The Rifleman
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The Next Step… Chapter 77
A Mother’s Fear
Written by Deanne Bertram

Lucas woke during the night to find Milly no longer in bed with him. He reached over and pulled the alarm clock from the night stand and saw it was just after mid-night. After waiting several minutes, without Milly’s return, Lucas stood from bed and pulled on his pants before leaving their bedroom. He entered the front room to see Milly standing at the doorways to their children’s rooms.
“Milly?” Lucas called out.
Milly turned in surprise in hearing her name called.
“What are you doing?” Lucas asked as he yawned.
“Nothing… I thought I heard one of the children call out,” Milly replied.
“Come back to bed. It will be dawn soon enough and today, Myra returns to school.”
“I know,” Milly stated as she walked across the floor and into their room.
Lucas pulled the covers over the two of them and soon was blissfully sleeping. However, Milly’s mind wouldn’t let her sleep. She heard the ticking from the clock on the other side of the bed. She heard Lucas start to gently snore and she heard every noise, as the wind blew past their home.
Hope closed the doors to her sons’ bedroom and said goodnight to Gwen. She carried Mykaela into her bedroom and placed her in her crib. Before retiring to her own bed, she added a few logs to the pot-bellied stove in the room. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she looked over to where Mark would sleep, had he not been in town at the Marshal’s Office. As she settled into the bed, Hope pulled the covers tighter around her; even though the room was warm, a chill ran through her body.
As the wind wound its way around the house, Hope couldn’t sleep. Weary in body, she was, but her mind was active, listening…
Hope startled awake, trying to remember what had woken her. Climbing from her bed, she walked over and peaked in on Mykaela who was angelically sleeping. Pulling on her robe, she walked from her bedroom to the boys’ room, and stood beside each bed, sighing as she gazed upon the sleeping faces of her sons.
Milly woke and quickly stood from bed realizing Lucas had already left their room to start his morning chores before the alarm rang. Milly was properly dressed for the day when she started cooking breakfast for her family.
Breakfast was nearly ready to be set on the table when Lucas entered the house.
“Papa?” Little Ted called.
“Yes,” Lucas answered as he set the firewood in his arms to the bin next to the fireplace.
“When do I start school?”
“Not until next year,” Milly answered quickly.
“ I don’t think I like going all day long and not be able to play.”
“Well, we might just have to see about your Mama starting to give you lessons here at home,” Lucas answered as he stripped his jacket off and hugged his middle son. Before proceeding into the kitchen, Lucas kissed Myra on the cheek and asked, “Are you ready to go back to school today?”
“No, Mama said I couldn’t go back today,” Myra answered with a pout. “Papa, I miss going to school, please… I want to go back to school.”
“Milly?” Lucas asked as he tussled Levi’s hair and walked to the kitchen. “I think it’s time for Myra to return to school. We discussed this last night.”
“I know, but I’m sure Myra is still not over the events…” Milly replied as she busied herself taking food from the stove.
“I’m sure her returning to school will help. Milly she’s fine… She wants to go back to school. And she will return to school, this morning.” The tone in Lucas’ voice indicated there was no room for any further discussion.
“Thank you, Papa!” Myra called as she jumped down from her chair at the table.
“Just where do you think you’re going?” Milly demanded.
“To school, I gotta get dressed.”
“You will eat your breakfast first and not until then, can you get dressed for school.”
“Papa?” Myra turned and asked.
“You have plenty of time to get ready for school after eating breakfast. I’ll need at least that much time to saddle Blade and BlueBoy.”
“No!” Milly exclaimed before she could stop herself. “We’ll take her in the buckboard. I’ve a few things to pick up from town today.”
Lucas halted the team in front of the school house and without waiting for Lucas’ assistance, Milly climbed from her seat and called her running daughter back to the buckboard.
“But Ma, I gotta get inside,” Myra complained.
“You will come here so I can make sure you are presentable. Besides, we want to speak with Mr. Bullock before class starts.”
Lucas watched while Milly fussed over Myra as he waited at the back of the buckboard, after he had tied BlueBoy to the hitching rail.
“Can I now go in?” an impatient Myra asked.
Milly nodded and clutched her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
Percy Bullock stepped from the schoolhouse and walked to the back of the buckboard after greeting Myra and welcoming her back to school.
“Good morning, Milly, Lucas. I had hoped that Myra would return to school this morning. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on her throughout the day and if I feel she’s having any difficulties, I’ll send word to Mark at the Marshal’s Office.”
“You’ll send word to me!” Milly announced.
“Milly,” Lucas stated. “Mark can handle any situation and bring Myra home, if necessary.” Lucas wrapped his arm around Milly’s shoulder and sensed a tenseness in her body.
“Alright,” Milly stated. “Thank you, Percy.”
Lucas applied pressure to Milly’s shoulder to get her to return to the buckboard.
“Now, where to do you need to go first?” Lucas asked.
“First?” Milly asked, not really hearing.
“You stated before breakfast that you needed to pick up a few things in town…”
“Oh, well… I forgot, Mark picked them up Saturday when you were visiting Doc Burrage.”
Lucas lifted Milly up to the seat of the buckboard, climbed on board, and turned the team for home.
“Papa, can we go see Mark at the jail?” Little Ted asked.
“Why?” Lucas asked.
“I got a question for him.”
“And you don’t think I can answer your question?”
“No sir,” Little Ted replied in a serious tone.
“Oh,” Lucas replied, piqued, as he raised an eyebrow.
“You not your son,” Little Ted stated matter-of-factly.
Lucas burst out laughing in seeing Little Ted’s expression. When he looked to Milly, she was looking over her shoulder, back towards the school.
“Okay, for a few minutes, but once we’re home, you’re Mama will start working with you on your alphabet and numbers.”
“Oh, I thought you forgot about that.” Lucas heard the disappointment in his son’s voice.
Once Lucas made sure no one was in the cells, he escorted Little Ted inside.
“Hey there little brother!” Mark declared as he realized they had visitors.
“Pa, I need to talk to Mark,” Little Ted stated. “Brother to brother… Alone…”
Lucas stepped outside, but watched through the window. He covered his mouth when he saw Little Ted hang his head and Mark pointed him back outside.
Hope woke late for the morning to see Lucas and Milly, and the rest of their family, pulling away from the house.
“Gwen, I’m sorry I overslept,” Hope called as she tied her robe around her waist.
“No bother, the boys are sleeping in too. I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but… you look like you didn’t sleep too well last night.”
“That’s the way I feel. Just too much going through my mind and I slept in fits.”
“If you’d like, why don’t you go back to bed and sleep a little more. I can get the boys dressed and fed…”
“No, I’m up and awake… maybe when we put them down for a nap… no, we were going to scrub the floors today. I’ll just make an early evening of it, after Mark returns.”
Hope busied herself waking and dressing her sons while Gwen fix breakfast for everyone.
Once breakfast was eaten, Gwen took the breakfast dishes from the table to the sink, while Hope wiped the table down.
“When does Mikky get to eat flapjacks,” Josh asked. “Oatmeal all the time gets boring.”
“Who?” Hope asked in surprise.
“Mikky, oh… Mykaela.”
“When did you start calling your sister Mikky?” Gwen asked.
“Well, Papa has a nickname for his sister and I thought I could give her a nickname different than what Papa calls her…” Josh cast his eyes downward. “I’m sorry.”
“No, sweetheart, I think it’s sweet,” Hope answered.
“Do we have to come up with our own nickname, too?” Zach asked.
“Yeah, Stinky,” Eli answered.
“Elijah!” Gwen called.
“He’s right,” Hope started to answer.
“Then me call her Stinky?” Eli eagerly asked.
Hope curtly answered, “NO! I was agreeing that she needs changed again. The three of you can call her Mikky… or Mykaela and nothing else!”
That afternoon, Mark rode Rainmaker home alongside Jake in the buggy with Myra sitting in the seat beside him, while Mark led BlueBoy.
Milly saw the small procession coming down the road and was immediately on the porch, running to meet them as they pulled into the yard.
“Is Myra okay?” Milly called.
Lucas ran from the barn in hearing Milly’s tone of voice in her question.
“I’m fine Mama,” Myra called as she jumped down from the buggy. “BlueBoy pulled a shoe at the turnoff, so Jake offered to let me drive the horse and buggy. Thank you, Jake. I had fun!”
Gwen stepped from Mark and Hope’s home with her shawl wrapped tightly around her shoulders and an overnight bag in her hand. Jake ran to assist Gwen across the yard and up into the buggy.
“Thank you, Mark,” Jake stated as the turned the horse and buggy back towards town.
“Have a good evening! Hattie and Micah will have your room waiting for you,” Mark called as he waved goodbye to the two.
Lucas walked over to BlueBoy and had him pick up his hoof.
“He didn’t rip up too much of the hoof wall. I thought the shoe sounded funny as we started from school, but Gabby told me what happened this morning and I didn’t want to worry Ma, by not getting Gabby home on time.
I appreciate your consideration. Milly’s been… on edge today.”
“Well, it is the first time Gabby’s been out of her sight since… You know.”
“I know.” Lucas replied as he allowed BlueBoy to put his hoof down.
“I’ll take him back to town tomorrow and have Nils put new shoes on him,” Mark offered.
“How’m I getting to school tomorrow?” Myra asked as she tried to stop Milly from fussing over her.
“You can ride Two-Bits tomorrow, I’ll ask Hope,” Mark replied.
“Oh, can I really?” Myra asked excitedly.
“Only if Hope agrees.
After supper, Mark enjoyed spending time with his family. Playing with the boys on the floor. Hope sat with their daughter in her lap, reading from her bible. In time, Hope stood and took Mykaela to their bedroom and put her to bed. When their sons started yawning, Mark suggested it was time for bed. Hope and Mark watched over their sons as they said their nightly prayers. After tucking each one into bed and kissing them goodnight, Mark heard, “Stinky a good name.”
“No, we’ve already discussed that,” Hope replied as she blew out the lantern and Mark pulled the door closed behind them.
“What was that about?”
They walked across the front room to their own bedroom, with Hope explaining how the boys decided they needed a nickname for their sister, “The same way you have a nickname for Myra. Only Eli wanted to call her stinky. I told him, NO.”
“Oh. So what nickname have they given to Emmy?”
“Josh called her Mikky,” Hope stated as she pulled her nightgown over her head.
After placing more wood into the pot-bellied stove, Mark blew out the lantern and climbed into bed. He snuggled against his wife and was soon asleep.
“Myra!” Milly screamed, sitting bolt upright in bed.
“Milly,” Lucas called as he reached for his wife.
Milly was out of bed and across the floor before Lucas could stop her. She opened the door and called back to Lucas, “The children!”
After pulling on his pants, Lucas was soon behind Milly and checking on their children. Milly opened the door to Myra’s room and saw her daughter curled up asleep, an arm wrapped around one of her dolls. Lucas tried to prevent Milly from opening the door to their sons’ bedroom, “Milly?”
“Something’s not right,” Milly pleaded and opened the door. The moon bathed a gentle glow across their two sons while they slept, snuggled deep in their beds.
“Milly, they’re fine. Please come to bed,” Lucas placed his hands to Milly’s shoulders. “You’re trembling…”
“It’s nothing. It’s just chilly in here,” Milly replied as Lucas pushed her back to their bedroom.
“No, that’s not it. Last night and now tonight? Talk to me, Milly,” Lucas stated as he pushed her to sit on their bed.
“Don’t tell me you never woke in the middle of the night to check on Mark?!”
“I can’t. I’d be lying if I did. But Milly, you’re not just checking on them. You woke screaming Myra’s name.”
“I did not scream.”
“Okay, called out… loudly,” Lucas corrected himself.
“A mother has a right to be concerned about her children,” Milly declared, trying hard not to give into her tears.
“Yes, I agree, but this isn’t being concerned. This is why you wanted to keep Myra home from school yesterday?”
Milly turned from Lucas.
“I won’t tell you that we don’t keep secrets, because what you’re going through it’s not, it’s not a secret.” Pulling Milly into his arms, Lucas gently stated, ”You’re scared.”
“Don’t I have a right to be scared?! Armed men broke into this house, brought you home--shot, threatened our children! Lucas, they could have killed anyone or all of us…”
“Yes, but they didn’t…”
“Lucas, I keep seeing them waving their guns, you coming home shot…” Milly buried her head into Lucas’ shoulder as he enveloped her in his arms.
“They’re gone Milly. They’re gone. Dead and buried.”
“But not in my dreams… not in my dreams.” Milly cried as the tears finally fell down her face.
She ran as fast as her feet would allow her to go, chasing... Trying to catch up… Through the oppressive darkness she ran, until her fears couldn’t be denied. Someone had taken her children! She woke to find herself in her own bed, breathing hard, sweating… She looked to her husband, sleeping next to her. Quietly she climbed from her bed and walked to the crib and peered inside to see her daughter sleeping. Her heart took her to the room where her sons slept, peacefully. “All three of them,” she exhaled and closed her eyes as she pulled the door shut. She walked to the kitchen sink and primed the pump. Splashing cold water on her face didn’t allay what she felt. Quietly she climbed back in bed. Her husband rolled over and, in his sleep, draped an arm over her.
Hope placed the crook of her elbow over her eyes as she realized, another night without sleep, another night of worry that someone was going to take her children. Remembering the story Johnny Gibbs read from the Times Gazette, on Halloween night, Hope’s mind heard a twisted voice repeating:
An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' churish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you - Don't - Watch - Out!*
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you – Don’t – Watch – Out!
Watch – Out!
Watch – Out!
(* is the final verse to James Whitcomb Riley’s Little Orphant Annie)
Lucas kept Milly wrapped in his arms as they lay back in bed. He thought back, how many times had he woke during the night to make sure Mark was still asleep and safe in his bed. As Milly’s breathing slowed, Lucas wondered, ‘Why?’ Why wasn’t he as upset as Milly had been. Why did those outlaws threatening his family not continue to worry him? Why was he not up during the nights, checking on his children?
Mark woke to find Hope already out of their bed for the morning. After dressing, he quietly walked up behind her as she set the frying pan to the stove and wrapped his arms around her.
Mark opened his eyes to see his father kneeling over him, hand placed to the side of Mark’s head, holding a wet rag.
“Welcome back,” Lucas stated with a dry sense of humor.
“Back? What happened?” Mark asked.
“Easy, let’s get you sitting up slowly.” Lucas helped Mark sit up.
“Ow.” Mark felt the lump up on the side of his head. Slowly moving his head and neck, Mark asked again, “What happened?”
“You surprised Hope.” Lucas stated as he helped Mark to his feet. “You okay to stand?”
“Think so. I surprised Hope? All I did was wrap my arms around her, like I normally do. She did this with the frying pan?” Mark asked as he saw Lucas pick up the pan from the floor.
“Mark, we need to talk. I believe our wives are having trouble coping with what happened with those outlaws,” Lucas stated as he walked Mark to the table and pulled out a chair for Mark to sit down.
“Hope and I’ve talked about her killing Grindstaff. I thought she was doing okay?” Mark replied as he replaced the cool, damp rag to his head.
“It’s not that. Those men were in our homes. I feel stupid when I didn’t realize what was happening yesterday morning.”
“You mean, Ma not wanting Gabby to go to school?”
“Yeah. That was only a part of it. I don't think either of them are sleeping well. Milly's woke the past two nights and had to check on the children. Early, this morning she was in a panic. I finally got her to talk...”
“But they’ve…” Mark started to say, but stopped as he winced when he removed the rag from his head.
“Mark, I don’t think either one of them realized the other was going through the same fears. During the day they have the children and work around the homes to keep them busy. Milly told me she knew those men couldn’t hurt us or the children any more, but in her dreams… When do you do the most worrying?” Lucas asked.
“At night, before I fall asleep,” Mark replied.
“And if the worrying is powerful enough?”
“I don’t sleep or I sleep in fits. Where is Hope now?” Mark asked feeling guilty.
“Over with Milly. She’s pretty upset.”
Mark attempted to stand.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Lucas asked as he prepared to steady Mark on his feet, if need be.
“To get my wife,” Mark replied.
“Let them talk. I think they both need this time together.”
Mark looked over his shoulder as their bedroom door opened.
“Hey Mark, why were ya sleeping on the floor?” Myra asked as she came into the front room and continued through the kitchen. “Mykaela’s diaper is changed.” She dropped the dirty diaper in the pail on the back porch.
“I think I tripped and whacked my head.”
“You still going to let me ride Two-Bits today?”
“I’m sorry Gabby, I forgot to ask Hope. How about you riding in front of me on Rainmaker. We can still lead BlueBoy to town.”
“I guess so…” Myra stated dejectedly. “You sure you can’t ask her now?” Seeing the look on her Pa’s face, “That means, no.”
Lucas nodded.
“Myra, why don’t you go home, get your schoolbooks and meet me at the barn. I’ll take you to school,” Lucas stated.
“I can do it,” Mark replied.
“No, I think you need to stay here and talk with Hope, after she’s through talking with Milly. Milly and I had a heart to heart talk last night, but I know that it will take more than one talk to see us through this.”
Mark nodded.
“Mark, be understanding. I remember many a nights waking up and checking on you…” Lucas stated with sympathy as he left Mark’s home and headed to the barn.
Mark had just hung the rag over the pump and when he heard footsteps on the porch. He turned to see his Ma and Hope entering the front door.
“The frying pan, huh?,” Mark stated with a grin as he walked to the door, where the two of them had stopped.
“Mark, I’m so sorry, I…”
“Hey, there’s nothing to apologize for. I should have realized you weren’t sleeping well during the nights. Funny, takes my Pa to tell me what’s going on in my own bed…”
“Lucas said you had a lump upside your head?” Milly asked as she put her hand to the left side of Mark’s head.
“Ow!” Mark replied and pulled away.
“Hope has enough children to take care of without you turning into a big baby,” Milly replied with a smile.
“I guess I deserved that. Ma, thanks for bringing Hope home.”
After watching Milly leave, Hope asked, “Where are the children?”
“I heard the boys playing in their room and Emmy’s in our bedroom.”
Both turned as they heard the door to their sons’ room open and watched as Zach peaked out.
“Grandpa told us to stay in our room. Can we come out? We’re hungry.”
“Sure,” Mark stated. “Why don’t you have a seat at the table and I’ll help your Mama fix breakfast.”
“Let me help.”
Side by side, Mark and Hope worked to cook breakfast for their family, and after breakfast was ate, Mark helped Hope clear the table and wash the dishes.
“Papa’s doing girl’s work,” Josh snickered.
“What did you just say?” Mark asked.
“I said you doing girl’s work,” Josh replied.
“Then I think you can come over here and help dry the dishes and your Mama can put them away.”
When Josh didn’t get up from the table, Mark cleared his throat to get his son’s attention and motioned with his index finger, indicating he wanted his son to come stand next to him.
Mark watched as Hope handed the dish towel to Josh as well as each dish.
“Now, there will be no more comments girls work versus boys work. This family works, together. Why don’t you three go to your bedrooms and play for a while.”
The door to the boys’ bedroom closed and Hope turned to Mark, “Are you upset with me?”
“No. Now that I know something is bothering you, I can wait until you’re ready.”
“If this family works together, you up to helping me do laundry?”
“Tell you what, I’ll even wash the diapers in the pail,” Mark started to wrap his arms around Hope, but stopped.
“What?” Hope inquired.
“Just making sure the frying pan is out of reach.” Mark laughed, but saw that Hope wasn’t. “Hope, forget about what happened with the frying pan, I just want to help you through your fears that those men could harm our children. I’m sorry I didn’t realize you hadn’t put the ordeal out of your mind. Maybe I should feel guilty that wasn’t checking on the children, too.”
“Mark, you have the ranch, and your job, Johnny still has his leg in the cast, and…”
“And, I have a wife who needs some comforting…” Mark raised his eyebrows.
“I feel so embarrassed…”
“Don’t, we’ll get through this. Pa told me Ma was going through the same fears.”
“Only she didn’t wallop Pa upside the head with a frying pan. Does it still hurt?” Hope asked.
“Only when I laugh. Only when I laugh.” Mark put his hand to the small of Hope’s back and laughed as they walked outside to prepared to do the laundry together.
That night, Lucas sat up in bed and waited for Milly to come to bed. He lifted the covers to allow his wife to slip in under them, before he snuggled down next to her.
“I’m here for you, tonight. We’ll get through this one night at a time,” Lucas stated before he pressed a kiss to Milly’s lips.
Both enjoyed sensing the other so near, the other’s calm breathing lulled both of them to sleep. It was after two o’clock when Milly startled awake, but didn’t bolt upright or scream. Lucas felt the jolt from Milly and woke.
“Are you okay? Do you want to go check on them?”
“The windows are locked and the front door is too.” Milly took a deep breath, “I’ve got to get over this.”
“I’ll check on them, if you want me too,” Lucas offered.
“No, just hold me until I can fall back to sleep.”
It was about an hour later before Lucas realized that Milly had indeed fallen asleep.
It only took two more nights before Milly and Lucas were sleeping through the nights.
The nightmares still plagued Hope. Mark was soon to return to town and made an announcement, “How would everyone like to have an in-town holiday? You’re all coming with me and I’ll have Lou put you up at the hotel.”
“Mark, I can do this,” Hope replied.
“No, we will do this. I’ll ask Lou to put us up at the head of the stairs, in front. Pa always brought me to town when he was acting deputy, so I don’t see what I can’t bring you too.”
The first night in town was no easier for Hope or Mark, but this time, all of their children shared their room with them. The second night of Mark’s standing shift, he woke as the sun started streaming through the window. He propped himself up on his elbow and looked to his wife and smiled at the serene look on her face. Quietly, he slipped from bed and dressed. Before leaving the room, Mark placed a kiss to Hope’s lips, causing her to rouse.
“Good morning, Love,” Mark stated.
“Morning?” Hope asked and yawned. “I slept through?”
“Seems that way. You ready to try sleeping at home again?”
Hope nodded.
“I get off at four this afternoon. We’ll have supper at the hotel before we return home. So, if you have any shopping to do, you best to it this morning.”
Once at home, after putting their sons to sleep in their bedroom, Mark invited his wife back under the covers. He said a silent prayer that Hope would be able to sleep through the night.
Mark stretched his arms out as he woke for the morning. Pleased that they had managed two quiet nights in a row.
“So?” Mark asked as Hope snuggled closer to him.
“Can’t we sleep in…”
“What about the children?” Mark asked.
“They can sleep in too.”
Mark pressed a kiss to the top of Hope’s head as he pulled the covers over the two of them.
Finally, they realized they needed to rise for the day. As they dressed Mark asked, “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yes, I dreamed last night. And it explained a lot of what my fear really was.”
“Mark, it wasn’t just that those men could have harmed our children or someone else could take them. I guess what was really bothering me is that… one day, they won’t need me anymore. I was blurring reality with my dreams.”
“They’ll always need you. Maybe not the same way as they do now, but that’s what being a parent is all about. All the years of Pa telling me I’d understand better when I was older. A parent brings a child into the world and raises them the best way we can, according to God’s word and that they get a proper education. Teach them right from wrong, the rest, they have to decide… I’m sure you’re not the first mother to have these fears.”
“Are you sure you’re not a psychologist?”
“No thank you. It’s trouble enough trying to figure out what my wife’s thinking…”
Hope reared back, picked up the pillow, and let it fly towards Mark.
Laughing as he ducked, Mark called, “Least it’s not the frying pan!”

The Next Step — Quarantine

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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