The Next Step…
Chapter 88 - The Main Events
Written by Deanne Bertram
After seeing her husband returned
to the clinic, Hope was alarmed to find her brother coming from one of the
“You can keep it unwrapped at
night,” Thadd was stating, “just remember to put the ointment on it morning
“Ethan?” Hope inquired.
“Oh, it’s nothing sis. Just a
scratch, had a bullet graze my leg,” Ethan replied and tried to change the
subject from himself. “I see you finally got your husband corralled.”
“Yes, I want Doc to examine his
eyes one more time and to tell me he’s going to be alright.”
“Now, Hope…” Mark started.
“No, you march yourself inside,”
Hope stated as she pointed a finger to the room Ethan just exited.
“I’m gonna go spend a little time
with my family before we head to the church, see you both later,” Ethan
stated as he left the clinic.
After watching Thadd flush out
Mark’s eyes one last time, Hope was pleased to overhear their conversation,
after Thadd had Mark read the eye chart.
“Okay, Mark. Your eyes are going
to be a little bloodshot for a few more days, just from being irritated.
I’m glad your father insisted on wrapping your eyes. It could have been a
lot worse, irreparable damage could have been done to the surface of your
eyes just by your blinking.”
“Will I need to wear my glasses
more?” Mark asked.
“That’s up to you. I think you’re
seeing well enough, just continue to wear them when you read reports or the
newspaper. But if your eyes start feeling tired, go ahead and wear them.
It won’t hurt.”
Hope wrapped her arm through her
husband’s before they returned to her father’s home.
Upon entering the home, Zach was
there to greet his parents.
“Yes, Zach,” Mark answered.
“Little Ted said you got dirt in
your eyes. Did the sandman surprise you?”
“Who?” Hope asked.
“The sandman,” Josh answered. “You
know, the man who comes around at night and puts sand in your eyes.”
Kneeling down, Mark answered, “No,
the sandman wasn’t there. We were trying to rescue Little Ted and Peter
when there was an explosion and it blew a lot of dirt into the air and I got
some in my eyes. But Doc Burrage cleaned them up proper.”
“Oh, then you can see real good?”
“Why do you ask?” Hope asked,
fearing what her son was about to say.
“Uh, we tried to clean it up. We
wanted to surprise you, only…”
“Where,” Mark said as he stood.
Zach took his father’s hand and led
his parents to the back of the house, to the bathing room.
“Oh, boys!” Hope declared when she
saw the mess. The water from the tub had overflowed onto the floor.
“We’re sorry,” Josh stated as he
stood in the middle of the room holding a towel dripping with water.
“Come out of there and let me clean
up the mess,” Hope instructed.
“No, I’ll take care of it,” Mark
stated. Seeing the look on his wife’s face, “In your condition, you don’t
need to be on your hands and knees. Why don’t you take the boys to the
front room and I’ll let you know when I’m done.”
After cleaning up the bathing room
and carrying a basket with the soaking, wet towels outside, Mark and Hope
hung them on the clothesline behind Seth’s house to dry. Later that
afternoon, the two of them worked diligently to see that their children were
bathed and properly dressed for the wedding, before they bathed and dressed
Milly and Lucas spent the rest of
the morning over at Hattie and Micah’s listening to Little Ted tell of
everything that happened after those men had kidnapped him and Peter. That
afternoon, they too worked diligently to see that they and their children
were cleaned and dressed for the wedding that night.
Seth stood in front of the
full-length dressing mirror and struggled to tie his tie straight.
“Seth, would you like some help?”
Mark asked as he peeked into his father-in-law’s bedroom.
“I’m all thumbs. I can’t believe
I’m this nervous. I mean, I’ve been married before…” Seth answered as he
dropped his arms to his side.
“Yes, but not to Lilah. Guess you
and Pa should have had a man to man talk about what to expect today and
tonight,” Mark teased.
“What?” Seth asked a little
“I remember Pa being just as
nervous when he married Miss Milly. It’s new because you’re marrying
Lilah. Just remember, she’s probably just a nervous as you are, if not more
so. And you had better remember that tonight when you’re alone with her.”
“Imagine, me getting advice from my
son-in-law,” Seth answered as he gave a little laugh. “Mark, I really do
appreciate having you as a member of my family.”
“Likewise… Come on, before your
intended decides to send someone to make sure you aren’t going to change
your mind?” Mark teased.
“Too late,” Ethan stated as he
leaned against the door frame, arms folded. “Mark, my family is already
over at the church. Why don’t you get my sister and the rest of your family
over to the church and then come back here and the three of us can get
Father to the church.”
“Three?” Seth asked.
“Yeah, Johnny Drako’s at the back
door making sure you don’t evade capture,” Ethan laughingly answered.
“Evade capture, you make it sound
like I’m a prisoner,” Seth retorted back.
“Take it as you like, but you are
about to be married and…” Ethan laughed.
“I’ll just let Annie know your
feelings about being married,” Mark teased.
“Don’t you dare!”
At the front of the church stood
Reverend McCafferty and Seth Lane. Next to Seth stood Ethan, as his best
man. As the matron of honor, Hope stood on the other side of Reverend
McCafferty and waited for the bride to enter.
Everyone turned as Lilah made her
way down the aisle on the arm of Johnny Drako. They stopped a short
distance from the others and waited as Reverend McCafferty welcomed everyone
and asked, “Who gives away this woman to be wed to this man?”
Johnny answered, “I do, on behalf
of the town of North Fork.” Johnny placed Lilah’s hand in Seth’s before he
turned to join Lou and their family in one of the pews.
At the end of the ceremony,
Reverend McCafferty declared, “What God has joined together, let no man put
asunder. You may kiss your bride.”
Seth just stood there, holding
Lilah’s hands in his.
“Well? Kiss her already,” came
from somewhere in the back of the church.
“May I?” Seth quietly asked.
“You better.” Lilah blushed as she
whispered her reply.
Slowly, Seth pulled Lilah near to
him and the kiss they shared expressed their love for one another.
As their lips separated, Reverend
McCafferty declared, “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Seth Lane.”
Many of the ranch hands present
took the reception as time to drink and have fun, insisting on keeping Seth
from dancing with his new wife. Johnny and Mark had their hands full in
cutting off those they felt a little too drunk, before they could cause a
scene. Regardless, everyone present enjoyed the distraction the wedding and
reception offered from the struggles in dealing with the on-going drought.
As the reception wound down and the
guests left, Lucas started to bid Seth and Lilah goodbye, “Guess we won’t be
seeing you again until after your honeymoon.”
“Grandpa, you going away?” Eli
asked as he stood beside Lucas.
“Just for a few weeks,” Seth
answered as he knelt down in front of his grandson.
“What’s a honeymoon,” Zach asked as
he stood to the other side of Lucas.
“It’s when a husband and wife spend
the night sitting out on the porch looking at the moon and talking all kind
of lovey, dovey to each other. And check out each other’s teeth. Stupid,”
Josh answered as he punched his brother in the arm.
“Your brother is not stupid,” Mark stated as he tugged at his eldest’s ear,
having overheard his son upon rejoining his family. “And just where did you
hear that piece of information regarding a honeymoon?”
“Out with it,” Mark ordered.
“Uh… You know Spin Whitcomb?”
“He told me about his older
sister. She and her fee-and-see were sitting on the porch talking about
getting married and stuff. Spin said it was… uh… kinda gross, the way they
were talking and then the way they were checking out each other’s teeth.”
The adults present struggled to
keep a straight face as they listened to Josh recount the story his friend
had told him.
“Seth, Hope and I’ll see you and
Lilah off at the train station tomorrow.”
The families bid goodnight to each
other as Lucas and his family returned to Micah and Hattie’s, Mark and his
family returned to Seth’s home, and Ethan and his family returned to the
boarding house. Leaving Seth and Lilah in the lobby of the hotel.
After seeing his children to bed,
Mark returned to the bedroom and changed into street clothes.
“Mark, just what do you think
you’re doing?” Hope asked.
“It’s just going to be a small
“You will not!” Hope declared.
“Hope, Ethan organized this one.”
“I don’t care, he’s my father!”
“You could come along…” Mark’s eyes
held a mischievous gleam.
Lucas saw Mark approaching the side
of the hotel, “Surprised Hope let you come,” Lucas teased.
“She tried to dissuade me from
coming. I offered to let her come and join the fun,” Mark answered.
“Bet that went over like a ton of
“Guess I should be thankful Hope
and I were as young as we were when we married.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t have forbid the
shivaree,” Lucas jested.
“Come on, before they start without
Father and son laughed as they
jogged the rest of the way to join the others in celebrating Seth and
Lilah’s wedding night.
The families gathered at the train
station Saturday morning to see Seth and Lilah off on their honeymoon.
“Father, don’t worry about your
place, Annie and I will lock it up before we return to Fort Stanton on
Monday,” Ethan offered.
“And Johnny and I’ll keep an eye on
it until the two of you return,” Mark offered.
“I want to thank all of you for
your blessings,” Seth answered as he placed his hand to the small of Lilah’s
back and followed her as she stepped onto the train. Once at their seat,
they waved goodbye.
The station platform didn’t empty
until the train was well out of sight.
“It’s going to be rather lonely,”
Hope stated as she walked with her family to collect their belongings before
returning home to the ranch.
“Would you rather live in town?”
Mark asked, he had so looked forward to returning to his own home.
“It’s not that, it’s just…”
“What?” Mark asked.
“It’s been a while and I kinda got
used to having Father… close,” Hope quietly answered.
“Hope, if you regret living out on
“Mark, no! I love living out on
the ranch, it’s so peaceful and quiet and not so… crowded. I’m just going
to miss Father.”
“Just remember, once they return,
you’ll have a new mother, too.”
That thought brought a smile to
After seeing his family safely home
and returning the boys’ beds to their home, Mark saddled Rainmaker and
returned to North Fork.
“Didn’t expect to see you back in
town so soon,” Johnny teased as Mark entered the Marshal’s Office.
“I want to get to the bottom
concerning these two, before Jennifer and Wykestrom return,” Mark stated as
he placed his rifle on his desk.
Standing in front of the cells,
Mark listened as the two complained and demanded to be set free.
“If it is determined that you have…
diplomatic immunity, you will be set free, but we will also see that you are
returned to your home country and refused entry back into America. But
until then, I want answers.”
“You’ll get nothing from us,”
Dochlichter bitterly stated. “I want to see the doctor and have him look at
“You’ll get nothing from our
doctor. He declared your arm well enough to release you yesterday.”
“You can do this! I’ll have you
drawn and quartered!” Dochlichter yelled as Mark turned from the cells and
closed the door behind him.
“Didn’t think you’d get anything
from them,” Johnny stated as he drank from his cup of coffee.
“It was worth a shot,” Mark
answered. “Guess we’ll have to wait until Jennifer and Wykestrom return.
When did Charles send the wire? I thought they’d be here on the morning
“He didn’t send it until after you
returned with Peter,” Johnny stated.
“Wasn’t anything they could do
except worry. This way, they know he’s safe. I’m sure they’ll arrive on
the train Monday.”
In an effort to distract Mark from
brooding about what had happened, Johnny stated, “Too bad Seth and Lilah
didn’t stay until Monday.”
“How so?” Mark asked.
“The church social and fighting
exhibition is tomorrow, or did you forget?”
“Guess I kinda forgot. Are there
any good wagers being placed?” Mark asked.
“Betting? On an exhibition?”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t placed a
bet or two.”
“Just don’t let Lou know,” Johnny
answered with a gleam in his eyes. “Mark, things are fairly quiet since the
hands have been learning how to box and it’s been a while since you’ve
stayed at your place, why don’t you head on home for the night. I’m sure
Hope could use your help getting things back in order.” Johnny peered over
his coffee cup and stated, “So that’s the real reason you returned to town.
Boy, get back to your home before I throw you in jail for dereliction of
your responsibilities at home!”
“You’re no fun,” Mark teased.
“Yes I am, that’s why I’m sending
you back home. Now get out of here!”
Mark left the Marshal’s Office and
headed to the hotel. He knocked on the door to the room where Charles and
Peter had spent the night.
“Afternoon, Charles. Didn’t know
if you wanted to keep Peter here or if he would be returning to the ranch.
I know Ma and Pa are real sorry about his…”
“Mark, it wasn’t their fault and I
won’t have your family taking blame. I think that Peter would really like
to spend what time he can, back at the ranch with your sons and brothers.”
“You really mean it?!” Peter
“Sure,” Charles answered as he
looked to his nephew.
“Have you heard from Jennifer?”
“She and Wykestrom should be in on
Mark and Peter returned to the
McCain ranch and were rowdily greeted by the boys.
“Boys?” Mark tried to call to
“Oh, I Pa!” Josh answered.
Mark shook his head as he watch all
six boys run to the side of the house, chasing each other, playing a game of
“Didn’t think you’d be back so
soon,” Hope stated as she stepped from the porch.
“Johnny kicked me out and told me
to get home. Said you’d probably need some help getting our home back in
“I can do most of the work, but
there are a few items I’ll need your help with. In the mean time, once you
get the horses taken care of, why don’t you stay out here with all the
“Oh,” Mark stopped. “Johnny
reminded me of the church social tomorrow.”
“I remembered, I’ve already planned
our picnic lunch,” Hope answered and smiled. “And I’ve invited Charles and
Amelia to join us and your parents.”
The North Fork church was almost
full to capacity for Sunday services. Knowing the reason why, Reverend
McCafferty had planned a shorter than usual sermon, but one still based on
tolerance and turning the other cheek. At the conclusion, the parishioners
streamed outside and collected their picnic baskets from their wagons or
Everyone enjoyed the wonderful
weather the day brought. Amelia was awestruck with all the festivities and
how freely everyone interacted. She smiled as she watched the children
playing and shouting.
“Hope, may I help you with
anything?” Amelia asked.
“If you wouldn’t mind helping in
keeping an eye on Mykaela?”
The men left their wives to help
set up the ring for the boxing exhibition that would be held later in the
Gwen walked over to Hope and
inquired it she needed any help.
“Gwen, why don’t you spend the
afternoon with Jake and his family. You shouldn’t spend all your time
worrying about helping me out.”
“Today is your day off. Now go and
enjoy yourself,” Hope ordered.
Before Gwen could say anything
more, Jake ran up and grabbed her hand and pulled her along behind him
saying, “See, I told ya.”
The sun progressed across the sky
and found Micah Torrance shooting his scatter gun to get everyone’s
“Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Come one and
all! The boxing exhibition will be shortly. Come and get your seats.”
North Fork’s citizens were excited
to root for their friends and the various ranches being represented.
Leon Cooperton stood in the middle
of the ring next to Micah and welcomed everyone to North Fork’s First Boxing
“Now folks, as you can guess it
wouldn’t be fair to have certain boxers in the arena together, because of
the discrepancy in the men’s sizes, so we’ve split the contestants up into
categories. Feather weights, mid weights, and heavy weights. Each match
will involve three rounds of three minutes apiece, with Micah being the
official time keeper. After every man within a category has boxed, we will
proceed to the next category, giving the earlier contestants time to catch
their breath. After the heavy weight, we’ll return to the feather weights,
and continue in such manner. Each match will be a process of elimination
until we have only one man remaining from each category.”
The contestants strode from the
back of the church and gathered around the arena.
“Now, as the boxers know, there are
certain maneuvers that are not allowed and a boxer will be eliminated for
any punches thrown below the belt. If necessary, when I yell break, you
will go to your respective corners and wait until I say it okay to resume
Johnny Drako stepped up to the
ring, “Just so you know, anyone who doesn’t break when Leon tells them too,
will see the inside of my jail for the night. This is an exhibition and an
The crowd cheered and laughed as
each match progressed. Some of the contestants took to boxing and could go
all three scheduled rounds, while others didn’t last beyond the first round
of their match.
Eventually winners were declared.
Oat Jackford’s hand took the heavy weight title, while one of Dave Merar’s
men took home the feather weight title. As for the mid weight title, a new
rancher to the territory, Mike Thomkins took home the title.
Mark saw that Charles and Amelia
were safely returned to the hotel for the night before he headed back home
with his family, and Peter.
Monday afternoon, Mark and Hope
left their children with his parents while they returned to North Fork with
“Sir,” Peter asked as he stood
behind the seat.
“Yes, Peter,” Mark answered.
“I wish we could stay here.”
“Don’t you want to return home with
your parents?” Hope asked.
“I want to stay with my parents,
but America is so different from home. Here, people could care less who I
am. You’ve let me be a boy.”
“That’s why your parents left you
with us. They just didn’t plan on Edgerton and Dochlichter kidnapping you.”
“Sir, I understand why my mother
and father left me here. I’m ashamed for the way I was behaving at home.”
“From what I understand, it wasn’t
all your fault, Peter,” Mark offered.
“No sir, but I’ll remember what we
talked about last night. I’m just a person with a title, but that title
doesn’t make me any better than anyone else.”
“Sounds like a good lesson to
remember,” Mark answered. “Hope, I’ll drop you and Peter off at the
daycare, I’m sure Jennifer and Wykestrom will want to talk regarding what
“No sir,” Peter interrupted. “I
think my mother will want to make sure I’m okay first.”
Mark halted the buckboard at the
livery and watched as Peter climbed down from the back. Mark made his way
around and helped Hope down, before telling Nils they would be back when
they could and thanked him for looking after the team.
They were met at the platform by
Charles and Amelia and waited for the train to halt and for Peter’s parents
to exit the train.
Wykestrom was the first to step to
the platform and extend his hand to Jennifer. Peter patiently waited for
them to approach, he looked at his mother, surprised she didn’t immediately
run to him.
“Mother, Father,” Peter stated.
“Welcome back to North Fork.”
“How are you son?” Wykestrom asked.
“I missed you. Oh Mama, I want a
hug,” Peter cried as Jennifer knelt down and wrapped her arms around her
“Your Majesties, we’re awfully
sorry about Peter being kidnapped. We didn’t receive the wire from Denver
until after he had already been taken,” Mark stated.
“Mark we don’t blame you,”
Wykestrom answered as he too knelt to hug his son. “I hope the bastards are
dead or in custody!”
“Wykestrom!” Jennifer exclaimed.
“We have them in custody, but
first, I think we need to talk,” Mark answered.
Jennifer held Peter at arms’ length
and turned him one way or the other, looking him over.
“Mother, I want to be your little
boy. I don’t want to be a prince, least not until I’m older,” Peter stated.
“What brought this change of heart
on?” Jennifer asked.
“I made some wonderful friends and
I learned that I need to respect you and Father, but more importantly, those
people back home are wrong it putting me on a ped… ped… Well, they tell me
I’m better than everyone else and I learned I’m not.”
“Jennifer, if I may,” Hope
interrupted. “Why don’t you let me take Peter over to the daycare so the
three of you can talk.”
Upon entering the Marshal’s Office,
Mark offered his desk chair to Jennifer.
“So are those responsible in your
jail?” Wykestrom asked.
“Yes,” Johnny answered.
“I want to face them.”
Mark opened the door to the cells
and allowed Wykestrom to enter first. “Edgerton! What?!” he declared.
Jennifer was immediately at her
husband’s side. “You said you had a family emergency and had to return
“Your Majesty, when he arrived at
the outlaws’ hideout, he called for his Uncle Henry. The other man is Henry
Dochlichter,” Mark stated.
“Dochlichter?” Wykestrom asked.
“How could you?” Jennifer demanded.
“You have no right to the throne,”
Dochlichter spat as he pulled his hat from his face and sat up on the bed.
“By eldest blood, I should be King.”
“Your grandfather was renounced as
a member of the royal family when he plotted to kill his own father!”
“Jennifer, is he a diplomat?” Mark
asked. “Does he have diplomatic immunity?”
“Not anymore.” Looking straight at
Dochlichter, with anger in her voice, “Your family had been allowed to hold
their titles as long as they did not contest the line of ascension, but now,
you have no title or land. Your title and your land, and that of your get
“Then he can be charged with
kidnapping and stand trial here in America?” Johnny asked.
“Would your country press those
charges even though my son is not a citizen?” Jennifer asked.
“Ma’am,” Johnny Drako stated. “It
wasn’t just your son they kidnapped. They also kidnapped Mark’s brother,
“We didn’t know,” Wykestrom stated.
“He’ll be okay. All the boys had
fun playing at the ranch once we returned home. They’ve practically
forgotten about it, or at least look on it as a big adventure,” Mark
“Marshal, do with these two as you
see fit. They are no longer citizens of our home country,” Jennifer
declared. “I pray God has mercy on your souls, but you will pay for your
crime against our friends.” Jennifer turned to her husband, “I wish to
leave, to be with our son.”
Two days later, Mark transferred
the prisoners to the custody of Deputy U.S. Marshal James Jandl as they had
waived their rights to trial and were to be transported to McNeil Island, in
Washington State. He watched as Jandl secured the handcuffs both men wore
and saw them to the last car of the train, where no one would be bothered by
the men. Mark stood alone at the train station after the royal family
boarded the first passenger car, to leave North Fork and return to their
home. Bringing his thoughts to the present, Mark wiped his brow and headed
Next Step —
The Terrible Three