The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step...
Chapter 114 - Life's Changes
Written by Deanne Bertram

“Hope, how are ye and Mark?” Lou asked of Hope as they each bumped into the other as they came from the separate rooms where their husbands slept.

“We’re doing okay, what of you and Johnny?”

“He’s arguing that he has a town to protect.”

“Sounds like Johnny. Mark’s not doing any arguing, just yet.”

“Wha’ tis that smell?” Lou asked, scrunching her face at the pungent odor.

“Mark’s clothes, not sure what all was spilled on him, he smells just as bad as his shirt and pants.”

“Let me take those and I’ll have them laundered.”

“Lou, that’s not necessary, you have enough on your hands with taking care of Johnny,” Hope answered. “But I do appreciate your offer.”

The two women giggled over their worries for their own husbands, yet still wanting to help the other.

“Well, if there is anything I can do for ye or Mark… Ye just let me know. I could have Chelsea prepare a bath for Mark at the hotel…”

“I’m afraid he can’t be moved that far, at least not yet.”

“How bad did they beat him up?”

“Those… those…” Hope couldn’t bring herself to say what she really wanted to say. “He suffered a pretty good concussion, Thadd wants to keep him quiet for a little while longer.”

“I’ll see if a couple of my workers can bring a tub over and arrange for some hot water. I’m sure he’ll be feeling better if he were to smell better.”

The two women hugged before they went their separate ways.

*****

With Hattie and Micah in their bedroom and their young children asleep in bed, Lucas and Milly sat on the front porch of their home, allowing the coolness of the evening air to relax some of the tension both felt.

“Lucas, who is Elizabeth?” Milly asked, leaning back to her husband’s chest.

“Elizabeth? Elizabeth who?”

“I don’t know who, it’s just that…” Milly gave a brief shiver.

“What?”

“While I was waiting for Doc Burrage to arrive last night, Micah whispered the name Elizabeth.”

“Elizabeth…mmm… She was Micah’s first wife.”

“Wife, I didn’t know he was married…what happened?”

“She died.” Lucas stated, he continued when he heard Milly’s sharp intake of breath, “They were up in Montana when a good friend, Micah’s partner, took all their money and left, saying he’d come back with it doubled. No one knew how bad or quick winter was to set in. Elizabeth got sick and Micah had no way to go for help or even pay for a doctor. Micah never saw the man again until after he settled here. Mark and I found a man gravely wounded out on the road and took him to town. Doc Jay asked if I’d be willing to donate blood to try to save the man’s life. Micah came in shortly and told me to let the man die.”

“That doesn’t sound like Micah,” observed Milly.

“No, it didn’t. After Doc released me, I tracked Micah down and asked why? That was the only time he ever mentioned Elizabeth. I encouraged Micah to come back Doc Jay’s to see the man. Before he died, he handed Micah an envelope, inside was the money; he kept his promise and doubled their money.”

“Why would Micah call out to her and not Hattie?”

“Doc Thadd told you that Micah could have died, maybe he sensed it too.”

“I wonder…”

“Milly, it’s been a long day, why don’t we just be thankful for what we have,” commented Lucas.

“I am thankful; thankful that Mark is going to recover and that Micah is alive. Guess we should go pull in a couple of the cots from the storage locker in the barn…”

“I almost would prefer to sneak over to sleep at Mark’s.”

“I’ll not have the children wake during the night and wake Hattie or Micah, looking for one of us,” Milly declared.

“I said ‘almost’,” teased Lucas as he helped Milly to her feet.

*****

After Mark had bathed, Hope helped him return to the bed at the clinic, she pulled the blankets over his shoulder and kissed him goodnight before she returned to collect her children from the daycare, where Gwen had watched over them for the day.

“I’m so sorry to put you out like this, Gwen. I remember how uncomfortable I was during the last month of my pregnancies.”

“Hope, your children are angels, besides, I had Mrs. Donner helping to watch all the children today,” Gwen replied.

“Well, I’m just glad to hear they were on their best behavior today.”

*****

The following morning, Deputy U.S. Marshal Coltrane Walker settled into watching over North Fork until her own lawmen could return to duty. He’d previously seen two of his deputies transfer Tag-a-long Riley from the jail on to the train for the final leg of his trip to Yuma.

“Morees, I’m gonna walk the town,” Coltrane stated as he placed his hat on his head and left the office.

While walking the town, he surveyed how much North Fork had grown since his first visit; new business establishments and homes were flourishing, as were the number of children he saw heading towards the two schools.

Before returning to the office he heard, “Marshal Walker! Do you have a minute?”

“How can I help you Sweeney?” Coltrane replied.

Sweeney opened the doors to the saloon and invited Coltrane inside, “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”

“Black.”

Coltrane removed his hat as he took a seat at one of the tables.

“Marshal, I don’t know who to talk to…” Sweeney stated as he handed Coltrane the cup of coffee and took a seat on the opposite side of the table. “I mean with the Marshal’s laid up and all…”

Coltrane observed Sweeney’s hands shake as he took a seat and reached for his own cup of coffee. “What can I do for you?”

“I didn’t’ expect it to be like this… I’m not exactly cut out to do this kind of thing. I just wanted to…”

“Maybe you should tell me what’s troubling you, from the beginning,” Coltrane suggested as he enjoyed a long sip on his coffee.

“The other night, I killed two men,” Sweeney explained as he tried to settle his nerves with a drink of coffee.

“It’s never easy to face the aftermath.”

“I just didn’t want to be used against this town anymore and I thought that as long as I knew how to use it, it wouldn’t come to that… At my insistence, Mark taught me how to use a shotgun.” Sweeney looked to the two boarded up windows in the front of his establishment.

“Sweeney, you didn’t go looking for the trouble that came to North Fork. But consider this had you not acted as you did, it’s very possible that this town would be burying a number of her citizens instead of those outlaws…”

“How do you do it? How do you live with the fact that you’ve taken a life…”

“When I’ve had to kill, I accept it based on the circumstances. Did I callously take the life or did I do it to protect my own life or the lives of those I’m sworn to protect?”

“But I’m not a lawman…”

“Doesn’t matter,” replied Coltrane. “As a citizen of this town, any town, if you know how to use a weapon you have an obligation to protect others. That’s what most people don’t realize, but then North Fork has those like Lucas and Mark who’ll step up.”

“But Mark’s a lawman…” Sweeney interrupted.

“He wasn’t always… He wasn’t a lawman when he joined that posse. His weapon at that time was that he knew how to track as good as his Pa. He felt obligated to help.”

“I think I understand what you’re saying…I just never expected to have to use that blasted shotgun.”

“Me and a lot of other people of this town are thankful that you had the courage to use it. When it comes to being a lawman, it helps to know that the town will help back ya. Sweeney, why don’t you spend some time with the parson, I think he might be able to relieve your conscience. You have nothing to feel guilty about, in the eyes of the law. But maybe you are feeling that way, in the Eyes of God.”

“I think I’ll do that. I’m feeling a little better just talking to you, and maybe I just need to know that God won’t hold this against me.”

“See you later.”

Coltrane collected his hat and left the saloon, ‘Yes, this town sure had changed.’

*****

Several days later, when Mark could consistently sit up and walk a short distance without any ill effects, Thadd released him from the clinic with instructions to head home, or better yet, to Seth’s since he and Lilah had yet to return. Lucas and Hope assisted Mark as he climbed the steps to the house; yet allowed him to walk across the floor on his own to sit in the big overstuffed chair in the parlor.

“Where are the children?” asked Mark after having taken and exhaled a deep breath.

“Uncle Johnny and Aunt Colleen are watching Eli and the girls today while the twins are at school. I asked them to bring them back around four, that should give you time to take a nap.”

“A nap?” complained Mark.

“Yes, a nap. You rattled your brain pretty good and Thadd told you to take it easy.”

Knowing his son, Lucas stated, “I did stop by the office and Coltrane gave me a packet of reports for you to review…”

“I’ll review the reports,” answered Mark as he took the packet from Lucas.

“I’ll check in on you tomorrow,” Lucas stated,

Hope saw Lucas to the front door and thanked him, “Pa, thank you for being here.”

“No need to thank me, but you send word if he gets stubborn,” Lucas stated. He placed his hand to Hope’s cheek and wiped away an errant tear. “He’ll be fine, just like always. I know he’d rather see you smiling than crying.”

“Thanks Pa,” Hope answered as she smiled and reached up to squeeze his wrist.

*****

Within fifteen minutes of beginning to read the reports, Mark’s head started bobbing and a few moments later the papers slid from his fingers. After picking up the reports, Hope lovingly placed an afghan over Mark’s shoulders, smiling as she shook her head.

*****

Mark slept through the train whistling its arrival at the depot. He startled awake upon hearing a man call, “We’re home! Where are my grandchildren?!”

“What?” mumbled Mark as he tried to figure out where he was and who was home?

“Father!” Hope declared as she ran from the kitchen.

“What happened to you?!” asked a shocked Lilah upon entering the parlor and seeing the bullet graze across Mark’s temple.

“Seth? Lilah?” Mark groggily asked, shaking his head to clear the sleep from his mind.

“What could happen, indeed,” Seth declared as he set their luggage down inside the front door. “Where’s Micah?”

“Father, please…” Hope pleaded.

“Would someone tell me what happened while we were gone?” Seth asked in a reprimanding tone.

“We had a little bit of trouble,” answered Mark as he sat forward in the chair.

“Mark, you go back to sleep and I’ll answer all Father’s questions,” replied Hope.

“I’ve slept enough,” answered Mark.

“And you’ll sleep some more. Do as I say; don’t make me go get Thadd… or send for Pa!.” Turning to her father, “Father, Lilah, please, come into the kitchen and I’ll explain everything.”

*****

From behind the kitchen door, Hope watched as Mark reached for and drank from the glass of water, which she had earlier placed on the side table. Mark settled back in the chair and his eyes closed, Hope closed the door to the kitchen knowing it was a rotten trick to lace the water with Laudanum.

“So, do you care to tell me what happened?” asked Seth, with a disapproving look on his face.

“It probably would have been best had you stopped by the Marshal’s Office and talked with Deputy Walker before coming home… but you couldn’t have known to do that.”

“Daughter?”

“Father, Lilah, please have a seat.” After waiting for them to sit at the kitchen table, Hope sat down and answered, “The Wildcat Bunch was in town attempting to break one of their own from being transferred on the train. They kidnapped Sarah McCafferty to force Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty to leave so a fake preacher could come to town. No one thought anything of a new parson asking questions, attempting to learn about the people. Turns out, he was Wildcat Riley. Some of his gang got rowdy at Sweeney’s and Mark tried to stop them…:

“By himself?” asked Seth.

“Not really, from what Thelma told me, they only thought there was the one drunk… It wasn’t until after Mark has been shot when everyone realized there was more to it than just the one man.”

“How bad was he injured?” asked Lilah

“Another concussion, Johnny was shot in the shoulder, and John Hamilton took a bullet wound through his forearm.”

“Johnny’s back?” asked Seth.

“He returned the night this all happened,” replied Hope.

“Good God, why didn’t you…”

“Father, that’s not all… evidently Micah saw Mark already unconscious at Sweeney’s, he rode for Pa… He suffered a heart attack.”

“Lucas or Micah?!” asked an alarmed Lilah.

“Micah…”

“He’s not dead, is he?” Lilah couldn’t keep the fear from her voice.

“No, Doc was on his way out to Lucas and Milly’s this afternoon to see if he’s strong enough to return to his own home; I lent him your surrey. Hattie’s been out at the ranch with him since the morning after.”

“And Coltrane Walker is the only one protecting North Fork?” Seth asked.

“He was in charge of transferring the prisoner and he’s been temporarily re-assigned here. He also has another deputy U.S. Marshal helping out.”

“Hope, why didn’t you wire us?”

“You couldn’t have gotten home any sooner. This all happened Friday night into Saturday.”

“What of Sarah and the others?” Lilah asked.

“With the help of Coltrane, Nils, and Percy, Pa was able to rescue her. Reverend McCafferty returned home that night with Johnny, they had been staying in Marionette, waiting for word from those outlaws. Maggie brought Johnny and Lou’s children home Monday.”

“Hope, by your asking us to come in here, I’m presuming Mark doesn’t know about the others?” Seth cautiously asked, looking to the kitchen door to make sure Mark didn’t come in.

Trying to keep control of her emotions Hope answered, “He knows about Johnny and John, but we’ve not told him about Micah. Father, he’s going to have to give up being a deputy. The next time something happens…Thadd said it could kill him.”

Hope couldn’t keep her tears any longer; Lilah walked to Hope and wrapped her arms around her.

*****

Using the Seth’s surrey, Thadd drove the team to the McCain Ranch. Upon his arrival, he was pleased to see Micah sitting at the table, eating lunch with the children.

*****

“Well,” Thadd stated after examining Micah in the McCain bedroom, with Hattie anxiously watching. “I think you are recovered enough that you can return to town. But you’re still to take it easy until I say otherwise.”

While Micah buttoned his shirt, Thadd informed Micah and Hattie that he expected to see Micah in his office every week, for at least the next six weeks.

“I’ll let you know when we can stretch it out. I just want to make sure that your heart is responding to the medication,” Thadd stated. Hearing Micah complain at the restriction, Thadd continued, “Micah, if you become too active too soon, you could set your recovery back. If you follow my instructions, in six weeks we can probably move your appointments to once a month.”

“Micah, please…” pleaded Hattie. “Do as Thadd says?”

Upon returning to the front room, Micah tried to be in a better mood, “Guess you’re ready to get your own bed back?” he teased.

“As long as Doc says you’re ready to go home, otherwise, you and Hattie can stay here for as long as you need,” answered Lucas.

*****

Hattie rested her head on Micah’s shoulder, with his arm wrapped around her, as they sat in the back of the surrey for the trip back to North Fork.

*****

Having seen Micah inside his home, Thadd drove the team to return them to the livery when Isaiah Cooperton ran up and informed him that he was needed at the schoolhouse.

“What’s wrong?” Thadd asked.

“Mr. Bullock thinks Adam Tunneson broke his leg. He fell out of the tree.”

“Tell your teacher I’ll be right there.”

Reaching for his bag, Thadd jumped down from the surrey and followed Isaiah to the schoolhouse.

*****

Finally returning home just before midnight, a weary Thadd Burrage sat down in the chair in his bedroom, and looked to his sleeping wife as he pulled off his boots. He thought on all he had done since having woke; checking John, Johnny, and Mark, driving to the McCain’s to bring Hattie and Micah home, taking Adam Tunneson from the school to the clinic to cast his broken leg, before being called out to Oat Jackford’s place; to tend to one of his hands who had been thrown from a horse when a rattlesnake spooked the animal. He sank back in his chair as the events of the day pulled him to sleep.

The following morning, Abigail found her husband still asleep in the chair; she knelt in front of him and gently shook him awake.

“Thadd?” Abigail quietly called.

“Who needs me?” Thadd wearily asked.

“No one. Thadd, why didn’t you come to be last night?”

“I guess I was too tired. Abigail, as much a North Fork has grown, she needs a second physician. I just can’t continue to do it all on my own anymore.”

“Have you received any response to the wires you sent?”

“Not a one. Abby…”

“Talk to me.”

“I’m worried that as exhausted as I’m getting… I’m going to make a mistake, and it could possibly cost someone his or her life. I’ve been lucky for far too long...”

“You’re a wonderful physician,” Abigail stated.

“Wonderful or not, North Fork needs more than just me.”

****

Several more days passed before Mark and Hope returned to the clinic, hoping today would be the day Thadd would release Mark. After a thorough examination, Thadd was extremely pleased with Mark’s improvement in dexterity and ability to focus, after suffering the concussion.

“I think I’ll let Seth and Lilah’s home return to normal and say you can return to your own home,” Thadd stated as he put away his equipment. “But Mark…”

“Yes?”

“You’ll still need to take it easy for a while. If you get even the slightest of headache, I want to know about it.”

“Will do Doc. I guess Micah’s been enjoying his continued time at the office,” stated a cheerful Mark.

Hope gasped at Mark’s comment.

“Mark, we’ve kept something from you that I think I should finally tell you,” Thadd stated.

“What’s wrong?” Mark looked to his wife and the smile that had been on his face disappeared.

“Mark,” Hope started to explain. “When the Wildcat Bunch was in town. Micah…”

“Micah? What about Micah?” an alarmed Mark asked. “Come to think about it, I’ve not seen him. What happened to Micah?!”

“Micah’s going to okay, but he suffered a heart attack that night,” Thadd answered.

“A heart attack? How?”

“Mark, you were already unconscious in the saloon when he rode for Pa…”

“The stress and strain of seeing you unconscious and racing his horse out to the ranch, it was too much exertion on his heart. You forget, he’s a lot older than your Pa,” Thadd explained.

“But he’s not looked so young in a long time. I mean after Johnny… He has a spring in his step when he’s helping…” Mark’s voice conveyed his confusion.

“Yes, he has, but that’s an outward expression of how he feels. I’m talking about his physical health.”

“Where is he?” asked Mark.

“He’s stayed for a number of days at the ranch. The day Thadd allowed you to leave the clinic and return to Father’s, Thadd rode to the ranch and returned Micah and Hattie to their home.”

“Mark, he has to realize marshaling is for the young…”

“Giving up wearing the badge is going to kill him…” announced a sorrowful Mark.

“He’s done it before…” stated Thadd.

“But that was his decision,” argued Mark.

“Continuing to be placed in these situations will kill him, eventually. Mark, I know it’s not going to be easy for him,” Thadd said.

“You’re asking him to give up his life…”

“No, I’m asking for him to give up a job so he can still have a life to live,” corrected Thadd.

*****

After leaving the clinic, Mark said goodbye to Hope, allowing her to continue to her father’ as he stopped by the Marshal’s Office.

“Afternoon Mark, So…has your doctor returned you to active duty?” Coltrane asked.

“Yeah, I can return tomorrow. Johnny, you knew about Micah?”

“I did,” replied Johnny. “Mark, I’m sorry we kept the news from you, but Doc and Hope felt that in your condition, it was risky telling you. I’m dealing with my own guilt for pinning that damn badge back on him.”

“I know…” Mark didn’t hide his own guilt from his voice. “How about Micah? Have you told him that he needs to give up the badge?” asked Mark.

“I can’t bring myself to do it,” admitted Johnny. “It just doesn’t seem fair, he has so much insight and knowledge to offer up and coming lawmen.”

“Johnny, if I may?” Coltrane interrupted.

With his arm that was not in the sling, Johnny motion for Coltrane to continue.

“What if there was a way for Deputy Torrance to continue. I agree he has a lot to offer…”

“What do you have in mind?” asked Mark.

“Mark, remember when you first became a deputy U.S. Marshal?”

Mark nodded.

“What if we have training classes here, in North Fork? Or Micah could travel to Denver. He can be one of our instructors; he can still keep up with wanted posters and have a position here in the office… He can work with your lawyer, Robert Garrison, and discuss courses of law and responsibilities… ”

“I like that idea,” Johnny stated as his mood considerably brightened.

“Johnny, I need to get my family home, but I’ll be back tomorrow morning to officially return to work. I’ll bring Micah with me too.”

“That means we need to talk with Robert,” Johnny stated as he looked to Coltrane.

“See you tomorrow!” called Mark as he left the Marshal’s Office in a much better mood than he had entered.

*****

Lucas and Milly welcomed Mark and his family back home by inviting them over for supper. The children had fun catching up on everything that had happened while they had been separated, too.

*****

The children we asleep in their own beds when Lucas walked across the yard after seeing Mark sitting on the porch of his home.

“Hope told Milly that you were told about Micah today,” Lucas stated as he sat down.

“Yeah, I feel guilty…had I been more observant I could have prevented this whole fiasco from happening. I’m sorry…”

“Mark, you were one man against four. You couldn’t have prevented it.”

“I know that, but still… Pa, I’m going to talk with Hattie tomorrow about Micah.”

“That’s not going to be an easy task…”

“Easier than you think, if Hattie agrees to our proposal.”

With the sun having set, Lucas couldn’t make out the expression on Mark’s face, but he heard something in his son’s voice.

“Just what are you proposing?”

“Moving the U.S. Marshal training classes to North Fork, with Micah as one of the lead instructors. Pa, being a marshal runs in Micah’s veins, he’s taught me so much over the years and Johnny agrees that he has a lot more to offer than being put in a rocking chair on the porch. Coltrane was the one who suggested it, and no one impresses him very easily.”

“Mark, I…”

Mark interrupted, “Pa, we won’t do it if Hattie is against it, I just know how Micah needs to feel… needed. That he belongs…”

“I was about to say, if Hattie agrees, I think it’s a great idea.”

*****

The sun was well on its way marking the morning sky when Mark returned to town and knocked on the back kitchen door to Hattie and Micah’s home, removing his hat when Hattie opened the door.

“Mark, it’s good to see you up and about.”

“Thank you Hattie… How’s Micah?”

“Moping about… he’s been waiting for you or Johnny to come and undeputize him…”

“Hattie, I think we’ve come up with a way to keep Micah from harm, but to still keep him feeling that he’s needed. Once a lawman,” Mark stated.

Hattie finished, “Always a lawman. Just what did you have in mind?”

“Actually, Marshal Walker came up with the idea, after Johnny stated how much Micah still has to offer to new lawmen. We’re thinking of moving the training sessions for the U.S. Marshal Service to North Fork or maybe the two of you traveling to Denver, Micah would be an instructor to those new to wearing a badge. He’d work with Robert Garrison in teaching the law…”

“Mark, I think it’s a wonderful idea. Oh, he’s coming down the stairs…” Hattie started pushing Mark out the back door. “You get to the front door and pretend that we’ve not talked. Get him out of the house. It will do him good.”

Mark slipped out of the house and made his way to the front door and knocked, Micah opened the door.

“Marshal, I presume you’re here for your badge,” Micah glumly stated.

“Morning Micah,” Mark offered cheerfully, hoping his secret would brighten Micah’s eyes. “Yes, I’m here for the badge, but also the lawman who wears it.”

Micah paused in his walking to the fireplace, turned, and looked to Mark; who had removed his hat and entered the foyer.

“The lawman...” Micah humf’d. ‘I’m not that man any more… I’m an old man, lived beyond my use. Put me out to pasture.”

“I don’t know about putting you out to pasture, but Doc released me to return to work today, said you were recovered enough, too. And besides, you still have a job in town. So, get your boots on and pin that badge back on your vest!”

Hattie came from the kitchen, “Mark, it’s good to see you. What brings you to our home?”

“I’m here for one of my deputies who thinks it’s okay to derelict his duties.”

“I have no duties, Hattie told me what Doc said,” Micah answered, disappointment still in his voice.

“Doc doesn’t understand once a lawman, always a lawman. Come on, Johnny, Coltrane and I want to discuss with you your new responsibilities with the U.S. Marshal Service.”

“New responsibilities…Marshal Service,” Micah’s voice perked up.

A smiling Hattie closed the door behind Mark and Micah, pleased to see life returning to her husband’s eyes.

*****

Once at the office, Johnny, Coltrane, Mark, and Robert discussed their plans with Micah. After an hour, Micah followed Robert as he returned to his office where they could discuss more specifics, having seen the overview of the program that Mark had drafted the night before.

*****

While making his afternoon rounds, Mark was stopped by Johnny Gibbs, who had stepped from the front of the hardware store.

“What’s up Uncle Johnny?” asked Mark.

“Just thought I’d let you know, the tubs and large kettles you and Lucas ordered are scheduled come in on the train this Saturday.”

“Thanks, Uncle Johnny, I’ll let Pa know.”

*****

Having said goobye to Coltrane Walker and Deputy Morees Saturday morning, Lucas and Mark loaded their orders into the back of their buckboards and returned home. They halted in front of their respective homes, with Jake McCafferty and Johnny Gibbs having followed them home to help unload the tubs and carry them into the homes.

Upon attempting to carry the first tub into Lucas and Milly’s home, Johnny laughingly stated, “Guess we need to take the doors off so we can get this through.”

Setting the tub down, Lucas made quick work of removing the doors and once the tub was inside the room, he re-hung the doors.

*****

Mark and Lucas worked throughout the afternoon to hook the pipes to the drains and pumps, and install the water heating systems Mark had designed so neither of their wives had to lug buckets of water from the kitchen into the tub room.

When they finished the last of their projects in Mark and Hope’s home, they stood to the side admiring their handiwork.

“I could really enjoy a hot bath in that tub after all the work to get them installed,” commented Lucas.

“Oh no you don’t!” called Milly as she and Hope entered the tub room in Hope’s home. “Hope gets to enjoy the first bath in their tub room.”

“Well, okay, Mrs. McCain, I didn’t mean this tub, I can wait until I get to my own tub,” teased Lucas.

“Not so fast… I get to enjoy the first bath in our tub room,” replied Milly.

“Pa, I don’t think either of us will win this argument,” answered Mark as he smiled at the jovial family exchange.

Mark explained to Hope and Milly how the water heating system worked; “Use this pump to add water to this kettle and start a fire underneath it. When it’s hot enough, use this other pump to drain the water from the kettle into the tub. And this final pump allows you to add cooler water so the water isn’t too hot.”

“Well, you both can wash up out back, supper is on the table,” Milly stated as she secretly relished the bath she would take later.

*****

Once their children were down for the night, Milly slipped into the tub room and appreciated the sheer simplicity of not having to lug water buckets to fill the tub. In anticipation, she had purchased a new product that Lou had recommended, a soap that bubbled up when agitated in the water; Milly inhaled deeply of its fragrance. Slipping from her clothes and with her left foot, she tested the water temperature before climbing all the way into the tub.

Milly enjoyed relaxing and stretching out in the warm water while she bathed herself. She was just thinking of how large the tub was when she heard a quiet knock on the door and for a moment regretted that she hadn’t latched the door closed when she saw it begin to open.

“Care for someone to scrub your back?” Lucas asked as he peeked around the door.

“Lucas McCain!” Milly called out.

“Shhh… you’ll wake the children. I thought you’d enjoy some special attention.”

Lucas entered the tub room, turned, and latched the door. In the dim light provided by the lantern on the table, Lucas unbuttoned and removed his shirt and dropped it to the floor. Next, he sat down on the stool and removed his boots and socks. Standing up, Lucas removed his belt and finally his jeans, before he slipped from his undergarments.

Climbing into the tub to sit behind Milly, he reached in front of her and took the washrag and soap. It had been a while since Lucas had felt the feelings that stirred in his body as he gently ran the soapy rag over his wife’s back. He leaned forward and kissed the back of her neck.

In time, Milly leaned back against Lucas and whispered, “My turn.”

The two switched placed in the tub, allowing Milly to sit behind Lucas in order to scrub his back. Once Milly finished with Lucas’ back, she pulled him backwards towards her, and she reached around and ran her hand with the soapy rag and her other hand over Lucas chest.

Lucas was first to step from the tub and dry himself off, he wrapped the towel around his waist while Milly washed her hair. Lucas poured clean water over her head to rinse the soap from her hair. He assisted Milly from the tub, before he pulled the drain plug. Still kneeling beside the tub, he watched Milly towel herself dry, admiring the woman who was his wife. Lucas stood and walked to his wife, took the towel from her hands and wrapped it around her body. After blowing out the lantern, he unlatched the door as he proceeded to lead Milly to their bedroom. With the door closed, he lifted her into his arms and as he lay her gently on the bed he pulled the towel from her body and crawled in bedside her, removing the towel from around his own waist.

“I love you Mrs. McCain,” Lucas whispered as he pulled the covers over their bodies and began caressing his wife.

Lucas wasn’t alone in the fire that welled within him that night, Milly felt the fire too, running her hands over his muscled chest, toying with his chest hairs; sighing at the pleasure of Lucas running his hands over her body.

Milly lifted her head and began teasingly kissing Lucas, but Lucas turned the kiss passionate by wrapping his arms around her and holding her tight against him. Lucas felt the softness of Milly’s skin as she pressed her body against his and that only drove his desire deeper. Both gave into their desire for passion and the pleasures of being husband and wife.

When they finally lay apart, each lying on their side, facing the other; Milly wondered at the depth of feelings she still had for Lucas; how after even all these years of marriage, the desire to make love to him could be so strong; even stronger than their wedding night.

“Lucas, I pray our love never grows old,” Milly whispered.

“Our love will only grow stronger. I’ve told you before how you’ve completed my life; what we share is more than I ever imagined,” Lucas replied as he lie next to her, marveling that he could share his life with a woman who made his life this complete, again. “Do I still make you feel giddy like a schoolgirl?”

“No, it’s been a long time since you’ve made me feel that way. I feel like…a woman.”

“Yes, you do,” mused Lucas as he ran his hand along her arm down to her hips and to her thigh.

*****

Mark and Hope placed their children to bed and oversaw their nightly prayers, before retiring to their own bedroom.

“If you’d like to take a bath, you can. I don’t have to be first,” Hope offered. “The water should be hot enough by now.”

Mark stood next to Hope and wrapped his arms around her back, pulling her close to him. He leaned his head down to her lips and passionately kissed her. He broke his lips from hers long enough for him to reach down and lift her into his arms.

“Mark?! What are you doing?” queried Hope.

“Shhh… You’ll wake the children,” he replied as he carried her out of their bedroom, across the floor of the front room, and into their tub room. “I think the tub is large enough for the two of us.”

Mark remembered their wedding night as he began to unbutton the back of Hope’s dress, he ran his hands over the soft skin of her back, but before he could pull the dress from her body, Hope turned in his arms and began unbuttoning his shirt, pulling the shirttail from his pants, and pushing it from his shoulders. Mark took Hope’s face in his hands as he leaned forward again to kiss her, while he felt her unbuckling his belt and pulling it from his pants. He heard it drop to the floor. Next, Hope undid his pants, but stopped short of removing them from his hips.

Hope wrapped her arms around Mark and passionately kissed him, she felt his hands move to her shoulders and to her back; and sensed the coolness of the air against her skin as Mark opened the back of her dress farther, finally the dress fell to the floor.

“This seems déjà vu, doesn’t it?” Hope asked.

“Only, the first time you revealed yourself to me,” answered Mark as he slipped from his jeans and undergarments, while watching Hope remove her own undergarments.

The warm water was three quarters up the sides of the tub when Mark slipped into the tub; he held his arms open as Hope slipped in, facing him, lying against his body. They spent a little time using the washrag and soap on each other, but both felt it more desirable to kiss and caress the other. Hope giggled as they changed positions in the tub after Mark stated, “Now’s your turn to wash my back.”

“You know, you really should shave,” Hope eventually suggested.

“I don’t feel like it, but I know someone who might enjoy doing it.”

Hope reached for the shaving supplies set on the bench beside the tub, and lovingly shaved her husband. Having set the razor down, Hope watched as Mark rinsed his face. Without any warning, Mark rolled around so that he was at the bottom of the tub, with Hope resting her back against him. Ignoring the fact that the water splashed over the sides of the tub, they intertwined their fingers and stretched, enjoying the feeling of the other against their body, and the warmth of the water.

After a while, Hope stated, “You know, this might not have been a good idea?” having looked at her hands.

“Oh?” replied Mark as he toyed with her fingers.

“I’m enjoying my bath too much; I’m beginning to shrivel up like an old woman.”

“Well, let me prove that you’re a young woman,” answered Mark as he stepped from the tub and helped Hope out, before he dried himself off. He wrapped the towel around his waist only to see Hope preparing to slip her nightgown on over her head. “Uh, uh.” Mark held out her robe and wrapped it around her body; he tied the sash around her waist before taking her hand and leading her to their bedroom.

Hope looked to make sure their children’s bedroom doors were still closed as she wrapped an arm around Mark’s waist. She closed their bedroom door and felt Mark pulling her towards their bed. As he walked backwards, he slipped the towel from his waist before he sat down on the bed. He pulled Hope to him, where she straddled his lap, taking his face into her hands and passionately kissed him. She sensed Mark untying the sash from her robe and felt the robe being slipped from her shoulders; she lowered her hands from Mark’s face. As the robe fell to the floor, Mark lifted Hope farther into their bed as he lay down and pulled the blankets over them.

To both, the fire that had heated the water for their bath, also heated their desire to make love that night. Hope sighed when Mark lay down on his side next to her, he propped up his head with this left arm, while his right knee resting on her thigh. After pulling the blanket to cover over both of them, he draped his right arm across her ribs as he ran his hand up and down her arm.

He whispered, “I love you Mrs. McCain.”

“People who don’t know me, call me Mrs. McCain,” Hope whispered in reply.

“And who am I, then?”

“The one I love,” Hope whispered as she ran her hand over Mark’s freshly shaven face.

“So I’m your lover?” asked Mark.

“Mark, I never dreamed that I could love you so much. You’ve given me the greatest gift a woman could ever receive.”

“And just what gift is that?”

“Besides your love, you’ve blessed me with nurturing five children.”

“Are you hoping you became pregnant tonight?”

Mark ran his hand down her arm, from her shoulder to her stomach. Hope inhaled at the tingling sensation that coursed through her body as his hand came to a stop on her stomach; she placed her hand on top of his.

“If it is to be, I’d love to give you another child.”

The Next Step — Is There A Doctor?

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

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