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The Next Step…
Chapter 39 – A Time to Cherish
Written by Deanne Bertram

Before heading for home, Lucas sent a wire to Milly announcing they were heading home. Lucas helped push Mark into the saddle as he mounted Blue Boy, then Lucas mounted Razor. They waved to Tom Benton as they headed for home. During their travel, Lucas kept a keen eye on Mark.

“Pa, I’ll let you know when it gets to be too much. But I have to get home, I shouldn’t have left Hope.”

“Mark as you said before, you had a responsibility to North Fork as well as to your family. Your responsibility to North Fork is completed, so now, we’ll see about our responsibilities to our wives. We’ll ride as long as I feel you’re not putting yourself in jeopardy, but each time I call for a stop, you will let me check your side.”

“Yes sir,” Mark answered, knowing it was a small price to pay to get home.

*****

It was the evening of July tenth when Lucas and Mark McCain rode up to Hattie’s. Lucas helped Mark down from Blue Boy and the two walked the path to the porch. Before Lucas could knock, the door was opened by Hope. She threw her arms around Mark, who tried to keep his groan inwards as her pregnant belly hit his wound. Hope felt him tense, let go and took a step back, “Mark?”

“I’m alright, now that I’m home. How are you… and the babies?” Mark asked as he pushed Hope back inside.

Milly was soon there, hugging and kissing Lucas.

Hattie arrived and pushed Hope and Mark, upstairs, towards a room and Milly and Lucas to another.

*****

As Milly sat down on the bed, Lucas asked how she and their baby were doing as he placed his hand to her stomach.

“I’m fine and so is our baby. Now, what about Mark? I know something happened when Tom Benton sent the wire and not you. What happened?”

Lucas didn’t get the chance to answer as they both heard the scream from Hope. They rushed from their room, crossed the hall, and opened the door. Both Mark and Hope were on the floor; Mark had his arms around Hope, who had her arms around her belly. Another scream left her lips. Hattie arrived quickly.

“Pa, get Doc Burrage,” Mark called.

Within fifteen minutes, Thadd and Abigail Burrage were in Hope’s room. While Thadd was doing an initial examination, Abigail placed extra towels across the bed. Thadd helped Mark lift Hope from the floor and onto the bed. As he lay Hope down, Mark grimaced, pulled his hand to his side and then allowed Abigail to lead him from the room.

Lucas came to the hallway from returning Milly to their room, he saw Mark, hand against his side, pain in his face.

“Pa, I need old Doc Burrage. I pulled something.” Mark pulled his hand away from his side and Lucas saw the blood stain. Before Lucas led Mark downstairs, he asked Hattie to stay with Milly. Lucas was setting Mark down on the couch when Micah came in. Lucas turned to see his old friend standing there, with the aid of a cane.

Micah saw the pain on Mark’s face, then saw the blood. “LucasBoy, what happened?”

“Not now Micah. Stay with Mark while I go get Doc Jay.”

*****

Jay Burrage arrived, he paused in the parlor upon seeing Mark and then hearing Hope scream. He quickly set to work unbandaging Mark. “Mark, this is a gunshot and recent. Lucas, how could you let him ride like this?”

“Doc, I insisted, besides, I didn’t start bleeding until after I helped Thadd get Hope back to bed.”

Jay was upset with both McCain men. After examining the wound, he told both that it was a minor pull. He rebandaged the wound tighter, then stood up, proclaiming, “I want him in bed, now.”

“I’ll just wait here on the couch Doc, the bed’s being used right now.”

Shortly, Hattie came downstairs, “Oh Jay. Thank goodness you’re here. Milly needs you. I think she’s going into labor.”

Mark, Lucas, and Micah looked at each other, realizing tonight was going to be a long night.

*****

Word spread that both Doc Burrage’s were called to the home of Micah and Hattie.

Johnny insisted in making his way over. “Woman, either you let me out of this home or so help me. My arm’s in a sling, not my leg. Now, get Connor and let me escort you over there, I’m sure you want to be there for Milly or Hope.”

Together, they quickly walked. Upon entering, Micah told Lou what room Milly was in and that Hattie was with Hope. Lou handed the sleeping Connor to Johnny. Johnny walked into the parlor, surprised to see that Lucas and Mark McCain had returned. Then he noticed the fresh blood on Lucas’ pant leg.

“Something happen while you were gone Luke?” Johnny asked, pointing to the pant leg.

Micah followed the direction of Johnny’s point. Johnny laid Connor down in a crib that was placed in the front room for Myra. Then he pushed Lucas to sit down, while Micah went to get some bandages.

“And here I am talking about retiring and those that are set to take my place don’t take care of themselves,” Micah grumbled as he wrapped another bandage around Lucas’ leg.

*****

Before they continued their talk, Lou came downstairs carrying a sleeping Myra and handed her to Lucas. “Cowboy, take care of your daughter. She doesn’t need to be upstairs in the room with Milly.” Lou turned and ran back upstairs.

*****

Jay came down, handed Johnny some pills and told him to make sure Mark took them both. “Just do it Johnny, I don’t have time to explain. But if you want an explanation, ask Lucas how his boy got shot.” Then turning to Lucas, “It’s going to be a while, why don’t you try to get some sleep, like your daughter, there.”

Johnny held a glass with his arm that was in the sling and then, using his good arms, pumped the handle to get the water to fill the glass. He carried it back to the parlor and handed it and the pills to Mark. “Doc said to take both of these. And don’t pretend to swallow and then spit them out later. I’m watching you.”

Mark obediently swallowed the pills then opened his mouth to show Johnny he wasn’t hiding them. Within a half hour, even through hearing Hope’s and Milly’s cries from labor, Mark couldn’t keep his eyes open.

After Mark was sound asleep on the couch, Johnny turned to Lucas and asked, “Okay, so Doc says the boy was gunshot. I see you’ve a gunshot wound to the leg. You mind telling us what the hell happened? I can just imagine the report we’re going to have to write.”

“Don’t worry Johnny, Tom Benton’s going to have to write the bulk of it, seeing as how he was the senior most U.S. Marshal present when we took the Domingo Gang into custody.” Then staring over to Micah and then to Johnny, “Okay, so when were the two of you planning to tell me that once my son turned twenty-one he was going to be an official U.S. Marshal?”

Both men looked to each other, not knowing what Lucas was talking about. “Honest Lucas, we’ve not heard a word about this,” Micah stated as he took a seat in a side chair.

“Johnny, you mean Mark’s not talked with you either. You’re the one always bringing him books.”

“Lucas, this is the first I’ve heard of this.”

All three men looked towards the stairs as the cries of pain continued upstairs.

“Lucas, tell us what happened. Take your mind off the women for a while. Actually, wish Doc Jay would give all of us what he gave Mark,” Micah stated.

*****

It was shortly before midnight when Jay came down to inform Lucas he had another son. “Give us a few more minutes and you can go see Milly.” Looking to see Mark still sleeping he said, “Then, I’m going to see if I can help Thadd with Hope.”

*****

Lucas placed Myra in the crib, next to Connor and then went upstairs, walked into Milly’s room and saw joy in her eyes, but concern on her face.

Lou left the room as Lucas laid down on the bed. Seeing the question in her eyes, he placed the tips of his fingers to her lips, “Milly, no questions, just lie there. I’ll tell you everything in the morning. Doc says we have another son.”

Milly pulled the blanket away and showed Lucas their son, happily nursing from her breast.

*****

The sun was soon to rise when Hope gave birth to their first child. As she rested back against Hattie, Doc told Lou, “Unbutton her nightshirt, let’s get him nursing.”

“Doc, shouldn’t you clean the babe first?” Lou asked.

As he wrapped the infant in a towel he said, “Lou, I’m not sure how much time we have before the next baby demands to make an appearance, just help me get this one nursing.”

“Next one?” Lou asked, but did as she was told. She helped the exhausted Hope hold her son while he nursed.

In a tired voice Hope stated, “We’re having twins,” as she leaned heavily back against Hattie.

Ten minutes later the next wave of contractions started. Lou pulled the baby from Hope and handed him to Abigail, who had a bath of warm water ready to clean the infant and then wrapped him in a blanket.

As the contractions came and went, the sun rose higher in the morning sky. Lou left the room to check on Connor for the morning. A few moments later, she returned and told Hattie, “The men said they’d fend for themselves for breakfast and not to worry about them. We’re to focus on Hope.”

Jay asked, “What about Mark, was he still sleeping?”

“Yes, though how he can sleep with his wife all night in labor, I’ll give him a piece of my mind when I see him next,” Lou stated.

She wiped the sweat from Hope’s brow and held tight to Hope’s hand as another contraction wracked Hope’s body.

“I can’t do it,” Hope cried.

“Yes you can, just a few more pushes,” Thadd stated.

Another strong contraction hit, causing Hope to scream out with Doc yelling for her to “PUSH. Come on Hope, PUSH!”

As the contractions and pain subsided, Doc told Hope that she had given birth to a second son. Hattie had tears of joy in her eyes as she allowed Hope to lean backwards a little. After Doc wrapped the second baby in a towel, he placed the baby to Hope’s breast and was pleased to hear the baby suckle.

Once the baby stopped nursing, Abigail took the child and started to clean him too. Thadd and Jay went down stairs to tell the expectant father the joyous news. Hattie and Lou helped change Hope into a fresh nightgown and then helped her move to a chair so they could change the bed linens. Soon Hope was back in bed and asleep.

*****

Thadd entered the parlor and found Mark sleeping on the couch. From behind, he heard footsteps.

“Doc?” Lucas asked. “Hope?”

“She’s fine Lucas.”

“And the babies?”

“They’re both healthy, but I think the father should be awake before I tell everyone the rest of the news.” Then seeing the dried blood on Mark’s shirt, “Lucas, what happened?” as he walked over.

“Your uncle rebandaged his wound last night when he arrived. Then gave him some pills to make him sleep. I guess the toll of being shot and then the ride home and the worry, Thadd he was exhausted.”

As they stood talking, Mark started to rouse, then bolted wide awake seeing Thadd standing in front of him.

“Doc? Hope?” worry was written all over Mark’s face.

“She’s fine Mark. If you’d like, I can take you upstairs to meet your sons and then maybe later you’d like to meet your little brother.” A smile played across Thadd’s face as he told Mark the news.

Both McCain men started to follow Thadd back upstairs, but first allowed Lou to come down.

*****

Lucas entered Milly’s room and saw her nursing their son. She smiled as he entered and came to lie down in bed next to her. As Lucas watched their child nurse, he told Milly everything that had happened while he was gone. As she listened to the story, tears started falling down her face. She told Lucas how worried she had been when she received Tom’s wire. Lucas then told Milly, they had two grandsons. In time, all three were asleep, their son in Milly’s arms, and Milly in Lucas’ arms.

*****

Mark entered the room, he saw Hope sleeping on the bed, Hattie holding one bundle, and Abigail holding another. He stood in the doorway, mouth a gaping.

“Mark,” Hattie quietly said. “Come on in and meet your first born son.”

Slowly he walked over to Hattie and sat down in a chair. He allowed her to place the bundle in his arms. He opened the blanket and was amazed at the tiny life he held in his arms. As every new father does, he counted the fingers and toes. Hattie took the child back as Abigail stepped to his side and handed him his second born son. Again, Mark opened the blanket and counted the fingers and toes. Mark handed his son back to Abigail, then walked to the bed, pulled off his boots, then laid down on top of the covers. He asked for them to bring his sons and lay them down between him and Hope.

Mark continued to look his family over, smiling as tears fell from his eyes.

Hattie left the room as Abigail sat down in the chair and watched as Mark fell asleep with his family.

*****

Shortly before supper, Lucas opened the door to the room where Mark and Hope lay and escorted Milly in. He held Milly tight as they looked at their grandsons for the first time.

Abigail got up and asked if they would like to hold them.

“Not yet, don’t disturb Mark and Hope, let them sleep. We can hold them later.”

Lucas returned Milly to her room, said he would be back with something for her to eat. Lucas entered the kitchen only to be approached by Lou as she started complaining about Doc giving Mark pills to make him sleep all night while his wife was in such pain and discomfort giving birth to his sons.

“Lou, please, settle down. We encountered a whole lot more of the outlaws once we reached where they were hiding out. As we were trying to take the last one into custody, a store owner accidentally shot Mark. By all rights, he should still be in Romero, Texas recovering, but he wanted to get back to his wife. He re-opened his wound when he helped Thadd lift Hope back into bed. Doc Jay knew it was more important for him to sleep than to waste all his energy in worrying. Lord knows I did enough for the both of us last night,” Lucas stated. “Now, why don’t you take your son and your husband home and tend to them. I really appreciate everything you’ve done for my family last night and today, but now it’s time you turn your attention back to those who look to you. Go home and love your family.”

*****

After the Drako’s left, Hattie pushed Lucas to sit down in a chair while she fixed a supper for Lucas and Milly.

“Well LucasBoy, quite a night we had? Don’t you think?” Micah asked as he took a drink from his coffee cup.

“Micah, I’m sorry to have my family disrupt your home in such a way,” Lucas stated.

“Lucas, they’re not just your family, you’re my family too. I was getting bored just setting around. Doc won’t release me to return to duty yet and Hattie won’t let me help with all those children, so it was kind of fun last night, watching you and waiting. Most fun I’ve had since the summer social.”

“Thanks Micah. Speaking of releasing you, what’s Doc said?”

“Probably another month. You know, I’m not as young as I used to be. I’d already been talking with Johnny about stepping down and just helping out on an ‘as needed’ basis. I wanted to wait until the fall meeting of the town council before I said anything official. This town’s been awful good to me, especially you, and I know I can leave the town in good hands between Johnny and Mark.”

“Micah, I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, tell him he’s talking foolish. Being a Marshal runs in his blood,” Hattie stated as she held a tray of food. “Come on, follow me upstairs and I’ll get you, ya big lug, and Milly fed.”

Lucas opened the door and followed Hattie inside. She placed the tray on the table, next to the bed and then left. Milly handed their son to Lucas as she had just finished nursing him. Lucas climbed up in bed and cuddled with his son. Once both were done eating, there was a knock at the door.

“Lucas, Milly, it’s me Hattie. I have someone who wants to meet her baby brother.” Hattie opened the door and let Myra in. Hattie picked the girl up and set her on the foot of the bed. “I’ll leave you be.” Before leaving, she took the empty tray and dishes.

“Myra,” Milly said. “Crawl on up here and sit between your father and me.”

Myra crawled and sat between them, leaning back into Milly. Lucas lifted the baby and placed him in Myra’s arms, with Milly helping to hold.

“Myra, he’s your brother,” Lucas stated.

“Mark my brother,” Myra stated.

Lucas and Milly laughed. “Sweetie, Mark is your older brother. This is your baby brother,” Milly stated.

“Baby,” Myra stated.

“Lucas, we do need to come up with a name for our son,” Milly said as she looked from her children to her husband.

“I got to thinking while you were sleeping, that maybe, Theodore Scott McCain might be a good name for him.”

“Lucas, you’d name him after my brother?” Milly asked as tears formed in her eyes. Lucas nodded and smiled, but then it slowly faded as he took little Ted back into his arms.

“Lucas, what’s wrong?” Milly asked.

“Nothing, just thinking how perfect this would be if Mark were in here.” Then looking to Milly, “Milly, did I short change him by not asking you to marry me, before? He and Myra get along so well, but there’s just such a difference in their ages, and now little Ted. He could have been a big brother to them while he was still growing up.”

“Lucas, I remember once, Mark telling me that you told him, ‘there’s no looking back’. That goes for us, too. Yes, I can wonder about what it would have been like to be Mark’s mother, when he was growing up, but regardless of when I became his mother, I’m his mother now. And I couldn’t love him anymore.”

“Well, if you don’t love me any more, I think I’ll take your grandsons back to their mother,” Mark stated as he quietly opened the door and stuck his head in.

“You’ll do no such thing Mark Warren McCain!” Milly called. Milly had grabbed hold of Myra before she had a chance to jump down from the bed and run to Mark. Mark carried two bundles into the room and walked to Milly, where she took each one in turn.

“How’s Hope doing Mark?” Lucas asked.

“She’s still tired Pa. She nursed both of them before I brought them over, but she just looks so tired. Doc Thadd is over with her right now, said he’d come over here when he was done.”

“Have you decided on names?” Milly asked.

“Names? Oh. No, I mean, we’ve both been sleeping and…”

“It’s okay Mark,” Milly stated as she laid her first grandson on her lap and took hold of her second.

Mark walked around the bed and took his baby brother in his arms. “So, have you decided on a name for my brother?”

Lucas stated, “Theodore Scott McCain,” as he picked up his first grandson.

Abigail came into the room and asked, “Okay, who has which baby?”

Mark stated, “I have my brother.” Abigail came and took the infant from Mark, seeing as how Myra wanted some attention.

“Hi there Gabby,” Mark stated has he tried to pick his sister up, but stopped when he felt the pull at his side. “So, what do you think of your baby brother?”

“Can’t pway,” Myra stated as she put her arms around Mark as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“No, not yet,” Mark replied as he gave her a kiss. There was a knock at the door, when Doc Burrage stuck his head in, “Come in Doc,” Lucas called. “Come on son, I’ll help you get your brood back to Hope.”

Mark took his son from Milly and as he came around the end of the bed, Myra grabbed his other hand, “Mark, what that? More brothers?”

Mark laughed as he thought about how to explain to his sister, that his son’s were her nephews. Looking to Lucas, he got no sympathy. “Pa,” Mark said as they walked across the hall. “You do know this is all your fault.”

*****

They entered the room, with Myra climbing up on the bed and crawling to Hope.

“Hope, I brothers!” Myra squealed.

Hope looked up to Mark, who just lifted his shoulders and laughed.

“Hope you have two beautiful sons,” Lucas said as he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.

“And Milly and her baby? I thought I heard another baby?”

“You did Hope, Ma gave birth to a boy as well. Pa said his name is Theodore Scott McCain.” As Mark crawled into bed beside Hope, he inadvertently let out a small groan.

“Mark?” Hope asked.

“It’s okay. I’ll be alright.” With his son in one arm, he reached over with the other, put it around Hope’s shoulders and pulled her close to him and placed a kiss on top of her head. “We ran into a little trouble. But I’ll be alright.”

Hope looked to Lucas, “Pa?”

“Hope, he’ll be fine. Being here with you and your children, he’ll definitely be alright,” Lucas said as he smiled at them.

“Hope, we do need to name our son’s, we just can call them first and second born,” Mark stated.

“We had talked of Zachariah James and Joshua Lucas…?” Hope stated as she looked to Lucas, causing a larger smile to cross his face.

Mark gave their sons, their names, “Pa, you have my first born and I think he should be called, Joshua Lucas McCain and this little fellow in my arms, you’ll be called, Zachariah James McCain.

The Next Step — Introductions

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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