The Writer's Corner
The Rifleman: The Early Years
by Andrew Valentino
Enid, Oklahoma. It was going to be another hot day. It always was, especially in the early days of July. If a person's lucky though, a cooling breeze would kick up and blow for most of the day. That's why Lucas got up at the crack of dawn. To beat the hottest part of the day, he woke up, ate something, and had the wagon loaded with the fencing supplies early. By the time the daylight came over the top of the hilltops, he already had his shirt off, and was stringing the wire from one fence post to another, half a mile down.
After about two hours of non-stop work, Lucas stopped to wipe the sweat from his face, when he glanced over to his right, noticing the two riders as they came over the hill. The two casually rode over to him, and after glancing at each other, they looked around. "Howdy" the first one said. "Morning" replied Lucas. He noticed both riders moving their hands over to their holstered guns. "We sure are thirsty. Can you spare some water?"
Lucas went over to the buckboard to get his canteen. "Looks like you're working up quite a sweat there" says the same guy. Lucas walked over and raised up the canteen just as the second rider pulled his gun. Surprised, Lucas took a couple of steps back, and the first rider swung down from his saddle, tossed the canteen, and drew his gun also. Lucas just stood there, not knowing what to do. The cowboy came up to him and grabbed at his pocket. Lucas never carried much money on him, only a couple of dollar coins. The robber grabbed them out of his pocket, gave Lucas a smirk, and raised his pistol and hit him once in the head. The last sight Lucas saw was that nasty expression on the cowboys face.
When Lucas woke, he slowly raised himself up. The pain in the back of his head shot daggers all thru him. He looked around and staggered toward the wagon. Reaching out to steady himself, everything that happened came rushing back to him. He climbed up onto the wagon seat slowly, and prompted the horses to move. Still dizzy and in a haze, Lucas headed back to the ranch.
Mr. McDade stepped onto his porch. Another hot day today, he thought. Starting to organize what his day would be like in his mind, he saw the dust from way off. A buckboard headed his way. As it got closer, he recognized the driver. Young Lucas McCain, what a hard working young man, he thought. Lucky to have him working for me.
Thinking back, McDade remembers Lucas when he was really young. His parents were hard working too. They toiled and worked their small little farm. They were good people, raising Lucas by the Good Book and teaching him that hard work pays off. Only Lucas lost his parents some years back. Must have been really tough on him and his parents, especially after losing his brother, Abraham when Lucas was only 10 years old. Being good friends with Lucas' dad, McDade remembered that day like it was yesterday. That summer they had lost all their crops to a drought. After all that plowing, planting and back breaking work, it was all wiped out in one month. Almost unbearable heat for 4 or 5 weeks and no rain caused the crops to just dry up and blow away. Trying to salvage anything they could took a lot out of them. Lucas watched both his father and mother start to lose their health. It just took too much out of them. That winter his father became sick, and it wasn't 6 months later, he lost his mother. Lucas stayed busy while they were ill, trying to replant small bunches of crop, but he could only grow enough to barely feed them. A lot of his time he devoted to taking care of his parents, trying to keep their strength up and tending to their every need. McDade remembers the letters he would get from Lucas' mother, while she was so sick, telling him everything. She must of known she was going to die and wanted to make sure Lucas might have a place to go and someone to look after him. McDade will never forget that cold wintry day a few months after the letters stopped coming, when he heard a horse ride up and footsteps on his porch.
Opening the door, he found a skinny, frail looking boy, hat in hand, staring back at him. He was covered in dust and dirt, and looked plain tired. "Hello, boy. You must be Ben McCain's son". "Yes sir. I am. My Pa talked about you a lot. Made me promise to look you up if ever...." Shifting from one leg to the other nervously, he glanced up to look McDade in the eyes. "...Their gone sir". The boy choked back tears. McDade felt for him. That's been a year ago, and McDade often thought that Ben should be proud of his son and how well they raised him.
Lucas came riding up, and as soon as he got close to the porch, McDade could tell something was wrong. Barely able to stop the buckboard, Lucas swayed and almost fell. McDade rushed down and grabbed Lucas by the arm. "Lucas, you hurt?" Helping him down off the seat, McDade called out for Margaret. A beautiful dark haired young woman came to the door. Seeing what was going on, she dashed over to help. Together, they got Lucas inside and sat down in a chair.
Margaret saw the blood on the side of Lucas' head. "He's bleeding. Watch him, I'll go get some water and iodine". McDade helped Lucas sit up. "What happened boy?" Lucas tried to clear his head. "I...I was out working on the east forty....when...." Margaret came back and put a bowl of hot water down, dipped a rag in it, and started dabbing at the head wound. McDade smiled. Good ole' Margaret, he thought. She's always right there whenever Lucas needed patching up. He and his friend, Reef Jackson, were always fighting with each other or someone in town. The two guys were best friends, but usually after a couple of hours of working together, they would wind up taking a swing at each other. It was all in fun. Except when it came to Margaret. She was the prize the two of 'em fought for constantly. Reef and Lucas met when Lucas got hired on, and Reef took Lucas under his wing, becoming instant friends. Then Margaret entered the picture. The two began competing for her attention almost immediately.
Margaret was a 22 year old rugged, yet soft woman who, a few months ago, lost her home. Her father, Samuel Gibbs owned a small little place just north of Enid. When Margaret's mother died in a wagon accident, Sam blamed himself. He'd had a bit too much to drink that night and didn't see the open gully alongside the road. The wagon toppled over sideways, and it being nighttime, Sam couldn't see very well. She died instantly when the wagon rolled over on her. So Sam began drinking even more. Margaret and her younger brother pretty much raised themselves from that point on. When she got a little older, she took this job cooking and keeping house here on the ranch. When her father sold the land and the house, she took a room here with her brother. Reef would make any excuse to come up to see her, while Lucas admired her from afar. Too shy to actually show his feelings for her, Lucas paid a lot of attention to her younger brother. Johnny looked up to Lucas like an older brother.
Wiping blood off Lucas' head, Margaret says "You're always gittin' hurt. I swear, you need a good woman to take care of you night and day." It got quiet suddenly. Lucas almost forgot about the wound, McDade looked surprised, and even Margaret seemed to just realize what she said. "I'm just saying..." To ease the moment, she dabbed at Lucas head a little too hard. "Oww" Lucas tried not to be too loud. "Well," she says, "Tell us what happened." "A couple of saddle tramps jumped me." Remembering his money, he reached into his empty pocket."Sit still while I bandage your head." "They took my money". Lucas exclaimed. And I was saving that to buy Margaret a flower when I took her to this Saturdays barn dance, Lucas thought.
"You just take it easy the rest of the day, there boy. I'll get Reef to go pick up anything you left at the fence line" says McDade.
"They must of just been passing thru, looking for trouble" said Margaret. Lucas' pride kicked in. "They took me by surprise, or I might have been able to take 'em." "You might have gotten yourself shot!" blurted Margaret.
Just then, Reef came running in. "I saw Luke come back with the wagon, what's going on?" Then he noticed Lucas with his head bandaged. "You okay?" "Yeah, got a bump on the head. Mostly my pride though."
"Reef, take Lucas back to his bunk and let him rest awhile." "Yes sir, Mr. McDade" Seeing the concern in Margaret's face, McDade says "Uh, you want to check in on him later, to..you know, make sure he's okay?" Margaret looked at him sheepishly and nodded. Then she took the bowl and rag off to the kitchen.
A couple of days later, Lucas and Reef had to go into town for some supplies to patch a hole in the barn, when he thought he recognized someone. "Be right back" he said to Reef.
Walking over to the saloon, he looked inside. There at a table, were the two guys that robbed him. Anger took over, and as Lucas slammed the swinging doors open, he stepped up to the table. "You two enjoying yourselves," Lucas sneered. Both looked up, but only one recognized him. "Say, ain't you that sod buster that helped us out when we needed whiskey money?" He looked at his partner and they laughed. They both had too much to drink.
"The way I figure it, you owe me two one dollar coins" As Lucas said this, he tensed, ready for action. They won't get the drop on me this time, he thought. "Well now, sod buster, you think you're big enough to collect?"
"Yea," says the other one, "you ain't packin' no sidearm, how you figuerin' on doin' that?" Before either one of them could go for their guns, Lucas overturned the table and brought his right foot up and connected with the one cowboy. Catching him right in the chest, he fell back, in a daze. Lucas grabbed the other one's right arm just as he was reaching for his gun. Drawing his arm back, Lucas got the guy square in the jaw. It knocked him outside, into the street. Forgetting about the other cowboy, Lucas followed the first one outside. He went over and grabbed him by his collar and lifted him up, when he heard a voice behind him. "You are one dead sod buster." It was the other cowboy. Lucas heard the sound of the pistol hammer cocking back. Then he heard a shot. Before he could feel a bullet, or even turn to try and dodge it, he heard the cowboy hit the ground. Turning, he saw Reef with his gun out. When Lucas looked over, the other cowboy was face down. "Couldn't let you go and get shot up, now could I?" Reef said. "Thanks" Lucas said. He reached into the pocket of the first cowboy and took out three or four dollar coins. Taking only two dollar coins, he stuffed the other ones back into the pocket. "That evens us up Mister."
Leaving the guy standing there, Lucas went back to Reef. "You know, if you carried a pistol, you might be able to take better care of yourself." Reef said. "I don't like pistols. I got me a Winchester back at the bunkhouse, and I plan on practicing with it a little, when I get a chance." Lucas replied. Keeping a glance at the cowboy in the street, Lucas watched him as he went over to his horse, climbed on and rode off. Well, he thought, that's the end of that.
"What in tarnation is so important about the two dollars, anyway?" asked Reef. "I aim on spending it on Margaret, when I take her to the dance." "What? I was gonna' ask her myself" says Reef. "Oh you were, were ya'?" Lucas stopped and squared off, facing Reef. "Ya' darn tutin' I was! You know she fancies me. Not a tall, ugly sod buster like you!" Reef had a half smile on his face. He loved to stir Lucas up. He knew he had a short fuse. "Sod buster?! Why if I didn't need your help with these supplies, I'd put ya' to sleep for awhile!" Lucas knew Reef was teasing him, so he went along with it. He reached over and pushed Reef on the shoulder. Reef looked at him a second, then took a swing at him. Lucas ducked, and came up with an openhanded punch, lightly tapping him on the shoulder. Then the fun began. The two of them tumbled out into the street, rolling around swinging at each other without really wanting to hurt the other. They got to laughing at each other, got up and dusted themselves off, and went on over to the supply store.
Later that evening, after Lucas and Reef got back to the ranch and unloaded the supplies off the wagon, Lucas went in to wash up for supper. When he finally made it into the house, he headed for the kitchen. When he got close, he heard voices. It was Reef and Margaret talking. He eased up to the doorway to listen. "I really wish you would come to your senses and tell that boy you're sweet on me" It was Reef. "But I ain't." Margaret replied. "I done told you I don't feel the same way about you that you feel about me. Besides, I think Lucas is more of a man than you realize. He's grown up more than you care to notice." "He's still a boy compared to me" says Reef. "I can make you happy". He grabbed Margaret by the arms and tried to kiss her. She pushed him away. That's when Lucas decided to make a little noise and let them know that someone else was there. When he came around the corner into the kitchen, Margaret was walking over to the counter to deal with something. Lucas glanced over at her, then at Reef. "Am I too late to get something to eat?" "No", Margaret said nervously, "I'll throw some stew together."
She hardly looked over at Lucas or Reef. Feeling the tension in the air, Lucas said "Say, is that friend of yours been asked to the dance this Saturday night yet?" Margaret gave him a sort of blank look, obviously her mind was not on the conversation. "Ann Dodd?" Lucas reminded her. "Oh, Ann. No, she hasn't been asked yet." "Well now Reef, are you plannin' to ask her?" Reef shot Lucas a look that wasn't very pleasant. Then he gathered his hat up off the chair and just walked out.
That night, in the bunkhouse, Lucas was lying on his bunk and looked up at Reef in the bunk above him. "Say, Reef. You asleep?" Reef was quiet for a couple of seconds, then said "No, can't sleep."
"Do you suppose it's possible for two people to be in love with the same woman?" It was quiet again for few seconds, then Reef sat up. "Yea, I suppose." Silence. "Why are you asking me such fool questions?"
"Well," says Lucas, "I think two friends should be upfront and honest with each other, so in a situation like this, each one knows where the other stands." "You sure got a way of simplifying things, boy" Reef replied.
"Sometimes a 'man' sees things pretty clear". Lucas hoped that when he said that, that Reef got his message. All Reef could say was "Yea".
Lucas laid there for another hour tossing and turning, a lot of worry on his mind. Finally he got up and stepped outside to get some fresh air. He noticed a shadow on the edge of the porch at the house, and walked over to see who it was. Margaret stood at the edge, a shawl around her shoulders to warm her from the chill in the night air.
"Margaret? Is that you?" Lucas stepped up onto the porch. Margaret didn't answer right away, lost in thought. Lucas stepped up behind her. "Am I bothering you?" he asked. "Luke, you ever look up at the sky and wish?" Lucas looked up. Not wanting to interrupt her, he didn't answer. She went on. "Sometimes when I stare long enough, I can see my life like I wish it was. My Mother and Father sitting out on the old porch we had, rocking in their chairs, me and Johnny sitting at the edge of the porch, listening to the noises of the night. I felt so secure then. I felt like nothing would ever change. Like it would go on forever."
Lucas knew how she was feeling. There were a lot of times, when he was alone that he took himself back in his mind to pleasant times with his parents. He felt alone more than he would ever admit. To himself or anyone else. All he could think to say was "I know how you feel." Margaret turned to look at him for the first time since he stepped up to her, glanced into his eyes, and dropped her head. "Do you?"
Lucas never felt such feelings for someone in his life. His heart felt like it was on fire. He wanted to just grab her up in his arms. Resisting, he just stood there. Not knowing what to say next. Margaret sensed that Lucas was uncomfortable, and looked up at him again. He could tell how she felt. He saw it in her face, in her eyes. She stared right into his soul. She stepped forward a small step, and put her arms around him. "Oh Lucas, I miss my parents so." Lucas stood there for a second or two, then slowly put his arms around her. "I know. I miss mine too." She looked up into his eyes again, and he could not resist the urge this time. He kissed her. They kissed for a minute or two, then Lucas pulled away. "You're father might come out her and get the wrong idea."
"My father...", she hesitated. "My father knows full well I'm in love with you, Mr. Lucas McCain." With that, she kissed him again.
The dark shadow outside the bunkhouse slowly moved. After hearing the entire conversation, Reef filled with anger.
The next morning, Reef was acting kind of strange. He didn't speak much to Lucas. He avoided being around him as much as possible. Lucas noticed this right away. He thought maybe it was because of their talk they had the other night. Lucas was willing to give him some distance for a while, but later on during the day, the silence got to him. After all, Reef was his best friend. They had been through a lot. Just before the lunch bell rang, Lucas was working in the barn, when Reef came up to him. He had the rifle that Lucas kept underneath his bunk in his hand. "Lucas, I been thinkin'. What are you going to do with this rifle? I noticed that you put some kind of lever on the thing and added a ring to the firing handle. You plan on joining the circus with this thing?" Lucas grabbed it out of his hand. "This is what I been working on. It fires faster that way. Besides, what are you doing messing with my stuff?" Reef was acting like he wanted to pick a fight. "Well, what you will probably do with this thing is shoot your foot off!" He stepped back like he was going to draw. "You been practicing with your shooting too?"
"I been using my spare time to practice." "I don't think I've ever seen you shoot a gun. Much less a rifle. Let's just see how good you've got." Lucas noticed a funny look in Reef's eyes. Had he been drinking? He took a step back, lowered his rifle, and looked at Reef. "I don't plan on showing you anything. I got work to do." Lucas turned to walk away. He had taken a few steps when a spot of dust kicked up at his feet. Reef had shot at the ground. Lucas stopped, not turning around. He was very careful not to raise the rifle. He did not want to let Reef think he was going to fire it. Sure, he had been practicing. He was very good at hitting his targets. But he was not about to get cornered into a fight. Especially with Reef. He just stood there, with his back to Reef. Waiting.
"You know I love her, don't you?" Reef yelled.
"I'm sorry Reef. I never intended to get in your way. It just happened." Still with his back to Reef, Lucas waited. Somehow, he could feel the tension in the air. He felt the anger coming from his best friend. "I'm going to have to take her the hard way." Reef yelled. "You better use that thing if you can." Lucas still just stood there. So many things was running through his mind. He did not want to die, and he did not want to have to kill his friend. Walk away, he heard in his mind. It was as if he could hear his father talking to him. Walk away whenever you can. But if cornered, be a man, his father always taught him. So Lucas took another step forward, not wanting to turn around and face Reef. He knew when he did, one of them would not walk away. He heard the shot, and immediately felt the searing pain as the bullet hit him in the back left shoulder. Everything began to swim around. He fell down to his knees, stunned. His mind was racing. How could Reef do this to him? Then he heard the scream. It was Margaret. Lucas turned, bracing himself up with his right arm. Margaret was standing on the porch, with her hand covering her mouth. She must of heard the shot. Lucas watched through a cloudy haze as Reef holstered his gun and went over to her. He grabbed her by the arm and started to drag her off the porch. Lucas had no idea where he was taking her. Still fighting to keep from passing out, Lucas used all his strength to stand upright. He felt the bullet spreading a fire throughout his body. It hurt so bad. But all he could thing about was Margaret. He gripped his rifle close to him, and started forward.
Margaret was fighting with Reef. She jerked away from his grasp, and was headed for Lucas. Reef panicked. He just stood for a second, realizing what he had done. He had attacked the woman he loved, and shot his best friend. He watched as Margaret ran toward Lucas. He looked over at Lucas, staggering over toward him. Lucas could easily shoot him, and rightly so. But he hadn't even raised his rifle. Sorrow flooded Reef. He was as much in shock about what he had done as Lucas must be in having his friend shoot him. All Reef could think to do was run. He dashed into the barn, threw his saddle on his horse, and rode out like the devil was on his tail. Not looking back, he left.
Margaret caught Lucas as they both got closer. Before he passed out, Lucas looked over at the dust Reef was leaving as he rode out. I'll find you someday Reef. And when I do, I will kill you, he thought.
Two or three months had passed. Lucas' shoulder was completely healed. After Mr. McDade had found out what had happened, he was going to go into town and get the marshal to get a posse together and go looking for Reef. But Lucas asked him not to. He said someday he would run across Reef and settle the score. Margaret was at Lucas' bedside the whole time he was wounded. When he found the strength to stay out of bed for more than a couple of hours, Lucas decided to go back to work. Margaret and him had gotten even closer during his recuperation. One night, after McDade had gone to bed, Lucas and Margaret were on the porch looking up at the stars again. Lucas was sitting on the edge of the porch, with her leaning against him. He could feel the warmth of her body next to him. They were just talking. "Do you plan on settling down and gettin a ranch of your own someday?" Margaret asked. "When I find the right place, and the right woman" replied Lucas. He was smiling down at her. She knew he was joking with her. She knew just about everything about him. Sometimes it sort of scared Lucas, it seemed like she knew more about him than he knew of himself. She looked up into his eyes, and smiled back. "Oh, really?" she said. Beginning to feel nervous, Lucas squirmed a little. Margaret felt he had something on his mind. "You got something to say, Mr?" she said. "I........", he looked down at her and hesitated. She really felt something was going on. She raised up to look him square in the eyes.
"I want to get married." he said. "Oh?" "Anybody special in mind?" she got a half smile on her face, but tried to hide it from Lucas. "Sort of." He straighten up and looked at her. "I would like us to get married." He got this serious look on his face. He waited, his heart skipping a beat. It seemed like an eternity. "I'm waiting for the right man to come along." She did not look him in the eyes. Then all of a sudden, she raised her face to his and looked at him. "And I think he has". They sealed it with a kiss.
The quiet little wedding didn't have a lot of people there. McDade was very pleased that the two of them were getting married. He was so happy that he gave them a dozen acres on the north forty as a wedding present. Lucas had a lot of plans for their place. He planted a lot of crops, and even had a dozen or so head of cattle. Margaret and him were going to be very happy together. They worked together hard, and spent most of their time together. McDade thought he'd never seen two happier people.
About a year later, Lucas was coming in from plowing an area where he planned on planting some corn. Usually Margaret had supper ready on the table by the time Lucas had washed up. But when he came in the door that evening, there was no food on the table. Thinking that unusual, Lucas called out to Margaret. She stepped into the room from their bedroom, with a strange look on her face. Lucas looked at her, and asked if she was okay. She got a funny expression on her face. "Lucas dear, how would you feel about someone coming to visit us?" she asked. "That would be nice. Anybody who you know will be good enough for me to know." "Well, this someone will require a lot of attention." Lucas, kind of half thinking about what else to plant alongside the corn, nodded his approval. He went over to sit down at the table. "What's for supper?" he asked. Knowing that Lucas didn't have a clue, she teased him some more. "You might want to get used to mashed potato's and other soft food." Looking over at him from the sink, she said with a smile, "for awhile anyway."
Lucas thought a second, then looked up at her with a puzzled expression. Starting to ask her just what she was talking about, he noticed the beaming smile on her face. Then it finally sunk in. Was she talking about what he thought she was talking about? He stared at her. "You mean?....." "I think I'm going to have your baby." She stood there in front of the sink waiting for his reaction. Lucas just sat there for a couple of minutes letting all of this sink in. Then he got a smile on his face that he thought might be bigger than the Grand Canyon. He jumped up and let out a yell that could be heard clear across the territory. He rushed over to her, grabbed her up in his arms, and let out another yell. He kissed her, and let her down to the floor slowly. He stared into her beautiful brown eyes, and could only think of one thing to say. "I love you more today than ever." They kissed again. "Now let me go, I got supper to fix." she said, straightening her hair. "No way. I'll fix supper from now on. You need your rest." Lucas said, still beaming.
Nine months later, Margaret was lying in bed, a blanket over her. As much as Lucas pampered her, she fought back by doing things around the ranch that she really should not have done. She started having pains early on in the pregnancy. Lucas made her stay in bed the whole last month. He waited on her, tended to her every need. He would come in late at night after looking after the cattle, and tending to their crops. But when he came into the room with Margaret, he got a burst of energy just thinking about the baby she was soon to have. The local mid-wife had taken a few hours off to go home to feed her family. She planned on returning by the crack of dawn the next day. Lucas was washing up by the kitchen sink, when he heard Margaret cry out. He rushed into the room, panic on his face. Margaret was gripping the headboard. Sweat was pouring off her face. She was trying to be brave, but the pain she was going through was showing on her face. Lucas knelt down by her bedside, wanting to help her in anyway he could. Margaret looked over at him as if to say Help me! Then she let out a scream that sent a wave of fear all through Lucas. He pulled the blanket down, and just knew that it was time. He went out to the kitchen and got some water and put it on the stove. He went back to Margaret, and she was in even more pain than he would of thought possible for one person to handle. "Luke, I think...it's time." she mumbled. A shot of pain must of went through her, she suddenly stiffened and gripped the headboard even harder. Lucas knelt down in front of her, not sure if he really knew what to do. He said a prayer, and Margaret screamed.
The mid-wife got off the buckboard in front of Lucas's house the next morning. She had brought some extra sheets and some homemade soup. She knew that Margaret would really like her soup. She stepped up to the door to knock, when she heard a baby crying. She rushed into the house and straight into the bedroom. There, sitting in the rocking chair that Lucas had put there months earlier, sat Lucas. With a big smile on his face, he was holding a little bundle of blanket. When she went over to him, she heard the baby cry again. Looking down, she saw the face of a beautiful baby boy. Lucas didn't say a thing for a moment. Then he looked up at her and said "My son, we plan on calling him Mark."
It took Margaret several weeks to recover from her delivery. She felt so weak that Lucas insisted that she stay in bed. He helped take care of Mark. He was up three or four times a night, checking on her and Mark. Whenever Mark started crying, he was the first to wake up. He knew that Margaret needed her sleep to build up her strength. After the local doctor finally told her that she was strong enough to get out of bed, Lucas still would not let her do too much.
Johnny, Margaret's brother, was now old enough to take off on his own. He was visiting Lucas and Margaret to say goodbye. He had always wanted to be a rodeo rider, he had dreamed about it since he was a little boy. So now that he was old enough, that was exactly what he was going to do. He spent most of his time holding Mark and talking about the rodeo company that he had signed up with. That morning, he said his sad goodbye's, hugged Margaret, and left. Margaret cried for awhile, after all, they had been very close growing up. It was also on all of their minds that their father, Samuel, hadn't been there to say goodbye. He had just up and disappeared shortly after selling the farm and being sure that Margaret and Johnny had a place to go.
Things were quiet for the next couple of months. Mark seemed to be getting stronger and growing like a weed. Margaret slowly regained her health. The delivery took a lot more out of her than her or Lucas had known.
Then one bright day, Johnny came riding back into town. Lucas was at the livery stable, getting his plowing blade sharpened, when he saw him ride in. Johnny looked tired, and a lot worried. Lucas walked up to him as Johnny got off his horse in front of the saloon.
"Hey, Johnny boy. Good to see you. You just get in, or have you been out to see Margaret already?" "Howdy there Luke. No, I came right into town. Got some business to tend to. Might not even have time to make it to the ranch." Johnny never looked up at Lucas. He seemed upset, yet tried not to show it. Lucas could tell. He had a fairly good way of reading people. Especially Johnny. He had been around him so much as Johnny grew up, he could read him. "Johnny, what's wrong?" Lucas walked up closer to Johnny, but he tried to walk away. Lucas reached out and touched his shoulder. "Johnny, if there is something wrong, you may not owe me an explanation, but Margaret should know." "Luke, I sort of got myself into some trouble. I got drunk back up in Wyoming, and got involved in these poker games. I guess I lost, and didn't have enough money to pay up, so I got into it with some of the locals. Well, you know how it goes......." Johnny was really upset. "Johnny, you know better than to start gambling. So where you headed?" asked Lucas. I don't know yet Luke. I been thinkin' about going down to Mexico and doin' some work down there." "Only trouble is, I think some of the cowboys I was in the game with are trailing me."
"Just how much money are you into them for?" asked Lucas. "Oh, three or four...." he mumbled. "Hundred?" Lucas was almost afraid to ask. "Now Luke, it's really nothing to worry about..." "How much Johnny?" Lucas was not going to give up until he got a straight answer from Johnny. Sheepishly, Johnny looked down at the ground, and mumbled "..thousand." "What?!" Lucas could not keep the surprise out of his voice. Then, before either one of them could say anything else, four riders came casually riding in from across the way. Nobody really paid that much attention to them. They rode up, all of them dismounted, and headed toward the saloon. But by the way Johnny reacted to them, Lucas knew that he knew them. Not saying a word, the four guys went into the bar. Johnny started to get back on his horse to ride off. Lucas grabbed his by his arm. "Do you know them
guys?" He asked. "Luke, please don't tell Margaret you saw me this away. I got to head out. Fast." "Johnny, you should of learned a long time ago, you can't run from your problems."
Two of the riders came back out of the bar and walked over to their horses. It was obvious that they were getting between the road out of town and Johnny and Lucas. Lucas looked up at them, trying not to let them know he noticed them. He reached over to his saddle and pulled his rifle out of its holster. By the time this had happened, the other two cowboys had come out of the saloon and casually walked behind Lucas and Johnny.
"Hey, you!" One of the cowboys yelled. "Are you that Johnny Gibbs fella' that run out on a gamblin' debt?" Lucas knew that they were all ready to draw their guns. Johnny glanced over at Lucas and called out. "Look fellas, I planned on paying off. I've just had a run of bad luck lately." Lucas stepped out from behind his and Johnny's horses. He knew Johnny had a sidearm, but didn't know how well he could use it. "Why don't you just get back on your horses and ride out?" Lucas said it more as a command than a question or a suggestion. "What business is it of yours, sod buster?" The same cowboy seemed to be the spokesman for all four of them. "Give the boy a chance to come up with the money. There doesn't need to be any gunplay." Lucas was hoping they would listen to reason.
"Step away, sod buster. This is between us and him." Lucas gripped the ring on his rifle and slung it in a circle, cocking it immediately. Planting his feet firmly on the ground, he was judging the distance between him and the two guys behind him and the two in front. He was not going to be the first to start shooting. But it was plain that they were out for blood. The one who did all the talking drew first. Lucas fired, cutting the two down in front of him so fast, that when Johnny turned and fired at one of the men behind them, Lucas had already hit the ground, rolled over and came up in a half standing position and fired at the fourth cowboy. When the dust had settled, all four of the riders were dead. Johnny walked up to Lucas and said "I didn't want this to happen."
"Four men are dead 'cause you got a gambling problem. You better hope that Margaret never finds out about this." Lucas was angry at Johnny and at the same time relieved that they were okay. But anger came out when he said "I got business at the livery." Walking away, not even glancing back at Johnny, all Lucas could think about was Margaret and Mark. People were running out to see what was going on, and going over to the dead cowboys.
That night, after Lucas had gotten home and tended to the chores, he and Margaret were eating supper when they heard a rider coming up. Lucas looked over at Margaret, and stood up to look out the window. It was Johnny. Lucas sat back down, not even looking over at her. Footsteps on the porch, then a knock. "It's Johnny" was all Lucas could think to say. Margaret knew there was something wrong. She saw it in Lucas' face. Getting up, Margaret opened the door and stepped out. Johnny stood there with his hat in his hand. "Hi there, Margaret."
"Johnny, I'm so happy to see you." Margaret gave him a hug. "You look tired, and hungry, want some supper?"
"I think Luke is upset with me" said Johnny. "And does he have a reason......" Margaret was waiting for Johnny to tell her, rather than try and force it out of him. She knew how he was, he would tell her eventually. "I sort of got myself in a mess, and it caught up with me. Luke had to kinda' help me out." Margaret looked up into his face. "You know I love you Johnny. You are always so headstrong. Jumping into things before thinking....." It's going to be alright." She pulled at his arm. "Come on in and have some supper." She led Johnny into the house, and he glanced at Lucas and reluctantly sat down opposite him.
"Howdy, Luke." Johnny looked over at him. "I....I'm sorry about this afternoon." Not replying, Lucas got up from the table and went into the bedroom to check on Mark. Margaret brought a plate of food over, put it in front of Johnny, and stepped into the bedroom. "Lucas, what is it?" Lucas was standing over Mark. "Why don't you ask your brother?" Lucas said. "Lucas," she stood next to him, "I know how Johnny can be. But you have to understand that his is my brother and I love him. I have to stand by him no matter what. He's blood."
"I know, Margaret, I love him too. But when is he going to settle down and act like a man?" "I seem to remember not too very long ago a young cowboy that had some wild oats to sow. Got himself into a lot of scraps too." She looked at Lucas. "I love Johnny, but if you are too uncomfortable with him here, I will respect your wishes and ask him to leave." Lucas looked at Margaret, love flooding onto his face. The anger he was feeling seemed to just rush away. "He is your brother, and I guess I do see a lot of me in him when I was not to much younger." Margaret pushed up to Lucas. She raised her hand to his face. Lucas kissed her hand and they both went back into the kitchen. Johnny was eating and looked at them. "Luke, Margaret, I can leave if your a mind. You don't owe me anything." Lucas looked first at Margaret, then to Johnny. "You stay as long as you need to." The three of them sat at the table and finished eating.
Johnny got word about a month later about a rodeo job up state somewhere and was off again. He went and picked up Mark, kissed him on the forehead and then gave Margaret a hug. Looking at Lucas, he shook his hand. "Thank you Luke. I appreciate all you've done for me." "And I won't let you two down. I plan on getting me a stake and settling down. Soon." Lucas and Margaret stood on the porch, arm in arm and watched him ride off.
Months passed. The ranch was doing well. Lucas was able to turn a good profit selling off some of the crops that the three of them couldn't eat or store for the winter. He also got good prices for some of the livestock that he took to auction. Things were looking up. Margaret would get letters from Johnny every once in a while, telling of his adventures with the rodeo. Mark was growing up faster and faster everyday. Months turned into years, and soon Mark celebrated his fifth birthday. He's beginning to look more and more like Margaret, Lucas thought every time he looked at him. One night, after they had finished supper, Lucas and Margaret were sitting near the fireplace reading the Bible, when they heard a rider approaching. Lucas got up, looked out the window, and stepped outside. It was one of the townsfolk. "Howdy, Steve." Lucas recognized him from the general store.
"Howdy, Lucas." Steve dismounted and walked up to Lucas, shaking his hand. "Got a favor to ask of you and Margaret." "Anything. What's the favor?" "We got a couple of sick people in town, and was wonderin' if Margaret could come into town and help take care of them for a spell. The Doc's out east and we're short handed. I know it's askin' a lot, what with your young one here, but it sure would help us out."
Before Lucas could go ask her, Margaret, overhearing the conversation, came onto the porch wiping her hands on her apron. "I would be glad to help out. What do you need me to do?" "It's gonna' mean spending a few nights in town. That okay with you Lucas?" asked Steve. "I guess we can manage a few nights. Me and Mark can be bachelors for a spell." Lucas smiled at Margaret. "That okay with you?" He knew the answer before he even asked it. Margaret was a kind, warm hearted woman who would do anything for anybody. That is one of the things that made me fall in love with you, Lucas thought.
The next morning, Lucas was up early and out doing the chores around the ranch, while Margaret fixed Mark some breakfast. As soon as Lucas was done he would be in to eat also. Mark was still in his pajamas while he sat there with his fork in hand. "Ma, can I go out and help Pa wif' the stuf he's doin'?" Margaret looked over at him, and smiled. "What a big boy you are turning into. Why you sure can." Mark started to jump out of his chair. "No, young man. You finish your eggs first." Margaret said. Mark made a funny face. "Oh Ma!" he said, slumping back to pick up the fork again.
Lucas came in, dusted his pants off a little, and went over to the table. "Oh no you don't" scolded Margaret with a smile on her face. "You just march yourself outside and wash up first. I declare, between the two of you a woman's work is never done!" Lucas smiled back at her, and went over and kissed her, turned on his heels and went outside. Wiping her hands on her apron, she followed him outside to the porch. "Luke, I need to talk to you." Lucas was at the water pump. He noticed the serious look on her face. "What's the matter? Luke......Lucas, are you sure you and Mark will be okay for a couple of days?"
Lucas walked over to her and took her in his arms. He kissed her again, then looked at her. "Yes, I think we can manage for a couple of days. Besides, if anything comes up, I'll just pack Mark up and run him into town and find you." They walked back into the house arm in arm.
The town was vacant. Anyone who didn't have to be in town, stayed home. There were at least a dozen people who had come down with sickness. With the Dr. still out of town, Margaret and the few women who helped her could only guess at what the illness was. The symptoms seemed to point toward...dare she even think of it.....smallpox. High fever and rashes covered most of the people. The hotel had been cleared out of anybody who was not sick or helping with the sick. Three women besides Margaret were there. They needed lot more help. But most people were scared. Margaret, not even thinking about the consequences, just concentrated on her duties.
After putting Mark to bed early, Lucas rode into town to see if he could help in any way. As he rode in, he noticed the deserted town. A quarantine sign had been put up on a post just before you got into the main road. Lucas slowly rode up to the hotel. He stepped up to the door, which was shut. His knock was immediately answered by one of the women there. "Ma'am, can I come in?" Lucas asked. "No, absolutely not. This place is off limits to anyone not sick or helping out." The woman looked so tired. Lucas thought maybe she hadn't slept in hours. "Are ya' here to help?" "Anyway I can." replied Lucas. Hearing Lucas' voice, Margaret came rushing out of one of the rooms downstairs. "Lucas, please, don't come in. I got my hands full with chores here." She came up to the doorway, and smiled at him. "Besides, you need to be home with Mark. How is my boy?" If Lucas thought the first woman looked tired, he tried not to show the surprise in his face that he felt. Margaret seemed to be holding up okay, but he could tell that she was very wore out and on the brink of exhaustion.
"He's sleeping. I won't be gone long. I guess I just wanted to see you." Lucas did show on his face the love and respect he felt for her. Standing there looking at her husband, Margaret had a rush of love pour over her. She dearly loved this man. He was strong, loving, and always there for her. "I don't mean to be short with you, my love. I've just been so busy, I haven't even had time to breath." She stared into his eyes. She knew that she did not even have to speak the love she felt for him. They had this way of communicating just by looking at each other. "I love you. But I got to get back to work. I think we're going to lose someone. "The fever..." she hesitated..."this fever they have just won't let them get their strength up." Lucas gave her a worried look. "Is it...?" He was afraid to speak the word out loud. Margaret knew what he was going to say. "I think so. Not much we can do for them, except make them comfortable and try to get the fever to break." "How are you holding up?" Lucas asked. Margaret wiped her forehead, and sighed. "As well as expected, I suppose." She realized she was starting to show her tiredness. Straightening up, she seemed to gain a second breath. "You get home to our son, I will let you know when everything is better." As Lucas reluctantly turned to walk away, Margaret became overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow. "Luke.." He turned to face her. She half smiled at him and he felt it clear down to his heart. "...I love you. And tell that boy I love him too." Lucas smiled back. "Everything's going to be okay." As Lucas walked away, Margaret slowly closed the door, watching him as he got on his horse.
About an hour after Lucas had ridden out, six or seven riders came into town. One of the riders turned to the others and said "See, the whole town is empty. I even hear'd they got no sheriff. We got us a perfect hide out from them lawmen." Holding the quarantine sign in his hand, he threw it down into the dirt. They rode up to the saloon and went inside.
The next morning Lucas was fixing breakfast for Mark when he heard a rider approaching the house. As he stepped onto the porch, he recognized him right away. Samuel Gibbs, Margaret's father. It been at least six years since her or Johnny had seen or even heard from him. He came up and sat on his horse for a minute like he couldn't think of what to say. Lucas walked over to the edge of the porch. "You Margaret's father?" He already knew the answer. "Yep, reconn' I am. She around?" He had heard that she had married. "As a matter of fact, she is not." Lucas looked at him suspiciously. "You need something?" "Now, do I need somethin' to come see my daughter?" Samuel got off his horse. "No, I guess not. And as much as I don't like how you treated Margaret and Johnny, I got no grievance against you. You're welcome till Margaret says otherwise." Lucas led him into the house and they both sat down at the table. Samuel stared over at Mark while the boy was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "This here your boy?" asked Samuel. "This is Margaret and my boy." Lucas looked sternly at Samuel. "Your grandson." Mark looked up at Samuel and smiled. Lucas walked up and put his hand on Marks shoulder. "This is your Grandpa." Mark looked up at Lucas, then climbed down from the chair and walked up to Samuel. He reached out and gave Samuel a hug. Awkwardly hugging Mark back, Samuel was glad to start the talking again. "Where is my daughter?" "There's a smallpox outbreak in town and she's helping out." "Ain't that a might dangerous bein' around all those sick people?"
"She's doing fine. The Doc's supposed to be back any day now, and they need tendin' to till he gets back." Looking over at Samuel, Lucas said "We can ride in and let her know your back, if you plan on stayin' for a bit."
"Let's eat first." Samuel seemed nervous to think of facing Margaret after all these years.
When the three of them rode into town, they heard the noise first. It was a lot different than the last time Lucas had been there. Gun shots were going off every couple of minutes, and you could hear the yelling and laughter from far away. Lucas pulled the buckboard up and saw the cowboys standing in the street and along the wooden walkways. A few of them were sitting in chairs outside, a bottle of whiskey in their hands. It seemed like a big party was going on. Parking the wagon outside the supply store, he told Samuel to watch Mark. He hopped down off the wagon and grabbed his rifle. Walking over to the hotel, he saw a couple of the women looking out the window, fear on their faces. One of them came up to the door and opened it slightly.
"Lucas, we got us a mess of trouble." she said to him. "Where did they come from?" asked Lucas. "They rode in awhile after you left the other day. Just started drinking and carrying on. Been like this ever since." "Can I talk to Margaret?" "Just a minute." The woman disappeared for a moment, and brought back Margaret. "Oh Lucas, I am so glad to see you." She looked on the verge of tears. "Those men are causing a lot of trouble, and they even tried to come in here a few times, but a couple of them believed us when we told them that it wasn't safe." "I'll try to talk to them" Lucas said. Starting to walk away, he remembered one of the reasons he had come into town. "I guess this is not the best time to tell you, but your father is out here." Margaret took in a gasp of breath. "Pa?!" Catching herself before she could rush out to see him, she said "Tell him to keep his distance. Tell him I love him, and we need to sit down and have us a long talk." Thinking she added "Tell him I still love him despite....." she choked up. Lucas looked at her meaningfully and said "You tell him when this is all over." Walking away, he headed towards the wagon. "Samuel, take Mark and go into the general store and wait for me."
One of the drunk cowboys walked up to Lucas and reached for him. "Hey, you here to get some trouble? Cause we got plenty of it." He laughed and shot his gun off into the air. Lucas glanced around to try and remember just where he saw the other cowboys standing. "Don't you think you've had enough to drink?" Lucas asked. "I don't think it's any of your business, sodbuster." said the one. Noticing that a fight might happen and liven things up some more, a few of the other cowboys started to gather around. Lucas looked at them as they walked up. At least five of them in the street as well as he could tell. The odds were not in his favor. Talking didn't seem to be what they wanted. "There ain't no law here, so who's to say what we can and can't do?" asked the same cowboy.
"I just think that you've had enough. There are sick people here, and it might not be a good idea to be too close to the hotel. If it's what we think it is, it's catchin'." "Well you just never mind, sodbuster. This here is my town now. I declare it for me and my gang." Before anything else could be said, Lucas heard one of the women from the hotel let out a scream. He turned and rushed over to the door. He could hear in the background the cowboys laughing and calling him yellow. Not caring about the danger, he ran into the lobby. Margaret was lying on the floor and two other ladies were bent over her. Lucas dropped his rifle next to her, and pulled her up in his arms. He could feel the heat pouring out of her as soon as he picked her up. Looking around for someplace comfortable to lay her, he saw a couch. He laid her down gently and one of the women brought over a wet rag. Putting it on her forehead, Lucas feared the worst. He looked up at the woman with a pleading expression. "She's come down with the fever." was all she could say. Lucas knelt down next to Margaret and hugged her. The woman standing over Lucas got some more water and rags and began to bath her face. "Leave her, I'll tend to her." she said.
Lucas got his rifle and walked back outside. Glancing over to make sure Samuel and Mark were still in the general store out of harms way, he tensed. Anger and fear welled up inside him. If he lost Margaret....no, don't even think that way. Desperation built up. A scared look crossed his face. I can't lose her he kept thinking. The cowboys standing in the street that were talking to him earlier, mistook the look of fear on his face. "Hey, sodbuster, I think you might be afraid of us. Let me end that for you." With that, he drew his gun. Lucas slung the rifle to load it, and fired at the cowboy. Before he could even blink to see that the bullet had hit its target, the other cowboys had began firing. Lucas' mind shut down. Instinct took over. These men were out to kill him and take over the town. Three men hit the ground as Lucas rapidly fired his rifle. A couple of gunmen came running out and Lucas dropped to one knee and fired off three or four rounds, dropping them. One stepped out from behind a horse and fired. The bullet hit Lucas in the shoulder, but he didn't even feel it. He turned and fired and the gunman fell. The other two cowboys ran to their horses and rode off. Lucas stood there still in a daze. Margaret was all he could think about, and Mark. He turned and ran over to the general store. Samuel stepped out with Mark in his arms. They were both okay. Lucas didn't say a word, just turned and went back over to the hotel. Margaret was lying on the couch, sweat pouring off her. Lucas walked up and took the wet rag from the woman that was there. Without saying a word, she left. Lucas knelt down and rubbed her face. The face that always smiled at him was looking up at him. "Luke, I must have passed out for a spell. I got to..." She tried to get up. She had no strength. Lucas pushed her back down gently. "You lay still. You need some rest." Lucas spoke softly. He smiled down at her. Samuel came up close to the door to the hotel. "Lucas, I'm takin' the boy home. I'll wait there for you and her." Hearing his voice after all those years, Margaret raised up slightly. "Pa, I'm so glad your back."
The next day, a couple of the women came into the room that Lucas had carried Margaret to. "How is she?" one asked. Lucas, sitting by her bed, leaned over Margaret and dapped a cold rag over her face. Not even looking up, he responded, "Her fever still hasn't broke." They could hear the concern and fear in his voice. The other woman turned at the sound of footsteps in the hall to the hotel. She gasped in surprise when she saw the doctor walk in. "Oh Doctor! Are we ever glad to see you!"
Lucas jumped up on his feet and pushed past the two women. He came up to the doctor in a panic. "Doc, my wife's got it bad. Can you help her?" Desperation filled his voice.
The doctor went into the room and felt of Margaret's forehead. He took a few things out of his medical bag. He turned and said to the women "I'm sorry it took so long to get back from up north. I got some good news though. There might just be a cure for this disease." Working while he examined Margaret, he continued. "I need a lot of things though." He started barking out orders. The women were more than willing to let him take over. While he was gone, they had lost seven or eight of the patients they tried to help. They took off to get supplies for the doctor. Lucas grabbed him by the arm. "Is she going to be okay, doc'?"
"I don't know young man. She's had this high fever for too long." "I'll do what I can" With that, he went about his duties. Lucas just stepped back and sat down in the chair that he had put there to be close to Margaret.
Hours passed. And Lucas sat there, staring at Margaret in bed. The two women came in and gave the doctor supplies, then walked out without saying a word. The doctor would bend over her and administer medicine, stand up and not even speak. Finally, he turned to Lucas. "Mr. McCain, I am going to need you to ride to the next town." Seeing the look on Lucas' face, he realized this might be a big order. "I need some more of the serum for this ailness. I don't think I gave her enough. Her fever still hasn't broken, so I got to get some more."
Lucas stood up. "Anything doc." Hearing Lucas speak seemed to bring Margaret out of her feverish stupor that she had slipped into minutes before.
"Luke..." she said weakly...."Luke, please don't go. I need you by me. Please?"
Lucas looked at the doctor and then at Margaret. "Of course, I won't leave you." His thoughts were scrambled. The doctor had to have more medicine. He knelt down by her bedside, and hugged her.
"I......need your strength" she said. "We can beat this together." Lucas looked up at the doctor again. He shook his head silently. "Please Lucas?" Lucas held her hand for a second, then she drifted off into a feverish sleep. The doctor motioned with his head to step outside. They closed the door so Margaret couldn't hear. "Mr. McCain, I have to give her more of the medicine. It's to save her life." Margaret groaned. Lucas opened the door and knelt back down next to her. "I'm right here, Margaret. I'm not going anywhere." "Get Pa.....get Pa to go for us.....please don't leave me Lucas." she tried to raise up but did not have enough strength. Lucas squeezed her hand for reassurance, then stood up. He called to one of the women to see if someone could send a rider out to his ranch and bring back his father-in-law.
About an hour later, Samuel came into the hotel. Lucas met him at the bottom of the stairs. He saw the look of fear in Lucas' face. "Samuel, I'm beggin' you, please ride to Sutton and get some more of the medicine that Margaret needs. He left some there as he was passing thru on his way here. I would go myself, but Margaret begged me not to go. You've got to go!!!" He reached out and grabbed Samuel by his collar. "For God's sake, do this one thing for your daughter!" Samuel stood there, like he had to even give it a second thought. "I think I could make it in a couple of days. It ain't too far." Lucas reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a wad of money. "Here is all the winter stock money I got. Two hundred dollars! Use it all if you have to, but bring back enough medicine. Take whatever horse you need from the ranch. But hurry!" He stuffed the money into Samuels coat pocket and almost pushed him to the door. He saw Mark standing outside by the neighbor that had been taking care of him for the last couple of days. Emotion flooded over him as he looked into the innocent little face that longed to run up and hug and kiss him. Lucas smiled at Mark as Samuel climbed into his saddle. "Samuel, please.....hurry.....". He turned back to Mark and tried to look calm. "Hi, boy." Mark started to run over to him, but for his own good, the woman held him back. Straighting up, Mark stood there. "I miss you Pa. How is Ma feeling?" "Tell her I love her." Lucas glanced over at the woman and she gently guided Mark away. Lucas turned and went back to be with Margaret.
Three days had passed. The marker at Margaret's grave read: LOVING WIFE, MOTHER AND SISTER It was raining when they buried her, and Lucas stood there staring at those words for hours after the funeral. Mark had cried, Lucas telling him that his mother had gone away. He never really understood. He asked his Pa when she would be coming back. Lucas just hugged him and cried. Lucas had been very strong when he lost his brother, Abraham. He had cried, but his parents had explained that he was in a better place. In the hands of the Lord now, he could recall them saying. Even when he had lost them, he had been strong. This was one of the hardest times for him to be tuff. But he had to, for Marks sake. Margaret had slipped into a coma because of the fever and only came out of it one time. She opened her eyes as if to see Lucas' face for the last time. Lucas leaned forward and kissed her, the taste of her lips on his as she took in her last breath. The last sight she saw was the face of the man she loved.
Lucas buried her at the top of the hill close to their ranch that they used to sit and look at. The sun set behind that hill every night, and she and Lucas would sit, arm in arm and watch. She often said she had had such a unstable childhood, but since her and Lucas had married, she felt so safe. So secure. Lucas looked up as the sun set over the hill. He decided right then to come up to her grave every night and be with her as the sun went down. As he stood there, a lot of things were running thru his mind. Samuel had never come back. He hadn't heard anything from him. And Johnny didn't even know yet. Lucas would have to sit down and sent out a letter to his last known address at the rodeo. How will I tell him? Lucas thought. How can I tell him that his sister....my wife is gone? Tears welled up in his eyes again as he felt his heart break for about the hundredth time since Margaret had gotten ill. How...can I go on? Then he heard a little voice call out to him. "Pa?" He turned. Mark stood there behind him. The neighbor woman standing a little distance behind him.
"Pa? Are you okay?" He looked like such a grown man. Lucas looked over at the grave and said "I love you. Our boy and I miss you." He turned back to Mark. "Pa, I'm worried about cha'. It might not be good for you to be out here in the rain. Least that's what you and Ma used to tell me." Lucas felt frozen to the spot. Mark looked over at the lady behind him, then back at Lucas. "Pa, I need you." Lucas took a deep breath and stood up tall. He and his son was all that was left of his family. Looking over at Margaret's grave again, he said "I'll be back to visit you tomorrow." He turned to walk away. Turning back, he added "I promise to raise him the way you would want him to be raised. I'll make you proud." He put his hat on, and walked over and picked Mark up in his arms.
"I'm sad she's gone too Pa" Mark said.
"She's never gone Mark, as long as we carry her here, in our hearts. Someday you'll understand that."
Mark looked at Lucas with a sort of hurt look on his face. "Pa, I understan'. 'Sides, I got to be grown up to help take care of you now." Tears came to Lucas' eyes. He stopped and hugged Mark with all his strength.
Turning back to give Margaret's grave one last look, Lucas hugged Mark again and they started down the hill.
"Mark.....when your mother passed away, I took you away from Oklahoma because.....well I.....I couldn't stand the ranch there anymore. I couldn't stay yet I really couldn't leave.....I kind of carried it in my heart. I didn't know it at the time, but.....I was looking for a place just like it. Well I found it here in North Fork. Same land, same valleys, same hills. This house we built.....same house.....barn.....same barn. That hill Mark.....that's the way it use to look in the moonlight, kinda like a soft blanket of silver on it. The only thing missing is the cross at the crest that marks your mother's resting place. Otherwise it's the same hill."
This is a story based on the TV series “The Rifleman”
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around The McCain Ranch