The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 3 (by BluewindFarm)

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

Category:  The Rifleman
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  17,360


 

The Next Generation… Chapter 23 – The Race

It hadn’t been that cold when the snow started, but the longer Mark raced to Marionette, the colder the air became and the winds picked up as the snow started falling harder. He cursed at himself for being so forgetful, but this was supposed to be a quick trip to North Fork and back home.

He guided Blue Boy the best he could, over the terrain and through the snow; knowing the urgency to get one of the doctors for his Ma. When he felt his horse tiring from running, he trotted him. As he rode, he hunched forward, hoping some of the body heat from his horse would help keep him warm.

Soon he came to a fork in the road and a sign pointing the way to Judge Tanner’s. He kicked Blue Boy into a gallop. As lights from a house came into view, he slowed Blue Boy, ultimately, stopping in front of the house as he saw a group of people standing next to a horse and buggy. He heard someone telling those in the buggy it was too late for them to try to get home.

He could barely step down from his horse when he felt hands lifting him down. He kept trying to talk, but he was so frozen. He heard someone say his name and then heard, “He’s saying something about his Ma and the baby.” He sensed that he was being carried, but he didn’t feel the hands grabbing on to him. He heard someone yell, “Get that horse in the barn and under blankets.”

He felt himself being laid down on something soft and inviting, so inviting he wanted to sleep. He felt a sharp slap to his face, and a man’s voice saying, “Mark stay awake! You have to stay awake! Mark, do you hear me?!” His face was slapped again, harder. He sensed hands removing his clothes and blankets being piled on him. He sensed someone rubbing his hands, his arms, his legs, his feet. He felt someone lift his head and place a cup to his lips. A woman’s voice softly urged him to drink. “Drink this Mark. Mark you have to drink this.”

He took a drink, sputtered and threw his head sideways, they forced the cup into his lips again. Again he was forced to drink. “Ma, I c-can’t. D-don’t m-make m-me.” Mark’s body shook violently as they tended to him. He heard the woman’s voice yell, “Is it ready yet?” Someone far off answered, “Yes.”

He felt the sensation that he was floating and then he was submerged in warmth. “S-sleep. J-just let m-me s-sleep, p-please” Mark begged. Again he felt the sharp slap to his face, heard a man telling him to stay awake, and the cup being forced to his lips. Again, he sputtered as the liquid burned going down his throat.

Mark’s body remembered, remember what every baby forgets that first moment after they take a breath. His body remembered, the warmth and the protection from the womb, as he curled up into a fetal position in the warm water.

Until the sun started peeking over the hills, Judge Tanner, his wife, and old Doc Burrage raced to keep Mark McCain awake and alive. Draining water as it cooled and adding more hot water to the tub. When they felt he was drifting too far, they’d slap his face to rouse him.

In time, his body stopped shaking and the urgency in the voices around him softened. He heard a voice call, “Make sure the fireplace in the room is going. I want it warm in there before we move him.”

He felt arms around him, lifting him. He felt the softness of a bed and towels drying his body. He sensed blankets being piled over him and hot bricks being placed around him. He felt a gentle, smooth hand caress his face. A woman’s voice told him, “Mark, it’s all right, you can sleep now. Go to sleep, rest easy.”

The Next Generation… Chapter 24 – The Wait

While Mark slept, his dreams took him back to a Christmas when he was younger. Back to Enid, Oklahoma and his Ma. As if watching someone else’s dream, he watched as his Pa pulled a small child behind him on a sled, through the snow. He heard the child squeal with laughter, yelling, “Faster Pa, faster!” He heard his Ma, warn his Pa, “Lucas, not too fast!” His dream showed the three of them making snow angels. His dream took him to later that night; his Ma and Pa were tucking him into bed after watching him say his prayers.

Next, his dreams took him to Christmas, just a few days ago. The prospect of, standing as a man and asking permission for Hope’s hand in marriage. Watching the love his Ma and his Pa shared for each other. The reality of a new life being brought into the world in the next few weeks. The love that abounded in the home, the warmth. Showed him kneeling, asking for Hope to be his wife.

Mark’s dreams took him to his dream of his future. Of sitting on the porch talking to his Pa, watching as his eldest child came running over the rise, barely stopping before hugging Grandpa Lucas and warning his Pa he best get home to finish his chores, lest he sleep in the barn.

He smiled and sighed “Hope” as he dreamed of his past, his present, and his future. Mrs. Tanner was working on her needlepoint in the room when she heard the sigh escape Mark’s lips. She set her needlepoint down and walked to the bed. She brushed back the hair from his forehead. Pleased to feel his body temperature having returned to normal, also that fever had not set in.

That evening, before they returned to North Fork, both Doctors checked Mark over one last time. Pleased with how clear his lungs sounded, pleased to see the return of color to his face. Pleased that no sign of frost bite or pneumonia had set in. They instructed the Tanners to keep Mark warm, and when he woke to get a hot meal in him. Said he’d probably be woozy for a while because of the brandy they had forced in to him. If all continued well, they would see that Lucas came for the boy, day after tomorrow. They didn’t want him out of bed until then.

*****

New Year’s afternoon, Micah and the Lane’s returned to the McCain ranch, unaware of the blessed and tragic events that has befallen the family. When they received no answer to their knock, they entered to see Hope curled up in Mark’s chair, asleep and Lucas was asleep in his chair, his bible lying on his chest. The men could tell both had been crying.

Micah stepped further into the room and shook Lucas’ shoulder.

“LucasBoy, what happened?” he asked.

Hope woke as Ethan gently shook her shoulder and called her name.

“Micah, Seth, Ethan, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you arrive,” Lucas stated as he wiped the moisture from his cheeks.

“Lucas?”

“The baby came this morning,” Lucas stated.

“Why that’s good news! Why the tears, did something happen?” Ethan asked.

“Milly and the baby are fine, but Mark ended up racing all the way over to Judge Tanner’s in Marionette, without his coat. Doc Burrage went back to help his uncle tend to Mark. He said he was half frozen when he arrived.”

Lucas stood as he heard Milly call his name. He again wiped the tears from his eyes as he walked to their bedroom. From behind the closed door, all heard Milly cry out when Lucas told her the news. Hope broke from her brother’s embrace and ran to Milly.

Hope entered the room and saw Lucas trying to calm Milly, soothingly stroking her back, holding her tight. Hope picked up the crying baby from the cradle and carried her to Milly. She stepped back as Milly prepared to let the baby suckle at her breast.

“Oh Lucas,” Milly whispered. “How can such a blessed occasion hurt like this? Lucas, it seems like every time I bring something joyous to you, there’s a dark side and you get hurt.”

“Milly, please don’t think that way. Every day of my life, since you returned, has been a joy in my life. Remember our wedding night and every night since then. Milly, don’t blame yourself for what’s happened.”

Milly turned her face away from Lucas and looked at their daughter.

“Milly, please,” Lucas pleaded. “Don’t turn away from me. Don’t shut me out. You’ve told me in the past how strong Mark is, we have to have faith that he’ll pull through. Milly, you’re my wife and his mother. You’re a McCain. And you’re the mother of my daughter.”

Lucas reached to caress the back of his daughter’s head. In time, the suckling sounds stopped and the baby lay asleep against Milly’s breast. “Milly, we’ll wait until Mark gets home to name her.” Lucas stated as he leaned to give his wife a kiss and wiped the tears from her cheek. Milly leaned back against Lucas and fell asleep in his arms and Lucas fell asleep with the two most important women in his life, in his arms.

*****

When Hope stepped from the bedroom, Seth and Ethan stated that it was time for them to return to duty. They apologized for not being able to stay longer, but duty called. They promised they would return to North Fork for the wedding.

“If there is one,” Hope stated as she looked to the floor.

“Hope, have faith. Your love for him might just make the difference for his choice to live,” Seth told his daughter.

Micah stated he was going to return to town, see if either Doc Burrage had returned and had any news. Hope asked Micah to let Miss Hattie know she was going to stay at the McCain’s.

*****

Hope fixed a small dinner for the family that evening. They quietly ate, until they heard the sound of a horse and buggy arrive. Lucas opened the door to see both Doc Burrage’s walking across the porch. He invited them in.

“Lucas, Milly, Hope,” old Doc Burrage started. “We have good news regarding Mark. It took time, but when we left Marionette, he was peacefully sleeping and his body temperature had returned to normal.”

“Doc,” Milly asked. “What of frost bite or pneumonia?”

“Milly, your son will be fine. No signs of frost bite and his lungs were clear. I asked the Judge and Mrs. Tanner if they wouldn’t mind keeping him until day after tomorrow, I’d prefer he not get out of that bed until then.”

“Doc, thank you. I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to repay you for saving Mark’s life, again,” Lucas stated as the men turned to the door.

“You just keep talking to your daughter and tell her about her big brother.”

Lucas watched as the buggy drove away on the snow covered lane. He shivered, looked up to the heavens and thanked God.

*****

Thaddeus Burrage waited inside his home for Lucas McCain to arrive; he intended to travel with Lucas to Marionette. He wanted to check Mark over one more time before allowing him to travel home.

*****

Before starting their return trip, they made sure Mark was well bundled for the return home and tied Blue Boy to the back of the buckboard. Lucas was concerned over his son’s silence as they headed home. Lucas waved goodbye to Thadd as he started the final leg home.

“Mark you seem awful quiet, is everything alright?”

“Pa, I’m sorry about all this. I was so concerned about Ma and the baby, I didn’t think before I left to get Doc Burrage.”

“Mark, you couldn’t have known both would be in Marionette and with the baby coming early, let’s just put this behind us. Besides, you have a new sister to meet once I get you home.”

They were a short distance from the ranch, “What were you thinking about that made you laugh?” Lucas asked as he heard a small laugh come from Mark and saw a smile on his face.

“I was just remembering a dream I had while I was sleeping. I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’,” Mark stated.

“Mark, how could you compare yourself to someone as miserly as that character?”

“I didn’t feel so much like Scrooge, but I dreamed of Christmas past, when we were back in Enid, Christmas present, from just a few days ago, and my future, the dream I’ve had ever since before I met Hope.”

They arrived home and Lucas assisted Mark into the house. Lucas helped Mark remove his coat before making sure his son sat down in front of the fireplace. The door to his parents’ bedroom opened and he saw his Ma carrying a bundle in her arms. Milly walked over and placed his sister in his arms. Hope stood in front of Mark and watched.

Mark pulled open the blanket to take a look at his sister. He counted her fingers and her toes. She grabbed at his finger. “I have a sister? What did you name her?” he asked.

“We haven’t named her yet Mark. We wanted to wait until you came home,” Milly stated.

“Have you chosen a name?” he asked.

“We were thinking of naming her Myra Gabriela McCain,” Milly stated.

“Sounds like a good name. Welcome to our family, Myra Gabriela McCain.” Mark raised his sister to his face and nuzzled noses. She started cooing.

Lucas walked to the chest and pulled their family bible from within. He set it on the table and then went to retrieve the pen and ink well. Milly sat down and printed:

Myra Gabriela McCain, born, and January 1, 1889.

Lucas and Milly returned to stand next to their son. Lucas stood with his arms around his wife and his future daughter-in-law, and watched his two children meet each other.

The Next Generation… Chapter 25 – Hope’s Graduation

Winter gave way to spring and it was finally Hope’s graduation night. It was planned that Hope would be the last to receive her certificate. Mr. Griswald spoke of a young girl who had overcome great challenges to learn. But with advocates like Milly and Mark McCain seeing to her studies, he wasn’t surprised. Mr. Griswald said over the last year and a half, he had watched as a young woman, insecure in herself and her surroundings blossomed into a student eager to learn and apply her lessons to her new life.

“I don’t feel that I should be the one to present Miss Lane with her certificate tonight, as most of her tutoring came from someone else. So at this time, I’d like to ask Mark McCain to bring Hope Lane to the front.

Hope blushed as Mark escorted her from her seat to the front of the room. She smiled as Mark handed her certificate to her.

Lou had planned a wonderful celebration honoring all those who graduated that night. Before returning to the Marshal’s office for his shift, Mark walked Hope to Miss Hattie’s, who promptly opened the door and saw Hope inside, and closed the door to Mark. He walked away with a smile on his face.

He stuck his head in the Marshal’s office and told Johnny he was going to walk the town and would be back soon. As always, he slowly walked the streets, checking all the doors to the shops, he listened for sounds that shouldn’t be or for sounds that were missing.

“Another quiet night,” he mused as he thought about Hope and how in nine days she would become his wife.

The Next Generation… Chapter 26 – Mark and Hope’s Wedding

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Milly helped Hope create her wedding dress. Together they had worked out the basic design, chose the material and lace, and sewed all the pieces together. The dress still needed to be taken in here and there, and the final stitching for the hem needed to be sewn. Standing in front of the mirror, Hope looked at herself, trying on the dress that she would wear to become the wife of Mark McCain.

“Miss Milly, were you scared?”

*****

Lucas and Mark were out checking the herds and riding fence, he had planned to take this opportunity to talk with Mark.

“Son, I know we had a talk a long time ago about girls, but…” Lucas paused, not sure how to proceed.

“Pa, I remember that talk and how afterwards I thought it was gross, all that kissing and stuff. Wow how naive I was back then.”

“Yes Mark, every boy goes through that phase when they first start getting interested in girls, as girls. But I wanted to talk with you about your wedding night. I know that you’ll treat Hope with the respect she’s due, but I wanted to let you know how she’ll feel. Every new bride feels this way on her wedding night. They’ll be scared and nervous. Both your Ma and Milly felt this way. A woman needs to know that you’ll understand this and accept her and be gentle with her. You’ll both be exploring something new. Allow her to grow in her role as your wife. Allow her to reveal herself and her passion for you, to you.”

“I think I understand, Pa.” Mark then asked, “Were you nervous?”

“Both times. With your Ma, it was something new. And with Milly, Mark, it had been so long since I’d had…”

“A woman in your bed?”

Lucas snuck a look to his son. If felt strange having this conversation with his son, but if it helped his son to understand…

“Yes, with Milly, it was new because it was something new with Milly. I was worried that, maybe, the memory of your Ma wouldn’t allow me to fully love Milly. But I felt Margaret approving. I felt she was happy that I had found someone to complete my life again.”

*****

While Mark and Lucas were away, Milly planned to take this time to talk with Hope.

“Hope, in a week, you will become my daughter-in-law and, well, since your mother is no longer with you, I thought that maybe we should talk. Talk about what to expect as you become a wife, more importantly your wedding night.”

“Miss Milly,” Hope started. “I’m so looking forward to becoming Mark’s wife, but I’m scared.”

“Hope, what you’re feeling, it’s natural. I felt the same way before I married Lucas. The night of your wedding will be special, if Mark is anything like his father. But as a woman, that night, you will give your husband the greatest gift, when you give yourself unto him. As you start your new life as a wife, you’ll be anxious, scared, nervous, it is a wonderful moment, it’s not just you giving yourself to your husband, but him giving himself to you. You were there when I gave birth to Myra, bringing a new life into the world is the second greatest gift you can give your husband, but its only because of your first gift.

“What you feel on your wedding night will be more than the way you felt that day at Miller’s Creek, if you truly love him. ”

“If I truly love him?” Hope asked.

“Hope, I believe in my heart that you do truly love him, for who he is and not because he saved your life.”

“Oh Miss Milly, I care for him because he saved my life, but I’ve come to realize that before I met him, he would be the one I would marry.”

Milly didn’t understand what Hope meant.

“Miss Milly, the night before I ran away from those men, I had a vision. The elders told me a stranger would come to rescue me and take me home. It hurt deep inside when Iron Heart and my brothers left me with Mark. But once I started to know him and North Fork, I realized the elders hadn’t meant he would take me back to my home with my Indian family, but that he would be my home. What I’ve felt when I’m close to Mark and just being in this house, is what I felt in my vision. This is my home.”

The two women hugged and cried in each other’s arms, until Myra woke from her nap and started crying. Milly carried Myra to the bedroom and allowed her to nurse.

*****

Milly returned to the front room to see Hope still wearing the dress and standing in front of the mirror.

“Hope?” Milly said as she came to stand behind her future daughter-in-law.

Blushing Hope replied, “I was imagining what it would be like, my wedding night.”

“Believe me, it will be something wonderful.”

Milly turned as Hope slipped from her dress, and stood there wearing only her underthings.

“Miss Milly, do men prefer women who are…” Hope stopped speaking as she hung her dress back on the hanger.

“Who are what?” Milly asked.

“Women who have more… curves.”

Milly turned and watched as Hope ran her hands from her shoulders, over her small breasts, and ultimately turned sideways to see herself in the mirror as she ran her hands across her hips.

“Hope, you are how God meant for you to be. And, if Mark wanted a woman with more curves, he wouldn’t have proposed to you.”

“It’s just that I see other men watching as women walk by and their eyes want to pop out of their heads,” Hope sighed as she turned and faced the mirror again.

“And those men don’t deserve to have someone like you to pay any attention to them. Most of those men are ruffians or saddle tramps, not decent God fearing folk. Hope, I know your transition from living with Iron Heart and the tribe took a lot of adjusting to, but don’t wish yourself different because of how you perceive other men. What matters is that Mark loves you, just the way you are.”

“Are you sure?”

“Isn’t it a little late to be asking that question? Your wedding is only a week away.”

“Miss Milly, I do love him and I don’t want to disappoint him.”

“Hope, as long as there is love in your home, you’ll never disappoint him. Now get yourself dressed before you intended arrives home and sees you in your, unmentionables.”

*****

Sunday, May 20th. Seems most everyone in the whole town turned out for the wedding of Mark and Hope. But there were several surprises in store for them that morning. Everyone worked hard to keep the two from seeing each other before Hope walked down the aisle, but when unexpected, but welcome guests arrived; they had to make sure the two knew, beforehand.

Lucas was in one of the jail cells with Mark, trying to tie his tie, when Micah entered and told them they had visitors.

“Mark, Lucas, you’ve guests who want to see you.” They stepped from the cell to see Johnny and Colleen Gibbs.

“I couldn’t believe it when I received the letter from Lucas, Mark, are you really sure you want to go through with this wedding. I think you should run and spread your wings.” Johnny stated as Colleen slapped his arm.

“Mark, don’t let him fool you. He enjoys being married. We just wanted to stop by and wish you well, before you stand up in front of everyone,” Colleen stated as she placed a kiss on Mark’s cheek.

“Uncle Johnny, Aunt Colleen it’s great to see you. Thank you for coming. It means a lot.”

“I wouldn’t miss seeing my sister’s son getting married. She’s smiling at you boy, I hope you know that.”

“I do Uncle Johnny and having you here makes everything else all the more special. Have you met her?”

“I will, once she becomes my… neice-in-law?” Johnny laughed. “Once she becomes your wife, regardless of how homely she looks,” Colleen punched Johnny in the arm, “regardless of how jealous I am over the beauty you married, I’ll welcome her into the family with open arms.”

*****

Hope had unexpected visitors as well. Her father and brother knocked on the door to her changing room in the back of the church.

Miss Hattie opened the door, slightly.

“Miss Hattie, we have guests who we’d like Hope to see. I know it will mean a lot to her.”

Miss Hattie opened the door wide to allow the Major, the Lieutenant, and four others inside. They all stopped as Hope turned around, wearing her wedding gown.

She took a tentative step forward as tears fell.

“Iron Heart, you and my family, you came,” she quietly cried.

“Your father sent word, asked if we come. In our camp, we have missed you. The one you marry?” Iron Heart asked.

“Iron Heart, the one I marry is the one who saved my life. The one the elders told me, in a vision, would take me home,” Hope said as she embraced those who had been her father, her mother and her brothers.

“Dawn Fire, we will not shame you by staying, but…”

“No, you will shame me by leaving. Please,” then looking to her father. “Father, I know there is tradition, but does tradition say anything against two fathers walking their daughter down the aisle?”

“Dawn Fire, our God is not your God, we do not belong…”

“Iron Heart, our God is the same God, we just have different names for him. You are welcome in his house and the people of this town will welcome you too.”

*****

All eyes turned to the back of the church as Hope entered, on the arms of the two men she considered her father. A few people were surprised, but people seemed to understand.

Mark only had eyes for Hope as she slowly walked down the aisle. They listened to Reverend McCafferty perform the ceremony. As he asked, “Who gives this woman to this man?” Iron Heart and Seth Lane, stated in unison, “We do”. They then gave Hope’s hand to Mark.

Soon, Mark heard the Reverend state, “You may kiss your bride.” He took a tentative step forward, lifted her veil, and placed his hands to her back, then pulled her close to him. Lovingly he gave her their first kiss as husband and wife. The Reverend cleared his throat and Mark took a step backwards, not letting go of Hope’s hand. Finally, the Reverend turned them and announced, “People of North Fork, I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Mark McCain.”

*****

Everyone had a wonderful time at their reception. Mark and Hope danced and laughed. Many of Mark’s former school mates kept interrupting, insisting they have a chance to dance with the beautiful bride.

All too soon, it was time for the final dance. Mark escorted Hope to Iron Heart and gave her his hand. “Sir, I believe this dance should be yours.” Mark stepped aside as Hope walked back to the dance floor. Soon, Iron Heart led Hope to Seth Lane. Before the end of the song, Seth had returned Hope to Mark’s arms.

Before the end of the reception, Hope stood on the staircase in the hotel lobby and tossed her bouquet, this time it was Micah’s turn to be embarrassed, when he realized it was Hattie who had caught the bouquet.

*****

After their reception was over and just the families remained, Lucas and Milly handed the couple one last gift. As they opened the present they saw a bible, their own family bible for Hope and Mark to record their blessed events. Mark lifted the bible from the box and opened it. On the events page, he saw that his Ma had already printed,

Mark and Hope (Lane) McCain, married, May 20, 1889.

Tears fell as Mark gave his Ma a hug.

Lucas placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder and said, “Son, I think it’s time you and Hope head on home.”

“But I thought we were staying in the hotel tonight.”

“Mark, your Ma, Myra, and I will stay here, you take your wife home. Nils has a buggy out front and will drive you home.”

“Pa, what about…” Mark started to ask.

“No Mark, you don’t need to worry. Everyone has agreed because of your ages, it wouldn’t be proper for a shivaree. You go on home, now.”

Everyone watched as Mark and Hope ran to the buggy.

The Next Generation… Chapter 27 – The Wedding Night

Nils drove the buggy that carried Mark and Hope back to the ranch. He smiled as he realized that for the two of them, no one else existed in the world.

Mark lifted Hope from the buggy and carried her over the thresh hold and into their new life together. Both were oblivious to Nils leaving. Mark continued to carry Hope to his bedroom, ‘No, our bedroom,’ he thought to himself as he set her down on her feet. He lit the lantern and turned it down low.

Anxious, scared, nervousness, were feelings that permeated his body. He stood behind Hope and wrapped his arms around her, pulled her to him and whispered in her ear.

“Today is the happiest day of my life. Today you fulfilled my dream. A dream that you would become my wife. Hope, I love you.” He felt Hope rest her head back to his shoulder as she said, “Mark, today is the day that you fulfilled a dream I too had. That I became your wife.”

Mark’s fingers trembled and fumbled as he started to untie the back of her wedding dress. Mark mused to himself, he felt like Christmas, unwrapping an exquisitely wrapped present. Curious to see what was wrapped inside. The further down he untied, the back of her dress gaped open. Mark marveled at her soft, white skin as he ran his hand across her back, his fingertips lingering for a moment on the faded scar.

He felt her shiver before she stepped away from him. Mark took a step forward and placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Hope, please,” he said as he remembered back to that day and how she had received the scar. “Hope, we all have scars. Some visible on the outside and others, not so visible because they are on the inside. Those scars are part of the persons we both have grown to love. It’s not because of your scar that I love you, but, because of that day, you came into my life so that I could love you. Don’t be ashamed.”

Hope allowed herself to be pulled back into his embrace and sighed as Mark nuzzled his lips to the base of her neck as he continued to untie her dress. As he got past the small of her back, there was no more to untie. He stepped in front of Hope and lifted her chin so that he could look into her eyes. He remembered the talk his Pa had had with him. “Let you wife reveal herself to you. Let her give herself to you. She’ll be more scared then you. Give her time, be patient and understanding, you have your whole lives ahead of you.”

Mark started to unbutton his shirt and soon felt the hands of his wife working to unbutton it. After the last button, Hope ran her hands up Mark’s chest, marveling at the strength she felt as Mark removed his shirt. He bent his head forward and down, gently kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, and finally to her lips, and invited her into the kiss. Hope felt the caress of his hands across her bare back and shivered. She wrapped her arms around and up his back, caressing as her fingertips played across the faint traces of his scars. She felt the warmth well inside her, as she had that day at Miller’s Creek and then, that day in July. But this time, it was different. This time, there was a yearning deep in her body.

She took a tentative step backwards and pushed her hand against Mark’s chest. Mark felt a moment of pain in his heart, ‘Was she not ready?’

“Mark, I’m not ashamed. The night, before that day, I had a vision and the elders told me a stranger would rescue me and take me home. I told your Ma that, I now realize the elders were telling me that I would become that stranger’s wife and Mark, you were that stranger.”

He took a step forward but stopped as he saw her left hand rise and she pulled her dress from her right shoulder. Then, he watched as she removed the dress from her other shoulder. In the flickering, soft, golden glow from the lantern, Mark watched as Hope revealed herself to him as the dress slowly fell to the floor.

As Mark finished undressing himself, he marveled at how petite she was and the strength contained in her body — she, who was about to become a part of him for life. He stepped to Hope and gently lifted her and then laid her down on their bed. He shivered as he felt her soft skin against his body. They kissed and caressed each other, exploring the strength and softness of the flesh. Soon, they gave in to their desires and became one. Each freely and willingly giving their body and heart to the other.

Time stood still as they consummated their marriage. Their world revolved only around each other. Their emotions and sensations rose to the point of ecstasy, before they quietly laid down, both, finally feeling complete. They drifted off to sleep, regaling in the warmth of the body lying next to them.

The Next Generation… Chapter 28 – The Day After

Lucas drove Milly and the baby back to the ranch the following morning. He watched as his wife carried their daughter inside, he smiled as he thought of his eldest child already inside, then he headed the team to the barn. He tended to Mark’s morning chores in the barn, obvious, Mark hadn’t been outside yet. Once finished with the chores in the barn, Lucas returned to the house, carrying the milk pail and a basket of eggs. He set them down on the counter as he smiled and walked to the closed bedroom door.

“Lucas McCain,” Milly whispered. “You let them two sleep. Remember back to our wedding night. I’ll not have you disturbing them. They’ll wake when they’re ready, and not before then.” Milly held and pointed the spatula to Lucas as she stood in front of the stove. Lucas feigned a look of hurt, but then went and picked up his daughter from her cradle, walked over and sat down in his chair.

“Well, Myra, seems we officially have a new member in the family today. Granted it took longer than nine months for her to become a part of this family, but well worth the wait. I’ll introduce your new sister to you as soon as she wakes.”

Milly smiled as she watched her husband and daughter. Lucas cooing and Myra grabbing at his lips as Lucas held the baby to his face.

*****

Mark woke in the morning and looked over at his sleeping wife, thankful the new bed he had ordered had arrived before their wedding. He saw the rise and fall of her chest under the cover and saw the smile on her face. He placed a gentle kiss on her lips, then, under the cover, ran his hand down her arm. Sensing the softness of her skin.

Hope woke and looked to Mark. Smiling as she looked into his dark eyes. They kissed and continued to caress each other, neither saying a word.

Their attention was drawn to the sound of a baby squealing in the front room, both grinned as they realized they were no longer alone in the house. Quietly they slipped from their bed and proceeded to dress.

Before opening the door, Mark pulled Hope into his arms, one more time and briefly gave her a kiss.

“Oh Mark, I can’t go out there.” Hope stated, all of a sudden feeling extremely embarrassed. “Your parents are out there.”

“Hope, they’re your parents now too,” Mark said as he ran his thumb across her cheek.

“But Mark, I… I can’t,” Hope softly cried to his chest.

“Hope, why?” Mark asked.

“I just can’t,” she cried as she pulled away from Mark and ran to lay down on their bed.

Mark opened the door and then pulled it shut behind him. He looked to his Pa, sitting in his chair, a smile on his face as he tried not to make eye contact with his son. Mark was confused and unsure what was wrong with Hope. He walked to his Ma and whispered, “Ma, could you talk with Hope. I think she needs to talk to you. Please?”

Milly turned around and after looking at Mark and seeing the closed bedroom door, understood the problem. “Okay Mark, just don’t let your father’s breakfast burn. I’ll be out when I can.” She turned and walked to the bedroom door, quietly knocking before entering.

Lucas put Myra in her crib and walked to the kitchen, “Trouble son?”

“I’m not sure,” Mark stated with concern as he watched his Ma close the door behind her.

“Son, as a married couple, what happens behind that door, between you and Hope, is your business. I won’t pry, but I understand what’s happening. Mark, every new bride goes through this. Worrying about what others must think of them. That’s one of the reasons Milly and I wanted you to spend last night here. You’re both still young enough to need the help of family to get you through this morning. Even you Mark. You’re scared right now.” Lucas placed a hand on Mark’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

“Only because I don’t understand and I’m worried about Hope,” Mark answered.

“Mark,” Lucas hesitated, as he remembered his wedding night with Milly. “What you both felt last night, neither of you’ve ever experienced them before. Even though we had talked about what to expect, actually experiencing those feelings is something different. Women are more sensitive to the situation and their feelings, afterwards. This is all perfectly normal. It’s part of being married. Don’t worry, your Ma will have her out here soon. Let me finish cooking, you go set the table.”

“Pa, how did I end up with a Pa like you?”

“Guess you were just lucky.”

By the time Lucas was ready to take up the food, Mark had the table set, and had picked up his sister, he was cooing at her and she was babbling back to him. “That’s okay Gabby, yes it is,” Mark stated. “One of these days you’ll get the words out. It takes time, just keep trying.”

Mark looked up as the bedroom door opened and Milly led Hope into the room.

“Good morning daughter,” Lucas brightly called. “Have a seat at the table and I’ll have your breakfast there in a moment.”

Hope looked to Milly who nodded and gave her a slight push to the table. She walked over and sat down next to Mark, who handed her Myra. He sat back and watched as Hope lovingly held and cooed to his sister.

Milly walked back to the kitchen, “Is everything okay?” Lucas asked.

“It will be. Just give her time. Please, just go about everything as usual and for now, no references to last night.”

“I promise. I talked with Mark, I could tell he was confused and worried. I explained what was happening to him and let him know this is natural. I also told him, this was one of the reasons we wanted the two of them to be here last night, instead of the hotel. So, yes, my love, I’ll behave.”

“You better Lucas, or so help me…!” Lucas quickly quieted Milly with a kiss. They carried breakfast to the table.

During breakfast, they made plans for the day. Milly asked Hope if she would stay at the house and help her, she wanted to get things organized for when they brought Hope’s belongings from Miss Hattie’s. That and the rest of their families were expected at the ranch for supper that night. Lucas and Mark planned to head into town to pick up some lumber, seems they needed to make a larger table and some bench seats for their guests. Lucas stood to take his dishes to the sink when Hope stood and said, “No Mr. McCain, I’ll get that.”

Momentarily taken back, Lucas put his hand up and pulled his plate away from Hope. “Hope, let’s get one thing straight, right now. You are a member of this family and I’ll not have you calling me Mr. McCain.”

“Yes sir.”

“Hope, I’m not reprimanding you. You can call me Lucas, if you wish.”

“Oh, no sir… I couldn’t, it’s not proper.”

“Well then what do you suggest would be proper?” Lucas asked.

“Well, I was thinking…” Hope looked to Mark. “My father is my father, but you… Would it be…
Would it be proper if I were to call you Pa and Miss Milly, Ma?”

Milly looked to Lucas and nodded. “Hope, we’d be right honored to have you call us Ma and Pa. As I said, you’re family. And for right now, I can take my own dirty dishes to the sink, as can your husband!”

*****

They kissed their respective wives and then peeked at the sleeping Myra. As they stopped to get their hats from the rack and pick up their rifles Lucas quietly stated, “Come on son, we got work to do today. That is, unless you’re too tired.” But not quiet enough. Before he could open the door, he heard Milly yell, “Lucas McCain!”

“Come on son, before your Ma throws the spatula at me.” Both laughed as they headed to the barn.

*****

Until they crossed over the hill and the house was no longer in sight, Mark kept looking back over his shoulder.

“Don’t worry son, she’ll be there when we get back. Here,” Lucas stated as he handed the reins of the team to Mark. “Get your mind off your wife.”

“Sure Pa,” Mark replied. “Pa? Is this how you felt with Ma, not wanting to be separated?”

“Every minute. But you got to let them breathe son, you can’t be underfoot all the time.”

*****

Lou walked into the restaurant to find Micah and Hattie sitting down at a table, Micah being the gentleman and holding out her chair. Lou raised an eyebrow and then cheerfully greeted them. Micah scooted his chair a little bit away from Hattie as he cleared his throat before replying to Lou.

“No Micah,” Lou cajoled him. “Don’t insult the woman. You scoot your chair right back to where it was, else I’ll get Johnny in here!”

“Lou, where my chair is, is my business,” Micah stated.

“Yes, but this is MY business establishment, so you follow my rules. Micah, I think it’s sweet. You and Hattie make a wonderful couple. Besides, it’s about time you too came out into the open instead of sneaking around to hold hands and keep each other company, when you think no one’s looking.”

“But Lou,” Hattie stated. “We’re too old to go around like you young folks. We just enjoy each other’s company.”

“Hattie, there’s no age limit on love. In the beginning I enjoyed Johnny’s company and in the beginning, Lucas enjoyed Milly’s company. Nothing wrong with you enjoying each other’s company, in the presence of others. As long as you two are happy, who cares what others think.”

“Thanks Lou, I guess you’re right. We’re two adults and what we do, well…” Micah stated as he moved his chair back towards Hattie.

“I’ll have your breakfasts out shortly,” Lou stated as she headed to the kitchen.

*****

Mark pulled up the team in front of the hotel as he saw his Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen exit.

“Morning Uncle Johnny, Aunt Colleen,” Mark called.

“Johnny, Colleen,” Lucas greeted them.

“Good Morning,” they answered in unison.

“Now Mark, didn’t expect to see you in town today. Your Pa scoot you out the door as soon as you woke this morning? Drug you away from that fine looking wife you married?” Then turning to Lucas, “Lucas how could you drag the poor boy away from his marriage bed? Shame on you.”

Mark’s cheeks started turning red at the conversation. His Pa laid a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

Colleen gave Johnny a sharp jab in the ribs.

“Johnny, I didn’t wake him this morning. Milly wouldn’t let me. Besides, if we’re going to have everyone over for supper, we need to make some more furniture.”

As they stood there talking, many of the town’s people who were out and about offered congratulations again to Mark, as they walked by.

“Could you use some help there Luke?” Johnny asked.

“Sure, just let Mark and me get the lumber purchased and loaded, before we head on back to the ranch. That’ll give you time to get the buggy from the livery. I’m sure Milly and Hope would love to share Colleen’s company.”

*****

While Mark escorted Colleen into the house, Lucas had a chat with Johnny.

“Johnny, while you’re here today, do me a favor, no comments about Mark and Hope and their marriage bed.” Johnny had a perplexed look on his face. “Johnny, Hope was rather embarrassed this morning. You and Colleen, and Milly and I, we were adults when we got married. Don’t forget, they’re both only 18. That’s one of the reasons I forbid a shivaree last night. Please for Margaret’s son, behave yourself?”

“Lucas, I understand. Guess I should have been more sensitive earlier. I’m sorry,” Johnny stated.

After Mark returned outside, the three set to work constructing the furniture.

*****

Hope’s father and brother arrived at the ranch around mid-afternoon. After unsaddling their horses, they helped carry the new furniture into the home.

Dinner was everything Milly had wished it would be. Family present and celebrating. And no one mentioned anything about Mark and Hope’s marriage bed. Soon the evening came to a close and the Gibbs’ and the Lane’s left. The family walked back inside after seeing everyone off.

Milly stated, “Well Lucas, I sure am tired after all the work today, are you ready to retire?” as she poked him in the ribs and motioned with her head towards the bedroom.

Lucas agreed. The two of them kissed Hope and hugged Mark and wished them good night. They picked Myra up from the cradle and walked to their bedroom.

As he closed the door behind them, Lucas asked, “Milly, what was that all about?”

“Lucas, please. This way it will be easier for Hope, no one present to watch as she and Mark walk into their bedroom. We’ll see how she’s doing in the morning,” Milly answered.

Lucas had removed his shirt and sat down on the bed and sighed as Milly leaned back into him and held Myra to nurse. Warmth filled Lucas’ heart as he watched two of the three most dearest women in his life.

“Milly, thank you for being my wife and such a wonderful mother to my children.”

The Next Generation… Chapter 29 – Settling In

It had been a week since the wedding when the McCain’s next returned to North Fork and Lucas stopped the buckboard in front of Miss Hattie’s. They worked to box up Hope’s belongings. Once they were in boxes, Hattie, Hope and Milly, with Myra, left to walk to the hotel and talk with Lou, while Mark and Lucas were left to load the boxes into the buckboard.

After talking for a while in the restaurant, Milly realized that Myra’s fussiness was because she needed to be fed. Lou escorted Milly to the kitchen where she could nurse Myra, in private. They continued to talk in the kitchen, where Milly asked Lou to please let her and Lucas pay something for the wonderful reception she hosted for Mark and Hope’s wedding.

“Milly, I’ll hear nothing of the sort. I wanted to do this for Mark, he and that husband of yours are still pretty special to me. It was my honor,” Lou stated.

“Lou, please. You hosted Mark’s graduation, a birthday party for him and Hope, and now their wedding reception, it’s just not right for you to do all this and not allow us to contribute,” Milly pleaded.

“Milly, there was once a time, when I dreamed that maybe Lucas and I… well, let’s just say that after Mark was paralyzed and the thought that I might have to finish raising him…”

“You and Lucas, and Mark, paralyzed?” Milly interrupted, shocked.

“Mark was fourteen. I’d been in town for probably six months when Lucas invited me out to go riding and I had forgotten my hat back at the ranch. You know Mark, any excuse to get out of doing his chores, well, he came galloping up on Blue Boy when the cinch on his saddle gave way and he took a really bad fall. At first, it appeared he was okay, but just as I arrived, his legs collapsed. Said he couldn’t feel ‘em.

“Milly, we traveled with Mark all the way down to Mission Springs, hoping the mineral bathes down there would relax the spasms of the nerves in his back and allow him to walk again. While we were down there, we encountered outlaws who had broken out of prison. That night, the temperature was dropping below freezing. We couldn’t build a fire and we were struggling to keep Mark awake, so he wouldn’t freeze to death. Lucas told me the only way out was for me to take the buckboard and Mark to safety, while he covered our trail. Milly, I realized how hard it was for him to tell me he wanted life for his son, at the expense of his own, if things didn’t go right. Milly, I’m a good Christian woman, but Lucas needed someone stronger of faith than I. I was, and still am, too quick to quote from my dearly departed father than the bible. Besides, between Margaret’s memory and his memory of you, I knew it would be best for us to be good friends. Now, Lucas never said anything except that you two were friends, but you know how some of the women of this town talk. Anyway, Lucas was the first real friend I had when I arrived in North Fork and that meant more to me than competing against the memories of women I didn’t know,” Lou stated.

“Lou, I knew that Lucas cared about me, it’s just that he never really said anything about a future, and then when Harry Chase came to town and said he knew my brother and told me of all the campaigns he had participated in during the War. And then Lucas showed me how gullible I was, all because of my brother’s memory. I thought I was falling in love with Harry, but it was more because he talked of my brother and I had never accepted my brother’s death. Having Harry there was like having Ted still alive. Lou, I couldn’t stay. I was too embarrassed for how I had treated Lucas. I also realized that I finally needed to face the fact that my brother was dead. Once I was back home, it just got easier to forget about North Fork and hide again,” Milly hesitated before continuing. “Then, when I saw the story in the newspaper of Lucas and Micah being killed. I knew I had to come back. Face what could have been, for Mark’s sake. Even if I had come back to find out Lucas had married…”

Myra had finished nursing when Lou took her from Milly, to allow Milly to button her blouse. Milly watched how Lou lovingly took Myra into her arms and saw a different look in Lou’s eyes.

“Milly, that cowboy loves you. And always has. We both know him to be the strong, silent type. Believe me, ever since you came back and more so since you two became husband and wife, I swear he’s grown taller. You’ve made him the happiest man in North Fork.”

“What about Johnny and you?” Milly asked, unbelieving that Lou would state that Lucas was the happiest man in North Fork.

*****

The two returned to the dining room and joined Hope and Hattie again.

As they sat down, Milly again asked her question, “So, what about Johnny and you? Lou I can tell you’re bursting at the seams to tell us something. I saw the look in your eye when you were holding Myra…” Milly raise an eyebrow.

“Milly?!” Lou exclaimed with her brogue truly showing through.

“Don’t Milly me! Come on, out with it!”

“Milly, Johnny doesn’t even know yet. I just found out this morning.” Lou stated and she ran her hand over her stomach. “Guess you were right, I will be bursting at the seams, at least with these dresses. Hope, Hattie, Milly’s right, I found out this morning, I’m with child!”

The ladies squealed and chatted away happily.

*****

Lucas and Mark entered the Marshal’s Office to be greeted by Micah and Johnny.

“Well deputy, didn’t think I’d see you back in North Fork quite so soon. Honeymoon over so quickly? Married life not all you thought it would be?” Johnny asked, with a smirk on his face. Lucas raised an eyebrow towards Johnny.

“Actually, no its not,” Mark replied, pleased that his response wiped the smirk off Johnny’s face. “It’s more!” Mark smiled and glanced over towards Micah and saw him trying to stifle a grin. “Micah, we never really discussed when you want me to return to duty.”

“Mark, take your time. Whatever time you want to take off to spend with that bride of yours, go ahead. Johnny and I can handle the town in your absence. Sides Johnny took a whole month off, so it’s really up to you, how long you take.”

“Thanks Micah, I guess I should with talk with Hope and I’ll let you know,” Mark replied.

Lucas spoke, “So, just how many people did you have to stop the night of their wedding from heading on out to the ranch?”

“Just a few of Mark’s friends, Billy, Freddie, and believe it or not, Percy Bullock!” Micah replied.

“Yeah, they were set up for lots of mischief,” Johnny quipped. “Had to threaten them with jail, if they didn’t turn around and head home that moment.”

“Thanks Johnny, Micah. Pa and I talked the morning after; he explained why he wanted Hope and I to spend our first night at the ranch. I really appreciate everything both of you did.”

“You’re welcome Mark. I got to protect my only grandson, now, don’t I?” Micah answered.

“Yes sir.”

Lucas broke up the meeting, “Come on son, let’s get the wives and head for home. We still have a lot of work to do.”

“Oh, yeah, arranging everything to their satisfaction,” Mark stated as he realized it was going to be a little bit longer of an afternoon than he realized.

Johnny quipped, “Mark, you’re learning early in life. Now get out of here so we can do some work.”

*****

Lucas and Mark spent the rest of the afternoon moving Hope’s possessions into the home and arranging everything to hers and Milly’s liking. Fortunately, it didn’t take as long as they had figured. As they finished, Milly suggested they both grab their finishing poles and take a few hours go catch something for supper.

*****

Later that night, Johnny returned home to spend time with Lou. He entered their home and saw the single candle lit and the elegant placement of dishes for supper on the table.

“Johnny, I have some news that I think you need to know,” Lou stated after they were finished with dinner.

“News can wait until later,” Johnny stated as he led Lou back to their bedroom.

“But Johnny, I really think you need to hear my news,” Lou pleaded as Johnny started kissing on her neck, as he pulled her into an embrace.

As he sat down on the bed and pulled her towards him, he started unbuttoning her blouse, playfully kissing at her lips.

“Johnny.” she couldn’t say anything more as he placed the tips of his fingers to her lips and then moved his hand to the back of her head and pulled her to him. Lou couldn’t resist the feelings welling inside her and she responded back to her husband. Later, Johnny was lying on his side, caressing his wife when he asked, “So what news was so important earlier?”

“I found out that we are expecting,” Lou quietly answered.

“Expecting what?” Johnny asked as he lovingly looked into her eyes.

“Johnny Drako, you know, sometimes, there are consequences to making love. And some times, those consequences are that a man and a woman conceive a child!” Lou answered tartly.

“A child, you mean…” Johnny gulped.

“I thought you’d be happy!” Lou said as she pulled away.

Johnny didn’t let her go. He pulled her closer, “Lou, you mean… I mean…” He pulled her into a passionate kiss. Afterwards, as she rested her head on his chest she heard Johnny say, “I’m going to be a father.”

*****

Saturday morning, Lucas and Mark woke early to start their chores out on the range. They waved to their wives as they rode away from their home.

“So, how much longer do I get you as a full time partner before you return to being a part time deputy?” Lucas asked.

“Hope and I talked last night and we decided one more week. There’s enough still to be done around the ranch that you’ll need my help getting everything done.”

“Oh, so I’m the reason, eh,” Lucas asked as he cast an eye towards his son.

“Well, things do need to get done around here,” Mark replied and tried to hide his smile.

“Come on. If you’re going to blame me for keeping you from your obligations as a deputy, I’m going to see that I get my monies worth out of ya, boy! We’ve got to move the herd off the east pasture.” With that, Lucas reached over and slapped Blue Boy on the rump.

The Next Generation… Chapter 30 – A Change of Season

Summer was drawing to a close and a new school year was fast approaching. Milly insisted that she was going to return to work as a teacher, working with the younger students. Lucas wanted to know what was to become of their daughter.

“Lucas, Hope and I have already discussed that. She asked me a few weeks back, what she was to do, now that she was graduated and married. I thought she could come to town and watch Myra during the day, then, when I need to, during recess and lunch, I can feed Myra and then return to class. This way Hope’s not staying here alone all the time.” Seeing the expression on Lucas’ face, “Lucas, this is something we both want. I want to teach, I can still take care of the home and my family. And Hope needs to feel, well, needed. By someone other than her husband! This would give her more interaction with the other women in town, too. Besides, I’ve heard some women state what they wouldn’t give for a few hours without their children around so they could do their shopping and chat. Lou has said she can set up room at the hotel to act as a sort of a day care, and besides, she and Johnny are going to need someone to help look after their baby once it arrives.”

Milly cuddled into Lucas’ lap and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. The look in her eyes, pleading.

“Okay. Okay.”

Life around the McCain ranch settled into a routine.

The Next Generation… Chapter 31 – Eastbound Train

It was early October and Doc Burrage was having lunch with John Hamilton, when it was interrupted by the train conductor who came running into the hotel restaurant, yelling,

“I was told the town doctor was here!”

“I’m Doctor Burrage, what seems to be the matter?”

“Doc, we got a pregnant woman on the train, she started getting sick and then went into labor and I think she needs your help.”

Doc excused himself as he ran, following the conductor to the train. After he completed an initial examination, Johnny Drako entered the train.

“Doc, you need some help?”

“Johnny, we need to get this woman back to the clinic, can you help me carry her?” Then turning to the conductor, “Why don’t you bring her husband along, then the train can head on out as scheduled.”

Johnny and Thaddeus carried the woman to his office and to the back room. “Johnny, would you take the woman’s husband over to Lou’s? Keep him occupied. I’d say take him to Sweeney’s but I saw him carrying a small child. Well, maybe Hope can look after the boy and you can take the husband to Sweeney’s.”

“Sure Doc.”

*****

Doc delivered a healthy baby boy and then slapped his bottom, the child announced to everyone that he was there. He wrapped the baby in a blanket and handed the child to his new wife, Abigail. Then he pulled a blanket over the body of the young mother.

“Abigail, here hold and rock the child.”

“Thaddeus, this child, he needs to nurse.”

“I know Abigail, let me go get a bottle and some milk. We’ll see what we can do before I have to tell the father he has a son, but his wife died.”

They worked for some time, but the infant just wouldn’t suckle from the bottle. Johnny knocked on the door before he entered. Thaddeus met him as the door opened.

“Johnny, can you go get Milly McCain. I need her?”

“Sure Doc, why?”

“Just go get her,” Thaddeus replied.

Johnny ran to the school room and returned with Milly.

“Milly,” Thaddeus started. “We’ve tried everything we can to get this baby to suckle from a bottle, he just won’t.”

“What about the baby’s mother?” Milly asked.

“Milly, she died while giving birth. I couldn’t save her life. But I have a chance to save the life of her baby. Milly, you’re the only woman right now who has a baby and is still breast feeding. I know this child isn’t yours, but if we don’t try, I’m not sure the baby will survive.”

Milly turned as Abigail brought the infant into the room. Hearing the baby cry, Milly’s heart melted and agreed. Abigail led her to a back room for privacy.

“Doc?” Johnny asked. “You want me to go with you to tell the husband?”

“Yeah, this isn’t going to be easy. Do you know the man’s name?” Thaddeus asked.

“Said it was Ezrah Masters.”

Thadd and Johnny walked to Sweeney’s. They returned Ezrah Masters to Doc’s, where Thadd informed him of his wife’s passing. The man then asked of their baby.

“The baby lives. Right now, we have a local woman nursing the child. We tried to bottle feed him, but he wouldn’t suckle,” Thadd stated.

“I have a son? My wife…, we were heading back east to be with family. She wanted to be with family. The baby came too soon, he wasn’t due until next month. We should have had time to get to Tennessee.”

“Ezrah, I’m sorry for your loss. If you like, we can prepare your wife’s body and arrange transport back east.”

“No, my wife loved the west, but her parents are older and ailing in health and she wanted them to see her children before they passed.” Through his grief, “If possible, could she be buried here?”

“We’ll make the arrangements,” Johnny stated.

“My son? When may I see my son?” Ezrah asked.

“As soon as Mrs. McCain is through nursing the child. My wife can bring your son to you, if you’d like to have a seat?”

“Mrs. McCain? I met a Deputy McCain at the saloon, is she his wife?”

“No, this Mrs. McCain is actually the Deputy’s mother. Step-mother, but they don’t make that distinction.”

Soon, Abigail Burrage brought the infant to the front office and handed him to his father. They watched as the man unwrapped the blanket and counted his son’s fingers and toes, marveling at the new life in his arms.

Later that afternoon, at the hotel, they tried to get the infant to nurse from a bottle, with no better results.

*****

Lucas had come into town to drive the women of his family home, when he was called over to the hotel by Johnny Drako.

Lou, very much pregnant, led Lucas upstairs. As he entered, he saw his wife buttoning her blouse as Doc Burrage picked up an infant and then carried the child from the room.

“Milly?” Lucas asked as he walked over and sat next to her.

“Lucas, a train arrived this morning. A young mother was in labor… Lucas she died while giving birth. They tried to get the infant to suckle from a bottle, but it wouldn’t. I know I should have checked with you first, but as a mother, I’d pray that another woman would step up and help out, had the situation been reversed.”

Doc Burrage knocked on the door as he opened it to return to the room.

“Milly, Erzah sent a wire to his sister in Colorado Springs. She had a baby about five months ago. She and her husband are making arrangements and should be here by week end to take care of the baby. Lucas, I know how difficult this must be for you, and Milly too. But the man has stated he would pay for you to stay at the hotel and pay for your kindness, until his sister arrives.”

“Doc,” Lucas stated, seeing the look in Milly’s eyes. “We’ll accept his paying for the room, but the room only. I understand why Milly’s doing this, but you’ll see that Milly nursing two babies won’t be too much of a drain on her body?”

“Lucas, we’ve already talked of this. Milly is close to weaning Myra, in a few months, so she’ll start weaning Myra to a bottle and some solid, mushy food a little early. Myra’s ready and this will reduce the burden on Milly.”

Lucas returned Hope to the ranch and to pack an overnight bag for Milly and himself. At first, Myra was fussy and not wanting to suckle from a bottle, but after a little bit of coaxing, she was happily slurping. Lucas took pleasure in feeding his youngest child.

Doc Burrage had recommended that, in the mornings, Milly nurse both children, but then throughout the day, Myra should eat from a bottle. During the night, the baby Michael and Myra slept in the room with Lucas and Milly. Lucas would wake with Milly to tend to Myra, while Milly tended to Michael. During the day, Ezrah watched after his newest son. His oldest son, Matthew, spent the day being watched after by Hope as she watched after Myra and some of the other young children of North Fork. Throughout the day, during recesses and lunch, Milly would meet Ezrah at the hotel and take baby Michael upstairs to a room to nurse.

As Lucas held and bottle fed Myra, his memories would return to the first month of Mark’s life, when Margaret had been too ill to care for the two of them. He remembered the worry and his fears for his young wife, but he was amazed at the tiny life that he had held in his arms. He remembered, caring for the new life that they had created, their son. Now, he marveled at the new life that he and Milly had created, their daughter.

*****

The Saturday afternoon train arrived. Ezrah Masters met the train and led his sister, her husband, and their child to the hotel. They were invited to join the McCain’s for supper at the hotel and then to attend church services the following morning, before the family caught the train back to Colorado Springs.

As they stood on the train platform Sunday afternoon, Ezrah told Milly, “Mrs. McCain, I can never thank you enough in your generosity for what you’ve done. And to you Mr. McCain, for your understanding and compassion to a total stranger, I don’t know what to say. I’m truly humbled.” He turned, carrying his youngest son and held the hand of his oldest son as they boarded the train.

The Next Generation – Chapter 32 – The New Year

Mark and Hope had turned nineteen. Milly and Lucas had celebrated their second wedding anniversary and Myra had celebrated her first birthday, by the time the McCain family finished seeing the New Year in.

As they arrived in town for church one Sunday morning, they saw Micah and Hattie leading Johnny away from Doc’s office. He kept anxiously looking over his shoulder.

“Lucas, Mark, need your help. Lou’s in labor. We need to keep Johnny occupied until the baby is born,” Micah called over.

The hours passed in the Marshal’s Office as they waited for word. It was difficult trying to keep Johnny’s mind from worrying. At first Lucas thought of telling Johnny of when Mark was born, but the more he thought on it, he knew it would only add to Johnny’s worry. Lucas had almost lost Margaret that day. Instead, Lucas told of when Myra was born and how Milly had started earnestly in labor before midnight and Myra wasn’t born until later in the morning.

“Lucas, I’m so scared. Even facing some of the fastest gun fighters, I never felt this scared,” Johnny stated as he leaned forward and placed his head in his hands.

“Johnny, fatherhood is a miracle. Granted the nine months of waiting never fully prepares you for this day. Believe me, your baby will melt your heart the first time you hold them in your hands. I won’t say it gets any better in facing your fears, each time the child sniffles or sneezes or coughs. Then when they start crawling and then walking. You’ll be scared each time they scrape their knees. Then one day, you’ll be teaching your child how to ride a horse. And watch as they head to school on their own. Before you even know it, they’ll be graduating school. And then one day, you watch as they walk down the aisle. But you never stop worrying about them. Even after their married and living their own life.”

“You talking from experience LucasBoy?” Micah asked. “Seems you’re doing a little bit of traveling down memory lane.”

“Yeah Micah,” Lucas replied as he looked over at Mark and smiled. “But believe me; it doesn’t get any easier when the second one arrives.”

“That’s only because you let too many years pass between the two of us,” Mark stated as he grinned.

Hattie, Milly, and Hope brought a tray of sandwiches to the office and shared a late lunch with the men. It was late afternoon when Johnny jumped up as he saw Abigail Burrage walk past the window and enter the office.

“Abigail, Lou?” Johnny begged.

“Johnny, Thadd will have Lou ready to see you in a few minutes. It was a difficult birth, but you do have a healthy child. If you’d like, you can come with me?” Abigail stated.

Johnny grabbed his hat and hurried from the office and followed Abigail to see his wife. Abigail led him to a back room. She opened the door and let him in, then closed the door behind him.

Johnny quietly walked into the room and removed his hat, barely whispering Lou’s name. Lou turned to look at Johnny and smiled, “You have a son.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and leaned forward and kissed his wife, “We have a son,” as he laid down on the bed next to his wife, caressing the back of his son’s head. Johnny grinned as he heard the suckling sounds while his son nursed from his wife’s breast.

When Lou felt their son stop suckling, she handed him to Johnny to hold. Johnny did feel his heart melt as he held his son, he opened the blanket and counted each finger and every toe, twice.

“Well boy, what should we name you?” Johnny asked. “Lou, did you have a name picked out?”

“I was thinking Connor Sean Drako.” Lou stated as she leaned into her husband and looked at him.

“Connor. It’s a good strong name.” Then looking to his son, “So Connor, how do you like your name?”

Soon, Lou and Connor were asleep. Johnny kept smiling, looking back and forth between his wife and his son.

*****

Thaddeus and Abigail Burrage walked to Micah’s office and let everyone know the good news.

“Lou’s going to be confined to bed for about a week and then I’d prefer she not return to working at the hotel for at least three weeks more, but they have a fine, healthy son.”

It was decided that Hattie would fill in for Lou at the hotel and restaurant, until Lou was given a clean bill of health.

*****

As Spring returned to North Fork, the town council decided that the town was growing and truly needed a second school, what once was the town hall, just wasn’t big enough anymore. So, in between the birthing of their livestock and planting their fields, the men of North Fork set out to build a larger school to meet the growing needs of the town.

As more and more women of North Fork appreciated a few hours in town, without having to worry about their children, the room that Hope used at the hotel was no longer large enough. It was decided that the day care would move into the former school room at the town hall. When Abigail Burrage wasn’t needed to help Thaddeus, she spent the days helping Hope, watching the youngsters of North Fork.

The Next Generation – Chapter 33 – Myra, the Toddler

Summer’s official arrival was still a month away. It was early morning when Mark returned home from working in town to find Myra standing up, holding on to the chest in living room, trying to walk. He placed his hat on the table and picked his sister up, when he heard her calling, “Mak, Mak”.

“Well Gabby, seems you’ve finally found your land legs. Ma, why didn’t you say that Gabby’s started walking?” Mark asked.

“Myra’s what?” Milly called from the kitchen.

“She was holding on to the chest and walking.” Then turning to his sister in his arms, “Yes, you were walking weren’t you,” as he nuzzled his nose into her face, causing Myra to squeal.

“Me wak, me wak,” Myra said as she started clapping her hands.

Milly lifted Myra from Mark’s arms and held her on her hip. “So young lady, I turn my back and now you’re walking.”

“Me wak, me wak,” she called again.

“Better watch out Ma, soon she’ll be walking down the aisle,” Mark said and turned to avoid a swat from Milly.

As they were laughing, they heard Lucas enter and ask, “Who’s walking down the aisle?”

“Just your son trying to be cute,” Milly stated with mock anger in her voice.

“My son?”

“Teasing me that Myra’s soon to be walking down the aisle. Lucas, our daughter just took her first steps!” Milly stated as she handed Myra to Lucas, who raised her sky high over his head, causing Myra to squeal.

“Now, you both are hurting my feelings. I’m beginning to think that you don’t love me anymore! Maybe I should just leave!” Mark continued the banter.

As Lucas lowered Myra, she started reaching for Mark, calling, “Mak, Mak, me want Mak.”

As Mark reached for his sister he added, “Well at least someone in this room loves me. Come here Gabby.”

As Hope entered from the back door, carrying the milk pail, she heard Mark exclaim, “Well maybe I should just take Hope and Myra, the only people who love me, and set out on our own.”

Not missing a beat, Hope asked, “And just who said that I love you?” as she set the pail down on the counter and stepped to the family. Mark wrapped his other arm around Hope and pulled her close.

“Well, seeing as how you share my bed,” Mark replied as he tried to give her a kiss.

“Your bed!” Hope declared as she pushed Mark away from her. “Seems I’m the one who sleeps in it all the time, while you go off being a gallant knight, protecting the town and leaving me, way out here to defend myself!” Hope enjoyed the banter.

“Well, Gabby,” Mark stated. “Seems it’s just you and me, sis,” as he headed towards the door, only to feel his Pa’s hand at his shirt collar and being pulled into a hug.

“Mark, you know no one can ever replace you,” Milly stated as she joined in the hug, followed closely by Hope.

*****

The few weeks later, Mark woke to feeling a tug on his arm hanging off the side of the bed and hearing a small voice call, “Mak, Mak, wake up.”

“Gabby? What?” He quickly sat up and lifted his sister off the floor and into his bed. “Gabby, just what are you doing in here?”

“Me wake, me ‘elp.”

Shortly Hope started to stir. “Mark, what?” she asked half asleep.

“Hope, its Gabby,” Mark said, only to hear Milly yell, “Myra! Lucas, Myra’s missing!”

Mark called back, “Ma, it’s okay. She’s in here with Hope and me.” Shortly, both Lucas and Milly were standing in the doorway. “She woke me just a few minutes ago.”

Milly rushed in and took Myra from Mark’s lap, only to have her cry, “NO! Me want Mak, me ‘elp Mak.”

“Young lady, you will behave yourself.” Milly chided her daughter, still trying to settle her own rapidly beating heart. “Or you will learn your first lesson of sitting in a corner, quietly. The corner is for bad little girls.”

“Me no girl, me Gabby,” she called as she continued to squirm and reach for Mark. Lucas came up to Milly and took Myra from her arms.

“Young lady, you’re going to learn a very important lesson this morning. Girls, and that include Myra; get punished when they are not good.” Lucas carried her out of Mark and Hope’s bedroom and sat Myra in the corner of their bedroom. “Now, you sit there and don’t move until I come back for you.”

“Mak come?” she asked.

“No, Mark’s been good,” Lucas replied.

“Myra, not good?” she asked as her lower lip started to quiver.

“No, Myra’s not been good,” Lucas stated as he tried not to laugh at his daughter. He pointed his finger towards her and told her, again, to stay put.

When Lucas turned around, he saw tears in Milly’s eyes and a smile on Mark’s face, knowing he was remembering some of the times when he was younger and was sent to the corner.

As Lucas walked into the front room he heard Mark state, “Guess it must be from the McCain side of the family.”

“Mark, Hope, we’re sorry Myra woke you this morning,” Lucas declared.

“That’s okay Pa, we needed to get up early anyway. You wanted to get a jump on checking the fence line, especially the bluffs that separate our place from Mr. Jackford’s. Let me finish getting dressed and I’ll get the barn chores started.”

Milly and Hope had breakfast ready when Lucas and Mark returned to the house. Lucas peeked into the bedroom and saw Myra still sitting in the corner. “Well?” he asked.

“I think it’s been long enough,” Milly answered as she placed breakfast on the table.

Lucas walked to the bedroom and called Myra. She turned at her name and slowly, got to her feet and toddled over to Lucas.

“Well young lady?”

“Me good now?” she asked. Lucas bent down and lifted his daughter into his arms and carried her to the table for breakfast.

*****

Now that Myra was walking, Milly and Lucas tried to explain to her the rules of not leaving the house unless one of them or Mark or Hope was with her. They constantly had to tell her she couldn’t go outside alone, when they’d find her reaching for the door knob.

*****

A week later, Milly and Hope were outside, just finishing laundry and watching Myra playing in the dirt. They stopped working when Lou and Johnny arrived with Connor. Lou was talking of how they were looking forward to celebrating their second wedding anniversary at the Summer Social the following week.

Lucas and Mark had just returned from the range, when Mark offered to take the horses to the barn so Lucas could talk with Johnny. Mark had just put both horses in their stalls and was preparing to unsaddle them when he heard the calf in the corral bawling. As he entered the corral, he saw Myra had crawled under the railing and was reaching for the calf. Mark yelled, “Gabby!” as he ran to get her out of the corral. He heard Milly scream as he picked up Myra and shoved her through the fence. He saw the calf running away when he felt the impact and everything went dark.

*****

Milly and Lucas turned towards the barn when they heard Mark yell “Gabby!” Lucas immediately was on the run. He saw Mark pick up and push Myra from the corral and watched as the cow charged and slammed into Mark’s back, causing Mark to strike his head on the fence post. Lucas started yelling, trying to chase away the cow, which stood, striking out with a front hoof, over the prone body of his son. Johnny was quickly at Lucas’ side, firing his gun into the air. As the cow ran to its calf, they climbed the fence and dropped down to Mark’s side.

“Careful Lucas, let’s turn him over, we can drag him under the fence, then pick him up and get him to the house.”

Milly and Hope ran and picked up the scared and crying Myra, watching as Lucas and Johnny pulled the unconscious Mark from the corral. They followed as Mark was carried to the house and placed in his bed. Hope filled the pitcher with water and carried it and the basin into their bedroom. She set them on the nightstand next to their bed.

“Lucas, you want me to go get Doc Burrage?” Johnny asked.

“Johnny, take Razor. He’ll get you to town faster than your buggy,” Lucas stated without looking up as he removed the bloody shirt that Mark wore.

Hope dipped a towel in the water and placed it over the gash along Mark’s temple. Lucas picked up another towel and wrapped it around Mark’s bleeding arm.

Milly stood in the room with the crying Myra. Through her crying, Myra asked, “Mak wake?”

“Mark’s hurt, sweetheart” Milly answered.

“Me not good girl?” she asked through her tears.

Milly pulled Myra’s head to her shoulder, trying to quiet her crying, she heard Lucas call, “Milly, she doesn’t need to be in here. Please, take her to the front room.”

Milly carried Myra to the front room, sat down in her rocker, and tried to soothe her crying daughter. Lou followed with the sleeping Connor and sat down in Mark’s chair. Myra had finally fallen asleep when the sounds of approaching riders could be heard outside. The door opened as Johnny showed Thadd into the house and to the bedroom.

Milly rose and placed the sleeping Myra in her crib. She returned to see Lou and Johnny out the front door. Before she sat back down in her chair, she picked up her bible.

*****

The sun had set the next time the bedroom door opened. Milly searched her husband’s face, before she asked, “Lucas, how is Mark?”

“We don’t know yet. He’s still unconscious,” Lucas turned and escorted Thadd out the front door. When he return inside, he saw Milly sitting in her chair, crying, he walked over, knelt in front of her, and placed a hand on hers.

“Milly, he took a beating from that cow. His arm isn’t broken, but the muscle took some damage. Doc thinks he has a few bruised ribs. His body is bruised and contused. The gash over his temple should heal without stitches, but the longer he remains unconscious…” Lucas faltered, he laid his head in his wife’s lap.

In time, Lucas rose, picked up his bible and sat in his chair, while Milly warmed up a stew and bread for supper. Knowing that Hope wouldn’t want to leave Mark’s side, Milly carried a bowl of stew and a plate with some bread into their bedroom. As she returned to the front room, she heard, “Mama,” plaintively coming from their bedroom. Milly entered and saw Myra standing in the crib. She picked her daughter up and brought her out to Lucas. Lucas set his bible down and cuddled Myra in his arms.

“Papa, Mak ‘wake?”

“Not yet, Myra,” Lucas answered and his daughter leaned into his chest.

Milly set their supper on the table, where they ate in silence. Later, Milly put Myra to bed for the night. She and Lucas then went to check in on Mark and Hope. From the faint light of the lantern, they saw that Mark hadn’t moved from how he was originally laid in his bed. His face was pale under the bandage wrapped around his head. Hope was curled up beside him, eyes closed. They prayed that she was asleep as they closed the door.

*****

The following morning, Lucas and Milly rose early, not that they got much sleep during the night. As they opened the door, they saw Mark raising his hand to his head. He turned his head at the sound of the door opening.

Quietly they entered and Lucas said, “Good morning son, how do you feel?” Mark struggled to understand, he saw his Pa’s lips moving, but the words he was saying didn’t make sense to Mark. He wanted so much to say Pa and ask what happened, but he couldn’t even think of how to get the words out.

Milly walked around to the other side of the bed to wake Hope, to let her know that Mark was conscious. Hope quickly sat up in bed, seeing her husband’s eyes open, she picked up his hand and pulled it to her cheek.

Mark saw the tears falling down Hope’s face, he pulled his hand to wipe away her tears. Struggling to understand why his wife was crying. Soon the throbbing in his head forced him back to sleep.

“Come along Hope,” Milly stated as she reached for Hope’s hand. “He’s going to be okay. Let’s get breakfast ready.” Milly pushed Hope and Lucas from the room. Hope walked to Lucas and Milly’s bedroom when she heard Myra calling “Mama.”

*****

Lucas had finished the chores in the barn. It had taken a lot longer than usual. His worry caused him to not focus on the task at hand. He was returning to the house for lunch when Doc Burrage arrived.

“Lucas, how’s Mark? Any change overnight?” he called as he stepped down from his horse.

“He woke before breakfast, he looked confused and didn’t speak, after a few minutes he fell back asleep.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. His brain took a good rattle yesterday. Mind if I look in on him?”

Lucas escorted Thadd in to see Mark. While Thadd was examining Mark, he woke again.

“Mark,” Thadd stated. “You took a pretty hard blow to your head yesterday. Do you understand what I’m saying?” He nodded. “Good, that’s a good sign. Does your head hurt?” Mark nodded. “Do you know who I am?” Mark tried so hard to say Doc Burrage, but he just couldn’t put his thoughts to words, so he just nodded. “That’s okay Mark. It’ll take a while before everything settles down in your head. But before I take your nod as gospel, I need to ask some questions. Do you understand?” Mark nodded.

“Good, then, is my name Micah Torrance?” Mark shook his head.

“How about Johnny Drako?” Again Mark shook his head.

“Am I Jay Burrage?” Same answer.

“Am I Thaddeus Burrage?” Mark nodded his head.

“Okay Mark, I’ll let you rest. First, take this medicine, it will ease the pain you’re feeling.” Thadd gave Mark a couple of pills and helped lifted his head so Mark could drink from the glass.

He stepped from the room and pulled the door closed behind him. He turned to face Lucas, Milly and Hope.

“He woke while I was examining him. He has his faculties about him, but can’t yet put his thoughts to words. He took a pretty serious concussion. Hope,” Thadd stated has he handed a bottle to her. “I want Mark to take two of these pills, every four hours. It will help ease the pain in his head and it will also make him sleep. I don’t want him trying to get out of bed until I know how things are.”

“Doc?” Lucas started.

“Lucas, because of the severity of the blow, I feel his brain might have been bruised and his body will try to compensate. His balance will be off and he could hurt himself more by falling again, were he to try to get up before his brain has had a chance to heal. I want him in bed for a week, maybe less. I’ll stop by in three days to check in on him again. But please, keep him lying down, in bed.”

Milly and Lucas showed Thadd back to his horse.

Mark slept most of the time. When he was awake before the others realized it, he tried to remember what happened. It was the third evening after the accident when Hope entered their bedroom to find Mark pressing the heels of his hands to the sides of his head, she rushed to Mark.

“Mark, please…” she said as she pulled his hands away from his head. She saw the tears falling from his eyes. “Does your head hurt? Should I send for Doc Burrage?”

She handed him the pills and held the glass of water for him to drink. After he had swallowed the pills, he licked at his lips and faintly said, “No.”

Surprised, Hope begged, “Mark say something else, anything, please?”

Mark concentrated hard, then opened his mouth and whispered, “I love you, Hope.”

Hope wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck and cried into his shoulder. Mark wrapped his arms around her, “I love you, Hope,” he said a little louder.

In time Mark said, “Hope, Pa hasn’t said anything about Gabby. Is she okay? Did she get hurt?”

“Mark, your sister is fine. It scared her a lot. She’s not left her bedroom unless one of us is there to lead her out. She’s not even reached for the door knob to come into our bedroom or to leave the house. Mark, I’ll be right back, let me get Ma and Pa.”

Hope returned to their bedroom with Lucas and Milly right behind her. Milly sat down on the edge of the bed, Lucas standing beside her, hand on her shoulder, as she brushed her hand against Mark’s cheek.

“Hope says you’re talking again,” Milly stated as tears fell from her eyes.

“I’m glad Gabby’s okay. I’m sorry I scared you…” Mark’s voice faded away as he fell asleep.

*****

It was the fourth day after his accident when Thaddeus returned to check up on Mark. Mark was awake as he entered the room.

“Hi Mark! How are you feeling today?”

“Better,” Mark replied.

“Well that is an improvement from the last time I was here. Are you still feeling headaches?”

“A little, the medicine seems to help,” Mark answered.

‘Well, it’s supposed to. Now, the next few days are going to be a little harder for you. I want you to stay awake longer than you have recently. I’m going to ask Hope to only give you the pills every eight hours and I want you to start sitting up in bed for a few hours at a time. If you’re up to it, I think maybe Myra would enjoy seeing you and having you read to her. It’ll give you something to do until I say it’s okay for you to get up and out of bed.”

“Thanks Doc. By the way, how are things in town? How are Micah and Johnny doing without me?”

“Missing you. But Hattie sees that Micah takes it easy, and Johnny…, what with Lou and Connor. They’ll be fine, but I’m sure they’re looking forward to you returning to duty. But they know it won’t be until I say so. Here let me help you sit up. You might be light headed for a few moments, but that should pass.”

After sitting up and getting re-acclimated to no longer lying down, Mark asked, “Doc, the Summer Social is in a few days…”

“Mark, I might let you go, but you won’t be doing any dancing. If, and I mean, IF I allow you to attend, you’ll be sitting on the side. You won’t be healed enough to do any dancing.”

“Okay. Doc, before you go, could you have someone bring Myra in?” Mark asked.

*****

Mark saw his Pa enter his room, with Myra hiding behind his leg.

“Gabby,” Mark called. “Hey sis, come here.”

Myra shook her head.

“Gabby, it’s okay. Won’t you come sit with me? I’d like to read to you, I see you have a book. Doc said I need your help to get getter.”

“Gabby bad,” Myra stated. “Mak ‘urt.”

“Gabby, you’re not bad. Come here sis. I need you. Doc said one of your hugs would make some of the hurt go away. Please?”

Myra looked up to Lucas, “Papa, me sit wi’ Mak?”

“It’s alright Myra. Doc Burrage even said so.”

Myra toddled over to the side of the bed. Lucas followed and picked her up and sat her in the bed next to Mark. Myra reached her arms around Mark’s neck and gave him a hug. “Gabby a good girl?”

“Yes Gabby, you’re a good girl. Now, let’s see what story you have.” Brother and sister settled in and Mark began reading aloud.

*****

It had almost been a week since the accident and it was a little before supper when Milly checked in on Mark and Myra, they were quietly sleeping; Myra’s book lying against Mark’s chest and his bandaged arm wrapped around her. As Milly finished setting the table she started hearing squeals of laughter coming from Myra in Mark’s bedroom. She ran to open the door, to reprimand Myra for disturbing Mark. When she opened the door, she saw Mark busily tickling his sister and holding her up-side-down on his lap. He stopped as he saw Milly in the doorway.

“Uh oh, Gabby, we got caught,” Mark stated as he set Myra upright.

“Well, if you’re feeling that well, maybe I can put you to work!” Milly stated as she put one hand on her hip, while the other was still on the door knob.

“Mak not well,” Myra stated.

“Thank you Nurse Gabby,” Mark stated as he pulled Myra back to him and started tickling her again.

“Mark Warren McCain, I’m not sure that Doc Burrage would appreciate you being this active. And Myra Gabriela McCain, you’re supposed to be a lady. What would your father say?”

“Guess we’re really in trouble Gabby, especially when Ma uses our full names.”

“Papa say me ‘elp Mak.”

Milly tried hard to keep from laughing. She heard Lucas and Hope return to the house from town.

“Lucas McCain, tend to your children. They’re totally out of control and won’t listen to a word I say,” Milly called and laughed as she walked back to the doorway.

Lucas and Hope stepped into the room to see the faces of both Mark and Myra flushed as they tried to stop laughing.

“Pa, we were just having some fun and Ma comes in here, calling us by our full names, like were some kind of criminals.” Mark stated, unable to keep a straight face or stop the laughter.

Myra tried to say criminals, but it came out kwimnals. She squealed again as Mark resumed the tickle fest. Hope jumped up into the bed and added to the melee’.

“Milly, let them be,” Lucas stated with a smile. “It’s good to see them smiling and even better to hear laughter coming out of this room after the week we’ve had.” From behind, he wrapped his arms around his wife and rested his chin on top of her head. “Besides, I think you need to focus on getting supper on the table. I’m hungry.”

“Okay Lucas, but you can be the one responsible for pulling your daughter out of there,” Milly smiled as she returned to the kitchen and removed the food from the stove.

*****

Doc Burraage arrived late the following morning. After examining Mark, he asked Milly and Hope to take Myra from the room. He closed the door after they left.

“Lucas, I want to get him up on his feet and if he passes out, it would be better if the ladies didn’t see it.” Then turning to Mark, “Are you ready to try to stand?”

Doc pulled the covers back from Mark and helped him swing his legs over the edge of the bed. He motioned for Lucas to stand on the other side of Mark and they helped him get to his feet.

“Just stand for a moment Mark, get your bearings,” Doc said. “How you feel?” he asked as he felt Mark sag in their arms.

“Really light headed,” Mark replied.

“Okay, just sit back against the bed. We’ll try again in a minute.” Seeing the expression on Lucas’ face, “Lucas its natural, he’s been lying in the bed for a week and we swung his legs off the bed, the blood flow to his head reduced for a moment. He’ll be fine. Mark, you ready to try again?”

Mark nodded.

With Doc and his Pa’s help, he stood. Soon he felt both of them relax their grip and he was able to stand on his own.

“Okay Mark, try taking a few steps.”

They stood by his side as Mark tentatively took a step forward, wobbly at first, but then more assured. Doc and Lucas stepped back as Mark turned around and returned to his bed.

“Any headache Mark?” Doc asked.

“No sir,” Mark stated as he sat back down on the bed.

Doc stepped to the door and opened it.

“Ladies, you can come back in. Okay, if you promise to take it easy, I’ll allow you to go to the dance tonight, but no dancing. You can enjoy the food and listen to the music, and only walk the food table for a little while, but NO dancing!”

Mark pulled Hope into his embrace, “Well Mrs. McCain, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to the Summer Social this evening?”

“I’ll have to check my…” Mark didn’t let her finish as he kissed her.

“Me go to,” Myra called as she leaned from Milly’s arms and grabbed at Mark.

“Yes, Gabby, you come too. It’s going to be a family affair,” Mark stated has he reached for his sister.

*****

The McCain family rode into town in the buckboard. Lucas and Milly in the front seat, with Mark, Hope, and Myra sitting in the back.

Johnny was first to greet them and assisted Mark from the back of the buckboard.

“Good to see you up and about Mark. How you feeling?”

“Better. Can’t wait to get back to work. Doc said maybe in another week. Oh, from what Hope says, I owe you a thank you.”

“Not necessary. How’s the arm?”

“It’s healing. Getting stronger each day,” Mark replied, as he flexed his arm.

“Good, Lou said she wanted a dance with you tonight,” Johnny stated.

“Well, I don’t have permission to dance. Doc’s only letting me come tonight with strict instructions to sit and I can do a little walking, but only to walk the food tables,” Mark stated with an embarrassed grin on his face.

“I’m sure Lou will understand.”

Mark and Hope briefly walked the food tables and filled theirs and Myra’s plates. They found a seat nearby and sat down to enjoy the music and the food. Mark sat on a hay bale and leaned back against a wall, his arms wrapped around Hope as she sat in Mark’s lap, leaning back to him. Myra enjoying dancing in the street, in front of them. By sundown, Myra was curled up asleep between the two of them.

“Mark, how are you feeling? Are you getting tired?”

“Just a little.”

“Maybe I should go find Ma and Pa and we should get you home.”

“Hope, please, let them enjoy themselves. I’m enjoying myself, just sitting here with you. We’ll have plenty of time to sleep once we get home.” Mark leaned over his sleeping sister and gently kissed Hope and smiled as he leaned back against the wall.

Micah stopped by and chatted with Mark and Hope for a while.

“Mark, you know I once teased your Pa about the two of you getting married, I mean, your Pa marrying Milly and then you marrying Hope,” Micah stated as he fumbled with his words.

“I seem to remember something about that,” Mark said as he smiled. “So does this mean that you might be thinking of asking Miss Hattie to marry you?”

“It might. I want to do this proper and since, well, you and Lucas are practically family to us, I thought that maybe, I should ask Lucas’ permission and his blessings, before I officially ask Hattie.”

“Micah, I’m sure Pa will say yes.”

After Micah left, Mark turned to Hope and asked, “Can you believe that? I can’t believe it took him this long to get up the nerve to ask.” Mark leaned over to kiss Hope, again.

*****

Later that evening, before the McCain’s headed for home. Micah stopped Lucas and asked for a moment of his time. Micah stood to the side, rubbing at his chin, looking anywhere but at Lucas, and licking at his lips.

“Pa, just say yes. I’m not sure that his heart can take the strain of asking you what he wants to ask. Something about being sorry he teased you about one or both of us getting married a few years back,” Mark stated as he sat down in the back of the buckboard, holding a sleeping Myra in his arms.

“Micah are you trying to tell me you want to marry Hattie?”

“Well LucasBoy, she always said you were like a son to her and since you’d be her only living family, I thought maybe I should ask your permission before I ask her.”

“Micah you have my blessings. It’s about time you joined the married ranks.”

 

This story continues in The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 4

 

Return to BluewindFarm’s Author Page

Return to WWB Library

Return to WWB Author Index

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.