Synopsis: An AU story surrounding the McCains and their friends after the end of the series’ five-year run. A continuing story of the idea begun in my story, Timing.
Category: The Rifleman
Word Count: 13,800
The Next Generation… Chapter 49 – Trail of Fear
The early afternoon air held a hint as the summer gave way to fall. Mark was tying his saddlebags and bedroll to his saddle when Hope came up behind him.
“Doc said Willow Springs needs the medicine bad and its three days before the stage arrives here that could take the medicine to them,” Mark stated as he put the food Hope had prepared for him in his saddlebags.
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” Hope asked.
“If I ride hard, I should get there tomorrow evening. After I deliver the medicine, I’ll want to rest Blue Boy for a day before I think on heading home. Then I’ll take it a little slower coming back. Though I’d race the sun to get home to you quicker. I should be home in five days, six at the most. I’ll wire once I get there and right before I leave, okay?”
Hope nodded and looked over her shoulder, back into their home.
“I could ask your father to come out here and stay with you and the boys. I don’t think he’d mind,” Mark said.
“No, your Ma and Pa will be here and you’ve taught me well enough how to use the rifle. It’s just that this is…”
“I know,” Mark stated as he pulled Hope close to him. “This is the first time I’ll be away from you for any length of time, since this summer. I’m sure Ma and Pa would let you…”
“No Mark. This is something I have to do on my own too. You’ve learned to let us stay here while you’re in town.”
“But this is different, Hope. It’s not a quick ride into town to bring me back.”
“We’ll be fine. If I do get unnerved, I promise, I’ll pack up both the boys and barge in on Ma and Pa,” Hope stated as she put on a brave face and smiled.
After kissing Hope goodbye, Mark swung up into the saddle, Lucas and Milly waved from their porch and yelled, “Safe travel son!”
It was a harder ride to Willow Springs than Mark recollected or planned. One section of the trail had been blocked by a rock slide. He and Blue Boy had to pick their way around carefully, only to find they needed to back track and take a different route. It was much later in the night when Mark arrived and stopped at the Sheriff’s Office, inquiring where the Doctor’s Office was.
“I’m Sheriff Adam Banes, you got sick folk out on the trail?”
“No sir, my name’s Mark McCain, I’m the deputy from North Fork and I’ve the medicine you doctor wired Doc Burrage for.”
“Well why didn’t ya say so first off? Follow me youngster.” The Sheriff hustled his way down the boardwalk to the doctor’s office.
“Doc Simmons! This here deputy got the medicines you’re waiting for!” Sheriff Banes yelled.
Mark handed his saddlebags to the doctor. “Sheriff, could you direct me to your livery? I want to see my horse bedded down tonight.”
“Sure. You’ll probably want to sleep in the hayloft anyhow. The hotel’s got a number of sick folk staying there. Doc brought them to town so they’d be in one place instead of him riding all over the countryside.”
The Sheriff left Mark in front of the livery and then returned to his office.
Mark led Blue Boy inside and put him in one of the empty stalls. After unsaddling and picking his hooves, he took the time to curry his horse down. As he worked, he pulled out a few sugar cubes. As Mark put his saddle and bridle on the rack, an old man came into the livery.
“Sheriff Banes stated there was a young fella here and you brought the medicine? My name’s Asa, Asa Colby.”
“Mr. Colby, my name’s Mark McCain. I hope you don’t mind that I helped myself to a stall for my horse and fed him some hay.”
“No, no. Don’t hold to no one calling me mister. Everyone here calls me Asa. Besides, it’s the least we can do. You rode, what two days to get here?”
“Almost, I left North Fork early yesterday afternoon, though I had to back track because of a rock slide. I just hope I got here with the medicine in time,” Mark replied. “Could you tell me where the telegraph office is so I can send a wire that I arrived safely?”
“Sure, Sure do. Zeb Ackers runs it. I can take ya over there.”
“I’d be obliged.”
After sending word that he had arrived safely in Willow Springs, Mark returned to the livery and climbed up into the hayloft, carrying his bedroll with him. Mark woke the following morning to the sounds of horses nickering in anticipation of their morning feeding. Mark crawled from his bed and stretched himself, before climbing down. Mark helped Asa finish feeding the horses before he asked about someplace where he could get some breakfast.
“Mrs. Johanssen runs a small café towards the middle of town. She fixes some mighty fine vittles.”
Mark said goodbye and made his way towards breakfast. After eating breakfast, Mark walked towards the doctor’s office and saw a crowd outside… waiting. He pulled out his pocket watch and realized it was almost mid-morning. Mark leaned up against the hitching rail outside the Sheriff’s Office and watched. A few minutes later he saw the doctor’s door open and the doctor stepped out. Soon the crowd was joyously cheering. Doc ran from his office straight towards the hotel. By nightfall, Mark had heard that most everyone was well on the road to recovery. A few would take a little longer, but they had been sicker to begin with.
Mark returned to the livery and made arrangements with Asa that he would leave in the morning. Before crawling back up into the hayloft, Mark sent one more wire home.
As quietly as Mark had entered Willow Springs, he left just as quietly, before daybreak. As promised, he took things slower with Blue Boy on the return home. His first night out, he still wasn’t tired enough to sleep, so he continued to ride Blue Boy at a walk, until he saw a small campfire in the distance. Mark proceeded and when he was close enough, he called out to those in the camp.
“In the camp, I’m a weary traveler looking to bed down for the night. I’ve some food and water to spare as payment for sharing the warmth of your fire.”
“Come on in!” Mark heard in response.
Mark entered the light of the fire only to see a man wearing a holstered gun and holding a rifle trained on him. Mark slowly raised his arms.
“Mister, I don’t want no trouble and if I make you that nervous, I’ll just ride on out of here and leave you to yours,” Mark stated.
“I don’t want any trouble either, just… A man can’t be too careful out here. What’s your business?” the man asked.
“My name’s Mark McCain. I’m on my way home to North Fork, from delivering some medicines to Willow Springs.”
“You always travel around the countryside at night, without guns?” the man asked.
“No sir, I have a rifle, it’s in the scabbard on the off side of my saddle,” Mark replied.
“You don’t hold to hand guns?”
“A rifle served my Pa just fine, so it suits me just fine. As I said, I’m not looking to cause you any trouble. If it’ll make you feel any better, if I may…?” Mark asked.
“Slowly,” the man said as he brought his rifle to his shoulder.
Mark pulled open his jacket just enough to show his badge.
“Are you really a lawman?”
Mark slowly lowered his arms as the man lowered his rifle and uncocked it.
“As I said, I’ve some water and some foodstuff I can share with you. Your camp looks a little sparse,” Mark stated as he stepped down from the saddle.
“I’d appreciate it, not for me though.” The man turned as called, “Tyler, come on out boy. It’s okay, he’s a lawman.”
Mark looked in the direction the man turned and saw a young boy walk from behind a large boulder. He quickly ran to stand and peek from behind his Pa.
“Hello there,” Mark said. “I’m Deputy Mark McCain.” He extended his hand as he knelt down to the boy.
The boy looked up to his Pa, as Mark followed his eyes, he saw the man nod his head. The boy slowly came from behind his Pa and extended his hand and said, “My name’s Tyler Blackwood.”
“Well Tyler, I’m pleased to meet you. Do you like peaches?”
The boy nodded and Mark walked to the near side of his horse and pulled his saddle bags down. He handed the bag to the man and said, “There’s a few cans of peaches and a can opener in there. Feed them and the jerky to your son.”
Mark led Blue Boy over to where the other two horses were tied. He pulled his saddle and laid it on a fallen tree. When he returned to the camp he carried his bedroll and his rifle.
“Mister, as I said, I’m not here to cause you any trouble. I only have my rifle for protection.”
“I’m sorry Deputy. Just with the boy and all, I couldn’t be too careful. I want to thank you for your generosity. My name’s Syd Blackwood.”
After a while, Mark noticed the boy fighting sleep. Syd picked his son up and placed him in his bedroll and pulled the covers over him. He sat down next to his sleeping son.
“Now that the boy’s asleep, you care to tell me why you’re so nervous? It’s not just protecting him, is it?” Mark asked.
“You have family?” Syd asked.
“Yes, a wife and two sons.”
“You love them like there’s no tomorrow? Guess you think it’s pretty stupid question. You don’t know what it’s like, traveling on my own, with just my young son. I lost my wife a year and a half ago, Tuberculosis. We lived in Springfield, Illinois. My wife and I always dreams of traveling west, before we had Tyler. But then he came and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to travel with an infant.”
“How old’s the boy now?” Mark asked.
“He’ll be seven come February. Maybe it’s stupid, me traveling with him being so young and all, but I just couldn’t stay in Springfield any more. I keep him up on his studies. You should always feel blessed to have a wife. I’m sorry to ramble on. It’s just that before Alice took sick, we sort of, well…”
“Syd, you don’t need to explain.”
“Oh, but I do. I owe you an explanation for holding a rifle on you. He’s all I got left of Alice. Maybe it sounds strange to you…”
“Syd, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a wife, but growing up, I was your boy. My own Ma died when I was six. We lived in Enid, Oklahoma. My Pa couldn’t stay there, not with her memory everywhere. We traveled, occasionally staying in one town or another for a few months, but never calling anywhere ‘home’ until we got to North Fork. We finally settled down when I was ten. So, you don’t need to explain yourselves to me.”
“There’s more to my story Mark.” Syd looked down to his sleeping son.
“You on the run from something?”
“Not something, some one. I’m not wanted by the law, well, I am, but not that I done anything wrong. I witnessed a murder a few weeks back and Cory Grainger is supposed to stand trial in Roswell, next week.”
“That’s where the murder occurred?” Mark asked.
“No, it happened in a small town called Coy, but the man was a big cattle rancher just passing through. So the trial got moved to Roswell.”
“You’re a ways still from Roswell.”
“I received death threats against me and my boy. I showed the notes to the Sheriff in Coy and he didn’t seem too eager to help me out. So I headed out on my own. Figured I’d show up the day before the trial, say my piece, and head out again.”
“I can help you, if you’d let me?” Mark offered.
“Syd, I’m not just a deputy in North Fork, I’m also a Deputy U.S. Marshal. If you come back with me, I’ll offer you protection, for you and your boy. I can wire the Marshal’s office in Denver and see if there’s someone who can accompany you to Roswell, if not, I’m sure they’ll assign me. While you’re testifying, you can leave Tyler with my family.”
“I don’t want to impose on you,” Syd hastily replied.
“No imposition, I’m the one offering. Why don’t you go ahead a get some sleep? Morning will come soon enough.”
Syd woke early the following Mark, seeing Mark already up and about, rifle in hand.
“You didn’t sleep last night, did you?” he asked.
“No, I figured with what you told me, that one of use should keep our eyes open.”
Mark set his rifle down before he poured a cup of coffee for Syd and himself. As he drank, he looked over the edge of the cup towards the boy.
“I’m sorry if we’re bringing back bad memories,” Syd stated as he noticed Mark watching his son.
“They’re not bad memories, just sad at times. The first year was the worst. I’m sure you had the same difficulties with Tyler, a child so young doesn’t easily understand what death is and then to find out so young. You hope and pray they don’t turn bitter.” Mark hesitated as he remembered back. “Pa struggled to get me to accept that it couldn’t be changed and that we couldn’t go back there. He wouldn’t even call it home, anymore. He and Ma had a dream of a big spread back in Oklahoma. Our place now, reminds us so much of what they had…” Mark stopped speaking as he saw Tyler start to wake, he pointed towards the boy with his hand holding his cup of coffee.
“Good morning, son,” Syd said as he stood up to go to his boy.
“Morning Pa. Morning deputy.”
“If you’re hungry this morning, I have some more peaches and some biscuits,” Mark offered.
Tyler looked to his Pa, who nodded.
By nine o’clock the three were back in the saddle and heading towards North Fork. Tyler kept up a running conversation, telling Mark of where they’d been and what they’d seen, while they were traveling.
“What about your studies?” Mark asked.
“Oh them? Pa makes sure when we make camp for the night that I spend a few hours with my books. Each town we come to, he buys another school book for my studying,” Tyler answered with the same disdain in his voice as any child would, when asked about school.
“I know someone who was very much like you. Didn’t understand why it was so necessary to do book learning. Oh how he tried to get out of doing it, but his Pa saw to it that he kept to his studies. Oh how he hated learning fractions.”
“Did he ever get done with studying?” Tyler asked.
“Sure, he did. He even graduated from school early. Finished the entire required curriculum over a year ahead of schedule,” Mark answered,
“Curriculum. That means what the government states a child should learn during their time in school.”
“He got graduated early?”
“Yes he did, but you know, before that, he came to love learning, reading, and teaching.”
“He became a teacher?”
“Not really a teacher, but a student teacher. He worked with some of the younger students who were having trouble following with the main class. He’d work with them before and after school, and over lunch time, too.”
“So, does he still work with the teacher and help out?”
“Not anymore. But he still loves to read and to learn.”
“What’s he do now?”
“I believe he grew up to be a deputy.”
Tyler stopped his horse and took a good long look at Mark. “You joking me?”
Mark and Syd stopped their horses.
Tyler asked, “So this person you talking about, you’re him?”
Tyler asked his horse to walk on. “So you didn’t like learning when you were younger, but then all of a sudden you did?”
“Yep, and I still do.”
“Learning the law. What it means to wear this badge and protect a town and her citizens from people who would try to harm them.”
“Would you protect people who don’t live in your town? I mean…”
Syd turned to his son and asked, “Why would you ask a question like that?”
“I’m sorry Pa, but I wasn’t really asleep last night when you two were talking, but I didn’t hear everything, because I did fall asleep. I know you been worried about something,…”
“Tyler, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you everything, I didn’t want to scare you.”
“So there are bad men out there who want to hurt you?”
“Yes, but Deputy Mark has offered us his protection and when I have to go to Roswell to testify, I’m going to leave you with his family, just until I can come get you.”
They rode for the next hour in silence and soon came to a stage relay station. The manager offered them the hospitality of stew and biscuits for lunch. While Syd took his boy inside, Mark tended to their horses. He pulled his rifle from his saddle, before heading inside.
Mark entered the station and saw Tyler staring at the manager, who was telling him a ‘tall tale’ as his wife set bowls of stew in front of everyone. By the end of the story, the whole group was laughing. Even the working hand, who Mark figured had probably heard the story a hundred times, was laughing, because Tyler’s laughter was so infectious.
“Well young man,” the manager stated to Tyler. “You know, you and your Pa are riding in good company.”
“Yes sir, the deputy’s looking out for us.”
“You mean you don’t know who he is?” the man asked.
“He said his name was Deputy Mark Mc… Mc… McCain, that’s it!” Tyler boldly announced.
“Well, that’s his name, but around these parts, he’s better known at The Lawman. And you know who his Pa is?”
Tyler’s eyes grew wide. “His Pa’s the Rifleman. Pa, we read about them in the newspaper! Pa, we’re riding with The Lawman!”
In hearing who they were riding with, Syd choked on the food he was swallowing and grabbed for a glass of water.
“You didn’t know?” the manager asked.
“No.” Syd said when he finally got the bite down. “We didn’t. I’m sorry even more now, that I didn’t trust you last night.”
Mark tried to play down his nickname. “Syd, Tyler, I’m no different than I was when we rode in here. I’m still the same man.”
“But you’re The Lawman!” Tyler declared.
“Tyler, I’m A lawman. I’m no different than any other deputy who wears a badge.”
“Tyler, those were just stories A man wrote. He’d heard stories about my Pa and his rifle and thought there was something exciting to write about. What he found out was, my Pa is a man, who has a talent with a rifle and who tried to raise a son on his own. My Pa’s talent with a rifle is no different than a writer’s talent with words. It’s a tool. Some men do good with a rifle and some men don’t. Some men do good when they write the words properly or they can be mean and lie with the words they write. My Pa never looked to have a reputation with the rifle. He learned his skill growing up as a boy on his father’s farm. Then the Civil War honed his skill.”
“But, your Pa, he teach you how to shoot your rifle?” Tyler asked.
“Yes he did, but he didn’t give into my begging for my own rifle until I was almost fourteen. He wanted to make sure I understood the responsibilities of a weapon and that it wasn’t something to be played with.”
“But you’re a deputy?”
“I am now. Tyler, with my job I can protect people like you and your pa, and the people of the town I call home, so that maybe someday, you and they, won’t have to worry about learning how to use a weapon to defend yourself. I prefer to not have to carry a rifle all the time. Someday, I hope, the people will leave the gun carrying to the law and they can live their lives without having to see a gun strapped to the leg of every man they pass on the street.”
“Tyler,” Syd spoke. “Do you understand what Mark’s trying to tell you?”
“I think I do. That just because someone calls you a name and writes stories about you, it doesn’t mean you’re any better than anyone else. That’s what you were trying to tell me when we were reading the stories.”
Syd nodded, then told Tyler to go help the manager’s wife with the dishes. Syd asked Mark to step outside with him.
“I’m sorry about all the questions my boy is asking and now about his idolizing you.”
“Don’t be Syd, he’s curious and sometimes, as I learned early on, asking questions is easier than studying the answers. You should be proud of him.”
“I am, just that sometimes…”
“Syd, remember, I was once so much just like Tyler. It’s been fun, remembering the younger me and seeing myself in your son.”
The sun was at late-afternoon, a day later when Mark, Syd, and Tyler rode into the front yard of the McCain Ranch.
“Son, welcome home!” Lucas called has he strode from the barn, wiping his hands on a towel.
“Thanks, Pa. I’d like you to meet Syd and Tyler Blackwood. They’re sort of in my protective custody. Syd, Tyler, this is my Pa, Lucas McCain.”
Tyler held out his hand and stared way up at Lucas. “You’re the one they call the Rifleman, but more importantly, you’re Deputy Mark’s pa.”
“Yes I am,” Lucas stated as he knelt down to Tyler.
“Mark!” Hope called as she came running from their home. She wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck and kissed him sweetly.
“I missed you too, Hope,” Mark stated as he released Hope from his hug to introduce her.
Before Mark could, he felt her go limp in his arms and he caught her before she fell to the ground.
“Pa!” Mark exclaimed.
“Oh, my. It’s okay son, just get her inside.”
As Mark lifted Hope, Milly came from the house.
“Milly, I think you should help Mark tend to Hope. I’ll take care of our guests Mark brought home for the night.”
“Mr. McCain, with what just happened, I can’t impose. Tyler and I…”
“No such thing. You’re in Mark’s protective custody and you’ll not leave this property without him,” Lucas stated as he watched Milly follow after Mark and Hope. “Come on, let’s get your horses taken care of.” Lucas said as he grabbed Blue Boy’s reins and let him to the barn.
“Mr. McCain, aren’t you concerned about the girl?”
“We already know what’s wrong with her. She’ll be fine in a few minutes.”
“Mr. Blackwood, she’s in the early stages of her pregnancy, only Mark doesn’t know, yet. I’ll let my wife tend to them. Right now, I’m looking after my son’s charges.” Then turning to Tyler, “Come on boy, let’s show your Pa who’s the best in taking care of these critters.”
Mark carried Hope into their home and to their bedroom. Both boys came running and calling “PaPa”, but they quieted quickly, when Milly hushed them and told them to sit and wait in the front room. Milly pulled a basin from under the sink and pumped some water into it, then grabbed a towel before carrying it into their bedroom. She set the basin down on the night stand next to the bed.
“Ma?” Mark asked with deep worry on his face. He sat on the edge of the bed and held Hope’s hand.
“She’s fine Mark. She was going to surprise you and tell you after supper tonight,” Milly stated as she wrung the cloth out and placed it over Hope’s forehead. “Mark, honest, give her just a few minutes and she’ll be awake. You know, I seem to remember you finding me unconscious on the kitchen floor once.” Milly turned and looked at Mark, seeing if he understood.
“You mean? She’s… I’m…” Mark stammered.
“She and the boys were having dinner with us after you sent your first wire. She passed out before we sat down to eat. We took her into Doc’s the next morning and he confirmed, she’s pregnant.”
Mark removed the towel from his wife’s forehead and dipped it back in the water, then wrung it out before replacing it. A few minutes later, Hope started to come to and stared into the eyes of her smiling husband.
“Fine welcome home I get after being gone for almost six days. I hope you had a nice nap?” Mark teased.
“Oh, Mark,” Hope stated as she tried to sit up, but Mark wouldn’t let her.
“You just take it easy. I’ll not have you out of this bed yet.”
“You’re not upset with me?” Hope asked.
“I was worried when you fainted, but Ma told me what happened while I was gone. I’m not upset. So, are you going to give me another boy this time or am I going to get a daughter?”
“We’ll have to wait another seven months or less to find out,” Hope replied as Mark leaned over and kissed her.
“Have the boys had their supper?”
“I was about to take up the stew when you rode in,” Hope replied.
“You can get out of this bed after I have supper on the table and the boys seated.”
“What of the man and boy who rode in with you?” Hope asked.
Mark hurriedly replied, “I forgot all about them?”
“Mark, I saw Lucas taking them to the barn,” Milly replied. “Now that you know Hope’s fine, why don’t you go on out.”
As Mark exited his home, he saw his Pa and the Blackwood’s walking towards him, he stammered out an apology.
“No need to apologize Mark. Your father told us what was happening. If you’d like, Tyler and I can stay in the barn tonight.”
“I’ll not hear of it. We’ll get the cots set up in the front room and you’ll stay in my home tonight.” Then turning to his Pa, “Pa, thanks for taking care of things.”
“No problem, Mark.” Lucas handed Mark his rifle and then turned to enter his own home as Milly joined him.
Mark and the Blackwood’s walked into his home. Mark removed his hat and placed his rifle over the fireplace.
“Papa,” the boys called. “Is Mama okay?”
“She will be. She just needed to rest for a little while. Josh, Zach, I’d like you to meet Tyler and his Pa, Mr. Blackwood.” Then speaking to Syd and Tyler, these are my son’s, the one on the right is Josh and the one on the left is Zach. Have a seat and I’ll set the table and then take up the stew Hope fixed for supper.”
“Mark, tell me where the dishes are and I’ll set the table for you,” Syd offered.
Mark directed Syd to the hutch as he spooned the stew into a serving bowl. Mark sat both his sons in their chairs and then went to get Hope.
As she took her seat at the table, Mark introduced her to the Blackwood’s. Hope tried to apologize.
“Mrs. McCain, no need to apologize. I remember when my Alice was pregnant with Tyler, here. There were a few times when I found her fainted in our home. It’s all a part of carrying God’s gift.”
Hope insisted that Syd call her Hope and thanked him for being so understanding.
Once supper was eaten, Mark and Syd did the dishes while Hope read to the boys. Later, after the cots were brought in, Mark insisted that Syd let Tyler sleep on a cot in the boys’ room. After all three were asleep, Mark and Syd returned to the front room. Mark kissed Hope goodnight and watched as the door to their bedroom closed.
“Mark, I hope you don’t think me forward, but out on the trail, you said you were like Tyler, you lost your Ma when you were six.”
“I did. Milly’s my step-mom.”
“How long after did your father remarry?”
“It’ll be five years ago Christmas eve they were married. Milly used to live in North Fork for a couple of years when I was twelve and at that time I had hoped they might marry, but things happened and Milly moved back home to Philadelphia.”
“But she came back? I’m sorry Mark, it’s just been so long since I’ve had adult conversations and could talk of my hurt. I mean, it’s great to talk with someone who’s sort of gone through what I have and then was able to find happiness and settle down again,” Syd stated. “How did it happen? I mean what brought her back?”
“I understand. I was sixteen, when we found out there was an assassination attempt being planned on Senator Borden. Actually because of things that happened leading up to us finding out about the assassination attempt, I met Hope. Anyway, we had to try to flush out the gang leader and wrote a story for the newspaper that got picked up and published in other papers around the country. In order for the leader to think he could kill the only witness to his plan, we wrote of how our Marshal and my Pa were killed, and our deputy was gravely wounded. We didn’t realize all the ramifications our story would create. As soon as she read the story, Milly was on the train back to North Fork, wanting to be here to take care of me. It didn’t take long and they both realized the spark was still in the other’s eyes, and finally, I got my wish, a couple of weeks after I turned seventeen, they were married. Should of happened a long time before, but Pa was always too worried about taking care of me and I know he knew how much I wanted another mother, but he had to be sure that he married the right woman.”
“So your father gave up chances at his own happiness to take care of you? I know right now, I can’t think on anything other than protecting and providing for Tyler.”
“Syd, I lost my Ma when I was six, we settled here when I was ten. Pa didn’t meet Milly until I was twelve and even then, we still had our hurts. But Milly helped ease some of those hurts. For me, it was someone who could mother me and bake cookies, or just to take care of me when Pa had to go out of town. For Pa, I know he lived a rough life prior to meeting and then marrying my Ma and having me. But to find someone that he could be comfortable with and who could accept the memory of another woman living in the house… It took a long time.”
“Have you ever feared losing your wife?” Syd asked and immediately regretted it when he saw the look on Mark’s face. “I’m sorry, I was out of line.”
“No Syd, it’s just that I have faced losing Hope on several different occasions. Just this summer, I thought she had been killed. For ten days, I was in Mexico and believed that an outlaw, who had kidnapped her, my Ma, and two other girls, had killed her. I didn’t know she was alive until I returned home. So, no, I’ve not actually lost my wife, but for ten long days, I grieved because I thought I had, I…” Mark looked to the bedroom door. “You and my Pa are both so much stronger than I was. I was ready to walk away from my sons and let her brother and sister-in-law raise them. I just couldn’t imagine… I couldn’t face them. I thought, they were so young, they wouldn’t know the difference.”
“I know what you mean. When they told me Alice only had a few moments left to live, I was devastated. All our plans, our hopes, our dreams… Gone. One moment our life was happy and there was a future. Then there was nothing. My life was ripped away from me. I sat there as they placed the sheet over her. The nurses pulled me from the room and told me I needed to take care of my son. For a few minutes, I had actually forgotten I had a child. I walked into the waiting room at the hospital and there, in the arms of a nun slept my son. The only thing I had left of Alice. I picked him up in my arms and left the hospital. The next day Alice was buried and then I packed some clothes and books and we left. We’ve been traveling ever since. I keep hoping we can find someplace to call home. I didn’t like what I saw in that town of Coy, but we had to stop. Tyler had started to take a cold and I heard they had a doctor and wanted him to look Tyler over. That night, as I carried him to the hotel, I saw three men run out of the saloon and trailed after another man. I watched as one of the men drew his handgun and shot the man in the back. I watched as they stole his money belt. The gunman turned and ran right past me, right under the street lamp. I got a good look at him – Cory Grainger. It’s been almost six weeks since the murder and its tearing at me.”
“Syd, we’ll head to into town tomorrow and like I said, we’ll wire Denver and see what we can do to help you,” Mark answered.
“Mark, I appreciate you taking Tyler and me in, and I appreciate talking. Especially since we’re strangers to you.”
“You might think talking is only beneficial to you, but sometimes it’s easier talking about hurtful things with strangers. With family, they’re going through the hurt too. Sometimes you just need an ear to let you talk.”
By noon, Mark has received a response to his Denver wire. Mark was requested to escort Syd Blackwood to Roswell. Once there, he would place him into the protective custody of Marshal Coltrane Walker.
Mark saw to it that Syd got back to the ranch, but before he could head out, again, Lucas stopped him.
“Mark, where are you off to?” Lucas asked.
“Pa, Blue Boy and I just returned from Willow Springs and I can’t ask him to make this next trip. I’m going over to Oat’s place and purchase another horse. I heard him bragging in town about some of the new stock he’s had Billy breaking in.”
“I was planning to tell everyone when I return, but I need to get Syd over to Roswell and Marshall Benton said I was the only one who could get him there in time. He was going to wire Coltrane to meet me in Roswell. I’m sorry, Pa, but I need to go now, if I’m to get back in time for supper. Keep an eye on things until I get back? Tom said word was out that Syd would be making his way to Roswell. Right now, no one knows where he is.” Mark turned Blued Boy and kicked him into a lope.
Several hours later, Mark returned with a striking copper colored gelding with a flaxen mane and tail, in tow.
Early the following morning, Mark saddled his new horse as Syd saddled his own. As Mark said goodbye to Hope, and promised her he’d wire her when they arrived, Syd was telling his son to mind his manners and to do everything that McCain’s asked him to do.
Late that afternoon, Lucas stepped to the porch upon hearing riders approach. Upon seeing who was about to ride into the yard, Lucas ordered Milly and Hope to stay in the house with the children. He picked up his rifle and closed the door behind him.
“Seth, get away from those two. They’ve no right to be on this property!” Lucas demanded.
“Lucas, they told me what happened, eleven years ago. But we’ve got bigger problems than the past. One of the members of the gang that Syd was to testify against was in town. He forced Amos to tell him about the wires Mark sent and received. They know that your family is helping Blackwood and they’ll probably figure that Syd would leave his son with you, rather than risking him on the trip.”
“Mr. McCain, we only came to North Fork after reading the stories of you and your son in the newspaper. We wanted to let you know that we… we were truly are sorry for what we did back then. We wanted to apologize and ask your forgiveness. If our riding with you now, could make some amends… for what happened to the boy…” Benjamin Stark stated. “You want to see your family safe, then let’s get your team hitched up and Noley will see that they all get to town and I promise you, this time, if anything does happen, Noley will stay with them until help arrives.”
Anger was seething inside of Lucas, but what choice did he have. He needed to make sure his entire family was safe and yet, Mark was out there, on his own. He agreed. Within half an hour, Noley was driving Lucas’ and Mark’s families to North Fork, while Lucas, Seth, and Benjamin headed out.
Mark and Syd encountered trouble their first night out. Realizing they were being followed, they kicked their horses into a gallop. As the sun set, one of the outlaws got off a lucky shot and Syd’s horse collapsed from under him. Mark circled back, held out his arm as he pulled his foot from his stirrup. He hauled Syd up to ride behind him. They continued to ride in the dark, cursing the new moon that there was no light to guide their way, but thankful too, because the outlaws couldn’t track them in the dark, either.
They continued to ride double through the night. Mark guided his horse to pick their way carefully, not risking breaking a leg of their only mount. As the sun rose for the morning, Mark kicked their mount to a faster pace. Both knew that riding double was wearing their horse out faster, but they had no choice. When Mark sensed his horse was tiring, he slowed him to a walk, all the while, Syd kept a very watchful eye out behind them. Shortly after one o’clock, Syd saw the tale tell signs of the outlaws trailing them, a dust cloud. Mark urged his horse faster, praying they could reach the hills looming in front of them in time.
The small group Lucas was leading saw the body of the dead horse up ahead. Lucas motioned for Seth and Benjamin to stay back while he investigated.
As he returned he spoke, “It’s the horse Syd was riding, looks like it was shot out from under him. From the tracks, Mark circled back and they’re riding double now and only have the two canteens of water that Mark had on his saddle. Both the canteens Syd had are still there. The outlaws must have been too close.”
“Mr. McCain, the good news is, this isn’t the desert, there’s water holes up ahead, between here and Roswell,” Stark stated.
“That’s if they get the chance to stop. I estimate that the horse was killed around sundown last night, so at least Mark and Syd had the cover of darkness and could take it easy on the horse and not run him all night.”
Both men sensed the horse was faltering as Mark pulled him to a stop. They had less than a quarter of a mile to run to get to the base of the hills and climb. Mark pulled his rifle as Syd grabbed the one remaining canteen full of water and the saddle bags. They ran. Once they reached the hills, they started climbing up the rocks. Both struggling to breathe from their exertions. They climbed about a hundred feet up, when they found a ledge and rocks they could take cover behind.
They took stock of their situation, one hand gun with twenty bullets, one rifle and two boxes of cartridges, some jerky, and one canteen of water. Both men prayed they could hold out long enough for Coltrane Walker to realize something was wrong and come searching for them.
The outlaws had good cover and a small water hole a short distance from the hills and occasionally fired shots towards Mark and Syd.
As the sun set for the night, Mark and Syd could see the outlaws’ camp fire and hear them laughing. Both fastened closed their jackets and turned up their collars. Mark suggested Syd try to get some sleep, he’d wake him to stand watch after midnight. Though Syd closed his eyes, Mark knew he didn’t fall asleep until well after ten.
Mark waited until he could no longer keep his eyes open before he woke Syd. He handed his rifle over, then laid down and curled up, and was promptly asleep.
Noley drove the buckboard with care, especially with all the children in back and the sun was setting for the night. He arrived in North Fork and Hope directed him where to go, to get to her father’s home. As they were driving down the main street of North Fork, Micah saw them. He jumped out, demanding to know what was going on and why ‘that’ man was driving the team? Why did Lucas let an ex-con bring his family to town? Johnny Drako came running from the Marshal’s Office, as did Johnny Gibbs.
Milly tried to bring calm back to the group, “Please Micah, everyone, let us get the children to Seth’s home and we can talk. Let’s not create a scene in the middle of the street!”
Noley slowly drove the buckboard with Micah, and both Johnny’s following. Milly asked Micah to please let them get the children inside and then they would talk.
After all the children were inside and down for the night, the adults returned to the living room. Micah didn’t give anyone time to think before he demanded answers to his questions, “This man almost killed Mark eleven years ago!”
Hope and Milly stood in shock at hearing Micah’s words.
“It’s true, I was there, but it was an accident. You, yourself, was there when Mr. McCain stood up at the trial and said I hadn’t harmed his boy,” Noley stated as he pulled his hat from his head and held it in front of him.
“Not directly.” Micah continued in a more demanding tone, “But if you and your brother hadn’t used him as a hostage to force Lucas to help you rob the bank, he wouldn’t have had to run away and tripped and practically caved his skull in!”
“Micah, please,” Milly begged. “Let him tell us what happened.”
Drako and Gibbs stood together, both upset at what they were hearing.
“While what your Marshal said is true, things have changed. Ma’am, we didn’t get a chance to be properly introduced earlier and maybe you don’t want me anywhere near you or your family, but my brother promised Mr. McCain I’d see his family delivered safely to town and I done that. I drove real careful so as to not risk harming any one of you.”
“Mr. Stark, I appreciate your getting us to town safely. Tell us what happened that day,” Milly asked.
“I’ll tell you…!” Micah started.
“Micah, I asked him!” Milly stood firm in her demand.
“Ma’am, my brother and me and another man, we used to be bank robbers. Ben figured to find a family outside of town and take them hostage, leaving me behind to watch over, and have the farm owner go with him and make introductions, then Ben and Cougar would rob the bank. I never hurt no one before, in fact I helped the boy with his chores that day. I told him that if things didn’t go right in town, that I’d just ride away. Leave and never been seen again. I guess in our talking he got scared of me, because he found a half-full grain bag in the hay wagon and threw it down at me, knocking me to the ground.”
Noley continued, “I got up and ran after the boy. I saw him trip and fall. I knelt down beside him, honest, I thought he was funnin’ me when he just laid there. When I removed his hat and his head fell to the side, I saw the rock and knew something was wrong. So I picked him up and carried him back to the house and laid him in one of the beds. Then Ben and Cougar returned. I ran out to tell them what happened and Ben said it was best to leave. I wanted to stay and go fetch a doctor for him, but Ben was my older brother and he knows lots of things I don’t. He told me it was best to leave the boy and ride away. No one would believe what I said, if the boy died.”
“So you just left him there?” Hope asked, horrified at the story.
“I had no choice. I had to go with my brother. Then the boy’s Pa tracked us, he shot our horses away and shot our canteens full of holes and made us walk through the desert. Cougar tried to trick Mr. McCain and then got into an argument with my brother and tried to kill him. Ben killed Cougar, but Cougar shot me. I could have died had Mr. McCain not decided to help us. He said it wasn’t for him to play God. Once I got recovered, I stood trial with my brother. Ben served ten years and I served seven.”
“So why did you return to North Fork, now?” Milly asked, still trying to keep the calm.
“Ben read the stories in the newspaper. The ones about the Rifleman and the Lawman. We wanted to let Mr. McCain know that we were out of prison and that we wanted to thank him for saving our lives. We been on the straight ever since we got out. Honest! We turned our lives around and wanted to thank Mr. McCain, and apologize again.”
“Milly you should know,” Micah stated, still angered that the Stark’s were involved with the McCain family again. “And John Hamilton will back me up on this. After his brother robbed the bank, he forced Lucas to wait a whole hour before he could head home. Lucas borrowed a horse to race home and make sure Mark was okay. John came running to me telling me the bank and been robbed, but more importantly, Mark had been held hostage and used as a pawn against Lucas. John and I rode out to the house, when I entered, I’ve never seen Lucas more devastated in his life. Probably the only time he felt worse was when Margaret died. Mark, eleven year old Mark, was left lying in their home all alone. He was bleeding from the back of his head and looked so pale. For that hour, Mark lie in his bed and could have died. I sent John back to town to fetch the doc.”
Micah continued, “I stayed with Lucas and Mark until the doc arrived. He never moved once, never moaned once, you could barely see his chest rising and falling as he breathed. While we waited, a number of times, Lucas placed his ear to Mark’s chest to make sure the boy still lived. I headed back to town and got a posse together, after the doc arrived.”
“But the boy lived!” Noley proclaimed. “I’m sorry for the hurt we caused your family. We didn’t know Mr. McCain had a wife and daughter, in addition to the boy.”
“He didn’t, back then,” Johnny Gibbs stated. “Mrs. McCain married Lucas almost five years ago and the younger Mrs. McCain married Mark just over three years ago.”
“Where’s your brother?” Micah demanded.
“I think I can answer that Micah,” Drako spoke. “Seth and the brother headed out to Lucas’. Only he introduced himself as an old friend when they arrived at the office late this afternoon. Amos came in and told us that the outlaws had forced him to tell them about the wires Mark had sent and received. I’m sure if this one is here, then his brother is helping Lucas and Seth track down the outlaws who are after Syd Blackwood.”
“How can you be so sure they ain’t part of a trap for Lucas and Seth?!” Micah demanded.
“Honest Marshal, we aint’. I’m right pleased to know the boy grew up and is full grown with a family of his own. It pleases me to no end, to know he wears a badge and stands up for what’s right. Ben and me, we don’t cotton to going against the law. We learned our lesson in prison. Neither of us want to go back!”
“Stark,” Drako said. “I don’t know whether to trust you or not.”
“I can tell you, you can’t trust him!” Micah demanded.
“But right now, I have no legal grounds to hold you or to put you in jail. But, if I were you…”
“Run him out of town, NOW!” Micah insisted.
“Micah, I’m sorry, but right now, I’d rather know where he is. I want him to stay in town until the time that Lucas and Seth return with Mark, safely.”
“If you’d feel better, of an evening you can lock me up in the jail and I’ll make sure I tell you where I’m going to be during the day. Honest, when the telegraph man came in, it was quite a shock to Benjamin and me. We only want to do what’s right. To make amends for what we done,” Noley pleaded.
Lucas, Seth and Ben continued to trail after the outlaws trailing after Mark and Syd. Lucas kept quiet. Remembering when the Stark’s had come into their lives. Remembering the hatred he held in his heart, as he trailed them, because he thought those men had tried to kill his boy. But this time, this trail was different. There was fear in his heart. Fear that outlaws would kill his boy, and do it not to get away with robbing a bank, but to keep him from doing his job — protecting an innocent man and seeing that he made it to Roswell, alive, to testify. By nightfall, they saw in the distance a campfire.
“Maybe it’s not the outlaws, just travelers,” Ben stated.
“Better play it safe than sorry,” Seth offered. “If they are innocent travelers, we can offer them escort to where ever they’re heading. If they’re the outlaws…”
“We split up and come in on them from different angles,” Lucas stated. Pointing Seth to go left and Ben to go right. He’d head straight on in. “We wait until the sun is up enough that we know where all of them are in the camp.
All three left their horses and pulled their weapons, then headed along their assigned routes.
Mark woke to a hearing a ricochet off the rocks below them. He saw Syd sighting down his rifle, but not firing.
“What’s up?” Mark asked.
“One took a pot shot at us, but didn’t getting close enough to be dangerous. My concern was during the night; did one of them climb up and get above us?”
“Good point. We know their guns can’t reach us here, let’s climb higher,” Mark stated as he took his rifle and saddle bags. Syd grabbed the canteen. They climbed until they reached another outcropping to hide behind and, they found a cave, to give them coverage from an attack from above.
The sun was just rising from behind the hill when they entered the camp. They pulled the blankets back from the outlaws to find they weren’t there. Only scrub brush was found under the blankets. They turned towards the hill when they heard gunfire, Lucas ran towards the hill only to be tackled by Ben when the explosion occurred.
Rocks rained down on them and they heard laughter and yelling from the outlaws up on top of the hill. Lucas rolled Ben off him as they looked up to see the outlaws riding away. Smoke and dirt still rising from where the dynamite had started a land slide.
Slowly, the three picked themselves up off the ground.
“Mark?!” Lucas exclaimed.
“McCain, we can’t be sure,” Benjamin stated.
“Why else would they have used dynamite? There has to be a cave up there.” Lucas didn’t wait, he ran the rest of the way to the bottom of the hill and then started climbing. Seth and Ben weren’t too far behind. Each chose a different route to try to get to the top, not wanting to be below and have rocks rain down on them.
They reached the ledge and started pushing rocks over the edge and praying there would be an opening behind the pile, and that they’d be in time to rescue Mark and Syd.
It was mid-morning when Benjamin told Lucas, “It’s no use. We don’t know how deep the cave was or even if they’re alive,” as he pushed his hat further back on his head as he sat back.
“I won’t stop until I know. I got him out of a cave-in once before, I can do it this time too.”
“Lucas?” Seth asked.
“It was a long time ago. The first week that Steven Griwald arrived as the new school teacher. Seth, I can’t waste my breath talking about it now, but later, once Mark is safe, I’ll tell you all about it.” The three took turns, two at a time, digging out the opening.
The sun was high in the sky when they finally broke through and sun light streamed into the cave, Lucas yelled, “Mark! Are you all right? Answer me son! Mark!”
He held his ear to the opening, praying to God to hear a response. Nothing. They continued to dig. Soon the opening was large enough for each man to crawl in.
“Mark! Answer me! Mark!” Lucas hollered again.
Once inside, they realized it was a narrow cave. As they followed the fading light to the back, they found two crumpled bodies lying at the back of the cave. They rushed to the bodies. Lucas realized Mark had been doing his job, with his body on top, trying to protect Syd. Slowly they rolled Mark off Syd and lay him down on his back. Lucas lowered his ear to Mark’s chest and heard a heartbeat, “He’s alive.” Lucas barely stated, quietly thanking God. “What about Syd?”
Ben sat up from listening to Syd’s chest, “He’s alive too.”
Ben grabbed under Syd’s arms, while Seth picked up his legs to carry him to the opening. Lucas picked Mark up in his arms and carried him. First Syd and then Mark were handed through the opening and laid on the ledge. As Ben climbed down and ran to where they had left the horses, he spotted another saddled horse standing not too far away. He ran for the single horse and led him to where the others were tethered. Ben brought all four horses to the base of the hill. He grabbed the canteens and one of the saddlebags and headed up to the ledge.
Ben pulled some rags from the saddle bag and poured water over them and handed one to Seth and another to Lucas. He watched as they washed the dirt from the men’s faces. He knelt in awe as he looked at the man the boy had grown into. Feeling even more regret for what he and his brother had done, so many years ago.
“Give them time to come to Lucas. The air inside was pretty dank and the debris from the dynamite. While we’re waiting, why don’t you tell us about when Mark was trapped in a cave.”
Lucas told the story of how after meeting the new school teacher, he and Mark had come to a disagreement. How Mark had not taken to Mr. Griswald. Told of how Mark felt the man was mean and cruel, because he blamed his father for not allowing Mark to finish his homework. Lucas recounted the incident with the juju beans and the book; and the switching Mark had received rather than snitch on a friend. “I told him if he chose to take the punishment, then he had to accept it like a man. I demanded he go back to school the next day. I said it wasn’t for him to pass judgment on who the town chose as a teacher.”
Lucas looked at his son lying in his arms before. He continued to wet the cloth and wipe it over Mark’s face and throat.
“Mark played hooky the next day. He and Billy Davis went exploring in an old abandoned mine and the ceiling collapsed. Billy got out, but Mark was trapped. It took us hours to dig through the rubble to get him out.”
Syd started to come to first. Ben handed a canteen to Seth, who held it to Syd’s lips and he readily drank. Coughing and sputtering as he drank too fast. A few minutes later Mark started to regain consciousness. Lucas lifted him to a sitting position and offered him to drink from the other canteen. Mark hurriedly drank to quench his thirst.
Mark heard his Pa’s voice, only it sounded far away.. It sounded distorted over the ringing in his ears. Mark looked into his Pa’s face as Lucas pulled the canteen from Mark’s lips. Mark tried to ‘ring’ out his ears so he could hear better and shook his head.
“Lucas,” Seth stated. “They’re both probably suffering a little after affects of the concussion blast from the dynamite. Being in such a confined space when the dynamite went off. Give them a few more minutes to get their wits about them. What happened when you got him out?”
“Out? Oh, Stevan realized that there was a lot he had to learn about teaching children in the west versus children in the big cities back east. Here, children are needed to help out on the family farms and ranches. He also learned how much a son will stand up for his belief in his father. I think we all learned something that week.”
After finishing his story, Lucas asked, “Mark, are you okay?”
“I think so Pa. Thanks for getting me out of another cave-in.” Mark’s eyes laughed at the memory.
Mark took the canteen from his Pa to take another drink and then his eyes focused on the man kneeling in front of him, his body tensed with recognition.
“It’s okay son,” Lucas stated. “Benjamin Stark rode with us to help find you.”
Mark’s mind was still remembering, “You were with Cougar and Noley, you forced my Pa to help you rob the bank,” Mark stated.
“That I did and I truly regret everything that happened. Noley and I read the articles in the newspapers about you and your father. We came to apologize to you and ask your forgiveness for what we did.”
For a few moments the group remained quiet, before Mark spoke. “It’s been so long ago, that I can’t see holding ill feelings against you or your brother. It wasn’t your fault I tripped and fell.”
“Mr. McCain, if you’d allow me, you and the deputy should ride on to Roswell and let the other Marshal know what happened. I’ll follow with these two, once they’re able,” Ben offered.
Seeing the look in Lucas’ eye, Mark said, “Pa, we’ll be okay.”
After watching them for a few minutes more of resting and drinking, Lucas and Seth agreed.
“Mark, before we leave, where’s your rifle?” Lucas asked.
“Guess it’s still in the cave, as are my saddle bags with the boxes of cartridges,” Mark replied.
Lucas stood and crawled back into the cave, returning a few minutes later with Mark’s rifle and the saddle bags.
“Stark, I thank you for riding with us to this point. I still don’t know that I trust you one hundred percent, but so help me God, if Mark isn’t in Roswell within six hours of our arrival. You’ll wish that I had killed you and your brother out in the desert. Six hours will give you time, I want them to rest a little longer before starting out, but also considering they’ll be riding double.”
“Mr. McCain, I won’t let you down. We’ll see you within six hours of your arrival.” Ben held out his hand to Lucas.
Three days had lapsed since Lucas and Seth had ridden out after Mark, and there was no word. Milly tried to keep Hope from worrying too much, but knew her own worries were plainly expressed on her own face.
Hope was standing on a step stool, trying to reach for a baking pan on the stop shelf of the cabinet, when the twins came running into the kitchen, shrieking and playing. Momentarily, Hope allowed herself to be distracted by the boys and lost her balance. The stool tipped over and Hope fell to the floor.
Milly and Noley were just entering Seth’s home when they heard the noise from the kitchen and the twins came running out, yelling, “GanMa, Mama fell!”
Milly and Noley rushed to the kitchen to see Hope pushing herself into a sitting position and then trying to stand. Milly was quickly at Hope’s side, asking if she was okay. “I’m fine Ma, I was just reaching for a baking pan when the boys came running in and I lost my balance.” As she stood fully up, Hope felt a sharp pain in her abdomen and cried out.
“Hope, what’s wrong?” Milly asked.
“Ma, my stomach, oh it hurts,” Hope cried as she doubled over in pain.
“Miss Milly, here, let me carry her to a bedroom. Show me the way,” Noley stated as he picked Hope up and carried her.
Noley laid Hope down on the bed and she immediately turned on her side and curled herself into a ball, hugging at her stomach, and crying at the pain.
“Noley, do you know where Doc Burrage’s clinic is?” Noley shook his head no. “Okay, then just stay here with boys, down stairs, I’m gonna go get Doc Burrage. Hope, I’ll be right back.”
Noley followed Milly downstairs, “Miss Milly, what’s wrong? She didn’t look hurt.”
“Noley, Hope’s pregnant, she’s only about two months along. Please Noley, watch the boys and keep them downstairs, I’ll be back as soon as I can with the doctor.”
Milly ran from the house and through town. She didn’t hesitate when she arrived at the clinic and called for Thadd.
“Milly? What’s wrong?” Thadd stated as he came from a back room.
“Thadd, Hope fell! She started to stand up and then doubled over in pain. Doc, the baby?!”
Thadd had his medical bag and ran to Seth’s, not waiting for Milly to keep up. He entered the home and immediately ran upstairs, following the sounds of Hope’s cries to the bedroom.
“Hope please, let me examine you,” Thadd pleaded.
“Oh, it hurts. No! Oh, make the pain go away!” Hope cried.
Thadd pulled out a syringe and extracted the medicine from the bottle he pulled from his medical bag. He found a vein in Hope’s arm and administered the sedative. A few minutes later Hope relaxed and soon fell asleep. Milly came in the room and watched as Thadd examined Hope.
In time, he pulled the blankets up over the shoulders of the sleeping Hope. As he turned around, he shook his head to answer the question in Milly’s eyes.
“I’m sorry Milly. I’m pretty sure, Hope lost the baby. What happened? What caused her to fall?” Thadd asked.
Through her tears, Milly replied, “She said she was reaching for a baking pan and the boys ran into the kitchen and distracted her and she lost her balance and fell. We arrived and heard the noise and the twins came running into the front room.” Walking over to sit down on the edge of the bed and brush the bangs from Hope’s face, Milly asked, “Doc, are you sure?”
“Milly, a baby in the womb is so fragile at this stage in its development. A fall like that would easily dislodge the embryo from the uterine wall and the pain she felt was the uterus trying to expel what it considers foreign matter.”
“But so soon after the fall?”
“Milly, her body could have already been rejecting the baby and it just happened to coincide with her fall. Do you know if Seth has a water bladder? I think if we filled one with really warm water and placed it over her stomach it might ease some of the cramping she’s going to feel when she wakes.”
“I don’t know if Seth does, but I can send Noley to the general store to get one.”
Milly called for Noley and asked him to go purchase one of the water bladders from the general store. Milly left the room to put some water on the stove to heat.
As she returned, Seth said, “She’ll sleep for a few more hours. Go ahead and put the water bladder on her stomach while she’s sleeping, it’ll help with the physical pain… I’ll stop by later tonight and check in on how she’s doing. If you like, I can be the one to tell her.” Thadd’s offer was an attempt to spare Milly any more heartache, but Milly declined.
“I’ll tell her when she wakes up. Thank you, Thadd.”
When Hope woke, Milly was at her side. She didn’t have to ask or be told, she already knew she’d lost Mark’s baby. Hope turned on her side, away from Milly and cried. Milly continued to sit next to Hope and rubbed her back. In time, Hope cried herself to sleep.
Lucas and Seth arrived in Roswell and rode to the Sheriff’s Office. Upon arrival they were greeted by Marshal Coltrane Walker.
“Lucas!” Coltrane stated. “What happened? Where’s Mark? Tom wired that Mark was to deliver a witness to me here in Roswell.”
“Coltrane, Mark and your witness will be here within six hours. They were ambushed by outlaws trying to prevent them from getting here. They would have succeeded if Seth and I hadn’t trailed out after them. One of the outlaws forced our telegraph operator to tell him about the wires Mark sent and received. Luckily we got to Mark and Syd and were able to dig them out of the cave the outlaw’s had dynamited.”
“Dynamited!” Coltrane exclaimed.
“The outlaws rode off after the blast. I don’t think they’ll be expecting Mark or Syd to arrive,” Seth stated. “Mark and Syd are having to ride double, so we thought to come quicker and let you know what happened.”
“You left them out there alone?”
“No, there another man riding with them. He promised to make sure they made it here within six hours of our arrival.”
“Coltrane, while we’re waiting, first thing I’d like to do is to send a wire back home. To let Milly and Hope know everyone is okay.”
“Sure Lucas, come with me and I’ll show you to the telegraph office.”
The three left the Sheriff’s Office. After sending the wire, Coltrane asked, “So what else do you have in mind? I know your son and if you’re anything like he is, you’re not content to sit around and wait.”
“No, I’m not,” Lucas stated. “Those outlaws think they got away with murdering my son and another man. I’m sure they’re probably in town, in the saloon and I’m expecting they’ll get to talking later. Seth and I’ll head on over and listen. We’ll soon know who’s trying get Cory Grainger off. Without a witness, the judge would have to drop all charges and release him from custody. If we’re lucky, by midnight we’ll know.”
Seth took off his badge before he entered the saloon with Lucas. Both slapped the dirt off as they entered, looked around for a table, and then took a seat. A skimpily dressed woman came over and took their order for two beers. Then they waited, not only for the outlaws to show themselves, but for Benjamin Stark to keep his promise.
It was nearing midnight, when the two horses with three riders stopped on the outskirts of town.
“So Deputy,” Benjamin stated. “What do we do?”
“I think you should ride on in alone,” Mark replied. “Go to the Sheriff’s Office and ask for Marshal Coltrane Walker. Tell him we’re here.”
“And what are you two going to do? Don’t you think Syd should ride in with me? I can see that he gets to the Sheriff.”
“No, if I know my Pa, he’s at the saloon… Trying to figure out who tried to kill us. Maybe we can help the outlaws show themselves by our walking in. Syd, you up to this?”
“Yeah Mark, I’m ready to let them know they can’t scare me. They should be more scared of me and what I know.”
“Stark, you tell Walker we expect to see him at the saloon in a little while.”
“I’ll tell him Mark. I promise.”
Benjamin rode separate into town, as planned. Mark and Syd continued to ride double, stopping his horse in front of the saloon. Mark took his rifle from Syd as they stepped to the boardwalk.
Hesitating outside, looking in through the window, Mark looked at every man still in the bar, three tables full of men playing cards, a few standing at the bar, and finally seeing his Pa and father-in-law at a table in a back corner.
Syd with his handgun drawn and Mark with his rifle in both hands, they entered the saloon. The saloon girl screamed and dropped the tray full of beer mugs. The piano player stopped playing. Four men playing cards at a table in the middle of the room stopped playing cards, with one of the men jumping to his feet, reaching for his gun, calling, “You’re supposed to be dead!”
Mark shouldered his rifle and yelled, “Don’t do it!”
The other three jumped to their feet and went for their guns. The other patrons scrambled to get out of the way of the anticipated gun fight.
The outlaw, who called out, had drawn his gun and was raising it to point towards Mark. Before he could pull the trigger, Mark shot the gun out of the outlaw’s hand. Lucas and Seth had their weapons pointed at the other three. With one outlaw cussing and holding his hand and the others, having dropped their weapons, standing with their hands raised above their heads, Coltrane Walker and Benjamin Stark entered the saloon.
Coltrane declared, “You men picked the wrong deputy to mess with.”
“How’d you get out?!” one of the men declared.
“I have family,” Mark stated coolly.
“Well Deputy McCain,” Coltrane started, but was interrupted.
“McCain…, McCain! You ain’t old enough to be the Rifleman!” one of the others declared.
“No, but I’m old enough to be The Lawman. The Rifleman is standing behind you.”
The next morning, Amos received a second wire from Roswell.
To all concerned in North Fork,
All Safe /stop/
All Outlaws in jail /stop/
Testify tomorrow /stop/
Be home in four days /stop/
Lucas, Seth, Mark, Syd, and Benjamin
Amos ran and showed the wire to Marshal Drako. Who took it to Micah’s and then to Johnny Gibbs’. He wanted company when he headed to Seth’s place to tell Milly and Hope. He knew the women would be happy to hear everyone was okay and when they’d be home, but he didn’t know what to say to Hope, about the baby.
As promised, it was late afternoon, four days later, when the five returned to North Fork. Johnny Drako had kept an eye out for them. When he saw them enter town, he ran and stopped them, told Syd that Tyler was at the day care. He let Ben know that his brother was at the livery, helping Nils. Drako asked that the others come to his office first.
“But Johnny, can’t this wait? I want to see my family,” Mark stated.
“It’s your family we want to talk with you about,” Drako offered.
“We? What happened?” Lucas demanded.
As they entered the office, Drako shut the door behind them. Johnny Gibbs was there waiting, he was to be the one to break the news.
“Mark there was an accident at Seth’s home. Hope took a fall the other day. Your Ma and Noley arrived right after it happened and they got the doc right away. Now Hope’s fine, just got a big bruise on her thigh I’m told.”
“Well if that’s all, Uncle Johnny?” Mark said as he turned to leave.
“No Mark, it’s not. Mark…,” Johnny hesitated, he knew how much he was about to hurt his nephew. “Hope lost the baby.”
“She lost the baby?” Mark repeated, his eye’s pleading that it wasn’t true.
“Mark, Milly asked me to tell you. She wanted you to know before you got to Seth’s and saw Hope. I’ll give you a few minutes alone, if you’d like,” Johnny stated.
“I think I want to go see Hope,” Mark stated as tears fell down his face.
Mark slowly climbed the stairs to where Hope was sleeping. He crawled into bed, curled up around Hope and cried.
Later that day, Lucas, Milly and Seth bid Syd and Tyler Blackwood goodbye.
“Where will you head to?” Milly asked.
“Maybe Arizona. Alice and I always thought of finding a ranch and settling down. Maybe I’ll get as lucky as you were Mr. McCain.”
“Not sure what you mean, Syd.”
“Mark and I did a lot of talking out on the trail and at his home. He saw a lot of himself in Tyler here. Someday, maybe we’ll be lucky enough to find a home and I’ll find a woman who can accept me and my boy. You’ll tell him goodbye for us?”
“You sure you can’t wait till morning?” Seth asked.
“No, we best be heading on. Our dream,” Syd looked to Tyler, “feels closer to becoming a reality since we met the McCain family.”
Lucas wrapped his arms around Milly and watched as the father and son rode west.
“Bring back memories?” Milly asked.
“Yeah. I miss the young boy that Mark used to be,” Lucas stated.
“Well, wait a few more years and I’m sure Little Ted will start to fill in those shoes,” Milly offered.
“No, there’s only one Mark. Little Ted will wear his own shoes.”
The next morning, Benjamin and Noley Stark said goodbye to Lucas, Milly, and Seth, and left North Fork. As they returned to inside Seth’s house, Mark and Hope were coming down the stairs. It was quite evident that both had still been crying that morning.
“Would you like some breakfast?” Milly asked.
“No Ma,” Mark answered. “We’d like to head home.”
Lucas and Mark headed to the livery to get their horses and hitch the team. Mark asked Milly if she wouldn’t mind seeing the twins home, “I want some time alone with Hope. Please Ma?”
Milly understood and nodded.
Mark saw to it that their sons were loaded into the back of the buckboard and told them to mind their manners and do everything that Grandma and Grandpa tell them. “Gabby, it’s up to you to see that they stay seated, okay?”
“I will,” Myra replied.
Mark got in the saddle, removed his foot from the stirrup, and extended his arm down to Hope, then swung her up behind him. They rode to the pond and sat down against a tree and talked.
Hope told Mark the story that Noley had told them when they got to town. She asked if it was true. Mark stated it was. He added that he hadn’t gotten scared by Noley, but he was scared for his Pa, being forced to rob a bank.
“I don’t know what I thought I could do other than run to Micah and let him know. Maybe he could have stopped them from robbing the bank. But I wasn’t being careful where I ran. I remember looking over my shoulder and then I tripped and I remember falling, then… Between Hattie looking out for me and then once Pa returned home, it took me several days before I could even sit up. And about a week before Pa would let me out of my bed,” Mark stated.
“Noley stated Pa trailed after them.”
“He did. The night it happened, I remember Doc Burrage being there and tending to me. Then Pa came into the room. I heard him talking, but the words didn’t make any sense and I couldn’t put two words together. I couldn’t even say Pa.” Mark stopped talking as he remembered back. “When I woke the next time, Hattie was there caring for me. Eventually I came to realize that Pa thought that one of the Stark’s or Cougar had hurt me. Even now, I feel sorry for anyone who hurts a member of our family, because I’ve seen the dark side of my Pa. Heaven help the man who…”
“But your father, he…”
“He couldn’t kill in cold blood. Even if I had died, the Good Book is too ingrained in Pa for him to. Hattie told me that God would stop my Pa and make him see right, before he did anything too wrong.”
Mark looked to see if Hope understood.
“Hope, you know my Ma died when I was young.” She nodded. “There was medication that could have saved my Ma’s life. Only my grandfather didn’t return with the medicine. I didn’t find out about any of this until I was fourteen. My own grandfather could have saved my Ma’s life and Pa wanted to kill him. Samuel Gibbs didn’t return to Enid until after Pa and I had left. Pa decided it was more important to make a life for me than to wait around and kill a man he thought had killed his wife.”
“But he was your grandfather! Would Pa have really killed him?” Hope asked.
“Hope, had my grandfather returned before we left, I can only pray that God would have protected my Pa as he protected him when he was tracking strangers.”
“Mark, there’s just so much that I don’t know about you or your father. It was shocking to hear Noley talk about what happened.”
“Hope you can ask me anything about my growing up years and I’ll tell you. The main thing to remember is; that’s the past. Pa and I can remember back, but we choose to live in the here and now, not in the ‘what could have been’. Just like you and I will have to do now.”
“Mark, I’m so sorry I lost your baby,” Hope said as she started to softly cry in Mark’s arms.
“Hope, it’s not your fault. This baby just wasn’t meant to be, that’s all.”
“I was so excited about giving you another child.”
“Hope, it’s not about you giving me another child. It’s about us creating a life. We have a wonderful life together, with two beautiful sons. And, if God feels we should have more, he’ll see that we do. Please dry your tears.”
“You’re not upset with me?”
“No. I’m not upset. It hurt when Uncle Johnny told me the news. I didn’t realize how much I’d already gotten used to the idea of another little McCain running around. I’m just sorry I wasn’t here when you needed me.”
“But you’re here now. Just having your arms around me and our talking has taken away a lot of the hurt. You think we should head on home and relieve Ma and Pa from watching the terrible twosome?”
“If you think you’re up to it, I mean chasing after them. They’re getting to be quite a handful to keep up with,” Mark stated as he pulled Hope closer against him.
Hope let out a deep sigh as she enjoyed the time with Mark.
“Are you going to be okay?” Mark asked.
“I am, now. Thank you.” Hope turned and kissed Mark.
Hope got to her feet and said, “You know what?”
“Last one to your horse rides in back!” Hope sprinted to Mark’s horse. She finally felt at peace with what had happened.
“Oh, you!” Mark laughed and ran after his wife.
Mark saw to it that Hope got in the saddle then he climbed up to ride behind her.
“So, what did you end up naming this beast?” Hope asked.
“I hadn’t given it any thought. What would you call him?”
“Well, he is a beautiful shade of copper, why not Copper? It kind of goes with your horse theme of their name including colors.”
“Okay, then Copper it is,” Mark replied as Hope signaled the horse to lope.
Lucas and Milly were watching the children play in the front yard when Hope and Mark rode in smiling.
This story continues in The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 8