The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 5 (by BluewindFarm)

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

Category:  The Rifleman
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  22,775


 

The Next Generation… Chapter 44 – The Arrivals

The cool temperatures of November had arrived and found Mark anxiously waiting for the arrival of the afternoon train. Hoping his surprise was going to be worth it.

The train pulled into the station and Mark watched for the livestock car. Other passengers, getting off the train, saw Mark wearing the Deputy badge, stopped and asked questions, the direction to the hotel or the restaurant. Soon Mark felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see his Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen behind him. Family hugs were shared.

“Uncle Johnny, Aunt Colleen, what brings you back to North Fork?” Mark asked.

“A little matter of family,” Colleen answered, as she opened her heavy shawl and showed she was in “a family way”. “Besides, Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, Johnny and I felt it was time to spend it with family instead of traveling all over the country. Time to think about settling down, too.”

“Congratulations!” Mark exclaimed as he hugged his aunt again.

“Well Mark,” Johnny stated when they were distracted by a horse screaming and men yelling, from the direction of the livestock car. “We heard shortly after we got on board, that we were sharing the ride with a stallion to be delivered to a Mark McCain in North Fork. He’s caused all sorts of commotion each and every time the train’s stopped. You set to retire Blue Boy?”

“Not yet. But Pa’s been thinking on retiring Razor, Uncle Johnny,” Mark answered as they walked towards the livestock car. “I sent a wire to Hope’s father, knowing the army gets in a lot of good mounts, that if there was ever a good horse, the army didn’t want, I’d be happy to buy the horse and asked Seth to ship him my way.”

“I tried to get a look at him our first stop, but the wrangler wouldn’t let me in the car,” Johnny stated.

They could hear the horse kicking and snorting. Mark walked up the ramp, with Johnny just behind him. Mark whistled as he saw the horse in the stall. Mark approached the stall and saw a beautiful black, bearing four white legs, up to the knees, with a razor thin blaze running down his nose. The blaze bulged out next to the horse’s nostril, almost giving the blaze the look of a saber. Mark looked his conformation over and liked everything he saw. The horse was a little taller than Razor and larger boned. The horse tried to charge the door to his stall, then reared back.

From the shadows they heard, “You folks better get out of here. He’s a mean cuss,” the wrangler stated as he started to raise a bull whip towards the horse.

“Drop it mister,” Mark answered as he leveled his rifle towards the wrangler. “You’ll not take another whip to MY horse.”

The man looked at Mark and saw the badge. “Your life. All I was supposed to do was feed and water him and make sure he got here. He’s your problem now.” The man turned and walked down the ramp.

Mark took a few minutes to quietly talk to the horse, telling the horse how he hoped he’d come to enjoy his new home. Mark opened the stall door to be greeted by the horse rearing again. Mark stood his ground, he didn’t back up. He looked the horse straight in the eye. “There boy. You’re never going to be mistreated again. Pa will definitely see to that. You just settle down and we’ll get you out of here and over to the livery.” Mark pulled a sugar cube from his pocket. The horse tentatively sniffed Mark’s hand, then lipped the sugar cube. Mark rubbed the stallion over his eye. “Sweet tooth, huh?” Mark asked as the horse started nosing Mark’s pocket, looking for more, as Mark pulled another cube out and gave it to the horse. Mark hooked the lead line to the horse’s halter and motioned for Johnny to step back.

“Want some help there, Mark?” Johnny asked.

“Nah, I think one on one’s going to be best right now. Though, I’d appreciate it if you would see that anyone standing outside gets back. Not sure what he’s going to do when he sees a crowd of people.”

“Sure, Mark.”

Mark led the stallion from the livestock car. Just as they reached the bottom of the ramp, the train whistle blew, causing the stallion to shy and rear, forelegs pawing at the air.

After getting the horse back under control, Mark stated, “Uncle Johnny, I’ll let you and Aunt Colleen get settled at the hotel and I’ll get Blade settled at the livery. My shift will be done in a few more hours. I’ll stop by and we can head home. See you then.”

Mark kept a firm hold on the lead line as people scattered away. With his rifle in one hand and a prancing stallion in the other, Mark headed for the livery.

Nils was there when Mark walked in. “Whew, what a beauty! I always thought Razor was a good looking horse, but his fella. When you gonna tell your Pa?”

“Not exactly sure. First I want Blade to settle down. Keep him here for a while and I can work with him during the afternoons, before I head home,” Mark replied. “I think it’s best if we just let him be for the day. See you got plenty of hay and water for him, thanks Nils.”

“It weren’t nothing Mark. Come by any time,” Nils said. “By the way, was that your Uncle Johnny I saw earlier?”

“Yes, seems he and Aunt Colleen are thinking on settling down and calling North Fork home. Can I borrow the buggy this afternoon to get them out to the ranch?”

“Sure Mark, any time, you know you can.”

“Thanks Nils.”

*****

Mark rode Blue Boy next to the buggy carrying his Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen out to the homestead.

“You should know, a lot has changed at the ranch since the last time you were here.”

“Oh?” Colleen asked.

“Hope and I have our own home,” Mark stated.

“Finally got tired of living under your Pa’s roof?” Johnny asked with a smile.

“Guess our letters didn’t catch up with you. There were just too many babies under one roof,” Mark replied.

“Too many babies?” Johnny asked.

“Oh, you’ll get to meet Little Ted, Joshua, and Zachariah when we get home,” Mark answered.

“Triplets?! Who had triplets?” Colleen asked.

“No one, but Hope and I have twin sons, Joshua and Zachariah. They were born the day after Ma gave birth to my brother, Little Ted.”

“Oh, just wait until I get to teasing your Pa,” Johnny stated as he rein slapped the horse to move him along a little faster.

*****

Lucas came out of the barn carrying an ax blade, stopping short as Johnny pulled the buggy to a stop in front of him.

“Hello brother!” he hollered.

“Johnny! Colleen! When did you get in? We didn’t know you were coming!” Lucas happily answered as Johnny climbed over Colleen to jump down and shake hands. It had been so long.

After Johnny assisted Colleen in getting down from the buggy, Mark said he’d tend to the horses. Then he’d bring the family over once he had helped Hope feed and change the boys.

As they entered the house, Johnny stated, “So I understand you’ve been busy. I’ve another nephew!”

Lucas answered, in seeing Colleen remove her shawl, “I see I’m not the only one who’s been busy, brother!”

After hearing their visitors’ arrival, Milly came from their bedroom. Welcoming the family back and asking when Colleen was due.

“Should be some time the end of March, Milly. Mark told us you’ve a son?” Colleen asked.

Milly showed them to the door to their room and introduced them to the sleeping Theodore Scott McCain. “He finally fell asleep just a few minutes ago.”

“Well I’ll be. Lucas, he’s the spitting image of you.” Johnny stated as they quietly returned to the front room. “’Bout time one of your children got to looking like you and not their ma.”

“And Mark said he and Hope have twins?” Colleen asked. “And they were born a day later?”

“Yep.” Lucas stated.

“Can’t get over it. Grandpa Lucas! Knew the day would come, boy, it just doesn’t seem possible,” Johnny stated as he shook his head.

“Tell me about it!” Lucas stated with a laugh. “Come on, what brings you back to North Fork other than showing off your handy work?” Lucas asked his brother-in-law.

“Lucas!” Milly exclaimed.

“Sorry Colleen,” Lucas stated as he lowered his head in apology.

“Milly, don’t fret. Colleen knows how Lucas and I used to be, before he marrie…” Johnny stopped.

Walking to Johnny and placing a hand on his arm, Milly stated, “Johnny, Margaret’s memory doesn’t upset me. I’m thankful to have her memory in this house. She’s part of Lucas and Mark, so that makes her a part of me. As are you. You’re a part of this family and you’ll always be.”

“Thanks Milly,” Johnny stated as he placed a kiss to Milly’s cheek.

“So how long do you plan to stay this time?” Lucas asked. “Before you set to wandering?”

“Lucas,” Colleen answered. “We were thinking about settling in North Fork. To be with family.”

“What about your own family?” Milly asked, looking to Colleen.

“Milly, I love my family dearly, but there’s something about this family that… I just don’t know how to explain, but when Johnny and I found out about our baby, he said we needed to think on settling down and asked where. Before I could even think on it, North Fork popped out of my mouth.”

“Johnny, I never thought I’d see the day you married nor did I ever think I’d see the day you’d call one place home,” Lucas stated as he slapped Johnny on the shoulder.

As they were talking, they heard a small knock on the door from Myra’s room.

“Papa?” Myra called.

Lucas walked to the door and opened it. He knelt down to his daughter.

“Did you finish your nap?”

“Yes. Me come out?” she asked.

“Okay,” Lucas picked Myra up in his arms and carried her to the front room.

“Myra, I’d like you to meet…” Lucas looked to Milly in how to introduce them.

“Uncle Yohnny,” Myra stated.

“You were just a baby the last time he was here. How…” Lucas stated as he looked to Johnny.

“Mark picture,” Myra stated.

“Okay Myra, this is your Uncle Johnny and your Aunt Colleen,” Lucas stated as Johnny took Myra into his arms.

“Well you sure have grown. How’s my favorite niece?” Johnny stated as he lifted Myra high in the air, to her squeal of delight.

“Good girl. Me good girl.” Myra stated as Johnny set her to the floor.

Myra walked over to Colleen and placed her hand to Colleen’s belly and asked, “More brothers?”

Milly and Lucas laughed. And after seeing the expression on Colleen’s face, explained that Myra had blurted out in church that Zachariah and Joshua were her brothers as well. She didn’t quite understand the real family relationship.

“Lucas, I can’t wait for the day when you have to clear up that little misconception. But then I guess Colleen and I aren’t helping the matters either. How’s Mark taking everything?”

Seeing Mark and Hope, carrying the boys, walking past the front window, Lucas stated, “We had a rocky patch earlier this summer, but all things considered, life is good.”

Mark and Hope entered the house and introduced Joshua Lucas and Zachariah James to Johnny and Colleen. Again, Myra proclaimed them her brothers.

As Johnny looked at the baby in his arms and the baby in his wife’s arms, he looked to Mark and stated, “Mark, your Ma would be so proud of you. Oh, how I wish Margaret was here to hold them.” Then turning to Milly, “No disrespect meant Milly, it’s just Margaret so loved children. I know how much it tore at her loosing the other baby and leaving Mark an only child. She would have loved being a Grandma just the same.”

“Pa?” Mark quietly asked of Lucas. “Ma had another baby?”

Lucas looked to Mark, Mark had been so young and then there had never been a reason to talk… Lucas excused them from the room. He placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder and walked him to Myra’s room, closing the door behind them. “Mark, I’d told you in the past how for the first month of your life, your Ma was really sick and couldn’t take care of you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, you were a little over three when we found out we were expecting a second child. But your Ma…, she never fully recovered from having you. She always remained small and a little more on the frail side. She wasn’t as strong as she was before she had you. She was four months into the pregnancy when she miscarried. The doctor told us, she’d never be able to bear another child and if she did, it might kill her. That’s why you become all the more special to your Ma. I never said anything before because… a baby that you never knew, just didn’t seem important to say anything.”

Lucas watched Mark as he tried to understand this new fact of his Pa’s life.

“Pa, I understand. Do you ever wonder what…”

“Mark, I used to wonder every day. But I finally stopped, after your ma died. Her death struck you so hard, I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if I’d had two young children to help cope.”

“Pa… I…” Mark started.

“Mark, you don’t need to say anything. The good Lord blessed us with the miracle of life, you. We never regretted having you. I also understood what you were going through when Hope was sick. It brought back all my fears from when I was… Mark, I was as worried for you as you were for Hope. I didn’t want you to go through what I had gone through, in losing a wife. Now, we just need to be thankful for the family we have and love them like there’s no tomorrow.”

“Yes sir. Even more so.” As Mark looked to his Pa, he asked, “Does Milly know? I mean, she didn’t seem surprised with what Uncle Johnny said.”

“She does. I told her after I found out she was pregnant with Myra and she had kept it a secret. It made our relationship even stronger. There are lots of memories that when Milly was here the first time, I couldn’t tell her, but now that she’s my wife… It’s only proper that she understands why I feel or act the way I do. Especially when it comes to her and our family.”

*****

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Lucas helped Johnny and Colleen look over several homes that were for sale in North Fork. Johnny had accepted a part time job working with Nils at the livery as well as working at the Feed and Grain. Who better than a former rodeo rider to help people with the selection of horses or feed. As well as planning to hire out to Lucas during the spring and fall, for planting and harvesting. Lucas then introduced Johnny and Colleen to John Hamilton and vouched for them when they inquired about a loan for what portion of the purchase price, they didn’t have money to cover.

Afterwards, they stopped at Lou’s for lunch.

“Well, I hear the McCain Clan is ever growing again. Soon, you’ll be taking over the whole town,” Lou stated with a twinkle in her eye. “Johnny, Colleen, we’re glad to hear you’ll be calling North Fork your home.”

“Thanks Lou. We’re really looking forward to living here and raising our child,” Johnny stated as he reached over and patted Colleen’s pregnant belly.

“Then, you’re invited to the Drako, McCain, Torrance, and Gibbs Thanksgiving feast here at the hotel. The men get the dining room organized and the women spend the afternoon in the kitchen, cooking and trying to keep the men folk out of the food, until its ready!”

*****

Thanksgiving morning arrived with the McCain families arriving in town. Lucas and Mark walked their families into the hotel, then he and Mark took the team over to the livery. As they led the horses inside, Lucas noticed the new horse. After placing the team in their stalls, Lucas walked over to look the new horse over.

“Wow, Nils sure has one fine horse here Mark,” Lucas stated. The horse stuck his head over the half wall and sniffed at Lucas, as he began scratching the horse over the eye and continued eyeing the horse over.

“Pa, why don’t you go on in and give him a real good once over,” Mark stated, trying to hide a smile from his face.

“No Mark. I don’t think it would be proper. He’s not my horse.”

“Actually Pa, he is yours.”

“Mark?”

“Pa, if you want him, he’s yours. He arrived the same day the Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen did. I’ve been letting him settle in and doing some ground work with him during the afternoons, when I’ve been in town. I’ve been trying to figure out when to present him to you.”

After seeing the expression on Lucas’ face, Mark continued, “Pa, he’ll turn three come spring. Hope’s father shipped him over. After you said you were thinking on retiring Razor and before Hope took ill, I wired Seth, inquiring about good horses and if they received any that were too good for the Army, I’d be interested in buying one. Well, Blade here was the best horse to come through.”

“Mark you really shouldn’t have done this. You should have saved your money to spend on your family.”

“Pa, you are my family.”

Pulling Mark into a hug, “Son, I don’t think I could have found as good a horse as him. Thank you. Blade you say. You named him?”

“No, Seth did. His blaze almost looks like a Saber. Razor and Saber sounded too close alike, so he called him Blade.”

“Well, come on, before Micah, Johnny, and your Uncle Johnny start yelling that we made them do all the heavy work.”

*****

Upon their arrival at the restaurant, Lucas announced Mark’s gift to everyone.

“So that’s what was taking you so long. Kinda figured it might be. That’s why we been sitting around, waiting for you two to help with the heavy work,” Micah stated as he stood up from his seat. “Okay men, we got to make this look like we know what we’re doing. Can’t have the women folk chastising us.”

After arranging the tables and chairs, setting the tables, and bringing in firewood for the fireplace, the men folk started to sit down and relax.

“Not quite so fast, a few of you have youngsters that need to be taken upstairs. Bottles fed, diapers changed, and children put down for naps. We think you should tend to them. You can take them from the kitchen and up to room ten. And you Mr. Gibbs, you can help by taking your niece upstairs and put her down for a nap,” Lou stated.

“Me?” Johnny exclaimed.

“Yes, good practice for what’s to come in the next few years,” Colleen called from the doorway.

Seeing Micah smiling in his chair, Hattie called, “And you, Marshal Torrance, you can just help Mark with one of his two.”

“They’re his two, not…” Micah started.

After hearing the rest of the women in the kitchen laughing, Drako stated, “Men I think we best do as they request. They hold the ace. They can refuse to feed us later.”

“Well you know they’re already planning for us to do the dishes,” Mark started to complain.

“Son, stop while we’re ahead,” Lucas said with a laugh.

*****

Later that afternoon, the ladies brought a wonderful feast to the dining room. Before anyone could take their seat, after Lucas said grace, Mark said, “Pa, there’s one tradition that’s been missing for a long time. A tradition that Uncle Johnny told me about.”

Lucas looked from Mark to Johnny, who nodded.

“Well, since this is the Drako, McCain, Torrance, and Gibbs Family Thanksgiving feast, maybe you should start, Johnny,” Lucas replied.

Johnny Gibbs took a step forward from where he stood and spoke, “What Colleen and I have to be thankful about, the good Lord has seen fit for my wife to bear us a child next year. And we look forward to calling North Fork our home.”

“Drako,” Lucas stated. “You’re next.”

Johnny Drako took a step forward, “What Lou and I have to be thankful about, such wonderful friends and an ever growing family.”

“Johnny!” Lou exclaimed, allowing her Irish brogue to shine through. “I was going to tell you tonight, how…? Did Doc Burrage say…?”

“Wife, your temper softens when you’re with child. Don’t you think I’d know?” Drako stated with a ‘devilish’ smile on his face.

Hearty congratulations were given from those present.

“Micah,” Lucas said.

“What Hattie and I have to be thankful about, living in a town like North Fork and calling it home. But more importantly, realizing, it doesn’t matter how old you are… Love is grand,” Micah stated as he gave Hattie a kiss on the cheek. “But there’s one more item. Most of you know that I’ve been thinking of stepping down as Marshal. It’s been a long time and… well, North Fork deserves the best and you’ve got it, in my two Deputies, Johnny Drako and Mark McCain. I’ll help out when there’s a need, but I want my stepping down to be on my terms, not because some outlaw forces me to. I plan to make it official after the first of the New Year.”

“Micah,” Lucas stated. “You’ve been a loyal defender of this town. I know you’ve trained your deputies well and that North Fork will be in good hands.”

Then turning to Mark, “Mark, I think that leaves you.”

“Pa, if I may, I’d like to go last.”

Looking carefully into his son’s eyes, Lucas agreed. “What Milly and I have to be thankful for…, I’m thankful for my eldest son. Seeing him grow up from a young boy to become a man. I’m thankful to a woman who understands my past and was willing to accept it as she became my wife. We’re thankful for our two youngest children. The blessings of laughter in our house. We’re thankful I, we have a wonderful daughter-in-law and two blessed grandsons. And friends such as you.”

Mark stepped forward and pulled Hope to his side, placing an arm around her waist. “What Hope and I have to be thankful for… First, I know it wasn’t easy growing up, just Pa and me. I’m honored to grow into a man he and others say they can be proud of, Lord knows how hard Pa tried.” Mark waited for the laughter to subside. “Then there’s Milly — better late than never. Ma, it’s really great to have a mother and I want to thank you for accepting me as your son and giving me a sister and a brother. Then there’s my wife, Hope. Growing up, I always dreamed of being a rancher, just like Pa. Now, I’m a rancher and a deputy, as well as a full time husband and father.” Mark continued, looking into Hope’s eyes. “Never could I imagine life being married or having children, until you came into my life. Now, I can’t imagine life without you. We have two blessed sons.” Then looking around the group, “But more importantly, we have an expanded family that most people wouldn’t understand. Though there are a few members of our family missing, I ask the Good Lord to watch over Seth, Ethan and Annie Lane. …Over the years, we’ve commented at one time or another how much we consider each other as family. I’d like to propose, the ‘considering’ ends today… Today, we are family and that is truly something to be thankful for.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as Mark finished. “Amen” was heard from everyone. As the group was just finishing sitting down, the train whistle could be heard arriving at the depot. Mark and Johnny stood.

“Johnny, Mark not today. Please?” Lou pleaded.

“Lou, tradition is tradition. We’ll be back in a few minutes. Everyone go ahead and fill your plates,” Johnny stated as they excused themselves.

Johnny and Mark pulled on their jackets and hats, while Johnny picked up his gun belt and Mark, his rifle, and headed to the train station. As they came to the caboose, Jesse stated, “Sorry we’re running a little late today. We were under orders to wait for a special delivery for you Mark. They’re getting their horses from the livestock car. Oh, you might want to go ahead and see to the woman waiting in the depot.”

Mark walked into the depot and tapped the woman on the shoulder. As she turned, he called, “Annie?!” as he proceeded to hug her.

“You know, some men might take offense to another man, accosting their wife, Mark,” Ethan called from the doorway. “How are you Mark? Did we a make it in time for dinner?”

“Sure, we just sat down, but how’d you know? If we’d of known you were coming, we would have waited,” Mark answered.

“Hope wrote in her last letter about your Thanksgiving feast.” As they stepped from the depot, Mark introduced Annie to Johnny. They stopped at the livery and put the horses up, prior to proceeding to the hotel. Before he left the stable, Seth stopped by the stall Blade was in. “My, he’s filling out. I think I was right in sending him to you for Lucas.”

“Does Hope know you’re coming?” Mark asked.

“No, seems we kind of like surprising her, and you,” Seth stated. “I hope we’re not causing too much inconvenience.”

“Inconvenience, I want to see my nephews and I don’t care how much we inconvenience the parents,” Ethan stated. And for that he received a sound elbow in the ribs from his wife.

“Say Mark,’ Seth stated. “Have you told Lucas about Blade?”

“I did when we arrived in town this morning. He stood admiring him when we were putting up our team. Tried to get him to go look him over, that’s when I told him Blade was his.”

“Men, you can either stand out here talking horses all day long or you can accompany me to the restaurant,” Annie called, chastising the men.

Mark and Johnny entered the restaurant and started to pull another table from the side and place it in the middle with the others, then they picked up and brought over three more chairs.

“Johnny,” Lou started to ask. “What’s this all about?”

“We found a few strays, straggling in on the train. They looked like they could use some of good cooking. They’d been on the train for quite a while.” Johnny answered.

Mark stepped to Hope and whispered in her ear. Hope turned in her chair and a large smile crossed her face. Mark pulled out her chair as she stood and then ran to greet the rest of her family.

“Everyone, as I said. This is one very large family gathering and it just got bigger. Everyone, I think you’ll remember Seth Lane, Hope’s Father. As well as Ethan. And I’d like to introduce to you Ethan’s wife, Annie.” Mark continued to introduce Annie to everyone present.

Everyone took their seats. Lucas carved the turkey and handed out the plates. Then bowls of mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and cranberries, and stuffing, and plates of bread and butter were passed. Conversations varied among those present as all enjoyed their Thanksgiving Day.

*****

After dinner was finished, Mark stood and started collecting dishes.

“A deputy doing dishes?” Annie asked.

“Yep, seems the women feel us men folk don’t work nearly as hard as they do today. So, the men folk get to clear the tables and do the dishes, while the ladies get to relax and chat. Though to me, they did just fine chatting while they were cooking.”

“Mark McCain!” Hope exclaimed.

“I was just explaining, so no one would laugh when they see a deputy with dishpan hands, later. You best hope no trouble breaks out in town tonight. Not sure if after washing all the dishes, my wrinkled hands will be able to handle my rifle.”

Seeing the women start giggling, Lucas stood and said, “Come on son. You’ll get no relief from these good women, until the task is completed.”

*****

While the men folk were ‘stuck’ in the kitchen, Lou, Milly, Hattie, and Hope went upstairs. “Annie, if you’d join us?” Hope asked. “Colleen, why don’t you keep my father and brother company. We’ll be back in a moment.”

Shortly all five women came back down stairs, each one with a child in their arms.

Hope and Annie walked to Ethan and Seth. “Father, Annie has Joshua. Ethan, this is Zachariah.” Hope handed her son to her brother. All the other children were introduced as well.

*****

Later that evening, Mark stated it was time for him to walk the town and asked Seth if he would join him.

As they neared the church, Mark stopped. “Sir, I owe you an apology for what happened after the boys were born. Pa never said how much longer you stayed after I ran. But I want you to know, I’m ashamed for my actions.”

“Mark,” Seth stated. “I experienced firsthand what Hope’s mental state was, the day it all began. She didn’t even want me around. Then your Pa told me what happened in Romero and before, with Micah and Johnny. I was upset, in the beginning, when you ran away from my daughter. Your parents kept me posted via wire in how Hope was doing. Lucas wrote me a lengthy letter after your return. It took time, but I came to understand you were dealing with some pretty strong worries and doubts about yourself.” Then placing a hand on Mark’s shoulder, he said, “Mark, I accept your apology. What matters is, you returned to my daughter and my grandsons. And what I’ve seen today, I feel you did a lot of growing up when you were out there. You’re so much more confident and assured of yourself, than you were before.”

“Don’t know if I really grew up when I was gone, but I’ve done a lot since I got home. I’ve spent a lot of nights, when I first came back, talking with Hope. And during the days, when Pa and I were out working the ranch, I talked with him a lot. Sir, I can’t imagine life without Hope or the boys and I’ll never run away again. That, I can promise you.”

“I know, Mark.”

“Sir, if I may. How much of Hope’s life do you remember from before?”

“I don’t understand what you’re asking?”

“Seth, the beginning of October, Hope contracted chicken pox. She was extremely sick, more so than any of the children who contracted the illness. Doc said she could have died.”

“Mark?!”

“Ma told me later that Pa tried to wire you, but was informed you were out on patrol and wouldn’t be back for two weeks. By that time, she was recovering. Do you remember… are there any other illnesses that we need to be especially careful around Hope?”

“Mark, I honestly don’t remember. I know she’d have colds every now and then and I remember measles and scarlet fever. I’m sorry I can’t be any more help.”

“That’s okay. We just have to be prepared to treat Hope as soon as the boys show any symptoms.”

*****

Word had gotten out and a large crowd gathered around the corral at the livery, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Everyone watched as Mark let Blade into the corral. “Not sure what all the fuss is about,” Mark stated.

Johnny Gibbs walked up to Mark and answered, “Don’t you remember when your Pa was trying to break Duster for you? How exciting it was?”

“Sure, but I’ve been working with Blade and I don’t think he’s as ornery as Duster was. I’m mean, sure he’s a stallion, but he’s not as wild or as old as Duster was when we tried breaking him.”

“Anyway, a horse breaking is as good an excuse to get the men folk out of their homes and away from their wives,” Johnny stated as he slapped Mark on the shoulder. “You want me first up?”

“No thanks, Uncle Johnny. This is my present to Pa, so I guess I should do it,” Mark replied.

Lucas rode Razor into the corral and took one lead line from Mark. Both Johnny’s, Drako and Gibbs, helped hold Blade still for Mark to mount. Once Mark was in the saddle, both feet in the stirrups, and halter line set, Drako and Gibbs ran away. Blade stood still. Lucas tossed the lead line to Mark and trotted Razor to the railing. The men around the corral started whooping and hollering, trying to entice the stallion to start bucking. Lucas watched, pushed his hat back on his head, as Mark started riding Blade around at a walk. Turning the horse left and right, then stopping him. Mark heeled the horse and he started walking again. Mark heeled the horse a little harder, which caused him to give three good bucks, which sent the men to whooping again. Lucas was pleased that Mark was able to stay in the saddle. After the last buck, Blade started trotting around the corral, changing directions as Mark asked.

Most of the ranchers and town folks left, when they realized there wasn’t to be any real excitement. The rest of Mark’s family stood and watched in amazement. They’d never seen any horse react to having a rider on them for the first time like this horse was. Soon, Mark was loping the horse around the corral, with an occasional buck here and there. Mark halted Blade in the middle and waited for Lucas to ride up and grab a lead line. “Well I never!” Lucas stated.

“Why don’t you try, Pa! Give him a test ride. After all, he is your horse,” Mark suggested as he stepped down.

Mark hopped up on Razor while Uncle Johnny and Johnny held Blade for Lucas to mount. Again the scene repeated itself. “Just ask him lightly Pa.” Within minutes Lucas was walking, trotting, and loping Blade around the corral, still every now and then, the horse threw in a good buck.

After putting their horses in the stalls for the afternoon, Uncle Johnny came up to Mark, “Mark, I’ve never seen anything like that before. He’s had someone else break him, right?”

Seth came up behind Johnny and said, “No, he wouldn’t let anyone put a foot in the stirrup at Fort Sam.”

“So you sent my son a rogue horse to give to me?” Lucas asked, not quite believing.

“No. I had a feeling that Mark could bring the horse around. I knew this horse was too good for the army. He deserved someone better than most of the wranglers we have to break the horses.”

Ethan came up and congratulated Mark on taming the stallion and asked him how.

“I just took my time, let him investigate all the equipment and took everything gradually. I’ve put weight in the stirrups and I’ve pulled myself up and laid across the saddle, but today was the first time I’ve sat on him. Honest,” Mark swore.

“Men, I can tell ya, I’ve watched everything Mark’s done with this horse and today is the first time anyone’s rode him,” Nils said as he wiped his hands on a rag.

*****

As they were heading to the restaurant for lunch, Percy Bullock stopped the group asking if they knew where Doc was.

“I saw Thadd heading over to the General Store a little while ago,” Micah offered. “Anything wrong with Tessa or Mabra?”

“No, no, they’re fine, but Abigail ain’t. She was visiting us and started not feeling too good,” Percy replied as he headed to the General Store.

Mark and Lucas headed over to the boarding house. Inside, they could hear Abigail screaming and found her laying on her side in the parlor. Tessa cradling her head in her lap.

“Mrs. Tolliver, do you have a sheet to cover her and towels to wrap the baby?” Lucas asked.

“Yes, yes, I’ve got some,” she replied.

“Go get them,” Lucas stated. Then turning to Tessa, “Tessa, Thadd should be here in a few minutes. Just keep talking to her like you’re doing. It may not seem like much, but it is comforting.”

Mark ran to the kitchen and started warming some water in order to bathe the baby afterwards. He returned to the parlor to hear Tessa stating, “Mr. McCain, I can’t do this. I’m no good at this kind of thing. I hate blood, please, don’t make me stay.”

“It’s okay Tessa,” Mark stated as he picked up Abigail’s head so Tessa could get up, then he laid Abigail’s head back in his lap. Brushing her hair from her face, talking, hoping he was comforting her. Mark took Abigail’s hand as a strong contraction hit. “It’s okay, Abigail, just squeeze my hand.”

As Tessa ran upstairs, the front door opened, Thadd and Percy ran in. “Percy, Tessa ran upstairs,” Lucas stated. “I think she could use your comfort, go on boy, get upstairs.”

“Thadd,” Mark stated. “Do you want to move her to the clinic?”

“I wish she were there, but I don’t want to parade her through the streets. Mrs. Tolliver, I’m sorry that your parlor is going to be occupied for a while. Could you heat some water?”

“I’ve already got a couple pans on the stove,” Mark replied. “But you probably want to keep them from boiling.”

“Thadd, do you want me to go get any of the women to help you instead of Mark and me?” Lucas asked.

“No. I could use some friends here with me. Mark, help me roll her onto her back. Abigail, we’re going to roll you to your back. Just breathe in deep. Mark on three, one, two, three.”

As they were turning her another contraction struck and she started to resist, Abigail wanted to stay on her side. “Abby, please, we have to get you onto your back. Mark, again on three, one, two, three.”

This time Abigail didn’t fight them. “Mark sit her up more, you’ll be her support. When contractions start, help sit her up more, in between, let her rest back against you.”

“Abigail, just breathe and try to relax in between contractions. When they hit, you need to start pushing, if need be, just keep squeezing Mark’s hand to. Mark, I’m sorry,” Thadd stated. Keeping up a running litany.

Lou came into the parlor and took hold of the sheet Lucas had been holding up. Shoo’ing Lucas out of the parlor. “Weren’t no place for a man to be anyway. Get on home to your family,” Lou stated. “Why isn’t Mrs. Tolliver or someone else in here, instead of Mark. This isn’t no place for him.”

“Lou, right now, Mark is fine where he is. I want him where he is. Just hold the sheet up, if you please.”

Hattie arrived a short time later and took the sheet from Lou. Lou rinsed a towel in water and wiped the perspiration from Abigail’s face.

As night fell, Mrs. Tolliver lit the lamps around the house and brought them into the parlor. Abigail’s contractions continued until after three o’clock in the morning, when a rather strong contraction struck.

“Come one Abby, one more push, one more push and our baby will be here.”

“I can’t. I’m too tired,” Abigail pleaded.

“Mark, when the next contraction strikes, I want you to help push down on Abigail’s belly, from the top of her belly and push towards her pelvis. We need to help the baby out if Abigail can’t push hard enough.”

Abigail screamed again. “Now, Abigail, Mark, push!” Thadd demanded.

Mark pushed as directed, praying to God he was doing good. He felt Abigail’s finger nails tear into his forearms as she fought against the pain.

“It’s a girl, Abby! It’s a girl!” Thadd yelled. He tied off the umbilical cord and cut it. He held his daughter upside down and gave her a good smack on the behind. With the first smack nothing, happened. Thadd smacked the baby again, this time, his daughter protested loudly. He handed the baby to Hattie and told her to clean the baby and then wrap her in towels. Mrs. Tolliver led the way to the kitchen.

“Mark, go ahead and lay Abigail backwards. Let her rest against you. It’ll be a few more minutes to take care of her and clean her up.”

Mark let Abigail rest back against him, saw her breathing heavily. He took a damp cloth offered by Lou and wiped the sweat off Abigail’s face. He watched as her breathing returned to normal.

Once Thadd was finished his task, he asked Mark to help him lift and carry Abigail and lay her down on the couch. Shortly, Hattie returned with a bundle in her arms. Lou quickly scurried Mark from the parlor and told him to get to the jail and get some sleep. As he left, he heard Thadd talking to his wife, helping her position their daughter so she could nurse for the first time.

*****

Lucas arrived at the boarding house, after dropping Milly, Hope, and the children off in front of the church the following morning, curious how Abigail, Thaddeus, and their baby were, and wondering where Mark was.

“All three are doing fine. They’re sleeping in the parlor,” Lou stated.

“I take it Mark’s upstairs?”

“Lucas, I don’t know where Mark went after I pushed him out of here,” Lou stated.

“Well, when was that?”

“It was after three this morning. I’m sure he’s fallen asleep over at the jail. Why don’t you check there.”

“I did. That’s when Johnny and Micah told me you were over here still. Mark wasn’t in the jail when they arrived this morning and he didn’t make it back to the ranch last night.”

“Maybe he went to Hattie and Mica… Guess if he’d gone there, Micah would have known. Lucas I’m sorry,” Lou stated as she heard the baby crying inside. “If I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.”

Lucas turned and walked to the livery. Blue Boy was still in his stall, so Lucas knew Mark hadn’t left town. ‘But where can he be?’ Lucas thought to himself as he climbed back down from checking the hayloft. Finally, he returned to the Marshal’s Office.

“Any luck, LucasBoy?” Micah asked.

“No, I don’t know where he could be.”

“Well, maybe he found someplace to curl up and sleep,” Johnny offered.

“But where?”

Johnny was trying to get Lucas to sit down when Reverend McCafferty walked into the office. “Good morning. Micah, I wanted to report that when I arrived at the church for services this morning, I found the back door broken in.”

“Was anything taken, Reverend,” Micah asked.

“No, nothing was taken, but whoever it was, left this for you on the alter Johnny.” Reverend McCafferty handed a note to Drako.

“Johnny?” Micah asked as he watched Johnny open the envelope and pull out a note.

“All it says is, ‘I’m out and I’m here’”.

“Reverend, thank you for bringing the note over,” Micah said. “I think you should return to the church, it’s almost time for services. Lucas, why don’t you go back with him, Johnny and I’ll keep and eye open for Mark. I’m sure he just fell asleep somewhere.”

*****

Lucas and the Reverend were rounding the corner of the church when they saw five riders stop in front of the church. As they dismounted, they pulled their rifles out. Two of the men walked to the top of the steps and closed the doors of the church. They turned around and nodded. Lucas pushed Reverend McCafferty back against the building.

“Reverend, back to Micah’s, now!” Lucas urgently whispered.

*****

Micah, Johnny and Lucas watched as three men walked down the center of the street, towards the Marshal’s Office.

“DRAKO!” the middle one yelled.

“Lucas, Micah, this isn’t your fight,” Johnny stated.

“Not our fight?” Micah repeated.

“That middle one is Quince Merriweather. We rode together a long time ago. I didn’t care for one of his plans so I rode separate. Heard later he and a few of the others got caught and sent to prison. Now we know who left the note at the church for me.”

“Johnny, as a deputy of this town, your fight is our fight,” Lucas stated. And his look told Johnny they weren’t going to take no for an answer. Micah pulled out a badge and tossed it to Lucas.

The three left the Marshal’s Office and stepped to the street.

“What do you want Merriweather?” Johnny hollered.

“You, and this town. Seems you owe it to me.”

“I owe you nothing. It was your plan. I wasn’t there,” Drako replied.

“Maybe, but maybe you told the law. Don’t matter, I’m taking the law into my own hands. No law man’s going to push me around again. Today, I do the pushing. See, I got me my own badge.” With that, Merriweather opened his jacket and showed a badge pinned to his vest.

Johnny, Micah, and Lucas watched as the one called Merriweather rubbed his shirt sleeve over the badge.

“You know Drako, seems this town’s got a lot of deputies. Right now, one of them ain’t a deputy any more. Drako, maybe you should have taught your deputy to carry a hand gun instead of a rifle. Got me a real pretty badge and rifle, to boot from him. He sure knows how to fight like a hellion. Don’t he, Pete.”

Shock ripped through all three when they realized who Merriweather was referring to, as they watched the big man to the left of Merriweather rub at his cheek.

Johnny told Lucas, “Lucas, keep quiet and keep your temper. He wouldn’t have killed the boy. If so, he’d of been bragging on it.”

“Real pretty badge, eh?” Johnny called out. “But the badge doesn’t make the man. It’s the other way around, and I don’t think you make the badge.”

“Maybe, but I want you out of this town and you’ll make me the Marshal,” Merriweather stated as he rubbed at the badge.

“This town deserves better than the likes of you.”

“Drako, Drako, you know the only way I’ll let you stay in this town is six feet under. Your ‘respectable’ friends are welcome to stay, but you… You’ll have to leave. Me and my boys will give you, say an hour to think it over.”

Johnny, Micah, and Lucas watched as the three headed to Sweeney’s and sat down in the chairs outside the doors. They stepped back to the Marshal’s office.

“You really think they have Mark and he’s okay?” Micah asked.

“I’m sure of it. Quince knows how to use a bargaining chip. If Mark was dead, he’d be bragging on it. Right now they’ve got him hidden somewhere.”

From the window they watched the men, talking and laughing. A knock was heard at the back door to the Marshal’s office, Micah opened the door and allowed Reverend McCafferty inside.

“Lucas, from what I can tell, they’ve not entered the church. They’re just preventing anyone else from entering or exiting,” the Reverend informed them.

“So Johnny,” Lucas stated. “What do we do now?”

“We’ll have to let them make their next move,” Johnny stated. “I’m sorry Lucas, but yours isn’t the only family involved this time.”

*****

An hour later, Merriweather and his men stood from their chairs and walked to the street again.

“Hey Drako! What’s it going to be? You riding for the hills? Leaving the town to me?”

“Can’t do that,” Drako replied as they walked back to the street.

“Then a standoff is what we have. Who’s going to draw first? And if there’s gunfire, does that signal the others to start shooing?” Before he even finished speaking, Merriweather and his men went for their guns.

After the last shot was fired, they saw three men lying dead on the ground. They heard several more shots off in the distance. Drako and Lucas got to their feet, looked over and saw Micah rolling over to sit up. “Guess I was a little too slow,” Micah stated as he poked a finger through the hole in the side of his vest. “Seems Hattie’s going to need to do some mending.”

“Micah, you hit?” Lucas asked as he rushed to his friend’s side.

“No, just my vest.”

“Guess you weren’t too slow, if all they got was your vest,” Drako said as he started walking towards the dead outlaws. Coming from the church, they saw Johnny Gibbs, Oat Jackford and others running towards them, guns drawn.

Drako bent over and pulled the badge from Merriweather’s vest, picked up Mark’s rifle, then called out, “I want every available man, in the saddle and at the church in ten minutes. They have Mark McCain hidden somewhere.”

Before heading out, Micah ordered several men to pull the dead carcasses off the street and get them to the undertakers. To those remaining, he said, “Drako, you take five men and head out after the two who rode away. The rest of you, we’ll back track, and look for Mark.”

*****

As the posse gathered in front of the church, Micah watched as Lucas walked from the church, followed by Milly and Hope, crying and praying for the posse to find Mark.

As the posse rode away, Reverend and Maggie McCafferty helped Milly and Hope get the children over to the hotel. Hattie had wanted them to be at her home, but they insisted on staying at the hotel. They knew it was closer to Doc’s, as they tried to keep their fears to themselves.

Lou arrived shortly, after hearing the news. She set to work fixing food for those waiting, trying her best to keep Milly and Hope occupied and their minds off their worries, by telling them about the birth of Thadd and Abigail’s daughter.

*****

Lucas back tracked the outlaws, following the tracks they left when they were heading into town, but eventually lost them as they crossed a grassy plain.

“Damn,” Lucas stated as he led Blade back to the group.

“Okay men,” Micah hollered. “We spread out from here, head towards the trees. Anyone finds Mark, set out a yell.”

They continued to search as the sun crossed the afternoon sky.

*****

Micah and Lucas had stopped to talk when they heard a yell coming up the line to their right. They raced their horses and arrived to see a figure hanging by his wrists from a tree, with Nils holding him up, and Stevan Griswald reaching up from his horse to cut the rope. Lucas jumped from Blade and ran to Nils, lifting Mark a little higher. Then feeling Mark’s full weight in their arms, hearing a groan, they laid Mark to the ground. Lucas removed the gag from his son’s mouth, as Mark started to regain consciousness.

“Mark, can you hear me?” Lucas asked as he slapped Mark’s face.

“Pa?” Mark asked as he moaned again.

Stevan finished cutting the ropes from Mark’s wrists and ankles.

“Micah, bring me a canteen,” Lucas ordered. The searchers gathered around the scene. Thankful for their success. Seth handed his canteen to Lucas as Micah was talking to the others, telling them to head on home. Asking that Stevan let Milly and Hope know that Mark was found safe. “We’ll return after Mark’s had a chance to recover for a little bit.”

Mark moaned as he tried to take the canteen from his Pa. “Mark, where does it hurt son?”

“My arms. Pa. My shoulder,” Mark answered as he rested back against Lucas’ chest. Lucas held the canteen for his son to drink.

Micah returned to them and looked Mark once over. “Boy, you’re going to have one nasty black eye come tomorrow. Can you tell us what happened?”

Mark proceeded to say how Lou had shooed him out of the boarding house. He wasn’t really tired, so he decided to walk the town. Next thing he knew, two men had guns on him. “One tried to take my rifle and guess I should have remembered what you said, not to go looking for trouble. Well, I wasn’t really thinking and I took a swing at him, I connected with my first punch, but he was a big man. And we fought for a while before the other knocked me out.”

“Yeah, we saw your handy work earlier,” Micah stated. “Not sure whose black eye is worse, boy.”

“Pa? What did they want? They never said anything before they left me hanging from that tree,” Mark said.

“They were old friends of Johnny Drako’s. Seems they wanted to drive Johnny out of town and take over,” Lucas answered.

“Don’t worry boy. Three of them are dead and the two that got away, well, Drako and the others are on their trail,” Johnny Gibbs stated as he and Ethan approached after collecting the horses standing around the clearing.

After allowing Mark to rest for half an hour, Lucas asked, “You think you’re up to riding double?”

“Sure Pa.”

Lucas took Mark by the left arm to help him up. As he lifted, an involuntary groan escaped Mark, as he fell back to the ground, clutching his shoulder.

“Mark, let me take a look.” Johnny examined Mark’s shoulder, then turning to Micah, “You still have that flask of yours?”

“Johnny?” Lucas asked.

“Riding broncs, I’ve dislocated my shoulder a few times in my younger days. Sorry Lucas, but Mark’s shoulder is dislocated. Thought maybe I could give him some of Micah’s whiskey to help numb the pain before I reset the shoulder.”

“Sorry, Johnny. I gave up carrying my flask a long time ago.”

“Mark,” Lucas said. “When did they do this to you?”

“They didn’t. I was struggling to try to get myself out of the tree and I dislocated my shoulder, myself. I guess I passed out when I felt it happen,” Mark replied to his Pa. Then turning to his uncle, “What if you just place my arm in a sling and wait for Doc to set it?” he asked as he held his arm in place.

“Sorry nephew. It’s best to reset it as soon as possible.” Then turning to Lucas and Seth, “You’ll have to help hold him while I do this.”

Lucas and Seth held Mark tight. “Mark, here, bite down on this piece of wood. I’m really sorry, because I know how much this is going to hurt. But believe me, once I…” he reset it before he finished his sentence. Mark screamed before he passed out from the pain.

“Lucas, I’m sorry. It had to be done. He’ll be alright, though you might want to get his arm in a sling while he’s unconscious.”

About ten minutes later, Mark woke. “Sorry Mark. You forgive me?” Johnny asked.

Mark smiled weakly and nodded, as Lucas and Seth helped him to his feet.

As they walked to the horses, Mark realized Lucas had brought Blade instead of Razor.

“If you remember, today is Sunday and I brought our family to town in the buckboard. Blade was the only saddle horse I owned, who was in town.”

“If you don’t mind Pa, I think I’ll ride double with Uncle Johnny. His horse is a little bit smoother ride than Blade. Besides, Blade doesn’t need both our weights on his back, just yet.”

Seth and Ethan held the other horses, while Micah held Johnny’s horse, Johnny mounted first and then Lucas helped Mark get on board, behind his Uncle. The six rode for North Fork.

“LucasBoy, I’m going to ride on ahead and let Doc Burrage know what’s up. I’ll see you when you get to town.”

*****

Hope, Milly, and Annie were anxiously waiting inside the clinic when their men arrived. Mark wrapped his good arm around his wife as he gave her a hug and then kissed her on top of the head. “I’ll be all right Hope. What say you let the doc have a look at me?” Hope took a step away and Mark wiped his thumb across her face to wipe away her tears.

Doc Burrage gave Hope a bottle of witch-hazel, “Just rub some of this around the bruise, but make sure not to get any in his eye. As for the shoulder, Johnny, you reset it nicely. Mark, I want your arm in a sling, except for when you’re walking the town, you can stretch it around some then. And if you can, I want you to ice it down four times a day for about twenty minutes each time, for the next two days. I’ll let you know if you should continue when you come back Wednesday morning.”

“So does this mean that I’m out a deputy?” Micah asked.

“No, just don’t want him getting into any fist fights or chopping wood, for the next week. Except when walking the town, I want your arm in the sling until Saturday,” Thadd stated.

“Now Mark, remove your shirt, I’m sure that during your little fist fight, you took a few blows to the ribs. Let me see ‘em.”

After examining Mark’s ribs, “Well, they are a little tender, but I don’t think any are broken or separated. Just a good bruising. Hope, make sure you use the witch-hazel here on his left side too.” Then noticing the scratches on Mark’s forearms, “Mark what happened here?”

“Your wife. If you remember, I was helping to push when the last contraction hit. Well, Abigail kind of dug her fingernails in.”

“Let me get some ointment on those as well as the rope burns on your wrists.” After applying the ointment and saying it would be best to leave them unbandaged, Thadd stated, “Okay, now that I’ve done my job, if you’ll excuse me, I have a family to get back to.”

“Sorry Doc,” Mark stated. “By the way, congratulations. Have you named her?”

“We kind of thought about Savannah Marie, but we’ve been mesmerized by the whole thing, we haven’t given a name much more thought. It’s quite remarkable, holding your baby in your arms for the first time. But then you know that, don’t you.”

“Thank you, Doc. Why don’t you go back to your family and let me tend to mine,” Hope stated as she started to button Mark’s shirt. Her eyes telling Mark to ‘let her do it’. Lucas tied the sling around the back of Mark’s neck and helped him get his arm inside.

*****

After dinner at the hotel, Mark led his family upstairs to a room. After helping Hope feed and change the boys, and put them down for the night, he walked down the hall and drew a hot bath. He was stiff and sore from the events of the day. After stripping, he stepped into the tub and lowered himself down, relaxing, letting the heat penetrate his muscles.

Mark closed his eyes, thinking of everything that had transpired, Abigail and Thadd’s baby, the fight, then being strung up by his wrists, having his family find him… He rubbed at his shoulder as he remembered struggling, trying to free himself. He involuntarily shivered as he remembered the pain in his shoulder. Mark’s mind was brought back to present when he felt soft, gentle hands massaging his shoulders, and from behind heard “I was so scared. I thanked God for allowing you to come home, when Stevan brought us word you were found.”

“Hope, I…” Mark started to speak, but Hope moved around to face him.

“Please, let me speak. I wanted you to know, I was so… scared. If something happened to you… and you didn’t come home to us. I needed to tell you before you saw it in my eyes. Mark, I know this is your job and I will thank God for every day he allows us to share. Every time you leave, I pray to God to protect you. I won’t ask you to stop. I understand, this is who you are. I just need you to understand that each time when you are away, I’ll be scared. I don’t want to be left alone.
And when you do come home, I will be more protective of you for a while, and thankful for having you back in my life.”

“Hope, I understand your fears. They’re the same fears I have, but I can’t let my fears stop me from being who I am — that’s the real lesson I learned after I came home. Hope, I pray to God that he’ll watch over you and the boys, were something to happen. But believe me, Pa and Ma, they’ll be there for you. You’ll never be alone.”

Mark picked up Hope’s hand and kissed it. Hope picked up the sponge and the bar of soap and started to bathe him.

That night, as they laid down in the bed, Mark quickly fell asleep. Hope heard Mark’s breathing indicate he was asleep, she rolled over and watched him. Again, silently thanking God for protecting him, this time. Hope remembered back to the first day they met. Her mind then played out other important days from their lives, the day Mark had really kissed her for the first time. The day he proposed. Their wedding day. That day outside of Fort Sam. The birth of their sons. The day she’d said those hurtful words to him. Her mind replayed the day he came home. Then today. “God, Mark’s only been a part of my life for a few years, yet, I can’t imagine life without him. Please watch over him,” she silently prayed as she watched his chest rise and fall while he slept.

She heard the babies stir in their cradles. She went to the hotel kitchen and prepared their bottles. Saw the time on the clock; it was after two in the morning. Once the boys were fed, Hope slipped back into bed.

*****

Mark woke to find Hope restlessly sleeping. He quietly dressed and heard his sons stirring. He slipped from the room to find Ethan and Annie entering the hallway from their room.

“Good Morning,” he quietly spoke, “Ethan, Annie, can you help me this morning? I don’t think Hope got much sleep last night and I need to get the boys fed…”

“Sure Mark,” Ethan spoke. “I’d love the chance to look after my, …our nephews.”

As they entered the room, they saw Hope’s restless state.

“Mark, let us take care of the boys. You stay here with Hope. I’m sure she could use you being close to her when she does wake,” Annie whispered.

Mark closed the door behind Ethan and Annie. He removed his boots and gently slipped back into bed. Brushed back a stand of hair from Hope’s face and quietly said, “I’m here love. I’ll always be with you. Shhhh, just sleep.”

*****

Drako and the others returned to town later the day after the shoot out. Drako entered the Marshal’s to see Micah sitting behind the desk, leafing through posters. “Sorry Micah. We lost their trail. I take it you found Mark? Was he okay?”

“We found him late yesterday afternoon, he’s fine, least he will be. Just suffered a dislocated shoulder. His uncle set it after we found him and Doc looked him over last night.”

“So, we’re down a deputy?” Drako asked.

“Na, he’s walking the town right now. Doc said as long as he didn’t get into any fist fights or chop wood for the week, he could still work his shifts.”

“Well, since I’m back, why don’t you head on home. I’m sure Hattie would love to spend some time with you.”

“Thanks Johnny. Think I just might do that. She said we weren’t expecting any children at the day care today. So I just might get some quiet time with my wife.”

“Go and enjoy it!” Johnny stated with a grin as Micah left the office. He smiled even broader when Lou entered the office carrying a basket. “A woman after my own heart.”

“Saw you come back and thought you might be hungry. You didn’t leave with much before you headed out after those men.”

Lou set the basket down on the desk and started to pull out a meal for Johnny.

“Who’s watching Connor while you’re over here?”

“Hope’s at the hotel with the twins and she said she’d watch Connor. She and Mark spent the night, he didn’t want to leave Micah alone in town, in case those men doubled back and Hope didn’t want to leave Mark.”

“I can understand that. Come here woman,” Johnny stated as he placed his hands around Lou’s waist and pulled her to sit on his lap. “I missed you while I was gone. How’s our newest Drako doing?”

“Our newest Drako is doing just fine.”

*****

Mark cleared his throat as he stood in the doorway, eyes averted. “If you two will excuse me?” Johnny and Lou hadn’t heard him enter. Both blushed a little as Lou stood from Johnny’s lap. “Welcome back Johnny, I take it you didn’t catch the other two?”

“We lost their trail late last night. I tried picking it up this morning, but, they took to covering their trail. I’m sorry, Mark.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. If I’d been paying attention instead of walking around in a dream, they wouldn’t have gotten the jump on me. And yesterday wouldn’t have happened.”

“Mark, whether they got the jump on you or not, Quince would have still tried to take the town. Boy, don’t go feeling you’re to blame. Best you get to the café and have lunch with your family, saw Hope and the Lane’s heading that way a few minutes ago.”

“Thanks Johnny, I’ll be back in an hour.”

“See you later Mark,” Lou and Johnny stated together.

The Next Generation… Chapter 45 – The Legacy

Tom Benton arrived back in North Fork, the day before Hope and Mark’s birthday. He rode for the McCain ranch, arriving just before supper. Mark and Lucas were just stepping from the barn after tending to the horses.

“Tom?” Lucas said. “Welcome! What brings you here?”

“Your son,” Tom answered. Then turning to Mark, “Well Mark? I’m hoping you’ll make it official. Are you willing to be my deputy?”

After a few moments of looking from his Pa, to the house, then to Tom, he replied, “No sir, I’m sorry I can’t be your deputy, I’m Micah and Johnny’s deputy. But…, I’d be happy to be your Deputy U.S. Marshal.”

“Lucas, don’t you ever feel like taking him over your knee?”

“Tom, there’s been plenty of times. Come on inside, I insist you join us for supper.”

“You don’t know how much I miss good, home cooking.”

*****

As Tom was bidding the McCain’s good night, he said, “Mark, in the morning I’ll wire Marshal Cole Barker and let him know your answer. He said if you accepted, he wanted to be the one to officially swear you in. It wouldn’t happen until after the first of the year, though.”

“No problem Marshal Benton,” Mark answered.

“Mark, I think at your age and seeing as we’re going to be working together, it’s about time you started calling me Tom.”

“Yes, sir… Tom.”

*****

As their birthday party wound down, Hope and Mark handed Lucas and Milly an envelope. Everyone stood around, waiting with anticipation, knowing what was in the envelope.

“Mark, what’s this?” Lucas asked.

“Well, it’s a present for you and Ma. We thought you could use some time away by yourselves. To celebrate your wedding anniversary, seeing as you never took a honeymoon. We’ve a room reserved for you at The Grande in Albuquerque and included in the envelope are two train tickets, you leave day after tomorrow, and you’ll be back home in time to celebrate everything else here.”

“Mark, Hope, this isn’t necessary, this birthday party is for the two of you,” Milly stated. “What of Myra and Little Ted?”

“Ma, this is something we all want to do for you,” Hope answered. “We know you wouldn’t do it for yourselves, seeing as how your anniversary, Christmas, and Myra’s birthday are all so close. So we did it for you. Mark and I can take care of Myra and Little Ted while you’re away.”

“Pa, with everything that happened earlier this year,” Mark stated. “It’s time you and Ma did something for yourselves. I mean, it’s not like I’m still twelve years old and you have ask someone to watch out after me.”

“Mark, it’s not that…”

“Then what?” Mark demanded. “We won’t take no for an answer.”

*****

Lucas and Milly boarded the early morning train, bound for Albuquerque.

“Lucas, are you sure?” Milly asked.

“Milly, they’re right. It’s not like Mark is still twelve years old and can’t take care of himself. We’ll be home before Christmas. Besides, we never really did take a honeymoon. I’m kind of looking forward to some time alone with my wife.”

*****

They arrived in Albuquerque later the next day. A carriage was waiting to take them to The Grande. Two porters were waiting in the lobby to show them, and take their luggage, to their room. Lucas tried to tip the men, but both refused.

“Sir, we can’t accept your money. We’re under strict orders. All your expenses are paid in full. There’s a bath with an attendant, down the hall, if you’d like to freshen up after your trip. Your dinner reservation at the hotel’s restaurant is at seven o’clock. Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. McCain.”

With that, both porters left the room.

“Milly, seems I’m going to have to have words with a certain son, when we return home,” Lucas said as he shook his head.

“Lucas, it’s not just Mark…”

Milly handed the letter to Lucas.

“Dear Ma and Pa,

Don’t be upset with any of us. Everyone in North Fork chipped in, in one way or another. This is just our way of showing you how much you mean to us and to say ‘thank you’ for everything you’ve done to help everyone.

Now, go freshen up and enjoy your honeymoon. We’ll see you when you get home!

Love Mark, Hope, and the rest of North Fork.”

*****

Before heading to the restaurant, Milly asked, “Lucas, why don’t you leave your rifle in the room. We’re not leaving the building. Is it really necessary to carry?”

With some misgivings, Lucas agreed. As they left their room, Lucas extended his arm to Milly.

*****

Lucas and Milly had dinner at the restaurant, then followed the music towards the hotel’s banquet hall and spent the rest of the evening dancing and enjoying themselves.

*****

As they walked to their room, Milly asked, “Now was it really that hard to leave your rifle behind? I mean, someday, this territory is going to be civilized and you won’t see everyone walking around with guns strapped to their legs or carrying rifles.”

Pulling Milly close and wrapping an arm around her shoulders, they walked up the stairs, “Milly, I so much want to see that day, but I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime. I wish it would happen in Mark’s, but more realistically, I pray it will happen in Little Ted’s. That’s why I waited so long to introduce Mark to a rifle. I prayed he wouldn’t need to learn, except to hunt for food. I guess I was kidding myself.”

“Lucas, it’s an admirable dream; to want better for your children. I remember all the times Mark asked you for a rifle and you said no. He understands the rifle’s purpose and the realities of the rifle better than most people ever will. He’s seen you through so much while he was growing up.”

As they entered their room, Lucas replied, “And now he has to use a rifle. How I wish he didn’t. Deep down, I wish he were a rancher, just like me.”

“Lucas, he is just like you, a rancher, but he also accepted the responsibility to keep the law, full time. How could he otherwise, after watching you help the town out, time after time. If it hadn’t been for Mark, I’m sure you would have taken up the badge.”

“Milly, if it weren’t for Mark, I probably would have been on the other side of the law, after I lost Margaret.”

Seeing the shock in Milly’s face Lucas continued, “Milly, before I met Margaret, I told you how wild I was…” Milly nodded. “Well, after I lost Margaret, the only thing that kept me from… from wanting to kill Samuel Gibbs was Mark. Knowing that if I killed a man in cold blood, I’d be sent to prison, if not executed. And then where would Mark be? Milly, there have been a number of times, that if it hadn’t been for Mark, I’m not sure I’d be here today. He’s been my weakness, but God knows, he’s also been my strength. My reason for living.”

Turning in for the night, Lucas blew out the lantern on the side table and they went to sleep in each other’s arms.

*****

On their second day, another guest approached them as they were finishing their breakfast.

“Excuse me sir,” he interrupted.

“Yes?” Lucas replied.

“My name is William Walsh and I’m a writer for the Albuquerque Journal, are you Lucas McCain?”

“I am.”

“I saw your rifle when you checked into the hotel yesterday. You are better known as the Rifleman, am I right?”

“No, I’m known as Lucas McCain and some people have referred to me as the Rifleman.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you or your wife. I was hoping you’d grant me an interview. A first person story of your life, in helping to tame the West. All the people back east hear about are the outlaws and the lawmen that chase them. I’ve heard about you and think you’d make interesting reading.”

“Mr… Walsh, I’m not interested,” Lucas said as he stood to leave.

“Mr. McCain, please…”

“Mr. Walsh, when I’ve been forced to use my rifle, it’s just that, I was forced. It comes down to protecting the town I call home or protecting my family, I take no pleasure in killing any man. I don’t go looking for trouble and I don’t want any trouble. I’ve spent many sleepless nights talking with God, asking for his forgiveness.”

“But sir, it wouldn’t be any trouble,” Walsh pleaded.

“Mister there was a time in the past, when a story was written and the writer put their own take on their subject, a former lawman known for his speed with a hand gun, but now was someone who was years past his prime, only the writer left that part of their story out. I saw a man eager to make a name for himself come to my town and challenge a man just because of who he used to be. He wouldn’t leave the man alone, to the point my friend would rather take the risk of being killed in a gun fight versus the man hounding him. I want no part of that. I’m a man, plain and simple. My rifle is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. If I’m to leave a legacy, I’d rather my legacy be my children, not my rifle.” Offering his arm to Milly, “If you’ll excuse us?”

*****

Throughout their stay in Albuquerque, each night they were invited to share dinner with various guests as word got out that The Rifleman was staying at the hotel. Some were newcomers to the territory. Others we long-time residents.

Though it upset Lucas to be admired for his prowess with the rifle, at least he could set the record straight in talking with the people. More often than not, by evening’s end, the people felt truly embarrassed. Thinking they knew what the man and his rifle were all about. They left the supper table, truly humbled by a man who lived by the Word of God and was at times forced, regretfully, to take the life a another human being. A man with strong convictions in family.

*****

They were North Fork bound, enjoying their memories of the past week. Just the two of them, Lucas’ arm was wrapped around Milly as she rested against him. Their memories were interrupted as the train started slowing down. Lucas looked out the window.

“Excuse me sir, but I noticed when you boarded you carried a rifle,” the conductor stated as he stopped next to Lucas.

“Yes I do,” Lucas replied.

“You any good with it?”

“Some. Why do you ask?” Lucas inquired.

“I overheard a couple of men talking and one of them said you were known as the Rifleman. Now, I’m not sure what’s up, but this ain’t a planned slow down. Not many people know, but we got a bank shipment in the cargo car. The bank thought shipping it a couple of days earlier than normal, would get it through without risk. I’ve two guards in back there, but… I’d rather people tell me I’m being paranoid because nothing happened. Sir, I got a bad feeling about this.”

Lucas excused himself from Milly as he picked up his rifle and followed the conductor.

*****

The train lurched to a stop. Several men attempted to board the train by knocking on the door to the cargo car, the conductor opened the door, and those men found three Winchesters pointing straight at them. Those in the car saw a number of men wearing cavalry uniforms, guns still holstered.

“Lucas?!” the man wearing a major’s insignia called.

“Seth?! What are you doing here? Why are you stopping the train?” Lucas asked, then said, “Men you can lower your rifles, we don’t have anything to worry about. This is a real cavalry detail.”

“Lucas, surprised to find you on board, but we’re under orders, I’m to give this letter to an Everett Dalton, he’s supposed to be one of the guards.”

“I’m Everett Dalton,” the man said as he lowered his rifle from his shoulder to his hip, still not uncocking the weapon as he turned to Lucas. “So just how do you know this man? And why should I trust you? Sure you stood up to help, but this could all be a deception.”

“Mr. Dalton, you ever heard of the Rifleman? You ever heard what his rifle looks like? There’s only one like it in this country,” Seth Lane stated. “You’re talking to Lucas McCain here. You ever heard the description of the Rifleman? Not too many men stand six foot, five and carry that rifle.”

“Well…”

“Mr. Dalton, the Major here is the father of my son’s wife.” Then turning to Seth, “But what are you doing here, I thought you were supposed to be on your way back to Fort Sam?”

“I was all set to return, but I received a wire, I was ordered to meet up with this detachment out of Fort Stanton and then command them as we transport this shipment from the Denver mint to the Fort Worth/Dallas mint. They’re trying their damnedest to keep anyone from knowing where this shipment really is. Mr. Dalton, there’s instructions that you and a Mr. Cole are to accompany this shipment, regardless.”

Lucas assisted in transferring the shipment from the train to the wagon. Soon the train was continuing its trip to North Fork.

*****

The McCain and the Gibbs families celebrated a quiet Christmas together. Lucas was thankful this year there weren’t any surprise announcements. Lucas pulled out one last gift.

“Mark, this is from me to you.” Lucas handed the box to Mark and watched as he opened it. “I worked with Angus on its design. Now it’s not exactly like mine, seeing as how your arms aren’t quite long enough, but with Micah getting ready to retire, your position as Johnny’s deputy and you’re about to be deputized as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, I thought this one would be more practical for you.”

Mark pulled the rifle from the box, its lever was modified to allow Mark to rapid fire, but the lever didn’t contain the expanded loop. Mark laughed as he remembered the one time when he tried to twirl cock his Pa’s rifle.

*****

It was New Year’s eve, Lucas and Milly had enjoyed a quiet evening at the house with Mark and Hope and the twins. Myra and Little Ted had been put down for the night as Mark and Hope carried the sleeping twins home for the night. They stepped to the porch to say goodnight when they heard a rider approaching.

“Hello Johnny, what brings you out this late at night?” Lucas asked of his brother-in-law.

“A newspaper story. Thought you should see it as soon as possible.” Johnny pulled the paper from his saddle bag. “I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon with Colleen. See you then, Lucas.”

“Pa, I’ll be back after I help Hope put the boys to bed,” Mark said.

Lucas walked back in the house, sat down at the table, and opened the paper. Milly stood behind him. On the third page, the circled headline read:

*****

The Rifleman and His Legacy, by William Walsh

Most folks would say, the name of the man isn’t as important as what others call him, The Rifleman. He carries a modified Winchester rifle that some claim, makes him as lethal with it as any man with a six gun. There are stories told around saloons, camp fires, and in prisons, about a big bear of a man who shoots first and asks questions later. The sound of his rifle being twirled as he cocks it has been said to strike fear into the heart of anyone who dare challenges him.

But I had a chance encounter to meet, The Rifleman. A man who would prefer to be left in the background, with no attention brought to himself. A man who says that all he’s done, was what was necessary.

Could it be that as time passes from an event; the facts get stretched in each retelling? And soon the myth is larger than the man. Pretty tall tales considering this man stands a good six foot, five inches tall. Yet, the man I met, said he never went looking for a fight, he never went to intentionally kill a man. He doesn’t seek the fame his abilities afford him.

The Rifleman told me “I’ve been forced to use my rifle; it’s just that, I was forced. [When] It comes down to protecting the town I call home or protecting my family, I take no pleasure in killing any man. I don’t go looking for trouble. I’ve spent many sleepless nights talking with God, asking for his forgiveness.”

He went on to say, “I’m a man, plain and simple. My rifle is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. If I’m to leave a legacy, I’d rather my legacy be my children, not my rifle.”

The story I intend to write is of The Rifleman and the Lawman, a Legacy Fulfilled.

…to be continued in future editions.

*****

Lucas handed the newspaper to Mark, after he re-entered the house, and asked, “Mark were you aware of this?”

Mark took the paper and read the story. He shook his head as he finished, “Pa, I knew there was a newspaper man in town and he was talking with folks, but honestly, I had no idea what he was writing. He said here, he met you.”

“In Albuquerque, at the hotel, but I told him I didn’t want any part of his story,” Lucas stated.

“Guess one way or another, he wanted his story printed. He left town before you and Ma returned, but he came back to town earlier today,” Mark replied. “I’ll have a talk with him in the morning.”

“No Mark.”

“Pa, he mentions both of us as subjects of his future stories. If you talk with him, so do I. Besides, I carry a little bit more weight, being a deputy.”

“In the morning then,” Lucas replied.

*****

After finishing their chores, Lucas and Mark rode into North Fork and dismounted in front of the Marshal’s Office. Johnny was already inside, reading a copy of the paper.

“Well, seems we have a few celebrities in our fair town,” Johnny stated with a laugh.

“Not now Johnny,” Lucas said. “Neither of us asked for this story to be written.”

“Johnny, I stopped by to let you know it’ll be a little while before I relieve you this morning,” Mark stated. “We’re going to talk with Robert Garrison before we talk with this… William Walsh.”

“I kind of figured you’d be detained this morning after I read the article. I’ll go ahead and walk the town this morning, then head to Lou’s for breakfast.”

*****

“Robert,” Lucas stated. “What can we do? Neither Mark nor I gave this man permission to write a story about us.”

“Lucas, I understand your position, but right now, you don’t know that he’s talking about you. He didn’t identify you directly in his story,” Robert replied.

“Mr. Garrison, how many other men are known as ‘The Rifleman’?” Mark asked. “How many stand as tall as Pa?”

“Robert he quoted me in the story. How can he not be writing about me, and then implying a future story about Mark?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, there are plenty of ways for writers to complete their works without approval from their subjects and as long as he doesn’t libel you, there’s nothing you can do. He’ll claim protection by the First Amendment – Freedom of the Press.”

“Robert, we’ve had writers here before who’ve stirred up trouble. I don’t want that to happen again!” Lucas stated as he slammed his fist down on Robert’s desk. “I’m sorry. It’s just that all Mark’s life, I’ve tried to protect him…”

“Lucas,” Robert interrupted. “Mark’s a grown man. And soon, he’ll be a Deputy U.S. Marshal. You can’t protect him forever.”

“What if some ‘kid’ or ‘gunfighter’ out to make a name for himself, what if they come here, looking for a gun fight? I want him out of North Fork before that happens!”

“Pa, the damage is already done,” Mark stated as he rolled his hat around in his hands. “Mr. Garrison…”

“Mark, please call me Robert. You needn’t be that formal with me.”

“Sorry, it’s just that…” Mark hesitated, unsure how to say what he wanted to.

“I understand, Mark.” Robert interrupted. “You’ve grown up and there are so many of us that you’ve known since you were so young, and during that time, it was proper for you to address us formally. Believe me; it took all of us a little getting used to you being a deputy, in the beginning. We remember you as a young boy and some of the troubles you got into or caused. And here, the last few years… we’re mighty proud of you. It’s just a sign that times are changing.”

“Robert, is there any way we can insist on approval before any future stories are printed? I mean, if he’s going to write about us, don’t we have a right to verify the facts?” Mark asked.

“Well, there is that option, if he’ll agree.’ Then looking to Lucas, “You know, based on what you told me, I think that’s what he’s really after. This first story was just to get you riled enough that you’d want to see the truth printed and you’d agree to help him. Lucas, I know how you want to protect Myra and Little Ted, as well as Mark’s children, but maybe this would be the way. Agree to help him write his story, but make him agree to not mention the little ones,” Robert said.

“But that still won’t stop someone from trying to kill either of us. And what if they succeed?” Lucas demanded, still angry.

“Lucas, as good as you are with that rifle?”

“I’ve been shot before and you know that Mark was taken hostage just a month ago by outlaws. They didn’t know Mark was my son, only that he was a deputy. They were only looking to settle a score with Drako. But now, people are going to know…”

“Pa, we’ll just have to keep a sharper eye out. I know you don’t like it, neither do I, but it’s the best we can do. I think we should ask this Walsh to submit his stories to us for verification before he sends them for publication. That way, we’ll know what he’s up to, and if anything needs changed, we can be prepared. Best to have him on our side instead of letting him set his own agenda that would cause us even more grief.”

*****

Robert Garrison joined Lucas and Mark as they headed to the hotel to request a meeting with William Walsh. As they approached the front desk, they heard, “Mr. McCain!” called from the restaurant. The three walked into the restaurant.

“Please have a seat, join me for a cup of coffee,” William Walsh invited. “So, you must be the young McCain, the son of the Rifleman?”

“My name is Mark McCain. As you probably learned during your first visit to North Fork,” Mark replied as he removed his hat and leaned his rifle up against his chair. Lucas did the same.

“Yes, I learned your name and that you are also a deputy for this fine town.” Then turning to Robert, “And you sir, I presume you must be a lawyer in the town.”

“I am. The name’s Robert Garrison.”

“Now that we all know who everyone is, what can I do for you gentlemen?” Walsh asked.

“You could stop writing your story,” Lucas stated, matter-of-factly.

“Sorry, can’t do that. My editor loved my first submission and wants more. You both are news and that’s what we’re in the business of, news. Then there’s a little matter of the First Amendment.”

“Told you Lucas,” Robert stated, then ordered a cup of coffee from Alice as she stopped by the table. Lucas ordered coffee while Mark ordered a copy of hot chocolate.

“See you’ve not acquired the taste, boy.” Walsh stated as he drank from his cup.

“Sir, you will call me by my name or by deputy, not ‘boy’ when you address me,” Mark stated as he started to dislike the man.

“I’m sorry, just seeing someone as young as you wearing the badge, I’m just used to older marshals and deputies. But that’s just one of the points I want to get across in my story. The story of Lucas McCain, the Rifleman, and then I found out about you, the Lawman. I’d never heard before that the Rifleman had a son. I mean, why is it the son wears the badge and not the father? How did Lucas McCain become known as the Rifleman and then tell the story of how he passed his skills to his son. Mark, you must have been teethed on the rifle!” Walsh bragged.

“Mr. Walsh,” Robert said. “I’ve discussed with my clients, their situation. We would like to propose that they agree in helping you with your story, however, before your story is submitted, they have first right of review and final approval to whatever is printed.”

“Really?” Walsh stated, unbelieving that he wasn’t going to have to put up a larger fight.

“But there are a few more conditions,” Robert announced. “I’m sure that you are aware from talking with the citizens of North Fork that both Lucas and Mark have young children?” Walsh nodded. “Good. Nothing in your stories will mention anything regarding them. My clients wish to protect their families. You will not mention anything about their wives, either. If this is the story of the Rifleman and the Lawman, your story will only be about them and no one else in their families, unless we give you permission. If you are in agreement, to these terms, I’ll write up a letter of understanding for your signature later today.”

“Sure, I never really expected this kind of cooperation,” Walsh stated.

“Walsh, my son and I will cooperate as long as things are as we approve. One minor deviation from what we approve and your story is over. We’ll force a retraction and there always is the possibility of a lawsuit against you and the paper you write for. You have to understand, you’re writing about the lives of two men. We’re not characters in some dime store novel. We didn’t ask for this, but in order to see that what is written is real and not exaggerated, we’ll cooperate. But you have to cooperate with us as well,” Lucas stated as he pointed a finger towards Walsh.

Mark then said, “Mr. Walsh, I just hope we don’t disappoint you. That you’ve not imagined a bigger story, than warranted by the facts. If you’ll excuse me, I have a job I need to get to.” Mark picked up his hat and rifle and left the group.

As Lucas watched Mark leave, he added, “There’s one more thing you should understand Walsh, I tried to keep my son from the rifle while he was growing up. It wasn’t easy, being a widower with a young boy to raise on my own. I had hoped that by the time he was grown, we wouldn’t still be depending on the rifle or the gun. I wish to God this territory was more civilized. But it was his choice to step up to wear the badge, events happened that no one could have foreseen. Growing up, there were so many other ideas he had about what he wanted to be when he grew up, in fact, he once met Samuel Clemens and seriously thought about becoming a writer. I’ve come to accept the fact that my son wears a badge and carries a rifle. Don’t make me regret agreeing to help you,” Lucas stood and bid the men goodbye, as he picked up his hat and rifle.

*****

Mark finished his watch of North Fork for the day. Before leaving to head home, he stopped at the General Store and picked up the package he had waiting. Regretting that he was going to be so late. The sun had set by the time he arrived, and after tending to the livestock in the barn, he walked to his parent’s house. As he entered, Myra was there to greet him.

“Mark, you late for my party!”

“And what party would that be Gabby?” Mark asked as he set the package down in his chair and picked Myra up in his arms.

“My birthday party! I turn three today.” Myra took Mark’s hat from his head and put it on her’s.

“Three, you say. You’re getting to be a big girl, aren’t you?”

“Uh huh!” Myra said as she nodded her head and Mark’s hat fell off.

“Myra, you should let your brother take his coat off before you climb up in his arms,” Milly stated as she pulled Myra from Mark.

“Thanks Ma.”

Hope came and kissed Mark welcome home. “The boys are in Myra’s room sleeping. Why are you so late?”

“Mark,” Lucas came up behind Mark and put a hand on his shoulder. “Everything okay in town? We expected you earlier. Johnny and Colleen were sorry to miss you.”

“I know, I met them on the road just outside of town. I’m real sorry about being so late. We had trouble when the train arrived in town; I had to get Johnny to help me deal with bunch of drunken drovers. The conductor and other passengers wanted them off. Took some doing, but we finally got the worst of them to the jail. The others that weren’t so much the problem, we shipped them back out when the train left this evening. They settled down once they got a taste of how we handle drunks. They’re still a few in the jail, until they sober up. Never understand what makes a man want to get so drunk, they don’t know what they’re doing, right or wrong.”

“Mark, would you like something to eat?” Milly asked.

“Your stew sure smells good Ma, I could use a bowl,” Mark replied.

“Mark, for me?” Myra asked as she looked at the package Mark had set down.

“Are you the birthday girl?”

“Yes!” she giggled.

Mark picked up the package and sat down in his chair, allowing Myra to climb up in his lap. He helped her unwrap her present.

“Books, books! Papa, books! Read me! Please? Read me?” Myra squealed as she handed a book to Mark.

“Myra, let Mark eat. Would you like for Hope to read to you?” Milly asked.

Myra climbed from Mark’s lap and carried one of her new books to Hope. “Read me?”

“Myra, I’d love to read to you. Tell you what,” Hope stated and she knelt down to Myra. “Why don’t you get ready for bed and I’ll read to you in bed. Would you like that?”

“Me go bed and you read me?”

Milly lead Myra to her room, after handing Mark a bowl of stew.

*****

Mark was carrying the empty bowl to the sink when they all heard, “Me ready!” coming from Myra’s room. Mark and Hope entered the room and sat down on the bed, on either side of Myra.

Lucas followed, stopping at the door and asking, “Did you say your evening prayers, young lady?”

“Yes, Papa.”

Mark and Hope took turns reading from the book. Soon, Myra was asleep. Mark and Hope kissed their sister goodnight after making sure she was tucked in. They picked up their sons, bid Lucas and Milly goodnight, then walked home.

*****

Seems almost the entire town of North Fork showed up throughout the day to celebrate the second birthday of Connor Sean Drako at the hotel restaurant. Lou and Johnny were enjoying spending the day together as a family and sharing their blessings with friends.

As the evening wound down, just the Bullock’s, the Torrance’s, and the Drako’s remained.

Percy pulled Micah aside, “Marshal,”

“Percy, you know I’m not the Marshal anymore, that’s Johnny Drako’s job,” Micah stated.

“I know, just that, you’ve always been the Marshal, ever since Father and I arrived. Going to take a while to get used to calling you something other than Marshal. Any way, you and Miss Hattie have been helping to look after Tessa and Mabra, and so, I kind of feel like you’re family to them.”

“Their very wonderful young ladies, Percy.”

“I know, but… I… I…” Percy stuttered.

“What is it, Percy?”

“Well, I want to ask Tessa and since she doesn’t have any family, other than Mabra; I thought, well… maybe you could speak on her behalf. I mean, talk with her to see if she’d be interested… I mean agreeable… Oh, I don’t know exactly, but I want more than anything to ask for her hand in marriage.”

“Percy, I understand your predicament. Tell you what, let Hattie and I walk the ladies back to the boarding house and I’ll let you know in the morning.”

“Thanks, Marshal,”

*****

The following morning, Percy waited for Micah outside the day care. “So young man, when do you expect to ask your intended?”

“She said yes?!” Percy asked excitedly.

“Well, yes that she would be interested in marrying you. But she hasn’t said, ‘yes’ to marriage, because you haven’t proposed, yet.” Micah answered with a laugh.”

“Sir, I know this Saturday is your retirement party, would you mind if I asked her then? I mean everyone we know will be there and it would add to the celebration, please?”

“Sure, Percy. Honestly, I’d rather the whole party be an engagement party instead of a retirement party for me.”

*****

Mark turned up his coat collar as he waited for the morning train to arrive in North Fork. He’d received a wire the day before that Tom Benton and Cole Barker would be on the Saturday morning train, arriving from Denver.

Mark accepted the mail pouch from the conductor while he waited for the passengers to disembark. He was totally surprised when not only Tom and Cole, stepped from the train, but also Marshals Sam Buckhart, Drew Anders, and Coltrane Walker all stepped to the platform.

All the marshals were laughing and making a big to do about today being, the big day.

“If all of you keep up like this, I might just have to throw the lot of you in jail for disturbing the peace,” Mark called to them. And in turn, they all burst out laughing.

“You just do that deputy, there’s not a good one in the lot, besides me,” Cole Barker stated as he offered his hand to Mark. “Glad to finally meet you. And it will be my privilege to swear you in as a Deputy U.S. Marshal this afternoon. I also hear its perfect timing as the town’s planning to celebrate Marshal Torrance’s retirement tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” Mark stated as he shook everyone’s hand, in turn. “Come on, I’ll get all of you over to the hotel.”

*****

As afternoon was changing over to evening, Mark impatiently stood as Hope tried to straighten his tie. “I don’t see what the fuss is all about. I’ve been considered a U.S. Marshal for some time and this is all just a formality.”

“Mark, hold still! Let me get this properly tied. And why didn’t you get your hair cut yesterday. Honestly Mark, I don’t want everyone to think I married a slob.”

“Oh, how I wish today were over.”

“Mark McCain! Today’s not just about you. This is a big day for a lot of people!”

“Who?” Mark asked as he continued to fidget.

“Your father, for one. You weren’t home this morning to see the look in his eyes. Mark, he is so proud of you. And then there’s Micah and Johnny. Micah’s seen you grow up from such a small boy to being his deputy and now a deputy U.S. Marshal. And Johnny, he’s not known you as long, but he’s taking just as much pride in all of this. Between the two of them, I’m not sure whose strutting around like a peacock, more. And Uncle Johnny, I mean, he cherishes his sister’s son and how you’ve grown up. And then there’s your wife,” Hope stated.

“And just what about my wife?” Mark asked as he put his hands to her waist and pulled Hope nearer to him.

“I’m proud for you and all you’ve become. I love the man I married,” Hope answered as she placed her arms around Mark’s neck and they kissed.

“You know,” Johnny stated as he poked his head in the door. “There are a lot of people waiting for the guest of honor.”

“Sorry, Johnny, but my wife is trying to strangle me by tying this tie so dang tight. It’s downright uncomfortable!” Mark replied, looking in the mirror and trying to loosen the tie.

“Mark, don’t make me pull out the handcuffs and force you to the hotel at gunpoint,” Johnny stated with a smile.

Mark and Hope walked into the hotel restaurant, arm in arm. A round of applause went up from those present.

Cole Barker called the gathering to order.

“Micah Torrance, I believe you have a few words you’d like to say?”

“Thank Marshal Barker. Most everyone here knows that Mark is for all intent and purposes a grandson to me. I had reservations the first day I pinned a badge on his shirt in order to join the posse and help me track some outlaws. The events that followed… well, they brought me to my knees. I saw the hurt my best friend experienced in having to deal with the aftermath of having his son shot, because I deputized him. But the faith these two hold in the Bible and their friends, made me realize, I was the one pulling away from them. They welcomed me back into their home, because I was family. Mark, I’m honored that you’ve chosen to follow in my footsteps. I know you’ll be a good lawman.”

As Micah took his seat next to Hattie, Johnny Drako stood to say a few words.

“Mark, I first met you when you were, what fourteen? Curious to see who I was, the gunfighter, Johnny Drako. I remember our first meeting. I told you to pick up my hand gun. You did, but you set it right back down on the table. I told you, ‘You did right. Now remember, just because you can pick one up doesn’t mean you have to marry it.’ Glad to see you married such a fine gal as Hope there.” Everyone present laughed. “I remember the next time I came through North Fork, for a visit and trailing after the outlaws who had tried to kill Lucas and beat you, as well. I remember your defiance as Sam and I tried to get you to see reason. To leave the outlaws to us and the army. Should have known then that you’d eventually pick up the badge. I’m proud to have you as my deputy and maybe just a little bit jealous that the U.S. Marshal Service knows just how good you are and wants you as one of their own, too. Just remember, you report to me first.”

“Yes, sir,” Mark declared.

Johnny sat down and Sam Buckhart stood.

“I remember a very young Mark McCain; astounded at his first meeting with an Indian. I remember the shocked look on your face as your Father spoke up, against me. Then the look of pride as you realized he wasn’t talking against me, but making the town understand what they were doing was wrong. I remember when Chaqua kidnapped you for his son, I know at nights you cried, not knowing that your Father lived, but during the day, when you traveled as their prisoner, you stood tall and brave. I too was there when you were trailing after the outlaws who you thought had killed Lucas. I know how much the thought of returning home and him not being there destroyed you. But through everything you’ve experienced, you stood true to everything your Father taught you. I am proud to know you will serve the people of this town and this territory well.”

As Sam sat down, Drew Anders stood.

“Well, I don’t have as grand a story as those before me, but I do know that Mark holds high what is right. And when necessary, he’ll step up to help out anyone in need. Mark, it’s not official yet, are you sure you really want to do this? Marshal Barker can be a real hard…”

“That’s enough there Deputy Anders!” Tom called. “There are decent folks present in the room.”

“Sorry. But, Mark, you still have time to change your mind?”

“No thank you, Drew!” Mark called. “As someone once told me, ‘You make your bed, its surely the one you’re going to lie in.’ I requested this burden, so I guess I’ll have to wear it.”

“Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning!” Drew called as he took his seat, allowing Coltrane Walker to stand and have a say.

“Mark, guess our first meeting wasn’t what you would want to write home about.” Turning to the others present, “Mark thought I was an outlaw, riding with… Well, let’s just say I was riding with some real bad company. But what he didn’t know, I had infiltrated the gang in order to stop them from robbing the stage carrying one hundred thousand dollars. Well, I didn’t play my part quite so well and a number of banks got robbed along the way, and Mark got kidnapped during one of those robberies, and it took Tom Benton to stop them from robbing the stage. We finally rode to rescue the kidnapped Mark, thinking the outlaw had gotten away with all the stolen money.” Then turning back to Mark, “Imagine my surprise when I realized you were robbing the outlaws while we forced you to tend to the stock. Knew then that you had lawman blood running through your veins. I’d like to say, welcome to the brotherhood.”

Coltrane took his seat and allowed Tom Benton to say a few words.

“I’ve not had such wild adventures with Mark McCain as the rest of you, but I do know the father, and I’m glad to know they both stand on the side of law and order. There’s a saying, ‘the acorn doesn’t fall too far from the tree’. With Lucas McCain as a father, there’s no way this young man could be anything other than who he is today. Well, I can see Cole is getting a little anxious and Mark is wanting to get all this over with so, I’ve said my piece. Mark, I’m proud to have you as a brother-of-the-law.”

“Okay,” Cole said as he stood. “Is there anyone else who wishes to ‘testify’ against this ‘outlaw’? Mark, I think I’m going to have to give second thoughts about you becoming a U.S. Marshal. You’ve associated yourself with some pretty unsavory characters.”

“Don’t hold it against me, you hired most of them!” Mark hollered as a few muffled laughs were heard from the crowd.

“Don’t remind me. In all seriousness, it takes a special breed of man to dedicate themselves to upholding the law. Most men come to that decision later in life or, if they’re younger, they’re following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather. Today, I’m honored to swear a young man into the ranks of being a Deputy U.S. Marshal, even though this is just a formality, it still holds significance. This young man took up the badge when he was just shy of seventeen. Knowing what needed to be done and not shying away from the responsibilities. Even though one man only wore the badge on occasion, Mark McCain couldn’t have asked for three finer examples of lawmen to guide his life.

“Mark, will you step forward?” Cole waited for Mark to walk up to stand next to him. “Please raise your right hand and place the other on the bible.”

“Mark McCain, do you swear to faithfully execute the duties of the U.S. Marshal Service as a deputy? To uphold and defend the letter of the law?

“Yes sir,” Mark replied.

“Good, then as the Director of the U.S. Marshal Service out of Denver, Colorado, I hear by officially declare you to be a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Congratulations, son!”

“So Mark,” Percy Bullock hollered. “What’s your first official act as a Deputy U.S. Marshal?”

“Changing diapers! If you’ll excuse me, ‘duty’ calls.” Every one present broke out in laughter.

Mark and Hope carried their sons upstairs, followed by Lucas and Milly carrying Myra and Little Ted, and Johnny carrying Connor, and last was Thadd carrying Savannah. After all the ‘children’ were changed and put to bed for the night, the adults returned downstairs to the party.

*****

As the evening progressed, Lucas called for everyone’s attention and held his glass high.

“Now as President of the town council, I’d like to say a few words about Micah Torrance. Micah, I’ve been honored to call you a friend, for what, that last eleven years? You’ve faithfully served this town and her people. You will be sorely missed as our marshal, but we rest easy knowing you’ve trained two deputies to carry on the defending this town. Thank you for protecting us.”

“Here! Here!” came from those present as they offered their thanks to Micah.

“Speech!” was yelled by someone.

“Well, I never was good at speech making. But I would like to say, thank you for believing in me and giving me a town to call home. Now, enough about me. There’s something else that was planned tonight that hasn’t happened yet. And if all of you are going to continue to embarrass me like you have, then I’m going to see that others, beside Mark and me are in the same boat. Where’s Percy Bullock? Percy! – Don’t tell me that boy’s bolted. We got enough lawmen here, I’ll swear out a warrant for his arrest if he’s not in here in sixty seconds!”

Micah spied Percy looking around the corner, “Percy get yourself over here!”

Slowly Percy walked into the room, pulling at his collar. He stopped next to Tessa. The room quieted, completely, as he got down on one knee.

“Tessa, I… I…” Percy looked around the room. “Tessa, I wanted to ask if you would want to be my wife, I’m proposing marriage. If you’ll have me?”

Percy closed his eyes and nervously held his breath, wandering what could be taking her so long to answer. Micah came up behind Percy and said, “Boy, you better open your eyes, she’s nodding.”

“Will you?” Percy asked as he looked up to Tessa.

“Yes, oh, yes!” Tessa exclaimed. Percy stood up and pulled the ring from his pocket and slipped it on her finger.

The elder Percy Bullock pulled Mabra into a hug and said, “Always wondered what it would be like to have a daughter in the house, now I’m going to have two.”

“Oh, really Mr. Bullock?” Mabra asked.

“Yes, young lady, now that it’s official. We’ll start getting your room ready. The house is big enough that everyone will have their own room. And you can help me keep an eye on those two. Since we’re going to be related… ”

“Could I call you Father?” Mabra asked.

“I’d be most honored.”

The celebrations continued until well after midnight.

The Next Generation… Chapter 46 – The Story Continues

As agreed, William Walsh submitted each story to Lucas and Mark, prior to forwarding to his editor. Each story was approved as written. His first story addressed Lucas as a soldier during the Civil War, coming up through the ranks and earning his Lieutenant’s bars. The story concluded with Lucas receiving an honorable discharge from the army.

His next story told of the Small Pox epidemic that struck Enid, Oklahoma and killed many of the residents. And how Lucas, being too grief-stricken to stay, set out with his young son to find someplace else they could call home. The story included their brief encounter with the outlaw Wade Joyner and then followed their lives to Wyoming and how events there, resulted in Lucas seeking someplace else. He’d known from the beginning that Wyoming wasn’t where he planned to permanently call home. Walsh made sure that each time he wrote of Lucas being forced to kill, he pointed out how much it tore at him.

The third story Walsh wrote, told of a widowed father, trying to raise his son. Making sure his son kept to his studies: spelling, reading, mathematics, and history. He also wrote how, every Sunday during their travels, Lucas and Mark dedicated the day to studying the Bible. Yes, he was The Rifleman, but more importantly, he was a father, first. Lucas was impressed that the newspaperman was interested in telling the whole story, and not just telling of the guts and glory.

His forth story told of the McCain’s choosing to call North Fork home — a place, wild as it was, where Lucas knew he wanted to raise his son. Walsh chose not to focus on the individual outlaws or the count of those killed, but instead focused on how it shaped the relationship between the Rifleman and his son. Walsh decided now would be a good time to include how Lucas struggled with his growing son’s desire to have his own gun and Lucas’ desire to keep his boy innocent, for as long as possible.

*****

The end of March was nearing when William Walsh returned to North Fork. He was ready to start telling the story of the Rifleman and the Lawman. Mark was waiting as the train pulled into the station. As was usual, Mark caught the packet of flyers from the conductor and greeted anyone stepping from the train.

“Morning Deputy!” William Walsh called as he stepped from the train. “Quite a brisk morning.”

“Yes sir, it is quite brisk. Welcome back to North Fork,” Mark said as he greeted him.

“I want to thank both you and your father for being so cooperative in my stories. Your story has struck a chord with how the people back east perceive the west. They’re beginning to realize we’re not all lawless and cut throats. My editor is really pleased with how the stories are taking shape. Our Senior Editor from Chicago is even thinking that later this spring he might stop by and visit you, personally. I hope with the stories I written so far, you’ve come to trust me and I’d like to consider you and your father as friends. So, how are things otherwise here in North Fork?” Walsh asked as they started to walk to the hotel.

“Mr. Walsh, as I said before, we’re just people. Living our lives the best way we can. Living our lives according to the laws of man and the laws of God. If you keep your stories honest, we’ll continue to work with you and we’d like to consider you as a friend. As for North Fork… The town and ranchers are gearing up for spring’s arrival. Pretty much the same as it is every year, at this time. The ranchers are preparing to move their herds closer so they can keep an eye on the calving and foaling. The farmers are making sure their plows are ready to start breaking ground. Like I said, there’s nothing that special about North Fork, except that we like to call it home.”

“Deputy, it’s the simple life. Yes sir. I want to show a different side of how folks out here live. The dime store novels have their place, but they don’t tell the truth, or rather, they don’t tell the whole story. That’s what I want to…”

Their conversation was interrupted when Hattie came running up to them. “Mark, we need Doc Burrage over at Johnny and Colleen’s! I think the baby’s coming!”

“Okay Hattie, I’ll send Doc Burrage over. Go on back and let Uncle Johnny know.” Then turning to Walsh, “Sorry, but I’ve got things to do. See you later.”

Mark ran to the clinic and found Thadd tending to the scraped knee of one of the Porter children. “Mrs. Porter, pardon the interruption, but Doc, you’re needed over at Johnny and Colleen’s. Hattie just ran up and said they think the baby is coming.”

“Okay, Mark, I’m almost done here.” Then turning to Albert, “Well Albert. Let this teach you a lesson about running away from your Ma when she asks you for a second time to do a chore. You best do it the first time.”

“Yes sir, I’ll remember.” Albert stated as he hopped down from the table. Mrs. Porter offered, “Mark, tell your uncle and aunt, congratulations for me. I hope the baby is healthy.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Porter.”

“Mark, knowing how nervous your Pa was when Myra and Little Ted were born, I can only imagine how nervous your uncle is. Why don’t you head home and get your Pa. I’m sure Johnny will welcome the company.”

“Okay. I need to stop by Johnny and Lou’s to let them know where I’m heading and I’ll be out of town for a little while.”

*****

Lucas arrived at his brother-in-laws house to find Johnny frazzled. Milly ran upstairs to help Doc Thadd.

“Come on brother. Let’s get you to Sweeney’s. There’s nothing you can do here.”

“Lucas, h-how did you do this? I mean, you’ve gone through this three, three times. Just listening to Colleen… I think I’d rather be stomped on by a saddle bronc, than sitting here waiting.” Johnny continued to look over his shoulder and up the stairs as Lucas led him from the house.

“That’s why were heading to Sweeney’s,” Lucas stated.

*****

The sun was setting as Mark was walking the town and saw Thadd exiting his uncle’s home.

“Well Doc?” Mark asked.

“A healthy baby girl. She’s quite the set of lungs. Almost as loud as Savannah’s. I presume your father took Johnny to Sweeney’s?”

“He did. Tell Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen I’ll stop by later. See you, Thadd.

*****

Mark was watching out the front window of the Marshal’s Office when he saw his Pa and Uncle Johnny leave Sweeney’s. The good news, it didn’t look like either was drunk. Mark laughed as he thought on how his Ma would react, had they been.

*****

Johnny entered his home as Milly stepped to the foot of the stairs. “Your wife and daughter are up stairs Johnny. Go on!”

Milly stepped to Lucas and wrapped her arm around his waist as they walked into the kitchen of the home.

“Did either of you eat today?” Milly asked.

“A little, but I’m sure they could eat a good meal. Was it difficult?” Lucas asked.

“Not that difficult. Colleen was thankful you took Johnny away. She was more worried about him than herself. She should be up and around tomorrow, no problem.”

As they prepared supper, Lucas commented on how he just couldn’t get over the change in Johnny. “You know Milly, Johnny was always more free spirited that I was. Now he’s married and a father…”

“Lucas, I’ve heard him say you were a great role model for him. ‘If Lucas McCain can do it, why can’t I?’ He really does admire the life you and Mark had.”

“We still have that life, only we’ve a larger family to share it with,” Lucas said as he came up behind Milly and wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled into her neck.

*****

They carried a couple trays of food upstairs and knocked on the bedroom door before entering.

“We thought you might be hungry,” Milly stated as they entered.

As Lucas watched Johnny holding his daughter, he remembered back to when each one of his children were born.

“Well? Was I right Johnny?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, you told me how this little one would melt my heart the first time I held her, but it still didn’t prepare me for this. She’s so tiny. All I want to do is to protect her. I don’t want to let go of her.”

“If she’s sleeping, why not lay her down between the two of you and so you can eat,” Milly stated. “Have you thought about a name yet?”

“Lucas, Milly, we’d like you to meet Lillian Claire Gibbs.”

*****

Before returning to the ranch, Lucas and Milly stopped by the Marshal’s Office. Mark asked them to let Hope know he wouldn’t be home.

“Lou’s cold struck her kind of harder this afternoon. Tessa’s tending the hotel and Johnny’s tending to Lou and Connor. That leaves me to watch the town.”

“Okay son, we’ll let Hope know,” Lucas stated as they turned to leave.

*****

Mark was finishing writing his latest report to the U.S. Marshal’s Office in Denver, when William Walsh knocked on the door.

“Come on in Mr. Walsh. I’m sorry about earlier…”

“No need to apologize. I understand that baby’s don’t wait for any one. I’d like to ask you a favor.”

“Sir?”

“Earlier I said, I’d like it if we could be friends and as friends, Mr. Walsh sounds… Well, please just call me Will.”

“All right, Will. Just call me Mark.”

“Mark, I wanted to start writing the story of you becoming a lawman. I know from talks with your father, how he tried to keep you from the gun. But still, you took up the rifle. You went against your father’s wishes.”

“Will, it’s not that Pa didn’t want me to never use a rifle. He eventually bought me a .22 for hunting. Pa wanted to make sure I understood the responsibilities that go along with it. And he also wanted to make sure I could handle the emotions that come with using the rifle,” Mark replied.

“So how was it that your Marshal, …Micah, deputized you?”

“Pa was up in Santa Fe, at the Cattlemen’s Association Meeting, and most all the other ranchers and their hands were over at Little Butte at the rodeo, when the stage was robbed. Micah needed someone as good as my Pa to help track the outlaws. I volunteered. No one else can track as good as Pa and most people will tell you I’m practically as good. Once the outlaws were dead and the money recovered… Micah chose to keep me as a deputy. Maybe he knew then that he would eventually retire… As I recovered from my injuries, Micah and Johnny started ordering law books for me to read.

“Injuries? What happened?” Will’s curiosity was piqued.

“I got caught unaware up in Socorro. I was kidnapped by a man who had been hired to kill my Pa. As they were manhandling me, I broke my ankle. Then, later… when the showdown came, in my effort to save Pa, I was shot. Took a few weeks to get over the gunshot, but longer to get over the broken ankle.”

“So once you were back home, you didn’t give your badge back to the Marshal?”

“No, the outlaws had taken it from me. Micah handed my badge back to me once I was home. I felt relieved when he gave it back to me. Guess after all these years of watching my Pa work as a deputy marshal up in Wyoming and then helping Micah out here in North Fork, it wasn’t that far of a stretch for me to want to become a deputy. But Pa and I did a lot of talking over the next few weeks. He never tried to dissuade me from my choice, but wanted to make sure I was ready for that kind of a commitment.”

“I take it; you’ve had to shoot men?”

“I’ve wounded a few and been forced to take the lives of two others. After I killed that first man, I tried to keep my emotions inside. I didn’t tell anyone in North Fork what had happened. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was ‘man’ enough for the job. Guess that was one thing Pa and I never really talked about; what would happen the first time I was forced to kill a man. When I was growing up, each time after Pa was forced to kill a man, I knew he needed his alone time. Time to seek forgiveness from God. I thought it was just as simple as that. Believe me, it wasn’t. It ate at me. All I could focus on was that I had taken a life, I kept thinking there had to be another way I could have handled the situation, and somehow, I could have pulled my shot. My friends realized something was tearing me up inside, but they didn’t know what. When I finally admitted it to Pa, the flood gates opened. Pa and I talked a good long time. He made me walk him through everything that had happened. He made me see that, yes, I had taken a life, but I had been forced into it. There was no other way out of the situation. It was either that man killing me or me killing him. Pa reminded me that before I could ask God for forgiveness, I had to forgive myself.

“I know when I made mistakes growing up, how necessary it was for me to forgive myself first, but I just didn’t think it applied to this situation. Making mistakes and asking forgiveness is one thing. But I had taken a life that God had created…”

“The men you killed, they were outlaws?” Will asked.

“Not the first one. He was a soldier. He was threatening to kill an innocent young woman, because of something from her past that was totally out of her control. I watched as he tried to strangle her to death. When she passed out, he threw her down to the ground and pulled his gun on me and fired. It was purely instinct that I shouldered my rifle and pulled the trigger. I don’t even remember doing it.”

“And the second?” Will asked.

“The second man, yeah, he was an outlaw. A man who escaped from prison and joined up with a band of outlaws and robbed our town’s bank. As they were trying to make their escape, they shot both Micah and Johnny. At first it was just Marshal James Carson and I trailing after them, on our first night out Pa and Nils caught up with us. We’d been on the trail for a number of days and got caught in a minor ambush when Carson and Nils were wounded. We left them in Tucumcari, and Pa and I trailed the outlaws to Romero, Texas. Marshal Tom Benton met up with us just outside of town. Between Pa, Marshal Benton, and myself, we took eleven members of the gang into custody. Pa killed Creed Domingo in an effort to save Marshal Benton. Later, both of us fired at Russell Gannaway as he fired at Pa. The town doc told us later that both our bullets struck within an inch of each other.

“Will, my killing a second man didn’t get any easier for me. I pray that it never gets easy to take a life. I know that as long as I never get comfortable with the idea of killing another man, I’ll always be able to forgive myself and ask God’s forgiveness. It’s when you get comfortable in killing or not respecting the life of another human being, that’s when trouble brews.”

Mark went on to say, “People might say that because I wear the badge and carry a rifle, I’m looking for trouble. I’m looking to kill. No, I’m not. I’m looking to keep the peace and uphold the law. I carry both to defend myself and the people of this town. The citizens of this town deserve protection so that someday, they can feel safe in not walking around with guns everywhere. Like my Pa before me, I don’t want my sons…”

“Mark, I won’t mention that last statement in my story. I remember my promise. But it is amazing hearing someone as young as you talk with such dedication to your beliefs and talk so honestly about events that happened. Thanks for taking the time…” Will pulled out his pocket watch. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how late it is. Mark, I’ll forward my story to you, once I’ve written it. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Will.”

As Will left to return to the hotel, Mark left the Marshal’s Office to walk the town for one last time that night.

*****

A week after William Walsh left North Fork a letter arrived addressed to Mark.

The Rifleman: The Legacy Becomes a Lawman, by William Walsh

When I first met The Rifleman, he told me of how he would prefer to be remembered, not for his prowess with the rifle, but instead, he wanted his legacy to be his children. I came to know Mark McCain, who as a young boy had lost his mother during the small pox epidemic in Enid, Oklahoma. The son who saw his father shot a number of times, while defending the town he called home; the son Lucas McCain tried hard to keep from the rifle as he grew up.

In my talk with the son, I realized it wasn’t that the Rifleman wanted to keep his son from ever handling a rifle, but more importantly, making sure the son was ready for the responsibilities of handling a gun. A gun, be it a hand gun or a rifle, is not a toy. And once the trigger is pulled, the bullet cannot be retracted.

Mark McCain told me the first time the deputy badge was pinned to his shirt. How outlaws had robbed the stage and it fell to him to help the Marshal track the outlaws because so few men were in town. Though the Marshal tried not to, he knew that Mark was his only hope for tracking and swore him in as a deputy to lead the posse. The outlaws were eventually captured and/or killed and the money was recovered, but events that happened during the chase gave the Marshal a new insight on this young man. The Marshal chose not to rescind the oath of office he had given Mark. And so The Rifleman’s son became a lawman. He wore the badge, but had a lot to learn about the “letter of the law” and eagerly did so.

Mark McCain recounted to me the first time he ever was forced to kill a man, to save the life of a young woman. He told me of how, after all the years of watching his father struggle with the aftermath of taking a life, he thought he could handle the emotions on his own and prove to those who counted on him, that he was man enough for the job. But this nineteen year old still needed his father to help him through his torments. Could he have handled the situation differently and not taken a life? Regardless what happened, it’s always easier to look back and second guess yourself, but those are the times you need someone to help you see the light. And Lucas McCain was there, as he always had been.

The second time The Lawman was forced to take a life; it was in defense of his father against an outlaw, a bank robber, a man who had already proven he could shoot another human being, just for trying to defend a town. It was reported that both The Rifleman and The Lawman fired simultaneously. Whose bullet proved the fatal shot? Hard to say, the doc said there were two bullet wounds the man suffered. Both were spaced an inch apart.

Was it easier to take a life the second time? Mark told me, “No, and I pray that is never gets easy. People might say that because I wear the badge and carry a rifle, I’m looking for trouble. I’m looking to kill. No, I’m not. I’m looking to keep the peace and uphold the law. I carry both [the badge and the rifle] to defend myself and the people of this town. The citizens of this town deserve protection so that someday, they can feel safe in walking around without guns everywhere.”

As he quietly helps to defend his town; the son understands his responsibilities and what it takes to stand up for the law. Be it with the badge or just as a citizen. These are the lessons the Rifleman has left for his Legacy. But more importantly to this story, there is an unbroken bond between a father and a son. A bond that says they both will be there for each other and to defend what’s right.

So, the Rifleman will continue to stand tall and know that he raised his son right. As for his Legacy? Maybe it won’t be his rifle, but the rifle of his son – The Rifleman: A Legacy Fulfilled.

This story continues in The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 6

 

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