The Writer's Corner
The Next Step…
Chapter 90 - A Little Faith
Written by Deanne Bertram
The scorching sun continued its hold on the territory as October
neared an end. The McCain’s only had one remaining watering hole
for their livestock as they continued to work the ranch, from
sun up to sun down. Out on the range they struggled to bury the
cattle that hadn’t survived or tended to calves that had been
abandoned by their mothers. Alongside Lucas, Mark worked to
harvest the last of their shriveled crops as well as harvest the
hay to see their livestock through the winter. The drought also
necessitated the continuance of hauling barrels of water from
what remained of the small river that ran across their land to
help take the burden off the dwindling supply in their water
“Hope, I want you taking it easy while I’m in town,” Mark stated
trying to keep the tiredness from his voice, as he finished
pinning his badge to his shirt and turned to reach for his rifle
from over the mantle of the fireplace.
“But there’s just so much to do. The calves in the barn need
looking after and you’re harvesting….”
“They can all wait until I get home tomorrow,” Mark begged.
“Mark, you’re working from the moment you get up until well past
nightfall trying to take care of this place, plus you have your
job in town. You’re out there helping Jake build his home… You
can’t do it all!”
“Hope, I’ll do what needs to be done to provide for our family
and take care of our home, and if that means I lose out on
sleep, then so be it,” Mark stated as he stood in front of Hope
and pulled her as close to him as he could, with her very
pregnant belly. “Pa and I’ve weathered droughts before and we’ll
weather this one. Besides, you’re too close to your due date to
do much more than just taking care of the boys and Emmy. I’m
thankful that Gwen and Jake aren’t planning to get married until
Thanksgiving; so she can be here to help you until this little
one decides to make an appearance.”
“She shouldn’t have postponed her wedding because of me!” Hope
declared with more temper than she meant.
“She didn’t. They wanted Thanksgiving to be even more
meaningful. That’s why they planned their wedding for the
weekend after. Besides, this drought has been hard on all the
ranchers and town’s people alike. Jake’s having to work harder
helping Pa and me to keep our cattle alive and the fences
mended, they’re desperate for water and busting through the
fences and it’s not just our herds. And you know very well that
when Jake’s not here, he’s also working at Dave Merrar’s place,
trying to build up a nest egg and he’s almost through building a
home for after they get married.”
Mark finished packing a box of cartridges into his saddlebag as
he prepared to leave for his shift at the Marshal’s Office.
“I’m asking you, stay inside and take it easy. Please? I’ll be
back tomorrow afternoon and I’ll see that things that need done,
are done. The cattle in the corral have plenty enough hay and
water and Pa will see to the horses tonight and in the morning,
everything else will keep until I return.”
Hope could see the tiredness in Mark’s eyes and she didn’t let
on that at night, she wasn’t asleep when he’d come to bed. As
he’d climb into bed, she heard him groan too frequently from
The heat of the day had driven Milly and her children inside.
Jake had gladly accepted the day off and chose to take Gwen to
town, to meet with his father regarding their upcoming wedding.
Shortly after they left, Lucas was called away by Sam
Montgomery, having found more fence lines down between their
ranges. With her own children down for their nap, Hope slipped
out of the house and looked out over their land. As she wrapped
her arm around one of the posts on the porch, her attention was
drawn to the barn as she smelled a faint trace of smoke in the
air and saw wisps coming from the straw pile. Hope walked
closer, only to see flames erupt. She ran and climbed up onto
the back of the wagon and dunked two of the buckets into the
barrels. She managed to get herself down from the wagon, and
labored to carry the buckets, one at a time, in an attempt to
put out the flames. After the third trip to and from the wagon,
and Hope was sure the fire was extinguished, she set the buckets
to the back of the wagon and rubbed at the small of her back.
With the back of her hand, she wiped the sweat from her face
when the first excruciating pain struck, causing her to double
over as she grabbed to her stomach.
“Hope!” Gwen yelled as she and Jake drove into the yard. Gwen
jumped from the buggy before Jake had the horse stopped. “Hope,
what happened?! What’s wrong?!”
“It’s the baby!”
Jake was at Hope’s side, leading her back to the buggy, “I’ll
get you to Doc’s,” he stated as he practically carried her.
“Gwen, go tell Milly.”
Jake didn’t wait, once Hope was in the seat, he climbed over her
legs, grabbed the reins, and urged his horse back to North Fork.
“What were you doing outside?” Jake asked.
“The straw pile… it caught fire,” Hope answered and screamed as
another pain struck.
Jake yelled for Doc Burrage as he pulled the horse to a halt in
front of the clinic. Between the two of them, they carried Hope
into the clinic.
“What happened?” Thadd asked over Hope crying in pain.
“Gwen and I arrived back at the ranch and found her doubling
over in pain. She’d said there was a fire in the straw pile and
I presume she put it out by herself.”
“She wouldn’t… Jake, go get Abigail, she’s…”
“What about Mark?”
“He can wait. Right now, I need my nurse. She’s over at the
General Store. Get her!”
“Yes sir!” Jake replied as he ran from the clinic. As he passed
the Marshal’s, he looked inside and was thankful that no one was
there. Jake ran into the General Store, practically knocking
Abigail down. Catching his balance and reaching to steady
Abigail, an out of breath Jake called, “Miss Abigail, Doc needs
you real bad at the clinic.”.
“What’s wrong?” a surprised Abigail asked.
“It’s Hope and the baby,” Jake stated as he took the packages
from Abigail and the two of them hurried back to the clinic, as
fast as her pregnancy would allow.
Colleen Gibbs bumped into Mrs. Donner, who was standing just
inside the doorway, as she entered the General Store. After
offering an apology Colleen asked, “Was that Jake and Abigail
leaving in such a hurry?”
“Oh, Colleen, something’s wrong with Hope and the baby, Jake
just ran in here and got Abigail!” Mrs. Donner replied as she
reached out to place a hand to Colleen’s forearm.
Colleen excused herself as she turned from the store and ran
back home, “Johnny!” she yelled when she saw him sitting on the
porch, watching after their twin sons while Lillian was at a
“Colleen?” Johnny answered as he looked up.
“It’s Hope, something’s wrong!”
Each picked up one of the twins and headed to the clinic. As
they passed in front of the hotel, they encountered Johnny Drako
stepping from the lobby.
“Johnny, where’s Mark?” Johnny Gibbs asked.
“He and Seth headed out to the Profit’s place, Obediah reported
this morning he found a few head missing and another butchered.
What’s wrong?” he asked, seeing their worried expressions.
“Hope’s at the clinic,” Colleen replied, but they didn’t wait
“Johnny,” Lou called as she came from the lobby, “What was that
“I don’t know, but I best ride out to get Mark, and Seth.”
Johnny Drako ran and jumped on his horse, urging his mount to a
Thadd started to examine Hope, “Hope, tell me what you’re
“It hurts!” she declared over her tears and screamed as the pain
of another a contraction struck.
“What were you thinking? You’re too close to your due date to be
carrying water buckets!” Realizing Hope’s pain was all that
mattered to her, “Hope, I need you to try to calm yourself and
follow my instructions, I’m gonna allow you to take a small dose
of laudanum to ease the pain,” Following a cursory examination
Thadd stated, “The baby is coming. There’s nothing I can to do
stop it now.”
From behind, Thadd heard the door to the room open.
“Abigail, get scrubbed with the alcohol, the baby is coming.”
“Are you going to have to perform a cesarean section?” concerned
as she heard the tone in her husband’s voice.
“I can’t, her water just broke, and the baby is practically
Within the hour Johnny returned to North Fork with Mark and
Seth, and saw Lucas and Milly arrive with Gwen and their
families. Without saying anything, Hope’s family headed into the
clinic, as Jake stepped outside, leaving him, Drako, and Gwen to
take care of the youngest McCain children.
“I guess we should take them to the daycare?” Gwen asked.
“That would probably be best,” Jake answered. “Marshal, should I
go get Myra and the boys from their friends’ homes?”
“No, it’s best that they stay there and don’t know what
happening, until we know more.”
The McCain’s and Seth entered the clinic to find Johnny and
Colleen Gibbs already inside.
“Uncle Johnny?” Mark asked, his eyes begging.
“We don’t know much, other than the baby is coming.”
“It’s too soon; she’s still a month away. She was fine this
morning before I came to town,” Mark pleaded.
“Jake was in here before you arrived, he and Gwen returned to
your home to find her over by the wagon with the barrels, said
that the straw pile had caught fire and it appeared she carried
buckets of water to put out the flames,” Colleen stated.
“She what?!” Mark exclaimed. “What was she thinking?! What was
she thinking?!” Mark’s outburst was heard throughout the clinic.
“Mark, quiet down,” Milly tried to hush him.
“Calm yourself, Mark,” Lucas stated as he put a hand to Mark’s
From behind the door, they heard Hope scream as another
contraction hit. Everyone took seats in the chairs in the
waiting area, except for Mark, he paced.
Lilah entered the clinic, the expression she wore on her face
conveyed her concern for Hope, but also asked if she had the
right to be there. Though she was Seth’s wife, she still wasn’t
sure she belonged with the family at this time. Seth greeted
her, pulled her into a hug, and escorted her to sit next to him.
Every now and then Mark would stop at the window, look outside,
slam the side of his fist against the window frame, and proceed
to pacing again. Once when he stopped he proclaimed, “Some
trick!” and slammed his fist against the wall, again.
“Son?” Lucas asked.
“Trick or treat. Today’s Halloween.”
The events in the examination room had been quiet for some time,
when the door to the room finally opened, and a weary Abigail
stepped into the waiting area. Hope’s family stood, anxious to
hear the news.
“Mark, Thadd asked that you come inside,” Abigail quietly spoke.
Mark entered the room and the cleanliness belied the events that
had transpired. He wanted to wrap Hope in his arms, but even in
her sleep, he saw the anguish on her face.
“Thadd?” Mark asked.
“Mark, she’s going to sleep for a while. She gave birth to a
daughter,” Thadd answered.
“Yes, it was tough going, though I’m not sure she’s quite out of
“No, Mark, the baby. It was a difficult birth, the worst Hope
has ever experienced… The baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped
around her neck. Once she was delivered, we had to work hard to
resuscitate her, to get her breathing.”
“Is she alive?”
“Yes, but you have to understand, she still could die.”
“Does Hope know?” Mark didn’t bother to hide the pain in his
“She was in so much pain that I used laudanum to ease her
suffering, and gave her a full dose once the baby was born. I’m
sure she didn’t understand most of what Abigail and I were
saying throughout her delivery.”
“If she had that much laudanum… How could you give her so much?
She can’t…” Mark couldn’t say what he wanted to ask, his
emotions were getting the better of him.
“Mark, I had no choice. Now, we’ve already bottle fed your
daughter and once Hope wakes, which should be sometime later
tonight, we’ll see that your daughter nurses properly.”
Thadd escorted Mark to the crib. As he peered inside, he saw the
rosy face of his tiny daughter wrapped in a baby blanket, her
lips moving as she slept.
“Will she be okay?” Mark asked.
“Only time will tell. She’s already stopped breathing a couple
of times, but she’s been stable for the past half hour. We’ll
have to keep a close eye on her throughout the next day or so.”
“What was Hope thinking?” Mark again asked of no one as he
looked over to his sleeping wife.
“Mark, honestly, it was a good thing that Hope did what she did.
Yes, it forced her into a premature and extremely difficult
labor, but had the baby not been born today… There’s the very
real chance her umbilical cord could have strangled her and she
would have died in the womb. She wouldn’t of had a chance to
live, like she does now.
“How much of a chance?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know, but she’s alive and she’s fighting. I’ve heard
time and time again how you McCain’s are hardy stock. She’s
proving it. If we can get her through twenty four hours without
her breathing stopping, I think she’ll be out of danger, but
Mark watched as Abigail sat down in the chair next to the crib,
to keep an eye on the baby.
Thadd stepped from the room and closed the door behind him.
Various members of Mark’s family stood when they heard the door
“How is Hope?” Seth asked.
“And the baby?” Milly asked.
“There were complications. But you’ve another granddaughter.”
“When can we see Hope and the baby?” Seth asked.
“It’ll be later tonight before Hope wakes. And for now, I don’t
want to expose the baby to any unnecessary risks, she’s had a
rocky start. Abigail is keeping an eye on her.”
“We better get going,” Johnny stated as he wrapped an arm around
Colleen’s shoulders. “If there’s anything you or Mark need, just
let us know.” They picked up their sleeping twins and headed for
Milly nodded and asked, “Thadd, what complications?”
Thadd proceed to inform Lucas, Milly, Seth, and Lilah the
details of their newest granddaughter’s birth.
“And?” Lilah asked. “Doc, there’s more you’re not telling us.”
“You’re right Lilah, your granddaughter is going to have to
fight to survive. From what we’ve learned, the lungs are the
last organ in the body to fully develop while in the womb. If
she can’t continue to breathe on her own or we don’t catch it in
time that she has stopped breathing, she can still die.”
Lucas wrapped his arms around Milly as Seth wrapped his arms
“If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my patients.”
A half hour later, Thadd led Mark from the room where Hope was
sleeping. “Come on, son,” Lucas stated as he met them coming out
the door. “You look like you could use a meal. You’ll need your
strength for when Hope wakes. And I know you’ve not eaten since
you arrived back in town, so don’t tell me you’re not hungry.”
Lou and Johnny were waiting for them in the restaurant. After
hearing a little of the news from Mark’s aunt and uncle, Lou had
managed to shoo away all her other patrons by closing early for
“I’ll bring ye some strong coffee,” she stated after seeing them
to a table.
When Lou returned with the coffee and cups, she filled Mark’s
cup last. “Johnny and Colleen stopped by and told us of the baby
and said there were complications. Is the baby doing okay,
Mark?” she asked.
“For now, Thadd states it’s still touch and go…” Mark’s voice
“And Hope is going to be okay?” Lou asked.
“She’ll be okay, she’s sleeping right now,” a worried Milly
answered as Lou sat down next to her.
Micah entered the restaurant, and by the strained looks on the
faces of his friends he was immediately taken back. Lucas stood
and walked to his friend to inform him of the news.
“Micah, I need to ask if you and Hattie would mind watching the
children, for a while longer.” Lucas asked.
“No need to ask. You just focus on Hope and Mark, and I’ll do my
best to make sure they’re all taken care of properly, this
“Thanks, Micah. We’ll stop by to collect the children before we
head home,” Lucas stated.
“Ye’ll do no such thing. I’ve empty rooms upstairs that just now
became occupied. Ye’ll be staying here at the hotel tonight,”
Not having the emotional strength to object, Lucas replied,
“Guess we’ll be staying in town.”
Family and friends had just finished eating when Abigail entered
the restaurant. Though Mark had only picked at the food on his
plate, he was the first to see her and stood up so quickly that
his chair clattered to the floor behind him.
“Abigail?” Mark queried.
“Thadd thinks she’s starting to wake.”
Mark didn’t even take time to excuse himself or wait for Abigail
as he ran to the clinic. Stepping to the street, Mark failed to
notice the ominous clouds in the already darkened night sky.
Promptly upon entering the room, Mark climbed into the bed,
slipped in behind Hope, and wrapped his arms around her. He
brushed her hair from her face. He quietly whispered he loved
her as he heard her whimpering in her sleep. He turned to look
at Thadd, his eye’s begging to do something to ease her pain.
“I can’t. I want your daughter to nurse as soon as Hope wakes.
At this time, it’s more important that your daughter receives
her immunities through Hope’s breast milk.”
Hope continued to whimper and subconsciously moan as she started
to fight through the darkness, yet, the pain she felt made her
withdraw, back into the safety the darkness offered.
Abigail was ready to leave the clinic to go home to their
children. “Abigail?” Thadd asked. “How are you? Are you okay?”
He came up behind his wife and wrapped his arms around her, and
rested his hands on her pregnant belly.
“I will be; it’s just… I’m just feeling a little queasy… Thadd,
this scared me.” Abigail stepped away and finished putting her
shawl around her shoulders.
“Hush now.” Thadd took his wife by the shoulders and turned her
to face him. “I know it did. The McCain’s mean a lot to both of
us, and the thought of losing any patient before they’ve even
taken their first breath of life… If you want, I can come home
and be with you, tonight?”
“No, you’ll need to be here when Hope wakes. And that baby still
needs you. I’ll be alright, but believe me, when you do return
home; I’m not going to want to be out of your arms for a while.”
“I understand.” Thadd leaned forward and gave his wife a
passionate kiss. “I love you. Now, go home and try to get some
It was shortly before midnight when Hope finally opened her
eyes. The room was bathed in a faint glow from a lantern on the
side table, she started to call for Mark when a bolt of
lightning illuminated the sky outside, followed by a loud clap
of thunder that startled Hope into as scream while it rolled
across the land.
“Shhhh,” Mark whispered as he jolted awake. “It’s just the storm
finally arriving, you’re okay.”
“Mark, the baby?” Hope managed to ask over the sounds of the
rain hitting the window.
“You gave birth to a daughter,” Mark quietly answered.
“A daughter? Can I see her?” Hope asked groggily.
Mark looked up as he heard a knock on the door and Thadd pushed
the door open to step into the room.
Hope attempted to sit up and grabbed at her middle as she felt
“Easy there Hope, don’t try sitting up on your own. There were
complications. You’re going to be sore for a few more days.”
Turning to Mark, “Help sit her up so she can nurse your
daughter.” Thadd stated as he carried the crying baby, startled
awake by the storm.
Hope unbuttoned the nightgown she had been changed into earlier
in the evening and allowed Thadd to place their daughter in her
arms and she eagerly positioned the baby to her breast. “You
said, complications?” Hope asked.
“It’s not uncommon for what happened. I just need to keep an eye
on her through the night. I pray she survives until morning…”
“Survives?!” Mark and Thadd heard the alarm in Hope’s voice.
“Because of her delivery, she’s had difficulties in breathing.
She’s stopped breathing several times already. It’s good to see
that she nursing, but that doesn’t mean she’s out of danger,
Tears fell down Hope’s face upon hearing the news.
“I’ll leave you be. I’ll try to be quiet when I check on the
baby. I’ll be back in the morning to examine you, Hope.”
After the door closed, Hope asked, “Mark, how? Just last week,
Doc said the baby had a strong heartbeat.”
“Her birth cord was wrapped around her neck,” Mark answered.
“Thadd states the longer she goes between the episodes of her
stopping breathing, the better the chance she has for living.”
Looking to the baby she held in her arms, Hope experienced a
strange feeling, she no longer wanted to have the child at her
“She’s a fighter,” Mark stated as he caressed the back of their
“God’s blessed us with her birth,” Mark stated.
“God blessed us? He let me conceive a child and now that she’s
here, he’s going to let her die,” Hope quietly stated, trying to
hide the hurt in her voice.
“We have to have faith, Hope.” Mark realized their daughter had
stopped nursing and he took her from Hope’s arms, allowing Hope
to button her nightgown. As he wrapped their baby in her
blanket, Mark realized she had stopped breathing again. “DOC!!”
Mark yelled and ran to the hallway, where Thadd met him and took
“Inside, I’ll show you what to do.” Doc carried the baby back
into the room and placed her on the changing table. Mark watched
as he gently pressed down on the baby’s stomach and with his
face close to the baby’s, he blew air across her face, while he
let up the pressure he had applied with his hand. “Mark, keep
this up until she starts breathing on her own.”
It didn’t take but a few compressions before their daughter
started breathing again. Thadd pulled his stethoscope from
around his neck and listened to her heartbeat. “Her heart is
still beating strong, it’s just that her lungs aren’t strong
enough to continue breathing on their own.”
Thadd took the baby with him as he left the room. Turning to
face Hope, Mark saw the look of devastation on her face and
stated, “You can’t blame God. We’ve learned that lesson over and
over,” as he crawled back into bed and pulled Hope into his
arms. “Hope, please as with everything else that has happened in
the past, we have to have faith… faith that she’ll survive. But
if she doesn’t, she’ll be in heaven with my Ma and yours.”
Hope closed her tear-filled eyes, and pulled away from Mark as
she reached for the covers and wrapped them around herself.
Outside, a heavy rain continued to fall; soaking the land that
had been dry for so long.
The pain Hope experienced was from more than just the memory of
the contractions. In the distance she heard Mark yell, “She
what?! What was she thinking?!” Over and over again, Hope’s mind
heard, “What was she thinking?!” “What was she thinking?!”
“No!” Hope screamed as she woke from her dream to the sound of
thunder filling the room. She found herself breathing hard and
alone. She looked to the empty crib as lightning and thunder
continued to fill the air, again she screamed, “NO!” The door
opened quickly as Abigail stepped into the room.
“Hope? Are you okay?” Abigail asked.
“I killed her! Mark thinks I killed her!” she cried.
“No. Hope, no he doesn’t. How could you think such a thing?”
Abigail stated as she wrapped her arms around Hope’s shoulders.
“He has too! I heard him yell. He told me to take it easy and I
just had to put the fire out. The horses and the calves were in
the barn. I killed our daughter just to save… animals!”
“Hope, you’re daughter isn’t dead… She is alive.”
“She’s going to die, she can’t breathe!”
“She’s had difficulties in breathing, but we’re keeping an eye
on her and...”
“But if I hadn’t…”
“If you hadn’t put out the fire, then you would have lost your
animals and the stress of losing the barn and animals could have
still forced you into an early labor, later in the day. Worse,
had you not gone into labor, she would have died before you
could have given birth to her.” Abigail’s voice sounded harsh,
she wanted to snap Hope out of her guilt. “Thadd is with her
right now. She had another episode, her breathing stopped a
little while ago.”
“He left earlier, said he was going to go see your other
children. I’ll be back in a few minutes, and if Thadd says okay,
I’ll bring you your daughter, I’m sure you want to nurse her,”
“I can’t. You can bottle feed her,” Hope replied as she lay back
down and pulled the covers over her shoulder.
Abigail worried as she pulled the door closed, this wasn’t the
Hope that she knew. In the hallway, she turned and saw Thadd
carrying the baby.
“Is she awake? I bet she’s anxious to nurse her daughter?” Thadd
stated with a small, tired smile.
“No…, she’s not.” Abigail’s voice held concern as she looked
from the closed door to her husband.
“Hope said I should bottle feed her, she didn’t feel up to
Thadd handed the baby to Abigail who left to take the baby to
feed her a bottle. Thadd opened the door to Hope’s room and saw
her sleeping. He closed the door as another bolt of lightning
and clap of thunder sounded over North Fork.
Hattie and Micah continued to watch Hope and Mark’s other
children while Mark stood his shift at the Marshal’s Office or
stayed with his wife at the clinic. Each time Mark entered
Hope’s room with their daughter, he found his wife sleeping. He
relished sitting in the overstuffed chair to bottle feed their
daughter, but he didn’t understand what was wrong with Hope.
“Thadd, what’s wrong with Hope?” Mark demanded on the third
evening after their daughter’s birth.
Putting down the book he had been reading, Thadd stated, “I
think she’s rejecting the baby.”
“You’ve grown up on a ranch. You’ve seen a cow reject a calf…”
“We’re not talking cows and calves. We’re talking of my wife and
daughter!” Mark argued, impatience and worry, wearing on him.
“Mark, with the complications from the birth and your daughter’s
fight to breathe, I think Hope is avoiding becoming too
attached, just in case the baby doesn’t survive.”
“But it’s been over twelve hours since her last episode?”
“And each hour that goes by is in her favor. If she can get to
twenty-four hours between episodes, then I can comfortably say
she’s out of danger. Mark, I’m not sure that Hope’s asleep when
we go into the room. She’s avoiding becoming attached because
she feels her daughter is going to die. I’m sure, like all
women, Hope’s looked forward to giving birth and dreamed of
watching the child grow up and now, she’s been told the
possibility the child might die…”
“But you just said each hour is in the baby’s favor.”
“I did. Your daughter is getting stronger each hour. But, if
Hope won’t come out of this… depression, I think I need to
consider putting her on the medication like I did after the
twins were born.”
“But she won’t be able to nurse the baby!” Mark exclaimed.
“I know, but what’s the difference? She won’t nurse her now.”
“I’ll see about that!” an angry Mark stated and stood to leave
“Mark!” Lucas entered Thadd’s office to hear the last of the
exchange. “Outside, now!”
Mark looked to his Pa.
“Now, son.” His voice took on a softer tone.
Mark followed his Pa outside, across the street and sat down on
the steps beside the hotel.
“I think you should be more understanding,” Lucas offered.
“Why? Pa, Hope’s my wife, the mother of my children… How can she
refuse to accept our daughter?”
“Mark like before, there’s stuff that a woman goes through that
can change their feelings. She went through something similar
when the twins were born.”
“This is different.” Mark felt bitterness. “That time I hadn’t
told her I had been shot.”
“That was only part of it. Even if you had told her about being
wounded, she would have still gone through that depression. Be
patient with her, continue doing what you’re doing, and give her
time to accept that her daughter is going to be a healthy, happy
Lucas looked to his son.
“Mark, I’ve not experienced anything like this, but I do know
that time can heal her hurt.”
“It just doesn’t make sense,” Mark replied. “Our daughter lives
and she won’t nurse her, won’t even hold her.”
“You’re not a woman. Mark I’m serious… Give her time and love.
Keep doing what you’re doing when you’re in the room with her.”
“Come on, why don’t I bottle feed my granddaughter, while you go
sit with Hope.
As the days passed, Mark grew more concerned as Hope still
didn’t show any interest in their newborn daughter; she kept
stating she just didn’t feel well enough to care for her.
“Doc? I don’t know what to do?” Mark stated as he sat down in
“Mark, even though it goes against my better judgment, I’m going
to send Hope and the baby home tomorrow. It’s been two days
since she’s had an episode. Maybe getting your wife home will be
the tonic she needs. She’ll have to do for her family instead of
everyone else helping. But Mark, if she’s not back to her normal
self by the end of the week, I want her back in here and we will
put her on the medication, but I pray that sending her home will
do the trick.”
“Thanks, Thadd. I appreciate your understanding,” Mark answered
as he left the office to tell Hope the news; they were going
Their baby was a little over a week old when Mark returned to
town with their buckboard. Mark stopped by the parsonage to
speak with Gwen, before heading to Hattie and Micah’s and
finally the clinic.
“But you can’t, I mean I can’t. Hope needs all the help she can
get with the children!” Gwen answered.
“Gwen, your wedding is just a few weeks away; you need to focus
on you and your life with Jake. Let me help Hope. Hope and I
have enjoyed having you helping out, but this is something Hope
needs to do. With you there, I feel it will give her the excuse
to continue to ignore our baby.”
Maggie McCafferty spoke up, “She’s ignoring the baby?”
“Yes, because of the complications. Doc thinks by letting Hope
come home, it will force her to accept our daughter, but it
won’t work with Gwen at the house.”
“But the other children?!” Gwen pleaded.
“No, Gwen. As of now, you’re a friend of the family, as you
always have been, but you must start living your own life. You
can visit once you return from your honeymoon, but until then,
you concentrate on getting everything ready for your wedding.
I’ll make arrangements to pack up your belongings and bring them
to Hattie and Micah’s.”
“I’m sure one day you’ll make a wonderful mother,” Mark stated
as he kissed her on the cheek. “And, I’m still looking forward
to giving the bride away.”
Lucas was there to help Mark load his family into the buckboard.
“Mark, I don’t feel like sitting up in the front seat, can’t I
just lie down in back?” Hope asked.
Mark agreed. He watched as Hope curled up on her side. Mark
placed their daughter next to Hope and slipped the blankets over
the two of them.
Lucas could read the expression on Mark’s face as he looked at
his wife, ‘How much longer was this going to go on?’
Lucas rode beside the buckboard and watched as the twins sat in
the front seat next to their pa, with Eli and Mykaela wrapped in
blankets and sitting in back. It was a quiet trip home.
They had been home for almost a week and each day the routine
was the same. Mark would wake, get dressed, and leave the
bedroom. He’d head to his sons’ room and wake them, instructing
them to dress before he’d go to Mykaela’s room to wake her and
help her get dressed. He filled the baby’s bottle and set it on
the table, before returning to their bedroom to get their baby.
On school days, he’d feed his children before seeing his eldest
sons off with his Pa. Johnny had given him time off to deal with
his family, allowing him to choose when he could return to stand
watch in town.
Hearing the baby crying from their room, Mark finally had
enough. He returned to his bedroom and was curt with Hope, “Damn
it, Hope! I know you’re not sleeping. I’m taking the other
children to Ma and Pa’s for the morning. Then, I’m going to the
barn to do my Saturday chores. When I return, I expect our
daughter to be fed and breakfast on the table, for me!”
Shoving his hat on his head, Mark gathered his children and took
them to his parents’ home, apologizing when he asked if they
would mind feeding them breakfast. Milly and Lucas felt for
their eldest, when he shook his head in answer to Milly’s
question if there was any change in Hope.
Mark walked to the barn, looking to the horizon and observing
how nature had returned to normal. The heat and drought that had
plagued the territory was over, after the rains had finally
returned. Mark briefly shivered at the coolness of the morning.
He turned the team loose in the corral and proceed to clean
their stalls. Once Two-Bits and Rainmaker were finished with
their grain, he turned them loose in their separate corrals.
Mark smiled as he watched the horses prance around, before
stopping by the railing facing the house. The horses snorted and
pawed. With his head held high, Rainmaker flehmened his upper
lip, shook his head and neck, and flehmened again. Mark laughed
at the antics of the stallion, thinking it a little late in the
year for Two-Bits to be in season. Inhaling deeply of the crisp
morning air, Mark realized there was something in the air that
Rainmaker smelled. Mark looked around and inhaled again, an
uneasiness gripped him as he looked to the horizon, he didn’t
see any smoke on the land. Still, the smell persisted.
Walking back through the barn and out the front, Mark’s heart
dropped when he realized there was smoke and where it was coming
from. “Hope!” Mark screamed and ran to his home.
Lucas stepped to the porch as he heard Mark, one look and he too
was running towards Mark’s home.
Mark bolted through the front door, the crook of his elbow over
his nose, calling for Hope. Through the smoke, Mark heard Hope
coughing and calling for him. “Mark! The Baby!”
Mark followed Hope’s voice and found her in their bedroom. In
her arms, she held a bundle. Mark rushed them to the front door
and out into the yard; to the waiting arms of Milly.
Lucas and Mark returned to the house, grabbing towels in an
effort to put out the fire in the kitchen. First, Mark grabbed a
bag of flour from the cabinet and tore it open, dumping its
contents onto the fames rising from the frying pan on the stove.
Lucas primed the pump at the sink and soaked the towels. They
slapped at the flames dancing across the wall, rising teasingly
close to the ceiling, but they couldn’t prevent it from catching
fire. The fumes and thick smoke caused both men to cough as they
struggled to breathe during their efforts to fight the fire.
Involuntary tears streamed down their faces as the soot burned
at their eyes. Working together, the last of the flames were
extinguished. Wrapping a towel around his hands, a coughing Mark
grabbed the pan from the stove, carried it outside, and dropped
it in the dirt. Mark bent double, hands on his knees, coughing.
Mark turned when he heard coughing and boot steps behind him. He
felt a hand on his shoulder and a gentle squeeze.
“We’ll assess the damage once the smoke’s had a chance to clear
out,” Lucas stated while he too continued to cough. “Let’s go
check to see how Hope…”
Mark didn’t give his Pa a chance to finish his statement before
he was running. “Hope?” he called as he entered his parents’
“She’ll be fine,” Milly stated as she approached Mark.
“Where’s the baby?” Mark asked as he tried to push past Milly.
“No Mark, wait a minute,” Milly stated as she grabbed his arm,
preventing him from entering any farther into her home.
“I don’t understand,” a confused and soot covered Mark stated.
“Are they okay?” Mark asked as he again coughed.
“They are. They’re both okay. Hope’s in our bedroom nursing her
“Nursing… Hope’s nursing the baby?”
Milly nodded. “Give them some time to let them bond. I think you
could stand to take a bath.” Lucas entered his home and
witnessed the conversation. Milly continued, “You both are quite
the sight.” Looking apologetically to her son, “Go get cleaned
up and afterwards you can see your wife and your daughter.”
A freshly bathed Mark returned to have his children circle him,
asking what happened.
“There was a small fire in the kitchen. Your grandpa and I put
Milly asked, “How badly is your home damaged?”
“Haven’t had a chance to really look at it yet. We were going to
wait for the smoke to clear out before we assessed the damage,”
“Can we go home?” Zach asked.
“Well, I think I’m gonna ask your other grandparents if they’d
mind watching you until we can fix the damage to the house,”
“Mark, they can stay here,” Lucas stated.
“I’ll have the boys stay with Seth and Lilah, but if you
wouldn’t mind taking care of Emmy.”
“What about you and Hope?” Milly asked.
“We can stay in the house. Just need to share your kitchen, if
you don’t mind.”
“Mind? I’d prefer you and Hope, and the baby stay here,” Milly
“Thanks Ma, but you’d have too full of a house. Can I see them
now?” Mark asked.
Milly nodded and led the way to the bedroom and knocked on the
“Hope, are you up to a visitor?” Milly called.
“Ma?” was heard from the other side of the door.
“Mark, I’ll go see how much damage was done to the kitchen. When
you’re ready, we’ll pack for the boys and hitch your team,”
Lucas stated and left the house.
Mark entered his parents’ bedroom to see Hope cradling their
daughter in her arms as she looked up at him, “How are you? Are
you okay?” asked Mark.
“Mark…” Hope tried to answer, but she started to cry instead.
“Hey, hey…” Mark climbed upon the bed and wrapped his arms
around his wife. “Neither of you took any harm? Did you?”
Hope shook her head.
“How are you feeling?”
“Ashamed. Mark, how could I have…” Hope buried her face in
Pushing Hope back from him and raising her chin with his hand,
“Doc tried to explain it to me. I’m just glad you decided to
come back to us.”
Mark pulled Hope and their daughter into his arms, tears of
happiness falling down his face. He could tell that he had his
“Hope, what happened? How did the fire start?”
“I was mad at you for talking to me in such a manner, but…”
“I started to fix breakfast and put the lard on the stove so I
could fry some sausage. I heard the baby crying and went back to
the bedroom. Mark I couldn’t bring myself to pick her up, I just
stood there and watched her. I tried to make myself love her. I
couldn’t… I don’t know how long I stood there thinking, for
eight months I carried her and dreamed of holding her in my
arms… And for Doc to say she might not live…”
“But he also said she had a good chance of living with each
additional hour that went by between episodes,” Mark stated
“I know, but I just couldn’t bring myself to let her into my
heart, fearing the hurt if she died.”
“And today?” Mark asked.
“Mark, I smelled the smoke and opened the bedroom door; it
poured into the bedroom. I closed the door and grabbed the baby
and I tried to make it to the front door, but it hurt to
breathe,” Hope cried.
“You’re okay? You can breathe okay?”
“And the baby?” Mark asked.
“I never want to let her go. She’s so beautiful.”
“Just like her Mama,” Mark smiled.
“Mark, I never asked if you named her.”
“I was hoping we could name her Margaret Faith, but if you don’t
“No. It’s a beautiful name. Which name is she going to go by?”
“I hadn’t thought on that. I’ve kinda just been calling her the
baby. Which would you like to call her?”
“I think Faith.”
Curiously, Mark asked “Why?”
“Because all we need is a little Faith. And she’s perfect.”
Mark told Hope that he needed to leave for a little while, “I’ll
be back soon. Pa’s over at the house checking on the damage and
later we’re taking the boys to town. I hope Seth and Lilah don’t
mind watching them until I can rebuild the kitchen. Ma and Pa
are going to keep Emmy for us.”
“What about us… and Faith?”
“We’ll stay at home of a night, but during the day and when I’m
in town, you two will stay here, with Ma.”
Mark placed a kiss to his wife’s cheek as he sat next to her.
“Do you think Doc Burrage should take a look at Faith, to make
sure she’s all right?” Hope asked.
“How’s she doing now?”
Hope opened the blanket and together they watched as Faith
scrunched her face and moved her lips and fingers during her
“She looks to be okay. But I’ll ask Doc Burrage to come out and
check the two of you over after I drop the boys off, just to be
on the safe side.”
Mark stood from the bed and walked to the door.
“Mark, I love you,” Hope quietly called.
“I know you do.”
Lucas and Mark stepped down from the buckboard in front of
Seth’s home and told the boys to wait for them.
“Mark!” Seth greeted as he stepped to the porch. Seeing the boys
he asked, “Is everything okay with Hope?”
“Yes, everything is okay, now. We had a little accident at the
house this morning and I was hoping…” Mark hesitated when he saw
Lilah step from the house.
“Get those boys inside and out of the chill. Come on boys!”
Lilah called out and watched as all three jumped from the back
of the buckboard.
“You said an accident?” Seth inquired.
“Yes, a grease fire. It’ll take time for me to fix the kitchen
and I was wondering if you’d mind watching the boys, until…”
“They’re more than welcome to stay here. You know that. But Hope
and the baby…” Seth asked with concern.
“Seth, Hope and Faith were falling asleep, together, when I left
the ranch.” The smile on Mark’s face told Seth that all was
truly right. “I’ll tell you more in detail later, but I need to
get to the hardware store and place an order. We’ll have you and
Lilah out for supper when the kitchen is repaired.”
Hope woke from her nap and carried Faith into the front room;
she saw the box on the front table and looked questioningly at
“I didn’t think that you would mind if I retrieved it from your
home,” Milly stated.
“I’d like to wait until Mark returns,” Hope answered as she
lovingly looked at her daughter, sleeping in her arms.
“I think Mark would approve,” Milly answered.
After placing the order for the material they needed to rebuild
the kitchen, Lucas and Mark returned to the team and buckboard.
“Pa, I promised Hope I’d stop by Thadd’s and ask him to come out
and check on her and Faith,” Mark stated as Lucas reached for
“Our daughter. Her full name is Margaret Faith McCain. I hope
you don’t mind us giving her Ma’s first name. And Hope decided
she should go by Faith, because all we need is a little faith.”
“I think your Ma would be honored. I’ll wait for you over at the
Johnny’s, uh, the Marshal’s Office,” Lucas answered. He stopped
the buckboard in front of the jail, handed the reins to Mark,
and jumped down.
Mark drove the team to the clinic; after tying the horses to the
hitching rail, he entered and saw Abigail. “How’s Hope this
morning?” she asked.
“Everything is great!” Mark replied as he placed a kiss to
Abigail’s cheek. “But we had a small accident at the house this
morning and I wanted to talk to Thadd about her and the baby.”
“What kind of an accident?” Abigail asked.
“A grease fire with Hope and the baby in the house. They both
seem to be okay, but I’m sure they both inhaled some of the
smoke, so I didn’t want to bring both of them out into the
chill. Thought maybe Thadd come to the house and check them out,
“Did she have another episode?” Thadd asked, only having heard
the end of the conversation.
“No, nothing like that. We had a grease fire in the kitchen.
Hope nursed our daughter before I brought the boys to Seth’s. I
just thought, for good measure…”
“That is good news. Abigail, we don’t have any patients in the
clinic today, how would you like to go out with me to visit
Milly and Hope?”
Abigail’s eyes shined, “Let me tell Hattie where we’re going,
just in case Savannah or Steven need us.”
After examining both Hope and Faith, Thadd declared them
healthy, but recommended for Hope to take it easy for the rest
of the day. Thadd stepped from the bedroom and left Hope and
Abigail to talk.
“You’ve a beautiful daughter, Hope,” Abigail stated as she
handed the baby back to Hope.
“I know I do, now. Abigail, I’m sorry for the way I behaved,
back at the clinic.”
“Please don’t feel you have to apologize. As long as the two of
you are okay, that’s all that matters,” Abigail answered.
“I guess you must have been scared, too. With what happened to
Faith and me?” Hope inquired.
“It unnerved me, more than I realized, but once your daughter
was out of danger and Thadd came home, I felt better when he
took me in his arms.”
Later that evening, Lucas and Milly stood behind Mark and Hope
as they recorded the birth of their second daughter in their
Margaret Faith McCain, born and October 31, 1896.
After placing their family bible back in its box, Mark set it on
the shelf next to Lucas and Milly’s family bible.
“Come on Mark, we have some chores that need to be done before
we can call it a night,” Lucas stated.
Hope watched her husband walk out the front door with his father
before she walked over and picked up Faith from her crib.
Placing her daughter to her shoulder, she started to walk to
Milly and Lucas’ bedroom.
“Myra, it’s time for you to go to bed,” Milly stated.
“No, your brothers and Mykaela are already asleep.”
“Hope, why are you taking Faith in there? Are you going to sleep
in Mama and Papa’s bedroom?” Myra asked.
“No, it’s time for Faith to be fed,” Hope answered.
“But the kitchen is over there,” Myra pointed.
“She needs to be nursed,” Hope replied.
“Like Sarah’s a nurse?” a confused Myra asked.
Hope looked to Milly, her eyes asked how to answer. Milly walked
to her daughter and asked her to sit down with her at the table
for a few minutes.
“Myra, Sarah is a nurse, an assistant to a doctor. When Mykaela
was a baby, you’ve seen Hope take her into the bedroom before.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think she was feeding her in there. We have
to sit at the table to eat. How come they don’t?” Myra asked.
“Myra, when you were a little baby your Mama fed you the same
way I feed Faith, the way we’ve fed all our children for almost
the first year of your lives,” Hope explained.
“We’ve breast fed you,” Hope answered.
“It’s the way God created a woman so she could sustain her child
after the baby is born, until the baby is old enough to eat
solid foods,” Milly stated. “Maybe you’re too young to
“But Mark fed her with a bottle,” Myra commented. “Why don’t you
feed her with the bottle?”
“Ma, I don’t mind, if it’s okay with you,” Hope started to offer
with a little bit of embarrassment. “Myra could watch as I let
Faith nurse. It’s a part of life.”
Milly stood from the table and walked to the front window and
pulled the curtains closed. Hope carried Faith over to Milly’s
chair and sat down. After setting Faith to her lap, Hope
unbuttoned her blouse and pulled it open before she untied her
camisole. She lifted Faith from her lap as she revealed her left
breast and positioned her daughter to suckle.
“She drinking! What’s she drinking?” Myra curiously asked.
“It’s milk,” Hope answered.
“Like the cows?”
“Similar to milk we get from the cows,” Hope answered.
“She sure is noisy. She slurps just like the calves do. And just
as messy,” Myra stated as she watched some excess milk dribble
down the baby’s chin.
Shaking her head, Myra asked, “Why do girls have them and boys
“Myra, what we’ve shown you between Hope and Faith is a special
bond between a mother and her baby,” Milly stated. “Just like
it’s a woman who God chose to give birth to babies. This is
something special that God blessed woman to be able to do.”
“Was I this special when I was a baby?”
“Yes, you and I had this same special bond. But this is between
us women, we don’t talk about it in front of the men or the
“Is this a secret?”
“No, not a secret, but something to only be shared between the
three of us,” Milly insisted. “It’s a bond to be shared between
a mother and her child.”
Hope sensed that Faith was fussy because she was still hungry.
She exposed her other breast and repositioned her daughter to
her right breast, as she pulled her camisole over to cover her
In the wonderment of a child, Myra watched. In time, Faith
stopped nursing and Hope set her back to her lap and accepted
the damp rag that Milly handed her to wipe the residue from both
“Hope, can I touch it?” Myra inquisitively asked.
Looking to Milly first, Hope nodded. Gently, Myra placed the
tips of her fingers to Hope’s breast and ran her fingers over
it; curiously exploring. Myra removed her hand from Hope’s
breast and ran it across the front of her shirt. Hope tied her
camisole and buttoned her blouse before placing Faith to her
shoulder to burp her.
“Will I grow breasts once I’m ready to be married?”
After giving a sharp intake of breath, Milly giggled, “You’ll
probably start to grow breasts when you’re closer to becoming a
“Will mine be like yours or really big like Becky Whitcomb?”
Hope giggled, “Only God can answer that.”
“I think I’d rather have small breasts, don’t get in the way
that much. I’ve seen Becky try to ride a horse and they sure do
bounce a lot.”
Hope and Milly tried their best to contain their laughter.
“Mama, is that why boys like girls, because we grow breasts?”
“That’s part of it,” Milly whispered. “And more than you need to
know at your age.”
“Well, Isaiah is sure going to be surprised that I’m going to
grow breasts someday.”
“Myra, that is something that you will not discuss with anyone
other than myself or Hope,” Milly ordered.
The following day, the entire McCain family bundled up and
traveled to church. Hope lovingly carried their daughter and
showed her to their family and friends. Towards the end of the
services, Reverend Mark McCafferty made several announcements.
“Friends, as we all are aware Thanksgiving is approaching and we
will hold special services Thursday evening. Also, on the
following Saturday, this church will join in holy matrimony
Jacob McCafferty and Gwenivere Shawnesee and all are invited to
the ceremony, beginning at six, thirty that evening.
“Also, today, I have the pleasure of christening a baby. Usually
I prefer to wait until the baby is six months old, but after
talking with the parents, I believe it is only fitting that this
child is welcomed into the House of God, today.
“Mark and Hope McCain, please come to the altar,” he called.
As Hope and Mark stood next to each other, Reverend McCafferty
asked, “Have you chosen God-parents for this child?”
“Yes,” Mark answered. “Jacob McCafferty and Gwenivere Shawnesee,
soon to be McCafferty.”
Both were surprised to hear their names announced as God-parents
to the newest McCain child. Jake and Gwen, hand in hand, walked
to stand one on either side of Mark and Hope.
“It is a blessing to be chosen as God-parents for a child. It
will be your responsibility to see that this child is raised in
the teachings of Jesus Christ should her parents no longer be
Gwen and Jake nodded their understanding.
“Hope and Mark, a man and a woman conceive and bring forth a
child into the world. Though this child’s first week of life was
difficult, you believe that it is because of your faith in God
that she survived.”
“It is my understanding that you wish to raise this child in the
belief of Jesus Christ?”
“Yes, we do,” Mark answered as he placed his arm around his
wife, while she held their child.
Taking the baby from Hope, Reverend Mark asked, “What name have
you given this child?”
Hope answered, “Margaret Faith McCain.”
“It is with great pleasure that I welcome thee, Margaret Faith
McCain, into the House of God in the name of the Father, the
Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Reverend Mark sprinkled a few droplets
of holy water onto her head. “May God watch over and bless you
and your entire family.”
“I ask that those present offer their blessings to Mark and Hope
as they welcome the newest member of their family and raise her
in the eyes of God. And, should something unfortunate happen, I
know this community will assist the God-parents as they assume
the responsibility for the child.”
They returned to their seats, with Lucas and Milly welcoming
them with hugs.
“Reverend,” Oat Jackford called out before Reverend Mark could
“Yes, Oat,” the reverend replied.
“I understand there was an accident out at the younger McCain’s
home and I hear tell that their supplies are due in on the train
tomorrow. I want every available man to meet me at the train
station no later than nine o’clock tomorrow morning so we can
get things loaded and help Mark rebuild the damage done to his
Shouts of ‘Count me in’ or ‘I’ll be there’ came from the
congregation as men volunteered to help.
As parents of a newly Christened child, Mark and Hope stood next
to Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty. As Oat approached the receiving
line Mark spoke, “Oat how? Honestly…”
“Mark, your family has plenty of friends in this here town. Word
gets around. The temperatures are dropping and your home needs
repaired, fast. So, accept the help of your friends.”
“I’d be please to accept your help. Thank you.” Mark offered his
“And Miss Hope,” Oat continued. “Don’t worry about feeding the
crew. I’ll bring supplies from my ranch and my cook.”
Once the supplies were unloaded at the McCain Ranch, it only
took a couple of days for those present to tear down and rebuild
the damaged kitchen.
After the others had finally left, “Well, most everything seems
to look as good as new son,” Lucas stated as he finished putting
the last of his tools in the box.
“I know, just wish the stove hadn’t gotten so charred,” Mark
answered as he wiped sawdust from the surface.
“Milly was talking with Lilah about that. She has a special
concoction she uses to clean, maybe before they come for supper,
she can make a batch.”
The Next Step — The Aunt
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch