The Rifleman — The Next Generation Pt 1 (by BluewindFarm)

Synopsis:  An AU story of the lives of the McCains and friend after the series ended its five-year run.  A continuation of an idea began in my story, Timing.

Category:  The Rifleman
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  19,480


 

Foreword

Five years was not long enough for The Rifleman. The series ended too soon. Though its production ended before I was born, it lives on in reruns and DVDs. This saga is dedicated to my imagination of the lives of Lucas and Mark McCain and the residents of North Fork, after the series ended.

In looking back, The Return of Johnny Drako and Healing, unknowingly, started my saga.

While writing Leaving Childhood Behind, it was my dream to allow Mark grow up, but without his father present. In growing up, he came to realize every move he made would be guided, ultimately, by everything his father had taught him. A parent can only teach their child and hope that the lessons they’ve taught are the right ones. Lucas grew up as well when he came to understand a parent can’t always be there to protect or guide their child. At some point, a parent has to be ready to let go.

A parent must be willing to accept their child’s decisions as they grow up, and if they fall, be ready to catch them. This was my idea behind Mark’s Posse. Yet, the repercussions of a child’s decision, like a pebble striking the surface of a pond, aren’t always so simple, as Lucas was to find out.

After finishing Mark’s Posse, I felt a need to continue the story. A lot had been spoken between Lucas and Mark, regarding Mark’s ordeal. But, there was another side to the story. A side untold – Lucas’. Thus Timing was started and so, my dream of their saga continued.

Today, I start writing more of their life…The Next Generation… Within The Next Generation you’ll see some old friends come back, be introduced to new characters, as well as see others, you’d just as soon rather forget.

I hope you enjoy.

Bluewind Farm

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 1 – School

 

It was decided that Miss Milly would take the younger children and a schoolroom would be set up in the town hall. But before classes could begin, desks would need to be constructed. All the men in town chipped in, helping out during the building process. A new chalkboard was ordered from Denver. At the end of the week, North Fork had two respectable schools for its children.

*****

The new school semester was set to begin. The parents of the younger children eagerly walked them to their new school and marveled at all the work that had been completed.

*****

Mr. Griswald and Miss Milly had outlined, for Mark, a morning curriculum that would ease Hope into her new life in North Fork — Spelling and Grammar and Writing. During the afternoons she would join the others of her age for History and Government classes. Afterwards she would return to work with Mark on mathematics.

It was planned that Mr. Griswald would work with Mark before school and over his lunch hour to see that he kept up with his own studies while he was tutoring Hope.

When classes were dismissed for the day, Mark walked Hope over to the town hall and said goodbye to her and Miss Milly. Then he headed for home.

Upon arrival, Mark quickly unsaddled Blue Boy, curried him down and turned him out in the corral. He tended to his chores, filling the water trough, picking out the manure from the corral, filling the water buckets in the barn, picking stalls, and haying and graining the horses for the night.

Mark realized the woodbin was getting low as he walked to the house. He started working on splitting firewood, stacked it, and carried some into the house. He started a fire in the hearth, winter was soon arriving, and nights were getting chilly. He returned outside to feed the chickens and the hogs before returning inside.

Finally, he started fixing supper and set the table. While waiting for his Pa to return, he stepped out back and washed up. He shivered at the coolness of the water against his skin.

Lucas arrived home just as Mark was taking up supper. Conversation dwelled on how things went for Hope and her first day of school and what Lucas had been working on out on the range. While Mark was cleaning and drying the dishes, Lucas was working on his books.

“Pa, how are things going? Are we going to be okay for the winter?” Mark asked.

“Mark, we’re doing just fine. There’s plenty of money in our account to get us through until Spring. Don’t worry about a thing.” Lucas closed his book and put it in the desk drawer before standing and walking over to sit down in his chair. He pulled out his bible and began to read as Mark pulled out his schoolbooks to start working on his assignments.

Mark gave a loud yawn and stretched his arms out wide as he finished his work. Closed his books and tethered everything together for the morning.

Lucas blew out the lanterns and both retired for the night.

This was the routine the McCain’s settled into for the next few days.

*****

Thursday afternoon, Micah stopped Mark after he had taken Hope over to Miss Milly’s.

“Mark,” Micah called.

“Yes Micah.”

“Would you mind stepping inside for a few minutes?”

“Sure,” Mark tied Blue Boy to the hitching rail and walked into the marshal’s office.

“Have a seat Mark.”

“Anything wrong Micah?” Mark asked.

“No, just got to thinking that as one of my deputies, you should spend a little more time in town helping out. Nothing serious, just maybe Friday nights and Saturday nights. Don’t want to have you do it through the week, because you’ve chores at home and schoolwork. But this would give Johnny and me time to stand down, so to speak, one of us would be with you each night. But this way the people of North Fork would also take you wearing the badge a little more seriously. While here, we can teach you more of what you need to know regarding, the letter of the law.”

“Are you sure? I mean…”

“Mark,” Micah stated as he sat down on the desk in front of Mark. “Johnny and I’ve been talking this over for a little while. Now I know we need to get your Pa’s buy in on this, but you’re my deputy and you have an obligation to this town as well.”

“Yes sir,” Mark replied. “You want me to start tomorrow?”

“If your Pa is okay with it. We’d appreciate it.”

Micah returned to his desk. “Oh, by the way, this is yours.” Micah pulled an envelope from his desk and handed it to Mark.

“What is it?”

“It’s your first month’s pay. Since you’re only part time, right now, it’s not a lot, but as you start taking on more responsibilities in the office, that amount will increase.”

Mark rode home and talked with his Pa and explained his conversation with Micah. He also told Lucas of the envelope containing five dollars as his first month’s wages.

“Mark, you accepted the badge. If this is what Micah wants, he’s right, you’ve got an obligation.”

“Thanks Pa.”

Mark headed out to tend to his evening chores in the barn. Once finished, he returned to the house to start on his homework as his Pa fixed supper.

*****

Friday morning, when Mark stopped to pick Hope up at Milly’s, Milly asked him if he had a moment to talk with her.

“Mark, I received word that my possessions are arriving on tomorrow’s train. Would you and your Pa be available Saturday afternoon to help move everything into the house?”

“I’m sure Pa would be happy to help you Miss Milly. What time would you like for us to come?”

“Afternoon would be fine. That would give you and your Pa time to do your chores at the ranch before helping.”

“About one, thirty? I’ll let him know.”

*****

Mark headed to Micah’s. Before walking inside, he pulled his badge from his pocket. As he entered, he saw his Pa sitting on the edge of Micah’s desk.

“Pa, what are you doing here?” Mark inquired.

“Just thought I’d stop by to welcome the newest North Fork deputy to his first night on the job. As president of the town council, thought I’d welcome you right and proper, Deputy McCain.”

Smiling at his Pa, “Well, thanks Mr. McCain.” Mark burst out laughing.

“Here son, let me pin your badge on you.” Lucas took the badge from Mark’s hand and pinned it on his son’s shirt.

“Well, I’ll let you and Johnny get to business. I‘ll see you in the morning.”

“Oh, Pa. Miss Milly asked if we could help her tomorrow afternoon. Said a lot of her possessions are scheduled to arrive on the train. I didn’t think you’d mind if I agreed to it.” Mark smiled as he saw the look on his Pa’s face.

“Okay, but we have chores to do at the ranch beforehand.”

“I know Pa, told Miss Milly we’d be in to help her around one, thirty. I’ll be back at the ranch by eight in the morning to do my chores.”

*****

Lucas rode for home.

He arrived at the ranch and unsaddled Razor and tended to the animals. As he walked to the house, he realized this was going to be a long night. Even though he knew exactly where Mark was going to be and who he was going to be with, he still worried.

*****

Johnny had Mark read some more from the law books and would discuss the various chapters and how they related to doing the job. As the clock struck nine, Johnny stated, “Time for us to do our nightly walk. Grab your rifle, Mark.”

They walked side by side, Johnny explaining the reasons for everything he did. Explaining it’s not just walking the street, but slowly walking, looking, listening. Jiggling the door handle to make sure the shops were properly locked. Walking down the alley ways to check the back doors. Stopping in at Sweeney’s and…. Johnny stated that maybe Mark should just peek in, instead. Looking into the windows of the bank.

It was nearing ten o’clock when they returned to Micah’s. “Mark, now comes the hard part, sleeping with your ears open. You can grab some shuteye on the bunk in the cell over there, but if trouble happens out on the street, you need to be alert to listen for it. It takes time, but it’s no different than sleeping out on the trail with a herd.”

“Thanks Johnny,” Mark stated as he walked to the cell and removed his hat before sitting down on the bunk.

“Oh, and we sleep with our boots on,” Johnny said with a grin.

Luckily things were uneventful. Mark woke before six, Johnny was already awake and fixing a pot of coffee.

“Morning Mark. How’d you sleep last night?”

“Not as well as I had hoped. Even though the cell door was wide open, I still had a nightmare about being locked up.” Mark shivered as he stretched his arms wide and gave a yawn.

“Want some coffee?”

“Johnny, how can you stand to drink that stuff?” Mark asked.

“Tell you what, I’ll ask Lou to order some cocoa for you to make hot chocolate. In the mean time, let’s head on over to Lou’s and get you warm inside. We’ll do our morning rounds and then you can head back home.”

*****

It was shortly before eight o’clock when Mark arrived home. Lucas was there to greet him, the team already hitched as they headed out to repair a fence line that Lucas had found down during the week.

Even though there was a coolness to the air, both Lucas and Mark had worked up a sweat by the time they were finished fixing the section of fence. Both took time to wash up before heading into North Fork to help Milly for the day.

*****

The McCain’s arrived at the train depot and pulled the wagon up to the platform. Milly had them organize the boxes and crates so they would know which one came on which trip to her home. Under Milly’s direction, they loaded the buckboard. As they arrived with their first load, Mark smiled as he saw Hope waiting on the front porch. Mark blushed as he admired how she was dressed. Each load was driven to Milly’s and carefully carried inside. While Lucas and Mark made the next trip, Milly and Hope started unpacking.

By the time all of Milly’s belongings were at her home, it was close to supper time.

“Well, seems I owe you two supper in town tonight. How about it?”

“Sure Milly.” Lucas said as he came up behind her, put his arms around her waist and rested his chin on top of her head. “Need to make sure my boy gets fed before he has to stand watch tonight.” Lucas gave a prideful smile towards his son as he watched Mark and Hope sitting on the floor, unpacking some books from a box.

“Stand watch?” Milly asked.

“Yep. Micah told him it was about time he started fulfilling some of his other obligations as a deputy. He’ll stand watch with Micah tonight. He stood watch last night with Johnny.”

“Oh, Lucas! If I had known, I wouldn’t have asked for his help.”

“It’s okay Milly, it’s just for tonight. He’ll get to rest tomorrow after church services.”

“Well come on you two. Or are you going to just sit there and study those books and starve? Milly’s buying us supper tonight.”

Mark stood and offered his hand to help Hope up from the floor.

After dinner, the McCain’s returned their ladies to Milly’s. Before Lucas headed for home, he told Mark, “I’ll bring your Sunday clothes in tomorrow before services. You can change at Micah’s.”

“Good night Pa,” Mark said as his headed to Micah’s. Lucas returned the farewell as he headed for home.

*****

Milly invited Lucas and Mark to have Sunday dinner with her and Hope. After services, Lucas told Mark to go have fun, take Hope for a ride, enjoy his afternoon.

*****

Monday morning, Milly found the younger children being a little more obstinate than they had been the previous week. Some of the boys were insisting they didn’t have to study and take direction from a woman. Johnny overheard the commotion as he was walking through town and headed to find Mark. He explained the situation to Mark and suggested that maybe he could help Milly out for the morning.

“Miss Scott,” Mark said as he entered the school room. “If you’ll excuse me, but Hope has some questions on her studying that I… Well, I’m having trouble helping her. Do you think we could trade places this morning?”

Milly looked Mark over, questioning his story. “Please Miss Scott, maybe you’d be able to help her, seeing as how you’re a woman and I’m not. You know, maybe you could take the girls and they can help you help Hope. ”

Milly and the girls left the school room and proceeded to the restaurant. From that point on, Mark gave a stern lecture to the boys. He explained what his punishments had been when he was younger and disobeyed a teacher. “Take care not to get on my bad side. Or have any of you forgotten that I also wear a deputy badge in this town?”

After the lecture, he had them pull out their math books and he drilled them. He drilled them hard. By the time he was done working them through their lessons the boys were extremely quiet, no one squirmed in their seat.

“Now, I don’t want to hear of any of you being disrespectful to Miss Scott. She is your school teacher. You wouldn’t dare treat Mr. Griswald in that manner. If I hear otherwise, well, I can always use help cleaning up over at the marshal’s office. There’s scrubbing the floors, washing the windows, laundering the bed sheets, wiping down the jail cell bars… Do I dare continue?”

Mark looked each boy in the face as the all shook their heads no.

“Good. Now, get out your spellers and start copying your words until Miss Scott returns.”

Mark exited the school room and tried hard not to laugh. He wondered what would have happened had he been threatened like he just did.

Each day, for the rest of the week, when Mark gave Hope time to work on her own, he made sure he checked in on how the ‘boys’ were treating Milly. He smiled as he passed the room.

He walked over to the school house and picked up his own lessons before returning to the restaurant to work with Hope.

At home, Mark worked steadily and hard beside his Pa, putting the final preparations for winter in place.

This was how Mark’s life went for the next few weeks. Tutoring Hope and studying his own lessons in the morning. Sitting in on classes during the afternoon, then more tutoring of Hope. Heading home to work on chores and then on the weekends, staying in town to relieve Micah or Johnny and learn about his obligations as a deputy marshal.

*****

Milly had been back in town for a little over a month and Lucas was sitting in his chair quietly reflecting on how good life was. Through the open bedroom door he heard Mark start to wake for the day. He hadn’t been inside to hear Mark wake for the past few weeks, he rose early to get a jump on the day to get as much done as possible. It had been a long time since he’d had to make sure Mark woke up in time to get to school. He watched Mark walk from the bedroom to the sink, Mark stretched his head forward and down, rubbing at his neck. He then lifted his head and stretched his back, backwards, rubbing at his back. Lucas watched as Mark put his head under the pump and ran water over his head. Grabbing at a towel, Mark moaned to himself. He stood there for a few moments, head down. Arms braced against the counter.

“Mark?” Lucas called.

Mark turned around, surprise on his face.

Lucas grew concerned. “Mark, I think you need to take a break. You’re spreading yourself too thin.”

“Isn’t this all part of growing up Pa?”

“Not to the point of exhaustion. Mark, why didn’t you tell me you were so tired?”

“Pa, it’s just getting started of a morning. Once I’m up and going, things get easier,” Mark answered.

“Mark, I’m going into town with you today. You’ve been going like this for three weeks solid. You need some down time yourself.” Seeing the look on his son’s face, “Mark, I’m still your father. With everything you’ve been doing, I’m ashamed at myself for not seeing how this is draining on you.”

Lucas did ride to town, first he spoke with Mr. Griswald about Mark returning to regular student status for at least the week. Lucas suggested that Hope sit in with the regular class to see how well she progressed. Lucas told Milly that she was on her own for the week and explained what he had witnessed that morning. Next stop was Micah’s.

Everyone felt embarrassed and apologized to Lucas. They hadn’t heard a word of complaint from Mark and forgot that, yes, he still wasn’t full grown and, yes, he wanted to please everyone and show that he was up to the job. They all agreed that they wouldn’t make any special requests of Mark that week.

During the week, Mark rose earlier than normal to get his own chores done. He enjoyed arriving in town early, eating breakfast with Milly and Hope before escorting Hope to school. During recess, he did go against his Pa’s wishes; he made sure if Hope didn’t understand something that Mr. Griswald was teaching them, that he took time to explain. At lunch, he would sit under the shade tree with Hope by his side, reading and just holding hands. Occasionally, Mr. Griswald would spy Mark’s arm around Hope’s shoulder and he would pull her close to him and press a kiss to her hair.

*****

By the end of the week, Lucas was pleased to see how his son was acting. He had the spring in his step and took to whistling while working out in the barn or tending to the stock.

“Pa, can I head into town to relieve Micah for the night?” Mark asked as he finished the dishes.

“No son. Tonight is still part of the week that I asked everyone to give you a chance to be my son. We’ll see how things go this weekend and then next week, you can resume a few of your responsibilities.”

“Okay, Pa,” Mark answered. He walked to his chair and picked up the latest book that Johnny had given him and started reading.

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 2 – The Note

 

Monday afternoon, Mark arrived home, after school, with a letter from Mr. Griswald for his Pa.

“Mark, just what’s this all about?” Lucas asked, as he took the note from Mark and looked at the envelope.

“I don’t know Pa. Miss Milly just stood behind Mr. Griswald as he handed me that letter and asked me to give it to you. Funny, she just stood there and smiled… I’m gonna go do my chores, be back later.”

“Aren’t you the least bit curious?”

“Pa, if I’m gonna get punished, let me get some of my regular chores done before you start adding to the list,” Mark said as a weak smile played across his face. “Besides, if they wanted me to know what was in that letter, they would have addressed it to me, not you. You can tell me later.”

Mark hurried from the house, mounted Blue Boy and headed out to the range. He needed to check on the calves they were weaning and move them to the smaller meadow, closer to the farm, before winter weather arrived. He found the young herd exactly where he thought he’d find them, only he didn’t expect there to be as many as he found. He looked the herd over and realized, some were Oat Jackford’s calves. Looking at the fence line nearby, Mark realized there was a break in the fence. He kneed Blue Boy over to take a closer look.

Brown hair was found in some of the barb wire, Mark realized the calves had broken through the wire and busted a post. Mark stepped down, removed his hat and thought to himself, ‘Just how am I going to get this herd separated?’ He put his hat back on and mounted. “Well, I guess I could ride to…”

Before Mark could finish his thought he heard his name being called. He turned in the saddle and saw Sam Montgomery riding his way.

“Well, I think I found me a cattle rustler!” Sam declared as he arrived with a smile on his face. “Hi ya Mark.”

“Hi Sam! Seems we have a small problem. Mr. Jackford’s calves busted the fence and now they’re with ours. Could you help me separate them out and then we can temporarily fix the fence? I’ll bring a post and wire out tomorrow.”

“Sure, that’s why I’m here. Billy will be here with the buckboard shortly, we found the fence busted earlier today.”

Billy arrived and pulled the buckboard to a halt and watched as Sam and Mark separated out the calves. They were thankful that the calves had been branded, made it easier to figure out which ones belonged with which herd. Finally, the calves were where they should be, and Mark helped Sam and Billy fix the fence. Mark set his rope around what was left of the fence post and then tied it to his saddle horn. He worked Blue Boy sideways, back and forth, trying to pull the piece out of the ground.

“Boy, it sure is stubborn!” Mark called.

“Hold on Mark, let me get the shovel and see if I can dig it out a little bit,” Billy offered. He started digging out the dirt next to the broken post and after digging down almost a foot and a half, he yelled, “Okay Mark, try it now!”

Mark kicked Blue Boy forward. He felt the tension on the rope across his leg. With one last kick, Blue Boy dug in and lunged forward, and the ground finally gave way its hold on the post. Sam pulled the new post from the back of the wagon, carried it over, and placed it down in the hole. Sam and Billy worked to drive it down, firm, while Mark filled the dirt back around the post. The three of them made quick work in splicing in the new barb wire.

After waving goodbye, Mark set to pushing the McCain calves closer to home.

The sun was starting to set as Mark rode for home, he thought back on the letter he had carried to his Pa. It had been a long time since he had gotten into any trouble at school and he couldn’t imagine that he had done anything to warrant the letter, except… “Well, I’m sure Pa will let me know when I get home,” he said to Blue Boy and gave him a pat on the neck. With that, he kicked Blue Boy into a lope.

Mark arrived home and led his horse into the barn, where he unsaddled him, and curried him down for the night. He grained the horses and threw down some fresh hay. Mark pulled his rifle from his scabbard, blew out the lantern on the post before he exited and headed for the house.

Slowly, he stepped up on the porch, ‘Oh, well, time to pay the piper,’ Mark thought as he stood tall and turned the knob on the door. He entered the house, set his rifle in its stand, and removed his hat before saying, “Good evening, Pa.”

Lucas was sitting in his leather chair. In his hand, Mark saw his Ma’s picture.

“Pa?”

“Oh, Mark, sorry, I didn’t hear you come in. Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, if I didn’t like Blue Boy so much, I think I could have eaten him. Sorry I was gone longer than planned.”

“Longer than planned? It’s only… Guess it’s later than I thought,” Lucas said as he stood and looked out the window and saw night had fallen. “Trouble?”

“I don’t know, figured you’d tell me in when I got home,” Mark replied.

“Tell you?

“Pa, the letter I brought home from Mr. Griswald? Am I in some sort of trouble?”

“Letter?”

Mark was curious, it wasn’t like his Pa to be so distracted, not even when Mark had done something wrong and Lucas was contemplating how to discipline him. He’d never seen his Pa like this before.

Lucas shook his head to clear it. “Mark, no, you’re not in trouble.” Lucas smiled and put a hand on his boy’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Mark, just been remembering. Lost in my thoughts. What was it that delayed you?”

Mark explained how he’d come across the broken fence and how theirs and Mr. Jackford’s calves were mixed together. How he, Sam, and Billy worked to separate the herds, and then, together, they fixed the fence. Mark told of moving the calves to the Southern meadow.

“So, about that letter?” Mark asked.

“Mark, I’m not sure how exactly to tell you this.”

“Tell me what?”

“Mark, it seems that you won’t be Mr. Griswald’s student teacher after Friday,” Lucas said. He was trying real hard to keep a somber look on his face, as he watched the expression on Mark’s face.

“Guess after me not helping out last week, they realized they really didn’t need me, what with Miss Milly back and being a certified teacher.”

Lucas heard the dejection in Mark’s voice and saw it in his posture as he turned to go sit down in his own chair, next to the fire place.

“Mark, it’s kind of hard for you to be a student teacher, when you’re no longer a student.” Lucas was fighting hard to keep the smile from his face.

“They’re expelling me?! Pa, I only scolded the boys because they were giving Miss Milly a tough time!” Mark painfully stated. “Even Johnny saw how they were acting. He’s the one who told me. Honest, I wouldn’t have locked them in the jail to work.”

“Mark, there’s more than one way to no longer be a student. Mark, this here letter is an invitation to a special graduation ceremony.”

“Graduation ceremony? Who’s graduating?” Mark asked, as he started to sulk, not really paying attention to ‘what’ his Pa said.

“You are!” Lucas couldn’t help his laughter that broke, uncontrollably as he watched his boy. He saw the look of surprise appear on Mark’s face.

“Me! I’m graduating? But Pa, it’s not Spring. Graduation ceremonies are held in the Spring.” Mark was trying to understand the reality his Pa was telling him. “But you were… you had that look as if you were trying to figure out how to discipline…”

“Mark, I was distracted because I was… I was thrilled, pleased, and maybe even humbled. Guess I was even sad. I was sitting in my chair remembering the promise I made to your Ma, all those years ago. I was telling her how much you’ve grown. Thinking back on all the times… All those times I wanted to rattle your throat because you were so resistant to learning. But here you stand, about to graduate. Mark, I’m so proud of all you have accomplished. I’m proud to be your father.”

Mark sat in his chair, to say dumbfounded, would be an understatement.

Lucas headed to the kitchen and spooned out a bowl of stew and set it on the table for Mark. He looked and saw Mark sitting there, shaking his head back and forth, still not believing.

“Okay, you can ‘not’ believe it if you want to, but right now, I want you to eat.”

Not seeing Mark getting up, Lucas walked over and grabbed him by the arm and led Mark to the table. Lucas fixed himself a bowl of stew and sat down at the table with his boy — smiling as he looked at Mark’s disbelief.

“Pa, if I graduate, who’s going to help Hope?” Mark asked. Finally pulling his thoughts together.

“I’m sure you’ll still be able to find some time to tutor Hope. Besides, while you’re here working the ranch and studying those books that Johnny gives you, Milly has been working with Hope.”

“Aren’t you the least bit excited about graduating?” Lucas asked, still seeing reservation in Mark’s eyes.

“I’m not sure. More than anything, I think I’m a little bit scared,” Mark answered as he set his fork down on the table. “Pa, I know growing up, I was such a pain when it came to my schoolwork, but it’s been a big part of my life for so long and I really hadn’t thought on graduating, figured I had at least another year or so…” Mark got quiet. “I’m really going to graduate this Friday?!”

“Yep.”

“And Miss Milly, she didn’t tell you before hand?”

“Nope.”

“Pa? After Friday… then what?” Mark asked as he looked his Pa in the eye.

“Guess that means you’ll be my full time partner. That is when you’re not needed to help Micah or Johnny, or out tutoring Hope.” Lucas couldn’t help the smile that played across his face or the pride that swelled in his heart.

*****

What Mark had wished would be a small ceremony, with just his Pa and a few friends present, turned out to be a big shin-dig, once Lou heard the news. She was upset at the short notice, but thrilled she could pull off the party.

*****

It was probably the last warm day of the year that North Fork would see before winter set in. Mr. Griswald started the ceremony by remembering back to his first few days as the school teacher in North Fork and how he had tried to bring his big city style of teaching to this small, but growing, town. He reminisced about the ‘switching’ he had given Mark. He went on to say he had learned a valuable lesson that week. He learned that there was a special bond between a certain student and his father. He realized the father took the time to teach his son in ways that the boy could understand his lessons and apply them to events that might happen in one’s life, today. And he learned how much a son could stand up for his belief in his father. As Mr. Griswald stood in front of the group, tears welled in his eyes and he again apologized to Mark for the switching.

“But from that rocky start, I saw a young boy growing up to be a fine young man. A young man, who while trying to help new students feel comfortable in a strange town, made their lessons into a fun game. A young man, who willingly became a student teacher. Keeping up his own studies, while helping other students and still working on the ranch, he and his father call home. And his most recent accomplishment, he’s learning to become a deputy for this fine town.”

Mr. Griswald was quiet while he tried to collect his thoughts and his emotions.

“In all my years of teaching, I’ve never met a student as eager to learn and who puts so much devotion into learning, and passing on that knowledge. I’ve never graduated a student so young in their life. But this student has far exceeded the teaching curriculum prescribed, and I can see no reason to hold that person back, just because of his age.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of North Fork, I’d like to call Mark McCain to stand beside me and accept his certificate of graduation.”

All the people present, stood and began to clap their hands and a number of the ranch hands started whistling as Mark made his way to stand next to Mr. Griswald. Milly sat on one side of Lucas, her hands on his arm. Hope sat on the other side. All three were smiling; and Lucas and Milly had happy tears falling from their eyes. Lucas looked first to Milly and then to Hope, he placed his arms around their shoulders and pulled them into his embrace. Mark accepted his certificate as Mr. Griswald shook his hand and then pulled him into an embrace.

“Mark, I’m really proud of you and all your accomplishments,” he whispered into Mark’s ear.

Then to those present, Mr. Griswald motioned with his hands and arms for everyone to please sit and quiet down.

“Mark, would you like to say anything to those present?”

“Not sure exactly what to say except, thank you. Especially to my Pa. And also, I don’t think I’m going to miss being threatened by my Pa with bodily harm if I don’t get out of bed in time to get to school.”

The room filled with laughter.

“Well, if that’s all, let the festivities begin!” Mr. Griswald declared. Everyone started to leave the town hall and headed to the street to enjoy all the food and the music.

Mark walked back to stand with his Pa. He placed his arm around Hope’s waist and pulled her close to him. He accepted his Pa’s handshake and then a hug. Milly gave Mark a kiss on the forehead before she too hugged him.

“A little overwhelming, isn’t it?” Milly asked before she released him.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Mark, when are you going to stop ma’am’ing me?” Milly whispered.

Mark could only grin. He knew the answer he wanted to give would result in his Pa grabbing at his ear.

*****

Mark and Hope enjoyed strolling the main street of North Fork, arm in arm. They came to the dance square that had been lined with hay bales. The band leader called for Mark to come to center stage and they started playing a slow tune. Mark walked Hope out onto the dance floor and proceeded to dance with her in his embrace. Hope’s arms around his neck, her head resting on his shoulder. His arms around her back and he leaned his cheek to her head. His cheeks started blushing as he saw everyone staring at them. As he was dancing, his eyes came to rest on his Pa and he motioned for his Pa to join them.

Lucas grabbed Milly by the hand and led her to the dance floor, where they joined his son, dancing. After a few minutes, they exchanged partners. There was a smile on Lucas’ face as he took Hope in his arms and danced.

“So Mark, are you going to answer my question from earlier?” Milly asked.

“I would have, but Pa was right there and I didn’t want to lose an ear. I wanted to tell you that I’d stop ma’am’ing you when Pa puts a ring on your finger.” Together they laughed.

The music came to an end as father and son escorted their dance partners to the side. Lucas accepted Milly back into his embrace as Mark accepted Hope into his. The band started playing again, to an upbeat tune, and many of the town’s folks took to the dance floor, with those not wanting to dance, standing around, tapping their feet and clapping their hands.

Mark and Hope walked to the food tables and filled their plates and grabbed a cup of punch.

Drako came up behind them and placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder, then spoke to Hope. “Well, miss, how’s this deputy treating you? He’s not ignoring you with all the attention he’s been getting, has he?”

“No Deputy Drako, Mark’s being a real… gen…” Hope’s eyes pleaded with Mark to help her find the word. Mark whispered in her ear and Hope smiled. “Yes, he’s being a real gentleman.”

“Are you having a good time?”

“Yes, everyone is being so nice to me. They act as if I hadn’t spent the past six years with the Kiowa.”

“Hope, they better treat you no differently. You have many staunch allies if anyone were to treat you otherwise,” Johnny replied.

Hope asked what he meant.

Mark answered, “Hope a staunch ally is someone who believes in you. And believe me, if anyone were to treat you mean, I wouldn’t be the only person to stand up for you. They’d have to go through Pa, Micah, Johnny, Miss Milly, and me, just to name a few. This town is full of good people.” Mark finished by lifting Hope’s hand and placing a kiss on it.

“Well, I’ll leave you two be. Probably should see that I pay attention to Lou for a while this evening, before she gets her Irish up that I’ve neglected her.” Johnny tipped his hat and said, “Good night.”

There were a number of slow dances throughout the evening where Mark enjoyed the closeness of dancing with Hope in his arms. He felt the warmth of her body against his. He saw strength shining in her eyes the closer together they were.

The celebration finally ended around eleven o’clock that evening. The McCain men escorted Milly and Hope back to their home, before heading back to their ranch. Mark felt a little self conscious in bidding Hope goodnight, especially with his Pa so close and bidding goodnight to Milly.

It was well after midnight when the McCain’s reached their home. Mark was happily humming as he tended to Blue Boy. Lucas smiled as he pulled his saddle from Razor’s back; he had the same feeling deep within.

As they walked to the house, Lucas asked Mark, “So, are we going to frame that piece of paper?”

Mark reflected quietly before answering, “No Pa. I think I’m going to place it in our family bible.” Mark pulled their family bible from the trunk; it was a different bible than the one his Pa always read from. This one had a lot of emotion tied to it. Mark carried it to and set it down on his Pa’s desk as he sat down in the chair.

“There’s a lot of memories in this bible that we don’t share with anyone, because they’re private and personal. I don’t know, but deep inside, seeing as how my education was Ma’s dream, I feel it should be private. Something between us. I know that Lou wanted the party and all, but it wouldn’t have bothered me if it had just been us and a few friends tonight.”

Lucas saw tears falling down Mark’s cheeks as he placed his certificate in the bible. He watched as his son turned the pages to the front and gently moved his hand down the listing of events;

Lucas and Margaret (Gibbs) McCain, married, and August 31, 1869
Mark Warren McCain, born, and December 10, 1870
Margaret McCain, death, and June 3, 1877

Mark’s hand hesitated over his Ma’s name. Finally, he picked up a pen and dipped it in the ink well and wrote — Mark Warren McCain, graduated, November 15, 1887.

“Mark, I thought tonight would be a happy night for you. Why the tears?” Lucas asked as he walked behind and placed his hand on Mark’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

“I… Pa, I just…” Mark hung his head, this was probably the first time in his life that he felt regret. He remembered back to just before he had contracted Typhoid Fever. At that time, as a ten year old child, he felt regret, but he really knew it to be self pity. This feeling was truly regret and it welled deep inside. He’d kept his feelings hidden all night, until he was home, he couldn’t hold back his tears any longer.

“Mark?” Lucas asked as he knelt down next to Mark, lifted his chin and turned his boy’s face to look in his eyes.

“Pa, I just wish Ma was here to see me graduate.”

“I know son, but, in here,” Lucas placed the palm of his hand over Mark’s heart and tears fell down his own face. “She’s with you every day and I know she was watching tonight. I know she would be very proud of you.” Lucas pulled Mark into a fatherly embrace. Mark wrapped his arms around his Pa’s neck and wept. Lucas waited until he felt Mark cry himself out before he released him and suggested it was time they go to bed.

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 3 – Another Repercussion

 

Lucas McCain slept in later than usual the following morning. After waking, Lucas lay in bed, and looked over to his son. Quietly, he rose from his bed and dressed. Knowing it had been a long and emotional night for his boy, he decided to let Mark sleep himself out.

Lucas exited the house, stopped on the porch and stretched himself tall as he deeply inhaled the crisp fall air; that held a hint that winter was going to come early. He strode to the barn to tend to the stock and start their morning chores.

He’d grained the horses and put out hay in the corral before turning the team and their saddle horses out. Lucas then returned to clean out the stalls. Finally, Lucas saddled Razor and walked him to the hitching rail in front of the house. Lucas quietly stepped to the porch and entered their home. Peeking in the bedroom, he saw Mark was still sleeping. Lucas turned to his desk and wrote Mark a note. Lucas pulled the door to their home closed, put his rifle in the scabbard, mounted, and rode out to the northern meadow.

*****

Mark was startled awake by someone knocking on the front door. He looked around and saw his Pa’s bed was already made for the morning. Mark pulled his pants on and stood. The knock sounded at the door again. He picked up his shirt and put it on as he made his way to the front door.

He opened the door to see a woman standing out on the porch, as she turned to face him, he saw her put a handkerchief to her eye.

“May I help you ma’am?” Mark asked as he buttoned his shirt.

“Yes, I was looking for Mark McCain,” the woman replied as she removed her bonnet.

“Hattie! Hattie Denton!! Oh my, Hattie, you’re back. When? How? Why?” Mark asked as he enveloped her in a hug.

“Mark? Oh my, you’re not so little anymore,” she breathed.

“Please Miss Hattie, please come inside,” Mark said as he stepped aside for her to enter their home.

Hattie entered and removed her shawl. “It’s just like I remembered. Even his smell is still here.”

“Miss Hattie?”

“Oh Mark, I’m so sorry I didn’t get here sooner, but I was grieving over the death of my sister and just last week I saw the newspaper story about Micah… and your Pa. Mark, please forgive me.”

“Miss Hattie, there’s nothing to forgive, except to maybe ask your forgiveness.”

Mark escorted Hattie to sit down in his chair. “Land sake child. No. You’ve grown up a lot since I last saw you. You’re no longer a child. But why would you have to ask for my forgiveness?”

“Miss Hattie, would you like some coffee before I tell you?” Mark asked.

“Sounds lovely, Mark. But how are you getting along? You doing okay?”

Mark retrieved a cup from the cupboard and poured some coffee and handed it to Miss Hattie. “If I remember, you like yours with a little cream?”

“Sweet of you to remember Mark. Now, you haven’t answered my question.”

Mark pulled a chair from the table and placed it in front of where Hattie sat, before he sat down.

“Miss Hattie, I want to thank you for coming all this way, but there was no need.”

“No need, Mark, you lost your father just a short time ago. Now you’re not the little boy I so fondly remember, but you can’t seriously think you can live on this ranch all by yourself, plus keep to your school studies. No. Lucas wouldn’t want that. So I came back to take care of you. See that you keep to your studies and cook and clean for you. Mark, oh Mark, you were so much like a grandson to me. Let me do this for you, please.” Hattie’s eyes were sincere in her request.

“Miss Hattie, I guess I should just come out and say what happened. The story you read in the newspaper, it wasn’t real. We encountered an assassination attempt on a United States Senator. Unfortunately, all the outlaws, except the leader, were killed in the ensuing gun fight. In order to draw out the leader, we wrote a fake story.” Mark looked into Hattie’s eyes to see if she understood. “Miss Hattie, my Pa… and Micah, they’re both alive and well.”

“They’re both?”

Mark nodded.

“You don’t happen to have something a little stronger that I can add to my coffee, now do you?”

“Would you like a little spot of brandy, I think Pa has some in the hutch.”

Hattie nodded and asked, “We’ll keep this between us?”

Mark smiled as he stood to get the brandy.

A few minutes later, once Hattie had re-composed herself Mark continued talking with her.

“Where are you staying?”

“I hadn’t given it much thought. I only wanted to get back here and be a grandmother to my little Mark,” Hattie answered.

“I love you too, Grandma!” Mark bent over and gave her a kiss on the cheek as he offered her more coffee and cream.

“Is your father still threatening you to get out of bed to get to school, still working as hard to get you to understand your studies?” Hattie asked.

“Not anymore…” But before Mark could explain.

“Now don’t tell me he has you working full time here at the ranch. He always valued your education. Why would he not let you go to school anymore?”

Mark laughed as he sat back down. “Hattie, it’s been quite a few years since Pa had to really get after me about my studies. I finally found a reason to enjoy my education and I excelled in my studies. Actually, for more than two years, I’ve been a student teacher. At least I was until yesterday.”

“Mark, what happened yesterday?” Hattie asked with concern, as she placed her hand on top of Mark’s.

“I graduated last night.”

“Graduated, but Mark you can’t be… seventeen years old yet, you still have another year of learning.”

“I’ll be seventeen in a few weeks. Mr. Griswald stated I had exceeded the entire required curriculum and saw no reason why I shouldn’t graduate early. Oh Miss Hattie, I wish you could have been there last night. It would have made everything all the more perf… well, it would have been nice.”

Mark turned at the sounds of a rider approaching, hoping it was his Pa. He walked to the door and opened it before the rider could knock.

“Hi Johnny, what brings you out this way so early?” Mark asked as he tried to stifle a yawn.

“Mark, have you not looked at the clock yet. It’s almost noon,” Johnny answered with a laugh.

“NOON?!” Mark exclaimed. “Oh my, Pa’s going to have a fit when he finds out how late I slept.”

“Well, seeing as how you and your gal didn’t leave the party until after…” Johnny stopped as he entered and saw a woman sitting in the living room. He quickly removed his hat. “I’m sorry Mark, I didn’t realize you had company. Thought the buggy might have been Milly’s.”

“Johnny,” Mark started to introduce them. “I’d like you to meet Miss Hattie Denton. She owned the General Store when Pa and I first arrived in North Fork. Miss Hattie, I’d like you to meet Deputy Johnny Drako.”

“Pleased to meet you ma’am,” Johnny offered.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance as well Deputy Drako. Have you been a deputy here for long?”

“About a year. Town’s growing and Micah accepted my offer to help. We had a number of young desperados that Micah needed help in taming. Mark McCain being the number one offender,” Johnny said with a smile.

“Now that can’t be true! Mark is as sweet as the day is long. And Lucas would… Well, let’s just say Mark would never do anything wrong knowing his Pa would find out. Why if he got into any real mischief…” Hattie’s voice had taken on the chiding tone, she always used with Lucas when she tried to defend Mark.

“I know Miss Denton. Mark’s becoming a real asset to this community. By the way Mark, that’s why I’m out here. Micah left this morning, he received a wire that he was needed to testify in a case down by Las Cruses. He’ll probably be gone for about four days. I’ve been asked to meet the marshal from Roswell half way and transport a prisoner half way to Santa Fe. I’ll probably be gone for at least five days. You think you could look after the town while we’re gone?”

“Mark look after the town? Why Lucas always filled in for Micah, why are you asking Mark?”

“Miss Denton, a lot has changed in North Fork since you lived here. Mark is a deputy and has been for a number of months. He doesn’t have all the full responsibilities that I have, but he does have an obligation to help out in times such as this.”

“I’ll need to wait until Pa comes back, is it alright if I come to town later this afternoon?”

“Sure Mark, I’ll make sure Lou has a room ready for you. By the way,” Johnny said with a hint of mischief in his voice, “If you don’t trust that Pa of yours to stay at the ranch by himself, you can always bring him along and let him stay in your room. Lou could get the room with the double beds ready for you.”

“Thanks, Johnny. I’ll ask Pa when he gets back.”

“That or maybe your Pa will want to stay in town to make sure you keep being a gentleman towards that gal I saw on your arm last night, make sure you don’t do anything disrespectful.” Oh, but there was a boyish gleam in Johnny’s eyes.

“Johnny, I could say the same for you and Miss Lou. Now get on back to town and let me get ready.”

“Miss Denton, it was a pleasure meeting you. I better get back town and say my goodbyes to Lou before I head out.”

Johnny left the house and headed back to North Fork.

*****

Lucas was just coming across the rise as he saw a rider leaving their home. As he came around the front of the house, he spied the buggy waiting out front. A smile crept across Lucas’ face as he thought of Milly and how nice it was for her to come out to the ranch.

As he stepped to the porch he called, “Mark, I hope you finally woke up enough to keep Milly company until I returned!” as he opened the door.

Lucas stopped as he noticed the woman sitting in the chair and Mark turning towards the door.

“Hattie!” Lucas stated as he stopped and removed his hat.

“Lucas, I hear tell that the story of your death was sorely premature.” Hattie smiled as she stood and offered Lucas a hug. “Glad to see you, alive.”

Mark excused himself as Hattie and his Pa started their catching up. He went outside to saddle Blue Boy. Then after packing an overnight bag, he stepped back into the front room, and heard Hattie asking his Pa, “Lucas, what is this about Mark being a deputy?”

“Hattie that’s a little bit of a long story. Tell you what, why don’t I have Mark take you back to town and get you a room at the hotel. I’ve a few more things to do around the house, then I’ll freshen up here and meet you in town for dinner tonight. My treat. And I won’t take no for an answer.”

Hattie nodded.

“Pa, can we talk before I take Miss Hattie back to town?”

“Sure, what’s on your mind?”

“Johnny left here a little while ago… Well, he and Micah have to leave town for a few days and he needs me in town as a deputy. I was wondering, since this is really the first time I’ll be alone as a deputy…”

“You’d like for me to come and back you up.”

“Pa, I know I’m asking a lot, it’s just that, well… This will be the first time I’m on my own.”

“I understand. If everything is quiet, I’ll get to spend some time with Milly. I’ll pack an overnight bag as well. I’ll meet you in town around five o’clock. After seeing Hattie to a room at the hotel, why don’t you ask Milly and Hope to join us.”

“Milly and Hope?” Hattie asked.

“Come on and I’ll explain on the way to town Miss Hattie,” Mark said with a grin as he escorted Hattie out and avoided the towel his Pa threw in his direction.

*****

Mark tied Blue Boy to the back of the buggy and put his overnight bag behind the seat. He assisted Hattie up before he climbed in.

“So,” Hattie started. “If I heard the deputy correct you’re courtin’ a young gal?”

“Miss Hattie?!” Mark swallowed hard. “I wouldn’t rightly say we’re courtin’, but Hope is mighty special to me.”

“So how old is your gal?”

“I think she’s sixteen, same as me.”

“You mean you don’t know?”

“Miss Hattie, it’s a long story. Once you get to know her better, I’ll tell you the whole story, but for right now, I’d like for you to get to know her for who you see, not her past. Please?”

Mark drove Miss Hattie to the hotel and saw her to her room. “I’ll return the buggy to Nils. Pa and I’ll see you for dinner about five, thirty.”

He untied Blue Boy from the buggy and tied him in front of Micah’s. He pulled his rifle out and walked back to the horse and buggy in front of the hotel. Instead of driving, he decided just to lead the horse to Nils’.

After returning the buggy, Mark got to thinking on what Hattie had asked. He walked to the telegraph office and was greeted by Amos, “Howdy Mark, what can I do for you today?”

“Amos, I’d like to send a wire to Fort Sam Houston.”

“Well, just write out your message and I’ll send it for you.”

Mark set his rifle down on the counter, took the paper and pen, and wrote:

Major Seth Lane or Lieutenant Ethan Lane
Fort Sam Houston, Texas

Sirs, Hope is settling in fine and doing well in school. /stop/
Please know that she does miss you. /stop/
I have a question, when is her birthday? /stop/

Respectfully,

Mark McCain
North Fork, New Mexico

After finished writing, he handed the pad to Amos. “I’ll be in town for the next few days, either at Micah’s or at the hotel, whenever the response comes in.”

“Mark, we all know that Micah left this morning and Johnny had to leave this afternoon, so if you need any help, just holler. You’re in charge, but if you need someone to cover your back, you just ask and we’ll come a runnin’.”

“Amos, I appreciate it. I think Pa’s going to spend the evenings and nights in town, but during the day… We’ve still got a lot to do out at the Ranch before winter sets in.”

“Guess you thought you’d be able to take it easy after graduating last night?”

“For a little while at least. Or at least be able to be a full-time partner out at the ranch.”

“Don’t worry Mark. You’ll do fine. We believe in you as we believe in Micah, Johnny, and your Pa.”

“Thanks Amos. I’ll see ya.” Mark picked his rifle up from the counter and left.

After leaving the telegraph office, Mark headed to Milly’s. He smiled as he knocked on the door and waited for Milly or Hope to answer. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Afternoon Mark,” Hope stated as she answered the door, opening it wide for Mark to enter.

“Afternoon Hope.” Mark smiled and removed his hat. “Is Miss Milly around?”

“She’s in the kitchen. We’re baking.”

“That wouldn’t be Milly’s famous apple pie I’m smelling,” Mark asked. After setting his rifle and hat down, just inside the door, he put his hand at the small of Hope’s back and escorted her to the kitchen.

“Well, I should have known,” Milly said with a laugh as she put the back sides of her hands on her hips. “Just when I get an apple pie out of the oven, it’s Mark McCain who comes knocking on my door.”

“Miss Milly, I didn’t know you were baking, honest. But I’m glad I’m here.” Mark smiled at Hope and took his thumb and brushed off the flour that was lying on her cheek. “Pa asked me to stop by and ask if you and Hope would join us for dinner at the restaurant this evening.”

“Dinner, Mark? Why so formal?” Milly asked.

“Pa and I are feeling a little… uh… guilty.”

“Guilty?” Hope asked.

“Yeah, guess we didn’t realize all the repercussions that story in the newspaper would bring. We only did it to get Stedman out into the open. Well it worked, but then there was everything we put Miss Milly through. Don’t get me wrong, some of the repercussions have been great, especially Pa and Miss Milly getting back together again. I just wish he’d make it official, that the two of them are courting.”

“Mark!” Milly exclaimed.

“Well, can I help it? Everyone else in town knows it, just not Pa.”

“Mark, I’ve been back in North Fork for almost six weeks. Why, now, are you and your Pa feeling guilty?”

“Oh, it’s not just you, Miss Hattie’s back in town. Her sister passed away a few months back and she just recently saw the article from the paper about Micah and Pa being killed. She packed her bags and came to live here and take me in as her grandson.” Mark laughed as he remembered his conversation from earlier in the day.

“Mark, it must make you feel good to have others who care enough about you to return to North Fork,” Hope stated as she wrapped an arm around Mark and rested her head on his shoulder.

“Almost as good as holding you in my arms,” Mark quietly whispered, before gently squeezing his arms around her.

“Okay, enough you two. Break it up.” Milly declared. “So what time should Hope and I meet you at the restaurant?”

Mark and Hope grinned as the stepped away from each other.

“Pa’s expected in town around five, but Micah and Johnny left me as deputy, so I’d like some time with Pa over at Micah’s. How about five, thirty.”

“We’ll be there Mark. Mark, Hattie, would that be Hattie Denton?”

“Yes ma’am. You bought the general store from her when you first arrived from Santa Fe.”

Though he didn’t want to say goodbye, he gave Hope a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll see you later.”

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 4 – Deputy McCain

 

He collected his rifle; put his hat back on, and with a spring in his step he walked back to Micah’s. He stopped and petted Blue Boy on the neck and offered him a sugar cube. As he entered, he set his rifle on the desk and felt very self conscious and alone. He walked to Micah’s chair and spun it around. He couldn’t bring himself to sit in it. He walked to the chair where Johnny sat and he ran his hand across the top of the back.

Mark’s thinking was brought back to the present when he saw John Hamilton standing in the doorway.

“Mark, I thought I saw you come in here.”

“Mr. Hamilton, sorry, I didn’t hear you come in,” Mark replied.

“That’s okay, I saw you were thinking and didn’t really want to disturb you. Just came to say, if you need anything while Micah or Johnny are out of town…”

“I appreciate the gesture Mr. Hamilton. I really do. I mean, I’ve had the badge for more than six months, but this time, it just feels different.”

“Have you talked with your Pa?”

“I’m planning to. He’s supposed to be in town around five o’clock then we’re having supper with Miss Hattie. Mr. Hamilton, did you know that Hattie Denton is back in town.” Sheepishly Mark continued, “She came here to help me in my time of need, just recently read about Micah’s and Pa’s deaths in an old newspaper.”

“No, I hadn’t heard she was back in town,” John replied.

“She’s over at the hotel. I’m sure she’d enjoy seeing you again,” Mark said with schoolboy grin on his face. “Mr. Hamilton?”

“Yes Mark?”

“Do you think it would be alright if I made rounds of the town? Walked the streets like Micah or Johnny would?”

“Mark, I think the people of North Fork would expect that from their deputy. Believe in yourself, Mark. I’ll see you later.”

Mark did walk the town. He kept his rifle in his hand and walked from one establishment to the next. All the shop owners stopped whatever they were doing to have a few brief words with Mark. Offering support and encouragement. Waving goodbye as he proceeded down the street.

*****

Lucas arrived in town shortly after five o’clock and walked into the Marshal’s office. Mark was sitting in the chair on the front side of Micah’s desk, looking through the most recent stack of wanted posters that came the day before.

“Evening Deputy,” Lucas called as he entered.

“Aw Pa,”

“How’re things going for you, son?” Lucas asked as he sat down on the edge of Micah’s desk.

“Everything’s going fine. Mr. Hamilton met me here earlier, said he believed in me as much as he believed in Micah, Johnny and you. I asked him if he felt it okay if I walked the town. He said the people expected no less from me. Everyone was genuinely happy to see me. Sure felt funny though.”

“How so?”

“You know. All the times that you filled in for Micah and now it’s my turn, but more so, me being so young. But it felt different when the shopkeepers spoke with me. I didn’t feel like it was Mark McCain they were talking too.”

“So just who did you think they were talking to?”

“They treated me… just like they treat Johnny. It just felt weird.”

“Mark, treat the people with respect and they’ll answer in kind.” Lucas was tempted to ruffle Mark’s hair, but it took a good resolve to treat Mark for the man he was becoming. “Well, did you get a chance to ask Milly and Hope to join us for dinner?”

“Yes, Pa, I told them we’d expect them at the restaurant around five, thirty.”

*****

Lucas and Mark McCain shared the company of three very fine ladies for dinner that night. No one touched on the subject of Hope’s past, but Hattie was immediately taken in by the girl’s grace and the fact that Mark cared so much about her.

When the topic of Hattie staying in North Fork came up, she didn’t know if she should. It had been a long time since she had left and she wasn’t sure there was a place for her.

“Non-sense,” Milly stated. “But you don’t have to make up your mind right away. At least stay through Thanksgiving next week. Please?”

Hattie accepted the offer. Soon the evening came to an end. Lucas saw Hattie up the stairs to her room. Then Lucas and Mark escorted Milly and Hope home.

*****

“Pa, it’s getting close to nine o’clock, time to make my rounds.”

“You want me to tag along.”

“No, sir. I appreciate the offer, but… Maybe you could just have a seat in front of Micah’s, just in case?”

“Sure son,” Lucas stated as he smiled. He walked with Mark to Micah’s and took a seat, then watched his son perform his rounds.

Nearing ten, Mark returned. “So, are you going to spend the night in the jail or in the hotel?” Lucas asked.

“I was thinking for at least tonight inside. Lou has a room for me at the hotel that Johnny said you could use too.”

“Alright son, I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night Pa.”

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 5 – Doctor Burrage

 

Sunday dawned a cold, blustery day. Mark shivered as he woke in Micah’s. He rubbed his hands together as he waited for the logs to catch fire in the pot belly stove and provide some warmth. As he stepped outside to start his morning rounds, he turned his coat collar up and stuck his left hand in his pocket, wishing he’d remembered his gloves, especially for his right hand holding his rifle.

*****

He was just about to head back to the Marshal’s office when he heard the morning training entering town. Mark walked to the platform to see if anyone might be departing. There was only one person exiting the train, a young man with several bags. Mark approached and inquired if he could offer any assistance.

“I’d be really pleased, deputy. I’m supposed to meet my uncle here, but I don’t see him,” the man replied as he turned up his collar to the cold wind blowing.

“If you tell me you’re uncle’s name I’d be happy to take you to his home, sir,” Mark replied.

“Oh, please don’t call me sir, my name’s Thaddeus Burrage.”

“Doc Burrage is your uncle?” Mark asked.

“Guess you would know him, seeing as how you’re the deputy.”

“Come along Mr. Burrage, I’ll take you to Doc’s.” Mark picked up two of the bags and led the way to Doc’s place. They arrived just as Doc was exiting his home.

“Uncle Jay,” Thaddeus called.

“Oh, my, I’m late,” Doc declared.

“That’s okay uncle. Your town deputy showed me the way.” Then turning to Mark, “Could you come inside, just to warm up a little?”

“No sir, but thanks for the offer.”

“Thank you so much Deputy, hope I didn’t keep you from your rounds.”

“You’re welcome. And you didn’t keep me from my rounds, I was just finishing when the train arrived.” Then turning to Doc, “We’ll see you at services Doc?”

“You will Mark, you will.”

*****

Mark returned to Micah’s to find his Pa anxiously waiting inside, relief showed on his face as Mark shut the door. He set his rifle down on the desk and walked to the stove, regaling in its warmth.

“Fine deputy, I forgot my gloves Pa.”

“Sorry, Mark, I got concerned when Milly said you didn’t meet her and Hope to bring them to the hotel for breakfast.”

“I’m sorry to worry you, Pa. Doc Burrage’s nephew came in on the morning train today. Doc wasn’t there, so I took Mr. Burrage over to Doc’s.”

“Well, if you’re warm enough, think you can survive heading across the street to Lou’s for breakfast and then to church?”

“Yes, Pa.”

*****

Towards the end of services, Doc Burrage had asked Reverend McCafferty for a few minutes to address the congregation.

“Folks, as you all are aware, I’m getting up in years, and don’t get around quite as good. These late night calls for babies and such are hard on my body. I’m announcing today that I’m planning my retirement.”

A murmur went through the congregation; most people couldn’t believe it.

“Now folks, I’m not leaving you without a doctor. I’ve already made arrangements and it will probably be two months before I fully retire, but during that time, I aim to see that my replacement meets all his patients. I’ll still call North Fork my home, and you’ll be in good hands.

“Now you might take to thinking that he might be a tad bit young to be a doctor, but then you have to consider how old I am. And you don’t have to worry about remembering his name, just keep calling for Doc Burrage. I’d like to introduce to you, Doctor Thaddeus Burrage. He’s my youngest brother’s son.”

*****

After they left the church, Amos came up, “Mark, or should I say Deputy McCain?”

“Amos, just call me Mark.”

“I got that return wire you were waiting for.” Amos handed a piece of paper to Mark.

He folded it and placed it in his pocket. “Thanks Amos.”

*****

Later that night as Mark was lying in the jail, he remembered the wire. He pulled it from his pocket, unfolded it and read,

Mark McCain
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Mark, we are pleased to hear Hope is doing well. /stop/
We miss her too. /stop/
Hope’s birthday is December 10th, she’ll be 17 this year. /stop/

Respectfully,
Seth & Ethan Lane
Fort Sam Houston, Texas

“December 10th? I can’t believe it. We’re really the same age,” Mark said to himself.

Mark fell asleep with a smile on his face.

*****

The following morning, after Mark finished his rounds, he stopped in at the hotel where Lou surprised him.

“Mark, Amos told me about the wire you received yesterday. I can’t wait! I’ll plan a big birthday celebration for both of you.”

“Lou, you put on a big shin-dig for my graduation a few weeks back… Please, for Hope, could we keep the number small?” His brown eye’s pleaded. “Besides, Thanksgiving is just a few days away, she’s not used to all this yet. Please Lou? For me?”

“Oh, Mark, but I want to,” Lou pouted.

“Lou I know, but this is all still so new to Hope. Maybe next year.”

Lou agreed, “But Mark, next year, when you both turn eighteen, I will put on the biggest party North Fork has ever seen.”

Mark shook his head as he left the lobby. Hoping that Lou would keep her word to not make any plans for a party, this year.

*****

It was the day before Thanksgiving when Micah and Johnny returned to North Fork, practically at the same time. The entered the Marshal’s office, looked around and saw everything appeared to be in order. Shortly Nils came running into the office.

“Micah, Johnny, thank goodness you’re back. There’s trouble at Sweeney’s.” No sooner had Nils spoken than a rifle shot was heard.

Micah and Johnny, followed by Nils, ran to Sweeney’s. As they approached they saw John Hamilton running with his rifle in hand. As they entered, they saw Mark kneeling on the back of one man, his rifle pointed at two others. John had stopped just inside the door, amazed at what he was seeing.

“Okay, so which one of you wants to be next?”

“Come on kid! We’s only funning.”

“It isn’t fun when you’re threatening someone and throwing a full glass of beer at them. Now you’ll drop your gun belts and come with me. You’re going to be staying in our jail until you sober up.”

“Mark,” Micah stated as he walked up behind Mark. “You got everything under control?”

“Micah, glad to see you’re back. I could use some help getting these three to the jail.”

“You want us to walk with you?”

“I’d appreciate it Micah.”

Micah stepped back to the door way. He saw the grin on Johnny’s face and knew it was mirrored in his own.

*****

After putting the drovers in the cell, they stepped to the office.

“Mark,” Johnny commented. “You best get to the hotel and…”

Johnny couldn’t finish his sentence as Lucas came rushing in the door. “Mark?”

“I’m fine Pa. Just some drunken drovers. They didn’t take me seriously at first. I think I need to take a bath, this beer stinks, glad I brought one more change of clothes into town.”

Mark collected his overnight bag and headed to the hotel.

Lucas, Micah and Johnny stood in the office, speechless as Mark left. One of the drovers started yelling, “It ain’t fair! He’s just a lousy kid. If he’d been a man, he wouldn’t have gotten the drop on us with that rifle.”

“He might be a kid, but he ain’t lousy,” Johnny stated.

Lucas couldn’t help the small laugh that came from his lips and soon Micah and Johnny followed suit.

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 6 – Thanksgiving

 

Lucas and Mark spent a quiet Thanksgiving at Milly’s. Between Milly and Hope, they prepared an excellent feast of turkey and all the fixings. The group was settling in around the fire place when a knock sounded at the door.

Milly’s rose to answer. “Yes, may I help you?”

A voice from Lucas’ past answered, “Ma’am, I’m sorry to intrude, but, I was told that Lucas McCain might be here this evening.”

“Yes he…” Before she could finish her sentence, Lucas was at her side.

“Tom, Tom Benton. Happy Thanksgiving, man, it’s been too long. Please come in, can I get you some coffee?”

“Thanks Lucas. I’d be obliged to take the chill off.”

They entered the parlor where Lucas introduced Milly and Hope to his old Army Captain.

“So, Tom, tell me. What brings you back to North Fork this time?”

“Lucas, I stopped over at the Marshal’s and he wasn’t there.”

“No, he’s spending the evening at the Mallory House.”

“Well, I put my horse up at the livery and asked about you, I hate to intrude on your evening.”

“Tom, it’s no intrusion. This time of year is all about friends and giving thanks.”

“Lucas, the reason I came to North Fork, is.., the U.S. Marshal Service is putting together an official training class. We’re wanting to train our upcoming Marshals on some of the newest investigative techniques and more importantly, making sure they understand their responsibilities. I read some of the latest reports that Marshal Torrance has filed and I’m quite impressed with what he has to say about his newest deputy. Even Deputy Drako’s reports are complimentary about the new deputy, but they never identify him. I was wanting to invite the deputy to Denver to participate. Do you think you could help me?

Lucas couldn’t contain the laughter that welled inside.

“Lucas, why are you laughing? We’re taking seriously the training of our future Marshals.”

“Tom, I’m not laughing about the training. Tom, you’ve already met Micah’s newest deputy.”

“I have?”

“Yeah, a few years back, he kind of stole some stolen money from some outlaws who had kidnapped him. A thief among thieves, if you remember,” Lucas grinned, waiting to see how long it would take Tom to remember.

“Mark? You mean, Mark’s his deputy? But he can’t be…”

“I’ll be seventeen in two weeks Marshal Benton,” Mark answered.

“Well Lucas, I can’t believe it.”

“Believe it Tom.”

“Lucas, Mark, the offer still stands. Classes start February 1st, in Denver. It’s up to you if you attend.”

“Marshal Benton, can we have a few days to talk about it?” Mark asked.

“Sure Mark. I’ll be here through Sunday. Planning to stay at the hotel. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll say goodnight. Ladies.”

Lucas escorted Tom back to the front door. When he returned to the parlor, he saw the look of incredulity on Mark’s face.

“Mark?”

“Pa, let’s not talk about it tonight. I’d like tonight to just be about family and forget all the other stuff. Please?”

“Okay.”

All too soon, it came time for Lucas and Mark to return home. As they rode, they turned up their collars to the cold winter breeze that was blowing.

*****

Morning came to find the cold wind from the night before had brought in a snow fall. After finishing chores in the barn, both McCain’s returned to the house. Mark was putting away the last of the dishes when he turned and watched Lucas, bible in hand, concern etched in his face.

“Pa?” Mark asked. “Are you alright?”

“Mark, we need to have a talk about last night.”

“Yes, Pa.” Mark stated and walked over to his Pa, pulled a chair from the table and sat down. “Pa, I know that you’re probably surprised with what Marshal Benton had to say. I know I sure was, but can you believe it?”

“Mark, that’s not exactly what I was wanting to talk about.”

Mark looked to his Pa, curious.

“You said something last night that got me to thinking. After Tom left, you asked for last night to be about family.” Lucas paused and mused to himself. “Mark, how you would feel if I invited Milly…” he remembered back to another day.

Lucas remembered back to the day he had asked Samuel Gibbs for Margaret’s hand. That was the only good memory Lucas had of the man, until a few years back, when he arrived in North Fork, looking for help. The pain Lucas felt was still was there, but he finally understood what had happened. That Samuel had tried, but weariness, worry, and the elements had taken their toll on the man the night that Margaret died. The last time he had seen Samuel Gibbs, he saw light return to a defeated man, because of the forgiveness of his grandson.

Lucas’ thoughts returned to the present, it felt odd, asking his son for permission to get married.

“Mark, how would you feel if I were to ask Milly to marry me, I…”

“Pa, I’m a little disappointed.” A smile played at Mark’s lips and a gleam showed in his eyes, but Lucas didn’t see it, he hadn’t looked up from his bible.

“Mark, if you’re against it, I won’t ask her. I just hoped you would understand.”

“Pa, I’m disappointed it took you this long to realize you loved her.” Mark started laughing. “So, when are you going to ask her? Can I be there?”

Lucas looked to Mark, a smile spread across his face and through his heart as he realized his boy was in favor of this union. “Mark, you weren’t there when I proposed to your Ma, so I don’t think it’s appropriate that you be present this time.”

“Aw, Pa.”

*****

Lucas came from the bedroom, looking a little more dressed up than he had before he entered. “Mark, I have an errand to run in town. While I’m gone, why don’t you check the weanlings in the south meadow, make sure their water supply isn’t frozen over.”

“Yes, Pa. Oh, and Pa? I hope she says yes.”

“Get to your chores boy!” Lucas grinned at his impertinent son.

*****

Lucas rode to town, nervous. Had he really felt this nervous… It had been so long ago.

He dismounted Razor in front of Milly’s. Slowly he walked to the door, for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to knock on the door. Finally, he raised his hand, but before he could knock, the door opened and out stepped Hope.

“Mr. McCain, I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting anyone at the door.”

“That’s okay Hope. Is Milly home?”

Hope turned and called to Miss Milly.

“Lucas, this is a surprise,” Milly exclaimed as she came to the door. Lucas stepped aside to let Hope leave.

“Milly, may I come in?”

“Lucas, you know you’re always welcome in this house.” Milly closed the door behind them.

Lucas followed Milly to the parlor, he toyed with his hat. Nervously sweating.

“Lucas, let me take your coat,” Milly offered.

“Uh, no Milly, I might not be staying long.”

“Lucas, you’re not making any sense. Please, take off your coat.”

“Milly, I got to thinking about last night and…” Milly waited for Lucas to continue, she knew he wasn’t a talkative man. “Milly it felt good, all of us together. And after Tom left, Mark said he wanted last night to be about family… I spent most of last night awake, thinking, wondering… Milly, this morning I asked Mark…” Lucas took a step backwards, Milly felt like he was ready to bolt.

“Lucas, I’m not sure what’s going on in that head of yours, but spit it out. I’ve never known you to hem and haw around a subject. You’re always to the point. If it’s about what Marshal Benton had to say, you’ve time to talk with him and Mark before any decision has to be made.” Milly knelt to stir the embers in the fireplace and add another log.

“Milly, that’s not the decision I was thinking about. Milly,” Lucas strode to stand in front of Milly as he turned her from her task. “Milly, would you consent to be my wife?”

Tears formed in Milly’s eyes. Lucas held his breath. “Lucas, I…” She nodded and was in Lucas’ arms and they passionately kissed.

They spent the rest of the afternoon planning their wedding, Christmas Eve.

*****

Hope returned home, calling as she entered, “It’s snowing again.” Lucas stood to help her in with her packages.

“Well, I best be getting home. Need to see what mischief that boy of mine has gotten into.”

Before he left, Lucas gave Milly a deep kiss. She sighed as she closed the door behind Lucas and she turned to see Hope staring.

“Hope, we have a lot of work to do. Lucas proposed and I said yes. We’re to be married Christmas Eve.”

Hope squealed and the two women hugged.

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 7 – Cougar

 

Lucas arrived home to see a darkened house; concerned that Mark should have been back, long before now. As he pointed Razor in the direction of the south meadow, he spied Blue Boy coming around the side of the barn, limping. Lucas jumped down, witnessed the broken rein, saw Mark’s rifle still in the scabbard, and saw the blood on the horse’s haunches from claw marks.

Fear gripped Lucas, he needed to find Mark, but first he knew he needed to get Blue Boy inside. Quickly he tended to Blue Boy, then rode out to the South Meadow, snow was falling, again. He arrived to find two of their calves dead and mutilated. Lucas found faint traces of Blue Boy’s hoof prints in the snow. He followed them as they headed to the pond. Lucas arrived to see the top of the pond was iced over. On the far side, close to an outcropping of rocks, Lucas could see where the ice had been broken through, he raced Razor around. He saw Blue Boy’s prints leading away, he saw where, it could only have been Mark, had drug himself out of the pond and then boot prints running. Lucas saw the paw prints in the snow. Cougar and not just one. From the sizes of the paw prints, it appeared the older cat had two younger ones with it. The snow started falling harder, Lucas yelled Mark’s name, looking around frantically, trying to find his son. He read the cat prints following Mark. Lucas remembered Mark’s last encounter with a cougar. Lucas almost let fear freeze him in place, but hearing the scream of a cougar, brought him to action. Grabbing Razor’s reins, he followed the trail.

He tracked around a large boulder, shouldered his rifle, and fired at the cat crouching, eyeing his son. He fired at the two the younger ones as they ran away. Lucas ran to Mark’s prone body, lying under a tree. Under all the mud, he saw the deep gashes on his son’s back from the claws as they ripped through his jacket. As he turned Mark over, he saw the deep blue tinge to his lips. Realized his clothes were practically frozen to his son’s body.

Lucas called to Mark, slapping at his face to get some response. He yelled loudly, praying he could wake his son.

“Pa, c-cat, l-look out f-for c-cat.” Mark cried as he started to come too, teeth chattering, his body shaking.

“Mark, don’t worry about the cats. Son, can you walk? Mark we have to get you to Doc’s.”

Lucas helped Mark to his feet, but ended up more carrying him.

“Mark, I need your help to get you in the saddle. Please Mark, try.” Lucas helped Mark get his foot in the stirrup, he felt his boy trying as he reached for the saddle horn.

Using the last of his strength and a lot of help from his Pa, Mark pulled himself into the saddle; soon Lucas was sitting behind him. In the fading light, Lucas raced Razor to town. As they rode, he felt his son’s body shaking.

“Hold on son, just hold on.” Lucas prayed.

“P-pa, I’m s-soo c-cold,” Mark whispered.

Micah, Johnny and Lou were just leaving the hotel restaurant when Lucas arrived in front of Doc’s. Johnny and Micah were immediately there and grabbed Mark and helped carry him inside. Lou ran to Doc Burrage’s home, knowing he wasn’t at the office.

As they laid him on the examination table, what little consciousness Mark had, faded to black. While Micah stoked the pot belly stove, Johnny searched the cabinets and pulled out blankets. Lucas removed the frozen clothing from his unconscious son.

Young Doctor Burrage entered the office to a scene of organized chaos. “What happened here?”

“Doctor, Mark got knocked from his horse by a cougar. He fell into the pond. I don’t know how long ago, but he’s blue. He’s got some pretty deep gashes across his back from the cougar’s claws.”

“Turn him over Mr. McCain, let me see. Marshal there’s plenty of wood out back to stoke that fire, get it blazing.”

As Thaddeus Burrage worked diligently in cleaning the wounds to Mark’s back, the door opened and Milly and Hope entered, they saw the wounds Mark had suffered.

“Lucas, my God, Lucas!” She ran to him and hid her face in his chest as she cried.

Micah stood and walked to Hope, he tried to pull her into his arms, but she ran from the office.

“Lucas,” Milly cried. “Oh Lucas, why?”

“People please, if you want to help this boy, just leave me to do my job. Marshal, get them out of here!”

*****

Micah ushered Lucas and Milly to his office. Johnny was inside, holding a crying Lou in his arms. Time stood still as the somber group waited for news.

Finally, Doctor Burrage entered the Marshal’s office.

“Mr. McCain, I’ve done all I can, medically, at this time. Those lacerations were deep and I’m concerned about infection from the pond water and the mud, but more importantly, for however long he was in the water and then wearing those wet clothes out in the cold. His body temperature is so low, there’s a real possibility of pneumonia. I’m sorry to be blunt, but I feel you need to know the truth versus giving you a false hope.”

“Oh, my God, Hope!” Lou cried. “Where is she?”

Johnny, Micah, and Lou left the office to go search for Hope.

“Mr. McCain, I know we’ve not had a chance to really meet each other, but, your boy… He’s the other deputy? I didn’t realize just how young he looks.”

“Doctor, he’s not as old as you think his is. He’ll be…” Lucas faltered.

“Doctor,” Milly continued. “Mark’s birthday is December 10th, he’ll… he’ll turn seventeen,” she struggled to say.

“Well, pray that his youth will help pull him through this. He appears to be strong and healthy, that too is in his favor. Mr. McCain, Miss Scott, I best return to my patient.

“Can I go to him?” Lucas asked.

“Not tonight Mr. McCain. I’ve got him dosed with laudanum. If he pulls through tonight, you can see him in the morning. Goodnight.”

Lucas and Milly walked to her home. Just as they were arriving, Micah arrived with Hope. The three entered Milly’s. Lucas sat down on the couch and wrapped both his arms around Milly and Hope. Tears streamed down all their faces.

“If…” Lucas said.

*****

During the night, Thaddeus Burrage left the office and headed home. He knocked on his Uncle’s bedroom door.

“Uncle Jay?”

Old Doc Burrage opened the door.

“Uncle Jay, I need your help at the clinic. They brought in Mark McCain. He’s been mauled by a cougar and knocked into the water.”

“Let me get changed.”

By the time they returned to the clinic, Mark was struggling, trying to regain consciousness. But soon, he returned to the darkness. After another examination, “Uncle, he’s running fever. He was so cold earlier, but now…”

“Did you suture the claw marks?”

“No sir, I left them open.”

“Good, let’s get him turned over and irrigate those wounds again. This time, we’ll need to scrub them good. This ain’t going to be easy on him. Do you want to risk putting him under the effects of ether?”

“No sir. In his condition, the ether could kill him. Be thankful he’s unconscious.”

Together, they scrubbed at the claw marks along Mark’s back, irrigating and debrieding the wounds. When they were done, they wrapped gauze around his back and chest, then laid him down. The night didn’t get any easier as Mark’s fever increased, and they kept him dosed with laudanum to ease his pain.

*****

Milly woke from the couch to find Lucas watching out the window. “Lucas, didn’t you sleep at all last night?” He shook his head. “Lucas, I’ll understand if you wish to call off our wedding.”

“Milly why would you say such a thing?”

“Lucas, if you hadn’t been here proposing, you would have been there with Mark… Oh how you must hate me!” she cried as she ran from the parlor.

He followed her into the kitchen. She stood at the sink, with her back to him. He could hear her crying.

“Milly, I don’t regret being here yesterday. I love you. Even if I was with Mark, this still could have happened. Milly please, look at me?” Lucas pleaded as he placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her towards him.

“Milly, I want you as my wife to love and to… I want you to be a mother to my son. You told me once you dreamed that one day he could be your son.”

“But Lucas… The doctor said if…”

“Milly, Micah once told me that ‘if’ was a troublesome word. No. We’ll get through this. Once Mark is recovered, we’ll get married.” He pulled Milly into his arms, smelled at her hair and then kissed her on top of her head.

“Milly dry those tears. I’m going to go over to Doc’s and check on Mark. I’ll be back soon.”

*****

Micah was standing at the window when he saw Lucas heading to Doc’s. He exited and met Lucas at the door. Lucas knocked and after a few moments, Doc Burrage answered the door.

“Lucas, Micah, come in out of the cold.”

“Doc? How is Mark?” Lucas asked quietly.

“Lucas, Thadd told you last night about his worries… I’m afraid that there is an infection and he’s showing indications that pneumonia might be setting in. We’re treating him with all the medical knowledge we have. I’m just thankful that Thadd is here. His training is so much newer than mine. Late last night, we wired for some new medication to help his body fight. It should be here on the afternoon stage.”

“Can I see him?” Lucas asked, turning his head as he heard the door to the back room open.

“Doctor?”

“Mr. McCain…”

“Thadd, I’ve told him of the boy’s condition. You need to understand Lucas and Mark McCain, it will do the boy good to hear his Pa’s voice. Let him in.” Doc Burrage told his nephew.

“This way Mr. McCain.”

Lucas entered the room and saw Mark lying under the covers, sweat beading his face. “Doc, if he’s sweating so much, why do you have it so hot in here?”

“Mr. McCain, we’re still trying to warm him from being so cold. The sweat is his body fighting. I pray he’s strong enough to win the battle.”

Lucas spent the morning talking to his son and wiping the sweat from his son’s brow. Mid-day brought Milly to Doc’s, she help Lucas remove the soaked sheets from the bed and put on fresh. Then helped Lucas lie Mark back down.

The new medicine arrived on the stage and was immediately administered by Doctor Burrage. The waiting game continued. Sitting and listening to the quietness of the room, and Mark struggling to breath. At times, Mark moaned and called out about the cat.

The only time he left Mark’s side was to eat, but once he was done, he was back at his boy’s side. Mark was never alone – Milly, Hope, Hattie, Micah, Johnny, or Lou, someone was always by his side when Lucas wasn’t there.

It was morning of the sixth day; Lucas was still at Mark’s bedside, reading his bible, when he heard a quiet voice ask, “Pa?”

“Mark, oh Mark!” Lucas cried.

“Pa? Did she say yes?” Mark whispered.

Lucas cried and laughed as he sat down on the bed next to his son. He wiped sweat from Mark’s forehead.

“Mark, I…” Lucas stopped as he heard the door behind him open.

“Pa, did she say yes?” he asked a little louder and the hoarseness could be heard in his voice.

“Yes, Mark. I said yes,” Milly answered as she entered and walked to Lucas’ side.

“I have a new mother…” Mark’s words faded as he fell to sleep.

*****

It was ten days after the accident that Doctor Burrage allowed Mark to return home.

Milly and Hope were waiting at the McCain ranch, they had cleaned the house and prepared a meal. Earlier, they had giggled, when they changed the bed sheets and brought more pillows for Mark to be propped up with in his bed.

“Miss Milly, when you and Mr. McCain get married, I think you’re going to need a bigger bed.”

“Hope!” Milly answered a little surprised and laughed as she realized her upcoming predicament.

As they were returning to check on the food, they heard the sounds of the team and buckboard approaching and walked out onto the porch. Lucas, appalled seeing neither was wearing a coat, yelled, “Now you two get in the house, I’ll not have three people recovering from pneumonia.” He assisted Mark in getting down from the buckboard and helped him into the house.

“Miss Milly, the food sure smells goods.” Mark declared as he entered.

“Thank you Mark. Are you tired? Do you want to lie down for a while? Supper’s not quite ready yet.” Milly asked.

“I am a little tired,” Mark answered. Hope helped Mark walk to his bedroom and helped him lie down. As she turned to leave, Mark said, “Hope, I’m sorry if I scared and worried you.”

Hope stopped and looked back at Mark. She walked and knelt next to his bed. “Mark I was scared and I was worried, if something happened to you… Would the people of North Fork still want me here? Mark, without you I…”

“Hope, there’s no looking back, from here on, we look forward. Okay?” Mark raised his hand to Hope’s cheek and with his thumb, gently wiped away a tear. With his other hand, he picked up her hand and kissed it, before falling asleep.

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 8 – Birthdays

 

Lucas finally allowed Mark outside to help with a few chores in the barn. Lucas made sure he was bundled up well against the chill. It grieved Mark when he saw Blue Boy’s haunches. “Pa? I didn’t know Blue Boy got hurt. Is he lame? Is he going to be okay?”

“Mark, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but the vet said he was going to make a quicker recovery than you. All he has to do now is grow back the hair.” Lucas watched as Mark leaned his head against Blue Boy’s and then offered him a sugar cube. He laughed as Blue Boy continued to nudge Mark, looking for more.

The McCain’s worked on their chores, Lucas keeping a watchful eye over Mark to make sure he didn’t overdo it.

“Pa?”

“Yes Mark?”

“Did you and Miss Milly set a date?” Mark asked.

“We talked about setting the date.”

“Well?”

“Mark, we had talked about Christmas Eve, but that was before your accident.”

“Pa, you can still get married then. I’m getting stronger each day and Doctor Burrage said I’d eventually get a clean bill of health.”

“Come on Mark, let’s get you, those eggs, and the milk back to the house,” Lucas replied.

“Pa, please. Don’t put off marrying Miss Milly just because of me.”

“Mark, it’s pretty short notice.”

Mark started to chastise his Pa, “Pa, it’s a little more than two weeks away. Pa, please…”

Lucas nodded his head and said, “I’ll ask Milly when I see her this afternoon.”

*****

Lucas went into town that afternoon to pick up a few supplies. Milly and Hope met him coming out of the store. “Lucas? How is Mark doing today?”

“Up to mischief.” Lucas declared with a smile on his face.

“Mischief, oh Lucas, what did he do now?”

“He asked me this morning if we had set a date. I told him we had but decided to postpone it until he was fully recovered. He told me that I better keep to our original date.” Lucas pulled Milly into an embrace and gave her a playful kiss.

“Now hold on there,” could be heard from behind, “Mister, seeing as how Miss Scott is a fine, respectable woman, I’ll throw you in jail for manhandling her,” Micah called.

Lucas and Milly looked at each other and laughed.

“Marshal, they’re going to be married,” Hope said.

“LucasBoy,” was all Micah could say. “When?”

“Well, we had thought about a Christmas Eve ceremony, but that was before Mark’s accident,” Lucas answered.

“And I bet that boy of yours is pushing you to keep your date,” Micah stated.

Milly blushed as she nodded.

“Just wait ‘till I spread the news,” Micah stated. “So, who’s going to give away the bride?” he proudly asked.

“What bride?” Lou asked as she and Johnny came up behind. “Milly?! Cowboy, it’s about time.” Lou stood up on her tip toes, grabbed Lucas’ head and pulled it to her as she gave him a big kiss on the lips.

“Now Lou, I’m spoken for,” Lucas declared as a blush crossed his cheeks.

“But the ring’s not there yet,” Lou stated with an Irish lilt to her voice.

Milly, Lou, and Hope left Lucas, Johnny and Micah standing on the boardwalk.

“So, Lucas, when’s the big day?” Johnny asked.

Micah answered, “If Mark has his way, Christmas Eve.”

“Speaking of Mark, Lucas. Are we still invited out Saturday for their birthdays?”

“Their birthdays?” Lucas asked.

“Lou told me that Mark received a wire from Hope’s family. Seems she and Mark share the exact same birthday.”

“Thanks Johnny. I’ll see you two tomorrow. You too Micah.”

*****

First thing Saturday morning, Lucas harnessed up the team and hitched them to the buckboard for him and Mark to ride to town. Doctor Burrage wanted to take one more look at Mark’s injuries. As they left Doc’s, Hope and Milly were waiting.

“Hope, don’t you fret none. Doc said Mark was on the road to a full recovery. Another week and those marks across his back will be fully healed,” Lucas stated as he put an arm around Milly and Hope and walked them to the livery and saw them to their buggy.

“Mr. McCain, would it be okay if you and Miss Milly rode in the buggy and Mark and I returned in the buckboard?”

Lucas smiled and nodded. Hope ran back to the buckboard and jumped in the seat. Lucas and Milly laughed as they watched the ‘kids’ drive away. Hope driving the team as Mark sat back, smiling.

“Glad for some alone time with you, Milly,” Lucas said as he gave her a kiss, then lifted her to the buggy.

*****

It was a small group of friends that gathered at the McCain Ranch – his Pa, Miss Milly, Hope, Johnny and Lou, Micah, and Miss Hattie.

Mark was pleased to surprise Hope with the news that they shared the exact same birthday, when Lucas brought two cakes out, both with seventeen candles. Mark insisted that Hope sit on his lap.

“Hope, it’s your birthday too. I know Lou wanted a big celebration for me, but I wanted it to be with just family and a few friends. It means more to me just to share our birthdays.” Mark took his finger and stuck it in the icing and then plopped it on the end of Hope’s nose as she tried swatting at his hand. The small group laughed at the two of them.

Mark explained the tradition of making a wish and blowing out the candles. Milly was just starting to cut the cake when the sound of riders approaching could be heard. Lucas stepped to the porch, everyone could hear him exclaim, “Oh my, everyone’s inside. Come on in out of the cold!”

Lucas opened the door wide and in stepped two cavalry officers, as they removed their hats.

“Father! Ethan!” Hope yelled. “My wish, it came true!” Both men pulled Hope into a big hug.

“Lucas, sorry we didn’t send word, but we thought we’d surprise Hope. We got a wire from Mark inquiring about Hope’s birthday, and we decided we should come,” Seth stated.

“I’m glad you did,” Lucas answered. “We were just about to cut the cakes.”

“Cakes?” Ethan asked.

“Ethan, Mark and I share the same birthday, today.”

Seth walked behind Mark and gave him a congratulatory slap on the back. Mark winced deeply and uncontrollably let out a cry. Everyone else present gasped.

“Mark?” Lucas asked as he approached and placed his hand on Mark’s shoulder.

“Lucas, I…” Seth stated. Concerned about what was wrong.

“It’s okay, Major. You didn’t know. I just thought my back was healed more than it is.” Mark said as he let out a long, deep breath.

Ethan and Seth looked to each other and then to Hope. She had knelt down in front of Mark, hand on his face, as she looked over her shoulder to speak.

“Father , Mark was mauled by a cougar a few weeks ago. His wounds still aren’t healed. ”

“Hope, Mark, I’m sorry. Please forgive me,” Seth asked.

“Sir there’s nothing to forgive. I’m thankful that you’re here. It makes Hope’s birthday all the more special.” Mark finally looked up, the pain from the slap having subsided.

Milly finished cutting the cakes and serving to their guests. Conversation lasted well into the night.

Hope had left with her father and brother. Their other guests had left and Milly was finishing in the kitchen, standing next to Lucas when she pointed over towards Mark, sleeping in his chair.

“Lucas, he must have been so precious as a small boy growing up.”

“Yes, he was and still is. He’s my whole world, and if you’ll agree, Christmas Evening you’ll make my world that much better.”

“Lucas, are you sure?”

“Milly, if I had my way I’d say Reverend McCafferty would marry us tomorrow.” Lucas stood behind Milly, pulled her pony tail to the side, then wrapped his arms around her waist, and kissed her neck.

“Lucas, we do have a problem,” Milly stated.

“It can wait.”

“Lucas, once we’re married. I presume you intend to have us live here?”

“Of course… Oh, what do we do with your home in town?”

“Lucas I’ve already talked with Hattie and she’s agreed to stay on in North Fork. While she was away, tending to her sister, she told me she could never get North Fork out of her mind. Besides, that’s NOT the problem I was referring to,” as she again pointed to the bedroom door.

“Oh,… we do have a problem. Mark.”

“What did I do this time?” they heard a sleepy Mark ask.

Lucas stepped from Milly and laughed.

“Stayed up past your bedtime, get to bed. Goodnight son,” Lucas said.

“Goodnight Mark,” Milly offered.

“Goodnight…” Mark stopped at the doorway to his bedroom. “Miss Milly, once you and Pa are married, guess I can stop calling you Miss Milly, but what should I call you.”

“Mark, we can talk about that the closer we get to Christmas Eve.”

*****

Lucas tied Razor to the back of the buggy and drove Milly to town.

*****

Mark woke the next morning as his Pa was rising. He stretched his arms and gave a small cry.

“Mark, turn around and let me see your back,” as he reached for the ointment. “I’m sorry son, I forgot we needed to put this on before you went to bed last night.”

As they were eating breakfast, Lucas decided to broach the ‘problem’ with Mark.

“Mark, Milly brought to my attention a little problem we’re going to have once we’re married.”

“Pa, I don’t think it’s a little problem. Right now, your problem is about five foot, eight,” Mark laughed. “Seems we need to do a little bit of construction. I guess I’m a little too big to sleep in the same room as my parents, especially with you going to be newlyweds and all.”

“Oh, you!” Lucas declared as he threw a towel at Mark. “I’ll hitch the team and we can head into town, once you get dishes done.”

Once in town, and after Toomey and Nils got over their ‘coughing fits’, they agreed to help. Over the course of the next two weeks, they worked on building an addition to the McCain Ranch. Mark would keep his current bedroom, while the new edition would belong to Lucas and Milly.

The Next Generation… Chapter 9 – Mrs. Lucas McCain

 

The Church was festively decorated for Christmas, but more importantly, it was decorated for the Christmas Eve wedding of Lucas McCain and Milly Scott. Seems everyone from the whole town and surrounding ranches turned out for the wedding. Milly’s gown was simple, yet elegant. Lucas, never having looked so handsome, only had eyes for her.

Hope was Milly’s Maid of Honor, seeing how Mark was Lucas’ Best Man. Johnny and Lou also stood up for Lucas and Milly, while Micah, enjoyed the roll of giving the bride away. As Reverend McCafferty introduced Mr. and Mrs. Lucas McCain, everyone stood and cheered. Lucas and Milly strolled down the aisle way and out the church, followed by Mark and Hope, then Johnny and Lou, and the rest of the town.

Lou had planned a fabulous reception in the restaurant. Finally, it was time for Milly to toss her bouquet. As she walked to the staircase, Micah quietly said to Lucas, “I seem to remember saying, a few months back, that you would be married within the year.” He gave a small laugh as he remembered.

“Micah you said one or both of us McCain’s,” Lucas replied.

“LucasBoy, give the boy time. Give the boy time.”

*****

Milly stood on the second step, turned around, and tossed the bouquet over her shoulder. Mark started to blush when he realized who had caught it.

Lucas and Milly proceeded upstairs, while Mark escorted Hope home, with her father and brother close behind. Mark said goodnight and headed for home.

Smiling as he lay down in bed, Mark looked forward to tomorrow. Thinking, it had been a long time. He hoped that Milly was going to be as happy having him for a son, as he was to have her for a … “Ma”.

*****

Lucas followed Milly up the stairs and into their room. It had been so long, but even so, he didn’t remember being this nervous. He pulled Milly into his arms and passionately kissed her. Feeling every inch of her body against his. When they broke for air, Lucas laughed.

“Just what’s so funny Mr. McCain?” Milly demanded.

“It’s just that I never imagined feeling this way again, and this time, it’s more than I remember. And the pain is gone,” Lucas stated as he sat down on the bed and pulled Milly to him.

“Pain?” she asked.

“Milly, for the past eleven years, there’s always been a pain in my heart… from the loss of Margaret. Tonight’s the first night in all these years that the pain is gone. Milly, I feel Margaret smiling at you, happy that you were the one to complete my life again.”

Tears were falling down Milly’s cheeks and Lucas was just starting to wipe the tears from her eyes when they both were startled by the noises from outside their window. Everyone was yelling and banging pots and pans.

Lucas and Milly walked to the window and opened it. They smiled and listened as the folks down below continued the tradition of shivaree.

“Well Lucas,” Micah yelled. “Milly threw her bouquet, but you forgot her garter.”

Milly put her hand across her face to hide her laughter.

“Okay folks, we’ll be right down,” Lucas called.

They left the room and headed downstairs to the front of the hotel. Frank Toomey and Johnny Drako were pulling out a table and John Hamilton was carrying a chair that was set on top of the table.

“Oh, Lucas!” Milly called out as Lucas lifter her to her throne. “You can’t be serious?!”

Lucas carefully lifted the hem of her wedding dress, blocking the view of her leg from the rowdy men gathered around. Hearing the hooting and hollering. And a number of the wives chastising their husbands for acting like schoolboys.

Lucas kissed Milly’s hand and then pulled the garter down her leg and flipped it over his shoulder. He quickly lifted Milly down and again, followed her up to their room. He was ready to make Milly his, for the rest of their lives.

 

The Next Generation… Chapter 10 – Christmas

 

Mark woke early the following morning, Christmas. He bundled up as he headed out to do the chores. He was finishing up when he heard a commotion coming down the road. He looked out the door to see the team, with his Pa and Ma, and many people from North Fork following behind, hooting and a hollering.

Lucas stopped the buckboard in front of the house, walked around, and lifted Milly from her seat. She insisted she could walk, but he refused to put her down. Mark smiled as he watched Lucas carrying Milly across the threshold. “Now, I’m home with my wife. All of you just return to town! Merry Christmas!” and closed the door.

Mark saw the people ride and drive away, singing Christmas carols. When he turned around Hope and her father and brother were standing before the hitching rail. Mark walked over and greeted the Lane’s. He took his hat off and hid his face as he gave Hope a kiss on the cheek. Then invited everyone inside. Before opening the door, he knocked and called, “Hey inside, I live here! Can I come in?”

Lucas opened the door and gave his son a hug. Mark had never seen Milly so radiant, he saw she had a glow about her.

As she was standing at the stove to prepare breakfast, Mark walked up behind her, put her arms around her waist, and whispered into her ear. “Merry Christmas, Ma.”

Milly turned around and put her arms around Mark’s neck and gave him a big hug. “Merry Christmas son.” They smiled as they parted.

Lucas carried in some more wood for the fireplace. It was a wonderful family celebration of the birth of Christ and reading from the bible throughout the day.

*****

Later that night, after Milly had retired to their bedroom, Lucas saw Mark sitting at the table, the look in his face was the same as when he was a child daydreaming. He was staring at the embroidered picture hanging on the wall — “Home is Where the Heart is”

“Son, what are you thinking?”

“Pa, don’t misunderstand me, but the picture… This really is home, now?”

“Mark I understand, our family has been just you and me for so long and I’ve treasured the life we’ve had together. But yes, Milly adds a new dimension to our lives.”

Milly stood in the doorway, listening to the two men in her life.

“Pa, I hope you don’t mind that I called her Ma. I don’t mean to disrespect my real Ma, it’s just that…”

Lucas waited.

“Pa, you’re my Pa and I just feel that, whoever you are married to, they should be my Ma.”

Tears welled in Milly’s eyes as she quietly shut the door.

“Mark, I’m sure Milly was honored when you called her Ma. And it did my heart good hearing it too.”

“Pa, don’t you think you forgot something?” Lucas looked at Mark. “The family bible?”

Mark walked and pulled the bible out from the chest and set it and the pen and ink well, on the table. Lucas stepped to his bedroom door and knocked. “Milly?” She opened the door.

“Mark reminded me that I forgot something very important.” Lucas escorted Milly to the table and pulled out a chair, he sat down next to her.

Lucas opened the family bible as he spoke,

“Milly, this bible is our family bible. Mark can tell you that it is precious to us. It’s not the bible that I read from. This bible carries a lot of emotions, our memories…”

He showed the page to Milly and she read the events that had been entered.

She watched as Lucas made one more addition:

Lucas and Milly (Scott) McCain, married, December 24, 1887

He waited for the ink to dry and closed the bible. Lucas escorted Milly back to their bedroom, they stopped at the door and said, together.

“Goodnight son.”

“Goodnight,” Mark replied.

*****

New Year’s came and it was time for the Lane’s to return to their duties at Fort Sam Houston. The McCain’s were in town with Hope when she again had to say goodbye to her family.

 

This story continues in Pt 2

 

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One thought on “The Rifleman — The Next Generation Pt 1 (by BluewindFarm)

  1. Well, good for them. A new adventure for all …. Will be interesting to see what kind of trouble they can get into next … 🙂

    Like

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