The Next Step…
Chapter 50 – Fortunes Remembered
Written by Deanne Bertram
Later that night, after supper, Mark was sitting out on the front porch of his home. Lucas stepped to the front porch of his own home, looked over, saw his son, and walked to him.
“Mind if I have a seat?”
Mark scooted over to allow his Pa to sit down.
“You’re worried. I mean, I know that you didn’t know Hope was pregnant for that long…” Lucas stated.
“Earlier, I told Hope that I couldn’t believe how much I had already been looking forward to another Little McCain running around our home.”
Both sat quietly for a while.
“Do you ever think that this is all a dream and one morning we’re going to wake up and find out it won’t be real?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“I just remember when I was recovering from… well… back when Grayson and Dobbs took me, and I dreamed of being married and having children of my own… I mean that dream felt so real back then. And now Hope is my wife, but… I’m scared I’m going to wake up and find out I’m still just sixteen and this was all a dream. I love her and the boys so much, and just the thought of losing a baby I never held…”
“Mark, you and Hope are young. You’ll have more children if the Good Lord sees fit to bless you. Hope’s a strong woman. So much stronger than…”
“Yes, your Ma.”
“Pa. Do you ever wish I hadn’t…”
“No Mark. Stop that train of thought right there. I’d never give up having you in my life. The whole time your Ma was pregnant with you, you were all she could talk about. Her dreams and her plans for you. The day she found out she was pregnant, she already had you named. You carry a part of your Ma and through you, she’ll live on.”
“Did she regret not being able to have other children?”
“She yearned for other children, so you wouldn’t be an only child and I think she loved being pregnant. There’s something so nurturing about a woman with child and then as the baby suckles from her breast. But don’t you ever think she would have not given birth to you, if she knew what was going to happen. Son, you were God’s gift to your Ma and me. He gave us, you. And He gave you and me, your Ma, for longer than He maybe had originally planned. The Doc seemed surprised when your Ma started to get better, a month or so after you were born. Mark, we both have wonderful lives and wonderful families. Have faith that God will see to it that Hope and you will heal from this loss. Besides, the twins will see that you have other distractions.”
Lucas stood leave.
“Pa… I’m glad I have you for my father.”
“And I’m glad I have you as a son.”
Halloween came and the McCain’s had invited the Bullocks’ (Percy, Sr, Percy, Tessa, and Mabra) to join them for supper at the ranch. All were laughing at the ghost and goblin running around the front room of Mark and Hope’ home. Soon an angel and another ghost joined them. Milly and Tessa helped Hope finish fixing the fried chicken and dumplings with mashed potatoes for supper.
Afterwards, Mark pulled out his guitar, strumming and singing as Hope gaily danced with their sons, as well as Myra and Little Ted. Milly, Tessa, and Mabra also took turns dancing with the younger children.
Later, after the younger children were asleep, Mark and Percy told the ladies of their first meeting. “He was wearing knickers,” Mark stated. “And I remember telling Pa, Percy would be lynched by recess for wearing such clothing.”
“Then you remember the fight you fought for me, after school?” Percy asked has he remembered back.
“Yeah, and the excuse we told your father, that I was thrown, when he saw all the dirt on the two of us.” Mark answered.
“Yes, I do believe I retorted that evidently you were thrown into each other. Anyway, many a good friendships were forged after a first scrap,” Mr. Bullock replied.
Mark quieted as he wrapped his arms around Hope, who was sitting on his lap, he looked into her eyes as she looked into his face. “I guess you can say that Mr. Bullock was the one who truly inspired me to really appreciate learning and really apply myself to my education. I stepped into their home for the first time and saw all those books. Seeing their walls filled with bookshelves. Mr. Bullock invited me over of evenings and after Percy and I were finished studying geometry, he’d read from one of the books to us.”
Mr. Bullock asked, “Do you remember which book it was that I first read to you?”
Mark started to quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, if I remember correctly. Though I’m sure you did the story more justice that I ever could.”
“That was it Mark. I remember because it was my favorite book. And I chose it for you to borrow and then suggested that Pa read it to us,” Percy stated.
Mark and Percy remembered, fondly, Mr. Bullock bringing the words to life as he read from the book.
“Mark, I also remember it was a time that your father feared the most for you,” Mr. Bullock stated.
“What do you mean?” Hope asked.
Lucas answered, “Mark had admitted to pranking and spooking cattle on some of the other cattle ranches that Halloween. Then cattle started disappearing from various ranches. With Mark asking to go to the Bullock’s and then to stay out later than usual. When I asked him questions about it, he wouldn’t give me the kind of answers he used to. He was vague about what they were doing.”
Seeing the expression of Hope not understanding, Mr. Bullock continued. “Miss Hope, a father does his best to try to raise their child right and yet, Lucas saw another man offering his son something that he felt he couldn’t, he started doubting himself as a father. But more than that, he feared that I was involved in the cattle rustling and had somehow twisted Mark’s mind around and that his son was helping me steal.”
“Lucas?!” Milly declared.
“We had no clues. Only that a number of the boy’s were out later than normal and we found one of the masks the boys had used on Halloween. We found liquor bottles where the cattle rustlers had waited and I found my bottle of brandy had disappeared. I wanted to trust that I had raised Mark better, but in my case, it was the fall of despair. I doubted myself and for that, I doubted Mark.”
“Yes, a father’s fear can be mighty powerful, because we know the snares and pitfalls out there that could tempt our sons to stray from the right path,” Mr. Bullock stated.
“And that’s because they’ve already tripped on some of those stumbling blocks,” Percy stated as he and Mark laughed. “We didn’t realize the men who had leased our barn were rustlers. But Father sure put up a good fight when they tried to take the stolen herd off our property.”
“Really, Father?” Mabra asked, excitement shining in her eyes.
“Well… I learned my lesson from that ruffian, I’ll leave fighting the outlaws to those who wear the badge,” Mr. Bullock stated as he raised his cup of coffee towards Mark.
“Come on Mr. Bullock, don’t you think you’re quite the game chicken?” Mark asked with a twinkle in his eye. Remembering first the language barrier he encountered with Percy.
“Yes, quite the Game Cock, Mark! I’ll leave that to you.”
The following morning, Hope woke to feeling sick. She ran to the kitchen and threw up in the sink.
Mark came in from feeding the livestock and witnessed Hope’s illness.
“Hope? What’s wrong?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know. I just feel… sick to my stomach and it hurts.” she ran back to the sink and heaved again. After rinsing her mouth out she asked, “Is anyone else sick?”
“No, I just saw Pa and Ma.”
“Mark, while I get dressed, would you take the boys to Ma and ask her to watch them while you take me to Doc Burrage’s?”
After anxiously sitting and worrying for what seemed like forever, Abigail finally came out to ask Mark to come back to the examination room.
As he entered the room, Mark saw Hope buttoning the back of her dress. He walked over and said, “Let me do that.” Once done, he turned to Doc and asked, “Doc? Is she going to be okay? What’s wrong?”
“Mark, seems your wife is pregnant.”
Taken back a little, Mark replied, “But we haven’t… not since we lost the baby.” He looked from Thadd to Hope.
“Mark, it seems that Hope was carrying twins, again. She only lost one of them a few weeks back. She’s still carrying one baby in her womb.”
“We’re still going to have a baby?” Hope asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry I didn’t think to examine you for twins when you miscarried. But one set of twins doesn’t necessarily mean other pregnancies will produce twins. But in your case, I’ll just have to remember in any future pregnancies that you could very well conceive twins.”
Mark pulled Hope into his arms and they cried happy tears.
Before leaving, Mark asked, “Doc, would you please not say anything to anyone about this? Just not yet? I want to make sure everything is really okay, before we let our families know.”
Thadd looked at Mark and Hope, then nodded.
Seth arrived as Hope and Mark were exiting the clinic.
“Is everything all right?” Seth asked. “Hattie told me she saw you to come to Doc’s.”
“Yes. I wasn’t feeling too well this morning. It’s been a month since...,” Hope quieted as her father hugged her.
Mark pulled the team up in front of the barn and helped Hope down. Lucas and Milly ran out to greet them, worried about what was wrong with Hope, but stopped short when they saw the looks on both their faces.
Seeing the looks on Milly and Lucas’ faces, Hope called. “There’s nothing to worry about. Thadd stated it was to be expected after...”
Lucas and Milly let the matter drop, knowing that Mark and Hope had accepted what had happened, but they were still saddened. After collecting the twins, they then returned to their home.
“Mark, should we really do this? I mean keeping this a secret, from our parents?” Hope asked as she placed her hands over her stomach and looked at her hands.
“I really want to make sure everything is progressing okay with this baby before we let anyone know that you’re still pregnant. It’s only until Thanksgiving. I’ll stop by and ask Thadd to schedule you an appointment right before Thanksgiving. Besides, if everything is really okay, by then you’ll definitely be showing a little,” Mark stated as he stood behind and wrapped his arms around Hope and rested his hands over hers, on her belly.
Thanksgiving arrived and the families, McCain, Gibbs, Torrance, Drako, and Lane, showed up at the hotel that morning. As was usual, the men arranged the dining room, while the women cooked. By late afternoon, the food was set on the tables and the families gathered around.
Lucas stood to say the blessing, followed by everyone saying, Amen.
“What I have to be thankful for,” Lucas started. “Is that we have such wonderful friends to be a part of our family. This year has been difficult, but you’ve all been there to support us and help us through it. I thank God that he brought each and every one of you into our lives.”
Lucas looked Johnny Gibbs to ask him to be next, but an unsure Johnny looked to Mark and Hope and then back to Lucas. Mark knew what his uncle wished to declare that they had to be thankful for, but was hesitant, knowing the heartache that he and Hope had recently experienced.
“Pa, if I could?” Mark asked as he took Hope’s hand in his. “I know a number of you might be hesitant to say you’re thankful for your children being born this past year, or in Seth’s case expecting a grandchild, because of Hope and me.” He looked around the room and saw members of their family nod. “Hope and I have a secret we want to share with you. And I think it will make everyone feel a little better.” Mark looked to Hope and he nodded.
Hope dropped Mark’s hand, then turned and looked to Milly, she pulled her dress a little tighter around her waist and picked up Milly’s hand and placed it on her stomach. “You’re still going to be a Grandma again,” Hope declared. As she turned around, everyone could see the evidence of the pregnancy.
“But?” Milly asked.
“Remember when I had Mark take me to Doc Burrage’s earlier this month?”
“Thadd confirmed it. Seems I had been carrying twins, again. I only lost one of the babies when I fell.”
“Mark, why keep it a secret?” Lucas asked.
“We wanted to make sure the baby was growing as it should and then we wanted to surprise everyone today.”
“That explains why you’ve been so anxious to get home after standing your watch in town.” Johnny Drako stated with a smile, and received a jab in the ribs from Lou, and she declared, “Johnny Drako!” letting her Irish brogue shine through, yet she smiled, understanding the reference.
“Twins, again? Eh, boy?” Johnny Gibbs asked. And he received a jab in the ribs from Colleen as she declared, “Johnny, that’s totally uncalled for!”
But as everyone looked to Mark he said, “Yeah that was a little unsettling. But Thadd has assured us that Hope’s only carrying the one baby.”
“This time,” Micah stated with a gleam in his eyes. “And woman, don’t you dare jab me in the ribs!” he declared to Hattie. “I’m too old for that.” He wrapped his arm around Hattie’s waist and pulled her towards him.
“Father,” Hope stated, as she walked towards him and placed both her hands in his. “I’m sorry we didn’t tell you the truth either. It’s just that, having lost the one, we wanted to make sure everything was as it should be with this one. We didn’t know I was carrying twins when I miscarried.”
“I can understand your reluctance to get let us know. Congratulations!” Seth kissed his daughter on the cheek.
The women gathered around Hope and there were many squeals of delight to be heard. The men gathered around Mark, shaking his hand or thumping him on the back.
After a few minutes, Lucas called everyone back to the matter at hand. This time, no one had any difficulties in declaring what their families had to be thankful for and then everyone took their seats and enjoyed the meal and the day.
An unseasonably cold winter arrived in North Fork. Lucas and Mark were glad they both had prepared well in advance. They were thankful they had moved their cattle to areas where canyons would provide shelter from the elements and foraging for food would be easier. When the temperatures really started to drop, they worked harder to make the barn and the chicken coop as insulated as possible, by hanging blankets over the windows and doors. Both had worked hard to ensure their wood boxes in their homes and the wood shed were well filled. Their meat storage room was well stocked and over the fall, their wives had put up vegetables from their garden. In an effort to reduce the amount of wood consumed to keep their homes warm, the children’s beds were moved into their parents’ bedrooms.
Mark had been the only one to routinely make his way into North Fork, to stand his watch at the Marshal’s Office. If anything was needed at the ranch or needed taking into town, Mark took care of it. Hope made sure he was well bundled for the trips to town and insisted on Mark using a blanket over Copper’s back and haunches to help keep him warm.
Seth received a wire that Annie had given birth to a boy, Seth Edward Lane on December 8th. Mark inform Hope and his parents of the birth of Ethan and Annie’s son, when he returned to the ranch.
The families quietly had a birthday celebration for Hope and Mark, and celebrated Lucas and Milly’s wedding anniversary, Christmas, and finally Myra’s birthday.
The cold winter finally gave way to spring and the McCain families planned to make their first trip into town in months. Most of that March afternoon was spent catching up on gossip and events that had happened in town and at the other ranches, seems most all the outlying ranchers and their families and hands had come to town. Some shopping was done, but only in between conversations. The McCain, Gibbs, Drako, Lane, and Torrance families ate supper at the restaurant; it seems everyone was amazed at just how much all the children had grown over the winter.
Next Step —
Requiem for Spring