The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 26 (by BluewindFarm)

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

Category:  The Rifleman
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  16,950


 

The Next Generation… Chapter 114 – Life’s Changes

“Hope, how are ye and Mark?” Lou asked of Hope as they each bumped into the other as they came from the separate rooms where their husbands slept.

“We’re doing okay, what of you and Johnny?”

“He’s arguing that he has a town to protect.”

“Sounds like Johnny. Mark’s not doing any arguing, just yet.”

“Wha’ tis that smell?” Lou asked, scrunching her face at the pungent odor.

“Mark’s clothes, not sure what all was spilled on him, he smells just as bad as his shirt and pants.”

“Let me take those and I’ll have them laundered.”

“Lou, that’s not necessary, you have enough on your hands with taking care of Johnny,” Hope answered. “But I do appreciate your offer.”

The two women giggled over their worries for their own husbands, yet still wanting to help the other.

“Well, if there is anything I can do for ye or Mark… Ye just let me know. I could have Chelsea prepare a bath for Mark at the hotel…”

“I’m afraid he can’t be moved that far, at least not yet.”

“How bad did they beat him up?”

“Those… those…” Hope couldn’t bring herself to say what she really wanted to say. “He suffered a pretty good concussion, Thadd wants to keep him quiet for a little while longer.”

“I’ll see if a couple of my workers can bring a tub over and arrange for some hot water. I’m sure he’ll be feeling better if he were to smell better.”

The two women hugged before they went their separate ways.

*****

With Hattie and Micah in their bedroom and their young children asleep in bed, Lucas and Milly sat on the front porch of their home, allowing the coolness of the evening air to relax some of the tension both felt.

“Lucas, who is Elizabeth?” Milly asked, leaning back to her husband’s chest.

“Elizabeth? Elizabeth who?”

“I don’t know who, it’s just that…” Milly gave a brief shiver.

“What?”

“While I was waiting for Doc Burrage to arrive last night, Micah whispered the name Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth…mmm… She was Micah’s first wife.”

“Wife, I didn’t know he was married…what happened?”

“She died.” Lucas stated, he continued when he heard Milly’s sharp intake of breath, “They were up in Montana when a good friend, Micah’s partner, took all their money and left, saying he’d come back with it doubled. No one knew how bad or quick winter was to set in. Elizabeth got sick and Micah had no way to go for help or even pay for a doctor. Micah never saw the man again until after he settled here. Mark and I found a man gravely wounded out on the road and took him to town. Doc Jay asked if I’d be willing to donate blood to try to save the man’s life. Micah came in shortly and told me to let the man die.”

“That doesn’t sound like Micah,” observed Milly.

“No, it didn’t. After Doc released me, I tracked Micah down and asked why? That was the only time he ever mentioned Elizabeth. I encouraged Micah to come back Doc Jay’s to see the man. Before he died, he handed Micah an envelope, inside was the money; he kept his promise and doubled their money.”

“Why would Micah call out to her and not Hattie?”

“Doc Thadd told you that Micah could have died, maybe he sensed it too.”

“I wonder…”

“Milly, it’s been a long day, why don’t we just be thankful for what we have,” commented Lucas.

“I am thankful; thankful that Mark is going to recover and that Micah is alive. Guess we should go pull in a couple of the cots from the storage locker in the barn…”

“I almost would prefer to sneak over to sleep at Mark’s.”

“I’ll not have the children wake during the night and wake Hattie or Micah, looking for one of us,” Milly declared.

“I said ‘almost’,” teased Lucas as he helped Milly to her feet.

*****

After Mark had bathed, Hope helped him return to the bed at the clinic, she pulled the blankets over his shoulder and kissed him goodnight before she returned to collect her children from the daycare, where Gwen had watched over them for the day.

“I’m so sorry to put you out like this, Gwen. I remember how uncomfortable I was during the last month of my pregnancies.”

“Hope, your children are angels, besides, I had Mrs. Donner helping to watch all the children today,” Gwen replied.

“Well, I’m just glad to hear they were on their best behavior today.”

*****

The following morning, Deputy U.S. Marshal Coltrane Walker settled into watching over North Fork until her own lawmen could return to duty. He’d previously seen two of his deputies transfer Tag-a-long Riley from the jail on to the train for the final leg of his trip to Yuma.

“Morees, I’m gonna walk the town,” Coltrane stated as he placed his hat on his head and left the office.

While walking the town, he surveyed how much North Fork had grown since his first visit; new business establishments and homes were flourishing, as were the number of children he saw heading towards the two schools.

Before returning to the office he heard, “Marshal Walker! Do you have a minute?”

“How can I help you Sweeney?” Coltrane replied.

Sweeney opened the doors to the saloon and invited Coltrane inside, “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Black.”

Coltrane removed his hat as he took a seat at one of the tables.

“Marshal, I don’t know who to talk to…” Sweeney stated as he handed Coltrane the cup of coffee and took a seat on the opposite side of the table. “I mean with the Marshals laid up and all…”

Coltrane observed Sweeney’s hands shake as he took a seat and reached for his own cup of coffee. “What can I do for you?”

“I didn’t’ expect it to be like this… I’m not exactly cut out to do this kind of thing. I just wanted to…”

“Maybe you should tell me what’s troubling you, from the beginning,” Coltrane suggested as he enjoyed a long sip on his coffee.

“The other night, I killed two men,” Sweeney explained as he tried to settle his nerves with a drink of coffee.

“It’s never easy to face the aftermath.”

“I just didn’t want to be used against this town anymore and I thought that as long as I knew how to use it, it wouldn’t come to that… At my insistence, Mark taught me how to use a shotgun.” Sweeney looked to the two boarded up windows in the front of his establishment.

“Sweeney, you didn’t go looking for the trouble that came to North Fork. But consider this had you not acted as you did, it’s very possible that this town would be burying a number of her citizens instead of those outlaws…”

“How do you do it? How do you live with the fact that you’ve taken a life…”

“When I’ve had to kill, I accept it based on the circumstances. Did I callously take the life or did I do it to protect my own life or the lives of those I’m sworn to protect?”

“But I’m not a lawman…”

“Doesn’t matter,” replied Coltrane. “As a citizen of this town, any town, if you know how to use a weapon you have an obligation to protect others. That’s what most people don’t realize, but then North Fork has those like Lucas and Mark who’ll step up.”

“But Mark’s a lawman…” Sweeney interrupted.

“He wasn’t always… He wasn’t a lawman when he joined that posse. His weapon at that time was that he knew how to track as good as his Pa. He felt obligated to help.”

“I think I understand what you’re saying…I just never expected to have to use that blasted shotgun.”

“Me and a lot of other people of this town are thankful that you had the courage to use it. When it comes to being a lawman, it helps to know that the town will help back ya. Sweeney, why don’t you spend some time with the parson, I think he might be able to relieve your conscience. You have nothing to feel guilty about, in the eyes of the law. But maybe you are feeling that way, in the Eyes of God.”

“I think I’ll do that. I’m feeling a little better just talking to you, and maybe I just need to know that God won’t hold this against me.”

“See you later.”

Coltrane collected his hat and left the saloon, ‘Yes, this town sure had changed.’

*****

Several days later, when Mark could consistently sit up and walk a short distance without any ill effects, Thadd released him from the clinic with instructions to head home, or better yet, to Seth’s since he and Lilah had yet to return. Lucas and Hope assisted Mark as he climbed the steps to the house; yet allowed him to walk across the floor on his own to sit in the big overstuffed chair in the parlor.

“Where are the children?” asked Mark after having taken and exhaled a deep breath.

“Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen are watching Eli and the girls today while the twins are at school. I asked them to bring them back around four, that should give you time to take a nap.”

“A nap?” complained Mark.

“Yes, a nap. You rattled your brain pretty good and Thadd told you to take it easy.”

Knowing his son, Lucas stated, “I did stop by the office and Coltrane gave me a packet of reports for you to review…”

“I’ll review the reports,” answered Mark as he took the packet from Lucas.

“I’ll check in on you tomorrow,” Lucas stated,

Hope saw Lucas to the front door and thanked him, “Pa, thank you for being here.”

“No need to thank me, but you send word if he gets stubborn,” Lucas stated. He placed his hand to Hope’s cheek and wiped away an errant tear. “He’ll be fine, just like always. I know he’d rather see you smiling than crying.”

“Thanks Pa,” Hope answered as she smiled and reached up to squeeze his wrist.

*****

Within fifteen minutes of beginning to read the reports, Mark’s head started bobbing and a few moments later the papers slid from his fingers. After picking up the reports, Hope lovingly placed an afghan over Mark’s shoulders, smiling as she shook her head.

*****

Mark slept through the train whistling its arrival at the depot. He startled awake upon hearing a man call, “We’re home! Where are my grandchildren?!”

“What?” mumbled Mark as he tried to figure out where he was and who was home?

“Father!” Hope declared as she ran from the kitchen.

“What happened to you?!” asked a shocked Lilah upon entering the parlor and seeing the bullet graze across Mark’s temple.

“Seth? Lilah?” Mark groggily asked, shaking his head to clear the sleep from his mind.

“What could happen, indeed,” Seth declared as he set their luggage down inside the front door. “Where’s Micah?”

“Father, please…” Hope pleaded.

“Would someone tell me what happened while we were gone?” Seth asked in a reprimanding tone.

“We had a little bit of trouble,” answered Mark as he sat forward in the chair.

“Mark, you go back to sleep and I’ll answer all Father’s questions,” replied Hope.

“I’ve slept enough,” answered Mark.

“And you’ll sleep some more. Do as I say; don’t make me go get Thadd… or send for Pa!.” Turning to her father, “Father, Lilah, please, come into the kitchen and I’ll explain everything.”

*****

From behind the kitchen door, Hope watched as Mark reached for and drank from the glass of water, which she had earlier placed on the side table. Mark settled back in the chair and his eyes closed, Hope closed the door to the kitchen knowing it was a rotten trick to lace the water with Laudanum.

“So, do you care to tell me what happened?” asked Seth, with a disapproving look on his face.

“It probably would have been best had you stopped by the Marshal’s Office and talked with Deputy Walker before coming home… but you couldn’t have known to do that.”

“Daughter?”

“Father, Lilah, please have a seat.” After waiting for them to sit at the kitchen table, Hope sat down and answered, “The Wildcat Bunch was in town attempting to break one of their own from being transferred on the train. They kidnapped Sarah McCafferty to force Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty to leave so a fake preacher could come to town. No one thought anything of a new parson asking questions, attempting to learn about the people. Turns out, he was Wildcat Riley. Some of his gang got rowdy at Sweeney’s and Mark tried to stop them…:

“By himself?” asked Seth.

“Not really, from what Thelma told me, they only thought there was the one drunk… It wasn’t until after Mark has been shot when everyone realized there was more to it than just the one man.”

“How bad was he injured?” asked Lilah

“Another concussion, Johnny was shot in the shoulder, and John Hamilton took a bullet wound through his forearm.”

“Johnny’s back?” asked Seth.

“He returned the night this all happened,” replied Hope.

“Good God, why didn’t you…”

“Father, that’s not all… evidently Micah saw Mark already unconscious at Sweeney’s, he rode for Pa… He suffered a heart attack.”

“Lucas or Micah?!” asked an alarmed Lilah.

“Micah…”

“He’s not dead, is he?” Lilah couldn’t keep the fear from her voice.

“No, Doc was on his way out to Lucas and Milly’s this afternoon to see if he’s strong enough to return to his own home; I lent him your surrey. Hattie’s been out at the ranch with him since the morning after.”

“And Coltrane Walker is the only one protecting North Fork?” Seth asked.

“He was in charge of transferring the prisoner and he’s been temporarily re-assigned here. He also has another deputy U.S. Marshal helping out.”

“Hope, why didn’t you wire us?”

“You couldn’t have gotten home any sooner. This all happened Friday night into Saturday.”

“What of Sarah and the others?” Lilah asked.

“With the help of Coltrane, Nils, and Percy, Pa was able to rescue her. Reverend McCafferty returned home that night with Johnny, they had been staying in Marionette, waiting for word from those outlaws. Maggie brought Johnny and Lou’s children home Monday.”

“Hope, by your asking us to come in here, I’m presuming Mark doesn’t know about the others?” Seth cautiously asked, looking to the kitchen door to make sure Mark didn’t come in.

Trying to keep control of her emotions Hope answered, “He knows about Johnny and John, but we’ve not told him about Micah. Father, he’s going to have to give up being a deputy. The next time something happens…Thadd said it could kill him.”

Hope couldn’t keep her tears any longer; Lilah walked to Hope and wrapped her arms around her.

*****

Using the Seth’s surrey, Thadd drove the team to the McCain Ranch. Upon his arrival, he was pleased to see Micah sitting at the table, eating lunch with the children.

*****

“Well,” Thadd stated after examining Micah in the McCain bedroom, with Hattie anxiously watching. “I think you are recovered enough that you can return to town. But you’re still to take it easy until I say otherwise.”

While Micah buttoned his shirt, Thadd informed Micah and Hattie that he expected to see Micah in his office every week, for at least the next six weeks.

“I’ll let you know when we can stretch it out. I just want to make sure that your heart is responding to the medication,” Thadd stated. Hearing Micah complain at the restriction, Thadd continued, “Micah, if you become too active too soon, you could set your recovery back. If you follow my instructions, in six weeks we can probably move your appointments to once a month.”

“Micah, please…” pleaded Hattie. “Do as Thadd says?”

Upon returning to the front room, Micah tried to be in a better mood, “Guess you’re ready to get your own bed back?” he teased.

“As long as Doc says you’re ready to go home, otherwise, you and Hattie can stay here for as long as you need,” answered Lucas.

*****

Hattie rested her head on Micah’s shoulder, with his arm wrapped around her, as they sat in the back of the surrey for the trip back to North Fork.

*****

Having seen Micah inside his home, Thadd drove the team to return them to the livery when Isaiah Cooperton ran up and informed him that he was needed at the schoolhouse.

“What’s wrong?” Thadd asked.

“Mr. Bullock thinks Adam Tunneson broke his leg. He fell out of the tree.”

“Tell your teacher I’ll be right there.”

Reaching for his bag, Thadd jumped down from the surrey and followed Isaiah to the schoolhouse.

*****

Finally returning home just before midnight, a weary Thadd Burrage sat down in the chair in his bedroom, and looked to his sleeping wife as he pulled off his boots. He thought on all he had done since having woke; checking John, Johnny, and Mark, driving to the McCains to bring Hattie and Micah home, taking Adam Tunneson from the school to the clinic to cast his broken leg, before being called out to Oat Jackford’s place; to tend to one of his hands who had been thrown from a horse when a rattlesnake spooked the animal. He sank back in his chair as the events of the day pulled him to sleep.

The following morning, Abigail found her husband still asleep in the chair; she knelt in front of him and gently shook him awake.

“Thadd?” Abigail quietly called.

“Who needs me?” Thadd wearily asked.

“No one. Thadd, why didn’t you come to be last night?”

“I guess I was too tired. Abigail, as much a North Fork has grown, she needs a second physician. I just can’t continue to do it all on my own anymore.”

“Have you received any response to the wires you sent?”

“Not a one. Abby…”

“Talk to me.”

“I’m worried that as exhausted as I’m getting… I’m going to make a mistake, and it could possibly cost someone his or her life. I’ve been lucky for far too long…”

“You’re a wonderful physician,” Abigail stated.

“Wonderful or not, North Fork needs more than just me.”

****

Several more days passed before Mark and Hope returned to the clinic, hoping today would be the day Thadd would release Mark. After a thorough examination, Thadd was extremely pleased with Mark’s improvement in dexterity and ability to focus, after suffering the concussion.

“I think I’ll let Seth and Lilah’s home return to normal and say you can return to your own home,” Thadd stated as he put away his equipment. “But Mark…”

“Yes?”

“You’ll still need to take it easy for a while. If you get even the slightest of headache, I want to know about it.”

“Will do Doc. I guess Micah’s been enjoying his continued time at the office,” stated a cheerful Mark.

Hope gasped at Mark’s comment.

“Mark, we’ve kept something from you that I think I should finally tell you,” Thadd stated.

“What’s wrong?” Mark looked to his wife and the smile that had been on his face disappeared.

“Mark,” Hope started to explain. “When the Wildcat Bunch was in town. Micah…”

“Micah? What about Micah?” an alarmed Mark asked. “Come to think about it, I’ve not seen him. What happened to Micah?!”

“Micah’s going to okay, but he suffered a heart attack that night,” Thadd answered.

“A heart attack? How?”

“Mark, you were already unconscious in the saloon when he rode for Pa…”

“The stress and strain of seeing you unconscious and racing his horse out to the ranch, it was too much exertion on his heart. You forget, he’s a lot older than your Pa,” Thadd explained.

“But he’s not looked so young in a long time. I mean after Johnny… He has a spring in his step when he’s helping…” Mark’s voice conveyed his confusion.

“Yes, he has, but that’s an outward expression of how he feels. I’m talking about his physical health.”

“Where is he?” asked Mark.

“He’s stayed for a number of days at the ranch. The day Thadd allowed you to leave the clinic and return to Father’s, Thadd rode to the ranch and returned Micah and Hattie to their home.”

“Mark, he has to realize marshaling is for the young…”

“Giving up wearing the badge is going to kill him…” announced a sorrowful Mark.

“He’s done it before…” stated Thadd.

“But that was his decision,” argued Mark.

“Continuing to be placed in these situations will kill him, eventually. Mark, I know it’s not going to be easy for him,” Thadd said.

“You’re asking him to give up his life…”

“No, I’m asking for him to give up a job so he can still have a life to live,” corrected Thadd.

*****

After leaving the clinic, Mark said goodbye to Hope, allowing her to continue to her father’ as he stopped by the Marshal’s Office.

“Afternoon Mark, So…has your doctor returned you to active duty?” Coltrane asked.

“Yeah, I can return tomorrow. Johnny, you knew about Micah?”

“I did,” replied Johnny. “Mark, I’m sorry we kept the news from you, but Doc and Hope felt that in your condition, it was risky telling you. I’m dealing with my own guilt for pinning that damn badge back on him.”

“I know…” Mark didn’t hide his own guilt from his voice. “How about Micah? Have you told him that he needs to give up the badge?” asked Mark.

“I can’t bring myself to do it,” admitted Johnny. “It just doesn’t seem fair, he has so much insight and knowledge to offer up and coming lawmen.”

“Johnny, if I may?” Coltrane interrupted.

With his arm that was not in the sling, Johnny motion for Coltrane to continue.

“What if there was a way for Deputy Torrance to continue. I agree he has a lot to offer…”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Mark.

“Mark, remember when you first became a deputy U.S. Marshal?”

Mark nodded.

“What if we have training classes here, in North Fork? Or Micah could travel to Denver. He can be one of our instructors; he can still keep up with wanted posters and have a position here in the office… He can work with your lawyer, Robert Garrison, and discuss courses of law and responsibilities… ”

“I like that idea,” Johnny stated as his mood considerably brightened.

“Johnny, I need to get my family home, but I’ll be back tomorrow morning to officially return to work. I’ll bring Micah with me too.”

“That means we need to talk with Robert,” Johnny stated as he looked to Coltrane.

“See you tomorrow!” called Mark as he left the Marshal’s Office in a much better mood than he had entered.

*****

Lucas and Milly welcomed Mark and his family back home by inviting them over for supper. The children had fun catching up on everything that had happened while they had been separated, too.

*****

The children we asleep in their own beds when Lucas walked across the yard after seeing Mark sitting on the porch of his home.

“Hope told Milly that you were told about Micah today,” Lucas stated as he sat down.

“Yeah, I feel guilty…had I been more observant I could have prevented this whole fiasco from happening. I’m sorry…”

“Mark, you were one man against four. You couldn’t have prevented it.”

“I know that, but still… Pa, I’m going to talk with Hattie tomorrow about Micah.”

“That’s not going to be an easy task…”

“Easier than you think, if Hattie agrees to our proposal.”

With the sun having set, Lucas couldn’t make out the expression on Mark’s face, but he heard something in his son’s voice.

“Just what are you proposing?”

“Moving the U.S. Marshal training classes to North Fork, with Micah as one of the lead instructors. Pa, being a marshal runs in Micah’s veins, he’s taught me so much over the years and Johnny agrees that he has a lot more to offer than being put in a rocking chair on the porch. Coltrane was the one who suggested it, and no one impresses him very easily.”

“Mark, I…”

Mark interrupted, “Pa, we won’t do it if Hattie is against it, I just know how Micah needs to feel… needed. That he belongs…”

“I was about to say, if Hattie agrees, I think it’s a great idea.”

*****

The sun was well on its way marking the morning sky when Mark returned to town and knocked on the back kitchen door to Hattie and Micah’s home, removing his hat when Hattie opened the door.

“Mark, it’s good to see you up and about.”

“Thank you Hattie… How’s Micah?”

“Moping about… he’s been waiting for you or Johnny to come and undeputize him…”

“Hattie, I think we’ve come up with a way to keep Micah from harm, but to still keep him feeling that he’s needed. Once a lawman,” Mark stated.

Hattie finished, “Always a lawman. Just what did you have in mind?”

“Actually, Marshal Walker came up with the idea, after Johnny stated how much Micah still has to offer to new lawmen. We’re thinking of moving the training sessions for the U.S. Marshal Service to North Fork or maybe the two of you traveling to Denver, Micah would be an instructor to those new to wearing a badge. He’d work with Robert Garrison in teaching the law…”

“Mark, I think it’s a wonderful idea. Oh, he’s coming down the stairs…” Hattie started pushing Mark out the back door. “You get to the front door and pretend that we’ve not talked. Get him out of the house. It will do him good.”

Mark slipped out of the house and made his way to the front door and knocked, Micah opened the door.

“Marshal, I presume you’re here for your badge,” Micah glumly stated.

“Morning Micah,” Mark offered cheerfully, hoping his secret would brighten Micah’s eyes. “Yes, I’m here for the badge, but also the lawman who wears it.”

Micah paused in his walking to the fireplace, turned, and looked to Mark; who had removed his hat and entered the foyer.

“The lawman…” Micah humf’d. ‘I’m not that man any more… I’m an old man, lived beyond my use. Put me out to pasture.”

“I don’t know about putting you out to pasture, but Doc released me to return to work today, said you were recovered enough, too. And besides, you still have a job in town. So, get your boots on and pin that badge back on your vest!”

Hattie came from the kitchen, “Mark, it’s good to see you. What brings you to our home?”

“I’m here for one of my deputies who thinks it’s okay to derelict his duties.”

“I have no duties, Hattie told me what Doc said,” Micah answered, disappointment still in his voice.

“Doc doesn’t understand once a lawman, always a lawman. Come on, Johnny, Coltrane and I want to discuss with you your new responsibilities with the U.S. Marshal Service.”

“New responsibilities…Marshal Service,” Micah’s voice perked up.

A smiling Hattie closed the door behind Mark and Micah, pleased to see life returning to her husband’s eyes.

*****

Once at the office, Johnny, Coltrane, Mark, and Robert discussed their plans with Micah. After an hour, Micah followed Robert as he returned to his office where they could discuss more specifics, having seen the overview of the program that Mark had drafted the night before.

*****

While making his afternoon rounds, Mark was stopped by Johnny Gibbs, who had stepped from the front of the hardware store.

“What’s up Uncle Johnny?” asked Mark.

“Just thought I’d let you know, the tubs and large kettles you and Lucas ordered are scheduled come in on the train this Saturday.”

“Thanks, Uncle Johnny, I’ll let Pa know.”

*****

Having said goodbye to Coltrane Walker and Deputy Morees Saturday morning, Lucas and Mark loaded their orders into the back of their buckboards and returned home. They halted in front of their respective homes, with Jake McCafferty and Johnny Gibbs having followed them home to help unload the tubs and carry them into the homes.

Upon attempting to carry the first tub into Lucas and Milly’s home, Johnny laughingly stated, “Guess we need to take the doors off so we can get this through.”

Setting the tub down, Lucas made quick work of removing the doors and once the tub was inside the room, he re-hung the doors.

*****

Mark and Lucas worked throughout the afternoon to hook the pipes to the drains and pumps, and install the water heating systems Mark had designed so neither of their wives had to lug buckets of water from the kitchen into the tub room.

When they finished the last of their projects in Mark and Hope’s home, they stood to the side admiring their handiwork.

“I could really enjoy a hot bath in that tub after all the work to get them installed,” commented Lucas.

“Oh no you don’t!” called Milly as she and Hope entered the tub room in Hope’s home. “Hope gets to enjoy the first bath in their tub room.”

“Well, okay, Mrs. McCain, I didn’t mean this tub, I can wait until I get to my own tub,” teased Lucas.

“Not so fast… I get to enjoy the first bath in our tub room,” replied Milly.

“Pa, I don’t think either of us will win this argument,” answered Mark as he smiled at the jovial family exchange.

Mark explained to Hope and Milly how the water heating system worked; “Use this pump to add water to this kettle and start a fire underneath it. When it’s hot enough, use this other pump to drain the water from the kettle into the tub. And this final pump allows you to add cooler water so the water isn’t too hot.”

“Well, you both can wash up out back, supper is on the table,” Milly stated as she secretly relished the bath she would take later.

*****

Once their children were down for the night, Milly slipped into the tub room and appreciated the sheer simplicity of not having to lug water buckets to fill the tub. In anticipation, she had purchased a new product that Lou had recommended, a soap that bubbled up when agitated in the water; Milly inhaled deeply of its fragrance. Slipping from her clothes and with her left foot, she tested the water temperature before climbing all the way into the tub.

Milly enjoyed relaxing and stretching out in the warm water while she bathed herself. She was just thinking of how large the tub was when she heard a quiet knock on the door and for a moment regretted that she hadn’t latched the door closed when she saw it begin to open.

“Care for someone to scrub your back?” Lucas asked as he peeked around the door.

“Lucas McCain!” Milly called out.

“Shhh… you’ll wake the children. I thought you’d enjoy some special attention.”

Lucas entered the tub room, turned, and latched the door. In the dim light provided by the lantern on the table, Lucas unbuttoned and removed his shirt and dropped it to the floor. Next, he sat down on the stool and removed his boots and socks. Standing up, Lucas removed his belt and finally his jeans, before he slipped from his undergarments.

Climbing into the tub to sit behind Milly, he reached in front of her and took the washrag and soap. It had been a while since Lucas had felt the feelings that stirred in his body as he gently ran the soapy rag over his wife’s back. He leaned forward and kissed the back of her neck.

In time, Milly leaned back against Lucas and whispered, “My turn.”

The two switched placed in the tub, allowing Milly to sit behind Lucas in order to scrub his back. Once Milly finished with Lucas’ back, she pulled him backwards towards her, and she reached around and ran her hand with the soapy rag and her other hand over Lucas chest.

Lucas was first to step from the tub and dry himself off, he wrapped the towel around his waist while Milly washed her hair. Lucas poured clean water over her head to rinse the soap from her hair. He assisted Milly from the tub, before he pulled the drain plug. Still kneeling beside the tub, he watched Milly towel herself dry, admiring the woman who was his wife. Lucas stood and walked to his wife, took the towel from her hands and wrapped it around her body. After blowing out the lantern, he unlatched the door as he proceeded to lead Milly to their bedroom. With the door closed, he lifted her into his arms and as he lay her gently on the bed he pulled the towel from her body and crawled in bedside her, removing the towel from around his own waist.

“I love you Mrs. McCain,” Lucas whispered as he pulled the covers over their bodies and began caressing his wife.

Lucas wasn’t alone in the fire that welled within him that night, Milly felt the fire too, running her hands over his muscled chest, toying with his chest hairs; sighing at the pleasure of Lucas running his hands over her body.

Milly lifted her head and began teasingly kissing Lucas, but Lucas turned the kiss passionate by wrapping his arms around her and holding her tight against him. Lucas felt the softness of Milly’s skin as she pressed her body against his and that only drove his desire deeper. Both gave into their desire for passion and the pleasures of being husband and wife.

When they finally lay apart, each lying on their side, facing the other; Milly wondered at the depth of feelings she still had for Lucas; how after even all these years of marriage, the desire to make love to him could be so strong; even stronger than their wedding night.

“Lucas, I pray our love never grows old,” Milly whispered.

“Our love will only grow stronger. I’ve told you before how you’ve completed my life; what we share is more than I ever imagined,” Lucas replied as he lie next to her, marveling that he could share his life with a woman who made his life this complete, again. “Do I still make you feel giddy like a schoolgirl?”

“No, it’s been a long time since you’ve made me feel that way. I feel like…a woman.”

“Yes, you do,” mused Lucas as he ran his hand along her arm down to her hips and to her thigh.

*****

Mark and Hope placed their children to bed and oversaw their nightly prayers, before retiring to their own bedroom.

“If you’d like to take a bath, you can. I don’t have to be first,” Hope offered. “The water should be hot enough by now.”

Mark stood next to Hope and wrapped his arms around her back, pulling her close to him. He leaned his head down to her lips and passionately kissed her. He broke his lips from hers long enough for him to reach down and lift her into his arms.

“Mark?! What are you doing?” queried Hope.

“Shhh… You’ll wake the children,” he replied as he carried her out of their bedroom, across the floor of the front room, and into their tub room. “I think the tub is large enough for the two of us.”

Mark remembered their wedding night as he began to unbutton the back of Hope’s dress, he ran his hands over the soft skin of her back, but before he could pull the dress from her body, Hope turned in his arms and began unbuttoning his shirt, pulling the shirttail from his pants, and pushing it from his shoulders. Mark took Hope’s face in his hands as he leaned forward again to kiss her, while he felt her unbuckling his belt and pulling it from his pants. He heard it drop to the floor. Next, Hope undid his pants, but stopped short of removing them from his hips.

Hope wrapped her arms around Mark and passionately kissed him, she felt his hands move to her shoulders and to her back; and sensed the coolness of the air against her skin as Mark opened the back of her dress farther, finally the dress fell to the floor.

“This seems déjà vu, doesn’t it?” Hope asked.

“Only, the first time you revealed yourself to me,” answered Mark as he slipped from his jeans and undergarments, while watching Hope remove her own undergarments.

The warm water was three quarters up the sides of the tub when Mark slipped into the tub; he held his arms open as Hope slipped in, facing him, lying against his body. They spent a little time using the washrag and soap on each other, but both felt it more desirable to kiss and caress the other. Hope giggled as they changed positions in the tub after Mark stated, “Now’s your turn to wash my back.”

“You know, you really should shave,” Hope eventually suggested.

“I don’t feel like it, but I know someone who might enjoy doing it.”

Hope reached for the shaving supplies set on the bench beside the tub, and lovingly shaved her husband. Having set the razor down, Hope watched as Mark rinsed his face. Without any warning, Mark rolled around so that he was at the bottom of the tub, with Hope resting her back against him. Ignoring the fact that the water splashed over the sides of the tub, they intertwined their fingers and stretched, enjoying the feeling of the other against their body, and the warmth of the water.

After a while, Hope stated, “You know, this might not have been a good idea?” having looked at her hands.

“Oh?” replied Mark as he toyed with her fingers.

“I’m enjoying my bath too much; I’m beginning to shrivel up like an old woman.”

“Well, let me prove that you’re a young woman,” answered Mark as he stepped from the tub and helped Hope out, before he dried himself off. He wrapped the towel around his waist only to see Hope preparing to slip her nightgown on over her head. “Uh, uh.” Mark held out her robe and wrapped it around her body; he tied the sash around her waist before taking her hand and leading her to their bedroom.

Hope looked to make sure their children’s bedroom doors were still closed as she wrapped an arm around Mark’s waist. She closed their bedroom door and felt Mark pulling her towards their bed. As he walked backwards, he slipped the towel from his waist before he sat down on the bed. He pulled Hope to him, where she straddled his lap, taking his face into her hands and passionately kissed him. She sensed Mark untying the sash from her robe and felt the robe being slipped from her shoulders; she lowered her hands from Mark’s face. As the robe fell to the floor, Mark lifted Hope farther into their bed as he lay down and pulled the blankets over them.

To both, the fire that had heated the water for their bath, also heated their desire to make love that night. Hope sighed when Mark lay down on his side next to her, he propped up his head with this left arm, while his right knee resting on her thigh. After pulling the blanket to cover over both of them, he draped his right arm across her ribs as he ran his hand up and down her arm.

He whispered, “I love you Mrs. McCain.”

“People who don’t know me, call me Mrs. McCain,” Hope whispered in reply.

“And who am I, then?”

“The one I love,” Hope whispered as she ran her hand over Mark’s freshly shaven face.

“So I’m your lover?” asked Mark.

“Mark, I never dreamed that I could love you so much. You’ve given me the greatest gift a woman could ever receive.”

“And just what gift is that?”

“Besides your love, you’ve blessed me with nurturing five children.”

“Are you hoping you became pregnant tonight?”

Mark ran his hand down her arm, from her shoulder to her stomach. Hope inhaled at the tingling sensation that coursed through her body as his hand came to a stop on her stomach; she placed her hand on top of his.

“If it is to be, I’d love to give you another child.”

Chapter 115 – Is There A Doctor?

The moon still shone bright in the pre-dawn sky as the man sat on the edge of the bed next to his wife, as he had since just after midnight. Not even bothering to pull on jeans over his longjohns, the man patiently tended to his wife. The man was slender of build and in his early twenties with curly, blonde hair.

“Evie, I can do this. I’ve helped with plenty of births before,” Josiah Appleton stated as he tried to comfort his wife; rinsing out a washcloth after wiping the sweat from her face.

“Josiah, I know you’ve birthed lambs before, but I’m not a ewe,” Evelyn proclaimed just before an exceptionally hard contraction struck. “Please, go for the doctor.”

Evelyn was a petite young woman, with a girlish complexion and dark brown hair that slipped from underneath her nightcap and cascaded well down the side of her face.

Josiah finally gave into his wife’s pleadings to go for the town’s doctor. He reached for his jeans hanging over the back of the wooden chair in the room, and grabbed for the shirt hanging on the back of the door.

Evelyn briefly laughed as she heard her husband jumping around as he tried to pull on his boots without first putting on socks.

In the early morning darkness, Josiah made his way into town and to the doctor’s home.

The sun was just peeking into the sky when Abigail opened the door to see the young man nervously standing on the porch.

“May I help you?” asked Abigail.

“My wife, she’s giving birth. She asked if the doctor could come…” Josiah replied.

Opening the door, Abigail motioned for the man to enter, “One moment and I’ll get my husband. You’re new to North Fork, I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Josiah Appleton, we’ve been here for about two months, just taking time to get our place settled, what with Evie being pregnant, we’ve not left the farm too much.”

“I did I hear you say your wife was giving birth?” Thadd stated as he pulled on his jacket.

“Yes sir, its our first.”

“Let me quickly get dressed and get the children up and over to Hattie’s.”

“If you could hurry ma’am. Evie really wanted the doctor.”

Thadd carried his son, while leading Savannah down the staircase, followed by Abigail carrying Sadie, “Where do you live?” asked Thadd.

“I was told by the town banker the place used to be owned by the Abrahm’s,” Josiah answered.

“We have to go past Hattie and Micah’s to get to your home.”

Hattie hurried ushered the Burrage children into her home, not needing any explanation.

*****

By mid-morning, Abigail handed a freshly bathed new born, baby girl to Evelyn. Appleton and assisted her to sit in the overstuffed chair in their front room, and proceeded to instruct her in how to breastfeed her first child. After washing his hands and arms, Thadd made sure that Evelyn was producing enough breastmilk, and the baby had no difficulties in nursing. Josiah Appleton sat on the arm of the chair, marveling at the new life his wife had brought into their lives, and her eagerness at nursing.

“Are all babies so… voracious?”

“Voracious?” Abigail called from the bedroom as she paused in changing the linens on the bed.

“Listen to her. She’s slurping louder than any newborn lamb.”

Thadd laughed as he spoke to the new father, “Now Josiah, before we leave, we’ll get Evelyn back into bed and I want her to say in bed until I come back. If she needs to relieve herself, you’ll need to bring in a chamber pot.”

“Yes, sir,” Josiah answer, still watching his daughter nurse from his wife.

In time, the slurping sounds stopped and Evelyn handed their daughter to her husband, so that Abigail could help her get back into the bed.

“How do I hold her?” Josiah asked as he took the baby, holding her as if she was a china doll, following behind his wife into the bedroom.

“Just like you’re doing is fine,” Thadd stated. “It’s important at this age that you support her head just like you’re doing. You’re a natural at this.”

“I’d feel more natural if this was a lamb.”

Josiah looked at the tiny hand that had hold of his little finger.

Abigail tended to Evelyn, “Now after each time you nurse your child, you’ll need to make sure that you wash yourself afterwards,” and handed her a washcloth. “With the temperatures becoming cooler, you’ll also need to keep her well wrapped and blanketed to prevent her from chilling, especially at night.”

After washing, Evelyn tied closed her camisole and watched her husband coo and cuddle with his daughter.

“Have you chosen a name?” asked Abigail.

“I’m sort of partial to Virginia,” Josiah stated.

“Virginia Appleton,” Evelyn stated.

“No middle name?” Abigail inquired.

“Virginia Leia Appleton,” Josiah replied. “Virginia for my mother and Leia for Evelyn’s mother.”

Thadd and Abigail stepped to the doorway.

“We’ll we back tomorrow,” Thadd stated as they prepared to leave.

*****

Thadd barely halted the team in front of the clinic when twelve year-old Tony Merar raced in on his horse, yelling “DOC! DOC!”

“Easy there, son. What’s wrong?”

“Marcus got trampled by a bull. Pa says he’s hurt pretty bad. They’re getting the buckboard ready to bring him in from the range to the bunkhouse, didn’t want to bring him no further until you seen him.”

Turning their horse and buggy around, Thadd stated, “Guess we won’t be making it to church services today,” and followed the boy back to Dave Merar’s ranch.

*****

Monday morning, Lucas headed out to the range alone since Mark had spent the night in town standing his watch. Milly had finished her chores inside the house when she heard a knock at the front door. She answered to find a young man standing on their front porch. The man removed his hat and asked, “I was told Lucas McCain lives out this way… Am I at the right home?”

“Yes, Lucas McCain lives here. I’m his wife, Milly. Won’t you come in?”

“Thank you, ma’am. It is rather brisk out there,” the man stated as he entered the front room, rubbing his hands together before removing his hat.

“May I take your coat? Lucas shouldn’t be too much longer…he said he’d return before lunch.”

The man removed his jacket and Milly noted the fashionable suit he wore, his well-manicured hands, and the fact he did not wear a gunbelt.

“How do you know my husband?”

“It was a long time ago ma’am.”

“May I offer you a cup of coffee?”

“Please, black.”

“Mama?” Levi called from his bedroom.

“One moment Levi,” Milly replied as she handed the cup of coffee to her guest.

“Mama, when’s Papa getting home, I want to ride.”

“He’ll be home for lunch. Levi, I’d like you to meet…”

“Jamison, Aaron Jamison.”

“Mr. Jamison, our youngest son, Levi.”

Levi held his hand out and walked to where Jamison stood, “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“You have other children?” Aaron asked.

“Yes, they spent the night with family in town. They’ll be home, after school.”

*****

Lucas returned to his home to find a strange horse tied to the hitching rail. He looked the animal over and realized it wasn’t one from any of the nearby ranches, nor from Nils. Cautiously he entered his home to find Milly sitting at the table, talking with a stranger.

“Didn’t know we were expecting company,” commented Lucas as he hung his hat on the rack behind the front door, but had not to set his rifle in the holder next to the door.

“Lucas, this is Aaron Jamison, he’s asked if he could wait to talk with you.”

“Jamison?” the name clicked in Lucas’ mind.

“Yes sir, Mr. McCain, it’s been quite a few years since Pa and I visited North Fork.”

After setting his rifle in its stand, Lucas asked, “How is Reverend Jamison?” while extending his hand.

“He passed away last year,” Aaron stated as he accepted Lucas’ handshake.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I offer you my condolences.”

“Thank you. Mr. McCain, I’m here for two reasons…”

“Mr. Jamison, would you care to stay for lunch?” Milly asked as Lucas took a seat at the table while she excused herself to the kitchen.

“No ma’am. But thank you for your hospitality.”

“You said you were here for two reasons,” stated Lucas.

“Mr. McCain, I know that you and my father made amends the last time we were here.”

“We did.”

“But we didn’t stay around for long… I need to know that you won’t hold my father’s past against me.”

“Against you? Why don’t you explain yourself…” Lucas stated as he motioned for Aaron to take his seat at the table, while Lucas pulled out another chair and sat down.

“Pa said the best thing he ever did was to spread the word of God to his fellow man and he wanted me to go to college and follow him into the seminary. I told Pa, I couldn’t see becoming a preacher, I’d seen too much of man’s hatred to turn the other cheek, but we agreed that there was more than one way to save a man’s soul. I decided that I could save a man’s life. We talked a long time of my decision to become a doctor.”

“You’re a doctor?” Milly asked from the kitchen.

“Yes ma’am, I’ve completed my residency and have received my license to practice. The senior physician who oversaw my residency received a wire from a Doctor Burrage, stating how desperate North Fork had become for a second physician… Doctor Wickert knew I had grown up out west and he suggested that I think on practicing here.”

“So, what does that have to do with your coming to see me?” asked Lucas.

“I need to know that you’ll welcome me to town and accept me as my own man, as a physician?””

“Doctor Jamison, I think our Doctor Burrage would gladly accept any help you have to offer, and if you are as qualified a doctor as your father was a preacher, I believe you’ll serve North Fork in the best capacity you can.”

“You’ll bear no grudge against me?” Aaron asked directly, still not sure that Lucas was agreeing to his relocating to North Fork.

“Your father and I buried our grievances years ago, I’ll be happy to have you call on my family, should the need arise. I’ll be happier to call you a neighbor.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Aaron’s tone of voice and posture indicated his relief. “The other favor is, I didn’t wire your doctor that I was coming, I’d like to ask if you could introduce me to him.”

“Sure, let me get cleaned up and we’ll go into town.”

“Lucas, your lunch?” Milly called.

Lucas stepped to the kitchen and gently kissed Milly on the cheek, “I’ll make it up to you tonight; I’ll eat a double portion of whatever you fix.”

“Even if it’s liver and onions?” queried Milly, as a mischievous smile crossed her face.

Pointing, Lucas answered, “Only if it’s NOT liver and onions.”

*****

Lucas rode into town beside Aaron Jamison and arrived to see Seth supporting Lilah, as she was doubled over in pain and clutching at her side, making their way to the clinic.

“Seth? What happened?” Lucas hollered as he jumped down from Blade.

“Lucas, I’m not sure. Mrs. Donner sent for me to come… Lilah’s in so much pain.”

Lucas opened the clinic door, “Sarah, where’s Thadd?”

“Mr. McCain, Abigail and Thadd went out to check on Mrs. Appleton and her baby,” Sarah McCafferty stated as she led them to an examination room. “I don’t know when they’ll be back, they said something about afterward going to Dave Merar’s to check on Marcus and if they felt he could handle the trip to town, they’d bring him back with them.”

Lilah let out a moan.

“In here…” Sarah showed them to an empty examination room.

“Sarah,” Lucas began the introductions, “this here is Doctor Aaron Jamison.”

“Are you a nurse?” Jamison asked.

“Yes.”

“Sir, if you’d allow me to examine… your wife?” Jamison asked of Seth.

“Yes, please…”

Lucas escorted Seth to the waiting room, giving Aaron and Sarah time and room to examine Lilah.

“What happened?” Lucas asked.

“She was fine this morning, just a small stomach ache… Lucas she’s in so much pain…”

Twenty minutes later, Dr. Jamison and Sarah came from the examination room.

“Doctor?” Seth asked as he stood to his feet.

“Deputy, I’m pretty sure your wife requires an appendectomy.”

“A what?” Seth asked.

“She requires surgery to remove her appendix.”

“What’s that?” asked Seth.

“Everyone has an appendix; it’s a pouch that lies at the beginning of the large intestine. Tell me, what other symptoms has your wife experienced?”

“She’s not had much of an appetite for the past few days, and she’s stated she felt she had a stomach ache, a pain right under her belly button,” replied Seth.

“Has she experienced any nausea or run a fever?”

“I don’t know…” a worried Seth answered.

“I’m pretty sure it is her appendix, she’s now complaining of a severe pain in her side, its right above McBurney’s point.” Jamison pointed to the location on his own body.

“Are you sure surgery is necessary?” Lucas asked.

“Mr. McCain, if this is indeed her appendix and it ruptures, peritonitis can set in, followed by gangrene, and ultimately, it could lead to her death.”

“Gangrene?” Seth asked as his eyes widened.

“I’m sorry to be so graphic, but I think it best that you understand the potential gravity of this situation. We can wait a little while to make sure that this is not an extreme case of gas, but…”

“How much longer could you wait?” asked Lucas.

“I wouldn’t wait more than an hour, even then, its risky…”

Realizing Seth was in no shape to function, Lucas asked, “Sarah, could you assist Dr. Jamison with the surgery?”

“Yes sir, I can go ahead and prepare the operating room, and if Dr. Burrage returns, we’ll be prepared.”

“Do it then,” Lucas instructed. “Aaron, are you sure you’re up to this?”

“Mr. McCain, if I’m not, a woman could die. I’m also willing to wait that hour in hopes that your town physician returns.”

*****

Sarah prepared the operating room and waited with Lilah, wiping away her sweat. Sarah briefly left the room to report her observations to Aaron.

“Doctor, I know its only been a half hour, but I don’t think we can wait much longer. Mrs. Lane says the pain is getting much worse, and her temperature rising.”

“Okay, we’ll need to begin surgery. Have you administered ether before?”

“Yes sir.”

*****

Aaron had just made the first incision when the door opened, “Doctor, what can I do to assist?” Thadd stated as he entered, cloth already over his nose and mouth.

“If you’ve scrubbed your hands and arms, I could use your help, or I’d really prefer to defer to your more experienced hands.”

“Right now, I think your hands would be better, I’ve been up way too many hours. I’ll assist, Sarah, keep an eye on the clock and the amount of ether you administer.”

Thadd stood on the opposite side of the operating table and watch as Aaron’s hands deftly made their way through the layers of skin, muscle, and fat… Eventually the appendix was in sight, “Clamp, please.”

Aaron indicated where he wanted the first clamp positioned; he worked to reveal more of the appendix and had Seth position a second clamp.

“It’s rupturing,” Thadd called out as he picked up a clamp with a swab and attempted to soak up the bile that was leaking into Lilah’s abdominal cavity. Both doctors worked diligently at their task to remove the appendix and save Lilah’s life.

Sarah kept an eye on the clock and the amount of ether she administered, and watched as neither doctor spoke, yet each knew what the other was doing.

“If you’d do me the honor of sewing up the incision,” Aaron stated as he stepped back from the table.

After Thadd had completed the final suture, Thadd turned to his guest, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen an appendectomy performed and you did a wonderful job. I don’t know that I could have done as good a job.”

“Sir, thank you for the compliment, but I was so focused on removing the appendix, I didn’t realize it had ruptured. You might have been too tired to perform the operation, but your eyes were keen.”

The doctors had removed their bloodied aprons and Sarah worked the handle to pump the water, allowing the two doctors to wash the blood from their hands and arms.

“Nurse, if you’d keep an eye on Mrs. Lane,” Aaron stated.

“Yes, doctor,” answered Sarah.

The two doctors exited the operating room, pausing in the hallway.

“I presume you’re Doctor Burrage?” Aaron asked.

“I am, and I’m thankful you happened to be in town when you did.”

“It was a team effort, I’m Aaron Jamison.”

“Doctor Aaron Jamison,” Thadd corrected. “Just how did you happen to be in North Fork.”

“How I happened to be in North Fork? Well, I stopped out at Mr. McCain’s home and inquired if he would introduce us.”

“You wanted to meet me?” asked Thadd.

“Yes sir, you sent a wire inquiring of a physician to possibly join your practice. Dr. Wickert forwarded the wire to me and suggested that I consider it.”

“Did I misplace your wire? I don’t remember… The days all seem to blur together,” Thadd admitted as he tiredly, leaned against the wall.

“No sir, I didn’t send a wire, my family has a history with Mr. McCain, and I wanted to make sure that my presence wouldn’t disturb him.”

“And?”

“He said if I was as good at being a doctor as my father was at being a preacher, I could serve North Fork well. You should know that I am fresh out of medical school.”

“From what I witnessed in that operating room, you’d be a welcome addition to our community. Come on…why don’t we go tell Mark’s father-in-law that his wife is going to pull through.”

“Who’s father-in-law?” asked Aaron.

“I thought you said you knew Lucas and his family. Mark is Lucas’ oldest son.”

“It’s been a number of years, last time I was here, I was still a schoolboy, and so was Mr. McCain’s son.”

“Well, then you have a lot of catching up to do.”

“Doctor Burrage, I presume then… you’ll hire me?”

“Only if you stop calling me Doctor Burrage; since we’re going to be working together you can call me Thadd.”

“My name is Aaron.”

The two doctors walked into Thadd’s office and gave Seth and Lucas the good news.

*****

Mark ushered two men, hands cuffed in front of them, into the Marshal’s Office and into the jail later that afternoon, locking the cell door behind them.

“You two can just sit there until I decide what to do with you,” Mark stated as he tossed the keys to his desk and went to pour himself a cup of coffee.

“It’s about time you returned,” Drako stated as he entered the office; he couldn’t keep from laughing as he asked, “What happened to you?”

“I’m in no mood for any teasing. I came across these two butchering a steer. I just want to go home and get cleaned up.”

“You might want to clean up over at the hotel, before you head to the clinic.”

“The clinic?! Did something happen to Hope or one of the children?” asked an alarmed Mark.

“No, Lilah had surgery this afternoon.”

“Is she okay?”

“From what your Pa said, yeah. I just came from visiting them at the clinic.”

*****

Realizing just how much he stank, Mark headed to the hotel to grab a bath.

“Oh, Mark, what did ye fall into?” Lou asked as she watched Mark enter through the kitchen back door.

“A sour, rotten, mud bog,” replied Mark.

“Well, I thank ye for not coming through the front door. But what are ye doing here?”

“Just need to grab a bath before I head to the clinic.”

“Get upstairs and I’ll bring ye some clean towels. I heard that Lilah is going to make a good recovery. Thankfully that new doctor was in town and helped save her life.”

“New doctor?” inquired Mark.

Lou started to push Mark up the stairs, but stopped short of touching him.

“Yer clothes will need to be laundered, don’t think Doc will appreciate you coming over, bathed or not, wearing those..”

“Lou, could you go ask Mrs. Donner to put some new clothes on my account, and bring them back.

“Just git,” Lou pointed up the stairs. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks, Lou.”

*****

Mark had just finished rinsing himself off when he heard a knock at the door, “Yes?”

“Tis me Mark, I’ve new clothes and some fresh towels for ye ta dry yerself off.”

“Lou!” declared Mark as the door opened.

“I’m just setting everything on the chair here, no need ta work yerself into a tizzy,” Lou answered with a lilt to her Irish brogue.

*****

Feeling and smelling better than he had, Mark entered the clinic, “Seth, I returned to town and Johnny told me the news.”

“We saw you ride in, son. Why the delay?” asked Lucas.

“I don’t think you or Thadd would have appreciated the odor. I hear Lilah’s going to be alright?”

“Lilah’s going to be alright, son. Thanks to Aaron and Thadd,” Lucas stated. “Mark you remember Aaron Jamison?”

“I don’t rightly…” Mark looked into the face of the man standing in front of him.

“It’s been quite a few years… I came through with my father…”

“Jamison.” Mark looked to his Pa, “the Reverend Jamison?”

“That’s right, son,” answered Lucas.

“How is your father?” asked Mark as he extended his hand to Aaron.

“At peace, now. He passed away last year.”

“I’m sorry to hear. I’m thankful for your just happening to be here at the right time.”

Thadd didn’t allow Aaron or Lucas to reply, “Mark, seems I won’t be the only one taking care of you and that thick skull of yours.” Thadd walked to stand beside Mark, placed his left hand on Mark’s shoulder, and with his right hand, knocked on Mark’s head. “Aaron has just joined the clinic as another physician.”

“Doc?” Seth asked, not knowing which one to address. “Would it be possible for me to see Lilah?”

Thadd and Aaron looked to each other and agreed, Aaron escorted Seth into the operating room.

*****

Even though the doctor stated it would be some time before Lilah regain consciousness, Seth didn’t want to leave her side, he insisted in being there when she woke.

Lou had just brought a tray with supper to the clinic for Seth when Lilah started to rouse. Ignoring the food, Seth held his wife’s hand and talked to her, encouraging her to wake up. Lou set the food on the desk in the room and quietly left.

“Seth?” Lilah mumbled.

“I’m right here,” he answered.

“What?”

“You had to have surgery. The doctor called it an appendectomy.”

“Oh…”

“Are you in pain? Should I get the doctor?”

“Only if he wants to see me…” Lilah replied.

Thadd entered the room followed by Aaron.

“I see our patient has finally decided to wake. How are you feeling Lilah?” asked Thadd.

“Not so sick to my stomach any more, and it’s a different kind of pain in my side…” Lilah answered.

“That’s to be expected,” Aaron replied.

“Who are you?” asked Lilah as she turned her head towards the new voice.

“Doctor Aaron Jamison.”

“Lilah, he’s the newest doctor here at the clinic. Had he not been here, your surgery wouldn’t have been as successful,” answered Thadd.

“Pleased to finally make a proper acquaintance with you,” Aaron spoke.

*****

While Seth stayed with Lilah, Aaron returned to the clinic office.

“I take it you’ve had a busy morning, if you’d like, I can take over responsibilities for the rest of today.”

“You don’t know how much I’d appreciate that. Sarah can fill you in on all our patients, but I’ll introduce you to Marcus and let you examine him.”

Thadd led Aaron to the room where Marcus rested and held off explaining his diagnosis to Aaron. He watched as Aaron examined Marcus on his own.

“I felt at least three broken ribs, he’ll probably have numerous contusions, a possible bruised lung. As for the leg, I’d say he dislocated it, as well as his shoulder. From what I could tell, you did a remarkable job in resetting them.”

Aaron stepped back and saw Thadd nod his approval.

“I take it you’d want to medicate him in another two hours for the pain?” Aaron asked.

“Yes, if you don’t mind, also I started writing everything down because I was getting too tired that I might forget, so just write down your observations and time that you administer any medicines.”

“We’re doing this back east. It was part of our training, not to rely too much on our brains to remember everything. ‘Observe it or Do it, and write it’, was what Dr. Wickert always preached,” Aaron stated as they returned to the office.

“If any of our citizens give you any problems, you have Sarah come and get me,” Thadd stated as he reached for his coat, planning to enjoy the evening with his family.

*****

Abigail finished washing the dishes from supper and grew concerned when she realized she no longer heard the squealing of her children playing with their father. She left the kitchen and smiled when she saw the two oldest curled up asleep on the couch on either side of her husband, who also slept. Abigail walked to the crib and peeked in on their youngest sleeping daughter.

*****

Thadd and Abigail’s children were put to bed when they finally turned in for the night. Thadd gave a brief laugh when he looked at the clock.

“What’s wrong?” asked Abigail.

“Nine thirty and I’m getting ready to relax and enjoy being in my bed before midnight.”

Husband and wife crawled under the covers and embraced each other.

“I hope Aaron will be accepted by folks,” hinted Abigail.

“I told him if he encountered any problems, to send Sarah for me. It’s pure heaven knowing there are two of us to look out for North Fork.”

Abigail rested her head to her husband’s shoulder and sighed. Thadd placed his hand to his wife’s chin, lifted it, and proceeded to passionately kiss her.

“Thadd, I thought you wanted to sleep,” Abigail commented when their lips parted.

“No, I said I wanted to relax and enjoy being in my own bed, and you Mrs. Burrage are the focus of my intended enjoyment. Abby, I’ve been neglecting you far too much, lately.”

“You’ve not been neglect…” Abigail’s words died on her lips as Thadd began kissing her again.

Both thoroughly lost themselves in their love making as they realized just how long it had been since they had shared such pleasures. Had either realized the depth of their desires, they would have been embarrassed beforehand, but neither thought on that, they eagerly responded to the sexual desire of the other, and the desire within their own body.

*****

It was well after mid-night when Thadd woke with a start and sat up in bed, unsure why he had woke.

“Thadd?” a sleepy Abigail called.

“Go back to sleep,” Thadd whispered.

Abigail sat up, “What’s wrong?”

“Guess I’m just used to not sleeping and my body isn’t used to sleeping through the night,” Thadd replied as he laid back down, his wife lying back down with him and pulling the sheet back over them.

“Thank you for last night,” Thadd whispered. “I’m sorry if…”

“Thadd, it’s been too long for both of us. I needed last night just as much as you did, don’t apologize.”

Thadd lifted himself to his elbow, leaned over and kissed Abigail, who in turn whispered, “Don’t start something you can’t finish,” and responded passionately.

****

Upon waking for the morning, Thadd watched the sun stream through window and shine on the sleeping form of his wife, under the sheet. He watched her chest rhythmically rise and fall, before he looked at the clock to see what time it was.

It wasn’t too long before Abigail woke and smiled at her husband, “Good morning.”

“A beautiful morning to wake next to a beautiful woman,” Thadd smiled in reply, resting his hand on his wife’s ribcage, while he was propped up on his elbow.

“You look so much more relaxed this morning,” Abigail answered.

“I feel relaxed. Why don’t we see Savannah to school this morning and then you can spend the morning here with Steven and Sadie. I’ll check on our patients and be home for lunch. Then this afternoon the children can go to the daycare and you can return to the clinic with me.”

“Sounds like a wonderful plan,” Abigail stated as she stretched herself long in the bed, raising her arms over her head, before she sat up and reached for her nightgown from the floor. As she sat back up, she felt Thadd’s hands massaging her back, causing her to sigh in appreciation.

“I told you last night, don’t start something you can’t finish,” Abigail teased.

“I know you did, but I just feel…”

“Doctor, heal thyself,” Abigail teased. “I’ve breakfast to fix so why don’t you wake our children.”

*****

Thadd returned to the clinic and read the notes Aaron had written. After examining Marcus for himself, he agreed that Marcus was improving and after checking in on Lilah he saw she was resting comfortably. As he came from Lilah’s room, Sarah McCafferty informed him that Aaron was out at the Tunneson home checking on Adam’s broken leg.

“Thadd?”

“Yes Sarah?”

“He is a blessing for us…” Sarah re-stated, “I mean a blessing for North Fork for him to arrive when he did.”

“Yes, Doctor Jamison is a blessing. I don’t know how much longer I could have continued without making a serious mistake.”

“He doesn’t even have a place to stay. Did you know he slept in one of the examination rooms last night?” Sarah blushed.

“Sarah, you’re blushing,” Thadd light-heartedly declared.

“Well, I always check the examination rooms when I arrive, to make sure everything is ready for the day. I didn’t know he was in there.”

“And,” asked Thadd.

“Well, I saw him putting on his shirt…” Sarah blushed even more. “I… I…”

Missing the point of Sarah’s blushing, Thadd stated, “This afternoon, why don’t you take Aaron over to the boarding house and see if they have a room for him. Afterwards, you should probably introduce him to John Hamilton at the bank, then Mrs. Donner over at the General Store…”

“Me?” Sarah inquired as her face turned red.

“Sarah, I have patients to tend to, and besides, you don’t want to give him the wrong impression about North Fork, do you?”

“No sir, I… I…”

The Next Generation… Chapter 116 – Blessed are Friends and Family

Life settled into a routine between the two doctors North Fork now boasted. Thadd was pleased that Aaron had a way of putting people at ease, so it didn’t matter to the patient which physician was at the clinic.

*****

Several weeks had passed when Abigail commented to Thadd, “They’re totally professional at the clinic, but they try to avoid finding themselves together unless they are with a patient,” Abigail stated.

“Do you think maybe it wasn’t a good idea to hire Aaron, that maybe I should have waited to find another doctor,” asked Thadd.

“Why would you ask that?”

“Isn’t your ‘women’s intuition’ setting off an alarm that Aaron and Sarah aren’t working out so well together…” answered Thadd.

“Quite the contrary,” Abigail gave out a small laugh. “I think they are mutually attracted to each other, but are too embarrassed to show it or let the other know.”

“Embarrassed… Oh…” quipped Thadd as he understood.

“Why don’t you give them both them tomorrow off. Maybe we can contrive a way to get them together,” Abigail smiled as she thought on how to get the two together.

“Are you playing Matchmaker?”

“And if I am?” Abigail smiled to her husband, “They do make a lovely couple, even if they’re too embarrassed to acknowledge it.”

*****

Thadd and Abigail did conspire to get Aaron and Sarah together by telling them that Seth and Lilah wanted to share a picnic lunch with them, as a way to thank them for saving Lilah’s life.

“We’ve already reserved a buggy for you at Nil’s,” Abigail stated. “Seth and Lilah said they’d meet you out by the pond just outside of town.”

When they arrived at the pond, they found a note nailed to a tree. Aaron pulled the note from the tree, unfolded the piece of paper, and read:

Sarah / Aaron,

Sorry to pull such a trick on you. Enjoy your lunch!

Thadd and Abigail

“They didn’t,” Sarah stated, pulling her hand to her mouth, blushing at hearing the words Aaron read.

“They didn’t what?” Aaron asked.

“Seth and Lilah never planned to be here. We’re out here alone.”

“Is that so unappealing to you?” Aaron asked.

“Excuse me?” a startled Sarah asked.

Aaron took her hand and led her back to the buggy, “I think a picnic lunch with a certain pretty nurse is just what the doctor and nurse ordered. If you agree…”

“Doctor?” Sarah became more embarrassed.

“I’d prefer it if you’d call me Aaron.”

“But I can’t… You’re a doctor… In nursing school we were taught not to…” Sarah pleaded as she tried to pull her hand away. “It’s not proper.”

“Sarah, please, we’re not back east. What is wrong with two colleagues wanting to spend some time together? I mean, look at Thadd and Abigail, no one says anything about them being together.”

“But they’re married!”

“But I doubt they were when they first started medical school… Why can’t we develop a relationship?”

“A relationship… We hardly know each other…” blushed Sarah.

“But I’d like to get to know you and I’d hoped you’d like to get to know me,” Aaron replied as he reached up to sweep a strand of Sarah’s hair from her face to behind her ear. “There’s nothing improper regarding colleagues enjoying a nice picnic lunch together, is there?’’

“I don’t know…”

“We’re out here in the open, not sneaking around. And our employers themselves sent us out here…”

“I don’t know what my father would have to say, if he were to ride by…” answered Sarah as she nervously looked around.

“Your father was pleased that I asked his permission before I picked you up this morning. While waiting for you to come down from your room, we were discussing that I would be driving you out here and I wanted him to know how much I respect his daughter, I’d never do anything inappropriate. So I kind of asked his permission to see you… outside of work.”

“You’ve already spoken with my father?” a surprised Sarah asked.

“Sarah, ever since the morning after I arrived… I’ve… felt something for you. I had hoped you might feel the same way for me…”

“I don’t know…,” Sarah knew her words weren’t the truth.

“Why don’t we share our lunch together, and learn about each other. I think knowing a little more about each other, besides me being a doctor and you being a nurse, will help our professional relationship,” answered Aaron.

Sarah finally agreed to have lunch.

Carrying the picnic basket, Aaron led Sarah to back to the pond, where he spread out the blanket and helped her sit down.

“Now that we’ve settled that, I’m famished,” Aaron stated as he opened the picnic basket.

After eating, the two chatted about their growing up years and their experiences at their respective schools, until they heard a rider coming down the lane. Mark halted Rainmaker and rested his elbow on the saddle horn; the look on his face was serious.

“I’m glad to see you two are okay. Thadd and Abigail started to get worried when you weren’t back in time for supper,” Mark stated, pushing his hat back on his head, he couldn’t keep the mischievous smile from his face any longer.

“Supper, we just ate lunch,” Aaron answered.

“Most folks eat supper between four, thirty and six o’clock.”

“Four, thirty,” Sarah asked alarmed that it could be so late.

“Actually, it’s closer to six o’clock. Doc, if you’ll escort Sarah back to the buggy, I’ll see you both back to town. Her parents are more than a little worried, considering what happened last month…”

“What happened last month?” asked Aaron as he helped Sarah gather up the blanket and picnic basket and escorted her to the buggy.

As they rode back to town, Sarah informed Aaron of her kidnapping as part of an outlaw gang’s attempt to break one of their own from being transferred to prison.

“From what my Pa said happened when they rescued Sarah, if you two are hitching up,” Mark teased.

“MARK!” Sarah exclaimed in shock.

Mark continued, ignoring Sarah’s plea, “Aaron, I’ll warn you about the frying pan, Pa says she swings as good as some of them baseball players we’ve read about in the newspaper.”

*****

“It just doesn’t feel right that we’re not going to be here for Thanksgiving,” Hattie stated as she and Micah stood on the train platform, saying goodbye to Mark and Johnny a week before Thanksgiving.

“I know is won’t be the same without you, but you’re going to have a lot of fun up in Denver. I’m sure you’ll forget all about us, at least until it’s time for you to return home,” Mark answered as he placed a kiss to Hattie’s cheek.

“Now I want a full report from you regarding what you’re learning up there in Denver,” Drako seriously informed Micah.

“You really think they can teach an old dog new tricks?” Micah jovially replied.

“If I didn’t think you could do this, I wouldn’t have agreed. You’ve a lot to teach, but you also have a lot to learn about how the U.S. Marshal Service conducts their business, they’ve a lot more rules than us town marshals.”

“Micah, don’t let Johnny buffalo you, you’ll probably be teaching Tom and Cole a thing or two,” Mark interrupted.

“ALL ABOARD!” called the conductor.

“We’ll see you next month,” Mark stated as he shook Micah’s hand. “You take care of yourself up there.”

As the train pulled from the station, Johnny commented, “You know, Hattie was right. It just won’t be the same without them two here for Thanksgiving.”

“You going soft on me?” asked Mark.

“Come on, we’ve got a town to protect.”

*****

The train pulled into the station with the conductor announcing, “Denver, Colorado, this stop!”

Looking out the window Hattie felt a twinge of doubt, had they made the right decision in coming.

“Come one Hattie,” Micah offered his arm.

“I don’t know if I can,” Hattie replied. “I haven’t been back since my sister passed on.”

“Then it’s not like you don’t know what this big city is all about,” Micah answered, hoping he said the right thing. He felt relief when he saw his wife stand and straighten her dress.

“Come on, we shouldn’t keep your new bosses waiting,” Hattie stated as she slipped into the aisle, in front of Micah.

Tom Benton and Cole Barker warmly greeted the couple to Denver and offered to take their bags.

“We’ve a carriage waiting to take you to your hotel,” Cole Benton offered. “My wife has also planned a large dinner tomorrow, that will give you today and tomorrow to settle in. Monday, we’ll get to business, Micah.”

“And what about Hattie?” Micah asked.

“Hattie’s calendar has been scheduled by my wife and each time I’ve asked I get that look,” Cole answered.

“I don’t want to be any trouble,” Hattie offered.

“Trouble? Never, my wife loves doing this sort of thing. Once she hears about any of the marshals being accompanied by their wife, my wife becomes a social engagement planner and I’m told it’s something I wouldn’t understand, so I let it drop.”

“Micah, Hattie will be so busy with engagements, she’ll probably forget all about you,” teased Tom Benton. “Until she’s ready to go home.”

“Mark same the same thing about North Fork…” Hattie commented, feeling a little out of place.

*****

Through the days, the wives of the Denver marshals kept Hattie involved in various social events and shopping trips, making her feel right at home; not allowing her a moment to feel homesick.

Micah was amazed at all he needed to learn, he’d never given that much thought to everything Mark had learned during his trips to Denver. Drako had been right, even though he’d been teasing, there was so much more to learn about being a U.S. Marshal. Micah developed a deeper appreciation for everything Robert Garrison did, and a deeper respect for Mark McCain.

Of evenings, they would dine with various marshals and their wives. Once they returned to their hotel room, Hattie always inquired of what Micah had learned that day. Not that Micah thought Hattie wouldn’t understand, but there was just so much he was learning that he’d choose a few points that had really interested him to discuss with his wife.

Micah was always curious what the ladies had planned for Hattie, and cringed each time he heard her say, “We went shopping.”

A deep sleep came easily to both throughout their stay, yet they woke refreshed and ready to take on the new day.

*****

Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving Hope stepped to the front porch upon hearing someone arrive, “What are you two doing here?” she asked as she saw Jake helping Gwen down from the buggy.

Hope held open the front door as Jake and Gwen entered the home.

“Jake, Mark’s in the barn,” Hope stated.

“Thank you Miss Hope,” Jake replied as he tipped his hat and left the home, closing the door behind him.

“Gwen, why did the two of you come all the way out here? You’re in no condition to be this far from town.”

“Doc Jamison thinks this baby should have been born by now, so he suggested Jake take me for a buggy ride…” Gwen commented as Hope helped her sit down in a chair in the front room.

“But so far from town?” Hope asked.

“Well, it has been a while since I’ve been out here to see you… I didn’t think there’d be any harm,” replied Gwen. “Besides I’ve not felt one twinge of a contrac… Oh!” Gwen placed her hand on the bottom of her pregnant stomach. “She kicked pretty good there. Oh!”

“Oh, what?” Hope nervously asked.

“That didn’t feel like a kick… Oh!” Gwen exclaimed and slightly doubled over at the pain.

“We best get you to the bedroom,” Hope stated as she helped Gwen to her feet.

“I really need to relieve myself…”

“No, you really need to give birth.”

“Birth?! But I’m not at the clinic!”

Hope heard the fear in Gwen’s voice.

“You’ll be in labor long enough for Jake to ride to town and fetch the doctor back here.”

“Can’t I ride back to town in the buggy?”

“I think it would be best if you were to stay here, just in case.”

“Just in case, what?” Gwen asked, scared.

“Just in case this little one decides to be quicker about her appearance.”

*****

Hope helped Gwen to the bed, walked over to her dresser and pulled out one of the nightgowns she had worn when she was pregnant, and handed it to Gwen.

“Here, change into this. I’m going to take the children over to Ma and Pa’s and stop by the barn to ask Jake to ride back to town and bring one of the doctors back with him. It will give him something to do and not make you nervous by him pacing out there in the front room.”

*****

Upon returning to her home, Hope knocked on the bedroom door and called, “Gwen, it’s me.”

“Hope!” Gwen yelled as her water broke. “I’m so sorry.”

Hope entered the bedroom to see the puddle on the floor at Gwen’s feet, “It’s nothing to be sorry about. This is a natural part of childbirth. Get back into bed and lie down. I’ll be right back.”

Hope ran to the tubroom and gathered several towels, as well as a couple of washclothes; throwing the towels over her shoulder, she stopped in the kitchen to fill a pitcher with water.

As she started for the bedroom, Mark entered their home to hear Gwen scream.

“They shouldn’t have come out this far,” Mark stated.

“I know, but I guess when Doc Jamison suggested they go for a buggy ride, he didn’t tell them not to go too far,” Hope answered.

Milly came to the front door, “Do you need any help?”

“Not yet, it’s too early in her labor,” commented Hope.

“If you need anything, send Mark over. I best get back to Lucas and help him with all the children,” Milly stated as she closed the door behind her.

“Hope!” Gwen yelled. “Oh!!!! It hurts!”

“Mark stay close, I think she’s going to give birth before Jake gets back here with the doctor, her contractions are too close together.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“You may need to help. You were there when I gave birth to Eli and you were there when Abigail gave birth to Savannah. I’ve only been on the other end.”

Hope returned to the bedroom. She set the pitcher on the table next to the bed and dropped the towels to the floor, where Gwen’s water had broke, and pushed the towels back and forth with her foot. Kicking the towels aside, Hope climbed into the bed, allowing Gwen to rest back against her. Hope mopped the sweat from Gwen’s face and timed the contractions. While waiting for Hope to call him into the bedroom, Mark pulled out his guitar, sat down in his chair, and began to play and sing a ballad that he hoped would help keep Gwen relaxed.

“Mark!” Hope called. Had he not been married to her for as long as he had, he would have missed the slight bit of panic in her voice. “Mark,” she called again as she came to the door.

Mark stood from his chair and hurried to the room, “She’s close.”

“Yes, she’s gonna…”

“Aaarrrrgggghhhh!”

Mark entered the room and climbed in the bed to offer Gwen support to sit up, “Hope, I’ll walk you through what to do. You can do this.”

Hope climbed to the foot of the bed and patiently waited as the baby came.

“Gwen, squeeze my hand,” Mark stated as he offered his hands.

Gwen eagerly took Mark hands and squeezed hard as another strong contraction wracked her body.

“Push!” Mark encouraged. “Bear down and help push the baby out.”

“Oh!!!!!” Gwen yelled.

“Hope, support the baby’s head and shoulders as it comes out. Don’t pull,” Mark instructed.

“Make it stop!” Gwen cried.

“You can’t stop this,” Hope stated. “The baby’s head is already here.”

“Argh!” Gwen screamed as Mark encouraged her to “Push!”

“Mark, the baby’s here,” Hope stated as the baby slipped into her hands.

Mark allowed Gwen to lie back on the bed, “I’ll be right back. I’ve got the knife and some string boiling on the stove.”

Mark returned with the knife and cut the string into two sections. He tied one piece around the umbilical cord, a short distance from the baby’s abdomen and tied the other piece a few inches away. He watched as Hope cut the cord.

“Mark, if you could cool the water on the stove so we can bathe the baby,” Hope stated as she held the baby upside down and firmly smacked it’s behind, once… twice… Before she could apply a third smack, the baby inhaled and protested the new surroundings.

“Mark, before you go, could you please add more wood to the potbellied stove, I think it needs to be a little warmer in here,” Hope asked.

After making sure the wood he added to the pot-bellied stove took fire, Mark closed the grate and said, “I think I’ll leave you two be. I’ll go wait for Jake and… I think they just arrived,” Mark stated, hearing riders approach.

Mark met them at the door and suggested Jake wait out on the porch with him.

“Is Gwen okay?” Jake worriedly asked.

“She’s fine. Just give Doc some time with her to make sure she’s okay.”

“What happened?” Jake’s asked as he started shaking.

“Your wife gave birth to…” Mark didn’t get a chance to finish as Jake’s knees buckled as he passed out. Mark caught him and lowered his friend to the porch.

“Mark?!” Lucas hollered as he ran across the yard.

“He just passed out. I was trying to tell him Gwen gave birth…”

“Already?!” asked an astonished Lucas.

“I know. Don’t know if I wished all of ours were that fast or not.”

“What happened?” asked Jake, as he opened his eyes a few moments later, realizing he was laying on the porch.

“You passed out!” teased Mark.

“Gwen!”

“Mark, what happened?” Doc Jamison asked as he stepped to the porch.

“He passed out, I was trying to tell him Gwen had given birth,” answered Mark.

“Do I have a son or a daughter?” asked Jake.

“I think I’ll let your wife tell you,” answered Doc Jamison as he extended his hand to help Jake to his feet.

The McCains watched the others enter the house.

“Well?” asked Lucas.

“A girl,” answered Mark.

*****

Doc Jamison had left to return to town when Lucas and Milly returned to Mark and Hope’s home to congratulate Jake and Gwen.

“Emily-Marie Anne McCafferty,” Gwen was answering Hope’s question as they entered.

“Congratulations,” they offered.

Milly did chastise Jake for taking such a risk in coming all the way out to the McCain Ranch with Gwen beyond her due date.

“How was I supposed to know I shouldn’t have come this far. Doc told me to take her for a buggy ride,” Jake innocently replied.

“It had been too long since I’d seen any of you and it was a beautiful day… I didn’t think I’d give birth so quickly,” a humbled Gwen replied.

“Jake, Gwen!” Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty called out as they entered the McCain home.

“In here Father!” answered Jake his face beaming with excitement as he announced, “You’ve a granddaughter!”

Gwen hesitated in asking, “You’re not upset she’s not a he?”

“No, she’s perfect. Just like you,” replied Jake, holding his daughter in his arms.

*****

Later that evening, after the McCain children were asleep in their beds, Jake guiltily stood in the front room and apologized to Hope and Mark as they set up the cots with blankets and pillows, “I’m sorry to disrupt your evening, we can sleep on the cots.”

“I’ll hear no such thing!” Hope declared. “Your wife just gave birth. Mark and I can survive one night not sleeping in our own bed.”

“Go on, Jake,” Mark stated as he turned Jake around and pushed him towards the bedroom. “Go be with your family.”

*****

Thanksgiving morning, Hope helped Gwen tend to her daughter, offering sisterly advice, also informing her that she had the water in the tubroom heating. With baby Emily-Marie sleeping, Gwen enjoyed taking a bath to clean herself and dress for her… their return to town. When she stepped from the tub room, she saw the flurry of activity as Hope was packing items into boxes and Mark and Jake were carrying them outside.

“Can I help?” Gwen asked.

“You can sit yourself down and rest. We’ll be heading into town for Thanksgiving at the hotel shortly. Mark and Jake will hitch your horse to the buggy just before we’re ready to leave.

With everything packed, Mark helped Jake hitch the horse to the buggy, while Hope made sure the baby was well wrapped against the cool November air.

The McCain family buckboards, with Jake and Gwen’s buggy between them, headed into town.

Between Doc Jamison and the McCaffertys, news spread throughout North Fork that Jake and Gwen’s baby had been born at the McCain’s. People stopped and hollered congratulations as the small procession made their way through town.

*****

Before the McCains returned to the ranch, Aaron Jamison stopped by the hotel, “Guess I need to watch my step or Thadd won’t have any need for me anymore.”

“Don’t worry about that Aaron. I’ll leave the doctoring to the two of you any day. I PREFER being a marshal. I’ll do what I have to, but I’d prefer that you give better instructions to your patients when you send them off for a buggy ride,” Mark teased.

“Touché’, Mark. Touché’,” Aaron replied, giving a slight nod of his head. He bid goodbye to the others.

*****

The Monday after Thanksgiving, Milly and Lucas returned to North Fork to meet with Robert Garrison.

“As we’ve received no response to any of the notices placed in the papers, I think we can start the process to file the paperwork for you to adopt Robbie and Eloise. If everything goes as planned, and I think it should, you’ll have another son and daughter just after Christmas.”

Milly and Lucas smiled as they thanked Robert before leaving his office.

*****

Micah was surprised when the carriage that picked him up from the hotel didn’t take him directly to the U.S. Marshal’s Office as it had for the past few weeks.

“Don’t worry Marshal Torrance, today’s a day for practice. No book learning for any of the recruits and that includes you. My orders are to take you to the shooting range on the outskirts of town. Marshal Benton and Marshal Barker will meet you there,” the driver stated.

In time the carriage halted in front of a building, Micah heard the sounds of gunfire from different weapons emanating from behind the building.

Cole and Tom stepped from the building and greeted Micah, “Great day for a shootout, wouldn’t you agree?” asked Cole.

“Quite a surprise to put on an old man,” Micah replied.

“Old man, come on Micah, you might get away with that in North Fork, but not here,” Tom replied.

*****

Micah thoroughly enjoyed the day as he watched the others take target practice and go head to head in competitions. He admired some of the newer model firearms and rifles the men used.

Micah turned when he heard, “Hey Grandpa!” to see a young man he perceived to be about Mark’s age smiling as he approached. Micah watched, the easy nature of the man.

“Grandpa?” asked Micah.

“I use it as a term of respect, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“Oh, how can I help you…?” Micah replied, hoping the young man would offer his name.

“The name’s Reese Randall, and these reprobates behind me stated you wouldn’t be able to handle this,” he tossed the weapon to Micah so it was an easy catch.

“What kind of a rifle is this?” he asked.

“It’s not a rifle, it’s a shotgun,” Tom answered as he came to stand next to Micah.

“Not like any shotgun I’ve ever seen,” Micah answered, looking the weapon over, trying to figure it out.

Reese asked for the shotgun back and began to show Micah how to load the magazine and explained how it worked. “It’s a pump-action shotgun, it was designed by none other than John Browning himself.”

With an air of respect, Reese continued to tell Micah about the weapon.

“It’s brand new, a Winchester Model 1897. It comes in twelve and sixteen gauge models. The 16-gauge guns have a standard barrel length of twenty-eight inches. The 12-gauge comes with a thirty inch barrel.”

“I’ve not carried anything that long,” commented Micah.

“Oh, don’t worry, this one was special ordered short, just for you. It’s a twenty inch barrel.”

“Special ordered, for me?” asked Micah, not sure he’d heard Reese correctly.

“Sure, have to have our U.S. Marshal’s outfitted with the latest weapons,” he handed the weapon back to Micah.

“Son, a pump action takes two hands to operate. I ain’t got but one good arm,” commented Micah.

“That’s what you think,” Reese replied.

“Sure Gramps,” another smiling deputy came up behind Micah and slapped him on the shoulder. “We know your right arm isn’t as strong as your left arm, but…” the deputy looked at Micah’s curious expression, “You don’t realize how much you use your arm, do you?”

Tom motioned for everyone to follow him back to the shooting range, as he led a disbelieving Micah by the arm.

Everyone who could manage to get away from their duties showed up at the shooting range and watched as Micah tried out his new shotgun. Many murmured in surprise at how, even at his age, he could do better than hit the broad side of the barn. Retrieving the target sheets, the crowd commented how the pellet patterns were spot on centered.

“Got to keep you young’ens on your toes, don’t I,” Micah boasted, pleased that he’d been able to hold his own.

*****

After most everyone had left, Reese Randall hung back, waiting.

“Micah, we need to get going,” Tom Benton announced.

“See you Monday morning, bright and early,” Cole Barker ordered.

“Yes, sir. Bright and early,” answered Micah, smiling as he looked down on his new shotgun. He turned when he heard, “I’m glad you like it sir. My Pa will be rather happy to know.”

“Your Pa?” asked Micah.

“Yes sir, a few weeks ago, I wired him to let him know that I finally met Marshal Micah Torrance. Ohh the stories I grew up on, listening to my Pa telling of his meeting with you and the Rifleman. How the two of you got him out of a jam.”

“I’m sorry son, but in my years…”

“I know sir, I don’t expect you to remember everyone you’ve ever met. That wasn’t what I was implying. My Pa, his name’s Wade Randall. He met you and Lucas McCain in North Fork a number of years ago. Listening to the stories he told… it inspired me to want to become a marshal. I mean, I’m about as good with a gun as my Pa ever was and I didn’t want to get myself onto the wrong side of the law…” Reese slipped his gun from his holster and gave it a whirl, showing off moves that would impress any trick shooter, before he slipped his gun easily back to where it belonged.

“Mighty impressive, but I must admit, I’m still drawing a blank on your Pa.”

“That’s alright Marshal Torrance. I don’t take it as an insult that you wouldn’t remember him. But I remember you, that’s what really matters. You and Mr. McCain stood with him when the Bolton Gang followed him to your town. That rifle is from me, but some of the other deputies wanted to chip in. We’ve all cut our teeth on stories about you.”

“I’m flattered, but…”

“You can’t refuse a gift, sir.”

“No, I guess I can’t, but I’d like to invite you to join me and my wife for supper tonight.”

“Sir I already have plans, a certain young secretary from the office, if you get my drift, but Monday, I’d be honored to supper with you and your misses.”

“Monday, Mr. Randall.”

Before parting, the two shook hands.

*****

That evening, before retiring to bed, Hattie sensed a difference in her husband, and listened as he described his day in grand detail before he pulled out the case that held his new shotgun.

“And, just so you know, I’ve got me a lot more grandsons today,” boasted Micah.

“Oh?” queried Hattie.

“Seems they’ve given me the nickname of ‘Grandpa’ or ‘Gramps’, they were all there just to see me try this out. And afterwards, each and every one of them shook my hand… I’d only seen that look of respect in Mark’s eyes, but dang if they all didn’t have that look in their eyes. And they weren’t just putting one on me…”

*****

Hattie dearly wished their trip to Denver didn’t have to end, but then, she was missing the quietness of their own home. She quietly counted down the days until they could return home.

 

This story continues in The Rifleman – The Next Generation Pt 27

 

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