The Next Step…
Chapter 63 – Seven
Written by Deanne Bertram
Lucas had just
finished chopping wood for their homes and Mark, with his wrist still in the
cast, had finished stacking and was kneeling down to pick up an armload of
wood to carry to his own home, when they turned at the sound of a horse and
carriage coming up the road. Each grabbed his hat and slipped back into his
jacket. Lucas greeted the elder Mr. Bullock as he stopped the horse.
Lucas, Mark! I bring joyous news from the Bullock Ranch to the McCain
Families. My first grandchild was born this morning!”
“Congratulations! So is the baby a boy or a girl?” Mark asked.
granddaughter!” Mr. Bullock stated with excitement.
“Well, come on
in, the wives are in the main house,” Lucas stated.
offered, “I’m sure you could do with a spot of coffee to help keep you
“Right you are.
The excitement of the news is warming, but the temperatures are cooler than
those of late.”
Mark tied the
carriage horse to the hitching rail and followed his father and Mr. Bullock
inside. After the elder Percy announced the news that his first
granddaughter had been born, he heartily accepted a hot cup of coffee. All
the women wanted to know what name Tessa and Percy had chosen for their
daughter and the ‘details’.
“Her name is
Shawnee Amara Bullock,” Mr. Bullock announced with pride. “She arrived with
a healthy set of lungs at ten thirty this morning. Mabra is so excited to
know the baby is a girl. She was doting on her niece once Tessa fell
Mr. Bullock went
on to tell of when they realized Tessa was in labor and then how nervous
Percy had been, that he couldn’t even saddle his horse. Mabra saddled a
horse and rode into town to fetch Doc Burrage.
“This is a
totally new experience for both Percy and myself.”
“As well as
Tessa, too,” Gwen stated.
“Yes, for Tessa,
too. May we come over tomorrow? We’d love to be of help to Tessa, if
that’s okay with you?” Milly asked.
that’s why I came here. I was hoping to ask if either you or Hope would
care to come over tomorrow and help out, considering you’ve young children
yourselves. My wife took care of Percy when he was an infant, while I ran
our bookstore. Tessa could use some…,” Mr. Bullock looked around and
quieted his voice before he said, “womanly advice. I mean with Tessa’s
parents having passed… well… Me, I’m just an old fogy…”
“We’d be happy
to come over. All three of us,” Milly stated.
You’ve been cooped up at Hope and Mark’s home long enough and I think you’re
doing well enough with the cast that you can handle a ride in the
buckboard. Mark and Lucas will make a comfortable pallet for you in the
back, for the trip,” Milly stated.
Both Lucas and
Mark realized it wasn’t a suggestion, it was an order. Lucas sidled up to
Milly, wrapped his arms around her waist and replied, “Yes, my love. Is
there anything else you would like done? Before you leave?”
Milly laughed as
she tried to push Lucas away, “Go on, now!”
Hope started. “We’ve a stew for supper ready and we did cook a lot more
than what we could eat tonight… Let us send some home for you, Percy,
Tessa, and Mabra.”
Miss Hope, jolly good.”
Bullock left, the McCain families sat down to enjoy their supper together.
The conversation was mainly between the women, excitedly talking of the new
baby and their outing the next day. As Mark held his daughter and listened,
he asked, “So who’s going to watch the children while you three are having a
‘woman’s day out’?”
“You!” Milly and
Hope answered simultaneously. Then Hope added, “It’s the least you can do
seeing as how you still have a week and a half of your suspension to serve.”
son, I’ll be right here with you,” Lucas offered.
morning dawned bright as the women finished getting their things together
before heading to the Bullock’s ranch. As they exited their homes, Mark was
just finishing hitching the team to the buckboard and Lucas finished putting
the last of the blankets over the straw bedding for Gwen to rest upon.
As Milly started
to walk across the yard to Mark and Hope’s home, she stopped when she heard
Myra call from the porch, “Mama, please, can’t I come too?”
to the porch where she looked to her daughter and said, “I need you to stay
here and help out. Your brother and father will need a lot of help from you
while we’re gone. They’re not used to taking care of young children.”
“Isn’t it time
they learned?” Myra replied.
“Yes, but you
know how Hope and I take care of the boys. I want you to be here to help
your father and brother, when they need help.”
“Do I have too?”
lady. Or would you prefer to sit in time out until I return?” Milly asked.
“I’ll be good.
But if they don’t do it right…”
politely help them out,” Milly stated as she pointed her finger towards
Mark had just
finished drying and putting away the dishes from breakfast when heard a
rider coming, he stepped to the front porch and saw Billy Lehigh pulling his
horse up short.
What brings you here in such a hurry?” Mark called as he stepped from the
porch and ran over to where Billy dismounted.
problems, the herds, MCCain’s and Jackford’s, they busted through the fence
sometime last night and they’re scattered.
Lucas stepped to
his front porch and overheard Billy, “I’ll saddle up Blade and follow you
“Let me get my
coat and I’ll get Copper saddled…” Mark started to say.
son. You’re not going anywhere,” Lucas stated.
“But Pa, you two
can’t…” Mark didn’t get to finish his thought.
to stay here with the children. Besides with your wrist still in the cast…”
Raising his arm,
Mark interrupted, “I can still ride with this.”
most of the children are yours… You get to stay behind,” Lucas stated as he
We’re split fifty, fifty... Okay, okay,” Mark replied, holding up his hands
as Lucas turned around and started to point his finger towards his eldest
son, his face held a look of mock anger. “I’ll go get YOUR three over to MY
Mark entered his
former home and helped Myra and Little Ted get their coats on and then he
bundled up Levi and carried him, as the three headed back to Mark’s home.
returned to the ranch later that afternoon. They were laughing as the
pulled the team to a stop in front of the barn. They saw Mark step from the
house, shirt-tail untucked, water soaking the front of his shirt and pants,
and the expression on his face gave every indication that Mark was frazzled.
wrong?” Hope asked as he approached the buckboard.
Under his breath
he mumbled, ‘nothing now,’ but replied, “I’ll tend to the horses,” not
answering her question. “Why don’t the three of you go inside and warm up
by the fire. By the way, Gabby, Little Ted and Levi are in our home,” Mark
answered as he assisted his wife, his mother, and Gwen down from the
buckboard. Hope and Milly made sure Gwen made it up the steps okay with her
crutches, then the three women stopped and turned on the porch, and briefly
watched as Mark proceeded to take care of the team. Continuing to laugh
amongst themselves, they entered Hope’s home. They removed their shawls
once the door was closed behind them.
As Gwen sat down
in the chair in front of the fireplace, she asked, “I wonder what that was
“I think he
discovered what his wife goes through when he’s not home,” Milly laughed, as
she and Hope peaked in on their children.
“It couldn’t be
that bad? Everything looks in order,” Hope stated as they turned around and
headed to the kitchen.
“Hope, we need
to allow him to tell us in his own way. Remember, he’s never taken care of
all the children on his own,” Milly stated as she started to get ready to
As Mark entered
his home, Milly asked, “Where’s your father?”
came by about an hour after you left. Said, the herds busted through the
fence and were mixed together. Pa went with Billy and left me with here
with the…” frustration could be heard in Mark’s voice and seen on his face.
Mark headed straight for his bedroom. The women tried to hide their
laughter as Mark shut the door behind him.
A few minutes
later Mark returned to the front room wearing a fresh, dry shirt and pants.
asked. “Did something else happen while we were gone?”
“Yeah, if you
only knew. It was total chaos! They’ve been nothing but a headache ever
since Pa left.”
“Have not!” Myra
hollered from one of the rooms.
called and rolled his eyes, then Milly asked him to tell them what happened.
fine for a while, after Pa left. I was able to get Levi and Emmy down for
their naps, Gabby was sitting in Hope’s chair reading, and the boys…” Mark
closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes, he looked
from his wife to his mother and he knew he was getting no sympathy.
“Little Ted and
Josh decided they wanted to play, they started running around, whooping and
hollering like Indians, yelling I was the cowboy and needed to chase after
them. Zach was pleading with me to play, he didn’t want to be an Indian, he
wanted to be an outlaw. And I had to be the Marshal. And then there was
Eli, going back and forth from being an outlaw to an Indian. I tried to get
them to quiet down because the babies were sleeping, but that only made them
rowdier. I ran after them to try to catch them to put them in time out, but
they just kept running and laughing an hollering. They were knocking things
over and... I swear this was worse than when the three-some all started
walking at the same time!”
Mark paused as
he looked to the bedroom where the boys were and then the door next to it
and saw his sister standing in the doorway. Mark motioned for her to come
to him and wrapped his arms around Myra as she jumped up into his arms and
sat on his hip. He carried Myra over and sat her down in his chair.
“Next thing I
know, Levi’s awake and crying. So I went to pick him up, only to find out
his diaper needed changed. No problem, I’ve done it before. But then Gabby
had to tell me just how WRONG I was doing it.” He looked directly at his
sister, “Gabby stated ‘that’s not how Mama does it’, didn’t you?”
wasn’t,” she pleaded. “I tried to tell him to keep a clean diaper over him
while he was removing the dirty diaper. But he just kept it over his
Milly, Hope and
Gwen lowered their eyes, trying hard not to laugh, as they envisioned what
“Levi just kept
fussing and fidgeting and wouldn’t hold still while I was trying to pin the
diaper in place. Then Emmy started crying. I got Levi all changed and
placed him back in his bassinet and checked on Emmy, her diaper was fine.
But Levi was still crying and Emmy wouldn’t quiet while I tried soothing
her. Then GABBY informed me it was well past their feeding time…”
Milly and Hope
looked to Myra, who replied, “Well it was!”
after taking a deep breath, “And then she tells me that I should get their
bottles ready. All the while the BOYS were still running around like, like…
your voice or you’ll wake them,” Hope chastised her husband.
Mark was so
intent on remembering all that happened and telling his story, he didn’t
heard his wife. “Once I got Emmy and Levi fed and back in their bassinets,
the boys started yelling they were hungry, so I fixed them sandwiches, only
to have them tell me they didn’t like how or what I fixed them. I finally
got them to eat and convinced them to settle down to take their naps, so I
could clean up the mess they made.”
Mark threatened to take them to town and throw them in jail if they didn’t
go to sleep,” Myra stated.
didn’t!” Hope declared, trying to hide her laugh.
“He did too,”
Gabby replied, as any good sister would in tattling on a brother.
just children,” Milly stated, covering her mouth with her hand in an attempt
to hide her smile.
“I know, but you
don’t know what it’s like to take care of them.”
Milly and Hope
looked at each other, not believing what Mark had just stated.
“I spent the
rest of the afternoon trying to get the house put back together and the
three of you decided to return just as I put the last item back in place. I
didn’t even have time to change into clean, dry clothes before you got
home. How can four boys be such terrors?!”
state. “They’re your children and your siblings. How can you say such a
not suffered as I have,” the tone of Mark’s voice held a hint of the
indignation he was feeling.
“I’m sorry we
were gone for so long, but we lost all track of the time,” Milly offered.
“I hope you
enjoyed yourselves today. They’ve never ganged up on me in such a fashion.
I don’t understand; they’ve always been so much better behaved.”
“You’re not a
Mama,” Gabby innocently declared.
That was it.
Milly, Hope, and Gwen, none could contain their laughter any more.
“I get no
sympathy!” Mark declared as he set Myra to her feet, looked to the others,
and finally started laughing as well. “Guess I should be thankful that I
normally deal with outlaws all the time and not the McCain Seven.”
even harder when she tried to say, “At least that’s better than having to
deal with the McCain Eight.” Milly placed a hand to Mark’s arm and then
gave him a kiss on the cheek.
deserved that. I’m sorry, I just never realized how… rowdy boys could be,”
“Mark, for so
long it was just you and your father. You got into enough trouble on your
own, I can only imagine what it would have been like if you had a younger
brother or two,” Milly replied. “You’ll have to accept that the boys are
getting older, they’re spreading their wings, and just being… well… boys.”
hadn’t returned to the house yet, Milly decided to stay at Mark and Hope’s
and help with supper. Gwen sat in the front room and read aloud from a
book, with the boys and Myra sitting at her feet.
Mark was working
at his desk, even though he was on suspension, he still kept up with the
reports filed by his deputies and all the notices and reports from Denver.
He was just finishing when he let his attention drift and listened to Gwen
read of Gulliver’s Travels and his adventure to Lilliput, by Jonathan Swift.
were now in the latitude of 30 degrees south; there were about fifty men in
the ship; and here I met an old comrade of mine, one Peter Williams, who
gave me a good character to the captain. This gentleman treated me with
kindness, and desired I would let him know what place I came from last, and
whither I was bound; which I did in a few words, but he thought I was
raving, and that the dangers I underwent had disturbed my head; whereupon I
took my black cattle and sheep out of my pocket, which, after great
astonishment, clearly convinced him of my veracity. I then showed him the
gold given me by the emperor of Blefuscu, together with his majesty’s
picture at full length, and some other rarities of that country. I gave him
two purses of two hundreds sprugs each, and promised, when we arrived in
England, to make him a present of a cow and a sheep big with young.
shall not trouble the reader with a particular account of this voyage, which
was very prosperous for the most part. We arrived in the Downs on the 13th
of April, 1702. I had only one misfortune, that the rats on board carried
away one of my sheep; I found her bones in a hole, picked clean from the
flesh. The rest of my cattle I got safe ashore, and set them a-grazing in a
bowling-green at Greenwich, where the fineness of the grass made them feed
very heartily, though I had always feared the contrary: neither could I
possibly have preserved them in so long a voyage, if the captain had not
allowed me some of his best biscuit, which, rubbed to powder, and mingled
with water, was their constant food. The short time I continued in England,
I made a considerable profit by showing my cattle to many persons of quality
and others: and before I began my second voyage, I sold them for six hundred
pounds. Since my last return I find the breed is considerably increased,
especially the sheep, which I hope will prove much to the advantage of the
woollen manufacture, by the fineness of the fleeces.
stayed but two months with my wife and family, for my insatiable desire of
seeing foreign countries, would suffer me to continue no longer. I left
fifteen hundred pounds with my wife, and fixed her in a good house at
Redriff. My remaining stock I carried with me, part in money and part in
goods, in hopes to improve my fortunes. My eldest uncle John had left me an
estate in land, near Epping, of about thirty pounds a-year; and I had a long
lease of the Black Bull in Fetter-Lane, which yielded me as much more; so
that I was not in any danger of leaving my family upon the parish. My son
Johnny, named so after his uncle, was at the grammar-school, and a towardly
child. My daughter Betty (who is now well married, and has children) was
then at her needle-work. I took leave of my wife, and boy and girl, with
tears on both sides, and went on board the Adventure, a merchant ship of
three hundred tons, bound for Surat, captain John Nicholas, of Liverpool,
commander. But my account of this voyage must be referred to the Second
Part of my Travels.
part?” Josh asked, as Gwen closed the book.
“Yes, this was
only the first of Gulliver’s Travels that Mr. Swift wrote about,” Gwen
to wash for supper,” Milly called.
As Hope finally
got all the children cleaned up and headed in the right direction for the
table, the front door to their home opened. The boys turned and ran to
greet their Papa and GrandPa, respectively.
“Well, how are
my boys tonight?” Lucas asked as he pulled his hat from his head.
Before he could
remove his coat the boys were excitedly talking, “We’re not your boys, we’re
“Yeah, lilly put
ins, GanPa!’ Eli called as he too ran to Lucas.
“I’m sorry Mr.
McCain, I just finished reading to them of…”
“So I hear.
Gulliver’s Travels. Glad to hear my ‘Lilliputians’ are excited about
“Pa, how did it
go? You and Billy were sure out there a long time,” Mark stated as he tried
to shoo the boys back to the table.
“It took longer
to round the cattle up, must be a storm fixing to brew, they sure were
nervous. But we finally got the herds on the correct side of the fence and
then got it restrung. Luckily it was just the wire and none of the posts,”
Lucas answered as he sat down at the table and took to blessing the meal.
chatted and enjoyed their time together over supper.
Lucas and Milly
had collected their young children and returned to their home. After all
three were put to bed, they prepared to go to bed themselves.
“Lucas, did it
really take you all that time to round up the cattle and fix the fence?”
cattle were really spirited, I think a storm is brewing. But no, not
really. Sam and Oat had most of the cattle separated by the time Billy and
I arrived. Then Oat wanted to do some talking. So I spent most of the
afternoon over at Oat’s.” Lucas noticed Milly laughing and asked, “Why?”
don’t you ever let on to Mark that you weren’t working the cattle this
afternoon. You best warn Billy, too. If Mark were to find out, you both
might just end up in jail, for dereliction of duty.”
their wonderful day helping Tessa with her newborn daughter. And then,
while trying to keep a straight face, told Lucas of their arrival back at
the ranch and what Mark had told them.
“Oh, no. They
didn’t!” Lucas stated.
“They did. Mark
was quite frazzled when we arrived home, he came from the house, the front
of his shirt and pants were soaked with water. And to top it all off, it
was because of happened when he was changing Levi…” Milly couldn’t contain
contain his laugher. “Oh Milly, if you only knew how many times that
happened to me during the first month of Mark’s life, when Margaret was…”
“It still hurts,
doesn’t it?” Milly asked.
Lucas closed his
eyes. It had been a long time since he had felt that longing and pain.
“I’m sorry to
remind you of those memories,” Milly quietly spoke as she rested her head to
Lucas’ shoulder as she lay down next to him.
“I’m not. It
makes my time with you all the more precious. You’ve accepted that Margaret
will always be a part of this marriage, but you, Milly Scott McCain, you’ve
made this man live again. ”
Lucas raised his
head from the pillow and placed a kiss to Milly’s head. Milly looked into
Lucas eyes and asked, “No regret?”
whispered to Milly. But in his heart, he knew there was one. That he’d let
her leave town and return back east. He regretted that he hadn’t followed
soon after and confessed to her that she had stolen his heart when she
left. That he hadn’t insisted she return all those years ago.
“I love you so
much,” Milly whispered.
“Then prove it,”
Lucas teased as he put his hand to her chin.
“And just how am
I supposed to do that?” Milly coyly asked.
“I think you
know,” Lucas said as he leaned close to Milly and pressed a kiss to her
Lucas and Milly
expressed their love for each other, as a married couple could. Lucas
gently ran his hands over her body, sensing her vibrant love for him. His
mind cleared of any and all thoughts and there was nothing left but his
feelings; the emotions that he had once thought only Margaret could bring
out in him. But this woman, his wife, so much different than her, Milly
completed him. He still marveled how he had never expected to feel this way
again. As a young woman, Milly had been raised proper and, such things were
not discussed, but the way her husband made her feel, she desired these
moments and never wanted for the night to end. She marveled at the strength
and gentleness that was in this man, her husband.
After Milly and
Lucas had left, Mark put his sons to bed while Hope retired to their bedroom
to nurse their daughter.
listening to you read,” Mark stated as he returned to the front room and saw
Gwen still in the chair in front of the fireplace.
“Its fun reading
to them,” Gwen replied.
“Gwen, I know
we’ve not really had a chance to talk and all…” Mark tried to speak.
“I know things
with your job have been… kind of… I really do thank you and Hope for taking
me in. I promise once I get out of this cast, I’ll find a job and I’ll
repay you for your hospitality and your generosity.”
necessary,” Mark replied.
“Oh, but it is.
I mean, it’s only proper. I shouldn’t be beholden to anyone.”
first night, in the cave… What were you doing out there all on your own?
Now I remember you telling of your parents having passed, but a girl on her
own out in this country…”
“Trying to find
somewhere that I could be accepted for who I am, not what I am. Not to be
told I can’t do something because I’m a woman. My Pa raised me to be
independent and maybe a little fool hardy I guess.” Looking Mark in the eye
she realized he saw through her guise of carefree. “I’m not fooling you, am
“Are you trying
to?” Mark asked.
“I wanted to go
west and I thought traveling with another family would be the best way, I
could earn my passage. At first, things we wonderful. But then, things
changed the farther we got from civilization. The man told me I had to
repay his kindness since he was letting me ride with his family in their
wagon. Said it weren’t enough my helping his misses, he tried making
advances towards me and the final night, he tried… taking advantage of me
when his wife was sleeping in the wagon. I was sleeping in a bedroll beside
the campfire, when I felt the blankets pulled from me. He…” Hope stopped
and closed her eyes. “I couldn’t pay that price. I ran away. I thought if
I could get away and get to a town, I could be safe.”
Mark saw the
honesty in Gwen’s eyes.
“Before I left
their wagon, I saw a knife lying on the drop shelf; I stole it and then ran
into the dark. I swore that if he found me, I’d… I’d…” Gwen averted her
eyes when she couldn’t say what she would have done. “Anyway, I saw him
approaching as I hid under the bushes. Eventually he returned back to the
wagon and later, drove by where I was trapped. Then, the storm hit and I
had tripped and fallen when a lightning bolt illuminated everything around
me and I saw the cave. I got up and ran towards it, but didn’t see the
trap. It was a short time later that you came and found me. I really am
sorry for holding the knife on you that night.”
understandable,” Mark answered. “Have you thought on any plans, once you
get the cast off?”
“Not really, I
guess I was getting comfortable. I should probably think about moving on…
This was the first time since my Pa died that I… felt…”
“You don’t need
to explain,” Mark stated.
“But I do. I
need to. I’m an only child and I always dreamed of what it would be like to
have been part of a large family… Guess it would sound stupid to you that I
felt as if I were a part of yours.”
“No, it’s not
stupid and I know exactly what you mean,” Mark stated.
“But you’ve a
“I do know, I
mean I have a wonderful family this large, now. For the longest time, it
was just Pa and me. Milly’s only been my Ma since just after I turned
seventeen. Gwen, I found out today, just what Hope goes through in dealing
with our children and I know that maybe they’re not always that rowdy, but
still… I want to talk with Hope, but think on this… The boys, even Gabby,
really like you. If you want to, you can stay here…”
“No, you… I
won’t… I just told you…” Gwen’s eyes got wide.
frightened. I was thinking that Hope could use some help with the children
as well as Ma. There are seven little ones between the two houses and we
can build on to the back of the house, build you a room of your own. It
would open to the front room here, and then we could also give you an
outside door. When you feel you need to come and go on your own without
having to explain to Hope or me.”
“And how do you
expect me to repay you?” Gwen asked, still scared.
“I heard tell,
back east, of nanny’s. Women hired to help care for children. But you’d be
more than just a nanny, you’ve become a friend and a part of this family.”
“A nanny, that’s
what that man told me I would be for his children as we were heading west.”
The final piece
of the puzzle fell into place in hearing that confession from their guest.
“Gwen, I have no desires on you… I mean you are a pretty, young woman, but
I’m happily married to Hope. I just want to help you. And our children are
genuinely fond of you. If it makes you feel any better, I think Jake
McCafferty is smitten by you.”
son?” Gwen asked.
noticed how he’s all thumbs when he knows you’re watching?” Mark smiled.
“Gwen, I’m just offering you a home. If you don’t feel comfortable because
of what happened before, I’ll understand and help make arrangements for you
to live somewhere else, where you can be comfortable.”
surprised me and then my memories returned to that man… I didn’t mean to be
rude, Gwen. Let me talk with Hope and if she agrees and if you agree, then
come spring, we’ll start construction on your room. Until then, our spare
room is your room.”
“You’d do that
Mark stood and
walked to his bedroom. “For a friend, yes. Good night.”
Mark retired to
his room and Hope was just placing their daughter in her bassinet.
“Hope, I’d like
to talk with you about something,” Mark stated as he sat down on the bed and
unbuttoned his shirt.
“Asking Gwen to
be a nanny and help out?”
“Yes. Mark, I’m
sorry that we laughed at you this afternoon, but some of your comments…”
“I know, it just
got overwhelming. I got a better picture of what things must be like when
I’m in town over night or traveling. I just didn’t realize how bad it could
get for you.”
around to Mark’s side of the bed and allowed him to pull her to his lap.
“Mark, it’s not
bad, they’re our sons. They just took advantage of you this afternoon.”
“You do know
that I want to have more children in the future? As many as God gives us.”
“Yes, and so do
I. If Gwen wants to stay with us, I’d love to have her help and I’m sure Ma
would too. It’s been kind of fun thinking on her as a little sister. But
she’s to get more than just room and board in exchange for helping.”
“I agree and we
can discuss a salary after Gwen agrees,” Mark replied. “Right now, I just
want to go to bed and sleep.”
“And your dreams
will be about?”
notorious outlaws!” Mark laughed as Hope got up from his lap and crawled
across the bed. Mark leaned over and blew out the lantern. As he crawled
under the covers, he wrapped his arms around his wife and snuggled tight.
Next Step —
Don't Drink the Water