The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step...
Chapter 118 - Loss
Written by Deanne Bertram

Milly lay in their bed, resting back against Lucas and asked, “Lucas, how did you tell Mark about Santa Claus?”

Lucas remained quiet for a few moments, growing concerned, Milly turned to look at him, “Lucas?”

“I didn’t… After Margaret died… Well, we didn’t celebrate the holidays anymore; we were never in one place long enough. And, Margaret so loved them, that…it hurt just thinking about Christmas, so instead, we read passages from the bible. Once we settled in North Fork, we just continued to read from the bible on Christmas morning and that became our tradition. I never had the opportunity to need to tell Mark about Santa...”

“Lucas, I’m so sorry… I shouldn’t have asked…” as she leaned back against him.

“Milly, don’t be. As I’ve told you before, I’ll answer any question you want to ask about my past.” Lucas needed to squelch the regret he felt creeping inside, he took Milly by the shoulders, turned her around and pulled her close, and passionately kissed her. Milly understood the emotions behind Lucas’ passion and willingly gave into to his needs; she enjoyed the pleasures that marriage afforded a husband and wife.

“Happy Anniversary, Mrs. McCain,” Lucas whispered in his wife’s ear before he fell asleep with her in his arms.

*****

Lucas and Milly were dressing for the day when Milly asked, “When is Robert supposed to come with the documents?”

“He said he’d be out early in the week for our signatures and he’d file the official paperwork after the New Year.”

“When do we tell Robbie and Eloise?” inquired Milly.

“I was thinking it could be their final Christmas present this morning,” answered Lucas.

“I hope they love their Christmas present.”

Lucas walked up behind his wife, pulled her close, and kissed the back of her neck.

“Lucas McCain, if you want any breakfast…” she teased, as she worked to tie her hair into a ponytail.

“Yes, ma’am,” Lucas full-well understood her comment.

*****

The McCain families shared what started as a quiet Christmas together, as quiet as it could be with eight young children, but when Lucas and Milly informed Robbie and Eloise that their adoptions would be official after the New Year, it was difficult for any of the children to keep their excitement in check.

*****

Two days after Christmas, Robert Garrison rode to the McCain ranch, and a man and a woman followed behind him in a surrey.

Lucas stepped from the house calling, “Good Morning Robert.”

“Lucas, we need to talk… In private,” answered Robert, not quite as cordial. “Can you take the children over to Mark and Hope’s home?”

“Welcome Robert!” Milly happily called as she stepped to the porch. Wiping her hands on her apron, Milly sensed that something was amiss when she saw his expression.

“Milly,” Lucas stated. “Take the children over to Hope.”

*****

Milly re-entered her home and saw Robert and the strangers standing in front of the fireplace. She noticed the fashionable hat upon the woman’s head, as well as the stylish, well tailored clothing they both wore as they removed their coats.

“I don’t know exactly how to tell you…” Robert started to say as Milly took their coats and hung them on the coat rack behind the door. “Except to come right out and say it. This is Adam and Regina Weyrling, they’re Robbie and Eloise’s aunt and uncle.”

Milly gasped in understanding at what the introduction meant, she stepped closer to Lucas.

“Their aunt and uncle, I thought Martha said they didn’t have any relatives…” Lucas stated; his mind racing to how the children would react.

“Mr. McCain, Martha was my half-sister; we had the same father, but different mothers…” the woman started to explain. “Martha was ten years younger than me and we weren’t raised together…so she probably didn’t think she had any family.”

“Why now?” Milly asked, trying to keep emotion from her voice.

“Milly, Lucas, they came in response to the notices we placed in the newspapers. You knew there was a chance someone could claim relation…” Robert stated.

“But we placed those notices in the paper two months ago and it was a month ago we expected to receive a response,” Milly cried.

Lucas wrapped his arms around his wife.

“We only saw the notice in the newspaper a week ago and made immediate arrangements to travel here,” Mr. Weyrling stated. “Mr. Garrison has informed us of how you have cared for Robbie and Eloise. We appreciate all that you have done for the children, and would be willing to reimburse you for your troubles.”

“We didn’t do it for money!” exclaimed Milly as she turned to face the strangers who stood in her home. “Those children needed someone to love them, they sure weren’t getting enough at home! Why weren’t you sooner?!”

“We arrived as soon as we could. We just returned from a lecture series in England and I was catching up in reading some of the newspapers… I almost missed the notification,” replied Mr. Wyerling.

“Adam, Regina, please. Lucas, Milly, I think we should all take a seat,” Robert stated.

After everyone was seated, Mr. Wyerling asked, “How did Martha and Quinton die?”

“The report of the events surrounding Quinton and Martha’s deaths are on file at the Marshal’s Office, but you should know that it all started because Quinton had prevented the children from going to school for a whole week before that Monday,” Robert stated.

“They could have been sick,” Mrs. Weyrling offered.

“They could have been, but there were too many other times where Quinton refused the children schooling; and they had not called our town’s doctor out to their home. Quinton had a history of not making sure the children attended school. As a result, one of our teacher’s grew concerned and he insisted that one of our Marshals address the situation. The following Monday, our senior teacher, who is also holds a seat on our town council, rode out with the Marshal to your sister’s and the end result was that Quinton murdered his wife and wounded our school teacher, as well as the marshal,” Robert answered, thankful that Lucas and Milly were allowing him to do the talking.

“My God!” exclaimed Mrs. Weyrling, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Good heavens,” commented Mr. Weyrling.

“Robbie and Eloise have been treated as members of our family ever since…” Milly stated. “Our children already call them their brother and sister…”

“I know this is going to be difficult for the children, but we are blood relations…” Mrs. Weyrling answsered.

Mr. Weyrling added, “And we have the law on our side.”

“I don’t care about the law; I care about the children…” Milly stated. “You don’t know how much they’ve been looking forward to becoming members of our family.”

“That’s only because they didn’t know they had other options. I’m sure if they knew about us, they would gladly come with us from the start,” Mrs. Weyrling replied.

“But you weren’t here!” cried Milly.

“How can we be sure you are relatives?” asked Lucas.

“Lucas, Milly” Robert cautioned. “I’ve seen the paperwork and everything is in order.”

“Mr. Garrison,” Mrs. Weyrling stated. “You said, Quinton killed Martha, and wounded the others; how bad were the teacher and the marshal injured?”

“Mr. Griswald was on crutches for about a month while his leg healed and the marshal received a flesh wound to the arm,” Robert answered.

“And Quinton’s death?” Mr. Weyrling asked. “Marshal Drako killed him, I presume?”

“No, it was my son,” Lucas coldly replied.

“Your son…” interrupted Mrs. Weyrling. “They’re just children…” and she looked out the window towards the other house where Milly had taken the children.

“Our eldest son lives next door and is the U.S. Marshal for the territory,” Milly stoically answered.

Lucas continued, “He doesn’t relish taking any life, and tried not to in this case, but Trumble fired and the bullet struck my son as he fired to disarm him.”

“I’m sorry, but in regard to the children, you have to understand Robbie and Eloise will be cared for as if they were our own. We have three other children who are looking forward to meeting their younger cousins,” Mr. Weyrling stated.

“Cared for, they need love!” exclaimed Milly.

“Believe me,” Mrs. Weyrling replied. “They will be loved.”

“We were supposed to sign the adoption papers this week and they were to be filed after the New Year,” Milly stated, wanting these people just to go away.

Though the words he was about to speak, hurt, but Lucas knew he had to ask, “How soon are you wanting to take the children?”

“Lucas?!” cried Milly.

“Milly, if they didn’t have the law on their side, Robert wouldn’t be here.”

“We can stay only stay until Wednesday, we need to return home to New Orleans so I will have enough time to prepare to return to court on Monday,” Adam stated.

“Lucas, Milly, Mr. Weyrling is a judge back east,” Robert added.

“We’ll be able to provide a comfortable home for the children. Two more mouths to feed won’t be a burden to us,” Mr. Weyrling interrupted.

“You think Robbie and Eloise were a burden to us? They were loved! You think they’ll be more comfortable, just because you have money; the children have a comfortable home here! They’re not a burden! There’s more to being comfortable than having money!” exclaimed Milly at the insult she perceived.

“My husband didn’t mean to insult you, you have a lovely home, but you must understand, the children will be loved and we can provide better for them back home,” Mrs. Weyrling explained.

“Lucas, if you’d like, I’ll go get the children from Mark’s home,” offered Robert.

“No, I’ll inform them,” Lucas stood and headed to the front door of their home.

*****

Lucas took a deep breath before he knocked and opened the door, “Hope, I need to talk to Robbie and Eloise.”

Hope shooed the other children from around the table and into the bedrooms.

“Papa, Lucas, you don’t look happy,” Eloise stated as Lucas pulled a chair to sit at the table.

“You’re right, I’m not,” Lucas replied.

“Did we do something wrong?” asked Robbie.

“No, you didn’t do anything wrong. I just have some news that’s… It’s…” Lucas struggled with how to tell the children. “The couple who came with Mr. Garrison, they’re your aunt and uncle.”

“Pa?” queried Hope, knowing what Lucas’ statement meant.

“You know that we had to place notices in the papers back east, inquiring if you had any other family,” stated Lucas.

“Sure, you told us,” answered Robbie.

“It also meant that if you did have any other family, and if they were able, they would take you into their family.”

“Their family? We’re part of your family. You and Mama Milly are adopting us,” a confused Robbie stated.

“We wanted to, as long as no one else stepped forward.”

“You don’t want us no more?” Eloise asked, her lip quivered as tears started to form in her eyes.

“No, we want you, but the law says they’re blood relatives and you have to go with them.”

“The law? Tell Marshal Mark we want to stay here!” pleaded Robbie.

“It’s not Mark’s decision, I don’t even know if he knows.”

“Then tell him! He said he wanted me as a brother! He can’t go back on his word!” Robbie cried. He tried to run away, but Lucas restrained him. “No! I won’t go! You can’t make me go!”

Little Ted opened the bedroom and ran out, yelling, “You can’t let them take ‘em.”

“Little Ted, back inside, please,” begged Hope as she tried to usher him back into her sons’ bedroom.

“No! You can’t let them take Robbie!” Little Ted yelled louder.

“Theodore!” Lucas sternly called, stopping his son in his tracks by his tone of voice.

“Children, I’ve tried to explain this the best that I can. Now Robbie, Eloise, I’ll take you back to the house to meet your aunt and uncle, and you’ll show them the respect you’d give any other adult.”

“Yes sir,” Robbie answered, while Eloise nodded.

“Little Ted, we’ll talk when I come back,” stated Lucas.

Little Ted ran for the front door yelling, “NO!”

*****

Mark returned home Monday afternoon, earlier than planned, he had waited as Robert Garrison had asked. He tied Rainmaker to the hitching rail, meeting Milly on the porch.

“Robert told me the news,” stated an incredulous Mark. “He asked me to give him an hour before I came home.”

Milly could only answer by nodding her head, she knew if she said anything she would start crying again.

Mark walked over and pulled Milly into his arms and held her, “Ma, I’m so sorry. How did they take the news?”

Milly couldn’t answer she just shook her head. Both looked to Hope and Mark’s home when they heard Hope yell, “Little Ted!” and saw the boy running across the yard to the barn.

*****

Hope followed as Lucas led Robbie and Eloise into the home they had known for the past few months.

After listening to Hope tell what happened at the house, Mark followed Little Ted into the barn and was surprised to see he had saddled and bridled Cappy all by himself.

“What do you think you’re doing?” asked Mark.

“I’m not talking to you.”

“Why?”

“Pa said you wouldn’t stop them from taking Robbie away.”

“Little Ted, you have to understand, I have to follow the law and the law says that Robbie and Eloise have to go with their aunt and uncle.”

“I HATE YOU! GO AWAY!”

“Is that anyway to talk to me?” asked a sympathetic Mark, understanding the hurt his brother was feeling.

“You’re not my pa and you’re not my brother!” Little Ted angrily replied as he climbed into the saddle.

“No, I’m not our Pa and yes, I am your brother. And if I were you, I’d changed my attitude.” Mark’s tone indicated his disapproval for how his brother was behaving; he reached for the rein to prevent Little Ted from leaving.

“You’re not me! LET GO!” Little Ted slapped the ends of the reins across Mark’s face, kicked his horse into a gallop, and rode from the barn.

“TED!” Mark yelled as he ran out the barn behind his brother, ignoring the smarting of his cheek.

*****

Mark ran to Rainmaker and swung up into the saddle, pausing when he heard, “Mark!”

Wheeling his horse around Mark called, “Pa, it’s Little Ted, he raced Cappy out of here, heading North. He’s upset that I wouldn’t stop Mr. and Mrs. Weyrling from taking Robbie and Eloise.”

Lucas watched Mark race from the yard as he ran to the barn to hurriedly saddled Blade. Shaking her head, Milly watched as Hope return to her home and turned her attention to Lucas as he raced Blade from the barn, after two of his sons.

*****

To keep her children occupied and their minds off the news concerning Robbie and Eloise, Hope decided everyone should work on chores. Hope told the boys to climb the ladder to see if any of the chickens had laid eggs in the hayloft. She set Mykaela on the stool and told her to stay put. Hope allowed her mind to drift from her task of milking one of the cows, and was oblivious to the chicken fluttering down to get away from the boys. It landed on the cow’s spine, startling the animal. The cow kicked sideways, striking Hope in the abdomen. She screamed in shock at the strike and landed a few feet away from where she had sat; she curled into a fetal position, her arms wrapped around her stomach, crying from the pain.

*****

The twins ran to the edge of the loft as the chicken took flight, saw it land on the cow, heard the cow bawl and the chicken cackle, and then their Mama screamed as the cow kicked her.

“Mama!” the twins yelled as they ran for the ladder. Eli sat on the hayloft, scared and crying.

Zach tried to cradle Hope’s head in his lap, while Josh ran to get his Grandpa.

*****

“Mrs. McCain, I think it’s best if we head back to town,” Mrs. Weyrling suggested.

“Grandpa! Grandpa!” Josh yelled as he ran into his grandparents’ home.

“Josh? What’s wrong?” Milly asked as she stopped her grandson.

“We tried to be quiet,” Josh paused trying to catch his breath, “but we spooked the chicken and the cow hurt Mama!”

Josh waited for Milly to excuse herself from Robert and the strangers; he tried to follow as she ran from the house to the barn. The man restrained him from following his Grandma, “Wait here, son.”

“My Mama’s hurt!” Josh declared and tried to pull away from the grip the man had on his shoulder.

The strangers watched as Robert Garrison followed Milly out the door.

*****

Upon arriving in the barn and assessing the situation, Robert stated, “Milly, take the other children to your home, I’ll use the Weyrling’s surrey and we can take her to town.”

“Hope,” Milly called as she laid Hope back to the ground, “I need to get the children to the house. I’ll be right back and we’ll get you to town.”

Only a few minutes later, Robert carried Hope to the surrey, trying not to cause her any additional pain, and placed her so she rested against Milly. He ran behind the surrey, climbed in the seat, rein slapped the horse, and raced back to town.

*****

Lucas crested the rise to see Mark pulling a fighting Little Ted from the saddle; he urged Blade forward.

“Stop this right now!” Lucas heard Mark declare as the younger brother continued to struggle from Mark’s arms.

“I HATE YOU!”

“THEODORE!” Lucas declared upon arriving and jumping down from his horse.

“PUT ME DOWN!” Little Ted yelled, still kicking with his legs and striking out with his fists.

“Only when you stop fighting me,” replied Mark as Little Ted kicked out, catching Mark in the knee.

Lucas forcefully took Ted from Mark; giving him a shake before setting him to his feet.

“STOP THIS, RIGHT NOW!” declared Lucas.

“NO!”

Without relinquishing his grip, Lucas knelt in front of his crying son, “Ted, I know you’re hurting, but behaving like this isn’t the answer.”

“Then don’t let them take my brother!”

Mark knelt beside his brother, “Ted, they’re Robbie’s family.”

“It’s all your fault! You don’t want me to have another brother!”

“That’s not true,” Lucas answered before Mark could say anything.

“Ted, if the Weyrling’s hadn’t come, I’d love to have another brother. How would you feel if you were Robbie?” asked Mark.

“I’d want to stay here!”

“Yes, I’m sure he does, but that’s not what Mark meant. How do you think he feels knowing you ran out on him. That you couldn’t be happy for him to have an Aunt and an Uncle come all this way just for him and Eloise?” asked Lucas.

“Don’t you think we’re all hurting?” asked Mark. “I’ve looked forward to them becoming members of our family as long as you have.” Mark paused waiting to hear his brother say something. “Or are you the only one who’s allowed to hurt?”

“But you…” Little Ted tried to talk but his words were choked by tears and he reached up and wrapped his arms around his Pa’s neck and buried his face in his Pa’s shoulder.

“I don’t want them to go,” Little Ted whimpered.

“I don’t either. But they are Robbie and Eloise’s family, just like we’re family. Would you want someone else to keep you away from your family?” asked Mark, placing a hand to his brother’s shoulder and rubbing his back.

“Son, it may not be the best for us, but it is the best for Robbie and Eloise,” Lucas stated as he stood to his feet, carrying his son. “Can you be happy for them to have real family?”

Sniffling and wiping his running nose with the back of his sleeve, Little Ted replied, “I guess so.”

“Little Ted, you’ll have to be brave. Let Robbie know that you’re happy for him. Can you do that?” asked Lucas.

Little Ted nodded.

Holding Blade steady so Lucas could mount while still holding his son, Mark choked back his own tears.

After mounting Rainmaker, Mark reached for Cappy’s reins and rode for home next to Lucas.

*****

Seth and Lilah sat with Milly as they waited for news on Hope.

Aaron exited the examination room and quietly announced, “She’s in a lot of pain.”

“Can we see her?” Lilah asked.

“Not yet, Thadd’s still examining her. Do you know where the Marshal is? I think he should be here.”

“He’s out with Lucas,” Milly replied.

“Is Hope going to be okay?” a worried Seth asked.

“I hope so. We want to keep her here for a while longer, to keep an eye on her. We need to evaluate the cause of her pain,” Aaron answered.

“From taking a tumble?” Lilah asked.

“Mrs. Lane, it not that simple, a cow’s kick can be powerful. We’re concerned about possible internal injuries from the blow; it would be best to keep her here, under observation, until we know for certain,” Aaron stated.

“You’re saying she might require…surgery?” Milly asked.

“I pray not, but you have to understand our concerns, we won’t know for a while if there was any damage inflicted internally,” Thadd stated as he stepped from the examination room. “It’s going to be a while before we know, why don’t you go to the hotel; I’ll send Abigail or Sarah for you, if it comes to that.”

*****

Over the course of the next hour, Hope’s appearance grew paler and the pain increased in intensity. Aaron and Thadd examined Hope again and couldn’t help but notice the deepening bruise to her abdomen. Thadd gently pressed on the bruised area, noted it was hardening and Hope couldn’t help but cry out from the pain.

“This isn’t just a bruise, is it? You think she’s bleeding internally,” Aaron whispered.

“I’m sure of it, we can’t wait any longer for Mark to arrive,” Thadd replied. “Sarah, please prep Hope for surgery, I’ll go inform her family.”

*****

Mark and Lucas return home with Little Ted, only to find Mr. and Mrs. Weyrling watching all the children.

“Mr. McCain, there’s been an accident…” the woman started to say as she stepped to the porch.

“An accident?” Mark asked.

“Robert drove the women to town…” Mr. Weyrling stated as he stood beside his wife.

“Who’s hurt,” demanded Lucas, dreading the answer as a coldness settled in the pit of his stomach.

“The younger Mrs. McCain,” Mrs. Weyrling answered.

“Without waiting to hear any more, Mark dropped Cappy’s reins and whirled his horse around and raced Rainmaker to North Fork.

Watching his son race away, Lucas asked, “What happened?”

“Grandpa!” Josh and Zach called as they stepped to the porch.

Lucas stepped from Blade, leaving Little Ted sitting in the saddle, he hugged his grandsons.

“The cow kicked Mama,” Josh stated, tears still streaking his face.

“We didn’t mean to startle the chicken, Mama sent us up to the hayloft to look for eggs,” Zach replied, having been crying as well.

“We tried to be quiet,” Josh answered, as he tried to be brave.

“Mr. McCain, if you’d like, I’ll take the horses to the barn, and you can be with the children, I think it would be best for them to be with family,” Adam offered.

“Go away! It’s all your fault!” Little Ted declared.

“Theodore!” Lucas reprimanded.

“None of this would of happened if they hadn’t come!”

“We’ve talked about this already! To your bedroom, NOW!” Lucas ordered. “You will not be disrespectful to guests while they are in our home.”

“Then it’s not my home!” Little Ted jumped from the saddle and ran to the barn.

“Mr. Weyrling, Mrs. Weyrling, I’m sorry for my son’s behavior,” Lucas begged to apologize.

“No Mr. McCain, in a way, your son is right. I think its best we return to town, as soon as Mr. Garrison returns with our surrey.”

As they spoke a small cloud of dust appeared on the horizon, as they watched the surrey came closer.

“Nils?” Lucas asked.

“Lucas, Robert asked me to come back and get the Weyrlings,” Nils answered, turning to the couple stepping to the porch, “Sorry, I didn’t get back sooner, but I had to change out the horse and…”

“Mr. McCain, we will expect the children in town tomorrow so we may leave on the Wednesday train,” Mr. Weyrling stated as he escorted his wife to the surrey.

*****

Sarah McCafferty prepped Hope for surgery and administered the ether as instructed. A few minutes later, she silently watched as Thadd made the first incision through Hope’s skin. Aaron worked to wipe away the darkened blood that seeped from the incision as Thadd cut deeper. In time, the incision revealed the origination of the loss of blood; feverishly the two physicians worked to stem the flow of blood and repair the damage done.

Aaron was first to see it, “Thadd, her liver…”

“I see it; looks like bottom section of the lower lobe is lacerated. Damn…”

“What do we do? I mean…” Aaron stated.

“I think its best to remove the lacerated section to prevent any necrosis and hopefully, if I suture the rest of it closed, maybe it will heal and still properly function.”

“The rest of the liver does appear to be healthy,” answered Aaron. “I wish we could study the internal working of the human body in more detail.”

“Maybe someday there will be a way to do it, but right now, we best focus on saving Hope’s life.”

“Yes, doctor,” Aaron stated as he followed the instructions given to him by Thadd.

The two doctors worked to remove the damaged section of Hope’s liver and suture the remaining portion. With as much attention as they could give, they examined the other internal organs near the liver to make sure there was no further damage. An hour and a half after the surgery started, Aaron cut the thread of the last suture to close the incision Thadd had made.

“How’s is Hope’s respiration?” Thadd asked as he stepped to the head of the table where Sarah was removing the ether mask from Hope’s face.

“She’s breathing shallow, but it is steady and regular.”

“Thadd, her pulse is strong,” Aaron added as he placed Hope’s arm back to her side, having lifted it to take her pulse.

Abigail entered the room and operated the sink pump to allow her husband and Aaron to wash their hands and arms. Afterwards, she helped Sarah clean up the inevitable mess that had been made during the surgery.

“Let’s move her to the resting room at the end of the hallway,” Aaron stated.

Having settled their patient in her new room, the two doctors headed to the hotel to talk with her family.

*****

Mark arrived at the clinic and pleaded with Abigail to tell him what was wrong with Hope.

“Mark, I wasn’t here when they brought Hope in, I’ve been taking care of other patients while they’re performing surgery.”

“Surgery?” cried Mark. “Why?”

“Mark, please… Milly, Lilah, and Seth are over at the hotel. Go to the hotel. We’ll come get you when she’s out of surgery.”

Mark entered the hotel to be greeted by Lou, “Come along Mark, yer family is in the kitchen.”

Lou escorted Mark to the back of the hotel. Milly stood and hugged Mark as he entered. Lou walked to the stove and picked up the coffee pot, grabbed another coffee cup and filled it for Mark, before she refilled other’s.

“Ma, what happened?” Mark asked.

“The boys said the cow kicked her. It caught her in the abdomen,” answered Seth when Milly couldn’t bring herself to explain. “The Thadd thinks she might be bleeding internally.”

Seth placed a chair behind Mark as his knees buckled.

*****

“Milly, I’ll have Nils hitch our surrey and I’ll drive you back home. I’m sure Lucas is frantic to hear any news,” Seth stated as he placed a hand under Milly’s arm to help her to her feet.

“Mark?” pleaded Milly.

“Ma, please… Go home with Seth, and I’d appreciate it you could take care of…”

“Mark, you don’t have to ask…” Milly replied as she and Seth left the kitchen.

“Mark, can I refresh your cup of coffee?” Lilah asked.

“Lilah, thanks, but no sense call of us sitting here worrying,” replied Mark without thinking.

“Mark, she’s my daughter and you’re my son-in-law. I’ll stay here with you. You don’t need to be alone at a time like this,” replied Lilah.

*****

Lilah made herself busy around the kitchen by helping Lou and her cook fix supper for the hotel guests; she set a plate of steak and fried potatoes in front of Mark.

“I’m not hungry,” Mark answered, pushing the plate aside.

“Lilah put food in front of ye young man and ye will eat it. I’ll not see food served in my restaurant go to waste!” Lou stated and humpf’d, crossing her arms.

Mark looked to Lou, knowing he best eat something. Fifteen minutes later, Mark pushed the plate aside and wiped his mouth.

“Not hungry, huh?” Lilah asked.

“Guess I was…”

*****

The sun had set by the time Thadd and Aaron entered the kitchen to get Mark.

“Mark,” Thadd called quietly.

“Doc?”

“She’s out of surgery and should be waking soon.”

Mark followed Thadd out the hotel, across the street, and down the boardwalk to the clinic, while Aaron stayed behind and spoke with Lilah.

*****

Mark stopped in the doorway as he looked upon his sleeping wife.

“Thadd, will she?”

“In a few days she’ll be up and around, but it will take a few weeks until she’s fully recovered,” answered Thadd.

“What happened?”

“The kick lacerated her liver… Mark, if we hadn’t performed surgery, she would have bled to death. We had no choice but to start surgery without your consent.”

“If it saved her life, you didn’t need my consent,” answered Mark. “Can I stay with her?”

“Sure, just try not to jostle her when you sit on the bed beside her.”

Thadd left the room, closing the door behind him.

Mark slipped off his boots and quietly set them to the floor, before climbing onto the bed and lying down on his side next to his wife, on top of the sheet. He took her hand in his, placing a kiss to it and waited.

An hour had passed when Mark roused, realizing he had fallen asleep, he heard Hope whimpering.

“I’m right here Hope.”

He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and watched as her eyes fluttered, and stilled.

“I’m right here beside you, always and forever.”

“Mark?” Hope breathily whispered.

“Who else?” he teased as relief swept through him. “How are you feeling?”

“I hurt,” she quietly answered.

“I’ll be right back, I’ll get Doc,” Mark stated as he swung his legs over the bed and sat up.

“I’m right here Mark. I was coming to check in on her.”

Mark watched as Doc twisted off the top to the bottle he carried, measured out some of it’s contents and mixed it with a glass of water he picked up from the side table.

“Here Mark,” Thadd handed the glass to Mark. “Make sure she drinks it all. I mixed some laudanum in the water to help alleviate the pain.”

Holding Hope’s head, Mark placed the glass to her lips and encouraged her to drink.

Thadd smiled when Mark handed him back the empty glass.

“She’ll still be groggy for the rest of the night, but that should clear up in the morning by the time I come back to examine her. If you need anything, just come get me from the office.”

*****

Mark woke to a rooster crowing in the distance and the door to the room opening, “Morning Mark,” Thadd stated. “How’s our patient?”

“I guess we both slept through the night.”

“Mark, if you wouldn’t mind stepping out into the hallway so I can examine Hope?”

*****

Ten minutes later Thadd exited the room, “She woke while I was examining her. She’ll be in pain for a while yet, and I’ve given her some pain medication that won’t make her as sleepy, but if she wants to sleep, it would be for the best. We’ll plan to get her on her feet tomorrow.”

“So soon?” asked Mark.

“It will be for the best to get her up and about. Just a few steps here and there. Mark, you’ll be right beside her, and Aaron and I will be right here with you.”

*****

Late Tuesday afternoon, Lucas returned to North Fork and escorted Robbie and Eloise to the entrance of hotel.

“I expect both of you to behave yourselves and show the Weyrlings that you have proper manners,” Lucas stated.

“You won’t forget us, will you?” Robbie asked, trying to be brave.

“Do we have to go?” Eloise asked.

“We won’t forget you. And yes, the law says you have to go with your aunt and uncle,” replied Lucas.

The Weyrlings met Lucas in the lobby, smiling they greeted Robbie and Eloise.

“Thank you for taking us in, Mr. and Mrs. Weyrling,” Robbie answered.

“No need to be so formal, we’re family, you may call us Uncle Adam, Aunt Regina,” Mrs. Werling stated.

“Yes, ma’am,” replied Robbie.

“My, you’re a very pretty young lady, with a very pretty bonnet,” Mrs. Weyrling stated as she knelt in front of Eloise and began to untie her niece’s bonnet.

Eloise stepped closer to Robbie and held tighter to her doll, but didn’t speak.

“Do you not speak when spoken to?” Mr. Weyrling asked, his tone indicated he was not amused.

“Judge Weyrling, she didn’t speak for over a week when she first came to live with us,” Lucas answered. “Give her time to adjust, this is traumatic for her.”

“Adam, please…” Mrs. Weyrling stated, more accepting of the child’s behavior.

He nodded, “Thank you for bringing them to town. We’re scheduled on the eleven o’clock train tomorrow morning.”

Mrs. Weyrling ushered the children upstairs. Lou rushed into the kitchen to keep anyone else from seeing her tears as she watched events unfold.

“Mr. McCain,” Mr. Weyrling called as Lucas started to leave.

“Judge Weyrling?” Lucas replied.

“I wanted to let you know, there will be no formal charges brought against your son for his part in the death of Quinton Trumble.”

“Formal charges? Why you…” Lucas came close to losing his temper.

“Mr. McCain,” Judge Weyrling interrupted. “I spoke with Marshal Drako, as well as Mr. Griswald. I would be remiss in my job as a judge had I not fully reviewed the facts of the case.”

“You have no jurisdiction in this territory. How much trouble did you hope to stir up?” Lucas asked, as he stepped closer to the judge, the difference in the two men’s height was more apparent.

“None, I just wanted to make sure there was nothing amiss in what happened. I mean, your son killed the children’s parents and you take them in? Anyhow, the reports are accurate enough and enough differences in how the reports were written that I’m relieved that everyone gave their individual account, and weren’t repeating something they were told to say.”

“You would sink so low as to try to stir up trouble, just to ensure you took custody of the children?” Lucas insinuated.

“Mr. McCain, when I returned to town Monday, that was a small part of my wanting to review the case, but after reading the reports and talking with the others involved, I probably asked more questions than I should have, but…”

“But what?” a disgusted Lucas asked.

“After talking with others around town, I wanted to make sure I understood all the facts so that I could talk with Robbie and Eloise when they’re older. I’m sure they will have questions…children always do. I understand there was no malice in the actions your oldest son took.”

“My son bears no malice against anyone. He does his job, by the book!” Lucas boldly stated as he jabbed his index finger into Judge Weyrling’s chest.

“I know sir.” He averted his eyes for a moment. “In talking with people of this town, I realized Quinton had set his actions in motions a long time ago. Your son acted in the only possible way that Quinton left open for him. You know, from what others say, you eldest isn’t exactly the way I envisioned a lawman out here. In fact, what I wouldn’t give to see him in Washington some day; a person of his character is refreshing. I hope you’ll accept my hand as a thank you for taking in the children and providing them a comfortable family life and as an apology for my original intentions,” said Judge Weyrling as he offered his hand.

Lucas stood back, surprised at the turn of words; he accepted the offer and shook hands.

“Regina and I will keep your family and the younger Mrs. McCain in our prayers.”

Judge Weyrling turned and proceeded upstairs to be with his family.

*****

The following morning, Lucas and Milly returned to town with all the McCain children and watched as Judge and Mrs. Weyrling left on the train with Robbie and Eloise. As they tried to comfort the crying children, they didn’t see Ethan Lane step from the train.

Wearing civilian attire, Ethan headed straight to his father’s home, eager of the news he bore.

*****

“They can’t do this! I retired!” Seth yelled to his son as he crumpled the letter in his hand.

“Father, I know you retired. But these orders are direct from Washington. When I learned about the orders, I requested to be the one to give you the news; I thought you’d be happy to know you’re needed.”

“Why am I needed, we’re not a war!” declared Seth.

“Father, its taken time, and the army has calmed the settlers near Fort Wingate over the uprising of the Navajo nation and we’ve helped the Arizona troops quell the trouble with the Hopis, but there are still people on both sides who are bitter. The garrison is crumbling from faulty leadership, we have a temporary command in place, but they’re not ready for this assignment full time. If the right person doesn’t lead the troops, another bloody Indian uprising can, and I fear, will happen. We need someone of strong character and someone the men will respect to take command.”

“Then let them send you!” demanded Seth.

“They already are, I’ll be your Lieutenant Colonel, reporting directly to you, Colonel,” Ethan proudly saluted. “Father, you have no choice. These orders are signed by the President…”

Lilah entered the parlor and offered a greeting only to see Seth storm from his home declaring, “President, be damned!”

“Ethan?” Lilah asked.

“I know father would prefer to inform you,” replied Ethan as he turned and walked after Seth.

*****

The McCains stepped from the train depot and headed towards their buckboard.

“Mama, can we go see Hope?” Myra asked, not wanting to go home an empty bedroom.

Milly answered her daughter, “We’ll need to check with Mark to make sure it isn’t too soon after her accident.”

“Weren’t no accident, those people came on purpose!” Little Ted stubbornly answered.

“Theodore!” Milly demanded as she grabbed her son’s arm.

“I don’t want to be here,” Little Ted hollered and tried to pull away. “I don’t wanna go!”

“Young man,” Lucas sternly voiced. “You will stop this attitude. With the way you’re behaving I don’t think Hope would appreciate you visiting her.”

“Then let me go home!” replied Little Ted.

“No! You know you’re too young to ride home on your own,” ordered Lucas.

“Then let me go to Papaw Micah’s.”

“You will stay with us,” ordered Lucas.

*****

Ethan followed Seth to Sweeney’s, motioning that he’d have what his father was having. Sweeney poured a glass of beer and delivered it to the table where the two men sat.

“They can’t do this to me,” Seth stated as his son sat down.

“Father, they can and they have. Whether you remember or not, any soldier can be recalled, if the circumstances warrant their expertise.”

“They’ve not given me enough time!” Seth declared as he again lost his temper.

“Father, when you retired, you didn’t even take a week to move to North Fork.”

“I wasn’t married back then, and only had two grandchildren. Besides, North Fork still needs a second Marshal. Mark’s not going to be in any condition to stand his watch for a while.”

“What happened to Mark?”

“Not Mark, Hope. She barely survived surgery two days ago, and you show up today…”

“Father, I didn’t know Hope had surgery, what happened?”

“Damn cow kicked her. Mark’s going to need to stay home to help take care of their children until Hope can get on her feet, and that means I’m needed here, standing watch.”

“I’m sure Hope will be on her feet by the end of January, it’s still a month away.”

“What will I tell my grandchildren?”

“Father, what do you want me to tell my children? Like I said, I’m being reassigned too; Annie and the children are coming with me.”

*****

Mark stepped from the room when Sarah had informed him that his family was in the waiting room. He eagerly knelt down to hug his sons and daughter, telling them that their Mama was going to be okay. As he took his youngest daughter from Milly, he noticed is brother sitting in one of the chairs, arms crossed, looking upset.

“The children would like to see Hope and wish her a speedy recovery,” Milly offered as she hugged Mark.

“I’m sorry. She not ready to see anyone, just yet,” answered Mark.

“You mean she doesn’t want to see me,” Little Ted pouted.

“That’s not what I said, Little Ted,” Mark couldn’t keep the tiredness from his voice. But to Little Ted, he sounded upset.

“You mad at me, too.”

“Ted, I’m not mad at you or anybody. Hope’s in a lot of pain, and I’m just tired,” Mark stated as an apology.

“Mark, I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have brought the children…” Milly offered.

“No, I need to see them. Have you had lunch?” asked Mark, his spirits a little brighter. “Doc said she’d be asleep for a while longer, we got her up from bed this morning and had her walk the hallway, it exhausted her.”

“I’m not hungry,” pouted Little Ted.

“Young man!” Lucas’ voice warned.

“What happened?” Mark asked.

“The Weyrlings left with Robbie and Eloise today,” Lucas replied.

“Pa… I forgot all about. I…”

“You’ve a lot on your mind,” stated Milly as she took Faith back into her arms. “Come on, we can at least see that you eat a good meal.”

Mark and his family headed to the hotel restaurant.

*****

That evening, Seth returned to the Marshal’s Office.

“Have you told Hope and Mark?” asked Johnny after Seth informed him of the orders he had received from Washington.

“Haven’t had the heart; Hope’s still recovering from surgery. I don’t know what to do. Hope and the grandchildren are so much a part of my life now…”

“Seth, you have other grandchildren, Ethan and Annie’s.”

“That’s what Ethan stated; he’s being promoted and reassigned to be my second in command.”

“Seth, you’ll be a lot closer to North Fork at Fort Wingate than they were at Fort Stanton.”

“That’s not the point, I retired.”

“Seth, you can take the man from the army, but you can’t take the army from the man; that’s why you made such a great deputy. It’ll be hard to replace you. When do you have to report?”

“No later than the end of January.”

“Has Ethan been to see Hope since he arrived?” Drako asked.

“No, didn’t want to intrude. Guess my attitude didn’t help any.”

“Seth, why don’t you and Ethan spend a little time visiting with Hope. I’m sure by his being here, Mark and Hope will want to know why. You won’t have to figure out a way to tell them.” When Seth didn’t reply, Johnny continued, “You know the longer you put off telling them, the harder it will become.”

“It just doesn’t seem right to burden them now…” Seth debated.

“When will it seem the right time? When you’re boarding the train?”

“That’s not fair!”

“Tell them.”

The Next Step — The Goodbye

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

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