The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 68 – Faith’s Redemption
Written by Deanne Bertram

Johnny returned to North Fork and headed for his home. He felt remorse for his actions as he slowly stepped to the porch. He entered his home, stood still and listened to the sounds of the house after he closed the door behind him. The lantern on the front table was turned low. Pulling his hat from his head, he set it on the table next to the lantern. Taking a deep breath, he reached down and unfastened his gun belt and hung it on the peg on the wall. He slowly climbed the steps to the second floor of their home. He paused to look into Connor’s bedroom and saw him still sleeping for the morning. Next, was Danielle’s room; she too had yet to stir for the day. Pausing outside the closed door to his own bedroom, he heard Lou crying.
 
“Lou,” Johnny quietly called as he opened the door and stepped inside their bedroom. “I’m sorry for hurting you like I did. I…”
 
“Why did ye come back?” Lou asked, not looking at Johnny, but the bitterness was evident in her voice.
 
“Because a good friend, uh…, had a long, hard ‘talk’ with me. Lou, I’ve never been so scared before, not even back in the war.”
 
“Scared?” Lou said as she tried to stop crying. She turned over to sit up on the bed and looked at her husband. “Talked? Looks like more than talking was done!” Lou declared as she saw the shadows indicating bruises were forming on Johnny’s face.
 
“Yeah, something like that,” Johnny said as he walked to the bed where his wife sat. He noticed how bloodshot her eyes were and the puffiness of her eyelids. “Lou, you and the children mean everything to me.”
 
“Then why’d ye run away?”
 
“Because I didn’t want to end up like Lucas and Mark.” Johnny lowered his eyes.
 
“Not like Lucas and Mark? They have wonderful families and the two of them have a bond the likes ye’ve never seen before. A bond that I had hoped Connor would grow up and share with ye.”
 
“Lou, it’s not easy for me. I have a past reputation.”
 
“And so does Lucas!”
 
“And that’s part of the problem. Look at all that’s happened because of his past. Look at the hurt my past caused Lucas’ family last year. I saw myself as Lucas and Connor as Mark… Look at all they’ve gone through… ”
 
“And who says ye have to go through what they have?”
 
“A little voice inside my head. Lou, I loved you the first time I came to North Fork. That’s why I left North Fork. I couldn’t stand to see the hurt my reputation could cause this town… or you. I came back because I couldn’t get you out of my head. Oh sure for a while I could convince myself that I was just dreaming, that the likes of you could love the likes of me, but….”
 
“And just do tell, what are the ‘likes of me’?” Lou asked, fired up.
 
“Strong, independent, … beautiful… Lou, after we found Mark, I kept seeing a grave marker bearing my name. They say the only resting place a gunfighter ever gets is six feet under. I took it as an Omen that if I stayed, that’s where I’d end up, or worse yet, someone would come after Connor, because of my reputation. I wasn’t strong enough… I’m not strong enough to go through what they have.”
 
“Yes, ye are strong, husband!”
 
“Lou, it’s difficult enough coming back to you.”
 
“Was it easier to run away?” Lou demanded her temper flaring.
 
“No, but it was the only thing that made sense… at the time.”
 
“At the time! Johnny Drako, ye came to this town looking for a nice quiet place to live. For all these years ye’ve been respectable. Sure a few outlaws have come here trying to make trouble because of yer past, but it’s because of yer past that yer still here and not the outlaws. Ye’ve a wife and two children and soon a third. How could ye choose to run away?!” There was no holding back Lou’s temper. “Ye were going to run away and leave me! What was I to tell Connor? What about Danielle? And this baby?! How could ye run and leave me here to face our friends and this town with everyone knowing that ye had run off? Were the past seven years a lie? Yer the marshal of this here town and ye run away! Oh!!!”
 
“I’m sorry Lou, I don’t know what more I can do to prove to you that I know I was wrong and that I’m here to stay and to say that I love you. What more can I do?”
 
“Get the doctor!” Lou demanded.
 
“Lou, let me wear my bruises to remind me of how stupid I was. No sense letting a good fight…”
 
“Not for you, for me. Oh!!!!” Lou yelled as she grabbed at her belly.
 
“You?”
 
“The baby’s coming!”
 
“It… It’s not time, not for a couple more weeks!” Johnny exclaimed.
 
“JOHNNY!” Lou screamed as she fell back on the bed and rolled to her side, grabbing at her belly.
 
“I’m going! I’m… I’ll be right back!” Johnny turned and bolted from the room. Not even stopping to apologize to those he bumped into, Johnny ran to get Doc Burrage.
 
*****
 
Johnny return to his home without Doc Burrage.
 
“Where’s the doctor?” Lou demanded, fear in her eyes.
 
“He’s out at Lucas’, Jake McCafferty came and got him a little while ago,” Johnny answered.
 
“Then go get him! OH!” Lou screamed.
 
“I’m not leaving, I left word with Abigail that we needed him here.”
 
Johnny went and filled the pitcher with water and brought it back to their bedroom. He waited beside Lou, wiping the sweat from her face and rinsing the wash cloth, before placing it back across her forehead. In the beginning, there was plenty of time between the contractions.
 
“Johnny, go wake the children and get them to the daycare, to Hattie,” Lou pleaded.
 
“But…” Johnny replied.
 
“DO IT!” Lou yelled.
 
“Yes Ma’am.” Johnny ran from the room. He woke his children, got them dressed and then took them to Hattie.
 
“Johnny?!” Hattie asked, seeing how rushed and nervous he was.
 
“It’s the baby, he’s coming and Doc’s out at Lucas’. Lou wants the children here until the baby’s born.”
 
“Go on now, get back to your wife. I’ll come later… to check on Lou and the new baby.”
 
“Thanks Hattie,” Johnny spoke as he quickly gave her a ‘thank you’ kiss on the cheek.
 
It was after two o’clock when Doc Burrage knocked on the front door to their residence. Johnny ran down the steps to let him in. While they took the steps two at a time up the stairs, they could hear Lou screaming from another contraction.
 
“Johnny,” Thadd stated as he stopped before entering Lou’s bedroom. “Why don’t you head to the saloon. I’ll come get you when the baby’s born.”
 
“No sir. You’re not sending me away. I owe it to Lou to be here for her. I…”
 
“Okay, I can’t fault you. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
 
“Do I have a choice?” Johnny asked as he opened the door.
 
Johnny quickly proceeded to the head of the bed and climbed in and sat Lou up, resting her back against his chest.
 
“Johnny, what are ye doing?” Lou demanded when she could catch her breath after the last contraction.
 
“I’m not leaving your side. This baby is ours and I’ll be right here until he’s born.’
 
“OH!” Lou screamed as another contraction wracked her body.
 
“Doc? Can’t you do something?” Johnny pleaded.
 
“I am.” Thadd stated as he started to examine Lou to see how far along she was. “Johnny you just keep Lou breathing calmly and give her your hand when she needs it.”
 
“Anything.” Johnny stated as he placed a kiss to Lou’s head.
 
*****
 
Into the afternoon, Seth sat in a chair next to Hope, while Lucas sat in a chair next to Mark. Milly allowed Myra to come into the room with her, as she carried a basin filled with water.  Myra carried the bottle of witch-hazel and a towel.
 
“Milly, I’m fine,” Lucas stated as Milly set the basin down on the night stand beside him.
 
“You will be, once I’m through tending to you.”
 
Milly turned Lucas’ face one way and then another as she tended to the bruises on his face and his bloodied lip.
 
“Oh Lucas, you’re going to look a lot worse tomorrow if I don’t get you treated properly,” Milly begged.
 
While Milly tended to Lucas, Myra crawled up into the bed, between Mark and Hope and fell asleep with her arm draped across her brother.
 
“I wish you would have sent her to Hattie and Micah’s,” Lucas commented as Milly finished doctoring him.
 
“I thought about it, but she was feeling so bad about this all being her fault. She doesn’t know the whole story, nor does she need to know. But I felt she needed to be here,” Milly spoke as she draped the towel over her shoulder.
 
“Thank you for your gentle touch,” Lucas stated as he pulled Milly to sit on his lap.
 
“So, Johnny did this to you?” Milly asked.
 
“Yeah, this episode really scared him. He was all set to leave Lou and the children, just because of what’s happened to Mark. All because of his past reputation.”
 
“What does Johnny’s reputation have to do with what happened to Mark?” Milly asked.
 
“Nothing, this time. Only he knows I have a reputation too,” Lucas replied. “He was putting himself in my shoes and fearing the same thing might happen in his future, with Connor.”
 
“Can’t wait to see Johnny’s face,” Seth stated. “Not sure who got the worst end of the fight. I’m sure Lou’s going to have a few choice words when she sees you next, Lucas.”
 
“Well, I’d rather face Lou with Johnny by her side than without him. I just hope he can bury his demons.”
 
“Guess we’re all going to be fighting demons for a while. Lucas, if Hope had succeeded?” Milly cried as she wrapped her arms around her husband.
 
Lucas held tight to his wife. He fervently believed his son would recover and couldn’t imagine Mark or Hope, having to raise four children without the other.
 
Seth took Hope’s hand in his and closed his eyes to pray. “Child, your Ma once told me, the Will of God will never take you where the Grace of God cannot protect you. He brought you back to me once before, I pray you’ll come back to us now. Hope please, I can’t lose you.”
 
*****
 
In time, Myra woke from her nap, sad in seeing her brother and Hope still sleeping in the bed. Milly took Myra to the kitchen, “Let’s fix supper, okay?”
 
“Yes, Mama.”
 
As she helped her mother, Myra asked, “Mama, He answered my prayers when I was in the river, why won’t He answer my prayers now? I want Mark to wake up, real bad.”
 
“God has a whole world full of people praying to him. He has to choose who to answer. All we can do is keep praying.”
 
“I don’t think I can pray any harder,” Myra stated as she carried the silverware into the room as Milly carried a tray with plates of food.
 
*****
 
Through the afternoon, Johnny was beside Lou, feeling her pain every time a contraction hit. It had been a while since Lou had felt a contraction and she rested heavily against Johnny.
 
“Well, it could be a false labor,” Thadd stated.
 
“False Labor?!” Lou called out, loud and clear. “I’ll let ye know each contraction was real and they hurt!”
 
“I know Lou, but a false labor can mimic a real labor and then it stops.”
 
“Stops?” Johnny asked.
 
“OH!” Lou screamed as the strongest contraction, yet, presented itself. “JOHNNY!”
 
“Breathe Lou, breathe!”
 
“I AM!”
 
Contraction after contraction hit and soon Thadd stated, “I can see the baby’s head, push Lou. The next time a contraction hits, you need to push for all you’re worth.”
 
“You can do this, Lou,” Johnny spoke. “We can do this. I’m right here with you.”
 
Before Johnny could finish speaking, Lou was squeezing his hand, screaming, and pushing.
 
“Just a little more. One more contraction, Lou. One more push and your baby will be here.”
 
Lou screamed and pushed as another contraction came.
 
“It’s a girl, Lou, Johnny. You’ve another daughter,” Thadd called as Lou collapsed back into Johnny’s arms.
 
Doc proceeded to tie the umbilical cord and then cut it. Next he held the baby upside down and gave her a hard smack, to which the baby let everyone know she was not happy about as she cried with life’s first breath.
 
Johnny flexed his fingers trying to restore the flow of blood from Lou squeezing so hard. When his hand felt better, he wrapped his arms around Lou and gave her a hug.
 
“A daughter. You gave us a daughter, Lou. I love you.” And kissed her on top of the head one more time.
 
Johnny noticed the sun was starting to set as he asked, “Is it always like this?”
 
“More or less. Some babies are quick to make their presence known while others never want to leave the comfort of the mother’s womb.”
 
“But the pain,” Johnny asked.
 
“Ye now nothing of the pain, Johnny,” Lou broached.
 
“Maybe not, but I hurt for you each and every contraction.”
 
Thadd had finished bathing Lou and Johnny’s daughter and was about to wrap her in a blanket when Lou let out another scream, quickly Doc placed the baby on the bed. They heard a knock at the door when Hattie stuck her head into the room. “Do you need any help?”
 
“Please Hattie!” Thadd asked her in. “Hattie, the baby’s on the bed, please pick her up and wrap her in a blanket. Something’s not right with Lou!”
 
Lou screamed again.
 
“Doc?!” Johnny asked, fear showed on his face and was heard in his voice.
 
“Lou?” Thadd asked. “What’s wrong?”
 
“It feels like another contraction!” Lou answered and screamed again.
 
“She’s already had the baby, Doc?” Johnny pleaded.
 
Thadd placed his hand on top of Lou’s belly and said, “Oh, no, not again,” as he felt the start of another contraction. Thadd returned to the foot of the bed and proceeded to position Lou, again.
 
“Again?” Johnny asked.
 
“Johnny, you best sit your wife up again, she’s fixing to give birth to another child and…”
 
“Another?!” Johnny asked.
 
Lou screamed and dug her nails into Johnny’s arm.
 
“Come on Lou, you can do this,” Thadd tried to encourage Lou.
 
“I can’t, oh, it hurts.”
 
“Lou you have to push when the next contraction hits!” Thadd ordered.
 
“I can’t, I’m too tired. I… Aaargh!! Make it stop!” Lou cried out.
 
“You have to push!” Thadd demanded.
 
“Come on Lou, if Hope can do this, so can you!” Johnny encouraged.
 
“She’s a lot younger than I am.” Lou cried as another contraction hit and she tried to push. “I can’t… I can’t.”
 
Thadd realized that Lou really was too exhausted from delivering her daughter and that meant he had to help bear down on Lou’s belly as a another contraction hit. It was a little before eight o’clock when Thadd delivered the second Drako baby of the night, calling to the parents, “It’s a boy! You’ve another son, congratulations! Lou, just lean back and relax. Hattie would you mind, I need to tend to Lou.”
 
*****
 
Seth stepped to the front room to light the fire, even though it was summer, the evenings cooled considerably. He straightened when he heard Milly call, “No!”
 
Seth ran to the room and saw Milly standing by the window, face in her hands as Lucas knelt next to the bed, his head bent over to Mark, listening. Seth saw Lucas stand and walk to Milly, place both hands on her shoulders, turn her around and pull her into an embrace.
 
“Lucas?” Seth asked.
 
“It was as we figured. Harry Chase did have something to do with Mark’s disappearance. He was trying to warn us -- Harry’s back. Milly heard Mark mumble that Harry threatened Myra’s life to get Mark to cooperate so he could get to Milly.”
 
“But we already know that Chase took Milly,” Seth stated as he entered to room.
 
“It also means we were damn lucky earlier today. Seth, Mark wasn’t telling us that Hope had gone to the pond, he was trying to warn us about Harry.”
 
“Lucas, if Mark’s trying to warn us, then that means he’s coming out of his coma! Thadd told us a person in a coma has minimal brain activity. They wouldn’t talk.”
 
Milly raised her head from her hands and looked to Seth, then to Lucas.
 
“Lucas?” Milly asked.
 
Lucas turned to face his son. “Or obey commands.” He walked over and knelt next to the bed again, “Mark, if you can understand me, move a finger on your right hand.”
 
Milly, Lucas, and Seth focused on Mark’s right hand.
 
“Please Mark, try. Try to move a finger on your right hand.” There was an urgent tone to Lucas’ voice this time.
 
All three looked up when Myra squealed, “He did it. He moved his finger!”
 
They looked in the direction Myra was pointing, to Mark’s left hand, and saw him raising his index finger.
 
“Wonderful Mark!” Lucas cried. “Son, open your eyes. Please?”
 
Mark’s eyes didn’t open and he stopped moving his finger.
 
*****
 
Later that evening, Lucas insisted that Milly and Myra returned to their home and sleep in their own beds. Seth and Lucas pulled cots into the bedroom and tried to sleep themselves. As exhausted as they all were, a dreamless sleep came readily.
 
*****
 
While Hattie bathed the newest Drako baby, Thadd held the first baby as Lou unbuttoned her blouse so she could nurse their daughter.
 
“Lou, if I’d of had any indication you were carrying twins, I would have been better prepared for this evening. I just don’t believe it.” Thadd stated as he shook his head. ”You and Colleen surprised me this year. Might just have to find out if there was indeed something in the water last year.”
 
*****
 
Johnny kept shaking his head as he held his newborn daughter while Lou proceeded to nurse their newborn son.
 
“Have you decided on names?” Hattie asked.
 
“We were thinking of Liam Kaine if the baby was a boy,” Johnny answered.
 
“And Shaylyn Tara, if the baby were a girl,” Lou answered as she looked to her son nursing from her breast.
 
By the time Thadd and Hattie left, the newest Drako children were sleeping in a bassinet in their parents’ bedroom. It wasn’t long before Lou fell asleep.
 
Johnny stepped to the window and looked to the heavens, “Thank you, God. For giving me a good friend in Lucas McCain, and a fine wife in Lou. I promise, I’ll always be here to provide for my family, for as long as you let me. I learned my lesson.”
 
*****
 
The sun had yet to rise when Lucas and Seth were abruptly woken when they heard Hope scream, “NO!” and then heard a loud thud on the floor. They jumped from their cots when they realized she had tried to get out of bed and had fallen.
 
“Let me go, I have to…!” Hope cried as she weakly fought her father while he picked her up and placed her back into bed.
 
“Hope, Mark lives. Please, live for him and your children.”
 
“No! I can’t. He’s waiting for me!” she cried.
 
As much as it pained him, Seth slapped Hope across the face. She turned onto her side and cried. “He’s waiting for me,” she sobbed and she curled up in the bed.
 
“Hope, I’m sorry, but you have to understand, Mark lives. You will eat and you will live. Your living is the key to Mark’s survival. Do you think he’d want to live if he knew you took your life? Don’t rob him of his purpose to live. It’s because of you that he’ll survive,” Seth pleaded.
 
Hope continued to cry as she lay in the bed. Seth looked to Lucas, “What do I do?” he asked.
 
“We keep praying and keep a vigil over the two of them. Milly started a chicken broth last night, I’ll heat it and see if we can get her to drink some of it.”
 
It was a struggle for the two of them to get Hope to drink. Even as weakened as she was, she put up a fight when it came to drinking from the cup they placed to her lips.
 
“Hope, stop it!” Seth demanded as he restrained his daughter. “You must drink this. If I have to pour it down your throat, you will drink!”
 
Her physical strength gone, Hope couldn’t fight anymore. Lucas handed the cup back to Seth, who held it to the lips of his daughter. At first the broth spilled from her lips, but then, Hope slightly parted her lips and allowed the broth to enter her mouth. She swallowed several times taking in small amounts before she reached to the cup and tried to drink more.
 
“That’s it, Hope. Not too much,” Seth stated as continued to hold the cup and felt Hope’s body relax against his. Seth brushed back the bangs from Hope’s face as he realized his daughter had chosen to live.
 
When the cup was empty, Seth asked, “Would you like some more?”
 
Hope nodded.
 
Seth handed the cup to Lucas who returned with it filled only half way. Both knew that too much could be just as bad as nothing.
 
When she had finished drinking, Seth slipped out from behind Hope and laid her back down on the bed and pulled the covers over her.
 
“Sleep daughter, sleep.”
 
*****
 
Milly and Myra returned to the house later that morning. Myra quietly walked into the room and climbed to the edge of the bed next to Mark. She picked up his hand in hers and held it in her lap.
 
“Mark, please. I need my big brother. Won’t you wake up?” Myra quietly asked as she sat there, looking at Mark’s hand, interlacing her fingers with his. “I’m sorry I caused this. I been praying and praying. Oh, Mark, please wake up.”
 
“Gabby?” Mark whispered. “Gabby?” he said again when he didn’t hear her respond.
 
Myra looked up and saw a faint smile on Mark’s face and his eyes slightly open.
 
“Mark? Are you in there?” Myra quietly asked as she leaned forward to put her face real close to his.
 
“I’m here sis,” Mark said, his voice barely above a whisper. “Are you okay?”
 
“Yes,” Myra whispered back.
 
“Where are we?”
 
“Home.”
 
“Home?”
 
“Silly, don’t you recognize your own bedroom?” Myra giggled.
 
“Nothing’s in focus. How did we get here?”
 
“Papa and Mama brought us home.”
 
“Ma?!” Mark said a little louder.
 
“Shhh. You’ll wake Hope,” Myra stated.
 
“Myra, Ma’s here? She’s all right?” Mark asked.
 
“Yes, why wouldn’t she be? Are you hungry? She’s fixing breakfast.”
 
“Yeah, I could eat a bear.”
 
“Well, I think oatmeal and a glass of milk will have to do.”
 
“That sounds good, sis,” Mark whispered.
 
Myra slipped down from the bed when she heard Milly call her name, “Myra, come in here and sit at the table for your breakfast.”
 
“Coming,” Myra answered her Ma. Then to Mark she said, “I’ll be right back.”
 
Seth had pulled the chair away from the table to allow Myra to sit down and watched as Myra pulled two bowls from the table and carried them to the stove.
 
“Myra, are you that hungry this morning that you want two bowls of oatmeal?” Seth asked of Myra.
 
“Myra, that’s not nice. You put that bowl back where I set it,” Milly scolded. “And then young lady, you will sit down at the table.”
 
“But Mark’s hungry. I thought I would take his breakfast to him and eat in there,” Myra pouted.
 
“Mark’s… hungry?!” Lucas asked, surprised.
 
“Uh huh. He said he could eat a bear.”
 
Milly inhaled sharply as she watched Lucas quickly walk into the bedroom.
 
Lucas entered the bed room and quietly called Mark’s name. Though he didn’t open his eyes, Mark did turn his head. Lucas walked further into the room and sat down on the bed.
 
“Mark?” Lucas asked again.
 
“Pa?” Mark whispered. “Is Ma okay? Harry came back. He tricked me. He was going to use Gabby to get to Ma.”
 
“Mark, Milly is fine. Harry did take her, but we got her back. He’s on his way back to St. Louis, to the mental hospital where he belongs.”
 
Lucas brushed back the bangs from Mark’s forehead as he continued to talk, “How do you feel?”
 
“My head hurts, I feel so weak, like my body isn’t mine.”
 
“What else?” Lucas asked.
 
“I am hungry,” Mark replied.
 
“Well, you took a pretty hard blow to your head, Doc feared you fractured your skull.”
 
“How long have I been out?” Mark asked.
 
“About ten days, from what we gather. Myra said you could eat a bear?”
 
“I think oatmeal would be easier to eat. Pa?” Mark called as he sensed Lucas get up from the bed.
 
“Yes?”
 
“Where’s Hope?”
 
“She sleeping next to you, son,” Lucas quietly answered.
 
Lucas turned to see Milly standing at the door, tears in her eyes as she thanked God for answering their prayers.
 
“Milly, our boy’s hungry,” Lucas stated with a relieved smile on his face as he stopped at the doorway. Lucas and Milly walked to the kitchen, “Milly, if Doc wanted Hope on broth and thinned oatmeal for a while, then I think we maybe should thin out the oatmeal for Mark. Too much on his stomach…”
 
“I was already thinking the same thing,” Milly stated as she returned to the stove.
 
Lucas carried the bowl of oatmeal into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed to spoon feed Mark. Lucas called, “Seth” in seeing Hope start to wake.
 
At seeing Seth enter the doorway, Lucas nodded towards Hope who had curled up with her back towards Mark.
 
“Good morning, daughter,” Seth said as he sat on the edge of the bed and brushed the hair from her face. When she didn’t answer or open her eyes, he said, “You can pretend to ignore me, but I think your husband wouldn’t appreciate your ignoring him.”
 
Lucas held off spooning the oatmeal to Mark when he heard Mark faintly call Hope’s name. In hearing her name, Hope opened her eyes as she looked over her shoulder. Hope started crying as she tried to sit up, Seth helped her sit up as he wrapped his arms around her.
 
“Pa?” Mark asked.
 
“She’s just been worried about you Mark. She’s just been worried…” Lucas answered.
 
“We all have,” Seth replied. Knowing the unspoken truth could wait until Mark was stronger.
 
*****
 
Once Lucas had finished feeding Mark his breakfast, he tucked Mark back underneath the blankets and watched as he fell asleep. Before leaving the room he paused at the door and quietly thanked God one more time.
 
Seth wrapped his arms around Hope and carried her to the front room.
 
“Father, please… I can’t,” Hope said as she rested back into her chair and tried not to take the bowl of oatmeal Seth was handing her.
 
“You can and you will. Milly will make sure you eat every drop of this oatmeal while I’m gone.”
 
“Gone?!” Hope asked, panicked.
 
“With your husband having regained consciousness and your coming to your senses – I pray, I’m going into town to fetch Doc back here. Now, you eat!” Seth ordered.
 
Milly followed Seth out to the barn, “Milly I want you to make sure she eats every bite. She’s not to go into the bedroom until I get back.”
 
“Seth, aren’t you being a little harsh on her?” Milly asked as she watched him proceed to saddle his horse.
 
“Harsh?! She tried to kill herself! She was wrong!” Seth argued back.
 
“And now she knows she was wrong. She’s seen that Mark’s recovering.”
 
“She’s got to know that…”
 
“Seth, Sam explained why. You can’t blame her for how she was raised by the Kiowa, it’s the life she led,” Milly pleaded.
 
“Blame her?!”
 
Milly walked and placed a hand to Seth’s shoulder, “Seth, maybe you’re not blaming Hope.”
 
“They took my daughter and raised her to kill herself!” Seth yelled.
 
“Seth! Listen to what you’re saying. Iron Heart didn’t take your daughter, he saved her life! If you’re going to blame Iron Heart then blame Mark! Blame him for rescuing your daughter from those other men who took her from Iron Heart’s tribe. Blame Mark for falling in love with your daughter and marrying her. Blame Lucas for raising a son who cares about the people around him!”
 
As he listened to Milly, Seth stood with one hand on the saddle horn and the other on the cantle of the saddle.
 
“You know, maybe you should blame yourself! You were the one who sent her away after your wife died!” Milly berated Seth. She saw his shoulders jump at her accusation and then watched as he hung his head.
 
“I thought it would be for the best. I didn’t know about raising a daughter. Milly, it’s because of me.” Milly heard the pain in his voice as he said, “It’s all my fault.”
 
“Seth, it’s no one’s fault. God was watching over Hope that day at her aunt’s, and sent Iron Heart. God was watching over her that day at the bluffs, and sent Mark. God was watching Hope yesterday and sent Sam to warn us. We can’t lay blame. We have to accept things happen, good or bad, right or wrong, they just do. I think this family has taken Hope’s past for granted. Sam told me that we need to get her to talk more about her life when she was living with Iron Heart. We know so little…”
 
“He was the chief, he…”
 
“He saved her life, but for six years she was raised as Kiowa. With all that your daughter and our son have been through since they met, I thank God that she’s never tried this before. We have to be there and ready to listen when she’s ready to talk… But we do need to see that she does talk.”
 
“I resigned my commission because I missed so much of her growing up years, but once I got here, I didn’t inquire of her past. I didn’t think those six years were really important, I was just thankful to have her back…”
 
“Seth, take your time and talk with God while you’re riding for Doc. Both our children will pull through and so will we.”
 
*****
 
Milly returned to the house to find Lucas washing the dishes and Hope in her chair, looking forlornly out the window.
 
“Where’s Myra?” Milly asked.
 
“I think she’s in the boys’ room,” Lucas answered as he dried his hands.
 
“Myra?” Lucas called.
 
Lucas looked to Milly when they heard no answer. Both walked to the bedroom door, where Milly knocked.
 
“Myra?” Milly called.
 
Milly opened the door when Myra still didn’t answer. They entered the room and found Myra sitting with her back in a corner of the room, knees drawn to her chest, and her arms wrapped around her legs, leaning sideways against the wall.
 
“Myra, didn’t you hear us calling for you?” Milly asked.
 
They both heard her sniffle and saw her wipe at her eyes.
 
“Yes Ma’am,”
 
“Then why didn’t you answer?” Milly inquired.
 
“Because…”
 
“That’s not an answer, young lady,” Lucas replied. “Why didn’t you answer or come to the front room?”
 
“Because I caused trouble and when you’re bad, you sit in the corner,” Myra pouted.
 
“Bad?” Milly asked.
 
“If it weren’t for me Mark wouldn’t be hurt and you wouldn’t be crying over him and Hope. You’d of been happy when Mark woke, but you scolded me. Uncle Seth wouldn’t have yelled at Hope this morning. My brothers would be here and this family would be happy! So just go leave me alone!”
 
Lucas and Milly looked to each other realizing their problems were far from over. Both walked further into the room and sat down on the floor next to Myra, Lucas tried to pick Myra up to set her in his lap but she pulled away.
 
“Myra, none of this is your fault,” Milly spoke gently.
 
“Is too! If I had waited at Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen’s like Mr. Bullock told me too, then I wouldn’t have gotten carried away in the river. Then Mark wouldn’t of had to rescue me and then he wouldn’t have fallen and hit his head and Hope...” Myra stopped speaking to take a breath.
 
“Easy, there…” Lucas stated. “I thought we had this settled when we were bringing Mark home. This is not your fault. We still have to talk about your disobedience later, but right now, you should know that…” Lucas struggled with what to tell his daughter. “Myra, Mark is going to recover. And by this weekend the boys and Mykaela will be home. We’re not mad at you.”
 
“Yes you are! No one is happy, so you have to be mad at me…” Myra cried, lowering her head to her knees as tears fell down her cheeks.
 
“Come here, sweetheart,” Lucas said as he picked Myra up and cradled her in his arms.
 
“Myra, yes you were wrong to try to come home on your own. But you didn’t deliberately set out to make this happen.”
 
“Delib…” Myra tried to say through her tears.
 
“You didn’t do it on purpose, to hurt Mark.”
 
“Don’t matter. You talk about something that happens because of something that’s done. Because I did something wrong, Mark got hurt. It’s all my fault!”
 
“No, not all your fault,” Milly told her daughter.
 
“There weren’t no one else around!” Myra argued through her tears.
 
“Yes there was. There was another man who told Mark that he would hurt you, unless Mark helped him get you so he could try to hurt your Ma.”
 
“A bad man?” Myra asked, as she sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Wanted to hurt Mama?”
 
“Yes, there was a bad man.” Milly continued, “I’m sure Mark did everything he could to protect you.”
 
“Did he hurt you?” Myra cautiously asked.
 
“Yes, he hurt me because I didn’t know where you or Mark were. He said he knew where you were. I thought he was keeping you from me. Your father and I, neither of us knew the danger you or Mark were in. Myra, I was so worried about you… and Mark.”
 
“Then, you forgive me?” Myra asked.
 
“Sweetheart, there’s nothing to forgive. We love you,” Lucas stated as Myra turned on his lap and looked at her.
 
“I love you too.” She threw her hands around Lucas’ neck and hugged him.
 
Lucas stood, still holding Myra in his arms. “Come on, I think your Mama would appreciate us drying and putting away the dishes. Would you like to help your Papa?”
 
“Yes.”
 
Milly followed Lucas into the front room and watched as Lucas carried Myra into the kitchen.
 
*****
 
Milly returned to the front room, walked to Hope and asked, “How are you feeling, Hope?”
 
“Ashamed. My father’s ashamed of me,” she quietly whispered.
 
“He’s not ashamed,” Milly answered.
 
“No? Didn’t you hear the tone of his voice. I’ve never heard him talk that way before.”
 
Milly pulled a chair from the table and set it in front of Hope and then sat down.
 
“Hope, look at me?” Milly waited until Hope turned from the window. “Your father’s not ashamed of you. He’s scared. He’s scared of the six years you lived among the Kiowa and whatever you experienced that made you try to take your own life. He’s blaming himself and taking his hurt out on you.”
 
“He’s blaming himself?” Hope asked.
 
“Hope,” Lucas stepped from the kitchen to stand behind Milly. “When a father sees their child struggling, for whatever the reason, the father sees themselves as… well… a failure. That we didn’t do something right. That we weren’t there for our child. When we found Mark in Bisby, I cursed God. I blamed him for allowing this to happen. Milly pointed out that God was the reason that Mark was still alive. I then realized, it was easier for me to blame God than to blame myself. And that’s who I was really angry at. Me and my rifle. All the years that I raised Mark on my own, the only other thing constant, was my rifle. And because of my rifle and everything Mark witnessed as he was growing up, he became a Marshal.”
 
Lucas paused as he watched the expression on Hope’s face, “Hope, your father was scared for you, because of the years you spent with the Kiowa. It was easier for him to take his anger out on you, than on himself. He loves you, but was scared to know that you could try to take your own life.”
 
“We don’t have to understand why things happen, but to accept that God has a reason for everything, good or bad,” Milly continued. “God will see that Mark pulls through and that you recover as well.”
 
“Faith…” Hope said as she started to smile.
 
Milly nodded.
 
*****
 
It was after lunch time when Seth returned to the McCain ranch with Doc Burrage. Seth tended to the horses while Lucas showed Thadd inside. Seth joined them shortly.
 
After a fifteen minutes, Hope looked up from where she sat, as the bedroom door opened and was surprised at hearing what sounded like laughter coming from the bedroom.
 
“Milly, you’re never going to believe this,” Lucas called as the group stepped from the bedroom.
 
“Is Mark going to be okay?” Hope asked.
 
“Yes, it’s going to take some time, not sure how long, but with your love and devotion, Mark should recover. I’ll leave a list of exercises that you will need to help Mark perform several times, every day,” Thadd stated. “Now, young lady, how are you feeling?” he lowered his voice.
 
“Better, we talked while my father was riding to get you.”
 
“Have you eaten?” Thadd has.
 
Lucas piped up and answered, “She drank a cup and a half of chicken broth earlier in the morning and then a whole bowl of oatmeal while waiting for you.”
 
“Good, good. Then just keep eating small, frequent meals and in time, your system will be able to eat normally.”
 
“So, now that you have declared both Mark and Hope are out of the woods, so to speak,” Milly interrupted. “Just what am I not going to believe?”
 
“Lou gave birth yesterday!” Thadd stated.
 
“Was the baby a boy or a girl?” Milly asked.
 
“Both!” Thadd smiled as he spoke.
 
“Both? They had twins?” Hope asked.
 
“Yep.”
 
“And I heard Mark laughing?” Hope inquired.
 
“Yes, you sure did. Besides recovering from the fractured skull of his, he’s gotten some of his memory back. He told me to warn Johnny, both of them, that payback was going to be sweet revenge. He reminded us of some of the teasing they did after your twins were born and then when you two made the announcement about being pregnant with Eli.”
 
“He remembers that?” Milly asked.
 
“Oh, yes,” Lucas stated devilishly.
 
Before leaving Thadd emphasized how important it was to get Mark working on the exercises to improve his control over his body.
 
“Improve his control over his body?” Hope asked.
 
Thadd pulled a chair up and sat down in front of Hope.
 
“Yes, with the injury to his brain, he doesn’t have full control over his body. He can feel his hands, and legs, but he can’t make them move on his own yet. He can move a finger and feel when he’s pinched, but nothing more.”
 
“He’s paralyzed?” Hope asked.
 
“No, not at all. It’s not uncommon for this to happen after such an injury. The nerves in his body just need to be reactivated. And that can and will happen by performing the exercises. Now, I’d allow him to sleep as much as he wants, but when he’s awake, see how he can handle sitting slightly propped up. Get him moving his arms, now you’ll probably have to do the moving for him in the beginning, but encourage him to try to move his hands and feet. I’ll be back in a few days and I’ll bring Doc Jeffers with me.”
 
“Doc Jeffers? From Marionette?” Milly asked. “But why?”
 
“Milly, right now, Mark’s eyes won’t properly focus. Doc Jeffers is an eye doctor, more knowledgeable in how the eyes work than I am. When I get back to town, I’m going to wire him and see if he’d mind traveling here to examining Mark, and if necessary, go about creating eye glasses for him to wear.”
 
“Glasses?” Hope asked.
 
“Hope, he can see, but right now, everything is blurry. He can tell when someone is there, but if you and Milly were to sit side by side in a chair on the other side of the room, he couldn’t tell the two of you apart. Now, it’s not unheard of with brain injuries. Again, sleep can be the best thing for him. Who knows, in a few days when Doc Jeffers arrives, Mark’s eyesight might be better.”
 
“Doc?” Hope asked as he started for the door.
 
“Yes?”
 
“When can our children come home?”
 
“Well, I’d say after I come back with Doc Jeffers. But you have to promise to continue to eat and gain your strength back. I’ll see if Jake McCafferty and Gwen Shawnesee will bring all the McCain children back. I think I might also ask Hattie and Micah to come out for the day too. They’ve both been so worried.”
 
“I promise Doc and thank you,” Hope sincerely spoke.
 
*****
 
After hearing his daughter inquire of her children, Seth knew she was going to be okay. That evening, before supper, Seth sat on the porch and talked with Hope. He apologized for his actions earlier in the day. He told her of his fears and how upset he was with himself for not trying to learn more about his daughter and the years she lived away from him.
 
After supper, Seth announced that he was going to return to North Fork, “Time one of North Fork’s deputies actually did their job.”
 
“Now daughter, your children’s return is contingent upon you following Doc’s orders.”
 
“I will father, I’ve got too much to live for, to not.”

The Next Step — Past & Present

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

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