The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Next Step...
Chapter 71 – Young Love
Written by Deanne Bertram

Mark woke his children for the morning and helped them get dressed and brought them into the front room. After seeing that they were going to behave for Gwen to watch over, he stepped from his home and walked to the barn. Across the yard he watched as Lucas and Myra walked from their home and into their barn. Mark threw out hay for the team and Two-Bits and turned them loose into the corral and walked over to the his father’s barn.
 
“First school day of the semester?” Mark asked as he entered.
 
“Oh, Mark, Papa said he’d ride me to school today. Can you come too?” Myra asked.
 
“Fraid not this morning, Gabby. I have some chores to do here before I head into town to return to my duties as a marshal,” Mark replied. “But, if you’re a good girl at school this morning, I’ll stop by and take you to lunch.”
 
“I’d like that Mark,” Myra answered.
 
“So today’s your first day back too?” Lucas asked.
 
“Don’t you figure it’s about time I got back to work? Guess you’re feeling the same way about Razor?” Mark asked, seeing his father had saddled up his old horse. Mark petted the old boy as Lucas finished bridling Blue Boy for Myra.
 
“He enjoys getting out and being ridden every now and then. Taking Myra to school is a lot easier on him compared to working the ranch. He seems to enjoy getting off the property.”
 
“I think it’s more that he likes being out with Blue Boy,” Mark commented. “I remember when I’d ride to school and Razor would be left here how he got so upset that he couldn’t go, too.”
 
Lucas smiled, remembering back to those days.
 
Mark followed Lucas and Myra as his Pa led Razor and Blue Boy out of the barn. Mark hefted Myra up into the saddle and handed her the reins. He waved as they rode to take Myra to school. Once they were over the rise, Mark returned to his barn and started to clean stalls.
 
Upon returning to his home, he found Gwen getting his sons seated at the table, while Hope was carrying the food from the kitchen.
 
Mark noticed the boys were quieter than usual and he finally asked, “Why the long faces?”
 
“You leaving us,” Josh sorrowfully spoke up.
 
“But only to do my job. I’ll be back home tomorrow evening, just like I used to be.”
 
“You not here to pway with us,” Eli whimpered as he played with his spoon.
 
“No, but Gwen and your Mama, and Grandma Milly and Grandpa Lucas will be here with you. Just like before,” Mark answered.
 
“Not the same. You play with us. They too busy,” Zach stated.
 
“Boys, I have a job in town that I need to get back to doing.” Trying to find a way to make his boys smile, Mark stated, “If you’ll be good and mind your Mama and Gwen while I’m gone, then Sunday, after services, I’ll take you fishing.”
 
Mark looked to Hope after hearing her exclaim, “Oh, Mykaela!” Mark saw that his daughter had slammed her tiny fists into the bowl of oatmeal Hope was feeding her from and it flew back on Hope, Mykaela, the table, and the floor.
 
“Here, Hope, let me take Emmy.” Mark tried to keep a straight face as he saw the oatmeal on Hope’s face as well as his daughter’s. Emmy squealed with laughter as Mark sat her on his lap. “Now young lady, why did you go and do something like that?”
 
“Popy,” Mark heard and asked, “What did you say?”
 
“Popy” Mykaela squealed as she reached her oatmeal covered hands to Mark’s face and smeared the oatmeal over him, before Gwen could return to the table with a wash cloth.
 
“Hope, I think our daughter just spoke her first word,” Mark claimed.
 
“Well, since she’s happily calling for you, you can wash her up and change her clothes,” Hope stated as she stood and tried to wipe the oatmeal off her own dress.
 
Mark couldn’t help but laugh at the scene, which just set their three sons to laughing. As flustered as Hope felt, everyone’s laughter was infectious and soon she, and Gwen, were laughing along with the rest.
 
*****
 
It was late morning when Mark set out for North Fork, it felt strange to him to be riding Two-Bits, again. He’d not ridden her since he chased after Grid Maule the previous summer. And it had been a long time before that. Mark remembered back to the day he had presented her to Hope as a Christmas present. Mark mused to himself as he thought back to the look on Hope’s face that morning, when she saw the red bow tied on the saddle horn and realized the mare was for her.
 
*****
 
Mark arrived in town and halted in front of the livery after he heard Micah calling to him.
 
“Mark! Glad to see you back in the saddle!” Micah hollered. “Nils has a couple of horses he was telling me about, thought you might want to take a look.”
 
Mark dismounted from the saddle and led Two-Bits into the livery. Nils was just closing the door to one of the stalls and eagerly welcomed Mark back to town. He showed Mark both the horses and watched as Mark inspected each one. He ran his hands over their backs and down their legs, feeling for any bumps or hot spots. Mark led one of horses into the corral on the back side of the livery. He watched carefully as it moved about, walking, trotting, and doing a little bit of a lope. After a few minutes, Mark caught the horse, led it back to its stall and brought the other horse out and watched as it pranced around the corral. It didn’t take long for Mark to catch the horse and lead him back to his stall.
 
“Well?” Nils asked, followed by Micah asking, “What do you think of them boy?”
 
“Nils, they’re great looking animals, but…”
 
“But?” Nils asked, nervous that Mark might have seen something that he had missed before he bought the horses.
 
“They both have strong backs and sound legs, and good bone structure. And both look to have pretty smooth trots and lopes for riding long times in the saddle. I just… there’s just no…, draw. I mean, when I first met Blue Boy, there was something special that I just knew he was meant to be mine. Then when I went to Oats and saw Copper, there was just something about him that drew me to him. Don’t get me wrong Nils, both these horses are worth whatever you paid for them, but I don’t feel a connection. I mean, even when I purchased Two-Bits for Hope, I knew she was the right mare for Hope.”
 
“Aw, you sentimental fool,” Nils jested. “I understand Mark. In fact, Oat was in here earlier today and when he saw these two, he offered me top dollar. I told him I had another buyer possibly lined up for them. He acted all upset that I wouldn’t sell them to him, until he knew I was holding them for you.”
 
Micah commented, “He can sure act all mean and gruff around everyone else, but when it comes to Mark McCain, Oat’s an old softy.”
 
“No more than you old man!” Oat gruffed as he walked into the livery. “You’re more of a softy towards the boy than anyone else, ‘cept maybe his Pa.”
 
Oat stepped next to Mark and placed a hand to his shoulder, “Well son, what do you say? Are you buying either one of these flea bitten old nags?”
 
“Flea bitten old nags?! While I have you…” Nils tried to spit out.
 
“Nils, he’s teasing you. You just fell for one of the oldest horse trading tricks in the book,” Mark laughed out loud as Oat slapped him on the back.
 
“Now, Mark, don’t give away all my bargaining chips. So?”
 
“No sir. They’re both fine animals, but I don’t think either one are for me.”
 
“Sorry to hear that boy, but you do know that once I take both these horses off Nils’ hands, I’ll just have to brag around town how I outsmarted you and got the better deal from Nils.”
 
“No one would believe that in a minute,” Micah boasted. “People around here know Mark to be a fine judge of horse and no one would believe that…”
 
Mark turned to Micah and said, “Grandpa, he’s teasing you, too.”
 
“Well! My day just got made!” Oat exclaimed. “Boy you best get going. Here tell today’s your first day back on the job and we don’t want you to be late.”
 
“I’m here early enough,” Mark answered. “I promised Gabby that if she was good at her first day back to school that I’d treat her to lunch today, before I reported for duty.”
 
“Good, good. You tell your family when you see them that Oat Jackford said ‘hi’.”
 
“Sure Mr. Jackford. I’ll tell them.
 
“You ever going to feel comfortable in calling me Oat instead of Mr. Jackford?”
 
“Maybe someday, but then…, we don’t way to spread the news about just how much of a ‘softy’ you are about me, do we?”
 
“No we don’t, no we don’t. Now get on out of here so I can discuss these two beasts with Nils.”
 
Before leaving Mark stated, “Thanks, Nils. You’re a good friend.”
 
With Micah walking by his side, Mark led Two-Bits back outside.
 
“So, were you telling Nils the truth?” Micah asked.
 
“What do you mean?” Mark started to ask and then realized what he meant. “Yes sir. I don’t know. Blue Boy was my horse growing up and now he’s Gabby’s. Copper was my first horse as an adult and he was a mighty fine horse...”
 
“Nils was right, you are a sentimental fool. Mark, a horse is a tool. I know it probably pained you to hear that Nils had to end his suffering… that night. But you need a horse of your own. Not that Hope does much riding, with taking care of your four children, but still, you bought Two-Bits to be her horse.”
 
“I know I did. And I guess you’re right. It’s just knowing that... I bought Copper as a horse for me, and never gave thought that there would be a day where she’d need to ride my horse on her own and he’d way too much for her to handle.”
 
Micah realized Mark had finally spoken the truth about why he was hesitant to buy another horse. “Mark, any other time, I think Hope could have handled riding Copper. But that night, the storm was fierce and Hope was distraught over someone having taken your Ma… Don’t doubt your abilities to choosing a horse for yourself.” Seeing that his words weren’t having the desired effect, “Maybe you are right, you’ll know the right horse when it presents itself. Tell Gabby I said howdy.” As Micah walked off, he hollered, “Glad to have you wearing the badge again boy!”
 
Mark arrived at the schoolhouse just as Percy was dismissing the students for lunch, he stopped next to where Blue Boy was tied and pulled a couple of sugar cubes from his shirt pocket.
 
“Been a long time since the two of us stood here, ol’ boy,” Mark stated as he slipped the sugar cubes to his former horse and scratched him over the eye. Blue Boy butted his head into Mark, looking for more treats. “Not now, fella.”
 
Mark watched as Myra came bounding down the steps of the school house, calling, “Mark! You came!”
 
“Sure did. I couldn’t disappoint my favorite sister. Now, could I?” Mark stated as Myra jumped up into his arms.
 
“I’m your only sister!”
 
“That doesn’t mean you can’t still be my favorite.” As Percy walked to where they stood, Mark asked, “Percy, has she behaved today?”
 
“Well…” Percy drew out.
 
“Mr. Bullock, that’s not funny. Mark said he’d take me to lunch if I was a good girl today. I promise, I been good!” Myra pleaded.
 
“Well Mark,” Percy stated as he continued to hem and haw. “I wouldn’t say that she’s necessarily been a good girl today… She’s been quite exceptional. Myra, go enjoy lunch with your brother, but do not be one minute late in your return.”
 
“I won’t Mr. Bullock, I promise!” Then turning her head to Mark, Myra asked, “So where are we going for lunch?”
 
“I thought the hotel,” Mark replied as he saw Johnny Drako coming into the school yard.
 
Mark smiled as he watched Connor run from the group of boys and jump into his father’s arms.
 
“You want to see the other twins?” Myra asked as she pulled Mark’s face back around to look at her.
 
Johnny Drako, carrying Connor, walked over to Mark, “Heading to the hotel restaurant?” Johnny asked.
 
“I promised my sister if she was good, I’d take her to lunch before I came to the office,” Mark replied.
 
“I heard Tom Benton say you ‘d be back today,” Johnny stated.
 
“I’m ready to stand my shifts again, Johnny. Sorry, it’s been so long.”
 
“No need to apologize. I’m glad to have you back.”
 
“Marshal Drako?” Myra asked. “Can we see the babies?”
 
“Well…” Johnny started to answer.
 
“We’ll be real quiet and not wake them, if they’re sleeping.”
 
“I was going to say that Lou probably has both of them in the kitchen with her. Come on.”
 
As they walked into the kitchen Mark asked, “How did Connor and Danielle take to the newest members of the family?”
 
“About as surprised as I was to find out there was two of them, but both are pleased that they’re not outnumbered,” Johnny laughed as he led Mark and Myra over to the bassinets.
 
“Yeah,” Myra commented. “We got more boys at the ranch than girls. It just don’t seem fair!”
 
“Doesn’t seem fair,” Mark correct.
 
“See, even Mark agrees with me!” Myra exclaimed.
 
Mark and Johnny laughed over Myra not realizing Mark was correcting her grammar.
 
Lou stopped what she was doing when she heard the exchange and took Myra from Mark’s arms. While Lou was busily talking with Myra, Mark turned to Johnny and stated, “You do know what they say about payback?”
 
“Boy, if I’d of only known. You do know that this is all your fault,” Johnny stated, with a dead serious tone to his voice.
 
“My fault?! And just how is your wife’s pregnancy and having twins, all my fault?”
 
“Well, maybe not all your fault. But… If you Grid hadn’t concocted your ‘death’ and then your miraculous resurrection, I wouldn’t of had to…”
 
“Now what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom is your business,” Mark teased back. “But between you and Uncle Johnny, I’m going to have sooo much fun.”
 
“Mind your elders, boy!” Johnny said as he eyes turned steely.
 
“So you can dish it out, but you can’t take it?” Mark jested.
 
“Guess, I deserve everything you give me.” Johnny smiled as he knew he deserved everything Mark had to give him in return. Johnny knew that Mark was so much like his father and that he knew the difference between Johnny being truly serious and jesting, and Johnny was at ease in teasing with Mark.
 
“I’ll take it easy on you, old man,” Mark declared as Myra came back to stand next to him, before they returned to the dining room for their meal.
 
Over lunch, Mark inquired of Connor how he liked his first day of school. Both Connor and Myra took turns telling of their morning.
 
*****
 
Once they were finished eating lunch and Mark had paid their tab, he and Johnny returned Myra and Connor to the school.
 
“You mind your manners still. I’m in town and I’ll be at the schoolhouse quicker than a rattlesnake can strike if I hear of you misbehaving,” Mark stated as he knelt in front of his sister and pointed his finger at her.
 
“I’ll be good. I don’t want to get into any more trouble. I remember it’s too much trouble getting out of trouble. I learned my lesson, it’s best to not get into touble in the first place.”
 
Mark laughed and smiled at his sister.
 
They waited for Connor and Myra to disappear into the school before they turned to walk to the Marshal’s Office, Mark leading Two-Bits.
 
As Mark neared the parsonage, Jake McCafferty called to Mark. He waited while Jake ran over to him.
 
“Mark, I was wanting to ask you…”
 
“Yes, Jake.”
 
“Mark, I’ll see you at the office,” Johnny stated as he continued walking.
 
Mark nodded.
 
“Would you and Miss Hope and your children come over to my parents for dinner Saturday evening? Ma was so pleased to see you and the family in town yesterday and she’s been missing having your young ones and Gwen in the house.”
 
“I don’t see why not. So Gwen is invited?” Mark curiously asked.
 
“Didn’t I say her name, too?” Jake blushed and fidgeted with his hat he held in his hands.
 
“No” Mark replied.
 
“Oh, well, uh, yes, Gwen’s invited too. Can I tell my Ma that you accepted her invitation?”
 
“Sure Jake. What time should we plan to arrive?”
 
“T-time?” Jake stammered.
 
“Yes, when would you like for us to arrive?” Mark asked.
 
“Oh, Saturday.”
 
“You already said that,” Mark quipped.
 
“Um, about four o’clock?”
 
“We’ll be there. Thank your parents for the invitation,” Mark stated as he watched Jake turn and trip over his feet. Mark laughed and shook his head as he proceeded on to the Marshal’s Office.
 
Johnny Drako and Tom Benton were sitting in the chairs on the boardwalk when Mark walked up and tied Two-Bits to the hitching rail.
 
“So what was that all about?” Johnny asked. “Watching him walk away from you I’d swear he’d been nipping at the sacramental wine in the church.”
 
“Not exactly sure,” Mark answered. “Only thing I know is that my family and Gwen are invited to dinner Saturday.”
 
“Dinner?” Tom asked. “Kinda sounds formal.”
 
*****
 
Jake ran to the church and slowed to a walk before he entered. He removed his hat as he saw his father standing behind the pulpit. Quietly he waited until his father noticed him.
 
“Jake, didn’t see you come in. Come on in, son. It’s been a long time since you’ve visited me while I worked on my sermon.”
 
The Reverend stepped from the pulpit and motioned his son to sit with him in the front pew.
 
“Father, when did you know?” Jake asked.
 
“Know? Not sure I understand,” Reverend Mark McCafferty replied.
 
“Know about Mother. That she was the girl for you?”
 
“Don’t rightly know.  Your Mother and I had been friends growing up and one day, I told your Mother that I knew my calling, that I was going to be a servant of God. That I saw myself taking the Lord’s words to the people.”
 
Reverend Mark paused as he looked at his son, watching him.
 
“Your Mother smiled when I told her. She asked me if I was going to minister to the people by myself, and before I knew it, I told her that I had hoped she would be by my side.” The Reverend smiled and laughed as he remembered that day. “Your Mother didn’t seem surprised at all. I told her that I knew we were friends, but as with my calling from God, I knew that one day, we’d get married and I hoped she would consent.”
 
“You hadn’t talked about it before?” Jake asked.
 
“No, but I guess that we both knew that we would marry each other. It just felt right. That night, I spoke with your Grandpa Horatio and told him my feelings towards his daughter. I asked him if, once I was graduated from seminary school, if I could have his daughter’s hand in marriage.”
 
“I take it he said yes?”
 
“No, not right at first. We spent the next two hours talking about my dreams and plans. He came to realize that I was serious, about my commitment to God and his daughter. He stated I had to promise to graduate and then he would bless our wish to be married.”
 
“How old were you when you asked Grandpa?”
 
“I was nineteen. I went to school for two years and then a year later, your Grandpa Horatio married us.” Reverend McCafferty looked at his son. “Why do you ask?”
 
“Father, you know that I’ve been calling on Gwen, over at Mark and Miss Hope’s home?”
 
“Sure, you’ve even taken her to a few dances.”
 
“Father, when she was staying here, in town, she was so close. But ever since she returned to the McCain ranch…”
 
“Son, you get to see her every day you go out there to work with Lucas and Mark.”
 
“I know, but I miss her something terribly each day after I have to say goodbye. Father, I talked with Mother if I could ask Mark and his family over for dinner Saturday night. I told Mark, Mother missed the children. I want to…” Jake fidgeted with his hat.
 
“Go on…”
 
“Father, if Mark consents, and if Gwen says yes… Would you marry us?”
 
“Can’t say that this is a surprise,” Reverend Mark smiled and placed a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Do you know that Gwen feels the same way about you, that you do about her? Have you spoken with her about her feelings?”
 
“Father, I… She looks at me the same way Mother looks at you…”
 
“Didn’t think my son would notice something like that. All right. If Mark and Gwen both say yes to your proposal, I would be honored to officiate your wedding.”
 
Jake sat there next to his father, in a way, he didn’t know what to do next. He knew this was the most important day of his life, to date, he was excited yet, he feared Saturday’s arrival.
 
“What if they say, no?” Jake whispered.
 
“If that were the case, I don’t think Mark would have given you permission to call on Gwen. And I don’t think she would have accompanied you to those dances…”
 
“Are you sure, Father?”
 
“I have it on good authority,” Reverend Mark replied as he pointed his index finger skyward.
 
“You won’t say anything to Mark? If you see him between now and then, will you? I want to do this proper.”
 
“I won’t say a word other than to say how much we look forward to their visit. Would you like some time to be alone?”
 
“I don’t know. I thought this would be easy. It’s so… complicated.”
 
“Anything involving women, generally is, son. You’ll get used to it.”
 
“Use to it?” Jake gulped.
 
“You’ll survive son, you’ll survive.”
 
Reverend Mark stood from the pew, placed his hands behind his back and walked to the church office.
 
Eventually, Jake left the church to head home. He hesitated on the steps and looked towards the Marshal’s Office and then to the sky, “Please God, let my Father be right.”
 
*****
 
Hattie arrived at the hotel shortly before three o’clock. She walked to the kitchen and knocked before entering. Inside, she saw Johnny pleading with Lou.
 
“You can leave them for a few minutes, just long enough to go meet our son as he gets out of his first day of school and to walk him home.”
 
“But they’re too young to be left alone.”
 
“Lou,” Hattie placed a hand on Lou’s shoulder and helped guide her to the door. “That’s why I’m here. Now, go with your husband and meet your son. Danielle and I’ll look after your twins. Now go!”
 
Johnny placed his arm around Lou’s waist and led her through the restaurant and lobby, and to the school house. Every few steps, Lou would look over her shoulder, back towards the hotel.
 
“They’ll be fine. Hattie’s looked after our other two children.”
 
“I know, it’s just…”
 
“Mrs. Drako, you have two other children who still need you as their mother,” Johnny stated as he escorted his wife along the boardwalk. “Now, won’t you put a smile on your face as we go to greet your eldest son as he gets out of his first day of school?” Johnny begged of his wife.
 
The smile Johnny requested appeared on Lou’s face and it genuinely spoke of the love she held for her family.
 
*****
 
That evening, Maggie McCafferty knocked on the door to her son’s bedroom. “Well?” she asked as she entered.
 
“They’re coming,” Jake replied. “Mother, I need to find a betrothal ring for Gwen, but if I go to town, everyone will know my intentions.”
 
“Jake, I have your Grandmother Cleo’s betrothal ring,” Maggie answered as she pulled a small box from the pocket of her dress. “I’m sure your she would love for you to present it to your future bride.”
 
“Grandmother didn’t… She didn’t get buried with it?”
 
“No, she was buried with her wedding ring, but this betrothal ring, it belonged to your Grandfather Horatio’s grandmother, sort of a tradition, to be passed down. Once Gwen says yes, you can buy a ring of her own ring and present it to her on your wedding day.”
 
“Mother, did you ever doubt that Father was the one for you?”
 
“No, I knew from early on that we were meant to be together.”
 
Once his Mother left his room, Jake prepared for bed. As he stretched out, he looked through the window to the stars, wondering, what would it be like to have a wife and create a family. If his love for Gwen was anything like the love his parents shared, he knew he was doing right.
 
*****
 
Mark returned home later than usual Tuesday evening. Hope and Gwen already had the children to bed and Gwen had retired to her own room.
 
Hope met Mark at the door as he stepped to the porch. “Long shift?” she asked as she held the door open for him.
 
“Yeah,” Mark said as he placed his rifle over the mantle. “Lots of reports to read and briefings to catch up on.” He plopped heavily in his chair as he set his hat and a packet of papers down on the lamp stand.
 
“I’ve supper still warm on the stove?” Hope stated, unsure if Mark had eaten before coming home.
 
“Please. I was too tired to say in town to eat anything before coming home.”
 
Hope filled a bowl with stew and brought it to the table. She watched as Mark wearily stood and took the few steps to the table. She allowed him to eat in silence. After Mark ate, he returned to his chair and pulled out the packet and started leafing through the papers. Hope finished washing, drying, and putting away the last of the dishes, turned and saw Mark sound asleep in his chair. She walked to the lantern and blew out the flame. Next, from the chest along the back wall of their front room, she pulled a blanket and lovingly cover Mark with it.
 
*****
 
Mark was still asleep when his sons rowdily entered the front room the following morning, calling, “Papa! Papa!” when they saw him in his chair.
 
Hope quickly ran from their bedroom in an attempt to quiet their sons, but it was too late. They were already climbing onto Mark’s lap as Mark struggled awake for the morning. The door from Gwen’s sitting room opened quickly as she too hurried into the front room to see what had caused the boys’ excitement.
 
Good naturedly, Mark greeted his rowdy sons. Gwen returned to her room to dress for the day. Hope walked to her sons and shooed them to their bedroom to get dressed as well. She turned around to find Mark behind her and pulling her into a hug.
 
“Did they behave themselves while I was gone?” Mark whispered into her ear.
 
“Yes, especially once you promised to take them fishing this weekend.”
 
“By the way, thank you for letting me sleep last night.”
 
“You looked so…”
 
“Exhausted?”
 
“Angelic.”
 
Both walked to their bedroom to get dressed for the day and to get Mykaela up and dressed as well.
 
As the McCain family chatted over breakfast, Mark announced they had been invited to the parsonage for dinner Saturday night. “Per Jake, seems Maggie misses the children. And Gwen, you’re invited too.”
 
*****
 
Mark saddled Two-Bits and waited for his father to exit his barn since the two of them had planned to spend the day riding the range, checking the cattle and fence lines.
 
“You think you can handle Blade today?” Mark asked as he saw his father’s horse acting up.
 
“Why?”
 
“Well, you’ve ridden Razor for the past few days. Just thought I’d check...,” Mark stated teasingly.
 
“I’ll check you. Come on, we have work to do,” Lucas stated, laughing at his son, as they signaled their horses into a lope.
 
*****
 
Jake McCafferty woke and felt panicked, three and a half more days. How agonizingly slow the days went. Even though he had spent time helping his mother clean their home and helped his father at the church, time crept by.
 
After breakfast, he saddled his horse and headed to the McCain Ranch. He headed out to their western pasture where he had planned to meet Lucas and Mark. Throughout the day, Jake worked just as hard as he always had. Lucas finally called it quits from moving cattle and mending a few sections of fence and invited Jake back to the ranch to clean up a bit before he headed home.
 
“Thank you, Lucas, but, I think it’s best I head home from here,” Jake commented and then the three said their goodbyes.
 
As he watched Jake ride away, Lucas stated, “First time I’ve known him to pass up the chance to stop by the ranch to say hello to Gwen after working with us all day.”
 
“That is strange,” Mark agreed.
 
*****
 
Gwen was standing on the front porch when Lucas and Mark rode into the yard. Both could see the look of disappointment on her face. She quickly turned and walked into the house. Hope saw the tears starting down Gwen’s face as she rushed into her bedroom. Before leaving the stove, Hope set the frying pan to the side, not wanting to burn their supper.
 
Lightly she knocked on the door, “Gwen, may I come in?” When she heard no response other than crying, Hope opened the door and entered. “Would you like to talk?”
 
“It’s been three days and he’s not stopped by or anything.”
 
“I take it you’re talking about Jake?,” Hope asked, feeling sorry for Gwen. “Did something happen Sunday, when you went for the walk after lunch?”
 
“Hope, he…”
 
Hope sat on the edge of the bed and wrapped her arms around Gwen. “Tell me what happened.”
 
Gwen sat back as she told Hope of the events, “We went for a walk, like usual, he held my hand the whole time and he was smiling, while we were talking. It was starting to get hot, so when we came to the bench beside the livery, Jake suggested we sit down and rest for a while.”
 
“And?”
 
“He was such a gentleman and showed me to the bench, then, after he sat down, he placed his arm around my shoulder. At first I tensed, but then, the warmth of his arm around me felt so comforting. He talked, like he always does, he tells me of what he’s been doing out on the range and everything he does for Mark and Pa. Sunday, he started talking about… building a homestead of his own some day. The wind blew my hair into my face and he swept it back behind my ear. Oh, Hope, he…”
 
“Did he kiss you?” Hope inquired as she lifted Gwen’s chin so she could look her in the eyes.
 
The expression on Gwen’s face turned to one of panic while she nodded.
 
“Did you kiss him back?”
 
Gwen’s voice held alarm when she answered, “Please don’t think badly of me, but I did.” Then her voice softened as she remember, “He wrapped his arms around me and… I wrapped my arms around him. It was nothing like I ever imagined. I know I shouldn’t have, but…, why does something that feels so right, how can it be so wrong?” Gwen cried as she threw her head into her hands. “He must think me a floozy. That I’m one of those ‘loose’ women they write of in dime-store novels.”
 
“Gwen, I don’t think Jake would think anything of the sort. You know, I went through something similar with Mark.
 
“You did?” Gwen asked as she tried to dry her tears.
 
“I did. Gwen I know I’m not your mother, but… In a way we’re a lot alike, neither of us having a mother to help raise us. I mean, I did have an adopted mother, for the years I was living with and being raised by the Kiowa. But being raised… It was different than being raised among the whites.”
 
Gwen nodded, “I know a little bit of your past, from what Miss Milly and Mr. Lucas said, when…”
 
“I had been forcibly taken from my adoptive family by some very bad men. As they were forcing me to ride with them, we happened across McCain land one day, out by the bluffs. Mark rescued me. Then, the men found me again and took me. And again, Mark rescued me and in the process, I was reunited with my father and brother. They had found out I hadn’t been killed when Aunt Susan and her family were. Anyway, we all knew that I would never really be accepted at the fort where they lived and worked, because of being raised the way I was. So, it was agreed that I would live here, with Miss Milly. This was right after she had returned to North Fork and before she married Mark’s father.”
 
“They didn’t mind that you had been raised… as an Indian?”
 
“No, they accepted me as Hope Lane and the fact that Mark cared for me, even though no one knew what the future would hold, they respected me as a person. It was… I think the following April, after Mark had returned from a training class up in Denver. We went for a ride. We stopped to water the horses and the horse I had been riding decided instead of drinking from the creek, he’d push me into the water. Mark just stood there laughing at me and I got so riled at him… Well, when he finally offered me his hand to help me up, I pulled him in, right beside me.”
 
“You didn’t?!” Gwen was astounded that Hope would do something like that.
 
“I did. When we finally stopped laughing so hard, Mark helped me to my feet and we walked to the bank and sat down. It was a beautiful day, and as we sat so close beside each other, Mark leaned over and kissed me.”
 
“On the lips?” Gwen bashfully asked.
 
“Yes, at first it was gentle, like a butterflies wings, but then, something inside me, I had a desire to kiss him back. I don’t know how long we kissed, but we were both plenty embarrassed when our lips parted.”
 
“Embarrassed is an understatement.”
 
“I remember Mark lying back on the bank and pulling me to lie down next to him. We fell asleep in each other’s arms.”
 
“Did anyone see you?”
 
“I don’t know. But the following week, I felt like you do now. I felt that I had done something wrong and Mark was avoiding me. I told Miss Hattie what had happen and she told me, give him time. He has to understand his feelings too.”
 
“But…”
 
“Gwen, a lady you will always be and a gentleman Jake will always be. Let him sort out his feelings. He’ll come around in a few days. Besides, he was the one who Mark said invited the family and you to dinner Saturday night.”
 
*****
 
Thursday and Friday nights, Mark stood his shift in town. Johnny and Mark were sitting in front of the Marshal’s Office when Lucas arrived in town Saturday morning, with the buckboard. Mark stood up to greet him as he pulled the team to a halt.
 
“Quiet morning!” Lucas called as the leaned forward.
 
“It was, until a noisy rig just pulled up,” Johnny teased. “Morning Lucas, how ya been?”
 
“Just fine,” Lucas answered Johnny. “Son, you ready to head to the general store, Milly and Hope saddled me with a rather large order today.”
 
“Sure Pa. See you and the family at church tomorrow?” Mark asked of Johnny.
 
“As always. Lucas, don’t wear my deputy out with too much work this afternoon!”
 
“I won’t Johnny, but I don’t know about once we get home. The wives sure have a list for us.”
 
Once their supplies were loaded in the back, Mark headed to the livery to get Two-Bits and his gear. For the return trip home, Mark tied Two-Bits to the back of the buckboard and placed the saddle in the back.
 
“Any luck on find a horse for yourself?” Lucas asked as Mark climbed up to sit next to his father.
 
“Nils has some mighty fine stock coming through, but none of them seem to be the one. I know I need to find a horse of my own, even though Hope doesn’t mind my riding her mare. I don’t know how to explain what I felt when I first met Blue Boy and then with Copper. There was something that drew me to both of them.”
 
“You’ll know when you find the right one.”
 
As they rode home, Mark told of their invitation to the parsonage for supper that evening.
 
“Is Gwen invited? Lucas asked.
 
“Gwen?” Mark asked. “Sure, Jake said she was.”
 
“Not sure what’s up between those two, the other day, Jake passing up the opportunity to stop and say hello and Gwen’s just not seemed herself for the past week.”
 
“I know, Hope talked with her the other day, but won’t tell me what’s up.”
 
“Son, sometimes what’s discussed between women is best left, between women,” Lucas smiled and shook his head.
 
*****
 
While Hope and Gwen finished dressing for their evening with the McCafferty’s, Mark instructed his three sons on how he expected them to behave. He pointed to each one of them, giving them a warning look.
 
Maggie and Mark McCafferty warmly welcomed them to their home and showed everyone to the front parlor where the topics of conversations ranged from Sarah at school, to how quiet the house was since the McCain children returned home. Shortly, Maggie announced that dinner would be ready in ten minutes.
 
Jake asked Mark if they could talk, Mark nodded and followed Jake to the front porch of his home, “Mark, I know it’s not been that long since Gwen arrived in North Fork. Nor has it been that long ago since I asked permission to come calling on her at your home.”
 
“I know. But what’s happened between the two of you? The past week, you’ve been working hard, yet you don’t stop by the main house. And Gwen’s been, I don’t know… And then tonight, you’ve barely looked at each other.”
 
“That’s just it Mark, last Sunday after church, when we went for a walk after lunch? I…” Jake nervously pulled at his collar, “I have a confession to make.”
 
“Don’t you think your father is better suited to hear your confession?”
 
“Well… Gwen’s father isn’t alive and since… since you granted me permission to call on her… Mark, you’re about the closest male relation she has…”
 
“I hadn’t thought on it that way,” Mark replied. “So what happened last Sunday that has both of you avoiding each other?”
 
“I kissed her Mark. I don’t know why, only that I was drawn to do it. She’s so sweet, I swear I heard angels singing. Her lips were like honey and…” Jake halted as he started to get embarrassed.
 
“Oh, that kinds of explains a lot. Jake, I did something similar with Hope, down by Miller’s Creek and we were a lot younger than you are.”
 
“I need to ask you a question, I want to marry her, to ask her to be my wife. Would you give us your blessing?”
 
Mark was truly surprised with all that Jake had just said, he hadn’t stuttered or stammered through his words. He was even more surprise that the question was being asked of him.
 
“Marry her?”
 
“Mark, I really love Gwen and I think she feels the same way about me. Now she is eighteen and of proper age… And I’m older than you were, when you married Hope.”
 
“Jake, I’m not doubting that you love her or that you both are old enough. I just never thought I’d be asked that question, least not yet. I’d be honored to give you permission to ask Gwen for her hand in marriage. Is that why we’re here tonight?”
 
“Yes sir, I wanted your permission to ask her, and if you said yes, then I was going to ask her over dessert tonight.”
 
“Well, let’s get you inside and supper eaten so you can ask your question,” Mark smiled as they walked back into the parlor. Hope gave Mark an inquiring look as he picked Mykaela up to carry her into the dining room.
 
“Everything will be fine, after dessert,” Mark whispered under the guise of giving Hope a kiss on the cheek.
 
*****
 
Reverend Mark blessed the food and then served the food as plates were handed around the table. Once dinner was finished, the ladies cleared the dishes from the table and Hope and Gwen helped Maggie carry in plates with dessert. Mark kept looking to Jake. Finally, once his mother brought in coffee to serve her husband and Mark, Jake cleared his throat and stood.
 
“Earlier this week, I asked my father a very important question and he helped me see things a lot clearer than I had for a few days. Earlier this evening I asked Mark a question, as well. It’s strange how life happens. I mean, when we first arrived in North Fork, Mark and his father helped rescue my family. If it weren’t for Mark, I know I wouldn’t be alive today. And then because of Mark, I… I met Gwen. I stand here and ask each one of you to be a witness to the last question I... I have to ask.”
 
Jake walked over to where Gwen sat and dropped to his knees, looked Gwen in the eye, and said, “Gwen, I know we’ve not known each other that long, but the question I have to ask is for you. I know I love you and I hope you feel the same way?”
 
If possible, the room grew even quieter, “I asked Mark’s permission if I could ask for your hand in marriage and he said yes. So I want to ask you, would you show me how much you love me, by agreeing to be my wife?”
 
Jake, and everyone in the room, looked to Gwen and waited, slowly Gwen had placed her hand over her mouth and started nodding her head. From his shirt pocket, Jake pulled the ring that had once belonged to his great, great-grandmother and placed it on the ring finger of Gwen’s left hand. He reached forward and kissed his intended as those around clapped and offered their congratulations.
 
Maggie stood from her chair and placed it next to Gwen and motioned for Jake to have a seat. She saw the tears in Gwen’s eyes and offered her a clean napkin to wipe her eyes. Mark noticed the relived look in Jake’s face when he realized that Gwen had said yes. Hope saw the relieved look in Gwen’s face as she realized why Jake had been ‘avoiding’ her.
 
Finally, the evening came to a close, Mark carried the sleeping Eli while Hope carried Mykaela to the buckboard. The twins walked to and climbed in the back of the buckboard on their own. After helping Hope to the seat, they waited for Jake to finish saying goodnight to Gwen.
 
*****
 
Once home, Mark helped Hope put their children to bed. As she entered their bedroom, she asked,
“Did you know he was going to propose?”
 
“No, I didn’t. Hope, why don’t you go talk to her, I think she might need, a big sister.”
 
“Mark, how is it that you understand women so well?”
 
“Well, when you tell me what it is I understand about women, maybe I’ll understand better,” Mark stated as he kissed his wife goodnight.
 
*****
 
Hope stood in front of the door to Gwen’s room and heard her humming on the other side. She quietly knocked and called, “Gwen, may I come in?”
 
The door opened for Hope to see Gwen standing on the other side, her eyes sparkling and a beautiful smile on her face.
 
“Please Hope, come in,” Gwen said as she took Hope by the hand and led her into her sitting room. “You were right. You were so right. He wasn’t avoiding me. He proposed. Jake asked me to marry him. I can’t believe I said yes, but Hope, I do love him. Is this how you felt, after Mark proposed to you?”
 
Hope smiled as she remembered back to those days.
 
“I imagine so. I still feel the same way; every time Mark looks at me or that I look at him,” Hope answered.
 
“Doesn’t it just feel like your insides want to burst right out?”
 
“Yes, and it only gets better.”
 
“Did you know that he was going to ask me? Oh, that doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you were right. He just needed some time. Hope, can you believe?” Gwen felt as if she was floating on air as she talked.
 
“Gwen, I don’t mean to bring your feet back down to the ground, but between now and when you and Jake get married…”
 
Gwen’s expression changed as her emotions crashed, “Oh, Hope! I can’t marry Jake!”
 
“What do you mean, you can’t marry Jake?” Hope asked.
 
“I have to be here, your children!”
 
“Gwen, no. You are going to marry Jake and you will create a life and your own family together. I’ve appreciated the time that you’ve been a nanny to our children, but neither Mark nor I will let you give up on you own life. We’ll do fine and you can come and visit any time you wish.”
 
“But you were saying something about between now and when we’re to get married?” Gwen nervously asked.
 
“Gwen, it’s been a number of years since your mother was here to guide you, same as with me, before I married Mark. I just wanted to say, if you want to talk, I’d like to be here, sorta of like a big sister to you. And I’m sure Ma would take you under her wings, as another daughter.”
 
“I don’t understand?” Gwen asked, confused.
 
“Marriage is… well… it’s not just what you see publicly between Mark and me or Lucas and Milly or any other married couple. There’s more, it happens in the privacy of a man and a woman’s marriage bed. I know you still have to set a date, but the closer your wedding day arrives, you’ll start to get nervous, you’ll question yourself, you may even get scared about…”
 
“Our wedding night? I hadn’t thought about that.” Gwen grew quiet and reserved.
 
“That’s why I wanted to talk tonight. Milly and I talked before I married Mark, but still… I was raised differently, living among the Kiowa, and you’ve been on your own for some time. Oh, Gwen, a woman’s wedding night is something special. I don’t know exactly how to explain it to you, but that night you’ll have experiences you never imagined.”
 
“Were you scared?”
 
“In a way, yes.”
 
“How so?”
 
“It was the first time I was ever intimate with someone. As Mark and I stood in… our bedroom… I felt so vulnerable, yet, I felt the love he had for me. But more importantly, I knew that was where I belonged. Most women never talk of… their experiences, in their marriage bed. It’s just something that women keep private, they’re raised that it’s something to be kept between her and her husband. Once you’re married and the first time you make love, it is beautiful. And if Jake is the man I believe he is, he’ll be just as loving and understanding as Mark was and still is. When you join Jake in your marriage bed, as you make love for the first time… I remember Milly told me it was the greatest gift a woman could her husband. But what she didn’t tell me, was… it was the greatest gift a man could give his wife. And I hope that God’ blesses you by allowing you to bring a new life into the world.”
 
“Is it…” Gwen started to ask and her embarrassment showed in her face, “pleasurable?”
 
“Gwen, as you and Jake… become one, there will be a strong desire... You’ll desire to experience more.” Seeing Gwen blush even more, Hope stated, “Oh, it is pleasurable. “
 
“Hope, I know I love Jake,” Gwen stated, thinking on what Hope had said.
 
“And that’s all that really matters. But if you need to talk, Milly and I are here for you.”
 
The two women hugged.
 
“Thank you,” Gwen said as she stood and hugged herself, then held her hand in front of her and admired the ring upon her hand.
 
*****
 
Before Hope climbed into her own bed that night, she stopped by the cradle to check on their daughter. She smiled as Mykaela blissfully slept. Once in bed, Hope felt Mark wrap his arms around her and pull her close, he whispered in her ear, “I honestly thought we’d have a few more years before we had to go through a night like tonight.”
 
“Aren’t you happy for Gwen?”
 
“Of course I’m happy for Gwen, and Jake, too. I was talking about us and Emmy. Just surprised me that Jake would ask me for permission. I mean before it was just to call on Gwen, and I accepted that because she lives here, but now…” Mark replied as he cuddled with his wife, running his hand up and down her arm. “Do they remind you of anyone?”
 
“Us,” Hope whispered as she rolled over in bed, snuggled closer, and kissed her husband.

The Next Step — The Adventure

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

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