The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 21 (by BluewindFarm)

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

Category:  The Rifleman
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  18,695


 

The Next Generation… Chapter 97 – Reunited

With train tickets in hand, Mark slowly climbed the stairs to their hotel room. Entering their room, Mark watched as Lucas attempted to hide his pain while lying down on the bed.

“Pa, how are you feeling?”

“I’ll feel better when we’re home and I have Milly in my arms,” Lucas quietly spoke, trying not to agitate his ribs.

“Doc said he’ll wrap your ribs again in the morning before he officially discharges you. We’ll have plenty of time to get to the train station. The tickets are for tomorrow afternoon. We’re in the sleeper car.”

“Train… Okay…” Lucas stated as he started to drift off to sleep. “Can’t wait to get home…”

“Pa, I was wondering… It’s been a long time since we were in Oklahoma,” Mark ventured to address the subject of his wonderings as he sat down in the overstuffed chair in the room. The past several days Mark’s mind had wandered while waiting for the doctor to discharge his Pa.

“Home…” Lucas sleepily stated, as the medication took effect.

Feeling that his Pa didn’t want to talk about it, Mark said, “I can’t wait to get home either.”

*****

Doc Brubaker finally discharged Lucas to return home on Sunday the seventh of February, Mark kept an eye on Lucas while they carefully made their way down the hotel staircase. Slowly, father and son made their way to the train platform. Seeing Lucas to a bench, Mark told him, “I’ll be right back.”

Mark stopped at the telegraph office.

Milly and Hope McCain
North Fork, New Mexico Territory

Heading home on the train /stop/
Be home soon /stop/

Lucas and Mark McCain

When Mark returned to the train station, he was leading Rainmaker and carrying two rifles, he leaned both against the bench upon which his Pa sat.

“Let me make arrangements for Rainmaker in the stock car…”

While Mark was tending to Rainmaker, Lucas realized the second rifle was his…

“Yeah, it’s your rifle,” Mark stated upon his return.

“How?” Lucas asked.

“I pulled it off Razor. Pa, I’m so sorry…” Mark didn’t know exactly what to say, tears welled in his eyes as he sat down.

“Razor…”

“I found him where he fell. I guess his heart gave out…” Mark’s voice quieted.

“I shouldn’t have taken him out that day…”

“Pa, why not? How were you supposed to know Turpin was coming for you?” Mark pleaded.

“Just a rotten way to lose him…”

“I buried him where he fell.”

“You buried…”

“Pa, I couldn’t leave him for the wolves. Spent the evening and night digging the hole. I used Rainmaker to position his body, before I started covering him over.”

“He was a good horse…”

“He was Pa, he was.”

“ALL ABOARD!” called the conductor.

*****

Two days later, the train pulled into the North Fork station while Mark looked out at the freshly fallen snow that blanketed the town. He helped steady Lucas down to the platform before they headed to the clinic. Crossing the main street, they encountered Nils, who Mark requested take Rainmaker from the stock car and put him up at the livery. Upon entering the clinic, both stopped when they heard a woman screaming.

“Maybe we should come back tomorrow,” Lucas stated.

The door to the room at the end of the hallway opened and Sarah McCafferty stepped out, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Mark, Mr. McCain, you’re home. Is there something I can help you with?” Sarah asked and stopped when she realized Lucas was on crutches.

“I was hoping Thadd could take a look at Pa, before I take him home.”

“He’s sort of busy right now, Abigail went into labor earlier. If you don’t mind waiting, I’m sure it won’t be much longer. I’m just going to see if the water is warm enough to use for bathing the baby.”

“Go ahead. What room can I put Pa in?” Mark asked.

“Two” Sarah answered as she proceeded to tend to her task.

After seeing Lucas comfortable on the examination table Mark stated, “I think I’ll head over to Seth’s to see…”

“That won’t be necessary,” Seth stated as he entered the room. “I heard the train and figured you’d stop here first.”

“I didn’t wire that Pa had been injured,” Mark replied.

“You didn’t need to. I saw the two of you making your way here.”

“We’ve been gone a while, how are Hope and Ma and the children?” Mark asked.

“They’re all doing fine. You hadn’t been gone but a few days when word made its way around town and your uncle, and the ranchers, started pitching in and helping. That and I hired on a fella to help, too. Taking care of your place for this long was more than what Jake should be asked to handle on his own.”

“You hired some stranger to watch over the ranch?” Lucas demanded as he sat up.

“Neither of you were around and we didn’t know how long Mark was going to be gone chasing after you. Milly and Hope were trying to do it all. He came to town, looking for the two of you…”

“Pa, lie back down,” Mark tried to order.

“You didn’t move our families to town after I went missing. How could you leave two women and eight children out there all alone?” Lucas’ temper rose.

With more attitude than he meant, Seth replied to Lucas’ accusations, “Why don’t you ask your son the same question! Seems you had no choice, but Mark didn’t let anyone in town know before he took off after you!”

“Seth, who did you hire?” Mark asked as he tried to restrain Lucas and calm the situation between his Pa and his father-in-law.

“Yes, just who did you hire to watch over MY family?!”

While Lucas was losing his temper, and Mark was trying to calm him down, and Seth was attempting to explain, no one noticed the sound of a baby crying emanating from down the hall.

“A good friend of yours, Lariat Jones. And since he arrived, he’s been a hard worker. I helped Hope set him up a cot in Gwen’s old room. He even insisted that Hope put a padlock on her side of the door so that way, he’d only gain entrance to the house with her permission.”

“Pa, please lie back down,” Mark insisted.

“Lariat’s back in town?” Lucas relaxed back, comforted in the name of a friend helping to watch his family. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“Yes, Lariat’s back in town. And I was trying to tell you that when you started accusing me of abandoning your family.” Pointing his finger to Lucas, “Just keep in mind, your daughter-in-law is MY daughter!” Calming his attitude, Seth continued, “Lariat arrived just after New Year’s Day. Milly and Hope tried to take care of the ranch with just Jake’s help as well as Johnny’s and a few of the other hands helping out here and there, but they learned just how hard you work to keep the ranch going and it was more than what Jake could do alone.”

“Lucas!” the threesome heard Johnny Gibbs call from the hallway.

“In here,” Lucas replied.

Soon, Johnny Gibbs and others were gathered in and around the clinic, wanting to see for themselves that Lucas and Mark McCain had returned. After Thadd ordered everyone from the room, he entered and started shaking his head at the sight.

“Well, at least you’re both clean shaven this time.” Looking to Lucas, “So, tell me about all your injuries.”

“What about Abigail?” Lucas asked. “Sarah said she was in labor…”

“You three have been arguing so loudly you missed hearing the baby’s crying,” Thadd stated as he smiled.

“So, is it a boy or a girl?” Mark asked.

“A girl,” Thadd answered.

“Have you named her yet?” Lucas managed to ask.

“No, right now Abigail is nursing her while I come to tend to the two of you,” Thadd replied. “So other than the bruising and a busted leg…”

Lucas proceeded to tell Thadd of his bruised and broken ribs, as well as his broken leg. Upon completing his examination, Thadd was quite satisfied with the level of medical attention Lucas had received.

“Doctor Brubaker should have left that town a long time ago, but there were enough good people still requiring his services. Seems he was one of few who cared about the town,” Mark stated.

“I don’t understand,” Thadd replied.

“Elk City had turned into a haven for outlaws. Tom Benton is going to do some inquiring and regardless of whether it was incompetence or the constable being in cahoots, I wouldn’t be surprised if Elk City needs to elect a new lawman to watch over the town,” Mark replied.

“Oh… Now, other than your colorful complexion, what injuries did you suffer, Mark?” Thadd asked.

“I’m just sore along the ribs.”

“And?” Thadd asked.

“Thadd, he spent the better part of six weeks in the saddle trailing after me,” Lucas laughed.

“Oh, I get the picture. If you need some salve for your…”

“No, I’m just need to get my land legs back,” answered Mark as he tried to stretch out his legs.

“Well, I’m sure Nils would loan you a wagon to get back to the ranch. Mark, I don’t see why you can’t resume your duties as Marshal whenever you’re ready. Lucas, you’re going to be laid up for about five more weeks. I want to see you next week to check on how your ribs are mending.”

*****

“Stop complaining about my driving. Until Doc takes out your stitches, you’re stuck riding on this bench seat. Besides, Gwen enjoys my driving,” Jake laughed.

“I ain’t married to you!” Lariat replied under his breath.

“It’s been ten days, maybe today will be the day Doc will take out your stitches and say you can start riding…”

“Then you should have let me tie my horse to the back.”

“You sound worse than the twins when they don’t get their… Hey, isn’t that Rainmaker?” Jake asked as he pulled the team to a halt.

“Who?” Lariat asked as he started looking around.

“Hey Jake!” Nils yelled as he tried to hurry Rainmaker towards the buckboard. “You two better make yourselves scarce.”

“Then that is Rainmaker?” Jake asked.

“And why should we make ourselves scarce because of a horse?” Lariat sulked.

“Because this horse belongs to Mark, he and Lucas came in on the afternoon train. They’re at the clinic right now. Lucas looks to be busted up and Mark, well, Hope’s going to just love the bruising on his face, too.”

“Lucas is back?!” Lariat perked up.

“Lariat, they’re not supposed to know what happened out at the ranch, so you better pray you’re healed enough for Doc to say you can go without that sling if he doesn’t remove your stitches,” Jake offered

*****

As Lucas and Mark exited the examination room, Johnny Gibbs declared, “You’ll never guess who else was on the train!”

“Who?” was asked in unison.

“Did you know that Oat has a sister? A gruff and tuff old man like him has such a pretty gal as a sister, who’d a thunk?”

*****

“What are ye two doing, hiding in my kitchen?” Lou declared.

Jake turned and answered, “Lucas and Mark are back.”

“Oh, I see, well… I don’t hold with what all of ye are planning to do in keeping secrets from the McCains… So just get out of my kitchen. Go on now! Shoo!”

Jake and Lariat scurried from the kitchen and into the restaurant. While not watching where they were going, Lariat accidentally bumped into a woman who Oat Jackford was escorting.

“Oh, pardon me ma’am. Sorry, I wasn’t watching where I was going,” Lariat stated while tipping his hat.

“Oh Oat, are all these cowboys always this clumsy?” the woman asked.

“Clumsy? Why I have you know…” Lariat tried to defend himself.

“They are when they’re trying to hide…” Oat stated, knowing he was getting a rub in on Lariat.

“Are they outlaws?” the woman’s eyes gleamed.

“No ma’am, but if Lucas sees me now, I may very well wish I was. Lariat Jones is the name,” he extended his hand.

“Mr. Jones, how sweet of you. I’m Ruth Jackford,”

“I didn’t know you had a wife, Mr. Jackford,” Jake stated.

“I’m not his wife, thank goodness. I’m his sister. And you are?”

“Jake McCafferty, ma’am.”

“If you two riff raff will excuse us, I was planning to have lunch with my sister,” Oat stated.

Ignoring Oat, “Will you be visiting your brother for very long?” Lariat inquired.

“I’m not really sure,” Ruth replied. “Do you live in town?”

“Come along Ruth,” Oat ordered as he took hold of his sister’s upper arm and guided her to a table in the corner.

*****

“Oh Mary! In here!” Ruth called to the woman standing in the entrance to the restaurant. As the woman and her young son approached, Ruth introduced them, “Oat, I’d like for you to meet Mary Walters and her son, Corbin. We were on the train together. Mary, this is my oldest brother, Oat.”

Extending his hand Oat stated, “Pleased to meet you ma’am, Corbin. If you’d like to join us for lunch?”

*****

Mark halted the team in front of the barn and jumped down before he proceeded around the back of the buckboard to help his Pa down. Mark was reaching into the back of the buckboard when a snowball struck Lucas in the back. Milly came from the side of the barn and gasped at who her snowball had struck when she realized it was Mark standing next to… “Lucas?!” Milly called out, unbelieving he was actually home.

Lucas turned around and gave a smile that stated he was happy to be home. Their children came running to the buckboard, excited their papa was home.

Milly hurried to Lucas, yet paused before attempting to hug him, “I thought it was Jake and Lariat returning from town with the team.”

“So you’re throwing snowballs at the hired help?” Lucas reached out, inviting his family to hug him, and kept his grimace to himself.

“Mark!” Hope yelled as their children ran to greet their papa. Hope carried Faith as she ran through the snow to greet her husband.

When Hope was close enough, she took Mark’s chin in her hand and turned his face to get a good look at the bruise on the right side of his face.

“I’ll explain everything later,” Mark stated as he hugged and enjoyed being reunited with his family.

“Did you see Lariat at the clinic?” Milly asked. “So you know he’s been staying here and helping out?”

“Why would Lariat be at the clinic? Something happen to Jake?” Lucas asked.

“Uh, no… Jake’s fine,” Hope answered.

“The children and you look okay,” Mark stated. “What’s Lariat doing at the clinic?”

Both Hope and Milly started to corral their children to allow Lucas room to walk, using the crutches, through the snow and into his home. “Well, the two of them are in town and I presume they would have stopped by to see you at the clinic.”

“Ma? Hope?” Mark asked, not believing their answer.

“Let’s get your father inside,” Milly answered and turned to the children. “Children, let’s get inside.”

“Can we go to Grandma and Grandpa’s?” Zach asked.

“Yes, I think we’ll ALL go to Grandma and Grandpa’s,” Mark replied. “I’ll take care of unharnessing the team and putting Rainmaker up. I’ll be inside soon.”

Milly and Hope made themselves busy helping their children get out of their winter coats, hats, and mittens. Looking to each other, they entered the kitchen to start preparing supper.

*****

Mark returned to the house and started go into the kitchen when he heard, “Mark?”

“Yes Pa?”

Lucas motioned for Mark to come back to the front room. “Give them time. Both of us have stories to tell. Let’s wait until after the children are asleep before we talk.”

*****

Mark stepped to the porch upon hearing the sound from a team of horses arriving. “Jake, Lariat, welcome back!”

“Welcome back, yourself!” Lariat called as he jumped down from the buckboard. “Sorry we missed you in town.”

Mark helped Jake unhitch the team while Lariat entered the house to catch up with Lucas.

“So, everything was okay while we were gone?” Mark asked.

“Sure, everyone helped out a lot… Sam, Billy, Lariat, even your Uncle Johnny.”

“There’s nothing in the back of the buckboard, so why were the two of you in town?”

“We just missed you at the clinic. Lariat pulled a muscle in his shoulder pretty badly, one of the yearlings got bogged down and Lariat… Well, you can picture what happened. Doc said he could stop wearing the sling today and slowly work his way back to using his arm.”

“Oh, is that all…” Mark replied.

“I really need to get back home to Gwen. You’ll tell your father I said hello and welcome home?”

“Sure, and why don’t you take a few days off. From the looks of things around here, you could stand to take some time off. I can handle the ranch for a few days.”

“But Doc said your…”

“Don’t you worry, we’ll be fine. Give Gwen a kiss from me.”

Mark saw Jake off before he returned to his parents’ home.

*****

“I tell you Lucas, had that yearling not been the best looking one of the herd, I would have left him there. After I ended up pulling a doozy on my shoulder, I wish I had.” Lariat moved his arm around to show that he didn’t quite have full range of motion. “Hey Mark,” Lariat called as Mark entered the house, “your misses here is some cook! Between her and Milly, why I swear I’ve put on ten pounds while the two of you been gone.”

“You’re lucky if that’s all!,” Lucas teased.

“Lucas, I’ll have you fattened back up in no time,” Milly stated as she came to sit on the arm of Lucas’ chair. “Both, you and Mark, look so gaunt.” Milly leaned over and gave Lucas a kiss.

“You don’t know how much I’ve been looking forward to getting back home,” Lucas stated as he leaned back in his chair.

“Papa, would you like your bible?” Myra asked.

Lucas took the bible from his daughter and opened it to Psalms 23, as he read, he was thankful to be home to the house the Lord had blessed unto him. It didn’t take long for Lucas to fall asleep in his chair.

Milly woke him after they had supper on the table and all the children were settled.

*****

As they settled their children into bed for the night and closed the bedroom doors, Hope commented, “There is one more thing we need to do.”

“What’s that?” asked Mark.

“Celebrate Christmas…”

“Christmas? But that was almost two months ago…”

“I know, but the boys said it didn’t feel like Christmas without you here. They didn’t want to open their presents, I still have them wrapped in the bedroom closet.”

“I’m so sorry, Hope. Pa was missing…” Mark’s eyes pleaded for her understanding.

“Mark, I understand,” Hope stated as she climbed into bed and positioned Faith to her breast to nurse her before putting her in her bassinet for the night.

*****

“Papa,” said Myra as she stood to the side of her parents’ bed that morning.

“Myra?” Milly sleepily asked.

“What?” Lucas woke confused.

“Since Papa was home, I thought maybe…”

“Maybe what?” Lucas asked as he pushed himself to sit up in bed.

“Papa, could we open our Christmas presents?”

“Your Christmas presents? Milly?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, when you disappeared, it was hard on all of us… And Christmas morning, no one felt like celebrating.”

“Then I think today should be Christmas!” Lucas exclaimed and moved faster than he should have.

“Lucas?” asked Milly.

“For a moment there I forgot my injuries. Myra, go wake your brothers. Milly? How about a big Christmas breakfast?” Lucas reached for his crutches to help him from bed as Myra ran from their bedroom calling “Little Ted, Levi, wake up! It’s Christmas!”

Lucas and Milly started singing Christmas carols as he entered the front room and Milly proceeded to move the brightly wrapped packages from their bedroom closet to the front room. Lucas quietly thanked God for re-uniting him with his family as he enjoyed watching everyone open their presents. The children were excited about their new clothes, and the boys loved their train sets and Myra squealed when she opened her final present to see a new set of books for her to read.

“Papa, just so you know…” Myra stated as she stood and walked to Lucas. “The best present is your being back home. We really missed you.”

“I missed each and every one of you.”

*****

Having been gone for almost seven weeks and sleeping in strange beds or in his bedroll, Mark relished the idea of sleeping in his own bed. As comfortable as his bed was, Mark woke well before the sun rose after hearing sounds from the bassinet. Upon peeking in, Mark saw his daughter wide-awake, babbling, and stretching her arms towards him. Mark carried her into the kitchen to fix her a bottle as she continued to squeal and babble. Having sat down in his chair, Mark smiled as he listened to his daughter slurping at the bottle. Once finished, Mark set the bottle to the side table and placed Faith to his shoulder to pat her on the back, encouraging a burp. While waiting, Mark listened to her unintelligible chatting and cooing. Mark’s patience paid off and was rewarded in hearing several solid burps escape from his daughter.

“Now I’ve one task to do before everyone else wakes up, so you’re going to have to be real quiet. Well, maybe that can wait, first I think I need to change you.”

Mark quietly reentered their bedroom and collected everything he needed in order to change Faith’s diaper. Once done, he laid her down in the bassinet in the front room and set about decorating the house and pulling the presents out from the closet. The sun had yet to rise when Mark stood back and looked at his handiwork.

Picking Faith up and carrying her to sit down in his chair, Mark set her back to his lap, and spoke, “Well now, if you’re not the chatter box. Can’t call you Gabby, that nickname is already taken by your Aunt Myra.”

Faith smiled and stretched her arms toward Mark as she continued to sing her own song.

“You sound almost as sweet as a morning bird,” Mark whispered as Faith grabbed his fingers in her tiny hands. “You know, you’re named after my Ma. That’s where you get your name Margaret. Can’t call you Maggie because your mama chose to call you Faith, that and the Reverend’s wife is called Maggie… We have too many Johnny’s around here, so I know how confusing it can get about names.”

Mark continued to enjoy his early morning with Faith in his lap. “Hmmmm. I guess you like to hear your mama singing around the house when she’s doing her chores… A mocking bird… how would you like to be called Magpie?”

Faith squealed louder and tried pulling Mark’s hand into her slobbery mouth.

“No you don’t. You need to keep quiet else you’ll wake your mama,” Mark said, pulling his hands from his daughter’s grasp and lifting her high over his head, before lowering her to his lap. Mark didn’t anticipate the squeal of happiness that Faith let out as he lifted her again. Quickly he lowered her to his lap and placed a finger over her lips.

“Mark?!” Hope called as she opened the door. “Is Faith alright?”

“She’s fine. We were just having a father/daughter talk. I’m sorry we woke you.”

“Why don’t you go on back to bed and I’ll stay in here and nurse her, she must be hungry.”

Mark answered as he stood, “We’ve already had a bottle, haven’t we Magpie?”

“Magpie?” asked Hope.

“That’s what we were discussing. She sings almost as sweet as you do and it gave me the idea for her nickname.”

“Mark?!” Hope squealed when she realized the front room was redecorated for Christmas.

“Go wake the others so we can celebrate Christmas.”

Hope proceeded to wake their other children. Mark smiled as the sleepy heads came from their bedrooms.

“Merry Christmas!” called Mark, who smiled as he watched his children’s faces light up.

*****

Lucas and Mark had only been home for a couple of days when Micah stopped by Lucas and Milly’s.

“I’m thankful the snow didn’t last any longer than it did,” Micah commented. “Still, having to deal with all the mud until it dries up…”

Micah shivered and accepted a cup of coffee from Mark when Little Ted came from his bedroom, pretending to be firing a rifle, “Bang, bang!”

“Easy there, are you a good guy or a bad buy?” Micah asked.

“Why, I’m you… I’m killing that man dead in his tracks… Just like you did. Bang! Bang!”

“Just like you did?” Lucas looked from his middle son to Micah. “What’s he talking about? Have you been telling tales?”

“No Pa, he shot the man dea…” Little Ted stopped talking upon hearing, “Little Ted!” being exclaimed by Milly and Hope as they returned inside with a basket full of eggs and the milk pail.

“When did Micah kill a man?” Mark asked, standing tall over his brother.

“Micah? What’s that under your… You’re wearing a badge,” Lucas stated.

“A badge?” Mark walked over and raised the collar of Micah’s coat to see for himself.

“Johnny and Seth needed some help,” Micah tried to answer.

“Was that before or after you killed the man?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas,” Milly tried to intervene. “A man came to town causing trouble.”

“What did he do that forced Micah to kill him?” Lucas’ words were meant as a question for Micah.

“It’s taken care of. Nothing you need to fret about, just concentrate on getting healthy,” Micah spoke.

“As I’m the U.S. Marshal for this territory, you’ll tell me who you killed. It’s one thing for you to try to keep this from Pa, but I can’t accept that excuse. I have reports to write to Denver.”

“Mark, don’t make me,” Micah asked.

“Make you? You come out here wearing the badge… Killing a man, did it have anything to do with your wearing the badge again?” Mark asked.

“What does Hattie have to say about it?” Lucas demanded.

“Hattie wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but dang it… You’ve not been here since before Christmas! And I still got a few tricks that I can teach Johnny and Seth, besides they needed help looking after the town.”

“Then if you want to keep wearing that badge, you’ll tell me who you killed,” Mark stated.

“Mark, that’s not fair,” pleaded Hope.

“Keep out of this before I ask you, since it sounds like everyone is in on keeping this a secret…”

“You’ve no right to talk to Hope that way,” Milly demanded.

“Milly!” Lucas’ voice warned.

”Micah, I’ll ask you one more time. Who?”

Before answering, Micah stared at Lucas and Mark. He saw the demand in Mark’s eyes and knew he couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. “Dan Maury. Now Lucas don’t you…” Micah pointed his finger towards Lucas.

“DAN MAURY! I thought he was dead fifteen years ago!” Lucas yelled as he sat forward in his chair.

“You were too shot up to know the truth!” Micah yelled in return.

“For fifteen years he’s been out there, possibly gunning for either of us?!” Mark angrily questioned.

“No! He spent the last fifteen years in jail, only returning to North Fork a few weeks ago, after being released from prison,” stated Micah.

“Released from prison?!” Lucas yelled.

Milly folded her arms and stared at Lucas, unbelieving her husband’s and son’s attitudes.

“Little Ted, where were you when Micah killed this man?” asked Mark.

“Here,” Little Ted quietly answered.

“And the man was killed, where?” asked Mark.

Hope answered, “He was killed in front of his house!”

“So you’ve all conspired to hide the truth from me? That a man was killed… on my property… And this man was the same man who tried to kill me fifteen years ago. And I thought this same man had been killed fifteen years ago…” Lucas demanded.

“Now Milly and Hope weren’t even in North Fork fifteen years ago,” Micah replied.

“I’ll talk with you later on that,” Lucas commented as he reached for his crutches.

“We handled it Lucas!” Milly replied, standing her ground.

“Handled it?! You shouldn’t have HAD to handle it. Tell me, Lariat didn’t just pull a muscle in his shoulder, did he?” Lucas stood from his chair, leaning heavily on his crutches.

“Either you sit back down and let us explain, or…” Milly ordered.

“Or what, Ma?” a very upset Mark asked.

“It’s in the past. There’s nothing that needs discussed,” Hope stated.

“Nothing to be discussed?” Mark turned and looked Hope square in the eye. “A man from Pa’s past, a man we both thought was dead, comes gunning for our family… and you… everyone of you are set to write it off as if it didn’t happen? My God, I could have come home to find out my family had been murdered!” Mark lost his temper and punched his fist on top of the table. “And not one of you can be truthful about it?!”

Mark grabbed his hat and stormed from his parents’ home, slamming the door behind him.

“Papa? Am I in trouble?” Little Ted asked from the doorway to his bedroom, Josh, Zach, Eli, and Levi right there with him. Myra stood in the doorway to her bedroom, with Mykaela holding her hand.

Lucas looked at the scared looks on the children’s faces, realizing how wrong he had been for losing his temper. He took a deep breath before he lowered himself to his chair.

“No Little Ted, you’re not in trouble. Kids go back into your bedrooms.” Lucas waited for the doors to close before he spoke again, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that… It’s just…”

“Lucas,” Milly interrupted. “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have kept it from you. You have a right to know that Dan Maury was here. He tried to kill Lariat, luckily Johnny Drako had warned Lariat, just in case he did try to cause trouble here.”

“And just how did you happen to be here?” Lucas asked of Micah.

“After I sobered up…” Micah paused when he saw the look on Lucas’ face. “Yes, I took to drinking after Maury rode back into town. I tried to warn Johnny and Seth and they didn’t take my warnings seriously…tried writing me off as a worried old maid. I started feeling worthless. Took me four days to realize my error. Took me two days to sober up and I kept an eye on him. I finally figured out what he was waiting for and took the shortcut to get here. Arrived with enough time to hide in the barn, and warn Lariat. And you’re right, Lariat didn’t pull a muscle. He took a bullet from Maury. His own bullet grazed Maury across the ribs. I stepped from the barn and when Maury raised his gun towards me and fired…I got him. He’s buried in the cemetery.”

“And last time? Fifteen years ago?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, you almost killed yourself with that fool stunt… but I’m thankful you were there. My bullet seriously wounded him and Doc Burrage honestly didn’t think he’d survive more than twenty-four to forty-eight hours. So we told you he died. When he didn’t… We made arrangements to get him to Yuma until he could stand trial. Everyone in North Fork agreed to keep this secret. As ornery a cuss as he was, no one figured he’d survive in prison.”

“I’m sorry… It’s just that after everything that Turpin put me through… Coming home to find out this, and not be told up front about it. Can you forgive me losing my temper?” Lucas asked looking to Milly.

“Only if you can forgive us for trying to keep this from you?” Milly stated. “We knew how much this would upset you. We should have figured out you’d be more upset in finding out we tried to keep it a secret.”

Lucas nodded.

“What about Mark?” Hope asked.

“I’ll talk to him when he returns,” Lucas stated. “I was the one who lost my temper first. Micah, you’ll stay for supper?”

“I was hoping you’d ask. Hattie’s helping Abigail out with their newest baby tonight.”

“Baby?” Milly and Hope asked in unison.

“Sure, didn’t Lucas or Mark tell you when they came home?” Micah asked.

“Lucas McCain, you knew that Abigail had her baby and you didn’t tell me?” Milly warned.

“Milly McCain,” Lucas mocked Milly tone. “I was so glad to be with reunited with my family, I kind of forgot.”

“Was it a boy or a girl?” asked Hope.

“Thadd said a daughter,” Lucas answered.

“And her name?” Myra asked.

“Well, we left town before they’d named her,” answered Lucas.

“Sadie Irene Burrage,” laughed Micah in seeing the apologetic expression on Lucas’ face. “Don’t be too hard on either one of them. Seeing the lovely coloring of their own faces, I think they both had other things on their minds.”

*****

Milly and Hope had just finished removing the supper dishes from the table to the sink when there was a knock on the front door.

“I’ll get it,” Milly stated as she wiped her hands on her apron. “Yes, can I…?” Milly’s voice broke as she realized who was standing at the door.

“Ma, I’m sorry,” Mark stated as he removed his hat, waiting for Milly to step back from the doorway.

“Mark?” Milly asked as she stepped back.

“I was stupid… I haven’t gotten over everything from trailing after Pa, and I should accept that I have friends who can help watch over my family.” Mark turned from Milly and walked to Hope. “I ask for your forgiveness for speaking to you as I did?” Mark picked up her hand and gently pulled her towards him.

“You’re forgiven,” answered Hope, as she closed her eyes and nodded.

Turning to Micah… “Thank you for protecting my family, then… and now.” Mark held out his hand to Micah, smiling as all was forgiven.

“There is one thing I cannot forgive you for?” Hope stated as she rested her head on Mark’s shoulder.

“Oh?”

“You didn’t tell us that Abigail had her baby!”

“Oh, that… Uh, Hope, Abigail gave birth to a daughter the day Pa and I came home,” Mark replied for which Hope slapped him on the chest.

*****

Upon returning to their home with their children, Hope informed Mark, “I did accept your apology for talking to me as you did earlier, however…”

Standing to face his wife, “Hope I’ve been through so much in the past two months… that hearing that Dan Maury was here, it just got to me… Did Micah tell you what happened the last time he was here?”

Hope nodded.

“I wasn’t quite eleven. Imagine how I felt coming home to find a small pool of blood on the ground and Pa’s rifle leaning against the barn and no Pa in sight. I ran to the house and found him leaning against the counter of the kitchen sink… blood everywhere. Maury had shot him twice. I managed to get the team hitched by myself and race them to town with Pa in the back of the buckboard. The town was quiet as death…”

“Micah told us the rest of the story. Mark, we didn’t want to worry either of you. We knew how much it would upset both of you. As Ma said while you were out, maybe we should have realized you would be even more upset when you found out our secret.”

“Please, I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you for talking to you as I did. I’ll help you clean the house, do laundry… I’ll even mop the floor.”

“You’ll do that and more.” Hope hid her smile.

“More? What else did you have in mind?” a wary Mark asked.

“You can take me to the Sweetheart’s Dance.”

“But that’s the day after tomorrow…” A relieved Mark stated, “Oh, I think I can handle that” and accepted the last of his penance for talking to his wife as he had.

The Next Generation… Chapter 98 – A Changing Wind

Friday morning, Mark woke early knowing he was going to have a long day working the ranch by himself, before helping Hope clean house. As Mark led Rainmaker from the barn, he was surprised to see Jake waiting on his own horse.

“What are you doing here?” asked Mark.

“Figured you’d need some help today since your Pa is going to be laid up for a while.”

“Okay, let’s get moving. Show me how well you kept up with everything.”

*****

By noon, Mark waved goodbye to Jake and returned home, satisfied that most everything on the range was in good shape.

Upon entering his home, his wife met him at the door, “Would you like to wear one of these?” as she held one of her aprons in her hand.

“Very funny,” laughed Mark as he set his rifle over the mantle and hung his hat from the peg behind the front door.

The twins and Eli came from their room and asked, “Papa, are you gonna…”

“Don’t you dare say women’s work,” warned Mark as he turned and pointed to his sons.

“Oh no, I remember the last time I said that word. We were gonna ask if you were gonna help us clean our room?”

“No, you three are on your own. You only have one room to clean; I get to help your Mama clean the rest of the house.”

“Didn’t think so,” sulked Eli as the three went back to their room.

*****

Hope was pleased with the cleanliness of their home by the time they needed to get ready to head into town for the Sweetheart’s Dance Saturday afternoon.

Before helping his family into their buckboard, Mark helped his Pa climb up onto the front seat of his buckboard and placed the crutches under the seat before he helped his Ma up. Mark snickered as he turned to walk away, hearing Milly insist to Lucas that she would drive, “You just sit there, and enjoy the scenery.”

*****

Upon the McCains arrival in town, they were curious to see Lariat escorting a woman into the town hall, but they were surprised when they learned who the woman was.

Lariat introduced, “Ruth, I’d like you to meet Mark and Hope McCain and their children, Josh, Zach, Eli, Mykaela, and Faith.” Whispering he asked, “Did I get them all right?”

“Shore did!” Josh boldly declared.

“And this is one of my best friends, Lucas McCain and his wife Milly, and their children Miss Myra, Little Ted, and Levi.”

“You got them right too,” declared Zach.

“’cept he forgot Papa,” Mykaela stated.

“Oh, excuse me, Mykaela. Yes, Mark is Lucas’ oldest son.”

“McCains, I’d like you to meet Miss Ruth Jackford.”

“Now Ms. Jackford, don’t let your brother tell you differently, but speaking of Mark here, why I’ve heard your brother has a soft spot whenever it comes to anything to do with him,” Johnny Drako interrupted as he came up and slapped Mark on the back of his shoulders. “Good to see you Mark.”

“Excuse me?” Ruth asked in surprise.

“Ain’t nothing to do with no soft spot.” Oat attempted to defend himself, having overheard Drako’s claim. “Ain’t nothing wrong with admiring a young man who stands up to wear a badge.”

“Why Oat, you’ve never admired anyone before, I only thought you admired your land and your money,” Ruth answered.

“Mark was raised right. Grew up to be a fine marshal,” replied Oat.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Lucas answered as any proud father would.

“Now listen here McCain…” Oat pointed his finger to Lucas.

Placing her hand on her brother’s arm and lowering it down, Ruth said, “Oat, please, I think we’re embarrassing the young man. It’s a pleasure to meet you and your families.”

“Come along Ruth,” gruffed Oat.

“Now you know full well that Mr. Jones invited me to accompany him this evening. You go on inside,” Ruth insisted.

*****

After exchanging a few more pleasantries, the groups walked the rest of the way into the town hall. Music was already emanating from within, causing smiles to appear on everyone’s face.

“Yes, Isaiah?” Lucas asked.

“Mr. McCain, I was hoping… seeing as how you’re back home, might I escort Myra for the evening?”

Lucas tried to stand to his full height and appear serious, “And just what are your intentions this evening?” Lucas tried hard to keep the smile off his face as he saw Myra clasp her hands together and smile.

“Sir? I just want to dance with her… Honest!” answered Isaiah.

“Okay, but just dance,” answered Lucas.

“Papa, can we have some punch, too?” Myra asked.

“Sure Sweetheart.”

Upon watching his daughter walk away hand-in-hand with Isaiah, Lucas said, “Don’t give me that look, Mark.”

“What look? I was only thinking of how much longer it’s NOT going to be before I have to start worrying about boys calling.”

Slapping Mark on the back, “Well, if I can survive, I think you can survive. Let’s go inside.”

“Yeah, but you only have one daughter,” Mark quietly answered.

“But you wear a badge,” smiled Hope.

*****

Johnny Drako came up next to Lucas and stated, “Guess you’re wondering about the woman and the boy standing next to Oat?”

“Yeah, I was…”

“Her name is Mary Walters and her son is Corbin, she’s a widow and he’s about eight. They came in on the train, the same one you and Mark returned on. Hear tell Ruth and Mary struck up a friendship on the train, and I guess Oat’s struck up a friendship since she arrived in town.”

“Never, seen him smile so much,” Milly whispered in reply.

*****

The dance was in full swing when at the end of an up-beat song, Mark laughingly escorted Hope from the dance floor when a large man bumped into him, “Excuse me,” Mark stated in an attempt to apologize. “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“And just who do you think you are?” the man angrily retorted.

“Nothing to get upset about, it was an accident. I’m sorry,” Mark tried to diffuse the situation, while he attempted to escort Hope and walk around the man.

Grabbing Mark’s arm, “You’re sorry? You come here and act all high and mighty? Well I’ll tell ya, I’m just as good as you are…” the man slurred his words as he spoke.

“I didn’t say anything to the contrary,” replied Mark. “Listen mister, why don’t you go to the hotel and sleep it…”

The man didn’t give Mark a chance to finish his suggestion when he threw a left punch, connecting with Mark’s right jaw; as Mark collapsed to the ground he heard Hope cry out “Mark!!”

The man drunkenly stood over Mark when he didn’t attempt to stand. Mark tried to shake the cobwebs that addled his brain when the man pulled him off the floor by grabbing the front of his shirt.

“I tell ya this, no one tells Quinton Trumble what to do! Nobody! Least of all some sodbuster!”

By the time he threw Mark across the floor, many of North Fork’s citizens were trying to wrestle Trumble to the ground. Through the man’s drunken rage, he put up a strong fight against those who were attempting to restrain him. Finally, Drako had enough, and with the butt of his gun, struck the man over the back of his head. As the big man started to collapse, the others stood back and allowed him fall with a loud thud to the floor.

The band stopped playing with a few of the instruments sounding off key, while conversations waned.

“I need three of you to help me get his sorry a… carcass over to the jail. DOC! Has anybody seen Doc?” Johnny Drako called out, his voice sounding louder in the quietness of the hall.

“I’m tending to Mark!” Thadd yelled in reply.

“Okay! Men, let’s move him.”

After Trumble had been removed from the town hall, the crowd nervously chatted in small groups as to the cause of the fight while others stated it was a shame it had happened at the Sweetheart’s Dance.

*****

Slowly, due to being on crutches, Lucas made his way through the dispersing crowd to check on his son, “Doc?”

“He’ll be okay, Lucas. Just got his bell rung; Hope, why don’t you escort your husband to the bench over there.”

“I’ll be okay,” Mark stated, rubbing at his jaw.

“I know you will, but I want you to take it easy for a little while,” replied Thadd helping Mark to his feet.

Seth attempted to restart the festivities by encouraging the band to play so that the people of North Fork would get back to dancing and enjoying themselves.

*****

The band played a slow waltz and one by one, couples took to the dance floor, with others standing at the sides, humming along or tapping their feet in tempo with the song. It didn’t take too long before the fight was forgotten and the festivities of the Sweetheart’s Dance resumed.

“Mr. Jones, aren’t you going to check on your friend, to make sure he’s okay?” Ruth Jackford asked.

“Now ma’am, how many times do I have to ask you to stop calling me Mr. Jones?”

“I’ll stop calling you Mr. Jones when you stop calling me ma’am. Makes me feel like an old spinster.”

“Old? You? Why, you’re as young as any spring chick. And that’s why I’m standing here. Someone needs to protect such a sweet young gal as you, considering your brother left you here all alone.”

“The Marshal stated he needed men to get that ruffian to jail… Besides, I thought I was here with you tonight.”

“That he did and yes you are.”

The band started playing another song, a little more livelier than the previous tune.

“So, since the band is playing a tune that I can dance to… Would you allow me the honor of this dance?” Lariat asked as he extended his arm and Ruth promptly placed her hand through the crook of his elbow and allowed herself to be escorted to the dance floor.

By the time the music ended, both were out of breath and laughing at the fun they’d had.

“Now I don’t know when I’ve had such an excellent dance partner,” complimented Lariat.

“I bet you say that to all the ladies you take to a dance.”

“My feet really appreciate how well you dance,” Lariat stated as he returned a flushed Ruth to the bench on the sidelines, his actions causing her to break out in laughter again as he picked up his foot. “See you didn’t step on my boots, not once.”

*****

“Mark,” Lucas proceeded to ask, “What was that all about?”

“Pa, I don’t rightly know. We bumped, I tried to apologize…” stated Mark. He shook his head one more time.

“Pa, honestly, Mark and I were just leaving the dance floor…”

Sweeney came up behind the McCains, “Lucas, they’re right. They were minding their own business when that lug, Trumble, bumped into Mark. I knew he was spoiling for a fight. Was upset that I cut him off; he’d been drinking too much and I just knew he was going to cause trouble. Mark, I’m sorry… I tried to get Johnny’s attention.”

“Nothing for you to apologize for Sweeney, you tried your best…” Mark answered. “Just a shame it happened during the Sweetheart’s Dance.”

“That’s what everyone else said, Mark,” Milly stated as she stood next to Lucas.

“That lug will have an ugly lump on the back of his head when he wakes,” Oat commented as he rejoined the group. “Doesn’t he know you’re a U.S. Marshal?”

“You forget I’ve been away for a while.”

“That and Mark’s badge is pinned underneath his jacket to his shirt. That man couldn’t have seen it,” Hope replied.

Mark continued, “I’ve not spent much time in town since we returned, but I don’t remember seeing him before. Sweeney is he new in town or just passing through?”

“Him and his family moved into North Fork about a month back; took over the old Mosby place.”

“That old rundown shack?” Lilah questioned before she realized she had.

“Him, his misses, and two children,” replied Seth as he too joined the group. “Johnny and I kind of lost track of him during the evening. He carries a mean attitude in his dealings with anyone in town.”

“Are the children old enough to attend school?” asked Hope. “Neither of the twins have said anything about new students at school.”

Mrs. Porter was standing to the side of the group and commented, “I’ve only seen the misses once, and she looked timid. Didn’t see any children with them, I thought they might have been at school.”

“Guess we need to make a social call to see about the well-being of the family,” stated Mark.

*****

Oat returned to the sidelines to hear, “Mr. Jackford, you’re so brave to help the Marshal with that brute of a man. What of the man he beat up?”

“Mrs. Walters, what I did was nothing. He should be thankful that the town didn’t string him up instead of the Marshal knocking him out. Just ain’t right to see Mark McCain taken advantage of like that; especially during such a social occasion.”

“I’ve not met Mr. McCain,” Mary replied.

“Oh, he and Lucas returned to North Fork the same day you arrived,” Lariat stated.

Puffing his chest forward Oat added, “Mark’s a good friend and the Territorial U.S. Marshal.”

Ruth leaned forward, “Mary, from what I hear, Mark is probably the only man my dear brother would ever consider a good friend.”

Oat ‘grumpfed’ in response to his sister’s comment.

Lariat turned his laugh into a cough when Oat looked in his direction.

*****

As the evening broke up, Mark kissed his wife and children goodbye; he waved to them from in front of the Marshal’s Office as Hope drove the buckboard past. Following behind Hope were his parents and siblings in their buckboard; Milly again insisted in driving the team, while Lucas nervously sat in the seat beside her.

Mark stepped inside the office at hearing Trumble rattling the cell door, “Hey, let me out a here! You got no right to keep me!”

“We have every right to keep you in jail for disturbing the peace,” Mark stated as he removed his hat and set it on his desk.

“Sodbuster, you pulled a cheap shot. I’ll get even with you, just you wait…”

“Trumble!” Drako demanded as he entered the office. “You’d best mind what you’re saying and who you’re saying it to.”

“Ain’t no mangy sodbuster gonna scare me. You tell me who whacked me over the head and I’ll…”

“I did. Now just shut your yap and mind yourself before I decide to press additional charges against you,” Drako answered.

“For pushing some sodbuster out of my way? Ha!” Trumble crowed.

Walking close to the cell Mark spoke as he opened his jacket, showing the badge pinned to his shirt, “I take it you’ve not noticed that I too wear a badge.”

“Well, lookey lookey, little boy playing grown-up. Well, sonny, when you grow up…”

Ignoring the man’s taunt, Mark stated, “Trumble, this badge has federal backing, I’m a U.S. Marshal, with all the powers that come with the territory. Either you can be charged with disturbing the peace, drunk and disorderly or you can be charged with assaulting a federal marshal. Keep it up and we’ll pin the more serious charge against you.”

Mumbling under his breath, Trumble returned to the bunk in the cell, flopped down, and pulled the cover over his shoulder. Within minutes, he was snoring.

“Sweeney said he and his family arrived in town a month ago?” Mark asked.

Johnny answered as he walked to his desk, pulled out the chair to sit down, “Yeah, been nothing but trouble when he’s been drinking, which is most of the time.” Johnny pulled off his hat, set it on his desk, and ran his fingers through his hair.

“How much trouble?” asked Mark as he walked over and sat on the edge of Johnny’s desk.

“Mostly drunk and disorderly… Other times, he’s just belligerent… Makes Oat seem down-right pleasant. It’s almost like he’s looking for a fight,” Johnny replied.

“Like the one he pulled tonight? Thanks for the warning,” Mark teased as he rubbed his jaw.

“Sorry, I guess I should have warned you about him. Seth and I thought we could keep an eye on Trumble. Hey, what are you doing here anyway? Didn’t I just see your buckboard drive by?” Drako asked.

“Don’t you think it’s time I resumed my job? Why don’t you go on home and spend the rest of the night with Lou and your family. I can handle the town until tomorrow.”

“If that’s the way you want it, goodnight, Mark,” a smiling Drako replied as he gathered his hat before he closed the door and headed home.

“Didn’t think I’d get an argument from him,” Mark mused.

*****

Mark sat at his desk and pulled out paper, pen, and an ink well. For the next hour he worked on writing his report regarding trailing after Turpin who had taken his Pa, and his encounter with Mable and her ring of thugs. After completing his report, he folded it and placed it in an envelope addressed to Cole Barker, U.S. Marshal, Denver, Colorado.

Sitting back in his chair, he reflected on the trip that had taken him so far away from his family, yet… so close to another part of his family. With his elbows on the arms of his chair, Mark folded his hands and rested his chin on his thumbs, allowing his memories to flow from his childhood. It had been some time since he had remembered back that far, but something wasn’t quite right… he couldn’t hear the song his Ma was singing, and though he saw himself sitting on her lap, he couldn’t feel her arms around him anymore. Mark tried to remember other times and the memories were the same, his Ma was there, but he couldn’t feel or hear her anymore…

*****

Mark roused from his sleep as Thadd stepped into the office, “Just wanted to see how you were doing this morning. Especially with you sleeping at your desk like that… Any headache?”

“Yeah, I got me one hell-ov-a-headache,” Trumble declared from the cell. “Who knocked me out?”

Standing from his desk, Mark walked to the front of the cell. “That would be our town marshal. He should be here a little before eight o’clock to release you, after you pay your fine.”

“Mark, I was asking about you,” Thadd stated after waiting for Mark to turn around.

“I know you were Thadd. I’m doing fine,” replied Mark.

“Fine, fine, fine,” mocked Trumble. “Mangy sodbuster…” he mumbled as he heavily sat back upon the bunk in the cell.

Mark offered Thadd a cup of coffee.

“No, I think I’ll pass on that this morning, need to get to the clinic.”

“Why the rush?”

“No rush, honestly, wanted to maybe get a little sleep in. Sadie was a little colicky overnight, I’d finally get to sleep, and she’d start crying again.”

“That’s the trouble with children, I guess,” Mark replied.

“Yeah, you’ve been pretty lucky with your brood, none of them have kept you up all night…”

“I’ve done my fair share of diaper changing and sitting up with Hope while she nurses them. Go on now, before I decide to go tell Abigail you don’t have any patients.”

“You wouldn’t…” Looking at Mark’s expression, “You would at that. See you later.”

“So you got yourself a brood of brats, ain’t that just sweet,” Trumble called from the jail cell.

“Trumble, North Fork is a nice, quiet little town, and we like it that way. I also heard that you have two young children, and I will be making a call to your home to see why they’ve not been in school.”

“Ain’t need no book learning. They learn by doing! And if they ain’t doing when I get home, they’ll get their hides tanned.”

*****

Mark followed Quinton Trumble home after Johnny released him. Mark knew the former Mosby place hadn’t been in good repair, but he was shocked at how the place looked. Everything was in disarray and an even worse manner of disrepair, the children he saw attempting to hide behind the barn door appeared filthy and underfed.

“You better get back in there and do your chores, else your hides will be tanned!” yelled Trumble.

Both children scurried into the dark insides of the barn.

“They need an education…” stated Mark.

“I give them all the education they need.”

“Listen Trumble, you have an obligation to see those children to school. Now I want to see both of them right now, or you’ll end up back in jail,” demanded Mark.

“You want to see them, you go to the barn.” Trumble walked to the house and yelled for his wife, “Where’s my breakfast?!”

Without even knowing the children, Mark felt sorry for them. He walked into the barn and called out, “Don’t be afraid, I’m not here to hurt you. I’m a U.S. Marshal and just want to meet you.”

From one of the stalls stepped two young children.

“Hello there, I’m Marshal McCain. How are you?”

“We got chores to do else pa’ll whup us,” the boy answered.

“He knows I’m here. What’s your name?”

“My name is Robbie and this is my sister, Eloise.”

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be eight this summer and Eloise will be five next month.”

“So, you’ll be five years old. That’s a very important age,” Mark spoke as he knelt and cupped his hand to the little girl’s cheek.

She didn’t say anything, just cuddled the dirty doll she held in her arms and moved closer to her brother.

“She don’t cotton to strangers. Pa whupped her once for saying hi to someone.”

“Do you go to school?” asked Mark.

“Pa says we don’t need no book learning, says it’s all lies.”

“Well, I can tell you, it’s not lies. And we have a law on the books that all children over the age of five must attend school. I’ll see what we can do to get you caught up to where the others your age are.”

“Do you mean it?” the boy’s eyes lit up.

“I mean it.”

“You best be working in there!” Trumble yelled having returned to outside the barn.

“I’ll see you two later,” stated Mark as he stood to his feet.

*****

Trumble didn’t enter the barn, he waited outside for Mark to step out, “So ya seen ‘em, now get off my land!”

“Not so fast. North Fork has a law on its books; all children over the age of five must attend school. You’ll have Robbie at the schoolhouse tomorrow so he can be assessed on where he fits in.”

“He don’t need assayed,” Trumble retorted.

“Mr. Griswald or Mr. Bullock will evaluate where he fits into the school grades and if necessary, he’ll be tutored to see he catches up to where he should be. Don’t defy me on this… You will spend plenty of time at the jail, if you do.”

“Mangy, sodbuster…” Trumble muttered as he turned to walk back to the house.

Mark witnessed the timid Mrs. Trumble pull back inside, after having peeked out from around the doorframe.

*****

Wednesday evening Lucas and Milly received an unexpected visitor, “Stevan, won’t you come in?” invited Milly.

“Thank you,” Stevan stated as he entered and removed his hat.

“Lucas, good to see you getting around so well.”

“What brings you out this way? Have the children been causing trouble in school again?” asked Lucas.

“No, actually your children, and Mark’s, are behaving themselves quite nicely. I came to ask Milly’s help.”

“How can I help you?”

“Milly, I know you retired from teaching a number of years ago, but we have one student who really could use some private tutoring, he’s almost eight years old and he’s never been to school.”

“Stevan, I can’t… not until Lucas…”

“Milly, I can manage. If this child needs your help…”

“Lucas?” Milly asked, her eyes expressing that she didn’t really want to leave Lucas alone.

“Milly, if I get into trouble with Levi, I can always yell for Hope to help me. It’s not like I’ll have all three children here at the house.”

“If you agree, I’ll make arrangements for tutoring to begin Monday. I’ll see if Reverend McCafferty will let you use the church to work with the boy.”

“Just who is this boy?” asked Lucas.

“His name is Robbie Trumble.”

“Trum… Oh,” replied Lucas.

*****

The following Monday, Trumble led his children to the schoolhouse, “You wanted one, you get them both!” turned round and walked away.

“Robbie? Is this your sister?” asked Stevan Griswald.

“Yes sir, her name is Eloise.”

“Well, come with me and I’ll introduce you to your tutor. Her name is Mrs. McCain.”

*****

Milly enjoyed driving the buggy Lucas requested Mark purchase for her use. She kept a watchful eye on her children and grandchildren as they rode their horse and ponies in front of her on their way to school.

During the several weeks she had been tutoring, she had been able to draw Eloise out from her quiet shell, and she was pleased with how well Robbie was learning his studies.

*****

“Do you think that’s a wise thing to do Sweeney?” Drako asked.

“Sure it is, why, I hear tell it’s a big celebration back in Boston. And I’m surprised that Miss Lou ain’t been demanding we observe St. Patrick’s Day before.”

“Sweeney, you’re responsible for collecting any damages done during this celebration. It’s your business…”

Before he left the Marshal’s Office, Sweeney stated, “At least it’s a Wednesday night and not Saturday.”

*****

“Well Pa, today’s the day,” Mark stated as he drove the buckboard into town and halted the team in front of the clinic.

“Can’t come soon enough,” mumbled Lucas as he jumped down, landing on his good foot. Mark pulled the crutches out from underneath the seat, while Lucas reached for his boot.

“After you get your cast off, care to stop by Sweeney’s?” Mark asked.

“Not really, why?”

“Johnny was telling me something about Sweeney putting together a St. Patricks’ Day celebration. Wanted to see what that was all about.”

“You can, if you want. Me. I want to get home,” Lucas responded as he entered the clinic.

*****

With the cast off his leg, Lucas practiced walking around the examination room for a few minutes.

“Now just take it easy. Keep in mind that your muscles in your leg aren’t as strong as they were prior to the break. It’ll take time to get your strength back.”

“Lucas! Mark! You’re never gonna believe this!” Johnny Gibbs declared as he rounded the corner of the doorframe, grabbing at it to stop his forward momentum.

“What aren’t we gonna believe?” asked Lucas.

“Oat’s getting married!”

“He’s what?” all three said in unison.

“He’s over at Sweeney’s. I swear he’s stone sober and he’s talking that he’s gonna take himself a wife!”

“This I have to see,” a surprised Lucas stated as he slowly jogged from the clinic, across the street, and into the saloon, followed by Johnny, Mark, and Thadd.

“I’m getting married! It’s an honorable establishment! Finally found a woman who has just the right integrity!” boasted Oat.

“Who?” came from one person.

“When?” came from someone else.

“Mary Walters! That’s who, and just as soon as I can get everything arranged with the Reverend.”

“Someone said yes?” came from a third man.

“Dang sure she did!”

“I can’t believe he asked,” came for someone else in the crowd.

“Oat, are you sober?” asked Mark as the crowd parted for him to make his way through to Oat.

“Sober and not a drop I’ve drank. Drink up boys! This round’s on me!”

“Oat, don’t know what to say, except, congratulations!” Mark offered.

“Hurray!” and “Yahoo!” and “Yeeha!” yelled throughout the crowd.

Slipping back outdoors, Lucas, Mark, and Thadd stood there shaking their heads in disbelief.

*****

Saying goodbye to Thadd on the boardwalk, Mark and Lucas walked to the Marshal’s Office.

“Well, are you out to dance an Irish jig?” Drako asked as they entered.

“A what?” asked Lucas.

“It’s a dance, according to Lou.”

“If you say so,” replied Lucas.

“Johnny, have you heard the news? Can you believe it?” asked Mark.

“Believe what?” Johnny answered back.

“Oat’s over at the saloon buying beers,” teased Mark.

“He’s what?! That old skin-flint…” answered Johnny.

“He’s also getting married,” commented Lucas as he took the cup of coffee that Johnny handed him.

“He’s what?” a shocked Johnny replied. “This is St. Patrick’s Day, not April Fool’s Day,”

“And we ain’t fooling. Honest Johnny, Uncle Johnny came to the clinic and told us. Pa got the cast off his leg; we went to Sweeney’s and saw for ourselves.”

“How drunk is he? Am I going to have to put him up for the night?” asked Drako.

“He’s stone sober,” declared Lucas.

No one had anything else to say, they couldn’t believe it.

The Next Generation… Chapter 99 – Gwen’s Inheritance

Towards the end of March, Gwen received a response to the letter they had sent regarding her inheritance.

Dear Mrs. McCafferty,

We are pleased that you have made contact with our law firm. Unfortunately, it is impossible for one of our staff to travel to North Fork in order to present you with your inheritance. The provisions your grandfather made within his Will instructed that if you were still alive, you must claim your inheritance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Upon your arrival, it will take approximately three days, at most four, to resolve your grandfather’s estate.

Please wire when you might arrive and we will handle the arrangements.

Sincerely,

Edmond Hawes, III, Esquire
Senior Partner
Hawes & Hawes
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jake and Gwen met Mark at the Marshal’s Office and showed him the letter.

“Maybe four days by train there, four days in Cambridge, and another four days home. If I’m going to go with you, we need to do this soon, I want to be home before Eli’s birthday.”

“What if we leave on the tenth, we should be home no later than the twenty-second,” Gwen suggested. “This would give us plenty of time to prepare to leave.”

“Okay, let me talk with Hope before you wire Mr. Hawes,” answered Mark. “Then I’ll need to wire Denver…”

*****

“Mark, you were gone for six weeks earlier this year,” protested Hope.

“I know, but I can’t allow Gwen and Jake to travel to Cambridge alone. I warned her aunt that I would travel with them. I still don’t trust that woman won’t cause them trouble. Besides, don’t you think I owe this to them.”

“I know, it’s just…”

“I’ll miss you too.” Mark pulled Hope close to him. “Besides, I’ll be home in plenty of time to help with preparations for Eli’s birthday.”

*****

“Mark, don’t you worry none about Miss Hope and the ranch while you’re gone,” boasted Lariat. “I’ll keep an eye on her and help Lucas keep the ranch running. Though with both his top ranch hands missing at the same time; it might not be in as good a shape, as if you two were here.”

“Well you and Jake did a fair job earlier this year. I’ve faith in you Lariat. Just keep Pa out of trouble while I’m gone.”

“And what trouble would I be getting into?” Lucas asked.

“I don’t know, but you sure do seem to jump in feet first when there is trouble,” Mark teased back.

“Witch’s brew, Lucas. There’s always a witch’s brew,” Lariat responded.

“You just finish your business and get back to me as soon as possible,” said a teary-eyed Hope.

“I will.”

“Ma, you take care too. We’ll be back in two weeks, tops.”

Mark, Jake, and Gwen stood on the back of the passenger car, waving goodbye as the train pulled out of the station. Once North Fork was out of sight, they made their way to their seats.

*****

“Well, now, let’s get all your shopping done so I can get you back to your home,” Lariat encouraged after the train had vanished from sight.

“Uncle Lariat,” Eli stated as he tugged on Lariat’s pant leg.

“Yes Eli.”

“Will you buy me some candy, please?”

“Why sure, if’n your Ma says it’s alright.” Lariat looked to see a tearful Hope nodding.

“Come on, candy for everyone!” declared Lariat.

All the McCain children, except baby Faith, gathered around Lariat and happily called out which piece of candy they wanted.

“Hope?” asked Milly.

“Ma, I miss him so much. Cambridge, Massachusetts…it’s so far away… What if something happens?”

Lucas stood beside Hope and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, “We’ll watch over you and the children, as will Seth and Lilah.”

“I’m not worried about me… What if something happens to him?”

“We just won’t think on that. No sense borrowing trouble that may not happen,” said Milly, wrapping her arm through Hope’s, encouraging her to come along to the General store.

*****

“Lariat, I can drive the buckboard back with…”

“Now Miss Hope, I promised your husband I would watch out for you.”

“Lariat, I think with Milly and Lucas in front, I can manage. Why don’t you enjoy the rest of your afternoon and evening with Ruth? I think she’d appreciate seeing you.”

Hope turned Lariat around as she would one of the boys and pushed him away from her.

“Go on now. Don’t make me pull out my rifle and force you.”

“No ma’am. I’ve been on the business end of your rifle once and that landed me in jail. I’m going, I’m going.”

Lucas and Milly, as well as Hope could now laugh over that incident.

On the drive home, Lucas kept checking over his shoulder to see how Hope was managing.

“Give her time to miss him,” offered Milly.

“Do I get time to miss him too?” asked Lucas.

“I think we all will. At least this time, we can rest a little more easier and not worry so much,” Milly answered as she wrapped her arm through the crook of Lucas’ elbow and rested her head on his shoulder for a few moments, before she thought better of it, and sat up straight.

*****

The children helped Hope and Milly unload their purchases and carry them into the house, while Lucas unhitched both teams.

*****

The train had exchanged passengers before it departed the station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Can you believe how crowded everything looks?” Mark asked as he looked out the window at the passing countryside and towns.

“You’ve never be east of the Mississippi?” asked Jake.

“No, I was born in Oklahoma and we moved around a lot before settling in North Fork, but I’ve never been this far east.”

“It only gets more crowded the closer we get to Cambridge,” commented Gwen.

“I was born in Cincinnati, I’m in just as much wonder as Mark,” Jake replied.

“Well, I was born in Cambridge, but I was just a baby when we did leave. I just remember all the stories my father would tell me about the various towns he’d been to, when he’d put me to bed. Cambridge is going to be as much a surprise to me as it is to the two of you,” Gwen replied with both excitement and nervousness.

*****

As the train traveled North to Cambridge, the new passengers took notice of Mark’s rifle leaning against the seat upon which he sat; they noticed how he always had it in his hand when he would move between cars or get up to stretch his legs.

Upon their arrival at the train station, Jake, Gwen, and Mark waited for the majority of the passengers to disembark before they stepped from the train, however, once they did, Mark was surprised to see two men approaching them, handguns drawn as some of their fellow passengers pointed in his direction.

“You’ll need to come with us, sir,” the taller of the two men stated, reaching for Mark’s rifle.

“Why and where are you taking me?” asked Mark, not willing to let go.

“Sir, we have laws around these parts and a person can’t just go carrying rifles around like sticks,” the shorter man stated. “Only lawmen are allowed to carry weapons in the open. Now if you’d had it in a carry case…” His hand still on Mark’s rifle.

“I think my U.S. Marshal’s badge is the only permit I need,” replied Mark as he opened his jacket and showed his badge.

“A U.S. Marshal? I’m sorry, sir. It’s just that we received wires regarding a man carrying a rifle out in the open was on the train and some people were pretty upset. I’m Officer Cooper Brady and this is my partner, Officer James O’Hanrahan, welcome to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We’d like to make this up to you, and your friends, may we see you to your hotel?”

Officer Brady was a tall fellow, with little meat on his bones. His dark hair was in stark contrast to his pale complexion. The uniform he wore was crisply pressed; the crease of his pants was unbroken as the hem barely touched the highly, polished black shoes he wore.

Officer O’Hanrahan, was just a little taller than Mark, and his large frame carried his weight well. Whereas his partner had been clean shaven, O’Hanrahan wore a large handlebar mustache, just as red as the hair under the hat that sat crooked upon his head. His uniform was clean, but lacked the spit and polish Brady’s appearance presented.

“My name is Mark McCain, and my traveling companions are Jake and Gwen McCafferty.”

The group exchanged handshakes and apologies.

“Where’s your handgun?” Officer O’Hanrahan asked.

“I never took to using one. The rifle was good enough for my Pa, its good enough for me,” replied Mark.

“Your ‘Pa’ a lawman?” Brady asked.

“Not officially, but when needed, he’d step up as an acting marshal when our town marshal had to be out of town.”

“Hey, I remember reading in the newspaper a few years back about a lawman who used a rifle instead of a handgun,” O’Hanrahan exclaimed.

“That was Mark,” Jake replied.

“You’re the rifleman?” O”hanrahan asked.

“No, his father is the Rifleman. Mark is the Lawman,” Jake was proud to answer.

Those closest to them to hear the boast started murmuring amongst themselves. As the group walked along the sidewalks, Mark’s rifle continued to draw stares from those they passed.

“As you can see Marshal, it’s like we said… Here, people rely on us to protect them. Citizens don’t go around carrying weapons.”

“Can’t wait for the day that can happen in North Fork,” commented Mark.

“Virginia?” O’Hanrahan asked.

“No, New Mexico,” Gwen answered.

“Jim, I thought you said you read that newspaper.”

“I did, it’s just been a number of years and I don’t remember all the details. ‘Sides, I didn’t hear you correcting me…”

Turning his attention back to their new friends, Brady stated, “You three came a fair piece. What brings you this far to our little town?” asked Brady.

“Little?” Jake choked out.

“Compared to New York, Philadelphia, and others, Cambridge is little,” Brady answered.

“It’s pretty big compared to North Fork,” Jake replied.

“Do you have family here you’re visiting?” asked Brady.

“I’m here to see about an inheritance. My grandfather passed away last year and I received word in November that I was named in his Will,” answered Gwen.

“Was your grandfather an important man?” O’Hanrahan asked.

“I don’t know. I never met him. His name was Howard Trevor St. Paul, we’re here to meet the lawyers, Hawes and Hawes,” answered Gwen.

“Then you’d best watch your steps and your backs,” Brady commented.

“Are the lawyers that shady?” asked a concerned Mark.

Brady answered before O’Hanrahan could get a word in, “No, we just know who Mrs. McCafferty’s aunt is, Mrs. Mary Catherine Glendening, herself.” Brady tipped his head from side to side with each word of her name. “That woman is enough to drive a man to drink; in fact I think she’s driven her husband to drink. She acts so high and mighty as if she’s better than everyone else. Now, Mr. St. Paul… your grandfather, ma’am…,” Brady tipped his hat, “he was a real gentleman, took good care of the people who worked for him and cared for the less fortunate in town. He also was known to be a major contributor to the firemen and policemen, making sure we had the equipment needed. It made all the papers when he passed. You have our condolences for your loss.”

“Where did you make arrangements for a room?” O’Hanrahan asked, as they reached the main street.

Jake answered the question, “Hawes and Hawes said accommodations would be waiting for us at the Cambridge Hotel.”

The officers hailed two horse drawn carriages and requested they be taken to the Cambridge Hotel. The three from North Fork marveled at the elegance of the black carriages; the gold mantled lanterns on the sides, windows in the doors, and the plush seats upon which they sat. The harness the horses wore was of high quality leather, and the horses themselves were of good conformation.

“It’s beautiful,” commented Gwen as the carriages pulled up in front of the hotel and stepped from the carriage.

O’Hanrahan answered, “It’s only been open about a year and a half now. They say she’s a Queen Anne-style building. Right next to it is Engine 7. There’s stables in the back, as well as coal bunker they share with the fire department. She also has indoor plumbing in the rooms, with hot and cold running water.”

“Engine 7?” asked Mark.

“Oh, it’s the name of this particular fire department. They’re good men, but do consider themselves to be somewhat the ‘black sheep’ of the fire department,” O’Hanrahan answered.

Officers O’Hanrahan and Brady tipped their hats and bid those from North Fork good day.

A man wearing a fancy ruffled shirt protruding from the opening of his jacket and a tall, black, stove-pipe, hat opened the door for them to enter, he tipped his hat as Gwen passed by.

*****

They were greeted upon signing in, “Mr. and Mrs. McCafferty and Mr. McCain, welcome to The Cambridge Hotel. I’m Gordon Dewsbury, the hotel manager. We’ve been eagerly anticipating your arrival.”

“You have?” answered Jake.

“If you’ll follow me, I’ll see you to your rooms.” Turning to call to out, “Jimmy, Bobbie, get their luggage!”

“Sir, we can…” Mark attempted to say.

“Nonsense, this is The Cambridge, we treat our guests with respect. And we’ve been given instructions to treat you as if you were the queen herself.”

The three shared adjoining rooms on the top floor of the building.

“This is our presidential suite,” Dewsbury stated as he opened the double doors and showed the three into the suite. Two maids were finishing opening the blinds, allowing the afternoon sun to brighten the room. Flowers adorned either end of the mantle over the fireplace, as well as a larger bouquet on the table in front of an opulent couch.

Before leaving, Dewsbury stated, “Dinner is served in the main dining hall beginning at five o’clock.” Calling to his employees, “Maria, Amelia, this way ladies. Jimmy, Bobbie, do not stand there waiting for tips. Out! You have separate sleeping rooms one to your left and one to the right. Both have large, plush beds. I’ll let the three of you settle.”

Dewsbury bowed as he backed out of the suite and pulled both doors closed.

*****

“This room can’t be for us,” Gwen stated as she removed her traveling bonnet. “He must have us mistaken for someone else.”

“Gwen, he greeted us by name and Mark. How many McCaffertys and McCains would there be traveling together.”

“We can’t afford to stay here. It must cost a fortune,” Gwen replied as she continued to look around the suite.

“The room is for us,” Mark answered having found an envelope addressed to the three.

Mr. and Mrs. McCafferty
Marshal McCain

Please make yourselves comfortable this evening. We shall anticipate your arrival at our offices tomorrow mid-day.

Until then,

Edmond Hawes, III, Esquire
Hawes and Hawes

*****

Shortly before five, the three walked down the staircase to the grand entrance.

“Mark?! Mark McCain?!” they heard from across the lobby.

Looking around Mark saw a vaguely familiar gentleman, waving his hat, trying to gain Mark’s attention. Mark motioned for Gwen and Jake to join him.

“I hoped it might have been you they’ve been talking about,” William Walsh stated as he extended his hand.

“Mr. Walsh, it’s been quite a while,” replied Mark as he proceeded to introduce his traveling companions.

“And I thought the last time we met that you were going to call me Will?” Turning to his companion, a portly man with long, curly white hair and an even longer white beard, “Senator Rush, I’d like to introduce you to Mark McCain. His life is an interesting story to tell.”

“Please to meet you young man. Would you care to join us for dinner?” invited Senator Rush.

“I’m sure you have business to discuss…”

“Poppy-cock! I want to hear new voices. I’ve spent way too many evenings talking newspaper and legal briefs and legislation…” Taking Mark by the arm, the Senator escorted the group to the private dining room reserved for the legislators at the hotel.

“So, Will heard mumblings of your arrival and says that he knows you from out west. Just how far have the three of you traveled?”

“North Fork, New Mexico sir,” Gwen answered.

“Well, if my memory serves me correct, one of my esteemed colleagues has ventured out that far. Came back with quite an adventure to tell. Can’t see traveling that distance myself, at least not until those territories decide to accept statehood,” Senator Rush stated before ordering brandy for everyone.

“Sir, I don’t mean to be rude, but water or coffee would be just fine for me,” insisted Mark.

“Same for us,” Jake stated.

Senator Rush motioned away the waiter after having taken their orders for drinks.

“In fact there he is.” Calling louder, “Senator Borden, over here!”

“Coming Senator Rush,” Borden called before making his way to their table. “Thomas, I see you’ve invited new friends to join… Marshal McCain! What brings you to Cambridge?” Senator Borden extended his hand in greetings.

“You’ve met?” Rush asked.

“Of course we have. I told you the story,” replied Borden.

Introductions of the McCaffertys were made again before the group settled.

“Do you always address each other as Senators?” asked Jake.

“Only when we want to draw attention to ourselves for better service,” Senator Rush answered with a jovial laugh. “Now, what’s this about you being address as Marshal? Will you didn’t tell me he was a Marshal?” Turning to Mark, “How are the people who elected you handling the fact that you’ve left their town without a Marshal?”

“Sir, with all due respect, the badge I wear is for the U.S. Marshal Service. Our town still has her marshal and deputy while I’m here.” Mark turned to Senator Borden, “Sir, the last time we met, I was only a deputy marshal for our town. How?”

“I keep informed about the people I think have promise to do good for our country. I’ve followed your career quite closely. From part-time town deputy, to a deputy U.S. Marshal, and finally to your being sworn in as the Territorial U.S. Marshal for New Mexico. I also know that you married the young woman you rescued when you cooked up my ‘assassination’.”

Rush spit up his brandy upon hearing the word ‘assassination’. “This man tried to murder you, George?”

“Only in the newspaper, only in the paper. I told you of my last trip to Arizona, others were attempting to take my life to start a range war. In order to draw them out into the open, this young man cooked up the scheme to report to the world I had been killed. My sister was quite shocked yet relieved to see me standing in her doorway. Surprised she didn’t faint dead-away.”

Will turned to Mark, “Mark you have quite a way with the newspaper, are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a job as a writer?”

“I write plenty enough reports as it is. I know they say ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, but if you don’t mind, I’ll stick with my rifle.”

“A lawman with a rifle. By jove, you’re not that Lawman, are you?” an amazed Rush asked.

“Yes, Mark is The Lawman, Thomas. See, I told you Mark,” Will interrupted before Rush could say anything more. “People want to know you, they remember you from my articles.”

*****

Once dessert was served, Senator Rush asked, “So Will, tell me, how is it that you came to write about this young man?”

“Thomas, I met his father by chance, in Albuquerque. After finding out he was The Rifleman, I wanted to write an editorial on him. Lucas McCain wanted nothing to do with helping me, so I traveled to their town and talked to the people; found out the Rifleman had a son who was a Lawman, so my story was born. I agreed to their terms in order to be able to write my story.”

“I remember reading… The Legacy Continues… Got ourselves a real celebrity here and I’m trying to trump him by bragging on being a senator. What terms did they force upon you?”

“They had to approve my articles before I submitted them,” Will replied. He also left out the other provision, not to mention their wives or children.

“Sir, I’m just a U.S. Marshal…” Mark attempted to explain.

“No ‘just’ to it! We’re only blocks from Harvard Law School. I’m chair of one of the committees and I insist that you come to speak as a lecturer while you’re here,” Thomas Rush demanded.

“Sir, we’re only here for a few days, Gwen and Jake have business to tend to in town, I really can’t.”

“Non-sense! George, we’ll be delaying our return to Washington, better yet, Marshal McCain, you’ll accompany us to Washington!”

“Sir, I must decline. Honestly, I can’t go with you to Washington,” Mark insisted.

“But Mark, its Washington! Our Founding Fathers…” a wide-eye Jake stated.

“Our own founding fathers are back in North Fork. We’re here to address family business for Gwen and then we’re heading home. Sirs, if you’ll allow us to pay our bill for supper… we’ll say goodnight,” Mark stated as he stood.

“I won’t hear of it!” declared Rush. “You were my guests. But I’ll still get you to lecture at Harvard before you leave. That, I promise.”

The group left the dining room and returned to their hotel suite.

“But Mark, he invited you to Washington. How can you pass that up?” Jake asked as they entered the room.

“Because we have families back home and I want to get home as soon as possible.”

“Mark?”

“Gwen, if Senator Rush had that reaction to finding out who I was, can you imagine the rest of Washington? Besides, Ethan told me about some of the senators he had to deal with when he was posted here. No, thank you. They might seem to be your friend, but it’s only to get something, a game of one-up-men-ship. I’m here for the two of you and that’s it.”

*****

The following morning, William Walsh greeted Gwen, Jake, and Mark in the hotel dining room.

“Sorry about last night. Thomas can be quite insistent. That’s why he makes such a great senator. You said that Mrs. McCafferty has business in town?”

“Yes, with Hawes and Hawes, we’re to discuss my late grandfather’s estate, Howard Trevor St. Paul.”

“Oh, my. I’m glad you didn’t blurt that out last night,” William let out a deep breath afterwards.

“Why?” inquired Gwen.

“You’d never have been released from the dinner table last night. Thomas and Howard were good friends. Even though your mother didn’t care to marry his son, the families remained closed.”

“My mother dated Senator Rush’s son?” a surprised Gwen asked.

“No, they didn’t date. They were good friends but Thomas, Jr. knew your mother loved Monty,” William answered.

“How is it that you know all of this?” asked Mark.

“I’ve been invited to Thomas’ home for dinner on many occasions. One night Howard, your grandfather, was also there and I overheard Thomas, Jr. trying to defend himself to his father about why he let Howard’s youngest daughter get away.”

“Just when you think the world is large, you find out how small it really is,” commented Jake.

As if he had been shot, William blurted out, “Oh, my. Gwen, I don’t envy you meeting your aunt. Mrs. Mary Catherine Glendening can be a handful. I wouldn’t trust her…”

“William, that’s why I’m here,” interrupted Mark.

“We’ve already had one meeting with her, and that was one time too many,” answered Jake.

“She came to our town, trying to locate me. She showed up on my wedding day, demanding the marriage to be annulled.” Gwen shivered at the memory.

Jake, sensing his wife’s discomfort, wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

****

Over breakfast, William Walsh explained that he was now a senior editor with the Cambridge Chronicle. “It’s a highly respected weekly newspaper, here in town.”

After breakfast, William hailed a large carriage to transport the group to Hawes and Hawes. He waited in the reception area while Gwen, Jake, and Mark entered the large and austere boardroom.

*****

I, Howard Trevor St. Paul, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, being of sound mind and body, do make and declare my last will and testament as follows:

To my daughter, Mary Catherine St. Paul, now Glendening, having already married into the Glendening family and having squandered herself, I only leave my wishes that your life is a long one. Any inheritance you get your hands upon, shall come for your husband; as you chose to marry for money instead of love, so be it.

To my daughter, Emily Marie St. Paul, now Shawnesee, having married Montgomery Shawnesee and left for parts west, I was saddened to hear of your passing. I know that my youngest bore a child and should that daughter still live, I leave my entire estate, including all bank accounts. Gwenivere Shawnesee shall have one year (12 months) to make her presence known to my attorneys, it shall be up to Hawes and Hawes to make arrangements to track down my granddaughter. Should my granddaughter not be found within this time period, my entire estate shall be sold off and all the monies split evenly among the charities listed within the addendum to my Will and Testament.

However, should Hawes and Hawes fail in their attempt to locate my granddaughter for their or anyone else’s gain, charges for robbery and embezzlement shall be preferred against them.

Gwen, what you wish to do with your inheritance is your choice; I only wish that I had the chance to know you. As you are your mother’s daughter, I hope you will carry on my legacy.

Edmond Hawes folded the pages of the Will and waited for Gwen to look up, after hearing the reading of her grandfather’s will.

“I’ll dispute this! He cannot leave me out of his Will!” Mrs. Glendening declared. “Do something!”

“Mrs. Glendening,” Creighton Hawes spoke. “Your father did not leave you out of his Will. You are mentioned and provided for per his wishes.”

“You’ve not heard the last of me!” Mrs. Glendening stormed from the office.

“Mrs. McCafferty, if you would like to visit your grandfather’s home, we would be happy to show you.”

“Sirs, I don’t mean to sound ignorant, but just how much was my grandfather’s estate worth?”

Creighton Hawes allowed his older brother, Edmond, to answer, “I think you should see his home first.”

The Hawes brothers had previously arranged for the two carriages to transport them to the home of Howard Trevor St. Paul.

“This can’t be…” Gwen’s eyes were wide in disbelief as she spoke.

The carriages stopped before a three story, white marble home, with lovely hedgerows and trees lining the driveway. The door was opened by a man dressed as a butler, “Welcome, home, Mrs. McCafferty.”

“Mason, as you know the residence better than us, would you should Mr. And Mrs. McCafferty round. We’ll see Marshal McCain to the library.”

*****

“Mark, we understand how upset you must be for Mrs. Glendening’s actions,” Edmond started the conversation.

“Upset is the least of my reactions,” snapped Mark.

“We were not aware that she had ‘interfered’ with the Pinkerton Agency in our attempts to locate Mr. St. Paul’s granddaughter, until we received your wire.”

“My only question is, how do I ensure Gwen’s safety and the transfer of all this?” asked Mark.

“We would offer our services to Mrs. McCafferty, but do not wish to give the appearance of a conflict of interest. Mr. Walsh would be of assistance in locating another law firm.”

“Mark, I would be happy to make any further introductions, but Edmond and Creighton are held in high esteem by Senator Rush.”

“You know Thomas?” asked Creighton.

“Only in passing. We met last night over dinner.”

*****

Upon Gwen and Jake’s return to the library of her late grandfather’s home, the Hawes brothers stepped from the room to give them privacy to talk.

“It’s like a museum,” offered Jake.

“You would not believe all the metal armor and the statutes, and the paintings,” whispered Gwen.

“Mrs. McCafferty, your grandfather was a patron of the arts. Many of the books within this library are first editions, priceless,” Will said as he walked across the floor and started naming many of the authors.

“Gwen,” Jake said as he wrapped an arm around his wife. “Are you okay?”

“I can’t. This all can’t be mine.”

“Gwen, Brady and O’Hanrahan said your grandfather always took care of those who were less fortunate as well as the police and firefighters…” Mark started to formulate and idea.

“Go on,” encouraged Gwen.

“Your grandfather also stated that he hoped you would carry on his legacy…”

“Mark, what are you suggesting?” asked Gwen.

Mark opened the door and asked for Mason to step inside.

“Mason, how many people work here beside you?” asked Mark.

There are two chefs, three maids, there are four men on the grounds crew, the stable, oh, ma’am, I’m sorry, I forgot to show you the stables.”

“How many men work the stables?” asked Mark.

“Three, sir.”

“And if this place is sold, what becomes of you?”

“That depends upon who purchases the estate. More often than not, the existing servants are left without a job once the new tenants move in.”

“What if you are made caretakers of the estate?” Mark offered.

“Sir, we are already caretakers…” Mason stated, not understanding what Mark was implying.

“Oh, Mark, I love the idea,” squealed Gwen. “Mason, if I were to convert my grandfather’s residence to a museum, open to the public and available for banquets, all of you would retain your employment as stakeholders. You would make the decisions on how to keep my grandfather’s home as he would want it.”

“Ma’am you don’t know us?” Mason stated.

“No, but my grandfather did. I want to continue his legacy. Each of you who currently were employed by my grandfather shall stay employed. We can set up a trust fund so you have living expenses and a salary.”

Gwen walked over and took Mason’s hands.

“But Ma’am, this is your inheritance…”

“And my grandfather stated in his Will it was mine to do as I please.” Turning to Mark, but still holding Mason’s hands, “Mark, would you ask the lawyers to come inside.”

*****

Both men were sitting and in complete surprise when Gwen finished her proposal.

“You want to set up a trust to run the residence?” Creighton asked, trying to understand.

“No, not a residence. I want to convert my grandfather’s home to a museum and possibly a banquet hall. Mason and everyone who is currently employed shall oversee the day-to-day operations. Also, a trust fund shall be created to see to the less fortunate in town. This is the legacy I believe my grandfather spoke of.”

“And you will take nothing from your grandfather’s estate,” Edmond stated.

“I don’t know how much his estate is worth, but I know it’s more money that I could ever use. If my grandfather has an accountant, I wish to meet with him, to make provisions final. I also wish for you to set up appropriate contracts with each member of the staff so they may have it in writing what I wish to do,” Gwen said.

The Hawes brothers sat in amazement at how the young woman who had never met her benefactor could be so much like him.

“We can have the contracts drawn up within two days,” Edmond stated.

*****

As Gwen and Jake stepped from the library, they were greeted by the entire staff, each one thanking them, truly humbled.

“We know your aunt and had feared her arrival,” one of the maids stated.

“I’ll do everything in my powers to ensure each one of you has a home and a job,” Gwen humbly stated.

“Ma’am, it weren’t a job. We did it because we loved your grandfather. He treated us better than any other employer ever done,” one of the stable hands replied.

“Then you’ll all see to it that the Howard Trevor St. Paul Museum keeps its reputation.”

William Walsh had taken notes the whole time, “Gwen, I’d like to put this story in the paper, I believe it deserves to be told.”

*****

Jake, Gwen, and Mark sat in the common area of their hotel suite.

“So, how much are you going to accept from your grandfather’s estate?” asked Jake.

“I don’t know. Maybe enough that we can pay off the mortgage the bank holds, and you’ve wanted to start raising cattle. Enough to purchase a few head and provide for them. This has been a very tiring day, do you mind if I take a nap before supper?”

“No, go ahead.”

Gwen stood from the couch and was halfway to their sleeping room before she called, “Jake?” and fell to the ground.

*****

The doctor stepped from the sleeping room to be confronted by an extremely worried Jake, “Doc?”

“Sit down young man,” the doctor said as he escorted Jake to sit on one of the couches.

“Gwen, is she okay?”

“Nothing that time won’t cure.”

“I think I’ve heard that before,” Mark said as he tried to hide his grin.

“Mark, what, what’s wrong with Gwen?” Jake pleaded.

“Well, you two are married…” Mark answered.

“I know we’re married…” Jake stated, not understanding.

“Jake.” Mark placed his hand on Jake’s shoulder. “With marriage come certain… pleasures.”

“Be we’ve not, not since we left North Fork and when we have, she’s not gotten sick…”

The doctor tried to keep from laughing, not wanting to embarrass this patient’s husband. “This started about two months ago.”

“She’s been sick for two months?!”

“Young man, this isn’t exactly a sickness,” replied the doctor.

“Then what? Tell me what’s wrong with Gwen!” pleaded Jake.

Jake looked up when he heard Gwen laughing as she walked into the common room, quickly he was at her side.

“Congratulations!” wished Mark.

“Congrat… Gwen’s si…” Hearing Mark and Gwen laughing, Jake looked to his wife. “You’re not sick.”

“No, I’m not sick. I’m pregnant.”

“Pregnant, but how?” Jake asked innocently, without realizing what he was asking.

The doctor could not contain his laughter any longer, “Young man, did your father not talk to you about this before you married?”

“You’re pregnant! You’re pregnant!” Jake declared as he started hopping around the room. “You’re pregnant!”

“Jake, I think that’s already been determined,” giggled Gwen.

*****

The following morning the leading story in the society section of the Cambridge Chronicle read: St. Paul Home to become Museum

“NO!!” Mrs. Mary Catherine Glendening declared after reading the article. “She can’t!”

“She can and she will. I told you years ago, the way you cut off your sister, and the way you treated your father, you have no one else to blame but yourself,” the man wearing an old, smoking jacket stated as he poured himself a glass of brandy.

“Keep out of this. If you weren’t such a sniveling husband, had you stood up for yourself. No you had to go a drink away your respect… You could have taken over as President of Glendening Holdings!”

“As I said, you have no one else to blame. You did enough talking for the both of us. I should have listened to my mother, all those years ago.”

“YOUR MOTHER!”

“Yes, my mother. She tried to tell me you were after nothing but my name and my money. Well, you got both, and all you have left in my name. Woman, leave it be… If anything happens to your niece, I’ll be the first one to testify… for the prosecution.”

The man turned and left his wife standing in the middle of the parlor.

“Winslow! WINSLOW!”

*****

Upon returning to their quarters after supper, Mark started the conversation, “So I guess you’ll also need to be making arrangements for that little one of yours. Costs a lot to raise a child.”

“You’re speaking from experience?” Jake teased.

“Yeah, all five of them. But Jake, Gwen, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love each and every one of them. Each has brought their own blessings to our family.”

*****

Two days later, they finished signing all the necessary documentation for the continued employment of the St. Paul staff, setting up a board of directors to oversee the running of the St. Paul Home Museum and Banquet Hall, and the setting up trust funds for the less fortunate in Cambridge. Donations were also made to the policemen’s and firemen’s associations.

*****

“Marshal McCain!”

Mark turned to see Senators Borden and Rush, as well as Officers Brady and O’Hanrahan approaching.

“I hear tell that your companions have finished their business in town. Now to my business, either you come with me or else these fine officers of the law will promptly throw you in the hoosegow!” Senator Rush declared.

“Do I have a choice?” asked Mark.

“No you do not!”

Taking Mark by the arm, Senator Rush and company escorted Mark to the largest auditorium at Harvard Law School. Senator Borden showed Gwen and Jake to their assigned seats in the front row, and sat down next to them.

Mark attempted to follow, but was restrained by Senator Rush, who escorted him to one of the chairs on the stage. Senator Rush waited for the crowd to quiet before he stepped to the podium.

“Thank you. Thank you one and all for coming today. I know my announcement was on short notice, so I am pleased to see so many of my esteemed colleagues and associates in attendance, as well as many students who grace these fine hallways.

“The laws of today are an attempt to civilize people, set boundaries for what’s right and what’s wrong. Should wrongs be committed, these laws outline punishments that can be handed down. When our founding fathers set forth our constitution, it wasn’t just to let Merry Old England know that we were tired of our status as a colony, but to say, We are America!” Senator Rush pounded the side of his fist on the top of the podium to emphasize his point.

“I believe everyone of you recognizes, We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

“Most of you sitting here only fall under the auspices of a short part of the Preamble… However, there is one person present who stands to defend our domestic tranquility and provides the common defense… A number of years ago, William Walsh, Editor for the Cambridge Chronicle wrote a series of articles regarding two men, father and son, both who stood for what is right in our country.

“Over dinner, several nights ago, I was honored to meet the son, the son who is better known as The Lawman…”

The crowd started murmuring as the audience members turned left and right to ask if they had heard correctly.

“Gentlemen, I present to you, U.S. Marshal, Mark McCain from North Fork, the New Mexico Territories.”

The audience stood to their feet, clapping a hearty welcome.

“Thank you, thank you,” offered Mark.

“Louder boy, they need to hear you in the back rows,” Senator Borden called from the front row.

“Thank you,” Mark moved his arms to encourage the audience to sit down.

“Are you really The Lawman?” someone in the audience yelled.

“If you’re asking am I the lawman the articles were written about, yes. But as I’ve tried to say before, I’m not The Lawman. I’m one of many who try our best to defend the laws of our nation, and protect the rights of others. I’m no different than any other man who wears the badge of the law, other than I was written about in the newspapers.

“I’m not exactly sure why Senator Rush was so eager to have me address all of you, but let me say this… I stand here and wonder… How many of you are the future lawmakers, governors, senators, maybe even a future president?

“All I can ask is that you work to keep America a land we can be proud of… If you go on to serve in a higher office, remember the others who worked to get you where you are. Each time I pin on my badge, I’m thankful for certain men in my life, my father, Lucas McCain, who has been called The Rifleman. I’m thankful for the way he raised me. I’m thankful for Micah Torrance who was the marshal in North Fork, and reluctantly gave me the chance to wear the badge for the first time. And to Johnny Drako, who now stands as the marshal in North Fork, and encouraged me to read about so I could understand the laws I’ve sworn to uphold.

“Where’s your rifle?” was yelled by someone off to Mark’s right.

“My rifle? Well, I was advised by two police officers, Cooper Brady and James O’Hanrahan, upon my arrival, that this was a civilized city, and it was up to them to protect the people. Seems a few people on the train were alarmed that I was carrying it right out in the open and probably reported that I was an outlaw.”

The audience laughed at the image.

“Is it true your Pa was as fast with his rifle as any man who stood against him with a six-shooter?”

“He proved it many times,” replied Mark.

“And your rifle is the same?”

“Almost, all except the lever loop. My arms aren’t as long as Pa’s, so I can’t twirl cock it.”

Mark rubbed his shoulder as he remembered the first time he attempted to twirl cock his Pa’s rifle and how much it stung as the point of the sight gouged into his shoulder. A few more in the audience laughed.

“What are your thoughts on statehood?” came a question from the far back on the left.

“For New Mexico, I’m for it. I hope I live to see the day that New Mexico is admitted as a state and not just a territory.”

“But you didn’t fight in the war!” declared a voice from the upper balcony.

“No I didn’t fight in the war, I wasn’t even born.” Mark’s reply caused a ripple of laughter. “Honestly, wars are a terrible thing, and I hope the War Between the States is the last war this country ever has to fight. Too many lives were lost, on both sides. If the laws you enact in the future are balance and just, maybe we’ll never have to send fathers and sons, or brothers to fight the other.”

“Marshal McCain, I thank you for speaking with us today. It is a thrill and an honor to meet you. Keep up the good work!”

The audience stood and clapped as Mark rejoined Gwen and Jake to leave.

*****

“You did good Mark,” Will stated as he clapped Mark on the back.

“I don’t know what good I did. They’re the ones who are the future.”

“Mark, they needed to see who they’re representing. It’s not just Cambridge and Washington or any other city/town in the east. They need to know there are people west of the Mississippi. The stories I wrote only gave them a glimpse of your lives, they needed to know you were real, not just fiction.”

“Thank you William. I guess we should say goodbye now,” Mark offered as he extended his hand.

“Safe travel back home, and don’t be surprised if I show up on your doorstep needing to write a few more articles about you.”

Senator Rush came up to the group, “Marshal, are you sure you won’t come to Washington with me?”

“Senator, thank you, but let them carry my message. They’re the future of our country…”

*****

The following morning, the three returned to the train station.

“So, how are you going to break the news to your folks that they’re about to become grandparents?” asked Mark as they settled down for their journey home.

“I hadn’t given it any thought. I’m still surprised to find out I’m going to be a father,” Jake answered as he pulled Gwen closer to him.

*****

Their trip home was uneventful until they reached Oklahoma City.

“Sorry folks, but looks like you’ll all have to get off for a while.” The conductor informed the passengers of problems in the engine were necessitating an extended layover.

The stream of passengers disembarked and headed to several of the hotels close to the train depot. Mark, Gwen, and Jake ate lunch and chatted for awhile. However, as the afternoon progressed, Mark quieted.

“Mark?” asked Jake for a second time.

“Leave him be, Jake. He’s probably thinking on getting home. He’s been separated from his family for too long,” Gwen responded.

*****

They had just finished eating supper at the hotel when the conductor came in, “Okay folks, give us half an hour to bring the boiler up to temperatures and we’ll be on our way.”

 

This story continues in The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 22

 

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