The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 54 - A Young Woman’s Fancy
Written by Deanne Bertram

The man was distinguished in his attire as he talked to the young, blonde, pretty woman who sat next to him. “We have been engaged for almost three years, you finally agreed to a spring wedding, why do you doubt yourself?”

“Because I don’t know if I’m ready for marriage!”

“But we have discussed all our plans and dreams. Why do you feel you are not ready?”

“Oh, Ashton, I don’t want to become like your family!” the woman ran from the room crying, leaving her fiancé sitting in the parlor alone.

After reflecting on his fiancée’s comments and knowing his family, Ashton followed her up to her room. He knocked on the door and waited for her to answer.

“Sally, please, may I talk with you?” he asked.

After a few moments he heard the door knob turn and saw the door open.

“I’m sorry about my comment. I know it wasn’t fair to you,” Sally answered as she tried to dry her tears.

“Sally, please come back downstairs, I believe we need to talk.”

Ashton Maguire escorted Sally Walker down the staircase and into the parlor of the boarding house. He saw her seated on the sofa and he sat down next to her.

“Sally, your comment was true. I mean, I am an only child of wealthy parents. All my life I was raised by nannies and butlers. My whole life, while I was growing up, I was told how to behave properly and not allowed to act as other children did. Even as a small child, I was expected to represent my family as fitting someone from society. But Sally, I fell in love with you because you are so different from any of the other women I have known. They are all too proper and stuffy. You have a zest for life and you are so caring. That is what I want our family to be, not my parents’ life. Once we are married, it will be our life. What will it take for you to see that you are ready for marriage and that I am the one you should be marrying?”

“I don’t know. I’ve talked with my Ma, but… Oh how I wish I could go visit Aunt Milly. She puts everything into better perspective.”

“Where does she live? Your aunt.”

“In North Fork, New Mexico,” Sally answered.

“New Mexico? But that is uncivilized country!” Ashton declared.

“See, that’s what I mean. You just don’t understand!”

After thinking for a few moments Ashton asked, “Does it really mean that much to you to go visit your aunt?”

“Yes, for some reason, … She’s just who I need to talk to,” Sally stated as she let out a sigh. “See she’s almost been married for six years and from letters Ma wrote me, she has a wonderful husband, and two children.”

“Sally, I refuse to let you travel all the way from Raleigh to New Mexico, alone.”

“Ashton, I just can’t marry you unless I can talk with Aunt Milly,” Sally pleaded.

“Okay, then we will go together. Guess it is time I saw more of this country than the refinement of the eastern cities.”

*****

That evening, at dinner, Ashton informed his parents of his upcoming trip to North Fork, New Mexico.

“That barbaric land?! I will not have a son of mine risk his life in that uncivilized country. St. Louis, Missouri is bad enough, but New Mexico!”

“Father,” Ashton stated. “It is important to Sally, so it is important to me. I will accompany my future wife to visit her relatives. With or without your blessings.”

The rest of the dinner was eaten in silence. When dessert was served, Ashton excused himself. “I must pack if Sally and I are to leave tomorrow. Mother, Father, good night.”

*****

Sally and Ashton, sat in the club car. When other passengers would sit opposite them, they would chat of their travel plans. Of an evening, they went to the sleeping cars, each having sleeping quarters of their own.

Ashton was amazed at the six days it took to travel from Raleigh to Albuquerque, and then changing trains to continue on to North Fork. During their travels he marveled at the country. So much more expansive that he ever imagined.

*****

Before the train pulled into the station, the conductor announced, “North Fork, New Mexico, next stop!”

Ashton assisted Sally in getting her luggage from the overhead rack and then carried them off the train. He called for a porter as they stepped to the platform.

“Sir, if you would be so kind, would you assist us in getting to our accommodations at the local hotel.”

“Yes sir,” the man answered as he put the luggage on his trolley cart and proceeded to the Mallory House.

“Quite quaint,” Ashton stated as they entered. He strode to the desk and waited.

“I’ll be right with ye,” came a voice from the restaurant area. “Good day to ye. Are ye in need of a room?” as a red-headed woman who walked behind the front desk.

“Actually, miss, we are in need of two rooms. One room is for my fiancée and the other for me.”

“Wonderful. How long will ye be visiting our fair town?”

“It kind of depends on my fiancée, she is here to meet up with family,” Ashton answered.

“I’ve two joining rooms, if that will be okay? By the way, my name is Lou Drako. I’m the owner of the hotel.”

“We are pleased to meet you Miss Drako, my name is Ashton Maguire and my fiancée is Sally Walker.”

“How far have ye traveled?”

“From Raleigh, North Carolina.”

“Well, let me get your room keys and I’ll show ye to yer rooms.”

Lou showed them upstairs and informed them where the rooms with baths were, so they could freshen up. “We start serving supper in about an hour. If ye’d like, I can let yer family know that ye are here?”

“If you do not mind Miss, we would like some time to rest and relax prior to notifying the family that we have arrived,” Ashton stated.

“All right. Just come on down ta supper when ye’re ready,” Lou stated as she handed the room keys to them.

*****

Ashton escorted Sally down the stairs and into the restaurant. As they entered they saw the hotel owner sitting at a table, with a man wearing a badge and with two young children. Ashton and Sally made their way over.

“My apologies, Madame, I did not realize you were married when we met earlier. I meant no offense in calling you miss,” Ashton apologized.

“Think nothin’ of it. Mr. Ashton Maguire and Miss Sally Walker, my husband and our town Marshal, Johnny Drako, and our children, Connor and Danielle,” Lou introduced.

“Pleasure to meet your acquaintance,” Ashton stated. “I was wondering if you might give us directions to my fiancée’s family’s place of residence.”

“Their name?” Johnny asked.

“Oh,” Sally stated as she placed her finger tips to her mouth. “I don’t remember my aunt’s new last name, but it previously was Scott, Milly Scott.”

“Then ye’d be talkin’ of my best friend, Milly McCain,” Lou answered.

“Could you please give us directions to her new home?” Sally asked.

“Miss, that won’t be necessary. The McCain family will be in town within the hour. They are joining us for supper tonight,” Johnny stated.

“Please, won’t ye have a seat until yer family arrives?” Lou asked.

During their wait, Ashton asked Johnny about the need to wear fire arms all the time. He stated it was quite disturbing to see men wearing guns walking about the street. Johnny explained that it was a way of life in this territory, but hopefully, one day, the citizens could put away their guns and rely on the law to protect them.

“We do a good job protecting the citizens here in town, but those who live out on ranches, like the McCain’s, they need their firearms to defend themselves. We only have myself and two deputies to protect this town and her citizens. Thought right now, my youngest deputy is away on business for the U.S. Marshal Service,” Johnny stated.

Sally talked with Lou about the children, how Connor was soon to be four years old and Danielle was a year and a half old.

“My mother told me that Aunt Milly has two children?”

“Aye, there are Myra and Little Ted.”

“Ted?” Sally asked. “As in Theodore?”

“That’s right. Lucas and Milly named their son after Milly’s late brother, Theodore Scott.”

The atmosphere in the restaurant changed, causing Sally and Ashton to turn and see a very tall man enter. With him were two women and five young children. The taller of the two women had bent over to help one of the children remove their coat.

“Mormons?” Ashton asked.

“No, that is Lucas McCain and his wife Milly, your fiancée’s aunt, and their children and…” but before Johnny could finish his sentence, Milly and Hope had removed their bonnets, to which Sally to squeal, “Aunt Milly!” as she jumped up and ran towards her aunt.

“Sally?! Sally Walker. What are you doing here? Your mother didn’t write that you were coming to visit?”

“Oh Aunt Milly, I just had to come and to talk with you. I’m to be married, but… Oh, my manners,” Sally declared.

As Ashton stepped to the family, Sally introduced Ashton to her aunt, then Milly introduced Lucas and Hope to her niece.

“I remember you,” Sally stated as she politely shook hands with Lucas. “Oh, no. Aunt Milly, he’s Mark’s father. You married Mark’s father! Aunt Milly… But, … Oh, I’m so embarrassed.”

“Sally, let’s just have supper together while we get reacquainted and I’ll tell you everything later,” Milly stated as Lucas help remove her shawl from her shoulders.

“Aunt Milly, you’re pregnant!” Sally declared.

“Hush child,” Milly chided her niece.

Lou got up from her seat and walked over to where the McCain’s waited.

“Milly, seeing as ye have family visiting, I think it best ye have supper with them. We can eat together any time.”

“Thank you Lou,” Milly replied, as Lou showed them to a table in the restaurant.

*****

“Oh Aunt Milly, I’m so sorry for embarrassing you like that. It’s just that…”

“Sally, I hadn’t written your mother to let her know about my pregnancy,” Milly stated as she placed her hands to her stomach.

“Mother stated you had returned to North Fork and she wrote you had married, but I… didn’t think it was to Mark’s father,” Sally stated.

“Darling, why should you be so embarrassed over not knowing your aunt was expecting. And just who is this Mark that you reference?” Ashton asked.

“Mark is my oldest son,” Lucas answered.

“And which of these boys is Mark?”

“Oh, Ashton, Mark’s probably a grown man by now,” Sally stated as her cheeks turned red.

“Ashton, Hope is married to our oldest son, who is the father of the twins and the baby that Hope is holding,” Milly stated. “The other boy, Little Ted, and Myra, belong to Lucas and me.”

“I do not understand your embarrassment, Sally.”

“Well, I came to visit Aunt Milly when I was sixteen. And… Oh my…” Sally stopped as embarrassment took hold.

“Ashton, there was the matter of Mark having his first boyhood crush on a pretty girl. But the girl herself had a crush on an older boy,” Lucas stated.

“Do tell?” Ashton asked, quite intrigued.

“There’s no need to go into details!” Sally stated, quite flushed. “Aunt Milly, please, tell us, when are you expecting to give birth.”

Realizing her niece was trying to save herself any more embarrassment, Milly answered, “If all goes well, and if this child doesn’t come as early as the other two, some time the end of March.”

“Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?”

“As long as the baby is healthy, we don’t care. We already have one of…” Milly stopped, placing her hand to her mouth, realizing her gaffe. “The good Lord has provided us with two boys and a girl, so it really doesn’t matter. Regardless, the child will be loved.”

Then turning to Ashton, Lucas asked, “So what brings the two of you to North Fork?”

“Sally needed to talk with her aunt prior to our scheduled wedding. She is not quite sure she wants to go through with it. And I refused to allow her to travel this distance alone. Totally improper for a young woman, engaged as she is, to travel on her own with the red savages and highwaymen running loose.”

“Mr. Maguire, they might be savages to you, but they are people. People who love and care for their families and the land!”

“I meant no offence, but they are quite uncivilized and barbaric,” Ashton replied.

“Uncivilized?! Barbaric?!” Hope declared. “If you’ll excuse me, I need some fresh air.” Hope stood from the table and left, taking Elijah with her, as tears were forming in her eyes.

“Did I say something wrong?” Ashton asked.

“Ashton, there are a few things you need to learn about this land and this family, but now is not the time to discuss,” Lucas answered as he watched Milly follow Hope out of the restaurant.

A few minutes later, Milly returned to the restaurant alone, she shook her head as Lucas looked to her.

“Mrs. McCain, I honestly did not mean to upset your daughter-in-law,” Ashton replied as Milly sat back down.

“Please, call me Aunt Milly. Hope’s past is difficult to explain. But, for six years she was raised as a member of a Kiowa tribe.

“She was held as a captive?” Ashton stated.

“No!” Lucas replied, defending Hope. He softened his tone of voice before continuing, “She had been living with her aunt and uncle. Outlaws murdered the family and burned the homestead, and she ran away. Iron Heart and his sons were out hunting when they came upon Hope in the desert. They followed her tracks back to the homestead and saw what happened. Iron Heart was the chief of the tribe and took her in when she was a little over ten years old, he raised her, as his daughter.”

“I am sorry to have upset her. I shall offer my sincerest apologies to the girl. If you will tell me where she is?” Ashton asked.

“Please, let’s leave her be for now,” Milly stated. “She’ll come around by morning.”

Milly returned the subject to Sally’s unexpected arrival.

“Aunt Milly, I just need to talk to you. Mother is so…, she’s not very modern and you are. Could we talk, woman to woman, tomorrow?”

Milly nodded.

Ashton, interrupted and said, “I am sorry that we ruined your family dinner, we shall take our leave and allow the young woman to return and eat with her family. Until tomorrow.”

With that, Ashton and Sally left the restaurant. Milly excused herself and went back to the kitchen to talk with Hope.

*****

“Hope,” Milly stated as she opened the door. “They’ve left the restaurant so that you my re-join us. The young man didn’t mean to offend you. He’s sorry for how he spoke. Hope, you have to understand, he was raised differently. I take it from the way he speaks, he was raise in an Eastern city and hasn’t had much exposure to our culture. Will you please come back to the restaurant and join us?”

“Ma, it’s just not right… He judged them without taking the time to know them? You expect me to just sit there and listen to his… his…”

“No, I didn’t expect you to just sit there, but I didn’t expect you to run off like you did either. Hope you had an opportunity to teach him a little of the Kiowa. Hope, I know this is difficult for you, but more people are coming to North Fork and many of them won’t know any better, just like Ashton. We need to help them understand that not all Indians are the savages written about in dime store novels. Lucas and I have invited Ashton and Sally to the ranch tomorrow and I am sure he will offer his apologies to you. Maybe then you can take some time to explain to him the culture of Iron Heart and his family.”

“I’ll try, Ma.”

“Good, now I’m hungry and I’m sure the others are too.”

Milly and Hope returned to the restaurant and ate supper with the family, before returning to the ranch for the night.

*****

The following morning, Sally and Ashton arrived at the McCain ranch around mid-morning. Upon seeing Hope sweeping the porch of her home, Ashton walked over to offer his apologies.

“Madame, I …” before he could continue, Hope slapped his face, hard.

“I am NOT a madam! How dare you insult me in such a manner!” Hope ran into the house and slammed the door behind her.

Ashton rubbed at his face as he turned to walk back to the buggy and assist Sally in getting down. A look of surprise was on both their faces as Milly came to the porch and inquired if everything was okay.

“I thought so, but the young Mrs. McCain slapped my face when I attempted to offer my apologies for last night and then she yelled that I had insulted her. Aunt Milly, I plead that I said nothing that was meant as an offense,” Ashton stated.

Looking from Ashton to Hope’s home, Milly stated, “Sally, Ashton, please go on in to our home. Myra and Little Ted are in their rooms for the morning, I’ll be right back,” as she excused herself.

*****

Milly knocked on the door to Hope’s home before entering, “Hope?” she called. Josh and Zach came running from their room calling, “GanMa”.

“Good morning, boys. Where’s your Mama?” They pointed to the bedroom.

Milly walked to the open bedroom door and could hear Hope crying. She looked in and saw Hope lying on her bed.

“Hope, please tell me what happened?”

“He insulted me. He’s rude and I will not allow him talk to me in such a manner!”

Milly walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. She placed a hand to Hope’s shoulder.

“Please Hope, sit up and talk with me. What did he say to insult you?” Milly asked.

As Hope sat up on the bed and wiped the tears from her eyes. She said, “He called me a madam. I am not a woman who takes money from men for the pleasure of her body. I am a respectably, married woman! I love my husband!”

Milly tried to stifle a laugh as she placed her hand to her mouth and said, “Oh Hope, he didn’t insult you. It’s a matter of pronunciation.”

“Pronunciation?! He called me a madam!”

“Hope, I believe he called you Madame.”

“What’s the difference?!” Hope demanded.

“Hope, a madam is a woman who runs a brothel as you so described. Madame is a French word used when addressing a married woman. It is a word of respect. Hope, he didn’t insult you, and I believe he was actually coming to apologize for his words last night.”

“Oh, Ma! He must think me as rude and ignorant,” Hope said as she turned over and cried again.

“Hope please. You’re not rude and you’re not ignorant. It’s just people not understanding the customs or languages of others. Please sit up and dry your tears,” Milly pleaded.

It took a while, but Milly was finally able to get Hope to stop crying and to agree to come to her home to spend the rest of the day with her and Sally.

*****

Milly returned to her home, “Sally, Ashton, I’m so sorry. With Hope’s upbringing there are still, some things she’s not been introduced to. The people of North Fork know of her background and we understand there can be certain, language barriers or times when she doesn’t understand something and we take the time to explain. Even though it’s been five years since she became a resident of North Fork, there are still times... Give her a few minutes to get freshened up and she’ll be over here.”

“Aunt Milly, I guess I too need to understand that the way I act and how I say things can be interpreted wrong. It was wrong of me to say what I did last night without knowing the facts,” Ashton stated.

A few moments later there was a knock at the door. All turned to see Hope, carrying Elijah in his sling around her neck and the twins standing at the door.

“Come in Hope,” Milly stated.

“Mr. Maguire,” Hope started.

“No Miss Hope, please. I was first to offend. I do offer my sincerest apologies. I was just telling Aunt Milly that it was wrong of me to say what I did, without knowing the facts of the Indian culture. I am sure that as with the white man, there are both good and bad. It was wrong for me to say all were savages, uncivilized, and barbaric. I ask you to accept my apology.”

“Only if you’ll accept my apology for slapping you. Ma explained to me that you didn’t insult me, that the word you used was a term of respect.”

“Miss Hope, I say let the past be the past and we start anew. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, and I hope we can be friends. And my friends call me Ashton.”

“I’d like that Ashton. I’d also like to introduce to you, my sons, Joshua and Zachariah, and the newest one is Elijah.”

“All good, strong names. I am sure they take well after their father,” Ashton stated.

“That they do,” Milly interrupted. “Ashton, if you’d like, Lucas just returned to the barn. You might feel more comfortable spending the day with Lucas than sitting in the house listening to the three of us women talking.”

“Sally, I think your Aunt is wise counsel. I will see you later this afternoon. Good day ladies,” Ashton bowed ever so slightly, then turned, placed his hat on his head and headed out the door.

“He is quite proper, Sally,” Milly stated.

“That he is. He wouldn’t even kiss me until after we were engaged,” Sally replied. “Hope, may I hold your youngest?”

Hope removed Elijah from the sling and handed him to Sally.

“Hard to believe that Mark is a father of three such darling boys,” Sally stated.

“Why is that?” Hope asked.

“Oh Hope, it’s quite embarrassing on my part,” Sally replied.

“Not just Sally’s part, but Mark’s as well. I am thankful that he’s up in Denver. I don’t know if he would enjoy our telling Hope what happened the first time you came to North Fork,” Milly added.

“What did happen?”

“Oh Hope, it was all innocent. Mark was thirteen and had just recently become interested in girls, as girls,” Milly answered.

“Yes, I had come to visit Aunt Milly and I had also found out that a boy I had met in Denver was living and working in North Fork. Well, I didn’t realize that Mark had a crush on me, because I had a crush on an older boy, Bruce Henry. I thought I was in love with Bruce because he had been kind to me when he was up in Denver. But it took Mark to show me the other side of Bruce, how if he didn’t get his own way, he could be quite… mean and vindictive.”

Milly continued, “But from Mark’s viewpoint, Sally was kind to him and was so different from the girls he went to school with. She was three years older. Sally, I never told you this, but he had asked Lucas if he could purchase a plot of land to build a home, where he and his wife could live.”

“His wife?!” Hope asked.

“Hope, he had his first crush on a girl and he was so sure that Sally felt the same way about him. He wanted so much to grow up and he thought Sally would be his wife.”

“I knew after he showed me the other side of Bruce that Mark had been sweet on me, but I didn’t know how much,” Sally stated, somewhat shocked.

“Lucas came to talk with me that afternoon and I told him that you and Bruce had gone on a ride and where the two of you were. He took Mark to see for himself that you were only a friend and nothing more. It broke Mark’s heart, a little.”

“Oh Aunt Milly, I didn’t know!”

“You didn’t need to know Sally. It was something that Lucas had to do for Mark.”

“But he was still friend enough to show me the real side of Bruce. He didn’t let me ruin my life by ‘going daffy’ over a boy who wasn’t anywhere as nice as Mark was. Oh, Aunt Milly. I wish I would have known all of this, back then.”

Then Sally turned to Hope, “Oh how I envy you. I presume Mark is just as sweet now, as he was back then.”

“I don’t know about back then,” Hope answered. “But if the man he is today is any indication, I’d say he hasn’t changed that much from when he was younger.”

“Hope, Mark’s always been special to a lot of people in this town. Not just because he lost his mother at such a young age,” Milly stated. “But there was just something about him. So vulnerable, yet determined to grow up and be just like his father. With some of the ordeals that he and Lucas have endured, it’s a testament to him to be the kind and caring husband, father, and son that he is.”

“Hope, Aunt Milly stated that Mark is up in Denver. Is he away on cattle business?” Sally asked.

“No, he’s a deputy marshal for this town, as well as a Deputy U.S. Marshal. He was required to travel to Denver to attend a new training class. I only hope he’ll be home for Thanksgiving.”

“How long has he been gone?”

Hope turned her attention to the twins as they came running into the front room from playing with Little Ted. “Mama,” the boys said in unison.

“Shhh. It’s not polite to talk when someone else is talking,” Hope said as she mildly scolded her sons.

“We sorry.”

“Hope please, they are so precious. Go ahead and tend to them, I think your youngest needs some attention. Where are your diapers?”

“Oh, here, I’ll…” Hope said as she started to get up.

“Please? I think I’d love to change a baby,” Sally stated.

Hope proceeded to let the boys take her to Little Ted’s room, while Milly assisted Sally in changing Elijah.

*****

“Aunt Milly, are you and Uncle Lucas really happy together?” Sally asked.

“We are. Sally, why are you so unsure about being married?”

“I don’t know. I just see how Ashton’s family is. I mean they’re nice people but they’re just so formal, but I love Ashton so much.”

“Sally, when you’re married, the life you create will be your own, you and Ashton. And, living as husband and wife takes on a whole new meaning,” Milly stated as she pressed her hands to her pregnant belly.

“Oh Aunt Milly. I guess I’m scared about the first time.”

“Every woman is scared before their first time. It’s only natural. That night, you’ll experience a desire and emotions that you’ve never felt before. A loving husband understands this, but they too are experiencing the same type of desires and feelings.”

Hope returned to the front room.

“Sally, it’s hard to explain, but…” Hope said. “The first time, is something wonderful. You’ll come to understand your body in such a way that you never imagined. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but at the same time, it’s hard to get over the embarrassment of what you think other people think. Especially the first morning as you wake up as a married woman.”

“We can both speak from experience that the first gift we give our husbands, on our wedding night is nothing compared to the second gift we give our husbands, the gift of a child.”

Sally had finished changing Elijah’s diaper, but he was still fussy.

“I think the ‘other’ end needs attention. Here, let me take him, it is past his lunch time,” Hope stated as she picked Elijah up and headed to one of the bedrooms.

*****

“Aunt Milly, why did Hope take the baby to the bedroom? She didn’t even take a bottle,” Sally stated.

“Sally, out here we chose to breast feed our children. There are times when feeding a baby with a bottle is necessary, but this is a gift that God gave to woman. He let man and woman create life, then the woman carries that life, until the baby can survive outside the womb. But then for the next six to nine or even twelve months, a woman’s body sustains that life. It’s a natural fact of life out here. I’m sure you’ve seen women nurse their babies before.”

“I don’t really know. Most of the new mother’s back in Raleigh choose to bottle feed their babies.”

“Then they’re missing out on a blessed time to spend with their child. It’s hard to explain Sally, but what I experienced when Myra and Little Ted were nursing, it made me feel fulfilled as a woman. All three together, the intimacy of marriage, carrying and giving birth to a child, and then having my child nurse from my breasts. Sally, that’s part of what it means to be a married woman and it all starts with the love a man and a woman share and their desire to be together for the rest of their lives.”

“Aunt Milly, I think I understand. Seeing you pregnant and then holding Elijah and everything you said… I’m not so scared about our wedding night, but...”

“Sally, stay through Thanksgiving. I think you’ve spent way too much time away from family. We’ll get you to come around to where you’ll be so very eager to want to marry Ashton.”

Hope returned to the front room and stated she’d be right back, “It’s time for the boys nap…”

“Hope, just put them down for their nap in Little Ted’s room and then you’ll join Sally and me for lunch. It will be a while before Lucas and Ashton return.”

*****

During lunch, the women laughed and talked more of Mark when he was younger. “You know,” Milly stated. “If Mark were here, I’m sure he would be quite embarrassed to find out we’ve been talking about him.”

“I’m sure he would. I’d like to know more about his younger life. There’s just so much that I don’t know about him.”

“Hope, he’s not hiding anything from you. It’s just that for so long it was just Lucas and Mark and even when I was here the first time, they are such caring men folk, but very private. As you know, their bond is so much more than… Well, we can only hope our children have as strong a bond with their fathers as Mark does.”

“Oh they will Ma and they do,” Hope answered.

*****

Ashton stepped from the house and proceeded to walk across the yard, calling, “Good Morning, Lucas”

“Morning Ashton. See you found the ranch.”

“Yes sir, the directions you provided were quite good.”

“So, the women folk are inside talking?” Lucas asked

“Yes sir. Your wife suggested that I might spend the day with you. Something about me not wanting to be around while they are talking,” Ashton stated. “So I took your wife’s counsel and came out here to spend some time with you.”

“Ashton, when you and Sally do get married, you will find out there many occasions when a man should just quietly leave the room. But don’t confuse those times, with when you should stay and listen to what your wife has to say. Don’t ever get those two confused.”

“But how will I know the difference?”

“I’m sorry to say, the only way is to learn by making the mistake. We all have, so take comfort that you’ll never be alone in that respect.” Lucas then changed the subject, “Glad to see you didn’t wear your nice clothes out here. You’ll fit into this country by wearing the clothes you’re wearing. Do you ride?”

“Yes sir,”

“Good, then you can help me. I need to ride out and move some of the yearling calves to the winter pasture. Usually Mark helps me with this, but he’s up in Denver.”

“You spoke of your eldest son last night and something about him and Sally.”

“Come on, first, let’s get your horse unhitched from the buggy and then I’ll help you get Mark’s horse, Copper, saddled and then we can talk while we ride.”

*****

They headed out to move the cattle. Lucas told Ashton of how his, then, thirteen year old son had recently started getting interested in girls as girls.

“It was sweet. Sally had just arrived for a visit and Milly introduced her to Mark. He was so… smitten with her. He was willing to go out of his way to deliver a note to a boy that Sally had known up in Denver. Bruce Henry has spent a summer up in Denver before he came to live and work on his uncle’s ranch. Though it did come as quite a shock when Mark asked me if I would sell him a section of land, so he could build a house for him and his wife.”

“Thirteen and getting married?” Ashton inquired.

“Not really, but it did alarm me that Sally could be leading my son on in such a way. So I headed into town and spoke with Milly. It was then that she told me that Sally and Bruce had gone on a picnic. It was one of the hardest things as a father that I had to do, I took Mark to see for himself. He was quite embarrassed for a while, but then he realized what a mistake Sally was making in thinking that Bruce really cared for her.”

“A mistake?”

“See Bruce Henry could be all nice and respectable, as long as he got what he wanted. But on the other hand, he had a temper. Mark decided to ‘show’ Sally, what he called, the ‘real’ Bruce Henry. Mark got pushed and shoved, and maybe did get his sweet reward by Sally and Milly fussing over him afterwards. A thirteen year old boy being beat up by a boy most would consider a man at seventeen.”

“So your son, knowing that he had embarrassed himself by his actions, chose to help Sally avoid making the same mistake herself. He sounds like quite a remarkable young man. And he’s now married to Hope and with three young sons. I feel Hope is quite lucky.”

“We all feel that way.”

“If I may ask, how does he put up with her temper?”

“Her temper?” Lucas asked, surprised.

“Yes, I tried to apologize this morning upon our arrival and again, I said the wrong thing. This time, before she turned around and went into her home, she slapped me across the face. Oh, it is nothing to be concerned about. Aunt Milly went and spoke with her and then returned to your home and explained the misunderstanding. Guess with my formal upbringing what I say can be interpreted differently.”

“Just what did you say?” his curiosity piqued.

“Well, I called her a Madame and she thought I called her a madam,” Ashton stated as he rubbed at his cheek and Lucas had a good laugh. “Believe me Lucas, we have, how do you say, mended the fences.”

“That’s one way of saying it.”

They started pushing the yearling calves.

“Lucas, can we talk, since you are a married man?”

“What would you like to know?”

“Guess I should get used to speaking as normal people do… It’s just that, well, I know I love Sally and I know she loves me, but my family... You’ve probably figured out that I come from a well-to-do family.”

“Your upbringing is your business.”

“Thank you, but still… My parents…, their marriage was arranged by their families and though they tried to make arrangements for me with daughters of their friends, I just couldn’t. Then I met Sally who is so alive and her zest for life, it’s not all proper or what my parents approve. She laughs so spontaneously and she doesn’t care if she walks barefoot through the grass. I do want to make her my wife, … Sir, I know of the facts of life, but they were told to me by my father. I know he loves my mother, in his own way, but it’s not the kind of marriage I want with Sally. I want her to feel free, to be who she is. Even just watching your family for this short time has made me realize what I truly missed out on as a boy and a young man, growing up.”

“Ashton, it’s not for me to judge your family. But just be true to what you feel and true to Sally, once you are married. Understand, it’s not you she’s doubting; she’s doubting herself. All women go through this as they get closer to their wedding day. But more importantly, they’re scared.”

“Scared of what?”

“Their wedding night. It’s the first time a woman will be alone with a man, in a bed. Don’t rush her, take your time as you explore each other as husband and wife. I told my son, before he married Hope, to let her give herself to him. They were both, so much younger than I was when I married Mark’s mother. I was concerned, especially when I realized they both truly did love each other, I made Mark promise he would wait to get married until they were at least eighteen. Which they did, but then Mark stated that they would wait until Hope had graduated from school. For the first few years of their marriage, they shared our home with us. Then, the fall after the twins were born, with help from our friends, we built their home. There have been many times that I’ve been thankful that they’ve live so close. You’ve experienced first hand, why. But back to you and Sally, your first night as husband and wife is something wonderful, but you must be respectful of your wife.”

“I would never be disrespectful of a woman, let alone, the woman who becomes my wife,” Ashton replied.

“Good, but then you should also be prepared for the morning after. It will be the first time for both of you, but a woman will feel her emotions deeper. She’ll be embarrassed from what she thinks others might think of her. Most married women will remember back to the morning after their wedding night and understand. It’s the husbands who need to show even more compassion, the day after.”

“I think I understand. A woman is not raised to seek the pleasure of a man’s company in the bedroom and once they are married, she finds that she enjoys something so taboo to her and…”

“Ashton, as long as you understand and can remember, you and Sally will have a wonderful start to your marriage.”

They finished moving the calves to their winter pasture and headed back to the house.

“By the way, I hope you and Sally are planning to stay for Thanksgiving. You’ll get to meet other married folks, and you’ll get to better understand what marriage can be about.”

“I’d like that Lucas. I really would.”

It was late in the afternoon when Lucas and Ashton returned to the house. Lucas, Milly, and Hope waved goodbye as Sally and Ashton drove away.

*****

Thanksgiving morning dawned to find plenty of activity at the McCain houses. Both Milly and Hope were trying to get their children dressed and items packed that they would need for the day. Lucas returned to his home after tending to the morning chores. He saw that Myra and Little Ted were ready and announced, “I’m going over to see if Hope needs any help with the twins or Eli.”

“Lucas, remind Hope to pack that one baking dish,” Milly said.

“Which one?”

“She’ll know, just tell her.”

Lucas left the house, he knew now was not the time to ask for more specific details.

Upon knocking and entering the house, the twins rushed from their bedroom yelling “GanPa”.

“Pa, would you please see if you can finish getting them dressed. Between them, and Eli, and packing for today…” Hope stated, a little bit flustered.

“No problem, that’s why I cam over. By the way, Milly said for you to remember that one baking dish?”

“Oh, I almost forgot.”

In time, Lucas went to hitch the team and with the children bundled up against the cool temperatures, soon the families were on their way to North Fork.

*****

As the women were in the kitchen, Hattie commented, “It just doesn’t seem like Thanksgiving this year.”

“Why would ye say that?” Lou asked.

“Well, Mark’s not here to sneak in and taste of our cooking or steal a kiss from a certain young lady. As he has in the past…” Then looking to Hope, “Oh Hope, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“You didn’t upset me. It’s just been three weeks that he’s been gone and I really wished he would be home for today. This is the first year he’ll not be a part of our Thanksgiving.”

“Hope,” Milly stated as she placed an arm around Hope’s shoulders. “He’ll be thinking of you, I’m sure. He’s missing you as much as you’re missing him.”

“Hope?” Sally asked. “Eli is getting fussy in the bassinet, do you mind if I were to take him upstairs and change him?”

“No, I’d really appreciate it. Guess I’m realizing just how much Mark does around the house. Three boys is quite a handful to take care of on my own. Ma, I’m so thankful that Pa helps out as much as he does.”

Through out the morning and into the afternoon, the women chatted from one subject to the next. Each one realizing they needed to be careful and not bring up anything that would remind Hope that Mark was not there.

*****

The men took their time organizing the restaurant. Setting the tables and chairs for eating and other tables for the food to be placed upon. Ashton tended to the fire in the fireplace. He enjoyed spending time with this extended family. Though each couple was different, one thing was the same, the love one shared for their spouse. He saw it through their interactions and in their eyes. Even when they were bantering, there was always laughter in the room.

‘This is what I want my marriage to be like,’’ Ashton stated as he folded his arms and looked around the room.

*****

The women started bringing the food into the restaurant, the afternoon train arrived and Johnny Drako excused himself to go meet any visitors. He returned shortly, acting a little odd, as they started to gather in family groups around the tables.

Lucas started, “As is tradition, we always say what each family is thankful for, and for this year, I’m truly thankful for the woman standing beside me. And I’m thankful for the life that the Good Lord’s blessed her to carry.” Lucas placed a hand to Milly’s belly and she tried to push it away while blushing.

“The Gibbs family is next,” Lucas stated.

And so each family said what they were thankful for, until finally it was time for the last of the McCain family. Hope hesitated to stand forward. She was looking to the twins standing beside her and didn’t see the facial expressions on those around her change. She gave out a squeal as two arms wrapped around her waist and a voice said, “I don’t know about you, but, I’m thankful to be home.”

Hope turned around to see Mark standing behind her. Mark had entered the restaurant with his index finger to his lips asking those who saw him to keep quiet that he was home. Hope wrapped her arms tightly around her husband’s neck, the twins were calling, “Papa, Papa”, Mark wrapped his arms tighter around Hope’s waist.

“I missed you,” Mark quietly said as Hope cried in his arms. “Now, now, there’s nothing to cry about.” Mark removed one arm from around Hope, then lifted her chin and wiped a tear from her cheek. He placed a quick kiss to her lips.

Hope unwrapped her arms from around Mark so he could bend down and hug his sons.

“It’s good for a father to be re-united with his son, too.” Mark stated as he hugged his father and his mother, knowing he had a secret.

“Mark McCain, you have a secret, I know that look in your eye. You never could lie when you were younger, what makes you think you can lie now?” Milly asked.

“I’m not lying, I just wanted to surprise Hope by coming home early. Little did I know of the other surprise in store for my family? I met up with more family on the train ride home.”

“Family? We’re all here.” Johnny Gibbs stated.

“We are now.” Mark turned and pointed out into the lobby.

“Ethan, Annie!” Hope exclaimed. “Son!” Seth stated as they went to greet their arriving family members.

“You didn’t wire!” Seth stated as he shook hands with his son. Then turned to look at the child sleeping in Annie’s arms.

“Well, seems we have a history of not wiring our arrivals, if you’ll remember father,” Ethan stated. He wrapped his arm around Annie’s shoulders and said, “Father, we’d like you to meet your grandson, Seth Edward.”

Seth took the child from Annie and as a family they went back into the restaurant.

As he re-entered the restaurant, Mark saw Lou wagging a finger at Johnny, he decided to go to Johnny’s defense.

“Lou, its Thanksgiving. Besides, Ethan and I asked him not to say anything right away. We wanted to surprise our families.”

“But Mark. Oh ye.” Lou stated as she scrunched her face. “Don’t ye realize how much yer wife missed ye?”

“I do and I’m sure it was as much as I missed her.”

Lou wagged her finger towards Mark and smiled as they all returned to join the rest of the families.

*****

As Mark sat down at the table, next to Hope, he asked, “The blonde-haired woman, who is she?”

“So you don’t remember the first woman you wanted to ask to be your wife?” Hope asked.

“My wife? Hope, you’re the only one I’ve ever asked to marry me,” Mark pleaded.

“Then I guess that everything Ma said about you and her niece, Sally, is a lie?” Hope couldn’t contain her laughter as she saw the expression on Mark’s face.

“Sally?!” he gasped.

“What’s wrong there Mark? Seen a ghost?” Johnny Gibbs asked. Mark and Sally had been a topic of one of the discussions while the men were preparing the room.

“Not quite,” Mark stated as he reached for a glass of water. “And the man?” he whispered to Hope.

“Don’t worry Mark, his name is Ashton Maguire and they are engaged to be married. Sally wasn’t quite sure she could go through with the wedding, which is planned for spring. She came to talk to Ma.” Hope stated with a smile on her face.

“And you talked about…” Mark gulped again, as his face reddened with his embarrassment.

“Don’t worry about that right now. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss it when I get you home” Hope stated, enjoying every minute of their banter.

*****

Through out the afternoon, as dishes were passed and the meal was eaten, Ashton and Sally both took in the love that abounded in the room. Once dessert was served, Mark and Hope heard Eli getting fussy. Hope started to excuse herself, “No,” Mark stated, “WE’LL be right back.”

Mark picked Eli up from the bassinet where he had been sleeping and carried him upstairs, as Hope led the way.

“So Ethan, what brings you and Annie back to North Fork? Or did you just decide to come this far for the Holidays?” Seth asked.

“Father, Ethan is being reassigned. His tenure at West Point is finished and we’re now being transferred to Fort Stanton. Only we don’t have to report until after the New Year.”

“That’s only a few days ride by horseback?” Drako stated.

“Or less than one by train,” Ethan replied.

Later, the families cleared the tables and, as usual, then the men did the dishes.

*****

Once dishes were finished and put away, the men folk returned to the restaurant and rejoined their families. Mark stopped by and gave Hope a quick kiss and said, “I’ll be right back.”

Hope smiled as she watched Mark walk over to Sally and Ashton, she looked forward having some fun at Mark’s expense, once they got home.

Mark stepped to the couple, “Excuse me, Sally?”

“Mark, I was wondering if you would remember me?” Sally stated as she stood and give Mark a polite kiss on the cheek.

“Well, I didn’t really recognize you, until Hope told me your name,” Mark stated a little embarrassed.

“That’s alright Mark, I probably wouldn’t have recognized you either. You sure have grown up since last time we saw each other. By the way, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Ashton Maguire. Ashton, this is Mark McCain.”

“Oh yes, the young man who fancied you his wife.” Ashton extended his hand to Mark. “Don’t worry. That was a long time ago, I understand.”

“Yes,” Mark replied as he tried to loosen his collar. “You heard?”

“From what I heard, I’m thankful that you were able to show Sally the error of her ways while she was fancying that Bruce Henry.” Then turning to Sally, “That was his name?”

“Oh you!” Sally replied. “Please have a seat for a few minutes Mark. Hope is a lovely woman. I’m glad you found someone.” She stated as they took their seats.

“I am too. Hope said the two of you are to be married in the spring?” Mark inquired.

“Yes, I guess it’s about time I get rid of the moniker of being an old spinster,” Sally said as she smiled and Ashton took her hand in his.

“You an old spinster? I don’t think so Sally,” Mark replied.

“I aim to see that title is never used when discussing Sally,” Ashton answered.

“How long have you two known each other?” Mark asked.

“We met when I was twenty-one and then Ashton proposed almost three years ago,” Sally replied.

“And I’ve been trying to get my fiancée to walk down the aisle ever since,” Ashton replied.

Seeing the expression on Mark’s face, Sally replied, “Mark, I knew that I love Ashton, but I wasn’t so sure about… marrying him. But I knew that if I could only talk with Aunt Milly, that, then, I would know. And being here for this past week and seeing the love that Aunt Milly shares with your father, and then Myra and Little Ted. Oh Mark, you should be so proud of your wife and your sons.”

“I am.” Mark allowed his gaze to drift towards Hope and the rest of his family.

“Mark, your parents stated she was raised, well… Mark,” Ashton stated. “You have quite a wife there. She’s very passionate about her beliefs and has quite the wicked slap.” Ashton rubbed his cheek as he remembered.

“Excuse me?” Mark asked. Unsure Ashton was really talking about Hope.

“Mark, it was a simple misunderstanding between the two of us. Most of it was my fault, for not taking the time to understand the customs and cultures of those living west of the Mississippi, which was brought about by my upbringing. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I spoke out of line when Hope and I first met. I made comments about the Indian, and… they weren’t well received by your wife. The following morning, Sally and I drove to your parents’ home, I started to apologize, called her Madame and she thought I called her a madam. That’s when she slapped me. Believe me Mark, everything’s been put in the past, but I’m sure, one day, it will bring laughter as she retells you what happened.”

Hearing his sons starting to getting fussy Mark stated, “Sally, Ashton, I wish you a wonderful wedding and a marriage as happy as Hope’s and mine. It was a pleasure seeing you again, Sally. And Ashton, it was a pleasure meeting you.” Mark stood and returned to his family.

*****

Soon the evening was over and the families returned to or headed to their homes.

*****

That night, Mark spent a little time playing in the front room with his sons. Hope sat in her chair and held Eli, allowing him a final nursing before putting him to bed for the night.

“I’m not sure who I missed the most,” Mark stated. “The boys or you. It hurt being separated from the four of you. I’m sure happy to be back home.”

“We’re happy to have you home,” Hope answered.

“Okay, I think its way past two little boys’ bedtime,” Mark declared.

“Ah Papa, it still early,” Josh replied.

“Yeah, not bedtime, Papa,” Zach replied.

“Oh yes it is. Come on, let’s get to bed. Your Papa’s spent over two days on a train and I’m tired and I want to go to bed myself.”

After, the boys had been put to bed and Mark and Hope were preparing for bed, Hope couldn’t resist asking, “So you were all set and prepared to marry an ‘older’ woman when you were thirteen?”

“Hope, I… I… Come on now, she was a pretty girl and fresh off the stage from Denver. She was so much prettier than any of the girls around here. She was mature and… and… She was nice to me.”

“So she was pretty and mature and nice… And Mark McCain knew right away he wanted to marry her?”

“Hope this isn’t fair. I mean, I’m not keeping any secrets from you…” Mark pleaded his case.

“And just how do I know that? How do I know that you don’t have some other girl friends just waiting to arrive on the train? How do I know that you weren’t up in Denver proposing to another woman?” Hope asked, enjoying every moment of Mark’s discomfort.

“Well, even if there were one hundred women waiting to get off the train and chase me down, I’d send them all away. Not one of them would be as beautiful as you.”

Both climbed under the covers and snuggled close to each other.

“I bet you say that to all the women.”

“You know,” Mark started. “When I was talking with Sally and Ashton, he told me of how Ma convinced him not to file charges against you.”

“Charges against me? For what? What charges did he want to press against me?” Hope demanded.

“Something about assault and battery. You slapping him in the face for no cause,” Mark stated as he smiled towards Hope as she tried to defend her actions.

“It was all a misunderstanding!”

“So you say,” Mark replied. He was having just as much fun teasing Hope as she had earlier, teasing him.

“Mark, I thought he called me a madam, when he called me Madame. Ma explained to me the differences between the two words. We accepted each others apologies and put it all in the past.”

“You know, there might be more charges that could be levied against you. I’ll have to look up the statute of limitations, though.”

“Like what?!” Hope exclaimed.

“Stealing,” Mark replied, allowing a grin to spread across his face.

Stealing?! Just what is it that I’m supposed to have stolen?” Hope demanded, getting more than a little incensed.

Mark pulled her into his arms and said, “My heart, the first time I saw you. Hope, believe me, Sally was a childish crush by a thirteen year old boy. It pales in comparison to the love that I share with you.” He didn’t let her get another word in as he passionately kissed her. He pulled her body close to him; he felt her heart beating as strongly as his was.

*****

The day after Thanksgiving, Sally and Ashton stood on the train platform with Milly and Lucas.

“So Sally, have you come to a decision?” Milly asked.

“I have, oh I have. I knew coming to talk with you would be the right thing, Aunt Milly. I’m eager to get back to Raleigh and finish making plans for our wedding,” Sally stated as she looked into Ashton’s face.

“Lucas,” Ashton stated as he held out his hand to shake Lucas’ hand. “Thank you for everything. I truly enjoyed myself while we were here. The love your family shares…, it’s wonderful. I’ll remember everything you said. I’m looking forward to taking Sally as my wife. Who knows, we may name our first born after you.

“Only if the baby’s a boy!” Sally declared.

The Next Step — McCain, U.S. Marshal

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

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents

Site Map
around The McCain Ranch