The Next Step…
Chapter 29 – Settling In
Written by Deanne Bertram
It had been a week since the wedding when the McCain’s next returned to North Fork and Lucas stopped the buckboard in front of Miss Hattie’s. They worked to box up Hope’s belongings. Once they were in boxes, Hattie, Hope and Milly, with Myra, left to walk to the hotel and talk with Lou, while Mark and Lucas were left to load the boxes into the buckboard.
After talking for a while in the restaurant, Milly realized that Myra’s fussiness was because she needed to be fed. Lou escorted Milly to the kitchen where she could nurse Myra, in private. They continued to talk in the kitchen, where Milly asked Lou to please let her and Lucas pay something for the wonderful reception she hosted for Mark and Hope’s wedding.
“Milly, I’ll hear nothing of the sort. I wanted to do this for Mark, he and that husband of yours are still pretty special to me. It was my honor,” Lou stated.
“Lou, please. You hosted Mark’s graduation, a birthday party for him and Hope, and now their wedding reception, it’s just not right for you to do all this and not allow us to contribute,” Milly pleaded.
“Milly, there was once a time, when I dreamed that maybe Lucas and I… well, let’s just say that after Mark was paralyzed and the thought that I might have to finish raising him...”
“You and Lucas, and Mark, paralyzed?” Milly interrupted, shocked.
“Mark was fourteen. I’d been in town for probably six months when Lucas invited me out to go riding and I had forgotten my hat back at the ranch. You know Mark, any excuse to get out of doing his chores, well, he came galloping up on Blue Boy when the cinch on his saddle gave way and he took a really bad fall. At first, it appeared he was okay, but just as I arrived, his legs collapsed. Said he couldn’t feel ‘em.
“Milly, we traveled with Mark all the way down to Mission Springs, hoping the mineral bathes down there would relax the spasms of the nerves in his back and allow him to walk again. While we were down there, we encountered outlaws who had broken out of prison. That night, the temperature was dropping below freezing. We couldn’t build a fire and we were struggling to keep Mark awake, so he wouldn’t freeze to death. Lucas told me the only way out was for me to take the buckboard and Mark to safety, while he covered our trail. Milly, I realized how hard it was for him to tell me he wanted life for his son, at the expense of his own, if things didn’t go right. Milly, I’m a good Christian woman, but Lucas needed someone stronger of faith than I. I was, and still am, too quick to quote from my dearly departed father than the bible. Besides, between Margaret’s memory and his memory of you, I knew it would be best for us to be good friends. Now, Lucas never said anything except that you two were friends, but you know how some of the women of this town talk. Anyway, Lucas was the first real friend I had when I arrived in North Fork and that meant more to me than competing against the memories of women I didn’t know,” Lou stated.
“Lou, I knew that Lucas cared about me, it’s just that he never really said anything about a future, and then when Harry Chase came to town and said he knew my brother and told me of all the campaigns he had participated in during the War. And then Lucas showed me how gullible I was, all because of my brother’s memory. I thought I was falling in love with Harry, but it was more because he talked of my brother and I had never accepted my brother’s death. Having Harry there was like having Ted still alive. Lou, I couldn’t stay. I was too embarrassed for how I had treated Lucas. I also realized that I finally needed to face the fact that my brother was dead. Once I was back home, it just got easier to forget about North Fork and hide again,” Milly hesitated before continuing. “Then, when I saw the story in the newspaper of Lucas and Micah being killed. I knew I had to come back. Face what could have been, for Mark’s sake. Even if I had come back to find out Lucas had married…”
Myra had finished nursing when Lou took her from Milly, to allow Milly to button her blouse. Milly watched how Lou lovingly took Myra into her arms and saw a different look in Lou’s eyes.
“Milly, that cowboy loves you. And always has. We both know him to be the strong, silent type. Believe me, ever since you came back and more so since you two became husband and wife, I swear he’s grown taller. You’ve made him the happiest man in North Fork.”
“What about Johnny and you?” Milly asked, unbelieving that Lou would state that Lucas was the happiest man in North Fork.
The two returned to the dining room and joined Hope and Hattie again.
As they sat down, Milly again asked her question, “So, what about Johnny and you? Lou I can tell you’re bursting at the seams to tell us something. I saw the look in your eye when you were holding Myra…” Milly raise an eyebrow.
“Milly?!” Lou exclaimed with her brogue truly showing through.
“Don’t Milly me! Come on, out with it!”
“Milly, Johnny doesn’t even know yet. I just found out this morning.” Lou stated and she ran her hand over her stomach. “Guess you were right, I will be bursting at the seams, at least with these dresses. Hope, Hattie, Milly’s right, I found out this morning, I’m with child!”
The ladies squealed and chatted away happily.
Lucas and Mark entered the Marshal’s Office to be greeted by Micah and Johnny.
“Well deputy, didn’t think I’d see you back in North Fork quite so soon. Honeymoon over so quickly? Married life not all you thought it would be?” Johnny asked, with a smirk on his face. Lucas raised an eyebrow towards Johnny.
“Actually, no its not,” Mark replied, pleased that his response wiped the smirk off Johnny’s face. “It’s more!” Mark smiled and glanced over towards Micah and saw him trying to stifle a grin. “Micah, we never really discussed when you want me to return to duty.”
“Mark, take your time. Whatever time you want to take off to spend with that bride of yours, go ahead. Johnny and I can handle the town in your absence. Sides Johnny took a whole month off, so it’s really up to you, how long you take.”
“Thanks Micah, I guess I should with talk with Hope and I’ll let you know,” Mark replied.
Lucas spoke, “So, just how many people did you have to stop the night of their wedding from heading on out to the ranch?”
“Just a few of Mark’s friends, Billy, Freddie, and believe it or not, Percy Bullock!” Micah replied.
“Yeah, they were set up for lots of mischief,” Johnny quipped. “Had to threaten them with jail, if they didn’t turn around and head home that moment.”
“Thanks Johnny, Micah. Pa and I talked the morning after; he explained why he wanted Hope and I to spend our first night at the ranch. I really appreciate everything both of you did.”
“You’re welcome Mark. I got to protect my only grandson, now, don’t I?” Micah answered.
Lucas broke up the meeting, “Come on son, let’s get the wives and head for home. We still have a lot of work to do.”
“Oh, yeah, arranging everything to their satisfaction,” Mark stated as he realized it was going to be a little bit longer of an afternoon than he realized.
Johnny quipped, “Mark, you’re learning early in life. Now get out of here so we can do some work.”
Lucas and Mark spent the rest of the afternoon moving Hope’s possessions into the home and arranging everything to her’s and Milly’s liking. Fortunately, it didn’t take as long as they had figured. As they finished, Milly suggested they both grab their finishing poles and take a few hours go catch something for supper.
Later that night, Johnny returned home to spend time with Lou. He entered their home and saw the single candle lit and the elegant placement of dishes for supper on the table.
“Johnny, I have some news that I think you need to know,” Lou stated after they were finished with dinner.
“News can wait until later,” Johnny stated as he led Lou back to their bedroom.
“But Johnny, I really think you need to hear my news,” Lou pleaded as Johnny started kissing on her neck, as he pulled her into an embrace.
As he sat down on the bed and pulled her towards him, he started unbuttoning her blouse, playfully kissing at her lips.
“Johnny.” she couldn’t say anything more as he placed the tips of his fingers to her lips and then moved his hand to the back of her head and pulled her to him. Lou couldn’t resist the feelings welling inside her and she responded back to her husband. Later, Johnny was lying on his side, caressing his wife when he asked, “So what news was so important earlier?”
“I found out that we are expecting,” Lou quietly answered.
“Expecting what?” Johnny asked as he lovingly looked into her eyes.
“Johnny Drako, you know, sometimes, there are consequences to making love. And some times, those consequences are that a man and a woman conceive a child!” Lou answered tartly.
“A child, you mean…” Johnny gulped.
“I thought you’d be happy!” Lou said as she pulled away.
Johnny didn’t let her go. He pulled her closer, “Lou, you mean… I mean…” He pulled her into a passionate kiss. Afterwards, as she rested her head on his chest she heard Johnny say, “I’m going to be a father.”
Saturday morning, Lucas and Mark woke early to start their chores out on the range. They waved to their wives as they rode away from their home.
“So, how much longer do I get you as a full time partner before you return to being a part time deputy?” Lucas asked.
“Hope and I talked last night and we decided one more week. There’s enough still to be done around the ranch that you’ll need my help getting everything done.”
“Oh, so I’m the reason, eh,” Lucas asked as he cast an eye towards his son.
“Well, things do need to get done around here,” Mark replied and tried to hide his smile.
“Come on. If you’re going to blame me for keeping you from your obligations as a deputy, I’m going to see that I get my monies worth out of ya, boy! We’ve got to move the herd off the east pasture.” With that, Lucas reached over and slapped Blue Boy on the rump.
Next Step —
A Change of Season