The Writer's Corner
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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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?”
“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
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
“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.
“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
“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.”
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
“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?”
“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
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
“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.
“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
“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
“I don’t understand,” Lucas stated. “She’s healthy, not like
“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
“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
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
“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
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
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.
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
“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
“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
“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
“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,”
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
Turning her attention back to Lucas, she asked, “Have you named
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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?”
“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
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
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
“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
“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.”
“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
"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
"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
“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
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
“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…”
“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.
“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
“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
“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
“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?”
“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
“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
Milly hugged Hope tightly, both had tears in their eyes.
“Besides, that little blessing you are carrying is my
“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
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!
around The McCain Ranch