The Next Step…
Chapter 64 – Don’t Drink the Water
Written by Deanne Bertram
The storm that
Lucas previously thought was making the cattle nervous hit the ranch and
North Fork two days later. For most of the afternoon, it rained so hard
that Mark and Hope could barely see the outline of his parents’ home, just
across the yard. Mark kept the fireplace stoked throughout the day and
tried to keep the boys occupied, to keep them from underfoot. Mark could
tell they were getting bored with being stuck inside, when they had enough
of coloring and playing with their toys.
While Hope and
Gwen worked at preparing supper, he called his children to him, “I remember
there was a night, similar to today, when a certain young man decided to
make his arrival into this world,” Mark stated as he picked Eli up and sat
him on his lap.
brother, Elijah Paul. Your Grandpa and Grandma had gone to town for
supplies and while they were gone, the storm came. They were forced to
spend the night in town. It was early evening when I was finishing tending
to the animals in the barn and your Mama was standing on the porch calling
me for supper. You announced right in the middle of a thunderbolt that you
were ready to meet us. It was storming so bad that night, I couldn’t go for
the doctor. And with your grandparents having the buckboard, I couldn’t
take your Mama to town. The following morning, you,” Mark said as he looked
to Eli, “You were born. You were smiling just as bright as the sun coming
up over the hills outside.”
able to ride for Doc Burrage to birth the baby?” Gwen asked.
“No, he wasn’t.
You don’t know how scared I was. But, Doc Burrage will tell you himself
that Mark has a knack for knowing how to handle medical situations,” Hope
leave Hope or the children alone. She wasn’t scared nearly as much as I
was,” Mark answered. “But there was one time, back years ago, when I helped
a stranger give birth to her child, after her husband had been injured. She
had a number of daughters and was able to walk me through everything I
needed to do to help her.”
“Oh my,” Gwen
Abigail Burrage gave birth to Savannah, I was there, but only as moral
support for Thadd. He was doing all the doctoring, that time.”
Soon, supper was
on the table and Mark said grace for their food and blessings.
subsidence of the storm, the next morning Lucas and Mark woke early as they
planned to check the herds. Dawn hadn’t yet arrived when activity started
in both homes. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, they saddled
up. Milly and Hope made sandwiches for them to take along, knowing they
wouldn’t return until closer to suppertime, if they were lucky.
While they were
out, they found a number of cattle who had managed to get bogged down and
stuck after they had lain down in the mud and mire around the waterholes.
After they had those cattle up and on their feet, they headed to the next
range where more of their cattle tended to gather. As they were crossing
the small river that cut across their ranch, they saw signs of a flash flood
that had struck the night before.
“Pa, why don’t
you go ahead to the other range, I’ll follow the river for a while to make
sure none of our cattle got caught up in it. I’ll see you back at the
ranch,” Mark stated.
Blade and headed cross country, while Mark signaled Copper into a lope and
followed the river.
to the ranch, tying Blade to the hitching rail in front of his home. He
walked inside to see both his and Mark’s families sitting down for supper.
“Mark not make
it back yet?” Lucas asked.
answered. “We weren’t expecting either of you back until around this time.
Is anything wrong?”
Lucas saw the
concern in Hope’s eyes when he answered. “Not that I know of. We split up
earlier this afternoon at the river, after seeing signs of a flash flood
last night. I went to finish checking on the other herds while he followed
the river, just to check if any of our cattle got caught up in it.”
Gwen tried to
assure Hope, “I’m sure he’s okay, Hope.”
Supper and the
dishes were long finished with still no sign of Mark’s return. Lucas and
Milly helped Hope get her children and Gwen back to their home.
“Hope, if he’s
not back by first light, I’ll head out and look for him,” Lucas stated as
they stood at the door to leave.
Once they were
back in their own home and after putting their own children to bed, Milly
asked, “Lucas can’t you head out and look for him now? I mean, there’s a
full moon out tonight and with all the rain, Copper’s hoof prints would be
easy to follow…”
“Milly, I’m just
as concerned about his not returning as you and Hope are. Give him tonight
and…” Lucas stopped speaking as he saw movement outside their front window;
a lone figure walking and leading a lame horse. Lucas quickly had the door
open and ran outside.
“It’s me. Sorry
I’m so late,” a weary Mark answered.
They both heard
Hope yell Mark’s name and saw her quickly run to him.
“Hey there. I
need to tend to Copper,” Mark stated as Hope hugged him.
With one arm
around Hope’s waist, slowly, Mark led Copper into the barn and his stall.
Once inside, Hope hurriedly walked over and lit the lantern. Lucas offered
to help untack the horse.
“Thanks Pa, I’d
really appreciate it.”
As Mark reached
to remove the bridle, Lucas saw the tattered remains of the sleeve of Mark’s
jacket and the rips in the cast.
happened?” Lucas asked, slightly alarmed, as he pulled the saddle off.
encountered a wolf,” Mark replied.
“A WOLF!” Hope
Thankfully when it went for me, it got my arm with the cast. It was a lone
wolf. Two of our yearling calves got swept away in the flood last night. I
found their carcasses and pulled them from the riverbank. As I was unroping
the last one, I heard the wolf’s snarl and tried to get to Copper, that’s
when the wolf attacked me.”
“How’d you get
away?” Lucas asked.
“I don’t think
he was anticipating biting into something as hard as the cast. After he
ripped my sleeve, I was able to back up a little bit, he lunged at me and I
hit him upside the head with the cast. That disoriented him for a few
moments, enough for me to grab my rifle.”
you’re safe. Was it the wolf that caused Copper to go lame?” Hope asked.
“No. After my
heartbeat returned to normal, I realized just how late it was getting and I
was trying to get back by supper time. I felt him pull the shoe and I guess
he stepped on a stone before I could get him stopped. I trotted him for a
little bit and then he went lame on me. I’ve been walking him for the past
four hours, taking it slow. I didn’t dare go any faster with him. I
couldn’t feel any heat or swelling, so, I’m hoping it’s only a stone
bruise. I’m sorry I worried you.”
outside the stall and asked, “Mark, I think we have some bitter salt at the
house, would soaking his hoof help?”
“It’s worth a
shot. Would you mind preparing it?”
“I’ll go heat
the water and be back in a few minutes,” Hope stated as she turned and left
“Son, is that
all that happened out there today? You’re not hiding anything from Hope?”
Lucas asked once he knew Hope couldn’t hear.
“I’m not hiding
anything from either of you. Thankfully,” Mark replied as he continued to
clean out Copper’s hoof and then pulled the hoof tester to try to find out
where the stone bruise was. The bruising was on the inside flat of his
A few minutes
later, Hope returned carrying a bucket with the heated water and bitter
salt. She handed it Lucas, who carried it into the stall. They watched as
Mark asked Copper to pick up his leg and lower his hoof down in the bucket.
“Pa, Hope, why
don’t you head on to bed, I’m gonna be here for a while. No need for all of
us to lose sleep tonight.”
Lucas exited the
stall and placed an arm around Hope’s shoulders, moving her to the door of
the barn. For half an hour Mark sat in Copper’s stall while soaking the
hoof, cursing himself for being so stupid in trying to get home quicker.
Mark stated to Copper. “If I’d of taken it at a nice trot, we’ve of been
home hours ago and you wouldn’t be lame.”
He pulled the
bucket and dumped the water outside. Next he returned to the stall and
picked it out. Mark gave all the horses a late night feeding of hay, before
he blew out the lantern and returned to his home.
morning dawn bright over the land. Hope quietly got out of bed and picked
Mykaela up from her bassinet, closing their bedroom door as she carried
their daughter to the front room. Hope sat in her chair and allowed Mykaela
to nurse. Once she was done, Hope then changed her diaper and set her in
the crib in the front room. Next, Hope went to feed the horses in their
barn. As she fed them, she noticed Copper was still favoring his front
Returning to the
house, she saw Gwen come from her room. After telling Gwen she had decided
to let Mark sleep as long as he needed, she asked Gwen to wake the boys and
see that they quietly got dressed, while she cooked breakfast of oatmeal for
them. Once it was ready, Gwen had them sitting at the table. After they
were fed, Gwen led them to their grandparents’ home.
She knocked on
the door before entering, “Mr. and Mrs. McCain, Hope asks if you would watch
the boys until we’re ready to head to town? She said, Mark’s still asleep.”
“Sure. How are
my Lilliputians this morning?” Lucas asked.
“We small,” Eli
to me, you are very small.”
Gwen returned to
the house and started to help Hope gather everything they would need to take
with them to town for their Thanksgiving meal. Hope had just finished
packing the last item, when she heard the bedroom door open.
“What time is
it?” Mark asked as he scratched at his head.
“A little after
nine,” Hope replied.
“Nine?! Oh, why
didn’t you wake me sooner. There’s so much to do…”
“You needed your
sleep. The boys are over at Ma and Pa’s and I already fed the horses.
Copper’s still favoring the leg.”
“I should have
said good morning, first. Thanks for letting me sleep,” Mark stated as he
gave Hope a good morning kiss. Then, turning to Gwen, “Good morning. I
hope you are going to enjoy yourself today. It’s a rather large get
gathering at the Mallory House. The whole McCain-Torrance-Drako-Gibbs-Lane
families are in attendance. Hope, do you know if Ethan and Annie are going
to be able to come this year?”
have arrived yesterday,” Hope answered. “If you want, I’ve got the water
heating to soak Copper’s hoof again this morning.”
“I do. Thanks,”
Mark stated as he went to pour the bitter salt into the hot water. He
carried the bucket to the barn.
A few minutes
later, Mark heard the front door of the barn open, “Thought you might like
something to eat before you clean stalls,” Hope said as she handed Mark a
bowl of oatmeal and a spoon.
out for me, aren’t you?”
has too,” Hope replied.
A half hour
later, Mark returned to his home to shave, wash up, and get dressed for
their day in town.
“What would you
like for me to start carrying out? The team’s already hitched.”
“The two boxes
on the front table need to go with us. You do have extra blankets in the
back for the boys and Gwen?”
“Yes, I already
have the straw down in the buckboard for them, too.”
By ten o’clock,
both McCain families were loaded in their buckboards for the trip to North
Lou already had
the turkeys in the oven when they arrived. Family and friends helped them
unload and get everyone and everything inside.
families were inside, Mark and Lucas drove their teams to the livery. After
returning to the hotel, Mark told everyone he would be back in a little
while. Lucas, Seth, and Drako watched as he jogged down the street.
“Where’s he off
too?” Seth asked.
checking the herds yesterday, making sure they were okay after the storm.
He didn’t get home until late last night, when he told us he’d encountered a
wolf. It ripped up the sleeve to his work jacket and tattered his cast
too. So he’s probably going to Doc’s.”
“How’s he taking
his suspension?” Johnny asked as they walked inside.
Everything considered.” Lucas stated to laugh, “Though, he got an eye
opener the other day when he was left in charge of all seven of the
Mark knocked on
the front door to Doc Burrage’s home. Abigail opened the door, “Happy
Thanksgiving, Mark. Would you care to come in?”
Mark said as he stepped inside and removed his hat.
Thanksgiving! What brings you to this end of town? I always thought your
family celebrated at the hotel?”
“We are. I had
a little trouble yesterday.” Mark removed his coat and showed Thadd what
remained of his cast.
stated. “Abigail, I won’t be very long. I’m going to take Mark to the
clinic and see about removing his cast. I’ll be back soon.”
Once at the
clinic, Mark hopped up on the examination table. Thadd pulled out a small
saw blade and began cutting what remained of the cast off. Once he pried it
from Mark’s arm, he set to examine Mark’s wrist.
“How’s it feel?”
“A lot better
than what it did right after I slugged Rigby,” Mark replied.
“Well, since it
was only a sprain, I think I’ll leave the cast off for now. But if it gets
to paining you, I want you back in here and I’ll cast it again.”
“Thanks Doc. Oh
by the way, I see congratulations are in order,” Mark stated as he walked
out the front door with Thadd.
“Congratulations?” Thadd queried.
not expecting? She just kind of had that look about her and I thought...”
“Oh, Mark. Why
is it the doctor is the last one to realize when his own wife is pregnant?”
Thadd started laughing. “I think that’s the surprise she’s going to tell me
about this afternoon. Thanks Mark. You know, I still don’t understand why
you didn’t go into medicine. You’ve a knack for this. You’re more
observant than I am.”
through it a few more times than you have. Tell Abigail I said
laughter could be heard from the women as Hope got reacquainted with her
sister-in-law, Annie, who was just beginning to show she was with child.
“I’m only three
months along, sorry we didn’t wire, but we wanted to surprise everyone,”
Annie stated as she was hugged by Hope and Seth.
The men were
having a good time teasing Ethan about the future little Lane, to which
Ethan announced, “I understand we’re not the only ones expecting. Lucas, I
hear tell you’re set to be an uncle again.”
Gibbs! What secret are you hiding?” Lucas hollered across the room.
“He’s not hiding
it any more. There’s no way, not with me showing like I am,” Colleen stated
as she opened her shawl. “We’re a little over two months along.”
There was quite
the merriment in the hotel dining room after the announcements. A little
while later, Colleen and Milly came from the kitchen and Milly motioned for
Lucas and Johnny to step aside.
Tone it town a little bit. I know you men mean well and good and are just
having fun, but you’re really embarrassing Annie. She’s not used to this
type of fooling around,”
“Yes she is or
else she wouldn’t have gotten pregnant,” Johnny Gibbs announced with a loud
Colleen chided her husband.
just being men!” Johnny declared.
insufferable. Besides, Annie’s not the only one who’s embarrassed by all
this Tom foolery, Gwen’s in the kitchen with cheeks redder than yours, when
you dropped the safe on my father’s foot and broke it.”
“Aw, now… Why’d
you have to go and bring that up?” Johnny complained.
“To make you
understand,” Colleen replied.
promise to be good little boys and mind our manners,” Johnny pleaded and
then shooed the women back into the kitchen.
Mark entered the
hotel dining room, still experimenting with flexing his wrist around.
Seeing most of the dining room already organized, he headed to the kitchen
where he sidled up next to Hope. He feigned sneaking a finger of filling
from one of the pies, as he gently placed a kiss to Hope’s cheek.
“That’s the Mark
I fondly remember,” Hattie called. “Remember our first Thanksgiving after I
returned?” The women got to laughing and giggling.
Annie and Gwen were not following along, Hope stated, “It was my first
Thanksgiving in North Fork, as well. And Mark kept sneaking in, sampling
all the food and sneaking a kiss from me.”
and we kept chasing him from the kitchen,” Lou added gaily. “Threatening to
beat him within an inch of his life with a spatula.” Lou pointed the spatula
in her hand towards Mark.
I get the hint. I'm out of here," Mark replied as he held up his arms and
left the kitchen.
“They were so
much in love back then,” Hattie commented.
“And they’re not
now?” Annie asked.
“It was a
different kind of love back then, sweet and innocent,” Milly replied.
“Mark’s first… no second crush. His first crush was on my niece, when he
was thirteen. She returned to North Fork, last year during Thanksgiving.
Mark wasn’t home when she arrive.”
“No, he wasn’t
and what you put him through when he did return. Oh, my, I don’t know that
he’s ever been so embarrassed,” Lou stated.
“Well there was
the time when, well, that’s neither here nor there,” Hope stated, not
wanting to remind anyone of the circumstances surrounding Levi’s premature
birth and the events that happened shortly thereafter.
the story, “Milly wasn’t returned to town yet, when Mark and Hope first
met. Though I wasn’t in town when Milly’s niece was here, but I do know it
was more than a crush Mark had on Hope when she first arrived in North
Fork. Mark was carrying so much on his shoulders, trying to save her life,
bring an assassin to justice, and pretending his father had be killed… If a
person knew Mark well enough, they knew that Mark loved her from the first
time he saw her.”
Hope blushed at
hearing Lou talk of Mark in such a fashion, but deep down, she knew the
words were true.
herself from the kitchen to go nurse Mykaela. Mark saw his wife carry their
daughter up the stairs, he followed.
He closed the
door behind them. Hope handed Mykaela to Mark, climbed up into the bed and
positioned herself and unbuttoned her blouse. Mark handed their daughter
back to Hope and climbed in beside her after she untied her camisole and
placed Mykaela at her breast. Hope told him of the expected babies.
“I knew about
Johnny and Colleen…” After seeing Hope’s expression, “When I was pretending
to have been killed by Grid, Uncle Johnny kind of let the cat out of the bag
and I promised to keep quiet until today. But, you can add one more to the
list of expectant parents,” Mark whispered in her ear.
finished removing my cast, I congratulated Thadd. He asked for what. I
told him that Abigail had that ‘glow’ about her. He acknowledged that
Abigail had a surprise for him this afternoon.”
didn’t ruin her surprise did you?”
“How was I
supposed to know, Doc didn’t know? Thadd stated he felt like a fool -- the
doctor being the last one realizing his own wife was pregnant.” Mark
these precious times with his wife. He was bound and determined to make
sure the bond between the members of his family was just as strong, if not
stronger, than the bond he shared with his own father.
As they were
returning down the stairs, they heard the squeals of laughter and the sounds
of little feet running. Mark and Hope had to watch their step as they
entered the dining room with all the young children running around and
having fun. Their respective fathers, actually, all the men present were
laughing at their antics.
The meal the
women prepared for this Thanksgiving feast was as delicious as ever. Milly,
Lou, and Hattie returned from the kitchen carrying desserts, while Hope
brought the coffee pot.
When no one
could eat another bite and conversation started to wane, Mark let out a
“Doc removed my
cast, now I don’t have an excuse to get out of helping clean up after all
this,” Mark complained, as he swept his arm across the way.
Those closest to
him broke out with laughter, and as his comment was passed around the table,
others joined in.
As the men
started to clean up the dining room and head to the kitchen to wash the
dishes, Thadd, Abigail, Savannah, and old Doc Burrage came to the dining
Abigail came up
to Mark and asked, “Just how did you know?”
“You sort of
have the same glow about you that Ma and Hope have, when they’ve been
expecting, especially right after they’ve found out. I’m sorry if I ruined
your surprise. Who would have thought your own husband, and a doctor at
that, didn’t know you were expecting.”
“You didn’t ruin
my surprise. It was still wonderful news to give him. He was excited, just
like a little boy at Christmas time.”
“Hey, what are
you two whispering about over there?” Micah hollered from across the room.
“We were just
talking about Thadd and Abigail’s news,” Mark replied.
“And what news
is that?” Gibbs asked.
tell?” Thadd asked.
didn’t know until I congratulated you earlier,” Mark teased.
fair, Mark,” Hope replied.
“The news is
that I’m also expecting, in addition to Colleen,” Abigail announced to
everyone present. More squeals of delight went up among the women.
“Well, Colleen’s not the only one expecting, Annie announced earlier that
she and Ethan are expecting their second child.
like we’ve got an epidemic started,” Micah laughed.
“Yeah, maybe I
should post a sign, Don’t Drink the Water.” Then let out a groan.
realized, I’m going to be very busy come May,” Thadd answered.
“Okay, you men,”
Hattie started. “You’ve had your fun for the day, now you get to work on
the dishes, so we women folk can rest and relax for a while. Certain women
don’t need to be on their feet any more than they have been.”
Like good little
soldiers, they all minded what Hattie told them to do.
While in the
kitchen, Drako stated, “So Mark, seems to me you’re missing out on the
remember, our expected fun came two months ago,” Mark laughed back at him.
“You know Johnny, I’m not the only one present who missed out on making an
funny!” Drako retorted.
No one could
stop the laughter after seeing Drako’s expression.
morning, Mark woke early to tend to the horses and hoping that Copper would
be better. He arrived in the barn to find his horse nickering and at least
standing on all four legs, but still favoring the one front hoof. Mark
again, soaked the horse’s hoof, and then bent to his task of feeding the
horses and cleaning the stalls.
Once done in
their barn, he headed to the chicken coop and retrieved some eggs for his
family’s breakfast. Returning quietly to his home, he found no one had yet
stirred for the day. Mark was quietly fixing breakfast when he heard Hope
get up. He smiled to himself as he thought on his wife nursing their
Next to rouse
was Gwen, “Morning!” Mark called as she came to the front room.
Can I help you with anything?”
already set the table and breakfast will be done soon. Why don’t you have a
“I can wake the
boys,” Gwen commented.
“No I think
they’re waking on their own,” Mark stated as they both heard little feet hit
the floor and scurry about.
The door soon
opened and three sleepy-eyed boys came into the front room.
eaten while the adults listened to the boys recount the fun they had the day
before with their friends.
“What are the
plans for the day?” Gwen asked.
day after Thanksgiving is spent in quiet reflection and just being with
family,” Hope answered. “Gwen, the offer Mark made the other night… We’d
be happy to consider you an extended member of our family. The final
decision is yours.”
wondered what it would be like to be part of such a large family,” Gwen
replied. “I had so much fun yesterday, though at times, I was quite
embarrassed with how much everyone teased… I mean, you’re all so
comfortable around each other.”
“It takes time
to get used to Uncle Johnny. And when you add Pa into the mix, they can get
out of hand,” Mark stated. “I remember the day after Hope and I were
married and then there were a few other occasions where he really likes to
tease people. It’s all in good fun.”
once I got used to him and everyone else, it was like they all treated me as
if I were part of the family.” Gwen looked to the boys before continuing,
“I would like to stay on, to accept your offer, once my cast is removed.
I’ve really enjoyed myself this past month.”
until the first of the year, you’ll still be a guest in this home. Between
now and the New Year, we’ll come to agree on what your responsibilities
around here will be as well as your salary. We don’t expect you to work
seven days a week, twenty four hours a day. You’ll have time to come and go
as you please and join the family on outings to town. Or to go exploring
“I’d like that,”
young Jake McCafferty might stop by and do some sparking,” Mark quietly
exclaimed as she saw Gwen blush.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he
Ethan and Annie
Lane had made arrangements to stay through the month of December, staying at
Seth’s home. The families celebrated Seth Edward’s second birthday, two
days before they celebrated Mark and Hope’s twenty-fourth birthday.
While they were
in town for the celebration, Freddie Toomey rushed to tell Mark the good
news, he found out that Carolina was expecting again.
“You just had
Freddie Junior the beginning of August!” Mark exclaimed.
“Can I help it
that I love my wife? Besides, you and I are the same age and you’ve a few
more children than I have,” Freddie replied.
“I know, I
know. I’m happy for you Freddie. Have you told your parents yet? How’s
your Pa taking being a grandfather?”
“A little better
than your Pa, but then my Pa didn’t find out he was going to be a father and
a grandfather on the same day,” Freddie laughed.
Carolina I said congratulations!” Mark answered as Freddie ran to head home.
laughing as he entered the Mallory House dining room.
“What’s so funny
Mark?” Hope asked.
“I just found
out that next summer is going to be really busy for Thadd.”
“How so?” Milly
Carolina are expecting another child,” Mark replied.
“The good news
is that we’ve a few years before all these young ones are going to be ready
to start the school, so it gives us a while before we have to build on,”
Lucas laughed as he remembered back to the days when they built the second
school room for North Fork’s growing population of children.
wasn’t the only person to stop Mark as the evening progressed, Jake
McCafferty asked to speak to Mark in private.
“Since when do
you call me mister?”
“Since I have
something important I need to discuss with you. And you being the nearest
thing to her family, Pa said I owe you the respect as if you really were.”
asked, he remembered back to the first time he asked permission to court
“See, I… Uh…”
Jake stuttered as he pulled at his collar.
“Jake, does this
involve Gwen?” Mark asked.
“Yes, sir. It
does. I’d like your permission to come calling on her. I mean, I’ll be
real respectable about her, but I thought that since she gets her cast off
“And how do you
know she gets her cast off?” Mark teased.
“Well, when you
were in town the other day, being a marshal, I was at the ranch and we got
to talking,” Jake hurriedly spoke.
already been talking with Gwen, behind my back?”
“Yes, sir. No
sir, I mean, Miss Hope was there and we didn’t do anything improper. We
just talked in the front room. Your sons were there too.”
“Okay, so once
Gwen gets her cast off, then what?”
permission to call on her. To stop by and read or take her out for a buggy
ride or if she knows how to ride a horse… Oh, please Mark… Don’t you know
how hard this is for me?”
“I remember very
fondly when I asked Hope’s father for permission to court her…” Mark stated
as he placed his hand to Jake’s shoulder.
interrupted, “Oh, I ain’t asking for permission to court her, least I didn’t
think I was…”
“Jake, you have
my blessing to come calling on Gwen. Have you talked with her yet?”
“No sir, I
couldn’t. Not until I knew how you would answer. Thanks, Mark!” Jake
yelled as he ran to the kitchen where Gwen was helping Lou with the cakes
for the celebrations.
inquisitively to Mark as he entered the dining room, shaking his head.
though he knew it would be years before Emmy was old enough to have anyone
come calling on her, he wondered how he would feel, as her father. ‘Just
better keep the badge shined and my rifle in working order,’ Mark thought to
“What was that
all about?” Hope asked.
Jake just asked me for permission to come calling on Gwen.”
Lucas and Seth
had been taking drinks from their coffee cups when they heard Mark’s
comments, both ended up sputtering and laughing.
headed home for the night, Mark took a few minutes to reflect on the past
seven years of his life. What a change his life had undergone, but he
wouldn’t change most of it for anything. There were a few trials that he
wished his family had never had to endure, but he thanked God for the
blessings that were his.
Old Man winter
had blessed North Fork with a mild winter, so far, as Lucas and Milly
prepared to celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve.
Milly was working to prepare supper, with Hope’s and Gwen’s help, when Lucas
came into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around Milly’s waist and nuzzled
the base of her neck.
you keep that up and I might just burn your supper,” Milly chastised.
“Can I help it
if I love you?” Lucas replied.
“No, but you
“Ma, please, why
don’t you let Gwen and me finish this. It’s your anniversary,” Hope
Milly,” Gwen requested.
unanimous,” Lucas stated as he pulled Milly from the kitchen and led her
back to the front room of their home.
“Lucas, it’s not
right,” Milly responded.
“If the girls
want finish this, let them,” Lucas stated as he pulled Milly to his lap as
he sat down in his chair.
As they sat
together, they watched while Mark played with his sons and brother and
sister on the floor in the front room. Lucas smiled and hugged Milly even
tighter as he listened to the laughter from their children. Soon, Lucas
helped Milly from his lap and was down on the floor with them. Milly, Hope,
and Gwen all laughed as the others rough-housed around.
“Okay, you… you…
hooligans!” Hope called. “If anyone is interested in eating, I need for
certain members of this family to wash up. Supper is ready.”
everyone,” Lucas called as he stood to his full height. He assisted Mark in
helping the children get cleaned up and seated around the very large table.
Mark offered the
blessings on this night.
Father, on this night, the night before one of the Holiest days of the year,
we gather before you to give thanks. Not only do we thank you for the food
that is placed upon this table to nourish our bodies, but for other
blessings you have bestowed upon this family. Seven years ago you granted a
wish I had prayed for, for a long time. For my father to find a woman who
was his soul mate and seven years ago this day Miss Milly became my new Ma.
And through their union, you’ve blessed them…, us, with three more precious
lives. So as we prepare to celebrate the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ
tomorrow; tonight, we celebrate the marriage of my parents, Lucas and Milly
McCain. Please bless this family and their marriage, and all those whose
lives we touch. In your name we pray, Amen.”
meal, Lucas and Milly would look at each other and smile that smile that
said, yes they were blessed. It had been a long time ago when Lucas had
resigned himself to a small family, and eventually that his family would be
just a father and a son. But seven years ago, his life changed for ever,
when he said ‘I do’ and took Milly Scott for his wife.
As they lay down
in bed that night, Lucas turned to Milly and asked, “Had I proposed all
those years ago, would you have accepted?”
“I don’t know.
And that’s only because of the unresolved personal issues I had,” Milly
replied as she snuggled into Lucas’ arms. “If you’re starting to become
melancholy for something that didn’t happen in the past, stop it. Lucas, we
have a wonderful life together. Did you ever think that this is exactly how
God planned for everything to happen? And aren’t you the one who’s so fond
of saying there’s no looking back?”
reminded,” Lucas replied as he kissed Milly. “Thank you for accepting me
and my past.”
“Lucas, I didn’t
marry your past, even though your past is part of you. It’s the here and
now that will become our future. But I guess I should say you’re welcome.”
more securely against Lucas as her memories took her back to so many years
before. She had left, because he had not accepted the truth of her
brother’s death and she knew if she were to ever have a chance at happiness,
she had to go back home and face the fact that Ted had been killed in the
war. Milly remembered the long, lonely stage coach ride and then the even
longer train ride back home. In her solitude, she feared she had given up
her one chance at true happiness when she left North Fork. And then, what
if she hadn’t seen that article in the newspaper regarding the assassination
attempt on Senator Borden and that Lucas and Micah had been killed? Though
the story was false, it was the kick from behind that she needed to get her
to return to North Fork. To face the boy who she had come to care about as
if he were her son. To be there for Lucas’ boy. Several times, Lucas had
been forced to entrust Mark’s care to Milly or to Micah. ‘Yes, maybe this
is how God planned everything,’ Milly said to herself as her body started to
respond to her husband’s gentle, caressing touch. Thankful this night they
didn’t have to worry about a shivaree, they gave themselves to each other
almost as if it were their wedding night all over again.
As in previous
years past, the McCains’ shared a simple Christmas day, exchanging small
gifts and then spending the day reading from the bible.
The next week
flew by as they prepared to celebrate New Year’s Day and Myra’s sixth
birthday. Secretly, Milly was pleased her sons’ birthdays were later not so
close to the holidays and other celebrations. Throughout the family
gathering, Myra was always talking about looking forward to returning to
school and to finally being allowed to ride on her own to school, when the
weather was nice. She was excited for the new books and hair accessories
she received as presents. Lucas marveled at how his two oldest children
could be so different, yet, as Milly had told him before, it could just be a
matter of a boy versus a girl. Lucas wondered if he should begin to dread
Little Ted’s and, eventually, Levi’s, starting school.
As a family, the
McCain’s headed into town. Mark had brought work back that the entire
McCain clan was invited to celebrate Conner Drako’s fifth birthday. Lou, as
usual, had outdone herself in decorating the hotel and restaurant. It had
been a fun-filled afternoon with so many children and families present. As
the evening came to a close, it was just the McCain’s remaining. Milly,
Hope, and Gwen were assisting Lou in the kitchen. Their children were
snuggled in some of the empty bedrooms upstairs, having exhausted themselves
in playing and celebrating.
In the dining
room, Lucas, Johnny, and Mark were talking about their various experiences
in being father’s when they were interrupted by Gwen running in, “Mark, go
get Doc Burrage!”
Mark asked as he got to his feet.
“It’s Miss Lou.
Marshal Drako, Miss Milly said you need to come to the kitchen.”
Mark ran from
the hotel to get Doc Burrage, while Johnny and Lucas followed Gwen back to
Milly cradling Lou’s head in her lap while Hope was wrapping a towel around
Lou’s bleeding hand.
Johnny cried as he knelt down next to his wife. Milly raised Lou up so that
Johnny could cradle her head instead.
“I’m not sure,
we were just talking and she said she started feeling a little tired. We
laughed about how she should be tired after doing all that she had done
today. Next thing she’s fainting,” Milly answered.
“Johnny, she was
holding a glass in her hand and it broke, cutting her hand. I don’t think
it’s too bad,” Hope offered.
A few minutes
later, Mark returned with Doc Burrage. Milly and Hope explained to him what
“Johnny, if you
don’t mind, let’s get her to your bedroom,” Thadd stated.
“Don’t you mean
the clinic?” Johnny asked worried.
“No, I think
rest will be the best thing for your wife, tonight,” Thadd answered and
smiled. “I can tend to her hand, the cut isn’t too deep.”
looked up when he started hearing Mark laughing.
Lucas started to
chastise his son, “Now is not the time...”
“Oh yes it is
Pa. Don’t you remember Thanksgiving?”
to Mark in askance as Thadd laughed out loud as he remembered what had
happened and he knew the reason she had fainted.
“Oh come on
Johnny.” Mark laughingly begged. “You were saying that I was the only one
missing out in making the announcements of being in an expanding family
way. Doc, please tell Johnny that Lou is going to be fine before he decides
to throw me in jail.”
attention was drawn to Lou as she started to moan and move.
asked as she opened her eyes. “Oh, no,” as she saw everyone around her.
stated. “I take it you’ve not told your husband you are in a ‘family way’
It took a few
more minutes, enough for Johnny to accept that Lou was okay, before he
realized that Mark was jesting him because Lou was pregnant. As he helped
Lou sit up, he asked, ‘You’re having a baby?”
In her best Iris
brogue Lou replied, “Well not this minute! And yes, WE’RE having another
baby. I’m sorry, but I wanted this day to be for Conner. I was planning to
tell ye tonight, when we were alone.”
picked his wife up into his arms and as he headed towards their quarters he
said, “Thank you for being here tonight and I think you can find your ways
out on your own.” His eyes shined as he looked lovingly into Lou’s eyes,
while she wrapped her arms around her husband’s neck.
“I thought I
noticed she was pregnant earlier, but I remembered letting the cat out of
the bag at Thanksgiving to Thadd, so I kept my mouth shut.”
“How do you do
it, Mark?” Thadd asked.
replied as he pulled Hope into his arms, to which she replied “Mark!”
As the winter
progressed on, Mark continued to tease Johnny about the impending addition
to his family, knowing that Johnny was a little embarrassed at his age to
find out his wife was expecting.
“Oh come on
Johnny. You’re not that much different in age than Pa, and Levi’s getting
ready to turn one.”
“Yeah, turn one,
my latest child hasn’t been born yet,” Johnny lamented.
a good life and God’s blessing you now, as he couldn’t when you were a
gunslinger. You know, I seem to remember many occasions where I was told I
had to accept the consequences for my actions…” Mark mischievously called as
he ran from the Office as he heard the train arrive.
right,” Seth replied as he couldn’t’ keep the grin from his face.
At first the
look on Johnny’s face was cold and calculating, but as he remembered the
‘action’ that brought about this ‘consequence’, he smiled.
Doc should have posted a sign to “Don’t drink the water,” Seth laughed as he
remembered back to Thanksgiving and the announcements that were made that
day and how Johnny and Mark had teased each other.
“Wouldn’t have helped. I have a feeling Lou was already pregnant when the
other announcements were made.”
Seth stated curiously.
the more I think about it, ever since shortly after the night that Mark
returned from the dead, after the stunt he and Grid pulled, Lou’s had a way
about her." Seeing the expression on Seth's face Johnny went on to say,
"Well, I had to do something to placate my wife, I got her so riled that
night,” Johnny devilishly pleaded.
don’t let Lou hear you say that you only made love to placate her. I’m
gonna head on over to the livery and see if Nils has finished shoeing my
horse. I’ll be back.”
hmmm’d to himself as he remembered back to that night. He should have
known. Each time he made love to his wife was special, but that night,
maybe because he had gotten Lou so riled, both were more amorous than usual.
The ever mild
winter gave way to an even milder beginning of March as the Gibbs and McCain
families gathered, at the ranch, to celebrate Levi’s first birthday. As a
true McCain boy, he squealed with laughter as he squeezed both his hands
into the small cake that had been made especially for him.
“Just like his
older brothers,” Lucas commented, causing Mark a little bit of
that month, they gathered in town to celebrate Lillian’s birthday. Since
Colleen was in the last few months of her pregnancy, Milly, Hope, and Gwen
did all the fixings so that Colleen wouldn’t exert herself.
could, he teased his brother-in-law about the fact that Johnny Gibbs had
been tamed and finally gave in to settling down
“Well, at least
I was free for a lot longer than you were, brother,” Johnny replied. “Quite
a shock when you proposed to my sister. But… Here’s to you, Milly, and
requested and received approval to take the first few weeks of April off
from his duties as a U.S. Marshal. In between all the springtime work that
was needed around the ranch, Mark had promised Gwen they would add on to
their home to provide her a bedroom and a sitting room of her own. Mark and
Lucas were extremely pleased with all the help Jake McCafferty provided
around the ranch as well as helping with the addition to Mark’s home.
“You know, Pa.
Seems that for all the effort we’re going through, Jake here sure gets all
the reward. Just doesn’t seem fair,” Mark sheepishly stated.
already married and uh… I…”
Jake. Don’t let Mark get you all flustered.” Lucas continued, “You’re
doing practically as much work as we are. You’re pulling your own weight.”
“If he’s pulling
his own weight, then have him help me up here on the roof,” Mark laughed as
he accidentally hit his thumb.
“That’s what you
get son!” Lucas laughed.
By the middle of
April the room was finished and all that remained for them to do was to
properly furnish the rooms with items to make Gwen feel more at home. Milly
and Hope had secretly been sewing curtains for the windows and Hattie had
made a quilt for her bed, while some of their other women friends had made
doilies for the dresser and tables, or a throw blanket.
As the last of
the touches were put to the rooms, Gwen stood and hugged herself,
unbelieving that for the few years she had been alone, and now, she could
feel such a part of a family like the McCain’s.
“I don’t know
what to say,” Gwen humbly stated as she stood in the middle of the room and
looked around., tears streaming down her face.
“You don’t have
to say anything,” Hope replied. “You deserve this.”
Hope and Milly
and Gwen hugged.
“I think we best
let the women alone for a while, we need to go bed down the stock, son.”
The beginning of
May saw the McCain’s preparing to celebrate Eli’s second birthday. Since a
number of their friends were expecting and couldn’t travel, they decided to
have the birthday at Seth’s home in town.
“Been some time
since I’ve had this many people in my home at one time,” Seth stated as he
brought in more chairs to the front parlor from other rooms in his home.
“Know how you
feel,” Lucas answered as he looked to his family.
festivities wound down, Mark stepped over to Thadd, “Thadd, I think you
might want to get Abigail to the clinic.”
Thadd looked to
him in askance.
“Thadd it might
be false labor, but I think your wife is in labor. And you call yourself a
doctor,” Mark teased as Thadd took a long look at his wife. “If you’d like,
go ahead and leave Savannah here, we’ll keep an eye on her.”
Mark held the
front door of the house open while Thadd helped Abigail out the door.
Hope came to
stand by Mark’s side as he entered the parlor.
“I didn’t get to
thank them for Eli’s gift,” Hope stated.
“I don’t think
they’ll mind. They have something more important to tend to.”
Thadd that I thought Abigail was starting to go into labor. Listen, I can
take care of the children, why don’t you go over to the clinic and see if
you can help. I know you really would like to be there.”
Hope stood on
her tiptoes and gave Mark a quick kiss and went to tell the others what they
thought was happening.
Lucas and Milly
headed back to the ranch with their family, while Mark put their children to
bed at their grandfather’s.
Fork’s had a real population explosion this year,” Seth stated as Mark
returned to the parlor.
“Yeah, and don’t
you let my wife know I said that, for right now, I’m glad it’s not us.”
“Oh, don’t worry
sir. I’ll accept any child that God blesses us with, it’s just that, well…
There for a while, I thought Hope and I, as well as my parents, were going
to be the ones to force the building another new school here in town.”
family as certainly contributed. I’m gonna go ahead and turn in. Johnny
needs me at the office early tomorrow morning.”
morning, Hope entered the kitchen of her father’s home to inform Mark and
Seth that Steven Grady Burrage has been born, just a little while ago.
standing watch, almost two weeks later, when Amos rushed in with a wire.
“It’s from Fort
Stanton,” Amos quickly divulged.
Mark opened the
wire and read,
Mark and Hope
daughter – Marissa Ruth Lane /stop
Just like a
woman making a man wait /stop
doing fine. /stop
wishes he had a brother /stop
“Well, at least
that’s one baby Doc Burrage didn’t have to deliver,” Mark stated as he
handed the wire to Seth, who had just entered the Marshal’s Office.
home to the ranch much later than usual, though in this mood, nothing could
dampen his spirit as he anticipated the morning. As he unsaddled Copper in
the barn, he heard footsteps behind him and turned to see his eldest son
You’re in trouble with Mama!” Josh called.
“What kind of
trouble am I in with Mama?”
“I don’t know,
but she’s been crying in her bedroom.”
At that moment
they both heard Hope calling, “Joshua Lucas!”
“Uh oh, I think
your Mama realizes you’re not where you’re supposed to be,” Mark said with a
Mark watched as
his eldest ran from the barn. He heard the tone of voice his wife used as
she scolded him to get inside. Mark shook his head, wondering just what he
had done to get in trouble with Hope. Well, he knew with the present he had
hidden in his desk to give to Hope tomorrow would make up for anything that
he might have done.
He was standing
by the post, just about ready to blow out the lantern when he saw Hope enter
I’m in trouble,” Mark commented.
“I hope you have
a good explanation for how you could have forgotten?”
What did I forget?” Mark asked.
question, Hope turned and ran from the barn. Mark blew out the lantern and
proceeded to jog to his home. After closing the door behind him, he saw the
twins standing and pointing to his bedroom. As he took off his hat and set
his rifle in its holder above the mantle. Mark was curious where Gwen was
because the door to her sitting room was open and the room was dark. He
wondered why she wasn’t in the front room looking after the boys,
hoping maybe she could give him an idea for what he had done.
For the time
being, Mark put his concerns for Gwen out of his mind as he walked to the
door to his bedroom. He turned the doorknob and slowly pushed open the
door. Inside he saw Hope lying on their bed, crying. Climbing onto their
bed, he placed a hand on Hope’s back and asked,
“Please, tell me
what I forgot?”
Anniversary! That’s what!”
Anniversary? But that’s not until tomorrow,” Mark stated, confused.
Hope declared as she sat up on the bed. “We were wed on May 20th,
six years ago.”
“I remember, I
was there,” Mark stated as he put his hand to Hope’s cheek to wipe away her
tears. He could see the hurt in her eyes. “Hope, I didn’t forget our
anniversary… Honest. Tomorrow’s our anniversary. Today’s the nineteenth,”
Mark’s eyes, Hope saw the love he held for her, “Then… you… lost track of
what date today is? Today’s the twentieth.”
“Are you sure?”
Mark asked, upset with himself for losing track of the days.
“Hope, I’m so
sorry. I… I don’t know how or when I lost track of the date.”
Mark stood and
walked to his desk. He pulled open the center desk drawer and as he turned
around, Hope saw he held a slender, elongated box, wrapped in brightly
“I had planned
to give this to you on the morning of our anniversary.”
back on the bed and handed the box to his wife.
“I am so sorry.
I wanted you to have this,” Mark stated.
the present and lifted the lid to the box.
“Oh, Mark, I
can’t,” Hope exclaimed. “It’s too expensive. I can’t possibly…”
“You can and you
From the box,
Mark pulled a necklace that contained four golden charms. Each charm was
engraved with the name of one of their children. “And, I do plan to make
sure there are more charms added to this necklace,” Mark stated as he placed
the necklace around his wife’s neck and fastened the clasp. He turned Hope
to face him as he leaned forward to kiss her.
“Oh Mark. I
love you,” Hope cried as she wrapped her arms around Mark’s neck.
“I take it I’m
forgiven?” Mark asked
“I am hungry.
The stew smells good, I hope there’s enough left for me to eat.”
climbed from the bed and opened the door to the front room of their home.
“I had planned
for her and Jake to take the boys out for a ride this evening, so we could
enjoy supper alone.”
wouldn’t be alone with Emmy still here,” Mark replied as he wrapped his arms
around his wife’s waist.
teased. “Any way, I was so upset when you didn’t come home, I told Gwen and
Jake just to head on out for a ride and if they wanted, Gwen could spend the
night in town at Hattie and Micah’s instead of having to get her back here
“Do they seem to
remind you of anyone?” Mark asked.
“A little,” Hope
answered as she remembered back to when she came to live in North Fork.
“Have the boys
already had their supper?”
you put them to bed? I’ll get your supper ready for you.”
Mark had all
three boys in their nightshirts and ready to say their nightly prayers.
Together, Hope and Mark listened, then tucked each one in under the cover,
and lovingly wished them sweet dreams.
returned to the front room, Mark found a box on the table with his name on
couldn’t have given this to me this morning to remind me that today was the
20th?” Mark asked as he teased Hope. Mark unwrapped the box to
find inside a new scabbard for his rifle, with intricate leather work of the
sun rising over a range of hills.
After Mark had
finished eating, he heard their daughter start to cry.
“I’ll take care
of Emmy while you clean up the dishes.”
It didn’t take
long for Hope to wash the dishes and set them out to air dry, when she was
done, she headed to their bedroom and from the doorway watched Mark change
“So Emmy, you
and your mother conspired against me this morning. You couldn’t have given
me warning that today was my anniversary?”
Hope listened as
Emmy cooed in return.
“Oh, young lady,
maybe I should have let your Mama tend to you instead. I think this is one
time I wouldn’t have minded doing the dishes.” Mark turned as he heard Hope
giggle as she came up behind him.
“Would you like
“No, this is my
penance for losing track.” Mark leaned over and kissed Hope on the cheek.
When he was
done, Mark handed Mykaela to Hope and then took the diaper and placed it in
the pail on the back porch. When he returned to their bedroom he found Hope
already in bed.
into his own bedclothes and then climbed into bed, he watched as Hope laid
their daughter down in her lap and then started to unbutton her nightgown
and placed their daughter to her breast. Mark pulled Hope ever more close
“I might have
forgotten today’s date, but I’ll never forget these moments.”