The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step…
Chapter 91 - The Aunt
Written by Deanne Bertram

It had only been a few days since Oat and the other volunteers had finished helping the McCain’s to rebuild the section of Mark and Hope’s home damaged by the fire. The night before, Mark and Hope smiled as they watched over their sons saying their nightly prayers, after having spent most of the previous two weeks with their other grandparents. It was still dark when Mark woke early Sunday morning and gently slipped from bed.

Upon entering the front room, he walked to the kitchen and lit the lantern hanging on the wall. He primed the pump to the sink and set out to try to clean more of the charring from the stove. Quietly he worked until he heard from behind, “I’m so sorry.”

Turning from his task, he looked to Hope, standing at the corner of the sink counter, her face apologetic.

“It was an accident,” Mark offered.

“But…”

“No buts. I look at it as a blessing. It brought you out of your depression.” Mark rinsed the rag and draped it over the pump before walking to Hope. Standing in front of her, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. “Pa was telling me that Ma was talking with Lilah and she has some concoction that might help clean the stove.”

“I can ask her when we go to church. May I invite them for supper tonight?”

“You can invite them to supper any time. Moreover, I think today would be grand. Why don’t you invite them to come back to the ranch after services.”

*****

The families exited the church when Hope invited her father and step-mother to come to the ranch for supper and if there was any way she could create her concoction.

“Hope, it’s already concocted. After talking with Milly earlier in the week, I knew you’d be coming to ask.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner to…” Hope started.

“Listen here, there’s no need to apologize. You needed to get acquainted with your daughter and get things fixed up so you could get your sons back home. Speaking of our grandsons, I had hoped you might invite us out for supper today. It’s been too quiet at our house the past few of days. And, I already baked a couple of apple pies in anticipation of your invitation.”

Hope smiled. Feeling a tug on her skirt, Hope looked down.

“Mama?” Josh asked. “If Grandma and Grandpa are coming home, can we ride with them?”

“Josh, their buggy isn’t big enough to carry both of them and the three of you boys,” Mark answered as all three of his sons looked to be asking the same question.

Looking to his grandpa, Zach asked, “You didn’t tell ‘em?”

“It just never came up in conversation,” Seth answered. “Mark, what the twins are trying to say is, I traded the buggy in on a really nice surrey. Figured, being a grandparent, it would come in handy when the family needed transporting.”

“Then can we? Please Papa,” Josh asked again.

“I guess the rest of the family has conspired against us,” Mark laughed as he shook his head.

“Does that mean we can’t,” Zach stated in disappointment, after seeing Mark shake his head.

“No that’s not what I meant. If your grandparents say it’s okay.”

“Yippee!” was exclaimed by all three boys when they saw their Grandpa Seth nod.

*****

Hope and Lilah stood and watched while Mark and Seth used the concoction to scrub clean the charring from the stove. As the late November sun streamed through the window, Hope saw the shine return to the stove’s surface.

“How did you come up with this…?” Hope asked.

“It comes from years of living at forts and dealing with non-com’s not paying attention--allowing food to boil over the pots and pans, onto the stoves. A couple of the other women and I came up with this. You know, now that I think about it, your mother helped with the concoction.”

“She did?” Hope asked.

“It took several different attempts to get it right, but ol’ Corporal Whiskers, I mean…” Lilah stopped when she realized her blunder.

“I haven’t heard that name since I left Fort Griffin,” Seth stated as he stood back to admire their handy work. “His real name was Corporal Wisklerson, but everyone called him Whiskers.”

“He rather enjoyed his knick name,” Lilah fondly remembered.

“Did he have a long beard and mustache?” Josh asked as he came into the kitchen to get a glass of water.

“Not a one,” Seth laughed.

“Then why the nickname?” Zach asked.

“It was a lot easier to say Whiskers than Wisklerson,” Seth answered as Lilah handed a glass of water to their grandson.

After watching their grandsons return to the front room, Lilah continued. “Oh how he hated dealing with non-com’s assigned KP duty,” Lilah smiled as she remembered. “Seth, were you there, when he threatened every man assigned to him with the firing squad?”

“I remember it was shortly after that when the women started to come up with the concoction. I also remember how every private watched their step so as not to be assigned to KP duty for any infraction,” Seth laughed at the memory.

“Mark, I have a favor to ask you,” Hope said as she took the dirty rags from her father and husband.

“Am I going to like it?” Mark teased.

“I think you will. Why don’t you invite Ma and Pa, and your siblings over to join us? We can have a small family get together before Thanksgiving. I mean, just us.”

“Too late,” Mark replied. “I already asked them over when you were talking with Lilah after services. They’ll be over in about a half hour. Ma was going to bake some bread and a new potato recipe she read about in a magazine that Lou was showing her. I think its call Agritin potatoes.”

“It’s augratin potatoes.” Lilah laughed as she continued, “Men and their bachelor cooking.”

“That’s why we married, if only to save ourselves from our own cooking,” Seth teased back.

“Hey, I think Pa and I did quite well for ourselves,” Mark replied and let out an ‘oof’ as Hope lovingly jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow.

*****

There was barely a pause between the knock on the door and Lucas opening it to allow Milly and their family to enter Mark’s home. The boys immediately started rough housing and without any words of warning, headed straight for the boys’ bedroom. Myra carried a basket with a towel draped over it as she followed her Ma. “Where would you like for me to place this?” Milly asked as she carried the dish of augratin potatoes into the kitchen.

“Is it a dish served hot or cold?” Hope asked.

“Hot,” Lucas answered as he picked Faith up from her bassinet and lovingly held her. “How’s my newest granddaughter?”

“Guess we should get out of the kitchen,” Seth mentioned after Lilah started pushing him and Mark out of the way.

“Oh, Hope! Lilah’s concoction worked?” Milly asked upon seeing the cleaned stove.

“Yes. You can barely tell the damage done by the fire,” Hope stated as she opened to door to the oven, and stood back for Milly to slip the dish inside.

“Miss Lilah, Mama and I baked some rolls,” Myra stated and placed the basket on the counter.

Lifting the towel and inhaling deeply, Lilah answered, “They smell heavenly.”

While the women set to work preparing supper, the men set to work rearranging the furniture in the front room in order to allow them to set up a table and chairs for the children.

“So tell us Mark,” Lucas stated. “Now that Gwen won’t be living here as a nanny for your children, what are you going to do with her sitting room and bedroom.”

“You know Lucas, the rate that your son and my daughter are going, they’ll probably need it for future children,” Seth jokingly answered.

“Father!” Hope exclaimed from the kitchen.

*****

The day after Thanksgiving Zach asked, “Papa, can we help you?” as Lucas and Mark entered the room that had been Gwen’s and prepared to move the furniture that remained to her soon to be new home.

“Not today boys,” Mark answered. “Grandpa Lucas and I have a lot of work that we need to get done.”

Once everything was tied down to Mark’s buckboard, Mark helped Lucas hitch up his team and buckboard before the two of them headed to Micah and Hattie’s to get the rest of Gwen’s belongings.

“How can a woman gather so much stuff?” Mark asked.

“Did you really just ask that question?” Lucas teased as they finished placing the heavy trunk in the back of the buckboard. “Don’t you remember the effort to get Hope settled in after the two of you were married?”

“Point taken, Pa.”

Gwen rode with Mark as they made their way to the home Jake had built. Jake was waiting on the porch when they arrived; he stepped to the buckboard and helped Gwen down from the front seat. As they entered the front room, Gwen noticed a chair with a note stating “Keep Out!” placed in front of a closed door.

“Jake, what’s this all about?” Gwen asked.

“Gwen, if Jake doesn’t want you to see what’s behind that door, allow him his surprise for after you’re married,” Lucas whispered into Gwen’s ear.

“Okay, Mr. McCain.”

Lucas, Mark, and Jake worked the rest of the afternoon bringing Gwen’s belongings into the home. Those items that would eventually be placed into the bedroom were set to the side and out of the way.

“Would you like to see your home?” Jake asked.

“You know I would,” Gwen answered.

Jake pointed out the obvious; the front room and the kitchen. He opened the cabinets and closets displaying his craftsmanship in the woodwork. He delighted in showing Gwen several side rooms.

“What is this room for?” Gwen asked.

“Well, until we’re blessed with children, I thought one could be set up for a sewing room, when you need to spread out to work on projects. I mean, needlepoint or knitting, you can do in the front room, but I know how women need space when it comes to sewing.”

“And the room with the keep out note?”

“You’ll see that room after you become my wife,” Jake answered as he wrapped his arms around Gwen’s waist.

“What about your belongings Jake?” Mark asked.

“Father and I will move them over later this evening and tomorrow morning,” Jake answered.

*****

Regardless of happenings in North Fork, the McCain’s still had a working ranch to run. Lucas and Mark rose well before the sun in order to get a jump on the day, checking their cattle and the fences surrounding those ranges.

It was mid-afternoon before they returned home, and headed to their respective barns. Both were surprised that their sons had worked on cleaning the horse stalls while they were out.

*****

Mark had just closed the door to Rainmaker’s stall when Hope entered the barn, “Boys you had better get inside right now and get washed!”

“But Mama, we’re helping Papa!” Josh answered.

“He needs to get washed up too.”

“Why do we need to wash?” Zach asked.

“Because I don’t think Gwen would appreciate the lot of you showing up for her wedding, looking and smelling like you do.”

Hope smiled as she watched her sons look at each other, dirt on their faces, hands, and clothes with a good measure of straw thrown in their hair.

“Now, come on. Your Papa can finish up out here while you three bathe. Besides, I already have your bath water heated and if you don't hurry inside, you'll just have to take a cold bath.”

“A bath?” Josh complained.

“I’d listen to your Mama, if I were you,” Mark sternly stated and watched his two oldest turn to run to the house.

“You come too?” Eli asked, pausing only long enough to hear his Papa’s answer.

“I’ll be inside after I finish out here. I don’t want to get your Mama mad at me, either,” answered Mark.

*****

As he entered their home, Mark saw his eldest sons toweling themselves dry while Hope helped their youngest son wash his hair. He smiled as Eli protested when Hope dumped a pail of water over his head to rinse him off. Mark listened while his sons complained about having to bathe in a tub in the middle of the kitchen.

“Why can’t we have a tub room like Grandpa Seth?” Zach asked.

“And have the three of you constantly overflowing the bath tub?” Mark asked.

“Ah, Pa, it was an accident. We were just trying to surprise you and Mama,” Josh answered.

“Yeah, Grandpa only gets married once,” Eli quipped as Hope poured more water over his head.

After Eli was finished with his bath and Hope had him dried off, Mark shooed all three into their bedroom to get dressed.

“I laid out your clothes on your beds,” Hope called as she removed some of the old water and poured it down the sink before adding more hot water to the tub for Mark’s bath.

“I think I’ll brave the shower stall outside,” Mark commented as he collected a towel and washcloth.

“You most certainly will not! Do you want to catch your death from pneumonia?” Hope asked. “If it’s good enough for your sons, it’s good enough for you.” She pointed to the tub.

“But… Yes my love,” Mark commented as he prepared to strip.

“You know, Zach does have a good idea,” Hope commented as she prepared to scrub Mark’s back.

“What, a tub room?”

“Sure, why not. We can convert the room Gwen used into a tub area and run a drain outside like we do for the sink,” Hope answered.

“And what if we have more children like your father commented the other day.”

“We can always build up. Besides, I saw a picture for a tub in one of the catalogs at the hardware store. It looked like it had claw feet for a pedestal. I mean, if people in town can install tubs for bathing in their homes, why can’t we?”

“I’ll need to give it some thought. Are my clothes laid out on my bed too?” Mark asked as he stood and took the towel from his wife and wrapped it around his middle.

“Yes,” Hope answered and pushed Mark towards their bedroom.

While her husband and sons finished dressing, Hope used the bucket to dip the used bathwater from the tub and poured it down the kitchen sink.

“Here, let me finish with that” Mark stated as he came from the bedroom. “I think the girls are waking from their naps and will want their mama to help them get dressed.” Mark took the bucket and finished the task.

*****

The setting sun painted vivid colors in the evening sky as Hope and Milly stood in the office of the church, admiring Gwen as she looked at herself in the full-length mirror.

“I can’t believe today is really here,” Gwen quietly stated. “I wish my Ma and Pa could be here.”

“I’m sure they’re up in heaven, smiling,” Milly offered as Hope positioned Gwen’s bridal veil.

“I never imagined after Pa died that I’d find such a home as wonderful as all of you have been. Especially you and Mark, Hope. I mean to take me in and make me feel such a part of your family…”

“I’ve enjoyed all your help with the children. And I’ve come to think of you as a little sister,” Hope offered.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t at the house the last two weeks,” Gwen offered.

“No, Mark was right in sending you to live with Micah and Hattie. You have your own life to prepare to live, as Jake’s wife.”

“I know we talked, but I’m so nervous about tonight. I thought it would get easier the closer today came,” Gwen nervously stated, wringing her hands in front of her.

Milly walked up behind Gwen, put her hands on Gwen’s shoulders, and looked over her shoulder to the mirror, “If you’re still this nervous tonight, talk with Jake. This is something new to both of you. But know this; what happens tonight, it is something wonderful.”

*****

Lucas, Mark, and Drako stood in the Marshal’s Office watching Reverend McCafferty attempt to tie his son’s tie.

“Does this remind you of anyone?” Johnny asked.

“Yeah, I can’t believe how long ago it was,” Lucas answered. “I’m still not ready to see my son walk the bride down the aisle.”

“At least I’m not walking my own daughter down the aisle,” Mark replied. “I’m definitely not ready for that.”

“Give it time, boy,” Johnny replied with a smile.

“Lucas, maybe you can help us.” Reverend McCafferty called out. “I’m all thumbs today and I just can’t get it straight.”

Lucas stepped in front of Jake, trying to keep the grin off his face as he looked at the extremely crooked tie. It didn’t take too much time before Lucas had a proper string tie knotted.

“Thank you, Lucas,” Jake stated.

“Come on, before your bride fears you changed your mind,” Johnny teasingly called to the group as he walked to the door.

*****

Reverend McCafferty smiled when he finally introduced Mr. and Mrs. Jacob McCafferty to their family and friends who witnessed their wedding in the North Fork church. As the congregation stood to congratulate the newly married couple, the front doors of the church banged against the walls as they were forcefully thrown open. People turned and saw a woman wearing an elegant coat with a fox fur collar and a wide brimmed hat purposefully walk through the opened doors, followed immediately by two men in dark suits. No one missed the bulge their guns caused under their jackets. The woman boldly declared, “I’ll see this marriage annulled. It is not a legitimate marriage! No true daughter of Ireland would consider marrying in such a… a…”

Lou quickly stood to her feet, declaring, “I AM an Irishwoman, born and raised, and I’ll have ye know I was married in this church, in the eyes of God! How dare ye!”

“I’ll dare all I want, I’ll not have my niece marrying…”

“Yer niece?!” Lou’s Irish temper flared so rapidly, that not even Johnny Drako could calm her down as he placed a hand to her arm, trying to pull her away from making more of a scene.

“Yes, my niece.”

“Ye show up today, of all days and try to ruin the lasses wedding! Git out of here!” Lou ordered, pointing the way back to the doors.

“I will not! Do you know with whom you’re talking? My name is Mrs. Mary Catherine Glendening. Be thankful I’m a woman of standing.”

“Ye might be standing now, but if ye don’t leave, you’ll be flat on your…” Johnny interrupted Lou’s sentence when he roughly pulled her aside and yelled, “Lou!”

Micah was closest to the new arrivals and tried to intervene, “If Gwen is your niece, do you really wish to spoil her day?”

“I’ll not have her ruin her life marrying below her station!” Mrs. Glendening declared. “She can do better than marry someone not from society.”

“Maybe you better talk with our marshal,” Micah offered as he tried to escort the woman from the church.

Pulling her arm from Micah’s grasp, “I do not care what some small, hayseed, hick town marshal has to say. I hired men from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and I’m sure these men have more authority than your marshal.” The woman’s voice dripped with disdain for those in North Fork.

“Ma’am,” Mark stated as he reached for the woman’s arm. “If you’ll come with me?”

“Unhand me!” the woman raised her parasol towards Mark.

“Ma’am either lower your umbrella or you’ll face federal charges for assaulting a U.S. Marshal. Now please, you’ve made enough of a scene. I’ll ask one more time, will you come with me?” Mark made sure she realized that his request gave her no other option but to comply.

“If you are the law, where’s your badge?” she demanded.

“I walked the bride down the aisle to her groom, I didn’t think it would be required,” Mark answered as he turned to lead the woman from the church.

Before allowing Mark to lead her away she declared, “Detectives Morely and Garrison, get the girl! Put her into protective custody! She must be protected from these…” Mrs. Glendening’s voice broke into a high pitch squeal as Mark pulled her to accompany him.

Gwen stood in front of her friends and those she considered family, tears falling down her face, appalled at the events transpiring on her wedding day.

“Stop it!” Gwen screamed before she raised her wedding dress so the hem was not touching the ground and ran from the church, avoiding the two detectives who tried to stop her. Seth and Johnny moved into position to prevent the men from following Gwen out the side door of the church.

“Jake, go! Follow your wife!” Drako yelled. “We’ll get things settled here.”

*****

It had been a long time since Johnny Drako had used such a cold, calculated look on another human being. “Men, I’d refrain from moving your hands anywhere near your weapons.” Johnny opened his jacket to show the men his marshal’s badge, as well as his own gun.

*****

“Now how can there be more than one Ace of Spades in the deck?” the gambler demanded as he threw his cards face up on the table in the saloon, stood to his feet, and pulled his gun. Sam Montgomery jumped up and pushed the stranger just as his finger pulled the trigger. Sweeney heard the sound of glass from his front window breaking and turned, watching as a figure in white on the boardwalk fell. Jake was almost to his bride when he reached out for her arm and watched in horror as she crumpled to the ground. Those inside the saloon heard Jake scream “NO!”

*****

“What now?” Mark asked in hearing the gunshot from the middle of town.

“You will remove your hand from me!” Mrs. Glendening declared in warning.

“Only if you agree to come quietly. Now!” Mark replied, his tone of voice indicated he did not care for the woman’s attitude.

Mark walked beside the woman as they headed to the Marshal’s Office, while Johnny and Seth held the two detectives outside the church. Those in attendance stood murmuring in confusion, trying to understand what had happened.

As Mark and Mrs. Glendening rounded the corner, Sweeney ran into Mark. After catching his balance, Sweeney asked, “Mark, is Doc still at the church?”

“Yes…”

“We need him. One of those gamblers pulled a gun and fired at one of the others,” Sweeney tried to explain.

“Who’d he hit?” Mark asked.

“He missed his intended target… It went through the front window…”

Mark immediately understood what Sweeney was not saying, “Gwen... Get Doc!” Mark forgot all about the woman and ran to the saloon. Upon arriving, he saw the devastated look Jake wore on his face as he cradled Gwen’s head in his arms. “Jake, don’t just sit there!” Mark demanded as he knelt down next to Gwen.

“Mark, she can’t die,” Jake pleaded as tears fell down his face.

“Then help me get her over to the clinic!” Mark ordered as he picked Gwen up in his arms and carried her across and down the street. “Jake, open the door.”

Mark placed Gwen on one of the examination tables and pressed his hand to her side, “Jake, in the cabinet there, get me some towels,” Mark ordered.

In his trance-like state, Jake did as Mark told him. Mark took the towels and pressed them against Gwen’s side.

“Jake, light the lantern on the desk and get any other lanterns you can find around the clinic in here.”

“Where is your doctor?” Mrs. Glendening demanded as she entered the room, staring at Mark’s blood soaked hands and clothing.

“Get out of here, you’ve done enough harm!” Mark scornfully answered.

“How dare you! She’s…”

“Get out of my clinic!” Thadd demanded as he entered the room followed by Abigail.

Upon feeling a hand take hold of her arm, she yelled, “She’s my niece!” as she was pulled from the room.

“Mark, how bad?” Thadd asked as he started to prepare for surgery.

“She’s lost a lot of blood already,” Mark answered. “Hit below her ribs.”

The room became quiet except for the sounds of Abigail and Thadd preparing for surgery and Gwen’s moaning. Jake had lit all the lanterns he found before he was pushed from the room by Abigail.

“Abigail,” Thadd said. “When you’re ready, go ahead and administer the ether.”

Hearing the door open, Thadd looked and saw Mark starting to leave and stated, “Mark, I want you to stay in here.”

“But…”

“I’m probably going to need to perform a blood transfusion. Go ahead and wash up, then have a seat on the table. Oh, and remove your jacket and roll up your sleeve.”

“I can help,” Sarah stated as she entered the examination room and walked to the cabinet where the equipment for blood transfusions was stored.

“Sarah, Gwen’s your family now. You should be out in the waiting area with the rest of your family,” Abigail stated.

“But I’m a nurse. I can help,” Sarah pleaded.

“Not this time,” Thadd answered as he finished washing his hands.

After administering the ether, Abigail regretted the damage done to Gwen’s wedding dress as she removed it. Thadd draped a sheet over her body, leaving only the site of bullet wound exposed.

“Mark, help me get the table over beside Gwen so I can start the blood transfusion,” Abigail stated after Thadd began the surgery.

*****

Abigail clipped the tube that carried the blood between Mark’s arm to Gwen’s. She placed a cotton wad over the needle before she removed it from the crook of Mark’s elbow and then bent his arm up.

“Just lie still for a few moments,” Abigail instructed, turned, and worked to remove the tubing from Gwen’s arm.

*****

“That’s all I can do…” Thadd stated as he placed the needle and thread aside. “What the?!” he exclaimed and looked in the direction of the thud to see Mark lying on the floor. Thadd knelt next to Mark and waited for him to regain consciousness as he held the smelling salts under Mark’s nose.

“What happened?” Mark asked groggily, shaking his head.

“You didn’t do as instructed. Guess we took a little more blood from you than we should have. It will take your body a little while to adjust. Come on, let’s get you into one of the other rooms. You’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.”

Once to his feet Mark stated, “No, I have to deal with that Mrs. Glendening.”

“She can wait until morning or Johnny can deal with her. I want you in bed.” Thadd supported Mark to the door and called to Lucas, who was waiting with the McCafferty family. “Lucas, get Mark into room five and into bed.”

“Doc?” asked an alarmed Lucas as he saw his pale and unsteady son.

“He’ll be okay. We administered a blood transfusion and Mark’s having a little trouble adjusting to the loss of blood. I think we took a little too much. He should be fine in the morning.”

“I said I’m alright. I need to deal with Mrs. Glendening,” Mark again stated.

“No, you’re not alright son. You can barely walk. Johnny and Seth have her and the two detectives under house arrest. You can deal with her in the morning. Right now, you will follow doctor’s order and go to bed.”

Lucas accepted Mark’s jacket from Abigail as Mark leaned heavily against Lucas. Together they walked to room five.

Thadd turned to the McCafferty family.

“How is she?” Reverend Mark asked.

“She’s holding her own. I’ll need to keep an eye on her through the night.”

Sarah asked as she watched Lucas help Mark, “Will Mark be okay?”

“Sure, he just needs to sleep off the effects of having too much blood taken.” Turning to Jake, Thadd stated, “I want you to go home with your parents.”

“Tonight was supposed to be our wedding night,” Jake whispered.

“Jake, if there is any change, I’ll send word. But I think you need to sleep, you’re probably suffering from shock.”

“Can’t I stay here? Please?” Jake begged.

“Room six,” Thadd answered.

Thadd watched as Reverend Mark and his wife Maggie escorted their son down the hallway.

“Thadd, what if we give him something to help him sleep?” Abigail asked as she returned from the surgical room, carrying Gwen’s wedding dress.

“Just what the doctor was going to order.” Upon seeing what his wife held in her arms, “She was a beautiful bride tonight. It’s such a shame…”

“I can’t believe that woman would do this to a member of her family, if she really is…” Sarah stated as her eyes followed her parents and brother down the hallway.

“Sarah, if she is Gwen’s aunt she’ll…” Abigail started to say.

Not allowing his wife to complete her train of thought, “Abigail, after you give Jake the sedative, why don’t you go on home and get some sleep. I don’t need you going into premature labor.”

The emotions from assisting during surgery started to wane and Abigail admitted to her husband that she was indeed feeling tired.

“Just let me get the children…” Abigail started to say.

“It’s a little late. I’m sure Micah and Hattie already have them to bed. Now, off to bed yourself.”

Thadd kissed his wife and escorted her to the front door.

“Thadd, I’ll see her home,” Lucas offered as he returned to the waiting area.

“Thanks, Lucas. I’d appreciate it.”

*****

“What are you planning to do with Gwen’s wedding dress?” Lucas asked as they walked along the boardwalk once he realized what Abigail was carrying.

“I was wondering, if Lilah… Do you think she’d be able to salvage the dress?”

“Milly said she helped Gwen sew it. If anyone could, I’m sure Lilah can.”

“What about Mark’s jacket? It looked to be stained with…”

“The family is going to stay at the hotel tonight; I’ll ask Lou if she has any suggestions to get the blood out,” Lucas answered as he held the jacket his son had worn earlier in the evening.

Upon reaching the Burrage’s home, Lucas made sure Abigail was safely inside and waited until he heard the door lock behind her.

*****

Johnny entered the kitchen of the hotel to gather Lou before heading home.

“I want them out of my hotel!” Lou demanded with her Irish temper still flaring.

“And just where would they go this late of an evening?”

“To jail!”

“And what would I charge them with?”

“Attempted Murder!” Lou spat out.

“Murder? Lou listen here!’

“I want them gone! They hurt a very dear friend of mine.”

“I have the gamblers in jail.”

“Then let her join ‘em!” Lou argued back.

“Be reasonable…”

“REASONABLE! Ye expect me to be a proper host… to them? Them who’s…”

Lou’s eyes flashed anger as Johnny placed his hand over her mouth. “If you’ll let me explain, they are under house arrest and will not get any preferential treatment from you. Seth is upstairs making sure they stay in their rooms; until Mark or I decide what to do with them.”

“And when will Mark or ye decide?” Lou asked after she pulled Johnny’s hand from her mouth.

“In the morning, once we’ve had the chance to see how Gwen is recovering. I want them to stew and think on what trouble they caused this town.”

“I’ve seen the likes of that woman. She’ll never admit that she done wrong or caused any trouble.”

“Maybe not, but once Mark writes his report and files it with Tom Benton up in Denver, I’m sure the Pinkerton Agency will have a few choice words to say to their detectives.”

“Choice words, I’ll…”

“Not tonight. This town needs to simmer down, and that includes you. Clear heads will prevail in the morning.”

*****

Lucas returned to the hotel where Milly and Hope sat at one of the tables, ignoring the drinks they held cupped in their hands while they waited.

“How is she?” Hope asked as Lucas entered the restaurant. She couldn’t help the involuntary gasp when she saw Mark’s blood soaked jacket. “Is that…?

“Mark’s fine. When I left the clinic, Doc said Gwen was holding her own,” Lucas replied as he placed his arm round Milly’s shoulders after she came to stand next to him.

“What is Mark going to do with that woman?” Milly asked. “I saw Johnny and Seth take her and those two detectives upstairs. Seth’s still upstairs.”

“Tonight Mark is sleeping…”

“Sleeping?” Hope queried.

“He donated blood to save Gwen’s life and Doc wanted him to spend the night at the clinic until his body could adjust to so much being taken.”

“How is Jake?” Milly asked.

“I saw his parents walking him to the room, next to where Mark is staying. I can’t imagine what he’s going through. I mean, I’ve been through some pretty rough experiences, but nothing like what he’s going through, watching as his wife was shot in front of him…” Changing the subject, “Enough of that, let’s get you two upstairs and to bed. We’re all going to need a good night’s sleep in order to deal with everything, tomorrow.”

*****

From the end of the hallway, Seth nodded as Lucas and Milly entered their room and Hope entered the room where her children slept. Hope heard a quiet knock on her door followed by, “Hope it’s me.”

Opening the door, Hope answered, “Father” as she started to cry.

Seth wrapped his arms around his daughter and patted her on the back.

“How could such a wonder ceremony become such a horrid evening?” Hope asked.

“I don’t know. We’ll interview Mrs. Glendening and those detectives in the morning. Where’s Mark?”

“Pa said Doc was keeping him at the clinic tonight, they took too much of his blood during the transfusion and his body needed more time to adjust.”

Putting his hand to his daughter’s chin and lifting her face to look at him, “Well, you get into bed and I’ll keep an eye on your room from the end of the hallway.”

“Goodnight Father.”

*****

Upon hearing Lucas close the door behind them, Milly asked, “Is that Mark’s jacket?”

“I was going to ask Lou if she had anything to get the blood out…”

“I can get a bucket from the kitchen and fill it with water to soak…” Taking the jacket from Lucas, Milly said, “Lucas, there’s so much blood on this…”

Lucas nodded.

*****

Throughout the night, Thadd kept an eye on his patients. Gwen was holding her own, though still unconscious from the ether. Mark was peacefully sleeping, his skin color returning to normal and not so stressed. Jake, even though sedated, struggled with his torments. Thadd imagined he was reliving the events from the night.

*****

When Mark woke, it took him a few moments to gain his bearings, where he was and why. Sitting up too quickly, Mark grabbed the side of the bed until the room stopped spinning. He was cautiously pulling on his boots when he heard the doorknob turning. Mark quickly pulled his pant legs down over his boots, stretched out his arms and took a deep breath.

“How are you feeling Mark?” Abigail asked as she entered the room.

“Better, thanks for letting me sleep here last night. I best be getting over to the jail.”

“Mark, wait until Thadd has a chance to check you over, please. He’s with Gwen right now.”

Mark stood and walked to Abigail, “I’ll be okay. I’m fine. Tell Thadd I’ll be back after I deal with Mrs. Glendening. I’ll want to hear what he has to say as far as his prognosis for Gwen’s recovery.”

Mark kissed Abigail on the cheek, turned to reach for his shirt to finish dressing. Once out of Abigail’s sight, Mark reached his hand for the wall and leaned heavily against it for a few moments, before continuing out the front door.

*****

“They did not consummate their marriage; therefore, it must be annulled!”

Trying desperately to keep his temper, Mark replied, “Mrs. Glendening, whether their marriage was consummated or not, that is irrelevant. Jake and Gwen are legally married and they love each other.”

“Love? She’s not old enough to know what love is! She’s barely of consenting age.”

“She’s twenty years old. Old enough to consent to marry someone she loves, and loves her equally in return,” Mark stated.

“She will return to Cambridge, Massachusetts with me.”

“Why? Why now?” Johnny Drako asked.

“I am the last of her family. Being raise as I’m sure she was, she needs a proper education and training. I’m sure she’s had no refinement.”

“She’s made a good life for herself,” Johnny replied.

“Good life? This land is uncivilized, only fit for the likes of…

“Ma’am, there are plenty of people in this town who take offense in what you are implying. Especially me,” Mark stated.

“You’re nothing but lawless…”

“We have laws that we uphold!” Mark answered, letting his control slip.

“Civilized people don’t go around wearing guns on their persons… Gwenivere will travel with me and I’ll see that she is trained as one befitting her station.”

“Animals are trained!” Johnny retorted.

“Gwen has been raised just fine and if she chooses to stay here, I’ll see that she lives the life she wants,” Mark replied, attempting to regain his control.

“So you had desires on her yourself,” Mrs. Glendening stated with disgust. “Heathens!”

Trying even harder to control his temper, Mark took a deep breath before he spoke.

“My wife and I have had the pleasure of allowing Gwen to live in our home. She’s been a wonderful nanny to our children.”

“You made her your indentured servant?! How dare you! I’ll see you brought up on charges…”

“Mrs. Glendening!” Mark demanded as he slammed his fist on the top of his desk and he stood to his feet. He leaned forward to steady himself.

“Mark?” Johnny stated as Mark faltered.

“I’ll be alright. Mrs. Glendening, you are speaking on subjects you know nothing about. My sister and I happened upon Gwen a little over two years ago and it was her choice to stay here and help us. In addition, she earned a good salary for everything she did. There was nothing indentured about her staying with us. She could come and go as she pleased or leave at any time to make a life for herself somewhere else. With our blessings.”

“Mrs. Glendening, in the beginning Mark allowed Gwen to live with them while her broken leg healed. He also built onto his home, affording Gwen a place to call her home,” Johnny added.

Mark continued, “I watched a young woman, who was scared from the prospect of what had almost happened to her when she joined a wagon train to travel west, change into a confident young woman. She is a young woman who laughs and enjoys life. I watched as her relationship with Jake unfolded. I was the one who gave Jake permission to call on Gwen. When Jake realized he loved her, he asked my permission to court her. He eventually asked me if I would grant him permission to ask Gwen to marry him. My wife and I were there that night when Jake asked Gwen in front of his parents, the Reverend and Mrs. McCafferty, to become his wife.”

“It doesn’t matter,” an infuriated Mrs. Glendening demanded. “None of this and none of you matter!”

“I think it does. I’m not sure why all of a sudden you are so anxious to have control of your niece,” Johnny inserted.

“Control? The poor child…”

“We know about the letter you wrote, essentially telling Gwen’s father you wanted nothing to do with them; that your sister was dead to you the day she married,” Mark answered.

Mark and Johnny watched as some of the fire left her eyes.

“So tell me, why now? Why after all these years and why last night did you have to return?” Mark asked.

“I’m her family! That’s all you need to know.”

“Not according to Gwen. You disinherited her from your family a long time ago. She’s of age to choose for herself,” Mark stated.

“Mrs. Glendening, I can hold you accountable for the events that transpired last night. Though you didn’t exactly pull the trigger, you ultimately are the one responsible for Gwen running from the church and being in the position to be shot,” Johnny threatened.

Getting nowhere, Mark stated, “Johnny return her to her room at the hotel. And until Gwen recovers, Mrs. Glendening you are not to leave this town, NOR are you to try to see her.”

“You… You can’t keep me!” a flustered Mrs. Glendening sputtered.

“I can keep you all I want, as a material suspect. And, I honestly don’t think Doc will allow you in his clinic either. So you best mind our laws while you’re in MY town,” said Mark with a calculating coldness in his voice. “Johnny, get her out of my sight and tell Lou I’m sorry for inconveniencing her.”

“She understands,” Johnny stated as he walked to stand next to Mrs. Glendening.

“I can return to the hotel on my own!” Mrs. Glendening stood from the chair and purposefully strode from the office, avoiding Johnny’s hand has he reach to take her arm.

Johnny watched as she walked across the dirt main street of town and into the hotel. Upon hearing a noise behind him, Johnny quickly walked to Mark, having collapsed back in his chair and exhaled sharply.

“That woman is taxing on a healthy person, let alone someone who gave too much blood last night,” Johnny stated as he walked to the potbellied stove and poured Mark a cup of coffee, adding plenty of sugar. “Here drink this before you pass out. I take it Doc didn’t release you?”

“Not quite. He was with Gwen. I’ll be okay, just that woman!”

“That woman is right!” Lou declared as she entered the Marshal’s Office.

“Lou, not now,” Johnny stated and saw that Lou realized now was not the time.

“Would ye like for me to go get the Doc?” Lou’s voice held concern for Mark.

“I think I’d like a big breakfast with my family. Are they at the hotel or at Seth’s?” asked Mark.

“They’re all at the hotel. Seth spent the night standing watch over those two Pinkerton detectives and that woman. I saw Lilah heading for the hotel as I came in here.”

“Do you think you can walk?” Johnny asked.

“Give me a few moments,” Mark stated. “Besides, Seth’s coming across the street.” Mark pointed his finger towards the door while raising the coffee cup to his lips.

All waited for Seth to enter the office.

“So? What did you find out last night?” Mark asked.

“How’d you know?” asked an incredulous Seth.

“I hoped those Pinkerton’s would be rethinking their involvement with everything that happened last night. Depending on how much they value their continued employment, I figured they might spill the beans, so to speak.”

“Yeah, they sure did. By the way, Mark, I saw Hope before she went to bed, she’s mighty worried about you…”

“I know she must be, but I have a job to do,” Mark replied.

“Tell us what ye found out last night,” an anxious Lou asked.

Mark nodded when Seth looked to him, his eyes asking if it was okay to have Lou hear what he had to report.

“We’ve known that Gwen said her aunt had disinherited her own sister.” The others nodded. “However, what the Pinkerton’s said is, their father never did. Howard Trevor St. Paul’s will specifically lists Gwen’s mother as the primary and sole beneficiary. If Emily Marie St. Paul-Shawnesee or her heirs do not present themselves within one year of Mr. St. Paul’s death, all the money and proceeds from the sale of his estate will be donated to charity. The Pinkerton’s also stated there was no provision made for Mrs. Mary Catherine Glendening in the will, except to say that she was to be provided for by her family.”

“He expected Gwen’s mother to provide for her?” Lou asked.

“No, I think with her being a ‘woman of standing’ he meant for the family she married into, to provide for her,” Seth stated.

“How long ago did Gwen’s grandfather pass away?” Mark asked.

“Nine months ago,” Seth answered.

“She wouldn’t,” Lou declared.

“Now Lou, what are you thinking?” Johnny asked.

“She disinherits her own sister and niece years ago. Her own father doesn’t include her in his will, but make allowances for a granddaughter he’s never met… She’s here to get her hands on the money by using Gwen and Lord only knows what will become of Gwen once that… that…”

“Lou!” Johnny warned strongly.

“First we need to make sure that Gwen recovers,” Mark declared. “And this town will do its damnedest to protect her. However, if she chooses to travel to Cambridge, there is nothing we can do.”

“Ye, can’t be serious. That ‘woman’ has to be kept away from her,” Lou declared.

“She’s already been warned,” Johnny answered. “Now, I think Mark will better recover from the events from last night if we get him to the restaurant and you cook him and his family a fine breakfast.”

“Seth, Lou said Lilah headed to the hotel, why don’t you head on back. I’ll be there shortly to relieve you,” Mark stated as he stood to his feet, Johnny close by.

“I’ll wait to return with you,” Seth answered.

The foursome walked across the street and into the hotel lobby. Mark watched his family coming down the stairs, thankful, his father was in front and in a position to stop his grandsons from running to their father. Lucas had seen Johnny shaking his head when the boys started calling for their Papa.

“Boys, I need to talk with your Papa, alone, why don’t you go on into the restaurant and pick out a table for all of us.”

“Yes, Grandpa,” the three called as they ran ahead. “Come on Little Ted,” Josh called.

“I come too,” Levi called out as Little Ted took his hand and pulled him along.

Hope handed Faith to Milly and was soon at Mark’s side with her arm around his waist, “Here, let me help you,” she smiled.

“Thanks,” Mark answered as he tipped his head forward and gave her a quick kiss.

*****

Mark did his best to steer any conversation away from the topic of Mrs. Glendening through breakfast. He had just put his napkin on top of his empty plate when Thadd came into the restaurant.

“Okay, Marshal, doctor’s orders, back to the clinic.”

“Doc, I’m fine, I’m feeling a lot better since Lou cooked such a fine breakfast for the family,” Mark answered.

“Allow me to pronounce you capable of returning to your duties. I’m the doctor, you’re the Marshal.”

“How is Jake this morning?” Hope asked.

“Traumatized. I allowed him into Gwen’s room after I finished examining both of them for the morning.”

“And Gwen? Will she recover?” Milly asked.

“I expect her to wake up before lunch time. She accepted Mark’s blood last night without any complications.”

“Accepted blood?” Mrs. Glendening asked from the entrance to the restaurant. “You risked my niece’s life with such a barbaric practice?!”

“Before I chased you from my clinic, I’m sure you saw the volume of blood on the Marshal’s jacket and hands? Gwen McCafferty lost a lot of blood last night. It was a risk I have taken in the past with much success. Had Mark not agreed to a blood transfusion, Gwen would have died.”

“All the more reason for me to take her to Cambridge. I’ll have the finest, educated doctors that money can buy tend to her, not some witchdoctor.”

“Witchdoctor!” Hope declared. “Doctor Burrage is an excellent physician.”

Thadd answered Mrs. Glendening, choosing to ignore her insult. “She’s not in any condition to travel and won’t be for some time. If any other doctors are to treat her, that decision will be up to her husband.” Thadd’s tone indicated a finality that he no longer wished the woman in his presence. Turning to Mark, “You have five minutes to return to the clinic so I may examine you for the morning.”

Lou stepped to the table and addressed Mrs. Glendening, “This restaurant refuses to serve you. T’is a café down the street.”

*****

Mark had finished re-buttoning his shirt when he asked, “Well?”

“Just take it easy today? Try to keep your temper in check…”

“My temper? You should have told that to Lou…” Mark teased.

“Mark, before I entered the restaurant, Johnny told me what happened in the office. It’ll still take a while before your body can replace all the blood we took. I’m surprised you didn’t pass out this morning when you got into the argument with that woman.”

“Pass out?”

“Mark, I was desperate to save Gwen’s life and we probably shouldn’t have taken as much as we did. Just promise me you’ll take it easy.”

“Okay Thadd, I’ll do as you ask. Can I see them?” Mark asked.

“Sure, come on. Room nine, across from my office.”

The room Mark entered was semi-darkened due to the shades being drawn and the lantern on the table turned low. Jake sat on a chair next to the bed, holding Gwen’s hand. He didn’t look up as Mark walked to stand next to him.

“When will she wake?” Jake barely whispered.

“Doc hopes before lunchtime,” Mark replied.

“Will she be okay? I mean, Doc’s not told me a whole lot, but will she be able to be my wife?”

“In time. Once she’s fully healed,” Thadd answered from the doorway, knowing the meaning behind Jake’s question, “The bullet did some damage, but nothing that would prevent her from bearing your children.”

“Can that woman do as she said? Can she have our marriage… annulled?” Jake asked. His eyes expressed his fear for the answer to his questions.

“Not as long as I have a say,” Mark answered. “Jake, there’s more going on that I can’t tell you about right now, but rest assured, you and Gwen are married in the eyes of this town and in the eyes of God. From now, until death do you part.”

“It almost happened last night,” Jake plaintively spoke as tears welled in his eyes.

“You have that little faith in my surgical abilities?” Thadd asked.

“No, no. You saved her life…” Jake gulped.

“Just remember that and keep positive thoughts Jake. I’ll send your parents in here once they arrive.”

“Doc? Thank you,” Jake stated as he looked away from Gwen for the first time and looked straight into Doc’s eyes.

“You’re welcome.”

*****

Mark returned to the hotel later in the morning, he stopped by the room to check in on their children and Hope before proceeding to the room Detectives Morely and Garrison were sharing.

“Both of you are ordered to leave North Fork and return to your St. Louis office,” Mark stated and continued, “There’s a stage that will take you to Roswell this afternoon where you can catch the train.”

“You have no authority!” Morely shot back.

“I have all the authority I need,” Mark replied.

“We are employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency,” Garrison stated as he stood from the chair where he had been reading a paper.

“And I’m employed by the U.S. Marshal Service. My employer trumps yours. Either you leave ‘voluntarily’ or you’ll force me to wire your superiors and I’m sure the Marshal’s Office in Denver would love to hear about your incompetence.”

“Incompetence?! We were under orders!” Morely agrued. “We were doing our job!”

“Your job almost cost a young woman her life last night. Either you get on the stage this afternoon or I’ll charge you as an accessory to attempted murder.”

“Attempted murder?!” an angered Morely replied.

“I can word the warrant any way I please.” Pausing to let his words sink in, Mark continued, “So which way will it be?”

Garrison started to say, “But the train will be here tomorrow. We already had return passage booked.”

“You’re not welcome in this town. I’m sworn to uphold the law and protect the innocent, but neither of you men are innocent in my book. I’m sure you realize that Mrs. Glendening must have ulterior motives to her planning get her hands on her niece. The quicker you leave, the safer you’ll be. So I strongly suggest you both get on the stage out of here... Today.”

“Marshal, you can’t blame us! We didn’t know about the wedding until we arrived. All we did was locate the long lost niece of our client. What happens after the two are reunited is none of our business,” Morely spoke. “What we told the deputy last night…, Mrs. Glendening, she don’t know that we know about the Will. We weren’t supposed to know, but there’s a secretary at the office who’s sweet on Garrison and she told us. Our orders were to do as Mrs. Glendening bid… Locate the niece and see that they both made it on the train back to Cambridge.”

“What unfortunate accident was to befall Gwen after she arrived in Cambridge, once she received her inheritance? Did your superiors plan to blackmail more money from Mrs. Garrison once her niece had her inheritance and Gwen was out of the picture?” Watching the two detectives, Mark continued, “You greedy bastards!”

“The Pinkerton Agency has a reputation to uphold…” Garrison argued.

“But it’s staffed by men. Greedy, manipulative…”

“You don’t know that was what was planned. We’re just supposed to travel with her here and return with the two of them as far as St. Louis,” Garrison answered. “The rest was to be handled by our superiors.”

“Well, you’ll be returning to St. Louis without your client. If you’re lucky, you might just avoid being tarred and feathered if you make it on the stage.”

*****

Mark turned and left the room and the hotel just before lunch. He returned to the clinic and hoped to see Gwen awake.

“Abigail?” Mark asked as he entered. “Has she woke?”

“I’m not to answer that question unless you’ve ate lunch. And from the growl of your stomach, I’d say that answer is no.” Abigail turned Mark around and pushed him out the door. “You may come back and bring confirmation that you ate.”

*****

Thirty minutes later, Mark with Lucas accompanying him, returned to the clinic.

Lucas saw Abigail walking down the hall and stated, “I understand you wanted someone to verify Mark ate, and I’m here to confirm.”

“Thanks, Lucas” Abigail stated.

“You’re on your own son,” Lucas stated as he turned to leave the clinic. “I’m going to take Milly and the children home this afternoon. Will you be bringing your family home later?”

“Just as soon as I settle with the gambler who fired the shot, see those Pinkerton’s on the stage, and warn Mrs. Glendening one more time about staying away from the clinic.”

Lucas and Mark waved goodbye to each other.

“Thadd went in Gwen’s room a few minutes ago. Jake and his family are already inside. He asked for you to come in once you arrived.”

Mark quietly entered the room. Jake was now sitting on the side of the bed Gwen laid in. His hand still held hers and with his other hand, he brushed the backside of his hand against her cheek, while she softly moaned.

Maggie sat in an overstuffed chair next to the window, while Sarah sat on the arm of the chair. Reverend Mark leaned against the wall, an opened bible pulled to his chest.

Jake showed the first indication of a smile on his face when Gwen’s eyelids started to flutter.

“Come on, I want to see my bride’s beautiful eyes,” Jake quietly spoke.

Gwen’s face turned towards his voice as her eyes opened. Mark grew worried when he noticed her dull eyes. They didn’t sparkle at the sight of Jake and his family sitting with her. As she turned her face away from the McCafferty’s and towards the wall; he saw the tears falling from her eyes.

“Gwen?” Jake plaintively called. “I love you.”

Gwen shook her head, but stopped as she heard Mark’s voice.

“You have family here who love you and you’re going to turn your back on them?”

“I don’t know that woman,” Gwen whispered.

“I’m not talking her. I’m talking your husband and your in-laws.”

“She said…” Gwen’s voice choked with tears.

“I’m the marshal of this territory. What I say is law. Those two detectives will be on their way to St. Louis this afternoon; they’ll have some mighty uncomfortable questions to answer once they report into their superiors. And I don’t want you to worry about that woman. There are plenty of us here to take care of her and see that she no longer creates any troubles for you and your husband.”

While Mark spoke, Jake offered Gwen a glass of water and held her head while she sipped.

Gwen turned her head to face Jake, “Do you still want to be married to me?”

“More than anything,” Jake quickly answered, having set the glass on the side table.

“But our wedding night…,” Gwen pleaded.

“Don’t worry about that.” Smiling, Jake continued, “We’ve our whole lives ahead of us.”

Everyone relaxed a little bit when they saw the faint smile appear on Gwen’s face.

*****

After seeing Gwen, Mark returned to the Marshal’s Office, “So what have you decided to do about those two?” he asked.

“Can’t very well charge either of them with shooting Gwen, that part was an accident. From what Sweeney said, had Sam Montgomery not pushed the one, the bullet wouldn’t have struck Gwen.”

“Okay, but what about them?”

“I’m keeping them in there for good measure, at least until after Mrs. Glendening departs. Anybody asks, they’re serving time for disturbing the peace.”

“Sounds good to me,” Mark commented, as he was ready to see the day over.

“What about you?”

“I’m going to see those Pinkerton detectives on the stage, then I think I’ll finally take my family home. When do you want me to stand my next watch?”

“Tuesday. Mark, I’ll send word if there is any change in Gwen’s condition or if I need you to help out with Mrs. Glendening. I think that the less she sees of you, until we ship her out on the train, the better.”

“Are you going to put on the train tomorrow?” Mark inquired.

“That part is up to Gwen. I’ll send word one way or the other for when she’ll be on the train.”

“I hope the reverend wasn’t too upset with us not making it to services this morning,” Mark commented as stepped to the door.

“In light of everything, he canceled services but allowed people to come for quiet reflection and prayers. Mark get out of here and get your family home. I’ll see you Tuesday.”

*****

The eastbound train arrived mid-afternoon, three days later to see Mark waiting on the platform with Mrs. Glendening.

“I demand the right to see my niece!” Mrs. Glendening demanded one more time. “You and that Marshal have no right to keep me from her!”

“Be thankful that she agreed to see you Monday, otherwise you would have been on the train instead. Know this, she doesn’t want to see you again.”

“You can’t… I’ll hire lawyers!”

“Just so you understand, I’ve wired the Hawes & Hawes law firm in Cambridge and informed them that when she’s capable, Mr. St. Paul’s granddaughter will be contacting them directly regarding her inheritance.”

“You what?!”

“Mrs. Glendening, be advised that should anything happen to Gwen McCafferty, be it in the next week, month or sometime in the future, I will personally swear out a warrant for your arrest.”

“How dare you!”

With a tone of voice that would have surprised his family, Mark answered, “I’ll dare all I need to. I don’t make idle threats. If Gwen has to travel to Cambridge to collect her inheritance, mind you, she will not be traveling with just her husband. I will be there as well. I can only imagine what you had planned after she received her inheritance and believe me, I had an extremely active imagination as a child. It is best you remember you were the one who disowned your own flesh and blood. You will reap what you sewed and when it comes time for you to stand in front of God, I pray you fear for your eternal soul. If it were up to me I’d see that you spent eternal damna…”

The train exhaust roared, drowning out the remainder of Mark’s statement.

***

Upon leaving the livery, Mark drove Seth’s surrey to the clinic. “Well,” he called as he knocked on the clinic room door. “I hear two newlyweds are ready to head home.”

Jake wrapped an additional blanket around Gwen before picking her up in his arms. A small crowd of family and friends braved the blustery conditions as they gathered outside the clinic to see the couple off. Pausing in front of the group, Jake thanked everyone for their prayers.

“Jake, once Gwen is fully healed, we’ll hold your wedding reception. Your gifts are already at your home,” Hattie informed them.

“Who knows, we may even convince Oat to hold A New Year’s barn dance in your honor,” Micah quietly stated.

*****

Mark waited until the McCafferty family was seated, and carefully drove the surrey from town to Jake and Gwen’s home. He laughed when Gwen protested Jake wanting to carry her from the surrey into their home. The Reverend helped his wife down and followed behind.

“Gwen, I wouldn’t fight him on this. It’s part of the tradition if being newlyweds.”

Mark followed them inside where he greeted his wife and Jake’s sister.

The families spent a half hour in the home, making sure both Jake and Gwen were settled and prepared a stew for supper to cook on the stove.

“I’m sure we’d love to stay to watch you open your gifts, but the weather is taking a turn for the worse. Reverend, why don’t you take your family back to town in the surrey,” Mark stated.

“And how are you going to get home?” Maggie asked.

“If you remember, Rainmaker is tied to the back. Hope and I can ride double and get home faster this way,” Mark replied. “We really need to get going,” Mark said as he looked to Hope while she buttoned her winter coat.

The McCafferty’s stood on the porch and watched as Mark extended his hand down and pulled Hope up behind him. Carefully, Rainmaker turned around and loped down the road towards home.

“They’re both special friends to have,” Jake stated as he finished waving and turned his wife around and lovingly pushed her back inside their home.

“Son, Mark’s right, we best be heading home too. You don’t need us here on your first night together as husband and wife,” Reverend Mark stated as he helped Maggie into her coat.

“Hope and I have some stew on the stove and bread in the oven,” Sarah stated as her father maneuvered her and her mother out the door.

*****

Once alone, Jake asked Gwen if she wanted to open the gifts they had received on their wedding day.

“I just don’t feel like it. Maybe later,” she replied.
*****

Mark halted Rainmaker at the porch to his parents’ home and assisted Hope in stepping down.

“Once I get Rainmaker settled, I’ll be over to help you with the children,” Mark stated as he kneed his horse towards the barn.

*****

“It’s just the two of us,” Jake said later that evening as he brought two bowls of stew to the table and set one in front of Gwen.

“Just us,” Gwen nervously replied as she took a bite.

After eating, Jake quickly washed, dried, and put away the dishes. Outside the wind howled as it blew around their home. Jake added more wood to the fireplace in the front room.

“Now you stay put, I’ll be right back,” Jake stated before he stood and entered the room behind the door that previously bore a sign ‘Keep Out’. Gwen heard several thuds before Jake reentered the front room. “I added more firewood to the potbellied stove. I guess you’re getting tired and probably want to go to bed?”

“Jake… I…”

Jake placed his index finger over Gwen’s lips, before he lifter her into his arms. “This is my gift to you.” And carried her into their bedroom.

After setting her gently on the mattress of the four-poster bed, Gwen ran her hand over the quilt draped across the foot of the bed. Jake walked to the bedroom door and said, “I’ll let you get changed into your nightgown. I’ll change into my bedclothes in the other room.”

Jake waited what seemed an agonizing amount of time before he knocked on the bedroom door, “Gwen, may I come in?”

From the other side of the door he heard a quiet ‘Yes.’

Jake entered the room to see Gwen already under the covers, which were pulled to her chin. Careful not to jostle his wife, Jake climbed into bed next to her. Reaching out, he turned down the wick of the lamp, so that it cast a gentle glow on their bedroom.

“I love you,” Jake answered as he turned back to Gwen.

“How can you say that? Look at all the heartache I’ve brought to you and your family,” Gwen quietly whispered.

“The only reason my heart aches is because that woman hurt you. Gwen, you’re my wife, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health… I’ll take care of you and when you’re ready, we can be a real husband and wife.”

“I can’t,” Gwen responded as she turned on her side, her back towards Jake.

“Can’t what?” Jake asked while rubbing his hand up and down her upper arm.

“I don’t know how to be a wife.”

Jake heard the tears in her voice.

“Well, I’m not so sure about how to be a husband, but if we love each other and once you’re healed, we can learn… together.”

Gwen rolled over so she could face her husband in their bed.

“I’ve never been with a man before…”

“I’ve never been with a woman before…”

Gently, Jake placed his hand to Gwen’s chin, leaned forward, and shared a kiss, a gentle kiss that before long turned passionate. Jake wrapped his arms around Gwen and carefully pulled her close to him. He hesitated, wanting to make sure he caused her no further pain. As she leaned into him, a brief shiver of excitement coursed through her body when she felt the beating of his heart. While Jake gently his hands rub up and down her back, she felt calmness come over her that this is where she belonged.

*****

After seeing their children to bed, Mark and Hope climbed into their own bed.

“I wonder,” Mark commented.

“Wonder what?” Hope asked.

“Nothing…”

“And that’s right. What happens in their home is their business,” Hope replied.

“Do you think she’ll be as embarrassed as you were, the morning after?” Mark teased.

“Mark Warren McCain!” Hope playfully batted away the arm Mark attempted to wrap around her.

*****

Lucas and Milly planned a quiet family celebration for Mark and Hope’s birthdays, only inviting Seth and Lilah to the ranch.

Discussions revolved around the ranch and the fact that Seth and Lilah were planning to travel to Fort Stanton to spend the holidays with Ethan and his family.

Though the adults understood, the boys didn’t. They were upset that their other grandpa wouldn’t be with them for Christmas.

“We’ll be back after the New Year and I promise, we’ll celebrate our own Christmas,” Seth promised as he hugged his grandchildren goodbye.

*****

Two days later, Jake and Gwen were at the clinic where Doc Burrage declared he was pleased with Gwen’s recovery. After Gwen finished dressing, Thadd allowed Jake into the examination room and stated, “Now get home and enjoy being a husband and wife! I’ll make sure your father understands why you’ll both be missing from services tomorrow.”

“Doc?” Jake queried.

“You know dang well what I mean.”

“Thanks Doc!” Jake called as he reached for Gwen’s hand and together they exited the clinic.

*****

Lucas and Milly were placing packages in the back of their buckboard when Jake and Gwen almost ran into them.

“Where’s the fire?” Lucas asked.

“No fire, Mr. McCain,” Jake replied as he looked at Gwen and smiled.

“Mr. McCain, Doc said my injury was fully healed,” Gwen stated while blushing.

Milly asked, “Would you like to join us for lunch?”

“No ma’am. We’re going to follow doctor’s orders,” Jake answered as they excused themselves and hurried to the livery, where they’d left their buggy.

Mark greeted his parents in front of the General Store as Jake and Gwen drove by, waving goodbye, as Jake hurried the horse along. “I thought you were going to invite them to join us for lunch?” he asked.

“Doc declared Gwen fully healed and they’re heading home to follow doctor’s orders…” Milly stated with a curious expression on her face.

“Oh,” Mark laughed. “Is that all.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Milly asked.

“Ma, if you have to ask, then you’ve been married to Pa for too long.”

“Married… Mark Warren McCain! I’ll have you know…”

“Milly?” Lucas teased.

“And you’re just going to stand there and let your son talk to me like that?” Milly asked in mock-hurt.

“No, I’m going to push my son over to the clinic to join his wife for their youngest child’s check up, then I’m going to go get our children and grandchildren from the daycare, and then I’m planning to have a hearty lunch at the hotel restaurant. What do you have to say for yourself?” Lucas teased.

“I’ll wait for you at the hotel,” Milly shot back, turned and walked away. A giggle escaped Milly’s lips as she smiled at her attempt to get one up on Lucas. “Don’t be late!” she called over her shoulder.
.
“Do you think she planned that?” Lucas asked as he realized what had happened.

“Don’t think about it Pa. It’ll give you a headache. We’ll join you after Faith’s checkup.”

*****

Jake stopped the buggy at the porch of their home, “uh, uh, uh” he stated when Gwen started to step down from her side. “You just wait.” Jake stepped down and almost slipped as he rushed around the front of the horse in his hurry to get to Gwen. Taking her hand, Jake lifted her from the buggy and carried her inside. Setting her to her feet in front of the fireplace, Jake stated, “You just wait here, I’ll be right back as soon as I put away the horse.”

*****

Jake returned to the house to find Gwen still standing where he left her. She had removed her coat and started a fire in the fireplace. Jake hung his coat and hat on the coat rack behind the front door and walked to his bride.

“We’re alone,” Jake whispered.

“That we are.”

“And Doc told us to get home and enjoy being a husband and wife.”

“I know.”

Jake carefully took Gwen into his arms and carried her into their bedroom. He noticed a fire had been started in the potbellied stove and the curtains had been pulled closed, darkening the room. The lantern on the table beside their bed was lit, yet turned down low, casting a golden glow around their bedroom.

Setting Gwen to her feet, he stated, “I love you.”

Gwen said nothing in response. She hesitated before she raised her hands and started to unbutton Jake’s shirt. As she reached the last button, Jake pulled his shirttail from his pants, Gwen pushed it off his shoulders allowing it to fall to the floor. She placed her hands lovingly on his chest, and smiled as she felt the muscles ripple under her hands.

Taking her face in his hands, Jake leaned forward and kissed his bride, lowering his hands to her waist, he pulled her close as she in turn wrapped her arms around his neck. Jake walked her to their bed and unbuttoned the back of Gwen’s dress. He shivered as he felt the softness of her back against his hands. Gwen shuffled to slip out of her shoes before he felt her push him away.

“If it’s too soon…” Jake offered.

“No, it’s not too soon. I was just remembering something Hope told me…”

Gwen reached up and slowly pulled her dress from her shoulders, slipping her arms from the sleeves, yet pausing... She remembered their first night in their home, how she realized after their talk that this was indeed where she belonged. She had yearned for the past ten days to fulfill her wedding vows and be a wife to the man who stood in front of her. She finally allowed her dress to fall to the floor, revealing herself to her husband. Jake lifted the covers, allowing Gwen to slip into bed. He scurried around to the other side, where he quickly removed his clothes, and climbed under the covers.

Neither minded the fact that they missed lunch or supper as they enjoyed exploring the pleasures of being married.

*****

After seeing their own children to bed later that night, Lucas and Milly retired to their bedroom.

“Now what do you have to say for yourself, Mrs. McCain? I bet you think you’re feeling pretty smug about relaxing at the restaurant while I retrieved all the children.”

“Oh Lucas, you can’t be upset with me? It’s just the tone you took when you said what you were going to do.”

Lucas wrapped his arms around Milly and pulled her close.

“There’s only one way you can make it up to me,” Lucas teased as he pressed his lips to Milly’s ear.

“You’ve already ate supper!” Milly teased back.

Milly leaned in to Lucas as he started to unbutton the back of her dress.

“You don’t think we’ve been married too long, do you?” Lucas asked.

“What would ‘our’ son know about that?” Milly asked as she proceeded to unbutton Lucas shirt.

Together they slipped into their bed.

“Nothing like newlyweds to remind us of what it means to be a married,” Lucas commented as he caressed his wife and pulled her close. That night, they enjoyed the pleasures of being married. Smug in the fact their children were old enough to sleep through the night.

*****

It was after midnight when Gwen tried to rise from the bed, but found herself restrained by her husband.

“Just where do you think you’re going?” Jake whispered in her ear.

“We’ve not ate since breakfast, and I’m a little hungry.”

“Now that you mention it,” Jake replied. “I’ll put more wood in the potbellied stove. Why don’t you fix us some sandwiches?”

Next Step — The Wanted Poster

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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