The Rifleman
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The Next Step…
Chapter 24 - The Wait

Written by Deanne Bertram

While Mark slept, his dreams took him back to a Christmas when he was younger. Back to Enid, Oklahoma and his Ma. As if watching someone else’s dream, he watched as his father pulled a small child behind him on a sled, through the snow. He heard the child squeal with laughter, yelling, “Faster Pa, faster!” He heard his Ma, warn his Pa, “Lucas, not too fast!” His dream showed the three of them making snow angels. His dream took him to later that night; his Ma and Pa were tucking him into bed after watching him say his prayers.

Next, his dreams took him to Christmas, just a few days ago. The prospect of, standing as a man and asking permission for Hope’s hand in marriage. Watching the love his Ma and his Pa shared for each other. The reality of a new life being brought into the world in the next few weeks. The love that abounded in the home, the warmth. Showed him kneeling, asking for Hope to be his wife.

Mark’s dreams took him to his dream of his future. Of sitting on the porch talking to his Pa, watching as his eldest child came running over the rise, barely stopping before hugging Grandpa Lucas and warning his Pa he best get home to finish his chores, lest he sleep in the barn.

He smiled and sighed “Hope” as he dreamed of his past, his present, and his future. Mrs. Tanner was working on her needlepoint in the room when she heard the sigh escape Mark’s lips. She set her needlepoint down and walked to the bed. She brushed back the hair from his forehead. Pleased to feel his body temperature having returned to normal, also that fever had not set in.

That evening, before they returned to North Fork, both Doctors checked Mark over one last time. Pleased with how clear his lungs sounded, pleased to see the return of color to his face. Please that no sign of frost bite or pneumonia had set in. They instructed the Tanners to keep Mark warm, and when he woke to get a hot meal in him. Said he’d probably be woozy for a while because of the brandy they had forced in to him. If all continued well, they would see that Lucas came for the boy, day after tomorrow. They didn’t want him out of bed until then.

*****

New Year’s afternoon, Micah and the Lane’s returned to the McCain ranch, unaware of the blessed and tragic events that has befallen the family. When they received no answer to their knock, they entered to see Hope curled up in Mark’s chair, asleep and Lucas was asleep in his chair, his bible lying on his chest. The men could tell both had been crying.

Micah stepped further into the room and shook Lucas’ shoulder.

“LucasBoy, what happened?” he asked.

Hope woke as Ethan gently shook her shoulder and called her name.

“Micah, Seth, Ethan, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you arrive,” Lucas stated as he wiped the moisture from his cheeks.

“Lucas?”

“The baby came this morning,” Lucas stated.

“Why that’s good news! Why the tears, did something happen?” Ethan asked.

“Milly and the baby are fine, but Mark ended up racing all the way over to Judge Tanner’s in Marionette, without his coat. Doc Burrage went back to help his uncle tend to Mark. He said he was half frozen when he arrived.”

Lucas stood as he heard Milly call his name. He again wiped the tears from his eyes as he walked to their bedroom. From behind the closed door, all heard Milly cry out when Lucas told her the news. Hope broke from her brother’s embrace and ran to Milly.

Hope entered the room and saw Lucas trying to calm Milly, soothingly stroking her back, holding her tight. Hope picked up the crying baby from the cradle and carried her to Milly. She stepped back as Milly prepared to let the baby suckle at her breast.

“Oh Lucas,” Milly whispered. “How can such a blessed occasion hurt like this? Lucas, it seems like every time I bring something joyous to you, there’s a dark side and you get hurt.”

“Milly, please don’t think that way. Every day of my life, since you returned, has been a joy in my life. Remember our wedding night and every night since then. Milly, don’t blame yourself for what’s happened.”

Milly turned her face away from Lucas and looked at their daughter.

“Milly, please,” Lucas pleaded. “Don’t turn away from me. Don’t shut me out. You’ve told me in the past how strong Mark is, we have to have faith that he’ll pull through. Milly, you’re my wife and his mother. You’re a McCain. And you’re the mother of my daughter.”

Lucas reached to caress the back of his daughter’s head. In time, the suckling sounds stopped and the baby lay asleep against Milly’s breast. “Milly, we’ll wait until Mark gets home to name her.” Lucas stated as he leaned to give his wife a kiss and wiped the tears from her cheek. Milly leaned back against Lucas and fell asleep in his arms and Lucas fell asleep with the two most important women in his life, in his arms.

*****

When Hope stepped from the bedroom, Seth and Ethan stated that it was time for them to return to duty. They apologized for not being able to stay longer, but duty called. They promised they would return to North Fork for the wedding.

“If there is one,” Hope stated as she looked to the floor.

“Hope, have faith. Your love for him might just make the difference for his choice to live,” Seth told his daughter.

Micah stated he was going to return to town, see if either Doc Burrage had returned and had any news. Hope asked Micah to let Miss Hattie know she was going to stay at the McCain’s.

*****

Hope fixed a small dinner for the family that evening. They quietly ate, until they heard the sound of a horse and buggy arrive. Lucas opened the door to see both Doc Burrage’s walking across the porch. He invited them in.

“Lucas, Milly, Hope,” old Doc Burrage started. “We have good news regarding Mark. It took time, but when we left Marionette, he was peacefully sleeping and his body temperature had returned to normal.”

“Doc,” Milly asked. “What of frost bite or pneumonia?”

“Milly, your son will be fine. No signs of frost bite and his lungs were clear. I asked the Judge and Mrs. Tanner if they minded keeping him until day after tomorrow, I’d prefer he not get out of that bed until then.”

“Doc, thank you. I don’t know how we’ll ever be able to repay you for saving Mark’s life, again,” Lucas stated as the men turned to the door.

“You just keep talking to your daughter and tell her about her big brother.”

Lucas watched as the buggy drove away on the snow covered lane. He shivered, looked up to the heavens and thanked God.

*****

Thaddeus Burrage waited inside his home for Lucas McCain to arrive; he intended to travel with Lucas to Marionette. He wanted to check Mark over one more time before allowing him to travel home.

*****

Before starting their return trip, they made sure Mark was well bundled for the return home and tied Blue Boy to the back of the buckboard. Lucas was concerned over his son’s silence as they headed home. Lucas waved goodbye to Thadd as he started the final leg home.

“Mark you seem awful quiet, is everything alright?”

“Pa, I’m sorry about all this. I was so concerned about Ma and the baby, I didn’t think before I left to get Doc Burrage.”

“Mark, you couldn’t have known both would be in Marionette and with the baby coming early, let’s just put this behind us. Besides, you have a new sister to meet once I get you home.”

They were a short distance from the ranch, “What were you thinking about that made you laugh?” Lucas asked as he heard a small laugh come from Mark and saw a smile on his face.

“I was just remembering a dream I had while I was sleeping. I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’,” Mark stated.

“Mark, how could you compare yourself to someone as miserly as that character?”

“I didn’t feel so much like Scrooge, but I dreamed of Christmas past, when we were back in Enid, Christmas present, from just a few days ago, and my future, the dream I’ve had ever since before I met Hope.”

They arrived home and Lucas assisted Mark into the house. Lucas helped Mark remove his coat before making sure his son sat down in front of the fire place. The door to his parent’s bedroom opened and he saw his Ma carrying a bundle in her arms. Milly walked over and placed his sister in his arms. Hope stood in front of Mark and watched.

Mark pulled open the blanket to take a look at his sister. He counted her fingers and her toes. She grabbed at his finger. “I have a sister? What did you name her?” he asked.

“We haven’t named her yet Mark. We wanted to wait until you came home,” Milly stated.

“Have you chosen a name?” he asked.

“We were thinking of naming her Myra Gabriela McCain,” Milly stated.

“Sounds like a good name. Welcome to our family, Myra Gabriela McCain.” Mark raised his sister to his face and nuzzled noses. She started cooing.

Lucas walked to the chest and pulled their family bible from within. He set it on the table and then went to retrieve the pen and ink well. Milly sat down and printed:

Myra Gabriela McCain, born, and the date.

Lucas and Milly returned to stand next to their son. Lucas stood with his arms around his wife and his future daughter-in-law, and watched his two children meet each other.

The Next Step — Hope's Graduation

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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