The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 69 – Past and Present
Written by Deanne Bertram

The following morning saw Lucas carrying a pitcher and basin into Mark and Hope’s bedroom, as Hope carried their breakfast dishes to the kitchen.
“Hope, why don’t you spend some time with Myra out on the front porch over out our home and let me tend to Mark’s exercises and bathing him.”
“Pa, I think I’m old enough to bathe myself,” Mark complained.
“And just how do you plan on doing that?” Lucas asked. “Show me you can readily move your arms and I’ll let you bathe yourself.”
“Well, I’m sure that Hope could…” Mark started to say and then his cheeks flushed.
“Mark, just be thankful I’m not asking Milly in here to bathe you,” Lucas smiled as he chastised his son. “You’re not up to having your wife bathe you.  That’ll come in time. First we have the exercises that Thadd prescribed for you.”
As embarrassed as Mark was about having his father state he was going to bathe him, Mark was even more embarrassed to find out how little control he had over his body.
While Lucas and Mark were working on Mark’s exercises, Milly returned to her front porch after hanging the laundry on the clothes line. She asked Myra to go inside and work on her studies, while she talked with Hope.
Mark’s going to be alright,” Milly stated as the front door closed.
“I know that now, Ma. Oh Ma, how could I? You were the one talking about having faith and not giving up. But when it came down to it, I didn’t…”
Milly pulled over a chair and sat down next to Hope.
“Hope, you’re strong of faith. Ever since I met you, I know how strong you are. But, this time, there was something else pulling at you. You’ve been through so much with Mark, that… I couldn’t believe it when Gwen told us what Marshal Buckhart said.”
Sniffing and trying to dry here tears, “What did he say?”
“When he received word of Mark’s condition, he immediately came here. Worried for you. He said that sometimes when an Indian woman’s husband dies… if the love was so great… the woman would choose to take her own life to be with him on the other side, instead of living without him.”
“Ma, I do love him…”
“We know you do,” Milly stated as she put her hand on top of Hope’s.
“And that’s why Sam came here, to alert us. We didn’t know this aspect of life among the Kiowa. You’ve been married to Mark for almost as long as you lived with the Kiowa… Hope, if you need to talk, I’m here for you. I want to know more of your life from those years you lived with Iron Heart. You’ve learned so much of Mark’s growing up with Lucas, but we’ve not learned of your growing up years. Hope, I’m not judging what you did… I just want to understand how the years… Your life with Iron Heart and his tribe is part of who you are and I’m here, when you want to talk…”
Looking to the door to her home, Hope said, “My best friend, Spotted Doe, was married to Running Wolf. She wasn’t that much older than me and already married and had a beautiful baby boy…”
“She was already married and had a child?” Milly asked. “Are most Indian women married so young?”
“Those who catch the eye of a brave…” Hope quietly answered.
“And you didn’t catch… I’m sorry Hope, I had no right to asked that,” Milly closed her eyes, embarrassed that she had asked.
Giving a half-hearted smile, “I was the white daughter of the chief. Even if I had been Indian, I would not have been given to any brave until I was eighteen.”
“Given?” Milly asked.
“Yes, a brave would have traded many ponies and such in exchange to a maiden’s father for the right to marry.”
“I guess it’s not too different from a bride’s family presenting a dowry.” Seeing the Hope was unfamiliar, Milly explained, “In England and other countries, a woman is presented to her betrothed with a dowry. It’s the woman’s family’s way of making sure the future husband will take good care of their daughter or give her something to ensure she has a means to support herself, if…the husband were killed early in the marriage. Sort of like receiving an inheritance, before the death of the parents.” Milly thought on what Hope was saying, would there have been a brave in her future…had the past not happened as it had? “Your friend, Spotted Doe?”
“They were married when she was sixteen and she was seventeen when Soaring Hawk was born. The braves had gone on a buffalo hunt. Running Wolf’s horse was gored by a bull. He was thrown and trampled. Oh Ma! When Mark was just lying there, I kept seeing Running Wolf after they brought him back to camp. For several days, the medicine man tended to him. I heard the other women talking... I was present when she nursed her son, she loved Running Wolf so much, that not even her son nursing at her breast would bring life to her eyes. Running Wolf passed during the night. The next morning, I found Spotted Doe, down by the lake…” Hope cried harder as she remembered. “I found her, she had already reunited with Running Wolf. I remember the red of her blood staining the grass…” Hope drew her hands to her face and cried.
“Hope, please, I didn’t mean to bring up such memories. I had no idea... I shouldn’t have…” Milly leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Hope.
“No Ma, you were right. You have a right to know why I tried to take my own life.” Hope sobbed, “I remembered them talking of other women… when their husbands died, either on the hunts or in conflicts with the white man.”
“Sam stated that the children of the tribe are raised… by the tribe? Even with the parents still alive?” Milly asked.
“They are, but because Soaring Hawk was so young, Running Wolf’s parents asked me to care for the baby, though I couldn’t be his wet nurse and no other woman had a child at their breast… I was the one who milked the goats to keep him alive, until those men came to our camp and took me…”
“Hope, I wish to know more of the life you lived among the Kiowa. I’m embarrassed that we haven’t talked about your past before.”
“It was my past, I thought it didn’t matter,” Hope quietly said.
“Well, that’s not to be anymore. I want to learn of your younger years. But for now, Lucas and I don’t want Mark to know about this,” Milly stated as she picked up Hope’s bandaged wrist.
“We don’t keep secrets…”
“When one like this will hurt Mark so much, we’ll keep it until he’s stronger.”
Hope finally agreed.
Three days later, Doc Burrage returned to the ranch with Doctor Jeremiah Jeffers, from Marionette.
“How’s Mark doing?” Thadd asked of Hope as he entered her home.
“He’s doing well. He and Pa are in the bedroom working on his exercises for this morning,” Hope answered.
“Good. Hope this is Jeremiah Jeffers, the eye doctor I was telling you about.”
After pleasantries were exchanged, Hope showed the two doctors to their bedroom. Fifteen minutes later, Doc Jeffers announced his diagnosis.
“I agree with Thadd, that the change in Mark’s vision is a direct result of the blow to his head. From what I’ve seen, the more you recover and gain your strength back and your brain learns to control your body, in time, I feel your eyesight will return to normal, or close to it.”
“But what about now?” asked Mark.
“Well, for now, I did bring a selection of eyeglasses for you to try, to see which one gives you the best vision.”
By the eighth pair, Doc Jeffers was pleased with Mark’s being able to read the chart he presented.
“Well, I’ll leave several lesser strength glasses here with Thadd and as your vision improves, he can change them out, without my having to come all the way back here. But I’ll want to see you next month. We’ll be in touch.”
Doc Jeffers and Thadd said goodbye to the McCain’s and returned to town. Thadd halted the buggy at the train station and thanked his friend for traveling to North Fork.
After seeing Doc Jeffers off, Thadd drove the rest of the way to the clinic, where he was met by Jake McCafferty and Gwen Shawnesee.
“Well?” Gwen eagerly asked.
“Why don’t you take the McCain children back to their parents. I’ll go tell Micah and Hattie that they too can visit the McCain’s.”
“Thanks, Doc!” Jake stated as he headed back to his home, not letting Gwen’s hand go as they ran.
As Jake drove the buckboard with the McCain children, he passed the General Store, where Mrs. Donner called to him.
“Yes, Mrs. Donner?” Jake answered as he pulled the team to a halt.
“With all that’s happened at the McCain ranch, I keep forgetting to send this letter out to Lucas. I presume since you’re taking the children, that things are improving?”
“I think so, otherwise Doc Burrage wouldn’t let us be taking the children back home.”
“Would you mind delivering this letter out to Lucas?”
“No ma’am.” Jake took the letter and placed it in the pocket of his shirt.
“Tell the family we look forward to their returning to church,” Mrs. Donner said as Jake picked up the reins to the team.
“I will, Mrs. Donner. Good day!”
Lucas, Milly, and Hope stood on the porch to Mark and Hope’s home when Jake drove the team to the house. Behind them, were Hattie and Micah in a buggy.
All the boys were calling for their parents, and Josh, Zach, and Eli also called for their grandparents. After numerous hugs were shared among the group, Lucas finally invited everyone inside. Lucas asked the boys to sit on the bricks in front of the fireplace. As the boys scurried to sit down, Lucas watched as Gwen handed Mykaela to Hope.
“Thank you, Gwen. I don’t know…”
“Hope, you don’t. I’m just happy Doc said we can bring them all home.”
Micah carried Levi into the house and handed him to Milly.
Lucas turned to the older boys when he heard Josh ask, “Where’s Papa?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you boys about. Now, your Papa got hurt and Doc wants him to stay in bed for a while. Right now, he’s sleeping, but when he wakes, we’ll let you in to see him. Okay?”
“Yes, sir,” The boys said or nodded.
“Right now, your Mama’s have an early supper ready for you and for now, you’ll need to try to keep quiet.”
While the children ate, Lucas asked Hattie and Micah out to the porch. He told them of Mark’s diagnosis and progress that he had made in just a few days.
Milly stepped to the porch to inform everyone that Mark was awake and she had already fed him. That evening, there were more people in the bedroom than ever before. Mark was eager to see his children as well as his brothers, and happy that Micah and Hattie had come too. Two hours had passed when Lucas noticed that Mark couldn’t keep his eyes open and suggested they let Mark sleep.
“Pa, can’t the boys stay?” Mark pleaded.
“I’ll get them to bed later, Pa,” Hope stated as she smiled, seeing Mark and their three boys sitting in the bed together.
Lucas agreed.
As Jake was getting ready to leave, he remembered the letter Mrs. Donner had asked him to deliver.
“Mr. McCain, this letter came for you,” Jake said as he handed the letter to Lucas.
Jake stepped to the porch where he slowly said goodnight to Gwen.
“I wish you could come back to town with me?” Jake stated as he shifted his feet and couldn’t look at Gwen.
“I belong here. Hope’s going to need my help now. Besides, you need to get home so you can get a good night’s sleep to come back in the morning to help Mr. Lucas.”
“And see you?” Jake quickly whispered in Gwen’s ear as he stole a kiss, turned, and ran back to the buckboard.
Gwen placed her hand to her cheek and smiled.
Gwen re-entered the home to see Lucas carrying one of the twins, Milly the other, while Hope carried Eli to their bedroom.
After tucking all three boys in their beds, Lucas stated, “Not sure who fell asleep first, Mark or his sons.”
“He had a great evening,” Hope quietly spoke as they left the bedroom.
“Hope, will you need anything?” Gwen asked.
“No, why don’t you go ahead and go to bed. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Everyone said goodnight.
Once back in their own home and after their children were put to bed, Lucas sat down in his chair and pulled out the letter Jake had handed him.
“Lucas?” Milly asked.
“I don’t know it’s postmarked Golden, Colorado. It was mailed over a month ago.”
Lucas opened the letter and read:
Mr. Lucas McCain
North Fork, New Mexico Territory
Dear Mr. McCain,
I write this letter to warn you. Recently a good friend of mine, Madilyn Willdrow, passed. Her son returned home, after almost ten years of being gone, only in time for the funeral. Afterwards, Oliver proceeded through her belongings and later that day he rapidly left town.
I entered the home the next day and found her journals strewn about her bedroom. Also strewn were newspapers articles of you and then more of you and your son.
Mr. McCain, I fear for the safety of you and your family. Oliver was led to believe that you were his father when in truth, you killed his father while trying to rescue his mother, a month after Oliver was born. This all happen in Oklahoma, about twenty-seven years ago, from what Madilyn wrote, you had only been married to your own wife a short time.
Please Mr. McCain, protect your family. I fear that Oliver wishes to harm you and your family.
In God’s grace,
Mrs. Armsted
Golden, Colorado
“Lucas?” Milly asked as she heard Lucas’ fist hit the arm of his chair.
“This letter explains Oliver Willdrow.” Lucas handed the letter to Milly and allowed her to read.
“Lucas, you couldn’t have known. But this is the past. We have to focus on now, helping Mark and Hope recover.”
“I know,” Lucas sighed.
“Are you coming to bed?” Milly asked.
“Not yet. I need some time to think.”
“Lucas, God understands and no one blames you for what happened to Mark. Our family is back home. Lucas talk with God and when he’s put peace back in your heart, come to bed,” Milly finally stated as she realized that none of her words were comforting to her husband.
Milly woke early the following morning and found the front door to their home ajar. She hurried to the door and stepped to the porch, she looked left and then right.
“Myra McCain?”
Myra stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around at hearing her Ma calling her, “Yes, Mama?”
“Just where do you think you are going.”
“To help Hope and Gwen,” Myra said as she looked at her feet. Then looking up, “Please Mama, I got to talk to Mark. I got to know.”
Milly had walked to where Myra stood and knelt in front of her daughter.
“Myra, do you want to talk about this?”
“Mama, I got to know that Mark’s going to really be okay and that he don’t…”
“He doesn’t what?”
“Hate me,” Myra barely whispered.
“Hate you?” Milly asked, shocked. “Myra we talked about this the other day, your father and I, we told you it wasn’t your fault.”
“I know, you don’t blame me, but…”
Milly waited.
“But maybe Mark does. He laughed and had fun with the boys last night. He didn’t even call for me. Mama, if he hates me because…”
“Young lady,” Milly said as she stood and took Myra’s hand. “We’ll get this settled for once and for all.”
Milly walked Myra to Mark and Hope’s home, quietly opening the front door to see Hope coming from the bedroom.
“Good Morning Hope,” Milly called.
“Ma? Myra? Good Morning. What brings you over here so early?”
“Is Mark awake?”
“He is. I was going to fix him breakfast before the boys woke.”
“Would you mind if Myra spends some time with Mark. She needs to talk with him.”
Hope looked from Milly to Myra and then back to Milly. “Sure Ma.”
Milly walked to the door and gently knocked on the door, she heard Mark called, “Come in.”
“Mark, I think you need to talk with Myra. She’s carrying some… Well, she feels that…”
“I understand,” Mark answered, realizing what his Ma couldn’t bring herself to say. “Gabby?”
Myra stepped to the door and stopped.
“I sure have missed you, Gabby. I think we need to talk.”
Milly gently pushed Myra towards Mark’s bed, she closed the door as she left the room.
“You’re being awfully quiet. That’s not the Gabby I remember,” Mark spoke as he motioned for his sister climb up on the bed.
“You remember? You’re not just saying that?” Myra asked.
“I remember how difficult it is to keep you quiet. How you’re always asking questions and not waiting for someone to answer, before you ask the next.”
“What else do you remember?”
“I know your birthday is New Year’s Day and that you’re going to be seven next year. I know you’re probably feeling bad, that maybe this is all your fault? That maybe I don’t love you anymore?”
“Do you?”
“Sis, this isn’t your fault at all. And how can I not love my only sister? If it weren’t for you, I probably would have died out there.”
“But you wouldn’t have been out there if I hadn’t tried to go home and gotten swept away in the storm.”
“Gabby, if I’d of been to town a little earlier, we probably would have been at the river anyway.”
“You would have known it wasn’t safe to cross,” Myra countered.
“Ma and Pa will probably be mad at me for telling you this, but there was a mean man who was going to try to hurt Ma. He was going to try to take you to force Ma to go with him.”
“Then Mama and Papa weren’t just saying that, to make me feel better?”
“They told you about Harry?”
“I don’t know his name, but they said a bad man came and tried to hurt Mama.”
“It’s the truth. I’m actually thankful you tried to go home. If you hadn’t, I don’t know what he would have done to either of us.”
“So you do love me?”
“Always,” Mark said as he raise his hands a little from his sides, encouraging Myra to come to him so he could give her a big ole hug.
“So you can move your arms now?”
“Yeah, just wish I could walk. It gets pretty boring just lying here in bed.”
“I remember a previous time where you were confined to bed and you did a lot of reading to Myra,” Hope called from the doorway. “Are you two hungry?”
“I should get back home,” Myra said.
“No, your Mama asked me to let you spend the morning with us. It’s the first time all three boys have been back here in a while and I’m gonna need a lot of help today. Mark has exercises to do and your Papa is planning to work the ranch today, so Myra, Gwen and I could really use your help. We need someone to make sure Mark stays in bed when we’re not in the house. We have laundry to wash and hang. Do you think you can keep him in bed?”
“Yes Ma’am. Could I go home and get my schoolbooks?”
“After you eat.”
Hope served breakfast in bed to Mark and Myra that morning. As she tended to their sons and daughter she smiled as she listened to the laughter coming from the bedroom.
August started just as hot as June and July had. That day, both McCain family’s observed Sunday in Mark and Hope’s home, with Lucas reading from the Good Book. Before lunch, Lucas headed to the barn and shortly, Mark heard the team being driven to the front of the house.
“Pa?” Mark inquired.
“I spoke with Doc yesterday and he suggested a new exercise to help you learn to walk. We’re going to the pond, boys get your swimming suits. Ladies, you too. Milly and Hope have already fixed a picnic lunch for the whole family.”
Lucas helped get Mark into the pond. Mark was pleased to realize that he could float on the water. Hope had to caution the boys to not be so rowdy around their father.
The strain of the previous two months wasn’t evident with the families today. Everyone had fun splashing and swimming and just having a good time.
While floating around in the water, Mark thought he felt that he could move his legs. He fervently wished that he really was regaining control over his legs. He was enjoying being in his own world for a little while and was slightly startled when Lucas swam up to him.
“Well, how are you feeling?”
“I feel great. Thanks Pa. This was a great idea.”
“Well, let’s get you out of the water before you start looking like a shriveled prune.”
Lucas and Milly cuddled in bed with each other that night, both content just holding the other in their arms.
“Everyone had a great time today,” Milly stated.
“Yes, it's been a long time since the family's had a day like today,” Lucas answered, whispering in her ear.
Milly rolled over to face Lucas.
“You look a lot more relaxed than you have been in some time, Lucas.”
“I feel relaxed.” Lucas ran the back of his fingers across Milly’s cheek. “I love you.”
“You care to prove that?” Milly asked as she blushed.
“You’re not tired?…”
“After a wonderful day like today, never.”
Both slipped from their bedclothes. Milly giggled, like a little school girl, as Lucas’ hands tickled against her bare skin. They each experienced a simple desire, but the more they caressed and looked each other in the eye, the more their desire grew to where they both lost themselves as they made love that night. They had just rested back into each other’s arms when Milly laughed again.
“Perfect timing,” Lucas complained and then laughed.
“Mama!” Little Ted called louder.
Milly quickly slipped from under the covers and dressed in her nightgown to see why Little Ted had called her.
Lucas rested back in the bed, hands behind his head, a smile on his face as he watched his wife pause at the door and smile back at him.

The Next Step — The Shootout

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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