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The Next Step…
Chapter 22 - New Year's Eve
Written by Deanne Bertram

Mark had asked his parents for permission for Hope to spend New Year’s with them, again, he’d sleep on a cot in the front room. He planned a special dinner for her. With Milly so close to her time, Mark and Lucas insisted that she take it easy, while Mark fixed dinner, Lucas, Seth, and Ethan tended to the chores around the barn, and Hope and Milly chatted in the front room.

While eating dinner, Mark started to daydream, about what it would be like once he and Hope were married. He knew it would take time to build their own home and until they were older, his parents insisted that they live in the home. Mark cleared the table and brought out desert. He served his Ma first and then his Pa, Seth, and Ethan. Then he brought Hope’s, but on her slice of apple pie was a candle, and around the candle was a ring. Mark knelt as he handed Hope her pie.

“Hope, tonight is the end of this year and tomorrow starts a new year. A new year that I hope will see you as my wife. Hope, in front of our families, I’m asking for your hand in marriage. Will you agree to be my wife?”

Hope looked into Mark’s eyes and then looked into the faces of their family around the table, before her eyes returned to Mark. She nodded and said “Yes.” Mark removed the candle and picked up the ring and placed it on the ring finger of her left hand. He quickly gave her a kiss, then went to get his piece of pie.

*****

Lucas had noticed how uncomfortable Milly had been during dinner. And knew why she had kept quiet, she knew tonight was a special night for their son. After he bid goodnight to the Lane’s, he insisted that Milly immediately get to bed and rest. Hope, Mark, and Lucas sat up for a while and read, Lucas from the bible, Hope from her studies, and Mark, another book from Johnny. Later, Lucas watched as Mark stood at the door to his bedroom and kissed Hope goodnight. Mark closed the door and returned to the cot in the front room.

“Mark, I hope you’re ready for the life that awaits you tomorrow.”

“Pa, it’s going to be the start of something wonderful,” Mark answered.

Lucas and Mark walked to the barn to tend to the horses for the final time that night. As they left the house, snow was starting to fall. They were just about finished when Hope came running in, barefoot and without a coat.

“Hope, what are you doing? You’ll catch your death coming out like this,” Mark yelled as he removed his coat and wrapped it around her.

“Mark, it’s your Ma. Mr. McCain, please, it’s the baby,” Hope cried.

The three ran back to the house and heard Milly screaming as they entered. Lucas went to his bedroom. A few minutes later he came out and ordered Mark to go fetch Doc Burrage.

Mark ran to the barn and quickly saddled Blue Boy, he raced into town as the snow fell harder. He jumped off Blue Boy in front of Doc’s, pounding on the door as he yelled for Doc Burrage and received no answer. A neighbor opened their door hearing the commotion.

“Mark, Mark McCain, what’s the matter?”

“Do you know where Doc Burrage is?

“I think both were spending the evening out at Judge Tanner’s place over in Marionette.”

“Marionette?”

“Mark, where’s your coat? It’s snowing out here!”

“No time, Ma’s having the baby!” Mark jumped on Blue Boy and headed to Marionette.

*****

The night drew on as Lucas and Hope tended to Milly and her contractions. Lucas became increasingly worried when he realized the time and how long Mark had been gone.

The sun was well up and Milly’s contractions had become closer and closer when Lucas heard the sound of a horse and buggy arriving. He opened the door to see young Doc Burrage climbing from the buggy and walking to the house.

“Lucas, how is she?”

“Doc, it’s too soon. The baby isn’t due for another couple of weeks. She’s been in labor all night.” Lucas showed Thadd to the bedroom, but was stopped from entering as Hope shut the door in front of him. Lucas paced. He prayed at every one of Milly’s screams. He was unaware of how much time elapsed when he heard the sounds of a baby crying. Finally the door opened and Doc stepped out.

“Lucas congratulations, you have a fine, healthy baby. Give us a few minutes to clean up and then you can come in and see Milly and meet your daughter.”

Hope led Lucas into the bedroom, he climbed up on the bed and sat beside Milly and put his arm around her shoulder. He watched as his daughter suckled from her mother’s breast. Lucas kissed Milly on the forehead and said, “I love you Milly.”

“You know, Mark was right, today is the start of something beautiful,” Lucas rested his cheek on Milly’s head.

As Doc was putting his instruments away, he asked Lucas if he could have a word with him in the front room. From the look on his face, Lucas followed him.

“Lucas, Uncle Jay and I were at Judge Tanner’s place over in Marionette last night. Mark arrived, half frozen, we barely understood him, but heard enough to know Milly was giving birth.”

It was then that Lucas noticed Mark’s winter jacket hanging on the back of the chair by the table.

“Doc…”

“Lucas, as I said Uncle Jay was there. Before I left, they were warming hot water to submerge him in a bath. Milly and the baby will be fine, even though she is a couple weeks premature. I’m going to head on back to Marionette and see what help I can be. Lucas, I’m sorry to bear such news to you.”

“Thanks Doc, just take care of my boy.”

Lucas showed Doc to his buggy and then returned to his bedroom. Milly was asleep and Hope was laying their daughter into her cradle.

“Hope…” Lucas stood at the door and motioned for Hope to come to him. He took her to the kitchen and told her the news of Mark. He hugged her and together they cried.

The Next Step — The Race

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

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