The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 57 – A Debt Paid Forward
Written by Deanne Bertram

As President of North Fork’s Cattlemen’s Association, Lucas had gone to Santa Fe to attend a meeting of New Mexico’s Cattlemen’s Associations. Mark was in town, standing his watch and wasn’t due back from town until mid-afternoon. Since neither Lucas nor Mark were there to hitch up the team, Milly and Hope, and their children stayed at home and read from the Bible. It was a nice enough day, for the beginning of March, that Hope decided to saddled up Two-Bits and Blue Boy that afternoon to take Myra for a ride, since all four boys were down for a nap. As Hope led both horses from the barn, Milly walked out, from the house, towards them and stopped near the wood pile. She turned around to wave to Hope and Myra as they started to head out, wishing them to “Have a good ride.”

Hope jumped down from Two-Bits after hearing Milly scream and before she could run to where Milly sat grabbing at her ankle, she heard the sound and yelled, “Ma, crawl away from there.” Hope grabbed her rifle from its scabbard, shouldered it and fired. She ran to where the snake lay dead, picked it up and threw it away. Next, she ran to Milly, setting her rifle down as she dropped to her knees and pulled Milly’s leg from her grasp.

Hope pulled her belt from her waist and used it as a tourniquet. Next she ran to where Myra waited on Blue Boy, in tears. Hope asked Myra “Do you think you can find your way to town and get Mark? Do you remember how to get to school and then to the Marshal’s?”

“Yes,” Myra said hesitantly.

“Then go!” Hope yelled as she turned Blue Boy around and slapped him on the rump.

Hope ran to the house and grabbed a knife from the kitchen drawer, she returned to Milly. “Lie still Ma, just lie still. Try to breathe deeply and slowly. This is going to hurt, but I need to cut your leg and get the poison out.”

*****

Mark was just over the hill when he saw his sister running Blue Boy hard, he got Copper turned around, not knowing if Myra could stop Blue Boy before she reached him. He already had Copper in a lope when Blue Boy ran past them. Mark kicked Copper to catch up and match Blue Boy’s stride. Mark reached for the reins, “Gabby, what do you mean running Blue Boy like this?” he asked as he halted the horses, then he saw the expression on Myra’s face.

“It’s Mama! Hope sent me to get you from town!”

Mark kept a hand on Blue Boy’s rein as they turned and rode back to the ranch. As they approached the barn, Hope yelled for Mark to hitch the team. “We have to get Ma to town. She was bitten by a rattle snake. I placed a tourniquet on, but I don’t know if I got all the poison out.” She ran to grab Myra from the saddle and took the horses inside the barn to strip their gear as Mark ran to get the team hitched. Next, Hope ran to get the boys and placed them in the back of the buckboard as Mark helped his Ma get in the back and to lie down. “Myra, up in the front seat with Mark!” Hope yelled as she climbed in back to cradle Milly’s head.

Mark raced the team to town, hauling them to a hard stop in front of the clinic. By the time they arrived at town, Milly had lost consciousness. Mark carried Milly into the one of the examination rooms, yelling for Doc Burrage.

“Mark what’s wrong?” Thadd asked as he entered the room.

“It’s Ma, she was bit by a rattler. Hope placed the tourniquet and cut the site open, but…”

Thadd didn’t say anything; he just pushed Mark out of the way as he went to examine Milly’s leg. Then, he pulled out his stethoscope and listened to Milly’s heart and lungs, and then positioned the stethoscope over Milly’s abdomen, shaking his head as he listened. Abigail came into the room a few minutes later.

“Thadd?”

“Get the ether, we’re going to have to take the baby?”

“Take the baby?” Mark asked, startled.

“Mark, I don’t have time, just get out of here if you want there to be any chance for Milly or the baby to live.”

Mark backed out of the room until he backed into the wall on the other side of the hallway. He started shaking, as he slid down the wall, his knees having buckled. Abigail closed the door behind her. Hope was just entering the clinic when Mark started crying. She knelt next to him and wrapped him in her arms and cried with him. Through his tears he managed to ask, “Where are the children?”

“I’ve got them over at the day care with Hattie and Micah,” Hope answered. “Please Mark, let’s go to Thadd’s office and wait.” She helped Mark get to his feet and holding on to each other they walked to Thadd’s office, down the hall.

Lou and Johnny were the first people to arrive at the clinic, followed closely by Seth.

“Mark, what happened?” Seth asked.

“I got home and Hope said Ma was snake bit.”

“What did Doc say?” Lou asked.

“He said they were going to take the baby and for me to get out, if there was to be any chance for Ma or the baby to live.”

Hope hugged Mark tighter as he buried his head into her shoulder and cried.

*****

The room where they waited was quiet except for the ticking of the clock sitting on the desk, marking time as the afternoon drug on and turned to evening. The sun was painting the sky crimson and orange when Doc Burrage entered his office. He saw Mark, sitting on the couch, head bent down, Bible in his hand. Hope was curled up on the couch with her head on Mark’s thigh. Thadd walked over and knelt next to Mark, placing a hand on Mark’s knee and quietly saying, “Mark.”

Mark opened his eyes, and jumped with a start, causing Hope to quickly sit up. “Doc?” they both spoke in unison.

“I think both Milly and the baby are out of danger, for the time being. I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier Mark. I just didn’t have time to talk.”

“You said for the time being,” Mark commented.

“For now. Hope, you did a great job with the tourniquet and getting a lot of the venom out of her leg, but still, some got into Milly blood stream. It started to put stress on the baby and in order to save the baby’s life; I had to cut him from Milly’s womb. I had to perform a cesarean section.”

“But you said that Ma was out of danger, I thought they only did that kind of surgery once the mother was…” Mark cried.

“Mark, that used to be the case. You know that Abigail and I were out of town for two months over Thanksgiving and Christmas?”

Mark nodded.

“We were in Boston, at a physician’s conference. They taught us how to perform this procedure so that it could be used to save the life of both the mother and the child. Mark, if we hadn’t attended that conference, we would have lost both your Ma and your brother.”

“Can I see Ma?” Mark asked.

“Not tonight. I’m keeping Milly unconscious until we know more about her leg and give her time to recover from the surgery.”

“Her leg?” Hope asked.

“Hope, with snake bites, there always is a chance for complications. I’m pretty sure that we were able to extract most all the venom, but there’s always a chance that some remained in the flesh. If that’s the case, we have to make sure gangrene doesn’t set it. If it does, there’s the possibility, remote as it is, there’s the possibility that we’d have to amputate her leg.”

“Amputate?” Hope asked.

Mark replied, “In order to save Ma’s life, if her leg did become gangrened, they’d have to surgically remove her lower leg.”

Hope turned her head and buried it in Mark’s shoulder as she started to cry, again.

“I’ll do my best to see that it doesn’t happen, but you have to know the risks and why the next 36 to 48 hours are so crucial to Milly’s recovery -- from the snake bite and the cesarean section. I have Milly on medication to hopefully prevent any infection or gangrene from setting in.”

“What about my brother? If Ma’s not able to nurse him?” Mark asked with alarm in his voice.

“Mark, Mrs. Warders had her baby yesterday and I was all set to release her this afternoon when you came in. She agreed to nurse your brother in the first few critical hours.” Then turning to Hope, Thadd asked, “However, the baby is pre-mature. Your own children have only been a little pre-mature. This one is almost three weeks pre-mature and there are risks associated with that and the fact that he wasn’t delivered naturally. Hope, I presume you are still nursing Eli?”

“Not really, we just started weaning him last week. He only nurses at night.”

“Well, since Mrs. Warders already has six other children at home, I don’t think its fair to ask her to take on your brother until your Ma gets better. Hope, if you don’t mind, I’d like to examine you. I’d really prefer for you to continue to nurse the baby.”

“Can we see my brother?” Mark asked.

“Sure, I don’t think Mrs. Warders would mind.”

Thadd led Hope and Mark to Mrs. Warders’ room. He knocked on the door, “Mrs. Warders, it’s me, Doc Burrage. If you don’t mind, I have Mark and Hope McCain with me and they’d like to meet their baby brother,” and waited for a reply.

“Come on in,” they heard from the other side of the door.

Mark and Hope entered the room and saw Abigail handing a baby to an ample-sized woman sitting up on the bed, and she pulled open her blouse and positioned the baby to nurse.

“I’m sorry,” Mark stated as he turned his head.

“Come now deputy, don’t tell me you’s not ‘round when yer misses was allowing yer babies to suckle?”

“Yes Ma’am, I was. But Hope’s my wife and you’re not,” Mark replied, still not looking at Mrs. Warders.

“It’s the most natural thing in the world, for a baby to suckle from a woman’s breast.”

“Yes Ma’am, but Mr. Warders…”

“Oh, now, don’t worry ‘bout what that husband o’ mine be thinkin’. We’ve many visitors at the house when I was suckling a baby from my breast.” Then realizing how embarrassed Mark had really become, “But then, maybe you is right. Here Miss Hope, why don’t you take yer little brother and let me get decent so yer man don’t faint on us.”

Hope took the baby and cradled him in her arms. Mark stood next to Hope and looked at his brother. “Can’t tell who this one looks like, Ma or Pa,” Mark stated.

“Mrs. Warders,” Thadd spoke. “You husband is over at the hotel, if you don’t mind waiting a few more minutes before being released, I want to make sure Hope is able to take over nursing the baby before you go.”

“Go right ahead, I’ll just enjoy my rest.”

*****

With the baby crying in her arms, Hope and Mark followed Thadd to another examination room. “Mark,” Thadd stated. “I’m sorry about Mrs. Warders embarrassing you like that, but that’s the way she is. Now Hope, if you don’t mind, I take it that your breasts are tender to the touch, as Eli’s not been nursing except at night?”

“Yes.”

“That only normal for when a mother starts to wean their baby, your body will still produce milk and it will take time for it to realize that’s no longer necessary. But, your body is going to have to continue to produce milk until Milly’s ready to take over. Let’s me examine you and we’ll see if the boy will nurse from you.”

Mark held his baby brother as Hope unbuttoned her shirt. Once she untied her camisole, Mark handed the baby to her and watched. All three heard the baby’s crying stop as he happily began slurping. As he palpated Hope’s breast, Thadd was pleased to see the excess milk surrounding the baby’s mouth, indicating that Hope was producing enough milk to sustain the baby. Hope looked up into Mark’s eyes and gave him a nervous smile.

“That’s a good sign Hope. I know how at about this time, a woman wants to be done with nursing…”

“But I’ll do it as long as the baby needs me to.”

“I think you should still be able to nurse Eli of an evening, but you might want to go ahead and switch him to a bottle completely, if this gets too tiring on you, that way Mark can tend to Eli at night.”

“What ever you suggest, Doc,” Mark stated.

“Well, I’ll leave you three be for now. I want to get back to Milly,” Thadd stated and then left.

“You look as embarrassed as I felt in Mrs. Warders’ room,” Mark commented.

“Mark, this is so awkward.”

“How so?” Mark asked.

“I only nursed the twins for a little over a week before Thadd put me on medication that prevented me from nursing them, so I didn’t really go through this discomfort I’ve been experiencing while weaning Eli. And then, having both you and Thadd watch as the baby nursed from me. I mean, when Thadd examines me, it’s just me and my doctor. And then when you and I are together as I nurse Eli… It just felt awkward to have you watch as Thadd examined me. And then, this is your brother I’m nursing,” Hope stated as she repositioned the baby to nurse from her other breast. “I don’t know, maybe I should be more like Mrs. Warders.”

“No, this is something special between us, sharing this time.”

Mark pressed a kiss to Hope’s hair as he sat down next to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. In time the baby fell asleep.

“Will you be okay for awhile? I want to make arrangements for us at the hotel and see if Hattie and Micah would mind letting the children spend the night with them.”

“Go on Mark. You do what you need to.”

*****

Mark slowly made his way towards the day care, but seeing the lanterns extinguished, he headed towards Hattie and Micah’s residence. Wearily he knocked on the door and a few moments later, Micah answered.

“Come in boy. How’s Milly?”

“Alive. Doc’s keeping a close eye on her.”

“And the baby?”

“I’ve another brother.”

“Congratulations,” Micah said in a solemn tone. “I take it you’d like for the children to spend the night here?”

“If you don’t mind? Hope is nursing the baby and Doc wants to keep an eye on him too, since he was born so pre-mature. We’re going to be staying at the hotel. Though, I probably should take Eli back with me.”

“You do what needs to be done and leave the other children to Hattie and me. They’re in good hands.”

“I know they are, and thanks, Micah.”

Hattie carried Eli into the parlor and handed him to Mark. “We’re praying for Milly.”

“Thanks Hattie.”

*****

Next, Mark made his way to the hotel. He entered to find Johnny and Lou, Johnny and Colleen, and Seth waiting in the lobby.

“We saw ye heading to Micah’s earlier. Is Milly all right?” Lou asked.

“For now. Doc’s keeping an eye on her. And we’re praying there won’t be any complications,” Mark answered

“Mark, we be praying as well,” Lou stated.

“What of the baby?” Colleen asked.

“You’ve another nephew.”

“And what of nursing the baby? Surely Milly can’t…” Lou asked.

“Thadd had Mrs. Warders nurse him at first. But for now and until Ma gets well enough, Hope will be nursing him.”

“Is there anything we can do for you Mark?” Johnny Drako asked.

“We need a room and two cribs, until… Oh my, I need to send a wire to Santa Fe. I’ve got to let Pa know,” Mark stated as he whirled about and started to leave.

“Easy there Mark,” he heard from his uncle and felt a hand on his arm. “We already tried to send a wire to Lucas, he had checked out of the hotel. He’s already on his way home. I presume he’ll arrive on the morning train.”

“Mark, I’ll make a room ready for ye. Go get yer wife and come back, you’ll be in room fifteen. It’s at the back of the hotel and will be the most quiet for ye and quicker to get up and down from the kitchen.”

“I take it that someone took care of the team?”

Seth nodded, “They’re at the livery, Nils took care of them a few hours ago.”

“Thank you everyone,” Mark said as he left the hotel.

Wearily Mark returned to the clinic, carrying Eli. He walked to the room where his Ma lay, knocked on the door to let Thadd know he was there.

“How is she?”

“She’s holding her own Mark. She’s a McCain. By marriage, but none the less she’s a McCain. I take it you’ve made arrangements at the hotel?”

Mark nodded.

“Good. Take your son and go get your wife and your brother and get some sleep. You look worse than your Ma does. Make sure you keep your baby brother bundled up well. You’ll need to make sure he keeps warm enough.”

Mark and Hope returned to the hotel with the babies in their arms. Lou showed them up to room fifteen as Johnny carried a bassinet up. Both Johnny and Lou bid Mark and Hope goodnight.

After placing the Eli in his crib and Mark’s brother down to sleep in the bassinet and then placing warmed bricks rapped in towels around his body, they both stripped, Mark to his long johns and Hope put on a nightgown that Lou had loaned her. Both collapsed on the bed in each others’ arms and quickly were asleep.

During the night, whenever Hope would wake to allow the baby to nurse, Mark was right there beside her, tending to Eli.

*****

The whistle from the train arriving woke Mark the following morning, “PA!” he declared as he jumped from the bed. Hope woke to realize it was later than either of had meant to sleep in. As Mark hurriedly pulled on his pants, they heard a knock at the door.

“Mark, Hope, tis me and Colleen, and we have the baby and Eli,” came Lou’s voice from the other side.

Mark quickly opened the door as he pulled his shirt on.

“Lou, what?”

“We knew the two of ye had to be totally exhausted after yesterday, so we took the liberty of taking care of the boys this morning, though I do feel that this little one would appreciate Hope more than the little bit he drank from the bottle downstairs,” Lou stated.

“And your Uncle Johnny has gone to the station to meet your father,” Colleen stated.

Hope took the baby from Lou and proceeded to sit down in the chair and positioned the baby to nurse. Colleen carried Eli and she proceeded to change Eli’s diaper. Mark quickly buttoned his shirt, tucked it in his pants, pulled on his boots, kissed Hope and told her he’d return soon.

Mark ran down the stairs and out the door of the hotel to see his father and Johnny running into the clinic. As Mark entered the clinic, he saw Thadd showing his father into the room where Milly was. He paused outside the door and waited with his uncle.

“Mark, this is a time for you and your father. We’re all praying for Milly,” Johnny stated, he placed his hand to Mark’s shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and then left.

*****

“Doc?” Lucas asked desperately.

“Lucas, she’s held her own overnight.”

“What of the baby? Doc, what of the baby?” seeing that his wife was no longer pregnant.

“He lives. I had to take the baby in order to save its live. Hope did a good job in placing the tourniquet and trying to get the poison out, but enough of the venom was in Milly’s system that the baby was at risk.”

“What about Milly?”

“I’m keeping her unconscious. The pain she would feel from the surgery is the worst the first twenty-four to thirty-six hours post-operation. The incision is looking healthy this morning. Her leg looks good, no sign of gangrene. I plan to wake her up later tonight or maybe tomorrow morning.”

Lucas bent over and kissed his wife and swept her bangs from her face.

“Lucas, there’s one more thing you should know. I didn’t tell Mark last night because he and Hope had enough on their minds…”

“What?” Lucas asked as he turned to Lucas at Thadd.

“You should know that Milly won’t be able to have any more children.”

“I don’t understand,” Lucas stated. “She’s healthy, not like Margaret.”

“Lucas, the cesarean section that I performed to save your son’s life… How do I say this? Even though the incision will heal, the surgical sight will never be as strong as it was prior to the operation. Any future pregnancy would put Milly’s and a baby’s life at risk, the further the pregnancy progressed. A woman’s body can only handle one cesarean section and a natural delivery is out of the question for any future pregnancies. As physician’s we’re trained to save lives and to do this, I had to operate so as to prevent any future risk to Milly’s life. Standard procedure, as outlined by the American Medical Association, dictates that I had to remove her womb. You will still be able to be intimate with her, but she’ll never be able to conceive a child again. I’m sorry Lucas.”

*****

As he stood outside the door, Mark heard Thadd’s words to his Pa.

****

“Doc, where is the baby?” Lucas asked as he tried to accept the news that Thadd had given him.

“Right now he’s at the hotel with your daughter-in-law, Hope’s nursing him,” Thadd stated.

Lucas bent over Milly one more time and placed a kiss to her lips, “Milly, please know I love you. I’ll be here when you wake.”

Thadd led Lucas from the room. Mark was waiting, tears streaming down his face.

“You heard?” Thadd asked.

Mark couldn’t speak, he just nodded.

“Mark, take your father to meet his son. It won’t be until later tonight that I’ll allow Milly to wake, if not tomorrow.”

*****

As they walked to the hotel, Mark thought of what to say to his father. He couldn’t get Thadd’s words out of his head, how his Ma’s life would have been at risk if she were to ever have another child – ‘She’ll never be able to conceive another child again.’ He worried about how he would have felt, had it been Hope.

“Pa, Ma will get better and she’s given you three children,” Mark stated as they stood outside the door to the hotel room, where Hope and his brother were waiting. “I’m…”

“Mark, I don’t care about that part, I only care that she recovers. I’d love her regardless, even if she’d never been able to give me a child. How is Hope handling the fact that she’s nursing your brother?”

“We talked last night and she feels strange…” He knocked and waited for Hope to answer.

“Come in,” came Hope’s voice from the other side of the door.

Mark opened the door to see Colleen placing Eli back in his cradle and Hope starting to get up from the chair. Lucas motioned for Hope to remain sitting. As they entered, Colleen offered her sympathies and left the room.

“Pa?” Hope stated. “I’m so sorry. I should have been quicker to get to Ma. I shouldn’t have gone to take Myra for a ride. If I hadn’t, she wouldn’t…”

“Hope,” Lucas stated. “Don’t. It happened. Thadd said she was holding her own. He also told me you were taking care of our son.”

Lucas walked to where Hope was. Hope handed the baby to Lucas, then stood up and stepped aside for him to sit in the chair. Hope then proceeded behind the partition in the corner of the room. A few minutes later, Hope came out from behind, dressed, the nightgown draped over her arm.

“He’s so small. So much smaller than Myra or Little Ted,” Lucas stated as he opened the blanket that wrapped his son and counted his fingers and toes.

“Pa, Doc said he was at least three weeks pre-mature. We have to keep him warm. Doc will probably want to see him this morning.”

“We’ll head back over in a few minutes,” Lucas stated as he re-wrapped his son and then wrapped him in another blanket. “Hope, you’ll never know what this means to me. I’m thankful.”

“Pa, we’re family. I would have, even if Thadd hadn’t asked,” Hope replied as she finished putting her hair into a pony tail.

Mark picked Eli up from his crib and together, the family headed over to the clinic.

*****

Mark left his father and wife at the clinic and headed to Nils’, he needed to borrow a horse to head back to the ranch. As he entered, he was somberly greeted by Nils, “Hi Mark.”

“Hi Nils. I need to borrow a horse to get back to the ranch, got chores that need to be done.”

“Don’t worry about your chores Mark. Jake McCafferty left here about two hours ago said he was heading out to your place to take care of things.”

Once he saw the expression on Mark’s face, Nils added, “Mark, you are so much like your father, but I think you’ll understand that your friends want to help you out as best they can. If he’s not back here by one, I’ll ride out personally and make sure he gets back to town.”

“Thanks Nils,” Mark said as he turned to head back to the clinic.

*****

Knowing that he hadn’t eaten, nor had Hope, he thought that neither had his father, Mark stopped by the restaurant and ordered breakfast for everyone.

“Mark, ye head on over to the clinic and I’ll bring it to ye and yer family,” Lou stated.

“Thanks Lou. I appreciate it.”

*****

Lucas and Mark were in the room later the next morning, when Milly’s eye finally started to flutter. Lucas sat down on the edge of the bed and waited for Milly to fully wake. He brushed back her bangs and lovingly looked at his wife.

“Lucas?” Milly asked quietly.

“I’m here.”

Mark quietly slipped from the room to go get Doc Burrage.

“Lucas, I hurt,” Milly stated as she raised her hands to grab at the pain she felt in her abdomen. “The baby! Lucas, the baby!”

“Shhh. Hush now. Our son is doing fine. Shhhh. Breathe slowly and try to relax.”

“What happened?!” Milly asked. Fear could be heard in her voice.

“You don’t remember?” Lucas replied.

“Not really, everything is foggy,” Milly raised her hand to her head.

“That’s to be expected Milly,” Thadd stated as he entered the room. “I had to perform emergency surgery on you, to save your life and the life of your son.”

“My son?” Milly asked, still confused at what was happening.

“Milly, we’ll tell you all the details when you’re stronger. Right now, just know that you’re getting better and your son is growing stronger.”

“Where is he?”

“Right now, he’s with Hope over at the hotel. I felt it was better that he was kept from here, since I do have a few sick people, I didn’t want to risk exposing him unnecessarily. If you’d like, I can send Mark to go get them and bring them to you.”

“My son, please can I see my son?” Milly cried.

“Shhh. Quiet Milly. Mark’s going to get them, they’ll be here in a few minutes.”

*****

Mark made sure his brother was well wrapped as he watched Hope put her jacket on. Mark handed his brother to Hope and then picked up Eli and together, they headed over to the clinic.

Abigail was waiting for them as they arrived, “Here let me take Eli from you. I’ll take care of him until you’re ready to return to the hotel.”

*****

Hope carried the baby into the room. She saw Milly try to sit up and heard as she cried out in pain. Lucas pushed Milly to lie back down.

“Not yet Milly. Let me get some pillows and I’ll help prop you up, but you’re not to sit up on your own, for a few more days,” Lucas pleaded.

After Lucas had propped Milly up, Hope handed Milly her son.

“Is he okay?”

“He’ll be fine Milly,” Thadd stated. “We just need to be careful with him in these cooler temperatures outside, since he was pre-mature. Your family just needs to keep him well wrapped when he’s asleep and taking him from one place to another.”

“Did he take to a bottle okay?”

“Ma, I….” Hope started to answer. “Ma, because he’s so tiny, Thadd preferred that he be breast fed. And since I was still, sort of, nursing Eli, he asked if I wouldn’t mind, just until you’re able to.”

Milly looked to Thadd and asked, “When can I?”

“We’ll see how you’re doing by this weekend. Right now there’s still too much of the medications in your body that your son doesn’t need.”

Turning her attention back to Lucas, she asked, “Have you named him?”

“No. I wanted to wait until you woke up. I named Little Ted, I think this time, you should be the one to name our son,” Lucas stated.

“I had been thinking of Levi Matthew, if we had a son,” Milly stated in a quieter voice.

Seeing that Milly was tiring, Lucas held out his hands to hold their son, “Come here Levi Matthew. It’s time for your Ma to take a nap.”

“But I’m not…”

“Yes you are.”

“Milly, I would like to give you some laudanum,” Thadd stated. “Just for the next few days. Since you’re going to be awake for a while, it will help reduce some of the pain that you’re experiencing. We’ll try to get you up from the bed and maybe into a chair come tomorrow evening.”

Thadd handed Milly a glass of water laced with Laudanum. “I promise that until you fall asleep, Lucas will stay in here, with the ba… with Levi.”

*****

Milly got stronger each day and as Thadd stated, they did get her up and out of bed and into a chair by the second day after she woke. Just that little effort exhausted her.

“Milly, I promise, by the weekend, most of your pain will be gone and you’ll be able to get up and walk around on your own. But for now, just have a seat and I’ll have Abigail go get Hope and bring Levi over to you.”

Hope arrived just as Lucas arrived with supper for Milly. Milly had just finished eating, when Levi started to get fussy, “I think he’s getting hungry,” Hope stated as she stood up.

“Hope, why don’t you stay in here to nurse him,” Lucas stated.

“I…” she looked back to Lucas and then to Milly.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take these dishes back to the restaurant and I’ll go visit with Johnny, Mark, and Seth at the Marshal’s.”

Hope looked quite a bit relieved. After Lucas left, Hope sat in the chair, unbuttoned her blouse and then untied her camisole. She lifted the baby to her breast and spoke, “Ma, I know how difficult this must be for you…”

“Hope, remember the fall, after you and Mark were married, the woman who died during child birth and Thadd asked that I nurse the baby?”

“I do now. I had forgotten about that,” Hope replied.

“I’m just thankful that someone was here to help out and I’m even more pleased that it was you.”

*****

Lucas, Mark holding Eli, and Hope holding Levi, waited in Thadd’s office while Thadd examined Milly. It had been six days since Levi had been born. The door opened and Abigail invited the family to come to the examination room.

“Okay, I’m going to allow Milly to go home today, but first I want to make sure that she can nurse Levi a couple different times, before she leaves. So it will probably be this afternoon. She’s not to do any lifting for the next two weeks. If nursing goes well this afternoon, then when she’s home, she’ll sit in a chair and one of you will bring the baby to her. I want to see Milly back here in two weeks, and only in two weeks, I don’t want her traveling until then, and at that time, I might lift the restriction.”

Hope handed Levi to Milly.

“Lucas,” Thadd stated. “Why don’t you and Mark go ahead and get the other children home. Then this afternoon, you can take Milly and Hope home with Levi and Eli. Mark you wouldn’t mind staying at home with the youngsters until Lucas can get the rest of your family home?”

“No, I can get the others settled at home and wait for Pa to bring them home.”

*****

Milly had been home for two days when Lucas pulled out their family Bible and carried it to the table and opened it. He helped Milly up from her chair and escorted her to the table, where beneath Theodore Scott McCain’s name, Milly wrote, Levi Matthew McCain, born, and the date.

*****

It had been two weeks since Milly and Levi had come home and Hope woke one morning nauseatingly sick. As she struggled with her morning chores, she wondered. Later that day, Lucas hitched the team to the buckboard, they were to take Milly and Levi to town for their check ups. Since it was Friday, the entire family headed to town and planned to meet Mark for supper, later. Mark had headed into town earlier in the morning. He was to meet with several of his new deputies, before standing his shift.

*****

Upon their arrival, they left the younger children, except Levi, with Hattie and Micah at the day care.

Thadd was pleased to see how well Milly’s incision had healed and the skin around the snake bite had healed, healthy. Next, Thadd examined Levi and proclaimed him quite healthy.

“Milly, there’s some more news that you need to know.”

From the tone of his voice, Milly could tell something was wrong, “Doc, you’re scaring me a little. What other news is there?”

“Milly, in order to save your life and Levi’s, I had to perform a cesarean section and during the cesarean section, I had to remove your uterus. Milly, Levi is the last child you will be able to conceive.” He knew the way that Milly would react, he had seen it several times, back in Boston. “Milly, it was the only way. Its standard procedure as dictated by the American Medical Association. They just recently trained us to use the procedure to save the life of a woman and the baby. Before, it was only a last ditch procedure, to save the life of a baby, done once the woman had passed.”

Through her tears she asked, “Does Lucas know?”

“Yes, he’s known since the morning after Levi was born.”

“He didn’t say anything….” Milly stated as she became more upset.

“I asked him not to. I didn’t feel you would be strong enough to hear the facts until today. I am sorry. But you have three beautiful children and as a woman approaches your age, their ability to conceive diminishes. It could be that Levi would have been the last child you would be able to conceive, even if the surgery hadn’t happened. I’ll give you a few minutes alone, if you’d like?” Thadd asked with compassion in his voice.

*****

As Thadd stepped to go to his office to meet Lucas, Hope was waiting for him in the hallway.

“Doc, do you have a moment?” she asked.

“Sure, is anything wrong?”

“Not wrong, I just think that I’m pregnant again. Mark told me about Milly… And…”

“Come inside, no need to discuss this in the open.”

Doc led Hope to another examination room where they could talk.

As he closed the door, Thadd asked, “Now, how can I help you?”

“Doc, I didn’t plan to become pregnant…” Hope stated.

“Not too many women plan. Most women hope and pray to become pregnant. Hope, it comes from the love you and Mark share when you are intimate with each other. Sometimes it’s the right time and a woman finds out she’s carrying a new life inside her. Other times, a woman can be as intimate with her husband as she wants and for some reason, she never conceives a child.”

“But today… Today was the day you were to tell Ma that she can no longer have any more children and I…” Hope averted her eyes.

“You’re feeling a little ‘guilty’?” Thadd asked.

“I guess you could say that. It’s just that, while this new life grows inside me, every time Ma see’s me, its going to remind her of her loss.”

“Hope, it may or it may not. Give her time to adjust. The good news is that she has the new baby and she’s healthy enough to care for Levi. She has given Lucas three beautiful children. I don’t believe she’ll hold it against you that you and Mark are having another child. Besides, your children will be her grandchildren.”

Then turning back to Hope and her pregnancy, “Okay, let me examine you just to confirm you’re pregnant?”

“No, I know the symptoms. Could you write a prescription for me to help ease the morning sickness?” Hope asked.

“I can. But first let me just confirm, besides, I’m the doctor.” After examining Hope and confirming that she was indeed pregnant, he wrote out a prescription and said, “Just remember, to help keep the nausea down, eat smaller frequent meals. When do you think the child was conceived?”

“Right after Christmas,” Hope replied. “It was that really cold night right after Christmas.” Hope blushed.

“Okay, so you’ll be about three months along now. I want to see you in two months. I should be able to tell by then if you’re carrying twins, again.”

“I hope I’m not carrying twins.”

“We’ll find out in about two months. Have you told Mark?

“Not yet, he left home before I woke this morning and was busy at the Marshal’s Office when we arrived.”

“I’d wait to tell him in private. Don’t do it in town. Okay?”

“Thank you.”

“Now, get out of here, I have sick patients who need me.”

*****

The families, McCain, Gibbs, Lane, Torrance, and Drako, had supper together at the restaurant that evening. No one but the McCain’s new about what else happened with Milly and her surgery. After supper, Mark bid goodnight to his family as he and Johnny returned to the Marshal’s Office.

*****

Milly tried to put on a brave face, but that night, Lucas knew his wife is upset and why. They talked after the children were put to bed.

“What kind of a wife can I be if I can no longer conceive your children?” Milly cried while Lucas held her.

“You can be the wife I married. I didn’t ask you to give me children and I would love you all the same, even if you had never given me one child.”

“You don’t understand…”

“Milly, there’s nothing to understand, except that I love you. In sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, in good times or bad. I don’t recall anything saying whether you could or could not give me children.” Lucas looked into Milly’s eye and saw that she was starting to accept the news and that Lucas was being sincere in his accepting of the facts. “Besides, don’t you think four children and three grandchildren are enough?”

“I just wanted to give you more,” Milly answered quietly as she leaned back to Lucas’ bare chest.

“Milly, you have. You gave me three more children.” Lucas took a real deep breath before he spoke next. “Milly, I accepted what Doc did because he did it to save your life. I don’t think I could live without you. Loosing Margaret almost destroyed me. After Johnny told me you’d been bitten and that Doc had to perform surgery to take the baby, in those next few moments, I felt all the pain and suffering after I lost Margaret, but I felt it for you. I know that God only has given us now and we don’t know what tomorrow will hold, but if this means I have a better chance of not loosing you…”

“Lucas, I understand and I love you.”

Lucas pressed a kiss to Milly’s hair and the fell asleep in each other’s arms.

*****

Hope had put all three of her sons to bed and then crawled into her own bed. As she lay there, she ran her hands over her stomach, curious about the life that was growing inside. She remembered all she experienced from her two previous pregnancies, as her sons had grown inside her womb. Hope was excited to tell her husband the news when they arrived home from church on Sunday. She worried about how Milly would take the news.

*****

Excitement woke Hope early Sunday morning, today was the day she would tell Mark they were expecting another child. And after bathing, she cooked breakfast and then went to wake the boys. As they were finishing breakfast, Hope looked up at hearing someone step to the front porch; she saw Lucas’ silhouette, “Come on in Pa.”


“How’s everyone this morning?” Lucas asked as he opened the door and stepped inside.

“Ganpa, Ganpa,” the twins called.

“We’re fine. Give us a while to finish getting ready for church.”

“Hope, Milly’s not feeling up to going church today, so if you don’t mind, we’re planning to read from the Good Book, just come over whenever you and the boys are ready.”

“But Mark…”

“I told him Friday that there was a possibility that we may not be at church this morning. Right now, I'm willing to let Milly sort this out and give her all the time she needs to make the adjustment.”

"Is she doing okay?"

"She is, but I don't want to push her. I've told her that no one outside of this family knows, except Doc, and he has to respect the doctor/patient confidentiality. I think by next week, she'll be ready to go back to church."

"We'll be over in probably an hour then."

"See you, and you boys don't give your Ma too much of a fit about your baths or I will dunk you in the horse trough just for good measures."

"No GanPa, that water cold!" Zach stated.

"Then mind your ma."

"Yes sir," Josh said.

*****

Hope carried Eli, while she and the twins walked to Lucas and Milly’s. She told Josh and Zach to have a seat next to Little Ted. Lucas held Levi while Milly got seated in her chair, then he handed their son to her. He had pulled an overstuffed chair from their bedroom for Hope to sit in, on her lap, she held Eli. Lucas sat in his chair and picked up his Bible and read.

It was nearing lunch time when Levi started getting fussy and Milly picked him up and headed to the bedroom to allow him to nurse. Hope started fixing lunch with the help of Myra, while Lucas was playing on the floor with his middle son and grandsons. Lunch was almost on the table when they heard a rider approaching. Lucas stood and walked to the door.

“Mark’s home,” he stated as he opened the door.

Mark entered and placed his rifle over the fireplace mantle, and was greeted by his sons, as well as his little brother. He bent down to Little Ted, Josh, and Zach and gave each of them a hug, stating how he had missed them. He stood up to remove his hat and before he knew what was happening, Hope and Myra were calling “Eli!” Mark turned around to see that Eli had pulled himself up to stand and was attempting to walk to him, holding onto a chair. Mark held his arms out and Eli took two steps without assistance. Mark grabbed him before Eli plopped on his fanny.

“Well, seems you can walk, but not yet talk, Eli.” Mark stated with a huge grin on his face. “When did this happen?”

“Just now, that’s the firs time I’ve seen him try to walk,” Hope answered.

Myra ran to her parents’ bedroom and knocked before calling, “Mama, Eli took his first steps.”

Shortly Milly came from the bedroom.

“So Mark, I hear that your youngest should be ready to walk down the aisle any time?”

“Ma?!” Hope replied, a little surprised.

“It’s okay Hope. Ma’s just getting even with me for saying the same thing when Gabby took her first steps. If I remember correctly, that was the day you declared it wasn’t ‘our’ bed, since I was off protecting the town and leaving you here to defend yourself.”

“Oh Mark, you remembered that?” Hope asked.

“I remember everything about every day that we’re together.”

The family had a good laugh and then everyone sat down for lunch. Afterwards, Mark and Hope took their family home, with the two of them holding a hand, Eli walked between them.

*****

As Mark prepared for bed that night, Hope sat on the edge of the bed brushing her hair.

“Mark, I’m happy to hear that Ma and Levi are going to be okay,” Hope quietly spoke.

“I was too. I worried how she was going to take the news. Pa and I talked and he said it didn’t matter if Ma couldn’t give him any children, he loved her. But he knew that it would be a difficult pill for her to swallow. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I had been given the same news about you…”

“And?”

“Like Pa, I fell in love with you. Whether you couldn’t have children or whether we have one or three children, I love you.”

Mark crawled into bed and pulled Hope to him, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed the base of her neck, from where she had brushed her hair to the other side.

“What about four children?” Hope asked as she pulled his hands to her stomach.

“Four?”

“Uh huh?”

“Eli’s not quite a year old. Don’t you think we should wait?” Mark answered. “I mean, give Ma time to adjust to learning she can’t have any more children?”

“It’s a little too late for that,” Hope stated as she let go of Mark’s hands and turned around to face him.

The expression on Mark’s faced was asking. Hope answered, before Mark could ask. “I talked with Doc Burrage and he confirmed my pregnancy, after he was through examining Ma and Levi on Friday.”

“Are you sure?”

“Mark, I’ve given birth to three sons. Don’t you think I know what its like to be pregnant? Besides you were the one who didn’t want to wait for the pot bellied stove to warm up the room, right after Christmas.”

Mark pulled Hope close to him and laid her down on her back. He lay down next to her and propped himself up with his elbow and then tenderly ran his hand over her belly.

“How could I have missed the fact that you are pregnant?” Mark asked.

“We’ve all had quite a bit on our minds lately. I talked with Doc. I’m worried about how Ma will take the news. What guilt or hurt will I cause her because my pregnancy will remind her, what she can no longer have.”

“Hope, no. Don’t think that way. She and Pa have three beautiful children together and our children will be her grandchildren. So this means you’ve not told Ma?”

Hope shook her head.

“We’ll tell her and Pa in the morning.” Mark laid himself down, but continued to rub his hand over Hope’s belly.

*****

The following morning, Mark and Hope let the boys sleep in. They quietly left the house and walked over to his parents’. Milly was on the porch, giving Lucas a kiss as he got ready to head to the barn.

“Pa, Ma?” Mark called.

“Good Morning!” Milly replied.

Lucas saw Mark’s arm wrapped around Hope and from the expression on their faces and their body postures, he gathered something was amiss. “Something wrong son?” he asked.

Milly’s expression changed in hearing Lucas question.

“Nothing’s wrong but we have some news we need to tell you.” They followed Lucas and Milly into their home.

“Don’t tell us that Tom is transferring you from North Fork?” Lucas asked.

“No Pa, it’s nothing like that,” Mark answered. “It’s just that you should know that you’re going to be grandparents again.”

“You’re pregnant?” Milly asked. “How long have you known?”

“I had an inkling for maybe about two weeks, but Doc confirmed it Friday, when we went to town for you and Levi.”

“Why didn’t you say anything Friday evening or yesterday,” Milly asked.

“Because you just received the news from Thadd. Ma, please we didn’t plan this pregnancy and I feel so…”


“Stop it right there young lady,” Milly declared. “I will not have you feeling guilty about your blessing. Child, God gave me the chance to bless Lucas with three children. Doc did point out that even if he hadn’t been forced to perform the surgery on me, that Levi might have been the last child I could conceive. I’m quite a few years older than you and it’s only natural at some time in my life I would lose the ability to bear any more children.”

Milly hugged Hope tightly, both had tears in their eyes. “Besides, that little blessing you are carrying is my grandchild.”

“Then you’re not upset?” Hope asked.

“No, I’m blessed. Have you told your father?”

“No, I just told Mark last night, I thought maybe we could invite father out for supper this week and we’d inform him then.”

The Next Step — In the Company of Death

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

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