The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 43 – Living Life
Written by Deanne Bertram

Hope woke early Sunday morning and rolled over in bed to greet her husband, but found Mark wasn’t there. Concern grew in her heart, worrying that maybe, after she fell asleep, he’d headed out to the barn to sleep. She knew that Mark was still troubled by his departure. She opened the bedroom door and noticed the lit lantern on the front room table, turned down low, and saw Mark sitting in his chair, one son in his lap, the other, in his arms, with Mark feeding him his bottle. Hope leaned against the doorframe and watched; she listened to the conversation Mark was having…

“Zachariah and Joshua, we’re letting your ma sleep in this morning. I wanted some time alone to talk with both of you, to apologize for not being here. I really am sorry that I ran away. I just let myself get overwhelmed with everything and I forgot Pa’s number one rule, to talk, not to hide anything that’s troubling me. So I’ll make the same deal with both of you, that Pa made with me, I’ll be here to listen anytime you need to talk, you just have to remember that I’m here for you. That’s my job, at least one of them. I promise I’ll try to do as good a job in raising you as your Grandpa Lucas did in raising me. All I ask is that you don’t give me as much trouble as I gave Pa.” Mark smiled as he looked back and forth between his two sons and gave a small laugh. “You know, I seem to remember teasing Pa once about him being glad I wasn’t a twin. I pray you both aren’t my payback.”

Mark set the empty bottle down and lifted Zachariah to his shoulder and began to pat him on the back, until he heard a good burp from his son.

“Now, let’s see if I can get you both changed before your Ma wakes,” Mark stated as he picked Joshua up in his other arm.

“Too late,” Mark heard as he realized Hope was walking towards him. “Here, let me take Joshua and I’ll help you change our sons.”

“I tried to be quiet, I’m sorry if we woke you,” Mark stated as he gave Hope a good morning kiss and then followed her back to their bedroom.

“You didn’t wake me. I woke by my internal “mother” clock. Thank you for feeding them this morning.”

*****

Once the boys were changed, Mark left to head out to the barn to tend to chores, just as the first rays of sun started to paint the morning sky.

Mark turned the horses out into the corral and in doing so, noticed a slightly uneven step that Razor took. He walked out to his Pa’s horse and felt down Razor’s legs, picked up his hooves to see if any stone was stuck in the frog of his hoof, and checked to make sure his shoes were on securely.

“Hey there Razor,” Mark stated as he set down the last hoof and petted him on the shoulder. “No heat, no swelling, and no stone, what’s the matter boy?”

“Mark, he’s starting to show a little of his age,” Lucas stated as he stepped through the gate and came to stand beside Mark. “Remember, we’ve owned him since shortly after we arrived in North Fork and back then, he was probably five or six years old. I’ve been talking with Milly about retiring him some day. He’s been a good horse to me.”

“Retiring! But he looked fine the day I came back, he and Blue Boy and Two Bits were prancing around like colts.”

“Well I’m not retiring him right this minute, but I do need to start thinking on it. I need find a young colt I like, then I’ll need to wait for the horse to grow up before I can ride him. I just don’t want to be pushed into making a hasty choice in a horse.

“What about Blue Boy? We got him about the same time as Razor.” Mark replied.

“Blue Boy was just a colt when we got him and he’s not had a full grown man riding him his whole life. Though I don’t know, as much as you tended to race Blue Boy home from school… Mark, we just need to understand they’ve both been good horses and know that one day, they’ll be retired to an easy life.”

“Guess Razor’s coming to his ‘looking back’ years?” Mark stated as he scratched Razor above the eye.

“We all do, son.”

*****

After finishing their chores in the barn, they headed for the house. They entered to see a hearty breakfast being placed on the table. Myra was there, insisting Mark pick her up.

“Sure Gabby. Have you been helping Ma and Hope in the kitchen?”

“Uh huh.”

“That’s a good sis. Here, you sit down right here,” Mark said as he placed Myra in a chair. “Pa and I’ll be right back, we need to clean up a little bit before eating.”

Before they headed to the back door, Mark stole a kiss from Hope as she set the last dish on the table.

*****

As Hope and Milly removed the breakfast dishes from the table to the sink, Lucas sat down in his chair and pick up the bible, to read aloud.

“Mark, where are you heading?” Lucas asked as Mark put on his hat and started for the door.

“Out to hitch the team. It’s Sunday Pa. There’s one member of the McCain family who should really get to church today and was hoping the rest of the family would join him.”

Lucas closed his bible and set it down as he stood, “Are you sure you’re ready to go to town?” Mark nodded. “Then I’ll help you hitch the team.”

*****

As they rode into town, Mark knew that it would be difficult facing his friends, those that as a deputy he had been sworn to protect. Yet he also knew, the longer he put it off, the harder it would be. He thought back to the words Ezekiel had written. Mark knew, if the people of North Fork were truly his friends, they’d understand.

Before service, no one mentioned anything about why he’d left, just that it was good to see him again. Lucas placed a hand to Mark’s shoulder as they entered the church.

During service, the only possible reference being made regarding Mark’s disappearance was when towards the end of services when Reverend McCafferty commented, “It’s good to have our strays returned to the herd.”

“Reverend,” Mark spoke up. “If I may?”

Reverend McCafferty nodded. Mark walked to the front of the church, turned and faced the congregation.

“Most of you know that I’ve been away for a while. I’m not sure exactly what you were told, but I think it only right that you know the truth. The truth that I ran away. Ran away from my family, my obligations, and more importantly from the town I swore to help protect. I’m still coming to terms with my actions and how they not only affected me, but each and every person in this town. I stand in front of everyone to say that I’m sorry I failed you. I ask for your forgiveness, I promise, it won’t happen again.”

Mark walked back to his seat.

Reverend McCafferty allowed the silence to continue for a few moments, hoping that someone would speak up. When no one else did,

“Mark, you didn’t fail us. Nor did you fail yourself. If you had failed, as you think you did, you wouldn’t have come home, nor would you have stood up in front of this congregation. Not one of us present can understand all the pressures that were placed on you. Sometimes, it takes leaving those we care about the most behind, so that we can get closer to God and allow him to heal us. We’re glad you came home. And if you need someone else to talk with, our home is always open.”

Then turning to the rest of the congregation, “Stevan Griswald, I believe you have an announcement to make?”

Stevan stood and spoke, “As many of you are aware, Milly McCain has chosen to step down from her position as a full time teacher in order to devote herself to her family. But, if we need someone to tutor to any of the children, she’s agreed to help us. The town council and I have been reviewing resumes of likely candidates to replace Milly and we believe we have found one.”

The congregation started murmuring.

“Folks, rest assured, our new teacher will be welcomed warmly into North Fork and he won’t misunderstand any of our students, like I did upon my arrival. Folks, Percy Bullock will be the second teacher here in North Fork. Now we’ve corresponded with the university he’s been attending back east, and though he hasn’t completed all the requirements for graduation, he’s only lacking a few courses. The university has agreed that he can complete his studies and fulfill his testing obligations with me proctoring his tests. So I’d like everyone to welcome our newest teacher, Mr. Percy Bullock.”

Hearty congratulations were offered from those present. Shortly, services were complete and the town folks headed their respective ways.

*****

As Mark carried Joshua out, he stopped to congratulate Percy. “Never would have thought you’d come back and make North Fork your home. The way you always talked about Harvard and the big cities back east.”

“Well Father is still quite fond of the town and always writing of how he misses me. When I heard that Miss Milly would be stepping down, I thought it would be the perfect job for me. Besides, you didn’t do too shabby of a job in working as a student teacher. And I thought, if Mark McCain can do that, then I can be a teacher.” Before continuing, he opened the blanket and took a good peak at Mark’s son. “Mark, have you given any thought about returning and helping out at the school?”

“I won’t be returning to the school. That’s one of the things I got to thinking on, once I returned home. Pa and I agreed that I was just trying to do too much. Be everything to everybody. Now with me being a father, I realize that I needed to give something up. I talked with Ma and she spoke with Mr. Griswald when she and Pa were in town yesterday. But if your students ever get too rowdy, I have a sure fire way to bring them back under control.”

“Care to let me in on your secret? I seem to remember all the trouble you used to cause….”

“Yeah, it’s called me being a deputy; well I do need to talk with Micah and Johnny to make sure I still do have that job. Otherwise, I can put them to hard labor out on the ranch with Pa and me.”

“Good luck Mark!” Percy said as he shook Mark’s hand.

*****

As the rest of the McCain family left the church to walk to the hotel for lunch at the restaurant, Mark handed Joshua to Lucas and said, “I’ll be right back.” He called over to Micah and Johnny.

Lucas watched as they talked, then saw Micah motion for Mark to lead the way. They were heading to the Marshal’s Office.

“Micah, Johnny,” Mark said as he entered and removed his hat, waiting for them to take a seat.

“Have a seat, Mark,” Johnny said.

“No sir, not yet, at least. Pa always said that when an apology needed to be made, it should be made standing up. Shows respect to the person you’re apologizing too.”

“Apology Mark?” Micah asked.

“Yes sir. To you and Johnny, both. I’m sorry about my actions. You left North Fork as my responsibility and I ended up running away. I know you might not want me back as a deputy, but I did want you to know how sorry I am. You counted on me and…”

“Mark, I would say there’s no need for an apology, but I know that would be disrespectful towards you. But apologies go both ways.” Micah said as he stood to come around to the front of his desk. “Mark, Johnny and I been talking since your Pa said you returned. He didn’t tell us everything, but he did say you had a lot weighing you down. We got to thinking, with everything happening so quickly, no one had the chance to talk with you about your feelings in seeing the two of us shot. Then you headed out after Gannaway and ended up being wounded in the process. Then the night you returned, your boys were born. We should have asked you to step down for a while, too. Give you time to heal and time to deal with and come to terms everything that happened.”

“Micah, I…”

“Mark, you’ve been doing such a great job, that we forgot the fact that you are just coming a full grown man. Your hearts not hardened to the world like ours are. I spoke with Tom Benton and he’s agreed to not push the issue of you becoming a U.S. Marshal until after you turn twenty-one. More importantly, until after you think you’re ready. Johnny and I, well, we want you to know that your deputy badge will be waiting for you, when you’re ready to become our deputy again.”

“I appreciate that Micah, I really do.”

“We promised your Pa we wouldn’t push you to pick up the badge,” Johnny stated. “You finish healing and thinking, then you come back to town when you’re ready, and not until then.”

“If you don’t mind,” Mark stated. “I think I’d like to wear my badge starting today.”

Micah walked back to the other side of his desk, opened a drawer and pulled out Mark’s badge. Johnny stood, as Micah pinned the badge to Mark’s shirt.

“Looks just as good as ever on you boy,” Johnny stated.

“But, I’ll not have you stand duty for another week. And those are MY orders. You got some talking and understanding to do still. Now, let’s head on over to the restaurant,” Micah said. “Our families are waiting for us.”

As the three entered the restaurant, they saw their families sitting around one very large table. As each member turned and watched Mark enter, walking in between Micah and Johnny, everyone smiled as they saw the badge pinned to his shirt.

Everyone enjoyed a good lunch, good company, and good conversation. Afterwards, as Lucas was helping to load his family in the buckboard, Mark told him he’d be right back. Lucas watched as Mark ran after Hattie and Micah. He knew the conversation Mark was having, thanking them for caring for his family. Hattie gave one of her, “it was nothing” flourishes with her hands and then pulled Mark into a big hug. She pushed him back and then motioned for him to return to his family.

*****

Mark returned to stand his first shift as deputy. As he walked the streets of North Fork, most all the shop keepers came out and welcomed him back. The last stop of his rounds was the train station, he found Percy Bullock anxiously pacing back and forth, waiting.

“Percy, what’s wrong? Never seen you this nervous before.” Mark stated.

“Tessa and Mabra are coming in the train this morning,” Percy stated as he kept looking down the line.

“Tessa and Mabra?” Mark asked.

“Oh, yeah, uh, you see, uh… I, uh”

“Gee Percy, if I didn’t know you better… Why Percy, why didn’t you tell us you been a courting a young gal? But two of them?” Mark asked as he slapped Percy on the back.

“Well, it weren’t exactly courting, but now that they’re moving here, guess we could be courting. I mean, Tessa. Mabra is Tessa’s sister, she’s her legal guardian. So she has to come along.”

“Percy, I think you need to take a deep breath. Which one have you been seeing and which one’s the legal guardian?

“Not making much sense, am I? Anyway, I been seeing Tessa for almost a year, and she’s the legal guardian of her younger sister, Mabra. Their parents were on vacation a few years back, when the clipper ship they were sailing on went down in a storm. The girls were staying with friends at the time. Seeing as I’m going to be the new teacher in North Fork, I wired Tessa and asked if she’d join me. I got a room set up for them at the boarding house already. I just hope they like living here.”

“Percy, just coming this far to see you, must mean she’s something special. I’m sure they’ll enjoy living here.”

“Mark, do you have to head back to the Marshal’s Office right away? Can you stay until they arrive?” Percy asked, quite nervously.

“Sure Percy.”

They only had to wait a few more minutes before the train pulled up to the platform. Percy saw Tessa and Mabra step down from the train, he ran to greet them and get their bags. Mark watched as Percy escorted the sisters to where he stood.

Tessa was a very pretty young lady, with long blonde tresses. Her sister, Mabra, was pretty as well, but her hair wasn’t as blonde as her sisters. Regardless, one could see the family resemblance in their faces.

“Tessa and Mabra, I’d like to introduce you to one of my best friends, Deputy Mark McCain. Mark, this is Tessa O’Brien and her sister, Mabra, of Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

As pleasantries were exchanged, Mark heard a light British accent in both the girls’ voices. Afterwards, he helped Percy carry the girls’ luggage to the boarding house.

“Percy, Ladies, it was a pleasure, but I do need to return to the Marshal’s. I’ll see you around town,” Mark stated as he tipped his hand and left.

*****

Mark was about to enter the Marshal’s Office when Amos called his name. “Mark, I got a letter for you. Post marked from the U.S. Marshal’s Office in Denver.”

Mark accepted the letter and looked into the office, “Micah, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Take your time boy,” Micah replied as he stood and walked to the door. Watching as Mark walked across the street and went into the livery.

Nils wasn’t inside, so Mark climbed up into the hayloft before opening the envelope to read the letter.

“Dear Mark,

I’m glad to hear you returned home. I’m sorry that we put so much pressure on you to accept the badge. It’s just that we need men like you. I know I promised Marshal Torrance, we’d not pressure you into accepting the badge until after you turned twenty-one, but, you should know, you already are a U.S. Marshal. We never rescinded your designation from your trip to Romero. When and where you choose to wear the badge is your decision. We won’t make any official requests of you unless there is no other choice. However, you should look forward to receiving monthly briefings from the main office here in Denver.

I also understand congratulations are in order. Twins! What I wouldn’t have given to seen the look on your Pa’s face. I still can’t get over it, Grandpa Lucas!

God Bless,

Tom Benton

U.S. Marshal”

Mark had just finished re-reading the letter when he heard his Pa’s voice calling from the doorway.

“Up here Pa,” Mark called.

Lucas walked to the ladder and climbed up.

“Micah said you received a letter from Denver. Are you okay?”

“Yeah Pa. I’m fine.”

“Who was it from?”

“Your old friend Tom Benton. Seems I’m still considered a U.S. Marshal. Guess once a marshal, always a marshal.” Mark handed the letter to Lucas.

After finishing reading the letter, Lucas handed it back to Mark. “Do you need to talk?”

“No Pa, honestly, when Amos handed me the letter and said it was from Denver, I got all nervous and scared. But now, after reading the letter, I can accept the fact. I mean, if Marshal Benton or Marshal Barker were to show up tomorrow and need my help, as a U.S. Marshal, I’d gladly do it. It doesn’t scare me anymore.”

Mark folded the letter and put it in his back pocket as he stood and walked to the ladder.

“So what brought you to town?”

“Wanted Nils to sharpen the saw blades. You didn’t bring them to town with you yesterday.”

“Sorry, guess with it being my first day back on the job, I kinda forgot about them.”

“Ya think?”

Mark looked to his Pa, saw the gleam in his eyes and remembered back on some of the times when he was younger and he had forgot to do something his Pa had requested of him.

*****

Mark returned home, the next morning, after finishing his shift in town. After greeting his Ma and his wife, and then helping Hope feed the boys their bottles and changing them, he headed out to the range to help his Pa check the cattle. Mark crested the ridge when he saw his Pa arrive at a mud hole and saw a couple of their cows bogged down. He heeled Blue Boy’s flanks and ran him down the rise, pulling up next to Lucas.

Both had lariats in hand and set them sailing towards their respective cows. Then tied the lassoes around their saddle horns, they kneed their horses to start putting tension on the ropes to pull the cows out. Once both cows were out of the bog, Mark stepped down and walked to the cow he had roped and removed the lasso, then swatted the cow on the rump to get her moving. Then he walked to the cow his Pa had roped, removed the lasso and swatted that cow on the rump to get her moving as well. Evidently, the swat startled the cow and she threw her haunches right towards Mark, pushing him backwards into the mud bog, landing with the plop, before the cow ran away.

Laughingly, Lucas stated, “Well son, I’m glad it was you and not me.”

“Gee, Pa, you’re all heart,” Mark stated as he pulled himself up and tried to fling the mud off himself. “Well, guess I get to make a trip to the pond to clean me and my clothes up. You tell Ma and Hope, I’ll be home a little later?”

“Sure son, I’ll tell them,” Lucas stated, still laughing as he and Mark headed in different directions.

*****

Mark arrived at the pond and stripped his saddle from Blue Boy. “We’re going to be here for a little while Boy, no sense you keeping the saddle on.” He walked his horse over to the grassy area and hobbled him. Then Mark returned and pulled a rag from his saddle bag, wet it down and then wiped down his saddle; trying to get all the mud off it. Next, he sat down next to the pond, removing his hat and boots. Mark walked out into the pond and when the water was almost to his hips, he dove in, clothes and all. He treaded water for a few moments and saw the mud start to float away from his clothes. He dove under the water, swam a short distance and then broke surface. Mark swam towards the shore and when he got close enough he started walking out of the pond.

As he reached the bank, he heard the sounds of a horse approaching. Cautiously, he walked to his saddle and picked up his rifle. Soon, from the trees and bushes, he heard Hope call his name. He put his rifle back in its scabbard and walked over to Two-Bits and helped his wife down from the saddle.

“This is a surprise,” Mark stated as Hope turned to him.

“I thought so. Pa told us what happened and that you’d be here. They said they could watch the boys for a while to give us some time together,” Hope stated.

Mark removed Two-Bits saddle and then led the mare out to where he had Blue Boy hobbled and hobbled her too.

As Hope looked at Mark walking back towards her, she still saw the evidence of his mud bath. “Here, change into these and we can clean your clothes and then spend some time together.”

Mark took the clothes Hope handed him and held them up to look at. “And just what is this?”

“Mark, according to Miss Hattie, it’s the latest in swimsuits for men,” Hope stated as she started to undress, showing she was wearing the latest ladies swimsuit.

“I don’t know,” Mark stated. “It looks worse than that jacket Hattie tried to get Pa to buy for me.” Mark shivered and laughed at the memory. “We’re on McCain property, why do I need a swimsuit?”

“Because I bought it for you. Besides, you don’t know who just might happen along. Please Mark, for me?” Hope asked, with a coy look and smile on her face.

Mark carried the swimsuit and headed back into the pond, diving in and swimming. Mark unbuttoned his shirt and threw it back to the bank, next came his pants. Hope gathered his clothing, and watched as Mark pulled on the swimsuit. She walked into the pond and started scrubbing his clothes; until she was satisfied she got as much of the mud out as possible. Then she carried the clothes and hung them on a tree branch, to dry in the sun and breeze.

Hope returned to the pond and enjoyed swimming with and splashing water at her husband. They enjoyed treading water and kissing. They shared a wonderful few hours, without any worries or cares.

After finishing their swim, Hope returned to the shore and retrieved her clothes that she had hung on a tree branch and then headed to behind several large bushes to change. As she walked, she called to Mark that he had a fresh change of clothes in her saddle bag.

As Hope came out from behind the bushes, fully dressed, Mark started to ask, “If you brought me clean clothes, then why… Never mind, I enjoyed our afternoon together. Let me get changed.”

They saddled up their horses, “Come on, let’s go home,” Mark stated as he helped Hope get up in the saddle.

“Mark, I know you have a dream of a home for us, but I was wondering…”

“Go on.”

“Mark, your parents so much enjoy having us at the house, I was wondering, should we move the location of where you wanted to build? I share your dream in wanting our own home, but I don’t want to be too far from your parents. Why couldn’t we build our home right next to theirs? I mean there’s plenty of good flat land and it wouldn’t take any extra work to prepare the land so that we could build. Besides, I like the idea of having Ma so close by. Then, they could split our room into two bedrooms, one for Myra and one for Little Ted.”

“Guess I should try to discuss this with Pa again. If we really are going to build our own home, we probably should get it done before Micah retires. I know he’s wanting to step down. He’s leaving more and more of the work to Johnny and me.”

*****

After supper and the children were put to bed that night, Lucas, Milly, Mark and Hope sat out on the porch.

“Pa, Ma, Hope and I would like to talk with both of you about building our own home. Now I know both of you really want us to stay here, but it’s getting a little impractical. Hope and I talked on the way home this afternoon and we’ve agreed that we should change the location of where I originally wanted to build. We’d like to build just over there. Hope’s right. We both want to stay close to here, so you’ll be real close as the boy’s are growing up.” Mark hesitated; he looked back and forth from his Pa to his Ma. “I mean, you both should have your own bedroom and Gabby’s going to be three this winter and… Well, it just makes better sense.”

“You both have put a lot of thought into this?” Lucas asked.

“Yes sir,” Hope replied. “We want to live close, but both our families need their own places as they grow.”

“Hope, you’re not saying you’re expecting again?” Milly asked, quite concerned.

“No Ma, but that doesn’t mean in the future Mark and I won’t have more children and this would also give you and Pa room for more children, if the Good Lord sees fit,” Hope answered.

“Okay, but on one condition Mark, while your home is under construction, you’ll tell Micah and Johnny that you won’t be able to stand any shifts. We’ll do what’s needed here, at the ranch, but I’ll not have you burning both ends of the candle, so to speak.”

*****

When word got around that Mark and Hope were to start construction on a home of their own, many of the town’s folks and ranchers arrived at the lumber yard offering assistance. The women came along to feed and water the workers and tend to any ‘accidents or injuries’. All in all, the whole town was treating the home building just like a good old fashioned barn raising.

With everyone taking turns in helping, it only took three weeks to build their home. The two most difficult parts were building the fireplace and then setting the rafters and roof. The worst injuries were bashed thumbs and bruised egos from dropping lumber on one’s foot or some other part of their body.

Finally the day came when Mark carried Hope over the thresh hold, into their new home.

“Now Mrs. McCain, what do you think of your new home?” Mark asked as he set her down to her feet.

“It’s wonderful, just like Pa and Ma’s, but it’s ours. We just need to furnish it.”

“Well, while you feed the boys, Pa and I can move the cradles, our bed, the dressers, and the chest over here. So we just have to…” Mark said.

“Furnish everything else,” Hope stated as she stood to her tiptoes and kissed Mark.

“I’m sure Mrs. Donner has catalogs that we can order whatever it is you need to finish making this house, our home.”

“Mark, it’s already home. Where ever you and the boys are, is home for me.”

“So, are you two up to some company?” Lucas asked as he and Milly stood in the doorway.

“Only if you don’t expect me to serve you supper tonight. Seems we have a lot to purchase before we can properly ‘host’ any family get together,” Hope replied.

“Well,” Milly stated. “Let me offer you a house warming gift.” Milly handed the simply wrapped gift to Hope. She unwrapped the present to find a needlepoint, Home is Where the Heart Is, picture. Just like the one that hung in their old home. Only this one also had their names embroidered at the bottom.

“Ma, it’s beautiful. It’s perfect!” Hope exclaimed. She handed the picture to Mark and asked that he set it on the mantle to the fireplace.

Later that evening, after the twins were fed, changed, and put to bed, Mark asked, “Well Mrs. McCain, are you ready to go to sleep for the first time in your own home?” Mark bent over and picked Hope up and carried her to their bedroom.

*****

Mark and Hope spent the following afternoon at the general store ordering items to finish furnishing their home. Before they left, they purchased items that were in stock and loaded them in the buckboard for the trip home.

When they arrived home, Hattie and Micah were waiting for them on the front porch of their home. Both smiling as they watched Mark assist Hope down from the buckboard. Lucas and Milly exited their home, carrying Joshua and Zachariah.

“Mark and Hope, we didn’t think you’d mind if we brought over a housewarming gift for you. Your Pa and Ma said we could take it inside.”

Micah opened the door and allowed the McCain’s inside.

“Oh Hattie!” Hope squealed. “They’re beautiful! I love the curtains. Thank you so much!” Hope walked from window to window, admiring the fabric and the detail sewn into each curtain.

*****

Mark was starting his evening rounds when he encountered Percy, Tessa, and Mabra coming out of the Lou’s. Asking how the girls had settled into life in North Fork.

“Deputy, it’s such a quaint town,” Tessa stated. “I could really love living here.”

“Tessa, please, just call me Mark, you too Mabra.” Then talking to Mabra, “How are you enjoying school?”

“I like Mr. Griswald a lot. Just glad that Percy isn’t my teacher,” she answered as she looked over her shoulder. Percy, Tessa, and Mark laughed at her answer.

“I understand. I remember when Ma came to town and I’d heard she’d been a school teacher before.”

“Your Ma came to town?” Mabra asked, not understanding.

“Mabra!” Tessa exclaimed.

“It’s okay Tessa. See, Mabra, I lost my real Ma when I was six. Pa and Miss Milly used to see each other before she left town. Then she came back after, well, that’s a long story. Anyway they’ve been married for almost four years. So yeah, I can understand how you wouldn’t want someone you really knew to be your teacher. By the way, if you don’t have plans this weekend, Pa and Ma asked me to invite you out to the ranch for supper on Saturday.”

“Could we Percy?” Mabra excitedly asked. “Oh, please. I want to see a real working ranch.”

“Mabra, our ranch isn’t that all that exciting, not like Oat Jackford’s or Dave Merar’s, but it is home. Tell you what, you bring a change of clothes out and we’ll take you on a ride and show you some of the ranch. That is if your sister and Percy say it’s alright.”

“Oh, please sis. I’d give anything to go horseback riding. Please?” Mabra pleaded.

“Mark, if you’re sure she’ll be okay and it’s no trouble…” Tessa stated.

‘It’s no trouble. I’ll let Ma and Pa know you’ll all be out. Say around three o’clock? Good.” Mark said goodbye and tipped his hat, as he walked away. ”Oh, Percy, let your father know that he’s invited too.”

*****

Saturday morning, Lucas and Mark, and a few others waited at the train station. Some of the items they had ordered were arriving today. The heaviest was the stove for the kitchen and a wood burning stove for their bedroom.

They had just finished installing both of the stoves, just before their guests arrived Saturday afternoon. Mark suggested his Pa take everyone out for a ride to show them some of the ranch. Mark felt he probably should stay close to home and get some of his chores done. “About time Pa should have a little fun,” Mark commented as he watched Lucas ride out with Tessa on Two-Bits and Mabra on Blue Boy. Percy and his Father had brought their own riding horses.

Mark set to chopping wood, with Myra watching. “So Gabby, how do you enjoy sleeping in your own bedroom?”

“It big,” she answered and Mark laughed.

*****

By the time everyone returned to the house, Milly and Hope announced that supper would be ready after everyone tended to their horses and then got washed up.

Conversations ranged from school, to back east, to out riding for the afternoon, and the babies and Myra. The evening concluded with the McCain’s waving goodbye and then saying goodnight to each other.

*****

Not quite two weeks later, Mark was changing Zachariah when he noticed the first signs of the rash and red blotches over his son’s chest and back. He pulled Joshua from his cradle and checked him over to find he too and a rash on his chest and back.

“Hope, the boys have some kind of a rash, when did this start?” Mark called from the bedroom.

“They were fine earlier,” Hope replied as she stepped to the bedroom and checked over her sons.

“Should we take them to Doc Burrage?” Hope inquired.

“I don’t know.” Mark stated, worried.

There was a quick knock on the door before it opened and they heard Lucas call their names.

“In here Pa,” Mark replied.

“How are the twins?” Lucas asked.

“They both have a rash of some kind,” Hope answered.

“Thought as much. Little Ted and Myra do as well. I was in North Fork earlier today and heard there’s a small epidemic of chicken pox spreading around. I asked Doc about the boys being so young and how we should treat them. He suggested wrapping their hands so they can’t scratch themselves and create any sores. If it starts to turn into blisters, we’re to create an oatmeal paste and rub it over the rash area. The oatmeal will help reduce the itching. Just keep an eye on their temperature or if they get any diarrhea, then we need to get them to town.”

“How did they get it, they’ve not been in town for a few weeks?” Mark asked.

“There’s a new family that moved to North Fork a few weeks back and their children contracted it first, then spread it through the school. Percy said Mabra came down with it the other day, so I presume she was in the contagious and incubation stage when she was here,” Lucas stated.

“Hope, this is a normal childhood illness. Better to get it over with at an earlier age than later.” Lucas said as he saw the concerned look on Hope’s face.

“Pa, I’m sorry, I hadn’t heard anything about it,” Mark stated as he prepared to start wrapping the boys’ hands.

“Mark, it just started and there’s nothing to worry about. It’ll run its course in about a week. You want me to send Milly over?”

“No Pa,” Hope stated. “She’ll have her hands full with Myra and Little Ted.”

*****

Two days later, Hope woke to find Mark out working on chores. She didn’t feel well. She felt hot, nauseated, and she itched.

Mark entered their home carrying an armload of firewood, saw his wife leaning up against the doorframe from their bedroom, and realized immediately that something wasn’t right.

“Hope?” Mark called as he dropped the firewood in the wood bin then rushed to his wife. He collected her up in his arms as she said, “Mark, I don’t feel good.”

“Let’s get you back to bed.” Mark carried Hope back to bed. He could tell she was running a fever by how flushed her face looked and the heat he felt from her body as he carried her back to bed. Mark filled the pitcher with water and poured it into the basin, then wet a cloth and placed it over Hope’s forehead. As he rolled up her sleeves and checked over her arms and then unbuttoned the top of her nightgown, he saw the tale tell signs, Hope had contracted chicken pox.

“No Hope, you can’t scratch. You’ll make it worse,” Mark begged as he tried to keep her from scratching at her arms.

“It itches. I’m so hot.” Hope moaned.

“I know, but you need to keep under the blankets and please, don’t scratch.”

Mark removed the towel from Hope’s forehead and wet it again before replacing it.

“Hope, please just lie still and try to sleep. I’ll go take care of the boys.”

Mark left the bedroom and started to make the bottles for his sons. He heard them crying for the morning and then heard a thud from the bedroom. He ran in to find Hope lying on the floor.

“Hope! Please, you have to stay in bed,” Mark pleaded.

“Mark, the boys, I need to feed the boys,” Hope stated, before she started dry heaving. Mark supported Hope and tried to talk soothing words to her. Hope stopped drying heaving, but started shivering as Mark lifted her back to bed.

“Hope, just stay in bed. I can take care of the boys.” Mark said as he pulled the covers back over Hope. “Just stay put!” he pleaded as replaced the wet towel over Hope’s forehead.

By the time Mark got both bottles ready, both boys were really crying. He knelt at the head of their cradles and attempted to bottle feed both boys at the same time. Wishing he could keep them quiet enough that Hope would sleep. As he looked over to his wife, he noticed her scratching at her arms. Once the boys were finished with their bottles, Mark pulled out the first aid kit and began to wrap Hope’s hands into fists.

Next, Mark started changing the diapers for the boys. Noticing the rashes looked worse, Mark remembered the oatmeal. He was heating up some oatmeal to use to stop the itching when he heard a knock at the door. “Come in!” he called as he carried the pot to the sink and sat it in cold water to cool the oatmeal down before applying it.

“Mark, how are…” Milly started to ask.

“Ma, please! Pa’s got to get Doc Burrage. Hope’s got the chicken pox. She’s running a fever and she’s been dry heaving!”

Hearing the fear in Mark’s voice, Milly ran back to the barn and stopped Lucas just as he was heading out on Razor.

*****

It was several hours before Lucas returned with Doc Burrage. He immediately began examining Hope.

“Mark, Hope’s in a bad way. Chicken pox in adults is harder on the adults than it would be as a child contracting it. Most parents choose to expose their children, to get it over with.” Thadd stated.

“Doc, Hope spent six years with the Kiowa. I know there are a lot of white man diseases that the Indian don’t have any resistance to and it can be deadly to them. I don’t think the Indians would go out of their way to expose a child to a white man’s disease,” Lucas stated from the doorway.

“I forgot that part of Hope’s past. Mark, you did right in wrapping her hands and I see you already started the oatmeal paste. We need to keep her covered. She’s sweating from the fever, but if we don’t keep her blanketed, she could take a chill and that… Just keep her in bed and covered, Mark. We also need to keep her hydrated. Right now, the fever’s dehydrating her. Whenever she wakes; make her drink, plenty of water or even broth would help keep her strength up,” Thadd stated.

“But Doc, she’s already been heaving, what if she can’t keep it down?” worry was evident in Mark’s face and voice.

“Mark, we just have to keep trying. Keep the compress on her forehead; it will help with the headache that she’s probably experiencing too.”

Thadd stepped to examine Joshua and Zachariah. “Mark the boys look to be doing fine. Probably another three or four days and they should be over it. Be thankful they’re so young. It’s easier to keep the really young ones quiet so the disease can run its course.”

As Doc finished speaking, Hope threw back the covers and tried to get out of bed. Mark was able to stop her.

“The boys, I need to take care of my sons,” Hope pleaded.

“Hope, Doc is here, we can take care of them,” Mark stated as he pushed Hope back down in the bed.

“Doc?” Mark pleaded.

Doc came back to Hope and pulled out the thermometer and placed it in her mouth, waited a few minutes. “Too high. Mark, I really don’t want to, but in her condition, we need to keep her quiet and that means laudanum. Each time she wakes, give her one tablespoon full, but only after you make her drink some fluids. Hopefully by giving her the laudanum, she’ll sleep and keep the fluids down.”

Doc Burrage wiped his instruments down with alcohol before placing them back in his bag. “Mark, I’m sorry there’s really nothing more that can be done right now. We just have to let this run its course. If need be, put the oatmeal paste on thicker. But have Milly help you sponge bathe her daily before putting more on. Mark, I will let you know, her rash will probably change over to blisters soon, but if they start oozing puss, have your Pa come get me immediately!”

“Yes sir,” Mark said as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

For the next five days and nights, Mark got little sleep, between caring for his sons and his wife, but more importantly, worrying about Hope. He’d overheard Thadd talking to his parents in the front room. Medical literature indicated that adults could die from complications caused by the chicken pox virus.

Hope couldn’t keep anything down. The laudanum, milk, broth, water, it didn’t matter what they tried. Mark spent day and night tending to his family. He could see the fever wasting his wife away.

*****

Doc Burrage stopped by on the seventh day after the children had contracted the chicken pox. All four children were given a clean bill of health by Thadd. They still needed to be kept quiet, but the worst was over, for them. He checked Hope again, but kept his worries to himself. Right now, Hope’s recovery was between her and God.

“Mark, just keep doing what you’ve been doing. You’re doing everything right. This disease is more difficult on adults. I know I don’t need to suggest that you pray for her. I’m sure you’ve been praying every minute,” Thadd stated.

Mark nodded.

After Thadd left, Milly suggested in moving the twins to their place, in order to take some of the burden off Mark.

“Ma, no. They’re my sons. Others have taken care of my family when I should have been home, I’ll not have others take care of them while I’m here!” Mark demanded.

Lucas and Milly could both hear the worry and exhaustion in his voice. Lucas replied, “No Mark, this time it’s different. You’re wearing yourself out with worry.”

“You don’t think I can take care of my family?!” Mark demanded back, hurt.

“No Mark. No one thinks that, but we do think that you’re neglecting yourself in trying to take care of all three. Mark,” Lucas stated as he put a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “We are family and this is what family does, we help out when needed. You need to sleep and eat properly. Your Ma and I both know you’ve not done much of either since Hope took ill. It’s settled. You WILL eat and sleep and the twins will live with us until Hope’s recovered.

“If she does…” Mark quietly said.

“Mark?!” Milly exclaimed, shocked.

“I heard Doc Burrage talking to you the other day. I know there’s a chance. Pa, I’ve been praying to God to make her better. She just keeps getting worse. Pa, I…” Mark couldn’t continue, he broke down in tears. Through his crying Mark stated, “I can’t imagine life without her.”

For the next three days, Milly fixed meals for Mark and Lucas didn’t leave until he knew Mark had eaten every bite. There wasn’t much either of them could do about Mark not sleeping, but at least they could make sure he wasn’t going to waste away.

When Hope would wake, Mark still continued to try to get her to drink some water or warm broth, mixed with Laudanum. She’d become so weak that he had to help raise her head so she could drink. He set the glass to the side table and prepared to pick up the bucket, as was routine. This time, it was different. Hope laid back and fell asleep. Later that evening, Hope woke again. Mark offered her some broth and she drank a whole glassful. Soon, Hope was asleep again.

The following morning, Milly arrived to help Mark. Mark was so exhausted he didn’t hear Milly’s words at first. “Mark, the blisters, they’re looking different today.”

After Milly said her statement for the third time, Mark looked. They were different, they were drying up. Again, after bathing Hope, they applied the oatmeal paste to the blisters and then dressed Hope in a clean nightgown. As was Milly’s routine, she boiled the old nightgown in a large pot on the stove before taking it for laundering.

When Lucas returned with Mark’s lunch, he found a relieved sight; Mark was sleeping in his chair in the front room, a Bible on his chest. He set the tray on the front room table and then stepped to the bedroom door, and he saw Hope’s eyes open and saw her mouth, “Pa?”

Lucas walked into the bedroom, then whispered as he sat on the edge of the bed, “Hope how are you feeling?”

“Thirsty,” she quietly replied.

“There’s some broth warmed on the stove, would you like some?” Hope nodded.

Lucas helped his daughter-in-law drink the glass of broth and he laid her head back to the pillow.

“More?” she whispered.

Lucas finished holding a second glass for Hope when Milly entered the house and came to the bedroom. Saw Lucas setting the glass to the side table and saw Hope awake, and able to weakly smile.

“Milly, she’s drank two full glasses of broth. I think I’m going to ride into town and fetch Doc Burrage. Let Mark sleep himself out. We’ll wake him, if he’s not already awake, once Doc’s had a chance to examine Hope.”

“The twins?” Hope hoarsely whispered.

“There fine, no worse for wear. We took them to our place once they were recovered. Mark was wearing himself out taking care of the three of you,” Milly stated quietly.

“Mark?” Hope asked.

“He’s so exhausted; he finally fell asleep in the front room. Hope, he’s not left your side since you took ill.”

Hope closed her eyes and fell asleep. When next she woke, she saw Doc Burrage pulling his stethoscope from her chest.

“Good afternoon Hope,” Doc stated. “I’ve got good news. You’re finally getting over the chicken pox. You’re fever is gone and from what Lucas said, you’ve started keeping some broth down.”

“Could I have some more?” she asked.

Doc smiled and said “Sure.” Then turning to Milly, “Would you get her some broth?” Then back to Hope, “I want you to drink as much broth as you can over the next few days. You’ve been quite ill and it will take a while before you can eat solid foods again. The broth will start to help you get your strength back, but it’s going to take a few weeks before you’ll be able to get out of bed on your own. So while you are recovering, you will let Milly and Lucas tend to the twins and let Mark tend to you. That is if he decides to wake up,” Doc laughed as he placed his instruments back in his bag.

Milly asked Doc, “How are the other children in town doing?”

“The last few are recovering. Though school will still be closed for another week, just to give all the children time to completely recover,” Thadd stated.

*****

Milly had just closed the front door when Mark woke. Startled, he called, “Ma!”

“It’s alright Mark. Doc Burrage just left.”

“Doc Burrage?!” Mark jumped from his chair and started to the bedroom, only to be stopped by Lucas.

“Son, she’s okay. I brought your lunch over, found you sleeping, dead to the world. But Hope was awake and thirsty. I rode for the doctor. He said Hope was over the worst. Now, you go outside and wash up. I want you looking a little better than you currently do when you go in and see Hope. MY orders Mark.”

Mark obeyed his father. It also gave him a few moments to thank God for answering his prayers.

*****

Hope did recover and her recovery was helped along by the fact that when they felt she was strong enough, Milly brought the twins over so Hope could feed them their bottles. Then she’d watch them sleep throughout the day, until they woke for their next bottle. Of an evening, Milly and Lucas would take them to their home for the night.

*****

For the past week, Mark had felt comfortable enough to leave Hope to stand his daytime shifts at the Marshal’s Office, knowing Hope was out of danger and everything was going to be all right.

It was the third week since Doc said she was recovering and she hated just lying in bed. She pleaded for Mark to allow her to walk to the porch and sit in the chair and enjoy some fresh air. Mark finally gave into Hope. But he insisted in carrying her to the porch and sitting her in her rocker. Next, he carried one of their sons to Hope, then returned for his cradle and set it on the porch, then put their son in his cradle. Then he repeated it for their other son.

As Mark was chopping some wood, Myra ran over to Hope. He saw Hope pick Myra up and set her on her lap. The look in Hope’s eyes told Mark “NO! I can do this.” Mark smiled as he watched his sister and wife talking. He returned to his chore.

Next Step — The Arrivals

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

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