had fun splashing and swimming and just having a good time.

While floating around in the water, Mark thought he felt that he could move his legs. He fervently wished that he really was regaining control over his legs. He was enjoying being in his own world for a little while and was slightly startled when Lucas swam up to him.

“Well, how are you feeling?”

“I feel great. Thanks Pa. This was a great idea.”

“Well, let’s get you out of the water before you start looking like a shriveled prune.”

*****

Lucas and Milly cuddled in bed with each other that night, both content just holding the other in their arms.

“Everyone had a great time today,” Milly stated.

“Yes, it’s been a long time since the family’s had a day like today,” Lucas answered, whispering in her ear.

Milly rolled over to face Lucas.

“You look a lot more relaxed than you have been in some time, Lucas.”

“I feel relaxed.” Lucas ran the back of his fingers across Milly’s cheek. “I love you.”

“You care to prove that?” Milly asked as she blushed.

“You’re not tired?…”

“After a wonderful day like today, never.”

Both slipped from their bedclothes. Milly giggled, like a little school girl, as Lucas’ hands tickled against her bare skin. They each experienced a simple desire, but the more they caressed and looked each other in the eye, the more their desire grew to where they both lost themselves as they made love that night. They had just rested back into each other’s arms when Milly laughed again.

“Perfect timing,” Lucas complained and then laughed.

“Mama!” Little Ted called louder.

Milly quickly slipped from under the covers and dressed in her nightgown to see why Little Ted had called her.

Lucas rested back in the bed, hands behind his head, a smile on his face as he watched his wife pause at the door and smile back at him.

 

This story continues in The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 14

 

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