The Next Step...
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.”
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
“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
“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
“They didn’t what?” Aaron
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
“ALL ABOARD!” called the
“We’ll see you next
month,” Mark stated as he shook Micah’s hand. “You take care of yourself up
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?”
“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
“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?”
“Hattie’s calendar has
been scheduled by my wife and each time I’ve asked I get that look,” Cole
“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.
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
“Gwen, why did the two of
you come all the way out here? You’re in no condition to be this far from
“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
“But so far from town?”
“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
“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
“No, you really need to
“Birth?! But I’m not at
Hope heard the fear in
“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
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
“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
Mark stood from his chair
and hurried to the room, “She’s close.”
“Yes, she’s gonna…”
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“You passed out!” teased
“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
The McCain’s 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.
McCafferty,” Gwen was answering Hope’s question as they entered.
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
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
“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.”
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 McCafferty’s, 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 McCain’s
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
Touché’,” Aaron replied, giving a slight nod of his head. He bid goodbye to
The Monday after
Thanksgiving, Milly and Lucas returned to North Fork to meet with Robert
“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 Baker 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
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.
“It 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
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
“Son, a pump action takes
two hands to operate. I ain’t got but one good arm,” commented Micah.
“That’s what you think,”
“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
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
“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
“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
“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,
“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
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
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.
Written by Deanne Bertram
Next Step —
A Tearful Christmas