The Writer's Corner
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
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
“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
“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,”
“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
“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
“Could you please give us directions to her new home?” Sally
“Miss, that won’t be necessary. The McCain family will be in
town within the hour. They are joining us for supper tonight,”
“Please, won’t ye have a seat until yer family arrives?” Lou
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
“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,
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…
“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,
“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
Milly knocked on the door to Hope’s home before entering,
“Hope?” she called. Josh and Zach came running from their room
“Good morning, boys. Where’s your Mama?” They pointed to the
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?! 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,”
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
“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
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,
“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.
“Hope please, they are so precious. Go ahead and tend to them, I
think your youngest needs some attention. Where are your
“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?”
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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?”
“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
“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.”
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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.
“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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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,”
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
“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
“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,
“Like what?!” Hope exclaimed.
“Stealing,” Mark replied, allowing a grin to spread across his
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
“Only if the baby’s a boy!” Sally declared.
The Next Step — McCain, U.S.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch