The Next Step…
Chapter 78 -
Written by Deanne Bertram
The temperature during the middle
of November turned colder; much quicker than recent winters. With the
arrival of the cold temperatures, sickness started to creep into North
Fork. At first it was just sniffles and coughs, but it eventually turned
into worse, with fevers and chest congestion. Doc Thadd declared the
illness not to be the ‘run of the mill’ cold, but a strain of influenza. As
more and more citizens took ill, North Fork became a ghost town and Thadd
enlisted the help of Johnny, Mark, and Seth to take medication from town to
the outlying ranches, checking in on those who didn’t get to town much and
if someone were sick to get work back to the clinic. Doc Burrage made the
recommendation to the town council to close the schools. Stevan Griswald
and Percy Bullock were against it at first, noting the children needed a
proper education. But once it was explained to them how contagious the
illness was, the teachers agreed. During the meeting Reverend McCafferty
asked if it might also be prudent to cancel church services.
“Reverend, it wouldn’t be a bad
idea. Actually, I was going to ask if we could use the church as a second
clinic, for those not so serious cases, but bad enough that I want the
person in town. I’m full up at the clinic and I want to get the sick people
way from those who are still healthy.”
While the town council worked to
convert the church into a second clinic, Mark made the rounds after it was
decided he would inform all the families that school and church services
were canceled until further notice.
Mark bundled his collar against the
cold wind that blew as he rode from home to home and ranch to ranch. As he
left each home he wrote in his notepad the names of those who had come down
ill, to make a report to Doc.
That night, an exhausted Mark
returned to his home to take care of the animals in his barn. As he stepped
to the porch he saw Hope walk across the front room and open the door.
Mark asked, “Are the children
already in bed?”
“Yes, they said they’d try to stay
awake for you to kiss them goodnight.”
“I’m going to have to disappoint
them. The town council met with Doc Burrage today and was informed just how
bad this illness is. School is canceled, as well as church services, until
“You look tired,” Hope commented.
“I am, I’ve been riding all over
the country side informing everyone, and making notes of who was sick.
Hope, I don’t want to expose the children in case I’ve been exposed. And
I’d prefer if you were to go to bed, I’ll be sleeping on a cot in the front
room until we’re sure that I’ve not been exposed.”
“Please, let’s not argue about
Hope nodded and returned to their
The following morning, Hope woke to
find Mark was already gone.
Several days later, Lucas returned
to the McCain Ranch, with Doc Thadd, who after examining Lucas and Milly’s
children, confirmed they had contracted a mild case of the illness.
“Myra must have brought the illness
home with her from school,” Thadd stated. “Before we closed it. It takes
time for the illness to manifest itself and show symptoms.”
What about Mark and Hope’s
children?” Milly asked as she stood at the stove, ready to take up supper
for the evening.
“I’ll check on them next.”
“Well Hope,” Thadd stated after
examining her four children, “your brood only seems to have colds.”
“What about Myra and the boys?”
“I’m quarantining them. They’ve a
mild form and it’s in the early stages, still, they can pass the illness.
So for the time being, no contact between the children.”
“I understand,” Hope replied.
“I’ll tell Lucas and Milly that
their grandchildren will be alright.”
Mark arrived home after dark, to
see Doc Burrage stepping into his buggy.
“Doc?!” Mark called.
“It’s alright Mark. I think we’ve
caught it in time. Your sister and brothers have a mild case and I’ve given
them the medication as well as left instructions. As for your children, I’m
sure they just have the everyday run of the mill, cold. However, I do
recommend the two families staying apart until the children get healthy.”
“Thanks, Doc!” Lucas called from
the porch as he waved goodbye.
“Thanks, Doc,” Mark stated as he
wearily sat in the saddle. “I’ll see you early tomorrow.”
“Rest easy, Mark!” Thadd called as
he rein slapped the horse and returned to North Fork.
Thadd got little sleep over the
following days, as he was called to various homes and ranches to tend to the
sick. He pulled a cot into his office to catch a nap whenever he could.
As night fell, Thadd and Abigail
were feverishly tending to their patient, they could hear the congestion
deep in his lungs as he struggled to breath. They kept the room exceedingly
warm to keep him from getting the chills, from the sweat that poured
profusely from his body. After making their patient as comfortable as
possible, they stepped from the room,
“Thadd, his fever is so high…
Nothing we’re doing seems to matter,” Abigail stated with frustration in her
“We have to keep doing what we’ve
been doing. You know that the very young and the very old are most
susceptible to the illness becoming so much more severe.”
“But Thadd, how can you be so
calm?” Abigail asked, her voice fraught with emotion.
“Because if I don’t stay calm and
in control of my emotions, I’m no good as a physician.”
From the other side of the door,
they heard the raspy voice call for them.
“Coming Uncle,” Thadd stated as he
reaffirmed his resolve and re-entered the room. “Is there anything I can do
“No. We both know, I’m not long
for this world,” Jay Burrage struggled to say.
“Don’t talk that way, Uncle!”
Abigail was alarmed.
“Dear Abigail… You and your
children have made my final years a blessing… Thank you for sharing…” A
coughing fit struck Jay as he tried to speak and to clear his throat.
“Abigail, the laudanum,” Thadd
called. “Here Uncle, drink this.” Thadd held a laudanum laced glass of
water to his uncle’s mouth and held his head up, so he could drink. The
illness had him so weak he could barely hold his head up on his own.
Abigail changed the wet rag over
his forehead, as Thadd laid his uncle back down to the pillows.
“Thank you. You’ve made an old man
happy. Watching your children grow… I wasn’t looking forward to retiring
all those years ago… But knowing Thadd agreed to come and then meeting
you…” Jay stated. “I’ll leave the two of you to take care of… My town and
The laudanum started to take effect
as Jay closed his eyes, blissfully sleeping.
During the night, Oat Jackford came
knocking at the door, “Doc, I’m sorry, but one of my ranch hands sounds
“No need to apologize, I’ve gotten
used to late night calls.”
“Thadd?” Abigail called from the
top of the stairs.
“I’ll be back, one of Oat’s hands
has taken sick.”
“Doc, I hope you don’t mind, but I
brought one of my horses for you to ride. It’ll be quicker to get back to
the ranch instead of waiting for you to harness and hitch your horse.”
“No, problem. Let’s go.”
Thadd returned home shortly after
daybreak. As he closed the front door behind him, he heard Abigail calling
his name from the top of the stairs.
“Thadd, it’s Jay!”
Taking two steps at a time, Thadd
ran to his Uncle’s bedroom. From the moment he entered the room, he heard
his uncle struggling harder to breath. Thadd pulled out his stethoscope and
placed it to his uncle’s chest.
“It’s the congestion, it’s even
worse than it was last night.” Thadd attempted to wake his uncle to give
him medicine in an effort to relieve the congestion, but Jay wouldn’t wake
and in a short time, his struggling stopped. A look of peace came over his
aged face. Thadd placed his stethoscope to Jay’s chest and closed his eyes
as he cried at his uncle’s passing.
Abigail wrapped her arms around her
husband and cried, too.
As Mark and Seth delivered
medication to those who were sick at the outlying ranches, they also spread
the news that Doc Jay Burrage had passed. The following morning, those who
were healthy enough, attended his funeral service. Throughout the service,
a number of people recounted stories of Jay’s selflessness, when it came to
taking care of someone else’s family.
Thadd knew that a number of the
people in attendance had gotten up from their sickbeds in an effort to honor
the memory of their doctor and friend. They tried to hide their symptoms,
stating they were choked up, but a doctor can see through a patient’s lies.
Especially when he’d been to most of the homes to tend to the people.
Lucas and Mark attended the
funeral, but wouldn’t let anyone else from their family come, as a
precaution. No need bringing Myra out into this weather, with her being the
“It’s gonna feel strange not having
Old Doc Burrage around,” Mark stated as they quietly rode for home.
“I know what you mean,” Lucas
“I mean all the times he patched
you up and Micah up.” Mark started to feel melancholy as they continued to
“He patched you up a few times. He
was a good doctor. He’ll be missed, but it’s not like North Fork doesn’t
have a doctor.”
“I know Pa, just that… Even though
he retired, he’s still been a friend and a member of the town. I mean he
was there to help Ma give birth to Little Ted… and other times he stepped up
to help Thadd out.”
“He’ll be missed, son. He’ll be
They were close to home when Lucas
turned his head at hearing Mark coughing.
“You all right?”
“Yeah, just choked up a little from
the services and remembering.”
Lucas entered his home to find Gwen
in the kitchen setting the mid-day meal on the tray to take to his children.
“Gwen, what are you doing here?”
“Milly came over shortly after you
and Mark left, said she wasn’t feeling well. She’s in bed. Mr. McCain, I
think you best go for the doctor.”
Lucas stopped at his bedroom door
when he heard his wife coughing on the other side.
“How long has she been coughing
like that, she wasn’t last night?”
“Ever since I’ve been over here, it
comes and goes in fits.”
Lucas raced Blade back to town,
calling for the doc as he entered the clinic.
“Lucas, what’s wrong?” Abigail
asked as she came from one of the rooms.
“It’s Milly, she’s taken sick.”
“I’ll let Thadd know. He’ll meet
you at the livery, I think Nils has a horse or two saddled and waiting for
“I’ll go get it.”
“Lucas, I want Milly in town. How
long as she been sick?” Thadd asked as he placed his instruments back in his
“I thought she was fine last
night. I returned from services today and Gwen said she’s been coughing
like this all morning.”
“She’s hid her symptoms well. Damn
it! Lucas, hitch your team and bed the buckboard deep with straw, I’ll
gather as many blankets from the house as I can.”
“Lucas I won’t lie, she should have
been seen days ago. Abigail and I’ll need to keep a close eye on her to get
her through this.”
Mark followed his father into the
barn. “Pa, I’m sorry, I feel asleep in my chair. What can I do?”
“I have to get Milly to town, Doc
says she’s real sick.”
Without any further discussion,
father and son worked to harness and hitch the team and make the buckboard
as comfortable as possible.
Mark stood on the porch and watched
as his parents and Doc Burrage rode away. Before returning to his home, a
coughing fit struck Mark.
After seeing Milly comfortably in
one of the rooms at the clinic Thad stated, “Lucas, your children need you
back at the ranch. It won’t do you any good to stay here. I’ll send word
daily, with Mark. Now go home. Your children don’t need both their parents
The train arrived and one woman
stepped to the platform. “Ma’am are you sure you’re wanta get off here?” the
“I hope so. I truly hope so.” The
woman picked up her bags and walked to the hotel. Passing through the empty
streets of North Fork, she started to think that maybe she had been wrong in
Lou greeted the woman as she
entered the lobby of the hotel, “Good Day, will ye be needing a room?”
“Yes please. Is it always this
quiet around here? I thought by the description, your town would be a
little more ‘livelier’,” the woman stated as she signed into the registered.
Lou looked at the book, Delilah
Stovers, Laramie, Wyoming. “Well, Miss Stovers, usually there is a lot more
hustle and bustle around these here parts, but ye’ve come at a pretty
inopportune time. There’s a sickness in this town and the schools and
church are closed up and without people coming and going, most businesses
are closed too. The only business that’s a bustling is the clinic.”
“Are they shorthanded, I used to be
a mid-wife and I can help, if needed.”
“Oh, I’m sure they could use yer
help. I’ll see ye to yer room upstairs, give ye a chance to freshen up…Miss
“Please call me Lilah. And if this
town needs help with people knowing medical stuff, I can rest later. Just
let me put my bags in my room.”
“Alright,” Lou replied as she led
Lilah up the stairs. Once Lilah’s bags were in her room, she followed Lou
back downstairs and to the clinic.
“Thadd…, Abigail…., Sarah!” Lou
called as she entered the clinic.
Sarah came from one of the rooms,
“They’re both out of town. I don’t know when they’ll be back.”
“Sarah, I’d like you to meet Lilah,
she used to be a mid-wife and says if ye need help, she’d be willing to help
“Oh, Miss Lilah, I could really use
your help. There’s just too many here sick and I can’t…”
“Are you a nurse?”
“Yes Ma’am, I graduated this
summer, but training doesn’t prepare you for this many sick people.”
“Sarah, why don’t you take me to
see a few of your patients.”
“I’ve got to return to the hotel to
fix some lunch for those who can eat. I’ll return later.”
Neither Sarah or Lilah heard Lou
“I think I need the most help with
this patient, her name is Milly. She took sick three days ago, well, she
came in sick three days ago, Doc Burrage thinks she was hiding her illness
from her family so she could take care of her children.”
Lilah removed her coat and laid it
across the back of the chair in the corner. “She’s so flushed looking.”
“She’s running a high fever and I
can’t catch her waking with all the other patients I have and when she
wakes, I need to get her to take the medication.”
“I can sit with her and change out
the wet cloth on her forehead,” Lilah offered.
“Thank you. You don’t know how
much I appreciate your help.”
Lilah filled the water basin with
fresh water and set it on the night stand. She pulled the chair close to
the bed and proceeded to wipe away the sweat from Milly’s face, neck, and
“Lucas...” Lilah heard her call.
“Hush now. I’m sure your husband
is back home taking care of your children. I’ll be right here with you,
until you get better.”
Sunday before Thanksgiving, Hope
woke to feeling fevered and sicker than she had the past few days. But as
she had throughout the outbreak, Hope pulled herself out of bed to tend to
her family. As she entered the front room, Gwen already had breakfast
started and the boys were sitting at the table, drawing. The smell of the
bacon frying assaulted Hope’s senses, turning her stomach. The smell was
more than she could stand, she ran to the sink in an effort to relieve her
stomach of its empty contents. The dry heaving wouldn’t stop.
“Hope?!” Gwen turned and tried to
help Hope as she fell to the floor, clutching to her midsection, sweat
pouring from her body. “Josh, Zach, go get your Papa from the barn!”
“Whoa, there, what are you two
doing out here and without your coats?!” An appalled Mark ran to his boys
and picked them up.
“Gwen sent us, it’s Mama!” they
Carrying both boys, Mark ran as
fast as he could back to his home. As he entered he called, “Gwen what
happened?” The effort of running, threw Mark into a ragged, coughing fit.
“She woke, came out here, and tried
to throw up in the sink. Nothing came up. She just now stopped the dry
“Get her bundled and then keep the
boys inside, I’m gonna hitch the team and take her to town,” Mark stated as
another coughing fit struck.
“But Mark, you’re sick yourself!”
Gwen declared, seeing the beads of perspiration on Mark’s forehead.
“I’m well enough to get her to
Mark didn’t know if the tears
falling from his eyes were from his own illness, but he knew a lot of his
tears were from the worrying he was doing over Hope as he hitched the team.
Once Hope was bundled up, Mark carried her outside, reprimanding her for her
“No! I’m taking you to town! You
need to see Doc Burrage.”
Mark had piled a few bales of hay
into the back of the buckboard to act as a wind block to protect Hope from
the temperatures and he broke a few open to comfort her from the jostling
that would happen as they traveled to town. Mark pulled the collar of his
jacket tighter around his neck as he sat in the seat. He reached to pick up
the reins, when another coughing fit struck, once his cough subsided, he
drove the team as fast as he dared in an effort to get Hope into town. He
pulled the team to a halt in front of the clinic, jumped from his seat, and
carried his wife into the clinic, coughing as he did so.
“Hope, what are your symptoms?”
Thadd asked, but before she could answer, Hope rushed to the sick and again
tried to relieve her stomach of its empty contents.
“Doc, she’s not eaten much over the
past few days, and Gwen said when she heaves, nothing comes up, and she
running a temperature and by the afternoon she gets the shivers” Mark
answered as he helped Hope back up on the examination table.
“Okay, Mark outside. Let me
examine Hope. If you see Sarah, have her listen to your lungs,” Thadd
“I’m okay, Doc,” Mark stated, but a
coughing fit forced itself upon Mark.
“No, you’re not. I hear the rattle
in your lungs from here.”
“It’s just worry.”
“If you wanted to diagnose
yourself, you should have become a doctor and not a marshal. Now do as I
say. Abigail,” Thadd called as his wife stepped through the doorway, “Have
Sarah tend to Mark and then you come back in here and help me with Hope.”
Mark continued to protest as
Abigail led him to the hallway, only to see Seth come in.
“Deputy,” Abigail called. “I want
you to place this hoodlum under house arrest for harassing my husband and
not doing as told.”
“Where should I place him under
house arrest?” Seth asked. He was concerned when he saw Mark carrying Hope
inside, but then he saw the paleness in Mark’s face and heard him go into a
“In the examination room, two doors
down. I’m going to find Sarah and have her tend to him.”
“Food poisoning!” Doc declared.
“But no one else is sick like
this? How can I be si…”
“I milked the cow and forgot to put
it in the cold box… The next morning, I was really thirsty and I drank
“That can do it, have you eaten
anything since then?”
“Not really, I didn’t feel hungry,
was feeling nauseated.”
“Food poisoning can do that. I’ll
have Abigail fill a prescription to help get you over this.” Looking to
Hope, Thadd continued, “You don’t look relieved that I didn’t diagnose
“Actually, it’s not that you didn’t
diagnose influenza, but I was hoping it was something other than food
Understanding what Hope was
thinking was wrong, “Be thankful that you’re not.”
“If you were pregnant you’d be
quarantined from your husband.”
“But what about Mark?”
“I presume in delivering the
medicines for me, he’s been exposed to the illness and I’ve been too busy to
see it and if he’s not been resting enough while trying to help me, and look
after this town, in addition to his obligations at home… I’m sorry Hope, I
should be been more observant. But I won’t confirm he’s contracted it until
I’ve had a chance to talk with Sarah and to examine him for myself. In the
mean time,” Thadd turned to his wife, “Abigail, fill a prescription to help
Hope through her sickness. You might have a small bit of a cold, too. But
it’s not influenza, least not yet. But in your condition, how are the
“They’re getting over their colds
and they’ve not been over to Pa’s since you were out.”
“Okay, If Mark is sick with
“Then he’ll come home so I can take
care of him,” Hope stated, matter-of-factly.
“No! If Mark has influenza, I’ll
keep him here in town so I can keep an eye on him. Like mother like son,
you McCain’s sure are stubborn, both of them should have been in this clinic
long before they were. I’ll quarantine him here, I’ll put him in the same
room as Milly. Hope, please, influenza is nothing to take lightly. Sending
Mark home would expose you unnecessarily.”
Arguing voices could be heard on
the other side of the closed door, ‘But my wife!”
“You’re not going anywhere unless
Doc says so. You are under ‘clinic arrest’ until I hear otherwise. I’m
going to guard the door so don’t think on sneaking out of here.”
Seth left the room, closing the
door behind him. As he turned he bumped into a woman carrying a tray. Seth
quickly reached to steady the tray so its contents wouldn’t fall to the
“Lilah!” Seth exclaimed. “What,
“Good day to you too, Seth. If you
don’t mind, I need to get these to my patient.”
Seth took the tray and followed
Lilah into the room and set it down on the table in the room.
“How’s Milly doing?” Seth asked.
“She’s doing better. I’ve been
able to get her to take her medication. I’m in here pretty much all day
long and can catch her when she starts to wake. Do you have a prisoner in
the other room?”
“No, in fact, it’s Milly’s son, my
son-in-law who’s in the other room,” Seth answered.
“Your son-in… Then Milly is Milly
“Yes, they’re my family.”
“I didn’t know. Sarah said she
needed help and that Milly was the worst off, so I just been helping.”
“How long have you been here?”
“About three days now.”
“Why’d you come?” Seth asked.
“Because I saw the look on your
face, you appeared to be disappointed when I couldn’t stay to meet your
“And you came all the way back
here…, just to meet my grandchildren?”
“That’s part of the reason. Seth,
I need to tend to Milly, I’m really sorry.”
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee
“I’d like that,” Lilah answered as
she measured out the medication from the bottle and stirred it into a glass
Seth stepped from the room with a
smug smile on his face, until he realized the argument that was happening
behind the other door. Without knocking, Seth entered.
“Well Doc?” Seth asked.
“He’s not leaving here. He’s not
as bad as Milly was, but if left untreated, he will be.”
“I’ve a town and a family…” cough…
“Yes, and if you still want to be a
marshal for this town, a husband to your wife, and a father to your
children… YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!” Thadd slammed his hands down on the
table. “Mark, I’ve lost too many patients because people aren’t taking this
illness serious enough. Right now you could go either way, get well or get
“Mark, for Hope and your children…”
Seth stated. “Do as the doctor orders.”
Mark agreed, but they could see in
his eyes that he wasn’t happy about it.
“Mark, I don’t have a lot of room
and I think, I’ll put you in the same room as your ma,” Thadd stated. “I’ll
put a partition in the room, to give both of you some privacy, but when
you’re up to it, I think Milly would enjoy hearing you read from the bible.”
“Yes sir,” Mark stated as he
followed Thadd down the hallway. They entered the room where Milly slept.
“What about Hope?” he asked as he removed his boots. The exertion sent Mark
into another round of coughing.
“She doesn’t have influenza. Just
food poisoning.” Looking over his shoulder, Thadd continued, “I’m sure her
father won’t mind seeing her back to the ranch.”
“Your Ma’s recovering. There’s a
mid-wife who was traveling through town, she offered to help. She’s pretty
much not left Milly alone. I’m sure she’ll be back soon. In the meantime,
to bed with you!”
Mark had almost fallen asleep when
he heard the door open and a brief gasp.
“Hello?” Mark quietly called.
“I didn’t know that they had put
another person in here with Milly.”
Mark stood from his bed and came
around the partition.
Lilah continued, “I’ll give the
doctor a piece of my mind, putting a man in the same room as a married woman
“Please, wait a minute!” Mark
called and doubled over in a coughing fit.
“You get back to bed,” Lilah
ordered as she came to make sure her newest patient returned to bed. “I’m
sorry, I didn’t mean to set you to coughing.”
Mark tried hard to control his
“My name’s Lilah Stovers. And
you’d be?” she asked when Mark’s cough subsided.
Mark whispered, “She’s my Ma.”
“Then you’d be Mark! Hope’s
husband,” Lilah declared.
“Well, I’m pretty sure you need
your rest so wait a minute and I’ll get you a dose of medication.”
With as raw as Mark’s throat had
become from the bouts of coughing, he was grateful for the water, even if it
was laced with medication to make him sleep.
Two days later, Lilah stood from
her chair as she heard a knock on the door and walked over and opened it,
“I’m Lucas McCain and my wife and
“Please come in,” Lilah offered as
she opened the door wide.
Lucas removed his hat as he entered
the room. A smile crossed his face when he saw Milly’s eyes open at the
sound of his voice. He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed and took
his wife’s hand in his.
“Don’t you EVER do that again,”
Lucas warned. “Milly, you should have told me the moment you felt you were
coming down sick.”
“I’m sorry, I hoped it was just a
cold,” Milly whispered and lowered her eyes.
“With three children having
influenza and you thought you only had a cold. I want to scold you so bad,
but my heart won’t let me. I’m just so thankful that you’re going to be
alright. I talked with Thadd and he said in two or three days, he’d let you
“I can’t wait.”
Hearing ragged coughing coming from
the other side of the partition, Milly asked, “Who’s over there?”
Lilah stood next to Lucas and
answered, “Someone who’s just as stubborn as you appear to be. I’d say it
runs in the family. Give him a couple more days and he’ll be over the worst
of the illness and should be on his way home to your grandchildren.”
“Mark?! Mark took sick?”
“Who are you?” Milly asked.
“I’ve been the one sitting up with
you while you were going through the worst of this, you and your boy. The
name’s Delilah Stovers, but my friends call me Lilah.
“Lilah, I’d like to thank you for
watching my family,” Lucas stated as he extended his hand to Lilah.
“Ain’t no need to thank me. Just
“Lucas, how are the children?”
“They’re all recovered. They did
as the doctor told them.”
Trying to change the subject, Milly
turned to Lilah and asked, “Do you have family here?” A brief cough escaped
“Here now, you stop talking.”
Lilah handed Lucas a glass of water to give to Milly. “No family, but a
The three turned their heads
towards the door when they heard someone else knock and the door opened for
all to see Seth poke his head inside, “Lilah, are you ready?” Seth asked.
“Just a few minutes. I just want
to check on Mark one more time.”
“Go on, Lilah. Enjoy your evening
with Seth. I’ll look after my family while you’re out.”
“Go!” Lucas ordered with his easy
“Lilah, don’t argue with him,” Seth
stated. “He’s got the law on his side.”
“Aren’t you on my side?” Lilah
“Yes, and that’s why I want you to
do as he says. Come on!”
Once the door had closed, Lucas
looked to Milly and both laughed.
“I can’t believe it. Seth seeing a
“What’s not to believe. People can
fall in love at any age?” Another brief cough forced itself from Milly.
“Would you like some more water?”
After setting the glass to the
table, Lucas replied, “What I meant was, I wonder how serious it is?”
“That’s between two consenting
Lucas stepped around the partition
and looked down at his son, lying on the cot. He placed his hand to Mark’s
forehead and saw his son’s eyes open.
“Good evening, son.”
“Pa, is Ma?”
“She’s fine. And I’ll tell you
what I just told her, if you EVER hide an illness from me again.”
“I didn’t hide it Pa, we were just
so short-handed with Johnny still not back to duty and then with Doc telling
us to keep our families separated… And me riding all over…” cough, cough.
“Here, let me get you some water.”
Lucas returned and handed the
medicated glass of water to Mark.
“I won’t scold you while you’re in
your sickbed, the next time, tell someone you’re not feeling up to doing so
Seth escorted Lilah to the hotel
restaurant. As they walked the boardwalk, they noticed that life was
returning to normal along the streets of North Fork as the worst of the
influenza outbreak was over. People were walking the town again.
They sat in the restaurant and
talked over coffee, “So Milly and Mark were the last of the worst?” Seth
“Yes, most everyone else has
already been discharged or will be real soon.”
“Lucas said two or three more
“There’s no one left at the church
and I think Doc’s going to release the last other patient tomorrow.”
“How many did he lose?” Seth asked.
“In addition to his uncle, there
were two other adults and three children.”
A mournful silence hung between the
two, until Lou, with her bright Irish brogue, stopped by the table. “Can I
refill yer cups?” she asked.
“I hear Milly and Mark are doing
nicely, thanks to your nursing abilities, Lilah,” Lou offered.
“Weren’t really nothing I did,
‘cept being there when they woke so they could get their medication,” Lilah
tried to play down any part that she had during the outbreak.
“Still, a friend is what ye’ve
become to me. The McCain’s mean a great to this town and ye spared them
from suffering any more grief. If ye’d like to have something to eat, just
let me know. The meal will be on the house.”
“I couldn’t,” Lilah declared.
“Lou doesn’t take no for an answer,
once she’s offered,” Seth said as he smiled at his companion.
Lucas halted the team in front of
the clinic. He picked up the two bags and a long coat from behind the seat
before, he stepped down and walked into the clinic.
“Mr. McCain, Miss Milly’s waiting
for you in room two,” Sarah stated when she saw him enter.
“What about Mark? …Oh,” Lucas
answered when he heard the argument coming from room five. Lucas shook his
head as he entered room two to see Milly sitting in the chair by the window,
legs drawn up under her robe, reading from the bible. Her long hair
cascaded down her shoulders, framing her face perfectly.
“Are you ready to go home to your
children, Mrs. McCain?” Lucas asked.
“Yes, I am. But what about my
husband?” Milly teased. “Will he be there?”
“I think he’ll be right by your
side. Hope packed some clothes for the trip home.”
Milly stood and took the bag from
Lucas’ hands and walked behind the partition to dress in ‘real’ clothes for
the first time in eight days.
“Who’s arguing down the hallway?”
Milly asked as she stepped back from the partition and into Lucas’ arms.
“Our son and his doctor. Sounds
like he’s as ready to go home as I am to get you home.”
“Why don’t you go save the town’s
doctor from our son,” Milly stated as she pushed Lucas to the door.
“You sit in that chair and don’t
move, until I return.”
Lucas walked down the hallway and
knocked on the door to room five, “Doc?” he called as he opened the door.
“Just the man I want to see. I’m
releasing Mark to your custody today. I really want to keep him here one or
two more days, but I can’t stand to listen to a grown man complaining.”
“I’m not complaining, I’m just
stating that I have responsibilities…”
“Your release comes with
conditions. No work for a week. Jake McCafferty has agreed, to take care of
the horses at your place, as he has since you took sick, and as usual, he’ll
help your father check on the cattle. Lucas, if he lifts one finger to work
around the ranch or tries to ride into town, without your approval, I’ll…
I’ll… I’ll send Seth out to arrest him and… and… handcuff him to his chair!”
“Doc, I’m sure that Hope will see
that Mark serves out the rest of his ‘sentence’ while recuperating.”
“None of that or I’ll start
treating you like the age you’re behaving…” Lucas raised his eyebrows.
“Here, Hope packed a bag of clothes
for you too. When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting for you in Milly’s room.
Lucas helped Milly climb up into
the seat of the buckboard and wrapped another blanket around her, “Lucas,
this isn’t necessary!”
“Watch it Ma,” Mark called as he
climbed into the back of the buckboard, “Else he’ll threaten you with being
handcuffed to your chair.”
“You wouldn’t!” Milly declared as
she watched Lucas climb into the seat next to her.
“Try me!” Lucas dared as he rein
slapped the team to head home.
Their children eagerly greeted them
once Lucas carried Milly over the threshold into their home. Milly took all
three of her children into her arms and gave them a big hug. Before Lucas
could help her off with her coat, Milly had placed her hand to each child’s
forehead to make sure there was no fever.
“Doc declared them healthy five
days ago,” Gwen stated.
“Our grandchildren?” Milly asked as
she looked to Lucas.
“Just wintertime colds. Here let
me get you out of that coat.” Once her coat was removed, Lucas encouraged
Milly to sit in her chair and placed a blanket over her legs. “You just
take it easy. Let me handle everything.”
Hope saw the buckboard come down
the road towards their home. She watched as Mark ran across the yard, she
heard him slightly coughing as he stepped to the porch.
“Mark McCain, you’re still sick!”
“Doc released me, so I’m well
enough,” Mark stated as he hurried inside, letting Hope close the door
behind him. He stood in front of the fireplace and took in the warmth.
“To bed with you!” Hope ordered.
“I’ve been in bed long e…” Mark
started to say, but after seeing Hope’s expression and both hands planted on
her hips, he gave in.
Hope finished placing the covers
over Mark, when a stampede entered their bedroom. Three rowdy boys ran
inside and jumped up on the bed. Mykaela toddled into the room and reached
her arms up, calling, “up, up”.
Hope reached down and picked their
“May I please see our daughter?”
Mark asked as he reached out his arms.
“Well, it is about time for
EVERYONE to take a nap,” Hope answered as she handed their daughter over.
“Okay, everyone under the covers, and I’ll wake you once you’ve had a nice
The boys eagerly climbed under the
blankets and giggled as they tried to settle down. But it had been too long
since they had seen their Papa and none of them felt like sleeping. After
listening to the noises behind the door, Hope finally had enough. She
opened the door, placed one hand on her hip, while the other remained on the
doorknob, and called each one by name, “Mark Warren McCain, Joshua Lucas
McCain, Zachariah James McCain, Elijah Paul McCain!”
“What about Emmy?” Mark asked as he
tried to keep a straight face.
Hope entered the room and took
their daughter. “You are impossible! Once I put Mykaela in her bed, I
better hear silence coming from this room, otherwise…..”
“Mama will make us sit in the
corner?” Zach asked.
“She’ll feed us bread and water!”
“Might taste pretty good. Okay!”
Mark answered and slid further under the covers and feigned sleeping, when
Hope pointed a scolding finger towards him and gave him a mean look, in
Hope left the door open to let the
‘boys’ of her family know she was serious. By the time she and put Mykaela
to bed and returned to the door, all four were readily asleep.
Milly woke when she rolled over and
tried to snuggle against Lucas, only to find he wasn’t in bed. She picked
up the clock from the nightstand to see it was just past two in the
morning. She stood and pulled on her robe and quietly opened the bedroom
door to the front room. The sight that greeted her, tore at her heart.
Lucas was on his knees in front of the fireplace, head down, she heard him
crying. Milly walked up behind Lucas and knelt beside him and saw him
clutching his bible.
“Lucas?” she quietly asked.
“I…” Lucas answered as he looked up
“What’s wrong?” Milly asked as she
took his face in her hands and wiped the tears from his eyes.
“I thought I was going to lose
“Lucas, I’m okay. I’m here beside
“Gwen helped me with the children,
but I couldn’t believe that this could happen again…”
“Again? …Lucas, please come back
Slowly Lucas stood and followed
Milly back to their bedroom. He took her in his arms as they laid next to
“Lucas, I guess I didn’t realize
how my taking sick would hurt you. I didn’t realize the illness could get
so bad, until Mark came home and told us Doc Jay had passed, by then…”
“I just feared I was going to lose
you, too. And I’d be left to raise the children on my own.”
“Lucas, I’m so sorry. Please…
Lucas nodded and held Milly
tighter, making sure she was truly in his arms.
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