The Rifleman
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The Next Step...
Chapter 93 - A Belated Celebration
Written by Deanne Bertram

Johnny watched for Seth and Lilah’s return, to show them the wire Amos had brought to him.

“You were right, he’s made it to Clovis? Sounds like he might be heading to Amarillo,” Seth commented. “Are you planning to take this to Hope tonight?”

“I figure I’d do it come morning. Let them think no news is good news. Maybe they’ll get some sleep.”

“They sure could use some. Both Hope and Milly look so exhausted. I wish there was something I could do.”

“There sure is, we can go out there tomorrow and bring them here. I declare…” Lou stated as she had joined the group.

“Lou, they don’t want to come to town,” Lilah stated.

“Well, I don’t care what they want. They’re your family and they should listen to you. You can tell them we’re only going to bring them to town to do their shopping,” Lou offered.

“They gave us their shopping list before we left. Asked if we’d bring it out to them on Saturday.”

“Did they invite you out to celebrate Myra’s birthday on Friday?” Lou asked.

“Lou, I take it you’ve not been inside their homes…”

“No, why?” asked a curious Lou.

“Because their Christmas presents are still wrapped and sitting in the corner of the front room in Hope and Mark’s home. And I presume the same can be said at Milly and Lucas’. The children weren’t in the mood for the holidays, so I really don’t think Myra is going to be wanting to celebrate her birthday without Lucas or Mark being there,” Seth answered

“Well they have to come to town on Sunday. That’s when we’ve rescheduled Gwen and Jake’s wedding reception, right after church.” Those present weren’t sure whether Lou was stating fact or asking a question.

*****



“Ma, I know you can’t really want to go to town today?” Hope asked as she stared out the window.

Walking over to stand next to Hope and placing a hand on her shoulder Milly replied, “Hope, I miss Lucas and I’m worried about both of them too, but this afternoon it’s not about us. This is for Jake and Gwen.”

“I know, I just… I don’t…”

“Hope, we need to do this. We can’t shut ourselves away from our friends. Hattie’s had this party planned for Gwen since the middle of December. We have to be strong, for ourselves and for our children. Besides, we can pray for their safe return while at church.”

“It’ll feel awkward not having Mark or Pa at our sides.”

Hope looked to the picnic basket sitting on the table for the box social.

“I know, it’s awkward just not knowing…”

Hope and Milly hugged each other until they heard Faith start crying.

“I need to nurse her before we leave.”

“I’ll help Mykaela get dressed,” Milly stated.

*****

Thadd drove the surrey to the McCain’s ranch Sunday morning to pick up Hope and Milly, and their children to return them to town for church and the wedding reception.

Hattie and Micah were the first to greet the McCain’s at the steps to the church.

“Glad to see you came,” Micah stated as he knelt down to hug each one of the children, while Hope held Faith.

“We weren’t so sure that Seth would be able to convince you to still come,” Hattie stated as she took Faith from Hope.

“Ma said something before Father arrived,” Hope answered as she hugged Lilah.

“What was it Milly said,” Lilah asked.

“I told her we shouldn’t shut ourselves away from our friends, so from now on… We will do our own shopping and we will come to town as we normally would. And we’ll accept our friends into our homes. It’s what Lucas and Mark would want of us.”

*****

The parishioners of North Fork’s church made their way to the town hall after Sunday service concluded. The women carried their picnic baskets, many gaily decorated in a manner that the husband or boyfriend would recognize the basket and bid on the correct one.

Upon entering the town hall, Jake and Gwen, as well as Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty welcomed everyone inside. Several tables had been set up along one of the walls for the picnic baskets, and another table had been set up on the opposite wall for the wedding cake, baked by Ethyl Cooperton.

Micah and Hattie handed out cups containing punch as people walked by the table they stood behind. Hattie motioned for the bandleader to begin playing. Prior to anyone arriving, she had requested the band keep the music a little in reserve, in anticipation that Hope and Milly would attend.

Gwen and Jake happily accepted many congratulating hugs and kisses, as each person wished them a long, happy marriage.

“Attention, attention,” called the bandleader. “May I have the bride and groom, front and center!”

Jake escorted his bride on his arm as the two of them made their way to the podium.

“Jake, Gwen, I know your reception is being held a little later than it should have, but regardless… This town wants you to know how much they care about the two of you. This dance is for you, if you’ll take your bride to the middle of the dance floor?”

As the music started, Gwen and Jake only had eyes for each other as they slowly danced to the music. Halfway through the number, the conductor changed up the tempo, and their friends immediately began to clap their hands and/or tap their feet in beat with the new tempo. Hoots and hollers sounded throughout the room. As Jake and Gwen carouseled around the floor, they motioned for others to join them in the fun.

The band started to play another song as some people left the floor and others joined in the dancing. Hope sat on a bench, set out for the guests, with Mykaela sitting on her lap; she was helping her daughter clap her hands. Beside her, Lilah said cuddling with Faith. Much to Milly’s surprise, Isaiah Cooperton stopped in front of her and bowed, “Mrs. McCain, if I may?” he held out his hand.

Milly accompanied Isaiah to the dance floor, where they danced to a mildly upbeat tune.

At the conclusion of the song, Isaiah bowed to Milly before extending his hand to escort her back to her seat.

“Mrs. McCain, normally I know a man would ask the father if it would be permissible, but,” Isaiah looked to where Myra stood and blurted out his request, “May I please have a dance with Myra?”

Milly smiled as she nodded.

*****

In time, Hattie announced it was time for the men to bid on the picnic baskets. “And men, it’s up to you to bid on the correct basket. I hear tell the circuit judge is due later in the week and we don’t want nobody being threatened with divorce.”

“Mama, what’s divorce,” Myra asked.

“Nothing you need to concern yourself with,” Milly asked.

Micah held up a simply decorated basket and looked around the room, attempting to determine who had brought this basket.

“Well now, this is a mighty pretty basket, made by someone I hold dear as a granddaughter, so boys, you best bid up.”

The other men present started the bid out low, knowing that Myra had made the basket. As the amount of money increased, the number of men bidding dropped off until there was only Isaiah Cooperton left.

“Sold! Seventy-five cents to Isaiah Cooperton. Miss Myra McCain, if you’ll present Mr. Cooperton with his basket.”

Myra squealed when she realized how much money her basket had fetched and that Isaiah was the winning bidder.

Finally, there were two baskets remaining on the bench. Micah knew they belonged to the McCain women.

He help up the next to last basket and though several men had already bid on their own wife’s basket, they felt obligated to bid on this one. “I know that Milly McCain makes a fried chicken to die for!” As the price of the basket neared five dollars a voice from the doorway called out, “I’ll see that bid and raise it to fifty dollars!”

Everyone turned in hopes to see Lucas McCain standing in the doorway. Milly’s heart sunk as she saw a friend of Lucas’ instead.

“Now, don’t tell me Lucas McCain isn’t wanting to outbid me?” the man declared as he removed his hat and entered the room. “Luke, where are you?”

Milly stood to her feet to go greet Lariat Jones.

“Lariat, it’s nice to see you, again.” She lifted to her tiptoes and gave Lariat a welcome kiss on the cheek.

“Where is that old dog of a man you call a husband?”

“Please, just come aside.”

“Miss Milly, where’s Lucas? Something’s not right here.”

“You can call it a witch’s brew,” Milly answered as she took the basket from Micah and handed it to Lariat.

Micah returned to the podium and held up the last basket, Hope’s.

Numerous men bid on the basket Hope had created, but Jake ended up with the winning bid.

“I owe you and Mark this much,” Jake stated as he paid his bid and took the basket from Hope.

‘You don’t owe us anything, Jake,” Hope replied as she graciously handed the basket to Jake.

Gwen was there by his side, “Hope, we have to have faith that they’ll both return safely. I agree with Jake, if it weren’t for you and Mark, we wouldn’t be married. We owe it to you to not leave your basket on the table.”

*****

Once everyone had finished the picnic baskets, Micah called Gwen and Jake to the table where Micah invited them to cut their wedding cake.

“I know had certain members of our town been present today, they’d both be here to offer a toast to the two of you,” Micah stated. “You have been tested early in your married lives and it is those trials that I believe will make your marriage stronger. As long as you listen to your hearts, this marriage will grow stronger. Remember to talk with each other and never go to bed mad at each other.”

Micah handed the knife to Jake who positioned his hand so that Gwen could hold the knife too, while together they cut the cake. Everyone laughed as husband and wife attempted to stuff a piece of cake in the other’s mouth. By the end, they kissed each other and held tight.

Gwen and Jake thanked all their guests for sharing their afternoon and making their wedding reception memorable.

*****

“Okay, now tell me, what’s going on?” Lariat asked of Milly after most of the other guests had left.

“Lariat, Lucas disappeared two days before Christmas. We don’t know anything other than Mark’s trailing after who ever took him.”

“What word have you heard from Mark?” Lariat asked, looking to Hope.

“We only hear when he makes it to another town. He just wires where he is,” Hope answered.

“And who’s helping out at the ranch?”

“Jake’s still with us and the other ranchers send hands out to help,” Milly replied.

“Anyone staying at the ranch of a night?”

“Just us,” Hope answered.

“Not any more. Lucas would skin me alive if he found out I was here and didn’t stay. We’ll set up a cot in the barn,” Lariat stated.

“Lariat, we have an extra room at our home. We can set up a cot in that room…” Hope offered.

“Now Miss Hope, I’d appreciate that. Now introduce me to all the children. Last time I was here, I remember the twins and you’d just given birth to your second son, and Milly... I remember you have three.”

Hope pointed out her children, by name, to Lariat and Milly pointed out hers.

“How did you ladies get to town?” Lariat asked.

“My father brought us in the surrey.”

Seth and Lilah joined the McCain’s and Lariat.

“Father, you remember Lariat Jones?” Hope asked.

“Lariat, welcome back to North Fork.”

“Why thank you deputy. Now who’s this pretty filly on your arm?” Lariat asked as he placed a kiss on Lilah’s proffered hand. “That’s not a wedding ring I see on your left hand…”

“Lariat, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, Lilah Lane,” Seth stated with a grin on his face.

“Pleasure is mine,” Lariat smiled back.

After the group had chitchatted for a little while longer, Lariat stated, “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll return the ladies and their children to their homes.”

Lariat followed Seth outside.

“Lariat, I appreciate your offering to stay at the ranch with them. It’ll make everyone feel a bit better knowing that someone is out there to keep an eye on their place.”

“You honestly don’t know any more than Mark’s tracking after Lucas?” Lariat asked.

“Lilah and I were spending Christmas with Ethan and Annie up at Fort Stanton. We didn’t know anything until we returned. Amos informs Johnny of any wires and he lets me know…”

“You’ll keep me posted?”

Seth nodded.

*****

Lariat dropped Milly and her children off at her house and made sure their front door was locked before he returned to the surrey to see Hope and her children across the yard.

“Now Miss Hope, let’s get these young ‘en inside. I’ll take care of the horses and the surrey.”

“There’s a cot in the corner storage locker. I’ll get some blankets and covers for you.”

Within a half an hour of arriving, Lariat lay stretched out on the cot in the spare room in Mark and Hope’s home. “Lucas, what witch’s brew have you gotten yourself and Mark into this time?” Lariat wondered aloud.

The Next Step — The Waiting Game

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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