The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 78 - Quarantine
Written by Deanne Bertram

The temperature during the middle of November turned colder; much quicker than recent winters. With the arrival of the cold temperatures, sickness started to creep into North Fork. At first it was just sniffles and coughs, but it eventually turned into worse, with fevers and chest congestion. Doc Thadd declared the illness not to be the ‘run of the mill’ cold, but a strain of influenza. As more and more citizens took ill, North Fork became a ghost town and Thadd enlisted the help of Johnny, Mark, and Seth to take medication from town to the outlying ranches, checking in on those who didn’t get to town much and if someone were sick to get work back to the clinic. Doc Burrage made the recommendation to the town council to close the schools. Stevan Griswald and Percy Bullock were against it at first, noting the children needed a proper education. But once it was explained to them how contagious the illness was, the teachers agreed. During the meeting Reverend McCafferty asked if it might also be prudent to cancel church services.

“Reverend, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Actually, I was going to ask if we could use the church as a second clinic, for those not so serious cases, but bad enough that I want the person in town. I’m full up at the clinic and I want to get the sick people way from those who are still healthy.”

While the town council worked to convert the church into a second clinic, Mark made the rounds after it was decided he would inform all the families that school and church services were canceled until further notice.

Mark bundled his collar against the cold wind that blew as he rode from home to home and ranch to ranch. As he left each home he wrote in his notepad the names of those who had come down ill, to make a report to Doc.

*****

That night, an exhausted Mark returned to his home to take care of the animals in his barn. As he stepped to the porch he saw Hope walk across the front room and open the door.

Mark asked, “Are the children already in bed?”

“Yes, they said they’d try to stay awake for you to kiss them goodnight.”

“I’m going to have to disappoint them. The town council met with Doc Burrage today and was informed just how bad this illness is. School is canceled, as well as church services, until further notice.”

“You look tired,” Hope commented.

“I am, I’ve been riding all over the country side informing everyone, and making notes of who was sick. Hope, I don’t want to expose the children in case I’ve been exposed. And I’d prefer if you were to go to bed, I’ll be sleeping on a cot in the front room until we’re sure that I’ve not been exposed.”

“Mark?!”

“Please, let’s not argue about this?”

Hope nodded and returned to their bedroom.

The following morning, Hope woke to find Mark was already gone.

*****

Several days later, Lucas returned to the McCain Ranch, with Doc Thadd, who after examining Lucas and Milly’s children, confirmed they had contracted a mild case of the illness.

“Myra must have brought the illness home with her from school,” Thadd stated. “Before we closed it. It takes time for the illness to manifest itself and show symptoms.”

What about Mark and Hope’s children?” Milly asked as she stood at the stove, ready to take up supper for the evening.

“I’ll check on them next.”

*****

“Well Hope,” Thadd stated after examining her four children, “your brood only seems to have colds.”

“What about Myra and the boys?” Hope asked.

“I’m quarantining them. They’ve a mild form and it’s in the early stages, still, they can pass the illness. So for the time being, no contact between the children.”

“I understand,” Hope replied.

“I’ll tell Lucas and Milly that their grandchildren will be alright.”

*****

Mark arrived home after dark, to see Doc Burrage stepping into his buggy.

“Doc?!” Mark called.

“It’s alright Mark. I think we’ve caught it in time. Your sister and brothers have a mild case and I’ve given them the medication as well as left instructions. As for your children, I’m sure they just have the everyday run of the mill, cold. However, I do recommend the two families staying apart until the children get healthy.”

“Thanks, Doc!” Lucas called from the porch as he waved goodbye.

“Thanks, Doc,” Mark stated as he wearily sat in the saddle. “I’ll see you early tomorrow.”

“Rest easy, Mark!” Thadd called as he rein slapped the horse and returned to North Fork.

*****

Thadd got little sleep over the following days, as he was called to various homes and ranches to tend to the sick. He pulled a cot into his office to catch a nap whenever he could.

******

As night fell, Thadd and Abigail were feverishly tending to their patient, they could hear the congestion deep in his lungs as he struggled to breath. They kept the room exceedingly warm to keep him from getting the chills, from the sweat that poured profusely from his body. After making their patient as comfortable as possible, they stepped from the room,

“Thadd, his fever is so high… Nothing we’re doing seems to matter,” Abigail stated with frustration in her voice.

“We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. You know that the very young and the very old are most susceptible to the illness becoming so much more severe.”

“But Thadd, how can you be so calm?” Abigail asked, her voice fraught with emotion.

“Because if I don’t stay calm and in control of my emotions, I’m no good as a physician.”

From the other side of the door, they heard the raspy voice call for them.

“Coming Uncle,” Thadd stated as he reaffirmed his resolve and re-entered the room. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No. We both know, I’m not long for this world,” Jay Burrage struggled to say.

“Don’t talk that way, Uncle!” Abigail was alarmed.

“Dear Abigail… You and your children have made my final years a blessing… Thank you for sharing…” A coughing fit struck Jay as he tried to speak and to clear his throat.

“Abigail, the laudanum,” Thadd called. “Here Uncle, drink this.” Thadd held a laudanum laced glass of water to his uncle’s mouth and held his head up, so he could drink. The illness had him so weak he could barely hold his head up on his own.

Abigail changed the wet rag over his forehead, as Thadd laid his uncle back down to the pillows.

“Thank you. You’ve made an old man happy. Watching your children grow… I wasn’t looking forward to retiring all those years ago… But knowing Thadd agreed to come and then meeting you…” Jay stated. “I’ll leave the two of you to take care of… My town and my friends…”

The laudanum started to take effect as Jay closed his eyes, blissfully sleeping.

During the night, Oat Jackford came knocking at the door, “Doc, I’m sorry, but one of my ranch hands sounds mighty bad…”

“No need to apologize, I’ve gotten used to late night calls.”

“Thadd?” Abigail called from the top of the stairs.

“I’ll be back, one of Oat’s hands has taken sick.”

“Doc, I hope you don’t mind, but I brought one of my horses for you to ride. It’ll be quicker to get back to the ranch instead of waiting for you to harness and hitch your horse.”

“No, problem. Let’s go.”

*****

Thadd returned home shortly after daybreak. As he closed the front door behind him, he heard Abigail calling his name from the top of the stairs.

“Thadd, it’s Jay!”

Taking two steps at a time, Thadd ran to his Uncle’s bedroom. From the moment he entered the room, he heard his uncle struggling harder to breath. Thadd pulled out his stethoscope and placed it to his uncle’s chest.

“It’s the congestion, it’s even worse than it was last night.” Thadd attempted to wake his uncle to give him medicine in an effort to relieve the congestion, but Jay wouldn’t wake and in a short time, his struggling stopped. A look of peace came over his aged face. Thadd placed his stethoscope to Jay’s chest and closed his eyes as he cried at his uncle’s passing.

Abigail wrapped her arms around her husband and cried, too.

*****

As Mark and Seth delivered medication to those who were sick at the outlying ranches, they also spread the news that Doc Jay Burrage had passed. The following morning, those who were healthy enough, attended his funeral service. Throughout the service, a number of people recounted stories of Jay’s selflessness, when it came to taking care of someone else’s family.

Thadd knew that a number of the people in attendance had gotten up from their sickbeds in an effort to honor the memory of their doctor and friend. They tried to hide their symptoms, stating they were choked up, but a doctor can see through a patient’s lies. Especially when he’d been to most of the homes to tend to the people.

Lucas and Mark attended the funeral, but wouldn’t let anyone else from their family come, as a precaution. No need bringing Myra out into this weather, with her being the sickest.

“It’s gonna feel strange not having Old Doc Burrage around,” Mark stated as they quietly rode for home.

“I know what you mean,” Lucas replied.

“I mean all the times he patched you up and Micah up.” Mark started to feel melancholy as they continued to ride.

“He patched you up a few times. He was a good doctor. He’ll be missed, but it’s not like North Fork doesn’t have a doctor.”

“I know Pa, just that… Even though he retired, he’s still been a friend and a member of the town. I mean he was there to help Ma give birth to Little Ted… and other times he stepped up to help Thadd out.”

“He’ll be missed, son. He’ll be missed.”

They were close to home when Lucas turned his head at hearing Mark coughing.

“You all right?”

“Yeah, just choked up a little from the services and remembering.”

*****

Lucas entered his home to find Gwen in the kitchen setting the mid-day meal on the tray to take to his children.

“Gwen, what are you doing here?” Lucas asked.

“Milly came over shortly after you and Mark left, said she wasn’t feeling well. She’s in bed. Mr. McCain, I think you best go for the doctor.”

Lucas stopped at his bedroom door when he heard his wife coughing on the other side.

“How long has she been coughing like that, she wasn’t last night?”

“Ever since I’ve been over here, it comes and goes in fits.”

Lucas raced Blade back to town, calling for the doc as he entered the clinic.

“Lucas, what’s wrong?” Abigail asked as she came from one of the rooms.

“It’s Milly, she’s taken sick.”

“I’ll let Thadd know. He’ll meet you at the livery, I think Nils has a horse or two saddled and waiting for Thadd.”

“I’ll go get it.”

*****

“Lucas, I want Milly in town. How long as she been sick?” Thadd asked as he placed his instruments back in his bag.

“I thought she was fine last night. I returned from services today and Gwen said she’s been coughing like this all morning.”

“She’s hid her symptoms well. Damn it! Lucas, hitch your team and bed the buckboard deep with straw, I’ll gather as many blankets from the house as I can.”

“Thadd?”

“Lucas I won’t lie, she should have been seen days ago. Abigail and I’ll need to keep a close eye on her to get her through this.”

*****

Mark followed his father into the barn. “Pa, I’m sorry, I feel asleep in my chair. What can I do?”

“I have to get Milly to town, Doc says she’s real sick.”

Without any further discussion, father and son worked to harness and hitch the team and make the buckboard as comfortable as possible.

*****

Mark stood on the porch and watched as his parents and Doc Burrage rode away. Before returning to his home, a coughing fit struck Mark.

*****

After seeing Milly comfortably in one of the rooms at the clinic Thad stated, “Lucas, your children need you back at the ranch. It won’t do you any good to stay here. I’ll send word daily, with Mark. Now go home. Your children don’t need both their parents taking sick.”

*****

The train arrived and one woman stepped to the platform. “Ma’am are you sure you’re wanta get off here?” the conductor asked.

“I hope so. I truly hope so.” The woman picked up her bags and walked to the hotel. Passing through the empty streets of North Fork, she started to think that maybe she had been wrong in coming.

Lou greeted the woman as she entered the lobby of the hotel, “Good Day, will ye be needing a room?”

“Yes please. Is it always this quiet around here? I thought by the description, your town would be a little more ‘livelier’,” the woman stated as she signed into the registered.

Lou looked at the book, Delilah Stovers, Laramie, Wyoming. “Well, Miss Stovers, usually there is a lot more hustle and bustle around these here parts, but ye’ve come at a pretty inopportune time. There’s a sickness in this town and the schools and church are closed up and without people coming and going, most businesses are closed too. The only business that’s a bustling is the clinic.”

“Are they shorthanded, I used to be a mid-wife and I can help, if needed.”

“Oh, I’m sure they could use yer help. I’ll see ye to yer room upstairs, give ye a chance to freshen up…Miss Stovers.”

“Please call me Lilah. And if this town needs help with people knowing medical stuff, I can rest later. Just let me put my bags in my room.”

“Alright,” Lou replied as she led Lilah up the stairs. Once Lilah’s bags were in her room, she followed Lou back downstairs and to the clinic.

*****

“Thadd…, Abigail…., Sarah!” Lou called as she entered the clinic.

Sarah came from one of the rooms, “They’re both out of town. I don’t know when they’ll be back.”

“Sarah, I’d like you to meet Lilah, she used to be a mid-wife and says if ye need help, she’d be willing to help out.”

“Oh, Miss Lilah, I could really use your help. There’s just too many here sick and I can’t…”

“Are you a nurse?”

“Yes Ma’am, I graduated this summer, but training doesn’t prepare you for this many sick people.”

“Sarah, why don’t you take me to see a few of your patients.”

“I’ve got to return to the hotel to fix some lunch for those who can eat. I’ll return later.”

Neither Sarah or Lilah heard Lou leave.

“I think I need the most help with this patient, her name is Milly. She took sick three days ago, well, she came in sick three days ago, Doc Burrage thinks she was hiding her illness from her family so she could take care of her children.”

Lilah removed her coat and laid it across the back of the chair in the corner. “She’s so flushed looking.”

“She’s running a high fever and I can’t catch her waking with all the other patients I have and when she wakes, I need to get her to take the medication.”

“I can sit with her and change out the wet cloth on her forehead,” Lilah offered.

“Thank you. You don’t know how much I appreciate your help.”

Lilah filled the water basin with fresh water and set it on the night stand. She pulled the chair close to the bed and proceeded to wipe away the sweat from Milly’s face, neck, and arms.

“Lucas...” Lilah heard her call. “Lucas…”

“Hush now. I’m sure your husband is back home taking care of your children. I’ll be right here with you, until you get better.”

*****

Sunday before Thanksgiving, Hope woke to feeling fevered and sicker than she had the past few days. But as she had throughout the outbreak, Hope pulled herself out of bed to tend to her family. As she entered the front room, Gwen already had breakfast started and the boys were sitting at the table, drawing. The smell of the bacon frying assaulted Hope’s senses, turning her stomach. The smell was more than she could stand, she ran to the sink in an effort to relieve her stomach of its empty contents. The dry heaving wouldn’t stop.

“Hope?!” Gwen turned and tried to help Hope as she fell to the floor, clutching to her midsection, sweat pouring from her body. “Josh, Zach, go get your Papa from the barn!”

*****

“Whoa, there, what are you two doing out here and without your coats?!” An appalled Mark ran to his boys and picked them up.

“Gwen sent us, it’s Mama!” they both called.

Carrying both boys, Mark ran as fast as he could back to his home. As he entered he called, “Gwen what happened?” The effort of running, threw Mark into a ragged, coughing fit.

“She woke, came out here, and tried to throw up in the sink. Nothing came up. She just now stopped the dry heaves.”

“Get her bundled and then keep the boys inside, I’m gonna hitch the team and take her to town,” Mark stated as another coughing fit struck.

“But Mark, you’re sick yourself!” Gwen declared, seeing the beads of perspiration on Mark’s forehead.

“I’m well enough to get her to town.”

Mark didn’t know if the tears falling from his eyes were from his own illness, but he knew a lot of his tears were from the worrying he was doing over Hope as he hitched the team. Once Hope was bundled up, Mark carried her outside, reprimanding her for her protests.

“No! I’m taking you to town! You need to see Doc Burrage.”

Mark had piled a few bales of hay into the back of the buckboard to act as a wind block to protect Hope from the temperatures and he broke a few open to comfort her from the jostling that would happen as they traveled to town. Mark pulled the collar of his jacket tighter around his neck as he sat in the seat. He reached to pick up the reins, when another coughing fit struck, once his cough subsided, he drove the team as fast as he dared in an effort to get Hope into town. He pulled the team to a halt in front of the clinic, jumped from his seat, and carried his wife into the clinic, coughing as he did so.

“Hope, what are your symptoms?” Thadd asked, but before she could answer, Hope rushed to the sick and again tried to relieve her stomach of its empty contents.

“Doc, she’s not eaten much over the past few days, and Gwen said when she heaves, nothing comes up, and she running a temperature and by the afternoon she gets the shivers” Mark answered as he helped Hope back up on the examination table.

“Okay, Mark outside. Let me examine Hope. If you see Sarah, have her listen to your lungs,” Thadd instructed Mark.

“I’m okay, Doc,” Mark stated, but a coughing fit forced itself upon Mark.

“No, you’re not. I hear the rattle in your lungs from here.”

“It’s just worry.”

“If you wanted to diagnose yourself, you should have become a doctor and not a marshal. Now do as I say. Abigail,” Thadd called as his wife stepped through the doorway, “Have Sarah tend to Mark and then you come back in here and help me with Hope.”

Mark continued to protest as Abigail led him to the hallway, only to see Seth come in.

“Deputy,” Abigail called. “I want you to place this hoodlum under house arrest for harassing my husband and not doing as told.”

“Where should I place him under house arrest?” Seth asked. He was concerned when he saw Mark carrying Hope inside, but then he saw the paleness in Mark’s face and heard him go into a coughing fit…

“In the examination room, two doors down. I’m going to find Sarah and have her tend to him.”

****

“Food poisoning!” Doc declared.

“But no one else is sick like this? How can I be si…”

“Yes?”

“I milked the cow and forgot to put it in the cold box… The next morning, I was really thirsty and I drank some…”

“That can do it, have you eaten anything since then?”

“Not really, I didn’t feel hungry, was feeling nauseated.”

“Food poisoning can do that. I’ll have Abigail fill a prescription to help get you over this.” Looking to Hope, Thadd continued, “You don’t look relieved that I didn’t diagnose influenza.”

“Actually, it’s not that you didn’t diagnose influenza, but I was hoping it was something other than food poisoning.”

Understanding what Hope was thinking was wrong, “Be thankful that you’re not.”

“Why?”

“If you were pregnant you’d be quarantined from your husband.”

“But what about Mark?”

“I presume in delivering the medicines for me, he’s been exposed to the illness and I’ve been too busy to see it and if he’s not been resting enough while trying to help me, and look after this town, in addition to his obligations at home… I’m sorry Hope, I should be been more observant. But I won’t confirm he’s contracted it until I’ve had a chance to talk with Sarah and to examine him for myself. In the mean time,” Thadd turned to his wife, “Abigail, fill a prescription to help Hope through her sickness. You might have a small bit of a cold, too. But it’s not influenza, least not yet. But in your condition, how are the children?”

“They’re getting over their colds and they’ve not been over to Pa’s since you were out.”

“Okay, If Mark is sick with influenza…”

“Then he’ll come home so I can take care of him,” Hope stated, matter-of-factly.

“No! If Mark has influenza, I’ll keep him here in town so I can keep an eye on him. Like mother like son, you McCain’s sure are stubborn, both of them should have been in this clinic long before they were. I’ll quarantine him here, I’ll put him in the same room as Milly. Hope, please, influenza is nothing to take lightly. Sending Mark home would expose you unnecessarily.”

*****

Arguing voices could be heard on the other side of the closed door, ‘But my wife!”

“You’re not going anywhere unless Doc says so. You are under ‘clinic arrest’ until I hear otherwise. I’m going to guard the door so don’t think on sneaking out of here.”

Seth left the room, closing the door behind him. As he turned he bumped into a woman carrying a tray. Seth quickly reached to steady the tray so its contents wouldn’t fall to the floor.

“Lilah!” Seth exclaimed. “What, when…”

“Good day to you too, Seth. If you don’t mind, I need to get these to my patient.”

Seth took the tray and followed Lilah into the room and set it down on the table in the room.

“How’s Milly doing?” Seth asked.

“She’s doing better. I’ve been able to get her to take her medication. I’m in here pretty much all day long and can catch her when she starts to wake. Do you have a prisoner in the other room?”

“No, in fact, it’s Milly’s son, my son-in-law who’s in the other room,” Seth answered.

“Your son-in… Then Milly is Milly McCain, Hope’s…”

“Yes, they’re my family.”

“I didn’t know. Sarah said she needed help and that Milly was the worst off, so I just been helping.”

“How long have you been here?”

“About three days now.”

“Why’d you come?” Seth asked.

“Because I saw the look on your face, you appeared to be disappointed when I couldn’t stay to meet your grandchildren.”

“And you came all the way back here…, just to meet my grandchildren?”

“That’s part of the reason. Seth, I need to tend to Milly, I’m really sorry.”

“Can I buy you a cup of coffee later?”

“I’d like that,” Lilah answered as she measured out the medication from the bottle and stirred it into a glass of water.

****

Seth stepped from the room with a smug smile on his face, until he realized the argument that was happening behind the other door. Without knocking, Seth entered.

“Well Doc?” Seth asked.

“He’s not leaving here. He’s not as bad as Milly was, but if left untreated, he will be.”

“I’ve a town and a family…” cough… cough… cough…

“Yes, and if you still want to be a marshal for this town, a husband to your wife, and a father to your children… YOU WILL DO AS I SAY!” Thadd slammed his hands down on the table. “Mark, I’ve lost too many patients because people aren’t taking this illness serious enough. Right now you could go either way, get well or get sicker. Please…”

“Mark, for Hope and your children…” Seth stated. “Do as the doctor orders.”

Mark agreed, but they could see in his eyes that he wasn’t happy about it.

“Mark, I don’t have a lot of room and I think, I’ll put you in the same room as your ma,” Thadd stated. “I’ll put a partition in the room, to give both of you some privacy, but when you’re up to it, I think Milly would enjoy hearing you read from the bible.”

“Yes sir,” Mark stated as he followed Thadd down the hallway. They entered the room where Milly slept. “What about Hope?” he asked as he removed his boots. The exertion sent Mark into another round of coughing.

“She doesn’t have influenza. Just food poisoning.” Looking over his shoulder, Thadd continued, “I’m sure her father won’t mind seeing her back to the ranch.”

“Your Ma’s recovering. There’s a mid-wife who was traveling through town, she offered to help. She’s pretty much not left Milly alone. I’m sure she’ll be back soon. In the meantime, to bed with you!”

*****

Mark had almost fallen asleep when he heard the door open and a brief gasp.

“Hello?” Mark quietly called.

“I didn’t know that they had put another person in here with Milly.”

Mark stood from his bed and came around the partition.

Lilah continued, “I’ll give the doctor a piece of my mind, putting a man in the same room as a married woman who’s sick.”

“Please, wait a minute!” Mark called and doubled over in a coughing fit.

“You get back to bed,” Lilah ordered as she came to make sure her newest patient returned to bed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to set you to coughing.”

Mark tried hard to control his coughing.

“My name’s Lilah Stovers. And you’d be?” she asked when Mark’s cough subsided.

Mark whispered, “She’s my Ma.”

“Then you’d be Mark! Hope’s husband,” Lilah declared.

Mark nodded.

“Well, I’m pretty sure you need your rest so wait a minute and I’ll get you a dose of medication.”

With as raw as Mark’s throat had become from the bouts of coughing, he was grateful for the water, even if it was laced with medication to make him sleep.

*****

Two days later, Lilah stood from her chair as she heard a knock on the door and walked over and opened it, slightly.

“Yes?”

“I’m Lucas McCain and my wife and son…”

“Please come in,” Lilah offered as she opened the door wide.

Lucas removed his hat as he entered the room. A smile crossed his face when he saw Milly’s eyes open at the sound of his voice. He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed and took his wife’s hand in his.

“Don’t you EVER do that again,” Lucas warned. “Milly, you should have told me the moment you felt you were coming down sick.”

“I’m sorry, I hoped it was just a cold,” Milly whispered and lowered her eyes.

“With three children having influenza and you thought you only had a cold. I want to scold you so bad, but my heart won’t let me. I’m just so thankful that you’re going to be alright. I talked with Thadd and he said in two or three days, he’d let you come home.”

“I can’t wait.”

Hearing ragged coughing coming from the other side of the partition, Milly asked, “Who’s over there?”

Lilah stood next to Lucas and answered, “Someone who’s just as stubborn as you appear to be. I’d say it runs in the family. Give him a couple more days and he’ll be over the worst of the illness and should be on his way home to your grandchildren.”

“Mark?! Mark took sick?”

Lilah nodded.

“Who are you?” Milly asked.

“I’ve been the one sitting up with you while you were going through the worst of this, you and your boy. The name’s Delilah Stovers, but my friends call me Lilah.

“Lilah, I’d like to thank you for watching my family,” Lucas stated as he extended his hand to Lilah.

“Ain’t no need to thank me. Just helping out.”

“Lucas, how are the children?” Milly asked.

“They’re all recovered. They did as the doctor told them.”

Trying to change the subject, Milly turned to Lilah and asked, “Do you have family here?” A brief cough escaped her lips.

“Here now, you stop talking.” Lilah handed Lucas a glass of water to give to Milly. “No family, but a friend.”

The three turned their heads towards the door when they heard someone else knock and the door opened for all to see Seth poke his head inside, “Lilah, are you ready?” Seth asked.

“Just a few minutes. I just want to check on Mark one more time.”

“Go on, Lilah. Enjoy your evening with Seth. I’ll look after my family while you’re out.”

“Mr. McCain…”

“Go!” Lucas ordered with his easy smile.

“Lilah, don’t argue with him,” Seth stated. “He’s got the law on his side.”

“Aren’t you on my side?” Lilah asked.

“Yes, and that’s why I want you to do as he says. Come on!”

Once the door had closed, Lucas looked to Milly and both laughed.

“I can’t believe it. Seth seeing a woman.”

“What’s not to believe. People can fall in love at any age?” Another brief cough forced itself from Milly.

“Would you like some more water?”

“Please.”

After setting the glass to the table, Lucas replied, “What I meant was, I wonder how serious it is?”

“That’s between two consenting adults.

Lucas stepped around the partition and looked down at his son, lying on the cot. He placed his hand to Mark’s forehead and saw his son’s eyes open.

“Good evening, son.”

“Pa, is Ma?”

“She’s fine. And I’ll tell you what I just told her, if you EVER hide an illness from me again.”

“I didn’t hide it Pa, we were just so short-handed with Johnny still not back to duty and then with Doc telling us to keep our families separated… And me riding all over…” cough, cough.

“Here, let me get you some water.”

Lucas returned and handed the medicated glass of water to Mark.

“I won’t scold you while you’re in your sickbed, the next time, tell someone you’re not feeling up to doing so much.”

*****

Seth escorted Lilah to the hotel restaurant. As they walked the boardwalk, they noticed that life was returning to normal along the streets of North Fork as the worst of the influenza outbreak was over. People were walking the town again.

They sat in the restaurant and talked over coffee, “So Milly and Mark were the last of the worst?” Seth asked.

“Yes, most everyone else has already been discharged or will be real soon.”

“Lucas said two or three more days….”

“There’s no one left at the church and I think Doc’s going to release the last other patient tomorrow.”

“How many did he lose?” Seth asked.

“In addition to his uncle, there were two other adults and three children.”

A mournful silence hung between the two, until Lou, with her bright Irish brogue, stopped by the table. “Can I refill yer cups?” she asked.

“Please.”

“I hear Milly and Mark are doing nicely, thanks to your nursing abilities, Lilah,” Lou offered.

“Weren’t really nothing I did, ‘cept being there when they woke so they could get their medication,” Lilah tried to play down any part that she had during the outbreak.

“Still, a friend is what ye’ve become to me. The McCain’s mean a great to this town and ye spared them from suffering any more grief. If ye’d like to have something to eat, just let me know. The meal will be on the house.”

“I couldn’t,” Lilah declared.

“Lou doesn’t take no for an answer, once she’s offered,” Seth said as he smiled at his companion.

*****

Lucas halted the team in front of the clinic. He picked up the two bags and a long coat from behind the seat before, he stepped down and walked into the clinic.

“Mr. McCain, Miss Milly’s waiting for you in room two,” Sarah stated when she saw him enter.

“What about Mark? …Oh,” Lucas answered when he heard the argument coming from room five. Lucas shook his head as he entered room two to see Milly sitting in the chair by the window, legs drawn up under her robe, reading from the bible. Her long hair cascaded down her shoulders, framing her face perfectly.

“Are you ready to go home to your children, Mrs. McCain?” Lucas asked.

“Yes, I am. But what about my husband?” Milly teased. “Will he be there?”

“I think he’ll be right by your side. Hope packed some clothes for the trip home.”

Milly stood and took the bag from Lucas’ hands and walked behind the partition to dress in ‘real’ clothes for the first time in eight days.

“Who’s arguing down the hallway?” Milly asked as she stepped back from the partition and into Lucas’ arms.

“Our son and his doctor. Sounds like he’s as ready to go home as I am to get you home.”

“Why don’t you go save the town’s doctor from our son,” Milly stated as she pushed Lucas to the door.

“You sit in that chair and don’t move, until I return.”

Lucas walked down the hallway and knocked on the door to room five, “Doc?” he called as he opened the door.

“Just the man I want to see. I’m releasing Mark to your custody today. I really want to keep him here one or two more days, but I can’t stand to listen to a grown man complaining.”

“I’m not complaining, I’m just stating that I have responsibilities…”

“Your release comes with conditions. No work for a week. Jake McCafferty has agreed, to take care of the horses at your place, as he has since you took sick, and as usual, he’ll help your father check on the cattle. Lucas, if he lifts one finger to work around the ranch or tries to ride into town, without your approval, I’ll… I’ll… I’ll send Seth out to arrest him and… and… handcuff him to his chair!”

“Doc, I’m sure that Hope will see that Mark serves out the rest of his ‘sentence’ while recuperating.”

“Pa!”

“None of that or I’ll start treating you like the age you’re behaving…” Lucas raised his eyebrows.

“Yes sir.”

“Here, Hope packed a bag of clothes for you too. When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting for you in Milly’s room.

*****

Lucas helped Milly climb up into the seat of the buckboard and wrapped another blanket around her, “Lucas, this isn’t necessary!”

“Watch it Ma,” Mark called as he climbed into the back of the buckboard, “Else he’ll threaten you with being handcuffed to your chair.”

“You wouldn’t!” Milly declared as she watched Lucas climb into the seat next to her.

“Try me!” Lucas dared as he rein slapped the team to head home.

*****

Their children eagerly greeted them once Lucas carried Milly over the threshold into their home. Milly took all three of her children into her arms and gave them a big hug. Before Lucas could help her off with her coat, Milly had placed her hand to each child’s forehead to make sure there was no fever.

“Doc declared them healthy five days ago,” Gwen stated.

“Our grandchildren?” Milly asked as she looked to Lucas.

“Just wintertime colds. Here let me get you out of that coat.” Once her coat was removed, Lucas encouraged Milly to sit in her chair and placed a blanket over her legs. “You just take it easy. Let me handle everything.”

*****

Hope saw the buckboard come down the road towards their home. She watched as Mark ran across the yard, she heard him slightly coughing as he stepped to the porch.

“Mark McCain, you’re still sick!”

“Doc released me, so I’m well enough,” Mark stated as he hurried inside, letting Hope close the door behind him. He stood in front of the fireplace and took in the warmth.

“To bed with you!” Hope ordered.

“I’ve been in bed long e…” Mark started to say, but after seeing Hope’s expression and both hands planted on her hips, he gave in.

Hope finished placing the covers over Mark, when a stampede entered their bedroom. Three rowdy boys ran inside and jumped up on the bed. Mykaela toddled into the room and reached her arms up, calling, “up, up”.

Hope reached down and picked their daughter up.

“May I please see our daughter?” Mark asked as he reached out his arms.

“Well, it is about time for EVERYONE to take a nap,” Hope answered as she handed their daughter over. “Okay, everyone under the covers, and I’ll wake you once you’ve had a nice nap.”

The boys eagerly climbed under the blankets and giggled as they tried to settle down. But it had been too long since they had seen their Papa and none of them felt like sleeping. After listening to the noises behind the door, Hope finally had enough. She opened the door, placed one hand on her hip, while the other remained on the doorknob, and called each one by name, “Mark Warren McCain, Joshua Lucas McCain, Zachariah James McCain, Elijah Paul McCain!”

“What about Emmy?” Mark asked as he tried to keep a straight face.

Hope entered the room and took their daughter. “You are impossible! Once I put Mykaela in her bed, I better hear silence coming from this room, otherwise…..”

“Mama will make us sit in the corner?” Zach asked.

“She’ll feed us bread and water!” Josh stated.

“Might taste pretty good. Okay!” Mark answered and slid further under the covers and feigned sleeping, when Hope pointed a scolding finger towards him and gave him a mean look, in response.

Hope left the door open to let the ‘boys’ of her family know she was serious. By the time she and put Mykaela to bed and returned to the door, all four were readily asleep.

*****

Milly woke when she rolled over and tried to snuggle against Lucas, only to find he wasn’t in bed. She picked up the clock from the nightstand to see it was just past two in the morning. She stood and pulled on her robe and quietly opened the bedroom door to the front room. The sight that greeted her, tore at her heart. Lucas was on his knees in front of the fireplace, head down, she heard him crying. Milly walked up behind Lucas and knelt beside him and saw him clutching his bible.

“Lucas?” she quietly asked.

“I…” Lucas answered as he looked up to her.

“What’s wrong?” Milly asked as she took his face in her hands and wiped the tears from his eyes.

“I thought I was going to lose you.”

“Lucas, I’m okay. I’m here beside you.”

“Gwen helped me with the children, but I couldn’t believe that this could happen again…”

“Again? …Lucas, please come back to bed.”

Slowly Lucas stood and followed Milly back to their bedroom. He took her in his arms as they laid next to each other.

“Lucas, I guess I didn’t realize how my taking sick would hurt you. I didn’t realize the illness could get so bad, until Mark came home and told us Doc Jay had passed, by then…”

“I just feared I was going to lose you, too. And I’d be left to raise the children on my own.”

“Lucas, I’m so sorry. Please… forgive me.”

Lucas nodded and held Milly tighter, making sure she was truly in his arms.

The Next Step — Mistaken Identity

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

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